(It’s not time for the plan yet, kid. Now buck up. A cheery face is worth diamonds.)Gillian tried to put on a cheery face.The strange day continued. In each class, Gillian appealed to the teacher for a new book. In each class, she was bombarded with offers of notes and other help. And through it all Angel whispered in her ear, always suggesting just the right thing to say to each person. He was witty, irreverent, occasionally cutting-and so was Gillian.She had an advantage, she realized. Sincenobody had ever noticed her before, it was almost like being a new girl. She could be anything she wanted to be, present herself as anyone, and be believed.(Like Cinderella at the ball. The mystery princess.) Angel’s voice was amused but tender.In journalism class, Gillian found herself beside Daryl Novak, a languid girl with sloe eyes and drooping contemptuous lashes. Daryl the Rich Girl, Daryl the World-weary World Traveler. She talked to Gillian as if Gillian knew all about Paris and Rome and California.At lunch, Gillian hesitated as she walked into the cafeteria. Usually she sat with Amy in an obscure corner at the back. Butrecently Eugene had been sitting with Amy, and up front she could see a group that included Amanda the Cheerleader, Kim the Gymnast, and others from The Clique. David and Tanya were at the edge. (Do I sit with them? Nobody asked me.) (Not with them, my little rutabaga. But near them. Sit at the end of that table just beside them. Don’t look at them as you walk by. Look at your lunch. Start eating it.)Gillian had never eaten her lunch alone before-or at least not in a public place. On days Amy was absent, if she couldn’t find one of the few other juniors she felt comfortable with, she snuck into the library and ate there.In the old days she would have felt horribly exposed, but now she wasn’t really alone; she had Angel cracking jokesin her ear. And she had a new confidence.She could almost see herself eating, calmand indifferent to stares, thoughtful to thepoint of being dreamy. She tried to make her movements a little languid, like Daryl the Rich Girl’s.(And I hope Amy doesn’t think I’m snubbing her. I mean, it’s not as if she’s back there alone. She’s got Eugene.)(Yeah. We’re gonna have to talk about Amy sometime, kid. But right now you’re being paged. Smile and be gracious.)”Jill! Earth to Jill!””Hey, Jill, c’mon over.”They wanted her. She was moving her lunch over to their table, and she wasn’t spilling anything and she wasn’t falling asshe slid in. She was little and graceful, thistledown light in her movements, and they were surging around her to form a warm and friendly bulwark.And she wasn’t afraid of them. That was the most wonderful thing of all. These kids who’d seemed to her like stars in some TV show about teenagers, were realpeople who got crumbs on themselves and made jokes she could understand.Gillian had always wondered what they found so funny when they were laughing together. But now she knew it was just the heady atmosphere, the knowledge that they were special. It made it easy to laugh at everything. She knew David, sitting quietly there with Tanya, could see her laughing.She could hear other voices occasionally, from people on the fringes of her group, people on the outside looking in. Mostly bright chatter and murmurs of admiration.She thought she heard her name mentioned…. And then she focused on the words. “I heard her mom’s a drunk.” They sounded horribly loud and dear to Gillian, standing out against the background noise. She could feel her whole skin tingling with shock and she lost track of the story Kim the Gymnast was telling.(Angel-who said that? Was it about me-mymom?) She didn’t dare look behind her.”-started drinking a few years ago and having these hallucinations-“This time the voice was so loud that it cut through the banter of Gillian’s group. Kim stopped in mid-sentence. Bruce the Athlete’s smile faltered. An awkward silence fell.Gillian felt a wave of anger that made her dizzy. (Who said that? I’ll kill them-)(Calm down! Calm down. That’s not the way to handle it at all.) (But-)(I said, calm down. Look at your lunch. No,at your lunch. Now say-and make your voice absolutely cool-“I really hate rumors,don’t you? I don’t know what kind of people start them.”)Gillian breathed twice and obeyed, although her voice wasn’t absolutely cool.It had a little tremor.”I don’t know either,” a new voice said. Gillian glanced up to see that David was on his feet, his face hard as he surveyed the table behind her as if looking for the person who’d spoken. “But I think they’re pretty sick and they should get a life.”There was the cold glint in his eyes that had given him his reputation as a tough guy. Gillian felt as if a hand had steadied her. Gratitude rushed through her-and a longing that made her bite down on her lip.”I hate rumors, too,” J.Z. Oberlin said in her absent voice. J. Z. the Model was the one who looked like a Calvin Klein ad, breathlessly sexy and rather blank, but right now she seemed oddly focused.”Somebody was putting around the rumorlast year that I tried to kill myself. I never did find out who started it.” Her hazy blue-green eyes were narrowed.And then everyone was talking about rumors, and people who spread rumors, and what scum they were. The group was rallying around Gillian.But it was David who stood up for me first,she thought.She had just looked over at him, trying to catch his eye, when she heard the tinklingnoise.It was almost musical, but the kind of sound that draws attention immediately ina cafeteria. Somebody had broken a glass. Gillian, along with everyone else, glanced around to see who’d done it.She couldn’t see anybody. No one had theright expression of dismay, no one was focused on anything definite. Everybody was looking around in search mode.