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Upper East Side: Season 1, Episode One

  • Table of Contents *

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UPPER EAST SIDE 1.1 

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 Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar.

1

“I watched VH1 all morning in my room so I wouldn’t have to eat breakfast with them,” Porsha Sinclaire told her two best friends and private school classmates, Alexis Sullivan and Imani Edwards. “My mother cooked him an omelet. I didn’t even know she knew how to use the stove.”

Porsha tucked her thick hair behind her ears and swigged her mother’s fine vintage scotch from the crystal tumbler in her hand. She was already on her second glass and planned on drinking several more. Anything to ward off the murderous rage that threatened to overcome her. Her forehead got all wrinkly and unattractive when she was mad. 

“What shows did you watch?” Imani asked, removing a stray strand of hair from Porsha’s black cashmere cardigan.

“Who cares?” Porsha said, stamping her foot. She wore her new black ballet flats—very bow-tie preppy, which she could get away with because in an instant she could change her mind and put on her pointed, knee-high boots and that sexy metallic skirt her mother hated. Poof: rock star sex kitten. 

Meow.

“The point is, I was trapped in my room all morning because they were busy having a gross romantic breakfast in their matching red silk bathrobes. They didn’t even take showers.” Porsha took another gulp of her drink. The only way to tolerate the thought of her mother sleeping with that man was to get drunk—very drunk.

Luckily Porsha and her friends came from the kind of families for whom drinking was as common as blowing your nose. Their parents believed in the idea that the more access kids have to alcohol, the less likely they are to abuse it. So Porsha and her friends could drink whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, as long as they maintained their grades and their looks and didn’t embarrass themselves or the family by puking in public, pissing their pants, or ranting in the streets. The same thing went for everything else, like sex or drugs—as long as you kept up appearances, you were all right.

But keep your panties on. That’s coming later. 

The man Porsha was so upset about was Cyrus Campbell, her mother’s new boyfriend. At that very moment Cyrus was standing on the other side of the living room, greeting the dinner guests. He looked like someone who might help you pick out shoes at Saks—bald, except for a small, bushy mustache, his fat stomach barely hidden in a double-breasted suit. He jingled the change in his pocket incessantly, and when he took his jacket off, there were big, nasty sweat marks on his underarms. He had a loud laugh and was very sweet to Porsha’s mother. But he wasn’t Porsha’s father. Last year Porsha’s father ran off to France with another man.

No kidding. They live in a chateau and run a vineyard together. 

Of course none of that was Cyrus’s fault, but that didn’t matter to Porsha. As far as she was concerned, Cyrus Campbell was a completely annoying, fat, loser who deserved to die—by strangulation perhaps, after getting his bulbous neck stuck in the cord of his horrible red silk bathrobe.

But not tonight. Tonight Porsha was going to have to tolerate him, because her mother’s dinner party was in his honor, and all the Sinclaires’ family friends were there to meet him: the blue-blooded Harrison family and their sons, Jaylen and Tyree; the widower Mr. Sullivan and his daughter Alexis; the well-known actor Arthur Edwards, his gold-digging wife Titi, and their three daughters, Imani, Regina, and Camilla; Captain and Mrs. Braxton and their son, Kaliq. The only ones still missing were Mr. and Mrs. Crenshaw, whose teenage daughter Chanel and son Cairo were both away at school.

Porsha’s mother was famous for her dinner parties, and this was her first since her infamous divorce. The Sinclaire penthouse had been expensively redecorated that summer in deep reds and chocolate browns, and it was full of antiques and artwork that would have impressed anyone who knew anything about art. In the center of the dining room table was an enormous silver bowl full of white orchids, pussy willows, and chestnut tree branches—a modern ensemble from Takashimaya, the Fifth Avenue luxury goods store. Gold-leafed place cards lay on every porcelain plate. In the kitchen, Myrtle, the cook, was singing Bob Marley songs to the soufflé, and the sloppy Irish maid, Esther, hadn’t poured scotch down anyone’s dress yet, thank God.

Porsha was the one getting sloppy. And if Cyrus didn’t stop harassing Kaliq, her boyfriend, she was going to have to go over there and spill her scotch all over his tacky Italian loafers, and bludgeon him to death with her empty tumbler. Not that she’d ever actually kill anyone, but it was fun to imagine it.

Such fun

“You and Porsha have been going out a long time, am I right?” Cyrus said, punching Kaliq in the arm. He was trying to get the kid to loosen up a little. All these Upper East Side kids were way too uptight.

That’s what he thinks. Give them time.

“You sleep with her yet?” Cyrus asked.

“Well, we’ve known each other practically since we were born,” Kaliq stuttered. “But we’ve only been going out for like, a year. We don’t want to ruin it by, you know, rushing, before we’re ready?” Kaliq was just spitting back the line that Porsha always gave him when he asked her if she was ready to do it or not. But he was talking to his girlfriend’s mother’s boyfriend. What was he supposed to say, “Nigga, if I had my way we’d be doing it right now”?

“Absolutely,” Cyrus said. He clasped Kaliq’s shoulder with a fleshy hand. Around his wrist was one of those gold Cartier cuff bracelets that you screw on and never take off—very popular in the 1980s and not so popular now. “Let me give you some advice,” Cyrus told him, as if Kaliq had a choice. “Don’t listen to a word that girl says. Girls like surprises. They want you to keep things interesting. You know what I mean?”

Kaliq nodded, frowning. He tried to remember the last time he’d surprised Porsha. The only thing that came to mind was the time he’d brought her an ice cream cone when he picked her up at her tennis lesson. That was over a month ago, and it was a pretty lame surprise by any standard. At this rate, he and Porsha might never have sex.

Kaliq was one of those boys you look at and while you’re looking at them, you know they’re thinking, that girl can’t take her eyes off me because I’m so fine. Although he didn’t act at all conceited about it. He couldn’t help being fine, he was just born that way. Poor guy.

That night Kaliq was wearing the green cashmere V-neck sweater Porsha had given him last Easter, when her father had taken them skiing in Sun Valley for a week. Secretly, Porsha had sewn a tiny gold heart pendant onto the inside of one of the sweater’s sleeves, so that Kaliq would always be wearing her heart on his sleeve. Porsha liked to think of herself as a hopeless romantic in the style of old movie actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Dorothy Dandridge. She was always coming up with plot devices for the movie she was starring in at the moment, the movie that was her life.

“I love you,” Porsha had told Kaliq breathily when she gave him the sweater.

“Me too,” Kaliq had said back, although he wasn’t exactly sure if it was true or not.

When he put the sweater on, it looked so good on him that Porsha wanted to scream and rip all her clothes off. But it seemed unattractive to scream in the heat of the moment, so Porsha kept quiet, trying to remain fragile and delicate in Kaliq’s arms. They kissed for a long time, their cheeks hot and cold at the same time from being out on the slopes all day. Kaliq twined his fingers in Porsha’s hair and pulled her down on the hotel bed. Porsha put her arms above her head and let Kaliq begin to undress her, until she realized where this was all heading, and that it wasn’t a movie after all, it was [_real. _]So, like a good girl, she sat up and made Kaliq stop.

She’d kept on making him stop right on up until today. Only two nights ago, Kaliq had come over after a party with a half-drunk flask of brandy in his pocket and had lain down on her bed and murmured, “I want you, Porsha.” Once again, Porsha had wanted to scream and jump on top of him, but she resisted. Kaliq fell asleep, snoring softly, and Porsha lay down next to him and imagined that she and Kaliq were starring in a movie in which they were married and he had a drinking problem, but she would stand by him always and love him forever.

Porsha wasn’t trying to be a tease, she just wasn’t ready. She and Kaliq had barely seen each other at all over the summer because she had gone to that horrible boot camp of a tennis school in North Carolina, and Kaliq had gone sailing with his father off the coast of Maine. Porsha wanted to make sure that after spending the whole summer apart they still loved each other as much as ever. She had wanted to wait to have sex until her seventeenth birthday next month.

But now she was through with waiting.

Kaliq was looking better than ever. The moss-green sweater had turned his eyes a sparkling green, and his smooth caramel skin was now golden brown from his summer on the ocean. And, just like that, Porsha knew she was ready. She took another sip of her scotch and cocked her fingers around the glass tumbler as if she were firing a shiny .38 caliber pistol.

If only she could take Cyrus out of the picture—bam! And everyone else at the party for that matter—bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Then she and Kaliq could do it right there in the living room, naked, with the whole damned penthouse to themselves. 

She finished her drink and set the tumbler down on a marble side table with such force that both the glass and the marble almost cracked.

Oh, yes. She was definitely ready.

2

“What are you two talking about?” Porsha’s mother asked, sidling up to Kaliq and squeezing Cyrus’s hand.

“Sex,” Cyrus said, giving her a wet kiss on the ear.

Yuck.

“Oh!” Eleanor Sinclaire squealed, patting her blown-out bob.

Porsha’s mother was wearing the fitted, cashmere dress that Porsha had helped her pick out from Armani, and little black velvet heels. A year ago she wouldn’t have fit into the dress, but Cyrus had paid for her to have thirty pounds of fat sucked out of her thighs and waist and she looked fantastic. Everyone thought so.

“She does look thinner,” Porsha heard Mrs. Harrison whisper to Mrs. Edwards. “But I’ll bet she’s had a chin tuck.”

“I bet you’re right. She’s grown her hair out—that’s the telltale sign. It hides the scars,” Mrs. Edwards whispered back.

Of course, she would know.

The room was abuzz with snatches of gossip about Porsha’s mother and Cyrus Campbell. From what Porsha could hear, her mother’s friends felt exactly the same way she did, although they didn’t exactly use words like annoying, fat, or loser.

“I smell Old Spice,” Mrs. Edwards whispered to Mrs. Braxton. “Do you think he’s actually [_wearing _]Old Spice?”

“I’m not sure,” Mrs. Braxton whispered back. “But I think he might be.” She snatched a spring roll off Esther’s platter, popped it into her mouth, and chewed it vigorously, refusing to say anything more. She couldn’t bear for Eleanor Sinclaire to overhear them. Gossip and idle chat were amusing, but not at the expense of an old friend’s feelings.

[_Bullshit! _]Porsha would have said if she could have heard Mrs. Braxton’s thoughts. [_Hypocrite! _]All of these people were terrible gossips. And if you’re going to do it, why not enjoy it?

Across the room, Cyrus grabbed Eleanor and kissed her on the lips in full view of everyone. Porsha shrank away from the revolting sight of her mother and Cyrus acting like geeky teens with a crush and turned to look out the penthouse window at Fifth Avenue and Central Park. The fall foliage was on fire—not literally, but figuratively. If it were really on fire she would have tossed Cyrus out into it and watched him burn like fat-streaked bacon. A lone bicyclist rode out of the 72ndStreet entrance to the park and stopped at the hot dog vendor on the corner to buy a bottle of water. Porsha had never noticed the hot dog vendor before, and she wondered if he always parked there, or if he was new, and if he usually stayed there after the sun had gone.

It’s funny how much you miss in what you see every day.

Suddenly Porsha was starving, and she knew just what she wanted: A hot dog. She wanted one right now—a steaming hot dog with mustard and ketchup and onions and sauerkraut—and she was going to eat it in three bites and then burp in her mother’s face. If Cyrus could stick his tongue down her mother’s throat in front of all of her friends, then she could eat a stupid hot dog.

“I’ll be right back,” Porsha told Alexis and Imani.

She whirled around and began to walk across the room to the front hall. She was going to put on her coat, go outside, get a hot dog from the vendor, eat it in three bites, come back, burp in her mother’s face, have another drink, and then have sex with Kaliq.

“Where are you going?” Alexis called after her. But Porsha didn’t stop. She headed straight for the door.

Kaliq saw her coming and extracted himself from Cyrus and Eleanor just in time. “Porsha?” he said. “What’s up?”

She stopped and looked up into Kaliq’s sexy green eyes. They were like the emeralds in the cufflinks her father wore with his tux when he went to the opera. One look into his adoring gems calmed the maniac inside her every time.

Well, almost every time.

He’s wearing your heart on his sleeve, she reminded herself, forgetting all about the hot dog. In the movie of her life, Kaliq would pick her up and carry her away to the bedroom and ravish her. But this was real life, unfortunately.

“I have to talk to you,” Porsha said. She held out her glass. “Fill me up first.”

Kaliq loved it when Porsha bossed him around. He took her glass and let her lead him over to the marble-topped wet bar by the French doors that opened onto the dining room. He poured them each a tumbler full of scotch and then followed her across the living room once more. She didn’t stop walking. She was headed straight for her bedroom.

“Hey, where are you two going?” Jaylen asked as they walked by. He raised his eyebrows, leering at them suggestively.

Porsha rolled her eyes at him and kept walking, drinking as she went. Kaliq followed her, ignoring him completely.

Jaylen Harrison, the oldest son of Misty and Apollo Harrison, was handsome—aftershave commercial handsome. In fact, he’d starred in a Gillette commercial, much to his parents’ public dismay and secret pride. Jaylen was also the horniest boy in Porsha and Kaliq’s group of friends. Once, at a party in ninth grade, Jaylen had hidden in a guest bedroom closet for two hours, waiting to crawl into bed with Alexis Sullivan, who was so drunk she kept throwing up in her sleep. Jaylen didn’t even mind the vomit-stained covers, as long as there was a semi naked body underneath. He was completely unshakeable when it came to girls.

The only way to deal with a guy like Jaylen is to laugh in his face, which is exactly what all the girls who knew him did. In other circles, Jaylen might have been banished as a slimeball of the highest order, but these families had been friends for generations. Jaylen was a Harrison, and so they were stuck with him. They had even gotten used to his gold pinky ring, his trademark cashmere scarf, and the copies of his headshot, which littered his parent’s many houses and apartments and spilled out of his locker at the Riverside Preparatory School for Boys.

“Don’t forget to use protection,” Jaylen called, raising his glass at Porsha and Kaliq as they turned down the long, red-carpeted hallway to Porsha’s bedroom.

Porsha grasped the glass doorknob and turned it, surprising her Russian Blue cat, Kitty Minky, who was curled up on the silk bedspread. Porsha paused at the threshold and leaned back against Kaliq, pressing her body into his. She reached down to take his hand.

At that moment, Kaliq’s hopes perked up. Porsha was acting sort of sultry and sexy and could it be…something was about to happen?

Oh, something’s always about to happen.

Porsha squeezed his hand and pulled him into the room. They stumbled over each other, falling toward the bed and spilling their drinks and staining the white mohair rug. Porsha giggled; the scotch she’d pounded had gone right to her head.

