Abby stared into the mirror. Gabriella's reflection gave her a disdainful sneer.
"How can you turn your nose up at the Tri Gams?" Abby asked. "You know, most girls would kill to get into this sorority."
Gabriella's expression didn't change. "I'm just not interested," she said.
Abby picked up a lipstick and began to rub it with short, quick strokes across her already red lips. "The Tri Gams are the most exclusive sorority at Rockland State," she said, stopping to admire her work. "They only pledge ten girls a year. It's an honor to be asked, Gabriella."
She stared into the mirror, waiting for Gabriella to react. "Aren't you going to say anything?"
Gabriella only shrugged.
A flash of anger made Abby*s pale, white skin turn scarlet. Why did Gabriella always make her feel like a chattering ten-year-old?
What made her think she was so superior?
She certainly wasn't as pretty as Abby. And she wasn't as smart either, Abby decided. Sneering at an invitation to pledge the Tri Gamma Sorority was just plain stupid. And spiteful.
Still angry, Abby picked up her hairbrush. She removed a piece of lint from the bristles and began brushing her straight, black hair, still staring at Gabriella, "This is the best hai-rcut I ever got," she said. "Don't you think so?"
"It's a little short," Gabriella said, frowning. "Hard to get used to."
"Thanks a bunch," Abby snapped, brushing furiously. "Can't you say anything nice? What's wrong with you today, Gabriella?"
Now it was Gabriella who angrily turned red. "Don't start with me, Abby. There's nothing wrong with me. If you want to go to that sorority house and let yourself be judged by a group of superficial snobs that's your business. But don't try to make me feel like I'm twisted or something just because I don't want to spend all my time at college talking about clothes and worrying about who's going to take me to the party after the football game on Saturday night!"
Abby let out a hurt gasp. She knew she shouldn't let Gabriella get to her. She knew she should just let the conversation drop. But it was too late. And she was too upset. It had been so long since Abby had had any good
news. Why was Gabriella trying to spoil it for her?
"So that's it," Abby said, slamming down the hairbrush and glaring into the mirror. "You're afraid, aren't you, Gabriella! You're afraid to be judged. You're not going to pledge the Tri Gams because you're afraid you might not be accepted."
Gabriella glared right back. She had the same olive, catlike eyes as Abby. With her round, high-cheekboned face framed by her short, black hair, and with her soft, silent, graceful walk, Abby reminded some people of a cat. No one ever thought of Gabriella as a cat. Gabriella was a tiger....
"I'm not afraid to test myself," Gabriella replied through clenched teeth. "I'm the confident one, remember? I know what I want. And what / want isn't at the Tri Gam house."
Abby felt herself losing control, felt the muscles in her neck tighten, felt the tears well up in her eyes. Why did she always let Gabriella get to her like this? "Sure, Gabriella you're always so confident, so calm, so certain about everything!" she screamed. "It's inhuman. That's what it is. You're inhuman!"
A cold silence fell between them. Abby shuddered and looked down at her dressing table.
"What a nice thing to say to a sister," Gabriella said bitterly.
Abby didn't look up. The back of her neck felt hot. Her hands were ice cold. "I don't
care. Vm going to pledge Tri Gamma, and I'm going to be accepted, and I'm going to move out of here, and I'm going to have a new life, a great life. . . ."
She spun around quickly, but Gabriella had left.
"Hey what's going on up here?" Abby's mother stepped into the bedroom, frowning. She removed a tissue from the pocket of her white uniform and dabbed at her nose.
"Nothing. I'm just getting dressed for the pledge meeting," Abby said, turning back to the mirror. As she watched her mother in the mirror, she realized she liked to talk to people's reflections. It was easier somehow. "Did you get another cold?"
Mrs. Wallis nodded, the tissue still pressed against her nose. "That's the problem with being a nurse," she said. "You get everything your patients have."
Abby stood up and faced her mother. It was a little like looking in a mirror. Her mother looked a lot like her, except that her olive eyes were set in dark rings of weariness, and her black hair was streaked with gray and pulled tightly back to fit under her nurse's cap.
"Well . . . how do I look?" Abby asked, performing a graceful curtsey.
"Your sweater tag is up. Let me fix it for you," her mother said. She shoved the tissue back into her pocket and started toward Abby.
But Abby stepped away. "Can't you ever say anything nice?" she snapped, sounding more angry than she had intended.
Her mother's mouth dropped open in surprise. "What?"
"I've been up here for over an hour getting myself ready for something that's very important to me, and all you can say is, 'Your tag is up.' "
Her mother closed her eyes and kept them shut for a few seconds. "Sorry," she said. She opened them and smiled. "You look great, Abby."
"I'm sorry, too," Abby said quickly, looking back toward the mirror. "I didn't mean to yell at you. I guess I'm just nervous."
"Getting into this sorority means a lot to you, doesn't it?" her mother asked, wiping her nose with the tissue again.
"Yeah," Abby said softly. "A lot."
"Well, I'll miss you if you go to live in that sorority house. The house will seem really empty without you."
"I'll only be half an hour away, mother." Abby didn't mean to sound so annoyed. Why did her voice sound so strained, so harsh?
"I know, I know," Mrs. Wallis said, sighing. She sat down on the edge of Abby's bed, looking tired and pale.
"Don't sit down, I'm leaving," Abby said, forcing herself not to sound impatient. But she was dying to get out of the house and to the campus.
"What is it, mother? I really don't have time to "
"I just want to ask you ... uh ... I mean ... if you don't get in ... if the sorority turns you down ... do you think you can handle it?"
Abby laughed. She wasn't sure why. "Mother stop. They're not going to reject me. I'm going to get in no matter what."
She took one last look into the mirror, and walked past her mother, down the narrow stairway, and out into the street.
Abby gazed out the bus window, watching the evening fog billow around the houses she passed. She shivered. Living in a toso near the ocean always meant a September of fog and chill. Car headlights seemed unable to penetrate the shifting curtain of fog. A mist of gray-green light danced eerily along the quiet street.
The houses were all familiar to Abby, even in the fog. She had lived in North Shore Village her entire life. She knew every house, every two-car garage, every tree and carefully trimmed hedge on this street. Even in the mysterious, swirling light, it all looked familiar, pieces of the world she knew too well, the world she hoped to leave behind.
