Fall Semester | Freshman Year
The air around campus is electric, the charge so strong it practically sparks Blair Waldorf's sterling silver crystal headband. She reaches up instinctively, adjusting it, as she stands nervously before the door of her dorm room. Her Yale dorm room.
She's imagined this moment so many times before that each of her practiced movements come to life with ease. She half expects to open the door to a blonde roommate, glasses perched on her nose, frowning down at a book. A girl with hair the color of wheat is a natural top choice for her new best friend/roommate, but Blair supposes she'd settle for a redhead, with a quirky name like Mae. Preferably, she'll love classic movies just as much as Blair and they'll spend their evenings shirking all parties and hosting sophisticated soirees instead.
Squeezing her eyes shut, briefly, she tries to conjure the fictitious Mae into being. Yet, when she opens the door the room is empty. Hardwood floors gleam as though they've just been polished and Blair says a silent prayer to all the college gods, thanking them for assigning her to a newly renovated residence hall.
Blair rolls in her suitcases and sets to unpacking and decorating. By the time her room is bespectacled in portraits of Audrey Hepburn and movie posters, her roommate still hasn't arrived. She sinks down onto her tufted duvet, sighing in disappointment.
To occupy herself, she sends Nate the photo of her dorm she snapped as soon as she finished adorning it with her things. She doesn't send a message along with it, even though she wants to tell him how terribly she misses him. That would be too transparent. But she does prop up the stuffed bulldog he gave her onto the center of the bed so he sees it.
Blair flips through her itinerary for the week, wishing for the umpteenth time that the Elizabethan Club permitted freshmen. She just knows that they would adore her, good manners and all, in spite of her friendless, fatherless, and practically Dickensian upbringing. The Duchess of Cambridge herself would admit Blair membership were she a Yale student.
Sinking back onto a silky pillow, Blair feels a wave of gratitude to finally be out of Upstate. The place she never belonged. She's hit with a tiny pang of guilt as she pictures her mother sitting at her sewing machine frowning over shoddy seams with no daughter in sight to offer suggestions or help.
Growing up, the happiest fantasy a young Blair could conjure was herself situated in her Ivy League dorm room. But now, it's feeling a lot lonelier than she pictured. She thought she and her roommate would be halfway through their life stories by now in their already blossoming friendship.
With one last forlorn glance at the empty bed across from hers, Blair forces herself up and out of the solitary room. By leaving now, she'll be a little early to the orientation seminar but at least this way she can snag a good seat.
The auditorium is already filled with a few dozen freshmen and Blair is glad she didn't wait any longer for her AWOL roomie. She walks past the clamour of the back rows and brazenly takes a seat in the empty third row, unbothered by its lack of company. Once settled, she retrieves a few supplies from her school tote. The ivory blooms on her pale pink planner stare back at her in her lap and she flips to the month of September.
A dizzying excitement fills Blair as she looks at the empty squares, just waiting to be filled in with deadline dates and campus activities. Her phone buzzes in her purse beside her, a tiny Chloé crossbody bag that must have taken her mother a solid year to save up for.
Nate has replied with a photo of his own dorm room at Dartmouth, already littered with a couple of empty beer bottles and dirty socks. She smiles down at the image, the very epitome of her best friend's carefree attitude toward college. He's typed a message along with the photo:
How many black and white movies have you already subjected your roommate to?
She types back:
None. She's MIA. Also, 'subjected'? You know my good taste in movies is half the reason why I'm your best friend.
I bet she took one glance inside the room and asked for a new assignment.
Blair is so busy texting back and forth she doesn't even notice the seats around her have filled up until there's the loud echo of someone tapping on a microphone. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see that two hardly idyllic candidates for friendship have sat next to her: a guy in a blazer who's drumming his fingers on his desk, to Blair's annoyance, and a girl who seems to plan on publishing a book based on this seminar with her scrawling hand detailing every word spoken.
Dismissing them with a flick of her gaze, Blair hurriedly turns her attention to the dean and tries to take notes, albeit less maniacally than her seatmate. By the time the seminar has concluded, the white squares in her planner's calendar are scattered with black ink. The seats beside her are empty, the unwelcomed duo having likely migrated elsewhere. Blair stands, feeling a little disappointed at how underwhelming this day has been for the beginnings of a new chapter.
An all too familiar feeling.
Twelfth Grade | Albany, NY
After a day spent listening to her classmates talk of their über romantic 'promposals' and dress-shopping plans, Blair wanted too desperately to forget about the upcoming dance.
But the deafening, disappointing sound of her mother's sewing machine whirring when she arrives home tells her talk of the prom is not yet over. She knows exactly what the threads in the machine are weaving.
Her prom dress.
Each rhythmic movement furthers Blair's lukewarm anticipation of the supposed quintessential high school event that will certainly only further cement her hatred of this period in her life. A night that will be spent in a homemade dress.
