Love you like a sister.
Initially it was just the simplest way for the four best friends to text goodbye, and then, one of them, Parker didn’t remember who first, said it aloud – like a word:
“…Talk to you later. Lylas.”
After that, it became part of their vocabulary.
“…See you then. Lylas.”
“…I’m sooo excited. Lylas.”
It was easy to forget it was an acronym because it sounded more like a name. Singular: Lyla. Plural: Lylas. Together, they were a unit. Parker never screened their calls and they never screened hers. If you created a Group, they joined it. If you sent them Links, they clicked them. When your Wall was blank, they filled it. It was who they were and how they signed off. Sometimes they added a
) or a ~:->, depending on their mood but LYLAS always came first. In email. In everything.
Parker pushed open the door of La Coppa Coffee. The engraving on her new friendship ring glittered for a moment in the morning sun: Friends Forever. The gold band was more fitting, Parker thought, than the macramé bracelets they’d all worn since Pinecliff summer camp two years ago. (Plus the colorful string always broke off in the shower.) Her throat tightened. It hurt too much to think about leaving The Lylas but she was determined not to let any of it show. At least the rings would last forever.
The smoky smell of espresso beans filled the air.
“Lyla!” Ikea Bentley, the most punctual member of the group, got up from the comfy couch with Parker’s Half-Caf Venti Mocha Machiatto at the ready.
“Lyla!” Parker wrapped her hand around the hot cup and they exchanged a double-air-kiss. Their ample layer of sheer LipGlass, sticky enough to conjoin them at the lips forever, kept them from avoiding contact. “So needed this,” Parker thanked Ikea for the much-needed fix and quickly took a sip from the frothy top.
“No probs,” Ikea said licking her upper lip (actually the Secret Signal that Parker had a foam mustache). She handed Parker a napkin and nodded once the ‘stache was clear.
Ikea was pronounced I-kay-a, like the exotic African lodge where she was conceived, not I-kee-ya, like the un-exotic Swedish furniture store.
Like Parker, Ikea was an Aristobrat. Her father, a former Yalie and the senior partner at Bentley & English LLP, was a Wally from way back. Mr. Bentley was the kind of attorney who got calls in the middle of the night from the Crown Prince of Dubai, the Secretary of State, or billionaire computer mogul J. Fitzgerald Orion himself.
Mr. Bentley’s goal in life (as in the only thing he ever talked about, as in the blank application taped to the refrigerator, as in the bumper sticker he stuck to the mirror in his daughter’s bathroom) was for Ikea to go to Yale. Just like he did.
It wasn’t much of a stretch — Ikea was one of the smartest girls at Wallingford (the smartest girl on the populadder, defs) and she already looked old enough to be on Court TV. She was also the only African American girl in the class, which was good for college applications but also really annoying because people were always trying to match her up with Brooks Jenkins, the only African American boy. Brooksie was totally beneath Ikea in every way, which no one understood — Wallys could be so blind.
“We’re loving the tote.” Parker admired Ikea’s new bag — a pink and lime patterned canvas with a teaberry bottom. Lavishly complimenting the other person’s new thing, whatever it was, was one of the many Lylas Rules. “Très cute.”
Even the tote bag itself was part of the Rules: Designer handbags were out. Designer totes were in. Of course, The Rules were ever changing, constantly amended, reversed and modified. And there were always exceptions.
“Your tote is très cuter,” Ikea gushed. (Another Rule: You have to say the other person’s new thing is better than yours, even if you didn’t really think so.)
Ikea sat down in the leather club chair beside the comfy couch and fixed her glossy straight hair behind her ears. Today’s outfit was sunny, and perfectly complimented her hazel eyes. Ikea loved bright colors. Usually they were printed on canvas or cotton, embroidered with flowers and combined with some form of pink. She was preppy. Seriously preppy. And not in a fakester way, like an Abercrombie Zombie or a Polo-poser. If it had a croc, a duck, or a Black Dog on it, Ikea owned it. If it could be made out of ribbon, monogrammed, or engraved — she bought it. And she never shopped in malls, or even fancy stores like Langdon’s. She bought oodles from Maax in Nantucket, the Lilly’s in East Hampton, and CJ Laing’s in Palm Beach. Ikea was a purist. A total prepsicle. It was impossible not to admire her focus.
