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Chapter 6
The rest is history. They both had sex for the first time. It was awkward and painful and exciting and fun, and so sweet they forgot to be embarrassed. It was exactly the way you'd want your first time to be, and they had no regrets. Afterwards, they turned on the television, which was tuned to the History Channel, a documentary about the Red Sea. Serena and Nate lay in bed, holding each other and looking up at the clouds through the skylight overhead, while they listened to the narrator of the program talk about Moses parting the Red Sea. Serena thought that was hilarious. “You parted my Red Sea!” she howled, wrestling Nate against the pillows. Nate laughed and rolled her up in the sheet like a mummy. “And now I will leave you here as a sacrifice to the Holy Land!” he said in a deep, horror-movie voice. And he did leave her, for a little while. He got up and ordered a huge feast of Chinese food and bad white wine, and they lay in bed and ate and drank, and he parted her Red Sea once again before the sky grew dark and the stars twinkled in the skylight. A week later, Serena went away to boarding school at Hanover Academy, while Nate and Blair stayed behind in New York. Ever since, Serena had spent every vacation away–the Austrian Alps at Christmas, the Dominican Republic for Easter, the summer traveling in Europe. This was the first time she'd been back, the first time she and Nate had seen each other since the parting of the Red Sea. “Blair doesn't know, does she?” Serena asked Nate quietly. Blair who? Nate thought, with a momentary case of amnesia. He shook his head. “No,” he said. “If you haven't told her, she doesn't know.” But Chuck Bass knew, which was almost worse. Nate had blurted the information out at a party only two nights ago in a drunken fit of complete stupidity. They'd been doing shots, and Chuck had asked, “So, Nate. What was your all time best fuck? That is, if you've done it all yet.” “Well, I did it with Serena van der Woodsen,” Nate had bragged, like an idiot. And Chuck wasn't going to keep it a secret for long. It was way too juicy and way too useful. Chuck didn't need to read that book How to Win Friends and Influence People. He fucking wrote it. Although he wasn't doing so well in the friends department. Serena didn't seem to notice Nate's uncomfortable silence. She sighed, bowing her head to rest it on his shoulder. She no longer smelled like Chanel's Cristalle like she always used to. She smelled like honey and sandalwood and lilies–her own essential-oil mixture. It was very Serena, utterly irresistible, but if anyone else tried to wear it, it would probably smell like dog poo. “Shit. I missed you like crazy, Nate,” she said. “I wish you could've seen the stuff I pulled. I was so bad.” “What do you mean? What did you do that was so bad?” Nate asked, with a mixture of dread and anticipation. For a brief second he imagined her hosting orgies in her dorm room at Hanover Academy and having affairs with older men in hotel rooms in Paris. He wished he could've visited her in Europe this summer. He'd always wanted to do it in a hotel. “And I've been such a horrible friend, too,” Serena went on. “I've barely even talked to Blair since I left. And so much has happened. I can already tell she's mad. She hasn't even said hello.” “She's not mad,” Nate said. “Maybe she's just feeling shy.” Serena flashed him a look. “Right,” she said mockingly. “Blair's feeling shy. Since when has Blair ever been shy?” “Well, she's not mad,” Nate insisted. Serena shrugged. “Well, anyway, I'm so psyched to be back here with you guys. We'll do all the things we used to do. Blair and I will cut class and meet you on the roof of the Met, and then we'll run down to that old movie theater by the Plaza Hotel and see some weirdo film until cocktail hour starts. And you and Blair will stay together forever and I'll be the maid of honor at your wedding. And we'll be happy ever after, just like in the movies.” Nate frowned. “Don't make that face, Nate,” Serena said, laughing. “That doesn't sound so bad, does it?” Nate shrugged. “No, I guess it sounds okay,” he said, although he clearly didn't believe it. “What sounds okay?” a surly voice demanded. Startled, Nate and Serena tore their eyes away from each other. It was Chuck, and with him were Kati, Isabel, and, last but not least, Blair, looking very shy indeed. Chuck clapped Nate on the back. “Sorry, Nate,” he said. “But you can't bogey the van der Woodsen all night, you know.” Nate snorted and tipped back his glass. Only ice was left. Serena looked at Blair. Or at least, she tried to. Blair was making a big deal of pulling up her black stockings, working them inch by inch from her bony ankles up to her bony knees, and up around her tennis-muscled thighs. So Serena gave up and kissed first Kati, then Isabel, and then she made her way to Blair. There was only a limited amount of time Blair could spend pulling up her tights before it got ridiculous. When Serena was only inches away from her, she looked up and pretended to be surprised. “Hey Blair,” Serena said excitedly. She put her hands on the shorter girl's shoulders and bent down to kiss both of her cheeks. “I'm so sorry I didn't call you before I came back. I wanted to. But things have been so crazy. I have so much to tell you!” Chuck, Kati, and Isabel all nudged each other and stared at