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Whenever an adult asked her what she wanted to be, Molly Walker always answered "forensic pathologist." This was a total lie — she got ill at the thought of dissecting a frog, much less a person. But it sounded cool and usually made them stop asking annoying questions.
Molly's actual interest in forensic pathology was limited to her obsessive devotion to crime-scene television shows. Each one started with some gorgeous hooker or hot millionaire lying facedown in an expensive bathroom. The thing she loved about the shows was that the bodies were always being examined by a brainy member of the coroner's staff who both the hooker and millionaire would have totally ignored if they had all gone to the same school. In these shows, good things happened to smart people and bad things happened to beautiful people.
In other words, it was the exact opposite of high school.
Molly also loved the women on these shows. They were smart and sexy and didn't take shit from anybody. In her heart of hearts, she wished she could radiate the same kind of cool-girl persona.
Just the thought of it made her laugh.
She was wrapping up a week that was anything but cool. It started with her boyfriend dumping her, continued with her bombing major tests in both English and trig, and was culminating in a freak heat wave that made it so humid she could literally feel her hair curling as she waited for a traffic light to change. (Typically, curly hair wasn't on the same level as heartbreak and bad grades, but since it was prom day, her hair had heightened importance.)
The heat wave had arrived just in time to ruin her prom picture. Now, in some dusty frame on a shelf in the den, she'd have frizzy unkempt hair for the rest of eternity. (If only she wore her old retainer and cat's-eye glasses, she could have completed the ensemble.)
She checked the rearview mirror and gasped at the tangled mess on top of her head. It was worse than she thought. It didn't help that the car's air conditioner was broken. Riding around town with the windows down only made it worse.
The long-dead air conditioner was just one of many things wrong with Molly's car, an ancient Volvo now on its third generation in the Walker family. It had been neon blue when her grandmother first picked it out at the dealership. Now, nineteen years later, it was the color of an old pair of jeans. Except for the passenger-side door, which was the color of a brand-new pumpkin. (Orange was the only color available at the junkyard after a particularly poor attempt at parallel parking.)
The floorboard was held together with duct tape and had a hole in it the size of a quarter. This meant Molly's left shoe got wet whenever it rained. She had no delusions about its life expectancy. As a rule, she never put in more than six dollars of gas at any one time because she didn't want to waste a full tank when it took its inevitable trip to the Volvo graveyard.
Despite all of this — or perhaps because of it — Molly loved the car. Every great memory she had of high school was somehow connected to it. It had carried her and her friends to countless football games, provided privacy for endless talks, and was the scene of more than a few romantic highlights.
The car was such an essential part of Molly's life that even the most junior forensic tech on one of her shows could create a complete profile of her just by looking at clues from the vehicle.
The trunk housed her collected letters — in it you could find crumpled up homework, term papers, and even some random love notes dating back to sophomore year. They painted a picture of a girl who made good if not stellar grades and who could pen a righteous love letter, but not always muster up the courage to send it.
The glove compartment was filled with mix CDs she'd made during various stages of her musical maturation. They showed an evolution that went from rock to reggae to country to emo and back to rock again.
The trickiest clue to decipher was the gooey residue on the rear window. It marked where there once had been a Princeton University sticker. (Molly ripped it off moments after getting the rejection letter in the mail.)
She hoped the car would make it all the way to graduation, and not just for sentimental reasons. She hated the idea of bumming rides to all those end-of-the-year parties and events. Now, though, she thought she'd be lucky if it lasted through the night.
As it rattled down the street, an altogether new and mysterious noise started coming from the engine. It was a grinding noise. Molly didn't know much about cars, but she assumed grinding noises were bad.
At best, the car needed another trip to the mechanic, which she couldn't afford. At worst, it was time to put it out of its misery. Either way, it demanded instant attention. Instant attention, however, was something she just couldn't manage. Not today. She had way too many things to worry about. So, she did the only sensible thing she could think of. She reached over to the radio and turned up the volume until the music drowned out the grinding. Maybe, she reasoned, if she didn't hear it, it would just go away.
That's the kind of day she was having.
