By EW Staff
May 21, 2021 at 12:00 PM EDT
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The Rumor Game
Credit: Disney

If you like Tiny Pretty Things, you'll love The Rumor Game. Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra — self-titled work wives and authors of the 2015 ballet school drama (also a Netflix series) — have teamed up yet again for a new book that promises to be even more explosive.

The YA novel, which will hit shelves March 1, 2022, is centered around upscale Washington, D.C., private school Foxham Prep, where children of the city's most powerful players constantly stir up scandals. There's Bryn, who is starting a new school year after having lost her boyfriend, her popularity, and, as she believes, her future in politics, thanks to a mistake that went public through the student body. Georgie, a fellow student, fresh from a summer glow-up, becomes the new queen bee. When a rumor ignites, pitting George and Cora against each other, all three girls' lives begin to unravel. But one person close to the drama has the power to stop the gossip in its tracks. The question is—do they even want to?

EW is revealing the first look of the twisty tale, offering up the book's cover (above), and also a peek inside the pages. Read on to find out more about Cora, Bryn, and their fellow Foxham students from chapter 3 of The Rumor Game.

***

Cora

Friday, October 11

10:32 P.M.

A good party is almost as good as a perfect kiss. It should have a lot of smiles and laughter. The energy of it overwhelming, leaving a buzz through you. And most of all, it should make you feel like you'll never be alone ever again.

            Those are the only kind of parties I throw, and everyone wants an invitation. But not everyone will get one.

            I'm the type of girl that gets to choose you.

            I walk from room to room, then do a loop outside, watching how much fun everyone is having. I add more sliced peaches and vodka to the punch. I look around, basking in this. I need to take it in. A habit I picked up from my momma, that pride. The only thing we have in common.

Senior year.

This is it.

I need to make every moment, every party, count.

Everyone will remember me.

I check the hashtag I made everyone use—#CovetingCoraFOX, my signature, of course—and it's filled with only the best photos. Everyone who's stuck at home—or better yet, not invited—will be ridiculously jealous.

Shouting pulls me outside. Chance Olivieri is almost naked, sitting on a pool chair, wringing his wet clothes out and cursing about his camera.

"What happened?" I hand him a towel.

"Bryn."

Rage shoots through me as I scan the yard. "Where?"

How dare she show up here—at my house—after everything? She wasn't always this dumb. Used to be one of the smartest people I knew. Anger bubbles up in my stomach. We had big plans and she ruined it, and I don't even understand what happened. Over the summer, she changed—went from driven and compassionate to suddenly obsessed with her boyfriend, Jase. From my wickedly-smart best friend to a lovesick stalker who couldn't do anything but run after him. Now the cheerleading team is down two people, Baez still gets killer headaches from the concussion, and there's a messy special election, which means I may not get to keep my spot as student body vice president. Another thing Momma will hold against me if I don't get into Harvard and join my genius twin sister.

All because of her.

            "Cora! Cora!" Adele stumbles up to the pool. She's small and blond and pixie-haired, with these big green eyes that always make me think she's a fairy or something. The opposite of me. Her freckly white cheeks are bright red, like she's been scalded.

            "What?" I touch her shoulder. She's definitely had a lot to drink.

            She grabs my hand and yanks me back into the house, pulling me into a quiet corner. "I—I . . . have to tell you something." The words sputter out, her eyes bulging.

            "What is it? You okay?" My heart does a tiny flip.

            "It's bad."

            "Out with it."

            "Your boyfriend . . . ."

"What?"

"Baez is . . . ."

            "Baez what?" I search her face for the answer.

            "He's hooking up with Georgie right now. Upstairs."

"Puh-lease!" I roll my eyes. "He would never. We're, like, super good. He has no need for that. And I don't know any Georgies, so she wouldn't have been invited."

"Jashan. Khalra. Or whatever. You know that Indian girl? She's in AP Calc with us. Sits up front. Super nerd. Quiet. She used to be really fat but isn't anymore. I heard her mom made her go to a camp or something."

"Don't say fat," I correct.

"It's been reclaimed," she argues.

"But not by your skinny ass."

