Looking to start your next reading year off right? You can read an exclusive excerpt of Kate Hart's debut YA novel, After the Fall, right here on Bustle. After the Fall is out on Jan. 24 from Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and is available for pre-order now from your favorite retailer.
You might know Hart as the host of Badass Ladies You Should Know: a popular blog that profiles amazing women in the world. She's also the woman responsible for the "diversity in YA" infographics you may have seen on Jezebel and The Huffington Post.
In After the Fall, Hart explores the ramifications of sexual assault on a young woman's life and friendships. Protagonist Raychel is forging a new relationship with Andrew, unaware that his older brother, Matt, already considers her his girlfriend. Andrew and Matt come from a wealthy family, whereas Raychel is "poor white trash from the Delta," and Matt's classism makes his more-accepting younger brother all the more attractive. But when Raychel is attacked at a frat party by a jock named Carson, both brothers — along with the community of their peers at large — interpret the encounter as consensual and label Raychel a "slut."
Read an exclusive excerpt from Kate Hart's debut YA novel, After the Fall, below, and share your thoughts with me on Twitter!
I listen to the boys argue, rolling my eyes and taking a few deep breaths before I have to deal with them again. Andrew’s comment this morning was just the first in a day full of “knowing” glances and whispered comments and dirty gestures.
And it’s my own fault. I brought this on myself.
I expect a few high school kids to show up at frat parties, but Saturday’s party was at our friend Spencer’s dorm. It should have just been me and Matt, plus Spencer and his girlfriend, Asha, who both stayed here to go to college together. There weren’t nearly enough folks to drain the keg some optimistic freshman paid for, but Carson turned up with a few of his crew. When we ended up chatting at the end of the hall, he was surprised how much I knew about football. I was surprised he was having a conversation with me at all. Not that he’s ever been mean or anything. He just never seemed to notice me much.
So when he needed a smoke and asked if I wanted to come with, I said, “Yeah, sure,” and
shouted down the hall to Matt so he wouldn’t worry.
Every one saw us go.
Everyone saw me come back an hour later, hair wild and eyes wide.
Everyone saw me grab a beer, chug it, and proceed to throw it up in Spencer’s room.
Matt comes into the kitchen and I open the fridge so he can’t see my expression. “Are you okay?” he asks.
“Yeah.” The cool air feels clean on my face. “I’m fine.”
. . . . .
The rest of the week doesn’t improve much. On Tuesday, a group of sophomore girls corners me in the hallway to ask how big Carson’s junk is. Wednesday, I’m tagged online in a few pictures from the party, and a shot of Asha holding my hair over Spencer’s sink draws a lot of comments about my virtue and lack thereof. Thursday, someone coughs “Slut!” as I walk down a crowded staircase.
But I’ve dealt with gossip before. What I haven’t dealt with is Carson. If he would just ignore me, this would blow over, but instead he insists on smiling, waving, winking—everything short of actually striking up a conversation. And yet a stupid part of me is insulted that he hasn’t talked to me.
Maybe if he did, I could laugh it off. Put it behind me.
Stop thinking about it.
The last thing I want to do Friday night is go out, but I promised Asha I’d go with her to a frat party, and I kind of owe her for last weekend. However, she’ll ditch me the minute Spencer appears, and I’m not going to brave it alone. “How the hell are you going to wear a toga with crutches?” Matt asks.
“I’ll figure something out,” I say, shifting the phone. It’ll be easier than wearing the usual heels, skirt, and barely-there top combo anyway. “Please come.” Matt doesn’t answer. “Bring your brother, too.”
“He’s got plans.”
Bummer. Andrew would make things more fun. “We can leave early,” I say, changing tacks. “Please?”
“Fine,” he says grudgingly. “But we really can’t stay late. I have StuCo in the morning.”
“Deal,” I say, not even gloating. “We’ll meet you there.”
. . . . .
I wait forever at the bus stop and finally manage to take the transit over to Asha’s. She lives in the worst dorm, on the farthest edge of campus. The parking sucks, the food’s gross, the bathrooms are disgusting, and I am so freaking jealous I can barely stand it. One more year. Just one more year and I can have my own crappy dorm room on a campus far away.
She’s already several drinks ahead when I get there. “You gotta catch up,” she says, handing me a watered-down tequila mixture that’s supposed to be a margarita. “Have a Drink on Me” blares from the speakers. I sip when AC/DC commands and Asha tries not to jab me with safety pins as she arranges my bedsheet into a toga. She looks pretty, draped in one of her mom’s saris.
“Does your mom know you’re wearing that?”
“Ha,” Asha says. “No, and don’t spill anything on it or she’ll kill me.”
My sheet literally pales in comparison—it used to be floral, many bleachings ago, but now it’s mottled and ugly. “Where’s your roommate?”
