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Perfect cover, p.1
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       Perfect Cover, p.1

           Jennifer Lynn Barnes
 
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Perfect Cover


  Contents

  Title Page

  Dedication

  CHAPTER 1 Code Word: Pom-pom

  CHAPTER 2 Code Word: Boobalicious

  CHAPTER 3 Code Word: Perky

  CHAPTER 4 Code Word: Tumbling

  CHAPTER 5 Code Word: Herkie

  CHAPTER 6 Code Word: Bitquo

  CHAPTER 7 Code Word: Thong

  CHAPTER 8 Code Word: Boo

  CHAPTER 9 Code Word: Like, You Know?

  CHAPTER 10 Code Word: Makeover

  CHAPTER 11 Code Word: Abercrombie

  CHAPTER 12 Code Word: Gel Bra

  CHAPTER 13 Code Word: Cheer Shorts

  CHAPTER 14 Code Word: Party!

  CHAPTER 15 Code Word: Hottie

  CHAPTER 16 Code Word: Pizzazz

  CHAPTER 17 Code Word: Gossip

  CHAPTER 18 Code Word: Bee-yotch

  CHAPTER 19 Code Word: Bubbles

  CHAPTER 20 Code Word: Bayport

  CHAPTER 21 Code Word: Warm-up

  CHAPTER 22 Code Word: A-list

  CHAPTER 23 Code Word: Footsie

  CHAPTER 24 Code Word: Evil

  CHAPTER 25 Code Word: Stud

  CHAPTER 26 Code Word: Taser

  CHAPTER 27 Code Word: Ta-tas

  CHAPTER 28 Code Word: Smile

  CHAPTER 29 Code Word: Sexy

  CHAPTER 30 Code Word: Attraction

  CHAPTER 31 Code Word: Want

  CHAPTER 32 Code Word: Pressure

  CHAPTER 33 Code Word: Fire

  CHAPTER 34 Code Word: Halftime

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Toby Klein is ready to bring it.

  Also by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

  Copyright

  For Michelle, coach, friend, and honorary big sis,

  who really did tell me, “If you don’t feel stupid,

  you’re not doing it right.”

  CHAPTER 1

  Code Word: Pom-pom

  If you’d told me at the beginning of sophomore year that I was going to end up a government operative, I would have thought you were crazy, but if you’d told me I was destined to become a cheerleader, I would have had you committed, no questions asked. At that point in time, there were three things in life that I knew for certain: (1) I was a girl who’d never met a site she couldn’t hack or a code she couldn’t break, (2) I had a roundhouse that could put a grown man in the hospital, and (3) I would without question chop off my own hands before I’d come within five feet of a pom-pom.

  I liked to fly below the radar. I was the girl slouched in the back of your geometry class, not the one shaking my booty on the field. In fact, in the year and a half since we’d moved to Bayport, I’d spent more time in detention than at pep rallies and considered myself lucky; unless school spirit referred to a school-board-sanctioned wine, I had no intention of buying.

  And then, one day out of the blue, the note appeared in my locker.

  Toby Klein—

  You are cordially invited to an information session on the Bayport High Varsity Spirit Squad today at four in room 117. Go Lions (and Lionesses)!

  The year before, a bunch of angry feminist mothers had sued the district for having a male mascot, so now we were officially the Bayport Lion(esse)s. I kid you not. That’s just one of the many reasons I couldn’t fathom the idea of actually supporting the school in any way, shape, or form. That and the fact that I’d had to forcibly remove a football player’s hand from my brother’s arm three times in the last month. Emphasis on the word forcibly. If they touched Noah again, someone was going to lose an arm. Go Lions!

  I turned the note over in my hand. Wow, I thought, the God Squad must really be scratching bottom if they’re recruiting me. Maybe they just couldn’t stand it that there were actually a few sophomore and junior girls who weren’t willing to sell their souls for cheerleading immortality. There was a reason the varsity cheerleaders were collectively referred to as the God Squad, and it wasn’t because they were religious; it was because at Bayport High, they were gods: the ultimate social power. Most people did everything short of bowing down to worship them on a regular basis.

