The vanity in front of me is littered with open makeup and at least six different sized brushes. The lights are hot and the air in my room is still filled with the sticky-sweet scent of hairspray. None of that affects me. I’m as still as my grandma in surgery as I swipe the bristled wand of my mascara over the ends of my eyelashes.
“And that’s the completed look,” I say brightly, leaning away from the mirror and turning to smile at my phone. “Thanks for getting ready with me this morning, guys. And remember, there’s still time to register to vote before November. Vote for my grandpa, and help us take back the future, today. Love you!”
With a wink, I press my finger into the screen of my phone to end my livestream. Once I’m sure the camera is off, I flip off the lights on the vanity and let out a sigh of relief.
The softly filtered morning light pouring in through my window is surprisingly golden. The days have been getting darker and gloomier as summer has turned into fall, but today the sky is clear and powder blue. Crimson leaves make a spotted pattern on the perfect emerald grass in the backyard, and the bare branches left behind carry the chill of autumn through the golden sunlight.
Luke is in the backyard playing catch with Dad, so lean against the window and watch them for awhile. The truth is, Luke is really talented. His problem is that he knows it. He’s one of the only two sophomores in the whole school starting on the varsity team, and he’s been the star. Playing under the big lights every Friday night and hearing the crowd roar his name after he makes one incredible catch after the other is starting to go to his head.
It’s making him annoying.
The best thing for him is to be forced to condition and train with Dad every day, really. I still have stress dreams about the times he’s helped me prepare for piano recitals. The first knuckle on my middle finger still aches sometimes from the long hours I spent practicing.
Mom, on the other hand, already has a customized Seahawks jersey with GREY and Luke’s high school number stitched on the back.
God help us, and the gravitational tilt of the earth, if his giant head ever does make it to the NFL.
When Dad waves for Luke to come inside, I turn around, pick up my bag, and head downstairs. Teddy is already in the kitchen, sitting on the counter, while Mom reads the flashcards that have been stuck to his hand for the last week to him and finishes breakfast. On the counter across from her, there’s an iPad that shows the gray screen from the end of my stream.
“Good morning, Calli Lilly,” she greets me when I slide into the seat next to my brother. She slides a bowl of oatmeal with eggs and fruit on the side across the counter.
“Mom!” Teddy snaps. “I need to study!”
“Teddy, you’ve had these cards memorized since last weekend. You are going to do fine, I promise you.”
“I can’t do fine. Tanner McKinney isn’t going to do fine. I know he’s got his eyes on Harvard, and they only accept one student a year from Bishop Blanchett. It has to be me.”
Mom gives him an exasperated look. “Why don’t you worry about finishing your breakfast before you start worrying about Harvard?”
My gut clenches. I know exactly why Teddy is stressed about Harvard. That’s what you do in my family. Grandpa went there, Mom, Aunt Kate, Aunt Mia, hell even Dad for a little while… Not getting accepted into Harvard for either of the Grey children who aren’t destined for a SEC or Pac 12 school isn’t an option.
Teddy’s still a sophomore. I’m six weeks away from the SATs and my hair is already falling out.
Luckily, I just got a hair vitamin endorsement.
Silver linings, right?
The back door opens, and Dad and Luke both come into the kitchen, pink-faced and grinning.
“You’re looking good out there, Kiddo,” Mom says, turning with a shaker bottle in each hand filled with protein powder and almond milk. Luke’s turns bright pink, because Mom still puts strawberry Nesquik in it for her special little guy. Dad’s eyes linger on the bottles in Mom’s hands, then he readjusts his hips, and Luke groans with disgust before snatching the bottle out of Mom’s hand and sliding across the counter, past the breakfast she has made for him, and heads straight to the fridge to raid the freezer for Toaster Strudel.
“Welcome home, Daddy!” I say, skipping over to him and throwing my arms around his neck. He’d been in Ohio at some University no one’s ever heard of for the debate Grandpa had against the President on Tuesday. I was already asleep when he got home last night.
