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Chapter 5~6


One of the best things about being Mimi Force was that nobody took you for granted. After the news of Aggie's death made the rounds, Mimi's popularity swelled to epic proportions because now she wasn't just beautiful, she was vulnerable as well - she was human. It was like when Tom Cruise left Nicole Kidman, and suddenly Nicole Kidman stopped seeming like this icy, ruthless, career-minded Amazon and became just another dumped divorc��e whom everyone could relate to. She'd even cried on Oprah. Aggie had been Mimi's best friend. Well, no, not exactly. Mimi had many best friends. It was the backbone of her popularity. Many people felt close to her, even though Mimi felt close to no one. But still, Aggie had been special to her. She'd grown up with her. Ice-skating at Wollman Rink, etiquette lessons at the Plaza, summers in Southampton. The Carondolets were an old New York family; her parents were friends with Mimi's parents. Their moms went to the same hairdresser at Henri Bendel. She was a true blue blood, like herself.

Mimi loved the attention, loved the fawning. She said all the right things, voicing her shock and grief with a halting voice. She dabbed her eyes without smudging her eyeliner. She recalled fondly how Aggie had lent her her favorite Rock and Republic jeans once. And never even asked for them back! Now that was a true friend.

After Chapel, Mimi and Jack were pulled aside by one of the runners, a scholarship kid who served as an errand boy for the Headmistress's office. "The Head wants to see you guys," they were told.

Inside the plush-carpeted office, the Head of Schools told them they could take the whole day off - no need to wait till noon. The Committee understood how close they were to Augusta. Mimi was elated. Even more special treatment! But Jack shook his head and explained that if it was all right with everyone, he was going to attend his second-period class.

Outside the administration corridor, the vast carpeted hallways were empty. Everyone else was in class. They were practically alone. Mimi reached out and smoothed her brother's collar, tracing her fingers on his sunburned neck. He flinched at her touch.

"What's gotten into you lately?" she asked impatiently.

"Don't, okay? Not here."

She didn't understand why he was so skittish. At some point, things would change. She would change. He knew that, but it was as if he couldn't accept it, or he wouldn't let himself accept it. Maybe it was all part of the process. Her father had made the history of the family very clear to them, and their part in it was set in stone. Jack didn't have a choice, whether he wanted it or not, and Mimi felt somewhat insulted at the way he was acting.

She looked at her brother - her twin, her other half. He was part of her soul. When they were little, it was like they were the same person. When she stubbed a toe, he cried. When he fell off the horse in Connecticut, her back ached in New York. She always knew what he was thinking, what he was feeling, and she loved him in a way that scared her. It consumed every inch of her being. But he'd been pulling away from her lately. He was distracted, distant. His mind was closed to hers. When she reached out to feel his presence, there was nothing. A blank slate. No, more like a muffling. A blanket over a stereo. He was tuning her out. Masking his thoughts. Asserting his independence from her. It was troubling, to say the least.

"It's like you don't even like me anymore," she pouted, lifting up her thick blond hair and letting it fall on her shoulders. She was wearing a black cotton sweater, rendered see-through underneath the fluorescent light of the hallway. She knew he could see the ivory lace of her Le Myst��re bra through the thin weave.

Jack smiled a wry smile. "That's not possible. That would be like hating myself. And I'm not a masochist."

She shrugged her shoulders in slow motion, turning away and biting her lip.

He pulled her in for a hug, pressing his body against hers. They were the same height - their eyes at the same level. It was like looking into a mirror. "Be good," he said.

"Who are you and what have you done with my brother?" she cracked. But it was nice to be hugged, and she squeezed him back tightly. Now, that was more like it.

"I'm scared, Jack," she whispered. They'd been there, that night, with Aggie. Aggie shouldn't be dead. Aggie couldn't be dead. It just couldn't be true. It was impossible. In every sense of the word. But they'd seen Aggie's body at the morgue, that cold gray morning. She and Jack had been the ones to identify the body. Mimi's cell number was the first entry in Aggie's phone. They'd held her lifeless hands. They'd seen her face, the frozen scream. Much worse, they'd seen the marks on her neck. Unthinkable! Ridiculous, even. It simply didn't add up. It was as if the world had been turned upside down. It was against everything they'd been told. She couldn't even begin to make it comprehensible.

"It's a joke, right?"

"No joke." Jack shook his head.

"She's not just cycling early?" Mimi asked, hoping against hope that they'd found some reasonable explanation for all this. There had to be one. Things like this simply didn't happen. Not to them.

"No. They've done the tests. Worse. The blood - it's gone."

Mimi felt a chill up her spine. It was as if something had skittered across her grave. "What do you mean it's gone?" she gasped.

"She was drained."

"You mean ..."

"Full consumption." Jack nodded.

Mimi recoiled from his embrace. "You're joking. You have to be. It's just not possible." That word again. That word that popped up all weekend, Saturday morning, when the call came: repeated by their parents, the Elders, the Wardens, everybody. What happened to Aggie just wasn't possible. That much they all agreed on. Mimi walked toward an open window, stepped into the sunlight, and gloried in the way it tickled her skin. Nothing could hurt them.

"They've called a conclave. The letters went out today."

"Already? But they haven't even begun to change yet," Mimi protested. "Isn't that against the rules?"

"Emergency situation. Everyone has to be warned. Even the premature."

Mimi sighed. "I suppose." She'd rather liked being one of the youngest. She didn't like knowing her novel status would soon be supplanted by a new batch.

"I'm going to class. Where are you going?" he asked, tucking his shirt into his pants, a futile move since when he reached for his leather satchel, the motion pulled his shirttails out again.

