It started at midnight. First Cajen received a telephone call, then Stephanie, Malena, Tiara, Chancey, Tammy, and two other girls. The person on the other end of the telephone was the dean of pledges, who had spoken at rush about the kind of ladies they wanted to bring into their sorority. With each call, she calmly congratulated each person for being accepted as a potential pledge, then rambled off an address and ordered each of them to be there in ten minutes-no later-and she warned them not to wear any articles of clothing of which they were fond. They were also strictly informed not to tell anyone where they were going-including their boyfriends, roommates, friends, and parents.
Both Tammy and Malena quickly dressed. Although they were going to the same place, they took separate cars to make sure they didn't break any of the instructions they were just given. Because Tiara didn't have a car, she was instructed to discretely wait in front of her dorm for someone to pick her up. Stephanie, Chancey, and Ca)en all drove their own cars. The address they were given was to an apartment complex located fifteen minutes away from campus. Several seniors and graduate students lived there.
Each new pledge was frightened because no one knew what to expect, and because they knew there was no way to make it to that address in less than ten minutes. Yet they were excited because they were one step closer to becoming members of their chosen sorority.
As they got to the door, one by one they were escorted by Tracy, the girl who had signed them in at rush, through a room and past a group of the same sorority members from rush, into a dark room. Once all eight girls were inside the room, someone walked in. She closed the door behind her, turned the light on, and introduced herself. It was the dean of pledges.
"I'm your big sister Nina and am to be addressed as Dean Big Sister Nina. The first thing I want to make clear to you tonight is that whatever happens to you from this point until you cross the burning sands, and whatever you learn about this sorority's precious history and its members, will remain a secret you should keep close to your hearts for the rest of your lives. In other words, we like to keep the things surrounding our sorority a mystery to outsiders, and therefore would prefer that nobody knows anything about the way we govern our sessions and ceremonies. Am I understood?"
"Yes, Dean Big Sister Nina," most of the pledges answered.
Nina raised her right eyebrow in disapproval, but she didn't say anything about some of the pledges failure to respond. She continued, "Everybody in this room is now considered a pledge, and you are all now line sisters."
The new pledges nodded their heads in agreement, and looked around at one another. All were beautiful, intelligent sisters. They differed in height, shape, and skin color, yet they shared the common goal of crossing over into the Greek world. Stephanie was still in full makeup but wearing jeans and a sweatshirt bearing the school's logo. Malena had on a gray sweat suit and old tennis shoes. She and Chancey had removed their makeup and contacts, and both were wearing glasses. Chancey's hair was pulled back in a long ponytail, and luckily she was wearing a baggy shirt and jeans, because she was on such a high to leave the apartment after her call that she failed to put on a bra. Tiara was wearing slacks and a blouse. She and Gina had been hanging out with Sandra all evening to cheer her up. The phone had rung as soon as she walked into her room. Tammy was wearing Philip's army T-shirt and jeans. The other girls were also dressed down in sweats. One had on a blue top and bottom, and the other a plain bright-white warm-up.
Nina had a long talk with the eight anxious girls who didn't know what was about to happen to them. After she explained what was going to take place that night, and over the next several weeks, she lined them up by height, gave them each a number from one to eight, and said, "Don't get used to your number just yet, because if as many people drop as we suspect, it's bound to change in the next few days. It will probably change before the night is over. Good luck! Also, the ladies outside of this door are no longer just regular people. They are now your big sisters. Treat them with the utmost respect and always address them as 'Big Sister' and follow their instructions to the letter T. Do I make myself clear?" she demanded.
"Yes, Dean Big Sister Nina," the line sisters answered in unison.
"Okay. Now it's time to meet your big sisters," the dean said.
The girls, lined up by height, faced the door leading to a long-anticipated private world. They were no longer individuals, but pledges who were about to experience the unknown. They didn't know what occurrences would unfold during the course of the night, not to mention during the course of the pledge period. The mystery and suspense brought with it the same kind of anxiety they used to get when they knew their parents were going to punish them.
