Chapter 15

Josh had just cheated on Stella. With Jessamine.

I was still trying to wrap my mind around it, and so was Kyle. It wasn't the fact that he was cheating—because it made sense; Stella definitely wasn't star girlfriend material—but more of the fact that he was with Jessamine. My friend. The girl who had just defended me in front of Josh today.

And then I saw them kissing.

"Do you believe this? I don't believe this," I said, clutching my head and pacing at an unnaturally quick speed, passing Kyle on the couch for the millionth time. "He's using Jessamine, making sure she won't tell Hines that he punched me by kissing her, and it's not like she'll believe me over him and Jessa. Can you believe it? I can't—"

"I know," sighed Kyle, turning around and propping his elbows on the top of the couch. "Good-for-nothing bastard. Vaughn, not you," he added, seeing my raised eyebrows. "It's not right. I don't like this, Leigh, it's . . ." He scratched the back of his head. "I dunno. Josh doesn't seem to be acting like Josh."

"I hate it," I said heatedly, pulling angrily at my ponytail. "He punches me and he makes out with Jessamine so no one will find out? That's low. That's really, really low. I don't know what I saw in him in the first place. Like, what the hell? Why was I ever even friends with him?"

Kyle rubbed his nose, shaking his head. "I know. You told me. Hell, I can't believe that I was ever friends with him, either." He caught my puzzled look and waved a hand. "When we were in the center, I started talking to Josh. I thought he was cool, but I gues I was wrong."

"No shit," I muttered, flopping onto the couch next to him. "And my nose hurts like a bitch."

Laughing dryly, Kyle said, "Well, yeah. He's not the star football player for nothing, you know." He paused for a moment, then added thoughtfully, "You have to admit it, though, you kind of had it coming for you."

All I did in response was smack him on the arm.

[One day before graduation, class of 2010]

"Hurry up, will you, Joce?" Jeanna called to me as she checked her hair in a compact mirror. I frowned and poked a finger at my starting-to-show blond roots. "No one can tell, your hair is fine. Just dye it after the game."

"Yeah, but . . ." I sighed and prodded the wheat-colored tops of my hair. "I dunno. It just seems weird to just walk out with my roots showing."

Jeanna just rolled her eyes and dabbed concealer on a spot. "I told you, Joce, it looks fine. The game is in ten minutes, so it's not like you have time to dye it. Besides, everyone will be so much in awe of your cheerleading routine that they won't care that your roots are showing. If they even see them."

I chewed on my bottom lip, then shrugged and picked up my routine for one last time. "Okay. You remember everything? Haven't forgotten any flips or turns, or when all the solos are?"

"Yes, Joce, I remember it all. Now, for heaven's sake, get going. The game's not going to wait for us, you know," Jeanna said crossly as she flung the door open, jogging out in her blue-and-white Irvington Vikings cheerleader uniform. I followed behind, tugging at the short blue skirt.

Aden would be there, I thought to myself for the millionth time, nervously biting on the inside of my cheek. I didn't know if I was happy or scared about that. Maybe both. Or maybe I just didn't want to see him at all, because he obviously wouldn't believe me about Malcolm. He'd expressed that pretty clearly last week, when Malcolm was harassing me in the closet.

"Jocelyn McAdams, you had better get your ass out here before I actually steal this," Jeanna shouted from the doorway, waving a large, rectangular-shaped object. I blinked and stepped forward to see what she was holding up, then gasped in shock.

"You wouldn't!"

"Oh, you know I would. Better get going before I pocket it," she responded, winking and waving my Bobbi Brown eyeshadow collection. "I've been looking for this everywhere, and I never seem to be able to find it. Come and get it if you really like this palette so much." She clicked it open and nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, I really do like this thing. Can I buy it off of you?"

"What? No," I said indignantly, snatching it from her hands and clutching it to my chest. "This is limited edition. Come on, we're going to the game before you manage to swipe anything else off of me. And if you do, I'm taking off with your whole lipgloss collection."

