Aggie Carondolet's funeral had all the trappings of an exclusive society event. The Carondolets were a high-profile New York family, and Aggie's untimely death had been fodder for the tabloids. PREP SCHOOL GIRL DEAD IN DOWNTOWN CLUB. Her parents had shuddered, but there was nothing they could do about it. The city was obsessed with the beautiful, rich, and tragic. (The more beautiful, rich, and tragic, the bigger the headline.) That morning, a phalanx of photographers stood guard at the school's gates, waiting to get a shot of the grieving mother (a dignified Sloane Carondolet, 1985's deb of the year) and the stricken best friend, none other than lissome It-girl-about-town Mimi Force.
Once Mimi saw the photographers, she was glad she'd splurged on the Dior Homme suit by Hedi Slimane. It had been a bitch getting it tailored overnight, but what Mimi wanted, Mimi always got. The suit was of black satin, with sharp, severe lines. She wore nothing underneath but an onyx choker. She would look fabulous in tomorrow's papers - the soup?on of tragedy making her an even more glamorous figure.
Seating inside the Duchesne chapel was arranged according to rank, just like a fashion show. Of course, Mimi was given a front-row perch. She was seated between her father and her brother, the three of them making a good-looking trio. Her mother, stuck in a three-month plastic surgery safari in South Africa (facelifts disguised as vacations) couldn't return in time, so Gina DuPont, a beautiful art dealer and close friend of her father's, had accompanied him to the funeral.
Mimi knew Gina was actually one of her father's mistresses, but the knowledge didn't bother her. Growing up, she'd been shocked by the constancy of her parents' extramarital affairs, but when she was old enough, she'd accepted the relationships for what they were - necessary to the Caerimonia Osculor. No one could be all things to one person. Marriage was for keeping the family fortune within the family, for making a good match, akin to a sound business deal. She'd been made to understand there were some things that could only be satisfied outside of a marriage, some things that even a loyal spouse couldn't provide.
She noticed Senator Llewellyn and his family entering through a side door. Bliss's stepmother strutted in wearing a floor-length black mink over a black dress; the senator was wearing a double-breasted black suit; Bliss was wearing a black cashmere sweater and slim black Gucci cigarette pants. Then Mimi noticed something odd. Bliss's little sister was dressed head to toe in white.
Who wears white to a funeral? But as Mimi looked around, she noticed almost half of the assembled guests in the chapel were wearing white - and all of them were sitting across the aisle. Sitting in the very front pew, leading the white-clad mourners was a small, wizened woman Mimi had never seen before. She noticed Oliver Hazard-Perry and his parents walk toward the front and bow to the white-garbed crone before finding seats in the far back.
The mayor and his entourage arrived, followed by the governor, his wife, and children. To the man, they were all in the appropriate black formal dress and sat themselves behind her father's pew. Mimi felt oddly relieved. Everyone on their side of the room was wearing the proper black or charcoal garments.
Mimi was glad for the closed coffin. She didn't want to see that frozen scream again, not in this lifetime. Anyway, it was all a big mistake. She was certain the Wardens would find some perfectly reasonable explanation for all this, some part of the cycle that explained the loss of all that blood. Because Aggie just couldn't be dead. As her father said, Aggie probably wasn't even in that coffin.
The service began, and the assembled rose from their seats and sang "Nearer, My God, to Thee." Mimi looked up from her hymnal and noticed Bliss leaving her seat. She raised an eyebrow. After the chaplain said the proper words, Aggie's sister made a brief eulogy. Several other students spoke, including her brother, Jack, who made a moving speech, and just as quickly, the service was over. Mimi followed her family as they left their pew.
The diminutive, white-haired matron who was sitting across from them walked over and tapped her father lightly on the arm. She had the bluest eyes Mimi had ever seen and was wearing an impeccable ivory Chanel suit and ropes of pearls around her wrinkled neck.
Charles Force startled visibly. Mimi had never seen her father that way. He was a composed, regal man, with a mane of silver hair and a rigid military bearing. The lines on his face were grooved with the consequences of power. It was said that Charles Force was the real authority that ran New York. The power behind the powerful.
