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S& n




Serena was holding Nates hand loosely in hers, swinging it back and forth.

Remember Buck Naked? she asked him, laughing softly.

Nate chuckled, still embarrassed, even after all these years. Buck Naked was Nates alter ego, invented at a party in eighth grade, when most of them had gotten drunk for the first time. After drinking six beers, Nate had taken his shirt off, and Serena and Blair had drawn a goofy, buck-toothed face on his torso in black marker. For some reason the face brought out the devil in Nate, and he started a drinking game. Everyone sat in a circle and Nate stood in the middle, holding a Latin textbook and shouting out verbs for them to conjugate. The first person to mess up had to drink and kiss Buck Naked. Of course they all messed up, boys and girls alike, so Buck got a lot of action that night. The next morning, Nate tried to pretend it hadnt happened, but the proof was inked on his skin. It took weeks for Buck to wash off in the shower.

And what about the Red Sea? Serena said. She studied Nates face. Neither of them was smiling now.

The Red Sea, Nate repeated, drowning in the deep blue lakes of her eyes. Of course he remembered. How could he forget?

One hot August weekend, the summer after tenth grade, Nate had been in the city with his dad, while the rest of the Archibald family was still in Maine. Serena was up in her country house in Ridgefield, Connecticut, so bored shed painted each of her fingernails and toenails a different color. Blair was at the Waldorf castle in Gleneagles, Scotland, at her aunts wedding. But that hadnt stopped her two best friends from having fun without her. When Nate called, Serena hopped right on the New Haven line into Grand Central Station.

Nate met Serena on the platform. She stepped off the train wearing a light blue silk slip dress and pink rubber flip-flops. Her yellow hair hung loose, just touching her bare shoulders. She wasnt carrying a bag, not even a wallet or keys. To Nate, she looked like an angel. How lucky he was. Life didnt get any better than the moment when Serena flip-flopped down the platform, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed him on the lips. That wonderful, surprising kiss.



First they had martinis at the little bar upstairs by the Vanderbilt Avenue entrance to Grand Central. Then they got a cab straight up Park Avenue to Nates Eighty-second Street townhouse. His father was entertaining some foreign bankers and was going to be out until very late, so Serena and Nate had the place to themselves. Oddly enough, it was the first time theyd ever been alone together and noticed.

It didnt take long.

They sat out in the garden, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Nate was wearing a long-sleeved polo shirt, and the weather was extremely hot, so he took it off. His shoulders were scattered with tiny freckles, and his back was muscled and tan from hours at the docks, building a sailboat with his father up in Maine.

Serena was hot too, so she climbed into the fountain. She sat on the marble Venus de Milo statues knee, splashing herself with water until her dress was soaked through.

It wasnt difficult to see who the real goddess was. Venus looked like a lumpy pile of marble compared to Serena. Nate staggered over to the fountain and got in with her, and soon they were tearing the rest of each others clothes off. It was August after all. The only way to tolerate the city in August is to get naked.



Nate was worried about the security cameras trained on his parents house at all times, front and back, so he led Serena inside and up to his parents bedroom.

The rest is history.

They both had sex for the first time. It was awkward and painful and exciting and fun, and so sweet they forgot to be embarrassed. It was exactly the way youd want your first time to be, and they had no regrets. Afterwards, they turned on the television, which was tuned to the History Channel, a documentary about the Red Sea. Serena and Nate lay in bed, holding each other and looking up at the clouds through the skylight overhead, while they listened to the narrator of the program talk about Moses parting the Red Sea.

Serena thought that was hilarious.

You parted my Red Sea! she howled, wrestling Nate against the pillows.

Nate laughed and rolled her up in the sheet like a mummy. And now I will leave you here as a sacrifice to the Holy Land! he said in a deep, horror-movie voice.

And he did leave her, for a little while. He got up and ordered a huge feast of Chinese food and bad white wine, and they lay in bed and ate and drank, and he parted her Red Sea once again before the sky grew dark and the stars twinkled in the skylight.

A week later, Serena went away to boarding school at Hanover Academy, while Nate and Blair stayed behind in New York. Ever since, Serena had spent every vacation awaythe Austrian Alps at Christmas, the Dominican Republic for Easter, the summer traveling in Europe. This was the first time shed been back, the first time she and Nate had seen each other since the parting of the Red Sea.



Blair doesnt know, does she? Serena asked Nate quietly.

Blair who? Nate thought, with a momentary case of amnesia. He shook his head. No, he said. If you havent told her, she doesnt know.