The campus of Rockland State was only a half-hour bus ride from her house, but it seemed like a new world to Abby. The ivy-covered red brick buildings facing onto the wide, grassy quadrangle, the new courses, the new faces all seemed to offer a fresh
start, a new beginning, a world where Abby had no past, only a promising future.
The bus stopped a block from the Tri Gam house, and Abby stepped out into the cold, wet air. She walked quickly past the row of campus shops that led toward Greek Row. The bookstore was still open. Through the window she could see a boy from her Comp. Lit. class carefully looking through a stack of used textbooks.
She hurried past the bookstore, past Ernie's Coffee Shop, past the tiny jewelry store with the sign in the window: EARS PIERCED WHILE-U-WAIT.
Why was it so freezing cold? She knew she should have worn a coat or a heavier sweater, but that wasn't the look she wanted for her first appearance in the Tri Gam house. Her oversized gold sweater, and short, brown knit skirt over dark, patterned tights were just the right choice, she told herself sophisticated, sexy, but casual.
Casual? Abby had to laugh at the thought. She had spent two hours trying to decide what to wear. This decision was anything but casual!
And why should she be casual about something that meant so much to her? First impressions are important. She didn't want everyone's first impression of her to be of someone all bundled up against the cold.
She was halfway across the street before
she realized she hadn't looked for traffic. Luckily, the street was empty except for a pizza delivery boy on a bike. He looked her up and down as he pedaled past.
I guess I chose the right outfit, Abby thought, smiling.
The Beta house, with its tall wrought-iron fence that made it look like some kind of prison, stood on the corner. Abby began to walk faster. The Tri Gam house was next, just beyond a row of shedding oak trees.
She looked across the lawn to the entrance. A white spotlight pierced the fog, illuminating the twin white columns that framed the stairway. The white double doors beyond the stairway were pulled open.
Abby stumbled over a stone on the sidewalk. She quickly recovered her balance. Take it easy, Abby, she told herself. Just stay calm, girl. But saying it was a lot easier than doing it.
Another girl stepped into the light of the spotlight, about to enter the sorority house. Abby stopped. Her heart seemed to stop. She shivered, this time not from the cold.
It was Leila. Leila Sherman.
She watched Leila enter the house, then stood staring at the open doors behind the two white columns. Leila Sherman was pledging the Tri Gams, too? How could that be??
For a moment, Abby thought of turning around and going home. She felt somehow
betrayed, invaded. Leila was part of the past. What right did she have to enter Abby's new world?
It doesn't matter, Abby told herself. Leila doesn't matter anymore. Past is past.
So why did she feel so crummy?
Abby had heard that Leila was still going with Gordon, even though he wasn't in school.
"Well, she's welcome to him," Abby said, and then realized she was talking out loud. Embarrassed, she looked around quickly to make sure no one had heard her.
The Tri Gams aren't likely to accept a pledge who talks to herself on the street, she thought, forcing a smile to her tight lips.
Past is past.
It had been a year, a v/hole year, since the thing with Leila and Gordon. She hadn't spoken to either of them for a year.
So why did she still feel so crummy?
She couldn't ignore the question. She had to ignore the question.
"Gordon's a creep." She was talking out loud again. He wasn't in college. He had just barely graduated with their class at North Shore High. He didn't have a job. As far as Abby knew, he wasn't doing anything.
Except going with Leila.
Abby stamped her foot angrily against the sidewalk.
She tried to force all of these thoughts, all of these memories from her mind.
Enough. Enough. Enough.
Was she going to walk into the Tri Gam house?
Was she going to wow them with her good looks, her sophistication, her ready intelligence?
Was she going to forget all about Leila and Gordon, and let bygones be bygones?
When she took her first steps through the entranceway to the Tri Gam house, Abby expected to enter a vibrant and sparkling new world. At first glance, however, the new world was less than sparkling. In fact, it was pretty rundown.
The flowered wallpaper was peeling in the entrance hallway. The faded green corduroy armchairs Abby saw as she sneaked a peek into the living room were worn and had yellow stuffing coming out of their cushions.
The Tri Gam who greeted her at the doorway was wearing a trendy designer jumpsuit. But she had a clump of green stuff stuck to her front tooth, and her smile was plastered on as if she had been forced to be the official greeter.
Abby forced a smile of her own and shook the girl's slender hand.
"Ooooh your hand is freezing," the Tri
Gam cried, without losing her smile. "Why didn't you wear a coat?"
Then Abby, her confidence just about completely shaken, was handed a name tag and directed up the stairs to the meeting room. A few rows of folding chairs had been set up facing a music stand at the front of the room. A hand-stenciled sign on the wall said: GAMMA GAMMA GAMMA
WELCOME ITS PLEDGES.
She saw Leila across the room, her blonde hair pulled to the side in a long, stylish braid, concentrating on getting the name tag to stick to her clinging, wine-colored sweaterdress.
Past is past.
Abby looked away from Leila quickly. She wanted to calm down, to get more comfortable before approaching her.
Two girls Abby had never seen before were talking nearby, gesturing nervously with their hands and laughing too quickly at everything being said. Grateful that she and Leila weren't the only ones in the room, Abby started over to join them.
"Abby! Hey Abby!"
A familiar voice. Abby turned around quickly. "Nina!"
"What are you doing here?"
"What are you doing here?"
"Hey, stop " Abby said, grabbing hold
of Nina's shoulder. "If we're both going to say the same things, one of us has to talk and the other listen."
"You go first," Nina said in her scratchy little voice. "I haven't seen you in ages!"
With her short hair still in bangs, her tiny stub of a nose, no makeup at all, and freckles dotting her cheeks, Nina looked about ten years old. Abby realized she had known Nina since they were both ten, and Nina hadn't changed much at all!
They had been inseparable when they were little girls. But the friendship had struggled through junior high. And by the time they reached high school, Nina just seemed too giggly, too silly, too naive, too young for cool, controlled Abby, and they never saw each other away from school.
Nina became a cheerleader, was president of the Pep Club, and had pinup pictures of rock stars taped to her locker door. Abby became feature editor of the newspaper, wrote long, surreal poems for the literary magazine ... and fell in love with Gordon.
Whenever Abby passed Nina in the halls at North Shore High, she would wonder what they had ever found to talk about when they were younger. But now, standing nervously near the wall of the Tri Gam meeting room with Leila looking at her from across the room, Abby was genuinely glad to see Nina.
