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chapter one

Jessica Walker was thin, blonde, and popular. She usually spent at least part of her lunch hour making sure other students knew that they weren't.

Maureen Paulsen was eating lunch at one of the picnic tables outside of Whitmore High School, and she could see Jessica coming for her, flanked by two of her entourage, girls who wanted to be just like Jessica. Since Maureen was considered a freak by the entire high school, she didn't think Jessica was coming to have a friendly chat.

"Jessica's coming," Maureen told her best friend Frances. Frances had just shoved an entire cookie into her mouth. Frances chewed, but her eyes got wide. Maureen rolled her eyes. God, why did Frances have to eat so much? Frances was fat. Frances never skipped a meal. In fact, she ate between meals. And her meals themselves were generally large enough to feed a small country in Africa. Today, Frances had several slices of cold pepperoni pizza, a large bag of chips, two pudding cups, a pack of twizzlers, and a bag of cookies. Maureen watched her friend stuff her face and felt slightly sick to her stomach.

She didn't feel like waiting for the onslaught, so Maureen smiled a large, plastic smile at Jessica and waved. "Hi Jessica," she said.

Jessica swiftly approached the picnic table where Maureen and Frances were sitting. "Wow," she said, "it's so good to see the both of you haven't succumbed to the ravages of anorexia."

Maureen rolled her eyes. Jessica was really witty, wasn't she? Maureen's own lunch consisted of a turkey sandwich on a bagel with mayonnaise and provolone cheese. Maureen liked the taste of flavors together. She also liked the fact that they all matched. They were white foods. Her lunch was color coordinated.

"Anyway," said Jessica, "I'm here now, so you two need to leave."

Maureen raised her eyebrows. "Why would we do that?" She picked up her sandwich and took a bite. Mmm. Turkey.

Frances swallowed her cookie and gazed up at Jessica with terror in her eyes. "We can move," she said.

Maureen glared at her and chewed. Frances had no spine. Maureen didn't actually like Frances. Maureen didn't like anyone. She guessed she maybe liked Frances a little better than she liked other people, but that was about as far as it went. Frances was fat, dumb, and always feeling sorry for herself. Sometimes, Maureen thought she would strangle her. Of course, she didn't. For one thing, she didn't want to go to jail for murder, and for another, Frances was her best friend. If she strangled Frances, she would have to eat lunch alone every day.

The two were best friends by default. It had started freshman year. Whitmore was fed by the two middle schools in the county: Potomac and Lost Bridge. Maureen was the class outcast from Potomac, Frances from Lost Bridge. Instead of taking the ridicule alone the way they had in middle school, they decided to band together. So now they did the things most best friends did together. They ate lunch together, talked for hours on the phone, and occasionally went shopping.

Jessica ignored Frances. "Well," she said, "despite the fact that seeing Death Girl and Fat Fran at a picnic table in front of the school does nothing for our scholastic image, school spirit, or the general appearance of the building, it so happens that I want to sit at this picnic table today."

Maureen shrugged. "So sit." She gestured with her sandwich to the rest of the table.

Jessica laughed, a musical sound, like bells. It was maddening that she was so pretty and poised, but yet so horrible. "There's no room," she said. "Fat Fran is so huge, she's taking up the entire universe."

Frances' face fell. She began to break one of her cookies up nervously.

Maureen might not be very fond of Frances, but Frances was her best friend. She wasn't going to let Jessica get away with saying stuff like that.

Maureen set down her sandwich and wiped her lips carefully with a napkin. "Do you know why they call me Death Girl?" she asked in calm voice, staring into Jessica's deep, twinkly, blue eyes. Jessica didn't know. She was from Lost Bridge, and Maureen had gotten the name at Potomac. "Do you?"

Jessica broke her gaze. She looked a little nervous, but tried to cover it up. "I'm sorry. Were you talking, because I justó"

"They call me Death Girl because when I was younger I killed someone." Maureen made sure to keep her voice matter-of-fact. And she kept staring right at Jessica.

