I decided to write a series on my blog for the hell of it!! I am practicing with realistic fiction-a genre I have yet to try. I am still feeling out my strengths and weaknesses, my likes and dislikes. And while the lack of magical elements feels a bit limiting, I’m enjoying going back to 2004 when I was a college freshman and reminiscing. So, as you probably guessed by context clues, I’m writing about a college experience. And NO, it’s not based my own.
I couldn’t use my own experience because I never joined a sorority. I didn’t really know about rushing until it was too late to rush. Then later, I applied for a sorority that didn’t have a “house” to live in. That actually sounded better. Like, get your cake and eat it too. I really didn’t want to live with all those women!
Well, whomp whomp. The sorority REJECTED me. Yes. Like, to my face. I went through all the steps I needed to to to apply which was not easy at all. Then, I was invited to a classroom near the top floor of the tallest building on campus. I still remembering my heart fluttering with each step. I had to hide the fact that I was out of breath from all of those darn stairs! Still, I was confident. I was almost positive that they would accept me.
Well. They handed me a rather thin letter and and I knew. They basically said sorry, try again later. Maybe we’ll like you in a year, but as for right now, you can’t sit with us. You suck Theta Nu Xi!
I ran out of the classroom crying. Now, I’m literally laughing writing about the experience. Oh the things that we think matter when we are young and stupid…
Anyway, I get to live my little fantasy sorority life through my imagination. That’s one thing that costs nothing and I didn’t have to sing dumb, to boot. Just kidding and yes I’m just a little bit bitter. Enjoy the first three chapters of “Mascot Girl”
Every time I close my eyes I see the back of Dad’s head as he exits my dorm room. Reality hadn’t sunk in until that moment. I thought that I was brave. Maybe I’m not. At least I can’t cry.
“Just hold still,” Leah demanded as she glided her spongy eye shadow applicator across my closed eye. “Your eye is twitching.”
“I’m trying.” I raised my eyebrows and held my breath. This should help, right? I wasn’t meant for this.
“Ugh, girl, whatever,” Leah huffed. “This is as good as it gets. You can look now.”
I opened my eyes and gasped. There, in the full length mirror, was a girl who looked exactly like a familiar photograph. That one portrait that hangs in my grandparents’ spare room. I remember lying on the stiff twin bed during my summer visits and having imaginary conversations with that girl. I would speak, and she would answer me in my own thoughts. I would never tell anyone about those moments where I allowed a sliver of insanity to take hold. It was so real. Like I was really talking to her.
Leah had applied a layer of thick, creamy, foundation, which made my skin feel like porcelain. She said that it was expensive. It covered up the spatter of freckles I was accustomed to. I ran my fingers over my smooth cheeks. I blinked my lashes, noticing the new heaviness of mascara. I couldn’t believe the twenty minutes Leah spent on my face could transform such a blank page into someone else.
“Don’t touch, you’ll mess it up.”
I glanced at Leah, who had her hand resting on her wide hip. She flipped her thin hair over her shoulder and did a single nod of approval. The curls she spent hours spraying into place had already fallen out. I didn’t want to tell her.
“You are good at this,” I commented, admiring the way the gray metallic shadow enhanced my ice-blue eyes. “Your makeup looks amazing, too, by the way. You look so pretty!” Just don’t look in the mirror. Your hair looks like shit, I added in my mind.
“Thanks,” Leah said with a sideway grin.
“I only do gloss and powder normally. When I was in plays in school, I just had costume people do it. But stage makeup is way different than this, I just, I don’t know. I had no one to teach me this stuff, growing up.”
“Oh I know, honey.” A look of sympathy flashed on Leah’s face. I get that look a lot.
“I guess I lucked out rooming with an art major,” I said fluffing my hair.
My hair was almost dry and much more blonde. Leah talked me into dying it from my dish water natural color, to pale light blond. She said I should do anything possible to stand out from the other pledges. I wondered if my dad would recognize me. For that matter, would Nash? I bet he would know it was me, but give me a lot of crap. My lips curved at the thought.
“Well, you know that you’re going to have to learn how to do makeup yourself. If you join a sorority, there will be a lot of reasons to have to wear dresses and makeup.” Leah gave me a wink and walked over to her closet, which was right next to mine. She slid clothes down the bar, and clinked them together, mumbling about how she had nothing to wear.
