“Just planning our outfits for the week,” Ella says casually. She turns and pulls a miniskirt off its hanger. “I like this better with the shirt you picked out,” she says to me.
“Fine,” I say. “I’ll give you the skirt if we can wear jeans with the blue sweater.”
Mom shakes her head at us and laughs. It’s no different from the way she’s always laughed, but knowing what I do about the double life she’s leading, it sounds… off. I want to ask what she’s doing home tonight, but I don’t want to spend more time with her than I have to. I hold back.
“I’ll leave you two to your planning,” she says, turning away. But before she leaves, she looks back at Ella. “Have fun tonight?”
“Sure,” El says, smiling.
“What flavor did you get?” Mom asks, like the answer is somehow important.
“Mint chip,” Ella says without missing a beat. I’m amazed at her skills as an actress. Mom nods, looks at both of us one more time, and turns and leaves.
“Good night,” she says before closing the door to Ella’s room. El and I look at each other wordlessly for a few long seconds. Then, after we’re sure Mom’s out of sight, I creep back to my bedroom, secrets still safe.
What I realize when I’m alone in my room is that I can’t decide whether I’m happy or sad about it.
Monday after school, the carpet is being cleaned in the commons, so cheer practice is cancelled. Time on my hands, I wander slowly from my locker to the parking lot. Sean’s hanging out with his guy friends, who have, apparently, complained about him being MIA lately. When I’m nearly to my car, someone calls my name. I turn to see Alison from dance waving at me.
“Hi, Alison!” I call. She hurries over, her shoulder bag smacking her on the hip as she walks. “What’s up?”
“Nothing much, just headed home,” she says. “How about you? Why aren’t you at cheer practice?”
“Cancelled due to carpet decontamination,” I say. She laughs. “Honestly, it’s nice to have the break. Dance was brutal today; I’m wrecked.”
“Same here,” she says, brushing her red hair out of her lip gloss. “I was thinking of stopping for coffee on the way home; I could use some downtime before seeing my family. You want?”
I cock my head to the side, considering. Mom doesn’t know cheer was cancelled, and Bet doesn’t need to leave for a while yet. I’m surprised to find myself able to say, “Yes, actually, that sounds great!”
Alison and I drive separate cars to a nearby coffee shop. At one point, I swear I see the red BMW that Mary woman drives behind me, but when I look again, it’s gone. Alison and I park in spaces next to each other, go inside, and order matching drinks. We and our skinny vanilla lattes settle into cushy seats by the window. We chat about dance and classes and how Principal Cowell seems to wear the same sport jacket every third day, and it’s just… easy. I never knew friendships could be like this.
When it’s getting toward Betsey’s time of the day, I tell Alison I need to get going. She nods, then looks at me seriously.
“Lizzie, you and Dave aren’t together anymore, are you?”
“What?” I say, caught off guard by the abrupt topic change.
“Dave Chancellor?” she says. “I mean, I know you went to the dance together, but you’re not still into him, right?”
I never was.
“Uh, yeah… I am,” I say. “We’re still together. Why?”
Alison’s eyes widen, then she frowns with purpose. “Listen, this is going to sound really weird, but I feel like we’re, like… friends… even though we haven’t hung out before today or anything.”
“I feel the same,” I say, smiling. “And I’m just oversubscribed. I’d love to do this again. It’s been really fun.”
“I agree,” she says, shifting like she’s suddenly uncomfortable.
“What is it?” I ask.
“So, because I feel like we’re friends, I want to tell you something,” she says. “But it’s… I feel bad about it. It’s bad.”
“Just tell me,” I say, my stomach knotting together.
Alison leans forward, hugging her arms to her chest, looking at me like she’s genuinely concerned and not just gossiping as she says what she wants to say. Her mannerisms tell me that she’s a good person. That despite the blow she delivered, I’m leaving the coffee shop with a new friend. A real friend.
And for that reason, I’m only half on fire on the way home.
After a lot of back and forth, it’s decided that it’ll be me.
On Tuesday after the switch, I crank up angry-girl rock on my way to school, singing along with the lyrics as loudly as I can. I can’t get over the fact that Dave cheated on Ella—he was the one who pursued her in the first place! And with Morgan, of all people! I shake my head, turn the music up louder, and press down on the accelerator, pissed and determined to protect Ella’s heart.
I storm into school, pausing at the top of the two steps that drop down into the packed cafeteria to scan the crowd. I easily spot Sean, who raises his chin at me with a sexy smile on his lips… until he sees the expression on my face. Then he looks worried.
He watches me search for Dave.
Surrounded by fellow football players, Dave’s eating french fries and laughing like nothing can touch him. Well, maybe nothing can, but I’m about to do my best.
I take one step down, then two, eyes on Dave. I walk straight down the middle of the aisle cutting the two sides of the cafeteria, slow and deliberate. In the periphery, I see a few students look up at me; it could be my imagination, but it feels like some of the chatter tapers off, too. Dave’s at the last table on the right and Sean’s at the second table in from the center, middle row, left. Thankfully, Dave is facing in my direction, so he sees me approaching.
He smiles at first, a cocky come here, baby sort of smile, but then he, too, looks worried when I don’t smile back. The memory of Ella’s tears eggs me on and forces me to swallow my nerves. When I’m even with Sean’s row, eyes still on Dave, I turn and make my way toward my real boyfriend. I stop right behind Sean; he spins around on the bench and asks conspiratorially, “What’s going on?”
“Just go with it,” I whisper, pulling him up.
When Sean’s standing, I step so close to him that I hear a few chuckles from his table. And then there are a few more when I pull him close and kiss him hard, long, and lingering, like I do when we’re alone. In this beehive swarming with activity, I’m not sure that many people see the kiss, but I hope that Dave does. That’s all that matters.
When I step back, Sean’s grinning like it’s his birthday, but he doesn’t say anything. He just watches me walk back to the center aisle, then make my way to Dave’s table. I know immediately that he saw me kiss Sean: His face is red; his jaw is clenched. Loudly, from a few feet away, I say what Ella wouldn’t have been able to.
“So, obviously, we’re over. Enjoy Morgan.”
I tell Grayson I need to go home for a family thing after school, but instead I meet Sean in the parking lot. He’s leaning against the trunk of the sedan, waiting for me. In distressed jeans, a gray hoodie, and dark sunglasses, with his hair stretching to the sky and his eyes on his phone, he’s gorgeous.