Amber turned toward Jasmine. “Can I move in with you if Mom sells our house?”
Jasmine’s eyes bugged. With the black circle and fake eyelashes painted over one eye, the effect raised goose bumps on Amber’s skin. “Are you serious? Is your mom really planning to sell your house? You’ve lived there since we were in third grade. I can’t lose you to a new school and Goddess knows what else!”
Amber smiled ruefully, placing a palm on Jasmine’s forearm. “I know. I’m not sure. She hasn’t said anything to me about it, but she talked to a real estate agent the other day. And we really can’t afford to live there anymore.”
They had barely been able to keep up with the mortgage even when both of her parents had held jobs. But her father had wanted his daughter to have the best education possible, and Stephen E. King High School was rated tops in the state. It was also one of the few schools well-funded enough to maintain its fine arts program in spite of the never-ending stream of educational budget cuts happening elsewhere in the country. Amber had long known it was only a matter of time before they’d have to move.
“Well, we can share my attic,” Jasmine told her, more than a little hopeful. “Although, I am not sure how all of my flying monkeys will feel about having a roommate.”
“Funny, Jazz, but I’m serious. I can’t imagine leaving Stephen E. King for a school that doesn’t have an advanced performing arts program. I’d end up playing Emily in an endless production of Our Town along with every other high school in the known universe.”
“How about a revival of The Rocky Horror Picture Show? Now that would be cool,” Jasmine said, taking a small jump to the left with her hands on her hips in a short display of the Time Warp. Her eyes twinkled. “Oh! You could play Magenta. She doesn’t have to sing very often, so―”
Jasmine bit off her last words at the sight of Amber’s glare.
“First of all, I can sing just fine. I just don’t choose to sing Gregorian chants or pagan incantations. Anyway, if I did what you do, running around in my underwear, everyone would see I have small boobs.”
“I don’t think your boobs are small,” Zach said, glancing up from his phone. “But just to be safe, I’d be happy to check them out for you.” He cleared his throat.
“You’re not supposed to be listening,” Amber scolded. “This is girl talk.”
“Well, the offer still stands, my sweet one. You just say the word, and I’ll bite the bullet.” Zach winked at her and turned his attention back to his phone, his thumbs already poised over the screen.
Amber returned her attention back to her best friend. “I need to stay in school here, Jazz. At Stephen E. King High. I need to prepare myself for when I audition for the New York School for the Performing Arts this summer. I need to stay here where I can learn under someone like Ms. Pennywise.”
“Ms. Pennywise is creepy.”
“Well, you should be especially attracted to her then. She studied with Anna Paquin’s cousin, you know.”
Zach slipped his phone into his pocket as the school bus rounded the corner and pulled up to their stop. The door swung open, and they climbed aboard.
“Hi, Mr. Collins,” Jasmine said as the bus driver glanced into the mirror above him to spot the culprit throwing paper wads across the aisle.
“Good morning, Jasmine,” he replied.
“My name’s not Jasmine anymore, Mr. Collins. It’sAmaranthus. It means ‘love lies bleeding.’ Poetic, isn’t it?”
“I thought you told me your name was Khavak,” he said.
Amber pushed her friend forward before an argument ensued. “That was last month, Mr. Collins,” she whispered with a wink.
“I heard that,” Jasmine said as the bus driver laughed and closed the door behind them.
“Darla and Caleb are in the back of the bus,” Zach muttered. “Let’s sit up here.” He plopped his bag onto the green, vinyl-covered seat and slid in beside it.
The girls didn’t argue with him.
“I thought you and Caleb used to be, like, best buds,” Jasmine said as they settled in.
Mr. Collins shifted the bus into gear.
“I dunno. I guess not.” Zach shrugged. “I mean, we used to be before Darla took over Caleb’s life. She had no interest in him until he was promoted to striker on the soccer team. Now she’s out campaigning for votes for the two of them to be King and Queen of the Homecoming Dance.”
“You’d make a cute king, Zach,” Amber said with a smile as she squeezed his hand.
Jasmine clutched her belly. “Yech. Here comes my morning bagel and yogurt.” She leaned forward, her eyes wide as she affected a stomach- lurching illness.
The bus jerked forward, and Jasmine glanced up through the front window. She blinked and then rose abruptly to her feet.
“Geesh, you look like you’ve seen a ghost or something,” Amber said. “Would you quit playing around?”
Jasmine acted as if she hadn’t heard. Her mouth fell open, her unblinking eyes staring through the front windshield of the bus. When she finally spoke, her words were soft as cobwebs. She raised her bony finger and pointed out the bus’s front window and muttered, “Donnie Fenner.”