BRIDGEPORT ACADEMY #1
Copyright © 2016 by Ashley Valentine
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Based on The It Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar.
NOTE: This is a series. Please read the Upper East Side books (1-11) if you haven’t already.
Somebody’s plaid Jack Spade duffel slammed into Bree Hargrove’s shin and jerked her out of a dream. The 10 A.M. Amtrak Empire Service to Rhinecliff, New York, had stopped in Poughkeepsie, and a tall, twentyish, stubbly chinned boy was standing over her.
“Anybody sitting here?” he asked.
“Nope,” she responded groggily, scooting over. He threw his bag under the seat and settled in next to Bree.
The train groaned along at about a mile an hour. Bree sniffed at the stale, slightly sweaty train car air and jiggled her foot, thinking about how she was going to be super-late for check-in at Bridgeport Academy. She would’ve been early if her dad, Rufus, had driven her up here in his blue beater Volvo wagon—he’d practically begged Bree to let him—but Bree hadn’t wanted her unshaven, embarassing father to drop her off at her brand new, sophisticated boarding school. Knowing him, he’d have tried to start up an impromptu poetry slam with her new classmates and shown off old pictures of Bree when she was a lame seventh grader and wore nothing but fluorescent green and orange Old Navy fleeces. Um, no thanks.
“Going to Bridgeport?” the boy asked. He raised his eyebrows at the Bridgeport Academy Guide to Ethics that sat unopened in Bree’s lap.
Bree brushed a curly tendril out of her eyes. “Yeah,” she answered. “I’m starting there this year.” She couldn’t hide the enthusiasm in her voice—she was so excited to start her brand new boarding school that she felt all jiggly inside, like she had to pee.
“Nope. Sophomore. I used to go to Emma Willard. It’s in the city.” Bree was a little pleased that she had a relatively chic past to refer to, or that it at least sounded that way.
“So you wanted a change of pace, or what?” He fiddled with the strap of his worn leather watchband.
Bree shrugged. This boy looked like he was her brother Mekhi’s age. Mekhi had just taken off for Evergreen College on the West Coast two days ago, taking nothing with him except for two duffel bags, his laptop, and two cartons of cigarettes. Bree, on the other hand, had already shipped four over-size boxes and a couple of giant duffels to Bridgeport, and had lugged a giant suitcase and an overstuffed bag with her. In her hyperexcited preparation for boarding school, she had practically bought out the hair, cosmetics, and feminine products aisles at CVS—who knew what she’d need at boarding school! She’d also gone on a buying spree at H&M, Forever 21, and Barneys with the credit card her dad had lent her for back-to-school shopping. “Kinda,” she finally answered.
The truth was, she’d been asked to leave Emma Willard—apparently because she was considered a “bad influence” on the other girls. Bree hadn’t thought she was being a bad influence at all—she was just trying to have fun, like every other girl at school. But somehow, all of her moments of extreme fun had also been highly publicized and embarrassing: a picture of her boobs in a sports bra had shown up in a magazine (she’d thought it was a sportswear model shoot), a video of her practically naked butt had been spread around the school, and she’d made some bad decisions about which boys she should make out with at various parties—and of course everybody had found out.
The final straw had come after Bree had spent a night at the Plaza Hotel with her brother’s old band, the Raves. A photograph of her leaving the Plaza in nothing but a fluffy white bathrobe had appeared online the next day. Rumors had flown that Bree was sleeping with all the Raves, including her brother. Ew! Concerned parents quickly called up the Emma Willard headmistress, aflutter about Bree’s promiscuity. After all, Emma Willard had a reputation for excellence to uphold!
Although Bree hadn’t even been with one Rave, let alone all of them, she hadn’t exactly wanted to deny the rumor—she kind of loved that everyone was talking about her. So as she’d sat with the Emma Willard headmistress, Ms. McLean, in her patriotic red, white, and blue office back in the city, Bree had realized something huge: it wasn’t the end of the world to get kicked out of Willard. This was her chance to start over, to reinvent herself as the blunder-free sophisticate she’d always wanted to be. And where was the classiest place to start over? Boarding school, of course.
Much to her dad’s chagrin—she was pretty sure Rufus wanted her to live with him in their Upper West Side apartment forever—Bree had rabidly researched a whole bunch of schools and toured a few. The first school had turned out to have a strict disciplinary code and had been too boring for words. Within minutes of getting to the second school, on the other hand, she’d been offered Ecstasy and had taken her top off. But just like the third bed for Goldilocks, the third school that Bree had tested, Bridgeport, was just right.
Well, to tell the truth, she hadn’t actually visited Bridgeport—she’d run out of time, applied way past the deadline, and taken some creative liberties with her application—but she’d looked at thousands of pictures online and memorized all the building names and campus maps. She was certain it would be perfect.
“I used to go to Bridgeport’s rival,” the boy said, pulling a book out of his bag. “St. Lucius. Our school hated your school.”
“Oh,” Bree replied quietly, sinking into her seat.
“I’m kidding.” He smiled and turned back to his book. Bree noticed it was Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, one of her dad’s favorites. According to Rufus, it had been banned because it was too righton in its vicious social commentary about love and sex in New York City. Hello, sex scenes. Bree felt her cheeks growing hot.
Then she realized: she was acting like her old, unsophisticated self. And one thing was for sure: Old Bree obviously wasn’t working for her.
Bree studied the boy carefully. She didn’t know him and would probably never see him again, so why did she care what he thought of her? At Bridgeport, Bree was going to be stunning, amazing New Bree, the girl who belonged at the center of everything.
So why not become New Bree starting right now?
Mustering up her courage, she uncrossed her arms to reveal her rather large double-D chest, which seemed even bigger, since she was barely five feet tall, and sat up straight. “So, um, any good parts in that book?”
The boy looked puzzled, his eyes darting back and forth from Bree’s innocent face to her chest to the worn paperback’s cover. Finally, he wrinkled his nose and answered, “Maybe.”
“Will you read some to me?”
The boy licked his lips. “Okay. But only if you read me a line from that book you’ve got there first.” He tapped the maroon cover of her beloved Bridgeport Academy Guide to Ethics.
“Sure.” Bree opened the rule book. She’d received it a few weeks ago and had devoured it cover to cover. She loved its plush leather binding, its creamy paper stock, and the nursery-rhymey, slightly condescending, slightly British style in which it was written. It sounded so wonderfully proper and upscale, and Bree was sure that by the time she’d even spent a few weeks at Bridgeport, she’d be polished, graceful, and perfect.
She cleared her throat. “Here’s a good one. ‘Bridgeport Owls may not dance in a sexually suggestive manner in public.’” She laughed. Did that mean they could dance in a sexually suggestive manner in private?
“Do they really refer to you as Bridgeport Owls?” The boy leaned over to look at the page. He smelled like Ivory soap.
“Yes!” As she said it, Bree grinned. She, Bree Hargrove, was going to be a Bridgeport Owl! She turned the page. “‘Bridgeport Owls are not permitted sexual intimacy. A Bridgeport Owl must not engage in activities that might be dangerous, such as jumping off the Richards Bridge. A Bridgeport Owl does not wear spaghetti straps or miniskirts above midthigh.’”
The boy snickered. “When they’re talking about a girl, shouldn’t it be an Owlette?”
Bree slammed the book shut. “Okay. Now it’s your turn.”
“Well, I just started, so I’ll read from the beginning.” The boy smirked and opened to the first page. “‘From the very beginning, I have trained myself not to want anything too badly.’”
Funny, Bree thought. She had the opposite problem—she wanted everything way too badly.
“‘I was corrupt,’” he continued. “‘Corrupt from the start.’”
“I’m corrupt!” Bree blurted out. “But not from the start.” Old Bree couldn’t believe what New Bree was saying.
“Yeah?” He closed the book. “I’m Chris, by the way.”
“Bree.” She looked down to see if Chris wanted her to shake his hand, but it was still wedged under his leg. They both smiled awkwardly.
“So, does your corruptness have anything to do with why you’re leaving New York for boarding school?” Chris asked.
“Maybe.” Bree shrugged, trying to be coy and mysterious at the same time.
She let out a sigh. She could admit the truth, but Everybody thought I was sleeping with all the guys in this band, and I didn’t deny it sounded kind of slutty. Definitely not mysterious or chic. So instead she decided to take some creative liberties. “Well, I was in a sort of risqué fashion show.”
Chris’s eyes glittered with interest. “What do you mean?”
She thought for a moment. “Well, for one look, I just had this bra-and-underwear set on. And heels. I guess it was a little too much for some people.”
This wasn’t entirely a lie. Bree had modeled last year—for a Les Best spread in W magazine. Clothed. But clothes didn’t seem too interesting at the moment.
“Really?” Chris cleared his throat and readjusted his square-rimmed glasses. “Have you heard of Jade Carmichael? You should know her.”
“Jade Carmichael. She goes to Bridgeport. I go to Bard now, but I met her a couple times at parties last year…She came to school in her own seaplane. But someone told me she decided to leave Bridgeport because Spike Lee offered her the lead in his next movie.”
Bree shrugged, feeling strangely competitive with—and a wee bit excited about—this Jade girl. She sounded like the ideal New Bree.
The exhausted-looking train conductor stomped down the aisle and grabbed the ticket off the top of her seat. “Rhinecliff, next.”
“Oh. This is me.” Bree took a deep breath. It was really happening! She looked out the window, expecting to see something truly magical, but saw only lush green trees, a wide field, and telephone poles. Still, trees! A field! The only field in Manhattan was Sheep Meadow in Central Park, and it was always filled with drug dealers and really skinny half-naked girls sunbathing.
She stood and reached for her bag and the old-school brown suitcase she’d borrowed from her dad. It had a big HUGS NOT BOMBS sticker next to the handles. Not very New Bree. As she struggled to bring the case to the ground, Chris stood to help her, pulling it effortlessly off the rack.
“Thanks,” she said, blushing.
“No problem. So, do I get to see pictures of you at…at the fashion show?”
“If you search online,” Bree lied. She stared out the window and saw, across a field, an old rooster weathervane on the top of a large, faded farmhouse. “The designer’s name is, um, Rooster.”
“Never heard of him.”
“He’s kind of obscure,” Bree answered quickly, noting that the polished, Polo wearing boy sitting behind them was definitely listening to their conversation. Bree tried to see what he was typing on his iPhone, but he covered the screen when he noticed her watching him.
“You…you should come to Bard sometime,” Chris continued. “We have some killer parties. Great DJs and stuff.”
“Okay,” Bree replied over her shoulder, raising her eyebrows just a touch. “Although, you know, a Bridgeport Owl isn’t allowed to dance in a sexually suggestive manner.”
“I won’t tell on you,” he answered, not taking his eyes off her chest.
“Bye, Chris,” Bree waved, using her most flirty, musical voice. She stepped off the train onto the platform and sucked in a deep breath of fresh country air. Whoa.
New Bree would take a little getting used to!
RyanReynolds: Hey, Benster. Welcome back, girl!
BennyCunningham: Hey, sweetie! How’s life?
RyanReynolds: I had the worst ride up here in our plane. My dad has this maniac pilot and they were yakking at each other the whole time and going faster and faster…
BennyCunningham: Next time you should fly with me. I’ll let you snuggle with me under my blankie.
RyanReynolds: God, you’re a tease. Hey, did u c Crystal’s pic in Atlanta Magazine?
BennyCunningham: No, but I heard it nearly ruined her mom. She had to do damage control on Good Morning Atlanta!
RyanReynolds: Yeah, Crystal looks bombed in the pic.
BennyCunningham: Is she still with Zane? I’m going to jump him if she’s not.
RyanReynolds: Dunno. Someone told me they saw him dancing with some gorgeous girl with really blue eyes and black dreads in Lexington.
BennyCunningham: Sorta sounds like Jade. Except for the dreads.
RyanReynolds: I know. Too bad she won’t be at the party tonight.
Crystal Alexander set her luggage down in the entranceway to Dumbarton dorm room 303 and looked around. The room was exactly as she, Naomi, and Jade had left it—except for the lack of empty Diet Coke bottles, cigarette butt-filled ashtrays, and CD cases strewn all over the room. Last fall, because they’d only been sophomores, Crystal and her two best friends, Naomi Peterson and Jade Carmichael, had been assigned a horrible, cramped room with only one window. But then Jade had bribed three dorky senior girls to switch with them the first week of school by promising them invites to the best secret parties. They’d wanted this room because it was bigger than most, with casement windows overlooking the Hudson River, and because it was close to the fire escape—ideal for sneaking out after curfew.
Naomi hadn’t arrived back at school yet, and Jade had been expelled at the end of school last year. They’d been caught on Ecstasy in the middle of the rugby fields at five in the morning by Mr. Purcell, the uptight physics teacher, who liked going running with his three impeccably groomed giant schnauzers before sunrise. It was the first time they’d ever tried E, and it had taken them a moment to stop laughing at the ridiculous-looking dogs before realizing what enormous trouble they were in. The girls had all been called into the headmaster’s office separately—first Jade, then Crystal, then Naomi—but the only one to get in any real trouble was Jade, who was promptly booted out of Bridgeport.
Crystal caught a glimpse of herself in the just-Windexed mirror over the antique oak bureau and straightened her white shell top and pleated yellow skirt. She’d lost a few pounds over the summer and the side zipper kept sliding around to her belly button. Crystal was thin now, maybe a little too thin, and tan from the summer. Her hair was long and shaggy, and her round, hazel eyes were fanned by thick, black eyelashes. She puckered her lips, blew a kiss at the mirror, and felt an anxious flutter in her chest.
All this summer, Crystal’s mind had spun, thinking about why Jade had been expelled and she and Naomi hadn’t been. Had Naomi set it up that way? Naomi was supersecretive about her life at home—her mom and dad never came to Parents’ Day, and Naomi never invited anybody to her house in East Hampton for long weekends. Jade had once dropped a hint that Naomi had some family issues she didn’t want anybody to know about. Could Naomi really have orchestrated Jade’s expulsion so she wouldn’t expose her secrets? It sounded totally soap-operaish, but Naomi was so melodramatic sometimes that Crystal wouldn’t put it past her.
Crystal nestled into her desk chair, actually glad to be back at school. Beyond not talking to her two best friends—she hadn’t heard a peep from either of them—her summer had been a disaster. First, there’d been the Atlanta Magazine photo of Crystal at Club Onyx, dancing on a table with a vanilla martini in her hand. The caption read, Overserved and underage: Is this appropriate behavior for a governor’s daughter? Needless to say, that hadn’t gone over well with her mother’s conservative Georgian voters. Oops.
After that nightmare, Crystal had flown to her family’s chalet in Barcelona—Mr. Alexander was part Spanish and spent his summers working on real estate deals in Europe. She had hoped that Barcelona would be the perfect backdrop for a romantic rendezvous with her boyfriend, Zane Taylor. But that visit had been anything but romantic. Try freaky.
“Hey,” came a gravelly voice behind her.
Crystal wheeled around. Zane. There he was, all rumpled, sexy six feet of him, standing in her doorway, looking more gorgeous than ever.
“Oh!” She felt her palms get slick with sweat.
“How are you?” he asked, pulling at the worn hem of his polo shirt. His glossy black hair curled around his neck and ears.
“Confused” would have been a reasonable answer. The last time she’d seen Zane was when she’d dropped him off at the Barcelona airport. They hadn’t kissed goodbye, and they’d barely even spoken the whole last day of his visit.
“Fine,” she replied cautiously. “How did you get in here? Did Angelica see you?” Her dorm mistress, Angelica Pardee, was really strict about allowing boys in the all-girls’ dorm except during “visitation,” which was only for an hour between sports practice and dinner.
“You look too skinny,” Zane said softly, ignoring Crystal’s questions.
Crystal frowned. “Do you want to get in trouble on the first day of school?”
“Your boobs are going away,” he continued.
“God,” she muttered in annoyance. The truth was, she hadn’t been hungry all summer—not even for Barcelona-style paella, her favorite. She was too nervous to eat, or to do much of anything, really. The last few weeks in Spain she’d spent on the couch, looking like an unstructured slob, wearing her slightly ragged, white Dior bikini and watching hours and hours of those Spanish soap operas. And she didn’t even speak much Spanish. “What are you doing back so soon?”
Zane was usually fashionably late to Bridgeport check-in—another no-no—because he arrived in a tractor-trailer with his Thoroughbred horse, Credo, who he kept on campus.
“Credo’s coming next week, so there was no reason for me to be late.”
He looked at Crystal. They’d been together since last fall, but he’d had a hard time getting psyched to see her back at school after his parents had received an angry note from Dean Marymount over the summer saying he’d be watching Zane carefully this year. Apparently there were rules to uphold, and just because Zane was a legacy—his grandfather, father, and three older brothers had all attended Bridgeport—didn’t mean he could bend those rules. So instead of heading up to school a week late with Credo, Zane had flown alone on a chartered plane from Kentucky to New York with leather reclining seats and unlimited champagne. Sounds great, right? Except it wasn’t exactly what Zane had had in mind.
Zane regularly fantasized about getting kicked out of Bridgeport Academy—until he remembered his father’s bargain. If Zane graduated from Bridgeport, he could take a postgraduate year in Paris. His father even had a big apartment in the Latin Quarter all ready for Zane’s year abroad. Paris—how cool would that be? He’d drink absinthe, paint street scenes from his bedroom window, and ride along the Seine on an ancient, rickety bike, a Gauloise hanging from his mouth. He could smoke his brains out and nobody would give him shit for it!
“You going to the party at Richards’ lounge tonight?” Crystal asked.
Zane shrugged. “Not sure.” He stood just inside the door frame.
Crystal pulled a foot out of her pointy-toed Burberry loafer and rolled her toes against the floor. A horrible feeling of dread washed over her. Why wouldn’t Zane want to go to the first party of the year? Everybody went to the first party of the year. Was he seeing someone else? Someone he wanted to be alone with on the first night of school?
“Well, I’m going,” she said quickly, crossing her arms.
Neither one had made a move toward the other. But with his curly hair, broad shoulders, and golden-brown forearms, Zane looked so irresistible, Crystal was dying to lick him from head to toe.
“Did you have a good summer after Spain?” she squeaked, trying to sound as indifferent as possible.
“I guess. Lexington was ass-boring as usual.” He pulled a toothpick from behind his ear and placed it between his slightly chapped lips.
Crystal leaned against her antique white-painted wood bedframe. Zane’s visit to Spain had been tainted from the start. He had had to fly coach class, and when he’d arrived, he’d been terse and gruff and had headed straight to the bar—not one of those cute little outdoor cafés straight out of the movies either, but simply the closest bar possible, at the airport. Then he’d passed out on the Alexanders’ couch, which was a real problem since Crystal’s dad needed to sit on that couch to watch the international feed of CNN every single minute he wasn’t working.
Crystal tilted her hips forward and chewed on her freshly manicured thumbnail. “Well, that’s nice,” she responded finally. She wished she could just wrap her arms around him and kiss him everywhere, but she couldn’t exactly do that when he hadn’t even tried to hug her hello.
Then she spied a familiar figure behind Zane and her heart started racing.
“Mr. Taylor!” crowed Angelica Pardee, Dumbarton’s dorm mistress. Angelica wasn’t even thirty, but she seemed to be in a hurry to enter middle age. Today she was wearing a thin, shapeless cardigan, a straight, knee-length black skirt, and sensible black shoes. Her calves were a little veiny and way too bluish-white, and she wore no makeup. “Do I have to report you already?”
Zane jumped. “I’m sorry,” he apologized, dazedly pressing his hand to his head, as if he had amnesia. “I haven’t been here in so long, and, like, I forgot which dorm I was in.” He looked across the room, directly into Crystal’s eyes, and she felt her arms goose-bump.
“See you later?” she finally mouthed.
He nodded ever so slightly.
“Stables?” she whispered.
“Tomorrow?” he mouthed back.
“Why not tonight?” Crystal wanted to ask. But she didn’t.
“Mr. Taylor!” Angelica practically spat, gripping the cuff of his shirt. Her light face was an abnormal red.
“Okay!” Zane yelped. “I said I was leaving.”
Angelica shook her head and ushered Zane down the hall.
Crystal turned and stared out the window. The abandoned stables were where they used to go last year to fool around. Only a few students kept horses at school, so several of the stalls were always empty. She hated that she had had to suggest they meet there, and not the other way around.
Droves of freshmen lumbered up Dumbarton’s steps, carrying way too much luggage. Crystal noticed how overwhelmed the girls seemed. She could relate. There were so many things about boarding school that you couldn’t plan for. They’d soon discover that they didn’t need half their shit and that they had forgotten the really important stuff—like empty shampoo bottles to hide vodka in. She watched the throng of freshman girls part as Zane strolled down the Dumbarton steps, nodding to the new, innocent faces. God, it was hard dating such a flirt.
She put her head in her hands. It was so obvious what had gone wrong in Spain. The last night they’d spent together, she’d admitted something to Zane that was so big and so scary for her to say. And what had been his answer? Nothing. Silence.
Crystal sighed. They’d have to talk about it tomorrow, although she hoped they’d be doing a lot more than just talking.
BennyCunningham: My brother’s friend at Exeter told me there’s a new girl at Bridgeport who’s a stripper from NYC.
BennyCunningham: Yep. Some club named…Hen Party? Chicken Hut? Horse Stable? I think in Brooklyn? I had my cousin who lives in the Village look it up—it’s the kind of place where u take it all off. Thong included.
MauriceJohnson: When can I meet her?
BennyCunningham: Maurice, you’re nasty.
MauriceJohnson: Don’t you know it, baby!
“Right here is fine,” Bree told the cabdriver as soon as she spied the discreet maroon sign reading Bridgeport ACADEMY hanging from a tree next to a tiny, one-story brick building. Bridgeport wasn’t far from the train station, but Bree hadn’t been able to get here fast enough.
“You sure?” The cabdriver turned around, revealing a thin beaky nose and a faded light blue Yankees cap. “Because the front office is—”
“I’m a student here,” Bree interrupted, feeling a thrill ripple through her chest as she spoke. “I know where the front office is.”
The cabdriver threw up his hands in defeat. “You’re the boss.” Bree handed him a twenty, stepped out of the cab, and looked around.
She was here. Bridgeport. The grass seemed greener, the trees taller, and the sky cleaner and bluer than anywhere she’d ever been before. There were lush evergreens on all sides, and on her right was a wide, cobblestone path snaking up a hill. A green field spread out to her left, and in the distance a few boys in fatigue shorts were kicking around a soccer ball. The whole place smelled of boarding school. Like the deep woods, which she’d only been in a few times, before she knew better than to accompany her dad and his kooky anarchist buddies on camping trips in southern Vermont.
A cream-colored Mercedes convertible swept past her. She heard a stately clock tower bong out one o’clock.
“Yes,” she whispered, hugging herself. She had definitely arrived.
The truth was, she’d wanted to get out of the cab because she couldn’t wait a second longer to plant her feet on Bridgeport ground, not because she knew exactly where she was going. Staring at the little brick building beside her, she realized that ivy had grown over the windows and the door was rusted shut. This definitely wasn’t the front office, where she needed to check in. Another car, this one a gray Bentley, passed her. Bree decided to follow the parade of luxury cars.
She dragged her bags up the freshly mowed hill, her kitten heels sinking into the slightly wet, springy lawn. A running track circled off to her right, flanked by tall white bleachers. A few girls were running briskly around the track, their ponytails bouncing. At the top of the hill, above the dark green trees, she could see a white church spire and the slate roofs of some more red brick buildings. The boys with the soccer ball had stopped playing and were now standing together, staring in her direction. Were they staring at her?
“D’you need a ride?” a male voice interrupted her thoughts. Bree looked over, and saw a dark, middle-aged man with dazzling white teeth hanging out the driver-side window of a silver Cadillac Escalade. She could see her reflection in his Ray Ban aviator sunglasses. She looked awkward and silly wearing a too-tight polo shirt and dragging her luggage up the hill in a pair of pointy pink kitten-heel sandals. She’d bought the shirt at Bloomingdale’s because she’d been sure it would make her feel like she absolutely belonged at boarding school, and she had gone back to visit the sandals several times before they finally went on sale so she could buy them.
“Um, sure. I’m going to the front office.” She slid into the backseat of the SUV, which smelled like new car. A dark-skinned boy with chiseled features was sitting in the passenger seat looking sulky, but he didn’t twist around to speak to her.
“I don’t know, Maurice,” the man told the boy quietly. “You may not be able to have the party—your mother and I might need the Woodstock house that weekend.”
“Motherfucker,” the boy hissed under is breath. His father sighed.
Bree barely acknowledged the boy’s rudeness. She only had ears for one word: party.
She felt funny, though, asking the boy about it, since he seemed pretty pissed off. The car stopped at an enormous red-brick building with a small maroon sign next to the stone pathway that said FRONT OFFICE. Bree squeaked her thanks, grabbed her bags, and made a beeline for the door.
Inside, the waiting room was ballroom size, with shiny floors made of dark cherry wood. A large crystal chandelier hung from the double-height ceiling. Four leather couches were arranged in a square around a heavy teak coffee table, and a beautiful, curly-haired boy was stretched out on one of them, reading and eating a bag of Fritos.
“Can I help you?” someone asked behind her. Bree jumped. She turned and saw an older woman with a very hairsprayed gray bob and watery brown eyes wearing a name tag that read HELLO, MY NAME IS MRS. TULLINGTON sitting behind a desk with a little white sign that read NEW STUDENTS’ CHECK-IN.
“Hi!” Bree peeped. “I’m Brianna Hargrove. I’m a new student!”
She studied the Welcome to Bridgeport schedule that was taped to the desk. School didn’t officially begin until tomorrow night at the orientation welcome dinner, but sports team tryouts would take place tomorrow during the day. Mrs. Tullington typed some information into a pristine Sony laptop, and then she frowned. “There’s a problem.”
Bree stared at her blankly. Problem? There were no problems in magical Bridgeport land! Look at how gorgeous that Frito-eating boy was!
“We have you down as a boy,” Mrs. Tullington continued.
“Wait, what?” Bree snapped back to consciousness. “Did you say a boy?”
“Yes…we have you here as Mr. Brianna Hargrove.” The older woman seemed flustered, flipping papers back and forth. “Some students have very old family names, you see, and maybe the admissions committee thought Brianna was—”
“Oh,” Bree replied self-consciously, twisting around to see if the boy on the couch had heard, but he was gone. All the Bridgeport mail she’d gotten had been addressed to a Mr. Brianna Hargrove. She’d assumed it was just a typo. What a dumb thing to assume. So Old Bree. “What does that mean? I had all my bags shipped to the…the Richards dorm, I think it was?”
“Yes, but that’s the boys’ dorm,” Mrs. Tullington explained this slowly, as if Bree didn’t get it. “We’ll have to find another space for you.” She flipped through some papers. “The girls’ dorms are all filled up…” She picked up the phone. “We’ll sort this out. But go see if your things are in Richards dorm. They would have been sent to the lounge on the first floor—that’s where all mailed luggage is held. It’s down the path to your right, fourth building. There’s a sign. We’ll send someone for you once we figure this out.”
“Okay,” Bree replied happily, picturing all the fine, shirtless preppy boys she was about to see lounging around Richards. “No problem.”
“The main door should be open. But don’t go into any of the rooms. They’re off limits!” Mrs. Tullington called after her.
“Of course,” Bree agreed. “Thank you!”
Bree stood on the stone porch of the front office. From studying the campus maps, she’d learned that Bridgeport’s dorms, chapel, auditorium, and classrooms were all laid out in a big circle, with the soccer fields in the center. At the back of the circle were the crew houses, the Hudson River, the art gallery, the botany labs, and the library. All of the buildings seemed to be made of brick, with old, heavy windows and white trim.
Strolling excitedly toward the dorms, Bree had to will herself not to skip. Girls in beat-up Levis and ragged flip-flops were spilling out of Mercedes SUVs and Audi wagons, hugging other girls and talking excitedly about what had happened over the summer at their country houses on Martha’s Vineyard and in the Hamptons. Boys in zip-up hoodies and camo shorts were ramming into each other with their shoulders. One guy carrying a Louis Vuitton duffel shouted, “I did so much Molly this summer, my brain is fried!”
Bree felt her body stiffen, suddenly intimidated. Everyone looked so beautiful—scrubbed and clean and fashionable without even trying to be, which was so much cooler than spending hours primping, like she usually did—and like they’d known one another forever. Bree took a deep breath and continued along the path.
Then, out of nowhere, a giant birdlike thing swooped down, making a horrific cawing noise, and flew about an inch from Bree’s face.
“Aghh!” she screamed, swatting in front of her.
She watched as the thing soared into a tree. Scary! It looked like a rat on steroids.
Behind her, Bree heard a snicker and wheeled around. All the girls were still talking to one another, but two boys in bucket hats were sitting on a stone wall, watching. Then she noticed that in her fright, she’d dropped her overpacked suitcase on the path, and it had sprung open. Oh, God. Her giant nude extra-support bras, the kind with the extra hook-and-eye clasp and padded straps that she had to use when she had her period, were all over the ground. They were bras a huge, dumpy grandmother might wear.
She quickly shoved the bras back in her suitcase, peeking to see if the two boys sitting on the wall had noticed. They were already greeting some other guy in a white baseball cap, doing that hand-grab half-hug thing that guys do, not paying any attention to Bree. With the fresh air and lush, rambling scenery, maybe oversized boobs and bras weren’t the kind of thing Bridgeport kids noticed…
Then the new arrival turned to Bree and touched the brim of his ratty white baseball cap with his index finger. He gave her a wink, as if to say, The air might be fresh, but we’re not totally blind.
Amir Phillips sat on one of his duffel bags and stared at Maurice Johnson. No matter when he arrived on campus, he always saw Maurice first. Even though they were roommates, Amir found Maurice really annoying most of the time.
“I brought a carton of smokes,” Maurice bragged as he unzipped his black medium-size duffel and showed Amir the edge of the Newport “unfiltered” box. They were in Richards’ lounge, waiting to get room assignments. It was just a normal common room—the meeting spot where the guys watched SportsCenter, shared sausage pizzas from Ritoli’s, and flirted with cute girls during visiting hour—but still, the lounge felt English and regal. The cream-colored plaster ceilings were fifteen feet high, with dark wooden beams, and there were comfortable, worn leather armchairs scattered all over the place. An old cabinet TV that got three network stations and, randomly, ESPN, loomed in the corner. On the floor lay a huge, ornate Oriental carpet. Careless cigarette burn holes made the rug look even more historic.
“That’ll last you about a week,” Amir scoffed, pushing his wavy hair back into its deliberately tousled place. Maurice smoked like a fiend right outside Richards even though smoking was forbidden on campus, but the faculty constantly looked the other way. It might’ve been because of Maurice’s stunning good looks—he was tall, lean, and athletic, with sharp cheekbones, shaggy dreadlocks, and smooth skin the color of cocoa. But more likely, it was Maurice’s family that kept him out of trouble. Maurice’s father had donated four and a half million dollars for the Olympic-size natatorium and another million for a three-floor addition to the renovated botany library, so Maurice could pretty much do as he damn well pleased and never get so much as a warning.
“You bring your weird girly cream with you this year?” Maurice teased.
“It’s moisturizer,” Amir clarified.
“It’s moisturizer,” Maurice echoed in a high-pitched voice.
So what if Amir took good care of his skin? And liked nice clothes and shoes and liked his wavy hair to be just so? He was neurotic about his height—he was only five-eight—and shaved his chest because he hated the tiny little hairs that grew in the caved-in part of his breastbone. His less-clean friends busted on him to no end. But so what?
“Who you think they’re gonna room us with?” Maurice asked.
“Don’t know. Maybe Ryan. Unless he gets a single again.” Ryan Reynolds’s father had invented the soft contact lens and openly used his wealth as leverage to his son’s advantage. Lots of kids’ parents bribed the school, but usually it was kept a secret.
Maurice snickered. “Maybe you’ll get paired up with Taylor.”
“Nah, even the administration knows better than that,” Amir replied. Just the sound of that name—Taylor, as in Zane Taylor—made Amir’s blood curdle.
“So, how’s Natasha?” Maurice recited her name with a bad Russian accent.
Amir sighed. Last April he had started going out with Natasha Wood, who went to Millbrook Academy, after Zane stole his old girlfriend, Crystal Alexander, from him. “We broke up two weeks ago.”
“No shit. You cheat?”
Amir shrugged. They’d broken up because he was still sprung over Crystal. He and Natasha had been making out on the Harwich main beach in Cape Cod, and Amir had accidentally called Natasha Crystal by mistake. Oops. Natasha had climbed up the rickety wooden lifeguard stand and refused to come down until Amir went away. Forever.
“Whose stuff is that?” Maurice looked across the room and kicked his feet up on the brown tweed couch. There was a whole pile of bright pink canvas bags that didn’t have an owner yet.
Amir shrugged. “Don’t know.” He picked up one of the tags. “‘Brianna Hargrove.’”
“There’s going to be a guy named Brianna Hargrove in this dorm? Weird.”
“No, I’m Brianna.”
A little curly-haired girl in a light purple Marc Jacobs knockoff skirt stood in the common-room doorway. Amir knew the skirt was a knockoff, because he’d bought Natasha the real deal this summer. This Brianna had a tiny upturned nose and round cheeks and wore little skinny-heeled pink shoes with tiny cut-outs at the front so he could just glimpse her toes peeking through.
“Hi,” she said simply.
“Uh,” Amir stammered. “You’re not…supposed to be—”
“No…actually…I am.” She laughed a little. “I was assigned to this dorm.”
“So you’re Mister Brianna Hargrove?” Maurice butted in, crossing one foot over the other.
“Yeah. Bridgeport had me down as a guy.”
Amir had a pretty good idea what Maurice was thinking right then: With tits like those, you certainly don’t look like a guy. God, his friends annoyed him sometimes. “I’m Amir.” He offered his hand politely, stepping in front of Maurice.
Bree tugged at her skirt. “Hello.” She felt a little flustered. Of the seven boys who were milling around the lounge with their stuff, she’d picked out the two cutest. Amir was gorgeous, with his flawless beige skin, perfect wavy hair, and long, luxurious eyelashes, but he was prettier than she was! Bree liked boys who looked a bit rougher and messier, like the one sitting behind Amir, whose dreadlocks was slightly messy and whose green oxford shirt looked slept in. She stared at him again, realizing that he was the boy who’d given her the ride up the hill. The one who was having the party. Didn’t he recognize her?
“I’m just supposed to wait here until they figure out what to do with me.” She looked directly behind Amir, trying to jog his cute friend’s memory. “Can I hang out with you?” She tried to keep her voice steady. New Bree does not squeak when inviting herself to hang out with fine boarding school boys! she silently scolded herself, digging her nails into her palms.
“Sure,” the guy answered, staring directly at her chest.
“What are you doing here, anyway?” Bree looked arfdound. “Does everyone have to hang out in the lobby before they get assigned rooms?”
“Nah, we’re just screwups, so we’re stuck here until they tell us where we can go.” He grinned, whipping a white iPhone out of his khaki pants pocket.
Bree sat down. “What did you do wrong?”
“Don’t listen to Maurice.” Amir shook his head. “The Bridgeport teachers are just assholes.”
Bree started discreetly wiping the mud off her pink shoes as best she could. “So I’m a little freaked out. Something totally attacked me on my way over here. It was like…a giant flying cat.”
