It was maddening how your best friend could twist the knobs inside of you so much that it hurt. Oliver had known just where to stab his little barbs. Pod Person indeed! What about him, with his Vespa and his one-hundred-dollar haircuts? And his yearly birthday parties on board his family's two-hundred-foot yacht? Wasn't that just another stab at the popularity that eluded him?
Ever since The Committee meeting and the tea with Cordelia, Schuyler felt uprooted, unmoored, on unsteady ground. There was so much her grandmother had confirmed about their past - and so much she had still left out. Why was her mother in a coma? What had happened to her father? Schuyler felt more lost than ever, especially since Oliver had stopped speaking to her. They had never argued about anything before - they used to joke that they were just two halves of the same person. They liked all of the same things (5 ��Cent, sci-fi movies, pastrami sandwiches slathered with mustard) and disliked all of the same things (Eminem, pretentious Academy Award fodder, self-righteous vegetarians). But now that Schuyler had moved Jack from the ?Not? to the ?Hot? column, without campaigning for Oliver's approval, he had cut her off.
The rest of the week passed by without incident, Cordelia left for her annual fall sojourn on The Vineyard, Oliver continued to refuse to even acknowledge her existence, and she hadn't had a chance to talk to Jack again. But for once, she was too busy with real-world concerns - passing biology, getting her homework done, turning in her English essays - to deal with either of them.
Her jaw hurt whenever she extended and retracted her fangs, and she was relieved to find she didn't feel that deep-set hunger yet. She learned from her grandmother that the Caerimonia Osculor, the Sacred Kiss, was a very special ceremony, and most Blue Bloods waited until the age of consent (eighteen) to perform it; although incidents of pre-term sucking were rising with every generation - some vampires were even as young as fourteen or fifteen when they took their first human familiar. Taking a Red Blood without his or her consent was also against The Code.
On a whim, she decided to visit her mother at the hospital that Friday afternoon after school, since Oliver hadn't invited her to come over and hang out at his place as usual. Besides, she had a plan, and she didn't want to wait until Sunday to try it out. Instead of reading from the newspaper like she did every week, she was going to ask her mother some questions instead. Even if her mother couldn't answer her, Schuyler would feel better just getting them off her chest.
The hospital was quieter on a weekday afternoon. There weren't as many visitors in the lobby, and there was a desolate, abandoned feeling to the building. Life was lived elsewhere; even the nurses looked anxious to take off for the weekend.
Schuyler looked through the glass again before stepping inside her mother's room. Just as before, there, by the foot of the bed, was the same gray-haired man. He was saying something to her mother. Schuyler pressed her ear against the door.
"Forgive me ... forgive me ... wake up, please, let me help you..."
Schuyler watched and listened. She knew who it was. It had to be him. Schuyler felt her heart beat in excitement.
The man kept talking. "You have punished me long enough, you have punished yourself long enough. Return to me. I beg."
Her mother's nurse appeared at her elbow. "Hi, Schuyler, what are you doing? Why don't you go inside?" she asked.
"Don't you see him?" Schuyler whispered, indicating the glass.
"See who?" The nurse asked, puzzled. "I don't see anybody."
Schuyler pressed her lips together. So only she could see the stranger. It was as she thought, and she felt a flutter of anticipation. "You don't?"
The nurse shook her head and looked at Schuyler as if there were something slightly wrong with her.
"Yeah, it's just a trick of the light," Schuyler said. "I thought I saw something..."
The nurse nodded and walked away.
Schuyler entered the room. The mysterious visitor had disappeared, but Schuyler noticed that the chair was still warm. She looked around the room and began to call out softly, the first time she had done so since she had spotted the crying stranger.
"Dad?" Schuyler whispered, walking into the next room, a fully furnished living room suite for guests, and looked around. "Dad? Is that you? Are you there?"
There was no answer, and the man did not reappear. Schuyler sat down on the chair he had vacated.
