Welcome to Gallagher
Author: K.M. Paxton

Chapter 1
Chapter 1

       Kai O'Malley glided through the halls of Gallagher Academy, her short legs having to work twice as hard as the long ones of her best friends Kiki Greene and Farrah King. She kept her eyes focused on the clock at the end of the hall as she pretended to be oblivious to the envious stares and whispers of the less fortunate classmates around her. Inhaling the familiar smell of pencils and cafeteria, she instantly felt confident and at home. The girls' matching red and black Converse made rhythmic taps on the tiled flooring until they reached lockers 523, 524, and 525.
      "Here we are, ladies!" Kai exclaimed as she reached up to put her combination in. To her, being short had several inconvenient disadvantages.
       "Farrah, what's for lunch today? You would know," Kiki smirked, her hand resting on the waist of her short cheerleading skirt.
       "Cheese-and-avocado turkey burger on 9-grain bun with lettuce, tomato, and mustard with a side of sweet potato fries," Farrah read from the lunch menu she had posted on her locker door. "But that probably won't fill me up so I think I'm gonna buy a chocolate soft serve and large Coke to go with it."
       A long torso, fast metabolism, and good genes kept Farrah's terrible diet from catching up to her; she ate everything in sight and was a twig.
       "I'll probably just get something from the salad bar," Kiki announced loudly and dramatically, clearly hoping to attract attention. "This uniform is getting a little tight on me. I want to look perfect for homecoming."
       "You look amazing." Kai refuted automatically. She knew that Kiki was fishing for compliments, but she figured it wouldn't hurt to give out a few compliments. She adjusted her almost-skin-tight cheerleading top so that it hung right on her stomach.
       "What are you gonna have, Kai?" Kiki asked, half smile playing on her lips.
       "I don't know, but that burger sounds pretty good," She replied, pretending not to see that Kiki was intending for that to be a jab. She rubbed her stomach for emphasis. Kiki raised her eyebrows and looked away.
        Tucking a chunk of her long blond hair behind her oversize ears, Kai pulled out her red and black pom-poms and slammed her locker shut.
        "Let's break some hearts," she grinned slyly.
         The girls got back into their formation; Kai in the middle, Kiki on her left because it "showed off her better side" and Farrah on her right. They walked slowly and smiled mysteriously at the few remaining gawkers around them. Everyone else was already in the gym. It was time for their big entrance.
         Kai knew that this first performance as the Gallagher Grizzlies would forever leave an impression in the students' minds; whether it was good or bad. Especially for Kai, the new captain, it was crucial that her performance was totally perfect. She imagined herself after the cheer, after the dance, after the stunt, and after her chance to show off her impressive and Olympic-worthy gymnastics moves. She imagined standing there, basking in the applause of the crowd, heart filled up with pride and happiness. She sighed, longing to fast-forward through the whole routine and skip right to the loving adoration of the crowd at the end.
         "Ready?" Kai whispered, clutching the gym's door handle. Without waiting for an answer, she swung the door open.
       The girls jogged out, side by side, and took their front position in front of the other less well-known Grizzlies cheerleaders.
        "Ready, oh-kay!" Kai shouted.
         The girls shot their pom-pom clad hands into the air and began their cheer.
         "When we say 'go', you say 'Grizzlies', when we say number, you say 'one!'"
         "ONEEEEEEEE!" The crowd cheered.
         The girls struck a pose while the beat of a popular hip-hop song started to thump out of the speakers. As they began their dance, Kai fought the strong urge to turn and look at the other girls, just to see if they were struggling to remember everything like she was. Drop and tuck, smile, turn, smile, jump, smile, cartwheel, smile, flip, smile. She caught a glimpse of Farrah out of the corner of her eye. Farrah was, of course, perfect and it looked like it game naturally to her. It probably did. Farrah had been in competitive cheerleading since she was four and was much more qualified for the title of cheer captain than Kai was. Kai's popularity had won her the spot.
          Her heart leaped as the song ended and they formed their circle for their finale stunt. Once again Farrah was probably the right choice to be the flyer, being so light, but Kiki had insisted that the captain had to be the center of attention. Kai had forced herself to believe that even though Farrah was light enough to be flyer, she was too tall compared to Kai's short-but-thicker frame.
          Kai was by no means "fat". She was compact and muscular, and shorter than the other girls. Farrah was long and lean and had pretty much the exact opposite shape as Kai. Kiki had perfect curves and was envied by everyone, even Kai, for them, although Kai was often more jealous of Farrah.
