Epic Fail

By: Claire Lazebnik

Chapter One

The front office wasn’t as crazy as you’d expect on the first day of school, which seemed to confirm Coral Tree Prep’s reputation as “a well-oiled machine.”

That was a direct quote from the Private School Confidential website I had stumbled across when I first Googled Coral Tree—right after my parents told me and my three sisters we’d be transferring there in the fall. Since it was on the other side of the country from where we’d been living—from where I’d lived my entire life—I couldn’t exactly check it myself, and I was desperate for more information.

A well-oiled machine didn’t sound too bad. But I was less thrilled to read that Coral Tree was “basically a country club masquerading as a school.” The same anonymous writer added, “I’ve yet to see a student drive a car onto campus that’s not a Porsche or a BMW. And even an AP math student would lose count of the Louboutins on the girls here.” Yuck.

But while I was clicking around that site, I learned about another private school in L.A. that had a “condom tree”—kids allegedly tossed their used condoms up into its branches—so I guess my parents could have done worse than, you know, Coral Tree.

True to the school’s reputation, the administrator in the office was brisk and efficient and had quickly printed up and handed me and Juliana each a class list and a map of the school.

“You okay?” I asked Juliana, as she stared at the map like it was written in some foreign language. She started and looked up at me, slightly panicked. Juliana’s a year older than me, but she sometimes seems younger—mostly because she’s the opposite of cynical and I’m the opposite of the opposite of cynical.

Because we’re so close in age, people frequently ask if the two of us are twins. It’s lucky for me we’re not, because if we were, Juliana would be The Pretty One. She and I do look a lot alike, but there are infinitesimal differences—her eyes are just a touch wider apart, her hair a bit silkier, her lips fuller—and all these little changes add up to her being truly beautiful and my being reasonably cute. On a good day. When the light hits me right.

I put my head closer to hers and lowered my voice. “Did you see the girls in the hallway? How much makeup they’re all wearing? And their hair is perfect, like they spent hours on it. How is that possible?” Mine was in a ponytail. It wasn’t even all that clean because our fourteen-year-old sister, Layla, had hogged the bathroom that morning and I’d barely had time to brush my teeth, let alone take a shower.

“It’ll all be fine,” Juliana said faintly.

“Yeah,” I said, with no more conviction. “Anyway, I’d better run. My first class is on the other side of the building.” I squinted at the map. “I think.”

She squeezed my arm. “Good luck.”

“Find me at lunch, okay? I’ll be the one sitting by myself.”

“You’ll make friends, Elise,” she said. “I know you will.”

“Just find me.” I took a deep breath and plunged out of the office and into the hallway—and instantly hit someone with the door. “Sorry!” I said, cringing.

The girl I’d hit turned, rubbing her hip. She wore an incredibly short miniskirt, tight black boots that came up almost to her knees, and a spaghetti-strap tank top. It was an outfit more suited for a nightclub than a day of classes, but I had to admit she had the right body for it. Her blond hair was beautifully cut, highlighted, and styled, and the makeup she wore really played up her pretty blue eyes and perfect little nose. Which was scrunched up now in disdain as she surveyed me and bleated out a loud and annoyed “FAIL!”

The girl standing with her said, “Oh my God, are you okay?” in pretty much the tone you’d use if someone you cared about had just been hit by a speeding pickup truck right in front of you.

It hadn’t been that hard a bump, but I held my hands up apologetically. “Epic fail. I know. Sorry.”

The girl I’d hit raised an eyebrow. “At least you’re honest.”

“At least,” I agreed. “Hey, do you happen to know where room twenty-three is? I have English there in, like, two minutes and I don’t know my way around. I’m new here.”

The other girl said, “I’m in that class, too.” Her hair was brown instead of blond and her eyes hazel instead of blue, but the two girls’ long, choppy manes and skinny bodies had been cast from the same basic mold. She was wearing a long, silky turquoise tank top over snug boot-cut jeans and a bunch of multicolored bangles on her slender wrist. “You can follow me. See you later, Chels.”

“Yeah—wait, hold on a sec.” Chels—or whatever her name was—pulled her friend toward her and whispered something in her ear. Her friend’s eyes darted toward me briefly, but long enough to make me glance down at my old straight-leg jeans and my this is what a feminist looks like T-shirt and feel like I shouldn’t have worn either.

The two girls giggled and broke apart.

“I know, right?” the friend said. “See you,” she said to Chels and immediately headed down the hallway, calling brusquely over her shoulder, “Hurry up. It’s on the other side of the building and you don’t want to be late for Ms. Phillips’s class.”