"Cordelia," her father said to the old bat, with a bow of the head. "It is good to see you again."
"It has been too long." She had the clipped, nasal tones of a true Yankee.
He didn't respond. "A terrible loss," he said finally.
"Extremely unfortunate," the old lady agreed. "Although it could have been prevented."
"I'm not sure what you're talking about," Charles replied, looking genuinely perplexed.
"You know as well as I, that they should have been warned - "
"Enough. Not here," he said, lowering his voice and pulling her toward him. Mimi strained to hear the rest of the conversation.
"Always the first to shy from the truth. You are the way you have always been, arrogant and blind....." the old woman was saying.
"And if we had listened to you and sown the fear? Where would we be then?" he asked coldly. "You would have us cowering in caves."
"I would have had us ensuring our survival. Instead, we are vulnerable once more," Cordelia replied, her raspy voice shaking with anger. "Instead, they are allowed to return, to hunt. If I had the authority, if the Conclave had listened to me, to Teddy - "
"But they did not, they chose me to lead, as I have always done," Charles interrupted smoothly. "But this is no time to bring up old wounds and grievances." He frowned. "Have you - no, you haven't - Mimi, Jack, come here."
"Ah, the twins." Cordelia smiled a cryptic smile. "Together again." Mimi didn't like the way the senile old thing was looking at her, sizing her up as if she knew everything about her already.
"This is Cordelia Van Alen," Charles Force said gruffly. "Cordelia, the twins. Benjamin and Madeleine."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance," Jack Force said politely.
"Ditto," Mimi snorted.
Cordelia nodded complacently. She turned to Charles Force once more and whispered fiercely. "You must raise the alarm! We must be vigilant! There is still time. We may still stop them, if you would only find it in your heart to forgive," she said. "Gabrielle ..."
"Do not speak to me of Gabrielle," Charles said, cutting her off. "Never. I would never hear her name spoken to me again. Especially from you."
Who was Gabrielle? Mimi wondered. Why did her father seem so agitated? Mimi felt angry and annoyed to see how her father reacted to the old woman's words.
Cordelia's eyes softened. "It has been fifteen years," she said. "Is that not long enough?"
"It is good to see you well, Cordelia. Good day," Charles said, a finality to his tone.
The old hag frowned and walked away without another word. Mimi saw Schuyler Van Alen following her, looking back at them sheepishly, as if embarrassed by her grandmother's actions. As well she should be, Mimi thought.
"Dad, who was that?" Mimi asked, noticing her father looking spooked.
"Cordelia Van Alen," he replied heavily, then said no more. As if that explained everything.
"Who wears white to a funeral?" Mimi sneered, her lip curling.
"Black is the color of night," Charles muttered. "White is the true color of death." For a moment, he looked down at his black suit in dismay.
"Huh? Dad? What did you say?"
He shook his head, lost in thought.
Mimi noticed Jack run up to talk to Schuyler, and the two of them began an intense, whispered conversation. Mimi didn't like that one bit. She had no idea who this Schuyler person thought she was, and she didn't give a damn if it turned out she was Committee material after all. She didn't like the way Jack was looking at Schuyler. The only other person he ever looked at like that was her.
And Mimi wanted to keep it that way.
Bliss hadn't been able to stand it. While the service was still going on, she had decided she had to get out of there. Funerals freaked her out. The only one she'd ever been to was the one for her great-aunt, and no one had even been that sad. Bliss could have sworn she'd overheard her parents say "It's about time" and "Took her long enough" at the funeral. Great-Aunt Gertrude had lived to a ripe old age of 110 years - she'd been featured on the Today show - and when Bliss had visited her at the ranch the day before her death, the old thing was as spry as ever. "It's time for me to go, my dear. I know it is, but we shall meet again," she'd said to Bliss.
