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Upper East Side #6

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UPPER EAST SIDE

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.

You know the saying, Today is the first day of the rest of your life? I always thought that sounded so lame and corny, but today it actually seems sort of profound. Plus, I’m beginning to think there’s nothing wrong with corny. It’s okay to tell the doorman to have a good day when he opens the door for you in the morning on the way to school. And, why not stop to smell the lilacs planted outside the apartment buildings along Fifth Avenue? While you’re at it, go ahead and stick a bunch behind your ear. It’s still only April, but you now have permission to wear those new mint green leather Chloe flip-flops—you know, the ones with the little yellow roses embroidered on them that you’ve been wearing around the house for over a month?—outside. Of course you’ll probably get into trouble at school for being out of uniform, but how else are you going to show off your new Brazilian pedicure?

I know, I know. You probably think I’m crazy to sound so upbeat since this is the week we all find out whether or not we were accepted at the colleges we applied to. It’s the most critical thing that’s happened to us thus far. From now on we’ll be branded by the school we choose, or rather, the school that chooses us: the smarty-pants who got into Yale, the B-student volleyball player bound for Smith, the flaky heiress whose dad bought her into Brown. All I’m saying is, why not look on the bright side? The letters are in the mail, what’s done is done, and I for one am eager to move on.

1

“Just talk about how you’re feeling right now. You know, with college admission letters coming this week and everything.” Yasmine Richards squinted into the camera and adjusted the lens so Porsha’s crystal chandelier earrings were in the frame. It was a balmy April afternoon and the park was a madhouse. Behind them a group of senior boys from St. Jude’s chased a Frisbee up the steps overlooking Bethesda Fountain, cursing and tackling one another in a frenzy of pent-up pre-college-admission stress. Around the perimeter of the fountain lay sprawled the perfectly manicured bodies of Upper East Side high school girls, smoking cigarettes while the winged bronze lady in the center of the fountain gazed down on them forgivingly. Yasmine pressed record. “You can start anytime.”

Porsha Sinclaire licked her glossy lips and tucked the grown-out wisps of her pixie cut behind her ears. She pressed her back against the fountain’s rim and adjusted her butt on the folded-up bath towel Yasmine had given her to sit on.

Hot weather and thongs are a bad combination.

“I promised myself that if I got into Yale, Kaliq and I would finally have sex,” Porsha began. She glanced down and twirled her ruby ring around and around on the ring finger of her left hand. “We’re not even really together—yet. But we both know we want to be, and as soon as that letter comes…” She looked up at the camera, ignoring Yasmine’s weirdly intense, shaven-headed, black-combat-boots-wearing stare. “For me it’s not just about having sex, though. It’s about my whole future. Yale and Kaliq. The two things I’ve always wanted.”

She cocked her head. Actually, she wanted a lot of things. But except for that exquisite pair of Christian Louboutin platform sandals, those were the two major ones.

“Nice try, loser!” a boy shouted as he snatched a Frisbee out of the air from under his friend’s nose.

Porsha closed her eyes and opened them again. “And if I don’t get in…” She paused dramatically. “Someone is going to fucking pay.”

Maybe she should be required to wear a muzzle this week.

Porsha sighed, reached into her shirt, and adjusted her bra straps. “Some of my other friends—like Chanel and Kaliq—aren’t as freaked out about the whole college thing. But that’s because they aren’t living with their way-too-old-to-be-pregnant mom and their fat, gross stepfather. I mean, I don’t even have my own room anymore!” She swiped a tear away and looked up at the camera with a mournful expression. “This is like my one chance to be happy. And I think I deserve it, you know?”

Cue applause.

Reaching the end of the tree-lined promenade leading up to the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, Kaliq Braxton tossed the nub end of the joint he’d been smoking to the ground and walked straight past his Frisbee-playing friends. Not ten feet away, Porsha sat cross-legged at the base of the fountain, talking into a camera. She looked nervous and sort of innocent. Her delicate hands fluttered around her small, foxlike face, and her short gray school uniform barely covered her muscular thighs. He squinted his emerald green eyes and shoved his hands into his khaki pants pockets. She was sexy all right.

Of course, at that very moment every single female in the park was thinking exactly the same thing—about him. Kaliq recognized the odd, shaven-headed girl behind the camera only vaguely. Normally Porsha would have nothing to do with her, but she was always up for anything that involved talking about herself. Porsha liked attention, and even after breaking up with her and cheating on her for the umpteenth time, Kaliq still liked giving it to her. He dipped his hand into the fountain, walked up behind her, and flicked a few drops of water on her bare arm.

Porsha whipped her head around to find Kaliq looking irresistible as ever in a pale yellow button-down, unbuttoned, untucked, and rolled up, so all she could see were his wonderful muscles and perfect face. “You weren’t listening to what I said, were you?” she demanded.

He shook his head and she got up from the towel, ignoring Yasmine completely. As far as Porsha was concerned, they were finished.

“Hey.” Kaliq ducked down and kissed her cheek. He smelled like smoke and clean laundry and new leather—all the good boy smells.

Yum.

“Hello.” Porsha tugged on her uniform. Why the hell hadn’t she gotten into Yale today?

“I was just thinking about how last summer you were completely addicted to ice cream sandwiches,” Kaliq observed. He had a sudden urge to lick all that candy-sweet-smelling lip gloss off her lips and run his tongue over her teeth.

She pretended to adjust her new earrings so he would notice them. “I’m too nervous to eat, but lemonade would taste really good right now.”

Kaliq smiled and Porsha tucked her hand into the crook of his arm, just as she always used to when they went around together. The old familiar thrill passed through her. It was always like this when they got back together—comfortable and thrilling at the same time. They walked over to the vendor parked at the top of the steps and Kaliq bought two cans of Country Time lemonade. Then they sat down on a nearby bench and he removed a silver flask from his backpack.

Cocktail hour!

Porsha ignored the lemonade and grabbed the flask.

“I don’t know why you’re nervous,” Kaliq assured her. “You’re like the best student in your class.” Kaliq felt sort of doubtful about getting into college. He’d applied to five schools and yeah, he wanted to get into one of them, but he was pretty confident he’d have a decent time wherever he went.

Porsha took another swig from the flask before giving it back. “In case you forgot, I kind of fucked up both of my interviews?” she reminded him.

Kaliq had heard about her little nervous breakdown at her first Yale interview and how she’d ended the session by kissing her interviewer. He’d also heard about her brief flirtation in a hotel room with her alumni interviewer. In a way, he was responsible for both mishaps. Whenever they broke up, Porsha went completely apeshit.

He reached over and adjusted the ruby ring on her finger. “Relax. Everything’s going to be okay,” he told her soothingly. “I promise.”

“Okay,” Porsha agreed, although the truth was she wasn’t going to stop stressing until she had the Yale acceptance letter hanging above her bed in a custom-made silver Tiffany frame. She’d turn on the new Chris Brown CD that always made her horny, even though it was kind of obnoxious, and lie down on the bed, reading her acceptance letter over and over while Kaliq ravaged her naked body—

“Good.” Kaliq leaned in and began to kiss her, interrupting her little X-rated fantasy.

Porsha groaned inwardly. If only she could have sex with him right there on the greasy old wooden Central Park bench! But she had to wait until she heard from Yale. It was the deal she’d made with herself.

At the other end of the promenade Chanel Crenshaw was eating a Fudgsicle and minding her own business when she spotted her two best friends on a park bench, devouring each other’s faces and looking like an advertisement for true love. Chanel sighed, walking slowly as she licked fudgey drips from the popsicle stick. If only true love was something you could buy.

Not that she hadn’t had a gazillion boyfriends who were totally crazy in love with her and totally fun. There was Perce, the French boy who’d chased her in a little orange convertible all over Europe. Then there was Guy, the English lord who’d wanted to elope with her to Barbados. Conrad, the boy up at boarding school in New Hampshire, who’d kept her up till dawn, smoking cigars. Mekhi Hargrove, the morbid poet who never could find the right metaphor for her. Flow, the R&B singer turned stalker—not that she really minded being stalked by someone that fine and famous. And Kaliq Braxton, the boy she’d lost her virginity to and would love forever, but only as a friend.

And that was just the shortlist.

Still, she had never had that one true love, the kind of love Porsha and Kaliq had.

She tossed the remains of her ice cream into a trash can and quickened her pace, her pink flip-flops slapping noisily on the paved walkway, her long, silky black hair streaming out behind her, and her short gray pleated Emma Willard uniform flouncing against her endlessly long legs. As she drew near, the boys cavorting around Bethesda Fountain and skateboarding up and down the promenade pressed their inner pause buttons and turned to gape. Chanel, Chanel, Chanel—she was everything they’d ever wanted.

Not that they’d ever have the guts to even say hi to her.

“Why don’t you guys just get a room at the Mandarin? It’s only a few blocks away,” Chanel joked when she reached her friends on the bench.

Kaliq and Porsha looked up with happy, dazed expressions on their faces.

“Did you do the thing?” Chanel asked Porsha in that way only best friends can understand.

“Uh-huh,” Porsha nodded. “I didn’t talk for very long, though, because Kaliq was definitely listening.”

“Was not!” Kaliq protested.

Chanel glanced at Kaliq. “I just wanted to make sure Porsha wasn’t freaking out too much. I should have known you’d be able to calm her down.”

Porsha took a sip of lemonade. “Did you hear anything yet?”

Chanel swiped the lemonade away from her. “No, for the fiftieth time today, I didn’t hear anything yet.” She took a drink and then wiped her mouth on the sleeve of her pale pink blouse. “Did you?”

Porsha shook her head. Then she had an idea. “Hey, why don’t we keep all our letters and then open them together? You know, so we can, like, freak out at the same time?”

Chanel took another swig of lemonade. It sounded like the worst idea she’d ever heard, but she was willing to risk getting her eyes clawed out to make her friend happy. “Okay,” she agreed reluctantly.

Kaliq didn’t say anything. No way did he want to join that little party. He held out his flask to Chanel. “You want?”

She wrinkled her perfect nose and wiggled her unpolished toes. “Nah. I’m late for my pedicure. See you guys.” Then she turned and walked south toward the end of the park, taking the half-empty can of lemonade with her

She had a habit of picking things up without even realizing she was doing it. Lemonade, boys…

2

Yasmine waited patiently as Jaylen Harrision adjusted the red collar around the neck of his pet snow monkey so that it was visible to the camera. Jaylen had wandered up to the fountain right after Porsha left. He didn’t even say hello, just sat down on the towel with his monkey and started talking.

NYU better let me the fuck in, because I want to stay in the apartment my parents just bought me. And then me and Sweetie can stay together.” Jaylen ran his hands over the monkey’s short white coat, his gold monogrammed pinky ring flashing in the sunlight. “I know he’s only a monkey, but he’s my best friend.”

Yasmine zoomed in on the Prada logo on Jaylen’s black leather man-sandals. His toenails were freshly buffed, and a thin gold anklet hung loosely from his butterscotch ankle. She’d been accepted early admission to NYU back in January. The idea that she and Jaylen might be classmates next year was more than a little disturbing.

“Course I’ll rent a place wherever I go,” Jaylen continued. “But the decorator just did my apartment up in Armani, and come on, who the fuck wants to live somewhere like Provi-fucking-dence, Rhode Island?”

Mekhi Hargrove tossed the remains of his Newport cigarette into a pile of wet green leaves on the edge of the promenade. Zeke Freedman and a bunch of his other Riverside Prep classmates were playing roller hockey, and for a brief second he considered joining them. After all, Zeke used to be his best friend—before Mekhi hooked up with Yasmine Richards, his other best friend. Now he was completely friendless, and that all seemed like a long time ago. He turned away, lit another cigarete, and continued his ritual lonely after-school prowl across the park.

Bethesda Fountain on a sunny day wasn’t really his scene—too many stoner jocks running around shirtless and girls listening to their iPods in bikinis—but it was a nice day, and he had nowhere else to be.

There were his little sister, Bree, and her Emma Willard School friend Elise Wells, giving each other pedicures. There was that asshole Jaylen Harrison from his class at Riverside, sprawled at the base of the fountain with his monkey in his lap, talking to—

Mekhi ran a shaky hand through his overgrown boho-poet haircut and took a long drag on his cigarette. Yasmine hated the sun and hated guys like Jaylen even more, but she’d put up with anything to make a good film. The willingness to suffer for their art was one of the many things she and Mekhi had in common.

He rifled through his messenger bag and pulled out a pen and the black leather-bound notebook he always carried, jotting down a few lines about the way Yasmine had worn the toes of her boots down until the metal showed through. Maybe it was the start of a new poem.

Black

steel-toed boots

pigeons dirty rain

“I’m making a documentary, if you want to be in it,” Yasmine called over to him, cutting off Jaylen in midsentence. Mekhi was wearing a cigarette-burned white undershirt and baggy tan corduroys. He looked like the same scruffy, disheveled poet she’d always known and loved. After his poem “Sluts” had been published in The New Yorker, Mekhi had started paying more attention to his look, buying clothes at expensive boutiques. It was right about then that he’d started cheating on Yasmine with that anorexic, yellow-toothed, poet-whore Mystery Craze. But Mystery was history, and maybe the old Mekhi was back for good.

The idea of sitting down and talking to Yasmine face-to-face was kind of unnerving, but perhaps if they just focused on the film, they wouldn’t have to dig up all the ugly stuff. Mekhi glanced at Jaylen, who was brushing his monkey with a child-sized pink hairbrush. “Are you—?”

“We’re done.” Yasmine dismissed Jaylen. “Come back when you hear something.”

Of course she didn’t even have to say that. Jaylen would be back. They all would. They couldn’t help themselves. Getting self-absorbed people to dish their own dirt is so easy, it should be illegal.

“But I didn’t get to the part about the publicist I hired for Sweetie,” Jaylen pouted. “We’re going to get him on TV—”

“Save it,” Yasmine barked. She tugged on the sleeve of her black button-down shirt and pretended to glance at her watch, when Mekhi knew for a fact she didn’t even own one. “Next.”

Jaylen stood up and stalked away with his monkey on his shoulder. Palms dripping with nervous sweat, Mekhi took his place. “So what’s the film about?” he asked.

A girl lazing by the fountain dropped her lighter and Yasmine kicked it back with her boot. “I’m not sure yet. I mean, it has something to do with how crazy everyone is right now. You know, about college and everything,” she explained. “But it’s not just about that.”

“Uh-huh.” Mekhi nodded. Nothing Yasmine did was ever that simple. He dug around in his bag for his Newports and lit another one. “I have been kind of anxious about the mail lately,” he admitted.

Yasmine peered into the camera and began to record. Mekhi’s dark face looked so vulnerable in the sunlight, it was hard to believe he’d cheated on her—that he was capable of doing anything mean. “Go on.”

“I think the thing that bugs me most is hearing the guys in my class say, ‘Dude, I’m gonna miss you next year.’” Mekhi took, a long drag on his cigarette. The brown-cinnamon of Yasmine’s inner arm made him forget what he was talking about. Brown-cinnamon, that was good.

“Go on,” Yasmine prompted.

Mekhi blew smoke directly into the camera. “No one’s going to miss me, and I’m not going to miss anyone, except for my dad and maybe my sister.” He paused and swallowed hard. And you and your brown-cinnamon arms, he wanted to add, but decided he’d better write it down instead.

Yasmine tried to keep quiet, but Mekhi’s little half-baked speech had moved her, even without the mention of her arms. “No one’s going to miss me either,” she declared, keeping her face pressed firmly against the viewfinder so they couldn’t make eye contact.

Mekhi ashed on the ground and rubbed it in with the heel of one of his scuffed blue Pumas. It felt weird to be talking to Yasmine in such a removed way when a little over a month ago they’d been in love and he’d had sex for the very first time. “I’ll miss you,” he admitted quietly. “I already miss you.”

Why’d he have to be so goddamn cute?

Yasmine turned off the camera before she could say anything too revealing. “Camera’s out of juice,” she told him quickly. “Maybe you could come back another day,” she added, wishing she didn’t always sound like such a bitch.

Mekhi pulled himself to his feet and hitched his messenger bag over his shoulder. “Good seeing you,” he replied with a shy smile.

Unable to restrain herself, Yasmine smiled back. “You too.” She hesitated. “Promise you’ll come back when you hear any news?”

It was kind of nice to see her smile at him again. “I promise,” Mekhi said earnestly, before loping back down the promenade.

Maybe she was only adjusting the lens, but it kind of looked like Yasmine was checking out his butt through the camera as he walked away.