"To Barneys," she replied, putting on her sunglasses. "I have nothing to wear to the funeral."


Schuyler's second-period class was ethics, a multi-year class open to sophomores and juniors completing their diversity studies requirements. Their teacher, Mr. Orion, a curly-haired Brown graduate with a droopy mustache, small, wire-rimmed glasses, a long Cyrano nose, and a penchant for wearing oversized baggy sweaters that hung off his scarecrow-like frame, sat in the middle of the room, leading the discussion.

She found a seat near the window, pulling up her chair to the circle around Mr. Orion. There were only ten people, the standard class size. Schuyler couldn't help but notice that Jack Force wasn't in his usual seat. She'd never said a word to him all semester, and she wondered if he would even remember saying hello to her on Friday night.

"Did anyone here know Aggie well?" Mr. Orion asked, even though it was an irrelevant question. Duchesne was the kind of place that, years after graduation, if you bumped into an alum at an airport, or walking around Centre Pompidou, or downtown at Max Fish, you would immediately buy them a drink and ask about their family, because even if you had never exchanged a word while at the school, you knew almost everything about them, down to the intimate details.

"Anyone?" Mr. Orion asked again.

Bliss Llewellyn cautiously raised her hand. "I did," she said timidly.

"Do you want to share some memories of her?"

Bliss put her hand down, her face red. Memories of Aggie? What did she really know about her? She knew that she liked clothes, and shopping, and her tiny little lapdog, Snow White. It was a Chihuahua, like Bliss's, and Aggie had liked to dress her up in silly little outfits. The dog even had a mink sweater that matched Aggie's. That was as much as Bliss could recall. Who ever really knows anybody? And anyway, Aggie was really Mimi's friend.

Bliss thought back on that fateful night. She'd ended up talking to Dylan for what seemed like ages in that back alley. When they'd smoked every last cigarette they had between the two of them, he'd finally gone back to The Bank, and she'd reluctantly returned to Block 122 and Mimi's demands. Aggie wasn't at the table when she got back, and Bliss hadn't seen her for the rest of the evening.

From the Force twins, Bliss knew the basics - they'd found Aggie in "the Land of Nod" - the back room where the club hid druggies who'd passed out - a dirty little secret that Block 122 had successfully kept out of the tabloids, with hefty bribes to cops and gossip columnists alike. Most of the time patrons who passed out woke up hours later just a little worse for wear, with a great anecdote to tell their friends - "And I woke up in this closet, man! What a long strange trip, right?" and were sent home (mostly) intact.

But something had gone wrong on Friday night. They hadn't been able to revive Aggie. And when "the ambulance" (the owner's SUV) had deposited her at the St. Vincent's ER - Aggie was already dead. Drug overdose, everyone assumed. She'd been found in the closet, after all. What did you expect? Except Bliss knew that Aggie didn't touch drugs. Like Mimi's, her vices of choice were tanning salons and cigarettes. Drugs were looked down upon in Mimi's circle. "I don't need anything to get high. I'm high on life," Mimi liked to crow.

"She was ... sweet," Bliss offered. "She really loved her little dog."

"I had a parrot once." A red-eyed sophomore nodded. She'd been the one who'd handed Mimi tissues in the hallway. "When she died, it was like losing a part of myself."

And just like that, Augusta ?Aggie? Carondolet's death went from a tragedy to a mere springboard for an earnest discussion about how pets were people too, where to find pet cemeteries in the city, and whether cloning your pet was the right ethical choice.

Schuyler could barely disguise her contempt. She liked Mr. Orion, liked his shaggy-dog laid-back approach to life, but she was disgusted by the way he let her peers turn something real - the death of someone they knew, someone hardly sixteen years old - a girl they'd all seen sunbathing in the cortile, powering squash returns in the lower court gyms, or hoovering brownies at the bake sale (like all popular Duchesne girls, Aggie had a love affair with food that was out of proportion to her super-skinny appearance) - into a trivial matter, a stepping-stone to talk about everyone else's neuroses.

The door opened, and everyone looked up to see a red-faced Jack Force enter the room. He passed his late form to Mr. Orion, who waved it away. "Sit down, Jack."

Jack walked purposefully across the room to the only remaining empty seat in the classroom - next to Schuyler. He looked tired, and a little rumpled in his creased polo with the shirttails hanging out and baggy wool pants. A slight electric charge went through Schuyler's body, a prickly and not unpleasant sensation. What had changed? She'd sat next to him before, and he was always invisible to her, until now. He didn't meet her eye, and she was too frightened and self-conscious to look at him. It was odd to think they were both there that evening. So close to where Aggie had died.

But now another Mimi disciple was prattling about her hamster, who'd starved to death when they went on vacation. "I just loved Bobo so much," she sobbed into a handkerchief as the rest of the class voiced their sympathy. Tales of the demise of a similarly beloved lizard, canary, and rabbit were next on deck.

Schuyler rolled her eyes and doodled in the margins of her notebook. It was her way of zoning out from the world. When she couldn't take it anymore - her spoiled classmates' navel-gazing rants, endless math lectures, the yawn-inducing properties of single-cell division - she retreated into pen and paper. She'd always loved to draw. Anime girls and saucer-eyed boys. Dragons. Ghosts. Shoes. She was absentmindedly sketching Jack's profile when a hand reached out and scrawled a note on top of her page.

She looked up, startled, instinctively covering her drawing.

Jack Force nodded somberly at her, tapping on her notebook with a pencil, directing her gaze to the words he'd written.

Aggie didn't die of an overdose. Aggie was murdered.


@by txiuqw4

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