Simply Irresistible Sneak Peek
Posted July 1, 2009on:
Those of you who follow The Elite series by Jennifer Banash know that the third (and possibly final) book releases in just a few days. To get everyone excited, and to give those new to the series a reason to start reading, Jennifer has put together this sneak peek for everyone to read.
“I totally hate calculus.” Sophie St. John threw her book to the floor of the Bramford’s Entertainment Lounge and twisted her golden hair, the color of buttered honey into a messy bun, sticking a pencil through it to secure her hair firmly in place. It was ridiculous—even when Sophie was a mess, she was still one of the most glamorous, fashionable girls Casey McCloy had ever seen in all of her soon-to-be seventeen years. “I can’t wait to get out into the real world so I never have to do math ever again.”
Casey laughed, pulling her own newly straightened yellow-ish blond hair into a ponytail. “I hate to break it to you Sophs, but math isn’t exactly useless in everyday life.”
“Well, that’s what I like to tell myself, anyway,” Sophie said with a giggle, pushing her black Gucci glasses that she didn’t need—they were strictly an accessory as Sophie’s vision was perfect—higher onto the bridge of her perfectly upturned nose, and sipped greedily at her soy latte, foam covering her lips before she licked it off, quick as a cat. With her hair pulled back, glasses on, and dressed in a tiny Ralph Lauren green and black plaid skirt, Wolford tights, and a Kelly green Hermes wool sweater, Sophie looked more like a psychotically cheerful catholic schoolgirl than a much-envied Upper East Side A-Lister. But frequent costume changes were part of Sophie’s charm—and one of the things Casey liked best about the diminutive honey-haired Bramford resident. The best, or maybe worst thing about Sophie St. John was that she rarely took herself seriously—and, unfortunately as a result, nobody else really did either . . . In reality, Sophie was titanically smart—so much so that she’d skipped the sixth grade entirely when her English teacher discovered her plowing through Jane Austen’s entire oeuvre one fateful semester, hiding battered paperbacks under her desk so she could read through her classes undisturbed.
Casey looked around the lounge, taking in the enormous movie screen hanging at the front of the room, which was currently blasting VH1’s exercise in nostalgia, I Love the Eighties, at maximum volume, the screen filled with the image of George Michael jumping around on a runway, his hands covered in day-glo green gloves that were beyond horrific. A stainless steel, state-of-the-art popcorn machine that, as far as Casey could tell so far, nobody ever used stood in the corner, and an adjacent sculptured outdoor garden was clearly visible through a long row of windows.
Just a short month ago, merely stepping into a room like this would’ve caused her mouth to fall open in stunned silence. Now it was just kind of . . . normal. Casey sighed, closing her AP History book and tossing it on the couch beside her, crossing her legs beneath her, a pair of cabled, J. Crew grey cashmere ballet flats swaddling her toes in luxurious warmth. Ever since this whole reality show thing had begun, her footwear wasn’t the only thing that had changed drastically. Almost overnight she’d gone from new girl and perennial social misfit, to almost . . . popular.
“How could anyone have ever doubted for, like, a millisecond that George Michael was gay?” Sophie said, shaking her head disbelievingly at the screen, taking in the singer’s perfectly feathered golden hair, tight red athletic shorts, and signature gold hoop earring. “I mean” Sophie went on, pointing at the screen, “the ball-hugging shorts alone leave no doubt.”
Casey burst out laughing, her shoulders shaking hard beneath her grey Fair Isle cable knit cashmere sweater, the soft wool mirroring the exact shade of her wide-set eyes.
“Apparently no on realized that Boy George was a drag queen right away either, if you can believe that,” Casey pointed out after she’d composed herself, pushing her hair back from her face with one hand. “So go figure. But, you know,” she added, frowning as the Wham! video flashed off, and the girls from Bananarama started belting out “Venus,” “it’s weird how much better all these eighties pop stars look now—it was like the eighties were a veritable black hole of spandex, bike shorts, leg warmers, and other assorted fashion nightmares.”
With her new designer wardrobe courtesy of the producers of De-Luxe—and the occasional forays into both Sophie and Phoebe’s overstuffed closets—her newly straightened hair, freckles that were now magically airbrushed away with Giorgio Armani foundation, along with her newfound celebrity status, Casey had succeeded in making quite the transformation herself. When she peered into the mirror these days, she barely recognized the girl staring back at her. The weird, frizzy-haired, socially inept Casey seemed to have been banished for good with a click of a remote and the whir of the camera. The only problem was that she still wasn’t sure how she actually felt about any of it.
