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A Novel by Cecily von Ziegesar
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gone with the wind gone awry
Two martinis and three rolls of Remi brothers' film later, Serena jumped out of a cab in front of Constance and ran up the stairs to the auditorium, where the interschool play rehearsal had already begun. As always, she was half an hour late.
The sound of a Talking Heads song being played jauntily on the piano drifted down the hallway. Serena pushed open the auditorium door to find her old friend, Ralph Bottoms III, singing Burning Down the South, to the tune of Burning Down the House, with a completely straight face. He was dressed as Rhett Butler, complete with fake mustache and brass buttons. Ralph had gained weight in the last two years, and his face was ruddy, as if he'd been eating too much rare steak. He was holding hands with a stocky girl with curly brown hair and a heart-shaped face—Scarlett O'Hara. She was singing too, belting out the words in a thick Brooklyn accent.
Serena leaned against the wall to watch, with a mixture of horror and fascination. The scene at the art gallery hadn't fazed her, but this—this was scary.
When the song ended, the rest of the Interschool Drama Club clapped and cheered, and then the drama teacher, an aged English woman, began to direct the next scene.
"Put your hands on your hips, Scarlett," she instructed. "Show me, show me. That's it. Imagine you're the teen sensation of the Civil War South. You're breaking all the rules!"
Serena turned to gaze out the window and saw three girls get out of a cab together on the corner of Ninety-third and Madison. She squinted, recognizing Blair, Kati, and Isabel. Serena hugged herself, warding off the strange feeling that had been stalking her since she'd come back to the city. For the first time in her entire life, she felt left out.
Without a word to anyone in the drama club—Hello? Goodbye!—Serena slipped out of the auditorium and into the hallway outside. The wall was littered with flyers and notices and she stopped to read them. One of the flyers was for Vanessa Abrams's film tryout.
Knowing Vanessa, the film was going to be very serious and obscure, but it was better than shouting goofy songs and doing the Hokey-Pokey with fat, red-faced Ralph Bottoms III. Vanessa's tryout had started an hour ago, on a bench in Madison Square Park, but maybe it was still going on. Once again, Serena found herself running for a cab, headed downtown.
"This is how I want you to do it," Vanessa told Marjorie Jaffe, a sophomore at Constance and the only girl who had shown up to try out for the role of Natasha in Vanessa's film. Marjorie had curly red hair and freckles, a little pug nose, and no neck. She chewed gum incessantly, and she was completely, nightmarishly, wrong for the part.
The sun was setting, and Madison Square Park was basked in a pretty pink glow. The air had the distinct smell of New York in autumn, a mixture of smoking fireplaces, dried leaves, steaming hot dogs, dog pee, and bus exhaust.
Daniel was lying on his back on the park bench the way Vanessa had told him to, a wounded soldier, with his limbs sprawled out pathetically. Wounded in war and in love, he was tragically pale and thin and rumpled-looking. A little glass crack pipe lay on his chest. Lucky Vanessa had found it on the street in Williamsburg that weekend. It was the perfect prop for her sexily damaged prince.
"I'm going to read Natasha's lines. Watch carefully," she told Marjorie. "Okay Dan, let's go."
"Haven't you been asleep?" Vanessa-as-Natasha said, peering at Dan-as-Prince Andrei.
"No, I have been looking at you for a long time. I knew by instinct that you were here. No one except you gives me such a sense of gentle restfulness . . . such light! I feel like weeping from very joy," Dan-as-Prince Andrei said quietly.
Vanessa knelt at his head, her face radiant with solemn delight.
"Natasha, I love you too dearly! More than all the world!" Dan gasped, trying to sit up and then sinking back on the bench as if in pain.
He said he loved her! Vanessa grabbed his hand, her face flushed red at the thrill of it. She was completely caught up in the moment. Then she remembered herself, let go of Dan's hand, and stood up.
"Now your turn," she told Marjorie.
" 'Kay," Marjorie said, chewing her gum with her mouth open. She pulled the scrunchy out of her wiry red hair and fluffed it up with her hand. Then she knelt down by Dan's bench and held up the script. "Ready?" she asked him.
"Haven't you been asleep?" Marjorie said, batting her eyes flirtatiously and cracking her gum.
Dan closed his eyes and said his line. He could get through this without laughing if he kept his eyes closed.
Halfway through the scene, Marjorie put on a fake Russian accent. It was unbelievably bad.
Vanessa suffered in silence, wondering what she was going to do without a Natasha. For a moment she imagined buying a wig and playing the part herself, getting someone else to shoot it for her. But it was her project; she had to film it.
Just then, someone nudged her arm and whispered, "Do you mind if I try when she's done?"
Vanessa turned to find Serena van der Woodsen standing beside her, a little breathless from running across the park. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were as dark as the twilit sky. Serena was her Natasha, if ever there was one.
Daniel bolted upright, forgetting his injuries and his line. The crack pipe rolled to the ground.
"Wait, we're not done," Marjorie said. She prodded Dan in the arm. "You're supposed to kiss my hand."
Dan stared at her blankly.
"Sure," Vanessa told Serena. "Marjorie, do you mind giving Serena your script?"
Serena and Marjorie traded places. Dan had his eyes open now. He didn't dare blink.
They began to read.
"I have been looking at you for a long time," Dan said, meaning every word.
Serena knelt down beside him and took his hand. Dan felt faint, and he was grateful he was lying down.
Whoa. Easy boy.
He had been in lots of plays, but he had never felt that thing called "chemistry" before with anyone. And to be feeling it with Serena van der Woodsen was like dying an exquisite death. It felt like he and Serena were sharing the same breath. He was inhale and she was exhale. He was quiet and still, while she exploded around him like fireworks.
