I wince as Keira comes towards me wielding the mascara wand. Just as she reaches my eye, I blink, sending gloomy black liquid all down my cheek.
"God, Ethel! This is like the fifty gazillionth time!"
Arianna calls across from the bathroom where she is painting her nails, "Don't be so hard on her Keeks! Not everyone's such a make up obsessed freak as you!" She peers at me, interested. "Are you?"
I shrug, a habit I seem to be growing into lately. Maybe it's the fact that I don't know what to say really, when everyone I'm with is so boisterous and over hyper. "I don't think so -"
I'm cut off, as Keira comes in again with the mascara to the same sorry result as last time. She sets it down on Ashlin's plush carpeted floor, groaning. "Okay, that's it. I can't do this!" She flops backwards onto the bed, kicking her legs up in the air while I stay perched on the edge, not so much embarrassed as completely awkward. My dark hair is in my face, but I don't dare to move it - it's my curtain, my shield against these loud, extroverted creatures who for some reason seem to want to reach out to me - to be my friend.
I bite my lip to stop from giggling as Arianna splats bright turquoise polish all over the toilet. Ashlin gives out a small squeak of dismay and dashes immediately to clean it up. She seems a bit of a neat-freak compared to the blatantly untidy Arianna - her pale green room is spotless - no mess, no dirt to be seen. They're friendly enough, all three of them, they just aren't the type of people I'm used to. Back before my dad got his new job and I had to move school, I'd talk about books with my friends, or slightly weird obsessions with actors or, more likely, fictional characters. Yet here, with Ashlin and her friends, we talk about boys and clothes and the latest bands, poke fun at each other and laugh off the insults, all meant in jest anyway.
They do all those things.
I sit here quietly, the most nervous I've very seen myself, my hands comstantly fiddling with my hair, my skirt, anything I can find. They mean well but the thing is... We're completely different types of people. Our looks, our friends, our general attitudes to life...
And then Ashlin Walker claps her two perfect hands together and my whole world changes.
"You do realise, right Ethel?"
I have no clue what she's talking about, and shake my head, bemused. "Realise what?"
Keira raises her exquisitely shaped eyebrow. "That you're one of us now, stupid."
Arianna comes out from the bathroom, wafting her nails around which, in another situation, might have made her seem entirely mad. "What's this?"
Ashlin jumps straight in to explain. "She doesn't understand, Arry..."
"Oh..." Realisation dawns on her youthful, coffee-coloured face.
And then, of course, she barrels into me like a freight train for yet another hug. I squeak, then pat her back awkwardly, trying to break away in a desperate attempt to breathe in precious air again. She notices this slightly late, then steps back, apologising profusely. "You see Ethel... We'd like you to be our friend. I mean, no one comes to these sleepovers but the best people... Um, that's us if you don't know... And well, here you are, so..."
I blink in utter amazement. The last I heard, friendship was something that just happened. People either clicked, or they didn't. But despite everything, and against every single odd in the book, the three most popular girls in school invite me to their exclusive after school slumber party. Before asking to be my friend. Actually, more of demanding if you want to stick to details.
I smile, widely so it reaches my eyes.