It's surreal how quickly a life can change. One day you're a nobody, on the brink of social outcast, then the next day you're ruling the school without a care in the world. All it took were some new found friends and a hair cut.
I'm sitting on a park bench next to Ashlin, in the middle of the pouring rain. Both Keira and Arianna have bailed on our Pretty Little Liars marathon, so we've come out here instead. I never saw much of them to begin with, and it seeing less and less of them as time passes. Friendships grow apart I guess, but the thing is, before I became Miss Popular #4, the three of them were stuck together like glue. I know something must have happened since then, something big, but I don't have the guts to ask any of them what it is.
I'm kind of glad that they couldn't come now though. It's nice just sitting here, alone in the rain with Ashlin, the first friend I made at this school. The bench is soaked, but she doesn't care, so nor do I, our hair plastered to our cheeks, bodies huddled inside our fashionable coats which don't actually provide much warmth. She reaches one hand out, flicks a strand of my hair away from my rosy face. "This is so weird Elle." She stretches her legs out and yawns, like a funny sort of baby cat. "So, so weird."
It takes me a second to realise she's talking to me - after three days, it's hard to get used to a brand new name. "What do you mean?"
She gestures to me. "You. You're, like, an entirely different person to when we met."
I frown, then straighten my face out quickly. According to Ashlin, frowning produces premature wrinkles. "How?"
She laughs. "It's not like it's a bad thing... Just... Weird." She studies me for a second, her hand poised beneath her chin. Then she nods, suddenly decided. "We're going to get you a boyfriend."
"Erm..." I murmur, confused at the turn the conversation has taken. "YOU don't have a boyfriend."
"Well... Yeah, but I have HAD one. Lots, actually."
I expected as much. Ashlin is just the sort of girl boys like, cute, fun, fabulous. Come to think of it, I'm supposed to be like that too now. I'm not Ethel anymore, straightforward, down to earth Ethel. I'm Elle. The word encompasses so much - just four letters have so much meaning.
I sigh, but with a happy sort of assertion. Ashlin has won me over yet again. "Right, so who did you have in mind?"
She taps a finger against her pert little nose. "I can't tell you... Yet! It's a surprise."
"A good one?"
"A very, very good one."
We sit in silence for a moment, then:
"I give up. I'm terrible at keeping secrets. I told him to meet us here when I found out Keira and Ari ditched." She smiles at me, her eyes sparkling. "His name's Lysander."
I balk backwards, my face deathly pale. Maybe it's a mistake. Maybe there's more than one Lysander at the school. Maybe I'm being ridiculous, and Ashlin's only pulling some sort of joke that's supposed to be funny. I laugh, awkwardly, my throat dry. "What did you say?"
She looks at me carefully. "Lysander."
"Lysander. Lysander as in THE Lysander?"
"What?" She seems confused, but how can she be? Lysander is the one who caused me so much pain, the jerk who drew on my face with his glinting silver knife, and pierced my heart with his sharp sharp tongue.
"I mean," I say carefully, "Are you trying to set me up with Lysander, as in Lysander who made. Me. Cry?"
She blinks. "I think that's the one, yeah."
I shake my head slowly, not believing what I'm hearing. "You... You bitch, Ashlin!"
"What?" She glares at me in disbelief. "Maybe he's changed Elle? That's what people do. I mean, if YOU can change such an awesome amount, why can't he?"
I bite my lip, seething, and square my shoulders, fully ready to charge into her head on - me the bull, her the doomed fighter. And then I stop. Maybe he has changed. I have, like Ashlin says, and if I don't give him another chance, surely I'm the hypocrite here. I probably worked myself up way to much over what he did anyway.
I grit my teeth together, then smile, a saccharine grin that hides my rage, contains it deep within. "Fine."
Ashlin bares her teeth, satisfied. "Friends?" she says, extending a hand.
"Friends," I answer back.
We say we're friends.
We say we are, but we're not.