"I'm so happy you're pledging, too. It's great to see you. I haven't seen you on campus.
Where are you living? Are you at home or are you in a dorm, or what?" Abby asked without taking a breath.
Nina giggled, the same giggle she had had when she was ten. "Abby did you take a speed-talking course ?!"
They both laughed. Somehow Nina's joke made Abby feel a little calmer.
"I'm in the dorm Copley Hall," Nina said, looking past Abby as two more worried-looking pledges entered the room. "It's really great!"
Great . . . great . . . Abby thought. Hasn't she learned a netv word yet? But she smiled warmly, scolding herself for thinking such mean thoughts.
"Leila's my roommate," Nina chirped. "Isn't that great?" She wTinkled her nose and grinned. "I just think it's amazing that three girls from North Shore High are pledging the Tri Gams! Leila and you...." Nina's face suddenly froze and her expression changed to embarrassment. "Oh Abby I'm sorry. I forgot about... you and Gordon."
Abby forced a fast, tight-lipped smile. "Hey it's okay. That was a long time ago. I'm all over that." If only she could get her voice to stop shaking.
"Really? You mean that? Oh. Good," Nina said uncomfortably, glancing across the room at Leila, who was talking to a tall redhaired girl in a bright green Benetton sweater.
"I guess Leila and Gordon are still together," Abby said, looking at the wall, hoping that sounded casual.
"Yeah," Nina said, shrugging her tiny shoulders. "Gordon's been kinda bummed out, though. Oh not because of Leila. Just because he can't decide what he wants to do."
"Oh." Abby couldn't think of anything else to say.
Nina shifted her weight uneasily. She smiled. A few seconds of silence passed. "Well ... I guess I'll go sit down. It's great to see you. I think it's so amazing we're all going to be Hey where are you living? Are you at home?"
"Great. Great. Well . . . uh. . . ." Nina wanted to end the conversation, but she was having trouble figuring out how. "How . . . how about coffee after the meeting?" It was a half-hearted invitation.
"Sure," Abby said quickly. "If it isn't too late."
"See ya later." Nina flashed an uncertain grin and turned away.
Abby suddenly wanted to grab onto Nina and plead with her not to go. She didn't want to have to face Leila. She didn't want to talk to Leila, Not yet.
But Nina was already talking to a couple of girls near the window. And Leila had finished her conversation with the tall red-
head, and was starting to walk downi the row of chairs toward Abby, a confident smile on her dark red lips.
"Hey, Abby. What a shock! Hi!"
Abby could feel her face grow hot. She knew she must be blushing bright red. It was such an embarrassing trait. She positively hated that feeling of being out of control, having her face do something that she didn't will it to do.
What was she going to say to Leila after all this time? What could she say? Should she be nice to her? Should she act as if nothing had happened ?
"Hey, Abby how ya doin?"
"Okay, guys let's all take seats. I think we can get started."
Abby looked toward the front of the room. A girl had stepped behind the music stand and was gesturing for everyone to sit down. "C'mon seats, people!"
Saved by the bell, she told herself.
She looked back at Leila, who was still halfway across the room, and shrugged. "Later!" she called to her, trying to look disappointed rather than relieved.
"Sit down, people! Let's get started!"
Abby stepped quickly to the nearest row and dropped into the seat next to the tall redhaired girl in the bright green sweater. "Hi," the girl said quickly. "I'm Rebecca Reeves." She had a tiny mouse voice. At first, Abby thought it was a put-on. But she quickly realized it was Rebecca's real voice.
"Abby Wallis," Abby said, finding it hard not to imitate Rebecca's squeaky little voice. A quick handshake ended the conversation,
as the girl behind the music stand began to speak.
"Let me begin by introducing myself," she said loudly, leaning on the music stand and looking around the room. "My name is Andrea Volner, and I am this year's president of Gamma Gamma Gamma."
Perfect, Abby thought. Andrea looks like the perfect president of a sorority.
Andrea wasn't exactly a cliche, but she came very close to it. She was tall and pretty, with standard American good looks, blonde hair that fell perfectly straight to just above her shoulders, and a perfect smile that could sell toothpaste on TV. She wore an expensive gray wool skirt and a maroon silk blouse with a gi*ay silk scarf tied loosly around the collar. Even though she was tall and could see perfectly well over the music stand, she kept raising up on tiptoes as she spoke.
"I also have the pleasure of serving as this year's pledge officer," Andrea continued. "Before I tell you a little about the weeks to come, I'd like to introduce the other officers."
Abby tried to concentrate on what Andrea was saying, but her mind quickly wandered. Andrea's voice became an indistinct hum in the background as Abby's mind raced with thoughts of Nina, and Leila . . . and Gordon.
How was it possible that a year ago she and Leila had been best friends, closer than close? She thought of the hours and hours she
had spent talking to Leila on the phone every day. They would meet after school to talk, and then hurry home so they could talk some more on the phone!
Even when Gordon entered the picture and he and Abby were spending so much time together so much time, and not enough time Abby still had time to talk with Leila. They talked, they laughed, they shared their real feelings, they confided. . . .
And now, it had all been ruined. Now, Abby wanted to run away. Now, Abby would do anything to avoid having to talk to Leila.
Would she run away? Forget about pledging the Tri Gams ?
She had given up another dream because of Leila. She wouldn't give up this dream because of Leila, too.
"The Tri Gams are known beyond the college community for our tradition of public service. . . ." Andrea's words broke into Abby's thoughts, then faded again.
Why had she agreed so quickly to have coffee with Nina? She hadn't had a conversation of more than a few seconds with Nina since eighth grade! She wasn't really interested in hearing how great everything in Nina's life was, was she?
Abby realized she had agreed to meet Nina afterwards for only one reason. Perhaps Nina would tell her more about Gordon.
She could feel her face grow hot again. Gordon.
Past is past. Isn't it?
All that melodrama, all that craziness, all that pain it was all behind her.
It was just seeing Nina and Leila again that was bringing back the memories, bringing back these strong feelings.
Stop it, Abby. Stop it now. She stared at Andrea, who was up on tiptoes again behind the music stand. She forced herself to listen.
"That's basically what I have to say about us" Andrea was saying. "Now I'd like to talk a little about what we expect from you."
