two

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The next morning, I shuffled like a zombie into the dining room. I had been up until two in the morning, replaying in my head all the things Justin had said about the League.

I hitched my backpack onto my shoulder and headed for the door. "See you later, Mom," I said.

She poked her head out of the kitchen pass-through and wagged a wooden spoon at me. "Not without breakfast."

Turning one's back on a nutritional opportunity was a major offense in my mother's manual. God help me if I didn't finish every last carrot in my lunch, or if I made a snack within an hour of dinner. Some of Mom's rules were completely unreasonable. Like me not drinking coffee, for example. She thinks it's dangerous. You know, accelerated heart rates, energy fluctuations, the addictive nature of caffeine, and so on.

She swooped into the dining room with a bowl of oatmeal, a glass of orange juice, and buttered toast divided into four symmetrical triangles. I devoured it in a record time of one minute and eighteen seconds, then tried to make an escape.

"Ariana?" she called after me.

I glanced over my shoulder. "Yeah?"

"You forgot to take your vitamin today."

"Mom, I'm late ..."

She rushed from the room. I waited. It wasn't easy being an only child, scrutinized like a sample on a slide. Mom returned with a massive vitamin displayed on an outstretched palm.

I considered what Justin had said: Ariana lives in a bubble, her every move dictated by Mommy and Daddy. I reached for the vitamin, then chugged it down with a glass of O.J., wondering if maybe he had a point.

"You look nice today," Mom said. "I like the eyeliner."

The lure of the League and seeing Justin at school had coaxed its way into what little sleep I'd had. My dreams had been disjointed, but I knew he'd been in them. When I woke up, I'd dug through the cabinet under the sink to search for the Sephora makeup kit I got for Christmas two years ago. Safety seal intact.

On the front steps, I pulled out a compact. The blush "livened up winter skin," just like the back of the box had promised. The rose-colored lip gloss did a decent job masking my chapped lips.

I batted my eyes in the mirror, practicing for who-knows-what. When I stopped flirting with myself long enough to take another look, I groaned. Oh God. Flecks of mascara, everywhere. I tried to erase them with my pinkie and ended up creating two black eyes.

"You forgot something," Mom called, her head out the window.

I glanced down at my empty hand. How could I forget my viola? I never forgot my viola. It was practically an appendage.

"You're going to be late, Ariana!" Mom said as I ran back in, scooped up my instrument, and darted outside again. I hopped over the yellow recycle bin on the sidewalk and kept going.

At the intersection, I checked to make sure Mr. Hanford wasn't watching before cutting through his backyard. The Kennedy High parking lot was packed, as always. A few kids sprawled on the hoods of secondhand cars they'd bought with summer-job money, talking on cell phones—probably to each other. The warning bell rang but no one moved.

I raced toward the three buildings joined by glass-encased hallways and veered right to Building C, where most of the senior classes were held. Inside the double doors, a mass of bodies sucked me into its fold. I searched through the crowd for a certain spiky hairstyle.

"Keep moving," a guy said, knocking me into a girl who was checking her lipstick in the reflective side of her sunglasses. She gave me a caustic look.

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