The ultimate in high school cheerleader revenge.
Adam’s mind was on the math problem he was trying to solve. My mind was on him.
I admired the breadth of his shoulders and his ruffled brown hair. His scent made me think of freshly laundered flannel. Even the way he held his pencil seemed special.
What an idiot I was, though I was smart enough to be Adam McKinney’s pre-algebra tutor. I’d fallen for Abraham Lincoln Middle School’s football captain. For a girl geek, that was a major mistake.
He slid his paper toward me. “What did I do wrong this time?” he asked fatalistically.
I checked the answer with my calculator. “Nothing. You got it right!” I offered him a high-five. He beamed and when his hand touched mine, I swear I felt sparks.
“Hey, you’re good,” he said.
I felt myself blush. “Math isn’t as scary as it looks.”
“I owe you. How about a pizza sometime?”
Suddenly I sensed someone behind us. I turned to see Brittany Caldwell. Rich, blonde, and pretty, she was the “it” girl at Lincoln. In the social lineup she was the sun; the rest of us just orbited around her. My place was in some far-flung black hole.
“Hey, Brittany.” With dismay I noticed the sparkle in Adam’s eyes.
“Hi, Adam.” Her voice was disgustingly singsong. Her orthodontically perfect smile faded as she looked at me.
I struggled to sound friendly. “Hi.”
“Excuse, me, Adam, but I wonder if I could ask you something?” she said.
She touched a well-manicured hand to the hip of her designer jeans. “Can we step outside?”
He excused himself and followed her out the library door. Although they were in the hallway, I could hear bits and pieces of conversation. Brittany was having a party; Adam was being invited, and I wasn’t.
My cheeks burning, I flung my backpack over my shoulder. I was pretending to check out a shelf of new books when Adam came back.
“I—I guess I’d better go now,” he said with an awkward smile. “Thanks for helping me.”
“Is Brittany having a party?” Instantly, I wished I’d kept my big mouth shut.
His face colored slightly. “Yeah, but I’m not going. It’s on the night of my great-grandfather’s ninety-fifth birthday party. There’s no way my mom would let me miss it.” An awkward pause followed. “Not that I would have gone anyway.”
I forced a smile. Adam was probably just saying that because I wasn’t invited. Nobody turned down an invitation to one of Brittany Caldwell’s parties.
He glanced at his watch. “Time for football practice. See ya.”
He disappeared, leaving me stinging from Brittany’s snub. She was obviously moving in on Adam. Not that I had half a chance, but he was my friend and I was willing to settle for that—as long as he didn’t have her as a girlfriend.
A few minutes later, my best friend showed up. As we walked home I told Erica what had happened.
“Whatever Brittany wants, she gets,” she said sagely.
“I know, but maybe this time—”
Erica put her arm around me. “You’d better make that a big maybe.”
Brittany Caldwell had been a bad dream since I’d met her. Erica called her “Alpha Girl,” based on something she’d read. An alpha girl is at the top of the social ladder, usually because of looks, personality, or her parents’ money. Some are okay, but others are like Brittany. They crown themselves queen and make a few select girls their ladies-in-waiting. The rest of us are designated for snubbing.
Despite that, Brittany is the girl a lot of girls try to imitate. When she wears something different, like one of her dad’s ties, the other girls start doing the same thing. The brand of jeans she wears is the brand other girls want to wear, even though a lot of us can’t afford them. Every girl would secretly like to be part of her group because it would be like we were really cool, too. That’s a strange thing to admit, because the truth is that Brittany is mean to people that she considers beneath her.
My first encounter with her was in the seventh grade when I transferred to Abe Lincoln. Not knowing a soul, I went to the cafeteria by myself. As I looked for a place to sit and some friendly faces, I spotted a petite blonde with shoulder-length hair. She wore designer jeans and a pink cashmere twin set. Even with braces, she had a gorgeous smile. Around her, a group of five girls seemed to be hanging on to her every word. I looked down at my thrift shop jeans and my off-brand sneakers. This group was definitely out of my league, but their table was the only one with empty seats.
When I approached them, their giggles stopped and they all looked at me. The other girls were practically clones of Brittany, wearing sweater sets of varying colors. They all had matching bottles of some sort of French water.