Andrea drew a hand casually back through her straight, blonde hair and began to plunge into the next part of her well-practiced speech. But she was interrupted by a latecomer, a girl who seemed to explode into the room, a bulging, green book bag over her shoulder and a stack of sheet music under her arm.
"Sorry I'm late. My bassoon lesson ran over," the girl loudly announced to Andrea, swinging the bag around and almost hitting the girl seated closest to the door with it.
"That's okay. Take a seat, Jessie," Andrea said, not at all flustered by the interruption.
"I don't believe it," Rebecca leaned close and squeaked into Abby's ear. "Look at her. She didn't exactly dress up. She's wearing jeans and they're not even 501's !'*
Just about everyone in the room was watching Jessie as she swung the big book-bag off her shoulder, dropped it onto an empty chair, placed the sheet music carefully under the seat, pulled her blue and green wool poncho over her head revealing a crimson and gray ROCKLAND RAMS sweatshirt underneath, and plopped heavily into the chair beside her bookbag.
Jessie wasn't just under-dressed, Abby decided. Everything about her from her bright red eyeglass frames and her unruly, mousey brown hair to her baggy jeans and loose-fitting sweatshirt, which only emphasized that she had a definite weight problem indicated no desire to fit in with the others, no attempt to look like a Tri Gam!
Abby always tried hard not to judge people by their appearance. But seeing a girl who cared so little about her appearance turning up as a pledge in the Tri Gam house was certainly a shock.
"How did she get chosen ?" Abby whispered to Rebecca. "Is she a fabulous bassoon player or something?"
"Her older sister was a Tri Gam," Rebecca whispered back.
That explained it. Younger sisters were automatically pledged. They weren't always accepted. But they were always pledged.
"I'd like to resume by saying a few words about you7' role." Andrea started again. She
had to shout. A number of whispered conversations were suddenly taking place, no doubt all of them about Jessie.
"Before you begin " Jessie interrupted, still trying to get her bulky poncho to rest on the seat next to her.
"Yes?" Andrea asked with only a hint of impatience.
"Maybe you talked about this before I came in," Jessie said. She spoke quickly, breathing hard, as if she had run all the way. "I just wondered if you're serving food after the meeting?"
Someone in the back of the room giggled. No one else made a sound.
"We hadn't really planned to have a social hour after the meeting," Andrea said. "Since it's a weeknight, we thought everyone would have course work to do." She looked over to the other sorority officers, who w^ere sitting, expressionless, against the far wall. "But we could get the coffee machine going, I guess. And there are cakes or something we could warm up...."
"No sandwiches?" Jessie asked.
"Well ... no. No sandwiches. If you're really hungry, Jessie, we could "
"No," Jessie said quickly. "I just wondered. Sorry." She went back to arranging the poncho on the chair.
"Most of us have a lot of studjdng," Andrea continued, not quite ready to drop the subject. "How about the rest of you people ?"
Most of the pledges muttered something about having papers to write. It was quickly-decided that there would be no social hour this night.
Abby was truly relieved. She had no desire to stand around in a crowded room with all of the important officers of the sorority watching, and try to make small talk with Leila. She would much rather have a quick coffee down the block at Ernie's with Nina and get home,
"Well . , ." Andrea leaned against the music stand again, smiled, and resumed her speech. "I've told you a little about what makes Gamma Gamma Gamma so special. But I haven't told you quite everything." She paused, supposedly to build suspense.
Abby stifled a yawn. It w^as hot in the small meeting room. The heat was beginning to make her sleepy.
"As you can see," Andrea continued, "there are only ten girls in this year's pledge class. That's a very small number, a very exclusive group. And from you ten girls, I have to tell you that only five will be accepted as members."
"Gee whiz," Jessie said loudly. It was impossible to tell if she meant it as an exclamation or if she was being sarcastic.
Andrea ignored the interruption. She leaned farther up on the music stand as if trying to get closer to her audience, to speak confidentially. "When we say that the girls of
Tri Gamma sorority are special, we don't just mean that in the ordinary way. And when we say that the members of Tri Gamma are sisters, we don't just mean that in the ordinary way, either."
She paused again, raised up on tip toe, then slowly lowered her heels back to the floor. "We don't want Tri Gamma just to be another social club. And it isn't. The sisters of Tri Gamma are sisters for life. The members of Tri Gamma are members for life.
"This is a big commitment," Andrea said, speaking more and more quietly. "Not every girl is willing to make the commitment we require, the commitment for life. Not every girl wants to make that commitment. Those of you who do not will not become members of Tri Gamma. Those of you who are willing to commit yourselves totally will be accepted."
The room grew silent and still.
Andrea had everyone's rapt attention now. She spoke almost in a whisper. "Sisters for life," she repeated. "That's what we require. Sisters for life. How do we make sure we choose the right girls, the girls who want what we want, the girls who share our need of a lifetime commitment?"
"You mean we have to go through hazing!" Jessie called out.
"Jessie, please!" Andrea sounded irritated for the first time. "We all know that there's no hazing at Rockland State. The university banned it five years ago. Gamma Gamma
Gamma never went in for hazing anyway. A bunch of childish pranks, so superficial and silly. It's the kind of thing that gives fraternities and sororities a bad name. Oh no. We have a very different kind of test."
The room grew silent again. A car horn honked down on the street. A dog barked somewhere in the distance.
"Every year," Andrea said quietly, "we ask our pledges to share something, to share a secret that will bind them together, to share an experience that will make them sisters for life."
She stopped to clear her throat and take a drink of water from a paper cup that rested on the music stand. "Every year, we take our pledges away from the sorority house, away from the campus, to another town. And then .. ." Andrea was talking quietly now, so quietly Abby wasn't sure she heard her correctly.
"And then . . ." Andrea whispered, "to make sure you will be loyal Tri Gammas for life ... we ask our pledges to commit a crime.''*
"She wasn't serious was she?"
Nina frowned. Her forehead wrinkled whenever she was thinking hard, and the freckles around her nose seemed to wrinkle, too. "Was she?"
Abby laughed. "I don't know, Nina. I really don't."
Nina held the steaming gray coffee cup up to her lips and blew on it. She stared into Abby's eyes as if the answer to her question was somehow hidden inside them.
"Stop looking at me like that," Abby said, and laughed again. Nina was so serious about this, it was comical. "No. I don't think Andrea was serious. I don't think she really wants us to commit a crime. Is that what you want me to say?"
