Poe in D.C.
Please note: This story takes place after the end of Secret Society Girl
The guy across the street went to Eli, and he’s throwing a party. At least, that’s as much as I can discern from the line of cars now crowding his driveway and taking up space along the curb for a block in either direction. Most of the cars bear Eli window stickers, which jump out at me like neon lights. Some of the people heading into the party are wearing Eli T-shirts.
There are four of us working in the clients’ yard: my dad, me, and two day laborers—one who, in my opinion, is entirely too old to be out in the August heat. My gray T-shirt is almost soaked through, and I can feel the beginning of a burn on the back of my neck. I refuse to stick a handkerchief under my cap like Dad does, but I pay for it.
The baseball cap in question has the “E” for Eli sewn into the brim, but not one of the party attendants seems to notice that as they traipse by. Gardeners, you see, are invisible. If I were playing Frisbee on the National Mall or hanging out at a sports bar in Georgetown, they’d notice. They’d come over, say hi, maybe ask me what college I was in. But no gardener is an Eli graduate. Their eyes glaze right over the insignia on my hat.
This is useful information. Perhaps I should inform the CIA.
Not that they’ve been returning my calls of late.
I’m leaning on my spade, watching, when my dad comes over. He’s got a thermos in one hand and a filthy towel in the other that he uses to wipe the sweat off his face and neck.
“You’re quieter than usual,” he says, which is one of his older jokes. I’m always quieter than usual.
“Eli party across the street,” I say, and take the thermos from his hand. Lukewarm Gatorade, but it keeps you hydrated.
“Oh, why didn’t you tell me? Do you want to get off early and go?”
I almost laugh at this. I’m not invited just because I went to college there. If it were an Eli Club event, I’d probably have gotten an email about it. Though I don’t know if I’m still on the DC listserv. And even if I was, and there was an email, I probably deleted it. I’m not much for the picnics or the kayaking or the softball games against Harvard.
And the one event I would have attended—a cocktail party for Diggers at the house of one of the patriarchs—well, I skipped that one, too. No point being reminded, right? I’m a pariah on both sides, now.
And I can’t tell my dad that there’s no way I’m crashing some collegiate party covered in sweat and dirt. I look like a ditch digger, not a Rose & Grave Digger.
“I’m pretty wiped,” I say instead.
Another car with Eli stickers pulls up and parks right behind Dad’s trailer. The passenger door opens and out bounds none other than Amy Haskel.
I bend my head over my spade. Here’s someone I don’t want noticing my hat.
Amy is focused on the driver, whom I believe is her Prescott roommate, Lydia someone. They are doing that thing girls do where they shout the lyrics of a song so loud you can’t tell if it’s oldies, R&B, hip-hop, or that old Alanis Morrisette song girls like so much. Amy is shimmying and tossing her hair. She’s dyed red streaks in it over the summer. It looks ridiculous. Does she think she’s a rock star?
“Come on, Lyds,” she calls to the driver, still dancing in the street. So I was right. Lydia seems to have come to the party directly from her job. She’s wearing an Eli t-shirt and a dress skirt and heels. She’s still inside the car, doing that other thing girls do, where they try to change clothes without removing their old clothing first. Her efforts are stymied by the fact that there are four strange men in the yard. To her, we’re not completely invisible.
But I’m not paying attention to Lydia and her clothing contortions. No, I’m looking at Amy. I bet she went to the Digger cocktail party, rock-star red streaks and all. She got a job from a patriarch, in the end. Lucky bitch. She’s wearing a halter top, a short denim skirt, and sparkly flip-flops. I don’t see her pin anywhere, but then again, I bet Malcolm taught her to put it someplace discreet.
Not that her outfit has much yardage for hiding spaces.
I suppose I know now what Malcolm saw in her. She’s decent enough on paper, but it’s the attitude that really makes the difference. I thought it was a liability. I was wrong; it’s the opposite. The way she spoke in New York… I couldn’t stop myself. My mouth moved on my own and ruined everything.
I stab my spade into the dirt. Stupid, lucky bitch. And now she’s the one with the nice summer job, and the invitations to the Eli parties. And next year I’m going to have to watch her in the tomb. In our tomb. My tomb.
“Well, I’m heading in,” Amy says. “It’s sweltering out here.”
No kidding. My mind fills with words far nastier than bitch before I catch myself. She’s my brother, now. I took an oath.
And so did she. I wonder what would happen if she noticed me out here in the yard. Would she remember her oath? Would she take me into the party with her?
Would I want her to?
And then she’s off, flitting across the street and up the walk. She seems incapable of walking anywhere like a normal person. She’s more like a puppy—everything is skipping or plodding or bounding or sprinting. And why not? She lives a charmed life. First a Digger without any real qualifications and now a happy little DC intern who lives in air conditioning and runs around in sparkly flip-flops.
Her friend is still in the car, trying in vain to pull her shorts up without showing us all her ass. Which reminds me: Malcolm said all the new taps got tattoos, but I didn’t see Amy’s. I wonder if it’s on her ass. If she were the one changing in the car, I’d know for sure.
I lift the sapling from the pot and place it in the hole I’ve dug, packing loose dirt in around the root ball. My fingernails have turned black these past few months. Every time I catch sight of them on a keyboard, I almost don’t recognize my hands. They look like Dad’s.
I look up again and my eyes meet Lydia’s. She waves at me.
Shit. I wave back. Does she notice the hat?
“Hot out here, huh?” she says.
I grunt. Maybe she’ll think I don’t speak English. Or that I found the hat at a thrift store. I don’t want to get into a conversation with the roommate of Amy Haskel.
“Lydia!” the shout comes from across the street. Amy is standing on the front porch, waving like a maniac and grinning like two. “Help me with these!”
Malcolm is a moron. She may be incredibly strong-willed, but she’s not a Digger. Just look at her. Zero self-control.
If it were any of my fellow knights other than Malcolm, I’d say he’d been thinking with his dick. She’s cute enough. Not beautiful like Clarissa Cuthbert or Odile Dumas, but then again, she doesn’t have their pedigree, either. But certainly cute enough. I heard she had a thing with George Prescott after Initiation. Shocker. Is there a girl at Eli he hasn’t banged?
Now she’s sashaying across the street with a clutch of frost-soaked water bottles in the crook of her arm. She hands one to the nearest laborer.
Shit. Shit. I grab my spade and head for the backyard.
I am not taking charity from Amy Haskel.
My dad finds me a few minutes later and hands me the bottled water. It’s covered in condensation, the label peeling off and grubby after passing through my father’s hands.
“You’re right,” he says, as I twist off the cap and start chugging. So much for my pride in this heat. “It’s an Eli party. Girl dropped by with some drinks for the crew. When I told her my son was here and went to Eli, she said you should come on over.”
That’s because she doesn’t know it’s me. “You told her who I was?”
“Yeah. She’s a senior next year, but she said she doesn’t know you.”
I almost choke on the icy water. Doesn’t know me?
Guess Amy can keep a secret after all.