“Ohhh…That’s a great horned owl,” Amir explained. “They’re all over the campus. Someone donated a pair of them like a hundred years ago and they spawned. But even though they practically kill kids all the time, the horned owl is our mascot. I guess it’s, like, Bridgeport tradition to have them around.”
“They crap all over the place,” Maurice added.
“Oh, I like traditions,” Bree exclaimed quickly. “But the thing swooped for me like it didn’t want to miss!”
“How could it miss?” Maurice muttered, typing on his iPhone. He looked straight at Bree’s boobs again. Old Bree would have been embarrassed, she thought, but not New Bree. She would call him out.
“Is there something wrong?” she asked politely, folding her hands in her lap.
Maurice smiled wryly, then cocked his head. “Wait a sec.” He stopped. “You said you were from the city? As in, New York?”
“Yes. The Upper West Side.”
Maurice’s eyes lit up like a slot machine. “Have you heard of a club called Hen Party?”
Bree furrowed her eyebrows. “No…”
“Maybe I’ll take you some time.”
“Inappropriate,” Amir muttered. Hen Party was some strip club in Manhattan everyone was suddenly talking about. He looked from Maurice to the new girl. They seemed to be in some sort of force-field staring contest with each other. She looked smitten, but whatever. Maurice might be Amir’s friend, but he was the human version of a Monet—he only looked good from afar. Close up, once you got to know him, he was pretty…well, ridiculous. Just wait until you find out that he has a bad toenail-clipping habit, Amir thought, gritting his teeth. Just wait until you find out he gossips more than a female. Just wait until you find out the girls call him Pony behind his back, because everybody has taken a ride.
The staring contest continued. Then a little high-pitched noise rang out, and Maurice’s attention quickly swerved back to his phone. “Mister Brianna Hargrove,” he muttered again, “from the Upper West Side.” He tapped out a few more lines and threw his iPhone back into his bag. Then he stripped off his T-shirt and rubbed his dark, summer-spent-in-Nantucket chiseled torso. “I’m going to take a shower. Wanna come?”
Bree opened her mouth to respond, but Maurice wheeled around, found a fluffy white bath towel in his duffel bag, and sauntered off to the bathroom.
Amir sighed and pulled out his own iPhone. He scrolled through a few e-mails—just some more welcome-back messages and speculative gossip about what had happened to Jade Carmichael. He could sense Bree watching him and couldn’t help but get all tingly.
“Are we allowed phones?” Bree asked.
“Well, no. We can’t talk on them. But everyone texts and IMs on their phones. You just log on to Owlnet and use your Bridgeport e-mail address, which is just your first and last name, no spaces. It’s a loophole the faculty hasn’t figured out yet.”
“Shoot. I didn’t bring mine. The manual said no cell phones.”
“‘Bridgeport Owls must not use cell phones on campus,’” Amir recited in a mock-serious voice.
Bree giggled. “Yeah. I love all the Bridgeport Owls stuff.”
Amir smiled. “Apparently one of the old Bridgeport headmasters wrote the manual right after the Roaring Twenties, maybe during, like, Prohibition or something, when manners and good behavior were really important. I guess owls were the mascots back then, too. It’s been adapted for modern times, with cell phones and stuff.”
“Funny.” Bree felt herself relax a little. Her cheeks hurt from smiling so much already today.
“So there’s a party in this lounge tonight. Maybe you wanna come?”
“A party?” Bree raised her eyebrows eagerly. “Sure.”
“I mean, it’ll be pretty casual, but it’s tradition, you know?” Amir shrugged. He seemed less shy without Maurice around.
Bree bit her lip, which Amir found irresistible. She was so fresh-faced and seemed so excited to be there, different from all the cookie-cutter, Calvin Klein sweater, Gucci sunglasses, Barbie-goes-to-boarding-school Bridgeport girls who took it all for granted. Now if only she could stay off the Pony ride before classes even got started…
“Well,” Bree interrupted his interior monologue. “If it’s a tradition, then I’ll have to come. Maurice will be there too?”
Maurice slunk through the lounge doorway. His shaggy, shoulder-length dreads were dripping water down his bare chest, and the white bathtowel was tied right under his chiseled hipbones. He wasn’t holding anything except for his white iPhone, and he smiled at it as he spoke. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
MauriceJohnson: I already met stripper girl. Twice.
MauriceJohnson: Dad gave her a ride to the front office. Then me and Amir were sitting in Richards and she came in. She plays it cool, though. Real innocent. But you can tell she’s naughty.
RyanReynolds: She snuck into a boys’ dorm already? Did she show you her thong?
MauriceJohnson: Not yet…
“Mom, can you please tell Raoul that he doesn’t have to come into the dorm with me? This is embarrassing.” Naomi Peterson tried to balance a cream-colored Chanel purse and a black laptop bag in one hand and a giant Hermès shopping bag in the other while cradling her cell phone against her shoulder. Her parents’ personal assistant, Raoul, who was two hundred sixty pounds and bald, struggled to lift some of her seemingly endless luggage without ripping his black suit. Finally he gave up and took off his jacket, revealing a perspiration-stained white shirt and a mountain of muscles.
“Honey, you need his help,” her mother cooed in her thick New Jersey accent on the other end of the line. “You can’t carry those heavy suitcases all by yourself!”
Naomi groaned and slammed her phone shut. Everyone else carried their own stuff—no matter how loaded they were. Drivers just left their bags on the curb in front of the dorm. It wasn’t as if anybody was going to walk off with your shit. But her parents, Stuart and Tomika Peterson of Rumson, New Jersey, babied her as though she were one of their shivering Teacup Chihuahuas.
Her parents—shudder. Her father, the most prominent plastic surgeon in the tri-state area, was known for bragging about the highest percentage of fat he could lipo out of a patient in a single sitting. And the only time Naomi’s mom had accompanied her to Bridgeport, when Naomi was an eighth grader and touring the school, Mrs. Peterson had told a particularly sophisticated-looking mother that her chin was just perfect and had asked who she used. The woman had stared at Mrs. Peterson blankly before finally getting it and storming away.
Ever since she’d started Bridgeport, Naomi had straight up lied about her parents. She claimed they lived on an East Hampton organic farm but summered in Newfoundland, that her father was a cardiologist and her mom threw small-scale charity events. She had no idea why that was the story she’d come up with, but anything was better than the real story, which was that her parents were nouveau riche and the tackiest people Naomi had ever met. Everyone at Bridgeport bought it, except for Jade, who last year had answered Naomi’s cell phone when she wasn’t in the room and had a lengthy conversation about leopard versus tiger prints with Mrs. Peterson, who was of course calling from her Rumson, New Jersey—not East Hampton—home. That was one good thing about Jade not coming back: at least her embarrassing parents would remain a secret.
“You really don’t have to help me, after driving all this way.” Naomi smiled apologetically at Raoul. She’d have to remember to send him some Kiehl’s All-Sport Muscle Rub for when he got home.
“It’s fine,” Raoul replied in his baritone voice, but Naomi thought she detected a slight groan when he dropped her bags and headed back to get the next round from the car.
When she unlocked her dorm room door, her best friend, Crystal, who had a perfect, untacky pedigree—her mother was the governor of Georgia, for God’s sake—smirked as Raoul fussed over exactly where Naomi’s oversize Louis Vuitton trunk would go.
“Oh, wherever’s fine!” Naomi said quickly. Then she turned back to Crystal. “Hey.”
“Hey, yourself.” Crystal leaned against the window and crossed her arms. She looked like she’d spent the whole summer getting twisted and prodded by her Pilates instructor, Claude, and eating nothing but Trident gum. Her hair was shoved into a messy low ponytail, and she had that slightly dazed, you’d-think-she-was-ditzy-if-you-didn’t-know-better look in her hazel eyes. A yellow skirt and white top lay in a rumpled pile on the floor, and now she was wearing a faded blue T-shirt, mini boy shorts, and socks with little pink flowers on them.
Where Crystal was cute and pretty in a preppy way—she was captain of the girls’ field hockey team, after all—Naomi was more unique-looking. She had deep Hershey-chocolate skin and very red bob-length hair. Her brown eyes were almond-shaped and both her nose and chin came to mischievous-looking points.
It was weird suddenly seeing Crystal and comparing herself to her again. Last year, Naomi, Crystal, and Jade had been three peas in a pod. But then the E thing had happened and everything had changed. No one knew why Jade was the only one who’d been kicked out, but Crystal had always had a particular talent for persuasion—freshman year, she’d convinced Tiana Mitchell to go out with Baylor Kenyon instead of Amir Phillips, all because Crystal had wanted Amir for herself. And last year, Benny Cunningham, their well-bred, beautiful friend from Philadelphia, had wanted to go out with Damian Sanchez, a fine Venezulan import, but he’d liked skanky Tricia Rieken—who’d had a boob job and wore the sluttiest, most dominatrixlike clothes from Dolce & Gabbana. Somehow Crystal had managed to persuade Tricia to like Lon Baruzza, who was on scholarship but gorgeous and allegedly very good at sex, leaving Damian open for Benny.
Clearly Crystal was good at getting people to do whatever she wanted, especially when she had something to gain personally. And in this case, maybe Crystal was better off without Jade around: last spring, Jade and Crystal’s boyfriend, Zane Taylor, had been spotted by the girls’ soccer team behind the row houses at night—alone. Both Jade and Zane had denied that anything had happened, but Crystal could get pretty territorial when it came to boyfriends. It seemed crazy that Crystal would get Jade kicked out of school for possibly hooking up with Zane, but, well, Crystal was a little insane.
Crystal squinted. “Did your hair get redder?”
“Kind of,” Naomi mumbled. Her colorist, Jacques, had fucked up and used a blue red on her instead of a yellow red. She’d gone to Bergdorf’s to get it fixed but had managed to get the salon’s most punk rock stylist, who had told her it was perfect and that it would go against his artistic sensibilities to change it. Naomi worried that she looked too much like one of those ratchet black girls with neon-colored hair, which was not a good look.
“I like it,” Crystal declared. “It looks cute.”
Liar! Naomi knew what Crystal thought of fake-looking dyed hair. Naomi slammed her bag down on the floor. “So what, you don’t call me all summer?”
“I…I called you,” Crystal stammered, widening her eyes.
“No, you didn’t. You sent me one text message. In June.”
Crystal stood up. “Well, you didn’t respond!”
“I…” Naomi trailed off. Crystal was right. She hadn’t responded. “So, did you hear from Jade?”
Naomi felt a stab of jealousy. “Me too,” she lied. She really hadn’t heard from her glamorous best friend since she’d been expelled last May.
They both stared at Jade’s bare bed. Would it be empty all year? Maybe they’d use it for extra storage or cover it with an Indian flannel bedspread and embroidered pillows from one of the hippie Rhinecliff stores. Or would Bridgeport stick them with some weirdo no one wanted to room with?
“Jade called me a whole bunch of times,” Crystal continued, a little aggressively.
“Me too,” Naomi lied again, removing some of her blouses from her cream-colored leather suitcase. “So, how’s Zane?” She changed the subject. “Did you see him this summer?”
“Um…yeah,” Crystal replied quietly, a twinge of hurt in her voice. “Did you see Corey?”
“Yeah, some,” Naomi mumbled back.
“Still hate the way he says car?” Crystal asked as she examined her clear lip gloss in a tiny black Chanel compact.
“Yes,” Naomi groaned. Her boyfriend, Corey, was the star lineman for St. Lucius and even though he was from an old-money family in Newton, a well-to-do suburb of Boston, he spoke with a Boston townie accent, omitting his r’s like Johnny Depp in Blow.
“Did you visit him or did he visit you?”
“Well, I spent a week with his family on Martha’s Vineyard. That was really nice.” Naomi liked Corey, but she really loved his family. They were textbook New England wealthy—so understated and tasteful and the exact opposite of her trashy parents. It didn’t hurt either that Corey was gorgeous, with an angular, square jaw, skin the color of peanut butter, and deep brown eyes that drank her in.
Naomi had promised that, as soon as she got to school, she’d call him up and they’d have phone sex. Corey had wanted to have sex over the summer, but she just wasn’t ready. She wasn’t entirely sure why, except that she’d never had sex with anybody before, and she really wasn’t sure if Corey was the right person to do it with first.
Of course, indecision about losing her virginity wasn’t the kind of thing a girl like Naomi ever admitted out loud. She’d told Crystal she’d lost it ages ago to a Swiss boy named Gunther she’d met on a family skiing trip to Gstaad, even though really she’d hardly even let him feel her up. Naomi had cultivated an image at Bridgeport: tough, experienced, sophisticated, and a little bitchy. Her mom was the opposite—helpless, naive, childish—and Naomi didn’t want to be like that.
Crystal extended her long, perfectly smooth legs. “I really need a shower.” She yawned, stood up, and slipped on a pair of rubbery flip-fliops. “You want to go to dinner when I get back?”
Naomi shrugged. “I don’t know. I have to look over some prefect stuff for tomorrow. There’s some new adviser, so I need to be prepared and stuff.” Naomi had been elected junior prefect last year, which meant she would lead roll call and act as junior leader of DC, or Disciplinary Committee. It was a huge popularity nod—everyone in your class had to vote you into the position. “But I guess I could skip it. And we have the party tonight, too… ”
“Whatever.” Crystal waved her towel and turned for the door.
Naomi flopped onto her bed and stared out the window. The view of the river, which usually calmed her down like a shot of aged whiskey, now seemed suffocating. She’d imagined her first meeting with Crystal after the long summer would be different. She hadn’t expected them to talk about Jade right away, and she’d assumed Crystal would behave like she used to—throwing herself on Naomi’s bed, opening a bag of Starbursts for them to share, and gossiping about all the wild, romantic, risqué stuff they’d done all summer. They’d laugh, have some gin and tonics, and go to dinner, just like last year.
She flipped open her cell phone and quickly hit the shortcut key to call her sister, Noelle, who lived in New York and worked as a fashion editor at Elle magazine. Noelle had been through the Bridgeport mill six years before and could usually talk Naomi out of any funk. Unfortunately,
Noelle’s phone went straight to voicemail.
“Hey, it’s me,” Naomi rambled when she heard the beep. “I feel…I don’t know. A mess. Call me or something.”
She hung up and flopped back on the bed. As soon as she did, her cell phone bleated in her bag. Thinking it was Noelle she opened it up, but she was wrong.
“Hello, Corey,” she sighed, pressing the phone to her ear. “How are you?”
“Wicked awesome, now,” he breathed on the other end.
Naomi rolled her eyes. Then she pictured him spread-eagled on his St. Lucius bed, ten miles away, in a tattered varsity football jersey and boxers, with his long arms and sexy eyes, and she felt a warm whoosh of pleasure.
“So are we going to do this…thing?” she asked, not even bothering to shut the dorm room door. Let the nosy sophomore girls next door get an earful. Maybe they’d learn something.
MauriceJohnson: I got news. Talked to my older brother’s friend, and he says that this place Fish Stick is the best in the city. Girls take it off for 99 cents!
CrystalAlexander: Um, Maurice? I think you got the wrong text addy. This is Crystal. I don’t want to hear about strippers. Especially not as I’m about to take a shower.
MauriceJohnson: You’re in the shower? Can I see? Now that you and Zane are broken up, you’re a free agent, right?
CrystalAlexander: What? Who told you that?
CrystalAlexander: Maurice? Where are you? It’s not true!
BennyCunningham: So the big question going around is, you take a ride on the pony yet?
BennyCunningham: It’s the new name for Maurice Johnson. He gets more ass than a pony at a country fair.
CrystalAlexander: Ew. No way have I hooked up with him. He’s nasty. Have YOU?
BennyCunningham: Guilty as charged.
CrystalAlexander: OMG. When?
BennyCunningham: Freshman year. We made out in the Stansfield Hall coatroom. Never again. Totally gross.
CrystalAlexander: Not to change the subject, but has anyone told you Zane and I broke up?
BennyCunningham: Can’t remember. Gotta go to predinner prep!
CrystalAlexander: Because it’s not true.
CrystalAlexander: U still there?
“I’m looking for Brianna Hargrove.” A thin, birdlike girl with a southern accent and stringy black hair stood twitching in front of Amir and Bree, just inside the door to Richards’ lounge. She wore a plain white sleeveless turtleneck and very suburban-mom-looking khakis, the kind that cinch around your waist and make your ass look huge. “I guess that would be you.”
“Yes,” Bree half-squeaked, trying to keep the eagerness out of her voice.
“I’m Yvonne Stidder.” The girl stuck her hand out. She had a flimsy handshake and acne on her chin. “I’m a mentor to new students. We found you a room.”
Amir raised his eyebrows at Bree and started to get up. “It was nice meeting you, Bree.”
“You too.” Bree hefted her pink duffels onto her shoulder. “I’ll see you tonight,” she whispered when Yvonne had turned her back.
“I’m so sorry we kept you waiting for so long,” Yvonne continued, leading Bree down the Richards stairwell, past an entryway full of already-moved-in mountain bikes, skateboards, empty PlayStation boxes, and about a dozen well-used basketballs.
“No big deal.” Bree was thrilled to have hung out with those two cool boys, but she was kind of relieved to be away from them, so she could breathe a little.
“Normally we aren’t allowed in the boys’ dorms except during visitation hours.” Yvonne gave Bree a sidelong glance, holding the door open for her. She sneezed as soon as they stepped outside. “Actually, um, that was the first time I’ve ever been in a boys’ dorm. Although of course I know everything about the boys’ dorms. I know all sorts of facts about Bridgeport if you want to ask me any questions. Anything at all.”
“Okay. Thanks.” If Yvonne hadn’t seemed like such a dork, Bree might’ve suspected she was coked up, she talked so fast. “So what dorm am I in?” she asked as they crossed the green. She felt a nervous flutter in her chest. They were going to her new dorm, where she’d live for the whole school year! Where all sorts of amazing things would happen to her! Hopefully.
“Dumbarton. Over there, see?” Yvonne pointed to a two-story brick building with cutout windows sticking out of the roof at the back of the campus. Beyond it shimmered the Hudson, which looked a lot prettier up here than it did in the city. Bree could just picture the boys’ crew team gliding effortlessly across its surface in their sleek sculls, their strong arms bulging as they rowed. “This girl Jade Carmichael—she was going to live with Crystal Alexander and Naomi Peterson, but then she got kicked out, so there’s a free spot. My friend from jazz ensemble, Storm Bathurst, lives next door—”
“Wait. Did you say Jade?” Bree asked. She recognized that name, but she’d absorbed so much in so little time that she couldn’t remember when or where. “Why’d she get kicked out?”
Yvonne shoved her round, wire-rimmed glasses further up her nose. She smelled like Vicks VapoRub. “I’m not sure,” she replied flatly. “I don’t like to gossip.”
“Well, can you tell me anything about my new roommates?”
Yvonne paused. “I don’t know them well. But they’re the girls everyone flocks around.”
“Flocks around?” Bree’s heart sped up.
“You know, the ones always giving parties, always with the cutest boys…” Yvonne giggled and turned to Bree. “Not to say there aren’t cute boys in the jazz ensemble. Do you play any instruments? The jazz ensemble is looking for some people.”
“Um, no, sorry. But about Crystal and Naomi—they’re, like, really popular?”
“Yeah.” Yvonne nodded, sidestepping a maroon pinnie that someone had left on the field. “There’s this little crowd of kids that everyone on campus watches.”
Oh, really? Bree thought excitedly, pleased that she’d dressed so nicely to meet her supercool new roomies. Then she noticed a tall, golden brown boy with matted curly hair, as if he’d just taken off a hat, walking across the green. He carried a big wooden easel over his shoulder, and his jeans were spattered with paint. Bree’s breath caught in her throat.
“Who is that?” She pointed.
“Him?” Yvonne muttered. “That’s Zane Taylor.”
“Zane. What a great name,” Bree mused. “Is he an artist or something?”
“I don’t know him very well, except that he’s always getting into trouble.” Yvonne crinkled her nose. “Smoking,” she whispered. For a girl who didn’t like to gossip, she certainly knew a lot.
The boy entered the double doors of the library. Bree suddenly wished she could ditch her bags—and Yvonne—and follow him.
Instead, she followed Yvonne into the Dumbarton dorm. It was a quaint, two-story brick building that had its name inscribed in brownstone above a large, white, wooden farmhouse door. They ducked through a narrow passage and up a set of granite stairs. One of the steps was inscribed 1832, RHINECLIFF, NY. The dorm was even older than Bree’s family’s crumbling apartment building on the Upper West Side.
All around her, girls were moving their things in. Beyonce blared out of one room, Rihanna out of another. She saw a short Hispanic girl with pigtails unrolling a giant poster of Nicki Minaj.
They approached door 303, which was slightly ajar.
“…and I’m licking you all over, and—wait. No. Jesus, Corey, you don’t have your pants off yet. Stay with me here!”
“Uh, hello?” Yvonne said, pushing the door open a little.
A striking-looking older girl with blazing red hair sprang up from one of the room’s twin beds. “I have to go,” she blurted into her phone and flipped it shut. She glanced for a second at Yvonne and then fixed her piercing eyes on Bree.
“Ermm, this is Bree Hargrove,” Yvonne explained. “She’s your new roommate. She’s from… where was it?”
“Emma Willard,” Bree answered, sticking out her hand. “In New York City.”
“Oh. Cool. Naomi Peterson.” The girl wore a starched, short-sleeved tailored white blouse that Bree had seen in the windows of the Soho Scoop store all summer and those knee-length pegged shorts only the hippest kids in Williamsburg were wearing.
Bree walked into the room, which was bigger and somehow plainer than she’d imagined. The windows were huge and beautiful, overlooking the river, while the beds and furniture were just… old. She studied her new roommate out of the corner of her eye. Her blazing red hair was cut in a severe bob that ended right at her chin. One ear had about seven tiny gold hoop earrings, and she wore a gold diamond Cartier watch on her left wrist. She was sexy and sophisticated, and very…familiar. Then Bree remembered: there was a picture of Naomi on Bridgeport’s Web site. She was the Girl Hovering Over Her Books Looking Studious. Or at least that’s what Bree had called her.
“What about Crystal?” Yvonne looked around the room. “Is she here yet?”
“Shower,” Naomi muttered.
Yvonne blinked furiously, then mumbled something about a flute lesson and fled the room.
Bree walked over to what looked like the spare bed and sat down, bouncing a couple of times. “This is a great room. I love the view.”
“Yeah, it’s okay.” Naomi folded her arms across her chest.
“Who are you?” came a loud voice behind them. Bree turned and saw a tall, strikingly beautiful girl with enormous hazel eyes, thick black hair that looked like it had just been blow-dried, and skin the color of burnt honey. Bree thought she looked like a real life Barbie.
“Hey. I’m Bree. I’m—they assigned me to this room.”
“They? Who’s ‘they’?” Barbie demanded.
“Well…Bridgeport,” Bree stammered. “Are you Crystal?”
“Yes. Are you a junior or a sophomore?”
“Sophomore. What are you guys?”
“Juniors.” Crystal pursed her pink lips and deposited an enormous Gucci makeup bag on top of her desk. “You’re taking that bed?” She pointed to the bed Bree was sitting on.
“I guess so. I mean, unless it’s not okay with you two.”
“I suppose it’s fine.” Crystal glanced at Naomi. “I guess Jade’s really gone then.”
Naomi made a snorting noise through her nose. Bree just stood there, not sure what to say.
“What happened to…er… Jade?” she finally asked.
“It’s complicated,” Naomi responded quickly, unzipping a suitcase entirely full of shoes. Bree checked the labels on a few. Jimmy Choo. Christian Louboutin. Manolo Blahnik.
“It was nothing,” Crystal added. She stared out the window, away from both of them.
Bree wasn’t much of a smoker, but she wished she could have a cigarette right then, just to have something to do with her hands.
Crystal finally broke the silence. “Where’d you go to school before this?”
“Emma Willard? It’s in—”
“New York City. All girls,” Crystal interrupted in a breathy voice, sliding a little closer to Bree in the same way a cat might rub up against your calf. She turned to Naomi. “Didn’t Jade go to Willard?”
“No. She went to Trinity. Until fifth grade. Then she went somewhere in Switzerland, then here.”
“Yeah, Jade definitely didn’t go to an all-girls’ school, now that I think about it.” Crystal examined her cuticles. “I remember her saying that she had tons of boyfriends.”
“Well, Jade’s beautiful,” Naomi added offhandedly, taking T-shirts out of another suitcase.
Bree bristled. Was Naomi saying that she wasn’t beautiful? Who was this Jade girl, anyway?
“She could get any guy she wanted,” Naomi continued. “Even guys with girlfriends.”
“That’s not true,” Crystal snapped, before turning back to Bree.
Bree’s eyes darted back and forth between her roommates. What was up with them?
“Jade had her eleventh birthday party at Chelsea Piers. Like, she rented out the whole thing and installed a trapeze school in the gym area. Did you go to that?”
Bree shrugged. “Sorry, no.” But she remembered that party, all right. Back when she was ten, Bree’s father had ranted for days about an article in the New York Times Style section covering a party at the Chelsea Piers Sports Complex for a girl a year older than Bree. Her dad had mocked it for being indulgent and materialistic, but Bree had thought the girl was the luckiest kid on the planet. And now she’d be sleeping in her bed! This had to be a good sign.
Crystal looked at Bree like an art appraiser might examine a painting and then smiled. “Well, welcome to Bridgeport. I think you’re going to like it here.”
Bree hugged herself. I like it already.
TeagueWilliams: What did you say the 99-cent girl looks like?
MauriceJohnson: Curly hair, practically a midget, major knockers.
TeagueWilliams: So lemme guess…You taking her to the chapel?
MauriceJohnson: Hells yeah!
CelineColista: So Crystal and Naomi are pissed at each other. They’re both going to Marymount’s office to get a room transfer.
BennyCunningham: All ;cause of Jade, huh? Where is she, anyway? Does anyone even
CelineColista: I heard she’s dating some guy from the Raves and they’re on tour in Europe.
BennyCunningham: I thought that new girl from the city was dating the Raves….
CelineColista: Which one!?
BennyCunningham: All of them. The whole band.
CelineColista: Gross. Where’d you hear that?
BennyCunningham: I have my sources.
“Well, look who’s here!” Bree stood outside Richards’ lounge, reapplying her pink lipstick in the large, smoky hall mirror. She was wearing a scoop-neck, emerald green top that was getting a teensy bit stretched out by her cumbersome breasts, and the highest tan leather heels she owned. She whipped her head around to find Maurice Johnson, the boy from earlier with the white iPhone and the great abs, standing in the doorway, an unlit cigarette in his hand. Tiny beads of sweat stood out on his forehead, and his eyes had a glassy, tipsy look.
“Hey,” she answered brightly, wiping her hands off on the only pair of True Religion jeans she owned, which happened to make her legs look slightly longer than tree-stump length. “Is the party in there?”
“Indeed it is,” Maurice replied gallantly. He looped his arm around Bree’s waist.
Bree smiled. Maurice seemed really happy to see her. And she was happy to see him, too. He wore a light blue untucked oxford shirt, army fatigue shorts, and no shoes. She liked his broad shoulders and floppy, I’m-a-bad-boy-through-and-through dreadlocks. Plus the flicker of wildness in his eye.
And Bree liked wildness.
Maurice pushed the heavy wooden lounge door open for her. Everyone froze. “It’s cool,” Maurice announced, his hand brushing accidentally against Bree’s boob. “It’s just us.”
Bree glanced around the room. Her first Bridgeport party! She could have been stuck back in the dorm playing checkers with Yvonne, but instead she was breaking the rules on her very first night at boarding school! She could immediately tell that it had a different feel than the parties she’d gone to back in New York—no one was fooling around in the guest bedroom and they didn’t have to worry about parents arriving back early from Paris. Someone had dimmed the lights and lit a bunch of candles. Everyone looked like they’d just stepped out of a catalog—they were all so pretty, with perfect, glowing skin and healthy, athletic bodies that came from mandatory year-round sports. Each person was more beautiful than the last. Everyone was holding large insulated coffee mugs, which was a little puzzling, until Bree realized that the mugs contained alcohol.
Across the room, Naomi sat on the scratched leather couch with Crystal, their friend Benny Cunningham, and Sage Francis, who had been regaling them with tales of the fabulous African safari she’d gone on this summer. It didn’t sound so great to Naomi. Flies, malaria, and smelly wild animals. Fun! She gazed toward the doorway, saw her new roommate waltz in on Maurice Johnson’s arm, and immediately elbowed Benny hard in the ribs.
Benny was from Main Line Philadelphia, stood to inherit $200 million, and was pretty in a horsey way: tall and lithe, with long, thick hair and enormous brown eyes. She was a prude and always blamed it on where she grew up, as if Philly were a different planet where the girls drank whole milk and saved themselves for marriage. Despite her prudishness, she was also a major gossip who read Page Six religiously but acted like she knew it all firsthand.
“Looks like Maurice’s gone in for the kill,” Benny’s best friend, Sage Francis, laughed, pointing. “Guess he knew where he could get some.”
Naomi shrugged. She couldn’t imagine her naïve new roommate being a slut, but there was something seemingly sparkly and fresh about Bree that might make her irresistible to, say, an entire indie rock band, which was the rumor going around campus. And she did have some kind of air of mystery about her, which reminded Naomi of someone. Jade, perhaps?
“So are you guys really applying for room transfers?” Sage whispered, touching Naomi on her bare shoulder.
Sage fluttered her heavily glittered eyelids. She always overused eye glitter, because a cute French guy she’d met in St. Barts during spring break the year before had told her that it made her eyes look huge and sexy. “I thought you and Crystal were ready to scratch each other’s eyes out.”
“Well…” Naomi trailed off. “I wasn’t planning on transferring…” She looked at her roommate. Crystal was across the room talking intensely to Celine Colista, the other field hockey captain. They’d all played field hockey together since arriving at Bridgeport freshman year, but Naomi had never taken it as seriously as the rest of the girls. Would Crystal really transfer rooms behind Naomi’s back? Had it come to that? She turned back to her new roommate, who was standing in the doorway and gazing starry-eyed, as if she’d never been to a party before in her life.
Bree was kind of overwhelmed—but in a good way. Maurice returned, weaving a strong-smelling Bridgeport travel mug in front of her face. “For you.”
“What’s in it?” she asked, taking the mug with both hands.
“Does it matter?” He grinned and clumsily tipped the contents of his own mug down his throat.
Bree put the mug to her lips. The strong, sour liquid tasted like beer mixed with rum. It gurgled down her windpipe, bringing tears to her eyes.
“Hey, there’s Amir!” she managed to gasp. Amir stood by one of the giant windows, surrounded by three tiny girls with matching ponytails. When he saw Bree across the room, his face brightened and he waved. She raised her hand to wave back, but Maurice grabbed it and pulled her to his side.
“It’s time for the new girl to do our little initiation ritual,” he said, smiling devilishly.
“What?” Bree frowned. “I haven’t heard of any initiation rituals.”
“Then you haven’t been talking to the right people.” Maurice took another long drink from his mug, then set it on the ancient silver radiator. “Come with me.” He led her to the door.
On the way out, a couple of guys gave him high fives. “Where you goin’, Pony?” one of them asked. Maurice just raised his eyebrows. The guys started laughing and making whooping, whinnying noises.
“What’s that all about?” Bree asked, glancing back at the hooting boys.
“Who the hell knows?” Maurice muttered, as he opened the heavy wooden door for Bree.
“Who’s Pony? You?”
“Shhh,” Maurice interrupted. Bree pursed her lips together, feeling a little uneasy. But this was boarding school. Magical Bridgeport land. She was safe here, wasn’t she?
Outside, the night was pitch-black and dead quiet except for the sounds of some crickets left over from summer. Maurice stopped in front of the Bridgeport chapel, the building next to Richards. The chapel was squat yet stately, with stained glass windows and a heavy oak door.
“What are we—?” Bree started. She hadn’t been inside the chapel yet—she would be tomorrow morning, for roll call, announcements, and prayers.
Maurice stubbed his cigarette out against one of the front windowpanes. “It’s a tradition for new Bridgeport students to go into the chapel before school actually starts.”
“You’re not going to lock me in or anything, are you?” Bree asked in a wavering voice, not caring how Old Bree she sounded.
“Of course not.” Maurice raised his eyebrows. “I’m coming in with you.”
“Oh.” Bree’s heart was picking up speed. “Okay, then.”
Maurice pulled on the enormous oak door until it opened. The chapel’s inside was lit only with a few candles. And it was as quiet as…well…a church.
“It’s really nice in here,” Bree whispered.
“Sit over here with me.” Maurice patted a space on one of the dark wooden benches. In the candlelight, with his hands curled neatly in his lap and his dreads slicked back, Bree wondered if she’d misjudged Maurice. Maybe he was actually really spiritual and sensitive.
She slid into the pew next to him. “So this is the ritual, huh?”
“Ritual?” Maurice looked at her cluelessly.
“You said that—” Bree stopped. Of course there wasn’t a ritual. It was a trick.
They were silent for a minute, listening to the wind pressing up against the sides of the chapel. Then Maurice placed his hand over hers.
“You were so beautiful this morning,” he whispered breathily, mixing up the b and m, so that he said mootiful and borning. “Especially when my dad gave you a ride up the hill.”
“Oh,” Bree answered, beaming. He did remember! “Well, thanks.”
“You’re from that all-girls school in New York, aren’t you?”
“Yeah.” Had she said that this morning? She didn’t think so.
“Did you get kicked out?”
Then Maurice lurched toward her. She thought he’d just lost his balanca, but his mouth was suddenly all over her face, and his tongue was poking through her lips. Bree’s first reaction was to push him away, but tingles of pleasure began to run up her spine. Maurice was an amazing kisser, maybe better than anyone else she’d ever kissed. She touched the nape of his neck, squeezed her eyes shut, and allowed herself to be swept away. The wooden bench made tiny aching creaks and groans. Their slurpy kissing noises rang against the alcove ceilings. His hand traced the outlines of her fingers but then quickly moved down her wrist to her forearm and finally up to her chest.
Bree slid away from him, alarmed.
“Whatsa matter?” Maurice smirked, his eyes flickering back and forth from one of her breasts to the other. He didn’t look like a spiritual little angel anymore.
“Well…this is a little fast,” Bree managed. “That’s all.”
“Come on,” Maurice urged, his voice getting sleepier. “Bree from New York. Crazy Bree.”
“I’m not all that crazy,” Bree contradicted. She had a creepy feeling that Maurice was quoting someone. What had people been saying about her? And where had they gotten their information?
Then suddenly Maurice tipped over, laid his head on the bench, and began to quietly snore. Bree stood up. Maurice was wasted. She looked around the empty chapel, his snores echoing off the beamed ceilings.
All this made her feel very Old Bree. She sighed and looked around at the dimly lit chapel. School didn’t officially start until tomorrow, she resolved. New Bree was just getting warmed up.
Date: Wednesday, September 4, 9:50 A.M.
Missed a fucking awesome party. Can’t even remember the end, except for this fresh little sophomore and me were really getting along. I’m still in bed and I think I’m gonna stay here all day. Bet you had a fucking awesome excuse for not being there. Was it Jade? You saw her this summer, right?
Hey man, write back, ‘cause we all think you’re dead.
