MY PHI BETA KAPPA VALENTINE
Note: The events in this story take place at the beginning of Under the Rose, however, they contain spoilers for the entire book.
Lydia Travinecek had come to believe that certain things about her life were fait accompli. She would be named captain of her high school debate team. She would be accepted to Eli University Early Decision. She would subsequently be named valedictorian of her high school graduating class. That all of these things came to pass was greeted by Lydia not as any great shock, but rather as her just desserts. She worked her ass off, after all. Why should not she achieve the things she put so much effort into realizing?
How then, she wondered, as her senior year at Eli began, had everything gone so very wrong? Her grades were fantastic, and she had a nice group of friends here in Prescott College, but she’d failed to distinguish herself in all the ways that mattered. Freshman year, she’d eschewed rushing a sorority in favor of keeping her eye on the prize: a membership in a prestigious senior secret society. If she wasn’t going to join one of those, she might as well have gone to Harvard. Everything she did at Eli was designed to impress those robe-wearing schmucks: She’d been honored by the Eli Political Union, she’d won debate team tournaments, and she had a mile-long list of recommendations from her professors.
And yet, no secret society had come a-knocking at the end of her junior year. Worse yet, her roommate Amy had been tapped – and not by some little literary society like Quill & Ink, either. Rose & Grave! Rose & Grave, that no one even thought tapped girls! Rose & Grave, who usually only took members from the best and brightest on the campus. Rose & Grave, the society of senators and Presidents and Supreme Court Justices. Rose & Grave had looked at the members of her suite, and they’d picked Amy over Lydia.
Much as Lydia may have loved Amy, she couldn’t help be a little miffed that her roommate was the one chosen. Though a lovely person, Amy was hardly the Rose & Grave type – especially when compared to Lydia. If they needed a girl, couldn’t they have tapped her?
Consumed by envy and bewilderment and deprived of her usually practical nature, Lydia had made a mistake. A bad mistake. One that she was way too embarrassed to tell Amy about now, several months later. There was no choice but to keep it up. So now, not only did she have to suffer the secret humiliation of not being tapped into a society, she would have to spend the entire year, her entire senior year at Eli University, pretending in a rather annoyingly overt way that she was.
Like she didn’t have enough on her plate with LSATs, law school applications, and her thesis. The demands of a secret society were onerous enough if they really existed. She’d have all the work, and none of the networking payoff.
Alternately, she could admit the truth to Amy. Amy, the Digger. Amy, who’d magicked up a summer job with a wave of her Rose & Grave-graced hand. Yeah. So not happening.
And it didn’t help that Amy was spending the lion’s share of time since her return to campus chilling with her fellow Diggers. She tried to pretend that wasn’t where she was, but no one took that many trips to the library before classes even started. She was at the Rose & Grave tomb on High Street and Lydia knew it. Well, fine. The Diggers were more important to her than her three-year friendship with Lydia? Wunderbar. Perhaps Lydia shouldn’t even be surprised. After all, last spring Amy had thrown over Brandon Weare when he got in the way of her Digger-oriented fun. Lydia had thought Amy and Brandon were a good match. A cute couple. Amy certainly had never complained about the sex. And yet, once Rose & Grave was in the picture, good ol’ Brandon got the heave-ho. Maybe Lydia was next.
Right now, though, she was just alone in their shared suite. Alone, again. Lydia sighed and started flipping through her dog-eared copy of the course catalog. She practically had the damn thing memorized by this point. She’d mapped out every course she wished to shop, and had even designed a flow chart based on her interest and the likelihood that she’d get into each one. (High. After all, she was a senior). Lydia planned to take five courses this semester, and four in the spring. She only needed three more class credits to graduate, and that was including her senior thesis, but since Eli didn’t charge by the credit, she might as well squeeze as much life as she could out of the exorbitant tuition fees. Despite her heavy course load, she maintained an excellent GPA – if she kept it up, she’d graduate with both honors in her major and summa cum laude.
See? Stupid secret societies. Had she not kissed the right ass? Why hadn’t anyone tapped her?
It was like being rejected by boys all over again. Lydia was actually taking a powder on the whole dating thing for a bit. She’d gotten burned something awful in a relationship with a grad student sophomore year, and none of the guys she’d met since had struck her as anything other than, well, little boys by comparison. She’d give the whole dating thing another whirl in law school, she supposed. At any rate, she’d better find someone before she got her J.D. Everyone knew that judicial clerkships were not famous for giving time off to develop a social life.