Blair. It was pretty obvious she had lied. She didn't know anything about Serena coming back. Blair's face heated up. Busted. Nate noticed the tension, but he thought it was for an entirely different reason. Had Chuck told Blair already? Was he busted? Nate couldn't tell. Blair wasn't even looking at him. It was a chilly moment. Not the kind of moment you'd expect to have with your oldest, closest friends. Serena's eyes darted from one face to another. Clearly she had said something wrong, and she quickly guessed what it was. I'm such an asshole, she scolded herself. “I mean, I'm sorry I didn't call you last night. I literally just got back from Ridgefield. My parents have been hiding me there until they figured out what to do with me. I have been so bored.” Nice save. She waited for Blair to smile gratefully for covering for her, but all Blair did was glance at Kati and Isabel to see if they'd noticed the slip. Blair was acting strange, and Serena fought down a rising panic. Maybe Nate was wrong, maybe Blair really was mad at her. Serena had missed out on so much. The divorce, for instance. Poor Blair. “It must really stink without your dad around,” Serena said. “But your mom looks so good, and Cyrus is kind of sweet, once you get used to him.” She giggled. But Blair still wasn't smiling. “Maybe,” she said, staring out the window at the hot-dog stand. “I guess I'm still not used to him.” All six of them were silent for a long, tense moment. What they needed was one more good, stiff drink. Nate rattled the ice cubes in his glass. “Who wants another?” he offered. “I'll make them.” Serena held out her glass. “Thanks, Nate,” she said. “I'm so fucking thirsty. They locked the damned booze cabinet up in Ridgefield. Can you believe it?” Blair shook her head. “No, thanks,” she said. “If I have another, I'll be hungover at school tomorrow,” Kati said. Isabel laughed. “You're always hungover at school,” she said. She handed Nate her glass. “Here, I'll split mine with Kati.” “Let me give you a hand,” Chuck offered. But before he could get very far, Mrs. van der Woodsen joined them, touching her daughter's arm. “Serena,” her mother said. “Eleanor would like us all to sit down. She made an extra place next to Blair for you, so you two girls can catch up.” Serena cast an anxious glance at Blair, but Blair had already turned away and was headed for the table, sitting down next to her eleven-year-old brother, Tyler, who had been at his place for over an hour, reading Rolling Stone magazine. Tyler's idol was that movie director, Cameron Crowe, who had toured with Led Zeppelin when he was only fifteen. Tyler refused to listen to CDs, insisting that real vinyl records were the only way to go. Blair worried her brother was turning into a loser.Serena steeled herself and pulled up a chair in the space next to Blair. “Blair, I'm sorry I've been such a complete asshole,” she said, removing her linen napkin from its silver ring and spreading it out on her lap. “Your parents splitting up must have totally sucked.” Blair shrugged and grabbed a fresh sourdough roll from a basket on the table. She tore the roll in half and stuffed one half into her mouth. The other guests were still making their way toward the table and figuring out where to sit. Blair knew it was rude to eat before everyone was seated, but if her mouth was full, she couldn't talk, and she really didn't feel like talking. “I wish I'd been here,” Serena said, watching Blair smear the other half of her roll with a thick slab of French butter. “But I had a crazy year. I have the most insane stories to tell you.” Blair nodded and chewed her roll slowly, like a cow chewing its cud. Serena waited for Blair to ask her what kind of stories, but Blair didn't say anything, she just kept on chewing. She didn't want to hear about all the fabulous things Serena had done while she was away and Blair had been stuck at home, watching her parents fight over antique chairs that nobody sat on, teacups nobody used, and ugly, expensive paintings. Serena had wanted to tell Blair about Charles, the only Rastafarian at Hanover Academy, who'd asked her to elope with him to Jamaica. About Nicholas, the French college guy who never wore underwear and who'd chased her train in a tiny Fiat all the way from Paris to Milan. About smoking hash in Amsterdam and sleeping in a park with a group of drunk prostitutes because she forgot where she was staying. She wanted to tell Blair how much it sucked to find out that Hanover Academy wouldn't take her back senior year simply because she'd blown off the first few weeks of school. She wanted to tell Blair how scared she was to go back to Constance tomorrow because she hadn't exactly been studying very hard in the last year and she felt so completely out of touch. But Blair wasn't interested. She grabbed another roll and took a big bite. “Wine, miss?” Esther said, standing at Serena's left with the bottle. “Yes, thank you,” Serena said. She watched the C.te du Rhone spill into her glass and thought of the Red Sea once more. Maybe Blair does know, she thought. Was that what this was all about? Was that why she was acting so weird? Serena glanced at Nate, four chairs down on the right, but he was deep in conversation with her father. Talking about boats no doubt. “So, you and Nate are still totally together?” Serena said, taking a risk.

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