Date: Wednesday, September 4, 10:01 A.M.
Subject: Better in person…
Hey, Naomi. You got off the phone so fast. Just when we were getting to the good part! I can’t go another day without seeing you. I know your classes start tomorrow, but you’re done by 4, right? How about I hop the shuttle and come over tomorrow afternoon? Maybe we could spend a little time under that soft comforter of yours….
“Oof!” Naomi slammed into a tall guy as she walked down Stansfield Hall’s third-floor hallway. She’d been trying to kill a couple of minutes catching up on e-mails on her cell phone before meeting with some new teacher named Mr. Dalton, who was supposed to be the new Disciplinary Committee adviser. Corey’s message had just popped up on the screen. “Sorry,” she muttered to the person who’d bumped into her, without looking to see who it was.
“You better watch where you’re going with that. It’s Naomi, right?”
She looked up. An unbelievably handsome boy was standing in front of her. He looked like Michael B. Jordan but taller, darker, and better. He wore a slightly rumpled oxford shirt with the bottom two buttons buttoned incorrectly. Naomi couldn’t help but imagine him haphazardly throwing it on over his hard, muscular chest, as he climbed out of bed.
“I recognize you from the picture in your student file,” the boy went on. “I’m Eric Dalton, the new DC adviser.”
Oops. This was no boy. “Oh! Um. Hi, Mr. Dalton,” Naomi stammered, shoving her cell phone in her pocket. “I’m, uh, sorry about that.” She held out her hand.
He shuffled a coffee mug—the same maroon-and-white Bridgeport Owls mug that they mixed drinks in at their dorm parties—from one hand to the other and gripped hers. Naomi was suddenly glad that she had a moisturizing fetish and that her palm would feel silky in his hand.
“Those aren’t allowed here, you know.” Mr. Dalton raised his eyebrows at her phone. For a second Naomi thought he was serious and started to muster up an excuse. Then he whispered, “But I won’t tell…this time. Go sit down in my office and I’ll be with you in a sec.”
Flustered, Naomi smiled, wishing she had something witty to say.
The door to his office stood open. She walked in and looked around. For a guy who’d just arrived at Bridgeport, he sure had a lot of stuff. There were posters wrapped in brown paper on the floor, a large black globe, and books and papers everywhere. She noticed a decanter filled with what looked like red wine on the oak table in the corner, and her mind started to race.
Settle down, she told herself.You’re here because he’s new to Bridgeport and he wants to meet all the DC members. That’s probably cranberry Snapple, not wine.
She walked up to one of the posters that Mr. Dalton had hung in a heavy, gilded frame. It was actually an old inscribed scroll, mounted and framed. She squinted at the Ancient Greek words and murmured, “‘Praise each god as though they were listening.’”
“How’d you know that?” a voice called out behind her.
Naomi jumped. Mr. Dalton stood in the doorway, grinning at her slyly, as if he knew a big secret and was ready to spill it. “I spent a little time in Greece,” she said uncertainly.
“You want to sit down?” he asked. “Sorry for all the papers.” He quickly picked a stack of papers up off a chair, leaning so close to Naomi that she couldn’t help but notice how good he smelled. Like Acqua di Parma, which was the only type of cologne she could stand on a guy.
“Can I get you anything?” Mr. Dalton sat down in his high-backed brown leather chair. It made a farting creak, which both of them pretended not to notice. “I have little fridge, some glasses, although I only have…well…actually, all I have, I think, is some Pinot Noir.” He frowned, then blinked hard. “Sorry. I mean, obviously we can’t have Pinot Noir. I don’t know what that’s even doing in here, because I wasn’t drinking it or anything.”
Methinks Mr. Dalton doth protest too much, Naomi thought wryly, watching him nervously pull his shirt collar away from his neck. “I’m fine,” she stated primly instead, perching on the edge of her chair.
Dalton switched on the flat-screen Mac sitting on top of his desk. “Okay. Naomi. So they’re making me put all the old DC cases into a database. They gave me the grunt-work jobs because I’m new.” He flashed his perfect teeth nervously, and she wondered silently if he just had amazing dental genes or if these were veneers. It was a tough call, one she wouldn’t mind investigating more closely. With, say, her lips.
He shuffled the papers. “So besides meeting all the DC appointees, I’m looking for someone to help me weed through all this DC stuff to get to the relevant information and then help enter it into the computer. But it has to be someone who was on DC last year, because the material is confidential to non-DC students. Were you on DC last year?”
Naomi licked her lips. “Well, no,” she answered, wanting to lie.
“Oh.” Mr. Dalton sounded disappointed. He let out a sigh. “That’s too bad.”
“We wouldn’t have to tell anybody, though, would we?” Naomi suggested slowly. “I mean, I want to help. It would…it would look good on my transcript.”
Sure. That’s why I want to do it, she thought.My transcript.
“I don’t know… ” Mr. Dalton shook his head. He stared at her quizzically. Naomi nervously brushed a hair off her cheek. “How old are you?” he finally said.
“Huh.” He tilted his head and smiled with one side of his mouth.
“Well. You don’t look seventeen. That’s all.”
Guys said this to Naomi all the time. They were always astounded she was still in high school. “How old are you?”
He straightened up a little. “Twenty-three. I just finished Brown.”
Naomi unconsciously chewed the red polish off her pinkie.
“I’m going to go to grad school, but since I went to Bridgeport, I thought I’d pay my dues and teach here for a couple years,” Mr. Dalton continued.
“I want to go to Brown,” Naomi blurted out.
“I could imagine you there.” He nodded.
She stared at her gorgeous twenty-three-year-old teacher and didn’t pull her eyes away for the second he stared back.
“All right.” He finally broke the silence. “I think maybe we could figure out a way for you to help me—I mean, if you really want to.”
I want to, Naomi wanted to say. I really, really want to. But she remained silent.
“Maybe we could meet up again tomorrow morning, before class? Oh, and the name Mr. Dalton sounds really weird. Maybe I’ll be used to it when I’m fifty and running the family business. But for now…” He lowered his eyes and then looked back up at her from beneath his thick curly lashes. “Call me Eric?”
“Sure,” Naomi agreed, smiling. She could think of a lot of things she’d like to call him.
Just then the papers that he’d removed from her chair started to slide off his desk toward Naomi’s lap. He lunged forward, grabbing for them. At the same time, Naomi leaned down to catch some papers that had landed on the floor. Their heads collided.
Ouch. “Fuck!” Naomi cried, seeing a brief flash of white. Then she clamped her mouth shut. Even though most Bridgeport kids had dirty mouths, you weren’t supposed to curse in front of the teachers. Bridgeport Owls must always have good manners, and bad language was a sign of indecency and bad breeding.
He rubbed his forehead, wincing. “You okay?”
Naomi swallowed hard. What if Mr. Dalton thought she was uncouth and trashy? But then she noticed his concerned expression and decided he didn’t care.
“I think I’ll live,” she replied finally.
“Well, that’s good,” he laughed. “Because I’d definitely like to keep you alive.”
Date: Wednesday, September 4, 10:53 A.M.
Subject: Hot, hot, hot
I just met the perfect guy. He’s smart, gorgeous, shy, sweet and sexy. Trouble, though: he’s a teacher. As in, the kind that gives you homework assignments. The kind that sits up on the Bridgeport stage during assembly. The kind that grades papers and isn’t supposed to touch students…I’m sure you get the gist. What to do?
Date: Thursday, September 4, 10:57 A.M.
Subject: Re: Better in person…
Sure, you can come over tomorrow, but my room’s out. Crystal’s being a real prima donna. Surprise, surprise.
See ya soon.
Crystal leaned up against the dusty wooden doors of the old stables, trying not to get dried horse manure on the heels of her brand new, round-toed black leather shoes. The weathered red barn sat next to a three-acre horse paddock, separated from the rest of the Bridgeport campus by a patch of densely settled pines. A whistle blew in the distance, and Crystal recognized the gruff voice of Coach Smail, the girls’ field hockey coach, yelling, “That won’t cut it on varsity, ladies!” The first full day at school consisted of grueling eight-hour tryouts for the fall teams, but Crystal was exempt since she was already a varsity field hockey captain.
The sun was low in the late-afternoon sky and Zane was walking toward her. He was wearing one of the T-shirts he’d taken home from her house—a ratty green thing with a horseshoe, of course—under his beat-up maroon Bridgeport jacket. No tie. His curly hair stood up in disheveled peaks and there was a smudge of blue ink next to his left ear. A huge, sexy smile spread across his face when he saw her. She wanted him so badly. Maybe everything between them was okay after all.
“You could’ve at least changed your shirt,” she teased, taking the hem between her fingers.
“I suppose, because I feel way underdressed next to you,” he teased back.
“I’m not all that dressed up.”
“Are too. Look at those shoes.” He pointed. “I can imagine you standing in front of your closet, agonizing over your newest, sexiest pair. Right?” He smiled at her. “I’m right, aren’t I?”
“Wrong,” Crystal shot back, although he was, of course, right. It pissed her off that Zane knew her so well. And that he was smarter than she was. Actually, when it came down to it, everything about him made her simultaneously seethe and shudder with pleasure.
Zane lit a cigarette and ducked so that he was out of sight of Marymount’s house, a grand Tudor mansion right on the edge of campus. Crystal tossed her long black hair behind her shoulders. Why was he just standing there? Here they were, alone by the abandoned horse stables, while everyone else was finishing up sports tryouts. She could hardly wait to lie down in the tick-infested hay and tear his clothes off.
“Missed you at the party last night,” she whispered tenderly.
“Mmm. Yeah. I was really tired.”
Okay, this was infuriating. He was still just standing there.
“So, you want to come over here?” Crystal finally asked, pulling at his jacket.
“Just a sec.” He jerked away slightly and took another drag.
“Never mind, then. Forget it.” Crystal backed away, pulling out her own pack of cigarettes. She stuck one in her mouth and tried to flick on her fluorescent green lighter but kept fumbling with the childproof lock.
“No, no, come on,” Zane pleaded in a low voice, turning to her and throwing his cigarette on the ground. “Don’t be like that….”
“Well, I don’t know,” Crystal started. “I mean, you—”
Zane put his hand on the nape of her neck. “I’m just a little out of it.” He kissed Crystal’s jawbone lightly, then pressed her against the stable door and kissed her harder. His capable hands floated all over her body. Crystal pulled a mess of tangled hair back from her face.
“Have I told you how good it is to see you?” Zane murmured between kisses.
Crystal sighed. Things were suddenly right again. What had she been agonizing about? She and Zane were perfect together. Maybe she shouldn’t have felt so freaked about what had happened in Spain. Maybe she shouldn’t have paid any attention to that stupid text she’d gotten from Maurice saying they’d broken up.
“Maybe we could lie down?” she whispered.
Zane tugged her toward the paddock where the grass was green and soft, kissing her collarbone lightly. He pulled her to the ground and kissed her neck. This is the way it should be, she thought, looking toward the setting sun. The abandoned stables were beautiful and the sun was low and glowing pink in the sky. No, there wasn’t any Bryson Tiller playing softly in the background like there had been that night in Spain, but this would definitely do.
“Do you remember what we were talking about in Spain?” Crystal murmured, her heart shivering in her chest. The memory of that night came rushing back: they had been in her bed, under the sheets, almost naked. Crystal had mustered up all her courage and said to her beautiful, messy, sexy, brilliant, belligerent boyfriend, “I love you.” She’d planned on having sex with him then: they’d tell each other they loved one other and then make love for the first time. All of the rumors about Jade from last year would clear up, and Zane would be hers forever.
Instead, he’d kissed her silently back, and then eventually the kissing had slowed, and he’d settled into the pillow next to her and fallen asleep. She’d listened to his breathing turn to soft snoring and wondered if he’d heard her at all. Maybe she’d said it too quietly? Crystal had spent the whole summer hoping that was why he hadn’t said it back.
Crystal did love him, she really did. Didn’t he love her too? She noticed one of those fat great horned owls watching them from a tree branch. He looked like that stupid cartoon from those old Tootsie Roll commercials. She felt self-conscious, like the owl was judging her.
“Remember what I said in bed?” she asked tentatively.
Zane suddenly stopped kissing her collarbone and slumped against her side.
She touched his arm. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” He breathed in deeply and looked out over the horse paddock. Shouts of the girls’ field hockey tryouts echoed from the practice fields. “This just seems…I don’t know.”
“What do you mean?” Crystal’s voice came out in a high, embarrassing squeak. She shoved her shoe back on her right foot and sat up. A huge smear of gray dirt ran down her leg and she prayed it wasn’t horse manure.
A male figure appeared on the path leading down to the stables, pushing a wheelbarrow.
“Shit.” Crystal grabbed Zane’s hands, pulling him up. “It’s Ben.”
Ben was the nasty old groundskeeper who always got kids in trouble. He even carried around a digital camera so he could have proof. Last year, he’d caught Maurice Johnson smoking a joint by the natatorium, but Maurice had bribed him to delete the photos by giving him his dad’s platinum heirloom cuff links.
They scrambled to the other side of the stable and pressed themselves against a wooden door. “I should probably go back to my room,” Zane whispered.
“Whatever.” Crystal dug her heel into the dirt, even though she knew it was going to totally ruin her shoes. Shit. Why had she brought up Spain?
“Look.” He took her hands. “I’m sorry. Let’s try this again. Your dorm room. Tonight. After the welcome dinner.”
“Yeah, right,” Crystal scoffed. “You’re already on Angelica’s watch list.”
“I’ll find a way.” Zane pulled her close and held her for a second. “I promise,” he whispered, then dashed away.
DonovanStGirard: Where’s Maurice?
AmirPhillips: Still in bed. Hasn’t showered. Smells awful.
DonovanStGirard: Bro, it’s almost dinner!
AmirPhillips: I know. I think he’s still drunk tho.
DonovanStGirard: He left with that new chick last night.
DonovanStGirard: Brown skinned?Curly hair?Big boobs? They say she was a stripper in NYC.
AmirPhillips: Nah. She never showed last night.
DonovanStGirard: Sure she did. You were too busy staring at Crystal to notice. Maurice took her to the chapel. Think she gave him a lap dance?
AlisonQuentin: This chapel stinks. Why is Marymount’s Welcome to Bridgeport speech always so loooong?
BennyCunningham: No kidding. Where’s u-know-who?
AlisonQuentin: Dunno. But did you know Sage drew a little pony on the marker boards of all the girls in her dorm who’ve hooked up with him? So far there are six, including the new girl. That’s just one floor of Dumbarton.
BennyCunningham: How come I don’t have a pony on my board?
AlisonQuentin: You hooked up w/ him?
BennyCunningham: We kissed freshman year! A little sloppy, but good technique.
AlisonQuentin: Benny! I thought you were my innocent friend!
“You are part of a grand tradition.” The deep, penetrating voice of Dean Marymount boomed and thudded around the chapel. Everyone said Marymount had been this big revolutionary protester back in the seventies, but Bree thought he looked more like a Little League coach who drove a Dodge minivan than the dean of a prestigious boarding school. His graying comb-over was plastered to his sweaty head. Behind him sat the Bridgeport faculty, all wearing the school’s uniform—maroon and navy tie, maroon jacket, white shirt, trousers. Normally students just had to wear the maroon Bridgeport blazer with anything they wanted underneath, but for the first chapel meeting of the year everyone had to wear a tie, girls included. Bree’s half-Windsor knot was all lumpy. She sighed. Her father only owned one tie, which was covered in cobwebs. She’d never asked, but he’d probably had it since he was a sophomore in high school.
They had gathered for Dean Marymount’s official beginning-of-the-year speech before the first official all-campus dinner. The chapel was packed and smelled of teenaged-boy BO and feet.
Last night, she’d awakened Maurice enough to deposit him on the stoop in front of Richards, and then she’d crawled back to Dumbarton, exhausted. In the middle of the night, either Naomi or Crystal had unplugged Bree’s clock radio to use the outlet to charge a cell phone. Luckily the chapel bells had woken her so she could get to field hockey tryouts on time. Every Bridgeport student had to play a sport, and Bree had decided on field hockey, since it seemed like the most traditional boarding school sport to play. She planned on playing lacrosse in the spring for the same reason. Bree didn’t even have a hockey stick, but the bulldoggish coach, Alice Smail, had found her an extra one in the field house, and Bree had soon discovered that she was a natural on the field.
“You’re sure you didn’t play for your school?” Coach Smail asked her. As if Bree could have forgotten. Her scrimmage team’s center, Kenleigh, whom Bree had seen at the party last night, murmured, “Good move,” as Bree trotted back to the sidelines. Maybe she’d even make the varsity cut!
“This year, we have some new faculty members that I would like to introduce,” Dean Marymount announced. Bree checked her watch. They’d already been here for forty minutes, singing Bridgeport’s school hymn and Bridgeport’s sports hymn, reciting the Bridgeport prayer, and clapping as Marymount introduced the school’s prefects, which were like the presidents of each class. Bree was starving. “First off, a Bridgeport alum and a recent graduate of Brown University, we have Mr. Eric Dalton. Mr. Dalton will be the new junior and senior ancient history professor and an adviser to the Disciplinary Committee. He’s also the new assistant coach for the boys’ crew team. Welcome.” Everyone clapped obediently.
Bree spied Naomi, who had just been forced to stand and wave at the class because she was the junior class’s prefect, two rows ahead. Bree watched as Naomi elbowed the girl next to her and mouthed the words Oh my God.
“I’d like to extend a warm welcome all the incoming freshmen and new students—Bridgeport is your new home, and we are your new family,” Marymount continued. “And finally…enjoy dinner!”
The crowd erupted in applause and hoots as it poured out of the chapel and across the great lawn toward the dining hall. Bree gasped when she walked in. The dining hall looked like the inside of an old English cathedral. The walls were plastered with class pictures dating back to 1903 and with a lot of photographs of Maximilian Bridgeport, the school’s founder.
Students milled around, kissing each other and slapping each other’s hands. Bree wasn’t sure what to do. Where was she supposed to sit?
“It’s a little crazy in here, huh?”
Bree turned, hoping it might be Maurice finally making an appearance. Instead, standing next to her was the boy with the easel she’d seen across the green yesterday with Yvonne. Zane. At least, that was what she thought Yvonne had said his name was.
His skin was golden brown, and his eyes were deep and dark. He wore a beat-up green T-shirt with a yellow silhouette of a horseshoe underneath his Bridgeport blazer. It was the sort of chic T-shirt that they’d sell at Barneys for $65, but his looked decidedly real-deal vintage. His voice was gravelly, with an accent she couldn’t quite place.
“A little crazy, yeah,” Bree agreed. She stepped aside to let him pass. A sketchbook hung out of his green canvas messenger bag. A single sheet of paper of sketched eyes, noses, and mouths was clipped to the cover. “Hey, are you taking portraiture?”
“Yeah, I am. You?”
“Oh. Um, I am too.” Silently, Bree attempted to pull herself together. You’re New Bree now, she reminded herself.
“Cool.” Zane slapped hands with a boy who’d just walked in. “So, see you later.” He smiled at Bree.
“Hey,” a familiar voice beckoned from behind her. She turned and smiled at Amir, who looked even cuter and cleaner than yesterday—if that was possible—in his maroon Bridgeport blazer and striped tie. “It’s formal dinner. They have assigned seating. You’re at my table.”
“Oh. Thanks.” Bree smiled gratefully and followed him through the crowded dining room. “So, um, how long did the party go on last night?”
“Oh, the usual.” Amir’s eyes shifted to the floor. “I didn’t even see you there. Go home early?”
Bree bit her lower lip. “Um, yeah.”
They arrived at a table already occupied by two students: a very tall boy with a nose ring and a very tall girl whose angular face, large, wide-set brown eyes and thick black hair all screamed good breeding.
“This is Ryan Reynolds, and this is Benny Cunningham.”
“I saw you at the party last night. I’m Bree.” She smiled at Benny.
“That’s right.” Benny nodded, shooting a knowing look at Ryan.
Bree took off her hot wool Bridgeport jacket and draped it over her chair.
“You can’t do that,” Benny hissed. “The faculty will freak.”
“Oh.” Bree quickly slid the jacket back on. She looked around the room; most of the students were sitting at their tables already, blazers on.
“Looking for Maurice?” Benny blurted out. Ryan nudged her.
“Oh.” Bree shook out her pristine maroon cloth napkin, her face turning hot. “Yeah. He was… he was a little…tired last night. I had to help him home.”
“Wasted is more like it,” Ryan laughed. “Anyway, Amir, you getting psyched for Black Saturday?” he asked, stabbing the old wooden table with his knife.
“What’s Black Saturday?” Bree asked curiously.
“Don’t get too excited,” Amir laughed. “It’s when all the St. Lucius sports teams come to Bridgeport and we have this blowout bloodfest. The teams take it really seriously, because we’re supposed to hate St. Lucius so much. It’s another tradition. You’re playing field hockey, right?”
“Yes.” Bree smiled. She’d never been on a team before. “Tryouts were today.”
“Well, the girls’ field hockey team plays, along with the soccer and football teams. But then when it’s over, the kids from both schools party like rock stars at a secret location that isn’t revealed until that day.”
“Maurice usually throws the party,” Benny offered, refastening her silver Tiffany charm bracelet on her wrist. “But maybe he told you that already?”
Student servers in starched white oxfords and pressed gray trousers set down large, creamy white plates laden with grilled salmon marinated in honey wasabi. This was way better than her dad’s experimental lamb-and-pineapple lasagna vodka flambé.
“Oh my God. This smells delicious.” Bree grabbed her fork and took a huge bite. “Mmm!”
“Dude, you’re eating the salmon?”
A boy put his elbows on the table next to her. Maurice. Finally. “Hey.” She covered her full mouth with her hand.
“Nobody eats the salmon,” Maurice scoffed. There wasn’t a hint of the lustful, you’re-a-sex-goddess vibe he’d laid on last night.
Bree’s eyes widened. She looked around at the other plates, and sure enough, no one else at the table had touched their fish. “Why? Is there something wrong with it?”
Amir turned to her. “No—it’s fine. People just…don’t eat it. I don’t know why. It’s like, a thing.”
“Bree?” Someone tapped her on the back. She turned to see Yvonne, the girl who had escorted her to Dumbarton yesterday. Tortoiseshell clips held clumps of Yvonne’s stringy hair back, and her pale brown eyes were as googly and crazed as they’d been yesterday. “Can I talk to you?” Yvonne glanced nervously at the others at the table. “In the hall?”
Ryan and Benny exchanged another knowing look. Bree shrugged and placed her napkin over her fish. New Bree is not easily flustered, she told herself. So what if no one ate the fish? New Bree did what she pleased!
Yvonne led Bree out into the front entryway of the dining hall.
“I hope this isn’t about jazz ensemble,” Bree declared up front. “Because I’m kind of really not interested. I’m basically tone-deaf.”
“No, it’s not that. I’ve, um, heard some things about you, and I thought you should know.”
“Huh?” Bree sucked in her breath. She’d gotten I-thought-you-should-know speeches before, and it almost always turned out that she never wanted to know.
“Everyone’s texting about you.”
“What?” Bree demanded slowly.
Yvonne took a deep breath. “They’re saying that you used to be a stripper and took your clothes off for, like, a dollar. And you’re like this New York City sex legend. And, er, you’ve already slept with someone here at Bridgeport.”
“What!?” Bree squeaked. Suddenly the hallway seemed dim and hazy. “With whom!? I mean, who’s saying that?”
Yvonne looked down. “That boy who was at your table. Maurice Johnson. I don’t know if you even know him yet, but he—”
Bree saw a red mist before her eyes. Maurice. “I can’t believe this.”
“I don’t believe it,” Yvonne protested, waving her hand around.
“Thanks,” Bree squeaked.
“I have to go now. Sorry.” Yvonne turned and skittered out the door.
Bree leaned against the wall, feeling dizzy and disoriented. Maurice. Her entire body shook with horror and anger. Had Maurice ruined her boarding school career before it had even started?
Amir appeared in the arched doorway, frowning at her in concern.
“I have to…” Bree whirled around before she could finish her sentence, fleeing the dining hall. She sprinted across the damp green lawns, wishing she could take off and fly away like one of those fat old great horned owls. The ancient buildings of Bridgeport towered on either side of her, their windows glowering. The bite of salmon rebelled in her stomach, and Bree slowed to a walk. She’d wanted to come to boarding school to start afresh, to become the girl she’d always wanted to be, to be a fabulous new, better version of herself. It was going to be a lot harder than she’d thought.
ZaneTaylor: I’m right outside. Wanna check if the coast is clear?
CrystalAlexander: Hold on.
CrystalAlexander: OK, I just pressed my ear to Angelica’s door, and I hear the TV. Loud. Looks good.
ZaneTaylor: Cool. C u in a sec.
Bree woke with a start. Where was she? Oh, right. Bridgeport. In her room. “I mean seriously, you really stink. Are you drunk?” someone whispered.
Was that Crystal, talking in her sleep? Bree had heard her come in: thankfully, it had been after she’d stopped sobbing into her pillow. She’d taken her clothes off in the dark, said “nighty-night,” and snuggled under the covers.
“I’m not drunk,” another voice slurred. A guy’s voice.
“Well, you stink like vodka. Ew.”
“I love it when you say I smell,” the guy said.
“Shh. Pardee will hear.”
Bree inched further beneath her covers. The voice sounded vaguely familiar. And whoever it was did stink—Bree could smell something vaguely alcoholic, even though the windows were wide open and the cool night breeze was wafting though the room.
“Well, it would be nice, Zane, if you didn’t stink, ‘cause then I wouldn’t have to taste it in your mouth.”
Bree’s stomach dropped. How many Zanes went to this school?
“You sure nobody’s here?” he asked.
“Do you see anybody here?” Crystal hissed.
Bree stayed curled in a ball. Crystal had seen her. She’d even said goodnight to her! Bree wanted to leave them alone, but getting up and making noise right now would be very uncool. And what if Zane saw her? She was sure her crush on him would shine right through her. To think that she had developed an immediate crush on her roommate’s boyfriend! Old Bree strikes again.
Her eyes adjusted to the dark and she peeked out from under the covers. Crystal’s bed was less than four feet away. There was a flash of naked skin in the moonlight. “Condom,” Bree heard Crystal whisper.
A pause. Then Zane’s voice. “Serious? Where?”
Bree heard fumbling in the dark. Then a scuffling of covers, and thump! Zane was halfway on the floor. He tried to get his balance but held on to the night table and ended up dragging it down with him. It made a horrible amount of noise. A box of Lifestyles Extra Lubricated condoms spilled out, along with a big bottle of lotion and a package of blue Bic pens.
Bree shot up in bed, staring at Zane’s sprawled, naked body.
“Yo,” Zane drawled, grinning up at her. “I know you.”
“Eep!” Bree slunk back under the covers.
“Crystal, you said nobody was here,” Zane whispered loudly.
Crystal kicked the mattress angrily. “This is ridiculous,” she sighed, and got out of bed.
Bree peeked out from under the covers and saw the outline of Crystal’s lithe body. She wore a pink bra with a pointy-toothed Lacoste alligator emblazoned on the strap. Where was Naomi, anyway?
Crystal glanced over at the lump that was Bree under the blankets. “Sorry, Bree.” She shrugged, then stomped over Zane, stepping on his hand as she headed for the door.
“Oww!” He cried out in pain. “Where are you going?”
“Bathroom.” Crystal flung the door open, and the room grew bright with fluorescent hallway light. Bree buried herself deeper under the covers, mortified. She’s leaving us alone? she wondered, horrified.
She heard Zane sit up, crack his neck, then sniff. “So, is Bree short for Brianna?”
“Well, yeah,” Bree croaked, still huddled under the covers.
“Didn’t mean to make you so uncomfortable, Bree,” he continued.
“Not a problem,” she murmured into her pillow. It smelled dusty and warm, like her Upper West Side home. She was glad she’d brought it, but it suddenly made her feel so homesick that she nearly burst into tears.
“You can stop hiding. I’m decent.”
Bree peeped over the blanket with one eye. Zane had put his underwear back on, but that was all. His stomach was flat and muscular. And his boxers had a sailboat pattern she remembered from the Ralph Lauren catalog. She wrenched her eyes away.
It was stiflingly hot under the covers. She sat up a bit, hoping that Crystal would come back any second and take Zane someplace else so that he wouldn’t have time to take in Bree’s swollen eyes and bed-head. She couldn’t even imagine what she must look like right now, especially compared to Crystal.
But apparently Zane didn’t mind. He got off the floor and sat down on the edge of Bree’s bed. If she hadn’t been completely stunned, she might have made room. But instead she stayed still. He was pressed right up against her.
“I was wondering when I’d get to meet you properly,” he mumbled, so quietly that Bree could barely hear.
“What?” Bree asked, even though she’d heard him fine.
“Nothing.” Zane looked up. “Oh. The Seven Sisters.”
“The constellation.” Zane pointed to the crusty old glow-in-the-dark stars someone had stuck to the ceiling years ago. “Although to the naked eye there are only six stars easily visible.”
“Huh.” Bree didn’t know how to respond—not only to what Zane had just said but to this situation, period. Her dream crush was sitting on her bed. Old Bree was totally horrified. New Bree was practically quivering. Blended together, both Brees were immobile and tongue-tied.
She looked at the outline of Zane’s long, athletic-looking feet. His second toes were longer than his first. What was that a sign of again? Wait. Hello? Was that his hand on her back?
Okay. This was all wrong. Where was Crystal, anyway? This was very wrong. Bree knew she should swat him away. But she just…couldn’t.
“Uh, do you know a lot about constellations?” she asked instead.
Zane moved his hand slightly, his thumb rubbing the base of her spine. Wrong, wrong, wrong! “There’s not much else to do in Lexington at night.” He sighed. “Unless you want to climb up the water tower or throw shit onto the train tracks.”
“I’m from New York,” Bree whispered, biting a tendril of her hair to keep her teeth from rattling with nervousness. “Although you probably know that already.”
“You know,” she shifted, her cheeks growing hot. It was horrifying to think that he’s already heard things—slutty things— about her.
“Nope. I don’t. Are you famous?”
“I…” She cleared her throat. How could Yvonne know the gossip about her and not this beautiful boy? “No. I guess not.”
“Well, that’s too bad.” Zane smiled. “And here I thought I was in the presence of a celebrity.”
Bree felt his hand on the small of her back again. It felt warm through the blanket.
Bree and Zane turned around quickly. Mr. Pardee. The dorm mistress’s husband, who also happened to be Bridgeport’s most assholish French teacher, had pushed the door open all the way. Bree saw a note scrawled on their white board: Studying in Benny’s room. – Naomi. Mr. Pardee was dressed in a hooded Bridgeport football sweatshirt and a pair of red plaid pajama pants. His low-cut afro stood up in Brillo clumps on his head, and his tiny silver stud earring glinted in the harsh light of the hall.
Zane quickly jumped off Bree’s bed, pulled on his jeans, and grabbed his shirt.
“Dude.” He strode right up to Mr. Pardee. “I was never here.”
“You weren’t…what?” Mr. Pardee said, blinking furiously.
“You don’t see me.”
“Zane, I do see you.” Pardee sounded as if he were trying to convince himself. “You’ve used this line on me before.”
“Nope,” Zane replied. “I was never here.” He dashed into the hall.
“Wait—where are you going?” Mr. Pardee shouted. But it was too late. He shook his head and turned back to Bree. Not knowing exactly what to do, she hadn’t moved. Mr. Pardee might have been the dorm mistress’s husband, but Bree had heard he was also a total druggie. Supposedly, he only graded the French exams after smoking a spliff or two.
Maybe he was too wasted right now to even know what was going on?
“That wasn’t cool.” Mr. Pardee burped slightly. “No guys in the room except during visiting hour.”
“I know, but—” Bree sputtered.
“Man.” Mr. Pardee was glaring at the condoms on the floor. No one had bothered to pick them up yet. “This doesn’t look good.”
“What’s going on?” Crystal stood in the doorway, right behind him.
“I’m gonna have to report this,” the teacher announced through a stoned yawn. “I mean, Angelica will have to—”
“No, wait!” Bree pleaded. She couldn’t possibly be in trouble on the first day of school.
“Hello?” Crystal repeated. “What’s going on?” Bree noticed Mr. Pardee eyeing the sliver of skin between Crystal’s low-hanging shorts and her mesh camisole. The alligator on her bra peeked through its tiny holes.
“Zane was in here,” he stated matter-of-factly.
“Zane?!” Crystal replied in a shocked tone, as if Mr. Pardee had said, I saw monkeys drinking beer!
“Where were you?” Pardee asked.
Crystal scowled and rolled her eyes. “I was in the library. I’m just getting back.”
Bree stared at her incredulously. Pardee seemed to buy this story, even though it was the middle of the night and Crystal was hardly wearing any clothes, no shoes, and didn’t have a backpack or any books on her.
“So what was Zane doing here?” Crystal glared at Bree as if to say, Don’t fuck this up.
Mr. Pardee raised an eyebrow. “Well?”
A suspicious, hurt look clouded Crystal’s face. It was an acting job worthy of an Oscar. “Was something…going on?”
Mr. Pardee shuffled his feet. “They were in bed together.”
“But we weren’t doing anything!” Bree defended.
“Then why does it look like a Costco-size box of condoms exploded in here?” Mr. Pardee demanded.
Crystal rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe it. You little bitch!” she shouted at Bree, yanking up her shirt in frustration to expose her stomach. Mr. Pardee stared hungrily at her field hockey-toned midriff. Crystal wiggled her eyebrows at Bree. Keep going, she mouthed.
Bree’s eyes widened. She wasn’t going to let Crystal make her take blame for this!
“Mr. Pardee, this is a big misunderstanding,” Bree pleaded, not even caring that the tone of her voice was getting squeaky. “I really wasn’t doing anything!”
But Mr. Pardee shrugged. “We’ll find out in DC.”
“What?” Bree said.
“Disciplinary Committee, whore bag,” Crystal spat.
“Crystal, enough!” Mr. Pardee commanded. “Bree, do you know who your adviser is?”
“It’s, um, Mr. Dalton?” That was what the welcome-to-Bridgeport letter addressed to Mister Brianna Hargrove had said, anyway.
“Right. He’s new. Okay. You’ll report to Stansfield Hall to Mr. Dalton’s office at nine-thirty tomorrow. I’m not sure which room he’s in, but check the map on the first floor. He’ll evaluate your situation before it gets kicked up to DC.” He fiddled with his earring. “Got that? Good. I have to go find Zane now…”
When she was sure he was gone, Crystal shut the door and let out a huge sigh. “Oh my God. So close.”
“Whore bag?” Bree’s voice trembled.
“Sorry about that,” Crystal sighed, sitting on her bed and staring at Bree with her enormous hazel eyes. “I had to make sure Mr. Pardee believed I was pissed…”
“Well, he believed it all right.”
Crystal shrugged. “It’s not a big deal.”
Bree scrunched up her face. “Not a big deal? I have to go in front of…a committee! What happens there, anyway?”
Crystal leaned over and picked up one of the wrapped condoms. “You’re new, you’re a girl, and I heard you’re smart. They’ll go easy on you.” She rubbed the square packet between her fingers. “Maybe you could use your Raves connections.”
“What are you talking about?” Was Crystal being sarcastic? Bree had never even told Crystal about the Raves. And what would the Disciplinary Committee make her do? Snorkel for trash in the Hudson? What if it went on her permanent record?
