Rhodes and Iliana couldn't be more different, but that's not why they hate each other.
Rhodes, a gifted artist, has always excelled at Alabama's Conservatory of the Arts (until she's hit with a secret bout of creator's block), while Iliana, a transfer student, tries to outshine everyone with her intense, competitive work ethic. Since only one of them can get the coveted Capstone scholarship, the competition between them is fierce.
They both escape the pressure on a fanfic site where they are unknowingly collaborating on a webcomic. And despite being worst enemies in real life, their anonymous online identities I-Kissed-Alice and Curious-in-Cheshire are starting to like each other . . . a lot. When the truth comes out, will they destroy each other's future?
Release date: July 28, 2020
Print pages: 304
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I Kissed Alice
Hate is a complicated word.
Some people believe hating is wishing death on someone.
Others think it’s three-minutes-in-a-dark-broom-closet away from True Love™.
If this is the case, I don’t hate Rhodes Ingram at all: I don’t hate her, and I would rather die myself than be alone with her anywhere.
But, oh, it feels good to say it:
I hate Rhodes Ingram.
I hate Rhodes Ingram.
I. HATE. RHODES. INGRAM.
We’re standing in the doorway of the dorm room Rhodes shares with Sarah Wade, my best friend since we were kids, and I never have any idea what’s happened here. She doesn’t tell me when she fights with Rhodes, or when Rhodes makes her feel small, or when Rhodes bites her head off for turning on the overhead lights too early in the morning. Sarah only Velcros herself to my side, and then I have to needle around for details until I can finally pull everything out of her.
And oh my God.
I despise Rhodes for it.
I’ve memorized every square inch of Rhodes’s face—her dark, full eyebrows, the way her hair hangs in long sheets past her shoulders, the wisps that curl at her temples, too short and too new to be forced into submission. I’ve blended shades of orange and pink watercolor until I could find the precise shade of her cheeks when she flushes either from embarrassment or anger, and I find myself comparing sticks of soft pastel to match the blue of her eyes.
Every day, we take seats across from each other in Drawing III. We spend seventy-five minutes in uncomfortable eye contact over the tops of our sketchbooks instead of working, ignoring the endless blathering of our drawing teacher, Benjamin Randall.
Which is exactly what we did today—literally nothing.
Nothing at all, but glaring and fuming and whispering snide remarks over the tops of our sketchbooks at each other. And now we’re here, two hours later, standing three feet from each other while she scrambles—because that’s the only thing she knows how to do—flushed and shoving dirty clothes into a hamper.
“I can’t believe you talked me into this,” I whisper to Sarah.
Her face pinches up in that way that it has since childhood, a little red and a lot ugly.
She doesn’t respond—she doesn’t have to.
Her texts in our messaging app earlier today said more than enough:
Its_sayruh_17 6:13a: look you don’t have to talk to her ok
Its_sayruh_17 9:42a: it’s my birthday
Its_sayruh_17 10:46a: don’t you think you can just like pretend to get along for five minutes
Its_sayruh_17 12:15p: you’re both my best friends??? Clearly you both have good taste??? Like?
Its_sayruh_17 1:52p: ANSWER
Its_sayruh_17 1:52p: YOUR
Its_sayruh_17 1:52p: TEXTS
Its_sayruh_17 1:53p: BITCH
So, here we are.
Thirty minutes later leaving than we had originally intended.
Rhodes’s things are nice enough—I recognize her quilt from the cover of a Pottery Barn Teen catalog I saw in my orthodontist’s office. She has one of those boutiquey burlap-tufted headboards and crystal bedside lamps that are completely ridiculous paired with the cinderblock walls. Her curtains match her bed skirt, a preppy kelly-green-on-white lattice print.
But six half-empty water bottles litter Rhodes’s shelf over her bed, and two have plummeted between her headboard and the desk. Her office supplies match, too, all the way down to a cup filled with unsharpened pencils that have sat there as long as Sarah and Rhodes have shared a space, but today they’re scattered willy-nilly across her desk.
