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Chapter 7~8


A gleaming Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow was waiting in front of the Duchesne gates when Bliss emerged. She felt slightly embarrassed, like she always did when she saw the car. She saw her half sister, Jordan, who was eleven and in the sixth grade, waiting for her. They had let the lower form out early too, even though they hardly knew Aggie.

The door to the Rolls opened, and a pair of long legs stepped out of the car. Bliss's stepmother, the former BobiAnne Shepherd, wearing a tight pink velour tracksuit with the zipper pulled down to reveal her ample bosom, and high-heeled Gucci clogs, began looking frantically around the clustered students.

Bliss wished, not for the first time, that her stepmother would let her take a cab or walk home like every other kid at Duchesne. The Rolls, the Juicy, the eleven-carat diamond, it was all so Texas. Bliss had learned, from her two months in Manhattan, that it was all about stealth wealth. The richest kids in class wore Old Navy and were on strict allowances. If they needed a car, their parents made sure it was a sleek and unobtrusive black Town Car. Even Mimi took cabs. Flashy displays of status and affluence were looked down upon. Of course, these were also the same kids who wore pre-stained jeans and unraveling sweaters from precious SoHo boutiques that charged in the five figures. It was all right to look poor, but actually being poor was completely inexcusable.

At first, everyone at school thought Bliss was a scholarship kid, with her fake-looking Chanel bag and her too-shiny shoes. But the appearance of the Silver Shadow Rolls every afternoon soon put an end to that rumor. The Llewellyns were loaded, all right, but in a vulgar, cartoonish, laughable fashion, which was almost as bad as having no money, but not quite.

"Darlings!" BobiAnne trilled, her voice carrying down the block. "I was so worried!" She gathered her daughter and her stepdaughter in her skinny arms, pressing her powdered cheek against theirs. She smelled like calcified perfume - sweet and chalky. Bliss's real mother had died when she was born, and her father never talked about her. Bliss had no memory of her mother. When she was three, her father had married BobiAnne, and they'd had Jordan soon after.

"Stop it, BobiAnne," Bliss complained. "We're fine. We're not the ones who were killed."

Killed. Now, why had she said that? Aggie's death was an accident. A drug overdose. But the word had come out naturally, without her even thinking about it. Why?

"I do wish you'd call me Mama, darlin'. I know, I know. I heard. The poor Carondolet girl. Her mother is in shock, the poor thing. Get in, get in."

Bliss followed her sister inside the car. Jordan was stoic as usual, taking her mother's histrionic ministrations with a studied indifference. Her sister couldn't have been more dissimilar to her. Whereas Bliss was tall and willowy, Jordan was short and stocky. Bliss was strikingly beautiful, but Jordan was so plain she was almost homely, a fact that BobiAnne never failed to point out. "As different as a swan from a water buffalo!" she lamented. BobiAnne was always trying to put Jordan on some kind of diet and admonishing her for her lack of interest in fashion or a "beauty regimen" while praising Bliss's looks to the heavens, which aggravated Bliss even more.

"You girls are not to go out anymore without a chaperone. You especially, Bliss, no more sneaking out with Mimi Force to god knows where. You're to be home every night by nine." BobiAnne said, nervously gnawing on her thumbnail. Bliss rolled her eyes. So now just because some girl died at a nightclub she had some kind of curfew? When did her stepmother even care about stuff like this? Bliss had been going to parties since seventh grade. She'd had her first taste of alcohol then, and had gotten stupid-drunk at the fairgrounds that year; her friend's older sister had had to come and pick her up after she'd vomited and passed out in the haystack behind the Ferris Wheel.

"Your father insists," BobiAnne said anxiously. "Now, don't y'all give me any more trouble about it, y'hear?"

The Rolls pulled away from the Duchesne gates, drove down the length of the block, and made a U-turn to stop in front of the Llewellyn's apartment building right across the street.

They exited the car and walked into a palatial apartment building. The Anthetum was one of the oldest and most prestigious addresses in the city. The Llewellyn abode was a triplex penthouse on the top floor. BobiAnne had commissioned several interior designers to decorate the place, and had even given the apartment a grand name, Penthouse des R��ves (Penthouse of Dreams) even though all the French she knew could fit in a dress tag (Dry Clean Seulement). Each room in the apartment was decorated in flamboyant, peacock fashion, and no expense had been spared, from the floor-standing eighteen-carat gold candelabras in the dining room to the diamond-encrusted soap dishes in the powder room.