But whether she really wanted to come to terms with it or not, Casey couldn’t help noticing that not being treated like a social outcast was definitely preferable to being terminally typecast as a gauche, Midwestern loser. But every time she caught sight of her own reflection in one of the glossy shop windows lining Fifth Avenue, she was filled with a sudden shock, a sense of complete dislocation, and an out of body, Twilight Zone-esque sensation when she realized that the smiling, sophisticated blond staring back at her was none other than, umm . . . herself. Who was that girl, she sometimes wondered as Meadowlark’s best and brightest routinely waved at her in the hallways and IM-ed her late into the night.
As soon as the student population had gotten word that Madison and Casey had been chosen for their own reality show, the invitations to the Upper East Side’s most exclusive parties and events had begun flooding in with a force and regularity that made Casey feel slightly dizzy as she stood in the kitchen each night while opening the piles of thick envelopes that were now routinely strewn across Nanna’s granite kitchen counters. But did it really mean anything when the only reason people were interested in you was because you were on some stupid TV show? Casey shifted uncomfortably on the soft couch, the thought making her squirm.
“So,” Casey asked, trying to change the subject and distract herself from the thoughts about her shifting identity that she really didn’t want to think about, “have you talked to your . . . mom lately?” Sophie’s smile faded away as the words left Casey’s lips, and she looked down at her skirt and began picking at a loose yellow thread, her normally open, happy face set with concentration. Six weeks ago Sophie had met her biological mother, Melissa Von Norten, an infamous Hollywood actress who’d given Sophie up for adoption when she was just an infant, at Sophie’s lavish, Studio 54-themed sweet sixteen. Needless to say they didn’t exactly leave the party making plans to have sleepovers and wash each other’s hair on a regular basis. The night ended with Sophie running out of her own party, leaving Melissa—not to mention the rest of the Upper East Side—standing on the street, mouths agape. Ever since that night, Sophie had refused to talk about it with anyone . . . until now.
“She’s called . . . and emailed a few times,” Sophie said with a sulky sigh, eyes still fixated on her skirt. “But I haven’t exactly been dying to talk to her.” Sophie tossed the loose thread to the floor, her sweater falling back from her wrists to reveal a series of angry looking red cuts that marred her pale skin. Casey couldn’t help staring at the jagged, diagonal markings, her grey eyes widening with questions she knew that she couldn’t—shouldn’t—ask as Sophie quickly pulled her sleeves down and picked up her history book, making a show out of busily rifling the thick, smooth paper. Maybe it was her cat, Casey thought as she tried to think of something to say. Yeah, right, her inner skeptic snarled, clearly not buying her half-hearted explanation for a second. Her cat just happened to scratch both of her wrists? In exactly the same place? Not likely.
“But she’s your mom,” Casey went on, unsure of where exactly she was going with any of this—only that she knew she had to keep talking or she’d be likely to blurt out something stupid and insensitive like “What happened to your arm?” And that, Casey knew instinctively, would be a complete disaster. “Don’t you want to try to have some kind of relationship with her?”
Sophie snorted, closing her history book again in exasperation. “Oh, right,” She said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Like your relationship with your mom is so great? Where is she again anyway?”
Casey blushed hard, pulling her silky straight hair into a ponytail. She still couldn’t believe that after years of wrestling with her impossibly curly locks that went every which way with a mind of their own, that freedom could’ve been as simple as a trip to Elizabeth Arden—courtesy of the beauty guru that was Madison Macallister, of course.
“She’s in London, working on her book. She got some big, fancy-pants grant to go to Oxford, so she’ll be there all year,” Casey said, running her hands over the smoothness of her ponytail. Casey looked down at her cashmere-swaddle body and wondered what her mother, Barbara, a professor of Women’s Studies at Illinois State University and card-carrying feminist, would have to say about her new look—not to mention the news that her daughter was a soon-to-be reality television star. Nothing good, that was for sure.
“You’re playing right into the hands of the patriarchy—not to mention supporting the most abominable aspects of American consumerism!” Barbara would probably yell, slapping her hand down onto the battered wooden kitchen table for added emphasis. Barbara was big on punctuating her declarative sentences with furniture-slaps or meaningful grunts—which was kind of strange considering that her mother had a PhD . . . For someone with an advanced degree that took years to achieve, her communication skills definitely left something to be desired.
“Well, it’s definitely weird,” Sophie said giggling. “Every time she calls you hold the phone practically a mile away from your ear and roll your eyes until you hang up. She must be a nightmare.”
“Yes,” Casey said with a giggle, “But she means well . . .”
“Speaking of nightmares,” Sophie said, pushing her glasses up onto the bridge of her nose for the millionth time and getting down to business. “What’s up with you and Drew lately? It’s been practically forever since I’ve seen you two licking each other’s faces in the hallway, or force-feeding one another stupid amounts of baked goods at lunch.”
