"Come on Sabine, dish!" Penny-Love said as the cheerleaders closed in on me around the table. "How was your big weekend? Did Josh like your parents? Did they like him? Did you and Josh sneak off to your old bedroom?"
Everyone giggled, and I blushed. When Penny- Love invited me to join her and a few other cheerleaders at Pepper's Pizza after school, I'd thought they'd discuss plans for the Booster Club Carnival. I hadn't known my love life was on the menu. Leave it to the Queen of Gossip to turn my twin sisters' birthday into a wild party.
"No," I told her firmly. "Josh did not see my bedroom."
"What exactly did he see?"
Penny-Love flipped back her curly, red hair as she turned to the other girls. "Anyone who believes that, raise your hand."
I looked around for support, but Jill, Catelyn, and Kaitlyn were hands-down behind Penny-Love.
They sipped sodas and leaned closer, obviously not wanting to miss a juicy word. For a moment, I felt panicked-like a cornered rabbit surrounded by hunters. I glanced at the pizza counter, hoping our orders would arrive and I would be saved from answering. But then I realized something that calmed me. This was exactly what I'd wanted-to be accepted, even admired, by popular friends. Since starting a new high school, I'd worked hard to fit in like I was normal. Talking about my love life was a small price to pay.
"It was just a birthday party for my sisters," I said with a shrug. "It was held at an amusement park, then afterwards a few of us went back to the house to watch my sisters open their presents. Josh was nice enough to go with me."
"Did he get to unwrap anything?" Penny-Love asked with a sly wink.
"No!" I swatted her on the arm. "You are sooo bad."
"It's a gift," she teased. Everyone giggled, and I managed to smile even though the word "gift" made me cringe. If my friends knew about my gift of psychic visions, they'd think I was a freak. After what happened at my last school, I was more careful now.
So I told them all the good stuff about Josh; how he arrived early because he wanted to stop somewhere romantic on the way and how he gave me a chocolate kiss, then when it melted in my mouth, his lips melted on my lips. Everyone oohed and wanted details, but I kept it PG 13, not that there were any R moments. Josh wasn't that kind of guy. In fact, he had such a high code of ethics, I found myself watching what I said around him.
There were things he didn't need to know. The pizzas arrived and I reached for a slice smothered in mushrooms and pepperoni. Steamy cheese and tomato smells wafted around us as we gave up talking for eating. But after a few minutes, I noticed that Jill was staring at a notebook and hardly touching her pizza.
Jill lifted her head and tapped her fork against the table. "Everyone, listen up." she said in her most serious squad captain tone. "You know why I called this emergency meeting."
I raised my brows. No, I didn't know. Penny- Love hadn't mentioned any emergency. Did she have an ulterior motive for inviting me? I shot her a suspicious look-which she ignored.
"The carnival is in two days and we have major problems. Here's my to-do list." Jill pushed her plate aside and flipped open the notebook. She was always making lists and was respected for being a take-charge leader who could order people around without coming off bitchy. "We still need makeup for the face-painting booth, a teacher volunteer for the 'Dunk the Teacher' booth, and we have to fill three empty booths. Any ideas?"
"I vote we dunk my algebra teacher," Kaitlyn joked. She had a quirky sense of humor, the opposite of her studious best friend Catelyn.
"I'd rather dunk Mr. Blankenship," Penny-Love said. "His awful ties and polyester suits are a crime; he deserves to get dunked."
"Instead of a teacher, how about Principal Cowboy?" Catelyn suggested. "He's got a good sense of humor and might do it."
I wasn't a cheerleader-more of a mascot, as Penny-Love teased-so I didn't join in. I listened without saying anything and found myself drifting above it all, watching the scene. Only I hardly recognized myself. The girl who was me looked happy, as if she fit in this cozy group of great hair, greater bodies, and popularity-plus. To my friends, my life probably seemed perfect. I earned good grades, I was on the school newspaper, and I had a sizzling hot boyfriend. Penny-Love was always complaining about her rowdy brothers and strict parents, and thought I had it easy living with my grandmother. She was both right and wrong. Living with Nona was great, but it hadn't been my idea. After a scandal at my old school because I'd predicted the death of a star athlete, my mother kicked me out.
For months we hadn't spoken. She hadn't even wanted me to attend my own sisters' party, but I'd gone anyway, and instead of a disaster, things went surprisingly well. Mom was impressed with Josh and seemed almost comfortable with me.
"So how about it, Sabine?" Jill was asking.
I looked up with a start and found everyone staring at me like I had pizza sauce on my nose. I wiped my hand across my face.
"Will you talk to Manny for us?" Jill said.
"Uh . . . sure." I paused. "About what?"
"The fortune-telling booth. Didn't you hear anything I just said?" When I shrugged sheepishly, Jill explained. "Penny-Love says you're really tight with Manny DeVries, and he amazes everyone with his Mystic Manny school newspaper column, so he'd make a fantastic fortune-teller at our carnival. Think he'd do it?"
I glanced over at Penny-Love sharply. Had she set me up? But I kept my unease to myself and shrugged like it wasn't a big deal. "There's no predicting what Manny will do."
"Will you ask him?" Jill persisted with a smile that was hard to refuse.
"Come on, Sabine," Penny-Love pleaded. "Ask him for us."
"Sure. I'll talk to him at school tomorrow, but no guarantees."
"Great!" Everyone smiled at me, and I felt lucky to be part of this fun group. I didn't want to disappoint them, and hoped Manny would say yes. He was a complex mix of ego, honesty, and ambition.
He thrived on being unconventional and was respected for his fearless attitude. He'd proven himself a trusted friend, and was one of only two people at school who knew I was psychic.
More plans for booths were made, while pizza slices disappeared and drinks were refilled. Talk shifted to Penny-Love (as usual) and she told everyone about how my grandmother planned to hire her as a "Love" assistant. Nona ran a computer dating service called Soul Mate Matches, but a serious health condition had recently caused her to need an assistant. I worried about my grandmother and had recently bought a cell phone so she could contact me if she was in trouble.
So when my phone rang, I dropped my pizza. It was Nona-and she sounded frantic. "Hurry home!" she cried. "It's the witch ball!"
For many of us, the mere mention of the word "vampire" evokes images of pale Romanian counts with thick Eastern accents, slicked back hair, and tuxedo suits complete with opera capes. Younger generations might instead picture handsomely brooding teenage vampires more in keeping with a modern interpretation of the Byronic hero of older literary... read this article