“Look,” Crystal began. “Naomi’s on the committee. She’ll make sure you get off. If I’d gotten caught with Zane, they would’ve kicked me out. I’ve already been caught doing stuff here.”
“Oh?” Bree said curiously.
“Yeah, I already have, like, two strikes against me. Three and you’re out.”
“Oh.” Bree felt somewhat relieved. So this was her first strike. That wasn’t so bad.
“It would really suck if I got expelled.” Crystal tore open the condom with her fingernail. “My parents would make me to go public school in Atlanta. Kids sneak guns and cans of Miller Lite past the metal detectors there. Even the girls!” She stared down at Bree. “Could you imagine me at public school?”
Crystal was way too beautiful to go to public school. Then Bree stopped herself, remembering she wasn’t supposed to be all suck-uppy with an older girl the way Old Bree had been with Chanel Crenshaw back at Willard. She closed her eyes and willed herself to stop. New Bree, New Bree, New Bree.
Crystal pulled out the yellowish condom and inserted her pointer finger into its open end. “I have to make it through this year without getting busted.”
Bree sighed resignedly. She loved everything about Bridgeport—the woodsiness, the New England-style brick buildings, that the teachers wore blazers to class and often had the title of doctor, even the succulent wasabi salmon that everybody shunned. She wanted to row on the river and go to the Spring Fling and meet boys from other prep schools and return to Manhattan triumphant, because she was now a boarding school girl. She didn’t want it fucked up like this right off the bat, and yet here she was again, the most talked about girl on campus and already in trouble before classes had even started.
Crystal twirled the condom around on her finger. “Everything will be fine,” she assured Bree. “Seriously. They’ll give you restricted study. Or no visitation. But Naomi’s on DC.” She smiled sweetly as if to say, I’ll be your best friend forever and ever if you help me out.
“I just don’t know.” Bree wrung her hands in her lap. As much as she wanted to be friends with Crystal, she didn’t want to be in trouble. Not at all. “I’ll have to think about it.”
“I totally understand! Take your time! Think about it! But you aren’t going to get in trouble. It’s really, really, really not a big deal.”
“Yeah, but…” Bree bit her lip. “I don’t know…”
Crystal sprang off her bed, darted to her closet, and opened up the door. “And here—for your meeting with your adviser tomorrow, you’ll want to look as professional as possible. You want to borrow something of mine? Seriously. Anything.” She ran her hand down the rack of gorgeous, perfectly pressed designer clothes.
“Really?” Bree stood up and peeked into Crystal’s closet with her. The weight of the situation slowly began to sink in. Would Crystal have offered up anything in her closet before Mr. Pardee had caught Zane in the room? No way. Bree felt a strange, heady rush of power, a rush so intense it kind of freaked her out.
“Seriously. Anything I can do. I’ll totally make this the best year of your life,” Crystal offered enthusiastically.
Bree pulled a sleek black Fendi dress from off its white satin hanger and held it up to herself. The best year of her life? She could really use a year like that…
MauriceJohnson: So were they really having sex?? Could u hear them thru the walls?
EmilyJenkins: It was so LOUD I had to put my sound machine on city traffic to block out the noise!
MauriceJohnson: Were they knocking against the wall?
EmilyJenkins: Totally. I got negative sleep.
SageFrancis: Did u know some freshman girls are drawing ponies on their marker boards? They don’t even know Maurice. They just think it’s the cool thing 2 do!
AlisonQuentin: Maurice is running out of options…He’ll probably move on 2 freshmen next…
The next morning, Bree stood near the closets, surveying the quiet, sun-dappled dorm room. Today was only Thursday, the first day of classes, but already the room looked lived-in: books and papers everywhere, clothes heaped on the floor, makeup, shampoo and nail polish bottles strewn on top of desks, piles of notebooks and textbooks, unopened packages of highlighters, and a large aloe plant teetering on the narrow windowsill. Bree had arrived almost two days ago, but it still didn’t feel like her dorm room, since she’d hardly had a moment in it alone. Naomi’s bed was empty—she’d snuck in after all the commotion last night and must have gotten up early. There was an imprint in the mattress where her body had been. Crystal was still sound asleep, curled up in the fetal position.
Bree ran her hand over a pile of Crystal’s soft cashmere cardigans. All of Crystal’s clothes were beautiful, but this morning Bree felt awkward about borrowing any of them. Instead, she slipped on her own Banana-Republic-but-looks-like-Prada shiny khaki skirt, her only Calvin Klein button-down shirt, and a pair of baby-pink ballet flats. She put on her Bridgeport blazer and assessed the look. Definitely Not Guilty.
Bree tiptoed into the hall and closed her dorm room door behind her. Next to Naomi’s note about studying in Benny’s room, someone had written SAVE JADE! in big magenta letters on the marker board hanging from the door. There was also a drawing of what looked like a little pony in the bottom corner. Walking down the hallway she noticed that some of the other girls’ marker boards had little ponies drawn on them, too. Boarding school was turning out to be like a painting by Chagall—full of pranks, mind games, and mysteries.
Bree wound her way along the ancient cobblestone paths that snaked through the Bridgeport campus toward Stansfield Hall, a massive brick structure that housed the administrative offices and a few classrooms. Few students were awake yet, but the maintenance crew was tending to the soccer field and the landscaping. The air smelled like freshly cut grass.
Inside Stansfield Hall there were intricate plaster moldings of creeping vines and flowers on the walls, stained glass windows in the stairwells, and engravings in the wooden railings. Bree climbed the stairs to the third floor and walked to the very end of a stately, mahogany-floored hall. A brass plate on the closed office door read ERIC DALTON. Inside, Bree heard giggling and took a step back.
“I’ve heard that one before,” she heard a girl’s voice say. “Every Sunday school teacher since the sixth grade has told me that I share my name with the woman in the Book of Ruth.”
“Naomi,” a man’s voice said. “She was a troublemaker.”
“Well, it must go with the name, then,” Bree heard Naomi answer in an extremely flirtatious voice.
“So, um, listen, we have to talk to this student, so we won’t be able to get to some of the admin stuff I wanted to discuss. Are you free for lunch today? We could deal with it then.”
“I think so,” Naomi replied. “I’ll meet you here?”
Bree knocked on the door. She heard papers shuffling and the clink of glasses.
“Come in,” Mr. Dalton called out. Bree strode into the office, which was cramped and messy. Naomi sat on the edge of a brown leather couch, her hands folded in her lap, looking way too prim and innocent.
Mr. Dalton sat down at his desk chair and shuffled some papers. “Bree, right? Please, sit down.” He motioned to the couch. Bree sat as far from Naomi as she could. “This is Naomi,” he continued. “She’s on Disciplinary Committee and helping me with some administrative things.”
“Yeah, she’s my—”
Naomi turned to Mr. Dalton. “Bree and I already know each other. We live in Dumbarton together.”
Yeah, in the same room. Bree wondered why Naomi didn’t say they were roommates.
Dalton smiled. “Oh, well, okay. Well, Naomi is helping me out here with some DC issues, and as a member of DC, she’s helping preside over this case.” He cleared his throat. “So, Bree, I’m your adviser, and I’m also gathering general facts about the DC case, so we’re killing two birds with one stone here.” He flipped through some more papers as if he could somehow absorb what was written on them just by touching them.
Bree noticed Naomi wasn’t wearing her Bridgeport jacket but a gorgeous silk top and a sleek, black knee-length skirt. On her feet were strappy Marc Jacobs sandals. Her long, thin legs were crossed sexily and angled toward Mr. Dalton.
Mr. Dalton perched on the corner of his desk with a legal pad in his hand. “Okay, so what happened last night? We have you in your dorm room with a boy named Zane Taylor. Mr. Pardee says you were lying in your bed together?”
“Well, that’s the thing,” Bree responded meekly. She’d stayed up all night weighing which was the better option: confirming the Bridgeport student body’s suspicion that she was a giant slut or making enemies with her roommate. “I don’t…I don’t think I’m ready to tell you what happened.”
Mr. Dalton raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“I mean, do I have to make a statement right now? Or can it wait until, you know, the real hearing? Because I’m not really ready to talk about it.”
“Well, technically, you don’t have to tell me anything,” Mr. Dalton admitted, pen poised above the legal pad. “Although, as your adviser, I’d like you to feel that you can tell me.”
“I’m not ready. I—”
“What do you mean you’re not ready?” Naomi interrupted, uncrossing her legs and glaring at Bree. Her hair looked even redder when she was angry.
Bree shut her mouth tight and shrugged her shoulders. She was afraid to speak.
Naomi examined Bree critically. Her pink and white striped button-down was too tight across her chest, and her face was all flushed, as if she’d been running across a field.
Naomi had come in late last night after the run-in with Mr. Pardee, but Eric had filled her in when she arrived at his office this morning—not that Naomi actually believed Pardee’s version. It was totally stupid of Bree not to say something to get her and Zane out of trouble. Poor Bree. She was the perfect victim for Crystal. God, Crystal was a bitch.
Bree noticed Naomi inspecting her as if she were a biological specimen on a glass slide. She felt her cheeks grow hot. I’m New Bree, I’m New Bree, I’m New Bree, she repeated silently, steeling herself.
“Well.” Mr. Dalton rubbed his hands together. “I guess if you don’t want to say anything now, you certainly don’t have to. But maybe there’s someone else on the faculty you might feel more comfortable talking to?”
Bree shrugged her shoulders again helplessly. Today was the first day of classes. She hadn’t even met her teachers yet.
“Well then,” Mr. Dalton continued, “thanks for coming in, Bree. I guess we’ll have a full trial next week. How’s Monday?”
“Yes, that’s fine,” she replied hollowly. “Um, thanks.” She glanced at Naomi as she left Mr. Dalton’s office, hoping for an encouraging smile, but Naomi was examining her fire-engine-red split ends, looking totally bored.
Bree closed the heavy oak door behind her, wondering if it had been really stupid to tell them that she wasn’t ready to make a statement. What was this, Law & Order: Boarding School?
All of a sudden, she was face-to-face with Zane Taylor, standing outside the door to Mr. Dalton’s office, waiting to come in. As soon as they locked eyes, her heart began to race.
She’d been so consumed with possibly getting in trouble and possibly being considered Bridgeport biggest slut ever that she’d let their intimate little backrub session slide to the back of her mind. Now she remembered the nice warm feeling of Zane’s body next to hers.
“Hey.” She swallowed quickly.
“Huh?” Zane stared at her blankly, his eyes droopy and tired-looking. He wore a tattered yellow T-shirt that read LEXINGTON ALL-STARS. “Oh!” He widened his eyes.
“Um, how do you feel?” Bree persisted shyly.
“I…” He lurched off to the left, his eyes still wide. A strong smell of stale vodka was oozing out his pores. “I…you were just in there?”
“Yes.” Bree felt tipsy just breathing the same air as Zane.
He started to say something else, but then the door opened, and Mr. Dalton stuck his head out. “Mr. Taylor, it’s your turn.”
Without saying goodbye, Zane staggered into the office. Bree turned and padded down the stairs into the bright sunshine. On a low tree branch directly above the pathway sat one of those fat great horned owls. She froze. Was this the same one that had tried to kill her just two days ago? She narrowed her eyes.
The owl finally blinked slowly at her, as if it were stoned, then looked away.
Bree hurried past it on her way to her first class. It was the first and possibly only triumphant moment of the day. She’d won a staring contest with an owl.
“Glad to see you could make it,” Dalton greeted Zane. Last night’s Ketel One binge had left Zane feeling like the gunk he picked out of Credo’s feet before a ride. He slumped into a black leather office chair and stared blankly at Crystal’s roommate, Naomi, who was seated across from him in a totally see-through purple blouse. His new adviser looked about eighteen, a welcome change from his old adviser, Mr. Kelley, who was so ancient he could barely remember his own name and had finally retired last year at the age of about a hundred.
“Hello, Zane,” Naomi greeted him in an exaggerated authoritative tone, making a few notes in a yellow pad. “Have a good summer?”
“Uh-huh,” Zane grunted, staring up at the ceiling. Naomi might have thought she was Miss I-have-power-over-you-because-I’m-a-prefect, but Zane wasn’t buying it. He and Naomi used to be close. They’d had French class together freshman year, and for the final discussion presentation, instead of getting up in front of the class and having an absurd conversation, Naomi had had the idea to make a short film. Zane was her partner for the class and therefore the existential star of the film. He got to say weird stuff in French like, “Mon omelette du jambon est mort,” and, “Les yeux—the eyes—are in pain.” Monsieur Grimm had loved it and had given them both A’s.
“Z. Francis Taylor,” Dalton addressed him, eyeing his file carefully. “What do you want to tell me about last night?”
“With her here?” He pointed a thumb at Naomi. “I thought these things were confidential.”
“I’m his assistant,” Naomi jumped in quickly, sitting up straighter.
“She’s helping me with Disciplinary Committee procedures,” Dalton explained. “I think this qualifies.”
Zane looked back and forth between them. Whoa. Dalton was whipped—by Naomi Peterson!
“It says here that you’ve had quite a few problems with the rules over the last few years, Zane.” Dalton cleared his throat. “Disciplinary probation three times. Suspension twice. You were nearly kicked out once last year for not showing up to class after spring break. Countless arguments with teachers. Bad attitude.” He paused and flipped to a new page of the file. “Disruptive in class. Subpar grades. Almost no extracurricular activities. Caught with alcohol four times. Skipping sports practice. No team spirit…” He turned to another page.
“But…” Mr. Dalton held his index finger to the file and raised his eyebrows. He showed the paper to Naomi and she cocked her head skeptically. Zane rolled his eyes. No doubt it was those fucking PSAT scores again. So he’d scored nearly perfect in all three sections—big deal. It was the kind of thing his parents salivated over, even though Zane couldn’t have cared less. Sneaking out of the dorm to watch shooting stars in the middle of the practice fields at two in the morning or walking barefoot in the creek behind the arts building at dawn—those were the kinds of things he cared about, things that he could remember when he was old and shaky. Not some stupid test score. Unfortunately, all the bullshit rules got in the way, when all Zane wanted was more perfect Bridgeport moments like those.
“You’re a legacy,” Dalton went on, glancing at his knotted cuff links. “But that shouldn’t mean anything. I mean, I’m a Bridgeport legacy too.”
“Really?” Naomi squealed. “So am I!”
“My dad went here and my grandfather went here. And his brother too.” Dalton turned to Naomi. “Basically, the Dalton men were Bridgeport Academy’s first graduating class.”
“As if I needed to know,” Zane muttered sarcastically. What was up with this teacher trying to impress Naomi?
Dalton narrowed his eyes. “Look, I never expected to be treated any differently than anybody else. In fact, I think the teachers were harder on me because I was a legacy—they expected me to be an example for the other students.”
“Right.” Wasn’t that a load of bullshit. Zane gritted his teeth. He was a legacy, which was supposed to be this special thing, but he knew how it really worked: if your family had enough money to send successive kids (or generations) to Bridgeport, the administration would kiss your ass for the rest of your days. There weren’t any moral standards involved, just money. Maurice Johnson was a goddamn legacy, after all, and look at all the shit he’d pulled!
Dalton leaned forward. “Scoff all you want, but you shouldn’t have been in Dumbarton last night, and you certainly shouldn’t have been…er…with that new girl Brianna Hargrove.”
“Were you with Bree?” Naomi leaned forward, looking extremely interested.
“What did Bree say about that?” Zane asked.
“She didn’t say anything.” Naomi frowned. “She said she wasn’t ready to make a statement.”
“Oh.” Zane scratched his nose. He wasn’t sure what to make of Bree and what had happened last night. After talking to her in the cafeteria, he’d convinced himself she was just a mirage. She didn’t look like she wore much makeup, if any, and she was tiny, where Crystal was tall. She had miniature hands and feet, long eyelashes, and she carried around a bag that didn’t have big Gucci G’s plastered all over it. And she’d asked him about art. Crystal wouldn’t dream of asking him about art. And last night—well that had been a mirage too—a drunken one. He’d been about to score with Crystal and had wound up scurrying half-naked out of Bree’s bed, with Pardee on his tail.
Now Bree—pretty little Bree—was in trouble because of him. But he’d needed to be near her. She looked so fresh and new, sort of like that Botticelli painting he’d seen in Rome last year: The Birth of Venus, with the sexy chick coming out of the clamshell. He didn’t want her to be in trouble. But he didn’t want Crystal to find out he’d touched Bree, either. Zane gripped his head in his hands to keep his hungover brains from spilling out of his ears.
“So listen, I don’t know what’s going on here, but as your adviser, I have to warn you: this sort of offense, on top of your myriad other offenses, could lead to expulsion.”
Naomi sucked in her breath and shook her head, pretending to actually care.
Zane barely blinked. “Okay.”
“Did you hear what I just said?” Dalton asked. “You might be expelled.”
“Yeah. I heard you.”
“If I were you, I’d spend more time thinking about why I was here,” Dalton suggested sternly, “and less time getting in trouble.”
That was the kind of dick thing one of his brothers might say. Zane was the youngest of four, and his three brothers had all gone to Bridgeport as well. Whenever Zane complained to them about it, they’d say that he wouldn’t understand the importance of Bridgeport until he got out. Which was one of those bullshit things people said when they got older and brainwashed. His brothers had already graduated from college and law school; two were married and the other one was engaged. They were pussy-whipped, boring adults and didn’t know a thing about really living.
“Fine,” Zane replied through his teeth. “You done advising me, then?” Without waiting for an answer, he stood up forcefully, yanked the door open, and strode out.
Outside Stansfield Hall, he felt suddenly lightheaded. You might be expelled. Was he serious? If Zane got kicked out of Bridgeport, he could forget about his year in Paris. He’d be forced to live at home, alone with his crusty parents, where he’d be schooled by a private tutor and his only contact with the outside world would be the scary mail lady who liked Zane a little too much. Zane needed to sit down. Maybe it was the vodka from last night, but he felt a whoosh of nausea.
Zane looked up into the trees. One of the great horned owls was watching him, its eyes round and yellow. Zane made a cooing sound at it, like the one he made when he needed Credo to calm down, and pulled a dented Sprite bottle out of his school bag. He took a swig of the remaining Ketel One from last night. Everyone was making their way to the first classes of the year, but Zane needed to think.
He wandered along the worn stone path toward the stables, wishing Crystal would be there to lie down with him in a humid corral and make him forget all about Dalton’s threat. They’d stretch out on an old horse blanket and stay there all day, not caring about missing the first day of classes. But picturing Crystal naked in the abandoned stable wasn’t getting him excited—he couldn’t stop Fantasy Crystal from complaining about hay in her hair and imaginary bugs on the blanket.
Zane closed himself into the warm, slightly moist corral, and squeezed his eyes shut. But when he revisited his fantasy, it wasn’t Crystal sprawled across the horse blanket, staring up at him.
It was Bree.
Date: Thursday, September 5, 9:01 A.M.
Subject: Property defacement
It has come to my attention that pony drawings have shown up around campus—on the sidewalks, on marker boards, and on the shower walls of the girls’ locker room.
Please know that defacement of Bridgeport property is a serious offense and will not be tolerated. A few students have anonymously reported emotional distress over them, as well. Please be advised that the mental health center is open twenty-four hours a day and that anyone seen defacing school property will face disciplinary consequences.
Enjoy your first day of classes,
Crystal was spacing out through first-period Latin when Mrs. Tullington, the school’s administrator, interrupted class. “Ms. Alexander,” Mr. Gaston, the teacher, addressed her. “Your adviser wants to see you.”
Her adviser’s office was only one floor down from the Latin room. Crystal nervously rubbed her palms together. She and Ms. Emory weren’t exactly buddy-buddy. Ms. Emory was a short-haired, middle-aged, dykey bitch from Connecticut who had gone to Vassar with Crystal’s mother. The two women had been rivals, always vying for the highest GPA and admission into Phi Beta Kappa. They’d also fought for the same spot at Harvard Law—and Crystal’s mom had won. Bitter, Ms. Emory had decided to forgo law school and instead had gotten her master’s in education at NYU. She’d made it very clear to Crystal that missing out on Harvard had affected the entire course of her life, and Crystal suspected she blamed this all on her mother. It was another a brilliant student-adviser match by the Bridgeport administration.
Ms. Emory’s office was freaky. She had absolutely no books or personal affects on her shelves, and the only thing tacked to her bulletin board was the Bridgeport call sheet, which listed all of the other faculty members’ office numbers and extensions. A lonely flat-screen computer rested on her dark wooden desk, and a shopping bag with the words RHINECLIFF YARN BARN across the front sat on a bare table behind her. Wooden knitting needles and some tan yarn peeked out from the top. Ms. Emory, a knitter? How random.
Crystal sat down quickly on the black chair opposite Ms. Emory’s desk. Next to her adviser’s all-black turtleneck and practical black pants, Crystal’s sheer pink flouncy skirt and pink-diamond encrusted watch seemed ridiculous.
“You wanted to see me?”
Ms. Emory looked up from her computer keyboard. She squinted one eye and contorted her gigantic mouth into a sneer. She looked like a deranged female Popeye. Why couldn’t Crystal have gotten a nice adviser, like Mrs. Swan, who took her advisees to the Metropolitan Opera three times a year, or Mr. Bungey, who threw his kids Scotch-tasting Christmas parties and listened to all their relationship problems? Oh no, she had to get the crazy Popeye lady, who probably used those knitting needles to poke her advisees in the ass when they misbehaved.
“Mr. Pardee told me I should talk to you,” Ms. Emory announced flatly. “He said that your boyfriend was caught in your room last night. After curfew.”
Crystal took a deep breath to prepare herself. She’d had years of practice bending the truth for her mother, but it always made her nervous. “Well, that’s the thing,” she began. “My boyfriend was there, yes. But he wasn’t visiting me. He was visiting my roommate, Bree.”
“And how do you know that?”
Crystal furrowed her brow. “Because…because I wasn’t there.”
Ms. Emory gave her a look of disbelief. “Umhmm.” She began to type something on her keyboard. Crystal noticed she had very stubby nails, chewed way down to the quick.
Shit. Did Ms. Emory’s umhmm mean Bree had told on her? Crystal didn’t think so: she’d seen the gleam in her eye—Bree was hungry. Why else would she have shown up at the Richards dorm party, basically uninvited? If she didn’t care about the Bridgeport social order, she’d go and be friends with that dorky Yvonne girl. No, Bree wanted more than that, Crystal was certain.
“Look.” Crystal shrugged. “I don’t know what went on. I was studying. It was right before curfew, and I came back and only Bree was there. Zane had left. Mr. Pardee was talking to her.”
“Mmmm. So, then. You and Zane, you’re not a couple anymore?”
Crystal winced. With that horrible I love you still hanging out there, unanswered, every second that went by without him saying it back made her feel ridiculously vulnerable. If they didn’t have sex soon and start talking about how much they loved each other, Crystal might have to check herself into the mental health center along with all the girls traumatized by the ponies on their boards.
“No,” Crystal lied. “We’re not together.”
“Really.” Ms. Emory stared at her over her square black glasses. “Because someone spotted you and Mr. Taylor at the stables only yesterday.”
“We…we were breaking up,” Crystal managed to stutter, her voice dry. “I…I don’t really want to talk about it, if that’s okay.” Damn that Ben! Damn the faculty and staff for living with the students on campus and knowing every freaking intimate detail of their lives!
“Mm,” Ms. Emory replied, looking as if she didn’t believe Crystal at all. “Well, behave. We haven’t forgotten about last year.”
“Okay,” Crystal squeaked.
Then Ms. Emory began to type furiously. Generally this was Crystal’s cue to leave. She badly wanted to crane her neck around to see what she was typing—probably a three-point plan for how to ruin Crystal’s life.
She raced back to class, eager to be back in the soothing world of Latin verb declensions. Seated at her desk, she rubbed her hands together. If Ms. Emory found out she’d lied and that Zane had been there to see her, she’d definitely be expelled, especially after last year’s E episode. Then her mother would disown her and she’d have to go live with her fishy-smelling Aunt Brenda in the most boring suburb of Atlanta. She’d be forced to go to public school with ghetto, ratchet kids who thought a big night out was drinking Smirnoff Ice in the Dairy Queen parking lot. Crystal’s stomach turned.
She had two challenges before her: one, making sure Bree didn’t talk, and two, convincing Ms. Emory that she and Zane weren’t an item. Her life at Bridgeport depended on it.
Date: Thursday, September 5, 12:50 P.M.
Dear Brianna Hargrove,
It’s your lucky day! Your friend Crystal Alexander has selected a beauty gift basket for you, full of $50 worth of makeup. The basket comes with a free tote bag! Please go to our Web site to pick the color you’d like.
The KissKiss! staff
CrystalAlexander: Come with me to Pimpernels. Noon.
ZaneTaylor: Shopping? No.
CrystalAlexander: It’s important. We need to talk.
ZaneTaylor: Can’t we talk on campus?
CrystalAlexander: U can come into the dressing room with me…
ZaneTaylor: Aren’t we in enough shit already?
Zane saw Crystal leaning up against the storefront, nervously fiddling with her bamboo-handled Gucci bag and holding an unlit cigarette. It was a warm afternoon, and she was wearing a colorful flimsy shirt and matching skirt. Rhinecliff locals—mostly scraggly-haired hippie artists—were milling about the cobblestone street, eating strawberry ice cream cones from the creamery and stopping to talk to Hank, the guy who sold tie-dyed T-shirts and incense on the sidewalk. Zane doubted the hippies were talking to Hank for the incense, though. Hank sold weed to plenty of Bridgeport students, including Zane. He’d already waved his hello.
“Well, look who’s here,” Crystal said sarcastically.
Zane didn’t answer. They were in front of Pimpernel’s, a frou-frou boutique Crystal deigned to shop at. It was the only store in Rhinecliff that didn’t usually sell tie-dyed shirts—and when it did, they were silk, sequined, and cost $300. The last time he’d been here, Zane had spent the whole time examining a tiny knitted socklike thing that cost $360, trying to figure out what it could possibly be. A nose warmer? A bag for weed? A snuggly condom? Crystal had finally informed him that it was a cashmere dog bootie.
It was important that he talk to Crystal, though, so here he was. “We’re in trouble,” he announced flatly.
Crystal examined her freshly manicured nails. “We, huh?”
Zane scowled. “Of course we. And why did I see Bree come out of Dalton’s office? Was it for last night? She had nothing to do with this.”
“Well, Ms. Emory called me in too. And if you must know, yes, Bree was in there because of last night. It’s not like I can take the rap. The E thing, remember? My parents would disown me and send me to public school!”
“What are you talking about?” Zane demanded, rubbing the unshaven sides of his face.
Crystal shook her mane of long hair off the back of her neck. “Look, I don’t want to get kicked out. So I said you were there with Bree and that we were broken up.”
“What?” Zane asked, stunned. Crystal shrugged and pushed open the door to the store. Chimes jingled to announce their arrival.
“Sweetheart! Welcome back!” shrieked a very tall, very thin woman with slicked-back blond hair as soon as they stepped through the door.
“Hi, Tracey!” Crystal cooed. They kissed each other’s cheeks in a well-rehearsed routine. Zane hung back, wanting out. Immediately. Shopping, screaming girls, cashmere dog booties— so not his thing. Why had he come? He should be enjoying his last days at Bridgeport.
“I held some things for you over the summer.” Tracey beckoned, whisking Crystal and Zane into a little back alcove. She brought out a garment rack of shiny dresses, skirts, and blouses. She held up an ivory Alexander McQueen gown. “Isn’t this pretty?”
Zane turned his head to the side to read the price tag: $2,250.
“Oh, yes,” Crystal breathed. She didn’t seem at all concerned that she’d gotten her new roommate in trouble or that she’d lied to the administration. Nope. All she was worried about was whether this dress came in a small enough size.
“You could practically wear this to your wedding!” Tracey shoved the dress up against Crystal’s body.
“If you were a hooker,” Zane added rudely. He plopped down onto the lavender couch, pulling a frilly, pink-lace pillow out from under his ass.
Crystal rolled her eyes. “Boys,” she sighed at Tracey. “They know nothing!” Then she walked over and stroked Zane’s arm. “So, was Dalton mean to you?”
“He said I might get kicked out.”
“Oh, but you won’t. You’re a legacy. They never kick out legacies.” Zane saw a flicker of worry cross her face as she gathered up the dresses Tracey had given her to try on.
“I don’t know,” he responded as she closed the pink dressing room door. “What if they decide to set a new example?”
“They won’t,” Crystal insisted determinedly, throwing her nude bra over the top of the dressing room door. It looked flimsy and a little sad. “You’re definitely safe.”
“So you’re just going to let Bree take the rap for you then?”
“Why not? Mr. Pardee caught her, after all. And she’s prepared. We discussed it.”
Zane sighed. “You know, Dalton told me she didn’t say one way or another what happened. So what if she tells?”
“She won’t,” Crystal called back, her voice cracking with forced determination.
Zane sat back. The shopkeeper, Tracey, stared at his Converse high-tops, which he’d propped up on the store’s lavender velvet ottoman. What, was he not supposed to put his feet there? Tough.
Suddenly, Crystal stuck her head out of the dressing room door. “Sweetie? I need you to do me a teeny, tiny little favor.”
“What?” If it was to help her untangle her thong or zip something up, he really wasn’t in the mood.
Crystal’s eyes met his. “Well…” She curled a strand of black hair around her forefinger. “If Bree’s going to take the rap for me—and I’m sure she will—we need things to look… believable.”
“You know. Like something actually happened between you two.”
Zane rolled his jaw around incredulously, staring at her.
“So,” Crystal breezed ahead, “this might sound weird, but I’m wondering if you might flirt with her a little. You know, maybe if you two acted like you liked each other. Just a little.”
“You’re asking me to flirt with another girl?” Zane laughed, taking his feet off the velvet ottoman. “Have you forgotten you’re the most jealous person on the planet?”
Crystal closed the door again and slung the dress she’d just been wearing over the top. “I am not jealous,” she retorted.
“What do you want me to do?”
“I don’t know. Flirt. Be nice to her. Friendly.”
With the dressing room door closed, Crystal’s view of Zane was obscured. But if she could have seen him, she might have been confused by the seemingly huge, googly grin on his face. When she stuck her head out of the door again, he’d managed to compose himself.
“Does that really sound so bad? You’re not going to get kicked out of school. That’s just silly. But you were already seen by Mr. Pardee in the dorm, so you’re already in trouble. It wouldn’t hurt to make it a teensy bit believable, would it?”
“Well, they’re right!” Zane put his hands in the air helplessly.
She jiggled up and down out of frustration, and Zane looked at her chest for a second. “Sweetie, please? Wouldn’t that be awful if I got kicked out?”
“But what if I get kicked out?”
Crystal screwed up her face. “You won’t,” she said firmly. “I already told you that.”
Zane hesitated. Was it possible that Crystal had somehow seen him sitting on Bree’s bed last night, touching her back, and that this was all a test? Better to play it like he wasn’t sure about the idea—although inside, of course, his whole body felt like it had been struck by lightning. Was it really possible that his girlfriend was actually asking him to get to know the girl he was digging? “This doesn’t sound very moral,” he answered calmly, keeping the shit-eating smile off his face.
“Moral?” She slammed the door shut again. “Are we forgetting about how you stole me away from Amir Phillips last year? Right out from under his nose?”
“That wasn’t exactly moral, was it?”
“Anyway,” Crystal continued, “I’m going to tell Bree about it, too. It’s not like I’m asking you to have sex with her or anything. Will you please just do this for me?”
“I…” Zane croaked. She wasn’t testing him. She was serious. He really was the fucking luckiest guy in the world.
Crystal opened the door, wearing the white Alexander McQueen dress. She looked like Boarding-School-Bitch Barbie on her wedding day. “So you’ll do it?” she asked. He slowly nodded, and she broke into a smile. “Thank you, sweetie. It’ll be a humungous help.”
No, no, Zane thought. Thank you.
Date: Thursday, September 5, 12:15 P.M.
Subject: Miss you
I just had my first English class. My teacher read part of “Howl” aloud and it made me think of when we snuck your gross-looking but yummy oatmeal cookies into that weird movie place and watched that documentary on Allen Ginsberg. I loved that day.
Field hockey tryouts were yesterday and you’re not going to believe this but I’m a total natural. Did you secretly coach a hockey for beat poets team or something? Because I don’t know where I get it from…
I’m still adjusting to everything here—it’s different from the city and Willard in so many ways. Smells much better and there are no roaches, but there are lots of RULES—I’m still learning what they are…Let’s hope I pick up on them as quickly as field hockey.
Have you heard from Mekhi?? I admit I even miss him sometimes.
Hugs and kisses!
P.S. Can you send my cell phone? I thought they weren’t allowed, but as it turns out, everyone has them here. It’s on top of my bureau in my room. Thanks, Dad. Love you again.
“So tell me about this sexy teacher,” Naomi’s sister cooed. Naomi had ducked behind Stansfield Hall to make a quick cell phone call to the Elle offices before rejoining Eric for lunch. “You’re going to have lunch with him?”
“It’s a working lunch,” Naomi said. “We ran out of time this morning. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“Sure it does! What’s his name, anyway?”
“What? You cut out for a sec.”
“Eric Dalton,” Naomi continued loudly again, and then took the phone away from her ear to look at the screen. The screen flashed CALL LOST. She shoved her iPhone back into her bag.
Naomi couldn’t help but feel nervous. She hadn’t been able to stop thinking about Eric since they’d met yesterday. He was a little awkward and aloof, which was a challenge. Naomi also had a sense that he liked her but that he knew that he shouldn’t—another challenge. Naomi liked challenges.
This morning, in calc, as Mr. Farnsworth was explaining the concept of infinity, Naomi had imagined them sneaking away to New York City, snagging the presidential suite at the St. Regis, ordering champagne and eggs Benedict from room service, and having hours and hours of sweaty sex with the curtains wide open so they could watch the horse-drawn carriages in the park.
The one time she and Corey had gone out in the city, Naomi had wanted to get a martini at the King Cole Bar, which was right in the St. Regis Hotel. But Corey had demanded they go to Champs because he knew the Yankees-Sox game would be blaring from their plasma-screen TV. Her stomach flopped when she thought about Corey coming over this afternoon. She wasn’t in the right frame of mind to see him.
Naomi gritted her teeth as she climbed up the stairs toward Eric’s office. All she wanted to do was sit on Crystal’s bed, drink her signature banana daiquiri protein shake straight from the blender, and tell her about every freckle on Eric’s perfect face. But since they’d moved in, she and Crystal had hardly spoken. She’d tried to ask Crystal about the Bree/Zane thing when she’d stopped by the dorm after the morning meetings, but Crystal had quickly rushed to the showers without answering. So what, they weren’t friends now? Or maybe Crystal was afraid that if she let her guard down, she’d confess what she’d done to Jade? Probably.
Naomi knocked on Eric’s office door and smelled green tea brewing inside. He flung the door open and broke into an adorable grin.
“Hey,” he said, stepping back to let her pass.
Naomi smiled back at him, willing herself not to throw her arms around his brown, sexy neck. He looked gorgeous, from his neatly knotted tie to his…argyle socks. No shoes, just green, soft-looking argyle socks. Her insides quivered. Because after all, right underneath that layer of what she bet was Brooks Brothers cashmere, were his feet. He was basically one step away from being naked.