I’m about to have sex with Kaliq, she thought giddily. And then they’d both graduate in June and go to Yale in the fall and have a huge wedding four years later and find a beautiful apartment on Park Avenue and decorate the whole thing in velvet, silk, and fur and have sex in every room on a rotating basis.

Suddenly Porsha’s mother’s voice rang out, loud and clear, down the hallway.

“Chanel Crenshaw! What a lovely surprise!”

Kaliq dropped Porsha’s hand and straightened up like a soldier called to attention. Porsha sat down hard on the end of her bed, put her drink on the floor, closed her eyes, and grasped the bedspread in tight fists—exactly how Carrie’s knuckles looked after she was soaked with pig’s blood at the prom.

She opened her eyes and looked up at Kaliq. But he was already turning to go, striding back down the hall to see if it could possibly be true. Had Chanel [_really _]come back?

The movie of Porsha’s life had taken a sudden, tragic turn. She clutched her stomach, ravenous again. She should have gone for the hot dog after all, or a whole string of hot dogs with which to strangle the entire guest list, including Kaliq and Chanel. She’d save them for last and do it slowly, with a flourish.

And a little mustard?

3

“Hello, hello, hello!” Porsha’s mother crowed, kissing the smooth, high cheekbones of each Crenshaw.

Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss!

“I know you weren’t expecting Chanel, dear,” Mrs. Crenshaw whispered in a concerned, confidential tone. “I hope it’s all right.”

“Of course. Yes, it’s fine,” Mrs. Sinclaire said. “Did you come home for the weekend, Chanel?”

Chanel shook her head and handed her vintage Burberry coat to Esther, the maid. She pushed a silky strand of hair behind her ear and smiled at her hostess.

When Chanel smiled, she used her eyes—those dark, almond shaped eyes. It was the kind of smile you might try to imitate, posing in the bathroom mirror like an idiot. The magnetic, delicious, “you can’t stop looking at me, can you?” smile supermodels spend years perfecting. Well, Chanel smiled that way without even trying.

“No, I’m here to—” she started to say.

Her mother interrupted hastily. “Chanel has decided that boarding school is not for her,” she announced, patting her hair casually, as if it were no big deal.

Chanel’s mother was the middle aged version of utter coolness. In fact, the whole Crenshaw family was like that. They were all tall, exotic, thin, and super-poised, and they never did anything—play tennis, hail a cab, eat spaghetti, go to the toilet—without maintaining their cool. Chanel especially. She was gifted with the kind of coolness that you can’t acquire by buying the right handbag or the right pair of jeans. She was the girl every boy wants and every girl wants to be.

“Chanel will be back at Emma Willard tomorrow,” Mr. Crenshaw said, glancing at his daughter with steely dark eyes and an owl-like mixture of pride and disapproval that made him look scarier than he really was.

“Well, you look lovely, dear. Porsha will be thrilled to see you,” Eleanor trilled.

“You’re one to talk,” Chanel said, hugging her. “Look how skinny you are! And the house looks so fantastic. Wow. You’ve got some fabulous art!”

Mrs. Sinclaire smiled, obviously pleased, and wrapped her arm around Chanel’s long, slender waist. “Darling, I’d like you to meet my special friend, Cyrus Campbell,” she said. “Cyrus, this is Chanel.”

“Stunning,” Cyrus boomed. He kissed Chanel on both cheeks, and hugged her a little too tightly. “She’s a good hugger, too,” he added, patting her on the hip.

Chanel giggled, but she didn’t flinch. She’d spent a lot of time in Europe in the past two years, and she was used to being hugged by harmless, horny European gropers who found her completely irresistible. She was a full-on groper magnet.

“Chanel and Porsha are best, best, best _]friends,” Eleanor explained to him. “But Chanel went away to Hanover Academy in eleventh grade and spent this summer traveling. It was so hard for poor Porsha with you gone this past year, Chanel,” Eleanor said, growing misty-eyed. “Especially with the divorce. But you’re back now. Porsha will be so [_pleased.”

“Where is she?” Chanel asked eagerly, her perfect skin glowing with the prospect of seeing her old friend again. She stood on tip-toe and craned her head to look for Porsha, but she soon found herself surrounded by parents—the Braxtons, the Edwards, the Harrisons, and Mr. Sullivan—who each took turns kissing her and welcoming her back with the same mixture of rapture and loathing everyone battled in Chanel’s presence.

Chanel hugged them all happily. These people were home to her, and she’d been gone a long time. She could hardly wait for life to return to the way it used to be. She and Porsha would cut class together and lie on their backs in Sheep Meadow in Central Park, watching the clouds drift by overhead. They would have cocktails at the Star Lounge in the Tribeca Star Hotel again, which always turned into sleepovers because they would get too drunk to get home, so they’d spend the night in the suite Jaylen’s family kept there. They’d sprawl out on Porsha’s four-poster bed and watch all of Porsha’s favorite old movies, like Carmen Jones and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, wearing vintage lingerie and drinking vodka and cranberry juice. They’d drive around Chanel’s parents’ estate in Ridgefield, Connecticut, in the caretaker’s old Buick station wagon, singing the stupid hymns they sang in school and acting like crazy old ladies. They’d take Porsha’s little brother, Brice, to the Lower East Side and leave him there to see how long it took for him to find his way home—a work of charity, really, since Brice was now the most street-wise boy at St. George’s. They’d go out dancing with a huge group and lose ten pounds just from sweating in their leather pants. As if they needed to lose the weight.

They would go back to being their regular old fabulous selves, just like always. Everyone would secretly or not-so-secretly be jealous of them, but they’d both pretend not to notice because they didn’t need anyone else when they had each other. Chanel couldn’t wait.

“Got you a drink,” Jaylen said, elbowing the clusters of parents out of the way and handing Chanel a tumbler of whiskey. “Welcome back,” he added, ducking down to kiss her cheek and missing it intentionally so that his probing lips landed on her mouth.

“You haven’t changed,” Chanel said, accepting the drink. She took a long sip. “Did you miss me?”

“Miss you? The question is, did you miss me?” Jaylen said. “Come on, babe, spill. What are you doing back here? What happened? Do you have a boyfriend?”

“Oh, come on, Jaylen,” she said, squeezing his hand. “You know I came back because I want you so badly. I’ve always wanted you.”

Jaylen took a step back and cleared his throat, his face flushed. She’d caught him off guard, a rare feat. “Well, I’m all booked up for this month, but I can put you on the waiting list,” he said huffily, trying to regain his composure.

But Chanel was barely listening to him anymore. Her eyes scanned the room, looking for the two people she wanted to see most, Porsha and Kaliq. 

Finally she found them. Kaliq was standing by the doorway to the hall, and Porsha was standing just behind him, her head bowed, fiddling with the buttons on her black cardigan. Kaliq was looking directly at Chanel, and when her gaze met his, he bit his bottom lip the way he always did when he was embarrassed. And then he smiled.

That smile. Those eyes. That face.

“Come here,” Chanel mouthed at him, waving her hand. Her heart sped up as Kaliq began walking toward her. He looked better than she remembered, [_much _]better.

Kaliq’s heart was beating even faster than hers.

“Hey you,” Chanel breathed when he hugged her. He smelled just like he always smelled. Like the cleanest, most delicious boy alive. Tears came to Chanel’s eyes and she pressed her face into Kaliq’s chest. Now she was really home.

Kaliq’s whole body turned hot. Calm down, he told himself. But he couldn’t calm down. He felt like picking her up and twirling her around and kissing her face over and over. “I love you!” he wanted to shout, but he didn’t. He couldn’t.

Kaliq was the only biracial son of a Black navy captain and a French society hostess. His father was a master sailor and extremely handsome, but a little lacking in the hugs department. His mother was the complete opposite, always fawning over Kaliq and prone to emotional fits during which she would lock herself in her bedroom with a bottle of champagne and threaten to hang herself until someone bought her a new boat or a new house or a new fur coat. Poor Kaliq was always on the verge of saying how he really felt, but he didn’t want to make a scene or say something he might regret later. Instead, he kept quiet and let other people steer the boat, while he laid back and enjoyed the steady rocking of the waves. He might of looked like a stud, but he was actually pretty weak.

“So, what have you been up to?” Kaliq asked Chanel, trying to breathe normally. “We missed you.”

Notice that he wasn’t even brave enough to say, “I missed you”?

“What have I been up to?” Chanel repeated. She giggled. “If you only knew, Kaliq. I’ve been so, so bad!

Kaliq clenched his fists involuntarily. Man oh man, had he missed her.

4

Ignored as usual, Jaylen slunk away from Chanel and Kaliq and crossed the room to Porsha, who was once again standing with Alexis and Imani.

“A thousand bucks says she got kicked out,” Jaylen told them. “And doesn’t she look fucked? I think she’s been thoroughly fucked. Maybe she had some sort of prostitution ring going on up there. The Merry Madam of Hanover Academy,” he added, laughing at his own stupid joke.

“I think she looks kind of spaced out, too,” Alexis said. “Maybe she’s on heroin.”

“Or some prescription drug,” Imani said. “You know, like, Valium or Prozac. Maybe she’s gone totally nuts.”

“She could’ve been making her own E,” Alexis agreed. “She was always good at science.”

“I heard she joined some kind of cult,” Jaylen offered. “Like, she’s been brainwashed and now all she thinks about is sex and she like, has to do it all the time.”

How convenient. That sounds exactly like his favorite dream. 

[_When is dinner going to be ready? _]Porsha wondered, tuning out her friends’ ridiculous speculations. She had forgotten how silky Chanel’s hair was. How perfect her skin was. How long and smooth her legs were. What Kaliq’s eyes looked like when he looked at her—like he never wanted to blink. He never looked at Porsha that way, the fucker. She could kill him for looking at Chanel like that. Rip the heart right out of his sleeve and ram it down his throat. If only she didn’t love him so.

“Hey Porsh, Chanel must have told you she was coming back,” Jaylen said. “Come on, tell us. What’s the deal?”

Porsha stared back at him blankly, her small, foxlike face turning hot. The truth was, she hadn’t really spoken to Chanel in over a year. For all she knew, Chanel really had turned into a brainwashed prostitute slash drug manufacturer.

At first, when she had gone to boarding school after sophomore year, Porsha had really missed Chanel. But it soon became apparent how much easier it was to shine without Chanel around. Suddenly [_Porsha _]was the prettiest, the smartest, the hippest, most happening girl in the room. She became the one everyone looked to. So Porsha stopped missing Chanel so much. She’d felt a little guilty for not staying in touch, but even that had worn off when she’d received Chanel’s flip and impersonal text messages describing all the fun she was having at boarding school.

Hitchhiked to Vermont to snowboard. Spent nite with the sexiest guy. Danced his head off!

[
__]

Bad girl weekend. Head hurts. Boy clothes & shoes on my floor but no boy. Whered he go?

[
__]

The last news Porsha had received was a postcard this past summer.

Turned seventeen in Paris. Viva la France!—the most awesome place to live fast & die young. Miss you!!! XOXO, Chanel.

[
__]

Porsha had tucked the postcard into her old Fendi shoebox with all the other mementos from their friendship. A friendship she would cherish forever, but which she’d thought of as over…until now.

Chanel was back. The lid was off the shoebox, and everything would go back to the way it was before she left. As always, it would be Chanel and Porsha, Porsha and Chanel, with Porsha playing the smaller, fatter, darker best friend of the beautiful Chanel Crenshaw. 

Or not. Not if Porsha could help it.

“You must be so excited Chanel’s here!” Imani chirped. But when she saw the look on Porsha’s face, she changed her tune. “Of course Willard took her back. It’s so typical. They’re too desperate to lose any of us.” Imani lowered her voice. “I heard last spring Chanel was fooling around with some townie up in New Hampshire. She had an abortion,” she added.

“I bet it wasn’t her first one either,” Jaylen said. “Just look at her.”

And so they did. All four of them looked at Chanel, who was still chatting happily with Kaliq. Jaylen saw the girl he’d wanted to sleep with since he could remember wanting to sleep with girls—first grade, maybe? Alexis saw the girl she’d been copying since she started shopping for her own clothes—third grade? Imani saw the girl who’d gotten to be an angel with wings made out of real feathers at the Christmas pageant, while she was just a lowly shepherd and had to wear a burlap sack. Third grade again. Both Alexis and Imani saw the girl who always stole Porsha away from them, leaving them with only each other, which was too dull to even think about. And Porsha saw Chanel, her best friend, the girl she would always love and hate. The girl she could never measure up to and had tried so hard to replace. The girl she’d wanted everyone to forget.

For about ten seconds Porsha thought about telling her friends the truth: She didn’t know Chanel was coming back. But how would that look? Porsha was supposed to be plugged in, and how plugged in would she sound if she admitted she knew nothing about Chanel’s return, while her friends seemed to know so much? Porsha couldn’t very well stand there and say nothing. That would be too obvious. She [_always _]had something to say. Besides, who wanted to hear the truth when the truth was so incredibly boring? Porsha lived for drama. Here was her chance.

She cleared her throat. “It all happened very…suddenly,” she said mysteriously. She looked down and fiddled with the little ruby ring on the middle finger of her right hand. The film was rolling, and Porsha was just getting warmed up. “I think Chanel is pretty messed up about it. But I promised her I wouldn’t say anything.”

Her friends nodded as if they understood completely. It sounded serious and juicy, and best of all it sounded like Chanel had confided everything to Porsha. If only Porsha could script the rest of the movie, she’d wind up with the boy for sure. And Chanel could play the girl who falls off the cliff and cracks her skull on a rock and is eaten alive by hungry vultures, never to be seen again.

“Careful, Porsh,” Jaylen warned, nodding at Chanel and Kaliq, who were still talking in low voices over by the wet bar, their eyes never straying from each other’s faces. “Looks like Chanel’s already found her next victim.”

5

Chanel was holding Kaliq’s hand loosely in hers, swinging it back and forth.

“Remember Buck Naked?” she asked him, laughing softly.

Kaliq chuckled, still embarrassed, even after all these years. Buck Naked was his alter ego, invented at a party in eighth grade, when most of them had gotten drunk for the first time. After drinking six beers, Kaliq had taken his shirt off, and Chanel and Porsha had drawn a goofy, buck-toothed face on his torso in black marker. For some reason the face brought out the devil in Kaliq, and he started a drinking game. Everyone sat in a circle and he stood in the middle, holding a Latin textbook and shouting out verbs for them to conjugate. The first person to mess up had to drink and kiss Buck Naked. Of course they all messed up so Buck got a lot of action that night. The next morning, Kaliq tried to pretend it hadn’t happened, but the proof was inked on his skin. It took weeks for that thing to wash off in the shower.

