Authors: Rachel Hawkins
For Aunt Mimi, Aunt Ruby, Aunt Audie, Aunt Rona, and Aunt Ann, rebel belles if ever there were ones.
Bee Franklin was the first person to notice that my lips were all naked and indecent. We were standing outside of our school, Grove Academy. It was late October, and the night was surprisingly cool; in Pine Grove, Alabama, where I live, it’s not unheard of to have a hot Halloween. But that night felt like fall, complete with that nice smoky smell in the air. I was super relieved that it was cold, because my jacket was wool, and there was nothing more tragic than a girl sweating in wool. I was wearing the jacket over a knee-length pink sheath dress. If I was going to be crowned Homecoming Queen tonight—and that seemed like a lock—I was going to do it looking as classy as possible in my demure pink dress and pearls.
“Are you nervous?” Bee asked as I rubbed my hands up and down my arms. Like me, Bee was in pink, but her dress was closer to magenta and the bodice was covered in tiny sequins that winked and shivered in the parking lot lights. Or maybe that was just Bee.
like me, she hadn’t worn a jacket. Our dates, Brandon and Ryan, were off searching for a parking place. They had been annoyed that Bee and I had insisted on not showing up until the thirty minutes before the crowning, but there was no way I was going to risk getting punch spilled on me or my makeup sliding off my face (not to mention the sweatiness! See above, re: wool jacket) before I had that sparkly tiara on my head. I planned on looking
in the yearbook pictures.
“Of course I’m not nervous,” I told Bee. And it was true, I wasn’t. Okay, maybe I was a little bit
. . .
Bee gave an exaggerated eye roll. “Seriously? Harper Jane Price, you have not been able to successfully lie to me since the Second-Grade Barbie Incident. Admit that you’re freaking out.” She held up one hand, pinching her thumb and forefinger together. “Maybe a leeeeeetle bit?”
Laughing, I caught her hand and pulled it down. “Not even a ‘leeeeeetle bit.’ It’s just Homecoming.”
“Yeah, but you’re going to get all queenly tonight. I think that warrants
nerves. Or are you saving them for Cotillion?”
Just the word sent all the nerves Bee could have wanted jittering through my system, but before I could admit that, her dark eyes suddenly went wide. “Omigod! Harper! Your lips!”
“What?” I asked, raising a hand to them.
“They’re nekkid,” she said. “You are totally gloss-less!”
I looked up to see the boys walking toward us. The orange lights played up the red in Ryan’s hair, and he was grinning, his hands in his pockets. I felt that same little flutter in my stomach that I’d been feeling since the first day I saw Ryan Bradshaw, way back in the third grade. It had taken me six years from that day to make him my boyfriend, but looking at him now, I had to admit, it had been worth the wait.
“My lips,” I said. “I must’ve wiped off all my gloss at the restaurant.”
“Well, damn,” he said, throwing his arm around my shoulders. “I’d hoped for something a little more exciting. Of course, no lipgloss means I can safely do this.”
He lowered his head and kissed me, albeit pretty chastely. PDA is vile, and Ryan, being my Perfect Boyfriend, knows how I feel about it.
“Hope you girls are happy,” Brandon said when we broke apart. He had both of his arms wrapped around Bee from behind, his hands clasped right under her . . . um, abundant assets. Bee was so tall that Brandon’s chin barely cleared her shoulder. “We had to park way down the effing road.”
Okay, I should probably mention right here that Brandon used the real word, but this is my story, so I’m cleaning it up a little. Besides, if I honestly quoted Brandon, this thing would look like a
“Don’t say that word!” I snapped.
Brandon rolled his eyes. “What the hell, Harper, are you, like, the language police?”
I pressed my lips together. “I just think that the F-word should be saved for dire occasions. And having to park a hundred yards from the gym is not a dire occasion.”
“So sorry, Your Highness,” Brandon said, scowling as Bee elbowed him in the ribs.
“Easy, dude,” Ryan said, shooting Brandon a warning look.
Ignoring Brandon, I turned to Bee, “Do you have any lip gloss? I completely spaced on bringing any.”
“My girl forgot makeup?” Ryan asked, quirking an eyebrow. “Man, you
stressed about this Queen thing.”
“No, I’m not,” I said immediately, even though, hello, I clearly was. But I didn’t like when people used the “S-word” around me. After all, a big part of my reputation at the Grove was my ability to handle anything and everything.
Ryan raised his hands in apology. “Okay, okay, sorry. But, I mean, this is obviously pretty important to you, or you wouldn’t have spent over a grand on that outfit.” He smiled again, shaking his head so his hair fell over his eyes. “I really hope your tastes get cheaper if we get married.”
“I hear that, man,” Brandon said, lifting his hand to high-five Ryan. “Chicks gonna break us.”
Bee rolled her eyes again, but I didn’t know whether it was at the guys or the fact that my outfit was over a thousand dollars (yes, I know that’s a completely ridiculous amount for a seventeen-year-old girl to spend on a Homecoming dress, but hey, I can wear it, like, a million times provided I don’t gain five pounds. Or at least that was how I rationalized it to my mom.)