It wasn't even ten and she was already on her fifth Red Bull. This broke the record she set the day she retook the SAT. Unfortunately, it hadn't helped much then and didn't seem to be helping now.
Amazingly, the car made it all the way to the American Legion hall without breaking down. She pulled into the parking lot and brought it to a loud and merciful stop. Before getting out, she closed her eyes and took a long, deep breath. If caffeine and sugar weren't going to work, maybe meditation would do the trick.
She was able to meditate for all of three and a half seconds before the peace and quiet were interrupted.
"Nice hair," the voice came from beside her. "I think a blue jay is building a nest in back."
Molly smiled and opened her eyes to see her best friend, Allison, standing by the car. "Thanks," Molly replied. "Anything I can do to help the environment."
Molly got out of the car and the two of them headed for the door.
"How many is that?" Allison asked, pointing at the silver-and-blue can in Molly's hand.
"Two," Molly answered.
Allison just gave her a look.
"Okay, five," Molly admitted.
Allison took a deep breath. "This should be fun."
This was the final meeting of the prom committee. The first had taken place during the second week of school. That's when Molly had been elected prom committee chair.
She won in a landslide. Mostly because no one else wanted it. She couldn't have cared less. It was a job she was born to do. Her motivation was simple. She wanted to make sure her prom didn't suck. She'd gone as a junior and found it beyond lame. She was going to make sure that her class went out strong.
Molly had tackled the job with great enthusiasm. She'd orchestrated six fund-raisers, oversaw bimonthly theme meetings, and auditioned dozens of bands and deejays without so much as once losing her sense of humor or sanity. But now, with the end in sight, she felt that grip loosening.
Like her car, she wasn't quite sure she could make it.
The first cracks had appeared the night before when she got bitchy at the end of a grueling nine-hour decorate-a-thon. There was simply too much to do and too few people to do it.
That hadn't always been the case. At one time, the prom committee had enough people to polish off a dozen pizzas after a meeting. But, like most high school groups, the membership plummeted after the yearbook picture was taken and really thinned out once the hard work kicked in.
There was also what Allison dubbed "the Battle of Moulin Rouge."
It happened during a meeting in which a girl with a total Nicole Kidman fixation demanded that "Moulin Rouge" be selected as the prom theme. The idea started to build some support until it was squashed by a group of boys who refused to be a part of anything (as they put it) "so freaking lame."
To make matters worse, they wanted the theme to be "It's Vegas, Baby!" (It didn't help that the boy leading the Vegas group had once dated and dumped the Nicole wannabe.)
The argument that followed was very loud and extremely petty. It had plenty of yelling and crying and even some minor head trauma when she pelted him with a hardback copy of The Grapes of Wrath.
"It's amazing he lived," Allison said later when she checked the back of the book and discovered it was 1,067 pages long.
When the dust settled and the final vote was cast, neither "Moulin Rouge" nor "It's Vegas, Baby!" was selected. The surprise winner was "Hollywood Dreams," which caused both of the other groups to storm out and quit.
Now the committee was down to eight diehards, all of them girls and three named Michelle. Each one was as bleary-eyed and caffeine-addled as Molly.
The purpose of the meeting was simple. Molly needed to take one final walk-through of the hall to make sure that everything was officially prom ready. She had a clipboard with a checklist, and once she gave the committee the word, they could finally stop planning the big night and start enjoying it.
Despite being overworked, the group had done an amazing job transforming the building into a Hollywood dreamland. This had been no easy task. After all, drab olive walls were fine for the clogging festival, but prom was prom. These memories were supposed to last a lifetime.
Along one wall, they'd built a replica of the Hollywood sign that looked just like the real thing. (Actually, the father of one of the Michelles built it, but it had taken all of them to assemble it and put it up.) Another wall was covered with classic movie posters like Casablanca and Gone with the Wind. The floor had stars just like the ones on the Walk of Fame — except rather than celebrities' names, these had the names of their classmates.
Molly walked around with her clipboard and checklist while the other girls sprawled out on the red carpet that was for the grand entry. It wasn't really supposed to be a meeting, just a quick formality. But the girls started to get nervous when they saw that Molly was taking notes. When she finally stopped, she came back over to them.