“And what about the Red Sea?” Chanel said. She studied Kaliq’s face. Neither of them was smiling now.

“The Red Sea,” Kaliq repeated, drowning in the deep black lakes of her eyes. Of course he remembered. How could he forget?

One hot August weekend, the summer after tenth grade, Kaliq had been in the city with his dad, while the rest of the Braxton family was still in Maine. Chanel was up in her country house in Ridgefield, Connecticut, so bored she’d painted each of her fingernails and toenails a different color. Porsha was at the Sinclaire castle in Gleneagles, Scotland, at her aunt’s wedding. But that hadn’t stopped her two best friends from having fun without her. When Kaliq called, Chanel hopped right on the New Haven line into Grand Central Station.

He met her on the platform and she stepped off the train wearing a light blue dress and pink rubber flip-flops. Her silky black hair hung loose, just touching her bare shoulders. She wasn’t carrying a bag, not even a wallet or keys. To Kaliq, she looked like an angel. How lucky he was. Life didn’t get any better than the moment when Chanel flip-flopped down the platform, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed him on the lips. That wonderful, surprising kiss.

First they had martinis at the little bar upstairs by the Vanderbilt Avenue entrance to Grand Central. Then they got a cab straight up Park Avenue to Kaliq’s 82ndStreet townhouse. His father was entertaining some foreign bankers and was going to be out until very late, and Chanel and Kaliq had the place to themselves. Oddly enough, it was the first time they’d ever been alone together and noticed.

It didn’t take long.

They sat out in the garden, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Kaliq was wearing a long-sleeved polo shirt, and the weather was extremely hot, so he took it off. His shoulders were scattered with tiny freckles, and his back was muscled and brown from hours at the docks, building a sailboat with his father up in Maine.

Chanel was hot too, so she climbed into the fountain. In the center of the fountain was a marble statue of Venus de Milo—the Greek goddess of love and beauty. Chanel sat on Venus’s knee, giggling and splashing herself with water until her dress was soaked through.

It wasn’t difficult to see who the real goddess was. Venus looked like a lumpy pile of marble compared to Chanel. Kaliq staggered over to the fountain and got in with her, and soon they were tearing the rest of each other’s clothes off. It was August, after all. The only way to tolerate the city in August is to get naked.

Kaliq was worried about the neighbors and the security cameras trained on his parents’ house at all times, front and back, so he led Chanel inside and up to his parents’ bedroom.

The rest is history.

They both had sex for the first time. It was awkward and painful and exciting and fun, and so sweet they forgot to be embarrassed. It was exactly the way you’d want your first time to be, and they had no regrets. Afterwards, they turned on the television, which was tuned to the History Channel, a documentary about the Red Sea. Chanel and Kaliq lay in bed, holding each other and looking up at the clouds through the skylight overhead, while they listened to the narrator of the program talk about Moses parting the Red Sea.

Chanel thought that was hilarious.

“You parted my Red Sea!” she howled, wrestling Kaliq against the pillows.

Kaliq laughed and rolled her up in the sheet like a mummy. “And now I will leave you here as a sacrifice to the Holy Land!” he said in a deep, horror movie voice.

And he did leave her, for a little while. He got up and ordered a huge feast of Chinese food and bad white wine, and they lay in bed and ate and drank, and he parted her Red Sea once again before the sky grew dark and the stars twinkled in the skylight.

A week later, Chanel went away to boarding school at Hanover Academy, while Kaliq and Porsha stayed behind in New York. Ever since, Chanel had spent every vacation away—the Austrian Alps at Christmas, Dominican Republic for Easter, the summer traveling in Europe. This was the first time she’d been back, the first time she and Kaliq had seen each other since the parting of the Red Sea.

“Porsha doesn’t know, does she?” Chanel asked Kaliq quietly.

[_Porsha who? _]Kaliq thought, with a momentary case of amnesia. He shook his head. “No,” he said. “If you haven’t told her, she doesn’t know.”

But Jaylen Harrison knew, which was almost worse. Kaliq had blurted the information out at a party only two nights ago in a drunken fit of complete stupidity. They’d been doing shots, and Jaylen had asked, “So, Kaliq. What was your all time best fuck? That is, if you’ve done it all yet.”

“Well, I did it with Chanel Crenshaw,” Kaliq had bragged, like an idiot.

And Jaylen wasn’t going to keep it a secret for long. It was way too juicy and way too useful. Jaylen didn’t need to read that book How to Win Friends and Influence People. He fucking wrote it. Although he wasn’t doing so well in the friends department.

Chanel didn’t seem to notice Kaliq’s uncomfortable silence. She sighed, bowing her head to rest it on his shoulder. She no longer smelled like Gucci’s Cristalle like she always used to. She smelled like honey and sandalwood and lilies—her own essential-oil mixture. The scent was very Chanel, utterly irresistible, but if anyone else tried to wear it, it would probably smell like dog poo.

“Oh Kaliq,” she sighed, wishing this bittersweet moment would never end. “I missed you like crazy. I wish you could’ve seen the stuff I pulled. I was so bad.”

“What do you mean? What did you do that was so bad?” Kaliq asked, with a mixture of dread and anticipation. For a brief second he imagined her hosting orgies in her dorm room at Hanover Academy and having affairs with older men in hotel rooms in Paris. He wished he could’ve visited her in Europe this summer. He’d always wanted to have sex in a hotel.

“And I’ve been such a horrible friend, too,” Chanel went on. “I’ve barely even talked to Porsha since I left. And so much has happened. I can already tell she’s mad. She hasn’t even said hello.”

“She’s not mad,” Kaliq said. “Maybe she’s just feeling shy.”

Chanel flashed him a look. “Right,” she said mockingly. “Porsha’s feeling shy. Since when has Porsha ever been shy?”

“Well, she’s not mad,” Kaliq insisted.

Chanel shrugged. “Well, anyway, I’m so psyched to be back. We’ll do all the things we used to do. Me and Porsha will cut class and meet you on the roof of the Met, and then we’ll run down to that old movie theater by the Plaza Hotel and see some weird film until cocktail hour starts. And then we’ll get drunk and pass out and eat a huge breakfast in the morning. And you and Porsha will stay together forever and I’ll be the maid of honor at your wedding. We’ll live happily ever after, just like in the movies.”

Kaliq frowned.

“Don’t make that face,” Chanel said, laughing. “That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?”

Kaliq shrugged. “No, I guess it sounds okay,” he said hesitantly, although he clearly didn’t believe it.

“What sounds okay?” a surly voice demanded.

Startled, Kaliq and Chanel tore their eyes away from each other. It was Jaylen, and with him were Alexis, Imani, and, last but not least, Porsha, looking very shy indeed.

Jaylen clapped Kaliq on the back. “Sorry, man,” he said. “But you can’t keep Chanel to yourself all night.”

Kaliq snorted and tipped back his glass. Only ice was left.

Chanel looked at Porsha. Or at least, she tried to. Porsha was making a big deal of pulling up her black stockings, working them inch by inch from her ankles up to her knees, and up around her tennis-muscled thighs. So Chanel gave up and kissed first Alexis, then Imani, and then she made her way to Porsha.

There was only a limited amount of time Porsha could spend pulling up her tights before it got ridiculous. When Chanel was only inches away from her, she looked up and pretended to be surprised.

“Hey Porsh!” Chanel said excitedly. She put her hands on the shorter girl’s shoulders and bent down to kiss both of her cheeks. “I’m so sorry I didn’t call you before I came back. I wanted to. But things have been [_so _]crazy. I have so much to tell you!”

Jaylen, Alexis, and Imani all nudged each other and stared at Porsha. It was pretty obvious she had lied. She didn’t know anything about Chanel coming back.

Porsha’s face heated up.

Busted.

Esther had just put a sizzling pot of cod cheek foundue on the side table. Sharp, long-handled fondue forks ringed the table. Porsha could grab one, stab Chanel through her annoyingly swanlike neck until the fork came out the other side, grab Kaliq, and whisk him away to the Pierre Hotel, where they could finally have sex without interruption.

Kaliq noticed the tension, but he thought it was for an entirely different reason. Had Jaylen told Porsha already? Was [_he _]busted? Kaliq couldn’t tell. Porsha wasn’t even looking at him. It was a chilly moment. Not the kind of moment you’d expect to have with your oldest, closest friends.

Chanel’s eyes darted from one face to another. Clearly she had said something wrong, and she quickly guessed what it was. I’m so clueless, she scolded herself.

“I mean, I’m sorry I didn’t call you last night. I literally just got back from Connecticut. My parents have been hiding me there until they figured out what to do with me. I have been so bored.”

Nice save.

She waited for Porsha to smile gratefully for covering for her, but all Porsha did was glance at Alexis and Imani to see if they’d noticed the slip. Porsha was acting strange, and Chanel fought down a rising panic. Maybe Kaliq was wrong, maybe Porsha really was mad at her. Chanel had missed out on so much. The divorce, for instance. Poor Porsha.

“It must really suck without your dad around,” Chanel said. “But your mom looks so good, and Cyrus is kind of sweet, once you get used to him.” She giggled.

But Porsha still wasn’t smiling. “Maybe,” she said, staring out the window at the hot dog stand. She imagined stuffing about fifty of them, complete with buns and sauerkraut and ketchup and relish, down Chanel’s lovely throat. “I guess I’m still not used to him.”

All six of them were silent for a long, tense moment. What they needed was one more good, stiff drink.

Kaliq rattled the ice cubes in his glass. “Who wants another?” he offered. “I’ll make them.”

Chanel held out her glass. “Thanks, Kaliq,” she said. “I’m so fucking thirsty. They locked the damned booze cabinet up in Conneticut. Can you believe it?”

Porsha remained silent but shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “When you’re around, Chanel, everyone has to prepare for the worst.”

“If I have another drink, I’ll be hungover at school tomorrow,” Alexis said.

Imani laughed. “You’re always hungover at school,” she said. She handed Kaliq her glass. “Here, I’ll split mine with Alexis.”

“Let me give you a hand,” Jaylen offered.

But before the boys could get started on refills, Mrs. Crenshaw joined them, touching her daughter’s arm. “Eleanor would like us all to sit down. She made an extra place next to Porsha for you, so you two girls can catch up.”

Chanel cast an anxious glance at Porsha, but Porsha had already turned away and was headed for the table, sitting down next to her eleven-year-old brother, Brice, who had been at his place for over an hour, reading Rolling Stone magazine. Brice was one of those people who refused to listen to an iPod or even CDs, insisting that real vinyl records were the only way to go. Porsha worried her brother was turning into a loser.

Chanel steeled herself and pulled up a chair in the space next to Porsha.

“Porsh, I’m sorry I’ve been such a complete bitch,” she said, removing her linen napkin from its silver ring and spreading it out on her lap. “Your parents splitting up must have really sucked.”

Porsha shrugged and grabbed a fresh sourdough roll from a basket on the table. She tore the roll in half and stuffed one half into her mouth. The other guests were still making their way toward the table and figuring out where to sit. Porsha knew it was rude to eat before everyone was seated, but if her mouth was full, she couldn’t talk, and she really didn’t feel like talking.

“I wish I’d been here,” Chanel said, watching Porsha smear the other half of her roll with a thick slab of French butter. “But I had a crazy year. I have the most insane stories to tell you.”

Porsha nodded and chewed her roll slowly, like a cow chewing its cud. Chanel waited for Porsha to ask her what kind of stories, but Porsha didn’t say anything, she just kept on chewing. She didn’t want to hear about all the fabulous things Chanel had done while she was away and Porsha had been stuck at home, watching her parents fight over antique chairs that nobody sat on, teacups nobody used, and ugly, expensive paintings.

Chanel had wanted to tell Porsha about Charles, the only Rastafarian at Hanover Academy, who’d asked her to elope with him to Jamaica. About Nicholas, the French college guy who never wore underwear and who’d chased her train in a tiny Fiat all the way from Paris to Milan. About smoking hash in Amsterdam and sleeping in a park with a group of drunk prostitutes because she forgot where she was staying. She wanted to tell Porsha how much it sucked to find out that Hanover Academy wouldn’t take her back senior year simply because she’d blown off the first few weeks of school. She wanted to tell her how scared she was to go back to Emma Willard tomorrow because she hadn’t exactly been studying very hard in the last year and she felt so completely out of touch.

But Porsha wasn’t interested. She grabbed another roll and took a big bite.

“Wine, miss?” Esther asked, standing at Chanel’s left with the bottle.

“Yes, thank you,” Chanel said. She watched the Côte du Rhone spill into her glass and thought of the Red Sea once more. Maybe Porsha does know, she thought. Was that what this was all about? Was that why she was acting so weird? She glanced at Kaliq, four chairs down on the right, but he was deep in conversation with her father. Talking about sailboats, no doubt.

“So, you and Kaliq are still together?” Chanel asked, taking a risk. “I bet you guys wind up married.”

Porsha gulped her wine, her little ruby ring rattling against the glass. She reached for the butter, slapping another great big wad on her roll.

Hello? Porsha? Aren’t you going to talk to me?” Chanel asked, nudging her friend’s arm in desperation. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Porsha slurred. It was less an answer to Chanel’s question than a vague, general statement made to fill a blank space while she was tending to her roll. “I’m fine.”

Esther brought out the duck and the acorn squash soufflé, and the table was filled with the sound of clanking plates and silver and murmurs of “delicious.” Porsha heaped her plate high with food and attacked it as if she hadn’t eaten in weeks. She didn’t care if she made herself sick, as long as she didn’t have to talk to Chanel.

“Whoa.” Chanel watched Porsha stuff her face. “You must be hungry.”

Porsha nodded and shoveled a forkful of chard into her mouth. She washed it down with a gulp of wine. “I’m starving,” she said.

“So, Chanel,” Cyrus called down from the head of the table. “Tell me about France. Your mother says you were in the South of France this summer. Is it true the French girls don’t wear tops on the beach?”

“Yes, it’s true.” Chanel raised one eyebrow playfully. “But it’s not just the French girls. I never wore a top down there, either. How else could I get a decent tan?”

Porsha gagged on an enormous bite of soufflé and spat it into her wine. It floated on the surface of the crimson liquid like a soggy dumpling until Esther whisked it away and brought her a clean glass.

