Saturday, February 15, 8:15 p.m.
“You should always wear skirts,” Annabel declares, fishing an adorable red and silver Marc Jacobs mini out of her closet and discreetly ripping off the price tag before tossing it at your head. You’re sprawled across the bottom bed—hers—of your shared bunks, your head propped up against one of her monogrammed pillows. It smells faintly of rose oil, Annabel’s signature scent. “Your legs are phenom,” she says. “I would kill.”
It’s a struggle not to roll your eyes, since Annabel’s legs are just short of a mile, but you don’t doubt her sincerity. Annabel Lake always sees the best in everyone, especially you, her best friend since you met last September during Pre-Frosh week.
Was it really just six months ago that you first set foot on Kings’ idyllic New Hampshire campus—even more breathtaking than in the brochures? It feels like a mini-lifetime. You and Annabel both had your heads buried in campus maps when you collided in front of the stern-looking statue of a former headmaster, over whose shoulders a student had draped a lacy pink bra.
“I’m such a klutz!” Annabel had been quick to apologize, as though the crash was her fault alone. She had the kind of beauty that was startling in its rarity. Flawless skin, dark hair, eyes the color of blue-green sea glass. She wore a weathered oxford shirt, jogging shorts, a Cartier tank watch, and a Nantucket tan. (As you’d soon discover, everything looked fabulous when Annabel was the one wearing it. Like when Teen Vogue suggested cinching an oversize Hanes T-shirt with woven garden twine then pairing with acid-washed jeggings and a fedora? On Annabel, the look was fresh and quirky. On you, it was “security lapse in the psych ward.”)
“Are you okay?” she’d asked, reaching out a hand to steady you.
You’d stared up at her (see: mile-long legs) and felt insecurities you didn’t even know you had rush to the surface. This was a mistake. I so do not belong here. Mommmmy!
But Mommy was still stuck in traffic back in the upper school parking lot, all your earthly belongings piled in the back of her beat-up Town & Country. Not that there was anything she could do, anyway. The decision to apply to Kings Academy had been yours and yours alone. You couldn’t run to your parents after twenty minutes on campus because you felt intimidated.
After a deep breath, you asked Annabel if she had any clue where Pennyworth was, and she broke into a warm smile, thus revealing her one and only detectable flaw: slightly overlapped front teeth!
Oh, please. Her smile is adorably crooked and you know it.
It turned out Annabel was looking for the same dorm. After some more searching, together you found the majestic neo-Georgian manse (um, how could you have missed it?) tucked in a corner of the wide, grassy area known as the Quad.
Only then did you realize you and Annabel were both assigned to suite 304. Roommates.
Once you’d managed to get over the crippling sense of inadequacy that someone as—well, perfect was really the only word—as Annabel could trigger, you’d realized just how lucky you were. Annabel was a one-in-a-million friend. No wonder Henry Dearborn had immediately fallen for her.
Ahem. Let’s get back to the party prep, shall we? This is Midwinter’s Night Dream, after all, the most important party of the year, and it’s imperative that you look amazing, slash, not spend your time secretly pining over Henry, your best friend’s boyfriend—a habit that’s unproductive at best, self-destructive at worst.
“You’re sure you don’t mind me borrowing this?” you ask Annabel. You slide her skirt over your hips and zip, turning around in the mirror to see it from all angles. Looks pretty decent, you have to admit. Better than anything you have in your closet by a long shot.
“Don’t be silly. You have to wear it.”
It’s the same exchange you have every time Annabel dips into her wardrobe to find you something to wear. Oh, yeah … add super generous to her list of sterling qualities. If you’ve gained a modicum of social acceptance at Kings, you have Annabel to thank. You think back to Homecoming tailgate, the first real social event of the year, and shudder at the memory of what you’d planned to wear: a shapeless L.L.Bean sweater, slightly baggy Gap jeans, and running sneakers. Running sneakers, people! It was Annabel who’d diplomatically explained that even though the tailgate was held in a parking lot, you’d probably feel more comfortable in her dark wash Seven jeans and perfectly cut Italian suede jacket.
Sometimes you barely recognize yourself. It’s crazy to think that just last year you were living in Hope Falls with your parents, trudging through your days at the local middle school—which was rustic, tiny, woefully underfunded—and privately lamenting the fact that you seemed to be grasping algebra faster than the algebra teacher. Ever since you could remember, you’d wanted more out of life—or at least, out of school—than your classmates, who seemed contentedly on track to marry and stay put in Hope Falls, much like your own parents had.
Then one day at the public library (your second home), you’d skimmed the author bio of a debut novel you’d enjoyed. The writer had graduated from Kings Academy, it said—and on a whim, you Googled the school. With a few short keystrokes, everything in your life began to change. The Web site, with its exhilarating descriptions of classes and extracurricular activities and events on campus, was like a portal into heaven. Before you knew it, you’d downloaded an application—and several weeks later, mailed it in. You’d even managed to take the requisite test, lying to your parents about why you wanted to spend a day alone in Providence. Their complete trust in you only made you feel worse about your dishonesty, and yet you couldn’t bring yourself to give up this sudden but very powerful dream. You had to try.
