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By Lauren Saft
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Junior year, the suburbs of Philadelphia. Alex, Mollie and Veronica are those girls: They’re the best of friends and the party girls of the school. But how well does everybody know them–and really, how well do they know one another? Alex is secretly in love with the boy next door and has joined a band–without telling anyone. Mollie suffers from a popular (and possibly sociopathic) boyfriend and a serious mean streak. And Veronica just wants to be loved–literally, figuratively, physically…she’s not particular. Will this be the year that bonds them forever or tears them apart for good?
In a debut novel that is raw, honest, hilarious, and thought-provoking, Lauren Saft masterfully conveys what goes on in the mind of a teenage girl and how often even the closest of friends walk the thin line between love and hate.
Table of Contents
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BACK TO SCHOOL
Same shit, new year. The first day of eleventh grade. Mollie called at the ass crack of dawn to ask if I'd pick her up for school. Was a really sunny day, September—my favorite time of year. Everything, everyone, is so fresh and unsoiled: new books, new shoes, a new haircut, like summer is some sort of master cleanse reset button. I figured Mollie's request for a pre-school rendezvous was to orchestrate a united front against Veronica, who would surely come bouncing in with her usual tales of European slutcapades that neither of us was impressed by anymore.
When I pulled into her driveway, Mollie was already waiting for me. Mollie, my best friend since kindergarten. I don't totally remember how we became best friends or when we decided to call ourselves such, but the fact that Mollie Finn and Alex Holbrook are best friends is pretty much the only absolute truth that I (and the rest of Greencliff) know to count on. I have no memory of a time when this wasn't the case.
We've done everything together. Besides both being lifers at the esteemed Harwin School for Girls, we took tennis, gymnastics, and horseback riding lessons. Brought each other on family vacations, to religious functions, and to holiday dinners. We even had our first kiss on the same night, at the same time (not with each other, obviously).
At school, people actually get up and move over if one of us walks into a room and there isn't a seat next to the other one. Without even being asked. It's just understood that we are supposed to be next to each other. All the time. Alex-and-Mollie, one compound word, rolled off the collective Greencliff tongue like Romeo-and-Juliet or Sodom-and-Gomorrah.
We brought Veronica in when she came to Harwin in fifth grade. I liked her first—Mollie thought she was snobby. I liked that Veronica was tall (like me) and that she did dumb things like run around naked (which was cuter when we were ten) and make up words to songs, and that she would talk to anyone about anything and seemed to be just completely missing the embarrassment gene, which I sometimes felt was the only one I possessed. Mollie started dating Brian O'Connell in seventh grade, so I started going over to Veronica's house after school instead of hers. We'd swim in her pool and try on her mom's clothes and make amateur music videos. We'd do stuff that Mollie would be too regimented and self-conscious to do. Stuff that Mollie might try to do with someone else but couldn't with me, because I knew her too well. I'd see the awkwardness in her eyes; I'd see her scrutinizing herself from the outside, judging herself, wondering what she looked like, who was watching, what they thought, and if they thought she looked dumb or fat or like she was trying too hard. She'd see me seeing her looking like she was trying to look like she was having fun. And then no one would be having any fun.
Anyway, then we got to high school, and Mollie and Veronica (not me) started getting invited to the senior parties. They hooked up with older guys and were the "hot freshmen," and that's how Veronica officially became our third. We'd auditioned other ones here and there over the years, like Jessica Sawyer (lived too far away), Liz Masterson (had a really strict mom), and Emily Canter (kleptomaniac), but Veronica was just the one that stuck.
But through all the guest stars, Mollie and I never drifted. We never fought (out loud) or disagreed or veered from our self-proclaimed title of best friends. Even if we weren't sure why we chose each other anymore, of all the other best friends we could have chosen, what we knew was that it was working for us, and it made us feel protected and powerful in the fickle and volatile Greencliff private school battleground. Our best-friendship was our life raft—I imagine the army employs the buddy system for similar reasons. It was our job to make sure the other was never left behind. Even when I stopped going to Mollie's house after school, I'd call her at night and we'd talk about Veronica or Brian or our parents or how we were so lucky to have each other, someone else who truly understood what it was to hate everything.
