Home > By Invitation Only (Gilt Series #1)

By Invitation Only (Gilt Series #1)
Author: Geneva Lee

Chapter One



“Emma, you look like hell,” my best friend Josie announces to me as I slide into the passenger seat of her beater Civic. I toss my bag onto the floorboard, ignoring the helpful commentary. Instead I pull my wet hair into a messy bun on top of my head. When I don’t respond she sighs and reaches into the pile of random junk that she stores in the center console. She tosses a container of concealer at me before she backs out of my driveway.

“This isn’t your color,” I point out, eyeing the fair shade suspiciously.

“No.” She keeps her eyes on the road, but I spot the grin tugging up the corners of her mouth. “It’s yours. You’re usually the one who needs it.”

I raise an eyebrow, which is seriously risky, given that she’ll probably deem them in need of intervention. “Are you sure? Because it seems like you’ve got a little bitch showing.”

“Not my color,” she reminds me.

Despite being stuck in standard prep uniform, she looks amazing. Between her corkscrew curls and fuchsia lips, there's an effortless coolness to Josie's style. I guess that’s what you get when your mom is a former show girl pretty enough to get knocked up by a high-roller who didn’t stick around to place a second bet. Either way he scored big— if only he knew it. Josie has her mom’s long legs, ready smile, and way with the men. I say men because she doesn’t bother with the guys at school. She prefers to work out her daddy issues with any number of willing tourists.

My dad stands on the porch holding a mug of what I hope is coffee. Josie waves to him cheerfully, narrowly avoiding our mailbox, as I begin to pat the liquid magic on the dark circles rimming my eyes.

“Nightmares? The one about Becca?” She taps the steering wheel, showcasing her fluorescent pink nail polish that looks all that much brighter against her cappuccino skin.

“Test. I had to cram.” I lie because I don’t want to discuss my seriously screwed up head at seven a.m.

Josie doesn’t press it even though she sees through me. She knows the truth because she knows me. That means she also gets that I’m not one to gush about my feelings. What’s the point? Talking can’t change the shit that’s happened.

“Last day,” she says instead, “and tonight we party.”

“You party,” I correct her. “Dad needs me to take over morning shift at the shop first thing on Monday.”

“Which gives you a whole weekend, and don’t try telling me that you have a hot date.”

I flush at the thought. Yeah, hot dates are for girls who haven’t been forced into an involuntary vow of celibacy. “I do actually. With laundry and Netflix.”

Josie’s nose wrinkles and she shakes her head. “You need a life.”

“I had one.” I stare out the window instantly wishing I hadn’t spoken, especially something that made me sound stupid and broken and girly. I'm getting used to the hollow pit my sister's death has left at my core, but today's a day I can't ignore it.

We pull into the school parking lot with my admission hanging like a nasty stink in the air. We both can smell it but we’re too polite to talk about it. Josie whips the car so quickly into a space that a nearby frosh jumps out of the way. She shrugs sweetly at him. No one can resist Josie, even if she’s just put their life in danger. One of the many reasons that we’re an odd couple. I don’t smile or chit chat. Hell, I don’t make eye contact if I can help it.

“Emma, she wouldn’t want you to give up on living,” she says in a quiet voice.

"Yeah, well, I wanted to see her graduate this weekend," I snap. She doesn't deserve my reaction, but a year later and I'm still working through the second stage of grief. I prefer when we pretend we're still in denial though.

So much for polite oblivion. I throw my bag over my shoulder, and disappear into the crowd of students scrambling through the front door as the first bell slices the air. This is where I feel safe, lost in a swarm of people who aren’t asking if I’m okay or if they can do anything to help. Or worse yet the people who turn those sad eyes on me. I don’t want their practiced pity or sympathetic attention. Because there is such a thing as a stupid question and ‘are you okay’ is one of them. Then there’s the jerks that have made it their mission to hold me accountable for what happened that night, because I’m the only one left to blame. The whole lot of them make Belle Mère Prep feel more like the nine circles of hell than high school.

Only a few more hours. But the mental cheerleading does nothing for my apathy, especially when I spot Hugo Roth, my least favorite mistake, loitering near my English class.

“Hey pawn star, ready for summer vacation?” I don’t have to turn to attach the sneer in the voice with his stupid face, but he darts in front of the doorway so I still have to look at him. He’s taller than most of the boys in class, which is a blessing given that he has to hold up his gigantic ego all day. I hate to say he cleans up well. Still there’s no denying his movie star jawline or his silky blond hair that’s just long enough to grab onto when he makes his move. I’d made that mistake once. Never again. “I was thinking of coming into the shop. I have something I know you’ll want.”

“Sorry. We’re all stocked up on junk.” My family's Las Vegas pawn shop is considered a tourist landmark, but to me it's just another embarrassment.

I push past him, but his arm flies out to stop me. With his other hand, he grabs his crotch. “What will your daddy give me for this? Or maybe you and I can discuss its value.”

“Or maybe I can show it the barrel of one of our many in-stock shotguns.” I plaster a smile on my face as I wiggle my pinkie for emphasis. “If I recall, it should slide ride in.”

Hugo’s face darkens as he moves away from the door. “Bitch.”

“Good to catch up!” I call after him sweetly from the doorway.

Mr. Hunter doesn’t look at me as I rush into the room to the sound of the final bell. “Nice of you to join us, Miss Southerly.”

I slide Great Expectations out of my bag and hold it up. “I couldn’t stop reading. I didn’t get any sleep.”

Mr. Hunter has apparently read Dickens because he presses his lips together in disbelief. He probably watched the movie, too, but he doesn’t push my tardiness. I slump in my seat as he starts a discussion on whether or not Pip’s benefactor did him a favor. Apparently, he didn’t get the memo that it’s the last day of school. Since I thought the story was stupid—a poor kid trying to impress a rich girl—I stare at the wood-paneling some board member sprung for during the academy’s renovation. The result is all Vegas. Oak paneling, bookcases full of dusty leather-bound volumes—a show meant to trick over-qualified teachers and elite college recruiters into thinking that the students here are as competitive as east coast prep students.

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