Authors: Marsha Warner
“Nobody was second.”
Rebecca took Evan's statement as the compliment it was meant to be. “Well, would it shatter your fragile ego if I admit I'm not sure I want to be Sweetheart?”
“My manly ego can take it. Why?”
“It all seems so unnecessary,” Rebecca said. “And needlessly formal, just because I need the prize to run for ZBZ presidentâwhich I have yet to say I want to do. You know what they asked me to bake?
“We like muffins.”
“You better like them heart-shaped, because that's how Abby's making them. Oops, does that disqualify me?”
Evan grinned. “Do you want it to?”
She retreated. “No. I couldn't deal with the backlash. It's hard enough dealing with the front-lash.”
“You've ridden out far worse than a competition in your honor. I think you have what it takes.”
“To be Sweetheart.”
He rose and kissed her on the cheek. “You're Rebecca Logan. You can handle it.”
When he said it, he sounded sure. Rebecca wasn't certain she agreed.
And watch for the next Greek title, available April 2011!
For my cousin Sarah
When Casey Cartwright was a little girl, she wanted to
be a princess. When she was eight, she decided, more specifically, to be a fairy princess, then a magical fairy princess (in case there were any nonmagical fairies out there). And for one full day, she wanted to be a firewoman, between when she saw the movie
and the movie
. By the end of junior high it was president of the United States, thanks to an overly enthusiastic homeroom teacher who pushed the idea.
When she was older, and far less susceptible to flights of fancy, she would settle for president of a sorority house at Cyprus-Rhodes University, with a dash of Omega Chi Fraternity Sweetheart, which was as close to her long-forgotten goal of princess as she would come. There were times during her brief tenure as appointed Zeta Beta Zeta house president when she did feel honored by the position, and a little bit worshipped, but those were sandwiched between long periods of stress, anxiety and outright panic. Frankly, when it came time to actually run for the position (having been appointed
by the removal of the previous president, Frannie), she was exhausted, and when the ZBZ sisters nominated her friend Ashleigh out of a similar sense of political exhaustion, she was disappointedâand then relieved. No more politics for herâat least within ZBZ. Or that was what she thought, until a full five seconds into Ashleigh's presidency, when she went straight to best friend Casey for help. Being helpful was a thankless personality trait.
Winter had become spring and spring had become summer, then fall, and Casey was standing in the same place Frannie had stood a year earlier, looking down on Rebecca Logan, who awaited her own destiny. That destiny was not presidentânot yetâbut the all-important stepping-stone position of Omega Chi sweetheart, a sappy but respectable Greek honor if there ever was one. It was an honor that involved prestige, sucking up and an interminable amount of waiting. At the moment, they were at the waiting stage.
Rebecca sat on the antique yet well-maintained couch in the bright sunny hallway of ZBZ, looking far less patient than Ashleigh, who in her capacity as president sat beside her as a personal cheerleading squad. It was nomination day, a harrowing day when the Omega Chi fraternity brothers went from sorority house to sorority house, giving white roses to each nominee for sweetheart, one for each house. Casey's year, ZBZ had been last. Looking at the clock, she saw this was probably the case again, as it was already three o'clock, the ending hour of the procession.
“Rude!” Ashleigh announced, jumping to her feet. “They're late! They're always late. Guys, right?”
“Maybe they're not coming.” Rebecca didn't sound defeated
so much as disinterested. But her real feelings were harder to read.
“They have to nominate someone. We're fourth-ishânot eighth!” True, ZBZ had slipped in the sorority rankings with the scandals of the past two years, but they were hardly on the bottom. They just weren't on the top. “Can we even be fifth? Without like, chickens flying?”
“Pigs,” Rebecca corrected. “Pigs fly.”
“Pigs can't fly.”
“Neither can chickens. But the saying is pigs. âWhen pigs fly.'”
“It doesn't matter,” Casey interrupted. “No flightless animals are flying. ZBZ is gaining in the rankings and they have to nominate one of us. There are ancient rules, probably going back to when CRU was a college for landowners' sons and the cafeteria served mead.”
“Then there would have been no girls.”
“That's not the point!”
