Survival of the Fiercest

BOOK: Survival of the Fiercest
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Survival of the Fiercest

A Sloane Sisters Novel

By Anna Carey

For Joelle

Contents

 

W
hen we last left Cate, Stella, Andie, and Lola, all was peaceful on the Upper East Side. Winston Sloane and Emma Childs were married, and their daughters were enjoying their first moments of familial bliss.

Now their parents are leaving for their honeymoon and the girls are on their own. With a whole town house to themselves, can they play nice? Doubtful. Maybe they're a happy family
now.
But nothing lasts forever…especially not with these sisters.

C
ate Sloane stood by the foyer window, watching as a limo pulled in front of the town house. She clasped her hands together, resisting the urge to shove her father, Winston, and his new bride, Emma, out the door. They were leaving for their last-minute honeymoon to Tahiti—to go with their last-minute wedding yesterday. Which meant that for one whole week Cate had no one to answer to but Margot, a hearing-impaired retiree in leather pants. Margot was Stella and Lola's grandmother, and her new stepsisters looked as horrified by her sartorial choices as Cate.

“So we're off,” Winston said. He glanced around the foyer. Stella's tall, gawky younger sister, Lola, clutched her cat, Heath Bar, in her arms. At four foot eleven, Cate's younger sister, Andie, looked like a dwarf standing beside her.

“Now, remember,” Emma added as she hugged her daughters. “Grandmum will—”

“Emma, please,” Margot huffed. She winked at the girls as she
tousled her stiff blond hair. “Call me Margot.” Her Derek Lam halter revealed her collarbone, the skin spotted like a snakeskin clutch.

“Right, listen to
Margot
.” Winston shot Cate a look that said,
That means you
.

Cate grabbed Stella's arm so hard her knuckles turned white. “Forget Margot,” she whispered. “
We're
in charge.” Cate pictured herself and Stella lying out in their Shoshanna bikinis on the roof deck, drinking sparkling lemonade. They'd spend afternoons shopping for a fall wardrobe at Bergdorf Goodman and late evenings trying out the ginger garlic shrimp at El Quinto Pino or the carpaccio at Buzina Pop. But most importantly, an empty town house would give them the perfect opportunity to launch their new sorority: Chi Sigma.

“We should have a sleepover on the roof deck tonight,” Stella said in her lilting British accent.

“I like the way you think.” Cate leaned in close. “We need to plan a meet-and-greet in the garden—something to officially announce the split with Blythe.”

Cate's stomach tightened just saying Blythe Finley's name. Last week, after a huge fight at the Pierre Hotel, Cate and Stella had been banished from Chi Beta Phi, the sorority Cate had founded with her best friends Blythe, Priya, and Sophie. The Chi Beta Phis had been the most popular girls at Ashton Prep since forever. And Cate had been in charge, with Blythe as her trusty second-in-command. But on Saturday, while Stella and Cate were fighting over who should be the sorority's president, Blythe staged a coup and turned Priya and Sophie against Cate. So now
instead of planning her campaign for class president or her fifteenth birthday party at Butter, Cate was starting over. But she was still determined to make ninth grade her year. She couldn't let some minor detail—like losing all your “friends”—ruin it.

Margot wrapped an arm around Lola's shoulder and pointed at Winston and Emma. “You two go now! Have fun in Tahiti! We'll survive without you.”

But Winston hovered in the doorway, his gaze settling on Cate and Stella. He scratched the back of his neck. “We'll call you as soon as we get there. And if you need anything at all, you have our number at the hotel.”

“You said that.” Cate inched forward, moving him closer to the door. “Three times.”

“Right.” Winston enveloped Cate in a hug. He smoothed down her dark brown hair. “Just be good.”

Cate glanced sideways at Stella and smiled. “We're going to be just fine.”

Emma and Winston said their final goodbyes, Emma making sure to kiss everyone on both cheeks, Euro style. Then they headed out the door.

Cate watched her dad slide into the backseat of the limo, relieved. Winston and Emma had let them stay home from school today to recover from the wedding, but tomorrow Cate would have to face Blythe, Priya, and Sophie. Blythe was probably in her bedroom right now with
Cate's
friends, planning their first Cate-free sleepover or their Saturday shopping route through SoHo. She and Stella needed to get organized—immediately.

Lola waved as the limo pulled away. “Have a brilliant time!”
she shouted. Then she trailed up the stairs, Andie following behind her.

“Well, I don't know about you, but I'm going to dig into some of that leftover wedding cake,” Margot cooed. She retreated to the kitchen, while Cate and Stella stayed on the front step.

