“Is this a joke?” I gape at the five girls who are holding me in judgment. They have various hair, skin, and eye colors, and yet I can’t tell them apart because their expressions are identical. There’s a whole lot of smug peeking through the phony remorse they’re trying to convey, as if they’re truly devastated by the news.
Ha. They’re enjoying this.
“I’m sorry, Summer, but it’s not a joke.” Kaya offers a pitying smile. “As the Standards Committee, we take Kappa Beta Nu’s reputation very seriously. We received word from Nationals this morning—”
“Oh really? You received word? Did they send a telegram?”
“No, it was an email,” she says, completely missing the sarcasm. She flips her glossy hair over one shoulder. “They reminded the committee that every member of this sorority must uphold the behavior standards set by them, otherwise our chapter will lose its good standing with Nationals.”
“We have to remain in good standing,” Bianca pipes up, pleading at me with her eyes. Of the five bi-otches in front of me, she seems like the most reasonable.
“Especially after what happened to Daphne Kettleman,” adds a girl whose name I can’t remember.
Curiosity gets the better of me. “What happened to Daphne Kettleman?”
“Alcohol poisoning.” The fourth girl—I think her name’s Hailey—lowers her voice to a whisper and quickly glances around, as if there might be a bug or two hidden in the antique furnishings that fill the living room of the Kappa mansion.
“She had to get her stomach pumped,” the no-name girl reveals gleefully. Which makes me question whether she’s actually thrilled that Daphne Kettleman almost died.
Kaya speaks up in a curt voice. “Enough about Daphne. You shouldn’t have even brought her up, Coral—”
Coral! Right. That’s her name. And it sounds as stupid now as it did when she introduced herself fifteen minutes ago.
“We don’t speak Daphne’s name in this house,” Kaya explains to me.
Jee-zus. One measly stomach pumping and poor Daphne gets Voldemorted? The Kappa Beta Nu chapter of Briar University is evidently a lot stricter than the Brown chapter.
Case in point—they’re kicking me out before I’d even moved in.
“This isn’t personal,” Kaya continues, giving me another fake consolatory smile. “Our reputation is very important to us, and although you’re a legacy—”
“A presidential legacy,” I point out. So ha! In your face, Kaya! My mom was president of a Kappa chapter during her junior and senior years, and so was my grandmother. Heyward women and Kappa Beta Nu go together like abs and any male Hemsworth.
“A legacy,” she repeats, “but we don’t adhere as strictly to those ancestral bonds the way we used to.”
Ancestral bonds? Who says that? Did she time-travel from the olden days?
“As I said, we have rules and policies. And you didn’t leave the Brown chapter on the best of terms.”
“I didn’t get kicked out of Kappa,” I argue. “I got kicked out of school in general.”
Kaya stares at me in disbelief. “Is this a point of pride for you? Getting expelled from one of the best colleges in the country?”
I answer through clenched teeth. “No, I’m not proud of it. I’m just saying, technically speaking, I’m still a member of this sorority.”
“Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean you’re entitled to live in this house.” Kaya crosses her arms over the front of her white mohair sweater.
“I see.” I mimic her pose, except I cross my legs too.
Kaya’s envious gaze lands on my black suede Prada boots, a gift from my grandmother to celebrate my admission to Briar. I had a good chuckle when I opened the package last night—I’m not sure Nana Celeste understands that I’m only attending Briar because I was expelled from my other school. Actually, I bet she does, and just doesn’t care. Nana will find any excuse to get her Prada on. She’s my soulmate.
“And you didn’t think,” I go on, an edge creeping into my voice, “to let me know this until after I packed up my stuff, drove all the way down here from Manhattan, and walked through the front door?”
Bianca is the only one who has the decency to look guilty. “We’re really sorry, Summer. But like Kaya said, Nationals didn’t get in touch until this morning, and then we had to vote, and…” She shrugs weakly. “Sorry,” she says again.
“So you voted and decided I’m not allowed to live here.”
“Yes,” Kaya says.
