Read Doreen Online

Authors: Ilana Manaster

Doreen (6 page)

Heidi hurried back. Doreen thought she was going to be introduced around at the cafeteria that afternoon, but it was far too early for that. They had a lot of work to do before then.

Heidi found Biz still padding around the suite in her pajamas.

“Sleeping in, are we? How unlike you,” said Heidi.

“Yes, well. Listen, Heidi, I wanted to talk to you.”

“I don't suppose I need to remind you that Doreen will be coming by at eleven.” Heidi busied herself around the room, straightening furniture and replacing books.

“Yes, I remember. And that's what I wanted to talk to you about. Doreen—Heidi, she's not like you.”

“Oh, no?” said Heidi with an amused smirk. “I suppose she's more like you, huh?” She fluffed the pillows of the sofa.

“No. Well, yes, I mean, she is my cousin. So, you know, genetically speaking—”

“Yes, Elizabeth, she is. And she may have some long-ago memories of scooting around your family's Amagansett estate, but that's where your similarities end. You see, darling, Doreen is an outsider. You don't know what that's like, having been born on the inside.”

“What? Me? An insider? Is that a joke?”

“Hmph.”

“Still singing the same old song, huh? I'm a Gibbons-Brown so I've obviously got it made. Life of Riley and everything. Sure, sure.” Biz looked hurt. Money or not, the girl had not had the easiest time of it.

“Not an insider, maybe. But at least you knew where you belonged. Doreen and I—”

“All I am asking,” Biz said slowly in a firm voice, “is that you don't ruin her, Heidi. Okay? Be careful with her. She's innocent now and she should stay that way. I would like to see her stay that way. Do you hear what I'm saying? Keep your claws to yourself.”

“Or what?” Heidi said, hand on her hip. “You're going to give me a piece of your mind?”

Just then they heard a knock at the door. “Speak of the angel,” Heidi said with an ironic curtsey as she crossed the room to open the door. Biz collapsed on the armchair, her forehead creased with worry.

Heidi gasped. “Doreen! Oh my god, what happened to you?” Biz rushed to the door to see what the matter was, and when she caught sight of Doreen, she, too, cried out in surprise. But Doreen accepted their shock with a smile.

“May I come in?” she asked softly.

“Of course!” Biz said, stepping aside. Open-mouthed, the two roommates watched Doreen walk into the room and take a delicate seat on the sofa.

“Aren't you going to close the door?” Doreen asked with a light laugh.

Overnight, the girl had transformed. No longer the awkward, lumpy person from the day before, Doreen was lithe and graceful. Her patchy skin had become smooth and lustrous and the frizz had gone out of her hair, replaced with gorgeous black curls. She blinked up at them, staring through long lashes with her piercing violet eyes: an exact replica of the girl in the picture Biz had touched up the previous evening.

“Well, I'm here to be outfitted,” Doreen said. She stood up and spun around. “Do you have a vision, Heidi?”

Regaining her composure, Heidi broke into a wide smile. This was going to work! Even the same army-green knit dress from the day before looked great on her. “Doreen, you look wonderful. Really. Let's get you into some clothes, dear. Biz, close your mouth.”

Doreen smiled with her strawberry lips and let Heidi lead her into the bedroom. Biz stood frozen in her pajamas, unsure of what she had just seen.

“A vision,” said Biz, shaking her head in disbelief.

“It wouldn't be lying, would it, if I didn't mention certain things about my past?” asked Doreen. They'd managed to keep the conversation light for most of the walk to the cafeteria, but now their destination was in sight and Heidi could practically hear the sound of Doreen's heart beating.

Heidi had some misgivings herself—they might be rushing things along a bit, but it was only lunch and they had to start somewhere. And the girl looked awesome. They'd chosen a simple sundress from Heidi's own closet that made her look simultaneously girlish and sexy, nothing like the high school disaster from the night before. Heidi did not know how Doreen had managed it, but she felt confident that her own influence bore much of the responsibility for the transformation.

“I wouldn't want to make something up. Or should I? I don't know. Do I need some sort of story?”

“No need, my dear,” said Heidi reassuringly. “Your family is a known quantity around here. Everyone remembers Addison, and though Biz is strange, she is acceptable because of her name. Keeping your home life to yourself will only make you seem appealingly mysterious. That's what I've done. I have never told a single lie about myself or my upbringing—I have simply kept mum. Reticence implies grandness, Doreen. You'll see.” It was a lot for Heidi to admit. She hadn't said anything specific, of course, but it was so unlike her to make even the vaguest reference to her modest background to anyone. She would admit that and more to Doreen if she would only ask. But the girl was too caught up in her own story to bother with Heidi's.

“I'm sure you're right.” Doreen squeezed Heidi's hand. “Oh, thank you so much for everything.”

No matter
, thought Heidi.
There would be time
.

“Here goes nothin',” said Doreen.

“Noth
ing
,” said Heidi.

“Now it's time for everyone's favorite back-to-school game, who got a nose job! I can't help but notice something different about your face, Misha.”

“Lay off, Gordon.”

“I think she looks great. You look great, Meesh,” said Miyuki.

“I didn't get a nose job, okay?”

“Sure, sure. Maybe your nose is just smaller than we all remember it.”

“Maybe it is!”

“Or maybe her face grew, but her nose stayed the same size.”

“Shut up, Frankie!”

