"...so, like, Esther is so totally, you know, not getting anywhere, like, near me today. Don't you, like, agree that her, like, clothes are, like, so ugly, Isabella? I mean, you know, jeans and a, like, boy's T-shirt? That's so, like, totally last year!" Kristen flicked her wrist, the way she did whenever she thought someone had committed a major "Fashion Crime" that, in her mind, shouldn't even be legal. "Plus her, like, mascara is, you know, totally smudged, and she's, like, put on, like, way too much, you know, blush and not, like, enough foundation!" Kristen's voice carried all the way over to where today's victim was standing; Esther's face turned bright red.
Out of nowhere, quiet Isabella snapped, "Kristen, it's none of your business what Esther is wearing. For your information, she never even wears makeup because she has really sensitive skin. Her family doesn't approve of wasting money on clothes, which I agree with! Why don't you leave those kids alone; do you have to pick on everyone who isn't as spoiled as you are?"
Kristen glared at Isabella, pointing a (perfectly manicured) finger at her ex-best friend's face. Then she remembered that frowning caused more wrinkles than smiling. "You are, like, so going to regret, you know, saying that, Isabella Tsai. If you just, like, apologize and, you know, beg my, like, forgiveness now, maybe I'll, you know, let it go, like, this one time." Her smile turned mean. "Then again, maybe I, like, won't. But if, you know, you, like, don't, I, like, totally won't."
That was Isabella's cue to break down and bow down to Kristen's supremacy. Certainly she would have immediately done so—if these events had taken place a year earlier than they actually did. But now, she replied casually, infuriatingly calmly, "No, thank you. I don't think I have anything to apologize for; I didn't say anything you didn't deserve. Why don't you go find a mirror to talk to? At least your reflection's outfit won't offend you. Oh, wait—come to think of it, it probably will, since you're so critical of everything and everyone."
She flounced off down the hallway with a toss of enviably naturally-gorgeous black tresses. Kristen noticed that the sorta-new girl, Candice Chen, who was actually rather pretty and had an impeccable fashion sense—even if she did have extremely-short hair and usually wore pretty much all-black clothing—pulled Isabella aside and said something to her. Isabella nodded, smiling. Candice started talking again, and Isabella was plainly listening.
What really got Kristen's interest was that she'd seen Isabella talking to this enigmatic classmate, and Candice's fast-found friend Trisha, for around a month now. A week or so after the two had started having mysterious conversations, Isabella had begun saying that no, she couldn't give Kristen the homework answers right now, even though she'd previously been overly willing (especially once Kristen threatened her by in-school humiliation); she had plans and she needed to go this minute.
Kristen stealthily walked down the hall, trying to eavesdrop on the girls. She was still a few feet away when she heard Candice ask loudly, "So I'll see you tonight for the party?"
"Yes, Trisha's house at six-thirty. I'll be there, Candice; I wouldn't miss this gathering if I were worlds away." Isabella was also projecting her voice; it was as if the two girls wanted Kristen to hear their plans. It was true the wording was a little shady, but the phrase was common enough. Most likely it was nothing. Well, like, whatever; Kristen had better, like, things to do than to go to pretty-but-fashion-dead Trisha Patil's stupid, you know, party. Then her heart nearly froze as Candice said, "I think there'll be some real demons tonight. Same plan as usual." As Isabella walked away down the hall, Candice called, "Remember, six-thirty sharp at Trisha's house. Make sure you're not followed there!"
What? Was her secret really, like, in danger of being, you know, revealed? Kristen tried to still her racing heart. There was no reason to think that Candice was one of them. Surely, she was, like, so totally just joking...! But there was something creepy about the athletic, black-clad girl's malicious smile.
"I must be, like, so totally insane," Kristen muttered. She had sneaked over to Isabella's house andhid in the hedge for half an hour before the girl walked out the door. Consulting a map, Isabella had proceeded to walk in the opposite direction from Kristen's house, concealing the map in the hedge almost next to Kristen.
Hm. Very out of character for the outspoken environmentalist.
Now, about ten minutes' walk later, Kristen was observing the three girls from the bushes in front of Trisha's house. All three were dressed completely in black clothes. Standing in the shadows near the porch, they blended into the night whenever they stood still.
Candice and Trisha had sheaths clipped to their belts; the shapes were different. Candice's suggested a small knife, possibly a dagger; Trisha's, a modified gun. Isabella had a quiver slung over her shoulder; her right arm had a leather armguard and that hand held a bow. Uh-oh. Standard weapons for—no, don't think that. This didn't bode well, though.
Kristen considered making a run for it, but stayed put. She was paralyzed by fear and curiosity.
"Let's go. What's our first target tonight?" asked Trisha. She was a shy average-heighted girl with lots of smarts. Up until tonight, Kristen had assumed Trisha was merely book-smart; now she began to wonder anxiously if the girl was also street-smart. If she were, things could get ugly fast—and Kristen hated ugly.
Candice reached under her hood and pulled out black earbuds. "Sorry, what?"
"You and your heavy-metal." Trisha rolled her eyes. "I said, what's our first target tonight?"
From her pocket Candice produced what looked kind of—but not quite—like a cell phone. At the sight of it, Kristen's heart skipped a beat. She knew that device. Now she had lots of reason to leave—but she couldn't seem to.
"Izzy-bella, you know you don't have to hold that bow; you won't need it quite yet."
Isabella's mouth quirked to one side, but she didn't sling her bow over her shoulder with the quiver. "I know; it's just... I could have sworn I felt a demon presence..."
Candice shrugged. "You always feel that way. Don't worry, Izzy-bella, nothing's gonna happen to you while Tush and I are around."
"Candice, for the millionth time, stop calling me Tush!" Trisha snapped.
Isabella grinned. "Yes, Candi, don't call your friend that. You know she hates it." She took the device from Candice and studied the screen. "Huh. The closest concentration of demon power... it's right there in those bushes." She pointed directly at her hidden ex-best friend. "I told you I sensed demon energies. Face it; I'm a better Huntress, Candi."
"Take that back, Izzy-bella!" Candice made as if to slap Isabella, who threw up an arm instinctively, laughing with the sweet sound that Kristen hated simply because it belonged to someone else.
"Does it say which demon it is?" Trisha asked. "Izzy, what class demon are we facing?"
Isabella consulted the screen she held in her left hand; with her right hand she tucked hair behind her right ear. Most of the top layer, above her ear, was gathered back neatly, but the rest of her long dark hair cascaded down her back in natural waves that were more beautiful in their subtlety than the tight brown curls that Kristen spent an hour perfecting each morning.
When Isabella took too long to reply, Candice snatched the Locator from her hands. "Oh, shit," she swore. "I hate those Class G demons. I ask you, why would a demon want to masquerade as a makeup-obsessed teenage girl? Those demons give the rest of us high school girls a bad reputation. We don't all wear miniskirts and makeup."
"Yes, some of us have attitude and prefer jeans and deadly weapons," teased Isabella. "If your lips were ever unnaturally red, I would suspect blood first and lipstick second. Either way, it'd be major reason to worry." She looked at Trisha. "To answer your question, it's Demon Irvana. You might not recognize the name, but—" She reached over and pulled a pack of cigarettes from Candice's jeans pocket. Tugging one out, she pulled a lighter from her back pocket and held it to the tip.
What? In a month, Candice had done what Kristen had tried to for years—persuaded Isabella to smoke? But—all the health risks—the possible negative effects on appearance—
Then, unexpectedly, Isabella picked up a stick, tied the cigarette to it with a string from her pocket, fit the stick to her bow, and fired in Kristen's direction. "Having a nice night, Kristen?" she called loudly.