BAD WICKED TWISTED: A Briarcrest Academy Box Set (4 page)

And I couldn’t resist glancing back at Nora, and I think . . . I think she’d
stopped looking at me.

Chills raced up my spine.

Sebastian said, “It’s over. Let’s go, dude.”

I nodded, but I didn’t move. It felt wrong to leave her here.

“Yeah,” I said, finally tearing myself away from Nora’s eyes and starting the car. Yet, before I pulled away, something completely insane possessed me, and I kissed my first two fingers and sent the kiss to the lonely girl in the back of a Mercedes.





“My secret hobbies include people watching, composing lists, and knife throwing.”

Nora Blakely



AUNT PORTIA’S HEAD popped up from behind the pastry case she was cleaning up front. “Nora, sweetie, you want a strawberry cupcake? Or a cinnamon roll? I got plenty left over,” she sang out, trying to tempt me as I sat at a booth inside her bakery, Portia’s Pastries.

“You trying to fatten me up?” I smiled, eyeing the distance between us, not wanting her to see what I’d written in my journal. She would be angry with me if she read my list.

She laughed, brushing her wispy gray hair out of her face. “Just wanna make you happy, that’s all,” she said.

I blinked at her words.
I believed few people ever achieved it.

But my Aunt Portia has, and if you watch her, like I love to do, you would see it. Right there on her content face when she smiles or hums a song as she works. She even has this peppy little walk, like she’s doing her own version of the jitterbug as she crosses the floor.

I asked her once when I was around fourteen why she was always happy. I mean, she’d never married and, for as long as I’d known her, she’d just been my dad’s sister, the chubby lady who ran the pastry shop where I loved to visit. She replied that happiness is simply collecting and remembering all the good moments in your life, kinda like beads on a necklace.

The analogy struck me. That day, I worked on picturing my own moments, trying to imagine them as these pretty glass beads I’d string onto a gold chain. Yet, here’s the thing. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make those beads turn out right in my head. Because my beads were vile pieces of plastic shit that no one would want to wear around their neck.

Because I had no happy moments.

I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window and cringed at the young girl looking back at me, hating the deceit and secrets I saw on her face. Who was Nora Blakely?

Teachers and tests told me I was smart. My piano instructor said I had talent. Judges said I was pretty. I must be likeable since the students at BA had elected me their class president. And then there was the packaging, carefully designed by Mother so I’d fit in with all the other Parkie girls. She didn’t want people to know what a disappointment I was, so she controlled it by making all my decisions for me. She insisted on my hair being styled by Jerry Lamonte, owner of the top salon in Dallas; she demanded I wear two-hundred-dollar knit shirts from Neiman Marcus; she even chose my accessories and makeup. She dressed me up and paraded me around like a doll.

But no matter what she did, I was still ugly on the inside.

“Nora? Did you hear me?” Aunt Portia said, untying her flour-covered apron and tossing it on the counter. She turned down the soft rock radio station she’d been listening to. “I’ve been talking to you for five minutes, and you haven’t heard a word I said.”

“Sorry. What did you say?”

“That Mila called. She’ll be here in twenty minutes,” she said, laying her cleaning cloth next to the register and glancing around the empty shop.

Mila was coming. I hadn’t seen my best friend since the night of the incident at BA.

“Okay. I’m going to the back to clean up the dishes,” Aunt Portia sighed.

“Already did them while you were out here,” I said, feeling pleased at her relieved face. I guess, at fifty-three, running her own business was tough, especially when you kept bakery hours, opening at 6:00 a.m. and closing at 6:00 p.m. “And I took the trash out to the dumpster and laid out the pans for tomorrow’s muffins. You’re good to go home if you want. I’ll lock up and come by later.”

She picked out a giant cinnamon roll and came over to my table. “Pretty soon I’ll have to start paying you for all the work you do around here,” she mused, sitting the warm bun down in front of me.

“Just pay me with cupcakes,” I said, closing my journal. “Besides you know this place is my escape.”

She gave me a sympathetic look. “Things any better at home?”

“As well as can be expected. At least my grounding is over,” I said, picking at my fingernails, pushing the cuticles back until it hurt, remembering how I’d been locked in my room for five days straight, without anyone to talk to. “Dad left for a visit to Houston so who knows when he’ll be back. Mother is staying at the station apartment this week and probably next week—and the next.” I glanced up at her. “Looks like I might be staying with you for a while. Mother said it was okay, and you know I hate being alone in that monster of a house.”

She kissed the top of my head. “You can move in with me right now if you want.”

I smirked at her because she and I both knew Mother wanted me living at our fancy Highland Park address. Even if she was never there, I had to be. “If I moved out, people would talk. And then Mother would be angry at me.”

She nodded. “Yeah, I know how she is, but let me know if things get to be too much. Okay?” she said, giving me one last glance as she walked back up front. After a few minutes, she went into the kitchen area, and I knew she’d be there a while, counting down the cash register.

