Chapter 1– Southern Belle Rule #5: Dress Well and Presentable at All Times
The plush পরাকাষ্ঠা carpet was starting to aggravate Cara in unimaginable ways. She remembered begging her mother for পরাকাষ্ঠা carpet years পূর্বে because all the girls in the neighborhood wanted পরাকাষ্ঠা carpet. When she got it, she had been the only with that color carpet. She remembered how proud she felt boasting to the other girls about how she was the first with পরাকাষ্ঠা carpet. Over the years, she realized how ridiculous the color পরাকাষ্ঠা was. পরাকাষ্ঠা is for little girls and a week from now, she would no longer be a little girl. She will be an official southern belle. The carpet was jeopardizing everything.
Making a mental note to herself to fix the carpet, she retreated downstairs to where she smelled ব্লুবেরি কেইকবিশেষ that told her that her mama was home. She moved a little faster until she reached the kitchen. Standing over the counter with a Southern Living Magazine in her hands, her mama munched on her কেইকবিশেষ with her eyes intent on the magazine. Cara felt a little jolt of happiness in her অস্থি at the sight of her mother. She was almost never প্রথমপাতা in the mornings.
Like most southern women in Brantley County, her mama had chosen to cut her pale blond hair shorter than before. She wore a stained পরিচ্চদ-রক্ষক বহিরাবরণ around her waist that was tilted to the left. Under it was a white cotton t-shirt and regular blue jeans. Around her neck was a string of pearls to give herself a dramatic flair. Despite the fact she was cooking, she wore white heels that made her legs appear longer than usual. Regardless of how her mother felt about being in the south, she still acted like a true southern woman.
“Hi, honey,” called her mom from the magazine, “I found a new recipe for আপেল pie. আপনি wanna help me out with it tonight?”
“Mama,” complained Cara, “you know I invited Izzy and Savannah over today. I promised we would have the sleepover at my house. Can we make the আপেল pie tomorrow?”
Cara’s mama stood up straight and placed a hand on her hip. She gave Cara one of her classic disapproval glares. “I don’t remember আপনি taking this up with me young lady.”
Cara shifted from foot to foot as she slid into one of the stools in the kitchen. She had forgotten to tell her mama about her plans for the evening. She had invited the girls over at the last minute. She had wanted to go over ideas for her debutante ball. Everything needed to be perfect if she wanted the head of the ball committee to accept her. “Oops, mama, I guess I forgot.” She shrugged her shoulders and slid the plate of কেইকবিশেষ closer to her.
“Honey, আপনি gotta tell me these things. আপনি know how I hate being the last to know.” She grabbed another plate to place the new batch of waffles. “I saw some moving vans outside the house.” She eyed Cara expectantly.
Cara groaned as she realized what her mama meant. “But do I have to do it now?”
“The sooner the better,” replied her mama. She pulled out some চকোলেট chip বিস্কুট she had already made before Cara had come downstairs. The বিস্কুট smelled delicious and made Cara irritated that the new neighbors always received the best of what her mama’s cooking had to offer. “Oh, and be nice, honey.”
“I always am, mother,” ব্যক্ত Cara. She snatched the plate of বিস্কুট leaving behind her steaming ব্লুবেরি waffles.
Her mama knew she hated greeting new neighbors. They were normally weirdoes with awful brats running around the house. The families would be from out of town moving down south to get a better perspective on life. In two weeks, they would সরানো out figuring out that the south was not for them. She walked across the রাস্তা eyeing the house. It had been beautiful and Victorian styled before the neighbors came. They had boxes cluttering the front lawn and tacky curtains hanging in the windows. Hopefully, these neighbors will সরানো out as soon as possible and take their lawn ornaments with them.
Cara flipped her long curls back as she reached the house. Plastering on a hospitable smile, she rang the doorbell. She could hear a bunch of bustling and loud clangs as someone came to the front door. Before she could have time to fix her hair, a lanky girl with auburn hair swung the door open. She looked frazzled and worn out. Cara was taken aback at the girl’s appearance.