“Hi,” I said cheerfully. “Do you mind if I sit here?”
The girls looked at each other, then at Brittany. The Jell-O on my tray started to wobble. She smiled stiffly. “I’m sorry, but these seats are saved.”
I turned quickly around, not wanting them to see my face turn red.
Just then, a girl came up behind me. She was tall and beanpole skinny. Her dark hair frizzed out from her ponytail. She had a plain but pleasant face.
“A couple of spots just opened up over there,” she said, nodding toward the other side of the room. “We can get those.”
Gratefully, I sat down across from her and introduced myself.
“I’m Erica Langley,” she said. “Welcome to Abe Lincoln.”
“Thanks for helping me out.”
“You wandered into the members-only section.”
“What do you mean?”
“Brittany and her group have claimed rights to that table. They don’t allow anyone else to sit there.”
I glanced toward them. At that moment Brittany, with a hand cupped over her mouth, was whispering something to another girl. The seats that were “saved” remained unfilled.
“She’s probably talking about someone, saying something that’s not very nice,” Erica went on.
Suddenly, the girl being whispered to looked over in our direction. She said something, then they all giggled. My cheeks tingled.
“Don’t worry,” Erica said. “There’s a lot more to Abe Lincoln than the Brittany Brigade.”
But I did worry. My father had died a few years before and my mom, a vocational nurse, didn’t have any money to spare. Even some of the not-so-rich kids at Abe Lincoln had things I didn’t, like a cell phone. At my previous school, which I had to leave because of Mom’s new job, we wore uniforms and everybody was more on the same level. So, here I was at a new school and already off to a rough start.
Things got better as I got into a study routine. After all, that was what school was for—and if there was something I was good at, it was being a student. But Brittany was in my history class and my gym class, making it hard to ignore her.
Gym with Brittany was the hardest. In the locker room she strutted her stuff, breezing around the room topless. And for an eighth-grader, she had a lot of stuff to strut. I had less than anybody, which I kept covered up as much as possible. But one day she popped the back of my bra, forcing me to turn around.
“Just wanted to see how things are developing,” she joked.
I pretended not to care, to laugh along with everyone else, but inside I was crying.
Then there was history with Mr. Mahoney. While he talked about the Puritans, Brittany sat next to me, looking at a Cosmo Girl magazine tucked between the pages of her notebook. Her expensive perfume filled the room.
One day, just before we were to have a test, she surprised me with a greeting and a friendly smile. “Nice jeans,” she said.
They were her brand, but the truth was that they’d come from a thrift shop.
“Thanks,” I said gratefully. Like a dope, I thought for a moment I’d achieved some degree of acceptance. Then the other shoe dropped.
“Fiona, I’m in a bind,” she said in a confidential tone. “I wonder if you can help me out.”
“What is it?”
“I couldn’t study for this test. I had to go to some dumb country club thing. Can I copy off you?” She had a pretty-please look of desperation in her big blue eyes.
My brain spun in turmoil. I didn’t want to be on her bad list. In fact, I wanted to be liked by her, but I didn’t want to get caught helping somebody cheat.
“Please?” she whispered. “I’ll invite you and Erica to my next party.”
I struggled with indecision. Finally, Mr. Mahoney came into view down the hallway. “I’m sorry, but I can’t,” I said, rushing into the classroom.
A split-second glance at her face was all it took to know that she was not accustomed to being told “no”. Later, she spread rumors that she copied off me anyway, although she barely managed to pass.
The fact that someone so popular and influential would try to put me down made my life miserable. She and her group gave me cold stares in the hallway. When I said “hi” and one of the girls dared to return the greeting, Brittany ordered her not to speak to me.
Now it appeared that she was after the boy I wanted—as if she hadn’t given me enough trouble already.
The Lincoln Patriots won game after game, making Adam a hero at school. I wasn’t the only one with a crush on him, but I was one of the few who understood his background—blue-collar, like mine. We lived in the same part of town, where the houses are small and businesses push in on them. We both lived with single parents.
“How about that pizza?” he asked one day. He’d made eighty on a math test and he was giving me the credit.
“That would be great,” I said, trying to hide my excitement.
I met him at the gym after football practice and we walked a couple of blocks to a pizza parlor that was a school hangout. I knew it wasn’t a real date, but I was thrilled to be with him just the same.
