Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Daughters of Eve

Lois Duncan

  Begin Reading

  Table of Contents

  Q&A with the Author

  Copyright Page

  For my niece, Sheri Arquette

  Chapter 1

  The calendar placed the first day of fall on the twenty-third of September, and on the afternoon of Friday, the twenty-second, Kristy Grange walked slowly down Locust Street, her backpack heavy on her shoulders. Her head was bent forward beneath the additional weight of the last load of official summer sunshine.

  It had been a long summer for Kristy—a terrible summer, she told herself resentfully—the kind of summer when anyone with any common sense left Modesta for somewhere else. The heat had begun in the early mornings. She’d woken up to it, feeling her body damp and sticky beneath the thin material of the oversize T-shirt she slept in, and by the time she was dressed in cutoffs and a tank, the droplets were already beginning to collect along her hairline and in the hollows under her arms and behind her knees. By noon, the walls of the Grange home had enclosed the sort of heat one might expect to find in an oven.

  “I don’t know why you won’t let me turn on the air-conditioning,” she’d complained to her mom. “Why do we have it if we don’t use it? It’s crazy.”

  “Your dad’s the one who pays the utility bills, not you, Kristy,” Mrs. Grange had said shortly. “You wait until four in the afternoon, and then you can turn it on and get the place cooled down for dinner.”

  Her mom worked all day in the women’s section of an air-conditioned department store. A lot she knew about southern Michigan in the summertime. The truck her dad drove was also air-conditioned, and her brothers, Pete and Niles, spent the whole summer up at the lake sitting on lifeguard towers. As for nine-year-old Eric, he couldn’t care less about the heat, or anything else, for that matter. Eric would go out and pedal his bicycle for miles under the blazing noonday sun, like a complete idiot, and come home with heat rash prickling scarlet all over him, and all their mom would say was, “You poor kid. Let’s get you into a cool tub,” and then to Kristy, “How could you let him do that? You’re supposed to be taking care of him.”

  Yes, it’d been a gruesome summer, and the fall would be gruesome, too. It would cool down, of course; already the intensity of the afternoon sun was lessening. Even since school had started, Kristy could feel a marked difference. Two weeks ago she’d completed the mile walk from Modesta High School feeling as limp and exhausted as though she’d been running in a marathon. Now the sunlight on her head and the back of her neck felt lighter, and she no longer found it necessary to walk at the edge of the sidewalk in the shade of the maple trees.

  But, summer or autumn, she was still Kristy Grange, the only girl trapped in a family of spoiled, conceited boys.

  Her older brothers were standing in the front yard as she came up the walk. They’d been laughing about something, and their conversation broke off abruptly as Kristy approached.

  “Well, here’s our Little Miss Sunshine,” Niles exclaimed in exaggerated welcome. “Our Cranky-Kristy, beaming and bright, bringing joy to all who know her!” He reached out and gave a lock of her hair a teasing tug. “You’re going to crack your face someday with all that smiling, Sis.”

  Ignoring him, Kristy turned to her oldest brother.

  “You drove off and left me! You know Dad said you’re supposed to give me a ride home on days when you take the car.”

  “Couldn’t find you,” Peter said easily.

  “You didn’t look very hard. I always walk home the same way.”

  “You do?” Peter said. “Well, that’s something!” He turned to Niles in simulated amazement. “Did you hear that? She comes home the same way every time!”

  “Yeah—like this.” Niles thrust out his lower jaw in a surprisingly good imitation of his sister’s sullen expression.

  “Oh—you can just—just—go to—” Kristy let the sentence fall away, unfinished. There was nothing to be gained by sparring with her brothers. At seventeen and eighteen, they were so filled with their own self-importance that it was impossible to communicate with them. She often wondered what their girlfriends saw in them. There must be something, because Niles went out with the cutest girls whenever he wanted to, and Peter had been going out with Madison Ellis, the most popular girl in the junior class, for over six months now.

  “Our little sister wants us to ‘go to,’ Pete,” Niles said. “Shall we honor her request?”