For weeks you’d guarded the mailbox. When that white packet with the Kings insignia on the front finally came, you’d seized upon it like a wild dog, ripping out the letter inside, eyes feverishly scanning but not able to properly read—until you saw the word Congratulations. Congratulations! It was, bar none, the happiest moment of your life. But then, of course, you’d panicked over how to tell your parents. Would they feel like you were rejecting them somehow, by fleeing the hometown neither of them had ever left? Would they let you go?
They’d nearly burst with pride.
The next day, your father happily reported that he’d been able to work out the details of your scholarship with Kings’ financial aid director. The day after that, your mother came home from her job at the grocery store with KINGS ACADEMY sweatshirts for all three of you, plus a bumper sticker for the car and a new collection of coffee mugs. She’d asked her manager for the morning off and driven nearly two hours to raid the campus store. Neither she nor your father shed a single tear when they dropped you off. Pride, excitement, amazement at the opportunity you’d managed to find for yourself—these emotions dominated the loss they must have felt dropping their only child, age fourteen, off at boarding school. They were nothing short of amazing and supportive.
“Now for shoes,” Annabel says, breaking your thoughts. “I think we have to be practical. I mean, we are going to be tromping through the woods tonight. How about these?” She holds up a pair of knee-high black boots, made out of the most luxurious leather. “I think they’ll be perfect!”
There are no bounds to her generosity. Sometimes you have to draw them yourself. “Thanks, Annabel, but I’ll wear my own. I’d feel awful if those got trashed!”
There’s been one weird catch to having a personal stylist as a roommate. Over the past few months, you’ve occasionally gotten the vibe that only Annabel understands that you’re a scholarship student from a town so small that the Mobil gas station constitutes the Friday night hot spot for local teenagers. Your other friends seem to be under the impression that you’re one of them; that you, too, were born to a world of wealth and privilege. For whatever reason—call it pride—you haven’t gone out of your way to clarify.
The door slams open. Spider Harris and Libby Monroe, your other roommates, spill into your spacious bedroom with stolen dining hall glasses and a dusty bottle of Patron. “Pre-game!” Spider cheers, setting up bar on Annabel’s mahogany desk.
“You girls look gorgeous!” Libby gushes, pulling her beautiful strawberry blond hair out of its ponytail and letting it cascade around her shoulders. Her hair is worthy of a shampoo commercial. She heads for Annabel’s iPod dock and starts fiddling around until she finds some Rihanna to crank.
“Could you at least move my history paper, Spider?” Annabel protests. “I don’t think it’ll help my grade if it smells like Spring Break Cancun.”
Libby snorts. She’s dressed in her signature ultra-prep look: a slim-fitting pink cashmere sweater that shows off her lithe frame, a tiered corduroy skirt, and equestrienne boots. “Like Worth would ever give you less than an A,” she says.
“Gag,” Annabel replies.
Martin Worth: twenty-nine-year-old American history teacher with a zealous following of students (male and female) who think the guy walks on water. Yes, Worth looks like Taylor Lautner might in a decade, and yes, he’s actually an engaging, thought-provoking teacher—but you’ve been immune to his charms ever since Annabel confided that Worth had told her he “couldn’t stop thinking about her” when she went in with questions about the midterm. Gross. She shut him down, of course, but rumor has it that Worth makes that line work with a new girl each year.
“I heard he’s been hooking up with Oona,” Spider pipes in.
As the star goalie for the varsity soccer team, Spider takes pride in her dreadful nickname. She’s cute, spunky, funny, and loyal as hell—one of your dearest friends. (Because she was so heavily recruited for sports, a big chunk of Spider’s tuition is covered. She just has to keep her GPA up.) You’ve always adored her, ever since she charged into suite 304 right behind you and Annabel and dropped her duffel bags, overflowing with sports equipment and just a few items of civilian clothing, onto the common room floor. Spider’s pure tomboy and hasn’t seemed to notice that there are boys—and more than a few hot ones—at Kings. You and Annabel have privately discussed your hunch that Spider might be more into girls, but not yet ready to come out. Who knows?
“So who do we think will be there tonight?” asks Libby, grabbing the first shot Spider pours and throwing it back. She scrunches up her freckled nose and sticks out her tongue like it’s medicine she’s been forced to take. “Finally, a party. Doesn’t it seem like it’s been forever?”