“You should be a teacher someday,” he said.
I looked at him in surprise.
“I mean it,” he said. “You can explain math so I can understand it.”
“Maybe you’re smarter than you think.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never felt very smart.”
“Don’t sell yourself short.”
He grinned. “You know what I like about you? You’re easy to talk to.”
“I don’t know about that,” I said, secretly pleased.
“Don’t sell yourself short,” he said, and we both laughed. “What I’m trying to say is that I’m glad to have a friend like you. It’s not easy going to a school where so many of the kids are rich.”
“But you’re captain of the football team.” After a slight hesitation I added, “And Brittany Caldwell likes you.”
“Only because I’m a jock.”
“Do you like her?”
“I don’t know. I guess I try to like everybody.”
I felt a pang of disappointment. I wanted to hear something a little more reassuring, but I couldn’t blame him for being vague. There was hardly a guy who wouldn’t want to be Brittany’s boyfriend.
I ordered water instead of a soft drink because I figured that Adam didn’t have much money. He was also having water, saying he was in training. We were talking about our families—I learned his mother worked for a veterinarian and they had two dogs—when Sydney Marsteller, a member of Brittany’s inner circle, walked in. When she saw Adam and me at our tiny table by the door, her eyes widened.
“Um, hi.” She looked like she’d just seen the beauty—that being Adam, and the beast—that being me.
We returned the greeting.
“What’s going on?” she probed, twisting a tendril of straight blond hair.
“Nothing much,” Adam said.
Suddenly, Sydney’s name was announced. She threw up a hand with a Brittany-like motion. “Oops, gotta go. Our order’s ready. My mom’s waiting for me out in the car.”
A few minutes later, she was out the door with a large pizza box, but not before turning and giving us another look, like she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
An awkward silence followed. Then I looked up at Adam. “It’s really nice of you to treat me to a pizza. You didn’t have to.”
“I know, but I wanted to. Coming to the game Friday?”
“I wouldn’t miss it.” Little did he know that if I had two broken legs, I’d drag myself there to watch him play.
We hopped on the same bus to our part of town. I loved the feel of his shoulder so close to mine, and I hated it when we had to get off. He walked me home, which is something I didn’t expect, because my house was several blocks out of his way. I wondered if he was just being nice or if there was a chance he might really like me.
“See you tomorrow,” he said as we reached the sidewalk in front of my house.
“Thanks again,” I said casually.
Then I stood on the sidewalk and watched until he disappeared.
The next day at lunch, Erica approached me with a look of alarm on her face. “Have you heard what is going around about you?”
The question came at me like a punch. “No.”
“They’re saying you’re bisexual.”
My stomach twisted. “Who is they?”
“Some seventh-graders I didn’t even know asked me if it was true.”
“Of course, it’s not!” I retorted. “Where would anybody get that idea?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t believe that, do you?”
“Of course not. But now people are probably wondering about me, too.”
I took a deep breath as kids milled around us, some whispering and giggling. Then I remembered that the teacher had silenced some whispering in the back of my science class. Could that have been what they were saying?
“Hi, Fiona,” came a greeting from behind me. I didn’t have to look to know that the voice belonged to Brittany. “Hi, Erica.”
I turned to find her and her friends. Lined up like a posse behind a sheriff, they were all wearing the same brand of jeans and barely contained smiles.
“Hi,” I mumbled.
“I just wanted you to know that I think it’s awful what they’re saying about you,” she said, not making any effort to be discreet. “There’s not any truth in it . . . is there?”
My cheeks burned. “Of course not.”
“Sometimes it’s awful what goes around. Last year, there was a rumor that I had a nose job. Can you believe it?” She touched her perfect nose.
I shook my head.
“Oh, well, that’s life!” She waved and then she wiggled off, leaving me feeling even more miserable.
“Come on,” Erica said, “let’s get something to eat.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Are you thinking the same thing I’m thinking?”
“What do you mean?”
“I wouldn’t put it past her or her friends to start that rumor. Sydney saw you and Adam together. She probably told Brittany, and Brittany didn’t like it.”
“Well, what can she do about it?” I said angrily.
“But how can we prove it?”
Erica sighed. “We can’t.”
