The next day, the whole upper school was called into the chapel again, but for a less somber reason. It was a Career Talk. Even the unfortunate demise of one of their students couldn't change the rigid schedule of lectures that the school had planned for the year. Part of the Duchesne philosophy was to expose their students to a sampling of the many career opportunities and paths available to them. They'd had talks from a famous heart surgeon, the editor of a prestigious magazine, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a famous film director. Most of the adults who came to give the talks were Duchesne alumni, or Duchesne parents. Most of the students welcomed the hour-and-a-half break in their day, since it meant that they could snooze in the back pews, which was a lot more comfortable than nodding off in class.
"We have a special treat for you today," the Dean of Students announced. "Today we have Linda Farnsworth, from Farnsworth Models." A ripple of approval and excitement went through the assemblage.
Farnsworth Models was the biggest name in the cutthroat modeling industry. Their biannual Career Talk at Duchesne was just an excuse to find the newest batch of models lurking in the student body. An incongruous, but unimpeachable fact was that Duchesne was a breeding ground for modeling talent in the city. Students had gyrated their hips in music videos, walked the runways in Bryant Park, and had appeared in television commercials and print advertising. An inordinate number were featured in the J. Crew and Abercrombie & Fitch catalogs. The Duchesne type - tall, willowy, blond, aristocratic, and all-American, was more in demand than ever.
Linda Farnsworth was a short, squat woman with crinkly hair and a dowdy appearance. She wore half-moon glasses, and her voice quavered over the microphone as she explained the ins and outs of the modeling industry. She exhorted its virtues (Glamorous photo shoots! Travel to exotic places! Fun parties!), and in the same breath emphasized the very hard work that went into making the perfect photographs. There was a smattering of polite applause when she finished.
When the formal talk ended, Linda set up a casting call on the third-floor landing and invited any interested students to try out. Almost all of the girls and even a few of the boys waited in line to see if they would make the cut.
After a bunch of glum freshmen were ushered to the side, Mimi stepped forward. She had dressed especially well for the occasion, in a slim-fitting tailored C&C California T-shirt and low, hip-slung Paige jeans. She'd heard that models should dress as plainly as possible for auditions, a blank canvas on which advertisers and designers could easier project their visions. The night before, she'd left the Italian exhausted in his penthouse loft, she herself felt invigorated and cheerful.
"Walk up toward the end of the staircase and back, please," Linda instructed.
Linda clucked in approval as Mimi stomped up and down the hallway and pirouetted at the end of the stairs.
"You have the ideal proportions my dear, and a natural ability. A fabulous walk is what it's all about, you know. Tell me, are you interested in being a model?"
"Of course!" Mimi squealed, clapping her hands together, delighted she had been chosen. It was about time she joined the ranks of the professionally beautiful!
Bliss was next. She galloped up and down the hallway, swinging her arms. She still felt queasy thinking about the pound of hamburger she'd wolfed down the night before, even though eating it had made her feel better. She still thought it was strange that BobiAnne had seemed to take the whole incident in stride.
"Walk's a little rough, darling, but very teachable. Yes, we must have you at Farnsworth," Linda decided.
Mimi and Bliss hugged each other in joy. Bliss saw Dylan watching them from the corner of the great hall. She smiled tentatively at him. He saluted her in return. She hoped he hadn't noticed anything unusual about her when they were in the Met. Dr. Pat had explained that during Regenerative Memory Syndrome, part of her was in the present, but the part that was conscious had been in the past. The memory blackouts wouldn't last that long - maybe four, five minutes tops. It bothered her that the part that would remember whether they'd kissed or not had been absent for that crucial juncture. She didn't even know how to act around him - were they dating or what? Just friends? It was maddening not to know where she stood with a boy she liked. Okay, so there it was. She liked him. She liked him so much she was even starting to not care about what Mimi would think of the two of them getting together.
Bliss looked at Mimi a tad resentfully. Even if she owed her social life and current status to Mimi, she balked at having to answer to her for everything.
The bell for the next class rang, and a harried girl rushed past the modeling station without even glancing at the gathering. Schuyler had slept through the entire lecture, since she'd hardly gotten any sleep the night before.
Linda Farnsworth stopped her in her tracks breaking her reverie. "Hello! And who might you be?"
"Schuyler Van Alen?" Schuyler replied. Why did she do that? Why couldn't she be more confident? "I mean, I'm Schuyler," she said, frantically brushing her bangs away from her eyes.
"Are you interested in modeling?"
"Her - a model?" Mimi spat from the sidelines where she was filling out the Farnsworth client contract. She eyed Schuyler balefully.
"Shhh," Bliss said, embarrassed enough to elbow Mimi for once.
