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    “Well, what happened next?” Alicia asked, leaning forward over the library table with interest. Inwardly, she was feeling pretty thrilled hearing about the way Tabitha got her first look at the photo she’d snapped—sharing a big moment with the people who were most affected by that whole incident like that was amazing.

    “That was... pretty much it,” Tabitha shrugged, looking helplessly from Alicia to Elena. “We went in and saw Mr. Macintire twice before we left, but he was conked out both times. No one wanted to wake him up or disturb his rest—he still looked terrible.”

    “What?!” Alicia made an incredulous face. “You didn’t even get to talk to him?”

    “What would I have even said?” Tabitha chuckled. “Still, I’m glad I went. Hannah’s adorable, and her mother Mrs. Macintire was… really struggling to keep it together. They even invited me to have Thanksgiving with them!”

    “Huh,” Alicia huffed. Spending Thanksgiving with people who weren’t your family seemed surreal to her. But, then again, the Moores seemed to have a pretty tense relationship, and she felt a pang of sympathy for her friend.

    While Tabitha had gone gallivanting off to Louisville over the past weekend, Alicia had been mulling over the rather spectacular art club meeting she’d attended on Friday. Mr. Peterson introduced her by way of a giant print of her Tabitha in Motion picture, informing everyone that it was already being published in a paper. As if that hadn’t wowed them enough, Alicia then revealed her portfolios of drawings, which managed to impress even more. General consensus was that her work as a freshman was on a college level, something only two other members—both painters—could claim.

    Casey and Matthew were the only art club people she knew so far, but typical meetings were ostensibly just free time in the art building to practice their craft rather than social get togethers. Later in the year, they’d supposedly run an art show, and at some point or another the Springton High administration was going to task them with painting a new school mural over the old one. Alicia wasn’t the best at fitting in and making new friends, but she found herself surprisingly optimistic about the whole art club thing.

    “That’s not all you got invited to, though, is it Tabitha?” Elena spoke up, giving Tabitha a look of challenge. “Word through the grapevine is that yesterday, Matthew personally invited you to his big Halloween party on the lake.”

    “Um. No, he didn’t,” Tabitha shook her head with a wry smile. “Mrs. Williams tried to convince me I should go, during the drive up. Don’t know if I will, though. I’ve never been to that sort of thing.”

    “His mom tried convincing you?” Elena gave her a skeptical look. “What about him—what did he say, during the trip?”

    “Matthew wasn’t there,” Tabitha explained. “It was just his mother, Hannah and I.”

    “...Huh,” Elena frowned, narrowing her eyes in suspicion. “That’s not how it went in the story I heard, at all.”

    “Rumors spreading around again?” Alicia remarked in amusement.

    “Maybe,” Elena sighed. “I spend one Saturday with her, and I’m about to start spreading rumors already. I want to tell everyone, but I feel like no one’ll believe me.”

    “Why?” Alicia quirked an eyebrow. “Saturday? What happened?”

    “Nothing happened,” Tabitha rolled her eyes. “We were looking after my cousins.”

    “Yeah, right, looking after your cousins,” Elena retorted with a laugh. “Tabby—you know kung fu. I saw it with my own eyes.”

    “Kung fu?” Alicia turned an expectant smile towards Tabitha.

    “I don’t know kung fu!” Tabitha protested. “It’s taekwondo. It’s not some mysterious, profound thing like in movies, either—there’s a taekwondo place in downtown Springton, for crying out loud.”

    “You mean the dojo or whatever in the plaza across from Food Lion?” Alicia asked. “Sign says ‘Martial Arts?’ I see it on the bus ride home.”

    “You said you were self-taught, though, Tabitha,” Elena remembered, tapping her lip. “So, you didn’t learn there?”

    “No, that place—it’s, um. Expensive,” Tabitha mumbled. “For us, anyways. Even if we could afford it, there’s a lot of more important things to put money towards, right now.”

   Like what, stock investments? Alicia gave Tabitha an appraising look. Hey, maybe she picked up taekwondo somewhere in the future, and just brought that knowledge back with her?

