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PROM AND PREJUDICE
by Elizabeth Eulberg

Genre: Contemporary Young Adult, Young Adult

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Charles, beaming from ear to ear, turned to me. “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Charles Bingley.”

“Lizzie Bennet.”

He shook my hand and gave me a warm smile. “Lizzie, so good to meet you. I’ve heard all about you from Jane. She says nothing but the nicest things.”

Because Jane was a saint. She couldn’t say anything bad about anybody. And believe me, I had tried to get her to.

Charles turned to his quiet friend, who had been peering around. “Darcy, come here and say hi to Jane and her friend Lizzie.”

Darcy approached and gave Jane a quick kiss on the cheek. Then he turned toward

me and his hazel eyes locked with mine.

“Hello,” he said, shaking my hand and giving me a small, curious smile.

“Hello,” I replied. I was slightly unnerved by his expression. He could have been judging me. Or he could have been making a slight overture toward acquaintance. Or he could have been plotting a way to throw me into the fountain outside.

He opened his mouth to say something else, then thought the better of it and decided to walk briskly away.

Charles laughed this off. “I don’t think Darcy has recovered from the jet lag! Lizzie, it’s really great to meet you, but would you mind if I take Jane away for a dance?”

Jet lag seemed to be the least likely reason for Darcy’s rudeness, but Charles and Jane were so desperate to be in each other’s arms on the dance floor that I could hardly prolong the conversation. As the two of them began to dance, I walked aimlessly around the cavernous hall trying to find Charlotte, my only other friend on campus. I weaved through conversations between my fellow classmates — bragging about opulent holiday gifts, swapping tales of exotic destinations — conversations I couldn’t be a part of. After a few minutes, I gave up and went over to the refreshment table and began to fix myself a cup of tea.

“Looks like you just can’t stay away from your work, huh?” Cat de Bourgh, daughter of an old Texas oil tycoon, said as she came up behind me. “My dad is just like that, except he runs a multibilliondollar corporation. He doesn’t consider brewing coffee a career.”

Comments like this would just bounce off my shield. No, I didn’t have a trust fund. In truth, I didn’t really understand what a trust fund was, except that it made people act like jerks. I always found solace in the fact that I was genuinely more intelligent than the majority of my class, and that while they’d gotten in because of birthright, I’d made my way by talent alone.

After all, money can only buy you so much.

I turned around and smiled sweetly at her. “I’m guessing your daddy doesn’t think saying things like ‘venti half-caf, skinny latte’ is too impressive, either. But if that makes you feel smart — when really, you’re just asking for a decaf coffee with skim milk — who am I to judge?”

Cat picked up a discarded cup of coffee and smirked malevolently

as she poured it onto my dress. “Oops,” she said with a smile as she walked away.

My upper thighs began to burn from the still-hot liquid. I tried to not make any noise as I quickly grabbed napkins.

“Are you okay?” A hand was on my arm, and instinctually I pulled away.

It was Will Darcy.

“Oh, sorry,” I said. “Yes, I’m wonderful. Great party . . .”

I went to the corner to try to save Jane’s dress. The last thing I needed was to go to the ladies’ room. The bathroom was one of the most vulnerable places on campus, an easy trap. Just another lesson from my fine education last semester.

“Here.” Darcy came over and handed me a napkin soaked in seltzer water.

“Thanks.” I had to try to nonchalantly put my arm up my dress to wipe off my legs.

“I agree with you on this being a wonderful party.” He leaned in. “I hate these things. Charles had to drag me.”

“I guess that’s something he and Jane have in common — their powers of persuasion.”

“And we, despite our better judgment, allow ourselves to be persuaded.”

“Yeah, well, I guess the two of us have that one thing in common.”

Darcy looked perplexed. “What makes you think we wouldn’t have anything more in common?”

I let out a little laugh. I had forgotten that he didn’t know about me . . . and my situation.

Darcy turned his attention back to the matter of the ruined dress. “Is it coming out?”

I shook my head. While the dress was black, it had a delicate chiffon layer that was becoming crusty from the coffee.

“Jane is going to hate me,” I said with a sigh.

Darcy was confused. “Why would Jane hate you?”

“This is her dress. I could never own a dress as nice as this. But maybe now she’ll let me stay in my room once and for all instead of trying to turn the duckling into a swan with some borrowed feathers.”

“Oh.” Something had begun to register on Darcy’s face. The amused look had been replaced with a slow understanding of what was going on. It irritated me that he seemed to be helpful and genuinely concerned for me . . . until he found out about my deep, dark secret.

“Yeah, I’m a scholarship student.”

Darcy grimaced at the word scholarship. It looked like the mere mention of us charity cases caused a migraine.

“I see,” he replied. He gestured again to the coffee stain. “Well, good luck with that.” Then he left as abruptly as he’d come.

I stood there with my hands full of dirty, coffee-soaked napkins. I shouldn’t have been surprised that once he found out the truth about me he wouldn’t want to be seen in my presence. I guess this was a reminder from the universe that nothing was going to be different this semester. I was who I was, and I should have considered myself lucky that there were at least a couple people who accepted me.

I headed toward the exit. I had tried to make an effort, and now my effort was done. It was best to not tempt fate any further.

Copyright line: “From Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg. Scholastic Inc./Point. Copyright (c) 2011 by Elizabeth Eulberg. Reprinted by permission.”