If asked where she got it, she'll have to either lie or confess that she and her mother didn't even have the money to buy from a thrift shop. Certainly not enough to even consider buying one of the Jovani dresses her classmates adored, not that she'd want one of those monstrosities with all the bedazzled necklines and over-bright hues.
But still, she had hoped to wear a vintage Marc Jacobs or even at the very least an Alice + Olivia dress from a few seasons ago. Yet, the savings she had acquired from working the past three years at the local consignment shop was barely enough to cover the living expenses she would acquire once she went off to college.
She didn't voice any of this to her mother, of course not. She wasn't ungrateful enough to do that. It was times like this she wished she had a proper father to run interference, to perhaps gently suggest to her mother that Blair might like a dress of her own choosing. Preferably from a store not the living room she came home to every day.
She thought of Harold, her sweet donor dad, and realized that level of parenting wasn't in his repertoire. Besides, they only talked once or twice a month, she couldn't ask him to negotiate. The dress was halfway done...
Her mother's designs were beautiful, yet there was something too familiar about them to truly make her feel like a princess for the night. Knowing exactly how each panel of fabric was stitched together somehow took the magic away.
At least she still had her prince, she reminded herself. Nate Archibald was taking her to prom. As a friend, but still. Prom with Nate... Yale next year… It was all coming together.
Even if she still had to sleep on itchy 200-thread-count sheets and would have to wake up at 6 AM every morning this summer for her internship at the local paper.
Three more months and she'd be at Yale.
Three more months and no more pricked fingers from needles and watching her mother fail to secure her own dreams.
The mechanical hum fades as she walks into her boxy bedroom and she lets out an exhale.
There's something familiar about the glint Dan spots out of the corner of his eye in the second event of the welcome day at Yale. He turns ever so slightly to catch a glimpse of the light source and sees it's a girl's crystal-studded headband that's threatening to blind him. A flicker of recognition tells him maybe he was in the same orientation as her earlier. But before he can properly survey the headband-wearing girl's face, a screeching voice halts him.
"What the fuck, Dan?" An unmistakable shrill comes over his shoulder. "I told you to save me a seat. Definitely not one in the front row either. Come on, let's move toward the back."
Dan whirls around to see Georgina Sparks hovering behind his chair, looking annoyed. Her ice blue eyes keep flicking meaningfully in the direction of a pair of empty seats in the corner of the auditorium.
He dutifully stands with a release of his breath and follows Georgina to the empty chairs. Why he indulges her is inexplicable, even to him, it's not like Serena is here to scold him for snubbing her best friend. This is college too, he doesn't need the protection of the few Upper East Side allies he had. No one knows his backstory here, yet there he goes following her every request. Perhaps simply because it's easier to go along with Georgina's imperiousness. He doesn't have the backbone to go toe-to-toe with her.
Dan was truthfully shocked that she even made it to the campus. He thought his stepsister's pleas for her best friend to take a year off would succeed, yet Georgina was here. For the foreseeable future, Georgina would be buried in textbooks while Serena was off sunning in the tropics. Dan mentally fact-checked himself; it was more likely some hopeless scholar student would be the one buried in books on Georgina's behalf as she paid them to ace all her classes.
While the speaker up at the podium drones on over on-campus clubs and extracurriculars, the auditorium stays silent. Dan wants to pull out his phone to do a quick Google search of the next flight out to Turks and Caicos he could put Georgina on but the glow of his phone would only put more attention on him. He knows this because Georgina's own face is alight with the blue reflection of her phone. He glances over to see her gazing longingly at a photo of a cerulean sea and white sand beach Serena just posted.
Dan has the sudden desire to slip out of his seat while she's distracted and sit somewhere further away. Maybe back beside the girl with the shiny crown. But he knows he's stuck; Georgina's surprisingly strong arm would reel him back if he even leaned forward too far.
So instead, he listens quietly and thinks up five hundred ways to get rid of one Georgina Sparks.
After the welcome dinner has concluded and Blair has made approximately zero friends, she's struck with a bit of regret. Maybe she should have gotten that glasses-wearing girl phone number from the seminar earlier. Nelly, she thinks was her name. Or even that fidgety guy that had sat next to her. Then, her Yale contact list wouldn't be quite so desolate. At this rate, she'd be defaulted into a single dorm without her consent. No one wanted to room with the social pariah.
Trying to cheer herself, Blair brightens at the thought that her roommate might have finally moved in. If she did so while orientation was happening, she might be just as desperately in need of friends as Blair.
With a tiny tremor of excitement, she pushes her dorm door open to see indeed, it's finally occupied. A long mane of shiny inky hair is bouncing around as a girl slams a dresser door shut. There's a ferocity to her movements that makes Blair slightly uneasy.
