1: grab the jack’s attention
That's the one place any one hoping to break the ranks would position themselves. At the bar sipping a fruity cocktail, or by the pool in an with ample skin on show for the wandering eyes. That's the typical way people try to slip into the popular groups, and how they quickly find themselves disposed of. I need to make sure I'm a more permanent fixture among the group if any of this is going to work. I can't be another one night stand, a quick fling tossed to the side with all the grace and decorum of throwing away a used condom.
I had ironed my red tennis skirt and white polo shirt, all set to match the red scrunchy holding back my thick black hair. I was lucky I wasn't walking into this blind, I'd been playing tennis for basically all my life while my parents ate brunch and drank mimosas. So at least I won't make a fool out of myself.
However, that thought didn't stop the dread from sweeping over me and settling uncomfortably in my stomach as I drove the Range over to Kaiser's country club. I'd renewed my membership at the start of the summer after not going for months. I was finally willing to waste extortionate amounts of money on the elitist structure.
My car certainly didn't look out of place among the other expensive brands. I recognised my classmates, all with a similar mission to mine although our intentions couldn't be more different. They wanted to be high on the first list of the year simply for the sake of infamy: all I wanted was vengeance.
I was lucky, my name, 'Evelyn Brannigan,' was a fairly stationary fixture on the list., and hadn't move up or down since sophomore year. I've been number seventy-eight on the list for basically my whole academic career, which was rare, since it's so rare for someone to keep a clean enough reputation and stay out of rumours for long enough for their popularity to not fluctuate. After analysing all the previously published lists, I'd say there's only ever been about fifteen people who managed to retain a certain spot on the list, including myself and Montgomery Kaiser, who had never moved from the top spot at number O ne.
I walked through the doors, swiping my ID card to the receptionist before making my way to the girls changing rooms and to my locker. Using my key, I opened it up and examined all of my belongings. Thanks to my room being cleaned by housekeepers every day and having a mom who lacked an understanding of personal boundaries, it wasn't safe to keep things in their, things relating to the plan, so I kept them here, in neatly organised and labelled boxes. The little mirror I hung up projected my reflection. I was wearing more makeup than I usually would to play a game of tennis but it was a sacrifice I had to be willing to make. I tightened my ponytail, hung my jacket up and placed my phone on the top shelf, making sure it was turned off before grabbing my sport bag and making my way out to the courts.
The weather was adamant on remaining as hot as possible, the sun beating down pleasantly on any exposed skin. It had already brought out a great deal of the freckles scattered across the planes of my nose.
Lounge chairs were occupied by cougars and excitable teenage girls, future cougars, alike. Tables full of teenage boys eating their body weight in burgers, fries, any food they could get their hands on. The groups were clearly divided, just as they'd almost always been, and will always be.
The Hundreds stayed with each other, largely made up of juniors teetering on the verge of popularity. Try-hards, go-getters, always kissing up to someone to enjoy thirty seconds of high school fame. The Twenties and the Fifties doing the exact same, only exclusively hanging out with each other. Just as the Tens wanted it to be. Rutherford had always been a big school, a boarding school and a regular school for over eight hundred pupils.
It was why so many people were confused by Harriet and I's friendship. I sat at number seventy-eight and she was seven hundred and thirty-four. It was unheard of, yet she didn't move up. Not for many years and when she did, she would quickly grow to regret it.
I was sure I could still see her, dressed in all pink and making her way to play against me on the courts. Platinum blonde hair pulled into two braids, emerald eyes warm with excitement. We'd been here exactly a year ago, going for our final game of tennis before we'd be bogged down with school work. She was dressed in clothes I'd never seen her in, her gaze lingering on Montgomery Kaiser longer than it should. And she'd ordered us drinks at the bar, two shots of tequila, over a flirtatious smile and seductive glance to the bartender. She talked to Penelope Rose that day too, even if it was only brief.
That should've been my warning. I should've put an end to it then.
Yasmin Price and Cory Phillips talked across the courts while Penelope Rose had her private lesson. From the balcony of the Monty Suite, Montgomery's private suite in the club, I could see Kaira Knight's newly tanned physique as she leaned across to watch everything happening below her, cold brown eyes analytic as she looked for cracks she could attack tomorrow, fiery red hair curling around her face and reaching her waist.
Beside her was Darleen Lincoln, giggling with a blonde girl that draped across her knee, although both must've been painfully aware of the end of their relationship looming overhead. Heartbreaker Darleen Lincoln wouldn't allow herself to be tied down for a whole school year, even if the blonde currently holding her attention was stunning.
Yasmin Price's white tennis attire contrasted against her deep skin tone and her natural curls bounced freely around her face as she watched Penelope with awe. She was gorgeous, undeniably all girls in the Top Ten were. After spending her summer visiting family in Kansas, her skin was speckled with adorable freckles over her shoulders and nose. Yasmin had a reputation of innocence, purity and a somewhat childish nature, making it all the more easy to deceive her into going along with my plan.