    Alicia’s prior certainty that Tabitha’s time travel story had been completely made up was experiencing a slight crisis of faith. Tabitha had proven both imaginative and intelligent, so it was understandable if the redhead’s educated guesswork could paint a believable future—except when it came to Alicia’s private artwork.

    Stashed in the gap between her bed and the wall, Alicia had a folder of borderline erotic drawings hidden, and absolute complete confidence that no one else knew about them. Even if someone were to discover them, they would remark on the boobs—Alicia admittedly practiced drawing a lot of boobs in secret, because they needed to look just right. There was only a single drawing of a woman’s naked back.

    One that Tabitha had described in eerie detail last week.

    There was just no way anyone would guess that it was Alicia’s favorite, her muse, something she’d scrawled out in a mesmerized moment of inspiration, some accidentally amazing thing that filled her with powerful emotion each and every time she brought it out to admire. If there was any one concept that Alicia was absolutely determined to realize into a masterpiece someday in the future—it was exactly that one.

    She once again found herself carefully watching Tabitha, the girl who was casually penciling out algebra equations while simultaneously engaging them in conversation. Is she filling out that worksheet suspiciously fast, or... do I just suck at math?

    “So, she leaps up into the air like the Karate Kid, and kicks this soda can right off the top my freaking head,” Elena recounted. “Tabitha’s like—she was doing backflips and stuff during a game of tag with little kids.”

    “She’s exaggerating, don’t listen to her,” Tabitha shook her head with a smile. “It was a teeny bit of taekwondo, and then a couple hand-springs to show off for the boys. They love seeing anything remotely acrobatic—they’re still in elementary.”

   “Everyone loves acrobatics, Tabby,” Elena insisted. “You can make JV cheerleading with those moves easy, tryout season or not. I think you should.”

    “Sorry,” Tabitha winced. “I just don’t have the interest—or the time. My mother has it in her head now that she’s going to personally teach me how to act and model and whatever.”

    “She what?!” Elena demanded, planting both hands on the tabletop and dropping her voice to a grave whisper. “Your Mom said that? Are you gonna switch to theater electives?”

    “At the end of the semester I think, yeah,” Tabitha sighed. “Was hoping to take creative writing, instead.”

    “Is this how things were supposed to go?” Alicia asked, giving Tabitha a meaningful glance. “If you know what I mean?

   “Supposed to go?” Elena repeated, looking from Alicia to Tabitha for answers.

    “They…” Tabitha gave them a weak smile. “No, it isn’t. They were supposed to go… poorly. The acting thing isn’t what I thought I wanted, but… my mother’s really trying, and I want to see where this goes.”

    “So, we’re off course, or… ?” Alicia looked surprised.

    “Way off course,” Tabitha groaned, dropped her face into her hands. “Just making it all up as I go, now. She’s gonna start teaching me today after school, I’m pretty much dreading it.”

    “Sure wish I wasn’t excluded from whatever your plans are,” Elena said, looking put out. “So that, y’know, maybe I could be a part of them?”

    “Yeah, nice try,” Alicia playfully scoffed. “It’s a big secret—and you’ve only known her for like, one week.”

    “So, there’s really a big secret?” Elena perked up again almost immediately, presenting an interested smile.

    For all of her talent and foresight, Tabitha was pretty terrible at guarding her expression, and Alicia couldn’t help but grin, because the girl’s face gave everything away.


    “Hey, did you hear Matthew Williams asked that Tabitha girl out?”

   Um—he what? Tabitha had been busy adjusting the outline of the Goblina novel with some of her new ideas when she discovered her name once again seemed to be on everyone’s lips. That cabal of popular girls loosely grouped in the center of the class was putting on a show of speaking a little too loudly again, and the other surrounding students had already gone quiet.

    “Ew, Tubby Tabby? Why her?”

    “He’s supposedly all head over heels for her now, it’s this whole big thing. Mrs. Albertson was going on and on about her, has this article clipping that makes it look all like Tabitha was running right in to the rescue, yeah, har har. So, Matthew drove her to up Louisville yesterday to see his dad, who I think’s one of those police officers who got shot? He asked her out and I think they kissed.”

