12. MMM, LOVE THAT NEW-TEST-SCORE SMELL

Okay. Spencer had to calm down.

Wednesday night, she pulled her black Mercedes C-Class hatchback—her sister’s castoff car, since she got the new, “practical” Mercedes SUV—into the circular driveway of her house. Her student council meeting had gone extra late and she’d been on edge driving through Rosewood’s dark streets. All day, she’d felt like someone was watching her, like whoever had written that “covet” e-mail could jump out at her at any second.

Spencer kept thinking uneasily about that familiar ponytail in Alison’s bedroom window. Her mind kept going back to Ali—all the things she knew about Spencer. But no, that was crazy. Alison had been gone—and most likely dead—for three years. Plus, a new family lived in her house now, right?

Spencer ran to the mailbox and pulled out a pile, tossing everything back that wasn’t hers. Suddenly, she saw it. It was a long envelope, not too thick, not too thin, with Spencer’s name typed neatly in the windowpane. The return address said, The College Board. It was here.

Spencer ripped open the envelope and scanned the page. She read the PSAT results six times before it sunk in.

She’d gotten a 2350 out of 2400.

“Yessssss!” she screamed, clutching the papers so tightly they wrinkled.

“Whoa! Someone’s happy!” called a voice from the road.

Spencer looked up. Hanging out the driver’s-side window of a black Mini Cooper was Andrew Campbell, the tall, freckly, long-haired boy that beat out Spencer for class president. They were number-one and number-two in the class in practically every subject. But before Spencer could brag about her score—telling Andrew about her PSATs would feel so good—he peeled away. Freak. Spencer turned back to her house.

As she excitedly scampered inside, something stopped her: she remembered her sister’s near-perfect score and quickly converted it from the 1600-scale they used to use into the 2400-scale the College Board used nowadays. It was a full 100 points lower than Spencer’s. And weren’t they supposed to be harder these days, too?

Well, now who’s the genius?

An hour later, Spencer sat at the kitchen table reading Middlemarch—a book on the English AP “suggested reading” list—when she began to sneeze.

“Melissa and Wren are here,” Mrs. Hastings said to Spencer as she bustled into the kitchen, carrying in the mail Spencer had left in the box. “They’ve brought all of their luggage to move in!” She opened the oven a crack, checking on the rotisserie chicken and seven-grain rolls, and then bustled into the living room.

Spencer sneezed again. A cloud of Chanel No. 5 always preceded her mom—even though she spent the whole day working around horses—and Spencer was certain she was allergic. She considered announcing her PSAT news, but a twinkly voice from the foyer stopped her.

“Mom?” Melissa called. She and Wren strolled into the kitchen. Spencer pretended to study Middlemarch’s boring back cover.

“Hey,” Wren said above her.

“Hey,” she answered coolly.

“Whatcha reading?”

Spencer hesitated. It was better to steer clear of Wren, especially now that he was moving in.

Melissa brushed by without saying hello and began to unpack purple pillows from a Pottery Barn bag. “These are for the couch in the barn,” she practically yelled.

Spencer cringed. Two could play at this game. “Oh, Melissa!” Spencer cried. “I forgot to tell you! Guess who I ran into!”

Melissa continued to unpack the pillows. “Who?”

“Ian Thomas! He’s coaching my field hockey team now!”

Melissa froze. “He…what? He is? He’s here? Did he ask about me?”

Spencer shrugged and pretended to think. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Who’s Ian Thomas?” Wren asked, leaning against the marble island counter.

“No one,” Melissa snapped, turning back to the pillows. Spencer slapped her book shut and skipped off to the dining room. There. That felt better.

She sat down at the long, mission-style farmhouse table, running her finger around the stemless wineglass Candace, the family’s housekeeper, had just filled with red wine. Her parents didn’t care if their kids drank while they were at home as long as no one was driving, so she grabbed the glass with both hands and greedily took a large gulp. When she looked up, Wren was smirking at her from across the table, his spine very straight in his dining chair.

“Hey,” he said. She raised her eyebrows in answer.

Melissa and Mrs. Hastings sat down, and Spencer’s father adjusted the chandelier lights and took a seat as well. For a moment everyone was quiet. Spencer felt for the PSAT score papers in her pocket. “So guess what happened to me,” she began.

“Wren and I are so happy you’re letting us stay here!” Melissa said at the same time, grabbing Wren’s hand.

Mrs. Hastings smiled at Melissa. “I’m always happy when the family’s all here.”

Spencer bit her lip, her stomach nervously gurgling. “So, Dad. I got my—”

“Uh-oh,” Melissa interrupted, staring down at the plates Candace had just brought in from the kitchen. “Do we have anything other than chicken? Wren’s trying not to eat meat.”

“It’s all right,” Wren said hastily. “Chicken is perfect.”

“Oh!” Mrs. Hastings stood up halfway. “You don’t eat meat? I didn’t know! I think we may have some pasta salad in the fridge, although it might have ham in it….”

“Really, it’s okay.” Wren rubbed his head uncomfortably, making his messy black hair stand up in peaks.

“Oh, I feel terrible,” Mrs. Hastings said. Spencer rolled her eyes. When the whole family was together, her mom wanted all meals—even sloppy cereal breakfasts—to be perfect.

Mr. Hastings eyed Wren suspiciously. “I’m a steak man, myself.”

“Absolutely.” Wren lifted his glass so forcefully that a little wine spilled on the tablecloth.

Spencer was considering a good segue into her big announcement when her father laid down his fork.

“I’ve got a brilliant idea. Since we’re all here, why don’t we play Star Power?”

“Oh, Daddy.” Melissa grinned. “No.”

Her father smiled. “Oh yes. I had a terrific day at work. I’m going to kick your butt.”