Dean Big Sister Nina opened the door and directed them into the room filled with their new big sisters, who appeared determined to pick the new pledges' brains and their wills to see if they possessed what it took to become their sorors.
At about three-forty-five A.M., the spring line completed its first session pledge session and was asked to return to the room they were in at the beginning of the evening. Nothing short of military boot camp could have prepared them for what they experienced that night. The Big Sisters ordered them around, yelled in their faces, and expected them to know everyone's names and entire life histories. They were learning sorority history, both old and current, and were expected to regurgitate it on the spot. There was no way they could know any of the information that was expected of them.
As they sat, their heads were spinning and everybody was uncertain about continuing with this unusual sort of initiation. To make matters worse, they could hear most of the big sisters leaving, but others were still in the front room discussing what they thought of the new pledges and naming who they thought would make it and who would drop. They also mentioned things that were important to withstanding their pledge period, such as character, strength, and a commitment to "cross the burning sands."
The dean walked into the room and sat down with the pledges to discuss with them the events of the evening. But this meeting was more intense than their first meeting. Some of the pledges were crying, others stared into space in deep thought. Their dean asked them how they felt about what just happened to them and gave each person an opportunity to state her opinion.
The girl wearing the blue warm-up commented that she didn't know any of her new sisters, and asked why the big sisters expected her to know information about them she couldn't possibly know. Everybody agreed with her question, and looked to their new dean for a justifiable answer.
Dean Big Sister Nina responded, "Life is a test. The strong survive and the weak fall. This experience is a step to prepare you for the real world after college."
"How so?" Malena asked.
"When you get into the real world you are going to have to pay bills, strive to advance in your career, decide where you're going to reside, and choose which schools are best for your children-if you decide to have children. Often you'll have to make choices based on limited information. You will have to feel your way through dark moments in life. Pledging teaches you to recognize that, and to learn to use your survival skills."
"But I thought this was supposed to be memorable and enjoyable," Tammy complained.
"Haven't you ever had an experience that seemed tough, and then looked back on it and were able to laugh?" Dean Nina asked.
"Yes," Tammy replied.
"This will be one of them," her dean responded. There was silence in the room. Then she continued, I think all is understood."
Nobody said anything. So she gave them a moment to digest the evening and her words.
She assigned the pledges offices and told them that each person was vital to making their pledge period a success. "Stephanie, I see a strong leader within you, and we need to bring it out, so I think you should be president. Plus, you have maturity on your side.
Stephanie didn't know what to say. She had never really thought of herself as a leader, but replied, "Thank you."
"Malena, you will be vice president. I need you to know everything that Stephanie knows, if not more. You need to be able to take charge when she can't. I know it won't be a problem for you. I heard about your leadership skills from a member of your Public Relations Society.
"You did?" Malena was astonished by her dean's knowledge of her.
"Listen. To be a well-informed woman, one has to do her homework. And trust me, we have done ours."
"Yes, Dean Big Sister Nina," she responded.
"As for the rest of the offices, we'll need a secretary, treasurer, and some other officers that are not customary and work only in a pledging situation." She explained those offices and told them that they should decide midway through their meeting tomorrow who would be most capable for each of the remaining offices.
She then instructed them to write down everything they'd learned from the night's session, and to make sure they wouldn't have to relearn any of those lessons. She gave them a list of pledge dos and don'ts, sorority information, and history they would have to know inside and out to cross the burning sands, materials they would need to purchase for special projects for their big sisters, and suggestions on possible pledge fundraisers.
She also informed them that their next meeting would be Tuesday, and advised them to decide on a private place to meet to organize and to make sure they learned as much as they could about their Big Sisters and everything about each other-from each pledge's favorite food, to their bra size, to when or if they had lost their virginity.
"If you are to be sisters under our sorority, you are to know everything about one another just as you would your real sister, if not more. Your pledge period is used for a number of reasons. We need to make sure you all can work together and successfully pull through almost any situation. Knowing your differences and similarities helps."
She then walked toward the door and said, "I'm going to give you five minutes to yourselves, and I'll come back in for an update. Then you'll be free to leave."