"Right." Jessica was sarcastic, but she sounded unsure now.

"You hear about Ashley Cannon?"

"The little girl who fell off the wall at the edge of town? That was an accident." Now Jessica's voice was definitely unstable.

Maureen shook her head. "No. I pushed her. Ashley was a lot like you. She thought she was so much better than everybody else. Ask anyone. She used to pick on me all the time."

Rattled, Jessica turned to her entourage. "Let's get out of here," she said. She and her girls stalked off.

Maureen picked her sandwich back up. Darn Jessica for ruining a perfect meal.

"You should stop telling people that you killed that girl," said Frances.

"How do you know I didn't?"

"I'm your best friend. I know."

"Fine," Maureen said.

"They call you Death Girl because of that report you did on murderers."

That was the truth, of course. "Maybe," said Maureen.

"Anyway, thanks," said Frances. "You got rid of them. And that's cool, because I told Jared French to sit with us today, and I think he's coming over here."

"You did not!" Maureen had kind of a crush on Jared. She looked around. Sure enough, he was headed for their table, lunch tray in hand.

Jared wasn't really good-looking. He had harsh features and cool gray eyes. But he was sort of compelling all the same. He was new. He'd just started at Whitmore a few weeks ago. And for some reason, he talked to Maureen. Besides Frances, he was the only other person in school who did. He sat down at the picnic table, grinning a disarming smile. Maureen felt heat creeping up her cheeks. What had Frances said to him?

"Hey girls," said Jared. "What'd you say to Jessica? She cleared out of here pretty fast."

"I told her I killed somebody," Maureen said. God! That was stupid. He was going to think she was weird. Actually, he probably already did. She had no idea why he talked to her.

Jared laughed. "Did you kill someone?"

"Maybe." Maureen took a bite of her sandwich. This was going all wrong.

"You keep talking like that and they'll expel you," he said.

"It's just talk," said Frances.

"Sure," said Jared. "I got kicked out of school once for joking about planting bombs in the bathrooms."

Really? So, he understood. Jared was totally cool.

"You did not," said Frances.

"Totally," said Jared. "Why do you think I'm here? No tolerance and all that. They want to avoid another Madison."

"Yeah, but that guy didn't use bombs," said Frances. "He shot people." She looked at Maureen for support, knowing that Maureen knew all about mass murderers.

Maureen shrugged. "He had bombs. He just rigged them wrong, and they didn't go off."

"Really?" said Frances.

"Really," said Maureen.

"I didn't know that," said Jared.

"It's true," said Maureen. "He only killed fourteen people, but if the bombs had gone off... He was trying to outdo Michael Ray Macino. You know, the guy that blew up that courthouse in Ohio?"

Frances shook her head. Jared nodded.

"Michael Ray Macino killed eighty-five people. That's the most anybody's ever killed."

"Please, Maureen, I'm eating here," said Frances.

"Sorry," said Maureen. Frances should know better than to get her started.

"So," said Jared. "What do you girls do on the weekends?"

"Um..." Maureen looked at Frances for help. Was Jared going to ask if she wanted to go somewhere? "We hang out."

"Cool," said Jared. "I might be going to play pool at the billiard place on Saturday. Maybe you guys might stop by too."

"Yeah," said Maureen. "Maybe." What did he just say?!

"Right on," said Jared. He got up from the table and sauntered off.

"Did he just ask us to hang out with him?" Maureen said.

"If he asked anyone, he asked you," said Frances. "I'm way too fat."

"Frances..." Maureen trailed off. "You know, if you wanted to go on a diet, I'd do it with you."

* * *

Frances knelt in front of the toilet in the girl's bathroom on the west wing of Whitmore High School. The bathrooms on the west wing were single bathroomsóno stalls, just one toilet in the roomóand that's why she was there. Privacy. Every few weeks, someone got caught smoking in one of them, and they closed them to students for two weeks as punishment. Frances hadn't even been sure if she'd be able to get into the bathroom. But apparently, no one had been smoking in them recently, or at least, no one had been caught smoking in them, so they were open.