I fumed for the rest of the afternoon while fending off people’s stares. How could I defend myself against something like that? How could Brittany be so mean? She already had so much more than I did—and now she wanted Adam.
That afternoon, when I met Adam for our tutoring session, he greeted me with a quizzical look.
“Oh, no,” I said. “You heard it, too.”
“Yeah, I heard it, but a lot of stuff goes around that’s not true. I was just concerned about you. I hope you’re not taking it too seriously.”
“No, I’m fine,” I fibbed.
He smiled sympathetically. “Good.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. “You mean you never believed it, not for an instant?”
“Nope. You look all-girl to me. When someone on the team mentioned it, I said, ‘Forget it. No way.’ ”
I grinned. “Thanks.”
“That’s what friends are for.”
I was walking on air when our study session ended, and the feeling lasted through the next day. Despite the nasty rumor, my relationship with Adam seemed unspoiled. Furthermore, that was the night of the big game that would decide who would win the district championship. I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to watch Adam and his teammates hand over the victory.
At game time, Erica and I sat under a star-sprinkled autumn sky waiting for the kick-off. Suddenly, there was a drum roll and the team poured onto the field, led by the cheerleaders. Among them were Brittany and Sydney, their blond hair shimmering under the stadium lights. The crowd stood and roared. My eyes locked onto Patriot number twelve—Adam, who led the team.
“Look at him!” I squealed.
“You’ve got it bad, don’t you, girl?” Erica joked.
“Erica, I think I’m going to walk him off the field and congratulate him on the game.”
“Cool. I’ll disappear.”
I watched the game in nervous anticipation. I knew I would be taking a risk with Adam. I’d be signaling that I wanted us to be more than just friends, which could possibly have the opposite effect and ruin everything. But with Brittany wanting him for herself, I couldn’t just sit there.
The game was tied in the first half, keeping the crowd on its toes; but in the end of the second half, Adam scored a touchdown, assuring our school of the district championship. The final score was twelve to six. Overjoyed, I scrambled through the cheering crowd to get to the field. But just as I was able to break free, I saw Brittany catapult herself in front of him, her red, white, and blue pom-poms flying. Then she gave him a big victory hug.
I froze at the edge of the field, not knowing what to do. Finally I regained my senses and took off toward Adam, my heart pounding.
When I got there, Brittany had her arm hooked through his. As she gazed admiringly up at him, her smile was bright—until she saw me.
“Fiona,” Adam said, reaching out to embrace me with his free arm.
“I’m so proud of you—and the whole team,” I said.
Brittany continued to cling to his other arm. “Come on, Adam, I’ll walk you back to the gym.”
He looked at me awkwardly. “How about both of you? Then I’ve got to go. My mom is waiting for me. Fiona, would you like to ride home with us?”
My heart beat faster. “Sure.”
Brittany’s smile turned frosty. “Well, we can do something to celebrate some other time,” she said, quickly regaining her composure.
“This team is going to give this school even more reasons to celebrate before this is all over,” Adam said.
She cooed over him all the way to the gym. I could barely get a word in. Then, when she left, she said good-bye to me in a sickeningly sweet way, as if we were best friends. I figured she was just doing it for Adam’s eyes, so he would think she had a heart of gold.
Afterward, Adam’s mom was waiting in the parking lot with his little brother, Griffin.
“There’s my ladies’ man,” Adam’s mom teased. With their dark hair and pale eyes, she and Adam resembled each other.
“Cool it, Mom,” Adam grumbled, looking embarrassed.
“Yeah, who was that cheerleader?” the kid asked.
“Her name is Brittany,” he said.
Griffin started gushing about how “hot” she was, but Adam cut him off and introduced me.
“Thank you for tutoring my son,” his mother said. “We both appreciate it so much.”
“Yeah,” Adam added.
“Adam’s got some girlfriends, Adam’s got some girlfriends!” Griffin started chanting.
Adam gave me an embarrassed look, then turned to his brother. “Knock it off, kid.”
Inside, I was tingling with happiness. Any other guy would have dumped me for Brittany that night—but not Adam. Maybe he was just being polite, since if it weren’t for me his grades might have kept him off the team. Still, I dared to hope.
