Read Doreen Online

Authors: Ilana Manaster

Doreen

Copyright © 2016 by Ilana Manaster

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Library of Congress Control Number: 2016934245

E-book ISBN 978-0-7624-5963-6

Front cover image: Fashion Portrait © Thinkstock/heckmannoleg

Designed by T. L. Bonaddio
Edited by Lisa Cheng
Typography: Baskerville, Times New Roman, Port Vintage, and Sabon

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The one that I made and the one that made me.

The charms of late summer seemed a very humdrum topic for an imagination as wild as Heidi Whelan's, but she nonetheless found herself, on the first day of her last year at Chandler Academy, laid across a leather love seat in the sitting room of her suite, eating pistachios and feeling rather satisfied by the green and blue and pink of things as she peered out onto the as-yet unpopulated quad.

“Isn't campus great when nobody's here?” she called to her roommate Biz Gibbons-Brown. Biz was not visible from Heidi's perch on the couch but could be heard shuffling around in their bedroom. “Before the arrival of all those loathsome people.”

“Speak for yourself,” said Biz, entering the common room wearing the kind of thing that Biz always wore, that is to say, an outfit made of beautiful individual elements—an exquisite white blouse, a perfect navy linen skirt—but thrown together without thought for their overall effect. In this case the blouse was worn open over a T-shirt from last year's pumpkin festival, the skirt was hopelessly wrinkled, and she'd finished the outfit with her beat-up yellow Converse All Stars. “I don't think they're all so very
loathsome
.”

“Oh please,” said Heidi. She swung her thick blonde mane behind her as she sat up on the sofa. “You know better than anyone how empty, shallow, mean-spirited—”

“It's a new year, Heidi. Can't we indulge in a little optimism? At least until classes start? Now, where are my glasses?”

“Over by your desk. New shirt?” Heidi asked with forced nonchalance. It had a subtle white-on-white stripe and looked very expensive, even from across the room. Biz slid on her wire frames and looked down at her top as if seeing it for the first time.

“Oh, this? Yeah. You like it?”

If it were Heidi's, the blouse would be among her most prized possessions, but Biz wore it like flannel pajamas.
No matter
, Heidi thought, relaxing back into the love seat. She had full access to the treasures in Biz's closet. Heidi gazed out at the quad, imagining herself crossing it in that gorgeous top and congratulated herself once again for the good judgment she demonstrated by finding and befriending Elizabeth Gibbons-Brown two years earlier.

“It's lovely. Who makes it?”

“No idea. Mumzy picked it up in Paris, I think. She forced it on me for some party out in the Hamptons.”

“Of course she did.”

Biz didn't really call her mother “Mumzy.” Or she did call her that but only as a way to express her contempt. Gloria Gibbons-Brown was a flitting kind of woman, thin in a way that was only attractive on the young and tall (she was neither). What wasn't brittle on her was bought—dresses made of thick silks, jewels the size of geological events, and a face that had been lifted, folded over, and smoothed by the best surgeons on the planet. She ate nothing and drank much, so evenings at her table often included long, winding stories about salespeople or flight attendants or waiters. Her own role in these anecdotes was always the same: demander of justice, voice of the truth, a superhero for the unbusy and overindulged.

Biz, of course, despised her.

For good reason. Heidi could see Mumzy for what she was: a shallow, unfeeling, insensitive person who seemed to have had children out of a sense of obligation to her bloodline. But Heidi knew, also, that she could learn a lot from Gloria. After all, the woman was the quintessential old-money society maven, comfortable in her position at the top of the food chain, offended by anything common or unrefined. Which is why she'd swept in and replaced every piece of furniture in their dorm room. Instead of standard-issue, Biz and Heidi had mid-century modern chairs, a leather chesterfield sofa, a gorgeous antique rug, a brass-footed onyx coffee table. Curtains had been installed for privacy, and shelves built for books. Heidi had never lived in such sumptuous quarters, and now she could not imagine living any other way.