“Thank you, Princess. I missed you.”
“Mmm.” My hum gets louder as he squeezes me so hard, he forces all the air from my diaphragm. I giggle, then take a step back, skipping from foot to foot as I prepare for the pitch I’ve been practicing since he left. “Daddy?”
“Well, I was thinking. It’s great and all that I’m starting to get sponsorships for my channel, but I think that I’m wasting my connection with my viewers on just ad revenue. If I came out with my own products, like a makeup line, maybe, I’d have a direct revenue stream and I’d be able to build my brand. Think of how impressive that will be on my Harvard application.”
“No, Calliope,” my mother interjects.
“But, why?” I demand, turning to confront her so quickly that my hair whips my dad in the face. “I already do makeup videos at least once a week, I’m on a ton of PR lists… it’s the next logical evolution!”
“Because you’re still in high school, Calliope. Launching a makeup line is a full-time job, and you already have one of those. When you graduate, then you can think about getting into business ventures, not before.”
“Dad!” I round back on him, expecting him to take my side.
“Your mother is right. You have all the time in the world to work, don’t trade away your youth for it. It’s a mistake. Trust me.”
I feel my face melt into an ugly pout of disappointment just as a flash of light bursts from the other side of the kitchen. Luke has his phone out, pointed directly at me.
“What are you doing?”
“Documenting this for posterity. I’m calling it, ‘the one time in seventeen years Dad has ever told Calliope no.’”
“Ugh, you’re such a jerk!” I grab the counter so I can launch myself at him, but Dad snags me by the arm and yanks me back.
“You know, there is one thing I did want to talk to you about.” The dangerous edge of warmth and casual amiability to his voice instantly has me on guard.
“You told your mother that you went to Elizabeth’s house for SAT prep after school yesterday, right?”
“Yeah,” I lie with an incredibly unearned sense of self-confidence.
“And you were at her house?”
“Then why was your car at the school until 6:30 last night?”
I could almost breathe a sigh of relief.
This is the man who put tracking devices in my tennis shoes when I was a toddler, and he doesn’t think I know he’s following my car? It’s a little insulting.
“Lizzie wanted to drive together. We went in her car.”
“Your phone was also at the school.”
“I left it in my car.” That one comes out free and clear, because I did leave it in my car. Along with my bag and the locket he gave me when I was five. With him, you can never be too careful.
Dad crosses his arms over his chest, the suspicion still firmly set in his eyes.
“You expect me to believe that you, Calliope Katherine Grey, were without your phone and had no access to social media for three and a half hours yesterday, and you never, at any point, went back to get it?”
“Well, let’s not get crazy. I had my laptop.” Actually, I didn’t, and it really was one of the most difficult ordeals I’ve ever had to endure. But fuck was it worth it.
Dad looks over at Luke and he shrugs. “I was at practice, she wasn’t at the school.”
He looks at Teddy.
“I saw her right after the final bell, and she was with Lizzie.”
I could smile.
In a world long ago and far away, my brothers and I couldn’t wait to snitch on each other. A football goes flying through the house, right into the Ming vase that dad spent months trying to get for the front room? I practically wrote a song about it and performed it in front of my entire family along with a tap dance. If I ever snuck into Mom’s bathroom to try on her expensive lipsticks, my brothers would tackle me to the floor and hold me there until she caught us.
I was about twelve when it dawned on me that tattling is just a scam my dad used to spy on us. Ever since then, the boys and I have been working off an ironclad see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing deal, and it’s saved us all a world of trouble over and over and over again.
“Hm,” Dad puffs, clearly not believing me, but not having enough evidence to question me further. Teddy swoops in to save the day.
“Dad, I’ve got a huge chemistry test today. Will you please read flashcards with me?”
“Sure, hand ‘em here.”
Luke tosses his blender bottle into the sink like he’s shooting a basket, then disappears upstairs to take a shower. I eat my oatmeal and scroll Instagram, listening to Teddy and my dad repeat chemistry equations back and forth.
