Authors: Kate Brian
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Mysteries & Detective Stories, #Social Issues, #Friendship, #Dating & Sex
“You can come, too, Rose,” Ivy said brightly. “I could use a second and third opinion. Josh and I haven’t really done the dress-up-and-go-out thing. At least not since I’ve been in the hospital. I want it to be perfect.”
At the mention of Josh’s name, my eyes went right to him. He was seated at a table with a bunch of his soccer buddies, leaned over someone’s iPhone, looking at heaven knew what. There was a small red paint stain on the sleeve of his navy blue rugby shirt. For some reason, that tiny splotch made my heart hurt.
“Okay. I’m in,” Rose said. She gave a huge yawn and stretched her arms over her head. “If I’m still awake then.”
Back in their sophomore year, Ivy and Rose had been friends. Maybe the BLS would bring them back together.
The BLS. Wasn’t that supposed to be my focus right now? Not Josh. Not romance. Not the things I couldn’t have. I was supposed to be looking toward the future, not pining for the past. Maybe helping Ivy tonight would be just the thing to help me let him go and move on.
I had some shopping to do for the second task anyway. Maybe today in class I could brainstorm some solid ideas on how to turn the depressing vibe at the Billings tables around with Loyalty Night. This whole secret-society thing was supposed to be fun, but so far, it seemed like Ivy was the only one having any.
THE SECOND TASK
We met for the second task in the common room on the ground floor of Pemberly Hall. As my friends walked in, I could tell they were surprised and a bit nervous at the public arena, the brightness of the room, the fact that it wasn’t the dead of night. It was dark out, of course. In mid-January it got dark at five o’clock. But we’d just come from dinner. People were still up and about on campus. Several of them were even hanging out in the common room, watching us with interest as we settled in on the uneven pentagon of couches I’d arranged in the center of the room.
“What’s this? A fifth-grade slumber party?” Noelle asked, dropping her coat and bag over the back of the longest couch and settling herself in. On the table in front of her were open bags of M&M’s, Reese’s peanut butter cups, pretzels and Tostitos, a jar of pineapple salsa, plus several cans of Coke and bottles of water from the vending machine.
“My budget doesn’t exactly support Godiva and Perrier,” I said, standing in the wedge between the arms of two love seats until all fourteen girls had arrived.
“So, what’re we going to do tonight?” Missy asked, looking down her nose at the spread. “Cut open our palms and make blood vows over an empty calorie fest or something?”
“No,” I said, taking the last seat, which happened to be right next to her. “Tonight, we are going to have a little fun.”
I picked up the brown bag from the floor and dumped out seventy-five safety pins on the table. Each was tied with a tiny dark brown or baby blue ribbon—the official colors of the BLS. I’d spent half the night last night making them, and my fingertips still smarted from the effort.
“Everyone take five pins and attach them to your person,” I said.
They looked at one another dubiously, but Constance dove right in and started pinning the ribbons to her chest. I did the same, trying to show them that I was, in fact, serious. Once everyone had grudgingly done as they were told—Noelle the grudgingliest of all—I grabbed a bottle of water and a handful of M&M’s for strength. I had a feeling the girls were going to think “cheese” was my middle name after I explained this task.
“We’re going to play a little friendship game,” I told them.
“Oh my God! It
a fifth-grade sleepover!” London trilled.
Vienna clapped her hands, all hyper, and everyone laughed. I smiled gratefully. At least they hadn’t gotten up and walked out.
“Everyone’s going to have some munchies and soda and we’re all just going to hang out and talk,” I said, crunching away on my chocolate.
“About what?” Kiki asked, drawing her heavy boots up under her on the couch.
