Private (Private Series #1)

Private (Private Series #1)

4.5 372
by Kate Brian
     
 

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Tradition, Honor, Excellence...and secrets so dark they're almost invisible

Fifteen-year-old Reed Brennan wins a scholarship to Easton Academy — the golden ticket away from her pill-popping mother and run-of-the-mill suburban life. But when she arrives on the beautiful, tradition-steeped campus of Easton, everyone is just a bit more sophisticated, a bit more

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Overview

Tradition, Honor, Excellence...and secrets so dark they're almost invisible

Fifteen-year-old Reed Brennan wins a scholarship to Easton Academy — the golden ticket away from her pill-popping mother and run-of-the-mill suburban life. But when she arrives on the beautiful, tradition-steeped campus of Easton, everyone is just a bit more sophisticated, a bit more gorgeous, and a lot wealthier than she ever thought possible. Reed realizes that even though she has been accepted to Easton, Easton has not accepted her. She feels like she's on the outside, looking in.

Until she meets the Billings Girls.

They are the most beautiful, intelligent, and intensely confident girls on campus. And they know it. They hold all the power in a world where power is fleeting but means everything. Reed vows to do whatever it takes to be accepted into their inner circle.

Reed uses every part of herself — the good, the bad, the beautiful — to get closer to the Billings Girls. She quickly discovers that inside their secret parties and mountains of attitude, hanging in their designer clothing-packed closets the Billings Girls have skeletons. And they'll do anything to keep their secrets private.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When Reed leaves her troubled Pennsylvania home and begins posh Easton Academy as a scholarship student, she immediately attracts the attention of cute senior Thomas Pearson. She also quickly comes to the attention of the popular Billings Girls, who can be nice, mean or indifferent towards her, depending on the day. Reed puts up with their behavior knowing that if she "could just enter that inner sanctum, every door at Easton would open up to me." Keeping up academically proves a challenge, but Reed also faces other tests, such as stealing an exam for the Billings Girls or figuring out why they warn her about her now-boyfriend, Thomas, who has his own connections to their circle. The set-up seems scripted and the Billings Girls themselves are stereotypical (Noelle is the Alpha girl, Taylor is the brain, etc.), but Reed is more complex than most of this genre's narrators. She has an abusive mother "who likes pills with her bourbon," and admits that her connection to Thomas, the son of alcoholics, is partly due to finding "someone who understood." Of course, when Thomas accuses her of using him to get to the Billings Girls, he is somewhat right about that, too. The conclusion leaves plenty of questions including where Thomas has disappeared to. Readers will no doubt eagerly await the next installment in Brian's (The Virginity Club) Private series, Invitation Only, due out this fall. Ages 14-up. (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
The one thing that Reed Brennan wants most in the world is to get away from her drug addicted mother. She gets that chance when she is offered a half scholarship at a private school in Easton, Connecticut. Easton is everything she dreams it could be, offering her every opportunity to make her life better. On her first night there, instead of joining with the other girls living on her floor, she stays alone in her room and watches a group of girls greet each other in the dorm next door. After that night, Reed's greatest ambition is to join the Billings Girls. Unfortunately, girls assigned to the Billings dorm are the best scholars and athletes, neither of which applies to Reed. Instead of working on her grades and becoming socialized in the school, Reed allows the Billings Girls to bully and intimidate her into doing what they want her to do. Each time the Billings Girls ask her to do something for them, no matter how wrong it is, Reed caves to their demands. It is obvious that Reed knows that what they are asking her to do is wrong, and each time it seems as if she will do the right thing, but she never stands up to them. The novel is a very easy read, broken up into small chapters that allow the quick pace to carry the reader through. It is very disappointing how Reed squanders each opportunity to become a strong person and instead becomes the worst sort of teenager. Hopefully, a sequel will show Reed becoming a stronger person who is not controlled by the popular crowd. 2006, Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster, Ages 13 to 16.
—Danielle Williams
KLIATT
Fifteen-year-old Reed Brennan manages to earn a scholarship to Easton Academy, a posh co-ed boarding school where the motto is "Tradition, Honor, Excellence." There she hopes to finally escape her pill-popping mom and oh-so-boring suburban life. But blind desperation to fit in and to be invited to the secret parties of the super-cool and confident Billings Girls reduces Reed to their slave as she carries out their orders without fully understanding her role in their schemes. A flirtation with ultimate cool guy Thomas Pearson culminates in sex, yet Reed remains clueless as to who he really is and why the Billings Girls snub him. Are the Billings Girls Reed's friends or her foes? The slightly surreal ending leaves readers with as many questions as answers about these shadowy characters. But, despite its flaws, girls who enjoyed Brian's The Virginity Club and her other novels will love the sheer drama and mystery of it all. KLIATT Codes: S--Recommended for senior high school students. 2006, Simon & Schuster, 227p., $8.99.. Ages 15 to 18.
—Jessica Swaim
VOYA