Then again, perhaps she shouldn’t assume that she’d get a clerkship, or even get into law school. Book & Key hadn’t wanted her. Perhaps the rest of her life would be a failure, too.
The phone rang. Probably for Amy. Probably one of her stupid Digger friends inviting her to another cool Digger event. Diggers only. Ugh. She hated how bitter she’d become. She hated feeling envious of her own best friend! Lydia picked up the receiver and clicked the “on” button. “Hello,” she said wearily.
“Lydia Travinecek?” said a woman on the other end. “This is Sally in the Prescott College dean’s office. Do you have a moment to drop by this afternoon? The dean would like to talk to you.”
Great. A guilt trip about volunteering, no doubt. Wasn’t he supposed to bother juniors with this? Then again, maybe the dean knew that she, unlike, say, her Digger roommate, had a surplus of free time to devote to the college. She hoped he didn’t want her to tutor or anything. “Sure,” she said. “I can come by now.”
Phi beta… kappa? Lydia stared at the dean in shock.
“Yes. Congratulations!” The dean clapped his hands in front of him.
“But… I thought that was conferred at graduation,” Lydia continued.
“For most students, it is,” said the PBK representative, whose name, Lydia was embarrassed to admit, she hadn’t paid attention to at first. “Less than ten percent of the graduating class are singled out for this honor, but we select a few juniors at the end of their junior year, and a few more at the beginning of their senior year. You’re one of those.”
One of those. Lydia nodded and tried not to feel disappointed in herself that she hadn’t been chosen last spring.
“It’s a very prestigious society, Lydia,” the dean was saying now. “Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest and most famous honor society in the country. And being chosen at the beginning of your senior year will be particularly beneficial to you – you can put the information on your law school applications.”
Lydia beamed. Phi beta kappa! She couldn’t wait to tell her mom! She couldn’t wait to tell… Amy.
Wait. Could she be in PBK if she was also in some other secret society? She opened her mouth to ask, but then thought better of it. After all, it was possible the phi beta kappa people already knew she was in no other society. Perhaps that’s why they waited until the beginning of her senior year to tap her. To make sure she was free.
And if she told Amy that she’d gotten into PBK, would that show she was lying about the other society? Would Amy call her out? Hmmm, she should look into that.
Until then… well, at least she finally had a secret to keep.
And a party to go to! All new inductees to phi beta kappa were being invited to a reception at the Office of the President. Lydia dressed in a pencil skirt and a boat neck blouse, swiped a pair of Amy’s strappy sandals and headed off, head held high for what seemed like the first time in ages.
The induction ceremony seemed relatively staid, more like a high school honor society meeting than the raucous initiations one heard about for secret societies. It certainly couldn’t compare with the blood-soaked extravaganza that Lydia, in a moment of envy-fueled temporary insanity, had cooked up for Amy’s benefit last spring. There were oaths, and phrases spoken in Latin. There was a handshake and a password, but no one really seemed to be paying much attention to all that. They just took their pins and their certificates and sat back down. She wasn’t sure what she’d been hoping for, but it hadn’t been… this.
Afterwards there was wine and socializing around a buffet table spread with sandwiches and crudités. Lydia wandered in and out of a few conversations. Her classmates who had been in since last spring were superior and rude, and held themselves above the new inductees as well as the grad students, who’d obviously only shown up for the free wine and food. As the buffet table, emptied, so did the room.
Lydia, never one to turn down a free sandwich, made a beeline toward the last of the tuna salad. She was stuffing her face when she heard someone calling her name. The sandwich instantly glued to the roof of her mouth.
“Lydia,” the guy repeated. His name was Joshua Silver. She knew him from Poli-Sci classes of course, but mainly from the Eli Political Union, where he spent a lot of time kicking a lot of ass. She’d even heard somewhere that he ran city alderman campaigns in his spare time. “Hey, I thought that was you. Nice bangs.”
“Mmmf.” Damn tuna salad. Curse her taste buds.
“So, phi beta kappa, huh?” he tried.
“Gungggf,” said Lydia. Should she spit it out? It was quite a large bite of sandwich, and she only had a cocktail napkin.
“How was your summer?”
Lydia nodded vigorously.
“Josh!” Josh turned around to look at the person calling him. A junior PBK pledge with silky hair and a low-cut blouse.