Seven o’clock comes and goes, and Luke never comes downstairs. I start getting anxious with each precious minute before the first bell that dwindles down, and Teddy starts to complain about having his schedule thrown off and it affecting his ability to concentrate. By 7:15, Dad has to up there and physically bring him down to get him out the door.
“Ugh, what is that?” I ask, crinkling my nose while I slam the car door behind me. The engine is so silent when I start the car that I have to actually wait for the Endurance logo to pop up on the screen in my dash for me to be sure it’s on.
“My new cologne,” Luke answers. “Camille bought it for me.”
“What, did you bathe in it?” I reach up and lower the convertible top to let in clean air, then slip a pair of shades over my eyes and gun it out of the garage.
There are a lot of perks to being a Grey kid. We get that. Most kids don’t live in houses like ours, or drive the cars we do, or spend their summers on a yacht in the Mediterranean. I’m grateful for the amazing life my parents have provided me, absolutely, and I try to practice that gratitude every day. Today, I’m grateful for the parking.
There are lines of cars slowly crawling up the aisles of the parking lot, and each and every one of them ignores the open one near the front. Not because there’s a reserved sign or a blue line. The thing that keeps it empty is more intangible, but possibly more effective.
It’s the air of ruthless power and authority that I have spent years observing from my father, and perfecting.
I pull into my widely-known-to-be reserved spot as if there was a red carpet leading me there, then step out on the asphalt where I’m greeted by two girls dressed in outfits that perfectly coordinate with mine. Elizabeth and Isobel, my right hand girls. Their clothes are part of their daily assignment, to watch my live stream each morning and plan accordingly.
Low-key, it’s a game plan half the girls in the school follow.
I’ve watched the various popular girls come and go through the years. Some have drastic personality changes that make them into exiles, some physically have moved away, and others just never had what it took to be the queen bee. I did. And unlike the other, I don’t make mistakes. I don’t trip up.
That’s where my girls come in.
It takes a lot to keep the crown on your head, and I’ve played enough chess to know that even a queen doesn’t have enough power to safeguard her kingdom alone. With Lizzie and Izzie, I know everything about everyone, and I know exactly how to use that to my advantage. No one can challenge me, because I’m prepared to take down everyone.
“Morning, girls,” I greet them, smiling as I take the coffee Lizzie holds out for me.
“Morning, Callie,” they repeat in unison. I expect Izzy to launch into her morning report of everything that’s happened since three o’clock yesterday afternoon that I need to know about, but she doesn’t. There’s an awkward pause and when I turn to look where they’re staring, I see why.
Brighton King is walking toward us.
“Oh, god…” I groan.
“Hey, Grey!” he calls, which is, thankfully, directed at my brother.
“What’s up, Brighton?” Luke answers.
“There’s a scout from Auburn and LSU coming to watch the game Friday.”
“Calm down, sophomore. He’s coming for me. So, I swear to god, if you drop so much as one pass this Friday night, you’re going to wish you never showed your face around this school by Monday. Got it?”
“Oh. Well, I think-”
“Well, I think…” Brighton cuts him off in a mocking voice. “Don’t think, Stupid. You’ll hurt yourself.”
Luke’s face flushes, and I feel a hot spike of anger.
“Shut up, Brighton. The only reason the team is anything is because you’ve got him to catch those weak ass throws you lob ten yards short of the target every week.”
Brighton’s eyes flash in my direction, and I read him instantly. He could have gone with vengeance. Instead, he chooses to be a creep.
“Callie, why do you always try to fight with me when we both know what you really want is to be at that game, right behind the player’s bench, with my letterman jacket around your shoulders and my hickeys all over your neck?”
“I’d rather drink bleach.”
“Feisty this morning.” I roll my eyes and start toward the building, but he falls in step right behind me.
“Come on, what do you say, Callie? My brother can get us some alcohol. After the game, we could drive out to the north side of the lake and park. Have a few drinks. Maybe explore the idea of your very first blowjob.”