Reed Brennan escapes her pill-dependent, alcoholic mother during her sophomore year by entering an elite private school where the well-to-do students have experiences and own things that she could never afford. Although she was an outstanding student in her public high school, she feels unprepared academically and has problems with her new teachers. She wants to fit in with the legendary Billings Girls, an ultra-elite group that controls much of the social and academic lives of everyone on campus but is not very nice to others in the process. Reed does not deal with the reasons she left home, and when she does not allow her parents to visit for parents' weekend, they acquiesce. She wants to be a Billings Girl, so she does whatever dirty tasks they want her to do-break up with boyfriends, buy food in the lunch line, steal copies of tests-and she becomes a Billings Girl. She wants to date Thomas, and she does, having sex and then considering breaking up with him because he is a drug dealer. The book ends with a candlelight ceremony for the Billings girls with the issues of Reed's parents, boyfriend, and roommate still unresolved. A tinge of evil is associated with the Billings Girls, reminiscent of Lauren Myracle's Rhymes with Witches (Amulet Books/Harry N. Abrams, 2005/VOYA August 2005). The plot is engaging even though many of the problems are solved too easily, have no consequences for the decisions Reed makes, or are left unsolved. Even with these faults, it will be a popular book for teen girls. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P J S (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, Simon Pulse/S & S,240p., Trade pb. Ages 12 to 18.
—Cindy Faughnan
VOYA - Jane Chen
This book was extremely shallow. Although the story had "good moral" potential, the entire plot was about a superficial girl who tries to climb the social ladder at her new boarding school. Reed uses everything and anything to try to "get in" with the Billings Girls, the most popular girls in school. In addition to the lack of respect that Reed has for herself, the ending had holes that left big gaps and unanswered questions.
VOYA - Ava Donaldson
Private is full of typical mean-girl clique initiation rituals but lacks any reasoning that might be behind them. The main character, Reed, is the only one with any morals, and even she tends to ignore them, striving instead to become part of the infamous A-List group of girls who hold the real power in the student body. It is a melodramatic, pink novel with an entertaining story line but no real feeling.
VOYA - Cindy Faughnan
Reed Brennan escapes her pill-dependent, alcoholic mother during her sophomore year by entering an elite private school where the well-to-do students have experiences and own things that she could never afford. Although she was an outstanding student in her public high school, she feels unprepared academically and has problems with her new teachers. She wants to fit in with the legendary Billings Girls, an ultra-elite group that controls much of the social and academic lives of everyone on campus but is not very nice to others in the process. Reed does not deal with the reasons she left home, and when she does not allow her parents to visit for parents' weekend, they acquiesce. She wants to be a Billings Girl, so she does whatever dirty tasks they want her to do-break up with boyfriends, buy food in the lunch line, steal copies of tests-and she becomes a Billings Girl. She wants to date Thomas, and she does, having sex and then considering breaking up with him because he is a drug dealer. The book ends with a candlelight ceremony for the Billings girls with the issues of Reed's parents, boyfriend, and roommate still unresolved. A tinge of evil is associated with the Billings Girls, reminiscent of Lauren Myracle's Rhymes with Witches (Amulet Books/Harry N. Abrams, 2005/VOYA August 2005). The plot is engaging even though many of the problems are solved too easily, have no consequences for the decisions Reed makes, or are left unsolved. Even with these faults, it will be a popular book for teen girls.
Vicki Sherbert
Reed Brennan has won a scholarship to Easton Academy. She has dreamed of this moment when she can escape her gray, suburban life and her alcoholic, prescription drug dependent mother. When her kind, good-hearted father drives their dented Subaru onto the manicured campus, Reed has a moment of misgiving. But seeing this as her only hope, she puts on a brave face and says good-bye. This is the story of a young girl's attempt to escape her painful world and find her place in a privileged one. As Reed tries to break into the inner circle of the most elite group on campus, she finds she must choose between the new love in her life and the hope of becoming one of the Billings Girls. Better suited to high school readers, this first book in a series left me in complete suspense about the choices Reed will make, the disappearance of her boyfriend, and the ceremony that could change her life. Reading the sequel is a must!
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Reed Brennan is nervous as she begins her sophomore year as a transfer student at prestigious Easton Academy. All of the other students are richer than she could ever believe, and she immediately finds that she's in way over her head academically. She determines that she'll do anything to keep from flunking out and going back to her dreary home. Reed aspires to be just like the beautiful and brilliant girls who live in the luxurious Billings dorm, but she has little hope of ever being accepted into that elite crowd. Somehow, though, she edges in and barely notices their cruelty because she's so grateful to be tossed the crumbs of their kindness. Although her experiences could have resulted in nine months of insight, the teen doesn't seem to make much progress in understanding herself or the larger world around her. The story has major gaps in plot development and background. Too many elements are left hanging or unexplained, such as why Reed can't empathize at all with her mother's pain-killer addiction following a long-ago accident, her lack of a relationship with her brother, her oddly unemotional loss of virginity, and any sort of character development in the Billings girls. Readers might feel as if they've missed the first 10 minutes of a 30-minute TV show, and the ending is choppy and unsatisfying. Steer readers to Brian's earlier (and better-written) titles.-Susan Riley, Mount Kisco Public Library, NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"The characters are addictive and Campbell's telling makes it even more fun." —-School Library Journal Audio Review