No one noticed. Chanel had the table’s attention, and she kept her audience captive with stories of her travels in Europe right through dessert. Porsha had finished her second plate of duck, followed by a huge bowl full of chocolate-laced pudding, tuning out Chanel’s voice as she spooned it into her mouth. Finally her stomach rebelled, and she shot up suddenly, scraping her chair back and running down the hall to her bedroom, straight into its adjoining bathroom.

“Porsha?” Chanel called after her. She stood up and hurried off to follow her.

When Jaylen saw Porsha get up from the table, and then Chanel, he nodded knowingly and nudged Imani with his elbow. “Porsha’s getting the dirt,” he whispered. “Fucking awesome.”

Kaliq watched the two girls flee the table with a mounting sense of unease. He was pretty sure the only thing girls talked about in the bathroom was sex.

And mostly, he’d be right.

Porsha kneeled over the toilet and stuck her middle finger as far down her throat as it would go. Her eyes began to tear and then her stomach convulsed. She’d done this before, many times. It was disgusting and horrible, and she knew she shouldn’t do it, but at least she’d feel better when it was over.

The door to her bathroom was only half closed, and Chanel could hear her friend retching inside. “Porsh, it’s me,” she said quietly. “Are you okay?”

“I’ll be out in a minute,” Porsha snapped, wiping her mouth. She stood up and flushed the toilet. Chanel pushed the door open and she turned and glared at her. “I’m fine,” she insisted. “Really.”

Chanel put the lid down on the toilet seat and sat down. “Oh, don’t be such a bitch, Porsha,” she said, exasperated. “What’s the deal? It’s me, remember? We know everything about each other.”

Porsha reached for her toothbrush and toothpaste. “We used to,” she said and began brushing her teeth furiously. She spat out a wad of green foam. “When was the last time we talked, anyway? Like, the summer before last?”

Chanel looked down at her scuffed brown leather boots. “I know. I’m sorry. I suck.”

Porsha rinsed her toothbrush off and stuck it back in the holder. She stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. “Well, you missed a lot,” she said, wiping a smudge of mascara from beneath her eye with the tip of her pinky. “I mean, last year was really…different.” She’d been about to say “hard,” but “hard” made her sound like a victim. Like she’d barely survived without Chanel around. “Different” was better.

With a sudden sense of power, Porsha glanced down at Chanel sitting on the toilet. 

“Kaliq and I have become really close, you know. We tell each other everything.”

Yeah, right.

The two girls eyed each other warily for a moment. Then Chanel shrugged. “Well don’t worry about me and Kaliq,” she said. “We’re just cool, you know that. And besides, I’m tired of boys.”

The corners of Porsha’s mouth curled up. Chanel obviously wanted her to ask why, [_why _]was she tired of boys? But Porsha wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction. She tugged her sweater down and glanced at her reflection one more time. “We’re missing the espresso,” she announced, and abruptly left the bathroom.

Shit, Chanel thought, staying put. It was no use going after Porsha now, while she was obviously in such a crappy mood. Things would be better tomorrow at school. She and Porsha would have one of their famous heart-to-hearts in the lunchroom over lemon yogurts and romaine lettuce. It wasn’t like they could just stop being friends.

She stood up and examined her eyebrows in the bathroom mirror, using Porsha’s tweezers to pluck a few stray hairs. She pulled a tube of MAC’s Gash lipstick from her pocket and smeared another layer on her lips. When she returned to the table, Porsha was eating her second helping of pudding and Kaliq was drawing a small-scale picture of his sailboat for Cyrus on the back of a matchbook. Across the table Jaylen raised his wine glass to clink it with Chanel’s. She had no idea what she was toasting, but she was always up for anything.

6

“Chanel? Aren’t you up?” Lillian Crenshaw glided into her daughter’s room the next morning and swept back the heavy white curtains cloaking the windows. “You’re going to school today, remember? They’re expecting you.”

A streak of light fell upon Chanel’s closed, long-lashed eyelids.

Her mother ducked under the bed’s white eyelet canopy and tugged back the heavy white quilt. “Chanel, honestly. We don’t want any trouble on your first day.”

As if being late was such a terrible crime.

“But Mom,” Chanel moaned, yanking her skimpy gray nightgown down over her hips. “It’s freezing!”

Ignoring her daughter’s protests, Lillian opened the closet door and rifled through the clothes. Something scratchy and heavy landed on Chanel’s long, bare legs.

“There’s your new uniform,” her mother instructed. “Hurry up and put it on.”

Before leaving for boarding school, Chanel had burned all her old school uniforms and flushed them down the garbage chute. Last week Lillian had purchased two new ones from Emma Willard’s online store. One for winter and one for spring.

Chanel sat up and fingered the pleated maroon skirt. “Pretty,” she yawned with lazy disinterest. She glanced outside. The Metropolitan Museum of Art stared coldly back at her from across Fifth Avenue, its cool limestone steps abandoned and lifeless save for a lone tourist wearing a backpack and a beret. “Wait,” she demanded. “Where is everybody?”

Her mother pulled open the top drawer of her dresser, frowning with displeasure at the tangled array of bras, underwear, and socks tucked inside. “Where do you think they are? At school already. Tights. Where do you keep your tights?”

Chanel bolted out of bed and shoved her mother out of the way. “Thank you. I’ve got it. I can dress myself.”

Ten minutes later, Chanel stood in the penthouse foyer, chewing a croissant as she waited for the elevator. Her Burberry raincoat was unbuttoned. Her Ralph Lauren boots were untied. Her tights were old and holey. Her Brooks Brothers boy’s shirt was tattered and frayed. And her hair was unbrushed.

But at least she was on her way.

7

“Welcome back, girls,” Mrs. McLean said, standing behind the podium at the front of the school auditorium. “I hope you all had a terrific long weekend. I spent the weekend in Vermont, and it was absolutely heavenly.”

All seven hundred students at the Emma Willard School for Girls, kindergarten through twelfth grade, and its fifty faculty and staff members, tittered discreetly. Everyone knew Mrs. McLean had a girlfriend up in Vermont. Her name was Vonda, and she drove a tractor. Mrs. McLean had a tattoo on her inner thigh that said “Ride Me, Vonda,” with a picture of two naked women with snakes for hair and wolf heads.

It’s true, swear to God.

Mrs. McLean, or Mrs. M, as the girls called her, was their headmistress. It was her job to put forth the cream of the crop—send the girls off to the best colleges, the best marriages, the best lives—and she was very good at what she did. She had no patience for losers, and if she caught one of her girls acting like a loser—persistently calling in sick or doing poorly on the SATs—she would call in the shrinks, counselors, and tutors and make sure the girl got the personal attention she needed to get good grades, high scores, no criminal record, and a warm welcome to the college of her choice.

Mrs. M also didn’t tolerate meanness. Emma Willard was supposed to be a school free of cliques and prejudice of any sort. Her favorite saying was, “When you assume, you make an ass out of u _]and [_me.” The slightest slander of one girl by another was punished with a day in isolation and a seriously difficult essay assignment. But those punishments were a rare necessity. Mrs. M was blissfully ignorant of what really went on in the school. She certainly couldn’t hear the whispering going on in the very back of the auditorium, where the seniors sat, dissecting the social dramas of the day. 

“I thought you said Chanel was coming back today,” Rain Hoffstetter whispered to Imani Edwards.

That morning, Porsha and Alexis and Imani and Rain had all met on their usual stoop around the corner for cigarettes and coffee before school started. They had been doing the same thing every morning for two years, and they half expected Chanel to join them. But school had started ten minutes ago, and Chanel still hadn’t shown up.

Porsha couldn’t help feeling annoyed at Chanel for creating even more mystery around her return than there already was. Her friends were practically squirming in their seats, eager to catch their first glimpse of Chanel, as if she were some kind of celebrity.

“She’s probably too drugged up to come to school today,” Imani whispered back. “I swear, she spent like, an hour in the bathroom last night at Porsha’s house. Who knows what she was doing in there.”

“I heard she’s selling these pills with the letter C stamped on them. She’s completely addicted to them,” Alexis told them. “And last night these guys I know got a handful of pills from some light skinned chick on the steps of the Met. They had the letter C all over them. Coincidence, or what?”

“Wait till you see her,” Imani told Rain. “She’s a total mess.”

“Really?” Rain whispered back. “I heard the police in New Hampshire found her naked in a field, with a bunch of dead chickens. They thought she was into some kind of voodoo shit or something.”

Alexis giggled. “I wonder if she’ll ask us to join.”

Hello?” said Imani. “She can dance around naked with chickens all she wants, but I don’t want to be there. No way.”

“Where can you get live chickens in the city, anyway?” Alexis asked.

“I don’t know, Brooklyn? Ew,” Rain shuddered.

“Now, I’d like to begin by singing a hymn. If you would please rise and open up your hymnals to page forty-three,” Mrs. M instructed.

Mrs. Weeds, the frizzy-haired hippie music teacher, began banging out the first few chords of the familiar hymn on the piano in the corner. Then all seven hundred girls stood up and began to sing. 

Their voices floated down 93rdStreet, where Chanel was just turning the corner, cursing herself for being late. She hadn’t woken up this early since her eleventh grade final exams at Hanover last June, and she’d forgotten how badly it sucked.

Hark the herald Angels si-ing!

Glo-ry to the newborn king!

Peace on Earth and mercy mi-ild

God and sin-ners reconciled.”

[
__]

8

Emma Willard ninth grader, Bree Hargrove silently mouthed the words, sharing with her neighbor the hymnal which she herself had been commissioned to pen in her exceptional calligraphy. It had taken all summer, and the hymnals were beautiful. In three years the Pratt Institute of Art and Design would surely be knocking her door down. Still, Bree felt sick with embarrassment every time they used the hymnals, which was why she couldn’t sing out loud. To sing aloud seemed like an act of bravado, as if she were saying, “Look at me, I’m singing along to the hymnals I made! Aren’t I cool?”

Bossy and defiant at home with her father and brother, Bree rarely spoke at all in school. She had only one friend in her class, a pushy, overconfident girl named Asia Respers. Mostly Bree watched the popular and beautiful older girls, like Porsha Sinclaire, Alexis Sullivan, Imani Edwards, and Rain Hoffstetter, studying them with hungry intensity, hating them and loving them, mimicking them and dreading them. She wanted desperately to be a part of their special world, but at the same time they terrified her. To them she was smaller than a pimple. She was practically invisible. 

Bree was also a curly-haired, tiny little freshman, so invisible wasn’t a hard thing to be. Actually, it would have been a lot easier if her boobs weren’t incredibly huge. At fourteen, she was a 34D. 

Can you imagine?

Her boobs were so unfortunately gigantic that they were her only noticeable feature besides her big, brown, baby-doll eyes. She was like the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, except instead of a sponge with feet and arms she was a walking pair of boobs.

BreeBob BoobyPants?

Hark the heavenly host proclaims,

Christ i-is born in Beth-le-hem!”

[
__]

Bree was standing at the end of a row of folding chairs, next to the big auditorium windows overlooking 93rdStreet. Suddenly a movement out on the street caught her eye. Silky hair flying. Plaid Burberry coat. Scuffed brown suede boots. New maroon uniform—odd choice, but she made it work. It looked like…it couldn’t be…could it possibly…No!…Was it?

Yes, it was.

A moment later Chanel Crenshaw pushed open the heavy wooden door of the auditorium and stood in the doorway, looking for her class. She was out of breath and her hair was windblown. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were bright from running the twelve blocks up Fifth Avenue to school. She looked even more perfect than Bree had remembered. When it came to utter beauty and absolute coolness, Chanel Crenshaw blew every last one of the other senior girls away.

“Oh.My.God,” Rain whispered to Alexis in the back of the room. “Did she like, pick up her clothes at a homeless shelter on the way here?”

“She didn’t even brush her hair,” Imani giggled. “I wonder where she slept last night.”

Mrs. Weeds ended the hymn with a crashing chord and Mrs. M cleared her throat. “And now, a moment of silence for those less fortunate than we are. Especially for the Native Americans that were slaughtered in the founding of this country, of whom we ask no hard feelings for celebrating Columbus Day yesterday.”

The room fell silent. Well, almost.

“Look, see how Chanel’s resting her hands on her stomach? She’s probably pregnant,” Imani whispered to Rain. “You only do that when you’re pregnant.”

“She could have had an abortion this morning. Maybe that’s why she’s late,” Rain whispered back.

“My father gives money to Phoenix House,” Alexis told another senior, Lauren Salmon. “I’m going to find out if Chanel’s been there. I bet that’s why she came back halfway through term. She’s been in rehab.”

“I hear they’re doing this thing in boarding school where they mix Comet and cinnamon and instant coffee and snort it. It’s like cocaine, but it makes your hair fall out if you do it too long,” Nicki Button piped up from her seat in front of Alexis. “You go blind, and then you die.”

Porsha caught snippets of her friends’ chatter, and it made her smile. 

Mrs. M turned to nod at Chanel. “Girls, I’d like you all to welcome back our old friend Chanel Crenshaw. Chanel will be rejoining the senior class today.” Mrs. M smiled. “Why don’t you find a seat, Chanel?”

Chanel walked lightly down the center aisle of the auditorium and sat down in an empty chair next to a chronic nosepicking second grader named Lisa Sykes.

Bree could hardly contain herself. Chanel Crenshaw! She was there, in the same room, only a few feet away. So real. And so mature looking now. Sordid stories about Chanel had already trickled down to the ninth grade, along with tales of her boarding school adventures. To a young girl like Bree, nothing was more alluring than a scandal-ridden senior.

Her hair is longer, silkier. Her eyes have that deep mysteriousness of kept secrets. She’s wearing the same old fabulous clothes, now in rags from fending off New England storms.

Still staring at Chanel, she uncapped her favorite black calligraphy pen and began to doodle a soaring silky-haired angel in the margin of her hymnal. 

I wonder how many times she’s done it, Bree thought to herself. She imagined Chanel and a Hanover boy leaning against the trunk of a big old tree, his coat wrapped around both of them. Chanel had had to sneak out of her dorm without a coat. She was very cold, and she got tree sap in her hair, but it was worth it.

Then Bree pictured Chanel and another imaginary boy on a ski lift. The ski lift got stuck and Chanel climbed into the boy’s lap to get warm. They began to kiss and they couldn’t stop themselves. By the time they were done, the ski lift had started again and their skis were all tangled up, so they stayed on the chair and rode it downhill and did it again.