“What’s Star Power?” Wren asked, his eyebrows arched.

A nervous glow grew in Spencer’s stomach. Star Power was a game her parents had made up when Spencer and Melissa were little kids that she’d always suspected they’d pilfered from some company power-retreat. It was simple: Everyone shared their biggest achievement of the day, and the family would select one Star. It was supposed to make people feel proud and accomplished, but in the Hastings family, people just got ruthlessly competitive.

But if there was one perfect way for Spencer to announce her PSAT results, Star Power was it.

“You’ll catch on, Wren,” Mr. Hastings said. “I’ll start. Today, I prepared a defense so compelling for my client, he actually offered to pay me more money.”

“Impressive,” her mother said, taking a tiny bite of a golden beet. “Now me. This morning, I beat Eloise at tennis in straight sets.”

“Eloise is tough!” her father cried before taking another sip of wine. Spencer peeked at Wren across the table. He was carefully peeling the skin off his chicken thigh, so she couldn’t catch his eye.

Her mother dabbed her mouth with her napkin. “Melissa?”

Melissa laced her stubby-nailed fingers together. “Well, hmm. I helped the builders tile the entire bathroom—the only way it’d be perfect is if I did it myself.”

“Good for you, dear!” her father said.

Spencer jiggled her legs nervously.

Mr. Hastings finished sipping his wine. “Wren?”

Wren looked up, startled. “Yes?”

“It’s your turn.”

Wren fiddled with his wineglass. “I don’t know what I should say….”

“We’re playing Star Power,” Mrs. Hastings chirped, as if Star Power were as common a game as Scrabble. “What wonderful thing did you, Mr. Doctor, achieve today?”

“Oh.” Wren blinked. “Well. Um, nothing, really. It was my day off from school and the hospital, so I went down to the pub with some hospital friends and watched the Phillies game.”

Silence. Melissa shot Wren a disappointed look.

“I think that’s awesome,” Spencer offered. “The way they’ve been playing, it’s a feat to watch the Phillies all day.”

“I know, they’re kind of crap, aren’t they?” Wren smiled at her gratefully.

“Well, anyway,” her mother interrupted. “Melissa, when do you start class?”

“Wait a minute,” Spencer piped up. They were not about to forget her! “I have something for Star Power.”

Her mother’s salad fork hung in the air. “I’m sorry.”

“Oops!” her father agreed jocularly. “Go ahead, Spence.”

“I got my PSAT results,” she said. “And, well…here.” She pulled out the scores and shoved them at her father.

As soon as he took them, she knew what would happen. They wouldn’t care. What did PSATs matter, anyway? They’d go back to their Beaujolais and to Melissa and Wharton and that would be that. Her cheeks felt hot. Why did she even bother?

Then her dad put down his wineglass and studied the paper. “Wow.” He motioned Mrs. Hastings over. When she saw the paper, she gasped.

“You can’t get much higher than this, can you?” Mrs. Hastings said.

Melissa craned her neck to look too. Spencer could hardly breathe. Melissa glared at her over the lilac and peony centerpiece. It was a look that made Spencer think that maybe Melissa had written that creepy e-mail yesterday. But when Spencer met her eye, Melissa broke into a smile. “You really studied, didn’t you?”

“It’s a good score, yeah?” Wren asked, glancing at the page.

“It’s a fantastic score!” Mr. Hastings bellowed.

“This is wonderful!” cried Mrs. Hastings. “How would you like to celebrate, Spencer? Dinner in the city? Is there something you’ve had your eye on?”

“When I got my SAT scores, you got me a Fitzgerald first edition at that estate auction, remember?” Melissa beamed.

“That’s right!” Mrs. Hastings trilled.

Melissa turned to Wren. “You would’ve loved it. It was so amazing to bid.”

“Well, why don’t you give it some thought.” Mrs. Hastings said to Spencer. “Try to think of something memorable, like what we got for Melissa.”

Spencer slowly sat up. “Actually, there is something that I have in mind.”

“What’s that?” Her father leaned forward in his chair.

Here goes, Spencer thought. “Well, what I’d really, really, really love, right now, not a few months from now, would be to move into the barn.”

“But—,” Melissa started, before stopping herself.

Wren cleared his throat. Her father furrowed his brow. Spencer’s stomach made a loud, hungry growl. She covered it with her hand.

“Is that what you really want?” her mother asked.

“Uh-huh,” Spencer answered.

“Okay,” Mrs. Hastings said, looking at her husband. “Well…”

Melissa loudly laid down her fork. “But, um, what about Wren and me?”

“Well, you said yourself the renovations wouldn’t take too long.” Mrs. Hastings put her hand to her chin. “You guys could stay in your old bedroom, I suppose.”

“But it has a twin bed,” Melissa said in an uncharacteristically childish voice.

“I don’t mind,” Wren said quickly. Melissa scowled sharply at him.

“We could move the queen bed from the barn to Melissa’s room and put Spencer’s bed out there,” Mr. Hastings suggested.

Spencer couldn’t believe her ears. “You would do that?”

Mrs. Hastings raised her eyebrows. “Melissa, you can survive, can’t you?”

Melissa pushed her hair back from her face. “I guess,” she said. “I mean, I personally got much more out of the auction and the first edition, but that’s just me.”

Wren discreetly took a sip of his wine. When Spencer caught his eye, he winked. Mr. Hastings turned to Spencer. “Done, then.”

Spencer jumped up and hugged her parents. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Her mother beamed. “You should move in tomorrow.”

“Spencer, you’re certainly the Star.” Her father held up her scores, now slightly stained with red wine. “We should frame this as a memento!”

Spencer grinned. She didn’t need to frame anything. She’d remember this day for as long as she lived.

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