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By Claire LaZebnik
HarperTeenCopyright © 2011 Claire LaZebnik
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Chapter OneThe front office wasn't as crazy as you'd expect on
the first day of school, which seemed to confirm
Coral Tree Prep's reputation as "a well oiled machine."
That was a direct quote from the Private School
Confidential website I had stumbled across when I first
Googled Coral Treeright after my parents told me
and my three sisters we'd be transferring there in the
fall. Since it was on the other side of the country from
where we'd been livingfrom where I'd lived my entire
lifeI couldn't exactly check it myself, and I was
desperate for more information.
A well-oiled machine didn't sound too bad. But I
was less thrilled to read that Coral Tree was "basically
a country club masquerading as a school." The same
anonymous writer added, "I've yet to see a student
drive a car onto campus that's not a Porsche or a BMW.
And even an AP math student would lose count of the
Louboutins on the girls here." Yuck.
But while I was clicking around that site, I learned
about another private school in L.A. that had a
"condom tree"kids allegedly tossed their used condoms
up into its branchesso I guess my parents could have
done worse than, you know, Coral Tree.
True to the school's reputation, the administrator
in the office was brisk and efficient and had quickly
printed up and handed me and Juliana each a class list
and a map of the school.
"You okay?" I asked Juliana, as she stared at the map
like it was written in some foreign language. She started
and looked up at me, slightly panicked. Juliana's a year
older than me, but she sometimes seems younger,
mostly because she's the opposite of cynical and I'm the
opposite of the opposite of cynical.
Because we're so close in age, people frequently ask
if the two of us are twins. It's lucky for me we're not,
because if we were, Juliana would be The Pretty One.
She and I do look a lot alike, but there are infinitesimal
differencesher eyes are just a touch wider apart,
her hair a bit silkier, her lips fullerand all these little
changes add up to her being truly beautiful and my
being reasonably cute. On a good day. When the light
hits me right.
I put my head closer to hers and lowered my voice.
"Did you see the girls in the hallway? How much
makeup they're all wearing? And their hair is perfect,
like they spent hours on it. How is that possible?" Mine
was in a ponytail. It wasn't even all that clean because
our fourteen-year-old sister, Layla, had hogged the bathroom
that morning and I'd barely had time to brush my
teeth, let alone take a shower.
"It'll all be fine," Juliana said faintly.
"Yeah," I said, with no more conviction. "Anyway,
I'd better run. My first class is on the other side of the
building." I squinted at the map. "I think."
She squeezed my arm. "Good luck."
"Find me at lunch, okay? I'll be the one sitting by
"You'll make friends, Elise," she said. "I know you
"Just find me." I took a deep breath and plunged
out of the office and into the hallwayand instantly hit
someone with the door. "Sorry!" I said, cringing.
The girl I'd hit turned, rubbing her hip. She wore an
incredibly short miniskirt, tight black boots that came
up almost to her knees, and a spaghetti-strap tank top.
It was an outfit more suited for a nightclub than a day
of classes, but I had to admit she had the right body
for it. Her blond hair was beautifully cut, highlighted,
and styled, and the makeup she wore really played up
her pretty blue eyes and perfect little nose. Which was
scrunched up now in disdain as she surveyed me and
bleated out a loud and annoyed "FAIL!"
The girl standing with her said, "Oh my God, are
you okay?" in pretty much the tone you'd use if
someone you cared about had just been hit by a speeding
pickup truck right in front of you.
It hadn't been that hard a bump, but I held my hands
up apologetically. "Epic fail. I know. Sorry."
The girl I'd hit raised an eyebrow. "At least you're
"At least," I agreed. "Hey, do you happen to know
where room twenty-three is? I have English there in,
like, two minutes and I don't know my way around. I'm
The other girl said, "I'm in that class, too." Her hair
was brown instead of blond and her eyes hazel instead of
blue, but the two girls' long, choppy manes and skinny
bodies had been cast from the same basic mold. She was
wearing a narrow, silky turquoise tank top over snug
boot-cut jeans and a bunch of multicolored bangles on
her slender wrist. "You can follow me. See you later,
"Yeah,wait, hold on a sec." Chels, or whatever her name waspulled her friend toward her and whispered something in her ear. Her friend's eyes darted
toward me briefly, but long enough to make me glance
down at my old straight leg jeans and my THIS IS
WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE T-shirt and feel like I
shouldn't have worn either.
The two girls giggled and broke apart.
"I know, right?" the friend said. "See you," she said
to Chels and immediately headed down the hallway,
calling brusquely over her shoulder, "Hurry up. It's on
the other side of the building and you don't want to be
late for Ms. Phillips's class."
"She scary?" I asked, scuttling to keep up.
"She just gets off on handing out EMDs."
"EMDs?" I repeated.
"Early morning detentions. You have to come in at,
like, seven in the morning and help clean up and stuff
like that. Sucks. Most of the teachers here are pretty
mellow if you're a couple of minutes late, but not Phillips.
She's got major control issues."
"What's your name?" I asked, dodging a group of
girls in cheerleader outfits.
"Gifford." Really? Gifford? "And that was Chelsea
you hit with the door. You really should be more
Too late for that advicein my efforts to avoid bumping
into a cheerleader, I had just whammed my shoulder
on the edge of a locker. I yelped in pain. Gifford rolled
her eyes and kept moving.
I caught up again. "I'm Elise," I said, even though
she hadn't asked. "You guys in eleventh grade, too?"
"Yeah. So you're new, huh? Where're you from?"
She actually showed some interest. "That near
"No. But Amherst College is there. And UMass."
She dismissed that with an uninterested wave. "You
get snow there?"
"It's Massachusetts," I said. "Of course we do. Did."
"So do you ski?"
"Not much." My parents didn't, and the one time
they tried to take us it was so expensive that they never
repeated the experiment.
"We go to Park City every Christmas break,"
Gifford said. "But this year my mother thought maybe
we should try Vail. Or maybe Austria. Just for a change,
I didn't know. But I nodded like I did.
"You see the same people at Park City every year,"
she said. "I get sick of it. It's like Maui at Christmas,
I wished she'd stop saying "You know?"
Fortunately, we had reached room 23. "In here,"
said Gifford. She opened the door and went in,
successfully communicating that her mentoring ended
at the room's threshold.
Over the course of the next four hours, I discovered
1. Classes at Coral Tree Prep were really small.
When we got to English, I was worried that half
the class would get EMDs or whatever they were
called because there were fewer than a dozen kids
in the room. But when Ms. Phillips came in, she
said, "Goodeveryone's here, let's get started,"
and I realized that was the class.
2. The campus grounds were unbelievably green and
seemed to stretch on for acres. I kept gazing out
the window, wishing I could escape and go rolling
down the grassy hills that lined the fields.
3. Teachers at Coral Tree Prep didn't like you to
stare out the window and would tell you so in
front of the entire class who would then all turn
and stare at The New Girl Who Wasn't Paying
4. Everyone at Coral Tree Prep was good looking.
Really. Everyone. I didn't see a single fat or ugly
kid all morning. Maybe they just locked them up
at registration and didn't let them out again until
Excerpted from Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik Copyright © 2011 by Claire LaZebnik. Excerpted by permission of HarperTeen. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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