Waking the Sleeping Giant
“They hate to see you doing better than them.”
âField Mob ft. Ciara, “So What”
essica Johnson glowered.
She stood mannequin-still in the school's long hallway at the floor-to-ceiling glass panes surrounding the fishbowlâthe cafÃ©, Del Rio Bay High's outdoor Beautiful People Only section of the cafeteria.Her eyes, focused like hazel laser beams, glared catlike in her coffee-bean complexioned face.
She couldn't take them off the scene outside.
About forty people milled around the square, no larger than two average-sized bedrooms. Some huddled around the five tall bistro tablesâsometimessix people deep. Others stood atop the sandy-colored concrete benches that anchored the corners, while still others were content leaning against one of the two brick walls that enclosed the area. So used to being gawked at from the hall or cafeteria windows, no one paid her much mind. Everyone was enjoying the budding warmth of the early springâmany going jacketless in the fifty-degreeMaryland day.
Winter had been short but fierce. Two ice storms had walloped the area, closing school for a total of seven days in February and nearly sending everyone stir crazy from cabin fever. Fifty degrees was almost hot in comparison, the open air addicting.
The thick glass made it impossible for Jess to distinguish any conversations, but she could almost feel the buzz of the various rowdy discussions. Now and then a loud laugh or exclamation would erupt from one of the hubs. Jess assumed it was loudâit had to be if she could hear it from inside. She imagined that the talk was of the ExtremeBeach Nationals, the big cheerleading competition taking place in a week, who was heading down to Ocean City with who, which hotel people were staying at and what madness they could get into with their parents lingering nearby.
Typical day in the cafÃ©, the school's powers discussing who and what was important in DRB High land, in their own version of politickingand strategizing.
The cafÃ©, twenty feet wide, twenty feet across, and accessible by a single door at the far end of the cafeteria, was nothing more than an island of concrete surrounded by a patch of grass just wide enough to be a pain for the maintenance crew to cut. But it was the students' slice of heaven. No teachers patrolled it. And nobodies stayed away from its door, choosing instead to a) act like the cafÃ© didn't exist or matter, or b) gaze inside from the windows, like Jess was doing now.
Only she wasn't a nobody. Jess was a cafÃ© regular, an Upper whose right it was to lounge in the cafÃ© at her leisure during lunch.
And until that very second, the cafÃ© had been Jessica's safe haven from wannabes and nobodies, specifically the one wannabe nobody who annoyed her more than anyone in the world ... Mina Mooney.
Jessica's eyes squeezed into slits, piercing Mina from the shadows of the hall as Mina's head bobbed up and down excitedly, deep in conversation with Kim, the varsity cheer captain, and Sara, Jessica's twin.
Seeing Mina there, all smiles and grins enjoying life in the fishbowl,shouldn't have jolted Jessica. But the flash of heat she felt boilingin her chest was angerâpure and powerful. It grew as she remembered how lightly Sara had mentioned Mina's new “status.”
“I was telling Mina that we're gonna kill it at the Extreme,” Sara had said, bubbling with a mix of anxiety and excitement at the thought of Nationals.
“Look, I know you two cheer together now, but I'm over hearingyou talk about
,” Jessica snapped. She tossed her hair, a well-keptstraight weave that hung just below her shoulders, a ludicrous auburn that almost shimmered next to Jess's dark face, and fixed her twin with a defiant stare.
Sara's light cocoa-complexioned cheeks darkened slightly as the crimson spread through her face. But her voice was neutral as she answered, “I know you guys don't get along.” She hesitated for a secondthen swallowed a sigh before finishing. “Nothing I say will matter,will it? You love to hate Mina.”
Jessica laughed, her dark face brightening at Sara's truthful declaration.“Yup. I do.”
“Well ... you know Kim and I invited her to sit in the cafÃ©, right?” Sara cleared her throat as if admitting it out loud had dried her mouth.
Jessica's smile quickly turned into a sour-lemon scowl and this time Sara's mouth did dry out. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth as she quickly added, “We have a lot of cheer strategy to go over. So you know ... I mean, you knew Mina was going to get the call to the cafÃ© eventually, Jess. She's the JV cheer captain ... she ...”
“Is a total wannabe, Sara,” Jessica huffed. Her finger wagged in Sara's face like she was lecturing a young child, something she did often to her twin when it came to social etiquette. “I know you like hanging out with any and everybody. But Mina is ... the way she rolls with her ...” Jessica rolled her eyes and sneered, “clique.” She shook her head as if warding off some sort of bad word cooties. “Like they're running things at DRB High.” Her next words were thick with venom. “I hate how she thinks her little Miss Nice-Nice act is going to make everyone like her.”
Sara giggled, “So let me get this right.You hate her because she's
?” hadn't bothered Jess. She knew that sitting in the cafÃ© didn't mean much to Sara. Neither did DRB High's whole social hierarchy thing. So it was easy for Sara to dismiss it all as silly or ridiculous. But it wasn't silly to Jess. She rolled with the Glams, the snotty, mostly rich kids, and took her status as a member of the ruling class serious, deadly serious. It hit Jessica where it hurt that Minaâneither rich nor snottyâhad always managed to sniggle her way in with the right circles.
Jess had tried, God knows she had, to keep her out. She'd even tried to get her schedule switched around so she'd have the same lunch as Mina this semester, solely to keep Mina on the outside of the fishbowl. None of it made any sense to Sara, who considered Mina a friend. She'd once told Jess, all she wanted was for Jess and Mina to peacefully coexist in the same circles at DRB High.
Peacefully coexist, huh?
Jess thought, already nurturing the seed into an idea.
She stared through the thick glass, registering back to the present just as Brian James walked over to the table where Mina sat. He was cute with a capital C, his toffee complexion smooth, eyebrows thick, soft brown eyes accented by thick lashes and a head full of hair so black and curly it made Jess's fingers squirm at the thought of touchingit. He stood behind Mina's chair, his six-foot-three frame toweringeasily over the three-foot high wrought-iron bar chairs, and wrapped his arms around her waist.
Jess averted her eyes from Mina's insanely idiotic grin and focusedon Brian. He was telling a joke, she guessed, because all the cheerleaders at the table giggled and Sara gave him a high five. Just as quickly as he came, he whispered something in Mina's ear (more insaneteeth-grinding grinning) and sauntered over to a table where a few gaming geeks (award-winning gamers, of course) happily welcomedhim into their conversation.
Jess closed her eyes and tried to block out the image of that wide, “I'm such a lucky girl” grin on Mina's face. She tried to force the one word that kept coming up, to describe Mina, back into the far reaches of her mind.
It couldn't be.
Mina was not, could not be ... an Upper.
True, she was sitting in the cafÃ© and was dating one of the school's hottest guys. Jess didn't even want to think about Mina's sudden fame as the high-school's “Pop” reporter as people were callingher since she'd snagged the position as writer of her own column,“Pop Life,” which showcased the school's up-and-coming stars. Some people were even courting Mina, hoping to get a little ink in “Pop Life.”
It was definitely a ridiculous level of freshman beginner's luck. But it didn't make her an Upper, necessarily. Far as Jess was concerned,Mina was popular by association and Jess was being generous by admitting that much.
No, Mina wasn't officially an Upper yet. And if Jessica had anythingto do with it, Mina never would be ... not while they roamed the halls of DRB High together, anyway.
If Mina wanted popularity she'd have to go through Jess first.
Popularity cost, and Jess was going to make sure Mina paid dearly.