Chapter 25 - Bernadette's new clique
Tuesday morning began with the usual morning PT. The male pledges and
their Pledge Master were assigned to Heather and faced a truly grueling
hour of harsh exercising, complete with constant swats with her riding
crop. The morning promised not to be much easier for the Lisa and her
companions, because that was the first day President Alexandra wanted
the pledges to exercise running up and down the stairs of the stadium.
The pledges would be expected to keep up with the sophomores and no
longer would be allowed to stretch on the football field during the
The women made their usual trek to the stadium, but the pledges were in
for a surprise. The sorority had a tradition to motivate the freshmen to
move as fast as the sophomores when conducting stair training. Once they
were standing at the base of the bleachers the pledges noticed the
sophomores glancing at them with knowing smirks. Then they found out
Alexandra addressed the group:
“Pledges, now you get to prove yourselves on the stairs! Strip off your
uniforms, except your shoes and socks. Fold your clothes neatly and
resume the position of attention!”
As shocking as the order was, by now the pledges were conditioned to
quickly obey. Within 15 seconds their uniforms were off their bodies and
within another 15 seconds the clothes were neatly folded on the ground.
The owners stood at attention with the early morning sunlight shining on
their bare bodies, nervously waiting for their next order.
“You’ll have to earn your clothes back, Pledges! I’m not giving you
anything; you’ll have to earn it! You will keep up with your future
sorority sisters, or you'll stay like you are for the run back! It’s
your choice: keep up, or run bare until you do! Do you understand?”
With that the sophomores and their four naked companions began the
grueling trek up the cement stairs of the stadium. From the first day
they ran to the stadium they had known the moment was coming for them to
start stair training. However, the pledges had not expected to be doing
it so soon or face the prospect of running back to the sorority naked if
they could not keep up.
The sophomores casually moved up flight after flight of the cement
slope, their legs conditioned by having done the same training for a
At first it seemed that the pledges would be able to keep up. All four
newcomers made it to the top with the sophomores during the first climb,
and stayed with them as the group ran across one section of bleachers
and began their descent. The women ran across another row of bleachers
turned onto the second set of stairs to began their second ascent.
The pledges would have been all right had the entire group been as fit
as Kathleen. The skinny girl had no problem keeping up, because she was
an experienced runner and her thin legs were conditioned for hard
workouts. Adrenaline was not a problem either, because she was always
tensed up with stress and knew how to use that to her advantage. As her
legs started to tire, she focused her thoughts on things that upset her
or made her angry, which gave her the energy she needed to keep going.
As they neared the top of the second flight of stairs, it was obvious
Kathleen would make it to the end of the run.
The illusion of keeping up soon faded for Bernadette and Cherine. Their
legs were throbbing even before they made it to the top of the first
flight of stairs. They enjoyed a brief respite as they descended, but
their hearts filled with despair as they began the arduous trek up the
second flight. The stairs stretched upwards to the sky, going higher and
higher. The end was in sight, but so what? After that horrible climb,
there would be another, and another…six climbs altogether. No. They
would not make it.
Despair swept over Lisa as she ran behind the two freshmen. She knew
that with difficulty she could have kept up with Kathleen and the
sophomores, but decided to stay behind with the two slower members of
the pledge group. She was irritated that Kathleen was not staying with
the others, but realized that her lover was used to running in
competitions and not to keeping pace with the slowest member of her
group. She couldn’t blame Kathleen, because having known and run with
Jason she understood that the competitive instinct is embedded in a good
Cherine was not able to run as fast as the sophomores, but she was fit
enough to complete the six flights. Her pace would be slow, but with
difficulty she would finish. The problem was not so much Cherine as it
Bernadette, in spite of her appearance, simply was not in very good
shape because she had not been used to exercising before entering
college. On top of not exercising, she had smoked since she was
fourteen. She was smart enough to realize that she needed to quit, which
was one of her reasons for pledging the Four-Beta Sorority in the summer
instead of the fall. Among the other things she wanted to accomplish,
she was hoping that pledging would deny her the opportunity to smoke and
force her to quit. She was right about quitting, but her lungs still
were recovering from four years of inhaling smoke and nicotine. By the
time she had reached the top of the third flight of stairs, she was
gasping for breath and tears were rolling down her cheeks. She knew that
she wasn’t going to make it.
Lisa snapped: “Then I’m not either!” She turned to her other companion:
“Cherine, go! Catch up with Kathleen!”
“That’s an order! Catch up!”
Cherine said nothing more, but slowly began moving further and further
ahead of Bernadette and Lisa. By the time they were only halfway up the
fourth flight of stairs, Cherine already was at the top and running down
the next flight to try to catch up with the main group. Meanwhile,
Bernadette’s face had changed color and she was clearly suffering.