Jeanna just snorted at the thought, and I stuck my tongue out at her as I carefully placed the palette back in place. "Right. Good luck on that—you wouldn't be able to get down the stairs, much less through the door. You know that it's a lost cause before you even start."

I nodded grudgingly, following her out the door and getting into her car's passenger seat. If anything, Jeanna was a makeup whore. "How's Gideon? Still going strong?"

"Oh, no," Jeanna said lightly, turning the key in the ignition, "we broke up last week. He was being an annoying prick, and I was getting sick of him anyway, so I dumped him. Didn't seem too torn up about it, either," she added, looking a bit down at the mouth. "I mean, it was totally obvious that he was cheating on me. Should've left him ages ago, the bastard."

"I liked Gideon," I objected, frowning. Jeanna went through boys fast, too fast to possibly be healthy. "He was really funny. How was he an 'annoying prick,' according to your words?"

"Eh, you know," said Jeanna, simply shrugging and not bothering to look from the road at me. No, I didn't know, and my frown deepened even more. Gideon had been nice, nicer than most of her boyfriends. "Asked questions, never knew the right time to shut up. He didn't ever talk about soccer, which was the only reason why I dated him in the first place. Lame."

Okay. Those two sentences had been completely contradictory of each other, and neither were good reasons for her dumping poor Gid. "So you disliked the fact that he talked a lot, yet you're complaining that he never talked about soccer? Jeanna, I don't think that's a good reason to break up with someone. You guys should talk, evaluate your thoughts," I said firmly, nodding my head. Jeanna just flashed me a skeptical look.

She drove on quietly for another minute, then hit the brakes when a red light made an appearance. Tilting the mirror, Jeanna dabbed at her lipgloss with her ring finger and finally decided to reply. "I'm not interested in Gideon anymore, Joce. Maybe you should put some thought into your own love life, seeing as that's not exactly going too well for you. Fix it before you start giving other people advice. Seriously, Joce."

The words flew out of my mouth before I could stop them. "Shut up, bitch."

Jeanna's jaw dropped, and her brown eyes flew wide open at my words and tone of voice. She shot me an offended look, whipping her head back to the red light and clamping her mouth shut. It took several seconds before I could start feeling anything close to regret for saying it. I didn't know what'd possessed me, but I was kind of glad. She needed to be taken down a notch or two.

Both of us were stonily silent for the rest of the ride, and we said nothing to each other when the car was parked. Jeanna flashed me a look through narrowed eyes, to which I responded with a bland expression. I was starting to feel bad, but I couldn't back down now. That would've been lame.

"Joce, Jeanna, over here!" Eyra Dickson shouted at us, jumping in her cheerleader uniform and waving enthusiastically our way. She was a junior, on the varsity team with us, and a little bit of a social climber. I'd noticed on multiple occasions that she was a whole lot friendlier to Jeanna than, say, one of her own real friends. Nobody seemed to notice or care, so I always left it alone.

Allowing a polite smile to cross her lips, Jeanna nodded curtly at Eyra. She didn't consider her a friend, and neither did I, so we usually didn't see her every day. If we were lucky, at least. "Eyra, hi. Ready for the game?"

"Totally," she gushed, grinning and tossing her blond ponytail over her shoulder. "It's jerseys against skins, did you know? I can't wait to see Aden Morgeroff shirtless—oh, but I didn't mean to be rude, Joce, I was just kidding . . ." She giggled nervously, and I just looked at her with cool eyes. "Sorry."

"No, it's fine," I said lightly, forcing a smile on my face and tittering fakely behind my hand. "Aden and I aren't together anymore, so it's not like I mind. Go ahead and pursue him if you like—it doesn't really matter to me, either way."