Only Biz's desk had avoided Mumzy's touch. On that front, Biz was firm. The desk was all hers—evidenced by the stacks of books, the papers, but more than anything, the photographs. The wall behind her desk was loaded with pinned-up photos—her own, as well as the work of others that she found inspiring. She had wires hanging across the ceiling clipped with more photos she changed out in a constant cycle. Images overwhelmed the small space: full-color, black-and-white, landscape, portrait, animals, people, interior spaces, exteriors, abstracts.

Heidi could not look at the collage for long without feeling dizzy. She agreed with Mumzy that the tumult took away from the clean lines of the rest of the room, but secretly she also admired Biz's dedication and talent. It must be nice to produce something tangible with one's gifts.

“This one's new, right? Is it from this summer?” Heidi walked over to a photo clipped to one of the wires. Biz's mother sat at a dressing table. She was turned toward the camera with a sponge in her hand, her mouth open as if she was talking, her expression annoyed. She looked exhausted, like someone who would rather stay home, but the evening gown was in the background, hung on the back of the closet, and the makeup would go on the face. Somehow, she would have to pull it together and find the right pose. It was like a behind-the-scenes photo, but the stage was this woman's entire life.

“What? Oh. Yeah. Not bad, right? Anyway, do you have anything you need to do today? I mean, could you scram for a little while? I need some quiet.”

Biz seemed nervous, shuffling little things around her desk as if trying to tidy up, an activity she did rarely and only when pressed. And now this mysterious request for privacy? Clearly the girl was withholding information.

“Why don't you cut the crap, Biz, and tell me what's going on. Are you having an affair?”

“Don't be ridiculous.”

“You little she-wolf! And I bet I know who it is, too. That teacher! What's his name, from your photography class. Mr.—”

“Mr. Cameron?”

“No doubt! With the late nights poring over nudie shots.”

“You're insane.”

Heidi giggled. Of course, she had been a willing participant in a number of seedy little scenes herself, but the idea of Biz's promiscuity seemed so uncharacteristic, so utterly unacademic that Heidi found herself positively thrilled.

“Elizabeth Gibbons-Brown in love. I, for one, never imagined that the day would come!”

“I'm not in love, Heidi. Can you just drop it?”

“In lust, then. Even better! Even less likely! Oh, Biz, to think that you might make space in that determined little brain of yours for thoughts of the dirty variety, it's just so, I mean, I'm floored. I'm flabbergasted. Of course, I knew that Mr. Carson—”

“Cameron.”

“Oh. Pardonnez-moi! I didn't mean any disrespect. That Mr.
Cameron
was after more than an extra set of hands. Or maybe that was exactly what he was after.”

“Heidi!”

“It's just so delicious! Am I glowing? You certainly are.”

“That's enough! Now look, she's going to be here soon.”

“She!?”
The pitch of Heidi's voice approached a squeal. She felt the impulse to applaud.

Biz collapsed into the tobacco-brown Italian leather club chair. “Listen, it's not what you think. Her name is Doreen. She's my cousin.”

“Your
cousin
?!”

“Don't be gross, okay? For once? Look, do you remember me telling you about Mumzy's brother, Roland?”

Heidi froze.

“Uh, Heidi?”

“Oh, sorry. You were saying? You have an uncle? How interesting!” She pulled at the end of her ponytail and looked out the window. Surely anyone could see the blush in her face! Heidi told herself to calm down, breathe.

“Yes. My mother's brother, Roland Gibbons—he used to be married and have a daughter. Well, I guess he still has a daughter, but I haven't seen her since I was a little kid. Her name's Doreen, and when her mom was married to Uncle Roland she was the only cousin my age. So we were always together. Doreen and Elizabeth. I remember we planted a garden out behind the compound in Amagansett. We spent hours and hours digging holes with our little fingers and weeding. I don't think we got a single sprout to grow that whole summer, though.” Biz laughed. “Of course, Uncle Roland had to go and ruin everything.”