How cool, Bree thought. Hands down, Chanel Crenshaw was absolutely the coolest girl in the entire world. Definitely cooler than any of the other seniors. And how cool to come in late, in the middle of the term, looking like that.

No matter how rich and fabulous you were, boarding school does have a way of making you look like a homeless person. A glamorous one, in Chanel’s case. 

She hadn’t had her ends trimmed in over a year. Last night she’d pulled her hair back for the Sinclaires’ party, but today it was down and looking pretty shaggy. Her white boy’s oxford shirt was frayed in the collar and cuffs, and through it, her purple lace bra was visible. On her feet was her favorite pair of brown lace-up boots, and her black stockings had a big hole behind one knee. But her new uniform was what stuck out the most.

The new uniforms were the plague of the sixth grade, which was the year Willard girls graduated from a tunic to a skirt. The new skirts were made out of polyester and had pleats that were unnaturally rigid. The material had a terrible, tacky sheen and came in a new color: maroon. It was hideous. And it was this maroon uniform that Chanel had chosen to wear on her first day back at Emma Willard. Plus, hers came all the way down to her knees! All of the other seniors were wearing the same old navy blue wool skirts they’d been wearing since sixth grade. They’d grown so much their skirts were extremely short. The shorter the skirt, the cooler the girl. Porsha actually hadn’t grown that much, so she’d secretly had hers shortened.

“What the fuck is she wearing, anyway?” Alexis hissed.

“Maybe she thinks the maroon looks like Prada or something,” Lauren sniggered back.

“I think she’s trying to make some kind of statement,” Imani whispered. “Like, look at me, I’m Chanel, I’m beautiful, I can wear whatever I want.”

And she can, Porsha thought. That was one of the things that always infuriated her about Chanel. She looked good in anything.

But never mind how Chanel looked. What Bree and every other person in the room wanted to know was: Why is she back?

They craned their necks to see. Did she have a black eye? Was she pregnant? Did she look high? Did she have all her teeth? Was there anything truly different about her at all?

“Is that a scar on her cheek?” Rain whispered.

“She was knifed one night dealing drugs,” Alexis whispered back. “I heard she had plastic surgery in Europe this summer, but they didn’t do a very good job.”

Mrs. McLean was reading out loud now. Chanel sat back in her chair, crossed her legs, and closed her eyes, basking in the old familiar feeling of sitting in this room full of girls, listening to Mrs. M.’s voice. She didn’t know why she’d been so nervous that morning before school. She was home now. This was where she belonged. Sure, she’d overslept and gotten dressed in five minutes—ripping a hole in her black stockings with a jagged toenail—but so what? She’d even chosen her brother, Cairo’s frayed old shirt to wear because it smelled like him. Cairo had gone to the same boarding school as her, but now he was away at college, and she missed him terribly.

Just as she was leaving the apartment, her mother caught sight of her and would have made her change her clothes if Chanel hadn’t been so late. “This weekend,” her mother said, “we’re going shopping, and I’m taking you to my salon. You can’t go around looking like that here, Chanel. I don’t care how they let you dress in boarding school.” Then she kissed her daughter on the cheek and went back to bed.

“Oh my God, I think she’s asleep,” Alexis whispered to Lauren.

“Maybe she’s just tired,” Lauren whispered back. “I heard she got kicked out for sleeping with every boy on campus. There were notches in the wall above her bed. Her roommate snitched on her, that’s the only way they found out.”

“Plus, all those late night chicken dances,” Imani added, sending the girls into a giggling frenzy.

Porsha bit her lip, fighting back the laughter. It was just too funny.

9

The minute Prayers was dismissed, Bree pushed past her classmates and darted out into the hallway to make a phone call. Her brother, Mekhi, was going to totally lose his shit when she told him.

“Hello?” Mekhi Hargrove answered his cell phone on the third ring in his toneless speaking-from-the-land-of-the-dead voice. He was standing on the corner of 77^th ^Street and West End Avenue, outside Riverside Prep, smoking a cigarette. He squinted his dark brown eyes, trying to block out the harsh October sunlight. Mekhi wasn’t into sun. He spent most of his free time in his room, reading morbid, existentialist poetry about the bitter fate of being human. His skin was dark, his twists were shaggy, and his body was Wiz Khalifa thin.

Existentialism has a way of killing your appetite.

“Guess who’s back?” Mekhi heard his little sister squeal excitedly into the phone. Like Mekhi, Bree was a bit of a loner, and when she needed someone to talk to, she always called him. She was the one who had bought them both iPhones. And it was a good thing too, because Mekhi was more of a loner than she was. Sometimes he went for days without speaking. He’d even considered cutting out his own tongue, just to see if it would make any difference to anyone, including himself.

“Bree, can’t this wait?” Mekhi responded hoarsely, sounding annoyed in the way that only older brothers can.

“Chanel Crenshaw!” Bree interrupted him. “Chanel is back at Willard. I saw her in Prayers. Can you believe it?”

Mekhi watched a plastic coffee cup lid skitter down the sidewalk. A red Prius sped down West End Avenue and through a yellow light. His socks suddenly felt damp inside his brown suede Wallabees.

Chanel Crenshaw. He took a long drag on his Newport. His hands were shaking so much he almost missed his mouth.

“Mekhi?” his sister squeaked into the phone. “Can you hear me? Did you hear what I said? Chanel is back. Chanel Crenshaw.”

Mekhi wasn’t even listening. He was too distracted by his golden memories of Chanel: her deep, almond shaped eyes, her swinging swath of luxurious black hair, the way the world seemed to be perfectly lit in her presence. Chanel. He closed his eyes dizzily and then opened them agan. Chanel

“Watch it!” a bicycle messenger shouted as Mekhi stepped blindly off the curb. He was always stepping blindly off curbs, as if willing that moment’s sudden intake of breath to be his very last. But now Chanel was back in town. He stepped up onto the curb again.

“Mekhi? Hello? Are you alive?”

“Yeah, I heard you,” he said, sucking in his breath sharply and feigning disinterest. “So what?”

“So what?” Bree said incredulously. “Oh, right, like you didn’t just have a mini heart attack. You’re so full of it, Mekhi.”

“No, I’m serious,” he said, pissily. “What are you calling me for? What do I care?”

Bree sighed loudly. Her brother could be so irritating. Why couldn’t he just act happy for once? She was so tired of his miserable, fake-deep, introspective poet act. Half the reason she called him during the school day was to make sure he hadn’t thrown himself in front of a bus or locked himself in the furnace room at school. Mekhi courted death the way most teenage boys court pretty girls. Someone had to make sure he was still alive.

“Nevermind,” she sighed again. “Forget it. Eat something. Drink something other than coffee. Get some exercise. I’ll talk to you later.”

She clicked off and Mekhi shoved his cell phone back into the pocket of his faded black corduroys. He snatched a pack of cigarettes out of his back pocket and lit another one with the burning stub of the one he was already smoking. His thumbnail got singed, but he didn’t even feel it.

Chanel Crenshaw.

They had first met at a party. No, that wasn’t exactly true. Mekhi had seen her at a party,[_ his_] party, the only one he’d ever had at his family’s apartment on 99^th ^and West End Avenue.

It was April of eighth grade, and Mekhi was thirteen. The party was ten-year-old Bree’s idea, and their father, Rufus Hargrove, the infamous retired editor of lesser-known Beat poets and a party animal himself, was happy to oblige. Their mother had already moved to Prague a few years before to “focus on her art.” Rufus had been watching Criminal Minds and had realized that Mekhi had all the makings of a serial killer: abandoned by his mother at a young age; still wet the bed sometimes; loved to set things on fire, including his sister’s hair and their large domestic cat, Marx. So far Mekhi hadn’t shown any interest in actually killing anyone but himself, but Rufus thought his son needed to get out more, engage with kids his own age.

Rufus had sent out an e-mail from Mekhi’s account inviting Mekhi’s entire class to the party and asking them to invite as many people as they wanted. More than a hundred kids showed up, and Rufus kept the beer flowing out of a keg in the bathtub, getting many of the kids drunk for the first time. It was the best party Mekhi had ever been to, even if he did say so himself. Not because of the alcohol, but because Chanel Crenshaw was there. Never mind that she had gotten wasted and wound up playing a stupid Latin drinking game and kissing some guy’s stomach with pictures scrawled all over it in magic marker. Mekhi couldn’t keep his eyes off her. Finally, he’d found a reason to live. 

After the party, Bree told him that Chanel went to her school, Emma Willard, and from then on Bree was his little emissary, reporting everything she’d seen Chanel do, say, wear, etc., and informing Mekhi about any upcoming events where he might catch a glimpse of her again. Those events were rare. Not because there weren’t a lot of them―there were―but because there weren’t many Mekhi had even a chance of going to. Mekhi didn’t inhabit the same world as Chanel and Porsha and Kaliq and Jaylen. He wasn’t anybody. He was just a regular kid―a depressed and lonely stray from the Upper West Side.

For two years Mekhi followed Chanel, yearningly, from a distance. He never spoke to her. When she went away to boarding school, he tried to forget about her, sure that he would never see her again, unless by some act of magic they wound up at the same college.

And now she was back.

Mekhi walked halfway down the block, then turned around and walked back again. His mind was racing. He could have another party. He could make invitations and get Bree to slip one into Chanel’s locker at school. When Chanel came to his apartment, Mekhi would walk right up to her and take her mink coat, and graciously welcome her back to New York.

It rained every day you were gone, he’d say, poetically.

Then they would sneak into his father’s library and take each other’s clothes off and kiss on the leather couch in front of the fire. And when everyone left the party, they would share a bowl of coffee ice cream, Mekhi’s favorite. From then on they would spend every minute together. They would even transfer to a coed high school for the rest of senior year because they couldn’t stand to be apart. Then they would go to Columbia and live in a cramped, unheated studio apartment with nothing in it but a huge bed and a view of the same cold Hudson River that Mekhi had wanted to jump into on so many bleak nights. Chanel’s friends would try to lure her back to her old life, but no charity ball, no exclusive black-tie dinner, no expensive party favor could tempt her. She wouldn’t care if she had to give up her trust fund and her great-grandmother’s diamonds. Chanel would be willing to live in squalor if it meant she could be with Mekhi. And when they died, they would die together, holding hands, like Romeo and Juliet, only better.

Brittle bones, hot lips―

Spring, summer, autumn, winter.

Only the worms know.

[
__]

“Shit, we only got five minutes until the bell rings,” Mekhi heard someone say in an obnoxious voice, breaking him from his poetic trance.

Mekhi turned around, and sure enough, it was Jaylen Harrison, or “Scarf Boy,” as Mekhi liked to call him, since Jaylen was always wearing that ridiculous, monogrammed, cream-colored scarf.

Jaylen was standing only twenty feet away with two of his senior Riverside Prep pals, Rashad Paine and Cameron Prescott. All three boys wore matching jackets and fingerless leather driving gloves, and Jaylen had on his new custom-made loafers without socks. The three boys—whose box fades were all styled in retro designs and parts—didn’t speak to Mekhi or even nod to acknowledge his presence. Why should they? These boys took the 79^th ^Street crosstown bus through Central Park each morning to school from the swanky Upper East Side, only venturing to the West Side for school or to attend the odd party. They were in Mekhi’s class at Riverside Prep, but they were certainly not in his class. He was nothing to them. They didn’t even notice him.

“Nigga,” Jaylen said to his friends and lit a cigarette. Jaylen smoked his cigarettes like they were joints, holding them between his index finger and thumb and sucking hard to inhale. Too pathetic for words. “Guess who I saw last night?” he said, blowing out a stream of gray smoke.

“Beyonce?” Cameron guessed, lighting up a Newport with his ridiculous, fingerless-gloved hands.

“Yeah, and she was all over you, right?” Rashad laughed, brushing cigarette ash off his leather jacket.

“No, not her. Chanel fucking Crenshaw,” Jaylen said.

Mekhi’s ears perked up. He was about to head inside for class, but he lit another cigarette and stayed put so he could listen.

“Porsha Sinclaire’s mom had this little party, and Chanel was there with her parents,” Jaylen continued. “And she was [_all _]over me. She’s, like, the sluttiest girl I’ve ever met.” He took another toke on his smoke.

“Really?” Cameron said. “I’d heard that, but you know, you can’t believe everything you hear.”

“Oh yes you can,” Jaylen countered. “First of all, I just found out that she’s been fucking Kaliq Braxton since tenth grade.” He took a poignant drag on his cigarette as the other two boys nodded eagerly. “And she’s definitely gotten an education at boarding school, if you know what I mean. They had to get rid of her, she’s so slutty.”

“No way,” Rashad said. “Come on, dude, you don’t get kicked out for being a slut.”

“You do if you keep a record of every guy you slept with and get them hooked on the same drugs you’re doing. Her parents had to go up there and get her. She was, like, taking over the school!” Jaylen was really getting worked up. He was spitting all over his pigskin loafers as he talked. “I heard she’s got diseases, too,” he added. “Like, STDs. Someone saw her going into a clinic in the East Village. She was wearing a wig.”

Jaylen’s friends shook their heads, grunting in amazement.

Mekhi had never heard such bullshit. Chanel was no slut; she was perfect, wasn’t she? Wasn’t she?

“So, you guys hear about that bird party?” Rashad asked. “You going?”

“What bird party?” Cameron questioned.

“That thing for the Central Park falcons?” Jaylen said. “Yeah, Porsha was telling me about it. It’s in the old Barneys store.” He took another drag on his cigarette. “Bruh, everybody’s going.”

[_Everybody _]didn’t include Mekhi, of course. But it very definitely included Chanel.

“They’re sending out the invitations this week,” Rashad said. “It has a funny name, I can’t remember what it is. Some girly shit.”

Kiss on the Lips,” Jaylen said, stubbing out his cigarette with his obnoxious, custom-made shoes. “It’s the [_Kiss on the Lips _]party.”

“Oh, yeah,” Cameron said. “And I bet there’s going to be a lot more than kissing going on.” He sniggered. “Especially if Chanel’s there.”

The boys laughed, congratulating each other on their incredible wit.

Mekhi had had enough. He tossed his cigarette on the sidewalk only inches from Jaylen’s fancy shoes and headed for the school doors. As he passed the three boys he turned his head and puckered his lips, making a smooching sound three times as if he were giving each boy a big fat kiss on the lips. Then he turned and went inside, banging the door shut behind him.

Kiss that, assholes.