"I want to know about my father," Schuyler said to the silent woman in the bed. "Stephen Chase. Who was he? What did he do to you? What happened? Is he still alive? Does he come visit you? Was he here, just now?" She raised her voice, so that if the visitor was still within earshot, he would hear her. So that her father would know that she knew it was him. She wished he would stay and talk to her.
Cordelia had always given her the impression that her father had done some grievous harm to her mother. That he had never loved her - a fact that she could not reconcile with the image of the sobbing man by her mother's bed.
"Mom, I need your help," Schuyler pleaded. "Cordelia says you can get up anytime you want, but you won't. "Wake up, Mom. Wake up for me.
But the woman on the bed didn't move. There was no reply.
"Stephen Chase. Your husband. He died when I was born. Or so Cordelia tells me. Is that true? Is my father dead? Mother? Please. I need to know."
Not even a toe wiggle. Not even a sigh.
Schuyler gave up her questions and picked up the newspaper again. She continued to read the wedding announcements, feeling oddly comforted by the litany of marital unions and their homogeneity. When she had read every single one, she stood up and kissed her mother on the cheek.
Allegra's skin was cold and waxy to the touch.
Like touching death.
Schuyler left, more disheartened than ever.
That evening, when Schuyler returned home, she received an interesting phone call from Linda Farnsworth.
Stitched for Civilization was the hottest jeans company in the city (and de facto the world) at the moment. Their splashy billboards were all over Times Square, and their three-hundred-dollar signature "Social Lies" cut - super-low-rise, butt-lifting, thigh-shaping, whiskered, stained, bleached, torn, and extra-long - were the cult object of obsession among the jeanerati. And apparently, the designer had flipped for Schuyler's moody Polaroid.
"You are the new face of Civilization!" Linda Farnsworth gushed on Schuyler's cell phone. "They must have you! Don't make me beg!"
"Okay, I guess." Schuyler said, still feeling a bit dazed by Linda's exuberance.
Since Schuyler couldn't come up with a legitimate reason to deny the fashion gods (who was she to say no to Civilization?), the next morning she journeyed downtown for the scheduled photo shoot. The photo studio in far west Chelsea was housed in a mammoth block-long building that had formerly been a printing factory. The service elevator was manned by a bleary-eyed gentleman in a utility suit, who had to manually operate the lift to take Schuyler to the proper floor.
She walked down a maze of hallways, noting the many designer names and Web site addresses that looked familiar on the nameplates of the closed doors.
The photo studio was in the northeast corner. The door was propped open and loud, electronic music was blasting from the inside.
She walked inside, not quite sure what to expect. The studio was a large, open space, an all-white box with shiny white polyurethaned floors and floor-to-ceiling windows. A white ?seamless? background was carved into one wall, and a tripod was set up across from it. Yawning interns were wheeling in clothing racks so that a dreadlocked stylist could examine the garments.
"Schuyler!" A scrawny man with a five o'clock shadow, wearing a shrunken T-shirt and baggy jeans, approached her holding a hand out enthusiastically. He was smoking and wearing Ray Ban aviator sunglasses.
"Hey," Schuyler said.
"Jonas Jones, remember me?" he asked, lifting his sunglasses and grinning.
"Oh ... of course!" Schuyler said, a little intimidated. Jonas Jones was one of Duchesne's most notorious alums. He had graduated a few years ago. He had made a big splash in the art world with his shredded paintings. He had also done a movie, Lumberjack Quadrille, that had placed at Sundance, and his latest career turn was as a fashion photographer.
"Thanks so much for doing this," he said. "I'm sorry it's so last minute. But that's the biz." He introduced Civilization's designer, a former fit model with rock-hard abs and protruding pelvic bones.
"I'm Anka," she said cheerfully. "Sorry to get you up so early on a Saturday. But it's going to be a long day. It'll be okay, though. We have tons of doughnuts." She motioned to the buffet table laden with green-and-white Krispy Kreme boxes.
Schuyler liked her already.