The following Monday, the school celebrated. There were streamers in the hallways and balloons everywhere with the names of the team’s members on them. The day started with an assembly to congratulate the players. Brittany and Sydney were in their element, leading cheers for the squad.
I was so proud of Adam, but my bubble burst in history class. I slipped into my seat next to Brittany and immediately felt something cold and wet underneath me. I jumped up to find a large wet spot on the back of my jeans.
“What is this?” I cried.
She looked at me innocently. “What do you mean?”
“Someone poured water on my chair!”
“Are you sure that’s what it is?”
Kids around me started to snicker. I felt my face redden. “Who did this?”
No one said anything. Brittany shrugged, but not very convincingly. She began to giggle again. Despite my best efforts, tears of frustration filled my eyes. Why wouldn’t she leave me alone?
I ended up spending the period in the rest room, drying my jeans with the hand drier, but not before having to walk down the hall with a wet behind. Later there were rumors I’d had an “accident” in class.
“What are you going to do about it?” Erica asked later that afternoon.
I shook my head. “What can I do? There’s no proof.”
I left school that afternoon in a funk. Adam was at football practice and our tutoring session wasn’t until the next day, which was just as well. How could I try to impress him when I was the butt of a joke every week or two? And nobody with any social aspirations was going to snitch on Brittany.
I was lugging my way toward the bus stop when I heard somebody call my name. I turned to find a guy named Weldon, who practically lived in the school computer lab. He was quiet and didn’t seem to have much to do with the other kids. He seemed to prefer computers instead and got hassled a lot because of it.
“Can I talk to you a minute?” he asked. “This is really private. Can we go over there?” He pointed toward a bench under a tree.
I followed him and sat down.
“I know how to keep Brittany from bugging you.”
I felt a pang of surprise. “How?”
He pushed up his glasses, which kept sliding down his nose, then pulled a cell phone from a case on his belt. “First of all, even if you don’t want to do this, you have to swear not tell anyone.”
I nodded, buzzing with curiosity.
He flipped open the phone. “This is the latest in cell phone technology. This phone also takes pictures. What I’d like for you to do is to snap a picture of Brittany while she’s undressed in the locker room.”
“You want me to . . . I can’t do that.”
“Can you keep on taking abuse from her? She put that water in your chair. And she and her friends spread the rumors about something kinky—like bondage—going on between you and Erica.”
“What?” A sick feeling spread over me. I was unaware that the bisexual rumor had taken on such an ugly twist. “How do you know?”
“I know. That’s all I can say. She’s going after Adam with both barrels blazing, so you’d better watch out.”
“How is taking the picture of her going to stop her?” I asked.
“Like this: You take the picture and I’ll print it. You show it to her. Tell her if she doesn’t stop harassing you, you’ll show other people the nude picture of her.”
I mulled over his plan with distaste. “What’s in this for you? Why are you coming to me with this?”
“Because I get picked on, too, and I know what it feels like.”
I took a deep breath. She’d humiliated me plenty and I didn’t want any more of it.
“She’s got something else up her sleeve,” he said, “something even more embarrassing. I know, because that’s the way people like her operate.”
I stared at him in misery. I didn’t want to do it, but if anything would make her leave me alone, this would be it.
“Show me how the camera works,” I said.
Unknown to anyone else, I took the cell phone to gym class the next day. It was concealed in the pocket of my hooded sweatshirt. That morning in history class, Brittany had whispered something to the boy next to her and they both looked at me, smiling. It bolstered my nerve to do what I was about to do.
After gym there was the usual chaos in the locker room, with doors banging and clothes flying. I stood near my locker, pretending to be looking for something as I waited for the right opportunity. Brittany, who never seemed to sweat like the rest of us, started her usual routine. She stripped off her gym clothes, leaving only her underwear. When she reached for the front hook on her bra, I pulled out the phone, flipped it open, then turned slightly.
Nervously pretending to punch in a number, I clicked the shutter as she threw the bra aside. When she took a few seconds to make sure the other girls noticed her ample endowments, I clicked again. Then she wrapped herself in a towel and trotted off to the shower.
With my heart pounding like a jackhammer, I stuck the phone in my locker until I could slip it back into my pocket. Like some of the other girls, I avoided the showers and quickly dressed with my back to the others.
