Chapter 14

It was comfortable, leaning on Kyle. For a hundred and forty-seven pounds of ripped muscle, he sure did resemble a couch in the range of comfort. I smiled and curled closer, feeling the faint rumble of his laughter as he slung an arm around me.

We were on a Die Hard marathon, but I wasn't completely fixated on the movie. God knew that I'd already watched the series a billion times, anyway. No, I was keeping a close eye on the clock, waiting for the time that school let out. I had told Jessamine that I'd go to the dance committee meeting, which had fled my mind for the past week, but I wasn't flaking this time. The last thing I needed was a shortage of friends, anyway.

Jocelyn Leigh, recent lowlife ringleader, I mused unhappily to myself as I stared unseeingly at the TV screen. The title didn't sound good at all, not to anyone's ears. I wasn't meant to this; I was meant to be out there, commanding everyone at my own will and having a nice, drunken time with my friends. A lowlife?

That wasn't me.

Ten more minutes until school was out. I didn't want to go to the dance meeting, and for so many reasons, too. Stella Hughes was on it, for starters, and I honestly didn't want to see everyone else's eyes on me. Leigh the Outcast, having the nerve to show up at the meeting? I'd be scorned, and I knew it very well. Plus, Travis had been on the committee before quitting because of me, so I wasn't sure if he'd be back.

No. Preparing lame dances? That wasn't Travis.

But then again, that wasn't me, either—like so many other things—so I wasn't one to talk. I frowned and scooted closer to Kyle. This wasn't stuff that I liked to think about it, partially because it made my brain hurt. For a straight-A student, I wasn't very good at all this deep stuff.

"We should have a party," I sighed, burying my face into Kyle's chest. He made a questioning noise, and I sighed again. "I know, random time, but it's been a while. I miss getting smashed and doing stupid stuff, and I miss being—you know. All the stupid stuff I do when I'm drunk can't even compare to the things I do when I'm sober. At least I have an excuse when I'm plastered, but not when I'm perfectly fine. Not really."

Sighing, Kyle twirled my ponytail around his index finger. "I catch your drift. We should have a liquor potluck with our group; everyone brings something to the table, and we all get drunk off our asses until we forget that we're lowlifes. I mean, it can't be that hard if someone brings vodka, right?"

"Touché." I stared at the TV screen, making a face. "I have to go soon. Dance committee and all that stuff, since I told Jessamine that I'd be there. I don't even know why I did . . . She gave me a way out, and I didn't take it. Stupid, isn't it? But anyway, will you drive me?"

Kyle shrugged, still playing with my hair. "Sure. Nothing else better to do, anyway." He eyed the clock and lightly pushed me off of him, getting to his feet after I stood. "It's almost time, anyway. We should get going, c'mon."

I followed after, quickly tightening my ponytail and reapplying my lipgloss. He glanced behind to make sure that I was coming, then pulled out his car keys and pressed the 'unlock' button. The two of us got into his Corvette, and we sat without talking for the rest of the car ride. "Stay" by Rihanna and Mikki Ekko was playing quietly in the background, the notes drifting through the car's speakers. I glanced at Kyle and opened my mouth to say something—anything—but then realized I had nothing to say.

"We're here," Kyle said, pulling to a stop. I looked up in surprise, then smiled in thanks and planted a quick kiss on his lips. He laughed, wiping a smudge of marshmallow-flavored lipgloss off of his mouth, and I laughed right back. We grinned at each other for a minute, and I got out of the car, waving goodbye as I sprinted towards the gym. Dance committee, here came Leigh. Fun.

I shoved the gym doors open, and several heads snapped up. Eyes locked on me, some skeptical and others disbelieving. I chose to ignore them all and started towards Jessamine, who smiled tentatively at me and nodded. "Hi."

"Hi," she said in response, the corners of her mouth twitching as she looked at the people staring. "You've been busy."

Winking lightly, I said jokingly, "When have I not been?" She grinned at that one. "It feels like I haven't seen you in ages. Sorry for being such a flake, but I'll be more punctual from now on. Honestly."

"Yeah, right," said Jessamine, smiling dryly. "Old habits die hard. Anyway, I heard that you punched Josh again." Her expression sobered, and a frown pulled her lips down. "I know things have been pretty . . . bad between the two of you, but that's a little bit extreme, Leigh. What did he do to you, anyway?"