"All right. Let's get you in hair and makeup," Jonas declared, pointing Schuyler toward a corner where a dressing-room mirror framed with two rows of incandescent bulbs was set up in front of two canvas-backed high chairs.
Bliss Llewellyn was sitting in one of the chairs. Linda had failed to mention that there were two faces of Civilization that year. The tall girl was already made up. Her hair had been teased into a large bouffant, and her lips were painted cherry red. She was wearing a fluffy white robe and chatting on her cell phone. Bliss gaily waved a manicured hand in Schuyler's direction.
Schuyler waved back. She hauled herself into the chair, and a British makeup artist who introduced herself as Perfection Smith began to assess the condition of her skin. At the same time, a dour hairstylist grabbed chunks of her hair to examine it, clucking his tongue in disapproval.
"Late night?" Perfection inquired, holding up Schuyler's chin to the light. "You're very dry, luv," she said in a nasal cockney accent.
"I guess," Schuyler said. She hadn't been sleeping much since The Committee meeting. It spooked her to think that while she slept, her own blood was waking up, seeping into her consciousness, and all the memories and voices of her past lives were clamoring for control of her brain. Even though Jack had explained it didn't work that way - the memories were your memories, so they were part of you, and there was nothing to be scared about - Schuyler wasn't so sure.
She closed her eyes as her face was rubbed, pinched, prodded, buffed, powdered, and slathered; and her hair was pulled, brushed, and blow-dried, almost singeing her roots.
"Ow!" she yelped, as the hair dryer came dangerously close to burning her scalp. But the grumpy hair stylist didn't even apologize.
She was also having trouble following all the directions Perfection was barking at her. Schuyler had never realized getting her makeup done would be this hard. She had to do so many things, sometimes at the same time, so that the makeup artist could do her job correctly. Perfection was like a drill sergeant. "Open. Wider. Look to the side. Look to the other side. Look at my knee. Look at the ceiling. Close your mouth. Rub your lips together. Look at me. Look at my knee."
Schuyler was exhausted by the time her transformation was finished.
"Are you ready?" Perfection asked. She wheeled the chair around so Schuyler could finally see herself in the mirror.
Schuyler couldn't believe what she saw. It was the face of her mother staring back at her. The face that smiled serenely from the wedding photos Schuyler kept underneath her bed. She was as gorgeous as a goddess.
"Oh," Schuyler said, her eyes wide. Until now, she had never known she looked like her mother.
God, she was really pretty, Bliss thought. Pretty wasn't even the word - that would be like calling Audrey Hepburn good-looking. Schuyler was transcendent. Why hadn't she ever noticed that before? Bliss wondered. She was talking to Dylan on her cell - telling him about the house party she was hosting later that night - her mom was going to D.C. to visit her dad, and Jordan was going to sleepover at a friend's. She was telling him what time to arrive when she noticed Schuyler's transformation.
Schuyler looked every inch a model. Her lips were full and glossy. They had blown out her black-blue hair so that it hung, straight and perfect as an ebony curtain, down her smooth back. The stylist had put her in a pair of tight Stitched for Civilization jeans; and underneath all those hobo layers, Bliss noticed that Schuyler had a great little figure, slim and waifish. Bliss suddenly felt like a horse next to her.
"Talk to you later, they're calling us on set," she told Dylan, folding up her phone.
"God, you look so great," Bliss whispered, when they were lined up next to each other against the white backdrop.
"Thanks," Schuyler said. "I feel so silly." She had never worn so little clothing in public before, and was trying not to feel too self-conscious about it. They were both wearing the jeans, and the jeans only - their backs were to the camera, and they were both covering their chests with folded arms, even though the stylist had pasted nude-colored Band-Aids on their breasts to cover their nipples. She had agreed to model mostly out of curiosity, a social experiment she could analyze later, but she had to admit, it was also pretty fun.