  “By all means. Her slightest wish is our command.” Peter gave Kristy a teasing swat on the back. “See you later! Oh—check the fridge door—Mom left a note for you.”

  “So what else is new?” Kristy snapped. She continued up the walk and went into the house.

  As she let the screen door slam shut behind her, the engine of Peter’s car churned to life in the driveway. She heard the crunch of gravel as he backed out into the street and the sudden shriek of burning rubber as he slammed down the accelerator.

  “Go to—and stay there,” she mumbled halfheartedly into the silence of the empty house.

  Dropping her backpack on the coffee table, she bent to gather up the letters that’d been pushed through the mail slot in the door. She carried them out to the kitchen and tossed them onto the counter while she smoothed out her lunch bag and put it into a drawer. Her mother was undoubtedly the only woman in the world who made her children save their lunch bags for reuse. The note Peter had told her about was attached to the refrigerator with magnets. As she had known it would be, it was headed, “Things To Do List.”

  When Eric gets home, make him change his clothes

  Clean up kitchen

  Do laundry

  Defrost hamburger meat

  Put potatoes in oven at 5:00

  Make salad

  Well, Eric wasn’t home yet, since the elementary school let out after the high school. “Clean up kitchen” could, in itself, take the whole afternoon. Kristy glanced around her in despair. The boys’ cereal bowls from the morning sat out on the table with milk soured in their bottoms, and the egg plates were thick with yellow yolk dried onto them like cement. There was a pool of some unidentifiable liquid on the linoleum at the base of the refrigerator, and the lunch fixings were still on the counter where she herself had left them when Peter yelled that he was leaving and “anybody who wants a ride had better get out here.” She’d dashed for the door with her hands still gummy with peanut butter, and the jelly jar had somehow overturned onto the stove top, where the purple glop had dripped into one of the burners.

  Why couldn’t their mom stay home and take care of things like some other mothers? Kristy asked herself bitterly as she surveyed the mess. She’d done that for a while after Eric was born, and it’d been great. But when Eric reached school age, she’d considered taking a part-time job, and their father had suggested she go for it. She got a job right away at JCPenney and quickly moved up to full-time. “We can use the extra income,” Mrs. Grange had told them, and now with Peter planning to go to an out-of-state college and with Niles right behind him, it seemed doubtful that she’d ever be able to stop working. Kristy suspected she didn’t really want to. Her mom actually liked her job. And why would anybody choose to stay home and do chores when there was a sixteen-year-old daughter to do them for her?

  With a sigh of self-pity, Kristy shoved the stopper into the sink and turned on the hot water. She might as well put the egg plates in to soak before she rounded up the laundry. The upstairs hamper was always an adventure; eight million smelly socks and a ton of jeans were to be expected, but once there had been a slithering, three-foot-long black snake of Eric’s, and on another occasion she’d found a joint in one of Niles’s pockets. That had been a worthwhile discovery—he’d been grounded for a week.

  The mail lay dangerou
sly close to the grape jelly. Kristy picked up the envelopes and rifled through them. It was mostly junk mail, with one formal letter addressed to “The Parents of a High School Senior” from a photo studio. And there was a square, white envelope—

  Kristy stared at it. MS. KRISTY GRANGE was printed above the address in neatly rounded letters. Who in the world would be writing a letter to her? Maybe it’s just fancy junk mail, Kristy speculated. But the envelope had the look of a formal invitation. Was she really being asked to something—maybe a party?

  Placing the remainder of the mail on a clean spot near the counter’s edge, Kristy began to open the envelope. She did it slowly, making the suspense last. Whatever it was, this envelope had to have something special inside.

  For the first time since she’d gotten up that morning, Kristy Grange was smiling.

  “It’s a joke,” Laura Snow said shakily. “It’s got to be a joke.”

  “My goodness, honey, you look like you’re about to fall over.” Her mother leaned over her shoulder to read aloud the letter Laura clutched in her hand. “ ‘We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected for membership in the Modesta chapter of Daughters of Eve.’ ”

  “It’s a joke,” Laura said again.