My eyes narrowed, and I could already see Jessamine backtracking. I chose to answer her this time, though, because it was something that I could actually reply to truthfully. Shocker. "He was about to punch out some of my friends with the rest of the team. It's called karma, and he had it coming for him a long time ago. Don't say that he didn't deserve it, because he did."

"He did," Jessamine agreed readily, surprising me. My eyebrows shot up, and she flashed a sardonic smile my way. "Yeah, I know, someone who's not completely on Josh Vaughn's side. Gasp. I thought about some stuff you said about him, and I guess I realized that you were right. He's not as great as everyone thinks he is, but I still love him the same. Anyway, let's not talk about this anymore. Guys, get to work!" she shouted at the watching people. They quickly dispersed from the scene.

Twirling a flyaway strand of hair around my finger, I glanced around uncomfortably. I didn't know what to do; helping out the dance committee wasn't exactly something I frequently did. "Um, so what am I supposed to . . . I mean, I don't really know what—"

"Yeah, I figured," noted Jessamine, grabbing my arm and pulling me over to a table. "Here, Gabrielle and April can explain the details to you. You're on music and food, okay? Just listen to them and make a few suggestions, and you'll be fine, okay?"

"Okay," I said, feeling desperately out of place as the girls dubbed as Gabriella and April stared at me. I forced a smile, and they replied with equally fake grins. Jessamine either didn't notice or just chose not to comment, but she smiled cheerily and flounced off to another table.


"So, what do we do?" I asked, tugging awkwardly at the hem of my shirt. "I've never really done this before, so you'll have to educate me on it."

The two girls quickly looked down, embarrassed, and the brunette—Gabriella—quickly pulled a manila folder towards her. "Um," she said, rubbing the back of her head, "there's not much to it, really. We go through the students' allergies and find some food that nobody's allergic to. No peanuts—well, no nuts in general. And we pick out some teacher-friendly music, too. Meaning non-explicit songs; nothing about drinking, drugs, or sex."

"Well, that rules out half of today's music, yeah?" I said dryly out of habit, forgetting to keep a lid on my sarcasm. They surprised me by laughing, though, and I blinked in slight surprise. Maybe I'd been too quick to judge; at least they got my quip. In fact, neither were treating me like That Girl—the social outcast who was worshiped and feared at the same time.

It was a nice change.

"No, not Taylor Swift," I argued with April, who angrily popped her bubblegum and tossed her blond ringlets. "Almost all the girls going to the dance are going to be Directioners, dude, and hearing T Swift is going to cause the biggest. Shitstorm. Ever. None of it, none at all."

"Oh, come on, don't tell me you're in love with One Direction," sniffed April. Gabrielle watched on, amused. "They're so juvenile; I mean, Jesus, only preteens like them. Boy bands? Seriously, those are totally not in. Hell, the Backstreet Boys existed in, like, the sixteen-hundreds. That's how out boy bands are."

"You did not just go there," I gasped, putting a hand to my chest. "And you shouldn't be talking about being juvenile—Taylor Swift insulted Harry at the Grammys because she was bitter about their breakup! Harry didn't even bother retaliating because she wasn't worth it—"

"Yeah, right, he just left it alone because he knew he'd never win—"

"What, like you'll never win this argument—?"

"Guys," Gabrielle cut in loudly, finally stopping our Haylor war. "Both of you are acting juvenile, seeing as neither of the singers know that you exist and you're ripping each other's heads off because of them. How about we just don't have One Direction or Taylor Swift in the soundtrack?"

April and I gasped.

And then we went back to arguing heatedly about which artist deserved to be on our dance soundtrack more.

"Guess who got two nominations in the Billboard 2013 Best Album awards? One Direction, for both of their albums—Up All Night and Take Me Home! Can't beat that, can you?"

"Oh, yeah? And who won the Best Album award? Taylor Swift, with her album Red, which sold a million copies in the first week. How many did 1D sell? Oh, right, they only sold five hundred and forty thousand copies—barely half of what Taylor sold. Beat that if you can!"

Jessamine came to stand next to Gabrielle, giving us strange looks as she watched our battle. "What are they doing?"

"You don't want to know," sighed Gabrielle, shaking her head sadly. "I've tried to deter them multiple times, but nothing's worked so far. They won't agree to having 1D and Taylor Swift in the soundtrack, and they won't allow neither. It's horrible. Stop them if you can, but I doubt you'll be able to."

Watching April and I exchange words of defense for our respective artists, Jessamine could only shake her head. "Yeah, I think I'll pass."