   Kissed?! Matthew... never even asked me out, though? He didn’t take me to Louisville, either! Tabitha’s pencil lead snapped at the pressure she was applying to the notebook page, and she swiped the broken lead away with the back of her hand in aggravation. I may have… okay, like a tiny little crush on him. But, it was super evident the other day that he was just being polite with me. Where is all this even coming from—are they purposefully conflating Officer Macintire and Officer Williams?

    “She’s so fucking fake,” a third voice insisted. “I can’t stand her. Like, Matthew’s dad almost died, right? Have some goddamn decency. There’s no way she did anything for that cop but spout bullshit way afterwards. We’d have known.”

    “Yeah, did she really even do anything?” One of the girls scoffed. “She lives in that trailer park. Bet she hears sirens and then just happens to be right there when the news van pulls in. So that she can spin whatever story she wants. So sick of hearing everyone stuck on that whole stupid shooting thing, anyways. Like, yeah, okay, it happened—now, can we move on?”

    “Can someone speak up to Matthew, though?” A girl griped. “As if the shooting thing wasn’t bad enough. Now, it’s like she’s totally just taking advantage of him, when he’s in grief or whatever and isn’t thinking straight.”

    “Y’all are full of shit,” a tall boy spoke up—the one Tabitha mentally thought of as the redneck kid for his white shirt and tight blue jeans paired with cowboy boots. “Matt’s dad was in my drive-thru late last night for coffee—seemed pretty fuckin’ healthy to me.”

    “Shut the fuck up, Bobby,” one of the girls spat back with vehemence. “You don’t even get what we’re talking about.”

    “We’re talking about Matthew’s dad,” another girl retorted. “Matthew Williams. Not one of the other Matts.”

    “Yeah—you’re talkin’ ‘bout Officer Williams? I know him waaay better’n any of you bitches,” Bobby boasted. “Busted me an’ my brother with a joint back behind the Minit Mart, but he had us stand there and finish smoking the whole thing first ‘fore he took us in. Ain’t never forgettin’ that—I always say what’s up when I see him.”

    “Mind your own damned business, Bobby, geez.” The first girl glowered. “This isn’t even about you. Asshole.”


    “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Wilcott, thank you for coming in on such short notice,” Mrs. Moore said from her seat on the sofa, picking up the half-dozen sheets of blank paper on the worn coffee table in front of her and aligning them together into a perfect stack with a crisp tap of the edges on her makeshift ‘desk.’

    “Please, call me John,” Tabitha blurted out, speaking a little too quickly.

    Directly after arriving home from school, her mother had taken her by the shoulders without a word and directed her into the living room, where they sat across from each other as if they were about to have another serious talk. Instead, by best guess it was a theatre exercise—the first of what would likely be many constituting this nervously anticipated mother-to-daughter crash course in becoming an actress.

    She hadn’t known what to expect, but to Tabitha, the current situation felt ridiculous to the point of becoming surreal.

    “Alright then, John,” Mrs. Moore turned a disinterested glance from the blank papers in front of her back to Tabitha. “We pulled your resume out of a rather large pool of candidates with better qualifications than you—can you guess why that is?”

    “The reason for that is…” Tabitha’s paused to gather her thoughts. Resume—okay, so this is supposed to be a job interview. I’m Mr. Wilcott, please call me John, and I really need this job.

    “Because the qualified candidates you’ve brought in haven’t met your expectations,” Tabitha elaborated without missing a beat, deciding to punctuate her sentences with what she imagined were masculine gestures.

    Apparently, her first acting lesson was being thrown in the deep end without warning. Improvisation exercises, and while Tabitha thought herself fairly adept at thinking on her feet, she struggled to stop thinking of the situation in terms of what her mother wanted from her in an acting lesson, and instead what this interviewer expected to hear from Mr. Wilcott.

    “Oh?” Mrs. Moore—no, the human resources director at Employment Corporation challenged, arching an eyebrow. “What makes you say that?”

