Better Off Dead

By: Stella Blaze


Chapter 1

SOMETHING glinted out in the cool September night and caught Lucy Hart’s eye. She peered out the large picture window over the kitchen sink and scanned the area between the swimming pool and the cabana house. Just trees and perfectly manicured privacy hedges, and a cluster of swaying hibiscus.

Speaking of perfectly manicured, she spotted a chip in her own manicure—she would need to duck out on second period study hall to get it repaired. She’d go before school but her nail salon didn’t open its doors until nine.

She gazed out the window again to the thicket surrounding the back yard. She had always been able to see extremely well in the dark. Just some freak genetic quirk—handy in haunted houses on Halloween, or when rolling blackouts intruded on California life.

“Weird…” she said as she turned her attention to her near empty can of diet Coke.

“Talk about weird!” Tara exclaimed dramatically. She had scarlet and gold paint not only speckled on her nails, in her golden blond hair, but smeared on her white Sketchers and a smudge on her cheek. “Did you see Kara Strom today at lunch? She was totally trying to move her skanky butt in on Drew!”

She rolled her eyes as she gulped the last of her diet Coke, tossed it in the trash can and retrieved another cold can from the refrigerator. “Sorry, didn’t see your name monogrammed on the boy.”

Tara made that little noise, like she was choking on a peanut, and she knew she’d pressed the right button to get her off the subject. She certainly wasn’t going to spend twenty minutes listening to Tara vent about a boy she had only gone to one minor dance with. It wasn’t even a formal. And since Tara was her number two on the cheer squad, she had pressing business to discuss before she went upstairs to the more entertaining possibility waiting in her bedroom.

“Everything cleaned up?” She pulled her long mahogany tresses back in a casual ponytail and tied it back with a silver hair-band.

Tara shook the unhappy look off her face and replaced it with a sycophantic smile. “Yep. I got all the paint off your mom’s floor, the other girls took the banners to the gymnasium for tomorrow, and I took everything else out to the trash.”

The entire cheer squad had been there creating lavish, cloyingly spirited banners for the pep rally at the end of school tomorrow. She had supervised while the other girls had done all the painting and cutting and hot-glue gunning. Tara had supervised, and obviously participated in, the cleanup while she changed into her nightshirt.

“Did you tell Mellissa she’s on probation?” Lucy asked. “She has to cut ten pounds. Her skirt is starting to ride up and everything.”

She watched the naughty smile spread across Tara’s lips. “She was in tears. Maybe we should tell her fifteen pounds, see if we can’t make her into an Olsen twin.” She giggled wickedly.

She ran her finger over the outside of her diet Coke can, picking up the condensation on her fingertip. “She’s not the only one who needs to trim a few pounds. I’ve still got knee marks on my back from this afternoon’s practice…Tara!”

“Me?” She made that little choking sound again, and she sniffled. The color drained from her face. “But I’m the smallest girl on the team.”

Which she was, thus she was always the apex of their cheerleader pyramids. And since by size Lucy was on the very next level, she knew without a doubt that somewhere on that birdlike frame Tara had packed on some pounds.

“I expect you to lose it by next week’s game.” Lucy gently ushered Tara from the kitchen and pushed her down the hall to the foyer, and the front door. “So that means a dry bran muffin for breakfast, a tuna salad sandwich on wheat for lunch, and a salad with light dressing on the side for dinner. Got it?”

Tara’s intake of breath rattled. “I will… I promise.”

Lucy smiled. It was just too easy to manipulate people.

“Okay, good. Then I’ll see you in first period and we can go over exactly how much you need to lose. Night-night!” She shut the door in Tara’s face, turned on her heel and returned to the kitchen. She let her mind wander upstairs to where her boyfriend waited in her bedroom.

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