As the car rounded the corner Cate let out a deep breath. “Chi Sigma's reign has officially begun!” she cried, throwing her arms around her new stepsister. “We need to figure out where we're going to sit at lunch tomorrow, and how we're going to announce the sorority.”

“Agreed.” Stella nodded. “I think we should have the meet-and-greet this weekend, for a select group of ninth-grade girls. Maybe in the garden.”

Cate smiled, imagining Betsy Carmichael covering the event for
Ashton News
. She'd walk around the garden, asking girls what they thought of the new sorority.
Much better than Chi Beta Phi
, Paige Mortimer would say, sipping her mojito mocktail.
Cate Sloane should have gone on her own a long time ago.

“And maybe we could have a few of the seniors over one night,” Cate added. “I've always wondered where Ally Pierce gets her vintage jewelry.” Ally was the most popular senior at Ashton Prep.

Just then, Margot's voice echoed from inside the foyer. “Stella! Where are the forks? I can't find anything in this house!”

Stella put her finger in the air. “Hold that thought,” she told Cate. “I'll be right back.” Her blond curls bounced up and down as she strode into the foyer.

Cate stayed on the front step, enjoying the warm early Sep
tember air. She glanced down the tree-lined street. A white truck was parked in front of the town house next door,
ALL-STAR MOVERS
! scrawled across its side in annoyingly enthusiastic red lettering. When the Warburtons moved out last month, Cate had half-jokingly asked her dad to buy the house for her for her birthday.

Two stocky men pulled boxes out of the back of the truck, so drenched with sweat they looked like they were in a wet-T-shirt contest. The front door swung open and someone bounded down the stoop. Not just any someone: the most adorable boy Cate had ever seen.

He was tall, with thick black hair and dark, almond-shaped eyes. He wore a tight gray Haverford T-shirt and had an iPod bud in each ear. Cate sucked in a breath. He didn't belong in the Warburtons' old town house. He belonged shirtless, in a field—like in some Abercrombie & Fitch ad.

Cate twisted her dark brown hair in a ponytail as the boy ran past. “Hi,” he said with a smile, nodding at Cate. She held her breath as she watched him run up Fifth Avenue.

“Hi,” she whispered, five seconds too late. She tugged on the waist of her Juicy sweatpants, determined. From now on, she wasn't going anywhere—to the park, across the street, or even to the front window—without putting on her pearl earrings and her NARS cream blush.

In addition to lunches at Aureole and schmoozing with Ashton upperclassmen, Cate Sloane had a new priority on her to-do list this year: make her hot new neighbor her hot new boyfriend.

 

 

TO: Danny Plimpton
FROM: Cate Sloane
DATE: Monday, 7:13 p.m.
SUBJECT: Intel?

Dear Danny

We've never formally met, but Betsy Carmichael mentioned you collected intel on her Haverford crush this summer. I'd like to hire you on a freelance basis. I'm interested, specifically, in my new next-door neighbor. Perhaps we could discuss more over the phone? I'm at 917–555-2032. Confidentiality is, of course, key.

Regards,
Cate Sloane

 

 

TO: Cate Sloane
FROM: Danny Plimpton
DATE: Tuesday, 9:09 a.m.
SUBJECT: The Eagle

Cate Sloane,

Thank you for requesting my services for the collection of intelligence on Eli Alexander Punch, from here on out referred to as “the Eagle.” This e-mail will serve as the formal agreement: In return for services rendered, you will help me win the heart of your new stepsister, Lola Childs, from here on out referred to as “Beautiful Stranger.” I saw her walking to school last week and I have not been the same since. Any information you can gather—secret likes or dislikes she has, photos, her schedule—will serve as adequate compensation. Most important, I'd like to know if she has a date yet to the Haverford Middle School formal.

I'll text you later today with more information.

Sincerely,
Danny Plimpton

Please note: This e-mail has been vetted by Kirk Plimpton, a partner from the law firm Crowley, Plimpton & Ellis.

“L
et's see those necks, girls—like a swan!” Mrs. Rodriguez called from her mat as she raised her legs a perfect forty-five degrees. “Not a turtle—a swan!”

Stella was standing in the doorway of Ashton Prep's exercise room, where the fourth-period class was finishing up Pilates. Cate hovered behind her, texting on her iPhone like the apocalypse was coming. The class winced as they held their legs in the air. Stella was sweating just watching them.

“This seventh-grader at Haverford is collecting intel,” Cate whispered, tucking her iPhone back into her black cropped Nike pants. “Eli is from Westport, Connecticut, he's half Japanese and half Irish, and completely single.”