Parker untied her belt and slipped out of her trim, voile trench jacket. She hunkered down on the end of the couch and kicked off her ballet flats.
“You are so super tan, Park,” Ikea said, kicking off her own Eliza B. Horse & Rider flip-flops. “Hawaiian Trops. Totally.”
“You think?” Parker looked down at her impeccably bronzed arms. “I don’t understand why…I wore Fifty the whole time in The Vineyard.” Or maybe it wasn’t exactly Fifty, Parker thought; maybe it was more like a family-sized bottle of baby oil, some lemon juice, and a Fritz Bandeau tankini for weeks on end. Parker kept that to herself though too – she didn’t want Ikea to think she had tanorexia.
“Tribb is going to go crazy when he sees you,” Ikea told her.
Parker tried to contain her excitement. It was important to keep a level head about all these things. Tribb was Tribble Manning Reese III, the Wallingford Tigers’ star forward and team captain. Tribb was the kind of guy who put his hands in his pockets, locked his knees and looked really good, you know, just standing there. Total front cover Hottery Barn.
Ever since Tribb and Parker foxtrotted together in Miss Portia’s cotillion class last year, it was obvious that he would be her EGB (Eighth Grade Boyfriend). It was all planned out: she would go to his practices, they’d flirt by the lockers before First Period, IM for hours, and they’d have their first kiss after the Tiger’s game against the Fox Chapel Acorns, the first major social event of the season. He’d even get the lowdown on the dress she was wearing to Fall Social so they could coordinate perfectly (he was pretty metro that way). He’d give her a gardenia wrist corsage. A single but fragrant flower. Always a classic.
No one was more perfect for Parker – everyone thought so.
Parker counted out the week until Fall Social – she’d definitely be at Wallingford until then. “I don’t need to impress Tribb Reese,” she maintained. “Plus, Tribb should love…he should love…what’s on the inside.” Parker nearly choked on her words. For the first time, Eighth Grade felt so real.
“Absolutely,” Ikea agreed. “The inside is so important.”
Parker took a deep breath — the kind that the sucks tears right back in your head before they have a chance to come out. She settled into the couch and sipped on the Mocha Mach, pointing to the visible spot of skin above Ikea’s Capris. “You should totally get a tattoo back there,” she said. “Like a little fairy. Or the Japanese symbol for peace or something.”
Ikea twisted her head around and tried to get a glimpse of her own backside. It wasn’t hard to miss – everyone else at La Coppa Coffee saw it clear as day.
“I heard Brie Channing got a butterfly tattoo on her ankle,” Parker relayed. “Her mother doesn’t even know about it.” She sipped. “Now she has to always wear knee socks. Even for tennis.”
Ikea’s jaw dropped.
“A tattoo? Can I do it?” Plum Petrovsky called, returning from the barista counter with a coffee as big as she was.
“Lyla!!” They all traded another round of air kisses, carefully avoiding any tragic coffee or Lipglass mishaps.
“All we really need to do a tattoo is a needle and some India ink,” Plum said.
And she would know — Plum nearly got expelled last year for piercing Missy Foxcroft’s ears in the Girls’ bathroom. Even though Plum was a Legacy too, she’d nearly been expelled from Wallingford a total of four times. Most were grievous misunderstandings, false representations, and one possible case of extortion (which couldn’t exactly be proven, but couldn’t exactly not be proven either).
Plum took a seat at the other end of the comfy couch, took the top off her cup and blew on the dark, steamy liquid. She pulled her tiny legs up to her chest and wrapped her arm around her knees. The top part of her scribble-print Chuck Taylors were folded down and held together by double laces.
Parker blinked at the engraving on Plum’s new friendship ring: Friends Forever.
Plum’s skin was smooth as porcelain, her short, glazed haircut had one sharp streak of Cherry Bomb red (well, today it was Cherry Bomb red) imbedded in the bangs, and her brows were nothing short of red carpet ready. She was heir to the Out of This World cosmetics empire and the company guinea pig. She was always getting Milky Way facials, Sea of Tranquility paraffin masks, and Close Encounters of the Botanical Kind. Plum always looked great and usually smelled pretty fruity. It more than made up for the fact that she still hadn’t grown into her training bra.