Even Allison wasn't quite sure what was going on in Molly's head. "So?" she asked. "What do you think?"
"I think it's amazing," Molly answered.
The girls heaved a collective sigh of relief.
"Amazing, that I didn't realize this earlier," she continued. "The Hollywood sign is all wrong. I can say it because it was my idea, but it's way too cheesy."
One of the Michelles started to twitch, but this didn't slow Molly one bit. She wasn't so much talking to them as she was having a conversation with herself.
"And these stars," she said, pointing at the floor. "I think we need to get a ruler and check the alignment. They just seem...wrong."
Allison didn't like where this was headed. She had a quick flashback to the Battle of Moulin Rouge. Only this time her best friend was leading the suicide mission.
Molly kept rolling. "Now, about the balloon drop, I've been doing some new calculations, and considering the square footage of the dance floor and the number of balloons, we are way too — "
She never got to finish her algebraic equation. Allison just grabbed her and dragged her straight to the bathroom. When they got inside, Allison locked the door behind them and turned on all of the faucets so that no one could listen in.
"I wasn't ready for the bathrooms," Molly said, not missing a beat. "But since we're here, I think we could spruce this up a bit too."
"Do you hear what you're saying?" Allison asked. She waved her hand in front of Molly's face, trying to break her out of her trance.
Molly stalled for a second and went to take another hit of Red Bull. Allison snapped the can out of her hand and poured it down the drain.
"Look at yourself," Allison demanded.
Molly looked in the mirror for a moment and gasped, "Oh my God!"
"Exactly," Allison replied, thinking she'd gotten through.
"My hair is getting worse!"
"Can I get a little focus?" Allison shot back. "You are freaking out."
"I am doing no such thing," Molly said defensively. "This is our prom. It needs to be right. I have spent months planning this thing, and it's going to be perfect."
"Listen Molls," Allison said. "I love you to death. You know that. And that's why I can tell you that you are full-on geekin' at the worst possible time. These girls have slaved for you and it's over. There is no such thing as perfect."
"I just had a couple of small — "
"Done!" Allison said emphatically.
Molly took another look in the mirror and sighed. "You're right," she said with a nod.
"Of course I'm right," Allison said with a wry smile. "I'm always right."
Molly gave her a skeptical look. "What about that night with — "
Allison cut her off. "We agreed you wouldn't bring that up ever again."
Molly smiled. "I'm just saying."
"Now go back out there and act like it was some lame joke or something. But you better be careful how you do it, because I think two of the Michelles take Tae Kwon Do."
"Yes. And one of them is the one who's twitching."
Molly turned off the faucets, unlocked the door, and walked back out. The sparse group had somehow taken the shape and demeanor of an angry mob. Molly made a point of keeping her distance from the Michelle with the twitch.
"Let me rephrase what I was saying," she offered. "It's perfect. You all did a wonderful job."
They traded some unsure looks, but then they smiled back at her.
"Go home. Get ready. Have a great time tonight."
She didn't have to tell them twice. Within moments, everyone was gone but Molly and Allison.
"That's good advice for you, too," Allison added. "Although you might consider taking a little nap first. You could use some beauty sleep."
"Sleep?" Molly laughed. "Who has time for sleep? That's what summer's for."
They walked to the door. Along the way, Molly was even able to overcome the urge to rearrange two nonsymmetrical centerpieces.
But just barely.
Rachel wasn't sure if she'd rather be a journalist or a novelist, but she knew that she wanted to write. She loved everything about writing, from coming up with stories and creating characters to finding just the right word or turn of phrase. She liked the thought of working through the night under deadlines and pressure. And she especially liked how most writers seemed to have a smart-ass attitude.
She also liked the uniform, or rather, the lack of a uniform. Writers wore whatever they wanted, and that sounded great to Rachel. The thought of dressing up every day to go to work was practically suffocating. There were only two dresses in her closet — one for Easter and one for Christmas. On the other 363 days of the year, she was fully committed to jeans, shorts, and sweatpants.
