Worshipped, envied, desired, and feared by all, Siena Hamilton reigns over Temperley High, the embodiment of the Hamilton legacy. She and the Starlets may still be healing from the unfortunate and horrible events of that night, at the end of last year, but nothing can shake her place as the head of Temperley's elite any longer. The Starlets are nothing if not adept at dealing with traitors, and Siena is her mother's daughter: she knows how to be perfect, and she will not disappoint. There is only one person who could possibly get in her way…
Romy, former Starlet, is back—back from a mutually-agreed-upon term away, in France—and no one is happy about it, least of all herself. She's changed now, though. She's trying harder to be normal, to dress appropriately, to blend in, to keep her head down and keep the secret of what really happened that night safe and hidden. But when your former best friends are untouchable, and you've betrayed them, you don't just get to come back—even if you're beginning to think they might not have been your friends in the first place.
In Boarding School Girls, prequel to Helen Eve's first novel Stella, revenge runs deep, old wounds break open, and the past can never, never be outrun.
About the Author
HELEN EVE grew up in the north of England and attended Oxford University. For the next seven years she ran an outreach initiative encouraging applicants for her college. In this role she visited hundreds of high schools each year before leaving to focus on a creative writing MA, from which she has just graduated with distinction. Stella and its prequel Boarding School Girls are her first novels.
Read an Excerpt
Boarding School Girls
By Helen Eve
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Helen Etty
All rights reserved.
Six months earlier
'I suppose you've heard?'
Libby has no interest in a world beyond Temperley High, but her knowledge of everything within its stone walls is absolute. She's scrolling rapidly through her phone, checking texts alongside tweets and status updates and missed calls. Frowning, she reaches into her Aspinal satchel to cross-reference her bulging day planner with her online diary, and this hesitation costs her the scoop.
'She's back,' interjects Phoebe. This is only a lucky guess: Phoebe might possess a hack's instinct for scandal but she lacks Libby's networking flair.
'Of course she's back.' I say this as if I already knew, because revealing ignorance at this table is as dangerous as wearing last season's Miu Miu. 'It's January. She was always due back after a year.'
'I'm aware of that,' says Phoebe defensively. 'I just hoped she might ...'
'Take the hint?' Libby pushes her lensless glasses up her nose as she and Phoebe break into identical laughter.
'Have you seen her yet?' Madison abandons the problem sheet she and Cassidy are trying to finish before registration. 'I wonder if Paris has been a good influence, or if she's still the daughter of darkness.'
'Inevitably it's the latter.' Libby straightens her lace Peter Pan collar. 'A daughter of darkness who thinks she can treat us any way she wants.'
We stare at the empty place at our round cafeteria table. We each sit before our own engraved initial, united by the six-point star carved deep into the mahogany that represents our identity as Temperley High's premier clique. We haven't had time to redecorate in the past year, so Romy's spiny R remains an unfortunate reminder of its erstwhile inhabitant.
'She didn't think she could treat us any way she wanted.' I trace my finger up and down the unclaimed sharp edge. 'It was never about that.'
They exchange glances. 'You're very compassionate, Siena,' says Libby. 'I'm sure I'll never forgive her in the way you have. But then, I am the only one of us who carries the physical reminders.'
She gathers her nut-brown hair into a ponytail to showcase the faint scar that runs along her hairline and behind her ear. Apparently it still smarts in cold weather.
I smile. 'Don't worry, Libby. It's not about forgiveness either.'
'Good.' Phoebe twists her own white-blonde braid around her finger as if she can't decide how to continue. She's a picture of innocence, but people should know better than to take her at face value. 'So what will you do about Jack?'
The school football team, the Stripes, are doing a lap of the gloomy pitch as part of their morning practice, and I watch my boyfriend Jack through the window as he pulls into the lead and shows off by running the final steps backwards.
'What do you mean?' I ask. 'Why would I need to do anything about him?'