“It’s been a few weeks, Lib.” You have to laugh. Libby’s definitely the social butterfly of the group—a tendency she’s inherited from her parents, who split their time between the Manhattan and Palm Beach social circuits. Libby was the one who heard about tonight’s party in the first place. She came home from biology lab with a map of the Lakeshore Woods, handwritten in purple pen, showing exactly how to find where the seniors would set up the bonfire. “So yeah, to you, I guess that’s like forever.”
“Henry’s going—right, Annie?” asks Libby.
Weirdly, it drives you crazy when Libby calls Annabel that. Annie. Maybe it reminds you that Annabel and Libby have known each other forever—or at least their families have. You were lucky to get into Kings, double lucky to get that scholarship, whereas Annabel and Libby have a long lineage at the school and it was a given that they’d be accepted. Just like it’s pretty much a given that they’ll graduate, no matter how many rules they bend or break. You eye the tequila. Headmaster Fredericks has a different standard for kids whose families can donate buildings or baseball fields. There’s probably also a separate standard for soccer goalies who can defeat Exeter for the next four years straight. But if you get caught, you’re out. It’s that straightforward. In the immortal words of Beyoncé, don’t you ever get to thinking you’re irreplaceable.
“Henry will be there,” Annabel assures Libby.
You try to ignore the fact that your heart skips a beat when she says this. Henry Dearborn is in a different league than any guy you’ve ever met before. A junior on deck to be The Griffin’s next editor-in-chief, he’s recently been assigned to edit your articles for the school’s award-winning newspaper. Between the newsroom and your dorm room, it’s become impossible to avoid those penetrating gray eyes, that sexy smile, those unruly curls … and even when he’s not there, it’s a struggle to keep him out of your thought stream. The other morning you saw him walking through the Quad, textbook tucked under one arm, just the right amount of swagger—and it was like someone had piped in a schmaltzy love song and the world was moving in slo-mo.
Yep. It’s that bad. Full-blown crush territory on the one guy you should definitely not be noticing that way.
“What about Oona? Think she’ll go?” Spider asks. Clearly she’s praying the answer is no. Oona de Campos is a manipulative, calculating bully as far as you’re concerned—but Spider hates her even more. You’ve asked Spider what went down, but your friend is uncharacteristically tight-lipped with the details. There’s a story there, for sure.
“She’ll be there,” says Libby, suddenly busy with the clasp of her clutch. You all try to overlook the fact that Libby chugs Oona’s Kool-Aid. That’s just Libby. Oona’s the reigning Queen Bee-otch at Kings, and well, Libby can be a bit of a cool-chaser. Oona goes clubbing in Boston on the weekends and gets chauffeured back to campus by older guys in Porsches. On Parents’ Weekend, rumor has it that her dad brought her E. Her mom floats around Europe and is remarried to Oona’s dad’s younger brother. And that’s just the beginning. You almost can’t fault the girl for being so horrendous.
Libby suddenly slaps her forehead. “I almost forgot! The Midwinter’s Night Dream Curse!” She sprints out of the room.
“The what?” you ask. Spider and Annabel don’t react much to Libby’s outburst. You seem to be alone in having no clue what she’s talking about.
“It’s this old campus legend,” Annabel explains.
“Freshman girls who go to the Midwinter’s party are supposed to make a sacrifice,” says Spider, taking another shot of Patron. She winces hard. “A senior on the team told me why, but I can’t remember.”
“The sacrifice is supposed to make her lucky in love,” Annabel says. “It’s probably a load of crap, but whatever.”
“It’s not crap,” Libby says, returning to the room with her sky-blue eyes bulging as they do when she’s extremely earnest. (Past bulge-worthy topics have included: The hotness of Billy Grover. The awesomeness of Gilt.com. The horror of you submitting yourself to a $15 haircut from the barber in town.) She’s holding four small squares of thick ivory silk and her super-sharp needlepoint scissors.
“Why is it that the guys don’t have to bleed for love?” Spider groans.
“Excellent question,” you second.
“Please. You think there’ll be freshman boys there? They’re the lowest rung on the food chain, they’re so not invited to Midwinter’s.” Without warning, Libby jabs the scissors into her own palm. You immediately slap both hands over your eyes. You’d be the world’s worst vampire. In the past, the mere sight of blood has made you vomit, faint, or (on one cherished occasion involving your cousin William and a poorly positioned Slip ’N Slide) both. “Okay, Annie, you’re up,” you hear Libby say. Then it’s Spider’s turn. You sit on the edge of the bed, face still covered. Just a few drops of blood. There’s nothing you’d love more than to find a great boyfriend. But is Libby’s love curse for real … and is it worth the bloodshed?
You are most likely to …
stick out your palm, cover your eyes, and hope you don’t hit the floor. The last thing you need is a love curse on your hands. Continue to Snapshot #2.
over Libby’s protests, say you’d rather not. A self-inflicted wound is no way to get the party started. The curse can’t be real, anyway. Continue to Snapshot #3.
Copyright © 2013 by Bridie Clark