That's why she felt so ridiculous standing on a platform in Matilda's Bridal and Formal Shop.
She was wearing a pink peau de soie dress with a pleated empire waist and tulle underskirt. The saleswoman assured her that these features were "perfect for your silhouette."
At the time, Rachel nodded like she understood what the woman was talking about. In truth, she was not only unfamiliar with the dress terms; she was completely unaware she even had a silhouette.
Yet, here she was wearing the dress, surrounded by mirrors — eight in all — and the image in each one was so absurd, she just had to laugh.
The more she looked, the more she laughed.
"No move," barked the tiny woman trying to perform the emergency alterations. Unlike the saleswoman who was all smiles and honey, the seamstress was packing major attitude. Rachel couldn't quite place the accent, maybe Eastern European, but her irritation transcended any linguistic boundaries.
"Too late, too late," the woman added for emphasis.
"I know," Rachel answered meekly. "I'm really sorry."
The seamstress scoffed and went back to work. Angry or not, she seemed to be doing a great job with the hem.
Rachel was only five four, and the dress was at least four inches too long. She was amazed at how fast the woman worked the pins from a cushion on her wrist into the dress.
She tried to make a mental picture so she could write about it later. "You're really good," she said with a smile, trying to defuse the tension. The woman looked up at her, and for a moment Rachel thought she might actually smile.
Rachel just nodded and gave up on the notion of bonding with her. In truth, it really was too late for any alterations. The prom was now less than eight hours away.
If Rachel wanted to defend herself, and the woman gave no indication she was interested in such a discussion, she could have mentioned that her lateness wasn't a case of slacker procrastination or even bitchy perfectionism. Rachel hadn't come earlier because at no prior point did she ever imagine she'd be going to the prom.
It's not that she was one of those dark and brooding types who boycotted school functions on principle. She played French horn in the marching band and screamed her head off at football games. And, it wasn't because she was antisocial. She was cute, friendly, and loved to hang out.
Despite all of this, the high school social scene had been complicated for her. She had a lot of friends, but none who were very close. She never completely fit in with any one clique, so she bounced around from group to group.
When it came to boys, things had been even sketchier. She'd been on a handful of dates, but something about them never felt quite right. She had fun, but she never had the range of emotions that she read about in books. (Or even on par with what she heard about in the girls' restroom.) After a particularly awkward New Year's Eve party, she came to the conclusion that she was probably gay.
This was not something she wanted to pursue over the last few months of high school. She suspected that when she got to college, there would be a world of discovery waiting for her. But, for the time being, she was content to avoid the dating scene altogether and concentrate on something that did come naturally — academics.
Unlike Molly, Rachel still had an Ivy League sticker on the back window of her car. In the fall, she'd be headed off to Dartmouth. There, on some cold New Hampshire night, she could finally explore her true sexuality.
Prom, she figured, was a casualty of the situation. Even if there was a girl she liked, she wasn't the type to make some big political statement and take her. (She wasn't even sure such a thing would be allowed.) Likewise, she didn't want to live out some lie by going with a boy.
When anyone asked if she was going, she just coyly answered, "I still haven't found the right person."
But a funny thing happened on the way to the closet. Earlier in the week, with absolutely no warning, Rachel was named to the prom court.
If this came as a surprise to the student body as a whole, it was a total shock to Rachel. At first she assumed that it was all a practical joke arranged by one of her friends on the school paper.
In fact, it had been her place on the newspaper staff that had put her in this position in the first place. Every month, Rachel wrote a "My Life as..." column. This was a first-person article about a different aspect of high school life. Her column was extremely humorous and the most popular feature in the paper. Two of her articles had caused minor firestorms.
"My Life as a Cafeteria Hag" detailed the inner workings of the school kitchen and included the actual ingredients of the weekly Sloppy Joes. As a result, the cafeteria manager was let go, and new sanitation standards had to be instituted.
Her most notorious column had featured an article about after-school jobs, in which she dressed like the furry mascot of a local ice-cream shop. The problem wasn't so much the content as its huge headline, which read, "My Life as a Giant Beaver." By the end of first period, she was already pleading her case to the principal that the headline did not mean what he thought it meant.