His hand moves under my hair and across my neck. It sends shivers of revulsion down my back.
“Don’t touch me, Brighton.”
“You know, you say no but you’ve got goosebumps, Calliope.” The hand on the back of my neck starts to caress me. I cringe away from his touch, and Luke steps between us to shove him away.
“She said don’t. That means no.”
“Careful, Grey. You want to see a minute of playing time the rest of the season, you’ll turn around and walk away.”
He hesitates. A lifetime of ‘defend family above everything’ keeps him rooted in place, but the fragile line of opportunities that all his dreams depend on has him swaying with the desire to go.
He doesn’t though, and that’s enough for me.
It’s not like I actually want to screw up his season.
“Leave him alone, Brighton,” I say, turning and walking away.
“What about Friday night?”
“I’m sure you and your hand will have a great time, just like you have every other Friday night this year.”
There’s a chorus of laughter that echoes through the onlookers we’ve drawn, but I don’t stay to enjoy my petty win. I walk through the front doors and part the crowds that fill the halls like the red sea. Eyes follow every single step we take. Lizzie and Izzie both glow under the attention, and normally I would too. But the twenty-five minutes before home room may just be the exception to the rule. I spot a clock on the wall of an open-doored classroom as I pass, and see just how much of those precious minutes Brighton took up.
“Girls,” I say, stopping dead in my tracks. I turn to Lizzie and slip my bag off my shoulder into her waiting hands. “Take this to my locker to unpack and bring my books to homeroom. I need to go to the bathroom.”
“I’ll go with you,” Izzie volunteers.
I frown. “I meant the nurse’s office. I’m getting my period and the cramps are killing me.”
“You sure you don’t want company?” Izzie checks.
“No, I’ll catch up with you during the next passing period.”
They exchange disconcerted looks, but shrug and wave as they turn to go. I wait until I see them turn around the corner, then start as quickly as I can towards the door at the back of the school.
It’s difficult slipping out unnoticed, but thankfully a teacher monitoring the hall draws everyone’s attention by busting a kid for having a bandana hanging out the back pocket of his uniform. I open the door just enough to slide out, then hold it as it closes so no one hears the catch of the metal sliding back into place.
There are fewer people on this side of the building. The track team is huddled up at the edge of the football field, just having finished practice, and the two people I pass on the sidewalk around the stadium are too absorbed in their phones to pay any attention to me.
I take one last cautionary look before slipping through the unlocked gate, then dash to the bleachers.
“I was starting to think you weren’t coming,” Pete says. He takes a long drag from the end of a cigarette that doesn’t smell like tobacco, then drops it on the ground and grinds it into the gravel with the toe of his chuck taylors. His long black hair falls into his eyes, and when he shakes it away, the solitary beam of light peeking through the slats between the seats glints off the piercing in his lip.
There’s no other guy like Peter Bigler at Bishop Blanchett High School. It’s a private school in one of the wealthiest zip codes in America, but he didn’t grow up here. He’s from further south, in Tukwila, which I only know exists because it’s between Seattle and the airport, and my dad once told me that if he ever caught me there, I’d be grounded until menopause. Pete’s dad is a tenured teacher at the school, so he gets to go here tuition free. Everything about him screams that he doesn’t belong, from the tattoo just barely poking out above the collar of his shirt, to the black sharpie scribbled all over the nail on his ring finger.
He’s wild. He’s dangerous. He’s so fucking hot that I can hardly stand it.
“Sorry, it was my stupid brother’s fault.”
“Oh, yeah?” He gives me a trouble-is-headed-your-way grin, and I feel my knees weaken.
That’s not just a cliché.
It actually happens.
“Come here,” he tells me, and I stumble forward into his open arms as though I never had another choice. His hand moves up to grab my face while he kisses me, and it makes my blood hot beneath my skin. The way he touches me always feels so imperative. Like he’s been dying to do it his whole life and now that he can, he’s overwhelmed by the starvation of my absence. He kisses me like he has to. He wraps around me like he’d battle dragons to keep me safe.