There was the ?Versace? sitting room, filled with the dead designer's antiques that BobiAnne had scooped up at the auction, filled to the brim with sunburst mirrors, gold gilt china cabinets, and bombastic Italian nude sculpture. Another room was the ?Bali? room, with wall-to-wall mahogany armoires, rough wooden benches, and bamboo bird cages. Every item in the room was an authentic, extremely rare and expensive South Asian artifact, but because there were so many of them, the overall effect was that of a fire sale at Pier 1 Imports. There was even a ?Cinderella? room, modeled after the exhibit at Disney World - complete with a tiara-wearing mannequin in a dress held up by two fiberglass birds attached to the ceiling.

Bliss thought Penthouse de Crap would be more fitting.

Her stepmother was particularly agitated that afternoon. Bliss had never seen her so nervous. BobiAnne didn't even flinch when Bliss trailed dirty footsteps on the immaculate carpet.

"Before I forget, this came for you today." Her stepmother handed Bliss an oversize white linen envelope. It had an impressive heft and weight to it, like a wedding announcement. Bliss opened it, finding a thick embossed card inside. It was an invitation to join the New York Blood Bank Committee. One of the oldest charities in New York, it was also the most prestigious; only the children of the most socially prominent families were invited to join as junior members. At Duchesne, it was simply called "The Committee." Everyone who was anyone in school was in The Committee; being a member elevated you to a level of the social stratosphere that was so lofty, mere mortals could only aspire to, but never reach its heights.

Captains of all the school teams were on The Committee, as were the editors of the newspaper and yearbook, but it wasn't an honor society, since rich kids like Mimi Force, who weren't active in any school activities but whose parents were influential New Yorkers, made up the bulk of the membership. It was snobby, cliquey, and exclusive to the extreme; membership comprised of only kids from the top private schools. The Committee had never even released a full list of its members - if you were on the outside, you could only guess if someone was in it, and only a clue, like a Committee ring, a gold serpent around a cross, worn by a member, would give it away.

Bliss had been under the impression they weren't inducting new members until the spring, but the packet informed her the first meeting was for the following Monday, at the Jefferson Room at Duchesne.

"Why would I want to join a charity committee?" she asked, thinking it was all so silly. All that hoopla over fundraising and party-planning. She was sure Dylan would find it ridiculous. Not that she cared what Dylan thought. She still didn't know how she felt about him - she felt awful about not even saying hello when he'd tapped her on the shoulder earlier. But Mimi's watchful eyes were upon her, and Bliss just hadn't felt brave enough to give any indication that they were friends. Were they friends? They were certainly friendly Friday night.

"You don't join. You've been chosen," BobiAnne said.

Bliss nodded. "Do I have to?"

BobiAnne was adamant. "It would make your father and I very happy."

Later in the evening, Jordan knocked on Bliss's bedroom door. "Where were you on Friday night?" she asked, her chubby fingers resting on the doorknob, leaving sticky fingerprints on its gold plate. Jordan's dark eyes peered at her in an unnerving fashion.

Bliss shook her head. Her little sister was so strange. She was so alien to Bliss. When they were younger, Jordan had followed her everywhere like a lost puppy, and continually wondered why she didn't have curly hair like her sister, fair skin like her sister, and blue eyes like her sister. They used to be friends. But things had changed in the past year. Jordan had become secretive and shy around Bliss. It had been ages since Jordan had asked Bliss to braid her hair.

"At Block 122, you know, that private club all the celebs go to. It was in US Weekly last week," Bliss replied. "Why, who wants to know?" She was sitting on her princess bed, Committee papers spread out on the duvet. For a charity committee, there were an endless number of forms to be filled out, including a statement of acceptance, that included a commitment of two hours every Monday night.

"That's where she died, isn't it?" Jordan said darkly.

"Yeah." Bliss nodded, without looking up.

"You know who did it, don't you?" Jordan said. "You were there."

"What do you mean?" Bliss asked, finally putting down the papers.

Jordan shook her head. "You know."

"Actually, I have no idea what you're talking about. Didn't you get the 411? It was an overdose. Now, get lost, puke-face," Bliss said, throwing a pillow at the door.

What was Jordan talking about? What did she know? Why had her stepmother been so affected by Aggie's death? And what was the big deal about joining some charity committee?

She called Mimi. She knew Mimi was on The Committee, and Bliss wanted to make sure she was going to be at the meeting.

