Cindy wanted to throat punch every person who offered her condolences. It wasn’t like someone died—yet. Her boyfriend lied and got another girl pregnant. They could save their words of reassurance for his family at his funeral after she killed him.
She entered biology and looked for him. Her body played Wheel of Emotion, like Vanna White stood flipping the tiles from concern to guilt to relief and finally spelling out anger. Mike wasn’t there.
“Probably couldn’t face me,” she said to herself. She pulled out her notebook and waited for class to start. Tapping her foot against the leg of the desk, she doodled on the cover of her notebook, grimacing when she realized she’d written Mike’s name. She blacked it out with her pen.
Molly slid into her seat next to Cindy. “Hey, girl.”
She pitched a neatly folded note onto the desk. Cindy read her name in curly script on the outside of the triangle shaped paper.
“Uhm, you see, notes are for classes when we won’t see each other. That way we have something to read when the teacher is talking.”
Molly smirked. “This isn’t from me. Andrea asked me to give to you.” She pulled out her notebook and laid it on the top of her shiny desk.
Glancing at the cover, Cindy laughed. Molly had written Hayden’s name across the cover and outlined it with tiny hearts.
“Really?” She covered the black blob on her book with her fingers.
Molly blushed. “Shut up. Open the note. I want to know what it says.”
“You didn’t read it?” Cindy unfolded the paper.
“No. I knew you’d tell me what it said, and I thought you should read it first.”
“Read it with me.” She held the paper between them.
You want to know the truth, and I know how to get it. Meet me in the girl’s locker room at 3:15.
Cindy frowned and re-read the note.
“What is this about?” Molly asked.
“Oh, you know, the truth about who shot J.R.”
Cindy narrowed her eyes. “How could Andrea know the truth about Mike and Jenny?”
An image of Mike with Andrea flashed behind her eyes and she crumpled the note. “Whatever.
I’m not going.” She lifted the note and aimed for the nearby trash can.
“Wait.” Molly grabbed her hand. “Maybe we should go.”
“I don’t see how Andrea can help. Or why she’d want to.” Cindy narrowed her eyes.
“She’s the second to last person I’d trust with the 411 about Mike.”
Molly nodded. “True, but she has been nicer lately.”
Snorting, Cindy glanced at Mr. Miller as he waddled to the front of the class. “Okay.
We’ll go right after class. But if she jerks me around, I’ll kick her ass again.”
Molly rolled her eyes. “You sound like Elijah. Guess we finally know your twin superpowers.”
After class ended, Cindy rushed with Molly to the locker room. They walked around the corner and into one of the u-shaped coves of orange painted lockers. Cindy wrinkled her nose at the smell of stale sweat and pine-scented cleanser, then checked the clock above the teacher’s dark office.
“3:15. Where the hell is she? We’ve got practice in twenty minutes and this locker room is about to fill up with nosey teenaged girls.” Cindy reached in her bag for her track clothes then threw her bag into a locker. She pulled off her Guess sweatshirt and jeans and pulled on her shorts.
Molly did the same. “Maybe she’s late. Or was jerking you around.”
They finished dressing and Cindy sighed in frustration. “She’s not coming. Let’s go outside and warm up.”
The squeak of the door opening cut through the locker room, echoing off the metal and tile. Cindy put a finger to her lips, whispering, “That’s got to be her.”
Molly nodded, and they sat on the bench to wait.
Andrea came around the corner and froze, her shoes squeaking against the floor.
“Oh. I didn’t know Molly would be here.”
“Well she is,” Cindy quipped. “What do you want?”
Andrea sighed and sank onto the wooden bench beside Cindy. She dropped her chin to her chest and pulled a note from her pocket, folded into a triangle. The edges were dark, like it had been folded and unfolded a hundred times. She turned it over and over in her hands.
“First I need to say something.” Andrea raised her head to meet their eyes. “I’m not proud of what I’m about to show you. You’ll both probably hate me more after you read it. But maybe… maybe it will make up for some of the stupid things I’ve done.”
She held the note out to Cindy.
Cindy glanced at it and wrinkled her nose. “What is this?”
“The truth,” Andrea said with a sigh. “Just read the first bit. Then see who signed it.”