Schuyler overheard them. She looked down at what she was wearing torn black stockings with ladders in both knees (already rating her a dress code demerit), a loose-fitting floral granny-dress with a drop waist, chunky gray socks because she couldn't find her black ones, her duct-taped sneakers, and a pair of half-moon glasses. Plus, she hadn't washed her hair in weeks. It's not like she would even want to be a model, so Mimi had nothing to worry about. A secret part of her was desperately flattered, although she tried not to be overly vain about her looks.
"No, I don't think so," Schuyler replied, smiling apologetically.
"But you have the look of a young Kate Moss!" Linda Farnsworth argued. "Can I take a Polaroid?"
Linda took a photo with her camera before Schuyler could protest.
Schuyler shielded her eyes. "Okay ..."
"Write your number down here. You don't need to sign, but if we find a designer who wants to use you, I'll call you, is that all right?"
"I guess." She agreed, scribbling her number down without a second thought. "Look, I really have to go."
Mimi glared at Schuyler and stalked off, her nose in the air. Bliss hung back and caught Schuyler's eye. "Congrats, by the way," Bliss said quietly. "I got picked, too."
"Uh, yeah, thanks, I guess," Schuyler said, shocked that anyone who hung around Mimi Force would even talk to her.
"Are you headed to art?" Bliss asked in a friendly way.
"Er ..." Schuyler hesitated, not sure what the Texan girl wanted. To her relief, she noticed Oliver by the water fountain and turned away from Bliss without giving her a second thought.
"Hey there," she said.
"Oh, hey, Sky," he greeted her, looping an arm around her thin shoulders. They walked up the back stairs hidden in the administration corridor to the garret room for art class. Dylan was already there and grinning at them from behind his potters' wheel. He had an apron around his waist and his hands were covered in mud up to his elbows.
"Don't you just love getting dirty?" he asked.
They snickered approvingly and took a seat on each side of him. Schuyler set up her easel and Oliver took out his woodcuts. Neither of them noticed Bliss Llewellyn across the room, watching the three of them intensely.
In between brushstrokes, Schuyler happened to look up and saw Jack Force leaning over Kitty Mullins's table, admiring her sculpture of a Siamese cat. She noticed a telltale hickey on Kitty's neck.
She wasn't the only one who saw them. Oliver raised his eyebrows but made no comment, and she was glad. She guessed Jack had found a girlfriend. Schuyler wondered if he was passing her oblique notes in class. Huh. That sure hadn't taken him long. She felt a wave of irritation prickling at her consciousness, but she brushed it away.
Oliver mimed hacking at Jack's back with an invisible axe. She smothered a laugh and put Jack Force out of her mind once and for all.
Bliss looked up from her canvas. Their art teacher was gesturing effusively over her landscape, but she wasn't listening. Her gaze kept drifting across the room, to where Dylan was sitting.
He hadn't even made any indication that he noticed her. Sure, he was perfectly friendly whenever they bumped into each other. And that was the problem - he was simply friendly. Maybe they hadn't even kissed at the Met that afternoon after all. Maybe nothing had happened. Maybe he'd lost interest, which was a blow to her ego as well as her psyche.
It was just so unfair, especially since she was now totally obsessed with him. She was starting to think about him way too much for just a casual friend-who-wasn't-even-in-her-clique. The actor had called, the model had begged for a date, but all she could think about was the way Dylan's dark sideburns curled around his ears, and the way he'd looked at her with his big, sad eyes. She could tell he was the kind of boy who broke the rules and let anything happen, and she liked that about him. It excited her.
She watched him interact with his friends - that goth girl who'd just been chosen as a model, and that cute, skinny guy with the shaggy hair - and felt a pang of jealousy. Dylan was clowning around, throwing mud at them, but they didn't seem to mind. The three of them seemed to be having a lot of fun.
When class was over, there was a bottleneck at the door - since the stairway was so narrow, everyone had to go single file. Bliss found herself standing right next to Dylan. She smiled at him tentatively. "Hey."
"Apr��s vous, Madame," he said gallantly, offering her the way.
She nodded her thanks, lingering to see if he would say anything else - maybe even ask her out again. But he didn't say a word. She walked down the stairs alone while he waited for his friends. She felt defeated.
After lunch with Mimi and her crew, Bliss walked down to the basement to grab books for her next class. She found Schuyler changing into her gym clothes in the hallway, standing right in front of her locker, while a bunch of other kids did the same, girls and boys alike in various stages of undress.