“Thanks,” she replied, regaining her composure. Then she noticed an enormous tray of cheese, caviar, olives, smoked salmon, crackers and tea cakes teetering on the edge of the sideboad. It was exactly the kind of opulent array of gourmet goodies her father’s clients sent to her parents’ house in a basket as thanks for their lipo tune-ups.
“You like cheese? Manchego? Coach Triple Cream?”
As if she could actually eat. “Sure. All of it.”
“Olives, too?” He pointed. “I like having little picnics.”
Naomi demurely took a tiny sliver of cheese and popped it between her plump lips. The salt coated her mouth and she swallowed noisily.
“I got into eating this way from my family.” Eric scratched the side of his slender, clean-shaven neck. “My family, man. They’re crazy about cheese.”
“Yeah,” Naomi agreed, mesmerized by his classic New England accent. She didn’t have any idea where he was from, but it had to be somewhere on the East Coast. Boston, maybe, but he most definitely did not speak with a townie accent. “What do your parents do?” she finally managed to say.
He paused. “Uh, well, my dad works in magazine publishing. My mom…she has her little projects, I guess. Yours?”
Talk about vague. “My dad’s a doctor.” Naomi shrugged. She wasn’t about to tell Dalton a doctor of what. “And my mom…yeah. She has her little projects too.” One of those projects being buying designer sweaters for the seven family Chihuahuas.
“So, my sources say you’ve been to Italy,” Eric said, spreading Brie onto a cracker and sitting back down in his chair.
Naomi looked up at him. “Yeah. How’d you know that?”
He ducked his head a little shyly. “Well, I mean, I saw it in your file.”
She felt the heat rising to her cheeks. Duh. Of course he’d looked at her file. That was how he’d recognized her in first place. Did that mean he knew about her parents?
“I’m sorry,” he added quickly. “I didn’t mean to—”
“No!” she said. “God. I don’t care. I went to Europe through school. I spent some time in South America, too, with family.” She didn’t add that her family had bought the biggest, tackiest house in Buzios, Brazil, and flown all the Chihuahuas first class to spend the summer with them.
He looked at her seriously. “You’re modest. You went to France with the advanced French students—mostly seniors—when you were a sophomore—and you went to Crete with the honors program when you were a freshman.”
She shrugged. It was weird having someone repeat your achievements back to you. But kind of cool, too. Corey probably had no idea where Crete even was.
“You’re smart.” He smiled. “I need a smart woman around helping me get through this first year.”
“Well, that’s me,” she said sheepishly, feeling a little funny that he’d called her a woman instead of a girl. She watched as he gracefully deposited an olive pit on the edge of the Italian-looking blue ceramic tray. Corey would’ve spit it out in his hand.
“So, let’s get started.” He flipped his manila folder open and revealed a big stack of papers. “I want to show you this—these are some of the case files. They’re like nine thousand pages long. And seriously, keep this quiet. Remember, you’re not technically supposed to be doing this kind of work, since you weren’t on DC last year. Everything in these files is confidential. Think you can handle that?”
“Absolutely,” Naomi assured him. She laughed lightly. “I’m good with secrets.”
“Yeah?” He looked up at her and broke into a slow smile. Naomi felt her insides melt. He handed her a pile of papers, his fingers brushing the back of her hand. Naomi nearly choked on her cheese. He didn’t pull away very fast, either. Time slowed down. Naomi counted: One Mississippi, two Mississippi…
Three seconds. Their hands were still touching. Tingles ran the whole way up her back and her hand hummed as if she were touching an electric fence.
“I was hoping you might be,” he murmured, finally breaking the silence.
Naomi looked down, willing her lips not to break into an enormous grin.
Amir spied Bree in the distance, coming over the dewy green hill from Hunter Hall, the English building. She’d carefully arranged her long curly hair into two perky braids and was wearing a pink and white button-down shirt, her Bridgeport jacket, and a cute little khaki skirt. Amir could almost imagine her as a farm girl, on her way to milk a cow or sing on a hilltop.
Two ponytailed girls hugged their books to their chests and smiled at him as they passed. “Hey, Amir,” Sage Francis, a brown-skinned girl in an ultrashort gray pleated skirt and silver sandals, cooed. Amir smiled distractedly. “Saw you eating dinner last night with that Bree girl. Did she really sleep with that actor from Breakfast at Fred’s?”
“What?” Amir asked, scratching an artfully tweezed eyebrow.
“I heard she slept with the lead singer from the Raves, Thaddeus Smith, and Zane Taylor—all in one week!”
“And don’t forget, she was ponied!” shrieked Sage’s friend, a girl named Helena who was well known for starring in school plays and making out with the student director at the cast parties. Amir was a little tired of the term pony. All the girls were throwing it around and acting completely ridiculous about it. Worse, Maurice loved that they’d made up a sex term just for him. Last night, before heading to dinner, Maurice had poked Amir in his yoga-toned abs and boasted, “You wanna bet I can pony someone between first and second courses?”
“She didn’t say anything happened between her and Zane,” Amir replied evenly, trying to sound calm.
“She’s worse than Jade!” Sage and Helena giggled, then linked hands and walked off.
“No she—” Amir started. But they were already gone. Personally, Amir felt nauseated over all the rumors about Bree. He’d heard she’d been caught having loud sex with Zane Taylor last night wearing nothing but a lacy push-up bra on the roof of her dorm—the rumors were all over Bridgeport. Not that he believed Bree had done it—she was way too sweet to do something like that. Especially with a dog like Zane.
Bree was still walking toward him, looking even more innocent and wide-eyed than when Amir had first met her. He reached out and caught her arm as she passed. “Hey.”
Bree stopped, deep in a daze. “Oh!” she exclaimed. Now that she was looking at him, he could see the dark circles under her eyes. He wished he could gently pat some eye balm onto her delicate skin. “Hey.”
“I got you this.” He searched through his tan suede satchel and found a turkey-and-cheese sandwich wrapped in a dining hall napkin. “I didn’t see you at lunch, and I thought you might be hungry.”
“Yeah, I was e-mailing my dad.” Bree pressed her lips together, not looking him in the eye. “It’s just…I’m kind of ready to crack under the pressure,” she admitted, her lips trembling. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Never mind.” Bree shook her head, her chin quivering. “I’m all right. I just have to think about things for a while, you know?”
Amir wondered what she meant. Did this mean she had been with Zane after all? Or that someone was just spreading vicious unfounded rumors about her? Zane, probably. God, he hated Zane.
“Don’t let him get to you,” Amir said, trying to look into Bree’s big brown eyes.
“You know. Zane.”
“Zane? This really isn’t Zane’s fault.” Bree kicked at the perfectly manicured green.
“No? Then is it the pony stuff? Because you know, practically every girl at Bridgeport has made the mistake of hooking up with Maurice.” Amir smiled a little. “Seriously. They’ll find someone else to talk about soon.”
Bree shook her head and looked up at him through her think black eyelashes. “I didn’t even know he was called Pony,” she confessed dejectedly. “But at least I know what those drawings mean now. Anyway, no, it’s not only Maurice. That was just the start of it.”
“Then what is it?”
“I feel like…” Bree swallowed hard. She was sort of embarrassed to admit this to someone she hardly knew, but she felt like she could trust Amir. “I feel like Zane and I could have a real connection. It’s weird. I can’t explain it.”
Amir felt his throat close up. What. The. Fuck. “So,” he finally got out. “You… like him?”
“Well, I…” Her voice trailed off.
Amir shook his head vigorously. “You can’t like Zane.”
Bree shrugged. “Well, yeah. I know. He’s my roommate’s boyfriend.”
Yes, he was well aware of that, thank you very much. But no, you shouldn’t like him because he’s fucking bad news. After all, Zane had stolen Crystal from him last year and nothing had been the same since. One minute, she was standing next to him at the party at the library, asking for a Grey Goose and tonic. The next, she was ascending the library stairs, with Zane’s tongue practically down her throat in public.
Now Bree had some sort of connection with him? Puh-lease.
“It doesn’t matter, anyway.” She stared down at her shoes and squeezed her eyes shut. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“No…” Amir offered lamely. “I’m glad you did.”
“I have to go,” she said, still pouting at the ground. “I hope your day goes okay.” Her voice quivered again, as if she were about to cry.
For maybe the second time in his life, Amir wanted to punch a hole in something. Why did Zane steal every cool girl? And did this mean something had happened between them?
Amir’s next class was molecular and cell biology, and he was two minutes late. He slid into his seat and glared viciously at the girl with long black hair sitting in front of him. She wore a sparkly diamond ring on her right hand and smelled vaguely of cigarettes and perfume. She turned and twisted the corners of her pretty, pouty, MAC-glossed mouth up into a half-smile.
“Hey, Amir,” Crystal chirped. “Meet any nice girls this summer?”
Amir shrugged, averting his eyes to watch a flock of geese flap by the classroom’s picture window on their way south, honking their heads off. He hadn’t met any nice girls over the summer, but he’d met one on his first day back at school. How could he prevent Bridgeport from ruining Bree the way it had ruined Crystal?
BennyCunningham: So they’re not even speaking to each other anymore.
CelineColista: Did you see the SAVE JADE! on their board?
BennyCunningham: I think they both wanted her gone—you know Zane was into Jade.
CelineColista: Now Crystal’s being nice to that slutty Bree girl, even though she practically had sex with her BF. It’s just to piss Naomi off.
BennyCunningham: God, those bitches are crazy!
SageFrancis: So Angelica Pardee’s marker board got ponied! Do you think?
BennyCunningham: She’s married. And old.
SageFrancis: Maybe she’s secretly wild for Maurice….
BennyCunningham: Do you dare me to ask her about it at tonight’s check-in?
SageFrancis: OMG, do it!
Crystal sat in biology class and felt eyes on her that were definitely not welcome. Not the vacant stares of the emaciated dead cats that lay on the metal dissection trays at their lab stations. Amir Phillips wouldn’t stop staring at her.
It had been almost a year since they’d broken up. She’d gone to a party for Bridgeport’s literary magazine, Absinthe, at the library, not intending to break up at all. But the party had been classically romantic—they’d turned the lights down at the library and covered the walls in thick gauzy netting. Old twenties flapper music lilted lightly through the speakers, and everyone had been instructed to wear creative black tie. Zane had been there. She’d known Zane, of course—the eclectic circle of Bridgeport’s elite was small—but not well. She’d always found him sexy and mysterious in a sensitive-artist way, and she’d caught him checking her out a couple of times at chapel. When Amir went off to get them some drinks, she made eye contact, thinking she’d innocently flirt with Zane from across the room. But then he’d walked up to her. And it had been like those nature shows on PBS, with a lion striking a gazelle. It had happened so fast, she hadn’t even known what hit her.
She would’ve pleaded that Zane had slipped something into her glass, but she hadn’t even had a drink yet. Only a few seconds later, they sneaked off into the Bridgeport ancient-books room. Sinking into one of the worn leather smoking chairs, they’d kissed for hours, communicating by telepathy as their tongues twisted together. The next day, Amir knew—everybody knew—and Crystal and Amir were broken up by lunch.
“By the end of the semester, you will have examined the cat’s various bodily systems and identified every organ.” Their handsomely weathered teacher, Mr. Shea, paced the room. “In December you will be given a final oral exam during which you must correctly identify all of the organs.”
From the back of the room, Maurice Johnson snickered at the words oral exam. Mr. Shea switched on the overhead projector and started to point at a line-drawn diagram of a cat. Crystal peeked at Amir again. His eyes remained fixed on her, and she quickly jerked her head away. She doodled, Stop staring at me, perv, in elaborate cursive on a fresh piece of notebook paper. As soon as she finished the letters, she scribbled over them in broad black strokes.
Suddenly her cell phone vibrated in her back pocket. She slowly took it out, and discreetly slid it onto her lap so that it was obscured by the tabletop. It was a text message from Benny, who was sitting only three rows over.
U think about the cheer yet?
No, Crystal texted back.
Every year on Black Saturday, the upperclassmen of the varsity girls’ field hockey team performed a cheer. First the whole team would do a really standard and boring cheer. Then it was tradition for the older girls to pick one new younger varsity girl to do another, crazier, sort of embarrassing cheer, having led her to believe that all the girls were doing it together, not just her. Understandably, the girl became completely mortified when she found herself doing the cheer all on her own. Sometimes she wouldn’t talk to the other players for weeks. But as the season went on, she eventually laughed about it later, glad to have bonded with the cool older girls. It was a hazing ritual that had started in the fifties, and as co-captain this year, Crystal was responsible for it.
Her phone buzzed again. I think we should make yr new roomie do it, Benny texted.
Crystal froze, her heart leaping in to her throat. No way. Hazing Bree might make her mad, and Crystal had to keep Bree happy. I don’t think so, she wrote back. Is she even varsity?
Benny buzzed back quickly. Yup, the list was posted today. Have u seen her play yet? She’s kind of all over the place but good.
Not her, Crystal quickly replied.
Crystal watched as Benny furiously typed into her phone. But aren’t u mad at her b/c of Zane? We can totally embarrass her.
Crystal sat back. The whole school was talking about Bree and Zane and whispering about Crystal as they passed her on the stone pathways around campus. She hadn’t told anyone the truth about Zane and Bree—it was too risky. Embarrassing Bree was the last thing Crystal needed. I don’t know, she texted back.
Sage and Celine and I all think she’s the one to do it. What does Naomi think?
As if she and Naomi had discussed it. Or anything for that matter. She sighed and dropped her phone into her pale yellow Hermès bag, indicating that the conversation was over.
The bell finally rang. Crystal jumped up to her feet and grabbed her notebook, hoping that her hair didn’t smell like formaldehyde. She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned. It was Amir, dressed in neatly pressed olive green trousers and Prada loafers without socks. His wavy hair was flecked with gold and she wondered if he’d used an at-home highlighting kit last night or something. “Hey,” she greeted him.
“So, easy come, easy go, huh?” Amir’s dark eyes looked cold.
“Pardon?” she asked cautiously.
“How does it feel to have someone steal the one you love out from under you?”
Crystal stared at him for a moment and smirked inside. Good boy, Zane! He must have already started flirting in public with Bree. Even before she’d had a chance to tell Bree about it.
“Well?” Amir coaxed.
“Yeah, it sucks,” Crystal swallowed hard, trying to look heartbroken.
“You don’t believe me.” Amir shrugged. “But I know something you don’t know,” he singsonged.
“What are we, second graders?” she scoffed, suddenly hating how perfectly plucked Amir’s eyebrows were. “I have to go.”
Shoving past a gaggle of extremely young-looking freshman girls, Crystal stopped on the second-floor landing.
Students streamed past her as she pressed herself up against the brick stairwell wall. Was Amir still hoping to get back together with her? Fat chance. That was about as likely as Zane actually falling for little Bree Hargrove. As if that would ever happen.
RyanReynolds: So, you hear anything on where the Black Saturday party’s gonna be? I heard Jade’s throwing it…
CelineColista: Really? I heard she was having a secret love getaway in Lake Como with that guy from Empire.
RyanReynolds: God, I hope not. I’d die for that girl, she’s so fine.
CelineColista: You and every other boy at this school.
RyanReynolds: Try planet.
“Hey!” Corey yelled, loping up the long hill from Bridgeport’s practice fields to the main green. Naomi squinted. He wore a faded black T-shirt, scruffy jeans and booger-green Pumas. He was smiling so big that Naomi could see his crooked row of bottom teeth. Corey probably looked delicious to every other girl on campus, but to Naomi, he looked immature and sloppy.
“Hey,” she called, noting the undeniable shakiness in her voice. Corey broke into a run, his floppy shirt flying behind him. He smacked into her and wrapped his strong arms around her waist.
“Babe,” he murmured aggressively. “It seems like a million yee-ahs since I saw you. I feel like we’re so fah from each other.”
Ugh. “Well, that’s silly,” Naomi blushed, taking his hand. “I just talked to you yesterday.”
“You okay?” Corey squeezed her. “You seem really…I don’t know. Nervous.”
“Oh, no.” Naomi tried to smile. “I’m just giddy.”
Yeah, she was giddy. But not about Corey. About her mind-blowing, absolutely magical lunch with Mr. Dalton. Before she left his office, he’d touched her shoulder and invited her to go to dinner sometime. His nervous, twitching lips when he’d asked, his shining eyes when she’d said yes. Dinner, dinner, dinner with Eric! And they were going tonight!
“We’re going to the gazebo, right?”
Naomi snapped back to attention. “Yeah,” she squeaked. The old white gazebo was nestled into some weeping willow trees and sat right on the bank of the Hudson. It was a famed Bridgeport hook up spot—in fact, it was so popular that last spring the students had passed around a gazebo sign-out sheet so nobody would interrupt another couple’s business. It had a worn-in, comfy swinging bench for two. There was a cutout hole at the top of the gazebo, so at night, you could look up at the stars. “But we can’t stay too long, ‘cause I have to get ready for dinner in a little.”
They walked along the stone path, hand in hand, acres of green lawn and ancient redbrick buildings with bright white trim on either side of them. The sky was getting cloudy, and Naomi wasn’t sure if it was the humidity or her nerves, but she was definitely sweating a little. Corey suddenly stopped and grabbed her by both hands. Students were walking around campus, heading to the dorms for visiting hours before dinner, all checking out Naomi and her tall, cute boyfriend.
“I really missed you.” He kissed her forehead. “I wish our schools were closer, you know?”
“They’re only about ten miles away from each other,” Naomi sputtered, looking around frantically. They were standing right in the middle of the green, in plain view of Stansfield Hall. If Eric looked out his office window right then, he would see them. “It’s really not that far.”
“Well, that seems to far to me.”
“Let’s go to the gazebo.” She grabbed his arm quickly. “We can talk there.”
“Okay.” Corey put his big, snuggly arm around her. “So, how is it here? You got any freaky new teachers?”
“I heard you guys got somebody new. That really rich dude?”
“I don’t know…” Naomi sort of figured all teachers were either really rich and didn’t need high-paying jobs or else really poor and desperate.
“Eric Dalton. Have you met him?”
Her heart froze. She glanced at Corey’s face. Was he on to her?
“You’d know him if you met him. He’s a Dalton.”
“What do you mean, he’s a Dalton?”
Corey looked at her like worms were growing out of her nose. “Is this just a Massachusetts thing? You know. A Dalton. His grandfather was Reginald Dalton. There’s…there’s like, a giant complex named after him in Boston? The one that always has the big Christmas tree?”
At the Petersons’ house in Rumson, there was a picture of four-year-old Naomi, wearing a red velvet dress, holding a stuffed Chihuahua, and standing under the Dalton Christmas tree. Duh! My grandfather was into railroads. My family has a place in Newport. Eric’s words came back to her. She’d never even considered that he was a Dalton Dalton.
Naomi had watched specials about them on TV, from historical biopics on PBS to scandalous they’re-worse-than-the-Kennedys tell-alls on E! She’d learned that the grandfather, Reginald Dalton, was an heir to a railroad fortune. His family owned Lindisfarne, the largest mansion in Newport, and had for a hundred years. The father, Morris Dalton, owned an international publishing company that made gazillions of dollars and published only the classiest books and magazines. And yes, she knew there was a son, but he was press-shy and didn’t like to be in the spotlight. Naomi had assumed he was either ugly or a social misfit or both and that the family’s PR secretary wanted to keep him private. How wrong she’d been!
“I think they might’ve introduced him at chapel,” she finally mumbled to Corey.
“Oh. Well, at least Black Saturday’s coming up,” Corey changed the subject, breezing ahead. “That’ll be fun, huh? We’ve never really partied together, like, during school.”
“Yeah.” Naomi took her hand from his, feigning a need to scratch her arm.
“Hey, so close your eyes.” They approached the gazebo. Corey’s lacrosse-calloused hand covered the top half of her face. “I have a surprise.”
He led her a few paces through the grass, breathing excitedly. With every step, Naomi felt a heavier and heavier sense of dread. What she really needed was for Corey to go away so she could sit down and think. Eric was Eric Dalton? For real?
“Okay, you can open ‘em now.” Corey whisked his hand away from her face. Naomi gasped. In the middle of the white wooden gazebo was a huge bouquet of black tulips surrounded by heaps of burgundy rose petals. She’d never seen so many flowers in one place before. There must have been a hundred of them.
“I like the black ones,” she squeaked. Like? More like she was obsessed with them.
“You said that once when we passed that flower shop in Manhattan,” he beamed, bouncing up and down excitedly, like a little kid who’d just made his parents breakfast in bed.
“I…” Naomi started. This was the type of thing Crystal always secretly prayed for Zane to do for her, and he never did.
“And here.” Corey held out a white United Airlines envelope. Naomi opened it, and saw that it was a first-class round-trip ticket to San Francisco. She looked up at him questioningly.
“My dad is opening up a restaurant on Newbury Street in Boston, and he’s going to California on a tasting tour. He said I could bring you. He’ll totally leave us alone, though. It’s over Thanksgiving.”
Naomi opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Driving through California wine country sounded amazing, but Corey drank beer. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine them together at a winery. You were supposed to spit out the wine after you tasted it, but Corey was the kind if guy who would rather swallow it and get trashed. He was trying too hard. Way too hard. Plus Thanksgiving seemed so far away. What if…what if she was spending Thanksgiving with Eric?
Hello? They hadn’t even kissed yet. But she could still dream.
“This is great.” She forced a smile, gazing wondrously at the flowers again.
Corey wrapped his arms around her from behind and kissed her neck softly. “It was my way of telling you I missed you, baby.”
“Well, it’s definitely…something. I don’t know what to say.”
“How about thank you?” Corey’s voice sounded a little edgy all of a sudden, sort of like a scolding mother’s.
Naomi laughed nervously. “Okay. Thank you,” she replied, puckering her lips to give him a terse kiss on the cheek.
He turned his head and caught her kiss with his mouth. “You’re most definitely welcome.”
SageFrancis: So I just saw Naomi and her fine BF from St. Lucius walking toward the gazebo, but she looked. miserable. Benny told me she thinks Naomi likes someone else. Do u know who?
SageFrancis: I heard she’s been doing some snuggling with a guy between classes.
CrystalAlexander: A guy from this school? Who?
SageFrancis: Dunno, but he might be older. Like a senior. That’s what Benny thinks.
SageFrancis: You didn’t know? Are you guys totally fighting or what?
CrystalAlexander: Kind of. I guess.
Date: Thursday, September 5, 5:01 P.M.
Dear New Students,
Welcome to Bridgeport! I hope your first day of classes went well today. You’re invited to an ice cream social for all freshman and transfer students on Friday evening after dinner. The sundae-making will commence at 8:00 P.M. This is a great opportunity to make new friends!
Remember, this is a mandatory event.
Don’t worry, I’ll bring the sprinkles!
Later that evening, before dinner, it began to pour. Bree snuggled under the light blue mohair throw her grandmother had knitted for her father when he was at college and read passages of Madame Bovary for English class. The new boy had kept in the background, in the corner behind the door, almost out of sight, chapter one began. Gloomy tears filled Bree’s eyes. She’s read the book last year at Emma Willard and knew it wasn’t even about this boy—it was about Emma Bovary, who only wanted to go to parties and sleep with guys who weren’t her husband—but still, she empathized with this new bumpkin boy who was being taunted by prep school kids. She wondered if the bumpkin had ever been wrongfully accused and made to choose between popularity and having a big black disciplinary X next to his name.
A key jingled in the door, and Crystal burst in, carrying a bunch of shopping bags. Bree quickly wiped her eyes on the scratchy wool of the throw, making them even redder than they already were.
“Surprise!” Crystal sang, pulling a vertical Louis Vuitton signature leather makeup tote out of one of the bags. “I got new nail polish and a whole bunch of makeup, too. Are you going to be around for a while?”
“Uh, yeah.” Bree paused, confused. Was Crystal talking to her because Naomi wasn’t here, or was this part of Crystal’s little suck-up fest? Bree had gotten another e-gift certificate from Crystal that afternoon—$50 to iTunes. It was beginning to feel like the twelve days of Blackmail Christmas.
“Cool.” Crystal stopped the CD player—Bree had been listening to a dreary Adele song—and put on Fetty Wap instead. “So, how was your first day of classes?”
“Um, good,” she responded mechanically, leaning back against the wall behind her bed.
“Look, I just want to thank you for saving my ass from public high school.” Crystal giggled, handing Bree a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, her favorite. How did she know?
“Well, I mean…” Bree trailed off. “I didn’t say anything, one way or another.”
“I know,” Crystal replied gaily. “And that’s okay. You didn’t have to say anything to Mr. Dalton. When did they say the DC hearing was, anyway?”
Crystal opened her own pint of ice cream and dug into it with a plastic spoon. She cocked her head and studied Bree carefully. “You know, your hair looks really cute like that,” she finally said.
“Are you crazy?” Bree touched her head. It was raining, and her hair had exploded into a frizz ball. She’d tamed it into a ponytail, but curly wisps were sprouting out everywhere, dancing messily around her face.
“Yeah, I really like it. It’s like…deconstructed,” she said. “So, the meeting with Dalton was okay?”
Bree grunted. “I guess.”
Crystal tried to get a spoonful of ice cream out of the pint container, but the ice cream was too cold and the plastic spoon kept bending. “So do you think maybe you’ll cover for me in DC?”
“Maybe,” Bree said. “I’m not—”
“Of course you will,” Crystal interrupted. “And I need you to do me another favor. Well, it’s not a favor, really. It’ll be fun.”
Bree stared at her. Another favor? Wasn’t Crystal supposed to be kissing her ass? Sure, she hadn’t exactly given back the beauty basket or the iTunes gift certificate, but come on!
Crystal stabbed her spoon into the ice cream, finally making a dent. “This might sound a little strange, but I’m wondering if you’ll flirt with my boyfriend a little.”
Bree paused and sucked in her breath. “You mean…Zane?”
“Yeah. It’s just, for this to work, it needs to look believable that you guys like each other, you know?”
“You want me to…flirt?” Bree repeated.
“Yeah. Like, I don’t know. Hang out during dinner. Maybe between classes. Nothing big. Just so teachers can see you.”
Bree stared at her. She should feel pissed off—flirting with Zane would incriminate her more, wouldn’t it? But instead, her heart pounded feverishly.
“You don’t want to do it, do you?” Crystal’s shoulders slumped. “So he drank a little too much, but he’s really sweet once you get to know him.”
A knock suddenly sounded on the door. “Helloooo?” Benny Cunningham cried, bounding into the room. “Am I interrupting?”
“We’re just having some, um, ice cream,” Crystal explained quietly. “I’d offer you some, but it’s still too cold.”
“Here’s the girl I want to see,” Benny exclaimed, pointing at Bree.
“Me?” Bree asked, pointing at herself.
“Yep.” Benny pushed up the sleeves of her cashmere sweater. “You’re playing varsity field hockey, right?”
“Yeah, I made the team today.” Bree still couldn’t believe she was going to play field hockey for Bridgeport. It was so surreal.
“Great!” Benny squealed. “We were wondering if you wanted to be part of our Black Saturday cheer. It’s usually for upperclassmen, but we pick some younger girls, too. You’re a sophomore, right?”
“Yeah.” Bree looked at Crystal. “Cheer?”
Crystal flinched. When Bree turned her back, Crystal mouthed to Benny, I said I didn’t want her.
Benny ignored her. “Yeah. It’s really fun. We make a new one up every year and torment St. Lucius with it. But it’s only a certain group of girls, you know?”
“Jeepers.” Bree’s face brightened. “That sounds really fun.”
“Jeepers?” Benny asked. “You didn’t honestly just say jeepers, did you?” She laughed, but Bree sensed it wasn’t actually friendly.
“Um, I mean, cool,” Bree corrected herself, embarrassed. Jeepers! How Old Bree could she get?
“Yeah?” Benny raised her eyebrows at Crystal. Crystal scowled back. “Awesome!”
“Are you doing the cheer too?” Bree asked Crystal.
“Actually, since she’s captain, Crystal writes the cheer,” Benny explained.
“Really?” Bree asked curiously. It occurred to her now that being on the field hokey team would be like being in a sorority. She had a whole new family of sisters. It was kind of cool.
Crystal swallowed hard. “I’m working on it.”
“Just get it done before Saturday,” Benny added. “Okay, so I have to get to the lit mag meeting. Just wanted to make sure Bree was in. Byeee!” She slammed the door shut.
Bree turned back to Crystal. “You guys do really fun stuff here.”
“Yeah,” Crystal answered quietly. “I wouldn’t take it too seriously, though, you know? It’s just a stupid cheer.”
Bree shrugged and licked a tiny bit of too-cold ice cream off her plastic spoon. Slut rumors aside, the cool varsity girls wanted her to do the cheer with them. How cool was that?
The door flew open again and Naomi strode in, her blue tweed cap soaking wet and her bob-length red hair matted around her face. As soon as she saw them, a peeved look settled over her perfectly chiseled face. “I thought you guys were both studying tonight.”
“Nope,” Crystal replied. “We’re having a makeover-ice cream party.”
“Oh.” Naomi threw her cap on the ground.
“Why are you all wet?” Crystal asked, sounding much bitchier than necessary.
Naomi took off her khaki thigh-length Burberry raincoat and tossed it on the floor. “Corey was here. We got stuck in the rain.”
“Corey?” Crystal straightened up, thinking about the text she’d received from Sage earlier. “Did you guys have the big talk?”
Naomi looked at her blankly. “Big talk? We…whatever. We hung out.”
Crystal stared back, a half-smirk on her face. Come on. They were best friends. If Naomi liked some other guy, surely she’d tell Crystal about it. There were plenty of cute seniors at this school—Parker DuBois, for instance. Parker was half French, had large, piercing dark eyes, and was a photography apprentice, having spent the summer snapping shots of edgy, upcoming artists for the New York Times Sunday Fashion supplement. Crystal could totally see Naomi liking Parker. She waited, locking her hazel eyes with Naomi’s brown ones, until Naomi silently looked down.
“Who’s Corey?” Bree broke the silence.
“I guess Corey is Naomi’s boyfriend.” Crystal tried to catch Naomi’s eye again but couldn’t. She sighed. “He’s gorgeous and athletic and sweet and throws the best parties at St. Lucius.”
“Jeepers,” Bree couldn’t help exclaiming again, trying to hide her surprise. From the fawning way Naomi had been acting in the meeting this morning with Mr. Dalton in his office, Bree had just assumed she was single.
“Why didn’t you bring him over to the room?” Crystal asked. “Or did you guys just do it in the rain in the middle of the practice fields?”
Bree watched Crystal talk at Naomi. She was doing that thing some people do when they act nice and chipper and interested, while just below the surface they’re thinking really mean thoughts, and you can never call them on it because they’d just accuse you of being paranoid.
Naomi rolled her eyes. “No, we didn’t do it anywhere. Why would anyone want to do it in a field? Gross. Do you and Zane do it in a field? Did you and Amir do it in a field?” Naomi stormed over to her closet and hung up her coat.
“Whoa. Someone’s PMSing,” Crystal scoffed, examining her nails.
Bree was still thinking about how Naomi had flirted with Mr. Dalton when she heard Amir’s name. “Did she say Amir?” Bree asked Crystal. “Like, Amir Phillips?”
“Yeah. I went out with him for almost a year. He didn’t tell you that?”
“Huh. I thought he told everybody. One time last winter, a whole bunch of us went to Park City to snowboard, and Amir met a group of tourists and told them every detail of our tortured relationship, even though we’d already broken up by that point. And then he pleaded with me all night to go into the sauna with him.”
Bree wrinkled her nose. That didn’t sound like Amir at all.
Crystal shook her head. “I know. Hello? Saunas are so germy. Nobody goes into them except old gay men.”
“Saunas are fine, Crystal,” Naomi contradicted from her closet. “Zane went in the sauna on that trip.”
Crystal blushed and drew in her bottom lip. “Anyway,” she whispered to Bree. “Where were we? Oh. Zane. So, what do you think?”
“Well, I guess…” Bree began. She sort of wanted to ask, Will me flirting with him freak Zane out? But maybe that was an Old Bree question. And he had touched New Bree’s back…
“What are you talking about?” Naomi demanded, stepping out of her closet.
“Nothing!” Bree and Crystal responded in unison.
“Cool,” Crystal continued, turning back to Bree. “It’ll be fun. Zane’s sweet. And it’ll all be over soon.”
Bree bit her lip. Not too soon, she hoped.
A few minutes later, after the rain cleared and the late-summer sky began to turn a faded orange, students walked in cliquish groups from their dorms to the dining hall, and Naomi strode down the stone path toward Bridgeport’s front office. A crisp wind suddenly lifted the edges of her sheer silk Hermès scarf, which made Naomi think of winter. Most kids hated winter at Bridgeport, because you were stuck indoors and there was nothing to do except watch old films at the library and go to class. But Naomi loved it. The dorm mistresses lit fires in the common rooms, and the teachers canceled classes on the first day of snow. By four it was already dark, and she and Crystal would drink spiked hot cocoa while they gossiped about their latest crushes. Naomi was pretty sure she wasn’t going to be drinking cocoa with Crystal this winter—they were barely talking—but maybe she’d have someone else to drink cocoa with. Naked.
As she sidestepped a couple of fat brown squirrels fighting over a Cheeto, Naomi’s cell phone beeped with a text message. Sorry we got cut off before, it said. Luv you, Sissy!
Naomi quickly called Noelle back and got her voicemail. “I’m about to go out to dinner with a Dalton,” she whispered delightedly into her phone. “Be jealous. Be very jealous.” Then she pressed end.
Naomi entered the front office, a giddy, sour feeling festering in the pit of her stomach. The lobby was empty, and The New Yorker, The Economist, and National Geographic were arranged neatly on the huge teak coffee table. A classical symphony was playing over the stereo. The old cherry floors squeaked under her three-inch black Jimmy Choo boots as Naomi approached the fiftyish front desk attendant, Mrs. Tullington.
“I need a pass for the night,” Naomi said casually. And, because you always needed an appropriate reason: “I’m accompanying my uncle to a silent auction of ancient Russian artifacts in Hudson.”
Naomi knew that a lie sounded more convincing when you threw in a whole bunch of ridiculous details.
Mrs. Tullington eyed Naomi over her tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses. The wrinkles around her mouth puckered in disapproval. Naomi wore a black, slit-down-the-side Armani skirt. Her MAC-painted lips were bright red, her dark arms were bare, and the V in her black silk shell top was so low you could almost see her black lace bra.
Finally Mrs. T. wrote out the pass. “Enjoy the artifacts,” she said primly. “And your uncle. Nice that you girls stay close with family.”
The thing was, if Mrs. T had bothered to look out the building’s bay window, she would have seen Naomi get into a hunter green ’57 Jaguar—a car that most definitely did not belong to Naomi’s uncle, a fortyish out-of-work-actor-slash-personal-trainer who worked out flabby new moms at the Body Electric gym in New Jersey. Eric wore dark blue pressed True Religion jeans and a crisp tucked-in white button-down. Naomi covered her knees with her skirt, feeling slightly overdressed.
“You look nice.” Eric grinned, gripping the gearshift sexily.