She had ripped white jeans with an oversized black tee that read in white letters: Sarcasm is just another free service I offer. Strands of hair were falling from out the Yankee baseball টুপি she wore to keep her hair together. She didn’t wear any makeup and her eyes had bags underneath them. Cara was astonished that the girl was daring enough to allow people to see her in such a tragic state. She seemed to be the same age as Cara, 15, but আপনি could hardly tell with her narrow head and round eyes.
“Oh sweet Jesus, sugar, what happened to you?” Cara placed one hand over her হৃদয় and stared at the girl from শীর্ষ to bottom.
The girl’s eyebrows scrunched together as she looked at Cara confused. “What are আপনি talking about? Nothing happened to me.” Cara could hear her strong New York accent as she talked.
Cara had to refrain from rolling her eyes at the Yankee girl. “Never mind, sugar, I stopped দ্বারা to bring over a plate of freshly made cookies. My mama made these at the crack of dawn.” Cara smiled broadly while handing over the cookies.
Yankee eyed them before accepting the offering. “You can come inside if আপনি want.” Yankee stepped back to reveal the inside of the house, which was আরো cluttered than the front lawn. “Sorry about the mess.”
“No thanks, darling,” Cara replied, strained. “But welcome to the neighborhood. I’m Cara VanDere, দ্বারা the way. I live across the street.” Cara took delight in how Yankee’s face fell when she realized that Cara lived in the mansion across the street.
“I’m Jazmyn Langston. I just moved here.” She laughed in a way that showed she was nervous. Cara smiled politely. “Are আপনি sure I can’t help আপনি to anything? My sister just finished making breakfast. We’re cleaning up this morning. The moving men left the boxes out here even though we told them that we preferred they put them inside.”
Cara continued to smile. She wanted to leave as soon as possible. “How tragic? I have to go, so sorry to be leaving so soon.” Cara turned around to leave and was off the front porch when Yankee/Jazmyn called out to her.
“Wait, I know this is kind of pushy, but do আপনি think আপনি could help us unpack these boxes? We need all of the help we can get. I understand if আপনি have some prior arrangement.” Cara turned back to see the lanky, awkward Yankee tugging at a নেকলেস she wore around her neck. Her green eyes pleaded with Cara to stay and help.
With the same bright smile, Cara said, “Again, I say, how tragic.” With a flip of her curls, Cara made the journey back to her house. She could feel her mama’s disapproval through the silk curtains.
Savannah Henderson kicked her older brother, Hunter, as his character ate hers in the game. This was the fifth time her brother had defeated her. To tell the truth, she wasn’t hurt দ্বারা this. She was happy to be spending time with him. He had ran away from প্রথমপাতা because of their parents and now he was back because he didn’t want to abandon his sister. She was glad to have him back.
They sat on his ruff পালঙ্ক in the attic. Their parents had remodeled his room when he left and he was force to sleep in the attic when he came back. It was cramp in the attic, but he was able to fit his television, bed, and his PlayStation. There were also posters of এমো স্টাইল bands that Savannah had never heard of. বই and trash covered most of the floor. Hunter never did like cleaning up. She didn’t know why she thought his old habits would have died when he left.
“Oh, little sis, when will আপনি learn?” Hunter smiled at her as he placed his controller on the floor. His dark brown curls fell into his eyes hiding the same brown eyes she had. She noticed that his southern accent had dulled. It wasn’t southern but it wasn’t northern either. It was in between. “I’m a master at this game.”
“You just got lucky,” ব্যক্ত Savannah. She pulled a strand of black hair behind her ear. Her hand was uncontrollable and always getting in her eyes. She could never pull the sexy, messy look Hunter had. It looked sloppy whenever she tried.
Hunter shook his head as his curls bounced around. “I didn’t get lucky five times. আপনি suck at this game.” Savannah gave up দ্বারা placing her controller পরবর্তি to his. “Doesn’t giving up feel great?”