But as much as Plum obsessed over an eyebrow, she thought that boys were entirely overrated. Thanks primarily to her younger brother Nico, Plum maintained that the male species were all smelly, splashed water on their toothbrushes instead of actually brushing their teeth, drew bloody skulls on everything they owned, never flushed the toilet (no matter what was in there), and recited the lyrics of rap songs instead of having real conversations. Boys, Plum felt, needed brat bribes just to act human. And Parker had to admit, she wasn’t always wrong about this.
“But BTdubs, no way are we doing a butterfly tattoo,” Plum told everyone. “Butterflies are way played out,” she said.
Parker and Ikea both nodded; Butterflies are way played out.
A new rule was born.
“Ike…” Plum sipped from her drink. “…you think your parental unit can keep me out of detention this year?” She phrased the question casually, like it was no biggie to ask Mr. Bentley something like that. “My grandmother is so making my mother send me to Our Lady of Fatima if I get another detention.”
“…I don’t know if he can do that,” Ikea said nervously.
Mr. Bentley had recently been named Wallingford Academy’s new Board President, a job that would require an untold amount time nosing around in Ikea’s bizness. It would take the pressure she usually felt about getting an A+ in just about everything in her life (which apparently was required to get into Yale), put a lid on it, and turn the temperature up to scalding. But leave it to Plum to see the potential in Mr. Bentley’s appointment.
Ikea bit at the end of her grosgrain watch band and then moved on to her thumbnail. Parker found herself biting at her thumbnail too. She could feel Ikea’s pain.
“Hello, Darls!” Katherine ‘Kiki’ Allen, the very first-of-all-time member of The Lylas (and third generation Wally), burst into the crowded coffee shop with an armful of shopping bags, a stack of British fashion magazines, and hugsies for everyone. “I am so knackered,” Kiki puffed. “I had the most beastly time getting out of the house.”
Kiki had just returned from a summer in London with a brand new faux-English accent and gi-normous credit card bills from Harvey Nichols and Patrick Cox. Kiki was a Euro-chameleon — instantly influenced by whatever country she’d just been visiting. It was like the time she came back from Paris and had to put a ‘la’, ‘le’ or ‘les’ in front of everything.
On the other hand, Kiki looked fabulouz as only Kiki could. She wore a pair of metallic flats, humongous Cavanna sunglasses, and Studio D’Artisan jeans that looked like they’d been painted on her. Celebrity hairstylist, Adee Phelan, had given her wide, blunt bangs that reached down to the tips of her eyelashes (so soon every Wally would rush to the salon for the same). And ignoring the Designer Tote Decree entirely, she carried all her junk in a Lariat handbag the size of a Volkswagen. It was the British It Bag, Kiki had said. Everyone in London had one.
Kiki’s mother, Bunny, had once been married to a Bulgarian Count. She still made her dinner reservations under the name “The Countess of Battenberg” even though the marriage had lasted only eleven days.
Her great-great-grandmother on her father’s side was Eugenie Singer of the Alexandria Island Singers, and her great-grandfather was Thomas L. Allen, heir to the Allen Railroad fortune. Dr. Allen didn’t seem to be a doctor of anything. And although he was always dressed in a custom-made suit and tie, read the Wall Street Journal cover to cover every morning, and had his own full-time driver, he never went anywhere in particular. He’d never had a job in his life.
Kiki even had her own Centurian Card, which meant she could’ve charged a small island if she wanted to: the best kind of situation for a shopaholic. She could’ve paid everyone’s tuition and then some (not that Parker would ever ask).
“You bagsied the comfy couch during coffee hour?” Kiki asked, plunking down beside Parker with a cup of English Breakfast tea. “How smashing!” She checked her lipstick in the reflection of her phone.
“Ikea saved the couch,” Plum said, “with her enormously smashing booty.” She sipped and grinned wickedly, twirling her Cherry Bomb highlight around her finger.