“Right, the mysterious Eli Punch,” Stella said. Cate had been talking about their neighbor nonstop for the last twenty-four hours. So far Stella had learned he was five foot eleven, that he wore Saucony running sneakers, and that he'd be Cate's boyfriend in less than a month. But this morning, when they'd walked by
the Warburtons' old town house, the windows were bare, no lights were on, and it still looked just as empty as it had five days ago. Unless Cate was a ghost whisperer, she was out of luck.

“He exists—I
saw
him.” Cate squeezed the mat to her chest, like she was enveloping Eli in a hug. “He has thick black hair and perfect skin, and when he says hi, he kind of tips his chin forward like he's pointing at you with his nose.” Cate made the same gesture, nodding slightly at Stella.

A stream of girls pushed out of the room, patting their foreheads with paper towels. Even with the air-conditioning blasting on high, the place still smelled of old gym clothes. Stella caught Mrs. Rodriguez admiring her own triceps, like she was in some bad Pilates infomercial.

As Cate plopped down on her mat, Paige Mortimer and Betsy Carmichael strolled past. “Hi, Cate,” Paige called. She glanced around Stella, as though Priya, Sophie, and Blythe might've been hiding behind her back. “Where is everybody?” she asked.

“This
is
everybody,” Cate said. “You know my stepsister Stella, right?” Paige offered Stella a weak smile. The two girls unrolled their mats near the mirror, and Betsy whispered something in Paige's ear.

Cate pulled her legs into a butterfly stretch, bouncing her knees up and down nervously. She'd only missed one day of school, but Blythe had used it to her advantage. She had already told people about the fight at the Pierre and how
she
was president of the sorority now. She even renamed them the Beta Sigma Phis. In the bathroom this morning, Cate had overheard Shelley DeWitt speculating whether or not Blythe would join Ashton's
improv team, or if Blythe's new sorority was going to the Turtle Pond after school. She'd only mentioned Cate once—to say how sad it was that she was stuck hanging out with “that British girl” until Blythe forgave her. Cate could handle not being friends with Blythe. But she couldn't handle being treated like any of the hundred and two ninth-graders at Ashton. Because she wasn't just anyone. She was
Cate Sloane
. “We have to go to Jackson Hole after school, or lie out on the Great Lawn. We need people to recognize that we're a sorority.” She studied Stella's face, chewing the MAC gloss off her bottom lip. “It's just hard…because you're still new.”

Stella let those words sink in.
You're still new
. Cate might as well have said,
You have boils all over your body
, or
You have a third arm growing out of your forehead
. But Stella couldn't deny it—she'd only been at Ashton Prep for a little over a week. Even if she and Cate were friends again, the school was still as foreign as Cairo or Hong Kong. Besides Cate and the estranged Chi Beta Phis, she didn't know one single person in the upper school. Just today she'd mistaken the janitor's closet for the loo. “Let's have the meet-and-greet tomorrow then,” Stella offered. “The sooner the better.”

She glanced at the clock on the wall. Right now it was four twelve in London, which meant her best friends Pippa and Bridget were done at Millshire Prep for the day. She'd talked to Pippa once since she'd been in New York. For less than three minutes, online. Of course it would be hard to keep in touch with the time difference, Stella had always known that. But they had her new mobile number, the number at the
town house, and her new address. Every day she checked the mailbox—looking for a card, a care package, anything—but all she found was Winston's
Financial Times
and some flyers for Venezia Pizza.

Just then, Blythe strolled into the room, Sophie and Priya trailing behind her. They were all wearing identical gym clothes: gray yoga pants and purple V-neck tank tops.

“Funny seeing you here,” Blythe called as she unrolled her mat in the far corner. She'd spent two full days sending threatening texts, assuming Cate and Stella would beg and bribe for her forgiveness (
FYI: DECIDING ON UR 1ST TRIAL. THERE'S A PURPLE BOTKIER BAG I WANT AT NORDSTROM, HAVING A BETA SIGMA PHI PARTY 2NIGHT—2 BAD U GUYS CAN'T COME
…) but Cate had insisted they ignore Blythe, and Stella agreed. They didn't want to announce Chi Sigma until the meet-and-greet in the garden. Stella stretched over her toes, pretending to have a sudden interest in her shins.

“Pathetic!” Cate hissed, as she eyed their V-neck tanks. “I never made the Chi Beta Phis wear matching outfits—the most important part of fashion is
individuality
. I bet you from now on they only wear shirts that show off Blythe's boobs.” A few more girls trickled in as Blythe and the Beta Sigma Phis sat down on their mats. Cate reached toward her ankle, but her gaze was still on her old friends.