At least Aggie's wasn't an open casket, but it still made her feel queasy to think of a dead body in there, just a few feet away from her. Soon after they'd arrived, Bliss managed to wriggle out of sitting with her stepmother, who was too busy saying hello to all the other Duchesne moms anyway.
Bliss stealthily made her way toward the exit. She caught Mimi's eye on the way. Mimi raised an eyebrow and Bliss mouthed "bathroom," feeling a little silly for having to do so. Why did Mimi keep such close tabs on her? she wondered, as she continued her way toward the exit. Mimi was worse than her stepmother. It was getting irritating. She slunk out of the back door, only to run into someone else trying to sneak outside.
Dylan was wearing a narrow black suit, with a white shirt and a skinny black tie. He looked like a member of The Strokes. He smiled at her. "Going somewhere?"
"It's, uh, hot in there," she said lamely.
He nodded, pondering her statement. They hadn't really spoken to each other since Friday night, in the alley between the nightclubs. She'd been meaning to seek him out, just to apologize for ignoring him yesterday. Not that she had anything to apologize for, really. After all, they'd just spent the night talking. It wasn't like they were friends or anything. No big deal.
Except that it was. That night, he'd told her all about his family, and how he'd hated boarding school in Connecticut. She'd told him about Houston, how she used to drive her grandfather's Cadillac convertible to school, which everyone thought was hilarious. The thing was a boat - with proper fins. More important, she'd confessed how she didn't feel like she fit in at Duchesne at all, and how she didn't even like Mimi.
It was liberating to have been so honest with him, although she regretted it as soon as she got home, traumatized by the fear that somehow he would find a way to tell Mimi what she'd confided in him, even though she knew it was impossible. Mimi was in the In-Clique. Dylan hung out with the misfits and losers. Never the twain shall meet. If he even tried to approach Mimi, she would cut him dead with a look even before he got his mouth open.
"Wanna cut?" he asked. His black hair was combed straight back, and he wiggled his dark eyebrows at her invitingly.
Cutting a funeral. Now that was an interesting idea. The whole school was supposed to be at the service. It was mandatory. The only class Bliss had ever cut was gym, one afternoon when she and her friends decided to go see some teen slasher flick. It had been a fun day - the movie was even worse than it sounded, and they'd gotten back to school without getting caught.
At Duchesne, you were actually allowed to cut class twice a semester - it was part of the "flexible academic program." The school understood that sometimes, the stress was just too much and students occasionally had to cut class. It was amazing how even rebellion was written into the school's rules, everything so neatly tied into the whole rigor and logic of the place.
But as far as she knew, no one was allowed to cut a funeral. That would be seriously transgressive. Especially because she was supposed to be one of Aggie's BFF's since they hung out in the same crowd.
"Let's go," Dylan said, reaching out to hold her hand.
Bliss began to follow him, when another figure stepped out of the chapel doors. "Where are you going?" Jordan Llewellyn asked her sister, her large eyes boring into Bliss's skull.
"Who are you?" Dylan asked.
"Beat it, buttface," Bliss warned.
"You shouldn't go. It's not safe," Jordan said, looking directly at Dylan.
"Let's go, she's a freak," Bliss said, scowling at her sister, who was dressed all in white and looked like she was about to receive her first communion.
"I'm telling!" Jordan threatened.
"Go ahead! Tell everybody!" Bliss shot back.
Dylan smirked, and without another word, Bliss followed him through the back door, down the stairs, toward the first level of the mansion.
One of the school's housekeepers looked up from inside the copy room, which faced the back staircase. "Wha' you kids doing here?" she asked, putting a hand on her ample hips.
"Adriana, be cool." Dylan smiled.
The housekeeper shook her head, but she smiled back.
Bliss liked that Dylan was on friendly terms with the staff. Even though he was just being polite, it was still nice. Mimi treated the ground staff and the service workers with withering condescension.
Dylan led Bliss out the side door past the Dumpsters and out the service entrance. Soon they were free, and walking down Ninety-first Street.
"What do you want to do?" he asked.