I arose from the floor and sighed. Thinking about that picture made me want to curl up for a bit and think. There was nowhere I could go to be alone, and at that moment, I craved solitude. Our dorm room was tiny; just a bunk bed, two desks, two closets, and a window. We were waiting for her parents to buy her a new television since hers cracked on move in day four weeks ago. I didn’t have a television to bring, but Leah said not to worry about it. We didn’t decorate much, like some of the other girls did on our floor. I noticed that other girls had mini fridges in their rooms, but not Leah and me. Leah said that it would be too tempting and that she’s counting weight watchers points. That was fine by me; I was in no need of a mini fridge. Food and I have quite a relationship.
“I don’t know how I’m going to do this,” I said peering out of the smudged window. “I don’t have money for a sorority. They have to be expensive. Plus, I don’t have dressy clothes.”
“I would lend you some of my clothes, but…” Leah trailed off and giggled looking at herself in the mirror. She yanked on her black leggins and pulled down her gray cotton dress. She sighed. “They wouldn’t fit you. Ugh! My hair looks like a rat’s ass.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t do this,” I mumbled, lowering my head. I stared at my scuffed sneakers. They never looked the same after Nash threw me into the river. I should nag him to buy me new ones.
“Brie, now come on, girl. If you don’t want to join, then don’t. But at least experience rush week!”
“I want to,” I said looking back up at Leah, “but I don’t know if I can. Even if I make it in, I probably wouldn’t be able to pay dues. I can’t buy any makeup, and I can’t even apply it!”
I knew that my eyes should swell with tears because of how pathetic I sounded. Alas, my eyes were as dry as bones. At the funeral, I cried. I cried a lot. And screamed. And vomited. I was humiliated. I’m not sure why I cared what other people thought, but I did. There was nothing I could do, I was out of control of my emotions. My dad let me borrow his sunglasses to hide my red swollen eyes. I wore them indoors. Even at night. Sunglasses never left my face for a good six months. I haven’t cried ever since the moment I took them off. Then one day, I realized that I couldn’t cry. Not real tears, anyway.
“Brie, listen, I told you that some sororities have scholarships and you could apply. If all else fails, my dad could help. He’s always sponsoring some kid or other for this or that. Why not you?”
“No, I couldn’t Leah.” I shook my head.
“Don’t be so proud,” Leah said crinkling her nose. “If people want to give you something, take it.”
I tucked my lips inside of my mouth. Leah had no idea what it was like to take hand outs. But I held my tongue.
“ I just want to do this together, it would be so fun.” Leah said, struggling to button a fuzzy pink sweater.
“I know, I want to do it, too. It’s just, um, there are so many things working against me right now.” I bet Leah didn’t hear the word ‘no’ a lot, as her face was flushing red.
“When I am pledging, I won’t be here in the room a lot,” Leah stepped into two ankle boots. She looked at me and shrugged. “You might get lonely. But it’s up to you. I’m leaving in like five minutes, with or without you.”
I stared at the brick wall that was coated in thick white paint. “Okay, Leah. Okay. I’ll see what Charlene has that I could maybe borrow. I’m not going to go in these fugly sneakers.”
Leah made a sound of excitement and turned on her heel. Her shoes clicked into the hallway. I guessed she was going to ask Charlene for me. That’s just how she is.
My cheeks hurt from smiling and my teeth were dry from being exposed so much. I didn’t know that that was possible. My feet screamed with each click of my borrowed heels. They were blistered from walking sorority row. I looked at the last house on our list: Theta Gamma Nu.
It was constructed with large cylinder blocks and painted steel gray. There was a large balcony, held up by four pillars which had vines winding around them, blooming with vibrant pink flowers. It was like a fairy’s castle. As we walked up the few stairs, there was a sugary aroma. It must have been coming from the flowers that were sprinkled in front of the grand porch. A white banner was hung with a silk ribbon above the door and had a hand-painted “Welcome”. After Fifteen sororities, they were all starting to look the same. This house was like a diamond among rocks.
A girl with rectangular glasses was standing in front of the door. I wondered where all the other pledges were. It was quiet.