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781416999461
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date:
08/11/2009
Series:
Kate Brian's Private Series, #1
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
5.54(w) x 8.32(h) x 0.64(d)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Kate Brian is the author of the NY Times and USA Today best-selling Private series and it's spin-off series, Privilege. She has also written many other books for teens including Sweet 16 and Megan Meade's Guide to the McGowan Boys.

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The Girl in the Window

That night, since there was nothing to study for yet, quiet hours were suspended so that each floor could have a little get-to-know-you party. I was never good at parties, so I was kind of dreading it, even though I knew I should just go. If I wanted a new start, I was going to have to go against instinct, which meant being social. The very idea gave me cramps, though, so I avoided thinking about it and flipped through my Easton Handbook on my bed while Constance got ready. And talked.

"So when we finally got to the bottom of the mountain, I was totally dehydrated and had this streak of mud all the way up my side and this guide was waiting for us there and he was like, 'Did you not see the trail?' and we were like, 'What trail?'"

I smirked because I could feel her looking at me and it sounded like the point in the story where she would expect some kind of reaction.

"Anyway, are you ready?"

The moment of truth. I put the book down. "Maybe I'll come down later." I honestly didn't know until that moment that I wasn't going to go. But I didn't take it back.

"Want to make an entrance, huh?" she joked.

Not remotely.

"Something like that," I said.

"Okay," she said with a shrug. "But don't blame me if all the good pizza's gone!"

I'll live.

"Don't worry about it," I said.

As soon as the door was closed I felt really bad for bailing. What was wrong with me? There was no way I was ever going to make friends if I sat alone in my room. I knew this. But still, somehow, I couldn't make myself move.

I sighed and leaned back against the denim pillow my brother had bought me at Target, settling into my self-imposed exile. So this was my new home. This square, cream-colored box with its creaky wooden floor, standard issue twin beds, matching desks, and five-drawer dressers, one of which I couldn't even fill. Within five seconds of seeing my half-empty side of the huge closet, Constance had asked, "Do you mind?" and then promptly jammed up the empty space with three extra wool coats and a puffy black parka. It all contributed to my feeling that I didn't fit or, more accurately, that there wasn't enough of me to fill a place like this.

I heard laughter outside the window and stood up. The large bay window with a sill big enough to sit on was, hands down, the best feature of our room. Earlier, Constance had gone out to meet some of our floor-mates and had come back beaming, happy to report that only two rooms had a window like this and we were beyond lucky to get one. I sat down on the sill and stared out the last window pane. Another peal of laughter rang somewhere out in the darkness and my heart ached. What the hell was I doing here? How could I possibly have thought this would be a good idea?

Leaning my temple against the glass, I willed myself not to cry. This was unbelievable. Was I really homesick? For what? For my pins-and-needles home life? For the cinderblock halls of my old high school? For the strip malls? My mind flashed on my father and on Adam, who had never been anything but sweet to me. I saw my dog, Hershey, wagging his tail when my dad got home, expecting to see me as well. I saw the ugly flowered wallpaper my parents had hung in my bedroom before they knew I was a tomboy, wallpaper I had always hated but which now felt like the perfect emblem of home. I thought of the lacrosse team and our vow to actually get to the state championships this year. Why did all of this suddenly seem so huge? The day before I couldn't wait to get out of there.