    “The only thing I can imagine setting me apart from my peers—hah, aside from lacking a degree, of course—is that I have some actual experience in the field, even if it’s not exactly related. I believe you need experience, connections, and hands-on know-how more than you need a fancy frame on the wall behind my desk, Ms—?”

   “Mr. Goldstein,” Mrs. Moore introduced herself with a frown.

    “Mr. Goldstein, excuse me,” Tabitha tried to cover her wince with an awkward smile. “Yes, I’m of the mind you chose me over candidates with better qualifications because you believe I can give you results, and I can.”

    “Hmm,” Mrs. Moore made a disapproving frown. “I definitely don’t agree with that.”

    The mock interview went on for almost ten rather excruciating minutes, with Tabitha choosing to plaster a rather uncharacteristic smarmy smile across her face for the whole thing. The point of the game seemed to be to act out a character under pressure, and Mrs. Moore playing the part of the stern interviewer was pulling no punches.

    “Moving on—” Mrs. Moore wrapped up the session with an attitude of scarcely concealed disdain, “When we contacted your previous employer, we were informed of certain... circumstances regarding your termination. Would you care to elaborate on the nature of those circumstances?”

    “That is, well,” Tabitha finally frowned and adjusted the collar of the imaginary business attire Mr. Wilcott was wearing. “Hah, you know how this industry is, Mr. Goldenstein. It’s competitive. As soon as I’m not working for them, I’m working for someone else, working against them, do you understand? You see, when a man with my skills—”

    “I’m disappointed,” Mrs. Moore sighed and dropped the blank papers back onto the coffee table. “That’s not what I wanted to hear, Mr. Wilcott.”

    “Please, call me John,” Tabitha insisted with a nervous laugh. “Now, whatever’s been said about me, surely there’s—”

    “Yes, yes, we’ll be in touch with you if we have any further questions, Mr. Wilcott,” Mrs. Moore sighed, rising up from her seat on the sofa and offering her hand.

    “Of course, of course,” Tabitha stood up with a strained expression and shook hands. “Thank you for the opportunity.”

    “You didn’t freeze up, Tabitha,” Mrs. Moore broke character and grinned at her daughter, not releasing her grip. “Thought for sure you would. That please, call me John, came out right away. You pulled it off so fast, it’s like you already knew what we were going to be playing.”

    “Thank you,” Tabitha exhaled slowly, dropping the fake smile and working to relax the not-quite-feigned tension in her shoulders.

    “Let’s talk ‘bout how that interview went,” Mrs. Moore dropped back down onto the sofa with a pleased smile. “I’m very impressed with your ad-libbing! You came up with great answers, out of nowhere.”

    “Thank you,” Tabitha nodded again, returning to her seat.

    “The gestures were a nice try—I didn’t expect those either—but, you really need to practice them. I didn’t think you’d attempt any body language on a surprise first pop quiz, so it was a good effort, but they came off as very stiff and unpracticed.”

    “For the record,” Tabitha cleared her throat. “A pop quiz is to determine how much knowledge I’ve retained without any forewarning to study. As you haven’t actually started to teach me yet, I had nothing to retain. I recognize your criticism, but feel it is rather undeserved. There was no chance I would have known any of these things.”

    “There you go talking like a robot again,” Mrs. Moore rolled her eyes. “Don’t speak with proper diction anymore if you’re not going to put some character into it—yer flat delivery really isn’t doin’ you any favors, Tabby.”

    “Noted,” Tabitha grunted, giving her mother a cool look and crossing her arms.

    “Moving on, your answers were surprisingly well-thought, but overall you were speaking too fast,” Mrs. Moore explained. “You never found your rhythm. That you can think everything up on the fly like that is impressive, but try to mind your pace a bit more. Put your speech into a cadence that fits the character and the situation.”

    “...Okay,” Tabitha said after a moment of reflection. “Got it.”

    “Now, what can you tell me about your character?” Mrs. Moore mused, momentarily slipping back into her interviewing voice. “Your impression of the role you took.”