“She’s never here,” Asha says, taking the pins out of her mouth. “I don’t think she likes Spencer.”
“What? Why?” Everyone likes Spencer. He is the definition of nice. Polite, kind, quiet, and completely in love with Asha.
“I don’t know. I think she’s a racist.”
I snort. “Maybe she just doesn’t like the nonstop sexfest.”
Asha pokes me on purpose. Everyone knows she and Spencer screw like rabbits—except her parents, who are pretty traditional. Her mom wants Asha married as soon as possible, and her dad… well, her dad is the answer to “who doesn’t like Spencer?” Mr. Chavan got over the fact that Asha dated Spencer in secret for their entire sophomore year, and he claims to be over the fact that Spencer is black instead of Indian. But now that Asha stayed in Big Springs to be with him for college, Spencer is back on Mr. Chavan’s shit list.
Asha claims she’s here for the well-respected social work department, but that doesn’t make her dad any happier. Her older siblings are an oncologist and an engineer, and Asha, as the baby of the family, is supposed to complete the trifecta of success. Preferably as a surgeon. Lawyer, like her dad, is also acceptable. But what she really wants is to start a nonprofit and save the world, like Matt.
I’m just going to save myself and major in business. “Did you drop that statistics class?”
She steps back to examine her handiwork. “Yeah, but I’ll have to make it up at some point.”
“Ugh.” The chorus comes around again and I gulp from my mug.
“You ready?” Asha asks, looking for her keys.
“I think.” I tug experimentally at my toga and its hundred thousand safety pins. That sucker is going nowhere. “I hope this party blows less than the last one.”
Asha laughs, a little higher and sillier than when she’s sober. “You’re not looking for another round with Carson Tipton?”
My pulse spikes, sending lukewarm margarita straight to my head.
She fake punches my arm. “The dude has a Confederate flag license plate, Raychel. What were you thinking?”
“Good question,” I say, and drain my mug.
I told Raychel that Andrew had plans, but he cancels them when he hears about the toga party. He takes forever to find a sheet, finally wrapping himself in an old one with Sesame Street characters, and by the time we find a parking spot, then walk all the way from the parking deck to the frat house, I’m sure we’ll be late.
But we still beat the girls to the party and have to stand on the lawn waiting for them, watching a crowd of costumed kids walk, or stagger, inside. Finally Spencer the Friendly Drunk shows up and we go inside to escape the heat. He offers his flask to everyone in sight, but I turn him down. When the girls finally show up, they’re already stumbling, and the smell of tequila washes over me as Asha rests her forehead against mine. “Hiiii, Maaaattt.”
Well, this should be fun.
Raychel hugs Andrew. “Nice toga,” she says, looking him up and down, then turns to me. “Where’s yours?”
“He’s a modern Greek,” Andrew says. “Banker type.”
“I said I’d show,” I say, “not that I’d dress up. Where’re your crutches?”
She points toward the door, where they’re leaning against the wall. Andrew passes her Spencer’s flask and before I can argue, she takes a swig, shuddering. “Oh, that’s disgusting.”
Great, we’re mixing liquors tonight too. “You’re not drinking on painkillers, are you?”
She rolls her eyes and takes another swig before handing it back. “Thanks, Spence.”
“No problem.” He puts it in his pocket, just in time for Asha to make an attempt at swallowing his entire face, glasses and all. Wonderful. “Don’t you have to work tomorrow?” I ask Raychel.
“Not until noo-o on,” she says, poking my arm. I bite back an angry reply. All week, she’s been furious that her hookup with Carson is the topic of conversation, but it’s not stopping her from another weekend of public debauchery.
A girl in a toga made of plastic wrap comes over to Andrew. “You want to dance?”
He looks at us, grinning, and Raychel waves him away. When he’s lost in the crowd, she leans over to talk into my ear, and gestures at Spencer and Asha. “Let’s give them some privacy,” she says, vowels long and slow.
The hormonal part of my brain wishes she’d bite my earlobe.
Instead I half carry her to a corner, where she slumps on a sticky couch. Her laurel wreath crown, which looks suspiciously like it’s made from the holly bushes outside Asha’s dorm, slips and catches in a tangle of brown waves that change color with the DJ booth’s flashing lights. Red, yellow, green, back to red, flashing like a strobe. She stares at it without blinking.
Her heads lolls toward me. “How’d you guess?”
“Asha had margarita breath.”
That strikes her as funny and I have to wrap an arm around her waist to keep her from laughing herself off the couch. Raychel has this problem when she drinks: she starts to slide off whatever seat she’s in. We call it the puddle effect, and it’s funny when she’s not nursing an injury. My fingers line up with her ribs, skin warm through the sheet.