For the rest of the afternoon, my heart beat wildly under the weight of my secret. I felt an odd combination of satisfaction and shame over what I’d done, but I told myself that Brittany had it coming. This was the only way I knew to stop her cruel treatment of me.
After school I was getting ready to meet Weldon at the bench outside when Adam stopped by my locker.
“Hey,” he said with a grin.
I went all fizzy inside. “Hey. What’s up?”
“We’re going to be on television. Some sports guy is going to interview the team about the state semifinals. Isn’t that great?”
“Cool,” I said, totally sharing his excitement.
“That’s going to screw up my tutoring session again. My math teacher says I’ve improved so much that I can probably make it on my own now.”
The news hit me like a rock. “I—um, I don’t know.”
“You mean you don’t think so?”
I swallowed hard. I barely had his attention as it was. “You’re doing great, but there are some things coming up that are going to be pretty hard. I think we need to study together at least once a week, just to be on the safe side.”
He shrugged. “Okay, but even if we don’t, I was thinking it might be fun to keep doing some things together.”
“Sure, I’d like that.”
As he sauntered off toward football practice, I was so excited over the prospect that I still had a chance with him that I forgot for an instant about Weldon. I shoved a few books into my backpack and took off. Outside, Weldon was sitting on the bench, looking at his watch.
He jumped up as I approached. “Did you get it?”
Discreetly, I handed the phone to him. “I think so.”
“Great. I’ll take this home, and tomorrow I’ll bring you a print.” Before I could respond he took off running, practically tripping over his own legs.
I could barely sleep that night for thinking about what I was going to do the next day. I was essentially going to blackmail the richest and most socially prominent girl in school. But I wasn’t asking for money; I was just asking to be left alone. I knew it was possible for her to make a stink, but who was she going to show the picture to? Obviously, she couldn’t exactly take it to the principal.
If she was smart, she’d promise to leave me alone. If she wouldn’t agree to that, I didn’t know what I would do. The truth was that I really didn’t have the nerve to show the picture to anyone else.
The next morning I met Weldon on a corner just outside the school grounds. He was wearing a nervous grin.
“Did the picture come out?” I asked.
He handed me a folded piece of paper. “Oh, boy, did it!”
Glancing about to make sure no one was near, I unfolded the paper. The image was a little dark, but there was Brittany, her breasts plainly exposed as she hooked her hair behind her ears. She almost looked like she was posing. And there was something about the lighting and the angle that made her look even bustier than she really was.
“Yikes!” I said, blushing, quickly refolding the paper.
A strangled chuckle came from Weldon’s throat. There were beads of sweat on his forehead and a goofy look on his face. It was clear what was in it for him: a peep at the girl of his dreams.
“It’s something, all right,” he said.
It was just a piece of paper, but it was dangerous and forbidden, like a gun. It added an imaginary weight to my backpack as I carried it around, waiting for the right moment to approach Brittany. She was never alone, always with her ladies-in-waiting and a couple of male admirers in the background. I figured history class would be my best opportunity to make a connection.
That day she was sporting a pair of stud earrings shaped like tiny footballs. She showed them off to some of the other girls before the teacher came into the room.
“They’re real gold,” she bragged. “My mom had them custom-made so I could wear them during the play-offs. Aren’t they cool?”
The other girls, as eager for her acceptance and approval as I used to be, gushed over them admiringly.
“What do you think, Fiona?” she asked as I sat down.
“Yes, they’re nice,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant.
“They’re good luck charms I’m wearing for the team—for Adam, especially.”
I forced a smile.
“Where’s your show of team support?” she asked. When I glanced quickly down at my jeans and my green sweater, she shook her head. “No Patriot colors?”
I glanced at the other girls. Several were wearing combinations of red, white, and blue. They were all staring at me. I’d been so preoccupied over the picture that I’d forgotten that we were supposed to show our colors today.
“My support is in here,” I said, pointing at my heart and my head.
“Uh, okay.” She didn’t sound all that convinced.
I felt my face grow hot. She’d done it again—humiliated me in front of others. Now I was really ready for a fight. As soon as class was over, I slipped her a note. It said: Brittany, I need to talk to you privately.
“What about?” she asked innocently, as other students filed out of the room. “If it’s about your colors, I was just teasing. I know you love the Patriots as much as I do.”