“About us,” I said, lifting a shoulder. “Good memories, bad memories, funny stories …” I trailed off as my eyes fell on Ivy, who was looking suddenly uncomfortable. Right. She wasn’t technically one of us. But she’d known Portia, Rose, Tiffany, Noelle, Vienna, Shelby, and London for a long time. Surely they had some mutual stories that didn’t involve putting her grandmother in the hospital. “If, during the conversation, you overhear a sister—I mean
I amended, glancing up as Jillian walked by on her way to the stairs, “say something bad about another friend, you can take one of that person’s pins for yourself. The idea, obviously, is to say only good things about each other, but also to keep an ear open for disparaging comments. The game ends when one person has lost all their pins. Which hopefully won’t happen at all.”
“Wow. Who came up with this lameness?” Missy groused, shifting in her seat.
“I think it sounds like fun!” Rose put in with a bright smile.
“Question. Can I take one of Missy’s ribbons for that?” Astrid asked, lifting a hand.
I laughed. “I didn’t come up with this, so Missy’s comment wasn’t about me. Let’s say the game starts … now.”
“I have a good story!” Vienna announced, sitting forward and grabbing a chip. “Remember last spring when London tried to take the train to Boston and ended up in Maine?” She pointed at London with her chip.
“‘Omigod! Is this whole state populated by scary bearded men?’” they recited in unison.
Then they cracked up, laughing all over each other.
“That was one hell of a road trip coming to get you, though,” Tiffany said, reaching for the M&M’s. “The bathroom at the BP on 95?”
“Ew!” Rose groaned. “I dry-heaved for like an hour.”
“Okay, I’m confused,” Noelle said, raising a hand. “Is that a disparaging story about London’s total lack of travel skills, or a funny anecdote about a road trip?”
“Give me a pin!” Ivy said, reaching a palm toward Noelle.
“What? No way,” Noelle said firmly.
“No one said anything disparaging until you mentioned London’s total lack of travel skills,” Ivy countered. “Shocking that you were the first to insult someone.”
“Okay, now you give me a pin,” Noelle replied haughtily.
“What? Why?” Ivy said incredulously.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because you just insulted me to my face?” Noelle replied, crossing her arms over her chest.
I watched them face off and held my breath. This was supposed to be fun, not a showdown between Ivy and Noelle.
“Okay! Okay! That one’s a wash,” I said. “Let’s move on.”
Ivy and Noelle both rolled their eyes. Ivy reached for a peanut butter cup and Noelle shifted in her seat, turning her knees away from Ivy and resting her arm on the back of the couch so that her back was practically square with Ivy’s face.
“Anyone else have a story?” I asked, trying to break the uncomfortable silence.
“What about the time we all had to dress up Reed for her date with Hunter Braden!” Constance trilled.
“Oh! That was fun!” Portia put in, crunching into a pretzel.
“And necessary, considering your serious wardrobe issues,” Missy said with a sniff.
“Now I definitely get your pin!” Astrid said.
Missy rolled her eyes and detached a pin for Astrid. “Brown’s not my color anyway.”
As everyone started to reminisce about my makeover night last semester, studiously avoiding Sabine’s name, I noticed, I began to finally relax. They were really getting into the spirit of the game—a game that Elizabeth Williams had devised almost a hundred years ago. Everyone was happy and laughing and shouting and pointing, grabbing pins from one another and chowing down. If I could just keep Ivy and Noelle from clawing each other’s eyes out, everything would be fine. Because this was what I wanted the Billings Literary Society to be about. It was the closest we’d come to a true Billings moment since we’d returned from break.
And from that moment on, I vowed there would be many more.
“Last night was so much fun!” Constance whispered as she slipped into the chair next to mine at breakfast the next day. “Was that the second task, or was it just for the heck of it? Because if it was a task, I guess Missy and Shelby totally failed.”
“Shhh!” I said, glancing around to make sure no one was in earshot. Across the aisle, Gage, Sawyer, Graham, and Trey were hanging out, talking loudly. I ducked my head toward hers. “It was a task,” I whispered. “And yeah, Missy and Shelby did not pass.”
They had both lost all five of their pins quickly, but we’d decided to keep playing anyway. No one had wanted our night to end just then.
