sixteen

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Kennedy High was the last place I wanted to be the Friday before the prom parade. The weather had finally changed, and all that sunshine was drying up my motivation. My grades were less than optimal, but with only seven weeks left, it would take too much of an effort to fix them.

Tiffany Miller declared that spring was here to stay by making her annual switch from Uggs to sandals with straps that crossed up her aerobicized calves. As I watched her glide through the cafeteria, rousing the male population from hibernation, I didn't know whether to be impressed or disgusted.

Nearby, the prom committee pecked at their salads while twisting sheets of colored tissue paper together. They hauled two trash bags, fat with paper flowers, out to the parking lot.

Justin said our plan would be a great show for all the people who hated Tiffany as much as we did. The weird part was, as we hashed it out, I realized that I didn't hate her.

I cast my doubts aside and headed to speech. As I turned the corner, Mrs. Roach, the school secretary, was stationed in the middle of the hallway, interrogating Zoe. I slowed, pretending to search through a notebook for something vitally important to my academic success.

"This isn't open for debate," the office ogre growled. "Mr. Reid wants to see you a.s.a.p."

"Sorry, no can do. Big test today," Zoe said.

"Right now." Roach took off.

Zoe exhaled an audible sigh and strode after her.

They passed by Richie, who flattened himself against a classroom door and stared at Zoe with deer-caught-in-the-headlight eyes. She glanced at him and planted a hand on her hip. The sign for "something sucks."

Don't panic, I told myself. But I couldn't come up with a single reason why Zoe would be called into Mr. Reid's office other than her involvement with the League. At least I could trust Zoe's loyalty; I knew that now. She'd waited a long time for her chance with Wanda, too. I didn't think she'd jeopardize it by turning us in before she'd had her turn.

Richie scuttled off to class, but I ducked into the supply closet across from the office and opened the door a crack so I could watch for Zoe. She emerged fifteen minutes later, not at all surprised by my sudden appearance. She tilted her head toward the stairwell.

When we were alone, she plunked down on a step. "Whew, that was close. I added a little zinger to my latte an hour ago. I was afraid he could smell it on my breath."

I stared at her. But all I said was, "Is that why he called you in?"

"No. They found my dog tag on the gym office floor."

"Dog tag?"

"You know, the kind they wore in Vietnam? You can order personalized ones on the Internet."

I stopped breathing mid-exhale. "Your name was on it?"

She shook her head. "I went for the motivational saying instead. Walt Whitman: 'Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.' Pretty cool huh?"

"I don't get it. How did they connect the tag to you if your name wasn't on it?"

"Apparently, Tags Express keeps records, you know, in case the police ever come calling."

The stairs buckled. I reached for the railing.

"I've got everything under control, Ariana."

"But Reid's got proof you were there." I sat down beside her, sinking my chin into my hands.

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