“Shut up, Hunter,” she laughed. “What should we do now?”
Hunter leaped off the পালঙ্ক and over to his bed. He bent down and stuck his arm under it. He pulled out a পিজা box drenched in grease. Smiling at her, he brought the পিজা over. Savannah made a face once she smelled it. It smelled like the প্রথমপাতা of a skunk rolled in garbage.
“Don’t be like that, Van,” he said. “Don’t let mama’s pretentious cooking keep আপনি from dishing out on some greasy, fattening pizza.”
“I’m not having any of that,” frowned Savannah as she leaned away from the pizza. Hunter plopped onto the পালঙ্ক ignoring Savannah’s strong feelings towards his meal. “Can’t আপনি smell that?”
“Nope,” he ব্যক্ত while chewing on a slice.
Savannah stood up on her unsteady heels. “I’m going to make myself something that isn’t foul to eat.” She smirked at her brother as she walked দ্বারা him and down the attic steps.
Savannah felt jittery as she entered the রান্নাঘর after riding the elevator down. Cara had texted her a thousand times reminding her of the sleepover she was having at her house. No one refuses an offer from anyone in the VanDere family. The VanDere family owns Brantley County and several counties surrounding it. Cara’s family built most of Brantley County into what it is today. Because of this, they have money that would never run out. The kids of Cara’s grandkids will never have to work a দিন in their life and they would still be able to afford a luxurious lifestyle.
Savannah did want to go to Cara’s sleepover. Everyone in Brantley desires to be invited and many never get to say hi to Cara. This was a huge opportunity for Savannah to climb the social ladder and become one of the most admired girls in school. She might be able to get into the debutante ball. Cara was her key to southern town fame and perhaps, her mama’s approval.
The problem with her plan was that Hunter despised the rich VanDere’s lifestyle. He believed that they are the reason why the south is all money crazy and stuck in their ways. He considers them the root of evil. Savannah noticed that Hunter had become আরো cynical towards the rich like the VanDere’s, the Jackson’s, and their parents, Kourtney and Charles Henderson. Hunter never liked the rich and poor diversity, but he wasn’t as angry over it as he was now. It scared Savannah sometimes that he might do something dangerous to get back at everyone.
She shook her head of those thoughts. She was going to go to Cara’s sleepover and no one was going to talk her out of it. Hunter may be persuasive, but Savannah can be just as smooth talking as he can.
Grabbing a bowl of salad, she traveled back to the attic. Her heels were making her steps unsteady and wobbly. She hated the fact that she had to wear heels. They were annoying and dangerous in her mind. She did it for her mother. Like her mama, Savannah wanted to be involved in the fashion industry. Wearing heels and dressing stylish was part of this act that she had created to get her mama to approve. It hadn’t been working and Savannah was close to giving up. What was the point of wearing neck-breaking heels if আপনি can’t get what আপনি wanted out of it?
She groaned going up the stairs it was the hardest part. She could hear Hunter laughing from the attic. She held back a snarl. Once she reached the attic, she flung the heels against the walls. Hunter was hiding behind the পালঙ্ক was a silly grin on his face.
“You okay there?” he asked.
“What do আপনি think? I hate wearing those darn shoes.” Savannah plopped on the পালঙ্ক and crossed her arms like a disobedient child. “I hate having to wear this stupid skirts and frilly blouses.”
“Then don’t do it anymore,” ব্যক্ত Hunter. “Stop trying to impress mama. She is never going to give আপনি her blessing. She is dangling her approval over your head just so she can make আপনি do anything she wants আপনি to. It isn’t worth it.”
Savannah slumped on Hunter’s বিছানা while munching on her salad. She knew he was right, but the hope that one দিন her mama would give her approval was too much for her to let it slip from her fingertips. “You don’t understand,” she said.
