This is, after all, my fresh start. Things are going to be different here. I’m going to be different. No more screw-ups. No more sneaking past Derrick’s roommates because I need to be kept secret; no more hooking up with that jerk film major who, it turns out, was just using me for my key to the English House. No more any assholes like that. I’m starting over here.
A buzzer sounds from somewhere inside the building. I push open the door and follow MK’s text directions upstairs to the third floor. Even through the door, I can hear the sound of raised voices and loud music.
I guess fancy parties can still be fun ones. I try the knob, find it open, and push open the door.
Then I freeze like a deer in headlights, and gape at the scene within.
The first people to catch my eye are a trio of guys in pope hats, fishnet leggings and black high heels. A girl in a nun habit and what looks like a bathing suit bikini takes photos of the guys while they perform a chorus kick line.
“Welcome, welcome!” Another girl, this one in a low-cut shirt and bodice that look like something out of Oktoberfest, sweeps toward the door. “Don’t be shy, come on in!”
“Sorry, I—I think I have the wrong address,” I stammer, fumbling in my coat pockets for my cell.
“Don’t be silly! You must be Harper—MK’s in the kitchen.” Oktoberfest girl grabs my jacket from my shoulders and slides it off me and onto a coatrack nearby. “Can I get you anything? Some Pope Juice maybe?”
I blink at her in confusion, and my gaze drifts back to the guys in pope hats.
She giggles. “It’s punch, darling, don’t worry. Nothing sinister.” She grabs my hand and leads me through an old, rundown looking apartment toward a dingy kitchen. “I’m Amber, I went to school with MK. She was always talking about you, you know. I gotta admit, you aren’t what I expected.” Amber’s eyes dart up and down my long skirt, and the conservative, expensive blouse I picked out for this occasion, which I clearly and totally misunderstood. “What are you supposed to be, an actual nun?”
“Escaped from a convent,” I manage.
We reach the kitchen, and a mass of boobs and hair assaults me in a giant, bone-crushing hug. Mary Kate is dressed in her sluttiest best. Somehow she makes the skin-tight neon red miniskirt and matching pleather bustier totally work. It probably helps that she’s 5’10” of Victoria’s Secret model proportions.
“Hi MK,” I manage to squeak out.
“I thought you’d never get here!” she exclaims dramatically, still squeezing all the air from my lungs while she plants a wet kiss on my cheek. Someone’s already been at the pope juice, I see.
When she finally lets me go to breathe, I grin up at her. I could never stay mad at MK for long. She’s the one friend I could always pour my soul out to, ever since we were kids and our parents arranged for us to write letters through a pen pal program so we could both “experience new cultures” through each other.
She’s the only person who knows the whole story about he-who-must-not-be-named, too.
“Me?” I exclaim. “I thought you would never get here! You left me wandering around Oxford alone and confused for a whole week of foreign student orientation.”
“I’m sorry darling—you know how the Mother can be. Punch?” She extends a fistful of some sort of violently red beverage.
“You also didn’t explain the whole fancy dress thing,” I point out as I accept the punch.
“I honestly thought you knew.” She pouts. She does look sorry. “Tarts and Vicars is a tradition on campus. Haven’t you ever seen Bridget Jones?”