"Gosh, really?" A wide smile lit up Eyra's pretty features. Prettier than I liked—she was Aden's type, and if she went after him, maybe they'd actually get together. He liked cheerleaders, all thin with brown eyes. He'd told me once that he had a thing for brown eyes, and Eyra had them. "Thanks, Joce."

I felt my smile getting more forced, and I scrambled to turn it more natural. My cheeks felt like they were stretching apart. "Yeah, no problem. We should get going now, huh?"

Well, Eyra had been right about one thing—Aden was looking very, very shirtless when we came across him. A stone wall seemed to slam across his face when he saw me, and I felt an uncomfortable dropping sensation in the bottom of my stomach, not unlike the feeling of riding Tower of Terror in Disneyland, Los Angeles.

"Hi, Aden!" Eyra exclaimed happily, grinning at him with the mushiest expression that I'd ever seen. Surely he couldn't possibly fall for a girl who looked at him like that? "How are you doing? Does it feel good to be playing football while you're out of uniform?"

What is this, the Spanish Inquisition? I thought crossly to myself while watching the two and making my face as expressionless as possible. Aden's eyes flickered to mine, and I almost caught a hint of laughter in them before they went back to Eyra. We would've been laughing at Eyra's face if not for the Malcolm thing. I was sure of it.

"Yeah, Eyra, it's great to be out of uniform," said Aden, smiling widely and pointedly not looking at me. The grin plastered on my face was getting more and more painful by the second. "You going to be cheering for me out there on the field, then?"

I couldn't take it. The tense atmosphere was just building on me, making me feel like some invisible being was smashing me into the ground. A slightly strangled-sounding cough came through my throat, and Jeanna and Eyra turned to look at me. Aden just stared at the ground, and I choked out, "I—um, I've gotta go to the bathroom. I'll be right back."

I all but fled the scene. Jeanna stared at me for a moment, then let me go without further comment.

Knock, knock. "Jocelyn, get the hell out of there!" Jeanna shouted, banging loudly on the bathroom stall. I sighed, swinging my legs as I sat moodily on the toilet, but I didn't unlock the door. "Jocelyn McAdams, are you in there?"

"No," I said dryly, slowly getting to my feet and letting Jeanna in. "I don't want to go cheer. Especially not for Aden. Have they announced who'll be cheering for who yet?"

Jeanna bit her lip, looking indecisive for a moment, then nodded stiffly. She looked guarded, still ruffled by my angry comment earlier, but she told me how the cheering would go. "It's jerseys versus skins, like Eyra said. You're with the skins, I'm with the jerseys. Um, that means—"

"I know what it means," I said sharply. Jeanna's expression flared with annoyance again, and I sighed. "Sorry. I'm just kind of stressed out right now, you know. Um, do you want to go out on the field now? The game's starting soon, isn't it?"

"Yeah," said Jeanna, miffed, "that's what I came here to tell you in the first place. Besides, what happened to not wanting to go? Shouldn't you be even more averse to it, seeing as you now know that Aden's going to be on your team?"

I glanced at her helplessly for a moment, then shrugged. "There's nothing I can do about it, so I'll just have to stick it out, won't I?" I said stiffly, squaring my shoulders and walking out. "It's only a few hours. Everything should be okay." Laughing weakly, I shook my head. "You know, I'm just being a total dramatic bitch right now. Of course everything's gonna be fine; I'm just overreacting."

That was what I told Jeanna, at least, but I found myself unable to stop stalling. I stopped for a whole three minutes to pull up my white Nike crew elite socks, then another twelve to tie the laces on my Vans, and then yet another five minutes to dust any microscopic specks of dirt off of the pristine white shoes.

"Okay," Jeanna finally said, exasperated, "stop messing around and get your ass on the field. It's been twenty minutes, and everyone's going to be waiting for us."

"Fine." I ran out of the locker room before I could change my mind, jogging over to the skins team. Eyra, I noticed with displeasure, was on my side as well. Jeanna waved, smiling as she flounced over to the jersey team, and I forced back a grin.

