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Authors: Diana Peterfreund

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Humorous, #Contemporary Women

Under the Rose (3 page)

BOOK: Under the Rose
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He didn’t take too kindly to it.

George nudged me. “Check it out: Mara Taserati.”

One of our missing members, in the flesh. I watched the girl go head-to-head with the famous scholar and realized why the Diggers found her so attractive. Like most of the women that comprised my tap class—the first ever to include females—Mara was a power player. Ranked high in the academic and political strata of the student body, she fancied herself a young Ann Coulter. She hadn’t been on campus last semester, so though we’d been given word she’d accepted the Rose & Grave tap, she’d never been initiated into the Order.

“Did you know she’d be here?” I whispered back.

“No, I’m just
really
into Shakespeare. What do you think?” He held open the pocket of the oxford he wore over his T-shirt and flashed me a glimpse of glossy, black-edged paper. “Check it out, Boo.” Standing, he sauntered toward the front of the auditorium. George, being George, soon had the eye of every female in the joint. He reached the podium, swiped three copies of the syllabus, gave Professor Branch a little salute, and returned. He winked at me from behind his copper-rimmed glasses and passed me a copy.

“Wow, what a maneuver, George,” Josh said, with mock admiration. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone disrupt a lecture so thoroughly.”

“Keep watching.”

But nothing happened for the next forty-five minutes, aside from a truly illuminating lesson on the theory that, owing to his fictionality, spoiled college kid Hamlet was actually a more real person than any of the real college kids gracing Professor Branch’s lecture hall. Maybe after our uncles killed our dads and married our moms, we’d catch up. We were gathering our bags when I heard the gasp.

Mara Taserati was staring into her bag, her hand clamped over her mouth. When she didn’t make any further move, the other students shrugged her off. Josh and I, in unison, leaned back in our seats and waited while the room emptied out around us. George braced his hands behind his head and put his feet up on the row of chairs in front of him. Far below us, Mara reached her hand back into her bag and drew out a square white envelope, edged in glossy black and sealed with a dollop of black wax.

I knew what was in that envelope. Once upon a time, I’d received one just like it.

She raised her eyes to our row. George stood, slowly, and his infamous knowing smile took on a whole new meaning. “Welcome back, Mara,” he said in a voice that made me realize why Odile had given him a speaking part in these proceedings. “How was your trip?”

Even from twelve rows away, I could see her shiver.

 

I hereby confess:

There’s something rotten

in the state of Digger.

 

2.

Party Lines

Is it possible to feel nostalgia for something that’s not over? The start of senior year at Eli seemed engineered to evoke that emotion at every opportunity. Special receptions, teas, parties, barbecues, meetings, lectures, symposiums, brunches—everything proclaimed “The best years of your life are coming to an end!”

Actually, my roommate, Lydia, had a different explanation. “They’re priming the pump for the alumni giving fund. Wait and see.”

I maintain that if they expect to hit me up for extra dough after my monthly student loan bill, they’re unfamiliar with the twenty-thou-a-year—in Manhattan!—editorial internship I have waiting for me after graduation. (That is, if I go to Manhattan. More on that later.)

Tonight’s Prescott College reception was par for the course, but as I’d told George this afternoon, at least there would be free beer.

I stood in front of my desk, brushing my hair with one hand and scrolling through my “welcome back” message from the dean of the Lit department with the other. My hair had grown out a bit over the summer, and in August, I’d capitulated to Odile’s prodding and gotten funky red highlights. She said it would match my tattoo. Of course, not many people saw said tattoo, so my correlated coloring hadn’t gotten the appreciation it deserved from anyone who wasn’t one of the five “Diggirls.”

In her adjoining bedroom, Lydia was singing. If ever a girl loved shopping period, it was my best friend. But I don’t think I’d ever seen her as happy as she was when she got back to the suite earlier. I wandered out to the wood-paneled common room, but her bedroom door was still shut, its whiteboard decorated with a blue ink smiley face sporting orange ink pigtails.

Singing and pigtails? Yeah, I was going to hear about this later on for sure. (Unless it was about something going on in her own secret society.) But as long as she was busy…

I ducked back into my room, carefully angled my computer screen away from the door, and minimized my Eli mail window.

A moment later, I was logged on to my
other
e-mail account. One new message.

 

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: good luck tomorrow!

 

how’s my favorite little sib? all set for the stragglers? do me a favor, and try not to tear apart the foundations of the society at the initiation. i know that’s what you’re famous for. give poe a hug for me, huh?

 

“Hey,” Lydia said, sticking her head in. “Ready to go?”

“Yeah, just a minute,” I responded. “I’m reading an e-mail.” I took a deep breath.
Don’t ask from whom.
How was I to explain my sudden kinship with the wildly popular and recently graduated Malcolm Cabot? But Lydia made it easy on me.

“Okay.” She ducked out.

 

everything’s great up here. it’s so beautiful, bugaboo, i wish you could see it. i’ve been making a few friends, but we rarely talk about anything but fish. (that reminds me, give hale a heads-up to expect a large shipment of halibut.) i won’t lie; it’s been a bit of a letdown after the kind of closeness I had w/ the d’s at e, but I guess that’s the point. nothing is ever going to be like r&g. i’m going into juno at the end of the month. should be a fun trip. you know what they say about alaska: five men for every woman. though they never do mention how many men for every man.;-)

 

on the homefront, the latest report says i’m suffering from *exhaustion*—

 

“You know,” Lydia said, very close. I jumped a foot. She stood beside me, idly rooting through the earrings scattered across the top of my dresser. “If we get there after all the Master’s seven-layer cookies are gone, I’ll never speak to you again.”