3

“So nice of your brother, Mekhi, to stop by,” Elise Wells commented sarcastically to Bree Hargrove. She stretched her long, freckled arms up over her head and then let them fall to her sides. “I think he’s afraid of me.”

Bree removed her feet from Elise’s lap and examined her freshly painted toes. Elise had smeared MAC red polish all over her pinky toe, where the nail was supertiny, and it looked like she’d bludgeoned her foot with a hammer. “Mekhi’s been acting like a freak lately,” she noted. “And I hate to break it to you, but I don’t think it has anything to do with you. He’s supposed to hear back from colleges this week.”

The two girls were seated on the opposite side of Bethesda Fountain from where Yasmine had set up her camera. Bree shielded her eyes from the sun and peered over the fountain’s rim to see what was going on.

Yasmine was filming Nicki Button now—another Emma Willard senior. It was common knowledge that Nicki had had two nose jobs. If you lined up her yearbook picture from the last three years, you could totally tell.

“She’s only interviewing seniors,” Elise stated. She tucked her thick, black bob behind her freckled ears. “I asked her at school during recess.”

Bree frowned. How come the seniors always got to do all the cool stuff? She pulled her bra down where it always rode up under her arms. Trickles of sweat had collected in the bra’s cups, making it feel more like a wet suit than one of Bali’s supersupportive comfort bras for big-breasted women. “It’s not like I want to be in her stupid movie anyway,” she muttered.

“Right,” Elise scoffed. “Like you don’t always try to copy everything Chanel Crenshaw does?”

Hello, meanness?

Bree hugged her knees to her chest and glared at Elise defensively. Was she an internationally renowned model? Was she tall and beautiful? Did she wear a knee-length Burberry trench coat and smoke imported French cigarettes and walk around looking clueless while boys stared at her with their tongues wagging? Was she secretly the smartest girl in her class? No!

Actually, Bree was the smartest girl in her class, but it was no secret.

“Name one thing I’ve done that Chanel’s done.”

Elise unscrewed the little jar of nail polish that was resting on the fountain’s edge and began painting her fingernails. The color looked garish and inappropriate against her light, freckled skin. “It’s not really what you’ve done…” Her voice trailed off. “It’s just how you’re always so buddy-buddy with her during peer group. You know, like you want everyone to know you’re friends with this model. And how you’re always trying on all these fancy clothes in stores, like you’d really have anywhere to wear them, the way Chanel does.” She didn’t even mention Bree’s brief dalliance with Kaliq Braxton, which had been such a blatant case of a freshman girl getting in over her head with an older guy, it was too embarrassing to bring up.

A soccer ball suddenly appeared out of nowhere and bounced off of Bree’s head. “Ow!” she exclaimed angrily. She stood up and shoved her feet into the pink suede mules she’d bought at the latest Bloomingdale’s sale, messing up her still-wet toenails even more. “I don’t know what your problem is,” she snapped at Elise, “but I’d so much rather hang out with my freak of a brother than listen to you criticize me.”

Infuriatingly enough, Elise kept on painting her fingernails.

“Fine,” Bree huffed, stomping down the steps and away from the fountain toward Central Park West. Copy Chanel, she scoffed, her stupendous double-Ds bobbing with each step. Like I could even come close.

But Bree wasn’t one to take challenges lightly, and nothing would please her more than to prove to Elise that she wasn’t just some wanna-be, hopelessly trying to copy Chanel and failing every time.

A boy whistled at her as she bobbed by, and she flipped her curly black hair back from her face, pretending to ignore him. She might not be six feet tall and gorgeous, but boys still whistled at her. That meant she had something, didn’t it? And not all models were tall and gorgeous.

She lifted her chin and added a little strut to her walk, imitating the way the models walked in the runway shows she’d watched on the Metro Channel. Elise was going to eat her words when she saw Bree’s face on the pages of Vogue and Elle. She’d be such a success, even Chanel would be jealous.

Although Chanel wouldn’t be too jealous of the pile of dog poop Bree almost stepped in while trying to be the next Tyra Banks.

4

“Oh my God, I can’t breathe,” Porsha gasped dramatically. She hugged one of her stepbrother Tahj’s bed pillows against her stomach. “I’m going to throw up.”

It wouldn’t be the first time.

“Calm down,” Chanel advised, arranging two little piles of white, cream, and manila envelopes on top of Tahj’s hemp bedspread. Her instincts in the park the other day about this little letter-opening party had been dead accurate. Porsha was simply way too competitive to be civilized about the whole thing.

“I’m going to die,” Porsha moaned, clutching her stomach.

The two girls sat cross-legged on top of Tahj’s bed in his bedroom, which was actually Porsha’s room from now until she went away to college. Her real bedroom was being made over into a nursery for Yale, her new baby half-sister, due to arrive in June. Tahj had moved in with her little brother, Brice. Porsha despised the room’s ecofriendly decor and the persistent odor of stale soy hot dogs and herbal cigarettes. She was even thinking of petitioning for a suite at the Carlyle Hotel on Madison, at least until graduation.

Talk about perfect setting for a post-getting-into-Yale rendezvous with Kaliq! But first things first: she had to get in.

On the bed between the two girls were two piles of envelopes, stacked facedown so that the return addresses were hidden. There were seven in Porsha’s stack and five in Chanel’s, yet Chanel’s stack was taller. There was no question about it: Chanel’s envelopes were suspiciously fatter.

It was all due to the annoyingly dumb idea the U.S. Postal Service had. Apparently last year at this time, the postal service got millions of calls from college-bound seniors accusing them of losing their admissions letters and even tampering with the content of the letters. Right, like some mailman really cares if you got into Princeton or not. So this year they decided to try something called the National College Admission Letter Pool, which sounds a lot more intelligent than it really is. Basically it means that colleges were required to send their acceptance letters out in bundles according to zip code so the post office could deliver them all at once.

As if the Upper East Side kids haven’t already suffered enough.

“Okay. Ready?” Chanel asked. She reached across the bed to give Porsha’s hand a little good-luck squeeze.

“Wait!” Porsha grabbed the bottle of Ketel One vodka she’d swiped from her stepfather’s nightstand and opened it with her teeth.

“The longer you drag it out, the more painful it’s gonna be,” Chanel replied, beginning to lose patience.

Porsha took a swig, then closed her eyes and reached for the first envelope in her stack. “Fuck it. Okay. Let’s do it.”

Rriipp!

 

Dear Ms. Sinclaire,

The Office of Admissions is sorry to inform you that we have

reviewed your application and cannot offer you a place at Harvard

University next fall.

 

Rriipp!

 

Dear Ms. Crenshaw,

The Office of Admissions has reviewed your application and is

pleased to offer you a place at Harvard University…

Rriipp!

Dear Ms. Sinclaire,

Thank you for your application. Princeton University had an

outstanding pool of applicants this year. The admissions decision

is always a difficult one. We regret to inform you that we cannot

offer you a place in the class of…

Rriipp!
p.

Dear Ms. Crenshaw,

Thank you for your outstanding application. Princeton University

is pleased to offer you a place in the class of…

Rriipp!
p.

Dear Ms. Sinclaire,

We regret to inform you that Brown University cannot…

Rriipp!

 

Dear Ms. Crenshaw,

The Office of Admissions was impressed with your application. We

are pleased to invite you to join Brown University’s class of…

Rriipp!
p.

Dear Ms. Sinclaire,

We have reviewed your application and have decided not to offer

you a place at Wesleyan next fall. We wish you well.

Rriipp!
p.

Dear Ms. Crenshaw,

The Office of Admissions at Wesleyan University is pleased to

offer you a place…

Rriipp![
_ _]

Dear Ms. Sinclaire,

Vassar College is a small school and can only accept a limited

number of applicants. We regret to inform you that we cannot offer

you a place at Vassar next fall.

Rriipp!

 

Dear Ms. Crenshaw,

Thank you for your application to Yale University. We are very

pleased to invite you to join the class of…

Rriipp!
p.

Dear Ms. Sinclaire,

Thank you for your application to Yale University. The Office of

Admissions has added your name to a wait list. The office will

inform you of your status on or before June 15.

Rriipp!
p.

Dear Ms. Sinclaire,

We have reviewed your application and are very pleased to offer

you a place at Georgetown University next fall.

Porsha tossed the last letter on top of the bedspread and seized the bottle of vodka. Wait-listed at Yale, and she only got into Georgetown? But that was her safety! No way had she thought she’d ever actually wind up there.

Drink up and think again, honey-pie.

She took a panicked gulp and then handed the bottle to Chanel. “How’d you do?” she demanded.

Chanel could tell from the scary look on Porsha’s face that the news was not good. She didn’t know what to say. “Urn, I got in…um…basically…everywhere?”

Porsha stared disbelievingly at the sheaf of acceptance letters in Chanel’s hands. On top was a cream-colored letter marked with the distinctive blue Yale University letterhead. Her vision blurred. “Wait, you applied to Yale?”

Chanel nodded. “At the last minute I just decided, why not, you know?”

“And you got in?”

Chanel nodded again. “Sorry.” She reached for the remote and flicked on Tahj’s TV. Then she flicked it off again. The way Porsha was glaring at her with her teeth bared was making her nervous.

Porsha kept on glaring. Back in first grade she’d accidentally chopped off a foot-long swath of Chanel’s long silky hair with a steak knife. All these years she’d felt sort of guilty about it—until now. Now she wished she’d cut Chanel’s entire fucking head off.

She snatched up the bottle and took another angry swig of vodka. What did Chanel have that she didn’t? She was in the top of her class at Willard and took every AP course they offered. She’d aced the SAT. She did charity work. She ran the French club. She was a ranked tennis player. Her entire high-school career—practically her whole life—she’d been working toward getting into Yale. Her father had gone there. His father had gone there. Her great-uncle had donated two buildings and a playing field.

Chanel had been kicked out of boarding school that fall. She took no APs at all, did hardly any extracurriculars, was purported to have mediocre grades and even lower SAT scores than Kaliq. Chanel’s dad had gone to Princeton and Brown, two of Yale’s biggest competitors. Still, Yale had accepted Chanel and stuck Porsha on their fucking wait list! Was there something Chanel knew that she didn’t even after twelve two-hour sessions with Ms. Glos, the uptight, wig-wearing guidance counselor, and one hundred and fourteen weeks of SAT prep??

“I probably won’t even go,” Chanel faltered in an attempt to play things down. “I have to…you know… visit all the schools before I decide.” She gathered her luxurious hair on top of her head and frowned. “Maybe I won’t even go to college right away. I could stay in the city and try to do some acting or something.”

Porsha scooted off the bed, scattering her pile of rejection letters. So Chanel got into Yale, but she didn’t even really want to go there? “What the fuck?!” she cried, sloshing vodka all over the natural-sea-grass mat beneath her feet.

Chanel collected her letters and held them behind her back. “What about the other schools? You must have—“

All of a sudden Porsha’s stepbrother, Tahj Archibald, poked his smug, dreadlocked Rasta, into-Harvard-early-admission head into the room. “I thought I heard shouting.” He squinted at the letters in Chanel’s hand. “Accepted at Harvard!” He walked into the room and held his hand up to give her a high five. “Nice!” He grinned over at Porsha. “What about you, sis?”

Porsha wasn’t sure whether to kill them both or kill herself. “I’m not your sis,” she spat back. She slammed the half-empty vodka bottle down on the top of Tahj’s organically grown beechwood dresser, nearly breaking the glass bottle. “But since you’re both obviously so interested, I got fucking wait-listed at Yale. The only place that accepted me is Georgetown. Fucking stupid-ass Georgetown.”

Chanel and Tahj stared at her for a moment, their eyes wide with a mixture of disbelief and fear of the Mighty Wrath of Porsha.

“That’s not so bad,” Chanel murmured finally. She didn’t know much about Georgetown, but she’d met some cute boys who went there, and it might be kind of cool to live in the same city as the president. “I’m sure Yale is just playing hard to get. And if you don’t wind up getting in, at least you have backup.”

It was easy for Chanel to talk about backup when her backup schools were Harvard and Brown. Porsha stuffed her feet back into her new flats and snatched her black cardigan off the bed.

“Come on, Porsh, don’t be such sore loser. New Haven’s a dump anyway. You’d probably hate it there.” Tahj hooked his guitar-playing-callused thumbs into the pockets of his army green cargo pants. “At least they have a Prada in DC.”

Of course the only thing Porsha had heard him say was the word loser.

“Fuck off,” she hissed to both of them as she stomped out the door on her way over to Kaliq’s house. Chances were Kaliq had only been accepted at some lame stoner school like Hobart or UNH. At least he could sympathize.

He’d probably even have sympathy sex. Not that she was even close to being in the mood.

 

5

No one else was even home, but out of sheer habit, Kaliq stuffed a rolled-up bath towel into the space between the hardwood floor and his closed bedroom door before sitting down on his bedspread and lighting up. He took a big hit and then reached for the first envelope in the short stack on his bedside table. He tore it open.

 

Congratulations, Mr. Braxton,

Brown University is pleased to offer you…

 

Score!

Kaliq dropped the letter on the bed, took another hit, and then tore open the second envelope.

Dear Mr. Braxton,

The Office of Admissions has reviewed your application and would

like to invite you to join Boston University’s class of…

Double score!

He sucked on the joint and then balanced it on the edge of his bedside table. Next envelope.

 

Hampshire College had a strong and interesting pool of applicants

this year. Yours stood out. Mr. Braxton, we are pleased to offer

you a place at Hampshire next fall.

Triple score!

Last envelope—he’d only been able to deal with applying to four schools.

Thank you for your application. Yale University’s office of

admissions is pleased to offer you a place in the class of…

Quadruple fucking score!!!

Kaliq couldn’t wait to tell Porsha. They could go to Yale together, live in the married people’s housing just like she used to dream about. They could even get a dog, maybe. A Great Dane.

Kaliq examined the other paperwork stuffed inside the envelopes. Along with the acceptance letters from Brown and Yale were extra letters from the schools’ lacrosse coaches, promising him a starting place on the team. “Holy shit,” Kaliq breathed, reading the letters. They didn’t just want him. They wanted him bad.

Join the club.

He reached for his cell phone and was about to speed-dial Porsha’s private line when the phone rang in his hand. The name Porsh appeared on the phone’s screen.

“Hey. I was about to call you,” Kaliq chuckled. “How’d it go?”

“Buzz me in.” Porsha replied in a clipped tone. “I’m like two doors away from your house.”

Uh-oh.

Kaliq licked his fingers and pinched the burning end of the joint until it went out. Then he squirted a little Hermes cologne into the air to freshen up the room. Not that he was trying to completely hide the fact that he’d been smoking weed; he just didn’t want to gross Porsha out with the smell.

The doorbell rang and he buzzed her in. “I’m in my room,” he said into the high-tech video-intercom system. “Come on up.”

On the bed were his four acceptance letters. He gathered them up, eager to present Porsha with the awesome news: they were both going to Yale! This particular strain of weed always made him horny. Maybe Porsha would finally be ready to have sex, and they could celebrate properly, with their clothes off.

Or maybe not.

Kaliq’s house was even nicer than Porsha’s—after all, it was a whole house with a garden and everything, and since he was an only child, Kaliq even had his own floor. But the stairs always annoyed Porsha. Couldn’t his parents just install an escalator?

“I’m dying,” Porsha wailed as soon as she reached the top step. She staggered into Kaliq’s room and flopped facedown on the bed. Then she rolled over and stared up at the clear blue sky through the skylight in the ceiling. “At least, I wish I were dead.”

The odds were pretty high that Porsha wouldn’t be considering death if she’d gotten into Yale. Kaliq slid his acceptance letters onto his desk and sat down next to her. Gingerly, he brushed his thumb against her flawlessly smooth cheek.

Thank you, La Mer skin cream.

“What’s going on?” he asked gently.

“That stupid bitch Chanel got into Yale and every other fucking school she applied to, and I only got into fucking Georgetown. Yale wait-listed me, and I got rejected everywhere else.” Porsha rolled over and pressed her face into Kaliq’s leg. Today was the day she was supposed to have lost her virginity, but now it was obvious: she was too big a loser to ever have sex. “Oh, Kaliq. What are we going to do?”

Kaliq didn’t know what to say. One thing was certain. He wasn’t about to tell Porsha that he’d gotten into Yale, too. She might smother him with a pillow or something. “I know a bunch of guys who got wait-listed at schools last year. Most of them wound up getting in,” he offered.

“Yeah, but not to Yale,” Porsha moaned. “All the shitty schools have superlong wait lists because the kids using them as their safeties wind up not going.”

