The next day, as expected, the hallways were buzzing.
“Who? Summer? No way.”
“No wonder she’s so skinny.”
I kept my face blank, walking through the noise, but inside, I couldn’t suppress my grin.
My locker wasn’t near Emilie’s, but I knew where it was. I pretended to rearrange my backpack, waiting for the dramatic scene that was about to unfold.
I was a little disappointed when Emilie and Summer turned the corner and weren’t yelling. They were definitely arguing, though.
As they passed, I caught a few words.
“Don’t deny it. You were the only--”
“I didn’t! Who else did you--”
At lunch, there was a split. Emilie sat at their usual table, but Summer flounced past and settled at another one, sending the people who normally sat there in search of a different place to eat.
Some of the other girls who hadn’t sat down yet looked confused, turning from the usual table to where Summer sat.
I watched. This would be the turning point. Who was more popular?
Alysha walked to Summer and asked her a question. Summer threw a dirty look at Emilie. Alysha sat down at the other table.
Another girl joined them, but the rest sat with me and Emilie, the looks of gossip on their faces.
“Why is she over there?”
“Is it true? She’s bulimic?”
“I always knew there was something...”
Emilie sat up in a commanding way. “Shut up. She’s not bulimic. She’s overreacting to the gossip.”
“I don’t think so,” one girl commented. “She’s pretty upset.”
“Is she, like ashamed? To sit with us?”
“I think she’s mad at someone.” I regretted it the moment I said it. All the girls turned toward me, and Emilie’s brow furrowed.
Had I just given myself away?
“Why? She wouldn’t be mad unless--”
“It’s me, okay?” Emilie slammed her fork down. “She thinks I told everyone.”
The girl with rhinestone glasses leaned forward. “Why would you tell people that? Are you jealous?”
“Do you think Liam likes her better?”
“He won’t like her now.”
“Shut up!” Emilie said again. I’d never seen her so mad. “I didn’t lie. She is bulimic.” Then she looked scared. “I mean, I didn’t tell anyone that. But it’s true.”
The second most outspoken girl raised her eyebrows. “Wow. Not cool.”
“I didn’t tell,” Emilie said weakly. “Seriously.”
But it was too late. There were mutterings around the table, and a couple of the girls got up and joined Summer’s table.
Emilie and I sat there in silence until everyone else had left.
Still she didn’t speak. I waited.
The bell rang.
She stirred. “I don’t know what just happened.”
I sat without saying anything.
“I really didn’t do it.” She finally looked up. “You believe me, right?”
I shrugged. “I mean, who else knew?”
Emilie shook her head. Her food lay untouched on her tray.
“I don’t understand what happened. But it wasn’t me.”
We sat another minute.
“We need to go. I’ll figure this out.”
I nodded, standing. We went to our separate classes without saying any more.
It didn’t take long until everyone knew about Emilie’s supposed betrayal. There were those who thought she’d done it. There were a few who didn’t know. But either way, next lunch, when Emilie sat at the usual table, Summer stood and left, taking most of the girls with her.
Emilie was on her phone non-stop. It looked like she did a lot more typing than her phone did buzzing.
I still sat with her. Not like I could join the other group anyway.
With doubts flying around and homecoming getting nearer, it was time to implement phase three. *
I never talked to popular guys.
Not unless we got assigned to the same project or something.
But today, I walked confidently toward the guys’ bathroom, leaning against the wall in front of the door.
With a burst of laughter, he sauntered out with one of his friends.
Liam stopped, raising his eyebrow at me.
I went on before I could chicken out. His friend sized me up from behind Liam.
“Do you have a date to homecoming yet?”
The guys exchanged glances, like they couldn’t believe what they were hearing.
“Uh, I’m not interested.” Liam crossed his arms, a smile playing on his lips. He really was cute.
“Not me.” I rolled my eyes, balling my hands into fists to keep them from shaking. “I happened to hear that Alysha thinks your cute. She’s just too nervous to ask you out.”
Liam glanced back at his friend, but this look was more thoughtful and interested. “I mean, I was gonna ask Emilie, but that’s not a bad idea.”
“She’s a cheerleader, right?” The other guy pulled out his phone and started scrolling.
“Yeah, Emilie said she wasn’t going. She has a minor surgery on an ingrown toenail the day before and wouldn’t be able to dance.”
“What?” Liam wrinkled his nose. “She’s like nominated for HC queen.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, I think they might revoke her nomination. I heard Alysha has a good chance of getting it.”
“Ingrown what?” The other guy asked, looking up from his phone.
“Toenail. Never mind, I shouldn’t have said anything. Just forget I was here.”
The guys eyed me. “Who are you?”
“Nobody.” I backed away. “Just wanted to let you know what Alysha said.” *
“I don’t believe this!” Emilie flung herself on her bed. “How did Alysha get Liam to invite her to homecoming?”
She buried her face in her pillow.
I sat on her couch, surrounded by homework. I breathed a sigh of relief. Liam had been the wild card.
“Well...” I pulled myself up, hesitating. “Alysha is really cute. And she is a lot... skinnier than you.”
“What’s wrong with me?” Emilie said into her pillow. Her hair was matted. “Everyone hates me.”
She was right. None of her friends talked to her anymore because of the whole Summer fiasco. I was the only one who sat with her at lunch. I knew as long as the rumors went around in the school, Summer wouldn’t forgive Emilie. But once it blew over... Would they make up? I had to implement phase four quickly.
“Mrs. Young?” I knocked quietly on the living room wall.
She looked up from her laptop, pushing her glasses onto her head.
Emilie was still upstairs. I’d told her I needed to use the restroom.
“I’m sorry to bother you.”
“Did you have a question, dear?”
I stepped into the room. “I-- I’m just worried about Emilie.”
Mrs. Young put her laptop down. “What do you mean?”
“Well, she’s been really depressed lately. She had this big argument with Summer and they’re all mad at her.”
I nodded and told her about her friends and Liam. “I think she might hurt herself.”
Mrs. Young drew in a sharp breath. “I don’t believe it. Emilie wouldn’t do anything like that.”
“I hope not.” I stepped back. “I need to go. She’ll be wondering where I am.”
I left Emilie’s mom staring after me with a shocked expression.