“I’m going to destroy her.”
Sooz stared at me as I told her my plan. I waited. I was nervous. Had I gone too far?
Finally, she said, “It’s about damn time.”
And then she said, “That bitch. I swear to God…Finally. Finally, Katya.”
I waited for her to get it all out.
“I hate her. Do you understand me? I hate her. And I’ve been sitting here while you talk about how great she is and how wonderful she is and it’s been killing me. Because she’s not great and she’s not wonderful.”
She took a deep breath.
“Do you remember that one story I told you about her?”
“Which one?” There were millions. Sooz was the editor of The Compleat Crimes of Andi Donnelly.
“About the girl. In the bathroom.”
“Yeah. What about…oh.” It hit me. “Oh, God. Sooz. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because you were so in love with her, that’s why! Because all you could talk about was how great she was and I didn’t want to…I don’t know. I don’t know.”
I hugged her. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, Sooz.”
“Never mind. It’s all over.” She shuddered. “Let’s kick her perfectly rounded ass.”
So, Sooz was on board. Good. I needed her Photoshop expertise.
I would have to spend a little bit of the money I was saving. But if I was willing to do that before, for makeup, shouldn’t I be willing to do it now, for revenge?
Maybe it was insane to take on Andi. She was bigger than me. She was more popular, more important.
But here’s something every good paleontologist knows: Even the biggest die. Even the meanest get killed off by something that they can’t see coming. Like a meteor. Or an insect.
What it comes down to is this: In this world, you’re either predator or you’re prey.
There are many ways that dinosaurs caught and killed their prey. Everyone thinks that T. rex or allosaur or whatever just ran out into the open air and chased the little guys and ate them up. But the truth is that most of the meat-eaters were ambushers. They lay in wait very carefully and then grappled their prey. Chasing after prey was useless—it consumed too much energy and left too great a chance that the predator would injure itself. Besides, a high-speed pursuit of a smaller, more agile creature isn’t to your advantage when you can only move in a straight line.
So the big boys learned how to be patient. And stealthy. And to attack when least expected.
Like a paleontologist.
Because you have to be patient to study dinosaurs. There are massive advantages to patience. On a dig, you can’t just go ahead and rip up everything in your path in your quest for fossils. You’d just end up destroying what it is you’re looking for. Fossils are fragile. They’ve been around for hundreds of millions of years and they won’t react kindly to someone tearing them out of the ground.
So you take your time. You dig out the earth in teaspoons. You don’t gouge the ground—you brush it away gently. You don’t pound the rocks to release the knowledge within—you chip at them. Fragment by fragment. It’s the patient work of centimeters.
It takes forever.
And once you’ve got the ground chipped and swept and brushed away, you have yet another long wait ahead of you. Maybe you want nothing more than to pull it up and marvel at it, but you can’t. There are procedures.
Because once you isolate the fossil in the ground, you have to sketch it for the record and for cataloging. You sketch and take notes and then finally pull it up, but you can’t enjoy it. No. Because you have to wrap it in plaster of paris, for protection. And pack it in a special crate. And send it off to a museum, where it will sit in a basement vault somewhere. It’ll sit there for years until someone has the time (and the grant money) to pull it out and break open the plaster of Paris (again, carefully—patiently) and sit down to clean it and examine it and draw more sketches and officially decide what it is and where it belongs and everything else.
That’s what I had waiting for me in my future. So I was ready. I was ready to be as patient as I had to be.
Someday, I’ll be the world’s greatest paleontologist. Because I am patient like nobody’s business.
After three months, I began to lose faith in the “ambush theory” of predation. There’s no way a meat-eater could or would wait so long for its prey.
I didn’t have a choice, though. I had to wait for soccer season.
I had to wait for Andi to be in practice pretty much every day of the week.
So I waited. And waited.
On one of my gym days, I “accidentally” left my math book in the locker room after changing. I begged Mom to take me back to school for it.
We got there just as practice was ending. A stream of girls headed into the locker room.
Coach Kimball gave me an annoyed look, but Mom said, “She really needs this book. It’ll just take a second.”
Coach made me give her my cell phone first—cell phones aren’t allowed in the locker room because of the cameras.