A Sade song played on the CD player. The windows were down, and a cool late-summer breeze wafted in. As they swept down Bridgeport’s front hill past the practice fields, Naomi felt a sudden, disorienting thrill. Maybe they were leaving the school for good—and never coming back. Suckers. She thought about everyone else sitting down to dinner right now at the dining hall. On Thursdays it was pasta with watery tomato sauce and nasty fried chicken.
She snuck a peek at Eric’s profile—his slightly upturned nose and perfect, just-stubbly-enough jaw—and then stared down at the platinum-engraved gate-link bracelet he wore on his right wrist. It seemed like something a girl might have given him.
“It’s my great-great grandfather’s,” he explained, noticing her stare. He jiggled the bracelet around his wrist. “Like it?”
“Yes,” she answered breathlessly. The bracelet was practically an American treasure. “It’s beautiful.”
They drove out of Bridgeport territory and into town, essentially one main street with quaint little wrought-iron street lamps, an art store, a florist, a barbershop with the swirly pole, and a few brick Federal-style houses. Naomi figured they were going to Le Petit Coq. It was the place that your family always dragged you to during Parents’ Weekend because it was haughty and French and the only place for miles that served foie gras. But the Jag breezed right by without slowing down. It sped by the strip mall just outside of town, past McDonald’s and the cineplex, too.
“I guess I should’ve asked.” Eric turned to Naomi. “How late did you sign out for?”
“Midnight,” Naomi said. It was six o’clock now.
Eric smiled. “That gives us six hours.”
He pulled into a spacious parking lot, drove through an alley, and then swung around a large, concrete squat building. It was the Bridgeport airport, the place she’d flown into on her parents’ small plane a couple of days ago. On the runway sat a perky little helicopter. A man in a green bomber jacket and a Boston Red Sox ball cap stood chewing on an unlit cigar on the runway beside it. He waved and Eric waved back.
“Where are we going?” Naomi demanded. Her heart beat quickly. She didn’t know what to expect, but she knew enough to be excited. If this outing involved an airplane—she couldn’t imagine where they might go. Holy fucking shit!
Eric shut off the car’s engine. “I was thinking maybe we could get something better than the dinner special at Le Petit Coq.”
“Going to Lindisfarne?” the guy in the bomber called.
“That’s right,” Eric called back.
Of course. They were going to his family’s estate in Newport. Naomi could hardly contain herself. This was like that cheesy movie, The Princess Diaries. Except she was way cooler than that mousy Anne Hathaway, and he was a Dalton!
Naomi had only seen Lindisfarne on the E! True Hollywood special, so when the Piper Cub touched down on the property’s runway, a glittery, unreal feeling washed over her. The oceanfront mansion was an ivy-covered stone castle, with towers and a moat and everything. She even remembered from the E! special that rare swans swam in the moat surrounding the mansion instead of alligators, although Naomi didn’t see swans now. Maybe they were sleeping. And as she stepped off the plane onto the spongy, perfectly manicured lawn, even the salty ocean air felt regal. It took Naomi and Eric nearly ten minutes to walk from the landing strip to the manor. They were greeted by the groundskeeper’s friendly yellow lab, Mouse, before he was called off by his owner in the distance, who waved at Eric.
First Eric showed her around the property, taking her into the house through one of the heavy dark oak front doors and into the French room, which was round, with a high ceiling and white scalloped detailing. Naomi could barely breathe. Everything in her life that might come after this moment—say, getting into any Ivy League school or moving into a Tribeca loft or meeting the president of France—would pale in comparison to standing in the stately blue French room, admiring the large, blurry Monets on the walls.
Naomi was so overwhelmed, she could barely focus as he led her from room to room. Then he guided her back outside to the guest house, a weathered green cottage with a huge back deck and wooden stairs to the ocean. Most guest houses consisted of a bedroom and a small living space. The Lindsfarne guest house was nearly the size of Naomi’s parents’ not-at-all-small house. Inside, Naomi sat in an oversized chintz sofa, gazing at the white walls as Eric fussed around in the kitchen. If the Daltons had staff—and she was sure they had many—they certainly knew when to leave the members of the family alone.
Eric expertly poured wine into both of their oversized glasses. He didn’t seem to care that Naomi was blatantly underage. “This is where I live, mostly, when I’m here,” he explained, swirling the wine in his glass as they stepped outside onto the wraparound wooden deck.
Only a few feet away, waves crashed against the rocks. Naomi took a big gulp of wine. What a life.
“So,” Eric began. “Naomi Peterson. What are you all about?”
He looked at her not in that way adults do when they think you’re a silly teenager who may grow up and be somebody serious. Instead, he looked at her intensely, as if she really mattered. Naomi took a sip of wine, desperately trying to think of a brilliant but brief answer. Who was Naomi Peterson?
“Well, I like poetry,” she replied, and then wanted to smack herself for sounding like a stupid, lame, immature student.
“Really?” he asked, biting his lip as if to say, That really wasn’t what I wanted to know. “What else? Tell me something about your family.”
“My family?” she gulped, the words seizing up in her throat. It was probably the worst question Eric could ask. She felt her cheeks turning hot. “I don’t really like to talk about them.”
“Why?” He took a sip of wine. “Can I venture a guess?”
She shrugged. “Go for it.” She hoped she seemed unruffled, even though she was freaking out inside.
“Your parents treat you like a princess. You’re spoiled rotten.”
Naomi took another big sip of wine. “I suppose,” she said warily. “Aren’t you?”
Eric smiled. “I suppose.”
“But to answer your question, yes, I was spoiled,” Naomi began. Her fake family story about living on an organic farm in East Hampton and throwing benefits for endangered birds sat on tip of her tongue, ready, but she stopped. Something about the way Eric was looking at her made her feel like maybe she could tell him the truth, as embarrassing as it was. She was filled with a sense of calm. “My parents’ house…my mother modeled it after the Versace mansion,” she began slowly. “Except it’s in…well, Rumson, New Jersey.”
“I know Rumson,” Eric cut in. “I sailed by there a couple of times. It looks like a nice place to grow up.”
Naomi eyed him carefully. He didn’t seem to be making fun of her. She took another sip of wine and then a big breath.
“You’ve probably seen my parents’ house, then,” she went on. “It’s the biggest one on the shore. My parents are kind of like the Sopranos. You know how they’re all dripping with money but just use it in really stupid ways? That’s them. Except they’re legal. And have less taste, if that’s possible.”
“So your mother’s favorite pattern is leopard print?” Eric goaded.
“Oh, much worse. Zebra. On everything. Stretch pants. Socks. Bar stools. It’s gross. My sister—she’s a fashion editor— has threatened many times to split from our family.”
Eric chuckled. “My mother likes paisleys. They look like little sperms.”
“Ew!” Naomi squealed.
She felt dizzy, although she’d had less than a glass of wine. Talking about her parents with Eric didn’t feel weird at all. She wondered why she’d thought, all these years, that things would be better if she had a normal-size grey-shingled house and a couple of Toyotas instead of twin gold Hummers with matching zebra-print leather interiors and big gold P’s (for Peterson) embroidered on the headrests. Opening up this much was infectious. She wanted to keep going.
“My mother wears pink diamonds and eats only chocolate and Zoloft, and has seven teensy, tiny Teacup Chihuahuas with matching zebra collars. She carries them everywhere. And my dad, he’s a plastic surgeon.” It all came rushing out of Naomi. She couldn’t believe the things she was telling Eric.
“Really.” Eric rested his chin on the heel of his hand. “Tell me more.”
“Okay,” she continued eagerly. “Sometimes at dinner Dad has these famous clients over, and they talk about really disgusting things. Like what their boobs looked like before the surgery. And what happens to all of the fat that they suck out of people.” She felt liberated. It was like skinny-dipping.
Eric leaned forward. “So what do they do with it?”
“They use cells from it,” she whispered. “You know, for research.”
“From fat?” he whispered back, sounding sort of appalled.
She nodded. “Well, um, yeah, but sometimes they just throw it away.”
He leaned back and looked at her carefully with a bemused grin on his face. “God, that’s refreshing.”
He shifted in his seat and stared out at the water. A small, graceful white sailboat bobbed out in front of the guest house, maybe 500 feet from the shore. “Everyone’s always trying to talk themselves up—even the kids at Bridgeport, who are a lot more privileged than most. I mean, nobody is just honest about who they are and who their family is. Who cares if your dad won the Nobel Prize or if he sucked fat out of some Jersey woman’s ass? What does that have to do with you?”
She stared at him. “Yeah,” she agreed. “It’s so true.”
He stared back at her. “You’re different,” he concluded.
Naomi met his gaze, and everything inside her felt like it was about to explode. “Will you excuse me?” She cleared her throat. “I have to make a phone call.”
“Sure.” Eric tipped his chair back and, as she stood, he ever so lightly touched her left hip. She paused for a second as her hair dipped into her eyes. His hand lingered there. Then a grandfather clock from some far-off room sounded and he pulled away.
She stepped out onto the dewy grass, lit a cigarette, and teetered up the steps of a wooden gazebo surrounded by lilacs. She breathed in the sweet scent, willing herself not to lose her nerve. She dialed, and after a single ring, Corey’s voicemail picked up. “Yo, I’m not hee-ah. Leave a message!” Beep.
“It’s Naomi,” she blurted hoarsely, seething at the sound of his thuggish recording. “I don’t think we should see each other anymore. So, um, don’t stay around for the Black Saturday party after the game. I can’t explain right now, but it’s what I want. I’m, um, really sorry. Bye.”
Naomi stepped back onto the grass. Eric had wandered out of the house and was absentmindedly swirling cognac in a glass, his dark jeans rolled up to his knees. The vast sky was dark and purple, and tiny lights twinkled out on the water. She could hear waves lapping on the shore and the gentle groan of a far-off foghorn.
“Everything all right?” he asked, grabbing her cigarette to take a drag.
She nodded. Then, wordlessly, he pointed out to the green twinkly light in the middle of the sound.
“That’s my boat. I don’t have class on Fridays, so I was thinking of sailing it up to Bridgeport.”
“I like the little green light,” Naomi mused. “It reminds me of The Great Gatsby—you know, when Gatsby would look out to Daisy’s dock for the light to be on?”
“Sure,” he said. “Maybe I’ll have to leave the light on sometimes when I dock at school.”
Naomi tried not to smile. “Who do you think will be looking for it?” she asked. But from the look on his face, Naomi suspected he meant it for one very special girl from Rumson, New Jersey.
Portraiture class met only twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, and Bree had been eagerly anticipating the first class of the year. Bridgeport had a stellar art program and a glass-walled riverfront gallery with student-curated public shows. Often student pieces even sold for surprising sums. Normally you had to submit work to be accepted to portraiture class, but since Bree had been admitted to Bridgeport on the strength of her art portfolio, she’d been allowed into the class her first semester. Art was her favorite subject and she couldn’t wait to smell the paint and lose herself in the process of making something new.
And yes, seeing Zane Taylor would be pretty exciting too. Especially now that she had permission to flirt with him!
The class was in a building called Jameson House, a rambling country cottage with blue clapboard siding, a stone chimney, and a clothesline outside made of tie-dyed American flags from one of last year’s fabric-making projects. Inside, the unfinished floors creaked, and all sorts of random drawings and half-finished color studies were pinned up to the whitewashed wall. The four giant rooms smelled like turpentine, aerosol fixative, and wet clay. Bree stood inside, breathing it in.
“Welcome, welcome,” called Mrs. Silver, her art teacher. She was doughy and huggable, with gray hair piled on the top of her head in an enormous messy bun. She wore a whole bunch of bangle bracelets on her left wrist, giant oversized green and yellow striped overalls, and an extra-large tie-dyed T-shirt she’d definitely made herself.
The room had sloping ceilings, slanted art desks, and a wall of cathedral-size windows pouring in light. Mrs. Silver’s desk was a mess of paintbrushes, old leaded glass bottles, little aromatherapy vials, thick art books, yoga flash cards, and a two-liter jug of Mountain Dew. Mrs. Silver was messier than Bree’s father. She bet the two of them would really hit it off.
“Oh, Zane!” Mrs. Silver called. “I’m so happy to see you! Did you have a lovely summer?”
Bree turned. Zane Taylor strode up to Mrs. Silver and kissed her tenderly on her cheek. Today his Bridgeport jacket was slung over his arm, and he wore a mustard-yellow T-shirt with frayed edges and Levi’s that fit his long legs perfectly. His curly hair was all over the place, and Bree noticed that a little yellow maple leaf was tucked behind his right ear.
Zane scanned the classroom. His dark brown eyes lingered on her for a second. Bree realized that the only empty desk in the classroom was right next to hers.
“Okay, everyone,” Mrs. Silver announced. “Let’s get right to it, because I know you kids are eager. I’m passing out sketch paper and mirrors now. We’ll start on rough sketches of our self-portraits.”
A collective groan rose up. Self-portraits were the worst.
Zane slowly walked to the desk next to Bree’s, his eyes focused on her the whole time. He threw his cracked leather knapsack under the desk and sat down on the adjacent short metal stool. Then he slowly unraveled his headphones from his neck and wrapped the cord around his slim white iPod. He leaned over and wrote on Bree’s desk with a stub of charcoal, Hey. His handwriting was boyish and spiky.
Hello, Bree wrote right underneath it in elegant calligraphy.
Mrs. Silver handed out charcoal, markers, mirrors, and rolls of shelf paper to each student. Bree stared at her reflection. Her eyes contradicted the sea of nerves inside of her. It’s okay, she told herself. Crystal told you to flirt. But had Crystal told her to have heart palpitations?
“So, did Dalton give you a hard time?” Zane whispered.
“Not really,” Bree whispered back. She wondered if Crystal had told him that she hadn’t made a decision about whether to take the blame or not yet.
“Is Crystal giving you a hard time?”
“Crystal? Uh, no…” Bree put the blunt end of her marker in her mouth. “She’s been okay.”
“Well, I hope she’s not putting you through too much shit. She does that sometimes.”
Bree wondered what that meant. She turned back to her blank sketch paper, well aware that Zane seemed to be sneaking glances at her out of the corner of his eye. Before Old Bree could stop her and tell her that even though Crystal had said she could flirt, she shouldn’t, New Bree giggled and poked Zane with her marker, leaving a big red mark on his forearm.
“What was that for?” he whispered, examining the mark.
“I wanted to give you a tattoo.” She decided that the mark was a nose and added two tiny eyes and a mouth.
“It’s beautiful,” he declared. Then, he grabbed his own blue marker and wrote on her arm, HI BREE, and drew a frowning, snaggletoothed cartoon character, complete with a curly sprig of hair on the top of its head.
“Is it a portrait of me?” Bree laughed.
“No…is yours a portrait of me?”
“Nooo. But, I once painted my boyfriend in six different styles, from Pollock to Chagall.”
“My dad has a Chagall in his study,” Zane told her. “It looks kind of like I and the Village. I used to stare at that painting for hours when I was little.”
Bree blinked, caught off guard. I and the Village was her favorite. “You…you had great taste for a kid.”
“So, are you still with this boyfriend?” Zane murmured, shyly turning away as he said it and looking carefully into his own little handheld mirror. He made bold charcoal strokes on the blank page in front of him. It was exciting to watch him draw.
“Oh, no,” Bree answered quickly. She and Kaliq had only been together for about three weeks, and then he’d totally blown her off on New Year’s Eve. He was older and had probably just been using her to get back at his real girlfriend, Porsha Sinclaire.
“You must’ve liked him, though. You painted him six times.”
Bree shadowed an area around her self-portrait’s nose, reviewing the slight lie in her head before she said it out loud. “Well, he liked me more than I liked him.”
“I’m sure,” Zane said softly.
Bree sucked in her breath and took another peek at his adorable profile. As she switched charcoals, she saw him peek at her, too. So it wasn’t exactly right, but she couldn’t stop herself. Besides, it was what Crystal has asked her to do, wasn’t it?
“So Bree, you know any good secrets?”
Her hand slipped and made a big black wiggly line across her portrait’s cheek. How about Naomi coming in at 3 A.M. after Bree had seen her leave campus with Mr. Dalton earlier that night? That was a pretty big secret. There was also the gigantically real crush Bree had on Zane—another juicy one. “Um, not really,” she responded quietly.
“I do,” Zane offered.
Bree felt her heart thud in her throat. “What is it?”
He lowered his eyes, then looked at her again. “I’ll write it down, but you have to read it later.”
“Why can’t you say it?”
“Because it’s a secret.” He scribbled something in charcoal on a piece of scrap paper, folded it three times, and handed it to her.
Bree took the note and shoved it into her pocket. Then something suddenly occurred to her. Crystal had briefed her on how she should flirt with Zane, but maybe Crystal had told Zane the exact same thing. Just be nice to Bree: hang out with her a little, make it look like you guys like each other. Bree could totally see that happening.
Her heart sank. Was that it, and nothing more?
As soon as the bell rang, she rushed into the first stall of the Jameson House girls’ room and opened the note. In chicken-scratched, blurry charcoal letters it said:
The owls at Bridgeport talk. Maybe they’ll talk to us together sometime.
Bree creased the note into smaller and smaller folds and shoved it in her bag. There was no denying that she had a full-on crush on Zane Taylor. Everything about him, from his messy curls to his sumptuous, uneven mouth, to his love of Chagall, to his ink-stained hands.
She finally emerged from the stall and stared into the smeared sink mirror. She didn’t know what she was looking for—maybe evidence, like a physical sign, that something monumental was happening.
Because she was pretty sure Zane was honestly flirting with her. Not because Crystal had told him to but because he wanted to. She wasn’t sure how she knew, but she knew.
Date: Friday, September 6, 3:33 P.M.
Subject: Fw: Upcoming Disciplinary Committee hearing
I’m forwarding you this e-mail from Marymount, below, since it’s about the upcoming DC hearing. Thought you should know.And thank you for joining me for dinner last night. It was very…refreshing.
See you soon,
Begin forwarded message:
Date: Friday, September 6, 2:20 A.M.
Subject: Upcoming Disciplinary Committee hearing
As you know, the first DC case of the year, involving Zane Taylor and Brianna Hargrove, is scheduled for Monday. I’d like to make sure we set a no-tolerance precedent with this case. However, Mr. Taylor is a legacy and his parents are donors, which obviously causes some complications. It’s a shame, because I personally reviewed Miss Hargrove’s application and think she’s a terrific addition to the Bridgeport art program, but someone has to take that fall for this. If she’s found guilty, I’m afraid we’ll have to expel her.
Let’s make sure we start the year off on the right foot.
Thanks in advance,
Friday afternoon, Naomi sat in the locker room before the first day of field hockey practice tugging at the silver Tiffanyring Corey had given her over the summer. The thing was stuck on her finger, but she wanted it off. As soon as she’d sunk into the plush black leather seats of Eric’s family limousine—he’d had a car take her back to Bridgeport since he was sailing back in his boat—she’d been in Eric withdrawal. They hadn’t even kissed, but she felt like she could still smell him on her. That delicious Acqua di Parma. And this morning’s mocha frappuccino had tasted like red wine.
“Hey,” a voice beckoned shyly.
Naomi turned to see Bree sitting next to her on the long, forest-green bench, pulling socks over her shin guards. Her wild black hair was pulled back off her face in a high ponytail, and she wore gray sweat shorts and a cutoff T-shirt with an orange Les Best logo, which was an edgy, preppy-girl-goes-crazy label based in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. Naomi had felt bad for Bree when she received Eric’s e-mail, but that was what you got for getting in bed with Crystal… and Zane. “Hey,” Naomi said back.
Bree squirmed, pretzeling her legs, as if she had to pee. “So, I think there’s something you should know.”
Naomi stared at Bree. Was she going to fess up about what had happened that night with Zane? Or maybe Crystal had confessed something about Jade’s expulsion? Whatever it was, Naomi definitely wanted to hear it. “What?”
“I…I saw you get in. In the middle of the night. And I know where you were.”
Naomi stared at her, feeling her lips curl up the way they did when she got scared. “What?” Her voice was barely audible.
“It’s okay,” Bree said quickly. Naomi’s face grew panicky, making her eyes look huge and dark. Bree had contemplated whether or not it made sense to say anything to Naomi. The thing was, Bree wasn’t so great at keeping secrets. She wasn’t someone who would tell the whole world, but she always had to tell at least one other person. It made carrying the secret’s burden a little easier. So why not tell Naomi’s secret back to Naomi?
“You don’t know anything,” Naomi muttered, turning away to look at the freshly raked playing field.
“Look, please, please don’t worry,” Bree pleaded, her voice growing squeaky. “Your secret is safe with me. Honestly. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.”
From the middle of the field, Coach Smail blew the whistle. “Girls! Gather around!”
Naomi stared at Bree. Was she serious, or was this some sort of ploy? Could Bree be trusted? Last year Naomi and Crystal and Jade used to sit around in their room at night and talk about every detail of their days, no matter how mundane or spectacular. They’d been the kind of best friends who are almost like sisters, because they loved one another so much that even when they pissed each other off, they knew they were still going to be each other’s bridesmaids someday. But the Jade/E fiasco had made Naomi a lot more suspicious. If Crystal could betray Jade like that—not that Naomi knew exactly what had gone down, but still—who knew what she would do to Naomi?
“You better not tell anybody,” Naomi warned, ignoring Bree’s annoyingly innocent expression. She couldn’t possibly be that innocent, especially if she was from the city.
“Look, as far as I’m concerned, we never had this conversation,” Bree insisted loyally. “But… I just want to make sure…Are you okay? ‘Cause you seem, like, a little distracted.”
Naomi gripped her hockey stick and stood up. No one ever asked her if she was okay, not even her parents, and she wasn’t sure how to answer. “Um, I don’t know. Can I get back to you on that?”
Bree smiled eagerly. “Sure. See ya!” She picked up her stick and jogged toward the middle of the field, where the team was waiting.
“Hey!” Naomi called. Bree turned, and Naomi noticed that weird, familiar glimmer about Bree again—like she was channeling Jade, like they had the same special something seeping out of their tiny pores.
Bree turned to find Naomi jogging toward her. “Look, whatever happened with you and, um, Zane?” Naomi said quietly. “Well, I shouldn’t tell you this, but Marymount wants to make an example of you, to, like, set a precedent for the year. So…I’ll try my hardest to keep you from getting expelled, but, well, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
“Oh.” Bree’s shoulders slumped. Expelled? “Um, thanks.”
Celine Colista, who had olive skin, straight black hair, and full lips coated with MAC lipstick, ran up to them, kicking up grass behind her with her cleats. “Bree, did Crystal give you the cheer yet?”
Bree shook her head.
“Cheer?” Naomi asked.
“Yeah. Bree is going to be part of our cheer,” Celine explained very slowly.
Naomi nodded uneasily. Then Celine turned back to Bree. “C’mon. Let’s go talk to Crystal.”
Crystal was sitting on the long metal bench alongside the field, rewrapping her field hockey stick with tape. She looked up just in time to see Celine and Bree running over. Shit. Benny and Celine just weren’t going to let this cheer thing die.
“Crystal,” Celine cooed. “Did you write the words yet?”
“I’m working on it.”
“Well, you have to hurry!” Celine whined. “Okay, fine, we can finish them at the party tonight.” Celine winked at Crystal and then trotted to center field.
Bree turned to Crystal. “Party?”
“Yeah,” Crystal replied, looking down at her field hockey stick. “It’s a pre-Black Saturday thing. Girls only. You have to come. We all dress up!”
“Well, it’s a secret until the last minute. But it’s tonight, probably in Dumbarton’s upstairs common room.”
“Tonight?” Bree looked crestfallen. “I have to go to a new students’ ice cream social thing tonight.”
“Whatever. You can get out of that.”
“No, the e-mail said it was mandatory.” Bree shrugged. “I should probably go. But I’m really excited about Black Saturday. There’s a secret party then too, right? And this cheer sounds cool.”
“Well, the cheer’s so not a big deal. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.”
“No, I do!” Bree couldn’t keep the shakiness out of her voice. The girls were all talking to her, and she felt more included than she ever had before, but she was also about to be expelled.
Crystal was tempted to confess that the cheer was a not-very-funny joke, but a few years ago, when Tasha Templeton, then the captain of the team, had told the new girl, Kelly Bryers, she was about to be punk’d, the whole team had unleashed on her. They’d cut holes in her bras, right where the nipples were. And no one had spoken to her for months. Her boyfriend had broken up with her, and she’d lost all her power. Crystal didn’t dare.
Suddenly, Crystal looked down at Bree’s skinny brown arms and noticed the letters peeking out from underneath her right sleeve. It looked like Bree had scrubbed at her arm for a while to get the marker off, but Crystal could still make out the familiar boyish, messy script, and that stupid spiky-toothed face that Zane always drew. Immediately, a knot formed in her stomach, and she felt the hair on the back of her neck rise. What was Zane doing writing on this bitch’s arm? But then she stopped herself. Chill. You asked him to do this.
“So how’s Zane?” she inquired instead, swallowing her worry.
“Oh,” Bree squeaked.
“You getting along all right?”
“Good.” With any luck, the teachers would think so too. But why was Zane writing stuff on Bree’s arm? That wasn’t really necessary. Especially that snaggletoothed character of his. That was her character: they’d made it up that time they snuck down to Brooklyn and spent the whole day in Williamsburg, shopping for vintage clothes and innovative art. They’d gone to Schiller’s Liquor Bar on the Lower East Side after that, and he’d drawn the silly face right onto the back of the menu. Then they’d snuck into the tiny bathroom and kissed, annoying all the impatient tourists.
All Crystal had wanted was a little flirting, and, as usual, Zane had gone overboard. But whatever. If it meant Bree would take the fall for her at DC, then Bree could have the snaggle-toothed dude.
“Come on.” She squeezed Bree’s arm, trying her hardest not to appear jealous. “Smail’s giving us the evil eye.”
Date: Friday, September 6, 4:15 P.M.
Subject: Miss you!
I miss you! Please meet me at the library steps at 5 P.M. today. Sharp!
P.S. How’s Bree?
Date: Friday, September 6, 4:23 P.M.
Subject: Spa treatment
Dear Brianna Hargrove,
Crystal Alexander has sent you a gift certificate for a relaxing spa treatment at our facilities. You’re all signed up for a shiatsu massage and an oxygen-blast facial. Please call or e-mail to schedule your appointment.
Rhinecliff Woods Spa Manager
“I can’t see,” Zane mumbled, as Crystal led him blindfolded up the smooth marble stairs of the library.
“That’s the point. I want to surprise you.”
She pushed through the unmarked, heavy oak door. Beyond it were walls and walls of books, glass cases of scrolls, leather smoking chairs, and a tiny, stained glass window. So romantic. She pulled her hands away from his eyes.
“The library?” He looked around, confused.
“Not just the library.” She folded up the red satin eye mask she’d gotten from flying first class. “Don’t you remember? It’s the rare-book room! It’s where we first…” She trailed off, pushing a lock of jet-black hair behind her shoulder. What to say? Where they first consummated their love? They hadn’t consummated anything. They’d made out. She’d put her hand on the outside of his pants. She’d cheated on her then-boyfriend, Amir.
“Yeah, I realize that,” Zane replied, walking around the room, running his hands over a row of rare, dusty books. There were first-edition Steinbeck, Faulkner, and Hemingway novels in a large glass case, thanks to a certain J. L. Taylor and an R. Dalton.
Crystal sat down on one of the leather chairs. It was cold against the backs of her legs, and she immediately got goosebumps. “Maybe we could reenact that night?” she said softly, pulling at Zane’s pale gray T-shirt. “Here, why don’t you get comfortable?”
She stood and gently pushed Zane into a brown leather club chair. She sat in his lap and started kissing his neck. Zane slid his hand under her paper-thin white T-shirt and fingered her white bra.
This was perfect. The musty smell of the old books, the sensual glow of the stained glass lamp in the corner, the stillness of everything. Crystal felt like she was being naughty in her father’s reading room, or like she was a frustrated woman from the 1700s who was getting a little action before they all had high tea. It seemed like something out of a novel.
Then she noticed that Zane’s eyes were open. Wide open.
“What?” she asked, pulling back.
“I think that’s a first-edition Of Mice and Men,” he murmured, leaning forward to get a better look. “I didn’t notice it here before…”
Crystal let out a frustrated little squeal and pulled her knees up to her chin, cuffing Zane in the jaw as she did.
“What?” Zane shot back.
“Never mind,” she said quietly, realizing that the hurt in her voice was coming through way more than she wanted it to. She tried not to let the feeling that this perfect moment with Zane had just been ruined settle into her consciousness. Too late. She tried to steady her voice so it wasn’t so shaky. “So I noticed you’ve been flirting with Bree…”
Zane backed away from her slightly. “Noticed? What do you mean?”
“Well, you wrote all over her arm.”
He licked his lips. “Oh.”
“So? Is it going okay?”
“Have any teachers seen you, you know, flirting?”
“Um, just Mrs. Silver, I guess…” Zane stood up and scratched his jaw.
Not good enough. It didn’t matter if Mrs. Silver had seen them—she wasn’t friends with Ms. Emory. “Maybe you guys could flirt near the orchestra practice rooms?” Ms. Emory conducted Bridgeport’s orchestra, the Fermatas, on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.
A long silence followed. Crystal could hear the tree branches scrape against the windows.
Finally, Zane spoke. “All you care about is whether or not you get in trouble, don’t you?”
“No!” she squeaked. “Of course not! I just—”
He held up his hand. “This isn’t right. It wasn’t Bree’s fault. I don’t think we should drag her into this, and I don’t think she should have to take the fall for you.”
“What are you saying?” Crystal demanded. “You don’t care if I get kicked out?” She felt tears spring to her eyes and quickly jammed her finger into her mouth. She bit hard, nearly drawing blood.
“No, of course I care, but—”
Crystal shook her head. She could feel her pulse in her neck. “No. You obviously don’t. If you cared, you’d do whatever it took to keep me here.”
“Well, why would I want to keep you here if all you do is manipulate me?” Zane retorted loudly, his voice echoing through the silent library.
Crystal’s mouth dropped open. “Excuse me?”
“You heard what I said,” he whispered fiercely.
“Take that back.”
Zane sighed. “Crystal… ” He trailed off, looking at her like he had no idea what to do with her.
She wasn’t sure what possessed her to say what she said next, but she said it anyway: “You know, Amir would do this for me.”
“Amir?” Zane asked. “Amir…Phillips?” he scoffed.
Crystal snapped back. “Yeah, Amir! At least Amir—”
“At least he what?”
Paid attention to me, Crystal thought. At least I knew where I stood. She swallowed hard and turned toward the window. Right outside, two owls huddled together on a tree branch. They looked like they were kissing.
Zane paced around the room. “So, what, you want to break up with me to go out with Amir again?”
Crystal gasped. “I didn’t say that! Do you want to break up?” Her heart began to really pound. Was this it? All of a sudden she felt woozy and nauseated, as if she were about to fall off an endless cliff and was scrambling to hold on to its rocky side.
“Just stop manipulating me,” Zane blurted out sternly. “If you think Amir—who, by the way, is so gay—would do this for you, maybe you should be going out with him after all.”
“At least he loved me!” she pleaded. “At least Amir wanted to have sex!”
Her words hung in the air for a moment. Zane’s lips parted, as if he were about to say something. But then a knock sounded at the heavy oak door. They both froze.
“Hello?” called a low voice. It was Mr. Haim, the nasal-voiced, grumpy general librarian. “Problem in there?”
Crystal glared at Zane, baring her teeth before answering sweetly, “We’re just studying!”
“You have to keep it down,” Mr. Haim whispered. He opened the door and stuck his head through the crack. “We don’t tolerate noise in this room.”
“Whatever,” Zane yelled, flipping his middle finger up in the air and straightening his shirt. “I’m out of here.” He brushed by Mr. Haim without even looking back at Crystal to say goodbye.
“This is a place of peaceful research,” Mr. Haim recited, tightening his Bridgeport tie almost to the point of asphyxiation. “We don’t tolerate yelling.”
“I said I was sorry!” Crystal screamed.
“You’re still yelling.”
She rolled her eyes. What the hell had just happened? She clomped down the marble stairs that led into the main lobby of the library. Out a tall, narrow window, she saw the same cuddling owls, this time on a lower tree branch. She stopped and knocked on the pane, causing the owls to ruffle their feathers and flutter to separate trees.
“Get a room!” she yelled.
Time: Friday, September 6, 9:02 P.M.
Subject: TOP SECRET
Dumbarton pre–Black Saturday Party:
Welcome to Agrabah, City of Mystery and Enchantment.
MOVE YOUR ASS!
Crystal was wearing the new fringed Prada dress she’d bought at Pimpernel’s, a multicolored headscarf, and four-inch-high silver Manolos. Her long jet-black hair was swept up into a sexy, Asian-inspired bun, and she’d put thick kohl eyeliner around her eyes. She knew the other girls would be jealous, but that was the point. Sometimes it was more fun to dress up when there weren’t boys around.
The pre-Black Saturday party was a tradition for Dumbarton girls. It was incredibly cool because there was a select guest list and there was always a wild theme. Benny Cunningham and Celine Colista had skipped out of field hockey practice early to convert the top-level common room into an Arabian Nights wonderland. They’d closed the giant bay window curtains so the whole room was shadowy and mysterious. Then they added twinkling lights, candles, pillows, incense, Grey Goose vodka, mini joints, pictures of elephants and multiarmed gods on the wall, and carefully placed Kama Sutras, which everybody knew were ancient sex manuals from India, and some bizarre, sexy music Benny had gotten FedExed from Amazon.com the night before. The room was all set up for a wild orgy, except for the fact that there were no boys.
Crystal had arrived early and was drinking quickly and steadily, trying to put the whole Zane-in-the-rare-book-room nightmare out of her mind. She refilled her drink and headed toward the little window seat in the corner and suddenly collided with Naomi, who had just arrived.
“Oh!” They eyed one another intensely. Naomi still had on what she’d worn to class, boring maroon trousers and a white button-down. Hello? It was totally against the rules to wear that kind of thing to the pre-Black Saturday party! “So, how’s Corey?” Crystal asked.
“Corey?” Naomi gave her a blank look.
“What, is he not your boyfriend anymore?”
“No, he…” Naomi was really squirming. Crystal wondered if Sage was wrong—maybe instead of Naomi liking a senior boy, she and Corey had had really bad sex. Or, maybe really good sex. Earth to Naomi, not dishing on any kind of sex to your so-called best friend was so not okay.
Then Naomi narrowed her eyes keenly at Crystal. “And how’s Zane?”
They sat awkwardly on the window seat, looking past each other, sipping from their liquor-filled Bridgeport mugs. Last year, Crystal, Naomi, and Jade had sat around the pre–Black Saturday party in this very same common room, talking about their boyfriends and taking turns refilling one another’s cups. What a difference a year made.
Crystal tossed her hair behind her shoulder, eyeing her friend. Was it possible Naomi was just waiting for her broach the Jade subject so that Naomi could apologize for getting Jade kicked out? One thing that Naomi had never been good at was making herself vulnerable. “I bet Jade would’ve been really into this party.”
Naomi flinched, then murmured, “Yeah, she would’ve.”
“It’s too bad she’s not here,” Crystal continued quietly. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.
Naomi straightened up. “Yes, it is too bad she isn’t here, isn’t it?”
