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Chapter 17~18


Eversince Schuyler could remember, she had spent every Sunday at the hospital. When she was younger, she and her grandmother would take a cab all the way to the uppermost reaches of Manhattan. Schuyler was such a familiar face, the guards never even gave her a visitor's badge anymore but simply waved her through. Now that she was older, Cordelia rarely joined her on the weekly visits, and Schuyler made the trip solo.

She walked past the emergency room, through the glassed-in lobby, and past the giftshop selling balloons and flowers. She bought a newspaper from the stand and walked to the back elevator. Her mother was on the top floor, in a private room that was outfitted like a suite in one of the city's best hotels.

Unlike most people, Schuyler did not find hospitals depressing. She had spent too much of her childhood there, zooming up and down the hallways in a borrowed wheelchair, playing games of hide and seek with the nurses and orderlies. She ate every Sunday brunch in the basement cafeteria, where the servers would pile her plate high with bacon, eggs, and waffles.

She passed her mother's regular nurse in the hallway.

"It's a good day," the nurse informed her, smiling.

"Oh. Great." Schuyler smiled back. Her mother had been in a coma for most of Schuyler's life. A few months after giving birth to her, Allegra had suffered an aneurysm and gone into shock. Most days, she lay placidly on the bed, not moving, barely breathing.

But on ?good? days, something happened - a flutter underneath the closed eyelids, the movement of her big toe, a twitch in her cheek. Once in a while, her mother sighed for no reason. They were small, infinitesimal signs of a vibrant woman trapped in the cocoon of a living death.

Schuyler remembered the doctor's final prognosis, made almost ten years ago. "All of her organs are functioning. She is perfectly healthy, except for one thing. Somehow, her mind is closed to her body. She has normal sleep and wake patterns, and she is not brain dead by any means. The neurons are firing. But she remains unconscious. It is a mystery." Surprisingly, the doctors were still convinced there was a chance she could wake up given the right circumstances. "Sometimes, it's a song. Or a voice from the past. Something triggers them, and they wake up. Really, she could wake up at any time."

Certainly, Cordelia believed it was true and encouraged Schuyler to read to Allegra so that her mother would know her voice and perhaps respond to it.

Schuyler said thank you to the nurse and peeked through the small glass window cut in the door so that the nurses could check in on their patients without having to disturb them.

There was a man inside the room.

She kept her hand on the knob, without turning it. She looked through the glass again.

The man was gone.

Schuyler blinked. She swore she had seen a man. A gray-haired man, in a dark suit, kneeling by her mother's bedside, holding her hand, his back turned to the door. His shoulders had been shaking and it looked like he was crying.

But when she looked through the glass again, there was nothing.

This was the second time now. Schuyler wasn't as much troubled as curious. The first time she'd glimpsed him was several months ago, when she'd left the room for a moment to fetch a glass of water. When she'd returned to the room, she was startled to see someone there. Out of the corner of her eye, she'd seen a man standing by the curtains, looking out the window at the Hudson River below. But the moment she had entered, he had disappeared. She hadn't seen his face - just his back and his neat gray hair.

At first, she had been frightened of him, wondering if he was a ghost, or a trick of the light and her imagination. But she had a feeling she knew who the nameless, faceless visitor could be.

She pushed open the door slowly and walked inside the room. She put the thick layers of the Sunday newspaper by the rolling table next to the television.

Her mother was lying on the bed, her hands folded at her stomach. Her fair, blond hair, long and lustrous, was fanned out on the pillow. She was the most beautiful woman Schuyler had ever seen. She had a face like a Renaissance Madonna - serene and peaceful.

Schuyler walked to the chair next to the foot of the bed. She looked around the room again. She peered into the bathroom her mother never used. She pulled back the curtains in front of the window, half expecting to find someone hiding there. Nothing.

Disappointed, Schuyler resumed her spot by the bed.

She opened the Sunday paper. What would she read today? War? Oil crisis? Shootings in the Bronx? An article in the magazine about new, experimental Spanish cuisine? Schuyler decided on the ?Styles? section - the "Weddings and Celebrations." Her mother seemed to enjoy those. Sometimes, when Schuyler read her a particularly interesting ?Vows? column, her toes wriggled.

Schuyler began to read. "Courtney Wallach married Hamilton Fisher Stevens at the Pierre this afternoon. The bride, thirty-one, a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Business School ..." She looked hopefully at her mother. There was no movement from the bed.

Schuyler tried another. "Marjorie Fieldcrest Goldman married Nathan McBride in a ceremony at the Tribeca Rooftop yesterday evening. The bride, twenty-eight, an associate editor at ..."

Still nothing.

Schuyler searched the announcements. She could never predict what her mother would like. At first, she thought it was news from people they knew, the marriages of heirs and heiresses to old New York families. But just as often, her mother sighed upon hearing a moving story of two computer programmers who had met at a bar in Queens.

Her thoughts drifted back to the mysterious visitor. She looked around the room again, and noticed something. There were flowers by the table. A bouquet of white lilies in a crystal vase. Not the cheap carnations they sold downstairs. This was an exquisite arrangement of tall, glorious blossoms. Their intoxicating smell filled the room. It was funny how she hadn't seen them as soon as she walked in. Who would bring flowers to a comatose woman who wouldn't be able to see them? Who had been there? And where had he gone? More important, where had he come from?

Schuyler wondered if she should mention it to her grandmother. She had kept the stranger's visits a secret, worried that Cordelia would do something to keep the stranger away somehow. She didn't think Cordelia would approve of a strange man visiting her daughter.

