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Chapter 9
He was pale, his hair was shaggy, and he was rock-star thin. Existentialism has a way of killing your appetite. “Guess who's back?” Dan heard his little sister squeal excitedly into the phone. Like Dan, Jenny was a bit of a loner, and when she needed someone to talk to, she always called him. She was the one who had bought them both cell phones. “Jenny, can't this wait–” Dan started to say, sounding annoyed in the way that only older brothers can. “Serena van der Woodsen!” Jenny interrupted him. “Serena is back at Constance. I saw her in Prayers. Can you believe it?” Dan watched a plastic coffee-cup lid skitter down the sidewalk. A red Saab sped down West End Avenue through a yellow light. His socks felt damp inside his brown suede Hush Puppies. Serena van der Woodsen. He took a long drag on his Camel. His hands were shaking so much he almost missed his mouth. “Dan?” his sister squeaked into the phone. “Can you hear me? Did you hear what I said? Serena is back. Serena van der Woodsen.” Dan sucked in his breath sharply. “Yeah, I heard you,” he said, feigning disinterest. “So what?” “So what?” Jenny said incredulously. “Oh, right, like you didn't just have a mini heart attack. You're so full of it, Dan.” “No, I'm serious,” Dan said, pissily. “What are you calling me for? What do I care?” Jenny sighed loudly. Dan could be so irritating. Why couldn't he just act happy for once? She was so tired of his pale, miserable, introspective-poet act. “All right,” she said. “Forget it. I'll talk to you later.” She clicked off and Dan shoved his cell phone back into the pocket of his faded black corduroys. He snatched a pack of cigarettes out of his back pocket and lit another one with the burning stub of the one he was already smoking. His thumbnail got singed, but he didn't even feel it. Serena van der Woodsen. They had first met at a party. No, that wasn't exactly true. Dan had seen her at a party, his party, the only one he'd ever had at his family's apartment on Ninety-ninth and West End Avenue. It was April of eighth grade. The party was Jenny's idea, and their father, Rufus Humphrey, the infamous retired editor of lesser-known beat poets and a party animal himself, was happy to oblige. Their mother had already moved to Prague a few years before to “focus on her art.” Dan invited his entire class and told them to invite as many people as they wanted. More than a hundred kids showed up, and Rufus kept the beer flowing out of a keg in the bathtub, getting many of the kids drunk for the first time. It was the best party Dan had ever been to, even if he did say so himself. Not because of the booze, but because Serena van der Woodsen was there. Never mind that she had gotten wasted and wound up playing a stupid Latin drinking game and kissing some guy's stomach with pictures scrawled all over it in magic marker. Dan couldn't keep his eyes off her. Afterwards, Jenny told him that Serena went to her school, Constance, and from then on Jenny was his little emissary, reporting everything she'd seen Serena do, say, wear, etc., and informing Dan about any upcoming events where he might catch a glimpse of her again. Those events were rare. Not because there weren't a lot of them–there were–but because there weren't many Dan had even a chance of going to. Dan didn't inhabit the same world as Serena and Blair and Nate and Chuck. He wasn't anybody. He was just a regular kid. For two years Dan followed Serena, yearningly, from a distance. He never spoke to her. When she went away to boarding school, he tried to forget about her, sure that he would never see her again, unless by some act of magic they wound up at the same college. And now she was back. Dan walked halfway down the block, then turned around and walked back again. His mind was racing. He could have another party. He could make invitations and get Jenny to slip one into Serena's locker at school. When Serena came to his apartment, Dan would walk right up to her and take her coat, and welcome her back to New York. It rained every day you were gone, he'd say, poetically. Then they would sneak into his father's library and take each other's clothes off and kiss on the leather couch in front of the fire. And when everyone left the party, they would share a bowl of Breyers coffee ice cream, Dan's favorite. From then on they would spend every minute together. They would even transfer to a coed high school like Trinity for the rest of senior year because they couldn't stand to be apart. Then they would go to Columbia and live in a studio apartment nearby with nothing in it but a huge bed. Serena's friends would try to lure her back to her old life, but no charity ball, no exclusive black-tie dinner, no expensive party favor could tempt her. She wouldn't care if she had to give up her trust fund and her great-grandmother's diamonds. Serena would be willing to live in squalor if it meant she could be with Dan. “Fucking hell, we've only got five minutes until the bell rings,” Dan heard someone say in an obnoxious voice. Dan turned around, and sure enough, it was Chuck Bass, or “Scarf Boy,” as Dan liked to call him, since Chuck was............
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