“My booty is not smashing,” Ikea protested. “I’m so not-fat, you guys…” She tried to turn around again to have another look at her rear end. “…Am I?”
“Not if your scale is metric,” Kiki said.
Ikea smirked. “Women shouldn’t be so obsessed with their weight,” she offered, suddenly super-serious. “Girls already face so many pressures in today’s media-saturated society.” Ikea was a recent graduate of the GirlPower™ Self-Empowerment Program and believed in all this type of stuff now. (Ikea believed in a lot of things, Parker noted, none of which made her butt look as thin as it was at the beginning of the summer.)
“We all admire your fat activism, Ikea,” Kiki said. “It’s one of your most fattractive traits.”
Ikea laughed in spite of herself. Plum pulled her notebook out and starting sketching Kiki and her cup of English tea. She tilted her head and crinkled her nose as she drew.
Ikea peered closer at the photograph. “I’m sure Liam Davies would want to be known for his music more than a pair of purple boots and black nail polish,” she said.
“You don’t wear purple suede platforms if you don’t want to be known for them,” Kiki responded.
“I just don’t think you should judge people by what’s on the outside. That’s all,” Ikea argued. “Clothes aren’t that important.”
Alarm bells started going off in Parker’s brain.
“Well thank you very much you for the fashion update, Lilly Pulitzer.” Kiki eyeballed Ikea’s splashy Jubilee print top.
Parker quickly closed Kiki’s magazine before things turned ugly. Everyone was completely stressing out about tomorrow even if no one was saying so.
“We’re not here to focus on anyone’s fashion felonies,” Parker reminded them. “Tomorrow is a very big day. There are a lot of great opportunities for us.” Saying the words out loud made Parker’s stomach flip-flop. Ikea nodded. “We need to focus on the things that really matter. Remember?”
“Like planning for dresses for Fall Sosh,” Kiki proposed.
“Fall Social is two months away, Keek,” Parker said. Some people may not even be here by then. “I mean…we’re the leaders of the school now. Noblesse oblige and everything.”
“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required,” Ikea quoted, looking like she might break into some song from the spring play.
“I just want to eat lunch in the West Alcove,” Plum said, concentrating on the details of her sketch, “finally.”
“It’s like our destiny,” Ikea agreed.
There was an awkward silence as everyone stared at the slouchy boots on the back cover. Having just commented on all thirty photos in Kiki’s new Album ‘The Shoes I Bought in London’, it was difficult for everybody to drool all over yet another pair.
Kiki looked up from her dream booties. “What?” she asked the group.
“They’re great boots, Keek,” Ikea said. “Must-Haves all the way.”
“So Lylas, let’s review the rules./” Parker brought the conversation back the key issue of the day. “Eighth Grade is…” she began.
“The most important year of school,” Ikea answered correctly. “Possibly of our whole lives.”
Plum turned the page in her notebook, sat up as tall as she could, and read some of the new policies they’d come up with over the summer. “We will set an example…” Plum began.
“For the whole school to follow…” Ikea added.
“We won’t snub anyone,” Plum recited. “At least not in public,” she clarified.
“We will be nice to the noofs,” Parker said.
“Because it can be super intimidating being a new person at a new school, especially Wallingford,” Ikea continued.
Plum turned the page. “We will not let petty problems…”
“Or parental expectations…” Parker put her hand on Ikea’s.
“Or polyblend fibers…” Kiki shivered.
“…get in the way of our goals.” Plum read.
“We will blow dry or flat-iron every morning, even if it all looked fine the night before.”
“And we won’t make anyone feel unworthy just because of their underpopularity but we will still assume the best seats in the auditorium and The Good Table at lunch because we’ve earned them.”
“Friends first,” they said all together and clinked friendship rings.
Parker tucked her feet happily back up on the couch. “Eighth Grade is going to be great,” she said. “The best.”
The Lylas finished their drinks and walked out onto the street in front of La Coppa Coffee. The sun was shining on the square. It still smelled like summer: honeysuckle and fresh cut grass and swimming pools and suntan lotion. Parker smiled.
Facebook had not lied. Parker Bell was ready.