The girl greeted Leah, Char, and me with a large smile, revealing a gap in her front teeth. I felt my tense muscles relax at the sight of her. She was different from the straight spine models that welcomed us in the other sorority houses. This girl had rosy cheeks and crinkles next to her eyes. I found myself smiling back at her. The real kind of smile.
“Welcome, ladies. I’m Caroline Stevenson. Come in!”
Caroline opened their large red door and escorted us inside.
“I’m Leah McCloud.”
“Nice to meet you, Leah! And what are your names?” Caroline placed her hand upon my upper back and guided us into a formal living room. Normally, I don’t like to be touched. But I didn’t slink away. It was as if I had been there before and Caroline and I had known each other since kindergarten.
“I’m Brianne Merrit.” My mouth was dry from repeating my name so many times. I cleared my throat. “I go by Brie.”
“Welcome to Theta Gamma Nu!” Caroline guided us to an antiquated couch with velvety pink cushions. I sat down and heard the springs squeak. I glanced around. In the center of the large squared coffee table was a vase of lilacs, which offered a calming perfume to the air. There was a chandier in the center of the room that was painted in gold and had dangling crystals. The day light cascaded through the crystals, emitting miniature rainbows on the wallpaper.
“I’m Charlene Crane. Char is fine.” I could hear Char practically roll her eyes with her words. I glanced at Char and raised my eyebrow. She ignored me.
I saw a cluster of pledges walk in with, what I presumed, was another member of Theta Gamma Nu. I wondered why there were fewer pledges streaming through the door. The other sororities were much busier.
“Okay, girls, I’ll make this short and simple. I’m sure that your brains are swimming with info and we’re usually the last on people’s lists because we are the last house on the road. Let’s do a quickie overview, okay?”
I leaned forward and nodded. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Char sit back on the couch and sink down. Leah mumbled ‘sure’ and peeked at her cell phone.
“Okay, so, out of all the sororities, we are the most diverse of the lot. We do have a lot of Fine Arts majors, but we also have business majors, anthropology, gender studies…Just a little dash of everything. We embrace diversity; it is one of the most important things to us. Does that sound like something you might be interested in?”
“Yes,” I said giving Caroline and grin.
Leah gave a weak ‘mmhm’ and Char didn’t respond.
Caroline eyed Char and said, “Okay, we are looking for pledges who embrace that concept, first and foremost. We also are the kind of people who enjoy giving back. We do a lot of volunteering in the woman’s shelter and other things like that. Not because we have to, but because we want to. We are the bleeding heart type here. Does that sound interesting?”
There was an awkward silence. I didn’t know what to say.
“I do stuff like that at home with my parents,” Leah offered.
“Good! Well, you would fit right in.”
“I’m sorry, Caroline; I haven’t done that stuff before. I didn’t have much time in high school, I was stretched thin,” I admitted.
Caroline nodded her head. “Oh, that’s okay! Were you in lots of clubs and things?”
“I mean,” I continued, “I had to work part-time when I turned sixteen to save for college. I didn’t spend any of it, so I was able to save up enough for living expenses for the first year. I have a scholarship for my tuition.”
“Oh really? What kind?”
“Um, it’s not all that glamorous,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck. “It’s actually a financial hardship scholarship. I had to write an essay, so, based on some of the circumstances of my childhood, they picked me. Full ride to Baylor U.”
“Oh,” Caroline answered, with a sheepish grin. “Shall I give you ladies a tour of the house?”
We followed Caroline through the foyer, passing the dark redwood grand staircase. There was a chandier in the foyer, like the one in the living room, only much larger. There had to be at least twenty light bulbs illuminating thousands of glittering crystals. I glanced at the door and imaged myself returning from class and walking into the stunning foyer. It would take some getting used to that is for sure. Have I saved up enough money to afford this? When did we get to talk dollar signs?
A few hours later, I was back in my dorm room. I was lying on my bed, the top bunk, when Char knocked on our door. It was already open so, she slid inside.
“Hey,” Leah said from her bed below me.
“Hi. Brie, are you done with my stuff?” Char tapped her foot.
“Oh ya,” I said shimmying down off of my bed. “I put them on my desk. Thanks again for letting me borrow. Holy hell, I’m not wearing heels in at least five years.”
“I can run in heels,” Char said. I handed her dress and shoes.
