Authors: Kate Brian
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Mysteries & Detective Stories, #Social Issues, #Friendship, #Dating & Sex
Noelle rolled her eyes. “No! It’s not that. It’s just—” She turned toward the closet again and brought her hand to her forehead. I’d never seen her this worked up. This was not the reaction I’d been expecting. “Forget it. It’s nothing.”
“Maybe … I don’t know … maybe they left it for me because I was the last elected president of Billings,” I said with a shrug. “These pages seem to be all about following rules and codes and laws. … Maybe whoever left it for me takes that kind of thing seriously.”
“Whatever,” Noelle said, bending to pick up the jeans. “I don’t care.”
I smiled. “Good! Because I think we should get started right away. There are all these supplies to get and we’ll probably have to set up a secret email account for—”
Noelle turned around to face me. “No. I mean, I don’t care,” she said firmly. “I’m not doing this.”
I paused as I flipped through the pages, holding the edge of one thick sheet. “Not doing what?”
“This secret society thing,” she said with a trace of a sneer. She yanked a few scarves from her trunk and tossed them onto the hooks in her closet.
“You’re kidding,” I said as she jammed a bevy of belts onto the hooks over the scarves.
“Do I look like I’m kidding?” she asked, overturning her makeup bag atop her dresser. Tubes of mascara and eyeliner rolled in all directions and she scrambled to grab them before they hit the floor. “Is this entire dorm crooked?” she snapped, jamming her things back into the bag.
“Noelle. Come on,” I said. “This could be so cool. And it’s the perfect way to keep us all together. I mean, you were right this morning. It was crazy to think I could bring back Billings House, but maybe we can bring back the Billings
“Not interested,” Noelle replied. Like she was turning down the last blueberry muffin at breakfast, rather than rejecting me and all of our friends in two short words. My blood boiled and I slammed the book closed just to keep from exploding.
“What do you mean, ‘not interested’?” I demanded. “Look, I know this could be a lot of work, but we need this, Noelle. We have to keep the Billings Girls together.”
“Why?” Noelle asked, her arms wide as she turned to me again. “Why do I have to do anything anymore?”
My face fell. This defeated, questioning, pleading person was not the Noelle I knew. I felt like I’d just been told all over again that there was no Santa Claus. That Elmo was just a puppet. That reality TV was not, in actuality, real.
Noelle leaned back against the wall next to the closet and shook her head, staring off into space. For the first time I noticed that there were dark circles under her eyes—that her hair wasn’t perfectly parted and smooth, but unkempt and shoved haphazardly behind her ears. She slid down the wall slightly, so that her feet were pressed into the floor and her legs at a forty-five-degree angle—like she was trying to hold the wall up with her back. I’d never seen Noelle appear so spent.
“I’m not even supposed to be here,” she said quietly. “I should be starting my second semester at Yale, not doing time in freaking Pemberly.”
“I know,” I said, my heart and chest full.
“I didn’t get to finish my senior year when I should have, all because I made some seriously stupid choices,” she said.
I breathed in and out slowly, trying not to imagine Thomas tied up in the woods somewhere. Trying not to think about Ariana’s ice blue eyes as she threatened to throw me off the Billings roof. That was all over. This—this book I was holding—this was my future.
“So I need to make another choice now,” Noelle said, pushing herself away from the wall. “And my choice is to keep my head down and my nose clean, and graduate. End of story.”
I swallowed hard, my eyes stinging with tears. A few days ago, while we were still in St. Barths, we’d decided to room together in Billings. I’d had all these fantasies of staying up late and chatting all night long, being together like real sisters. Now, not only could that dream never come true, but she was completely blowing me off.
“Noelle, come on,” I said, hugging the book to my chest. “I can’t do this without you. Billings isn’t Billings without you.”
She glanced ruefully at the book. “Apparently, someone out there thinks it is.”