“Oh.”

Typical Porsha. Her idea of a shitty school was any school other than Yale.

“Yale knows that almost everyone they accept is going to go, so their wait list probably has, like, two people on it, and those two people are never going to get in.” She sighed dramatically. “Fuck!” Then she sat up and flicked a piece of lint off her jeans. “So what about you? Where’d you get in?”

Kaliq knew it was wrong to withhold information from his girlfriend—the girl he loved—but he couldn’t bear to break her heart.

Or make her so mad she wouldn’t want to fool around?

“Um,” he yawned, like this was the most boring conversation ever. “Hampshire. BU. Brown. That’s about it.”

So he forgot to mention Yale. That wasn’t the same as lying, was it?

Um, yes?

Porsha stared icily at the bare hardwood floor, twirling her ruby ring around and around on her finger so fast it made Kaliq dizzy. He lay down next to her and wrapped his arms around her waist. “Georgetown is a good school.”

Porsha’s body was rigid. “But it’s so far away from Brown,” she complained.

Kaliq shrugged and began to massage the spot between her shoulder blades. “Maybe I’ll go to BU. I bet there’s a shuttle from Boston to DC.”

Tears welled in Porsha’s eyes and she kicked at the mattress with her heels. “But I don’t want to go to Georgetown. I hate Georgetown!”

Kaliq pulled her head to his chest and kissed her neck. He and Porsha hadn’t been on his bed together like this in months, and he was getting seriously horny. “Have you even been down there to check it out?”

As a matter of fact, Porsha hadn’t visited any school other than Yale. “No,” she admitted.

Kaliq ran his tongue over her earlobe. The peachy smell of her shampoo was giving him the munchies. “I’ve met a lot of cool girls from Georgetown. You should go down there. Maybe you’ll even like it better than Yale,” he said, his voice muffled as he nuzzled her neck.

“Right,” Porsha responded bitterly. She was vaguely aware that Kaliq was coming on to her, but she was so upset, all she could feel was his spit on her ear.

Kaliq fell back on the bed and pulled her on top of him. His eyes were closed and his lips were pressed together in a stoned, happy, turned-on smile. “Mmm,” he moaned, enjoying the weight of her on top of him.

“I just wish I’d gotten into Yale,” Porsha whispered. Then she could whip off her clothes and they could finally do it, just as she’d always imagined. She tucked her head into the crook of Kaliq’s chin and breathed in his nice smoky scent. All she needed right now was a good cuddle. Sex would just have to wait.

Kaliq opened his eyes and sighed heavily. Coitus Interruptus, Part XX, produced especially for him by Porsha Sinclaire.

Not that he actually deserved sex.

“Just promise me you’ll check out Georgetown,” he said, trying to sound like a good supportive boyfriend and not a lying son of a bitch.

Porsha hugged him tight. Her life was a miserable pit of hell, and her best friend was a deceitful bitch, but at least she had Kaliq—adorable, caring, straightforward Kaliq. And he was right. Visiting Georgetown couldn’t hurt. At this point she’d do anything.

“Okay. I promise,” she agreed.

Kaliq tucked his hand inside the waistband of her jeans but she grabbed it and pulled it out again.

Well, almost anything.

6

“He’s here!” Mekhi heard his kid sister, Bree, whisper as he closed the front door of the apartment. “Hurry!”

He dropped his keys on the rickety old table in the front hall and kicked off his Pumas. “Hello?” he called, padding into the kitchen, where the family usually converged. As usual, Marx, the Hargroves’ enormous black cat, lay sprawled on the cracked kitchen table, his head resting on an orange dish towel. Mekhi’s half-empty coffee cup was right where he’d left it that morning, near Marx’s little pink nose. The kitchen lights were on, and a half-eaten fat-free blueberry yogurt—Bree’s favorite—sat on the countertop.

Mekhi tugged on Marx’s furry black ears. The usual pile of mail was suspiciously missing from the table, and Bree was nowhere in sight. “Yo. Anyone home?” he called.

“In here,” Bree’s voice rang out from the adjacent dining room.

Mekhi pushed open the swinging door to the dining room. Side by side at the table sat Bree and their dad, Rufus. Rufus was wearing a Mets T-shirt, and his wild and wiry gray beard was badly in need of combing. Bree was wearing an expensive-looking silk tiger-print top, and her nails were painted bright red. In the empty place across from them sat a stack of envelopes, an unopened box of chocolate donuts, and a white paper cup of deli coffee.

“Have a seat, son. We’ve been waiting for you,” Rufus explained with an anxious smile. “We even got your favorite donuts. Today’s the big day!”

Mekhi blinked. For the past seventeen years his father had complained about the cost of raising and educating two ungrateful teenagers, and constantly threatened to move to a country where medicine and education were publicly funded. Yet he sent Mekhi and Bree to two of the most expensive and competitive single-sex private schools in Manhattan, taped their stellar report cards to the fridge, and was constantly quizzing them on poetry and Latin. He seemed even more freaked out about Mekhi’s college acceptance letters than Mekhi was.

“Did you guys already open my mail?” Mekhi demanded.

“No. But we will if you don’t hurry up and sit down,” Bree told him. She tapped the stack of envelopes with a shiny red fingernail. “I put Brown on top.”

“Gee, thanks,” Mekhi grumbled as he sat down. As if the whole process wasn’t nerve-racking enough. He hadn’t anticipated opening his mail in front of an audience.

Rufus reached across the table for the box of donuts and tore it open. “Go on,” he urged, before stuffing a donut into his mouth.

His fingers trembling, Mekhi carefully opened the envelope from Brown and unfolded the sheets of paper inside.

“Oh my God, you’re so in!” Bree squealed.

“What’d they say? What’d they say?” Rufus demanded, his bushy gray eyebrows twitching excitedly.

“I got in,” Mekhi told them quietly. He handed his father the letter.

“Of course you did!” Rufus gloated. He grabbed last night’s nearly empty bottle of wine from off the table, uncorked it with his teeth, and took a swig. “Go on, open the next one!”

The second letter was from New York University—NYU—where Yasmine had been accepted early admission. “I bet you’re in,” Bree anticipated annoyingly.

“Shhhh!” her father hissed at her.

Mekhi tore open the letter. He looked up at their expectant faces and announced evenly, “In.”

Whoo-hoo!” Rufus cheered, slapping his chest like a proud gorilla. “Atta boy!”

Bree reached for the next envelope. “Can I open this one?”

Mekhi rolled his eyes. Did he have any choice? “Sure.”

“Colby College,” Bree read. “Where’s that?”

“Maine, you ignoramus,” their father answered. “Will you open it please?”

Bree giggled and slid her finger under the flap of the envelope. This was fun, like being a presenter at the Oscars or something. “And the Oscar goes to…Mekhi! You’re in!”

“Cool.” Mekhi shrugged. He hadn’t even gone up to Maine to visit Colby, but his English teacher insisted it had the best writing program on the East Coast.

Bree reached for the next envelope and tore it open without even asking for permission first. “Columbia University. Oops. They rejected you.”

“Bastards,” Rufus growled.

Mekhi shrugged again. Columbia had a prestigious and demanding creative writing program, and it was so close to home he wouldn’t have needed to live in a dorm. But considering the claustrophobic situation he found himself in right now, living at home for the next four years seemed kind of unappealing.

The last envelope was from Evergreen College in Washington State, so far away it had a sort of romantic appeal. He slid the envelope across the table to Rufus and picked up his complimentary cup of coffee. “Open it, Dad.”

“Evergreen!” Rufus bellowed. “Abandoning us for the Pacific Northwest! Do you have any idea how much it rains out there?”

Dad,” Bree whined.

“All right, all right.” Rufus tore open the envelope, ripping the letter in the process. He squinted at the mangled sheet of paper. “In!” He grabbed another donut, shoved it in his mouth, and then pushed the box toward Mekhi. “Four out of five—not too shabby!”

“Let’s eat out to celebrate!” Bree cried, clapping her hands. “There’s this new restaurant on Orchard Street that is supposed to be really cool. All the models go there.”

Rufus grimaced at Mekhi. “Before you arrived, your sister announced that she is going to be a supermodel. Apparently by the end of the month I’ll be riding around in my jet buying racehorses and boats with all the millions she’s going to make.” He pointed a chocolatey finger at Bree. “You’ll cover Mekhi’s college tuition, too, right?”

Bree rolled her eyes. “Dad.”

Rufus squinted at her. “Where’d you get that shirt, anyway?” His forehead grew shiny, the way it did when he was excited. “If you don’t stop misusing my credit card, I’m sending you to boarding school. You hear?”

Bree rolled her eyes again. “You may not have to send me. I’ll be happy to go.”

Mekhi cleared his throat noisily and stood up. “That’s enough, kids. There’s a party later on tonight, but before I go, you can take me out for Chinese. At my place on Columbus.”

Bor-ing,” Bree moaned.

“You got it,” Rufus agreed, winking at him. “By the way, I vote for NYU. That way you can live at home, I can help you study, and in return you can hook me up with some of your brainy female English professors.”

Mekhi felt like he’d stepped into a corny Disney movie about horny stay-at-home dads. He grabbed a donut out of the box, scooped up the pile of letters, and headed into his room. A blank notebook lay on the unmade bed, waiting for him to pick it up and fill it with somber, tortured verse. But Mekhi was too happy to write. He’d gotten into four out of the five schools he’d applied to! He couldn’t wait to share the good news.

The problem was, with whom?

7

“What if he’s home all alone slashing his wrists or something?” Yasmine fretted out loud. She glared at her twenty-two-year-old sister Ruby’s leather-clad ass. Ruby was leaning in her bedroom doorway, talking on the landline and her cell phone at the same time, organizing her band’s upcoming tour

“Iceland!” Ruby shouted. “We’re number five on the indie charts in freaking Reykjavik!”

“Big freaking whoop,” Yasmine growled, checking her e-mail for the sixtieth time, even though no one ever emailed her. She had convinced herself that Mekhi had been rejected from every school he’d applied to and was at that very moment standing on top of the George Washington Bridge, writing his postscript before he jumped. Even if he had gotten in somewhere, he was probably having some sort of existential apocalyptic moment and was right now wading naked into the Hudson River to cleanse himself of all the creativity-draining negative karma before he could write again.

If she were being honest with herself, she’d admit that she wasn’t really all that worried. Mekhi was a good student and a brilliant writer. He was bound to get in somewhere. All she really wanted was an excuse to call him up and talk to him again, because ever since she’d seen Mekhi in the park on Monday, she couldn’t stop thinking about him.

She’d thought about calling him under the pretense of another interview for her documentary, but that was so obvious, just thinking about it made her break out into a rash. She’d also thought of calling Mekhi’s little sister, Bree, under the pretense of asking her to do an interview on what it was like to have a sibling in the throes of getting into college. Then Bree would blurt to Mekhi that Yasmine had called and asked about him, and then maybe Mekhi would call or e-mail her. But come on, how sixth grade could you get?

Ruby was still parked in her doorway, talking on the phone. This was the problem with Ruby sleeping in the living room and Yasmine having the only bedroom: Ruby treated Yasmine’s bedroom like her living room.

“Hold on. Call-waiting,” Ruby told the person on the other end of the line. She plugged her nose and put on a fake operator’s voice. “All systems are busy at this time—” She paused. “Oh, hello, Mekhi. Would you mind calling back? I’m on an important call with my band. We’re taking over the universe.”

Yasmine lunged for the phone and wrenched it out of Ruby’s hand. “Hello?” she said tremulously. “Mekhi? Are you…are you okay?”

“Yup,” Mekhi replied, sounding happier than she’d ever heard him sound. “I got in everywhere except Columbia.

“Wow!” Yasmine responded, absorbing the information. “But you want to go to Brown, right? I mean, you’re not even really considering NYU or those other schools?”

“I don’t know,” Mekhi answered. “I have to think it over.”

They were both silent for a moment. They’d discussed the obvious, but there was so much more to discuss, it was kind of overwhelming.

“Well, anyway, congratulations,” Yasmine managed to utter, suddenly feeling incredibly sad. Mekhi was going to Brown in Providence, Rhode Island, where he’d probably meet some long-haired, skinny girl from Vermont who made pottery and played guitar and knitted him sweaters, while she stayed in New York and went to NYU and continued to live with her freak of a sister.

Ruby grabbed the phone out of her hand. “Hey Mekhi, guess what? I’m going on tour for like eight months with SugarDaddy. We’re leaving next week. Why don’t you move in here? You and my sister can have, like, your own little love pad!”

Yasmine glared at her. Leave it to Ruby to completely mess things up in the most tactless, embarrassing way possible. Ruby handed back the phone and Yasmine held it a few inches away from her ear. What the fuck was she supposed to say now?

Mekhi wasn’t opposed to the idea of living parent-free in a cool neighborhood like Williamsburg, and living with Yasmine might actually be kind of great. She could make her films, he could write. It would be like Yaddo—one of those retreats for writers and artists that his dad had gone to back in the old days. Maybe they’d even wind up getting back together and having lots of sex all the time, just like all those artists and writers were rumored to have done back in the seventies.

Still, everything was happening kind of fast. His cleared his throat. “I’ll have to talk to my dad about it. We’re going out for Chinese tonight to celebrate. How ‘bout we meet at that party on West Street afterwards?”

Yasmine was hardly the partying type, but she supposed Mekhi had a reason to want to celebrate. “Sounds good,” she agreed.

“And I’ll talk to my dad about the moving-in thing. I think it could be kind of cool,” Mekhi told her, sounding rather cool himself.

Yasmine suddenly felt like the girl in those corny happy-ending movies she’d always hated. The one who lives happily ever after with her adoring husband in a house with silk curtains in the windows instead of black sheets like she and Ruby had.

“Cool” she enthused, even though it had always been one of her least favorite words. She clicked off and handed the phone back to her sister, who was still jabbering on her cell phone. “Can I borrow some stuff from your closet?” Yasmine whispered.

Ruby cocked an eyebrow at her and nodded silently. Looks like this is going to be some party.

8

Porsha stepped off the elevator and stood staring at the home-made banner taped to the front door of the penthouse. “YAY , Porsha! we’re so proud of you!” it read. She pushed open the door. Mookie, Tahj’s exuberant brown-and-white boxer, waggled over and shoved his wet nose between her legs.

“Fuck off,” Porsha growled. For a brief moment she wondered if a miracle had occurred. Maybe her France-living gay dad or some other benevolent fairy had put in a call to Yale and they’d decided to accept her right away. It was unlikely, but—

“Chanel told us what happened!” her pregnant mother crowed, swaying hugely in the foyer. “Wait list, shmait list. I can’t imagine why you got so upset, darling. Yale has just as good as accepted you!”

Porsha peeled off her cardigan and threw it on the antique chaise in the corner. Mookie threatened to sniff her crotch again and she kicked him away. “It’s not that simple, Mom.”

Pregnancy had made Eleanor’s hair grow superfast, and it hung down to her shoulders in what Porsha thought was a pathetic attempt to look like she was of appropriate childbearing age. Eleanor clapped her bejeweled hands together. “Well, my little sourpuss, we’re having a special family celebration for you anyway. Everyone’s waiting in the dining room!”

A family celebration. Oh, goody.

The table was laid with Eleanor’s finest crystal and silver, and she’d ordered in from Blue Ribbon Sushi, Porsha’s favorite. Cyrus and Tahj were already merry with champagne. Even twelve-year-old Brice looked a little drunk.

“And you thought you’d wind up at Norwalk Community College,” Tahj said as he poured champagne into Porsha’s empty glass. “We all knew you could do better.”

Cyrus winked at her with one of his bulbous, bloodshot, muddy eyes. “Yale rejected me flat when I applied. It’s about time I made them sorry. If you’d like me to give them a kick in the pants about your application, I’d sure enjoy doing it.”

Porsha grimaced. As if she wanted Yale to know she and Cyrus were even remotely related?!

“I’m not going to college,” Brice announced, sipping his champagne like a pro. “I’m going to DJ in clubs all over Europe. And then I’m going to open a casino.”

“We’ll see about that.” Eleanor forked a six-inch-long California roll onto her plate and giggled. “Baby’s hungry again.”

Porsha had a feeling her mother wouldn’t look like she was twenty months pregnant instead of only seven if she’d stop eating so much. She downed her entire glass of champagne and reached for an untouched box of sushi. First she was going to stuff her face with eel roll and pour enough champagne down her throat to make her puke her guts out. Then she was going to meet Kaliq at that stupid party on West Street, but only for ten minutes, because watching everyone celebrate when she had nothing to celebrate was going to make her puke even more. And then she was going to fall asleep watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s, her all-time-favorite movie, starring one of her all-time-favorite stars. Audrey Hepburn hadn’t even gone to college, but she’d still had a charmed life.