Catherine Carver's Diary

25th of November, 1620

Plymouth, Massachusetts

Tonight we celebrated our safe journey into our new home. We have joyful news - the people of this new land have welcomed us with open arms and many gifts. They brought wild game, a large bird that could feed an army, a bounty of vegetables, and maize. It is a new beginning for us, and we are heartened by the sight of the verdant land, the vast virgin acres where we will make our settlement. All our dreams have been realized. This is what we left our home for - so that the children may grow up safe and whole.

- C.C.


When school let out, Schuyler caught the crosstown bus at Ninety-sixth Street, sliding her white student MetroCard in the slot and finding an empty seat next to a harassed-looking mother with a double stroller. Schuyler was one of the few students at Duchesne who took public transportation.

The bus slowly lumbered across the avenues, past a host of specialty boutiques on Madison, including the unapologetically-named "Prince and Princess" that catered to the elite under-twelve set - French-smocked cotton dresses for girls and Barbour coats for boys; pharmacies that stocked five-hundred-dollar boar's-hair brushes; and tiny antique shops that sold arcana such as mapmaking equipment and fourteenth-century feather quills. Then it was through the Central Park greenery to the west side of town, toward Broadway, a change of neighborhood and scenery - Chino-Latino restaurants, less snooty retail shops - then finally a steep right up Riverside Drive.

She had meant to ask Jack what he'd meant by his note, but she hadn't been able to catch him after class. Jack Force, who had never even paid attention to her before? First he knows her name, now he's writing her notes? Why would he tell her Aggie Carondolet was murdered? It had to be some kind of joke. He was playing with her, scaring her, most likely. She shook her head in irritation. It didn't make sense. And even if Jack Force had some overheated Law and Order-type insight into the case, why was he sharing it with her? They barely knew each other.

At 100th street, she dinged the yellow tape and stepped lightly out the automatic doors to the still-sunny afternoon. She walked up one block toward the steps carved into the landscaped terraces that separated the traffic and led directly to her front door.

Riverside Drive was a scenic Parisian-style boulevard on the westernmost side of upper Manhattan: a grand serpentine route dotted with stately Italian Renaissance mansions and majestic Art Deco apartment buildings. It was here that the Van Alens had decamped in the turn of the last century from their lower Fifth Avenue abode. Once the most powerful and influential family in New York City, the Van Alens had founded many of the city's universities and cultural institutions, but their wealth and prestige had been in decline for decades. One of their last remaining holdings was the imposing French-style palace on the corner of leafy 101st and Riverside Drive that Schuyler called home. Made of beautiful gray stone, it had a wrought-iron door and gargoyles standing guard at the balcony level.

But unlike the sparkling refurbished townhouses that surrounded it, the house badly needed a new roof; tiles, and a coat of paint.

Schuyler rang the doorbell.

"I know, I'm sorry, Hattie, I forgot my keys again," she apologized to their housekeeper, who had been with the family ever since Schuyler could remember.

The white-haired Polish woman in an old-fashioned maid's uniform only grunted.

Schuyler followed her through the creaking double door and tiptoed across the great hall, which was dark and musty with Persian rugs (so old and rare, but covered in a layer of dust). There was never any light in the room because, even though the house had several large bay windows that overlooked the Hudson River, heavy velvet curtains always covered the views. Traces of the family's former largesse were in evidence, from the original Heppelwhite chairs to the massive Chippendale tables, but the house was too hot in the summer and too drafty in the winter, without the benefit of central air. Unlike the Llewellyn's penthouse, where everything was either a pricey reproduction or an antique bought at Christie's, every piece of furniture in the Van Alen home was original and handed down from earlier generations.

Most of the home's seven bedrooms were locked and unused, and draped fabric covered most of the heirloom pieces. Schuyler always thought it was a little like living in a creaky old museum. Her bedroom was on the second floor - a small room she'd rebelliously painted a bright Mountain Dew yellow, to contrast the dark tapestries and stuffiness of the rest of the house.

She whistled for Beauty, and a friendly, gorgeous bloodhound ran to her side. "Good girl, good girl," she said, kneeling down and hugging the happy creature, letting it lick her face. No matter how bad a day she'd had, Beauty always made it better. The beautiful animal had followed her home from school one day last year. The dog was a purebred, with a glossy dark coat that matched Schuyler's blue-black hair. Schuyler had been sure her owners would come looking for her, and she had put up "Found Pet" signs in the neighborhood. But no one came to claim Beauty, and after a while, Schuyler stopped trying to find her rightful owner.

The two of them loped up the stairs. Schuyler walked inside her room and shut the door behind her dog.

"Home so soon?"

