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Looking back now on the night of Olivia Richmond's birthday party, my original expectations for the night were so innocent, they were pitiable. It was the second week of our junior year of high school, a week before the Homecoming Dance, and the possibility of a cute boy asking me to the dance had been my primary concern since the night before the school year began. That year was supposed to have been my year. Over the summer, the braces I had worn since the eighth grade had come off, revealing perfectly straight white teeth.  And I had spent the entire summer break with my dad and his wife, Rhonda, in Florida, where Rhonda had helped me lose the twenty pounds of baby fat that had kept me shopping at plus-size stores throughout junior high and the first two years of high school. When I'd returned home to Wisconsin, my mother had studied my new appearance and had finally relented about the cost of contact lenses. I was glasses-free for the first time since the third grade, when it had been determined that I was nearsighted.

Junior year, I was ready to shine. I had almost magically, unexpectedly become pretty. Really pretty. Almost as if someone had waved a magic wand over my head in slow motion during the summer, slowly transforming me. I was pretty enough that I knew, in the days leading up to the start of school as I was out shopping for a few new outfits with my mom, that other kids would notice. Junior year would be the year that people would talk about McKenna Brady and it would be with admiration instead of disdain.

And people had noticed.

During our freshman and sophomore years, Olivia Richmond would never have invited me to her birthday party. In fact, she had made fun of me on at least two separate occasions that I could remember since middle school. But everything had changed. She had glared at me in the cafeteria on the first day of junior year, confused and trying to figure out why suddenly I looked like I belonged at her table with the popular girls instead of sitting with the girls on my color guard team, and had finally approached me in the hallway to say, "I like your bag." There was nothing at all special about my cheap faux leather bag from Urban Outfitters. But I was wise enough about the social rules of high school to recognize that her compliment had little to do with my accessory. She was addressing me, in her aloof, cool blond way, because she approved of my transformation. Weeping Willow High School was small enough that any cute new girl was cause for gossip, whether she was simply newly cute (like me), or a new arrival (like Violet). Olivia was smart enough to know that if she recruited cute girls to her own clique, none of them would ever take her on as a rival.

There were advantages to being the most popular girl in the sophomore class. The most enviable of the niceties that Olivia enjoyed was the undivided attention of Pete Nicholson, the star of the basketball team, tall, suntanned, and blond. The least enviable of them was that every other girl in school wanted to be Olivia, and some girls wanted to stand within the circle illuminated by her stature so badly they would have done anything just for an invitation. I had never dared to aspire to join Olivia's ranks before my junior year and I was abundantly grateful to have been welcomed. Joining was more than enough for me. Wanting to overthrow Olivia was unimaginable.

But it wasn't so unthinkable that another girl might venture to dream of knocking Olivia off of her throne. Maybe a girl who was new in town, and hadn't been around to know that Olivia had been our queen since kindergarten. A girl like Violet, who might think it possible to slowly siphon away everything Olivia had, and enjoy it for herself.

The role of Class President.

Being named Captain of one of our girls' sports teams.


I'd never have a chance to become more popular than Olivia. I'd never even have a chance to try; she was dead within four weeks of the debut of my new look at school. Within a week of her sixteenth birthday. Olivia wouldn't live long enough to coast into the Homecoming dance in her ivory lace gown, beaming her cotton candy lip gloss-coated smile with Pete's arm around her shoulders. To be the envy of all of us.

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