AN EXCLUSIVE PIECE FROM BEHIND THE SCENES AT SMITH HIGH
"We're going to miss you sooo much!" Steffani Larson lied through her teeth as she wrapped her arms around her supposed best friend and squeezed tightly.
Ashley McGrady, who'd also come to the airport to say goodbye, pretended to wipe away a tear. She wouldn't have fooled anyone at Smith High School with that performance.
Which was why even though Chelsea Halloway was the one waiting to board a flight to Cambodia—which might as well be Siberia for the good that it would do her social standing—any traveler could differentiate the Notable Queen from her flunkies with only a passing glance.
Even with Chelsea's mouth set in a sullen frown, she radiated the kind of self-confidence that most high school girls would kill to have in their arsenal. There would was no doubt in anyone's mind she could convince any bouncer to let her cut to the front of the line at an exclusive club. It would take little more than a flash of those bright baby blue eyes and a toss of her long blonde hair to get her way.
But the girl most likely to party with Hollywood's elite hadn't been able to talk her parents out of a study abroad program in a third world country.
The thought of Chelsea Halloway trying to get special treatment in a country known for decades of warfare, landmines, and poverty was enough to have Steffani fighting to hide the satisfied smile lurking on her lips.
Ashley McGrady looked down at her watch and twirled her dyed blond hair around her finger, not even trying to disguise her boredom. As far as she was concerned, Chelsea Halloway had just become irrelevant.
"We'd love to stay and chat, Chelsea, but I think it's time to go."
Chelsea looked at her in surprise, probably because Ashley had never once tried to bail early before. If anything, the other girl had been known to make a nuisance of herself by grasping onto Chelsea's social engagements, even if that included helping clean up Ms. P's dance studio after the more popular girl had finished teaching a beginner's ballet class.
She had washed more than a few sweaty hand towels without complaint.
"Really? My flight doesn't leave for a while, so I was thinking—"
Ashley cut her off. "Yeah, the thing is, there is like this huge sale at Urban Outfitters and we don't want to miss it." She giggled. "It's not like there's anything to do here!"
Years of pretending to have everything under control had trained Chelsea in the art of the poker face. She didn't even flinch.
"Of course," Chelsea said slowly. "Have fun shopping. I'll just talk to you both…later."
"Later!" Steffani paused only to blow her an air kiss before the two of them trotted towards the exit together. A smug smile spread across her face the more distance she put between herself and the girl she would have sworn was her best friend forever and ever, no take backs! had anyone at Smith High School asked three weeks ago.
That had been before she had found out that the Notable queen's rule was coming to an end.
"God, I thought she'd never let us go," Ashley whispered feelingly to Steffani. "Goodbyes are not supposed to last that long."
Steffani laughed. "Seriously; could she possibly be any more pathetic?" She pitched her voice higher in a bad imitation of Chelsea. "I can't believe I'm going to Cambodia. It's totally the end of the world!"
"I know, right?!" Ashley shook her head in disgust. "She acts like everything and everyone is supposed to revolve around her. Well, I'm over it."
Steffani didn't point out that for someone who claimed to be done with Chelsea, Ashley had sure spent a long time at the Notable girl's beck and call. That wasn't in her best interest, not when Ashley was her only real competition to filling the top position in the high school hierarchy that Chelsea had just left vacant.
Steffani might not be able to muster up much fake emotion for a goodbye, but she was smart enough to know that it was best to pretend that the two girls were on the same team...until she could stab Ashley in the back. She didn't feel bad about it either.
Everybody knows that popularity comes at a price.
And for Steffani that meant biting her tongue on the sarcastic comment she wouldn't have hesitated to deliver to any of the geeks at their high school.
"I feel lighter already!" Ashley continued. "Starting now, nobody is going to treat us as second rate. Guys are going to be falling all over themselves to catch our eyes! Guys like that."
Ashley jerked her head slightly in the direction of a dark-haired boy with a rumpled plaid shirt who was wheeling his bags over to the checkout counter. There was something appealing about his unkempt looks, maybe because unlike half of the high school boys they saw on a regular basis, this guy didn't look like he'd spent half an hour getting his hair into that state of disarray. There was an edge to him beneath all that wrinkled cloth.
He was the kind of guy who looked like he was seconds away from transforming from Clark Kent to Superman. Steffani fought down a sudden wave of irritation as Ashley put more sway into her sashay as they approached the stranger. Not because she was interested in him; of course not. It was the principle of the thing. No guy should be noticing Ashley when he could be checking Steffani out. But the stranger failed to notice either of them because his eyes were locked on Chelsea. Even after years spent in the Notable queen's shadow, being overlooked for her never failed to sting. But then Steffani realized there was nothing heated in his eyes as he looked at their frenemy. No spark of interest. Not even the barest hint of male appreciation for her delicate dancer's frame and fairy princess appearance. For a split second an expression crossed his face that closely resembled...dread. Ashley noticed only the direction of his gaze and her lower lip jutted out into a pout. Then she tossed back her hair with forced nonchalance. "I take that back. Total geek alert, but real boys will be all over us!" she clarified, dismissing the hottie with the suitcase with a wave of her hand. "It wouldn't surprise me if one of us was voted prom queen!" "You would make such a beautiful prom queen," Steffani lied easily. Ashley beamed at her. "Awww, thanks! I'm sure you would be too. Y'know, if I didn't win." It wasn't much of a compliment. Then again, Ashley didn't consider the other girl real competition. That particular feeling was obviously mutual. "It's such a shame there can't be two prom queens," Steffani's smile was cold. "I guess we'll just have to see who wears the crown." The girls fell silent as the automatic doors slid open and they walked out into the crisp Portland air...without sparing their fallen leader another glance. It was time for a new reign to begin.