The yearly Duchesne back-to-school dance was called the Fall "Informals," although it was anything but informal. The dance was held at the historical headquarters of the American Society, a grand red brick mansion on Park Avenue and Sixty-eighth Street. The society was an organization dedicated to keeping an archive of early American history, including documents from the first colonies and the Mayflower journey. The second floor housed a wood-paneled library with a barrel-vaulted ceiling as well as several cozy, clubby rooms ideal for dinner and dancing. It was a popular event space, and many brides-to-be shelled out a fortune for the privilege of having their wedding on Park Avenue. But for Duchesne students, it was just the place where they had their school dance.
Earlier that evening, Oliver and Schuyler were hanging out in his room, doing nothing as usual - but when Schuyler casually mentioned she'd heard that Dylan - of all people - was going to the lame dance, Oliver pounced on the idea. "Let's go."
"Us? Why?" Schuyler was horrified.
"C'mon, it'll be funny."
"No it won't." Schuyler argued. "Us go to some snobby dance? Just to see Mimi Force lording it over everyone?"
"I heard they do a pretty good spread," Oliver wheedled.
"I'm not hungry."
"C'mon, what else are we going to do?"
After the excitement of the past weekend, when they'd ventured to The Bank, it did seem a bit dull to just sit on Oliver's bed reading magazines together.
"All right," Schuyler agreed. "But I need to go home and change."
When Oliver picked her up, Schuyler was wearing a cocktail-length fifties-style black lace prom dress, dainty white wrist gloves, fishnet stockings, and round-toe high heels, almost as a joke. She'd found the dress on eBay for thirty dollars. The strapless dress fit perfectly around her tiny waist, and the skirt blossomed out at the hips like a graceful bell held aloft by a layer of tulle petticoats. She'd found her grandmother's pearl necklace, with the black satin ribbon, in the bottom of her music box, and tied it around her neck. Oliver had chosen a deep blue silk smoking jacket over a black shirt and black wool pants. He presented Schuyler with a breathtaking rose corsage.
"Where did you get it?" Schuyler asked as he slipped it around her wrist.
"You can have anything delivered in New York." Oliver grinned. He handed her a boutonniere, and she pinned it on his lapel.
"How do we look?"
"Perfect," he said, offering her his arm.
When they arrived at the American Society mansion, a host of sleek black town cars were dropping off students paired off in dates. The girls were in chic black cocktail dresses and pearls, the guys in blue blazers and wool trousers. No one had corsages. Instead, the girls were carrying long-stemmed calla lilies, which they carelessly tossed aside when they entered the room.
"I guess we didn't get the memo," Schuyler quipped.
They headed upstairs, trying to blend in. Several girls whispered when they saw Schuyler in her dress. "It's got to be from Marc Jacobs," someone whispered. "More like a costume shop," her friend sniffed. Schuyler turned crimson from embarrassment.
They found Dylan on the second landing by the cornucopia display. He was wearing a camel-hair sportscoat over a sharp black dress shirt and well-cut wool trousers. Bliss Llewellyn, the pretty redhead from Texas, was sitting on his lap. She was wearing a slim Costume National black sheath dress, Prada slingbacks, and the ubiquitous string of pearls around her swanlike neck.
"Hey guys," Dylan said, when he saw his friends. He shook hands with Oliver and pecked Schuyler on the cheek. "Y'all know Bliss, right?"
They nodded. Since when did Dylan say "Y'all"? He must really be into this girl.
"You clean up nice," Schuyler teased, brushing a piece of lint off Dylan's jacket.
"Is that Hugo Boss?" Oliver mocked, pretending to inspect the material.
"Yes, and don't get it dirty," Dylan shot back, chagrined but grinning nonetheless.
Bliss smiled happily at them. She winked at Schuyler. "Cool dress," she said, and it sounded like she actually meant it.
"So - have you checked out the place? Some good eats upstairs," Dylan said.
"No - but we will," Oliver promised. They left the couple and wormed their way through the crowd upstairs to the buffet.
