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I just watched her as the other students filled the desks. They barely noticed her and were talking and laughing loudly.

“What the . . . what are you doing here?” Alder said, frozen in the doorway. Her eyes were wide.

Julianne smiled. “Obviously they were very desperate for a substitute.”

Alder rolled her eyes and scampered to her seat, ducking down. “This is so freaking embarrassing, Mother. Jesus.”

“Erin,” Julianne warned, although there wasn’t even a glimmer of anger in her eyes. Gina would have climbed over the desk at me by then.

Julianne’s shiny brown hair bounced as she walked around the classroom, passing out papers. As a child, I fantasized about what it would be like to grow up with a mother like her. Alder always showed up to school on Halloween in a gorgeous, homemade princess costume, complete with a pink pointy hat and ribbon flowing from the top. Sam and Julianne were always at the games that Alder cheered at to support her, wearing buttons on their jackets featuring her cheer picture. For her sixteenth birthday, they bought her a shiny new Honda Accord, which she hated. She didn’t know she was lucky to take those things for granted, that everyone didn’t get the same love and attention that she did, so I didn’t really hold it against her. Even though I wanted to.

Julianne sat in Mr. Barrows’s chair and grinned, her blue eyes sparkling. We had similar coloring, the same heart-shaped face, similar dark hair and blue eyes, so I hoped I still looked as young and beautiful as she did when I was her age.

Alder groaned. “What is this?”

“It’s your assignment,” Julianne said. “Mr. Barrows said you would know what to do, so get to it, guys. You have to finish before the end of the period. No one can take this home.”

Everyone but me grumbled, and Julianne blinked, clearly unhappy at being unpopular.

“God, this is so embarrassing!” Alder seethed.

Julianne managed a sweet but wounded smile. “Sorry, honey. They just needed my help.”

By fifth hour, Alder was particularly cranky. The guys were giving her crap about how hot her mom was, and the girls were bugging her about why she was working as a substitute. Julianne had been a stay-at-home mom since a week before the three of us Erins were born. Before that she was a PA for Dr. Shuart’s clinic, but she left Alder in daycare once and couldn’t do it again. Or that was the story, anyway. Sam was Blackwell’s general surgeon, and they lived in a six-bedroom home around the corner and down the street from Weston.

“What is that smell?” Sonny said loudly from the back of health class.

They had been on that subject all day, starting in first hour when Brady implied that the rancid chemical smell coming from some of Mrs. Merit’s new supplies was coming from my vagina. After that, he made a show every time he passed me in the hall, and others caught on.

The thought of having them all in Health might have broken me, but for some reason, their taunts weren’t fazing me like usual.

“Ugh,” Brady said. “Again? What the hell is that? I’ve been smelling it all day!”

“Maybe it’s you?” Weston said, turning around in his desk.

I kept facing forward.

Coach Morris turned from the chalkboard. “Is there a problem?”

Everyone shook their heads.

A muffled gagging noise came from the back, and then another. Coach turned around again.

“Sorry, Coach, but do you not smell that?” Sonny asked.

“No,” he said, looking around, confused. “Smell what?” he sniffed, and everyone broke into laughter. The coach was not amused. “Either pay attention to the lesson or get out!” he shouted, pointing to the door. Everyone silenced.

“Yeah, dicks,” Weston whispered.

Coach flipped around and his eyes targeted Weston. “What did you say, Gates?”

Weston swallowed. “I said, ‘Yeah, dicks.’”

Coach Morris shifted his weight, preparing to lay into Weston. “And who are the dicks you’re referring to?”

“That would be Brady, Sir, and anyone else complaining of a nonexistent smell.”

Coach hesitated then turned back around.

“Fuck you, punk,” Brady said under his breath.

“Suck my cock, Beck!” Weston said, standing up.

“All right, enough!” Coach Morris’s voice boomed.

Mrs. Pyles walked in, her eyes wide. “Is everything okay in here?”

Coach glared at Brady and Weston. “Get out of my classroom. Both of you. Now.”

Weston grabbed his backpack and stormed out.

Brady held up his hands. “I didn’t do anything? Why are you throwing me out?”

“Get out, Brady!”

“But I didn’t do anything! This is crap! Ask anyone!”

Coach Morris looked over at Mrs. Pyles. “Mrs. Pyles, would you please escort Mr. Beck out of my classroom before I lose my temper?”

Mrs. Pyles stared at him for a moment then walked toward Brady. “All right, Brady, let’s go.”

“Don’t f**king touch me!” Brady said, his voice almost a whine.

“Brady Beck, get out of that chair, or so help me, I will assist Coach Morris in physically removing you from this classroom! Get up! Now!”

Brady leaned back against his seat as Mrs. Pyles leaned toward him. She was angrier than I’d ever seen her. After a moment of shock, Brady scrambled for his things and scurried from the classroom.

“You’ll be hearing from my parents!”

“Oh, goody. Can’t wait,” Coach Morris deadpanned. “Now, back to the facial muscles.”

I scooted down in my seat, feeling the ten pairs of eyes boring into the back of my head.

During seventh period, I kept glancing at Weston’s empty seat and sighing. I didn’t need him to save me, and it was causing him grief. I wasn’t sure why he’d suddenly decided to take me on as a cause, but it was clearly dangerous for both of us.

As I walked to the front of the school at the end of the day, I could see Brady, Brendan, Andrew, and the Erins standing on the corner that I usually crossed, next to their parallel-parked vehicles. Not once since they got their licenses had they congregated there, and I knew the Erins were already late for cheer practice. They were waiting for me.

I refused to take a different route to the Dairy Queen and lifted my chin as I approached, keeping my eyes forward.