“Here.” Bee thrust a tube into my hand.
I held it up to read the name on the bottom. “‘Salmon Fantasy’?”
“That’s close to the shade you wear.” Bee’s long blond hair was woven into a fishtail braid, and she tossed it over her shoulder as she handed me the lip gloss.
“I wear ‘Coral Shimmer.’ That is very different.”
Bee made a face that said, “I am only tolerating you because we’ve been best friends since we were five,” but I kept going, drawing myself up to my full height with mock imperiousness, “And ‘Salmon Fantasy’ has to be the grossest beauty product name ever. Who has fantasies about salmon?”
“People who screw fish,” Brandon offered, completely cracking himself up. Ryan didn’t laugh, but I saw the corners of his mouth twitching.
“So witty, Bran,” I muttered, and this time, when Bee rolled her eyes, I had no doubt that it was at the guys.
“Look,” she said to me, “It’s either ‘Salmon Fantasy’ or naked lips. Your choice.”
I sighed and clutched the tube of lip gloss. “Okay,” I said, “but I’m gonna have to find a bathroom.” If it had been my Coral Shimmer, I could have put it on without a mirror, but there was no way I was slapping on a new shade sight unseen. Ryan pulled open the gym door, and I ducked under his arm to walk into the gym. As soon as I did, I could hear the opening riff of “Sweet Home Alabama.” It’s not a dance until someone plays that song.
The gym looked great, and my chest tightened with pride. I know everyone, even Ryan, thinks I’m crazy to do all the stuff I do at school, but I honestly love the place. I love its redbrick buildings, and the chapel bells that ring to signal class changes instead of those harsh, electronic buzzers they have at other schools. I love that both my parents went here, and their parents before them. So yeah, maybe I do stretch myself a little thin, but it’s completely worth it. The Grove is a happy place to go to school, and I liked to think my good example was the reason for that. And it meant that when people thought of the name “Price” at Grove Academy, they’d think of all the good things I’d done for the school, and not . . . other stuff.
Instead, I focused on the decorations. I’m SGA president—the first ever junior to be elected to the position, I should add—so Homecoming activities are technically my responsibility. But tonight, I’d delegated all of the decorating to my protégée, sophomore class president Lucy McCarroll. My only contribution had been to ban crepe streamers and balloon arches. Can you say tacky?
Lucy had done a great job. The walls were covered in a silky, shimmery purple material and there were colored lights pulsating with the music. Looking over at the punch table, I saw that she’d even brought in a little fountain with several bistro tables clustered around it.
I scanned the crowd until I saw Lucy, and when I caught her eye, I gave her the thumbs-up, and mouthed, “Nice!”
“Harper!” I heard someone cry. I turned around to see Amanda and Abigail Foster headed my way. They were identical twins, but relatively easy to tell apart since Amanda always wore her long brown hair up, and Abigail wore hers down. Tonight, both were wearing green dresses with spaghetti straps, but Amanda’s was hunter green while Abigail’s was closer to seafoam.
The twins were on the cheerleading squad with me and Bee, and Abi and I worked together on SGA. Right behind them was Mary Beth Riley, wobbling on her high heels. Next to me, Bee blew out a long breath before muttering, “Maybe no one will notice if she wears tennis shoes under her dress.”
Despite Bee’s low tone, Mary Beth heard her. “I’m working on it,” she said, glaring at Bee. “I’ll get better by Cotillion.”
Since “Riley” came right after “Price” alphabetically, Mary Beth would be following me down the giant staircase at Magnolia House, the mansion where Cotillion was held every year. So far, we’d only had two practices, but Mary Beth had tripped and nearly fallen directly on top of me both times.
Which was why I’d suggested she start wearing the heels every day.
“Speaking of that,” Amanda said, laying a hand on my arm. Even under her makeup, I could see the constellation of freckles arcing across her nose. That was another way to tell the twins apart; Abi’s nose was freckle-free. “We got an e-mail from Miss Saylor right before we left for the dance. She wants to schedule another practice Monday afternoon.”
I bit back a sigh. I had a Future Business Leaders of America meeting Monday after school, so that would have to be moved. Maybe Tuesday? No, Tuesday was cheerleading practice, and Wednesday was SGA. Still, when Saylor Stark told you there was going to be an extra Cotillion practice, you went. All the other stuff could wait.
“I’m so sick of practice,” Mary Beth groaned, tipping her head back. As she did, her dark red hair fell back from her ears, revealing silver hoops that were way too big. Ugh. “It’s
. We wear a white dress. We walk down some stairs, we drink some punch and dance with our dads. And then we all pat ourselves on the back and pretend we did it just to raise money for charity, and that it’s not stupid and old-fashioned and totally selfindulgent.”
