Authors: Kate Brian
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Mysteries & Detective Stories, #Social Issues, #Friendship, #Dating & Sex
One by one they emerged from the woods. Kiki, Astrid, Ivy, Vienna, Tiffany, Rose, Portia, and Amberly. As I blindfolded Amberly, she was quaking from either nerves or the cold and I tasted bile in the back of my throat. I couldn’t believe that Amberly freaking Carmichael had gotten in to the BLS and not Constance. It was the first time I seriously, and on a deep, physical level, wished I had broken the rules. I stashed her in the deepest, darkest, coldest corner of the chapel and felt a teeny bit better when I heard her whimper.
Noelle was the last to arrive.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing with that?” she said, leaning away from me as I approached with the blindfold.
I rolled my eyes. “Just shut up and trust me.”
She rolled her eyes right back. “Fine. But don’t mess up the hair.”
I tied it extra tight, reveling in the involuntary squeak she let out as the blindfold tugged her tresses. As I took her hand and led her carefully up the crumbling steps, I glanced back at the trees to make sure no one had followed her. The woods were silent except for the rustling of the branches in the wind.
We were safe. At least for now.
Inside, I led Noelle down the broom-cleaned aisle and stood her right at the base of it, in the center of the open area before the pulpit. Then I quickly moved around the room, lighting each of the brand-new candles I had placed in the sconces and candelabras that afternoon. If Headmaster Hathaway was really keeping an eye on us, he’d fallen down on the job today. I’d been back and forth to the chapel three times getting everything set up and hadn’t been bothered by a single guard or faculty member. Maybe Double H was just preoccupied with the fight between Graham and Josh and had forgotten all about the Billings Girls for the moment. I’d have to thank the guys for that later—if I ever saw them again.
Mr. Hathaway had fled the chapel after services so fast I wasn’t even out of my seat by the time the doors had closed behind him. Ivy and I had stopped by his office again after first period, then after lunch, then after dinner, and each time we’d been turned away by his evil secretary.
No one saw Josh, Graham, or Sawyer all day long. It was as if they had all been snatched by aliens in the middle of the night. Every time I thought of Josh my heart seized with concern, but I had to put him out of my mind for the moment. Right now, I had to be here for my sisters.
Once all the candles were lit, I started to make my way around the chapel, nudging the girls from their secret spots and lining them up carefully next to Noelle. Their feet shuffled along unsteadily as I brought them from every corner and cranny of the chapel. I could tell they were growing impatient to find out what was going to happen next and I was right there with them. By the time I placed Amberly at the end of the line and took my spot at the pulpit in front of them, I was sweating through my black dress. I took a moment to breathe, and looked down at them, all lined up in their outfits of white, some of them sniffing the air as if they could get some idea of where I was. I imagined the first sisters of the BLS gathered inside the chapel. Imagined Elizabeth Williams facing her blindfolded friends just like I was doing right then, and my heart was full.
I opened the book on the podium in front of me, took a breath, and smiled. The room was aglow with the light of six dozen candles and filled with the scent of melting wax. Waiting atop the dividing wall between the pulpit area and the choir pews behind me were ten white candles and one black, the last for me. Much as in the Billings House initiations I’d been a part of, each of the initiates was going to receive a white candle, which I was to light with my black one. The wording used in the initiation was even the same. I wondered if anyone who had been initiated into Billings House over the last thirty years realized that the ceremony was based on this secret society stuff.
“Welcome, sisters, and congratulations. You have all been deemed worthy of membership in the Billings Literary Society. You may now remove your blindfolds.”
Everyone whipped off their white cloths and looked around, blinking blearily. I held my breath as I waited for all of them to take in the group. To realize that Constance and London and Missy were not among them. Noelle frowned thoughtfully but didn’t seem surprised. Vienna, however, was dumbfounded.
“Where the hell is London?” she blurted.