Could she see? The text was small, and there were no incriminating graphics on the page. Just to be sure, I alt-tabbed back to the mailbox and minimized.

A second before the screen disappeared, I caught sight of another bold subject heading in my in-box.
New mail.

 

WARNING: AMY HASKEL

 

Lydia waved a hand in front of my face. “Ames. Let’s go.”

I slammed the laptop closed.

Lydia jumped back. “I wasn’t snooping!”

Who sent that? Who was using my
barbarian
name to send me e-mail on the secret Diggers-only, society terminology–only, society time-stamps–only e-mail? It had to be from another knight of Rose & Grave. Only they knew of our secret domain or the configurations of our e-mail addresses. This had better be some kind of joke—something worth the two dollar fine for using barbarian names in society missives.

“There’s no reason to freak out,” my roommate continued.

But there was. Because Phimalarlico webmail was only supposed to come from others in the phimalarlico.org domain. It was a “virtual tomb”—no one but Diggers inside, heavily password-protected, no barbarians allowed.

Lydia was still talking. “Ten seconds and I’m leaving without you.”

“No, wait!” I cried. “I promise, ten seconds, I just have to—”

Lydia rolled her eyes and stalked out, murmuring, “Ten—nine—eight…”

I opened my laptop again.

 

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject:
WARNING: AMY HASKEL

 

YOU THINK ITS OVER BUT ITS NOT
FROM WITHIN DOTH PERSEPHONE ROT

 

I closed the window as the hairs on the back of my neck rose. Leaving aside for a moment the lack of apostrophes and phenomenally bad sense of rhythm in the poem (you can take the girl out of the editorial office…), it was one seriously chilling message.

And it apparently came from me. Which meant someone out there, who knew my society identity—which, I guess, could be any Digger—had hacked into my regular e-mail in order to send it to me. What was I supposed to do? If I told the other Diggers, it would seem as if the security leak was my fault, as if I’d somehow been less-than-discreet about my society e-mail.

“Two, one and a half, one!” Lydia warned from the common room.

“Coming!” I called, and rushed to meet her.

We’d “squatted” during the housing lottery last spring, betting on keeping our top-pick junior suite rather than risking a crappy draw that might lead to a less-than-desirable senior year rooming situation. Like something on the fourth floor. It might be great for our calves, but so not worth the hassle.

Lydia stood near the door, arms crossed, foot tapping. “Can you tell me what was so important, or is it verboten?”

I fingered the Rose & Grave pin I was wearing inside my pocket. “Some bizarre
Salon
op-ed.”

“Aren’t they
all
bizarre?”

“Says the woman addicted to Daily Kos?” I replied as we lumbered down the steps of the entryway and into the Prescott College courtyard.

The air was still late-August warm and all the windows of Prescott were open, showering snatches of hip-hop music, scholarly debates, video game sound effects, roommate squabbles, and cello tuning onto the students milling about on the lawn. The cacophony was a signature start-of-term sound, one I would no doubt associate with Eli for the rest of my life.

Beneath a yellow pool of light from a lamppost, a group of students kicked around a hackey sack. Nearby, a circle of outdoor types sat tailor-style in the grass, drinking from Nalgene bottles and reminiscing about the bonding they’d done on their freshmen outdoor orientation trips. In a small stone niche, two black-clad Theater majors were smoking and arguing about whether their company should start out the year with Ibsen (too trendy), Sartre (too light), Miller (too chaste), or Williams (too avant-garde).

We arrived at the Master’s house, and if the crowd we glimpsed inside was anything to go by, we’d definitely missed the seven-layer cookies. At the door, we were met by George Harrison Prescott, who was holding fast to the arm of a pretty, dark-haired woman.

“George, let go of me. I’m perfectly capable of walking by myself,” she said, then proceeded to tumble off the stoop.

Lydia and I were right in position to catch her.

“Excuse me, I’m so sorry,” the woman said quickly, straightening her body, her skirt, and her hair. I glanced at George, who was wearing an expression I’d never seen before. His jaw was all tight. It did wonderful things for his cheekbones, which already deserved kudos.

“Mom, these are some of my Prescott College friends. This is Lydia Travinecek and Amy Haskel. Ladies, this is my mother, Kate Anderson Prescott.”

The woman eyed us. “George Harrison doesn’t have
girl
friends,” she said coolly. “Like father, like son.” Then she turned and marched toward the drama couple—who had moved on to a discussion about whether or not Shakespeare was too obvious—to bum a cigarette.

I swallowed and looked at George, whose permasmile was back in place. “Long story,” he said with a shrug.

The door opened again, and out came a very distinguished-looking man in his mid-forties. He glanced quickly around the corridor before his gaze landed on our little group. When his eyes met mine, his eyebrows raised, and I got a good look at the copper-colored eyes George had inherited. “You!” the man said.

“You’re looking young, Mr. Prescott,” I replied. The last time I’d seen this man, he’d been wearing Academy Award–quality aging makeup, a gray wig, and a mask made of roses.

BOOK: Under the Rose
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