Now it was Casey’s turn to sigh and look at the floor, the smile fading from her rosy face, her pulse quickening at the mere mention of her almost-kind of-not really-ever- her-boyfriend’s name. The truth was that things between her and Drew were worse than ever. Since he’d inexplicably left her on the dance floor and run out of Sophie’s sweet sixteen six weeks ago, they’d barely exchanged more than two words. Not only that, but complicating things even further was the fact that Casey had been hanging out with Darin Hollingsworth, the skinny Emo guy with the shock of black hair who rescued her from total wallflower-itis once Drew cut out of the party without so much as a backwards glance, and left her standing there looking decidedly pathetic.
Every night Casey stared at her Swvoroski-covered Verizon Venus—another gift from Pulse—for what seemed like hours, simultaneously willing it to ring while thinking hard about calling Drew—but chickening out every time. It seemed like the minute her fingertips pressed Send, she immediately began fumbling for the End button, her heart flailing toward her mouth. Wasn’t calling him kind of desperate? After all, he’d walked out on her—shouldn’t he be the one to call? Casey crossed her arms across her chest stubbornly, her cheeks aflame again just thinking about the way he’d left her standing by herself on the dance floor, scanning the crowd for his lanky frame, so happy and relieved that things seemed to be OK again after the weird, tumultuous weeks that led up to Sophie’s party. Ever since Drew had begun a documentary film project about wealthy kinds on the Upper East Side for his advance film studies class at Meadowlark, he’d been paying less attention to Casey, and more and more attention to Madison—and interviewing her for the film certainly hadn’t helped matters. It was so annoying—no matter how straight her hair, how cool her clothes, when it came to Drew, Casey felt like she was perennially at odds, and always, always making the wrong move.
“I have no idea,” Casey finally managed to spit out woodenly, her voice strained. “I really haven’t talked to him much. Unfortunately,” she muttered, looking down at her hands and concentrating on her bitten fingernails.
“How come?” Sophie asked, pulling her legs swathed in black tights underneath her. “Did you guys have fight or something? I ran into him in the hall yesterday and he looked like ass.”
“Tell me about it,” Casey deadpanned, sighing loudly and hoping Sophie couldn’t tell that she was lying through her teeth. With his artfully tousled dark hair and piercing green eyes, no matter what Drew was going through, Casey had never seen him look less than utterly, stupidly, ridiculously gorgeous—even when he resembled a walking poster boy for Prozac. “It wasn’t a fight . . . exactly,” Casey mused, her words both jumbled and stuttering, sounding as confused as she currently felt. “We’ve just . . . stopped talking, I guess.”
“Is it because of the terminally angsty Mr. Hollingsworth, by any chance?” Sophie asked with a smile, slurping the last of her latte and placing the empty cup down onto the stainless steel coffee table that separated the two couches from one another. “What’s up with you and Fallout Boy anyway? I didn’t think you guys were really a thing yet.”
Casey furrowed her brow, pulling her knees up to her chest and hugging them tightly, not knowing whether or not to tell Sophie the truth. For the last few weeks, she and Darin had been hanging out more and more—checking out revival film festivals of Passolini and Goddard, and meeting for coffee before school most mornings, sitting side by side at Uncommon Grounds, scribbling in their respective notebooks. Casey loved how comfortable she felt around the tall, lanky dark haired boy—she rarely erupted into an uncontrollable pool of sweat, or began blushing and stammering in his presence. Being with Darin was like hanging out with your brother—or some other male entity you’d known for years. That being said, she, umm, wasn’t exactly filled with the burning desire to rip his clothes off . . .
Just last week they’d said goodbye in front of The Bram after a late afternoon study session. The sky was beginning to darken rapidly, as it always did in winter, the streetlights twinkling magically as they came on one by one, illuminating the white clouds that hung between them—a by-product of their warm mouths mixed with the shock of cold air. Darin looked at her, shaking his shock of shaggy dark hair from his eyes and shifted his weight awkwardly. Casey knew that Darin wanted to kiss her, she knew that way that you know it’s going to snow right before the first flakes come tumbling out of the sky, blanketing the world in a soft white haze.
He leaned slightly forward, his lips turning up in a half-smile, and as much as Casey knew that this was her cue to lean in and touch her lips to his, as much as she knew that she was supposed to want to (hell, she should’ve been on cloud nine), she couldn’t escape the overwhelming fact that it just didn’t feel right. That maybe she just didn’t want to. Casey exhaled loudly, flopping down on the couch and staring over at the huge widescreen plasma TV attached to the far wall. Maybe there was something wrong with her. Almost-seventeen year old girls should want to be kissed, right? Just maybe not by Darin Hollingsworth, her inner bitch added smugly.
