Her boyfriend, Tony, was in the backyard. Wrapped around him was Sherie Williams, a senior cheerleader. I blew out a breath. “I’m sorry, Francesca,” I said.
She took a shaky sip of her drink. “I can’t believe that little crap bag,” she said in her New York accent, and I wasn’t sure if she meant Tony or Sherie. “You know I convinced him to go out for the football team last year? He thinks he’s such a gift to women, but he was nothing without me.” She glanced at me. “And Sherie? Her mom is usually passed-out drunk on the couch whenever I go over there. She’s obviously compensating.”
Something heavy and oily squirmed in my stomach. I did not want to be here, listening to this. At least, a big part of me didn’t. But there was a small part of me, a small, vicious, spiteful part of me that wanted more.
“You want a behind-the-scenes interview?” Francesca said. “I’ll give you one. I can tell you some stuff, Twinkle. But you gotta promise me you’ll put it in the video.”
Walk away now, a voice inside me said. It sounded like a weird mix of Dadi and me. You do not want to do this, Twinkle Mehra. But Francesca and Sherie were both a part of Hannah’s friend group. When had they ever stood up for me? When had they ever told Hannah to not be so mean? Why should I feel any sense of loyalty to them? Besides, this was a truth waiting to be unveiled. This was what I’d wanted—to show the world how things looked behind the curtain. This was me, an artist, not pulling any punches.
I nodded at Francesca. “Sure. I’ll give you the first interview. Want to get started now?”
She took a drink, smiled, and then followed me back.
“So not only is Sherie a boyfriend-stealing diva, but she also stole Taylor Packett’s bracelet. Yeah.” Francesca leaned forward. “It was this charm bracelet her dad got her from Tiffany’s. The clasp was loose, so Taylor left it on her desk while she went to the bathroom. Sherie took it when she thought no one was looking and then helped Taylor look for it when she came back from the bathroom!” She laughed, the sound hard. “Who does that? And Taylor still doesn’t know.” Francesca looked right into the camera. “Well, guess what, Sherie? Someone was watching. And I’m done sitting back and being quiet for you, you thieving little witch.”
I hit pause on the camera; I could hear people outside, probably waiting to come in and do their interview. Wiping my palms surreptitiously on my jeans, I smiled. “Great. This was great. Thanks, Francesca.”
She threw me a peace sign and walked out.
“Okay, the next person can come in!” I said, turning toward the door. Sure, it wasn’t exactly award-winning work I was doing here. But it was something that would get people talking. It would get people really looking at themselves and the choices they were making. I thought about Hannah and Maddie, how Hannah had said she didn’t know why Maddie hung out with me and how Maddie had refused to speak up for me even though we were practically sisters until about a year ago. So why shouldn’t I be the one to force them to look at themselves closely? To see their rotten reflections in the mirror? I mean, I was doing the world a service. So I wasn’t one of the silk feathered hat people, but you know what? I wasn’t a groundling anymore either. I was something completely different, an artist on an island, the only one brave enough to tell the truth.
Taylor Packett walked in, wearing a hot-pink one-shoulder dress and giant hoop earrings. She tucked one strand of long brown hair behind her ear and sat down across from me. Her phone dinged, and she looked down at it, giggled, and began typing out a text. I waited one minute, then two, then three.
“Whenever you’re ready to start,” I said, feeling my face beginning to get warm.
“Sure, sure. Just …” She kept typing and giggling.
My heart pounded. “You know,” I said, crossing my legs. “I heard something interesting about you tonight, Taylor.”
That got her attention. She looked up from her phone, frowning. “Oh, yeah? Like what?”
“Have you ever lost anything valuable?” I smiled a thin-lipped, tight smile. “If you have, you might want to take a closer look at your friends. Maybe make sure they’re not all in on it, all laughing at you behind your back.”
Taylor set her phone in her lap, her eyes hard. The fingers of one hand clasped loosely around her other wrist. “Are you talking about my bracelet? Who took it? Was it Katie Walters? Because let me tell you something about Katie. You know how last winter she went on break early because she was supposedly visiting relatives in Utah? Well, she was actually visiting Planned Parenthood to stop the arrival of a relative, if you know what I mean. And Katie’s dad is the grand poo-bah of the Mormon temple.” Taylor leaned forward and spoke directly into the camera. “Don’t screw with me, Katie. I will take you down.”