After talking to their dean, most of the pledges felt they were ready to meet the challenge of pledging. But the two girls in warm-ups told the group that they didn't know they would have to go through a pledge period in order to be accepted into the sorority.
"This is not my type of thing. I can't deal and I won't deal," said the girl in the blue sweats.
Her friend agreed. "I refuse to go through another night like this one. It won't be worth it for me."
There was silence in the room. Stephanie realized that as president of the line she needed to take charge quickly. They only had five minutes to get things accomplished, and it was being wasted by the two wimps. So she spoke up and asked, "Are you sure?"
"We're positive. I am anyway. This is just not for us. Nothing is going to change my mind. Once I leave this apartment I am not coming back. So any plans made from this point on should not include us," said the first girl.
Her friend agreed.
"Does anybody else feel the same?" Stephanie asked. She hoped anybody who was thinking about quitting would do it now.
Nobody said anything.
"Well, if the rest of you are still in this until the end, let's make plans for tomorrow. Also, let's exchange telephone numbers now." Everybody except the two friends got in a circle and discussed their class and work schedules, and came up with a meeting time. They also discussed a location to meet-Stephanie's apartment-and other possible ways of meeting without being noticed by everybody on campus.
By the time the girls had everything situated, Dean Big Sister Nina walked in and asked, "Is everything in order?"
"Yes, Dean Big Sister Nina," everybody answered, including the two girls who had already dropped line. Nobody mentioned to the dean that the girls were no longer a part of their line, because they didn't know how she would react, and didn't want to know. After such an exhausting night, they figured it would be better dealt with later.
"Good. I need a copy of that information. Also, you girls will need to be uniformed the next time we see you as a group. Stephanie, take my number down. As a matter of fact, everybody take my home and work numbers just in case anything weird happens and you need to reach me. But, Stephanie, you call me at seven-thirty A.M. today, and I will give you a list of everything the line will need to discuss and take care of. You are now free to go. Oh yeah, Tiara doesn't have a car and will need a ride. She stays in Campton Tower. Who lives near her dorm?"
"I do," answered Cajen. "I can take her home."
"Okay. And pledges, you also need to look into carpooling so you won't be too noticeable with all of your cars parked everywhere you meet. But no more than three people per car. Am I understood?"
"Yes, Dean Big Sister Nina," they answered.
She dismissed them, and everybody walked toward their cars. All of the big sisters who were in the front room earlier were gone. The apartment belonged to Nina, so she was the only one still there. That was a relief to the worn pledges. They didn't want to face their big sisters again for a long time.
As Stephanie walked toward her car, she thought of how proud she was to be chosen president of the line. But she was also intimidated by the tremendous responsibility of caring for a line of individuals who barely knew one another. How am I going to deal with this? she wondered. Then she began to worry about how she was going to make sure she called her dean in three hours. It was almost four-thirty A.M. already, and she was exhausted. She was not a morning person and was going to need help getting up that early with so little sleep, so she decided to ask Malena for help.
She caught up with Malena, who was getting into her car. "Malena, I'm going to need your help, if you don't mind. I am not a morning person. As a matter of fact, I have been known to sleep through my alarm clock on an average morning, and this is not an average morning," she joked. "I'm scared I won't wake up early enough to call Dean Big Sister Nina, even if I set my alarm clock."
Malena smiled at Stephanie. "I don't need much sleep, plus I'm a light sleeper. I'll call you at seven-twenty-five, and I'll talk to you until seven thirty to make sure you are alert when you call Big Sister Nina."
"Thank you so much. I owe you one."
"With the way things are looking, I'm sure that you'll have plenty of opportunities to repay the favor. Anyway, we line sisters have to stick together, right?"
"You're right. Thanks again, and I'll talk to you in about three hours."
"All right," Malena answered and got into her car. She couldn't wait to get home so she and Tammy could recap the night's events.
Stephanie walked to her car, relieved the night was over. She considered some suggestions she could give her dean about the attire she and her line sisters could wear to sessions. Then she thought as she was driving home, Who cares what we wear to session? Session is the last place to be concerned about making a fashion statement.