Aden stared at me for a moment. Well, stare would be the watered-down version of it, but he was actually glaring at me like I'd just punched his peach-faced grandma or something like that. I averted his gaze, instead finding a fascinating interest in a passing bird.

The bird pooped on a girl in the audience, and I quickly searched for another object to keep from laughing.

"What're you doing here, anyway?" asked Aden sharply, promptly wiping the smile off of my face. I raised my eyebrows, but I stared at his nose instead of his eyes. In my defense, though, he was a whole foot taller than me; it was hard enough making out with him. Not that I'd be doing any of that anymore.

"Dude, she's a cheerleader, man. Chill," muttered Wallace Pent, one of Irvington's varsity runningbacks. He was part of the centerpiece group in the senior A-list table, and I talked to him on a fairly regular basis. Used to, anyway. Wallace was funny, even though I considered his name to be something of an abomination. Seriously, what kind of name was Wallace?

He smiled slightly at me, and for a moment everything felt kind of normal. Then Aden came back into the picture, using his death-ray glare to make me feel a bit queasy. No matter how pretty or blond the guy was, you couldn't not be afraid of a ripped, six-foot-four guy who wanted to murder you with his bare hands.

Yeah, you guessed right. I was just the tiniest bit afraid of Aden at that point. And by 'tiniest bit,' I mean 'only a little more than Mount Everest-sized.'

"I don't want her cheering for me," Aden protested, which got him a couple of raised eyebrows. He was bitching almost as badly as I'd been doing minutes ago in the bathroom, except it was less socially acceptable for a guy to bitch out. Plus, I'd only been doing so in the privacy of a girls' restroom, with no one but Jeanna around.

Trying to ease Aden's temper, Wallace said patiently, "Hey, Aden, the principal already told us the teams and the cheerleaders. It's not a big deal, anyway. Come on, why don't we just go and—?"

"No, it's okay," I interrupted coolly, tipping my chin up in a false show of confidence. "I'll go. It's not as if I want to cheer for him in the first place; come on." I looked coldly at him, adding snidely, "No need to worry, Aden, I'm not obsessive or anything. You're not the center of the universe, as much as it must pain you to hear. Get over yourself."

He just stared stonily at me, and I began to stride away, back straight and ponytail swinging with each firm step strengthening my willpower. This wasn't so bad, was it? Sure, he'd just publicly announced that he didn't want me around, but it wasn't a hidden fact. And I'd stood up to him, hadn't I? After all, he was the one in the wrong, not me.

Dickwad, I thought to myself with surprising vehemence. He didn't deserve me, anyway. . . . Oh. Okay, I was going to stop there before my inner feminist came raging out.

A small smile reluctantly crossed my face, and I fingered the brown strands of my ponytail thoughtfully. Mm, I did look better as a blonde in the first place. But, well, I really wasn't one for change. Aden . . . My step faltered slightly. Aden had dumped me because he wouldn't listen to me. It was his fault, not mine.

What would happen after Aden graduated, though? The seniors would all be gone, and my old group would be dissolved. No Jeanna, no Wallace, no Aden—no one. I did know the odd junior here and there, but really, would they hang out with me after the Aden disgrace?

My shoulders slumped slightly. No, probably not. I already had the smut on my name; Jocelyn McAdams had apparently cheated on the Aden Morgeroff with Malcolm. Kind of a conversation killer. The name Jocelyn McAdams was social death now, which meant that I'd have to be a—

Not a lowlife?

No. I blinked as fear swept over me. Surely I wouldn't be a lowlife? After all, I was the best partyer in all of my grade, not to mention the reigning queen of beer pong. It was ridiculous that someone like me would be demoted to lowlife status; I'd do nearly anything to get out of the social pit of doom.