"She is serious!" Nina decided, setting the cup down too hard on the green formica table-top. She pulled a napkin from the dispenser and began wiping up the brown puddle of coffee she had spilled.
"You still have these tiny hands," Abby said, without thinking. As soon as she said it, she remembered that Nina was sensitive about the size of her hands.
Nina looked hurt for a second, but quickly changed her expression. "Hands don't grow," she said, tossing the wet napkin in an ashtray. "It's a scientific fact."
It's a scientific fact.
I don't believe it, Abby thought. Nina was saying that when she was ten!
Abby found herself grinning at her old friend. A flood of warm feelings rushed over her. It was good to be sitting here at Ernie's Coffee Shop on a Monday night, talking comfortably with someone she had known for so many years.
The small, dimly lit room was nearly empty. A couple of old men sat at the counter staring vacantly at the wall, their bony white hands wrapped around half-empty coffee cups. In the corner booth across the room from Abby and Nina, a boy and girl in identical denim jackets were wrapped around each other and seemed to be challenging the World's Record For The Longest Kiss. Their sandwiches sat untouched in front of them.
Abby looked back at Nina. "She couldn't be serious!" Nina decided, changing her mind again. "She sure looked serious. But she couldn't mean it, Abby. She couldn't expect us to commit a crime to get accepted into the sorority. Could she?"
"Whatever it is, it'll be completely harmless," Abby said. "Sororities always make their pledges do silly things. It'll be silly that's all."
"Silly. Yeah. I'm sure you're right," Nina said. But she didn't look or sound convinced. "Hey did you get to talk to Leila ?"
"Yeah. A little." Abby forced a smile. "She said hi, and I said hi. And then some other girl asked her a question and that was that."
"She looks great, doesn't she?" Nina asked. It was her first great of the conversation, Abby realized. "I love what she's done to her hair. She looks just like that model you know the one,"
Abby didn't know the one, but she nodded anyway.
"Do you still keep up with all the gossip about the models and their love lives and everything?" Abby asked.
Nina giggled. "A little," she admitted guiltily. "Not as much as I used to. I don't still plan to be a famous model when I grow up, if that's what you're asking!"
They both laughed. It was a little like the old days, years ago. But then neither could think of what to say next.
"I'm a little worried about Leila," Nina said suddenly, wrinkling her forehead again.
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, I probably shouldn't say anything ... especially to you."
Abby's heart began to pound. "It's okay,"
she said quietly, trying not to look too interested.
"Well... I don't know . . . it. . . it's about Leila and Gordon." Nina sipped her coffee and made a face. "Ooo bitter."
Abby shoved the sugar container across the table to her, a little too vigorously. It almost toppled into Nina's lap, but she caught it at the table edge.
Nina quickly dumped three spoons of sugar into her coffee. "I'm sure I'll like the taste of coffee some day," she said. "What was I talking about?"
"Leila and Gordon," Abby said, a little too loudly.
But Nina didn't seem to notice. "I just don't think Gordon is right for Leila at this point in her life," Nina said. "Here she is in her first semester at Rockland, and he's . . . he's just nowhere. No job, no school, no plans. And he doesn't seem to care. I'm just afraid he's gonna drag her down with him."
"What do you mean ?" Abby asked, staring into her coffee cup. Her hands, tightly clasped in her lap, suddenly felt ice cold.
"Oh . . . well ... I wouldn't tell you this if we all weren't such old friends. I had a study date with some kids in another dorm the other night, and I was walking back to my dorm. It was really late, after midnight. The doors close at twelve-fifteen. And I was crossing through the parking lot you know, behind
the dorm. And there was that old car that Gordon drives parked by the fence.
"I guess I was surprised to see it there so late, or something. I had to walk right by it. And as I walked by, I looked in the car. And they were there inside, in the back seat. In the dorm parking lot can you imagine ?
"That parking lot is pretty well lit up. Do you know how much trouble Leila could be in if the campus cops came by, or something? She could be kicked out of school. Do you think I should say something to her? Should I "
Nina stopped when she saw Abby's face.
Abby felt her face growing bright red. She knew there was nothing she could do about that. She struggled to get her trembling lips and chin under control. But it was a losing battle.
Abby's words came through clenched teeth in a hard, cold voice she had never heard before. "Leila's a big girl. She can take care of herself."
Startled, Nina dropped her cup onto its saucer. "Oh, I'm spilling more than I'm drinking." She reached for another paper napkin. "Listen, Abby I'm sorry . . . really ... I guess it was dumb of me to think "
"No, no " Abby started to protest, still unable to stop her quivering face.
She was just about to tell Nina to go on, to tell her more, when they were interrupted by a loud, cheerful voice.
"Well, well so this is where the in-crowd hangs out! Hi!"
It was Jessie, the girl who had arrived late at the pledge meeting and had asked about the sandwiches. She dropped her bookbag to the floor and without removing her bulky poncho, began to slide uninvited next to Abby in the booth.
"You girls were at the pledge meeting right? I'm Jessie Harvard. Like the University." She grabbed Abby's cold hand and squeezed it, then reached across the table to shake Nina's hand.
"Uh ... I'm Nina. And this is Abby."
Abby was tempted to tell Jessie she was interrupting their conversation. As much as it was hurting her, she wanted desperately to hear more about Leila and Gordon.
But she and Nina both were reluctant to be rude to a fellow Tri Gam pledge. Besides, what would be the point? Jessie was already sitting down, already calling to the waiter behind the counter to bring her a grilled cheese and french fries, already pulling that hideous poncho over her head.
"So what do you think?" Jessie asked, grinning first at Abby, then at Nina.
They both just stared at her.
Nina was the first to recover. "Do you think Andrea was telling the truth? Do you think the crime thing is for real ?"
Jessie raised an ink-stained finger to her lips. "Shhhh. We're not supposed to talk
about it remember?" she said loudly. She seemed incapable of talking below a shout.
"I know," Nina whispered. "But what do you think?"
Jessie raised her head and looked around the coffee shop. The two old men had climbed off their stools and were standing in front of the broken Pac-Man machine in the back. The couple in the back booth still had their lips glued together.
"I think it's gonna happen," Jessie said, smiling. "And I can't wait!" Her dull, gray eyes suddenly lit up. "I've always dreamed of pulling off some kind of heist. Maybe getting into a big chase scene. Do you think we'll get to use guns?"