“It’s about a lot of things.”
“Well, here I am,” she said sweetly, resting a hand on a curvy hip.
“Can we go outside?”
“I guess so.”
With my heart pounding, I led her behind a monument on the school grounds.
“Well, what is it?” she asked impatiently. “I’ve got to get to class.”
“Stop putting me down,” I demanded.
“What do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean. If you don’t, I’m going to show everybody . . . this.” Shaking, I pulled the picture out of my backpack and thrust it at her.
Her mouth dropped open in horror. “Give me that! Where did you get this? Who took it?”
“That’s not important. Just leave me alone and no one will ever see it. This will be our little secret.”
Her face reddening, she shredded the picture and stuffed it into her pocket. “They can’t see it now, can they?” she said mockingly.
“That’s just a copy,” I retorted.
She responded with an icy stare. “How could you? If anything, this proves you’re not good enough for Adam. He’s going to be mine—I promise you!”
She stalked off in a rage, leaving me trembling. The satisfaction that I expected to feel wasn’t there. The fact that she was going after Adam was nothing new, but I now felt more threatened than ever.
The team won the semi-finals, and Mom let me invite Adam to dinner to celebrate. Afterward we watched a video. Before he left he briefly put his arm around me, which sent my heart into palpitations.
Brittany wasn’t speaking to me at all, so I was beginning to think the ploy was working. But something happened just before the final championship game that sent everything crashing down around my head.
I’d just gotten to school one day when the whole place seemed to be abuzz. I figured it had something to do with the upcoming game until people stopped talking and stared as I walked by. Anxiety filled me. What was going on?
The next thing I knew, the principal and vice principal intercepted me in the hallway.
“Fiona, would you come with us?” Mr. Hadley, the principal, asked.
My stomach tightened. “What is it? Is something wrong?”
“We’d just like to talk to you.”
A sickening feeling came over me as I followed them to the principal’s office. Had Brittany decided to snitch on me after all? She’d torn up the only proof she had.
I sat down slowly in front of Mr. Hadley’s desk. Mr. Gillman sat next to me.
“A number of students and some parents have brought a matter to our attention,” Mr. Hadley said gravely. “A picture showing Brittany Caldwell semi-nude has been emailed to various members of the student body.”
I turned cold. “What does that have to do with me?” I finally managed to ask.
“They appear to be sent from the school computer lab . . . using your email address.”
“How could that be?”
“We had the computer science teacher do some checking. The picture was transmitted using your password.”
“There has to be some mistake!” I countered.
“Fiona,” Mr. Hadley said firmly, “what has happened is very serious. It’s the violation of someone’s privacy, causing them humiliation. The computer records point to you.”
“But I didn’t do that!”
He looked at me sternly. “The picture was taken in the girls’ locker room. You and Brittany share the same gym class. Did you take that picture?”
I burst into tears. When I finally got hold of myself, I explained why I did it and how I was desperate for Brittany to stop humiliating me. “But I didn’t transmit the picture,” I repeated. “I swear.”
They stared at me, then looked at each other. “Then how can you explain your email address being used?” Mr. Hadley repeated.
I thought of Weldon. A sense of horror spread over me. “A hacker maybe?”
“I’m sorry, Fiona, but we’re going to have to suspend you until we get to the bottom of this.”
I stared at him in disbelief. I’d never been in any kind of trouble before.
“Was Erica in on this?” the principal asked.
“No,” I answered quickly.
“Was anybody else?”
I sat in silence.
“If there’s anything to your hacker theory, surely you have some clue as to who it might be,” he continued.
“Weldon—Weldon Williams,” I said finally, still not wanting to believe that he’d betrayed me.
Needless to say, all hell broke loose at home.
“You really took a picture of her?” Mom asked.
I nodded. “But I didn’t email it. Honest.”
She put a hand on her forehead. “I’m surprised that you would be part of such a thing. You could have come to me or gone to the school counselor if this girl was being mean to you.”
I trudged off to my room in misery. I didn’t need to be told how stupid I’d been. I already knew.
That night, I called Erica.
“Your name is mud at school,” she said. “Brittany is a snob, all right, but what happened to her wasn’t right. You’ve disappointed a lot of people, including me.”