The rooms had been decorated with white Christmas lights, and in the back, there was an elegant display of hot and cold roast meats, silver plates laden with exquisite hors d'oeuvres and French pastries. In the middle room, a sweaty mix of patrician girls and rich boys were gyrating to the beat of a hard rap song. The lights were off, and Schuyler could only make out the shadows of their faces. She could see that all the boys from Duchesne were carrying little silver Tiffany hip flasks that stuck out of their side pants pockets. Occasionally, they would surreptitiously take a swig or pour a bit of alcohol in their date's cups. Even Oliver had brought his monogrammed one. There were several teachers milling about, but no one seemed to notice, or care about the covert tippling.
"Want a sip?"
"Sure," Schuyler said, taking the flask from his hand. The liquor was warm and hit the back of her throat. Her head buzzed for a minute, and she took a couple more gulps.
"Easy there! That's 181 proof," Oliver warned. "You're going to get wasted," he said gleefully.
But Schuyler felt just as sober as before, although she smiled and pretended to feel its effects.
They stood tentatively at the edge of the party, nursing their silver cups of organic fruit punch, trying to pretend that it didn't bother either of them that no one had called them over or waved hello or made any indication at all that they were welcome at the event. Schuyler looked around at the cozy groups forming around cocktail tables, smoking on the balcony, or posing for pictures in front of the piano, and realized that, even though she'd known most of these people for almost all of her life, she didn't belong anywhere. It was amazing how even Dylan had managed to find a place for himself, with a popular girlfriend no less, while she and Oliver were just left with each other once again.
"Wanna dance?" Oliver asked, cocking a thumb to the dark room.
She shook her head. "Nah."
"Wanna go instead?" Oliver asked, having come to the same conclusion. "We could go back to The Bank - I bet they're playing better music."
Schuyler was torn. On the one hand, she and Oliver had every right to be there - they were Duchesne students, too - but on the other hand, maybe it was best if they just crept away silently; and maybe with luck no one would even notice they had been there at all.
Oliver's mouth twisted in a strained smile. "This is my fault."
"No - not at all. I wanted to be here," Schuyler protested. "But you're right, we should probably go."
They walked down the grand red-carpeted staircase, where Jack Force was standing on the last step, talking to Kitty Muffins. Schuyler held her breath and walked toward the front door without looking at him. She clutched Oliver's arm tightly.
"Leaving so soon?" Jack called.
She turned around. Kitty Mullins was gone, and Jack was leaning against the banister all by himself. He was wearing a custom French cuffed white shirt, with the front tucked in but the shirttails characteristically hanging out, with crisp khaki pants and a carelessly unbuttoned navy blazer. His tie was askew and he looked nothing less than drop-dead gorgeous. He fiddled with the cuff link on his right wrist.
"We were just about to." She shrugged, smiling in spite of herself.
"Why don't you stay?" Jack asked, smiling back and looking straight into her eyes. "You might have fun."
For a moment, Schuyler forgot Oliver was standing next to her, so when he spoke, she was startled. Oliver looked down at her, his face deliberately blank. "I think I'm going to get another drink. Want to join me?"
Schuyler didn't answer, and for an interminable moment, the three of them stood in an awkward triangle. "I, ah, I'm not thirsty, so I'll catch you later, Ollie. All right?" she pleaded.
Oliver frowned, but he didn't protest, and walked quickly back up the stairs.
Schuyler crossed her arms. What was it about Jack Force? All week after they'd spoken at the funeral, he'd hardly said a word to her, but now he was seeking her out again? Why did she even bother giving him the time of day?
Jack walked up and put an arm around her. "C'mon, let's dance. I think I hear my song."
She allowed herself to be led up the stairs, and this time, heads turned when the crowd spotted the two of them enter the room. Schuyler noted the jealous admiration from the girls, and several guys gave her a respectful glance. She had been invisible just a minute ago, but being in Jack's presence changed all that. He drew her closer, and she swayed to the music. The room was thrumming to the sexy, hypnotic beat of Muse's "Time Is Running Out." I think I'm drowning, asphyxiated... She slithered her body next to his, feeling beads of sweat and perspiration on his shirt that the heat between the two of them was generating.
Her parents were on their way out. Mimi stood in her bedroom and listened to the sound of her mother's heels on the marble floor, followed by her father's heavier footsteps. "Hi, baby," Trinity called, knocking on her daughter's door. "Daddy and I are leaving."
"Come in," Mimi said. She put her chandelier earrings on and scrutinized her image in the mirror.
