Rival CoverRIVAL — EXCERPT
BROOKE
"So I'm just going to tell you this, because I can't believe you don't already know it: John Moorehouse is taking Kathryn Pease to Homecoming."

Chloe peeks at me around the practice room door. From my spot at the piano, she looks like a very concerned decapitated head. It's so weird seeing her in the music wing when she doesn't absolutely have to be here that I almost wonder if I'm hallucinating.

I must be, because what she just said made absolutely no sense. Kathryn … and John?

"What?" I say. "When?"

"Since like a week ago. While you were off being a loner, everybody's been talking about it."

Slowly the news starts to sink in. As it does, I get a horrible feeling of déjà vu. It's starting again-all that crap from last year. Like somebody pulled the cork out of the bottle of blackness and let it come gushing back.

I could take care of Kathryn if I wanted to, just like I did then. After that Homecoming punch, people got the message: if they wanted to be friends with me then they couldn't be friends with her. And that was all it took. They egged her locker. They ran her off Facebook. They made her into a complete and total leper, and if anybody asked why, I just told them Kathryn had done something bad. I let their imaginations do the rest.

As time went on I convinced myself that she deserved everything she got. I told myself I liked being Queen B and all the power that goes along with it. But now, as the anger and the hurt and the blackness run through my body I can feel how terrible it is. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy punishing her sometimes, in a twisted, awful way. But more than anything else, the past year has just been painful.

I realize now that I'm tired. Tired of hating Kathryn. Tired of caring so damned much. I look up at Chloe and say, "Fine."

"What?" she snaps. "Did you say fine?"

"Yeah." And I mean it even more now. I can still feel the ache of the crush I have on John-the crush I will probably always have. But I also have to be honest. If I had a choice between hanging out with him and working on my music right now, would I do anything different?

No. The truth is no.

"You're not serious," says Chloe. "This is Kathryn we're talking about. Have you forgotten what she did?"

I can't answer right away. Of course I haven't forgotten what Kathryn did. But was it worth a whole year of watching and worrying and wanting to hurt her every single time she walked into the same room as me?

"Oh my God," says Chloe. "Don't tell me you're starting to be friends with her again. Is that what you're trying to tell me?"

I look down at my lap. "I don't know…"

"You can't do this," she says. "Not again."

There are tears in her eyes. Real tears. I've never seen Chloe cry before. "What's that supposed to mean?" I ask.

"It means…" She takes a couple of hitching breaths, like she's trying to figure out how to say something important. But then she pulls herself up and her eyes go all hard. "It means Homecoming will be ruined. The king will be dancing with a complete and total nobody!"

"Chloe," I say. "I am going to tell you this to your face so you can't ever come back and say you didn't understand me. Okay?"

She waits while I search for the right words. I love her, but it's time she heard the truth.

"I don't care about Homecoming," I say. "I could not possibly care less about it. I'm sorry, but that's how I feel."

She sticks her lip out. I can see the little Trump inside of her holding on with a death grip.

"I don't believe you," she says.

Of course she doesn't. There's only one person who would-just one person who could ever come close to understanding what I've been going through these past few months. Trouble is, the one person who would understand is the one person I can't talk to.

Or can I?