Cory leaned against the fence around the courts, a smug expression on his face as his almost black eyes followed Penelope's every move, his dark hair pushed away from his face. Unlike the other members of the Top Ten, Cory had not tanned this summer, after spending only two weeks out of the country visiting his maternal grandparents in Korea.
My way in would have to be on someone's arm, it would be the only way. Cory was my first choice, seeing as he was the notorious womaniser of the group. He kept girls around for a few weeks, mainly leading them on, until he dropped them like hot coals. All I had to do was make sure I didn't get dropped by him.
My only other options would be Jacob Talbot, who had decided to skip the last-day-of-summer traditions, or Nathaniel Ashby. It was almost laughable to imagine seducing stoic, serious Nathaniel Ashby to help with my plan.
Penelope had been playing tennis for the same amount of time as me, although her muscular frame would indicate she was more of a professional than I am, which is true. Her dark hair tied tightly back without a single loose hair and her face calm despite intense exercise.
There was a spare court adjacent to them so I placed my bag on the bench behind it and pulled out my racket and a few balls. I walked onto the court, quietly confident but subtly anxious, and started to stretch. I rolled my shoulders, touched my toes and did a bunch of other pointless exercises as I hoped I would grab the attention from someone from the Top Ten. Surely my skirt was short enough to capture the wandering eye of Cory Phillips, the infamous player.
My initial attempt had been futile, which was to be expected with such an ambitious first mission. I started to serve a few of the balls to the other side of the court, my swing just as good as I ever was. My heart ached for the streak of pink that would usually be there with a fierce return and a witty comment about how I sucked at tennis, but I continued. I was doing all of this for her: she better be grateful.
After five or ten minutes, I heard someone clear their throat behind me and I swung around, shocked by the presence of someone else despite that being the aim of my mission. I expected to see Cory, his domineering stature and smug demeanour but was even more surprised to see the petite Yasmin, smiling up at me and offering her hand.
"You must be new! Principal Gora did mention something about a new Asian foreign exchange student so I thought I'd come and introduce myself," Yasmin said in her high pitched, excitable tone of voice and I let out a breath of laugh.
Of course, the girl renowned for her naivety would have no clue who I was. Maybe this was good, if the Top Ten didn't know who I was they wouldn't get any inkling I had ulterior motives.
"Actually I've been going to Rutherford for quite a few years now. I'm Eva Brannigan." I took the hand she'd been holding out for a while and shook it gently, making sure I wiped the sweat off on my skirt first.
"Oh, of course you are!" Yasmin said, only to cover her back as the blank expression in her eyes remained. "I'm Yasmin, but you probably already knew that."
"Of course I did. Your sister, Willow, was in my Economics class and she was the coolest. I can't believe she got scholarships from Yale and Harvard but turned both down to go into modelling. That's so cool," I rambled.
The Price sister feud had always been brewing but had been ignored by the majority of Rutherford. It was obvious that if you wanted Yasmin's attention all you had to do was make her prove herself to be the better sister. I'd opened the window for her to show off and I could already see the cogs turning in her brain.
"Yeah. Yale and Harvard were never impressive in my opinion," Yasmin said nonchalantly, a lock of hair wound around her finger. "You totally can't know about this but I so got accepted to Fashion Institute of Technology in New York."
"Wow, that's awesome!" I complimented and she smiled from ear to ear, amber eyes beaming with self-pride.
"So do you play professionally?" Yasmin asked off-handedly, as if looking for another window to compliment herself rather than caring about what I had to say.
"Oh no, it's just a bit of fun."
The personal mantra of Miss Darleen Lincoln, who's position in the Top Ten had never once faltered. She was the only girl in group ten who had never moved, staying as a stable number six for the past three years, all to do with the revolving door of boys and girls alike entering and exiting her love life.
"You remind me so much of Darla, it's crazy!" Yasmin giggled pleasantly, her golden eyes flicking back up to the balcony of the suite. I followed her line of sight. "You're probably her type too, if you're interested."
The dynamics had changed up there. Kaira continued to analyse her royal subjects but her scrutinising look seemed focused on the tennis court area, possibly focused on us. The blonde girl had left and Darleen was by Kaira's side, chatting despite Kaira's clear discontent with the smaller brunette. Nathaniel Ashby sat at a table nursing a drink in his hand, focusing entirely on the paperwork in front of him and seeming to not care about the budding high school drama happening around him.
If Nathaniel wasn't so aloof, so withdrawn from everything around him, maybe I'd have made him my key to the hierarchy, but it seemed hilarious to even contemplate the idea of having to seduce him. He was cold, distant and had no interest in dating, it seemed. A target like Jacob Talbot or Cory Phillips would be much easier, since they were notorious flirts, although neither were known for settling down with just one girlfriend.
