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Chapter 5
“Hey Blair, Serena must have told you she was coming back,” Chuck said. “Come on, tell us. What's the deal?” Blair stared back at him blankly, her small, fox-like face turning red. The truth was, she hadn't really spoken to Serena in over a year. At first, when Serena had gone to boarding school after sophomore year, Blair had really missed her. But it soon became apparent how much easier it was to shine without Serena around. Suddenly Blair was the prettiest, the smartest, the hippest, most happening girl in the room. She became the one everyone looked to. So Blair stopped missing Serena so much. She'd felt a little guilty for not staying in touch, but even that had worn off when she'd received Serena's flip and impersonal e-mails describing all the fun she was having at boarding school. “Hitchhiked to Vermont to go snowboarding and spent the night dancing with the hottest guys!” “Crazy night last night. Damn, my head hurts!” The last news Blair had received was a postcard this past summer: “Blair: Turned seventeen on Bastille Day. France rocks!! Miss you!!! Love, Serena,” was all it said. Blair had tucked the postcard into her old Fendi shoebox with all the other mementos from their friendship. A friendship she would cherish forever, but which she'd thought of as over until now. Serena was back. The lid was off the shoebox, and everything would go back to the way it was before she left. As always, it would be Serena and Blair, Blair and Serena, with Blair playing the smaller, fatter, mousier, less witty best friend of the blond über-girl, Serena van der Woodsen. Or not. Not if Blair could help it. “You must be so excited Serena's here!” Isabel chirped. But when she saw the look on Blair's face, she changed her tune. “Of course Constance took her back. It's so typical. They're too desperate to lose any of us.” Isabel lowered her voice. “I heard last spring Serena was fooling around with some townie up in New Hampshire. She had an abortion,” she added.“I bet it wasn't her first one either,” Chuck said. “Just look at her.” And so they did. All four of them looked at Serena, who was still chatting happily with Nate. Chuck saw the girl he'd wanted to sleep with since he could remember wanting to sleep with girls–first grade, maybe? Kati saw the girl she'd been copying since she started shopping for her own clothes–third grade? Isabel saw the girl who'd gotten to be an angel with wings made out of real feathers at the Church of the Heavenly Rest Christmas pageant, while Isabel was a lowly shepherd and had to wear a burlap sack. Third grade again. Both Kati and Isabel saw the girl who would inevitably steal Blair away from them and leave them with only each other, which was too dull to even think about. And Blair saw Serena, her best friend, the girl she would always love and hate. The girl she could never measure up to and had tried so hard to replace. The girl she'd wanted everyone to forget. For about ten seconds Blair thought about telling her friends the truth: She didn't know Serena was coming back. But how would that look? Blair was supposed to be plugged in, and how plugged in would she sound if she admitted she knew nothing about Serena's return, while her friends seemed to know so much? Blair couldn't very well stand there and say nothing. That would be too obvious. She always had something to say. Besides, who wanted to hear the truth when the truth was so incredibly boring? Blair lived for drama. Here was her chance. Blair cleared her throat. “It all happened very . . . suddenly,” she said mysteriously. She looked down and fiddled with the little ruby ring on the middle finger of her right hand. The film was rolling, and Blair was getting warmed up. “I think Serena is pretty messed up about it. But I promised her I wouldn't say anything,” she added. Her friends nodded as if they understood completely. It sounded serious and juicy, and best of all it sounded like Serena had confided everything to Blair. If only Blair could script the rest of the movie, she'd wind up with the boy for sure. And Serena could play the girl who falls off the cliff and cracks her skull on a rock and is eaten alive by hungry vultures, never to be seen again. “Careful, Blair,” Chuck warned, nodding at Serena and Nate, who were still talking in low voices over by the wet bar, their eyes never straying from each other's faces. “Looks like Serena's already found her next victim.” s & n Serena was holding Nate's hand loosely in hers, swinging it back and forth. “Remember Buck Naked?” she asked him, laughing softly. Nate chuckled, still embarrassed, even after all these years. Buck Naked was Nate's alter ego, invented at a party in eighth grade, when most of them had gotten drunk for the first time. After drinking six beers, Nate had taken his shirt off, and Serena and Blair had drawn a goofy, buck-toothed face on his torso in black marker. For some reason the face brought out the devil in Nate, and he started a drinking game. Everyone sat in a circle and Nate stood in the middle, holding a Latin textbook and shouting out verbs for them to conjugate. The first person to mess up had to drink and kiss Buck Naked. Of course they all messed up, boys and girls alike, so Buck got a lot of action that night. The next morning, Nate tried to pretend it hadn't happened, but the proof was inked on his skin. It took weeks for Buck to wash off in the shower. “And what about the Red Sea?” Serena said. She studied Nate's face. Neither of them was smiling now. “The Red Sea,” Nate repeated, drowning in the deep blue lakes of her eyes. Of course he remembered. How could he forget? One hot August weekend, the summer after tenth grade, Nate had been in the city with his dad, while the rest of the Archibald family was still in Maine. Serena was up in her country house in Ridgefield, Connecticut, so bored she'd painted each of her fingernails and toenails a different color. Blair was at the Waldorf castle in Gleneagles, Scotland, at her aunt's wedding. But that hadn't topped her two best friends from having fun without her. When Nate called, Serena hopped right on the New Haven line into Grand Central Station. Nate met Serena on the platform. She stepped off the train wearing a light blue silk slip dress and pink rubber flip-flops. Her yellow hair hung loose, just touching her bare shoulders. She wasn't carrying a bag, not even a wallet or keys. To Nate, she looked like an angel. How lucky he was. Life didn't get any better than the moment when Serena flip-flopped down the platform, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed him on the lips. That wonderful, surprising kiss. First they had martinis at the little bar upstairs by the Vanderbilt Avenue entrance to Grand Central. Then they got a cab straight up Park Avenue to Nate's Eighty-second Street townhouse. His father was entertaining some foreign bankers and was going to be out until very late, so Serena and Nate had the place to themselves. Oddly enough, it was the first time they'd ever been alone together and noticed. It didn't take long. They sat out in the garden, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Nate was wearing a long-sleeved polo shirt, and the weather was extremely hot, so he took it off. His shoulders were scattered with tiny freckles, and his back was muscled and tan from hours at the docks, building a sailboat with his father up in Maine. Serena was hot too, so she climbed into the fountain. She sat on the marble Venus de Milo statue's knee, splashing herself with water until her dress was soaked through. It wasn't difficult to see who the real goddess was. Venus looked like a lumpy pile of marble compared to Serena. Nate staggered over to the fountain and got in with her, and soon they were tearing the rest of each other's clothes off. It was August after all. The only way to tolerate the city in August is to get naked. Nate was worried about the security cameras trained on his parents' house at all times, front and back, so he led Serena inside and up to his parents' bedroom.

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