Authors: Teresa Toten
“What?” Kate sat up, looking alarmed. “What did I say?”
“No, no,” Olivia managed to stammer before she erupted again.
“Olivia Sumner, are you mocking my simple self?”
Olivia wiped the tears from her eyes. “If you had any idea how much my father has blown on clinics and shrinks in the past year alone…The rest is horseshit! You’ve earned your keep with just that one. Wait ’til I tell my shrink! Come on.” Olivia slapped Kate’s thigh. “I’m smelling something delicious. Is that pork in that aluminum thing? It’s making me crazy. Anka has Saturday afternoons and most Sundays off. Let’s dig in.”
Kate trailed after Olivia, lugging the container to the kitchen.
“So you’re seeing a therapist? I know from shrinks—they threw a busload at me. I hope you like yours more than I did mine.”
“Shrinks, plural?” Olivia turned around. “I guess that makes sense given all you’ve been through, but I haven’t heard any rumors. You’ve kept it all airtight. Unlike me.”
“Well, I wasn’t here, for starters.” Kate placed the pork on the counter. “Do you, uh, want to know about your rumors?”
Olivia tightened. There was no chance that anyone would know the real deal. No chance. “Sure,” she said, shrugging. “I mean, I was a bit of a party queen before I started to unravel, so I can imagine.”
“Yeah, there’s a bit about that. Mostly it’s standard-issue.” Kate settled herself onto a stool while Olivia doled out the moo shoo pork. “There was supposedly a guy, a mystery boy. Or there were drugs—overdose, maybe. Or you had a meltdown or anxiety-disorder stuff, and hence the self-medicating and hence the hospitalization. Nothing’s stuck. Nothing’s touched your reputation. If anything, you have a shiny sheen of mystery about you now. I’d let you know otherwise. Give you a heads-up, you know?”
“Yeah, Waverly has always liked a little mystery.” Olivia felt neither relieved nor annoyed. She could work with this. “Huh. They’re pretty good guesses.”
“Oh?” Kate didn’t make eye contact as she was handed her plate.
“Yup.” Olivia nodded. “There was a boy. I lost my head, like, completely. He was public school, wrong and rough. In the beginning, I thought he was so cool, so
you know? We all did—my friends at the time, I mean. We thought that about public school kids. The other girls dabbled in the public pool too, but they—”
“Got out clean,” finished Kate.
“Something like that.” Olivia stopped then. Her voice was flat. She could hear it. She corrected. “Not me, though.” Still too flat. She went for a smile. She knew for a fact that a smile often altered her tone. “I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it was a thrill. Up until then, I was a good little perfectionist with rolling anxiety issues, like seventy-three percent of our student body. Vibrating but high-functioning.”
“I’m familiar with the breed.” Kate dug in to her food.
“So mandatory meltdown with mandatory R & R in a Houston hospital. They got that part right.”
Kate reached for her arm. “I’m sorry, Olivia. That blows. If I’d been around, I would have hurt him bad.”
Olivia considered that for a moment. “Uh, what you said, about keeping an eye on the rumors, giving me a heads-up…you’d do that?”
“In a heartbeat. Hey, you may not have noticed, but you’re my only best friend. You already know stuff about me that’s not out there. I’m living
Olivia. If someone wants to get to you, they go through me first.”
“I believe you,” she whispered. And she did. The believing felt good.
“And more important, the past…”
“Is horseshit!” they said in unison.
“Glass of wine?” Olivia was already heading to the wine cabinet.
“So, Kate, my girl, I’m obviously damaged romantic goods. How about you?”
Kate raised her newly poured glass. “Pure as the driven snow. Boys mess with your mind, trip up
I don’t trust a single one of them.”
They clinked glasses.
“Me either. Too late, but hey, better late than never.” Olivia sighed into her glass. “I mean, I trust my dad, obviously. He’s solid. So
game plan is only older men from here on in. Real men.” Until that moment, Olivia hadn’t even realized she had a game plan. Kate was a clarifying influence. Kate
better for her than Dr. Tamblyn.
“I get where you’re coming from.” Kate eyed the aluminum container. “We arm ourselves according to past wounds.”
“There you go again—so speaks the poet-philosopher.”
Kate helped herself to more moo shoo. “Thing is, we shouldn’t live like cloistered nuns either. You have a thing or two to prove to the rumor mill, and I have to look like I’m enjoying ‘healthy social interaction.’ ”
Olivia rolled her eyes.
“We’ve got to pitch up to at least a couple of the better parties,” said Kate.
Olivia knew she had to make appearances. It was one of the bonuses of having Kate by her side—image. Image was important, although she couldn’t put her finger on exactly why anymore.
“Hey, I get it. It’s not my scene either. I’m talking a couple of parties each term, max. It’ll make your shrink happy, it’ll make your dad happy and it’ll keep Kruger off my back during my monthly check-in.”
Olivia studied her friend. “You’re right, again.” And she was. Everything would be fine with Kate in her corner. “We’re good for each other. I knew it from that first moment in English class. I knew we’d be good for each other.”
Kate raised her glass. “Here’s to us.”
I tried reviewing my situation with a clear head, but couldn’t. I grinned all the way to school. Hey, I now lived in a kingdom high above the clouds. My subject (Olivia) adored me, as did my servants, Anka the housekeeper and Aftab the doorman. I mean, holy hell, I am
Kate. Plus, plus, plus it took me less than ten minutes to walk to school. Seven minutes from
penthouse door to the Waverly admin office.
I was impressed with myself.
