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Drop Dead Gorgeous: Part 1 – Chapter 11

Amber Narrates

“So you’ll never guess Liam’s new project,” I said.

Julie turned to me. “New project? Since when does Liam have a project? His only projects are playing Ultimate Frisbee with Winks and seeing how many girls he can impress.”

I mopped sweat off my forehead with the sleeve of my T-shirt and slowed my pace on the stationery bike. We were in Julie’s basement, where her parents have their own gym setup. Julie was beside me on the treadmill, walking pretty slow because she wasn’t in the mood.

Which was weird for Julie, because she’s always in the mood to do everything. Julie is the most energetic, gung ho person I know. And I wasn’t used to seeing her be so low energy.

But I had a pretty good idea why she was down. She’d told me she saw Zane hanging out with Morgan Marks in Franklin Park behind the high school, and I guess they looked pretty friendly.

If Zane and Morgan become a thing, it serves Julie right. Of course, I would never say that to her. But she is totally bold in everything else. Why can’t she just walk up to Zane and say, “Hey, I have a thing for you.”

Why is she so paralyzed when it comes to him?

It’s easy for me to ask questions like that, I guess. But you think you know someone really well. I mean, Julie and I have been best friends since forever. But there are still mysteries about her I just can’t crack.

“Liam is building a drone,” I said.

Julie laughed and almost stumbled off the treadmill.

I pushed my glasses up on my nose. “No. Really,” I said. “You know his uncle who is an engineer at Boeing? He sent Liam a kit. And Liam is building a drone in his garage.”

“What for?” Julie said. “Does it have a camera? Does he want to spy on the girls’ field hockey team?”

We both laughed. That seemed like the only logical reason Liam would build a drone.

I stopped pedaling. My thigh muscles were throbbing. I mopped my forehead again and climbed off the bike. My hair was sweaty, and it gets totally curled up when it’s wet. “Hot in your basement,” I said. “I feel virtuous enough.”

“Yeah. Let’s go upstairs and get something to drink.”

A few minutes later, we were sprawled in her den, sitting cross-legged across from one another on the dark shag rug, sipping from cans of Diet Coke, with a bowl of nacho chips between us, a reward for our strenuous workout.

I decided to tell Julie my idea about Morgan. “I want to interview her for the Panther Roar Blog,” I said. I’m one of the main writers for the school blog.

Julie swallowed some chips and squinted at me. “Interview Morgan? Why? For beauty tips? Think she can tell everyone how to look as gorgeous as she does?”

I laughed. “I don’t think so.” I paused. “Although come to think of it, some tips from her might be interesting.” I sighed. “You know, my mom says I can’t do anything about my nose until I’m eighteen. How unfair is that? Why do I have to walk around with this bird beak till I’m eighteen? It . . . it’s ruining my life, and she doesn’t care.”

Julie set down her Diet Coke can and took my hand. “Amber, I’ve told you a hundred times, your nose isn’t ugly. It’s actually quite beautiful. Seriously.”

I jerked my hand away. “Shut up. You’re a liar, Julie. You’ve always been a liar.”

“And you’re crazy to be so obsessed with your nose.”

“You’d be obsessed, too, if your nose entered the room five seconds before you did!”

We both laughed, and it cut the tension. Julie and I are so close, we have honest moments like that all the time. And no hurt feelings. Although I knew she was lying about my nose.

“Hey, we were talking about Morgan,” I said. “Writing her up for the blog. She’s new in school, right? And I just thought . . . well . . . the rest of us have lived here forever. Maybe it would be interesting to get her impressions on how it feels to be a new girl at Linden.”

Julie rolled her eyes. “A new girl who looks like a movie star and has three guys panting after her like starving dogs.”

I took a handful of chips. “You think it’s a bad idea?”

Julie pushed a strand of blond hair off her face. “No. I didn’t say that. Morgan might not want to do it, you know. She seems kind of private.”

“Well, it doesn’t hurt to try—”

“We don’t know a thing about her,” Julie said. “Mom doesn’t even have her old school records at her office. It’s like she popped in here from another planet.”

“Well, you know I like sci-fi,” I said. “I’m going to give it a try.”

When I caught up with Morgan in the hall after school the next day, she said no.

“Why should anyone care about me?” she said.

“You’re the only new student in our class this semester,” I told her. “People have noticed you, right? So they’ll want to read what you have to say.”

“But I don’t have anything to say.” Her voice became shrill, kind of whiny.

“Why don’t we just try it?” I said. “It’ll only take a few minutes. I promise.” Then I added, “I’d like to get to know you better. You don’t really know anyone here, do you?”

Her expression softened. Her eyes studied me as if seeing me for the first time. “Okay,” she said. “For only a few minutes?”

“Awesome!” I felt as if I’d won a big victory.

“When do you want to do it?” Morgan asked. “Now?”

That’s how we ended up in the art room on the second floor. Empty. Smelling of paint and turpentine. Sitting across from each other at the end of a long worktable.

Morgan slipped off her silky green jacket and hung it on the seatback next to her. I pulled out my phone and set it to record our conversation.

She fumbled in her bag, pulled out a silver lipstick case, and applied a bright purple color to her lips. “Can’t do an interview without lipstick, right?”

“That reminds me,” I said, positioning the phone between us on the table, “I’ll need to snap a photo when we’re done talking.”

She shook her hair off her shoulders. “No problem.”

“Before we start, I just wanted to ask you . . . Have you ever done any modeling? You’re so beautiful, I’d think—”

Her eyes went wide. “Do you really think I’m beautiful?”

Her reaction stunned me. I just sat there staring at her. “Well . . . yes,” I said finally.

“I’ve never done any modeling or anything,” she said, turning her gaze to the tall windows across from us. “Never really thought about it.”

