CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT (draft)

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CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT

We get out of the pool eventually, cutting it too close to ten PM lights-out curfew. Dripping wet, we pull on our clothes and race back to our dorms, laughing. At the entrance to Section Fourteen, Yellow Quadrant Dorm, I squeeze Logan's hand as he turns to me with another lingering look before heading back to his own Red Quadrant Dorm.

"I'll look in on Gracie for you," he says.

"Thanks!" And I smile at him as he goes.

"Hurry, hurry, gotta hop in bed in five minutes," Laronda says, as other late Candidates all around us race up the stairs to our sleeping floors.

I run after her and Hasmik, and as we hit the bathrooms, there's a minor stampede and a decent line. That's because Claudia Grito cuts right in front of us with a sneer, together with a few other alpha girls.

Dawn gives Claudia a withering look, but it's no use.

"Gotta pee, gotta pee," Laronda sing-songs to us, shifting from one foot to the other. And then she pulls my sleeve. "So, Gwen, I had no idea that Aeson Kass guy is so red-hot-as in, sexy, on a purely physical level. Must've been fun-"

"What?" I bite my lip and start to frown at her.

"You know-fun to have that special voice training thing you had to attend back in Pennsylvania."

It occurs to me, I didn't mention to Laronda that I am still doing the voice training.

"Yeah, well," I mutter. "He's mostly kind of scary. . . ."

Laronda shines me a wicked smile. "But it didn't stop you from drooling all over him back at the pool, just now. Cause, yeah, I saw that!"

I am suddenly angry and agitated. "You saw what? What are you talking about?"

But now Dawn raises one brow and nods. "Uh-uh . . . I noticed it too."

"Wha-a-a-at?" My mouth falls open at them both.

"Come on, even with your sweetie Logan there, and right after the two of you were messing around, even so, the moment the Atlantean VIP showed up, you went all weird. You changed."

I stand, lips parted in outrage, shaking my head at them. "But-that's just crazy! You guys are seeing things! How did I go 'weird' and change? What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, you were flirting with Logan more loudly than normal. Less like a normal you, and more 'fakey' and exaggerated. And whenever Kass swam by, you, I dunno-you kind of acted different."

I stare at everybody, and even Hasmik is nodding now.

As all of this is being said, I feel my head, my cheeks, flushing. . . .

Oh, no. . . .

But now I am angry for real. I shake my head, as if to shake off this stupid stuff they're saying, and I roll my eyes at them.

Fortunately I am saved from further embarrassment and need to explain, or even think, by the vacancies in the next few bathroom stalls.

* * *

In the morning, the first thing I remember when the claxon alarms go off is that I do, sort of, have a half-baked plan to get Gracie's points built up. It involves asking a whole bunch of people to sacrifice just a few of their points on her behalf, when the time comes for the Finals.

Now, how will I ever convince them to agree to this thing, is still a big question mark.

The second thing I remember is what happened at the pool last night. An uncalled-for image of Aeson Kass, dripping wet and toned and beautiful, walking at the side of the pool, haunts me as I get dressed, get down to breakfast, and put some unidentified food in my mouth while my friends talk at me-and apparently, past me.

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