A tear squeezed out and it was like a wake-up call. No. This was not acceptable. I was not a weakling. I had made my choice. I was not going to call my father and beg him to come back for me. There was nothing in Croton for me. Nothing worth sticking around for, anyway. I knew this. I just had to focus on it. I stared into the darkness, at the lights in the windows of the other dorms, and told myself that I belonged here. I forced myself to try to believe it.

I will be happy here. I will make friends. This is the beginning of a whole new life.

And that was when I saw her. A girl, sitting in a window just like mine, directly across the way. She was wispy and thin with delicate features, smooth pale skin, and light blond hair that fell in loose waves around her tiny shoulders. She looked almost ethereal, like she could float away at any moment with the help of a light breeze. She wore a white tank top and short pajama shorts and seemed riveted on the pages of the book she held in the crook between her bent legs and her flat stomach. I was so riveted by her that I didn't notice anything moving in her room until another girl swooped in out of nowhere and snatched the book out of her hands. I sat up straight, startled, thinking for a split second that the girl had been threatened. But then I saw the taller, darker girl twirl the reader into the room and onto the bed. There she joined two others who sat, laughing, their bare legs splayed out as they ate from a box of chocolates.

I turned fully toward the window now, crossing my legs Indian style in front of me and balancing precariously on the windowsill. Then the lights across the way were doused and my breath caught. Moments later, a flicker of light. Then another. Then another. Gradually the room started to glow and the figure of the dark-haired girl loomed through the dancing shadows as she lit candle after candle. Soon the four girls were bathed in the warm light. One of them rose and handed out glasses. Large, round glasses with delicate stems. Each was already filled with deep red liquid.

Wine. They were drinking wine right there in their dorm. Laughing and chatting and sipping in the candlelight.

In my entire life, I had never seen anything like these girls. They seemed so much older, and not just older than me — which they obviously were — but too old to be in high school. Every move they made was graceful and sure. The held their glasses with carefree assuredness as if they drank from such delicate crystal each and every day.

This girl, the laugher, had piled her brown hair on top of her head in a messy bun, held there by a pair of chopsticks. She was stunningly beautiful, with dark, tan skin and a lithe, athletic figure. She flashed a knowing smile, which she prefaced by a narrow, sliding glance at her friends. She wore a red silk robe over a tank top and boxers and seemed to live to tease. The second girl was petite, with messy, dark blond curls and cheeks like a porcelain doll. She was playful with the others and seemed younger than them, shoving and rolling her eyes and clapping when she laughed. But it was the reader and the dark-haired girl I couldn't tear my eyes from.

The dark-haired girl wore nothing but black underwear and a large silk nightshirt, undoubtedly made for a man, with only the two center buttons done. She shook her thick hair back, took a sip of her wine, and held the novel up to read from it to her friends, gesturing dramatically with her glass, but never spilling so much as a drop. All three of them gathered together, rapt with attention at the girl's performance, and I thought, This girl is the leader. As she continued to read, she placed her glass down and lifted the ethereal girl's arm. The girl stood on cue, a slight, far-off smile playing about her lips. The dark-haired girl thrust their hands above her head and the bottom of her shirt fell open, exposing a long, red scar along her stomach, just above her hipbone. I was so startled by this garish imperfection on such a flawless being that I almost looked away. But then she stepped breast-to-breast with her friend and the scar was covered and I realized they were dancing. They moved as one, twirling through the shadows and the flickering candlelight. The little cherub reached for her sound dock and acoustic guitar music echoed through the quad, sending a shiver down my spine.

The ethereal girl spun out of her friend's arms toward the window and suddenly she froze. My heart caught, startled at her abruptness, but it took me a good long moment to realize she was staring right at me. I had mistaken her gaze as flighty and un-focused, but I saw now that it was the exact opposite. She looked right through me, around me, all over me, taking in everything and turning me inside out. Embarrassed, I looked quickly away, pretending to be preoccupied by something in the room, but it was no use. I had to look back. When I did, she was holding her curtains wide with both hands, still staring.

I was breathless. I was caught. But I couldn't look away. Would she tell her friends? Would she report me? Could I get kicked out of Easton for spying? I stared back, willing her to be kind. Willing her not to tell. For a long moment, neither one of us moved.

