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Sophie's POV

"I heard the cases jumped up to 10,000 today," Biana says casually, munching on a bag of SunChips. Her perfectly styled chocolate-brown hair glows a radiant color under the sun, and it reminds me of how things can still be normal. Return to normal, anyway. Sort of.

But beneath my awkwardness, I can't believe how the best friend who's practically my sister can say this so lightly, like she's gossiping about another boy from school. Oh, please forbid that, please forbid that! I silently pray, as I do every time when the subject approaches about boys. 

"Can we talk about something else? Please?" Crap. I somehow imagined that we were talking about boys instead of new cases of COVID-19, but it works both ways. Biana tries to frown at me for a second before she gives up and pretends like it never happened. "Okay," she says quietly, almost like she's scared.

I hate her quiet voice. It reminds me too much of my kitten, Marty — well, he's a full-grown kitten, but some people would call him a cat.

"Did you hear the rumor?" Biana suddenly perks up with excitement, her eyes skimming the pages of a magazine in front of her she'll never read.

"Uh, about what? You know there's more than a million of those going around every day, right?"

Biana twists a strand of hair with her pinkie finger and wraps it around a braid. "Keefe Sencen, obviously."

Instinctively, I squeeze my eyes shut and groan. Ugh. Biana always finds a new target to spotlight every week: last time, it was Shayda Adel, who sent Keefe metal things that click around your wrists apparently called 'crush cuffs' that flash your significant other's name. "Shut. Up!"

It always traces back to Keefe Sencen. Keefe Sencen, Keefe Sencen, Keefe Sencen. Hearing his name blare out loud in my head is enough to make me cover my ears.

Biana's eyes dance mischieviously and she smirks like she's telling me indirectly that I need to grow up. "I heard a rumor that Keefe Sencen's best friend, none other than Fitz Vacker, my own brother, likes someone!"

Her eyes bulge out widely like they're about to pop out of her eye sockets, begging for me to be excited. I try. I really try.

"And how is this about Keefe in any way?" I press, trying to choke myself internally with those mutant beast things from Stranger Things. Demogorgons.

Biana presses her lips together, like she always does when she just can't understand something. In this case, she can't understand why I can't understand why everything is about Keefe Sencen. "He's the center of everything! Everything in our school leads back to him," she says matter-of-factly.

"Listen, Bia, I know you like Keefe—"

"Uh, no I don't!" She starts to argue, but I throw an air-pillow at her to silence her.

"Well, do you not like Keefe?"

Biana starts to protest, but I threw up an arm like I'm a stop sign to keep going. She throws her dark hair behind her and sweeps it to one side in a fluid motion, waiting for what I'm about to say.

"Fine! Fine. I want to marry him. His ice blue eyes are really, really beautiful." Biana says dreamily and firmly, like she knows exactly what she wants. Even from here, I can see her eyes become animated with a secret of hers I probably won't ever know.

"Will you keep it secret?" Why is there a glint of worry in Biana's voice? We've always kept each other's secrets. It's our #1 friendship rule. As Biana would say, liars deserve their secrets to be exposed.

"Of course I will," I say confidently, to show her that she doesn't have any reason to doubt in my ability to protect her secret. She smiles a little crookedly and does a shimmy-dance thing, like she can't believe this is happening.

All my life I've never understood why, or how, Biana Vacker decided to befriend me. Biana Vacker. Even her name sounds far away, like she belongs to some distant land where she can be the prettiest of pretty people. She sounds like a cool elf. Or a nice horse. But not a human.

But I'm thankful for what she has done for me. She took me under my wing when I was a frail bird, and I'm almost ready to fight on my own. It turns out that total opposites make great friends, so I have no doubt that Biana and Keefe would make a great, uh, whatever they want to be. Keefe Sencen is all pranks and fun on the outside, and he definitely looks nice. That's how I know he has other secrets.

I wish it could always be like this. When Biana finally finds someone else who deserves her, she won't have as much time for me anymore. That's what happened with Maruca, her former best friend. The two of us have tried making friends with her before, but I don't think she can stand basking in someone else's shadow. She probably thinks I've replaced her, but she's nice enough about it not to budge.

The doorbell rings, and we both jump up. I've hated this moment forever. I still hate it every time Biana comes over, one of the downsides of her friendship: I hate it when she leaves. 

Before even a second has passed, Ms. Vacker is knocking at my bedroom door, and my best friend looks like she's about to block the door like Lily tried to protect Harry from Voldemort. A desperate last attempt, she mouths as she winks at me, knowing what I'm thinking. 

"I'll open the door!" Biana screams as the doorknob starts to twist, and she barges through like she's the one who's picking up her daughter. I wince and close my eyes, lunging for a wall as the falling sensation overtakes me.

"Sophie? Are you alright?" When my eyelids flutter open, I see that it's Biana's mom.

"I'm fine," I smile politely to reassure her, then get on one knee and stand up. "Thank you, Mrs. Vacker."

"It's Della," she says in a singsongy voice. Biana's mom — Della — is the kind of parent everyone wants to have knowing they'll never become that kind of model. She's got a flair for just about everything.

"Byeee, Sophie," Biana sticks her tongue out and makes a face at me as she walks through the door that separates us, and I wave at her. I can't stand to escort her out the door. I just can't do it.

My eyes widen and go still as she steps down the steps, her mom walking behind her to steady her if she falls. 

When I fall, there is only Biana to catch me — most of the time.

So what'll happen when Della falls? ​​​​​​

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