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Authors: Yvonne Collins,Sandy Rideout


Copyright © 2008 by Yvonne Collins and Sandy Rideout

All rights reserved. Published by Disney•Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney•Hyperion Books, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.

ISBN 978-1-4231-4153-2


For our mothers,

Maria Collins and Bea Rideout

Chapter 1

I glance around the auditorium, trying to take everything in without looking like I’m remotely interested. “You’d think they’d at least hose the place down over the summer,” I say.

“What good would it do?” Izzy asks, leading Rachel and me into our usual row. She stoops to inspect the rainbow of dried chewing gum on the underside of a folding seat before pushing it down with the stenciled tip of one long fingernail. “They should knock the building down and start over.”

“It’d be a wreck again in a month,” Rachel says, settling into the seat beside Izzy. “No one cares enough to keep it nice.”

The evidence supports her claim. Graffiti covers most of the seats, paint hangs from the walls in strips, and one of the curtains framing the stage has a large, reddish stain in the shape of a human body. Mrs. Alvarez—more commonly known as Principal Buzzkill—probably leaves it there to remind us what could happen if we screw up. That’s what school assemblies are all about.

“Welcome back to Dumpfield,” I say. Everyone uses the nickname, although the tarnished lettering over the stage reads Colonel
field High School.

Climbing over my friends’ legs, I take the seat beside Izzy and plunk my backpack into the one beyond that. I always reserve an empty seat beside me during school assemblies for my FB (future boyfriend). I haven’t met him yet, but if he shows up at the end of our row, I’m ready to wave him into position like an air traffic controller bringing in a plane.

At the moment I don’t have a CB (current boyfriend), or even an EB (ex-boyfriend). In fact, the letter B appears to be missing from my personal alphabet. I’d be more alarmed about that if Izzy and Rachel weren’t victims of the same curse. In a school with a population of just over three thousand there must some cute, normal guys, but we never seem to meet any.

Still, I try to keep the faith, and for a few moments at the start of each assembly, I wait for my Dumpfield prince to arrive. It’s about the only fun I have at school.

That and counting the hours until it’s over. “Only seventy-four days till we’re out of here for winter break,” I announce.

Rachel groans. “Please tell me it’s less than that. Did you subtract Thanksgiving?”

“Of course. And professional development days. Plus a sick day. We can count on one cold each term, I figure.”

“I feel sick already,” Rachel says, winding her dark, curly hair into a tight bun and securing it with a pencil. “If you’re trying to depress us, Lu, it’s working.”

Izzy reaches over and pulls a few strands from Rachel’s bun. I’ve seen this move dozens of times, and it always makes me smile. Izzy’s parents own Ortega’s House of Beauty, and she’s a born stylist.

“If I were trying to depress you, I’d have pointed out that it’s one hundred and eighty-six days till summer vacation,” I say. “Not to mention nearly six hundred until we graduate.”

Rachel turns to check out the stream of students filing into the auditorium. “On the bright side, that’s six hundred days to meet the guys who are trapped in this dump with us.”

“We didn’t meet any last year,” Izzy says. She’s usually the optimist of our trio, but I can’t blame her for being a little down. Our freshman year was bleak, both socially and academically, and this one probably won’t be any different.

“Heads up,” Rachel says. “The queen is in the house.”

I generally use a different five letter word to describe Mariah Mendes, who is striking a pose at the double doors of the auditorium, but I’m in the minority. As she lifts her shades to scan the room, sophomore hands fly up all around us. Most of them belong to guys who are eager to wave Air Mendes in for a safe landing beside them. This has less to do with her future girlfriend potential than her blatant defiance of the school dress code. She’s wearing stiletto boots, Lycra warm-up pants, a short tank top, and a trucker hat, brim turned to the left. The ensemble breaks three rules: tops are required to meet bottoms, and both hats and sunglasses are prohibited inside.

Mariah has been above rules since she arrived in kindergarten wearing a pink tutu and bragging about being a ballerina. By fifth grade, she realized she needed backup and imported two friends from her dance classes. I call them the Understudies, because they’re ready to step into Mariah’s shoes at a moment’s notice.

It doesn’t seem possible (or remotely fair), but Mariah has gotten even better looking over the summer. Her tawny hair, golden skin, and amber eyes seem to glow. Her ego is probably bigger than ever, too. Last spring, Mariah made it onto a dance show called
The Right Moves
, one of twenty finalists out of the thousands who auditioned. That she was the first to get voted off the show hasn’t fazed her in the slightest.