Hunter smirked, “Maybe, I don’t understand, but I do know আপনি need to relax for the day. Come on, Van, it is Monday which means the last দিন until school starts tomorrow. Let’s go to a party. My buddy Jim is throwing a party while his parents are on vacation. আপনি wanna go?” He had leaped from the পালঙ্ক and was sitting পরবর্তি to her on the bed. He had abandoned his পিজা on the floor still in the box.
“I don’t know, Hunter.” She fiddled with her hands. “We have to go to বিছানা early today since school is tomorrow. We can’t go to a party.”
“Come on, আপনি never do anything crazy অথবা fun. Let’s go to the party.”
“I can’t,” she demanded.
“Can’t অথবা won’t,” asked Hunter.
“I can’t,” ব্যক্ত Savannah as she continued fiddling with hands with her head down. Her black fell down to cover her face. It acted like a shield so she couldn’t see her brother’s face. She would crack and give in to her brother’s invitation. “I’m going to a sleepover at a friend’s house.”
Hunter’s eyebrows shot up. “You have friends?”
Savannah glared at him through her hair. “Of course, I have friends. I’m not some kind of loner.” It was typical of her brother to think she was a pathetic nobody at school. Granted, she had never had close friends. She never had বন্ধু that she swapped secrets with অথবা talk to about crushes. In her mind, বন্ধু were overrated and only existed in বই and movies. Cara wasn’t a friend. She was an opportunity, but it would be nice to have a friend.
Hunter held his hands up in amused defensive. “Don’t get mad, sis. I’m sure আপনি are capable of making friends.”
“Whatever,” mumbled Savannah as she glanced back down at her lap?
“Blow them off. Come to the party.” When he saw that Savannah was not budging, he added one crucial detail. “I know a certain person who will be there.” He nudged her with his elbow hoping she would get the hint.
She shook her head. “I don’t care about Gavin. Besides, I want to make a good impression with these girls.”
Her defense was crumbling, but that hadn’t caught Hunter’s attention. “Why do আপনি care about those girls? They’re just southern nothings that would follow আপনি into hell because of our money. Blow them off.”
“Jesus, Hunter, don’t mention the place down there in this house,” ব্যক্ত Savannah with a disappointed look. She wasn’t very religious, but growing in the south আপনি grow accustom to never mentioning hell অথবা Satan. It was only acceptable in church and even then, it is still an iffy. “One দিন mama is going to hear আপনি and slap the crust out your eyes.”
Hunter smiled at his little sister as if she was an innocent gazelle. “Who cares if mama hears me? She can’t hurt me. Back to the topic, we’re going to the party and that’s final.” He grinned before getting up and going to the closet. Savannah could only think about the awful things Cara would say when she hears that Savannah wasn’t coming.
Cara was adjusting her silk pajamas when she heard the doorbell and her mama greeting Isabelle Jackson with a stronger accent than normal. She hurried down to free Isabelle from her mother’s clutches. She came just in time to hear her mama raging about Isabelle’s mama.
“I promise to my God that I will hunt your mama down if she doesn’t stop flirting with Todd. I’m sorry to say that Izzy, but আপনি know your mama. আপনি know how she is. আপনি know better than anyone how much of a hopeless romantic your mama is.” Cara’s mama shook her head and sipped on her wine. “I know আপনি প্রণয় your mama to death, but I প্রণয় my Todd to death and I will not let some other woman take him away from me, no offense.”
Izzy was slouched on the sofa with her fingers rubbing her temples. Cara walked দ্বারা and grabbed her mama’s wine glass. “You know mama আপনি aren’t allowed to drink. আপনি know the rules,” scolded Cara. Izzy looked up at Cara with thankfulness.
“Honey, I need that,” begged Cara’s mama. Cara went to empty the wine contents in the sink and left the glass on the counter for the butler to get in the morning. She came back to see her mama sprawled out on the পালঙ্ক snoring.
“Thanks for stopping her,” ব্যক্ত Izzy as she followed Cara to her room. “I know how man crazy my mama is. I don’t need to hear it from your mama.”