10

“What I’m going for is tension,” Yasmine Richards explained to Emma Willard’s small Advanced Film Studies class. She was standing at the front of the room, presenting her idea for the film she was making, a loose adaptation of Natural Born Killers, the gleefully violent and weirdly beautiful Oliver Stone film about a pair of murderous, lovestruck psychopaths.

Yasmine reveled in the idea of an audience of her peers, munching popcorn while they watched the most vile and graphic images of violence she was capable of producing onscreen. They all acted like such goody-goodies. She wanted to show them the gritty underside of the very world in which they lived. Shove their faces in it and force it down their diamond-studded throats. She wanted to lure them in with a love story, and then make them gag.

“First I’m going to shoot the wedding scene, when Mallory and Mickey become Mallory and Mickey Knox, but only she talks. Actually, her voice is my voice, not the actress’s voice, in voice-over. And he never has any lines.” Yasmine paused dramatically, waiting for one of her classmates to say something. Mr. Beckham, their teacher, was always telling them to keep their scenes alive with dialogue and action, and Yasmine was deliberately doing just the opposite. 

“So just a voice-over for the whole film?” Mr. Beckham asked from where he was standing in the back of the classroom. He was painfully aware that no one else in the class was listening to a word Yasmine was saying.

“You’re going to hear the silence of the buildings and the bridge and the sidewalk, and see the streetlights on their bodies. Then you’ll see their hands move and their eyes talking. Then you’ll hear them speak, but not much. It’s a mood piece,” Yasmine insisted. “I want the images to scream. I don’t need much talk.”

She reached for the slide projector’s remote control and began clicking through slides of the black-and-white pictures she’d taken to demonstrate the look she was going for in her short film. A headless black wig draped on a park bench. A slab of pavement. A manhole cover. A pigeon pecking at a used condom. A wad of gum perched on the edge of a garbage can.

“Ha!” someone exclaimed from the back of the room. It was Porsha, laughing out loud as she read the note Rain had just passed her.

For a good time,

call Chanel v.d. Crenshaw

Get it―VD??

[
__]

Yasmine glared at Porsha. Film was Yasmine’s favorite class, the only reason she came to school at all. She took it very seriously, while most of the other girls, like Porsha, were only taking Film as a break from Advanced Placement hell―AP Calculus, AP Bio, AP History, AP English Literature, AP French. They were on the straight and narrow path to Yale or Harvard or Brown, where their families had all gone for generations. Yasmine wasn’t like them. Her parents hadn’t even gone to college. They were artists, and Yasmine wanted only one thing in life: to go to NYU and major in film and make the darkest, artiest films ever made.

Actually, she wanted something else. Or [_someone _]else, to be precise, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Yasmine was an abnormality at Emma Willard, the only girl in the school who had a nearly shaved head, wore black turtlenecks every day, read[_ Silence of the Lambs_] over and over like it was the Bible, and drank unsweetened black tea. She had no friends at all, and lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with her twenty-two-year-old sister, Ruby. So what was she doing at a tiny, exclusive, private girls’ school on the Upper East Side with Gucci-Pucci-tutu-wearing princesses like Porsha Sinclaire? It was a question Yasmine asked herself every day.

Yasmine’s parents were older, revolutionary artists who lived in a house made out of recycled car tires in Vermont. She threatened to transform the wood stove into a live bomb and melt the house unless her parents let her move in with her bass-guitarist older sister in Brooklyn. Her parents finally gave in, but they wanted to be sure the perpetually unhappy Yasmine got a good, safe high school education. So they made her go to Emma Willard, which she soon found out was the worst form of torture imaginable.

Yasmine loathed Willard and every other girl who went there, but she never said anything to her parents. At least she was in New York, and there were only eight months left until graduation. Eight more months and she could blow this fuckhole sky-high and escape downtown to NYU.

Eight more months of bitchy Porsha Sinclaire, and even worse, Chanel Crenshaw, who was back in all her splendor. Porsha looked like she was absolutely orgasmic over the return of her best friend. In fact, the whole back row of Film Studies was atwitter, whispering and passing notes.

Fuck them. Yasmine wanted to stuff their notes down their throats and strangle each one of them with the arms of their annoying cashmere sweaters. But she had a film to make. She lifted her chin and went on with her presentation. She was above their petty bullshit anyway. Only eight more months.

Perhaps if Yasmine had seen the note Alexis had just passed to Porsha, she might have had a tad more sympathy for Chanel.

Dear Porsha,

Can I borrow fifty thousand dollars?

[_Sniff, sniff, sniff. _]

[_If I don’t pay my coke dealer the money I owe him, I’m in big trouble. _]

[_Shit, my pussy itches. _]

Let me know about the money.

Love,

Chanel v.d. Crenshaw

[
__]

Porsha, Rain, and Alexis giggled noisily.

“Shhssh,” Mr. Beckham whispered, glancing at Yasmine sympathetically.

Porsha turned the note over and scrawled a reply.

Sure, Chanel. Whatever you want. Call me from jail. I hear the food is really good there. Kaliq and I will visit you whenever we’re free, which might be…I don’t know…NEVER?! I hope the VD gets better soon.

Love,

Porsha

[
__]

Porsha handed the note back to Alexis, feeling only the tiniest speck of remorse for being so mean. There were so many stories about Chanel flying around, she honestly didn’t know what to believe anymore. Plus, Chanel still hadn’t actually told anyone what she was doing back, so why should Porsha say anything in her defense? Maybe some of it was true. Maybe some of this stuff had really happened.

Besides, passing notes was so much more fun than taking them.

Yasmine cleared her throat. “I’m going to be writing, directing, and filming. I’ve already cast my friend Mekhi Hargrove from Riverside Prep as Mickey Knox.”

Her face heated up when she uttered Mekhi’s name. He didn’t talk much and was very morbid, but he’d let her in out of the cold when she was locked out at a party two years ago and she’d been bossing him around ever since. Mekhi was her only friend in the entire city, although she would kill for them to be more than just friends.

“I still need a Mallory. I’m casting her tomorrow on the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge at dusk.” Secretly she wanted to don a wig and play Mallory herself, but then there’d be no one to hold the camera. The original Mickey and Mallory Knox had been played by the hugely muscular bald cowboy Woody Harrelson and the gangly doe-eyed Southern teen bride Juliette Lewis. Mekhi and Yasmine couldn’t have looked more different. But that was the fun of an adaptation—she could use the story and fuck with it.

“Anyone interested?” she asked. The question was a private little joke with herself. Yasmine knew no one in the room was even listening to her; they were too busy passing notes.

Porsha’s arm shot up. “I’ll be the director!” she announced. Obviously she hadn’t heard the question, but Porsha was so desperate to impress the admissions office at Yale, she was always the first to volunteer for anything.

Yasmine opened her mouth to speak. [_Direct this, _]she wanted to say, giving Porsha the finger.

“Put your hand down, Porsha, ” Mr. Beckham sighed tiredly. “Yasmine just got through telling us she is directing and writing and filming. Unless you’d like to try out for the part of Mallory, I suggest you focus on your own project.”

Porsha glared sourly at him. She hated teachers like Mr. Beckham. He had such a chip on his shoulder because he was from Nebraska and had finally attained his sad dream of living in New York City only to find himself teaching a useless class instead of directing cutting edge films and becoming famous.

“Whatever,” Porsha said, tucking her thick, shoulder-length hair behind her ears. “I guess I really don’t have time.” And she didn’t.

Porsha was chair of the Social Services Board and ran the French Club; she tutored third graders in reading; she worked in a soup kitchen one night a week, had SAT prep on Tuesdays, took a fashion design course on Thursdays, and on weekends she played tennis so she could keep up her national ranking. Besides all that, she was on the planning committee of every social function anyone would be bothered to go to, and the fall/winter calendar was busy, busy, busy. Her iPhone schedule was always running out of space.

Yasmine flicked on the lights and walked back to her seat at the front of the room. “It’s okay, Porsha, I wanted a taller girl for Mallory anyway.” Yasmine smoothed her uniform around her thighs and sat down daintily, in an almost perfect imitation of Porsha.

Porsha smirked at Yasmine’s prickly shaved head and glanced at Mr. Beckham. Would he notice if she pulled Yasmine’s ugly black turtleneck over her eyes and pushed her out the school doors in front of a moving Hummer?

Yasmine smirked back at her, wondering if she could get the hairbrush sticking out of Porsha’s Birkin bag all the way up Porsha’s ass before the bell rang.

Mr. Beckham cleared his throat and stood up. “Well, that’s it, girls. You can leave a little early today. Yasmine, why don’t you put a sign-up sheet out in the hall for your casting tomorrow?”

The girls began to pack up their bags and file out of the room. Yasmine ripped a blank sheet of paper out of her notebook and wrote the necessary details at the top of it. Natural Born Killers, a modern retelling of the violently romantic Oliver Stone classic. Try out for Mallory. Wednesday, sunset. Brooklyn Bridge.

She resisted writing a description of the girl she was looking for because she didn’t want to scare anyone away.

In the original, Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis were an oddly complementary couple. He was big and strong, while she was willowy and baby-faced. He looked like he could take on ten men and was totally smitten with her. She was the more brutal killer and doubted his fidelity. In her remake, Yasmine wanted to reverse the roles. Mickey would be frail, mentally unbalanced, and deadly. Mallory would be a statuesque beauty, confident and strong, and madly in love with Mickey. Like in the original, her Mickey and Mallory Knox would become icons of their own fucked up world, a serial-killing Bonnie and Clyde. But the more they killed, the more they were doomed. Death hung around their necks like a boa constrictor, choking them. Yasmine wanted her film to be shocking and depressing and graphic and beautiful—like the poetry Mekhi wrote, only grosser.

The perfect Mallory would be the kind of girl to make Mekhi glow, even though he barely smiled and walked around all day chain smoking and looking half-dead. Mallory would be full of movement and laughter—exactly the opposite of Mekhi, whose silent, caffeine-and-nicotine-fueled energy caused his eyelids to twitch and made his hands shake sometimes.

Yasmine hugged herself. Just thinking about Mekhi made her feel like she had to pee. Under that shaved head and that impossible black turtleneck, she was just another neurotic, boy-crazy girl.

Face it: We’re all the same.

11

“The invitations, the gift bags, and the champagne. That’s all we have left to do,” Porsha said. She lifted a cucumber slice off her plate and nibbled at it thoughtfully. “Kate Spade is still doing the gift bags, but I don’t know―do you think Kate Spade is too boring?”

“I think Kate Spade is perfect,” Imani said, winding her thick box braids into a bun on top of her head. “I mean, think how cool it is to have a plain black handbag now instead of all those animal prints everyone has. It’s all such…bad taste, don’t you think?”

Porsha nodded. “Definitely,” she agreed.

“Hey, what about my leopard skin coat?” Alexis asked, looking hurt.

“Yes, but that’s [_real _]leopard skin,” Porsha argued. “That’s different.”

The three girls were sitting in the Emma Willard cafeteria, discussing the upcoming [_Kiss on the Lips _]benefit to raise money for the Central Park Peregrine Falcon Foundation. Porsha was chair of the organizing committee, of course.

“Those poor birds,” Porsha sighed.

As if she could give two shits about the damned birds.

“I really want this party to be good,” she insisted, eager to get back to the topic at hand. “You guys are coming to my meeting tomorrow, right?”

“Of course we’re coming,” Imani replied. “What about Chanel―did you tell her about the party? Is she going to help?”

Porsha stared blankly back at her. 

Alexis wrinkled her pert little nose and nudged Imani with her elbow. “I bet Chanel is too busy, you know, dealing with everything. All her problems. She probably doesn’t have time to help us, anyway,” she said, smirking.

Porsha shrugged. Across the cafeteria, Chanel herself was just joining the lunch line. She noticed Porsha right away and smiled, waving cheerfully as if to say, “I’ll be there in a minute!” Porsha blinked, pretending she’d forgotten to put in her contacts.

Chanel slid her tray along the metal counter, choosing a lemon yogurt and skipping all the hot lunch selections until she came to the hot-water dispenser, where she filled up a cup with water and placed a Lipton tea bag, a slice of lemon, and a packet of sugar on the saucer. Then she carried her tray over to the salad bar, where she filled up a plate with a pile of romaine lettuce and poured a small puddle of ranch dressing beside it. She would have preferred a toasted ham-and-cheese sandwich in the Gare du Nord in Paris, eaten in a hurry before leaping onto her London train, but this was almost as good. It was the same lunch she’d eaten at Emma Willard every day since sixth grade. Porsha always got the same thing too. They called it the “diet plate.”

Porsha watched as Chanel got her salad, dreading the moment when she would sit down next to her in all her glory and start trying to be friends again. Ugh.

“Hey guys,” Chanel said, sitting down next to Porsha, smiling radiantly. “Just like old times, huh?” She laughed and peeled back the top of her yogurt. The cuffs of her brother’s old shirt were frayed, and stray threads dangled in the yogurt’s watery whey.

“Hello, Chanel,” Alexis and Imani said in unison.

Porsha lifted her head and forced the corners of her glossy lips upwards. It was almost a smile.

Chanel stirred the yogurt up and nodded at Porsha’s tray, where the remains of her bagel with cream cheese and cucumber were strewn. “I guess you outgrew the diet plate,” she observed.

“I guess,” Porsha said. She smashed a lump of cream cheese into her paper napkin with her thumb, staring at Chanel’s sloppy cuffs in bewilderment. It was fine to wear your brother’s old clothes in ninth and tenth grade. Then, it was cool. But now? It just seemed…dirty.

“So my schedule totally sucks,” Chanel said, licking her spoon. “I don’t have a single class with you guys.”

“Um, that’s because you’re not taking any APs,” Alexis observed. “I’m surprised you didn’t have to repeat your junior year.”

Chanel frowned. “My grades were okay.”

“You’re lucky you’re not taking any APs.” Imani sighed at her untouched bagel. “I have so much work to do I don’t even have time to sleep.”

“Well, at least I’ll have more time to party.” Chanel nudged Porsha’s elbow. “What’s going on this month, anyway? I feel so completely out of it.”

Porsha sat up straight and picked up her plastic cup, only to find there was no water left in it to drink. She knew she should tell Chanel all about the [_Kiss on the Lips _]party and how Chanel could help with the preparations and how fun it was all going to be. But somehow she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Chanel was out of it, all right. And Porsha wanted her to stay that way.

“It’s been pretty lame. There really isn’t much going on until Christmas,” Porsha lied, shooting a warning glance at Alexis and Imani.

“Really?” Chanel asked, disappointed. “Well what about tonight? You guys want to go out?”