The final article in the series was supposed to be "My Life as a Prom Queen." To do it, Rachel had to submit her own name as a potential member of the prom court. Then, she was going to write humorously about what it was like to receive the fewest votes in the history of prom-queen balloting. At the conclusion of the article, she was going to skip out on prom and hang out with friends at an antiprom instead. This gave her not only a good ending, but also a nice cover for why she wasn't going.
But this plan was officially derailed when Mrs. White, the prom sponsor, assured her that it was no joke. She had honestly been elected as a member of the prom court.
The court was voted on by the entire senior class, and that had been the source of Rachel's surprising selection. The fact that she had never fully fit in with any one group helped her mostly fit in with every group. And, though she would never consider herself popular, she was exceedingly well-liked.
That afternoon, when Rachel was telling her mother the news, it dawned on her that as a member of the prom court, she should probably actually go to the prom. But for that she was lacking two key elements: a date and a dress.
That's when Mom came to the rescue.
Mrs. Buchanan, who was much hipper to her daughter's situation than Rachel realized, reassured her. "You don't really need a date," she explained. "It's not like going as a single is unprecedented."
"But dresses are expensive," Rachel responded. "And we're already on the hook for the tuition at Dartmouth, which is totally out of control. I can't believe I'm doing this to you."
"Yes, Rachel," her mother said in mock horror. "You were accepted to an Ivy League school and got elected to prom court. How could you be so terrible to me?"
Rachel laughed. "You know what I mean. It just seems like a waste of money."
"The people have spoken," her mother replied with a smile. "And, they want you at the prom."
Rachel and her mother went dress shopping, and to her surprise, she actually enjoyed it. Dressing up every day was a pain, but on a special occasion it was all right. After a couple of shops they found Matilda's. There, in the window, Rachel saw the dress and fell for it even before the saleswoman gave her pitch.
When Rachel reached to check the price tag, her mom grabbed it out of her hand and simply said, "We'll take it."
Now, two days later, the final alterations were being done, and Rachel was looking at the dress in eight different mirrors. Her mother was off to the side, drinking a soda and trying just as hard as Rachel not to laugh at it all.
"No move," the seamstress said as she finished the hem and stepped back to check her work.
Rachel looked over at her mom, who had suddenly gone from laughing to teary eyed. Then she looked down at the seamstress.
"How do I look?" Rachel asked reflexively.
The little woman eyed her carefully, and suddenly Rachel wished she hadn't asked.
She looked Rachel in the eyes and with her broken accent said, "You beauty." She paused for a moment and then added, "Late...but beauty." Finally, the woman smiled.
"That's bitchin'," Rachel said as her cheeks turned two shades of red. It was perhaps the greatest compliment she had ever heard.
Kirby cringed when he heard the scream. Then a girl started to sob, and he used his big beefy hands to cover his ears. He was fearless on a football field. From the opening whistle to the final gun, he used his size and speed to dominate a game and terrorize the opposition. But ten minutes outside of a beauty parlor had turned him into a total basket case.
For the life of him, he could not imagine what was going on behind the blacked-out windows. Every instinct told him to use his size and speed to rush in and help whoever was doing the screaming and sobbing.
But he didn't.
He didn't because the same traits that made Kirby a great football player — that he was big and strong and did whatever he was told to do — also made him an ideal boyfriend.
His girlfriend, Jenna, told him that under no circumstance could he come inside. She didn't even want him to wait for her, but on that point he insisted. It was prom day, and he wanted to spend as much time as possible with her. He'd be there the moment she got out.
It's not like Jenna had made up the ban. It was salon policy. There was a big sign on the door that read, NO MOMS! NO BOYS! NO WAY!
Normally the Rebecca Tyler Salon and Spa was much more welcoming of mothers and men. But this was no normal day. This was the one day each year when Rebecca closed her doors to everyone except for the girls of her alma mater. She had once been a cheerleader at Fletcher, and her school spirit still burned strong.
Inside, where boyfriends feared to tread, every chair and station was working at full capacity. The soothing new-age music had been replaced with a rowdy mix of rock, pop, and hip-hop. With no intruders, the girls were free to unload on any topic they wanted.