Unexpectedly, she began to think about Sidney, the argument they had, and the serious trouble her friend was in. I was so wrong. How could I have been so cruel? My girl needs me, probably more now than ever before, and I turned my back on her because of my own fears and insecurities. I have not been a real friend to her. What have I done?
Stephanie was disappointed with herself. She decided to fix the situation by going to talk with Sidney later that day, after her first class, to see if she could mend things between them so she would be able to help her through this tough time.
Chancey walked Cajen and Tiara to the car. "Hey, Cajen. I stay in Minor Hall. Don't you stay in the same dorm?"
"Yes," she answered.
"You think I can ride with you and Tiara to the meeting tomorrow."
"Yeah, that'll be cool."
"Maybe we can take turns driving. Call me tomorrow at about twelve-thirty and we'll set up a meeting time."
"Remember how nervous we were earlier today?" Chancey asked.
"Yeah, and now we have so much more to be concerned with," Chancey responded.
"Ain't that the truth," Tiara added.
"Well I think we're going to do just fine," Chancey said. "I'll see y'all tomorrow.,,
Cajen and Tiara pulled off and found themselves sitting in silence. Tiara was thinking about all the bits of information she had picked up that night. She had decided, when they were in the room talking to Dean Big Sister Nina, that she was going to know every piece of information that was expected of her. She refused to give her big sisters any reason not to accept her. She was also planning her study time. In addition to meeting with her line sisters and big sisters and learning her sorority history, she had to find time to concentrate on her courses, which were her primary reason for being in school. She felt overwhelmed.
Cajen felt like she was going to explode. She wasn't sure what was tugging at her most: trying to get into the sorority, living with herpes, or finding the opportunity to talk to Jason to let him know how badly he had screwed up her life. She couldn't believe he hadn't returned any of her calls. How was she going to continue pledging if she didn't talk to him and at least release some of the pressure that was quickly building up and weighing on her mind? How was any man ever going to love her with this disease? How was she ever going to allow her new line sisters to get close to her, when she didn't even want to be close to herself? She hated herself for having sex with Jason. She hated him. She decided she wasn't sure if she would even leave her room to go to class, let alone meet with her line sisters or continue this pledging ordeal.
I hope I can survive this semester." Tiara finally broke the silence as they got closer to her dormitory.
"Hub?" Cajen asked, still preoccupied with her own mess.
I have some difficult classes this semester. I don't know how I'm gonna maintain my GPA with everything that's going on."
Cajen hadn't given her GPA a second thought. "Yeah, I know what you mean.
"So what do you think it's going to be like?
"Crossing over and becoming sorors."
"You know, I can't even imagine."
"I can't either, but I'm really looking forward to it. I'm with Chancey. I think we'll make it through just fine."
"I hope so. I really do," Cajen responded, wishing Tiara hadn't broken the silence. She wasn't quite ready to get to know her Just yet.
"Hey, are you okay?" Tiara asked, concerned about Cajen being so engrossed in thought.
"I'm fine. I just need to get to my bed and get some rest, you know?" Cajen replied.
"Girl, I know what you mean. I really do appreciate you dropping me off."
"Oh, it was no problem, no problem at all." Cajen drove up to the front of Tiara's dorm. There was nobody outside or in the lobby. They were both thankful for that.
"So, I guess I'll see you tomorrow?" Tiara asked, a little suspicious that Cajen might be considering dropping line.
"Yeah ... tomorrow."
I will see you, won't P" she persisted.
Cajen snapped out of her trance. "Oh, yeah, I'll be there. I'm fine. It's nothing that a shower and a warm bed won't solve."
"All right, you drive safely."
"My dorm is just around the corner. I'll see you tomorrow. Remember, I'm supposed to pick you up for the meeting. Now get some rest. We're both gonna need it."
Tiara said good-bye and got her key out as she walked toward the entrance to the dorm. I wonder, she thought, how many of us will actually hold on long enough to call one another "Soror."
From the Hardcover edition.
From the acclaimed author of "Just My Luck" comes the story of Cajen, Tiara, Stephanie, Malena, and Chancey, five young African-American college women from diverse backgrounds who pledge a sorority and find strength in sisterhood.