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You Only Live Once
By Bridie Clark
Roaring Brook Press Copyright © 2014 Bridie Clark
All rights reserved.
Wednesday, September 5, 7:25 p.m. Moynihan Court
"Sophomore year sucks," Annabel declares, tugging on her jet-black ponytail as she always does when she's stressed out. She's sitting at her desk, which is right next to yours, with her shoulders hunched and her mile-long legs pulled up to her chest — the defensive pose of an animal under attack.
"Isn't it too soon to tell?" you ask, trying to stay positive. It's only the first day of classes, but you know how she feels. Your teachers have wasted no time dumping homework on you. You stare at the brand-new physics textbook that you've just cracked open. It seems to be written in hieroglyphics.
Two days ago, you were lying in your parents' hammock in Hope Falls, reading romance novels. Yesterday, Mom and Dad moved you into your new dorm room, which you share with Annabel. By the time you arrived, she'd transformed the white-box room into an eclectically chic mini-apartment worthy of a magazine spread. She'd shopped her parents' attic for expensive antiques and midcentury modern pieces and then thrown it all together in a way that feels sophisticated and beautiful.
Much like your best friend.
Annabel Lake is incredibly pretty — creamy skin, a thick swatch of dark hair, and eyes the color of blue-green sea glass. No wonder Henry Dearborn fell immediately head over heels for her last year, and now she's got a new boyfriend, Brooks Cavanaugh. Annabel can wear anything and look enviably cool. She's smart. She's kind. She's generous. Last year, Annabel appointed herself your personal stylist, diving into her own closet to find the right looks for you. She transformed you from a small-town girl hidden under baggy jeans and shapeless sweaters to a fashion-savvy Kings girl in skinny jeans and Repetto flats. No doubt about it: Annabel single-handedly made you look the part at Kings, and you've adored every costume change. Who wouldn't love having a fairy godmother as a roommate?
But sometimes you wonder if she's done too good a job. Your friends and classmates seem to think you're someone you're not, and sometimes you wish you had the confidence to come clean about your blue-collar roots. You know you have nothing to be ashamed of. And yet this summer when your friend Spider asked if you'd be planning a Sweet Sixteen party for your upcoming birthday, you'd quickly changed the subject rather than tell her the truth: you'd rather die than invite all your Kings Academy friends home to Hope Falls.
You're apparently alone in not wanting to throw a party for yourself. Your bulletin board is already crammed with invitations. Libby Morgan's — Palm Beach in December — is hand- engraved on card stock so thick it could cut butter. Morgan LePage, the new girl whose rep for trouble has trailed her from Manhattan, is having hers in Aspen in November. You haven't even met Morgan yet, but she's invited the whole class. Aspen, Palm Beach ... it'll become obvious pretty quickly that you can't keep up with your jet-set friends.
Your thoughts are interrupted by a loud knock at the door. "Open up! We know you're in there!" Spider shouts from the hallway.
Grinning, you and Annabel race each other to the door and unlock it. "Spider!" you shout before she pulls you into a crushing hug. It's the first time you've seen her since getting back to campus. For a moment you're suffocated by her mane of corkscrew curls, but then she releases you from the hug — moving on to Annabel — and you can breathe again.
"You got stronger over the summer," Annabel mock-wheezes in Spider's embrace.
Spider pushes back the sleeve of her T-shirt and flexes a pale bicep. Her tan stops where her soccer uniform starts. "I did! Hey, did I tell you guys that Mia Hamm —"
"Praised your penalty kick?" Annabel fills in. Spider had spent the summer at a soccer camp in California, getting coached by the game's greats. Her encounters with Mia Hamm understandably blew her mind, and she'd been filling you guys in all summer.
"We got your e-mail," you say, laughing.
"And your postcard," Annabel adds.
"The telegram you sent really caught our attention."
"Oh, shut up." Spider punches you lightly on the arm.
You and Annabel grab your coats. "We're just teasing you," you tell her as you all head out the door for Hamilton Dining Hall. "Spider, it's amazing. We're seriously proud."
It's the best kind of early-fall night — perfect for a long run by the river or chilling on blankets in the Quad. Not that you'll be doing either of those things, given how much homework you have ahead of you. You hurry to keep up with Annabel's runway model stride and Spider's brisk, athletic pace. Moments later, you swing open the double doors of Hamilton, feeling your pulse quicken as countless eyes turn toward your threesome. Hamilton is always a scope-fest, especially tonight as everyone is just getting back on campus. It's hard not to feel self-conscious as you walk across the enormous room. Thankfully you're feeling pretty cute in your favorite Seven jeans (a present from Annabel last year) and a black H&M sweater.
Libby Morgan, another roommate from last year, spots you and Annabel immediately and strides over, tossing her strawberry blond hair with each step. "Bonjour, mes chères," she says, double- kissing you both. A summer in Paris has escalated Libby's style quotient, and this evening she's perfectly turned out in slim-cut chinos, a striped sailor top, and muted gold Chanel ballet flats. Libby is quickly flanked by Tommy (short for Thomasina) and Lila. These two Southern girls spent so much time in your room last year they were dubbed honorary roommates.