    “He really needed that job,” Tabitha said. “I could feel the sweat forming on his brow. I think there were consequences looming over him, and he was prepared to lie or cheat to try to land the position.”

    “Then, why didn’t you?” Mrs. Moore gave Tabitha a curious glance.

    “Didn’t I?” Tabitha returned the look with a mystifying one of her own.

    “Touché!” Mrs. Moore smiled, a beaming, proud smile that for a strange moment Tabitha connected to the lovely Shannon Moore she’d seen in photos from the past. “I was never, ever going to give you the job anyways. Of course.”

    “Of course,” Tabitha showed her mother a shy smile. “Um. Are all of our lessons going to be like that? On the spot?”

    “Not all of them,” Mrs. Moore chuckled. “I’m gonna run you through all the exercises I remember helped me the most, though. I always hated the improv ones, but I see it turns out they’ll be the easiest for you.”

    “That makes sense,” Tabitha nodded, feeling herself shrink up and shrivel inside. That came off as EASY?

    “I think it’s the emotional ones you’ll struggle with,” Mrs. Moore tapped her lip, deep in thought. “Channeling actual furious anger so you can shout and scream, breaking down into tears, and all the lovely things between. But—we’ll work up to those.”

    “...Great,” Tabitha deadpanned, unable to hide her lack of enthusiasm.


    “Yeah, apparently she already came out and admitted to making the whole thing up,” a dark-haired teen in a Backstreet Boys tee said, rearranging a pile of textbooks in her open locker.

    “She admitted it herself?” A short girl with her hair pulled up in a series of butterfly clips waiting beside her asked.

    “Yeah,” the dark-haired girl affirmed. “Guess she was afraid the police were gonna come down on her for all of her bullshit? Can you believe the newspaper actually put—”

    What.

    “Hey—are you talking about Tabitha?” Elena interrupted, approaching the students with a frown. She wasn’t feeling shy at all about inviting herself over to stand in their personal space along the busy locker-lined corridor. “Tabitha Moore?”

    “Yeah, why?” The first girl paused, sizing Elena up.

    “Tabitha Moore admitted to making up the story about saving that cop?” Elena pressed.

    “Yeah?”

    “When?” Elena challenged. “To who?”

    “I dunno, her friends, I guess? Then, after that word just spread?”

    “No, she didn’t—that’s bullshit,” Elena scowled. “I’m one of her friends—she really saved that cop’s life.”

    “That’s not what everybody’s saying,” the dark-haired girl laughed, shrugging it off.

    “So, what, that picture in the paper’s fake?” Elena retorted.

    “Pssh, uh yeah. Obviously. All newspapers and tabloids have programs that can doctor stuff like that, easy. Corel PaintShop Pro, or Adobe Fireworks. Y’know?”

    “Then, her calling it in over the police dispatch, that was fake too?

    “What police dispatch?” the girl gave her a doubtful look. “Umm, probably? I don’t think they’re even allowed to release those. Like, legally.”

    “It was all over the news last week, though,” Elena refuted. “Waaay before that new article with the photo came out.”

    “Yeah okay, if you say so?” the dark-haired teen snorted. “I didn’t hear anything about it. Couldn’t have been very big news?”

    “So... you’re saying Matthew Williams’ dad is a liar?”

    “What?”

    “He was the officer first responding to the scene. Apparently he thinks Tabitha was there saving the other cop’s life.”

    “Who told you that?”

    “Matthew Williams himself.”

    “I didn’t say anyone was a liar—I’m just tellin’ what I heard,” the girl groused, looking towards her short friend for a helping word in frustration. “Matthew’s like, biased now anyways if him and her are a thing now, right? And, if Tabitha’s not guilty, why’d she tell her friends she made it all up, then. Huh?”

    “Oh, well you see,” Elena smiled through gritted teeth. “She didn’t. I’m one of Tabitha’s friends, and that’s not what she told us, at all. I’m Matthew’s friend, too—he never asked her out. I’d just love to hear where you bitches got your fucking story from.”

