"Honestly, Denise," Lila was saying. "I mean, I understand personal taste and everything, but a Theta has a certain reputation to uphold."
"Your point, being?" Denise answered dryly, blowing on her freshly painted nails. Isabella pursed her lips and slowly rolled the bottle of Luxe Lilac around in her palm. "Sorry, Izzy. I'll try to sit still."
Lila waved a copy of Ingenue in the air. "Just take a look at this. The girl on page twelve in the style section is wearing a gorgeous little teal coloured silk shirt, and a high waisted black bubble skirt. Look at the detailing on the waistband – I mean, that sort of embroidery is trés chic these days. You're an events management major. You need to be wearing these kinds of things!"
Denise glanced at the page while trying to keep still. "That skirt alone costs almost three hundred dollars, Li. Besides, I'm only studying. No one dresses up for classes." She swept her hands over her stonewashed jeans and colourful gypsy blouse. "I'm in the majority."
Lila raised an eyebrow and silently looked down at herself. Jessica had to admit, the empire-waist mauve-coloured dress and the intricate woven leather sandals were gorgeous, but way too dressy for an everyday look, in her opinion. Jessica herself only wore a floral-print maxi, and a pair of simple black peep-toe flats.
They had been sitting in the Theta house lounge room for almost an hour, under the guise of studying. What they were really doing was receiving manicures and pedicures from Isabella, and discussing the latest kills in the Murder Game.
"Anyway," Jessica interrupted. "The only reason I brought up what Casey Fuller and Justine DiLeone were wearing this morning is because it got totally ruined."
"Good," Lila murmured, flipping through her magazine. "That hideous monogrammed tote Justine matches with everything had to go. Maybe it was a kill from the fashion gods."
Alexandra swatted Lila lightly on the arm. "Tell me Casey was wearing her ridiculously expensive coat from Mimco."
"With the matching beret," Jessica confirmed gleefully. "One of the frat boys ambushed them on the quad this morning. Joseph whats-his-name, I think. Anyway, he tossed dozens of water balloons at them. That suede coat is history."
"Wouldn't have mattered if she was wearing jeans!" Denise sang out.
"Even though Casey and Justine aren't our friends," Jessica said, "we have to retaliate. More sorority girls have been killed then frat boys. This is about evening the ratio."
"Agreed," Alexandra chimed in. "Although some of the sorority girls are responsible for some of our own being killed."
Jessica grinned. "Ladies, you have no idea. The best kill is still yet to come. Does everyone recall a certain walking coat-hanger talking about her big date with Zachary Machamp, journalist and mini-celebrity?"
"Who hasn't heard," Denise grumbled. "Alison is a walking microphone." She cupped her hands around her mouth and said in a deep voice, "Has everyone heard about my date? We met in line for mochacchinos, and he gave me the last packet of sugar! It was love at first sight!"
Isabella capped her polish and tossed it into her kit. "You do that surprisingly well, Denise. And I'd hardly call him a celebrity. He's practically a gossip columnist. Even the title 'journalist' is rich."
"Well, we've established we've all heard of him," Lila said wryly.
"And if we know Alison, which we do, what do we think she'd be doing right about now?" Jessica said, indicating to the clock on the mantelpiece.
Alex turned to stare at the time, and she let her breath out in a whoosh. "It's almost four 'o' clock. He's picking her up around six-thirty, right? I'd say she's picking her outfit."
"Na-uh," Denise disagreed, shaking her head. "She's shaving her face."
"Bathing in the blood of seventy young virgins?" Lila intoned, wiggling her eyebrows up and down comically. Isabella shook with laughter as she tried to open her bottle of top coat.
"You're all wrong!" Jessica said triumphantly. "She'd be washing her hair."
They went silent for a moment. "You didn't do anything too drastic, did you, Jess?" Denise said finally. "I mean, you don't want to have to keep watching your back. You have to sleep some time."
"Was it the old Nair in the shampoo trick?" Lila asked, clapping her hands together.
Jessica preened, pretending to buff her nails on her bare shoulders. Isabella frowned and swatted her hands back down. "I guess you girls will have to wait and see. But let me tell you, it's going to be the talk of the campus."
"Did you guys see Tom's broadcast last night?" Alex asked. "Talk about cocky! I don't know what your sister ever saw in him, Jess. Boy has a real ego."
"Tell me about it," Jess answered, rolling her eyes.
Lila smiled and tucked her legs underneath her. "You're still smarting because he made you out into such a villain last night!"
"Hey, I'm happy to take all the publicity I can get!" Jess protested. "At least the rest of the contestants will see me as a real threat now."
"Or a target," Denise commented. "You should just try what I'm doing. I'm laying low for a while, and then I'll strike when there's not so many people left."
"Bo-rriing!" Jessica sang.
Isabella finished Denise's nails with a flourish, and she began to pack up her kit. "Have you guys seen Chloe anywhere? Girl was a mess the other morning. She might have even gotten alcohol poisoning, you know."
"How passé," Lila commented.
"I haven't seen her since that morning," Alex replied. "I'm sure she's fine. She's a cat. Always lands on her feet."
"But Chloe is usually ringing us every ten seconds to find out where we are," Isabella pointed out. "I mean, hey, don't get me wrong. I'm loving that she's finally cutting the cord between us. There's only so much Chloe you can take."
"I thought you liked Chloe?" Denise said mildly, studying her manicure.
"I did. I do. We all do. But you have to admit, she can be really needy when she wants to be. It's just weird that she hasn't even checked in with us when she normally needs reassurance just to leave her room."
Suddenly, a scream tore through the echo-ey house. Denise clasped her hand to her chest as if she'd been shot, and Isabella jumped about a foot in the air. Jessica, on the other hand, darted to her feet, and was on the move in seconds.
"That might be my cue to leave," she said, pressing a finger to her lips. A door slammed down the hallway, and a familiar voice shrieked, "JESSICA!"
Jessica slipped out the front door, and waited in the garden area, peering through an open window. She watched gleefully as a stringy, green-haired Alison came storming into the Theta parlour. Her friends shook with laughter as Alison screamed the house down. Jessica tiptoed off, waiting till she was safely out of earshot before breaking into jog. She had to be home soon anyway – she'd told Elizabeth that she'd start dinner, as her study group wouldn't break up till well after five.
As she dashed along Sorority Row, she kept an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. She felt as if she was becoming a spy. She'd become suspicious of every little movement or sound. It struck her just how badly she wanted to win this thing. She imagined Elizabeth rolling her eyes at this statement. Jessica reached her car and fished in her handbag for her keys, trying to do it and keep moving at the same time. She didn't want to stand still long enough for anything to happen. Joseph wasn't all that intelligent, and he was probably the type to repeat his kills.
"This kill is going to go down in history!" she crowed to herself when she was buckled into her car. Screeching down the street, she pushed a CD into the player and skipped ahead to her favourite song. Singing along, she thought about Elizabeth and how she'd managed to escape relatively unscathed in the past couple of days. Jessica had stayed in Denise's room the night before, and Alison had tried to sneak in a cut off some of her hair. Jessica had awoken just in time, and kicked her in the knee. Alison had scurried out, the long silver pair of scissors gleaming in her hands.
Elizabeth had sworn up and down that she hadn't entered herself, and Jessica was inclined to believe her. No one had even tried to kill her, whereas Jessica had already been the subject of three intended kills. Elizabeth had either played the role of unwilling participant extremely well and had succeeded in not drawing attention to herself, or she genuinely had no interest in the game. But if she hadn't entered herself into the Murder Game, then who had?