The door locked behind her, Frances stuck her middle finger as far down her throat as it would go and waited to heave. Nothing happened. She didn't even gag.

Maureen's stupid quip about dieting had really gotten to her. Maureen might be her best friend, but sometimes, Maureen was really just...mean. It was easy for Maureen. Maureen had always been rail thin. She was tall and willowy. The girl could eat anything she wanted. Witness the fact that she always ate lunch every day. Practically no one else in the senior class did that, and most of them skipped breakfast.

Frances couldn't do that, of course. She got hungry. And besides, it was healthier to eat breakfast. Healthy. Right. That's why she was 5'4" and 230 pounds. That's why she was currently trying to make herself throw up her lunch. She was concerned with health. Whatever.

Frances wiggled her finger around in her throat. She convulsed! She wiggled more and continued to convulse.

She couldn't diet. She had to eat. But maybe if she ate and threw it all back up, it would be easier. Bulimia. It was so the way to go.

Frances continued to gag and convulse. Her eyes started to water. Her esophagus muscles squeezed against each other spasmodically. But she didn't vomit. She didn't even feel like vomiting. Her throat felt a little sore and her mouth tasted like her finger.

She sat back. Goddamn it. This wasn't supposed to be so hard. Didn't people always say sticking your finger down your throat would make you throw up?

One more try. She leaned back over the toilet and reinserted her finger in her throat. Immediately, she gagged. She gagged and gagged and gagged and...nothing.

Frances laid down on the cold tile of the bathroom and sobbed.

* * *

Trevor hated Whitmore High School. It was his first day, but he could already tell that he hated it. When his parents had announced they were moving here, he'd seen the sense in getting out of Praxton. All the people in Praxton looked at his family out of the corner of their eyes, but never spoke to them. Everyone whispered about his family behind their backs. It was a bad situation. They did need to go somewhere and start fresh. But God, why did it have to be here?

Trevor hated the country. Admittedly, they'd lived in the suburbs before. Praxton was not exactly a bustling metropolis, but at least it was civilized. There were malls and Wal-marts and grocery stores, all within a few minutes drive. Here, the nearest mall was an hour away and there was one grocery store in the entire town. One. It wasn't even a nice grocery store with a salad bar and a deli. It was crappy and had no selection.

And this school. It was small. There were only 200 kids in his class. That meant the teachers knew everyone and would easily be able to spot cutters. Trevor didn't cut class a lot, but he liked to have the option. He'd been here one day, and already, his first period teacher knew his name. Ms. Trask taught English, and he'd seen her in the halls before lunch. "Hi Trevor," she'd said. One day and she already knew his name. Jesus, that sucked.

He wanted to be able to melt into the scenery here. He didn't want to be noticed. He'd been noticed enough as it was back in Praxton. He'd been noticed enough to last an entire lifetime. At least now no one was paying any attention to him. He was sitting on the bleachers outside, munching on the bag of chips he'd grabbed from the vending machine for lunch. There were girls walking around the track surrounding the football field, but none of them were looking at him.

A few of them were really cute, too. One of themóred curly hair, tight tank topówas bouncing by right then. And Trevor did mean bouncing. He gazed appreciatively at the swell of her breasts as they bobbed up and down in rhythm with her step. Very nice. And there was another girl with her, in a pair of those tight jeans. Those jeans were made for her backside. They caressed her curves. Briefly, Trevor quickly fantasized about caressing her curves himself, sliding his hands over heró

His hands came back covered with blood. It dripped off his fingers, making puddles on the ground.

Trevor shook himself and blinked. His hands were clean. There was nothing on his fingers but a few chip crumbs. God. Not that again. Not the... He shivered. He had an erection, and he felt like throwing up the chips he'd just eaten. Disgusting. So fucking disgusting. Trevor stood up. Lunch had to be almost over. It had to be time for class soon.

chapter two >>

Copyright (c) 2010 Valerie Chambers