Serena was enjoying herself too. The script was beautiful and passionate, and this scruffy Dan guy was a really good actor.
I could get into this, she thought with a little thrill. She had never really thought about what she wanted to do with her life, but maybe acting was her thing.
They kept reading beyond the given stopping point. It was as though they'd forgotten they were acting. Vanessa frowned. Serena was great—they were great together—but Dan was swooning. It was totally nauseating.
Boys are so predictable, Vanessa thought and cleared her throat noisily. "Thanks, Serena. Thanks, Dan." She pretended to scribble comments in her notebook. "I'll let you know tomorrow, okay?" she told Serena. In your dreams, she wrote.
"That was fun!" Serena said, smiling at Dan.
Dan gazed up at her dreamily from the bench, still hungover from the moment.
"Marjorie, I'll let you know tomorrow, too. Okay?" Vanessa told the redhead.
" 'Kay," Marjorie said. "Thanks."
Dan sat up, blinking.
"Thanks so much for letting me try out," Serena said sweetly, turning to go.
"See you later," Dan said, sounding drugged.
"Bye," Marjorie said, waving at him, and then rushing after Serena.
"Let's practice your monologue, Dan," Vanessa said sharply. "I want to shoot that first."
"Which subway are you taking?" Marjorie asked Serena, as they walked out of the park.
"Um," Serena said. She never took the subway, but it wouldn't kill her to ride with Marjorie. "The 6, I guess," she said.
"Hey, me too," Marjorie said happily. "We can ride together."
It was rush hour, and the subway was packed. Serena found herself jammed between a woman with a huge Daffy's bag and a fat little boy with nothing to hold onto but Serena's coat, which he kept grabbing every time the train lurched forward. Marjorie was holding onto the rail above their heads, but only her fingertips could reach it, and she kept staggering backwards, stepping on people's feet.
"Don't you think Dan is majorly cute?" Marjorie asked Serena. "I can't wait until we start filming. I'll get to hang out with him every day!"
Serena smiled. Obviously Marjorie thought she'd gotten the part, which was a little sad, because Serena was absolutely sure that she had the part. She had totally nailed it.
Serena imagined getting to know Dan. She wondered which school he went to. He had dark, haunting eyes, and he said his lines like he meant them. She liked that. They'd have to practice quite a bit together after school. She wondered if he liked to go out, and what he liked to drink.
The train came to a sudden stop at Fifty-ninth Street and Lexington—Bloomingdale's. Serena fell forward onto the little boy.
"Ouch," he said, glaring up at her.
"This is my stop," Marjorie said, pushing her way to the door. "Sorry if you didn't get the part. I'll see you at school tomorrow."
"Good luck!" Serena called. The subway car emptied out and she slid into a seat, her mind still on Dan.
She imagined drinking Irish coffees with him in dark cafés and discussing Russian literature. Dan looked like he read a lot. He could give her books to read and help her with her acting. Maybe they'd even become friends. She could use some new ones.
Disclaimer: All the real names of places, people, and events have been altered or abbreviated to protect the innocent. Namely, me.
I was in an interschool play once. I had one great line: "Iceberg!" Guess which play I was in and what I was dressed as? The one hundredth person to get it right will win a free Remi brothers poster.
But enough about me.
S'S MODELING DEBUT!
Be on the lookout this weekend for the cool new poster decorating the sides of buses, the insides of subways, the tops of taxis, and available online through yours truly (I'm telling you, I'm connected). It's a great big picture of S—not her face, but it has her name on it so you'll know it's her. Congratulations to S on her modeling debut!
B, K, and I all in 3 Guys eating fries and hot chocolates with big fat Intermix bags under the table. Don't those girls have anywhere else to go? And we thought they were always out boozing it up and partying down. So disappointing. I did see B slip a few splashes of brandy into her hot chocolate, though. Good girl. Also saw that same wigged girl going into the STD clinic downtown. If that is S, she's definitely got a bad case of the nasties. Oh, and in case you're wondering why I frequent the neighborhood of the STD clinic—I get my hair cut at a very trendy salon across the street.
dear gossip girl,
are u really even a girl? u seem like the type 2 pretend to be a girl when u'r really a 50-yrs-old bored journalist with nothing better 2 do than to harsh on kids like me. loser.
I'm the girliest girl you'd ever want to meet. And I'm pre-college, pre-voting age, too. How do I know you're not some fifty-year-old bitter dude with boils on your face taking his inner angst out on innocent girls like me?
I loooove your column so much I showed it to my Dad, who totally loved it!! He has friends who work at Paper and the Village Voice and other magazines. Don't be surprised if your column gets much, much bigger!! I hope you don't mind!!! Love always!!!
Mind? No way. I'm all about being big. I'm going to be huge. No more crappy one-line parts in interschool plays for me. You might even see me on the side of a bus sometime soon.
Bring it on!
You know you love me,
dissed at recess
Praise for the Gossip Girl series:
A New York Times Best Seller
A Publishers Weekly Best Seller
"The book has the effect of gossip itself--once you enter, it's hard to extract yourself." --Publishers Weekly
"A highly enjoyable speedboat of a read, zipping along at lightning speed, leaving adolescent angst, wounded egos, and Manolo Blahnik mules in its wake." --Kirkus Reviews
"Sex and the City for the younger set." --Teen People
"It's like listening in on a seriously spicy convo!" --Twist
- On Sale
- May 5, 2020
- Page Count
- 224 pages