'You won't, of course.' Libby frowns at Phoebe. 'It's just that ... you know what Romy's capable of. Maybe she's spent her year at reform school planning revenge.'
As she looks around for support, no one points out that a Parisian private school isn't exactly Pentonville. Cassidy is pale and trembling, and I laugh to break the silence. She has a nervous disposition, and a resurgence of last year's screaming nightmares would draw very unwanted attention to us.
'Like Carrie?' I ask.
'Maybe,' counters Libby. 'She could have deadly powers for all we know. When she pushed me, I saw my whole life flash ...'
As much as we sympathize with Libby, there are times when I think I'd plummet down a ladder myself sooner than hear her recount the incident one more time.
'Don't worry, Siena,' interrupts Madison. 'We totally have your back.'
'Of course, some of us have proven our loyalty more than others,' says Libby, exhibiting her scar once again. Madison has a theory that she highlights it with lip liner on special occasions, but we've never caught her at it.
'You've all proven yourselves sufficiently loyal.' I place my hand in the centre of the table and they pile their own on top.
'Starlets for all time,' we whisper before raising our arms into the air. It's a five-year-old ritual too childish to continue now we're seventeen, but the others cling to it, and who am I to rob them of their comfort blanket?
* * *
Jack is still wearing his muddy kit as he pulls up a chair beside me. He displaces Libby, who shifts offendedly a couple of inches, and leans over to kiss me, his lips soft but freezing. I press my cheek against his for as long as I can stand it and let him put his cold hands between my knees as I look him over for signs of change after the Christmas holiday. He's reassuringly the same: tall and athletic with messy black hair and a face that always makes him look as if he's up to no good. Usually he's not.
'You're so warm,' he murmurs with a look of concentration as he moves his hand up my leg.
I push him away as Libby makes a disgusted face. 'We're at the breakfast table, Jack,' she chides him. 'I'm eating a granola slice. Please show some respect for protocol.'
'Sorry,' he says contritely as he turns to his giant cooked breakfast – he's the cafeteria ladies' favourite – and starts to eat. 'Sometimes I just can't help it.'
He whispers into my ear. 'Libby still isn't getting any, then?'
I shake my head, smiling at Libby as she watches us suspiciously.
Phoebe leans forward. 'Jack, did you hear who's coming back this term?'
Jack stops shovelling hash browns into his mouth for half a second and gives her a warning glance. 'What are you planning, Phoebs?'
Phoebe's kitten eyes are round and innocent. 'Nothing,' she says, and it comes out like a mew. Sometimes I think Phoebe is a genius.
'Good,' says Jack. 'Because I think you made your point very clearly last year. The last thing any of you needs is more trouble.'
Madison raises an eyebrow as she tosses the little stars woven into her ash-blonde hair. 'That's a matter of opinion. And, if you remember, Romy created the entire situation by maiming Libby in an attempted murder. Don't put the blame onto us.'
Madison's interjection is helpful as she's the Starlet to whom Jack always refers as sensible. Phoebe and I smile at each other as he returns his attention to his fast-increasing cholesterol levels, and then we gather our books as the registration bell clangs.
'Let the fun begin,' Phoebe sings.
'The fun of a new term,' she clarifies as Jack looks at her warningly. 'New lessons, and challenges, and ... tribulations.'
* * *
When they've gone, Jack pulls me down onto his lap and wraps his arms tightly around me.
'Don't get mud on me,' I say, trying to twist away. 'Or egg yolk.'
He kisses me, and, in case he's thinking about anything – or anyone – other than me, I don't stop him until Mrs Denbigh blows her whistle from the teachers' table. 'Two feet on the floor, Siena,' she shouts. 'Both hands where I can see them, Jack.'
'I have to go,' I tell him, struggling to my feet as the other Stripes start cat-calling from their own table.
He stands up and lifts my chin so I have to look at him. He gets offended when I talk over his shoulder to my reflection, not understanding that his face could never be as diverting as my own. 'I'm serious,' he says. 'Tell me you don't have anything planned for Romy.'