She stood in her driveway now, planted next to her mailbox like a lawn ornament, arms crossed, biting her thumbnail, tapping her snakeskin ballet flats.
"Can we stop at a drug store?" she groaned, slamming the door of my antique Volvo.
"Sure. Why?" But I already knew why.
"I need to take a Plan B."
"Again?" I said, exhaling my morning Marlboro Light, backing out of her cul-de-sac. "You do realize that Plan B is not actually a recognized form of birth control."
"The condom broke. Fuck you."
I rolled my eyes. Mollie was always having some sort of pregnancy or STD or UTI crisis—in my opinion a convoluted way to keep her active sex life a relevant topic of conversation.
"You really want to take it again? You puked for, like, twenty-four hours straight last time."
"Better to puke today than every day for the next nine months."
She pulled her silky blond hair into a ponytail, opened her mouth, and applied eyeliner in my rearview mirror, which meant that she was expecting to see her boyfriend, the glorious and notorious Sam Fuchs, at some point midday. No one wore eyeliner to an all-girls school unless they were expecting an unexpected visit from a boy.
"You're probably not even ovulating. People try for like years to get pregnant and can't. All odds and Sam's roid-raged, THC-saturated sperm considered, I very seriously doubt that you managed to conceive last night."
"This morning…" She snickered.
I knew she wanted me to ask how she managed that, but I refused to take the bait. Mollie was having sex. I was not. And she felt the need to remind me of this on a daily basis. Because, for the first time, we were not in the same place at the same time, and she seemed to revel in that.
I had news of my own for her for once. News I'd been putting off sharing for weeks but knew I'd eventually have to tell her. I figured now was the perfect time to slip it—while she was busy in her own vortex of self-obsession.
"By the way," I choked out as we turned into the parking lot, "I'm doing something kind of random."
She looked at me cross-eyed. "Uh, what?"
"I'm trying out for a band."
She laughed. "You're joking? When?"
As we pulled into the suburban shopping center, silver, white, and navy SUVs pulled in and out of the spots around us. Greencliff moms with frosted ponytails wearing full-body Lululemon armor bounced in and out of the CVS and Starbucks and tanning salon holding toddlers and lattes, pushing strollers and fingering their smartphones. Dads puttered around the parking lot in business suits, clutching paper coffee cups, noses buried in Inquirers and Wall Street Journals on their way downtown into Philadelphia. Greencliff was already abuzz, and dew hadn't even burned off the asphalt yet.
"I need to do something different," I said as I shifted into park. "I'm kind of bored. Aren't you bored?"
"What kind of band? A metal band, an R&B girl group, a marching band, perhaps?" She glared at me cockeyed and scrunched her slopey freckled little nose.
I chose to ignore her snark and pretend her questions were supportive and genuine. "Remember my old piano teacher?" I chewed my cuticles to avoid her glare. "Mrs. Farber, with the cankles?"
She nodded, eyes still skeptical and accusatory.
"Apparently, her son's band needs a keyboard player. She thought of me. Random, but what the hell, right? All we do is sit around and drink and smoke and talk shit, it'll be nice to do something, make something, for a change…"
"So you've known you're gonna do this and you just mentioned it? Does Veronica know?"
"No, I sort of forgot."
I lied. For a number of reasons.
Mollie twirled her golden ponytail around her finger and threw those stupid Tory Burch flats up on my dashboard.
"Since when do you forget to mention shit? You mention when you're out of conditioner. You mention when your foot itches, and when your mom buys a new brand of hummus. But whatever, you're joining a band. Sweet. All these years, who knew you were such a repressed emo-rocker chick?"
I shrugged and watched the cars on Franklin Avenue whip by. I knew this was how she'd react. Mollie didn't like change, surprises, or deviations from her status quo, but I was not going to be intimidated out of my decision this time just to soothe the beast. I was going to do something I wanted to do, without her approval, for once. Damn it.