I started to cry again. “What about Adam? Have you seen him?”
“I saw him and Brittany together after school.”
For a minute I couldn’t even say anything.
“Fiona, are you there?”
I hung up, ran to the bathroom, and got sick.
The next day passed in an awful haze. For the most part, I didn’t even get out of bed. Then Mom came home and said Mr. Hadley had called her at work, and that he wanted me in his office at nine in the morning.
“Whatever it is,” I said, “he can’t make me feel any worse than I already do.”
Mom put her arms around me. “We all make mistakes,” she said.
I started to cry all over again. It was the nicest thing anyone had said to me in days.
The next morning I was surprised to find Weldon and Brittany already in Mr. Hadley’s office. Brittany’s face was red and puffy, like she’d been crying half the night. Weldon looked like he’d lost about two pints of blood. Mr. Hadley just looked tired.
“Fiona, I’ve told Weldon and Brittany your story. Now I think they have something to say to you.”
Weldon spoke first. “I emailed the picture because I was mad at Brittany.”
“But why?” I asked. “Why did you make it look like I did it?”
“Well, obviously, I didn’t want anybody to know it was me. Under the circumstances, people would think it was logical that you did it. But I did it mainly because Brittany wouldn’t go out with me—like she promised.”
I looked at them both in confusion. “I don’t understand.”
“This was a setup,” Brittany said, her voice wavering. “It was my idea to get you to take pictures of me. I had Weldon talk you into it. First, I knew he had a bad crush on me, and secondly, I knew his cell phone took pictures. My plan was that I’d tell Adam that you tried to blackmail me with nude pictures. That would make him choose me over you.
“To get Weldon to go along with it, I promised go out with him one time—plus, of course, he’d get to see the picture. But after it was over, I told him I couldn’t go out with him because I was with Adam.”
“When she backed out on the date,” Weldon said, “I got mad and emailed the picture.”
“I never intended for the picture to become public,” she said, sobbing. “It was just for a few eyes.”
I took a deep breath to calm myself. “Brittany, why do you have to be so mean to me? You’re prettier than I am. You’re richer. Isn’t that enough?”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “You had something I wanted . . . and I’m just used to getting my way.”
“I’m sorry I went along with it,” Weldon said, looking at me sheepishly. “And I’m sorry I hacked into your password.”
“I should have known better,” I said. “What I did wasn’t right. I’m sorry.”
Mr. Hadley ran a hand through what was left of his hair. “I’ve been a principal for twenty years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. Things used to be simple—cheating, a fight after school. Now it’s high-tech blackmail. All of you ought to be ashamed.”
Silence filled the room.
“Weldon, Brittany, you’re also suspended. I gave Fiona a week. You two get ten days. I’ll let your parents know.”
Brittany started to cry again. “But I’m a cheerleader. I can’t miss the big game.”
“I’m sorry,” Mr. Hadley said.
Her stare turned icy. “You can’t do this. My parents won’t let you.”
The principal returned an equally fierce stare that sent Brittany sinking back against her chair. “Brittany, in life we have to take responsibility for our actions.”
Things have changed since that awful week. Half the members of the Brittany Brigade defected, and the rest are no longer envied and admired as they once were. Adam and I are friends and I still tutor him occasionally, but things aren’t the same. Even my friendship with Erica was threatened for a while, but we’re on good terms now. Weldon has gone back to not having anything to do with anybody, preferring computers instead. To make matters worse, our team was defeated in the finals.
All three of us have had to spend a lot of time with the school counselor, and I’ve learned a lot. First of all, our behavior was pretty normal for thirteen-year-olds in that we’re going through the same sort of social development phase. Some of us are less advanced than others, but it doesn’t mean that we are not as good as anybody else.
I let myself be bullied. I might have been smart book-wise, but I wasn’t too smart in the way I handled the situation. There are other things I could have done, like go to the school counselor for advice. I could have pretended Brittany’s remarks didn’t bother me, or I could have stood up to her. She knew she was upsetting me, which was encouragement for her to continue.
There will always be girls like Brittany who make it hard on girls they consider beneath them, who plot and manipulate to get their way. But as Mom says, being rich, pretty and snobbish might put you at the top of the middle-school social ladder, but it’s not anything you can put on a resume.