Porsha glanced at her friends. She was all for going out, but it was only Tuesday. The most she ever did on a Tuesday night was watch a movie on Netflix with Kaliq. Suddenly Porsha felt seriously old and boring. Leave it to Chanel to make her feel boring.

“I have an AP French test tomorrow. Sorry.” Porsha stood up. “Actually, I have a meeting with Madame Rogers right now.”

Chanel frowned and began to chew on her thumbnail, a new habit she’d picked up at boarding school. “Well, maybe I’ll give Kaliq a call. He’ll go out with me.”

Porsha picked up her tray and resisted hurling it in Chanel’s face. Keep your fucking hands off him! she wanted to scream, jumping onto the table ninja-style. Hiyeeh-yah! 

“I’ll see you later, guys,” she said instead, and stiffly walked away.

Chanel sighed and flicked a piece of lettuce off her plate. Porsha was being such a bitch. When were they going to start having fun? She looked up at Alexis and Imani hopefully, but they were getting ready to leave, too.

“I’ve got a stupid college advisor meeting,”Alexis said.

“And I have to go up to the art room and put my painting away,” Imani said.

“Before anyone sees it?” Alexis joked.

“Oh, shut up,” Imani said.

They stood up with their trays.

“It’s so good to have you back, Chanel,” Alexis said in her fakest voice.

“Yeah,” Imani agreed. “It really is.”

And then they walked away.

Chanel twirled her spoon around and around in her yogurt container, wondering what had happened to everyone. They were all acting like freaks. What did I do? she asked herself, chewing on her thumbnail again.

Good question.

She plucked at a stray thread dangling from her shirt cuff and bit it off with her teeth. She needed to get happy. Everyone needed to get happy. And she of all people knew just what to do.

When in doubt, throw a party.

12

“Hey, Kaliq. It’s Chanel. Just calling to see if you’re planning to stop by my pajama party tonight. Hope so. There are real torches. Can’t wait. Love you. Bye.”

Chanel hung up. Some party. She’d spread the word around school and posted an open invite online. She’d changed into a pair of short-shorts and a smiley face pajama tank top she’d had since eighth grade. The cook had filled the bathtubs with ice and pepper-flavored vodka and papayas. The maid had lit tall tiki torches in every corner. Chanel’s favorite party playlist was on, a slow three-hour build from acoustic guitar to dance music. Now, the acoustic part was almost over, but so far no one had shown up.

Her room was quiet. Even Fifth Avenue was still, except for the occasional passing taxi. From where she sat on her big canopy bed, she could see the silver-framed photograph of her family, taken on a chartered sailboat in Greece when she was twelve. They were all in bathing suits. Her brother Cairo, who was fourteen at the time, was making a big fart kiss on Chanel’s cheek while their parents looked on, laughing. Chanel had gotten her period for the first time on that trip. She’d been so embarrassed, she couldn’t bear to tell her parents, but what was she supposed to do, trapped on a boat? They were anchored off the island of Rhodes, and while their parents were snorkeling and Chanel and Cairo were supposed to be having windsurfing lessons, Cairo had swum ashore, stolen a Vespa, and bought her some maxi pads. He came back with them in a little plastic bag, tied on top of his head, her hero. Chanel had thrown her ruined underwear overboard. They were probably still there, stuck on a reef somewhere.

Now Cairo was a freshman at Brown, and Chanel never got to see him. He had been in France with her that summer, but she’d spent the whole time chasing or being chased by boys while Cairo chased girls, so they’d never really had time to hang out. 

She picked up the phone again and pressed the speed dial button for her brother’s off-campus apartment. The phone rang and rang until finally the voicemail system picked up, just as it had every other time she’d tried to call her brother at school. Sometimes she wondered if he was avoiding her. 

“If you would like to leave a message for Dillon, press one. If you would like to leave a message for Trey, press two. If you would like to leave a message for Drew, press three. If you would like to leave a message for Cairo, press four.”

Chanel pressed four and then hesitated. “Hey…it’s Chanel. Sorry I haven’t called in a while. But you could have called me too, you big jerk. I was stuck up in Connecticut, bored out of my mind, until this weekend, and now I’m back in the city. I had my first day of school today. It was kind of strange. Actually it sucked. Everyone is…everything is…I don’t know…it’s weird…Anyway, call me back sometime. I miss your goofy ass. I’ll send you a care package as soon as I get a chance. Love you. Bye.”

She picked up her MacBook and began to browse through the list of international boarding schools where her parents had offered to send her as an alternative to coming home. One of them was a monastery in Tibet. Another was a “camp” in Uganda. Another was a “tree village” in a rainforest in Borneo. And there was one in the South Pacific called Saint Get Away that sounded strangely like an outcast colony.

Perfect.

She closed the laptop and peered around her messy room. There were her favorite brown suede boots on the floor where she’d left them. There was her rumpled school uniform lying askew on the dresser. There was her ballerina jewelry chest and the picture of her and Kaliq and Porsha on the beach behind Porsha’s house up in Newport. Kaliq’s eyes glittered greener than the ocean behind them. Porsha was laughing. Chanel studied her own face. She’d had freckles then, and an easy smile. Could she still smile like that?

Before Kaliq showed up in second grade, she and Porsha had been the inseparable-since-birth twosome, the pair. In first grade, they’d cut their hands with corkscrews and made a blood sister pact. Their friendship wasn’t supposed to die, not ever. And they were meant to be together—stopping for scones at Sant Ambroeus on their walk to school and buying the same panties at Barneys—not separated by miles and miles. All Chanel thought about all year was how to repair their friendship, and eventually it became clear how much easier things would be if Kaliq were out of the picture. Math wasn’t Chanel’s best subject, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out that he was the constant variable that fucked everything up.

Again she stared at the photograph. Her carefree twelve-year-old arms were wound around Kaliq and Porsha’s shoulders as they laughed. Tiny, happy dimples creased her freckled cheeks.

The downstairs buzzer suddenly buzzed, knocking her out of her trance. She leapt up to answer it. The doorman announced the arrival of Mr. Kaliq Braxton. He was on his way up.

“Oh, Kaliq. I knew I could count on you!” Chanel exclaimed, throwing open the door and twining her arms around his adorable neck, breathing in the heady soap and sweat scent of him. Kaliq, her Kaliq. Porsha’s Kaliq.

“Hi,” he said shyly. Chanel’s breath smelled of pepper-flavored vodka and her turquoise silk bra was clearly visible beneath her smiley face tank top. “Hi,” he said again, chuckling softly as Chanel kissed him on the lips.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” she sighed, leading him into the empty, half-dark penthouse. Music played from a distant bedroom. “I didn’t think anyone was coming. Are you hungry? Thirsty?”

Kaliq held on to her hand. Yes, he was hungry and thirsty. And horny. Fuck, why had he come? He never could control himself around Chanel.

“Is that the new Bryson Tiller mixtape?”

She shrugged. “I think so.”

“Let’s go see,” he said, tugging her toward her bedroom. The black and white tiles of the foyer gleamed with clean familiarity. Growing up, Kaliq had spent almost as much time at Chanel’s house as he had in his own home. Chanel and Porsha and Kaliq—always an inseparable, precocious trio. In second grade they’d doused each other with the garden hose out back. In third grade they’d practiced kissing, determined to get it right before they were all cursed with braces or retainers. In fifth grade they’d stolen half the bottles in the liquor cabinet and mixed cocktails from a recipe book Porsha had shoplifted from the Corner Bookstore.

It felt so nice to be at home with her, sort of like it had always felt when they were younger—everything smelling like flowers and smoke, the white canopy bed, the hulking Metropolitan Museum staring at them from across the street, Chanel’s addictive laughter, her big dark eyes and sexy mouth, her piles of silky hair, him wanting to touch her—except this time, they were alone. Porsha wasn’t there.

She sat down on the bed.

“I’m glad you came back,” Kaliq said and sat down next to her. He kicked his shoes off and he was wearing those neon Adidas socks he always wore.

What a loser,” Chanel could hear Porsha scoff at Kaliq, her voice pregnant with love and longing. “I might finally do it with you if it wasn’t for those horrible neon things.”

Chanel rested her head on Kaliq’s shoulder. The smoky honey patchouli scent of her shampoo mingled with the lavender linen fragrance the maid spritzed on the sheets, overtaking his nostrils and making him woozy.

“Me too,” Chanel whispered hoarsely into his warm neck. She didn’t want to have a party anymore. This would do just fine. “I’m glad I’m back.” Then, she lifted her head and kissed his closed eyelids, ever grateful for those gorgeous green eyes.

Kaliq didn’t know why he’d taken so long picking out a shirt. Chanel’s long, slender fingers wasted no time undoing the buttons and throwing the crumpled shirt to the floor. The shirt was followed by her tank top and shorts. Soon they were both naked beneath the covers as Chanel’s iPod crooned out songs of tortured heartache, raging jealousy, and forbidden love.

13

Alexis and Imani had decided to drop in on Chanel’s party before reporting back to Porsha. The doorman recognized them from parties past and waved them on to the elevator without buzzing up to the Crenshaw penthouse.

The elevator doors rolled open onto a dark and empty foyer. Tiki torches flickered and smoked in the corners. It looked like the entrance hall to a wealthy Tahitian palace.

“Whoa,” Alexis breathed. “There’s like, nobody here.”

“I think that’s the idea. They’re all at Porsha’s party. She invited everyone we know. Except Chanel, of course.” 

It was true. Now that Chanel was having a little shindig, Porsha was throwing an even bigger and better one with a DJ, full bar, and catering.

Imani stepped onto the gleaming parquet floor and glanced around. “I think I hear music.”

Both girls paused to listen as the crooning heartbreak of Bryson Tiller’s mixtape wafted down the long hall leading to Chanel’s bedroom.

“Slow songs,” Alexis observed meaningfully. She pointed at a unknown boy’s discarded jeans. “Look.”

“I knew those rumors about her were true,” Imani scoffed. “First week back and she’s already hooking up with some dude.” 

Wordlessly the two girls crept down the torchlit hall, cell phones clutched in their hands.

Chanel lazed on her bed with only a white sheet wrapped around her, wondering idly whether to put her shorts back on or if jeans would be better, in case she and Kaliq decided to venture out. Kaliq was in the shower. Steam rose from the crack under the door as he ran through fake lacrosse plays in a loud sportscaster’s voice.

And it’s Number 4 sprinting in from midfield. He makes an impossible catch! Look at him go! And it’s Number 4 again! Goal!!!

“Hi, Chanel,” Imani taunted from the doorway. “I know it’s a pajama party, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend it in bed.”

Chanel bolted upright. Kaliq’s jubilant shouts from the shower were impossible to conceal. And everything—the clothes on the floor, the steamy air, the rumpled sheets—spelled one thing: S-E-X.

“What are you guys doing here?” she demanded.

Alexis crossed her arms over her chest. “You invited us, remember? You invited everyone. You’re supposed to be having a party. Although Porsha’s having one too now, and hers sounds way more fun.”

Something about the way Alexis was looking her up and down, the way Imani was peering around the room, the way both of them had their arms crossed like they were judging her, made Chanel realize that they both had to get out. Now. And it wasn’t just Alexis’s facial expressions or Imani’s sarcasm. The real problem was them knowing about her and Kaliq. If she didn’t get rid of them, they would tell Porsha and then Porsha would absolutely and finally never be friends with her again. She had to act fast.

“Uh-oh. My new boo and I made such a mess.” Chanel rolled off the far side of the bed and pulled Kaliq’s big, white, button-down shirt on over her head, covering all the necessary naked parts.

“Typical,” Imani whispered to Alexis.

Chanel began to yank the sheets and comforter into a big pile on top of the mattress. “Could you guys help me get these sheets into the incinerator? There’s like, chocolate sauce and champagne all over them. I don’t want the maid telling my mom. Mom hates it when I stain the linens.”

Lord please save her for me…do this one favor for me,” Kaliq sang embarrassingly from the shower.

Alexis and Imani nudged each other with their elbows.

“The garbage chute is right outside the back door,” Chanel said, quickly gathering a handful of bedding in her arms. “You guys grab the comforter and I’ll get the sheets and pillows.”

Excited by the prospect of having even more dirt to spill to Porsha, the two girls were happy to oblige.

The big white comforter was heavy and awkward. Alexis and Imani followed behind the barefoot Chanel, dragging it between them as she padded through the enormous white kitchen.

“The maid’s out shopping, thank God.” She unlocked the back door and held it open for them. “Go ahead. Chute’s on the left.” The girls dragged the comforter into the dusty back hallway of the building, where only the help were meant to go.

“It smells weird back here,” Alexis observed.

Imani glanced around nervously. “Quick, open the chute.”

Alexis pulled open the heavy metal door and they began to stuff the comforter and sheets into the chute. Suddenly, Chanel slammed the back door and locked it, scampering off before Alexis and Imani even had time to oblige.

The iPod was now in full dance party mode. Kaliq shimmied around her bedroom wearing only a towel. His chest muscles bulged and his normally wavy hair was curly and wet.

I’m like, hey what’s up, helloseen your pretty ass soon as you walked in the door,” he sang goofily into Chanel’s hairbrush along to the old Fetty Wap song. “Hey. What happened to the covers?” He looked up at Chanel. “You’re wearing my shirt.”

His oblivious puppy dog adorableness never failed to turn her on. Eager for a distraction from the demise of her nosy classmates and energized by kicking them out, Chanel tackled Kaliq and pulled him down on the bare mattress. It occurred to her that maybe they should crash Porsha’s party—together—just to shock everyone. But first she had to show Kaliq just how freaking special he was—for coming to her party, and for being the only boy she ever loved.

That is special.

14

“Once, in the park, I saw her eating a whole bucket of fried chicken without even coming up for air. I wouldn’t put anything past her.”

If Porsha had to listen to Jaylen Harrison tell another story about Chanel Crenshaw, she was going to personally strangle every single one of the eighty-seven partygoers in her living room. What was the point of having a party when you hated everyone there? The music on her iPod was old and played out, her mother and Cyrus had drunk all the good champagne and scotch, Alexis and Imani had completely disappeared, Kaliq still hadn’t shown up, the hired bartender had decided to feature Cosmo-flavored slushies and pickled onions, both of which made her gag, and she was bored, bored, bored.

She watched the sexy gay man behind the bar stab at a frozen block of ice cubes with a metal ice pick before dropping the cubes into a blender full of pink Cosmo mix. He blended the icy gunk, poured it into a plastic glass, skewered a pickled onion with a blue plastic cocktail sword, and slung it into the slush.

