about, slutty? Me?” It had to be a joke. I’d never even come close to kissing a boy, or even flirting with one, unless you count getting hit by a mitten, or falling on my butt. Which you really can’t. The only thing was, Jade didn’t joke. Especially not about sluttiness.
    “The way you’ve been strutting around lately,” she said. “It’s like, I don’t know. Like you want to be somebody you’re not. I love you the way you are; you know that. I don’t know if you did something different with your makeup or what, but you look…different.”
    “I sold my cell phone to the devil to become gorgeous,” I explained.
    She didn’t respond.
    After a minute, I said, “Seriously, Jade. I had the weirdest dream the other night—”
    She interrupted me. “Fine, Allison. Go ahead. Be sarcastic, fall in love with your own obnoxiousness. Hang with wild Roxanne Green and abandon your true friends. I shouldn’t care, I guess, but you’ve been my best friend for a long time, so I—”
    “I wasn’t kidding,” I tried to explain. “This has been the craziest week, and just now, a woman from zip magazine called and said they want me to…”
    “Allison, stop! Can you quit being ridiculous for one second? I am trying to talk to you. I’ve been defending you all day and now you’re making me wonder if everybody was actually right.”
    “Right about what?” I asked.
    Jade sighed. “I think I owe it to you to tell you people are talking about you, and it isn’t pretty.”
    My call waiting buzzed through. Roxie. I ignored it and sank down deeper into the couch. Everybody was talking about me? Oh, hideousness.
    “I wouldn’t say anything if I didn’t care about you,” Jade said.
    “I know,” I answered, feeling the knot in my stomach tighten again. “I know. What are they saying?”
    “Just—you know what, who even cares? That’s what my mother said when I told her about it.”
    “You told your mother?” I knew she told her mother everything, but I mean, please.
    “Not the details, don’t worry,” Jade said, in her talking-me-down voice. “Just, like, the general stuff people were saying about you, because I was so upset. But she was like, ‘Allison is your best friend. Don’t even listen to all that awful gossip—it will rot your soul.’ And I think she has a point, don’t you? That kind of talk is just beneath us. You know?”
    I didn’t know if I knew, so I didn’t answer.
    “Screw them,” Jade said. “They don’t know you like I do. You want the homework?”
    “Um, yeah, sure,” I said, getting out a scrap of paper, since my backpack was still in the bushes. “Thanks, Jade.”
    “You’re welcome,” she said, in her near-whisper voice. “You’re my best friend. You know I’ll always be there for you.”
    “Yeah,” I said. “I know. It’s just been a weird week.”
    “That’s exactly what I was telling everybody,” Jade said. “‘Everybody has a weird week at some point. It doesn’t mean Allison has changed.’ I must have said that twenty times today.”
    “Thanks.” I closed my eyes. “What would I do without you?”
    “You’d be lost,” she said quietly, and then told me what homework I had to do.

    B Y THE TIME THE FORMS arrived on Thursday afternoon, I’d become an expert on mail delivery times. The worst thing, I knew, would be for somebody else to get the mail, read something about my short but apparently impressive modeling career, and then be waiting in the kitchen, with a tapping foot, raised eyebrows, and the documents in hand, when I strolled in from school.
    So I’d skipped tennis team practice Tuesday and Wednesday, and by Thursday, the postal officer, Evangeline, and I had become close. Turns out she had a son who was heading off for college in the fall, and he’d been a mail stalker while he waited for decision letters in April. So Evangeline sympathized, and waited while I looked through our stack of bills and junk mail until I found

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