"Whatever, just listen." Adele takes my hand and leads me to the back staircase. "Everyone's talking about it. I even saw them go upstairs." Her eyes cut up at the ceiling.

"Impossible. Everyone knows—especially Baez—that nobody is allowed upstairs." I kiss her cheek. "Relax! It's cool. People are ridiculous." But as I make my way up the staircase, I feel her eyes on my back, heavy like a weight.

As I reach the top, I hear voices, then drunken laughter. "Who's up here?"

Baez steps out of my room. "Ahhh, babe."

I smile as he closes the distance between us in three big strides, spins me in a circle, and starts to nuzzle my neck.

I can't help it; a peel of laughter bubbles out of me. "What's going on?" I ask, and give him a little kiss. "No one's supposed to be up here."

Then I see her. A girl standing awkwardly outside my room. Jashan. Georgie, I guess. She looks different. Not the shy, overweight Indian girl who always needed her eyebrows plucked and her mustache waxed. I feel like a terrible person because that's the first thing I remember about her. But it's true.

"She needed to use the bathroom," he says, but he hasn't lost interest in me, pulling my hips toward his even as I lean away to look at Georgie. "Spilled a drink on her shirt."

I want to say: And I should care, why?

If my sister, Millie, was here, she would've blocked anyone from coming upstairs. She doesn't "do" parties, but never snitches, and always enforces my rules if anyone wanders. Because she and her boyfriend, Graham, usually hide out up here. But she's busy. At Harvard.

"Um, I'm sorry, the downstairs line was endless," Georgie says, trying not to stare as Baez nibbles at my ear. Drunk. "And I needed a hair dryer."

I look her up and down. She could be a model. Hourglass figure. The kind guys like. Which no one should care about, but they do. People might just think she's hotter than me. Exotic, or whatever. Which explains why people are gossiping downstairs. People love it when pretty girls tear each other down.

"Nice shirt." I don't ask her where she got it. That would be too friendly.

"Thanks," she replies, too confident. Much more than I remember.

"I hate people being upstairs," I say. "That's one of my party rules. On every invite."

"Oh, okay, sorry I didn't know." She blushes, and stumbles down the stairs.

I want to say: That's because I didn't invite you . . .

But Baez is being so sweet, I bite my tongue. "Bye-bye." I wave her away, watching her disappear back into the party. "People said y'all were up here hooking up because everyone knows my rules. No one's allowed up here. You know that, Baez."

He pulls me closer. "I know, babe. But some drunk guy from another school was being gross in the bathroom line, so I thought you'd be okay with it. Brought her up here to clean up. She's really shy."

I decide to give him a little attitude. "And how would you know?"

He kisses me. "You're really beautiful."

His compliment sends goose bumps over my skin. I bite his bare shoulder. His skin reminds me of the dark crust on Momma's corn bread. Deep brown. He looks back at me with big eyes.

I pull Baez to the nearest room. Millie's. The walls are still papered in stripes, the telescope pointing out the window. I wonder if I could see all the way to Cambridge, Massachusetts, from here. Check on her. On her vanity is a picture of the two of us. There's a red lipstick stain on it, and I know Momma has been in here, kissing the photograph like she does when she's missing Millie. Momma had us in matching dresses—mine peach and hers pink—and no one could tell us apart. Two little brown faces. Two button chins. A smattering of freckles on our noses. Identical twins born less than an hour apart, and now one is a genius, who skipped grades and went to Harvard a whole year early. And the other is left behind. Our lives couldn't be more different.

She'd be pissed if she knew I was in her room. Especially with Baez.

I plop onto her bed. She still has our little-girl canopies draped over hers. She's taped words onto the fabric—Harvard, Lawyer, United Nations. Her goals.

My life as a six-word memoir: I'm a badass, too/basically Beyoncé.

My new obsession courtesy of Mrs. Perkovich, my English teacher.

"She's gonna be pissed that we're in here." Baez points up at her goals and smiles.

I roll my eyes. She might be smarter, but I'm captain of the cheer squad a second year in a row. Student body vice president, voted in with sweeping margins. I throw the best parties and have a house full of people who both adore me and are terrified not to be my friend. My boyfriend is the hottest guy at Foxham Prep. I'm good with people. That It factor, my ex JuJu calls it.