"Are you for realV Nina blurted out. She was sorry immediately that she had said it. After all, she didn't know Jessie at all.
Jessie didn't seem at all taken aback by the question. Abby figured that people asked her that question all the time!
"Haven't you ever wanted to live a fantasy?" Jessie asked. "To live another life a wild life a life of adventure, of crime'i Haven't you ever dreamed of doing something bad really hadl Well, here comes our chance!"
Good lord, thought Abby. This girl is definitely twisted. She's so excited about committing a crime, she's practically drooling on the table I
Abby looked at her watch. "Hey it's getting late. I told my mom I'd be home, so..."
"You live at home? So do I/' Jessie said, her face still animated from talking about the crime they were going to commit. "Where'd you go to school ?"
"North Shore," Abby said, looking at Nina.
"Oh. I went to South Shore," Jessie said, a little defensively. South Shore was the less affluent of the two villages, populated largely by the people who worked for the homeowners in North Shore.
"Yeah. Guess we'd better be going," Nina said, getting up quickly and pulling her jacket on.
"Oh. Okay," Abby agreed, a bit too enthusiastically.
"Gee, I just got here," Jessie said, disappointed. She slowly pulled herself out of the booth so that Abby could slide out. "Well ... nice meeting you two."
"Nice meeting you," Abby and Nina called back. They were already hurrying out the door.
They stepped out onto the sidewalk. The air smelled fresh and cool. They looked at each other and started laughing.
"She's going to be a Tri GamT Nina exclaimed.
"She is definitely weird !" Abby said.
Looking through the smeared coffee shop
window, they saw Jessie sitting in the booth alone, still waiting for her food. She was toying with the knife, twirling it between her fingers ... and she had the strangest smile on her face.
"Hi, Leila. I was hoping you'd be here."
Nina pulled off her down vest and red wool muffler and tossed them across the small, cluttered dorm room, onto her unmade bed. She leaned against the door and tried to catch her breath. "Oh. Wow. I ran all the way." She couldn't wait to tell Leila about Abby and hear Leila's opinion of the pledge meeting.
Leila stood in the middle of the room, hands on her waist, her thumbs tucked into the belt loops of her dress, glaring at Nina. She hadn't changed into more comfortable clothes, even though it was nearly two hours since the meeting had ended. "Where have you been?" she asked, sounding more like an angry parent than a roommate.
"Hey what's wrong?" Nina asked, taking a few steps away from the door.
"Where have you been?" Leila repeated, without moving or changing her angry expression.
Uh-oh, Nina thought. She'd seen Leila angry before. She always started off quietly
with clenched teeth and a cold, hard stare that could cut through steel and then she'd explode. Nina could never figure out why Leila thought she had the right to get so furious at her friends. Maybe it was because she was an only child and never really had to control her temper, Nina thought.
She lifted a stack of books off the room's only armchair and sat down, preparing herself for the explosion to come. "I I went for coffee with Abby," she said, trying to stare back at Leila, but looking down at the brown shag rug instead.
"That figures," Leila said, moving her thumbs furiously back and forth through the wide belt loops at her sides.
"What do you mean?" Nina cried, trying not to sound whiny and upset. "What are you bent out of shape about?"
"It figures that you'd go out for coffee with my biggest enemy in the world."
"Enemy T' Despite her attempts to keep it down, Nina's voice rose several octaves. "Leila what happened between you and Abby ... that was at least a year ago. I'm sure Abby has forgotten all "
"No one has forgotten anything!" Leila said. Now there was more sadness than anger in her voice. Tears formed in her eyes. She shook her head hard, as if trying to shake away her feelings.
"She hates me!" Leila cried. "Abby hates me and I don't blame her. I have Gordon
and she doesn't. Don't you remember anything, Nina? Doesn't anything ever penetrate that little-girl world you live in? Abby was so upset when Gordon when Gordon decided he liked 'me better her mother had to take her out of school for nearly a year. She told everyone that Abby had gone to live with her grandmother for a while."
"I remember," Nina said quietly, her eyes still on the small brown rug. "It was a long time ago. Abby's okay now. Really. She's "
"I just had coffee with her. I didn't " Nina hated herself for sounding so apologetic. She had every right to have coffee with anyone she wanted to! Struggling to control her anger, she squeezed the worn arms of the chair until her knuckles turned white. "Leila, you can't be angry because I had a cup of coffee with Abby. What's really bugging you?"
Nina expected the question to catch Leila off-guard, to interrupt her fury for just a second. But it only seemed to make Leila angrier.
She raised a hand up, tossed her long braid behind her shoulder, and swung around. She took three quick steps to her dresser, picked up a small, brown leather case, and tossed it as hard as she could at Nina. "Here I got you a present!"
"Hey! Don't!" Nina cried, ducking away.
The case hit the arm of Nina's chair and bounced onto the rug at her feet.
"Go ahead. Pick it up," Leila challenged from across the room.
Nina leaned forward and reached for it, keeping her eyes on her roommate. "What is it?"
"The perfect gift for you. Binoculars."
Nina dropped the case as if it were hot and sat back in the chair. "What's with you, Leila? What are you talking about?"
Leila's beautiful heart-shaped mouth curled into a sneer. "They're for spying, Nina, Perfect for you. The next time you want to spy on Gordon and me, you'll get a much better view!" Leila glared at Nina. "I'm hurt, Nina," she said. "I'm so hurt."
Nina felt a stab of pain behind her eyes. So Leya had seen her in the parking lot. "Listen, Leila I wasn't spying. I was walking back to the room. I couldn't help it if "
"If what?" Leila demanded. "If you stopped and watched us for twenty minutes?!"
"I did not I" Nina screamed. She could feel herself losing control now and she didn't care. "Why were you in the parking lot, Leila? What were you trying to do? You're so crazy about Gordon you don't care what happens to you you don't care about anything T'
"You're jealous. That's it." Since Nina was the one screaming now, Leila lowered her voice to an angry whisper. "You're just jeal-
ous. Why don't you admit it? You've never even had a boyfriend have you? Have you?!"
The stab of pain behind her eyes had become a full-fledged headache. Nina rubbed her eyes, tried to rub away the pain. "I I don't have to answer that."
"You don't have to do anything," Leila said, her voice still a shuddering whisper. She grabbed her fur coat off her bed with a violent sweep of her hand and started quickly toward the door. "But one of us has to leave. I'm not rooming with a spy. An enemy!"