But Chuck Bass knew, which was almost worse. Nate had blurted the information out at a party only two nights ago in a drunken fit of complete stupidity. Theyd been doing shots, and Chuck had asked, So, Nate. What was your all time best fuck? That is, if youve done it all yet.

Well, I did it with Serena van der Woodsen, Nate had bragged, like an idiot.

And Chuck wasnt going to keep it a secret for long. It was way too juicy and way too useful. Chuck didnt need to read that book How to Win Friends and Influence People. He fucking wrote it. Although he wasnt doing so well in the friends department.

Serena didnt seem to notice Nates uncomfortable silence. She sighed, bowing her head to rest it on his shoulder. She no longer smelled like Chanels Cristalle like she always used to. She smelled like honey and sandalwood and liliesher own essential-oil mixture. It was very Serena, utterly irresistible, but if anyone else tried to wear it, it would probably smell like dog poo.

Shit. I missed you like crazy, Nate, she said. I wish you couldve seen the stuff I pulled. I was so bad.

What do you mean? What did you do that was so bad? Nate asked, with a mixture of dread and anticipation. For a brief second he imagined her hosting orgies in her dorm room at Hanover Academy and having affairs with older men in hotel rooms in Paris. He wished he couldve visited her in Europe this summer. Hed always wanted to do it in a hotel.

And Ive been such a horrible friend, too, Serena went on. Ive barely even talked to Blair since I left. And so much has happened. I can already tell shes mad. She hasnt even said hello.

Shes not mad, Nate said. Maybe shes just feeling shy.

Serena flashed him a look. Right, she said mockingly. Blairs feeling shy. Since when has Blair ever been shy?

Well, shes not mad, Nate insisted.

Serena shrugged. Well, anyway, Im so psyched to be back here with you guys. Well do all the things we used to do. Blair and I will cut class and meet you on the roof of the Met, and then well run down to that old movie theater by the Plaza Hotel and see some weirdo film until cocktail hour starts. And you and Blair will stay together forever and Ill be the maid of honor at your wedding. And well be happy ever after, just like in the movies.

Nate frowned.

Dont make that face, Nate, Serena said, laughing. That doesnt sound so bad, does it?

Nate shrugged. No, I guess it sounds okay, he said, although he clearly didnt believe it.

What sounds okay? a surly voice demanded.

Startled, Nate and Serena tore their eyes away from each other. It was Chuck, and with him were Kati, Isabel, and, last but not least, Blair, looking very shy indeed.

Chuck clapped Nate on the back. Sorry, Nate, he said. But you cant bogey the van der Woodsen all night, you know.

Nate snorted and tipped back his glass. Only ice was left.

Serena looked at Blair. Or at least, she tried to. Blair was making a big deal of pulling up her black stockings, working them inch by inch from her bony ankles up to her bony knees, and up around her tennis-muscled thighs. So Serena gave up and kissed first Kati, then Isabel, and then she made her way to Blair.

There was only a limited amount of time Blair could spend pulling up her tights before it got ridiculous. When Serena was only inches away from her, she looked up and pretended to be surprised.

Hey Blair, Serena said excitedly. She put her hands on the shorter girls shoulders and bent down to kiss both of her cheeks. Im so sorry I didnt call you before I came back. I wanted to. But things have been so crazy. I have so much to tell you!

Chuck, Kati, and Isabel all nudged each other and stared at Blair. It was pretty obvious she had lied. She didnt know anything about Serena coming back.

Blairs face heated up.

Busted.

Nate noticed the tension, but he thought it was for an entirely different reason. Had Chuck told Blair already? Was he busted? Nate couldnt tell. Blair wasnt even looking at him.

It was a chilly moment. Not the kind of moment youd expect to have with your oldest, closest friends.

Serenas eyes darted from one face to another. Clearly she had said something wrong, and she quickly guessed what it was. Im such an asshole, she scolded herself.

I mean, Im sorry I didnt call you last night. I literally just got back from Ridgefield. My parents have been hiding me there until they figured out what to do with me. I have been so bored.

Nice save.

She waited for Blair to smile gratefully for covering for her, but all Blair did was glance at Kati and Isabel to see if theyd noticed the slip. Blair was acting strange, and Serena fought down a rising panic. Maybe Nate was wrong, maybe Blair really was mad at her. Serena had missed out on so much. The divorce, for instance. Poor Blair.

