The small town of Riley’s Switch, New Mexico, had only one coffeehouse, so that’s where I sat with my two best friends, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that only two of us would make it out of there alive. Though I did tend to exaggerate.
The fresh scent of pine from the surrounding mountains, which mingled with the rich aroma of coffee, lingered forgotten. In its place was a tense silence. It thickened the air around us. Emotions soared and rage simmered as I glowered at the traitor sitting across from me, waiting for him to flinch, to cower under my scrutiny. I would make his life a living heck if it were the last thing I did. Mostly because I wasn’t allowed to use the word Hell, being the granddaughter of a pastor and all. Otherwise, Casey Niyol Blue-Spider, aka the Glitch, would be toast.
“I swear, Lorelei,” he said, caving at last as a telling bead of sweat trickled down his temple, “I didn’t take it.” He shifted nervously in his seat and scanned the Java Loft, most likely to see if anyone was paying attention to the unscrupulous activities going on right under their noses. Since we were the only patrons in the place, probably not. “And even if I did, and I’m not saying I did,” he added, jabbing an index finger toward me, “who the heck cares?”
I lowered my voice, controlled the tone and inflection of every word, every syllable, striving to make myself sound menacing. I took up a mere five feet of vertical air space, so menacing was not always easy for me to accomplish. Slipping into a cryptic grin, I said, “You realize the minute I touch your hand, I’ll know the truth.”
His gaze darted to the hand he’d wrapped around his whipped almond toffee cappuccino with nonfat milk, and he jerked it back out of my reach. His hand. Not the whipped almond toffee cappuccino with nonfat milk.
My best friend Brooklyn leaned in to me and whispered, “You know he accidentally deleted seventeen songs off your classic rock playlist, right? And he used your toothbrush once without asking.” She glared at him, the contempt in her eyes undeniable. “I say make the traitor squirm.”
Glitch’s jaw tightened, and I could sense his inevitable defeat like a dog senses fear.
“Tag-teaming?” he asked, indignant. “Isn’t that a little unsportsmanlike?”
“Not for a couple of heartless dames like us,” Brooklyn said.
I turned to her with a smile. “Oh, my god, I love it when you talk pulp-fiction detective.”
“I know, right?” she said, her dark skin and brown eyes a picture of joy.
Brooke and I met when we threw down in the third grade. By the end of my first and only catfight, I had a few missing hairs, a broken fingernail, and a new best friend. And we were practically twins. If not for the fact that she had long sable hair, chestnut skin, and light brown eyes, and I had curly auburn hair, pasty white skin, and eyes the bizarre color of chimney smoke, people would never be able to tell us apart. Probably because we were both exactly five feet tall. Not a centimeter more. Not a centimeter less. It was eerie.
In choreographed unison, we refocused on the slimeball sitting across from us.
“Spill,” she said.
“Okay, sheesh.” He pushed back his cappuccino and folded his arms over his chest, a defensive gesture that only added fuel to my suspicions. “I admit it. I had a copy of the test beforehand, but I didn’t steal it.”
“I knew you cheated.” I reached across the table and whacked him on the arm. Thankfully, Glitch wasn’t much bigger than either of us, so the punch quite possibly registered somewhere deep in the scary depths of his boy mind. Or that was my hope, anyway. “You blew the curve, Glitch.”
Guilt washed over him. I could tell by the thin line of his lips, the chin tucked in shame.
“You’re such a wiener,” Brooklyn said. “I really needed those extra points.”
“And where on planet Earth did you get a copy of the test?” I had to admit, I was more than a little astonished. And a tad jealous.
He shook his head. “No way. I’m not giving up my source. And besides, you both got B’s. It’s not like you failed the stupid thing.”
Brooklyn reached over, curled a fist into his T-shirt, and pulled him forward until their noses were mere inches apart. “Clearly you do not understand the innate intricacies and often illogical drives of an A freak.” She let go, disgusted. “I hate your guts.”
“No, you don’t.” He took a swig of his cappuccino, unconcerned.
Like Brooklyn, Glitch was a bona fide child of two nations, with dark, coppery skin from his Native American father and hazel green eyes, compliments of his Irish-American mother. And thanks to a compromise between the two, he had the coolest name on earth: Casey Niyol Blue-Spider. The mix of ethnicities gave him a rich, enigmatic attraction. Though he hardly needed to, he kept his short black hair spiked with blond highlights in an attempt to make himself seem wild and unpredictable, which was always good for a laugh. Glitch was about as wild and unpredictable as a carrot stick. Though he did have an unnatural fear of turtles that was interesting.
“You’re just intimidated by my manly physique.”
Brooke snorted. “This coming from a boy who’s barely tall enough to get on the roller coaster at the state fair without a permission slip from his parents.”
His grin took on an evil luster. “Least I get on, short pants.”
“Oh yeah? Well, at least I wasn’t voted most likely to acquire gainful employment as Santa’s elf.”