Her mother picked up her log of sushi and bit into it like a hot dog. She and Cyrus had known each other for less than a year and had only been married since November, but Eleanor seemed to have picked up his eating habits. She put the remaining sushi down and dabbed her lips with a white linen napkin.

“Now that we’re all gathered here, I have a favor to ask you, darling.”

Porsha looked up from her eel. It appeared her mother was addressing her. Oh, boy.

“You know it’s been a while, so my doctor thought it might be good for me to take a childbirth class, to refresh my memory. I signed up for the intensive one. It meets four afternoons for two hours. The thing is, Cyrus is working on his new project out in the Hamptons, and he’s rather squeamish about these kinds of things anyway. Do you think you could come with me, darling? I have to have a partner, and it’s only a couple of hours after school.”

Porsha coughed the rest of the eel into her napkin and lunged for her champagne. Childbirth class? What the fuck? “I thought Tahj was the one who wanted to be a doctor,” she complained. “Why can’t he go?”

“You always take such good care of your mother,” Cyrus told her.

“I have music practice,” Tahj said. As if he’d ever planned on volunteering.

“Me too,” Brice put in quickly.

And it wasn’t as though Eleanor could ask any of her middle-aged socialite friends to go with her. Their children were all college-age, or nearly. To them, Eleanor’s pregnancy was a tremendous, horrifying embarrassment.

“Fine. I’ll go,” Porsha agreed sullenly. She pushed her plate away and stood up. The thought of talking to them any longer made her want to puke already. Besides, everyone seemed to have forgotten what they were supposed to be celebrating, anyway. “May I be excused?” she asked. “I have to get ready to go out.”

Her mother reached over and snaked an arm around her. “Of course, darling.” She gave Porsha’s waist a squeeze. “You’re my best friend.”

Ew?

Porsha wriggled free and escaped to her so-called bedroom. At least Georgetown was further away than Yale—it had that going for it. And it wouldn’t hurt to call the number on the acceptance letter and make arrangements for a visit.

If only she’d applied to the University of Australia.

She peeled off her jeans and T-shirt and made a half-hearted effort to dress for the party, putting on a tighter, darker pair of jeans and a black sleeveless shirt. Her arms looked slack, and she pinched them angrily.

“Hey sis,” Tahj called from outside her door. “Can I come in?”

Porsha rolled her eyes at her reflection in her bedroom mirror. “It’s not like I can stop you,” she replied miserably.

Tahj opened the door, wearing his Harvard T-shirt like the asshole he was. It was kind of a tradition to wear an article of clothing from the school you wanted to go to right after finding out that you’d gotten in, but Tahj had found out months ago. “I thought we could head down to the party together.”

“Fine,” Porsha sighed. “I’m almost ready.” She picked up a stick of eyeliner and drew a dark black line beneath each of her eyes. Then she smeared on some MAC lip stick and ran her fingers through her hair. There. Done.

“Aren’t you going to wear your Yale T-shirt?” Tahj asked, watching as she searched under the bed for an appropriate pair of shoes. “I won’t tell anyone about the wait list.”

“Gee, thanks,” Porsha retorted as she shoved her feet into a pair of boring black loafers. She yanked the bedroom door open all the way and stomped down the hall, not even caring that her tight jeans made her bulky cotton underwear bunch and ride right up her butt.

So much for the days of dressing for success!

9

True West was one of those places that felt brand-new every night, but it was also so classic, it might have been around forever. The walls were covered in mirrors with the drinks menus and specials scrawled all over them in waxy orange crayon. White leather banquettes were scattered haphazardly around the dining room, and on each table a faux deerskin served as a tablecloth. Waiters dressed in denim tunics and snakeskin boots wielded cocktails on vintage orange cafeteria trays. Hip hop and R&B drifted through the air, and behind the bar stood a wall of orange-tinted windows looking out over the Hudson River.

Except for her battered black combat boots, Yasmine was barely recognizable in a black stretch miniskirt and fluttery red shirt. Thanks to the nice transvestite at the Bloomingdale’s SoHo MAC counter, her lips were painted red, and her eyebrows had been plucked for the first time ever. She stationed herself on a stool at the far end of the bar and propped her camera upon her shoulder.

The party had a giddy, first-day-of-school vibe. Girls in matching BU t-shirts squealed and threw their arms around one another. Boys in Brown sweatshirts gave each other high fives. Yasmine observed them silently, waiting for one of them to approach her and volunteer for an interview.

“I think I have something to say,” announced an extraordinarily handsome boy wearing khakis and a plain white button-down shirt. He set his gin and tonic on the bar and took a seat on the stool next to Yasmine. “Do you want me to tell you my name and what school I go to and all that?” he asked.

Yasmine trained the camera on his bloodshot but still glittering green eyes. “Not unless you want to,” she replied. “Just tell me a little bit about how the getting-in process has been for you.”

Kaliq took a sip of his drink and looked out the orange-tinted windows. Across the river, planes circled over Newark Airport. “The funny thing is, I wasn’t really stressed out until now,” he admitted. He pulled a cigarette out of a pack someone had left behind and rolled it back and forth on top of the bar. “And the stupid thing is, I shouldn’t be stressed out. I should be celebrating.”

He glanced at the camera and then looked away self-consciously. Behind him the banquettes were filling up, and suddenly the music was so loud, he could barely hear himself think. “I don’t know why I didn’t tell her I applied,” he mumbled.

“Who?” Yasmine coaxed. “Where?

“My girlfriend,” Kaliq explained. “See, she really wants to go to Yale. Like, it’s the most important thing in her life. I wound up applying there because they have a new lacrosse coach who brought them up from a shitty division-two team to the leading division-one team in less than a year. Anyway, today I found out that I got in and she only got wait-listed. I never even told her I applied, and I guess I’m kind of scared to tell her I got in. I mean, we only just got back together. And if I tell her, she’ll break up with me again.”

He waited for Yasmine to respond. When she didn’t, he reached for his drink.

“The coaches from Yale and Brown are coming down this weekend to watch me play. Porsha’s going down to DC to look at Georgetown, so luckily I won’t have to lie to her about where the coaches are from and all that.” Kaliq splayed his elbows and let his chin fall into his hands.

Kind of sucks to be a liar, doesn’t it?

All of a sudden the familiar scent of a certain essential-oil mixture filled his nostrils.

“We did it, Kaliq!” Chanel breathed as she threw her arms around Kaliq’s neck. Her silky hair was piled into a messy knot on top of her head and she was wearing a filmy white-and-gold-fringed poncho shirt over white jeans.

Kaliq kissed her cheek and tried to look as hype as he should have.

“Oops.” Chanel grimaced, immediately catching on. “Did Porsha break up with you again?”

“Not yet.” Kaliq was about to explain the whole thing, but then Porsha stepped off the elevator at the opposite end of the enormous restaurant, glaring angrily at Chanel’s back as she approached.

At one of the banquettes, a group of Emma Willard seniors began to whisper among themselves.

“I heard Porsha wrote this really dumb screenplay instead of an essay for her Yale application. Ms. Glos told her to change it, but she sent it anyway, and that’s why she didn’t get in,” Nicki Button told her friend Rain Hoffstetter. Rain and Nicki were going to Vassar together next year, and they couldn’t slop looking at each other and squealing.

“I heard Porsha wrote Chanel’s Yale essay for her. That’s why she’s so pissed off. She got Chanel in, but she only got wait-listed,” Imani Edwards told her best friend, Alexis Sullivan. Imani and Alexis had both gotten into Georgetown and Rollins, but Imani had gotten into Princeton and she was already wearing her Princeton T-shirt. The idea of splitting up was so heartbreaking, they couldn’t stop holding hands.

“Well I heard Chanel got a 1560 on her SAT. She pretends to be so flaky and dumb, but it’s all a big act. That’s how she can go out so much and never study. She doesn’t have to,” Alexis stated jealously.

“I heard she got in because she slept with all her interviewers,” Imani remarked.

“What are you guys talking about?” Porsha demanded when she reached the spot where Chanel and Kaliq were seated at the bar. She’d only just arrived, but she hated the party already. She hated how many kids were wearing their stupid college T-shirts, she hated the stupid music blaring out of the stupid orange speakers hanging over the bar, and she hated that Chanel was talking to Kaliq in that intimate hands-all-over-over-him way she used whenever she talked to guys.

“Nothing!” Chanel and Kaliq answered in unison.

Chanel spun around on her bar stool. “Are you still mad at me?”

Porsha crossed her arms over her chest. “How come you’re not wearing a Yale T-shirt? Oh, that’s right. You got in, but you’re probably not going,” she added sarcastically.

Chanel shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m visiting a bunch of places this weekend. Hopefully that will help me decide.”

Kaliq’s armpits grew suddenly damp. He slid off his bar stool, put his hands on Porsha’s shoulders, and kissed her on the forehead. “You look pretty,” he said in an effort to distract her from the subject of Yale.

“Thanks,” Porsha said even though she knew for a fact that she looked like a preppy, uptight bitch who never had any fun. She wasn’t even wearing any earrings, for Christ’s sake! Farther down the bar a group of girls in matching hunter green Dartmouth T-shirts shouted out some stupid Dartmouth song before doing a line of vodka shots.

“Ten minutes and then I’m leaving,” Porsha told Kaliq bluntly. “It’s a school night, anyway.”

As if that had ever kept her from partying before.

Kaliq kissed her temple. He was anxious to get her away from Chanel before Chanel innocently blurted out the news that he’d gotten into Yale, too. “Want to go check out the sunset or something?” he suggested lamely.

“Whatever,” Porsha replied, keeping her arms stubbornly crossed over her chest.

“Never mind me.” Chanel swung her bar stool around until she was facing Yasmine. “Okay, babe, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Yasmine didn’t need to adjust a thing. She’d been filming the whole time.

“So I guess I should be happy,” Chanel declared.

Yasmine tracked the camera slowly across Chanel’s flawless face and then panned down, looking for some physical defect or odd personality quirk to zoom in on. She couldn’t find one. Then Chanel stuck her thumbnail in her mouth and began to gnaw on it.

Aha!

She pulled her thumb away and frowned. “I am happy,” she insisted, as though trying to convince herself. “I got into every school I applied to. They didn’t even care about me not getting asked back to boarding school this year. It’s just…” Her voice trailed off when she saw a boy and a girl, both dressed in Middlebury T-shirts, making out near the elevators. She sighed. “I just wish I had someone to celebrate with.”

The music suddenly shifted from Future to the quirky beats of the new Rihanna album. Two guys in U Penn baseball caps and yellow neckties peeled off their shirts, turned their hats around backwards, and began to breakdance. Then four drunk girls wielding Vanderbilt pennants took off their shirts and started trying to breakdance, badly.

“I used to dance on tables,” Chanel confessed, sounding like some wistful, washed-up, middle-aged cabaret singer. “Now look at me.”

Of course about ninety-nine percent of the room’s male constituency was looking at her while they tried to come up with a pickup line good enough to get her to dance with them. In addition to the boys, a short, curly-haired, large-chested freshman girl was sizing Chanel up as she considered how to approach her.

Bree and Mekhi had only just arrived, leaving their emotional father waxing nostalgic in the family’s favorite Upper West Side Chinese restaurant over a carafe of sweet white wine. They stood in front of the elevator doors, surveying the room.

“I warned you it would be obnoxious,” Mekhi told his little sister. Normally Mekhi hated parties, and this particular scene should have annoyed the hell out of him, but he was feeling completely pleased with himself, and the party was the perfect setting for his mood.

But Bree only had eyes for Chanel. “Don’t worry, I can handle it,” she replied. Hiking up her tiger-print halter top, she pushed her way across the crowded room, making a beeline for the bar.

“If I deferred,” Chanel rambled on, “I could do some more modeling. And maybe some acting, too.”

Bree leaned against the bar as she waited for a chance to ask Chanel for advice on how to break into modeling. Her whole body shook with anticipation, and she felt silly for being so nervous.

Mekhi only followed Bree because he was worried she would order some sort of poisonous mixed drink and would need to be taken home before Yasmine even arrived. Then he noticed that Yasmine was already very much there, her camera propped up on her shoulder as she interviewed Chanel for her film. Her lips were painted dark red, a silver snake was clipped to her ear, and a slinky black skirt clung to her thighs. Her red tank top was sort of slipping over her bare shoulders, exposing her brown-cinnamon skin in a way Mekhi had never seen it exposed before. At least, not in public.

Without even pausing to think, he pushed his way through the dance throng, walked up behind Yasmine, and kissed her neck. Her cheeks got hot and she whirled around on her bar stool, nearly dropping her beloved camera in the process.

“It’s not like I have to go to college now—” Chanel stopped in midsentence, staring as Yasmine and Mekhi groped each other like horny, sex-starved beasts.

Cut!

Bree decided to make her move. She bumped her shoulder up against Chanel’s hip, hoping to give the appearance of running into her by accident. “Hey. So, congratulations and everything,” she blurted out awkwardly. “That’s a really cool shirt.”

If Chanel had been Porsha or some other senior girl, she might have brushed Bree off with a terse “Thank you” while wondering what this annoying freshman brat was even doing at a senior post-getting-into-college party. But Chanel never brushed anyone off. It was one of the things that made her so irresistible, or so intimidating, depending on who you were and how badly you wanted her. Besides, Bree just happened to be in the ninth-grade peer group Chanel co-led with Porsha, so it wasn’t as if they were total strangers.

Bree had a new haircut, with thick straight bangs and a curly bob that fell just to her chin. Her brown eyes were big and round. The severe cut suited her.

“I love your hair!” Chanel slid off her bar stool so Bree wouldn’t be the only one standing. “You look like that model in all the new Prada ads.”

Bree’s eyes almost popped out of her head. “Really? Thanks,” she gasped, feeling like she’d been tapped on the shoulder with a magic wand.

The bartender came over and Chanel ordered two glasses of champagne. “You don’t mind drinking with me, do you?” she asked Bree.

Bree was flabbergasted. Mind? It was an absolute honor. She ran her finger over the damp rim of her champagne flute. “So, have you been doing any more modeling?” she asked. “I really liked that perfume thing you did.”

Chanel winced and took a gulp of champagne. Two months ago, the designer Les Best had asked her to star in the advertising campaign for his new perfume, and he’d even wound up naming the perfume Chanel’s Tears. In the ad Chanel stood crying on a wooden footbridge in Central Park, wearing a yellow sundress in the dead of winter. Contrary to popular belief, the tears on her cheeks were entirely real. The ad had been shot the very moment Porsha’s dreadhead stepbrother, Tahj Archibald, had decided to break up with her; the very moment the tears began to fall.

“Actually, I think I might try acting next,” she replied.

Bree nodded eagerly. “I just love how you look so real in that ad. Like, of course you look amazing, but not, like, airbrushed or made up or anything.”

Chanel giggled. “Oh my God, I was wearing so much makeup—you know that gross beige stuff they smear all over your face? And they totally airbrushed out my goosebumps. I was freezing my butt off!”

The lights over the bar went out for a second and everybody screamed. Then they came on again. Bree remained composed, eager to give the impression that she attended out-of-control parties like this all the time.

“Honestly,” Chanel declared, relieved to take a break from ruminating over her uncertain future. “Anyone can model. As long as you have the right look for the shoot.”

“I guess,” Bree replied doubtfully. It was easy for Chanel to say that anyone could model when she was endowed with giraffe-like legs, a gorgeous face, amazing almond-shaped eyes, and long, luxurious, natural hair. “But how do you know if you have the right look?”

“You go to something called a go-see,” Chanel explained. She polished off her champagne and pulled a pack of cigarettes from her gold Dior clutch. Within seconds the bartender zipped over to refill her glass and light her cigarette.

You know what they say: Beauty = Convenience.

“Listen, if you’re interested, I can ask around and hook you up with some people I know,” Chanel offered.

Bree stared up at her with huge eyes, unsure if she had misunderstood. It was so exactly what she’d wanted Chanel to say, it was almost too good to be true. “You mean to model? Me?

Just then Chanel was distracted by a moan from behind her. “Um, you guys,” she called over her shoulder to Yasmine and Mekhi. “There are suites and stuff downstairs, you know.”

“I always thought I was way too short,” Bree insisted, worried that Chanel was losing her train of thought.