  “Now, why do you say that?” her mother asked her. “It looks real enough to me. What is this club anyway, some sort of sorority?”

  “It’s only”—Laura stressed the word sarcastically—“the most exclusive club at Modesta High. They have a membership of only ten girls, and each year they invite just enough new members to join to replace the graduating seniors. Erika Schneider’s the president—you know who Erika is, don’t you? She’s the coolest girl in the Senior Honor Society. And there’s Madison Ellis and Ann Whitten and Tammy Carncross.” She shook her head firmly. “Somebody put my name on an invitation just to be funny.”

  “Laura, honey, what am I going to do with you?” Mrs. Snow regarded her daughter with affectionate exasperation. “Most girls would be squealing and jumping around, just ecstatic, and here you are, saying, ‘It’s a joke.’ Why wouldn’t they want you to join their club?”

  “Oh, Mom, come on.” How could she answer such a ridiculous question? All her mom had to do was look at her, just once, with her eyes wide open. If she did she might see her as she was: a massive lump with boobs that looked like twin watermelons and a butt that looked like twin something-elses. But her mom was blinded by something—love? Familiarity? Maybe the fact that she was overweight herself made bulk seem the norm.

  “One reason they wouldn’t want me is that I’m a junior,” Laura told her as patiently as she could. “The policy is to take in the incoming sophomores. If I was a choice, it would’ve been last year.”

  “Well, evidently they missed you then and now they realize what a mistake they made.” Her mother looked bewildered. “I don’t understand you, honey. Don’t you want to join? Clubs are such an important part of student life.”

  “Don’t I want to join?” Tentatively, daringly, she let her imagination reach out and play at the edge of the impossible. She wanted to belong to Daughters of Eve the way she wanted to look like Madison Ellis—to be homecoming queen—to be a cheerleader—to be able to lose forty pounds overnight. She wanted it the way she wanted Peter Grange to fall in love with her. She wanted it the way, as a little girl, she had wanted to be a fairy princess so that she could wave her magic wand and fix all the cracks in her parents’ splintering marriage; she wanted it with so much intensity that the mere thought made her dizzy.

  Was it possible—could it really be possible?—was the invitation for real?

  Slowly, Laura lowered her eyes to the envelope that lay in her lap. It was her name. It was her address. There was no mistake there. She looked at the card in her hand. We are pleased to inform you…

  “I could go to the meeting,” she said slowly. “The worst that could happen is that Erika would ask me what I was doing there. I could always say I walked into the wrong room by mistake when I was looking for a different meeting.”

  “Erika won’t ask you what you’re doing there. She’ll be thrilled that you want to attend.” Mrs. Snow smiled fondly at her daughter. “You’re being so silly!”

  “Daughters of Eve?” Bart Rheardon frowned thoughtfully. “I’ve never heard of it. Is it a religious organization?”

  “It’s a school club, Dad,” Jane said. “I don’t really know too much about it, except that some cool girls belong to it. It’s a secret society. Nobody’s allowed to say what they do at the meetings.”

  “I don’t like the sound of that.” Mr. Rheardon turned to his wife, who was engrossed in television.

  “Ellie, have you ever heard of a group called Daughters of Eve?”

  “What? Oh, sure,” Mrs. Rheardon said, her eyes still glued to the screen, where a gorgeous doctor leaned worriedly over a pale and beautiful patient.

  “Hey, turn that thing off. We’re trying to talk about something.” Mr. Rheardon brought his fist down hard on his knee. “Ellie, do you hear me?”

  “Sure. Sure, honey. I’m sorry.” His wife leaned forward quickly. She pressed the mute button on the remote, and then, after a quick glance at her husband’s face, turned the TV off completely. Quite suddenly the room seemed double its former size and oddly empty.

  Glancing back and forth between her parents, Jane felt the tiny muscle at the corner of her left eye tighten suddenly. It was the beginning of the tic she often got when she was nervous. I shouldn’t have shown Dad the invitation, she told herself miserably. She should’ve known something unpleasant would come of it.