I glance at the others. “Hailey?”
“Halley,” she corrects icily.
Oh, whatever. Like I’m supposed to remember their names? We literally just met. “Halley.” I look to the next girl. “Coral.” And then the next girl. Crap. I legit don’t know this one. “Laura?”
“Tawny,” she bites out.
Swing and a miss! “Tawny,” I repeat apologetically. “You guys are sure about this?”
I get three nods.
“Cool. Thanks for wasting my time.” I stand up, push my hair over one shoulder, and start wrapping my red cashmere scarf around my neck. A bit too vigorously maybe, because it seems to annoy Kaya.
“Stop being so dramatic,” she orders in a snarky voice. “And don’t act like we’re to blame for the fact that you burned down your former house. Excuse us if we don’t want to live with an arsonist.”
I struggle to keep my temper in check. “I didn’t burn anything down.”
“That’s not what our Brown sisters said.” She tightens her lips. “Anyway, we have a house meeting in ten minutes. It’s time for you to go.”
“Another meeting? Look at you! A packed schedule today!”
“We’re organizing a New Year’s Eve charity event tonight to raise money,” Kaya says stiffly.
Ah, my bad. “What’s the charity?”
“Oh.” Bianca looks sheepish. “We’re raising money to renovate the basement here in the mansion.”
Oh my God. They’re the charity? “You better get to it, then.” With a mocking smile, I flutter my fingers in a careless wave and march out of the room.
In the hall, I feel the first sting of tears.
Fuck these girls. I don’t need them or their dumb sorority.
Bianca catches up to me at the front doors. I quickly paste on a smile and blink away the tears that had begun to well up. I won’t let them see me cry, and I’m so frigging glad I left all my suitcases in the car and only came in with my oversized purse. How mortifying would it have been to lug my bags back to the car? It would’ve taken multiple trips too, because I don’t travel light.
“Listen,” Bianca says, her voice so quiet I strain to hear her. “You should consider yourself lucky.”
I raise my eyebrows. “For being homeless? Sure, I feel blessed.”
She cracks a smile. “Your last name is Heyward-Di Laurentis. You are not, and will never be, homeless.”
I grin sheepishly. Can’t argue with that.
“But I’m serious,” she whispers. “You don’t want to live here.” Her almond-shaped eyes dart toward the doorway. “Kaya is like a drill sergeant. It’s her first year as Kappa president, and she’s on some crazy power trip.”
“I’ve noticed,” I say dryly.
“You should’ve seen what she did to Daphne! She acted like it was the alcohol thing, but really she was just jealous because Daph slept with her ex-boyfriend Chris, so she made Daph’s life miserable. One weekend when Daphne was away, Kaya ‘accidentally’”—Bianca uses air quotes—“donated every piece of her clothing to these freshmen who were collecting stuff for the annual clothes drive. Daph eventually quit the sorority and moved out.”
I’m starting to think that alcohol poisoning was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to Daphne Kettleman, if it got her out of this hellhole.
“Whatever. I don’t care if I live here or not. Like you said, I’ll be just fine.” I put on the cavalier, nothing-in-life-ever-ever-gets-to-me voice that I’ve perfected over the years.
It’s my armor. I pretend that my life is a beautiful Victorian house and hope that nobody peers close enough to see the cracks in my facade.
But no matter how convincing I am in front of Bianca, there’s no stopping the massive wave of anxiety that hits me the moment I slide into my car five minutes later. It stilts my breathing and quickens my pulse, making it hard to think clearly.
What am I supposed to do?
Where am I supposed to go?
I inhale deeply. It’s okay. It’s fine. I take another breath. Yes, I’ll figure it out. I always do, right? I’m constantly screwing up, and I always find a way to unscrew myself. I just have to buckle down and think—
My phone blares out its ringtone rendition of Sia’s “Cheap Thrills.” Thank God.
I waste no time answering the call. “Hey,” I greet my brother Dean, grateful for the interruption.
“Hey, Boogers. Just checking that you made it to campus in one piece.”