“No way. You’ll be great,” Chanel assured her. “I’m going to call some people, and then I’ll e-mail you. Okay?”

“Really?” Bree cried giddily. She couldn’t believe this was happening. She was going to be a model! She set her champagne flute down on the bar. But now there was so much work to do. Manicure, pedicure, eyebrow shaping, mustache waxing, maybe even those henna highlights she’d always wanted.

“Aren’t you going to finish it?” Chanel asked, pointing at Bree’s glass.

Bree shook her head, suddenly feeling completely unprepared. “I have to go home and get ready,” she faltered. Then she stood on tiptoe and kissed Chanel on the cheek. “Thank you. Thank you so, so much!”

Chanel smiled down at the younger girl. So her best friend was mad at her and she wasn’t in love? At least she could take pleasure in helping Bree out.

As soon as Bree left, three junior guys from Riverside Prep crowded behind Chanel’s bar stool, daring each other to ask her downstairs to one of the hotel suites with them.

“Man, is she fine. How come she doesn’t have a boyfriend?” one of them murmured.

“Why don’t you ask her?” his friend responded.

“Why don’t you?” said the third guy.

But they were either too stupid, too chicken, or too humbled by Chanel’s beauty and supposed intelligence even to come close. Chanel picked up the remains of Bree’s champagne and poured it into her glass.

It’s no fun being beautiful when even losers won’t talk to you.

10

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Yasmine breathed for the thirtieth time that night. She and Mekhi hadn’t stopped kissing since he’d walked up to her in the bar and kissed her neck, and now they were tearing each other’s clothes off in one of the Pier Hotel suites downstairs. She wanted to tell him how much she’d missed him and how stupid it was that they’d stopped talking. And even though sex in a hotel suite this close to graduation was tacky and cliched, it felt like the best way.

The rooms in the Pier had round windows looking out onto the Hudson, wrought-iron anchors hanging from the walls, and green carpeting. The complimentary soap, shampoo, and body lotion in the bathroom were all seaweed-based, and the bed linens were a light, oceanic blue. Brushed-steel ceiling fans spun round and round from the ceilings, cooling off what was turning out to be a very hot night.

Mekhi yanked his belt out of his jeans and sent it snaking across the room. He was drunk with happiness and horny as hell. Bounding onto the bed, he jumped up and down on it a few times. “Whoo!” he shouted. “Whoo-hoo!

Yasmine grabbed him around the knees and he fell down on top of her, grappling with her shirt and yanking it off over her head.

“Dude! I survived!” some drunken doofus shouted. Next door, a bunch of guys in Bowdoin and Bates T-shirts were playing stupid drinking games while they watched the Nets game on TV.

“If we lived together, we could do this every day,” Mekhi realized out loud as he watched Yasmine unhook her black lace bra.

Yasmine tossed the bra on the floor and crossed her arms over her bare chest. “Did you ask your dad?”

“Yup,” Mekhi replied happily. “He said okay. But if my grades slip and if I don’t have dinner with him and Bree at least twice a week, I have to move back home.” He pulled Yasmine’s arms away and dove headfirst into her chest.

Yasmine hugged his shaggy head and closed her eyes. She’d only drunk a Coke that night, but the bed was still spinning. She and Mekhi were in love again. They were moving in together. They might even go to NYU together. It was almost too perfect to believe.

And how often does anything ever stay that perfect?

11

Bree had always been lauded for her excellent calligraphy and detailed, accurate copies of the major works of classic artists. The handy thing about being artistic and a good copier was that she could forge notes, like this morning’s note from her dad about a supposed “allergist appointment” downtown. She sniffled grotesquely as she handed it to her math teacher, Ms. Hinckle. In the back of the room, Elise tucked her hair behind her ears and pretended not to eavesdrop.

“Next time, try to schedule your appointments after school,” Ms. Hinckle instructed, dropping the note on her desk. She waved Bree away. “Now shoo.”

“Thanks,” Bree responded sheepishly. Ms. Hinckle was old and treated all of the girls like her grandchildren, baking them oatmeal cookies and making them Christmas cards and caramel apples. Bree felt kind of bad taking advantage of the kindly teacher, but her career was at stake. This was important!

The go-see Chanel had emailed her about was in a photographer’s studio on West 16th Street. A bunch of tall skinny girls with pouty lips were smoking cigarettes on the sidewalk downstairs. Models, Bree thought, trying not to feel intimidated.

She had rang the buzzer for the third-floor studio and was buzzed into a dark space that looked like some sort of loading dock with a steel-lined freight elevator. Bree stepped onto the elevator and pressed 3, trying not to feel as terrified as she actually did.

“Hello?” A tall, pointy-chinned woman wearing a white patent leather beret, black leather short shorts, and white knee-high suede boots greeted Bree as she stepped off the elevator. “Are you lost?”

Bree realized she probably should have changed out of her Willard uniform, but it was too late now. “I’m here for the go-see?” She still wasn’t even sure what a go-see was exactly, but it certainly sounded cool.

“Oh.” The woman looked her up and down. “May I see your book?”

Bree glanced down at her book bag. “My book?”

The woman gave her the once-over again, and pointed to an empty chair between two bored-looking models. “Sit down. I’ll call you when he’s ready.” Then she stepped behind a white screen where Bree could see a camera flash flashing and the shadows of bodies moving around the room. Suddenly a cacophony of hysterical laughter bounced off the studio’s pounded tin ceilings, giving Bree the shivers.

She glanced at the girl next to her. The girl was chewing gum, her eyelids drooping heavily like she’d been up all night. Bree looked away and tried to make her eyelids droop in the same cool, affected way, but her eyeballs kept rolling back in her head. More Night of the Living Dead than cool, bored model.

The woman in the beret came out from behind the screen. “You.” She pointed at Bree.

Bree blushed and glanced apologetically at the other girls who’d gotten there before her. Then she followed the woman behind the screen.

The screened-off part of the studio had brick walls and a wood floor. In the center of the room was an antique-looking red velvet chaise lounge, and around the chaise lounge spotlights on tripods and silver reflective screens were set up.

“Take off your sweater and lie down,” a stocky man with a goatee ordered, already squinting at her through a huge Polaroid camera.

Her heart pounding, Bree put down her bag and folded her cardigan on top of it. Then she sat down on the edge of the red velvet chaise lounge, ashamed of how knobbly her bare knees looked in the harsh light. “Lie down?”

“On your back,” the photographer directed, kneeling in front of her only a few feet away.

Lie on her back? She couldn’t possibly, not in the only moderately supportive cotton bra she was wearing. What if that horrible thing happened with her boobs, where each enormous breast oozed over her ribcage and into her armpits, causing her to look completely deformed? She scooted back on the chaise and propped herself up on her elbows in a position she decided was comparable to lying down.

It also made her boobs stick out even farther than they already did.

“Good enough,” the photographer muttered, slapping the Polaroids he’d already taken down on the floor and crawling toward her to take some more.

Bree squeezed her legs together so he wouldn’t be able to see her underwear. “What kind of expression should I make?” she asked timidly.

“Doesn’t matter,” the man answered as he slapped down more film. “Just keep your shoulders back and your chin up.”

Bree’s arms were beginning to tremble with strain, but she didn’t care. The photographer seemed to like her, and he was talking to her like a real model.

“All right. We’re done,” he said finally, standing up. “What’s your name anyway?”

“Brianna,” she answered. “Brianna Hargrove.”

The man nodded at the woman in the beret and she jotted something down on her clipboard,

“May I see the pictures?” Bree asked, pointing at the Polaroids lined up on the wood floor. Each one was covered with a black piece of film paper that had to be peeled away to see the image.

“Sorry, honey, those are mine,” the photographer told her with an amused smile. “I want to see you here next Sunday. Ten AM. Got it?”

Bree nodded eagerly and slipped on her sweater. She wasn’t completely sure, but it sounded like she’d just been hired as a model for a photo shoot!

Or at least some part of her had been hired.

“So what was the go-see for?” Chanel asked when Bree saw her at peer group during lunch later that day. “I’m sorry I couldn’t find out more info. My model friends are pretty lame that way.”

Bree put her hand over her mouth. “I forgot to ask. But it was so great. Everyone was really nice to me, like I was a real model and everything.”

“Okay, but you should find out at the shoot what it’s for,” Chanel advised. “One girl I know thought she was doing a gum commercial and it turned out it was for maxipads. I guess she was confused between Carefree and Stayfree.”

Bree frowned. Maxipads? No one had said anything about maxipads.

“And don’t let the stylist dress you in anything you’re not comfortable with. I know that Les Best ad is good, but come on, a sundress in February? I was sick for like three weeks afterwards,” Chanel added.

The rest of the ninth-grade girls in peer group giggled politely. They loved hearing Chanel’s modeling stories, but they were superjealous of Bree and didn’t want to encourage her. How come the shortest girl in the class, the one with curly hair and those ridiculously huge breasts, was now, like, a model? It made no sense.

“I bet it’s for a plus-size bra catalog and she’s too stupid to know,” Vicky Reinerson whispered to Mary Goldberg and Cassie Inwirth.

“I’m sure it’s just for something basic, like orange juice,” Cassie assured Bree, trying to keep a straight face.

Elise was jealous, too, but she was trying hard not to show it. “Where’s Porsha?” she asked Chanel in an effort to change the subject.

Porsha was Chanel’s peer group co-leader. Chanel shrugged. “I don’t know. She’s kind of mad at me right now.”

Mary, Cassie, and Vicky nudged one another under the table. They loved being the first to find out about Chanel and Porsha’s fights.

“I heard Porsha didn’t get into any of the colleges she applied to. Her dad’s sending her to France right after graduation so she can work for him,” Mary announced.

Chanel shrugged again. She knew from experience how stories got distorted and how quickly rumors spread. The less she said, the better. “Who knows what she’ll do.”

Bree was still mulling over the maxipad issue. Did she really mind if the photo shoot next weekend was for something uncool, like frozen fat-free TV dinners or zit cream? At least it was a start. How else was she going to get discovered?

“Stop being so paranoid,” Elise hissed at her, even though they weren’t even supposed to be talking to each other. Ever since they’d become friends two months ago, Elise had had the uncanny ability to read Bree’s mind.

Talk about annoying.

Bree glanced at Chanel. The ethereally pretty senior had once had an unmentionable part of her body photographed by a pair of famous photographers, and the picture had wound up on the sides of buses and on top of taxis all over the city. It was one of the things that made Chanel the coolest girl in the entire city, or maybe even the universe! A maxipad ad was the same kind of thing.

Sort of.

 

12

“Forget your tender breasts, your swollen ankles, your stretch marks. Imagine your buttocks are balloons that are being deflated. Let go. Breathe ouuut.”

Porsha refused to imagine any such thing. It was bad enough lying on the floor with a bunch of pregnant women in their stinky stocking feet, all moaning like overfed cows— there was no need to degrade the situation even further by involving her buttocks.

On the floor to her right, Porsha’s mother giggled. “Isn’t this fun?”

A blast.

Porsha felt like hitting her. She’d taken a “personal day” and stayed home from school, too upset about being wait-listed at Yale to face her classmates, especially Chanel. But after six hours of Mob Wives reruns, an entire carton of fat-free chocolate sorbet, and now this, she wished she’d gone to school.

“All right. Now that the partners have had a moment to relax, it’s time for them to get to work. Remember, it takes a team to make a baby!”

Eleanor’s trendy-with-the-Upper-East-Side-set birth class “coach” was a yoga-slim, frizzy-haired former nurse named Ruth, who taught the class in her ultramodern Fifth Avenue penthouse. Ruth was married to a newly successful appliance designer, meaning that he designed washing machines, refrigerators, and dishwashers that looked like spaceships and cost as much as cars. They had five children, including a set of fraternal twins, and every once in a while one of the children would wander through the living room to get something from the enormous chrome fridge in the kitchen without even batting an eye at all the pregnant women sprawled on the floor.

They’ll probably all turn into psychologically disturbed gynecologists, Porsha thought.

Ruth hitched up her weird black-and-white yoga pants, crouched on the floor, and scrunched up her face until she looked like a baboon trying to expel a whole banana tree from its ass. “Remember the stages of labor we went over in the beginning of class? This is the face of the third stage. Very antisocial. Later on, when the epidural has worn off and you begin to push? Forget about it. That’s when you start shouting at your husband to fuck the prenup. Babies may be pretty, but there’s nothing pretty about having them. That’s why they call it labor.”

Porsha raised herself up on her elbows. Didn’t they have more technologically advanced ways of doing this nowadays? Couldn’t they just, like, laser the baby out?

“Now it’s time for a treat. Ladies, keep relaxing on the floor. Partners, kneel down at their feet, where you belong. Now, ladies, get ready for a fabulous foot massage!”

All the other partners happened to be the women’s husbands, not their seventeen-year-old daughters. Husbands were supposed to give foot massages. It was part of the job. Daughters weren’t.

Porsha stared at her mom’s feet. They looked sort of like hers, except they were encased in skin-colored knee-high socks. Just the thought of touching them made Porsha gag.

“Start working on the right heel. Cradle the foot in one hand and use your thumbs. Don’t be afraid to dig in. She’s been carrying two people around all day. Her feet are tough!”

Gingerly, Porsha picked up her mother’s right foot. One thing was certain: After each of these birth classes she was going to buy an extremely expensive pair of Louboutins and charge them to her mother’s credit card. She would also need a series of heavy-duty spa treatments to rid herself of the memories of all this touchy-feeliness and birth talk, never mind the foot odor.

“Now rest her foot on your chest and drum your fingers from the big toe up to the knee. I know it sounds odd, ladies, but it feels wonderful.”

The husbands started drumming. They were really getting into it.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Porsha announced, letting her mother’s foot fall with a thud to the carpeted floor.

“Why don’t you use the twins’ bathroom? It’s just down that hall, on the right,” Ruth said, coming over to take Porsha’s place.

“Ahh,” Eleanor moaned as Ruth began to drum her fingers over her foot.

The bathroom was large and modern, like the rest of the house, but it was cluttered with bottles of Clearasil and assorted hair products. On the floor was a silver plastic litter box that looked like it had been designed by Ruth’s husband, and bits of cat litter were scattered all over the tiles. Porsha wasn’t sure where Kitty Minky’s litter box was located in her family’s penthouse, but certainly not in her bathroom. How unsanitary!

She stood at the sink and ran the tap, staring at her reflection in the toothpaste-spattered mirror. Her lips were turned down at the corners, and her small dark eyes were hard and angry-looking. Her short thick hair was growing more slowly than she would have liked and was in a stage of styleless droopiness. She lifted up her shirt and examined her body. Her chest looked small, and her stomach was a little soft after not playing tennis all winter. Not that she was fat or anything. But maybe if she’d gone out for the swim team and stayed in shape, Yale would have wanted her and she would have already had sex with Kaliq and her life would be great instead of—

Suddenly the bathroom door swung open and Ruth’s thirteen-year-old twins, a boy and a girl with braces and frizzy hair like their mother, stood staring at Porsha. The girl was wearing a gray pleated Emma Willard uniform. Porsha let her shirt drop.

“We’re looking for our cat,” the girl said.

“Are you a lesbian?” the boy asked. The twins giggled in unison. “Because if you are, then how did you get pregnant?” continued the boy.

Excuse me?

Porsha reached for the door and slammed it in their faces, careful to lock it this time. Then she flipped the lid down on the toilet seat and sat down. A worn copy of Jane Eyre was lying on the floor and she picked it up. Porsha had read the book twice. Once on her own when she was eleven and once in ninth-grade English. Now she reread the first few pages, feeling very much like Jane herself—locked away, tortured by her family, her great intelligence and sensitivity completely underappreciated. If only the bathroom had some sort of escape route—a trapdoor to the street. She would take a cab straight to the airport, catch a plane to England or even Australia, change her name, get a job as a waitress or a governess, fall in love with her boss just like Jane, get married, and live happily ever after.

But first she had to wash away the disgusting odor of pregnant woman foot that seemed to have permeated her skin. Without stopping to think about what she was doing, Porsha closed the book, stood up, and turned the tap on in the bath. She emptied a capful of cucumber body wash into the water, took off her clothes, and got in. There.

Closing her eyes, she envisioned herself lying on an Australian beach in that Burberry bikini she’d almost bought last weekend, watching her sexy husband surf the Pacific. At sunset they’d sail out into the horizon in their yacht, drink champagne and eat oysters, and then have sex right on deck, his green eyes glittering in the moonlight. Green eyes…

Porsha sat up in the tub. Kaliq! She didn’t need to run away after all, not when she still had Kaliq. Her cell phone was sticking out of the back pocket of her jeans where they lay crumpled on the floor next to the tub. She grabbed it and dialed Kaliq.