“Oh!” said Heidi, too loud, too eager.
Pull it together, you sow!
“Oh, ha ha. Yes, I remember him now. His wife is foreign, right? Didn't you say he married a European lady? Is that this cousin's mother?” She wound a strand of hair around a finger. Tight.

“What? Why are you talking like that? I can barely understand you. Anyway, that's his second wife, Constantina. They got divorced, too, but their kids are little. Doreen's our age, like I said, and she's transferring to Chandler. She'll be a junior. After the divorce she and her mother moved to the Midwest somewhere. Illinois? I can't remember. I haven't seen her since that summer when we were kids.”

Heidi stood up. She couldn't believe what she'd just been told. “Your uncle Roland has a daughter our age, and she is coming to Chandler Academy.”

“Yes. To our room, actually. Any minute now.”

Heidi whirred to life. “Oh, I wish I'd known, I would have prepared something. Biz, you should have told me. We will have to make this work somehow.” She raced around the common room, fluffing up pillows and tossing pistachio shells into the trash. She picked up shoes from under the sofa and threw them into their bedroom.

“Wait. Heidi, stop! Just cool your jets for a second, will you please? There's something else. Sit down.”

“What? What is it? Come on, out with it. She'll be here any minute, you said.”

“Sit down!”

“Fine! I'm sitting. What is it?”

Biz sighed again. “She was bullied.”

“And why would that be remarkable? She went to public school, right? I know you've never been to one of those, but I can tell you from experience that ‘bullying' is how most American schoolchildren say howdy-do.”

“No. It was bad. Worse than just your regular run-of-the-mill bullying. Okay? Like, her and her mom, they were afraid for her safety. That's why she's coming here. She has the opportunity to have a different kind of experience at Chandler and I want her to feel welcomed.” Biz shot Heidi a reproachful look.

“Wait,” Heidi protested. “Do you mean to imply that I would be somehow
ungracious
?”

“Ugh! Would it be so terrible for you to find somewhere to go, just for an hour or two? Give us an opportunity to get reacquainted? Is there any chance I could get you to do that?”

“Certainly not!”

“Don't you have anything better to do, Heidi? Must you be involved in every mini-drama on campus? Can't you just . . . just do something else with your time? Jesus!”

“Excuse me?” Heidi leaned back in the couch and pursed her lips. For a moment she did not say anything.

“Hey, I didn't mean—”

Heidi held up her hand. Her voice was steady and soft. “I wonder if you have any idea at all what I would do to someone who spoke that way to me, say, in the cafeteria. I wonder if you understand the storm of humiliation I could make rain down on a person's head with a few text messages and a wave of my hand.”

“Let's not overreact, okay? I was only trying to—”

Heidi snapped open a pistachio. Her cheeks burned. “Do you understand how easy it would be for me to take away the things you love here? The library, your classes, even photography. You think that's all guaranteed to you? Why? Because of tuition? Because of your fancy name? Ha!”

“Heidi,” said Biz, “hey, I was only joking, okay? Seriously.” Biz seemed more embarrassed than frightened by Heidi's threats. And as she calmed down, Heidi felt embarrassed, too. She'd overreacted. But Biz had insulted her. She had implied that Heidi was some sort of parasite who lived off other people's lives, and not what she was, which was an artist. Maybe she didn't shove a camera in everybody's face, but Heidi did engage in a kind of art practice—the art of manipulation, of gaining and maintaining power.

“Never mind. Let's forget it, okay?” Biz could have laughed at her theatrics, but she'd left Heidi with her dignity, a class act as always. “I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I am going to sit right here and greet your cousin with the warmth and goodwill expected of a Chandler woman. How does that sound?” She flung her hair over the arm of the sofa.

Biz laughed. “Okay, okay. You win. You do realize that girls like you have probably abused Doreen her whole life.”

“Not possible, my dear. There are no other girls like me.”

“You know what, Heidi? I think you're right about that.”

“You betcha,” Heidi said with a wink.

A knock sounded.

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