Trinity opened the door and stepped inside the room. She was wearing a floor-length gown - Valentino, Mimi thought - and carrying a lush sable wrap around her shoulders. She cut an elegant, glamorous figure, her long blond hair curling around her collarbone. Her mother was often photographed for society columns and fashion magazines.
Her parents were going to some charity ball. They were always out. Mimi couldn't remember the last time either of her parents were home for dinner. Sometimes whole weeks would go by before she would see them. Her mother spent her days in the hair salon, the gym, her therapist's office, or Madison Avenue boutiques; and her father was always at the office, working.
"Don't stay out too late," Trinity admonished, kissing her daughter on the cheek. "You look lovely, by the way. Is that the dress I bought you?"
"A little much with the earrings, though, don't you think?" her mother suggested.
Mimi felt stung. She hated being criticized. "I think they look fine, Mother."
Mimi noticed her father standing by the doorway, looking impatient. He was talking heatedly on his cell phone. Lately, her father seemed more distracted than usual. Something was bothering him, he was preoccupied and forgetful. The other day she'd arrived home hours after curfew, but her father, who had caught her sneaking in through the kitchen as he was refilling his brandy snifter, didn't say a word.
"Where's Jack?" her mother asked, looking around as if Jack could be hiding under the vanity table.
"Already there," Mimi explained. "My date's running late."
"Well, have fun," Trinity said, patting Mimi's cheek. "Don't get into too much trouble."
"Good night," Charles added, closing the door to her bedroom.
Mimi looked at herself in the mirror again. For some reason, every time her parents bid her good-bye for the evening, she felt bereft. Abandoned. She never got used to it. She removed the chandelier earrings. Her mother was right, they were too much for the dress.
Not long after her parents left, the Italian arrived. He was a distinctly changed man since the day they'd met at Barneys. His cocky demeanor was gone, as was the predatory smile. She'd sucked that out of him. It was Mimi who was in control. She'd almost had her fill of him - he was so easy. No one was a match for her.
"I'll drive," she said, taking the keys from his pocket. He didn't protest.
It was only a short distance to the American Society, but Mimi ran a few red lights on the way anyway, causing an ambulance to swerve to the side to avoid an accident.
She pulled up to the awning, where the doorman was waiting. They disembarked from the car, and Mimi threw the keys to the valet. The Italian followed her like a puppy. They walked into the mansion together.
Mimi looked devastating in a midnight satin Peter Som dress, with her hair in a high chignon, a triple strand of heirloom South Sea pearls as her only accessory. She tugged on her date's arm and steered him up the stairs. There, she confronted the sight of her best friend, Bliss Llewellyn, in a passionate lip lock with that loser wastoid, Dylan Ward.
"Hell000." Mimi's voice was icy in the extreme. When did this happen? Mimi didn't like being kept out of the loop.
Bliss disengaged from Dylan's tongue. She blushed when she saw Mimi. Bliss's lipstick was smudged and her hair was askew. Dylan smirked at Mimi.
"Bliss. The bathroom. Now."
Bliss gave Dylan an apologetic look, but she followed Mimi to the ladies' room without question.
Mimi checked the stalls and shooed the maid outside the lavatory. When she was satisfied there was no one inside, she turned to Bliss.
"What the hell is going on with you? You're with that guy?" Mimi demanded. "You could be with any guy you want."
"I like him," Bliss said defiantly. "He's cool."
"Cool," Mimi drew out the word so it had ten syllables. Cooooooollll.
"What's your problem?" Bliss asked defiantly.
"Problem? I don't have a problem. Who said I had a problem?" Mimi asked, looking around as if surprised to see no one there.
"Is it the Connecticut thing?" Bliss asked. "Because he had nothing to do with it."
"What are you talking about?" Mimi asked.
"I don't know, I heard there was some accident with some girl in Greenwich, and he was involved." Bliss said. "But anyway, it's not true."
Mimi shrugged. It was the first time she'd heard about it, but it didn't surprise her. "I just don't know why you're wasting your time with him."
"Why do you hate him so much?"
Mimi was taken aback. It was true - she reacted to Dylan with an outsize revulsion. Why did she hate him? She wasn't sure, but she recognized the gut feeling, and her gut was never wrong. There was something she didn't like about that guy, but she couldn't put a finger on it.
"What's up with your boyfriend, by the way? He's like a zombie," Bliss said, pointing to the corner. The Italian heir had followed them inside the ladies' room and was currently drooling on the doorway column. All of Mimi's guys seemed to be like that - brain dead.