“You go…too! I can’t…”
“Just do the best you can!
“Just do your best! Try! It’s our first time! Thursday you’ll do
Bernadette started to cry. “I can’t!”
“Well, I’m not leaving you, so you don’t have any choice! Now do what
you can! That’s all I’m asking! Just do what you can!”
Bernadette started crying in earnest as she began the painful journey up
the fifth flight of stairs. Lisa glanced at the sixth flight to see the
sophomores and Kathleen finishing, and at the bottom to see Cherine
trying to catch up. Bernadette made the laborious climb up the stairs,
barely able to walk up the steps, let alone run. Sweat was pouring down
her body as she sobbed and gasped for air. Finally the two women made it
to the top. Lisa was relieved. Five flights done, one to go.
As the two women made their way down the steps to start their sixth
ascent, Cherine finished and joined the group on the football field.
Then Lisa and Bernadette heard the whistles and cheers of a group of
football players as they came out of the locker room for an early run.
Oh, great. On top of everything else, Lisa and Bernadette now had an
The two stressed pledges tried to ignore the barrage of whistles and
cat-calls as Bernadette struggled up the final flight of stairs. That
final climb was one of the hardest things she had ever done in her life,
but Lisa’s uncompromising presence and the real fear she felt from all
those guys watching her forced her to continue. Finally she made it to
the top. As the noise and lewd comments from the football players
continued to assault their ears, the two pledges descended the final
flight and sadly approached the waiting sophomores.
Bernadette was heartbroken. She was totally humiliated and for the first
time in her life, truly hated herself. She had failed, out done by
Kathleen, of all people. She saw herself as a loser, and because of that
she would need to quit the pledge group. She had no right to hold her
companions back. She would have to quit.
Through her gasping and crying, Bernadette heard President Alexandra’s
“Pledge Kathleen and Pledge Cherine!”
“Put your uniforms back on! You’ve passed the stadium run!”
Kathleen and Cherine looked at each other, then at Lisa and Bernadette.
It was Cherine who spoke up:
“Ma’am, I request permission to speak!”
“What is it?”
“Aren’t we ‘sposed to do this as a group? I mean, I thought that if one
of us doesn’t pass, none of us gets our uniforms back.”
“No. I’m not doing it that way. You two passed; Pledge Bernadette and
Pledge Lisa did not. They’re going back bare-assed, but you’re not.”
Cherine and Kathleen again exchanged glances. Kathleen spoke next.
“Ma’am, it says in a bunch of places in the Pledge Manual that we gotta
do everything as a group. That we’re not supposed to have some of us in
uniform and the others not.”
“Well, I’m gonna cut you some slack. You’re saying you don’t want it?”
Kathleen swallowed and took a deep breath.
“No, ma’am. We don’t want it.”
“Not ‘till we all pass, ma’am.”
“OK, if that’s the way you want to be, then you can just be the happy
naked foursome.” President Alexandra turned to one of the sophomores:
“Yes, President Alexandra!”
“Bag up their stuff and take it back to the house! Looks like our four
pledges will be doing some streaking this morning!”
“Yes President Alexandra!”
As Kate shoved the four uniforms into a cloth bag, Bernadette continued
to cry. However, she no longer was crying over her failure to do the
run. Instead she was overcome at the thought that her fellow pledges,
two of whom she disliked, once again had come to her defense. She felt
very guilty, because she knew that she would not have done the same for
any of the others, with the possible exception of Cherine. Had Lisa or
Kathleen been in her shoes, Bernadette gladly would have put her uniform
back on and let them go back naked alone. Had it been Lisa who had
fallen behind on the stairs, there was no way Bernadette would have
dropped back to encourage her.
The football players continued whistling as the Four-Beta women formed
up to make the run back to the sorority house. Because it already was
daylight, there was a very real risk the pledges faced arrest if the
police or Campus Security saw them. The solution was for the pledges to
line up single file and for the sophomores to line up on the outside of
the pledges, which greatly reduced their exposure. The whistling and
cat-calls from the football players continued as the women exited the
stadium, even though the pledges now were mostly hidden by the
The women jogged at a leisurely pace along a back street that paralleled
the university. They crossed Old Campus and finally the wide street that
separated the university from the nearby residences. As they made their
way back to the Four-Beta house, the group received plenty of curious
glances from the early morning commuters who were out and about. Their
witnesses thought, but could not be sure, that the four women running in
the center of the group weren’t wearing anything.