“Mary Beth!” Amanda gasped, while Abigail glanced around like Miss Saylor was going to swoop out of the rafters. Bee’s huge eyes went even bigger, and her mouth opened and closed several times, but no sounds came out.
“It is not!” I heard someone practically shriek. Then I realized it was
I took a deep breath through my nose and did my best to make my voice calm as I continued. “I just mean . . . Mary Beth, Cotillion is a lot more than just wearing a white dress and dancing with your dad. It’s
. It’s when we make the transition from girls to women. It’s . . . important.”
Mary Beth chewed her lip and studied me for a moment. “Okay, maybe.” Then she shrugged and gave a tiny smile. “But we’ll see how you feel when I’m ‘transitioning’ into a heap at the bottom of those stairs.”
“You’ll do fine,” I told her, hoping I sounded more convinced than I felt. I’d spent months preparing for my Homecoming coronation, but Cotillion? I’d been getting ready for
since I was four years old and Mom had shown me and my older sister, Leigh-Anne, her Cotillion dress. I still remembered the smooth feel of the silk under my hands. It had been her grandmother’s dress, Mom had told us, and one day, Leigh-Anne and I would wear it, too.
Two years ago, Leigh-Anne had, but for my Cotillion, I’d be wearing a dress Mom and I had bought last summer in Mobile. “Babe!” I heard Ryan call from behind me.
As I turned to smile at him, I heard one of the girls sigh. Probably Mary Beth. And I had to admit, striding toward us, his auburn hair flopping over his forehead, shoulders back, hands in his pockets, Ryan was completely sigh-worthy. I held my hand out to him as he approached, and he slipped it easily into his own.
“Ladies,” Ryan said, nodding at Amanda, Abigail, and Mary Beth. “Let me guess. Y’all are . . . plotting world domination?”
Mary Beth giggled, which had the unfortunate effect of making her wobble even more. Abigail had to grab her elbow to keep her from falling over.
“No,” Amanda told him, deadly serious. “We’re talking about Cotillion.”
“Ah, world domination, Cotillion. Same difference,” Ryan replied with an easy grin, and this time, all three girls giggled, even Amanda.
Turning his attention to me, Ryan raised his eyebrows. “So are we just going to stand around and listen to this band butcher Lynyrd Skynyrd or are we going to dance?”
“Yeah,” Brandon said, coming up next to Ryan and grabbing Bee around the waist. “Let’s go turn this mother
He pulled her out onto the dance floor, where he immediately flopped on his belly and started doing the worm. I watched Bee dance awkwardly around him and wondered for the millionth time why she wasted her time with that goof ball.
My own much less goofy boyfriend took my hand and started pulling me toward Bee and Brandon, but I pulled it back and held up the lip gloss. “I’ll be right back!” I shouted over the music, and he nodded before heading for the refreshment table.
I glanced over my shoulder as I walked into the gym lobby and was treated to the sight of Brandon and one of the other basketball players doing that weird fish-catching dance move. With each other.
Since we’d gotten there so late, most everyone who was coming to the dance was already inside the gym, but there were a few stragglers coming in the main gym lobby doors. Two teachers, Mrs. Delacroix and Mr. Schmidt, were also in the lobby, undoubtedly doing “purse and pocket checks.” Grove Academy was really strict about that sort of thing now. Two years ago, a few kids smuggled in a little bottle of liquor at prom and, later that night, got into a car accident. My sister—
I cut that thought off. Not tonight.
It was strange to be in the school at night. The only light in the lobby came from a display case full of “participation” trophies with Ryan’s name on them. The Grove was excellent in academics, but famously crappy at sports, even against other tiny schools. I know that sounds like sacrilege in the South, but just like any other expensive private school, Grove Academy was way more invested in SAT scores than any scoreboard. We left the football championships to the giant public school across town, Lee High.
I’ve been up at school at night a few times, and it’s always creepy. I guess it’s the quiet. I’m used to the halls being deafening, so the sound of my heels clicking on the linoleum seemed freakishly loud. In fact, they almost echoed, making me feel like there was someone behind me.
I hurried out of the lobby and turned the corner into the English hall, so I didn’t see the guy in front of me until it was too late.
“Oh!” I exclaimed as we bumped shoulders. “Sorry!”
Then I realized who I’d bumped into, and immediately regretted my apologetic tone. If I’d known it was David Stark, I would have tried to hit him harder, or maybe stepped on his foot with the spiky heel of my new shoes for good measure.
I did my best to smile at him, though, even as I realized my stomach was jumping all over the place. He must have scared me more than I’d thought.
David scowled at me over the rims of his ridiculous hipster glasses—the kind with the thick black rims. I hate those. I mean, it’s the twenty-first century. There are fashionable options for eyewear.
“Watch where you’re going,” he said. Then his lips twisted in a smirk. “Or could you not see through all that mascara?”
I would’ve loved nothing more than to tell him to kiss my ass, but one of the responsibilities of being a student leader at the Grove is being polite to everyone, even if they are a douchebag who wrote not one, but