I shuddered a little. But no, my name was like devil's spawn in any sort of social circle. Hell, I was pretty sure that even the current lowlifes wouldn't want to hang out with me (although, to be fair, I wasn't interested in hanging with them, either). Jocelyn McAdams was considered poison everywhere.

I'd have to be a different person to have anything close to a normal life.

The thought was joking at first, but it started to set in slowly. I shook my head at the idiocy of it, but I still hesitated to discard the idea entirely. My mom was seeing someone . . . Thomas Leigh, was it? She'd told us in one of our rare conversations that she thought he'd be popping the question soon, which meant that—

Uh-uh. I was thinking crazy thoughts. Probably just the breakup post-hysteria taking place, or at least something along those lines. Besides, Jocelyn Leigh just sounded . . . foreign to me. It sounded dumb, too. What kind of name was Jocelyn Leigh? Besides, I'd still be a Jocelyn, and my face wouldn't change.

I blew out a sigh and shook my head. Crazy thoughts. It would never happen.

Making a face, I gently prodded the bright purple-black skin around my nose. Josh hadn't broken it, which meant that he didn't punch me at full power (ha, yeah, that made me feel loads better), but I still looked like the dark side of a rainbow. Along with several pounds of carrion and horse crap.

The second alarm on my iPhone rang, signaling that I had five minutes before school began. I gave a squeak of shock; I'd been too busy staring at my nose to do anything but brush my teeth. Oh, Jesus Christ, what the hell was I supposed to do? There wasn't enough concealer in the world to cover up that bruise. Not to mention that I hadn't done any of my other makeup, either.

Ugh. Crap, I would have to go to school looking like a train wreck.

Snatching a stick of concealer as my iPhone trilled "Hurry the hell up, bitch!" in dulcet tones (I must've been feeling particularly sadistic when I'd set that alarm), I grabbed my backpack and rushed down the stairs, sticking my bare feet into a pair of black Nike skater shoes. Unlocking my car door, I threw the concealer and backpack onto my passenger's seat, then started up the engine.

Somehow, I managed to arrive just within the late bell of school, slamming my first period class's door open. The teacher looked up at me with a dull smile, but it slid off like mud when she saw my black . . . er, nose.

"Jocelyn, what in the world happened to you?"

"Leigh," I corrected automatically, still disoriented from running down the hallways in a desperate rush to come on time. "And I . . . was, uh, eating when a . . . really big bat hit me on the nose—oh, for fuck's sake, I dunno! I don't care, as long as I'm not late. I'm not late, am I?" I stared slightly wildly at the teacher, and her mouth oh-so-subtly flopped open.

"Er . . . I suppose not," she said, blinking and not even reprimanding me for my language. "Have a seat, Jo—er, Leigh. Um, we should—ah, roll call. Ray Albert?"

"Here, Ms. Haigh."

"Good, good." Our teacher nodded absently, her eyes still traveling to my nose with concern. She opened her mouth to say something, then closed it and glanced at the next name on the roll. I just sank down in my seat, making myself as small as I could. And I wasn't a very big teenager to begin with.

Everyone kept looking at me, but I pretended that I couldn't see them. The same went for second period, and then blessed brunch began. I blew out a sigh of relief at having a break from the stares, then hurried off to find Kylie, who always had a nice stash of makeup in her backpack.

"Kylie!" I called to the petite blond girl, covering my nose with a hand as I ran. Didn't stop people from staring, but I kept it there until I reached Kyle's twin sister. "Hey, can I borrow your makeup bag? I didn't have time to do mine in the morning."

Kylie stared at me with round blue eyes, seeming so much larger and so much more innocent than Kyle's. But then again, Kyle was anything if not innocent. She blinked, then pointed out the obvious: "Leigh, your nose is purple."

Harry, her boyfriend, popped into the conversation with a distinct snort. I grinned at him, then stared pleadingly at Kylie. "Yeah, I know. Please, can I borrow your makeup bag? I look like an abomination—I already got some concealer, so I won't use up all of yours. Please?"