"We have so much to catch up on, girls!" Lila says excitedly. "I feel so OOT!"
"Out of touch," Tommy supplies, used to translating for her friend. "We already got a table, so hurry up and join us. Prime viewing."
As you turn back toward the food stations, you struggle to contain your excitement. Hamilton's food is so delish — leagues above standard cafeteria fare. Instead of Sloppy Joes and mystery meat, Kings Academy students dine on beef Wellington and fresh sushi. "I may need two trays," you joke to Annabel, heading for the salad bar.
"You are too funny," Libby says, overhearing you. You'd forgotten about her annoying habit of pronouncing things "too funny" without showing any hint of actual amusement.
"So tell me about your summer!" Lila says, squeezing your arm as you take your seat at the table between her and Annabel. "I'm sorry I wasn't in better touch, but it was a total pain to get cell phone reception on the boat." The boat was her fam's 120-foot yacht, Good Times, in which they'd cruised around the Greek Islands this summer.
"Um, it was relaxing. Extremely chill." There's no way to spin your summer into sounding glam, since it was mostly spent in a sagging hammock reading paperbacks — that is, when you weren't running after toddlers enrolled in the local camp. Boys? Not unless you count daydreams. Travel? You visited your grandparents in Idaho for a week. Didn't bother sending postcards.
Meanwhile, Libby took a "junior internship" at Paris Vogue, arranged by a family friend, and camped out at the Hotel Ritz. Annabel raced in regattas in Maine and rebounded from her Henry Dearborn heartbreak with a Bush cousin named Brooks Cavanaugh. (Brooks is a senior at Exeter and absurdly handsome. Annabel, not one to brag, reluctantly described him as looking "a little like Superman," which you've since confirmed on Facebook. Really, Superman wishes he looked more like Brooks.) Judging from the two dozen roses he sent Annabel this morning and the two dozen times he's called since, Brooks is smitten. Who wouldn't be?
"Is it true that Walter Mathieson is in London for the whole semester?" Spider asks, popping a sweet potato fry in her mouth.
You nod, feeling a fresh wave of pride over your close friend's accomplishment. Walter, your best guy friend, spent the summer doing an independent study at Oxford. As if that wasn't impressive enough, his work caught the eye of a humanities professor who lobbied Kings Academy to let him stay for the upcoming semester. He won't be back until January. You're stoked for him, but bummed not to have him on campus this fall. School doesn't feel quite the same without him.
"I still think you guys would make the cutest couple," Libby says. She used to call Walter a nerd, but did a full 180 after discovering his shared gene pool with megastar Hunter Mathieson. Fortunately, being catapulted to the cool crowd did nothing to change Walter from the down-to-earth, brilliant guy with whom you've always loved spending time.
"Walter is the best, but we're just friends. Not to mention, we're currently separated by a significant body of water known as the Atlantic Ocean." Maybe you'll have more clarity on your feelings by January. Last year, it'd become pretty obvious that Walter had a crush on you. You'd been flattered, and even felt a flicker of something for him, but it hadn't gone anywhere. Could it this year? The two of you are definitely standing at the intersection of Friends and More.
"So are you guys getting crushed with work already?" Spider asks, changing the subject. "I'm going to be up all night —"
Libby interrupts with a groan. "Can we not talk about school? I think we can all agree there are more important and interesting items on the agenda!"
"Like how smoking-hot Benjamin McGovern got over the summer?" Tommy nods appreciatively at a lanky senior who's just passed by your table, and Lila giggles. Along with their oversize hair curlers, it seems they also share a boy-crazy brain. They're even starting to look alike. Both of them are wearing bright polo shirts and skinny white jeans, both sport a rose-gold Cartier bracelet around one wrist.
Libby clears her throat, all business. "Like, who can make it to my party in Palm Beach? You all got your invitations, right?"
"Yup! You can definitely count me in, doll," Tommy says immediately.
"Count us in," Lila seconds.
"Hopefully! I have to check my game schedule," Spider says.
Libby nods, but it's clear that her true focus is her idol, Annabel. "Annie? December 15? I hope you can make it!"
Annabel frowns. "I'm so sorry, Lib. My mom already invited Brooks and me to Rome that weekend. My great-aunt is turning eighty-five and her health hasn't been good. There's a family dinner in her honor. I'd so much rather be with you."
Libby groans. "You're kidding! I wish I could change the date, but everything's planned." She looks crushed, but then a cheering thought pops into her head. "Maybe your great-aunt will kick it before December. Then you could come, right?"
"Um, right. I guess I could." You and Annabel exchange a look. Libby may have evolved her style over the summer, but there have been no obvious gains in the sensitivity department.
