Read Doreen Online

Authors: Ilana Manaster

Doreen (4 page)

“Are you asleep?” Biz asked.

“No,” said Heidi. “And apparently neither are you.”

Biz sat up in her bed and flicked on the lamp on the nightstand. “Can I ask you something then?” Without her glasses, Biz looked like a mole person.

“What? Oh, sure. Shoot. What is it?”

“Why are you so interested in Doreen? She's not exactly made of the same stuff as the girls you normally associate with.” Biz clasped her legs over the covers and nuzzled her chin between her knees.

“I can't help but point out that she's your cousin. Which means she's made of precisely the same stuff of someone I normally associate with—you.”

“Yeah, but, I mean . . .”

“What is it?” Heidi could see that Biz was having a hard time getting out whatever it was that she needed to say.

“That's about my brother, right? Isn't that why you became friends with me? I thought it was some sort of revenge thing against Ad-rock.”

“No. Maybe a little, at first. Anyway, I knew you before I knew him.”

“At the campus tour? You were hardly interested in being my friend.”

“You don't know that. Plus, Ad-rock and I are ancient history. If I only wanted to be friends with you to get back at him, I would have cut off ties after he graduated.”

“I guess.”

“Biz, I have to associate with those other girls, the Chandler types. Otherwise I wouldn't . . . it's hard to explain, I just have to. But I don't hang out with you because I have to, I do it because I want to.”

“Why? We have nothing in common.”

Heidi could not understand why Biz was bringing all this up now. “Let me ask you this, why do you hang out with me?”

Biz looked over at Heidi. “I don't know. I guess because you're here.” Heidi laughed. “What? What's so funny?”

“Nothing, nothing. Look, Biz, you're smart and I'm smart. Intelligence makes a person interesting. You are incapable of being manipulated, you are malice-free, and most importantly, you are not boring. Which, I may add, gives you a giant lead over your dimwitted brother, who is about as fascinating as oatmeal. Okay?”

“Yeah. Okay. You're not boring, either,” Biz said. She yawned and lay back on her pillow.

“Stop it. I'm gonna cry.”

“And Doreen? What about her?”

Heidi looked up at the white ceiling. “Doreen is a blank canvas. What could be less boring than that? Anyway, there's something about her I can't quite put my finger on.”

“I know what you mean,” said Biz. “She's always had it. A kind of quality, like she understands what you're thinking and feeling. She's really sensitive, I think. It probably accounts for the bullying.”

“Huh,” said Heidi. “I'm sure you're right.”

“Of course I am. Anyway . . .” Soon enough, Biz was snoring.

Heidi still couldn't sleep. In the common room, she wrapped herself in a cashmere throw and looked out onto the empty quad. She thought about her own first day at Chandler Academy. Heidi had not been so different from Doreen then. She was prettier, better groomed, but she was a transfer student, too. And even though she grew up a few miles from the private elementary schools where the Manhattan contingent of Chandler had learned their ABCs, it may as well have been another planet. She remembered distinctly the feeling of being lost, like she'd gotten off the bus a stop too early.

But unlike Doreen, she had prepared for the moment.
He'd
groomed her for it. He taught her how to talk, how to walk, how to present herself as a person who belonged. And after everything she'd risked to get into the school, she made sure to appear perfectly at home from day one. She thought of herself at the campus tour on her first day, how nervous she was in her painstakingly chosen outfit, a slight smile on her face that she hoped made her appear dignified and at ease. She stood tall. She moved with grace.

All of this was lost on Biz. Charged with leading Heidi on a fifteen-minute tour of the campus, Biz had been too full of information and enthusiasm about the wonderful academic resources at Chandler to keep it under forty-five.

But Heidi had more pressing items on her agenda than rare book collections and jazz ensembles. So when the tour was finally over and Biz asked at last if she had any questions, Heidi found herself asking if she happened to know Addison Gibbons. They stood at the edge of campus, near the field house. It was an innocuous question, Heidi thought, and she did a decent job of asking it without betraying the stakes involved.

Biz, who had been introduced only as Elizabeth when they met at student services, stopped her forward progress and flipped to face Heidi. “Gibbons-Brown, you mean?” she asked.

“Uh, yes, of course. I'm, uh, our mothers know each other and I was told to look him up.” Heidi's was the smile of a cartoon doe.

“Who is your mother?” the girl demanded. She squinted at Heidi through her filthy wire frames like her lie was written on her face.

“Oh! Uh, it's just . . .”

“Because Addison is my brother,” said Biz. “So his mother is also, goes without saying—”

“Your mother! Of course. I didn't, I mean, you probably haven't heard . . . They know each other very . . . well, she probably wouldn't even remember. A charity function. In the Hamptons over the summer, I guess they got to talking.” In fact, there had been a party. A beautiful party in a mansion. Gloria had gone on and on about Addison. Not to Heidi's mother—who had never stepped foot in the Hamptons and only gave money to the Catholic Church—but to Heidi herself.
Oh, how I wish Addison were here so I could introduce you! He would adore you, wouldn't he, Roland? Oh, you're cute as a button. It would be nice for him to bring home a girl with a little intelligence. Roland, why didn't you insist that I bring him here to meet her? Well, you'll meet. Of course you'll meet.