“Whassup?” he asked, sounding high.

“Will you still love me even if I don’t go to Yale?” Porsha purred as she lay back in the bubbles.

“Course I will,” Kaliq responded.

“Do you think I’m fat and out of shape?” she asked, kicking one naked foot out of the water and then the other. Her toes were painted burgundy.

“Porsha,” Kaliq scolded her. “You’re the opposite of fat.”

Porsha smiled and closed her eyes. She and Kaliq had had this conversation a thousand times before, but each time it always made her feel better about herself.

“Hey, are you taking a bath or something?” he asked.

“Uh-huh,” Porsha opened her eyes and reached for the bottle of body wash. “I wish you were here.”

“I could come over,” Kaliq offered hopefully.

If only she were actually home in her own bathtub.

“Sweetheart?” Eleanor Sinclaire’s voice called through the door. “Are you okay in there?”

“I’m fine!” Porsha yelled back.

I’m just lying in my mother’s birth class instructor’s tub, having phone sex with my boyfriend.

“Well, don’t forget there are a lot of pregnant women out here with overactive bladders!”

Thanks for the reminder.

“Damn, I gotta go,” Kaliq said. “All these college lax coaches are calling me. They’re coming down this weekend to watch me play.”

Notice that he was careful not to mention which colleges.

“Well, I’m going down to Georgetown early tomorrow morning, but I’ll call you from there, okay?” Porsha clicked off and, with a rush of water, rose to her feet and dried herself off with one of the fluffy white towels she found folded in a stack on a shelf beside the tub. Then she pulled her clothes back on and ran her fingers through her damp hair. Her milky chocolate reflection in the mirror looked more vibrant now, and she smelled fresh and cucumber-clean. Maybe it was the bath, or the pick-me-up talk with Kaliq, but she felt like a whole new person.

Outside in the hallway, pregnant women were milling around eating goat-cheese-and-olive pizzettes delivered from Eli’s. Porsha lingered by the door, waiting impatiently as Eleanor chatted with Ruth about her husband’s refrigerator designs.

Ruth’s twin daughter, the one in the Emma Willard uniform, walked over, carrying a white Himalayan cat. “This is Jasmine,” the girl said.

Porsha smiled tightly and tightened the posts on her diamond stud earrings.

“Are you having a nervous breakdown?” the girl persisted. “I heard you had to drop out of school.”

It was no secret how fast rumors flew around school and beyond. By Monday the braces-wearing, frizzy-haired wretch would have told every soul who would listen how Porsha Sinclaire was looking at her chest in the bathroom at her house, or probably much worse. In a way Porsha was actually looking forward to this weekend’s trip to Georgetown. At least no one would know her, and she would be treated with the decency and respect she deserved.

“Mom!” she called harshly. “It’s time to go.” And, just as Porsha predicted, as soon as the door closed behind her, that evil twin raced to her room to log onto the computer, and the IMs began to fly.

13

Chanel stepped out of her Logan Airport limo and tripped down the flagstone path to the Harvard admissions office, her body buzzing with caffeine from the huge Starbucks cappuccino she’d drunk during the flight. It was a sunny spring morning—cooler than in New York—and Cambridge was bustling with street vendors and hip, bohemian-looking students, hanging out on benches and drinking coffee. She wondered how Harvard had earned its serious and intimidating reputation when it seemed so relaxed and unintimidating.

Her tour guide was waiting for her just inside the door. Tall and dark skinned, with silver-wire-rimmed spectacles—the perfect geekily handsome intellectual. “I’m Drew,” he said, holding out his hand.

“I already love it here,” Chanel gushed as she shook his hand. She had a tendency to gush when she was nervous, even though she wasn’t exactly nervous, just over-caffeinated.

“I can give you the standard two-hour tour, or maybe it would be better if you tell me what you want to see,” Drew offered. His eyes were slanted, and he was wearing a beige cable-knit sweater and olive green corduroys that were so perfectly creased, Chanel could picture him getting the package from J. Crew that his mom had had sent for him and putting the clothes on right out of the box. She liked it when boys paid attention to fashion, but it was almost more appealing when a boy looked good despite his nerdy mom-just-bought-me-this outfit.

“I’d really like to see your room,” she said, without even stopping to think about how it sounded. Actually, it was true. She really did want to see what the dorms were like.

Drew blushed and Chanel blushed back at him. And all of a sudden it hit her—she’d gone to an all-girls school since first grade. All girls for twelve years straight. College was going to be full of boys. Boys all day, every day. Boys, boys, boys.

Whoopee!

“Are you hungry?” Drew asked. “The dining hall in my dorm actually has pretty decent food. I could take you through one of the bigger libraries and then we could walk over and get lunch and check out the dorm rooms. It’s a coed dorm, so…” He blushed again and pushed his glasses up on his nose.

“Perfect,” Chanel breathed.

Drew led her out of the admissions office and down a long walkway that cut through Harvard Yard. The greener-than-green grass was crawling with students playing Frisbee or reading books. A professor corrected papers under a maple tree.

“This is Widener, the humanities library,” Drew said as Chanel followed him up the building’s stately steps. “I’m a music-chemistry double major, so I don’t really spend much time in here,” he explained, holding the door open for her. They stepped inside the quiet, cool space, and Drew pointed to a locked glass case standing against the far wall. “They have a pretty amazing collection of original manuscripts here. You know, ancient Greek papyri and muff.”

Papyri?

Drew stood patiently with his hands in the pockets of his neatly creased corduroys, waiting for her to ask questions about the library. But Chanel was too absorbed in him. She’d already decided Drew was cute, but a boy who used words like papyri with a completely straight face was completely irresistible!

She twirled a strand of silky hair around her finger and stared up at the library’s ceiling as if fascinated by its design. “You’re a music major? Do you play an instrument?”

Drew looked down at the floor and muttered something inaudible.

She took a step closer. “Sorry?”

He cleared his throat. “The xylophone. I play xylophone, in the orchestra.”

And she’d thought the xylophone was just a toy instrument invented so there’d be at least one English word that began with the letter x! Chanel clapped her hands together in delight. “Can I hear you play?”

Drew smiled hesitantly. “I have practice at three, but I’m only just learning. You probably wouldn’t want to stick around—”

Chanel had ordered a car to drive her out to Providence that afternoon to check out Brown. Her brother, Cairo, went there and was going to take her around campus for once instead of just getting her drunk with his roommates in his off-campus house. Still, it was only Cairo. He’d understand if she was late.

When you’re seventeen and beautiful, you can always be late.

“Of course I’ll stick around.” She took hold of Drew’s arm and pulled him out the library door. “Come on, I’m starving!”

Who needed libraries full of papyri when Harvard had so much more to offer?

14

“My name is Rebecca Reilly and I’ll be your host this weekend. Here’s a name tag and a map and a whistle. Please wear the name tag and keep the map and whistle with you at all times.”

Porsha stared at the short, perky, fake blond girl in front of her. She had nothing against perkiness per se. She herself even resorted to perkiness when she was trying to get a designer like Kate Spade to donate the gift bags for one of the big benefit parties she chaired, or when she needed a teacher to let her out early for a Chloe sample sale. But genuine perkiness among your peers was just plain sad and desperate.

“A whistle?” Porsha repeated.

The entire plane ride down she’d been building this trip up as a big ego boost. She’d spend the day with some geeky tour guide who’d make her feel sophisticated and intelligent in comparison. Later on she’d get a room at the DC Ritz-Carlton or some equally grand hotel and spend the night soaking in her own private hot tub, quaffing champagne and indulging in more phone sex with Kaliq.

“Georgetown gives all its women students whistles. We have a very strong women’s advocacy group here. And there have been no campus rapes or stalkings in the past two years!” Rebecca announced in her southern twang. She beamed up at Porsha through thick, blue-mascaraed lashes. Her permed, bleached-blond hair smelled of hair products, and her white leather Reeboks were so new, they looked like they’d never been worn outside the mall.

Porsha flicked a stray hair off the sleeve of her new suit jacket. “I need to book a hotel room for tonight—”

Rebecca grabbed her arm. “Don’t be silly, sugar. You’re staying with me and my girls. We have a quad that’s just deeelish, and you have absolutely the bestest ever timing, because tonight we’re having our girls-only Southern Belles partay!”

Hello? Since when was girls-only anyone’s idea of a partay?

“Great,” Porsha responded weakly. If only she’d thought to book a room in advance. She looked around at the other visitors being greeted by their hosts. Everyone, hosts and visitors alike, looked strangely similar to Rebecca. Like they’d all grown up in suburban mall towns where everyone was white and happy and clean and uncomplicated. Porsha felt like a black, pixie-cutted, stylishly dressed, cynical and jaded alien among them.

Actually, it was just the sort of ego boost she’d been looking forward to. See, I am different and smarter and better than these girls, she told herself.

“Come on, let’s start the tour!” Rebecca grabbed Porsha’s hand like they were four years old and pulled her out of the admissions house. Sun glistened on the Potomac River, and the spires of the university’s ancient chapel towered majestically from the hilltop. Porsha had to admit that the old Georgetown University campus was beautiful, and the town of Georgetown was way nicer and cleaner than New Haven. But it definitely lacked the unique, we’re-the-smartest-kids-in-the-class air of Yale.

“Up ahead on your left you’ll see a big modern structure. That’s our architectural award-winning Lauinger Library, with the largest collection of…” Rebecca walked backwards ahead of Porsha down a flagstone walkway, burbling boring facts about Georgetown. Porsha ignored her, keeping her eyes focused on the human traffic crisscrossing the main campus. Boys and girls dressed head-to-toe in Brooks Brothers or Ann Taylor marched purposefully toward the library, their bags bulging with books. Porsha took schoolwork seriously, but it was Saturday. Didn’t these people have anything better to do?

Rebecca stopped suddenly and pressed her palm against her forehead. “Sugar, I am so hungover. This walking backwards thing is getting me so dizzy, I might puke!”

Porsha wanted to say something about how the entire situation made her want to puke, but then again, so did most situations. “Why don’t we just sit down somewhere and have a…coffee,” she suggested, pleased with how normal and friendly she sounded, when what she could really use was a very strong vodka martini.

Rebecca threw her arms around Porsha’s neck. “A girl after my own heart!” she squealed. “I’m absolutely addicted to caramel macchiatos, aren’t you?”

Yuck.

It was only two o’clock. Coffee would have to do. “Is there someplace close by?”

Rebecca slipped her arm through Porsha’s. “There sure is!” She whipped out her pink-and-white sparkly iPhone. “Just give me a minute to round up the girls. Why not get our Southern Belles party started earlay?”

Porsha grimaced and fingered the cell phone in her mint green Prada bag. Already she was homesick for Kaliq. If only she’d borrowed the silver flask he carried around, then she’d at least have a memento of him, and a shot of vodka for her macchiato.

Rebecca looked up from the little telethon she was having with her friends. She held her hand over the mouthpiece. “They’re in a bar already,” she whispered, her cheeks flushing a perky, embarrassed pink. “It’s down on M Street. Do you mind if we meet them there?”

“Okay,” Porsha agreed readily.

Give her a cocktail and a cigarette and she could be happy in almost any company.

15

“Nigga, you never told me the coaches were all chicks,” Jeremy Scott, one of Kaliq’s best buddies, hissed as he sprinted past Kaliq to retrieve a long pass.

Kaliq twirled his lacrosse stick overhead and waited until Jeremy had overshot before stepping in to catch the pass himself. It was a show-off kind of maneuver but it was effective. Besides, he was supposed to be showing off. He tossed the ball back to Jeremy, demonstrating his teamwork skills the way Coach Michaels had asked him to. Then the two boys ran back to center field together.

“The tall one’s the Yale coach. The short black one is the Brown admissions chick who interviewed me,” Kaliq explained. “The other coach couldn’t make it because of a game.”

“But dude, they’re all chicks!” Jeremy said again, his hair flapping around in the breeze as he jogged away. “No wonder you got in!”

Kaliq grinned to himself as he wiped the sweat from his brow. It might have been nice to believe he was completely oblivious to his perfection, but the truth was, he knew exactly how fine he was. He just wasn’t an asshole about it.

From the sidelines the two women watched him intently. Then Coach Michaels blew the whistle. “Gotta quit early today, boys!” the coach shouted, spitting into the grass. “Wife and I are celebrating our fortieth anniversary tonight.” He tucked his gnarled hands into his windbreaker and nodded at Kaliq before spitting into the grass once more. “Come on, Braxton.”

Kaliq followed the coach over to where the two university women were standing.

“It’d be great to have our own pitch,” Coach Michaels told the women. He gestured at the stretch of Central Park grass where Kaliq’s teammates were dismantling the goals. “But when you play in the city, you use what you’ve got.”

As if they really had it rough.

On a bench nearby, four tenth-grade girls in green plaid Seaton Arms uniforms giggled and whispered to one another, their eyes fixed longingly on Kaliq. “At least in the park you always have an audience,” the Yale coach observed. She was tall and horsey-looking, with a mane of blond hair and an angular face. A street vendor was selling drinks and ice cream from a cart parked near the benches. She unzipped the front pocket of her navy blue backpack with the gray Yale bulldog decal on it. “Can I buy you two a Gatorade or something?”

“No thanks, ma’am. Gotta get home to the wife.” Coach Michaels shook hands with the two women and then clapped Kaliq on the back. “He’s a talented boy. Let me know if you have any questions.”

The coach took off, and Kaliq whacked at the new spring grass with his lacrosse stick. “I better get home and shower,” he mumbled, unsure of what the two women had planned. Brittany, his interviewer from Brown, was watching him expectantly. Brittany had left a message on his cell phone asking him to meet her in the lobby of the Warwick New York Hotel at five o’clock that afternoon to “discuss his options.”

Whatever that meant.

The coach from Yale handed him a blue nylon sports bag with a big white leather Y embossed on it. “Compliments of the team,” she said. “Your jersey and shorts and stuff are all in there. Jockstrap. Even socks.”

Brittany’s face fell. Guess she hadn’t thought of that. “Are we still on for later?” she asked quickly. “I could buy you dinner.” Her hair was a burgundy color, which Kaliq hadn’t remembered from when he met her in October, and he wondered if she’d dyed it. Actually, she was a lot cuter than he remembered and he kind of liked that she hadn’t tried to seduce him with a whole bag full of Brown sweatshirts and shit. Even if he decided to go to Yale, did he really need a Yale-issue jockstrap?

“I’ll be there,” he said. Then he held out his hand to the Yale coach. “Thanks for coming down.”

But the coach wasn’t giving up that easily. “How ‘bout I take you to brunch around eleven tomorrow? I’m in the Hotel Wales on Madison—Sarabeth’s is right downstairs. Their pancakes are wicked good.”

Kaliq noticed the Yale coach had a seriously nice chest—big, but firm. She looked like one of those Olympic volleyball players. He slung the Yale bag over his shoulder. “Sure,” he agreed. “Brunch sounds good.”

It was kind of a head trip to be schmoozed this hard by two of the hardest-to-get-into colleges in the country, and it might be fun to see just how badly they wanted him.

16

“Tell me honestly, is this obscene?” Bree asked. Yasmine was perched on the edge of Bree’s bed filming her while she selected an outfit for her upcoming photo shoot. Yasmine was supposed to be helping Mekhi pack, but he’d discovered a notebook full of poems he’d written back when he was thirteen and was busy hunting for some recyclable poetic gem. Good luck with that.

Bree had psyched herself up to appear at the photo shoot without a bra, something she never did, at least not in public. Not only that, she’d decided to wear a light blue T-shirt that was kind of tight. “So, what do you think?”

“Yes, it’s obscene,” Yasmine replied matter-of-factly, careful to keep the camera focused above Bree’s shoulders so her ratings wouldn’t go from PG-13 to NC-17.

“Really?” Bree turned around to check out her butt in the mirror on the back of her closet door. Her new jeans made her legs look so much longer than her other jeans did. It was a remarkable feat of engineering.

Yasmine panned around the room. It was a typical adolescent girl’s room, decorated in pink and white, with a collage of pictures ripped out of fashion magazines tacked to the wall and a bookshelf strewn with teen fiction and half-dressed Barbies that never got thrown out. The art on the walls was definitely unique, though. A perfect replica of Klimt’s The Kiss, an impressive copy of van Gogh’s Windmills, and a stunning O’Keeffe-like picture painted by Bree herself. Yasmine panned back to her subject. “Why don’t you try a black shirt?” she suggested. “And a bra.”

