Friday, December 24, 2010

A present for you! Chapter 1 of Unfriendly Competition!

Several readers emailed me to let me know the first chapter is available here! Yay! So, happy Christmas Eve and enjoy! :)

Chapter 1


TWO WEEKS NOTICE

"WILL THE FOLLOWING STUDENTS PLEASE report to the headmistress' office: Heather Fox, Alison Robb, Julia Myer, and Sasha Silver."

The loudspeaker silenced and I jerked up my head. Why was I being called to the office? My palms instantly started to sweat and my pink, sparkly Bic pen became slick in my fingers as I kept scribbling in my math notebook, hoping I'd imagined the announcement.

"Sasha, go ahead," Ms. Utz said. "I'll be sure one of your classmates fills you in about the weekend's homework."

Um, guess not.

"I'll get your homework," Brit whispered, leaning toward me. Her almond-shaped eyes were framed by nervous, pushed-together eyebrows, but I could tell she was trying to hide her worry. Probably to help me from getting more scared than I already was. " Text me when you're out of Drake's office—I know you'll be fine."

I nodded, gathering my notebook, pen, textbook, and butter-soft brown messenger bag that I'd borrowed from Brit. As my BFF and roomie, she had calmed me a little.

But note: only a little.

I slung my bag over my shoulder, stepping around desks, and walked out of the math classroom, closing the door behind me. The second I got outside, my phone buzzed.

It was a BlackBerry Messenger conversation. And Alison, Julia, and Heather were already talking. The Trio wasn't wasting a second dissecting the sitch before we got to Headmistress Drake's. I opened the talk.

Alison Robb:

Why r we being called?

Julia Myer:

Who knows. We didn't do ANYTHING. Don't worry. Heather Fox:

'Course we didn't. Silver? Where r u? Were u wearing earplugs when the impossibly-loud announcement was made?

Geez! I started typing.

Sasha Silver:

I heard it, H. I'm in math and on the way 2 the admin bldg. Where r u guys? Wanna meet up and go 2gether?

Heather Fox:

We def should. Let's all meet at the courtyard ASAP.

Alison Robb:

K. Glad 2 go w u guys. Nervous.

Julia Myer:

I closed the conversation and shoved my cotton-candy-pink BlackBerry into my bag. I pushed open the glass door of the math building and hurried out into the early November air. It was already cold outside, but anxiety made me even chillier. I tugged down my scarlet-colored cable-knit sweater and buttoned my black wool coat, shoving my hands in the pockets.

I made my way across the empty campus and hurried to the courtyard. The cobblestone circle with its fountain and stone benches was only a couple of minutes from the admin building.

Boots clicked on the cobblestones, arms looped together, Heather and Alison walked up to me.

"Any idea what this is about?" I asked, assuming that if anyone knew anything it would be Heather Fox.

She shook her soft blond hair. "Nope. But I'm not worried. At least, not for myself." She shifted her blue eyes to me, then to Alison. "I didn't do anything."

"Me either!" Alison's normally soft voice was loud. She ran her fingers through her sandy brown hair like she always did when she was worried. "I just want to go and get it over with. Where's Julia?"

Alison started to pull her phone out of her camel-colored Burberry coat. But just as she did, Julia came around the corner a few yards away and walked up to us.

Her angled blond bob had two pieces twisted back with tiny purple flower clips with rhinestones (actually, probably diamonds) in the centers.

"We've been waiting for, like, five minutes," Heather snapped.

"Sorry." Julia shrank for a second, then recovered. "I was in the middle of a history pop quiz. I had to finish before I left."

Heather waved off the excuse with her butter yellow leather-gloved hand. "Whatever. Let's go."

The four of us left the courtyard and our boots crunched on the grass, dried by the weeks of cold air. The administration building loomed in front of us, looking imposing like the rest of campus. Even though I'd been at Canterwood Crest Academy over a year, there hadn't been a time when I didn't notice the prestigious, gorgeous campus.

Until now. My nerves wouldn't allow me to do anything but look straight ahead.

We reached the administration building waaay too soon. Even Heather, the fearless Canterwood Queen Bee, paused for a second before stepping up the stairs flanked by spiky black iron railings.

Alison, Julia, and I followed her inside, and I sighed to myself, glad for the heat that blasted us when we walked inside. We followed the gold plaques pointing to the headmistress's office and stopped in front of her secretary's desk.

Mrs. Kratz, who might have been here when Canterwood was started in the eighteen hundreds, looked up at us through horn-rimmed glasses.

"I'm Heather Fox, and we're here to see Headmistress Drake."

There wasn't a waver in Heather's voice. She sounded as if she was ordering movie tickets.

"Ah, yes. Ms. Drake is expecting all of you now. Go right in."

Julia turned first, and Heather, Alison, and I followed her across the room to the headmistress's glossy wooden door. Without pause, Julia knocked on the door. The sound seemed to echo in the tiny hallway.

"Come in."

The headmistress's voice came from behind the closed door. My mouth was so dry, I couldn't even swallow. The headmistress was scary.

Julia turned the brass knob and we filed inside behind her. Headmistress Drake, seated in a large, leather office chair behind her desk finished writing on her notepad before glancing up at us. With minimal makeup, a buttoned black blouse and half-carat diamond studs, she looked every bit the headmistress of an elite East Coast boarding school.

Her black hair was pulled into a tight bun, and she was sleek, but looked like she could take somebody down. Ms. Drake's pale skin looked even more delicate against her red lipstick.

She didn't offer any of us a chair and none of us moved to sit. We stood in front of her—waiting.

Headmistress Drake looked at us for what felt like hours. "I know one of you created the gossip blog."

I tried not to let my knees shake.

"The school's technology department did some research and narrowed it down to a certain building—Orchard Hall. With even further investigation, we were able to find Internet protocol addresses that matched two rooms."

Headmistress Drake looked at the Trio. "Your suite." Then she looked at me. "And your room with Brit Chan."

"None of us—" Alison started, stopping when Headmistress Drake cut her off with a shake of her head.

"I have proof, Miss Robb. The only reason I did not call Miss Chan here is because she is a new student and does not have the insight on campus that the blogger does. So, there are two options for the four of you."

I felt as if I'd been punched in the stomach. There was no way one of us had created that dumb gossip blog. The blog that ridiculed the school and made up awful rumors. I hadn't and the Trio was too smart for that.

I glanced at Heather, noticing her eyes were focused to the side for a brief second before she shifted her gaze back to the headmistress.

"You have the choice to step forward and tell me who created the blog," Headmistress Drake said.

Not one of us moved.

"Or, you will all be expelled from Canterwood Crest Academy unless I learn the truth. I'm giving you one week, then I'm telling your parents."

© 2011 Jessica Burkhart

 
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