“Ladies, this is a solemn occasion. You are to remain silent until we take the vow of—”
“Screw that,” Vienna said, stepping out of line. “How could you leave out London?”
“And Missy. She can’t not be here,” Lorna said shakily. “She’s going to freak.”
Everyone started to talk at once. I’d known they were going to be upset, but we were only two seconds in and I was already starting to lose control. I saw Noelle start to open her mouth to silence them and I brought both hands down on the sides of the podium, hard.
It did nothing.
I slammed the book closed, lifted it, and dropped its hefty weight into the surface of the podium. Everyone stopped talking.
“Get. Back. In. Line,” I said through my teeth.
They hesitated for a moment, but then quickly re-formed a straight row. I took a deep breath to slow my adrenaline rush.
“You all knew from the very beginning that this society was going to have only eleven members,” I said slowly, looking at each of them in turn. “The people in attendance here completed the three tasks admirably. Some of our friends …” I paused, my voice starting to crack as I thought about how crushed Constance was going to be. “Some of our friends did not perform as well.”
Everyone stared at me. Total silence.
“From the beginning I’ve been honest with all of you. I’m going to conduct this secret society in the spirit in which it was originally founded,” I told them. “That means adhering to a new level of sisterhood, loyalty, and excellence. The eleven of us who are gathered here are going to work hard, stick together, and have a lot of fun. But I need all of you to be one hundred percent in. If you’re not—if you don’t want to be a part of this—now’s the time to leave.”
I glanced at the door behind them. Vienna looked over her shoulder at it too. Then down at her feet. Then, ever so slowly, she lifted her chin and faced forward again. Lorna looked like she was going to barf, but she didn’t move. Noelle stared down Ivy, who, much to her credit, kept her gaze dead ahead. If Noelle said something about how Ivy didn’t belong there—about how she’d taken the spot of a true Billings Girl …
But she said nothing.
I took a deep breath and counted to ten. Then counted to ten again. I had my answer.
“Good,” I said finally, smiling. “Now we can get started.”
I turned and gathered up the ten white candles. Vienna completely avoided my gaze when I handed one to her. Lorna shifted from foot to foot, giving me a tentative glance, as if she wasn’t entirely sure she was supposed to be there. Hopefully, by the end of this ceremony, they would both feel better about the society. I wanted everyone to be happy to be there. No reluctant members allowed.
I lit my black candle and quickly read over what I was supposed to say and do. Then, taking a nervous breath, I approached Noelle.
“Sister,” I said, looking into her eyes, “state your name.”
She smirked. “Noelle Lange.”
“Noelle, please repeat after me,” I said. “I, Noelle Lange.”
“I, Noelle Lange.”
“Do hereby vow to be loyal, steadfast, and true to the Billings Literary Society and to my sisters.”
“Do hereby vow to be loyal, steadfast, and true to the Billings Literary Society and to my sisters.”
I smiled and touched my flame to the wick of her candle. As the light flickered across her face, I recited the final, somewhat familiar line. “We welcome you, Noelle, to our circle.”
She blinked in recognition. From the corner of my eye, I saw Tiffany, Vienna, and Rose exchange an intrigued glance.
That’s right, ladies.
Our Billings House initiation trickled down from here. It all started with that book. I was happy they were finally starting to realize what it meant, why we were here. I moved on to Tiffany, who grinned as she repeated her promise.
Each of my friends recited their vows in turn. When I got to Vienna, she still wouldn’t meet my eyes.
“Sister, state your name,” I said.
“Vienna Clarke,” she said in a bored tone, holding her candle at a careless angle.
My heart broke at the sight of her slumped posture, her annoyed vibe. I knew she was aching for London to be there even worse than I was aching for Constance. As I lit her candle, I realized I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if she came to me tomorrow and told me she was quitting. I so didn’t want her to do that. She’d made it this far. To quit now, before we all decided what this society was really going to be about, would be such a shame.