  I was not most people.

  Slamming my locker shut, I moved to throw the note away, but decided to save it for ammunition in case anyone in my carpool got too rowdy. As I moved to jam the invite into my pocket, light caught the letters, and for just a second, a few of them jumped out at me.

  “Stupid glitter pens,” I muttered, but automatically, my mind began cataloging the letters I’d noticed. I stuffed the note into my jeans, took four steps down the hallway, and then stopped. My brain does tricky things with letters and numbers: scrambles them and unscrambles them, analyzes their combinations, looks for patterns. When I was little, I loved palindromes and anagrams and any secret language more complicated than Pig Latin. Standing there in the hallway, my letter-savvy mind did its thing, and I pulled the invitation back out of my pocket.

  After a quick glance around the hall to make sure no one was watching, I held the small white card in the light again and, one by one, picked out the letters that appeared slightly more sparkly than their counterparts.

  Toby Klein—

  You are cordially invited to an information session on the Bayport High Varsity Spirit Squad today at four in room 117. Go Lions (and Lionesses)!

  There it was in black and white, or, more specifically, in hot pink glitter pen. COME ALONE.

  After that, I really did throw the note away, because there was no way it had been written by an actual cheerleader. Most of them probably couldn’t even spell cordially, let alone embed secret instructions in an invite to one of their oh-so-special meetings. Someone was definitely playing a trick on me, and I had a pretty good idea who that someone was. I also had a pretty good idea what I was going to do about it.

  Proximity—namely the fact that my brother’s locker was only three down from mine—was on my side.

  “Very funny, Einstein.” Since I’d trashed the message and therefore had nothing to throw at him, I settled for flicking my brother on the back of one of his ears.

  “Hey!” Noah tried not to lose what little cool he had, but failed miserably. After glaring at me for a second (like that did any good), he changed tactics. “Toby,” he said in a low whisper, “I’m working my magic here.”

  And that was why Noah kept getting attacked by football players with no necks and something to prove. No matter how many times I assured him that hot senior girls weren’t under any circumstances interested in scrawny freshman goofballs, he still couldn’t help trying out his “charms” on the older women.

  It was a miracle he wasn’t dead, and given the current circumstances, there was a decent chance that I was going to kill him myself.

  “Work’s over,” I said. I didn’t even spare a glance at the current object of his affection before literally dragging him to the side of the hall. “You got anything you want to tell me?” I asked. For a girl my size (five three), I can sound pretty mean when I want to.

  “Ummm…not that I can think of,” Noah said, giving me one of his most “charming” grins.

  “Try harder.”

  “Well…I…uhhh…did tell Chuck that you’d take him home after school.”

  “Try again,” I said darkly. That wasn’t what I was shooting for. Still, I had to wonder if Noah had been planning on giving me any forewarning at all that Chuck I’m-in-Love-with-Noah’s-Older-Sister Percy was hitching a ride home. That kid made Noah look like Prince Charming.

  “I went through your lingerie drawer looking for gift ideas?” Noah tried again.

  “You what?” I didn’t know what was worse: the fact that my brother had seen my underwear, or the fact that he was probably on the verge of buying un
derwear for a senior girl whose boyfriend I’d inevitably be forced to physically restrain.

  “Don’t worry,” Noah said quickly. “Your stuff didn’t give me any ideas.”

  And now he was insulting my intimates. It was a miracle I’d let him live past childhood.

  Noah wrinkled his forehead, completely unaware that I was plotting his death. “What are you talking about?”

  “The note.” I decided then and there that I didn’t want to learn any more of the many reasons that I should have been interrogating him. “The card in my locker.”

  Noah continued with his blank look.

  “The invitation from the Bod Squad,” I said, using the term he and his friends had adopted for the God Squad.

  At the phrase Bod Squad, Noah’s eyes lit up. Before he could get any unsavory ideas, I plowed on. “You know, the whole ‘come to our secret lair in room 117’ thing.”