“Negativity!” Ashleigh announced. “No negative vibes around our sweetheart.” She waved her arms around Rebecca as if to scatter any tiny flies or evil invisible pixies. Instead she looked more as though she was dusting her.
“I'm not a piece of furniture. Besides, we don't even know I'm going to be nominated.”
“Please,” Casey said. “Who else are they going to nominate?”
“Yeah, snaring Evan is kind of an in,” Ashleigh blurted, and Casey glared at her. “I was just saying the obvious. I'm sure they would have picked you anyway!”
Casey sighed. In addition to her kick-ass speech, dating Evan Chambers, president of Omega Chi, was probably the
deciding factor the previous year. It had all been so romanticâher supersweet boyfriend giving her a rose in front of a choir of neatly dressed Omega Chis, being fawned over (in a respectful way) by her sisters. She had felt as if she was glowing. Now it was Rebecca's turnâto be nominated and, apparently, to be dating Evan Chambers. “Whatever. It'sâI'm so past that. This year is about Rebecca.”
“It could be Ashleigh,” Rebecca pointed out. “She's way more excited about the whole sweetheart thing anyway.”
“And already president of ZBZ,” Ashleigh said. “They like up-and-coming girls. Ouch. No pun intended. Wait, was there even a pun in there?”
“And the four other nominees.”
“Who are hopefully not dating Evan.”
“Boys don't cheat on me,” Rebecca said. “And there's a difference between Evan and the rest of Omega Chiâthe fraternity Ashleigh snubbed last year for the Lambda Sigs.”
“Hey, that was a decision. As a house.”
“That you made spontaneously and the Omegas have never forgiven us for.”
“No fighting!” Casey said. “We have to look poised and pretty, as if we've communed with the gentlewoman we're theoretically supposed to be in the alternative reality this contest seems to take place in. You know, with aprons and muffins and doilies. We're supposed to be sweet.”
“So I'm a housewife now?” Rebecca said. “Why do I want this again?”
“Because the Omega Chi sweetheart is not just someone's girlfriend. The sweetheart is the perfect girl. The girl guys want to bring home to their moms because they're proud of how awesome she is, and how she is not the campus skank.
That's why a Tri-Pis has never won. But the sweetheart is also the girl who all his friends wish that they could have too, because she is fun and the hottest girl on campus. More important, it's the indicator of who will get voted ZBZ president, and it's public recognition of the best house on campus.”
Instead of being encouraged, Rebecca just stewed. She was so good at it, with her dark eyes glaring like the hardest of diamondsâbeautiful but icy. “If I was even
interested in girls, I would go lesbian right now. And hard. Lesbians don't have to meet moms.”
“Lesbian girlfriends have moms. I mean, if they're talking to their moms. Then they have moms. And they bake muffins sometimes, too, so don't think you're getting out of that!” Ashleigh shook her finger at Rebecca. When Rebecca didn't soften, Ashleigh changed her demeanor. “Of course you don't have to actually bake muffins. That's what the hasher is for.” The hasher was good for cooking their meals, general cleanup and, on the occasion that they hired a campus hottie, a good hookup.
“Yeah, we're liberated women,” Casey said.
“Is that why your room is pink and we have ceremonies where people hold a cat doll named Pussy?”
“Pussy Willow, and yes. Or it's because pink is a pretty color.” Casey looked at the clock again nervously.
“I still say you're jumping to conclusions. It might not be me. It could be Ashleigh.”
“Even aside from your Evan, er, connection, I'm an outgoing senior. They have to give it to someone younger so that she has a year to be available to fulfill her sweetheart duties. Which involveâ¦ Case, what do they involve?”
“That. Existing. Which I won't next year, except as an annoying alumna who is not yet old and rich enough to hit up for money at Founder's Weekend. So, not even on ZBZ's radar for another twenty years, unless I become some kind of executive at a law firm. Which would be in an alternate universe where I take the LSATs.”
“You could date an executive in a law firm.”
“Now that's feminism at work,” Rebecca said.