“No, Sophie, we are most definitely not a thing yet. And I don’t really know if we’ll ever be. I like hanging out with him, but it’s more like hanging out with a male version of you that grew up at CBGBs instead of Barney’s,” Casey said, imagining Sophie dressed up like a Ramone or, better yet, Debbie Harry. That would be a hot look for her . . . “He invited me to go and see some band in Park Slope on Friday night.”
Sophie’s mouth fell open. “You’re going to Brooklyn? Of your own free will? For the love of God, why? There’s nothing there but lesbian stroller mom’s and grimy coffee houses where unwashed hipsters hang out and talk about their “art.”” Sophie shuddered and began thumbing the pages of her dreaded calculus book shaking her head in mock disbelief while watching the page numbers she was supposed to be studying breeze by in rapid, cartoon-like succession. “Listen, Casey, if things are really over between you and Drew then, I mean, you need to have some new man candy on your arm. But Darin? He’s not exactly the kind of guy you can make your ex jealous with.”
Casey felt a strange jolt in her gut as she found herself silently agreeing with Sophie—overwhelmingly so. She didn’t like that jolt. It seemed wrong and totally alien. Since when have I cared about what other people think? Drew might be an oil painting with a cardiovascular system and a perfect ass, but Casey hadn’t been attracted to him for those reasons alone—although they certainly didn’t hurt. Why should she be worried about what Darin looked like or whether or not Drew was jealous?
“I’m not just trying to make Drew jealous,” Casey said, not sure if it was just a teeny-tiny white lie or a completely gigantic one. “I really like hanging out with Darin. I just don’t know if I, umm, you know, like him.”
“You’re dating life is starting to sound more complicated than this damn calculus,” Sophie said jokingly while throwing the math textbook into her bulging Louis Vuitton, cherry-studded satchel. “You know I love you, but if this whole like-versus-like thing gets to be any more like a quadratic equation, I’m going to have to drop you like I wish I could drop Calc.” Sophie grinned as she got up and headed for the door, her bag slung over her shoulder. “Call me if you manage to figure all this “like” stuff out. Or better yet, drop it all together—I’ll be more than happy to talk shop about boys that will undoubtedly make Mr. Van Allen fall to his knees and start bleating your name uncontrollably like a crazed sheep.”
Watching her friend walk out of the door, Casey imagined the opening credits to De-Luxe—how they’d introduce all the characters with short, pithy montages, summing up their fabulous lives in a few short seconds. Casey imagined how her section might be edited—quick cuts of her laughing over brioche and coffee at Uncommon Grounds, montages of her walking in the park with Sophie, her newly straightened hair blowing gaily in the wind, and shopping with Madison in some glorious Fifth Avenue boutique. And, of course the final shot would have to be Casey standing in front of The Bram, her body leaning toward Darin’s in slow motion, his lips gently touching hers, the years’ first snow gently falling from the sky, coating their hair and clothes with traces of delicate white powder . . .
Casey closed her eyes, shaking her head vigorously in order to wipe the scene from her mind, and replay it. As the newly-edited montage rolled along, she was suddenly kissing Drew in front of The Bram, her arms wrapped around his neck, the snow blanketing their bodies as she pulled his deliciously warm body closer still, wishing she could climb inside of him and never come up for air—or anything else—ever again.
Casey opened her eyes and frowned, more confused than ever. The choice that would be made by the producers in the editing room was obvious. It wasn’t like Darin was ugly or anything—he was just . . . different. Kind of like you used to be her inner bitch whispered knowingly as Casey gathered up her books from the sleek leather sofa, hugging them tightly to her chest. But am I really going to live my life for this show? Casey thought, walking toward the door and switching off the overhead lights with a snap that was more decisive than she felt. And why was that thought suddenly so tempting, she wondered as the she swung the door shut behind her with a click. But did she really want to give up her newfound social status to go back to being the old Casey McCloy—the girl everyone either laughed at—or ignored? It was undeniable. She really, really hated to admit it to herself—or anyone else for that matter—but finally being on the inside was really starting to feel kind of . . . addictive.
Casey walked across the gleaming marble lobby that had begun to feel as familiar to her lately as her house she’d left back in Normal, Illinois, a white Victorian with the slightly sagging porch she’d loved to sit out on during hot summer nights, and stepped into the elevator, holding her breath as the lurching movement made her suddenly dizzy and as the elevator climbed higher and higher still, her head fuzzy and light.