“I can’t wait to be a sorority sister, already,” Leah said to no one in particular. “I wish there was a way to move into the houses next semester. How are we going to wait a whole year?”
“Who are you going to put as your top three, Leah?” Char asked.”I already know mine. I’m sure I’ll get into Pi Delta Xi.”
“I don’t know, I’m still thinking about it. I liked so many of them! Especially Omega Sigma Sigma.”
Char snorted. “Ya, good luck with that one. That is like the hardest sorority to get into. Everyone wants to be an Omega. I heard even legacies get turned away, sometimes.”
“Well, you never know! My dad does know the vice president’s dad. We talked about it, so I felt that connection.”
“I definitely liked Theta Gamma Nu the most,” I said.
“What?” Char shrieked.
“You can’t be serious; I’m putting them last on my list for sure!” Leah said sitting straight up.
“Huh?” I crossed my arms. “Why?”
“I’m not putting them on my list at all,” Char shook her head. “That’s like, the reject sorority. Everyone makes fun of them. They call the girls ‘The Leftovers’ because it’s essentially a house full of girls that didn’t fit anywhere else. Diversity, my ass. That was a nice little way Carla described it. Even she knows the truth.”
“Her name was Caroline, actually, and I liked them a lot.”
“They liked you, too, Brie,” Char said with a sneer. “I bet no girl as pretty as you has ever stuck around for all the phases of the tour. I got out of there as quickly as I could.”
“You have to be kidding, they were so real. So laid back. I would never have believed they were ‘the leftovers’ or whatever you called them.”
“You got it right,” Char said, her eyes locked into mine. “They are the leftovers.”
“You really are from Kansas, aren’t you, Brie Merritt?” Leah said with a voice dripping with condensation.
“Rivertown, Kansas. Yes,” I murmured. I knew where this was going.
“Well,” Char snickered. “You know what they say. ‘You aren’t in Kansas anymore’, darling.”
Char and Leah giggled as I reached up to my bed to retrieve my phone. I flashed a tight lipped smile and headed for our floor’s common area.
Gee, that is so original, Char! Please tell me where you get all that cunning wit, I thought to myself. I shook my head as I scrolled through my contacts.
I held my phone up to my ear and ginned when I heard his voice. He sounded just like home. No hip southern California accent, no fake happiness, no patronizing.
“Merritt! What’s up, beeotch?”
“James Nash. How are you?”
“Fine. Same shit, different toilet.”
“What does that even mean?”
“I don’t know, Merritt! I think it means, I’m still working at the shop, still going to night school, still drinking with the guy’s at Billy’s parents’ house. It’s only been, what, a month since you left? Nothing has changed.”
“Is it fall break yet?” I said with a moan. What I would give to crack open a beer and warm my feet by a Billy’s bonfire at that moment.
“Break? You just got there!” Nash chuckled.
“Ya I know,” I said as I found a couch in the corner and crashed down on the cushions. I curled my legs into my chest and gazed out the window at the gray sky. Streams of rain water drizzled down the glass. “But I live in an entire dorm full of girls. Girls, Nash! Girls.”
“That don’t sound too bad to me! Tell me more. Midnight pillow fights keeping you awake, or something?”
“Eh, I walked right into that one, didn’t I?”
“Shutup, I’m giving you a hard time. Man, that must suck, you’re used having your space. I guess you now know how it felt for me sharing my room with my brother. And that’s much worse than girls, Merritt, trust me. He smells like farts and garbage.”
“No, I mean, I’m not really, like, a girl who understands girls. I don’t even have that many girlfriends at home. Just you, the guys. Oh and Tabitha. How is Tabitha?”
“Oh, shit!” Nash yelled. I had to pull the phone away from my ear a bit. “I forgot to tell you.”
“You have busted my eardrum, idiot. Oh and speaking of destroying you totally owe me a new pair of shoes, by the way. I look homeless in the ones I have, you destroyed them pushing me into the lake.”
“Brie, shutup, I forgot to tell you. Tabitha and I broke up.”
My phone slid from my fingers and fell on to the couch. I grabbed it and just stared, wide eyed, window. A streak of light sliced through the gray and a rumble of thunder followed, making the couch vibrate.
…tune in later for more “Mascot Girl”
I like it already.