Kiki recited her vow with her shoulders rolled back, her eyes serious. Then, as I touched my candle to hers and said, “We welcome you, Kiki, to our circle,” her entire face lit up with the widest smile I’d ever seen. It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud.
Lorna was next. I looked into her eyes. Her brow was knit with a question. I had a feeling she couldn’t wrap her brain around the fact that she had made it in and Missy—the girl she’d been playing sidekick to for Lord knew how many years—had not. I wanted to just smack her upside the head and tell her she had worth on her own. That she had in fact scored higher than half the people here. She belonged here. I wanted her to believe it.
I said pointedly, trying to emphasize the fact that this was her sisterhood as much as it was everyone else’s, “state your name.”
“Lorna Gross.” Her voice was meek.
“Repeat after me. I, Lorna Gross.” I stared into her eyes, trying to bolster her.
“I, Lorna Gross,” she said, staring back.
“Do hereby vow to be loyal, steadfast, and true to the Billings Literary Society and
sisters,” I said.
As Lorna repeated the words, her posture straightened considerably. “Do hereby vow to be loyal, steadfast, and true to the Billings Literary Society and
She grinned, and I grinned back.
“We welcome you, Lorna, to our circle.”
“Thanks, Reed,” she blurted.
Everyone giggled and Lorna turned red, but I just smiled and moved on.
After that, initiating Amberly wasn’t quite as painful as I’d imagined it would be. And then, we were done. All eleven of us stood there in the drafty old Billings Chapel, our candles flickering in the darkness, our faces illuminated by the common light of our sisterhood. As I looked at their eager, expectant faces, my heart swelled and I suddenly decided to break from script. Just for one moment. I stood at the center of the semicircle and held out my candle like a glass of champagne.
“To Billings,” I said.
Nine of the ten of them raised their candles as well. And I couldn’t exactly blame Ivy for not joining the toast. She knew I was talking about the house the rest of us had so recently lost, and not about our new sisterhood. But still. I felt it needed to be done.
I couldn’t sleep. I kept running over the initiation ceremony again and again in my mind, how we’d all hugged and celebrated when it was over, the giddy whispers and laughter echoing through the trees as we traipsed through the snow down the hill toward campus.
This was the biggest, most important thing I’d ever done. Even now, hours later, I was practically overwhelmed by it all.
So overwhelmed I barely even registered the knock at my door until it started to grow more insistent. I sat up in bed, my heart in my throat. Ivy or Noelle would have just walked in. In fact, none of my friends ever knocked. I got up and tiptoed over to the door, trying to squelch my fear. It was 3 a.m. Why was someone at my dorm room door at 3 a.m.?
I held my breath, cracked the door, and got my answer. Josh Hollis’s green eyes stared back at me, startled. I guess he was surprised I had finally answered.
“Oh my God,” I whispered. I grabbed the arm of his wool coat and yanked him inside. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m sorry. I just … I had to—”
He looked at me for a long moment, as if he’d never seen me before. His bottom lip was cut and swollen, and there was a grayish-purple bruise around his left eye. I was about to break the awkward silence by asking if it hurt, when he suddenly reached for my arm and pulled me into him, wrapping his arms around me, practically swallowing me into his thick coat. I was so surprised I couldn’t even think. This was all I’d wanted to do since we’d arrived back at Easton. This. This and nothing else. He held me so tight I could feel the muscles of his chest through his sweater. I closed my eyes and breathed him in. He smelled of dust and sweat and paint and fabric softener and fresh air. He smelled like Josh. Slightly dirty Josh, but Josh.
Then I realized what was happening, where we were, who was right next door, and I pulled away. Josh’s face was almost desperate as I backed into my desk chair and gripped the top of it behind me for dear life. Suddenly I was acutely aware of my skimpy tank top and pajama shorts. Not exactly the appropriate attire for a middle-of-the-night encounter with the boyfriend of one of your good friends.