  Noah opened his mouth and then closed it again. “You’re joking about the secret lair thing, right?” he asked a few seconds later. “Because if they did have a secret lair, that would be really hot.”

  “You didn’t send it?” I asked. Noah was many things, but he wasn’t a liar, or at least he wasn’t a good one.

  “Pretend to be a bunch of cheerleaders?” Noah asked.

  Why did I feel like I was giving him ideas? I looked down at my watch. “Go to class,” I said finally, not wanting him to be late for fifth period. “And stay away from my underwear.”

  A second later, Noah was jackrabbiting toward his next class and I was walking slowly in the general direction of my own. Personally, I wasn’t in any hurry. It had gotten to the point where Mr. Corkin and I had an understanding: I hated his class, and he hated me. It was a give-and-take relationship, and because of that, I took my time walking down the hallway and stopped at my locker again, just for the heck of it. Who cared if it had been less than a minute since I’d visited my locker last? Who cared if the bell had just rung? Delaying the inevitable was an art, and I was an artist.

  31-27-15.

  My combination was an anagram of a six-digit prime number. The fact that I knew that should tell you a little bit about me.

  I opened the locker, briefly wondered if there were any orange Tic-Tacs left inside, and then immediately stopped thinking about freshening my breath. There, on top of a history book I hadn’t bothered to read, was another note.

  Toby Klein—

  You have been selected to attend a preliminary meeting with the Bayport High Cheerleading Squad! Congratulations. How does it feel?

  Go Big Gold!

  How in the world had they gotten another note into my locker so quickly and without my noticing? Talk about strange.

  This time, the invitation was written in purple gel pen, but when I held it up to the light, some letters were a shade darker than the others, like the note’s author had traced them over twice. I quickly scanned the letters, but this time, they didn’t spell anything.

  “Miss Klein? Need I even ask if you have a hall pass?”

  Our vice-principal didn’t hate me nearly as much as he probably should have given my complete and utter lack of school spirit and my slight tendency toward jock-directed violence, but he was still the vice-principal.

  “’Fraid not,” I said, holding up my hall-passless hands to illustrate.

  “What’s this?” Mr. Jacobson’s eyes widened at the sight of the little white notecard. “You got an invitation to the Spirit Squad’s information meeting?” he asked. “That’s quite an honor.”

  And you wonder why I think this school’s messed up.

  “Yeah.” I took in Mr. J’s encouraging smile. “Whatever.”

  “Toby,” Mr. J said, and I could feel a lecture coming on. “It’s an honor to be selected. You should go.”

  I hated to break it to him, but there was no way in Hades.

  “Can’t,” I said, trying to soften the blow. “I’m late for Corkin’s class, and that means detention. Darn.”

  While Mr. J launched into a lecture on personal responsibility and trying to make things work, I played around with the letters in my head. YOERICUTUS?

  YO RICE UTUS?

  Nope.

  STORY ICE UU?

  Damn Us.

  “Toby, are you listening to me?”

  “Sort of.”

  Mr. J smiled despite himself. “I think it would be good for you to get involved with some extracurriculars,” he said finally. “You should go to that meeting this afternoon. Mr. Corkin can spare you for one afternoon detention.”

  Wait a second, I thought, had I just been given detention immunity? Maybe I would go to this “meeting” after all. If it meant being able to thwart Corkin’s diabolical plan of sticking me with yet another afternoon of torturous doldrums, it was totally worth it.

  “Toby, go to class.” Mr. J’s words interrupted my train of thought. Obediently, I turned in the direction of the history room, and suddenly, the correct anagram of the scrambled letters fell into place.

  CURIOUS YET?

  I hated to admit it, but by the time I broke the news of my vice-principalian pardon to my faculty nemesis, I definitely was.

  Since when did cheerleaders write in code?

  CHAPTER 2

  Code Word: Boobalicious

  They were the most popular, had the perkiest smiles, and wore the shortest skirts. They were the best, the brightest (yeah, right), and the most boobalicious. They threw the most exclusive parties, hooked up with A-plus-list jocks, and ate lesser females for lunch. They were the varsity cheerleaders, and I was at one of their meetings.