All at once, the anger bubbled up again. Was she really going to be that petty? Noelle Lange, ultimate Billings Girl, was going to let all her sisters down just because some ancient alumna had chosen me over her?
“Who cares? This isn’t about them, it’s about us.”
“Reed, enough already, you’re giving me a headache,” Noelle said, squeezing her eyes shut.
I snorted a laugh. “Fine. Forget it. I’ll just do it alone.”
“Good luck,” she said sarcastically.
“Thanks a lot,” I shot back.
On my way out, I made sure to slam the door hard enough to send those hastily folded jeans sprawling back onto her head.
I was up all night reading through The Book, as I had come to call it in my mind. Capital T, capital B. By Tuesday morning I was exhausted and hooked. I sat on my unmade bed, rereading Elizabeth’s diary-style entries about the vetting and initiation of the first members of the society. This was where she started to mention Catherine White all over the place.
Catherine and I spent the afternoon evaluating the new class of girls for membership in the society. … Catherine and I wrote to the proprietor of the general store in town and have secured the necessary supplies for our initiation tomorrow night. … We are both filled with trepidation at the thought of the path we have chosen, but we are confident as well, knowing that wherever it may lead, we will travel it together.
Clearly, Elizabeth had a partner. A friend. Someone helping her with every aspect of getting the BLS started.
I sat up straight. Just like Elizabeth had her Catherine, I needed someone to travel the path with. Someone who would find this whole thing as intriguing as I did. Noelle wouldn’t help me, but she wasn’t my only friend.
I considered the other senior Billings Girls. Rose had always been obsessed with the rituals of Billings, but she could be meek and wishy-washy. Tiffany was loyal, but she’d made a deal with her dad to work in his studio in New York on the weekends, so she wasn’t going to be around much, and when she was she’d be busy catching up on work. London wouldn’t do it without Vienna and vice versa. So that left Portia and Shelby. Not exactly trailblazing types.
Lorna and Missy were out because they were practically my sworn enemies. Astrid and Kiki were both cool, but independent and busy—not exactly sidekick types. Which left Constance.
Constance was a good friend. There was no denying it. Loyal, steadfast, and true? You bet. But when it came to taking chances, to being brave, to breaking rules, she was not in the top five—not even the top ten—Billings Girls. Plus she was a babbler, no doubt about it. And she was dating Walt Whittaker, whose grandmother was on the board of directors. If she told him anything and he told Grandma, I’d be in deep trouble. Because, really, what was a secret society if not a social club—exactly the sort of club Double H had outlawed in his opening speech?
No. Whomever I asked to work with me on the BLS was going to have to be fearless, creative, strong, and an expert secret-keeper.
Suddenly, Ivy’s favorite alt-rock band started screaming through the wall right next to my head. I laughed and glanced at the clock. Guess that was my official wake-up call. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and paused. An excited thrill shot right through me.
Ivy. Why not Ivy?
Ivy had been there for me when no one else had. She’d helped me figure out that it was Sabine who’d been stalking me, when everyone else—including almost all of the Billings Girls—had written me off as a backstabbing loser.
The door of Ivy’s room opened and slammed—Jillian leaving for her thrice-weekly, crack-of-dawn yoga group in the gym. I slipped out of my room, my heart jumping around erratically as if I were jacked up on ten cups of black coffee. I knocked on Ivy’s door hard, making sure she could hear me over the music. She threw the door open, half dressed in a white tank top and black wide-leg pants, her dark hair hanging over her eyes.
“Do not tell me to turn down the music!” she shouted. “I barely slept last night and I need it. It’s my caffeine.”
“I don’t care about the music!” I shouted back, shutting the door behind me. I walked into her room, made cozy by a ton of throw pillows and colorful scarves that were tacked to the ceiling to hide the ugly stucco. “I have two words for you: Secret society.”
Her eyes narrowed even further. Then she turned and walked over to her iPod dock on her desk, dousing the music. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear you. I thought you just said ‘secret society.’”