“That tickles!” She squirms away from my hand, closer to my lap, her head resting on my shoulder. I could kiss the top of it if I wanted to.
The hormonal part of my brain wants to kiss her mouth instead.
The urge to kiss a pretty girl shouldn’t be surprising, even if it’s Raychel. It’s not that I don’t want to, because god knows I do, but this is Raychel, so I shouldn’t.
She doesn’t smell like tequila. She smells like limes. Tart.
But we’re friends. And not the kind with benefits.
I make myself turn away.
. . . . .
We watch people migrate to the makeshift dance floor until Asha and Spencer find us again. They have drinks for us as apologies, but I decline, since everyone else is obviously past the point of no return, and someone has to get Raychel home.
That lucky someone is me, but what else is new.
“Hey,” I say, shouting over the bass. “Are you guys staying? I think we’re heading out.”
Asha looks at Raychel the Puddle and giggles. “I was going to see if she wanted to dance, but uh, guess not.”
“Yeah, pretty sure she’s done.” I wade into the crowd to get my brother, but he’s found some other friends and wants to stay. For once, I’m irritated that he’s ditching us, because I could use some help getting Raychel out of here. Back at the couch, I pull her to her feet and she groans in protest. “Ready for the hike to the car?”
“Can’t you bring the car here?” she asks.
“It’s all the way over by the stadium.”
She pouts. “Then can we get ice cream on the way home?”
“We’ll see,” I say, trying to move her toward the door. “Ice cream and alcohol don’t sound like a great combination.”
“But you dumped me!”
I snort and leave Spencer to hold her up while I go get her crutches. I’ll never live it down: We dated for four days in the seventh grade, until Mindy Merrithew smiled at me in the hallway. Then I dumped Raychel, Mindy immediately started acting like I had leprosy, and Raych has used it as her trump card ever since. I want the last cookie? “But you dumped me!” I want to hike at Eagle Point and she wants to go to Roger’s Hollow? “But you dumped me!” I want to sleep and Raychel wants to have a two-hour conversation? “But you broke my heart!”
Maybe next time I’ll say, “Let me make it up to you. Let’s go out again.”
Right after I magically grow a pair.
Instead I hand her the crutches and we make our way through the crowd. “Ugh,” Raychel says as we step outside. It’s muggy and still, the kind of night where leaving the AC is like walking into a wet spider web. But her gaze is on an approaching pack of guys from school, with Carson jogging ahead of them.
“Sanders!” he says to Raychel, and nods at me. It feels more like a dismissal than a greeting. “Y’all leaving already?”
Raychel mumbles something. She suddenly seems a lot drunker than before, and she’s holding on to the crutches like she needs them again. I glance to make sure her toga’s still up.
“Somebody pre-gamed a little too hard,” I say.
Carson laughs. He’s a redneck, but he’s all right. His mom was our Cub Scout leader, but my brother knows him better than me since they played baseball together until Andrew quit this year to “focus on basketball.” As if Andrew can focus on anything. “Where’s Hana?” he asks.
“Hana Mori?” I ask, confused, and he nods. “We broke up a long time ago.” She stayed here for college, but I haven’t seen her since graduation.
“Oh. Right.” He nods at Raychel. “You dating this one now?”
Ah. Now I get it. “We’re best friends,” I say, and Raychel squeezes my arm.
“Well, in that case . . .” he says, and grins at her. “You sure you don’t want to stick around?”
I wait for Raychel to respond. I don’t want her to say yes, obviously, but she clearly has something going with this guy, and I know from past experience that if I answer for her, I’ll hear about it later. The way she’s holding herself rigid makes me think she might be about to barf, though. “Raych?” I prompt. “You want to stay?”
She leans against me. “Tired.”
Carson’s friends are starting to crowd us. “Aw, come on,” he says, lifting and resettling his baseball cap, but she shakes her head.
“She started drinking tequila at six,” I say, trying to help him save face so we can leave. “She’s going to pass out any second.”
“That’s what he’s hoping,” one of the other guys says.
I pretend not to hear, since I’m way outnumbered. Carson adjusts his hat again. “Well,” he says. “See y’all later then.”
Raychel sighs and pulls my arm against her like a teddy bear as he walks away. “I’m your best friend now?”
“You’ve always been my best friend,” I say. Pressing inside my chest is a wish that I was more like Carson: not afraid to make a move, though with a few more morals about when to do it. Although maybe my morals aren’t so much better, considering that I was thinking about kissing her when she wasn’t any soberer. I try to pull away. “And you’re also really drunk.”
“I am?” She laughs, squeezing me harder before she lets go. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” I say, and I mean it. Lately I mean it more than I want to.
Image: Courtesy of Kate Hart and Farrar, Straus & Giroux