Schuyler nearly jumped out of her coat. Beauty barked, then wagged her tail, galloping joyfully toward the intruder. Schuyler turned to find her grandmother sitting on the bed with a stern expression. Cordelia Van Alen was a small, birdlike woman - it was easy to see where Schuyler got her delicate frame and her deep-set eyes, although Cordelia usually dismissed remarks about family resemblance. Cordelia's eyes were blue and bright, and they stared intensely at her granddaughter.

"Cordelia, I didn't see you," Schuyler explained.

Schuyler's grandmother had forbidden her to call her Grandmother, or Grandma, or as she heard some children call them, Nana. It would be nice to have a Nana, a warm and chubby maternal figure, whose very name spelled love and homemade chocolate chip cookies. But instead, all Schuyler had was Cordelia. A still-beautiful, elegant woman, who looked to be in her eighties or nineties, Schuyler never knew which. Some days, Cordelia looked young enough to be in her fifties (or forties even, if Schuyler was being honest with herself). Cordelia sat ramrod straight, dressed in a black cashmere cardigan and flowing jersey pants, her legs crossed delicately at the ankles. On her feet were black Chanel ballet slippers.

All throughout Schuyler's childhood, Cordelia had been a presence. Not a parental, or even an affectionate one, but a presence nonetheless. It was Cordelia who had changed Schuyler's birth certificate so that her last name was her mother's and not her father's. It was Cordelia who had enrolled her at the Duchesne School. Cordelia who signed her permission slips, monitored her report cards, and provided her with a paltry allowance.

"School let out early," Schuyler said. "Aggie Carondolet died."

"I know." Cordelia's face changed. A flash of emotion flickered across the stern features - fear, anxiety, concern, even?

"Are you all right?"

Schuyler nodded. She barely even knew Aggie. Sure, they'd been going to the same school for more than a decade, but it didn't mean they were friends.

"I've got homework to do." Schuyler said, as she unbuttoned her coat and shook off her sweater, peeling each layer of clothing until she stood in front of her grandmother in a thin white tanktop and black leggings.

Schuyler was half afraid of her grandmother, but had grown to love her even though Cordelia never showed any inclination of reciprocating the sentiment. The most palpable emotion Schuyler could detect was a grudging tolerance. Her grandmother tolerated her. She didn't approve of her, but she tolerated her.

"Your marks are getting worse," Cordelia noted, meaning Schuyler's forearms.

Schuyler nodded. Streaks of pale blue lines blossomed in an intricate pattern, visible under the skin's surface, on the underside of her forearms all the way to her wrist. The prominent blue veins had appeared a week shy of her fifteenth birthday. They didn't hurt, but they did itch. It was as if all of a sudden she was growing out of her skin - or into it - somehow.

"They look the same to me," Schuyler replied.

"Don't forget about your appointment with Dr. Pat."

Schuyler nodded.

Beauty made herself at home on Schuyler's duvet, looking out the window toward the river twinkling behind the trees.

Cordelia began to pat Beauty's smooth fur. "I had a dog like this once," she said. "When I was about your age. Your mother did, too." Cordelia smiled wistfully.

Her grandmother rarely talked about Schuyler's mother, who, technically, wasn't dead she'd slipped into a coma when Schuyler was hardly a year old, and had been trapped in that state ever since. The doctors all agreed she registered normal brain activity, and that she could wake up at any moment. But she never had. Schuyler visited her mother every Sunday at the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital to read to her from the Sunday Times.

Schuyler didn't have many memories of her mother - apart from a sad, beautiful woman who sang lullabies to her in the crib. Maybe she just remembered that her mother looked sad because that's how she looked now, when she was asleep - there was a melancholy cast to her features. A lovely, sorrowful-looking woman with folded hands, her platinum hair fanned against the pillow.

She wanted to ask her grandmother more questions about her mother and her bloodhound - but the faraway look had left Cordelia's face, and Schuyler knew she wouldn't get any more tidbits about her mother that night.

"Dinner at six," her grandmother said, leaving the room.

"Yes, Cordelia," Schuyler mumbled.

She closed her eyes and lay on the bed, leaning against Beauty. The sun began to set through the blinds. Her grandmother was such an enigma. Schuyler wished, not for the first time, that she were a normal girl, with a normal family. She felt very lonely all of a sudden. She wondered if she should have told Oliver about Jack's note. She'd never kept something like that from him before. But she was worried he'd just call her silly for falling for some stupid joke.

Then her phone beeped. Oliver's number flashed on the text message, almost as if he knew how she was feeling right then.


Schuyler smiled. She might not have parents. But at least she had one true friend.


@by txiuqw4

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