After a head nod from Molly, Cindy took the paper. Carefully unfolding it, she flattened it out on her thigh then held it so she and Molly could read together.
You are a total bitch! I can’t believe you would do this to me, your best friend. You knew I liked Mike but that didn’t stop you from screwing him, did it?
Nope. Because you’ve always been jealous of me. You just threw yourself all over him at that party and took him away from me. God, I was so mad I couldn’t think straight.
Because of you, I was so upset I slept with stupid Trevor for comfort and now look what happened. I’m fucking pregnant. All because you couldn’t keep your legs together and let me have the guy I really wanted.
I hate you. My life is ruined now. I could end up white trash like you. A pregnant teen. Thanks a lot. I hope this makes your pathetic life happier. If you—
Skimming the rest, Cindy flipped the page over to see the signature on the back.
From your ex-best friend,
Cindy dropped her hands to her lap and stared at the lockers across from them.
Molly grabbed the note and waved it at Andrea. “Trevor got Jenny pregnant?”
“No.” Andrea sniffled. “Jenny never got pregnant. It was a false test.”
Scrunching her forehead, Cindy said, “Wait. Everyone talked about it. Who spread the rumor?”
With red cheeks, Andrea answered. “I did.”
“Why?” Cindy asked. “Why would you do that to your best friend?”
“Did you read the note?” Andrea gave a short laugh. “Jenny doesn’t have friends, she has minions. She was always mean, bossy, always telling us what to do and who to hang out with.
Who to hate. And we did it. Anyone who got on her bad side had a fresh rumor about themselves going around the next day.”
Cindy blew a breath out her nose. “Yeah, guess Jenny deserved it.”
Molly laid her hand on Cindy’s knee. “It wasn’t Mike.”
Refusing to let the hope take over, Cindy shook her head. “How do we know this isn’t fake? What do you care?”
“Because Jenny is still Jenny. Doing the same mean stuff to people. When she started this, I tried to stay out of it. But seeing you so upset, and Mike…” Andrea shook her head. “I knew I was the only one who could help. And after everything I did to you and Molly… I thought I should. I kept this note in case Jenny lied about me, but I’m glad I did and that it showed you the truth.”
All three of them jumped as the scream echoed off the metal lockers and cement walls.
Jenny stomped around the corner as they stood from the bench.
Andrea narrowed her eyes. “What’s the matter, Jenny? Don’t like getting busted?”
“So what.” Jenny waved a hand at Cindy. “Now she knows. But how does she like knowing that you did have sex with her boyfriend?”
Jenny’s words sent a bolt of heat through Cindy’s chest. She ignored it though. Because Andrea was right, she’d totally busted Jenny. Mike didn’t lie. He never got Jenny pregnant or even slept with her. Part of Cindy wanted to sing, but she gave in to the bigger part of her that wanted a piece of Jenny.
Pushing past Molly, Cindy stepped around Andrea. Fire filled her gut and she shoved Jenny in the shoulder.
“You’re the bitch, Jenny. And the liar.”
“I’m not afraid of you.” Jenny shoved her back.
Molly grabbed Cindy’s arm. “Don’t do it, Cindy. She’s not worth the trouble.”
“No,” she said, fighting against Molly’s hold, “but Mike is.”
Pulling free, she grabbed Jenny by the shirt and shoved her into the lockers. Jenny smashed into the metal and landed on the floor, rubbing her head.
Cindy fell on her, smashing a fist into her nose. Jenny cried out as Andrea and Molly each grabbed an arm and pulled Cindy to her feet.
“Stop!” Molly pleaded. “You’ll get in trouble again. And your mom will kill you.”
Andrea laughed. “As much as I would like to see you kick Jenny’s ass, Molly’s right.”
Cindy quit struggling and they let go of her arms. “If you lie about him again, I’ll give you worse than this.” She panted, pointing at Jenny.
Jenny wiped her face. “Whatever. He’s all yours. But you’ll look like the pathetic loser who’s dating the asshole. And when I tell Mr. Roberts you hit me because you’re mad that I told everyone the truth, you’ll get suspended again, and people will still believe me. She waved at Andrea and Molly. “Nobody will believe your friends. They’ll just think they’re lying to help you. Trust me, the teachers here are idiots and I know how to handle them.”