  It was official: I’d sold my soul to get out of detention.

  “As you know, very few sophomores make the varsity squad.” Brooke Camden, squad captain (or, as I liked to think of her, head bitch), raked her eyes over the occupants of room 117. The other varsity cheerleaders smiled sick little grins, and Brooke continued. “Most of you tried out for the JV squad. Some of you made it, some of you didn’t, but making JV is no guarantee. We only take the best. The rest of you will be cheering for freshmen until you graduate.”

  Ho-hum.

  “We don’t have tryouts, we don’t care if your mom was a cheerleader at her high school, and we don’t explain our decisions.”

  All hail Brooke, Queen of Cheerleaders!

  I glanced around at the varsity hopefuls in the room. Half of them were on the verge of tears, one of them looked a single haughty smile away from a nervous breakdown, and a few of them, already JV cheerleaders themselves, seemed to be putting every ounce of energy they had into appearing popular, perky, and worthy of pom-poms.

  Gag me. Was this really better than detention? I was starting to have my doubts.

  As Brooke lectured on about the massive responsibility of representing all that was good and beautiful at Bayport High, I turned my attention to the other God Squad members in the room. As impossible as it seemed, I had to admit that, given the fact that the invitation had proved to be legit, there was at least a decent chance that one of them had encoded the secret messages into my notes.

  I glanced at each of them and ran through their names in my head. Brooke, Tara, Tiffany, Brittany, Lucy, Bubbles, Chloe, and Zee. Brittany and Tiffany were twins, and Lucy might as well have been their triplet. They were blond, bubbly, and gorgeous, and had a combined IQ of 37. I immediately scratched them off my list of suspects. Chloe Larson, Brooke’s second-in-command, was smarter than she let on, but also wouldn’t have touched my locker with an eighty-foot pole. That left Tara, Bubbles, and Zee.

  I couldn’t bring myself to believe that a person named Bubbles could have encoded anything.

  “Any questions?” Brooke asked, leaning back against the blackboard.

  “I have a question.” Hayley Hoffman raised one manicured hand into the air. She was exactly the kind of girl the God Squad was looking for: JV cheerleader two years running, blond hair that she bleached blonder, and social claws that consistently demolished anyone
and everyone who stood in her way and half of the people who didn’t. When Brooke inclined her head toward Hayley’s raised hand, Hayley stared directly at me. “Was this meeting by invite only?” she asked. “Or could just anyone come?”

  I didn’t know whether to be angry that she was implying I wasn’t good enough to attend the meeting, or deeply offended that she thought I wanted to be there in the first place.

  “This meeting,” Brooke said, her voice every bit as bright and deadly as Hayley’s, “was your first audition.” Her eyes flitted to the rest of us, making it perfectly clear that this message wasn’t just for Hayley. “You came, we watched.” She smiled, no teeth. “We weren’t impressed. Any other questions?”

  This time, there were no takers.

  “In that case,” Brooke said, “we’ll be in touch.”

  And just like that, the meeting was over.

  That’s it? I thought. This was what I was supposed to be “curious” about? Forget curious. I was completely baffled.

  The only thing I knew for sure was that Hayley was right—I didn’t belong here. Of all the girls who’d received a summons to this invite-only meeting, I was the one who even a dumb four-year-old would have circled in one of those “which one does not belong?” tests. Besides Hayley, there were a slew of other JV cheerleaders, some of them sophomores and some of them juniors who hadn’t been chosen for the God Squad the year before. Then there were the noncheerleading populars: the too-cute editor of the yearbook, the part-time model, and the girl whose hot older brother was newly single. Given the fact that Bayport was one of the richest school districts in the country, everyone in this room could just as easily have been auditioning for a television show called Lifestyles of the Rich and Bitchy.

  Everyone except me.

  Chloe Larson rammed her body into my chair and then proceeded to give me the evil eye. “Watch where you’re going.”

 
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