Gilt_ By Invitation Only - Geneva Lee

Chapter One

“Emma, you look like hell,” my best friend Josie announces to me as I slide into the passenger seat of her beater Civic. I toss my bag onto the floorboard, ignoring the helpful commentary. Instead I pull my wet hair into a messy bun on top of my head. When I don’t respond she sighs and reaches into the pile of random junk that she stores in the center console. She tosses a container of concealer at me before she backs out of my driveway.

“This isn’t your color,” I point out, eyeing the fair shade suspiciously.

“No.” She keeps her eyes on the road, but I spot the grin tugging up the corners of her mouth. “It’s yours. You’re usually the one who needs it.”

I raise an eyebrow, which is seriously risky, given that she’ll probably deem them in need of intervention. “Are you sure? Because it seems like you’ve got a little bitch showing.”

“Not my color,” she reminds me.

Despite being stuck in standard prep uniform, she looks amazing. Between her corkscrew curls and fuchsia lips, there's an effortless coolness to Josie's style. I guess that’s what you get when your mom is a former show girl pretty enough to get knocked up by a high-roller who didn’t stick around to place a second bet. Either way he scored big— if only he knew it. Josie has her mom’s long legs, ready smile, and way with the men. I say men because she doesn’t bother with the guys at school. She prefers to work out her daddy issues with any number of willing tourists.

My dad stands on the porch holding a mug of what I hope is coffee. Josie waves to him cheerfully, narrowly avoiding our mailbox, as I begin to pat the liquid magic on the dark circles rimming my eyes.

“Nightmares? The one about Becca?” She taps the steering wheel, showcasing her fluorescent pink nail polish that looks all that much brighter against her cappuccino skin.

“Test. I had to cram.” I lie because I don’t want to discuss my seriously screwed up head at seven a.m.

Josie doesn’t press it even though she sees through me. She knows the truth because she knows me. That means she also gets that I’m not one to gush about my feelings. What’s the point? Talking can’t change the shit that’s happened.

“Last day,” she says instead, “and tonight we party.”

“You party,” I correct her. “Dad needs me to take over morning shift at the shop first thing on Monday.”

“Which gives you a whole weekend, and don’t try telling me that you have a hot date.”

I flush at the thought. Yeah, hot dates are for girls who haven’t been forced into an involuntary vow of celibacy. “I do actually. With laundry and Netflix.”

Josie’s nose wrinkles and she shakes her head. “You need a life.”

“I had one.” I stare out the window instantly wishing I hadn’t spoken, especially something that made me sound stupid and broken and girly. I'm getting used to the hollow pit my sister's death has left at my core, but today's a day I can't ignore it.

We pull into the school parking lot with my admission hanging like a nasty stink in the air. We both can smell it but we’re too polite to talk about it. Josie whips the car so quickly into a space that a nearby frosh jumps out of the way. She shrugs sweetly at him. No one can resist Josie, even if she’s just put their life in danger. One of the many reasons that we’re an odd couple. I don’t smile or chit chat. Hell, I don’t make eye contact if I can help it.

“Emma, she wouldn’t want you to give up on living,” she says in a quiet voice.

"Yeah, well, I wanted to see her graduate this weekend," I snap. She doesn't deserve my reaction, but a year later and I'm still working through the second stage of grief. I prefer when we pretend we're still in denial though.

So much for polite oblivion. I throw my bag over my shoulder, and disappear into the crowd of students scrambling through the front door as the first bell slices the air. This is where I feel safe, lost in a swarm of people who aren’t asking if I’m okay or if they can do anything to help. Or worse yet the people who turn those sad eyes on me. I don’t want their practiced pity or sympathetic attention. Because there is such a thing as a stupid question