Cody held her head up high as she pushed her way through the crowded hallway. Sneers and snickers followed her and wrapped around her like a plastic bag, suffocating her. A couple voices made themselves heard above the buzz of conversation and their words stung like leather whips lashing into the flesh of her soul. "There's the slut."

Her head whipped around and she was face-to-face with Diane Lawrence, full to the brim of American girl good looks and self confidence with a mean streak a mile wide. She was a few inches taller than Cody, her silky blonde hair loose around a heart-shaped face with large blue eyes blinking innocently behind thick black lashes.

"Slut?" Cody asked, her voice catching.

Diane just laughed and held her blue binder to her chest, smirking. Cody wanted to flatten her pouty red lips against her perfect white teeth but stood there, her spine straight, letting her words sink in like daggers. "I said, Cody, that you were the slut." She leaned forward so that her voice was little more than a whisper. "Sixteen years old with a baby." She tsk'ed under her breath and flounced away, glancing over her shoulder before disapearing into the crowd.

-

Cody yawned into her hand, trying to pay attention to Mrs. Stevenson. She was explaining a project that her tenth grade English class was going to be doing, something about advertising and the importance of logos. Cody yawned again. Jesamyn had been up nearly all night whining and fussing, and Cody couldn't leave her up to fend for herself. It didn't matter if she had school or not, she had a five-month-old daughter.

Her head shot up as she heard her name, followed closely by Diane's, and then Dawn's. Dawn was a friend of hers, a rather good friend, but Diane? What did she and Diane have their names so close together for?

"Pay attention, Miss Edwards," Mrs. Stevenson said sharply. "You, Diane, and Dawn are in a group together. Get together and come up with a plan to get this done."

Cody groaned, pushing her desk towards Dawn. Diane pushed hers towards them but stopped two feet away, then pulled a nail file out of her purse and started filing her nails.

"Diane, this is a classroom, not a beauty salon," Mrs. Stevenson said. "And I don't think Cody and Dawn have any diseases you might catch, so get closer than that."

Rolling her blue eyes, Diane pushed her desk closer and sat down while Dawn asked how Jesamyn was doing. Cody told her fine, and Diane sniffed. "Yeah, right. You can't even take care of yourself, how are you going to take care of a baby?"

Cody's green eyes flashed as she glanced up at Diane. "Because I put her before myself. Although I'm sure you wouldn't know how to do that. You know, put somebody in front of yourself."

Mrs. Stevenson gave them a warning glance and Dawn cut in. "We need to meet up at one of our houses tonight to get this done," she said. "Because tomorrow night is cheerleading practice, and the night after that is my art club meeting, so tonight is the only free night we have."

"Well, my mom is having a party tonight," Diane said, studying her nails. "So my place is definately out."

"That leaves your place, Cody," Dawn said, leaning back in her seat. "'Cause my mom reverse-grounded me again."

Cody nodded. "Alright, then, my place at five thirty," she said, scrawling her address on a peice of notebook paper for Diane. "Show up nice or don't show up at all."

The bell rang before Diane could reply and Cody got up, leaving the room without saying another word.

-

Cody answered the door with Jesamyn on her hip, her long brown curls pulled up into messy flip, trailing halfway down her back despite the six inches that were tucked up into the hair tye. Jesamyn had a bit of baby food on her chin and Cody wiped it off before inviting Dawn into the house.

Diane showed up ten minutes late, parking her late-model Mustang at the curb instead of in the driveway. Cody was painfully aware of the run-down state of her house, the brick a bit grubby and the front door in dire need of a coat of paint.

Dawn was holding Jesamyn, bouncing her slightly, as Cody answered the door. "Come on in," she said in greeting, shutting the door behind Diane.

Diane looked around, her gaze resting on Jesamyn. She glanced cautiously at Cody. "That's ... that's your baby?"

"Yeah," Cody said, smiling proudly, forgetting for a second about the cruel words and exhaustion. Love overwhelmed her and socked her in the gut, as it did every time she looked at her. "You wanna hold her?"

"Uh ... Sure," Diane said, taking her from Dawn gently. She cradeled her against her chest, smiling despite herself. "She's so cute."

"Thank you," Cody said, ticking the baby's side. She giggled and kicked her foot, then stuck her fingers in her mouth. "Aw, look at you. You ticklish little silly girl." She laughed as Jesamyn giggled.

They took their stuff and spread it on the kitchen table. They all got along surprisingly well and when the project was done they were relunctant to leave. Dawn had to leave, however, and hurriedly gave Jesamyn a kiss and Cody a hug and left.

"Where are you parents?" Diane asked.

Sitting at the kitchen table, Jesamyn in her carryall in front of her on the floor, Cody rocked the five-month-old gently. "Gone," she laughed. "I live with my older brother."

"Oh ... why not with your mom and dad?"

"I got kicked out after ... After they found out ..."

"Found out what?"

Cody shook her head, squared her shoulders, looked down at Jesamyn. "Nothing," she said, reaching down and tickling Jesamyn's chin.

"No, what?"

"Did you ever hear who Mynnie's dad was, Diane?"

"No, why?"

Cody laughed bitterly. "He was a teacher. He raped me in his classroom." She glanced over at Diane and shook her head. "I'm not a slut. You don't know anything about me, Diane. You don't know the half of it. You and your friends put me down for being a slut, but you don't know the half of it."

"You're kidding ..." Diane said, her brow furrowing.

"No, Diane. While you're busy judging me, think about something. I have a daughter, yes, and I'm young." She reached down and lifted Jesamyn up. "But it's not because I sleep around. It's because I was responsible and kept my baby and did the right thing."

Diane swallowed hard. "I had no idea, Cody."

"No, nobody does. Everybody wants to believe the worst in people."

"If I had realized-"

"You wouldn't have," Cody said, standing up. "I have to start dinner. You want to stay and eat with us?"

Diane smiled genuinely. "Sure."

-