"Leila stop. Just stop. This is ridiculous! We have to talk this out."
"There's nothing more to say," Leila said. She slammed the door behind her.
For a long time after Leila left, Nina sat in the armchair, staring down at the binocular case, trying to rub away her headache.
This just wasn't fair, she thought.
How could Leila do this to her?
She had looked forward to this night for so long. The first pledge meeting of the Tri Gams, and two of her oldest friends were there with her. It should have been exciting. It should have been fun.
She buried her head in her arm and fought to keep back the tears.
Why didn't anything ever work out the way she imagined it would ?
The front door clicked quietly as Abby
closed it behind her and stepped into the living room. The house was dark and silent.
She stood by the door for a long while, smiling and listening to the silence. She was relieved that her mother had gone to bed. She didn't really feel like telling her about the meeting or about seeing Nina and Leila.
The air was thick and pungently sweet. Abby remembered a vase of wilting flowers on the coffee table she had forgotten to toss out. The scent was bringing back a memory. Where was it? Where was she when she had smelled that same decaying flower smell?
"What are you smiling about?"
The loud voice, so close to her, made Abby cry out.
"Gabriella I didn't know you were. . . . Why are you sitting in the dark?"
Gabriella laughed. She enjoyed startling her sister. "I like the dark."
"It's pitch black in here," Abby said, her heart still pounding. "How can you see me smiling?"
"I know you," Gabriella said mysteriously.
"Well, don't sneak up on me like that," Abby said angrily.
Gabriella laughed again, a deep, throaty laugh. "Tell me about the meeting."
"Why? So you can make fun of it?" Abby had no patience for Gabriella. She just wanted to go up to her room, lie down on her bed, and sift through her thoughts. She needed to figure out how she felt about every-
thing that had happened, to put everything in order in her mind.
"Me? Make fun of youT' Gabriella said innocently.
"Really, Gabriella I'm in no mood for your sarcasm," Abby said, keeping her voice dovi^n so she wouldn't v^ake her mother. "And I don't want to fight with you."
"Me either," Gabriella said. She reached to turn on a lamp.
"Don't turn that on. I'm going right to bed," Abby told her.
"Come on. Tell me everything."
"No. Stop." Abby started toward the stairs.
"Then just tell me one thing," Gabriella said.
"Gabriella, please " Why was her sister always such a pest?
"Just tell me what you think about the crime," Gabriella said, suddenly whispering. "Are you going to do it? Do you think it's for real?"
"Good night," Abby said, ignoring the questions. "And don't follow me." She began running quickly up the stairs.
She stopped near the top landing.
How did Gabriella know about the crime?
She wasn't at the meeting. How did she knoiv ?
Abby didn't have a chance to find out the answer. She climbed the rest of the stairs, flicked on the light in her room, and found someone waiting for her there.
"Gordon! What are you doing here?"
Abby's voice came out tiny and choked. She looked shocked enough to scream. Gordon lifted himself off her bed quickly, stepped forward, and clamped a hand gently over her mouth. His hand felt rough and hot.
"Shhhh, Abby. Don't scream," he whispered. Then, slowly, he removed his hand.
For an instant, she realized she wanted him to keep it there. She took a step back. "Gordon, I don't believe this!"
"Shhhhh." He grinned at her, his face inches from hers.
She took another step back, turned, and closed the bedroom door.
"How did you get in ?"
Still grinning, he pointed to the window. "Climbed," he said. Then he shrugged.
She stared at him, trying to make sure it was really him, not a look-alike, not a ghost, not a daydream figure come to life, a figure sprung from her over-active imagination.
But Gordon was too big to be an illusion. He was tall, over six feet, and muscular, built like a football player, although he never played.
His jeans were faded and torn at one knee. His sweat shirt had a grease stain down the left sleeve. It looked as if he'd been wearing it for weeks.
Gordon's brown hair was long and fell in unwashed disarray nearly to his shoulders. Patches of dark stubble dotted his jutting jaw. His narrow blue eyes, set a bit too close to his nose, still seemed to be mocking everything they saw.
He still looks like Sean Penn, Abby decided. Like a big, unwashed Sean Penn.
As she stared at him, he seemed to lose confidence. His grin faded. He shoved his big hands into his jeans pockets. He glanced back at the window from which he had entered, as if maybe he was thinking about leaving.
"How long have you been here?" Abby whispered.
"How did you know I. . .. What made you think...."
"Leila," he said, looking at the window again.
He never was much of a talker, Abby remembered. But these one-word answers were driving her bananas! "Well what do you want ?" she asked impatiently.
Her sharpness seemed to hurt him. He shrugged again. It was his turn to stare at her. "I had to explain."
She waited for him to go on, but he didn't. Looking at him in the shadowy light from the small lamp on her bedtable, she felt all mixed up. Attracted to him. Repelled by him. Frightened of him.
If only he would talk !
"Gordon you had to explain whatV
He picked up a lipstick on her dressing table and then put it back without looking at it. "You know. I felt bad."
"You came to apologize to me?"
He picked up the lipstick again and began twirling it between his long fingers. "Well, yeah. I guess. Explain. Apologize. You know."
Abby angrily grabbed the lipstick from his hand and slammed it onto the tabletop. "There's nothing to explain, Gordon. Go home. Okay?"
His eyes went back to the window. "Come on, Abby. I'll go in a second. I I don't know. Last year, I was just immature, I guess. I mean ... I wasn't ready. I didn't mean to hurt you or anything."
"Well, you did hurt me. A lot."
She surprised herself with this bitter reply. Surprised and frightened herself. There were feelings she'd long held deep down that she wanted to keep deep down.
"I know. That's why I came to apologize."
Gordon's voice trembled. She'd never heard him sound so ... real.
Her mind flashed suddenly on the night he had burned his foot. She pictured the bonfire, the kids in their down coats, mufflers, bright woolly gloves, their faces glowing orange and red, reflecting the blazing, crackling fire, the cheerleaders, the happy voices, the chants and cheers echoing off the stadium wall.
Was it homecoming or just a big pep rally? No. It was homecoming that Gordon had decided to pull his goofy, stupid stunt.
She could see him clearly. She was standing so close to the fire when he did it. She saw him take a running start, heard him screaming "GERONIMO!" at the top of his lungs, saw his wild face, his crazy eyes and realized at once that he planned to leap over the fire.