"I can do better," Kylie decided, pulling out her makeup zip-up bag and nodding. "I'll do your makeup; you won't be as good of a judge with the coverage, anyway." She went on her tiptoes to kiss Harry on the cheek, then motioned for me to come along. Harry followed, even though he was clearly out of his element.

I snickered at Harry's lost expression as Kylie tugged a bottle of foundation out, and he smirked back. We exchanged looks, and I wondered what had happened to our friendship. Well, my friendship with all of the ex-A-listers, actually. I barely ever spoke to Harry, Lucas, Devon, or Hayden anymore. Sure, Kyle was a regular these days, but almost everyone else had ceased to exist but Josh, Kyle, and Jessamine. And Stella, but she didn't count.

"Close your eyes," ordered Kylie, and I did so. We were behind the library, which was official nerd-zone, so I wasn't worried about anyone important coming to make fun of me. Kylie did have her smart, non-ditzy moments at certain times.

When she was done, Kylie handed me a container of bronzer with a connected mirror, and I opened it to examine my reflection. I whistled and grinned, grabbing Kylie in a hug. She laughed, glancing at me. "It's good, isn't it?"

"It is," I agreed, looking at my nose. It looked normal—not blue or purple, yet it didn't seem to be caked with makeup. "I don't know how you did it, but I'm sure as hell glad that I came to you. Thanks, Kylie." I smiled at her, then prodded my lips. "By the way, what lipstick did you use for this? I don't think I have it."

"Oh, this." Kylie waved around a stick of Givenchy lipstick, then peered at the sticker. "Um, it's called Apricot Fizz. You know, I thought that you'd go to Kayla for something like this. What happened to you two, anyway? You're not still fighting, are you?"

I shook my head, expression pensive. "No," I admitted, "but I don't think we ever were, in the first place. The two of us just kinda fell apart. I started hanging out with Josh and his group, and she started avoiding me, so it's just a big mess right now. You know, I honestly think we'll just be staying like that now. Graduation is in less than a month, and there's just so much going on that I don't think I can even find the time."

"Huh," said Kylie, looking a little sad. "That sucks. I wish that everything was normal again, you know? Being a lowlife is really weird. I can't really get used to it; no one but the people in our group will talk to me. You know Cindy, from the left side A? I said hi to her this morning, and she just looked past me like I wasn't there."

Harry drew her to his side, but he looked melancholy too. "It's true, I guess. Not a big loss if they're too dicky to pay attention to below-A's, though. It's funny, though—if this happened to some other group, I honestly think I'd do the same thing. How stupid is that?"

"I know," I said, raising my hand to rub my nose. After a second, I thought better and dropped it back down. "It's weird how you never realize this stuff before you're actually in that spot. I'm sorry, though. This is my fault, and I'm a complete idiot—"

Sticking her fingers in her ears, Kylie shook her pretty blond head stubbornly. "Uh-uh," she sang loudly, blocking my words out. I stopped speaking, looking at her with an exasperated fondness. Harry was doing something similar, only in a more mushy way. "I won't hear it. S'not your fault, Leigh, it's Josh's."

"That's what everyone says," I muttered, tugging at a lock of golden-brown hair, "but it somehow never fails to make me feel worse. Thanks, though, Ky," I added when Kylie's face fell slightly. "I appreciate it, really. You're an angel."

"Aw, stop, you're making me blush," Kylie joked. She, Harry, and I all laughed, but I heard a hint of wistfulness in all of our voices. Oh, normal. It had disappeared a long, long time ago.

AN: Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who reviewed. Love every single one of you, seriously :) And I'm sorry if I didn't reply to you, I meant to. To all the anonymous reviewers, there were a lot of you, so I'll just say thanks here.

PS: I'm sorry for taking such a long time. I've recently gotten obsessed with the show 90210, and I've been doing season-long marathons. Can't forget Vampire Diaries, either. Anyway, love you all.