The chapel is, like most things at Goode, undernamed. It is more like a cathedral with its sandy stone exterior and stained glass window, the roofline soaring a hundred feet into the air. The remains of two hundred young women push and shove their way into the chapel, chattering loudly, robes flowing behind them. One last toll of the bell, the ring dying into the early evening air, which still shimmers with heat, and we are all inside the nave and hurrying into our seats.
Inside it is a bit darker, but not much. The energy in the air is palpable, the noise deafening, not hushed and respectful. The rafters are so high the echoes reverberate. Voices call and shout, girls squeal with laughter. Trying to remember the class color schemes, I stick close to Camille, Piper, and Vanessa, grateful for their presence, especially when Becca Curtis notices me.
Becca and another senior are handing out some sort of pamphlet, and I try to duck toward the girl on her left so I won’t have to come face-to-face with the bully again, but I’m jostled by the crowd right back to her. I keep my head down, avoiding eye contact, take the proffered paper, and start to move into the chapel, but the universe conspires against me. Becca rips the paper back, forcing me to a stop.
“So. You’re our mad Brit.”
Camille grabs my hand and tugs. “Leave her alone, Becca.”
“Shut it, Shannon. Carlisle here can speak for herself.”
I’d rather crawl into the nave’s warm brown wainscoting and disappear, but Becca is staring at me, challenge in her eyes. “Well? What do you have to say for yourself?”
I know I can’t let Becca bully me. I need to stand up for myself. But I hate conflict, hate it. I say the words under my breath and Becca cocks her head.
“What? Speak up. I couldn’t understand you. Surely you know how to speak.”
The sneer undoes me.
“Yes, I do. I said, better a mad Brit than a daft cow.”
“Ooo, snap,” Camille says, eyes wide.
Becca’s lips go thin, and her face turns red. Her voice is soft, deathly cool. “Aren’t you clever, little Brit. We’ll see how smug you feel later, shall we?” The threat in Becca’s smile is unmistakable.
“Move along, little ones.”
Becca resumes passing out fliers and Camille yanks on my arm.
“Come on. Hurry. Before she changes her mind.”
We take our seats in the chapel, which is broken into class quadrants by layers similar to the dorm housing—freshmen in the front pews, then sophomores, juniors, and seniors at the back.
Camille’s eyes are shining. “I can’t believe you mouthed off to Becca Curtis.”
“Whatever. She was hounding me earlier, when I was checking in. Told me to take the left staircase, the Evens’ stairs, told me I’d get a single if my roommate died. I don’t like bullies.”
Vanessa shakes her head, lips pursed in concern. “That was a dangerous thing to do, Ash. Becca Curtis is powerful. Why did she single you out?”
“No idea. Her mum is a senator, I heard. Maybe she hates immigrants.”
“No, I meant here, at Goode, she’s powerful. Doesn’t matter who her mother is, though it’s hard to forget, sometimes. Camille told you my mom works at the State Department, right? She doesn’t care for Senator Curtis. Anyway, Becca is head of the judicial board. She handles Honor Code violations, plus she’s class president, and rumor has it she’s head of Ivy Bound, too, but no one knows for sure, not unless you’re tapped and get in, that is. And the odds of one of us getting tapped are slim. Not as sophomores.”
“Ivy Bound? What is that?”
“It’s a secret society. The secret society. Goode has quite a few, but Ivy Bound is the cream of the crop. It’s the one everyone wants to be tapped for.”
“If it’s secret, how does everyone know about it? And what’s tapped mean?”
“Shhh!” A sharp whisper behind us.
“Later,” Vanessa says quietly. “Pay attention like a good little mad Brit.” Her grin is infectious, and I relax, put my attention to the front of the chapel.
The professors have filed in and taken their seats. There is Dr. Asolo, who seems to be having a joke with the woman next to her, small, older, with a silvery bun knotted on top of her head. Most are unremarkable, outside of Asolo and one devilishly handsome man on the far left. He’s younger than the rest, and I know this is Dr. Medea, the computer science professor. He alone sits at attention; the rest look alternately bored and tired. Moments later, when they sit up straight, all the girls rise. I leap to my feet with them as Dean Westhaven comes from the wings and steps behind the pulpit.
The dean waits until there is complete silence in the room before she begins to speak.
“Welcome to Goode, ladies. Welcome. I am Dean Westhaven, though you all know me already, either from our interactions here on campus or, if you’re new to the school, through our entrance interviews.”
A small, pale hand goes to the side of the dean’s perfectly coiffed hair, patting and smoothing it into place. I watch the gesture with interest. She’s nervous. Why?
“To matriculate from Goode is more than good fortune, it is to seize the future. The statistics don’t lie—of the fifty graduates sitting before me today, the class of 2021, all of you will graduate, and all of you will go to college. Why? Because I, your dean, expect nothing less. Your fellow students expect nothing less. Your families expect nothing less. You will excel because that is what Goode girls do.
“You are here to learn. You will work harder than you have ever worked before. You will serve your classmates and this community.
“Never forget, it is a privilege to receive this education. It is your responsibility to step into the world with grace and dignity and an inquisitive brain. You are the leaders of tomorrow. Be a leader today. Show me, your fellow students, your professors, how very special you all are. You have each been chosen to have a place behind the red brick wall. When you leave these corridors, when you are no longer protected by our traditions and our campus life, you will always be safe in the world, because you bear the stamp of Goode on your soul.
“It is vital for you to understand how important a female-only education is to your future. You will be tried—it is our lot in life—and when faced with any sort of animosity or barrier because of your sex, you will have every tool imaginable at your behest. That is what Goode does for you. Yes, you will go Ivy. But it is more important to recognize the power you are being given. The power of the sisterhood.
“Look to your left. Look to your right. These young women are your future. The investment you make in yourself is an investment in them, as well. Together, we all rise. Together, we are strong. Always remember your sisters.”
With a benevolent smile, the dean raises her hands and clasps them in front of her, palm to palm.
“Together,” she says.
“Together,” the room echoes as one, teachers and students linked together.
“Now, if you please, we will recite the Honor Code.”
Two hundred girls draw a quick breath and speak as one, their voices filling the chapel to the rafters, repeating the words I said in the dean’s office. This is our official claim, our pledge, our sacred word and bond. It is not unlike reciting a confession. The power of it rings through me. This is what it means to belong to something bigger than yourself.
“… On my honor.”
Dean Westhaven touches one hand to her heart, then exits the pulpit, and the chapel resumes its role as school beehive, the girls buzzing with excitement. Convocation is over. Term has officially begun.