Cara laughed while pushing the door open to her newly carpeted room. “This is why I ignore my mama half the time. Bless her heart; she never knows when to stop talking.”
Isabelle had stopped listening once she saw Cara’s room. It was elegant and beautiful just like Cara. Cara had redecorated her room from the last time Isabelle had been there. Instead of the পরাকাষ্ঠা carpet, it was now a baby blue with specks of white and dark blue. The walls were white and pictures of her in different places, poses, and clothes covered every inch of the room. A chandelier hung from her ceiling dangling strands of sparkles that glimmered when they danced above them.
She felt that familiar pang of jealousy that came whenever she was close to Cara. It made her uncomfortable to think about how Cara and her family own most of the county. She didn’t want to be jealous, but it was hard whenever she saw the amazing things that Cara had. Isabelle had nice things too, but it was different when it came to the VanDere family. Everything they had seemed vintage and exquisite with a touch of everything the south has to represent.
Isabelle realized with an alarming clarity that she was বন্ধু with a very influential person. Most would use that to their advantage, but not Isabelle. She was বন্ধু with Cara because she truly wanted her as a friend. She did not have an ulterior motive when she came to Cara’s parties অথবা sleepovers.
“Izzy,” demanded Cara, “are আপনি listening?”
Isabelle was snapped from her thoughts. Cara was bending towards her mini fridge. Her dark curls bounced around as she grabbed a water bottle. “Sorry, Cara,” ব্যক্ত Isabelle.
“Anyways, I was talking about the debutante ball. I was thinking about wearing a গাউন, gown my grandmamma wore when she married my granddaddy. The problem is that it’s white which is so ugly. I’m thinking about adding some dark blue and black জরি hoping that would spice it up. Wait, do আপনি think we have to wear a certain color to this ball?” Cara flopped onto her white পালঙ্ক and glanced up at Isabelle who was sitting in the chair দ্বারা her desk.
“It depends. It is tradition to wear pure white,” ব্যক্ত Isabelle. She knows everything about the ball since her mama talks nonstop about how Isabelle would be a true southern belle if she were in the ball. Her mama talked about how Cara and her pompous mama got everything they wanted and it wasn’t fair for them to control the debutante ball. Since Isabelle has blond locks and blue eyes, her mama considers her a true southern beauty. “I think আপনি should stick to tradition.”
Cara made a scuffing noise. “That is what I’m afraid of.”
The debutante ball is held every বছর for upcoming 16 বছর olds. It is a rite of passage in the south and only a hand full get selected to participate. The Women of the South Committee select the participants. The committee is full of southern ladies that live in Brantley like Mrs. VanDere and Mrs. Henderson. Isabelle’s mama is on the committee, but she rarely goes to the meetings. The ball is for the rich and fancy. No one without at least a million dollars in the bank ever gets a chance to be a part of the town’s debutante ball. The women swear they allow anyone and everyone in, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that what they say is a lie.
“You know,” began Isabelle who was summoning the courage to continue, “I was thinking about being in the ball. It could be fun with us both being there.”
There was a small pause before Cara began laughing hysterically. “That is so hilarious, sugar. Bless your heart; I hope that you’re joking right now. This debutante ball is my moment. আপনি know that, sugar, I’ve been working my butt off trying to impress these women and this is the last step I must take to become a southern belle and I would like it আরো if no one was there, but me. Unfortunately, they have to include other people. That doesn’t mean I want my best friend to be in the ball with me. No offense, but আপনি aren’t that pretty and most likely wouldn’t be considered to be in the ball. I’m doing আপনি a favor দ্বারা rejecting আপনি now. I hope আপনি understand, darling.”
Cara smiled at her, as a true southern girl would do when she was insulting someone. Isabelle wanted to cry অথবা scream, but she didn’t. In the back of her mind, she kept thinking that Cara was right and it was a stupid idea even thinking about her in the debutante ball. She closed her mouth and listened to Cara talk about her plans.