          Kiki's caramel-colored arm reached for the bottom of Kai's shoe, which Kai had waiting in the air. Farrah swallowed hard and pulled Kai's muscular leg up with her stick-like arm. Kai felt her spotter's hands on the back of her ankles, waiting there in case of an emergency that they all knew would never happen. They cheered loudly at the crowd. Suddenly, a pink wad of bubblegum flew through the air. The next few seconds of Kai's life were a blur.
         She remembered a huge chunk of pink gum flying from the crowd and landing on Kiki. Kiki shrieked loudly and used both hands to wipe it off, completely forgetting about Kai. Farrah's skinny arms and legs couldn't support Kai by herself, and Kai remembered falling. Where were the spotters?
        The gym roared with laughter. Kai blinked and looked around, making sure this whole situation was real. It was. She shot a look of bitter disgust at her "spotter", then glancing at Farrah whose face could only be described as terrified. The other cheerleaders were shying away from Kai, who was in a crumpled heap on the ground, as if they were embarrassed to know her or be apart of what had just happened. Rejecting her. Even though she was their captain. Their leader. She looked finally at Kiki, and her face was completely straight. Kai thought she might have seen a glimmer of something in Kiki's eye, though. What was it? Amusement? Satisfaction?
        Thinking she imagined it, she shook the thought out of her mind. She was shaking violently as her worst fears were coming true. Public humiliation. Rejection. She tried to stand, but her legs were wobbly and she fell right back down. The crowd laughed as if it were the funniest thing in the world. A boy ran out from the bleachers and down to where they were cheering. Even though Kai's eyes were blurring with tears, she saw those familiar blond curls and longed for him to just hug her and make her feel okay.
         "Kai?" He reached down and pulled her up to her feet.
         "Jake," she sobbed.
         "It's gonna be okay," he soothed, and coaxed her out of the gym.
         On their way out, Kai heard two loud thumps on the bleachers.
         "Jake," she repeated, and pulled him into a tight hug. "I can't believe it," she whispered in between sobs. "I can't believe it."
          "Hey!" A loud voice demanded. "Hey, what are you doing, fish-boy? That's my girlfriend?"
           Jake immediately pulled away from Kai's embrace and scowled at the big guys walking towards them.
           "I was the one who went down there to get her off the floor," he mumbled.
           "You got something to say to me? Huh?" He growled back.
           "Do you?" His sidekick repeated.
            "Eric...Matthew," Kai pleaded. "Let him go."
            "What if I don't want to go? What if I've let this go on long enough?" Jake shot back, suddenly and uncharacteristically  defiant, even though Jake and Eric had hated each other forever.
            "Go Jake. Go. Er...Thank you. Go." Kai looked down at the ground.
            Eric elbowed Matthew in the ribs, signaling that is was his turn to leave. Kai watched him go, his cute dimpled face disappearing back into the gym.
             "What was that out there? You're the cheer captain, I'm the quarterback. You're my girlfriend. You're NOT supposed to make me look bad," he said.
              "It wasn't my fault," Kai cried, wiping her face of tears. "Do you think I WANTED that to happen?"
              "Actually, it IS your fault. If Farrah had been able to hold you up, you wouldn't have fallen and embarrassed the both of us. You only think about yourself," he ranted. "Maybe Farrah should be the flyer. She's definitely smaller, and obviously better at cheering. You know what, maybe Farrah should be my girlfriend."
               Eric knew that would hit a nerve in Kai, who was clearly jealous of Farrah about everything.
               "She's so pretty," he continued. "And so thin...so perfect."
                Kai inhaled sharply and crumpled back down to the ground, sobbing.
                "Yeah." He stated grumpily, and turned on his Adidas sneakers back into the gym.
                Kai knew the students were going to file out of the cafeteria to get to their first period soon, and she didn't want them to see her like this. She stood up, wiped her nose, and dashed to her locker down the hall.
                Opening it, she looked at herself in her locker mirror and shook her head. Her face was red and puffy, her eyes were bloodshot and swollen, and her hair was a mess. She took out her travel makeup bag and gently applied a little bit of everything to help even out her face and eyes. Using her pocket hairbrush, she made her blond locks look presentable and slammed her locker closed.
                This was going to be a rough day.


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