But no one noticed my new little credit card–size camera. That’s because I hid it in an empty blush compact, with a hole drilled through for the lens. So I could hold it up and look like I was just looking in the mirror, but I was actually snapping pictures.
When I’m stressed—like I was in the locker room that day, surrounded by Andi’s friends, all of whom just ignored me, thank God—I try to remind myself that over ninety-nine percent of all the species that have ever lived on earth are already extinct. So it’s not like I matter. Or any of us. But on that day, I didn’t care that my existence was just a blink of the universe’s eye. I wanted Jamie Terravozza. And if I couldn’t have him, well, at least I could make sure that she couldn’t, either.
Sooz giggled uncontrollably when she saw the pictures.
“This is serious,” I told her. “Stop it.”
“Sorry.” But she kept giggling. “I’m just thinking of how it’s gonna look when I’m done.”
I had taken as many as I could, as quickly as I could. They were mostly pretty bad—you try taking a bunch of pictures through a tiny hole in a compact case while surrounded by girls who could notice you at any minute.
But there were two or three that weren’t totally awful. Sooz took the best one and massaged it in Photoshop until it looked pretty good and then she did some more work. I watched her, impatient.
“That’s it,” I said. “It’s done.”
“Not yet,” she said, focused on the screen.
An hour went by. “Come on, Sooz. It’s perfect.” I was practically dancing from foot to foot.
“It’s nowhere near perfect. Shut up, Katya.”
I spun around her room. I paced. I practiced my brachiosaur walk.
“Come on, Sooz!”
She grumbled a little and clicked the mouse a few last times. “Fine. Fine. Here.”
I looked at the screen over her shoulder. “It’s perfect. It’s beyond perfect.”
Sooz grinned. “How many should we print out?”
We waited. To have it all come out the next day would be too suspicious. Someone would remember me in the locker room.
So I waited. Again. Still lying in ambush. I’ve already pegged the prey—it just doesn’t know it yet.
After two weeks, I pounced.
Brookdale awakened to a new poster on its telephone poles and newspaper boxes and bulletin boards. A new flier tossed in piles by the post office and the grocery stores and scattered all over the entrance to the high school.
It had taken us all night to walk around and do it. All night. Worth every last second of it.
I didn’t even get five minutes of sleep, but I couldn’t possibly miss school that day. Not and miss what everyone was talking about.
The image Sooz had mocked up.
Andi, half-naked from the shower in the locker room, drying her hip and leg, her torso completely revealed. Wet and gorgeous and totally unaware.
Sooz gave it atmosphere and mood. She Photoshopped out the locker room and Photoshopped in a sleazy hotel room we’d found online. And at the top:
DO YOU LIKE SEX? SHE DOES!!!!!
Under the picture: CALL ANDI! with her phone number and her address. And then:
TRUST ME—SHE LOVES IT!!! I KNOW FROM EXPERIENCE—COUNTLESS TIMES!!!!!
The first time I saw Andi that day, she was in tears. She was alone. She was rushing to the bathroom.
She probably tried to lie. She probably tried to say it wasn’t her. But she knew it was. You can’t hide that kind of knowledge from your expression, from your eyes. People can tell when you’re lying.
Everyone in Brookdale knows what Andi’s boobs look like now.
It was the talk of the school. I heard all sorts of rumors: She was a secret prostitute. (She and her best friend had had a threesome with a college guy from Pennsylvania.) She was an exhibitionist—she couldn’t help it. It was an ex trying to get back at her. She was a nympho and couldn’t help cheating on Jamie. It wasn’t really her. (Then why did it look like her? Why was her phone number on it?)
At lunch, I sat with my usual view of Andi’s table. By then, the real story had spread throughout school: They were over. Period. For good. Zik Lorenz and Michelle Jurgens had heard the whole fight near the stairwell between third and fourth period.
What the hell is going on? Jamie yelled. Everyone’s saying you’re a slut.
It’s not me! she protested.
It is you! It is! Jamie said.
Which clinched it. For everyone. After all, Jamie would definitely know what she looked like naked.
If it’s not real, Jamie demanded, how did they get a naked picture of you?
What could she say to that? With the locker room Photoshopped out, how could she know where that picture had come from?
According to the grapevine, Andi had just broken down into tears again at that. I wished, oh, I wished I had been there to see it!