I turned back to my journal and opened it, looking over the list I’d written. I wondered if these bad things would make me a happy person. The intelligent part of me knew they wouldn’t. Not really. I didn’t deserve happiness anyway. But after pretending for so long and holding it all inside, I simply sought
, just like I’d gotten at the open house when I’d let those hateful words come out of my mouth. And if saying bad things to people made me feel better, then how much better would I feel if I took it a step further? What would it take to bring me back from the shadow I’d become?

Whatever it took to save me, I was willing to do it.

Taking my pen, I marked through some of the items, getting it just right.



Mila knocked on the locked shop door, and I hurriedly tucked my journal inside my backpack before I got up to let her inside the closed shop. She came in and plopped down at the booth where we always sat, wearing a pink-and-cream Liz Claiborne-type ensemble with matching shoes and a purse. To complete the look, she’d pulled her straight midnight-colored hair back with a headband. Somewhere along the way, someone had forgotten to tell Mila she was still in high school, not a career woman. When it came time to elect class favorites this year, there was no doubt in my mind that she would take the title Most Likely to Be a CEO.

She smiled widely. “Finally, you’ve returned from the asylum! Gah, I’ve tried to call you like a hundred times.”

I sat down across from her. “I was grounded in my room with no phone. But hey, at least I got all my summer reading done, and I made Aunt Portia a new apron,” I said lightly, glossing over how much I’d hated being denied human interaction.

“Did they feed you bread and water?” she teased.

“Only on the first day,” I joked back.

What I didn’t say was that Mona, our housekeeper, had brought my meals to me each day. As per my parents, this meant oatmeal or a protein shake for breakfast, a thinly sliced turkey sandwich with a side salad of organic greens for lunch, and dinner was either grilled chicken or wild salmon served with precisely two servings of vegetables. I picked up the still warm cinnamon roll Aunt Portia had given me and took a bite, inhaling the buttery smell and savoring the sugary icing that melted on my tongue. This was heaven.

Mila leaned in over the table. “Well, I’m glad you’re free now because Emma Easton and her cheer crew are doing a back to school mixer, and
and you are going.” She held her hand up when I opened my mouth to interrupt her. “I know you and Emma aren’t BFFs, but the entire senior class is invited.”

“Emma Easton slashed my tires last year, and she calls me Nerdy Nora,” I said, arching my brows. “And let’s not forget the other names she has for me: bee girl,
geek girl,
blonde bitch,
and my favorite . . . Amazon girl,” I said, ticking them off on my fingers.

“You forgot brownnoser. And she started the rumor about you and the janitor.”

She’s hated me since I beat her out of class president. Why would I go to her party?” I asked.

Mila seemed surprised at my declaration. “When she started the rumor about you and Mr. Bronski, you just laughed it off. Everyone thought you didn’t care.
thought you didn’t care.”

True, her repertoire of insults had never hurt me. After all, I’d had other more important things to worry about, like my essay on the merits of Walt Whitman’s nature poetry or whether Finn would be coming home for a visit that weekend.

“You should go and break out of this serious funk you’ve been in since Drew. You haven’t even been out on a date all summer. You need some male meat, chica,” she said seriously.

I bit back a grin because Mila had
had any male meat. She was still a virgin, and if she knew what I’d done with my body, she’d never speak to me again.

I nodded. “You know what, I
want to go. There’s something I want to tell Emma about her quarterback boyfriend. I figured it out last year, and she deserves to know,” I said, tapping my fingers on the table, remembering what I’d seen.

Yeah, a bad girl wouldn’t let Emma Easton run over her.

“Don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, but if it gets you to go, then I’ll take it,” she said with a triumphant grin. “But you gotta tell me the scoop. You’ve got this evil gleam in your eye which means you know something on somebody.” Her gray eyes focused in on me. “Yep, you’ve been people watching again. Tell me what you know, chica.”

I laughed for the first time in over a week. “I’ll tell you this much: it involves her best friend April Novak,” I said, rummaging through my backpack. I pulled out dad’s silver flask. If I wanted to get to rehab, I better get started. I had some catching up to do.

I unscrewed the metal top and sniffed it gingerly. Mother had let me have glasses of wine and champagne on special occasions, but I’d never tried vodka. I poured a healthy shot into the glass of Sprite I had.

Mila’s eyes widened as she took in the flask. “Are you insane? What is that?” she whispered, furtively looking back over her shoulder for Aunt Portia.

“Grey Goose vodka,” I said, taking a test sip and shuddering at the harsh aftertaste. “I stole a bottle from dad’s liquor cabinet, and according to the Internet, this particular brand is expensive and made in France.” I raised my glass to her. “Therefore, it must be awesome, right?” I tossed back another big gulp, trying not to grimace.

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