   “Excuse me?”

    “Maybe don’t run your mouths if you don’t know what you’re talking about?” Elena suggested cheerfully, reaching between them to slam the girl’s locker closed and then brushing past them. “Makes you all sound pretty fucking stupid, in my opinion.”

    Jesus… Elena let out a slow breath of frustration as she strode down the hallway.

    She was exhausted, repeatedly throwing herself onto the front lines to hotly contest every single false word about Tabitha she overheard. It was only Tuesday, but the amount of conversations she’d forced her way into already was dizzying. She couldn’t be everywhere at once—she didn’t even have time to chill with Tabitha and Alicia at lunch today—but in broad strokes, a bigger picture was forming.

    The Tabitha gossip disseminating throughout Springton High wasn’t random, and it always seemed to originate from sophomores, rather than their fellow freshman. Elena didn’t know many tenth-grade girls—that was Carrie’s crowd, now. But the narrative, from the sophomore’s responses, was definitely evolving in specific reaction to Elena’s own efforts to stamp out the rumors everywhere.

   Yeah? Elena smirked. Well, bring it.

    She’d taken a firm side on this and was adamant in her stance, blood running hot as she went from each conversation and verbal spat with fistfuls of facts and counter arguments. Her immediate reputation was battered and beaten—more than half of the girls in her classes were pissed at her, to say nothing of everyone else… but that was going to be a temporary thing.

   Probably.


    “Do you think that’s one of the girls talking shit about you?” Alicia asked in a low voice, leaning in towards Tabitha so that no one else would overhear. Though the school seemed divided on the Tabitha issue, several of the art club people had voiced their support.

    Despite Elena finally convincing them to stop spending their lunch periods in the library, their friend was nowhere to be found today. Regardless, their attempt at staking their claim on a good location in the quad area was turning a lot of heads. Though they were getting a lot of stares, Tabitha seemed particularly distracted, her gaze consistently turning towards a particular table of girls across from them.

   They definitely looked over here when we sat down—are they talking about her?

    “What?” Tabitha asked with a distracted laugh. “What? No, That girl keeps moving her hands when she talks.”

    “Moving her hands…?” Alicia peered over towards the other table.

    “I’m supposed to practice my gestures,” Tabitha explained, turning towards Alicia and raising one hand. “But, soon as I start keeping an eye out for people with expressive body language, it’s like they’re nowhere to be found. That girl over there’s the best one I’ve seen yet today.”

    “Best at… what?” Alicia arched an eyebrow.

    “Physical expressions. It’s like she’s physically grasping onto the conversation,” Tabitha said. “She does these little pantomiming waves to illustrate the flow of whatever she’s saying—at least, that’s how I think of it. Then, when she wants someone’s response, she indicates it with this gesture like she’s actually passing the reins of the conversation to them.”

    Tabitha splayed out her hand open-palmed towards Alicia to demonstrate, putting her on the spot.

    “Umm,” Alicia blinked. “Yeah I mean, I get it? One of the how to draw books I have has a thing on gestures, if you wanna check it out. Seems super weird when you do it, though.”

    “Sorry,” Tabitha laughed. “It’s just—it’s not something that I ever do myself naturally, so when I try to practice it, it feels incredibly… silly? Exaggerated? Some people are just naturally very animated when they’re speaking. It’s something I’m supposed to be able to imitate.”

    “It’s definitely a little weird on you,” Alicia admitted. “I don’t think it works with your serious expression. You gotta pair it with like, one of those big, fake smiles that they do.”

    “I think it goes just as well with a serious expression,” Tabitha frowned, imitating a flap of the hand as she watched the other table. “But then, I need to slow down the movements to… match the mood?”

    One of the girls over there caught sight Tabitha’s hand movement and immediately scowled, hunching in towards the other girls at that table to whisper something.

    “Uhh, or people’ll think you’re mocking them?” Alicia struggled to hide a grin with the back of her hand.

    “I-I’m not, though!” Tabitha immediately dropped both of her hands to the table and quickly hid her face. “I was just—”

    “Like, wooow,” Alicia shook her head in amusement. “As if you needed to stir up any more drama than you already have?”