What next? I wanted a dog. Whenever things got good for even a minute, I’d want a dog. Of course, when things went to ratshit, I’d
want a dog, but let’s not go there. I just wanted a dog, is all. A dog would be nice. A dog would love me and need me totally, no questions asked. What would that feel like? Got to get a dog,
get a dog. Too soon? No, I had the skill set to make Olivia want a dog. Child’s play. It could be my next thing.
As I turned on the lights in the office, I warmed to the idea of telling Dr. Kruger about my new status. No, I should hold off until my monthly check-in, when we were all settled and got our groove on. I’d tell her about the move, the Waverly Wonders, the party we’d have gone to by then. What a list.
I even smiled at the file folders towering on Miss Shwepper’s desk. They’d breed over the weekends.
Speaking of files, there was stuff that was obviously missing from Olivia’s. The serious juice would probably be on paper, and those files lived in Kruger’s office. That’s where my story was stowed. I knew from checking myself out that the registration student file didn’t have any of it, which was refreshing. Every school I had ever attended had promised complete privacy. Total bull. But at Waverly, even relevant staff members didn’t know the whole deal. My story appeared to be locked in a secret silo. That’s what Dr. Kruger had promised. I didn’t believe her then.
I believed her now.
Still, my next play had to be the files. I had to break into Kruger’s cabinet. I needed better intel on Olivia in order to bind her close and guarantee my sweet ride all the way to Yale. As it was, the girl was way too…calm. Or flat or something. I was the only person who could make her smile a real smile, the kind that reaches your eyes. I liked being able to do that. I’ll grant you she was good at the fake ones. But I needed even more to help cement me into sisterhood. That was the plan, but any good plan must allow for contingencies. A plan A needs a plan B, and a C, and in worst-case scenarios, a D.
I was busy inputting when I heard laughter down the hall. Almost eight o’clock, a bit late for our registrar’s arrival, but in she waltzed with Mr. Redkin trailing behind. They could have met in the parking lot…
“Ah, my favorite Waverly Wonder.” Mr. Redkin tapped my file tower. He usually didn’t get in until nine.
How did he know what we were calling ourselves?
“Good morning, Kate!” Draper was beaming. Draper was not a beamer.
“Morning, Ms. Draper, Mr. Redkin.”
He followed Draper into her office. “About that matter we were discussing…” He closed the door. I still heard them laughing.
All righty, then.
So that’s your game?
Nicely played. It had taken me weeks to figure out that Draper was the real wheel in the school, not any of the heads, including Ms. Goodlace. Draper could trace her lineage straight to the founder of Waverly. She was in tight with every single board member who mattered, including the new chair, Mrs. Pearson. She knew the families that mattered, because she came from a family that mattered.
And Redkin had scoped all that out in a minute and a half.
Again I say, nicely played.
The rest of the staff dribbled in, asking about each other’s weekends. Miss Shwepper waved me down as I started to pack up. “You can stay there, kid,” she said, winking. Shwepper was always winking at me. I’d decided to take it as a gesture of affection. “Mrs. Colson is off sick today, so I’m going to use her desk.”
Mr. Rolph lingered by my pile for a moment to encourage me to think about my thesis topic. I assured him that I was on it hard and was considering some psychological angle. “Excellent, Kate. There’s been a significant uptick of mental illness plaguing the modern school system, and yet it’s under-researched on the thesis front. It would be a fine topic to weave into your university interviews.”
“And of course, we have the finest resource right here at the school with Dr. Kruger.” He glanced at her office door.
“Just what I was thinking, sir.”
“Excellent, excellent.” He tapped my pile and drifted away to his office. Damn, now I was committed. I didn’t like being cornered like that. Committed before I’d had a chance to think through every aspect of a commitment. Still, I
been toying with the idea.
I was so lost in thesis thought that I crashed into Mr. Redkin with my arm full of files. He reached out and steadied the pile before a single paper had a chance to escape.
Redkin had great hair. You had to give him that, on top of the other stuff. It was blond and wavy, just a little long, just a little unruly. It was the kind of hair that made you think surfer or rock climber rather than administrator. It was the kind of hair you wanted to touch.
“I’ve been meaning to get a word. I just mentioned it to Ms. Draper, and she thinks it’s a great idea.”
“Sir? Sorry, Mr. Redkin.”
“Mark,” I repeated.
“I’d like to arrange a photo shoot with the Waverly Wonders. I want you girls to feature prominently in any promotional or advancement material we send out. Ms. Draper agrees that it would be an excellent investment.”
“The Wonders would
that! Wait until I tell Olivia. We’ll call a meeting.”
“Good. I’d like to get on that right after the board meeting. After everyone has met you girls, seen you.” He wore a wheat-colored jacket that complemented his hair. But I swear you didn’t notice any of that when he smiled. You just saw the smile. And he knew it.
“Sounds cool,” I agreed. “I’ll alert the Wonders right away.”
“Thank you, Kate.” He opened the door to the storage room, where all the general file cabinets still lived. As he held the door open, he put his hand on the small of my back. It was a nothing gesture. Gentlemanly. Forgettable.
But my stomach rolled over.
No. One. Touches. Me. That’s the rule.
And Mark Redkin just broke it.
I want a dog, damn it.
Olivia was dialing down on the Ativan and the Lexapro. It didn’t help as much as she thought it would. She still felt removed from herself. It had to be the other meds, but no dial-downs were possible there. Never again. Olivia didn’t “share” any of this with Dr. Tamblyn. Her psychiatrist wasn’t nearly as pumped about the whole Kate-moving-in thing as he should have been.