The school was an odd mix of luxury and penury - on the one hand, there was a state-of-the-art theater in the basement, complete with auditorium seating for two hundred, but there were no locker rooms because they didn't fit in the mansion. Students were encouraged to change in the bathrooms, but since they only had five minutes to do so, most ignored the rules and changed in the hallway to save time. The girls had perfected a removing-the-bra-through-the-side-armhole-and-putting-on-a-sports-bra-while-hiding-underneath-a-huge-T-shirt maneuver. The boys didn't even bat an eyelash.
One of the quirky things about Duchesne was that since they had all known each other since kindergarten, a sibling-like camaraderie prevailed. The teenage striptease only bothered the faculty, especially the errant history professor who happened to chance upon a half-naked junior in the hallway, eliciting malicious giggles - but there was nothing they could do to stop it. Dressing in public was just one of those odd things that was part of the Duchesne experience.
"Hey, can I talk to you for a bit?" Bliss asked, leaning against a locker and watching as Schuyler disappeared underneath an oversized sweatshirt. Being new, Bliss was one of the few girls who used the restroom to change. She couldn't quite feel as comfortable as everyone else did. Mimi, for instance, liked to parade in her La Petite Coquette bras as if she were walking on the beach in St. Tropez.
"Mfff?" Schuyler asked, a bump underneath the fabric, her elbows pointing sideways and upward in an attempt to shove herself into her gym outfit. She took off the sweatshirt with a flourish and emerged in an oversized T-shirt and baggy sweat pants.
"What's on your mind?" she asked Bliss, regarding her a little warily.
"You're friends with Dylan Ward, aren't you?"
Schuyler shrugged. "Yeah. What about him?" She checked her watch. The second bell was going to ring soon, and kids from her class were already hurrying up the stairs to the lower court gyms.
"I just - do you know him well?"
Schuyler shrugged again. She wasn't sure what Bliss was asking. Of course she knew him well. She and Oliver were his only friends.
"I've heard rumors," Bliss said, looking around to see if anyone was listening to their conversation.
"Oh yeah, what?" Schuyler raised an eyebrow. She stuffed her sweatshirt in her locker.
"Well, that he was involved in some accident with some girl in Connecticut this summer - "
"I haven't heard anything about that," Schuyler said, cutting her off. "But people around here talk about everybody. Do you really believe that story?"
Bliss looked shocked. "Not at all! I don't believe it one bit."
"Look, I should go," Schuyler said brusquely, shouldering her tennis racket and walking away.
"Hold on," Bliss called, walking next to Schuyler and hurrying to keep up as Schuyler loped up the stairs.
"I just ... I mean ..." Bliss shrugged. "I'm sorry we got off on the wrong foot. My bad, okay? Can we start over? Please?"
Schuyler narrowed her eyes. The second bell rang. "I'm late," she said flatly.
"It's just, we went to the Met the other day and I thought we had a really nice time, but I don't know, he hasn't spoken to me since," Bliss explained. "Do you know if he has a girlfriend or anything?"
Schuyler sighed. If she was late for class her grandmother would get a note. Duchesne didn't have anything like ?detention?; the only punishments it meted out were tattletale notes home to overly involved parents who would commit hara-kiri if their kids didn't get into Harvard. She looked at Bliss, taking in her nervous demeanor and hopeful smile.
Reluctantly, Schuyler came to the conclusion that maybe Bliss wasn't one of those Mimi clones after all. She didn't have pin-straight blond hair or sport an obnoxious "Team Force" insignia on her gym hoodie like the rest of Mimi's gang, for one. "As far as I know, he isn't dating anybody. He did mention meeting someone the other night at a club..." Schuyler allowed finally, watching Bliss's reaction.
"I thought so." Schuyler nodded. Against her better judgment, she found herself relenting. If Dylan had taken her to the Met, Bliss really couldn't be all bad. Schuyler wasn't sure Mimi would even know what the Met was. Mimi's life revolved around shopping and getting into VIP rooms. She probably thought "the Met" was some kind of nightclub.
"If you want my advice, take it easy on him. I think he really likes you," she said, giving Bliss a sympathetic smirk.
"He does? I mean, he's talked about me?"
Schuyler rolled her shoulders. "It's really none of my business," she said, hesitating.
"Well, I doubt he'd mind if you asked him to the fall dance. He probably would never even think of going himself, but he might go if you asked."
Bliss smiled. The dance was tomorrow night. She could do that. Her parents would have to let her go - it was a school event, and there were bound to be tons of chaperones there to appease their anxiety. "Thanks."
"No problem," Schuyler said, running up the stairs without giving Bliss a backward glance.
Struck by the idea, Bliss scribbled a quick note and tore off the paper from her binder. She carefully removed all the broken bits on the side, spritzed it with her perfume, and stuffed it in Dylan's locker.
She was shocked at her brazenness. She had never needed to pursue a boy before. But there's always a first time for everything.
Email: [email protected]