Then she smiled, ever so slightly, and snatched the curtains closed.

Copyright © 2006 by Alloy Entertainment and Kieran Viola

The Billings Girls

"Billings House? That's an upperclassmen-only house. And even if you're a junior or senior, you have to meet certain requirements to get in."

"Requirements?"

"Academic, athletic, service. If you meet their requirements, you get an invitation from housing at the end of the year. It's very selective. You have to be an integral part of the Easton community to live there."

Her expression said, "You will never live there."

I had just met Missy Thurber five minutes before and already I felt like choking her. She was the piglike girl who had snickered about the no-boys rule at yesterday's meeting. She had highlighted blond hair that she wore back in a French braid and a nose that turned up so far at the end that you could almost see into her nostrils. You'd think that a girl with a nose like that wouldn't have the guts to be so superior, but she managed to look down it at everyone she saw. She also held her shoulders so far back when she walked it was as if she wanted her large breasts to enter any room a good fifteen seconds ahead of her. Ridiculous. I would never have even bothered talking to her if Constance hadn't told me both her parents and all her siblings had attended Easton and that she knew everything there was to know about the school. I had looked up the dorm behind mine in the catalog, but other than its name, Billings, there was no information. All the other dorms read "Bradwell, sophomore girls' housing" or "Harden, junior and senior boys' only." Billings just said "Billings House."

"At the end of the year, we should apply. We should all apply," Constance said in her enthusiastic way as we walked out of the breakfast line and into the Easton cafeteria with our trays of fruit and toast. "I bet we would totally get in," Constance added to me alone.

The Easton cafeteria was a cavernous room with a domed ceiling that terminated in a small, cut-glass skylight that danced slivers of sun on the tables and chairs below. Unlike Croton High, the furniture here was not made of standard-issue plastic and metal, but real, solid wood. Cane-backed chairs were set up alongside tables with thick legs, and all surfaces shone as if they had been freshly waxed. On the walls were paintings that evoked various facets of life in historical New England. Farmhouses, covered bridges, skaters on a frozen pond. All very quaint and old-fashioned. All almost funny when juxtaposed against the kid with the MP3 player who was executing a sleeper hold on some other guy in an effort to commandeer his portable game system. Or the girls swapping summer piercing horror stories, lifting their shirts and sticking out their tongues to display their war wounds.

Near the front of the room was a large table with slightly more ornate detailing. Several teachers sat there with their food, talking in low tones or reading from newspapers. A couple of older gentlemen sat back with their arms crossed over their chests, scanning the room as they spoke to one another, eager to pounce if someone stepped out of line.

"You don't apply. They invite you," Missy said again, rolling her eyes. "How did she even get in here?" she said, not so quietly, to Lorna, the mousy girl on her other side. Lorna had small features overpowered by bushy brown eyebrows and the kinkiest brown hair I had ever seen. She hadn't said much so far, but she hadn't left Missy's side all morning, so I had a feeling I didn't like her.

"Nice attitude," I said.

Missy scoffed and took a seat at the end of a table, forcing the rest of us to squeeze between her and the chair behind her to get in.

"Whatever. The point is, not just anyone can get into Billings. You have to be...special," Missy said as she prissily opened up her napkin and laid it across her lap.

"And it's like once you live there, you're golden," Lorna added. "They all get good grades — "

"Even if your grades sucked before. Go figure," Diana Waters, another girl from our floor, interjected. She was a pixie-ish girl with short blond hair and clear braces. "Plus every captain of every team and every president of every club lives there — "

"They're achievers," Missy said. "Women who lived in Billings have gone on to be senators, movie stars, news anchors, novelists."

"And college? Forget about it," Diana said. "They get recommendations from all the Billings alumnae and every single one of them ends up at an Ivy. Every single one."

"You're kidding," I said.

"I shit you not," Diana said. "Their track record is blemish-free."

"Yes, it is," Missy said as she spread some low-fat cream cheese on her bagel. "I can't wait until next year. To have one of those huge rooms? The cages they have us in now have got to be a human rights violation."

"What makes you think you're going to live there? I thought you had to be invited," I said pointedly.

"I will be. I'm a legacy," Missy said. Like, duh. "Both my mother and my sister lived in Billings."

Okay. Now I hated her even more. The fact that someone like that could just have something like Billings handed to her just illustrated everything that was wrong with the world.

"Which basically means they have to take her," Lorna added with a laugh.

Nice. Maybe Lorna didn't entirely suck.