"Anyway"—she rummaged through her backpack; I couldn't tell what she was looking for—"can we deal with my fucking unborn child, so I can participate in your future coke binges and backstage orgies?"
I cracked a smile, maybe released a short nasal exhale that resembled the beginnings of a laugh. "One day you really are going to get pregnant with a little demon Fuchs baby and no one is going to believe you. You're the girl who cried pregnancy."
"That's not even funny. If you were having sex, you would understand how not funny that actually is."
"You're right. Subjecting a child to being a 'Fucks' for the rest of his life is not a laughing matter at all."
"It's F-uuuu-chs. Like fuck-YOU-chs."
We laughed, and she dabbed her running eyeliner with her knuckle. "Want anything?"
I waited in the car and lit another cigarette while she ran into CVS. I turned up the radio, grabbed the wheel with locked elbows, swiveled my neck, and car-danced to some horrible pop song, as I like to do sometimes.
My phone vibrated somewhere, and I reached down through the mess of books, papers, wrappers, snacks, and mangled packs of cigarettes in my bag to find it.
It was a text from Drew: Not even 9 am and I just saw someone get punched in the nuts. This place is disturbed. I miss summer. Sesh after school?
I wanted more than anything to tell him to fuck the after and to come meet me right now. I then had a short fantasy about the two of us ditching class and driving to the stream in the Meadowfields. We'd go swimming in our underwear and have long, heated discussions about the decline of the music industry and how much we hated everyone in and everything about our blond-haired, blue-eyed popped collar of a town. We'd talk until it got dark and go swimming again. Our slippery, naked skin would find each other's under the water; we'd lock glowing eyes in the wet moonlight and realize how happy we made each other. He'd kiss me, and I'd look knowingly into his eyes before I kissed him back. I'd wrap myself around him, and he'd carry me out of the water, and we'd make slow, throbbing, Harlequin love on a smooth, flat rock under some sort of weeping tree. Afterward, he'd tell me how long he'd wanted to do that, and I'd smile coyly, knowing that after that moment we would be together forever.
I texted back: I feel your pain. I'm currently waiting in the CVS parking lot to assist Mollie with another contraception crisis. I'll call you after practice. Good luck, soldier.
I'd known Drew almost as long as I'd known Mollie. He lived down the street, and when we were little, we played Chutes and Ladders in his tree house and went sledding on snow days. He goes to Crawford, the brother school to Harwin, and somehow we'd successfully made it through the awkwardness of middle school with our platonic friendship still intact. We enjoyed watching our friends hook up and break up from the sidelines, where we were free to mock, judge, and ridicule the romantic follies of our misguided, hormone-ridden peers; it was all very what fools these mortals be. We thought we were so much better off, out in my driveway smoking weed, laughing at poor, abused Mollie and Veronica and their latest ventures in sex and delusion.
I turned up the radio.
"Nice moves," Mollie said, tumbling back into the car.
"Nice dead baby."
Mollie stuck out her tongue and snorted at me.
I should have known that junior year would be interesting, considering it began with me puking in the fucking senior parking lot. Which, now that I think about it, Alex always managed to park in despite the fact that she wasn't a senior.
I tried to put aside Alex's whole I'm joining a band thing, which was shady for a shitload of reasons, and just focus on not vomiting as we drove into school. Alex and I were lifers at Harwin, meaning we'd been there since kindergarten—together. The same fucking school every fucking day surrounded by all fucking girls, for twelve fucking years—no wonder we were so wound up. We drove, for the millionth fucking time, through the wrought iron gates into the mouth of the ominous crimson towers of the Victorian institution for the young women of tomorrow. Though Greencliff was an innocuous suburban town—big houses; big lawns; shutters; fences; trees that were green in the spring, gold in the fall—Harwin looked like a psych ward or some fascist medieval finishing school where girls walked with books on their heads and drank Earl Grey in silence with their ankles crossed. But that was just the foreboding veneer meant to impress and intimidate Waspy trophy wives already worried about their four-year-old daughters' future piercings and subpar SAT scores. The outside was dark and imposing, but the halls were bright with a team of underpaid, poorly kept, spinster teachers and gum-cracking, foulmouthed wenches like me and Alex and Veronica. Nothing to be scared of, really. With all the girl power and sparkly posters and pep rallies, it really felt more like a cheer camp or a sorority house than a school.