Lydia narrowed her eyes and worked at the obstinate bit of bread with her tongue. She could do this. If she could perform seventeen tongue twisters before a debate tournament and then tie strings of cherry stems at the after parties, she could unstick this damn tuna sandwich. After all, she had a—
“Very agile tongue,” she garbled aloud.
Joshua Silver spit out a mouthful of wine. Unfortunately, he did so all over her shirt. “Oh! I’m so sorry!” He grabbed another cocktail napkin and started dabbing.
“And you have very agile hands,” said Lydia. Josh snatched his fingers away.
“No, no,” said Lydia. “It’s not often a girl can brag about getting felt up by the president of the Eli Political Union in the office of the president of Eli University.”
Josh raised his eyebrows and smiled. “Well then, more girls should walk around bragging about their talented tongues.”
“There were extenuating circumstances,” Lydia began.
Josh waved around the damp napkins. “Oh, believe me, I understand.” They both laughed.
The girl with the silky hair called Josh’s name again, but he ignored her and moved closer to Lydia. He got them two new plastic glasses of wine and told her about his Fourth of July trip to Fire Island. He laughed at her jokes and ran his hand through his hair until it got all mussed. Lydia decided she liked it like that. She liked the mocking impression he did of his LSAT instructor, and she liked the way he made eye contact while she spoke to him, as if he was hanging on every word she said. It might be a public speaking technique, designed to put your subject at ease, but it worked. She was at ease.
Actually, she was entranced. She’d seen him at events for three years, but it’s like she’d never really looked at him until tonight. And the way he was looking at her, Lydia gathered he felt the same. Perhaps it was the magic of phi beta kappa pins. She was glad that Josh was another new inductee, like her. Put them on the same level, as it were. She doubted she’d be flirting so much with a junior inductee. She wondered, idly, if it was her being in phi beta kappa that had suddenly turned her into an object of interest for him. Or if it was what had turned him into an object of interest to her.
She wondered if their society kinship was anything like what Amy felt for her Rose & Grave friends. Well, Amy would never know what this was like. She could have the stupid Diggers. Lydia would hang out with Josh.
When enough people had cleared out, Lydia and Josh even got a chance to talk to the Eli president and, then, party over, they walked back to their colleges together. They spent another fifteen minutes chatting outside Josh’s gate, talking about law school and the classes they’d taken together and what they were planning to write their senior essays on. Funny. She’d known Josh for year as a formidable speaker, a political mastermind. He’d annoyed her in T.A. section with his ready answers and infuriated her across the debate table. Why hadn’t she ever thought of him as, you know, cute?
And cute he was, in a kind of skinny, preppy way. She’d continued to think of Josh as the slightly nerdy kid he’d been freshman fall, and had somehow missed the way he’d grown into his lanky frame and stopped wearing his hair so severely combed and finally gotten a pair of pants that fit. Fit well, she might add.
He didn’t ask for her number, but he didn’t need to. She lived on campus; she was listed. He said he would call her and then he kissed her, right there by the blue emergency phone. It was the first time Lydia had been kissed in the sunlight in years. This was no post-party hook-up, no obligatory end of night snog. He was kissing her at five p.m. in front of the main gate of his college, for all the world and Eli to see. She should have thought it was weird, and abrupt, and uncalled-for. They’d never even been on a date. They’d never been anything, but classmates and acquaintances for three years. Today, they’d been inducted into phi beta kappa, and it was as if scales had fallen from their eyes.
After a minute, he came up for air. “Very agile,” he said, and went inside.
Lydia couldn’t wipe the grin off her face as she walked back to Prescott. She bounced up the steps to her entryway, bursting with news for Amy, and then froze. Wait. How could she tell Amy about Josh without explaining how they’d met? Hmmm, conundrum. Well, it was early yet. Maybe keep it to herself until she knew if anything came after that kiss.
That killer, killer kiss.
And here she thought she’d weighed the romantic potential of every guy in her class. Just this afternoon, she’d been convinced that her senior year would be a dud in the dating department. She wondered how many other guys she’d inadvertently crossed off her list. Perhaps, like Josh, they were just dreamboats in disguise, folks she’d known so long she’d stopped thinking of them as possible partners in more than just debate tournaments. Perhaps she should do a little more research into the hidden treasures of Eli’s senior class.
Joshua Silver had better call soon if he wanted to catch her before her dance card filled up. After all, with Lydia Travinecek, some things were fait accompli.