This made Andrea laugh even harder. Cindy and Molly glanced at her.
“Rookie mistake, Jenny. Always have a backup plan.” She glanced behind them and grinned. “Not to mention back up.”
Mrs. Richter walked around the corner of the teacher’s darkened offices. Cindy opened her mouth in surprise. Crap, she was busted.
“See, I learned this last time when it was my word against Cindy’s. The teachers here are smart and know a liar when they see one.” She smiled at Mrs. Richter. “But sometimes it helps to show them.”
Jenny curled her lip.
Mrs. Richter crossed her arms and nodded. “Well, girls. This was an enlightening show this afternoon. But I think it’s time to end it. You girls better get ready for track.”
Jenny huffed. “Aren’t you going to punish her? Look what she did to me!” Blood covered Jenny’s chin and spots dotted the front of her designer shirt. A bruise already formed under both of her angry blue eyes.
The relief from knowing Mike hadn’t lied calmed her worry, but she didn’t want to get busted for fighting again. Last time her dad had such a bad episode, he was in bed for two days.
Dammit, why didn’t she think of that?
Mrs. Richter tilted her head. “Actually, no.” She looked between Jenny and Cindy. “This problem is over. Do I make myself clear?”
The corner of Cindy’s mouth pulled up, and she nodded.
Jenny opened her mouth to protest, but snapped it shut. She turned her back to them and stalked toward the bathroom.
Cindy exhaled with relief. “Thank you, Mrs. Richter. For not turning me in.”
She winked at Cindy and Molly. “I don’t condone fighting, but from what Andrea told me and what I heard Jenny say, she deserved it. But that’s just between us. Now go, before those nosey girls you mentioned get here.”
She patted Cindy on the back and left the locker room.
Cindy turned to Andrea.
With red cheeks, Andrea dropped her gaze to the floor. “Was I that bitchy to you and Hayden?”
Molly opened her mouth, but Cindy snorted. “Yes.”
“No wonder you kicked my ass,” Andrea said.
Molly grinned. “Well, you made up for that a little today.”
Cindy wanted to be thankful, but the past had a way of ruining the present. Still, Andrea had shown her the truth. Cindy bit back her anger and leaned on the lockers. “Thanks, Andrea.”
She shrugged. “I told you I could get the truth.”
Cindy frowned. “Did you do it because you like Mike?”
Andrea shook her head. “I don’t like him. At least, not like that. He’s a nice guy.” Her cheeks turned redder. “It’s obvious how much he likes you. And that’s why I did this. I caused hell for you and Hayden, Molly, and I know what it feels like to be lied to. I did date Trevor after you and he’s the king of the bait and switch.”
“Tell me about it,” Molly groaned.
“Being with him made me realize I didn’t want to be the girl who hurts people because she doesn’t have any friends. Anyway, Cindy’s been nice to me, helping me with track and stuff, despite what I did. I thought, well, I owed you both.” She glanced at the floor again. “And I hoped we could start over.”
Cindy shifted on her feet. Glancing from Andrea’s red face to Molly’s open mouth, she laughed. “I never expected this to turn into an episode of Oprah.”
Andrea’s blush increased and Cindy touched her shoulder. “Clean slate starts now.”
“Really?” Andrea glanced at Molly.
“Yep,” Molly agreed. “Grudges suck. Besides, you had to deal with Trevor, that’s enough punishment.”
Andrea laughed with Molly.
“Come on, let’s get out of here before we start singing Kumbaya. Besides,” Cindy pushed Andrea’s shoulder. “You could use some practice with hand offs.”
They stepped outside through the door, squinting in the sunshine.
“Yep,” Andrea said. “But at least now you know, I can learn from my mistakes.” She jogged off toward the track with Molly.
Cindy bent to tie her shoe, smiling. Her chest lighter now, she drew a deep, pain-free breath and got ready for her two favorite things, running and Mike. He hadn’t been in classes, but she’d bet he’d come here to see her. Butterflies filled her stomach thinking about his reaction when she told him she knew the truth.
Anticipating his laughs— and kisses—she finished tying, then stood to join Molly and Andrea. Shock rooted her to the ground. Her mom waited by the fence. One look at Mama’s face and Cindy knew the only thing she should anticipate—pain. And lots of it.
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