Bree’s face fell. “It’s that bad?”

Her dad appeared in her open doorway, the long pieces of his wiry gray hair pulled up on top of his head in one of Bree’s scrunchies. “Jesus, girl, put a sweater on or something,” Rufus gasped. “What will the neighbors think?”

Bree knew her dad was playing around, but it was pretty clear what the general consensus was. She pulled a sweatshirt out of her closet and pulled it on over her head. “Thanks, people. It’s so nice to know you care,” she said, glaring at her dad. “Any chance I could move into your place, too?” she asked Yasmine.

“Absolutely not,” Rufus retorted. “Who will drink all the orange juice before I even get up in the morning? Who will fill up the butter compartment of the fridge with nail polish? Who will bleach my black socks pink?”

Bree rolled her eyes. Her dad would be really lonely all by himself. And she didn’t really want to live with Mekhi and Yasmine anyway. Not when they were practically married and everything. It would be way too weird.

All of a sudden Yasmine felt horribly guilty for taking Mekhi away from Rufus when Mekhi’s mother had already left years ago to live in Prague with some aristrocat or something. “We’ll come over for dinner on weekends,” she offered lamely. “Or you guys could come over and cook. Ruby has lots of great cooking stuff. Someone better teach me how to use it.”

Rufus brightened. “We can have cooking tutorials!”

Yasmine fiddled with her camera lens, trying to get Rufus into the picture. “Mr. Hargrove, do you mind if I ask you some questions?” she asked.

Rufus sat down on the floor and pulled Bree down next to him. “We love the attention!” he said and pinched his daughter in the side.

“Dad,” Bree whined, crossing her arms over her chest even though she was wearing the sweatshirt.

“So, how does it feel to have a son old enough to be going to college and moving out?” Yasmine asked.

Rufus tugged on his wiry, untamed salt-and-pepper beard. He was smiling, but his brown eyes were liquid and sad-looking. “If you ask me, he should have moved out a long time ago. American families spoil their kids. They should start school as soon as they can hold their heads up, and they should be out of the house by fourteen.” He pinched Bree’s side again. “Right about when they start acting resentful toward their fathers.”

Dad,” Bree whined again. Then she brightened. “Hey, does this mean I can have Mekhi’s room? It’s like twice the size of mine.”

Rufus frowned. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he grumbled. “He still needs a room.” He cocked a wild eyebrow at Yasmine. “You might kick him out. He might even get kicked out of college!”

“But you just said—” Bree started, and then stopped. Her father was always contradicting himself. She should have been used to it by now. “Anyway, once I get some modeling money, I can redecorate this room,” she added.

Rufus rolled his eyes dramatically for the sake of the camera and Bree punched him in the arm. Then Mekhi appeared in the doorway. He was wearing a green polo shirt that his mother had sent him a few years ago. It was about three sizes too small and made him look like a golf-playing dweeb on crack.

“That shirt stays here,” Yasmine ordered.

Mekhi chuckled, pulled the shirt off over his head, and tossed it into Bree’s trash basket.

“Hey,” Bree whined. “Use your own trash can.”

“It’s just a shirt. You can handle it,” Mekhi growled back.

Then Bree burst into a fit of giggles. Mekhi thought he was such a stud because he’d had a poem published in The New Yorker and had gotten into all those colleges, but without a shirt on he looked really puny, and wasn’t it sort of lame that he did absolutely everything Yasmine told him to without question?

“I’ll really miss you, Mekhi,” Bree sighed with pretend dolefulness.

Rufus pulled a packet of mini cigars out of his back pocket and passed them out to everyone without any explanation. Then he lit his and began to puff away. “Maybe it’s for the best,” he sighed.

Yasmine turned off her camera and rolled her unlit cigar around between her lips. It was hard not to feel guilty when Rufus looked so sad, but then again, she couldn’t wait to have Mekhi all to herself, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Her eyes were riveted on his dark, bony chest. It was the chest of a tortured artist. Her man.

“Ready to go?” she asked, grinning at him excitedly.

Mekhi grinned back. He still hadn’t come down from his happy high, and he wasn’t planning to anytime soon. “Ready,” he responded gamely.

Let’s just hope he packed some other shirts.

17

Chanel held Drew’s cheeks in her hands and blew steam into the lenses of his glasses. Then she rubbed it off with the tip of her perfectly shaped nose. “Promise me you’ll come to New York?”

She’d spent the entire afternoon sitting right next to Drew in the pit during orchestra practice. The conductor had even let her play the timpani and the bells! Of course, she could hardly keep time watching Drew play xylophone. The way he closed his eyes and pursed his lips and tapped his feet as he played was beyond adorable. After practice he’d bought her a cappuccino in the coffee house, and they’d started to share a brownie. But by then Chanel was so smitten she’d had to drag Drew back to his dorm room for a private xylophone lesson.

Uh-huh.

Not that she’d gotten him out of his neatly pressed J. Crew cords—he wasn’t that kind of boy—but he definitely knew how to kiss. Now they lay entwined on his narrow bed, their clothes all rumpled and their hair matted to their heads. Chanel wanted to stay that way for the rest of the weekend; unfortunately, she had to go.

Drew took off his glasses and cleaned them on his pillowcase. He put them back on and cleared his throat. “So, do you think you’ll decide to go here in the fall?”

“Definitely,” Chanel breathed. She nuzzled her head into his chest. “I don’t know how I’m going to make it until then without you.”

There were only two weeks left of Drew’s sophomore year. Then he was off to Africa for the summer to study percussion. He kissed her hair. “I’ll come down and visit before I go, and I’ll write every day while I’m gone.”

Aw.

Chanel closed her eyes and kissed him for a long, long lime. It was dinnertime and the dorm was quiet. Then, all of a sudden, voices resounded in the hall outside as people returned to their rooms to do whatever it was people did after dinner at college—study, flirt with the cutie down the hall, study, hook up with the cutie down the hall, pretend to study, make cosmos, play strip poker, order pizza.

The door opened and Drew pulled away from her.

A light skinned boy wearing a red baseball hat and black basketball shorts stood in the doorway. “Hey. What’s happening?” he said in a strong Massachusetts accent.

“Wade, Chanel. Chanel, my roommate Wade. Chanel is from New York. She’s on her way down to Brown,” Drew explained, looking flustered.

Chanel sat up and wiped her mouth.

“Just stopped by to check out Harvard,” Wade observed in a mocking tone. “Guess you liked it okay.”

Chanel blushed even harder. She swung her feet to the floor and slipped them into her brown suede Calvin Klein flats. “I better go. My driver’s been waiting for over an hour.”

“I’ll walk you,” Drew offered. As soon as they were out of the room and walking down the hall to the exit doors, Drew gave Chanel’s hand a little squeeze. “For the past two years Wade has given me shit about not having a girlfriend. I don’t think he expected to see me with someone so…” He faltered and bit his lip, as if embarrassed by the stream of adjectives that was about to pour out of his mouth.

Mouthwateringly beautiful? Supremely bodacious? Superbly succulent? Female?

Chanel grinned up at him as he held the door open for her, her cheeks flushed with the rush of love. Drew didn’t have to finish his sentence. She knew how he felt, because she felt exactly the same way about him.

A gray Lincoln town car was waiting at the bottom of the steps, ready to whisk her off to Providence. She wrapped her arms around Drew’s neck, pressed her cheek against his, and inhaled in an attempt to absorb as much of him as possible. “I love you,” she whispered in his ear before pulling away and running down the steps and into the car.

Drew raised his hand to wave goodbye and the car pulled away, leaving Chanel smiling and crying and happier than she had felt in a long, long time. At long last she’d found true love.

A love that would last for at least thirty seconds.

18

“Okay, so you want to hear something totally gross?” Forest, one of Rebecca’s Georgetown roommates, asked the group.

Porsha was seated around a table with Rebecca and her three roommates in the back of Moni Moni, a cheesy Georgetown karaoke bar. A tour bus full of nerdy-looking Hungarian men in tracksuits monopolized the karaoke machine, putting everything they had into their songs. Porsha and the other girls were drinking green kiwi-flavored frozen cocktails called Kiwi the Snowman while they pretended not to notice how obnoxious the so-called music was. The drinks were ridiculously strong, and they were having trouble stringing sentences together.

“I’m sure you’re going to tell us, even if we don’t want to know,” Jessica replied. Jessica had black hair streaked with blond and a nose that was so severely pugged, Porsha could see straight up it.

Not that she was really looking.

“Will you just tell us already?” Rebecca whined.

“Okay,” Forest said slowly. She lit a cigarette and paused dramatically. Forest was Korean-American and had bleached-blond hair that would have looked so much better if she just let it be black. Not that Porsha cared enough to say anything.

“So you know how Georgetown is supposed to be all about brotherly love and there are no fraternities and everything is supposed to be all uncompetitive and all? Well, I just found out that there’s this underground lacrosse fraternity, and for orientation the older boys make the younger boys eat a cracker with their pee on it. It’s like this whole ritual thing. And if you, like, don’t eat the cracker, you don’t get on the team.”

Everyone made a face, including Porsha. Sometimes boys were just…gross. Except for Kaliq, who would never ever do anything remotely that disgusting.

“You’re from New York City?” Fran piped up. Fran was only four-foot-eleven, weighed about eighty pounds, and spoke in a breathy whisper. Her skin was so transparent, Porsha thought she could actually see Kiwi the Snowman pumping through her veins. “I’ve only been there once. I got food poisoning at a sushi restaurant and spent the whole week puking.”

“As if you don’t puke enough already,” Forest quipped, suggesting that Fran’s diminutive size was self-imposed.

“Do you know that guy Jaylen Harrison?” Jessica asked Porsha. “I follow him on Instagram.”

Porsha nodded. Everyone knew Jaylen, whether they liked it or not

“Is it true he didn’t get in anywhere?” Rebecca asked, crunching ice between her slightly bucked teeth.

“That seriously bites,” Forest said, without a hint of sympathy.

Silently, Porsha gulped of her drink. Since Georgetown was looking less and less appealing and she basically had no other options, she could almost sympathize with Jaylen. He had always been so cocky about everything, no one had the slightest doubt he’d get in wherever he wanted to go. It never occurred to anybody that his cockiness might offend his teachers so much that they refused to give him recommendations; that his over-the-top I’m-a-male-runway-model style of dressing and suggestions that his family buy the school he decided to attend outright might turn interviewers off; that he was too cocky or too lazy or both to take the SAT more than once; or that he’d send with his applications a videotape of himself overacting in an interschool musical that he didn’t even star in, instead of an application essay.

And so he was rejected. Not four or five times, but nine. Nine rejections. Ouch! Even the worst scumbag deserved some sympathy for that. But Porsha was sure he’d find a way to wheedle his way in somewhere. He always did.

“Do you know Leslie Ward?” Rebecca asked. “She came here for a term and then transferred to BU?”

Porsha shook her head. She didn’t know Leslie, but she could see why she’d transferred.

“Do you know Alexis Sullivan?” Fran asked. “We went to camp together.”

Porsha nodded tiredly. The game was wearing thin. “She’s in my class at Willard.”

“What about Kaliq Braxton?” Jessica asked. She nudged Forest’s arm with her elbow and wiggled her eyebrows suggestively. “Remember him?”

Forest nudged her back. “Shut up,” she snapped, looking pissed-off and sad at the same time.

Porsha’s hackles rose. “What about him?”

“He visited here once. And seriously, he was the biggest stoner ever. But I heard he got recruited for lacrosse at all the best schools, even Yale. I don’t think he bothered to apply here. He didn’t need to.”

“Kaliq Braxton,” Fran repeated. “We were all so in love with him,” she giggled hoarsely. “Especially Forest.”

“Shut up!” Forest snapped again.

Porsha’s stomach churned. The Hungarians were taking a stab at Eminem now and they rapped obnoxiously. She pushed away her drink. “Kaliq got into Yale? That’s such a lie,” she said, almost to herself. Then again, when it came to Kaliq, she never knew what to believe.

“Why would we lie to you? We don’t even know you,” Jessica retorted bitchily.

Porsha stared at her for a moment and then bent down to retrieve her purse from underneath the table. “I’ll be right back,” she announced, and then stumbled towards the bathroom.

19

Brittany had interviewed Kaliq back in the fall, so she already knew he’d spent every summer since he was born sailing up in Maine. Because of this she assumed he liked lobster. And because she was supposed to lavish him with the best of everything in order to entice him up to Brown, she took him to the restaurant Citarella, where she’d preordered a giant broiled lobster for the two of them to share, along with a bottle of Dom Perignon and a basket of frites.

“I grew up in Maine,” she explained, tugging on her pearls. “Camden. All my family ever did was sail and eat lobster.”

The truth was, Kaliq thought lobster was sort of ridiculous, like some silly crustacean cartoon character that could dance on its tail and hold a microphone in its claw and sing and tell jokes and make people giggle. It certainly wasn’t the sort of food he craved when he had the munchies.

Which was basically all the time.

“So.” Brittany topped off her champagne flute, even though the waiter had just filled it. She’d changed into a low-cut orange dress and was wearing sparkling lip gloss and mascara. Her burgundy hair was freshly brushed and she looked even cuter than she had earlier that day on the lacrosse pitch in the park. She fiddled nervously with the stem of her glass. “Enough about me. Do you, um…?” She bit her lip. “Do you have a girlfriend?”

Kaliq poked at his salad, smearing goat cheese all over the leaves. He was pretty sure Brittany’s low-cut dress and flirtatious behavior went beyond her mission of getting him to matriculate at Brown. He suspected she had a crush on him. But she was still his Brown interviewer, and he wanted to make a good impression.

“Um. Sort of,” he told her hesitantly. “I mean, sometimes we’re together and sometimes we’re not.”

She seemed to like that answer. “Are you together now?”

Kaliq had always preferred beer to champagne but he gulped his wine Porsha-style. In theory, he and Porsha were together again, happily. Hooray. But they hadn’t exactly discussed the terms of their relationship. Did flirting with his Brown admissions officer really qualify as cheating?

Suddenly his phone rang and he whipped it out of his pocket, kicking himself for forgetting to turn it off before dinner. He glanced at the phone’s little screen. Speak of the devil.

Kaliq’s head was a little fuzzy from the six bong hits he’d done at Anthony Avuldsen’s house before he came out. Speaking to Porsha might knock some sense into him.

“Um, I should take this,” he told Brittany. “Hey,” he said into the phone.

“Hello,” Porsha responded coldly. “Before you say anything I just have to ask you a question.”

Her voice was clipped, as if she was trying to use as few syllables as possible. Kaliq could tell she’d been drinking. “Okay.”

“Tell me the truth. Did you apply to Yale?”

Oh, boy.

Kaliq grabbed his champagne and polished it off. Fuck! he cursed silently. Fuck, fuck, fuck. There was definitely no right answer. If he said yes, he was a bastard and a liar, and if ho said no, he was a bastard and a liar.

Brittany was smiling at him expectantly, her lips all shiny and glossed. At least he could take comfort in the fact that Porsha was miles away at Georgetown, and he was having dinner with his Brown interviewer, who was dying to see him naked. He decided to tell the truth.

“Yeah, I did. And I guess I got in.”

Porsha made a strange gurgling noise, and then Kaliq heard the distinct, familiar sound of her puking into a toilet. “Fuck you,” she growled into the phone before hanging up.

Kaliq turned the phone off and tucked it into his pocket. The waiter arrived with the lobster. “Boy, does that look good,” Kaliq said, his voice hollow.

“Do you want to share the tail?” Brittany asked, handling the steaming crustacean with practiced ease. She pointed at the stainless-steel claw-cracking tools the waiter had brought. “Or get started on a claw?”

What Kaliq really wanted was to do a few more bong hits and then eat a big bowl of chocolate ice cream while sitting comatose in front of The Avengers, which he’d already seen eighteen times.

Brittany put down the lobster. “Are you okay?”

He shrugged. “I think my girlfriend just broke up with me again.”

Brittany’s eyes opened wide. “You poor thing.” She motioned to the waiter. “Can we have this to go?” She pushed back her chair. “Come on. I’ll buy you a beer and a cigarette.”

Kaliq tried to tell himself that since Porsha wasn’t around to murder him right now he was basically safe and should enjoy the next twenty-four hours before she came back. He could even hook up with Brittany if he wanted to.

