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Jessica Wakefield smoothed the front of her new Hawaiian-print Roxy dress and held her head high as she strode along the outdoor walkway to her locker at Sweet Valley High. She heard a couple of giggles as she passed by a group of sophomores, but couldn't tell exactly whom they'd come from, so she just shot the whole group a look of death until they all clammed up; then she kept right on walking.
Sooner or later the chatter about what had happened to her last Saturday night was going to die down, and if Jessica had anything to say about it, it would be sooner rather than later.
Her best friends, Cara Walker and Lila Fowler, stood near the wall up ahead, their heads bent together as they chatted happily. Friendly faces. Thank God.
"Hey, guys!" Jessica called out, grabbing her lock.
Cara instantly closed her cell phone and shoved it behind her back, looking guilty.
"What was that?" Jessica asked suspiciously.
"Oh, nothing," Cara said. She turned to her own locker mirror to check her long, dark hair. Then she glanced sidelong at Lila and they both cracked up.
"You haven't deleted the pictures yet, have you," Jessica accused Cara, whipping open her locker. "Cara! You promised me you'd get rid of them!"
"We're sorry, Jess, but come on," Lila said, taking Cara's phone out of her hand. "These are hilarious."
She held out the phone with her perfectly manicured fingers, as if Jessica really wanted to see how Cara had caught the worst moment of her life on her camera phone. She glanced over, thinking maybe it hadn't been as bad as she recalled, and there she was, pulling herself out of the Sweet Valley High School pool, fully clothed, with black mascara running down her face. In the background, a couple of kids laughed as if they were about to bust something. Nope. It was just as bad as she remembered.
"I swear, if that little stunt Elizabeth pulled keeps me from getting nominated for homecoming queen, I am going to take pictures of her in the shower and post them on her precious little blog," Jessica ranted, shoving a couple of books into her locker and closing it with a bang.
"God, Jess. Take a joke," Lila said, rolling her big brown eyes. She fished in her Louis Vuitton backpack for a pot of lip gloss and nudged Cara aside so that she could see her reflection while she applied. "Besides, half the school still thinks it was Liz who got dunked, not you. There's no way you don't make homecoming court."
Jessica sighed and looked in her locker mirror. Her shoulder-length blond hair looked perfect, not a strand out of place, and her new blue eyeliner really brought out her stunning Pacific blue eyes. The gold lavaliere necklace she always wore-a present from her parents on her sixteenth birthday-fell just above the neckline of her new dress. She looked perfect today, she knew. But homecoming court votes were already in. Looking perfect today wouldn't help her.
"You know, technically, we should still dump Liz in the pool," Cara pointed out, her green eyes thoughtful. "The tradition is that the Insider columnist gets dunked, right? Well, Liz is the Insider columnist, but she made us all believe you were her so that you would get dunked. Ergo, she needs to get wet."
Jessica smirked. "I like the way you think, Cara Walker."
"Since when do you say 'ergo'?" Lila asked, a tiny wrinkle in her otherwise beautiful tan brow.
"Since I started taking that SAT course," Cara responded with a sniff.
"Attention, students!" Principal Cooper's voice suddenly boomed over the PA system. "We have your results for this year's homecoming court."
"Omigod! This is it!" Jessica gasped, grabbing Lila's and Cara's arms. A sizzle of anticipation raced through the warm California air. Most of the people in the outdoor hallway stopped gabbing so they could hear. Jessica held her breath.
"First, your candidates for homecoming king," the principal announced. There was a shuffling of papers and he cleared his throat. "They are . . . Winston Egbert."
"What?" Jessica cried, causing Lila and Cara to laugh. "Is this the joke court?" Winston was basically the biggest dork in school. Jessica had always thought he looked just like that Waldo guy from the Where's Waldo? books.
"Ken Matthews," the principal continued.
"Okay, well at least that makes sense," Jessica added as Ken, the gorgeous, blond captain of the football team, accepted congratulations from his friends down the hall.
Yes! Jessica cheered silently. She'd had a crush on Bruce ever since she'd known what the word "crush" meant, and she'd been counting on his making the homecoming court.
"And Todd Wilkins," the principal finished.
"Shocker," Lila said, rolling her eyes.
Of course Elizabeth's perfect boyfriend would make it. If he didn't, he might be less than perfect.
"And now your candidates for homecoming queen," Principal Cooper continued. "Lila Fowler."
Lila preened, flicking her light brown hair over her shoulder and running a fingertip along one plucked eyebrow. The people around her applauded, and Jessica smiled, even though inside she was burning with jealousy and dread. Jealousy that Lila always got everything, dread that her own name might not also be on the list.
"Okay. Now I know this is a joke," Jessica said.
"Hey!" Lila protested, whacking her with the back of her hand.
"What? I mean, Enid? Come on. She might be an even bigger loser than Winston," Jessica said.
"And she's your sister's best friend," Lila pointed out. "So what does that make Liz?"
Jessica shot Lila a silencing look. Jessica could bad-mouth her twin as much as she wanted, but she didn't like it when other people tried to do the same.
"You get one hot boyfriend and all of a sudden you're homecoming court material," Cara said with a sigh, leaning back against the wall.
"You think that's why? Because she's going out with Ronnie Edwards?" Jessica asked, incredulous.
"Well, he's new. He's hot. He's all mysterious and brooding," Cara said with a shrug. "When she snagged him it totally upped her It factor."
Jessica pondered this. She'd never quite thought of Ronnie Edwards as mysterious and brooding-more silent and robotic-but she could see how some girls might find him attractive. Maybe Cara was on to something.
"Elizabeth Wakefield," the principal continued.
Oh, please, please, please let the last name be mine! Jessica begged the popularity gods.
"And Jessica Wakefield," he finished.
"Yes!" Jessica shouted, jumping up and down.
Cara laughed, but Lila shot her a look of disdain. "Very sophisticated, Jess. Not at all embarrassing."
Jessica composed herself and accepted congratulations from Ken and his friends as they passed by. Then she saw Bruce himself come around the corner, and it was as if everything just switched into slow motion. He walked down the center of the hall as though he owned the place, his dark hair shiny in the sun, that perpetual smirk in his brown eyes. He was wearing a pristine blue Ralph Lauren sweater and distressed jeans, and looked like he could sail off on his yacht at any second. Which, of course, with his family's money, he could probably do. Jessica watched him until he strolled by, hoping for that rare and coveted hello.
"Ladies," he said with a brief nod.
Jessica almost melted.
"Wow, Jess. You look like you just saw your first Roberto Cavalli," Lila commented snidely. "Try rolling your tongue back into your mouth."
Cara snorted a laugh that brought Jessica back to earth.
"I don't care what you think, Lila," Jessica said, tossing her hair back. She gave herself a confident, steadying look in the mirror, hoping her crazy heartbeat would chill out before she overheated. "Bruce Patman is going to be mine eventually. And now that we're in homecoming court together, I'm that much closer."