Wait, huh? That wasn’t what Crystal had been expecting Naomi to say. Where was the I’m so sorry, let me tell you what really happened or at least a Let’s forget all of this ever happened and go get drunk in our room and catch up? Instead, the two girls stared at each other like two dogs sniffing one another out, trying to figure out whether they wanted to bark or not. Suddenly, a crazy Hindi techno song blared through the speakers. The rest of the guests had arrived, and the room was jammed with bizarrely dressed girls who stank of perfume.
“Conga line!” Benny squealed. She wore a lavender towel turban on her head and a scarf around her midriff. Sage grabbed her waist and giggled, a large Bridgeport flag wound around her body, sari style. They passed Crystal and Naomi and giggled.
“Come on, ladies!” Celine squealed. “Stop with those pissy faces!”
Naomi, who normally was the life of the party, stood up, brushed off her lap, and shrugged. “I’m out.” Then she turned and strode out of the room.
Crystal wound a thick piece of her green dress around her middle finger and watched her go. Something buzzed next to her. It was Naomi’s cell phone. The caller ID said Noelle Peterson. Crystal looked up and started to call for Naomi but then stopped. Last year, she always used to answer Naomi’s phone when she left it somewhere. Were things so different this year she couldn’t take the call? She snapped the phone open.
“Hey, it’s Crystal!”
“Where are you?” cried Noelle in a sexy, husky smoker’s voice. “Spice Market? It sounds fabulous!”
Crystal sank back down into the lounge chair. “Nope. Just a dorm party.”
“I’ve got to do a shoot at your school sometime.”
“That would be so cool.” Crystal wished Noelle would give some of her enthusiasm to her nasty younger sister. “Should I find Naomi?”
“Nah, tell her to call me. I’m home visiting our parents in Jersey this weekend.”
Jersey? As in New Jersey? She’d always thought Naomi was from East Hampton…
“But listen, Crystal? That teacher my sister’s been hanging around? Like going to dinner with and stuff?”
“Uh—” Crystal practically choked on a huge sip of punch. What?
“Eric Dalton? She told you about this, right?”
“Um, of course.” Crystal’s whole body began to sweat. She’d only eaten a couple of spoonfuls of vanilla yogurt this morning. A mug of vodka punch, and she was drunk. Her head spun: Naomi was keeping more than a few secrets from her, all right.
Noelle took a deep breath on the other end. “So listen. When I was a senior at Columbia, a friend of mine was sort of Eric Dalton’s girlfriend. And she told me he really gets around. You know what I’m saying?”
“Of course,” Crystal replied automatically. Maybe Naomi wasn’t acting spacey because she’d slept with Corey. Maybe she was out of it because she’d slept with Eric Dalton. Crystal fumbled in her bag for her cigarettes. How dare Naomi not tell her this major news! Hello, were they just complete strangers now?
“But how funny,” Bree continued, snorting with laughter. “Maybe they’ll get married! My sister will be a Dalton!”
Forgetting her buzz, Crystal took another huge gulp of her drink. “Don’t you think she’s a little young for him?”
“Oh, of course. I would rather he stay fifty feet away from her at all times, but Naomi’s got a good head on her shoulders. Anyway, just be sure to pass on the message? And tell her to call me. Ciao.”
“Um, okay. Ciao.”
Crystal stared at the phone’s screen for a long time, mashing her lips together. Finally, she looked up. The conga line was still snaking around the room.
Fuck it. Vodka punch burning in her stomach, she let out a whoop, grabbed Alison Quentin, who was wearing a vintage couture Alexander McQueen dress and tiny little olive leaves in her hair, and followed the line of gorgeous, drunk, dancing girls out into the hall.
Amir was cutting across Dumbarton’s sprawling lawn toward Richards when he saw a girl in a flapper-style green dress smoking a cigarette and kicking her legs in the air.
“Hey, sweetie!” she called. “Come dance with me.”
Amir walked over and squinted in the light. It was Crystal. Was she trashed? “Hey,” he called out.
As soon as he got closer, she lunged at him and buried her face in his neck.
She smelled of fruit punch and cigarettes and that fresh mango shampoo she always used. Amir felt a shudder run through him. Smelling Crystal’s hair conjured up memories of last year. They’d undressed each other under a quilt in the common room late one night and spelled out sexy messages on each other’s bare stomachs. She looked up at him with giant, watery eyes.
That’s when he got a whiff of her breath. “Whoa.” She was definitely trashed. “You drink the whole bottle yourself?”
Crystal righted herself and smiled. “I’m cool,” she cooed. “Want some of my cigarette?”
Crystal shrugged and stuck it back in her mouth. “So listen,” she slurred, running her long, manicured fingernails up and down his bare arm. “Why were you so mean to me after bio class yesterday?”
In the porch light, Amir could see little goosebumps on her bare, creamy, honey-colored legs. “About Zane and Bree? I was telling the truth.”
“No, you weren’t,” she teased, tipsily touching his nose. “Nobody’s stealing anybody away from me. I’m behind the whole thing.”
Amir scowled. “No, Crystal. Bree likes him. They like each other.”
Crystal giggled. “That’s because I told them to like each other.”
“I told them to like each other.” She covered her mouth and giggled. “Oops. That was supposed to be a secret.”
Amir shook his head. “But Bree does like him. And he likes her.”
“That’s what they’d like you to believe!” Crystal yelled, and then covered her mouth. “Get it?” she slurred more quietly and broke into a goofy grin. “They’re faking it so that I won’t get in trouble for having Zane in my room!”
Amir stood back and thought for a moment. Yesterday in the quad, Bree had sounded way too genuine to be faking it. “And they both went along with this?”
“Sure. Bree’s cool.” Crystal flicked the ash off her cigarette, but she was so drunk that it landed right on her big toe, blackening it.
Amir shook his head. He looked at Crystal, who, though hammered, looked as if she’d been secretly crying in the girls’ bathroom for hours. He wanted to cradle her and rock her to sleep.
“I mean, you’d flirt with another girl if I asked you to, wouldn’t you?” she asked, slurring her words.
“Uh…no?” Amir stuck his hands in his pockets.
She looked down, frustrated. “You wouldn’t?”
Amir lowered his eyes. “If I were going out with you, I wouldn’t even look at another girl.”
“Oh, Amir,” she sighed. “You’re so cheesy.”
Funny. He thought girls liked romance.
She snapped her fingers, brightening. “Hey! So what do you think about Naomi sleeping with that Mr. Dalton guy?”
“What? I hadn’t heard that.”
Crystal threw both her hands over her mouth and then slowly removed them. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that…” She bit her lip. “Oops.”
“It’s, like, public news?” Amir hadn’t really met Mr. Dalton except at chapel the first day, but it seemed highly sleazy for a teacher to hit on a student, let alone sleep with one.
“I don’t know.” She looked down at the grass. “I didn’t know, but Naomi doesn’t tell me anything anymore, so…” She trailed off.
Amir wasn’t sure, but it seemed like she was about to burst into tears.
“Hey…” He reached his hand out to her. “You okay?”
Suddenly, Crystal threw her cigarette into the grass, grabbed Amir, and gave him a huge, wet kiss on the mouth. At first he resisted, but after tasting her mint lip gloss, he couldn’t help but melt into her. The kiss felt so good. Warm, soft, and sweet, just like a year ago. He thought of football games wrapped under blankets, the wobbly Metro-North train to the city where she’d fallen asleep in his lap, and playing footsie at formal dinner.
But then he pushed her away. He wanted this—he’d dreamed so many times of kissing Crystal again—but this, right now, was wrong. All wrong.
“What’s the matter?” Crystal shrieked drunkenly, staggering backwards.
“You’re really wasted.” Amir shook his head. “We shouldn’t do this…now.”
“I’ll tell you a secret,” she whispered, leaning into him. “Zane and I had a big fight. I think we might be oooooover.”
He paused for a long time. Again, he’d waited forever to hear those words. But no, not now. Not like this. Amir knew he was cheesy, but that was because he was a romantic. And fooling around with the girl he loved while she was shitfaced and on the rebound was totally fucking dumb. “That’s…whatever.” He pulled away from her.
“Come on,” Crystal called. “Don’t you want to have sex with me?”
“You’re drunk. You should sleep this off.”
And just like that, he wiped his mouth off and walked away.
BennyCunningham: Hey. Did u send her the cheer words yet?
CrystalAlexander: Not yet.
BennyCunningham:Well, do it!
CrystalAlexander: I will. Hey, what cheer are the rest of us doing?
BennyCunningham: I dunno. What about “Be Aggressive”?
BennyCunningham: Don’t forget to send her the cheer, unless you want nippleless bras!
Date: Saturday, September 7, 10:05 A.M.
You missed a great party last night. How was your new students’ thing?
Anyway, Benny asked me to send you the words of the cheer. It involves some dancing—sexy! And you sing it to the tune of “Sound Off.” I’m attaching a Word doc of the cheer lyrics here, and I’ll show you the movements in the room, K?
P.S. Did the KissKiss! beauty basket arrive today? Enjoy!
P.P.S. Any more thoughts about what you’re going to say at DC? Let me know!
Everyone was hanging out on the vast green hockey field, which was surrounded by thick woods. The sun was directly above them, and the sky was a flawless blue, with a tiny bit of bite in the air. Parents, students, and alumni crowded the bleachers. The St. Lucius girls paraded out to their side of the field. They were dressed in their purple and white sweaters and skirts, with matching purple shin guards. The St. Lucius mascot, a giant black and white goose, followed behind them, flapping its wings menacingly at the bespectacled Bridgeport owl.
Naomi picked some stray grass off the bottom of one of her Nike cleats and snorted at how stupid the owl looked. An owl in glasses seemed like the nerdiest mascot ever.
Bree sat next to her, tensely wrapping and unwrapping the duct tape around her hockey stick.
“So how was that party last night?” Bree asked. “I heard you guys come in last night really late…”
“That was Crystal, not me,” Naomi corrected her. “I tried to slide in without you noticing. You didn’t miss much, though. Except I lost my cell phone. Have you seen it?”
“No.” Bree shrugged.
Naomi gritted her teeth. Not having her cell phone—she was always losing it—meant she had no idea if Corey or Eric had called. She wondered if Corey was here in the crowd. She scanned the group of people across the field but didn’t see a tall boy with peanut butter skin anywhere. She wondered how he’d taken her message the other night.
“So, I’m excited for the cheer.” Bree grinned. “It sounds like it’s going to be really fun.”
Naomi abruptly turned to her. “You know it’s a setup, right?” Screw Crystal.
“A setup?” Bree’s eyes widened.
“Yeah, it’s this—” Naomi started, but just then Crystal came up behind them and laid her hand on Bree’s shoulder. Naomi turned away.
“Hey, girl,” Crystal said sweetly to Bree. “You look so cute today. Is that my Stila lip gloss you’re wearing?”
“Uh, no. It’s mine. It’s MAC.”
“It’s so pretty.”
Naomi noticed Crystal looked slightly green, probably from too much of that vile punch last night. Nice how she didn’t even say hi to her. She was too busy kissing Bree’s ass.
Benny came up to the group. “We ready for the cheer?”
“Yeah,” Crystal agreed. She looked nervously at Bree. Bree looked nervously at Naomi. Naomi shrugged. This was their shit to figure out.
“Let’s go, then!” Benny squealed.
All the girls on the bench jumped up and began to bounce on the balls of their feet. They’d asked Devin Rausch, a senior whose dad was a famous record producer, to play drums and DJ. Crystal gave him a nod. The needle crackled on an old Funkadelic record: he scratched it a few times, and then the backbeat wafted out of the speakers. The girls started to stomp their feet.
“Be. Aggressive. B-E aggressive…”
Naomi, who stood at the back of the gang, mouthed the words. This was so dumb. She glanced over at Bree, who launched into her part of the cheer.
“St. Lucius girls think they’re all that, but no one wants a girl that flat!”
Bree heard her solo screechy voice and immediately covered her mouth. Unfortunately, she was also at the portion of the dance where she had to stick out her chest. She looked over and noticed that no one else had thrust their boobs out.
Her teammates snorted with laughter. Bree froze, boobs still thrust out. So this was the setup. Ha, ha. So not funny.
Things began to move in slow motion: the laughing girls, stupid mean Maurice Johnson slapping his thigh in the front row, the entire school starting at her gigantic boobs. Then she realized something. She knew she could either feel like total shit and act like Old Bree, who, mortified, would sit back down on the bench and never speak to anybody ever again. Or she could try and turn this situation into something interesting. After all, this might be her last weekend at Bridgeport. So before she could stop herself, Bree strode up to the front of the team and started belting out the lyrics of the bogus cheer Crystal had e-mailed her in her loudest voice.
“St. Lucius girls think they’re all that, but no one wants a girl that flat!” Bree started, shoving out her double-Ds again. “Bridgeport girls get all the boys! C’mon, people, make some noise!” She made a swishing motion with her hips.
“Our eyebrows are waxed and yours are bushy; our butts are cute and yours are cushy!” Then she hit herself hard on her adorable little round butt. The other girls’ mouths dropped open. “Our mascot’s an owl and yours is a goose! We’ve got hooters and y’all are loose!” Again with the boob-thrusting.
“So c’mon St. Lucius, throw in the towel. Your ass is gonna get kicked by an owl!” Then Bree, as she’d been instructed, ran crazily lengthwise down the field and did three cartwheels, as best she could, showing the crowd whatever they hadn’t already seen of her baby-blue boy shorts.
A dazed silence followed. Even though the words were totally ridiculous, every single Bridgeport and St. Lucius boy—not to mention the fathers and male teachers—was gazing at her.
Then, across the field, Tyrone Respers, one of Bridgeport’s star football players, started to clap. “Yeah!” he screamed. “Hell yeah!”
Another boy clapped slowly. Someone whistled. Then the whole other side of the field erupted in applause. Everyone began to go nuts.
Naomi stared at Bree, who was standing with her arms stretched out, staring dazedly at the crowd, a huge smile on her face. Bree had just twisted Crystal’s manipulation, something even Jade had never managed to pull off. Bree seemed so unafraid of people paying attention to her, and her curvy, tiny body looked great dancing. She had a good shouting voice, too–hoarse and kind of sexy.
Bree looked at her adoring fans across the field. Wow, this was fun! Then she had a flash of inspiration.
“There is a boy who they call Pony! He’s always acting gross and horny!” she yelled at the top of her lungs. “He thinks he’s got a lot down there, but he sure wears tiny underwear!”
The Bridgeport bleachers went wild. A bunch of boys covered their mouths and yelled a collective “Ohhhh!” in Maurice’s direction. Everyone was laughing. Bree looked at Maurice in the front row—his face was angry. Gotcha.
“Let’s do it again!” Bree launched back into the cheer, hardly noticing the other girls. They were all party poopers. If they didn’t want to cheer with her, she didn’t care. She felt free and crazy.
Naomi was dumbfounded. Suddenly, she grinned, and ran up to join Bree.
“St. Lucius girls think they’re all that, but no one wants a girl that flat!” they screamed together. Bree smiled and bumped her butt against Naomi’s hip. At the end of the cheer, Naomi even did the skirt-lift. The boys across the field went crazy.
Then Celine joined in, too. Then Alison, then Benny. Then the rest of the girls. And finally, because it would look weird if she were the only field hockey player not cheering, Crystal started shouting too.
Uplifted by their cheer, the Bridgeport Owls beat the St. Lucius Geese 6 to 3. As soon as the final period’s buzzer sounded, Naomi hustled to her dorm room. There, on her bed, was her cell phone. Had she left it on her bed all this time? On it were three unanswered calls—all from her sister—and one text message: I’m in port. Come by if you want. –ED.
She quickly pulled on her most flattering pants and slinkiest silk top and zipped on her pointiest black patent leather boots. She sprinted down to the waterfront.
Eric stood on the white sailboat’s small deck wearing khakis and a green long-sleeved polo. He was holding binoculars up to his eyes and was gazing at something in the trees. A fishing pole was propped against the boat’s railing. When he heard her behind him, he turned around, the binoculars still pressed to his eyes. Naomi instinctively covered her chest, as if they were x-ray glasses.
“No football game for you?” he asked, putting the binoculars down.
“Isn’t the football game the biggest part of the day?”
Yeah, except her ex-boyfriend happened to be the other team’s star quarterback. Naomi wasn’t exactly sure if Corey had even gotten the I-need-a-break message she’d left on his voicemail, but she kind of didn’t care. “I’m not really into football,” she replied coyly. “May I have permission to board?”
He laughed. “Yeah, sure.”
“So.” She ran her hands over the boat’s chrome rails. “Does this thing have a name?”
“Not yet. She’s brand new,” Eric answered, his piercing brown eyes on her. “What field hockey position do you play again?”
Naomi’s insides scrambled up. “Oh, center,” she responded, as if it didn’t matter, even though she’d played field hockey since she was seven and had scored two of the six goals today.
He chuckled, then picked up the fishing pole.
“Why is that funny?”
“It’s not. It’s just, I can’t imagine you in a field hockey outfit.”
“Have you tried? Imagining it, I mean.” Naomi smiled flirtaiously. She was being bold, even for her.
“Maybe.” Eric’s eyes were on her. “It’s a pretty short kilt. You girls shorten them, don’t you?”
“Of course not!” Naomi lied. “They’re that short to begin with!”
She sat down on one of the captain’s chairs and stared out at the glistening water. Bridgeport’s chapel spire peeked up through the elegant, blue-green thicket, and the owls criss-crossed overhead, as if magnetically drawn to the yacht. Even the water smelled sexy.
“So, I wanted to thank you for the other night,” she finally ventured. “The plane. Dinner. Seeing your family’s house. It was really fun.”
Dalton removed the binoculars from around his neck. “I’m glad.”
A cheer rose up from the football stadium in the distance, and the band started to play. Naomi glanced over in its direction, wondering who had scored. Corey was probably on the field right this second.
Naomi looked over at Eric. Biting her lip, she stood up and took a tiny step in his direction. “So, yeah, it was fun, but…”
“But what?” Eric paused.
Naomi thought she detected something funny in his voice. She felt like she was standing on the edge of a cliff that overlooked the turquoise Caribbean Sea. It was either turn around and head back to the bungalow or dive off the cliff. She took a huge gulp of air.
“Do you think that there was something maybe that could’ve been funner?” Naomi asked, twisting her head to the side.
“Funner isn’t a word.” Eric smirked. Water lapped at the side of the boat.
“Yeah, I know,” she whispered, lowering her eyes, feeling young and dumb. Go back to the bungalow! Now! Fighting her better judgment, she batted her eyelashes and stuck out her chest. She had no idea where she was getting these moves from. Bree, maybe? She heard Eric breathe in sharply.
Fuck it. She was diving. She walked right up to where he stood, still fishing. He was a few inches taller than she was, and he had a tiny scratch on the side of his nose. He propped his fishing pole against the railing again.
“Maybe this could be…funner?” Then she leaned her entire body against his and kissed him. Ahh, yes.
His mouth felt amazing. Naomi tried to restrain herself, but part of her wanted to devour him, like he was Beluga caviar. She kept kissing him, softly at first, willing his lips to part until finally his strong hands circled her waist and his lips melted around hers. He pulled her closer. Her mouth opened. Naomi worried that she tasted like sweat from the game, but she didn’t care. Nor did she care that they were in broad daylight, on Bridgeport’s campus, on Black Saturday, and the whole school was only half a mile away.
She stopped kissing him and took a step back, smiling shyly.
Eric licked his lips. It looked like he was trying to hide a grin. “Um, well. That’s, uh, definitely…” He took her hand in his, and his eyes met hers. He chewed on his lower lip a little. “So I think…I think I should go back to my office for a while.”
“Great. Let’s go,” Naomi replied, smiling. “Now.”
Dalton steeled himself against the railing. “I mean, I think I should go back to my office and I think you should go back to your football game,” he whispered, his hand brushing her ear.
Naomi stepped away from him and looked frantically back in the direction of the stadium. Eric stepped off the yacht. He reached out for her and helped her onto the dock too.
“If I come to your office, you won’t regret it.” She’d never said anything like that to anybody in her life.
“I realize that.” Eric sighed. “Believe me. I most definitely realize that. But, um…” He looked down at his navy blue boat shoes. “I think…I think I should go. But thank you.”
And with that, he stuck his thumb out, touched her on the chin, and turned, leaving Naomi and her beautiful black pointy boots, standing on a stupid boat dock, alone.
Amir stood, gin and tonic in hand, talking to Benny Cunningham at the Black Saturday party, which was, surprise surprise, at Maurice Johnson’s country house in Woodstock, about an hour away from Bridgeport. He saw Bree spill out of a Hummer with a group of field hockey girls. They were all dressed up in matching slouchy V-neck cashmere sweaters. Bree’s sweater showed off her beautiful hazelnut skin and exposed some of her bare shoulders, and he could see a wide, cream-colored bra strap.
After the football game, Maurice had handed Bridgeport’s elite overnight off-campus passes and ushered everyone toward a fleet of black Hummer limos that he’d borrowed from his dad’s Wall Street I-banking firm. Amir had watched from a distance as Maurice approached Bree, who was flanked by gaggle of admirers, kissed her primly on the cheek, and handed her a pass. Even he had to give her props for the cheer.
The party took place on the house’s massive back lawn. It was warm and still out, and Maurice had had the gardener install a giant white tent and rows of twinkly Christmas lights. He’d also nabbed six giant sculptures from his parents’ ever-growing collection of random gallery purchases to decorate the expansive tent. The sculptures were gigantic blooming lilies. Their lustrous folds reminded everyone not so subconsciously of sex. As if anyone needed another reminder of sex. After watching Bree’s chest, it was all anyone could think about.
Bree spied Amir and hurried over. “Hey! Where’d you go after the game?” she exclaimed brightly.
“Just took off for here a little early, I guess,” he answered, then looked away fast. He still felt all messed up over this Crystal-Zane-Bree business.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“Bree, that cheer was totally fun.” Benny squeezed Bree’s hand. Benny’s pearl earrings were so big they made her earlobes droop.
“Thanks!” Bree cried.
“Amir, did you see it?”
“I saw it.” It would have been hard not to see it. It had been kind of slutty but kind of sexy at the same time. And his brain had felt like it was going to explode, watching both Bree and Crystal stick out their chests and smack their butts at the same time. And of course he’d relished watching Maurice shrivel in embarrassment when Bree called him out on his small weenie.
Bree eyed him carefully. “Seriously, you all right?”
“Eh,” Amir murmured.
“What’s the matter?” she asked again. Benny shimmied away to hang around someone else. “You can tell me.”
He mashed his lips together. He didn’t know what he was feeling. Was he confused about Crystal? Pissed at Bree for being so into Zane? Annoyed to be back at school, period? Suddenly an alarmingly high-pitched voice pealed over the crowd.
“Bree!” Amir and Bree’s heads swiveled. Celine sat across the room, on a pristine white leather couch. Naomi, dressed all in black, sat on the couch’s arm. Crystal stood on the other side, smoking through a thin silver cigarette holder. Amir’s heart started thudding. “Bree, c’mere!” Celine crowed.
Bree looked back at Amir. “You sure you’re all right?” she asked.
“Breeee!” Celine squealed again.
Bree looked at him questioningly a few moments more, and Amir realized he was kind of being a jackass. So Crystal was screwing with his emotions. So Bree didn’t like him. So what? She was still sweet and caring. And right now, she seemed so happy. “Seriously,” he ordered. “Go.”
As Bree skipped over to the girls’ couch, a tall senior girl named Chandler grabbed her arm. “Cool cheer.”
Another girl standing next to Chandler who wore a slinky silver top, squinted at Bree. “Did you ever model? You look so familiar.”
“I think she kind of looks like Jade,” Chandler added.
“Actually, I modeled for a Les Best ad? But it was only once,” Bree beamed.
“No, that’s it!” the girl cried. “I love that ad. You look so cute in it, all crazy on the beach. Who was your stylist?”
“Bree!” Celine called from the couch again.
“I gotta go,” Bree explained to Chandler and the other girl. “Nice meeting you!” As she was walking toward the couch again, it suddenly hit her. She didn’t feel compelled to make up some crazy story about a seminaked fashion show or a debauched night out with the Raves. Nope. Bree—not Old Bree or New Bree, but this Bree—was good enough for these girls just as she was. I love Bridgeport! she thought, with a momentary shiver of pleasure. God, she just couldn’t get kicked out. Not now!
She joined the others on the couch. Celine immediately handed her a Grey-Goose-and-Red-Bull martini.
“So you’re not pissed at us?” Celine asked. “About the cheer?”
“Yeah.” Crystal shook her head. “I wanted to tell you…”
“Don’t worry about it,” Bree assured them. Even though it had been kind of mean, she felt like she was a part of something now—a real, exclusive Bridgeport tradition. How awesome was that?
“That cheer was amazing, though,” Celine commented. She was sucking on a cigarette and a pastel candy necklace at the same time.
Bree moved over to Naomi, who was sitting on the far end of the couch and looked like she’d been up for 96 hours. “You disappeared after the game. You all right?”
“I don’t know,” Naomi replied mechanically.
“Is it—?” Bree started.
Naomi put her finger to her lips but nodded miserably.
Naomi shook her head. “Can’t talk about it,” she whispered between gulps.
Crystal grabbed Naomi’s arm. “I saw Corey when I was coming in. He’s looking for you.”
Naomi’s eyes widened in fear. “Did you tell him I was here?”
“Uh, yeah. Why, is there a reason I wouldn’t?” she asked, obviously feigning obliviousness.
“Shit,” Naomi muttered.
“What’s the big deal? It’s not like you’re seeing anyone else, is it?”
Naomi shook her head feverishly. “You shouldn’t have told him I was here.”
“Well, sorry! How was I supposed to know that?” Crystal demanded. “It’s not like you tell me anything anymore.”
“You just…shouldn’t have.”
The other girls’ heads swiveled from Crystal to Naomi, as if watching a tennis match. Bree wondered if Crystal knew about Naomi and Mr. Dalton. Crystal put her cigarette out with the heel of her blue wedge sandals. “So why don’t you want to see Corey, anyway?”
“I just…don’t. Just because.”
“Is he not cool enough for you? Are we not cool enough for you?” Crystal demanded, rolling her tongue against her cheek.
“Come on,” Naomi retorted. “I didn’t say—”
“You looking for some older people to hang out with?”
Naomi scowled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Crystal tilted her head. “Did you find your cell phone?”
“Yeah.” Naomi lit a cigarette. “So?”
“So…nothing. I found it. Just making sure you got it.”
“Did you go through my messages?” Naomi’s voice rose sharply.
“No!” Crystal sounded hurt. “I wouldn’t do that!”
“Like hell you wouldn’t. Whatever. I have to get the fuck out of here.”
“What’s she talking about?” Celine asked as Naomi stormed away.
Crystal stared fumingly at Naomi’s receding figure and didn’t answer.
“Sounds like she’s having boy problems—she didn’t even want to see Corey!” Celine added. “And he’s so fine!”
“Oh, it’s not Corey she’s having the problems with,” Crystal whispered. “It’s, you know—Mr. Dalton.”
Bree’s mouth dropped open. Oh. My. God. Some friend Crystal was.
“Dalton?” Celine echoed. The girls stared at her in stunned silence.
“Yep. They’re really—” Crystal began smugly, but she was interrupted by Maurice Johnson. He wore a fake wooden Viking helmet, just like Flava Flav, on his head and had taken his shirt off to reveal a temporary symbol tattoo on his chest.
“Hey, girls.” He slung his arms around Bree and Crystal. I guess he likes me again, Bree thought wryly. Not that she cared. “I’m horny.” He pointed to the horns.
Celine giggled. “Ew!”
“Course you are, Pony,” cried Benny, who’d come up behind them.
“That’s right. So you want to play I Never?” Maurice grabbed a bottle of Cuervo from a nearby table.
“Definitely,” Crystal agreed quickly, wrenching her eyes away from Naomi, who’d paused at the tent’s door, her whole body quivering.
“Okay, but new rules: if you’ve never done it you have to take a shot and kiss someone,” Maurice announced, fondling one of the horns on his helmet.
“You’re unbelievable.” Benny laughed.
“Fine,” Crystal sighed. “Just no tongue.”
Bree, Maurice, Sage, Teague Williams, and Benny arranged themselves on the dewy grass just outside the tent. The air was cool and wet, but Bree felt warm from her belly out. Her Red Bull martini was making her feel a little weird.
“Who wants to go first?” Maurice asked, taking a long chug of Heineken.
“I will.” Bree shot her hand up. She poured out shots into small plastic cups. “Okay. So. Um…I’ve never made out in a field.”
Crystal, Celine, and Benny all shrugged. Bree, Maurice, and Teague each did a shot.
“C’mere, Bree,” Maurice beckoned, crawling across the circle toward her. “Let’s see if we can remember how to do this.”
Ew, ew, ew. Bree tipsily pecked Maurice’s mouth and then smacked him playfully in the stomach.
“Jeepers!” she squealed. And instead of laughing at her, everyone cheered and did another shot, just for fun.
Zane inhaled deeply on the joint and handed it to Donovan St. Girard. They were sitting in a little alcove that separated them from the rest of the tent with those door beads that a grandmother might have in her pool house. “This party’s lame,” Zane managed to grumble, while trying to hold the pot smoke in his lungs.
“Aren’t they always, though?” Donovan replied.
They talked for a few minutes about which party had been the best, and decided that it was the one Jade Carmichael had thrown at her parents’ huge log cabin in Alaska a year and a half ago. It had been over spring break, and most kids had been with their parents in St. Barts or Monte Carlo, so not that many of them had gone to Alaska. The house was on the edge of an ice lake, next to a giant, purple mountain. They’d all drunk so much red wine, they’d been completely uninhibited. It was before Zane and Crystal got together, and he’d coaxed Jade into getting naked with him and sitting in her outdoor hot tub, where they’d talked all night. It had been the kind of party where everything is serene and perfect—nobody had gotten mad at anybody, and everybody had stayed on that fun, wild side of drunk without crossing over and vomiting all over the teak floors.
The beads parted, and Naomi burst through. She was wearing all black and looked craggy and grumpy, like that wicked old witch with the apple in Snow White. “What’s up?” Zane asked, as she plopped down next to him.
“Can I hide out in here with you?” She took the joint, which had burned down to a little knobby roach. She took a long drag on it and blew the smoke out her nose.
“You guys make no sense,” she finally said after a long pause, running her hands through her insanely red hair.
“What, me and Donovan?”
“No.” Naomi turned to Zane, and Zane remembered why he liked her so much. She had a wide-jawed, wide-eyed, beautiful face. “I meant…why is it that when you guys want something, and when you get it, when we give it to you, you freak out?”
Donovan took a hit and leaned back, running his hand along his freshly-cut fade. “That’s way too deep for me, man.”
Naomi pulled out her cigarettes and lit one. “Never mind,” she scoffed, standing up again. She squinted at Zane. “Are you still with Crystal?”
“I don’t know.”
She smirked. “That’s what I thought. I’m outta here. Have a good party, boys.”
“She’s so weird,” Donovan muttered. “You know what I just heard? I heard she’s fucking one of the teachers. That new guy.”
“Naomi?” Zane asked, looking after her. “Nah.”
“I don’t know, man. Look at her. She’s a mess.”
Zane grunted and rolled one of the beige marble door beads between his fingers. His weed-addled brain tried to process what had gone down with Crystal. Were they still together or not?
He stood up and parted the beads with his hand, feeling totally messed up. He expected love to feel like something stupendous, maybe a little painful. Like the sore, used-up way his back and legs felt after riding Credo all day. Or the feeling he got when he was in Paris, standing on the Seine, watching people walk by, and suddenly realized he was right there in the moment and not stuck somewhere in the past or the future. But he wasn’t sure if he felt that way about Crystal. Where was she, anyway?
And that’s when he saw them.
Maurice Johnson kissing Crystal all over her face. She’d pulled down Maurice’s jeans so low that they’d slid below his hips. He could see a strip of his ass. As usual, Maurice was going commando.
Zane turned into the alcove again. Well, there was his answer.
“I feel all loose and wiggly.” Bree shook her arms around. She’d moved to the surprisingly quiet lawn behind the tent. There was a tiny little Japanese rock garden, a mossy stone bench, and a jade-tile-lined pond. A giant orange goldfish swam slowly in the pond’s circle. After a few rounds of I Never, Amir had tapped her on the shoulder and asked her if she wanted to get some air.
“You were looking a little green back there,” Amir said.
“I’m all right. But thanks for getting me out of that. It was getting a little strange.” She wasn’t really keen on seeing Maurice Johnson’s butt crack, which kept making major appearances.
“How come you didn’t play with us? You got something against kissing games?”
“I…” He hesitated. “It’s complicated.”
Bree rolled her head around on her neck. “Okay,” she replied. She was happy that Amir felt okay just sitting her with her quietly, not explaining anything. Friends sat quietly together, after all, and even though she was having a blast at this party, something in it seemed empty now that she was drunk. How many of these kids did she actually connect with? Amir was a real friend, and they could be honest with each other. She leaned her head on his shoulder and stared at their reflection in the pond.
“You never told me you went out with Crystal last year.” She glanced at him.
He looked down. “Yeah.”
“Is that why you hate Zane so much?”
“Well. That makes sense.”
“It’s so messed up, though,” Amir began slowly. “I still really like her. I tried to not like her but…I can’t help it.”
“I totally understand,” she said, thinking of Zane.
Another reflection appeared in the pond. It was of a messy-haired, irresistibly handsome boy who, despite being at a party, still had paint smudges on his neck. Bree drew in her breath. It was as if she had conjured Zane up by thinking about him.
Or maybe she was just a little tipsy.
“Hey,” he greeted her softly.
Bree squinted. He wore a black faded T-shirt and grubby, paint-stained jeans. His thick, glossy hair, badly in need of cutting, curled at the back of his neck. Amir creased his face in frustration, then squeezed her hand. “I should be going,” he announced. He leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Good luck.”
Amir brushed past Zane without saying hello, then slowly strode away. Zane sat down next to Bree. “What are you doing out here? There’s all sorts of crazy shit going on in this place.”
“Yeah, I was part of the crazy shit, but I decided to come out and look at the pond.”
“Pretty,” Zane murmured.
“It is, isn’t it?”
“I mean you, not the pond,” he whispered.
Bree’s words got stuck in her throat. She was too, too drunk. But suddenly she felt too, too sober. Zane lit a cigarette and smoked it silently, letting a thin stream of gray smoke drift over the gardens and make a halo over the origami trees.
“I saw your cheer at the game today.” Zane broke the silence. “That was…something.”
“Oh,” she managed to utter, looking down, embarrassed. The drunker Bree had gotten, the more she had wondered if she really belonged here. So she’d turned the cheer around today, but what if she couldn’t keep up that kind of quick thinking all the time? She kept trying not to think about it, but heavy thoughts about the Disciplinary Committee hearing kept sneaking up on her. Sure, she was popular tonight, but what did that matter if she was kicked out of Bridgeport come Monday? Then again, she could tell on Crystal, but everyone would definitely hate her if she got Crystal kicked out. There was no way to win.
“Where’d you learn that?”
“Actually… it’s too weird to explain.”
“Huh,” Zane responded. “So, you know how I told you about those owls in that note?”
“Yeah.” Bree was looking at his profile out of the corner of her eye. The night was getting colder, and she could see dew forming on the grass around them. She wondered what time it was.
“Did you think that was really stupid?”