“I did.” I placed the book on her desk next to her laptop, directly within her vision. She tilted her head, intrigued.
“What’s this?” She ran her fingertips over the crest etched into the cover.
“It’s kind of like a rule book, that was written in 1915,” I told her, the excitement evident in my voice. “By the original members of the Billings Literary Society.”
Ivy’s fingers recoiled, as if the seal had shocked her. “Billings? You can’t be serious.”
“Ivy, come on. Just hear me out.”
She shoved her thick hair off her face and turned away from me, red blotches appearing on her milky cheeks. Storming over to her closet as best she could in the tiny room, she yanked a gray wool sweater off a hanger, as if every move she made were an exclamation point.
“Let’s just do a little recap, shall we? When I was a Billings pledge, the sisters made me break into my grandmother’s house as a prank, which resulted in my grandma having a full-on stroke that eventually killed her,” Ivy said, whipping a black sweater down from the shelf and comparing it to the gray one. “I don’t want to have anything to do with Billings.”
“But Ivy, this is different,” I said, picking up the book and hugging it. “This book explains what the original Billings Girls were all about. It talks about integrity, intelligence, activism. … Come on. Please just look at it? It’s amazing.”
Ivy turned around and eyed the book. “Shouldn’t you be consulting the great and mighty Noelle Lange about this?” she said sarcastically. “Last time I checked, I wasn’t even
“Noelle shot me down,” I said, knowing that Ivy would be more likely to work with me if Noelle was not going to be involved. She did, in fact, look up at me, her eyes wide with interest. “And besides, you were
to be in Billings. They invited you. You turned
down.” I walked over to her. “Look, someone left this book for me. An alumna or someone. Which means they’re trusting me to start this thing up again. Me. My decisions. And I want to include you. If this was 1915, believe me, you’d fit every one of their qualifications.”
Ivy narrowed her eyes, letting her hands, which were still clutching the sweaters, fall at her sides. “Fine. Let me see it.”
Before I could even hand it over, she quickly dropped the clothes, snatched the book, and sat down on her bed with it. She flipped through the first few pages, but then gradually slowed down, taking in the words. I could just feel it washing over her. The ancient handwriting, the musty leather scent, the sophisticated language. It was getting to her, just like it had gotten to me. I saw her pause on the creed, reading it over again and again. She skimmed over the tasks and the initiation, but took some time reading over Elizabeth’s diary entries. When she smiled, I smiled. This was working. It was totally working.
Finally she flipped back to the beginning and eyed the eleven signatures for a long moment. She frowned with interest, then slapped the book closed and folded her arms over the cover.
“Okay,” she said, looking up at me. “I’ll do it.”
I grinned, my heart leaping in my chest. “Just like that?”
“Nope. On one condition,” Ivy said. She stood up and held the book in both hands.
I blinked. Why did I not like the sound of this? “What condition?”
“We have to do everything exactly the way the book says,” Ivy told me, laying her hand flat atop the BLS seal. “Follow every rule, every detail, down to the letter.”
“But you haven’t even read the whole thing,” I protested, thinking of the entry about the Billings Literary Society and its
members. Billings already had fourteen members, including me and Noelle. Even if Noelle was truly out, we’d have too many girls. Especially with Ivy involved. Plus I’d been thinking about opening it up to some of our other friends. Ivy’s roommate, Jillian; my friend Diana Waters … people who might have made it into Billings next year—if it had still been around.
“Doesn’t matter,” she said, shaking her head. “If we’re going to do this right, we have to honor the original Billings Girls,” Ivy said, cautiously opening the book to the page about the requirements for sisterhood. “These girls were insanely cool, do you realize that?”
“Uh, yeah!” I said, tucking my long brown hair behind my ear. “That’s why I knew you’d be in.”
“And they were also clearly
ahead of their time,” Ivy continued. “This is their legacy. We can’t screw with it. Otherwise, what’s the point?” She offered her hand.