as Sandra came trotting out, looking terrific in her costume. Nothing could go wrong now, she thought, as Sandra whipped through her well-practiced routines flawlessly until she got to the final cartwheel-split finish.
And then, before Jessica's horrified eyes, Sandra did a replay of her performance at Lila Fowler's pool party.
Sanda hit the polished gym floor with her front heel, then bounced off her back foot, skidded to a halt like a jet during an emergency landing, and ended up in a heap.
"Oofffff!" went Sandra.
"Oh, no," muttered Jessica.
Red-faced, Sandra slunk past Jessica. She knew she'd blown her chances for good.
The next five girls performed their cheers without making any major mistakes, but without the style and energy that Jessica and the other cheerleaders were looking for. Then Cara Walker did her routine, making the most of her chance with a peppy performance capped with a flourish at the end. Jessica sighed with relief.
Finally came Annie Whitman. Jessica became
glummer and glummer as Annie got better and better with each move.
"Look at her," Maria Santelli cried in wonder. "I think she has wings!"
"Great," Robin Wilson agreed.
Jessica looked at Helen and Jean and smiled a knowing smile.
Once more Annie left the gym with applause ringing in her ears, a smile on her face, and tears of joy in her eyes.
"Well," Robin said after it was over, "I don't think there's much doubt. Cara and Annie are the best ones."
"Oh, yes," agreed Maria.
"Wait a minute," Jessica said. "I agree with you about Cara Walker. She's terrific, and a really great girl. In fact, I'm ready to vote on her right now."
"OK by me," Robin said. "All in favor of Cara Walker?"
All five cheerleaders raised their hands. Ricky jotted down Cara's name.
"Now, as to Annie," Jessica said, "I think we ought to remember she's only a sophomore. Sandy's a junior."
"Sandy is also a klutz," Robin said.
"Anybody can fall doing a split," Jessica retorted. "Isn't that right, Jeanie?"
"Sure," Jean West agreed. "I want Sandra!"
"Sandy's your best friend, Jeanie," Maria said. "But be honest. Isn't Annie better?"
"I'm voting for Sandra," Jean insisted.
"Now, listen, everyone," said Jessica, "there's more at stake here than just looking good."
The other cheerleaders frowned. The subject of Annie's reputation had never been openly discussed.
"We're not just cheerleaders. We're examples," Jessica went on.
"Those stories may just be rumors," Robin countered, defending Annie. "I'm voting for Annie, and that's final." Robin knew from a past experience, what it was like to have Jessica as an enemy. She hoped she could spare Annie the pain Jessica could cause.
"Well, I'm voting against Annie--I mean, I'm voting for Sandy Bacon," Jessica said. "And that's just as final."
"I'm for Sandy, too," Jeanie West said. "OK. I admit it. She's my best friend."
"I'm for Annie," Maria said.
"Well, that makes it two and two so far," Jessica said.
Usually Ricky Capaldo kept quiet during the voting, but now the girls were surprised to hear him speak up for Annie.
"Listen, I know I don't get to vote. But the squad is just as important to me as it is to you," he said. " I think Annie would make a terrific cheerleader. I hope you give her a chance."
"You betcha," Maria said.
Jessica, listening with growing annoyance, was glad she had left nothing to chance this time. The girls were looking at Helen Bradley.
"Helen, you aren't going to tell me you think Sandy is better than Annie," Robin challenged.
"Well. '.'." Helen hedged.
"Did you see Annie?" Maria Santelli jumped in. "Why, she was a ballerina!"
"I know." Helen sighed. "She's the best I've ever seen."
Jessica's voice filled the gym like a clap of thunder. "Helen Bradley!"
Helen looked away and then back at a glowering Jessica. "Well, I know, Jess, but Annie really is something. And Sandy messed up," she added plaintively. "You saw her! She won't expect to beat out Annie after that. You know she
Charles Perrault, Gustave Doré