Conversations ran the gamut from the mundane to the raunchy. One group getting mani-pedis was trying to figure out a protocol for dancing with someone other than the guy who brought you. There was some disagreement about whether or not slow dances were off-limits.
Meanwhile, three girls with their hair up in curlers were playing a heated game of "Death Is Not an Option," in which two undesirable guys are listed and you have to decide which you'd be willing to hook up with.
The scream Kirby heard had come from a back room where a woman affectionately known as the "Dragon Lady of Death" was in charge of deep-tissue massage. The sobs were a natural by-product of hormones and insecurity mixed with way too much cappuccino. Add in gossip; sex talk; and the battling aromas of hair product, exfoliating wash, and body butter, and you had the perfect storm of teen anxiety.
Rebecca did everything she could to ease that anxiety. On one wall she'd hung an enlargement of her very own prom picture. In the photo, she sported big eighties hair and overly dramatic New Wave makeup. Underneath she had written, "Beauty is fleeting, but prom pictures last forever!"
She also wanted to make sure a lack of money didn't keep any of the girls from looking their best. So, she didn't charge them at all. She just asked that they tip the stylists and technicians as best as they could.
Her payment was simple. Every year, for weeks after the prom, she was visited by a steady stream of girls, each one dropping off a picture from the big night. Rebecca kept them in a set of photo albums that filled a shelf in her office.
"Think beautiful, be beautiful," she announced to no one in particular as she snaked her way through the crowd.
Two girls getting facial masks hardly needed the reminder. Unlike with Rachel, it had been a surprise to no one when Jenna and Victoria were named to prom court.
Jenna, whose boyfriend, Kirby, was still patiently waiting outside, was a knockout. Tall and pretty, she looked like she belonged in a magazine. She lived in a small house with two younger sisters and her mother, who taught Spanish at the middle school. Despite the fact that they didn't have much money, Jenna had been voted Most Fashionable Girl in the senior class. This was a testament both to her sense of style and to her mother's excellent sewing skills.
At most schools, Jenna would have been the girl. But, at Fletcher, she resided in the heavy shadow of her best friend, Victoria Sligh.
Victoria was Fletcher's alpha girl, and she worked very hard to stay on top. Every August, a week before school started, she sat down with her mother and they wrote out an amazing list of type-A goals for the upcoming year. Invariably she achieved every one.
Behind her back, everyone (including Jenna) referred to her as Queen Victoria. And, though she never would have admitted it, she liked the nickname — a lot. She was an only child, and her parents (Dad was a surgeon, and Mom a former Miss Tennessee) pushed her to always keep striving for more.
"Try to relax," the woman said as she applied the mask to Victoria's face.
"I am relaxed," Victoria snapped back tartly.
"Of course," the woman said without missing a beat, skillfully hiding any hint of sarcasm in her voice.
Jenna had to fight the urge to laugh out loud. She knew that her friend — who was wound pretty tightly on an average day — was particularly taut today.
Victoria was on the verge of completing the most ambitious of all her goals. It was a goal so ambitious she hadn't even written it down on her list for fear that someone might see it. She hadn't even told Jenna. She discussed it with only her mother.
Victoria was already the senior class president, homecoming queen, and captain of the cheerleading squad. If, as everyone expected, she took home the tiara as prom queen, she'd be the first girl in school history to win all four.
Her mother coined it "the Grand Slam."
It's hard to say which was more disturbing: the fact that Victoria actually went to the school library and looked through every old yearbook to find out if anyone else had accomplished the feat, or the fact that her mother thought it warranted a name. Either way, the two of them viewed it as the ultimate high school achievement.
But, hours away from her greatest triumph, Victoria was not feeling particularly triumphant. She had an uneasy feeling about the whole thing. She was worried that someone might ruin what she had worked so hard to accomplish.
Jenna sensed this and tried to be reassuring. "Don't worry," she said. "You're going to win."
Victoria despised being so transparent. She always wanted to project an image of total confidence, even with her best friend. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"You don't?" Jenna knew Victoria better than anyone. They had been best friends since back in middle school, when Victoria was still just Vicki.