I studied her face. Was she lying? She had to know she was gorgeous. Even if she didn’t see it in the mirror, she’d know it from the ridiculous reactions of the guys around her.

Was she putting me on?

I took a breath. “Sorry. That question wasn’t part of the interview.” I turned the phone toward her. “So what are your first impressions of Linden High North?”

She smiled. “That it’s big.”

“Bigger than your old school?”

She nodded. “It seems like a whole city to me. And I feel like I’m walking down streets I’ve never seen before, and I don’t have a map, and I don’t know where I’m going.”

“So you’ve found it kind of overwhelming?” I asked.

She nodded again. “Kind of. But everyone has been really helpful to me.”

I shifted my weight on the bench. “That was my next question, Morgan. What do you think of the students here?”

She tilted her head to one side, as if thinking about her answer. “Well, you know, I came to town just a few weeks ago, but everyone seems very friendly, and I think there’s a very relaxed vibe here. Like we’re all in it together. That kind of thing.”

What a phony.

A relaxed vibe? At Linden? Kids here eat each other for lunch!

Of course, I resented Morgan for being so beautiful. But I was really trying to like her. I was serious about wanting to be her friend.

But she wasn’t even trying to make me believe what she was saying. She had this grin on her face, and she kept looking to the window, avoiding my gaze.

“Has anyone been especially helpful to you?” I asked.

“A lot of people. They’ve been terrific when I’m lost and wandering the halls. Or in class when I’m not up with the assignments because I just got here.”

She sighed and ran a hand back through her long hair. “Changing schools is a bummer, especially senior year. It’s tough. I miss my old friends. Sometimes I feel . . . lonely. But everyone here has been great.”

“Why did you have to change schools senior year?” I asked, desperate to get her to say something interesting.

“Oh, different things,” she said, still playing with her hair. “A lot of reasons.”

“What was your old school, Morgan? Where were you living?”

“Up north.”

“No. Come on. What was the name of your old high school?”

She flashed that grin again. “You wouldn’t recognize it.”

She was playing me. And there was no way I could win if she wasn’t going to cooperate and give me good answers.

Shadows shifted outside the window. It was getting late. The afternoon sun was dropping behind the trees.

Out in the hall, I heard the shuffle of feet and a cough. I looked to the door, but I couldn’t see anyone out there.

I took a deep breath and tried again. “Morgan, now that you are here at Linden, what are you looking forward to?”

“Graduation.” She laughed.

“Well . . .” I tried to keep my frustration from my voice. “Is there anything you’re particularly interested in? I mean, something you like to study? Something you are passionate about, as our teachers like to say?”

“Oh, just this and that,” she replied. “You know. The usual.”

That was all I could take. I jumped to my feet, making the bench scrape loudly against the floor. “Hey, thanks,” I said. “Thanks for talking to me. I think I have everything I need.”

She lowered her eyes and shook her head. “I told you I wouldn’t be good at it.”

“It was okay,” I lied. I clicked off my phone and slid it into my bag.

She stood up and pulled her sweater down over her short skirt. “Do you want to take a photo?”

“Sure,” I said. I pointed to the wall, which was covered with framed artwork by students. “Stand over there.”

She put a radiant smile on her face and opened her eyes wide, and I snapped a few shots. I didn’t bother to look at them. I knew I’d probably never use them. The interview was too “nothing” to write up.

“Thanks again,” I called as Morgan hurried to the door, dragging her jacket in one hand.

I heard someone greet her in the hall. A familiar voice. I peeked out and saw Liam with an arm around her shoulders, leading her to the stairs.

Liam had waited for her. Morgan and Liam.

And Julie had seen Morgan with Zane. And Morgan had also been hanging with Winks. Everyone but Delia knew that.

Gee. Are three guys enough for her?

Of course, it was my jealousy that made me think that.

I made my way downstairs and was heading to the front doors when I heard someone humming in the principal’s office. I stepped inside and saw Julie sorting a big stack of papers at the front desk.

“Amber, hey!” She looked up, surprised to see me at school so late.

I dropped my backpack onto the floor. “I just did my blog interview with Morgan.”

“How’d it go? You don’t look happy.”

“It didn’t go,” I said. “It sank. She was unbelievable, Julie. She wouldn’t give me a straight answer on a single question. It was like a game she was playing. Agree to the interview and then reveal nothing about yourself.”

“I warned you—” Julie started.

“She wouldn’t even tell me what school she used to go to!” I cried.

“Funny you should mention that.” Julie picked up a large brown envelope. “These are Morgan’s records from her old school. They just came in. I haven’t even opened them.”

I grabbed for them, but Julie swiped them out of my reach. “Come on. Open them. Let’s take a look,” I said.

Julie scrunched up her face, the way she does when she’s thinking hard. “We can’t look at them,” she said. “It’s against the rules. You know, privacy rules.” She glanced toward her mother’s office. The light was out. Mrs. Hart wasn’t there.

“Julie, open the envelope,” I insisted. “There’s no one here. No one will know if we take a quick peek. Aren’t you curious?”

She hesitated, then tore off the top of the envelope. I saw a red file. And a white envelope.

Julie pulled out the envelope. It was addressed to her mother. She opened it carefully and pulled out a folded sheet of stationery.

“What does it say?” I demanded. “Come on. Read it.”

She unfolded the paper and raised it to her face. “It’s a letter,” she said. “From the principal at Shadyside High School.”

“Shadyside? Where is that?”

Julie didn’t answer. Her eyes were scanning the letter. I watched as her mouth dropped open and she murmured, “Oh. Oh wow.”

She dropped the letter onto the counter and raised her eyes to me. “Amber, I . . . really don’t believe this.” She raised the letter again. “The principal at this school . . . He says that Morgan Marks died five years ago.”


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