“You always taste so fucking good,” he growls against my lips. I feel the gold bite of metal against my arms as he pushes me back into the bleachers and presses his body into me. “You got me so fucking hot last night, Callie. I swear to god, I don’t know how I let you get out of that car.”
“I wish I didn’t have to leave. We never have enough time.”
“So let’s make the best of what we have.” His hand moves up to cup my breast, which doesn’t shock me at all. But after a few minutes of very heavy petting and deep tonsil exploration, he pulls away from my lips, and moves to whisper in my ear.
“Touch my dick.”
I freeze. “What?”
His hands disappear from my boobs and move down to the buttons on the front of his trousers. My eyes go wide as he pulls out the band of his boxers, and I see his erection poking out at me through the opening.
Pete and I have been meeting like this for a little over a month now, since Kyle Warner’s end of summer party back in August. Under the bleachers, in the backseat of his beat up Toyota Camry… He’s been all over me, and it’s been an intoxicating ride, like rollercoaster that only ever goes down.
Last night, we parked behind the Northgate Mall and made out until our faces were swollen. He took off my bra and put his mouth on my boobs, and that’s as far as we’ve ever gone. Nothing below the waist, for either of us.
I’ve never even seen a penis in real life before.
“Just put your hand on it,” he urges me. I stare down at him, feeling suddenly very hot behind the ears. He pushes his hips forward, then pulls my lips back to his. “Come on, babygirl. You don’t want to give me blue balls, do you?”
He’s never called me that before. Does that mean something’s changed? That his feelings are becoming more real? Is he falling in love with me? It feels that way when he kisses me. I feel that way when he touches me.
My heart starts to pound at the possibility and the only thing I can think in that moment is not to fuck it up. So I take a deep breath, reach into his pants, and wrap my fingers around his dick.
It’s somehow both softer and harder than I thought it would be. His shaft is as rigid as steel, but he feels smooth and warm in my hand. When I squeeze him, he shudders, and when I start to move my hand up and down, he grunts against my lips.
“Oh, fuck that feels good, Callie.”
“Like that?” I check. He reaches down and wraps his hand around my fist, tightening my grip around him, and tugs faster. I follow his lead, adjusting pressure and speed according to the groans each action pulls out of him. His hand goes back to my boobs, clawing at the buttons on my shirt until he can get inside my bra.
“Mmm,” he moans. “You have such sexy tits, babygirl. You’re so fucking hot, god I want to come on you. In you…” He bites his lip as he glances down at my hand, then looks up at me with blazing eyes. “You want to make me come, don’t you Calliope?”
My mouth has gone completely dry, so all I can do is nod. The grin he flashes makes me feel like I’m making a deal with the devil, but that doesn’t mean anything to me at that moment. All I care about is showing him how good I can make him feel.
“That’s it. God, you’re so filthy. I’m almost there. Don’t stop…”
“Oh my god!”
The world around me suddenly goes cold. I turn and see Rebecca Reinhardt and Jennifer Paddington crouched in the opening under the bleachers, staring at us in shock. There’s a cigarette in Jennifer’s hand that tumbles to the ground as she gapes at us.
I don’t know what to do, and the gravity of the situation has me paralyzed. I stand there, mouth open, holding onto Pete’s dick with one hand, and curl my fingers into his jacket with the other.
Slowly, the shock on their faces melts away into a pair of vindictive smiles, and they slowly back out of the bleachers.
“Shit, what do we do?” I hiss in panic.
“Keep jacking me off, why the fuck did you stop?”
The bell rings off in the distance and while I turn toward the direction of the sound, tears prick in my eyes.
“Fuck!” I cry, and I start to sprint towards the school, ignoring Pete’s calls, and fighting back the tears that seem determined to fall.
I don’t even make it back into the school before I feel the metaphorical weight of my crown start to teeter from its firmly steady position on top of my head.