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Chapter 31
There was nothing awkward about the fact that they weren’t talking. It was nice. When the cab pulled up in front of the old Barneys building on Seventeenth Street, Dan was expecting to see Jenny waiting for them outside, but the sidewalk was empty. “I guess I’m going to have to go in there and get her,” Dan said. He turned to Serena. “You can go ahead home. Or you can wait. . . .” “I’ll come with you,” Serena said. “I may as well see what I missed out on.” Dan paid for the cab, and they got out and headed for the door. “I hope they let us in,” Serena whispered. “I threw my invitation out.” Dan pulled the crumpled invitation Jenny had made for him out of his pocket and flashed it at the bouncer at the door. “She’s with me,” he said, putting his arm around Serena. “Go ahead,” the bouncer said, waving them on. She’s with me? Dan couldn’t believe his balls. He’d had no idea they were that big. “I’d better look around for my sister,” he told Serena when they got inside. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll meet you back here in ten minutes.” The room was full of old familiar faces. So familiar that no one there was quite sure whether Serena van der Woodsen had just arrived or if she’d been there all night. She certainly looked like she’d been having a good time. Her hair was windblown, her dress was slipping off her shoulders, there was a run in her tights, and her cheeks were all pink, as if she’d been running. She looked wild, like the kind of girl who’d done everything everyone said she’d done, and probably a whole lot more. Blair noticed Serena right away, standing on the edge of the dance floor in that funny old dress they’d bought together at Alice Underground. Blair pulled away from Nate. “Look who’s here,” she said. Nate turned around, gripping Blair’s hand when he saw Serena, as if to demonstrate his devotion. Blair squeezed his hand back. “Why don’t you go tell her?” she asked him. “Tell her you can’t be friends with her anymore.” Her stomach rumbled nervously. After all the throwing up she’d done, she really needed another tuna roll. Nate stared at Serena with grim, slightly stoned determination. If Blair thought it was crucial that he tell Serena to get lost, then he’d do it. He couldn’t wait to get this all behind them so he could relax. In fact, after he talked to Serena he was going to head upstairs and find somewhere private to light up. Waspoid rule #1: When things get intense, smoke a joint. “All right,” Nate said, letting go of Blair’s hand. “Here I go.” “Hey,” Serena said. She reached up and kissed Nate on the cheek. He blushed. He hadn’t expected her to touch him. “You look mahvelous, darling,” she said in a silly, hoity-toity accent. “Thanks,” Nate said. He tried to put his hands in his pockets, but his tuxedo didn’t have any. Stupid thing. “So, what have you been up to?” he asked. “Well, I kind of blew off the party,” Serena explained. “I’ve been out dancing at this crazy place in Brooklyn.” Nate raised his eyebrows in surprise. But then again, nothing Serena said should have surprised him anymore. “So, you want to dance?” Serena asked. She put her arms around Nate’s neck before he answered, and began to swing her hips from side to side. Nate glanced at Blair, who was watching them carefully, and collected himself. “Look, Serena,” he said, taking a step back and removing her arms. “I really can’t . . . you know . . . be friends . . . not like the way we were before,” he began. Serena gazed into his eyes searchingly, trying to read his true thoughts. “What did I do?” she said. “Did I do something?” “Blair is my girlfriend,” Nate continued. “I have to . . . I have to be loyal to her. I can’t . . . I can’t really be . . .” He swallowed. Serena crossed her arms over her chest. If only she could hate Nate for being so cruel and so lame. If only he weren’t so good-looking. And if only she didn’t love him. “Well, I guess we should stop talking then,” she said. “Blair might get mad.” She let her arms fall to her sides and turned abruptly away. As she crossed the room, Serena’s eyes met Blair’s. She stopped in her tracks and reached into her bag, searching for the twenty-dollar bill Blair had left on the table at the Tribeca Star. She wanted to give it back. As if, somehow, it would prove she hadn’t done anything wrong. That night, or ever. Her fingers found her cigarettes instead. She pulled one out and stuck it between her lips. The music was getting louder and around her, people were dancing. Serena could feel Blair watching her, and her hands trembled as she fumbled around in her bag for a light. As usual, she didn’t have one. She shook her head in annoyance, and glanced up at Blair. And then, instead of glaring at each other, the two girls smiled. It was strange smile, and neither girl knew what the other meant by it. Was Blair smiling because she had won the boy in the end and stamped all over Serena’s party shoes? Because—as usual—she had gotten her way? Was Serena smiling because she felt uncomfortable and nervous? Or was she smiling because she hadn’t stooped to Blair’s petty level of spreading nasty rumors and playing with Nate’s mind? Or was it a sad smile because their friendship was over? Maybe they were smiling because they both knew deep down that no matter what happened next—no matter what boy they fell in or out of love with, or what clothes they wore, or what their SAT scores were, or which college they got into—they both would be all right. After all, the world they lived in took care of its own. Serena pulled the cigarette out of her mouth, dropped it on the floor and began walking toward Blair. When they were face to face, she stopped and fished the twenty-dollar bill out of her bag. “Here,” she said, handing it to Blair. “This is yours.” And then, without another word, she kept on walking, heading for the ladies’ room to splash some cold water on her face. Blair looked down at the bill in her hand and stopped smiling. Over by the door, Rebecca Agnelli from the Central Park Save the Peregrine Falcon Foundation was just putting on her mink coat and kissing Kati and Isabel goodnight. Blair walked over and pressed the twenty-dollar bill into her hand. “That’s for the birds,” Blair said with her fakest smile. “Don’t forget your gift bag!” Serena turned on the tap and splashed her face over and over with cool clean water. It felt so good she wanted to peel off all her clothes and jump in. She leaned against the row of sinks, patting her face dry. Her gaze slipped to the floor, where she saw a pair of black wing-tipped shoes, the fringed end of a blue scarf, and a girl’s black handbag. Serena rolled her eyes and walked over. “Chuck, is that you?” she said into the crack in the door. “Who’ve you got in there with you?” A girl gasped. “Shit,” Serena heard Chuck say. Chuck had stood Jenny up on the toilet-seat lid in the end stall and pulled her dress down so he could............
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