She turned the page. "Kathryn Elizabeth DeMenil to Nicholas James Hope the Third." She glanced at her mother's placid face. Nothing. Not even a wrinkle on her cheek. A ghost of a smile.

Schuyler took her mother's cold hand in hers and stroked it. Suddenly, tears rolled silently down her cheeks. It had been a long time since the sight of her mother moved her to tears. But now Schuyler wept openly. The man she'd seen through the glass had been crying as well. The quiet room was filled with a deep piercing grief, and Schuyler wept without abandon for all that she had lost.


Monday at school, Oliver gave Schuyler the cold shoulder. He sat next to Dylan in the cafeteria and didn't save Schuyler a seat. She waved to the two of them, but only Dylan waved back. Schuyler ate her sandwich in the library - but the bread tasted stale in her mouth, dry and mealy, and she quickly lost her appetite. It didn't help that even after dancing together on Saturday night, Jack Force was back to acting like nothing ever happened. He sat with his friends, hung out with his sister, and basically acted like his old self. The one who didn't know her, and it hurt.

When school let out, she saw Oliver by the lockers laughing at something Dylan was saying. Dylan gave her a sympathetic glance. "Catch you later, man," Dylan said, patting Oliver on the back. "Later, Sky."

"Bye, Dylan," she said. The three of them - she, Bliss, and Dylan, had gone to get slices at Sofia Fabulous Pizza after the dance. They had looked for Oliver, but he had already left. He would probably never forgive them for doing something without him. More specifically, he would never forgive her. She knew him well enough to understand she had committed a grave betrayal. She was supposed to have followed Oliver up the stairs, but had danced with Jack Force instead. Now he would punish her by taking away his friendship. A friendship she depended on like the sun.

"Hey, Ollie," she said.

Oliver didn't reply. He continued to put his books in his messenger bag without looking at her.

"Ollie, c'mon," she pleaded.

"What?" He shrugged as if he just realized she was standing there.

"What do you mean 'what'? You know what," she said, eyes flashing. Part of her was infuriated with his poor-me act all the time. Like she wasn't even allowed to have any other friends? What kind of friend was that? "You didn't call me all weekend. I thought we were going to go see that movie."

Oliver frowned. "Were we? I don't remember making plans. But then, you know, some people seem to change their plans without telling you about them."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Nothing." He shrugged.

"Are you mad at me because of Jack Force?" she demanded. "Because that is really, really, tr��s lame."

"Do you like, like him or something?" Oliver asked, a stricken look on his face. "That jock loser?"

"He's not a loser!" Schuyler argued. It amazed her how passionately she suddenly felt about Jack Force.

Oliver scowled. He pushed back his cowlick impatiently. "Fine. If that's how you feel, Pod Person." Invasion of the Body Snatchers was one of their favorite films. In the movie, conformist aliens replaced all the interesting people. Pod People was what they called their automaton-like peers, who fell into lock step with everything around them: Marc Jacobs handbags! Japanese-straightened hair! Jack Force!

Schuyler felt guilty of something she couldn't even understand. Was it so terrible of her to think Jack Force was a nice person? Okay, so he was a BMOC, the biggest - she had to admit - and yes, okay, so she used to curl her lip at all the Jack Force groupies at school who thought he walked on water. It was just so predictable to like Jack Force. He was smart, handsome, and athletic; he did everything effortlessly. But just because she'd decided to stop disliking him didn't make her some kind of brainless robot did it? Did it? It bothered her that she couldn't decide.

"You're just jealous," she accused.

"Of what?" Oliver's eyes widened, and his face paled.

"I don't know, but you are." She flailed, shrugging her shoulders in frustration. It was always a green-eyed monster issue, wasn't it? She assumed that at some level, Oliver wished he were more like Jack. Adored. Like Jack.

"Right," he said sarcastically. "I'm jealous of his ability to chase a ball with a stick," he sneered.

"Ollie, don't be like that. Please? I really want to talk to you about this, but I have a meeting right now - for The Committee and I ..."

"You got into The Committee?" Oliver asked incredulously. "You?" He looked as if he'd never heard anything so ridiculous in his life.

Was it so far-fetched? Schuyler reddened. So maybe she was nobody, but her family used to be somebodies, and wasn't that what the stupid thing was all about?

But even though she hated to admit it - he had a point. She herself had been mystified as to why she would be chosen for such an honor, although there was that satisfied look on her grandmother's face again - when she'd received the thick white envelope the other afternoon. Cordelia had given her the same appraising glance as when the marks on her arms first appeared. As if she were seeing her granddaughter for the first time. As if she were proud of her.

She hadn't even mentioned it to Oliver, since it was obvious he hadn't gotten one, because he would never keep something like that from her. It struck her as odd that he wasn't chosen to be in The Committee, since his family owned half of the Upper East Side and all of Dutchess County.

"Yeah, funny ha-ha, right?" she said.

His face tightened. The scowl came back. He shook his head. "And you didn't tell me?" he said. "I don't even know who you are anymore."

She watched him walk down the hall, away from her. Each step he took seemed to illustrate the huge gulf that now separated the two of them. He was her best friend. The person she trusted more than anyone in the world. How could he hold joining some dumb social group against her? But she knew why he was angry. Up until now, they had done everything together. But she was invited to The Committee and he was not. Their paths had suddenly diverged. Schuyler thought it was all so silly. She would go to one meeting, just because her grandmother wanted her to, and then drop out. There was certainly nothing about The Committee that was of any interest to her at all.


@by txiuqw4

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