I speared some scrambled egg with my fork as Kiki, Vienna, London, Amberly, Tiffany, and the others settled in around us. Everyone was chatting, laughing, happy. After the first task I’d felt like we were prepping for a funeral. Now everyone was acting like we were on our way to the Legacy.
Not that I ever wanted to attend a Legacy party again after the awfulness of the last two, but still.
“We’re going to movie night in the Great Room tonight,” Vienna announced, laying her linen napkin across her lap. “They’re showing a
marathon. Who’s in?”
“Me!” London said predictably, lifting a hand. “I can recite the entire first movie from beginning to end.”
But she couldn’t get more than two answers right on the BLS knowledge test. Good to know she remembered the truly important stuff.
“Let’s all go,” Lorna enthused, dropping into her chair. “It’ll be fun.”
“Could be slightly more entertaining than my trig homework,” Astrid mused, lifting a shoulder.
“I’m in,” I said. I knew I should probably should spend the night studying, but I was happy that my friends wanted to do something together. This was what the secret society was all about—making sure we stayed close. It seemed like last night’s loyalty message had come through loud and clear.
“Well, I, for one, don’t need to spend the night watching Reese Witherspoon’s career slowly wither and die,” Noelle said with a sniff, carefully buttering her toast. “If any of you has progressed past a sixth-grade level, I’ll be having a little soiree in my room.”
Vienna and London drooped like they were a pair of puppies whose owner had just swatted their noses. My fingers clenched into fists under the table. Why did Noelle feel the need to make everyone feel so inferior all the time? I opened my mouth to say something when, much to the surprise of everyone at the table, London spoke up.
“You don’t have to insult us, Noelle,” she said clearly, though not making eye contact. “If you don’t want to come, just don’t come.”
Vienna’s jaw dropped.
“She’s right,” Rose said quietly. “We don’t mock you for thinking champagne and chocolate are the only gateways to a good time.”
I had to look away. If I hadn’t looked away, I would have laughed out loud, which wouldn’t have been very BLS of me. I had never heard anyone other than myself or Ariana contradict Noelle. It was a historical moment.
Was I wrong to hope that the BLS had something to do with it?
“Fine. But I’ll be there if anyone wants to join me,” Noelle said. Her tone was as confident as ever, but the words were somehow lacking. Rose and London had gotten to her. Rose Sakowitz and London Simmons, putting it to Noelle Lange. Maybe Mr. Hathaway was right. Maybe things
on a more even keel this semester.
I was happily pondering this new development when the doors to the dining hall opened and Ivy and Josh walked in together. My heart lurched, as always. They made their way slowly toward us, glancing over at the guys across the aisle like they were thinking about joining them. Graham visibly stiffened. Josh paused and whispered something to Ivy, and she whispered something back, her eyes imploring.
This was intriguing. Finally, Ivy tugged Josh over to the table. “Hey, guys,” she said.
“Annoying couple.” Gage greeted them with a laugh.
“Ha ha,” Josh said uncomfortably. “Move in,” he said to Trey.
Trey scooted his chair forward, but the second he did, Graham stood up from the table, shoving his chair back with a screech. Sawyer’s face went ashen as Graham grabbed his bag.
“I’m done here,” he said, sliding out past Gage’s back.
He paused next to Ivy. “Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” she replied, looking at Josh in confusion. “You don’t have to leave.”
“Yeah. I kind of think I do.” Graham shot Josh a look of death, then cleared his throat. “Excuse me.”
Then he walked out of the cafeteria without looking back. Ivy shrugged and Josh sat down next to Sawyer, who shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Ivy took the vacated seat next to Gage.
“Okay. What was
all about?” Tiffany asked me.
“I have no idea,” I replied.
Sawyer was getting up from the table now, moving sideways to get past Trey. Josh slumped further in his seat, clearly upset and embarrassed. What the hell was going on between Graham and Josh? I had been meaning to ask Sawyer, but I’d been so occupied with the BLS it had slipped my mind.