It must really stink without your dad around, Serena said. But your mom looks so good, and Cyrus is kind of sweet, once you get used to him. She giggled.

But Blair still wasnt smiling. Maybe, she said, staring out the window at the hot-dog stand. I guess Im still not used to him.

All six of them were silent for a long, tense moment.

What they needed was one more good, stiff drink.

Nate rattled the ice cubes in his glass. Who wants another? he offered. Ill make them.

Serena held out her glass. Thanks, Nate, she said. Im so fucking thirsty. They locked the damned booze cabinet up in Ridgefield. Can you believe it?

Blair shook her head. No, thanks, she said.

If I have another, Ill be hungover at school tomorrow, Kati said.

Isabel laughed. Youre always hungover at school, she said. She handed Nate her glass. Here, Ill split mine with Kati.

Let me give you a hand, Chuck offered. But before he could get very far, Mrs. van der Woodsen joined them, touching her daughters arm.

Serena, her mother said. Eleanor would like us all to sit down. She made an extra place next to Blair for you, so you two girls can catch up.

Serena cast an anxious glance at Blair, but Blair had already turned away and was headed for the table, sitting down next to her eleven-year-old brother, Tyler, who had been at his place for over an hour, reading Rolling Stone magazine. Tylers idol was that movie director, Cameron Crowe, who had toured with Led Zeppelin when he was only fifteen. Tyler refused to listen to CDs, insisting that real vinyl records were the only way to go. Blair worried her brother was turning into a loser.

Serena steeled herself and pulled up a chair in the space next to Blair.

Blair, Im sorry Ive been such a complete asshole, she said, removing her linen napkin from its silver ring and spreading it out on her lap. Your parents splitting up must have totally sucked.

Blair shrugged and grabbed a fresh sourdough roll from a basket on the table. She tore the roll in half and stuffed one half into her mouth. The other guests were still making their way toward the table and figuring out where to sit. Blair knew it was rude to eat before everyone was seated, but if her mouth was full, she couldnt talk, and she really didnt feel like talking.

I wish Id been here, Serena said, watching Blair smear the other half of her roll with a thick slab of French butter. But I had a crazy year. I have the most insane stories to tell you.

Blair nodded and chewed her roll slowly, like a cow chewing its cud. Serena waited for Blair to ask her what kind of stories, but Blair didnt say anything, she just kept on chewing. She didnt want to hear about all the fabulous things Serena had done while she was away and Blair had been stuck at home, watching her parents fight over antique chairs that nobody sat on, teacups nobody used, and ugly, expensive paintings.

Serena had wanted to tell Blair about Charles, the only Rastafarian at Hanover Academy, whod asked her to elope with him to Jamaica. About Nicholas, the French college guy who never wore underwear and whod chased her train in a tiny Fiat all the way from Paris to Milan. About smoking hash in Amsterdam and sleeping in a park with a group of drunk prostitutes because she forgot where she was staying. She wanted to tell Blair how much it sucked to find out that Hanover Academy wouldnt take her back senior year simply because shed blown off the first few weeks of school. She wanted to tell Blair how scared she was to go back to Constance tomorrow because she hadnt exactly been studying very hard in the last year and she felt so completely out of touch.

But Blair wasnt interested. She grabbed another roll and took a big bite.

Wine, miss? Esther said, standing at Serenas left with the bottle.

Yes, thank you, Serena said. She watched the Côte du Rhone spill into her glass and thought of the Red Sea once more. Maybe Blair does know, she thought. Was that what this was all about? Was that why she was acting so weird?

Serena glanced at Nate, four chairs down on the right, but he was deep in conversation with her father. Talking about boats no doubt.

So, you and Nate are still totally together? Serena said, taking a risk. I bet you guys wind up married.

Blair gulped her wine, her little ruby ring rattling against the glass. She reached for the butter, slapping a great big wad on her roll.

Hello? Blair? Serena said, nudging her friends arm. Are you okay?

Yeah, Blair slurred. It was less an answer to Serenas question than a vague, general statement made to fill a blank space while she was tending to her roll. Im fine.

Esther brought out the duck and the acorn squash soufflé and the wilted chard and the lingonberry sauce, and the table was filled with the sound of clanking plates and silver and murmurs of delicious. Blair heaped her plate high with food and attacked it as if she hadnt eaten in weeks. She didnt care if she made herself sick, as long as she didnt have to talk to Serena.

Whoa, Serena said, watching Blair stuff her face. You must be hungry.