It was the first day, so green and gray balloons bounced from all the doorways and lampposts. Little whores-in-training in crisp plaid kilts hugged and compared class schedules and tan lines. The Plan B started to kick in. I rolled down the window and laid my head back, hoping my nausea might be assuaged by a breeze or the valor of the cherry blossoms or some shit like that, but no such luck. As soon as Alex jerked her jalopy into park, I flung the squeaking door almost off its hinges and leaned out as far as I could to puke Diet Coke all over the hot asphalt.
Alex ran around the car to check the damage. She knelt down and petted the top of my head like a puppy's. "Aw… Molls—thanks for not getting any in the car."
I gave her a watery-eyed smile and slowly rolled out of the vehicle, as its clammy, smoky signature smell was not helping my situation.
Alex perched on the hood to chat with some senior girls, totally unmoved by their obvious displeasure with her presence in their hard-earned parking lot. They asked what was wrong with me. I told them I was sick, but they seemed suspicious. They probably knew. Bitches were just jealous. I get it. I was violently purging the unborn child of the hottest guy in their grade; I'd be mad at me, too.
I watched Alex talk to the seniors, all her clothes hanging off her like she couldn't be bothered to actually put them on, but just mustered the energy to drape herself in whatever stained, wrinkled item was lying on her closet floor. Her tattered gray cardigan was too big, and the stretched-out cotton sleeves dangled past her wiry hands. Her kilt was askew, burned with cigarette holes and off by a button. Her dark hair was a tangled, spiraled mess, per usual. Her skin looked great, though, and I wondered if she was drinking more water and less artificially sweetened caffeinated beverages like she'd mentioned she was going to try to do last week. Was that really working? I kept meaning to start doing that. But didn't she just have that Diet Coke?
I felt another wave of ill come on, so I squatted and placed my head between my knees. Alex dismissed herself from the seniors to come over and rub my back as I dry-heaved.
"Are you sure you're okay?" She knelt down next to me, still rubbing me like a Yorkshire terrier. I stared at her threadbare, untied, green Converse that were not in uniform. "Maybe you should go home? To the nurse? Something?" she said.
"And say what? Sorry, I can't learn today, I'm busy doing my part in the fight against teen pregnancy?"
"Seems like as legitimate an excuse as any. Next time just use the damn condom correctly."
She didn't understand. I was Catholic, for Christ's sake. If Alex got preggers, Nancy Holbrook would probably give her a hug, hold her hand through the procedure, make her matzo ball soup, and tell her she was proud of her for making such a hard decision. Honestly, she'd be so happy Alex finally had a boyfriend she'd probably let him sleep over, make him pancakes in the morning, and restock her medicine cabinet with condoms and edible underwear. I once suggested to my mom that going on the Pill might regulate my period and clear up my skin, and she cried for a week and sent me to confession.
Alex fed me more Diet Coke and helped me upright, just in time to catch a glimpse of Veronica rolling out of a Lincoln Town Car. Like she was Princess fucking Diana or something. If some heavyweight in a black suit with an earpiece had rolled out behind her, I swear to god she'd have gotten projectile vomit right on her smug, spray-tanned little bird face. She flipped her freshly coiffed and recently highlighted hair and slid on some new sunglasses that, from this distance, appeared to be Gucci, and thus new. I always know when anyone gets anything new, because I have a full mental inventory of all my friends' and family's worldly and closetly possessions—and Gucci sunglasses were not in my Veronica registry as of June.
She frantically began flinging her Tiffany and Cartier–clad wrists from side to side when she saw us.
"She's, like, out of control," Alex mumbled as she snatched the Diet Coke from my hand. Veronica was already skipping her sticky little legs over to us. Alex and I braced ourselves for a deluge of positive energy and some obliviously whorish story.