"Like, what's going on here?"

My back stiffened, and I turned around as April protested in favor of Taylor Swift. Our Haylor differences could wait; the biggest bitch in town was invading my territory. "Stella?" I blinked, then regained my composure. "Didn't think that you'd be here when you could be screwing Josh. Sexpertise not enough? It happens to the worst of us."

Gabrielle and April coughed behind their hands, trying to disguise their laughter. Jessamine turned her head away, but I saw the smile fighting to surface on her lips. Encouraged, I grinned snidely at Stella and raised my eyebrows in a "Bring it on, bitch" sort of way.

"Yeah," Stella drawled, again bothering me with her seemingly almost-average IQ. "You're one to be talking, aren't you? Like, Josh doesn't even like you, and you go around punching him because you're not good enough and you're mad that you're not. Get a life, like, you loser." She rolled her eyes and popped her bubblegum, only several inches away from my face.

"Finally expanding your vocabulary from 'like' and 'crazy stalker ex'?" I shot back, ignoring the uncomfortable feeling worming its way around my stomach. Gabrielle coughed louder this time, then gave another cough that sounded a lot like "burned."

Stella missed a long beat, then flushed underneath her too-tan foundation and flipped her hair with a roll of the eyes. "Like, whatever, loser," she said, reverting back to her old ways. "You're just jealous that Josh likes me more than he likes you."

"Oh, yeah, right," I laughed humorlessly, narrowing my eyes at her. "Never mind the fact that I started dating Kyle before he picked you up, so if anyone's jealous, then it's him. Don't be an idiot, Stella, no self-respecting boy would date you for completely innocent reasons."

Pondering this for a moment, Stella's wide blue eyes brightened, and she said in an extremely proud voice (probably the best comeback she'd ever come up with in her pitiful life), "Who said anything about innocent reasons?"

Times like these, I was glad that I had no thought filter.

"Oh, sorry, I guess I just assumed that Josh wouldn't be interested in screwing you," I threw instantly at her, feeling the exhilaration pumping through my veins. Finally, going head-to-head with another bitch—something I was actually good at. "Too many STD's, you know? But hey, I guess Josh is into that kind of stuff. Who knew?"

Several people whistled appreciatively (most of the committee kids had come to observe), and there were a couple of shouts of "Burned!" and "Shoot!" I grinned at them all and pretended to fan myself with a hand, waving and nodding while mouthing cheesily, 'Thank you! Thank you!' to the miniature crowd. People laughed.

Stella opened and closed her mouth soundlessly for a moment, then smiled as something seemed to occur to her. She said nothing, though, so I glanced behind me in confusion and froze.

Josh walked past me without a glance and pulled Stella into his arms, suddenly prssing his mouth to her and making out like there was no tomorrow. Something in me hardened, and I watched them expressionlessly as they exchanged saliva. When the two finally broke apart, Josh's eyes locked on mine. Something seemed to flicker through them when he caught sight of my blank face, but it disappeared just as fast.

"Leigh." He smirked coolly at me, and I took note of his black eye with pride. "I didn't expect for you to show your face here, not after all that happened."

I snorted, tossing my hair and looking at him with a haughty expression. "Right. Everything that happened, right? I didn't expect you to show your face here, seeing as that black eye's looking pretty interesting at the moment. Talk about a face that only a psycho on-and-off girlfriend could love."

A very loud, very audible snicker came from the direction of April. Our 1D and Taylor Swift argument lay forgotten—temporarily, at the very least.

"Jealous?" he taunted, his smile never reaching his eyes. "It must suck, having more attention paid to anyone but you. Your life's totally in shambles now, isn't it? Everyone hates you—hell, even that so-called best friend of yours, Kayla—and everyone knows that you're finally down to what you deserve. A lowlife. How's it feel, knowing the truth?"

I didn't have a comeback for that.

In the back of my eyes, I could feel the tears prickling uncomfortably. I tried to fight them down, blinking hard, and Stella's triumphant face came from next to Josh's shoulder. A faint glimmer of regret surfaced in Josh's blue eyes, but the expression was replaced with a stony wall. This wasn't the Josh that I knew.

"You're a dick, you know that?" I asked, struggling to stop my voice from cracking. What was I doing? I didn't cry over stupid, trivial things like insults from Josh. Jocelyn Leigh didn't cry. But I was, and I didn't know how to stop.

Jessamine, her pale turquoise eyes narrowing, stepped in front of me to glare at Josh. Funny, I hadn't expected her to be on my side.