“She actually looks happy to be here,” Izzy says.

“That’s because she’ll have a captive audience, five days a week,” I say, as people around us call out to Mariah.

“Imagine what it would be like to have hundreds of people know your name,” Izzy muses.

“I wonder what it would be like to have
people know my name,” I say.

“Ten people do know your name,” Rachel says, smiling. “Ten people
your name.”

She’s referring to the nine other sophomores who share the name Luisa Perez. It’s impossible to stand out when people have to scroll through a mental list of identical names to place you. Which Luisa Perez? The one with brown hair and eyes? Oh, right, that’s all of us. The Luisa Perez who plays flute? The math whiz? Or the one who runs track? None of the above. I have no distinguishing talent of any kind.

“Eleven,” Izzy corrects. “There’s a new transfer in my homeroom.”

“Great,” I say. “I’m officially invisible.”

Izzy sits up a little straighter in her seat and says, “Maybe not. Mac Landis is trying to get your attention.”

I snort. Mac—short for MacEwan—Landis never wastes a second glance on me, despite the fact that he, like Mariah, attended my elementary and middle schools. Back then Mac was an average kid, but the God of Puberty was kind, and now he’s Dunfield’s answer to David Beckham, all blond good looks and athletic wizardry. Because of Mac, Dunfield made it into the basketball semifinals last year for the first time ever. More than four hundred students packed the stands to watch the last game. That might not be a big deal for some Chicago schools, but for Dunfield, known far and wide for its complete lack of school spirit, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

“Izzy’s right, he
checking you out,” Rachel confirms. “Maybe Mac’s the FB who’s finally come to claim his throne.”

“Or not,” I say, more relieved than disappointed as Mac and his pals file into the row behind us.

“He’s probably too cool to sit right beside a girl he likes,” Izzy says, still hopeful.

Mac folds his six-foot-plus frame into a seat behind mine, and I turn to steal a look at him.

“Hey,” he says.

To me. Mac Landis said “Hey” to
. I must have changed more than I thought over the summer. Sure, my hair’s a little longer and I’ve started wearing eyeliner, but I wouldn’t have dreamed I’d ascended to Mac’s league.

Rachel pulls the pencil from her hair and prods me into responding.

“Hey, Mac,” I say. It’s not much, but it’s the closest we’ve come to a conversation since third grade, when he realized he was too cool for me.

I suppose it’s possible that Mac became a nicer guy over the summer. Things like that happen sometimes, say, after a serious illness or accident. If Mac has experienced either one, however, it doesn’t show. His face is still flawless.

One of Mac’s pals points an index finger at me. “Can you move?”

“Move?” I ask. “Why?”

“Duh. Figure it out.”

The guy looks to Mac for approval, but Mac simply smiles at me and says, “Sorry, the juice makes him edgy.”

I’m too stunned to process what he’s saying, let alone reply. There are popping noises in my head, possibly triggered by the brilliance of his teeth.

Mac’s pal flexes his arm. “You’re the one on ’roids, dude. This is all natural.”

A cloud of perfume closes in, and I look up to see Mariah standing over me, her belly ring twinkling at eye level. “Move, Coconut,” she says. “You’re in my seat.”

She calls me that because she thinks the quality Puerto Rican genes I inherited from my father have been smothered by those of my Irish American mother, who raised me alone. Mariah is a full-fledged Latina, thanks to two proud Puerto Rican parents, and Spanish is her first language. I barely knew a word of Spanish when I started class last year, but I’ve already picked up enough to know that what she’s saying about me to the Understudies right now isn’t flattering. There are so many dimensions to Mariah’s bullying that I never tire of studying her—preferably from a distance.

“Not so fast,” Mariah calls as I scramble after Izzy and Rachel. “I want to hear all about your summer, Coconut. Still slinging hash at the grease pit?”

Dan’s Diner
a bit of a pit, but Dan himself is the nicest guy in the world. “Yeah,” I say, taking a seat in the row ahead. “I like my job.”

“Good, because you’ll probably be there for life,” Mariah says. “Just like your loser sister.”

Grace isn’t a loser, but she quit school three years ago and works at Dan’s full-time. Although we’re not exactly close, I feel obliged to defend her. “She’s—”

Izzy squeezes my arm. “Don’t.”