“I’m getting so drunk,” squealed a girl Porsha had never seen before. The girl seemed to be no older than twelve and she was flirting with the bartender, even though he was so obviously gay. She wore a hideously blue suede jacket and ugly leggings with zippers on the ankles, and her black, chin-length weave looked like a wig made out of dirty straw. 

Porsha had spent the last hour waiting for Kaliq to show up so she could kick everyone out of the party and finally have sex, but it occurred to her now that she could just kick everyone out anyway and have a nice mug of hot chocolate in bed with one of her box sets of Audrey Hepburn DVDs—Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Funny Face, My Fair Lady. After all, it was a school night, and this twelve-year-old really ought to have been home in bed.

“Did you hear about the falcons in Central Park?” Jaylen Harrison intoned from behind her. “Freaking falcons are breeding. They’re not endangered. They’re eating the goddamned squirrels and pigeons right out of the fucking trees.”

The bartender worked at another lump of ice with his pick. Porsha regarded him enviously. Oh, what she could do to Jaylen’s face with that pick.

“My friend better get here quick before I drink too much and embarrass myself,” the twelve-year-old told the bartender. Then she looked up and covered her mouth in surprise. “Whoa. Oh my God. Porsha Sinclaire is so not happy right now.”

Porsha followed the annoying girl’s gaze to see what it was she was supposed to be so upset about. Kaliq and Chanel stood in the foyer, faces aglow beneath the Sinclaires’ ancient brass chandelier, smiling like assholes. Chanel unbuttoned her coat and Kaliq helped her out of it like the gentleman he was.

Or used to be.

Surely it was only an accident that they had arrived together. But what the fuck was Chanel doing here in the first place? She was supposed to be having her own lame party.

Chanel grinned at Porsha and waved. A warning chill ran up Porsha’s spine.

I whip my hair back and forth, I whip my hair back and forth, I whip my hair…!

All of a sudden that ridiculous Willow Smith song came on and Chanel and a bunch of other girls put their hands on their knees and began to whip their hair back and forth, over and over and over again, with embarrassing zeal.

Porsha crossed her arms over her chest. Fucking idiots.

Kaliq walked over to the bar and ordered a Cosmo slushie, presumably for Chanel. Hello? Was Porsha invisible? She lit a cigarette and blew smoke in his direction, knowing she would pay for it later when her mother grilled her on which of her so-called friends would dare smoke in the house.

The twelve-year-old girl was whipping her hair back and forth right next to Kaliq’s elbow. She stopped and grinned shyly up at him. “So, are you and Chanel like, together now?” she asked loudly enough for Porsha to hear. Across the expansive living room, Chanel was still whipping her gorgeous silky hair all over the place, like a go-go dancer on crack.

Porsha took a deep breath and approached the bar. “Hello, Kaliq,” she hissed. She turned to the twelve-year-old. “Hello, little girl I’ve never seen before. Can you like, get lost?” Porsha angrily grabbed the girl by her ugly straw weave and dragged her out the door.

Downstairs in the lobby Mekhi and Bree Hargrove were still alive and well, but a little down on their luck.

What else is new?

“Asia promised me she’d get us in,” Bree insisted as she dialed her Emma Willard classmate once more. 

Earlier that day she and Asia had hatched a plan to get into Porsha’s party, where everyone who was anyone was going to be. Asia would wear her mom’s blue suede jacket and pretend to be an actress. Bree would wear a V-neck and pretend to be Mekhi’s date, or, better yet, she’d bump into some cute St. Jude’s boy in the elevator who would refuse to go to the party without her enormous cleavage by his side. Both girls had sworn that whoever got into the party first would help the other girl get in.

Mekhi was only going because his father would probably send him out later to pick up Bree anyway. Plus he had nowhere else to be. Plus Chanel might be there, even though Bree had mentioned something about Chanel maybe having her own party, although she had a feeling no one was going because oddly the senior girls at Willard were all being sort of mean about Chanel coming back—

And that was when Mekhi had tuned Bree out.

He had never been inside the lobby of such a fancy apartment building. The ceiling was twenty feet high, with elaborate gold moldings and a glittering crystal chandelier. On a marble-topped table in front of an enormous mirror stood a giant gold and cream china vase filled with at least one hundred fresh white roses. The floors were a creamy marble that sounded beneath Bree’s H&M boots and squeaked under Mekhi’s Converse sneakers. A doorman wearing white gloves and a gold waistcoat with his doorman uniform stood by the building’s glass door, while another white-gloved doorman manned the intercom system behind an imposing dark wood station.

“I think my friend is up there,” Bree squeaked timidly at this second doorman. He was seven feet tall, buck-toothed and shriveled, and totally terrifying. “She just called me. She’s like, waiting for me.”

“As I said before, you’re too late,” the doorman insisted. “I just received instructions from Miss Sinclaire herself. No more guests. The mother will be home soon and Miss Sinclaire is going to bed.”

“But it’s only ten o’clock!” Bree protested. It had taken all her courage to come to the party and she wasn’t giving up easily.

“It is a school night,” Mekhi mumbled at the floor. He’d been working on a new haiku about his murderous feelings toward Jaylen Harrison, compounded with his murderous feelings toward himself, compounded with his sister’s weird taste for hamburger meat, and illuminated by his love of cigarettes.

Meat is murder.

I love smoking—

which one of us is better off dead?

[
__]

Mekhi still wasn’t sure about the first line. He’d be happy to go home and ponder it some more.

“Oh, be quiet,” Bree snapped, as if reading his mind. She stabbed at the buttons on her cell phone. Stupid Asia. Bree should have guessed she was lying. Asia was probably already tucked in bed with her teddy bears, like the immature baby that she was, dead to the world.

The doorman glanced at his watch, which was gold and looked like it had been keeping perfect time for all of the four thousand years he’d been a doorman. “It would probably be best for you to take it outside,” he told Mekhi politely but firmly.

It?” Mekhi wanted to protest for Bree’s sake, but feared the insults would only get worse. “Let’s just go,” he whispered, leading his sister toward the door. Chances were Chanel wasn’t even at the party anyway, and she was the only reason he’d come.

If only they’d lingered in the lobby a moment longer.

After throwing that little girl out, whose name was Asia or China or something equally stupid, Porsha asked Myrtle to remove the food and tell the bartender to stop serving. Then she called down to the doorman requesting that no additional guests be allowed up.

Chanel was still dancing, the center of a hub of gyrating boys and girls, while Kaliq watched from the bar. She was acutely aware that if she stopped dancing every boy in the room might stop looking at her. In addition, she might have to talk to Porsha, who might be sort of mad at her about the whole Alexis and Imani thing.

Or what about the whole sleeping with her boyfriend thing? 

Porsha stepped in front of Kaliq, blocking his view. “Remember the last time you were over? When we were on my bed?” she asked. She stole a sip of Kaliq’s beer even though beer tasted like moldy socks. 

Kaliq nodded. He remembered.

“Didn’t we start something and sort of not finish it?” Porsha elaborated.

Kaliq frowned and then shrugged his shoulders. He was so used to Porsha almost having sex with him but never actually having it that he didn’t believe she ever intended to do it. “Maybe,” he said.

Porsha stepped forward and put her hands on his chest. “Well, I want to do it now.” She frowned. “Actually, not now—my mom will be home in a minute and I really need to clean up and take a bath. This Friday. I want to do it on Friday.” She lifted her chin and gazed up into Kaliq’s pretty green eyes. Every time she got this close to him she could not stop smiling. “It’s going to be Friday the thirteenth,” she added kinkily.

Kaliq smiled back and kissed her smiling red mouth. He could never resist when Porsha was being all coy and sweet and suggestive and smiley. It made him want to be all coy and sweet and suggestive and smiley right back. “Okay,” he agreed. “Sounds like fun.”

Across the living room Chanel saw them kissing and stopped dancing. She stepped into the hall to retrieve her coat. Guests milled around, wondering whether to stay or go now that the bar had run dry. Chanel buttoned her coat. The elevator was crowded. The lobby was bright. Sadness stabbed at her broken heart as she walked up the quiet, leaf-strewn sidewalks of Fifth Avenue toward home, alone.

15

Downstairs in the lobby Mekhi and Bree Hargrove were still alive and well, but a little down on their luck.

What else is new?

“Asia promised me she’d get us in,” Bree insisted as she dialed her Emma Willard classmate once more. 

Earlier that day she and Asia Respers had hatched a plan to get into Porsha’s party, where everyone who was anyone was going to be. Asia would wear her mom’s blue suede jacket and pretend to be an actress. Bree would wear a V-neck and pretend to be Mekhi’s date, or, better yet, she’d bump into some cute St. Jude’s boy in the elevator who would refuse to go to the party without her enormous cleavage by his side. Both girls had sworn that whoever got into the party first would help the other girl get in.

Mekhi was only going because his father would probably send him out later to pick up Bree anyway. Plus he had nowhere else to be. Plus Chanel might be there, even though Bree had mentioned something about Chanel maybe having her own party, although she had a feeling no one was going because oddly the senior girls at Willard were all being sort of mean about Chanel coming back—

And that was when Mekhi had tuned Bree out.

He had never been inside the lobby of such a fancy apartment building. The ceiling was twenty feet high, with elaborate gold moldings and a glittering crystal chandelier. On a marble-topped table in front of an enormous mirror stood a giant gold and cream china vase filled with at least one hundred fresh white roses. The floors were a creamy marble that sounded beneath Bree’s H&M boots and squeaked under Mekhi’s Converse sneakers. A doorman wearing white gloves and a gold waistcoat with his doorman uniform stood by the building’s glass door, while another white-gloved doorman manned the intercom system behind an imposing dark wood station.

“I think my friend is up there,” Bree squeaked timidly at this second doorman. He was seven feet tall, buck-toothed and shriveled, and totally terrifying. “She just called me. She’s like, waiting for me.”

“As I said before, you’re too late,” the doorman insisted. “I just received instructions from Miss Sinclaire herself. No more guests. The mother will be home soon and Miss Sinclaire is going to bed.”

“But it’s only ten o’clock!” Bree protested. It had taken all her courage to come to the party and she wasn’t giving up easily.

“It is a school night,” Mekhi mumbled at the floor. He’d been working on a new haiku about his murderous feelings toward Jaylen Harrison, compounded with his murderous feelings toward himself, compounded with his sister’s weird taste for hamburger meat, and illuminated by his love of cigarettes.

Meat is murder.

I love smoking—

which one of us is better off dead?

[
__]

Mekhi still wasn’t sure about the first line. He’d be happy to go home and ponder it some more.

“Oh, be quiet,” Bree snapped, as if reading his mind. She stabbed at the buttons on her cell phone. Stupid Asia. Bree should have guessed she was lying. Asia was probably already tucked in bed with her teddy bears, like the immature baby that she was, dead to the world.

The doorman glanced at his watch, which was gold and looked like it had been keeping perfect time for all of the four thousand years he’d been a doorman. “It would probably be best for you to take it outside,” he told Mekhi politely but firmly.

It?” Mekhi wanted to protest for Bree’s sake, but feared the insults would only get worse. “Let’s just go,” he whispered, leading his sister toward the door. Chances were Chanel wasn’t even at the party anyway, and she was the only reason he’d come.

If only they’d lingered in the lobby a moment longer.

16

After throwing that little girl out, whose name was Asia or China or something equally retarded, Porsha asked Myrtle to remove the food and tell the bartender to stop serving. Then she called down to the doorman requesting that no additional guests be allowed up.

Chanel was still dancing, the center of a hub of gyrating boys and girls, while Kaliq watched from the bar. She was acutely aware that if she stopped dancing every boy in the room might stop looking at her. In addition, she might have to talk to Porsha, who might be sort of mad at her about the whole Alexis and Imani thing.

Or what about the whole sleeping with her boyfriend thing? 

Porsha stepped in front of Kaliq, blocking his view. “Remember the last time you were over? When we were on my bed?” she asked. She stole a sip of Kaliq’s beer even though beer tasted like moldy socks. 

Kaliq nodded. He remembered.

“Didn’t we start something and sort of not finish it?” Porsha elaborated.

Kaliq frowned and then shrugged his shoulders. He was so used to Porsha almost having sex with him but never actually having it that he didn’t believe she ever intended to do it. “Maybe,” he said.

Porsha stepped forward and put her hands on his chest. “Well, I want to do it now.” She frowned. “Actually, not now—my mom will be home in a minute and I really need to clean up and take a bath. This Friday. I want to do it on Friday.” She lifted her chin and gazed up into Kaliq’s pretty green eyes. Every time she got this close to him she could not stop smiling. “It’s going to be Friday the thirteenth,” she added kinkily.

Kaliq smiled back and kissed her smiling red mouth. He could never resist when Porsha was being all coy and sweet and suggestive and smiley. It made him want to be all coy and sweet and suggestive and smiley right back. “Okay,” he agreed. “Sounds like fun.”

Across the living room Chanel saw them kissing and stopped dancing. She stepped into the hall to retrieve her coat. Guests milled around, wondering whether to stay or go now that the bar had run dry. Chanel buttoned her jacket. The elevator was crowded. The lobby was bright. Sadness stabbed at her broken heart as she walked up the quiet, leaf-strewn sidewalks of Fifth Avenue toward home, alone.

Did you love Episode One? Make sure you check out Episode Two!

Chanel is still the center of controversy, surrounded by rumors that range from her being a sex fiend to a drug addict. Porsha, her former best friend, loves Kaliq, but has yet to discover that he’s already hooked up with Chanel. Yasmine holds auditions for her debut film and surprise, suprise, guess who shows up? Will it be Mekhi’s lucky day? 


Upper East Side: Season 1, Episode One

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 all live in huge apartments with our own bedrooms and bathrooms and phone lines. We have unlimited access to money and alcohol and whatever else we want, and our parents are rarely home, so we have tons of privacy. We’re smart, we’ve inherited classic good looks, we wear designer clothes, and we know how to party.  It’s a luxe life, but someone’s got to live it.  Chanel is back from boarding school, and if we aren't careful, she's going to win over our teachers, wear that dress we couldn't fit into, steal our boyfriends' hearts, and basically ruin our lives in a major way. It's going to be a wild and wicked year, I can smell it. [Season 1, Episode One]

  • ISBN: 9781311319319
  • Author: Ashley Valentine
  • Published: 2016-07-14 08:20:18
  • Words: 22494
Upper East Side: Season 1, Episode One Upper East Side: Season 1, Episode One