"Hi," Blair says tentatively.
The girl spins around, her face unfriendly, and Blair is instantly stricken as she realizes she recognizes her. The girl with the glacial eyes from the seminar earlier. She was the one who had whisked away the guy two seats over. Everyone, including Blair, had turned to see who the domineering girl was barging into the seminar with her rampant cursing.
At the time, she was sort of grateful for the tornado swooping him away- after all, she was fairly certain he was the culprit responsible for the echoing sound of drum beats in her head. But now, she suddenly rues the girl's existence.
Her eyes are now lit with something like mischief as she surveys Blair. "Well, hello. Aren't you adorable with your little tiara?"
"It's a headband." Blair corrects, touching it self-consciously, suddenly feeling like she's fallen prey to a domineering predator in the wild.
"So cute," The girl says in long vowels, striding over. "I'm Georgina."
"Blair." Her voice becomes tense as her hand is wrapped in a vice-like grip by Georgina. When she finally releases her, Blair has to clench and unclench her fist a few times.
"This is going to be so fun!" Georgina announces suddenly, surprising and terrifying Blair. She really is the prey...
"It is?" Blair asks with hesitation. She walks over to her dresser and starts straightening the framed photos to escape Georgina's eager gaze. Her and Nate at prom in her tulle shimmery dress, graduation day with her mom's arm wrapped tightly around her… The photos make her stomach churn suddenly.
"Of course it is." Georgina clasps her hands together. "Now, I hope you don't mind but I took the liberty of taking down that old guy's photo from the wall. It'll hardly encourage the lacrosse guys to hang out in our room."
"You took down Cary?" Blair asks with mournful eyes.
Blair glances over to Georgina's side of the room to see what sort of photos she has up and she instantly regrets it. Georgina surrounded by impossibly beautiful friends in designer dresses, another shot with her and two guys- all of them school uniforms, then one glamour shot of just herself, figures.
"Sorry." Georgina feigns an apologetic expression. "Maybe you can tuck your Grandpa Cary's photo into your nightstand or something."
"He's not my Grandpa." Blair says defensively, wishing she could rewind this whole day. This wasn't how her first day at Yale was supposed to go. She and her roommate were supposed to swoon over Cary Grant together not call him Grandpa. "That's Cary Gra- Nevermind."
Blair sighs in resignation. "So. Georgina." She punctuates each of her words with precision, as though that might help her take hold of the situation. "Have you decided on your major yet?"
"God, no." Georgina rolls her eyes. "Don't tell me you already have?"
"Of course, I have." Blair says, aghast. She thought all Ivy Leaguers had detailed five-year, ten-year, and fifteen-year plans mapped out for their personal and professional lives. "Film and Media Studies."
"Oh, you're one of those." Georgina surveys Blair in a dismissive way. "Pretentious."
Blair jolts at her roommate's brashness, offended by her rudeness. She can't help her defensive tone as she replies. "Not pretentious. Cultured."
"Fuck." Georgina lets out a breath as though completely resigned. Then she gives her a measured look. "You sound exactly like Dan."
Blair presumes this is Georgina's boyfriend and she can't help but wonder how she's struggling to even get a platonic relationship while Georgina has already shackled someone down by the first day of college. She assumes this is a new relationship- it's not like Georgina is the high-school sweetheart type. She probably eats men and spits them back out at a shark's pace.
"Dan?" Blair asks to be polite even though she couldn't care less who this Dan figure is. Probably a total asshole if he has the patience to deal with this girl. She doesn't know why, but she wants to know how this cultured, friendly individual came to be involved with someone so callous and crass.
"Dan." Georgina repeats, as though Blair should understand. "My best friend's stepbrother. Dan. I can't really describe him any other way. You'll meet him sooner or later I'm sure, I apologize in advance for his tendency to ramble and be, well, so uncultivated."
"What does that mean?" Blair asks curiously. Was he a total barbarian frat bro or something?
"You'll find out." Georgina replies breezily. "Anyway, I'm so over this whole unpacking thing, Claire. You don't mind if I leave these boxes here, do you?" She points to the center of the room which is scattered with plastic tubs and cardboard cubes overflowing with knicknacks. "I'm exhausted and need to go get a drink. A frat party must be happening somewhere around here."
"It's Blair." Blair says through her teeth. Her roommate likes frat parties, can't even get her name right, and Blair doesn't know how she didn't expect this.
"Right." Georgina cuts a hand through the air, as though that's what she said.
Blair waits for Georgina to ask her to tag along. Blair would say no, probably, but Georgina doesn't offer anyway. Instead, her pale legs stride across the room with purpose and she's gone in a whirl, the door slamming shut so hard that Blair's hair is pushed off her face with a flourish.
Blair is left surrounded by overstuffed boxes and the swimming sensation of homesickness.