Missy shot her a look that made her go instantly pale. "Not that you wouldn't get in anyway," Lorna added quickly.

"Check it out," Diana said, lifting her chin. "Speak of the devils."

I looked up and there they were, striding two-by-two toward a table in the very center of the cafeteria. Leading the pack was the girl with the dark hair and the scar that was now hidden somewhere underneath a pristine white linen blazer and black T-shirt. I flushed just thinking about it, knowing it was there when she had no idea that I knew. She was tall — even taller than my five nine from the looks of her — and, I couldn't help noticing, in flat shoes. She spoke to the ethereal girl, who walked next to her with her head tipped toward her friend, but with that far-off expression in her eyes.

Behind them was the sly girl, whose light brown hair was again up in a messy bun. She led with her hips as she walked, her back straight and her chin up. A gawky brunette boy stared at her as she passed him by and she winked at him surreptitiously. He turned a deep, disturbing shade of purple before sliding down in his seat and hiding behind his manga book. The girl laughed to herself, triumphant.

With her was the cherub, whose blond curls bounced as she scurried after her friends. She was the only one of the four who walked with her head down, her pale skin blotched with pink from some kind of exertion, pleasure, or embarrassment. She hugged her books to her chest and seemed to be concentrating hard on something going on in her head.

They really were here. They really did exist.

"I would kill to be Noelle Lange," Diana said, leaning her chin on her hand.

"Yeah. That's gonna happen," Missy said sarcastically.

"Which one's Noelle?" Constance asked.

"White blazer," Lorna said, envy dripping from her very lips. "Rumor has it that Harvard, Cornell, and Yale are all fighting for her."

"Please. She'll go wherever Dash McCafferty goes," Missy said, glancing over.

I saw that the big, blond guy who caught my punt yesterday was now sitting on a table behind Noelle, rubbing her shoulders with his huge hands. She titled her head back, her long tresses tumbling down behind her, and he leaned down for a kiss.

"More like he'll go wherever she goes," Diana said. "I highly doubt Dash wears the pants in that relationship."

"When Noelle's in the room, she's pretty much the only one wearing pants," Lorna added.

"That's true. I take it back," Missy said.

"Who's the reader?" I asked, noticing that ethereal girl once again had her nose stuck in a book.

"That's Ariana Osgood," Missy said. "Her family owns half the South. Which means the rest of the Billings Girls forgive her for being from the South."

Diana, Constance, and Lorna all snickered.

"They're in oil," Missy added. "All big, cigar-chomping, bane-of-the-environmentalists types. God only knows how they produced her."

"She's a poet," Diana explained. "She writes half the literary magazine every quarter. She's really good."

"The model is Kiran Hayes," Lorna said. "She's done Abercrombie, Ralph Lauren..."

"Omigod! Yes! She was on the billboard outside my Pilates studio!" Constance exclaimed.

"Omigod! Keep your voice down, you freak!" Missy shot back, mimicking her.

"Wait. She's an actual model?" I asked.

"What? Like you've never seen one in the flesh before?" Missy said. "Half the girls in my building back home have done the spring shows."

I glanced around and noticed that at least half the male population of the room was in fact watching Kiran, most of them practically drooling.

"And then there's Taylor Bell," Diana said. "From all accounts, the smartest girl ever to step foot on the Easton campus."

Across the way, the cherubic girl laughed and had to slap her hand over her mouth to keep from spitting out her oatmeal. Didn't look like a genius to me, but then again, I'd never seen one of those in the flesh either.

"Best schools. Hottest boyfriends," Diana said. "Yeah. Being a Billings Girl definitely wouldn't suck."

I stared across the room at the four girls and the guys who hovered around them, my pulse racing with a new sense of excitement. A few more girls sat down at the other end of their table, every last one of them beautiful and poised, though to me they seemed second-string compared to the four girls I had seen the night before.

"What about the others?" I asked.

"Eh, they're in Billings too," Diana said with a wave of her fork.

So I was right. It was Noelle and her friends who were important. Noelle and her friends who were the most worth knowing.

My heart pounded against my rib cage and I pressed my sweaty palm into the thigh of my jeans. I had never wanted anything as much as I wanted to be at that table right then. If I could just enter that inner sanctum, every door at Easton would open up to me.

I would never have to worry about being accepted or fitting in. I would be leaving my own crappy, depressing home life so far behind maybe i could manage to forget it altogether.

Copyright © 2006 by Alloy Entertainment and Kieran Viola

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