"No," replied Victoria. "I don't."
"What I'm talking about is your raging case of Venus envy," Jenna said. (Now it was the woman applying the mask who had to fight the urge to laugh.)
"My what envy?"
"Venus envy. It's when one hot girl is jealous of another hot girl," Jenna explained.
Victoria sat upright, her face mostly covered with a green mask, but her look of contempt plainly visible. "You think I'm jealous? Of whom?"
The whom cracked Jenna up. It was so AP English of Victoria.
Jenna sat up and slyly nodded at the girl directly in front of them getting a sea-salt scrub. "You're jealous of Karolina Olsen."
Victoria was busted, but she wasn't going to give in. "I'm not jealous of her," she protested.
Jenna smiled. "But you are worried about her."
That was an understatement. Victoria and her mother had talked it over and decided that Karolina was the one girl who could pull the prom queen upset. It was a development they hadn't seen coming at the start of the year when they first mapped out the Grand Slam plan.
Karolina arrived suddenly and unexpectedly on the first day of school. Normally, a new girl couldn't disrupt the power structure too much. But Karolina wasn't a typical new girl.
She was a Swedish exchange student.
She was flawlessly beautiful and disgustingly sweet, and she exuded an innocent sexiness that had most boys at school wrapped around her finger.
The fact that Karolina was so comfortable lying half-naked in a roomful of strangers was just one of the many things about her that unnerved Victoria. She was just so...European.
Victoria was pretty, but she had to work at it. She kept to a strict diet, worked out religiously, and always made sure her hair and makeup were perfect. All that work gave her a certain hardness.
Karolina was just naturally beautiful. She could goof around with the guys, eat a ton of pizza, and none of it had the slightest impact.
Karolina also had a secret weapon — actually, two of them — a pair of breasts that were so impressive, they had their own nickname: the Olsen Twins.
This was a sensitive issue with Victoria and her mother, both of whom were borderline B cups at best. (Victoria's mom claimed her lack of success at the Miss America pageant had to do with the fact that as Miss Tennessee, she always had to stand next to Miss Texas, a girl from Dallas whose fake boobs made Victoria's mom look even more flat chested by comparison.)
In a close election, Karolina's breasts could be worth maybe fifty votes. And that's what was worrying Victoria. She didn't want to be the prom queen. She needed it. And she didn't like leaving anything to chance.
"It's not whatever you called it," Victoria said.
"Right. It's not that."
"Then what is it?" Jenna asked.
Victoria hesitated for a moment and then said out loud what she had been thinking all week. "It's completely unfair that she's on the prom court."
"I knew it. I knew it," Jenna said, laughing. "Why do you think it's unfair?"
"She's an exchange student," Victoria reasoned. "She should be the Ice Princess of Stockholm or something like that. But she shouldn't be our prom queen. She doesn't represent who we are."
"Wow," Jenna said, realizing this meant even more to Victoria than she had thought. "It's not like the prom queen's a member of Congress. It's just some girl who poses for a picture."
This last dig cut deep. "Well, she shouldn't be the one posing," Victoria said. "It should be me."
"Thanks a lot," Jenna said pointedly. "I guess I don't represent who we are either."
"Or you," Victoria added with a cringe. She was so focused on Karolina that she forgot her best friend was also still technically in the running. "It just shouldn't be her."
They sat there for a moment watching as Karolina continued her sea-salt scrub, completely oblivious to the rage of emotions brewing around her.
Jenna knew that Victoria rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. But their friendship went back a long way and that meant a lot. They had been through so much together, and Jenna knew that her friend had a lot of really great qualities. Still, she enjoyed poking her every now and then.
"Look at her," Jenna said, motioning back to Karolina. "Tell me that you're not jealous at least a little bit."
"Not a bit," Victoria said unconvincingly.
Just then, Karolina turned over slightly, exposing one of the Olsen Twins. The two of them were momentarily speechless.
"Which one is that?" Jenna asked with a smile. "Mary-Kate or Ashley?" Copyright © 2008 by James Ponti
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