She shrugged. She inhaled the fresh autumn air. Now, that was something she was really starting to enjoy about New York. The crisp, clean fall weather - they didn't have weather like that down in Houston. It went from muggy to rainy. She put her hands in the pockets of her calf-skimming Chloe trench coat.
"It's New York, we could do anything," he teased. "The whole city is open to us. We could see a burlesque show, or a bad comedy act. Hear some Derrida lecture at NYU. Or we could go bowling at the Piers. I know, what about this bar in the East Village where the waiters are real Belgian monks? Or maybe we could go rowing in the Park?"
"Maybe we can just walk to a museum?" she asked.
"Oh, artsy girl." He smiled. "All right. Which one?"
"The Met," she decided. She'd only been there once, and only to the gift shop, where her stepmother had spent hours picking out floral prints for souvenirs.
They walked toward Fifth Avenue and arrived at the Metropolitan Museum in quick time. The front steps were filled with people scarfing down their lunches, taking pictures, or simply basking in the sun. It was a carnival atmosphere; someone was slapping bongos on one end, and a boom box blasted reggae music on the other. They walked up the steps and inside.
The lobby of the museum was bustling with activity and color - schoolchildren on field trips lined up behind their teachers, art students walked briskly with their sketchbooks tucked underneath their arms, a Babelian prattle of many different languages bubbled from the tourists.
Dylan slid a dime underneath the glass ticket counter. "Two, please," he said, an innocent smile on his face.
Bliss was a little appalled. She checked the sign. SUGGESTED DONATION: $15. Well, he had a point, it was suggested, not mandatory. The cashier handed them their round Met pins with no comment. Apparently, he'd seen it all before.
"Have you ever been to the Temple of Dendur?" Dylan asked, leading Bliss toward the northern end of the museum.
"No," she said, shaking her head. "What's that?"
"Stop," he said. He put his hands gently on her face. "Close your eyes."
"Why?" She giggled.
"Just do it," he said. "Trust me."
She closed her eyes, holding a hand against her face, and she felt him tug at her hand, leading her forward. She walked hesitantly, feeling ahead of her - they were inside some kind of maze, she thought - as he led her briskly through a series of sharp turns. Then they were outside of it. Even with her eyes closed, she could sense they were in a large, empty space.
"Open your eyes," Dylan whispered.
She blinked them open.
They were standing in front of the ruins of an Egyptian temple. The building was majestic and primitive at the same time - in direct contrast to the clean, modern lines of the museum. It was absolutely stunning. The hall was empty, and there was a long horizontal fountain in front of the temple. It was a breathtaking piece of art, and the history behind it - the fact that the museum had meticulously shipped and reconstructed it so that the temple looked perfectly at home in a Manhattan museum - made Bliss's head roll.
"Oh my God."
"I know," Dylan said, his eyes twinkling.
Bliss blinked back tears. It was the most romantic thing anyone had ever done to her - ever.
He looked directly into her eyes, nodding his head down toward her lips.
She fluttered her eyelashes, her heart racing in her chest, swooning. She leaned toward him, lifting her face to be kissed. He looked gentle and hopeful, and there was something appealingly vulnerable about the way he couldn't meet her gaze.
Their lips met.
And that's when it happened.
The world went gray. She was in her skin but not in her skin. The room was constricting. The world was shrinking. All four walls of the temple were suddenly whole. She was in the desert. She could taste the acrid sand in her mouth, feel the hot sun on her back. A thousand scarabs - black and shiny, buzzing flew out of the temple door. And that was when she began to scream.
Catherine Carver's Diary
30th of November, 1620
Today Myles Standish took a team down the coast to Roanoke, to bring medicine, food and supplies to the settlement there. It is a fortnight's sail, so they will be gone a good while. I was heartsick to see John go off with the men. So far, we have been safe, but who knows for how long. No one dares say. The children grow quickly and are a delight to all. There has been an abundance of twin births. The Allertons recently had triplets. Susannah White, whose husband, William, also journeyed to Roanoke, came to visit. We agreed it is a fertile season. We have been blessed.
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