Bree crossed her legs. “What? No. Why?”
“Because…I told you that I thought they talked.”
“No. Actually, I thought it was really sweet.”
“You did?” He smiled shyly at the ground.
“Yeah.” She smiled too, looking at him now.
Zane slid slightly closer to her. “Why?”
Bree thought about why. Because you’re sexy? Because you’re beautiful? Because I can’t stop thinking about how perfect you are for me?
Bree sat back. “Zane? Are you flirting with me because Crystal told you to?”
He took a drag off his cigarette. “I was going to ask you the same thing.”
“Oh,” she said, confused. She stared at her reflection in the pond. “Well, are you?”
“No,” he finally answered. Bree noticed that his hand was trembling. “Are you?”
“No,” Bree replied quickly. “I’m definitely not.”
“What are you going to do about DC?” he asked after a few seconds, stubbing his cigarette out on a rock. “Are you going to say it was Crystal’s fault?”
“I still haven’t decided.” Bree felt her face squinch up. She didn’t want to ruin Crystal’s life, but she also didn’t want to get kicked out of Bridgeport. What if she walked out of DC and never saw Zane again?
“Look,” Zane sighed. “I don’t think any of this is right, and I don’t think you should be in trouble. And besides, I’m not even together with Crystal anymore.”
Bree held her breath.
“It’s weird that she’s manipulating us, you know?”
She nodded imperceptibly.
“And more than that…things don’t feel right,” he whispered, as if he were talking to himself.
“What do you mean?” Bree asked, willing him to meet her gaze and then, maybe…her lips.
“Well…” Zane leaned back in the grass and stared up at the sky. Bree remembered how he’d pointed out the Seven Sisters on their ceiling and wondered where that constellation was tonight. “You know how those diamond commercials show love as like this…this really sparkly, crazy thing?”
“Okay,” Bree said, lying down on her back as well.
“Well, I want that,” Zane explained, talking straight ahead. “I don’t have that now, but I want it. Not in a stupid way, but I want all of that.”
Bree’s insides shimmered. She understood what he meant completely. And as they stared up at the sky, the stars above them twinkled, shiny and sparkly. Kind of like diamonds.
Date: Sunday, September 8, 11:40 A.M.
Subject: Awesome, awesome, awesome
Guys. The Black Saturday party was white-hot. Some interesting numbers:
6: Number of girls I made out with last night. (That’s the number I can remember, anyway.)
11: Bottles of Cuervo we went through. Hells yeah!
1: Weirdly well-groomed guy standing on the sidelines of the I Never game, looking longingly at a certain hazel-eyed goddess from Atlanta.
2: Left-behind pairs of girls’ shoes. One pair of Manolos, one pair of Jimmy Choos. Who got so messed up she went home barefoot?
2: People sitting by my goldfish pond, looking longingly into each other’s eyes. But I’m not gonna tell you who. That’s only for my goldfish, Stanley, to know for sure.
Later, party people,
P.S. Can’t wait for the next blowout.
P.P.S. It’s only three weeks away. Rest up!
The Bridgeport sports staff was so evil that they made everyone go to sports practice on Blacker Sunday (called that for obvious reasons). Everyone hit the field with stale-martini breath, eye shadow still smeared on their upper lids, and pink tongues, courtesy of two big swigs of Pepto to calm their gurgling stomachs.
Crystal sat on the hockey bench with her head between her legs. She had a hickey on her neck, and she was certain it wasn’t from Zane. She’d tried to cover it with her concealer stick, but the big purple welt was still there. Really, she felt too shitty to care. She wanted to curl back up under her double-thick cashmere blanket and suck her thumb. She eyed Bree and Naomi sitting on the grass, stretching, looking as if they hadn’t had a sip of alcohol last night. Since when were they such good friends?
Mrs. Smail blew her whistle and called the girls up to scrimmage. Of all things to do at a post–Black Saturday party practice, they were actually going to play? Why couldn’t everyone do a couple of laps and go back to bed?
“Crystal Alexander, Naomi Peterson, you’ll play centers,” Mrs. Smail instructed.
A collective gasp rose up from the bench. Everyone’s heads swiveled back and forth, from Crystal’s black ponytail to Naomi’s fire-red bob. Crystal heaved herself up from the bench, feeling bloated and disgusting. She watched Naomi storm off to the middle of the field. Frustration welled up inside of her again. How dare Naomi not tell her about Mr. Dalton!
As soon as Mrs. Smail dropped the small silver ball, Naomi whacked it, following through so roughly she hit Crystal’s left shin guard.
Crystal backed up in pain and anger. She tore after Naomi, who was now a few steps ahead of her, dribbling the ball. The sod was mushy under her feet, and her black and white Nike cleats dug fiercely into the ground. Naomi’s skirt rose so that you could see the bottom of her maroon bloomers and her skinny butt. Crystal caught up to her and stuck her stick in between Naomi and the ball. Then Naomi’s hands twisted and she whacked the ball with the rounded side of her hockey stick, sending it careening away from Crystal, toward one of the midfielders on Naomi’s team.
“Foul!” Crystal screamed, stopping in her tracks. “Mrs. Smail! That was a foul!”
“I didn’t see it,” Mrs. Smail responded. “Keep playing.” She gestured to the other girls, who had taken the ball and swept it down toward one of the goals.
“Jesus Christ!” Crystal threw her stick to the ground in disgust. “She hit the ball with the wrong side of the stick!”
“Whatever,” Mrs. Smail said. “It’s only practice, and I didn’t see it.”
Crystal turned to Naomi, eyes narrowed. “They don’t teach field hockey in New Jersey, do they?”
Crystal watched as Naomi’s turned angrier and angrier.
“Go to hell,” Naomi finally muttered.
“Ooh, the big comeback from class prefect, Naomi Peterson. I thought you had great debate skills! I thought you could talk your way out of anything!”
“Girls,” Mrs. Smail warned. “Play. Naomi, your team just scored a goal.”
Naomi stepped around Mrs. Smail to face Crystal. “What is it, Crystal? What’s the huge thing you have against me? If anything, I’m the one who should be angry at you—not the other way around!”
“Oh, yeah? Why’s that?”
“Because you’re a manipulative bitch, that’s why!” Naomi screamed.
The other players gasped. Mrs. Smail tried to step between them, but Crystal shot her a look of warning that said, Stay away. Mrs. Smail turned and began walking briskly toward the field house.
Crystal turned to Naomi. “You take that back. I’m not manipulative.”
Naomi barked out a laugh. “No? So what’s this whole Bree-and-Zane thing about? How is that not manipulation?” She shot a look over at Bree, who was standing perfectly still, stick poised, watching them from her midfield position.
Crystal glanced at Bree too. Great. Just great. A comment like that wouldn’t help sway Bree to stick up for her at DC. She glowered at Naomi. “You don’t know anything.”
“I don’t have to know anything,” Naomi shot back. “I know you and how you operate. From what you did to Jade.”
“Jade?!?” Crystal’s mouth dropped open.
“That’s right.” Naomi’s voice was hushed. She stepped closer to her former friend, so close that their noses were almost touching. “Why don’t you just come clean? You set Jade up to take the rap. You made it so you wouldn’t get in any trouble.”
Oh, this was something. “I set it up? Who’s to say you didn’t set it up?” Crystal yelled. Tears sprang to her eyes. “I didn’t even talk to Jade before she left! I was called into DC, I left, and she was already gone!”
“Oh, yeah. That’s a good one—”
“Why would I set Jade up? We were friends!”
Naomi stepped back and glared at Crystal confusedly. They both stared at each other for a few long seconds before Naomi’s shoulders relaxed a bit. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
Crystal nodded fiercely.
“And you think that I got Jade in trouble?”
“Well I didn’t, so you must have,” Crystal explained, but Naomi could hear her resolve weakening.
“I didn’t have a chance to talk to Jade, either. She was gone before I could.”
Crystal looked down. “Really?”
The other players held their breath.
“I don’t get it,” Naomi surmised. “Jade just…took the blame for us, on her own?”
“I guess. But why would she do that?”
Crystal began to laugh. “That’s really fucked up.”
Naomi slowly began to giggle too. “God, I totally thought you did it.”
“And I thought you did it!”
“I thought you were going to transfer rooms on me, just to avoid having to talk about Jade!”
Behind them, Mrs. Smail ran up with Mr. Steinberg, the boy’s soccer coach, in tow. When she saw Crystal and Naomi laughing and then hugging, she stopped short in confusion.
“I swear they were ready to kill each other.”
“Girls,” Mr. Steinberg sighed hopelessly, shaking his head.
Mrs. Smail ran her fingers through her short black hair. “You know, why doesn’t everyone just hit the showers,” she suggested after a moment.
Naomi felt like she’d just run a marathon, which was always how she felt after vigorously fighting with somebody. She walked slowly back to the bleachers with Crystal, neither of them speaking. But it was a comfortable silence, not a tense one. She threw her shin guards in her gray nylon bag and noticed her cell phone buzzing. She had a text message: Come meet me on my boat when you can. We need to talk. –Eric.
She put her head in her hands. That single lingering kiss. His soft lips. The way he’d finally put his arms around her, pulling her closer to him. The way he smelled, like peppermint and cigarettes and lavender laundry soap. The way he’d groaned a little when they stopped. She’d felt so rejected after their kiss yesterday, but maybe he’d changed his mind? She knew it was dangerous, but wasn’t life about taking risks? She only hoped Eric felt the same way.
He was sprawled on a modern white lounge chair on the boat’s deck, a bag of honey mustard pretzels at his side, when she arrived. He stood and brushed crumbs off his crisp chinos.
“Hey,” she answered, standing at the water’s edge. She’d quickly thrown on a black tee and hip-hugging jeans, hoping to look casual and unassuming, but now the outfit felt all wrong. Her shirt was too short and her pants were too low, so too much of her toned midriff winked up at him. It was too déclassé for Eric. She tried to cover it up with her hand. It didn’t help that he looked absolutely gorgeous, his brown skin gleaming against the edges of his white polo shirt.
“Hey.” He smiled down at her.
“Hey again,” Naomi said quietly.
They fell silent, looking at each other from a distance. Naomi felt stupid—obviously he didn’t feel the same way. Her stomach clunked inside of her, irritated that he would make her come here to tell her what she already knew: that they couldn’t see each other anymore, blah, blah, blah. Fine, big fucking deal. She wanted it to be over quickly. And not ever see him again. She could resign from DC. Who cared if it looked good on your college applications? There were other ways to get into Brown.
“So this is what I’ve been thinking,” he interrupted her thoughts. “You have one more year here. And you’re seventeen. I’m twenty-three. That’s like, six years.”
“Uh-huh,” Naomi responded, twisting a piece of rope lying on one of the dock’s pylons.
“Six years. Like, when we’re in our twenties…you’ll be, say, twenty-two, and I’ll be twenty-eight. And when I’m fifty, you’ll be forty-four.”
Naomi snorted. “So what are you saying?’”
“I—” Eric started.
“No offense,” Naomi retorted quickly, straightening up. “But I’m not, like, holding out for you until I’m forty-four. Hopefully I’ll be with a younger guy by then.”
Eric stared at her intensely. “I don’t think I could wait until you were forty-four.”
“Oh,” she replied, winding the rope around her finger so tightly that it began cutting off the circulation.
He stared at her, then sighed. “Come into my cabin?”
Naomi paused. She wasn’t positive, but she suspected that this was about to be the biggest, most important moment of her life so far. Standing there, in a crappy T-shirt and her crappiest jeans, on a random Sunday after field hockey practice, slightly hungover, seventeen years old, a tiny pimple on the corner of her right cheek that was covered up with MAC concealer, AP bio homework to do… Her life a boring mess, otherwise. But if she wanted it to happen, the next moments could change her life forever.
“Yeah, I guess I can do that.” She smiled quietly to herself and ran her hands along the guide rails on the dock to climb aboard.
As Crystal rounded the corner to Dumbarton, she saw Zane blocking the front doorway. Her first instinct was to turn in the other direction and go back to the playing fields.
But Zane saw her. “Wait.” He started down the concrete steps. “Come back.”
Crystal turned reluctantly around. She flashed back to blurry images of the party last night: a mess of tequila bottles, Maurice’s ugly tattoo, Zane peeking out from the door beads, Maurice’s juvenile follow-up e-mail. Ever since the beginning of the year, everyone had been making fun of how Maurice ponied all the girls; and sure, she’d been drunk, angry with Naomi, and even angrier at Zane, but why had she let Maurice pony her, too?
“Hey,” she answered gruffly.
“So. You have fun last night?” he asked, his eyebrows raised.
“I’m sorry.” She flapped her hands against her maroon and blue plaid hockey kilt. “About the…you know. The thing. It was stupid. A drinking game.”
“It definitely caught me off guard.” Zane shuffled his foot against a pebble on the walkway. Seeing Zane awkward like this made Crystal melt.
“That was a weird party.” She looked down.
Zane didn’t answer.
“They weren’t like that last year,” Crystal went on. “They were just fun.” She sat down on the steps and pressed her knees together, fighting back an overwhelming urge to squeeze her eyes shut. “I just want things with us to be like last year, too. We had so much fun.”
“Yeah,” Zane said softly.
“What’s happened with us?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe we could get it back.” Crystal raised her head hopefully. “Maybe if we just, I don’t know. Go somewhere off campus and talk. Somewhere where nobody else is. Anywhere you want. I’ll even go riding with you,” she added impulsively. Zane used to always try to get her to ride with him and she never had.
“If they don’t boot me out of here, yeah.” She shifted on the step. “I still don’t know what Bree’s going to do. I mean, I don’t think she wants to tell on me, but she doesn’t want to get in trouble.”
Zane stared at his sneakers. “I don’t think Bree should get in trouble.”
“Yeah, you’ve mentioned that.” Crystal heard the edge in her own voice.
“I think you should take the blame. Bree has nothing to do with this.”
“If I take the blame, I’ll be expelled. You want that?”
Zane shook his head. “No. I…I don’t know. If only there was a way for neither of you to get in trouble…”
“I don’t get it.” Crystal stared at him. “Why do you care so much whether or not she gets in trouble? You guys didn’t even know each other until I…” Suddenly, it was as if a lightbulb had gone off over her head. What Amir had told her after the pre-Black Saturday party. The writing on Bree’s arm. Maurice’s gossipy e-mail—two people looking lovingly into each other’s eyes. They were both so open to flirting with each other when Crystal asked them to.
Zane liked Bree. Not because Crystal had told him to like her, either. Because he really did.
Crystal shoved her thumb into her mouth and turned away so that he couldn’t see the expression on her face.
Zane watched her as she turned, wondering what she was thinking. How could he save both Bree and Crystal? The only thing he could think of might put his own place at Bridgeport in jeopardy. Was he man enough to do that?
Crystal turned around again. “I guess whatever happens happens.”
“Who knows. They still might kick me out.”
She was quiet for a second. “I wish I could just, like, turn back time.”
Zane laid his hand over Crystal’s. “I know,” he responded, thinking. This…whatever it was… with Bree—it felt too big for him to understand. And maybe too scary. Looking at Crystal, sitting on the steps in her field hockey kilt and after-practice flip-flops, her hair pulled back in a messy ponytail and without a stitch of makeup, she looked like a kid. Not a worldly, full-of-emotion adult. She was sweet and safe and something he understood. He hated to think of leaving her—whether that meant leaving her for Bree or leaving Bridgeport completely. “Maybe I can make that happen,” he said, squeezing his fingers around hers.
An hour later, Naomi walked back down the gangplank, hugging herself, her mind reeling from what she’d just done.
Eric Dalton had taken off her clothes and kissed her everywhere. Then he’d taken his own clothes off slowly, as if he were in a strip club. Naomi had never seen a guy take his clothes off in the daylight. He’d kept his eyes on her the whole time. They’d massaged each other and fooled around and then, just when things were going to go…further, she’d suddenly told him she needed some fresh air. Being with Eric was more than she had expected. More than her fantasy about him had been. It felt overwhelming. And not necessarily entirely in a good way. She needed to think.
And then, who did she see standing at the end of the dock? Fuck.
“There she is,” Corey muttered to himself. “I thought you weren’t into sailing.”
There were huge circles under his eyes. He was wearing jeans and a white T-shirt and he was carrying a giant duffel bag with his initials embroidered into one side. Naomi felt a stab of guilt—something about Corey, tough and cool, toting around a bag that no doubt his mommy had gotten monogrammed for him, seemed really vulnerable and sweet.
“Hey?” Corey shook his head. “That’s all you can say, Hey?”
“Well…” Naomi tried to walk past him, but he stopped her with his arm. His hand gripped her bicep tightly. For a split second she was a little afraid and looked back to the boat for help. Then she realized—this was Corey. She wrenched herself from his grasp. “Don’t touch me like that! Didn’t you get my message?”
“What, so you break up with somebody on a voicemail?” he yelled back. “That’s real classy. I thought you were better than that.”
Naomi didn’t want to have this out right in front of Eric’s boat—Eric, who had undressed very slowly. Eric, who had touched her deftly and maturely, not in the fumbling, grabby way boys her age did. Eric, who hadn’t gotten mad when Naomi covered herself with the Ralph Lauren paisley sheets and said they should stop. She started walking down the path back to campus. “Fine.” She turned back. “I’m breaking up with you in person, then. You happy?”
“I don’t suppose you could give me any fucking reasons, could you?”
“Sure,” Naomi scoffed. “Did you really think this was serious? There. That’s one.”
Corey stopped. His eyes were all puffy and red. It looked as if he hadn’t gone to bed yet.
“Yeah. I did think we were serious. Why else would I ask you to come to California with me?”
“Well…” She stared at the ground.
“But obviously there’s somebody else,” he ventured. “I was told to look for you here. This is some guy’s boat, right? You were with some guy down there, on his boat, in his cabin? C’mon, Naomi. That’s a little trashy, don’t you think?”
Naomi prickled and narrowed her eyes. As if he were one to talk about low class, using that stupid townie accent! Then it hit her. “Wait, who told you I’d be here?”
Corey shrugged. “Why does it matter?” He reached into his backpack and pulled out a pack of Newports. “The point is, somebody told me, and you made it really clear. So fuck it. It’s your loss.”
He turned and loped back up to the green, an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth.
“Wait,” Naomi called hoarsely. A streak of nerves ran through her. “Who told you I’d be—?”
But he was too far away to hear, and she didn’t want to yell. She turned back and stared down at the docks. Eric’s boat bobbed placidly on the water, as if it hadn’t just almost been witness to the most life-changing moment of Naomi’s existence. With a few short steps, she could go back down there and climb back into bed next to Eric. They could drink wine and talk about things and he could make her feel better about everything. Then she could have sex with him, for her first time ever.
But she couldn’t. And she wasn’t sure why.
On Monday morning, Bree sat at the large, round oak table in Dean Marymount’s office, a few minutes into her Disciplinary Committee meeting. The room smelled like a combination of old books and new paint. Zane sat only a few chairs away; Naomi, Ryan, Celine, and the other DC members, as well as Mr. Pardee, Mr. Dalton, and Dean Marymount, sat in a line on the other side of the table, their hands folded and their eyes fixed carefully on her. Because it was DC members only, Crystal wasn’t allowed to be at the hearing. Bree pictured Crystal nervously smoking a whole pack of cigarettes inside Dumbarton right now, in anticipation of the verdict.
On the wall across from Bree were silver-framed paintings created by Bridgeport’s graduating classes, 1985 through present. They were handprints, in different poster-paint colors, each footnoted with the student’s name. Even Bridgeport students’ hands had a wealthy look about them. She wondered what hers would look like up there with the others. Then she wondered if she’d be at Bridgeport long enough to even to put her handprint on her class’s painting.
Talk about down to the wire. She still hadn’t decided what she was going to say in DC yet, and now it was time. Marymount, looking especially suburban in a navy sweater vest under his maroon Bridgeport blazer and his gold wire-rimmed round glasses, licked his finger to turn the page of his yellow pad. “Okay. Mr. Pardee, the notes here say that Mr. Taylor was caught in Miss Hargrove’s room. They were talking, and Mr. Taylor was nearly naked. That’s correct?”
“That’s right,” confirmed Mr. Pardee. “I caught them, and it looked as if some sexual activity had taken place.” He looked down at the table then, color rising on his neck. Bree bit the inside of her cheek.
Marymount swung his gaze over to Bree. “Miss Hargrove?”
This was it. Time to either sell out Crystal, or sell out herself and her new life. She took a deep breath, even though she had no idea what she was about to say.
“It was all my fault.”
Everyone in the room turned to Zane. He cleared his throat.
“Excuse me?” Marymount asked.
“It was all my fault,” he repeated. “See, I was looking for Crystal. I’d been asleep, in my boxers, and I went over like that. I wandered into their room, but Crystal wasn’t there. So I started talking to Bree, but she in no way invited me in. That’s when Pardee caught us. It might have looked like Bree and I were together, but we weren’t. She really had nothing to do with this.”
Bree’s mouth fell open.
“I sat on her bed,” he went on. “She didn’t ask me to. I just went ahead and did it.”
Marymount ran his hand through his thinning hair. “Do you realize the repercussions of that? The inappropriateness?”
“Yeah.” Zane hung his head.
Bree bit her lip and sat on her hands. The student part of the committee stared at her blankly, their faces completely devoid of emotion. Most likely because everyone was still hungover from Saturday night. Although she was trying her hardest to be unemotional, inside, she felt like a malfunctioning pinball machine. She was off the hook, but now Zane was in major trouble. What if he got kicked out? Would everyone blame her? More important, did Bree risk losing the first boy she might even…love?’
Marymount straightened up and rolled his knuckles on the desk. “Miss Hargrove? This is what happened?”
Bree nodded slightly. It was true, after all. Sort of.
“Well, even so, this isn’t the best way to start off the year, especially with your cheer at the field hockey game. I want you to report to my office next week.” Marymount frowned. “I think we’ll have to figure out something to keep you out of trouble.”
Bree nodded. “Okay.”
Marymount turned back to Zane. “Just so we’re clear. Mr. Taylor, you’re taking all the blame for this?”
Zane took a deep breath. He’d dreamed of this moment, the very second they actually kicked him out of Bridgeport. Somewhere inside of him it had always felt sort of inevitable. He’d imagined what he’d say, what he’d be wearing. He’d crazily imagined that he’d have on this red Power Rangers outfit he had as a kid and would wave around one of his dad’s unloaded vintage rifles, just to freak them out a little. He’d have his oversizedRay Bansunglasses on his forehead. He’d tell all the Bridgeport staff precisely what he thought of them and then he’d climb on Credo and ride off into the sunset.
But things never happened as you imagined them. Now he broke out in a cold sweat in his white button-down and maroon pressed Bridgeport jacket. He thought of all the stuff he’d miss if they booted him out. The owls. The way the sun set orange and purple over the Hudson. His favorite stained glass window in the chapel. Playing soccer with Donovan when they didn’t feel like studying. The cafeteria’s cherry pie and the cheerful cafeteria worker Mabel, who was from a little town near Lexington. Crystal. Bree. He’d miss everything he saw in Bree.
“Well?” Marymount prompted again.
“Yes.” He nodded. “I am.”
“Well, then,” Marymount continued in a small, disappointed voice. “Committee, do we find Mr. Taylor guilty? All in favor?”
Naomi, Mr. Dalton, Mr. Pardee, and Benny raised their hands. The freshman and sophomore DC committee members shrugged apologetically but raised their hands too. Finally, Donovan reluctantly raised his hand, and so did the two senior girl members.
A dreadful pause hung over the air as Marymount surveyed each of the DC members’ hands. Zane stared at the floor.
Finally Marymount sighed. “All right. This is what we’re going to do. Mr. Taylor, this is your absolute last warning. We’re going to put you on probation. Again. Two weeks. You can’t go to the stables unless there’s an emergency with your horse. No town privileges, and no visitation privileges. You’ll go to chapel, to class, and to meals, but that’s it.”
He kept talking, but nobody could hear him. Donovan, Benny, and the two senior girls let out collective, grateful sighs. Naomi squeaked back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest, trying not to smile.
“Wait,” Bree whispered to no one in particular. “What’s happening?”
“It means the old bastard’s letting me stay,” Zane murmured. But in his voice, she could tell how glad he was. And from the meaningful look he gave her, Bree thought maybe, just maybe, it had something to do with her.
Naomi rifled through her field hockey bag and pulled out a sixteen-ounce bottle of rum. “We have to celebrate,” she announced dramatically. The three girls sat exhausted on the floor of Dumbarton dorm room 303, Bree and Naomi from the stress of DC, Crystal from the stress of not being at DC.
Bree watched as Naomi poured rum slowly into each of their chipped glasses. She kind of felt like she had at the Black Saturday party—warm, gooey, and included. This was what she’d dreamed life at Bridgeport would be like, and now it was real. Her dreams had come true.
At least, she felt that with Naomi. Crystal still seemed a little cold. Sure, as soon as Bree had come back in the room and told Crystal the news, she’d quickly run over and given Bree a huge hug, saying how eternally grateful she was that she hadn’t named her. But there was still some unfinished business between them.
“To the new year at Bridgeport,” Naomi toasted.
They clinked glasses.
“And,” Crystal interjected, “to us putting this whole Jade thing behind us.”
“Right,” Naomi agreed.
“I didn’t even know that was upsetting you guys so much,” Bree ventured.
“It’s a long story.”
“There were rumors,” Crystal explained. “People were talking about why Jade was kicked out. Some said I did it, others said Naomi did. Neither of us knew what to believe.”
“Speaking of rumors,” Naomi began. Bree noticed that Naomi’s eyes were tinged pink, and her fingernails, normally polished and buffed to perfection, were bitten down to nubs. “Um, did either of you hear anything about me and Eric Dalton?”
“No,” Crystal answered a little too quickly. Bree gave her a puzzled look.
Naomi rolled her eyes. “I mean, I know you both know. Anyway, I’ve been having this…this thing with Mr. Dalton.”
“Did you sleep with him?” Crystal asked.
“No. But I almost did.”
They were silent for a moment.
“But, um, Corey caught me coming off his boat yesterday,” Naomi continued evenly, pushing her hair behind her ear. Bree noticed a huge hickey on her neck. “And I’m wondering how he knew I’d be there.”
Bree mashed her lips together and noticed Crystal was doing the same thing. She hadn’t said a word to anyone, but Crystal certainly had. Although…how had Crystal found out? Did Naomi think she had told on her?
“I had no idea,” Crystal repeated, not looking at Naomi directly.
“Okay,” Naomi muttered.
“Are you okay?” Bree asked. “With Mr. Dalton and everything?”
Naomi shrugged. She wasn’t sure what to say. She wished she could be more adult and tell them the truth, that while she’d been watching Eric undress, she’d actually missed the way boys her age with fumbled around nervously, getting tangled in their clothes, like they couldn’t believe their luck, being with a girl like Naomi. Eric’s obvious experience had freaked her out. She wished she could go back to him and confidently say, Hey, big boy, take me now. But she couldn’t. She wasn’t ready. Of course, she wanted to tell Crystal and Bree all of that, but she’d told Crystal that she’d lost her virginity years ago to that Swiss boy in Gstaad. What would she think if Naomi admitted the truth now?
The girls silently sipped their drinks, waiting for Naomi to respond. Bree leaned back. She felt lucky. She wasn’t Zane’s girlfriend, but she knew that if anything ended up happening between them, it wouldn’t feel wrong at all. It would feel exactly right. Now if only Crystal would get back together with Amir…
“Hey.” Crystal broke the silence. “I have an idea.” She scrambled to her feet and ran out of the room. Quickly, she returned holding a thick, red, leather-bound book. It said BRIDGEPORT OWLS, 2010. “The lounge has these dating back to the fifties.”
“An old yearbook?” Naomi asked. “We’re not in this one yet.”
“No, but Mr. Dalton is.” Crystal smiled wryly.
“Oh my God, open it,” Bree exclaimed.
They opened the book to seniors, then D, for Dalton. There he was, in a graduation tux, with that same, I’m-up-to-some-thing-but-you’ll-never-find-out smile. He did look five years younger but still every bit as cute. They stared at it in silence.
“I thought maybe we’d find out he was a huge dork who was obsessed with PlayStation and had a whole bunch of zits,” Crystal admitted solemnly. “I thought that might help.” She shrugged, “That definitely doesn’t appear to be the case.”
“Please,” Bree countered. “All we have to do is find his freshman yearbook. I guarantee he looked like a total freak. I mean, everybody looks dorky when they’re a freshman.”
“Even you?” Crystal asked good-naturedly.
“Oh, no. I was never a dork. You should see my pictures from seventh grade. I had this Old Navy fleece thing happening. It was totally hot.”
“Ew.” Crystal laughed.
“Yeah. When you meet my dad, he’ll definitely show you pictures.”
Naomi hit her with a pillow. “You’re so weird.”
Bree started giggling and hit Naomi back. A feather shot out of the pillow and landed on Crystal’s sticky lip-gloss-coated lip, causing Bree to laugh even harder. Maybe it was the rum, but she felt manic.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. The girls froze.
“The rum,” Crystal whispered. “Under the bed.”
They scrambled to hide the cups and, in their hurry, even hid the 2000 yearbook. Crystal flung the door open to see Marymount, Angelica Pardee, and Mr. Pardee, all crowded by the wooden threshold.
Oh God, Bree thought. They’ve changed their minds. We’re all getting expelled anyway. Shit, shit, shit.
“This room is definitely big enough for four,” Angelica mused, looking around.
“All we’d need is an extra bed,” Mr. Pardee added. “There’s already a free desk.”
Crystal, Bree, and Naomi looked at one another. Four?
“Um, can we help you?” Naomi asked. She tried to keep her mouth as closed as possible while she talked, so the teachers wouldn’t smell her rummy breath.
“Girls,” Marymount announced, “I have some interesting news that I think you’ll be happy about.”
“What?” Crystal was perplexed. “You’re sticking another girl in here with us?”
“Not just another girl.” Mr. Pardee smiled. “Your old friend Jade.”
All three roommates fell silent. Crystal and Naomi stared at each other, eyes widening. Bree’s eyes darted back and forth, between them. Jade?
“Wait,” Crystal squeaked. “What are you saying?”
“You heard us,” Marymount boomed. “The faculty has decided to reinstate Jade.”
“And she’s moving back in…here?”
“Wow,” was all Naomi could say. The other girls nodded.
“Jeepers,” Bree added.
Jeepers pretty much said it all.
CrystalAlexander: You’re just across the room, but I don’t want Bree to hear what I have to say.
NaomiPeterson: Okay, shoot.
CrystalAlexander: I don’t know if there’s room on this campus for Jade and Bree.
NaomiPeterson: What do you mean?
CrystalAlexander: I know you know what I mean.
NaomiPeterson: Okay, yeah, they both have that… something. But maybe they’ll be BFF?
CrystalAlexander: Or scratch each other’s eyes out.
NaomiPeterson: It’s going to be an interesting year…
CrystalAlexander: I’ll say.
NaomiPeterson: How do u think Jade got back in, anyway?
CrystalAlexander: Maybe she gave Marymount a lap dance… I hear he likes that.
NaomiPeterson: You’re so dirty.
CrystalAlexander: But that’s why you love me!
NaomiPeterson: I do. For now, anyway…
Bridgeport Academy #2
Bree Hargrove arrived at elite Bridgeport Academy with dreams of turning herself into the sophisticated, awe-inspiring Bree she’s always wanted to be. And it’s finally, finally happening! She’s even rooming with the two most popular girls in school, Crystal Alexander and Naomi Peterson, and bunking in the notorious Jade Carmichael’s old bed. Coolness is rubbing off on her, even while she sleeps! [
**]Okay, so Crystal almost got Bree kicked out of Bridgeport on her first night there, but there’s a bright side. Like Crystal’s curly-haired boyfriend, Zane Taylor, who just can’t seem to focus on his girlfriend anymore. Now everyone is gossiping about boyfriend-stealing Bree. They can’t help but whisper: Bree’s it.[
**]But who’s that flying in on her seaplane? After getting expelled last year, Jade’s back and she’s not about to let some big-chested city girl get all the attention. And she’s certainly not going to let Crystal and Naomi forget that she took the fall for them. Now it’s their turn.[
**]Is Bridgeport big enough for Bree, Crystal, Naomi, and Jade? They’re all beautiful, captivating, and a little bit crazy…but there can be only one It Girl.
Upper East Side 12: The Prequel
Welcome to New York City’s Upper East Side, where my friends and I live and go to school and play and sleep—sometimes with each other. We’re an exclusive group of indescribably beautiful people who happen to live in those majestic, white-glove-doorman buildings near Central Park. We attend Manhattan’s most elite single-sex private schools. Our families own yachts and estates in various exotic locations throughout the world. We frequent all the best beaches and the most exclusive ski resorts. We’re seated immediately at the nicest restaurants in the chicest neighborhoods without a reservation. We turn heads. But don’t confuse us with Hollywood actors or models or music stars—those people you feel like you know because you hear so much about them, but who are actually completely boring compared to the parts they play or the songs they sing. There’s nothing boring about me or my friends, and the more I tell you about us, the more you’re going to want to know.
Our story begins with three inseparable, completely gorgeous fifteen-year-olds, Chanel Crenshaw, Porsha Sinclaire, and Kaliq Braxton. Porsha’s loved Kaliq and his glittering green eyes since she was in onesies. Too bad Kaliq wishes Porsha’s beautiful best friend, Chanel, was the one with the crush. And Chanel has a secret she’s keeping from them both. Hmmm, something tells me these best friends may not be as close as we thought…
How do I know all this? Because I know everything—and lucky for you, I can’t keep a secret. So sit back while I untangle this messy little tale and tell you how it all began.
Upper East Side 13: The Sequel
It finally happened: we went to college. We started over. No one knows who we’ve slept with, what we scored on the SATs, where our parents live, or when we became corrupt. We’ve learned new things, made new friends, and maybe even met the loves of our lives. We’ve changed.
Or at least, some of us have. But old habits are hard to break—especially when faced with your former besties and former flames. With everyone back in the city for the holidays, this break is guaranteed to be filled with makeups, breakups, and shakeups.
A lot can change in a few months…but some things never do.
Porsha Sinclaire and Chanel Crenshaw were the reigning princesses of the Upper East Side. Until now. Get out your platinum pens, Gucci satchels, and cashmere cardigans: it’s a brand new year on the Upper East Side and the notorious Cartwrights triplets are taking Manhattan by storm. It’s going to be another wild and wicked year, I can smell it.
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A scandalous new spin-off brought to you by the bestselling author of the Upper East Side series! Bree Hargrove is leaving Emma Willard to attend Bridgeport Academy, an elite boarding school in New York horse country where glamorous rich kids don't let the rules get in the way of a good time. Determined to leave her Manhattan past behind her, Bree sets off to Bridgeport with big plans of reinventing herself. She'll be a goddess—she's a sophisticated city girl, after all!—and will find a boy who can properly worship her. But that's going to be a little tricky since her self-absorbed new roommates, Crystal Alexander and Naomi Peterson, aren't exactly there to help—unless there's something in it for them. Sexy guys, new intrigue, and more delicious gossip all add up to more trouble than ever for Bree. But if getting caught with boys and going up against the Disciplinary Committee is what it takes, Bree's ready. She'll do all that and more to be the new It Girl.