For three long years, she'd been awaiting this moment. In three short minutes, it would finally arrive.
Ariana Osgood wiped the blood from her nose, looking down at her fallen opponent.
Reed lay sprawled and stiff on the ground, her open eyes staring up at nothing. No breaths came from her mouth. No beats came from her heart.
A dark sky hung over the lake, hints of daylight peeking through the clouds.
Upon spotting Reed a couple of days ago, Ariana's excitement had gone wild. The girl looked a little older, looked a little different, but her basic appearance remained familiar.
She'd sent Reed a message, "from a friend," offering to help her get into Atherton-Pryce school. Reed had agreed to meet her here, and soon afterward, the fight had broken out.
Her opponent had been as fit as ever. Amidst their struggle, Ariana had lost her flip-flops, torn her T-shirt, and dropped a knife. But Ariana had come prepared, which resulted in her doing the most damage. After dragging a dazed and bloodied Reed to the water, Ariana had subdued her much like Briana Leigh — but only after Reed had hit her head on a jagged rock.
Afterward, she'd pulled her body to the edge of the lake, bound Reed's limbs, and attached extra weight. The only thing needed now was one last nudge.
Ariana paused to look the girl over. In the years leading up to this day, she'd always wondered if she'd feel any sorrow.
Now she had her answer...and it was a resounding no.
If this wannabe had never come to Easton with her immature ambitions, Ariana's life would have played out as planned. Of course, she'd helped Reed achieve those very ambitions...but in doing so, she'd been too generous for her own good.
In the time that they'd known each other, Ariana had done a lot of giving.
Reed, on the other hand, had done a lot of taking.
She'd taken her guy, taken her friends, taken her place. But beyond that, Reed had ruined her plans, ruined her dreams, ruined her life.
And then Reed had gone on living her own, without so much as a second thought about where Ariana had ended up, or everything she'd gone through.
Probably the only time that Reed did think or speak about her was when she had something insulting to say — when she wanted to make some snide comment, or some smug joke.
Well, who was laughing now?
Ariana scowled. Unable to wait any longer, she closed Reed's eyes with a brush of her leg, showing absolutely no respect as she grinded her foot into the girl's face.
Ariana lifted an eyebrow as she stared smugly. Then she began to focus on Reed's pathetic expression, on her sagging jaw. This had been a long time coming.
She nudged Reed into the water, then felt a thrill shoot through her as she observed what came next. She watched as the weights dragged Reed away. She watched as the girl drifted into a huge puddle of mud and weeds. And then, at long last, she watched what she'd waited so long to see: Reed's face slowly sank below the water, disappearing from sight.
Ariana stared, eyes locked steadily on the spot where she'd last seen a girl who she'd never see again.
Eventually, she closed her eyes, and released a quiet sigh.
Before collecting her items and driving away, she eyed the water — yet again. Finally, this girl had paid for what she'd put her through. Finally, it was over.
Several months later, Ariana leaned back in a long chair atop her balcony. Having left Atherton-Pryce, she'd moved overseas and bought a mansion. She'd initially planned to continue her schooling, but found that doing so was no longer for the best.
With Atherton-Pryce, she'd tried to recreate the life she'd had at Easton Academy. The whole thing had been fun at first, but she soon realized that both schools had brought her more trouble than she'd ever wanted to deal with — and the cycle would continue until she brought it to a stop.
She could no longer have her cake and eat it too. She needed to leave everything behind and make a completely new start.
Parting from her friends had been hard, but she'd given each of them her love before leaving. Her popular boyfriend, Palmer, had soon realized that he loved "Ana" more than he loved his status. As such, he'd come to live with her, and had completed additional studies here.
Both were clad in bathing suits beneath the warm sun. Ariana's curls were wrapped back in a mini ponytail, long locks resting around her breasts. She read quietly as Palmer rubbed lotion along her bare feet, feeling his kisses atop them every now and then.
For Ariana, everything was in perfectly clear perspective. One way or another, this was the life that she'd always been destined for. Obviously, she had gone a bit off-course along the way. She'd made mistakes, but she'd paid for them — losing friends, family, freedom, and dreams. If all of that hadn't earned her a second chance, she didn't know what possibly could.
Her past was gone, and she planned to keep it that way. No one had proof of the things she'd been through in another country. Another time. Another life.
...The life that a certain girl had taken from her — which had prompted Ariana to return the favor.
Naturally, she reminded herself that it hadn't been done out of pure spite.
She'd had to bury Reed, because Reed represented the last bit of her past, the last bit of her hatred. She didn't want to embrace hatred, she wanted to embrace love. She didn't want to live in the past, she wanted to live in the present.
Unlike how things worked in fairy tales, Reed's ghost hadn't come to haunt her. She never saw the girl's reflection in a bathroom mirror, never woke up screaming when Reed invaded her dreams, and never spoke to an apparition that no one else could see.
Ariana took all of this as a sign: If nothing else, Reed had understood why Ariana had done what she did — and Reed had forgiven her.
Ariana, of course, reciprocated in kind. She'd initially relished the image of Reed's sinking face, recalling the sight again and again. But now she chose to respect Reed's memory. Now she honored the bond that they'd once shared. With that bit of equity, they'd forgiven each other, and they'd made their peace.
It was finally time to move forward. She had a life to live, a man to love, and one day, she'd have a child to cherish. Though everything had started with a rough beginning, she'd obviously earned her happy ending. Finally. Forever. Ariana leaned back with a girly glee, smiling as she wriggled her toes and closed her eyes in the breeze.
While massaging her, Palmer thought about a conversation he'd had with their friend Maria, who'd called overseas from Atherton-Pryce. She'd told him all about one of her new friends: A quirky, brown-haired girl who went by the name of "Reed Brennan."
Reed had shared quite an odd secret. Apparently, several months earlier, she and another girl had switched places, posing as each other at their respective schools. The idea had sounded too risky at first, too hard to pull off, but it had ultimately been fun and beneficial to them both. However, Reed hadn't heard from the girl lately, so she'd called the charade off.
Palmer then asked how Maria could even know if she was talking to the real "Reed."
Maria laughed, and admitted that she didn't know. However, she believed that Ana would like the girl, and suggested that they all chat via a video connection sometime.
As he went on rubbing her, Palmer thought about mentioning it. But upon seeing the tranquil expression on Ariana's beautiful face, he simply smiled and continued massaging Ariana's feet, placing another kiss on her smooth skin.
While rubbing her, he wondered how she and the girl would react upon meeting each other...