The thing was, he was sick of always breaking up with Porsha when they both knew that they were supposed to be together for the rest of their lives. And unlike Porsha, he didn’t really care what college he went to. In fact, he’d be fine with not going to college at all for a couple of years. As far as he could tell, the only way to put himself and Porsha back on a level playing field was to try and get his Brown and Yale acceptances revoked. And what better way to do that than to act like an asshole?

“Fuck it,” Kaliq said under his breath. He stood up and helped Brittany into the denim jacket hanging on the back of her chair. His fingers brushed her neck as he pulled her hair out from underneath the collar. They were standing very close, and Brittany’s breath smelled like Hawaiian Punch. “How badly does Brown want me?” he murmured into her ear.

Her eyes opened wide. “Bad,” she whispered unsteadily. Her hotel room key was on the table. Kaliq picked it up and dropped it in his pocket. “Bad,” she whispered again.

The waiter handed Kaliq a plastic bag with the twenty-pound lobster wrapped up in foil inside it. He chucked it on the table and put his arm around Brittany’s waist. “Show me,” he told her gruffly, disgusted with the sound of his voice.

Guess he wasn’t talking about the lobster.

20

Only a half hour into their journey to Providence, Chanel asked the driver to stop at a gas station. The convenience store was tiny and badly stocked, but she bought a Coke, a Twix bar, and a local newspaper just to have something to do while she was mooning over Drew.

Outside, a boy was standing just beyond the pumps, holding up a sign that said Brown. He was wearing faded jeans and a nice blue-and-white-striped shirt, and dockside shoes without socks. On his back was a complicated backpack, the type people take on long hikes. His curly black hair looked clean and he seemed normal enough.

“Need a ride?” she called over.

The boy whipped his head around. “Me?

Chanel liked how big and wide open his brown eyes were. “I’ve got a driver to take us up there. Come on,” she offered.

The boy grinned shyly and followed her to the car. He sat close to the door and put his backpack between them. A patch of the Dominican flag was sewn onto it. Chanel drank her Coke and pretended to read her newspaper. Then the boy pulled a drawing pad and pencil from out of his backpack and began to scribble away.

At first she thought it was homework or a letter, but then she yawned and let her head fall back against the seat back, secretly taking a gander at what the boy was writing. Much to her surprise, he was sketching her. Her hands, to be exact.

“Do I get to keep that when you’re done?” she asked.

The boy jumped, as if he thought he’d been really coy and secretive about the fact that he was drawing her. He closed his notebook and tucked the pencil behind his ear. “Sorry.”

“That’s all right.” Chanel stretched her arms over her head and then let her hands fall into her lap. “I’m in such a daze anyway. Go ahead. Keep drawing.”

He opened his notebook again. “You don’t mind?”

“Nope.” After all, she was a professional model. She sat back and folded her hands the same way they’d been before. “Is this okay?”

“Mmhm,” the boy answered, his head bent over his work. He had dark olive skin and thick black curls and he exuded an odor of fresh mint.

Chanel closed her eyes, trying to recall what Drew’s skin was like. She honestly couldn’t remember. She opened her eyes again and glanced at the boy. The back of his neck looked soft and brown. If we had children, they’d have year-round tans and that sort of sandy blond-brown hair that’s so pretty in the sun, she mused. Then she looked away again, horrified. What was wrong with her? She didn’t even know his name!

The boy looked up again. “Do you go to Brown?”

Chanel kept her gaze fixed on the window. It was dirty and she could see his reflection in it. His black eyelashes were curly and his brown eyes were wonderfully soft, like Bambi’s or something. “Not yet, but I might, next year.”

Wait, wasn’t she all about Harvard like five seconds ago?

“I hope so,” he said quietly before turning back to his drawing.

Chanel didn’t know what had gotten into her, but she was totally turned on. What if I just grabbed him and kissed him? she wondered to herself. The driver was listening to some baseball game on the radio; he wouldn’t even notice.

“You know, you would be a great artist’s model,” the boy told her. “You could sit for the figure-drawing classes at Brown. Professor Kofke is always looking for good models.”

“Thanks. Actually, I have done some modeling,” Chanel began, but then shut herself up for fear of sounding like a brat.

The boy tucked his pencil behind his ear, studying his drawing. “It doesn’t even matter to me whether a model is beautiful or not. Usually I only do hands.”

Chanel peered over his shoulder. He really did smell like mint. “You made my hands look much nicer than they are. Look at my thumbnail: I’ve chewed it to bits! And this one…” She held out her left pinky. “My poor cuticles!”

But the boy wasn’t even looking. He unzipped a side packet in his backpack, pulled out a piece of paper, and handed it to her.

Chanel unfolded the piece of paper. It was a clipping ripped from a magazine. “Tighter Abs in Seven Days,” the caption read.

“Turn it over,” the boy told her.

She flipped the clipping over. On the back of it was the ad for Chanel’s Tears. There she was, crying in the snow in Central Park, wearing a yellow sundress.

“Is that really your name? Chanel?” he asked, gazing at her with those Bambi eyes.

“Yes.”

He took the clipping back. “I lied about only doing hands. I thought I was dreaming when you picked me up at the gas station back there. I’ve been painting you for two months. From this picture. I’m still not finished. It’s in the studio, up at Brown.” He folded up the clipping and tucked it into his backpack. Then he held out his hand. “I’m Christian.”

Chanel let her hand linger in his. She supposed she should have been freaked out, but instead she was more turned on than ever. “Would you mind showing me around a little when we get there?” she asked. “I’m supposed to meet my brother, but I’m already so late, he’s probably already in a bar or something.”

Cairo wouldn’t mind if she blew him off. Brothers and sisters always blew each other off all the time. Besides, Christian could probably give her a much more thorough tour.

Yeah, you bet he could.

21

The Hungarians were gone, replaced by three women in Smithsonian Museum security uniforms singing Whitney Houston. “And iiiiiiiiiiiiiii will always love you!”

Talk about painful.

The moment she hung up with Kaliq, Porsha went over to the bar and ordered a pitcher of pink grapefruit margaritas for the table.

“You guys saved my life,” she told Rebecca, Forest, Jessica, and Fran as she set the pitcher down. The girls’ heads wobbled drunkenly in response. Porsha sat down, lit a cigarette, took a drag, and then passed it to Rebecca. “I’m just glad I got you as a tour guide, and not some lame.”

Rebecca passed the cigarette around, and the girls’ lip sticks combined to make a smudgy plum-colored stain on the filter. “Last month Forest was taking this prospective student around—a guy. They got caught by the dean of students practically doing it in the laundry room. She got fired by admissions.”

“Shut up,” Forest whined, but she was smiling.

Porsha tried to imagine what her visit would have been like if her tour guide had been a guy, but knowing her luck, he’d have been a total geek. She stared at Forest, wondering if maybe she ought to say something about how her bleached-blond hair looked cheap and slutty and no wonder the admissions office didn’t want her to be a tour guide. But since she was drunk as a fish, she said something else entirely.

“So, are any of you still virgins?”

The four girls giggled and kicked each other under the table. Porsha lit another cigarette, feeling slightly annoyed that she’d set herself up to admit that she was a virgin in front of four obvious skanks. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

Rebecca blinked her eyes drunkenly in an effort to compose herself. “Actually, we all are. See, we made this pact.” She glanced around the table at her friends. “Georgetown doesn’t have sororities, but we sort of have one. We call it the sisterhood of celibacy.”

Porsha’s eyes opened wide. She was about to get programmed into some sort of virginity cult, and she was so drunk and upset and vulnerable, it actually sounded like a good idea.

“We aren’t, like, against fooling around or anything. God no. All of us have done just about everything but go all the way,” Jessica clarified. She rubbed her pug nose. “We’re saving that for marriage.”

“Or at least true love,” Fran clarified. “I’m never getting married.”

“Fran’s parents have each been married and divorced three times,” Rebecca noted.

Porsha stamped out her cigarette. Fuck Kaliq. Fuck Yale. All of a sudden she wanted nothing more than to pledge their little sorority. “Me too,” she admitted. “I mean, I’m a virgin, too.”

The four girls stared at her in amazement, as if they couldn’t quite believe that a sophisticated New York girl like herself had never once experienced sex.

“You totally have to join,” Fran said in her hoarse, intense whisper. “And when you go here, we’ll all be together. Not just until graduation, but forever!”

Porsha put her elbows on the table and leaned forward, ready for action. “What do I have to do?”

The four girls giggled giddily, like they just loved their initiation rites.

“I’m the newest member,” Forest explained.

“Her hair was almost black before,” Jessica put in.

“First you have to let us shave your legs,” Fran said.

“And then we bleach your hair,” Rebecca added.

And they had a problem with the whole pee-on-a-cracker thing?!

Porsha sat back in her chair. Her life was shit, and besides, she’d always wanted to know what she’d look like as a blond. She picked up her drink and poured it down her throat, banging the glass down on the table when she was done. “I’m ready,” she told her new sisters.

Yippee!” the girls chorused, and poured themselves another round.

“If I don’t eat something soon,” Rebecca moaned, “I’m gonna hurl.”

“Me too,” the other girls agreed.

“We gotta get to the grocery store before it closes,” Rebecca added. “We can pick up some Hot Pockets or something.”

Yummy. Maybe they could even have fried pork rinds!

Porsha grabbed her purse and rose shakily to her feet. “Last one in the cab is a drunk virgin bitch.”

The five girls linked arms and staggered out into the night.

Question: Even if they were your new best friends, would you let four drunk virgin bitches shave your legs and dye your hair?

22

“This is great,” Mekhi enthused as he watched the spaghetti boiling in its pot. He glanced at Yasmine, who was standing next to him, slicing onions on a chopping board balanced over the sink. Onion tears streamed down her face and he kissed her damp cheek. “Look at us.”

Yasmine laughed and kissed him back. Actually, this whole living-together thing was fun. Ruby had left early that morning, and with one taxi ride full of stuff, Mekhi was all moved in. They’d spent the afternoon grocery shopping and buying stupid little things for the apartment like refrigerator magnets and black sheets with neon green UFOs on them. Now they were cooking their first meal together as a cohabiting couple.

If you can call spaghetti with onions and Ragu cooking.

Mekhi slipped one hand under Yasmine’s shirt and turned the burner off with the other. Dinner could wait. Their faces pressed together, they staggered out of the open kitchen area and into the living room, where they fell back onto Ruby’s futon, which was now their living room couch. It still smelled like Christian Dior Poison and that licorice tea Ruby was always drinking, but it was all theirs and they could have sex on it whenever they liked.

“What will we do on Monday when we both don’t want to go to school?” Yasmine wondered out loud as Mekhi kissed his way down her arm.

Her hands smelled like onions. “Cut? It’s not like we have to worry about getting into college anymore,” Mekhi said.

She whipped his belt out of his pants and flicked it at his butt. “Bad boy. Remember what your dad said? If your grades drop, you have to move back.”

“Hey, that feels good,” Mekhi joked.

“Oh, yeah?” Yasmine giggled, whipping him with the belt a little harder this time.

And then someone sneezed.

Mekhi and Yasmine broke away from each other, freaked out of their minds. A girl was standing in the doorway. Purple-and-black matted hair. Brown skin. Black shorts. Ripped black T-shirt. Black knee socks. Black Converse high-tops. She was carrying some sort of pick-ax and a duffel bag.

“Mind if I join you?” She kicked the door closed behind her. “I’m Tiphany. Ruby mentioned I’d be staying here?”

Ruby hadn’t said anything about a friend coming to stay, but then again, Ruby wasn’t the most organized human being on the planet. Yasmine extracted herself from Mekhi. “Ruby left for Germany today.” Then she realized Tiphany had let herself in. “She gave you a key?”

“I used to live here,” Tiphany explained. “Your sister and I were roommates for a while.” She walked in and dumped her stuff on top of the futon where they were sitting. Then she bent down and opened her duffel bag. A little head with beady eyes and whiskers popped out. Tiphany picked the creature up and cradled it like a baby.

Mekhi blanched. It looked like a rat.

“What is that?” Yasmine asked, intrigued. Ruby had never mentioned anyone named Tiphany, but Ruby had lived in Williamsburg a whole year by herself before their parents had let Yasmine come down from Vermont to join her. A lot of stuff had probably happened in that year that Yasmine didn’t know about.

“This is Tooter. He’s a ferret. He has some farting issues, and he kind of likes to chew books. But he sleeps all curled up next to me every night, and he’s such a doll.” Tiphany stoked the ferret under the chin. “Aren’t you, Tooter?” She held the creature out to Yasmine. “Wanna hold him?”

Yasmine reached for the scrawny animal and held it in her arms. The ferret gazed up at her with its beady brown eyes. “Isn’t he cute?” she asked, and smiled over at Mekhi. Having houseguests made her feel like she and Mekhi were even more of a couple, and Tiphany seemed way cooler and more interesting than anyone she went to school with, that was for sure.

Mekhi didn’t return her smile. Ever since he’d opened his college acceptance letters he’d been on a simple, happy high. He was into college and back with Yasmine. They were living together. Everything was easy and good. Tiphany was not part of that equation.

“What’s that for?” Yasmine asked, pointing at the pick-ax.

Tiphany picked it up and swung it in the air a few times. Then she propped it up against the wall. “Work. I’m in construction. Demolition, mostly. I’ve got a big project over by the Brooklyn Navy Yard and I’m kind of homeless at the moment. So it was pretty cool of Ruby to let me crash here.”

Yasmine turned to Mekhi. “The noodles,” she said urgently.

Mekhi got up and went into the kitchen. He opened the jar of Ragu, dumped it and the onions into a saucepan, and turned the burner up to high. Then he poured the steaming pot of noodles into the colander in the sink. He pulled three bowls out of the cupboard.

“I guess anyone who wants to eat can eat,” he called out.

“I’m starving. Oh, and I have a little present for us.” Tiphany dug around in her duffel bag and pulled out a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels. She poured a little Jack into the bottle cap and held it out to Tooter. “Puts hair on his chest,” she told Yasmine, and took a swig from the bottle.

Yasmine handed over the ferret and went to help Mekhi find the silverware. “Are you okay?” she whispered.

Mekhi didn’t answer. He spooned instant coffee into a cup and mixed it with hot water right out of the tap. Tiphany put Tooter down and the ferret scampered over to a pile of Mekhi’s poetry books and started nibbling on them.

“No!” Mekhi shouted, throwing his spoon at the little rodent.

“Hey, don’t yell at him!” Tiphany cried, scooping Tooter up again and holding him against her chest. “He’s just a baby.”

Yasmine offered her a bowl of spaghetti. “Mekhi’s a poet,” she said, as if that explained everything.

“I can see that,” Tiphany said without a hint of bitterness. She took the bowl and brought it over to the futon to eat. Tooter sat in her lap, balanced his paws on the bowl’s edge, and began noisily slurping up noodles. Suddenly the entire apartment stank of rotten eggs, sour milk, and burning sulphur. Tiphany covered her mouth with her hand and snorted. “Oops! Tooter tooted!”

Talk about a buzzkill.

“Jesus.” Mekhi grabbed a dish towel and pressed it against his nose and mouth.

“Come on,” Yasmine whispered with her fingers clamped over her nose. “It’s not so bad. She’s nice.”

Mekhi stared at her over the dish towel. He could feel himself crashing down from his high at an alarming rate and was disappointed with himself for being so annoyed by a girl who actually did seem perfectly nice, in a kooky, ferret-loving way.

He tossed aside the dish towel, served himself up some spaghetti, and carried it over to the other end of the futon. “So,” he began, deciding to make an effort, “where’d you go to college?”

Tiphany giggled and wound her spaghetti around her fork. “The school of life,” she answered gaily.

“Cool,” Yasmine responded. “I have to interview you for my film.”

“Cool,” Mekhi agreed with slightly too much zeal.

Or maybe not so cool.

END OF PREVIEW

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Upper East Side #6

Welcome to New York City's Upper East Side, where my friends and I live in gorgeous apartments, go to exclusive private schools, and make Manhattan our own personal playground. It might look hard to be this fabulous, but for us it's as easy as sleeping with your best friend's boyfriend. Spring Break is over, and while some are hitting the books, the Upper East Side set is spending more time showing off their glowing tans, or nursing hangovers from a week's worth of partying. But not everything is fun and games. Acceptance letters are on their way out from college admissions, and the time has come to find out where everyone will be spending the next four years. Stakes are raised and friendships will be put to the test.

  • ISBN: 9781310257582
  • Author: Ashley Valentine
  • Published: 2016-03-26 20:05:27
  • Words: 26230
Upper East Side #6 Upper East Side #6