"I'll deal with him later."
"I'm going to go back to my date," Bliss said pointedly.
"Fine. But you better be there on Monday for The Committee meeting."
Bliss had almost forgotten. She wasn't even sure she wanted to join some snotty social committee, but she had to appease Mimi somehow. "Sure."
Mimi watched her friend leave. What a waste. It bothered her that Bliss was exerting her independence. There was nothing Mimi disliked more than rebellion in a subordinate. She walked out of the bathroom, tugging on her date's tie to move him forward. And that's when she saw the second image that scorched her brain.
Her brother Jack, on the dance floor, with that Van Alen girl in his arms. Now Mimi really felt like vomiting.
When Schuyler was with Jack, it was like time and space stopped. She didn't even feel like she was in a room full of crowded, sweaty teenagers. They moved with the same rhythm, their bodies perfectly in tune with each other. Jack expertly kept her body close to his, leaning down to breathe lightly on her neck. It was strange how she could see him so clearly in the dark, when everyone else was a shadowy blur. She closed her eyes, and for a moment, saw the two of them - dressed differently. They were in the same ballroom at the mansion, except it was a hundred years earlier - and she was dressed in a long evening dress with a tight corset bodice and silk petticoats, and he was handsome and debonair in a white tuxedo with tails. The music ceased to be the sexy enchantment of the Muse song and became a gentle waltz.
It was like a dream, but it wasn't.
"What's happening?" she asked, looking at him as he twirled her around.
Around them, the ballroom was filled with light and soft music. The tinkling of champagne glasses, the gentle fluttering from the ladies' fans.
But Jack only smiled.
They continued to dance, and Schuyler found that she knew the intricate steps. At the end of the song, they clapped politely.
Schuyler looked around, and suddenly she was back in the present again, wearing her fifties prom dress, Jack in his blue blazer and red tie. She blinked. Had she imagined it? Was it real? She was confused and disoriented.
"Let's take a break," he said, as he took her hand and steered her off the dance floor. They walked out to the balcony. Jack lit a cigarette. "Want one?"
Schuyler shook her head.
"Did it happen to you too?" she asked.
Jack nodded. He took a puff and exhaled.
They looked out at Park Avenue. Next to Riverside Drive, Schuyler thought it was one of the most beautiful streets in the world. Park Avenue, with its regal array of prewar apartment buildings, fleets of yellow cabs streaming up and down along the median. New York was a magical place.
"What was it?"
But before Jack could reply, there was a scream from inside the mansion. They looked at each other, thinking the same thing. Aggie's death. Was there another? They ran back into the hall.
"It's fine," Mimi Force was saying. "He just passed out. God, get a grip, Kitty." Mimi's Italian date was splayed out on the landing, completely passed out, his face drained of all color. "Jack, a hand?" she snapped, seeing her brother in the doorway.
Jack hurried to his sister's side and helped lug the Italian to a sitting position.
Schuyler could see Jack saying something angrily to Mimi, and she overheard bits of his harangue, "stepped over the line ... You could have killed him ... Remember what the Wardens said..."
She stood there, not knowing what to do, when Bliss and Dylan appeared. Dylan took one look at the compromising tableau. "Let me guess, he was with Mimi Force?"
Schuyler nodded. "I think it's time we blow this joint."
"I couldn't agree more," Bliss replied.
Schuyler gave Jack one last look. He was still arguing with his sister. He didn't even notice that she was leaving.
Catherine Carver's Diary
20th of December, 1620
The men have been gone for days now, and still there is no word. We are frightened. They should have arrived there and returned by now, with news of the colony. But all is silent. The children keep me company and we make time pass by reading aloud from the books I was able to bring over. If only we could leave this ship - it is always wet and terribly crowded, but the structures are not yet ready. The men are allowed to camp ashore, but we must remain here in this dark place.
I am afraid, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that I will know if John and the rest of the company are lost. So far, I have not felt nor seen anything in my visions. There is doubt among the colony as to whether we have truly escaped. Rumors are spreading that on of them is here, hidden among us - there is much whispering and suspicion. The Billington boy has been missing, they said. Disappeared. Taken. But someone remembers that he could have gone with the Roanoke party, so no one is worried for now. We watch, and wait, holding our breath.
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