'I really don't. I have many more important considerations, like whether Bethany's Achilles has healed for the start of netball season ...'
'How did she tear it again?' he asks mildly.
'She's extremely clumsy. And whether vermilion makes me look jaundiced ...'
He frowns. 'I'd no idea you had so much on your mind.'
I'm about to elaborate on my complexion concerns when it occurs to me that he might be joking. Incognizant of the commitment involved, he sometimes treats the responsibilities of Starlet membership as trivial.
'And the plight of the white rhino, which Libby and I are working tirelessly to rectify,' I say instead.
He laughs as if he can't help himself. 'I wondered what your sponsored bikini car wash was in aid of. What was it about the white rhino's plight in particular that touched you?'
I turn the conversation back. 'Why do you care what we do to Romy, anyway? Is there something you want to tell me?'
My voice is light but he knows I'm serious, and for a second our eyes fix on the empty star point.
'I love you, Siena,' he says steadily as he reaches for my hand. 'You and only you. Don't forget it. In fact ...'
'Yes?' I prompt. Soliciting compliments is some way beneath my dignity, but there's no harm in offering encouragement when he's feeling tongue-tied.
'The next few months will be important for us, if everything goes to plan,' he says. 'I hope this term will be our most exciting ever.'
My heart is beating fast, and I collect myself before I betray my excitement. For a moment I actually wondered if Jack might go down on one knee right here, in the cafeteria. Even though he'd never do anything so indecorous, I breathe an internal sigh of relief at his words, which are his first hint that a marriage proposal is imminent. The end of our schooldays is approaching at speed, and, with no firm reassurance from him about our future, I've even wondered if ... well, it doesn't matter now.
Supplementary details would be helpful, but the breakfast table, with its debris of muesli and coffee stains and stagnant appetite suppressants, isn't the place to discuss something as romantic as a betrothal. Instead, I put aside my mud-related misgivings, wrap my arms around his shoulders and kiss him hard. There's no harm in a carefully judged public show of togetherness, especially during times of shifting sands. I pull away again as Mrs Denbigh's whistle sounds with increasing shrillness.
'Remain two feet apart,' she bellows. 'Or I fetch my bucket of water.'
I kiss him once on the cheek as I turn to leave, as if I'm branding him. Feeling the buzz of my phone, I retrieve a message from Libby.
Are you ready for the off?
Even though Jack's gone, I still check that no one's watching before I reply.
I'm always ready.CHAPTER 2
For twelve months I drew and erased chalk marks that counted down weeks and days and minutes. I explained ceci n'est que temporaireso often that it became my nickname amongst my classmates. I spent endlessly confusing mornings cramming alongside native French overachievers and diplomats' kids on the Harvard fast track, and endlessly confusing afternoons watching dubbed re-runs of Gossip Girl in a Common Room thick with smoke.
I hoped that my enrolment in the French-only quarter of my international school was, as my dad promised, accidental; that being reprimanded for tripping over false cognates was good for me; that the Opéra Bastille and the Genevan Model UN Conference and a brutal volleyball championship would be helpful distractions.
But in the end none of this mattered at all, because, while my conscious hours passed as blurrily as the chalk I smudged across the dormitory walls, my never-ending dreams, spiked with Tarot cards and trapdoors and unfathomable amounts of trouble, remain as vividly technicolour today as they did on the day I left.
And just like that, in the time it takes to fly from Charles de Gaulle to Heathrow and take a cab down winding, narrow Oxfordshire lanes and a driveway lined with oak trees that conceal the place I hate most in the world, I'm back at Temperley High.
And, as I'd feared on my darkest nights away, nothing has changed in a year except that the Starlets have grown more unified and more powerful and more untouchable. Despite my entirely separate Parisian existence, my new haircut and wardrobe and determinedly laissez-faire attitude, I'm still nothing but an exile; an ex- Starlet whose errors can never be forgotten or forgiven or rectified.