“Talking?” Biz sniffed. “She certainly has been known to do
that
.” Her lips spread into a contemptuous grin. “And she mentioned Addison, but not me? Elizabeth? Because you and I are the same age.”

“Oh. Maybe she mentioned you. I'm sure she did, so, great to, I mean, it works out that, and everything,” Heidi said. She should have waited to establish herself on campus before digging around for his nephew. But she couldn't stop herself. She'd gotten away scot-free and still it wasn't enough.

“Nice to meet you, too,” said Biz. “And Addison is right over there.” She pointed to a field where boys were kicking around a soccer ball. “He'll be the one not wearing a shirt. He rarely does.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Here, I'll introduce you. Addison! There's a pretty girl here that Mom wants you to meet!” Biz screamed across the quad. The kid looked up from his game and smiled before slow-jogging over in nothing but a pair of faded sweats and sneakers.

“Thanks, Elizabeth,” Heidi whispered.

“Biz,” she said. And she walked away.

As it turned out, Ad-rock was as dumb as the mineral deposits in his moniker, and so full of himself that a few delighted squeezes of his bicep were enough to win his heart.
Make them feel like you're giving them what they want, like they are the ones coming out ahead.
That's what she'd been taught, and it worked like a charm. She fed Addison a never-ending stream of compliments and assurances that his insecurities were unfounded. He, in turn, brought her into the fold of the leading cliques on campus. Once she felt sufficiently entrenched, and when it became too exhausting to maintain the appearance of interest in the inane things that occupied Addison's feeble mind—workouts, video games, golf, eating large quantities of meat—she dumped him. Hard. Which broke his silly little heart and took her from unknown transfer student to fascinating object of desire, practically overnight.

Win-win. Looking back now, it remained one of her most effective social strategies. But she had to admit that choosing Addison was stupid. With so many worthy older boys on campus, getting involved with Roland's nephew put her in danger of exposing their arrangement. She could have lost everything. So why did she do it? And why, when it ended, did she immediately befriend the niece?

But Heidi only needed to look at Biz's cluttered gallery of a desk to find the answer. What she'd told her before was true: Biz was interesting. She remained one of the only souls on the Chandler campus who did not bore Heidi to tears. So she happened to be Roland's niece, what of it? In their two years of roommatehood, Roland had hardly ever come up in conversation. Biz didn't like her uncle, rarely spoke of him.

And wouldn't the same be true of Doreen? She obviously had little to do with her father. After all, Roland rejected Doreen, too, hadn't he? And the poor thing, she seemed so friendless and alone. Heidi had every confidence she could help her. And if she could, wouldn't it be cruel, immoral even, not to do everything in her power to turn it around for the poor sucker? What better way for Heidi to spend her last year at Chandler than to use the power she'd accrued to help someone less fortunate than she was? There were many other ways for Heidi to relieve herself of boredom, but maybe she could take the high road this time, use her gifts to create something great, the way Biz did with her photography.

Heidi sighed. She flicked on her desk lamp and fished a slinky gold watch from the top drawer. She spun the diamond-encrusted face toward her. The watch had been a gift, delivered to her care at the concierge desk of the Montauk Inn where she'd been employed the summer she met Roland Gibbons. It was a replacement for a less elegant timepiece she had left behind in Roland's room the previous evening, before they went to the party that would change her life forever. Roland could not tolerate ugly things. And so he'd tossed the other watch and sent this beautiful trinket, a gift and also an upgrade, the next step in his Heidi improvement plan. She hadn't minded. At the time, she thought the watch was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen—certainly the most beautiful thing she had ever owned.

Three a.m. Heidi dropped the watch back in the drawer and slammed it shut. Her dad would be getting up soon to make his shift. She imagined him waking up next to her mother in the old wooden bed under the cross. Roland had everything and acted like he got a bad draw, but Heidi's father was content with the nothing he had. He liked to sit at the bar in O'Keefe's with a seltzer—he'd given up drinking around the time that Heidi was born, but sitting around a bar is what guys like Heidi's father did with his friends, so that's what he did. He sat with his seltzer and told funny stories about his life and the life of his family, stories that were true, or true-ish, or could be claimed as true by someone like Brian Whelan, a guy with the gift of blarney.

He was always so proud of her. Every time she brought home a report card, he carried it with him to work. “The beauty she gets from her mother, I had nothing to do with that. But smart! Smart like her old man,” he would say.

“I'm proud of you, honey,” he said when she told him about working at the Montauk Inn for the summer. Wide-palmed, he clapped her on the back. “She's gonna go out to the Hamptons and schmooze with the hoity-toits this summer,” he'd told the guys at O'Keefe's when she came by to get him for dinner. “Pretty soon you're gonna be too big for us, here.” But that's what he wanted, wasn't it? He couldn't have wanted her to stay in Yonkers forever.

“You gotta be the first one there,” he said when he presented her with the watch from Macy's. It had a white face and a black leather band. “Every time. Don't let nobody get there before you do. Get there early and get a lay of the land, like. Know what you're up against.” She said she would do it, whatever he said, whatever it took. Her father had lived through enough disappointments. She vowed not to be one of them.

In the darkness of the sleeping campus, Heidi grieved for her father's lost watch, tossed into the wastebasket for the hotel maid by a spoiled playboy. She would give anything to have it again. Sometimes she felt the shame inside her might swallow her up.

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