The pledges showered and then ate quietly with the sophomores. The
sophomores seemed in very high spirits, but the pledges were nervous
about having to repeat the stadium exercise on Thursday. They understood
that, until all of them could manage the stairs, they would be forced to
run in the nude.
The Four-Beta pledges, accompanied by their Tri-Alpha counterparts, put
on their uniforms and were escorted to their classes. In spite of
everything that was happening to them, they were students first and
pledges second, and their mentors expected top academic performance.
Whatever difficulties they had back at the sorority house had to stay
there, because the pledges were expected to pay attention to what was
going on in their classes and pass their subjects on the first try.
As usual, Lisa was deposited in Ruth Burnside’s office and greeted her
professor in her normal stance, naked with her legs spread and her hands
behind her head. As the student aide stood in position, Burnside talked
to her at length about the summer classes and her studies. Dr. Halsey
and one of his TA’s came into the office and joined the conversation.
The TA, a young guy who was fairly good-looking, spent the entire time
with his eyes glued to Lisa’s attractive figure. Lisa tried to ignore
him and conversed with the two professors, talking with them as though
she were dressed and sitting down.
As the day went by and Bernadette had the chance to reflect on her
traumatic experience on the stadium stairs, she realized something truly
frightening about herself. She had considered herself the best member of
the pledge group: the most outgoing, the most confident, and the most
attractive. Perhaps that was true, but of the four pledges she also was
by far the most egotistical, self-centered, and short-sighted. The
tiredness in her chest and her ruined lungs were a legacy of her
short-sightedness, a physical ailment she had inflicted upon herself
that would take months to fix. Because of her stupidity, she now was
burdened with a weakness that was making the other three pledges suffer.
And yet, they still supported her. They still wanted her to succeed,
even though she had done nothing to merit their help. Even that creepy
Kathleen, even she stuck up for me. Even she’s a better person than I
am, thought Bernadette to herself.
That night Bernadette decided not to use Ken, or pursue her goal of
getting Cherine to loosen up with her inhibitions. She had concluded
that it would be better for her not to continue pledging the Four-Beta
Sorority. Among other problems, she dreaded the prospect of another run
on the stadium stairs Thursday morning. The thought of pain tearing
through her damaged lungs was not her main concern, but rather the
humiliation of being the weakest member of the pledge group.
She had always thought of herself as superior to most other women her
age, largely because of her popularity in school. However, she had not
really been challenged when it came to exercising before joining the
sorority. With upper body she did all right, but running had been very
hard, even before the stair training. Now she had become an impediment
to the others, and could not face being in that awkward situation. It
was just too humiliating. She would have to quit, for the good of
After dinner Pledge Bernadette found Tracy at her usual spot in the
sorority library. She knelt, and flatly told the Pledge Mistress that
she needed to quit the pledging program and leave the sorority. Tracy
was not particularly surprised, because she knew that Bernadette had two
issues in her life that were likely to manifest themselves during the
pledging process. Tracy was aware that Bernadette smoked and that her
fitness would be a problem as the aerobic portion of the physical
training intensified. That was no surprise, because she had seen the
same thing when going though Basic Training in the Army. The smokers
always had a lot of trouble during the runs at the beginning.
Bernadette’s other problem was her self-confidence and tendency to
harshly judge everyone around her. Her self-confidence came not from
what she had accomplished in her life, but from the illusion of being
part of the “in” crowd at her high school. She was destined to suffer an
identity crisis, because the world in which she lived vanished the
moment her graduation ceremony ended. Precisely because she had been so
happy in high school (often at the expense of her less popular
classmates) finding that level of happiness in the future would be
difficult. In some ways Bernadette faced a harder life than any of her
three fellow pledges, because the other three had not enjoyed their time
in high school. They would miss that part of their lives much less, and
could look forward to a happier future.
Upon hearing Bernadette announce that she wanted to quit the pledging
program, Tracy’s demeanor changed completely. She told Bernadette to get
off her knees and sit in a chair, using a normal tone of voice. Then she
stood up, grabbed a sign with the words “Private conference” written on
it, and hung it on the door to the library.
Tracy surprised the freshman by speaking to her like a psychologist,
giving up her normal military manner of talking. She addressed
Bernadette by her name, instead of calling her “Pledge”. The change was
a total shock to Bernadette, who had always taken it for granted that
Tracy’s behavior was an outgrowth of her personality and not simply a
performance required by her position as Pledge Mistress.
“Leaving the pledging program is your choice, Bernadette. The only thing
I’m gonna ask of you is that we talk for a little bit, to make sure
you’re leaving for the right reasons. The main thing I’d want is to make
sure you don’t take off, and then, a week or two from now, regret doing
“I…I don’t know ma’am…I just don’t think it’s gonna work for me.”