"Ladies!" she squealed, then took notice of my green face and crippled stance. "What's wrong?"
"Mollie's having a rough morning," Alex said, squeezing my shoulder. "We had to go with Plan B.…"
Veronica kept talking, but I was in no place to listen to sounds higher pitched than dog whistles and Chipmunk Christmas albums.
I tuned her out to survey the school yard. Most noteworthy summer transformation awards went to Julie Goldstein, who'd gotten a much-needed nose job, and Margot Swan, who'd lost a solid twenty pounds. They looked good, I guess, but Julie still had that post-op cat-face, stiff-upper-lip thing happening. The swelling would go down, though, and she would undoubtedly be cuter than she was before. Good for her.
Christ. Had anyone else gotten fat over the summer? The whole boyfriend thing had really wreaked havoc on my ass. I'd spent my entire summer "splitting" nachos and sausage calzones and at the McDonald's drive-through at three AM. Sam eats like a sumo wrestler training at Walmart, and what was I gonna do? Be the lame barf jars girlfriend that picks at a garden salad with dressing on the side while idly watching him house carb-infused meat concoctions with melted cheese? Doubtful. At least I was puking today—that couldn't hurt things.
"So, Friday night?" Veronica said, pulling me back into the conversation I'd been ignoring. She looked at me, her vacant green eyes seeking approval.
"For her First Week of School party," Alex interjected.
"Oh yeah," I said, already stressed out by the prospect of another one of Veronica's momentous parties. I changed the subject. "Hey, V, did Alex tell you that she's trying out for American Idol?"
"What?" Veronica squawked.
"It's just a band," Alex said. "It's not a big deal."
She rolled her eyes. Was she annoyed that I wasn't taking this seriously? Was she actually taking this seriously? Since when was Alex serious about anything?
"Wait, are you actually trying out for Idol?! Or an actual band? Is it a new 'Band Idol' format? I'm confused."
Veronica was confused. Shocking.
"It's just a band," Alex barked. "A silly, practice-in-a-garage, just-for-fun high school band."
"With non-Crawford boys? Oh my god, are you going to be in the Battle of the Bands on Halloween?! You'll be like a celebrity! Remember those smokin' hot guys from that reggae band last year? Do you think you'll meet them? Invite them to the party on Friday!"
"Oh my god." Alex rolled her eyes so hard I thought she might actually tip over. "I'm not even in the band yet, calm the fuck down."
"Why didn't you ask if we wanted to do it with you?" V asked. "We could all be in a band; it could have been, like, our new thing? I love singing!" I actually wanted to hear Alex's answer, but V interrupted herself. "Oh, can you ask Sam if he can get us a keg?"
The question was directed at me.
"I guess," I said.
Asking Sam for favors always required a trade. I picked you up from school, you buy me dinner. I let you watch Real Housewives, you blow me. I puked one more time behind a red Jeep Wrangler before we all made our way into homeroom.
In homeroom, I watched an even balder, though just as fat and sweaty as I remembered, Mr. Boardman shuffle through some papers on his desk and survey the talent in his homeroom. He caught my eye, gave me a wink and a wave, and said, "Welcome back, Ms. Collins. How was your summer?"
I sat up on my foot and leaned over my elbows on the cold linoleum desk.
"Great!" I said with a smile. "Did a lot of traveling… and tanning." I undid a button and pulled my white oxford shirt down over my shoulder to show him my tan line.
"Very nice," he said. "I'm sure everyone would love to hear about your adventures."
I leaned farther over the desk and pushed my elbows together. "Well, you know, I'm always happy to share them."
Alex scoffed under her breath.
I laughed it off. "What?" I asked her as I plopped back down on my foot, the hard new leather cold under my skirt.
She rolled her eyes, but I could tell she was smiling.
"What?!" I said. "Just giving him a little spank-bank material."
"I really don't think you want to be a part of the twisted depths of a man's spank bank. Especially balding, sweaty old men with lisps who take jobs at all-girls schools."
