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  “I dare you to eat this!” Amelia said, holding up fresh frog legs marinated in balsamic vinaigrette.

  “We have to go,” Sara answered, grabbing her cousin by the arm. She didn’t talk all the way home, but that was because she was in shock. When her father opened the door with his usual big, goofy grin, she was petrified she would tell him. She was afraid that if she did, her parents would get a divorce and it would be her fault. Sara thinks Amelia actually likes the fact that she won’t talk to anyone else. Amelia sees it as the ultimate rebellion, which it isn’t.

  Megan is the last person to get to Ms. Connor’s class. She can still taste the cupcake left over in her molars. It makes her happy. She is unaware that Josie is staring at her, wondering what accounts for the warm pink glow on her face. She would never imagine doing what Josie is silently accusing her of. She has a much too healthy appreciation of her body. Her body is her temple and she treats it as such. Every night she fully exfoliates all the dead skin on her arms and legs with a pumice stone. Then she liberally applies watermelon-scented body lotion, paying careful attention to her hands. When she was ten, her favorite baby-sitter told her that a woman’s age as she gets older is revealed by her hands. Megan figures it’s never too soon to start protecting her skin, especially for an actress/ singer like herself.

  Greg Adler raises his hand to share his Yiddish expression, but changes his mind midway. He hates knowing that everyone in the class is aware of his religion. Not that he is ashamed of it, but he doesn’t like being set apart from the others. Sure, he knows a lot of Yiddish expressions. His grandparents still speak it sometimes. Mostly he knows the curses. There are a lot of curses. Sometimes he’ll recite a curse in Yiddish to his younger brother, but then he feels bad and tells him it was actually a compliment. The one that Josie just said about the fields of intestines is one of his grandmother’s favorites. If he told her a girl said it in class she’d be horrified.

  Katy Parker scans the crowd at the fire drill. She knows Josie and Megan are in Ms. Connors’s class now. Katy has world religions next period, and since she’s usually the first person there, she knows everyone who is in the previous period. Ms. Connors is easy to spot because she is one of the tallest female teachers in the school. Katy makes her way over and stands a few feet away until Josie comes to get her. Sometimes being found is easier than finding.

  “C’mon, Sara,” Amelia says, pulling her cousin into the empty courtyard of the cafeteria. “You owe me.”

  Sara shakes her head and firmly plants her feet. “What do I owe you for?”

  “I’m sure you owe me for something. Why won’t you do it?”

  “It’s not worth getting caught.”

  “It is to me. What if I promise I’ll leave the money for whatever we take?”

  Sara narrows her eyes.

  Amelia grabs Sara’s hand. “C’mon.”

  By a combination of pushing and dragging, Amelia gets Sara to accompany her into the cafeteria. From one of the tables, Amelia picks up a plastic garbage bag that had housed someone’s oversized lunch. She hands it to Sara. Once at the freezer, Amelia needs only ten seconds to expertly jiggle the lock open with her school ID card. She grabs the ice cream sandwiches with both hands and thrusts them at Sara before reaching in a second time. Just then they hear footsteps running through the cafeteria. Amelia hurriedly closes the freezer door and hears the lock click back into place. She motions for Sara to hide behind the counter but finally has to grab her and push her to the floor.

  Peeking over the rim, Amelia sees the four girls arrive at the freezer door. She feels the anger rise inside her. This is her gig, no one else’s. To Sara’s horror, Amelia pops up and says something to the girls about gluttony. Sara has no choice but to stand up too. Her hands are freezing from gripping the sandwiches. When Megan asks her for some ice cream, she really wants to answer her. She always liked Megan and her friends. She didn’t think Josie was that great in the fall musical, but she liked how she was fearless on the stage. But Sara doesn’t respond to Megan’s question. In fact, she won’t say more than five words at a time to anyone other than Amelia for another three weeks. Not until her father comes into her room, sits down on her bed, and begins to cry. After that, there’ll be no shutting her up.

  Zoey’s eyes well up with tears when she sees Sara so utterly unable to answer Megan’s question. A second ago this whole thing was hysterical, but now Zoey remembers the time in fourth grade when a group of girls surrounded her on the playground and taunted her because she wouldn’t answer their questions. What time is it, Zoey? What’s your middle name? What color is your underwear? Now she can feel the tears coming and is pretty sure her friends assume they are tears of laughter. Zoey has always felt nothing but loathing for that little pale child who couldn’t stand up for herself on the playground. But now, this very instant, that hate is replaced with a new forgiveness. Zoey has Sara to thank for that. She never will, though, because she’s just not the type. But at graduation, Zoey will clap extra loudly when Sara goes up to receive her diploma.

  Grant Brawner arrives back in school just in time to hear the bell ring to end sixth period. He grabs his books from his locker and makes his way to his U.S. government class. He can’t stop thinking about Bobby at the maternity ward. One minute he looked like he was about to pass out, the next he was totally in control and helping Sherri get comfortable. Grant stayed while Bobby called Sherri’s parents and the couple in Miami who were going to adopt the baby. Bobby told them Sherri had gone into labor early and they should get up here. It struck Grant as the most mature conversation he had ever heard a fellow teenager hold. He felt bad for not having been nicer to Bobby. If only Bobby weren’t such a dweeb. He vowed from now on he’d be nicer to people. He gets a whiff of BO as he hurries down the hall and realizes with disgust that it’s him. Bobby had him going so crazy that now he smells like a locker room.

  Grant is so wrapped up in his thoughts that he doesn’t notice he bumps into someone until his books go flying. Of all people, it’s that girl Josie who’s always following him. He’s so out of it he doesn’t even know if he apologized. Heck, he figures it probably made her day no matter what he said or didn’t say.

  During the five minutes before seventh period, the guidance office sees more traffic than it has all year. One by one the students file in, heads down, and drop off their group therapy forms. Rob Taylor isn’t afraid that someone will see him there because the form isn’t for himself, it’s for his sister, Josie. His wounded heart is too fresh for him to realize that it might help him to talk with others who have been through the same thing. And he fully intends to change Anne’s mind. But when his teacher handed out the brochures last period he was struck by how well Josie might benefit from one of the groups. He rereads the description one more time before laying his form in the basket on top of the others.


  Our level of self-esteem affects virtually everything we think, say, and do. It affects how we see the world and our place in it. It affects how others in the world see and treat us. It affects the choices we make — choices about what we will do with our lives and with whom we will be involved. It affects our ability to both give and receive love. And, it affects our ability to take action to change things that need to be changed. Accepting who we are helps us develop a healthy self-esteem and can make a huge impact on how we live our lives. A person with a healthy self-esteem is aware of her potential, knows the many facets that make her unique, and values and respects herself. More importantly, however, he or she knows that her imperfections or inadequacies are not inherently bad, and they do not become overwhelming to the point that they completely define her value as a person. He or she knows that no one’s perfect — it’s human to have limitations and make mistakes.

  Rob hopes he isn’t overstepping his bounds. But Josie always seems to know what’s best for him, so maybe it works both ways. And if she’s mad, he doesn’t have to tell her that he’s the one who signed her