"STOP HIM!" she had yelled.
But no one could hear her over the cheering, the laughter, the happy shouts.
She saw him leap. Heard gasps of surprise. Then . . . gasps of horror. His shoe. His shoe was on fire.
He rolled on the stadium grass. They stomped it out. They found a tarp to cover him. It must have hurt like crazy. But Crazy Gordon never let on.
He never cried out. He never uttered a word.
It was unreal.
Crazy macho Gordon couldn't let on that he was in pain.
He had a little bit of a limp now. But the foot was okay. If it hurt him, he still never let on.
Why was Abby remembering all this?
Because now he was letting on. Now he was being ... real.
"Anyway . . ." he said, his voice still unsteady. "That's all, I guess "
She took a step toward him, then another. She threw her arms around his neck and pushed her lips, burning lips, against his.
Am I really doing this ? she thought.
And then she stopped thinking.
She closed her eyes and kissed him harder, again, again, tightening her arms around his neck.
Gordon stepped back, tried to pull away. But soon he was returning her kiss.
Oh ... oh ... oh .. . she told herself... If Leila ever finds out, she'll kill me!
The house, set back in the woods at the end of the Dune Road, could have been the setting for The Amityville Horror or some other horror movie. The bus bumped up the rutted dirt driveway past gnarled, old trees that shivered and entwined around each other as if they were afraid of the dark.
The headlights cut through the thick fog, providing the only light. From her window seat, Abby could see a shadowy carpet of leaves on the ground, shifting, rolling, separating as if invisible creatures were running over them. Her first glimpse of the house, so dark, so rambling and rundown, so eerily perched on the desolate, forested dune, gave her a growing feeling of dread.
"Couldn't we stay at the Holiday Inn?'* Jessie called from the back of the bus.
A few girls laughed short, nervous laughs. But most of them had already learned to ignore Jessie's loud remarks and odd attempts at humor.
The engine whined as the bus began to climb the final, steep incline that curved up to the front of the house. Abby held her watch up close to her face and struggled to steady it and read it in the dark. Ten-fifteen.
The ride from the Tri Gam house had seemed really long, partly because of heavy traffic on the expressway, partly because of Jessie's insistence on trying to make funny comments about everything they passed, and partly because of the uncertainty of where they were going and what they were about to do.
"Come on, people. It's time to prove that you're Tri Gams," was all Andrea had said back on the campus as she ushered them up onto the old, yellow mini-bus. The/d had no idea they'd be heading out to the ocean and to this deserted wreck of a mansion so far from tov^Ti, so far from anything.
But the uncertainty of their destination wasn't the only cause of tension on the bus. Abby saw immediately that Nina and Leila weren't speaking to each other. Upon boarding, Leila had flashed Nina a real look of hate, a look so intense, it actually made Abby turn her head away.
I hope no one ever looks at me that way, Abby told herself. Then she remembered Gordon that night in her room was it a week ago already? his kisses, and between the kisses, his words of apology, of regret. If
Leila only knew . . ." Abby said to herself, she would hate me, too. . . .
But what were Leila and Nina fighting about? Probably some silly squabble about their dorm room, Abby thought. She couldn't picture the two of them living together at all. Leila was so tidy and neat, so together, so cool and sophisticated. And Nina was always such a slob, such a ... kid.
As they boarded the rented mini-schoolbus, Leila walked past Nina, flashed Abby a quick, phony smile, and kept walking down the narrow aisle, taking a seat near the back. Rebecca climbed in beside Nina. The two of them began chattering and laughing, their high, scratchy voices reminding Abby of those cartoon chipmunks on TV.
A girl named Emily introduced herself and took the seat beside Abby. She was quite pretty in an ordinary, everyday pretty kind of way. She seemed gung-ho about everything loved Rockland State, loved the Tri Gams, loved her courses, loved the other pledges, loved the North Shore, loved the idea of going off somewhere to commit a crime. She thought it was all a lark, just a fun sorority prank and she loved the whole idea.
Abby tried to keep a conversation going with Emily. But it was hard to keep up the level of enthusiasm it took to talk to such a tirelessly cheerful person. The silences became longer and more awkward, and soon
both girls gave up and stared out the bus window, watching the fog settle on the sides of the expressway.
A lot of the girls were finding it difficult to make conversation. It was hard to keep the purpose of the trip from their minds. They weren't off on a fun vacation trip, a weekend frolic. Before the weekend was out, they were supposed to commit a crime, a serious crime, according to Andrea, who would be accompanying them, watching them, not only an accomplice but a judge.
Three girls had refused to come along, had simply given up their chances of becoming Tri Gams. Most of the remaining seven, judging from the conversations Abby overheard on the bus, believed the whole thing to be a goof, a joke they had to play along with to prove they were good sports. Only Jessie (of course!) seemed excited about actually having the chance to commit a crime!
How did Abby feel about it? She tried to sort out her thoughts as the bus rumbled along the expressway, but she couldn't come to any decision.
She felt... uncomfortable.
That was all.
They were nearing the end of the expressway, the final exit, where they would turn onto the local road that led to the Dune Road, when the bus suddenly squealed to a stop. Traffic normally wasn't heavy this far out of town. What could be tying things up ?
staring through the billowing fog, Abby could make out a car on the side of the road. Its headlights were on high-beam. Its doors had been flung open. The two occupants of the car, a large man in a bulky tan overcoat and a young boy, were in front of the car, in the glare of the white headlights, and they were hunched over what appeared to be a huge brown sack.
No. Wait. It wasn't a sack they were examining. Abby stared harder. It was an animal. A deer.
A few other girls uttered cries of surprise and revulsion.
The deer must have run out onto the highway, and the car had struck it. Now it lay on its side, unmoving, a dead heap, nothing but a big, brown sack. The man and the boy were walking around it now, still hunched over, shaking their heads.
"Oh, look a Deer Crossing sign right next to it!" Jessie called out. "Isn't that ironic ?"
"Jessie really I" Andrea called from her seat beside the bus driver.
No one else said anything. The traffic began to move again. The bus jerked forward, backfired, jerked again, and then began to move away.
Abby kept picturing this innocent creature
taking a quick, clean leap onto the highway ... and then THUD.
She felt worse than uncomfortable now.
This is where her feelings of dread began, long before she saw the spooky old