So I stand once again before my erstwhile form group as Mrs Denbigh, sturdier and bushier and more eager than ever for us all to be friends, or at least not kill each other while she's on duty, reintroduces me to the girls who hoped they'd never see me again and the boys who never gave me a second glance.
Why don't they notice you? Siena complained when we were fourteen and she was tired of me encroaching on her time with Jack. I'd warned her that finding me a boyfriend would be an impossible task, and she'd finally started to believe me. You're a Starlet, for crying out loud.
I frowned in embarrassment into her ever-present mirror as she pulled my hair out of my face. I don't care whether boys notice me or not.
You must care,she said. What else is there to live for?
She ran her fingers up and down my back until I twisted away from her. What are you looking for?
Your re-set switch. It must be here somewhere.
'I expect Romy can teach us all a thing or two about Parisian fashions,' Mrs Denbigh suggests now.
She's trying to help me, but her suggestion elicits nothing but eye-rolling from the back row and a giggle from Phoebe as she whispers something to Madison, hand over her mouth so she can't be lip-read, as she's done ever since we were Shells and they spoke in their own language – devised by Libby and complete with past tenses and prepositions and five synonyms for the concept of cankles– as back-up security.
I know better than to reply, and an all-too-familiar lethargy takes me over as I trudge to an empty seat in the second row. I try to make eye contact with several students whom I once believed friends, but under the Starlets' gaze they stare furiously at their desks as if I'm not even there. Allowing myself one backward glance, just to see which guise Siena is wearing today, I'm blindsided and paralysed and jettisoned in the second it takes to do so.
Because Siena at seventeen is more breathtaking than Siena at sixteen, or fifteen, or all the other ages at which her beauty grew in inverse proportion to her niceness, and she's entirely aware of her brilliance. Her eyes are bluer, and larger, and more intense. Her golden hair is still piled up in jewels and leaves and flowers, but I sense that it's grown longer, as if she can't find a stylist worthy of touching it. She's thinner, her cheeks pale and hollow, and she's lounging in her seat, her gazelle limbs carelessly sprung as if at any moment she might uncoil and escape from captivity.
She's smiling at something Libby has said, and I catch the tail end of that smile as she meets my gaze. I can't look away: I'm frozen as she scrawls on her notebook and holds up the page as soon as Mrs Denbigh has turned towards the whiteboard.
She's pierced the paper with earrings shaped like stars, displaying them as if they're in a jeweller's. They wink and dazzle and laugh at me as I read the words beneath them.
This particular invitation, or threat, or Mayday, depending on your outlook, is directed squarely at me, and, as Mrs Denbigh begins her register at exactly nine o'clock, the ancient clock in the tower strikes like a death knell.CHAPTER 3
Registration, always inconsequential, is especially so today, and Mrs Denbigh's vain attempts to restore peace give us time to evaluate this new incarnation of Romy. Phoebe and Madison giggle, while Libby narrows her eyes and Cassidy shivers like a startled mouse.
We assess the back of her head as she sits down a few rows in front of us.
'She's different,' observes Phoebe after a moment. 'What's happened to her?'
'Her hair has grown back in now she's got rid of those awful purple streaks,' says Madison. 'I can't think why we let her get away with them.'
Romy's long hair, dark brown with auburn lights and a swish that she never uses to her advantage, was almost pretty enough to accommodate those heinous streaks, but is considerably improved now. I might even be envious if I weren't blessed with naturally blonde hair, an achievement that can never be surpassed.
'Her clothes are better too.' Madison gives Romy's blue Pilotto dress a grudging once-over. 'That ensemble is quite presentable. At least she's ditched that leather jacket with the peace signs painted on the back.'
'She had to ditch that,' Phoebe says. 'Not even an emo like Romy would tolerate it covered in Libby's blood stains. And no amount of dry cleaning could cleanse those memories.'
Excerpted from Boarding School Girls by Helen Eve. Copyright © 2014 Helen Etty. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.