            I kiss Baez again, and he pauses. "You okay?"

            "Headache," he replies, rubbing his temple.

            "You had beer, didn't you?"

            He shrugs.

"It triggers migraines, love," I remind him. "All that gluten."

"I know, I know."

They've gotten worse since the car accident and the concussion.

"Lay here for a while. I'll grab some aspirin."

I head back downstairs. The party is growing by the minute, swelling from just the senior class to what feels like half the whole school. I don't even know some of the people. Juniors. A few sophomores. Some from other DC and Maryland private schools. Some with important parents I've met at all the galas and fundraisers I've been dragged to my whole life. Some I don't want in my house.

My heart thuds alongside the music.

Second six-word memoir: This party was a terrible idea.

"All right, guys, party's over," I shout.

I smile as people respond to me. Their eyes brighten, and they follow my directions. I'm like the song everybody knows the melody to, the one whose chorus no one can un-remember.

Everyone loves me.

They start leaving.

I start cleaning up. The crowd thins out in the backyard and inside the house.

Adele stumbles down the stairs, drunk and happy. Her new girlfriend, Leilani, is by her side, and she's got this dumb, shit-eating grin on her face.

"Your place is so amazing, Cora," Leilani says, words running into one another like a train wreck. "I am so totally obsessed with your bedroom. I love that your mom still uses wallpaper. It's like so old-school and charm—"

"Adele, no one was supposed to be upstairs," I tell her again, but it's still not sinking in. It never sinks in. I should've locked the bedroom doors.

"Oh, relax, Cor. It was just me and Lei up there. I looked in all the rooms like you asked, and I was checking on that thing. You know."

"You cuss him out?" Leilani asks.

"Nothing happened," I say. "People say dumb shit. He's drunk and snoring. Migraine."

"You're hotter than her," Adele says.

"Oh, I know," I reply.

"So bring your hot ass with us. After-party at Jase's. You gonna wake Baez?" Adele asks. "Or staying here?"

"I've got to clean up before my parents get back tomorrow," I say, hoping, praying, that they'll offer to stick around and help. Knowing they won't. Only Bryn used to do that. I ignore the pinch. It's the first party I've thrown without her. And moments like this, when I feel alone in the crowd, when I feel abandoned even among friends, make me miss her the most. But I guess I didn't know her that well after all. "My mom—"

"Yeah, yeah, we know," Adele says. "I'll text you if anything interesting happens." She grabs Leilani's hand, and they're out the door.

Millie's boyfriend, Graham Williams, strides up. He's light brown, tall and lanky. Should play basketball, but he's a clumsy mess. "You good?" he asks, pushing his glasses up on his nose. "I could stay and help you clean, like always."

I smile at him. He started dating my sister last year when she finally realized it was okay to have a boyfriend. That it didn't have to derail your focus. He's been coming around a lot lately—for dinners or to just hang out in the den, like soaking up her presence. Anything to be close to Millie with her so far away now.

"I'm okay. Baez's going to help."

"Where is he?"

"Headache."

"Oh, those still?"

"Yeah."

Jase grabs Graham, locking an arm around his neck. "Yo, yoooo." His words are all slurred and his white face red. "Where's our boy?"

"Asleep."

"Wake him up." Jase grins. "He can rally. More beer. After-party at my house."

"That's what triggered the migraine in the first place," I snap, rolling my eyes.

"Let's go." Graham tugs Jase. "Tell him I'll text him."

"Awesome party, Cora," a stranger says on their way out. Most people are setting down their cups and heading out. Some wait in a line to get to the powder room. I cringe, thinking about how I'll have to clean the bathroom, too. Maybe Baez will do it.

"Thanks," I say.

Then the house is empty. I spend hours fishing cups from the pool and hot tub, taking the trash out to the curb, vacuuming.

My head's a mess of should-haves, would-haves. Why did I even throw this party?

A whisper in my head answers me: Because you were mad about how quickly your parents run to Millie's rescue.

I stand up straight. I'm fine.

I have to be.

The thing is . . . you can't ever let yourself lose control. Because then you could really lose everything.

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