I take her advice and let it go. Mariah has been known to turn the entire student body against someone with a single e-mail. It’s one of many techniques she uses to bring insurgents in line. Normally I’m too far beneath her in the school hierarchy to warrant such attention, but better safe than sorry.

Mariah waits a moment and tries again. “Want me to sign a photo for the diner wall? You could pretend we’re friends.”

I’d love to point out that her fifteen minutes of fame expired when the reality show dumped her, but instead I smile sweetly. “That’d be great. We can put it beside Solana G.’s.” As an up-and-coming R & B singer, Solana is one of the few people Mariah admires.

“Solana comes to Dan’s?” Mariah asks skeptically.

“All the time.” Once, actually, but I served her.

“She’s had her nails done at my parents’ place, too,” Izzy offers.

“Quiet,” Rachel whispers. “Unless you want Mariah hanging around all the time.”

“What are you saying about me, Klienberg?” Mariah demands.

Principal Alvarez saves us by clearing her throat at the microphone. As always, she’s wearing a sharp suit, and her hair, with its distinctive slice of gray, is swept into an elegant bun. She dresses to intimidate, but underneath the starch and hair spray there’s an attractive woman.

“Welcome back to Colonel Dunfield, sophomores,” she says in the commanding voice that strikes fear into the hearts of all students—and many parents. “Let us begin by reviewing our code of conduct.”

She directs a laser pointer at the screen and walks us through dozens of rules. But just before everyone completely tunes her out, Mrs. Alvarez switches gears.

“I have some exciting news,” she says. “The mayor’s office and the public school board are staging a citywide contest to see which school can raise the most money for literacy. The victor will be released for winter break two weeks early.”

There’s a long silence, broken at last by Mac Landis. “You mean we’d get a full month off?”

“Correct, MacEwan,” Mrs. Alvarez says. The auditorium erupts into cheers, and she waits for the noise to subside before explaining that we still have to cover all of the same material in our classes, only faster.

“A full month?” Mac repeats, to be sure there’s no mistake.

The principal sighs. “Only if Dunfield wins, MacEwan. The competition will be very stiff, I’m afraid. More than a hundred schools are participating.”

Mariah elects herself spokesqueen. “We’ll win, Principal Alvarez, I promise.”

I notice that Mariah’s hat and sunglasses have vanished, although her belly ring twinkles on.

“Glad to hear it, Maria,” Mrs. Alvarez says, dropping the H in her name. Our principal is less impressed with reality dance shows than she is with sports trophies she can display in the empty glass case outside her office. “Especially since Colonel Dunfield has a rather poor record for extracurricular participation.”

There’s another cheer, and Principal Buzzkill cuts it short. “That’s nothing to be proud of, people. With that attitude, Turnbull Academy will walk away with the prize.”

Turnbull is located in one of Chicago’s best neighborhoods, where students could probably raise big bucks just by hitting up their parents for donations. On the other hand, the prize might be a bigger incentive for Dunfield’s students; Turnbull is so nice I bet no one even wants a vacation.

Mrs. Alvarez ups the ante a little more. “I want the girls to organize half of the fund-raising events, and boys the other half. Let’s make it a battle of the sexes.”

At the word “sexes,” wolf whistles ring out.

“Oh, grow up!” Mariah shouts, and the girls back her in a shrill chorus. “We’ll wipe the floor with you guys.”

“Bring it on,” Mac calls, and the whistles get louder.

Mrs. Alvarez cuts in. “Elect your own leaders. And if Dunfield wins, I’ll give the team that impresses me most an extra three days’ vacation for spring break.”

Mrs. Alvarez is still talking, but no one can hear her over the applause.

English is the only class Rachel, Izzy, and I have in common this year, so we arrive early to stake out adjacent desks at the back of the room.

Rachel caresses the seat ahead of her. “Jason can sit right here.”

She’s had it bad for Jason Baca since seventh grade, but her parents will only let her date Jewish guys.

“Have your parents given in?” Izzy asks, applying a fresh coat of lip gloss.

Rachel shakes her head. “They’ll never give in because the whole ‘Jewish boy’ thing is just a cover for the fact that they don’t want me dating period. Why else would they send me here, where eighty percent of the population is Hispanic? They want to keep me a virgin forever.”

“If they want Jewish grandkids, they’ll have to relent someday,” I say. “Maybe that’s why they sent you to work at your uncle’s lodge this summer—to meet the right kind of guys.”

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