But there was no denying I'd prefer if it was Nathaniel I'd get to woo. There was nothing wrong with Cory, a tall, well built boy with curly hair, full lips and a killer jawline, or Jacob for that matter, shorter, dark mysterious eyes, athletic and olive skin. However, something about Nathaniel's enigmatic personality and the mystery surrounding him seemed alluring. His intellect was definitely his most attractive feature. That was exactly what I didn't chose him. I was attracted to him and attraction would be a distraction, and someone as smart as him could see right through me.
Luckily, I wouldn't have to work any harder at getting their attention as Cory abandoned his court side position near Penelope and wandered over to join Yasmin. He had a sly smirk on his face that screamed trouble and his hands in the pockets of his black skinny jeans as he ambled over nonchalantly.
"Yas, who's your friend? The new girl?" Cory asked. We'd been in the same Physics class for two years, since he joined this school. He eyed me like a shiny, golden trophy he couldn't wait to win.
Cory was a whole different breed of popular kid. The rest of the Top Ten were born into it, or dated into it in the case of Luther Carrington. Cory joined school two years ago after moving from some small town in Connecticut. After a week and an incredible scandal, he was sitting at number four and unlike everyone else who temporarily gets their spot in the top ten, he's maintained his spot for the past two years.
"Hi, I'm Eva," I introduced myself, a bit more bluntly than I normally would but my normal introverted personality wasn't going to get things done. I didn't have time to sit back and be Evelyn, I had to be Eva now.
Eva was bitchy when she had to be, Eva made biting remarks for the sake of rumours and stares. Eva would do anything, hurt anyone, be anything to enact the justice that had previously failed.
"Of course you are," Cory said, perfectly mimicking Yasmin's precious response. "What brings you here, Eva?" He said my name the way you drink out of straw: slow, drawn out to receive optimum pleasure. I was sure it was in his effort to get me falling into his bed.
He would have to try a lot harder. I'm pretty much immune to pretty, rich boy charms.
I gave a fake giggle, bat my eyelashes and brandished by tennis racket. "To play, obviously. My final game before school starts tomorrow."
"Uh, don't remind me. I've had so much fun this summer, I just don't want it to end," Cory groaned.
"Who says it has to?"
I was an alright flirt, I liked to think. I was no novice to dating, not the way Harriet was a year ago. In fact, I went on plenty of dates, for the sake of filling up empty time and appeasing my meddling, matchmaker of a mom. I knew the right buttons to push to get him to pay for the meal(there's nothing quite like free food), and just how to smile to make sure the night ended the exact way I wanted to. I was excellent at faking attraction and romance: I was a fool when it came to actually experiencing it.
Cory grinned. "I like your thinking Eva. How about you join me at the end of summer party tonight?"
Yasmin's eyes looked like they were about to fall out of her head as she not-so-subtly elbowed him sharply in the ribs and glared at him. Cory didn't seem to care as he ignored the petite girls response to his proposition.
Judging from Yasmin's reaction, I shouldn't be attending this party and Cory was wrong to invite me. But I had to get on the Top Ten's radar, maybe climb the ranks to a number below fifty by tomorrow morning. The only way to do that was to be seen with people higher up than me, to show that I deserved to be higher up.
"Well, I'd be honoured," I responded to his offer, ignoring the clear signs screaming I shouldn't go.
Isn't the whole part of popularity causing scandals by doing what you aren't supposed to?
"Great, I'll pick you up at seven. Dress nice," Cory told me, shooting one last lingering look to my legs before Penelope shouted his name and he walked back over to her.
The small brunette's hazel eyes landed on me and I felt the urge to flinch but I didn't. I picked my racket up and served another shot, showing I wasn't scared of her, despite the fact I was terrified of her.
I don't know what made me so scared of her. She was a solid five inches shorter than me, with straight dark hair to her collar bones and a muscular physique. She was known for being distant, judgemental and not sentimental, instead choosing to show no emotion at all. All I knew was her reputation of destroying whoever she wanted to terrified me. Kaira might've been the queen bee, but she was the trusted executioner wielding an axe of backhanded compliments and fake niceties.
After my successful game of tennis and socialising, I returned to the locker room and marvelled at how easy that had been. I'd managed to make fifteen back up plans and, although I felt slightly disappointed I didn't have to use any of them, I was ecstatic with how smooth things were going. Turns out all you need to do to be popular is to show a bit more skin than usual and flutter your fake eyelashes a bit until someone notices you. Granted, the only reason I was noticed is because they thought I was a foreign exchange student but that doesn't matter.
All that mattered was, with a few more steps, I would be in. And then, I could start the revolution.