Meanwhile, Sarah’s side of the room is meticulously tidy. She possesses a kind of ingenuity I don’t see from the Conservatory kids who come from money: She’s broke, the other sophomore-year transfer besides me, and she’s only here due to one of a handful of scholarships the school extends to the area’s talented poor. Whereas the girls down the hall order their room supplies from places like West Elm or Pottery Barn, Sarah has upcycled literally everything she owns from thrift stores, dumpsters, and her grandmother’s attic.
There are three rows of bins on the shelves that hang over her bed, spray-painted white and fitted with DIY tie-dyed liners. She braided the rug that sits on the linoleum floor between the two beds from old sweatshirts and crocheted her shower bag with strips of old plastic bags from the grocery store.
I like Sarah’s side far better.
Rhodes has moved on to stowing dirty bowls spirited away from the dining hall beneath her bed, cursing under her breath, so I direct my attention to Sarah instead. She nudges me toward her bed; I duck under Rhodes’s long arm, which is flailing out to grab a dining hall mug from where it sits on top of the microwave, and hoist myself up onto Sarah’s mattress. “Well? What do you want to do first, Birthday Girl?”
“I think we should read tarot cards,” Sarah says. “Did you bring yours?”
“Oh, give me a break.” I dump my bag onto Sarah’s homemade quilt, an uncharacteristic hodgepodge of every monogrammed article of clothing she’s owned since birth. Three decks tumble out, each safe in tiny, hand-sewn silk pouches. “I always have them with me.”
Sarah takes each deck from its bag and turns the cards out.
First, the original Rider-Waite deck, with a pretty tile pattern on the back that makes it impossible to tell if a card is upright or reversed before it’s been flipped—a detail that could change the meaning of the card if the picture on the back is upside down or right-side up. Second, a deck influenced by the art deco movement from the early twentieth century that shimmers with touches of gold leaf. The last deck—and my favorite—my Sacred Feminine deck.
Even if we go through this little ritual every time I’ve read for her, she always chooses the same deck. She glances over to where Rhodes lies sprawled across her own bed, then places the Sacred Feminine deck in my upturned palm.
“What makes you think you can see the secrets of the universe with a deck of cards?” Rhodes drawls. She’s lying on her side, her head propped in her hand. “Why do you, Iliana Vrionides, think you possess a sixth sense for the unknown?”
We’ve been through this eight hundred times.
Every single God-dang time she sees my cards, she asks the same question.
I always give the same answer, and I recite it now as if I’m reciting a Bible verse in church:
“Tarot cards are mirrors, not windows. I don’t practice tarot to see the future; I practice tarot to see myself.”
“Yeah,” Sarah echoes, frowning. “It’s not about trying to see the future.”
Rhodes sniffs. She rolls onto her back and stares up at the ceiling. “I don’t see why you can’t just, I don’t know, look in a mirror. If it takes a deck of playing cards to ‘know yourself,’ Iliana, you’ve got bigger problems.”
I don’t like the way my name rolls around in her mouth: It’s pure, old-fashioned, rural Alabama drawl, with consonants conveniently forgotten and every vowel delicately stretched into its own kind of music. It sounds like a secret; I’ve wondered what it would sound like to hear my name whispered like that.
Sarah shifts and uncrosses her short legs and stretches them out in front of her. She’s gone from a pleasant, excited flush in her pale cheeks to an all-over crimson that even screams pink under her bleached hair. We make eye contact; she shakes her head, and I drop my eyes to the cards between us.
This girl is the person I called when I experienced my first orgasm on accident two summers ago, leaning up against the washing machine during the spin cycle to reach the box of fabric softener on the top shelf. I was the one she called for advice the three months she hid having her period from her mother, an overly emotional, sentimental woman who Sarah had caught searching phrases like “moon sister” and “first period party” on Pinterest the week before.
Text copyright © 2020 by Anna Birch
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