Casey was about to comment when the doorbell rang. Ashleigh squealed and opened it to a crowd of Omega Chis, dressed in their ultrapreppy blue blazers and khakis, complete with red ties. All they needed were ascots and they were ready for an afternoon of yachting on their imaginary boat near land-locked CRU. Still, it did make them look dashing, especially when they were so sincere about it as they serenaded the first three people they encountered at ZBZ. They were decent singers, tooâa result of mediocre talent but lots of practice and lots of heart. Even Rebecca, normally implacable, looked a little overwhelmed as Evan provided her with a white rose.
“Rebecca Logan,” he said, “we are proud to nominate you for Omega Chi sweetheart.”
If Rebecca wouldn't swoon, Casey felt that she might almost have to oblige instead.
“It was so romantic.”
It was not the first time the phrase was uttered, but this time it was by another ZBZ and not Ashleigh, as if other people had been there. Some girls did hear the singing and rushed down, but most were elsewhere and had to hear about Rebecca's nomination and moon over it secondhand. With even more gossip and exaggerated retellings, Casey couldn't blame Rebecca for looking as though she wanted to throw up.
The ZBZ house had turned into a hub of activity, not all of it mindless chatter over the nomination. The pledges were especially excited to see something good happenâsomething not related to being unpopular, winning or losing competitions, having their party walked out on or burning down a house. From a certain perspective, accidentally setting another sorority on fire was pretty
but it was more terrifying than anything else. The sweetheart nomination was a good thingâfor Rebecca and the house by associationâand
they wanted good things to continue. They wanted her to win. Dale, their current hasher, couldn't keep them supplied with enough snacks as they chattered about the sweetheart nomination.
“No signs!” Casey said. Somehow a pledge had found poster board and paint, but signs just weren't Casey's M.O. “No signs, no T-shirts unless they're really funny or ironic and approved by the house and where did you get that megaphone?”
“I wanted to lead the chants,” said Abby, looking dejected. She was also wearing a pink-and-yellow bandanna for some reason.
“No chanting! This is a campaign, not a protest. We want the Omegas to love Rebecca, not think she needs to be freed from some foreign prison.”
“But we can use glitter!”
Casey rolled her eyes. “I promise, you can use glitter on other stuff. But no signs. And no chanting.” She added, “And no megaphones.” She made Abby hand it over, just in case. “This is going to be a respectful, dignified campaign. So that means no crowds, no shouting and no spreading nasty rumors about the competitionâunless it absolutely, positively cannot be traced back to ZBZ. And if you think you're being too careful, you're not.”
“Even the Tri-Pis?”
“Even the Tri-Pis.”
Abby, the overeager pledge, raised her hand. “Can we still do muffins?”
“That's Rebecca's call. Rebecca?”
Rebecca didn't look up from her cell phone. “Sounds good, but I should mention I'm allergic to cooking.”
“We're talking about
“Abby, you can bake.” Which was no doubt a relief to Abby, who had been hovering over Rebecca as if she was president of the Rebecca Fan Club or something since the announcement. It might be good to give Abby a task that Rebecca herself would want nothing to do with. “Rebecca, Abby is assuming the baking duties. And speaking of duties, I've made a list.” She got out the list, a better use for poster board. “We need to win over the hearts and minds of the Omegas. Strategically, without looking like we're doing it. Some of you will be assigned to specific Omega members. Don't bother the other members. We don't want them to feel crowded.” With the attention of all of the ZBZs, she began a detailed explanation of the different Omega Chi-friendly events they would inconspicuously be throwing to win over the hearts and stomachs of fraternity members and make them love Rebecca, or at least make them love ZBZ enough to choose Rebecca. They all understood that Rebecca being chosen as sweetheart would do a lot for their house's diminished status. If Omega Chi reaffirmed its relationship with the best sorority on campus, ZBZ would move closer to its rightful place at the top of the rankings, and Rebecca would win political capital for running for president later in the semester. If Rebecca were to show more enthusiasm during the speech it might be better, but unlike Casey and Ashleigh, she wasn't known for showing enthusiasm.
“Don't be all mopey!” Ashleigh sounded excited when she said it, nudging Rebecca in the shoulder but lowering her voice. “It's not good for the sweetheart image.”
“And what is the sweetheart image good for?”