“Maybe ‘what’s not working for you’ is that you’re scared right now? New
situation, taking orders, dealing with people you wouldn’t have hung out
with in high school?”
“That’s part of it.”
“Part of it. And what’s the other part?”
“That run on the stairs. I can’t do it. I tried, but I can’t do that
“Why do you think you can’t do the run?”
“Everything gave out on the third flight of steps. My heart, my legs,
that pain in my side…I mean I just couldn’t move…and it really hurt…and
“Well from what I heard, you did go the full distance, it’s just that
you were a bit slow.”
“Pledge Lisa came back and told me to keep moving.”
“So Lisa cared enough to do that for you.”
“Then what happened?”
Berndette sat silent as tears began rolling down her cheeks. Finally she
managed to speak.
“We all had to jog back to the Four-Beta house naked.”
“President Alexandra ordered all of you to streak back?”
“She made me and Pledge Lisa…’cause we didn’t make the run…and…I
mean…and it was my fault, ‘cause Lisa didn’t do it, ‘cause of me.”
“What about the others?”
“They wouldn’t get dressed ‘cause of me. They refused.”
“They refused to get dressed?”
“They…wouldn’t get dressed ’cause they kept saying that’s what it says
in the Pledge Handbook…that we gotta do things together as a group.”
“So, in other words, you had all three of your fellow pledges sticking
up for you. You got in trouble and they helped you. Did I get that
“And, so…right now…you don’t see how lucky you are, to have friends
who’ll do all that for you?”
Bernadette sat silent again, trying to figure out how to say what she
needed to say. Finally she blurted out:
“The problem is they shouldn’t have done it! Not for me! I don’t know
why they did it ‘cause I don’t even like ‘em! I mean…I like Cherine, but
that’s it! I don’t like Lisa and Kathleen, but they don’t know it…and
they think I’m their friend…and I’m not their friend! And I…they
shouldn’t have done it, ‘cause there’s no way I would’ve done it for
“OK, so…why do your feelings towards Lisa and Kathleen make you want to
quit the Four-Betas?”
Bernadette thought about it. Her real problem was that she felt horribly
guilty about her inward disdain for two women who had been so
supportive, but didn’t know how to express that thought, even to
herself. Finally she settled on a partial explanation:
“I just don’t want to be the one to hold the others back. And I’m sick
of being humiliated. I’m sick of being the one that everyone’s looking
at and saying ‘she’s the loser, she’s the one who’s fucking everything
up! It’s her fault!’ I just don’t wanna be the fuck-up of the group.”
Tracy sat back in her chair, glad that she now had an opening to begin
convincing Bernadette not to quit the sorority:
“You’re not the fuck-up of the group! Nobody’s saying that about you!
You’re doing just fine!”
“But I couldn’t do that stair run! And they all had to go back naked
because of me!”
Tracy smiled slightly.
“You couldn’t do the stair run on the first try! Oh, how tragic!
Couldn’t do something on the very first try, so now you’re just gonna
give up! Over a stair run! Come-on now, don’t you think you’re worth
more than a stair run?”
“But they’re gonna do it again on Thursday, and I can’t do it! I can’t
run like that!”
“So you’re scared.”
“Yeah…I mean yes, ma’am, I’m scared.”
“Good, ‘cause that’s a big part of the pledge program, overcoming your
fears. You’ve found something you’re afraid of and now you need to
figure out how you’re gonna overcome it. Will you finish Thursday’s
stair run? Probably not, and you and the others will have to jog back
naked, just like you did today. That’s what’s gonna happen, and so be
ready for it. But maybe you’ll get a bit closer to beating it, making it
up the fourth flight of steps before you give out, for example. If you
keep at it, every day you’ll get a bit closer, and at some point you
will manage to run non-stop and keep up with the sophomores. And next
year, you’ll be running up and down those stairs every time you go out
and not think anything of it. That’s the weakness you need to overcome,
and it’s your choice whether you’ll overcome it or not. But let me tell
you something, if you give up on that stair run and quit the sorority,
that failure will only be the first out of many others you’ll face in
your life. This is it, Bernadette, either you can succeed, or you can
give up and fail. You’re the one who has to make that choice.”
Tracy paused to let her words sink in; then pursued Bernadette’s other
issue, her feelings about her fellow pledges.
“As for what Lisa, Kathleen, and Cherine did for you today, the reason
they did it is because they are your friends. Like it or not, those
three women are your friends. You four are a clique, and you are part of
that group. When the outside world looks at you, they don’t say: ‘Oh,
there’s Bernadette! She’s with those other girls, but she’s different!