It was cold in the studio, and Jonas was yelling instructions to everyone over the Black Eyed Peas blasting from the overhead speakers. There was a frenzied atmosphere of jittery assistants and lighting technicians jumping at the photographer's every word. Bliss and Schuyler were attacked with hair spray canisters whenever there was a break. A deadpan seriousness prevailed as Jonas and Anka heatedly discussed issues such as whether their hair should be blowing in the wind or not (sexy or clich��d?), or if the jeans looked better from the front or the side.
The girls posed and pouted, trying not to blink at the flash of the camera. Suddenly feeling inspired, Bliss pulled Schuyler closer for a tight embrace.
"Twisted," Jonas smirked from behind the lens.
During their lunch break, they put their robes back on and huddled with the crew around the buffet table, piling their plates with vegetables and seared tuna. (Rare, thank God, Bliss thought.)
"Smoke?" Jonas asked, taking a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his back pocket. "C'mon girls, join me."
They put down their plates and followed him and Anka out to the balcony.
"So, you both go to Duchesne?" Anka asked, taking out a long menthol cigarette and breathing in as Jonas lit it with his Zippo.
"Uh-huh," Bliss nodded, accepting a somewhat squashed Camel from Jonas.
Schuyler shook her head. Cigarettes made her ill. She was just out there for the company and the view. The balcony overlooked the abandoned railway flats next to the river. A barge was slowly making its way across the water. Schuyler looked out happily. She would never get tired of looking at the city.
"I went to Kent," Anka volunteered. "I met Jonas at RISD."
Jonas nodded. "We've been collaborating ever since." He blew out a smoke ring. "We're so glad we found you girls. We really wanted our kind to be the face of the campaign."
"Our kind?" Schuyler asked.
Anka laughed, and flashed her fangs at them.
"You're Blue Bloods!" Bliss gasped.
"Of course." Jonas nodded, amused. "Most people in fashion are. Haven't you noticed?"
"How can you tell?"
"You just know - in the shape of the eyes and a certain overall bone structure," Jonas explained. "Plus, we're also really, really picky. Just look at Brannon Frost, the editor-in-chief of Chic. Hello."
"She's a vampire?" Bliss goggled. But then, it made so much sense - the frail figure, the dark oversized sunglasses, the pale skin, the rigorous dedication to perfection.
"Who else?" Schuyler asked.
Jonas rattled off several more names: a popular ?bad-boy? designer who had recently revitalized the goth-grunge look, a model who was the current face of a lingerie company, an acclaimed makeup artist who popularized blue nail polish. "There are tons," he said, tossing his cigarette off the balcony.
They changed the subject when several people from the crew came out to join them, and Jonas started to tell a series of raunchy jokes that only Perfection could match in grossness. Schuyler laughed with all the rest, feeling like she and Bliss were part of an ad hoc, slightly deranged family.
"Why isn't Mimi here?" Schuyler asked suddenly. It didn't make sense that she would have this experience while Mimi, who thrived on this kind of attention, had been left out.
Bliss suddenly laughed. She'd completely forgotten about Mimi. Mimi would die when she heard that Bliss and Schuyler had been chosen for the Stitched for Civilization campaign and not her!
"Yeah, where is Mimi?" Bliss asked.
Jonas scratched his head. Schuyler noticed the faded blue marks on his arms. "Mimi Force? We considered her for like, a second. Remember, Ank? What happened with her?"
"Linda told me her day rate," Anka said. "Apparently when she signed up, she told Linda she wouldn't get out of bed for less than ten thousand dollars a day. Sorry, girls, but without any experience, that's just not realistic. I didn't even make an offer. Besides, we wanted you two."
"I guess sleep is just too important to her." Bliss smirked. "She doesn't know what she's missing." Bliss gave Schuyler one of her rare, genuine smiles.
"Right." Schuyler nodded.
Schuyler smiled back. She was starting to like Bliss Llewellyn even more.
They went back to the shoot, draping themselves over each other, and when Jonas shouted, "Fire! Fire! Give me fire!" they practically burned the lens.
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