“No ZBZ president has ever not been sweetheart first,” Casey said.
“But I never saidâ”
“Besides 1995,” Casey continued, interrupting Rebecca's objection, “but she had the sympathy vote for her scoliosisâand Ashleigh, but that was because you nominated her.”
“And everyone hated you,” Rebecca said. The election had been so highly contentious, with Casey, interim president, running against Frannie, the previous president, that the frustrated ZBZ pledges had rallied around Rebecca's call for change and nominated Ashleigh. It shocked even Ashleigh, who reluctantly accepted the position over her friends. “Besides, I never saidâ”
“I don't think they hated
” Casey defended. “Justâ¦how I was acting. At that moment. And maybe the week leading up to it.”
“But the point is, they were both sweethearts,” Ashleigh said, diplomatically changing the subject back to the contest. “It's an important cornerstone to the presidency.”
“And you love controlling and manipulating people, so this should work out,” Casey said. Before Rebecca could answer with her legendary evil eye, Casey's cell phone rang. “Hello?”
“Did you get a bunch of really big hamsters? Because I hear a ton of squeaking in the background. And it's scaring me.”
“Cappie!” It was her boyfriend, Kappa Tau president Cappie. “No, we do not have giant hamsters. And the pledges would not appreciate the comparison.”
“To be honest, I was kind of hoping for the scary hamsters. Are you ready to go?”
“What? Oh crap!” She then remembered her date with Cappieâscheduled for half an hour ago. If she'd been paying attention, she would have noticed Cappie was late as usual.
“I'll be right out.” She made her excuses to the others and hurried out the door. She hadn't even realized it was already dark when she found Cappie waiting on the porch. “Sorry. I forgot. What with all the excitement.”
“The squeaky thing?”
“They're more like squealing.”
Cappie looked vaguely concerned, which was about as concerned as he ever got. “Do we have some Greek event I should know about, so I can have a KT excuse prepared in time?”
She took his arm, and they walked away from the house and the overexcited atmosphere. “No, it's the Omega Chi sweetheart competition. Rebecca was nominated.”
are not two words I associate with Rebecca Logan.”
“I know, but she's going out with Evan. And the other juniors don't really stand out. Laura is more prickly than Rebecca. And Betsyâ¦ Well, she's justâ¦background color. But don't say I said that. Anyway, we totally have to win this.”
“You mean, Rebecca has to win this.”
“She needs to win it for the house! We seriously need the good mojo. I can't graduate and leave the house in a gap year.”
“A gap year?”
“Katherine has a thing about sororities and popularity. It goes in cyclesâand it's true. I've seen the class pictures from the years we
hang on the wall, and they're hideous.”
“So it's the natural cycle of life. Let it go. Be at peace with the universe.”
“I can't. This is not happening to ZBZ. Not under my watch. Rebecca is becoming sweetheart because ZBZ is the best and we're going to win that blue ribbon, and I will sail
out of here not leaving behind a loser house. The incoming freshmen deserve to be the best. It shouldn't make a difference that they came in a few years after me!”
“Yeah, umâ¦are you sure you're not taking this a little too seriously?”
“What, you're not concerned about your house? Or are you just never planning to leave?”
“The spirit of KT will live on with or without me,” he said. “Kappa Tau exists because KTs exist. We accept this reality because it is, but there would be a hole if it was gone. It's part of the patchwork pattern of space and time that we call the universe.” He grinned at her silence. “I'm thinking of majoring in philosophy.”
“What happened to women's studies?”
“Still a possibility. I'm carefully weighing my options so that I can make the best choice at the right time.”
When was the right time? was the question on her mind, but she didn't want to press him on it. Not yet, anyway, so early in the evening. Cappie was a senior and this was his last semesterâif he planned to graduate on time, he had to declare a major soon, and she had no idea what he had the credits for. Instead she changed the subject from Cappie's major. “So, sorry again I forgot about our date. Things have been crazy around the house. Mostly because of the contest.”
“What does it have to do with you, exactly? You were already sweetheart.”
“And when I was nominated, Frannie campaigned hard for me. Now Rebecca's nominated, and I'm campaigning hard for her. She's my Little Sister. And maybe I don't have a lot of influence at Omega Chiâ”
“Like that's the end of the world.”