  Still, when he’d come home that evening, he’d been in one of his good moods, laughing and teasing and reaching up playfully to slap his hand against the door frame in a joking attempt to pretend he was taller than the doorway and had forgotten to duck his head.

  “What’s new in your life, chicken?” he’d asked, ruffling the fine, light hair he’d referred to since her babyhood as “Janie’s chicken fluff.” And, on impulse, because it was such a happy surprise to see him this way on a Friday, Jane had brought out the invitation.

  “I’ve been asked to join a club.”

  “That’s nice. That’s great, chicken.” He’d laid the card on the end table and gone out to the kitchen to fix himself his martini. A moment later Jane had heard his voice raised in accusing anger. There was no gin?! What happened to the gin? No, of course he hadn’t finished it all last night. It couldn’t possibly have been used up that quickly. And, if it had been, why the hell hadn’t Ellen bought more when she was out doing the grocery shopping? The liquor store was less than a half block down from the grocery store, and it was even on the same side of the street. Well, now he’d have to get back into his car and go out into the rush-hour traffic on a Friday, which was always one of the worst days at work….

  After that, of course, nothing could go right. The gin, when he did arrive home with it, wasn’t the brand he’d wanted. At dinner, the chops had been greasy and the beans were canned instead of frozen and the Jell-O hadn’t been chilled long enough to hold its shape. The phone rang twice during the meal with women from the church wanting to discuss the potluck (“Don’t you women have enough time to jabber during the day, Ellie?”), and the evening paper arrived with the sports section missing.

  And now there was the invitation, “nice” and “great” when it had first been shown to him, suddenly a source of grave concern.

  “What is this group, anyway?” Mr. Rheardon asked suspiciously, his voice unnaturally loud in the silence left in the wake of the television. “You say you know about it, Ellie? Where did you hear about it? Has Jane been telling you things she hasn’t told me?”

  “Of course not, dear,” Ellen Rheardon said mildly. “Daughters of Eve is a national organization. There’s a chapter here in Modesta that’s been active for years. In fact, I was in it myself when I was in high school.”

  “You were? You never told me that.” Mr. Rheardon leaned
back in his chair and took a long swallow of his drink. “Well, tell us. What goes on at the meetings? What are all those secrets Jane was talking about?”

  “I don’t remember,” Ellen said. “It’s been so many years. They weren’t anything big, just secret passwords and handshakes and things like that. We had projects and held bake sales to buy things for the school, and every once in a while we had a party.” She paused. Suddenly her lips curved into a smile. “We had a club song. It was about being ‘daughters of one mother, sisters to each other.’ We formed a ring and held hands and sang it at the close of all our meetings.”

  “That sounds like a winner,” Mr. Rheardon said. “Let’s hear it.”

  “You mean, you want me to sing it?” His wife looked startled.

  “Sure, sing it. We can use a little entertainment around here in the evenings other than those stupid TV shows.”

  “Oh, I can’t,” Ellen Rheardon said.

  “What do you mean, you ‘can’t’? You’ve forgotten the words?”

  “No, it’s not that. It’s just that we took an oath that we wouldn’t sing the song anywhere except within the sisterhood. It was—sort of—sacred.” Ellen gave a short, nervous giggle. “You know how kids are about symbols and ceremonies.”

  “But this is almost twenty years later! You’re a grown woman, for god’s sake, or at least you’re supposed to be. You’re a married woman whose husband is making a simple request, and you sit there and tell him—”

  No, Jane cried silently, no, no, no! Her eye twitched again, hard. She could feel the whole left side of her face contorting with the muscular spasm. She dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands and tried to close her mind to her parents’ voices.

  “… really can’t remember…” her mom was saying; and her dad: “You said you did a few minutes ago. Look, Ellie”—Bart Rheardon’s voice was tight and hard—“I’m not about to be shut out of things in my own family. If you think that I’m going to let my daughter join the sort of organization that breaks up marriages by holding adult women to silly promises they made in childhood—”