“Forget them,” Stella whispered, knowing it was easier said than done. She'd just met the girls, but even she was having trouble forgetting them…and everything else that had happened last week. She and Cate still hadn't talked about their fight, and
Cate certainly hadn't apologized. Not for telling her friends about her father's affair with the pop singer Cloud McClean, not for putting Stella “in trials” to make her prove she was worthy enough to be a member of Chi Beta Phi. Even at the wedding, as they danced to the band's rendition of “Rock Your Body,” Cate kept glancing at the door. Stella couldn't help but wonder if she was waiting for her
real
friends to arrive.

Cate gripped her shin with her sweaty palm, trying hard not to look up. The last time she'd spoken to her friends was at the Pierre. She'd managed to go three whole days without responding to Blythe's texts or talking to Sophie and Priya on IM. But she could barely eat, and when she heard Blythe's name her entire body tensed up. Everything—the framed photos on her dresser, the four matching sleeping bags in her closet, or the Feist songs Priya had put on her iPod—reminded her of her ex-friends.

She felt for the Tiffany locket on her neck. Blythe had given it to her as a gift so her mom could be with her, always, wherever she went. Cate knew Blythe, Priya, and Sophie were mad, but her father had gotten married two days ago, and none of them had even asked her about it. Priya said nothing in homeroom, and Sophie barely looked at her when she passed her in the hall. It was as though their Beta Sigma Phi hazing involved Cate Sloane lobotomies.

Cate glanced across the room just as Blythe approached. She was swinging a disinfectant spray bottle in her hand, Priya and Sophie close behind her. Sophie offered a quick little wave, looking like she was on the verge of tears. She was never good at fighting with anyone. Even when Priya slow danced with
Sophie's Haverford crush at the eighth-grade bon voyage dance, she'd only stayed mad for twenty minutes.

“Oh, how the mighty have fallen,” Blythe cooed, her gaze settling on Cate. She put her hands on her hips, sticking out her newest assets.

“Wow.” Cate glanced at Blythe's yoga pants. “I'm surprised you managed to put a whole outfit together by yourself. It must be hard for you to function without my running commentary on your life.” As the former president, Cate was always the one who gave final verdicts on outfits, the one who marked everyone's birthdays (and half birthdays) on her iCalendar, and planned every sleepover three weeks in advance so they never conflicted with Blythe's weekends in L.A. with her dad, or the times when Priya's sister was home.

“I'm doing just fine—thanks for your concern.” Blythe turned to Stella. “Ready for your first trial? My dad's visiting next weekend with my baby brother—I could use someone on twenty-four-hour diaper duty.”

“Isn't that what Priya and Sophie are for?” Stella asked innocently.

Priya's nose scrunched in disgust. “Very funny,” she mumbled.

“I don't want to change diapers,” Sophie whispered nervously, tugging on a flattened strand of light brown hair.

Blythe ignored her. She cracked her knuckles so loud the entire room turned around. Eleanor Donner and her friends were perched on the edge of their mats, as though they were watching an episode of
The Real World: Ashton Prep
. “I need to see some more enthusiasm, girls. It's going to be an incredibly
busy year for me, being the new
president
of Beta Sigma Phi and all.” She paused, as though she were appreciating the sound of the word
president
. “I don't have time for your games.”

Cate could feel Paige and Betsy's eyes on them, watching from the other side of the room. “We're not playing games,” she said through clenched teeth.

Blythe pressed the disinfectant bottle into Cate's hands. “You can start by wiping down my mat. Kimberly Berth was practicing over there, and now it reeks of her Britney Spears perfume.”

“Actually,” Cate said coolly, “there won't be any trials. We're starting our own sorority.” She pressed the spray bottle back into Blythe's hand, the pink liquid sloshing around inside. Cate watched Blythe's smile fall.

“So, in other words,” Stella hissed, “wipe down your own bloody mat.” She was good at a lot of things—still-life drawing, talking Bridget and Pippa out of boy-induced moping, finding Heath Bar whenever Lola frantically claimed he'd “run away”—but she'd never been good at taking orders. “We have more important things to worry about. It's very demanding, being in the most popular clique at Ashton Prep.”

Blythe leaned down, like she was addressing two small dogs. “Nice try, but two people isn't a clique,” she pointed out. “It's just
friends
.” She smiled triumphantly. The Beta Sigma Phis stalked back to the other side of the room and spread out on their mats, a bundle of gray legs and purple torsos.

“What does Blythe know?” Stella whispered under her breath. She reached her arms above her head.

Cate glanced around. There, in front of the room, Eleanor
Donner and her four friends were stretching against the wall. There, by the mirror, Shelley DeWitt was practicing plank with Betsy Carmichael and Paige Mortimer. And there—sitting all by themselves—were she and Stella. Two
friends.

As Eleanor's clique erupted in laughter, Cate couldn't help but feel that maybe—just this once—Blythe had a point.

BOOK: Survival of the Fiercest
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