“Hey, I know you've had yourâ¦differencesâ¦”
“They bailed on us during a prank and got two of my brothers expelled. And no, I'm not forgiving them for that.”
“Nevertheless, it's the
sweetheart competition. The sacred tradition ofâ¦however many years since CRU became egalitarian, which is a word a women's studies major should understand.”
“A possible women's studies major. And Kappa Tau could have our own tradition. We could start one right now.”
“Are you willing to serenade each individual sorority?”
He kissed her. “Somehow, I think I would have to serenade only one.”
She smiled but said, “Way to rig the contest.”
“Yeah, and I should mention I was thrown out of choir in high school. Not for the quality of my singing voice. It was an unrelated incident involving skeet shooting.”
unrelated incident. But me singingâbad luck. I can't really speak for the other KTs. You can speak for Rusty better than I can.”
“Oh, God, Rusty.” She shook her head. Her younger brother was the most unlikely but possibly the most loyal KT, and Cappie's Little Brother. “Yeah, he was more of a clarinet guy. And he had asthma. It was a really bad combination.”
“Really? I pictured him as more of a flutist. I can't send him down Greek row with a clarinet. If he was rushing, definitely, but he's an active now.”
“It's not just the serenading. You present a rose to all the candidatesâ”
“Can it squirt water? Or something worse than water?”
“No, it has to be a real rose. A perfect rose. And there's the ceremonyâtrust me, it's not a KT thing.”
“That, and I think if we had open nominations, there might be some strippers on that ballot,” Cappie admitted.
“Are you ranking me with strippers?”
“Hey, not all of them would be nominated by me. And this isn't supposed to be rigged, right? I wouldn't just nominate my girlfriend and call it a day. Just because Evan can get away with itâ”
“Evan Chambers didn't nominate Rebecca just because he's dating her. The house had to agree.”
“So? He asks the Omegas to jump and they ask how high.”
“I don't think that's how things go down there anymore. Didn't he mention this when you guys were still secretly friends?”
“Yeah, somehow he may have realized I wasn't interested in Omega house politics. I don't know how he could have reached that conclusion.”
Casey was about to defend Evan, but her phone went off. “Sorry. ZBZ needs sugar.” She scrolled down the ever-increasing text message. “And flour. And cake mix. Andâ¦a new oven that bakes things instead of cooking them? I don't think Abby understands the dials.” She looked up. “I have to go.”
“Before they put up the Casey signal?”
“Rain check?” She kissed him and took that to be his positive response. “Thanks.”
“You can be my sweetheart without the contest,” he promised her. “Another time?”
Cappie returned to the Kappa Tau house much earlier than he expected, and sans Casey. He had no choice but to grant her request for a rain check. Few students had the advantages of the wide-open schedule he managed as a KT, and Casey had always been a go-getter. It was one of the things he loved about her, even when she drove him completely crazy, and he sensed she might do it if he didn't give her a wide berth with this sweetheart business. She took anything remotely related to her house intensely seriously, but she'd also started talking about graduation. So far Cappie had found no way to express the concept that things she regarded as important
like sweetheart contests and baking cookies for a fraternity he had nothing but contempt for so that Rebecca Logan, whom she sometimes openly despised, could win a coveted but arbitrary award, were not things that would matter to her when she graduated. At best, she would laugh at how she spent her time during the best years of her life. At worst, she would become a successful, career-oriented woman who couldn't believe she wasted her time on such nonsense. But, he reasoned, maybe it would be better to have her excited about ZBZ than pressing him about finding a major and graduatingâeven if it was nutty.
He needed a distraction, and the house was quick to provide it. The den was unusually active for a nonparty night, in that guys were actually doing thingsâspecifically, packing things into boxes. “Spitter.” He was glad to see Rusty poke his head around a corner. “Good to see you. I was getting tired of standing here and pretending I know what's going on in my own house.”
Rusty held up the box in his hands. Inside was a plaster
chunk. “The remains of Vesuvius. What we didn't bury or burn. We need to make room for the new flat screen.”