Blair nodded and shoveled a forkful of chard into her mouth. She washed it down with a gulp of wine. Im starving, she said.

So, Serena, Cyrus Rose called down from the head of the table. Tell me about France. Your mother says you were in the South of France this summer. Is it true the French girls dont wear tops on the beach?

Yes, its true, Serena said. She raised one eyebrow playfully. But its not just the French girls. I never wore a top down there, either. How else could I get a decent tan?

Blair gagged on an enormous bite of soufflé and spat it into her wine. It floated on the surface of the crimson liquid like a soggy dumpling until Esther whisked it away and brought her a clean glass.

No one noticed. Serena had the tables attention, and she kept her audience captive with stories of her travels in Europe right through dessert. When Blair had finished her second plate of duck, she ate a huge bowl full of chocolate-laced tapioca pudding, tuning out Serenas voice as she spooned it into her mouth. Finally her stomach rebelled, and she shot up suddenly, scraping her chair back and running down the hall to her bedroom, straight into its adjoining bathroom.

Blair? Serena called after her. She stood up. Excuse me, she said, and hurried away to see what was the matter. She didnt have to move that fast; Blair wasnt going anywhere.

When Chuck saw Blair get up from the table, and then Serena, he nodded knowingly and nudged Isabel with his elbow. Blairs getting the dirt, he whispered. Fucking awesome.

Nate watched the two girls flee the table with a mounting sense of unease. He was pretty sure the only thing girls talked about in the bathroom was sex.

And mostly, hed be right.

Blair kneeled over the toilet and stuck her middle finger as far down her throat as it would go. Her eyes began to tear and then her stomach convulsed. Shed done this before, many times. It was disgusting and horrible, and she knew she shouldnt do it, but at least shed feel better when it was over.

The door to her bathroom was only half closed, and Serena could hear her friend retching inside.

Blair, its me, Serena said quietly. Are you okay?

Ill be out in a minute, Blair snapped, wiping her mouth. She stood up and flushed the toilet.

Serena pushed the door open and Blair turned and glared at her. Im fine, Blair said. Really.

Serena put the lid down on the toilet seat and sat down. Oh, dont be such a bitch, Blair, she said, exasperated. Whats the deal? Its me, remember? We know everything about each other.

Blair reached for her toothbrush and toothpaste. We used to, she said and began brushing her teeth furiously. She spat out a wad of green foam. When was the last time we talked, anyway? Like, the summer before last?

Serena looked down at her scuffed brown leather boots. I know. Im sorry. I suck, she said.

Blair rinsed her toothbrush off and stuck it back in the holder. She stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Well, you missed a lot, she said, wiping a smudge of mascara from beneath her eye with the tip of her pinky. I mean, last year was really . . . different. Shed been about to say hard, but hard made her sound like a victim. Like shed barely survived without Serena around. Different was better.

Blair glanced down at Serena sitting on the toilet, with a sudden sense of power. Nate and I have become really close, you know. We tell each other everything.

Yeah, right.

The two girls eyed each other warily for a moment. Then Serena shrugged. Well dont worry about me and Nate, she said. Were just friends, you know that. And besides, Im tired of boys.

The corners of Blairs mouth curled up. Serena obviously wanted her to ask why, why was she tired of boys? But Blair wasnt going to give her the satisfaction. She tugged her sweater down and glanced at her reflection one more time. Ill see you back in there, she said, and abruptly left the bathroom.

Shit, Serena thought, but she stayed where she was. It was no use going after Blair now, while she was obviously in such a crappy mood. Things would be better tomorrow at school. She and Blair would have one of their famous heart-to-hearts in the lunchroom over lemon yogurts and romaine lettuce. It wasnt like they could just stop being friends.

Serena stood up and examined her eyebrows in the bathroom mirror, using Blairs tweezers to pluck a few stray hairs. She pulled a tube of Urban Decay Gash lip gloss from her pocket and smeared another layer on her lips. Then she picked up Blairs hairbrush and began brushing her hair. Finally, she peed and rejoined the dinner party, forgetting her lip gloss on Blairs sink.

When Serena sat down, Blair was eating her second helping of pudding, and Nate was drawing a small-scale picture of his kick-ass sailboat for Cyrus on the back of a matchbook. Across the table Chuck raised his wine glass to clink it with Serenas. She had no idea what she was toasting, but she was always up for anything.

 

 

Disclaimer: All the real names of places, people, and events have been altered or abbreviated to protect the innocent. Namely, me.

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: 2015-09-15; : 3;







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