"Josh fucking Vaughn," she hissed at him, sounding more furious than I'd ever heard her, "she didn't deserve that, and you sure as hell know it. Get out of this room before I call the principal. And Stella," Jessamine turned to her, "consider yourself kicked off of the committee. Get. Out."

Stella started to stomp out, then stopped and threw over her shoulder, "I never liked this stupid committee, anyway. Like, get a life, dumbass. No one wants to work with you, anyway."

With the faintest bit of humor, I noted halfheartedly that "anyway" seemed to be her go-to word now. It was an improvement from the likes, at least.

Josh didn't follow his girlfriend, to Jessamine's obvious surprise. She frowned at him and pointed at the exit. "The door's that way, if you wanted to know. Consider yourself unwelcome wherever I am, and you'd better leave Leigh alone. She deserves better than you, Vaughn."

"Better than me?" Josh said, smirking and crossing his arms. "Well, good luck to her on finding a guy like that. And you clearly don't know what she deserves if you're saying that." His eyes locked with mine, and my stomach flipped nervously. I didn't want to hear what he was going to say, I really, really didn't. "She deserves this."

And, ladies and gentlemen, that was when Josh Vaughn punched me. In the nose.

Karma's a real bitch.

"Dude. The fuck happened to your nose?" Kyle asked in shock, not even stringing together a proper sentence out of confusion. He reached for it hesitantly, but I took a step back, shaking my head as a no. His hand fell back to his side.

"I got punched," I said, my voice sounding slightly nasal as I pressed a tissue to the unfortunately abused facial part. "By Josh Vaughn."

Kyle blinked at me for a moment, then shook his head like a dog and gestured to the passenger seat of his Corvette. "Damn, Leigh, that's lame. If he's ready to sink low enough to hit a girl, then he's really not worth anything." Kyle snorted in disgust, starting the engine. "Come on, I'll get you some ice for that at my house."

We drove along as I gave him a recap of the events in my dance committee meeting, him laughing and wincing at the perfect moments. As we passed the Vaughn residence, I stiffened slightly. A voice drifted towards us through the window, and I said quickly, "Stop the car."

I wasn't sure what made me do it, but I rolled my window all the way down as Kyle quickly turned the car off. He looked at me questioningly, but I held up a finger for silence as the voice continued to speak. That was Jessamine talking. What was she doing at the Vaughns'?

". . . can't believe you did that. I'm going to have to tell Principal Hines, you know that? God, Josh, I can't believe you."

The two of us got out of the car, and I crept towards the voices with Kyle following closely behind. Josh was the next one to speak, pausing for a long while before talking again.

"Jessa," he tried, sounding frustrated. I came to an abrupt stop, just before I could turn a corner. If I hadn't, I would've been seen by the two of them. "Look, Jessamine, you can't tell Hines. I—I dunno what came over me, but Leigh's done so many crappy things. She deserved it, and god knows how many times she's punched me, too."

"Josh, you can't hit a girl!" Jessamine hissed, sounding scandalized. "How the hell did your parents even raise you? Didn't they teach you that? Even if Leigh was a bitch, you shouldn't have punched her! And did you see that expression on her face after you called her a lowlife? You can't do that Josh. You're hurting people."

"Oh, because she doesn't do that either?" asked Josh scathingly. I peeked past the corner and saw him rolling his eyes, then looked back to see Kyle doing the same thing. That got a smile from me. "Like I said, she deserved it. Don't tell Hines, okay?"

"How many times do I have to tell you, Josh? I can't not tell her! You're turning into a bad person, Josh, and I can't just sit around and watch you do it. I'm sorry, Josh, but I'm gonna have to tell her."

"No—look, Jess—"

Kyle and I looked past the corner after a second of silence, and both our eyes widened when we saw what was happening. Josh, who was currently dating the newly-unturned bimbo Stella, was kissing Jessamine. On the lips.

Holy shitcrack.

They broke apart, and Jessamine looked at him with dazed eyes. She said, "Oh," in a small voice. Then: "Maybe I won't tell Principal Hines after all."

I wasn't going to listen anymore. I took off running for the car with Kyle sprinting right after me, overtaking my stride as he grabbed my arm and unlocked his car doors with the push of a button. We didn't stop until we were safely in the car, driving at full speed towards his house.

After he parked in his garage, we let out a sigh of relief in unison and glanced at each other. Together, we breathed out, "Holy shit."