"Please, I just made his morning! And he's not that old.…"
I felt him still watching, so I turned and twisted on top of my foot again, but this time, I turned out my hip to give him a nice little up-the-skirt shot.
I'VE ALWAYS DISCONNECTED FROM Mollie and Alex after I've been away for a while. I always break back into their little bond after a few weeks, or faster if Mollie happens to be annoyed that Alex is too clingy that week or if Alex happens to decide that Mollie is too bossy that day. But, without fail, as soon as I go on vacation or miss a party or go home sick, they re-fuse and I'm back at zero: alone on the swing set, pining for an invitation to take a turn on the two-person seesaw, like it's fifth grade all over again. It's really annoying. You'd think they'd just have accepted that we were a threesome by now, that they'd have gotten over the idea that I had to reinitiate myself and prove my worth every few months. But I knew the party would bring us back together—one drunken night of fun was all they needed to remember why they decided they liked me in the first place.
While I was in Europe over the summer, I'd decided that I was going to get a real boyfriend and try to do better in school this year, maybe attempt to get into a respectable college. I was tired of Mollie bragging about her relationship and thinking that because she and Sam went out to dinner together sometimes that she was somehow a better person than I was. Plus, even I was getting bored with the whole party-girl thing, and I should go out on top, right? My Last Week of School party last year ended with five police cars, a pool full of blood, an illicit video, and a pregnant sophomore—where do you even go from there? I debated even having my First Week of School party, but my First Week of School party is a tradition, so not having it would be downright bad luck, right? That, and the big empty house was starting to get to me. I'd been home for only two days, and already my dad had left for Asia and my mom hadn't left the gym or her new trainer, Roger. I was sort of looking forward to filling my house with warm bodies for a night, pumping some life back into that ancient history museum.
We resumed discussion of the party on our way to tennis practice that afternoon.
"Let's keep it just juniors and seniors," Alex proposed as she rummaged through leaves and papers and god knows what else to find cigarettes under the passenger seat of her car.
I agreed. "Though your brother can come with a few sophomores if he wants," I said.
"I'll mention it, but it's always weird when I see him out. Let him stay home and play video games. Get his own damn life, like I had to."
We used to torture Josh Holbrook when we were little. Nothing permanently damaging, just things like telling him that his freckles were a highly contagious rash or that every time he sneezed the snot that came out was part of his brain. He was also undyingly, annoyingly, and obviously obsessed with Mollie. Freshman year, we found her picture in a drawer next to his bed. Mollie pretended she was grossed out by it, but continued to prance around the Holbrooks' house in short shorts and skimpy tank tops anyway. Typical, hypocritical Mollie.
"Aw! Come on. Isn't that what big sisters are for? Inviting you to parties? Getting you hammered?" Mollie said.
"You just want him there so he can fawn over you all night," I said, regretting the amount of sass in my tone.
Mollie spun around in the front seat, whipping her ponytail against her cheek. "Oh, stop it," she said. "He's like my second little brother."
"Are second little brothers like second cousins? Ya know, the ones you're allowed to bone?"
"End of conversation!" Alex screamed as she slammed on her brake. "Neither the boning of second cousins nor my little brother is allowed, okay? Everyone? Veronica? Do I need to make you repeat after me?"
"No boning your little brother or second cousins. Got it."
Praise for Those Girls: "In this debut novel, Saft gives readers a look at the complicated relationships between high school girlfriends. The female characters she crafts are complex."—SLJ
- "Saft has captured the darker side of female friendship and the redemption of forgiveness. Hand to fans of edgy chick lit."—Booklist
- "I read Those Girls the way you accidentally binge-watch a great TV show - I always had to know what happened next. Lauren Saft's debut novel is smart, funny, and raw, and I can't wait for more people to read it so we can talk about it."—New York Times bestselling author Sarah Mlynowski
- "Those Girls spills over with secrets, backbiting, and messy, messy love. Saft doesn't back away from the ugly truths and the beautiful complexities of female friendships. She simply tells it exactly like it is."—Siobhan Vivian, author of The List
- On Sale
- May 3, 2016
- Page Count
- 336 pages