    “Alicia, th-that’s not funny!”


   Ohhh my goodness. Elena thought giddily to herself. He’s way too hot!

    She’d stoically planted herself right in the path of Matthew Williams himself, and she was struggling to maintain her disapproving frown. Final bell had rung and the school day was over, but while Matthew had his own car, she had a narrow window of time to take care of this before she had to make a dash for the bus loop.

    “Hey, ‘Lena,” Matthew smiled, pausing in the hall with one thumb hooked casually into the backpack strap at his shoulder. “What’s up?”

    “Yeah, hi,” Elena scowled, crossing her arms. “Were you talking about Tabitha to anyone yesterday morning?”

    “Uhh, yeah?” Those dreamy eyes of his looked perplexed. “Why?”

    “Don’t know what you actually said, but word’s going around everywhere that you asked her out when you drove her to Louisville on Sunday.”

    “That’s... not true,” Matthew blanched. “Think all I said was, like, how my Mom was trying to embarrass me to her. I didn’t even go with—”

    “I heard the real story from Tabitha, already,” Elena interrupted impatiently. “But, you need to fix this. Whoever’s been spreading all the dumb rumors about her all this time has to be someone close to you. Like, one of the sophomores.”

    “Hey,” Matthew protested. “I don’t think it means—”

    “You’re making things awkward for Tabitha,” Elena talked over him, giving him a disappointed look along with an ultimatum. “Either figure out who the problem is, or just don’t ever bring up Tabitha at all. ‘Kay? Thanks.”

    She brushed past him without giving him a chance to speak, storming away in apparent anger. Several surprised students turned heads in the hallway at the dramatic departure, watching the long-legged freshman girl who dared to chew out Matthew Williams.

   Adopting the overprotective friend approach and keeping him on the back foot, however, made everything a breeze! Elena thought to herself in satisfaction. The best-looking sophomore guy was intimidating to talk to, even for a girl of her caliber. Now their encounter would be memorable, it’d make him subconsciously want to appease her, and even more importantly, establish her in his mind as someone who was loyal to a fault.

    Her mother had been eager to reminisce about her own high school days over a few glasses of wine this past weekend, so she couldn’t take full credit for the idea, of course. Even just a few months ago, those old stories had bored Elena to death—now, though, she was fully realizing just how incredible her mom’s insight and social savvy really was.

    Elena’s anger wasn’t exactly a total charade, either—it was more obvious now than ever that the talk flying around about Tabitha was intentionally fabricated, and Matthew was going to help her get to the bottom of it. Someone—Elena was now confident it was one of the sophomores—was hurrying to smear Tabitha’s name in light of the all the new buzz about her from that photo making front page.

   Springton Teen Saves Life of Police Officer. Almost everyone was talking about it now, with several teachers even proudly showing off the paper to their classes. That someone, whoever they were, felt forced to try and suppress the rise of Tabitha’s reputation with manufactured drama. The difference is that now I’M in Tabby’s corner—and I’m not gonna just smile and turn the other cheek.

   Tabitha, Alicia and I? We’re the real deal, Elena decided, stalking through the bustling school corridor with a predatory glint in her eyes. Whoever you are, all you have is talk... and eventually, all those loose lips are gonna lead us right to you.

   You REALLY don’t know who you’re fucking with.

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A note from FortySixtyFour

   Last calm before the storm! Things are about to get intense. Since the next sections'll cover Halloween in-story, I'm gonna post them up soon as they're ready, rather than squirrel them away for next month's post. So, yes, October should have more than one chapter, and then I'll work my ass off to also still be on track for a normal November post.

   A swanlike bevy of new fantasy / LitRPGs has swept Best-Rated this seasononly the support of you readers leaving ratings and reviews keeps an ugly duckling like RE: Trailer Trash on the first page! Your votes on the top web fiction list every month have also been phenomenally helpful!


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FortySixtyFour

Bio: Avid reader, reluctant writer.

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