"Who the heck is that?" Tommy asks, staring at a statuesque blonde who has just sashayed through the front door. You know you've never seen the girl before, because you'd remember if you had. Annabel has beauty, Libby has style, but this girl has something different altogether — she has It. And judging by the hushed whispers in the dining hall, you're not the only one to notice.
"That's Morgan LePage," Libby informs the group. "She went to Spence. Her parents shipped her here after they found out she was sleeping with an MD at Goldman."
"What's an MD? A doctor?"
Libby gives you a pitying glance. "A managing director," she explains. "I've know Morgan forever. Her mother is a shameless gold digger, but Morgan throws legendary parties." She waves to Morgan, catching her attention. "Sweetie, over here!"
Morgan saunters up to the table. You notice the smile she gives Libby doesn't quite reach her eyes. After a quick round of introductions, the conversation turns to Morgan's Sweet Sixteen bash in Aspen. "Hope you can all come," she says to the table. "The more the merrier. Invite friends. It's not a party unless we trash my mom's freshly decorated ski chalet, right?" With that, she heads off to get some food.
You feel a surge of anxiety. These parties sound amazing, but how are you possibly going to afford them? You've always managed to wiggle out of plans that were too costly. But these parties will be spread out over the entire year. Can you come up with that many excuses? No way will your parents be able to finance these boondoggles. Not even one. Frankly, you'd be embarrassed to even ask them to buy you a ticket to a Sweet Sixteen party.
"Are you planning to throw a party?" Libby asks Annabel.
"Probably not. My mom would just take over and make it stuffy and un-fun." You've only met Annabel's mom a few times — she doesn't make it up to campus often. Mrs. Lake has always been nice enough to you, but there's a frostiness that puts Annabel on edge. "Her sole mission would be to impress Brooks. I swear my parents are more obsessed with my boyfriend than I am!"
"Well, naturally," Libby says. "He's from a great family —"
"You sound just like my mother!" Annabel pretends to shudder.
"I might have a party in Kentucky, you know, on the farm," Spider says, surprising the group. Party planning doesn't seem like her thing. "Nothing fancy, but it might be fun."
"I'd love to see the farm," you tell her.
"Me, too! Ooh, and I have the best cowboy hat," Annabel seconds.
"As long as you don't show up wearing overalls," Libby says to Spider. Before any of you can respond, her eyes widen. "Annabel," she whispers, "Henry."
Henry Dearborn: Annabel's ex-boyfriend, your ex–secret crush. Hot, smart, funny, kind ... and at this moment, walking toward you.
Annabel is suddenly very busy organizing her silverware. "So what? We broke up ages ago. Last winter. It's ancient history now." She runs a hand through her hair as he approaches. "Hi, Henry!"
"Hey there." He smiles warmly at Annabel, but then his eyes seem to linger on you, setting off an explosion of fireworks in your stomach. You and Henry are friends through the newspaper — he's the new editor-in-chief this year, and you're a reporter. But there's also a strange history between you. Last year, despite the fact that he was your best friend's boyfriend, you developed a humongous crush on the guy — a crush that just might have been reciprocated. It sounds crazy, given how incomparably amazing Annabel is, but you ended last year with the suspicion that their breakup might have had something to do with you.
"Good summer?" Annabel asks Henry, keeping her voice cool and emotionless. Mrs. Lake would be proud.
"Can't complain. You?"
"It was fun, thanks."
After he's left, Libby practically lunges across the table. "Do you think he knows about Brooks?" she asks.
"Who knows?" Annabel answers breezily. You watch her face carefully. Last year, she'd been devastated when Henry broke up with her. Brooks sounds like a catch, but you can't help but wonder if she's fully over Henry. Do feelings just go away when you meet someone else?
"More coffee, and then home?" Annabel asks you.
You nod and follow her lead. Your homework, coupled with the talk of Sweet Sixteen parties, is making you itch with anxiety. As you clear your tray and head to the coffee machine, your eye catches on the Help Wanted board. A local family has posted a flyer looking for a nanny for their three-year-old son.
A job! Why hadn't that occurred to you before? You step closer to read the details. If you made some money babysitting, you could finance your own fun. You wouldn't be sidelined for all the parties. Besides, you love kids. Should you give it a shot?
You are most likely to ...
head home without taking down the family's contact info. Your workload is so intense, you don't have time for a job. Continue to Snapshot #2.
apply for the job. Babysitting could solve your cash crunch. It won't be easy to find time, but you'll manage ... it'll be worth it to have some fun! Continue to Snapshot #3.
Friday, September 7, 7:20 p.m. Moynihan Court
Day Three and you feel like you're choking on homework. Last night, after returning from the dining hall with Annabel, you stayed up until two in the morning getting your work done. And today, after classes ended, you beelined back to your room to get going on the fresh mountain of work in front of you. Is this what sophomore year will be like? Nonstop work? Constant stress?
You're not sure you can take it.
Excerpted from You Only Live Once by Bridie Clark. Copyright © 2014 Bridie Clark. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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