She’s better than them!’ It doesn’t work like that! You are part of this
sorority, part of the freshman class, and those three women are gonna
stick up for you because that’s what we do here! And when each of the
others has a problem, which they will, you’ll need to be there for them!
That’s what this is all about! That’s why we’re doing this to you and
putting you through all this hazing, to force you to be part of
something much bigger than yourself. We expect you to succeed as a
group. You’re part of that group, no better and no worse than Lisa,
Cherine, or Kathleen.”
“And you really don’t think I oughta quit?”
“I’d prefer that you don’t quit. I’d like to see you to stay in and
finish, because I think you’d be a valuable member of the Four-Beta
community. Whether you ‘oughta’ quit is something only you can decide,
but you’ve heard my opinion on the matter. This is gonna be an important
decision for you, because I think there’s a lot more riding on it than
just whether or not you’ll become a Four-Beta.”
Again Bernadette sat silently, as she struggled with what would be one
of the most significant decisions of her life. She realized that Tracy
was right. If she gave up now, the fear of failure would take control of
her and become a self-fulfilling prophesy. She had to conquer those
stairs. Maybe she would fail, but at least she had not yet given up.
There was still hope she could do it.
Finally Bernadette got off the chair and back onto her knees.
“I…I guess I wanna continue, ma’am. I’m sorry…”
“No apologies, Pledge Bernadette, no apologies. Remember, a good
Four-Beta lets her actions speak for her.”
Bernadette jumped to her feet and was dismissed.
Thursday morning loomed ever larger in her mind, but she knew what she
had to do. Simply try to do her best, accept the support of her fellow
pledges, and most importantly, accept them as her friends.
As the following day progressed, Lisa noticed that Bernadette’s
treatment of the other members of her group had changed.
The biggest difference was that Bernadette began talking to Kathleen,
after having ignored her for three weeks. Their conversation focused
mostly on serious topics such as coursework, computer and programming
(of which Kathleen knew quite a bit) and gossip about various members of
the sorority. The two women did not share many interests in fashion or
popular culture, but they were able to talk about various places they
had visited as children, such as Disney World and Six Flags Over Texas.
There was one topic where Kathleen’s knowledge helped Bernadette
considerably: running. Kathleen had watched Bernadette struggle up the
final two flights of stairs and even from a distance saw things that she
was doing wrong. Kathleen gave her companion advice on breathing that
would allow her to take maximum advantage of her limited lung capacity.
Also, she explained her technique for boosting adrenaline.
“If you’re really pissed-off, it’ll help you run. I mean, I think about
stuff when I’m running, and I get so mad I’m not even thinking about how
far I have to go. And then, sometimes, I can even get to the finish line
and not even realize it. Get mad before you start running. Get real mad
and it’ll help you.”
Bernadette’s behavior around Lisa changed as well, although not as
dramatically as her treatment of Kathleen. She did not try to force
herself to be overly friendly, but her aloof and confrontational
attitude diminished considerably. Lisa figured that it was because of
her humiliating experience on the stairs that Bernadette had become more
cooperative, not realizing that there was much more to it than just her
companion’s physical fitness. For the first time Bernadette understood
that she was not any better than Lisa, and certainly not any more
knowledgeable. Because Lisa already had been in college for a year,
there were plenty of things she knew that Bernadette did not. The
freshman realized that she could either go through the trouble of
learning everything the hard way, or rely on Lisa’s insight and
experience to make her own life easier.
Of all the women in the sorority, Bernadette knew that she would be
closest to Cherine. Bernadette realized that she always looked forward
to spending time with Cherine, because their likes and personalities
were compatible. They shared tastes in the same movies and TV shows, and
especially interest in the same music. They enjoyed having any chance to
hang out, talk about lighter topics other than academics or
sorority-related problems, and make jokes about popular culture that
went over the heads of Lisa and Kathleen. The two women worked well
together with their chores and homework assignments, and took advantage
of any opportunity in their busy schedules to find each other and chat.
After only three weeks, Bernadette realized that she had just made her
first close friend in college.
As her perception of her companions changed, the words that most stuck
in Bernadette’s mind were from Tracy:
“Like it or not, those three women are your friends. You four are a
clique, and you are part of that group.”
Had Tracy used any other word than “clique”, what she said would not
have had the same impact on Bernadette’s thinking. How strange, to be in
a clique with three other women so totally different from the girls she
had been hanging out with only two months before! How much her life had
changed, in just 60 days! She wondered if, by the end of the summer, she
would change so much that her high school friends wouldn’t even
The Pledge Mistress - Chapter 26