“Yeah, Frankie, leave her alone. She's obviously still recuperating.”

“Ugh! I hate you guys.”

“What do you think, Doreen? Oh wait. You didn't know Misha before. Well, picture the same girl, with a less refined central canal.”

“Gordon, I am going to kill you.”

“Save me, Doreen! She's fierce! Help! Help!”

Heidi was right. When they heard that she was a cousin to the Gibbons-Browns, no further questions were asked about Doreen's background. They were tired of one another now, in their final year, and boys and girls alike regarded Doreen with enthusiasm, happy for fresh society. The boys were especially keen—suntanned, with new muscles from summers spent on boats, they were keyed up around the new girl like wind-up toys come to life.

“Misha, don't be embarrassed. You look great. Truly! We've been waiting for you to do the snip for years. Doreen, she looks beautiful, doesn't she?”

“What? Oh.” Doreen smiled and touched Misha's hand. “You do. You are beautiful.”

“Huh? Thanks.” Misha blushed.

“See, Meesh? And Doreen here knows a thing or two about beauty.” Gordon held Doreen's gaze for a moment. “Don't you?” he said quietly. Then he returned to Misha. “Anyway, you needed something to go with your new rack!”

“That's it. You're dead.”

“Doreen! Help! She has the nose of an angel but the devil's inside her!” He hid behind Doreen's back, his hands on her shoulders, while Misha pelted him with bread. Doreen giggled.

Slight of build, Gordon Lichter had a lovely, almost girlish face with long lashes and blond hair that was always falling in his face. He was pretty and nonthreatening, like a boy pop star, and though he was not exactly a genius, he was not an idiot, either, and the family was lousy with dough. They had homes around the world, a private jet, a Park Avenue penthouse. A girl could certainly do worse, Heidi thought. She had briefly considered making a play for Gordon herself, but she was at least two inches taller than he was, five with heels, and neither would want to look ridiculous.

But Doreen was smaller than Heidi, and look at how flushed he was to be near her!

“That's enough,” said Heidi. “Gordon, sit down. Misha, you look phenomenal. Besides . . .” She paused. She had the attention of the entire table. “Now you can finally drink from a mug!”

Everyone laughed, even Misha. Heidi stood up and gave Gordon a signal to sit in her seat beside Doreen, and he did her bidding. She moved to the other end of the table, engaging in limited conversation while watching Doreen out of the corner of her eye. She looked gorgeous, an absolute natural! What had happened to that awkward, pimply girl from the previous night? Look at how Gordon hung on every word, every gesture.
Very promising
, Heidi thought, encouraging him with her eyes.

And there was something else. The scene in the cafeteria was such an old one. Heidi might have closed her eyes and imagined it all ahead of time, like an old movie she'd watched too many times. But Doreen changed that. Just having her there introduced a new level of interest for Heidi. And it was such a relief. Heidi ate her salad, she watched Gordon flirt with her new friend, and she felt awake to her surroundings as if it was her first day, too.

Later, when they were safely outside the cafeteria, Doreen embraced Heidi. “That was the most wonderful time I ever had in my life! Thank you! Thank you so much!”

Did Heidi notice that where there had been rolls of fat only one night before there was now muscle and bone? Did she wonder how such a remarkable transformation was possible? If she did, it was for no more than a moment. She'd seen something exceptional in Doreen from the minute she laid eyes on her. That it was more available for everyone to enjoy, why would Heidi question that? Why would she want to? Her thoughts were not of the past, near or distant, but of the future.

“I have a good feeling,” said Heidi. “I think we are going to have a lot of fun together this year.”

With a smile, Doreen threaded her arm through Heidi's and leaned her head on her shoulder. They walked like that, side by side, all the way back to the dorms.

The introductory lunch had gone better than Doreen could ever have imagined. The Chandler Academy elite had smiled at her warmly, accepting her into the fold as Heidi's friend and natural participant in the upper echelons of East Coast society. Like she belonged there all along! How unexpected! Returning to her room, Doreen's happiness bubbled into laughter.

Doreen remembered the pride on Heidi's face as she introduced her to one handsome boy and then another, to a flock of elegant, long-limbed girls. Life, so dark and hopeless to her once, seemed suddenly sweet and full of possibility. And she was beautiful now, too. She, Doreen Gray, was lovely. Was it still true? How? Certainly this must be a dream. But the full-length mirror reassured her. There she was, the stunning girl from Biz's photograph, staring back from the glass. It was a miracle!

After she left her room that morning, she assumed she would never see that exquisite mirror-girl again. But the shock on Biz's and Heidi's faces when they saw her confirmed what she'd seen in the mirror was no temporary hallucination. They saw it, too. And at lunch the kids treated her differently. Of course, traveling beside Heidi had its benefits, but this was something deeper than that. When you were beautiful, people wanted to be near you. You could be interesting without saying a word. When you were beautiful, the world stepped aside to let you pass. How marvelous life would be now, Doreen thought as she admired the way her borrowed dress came in at her waist. Sad little Doreen Gray was a thing of the past; replaced by this resplendent thing, a lovely girl, a beauty.

But she didn't have all day to stare at herself; she had to get ready for Gordon Lichter. He'd invited her for a tour around campus. Gordon looked like a boy from a movie! A boy like that would never have smiled at the old Doreen. He would not have studied his own lovely fingers, embarrassed to be in her presence.

“Good riddance,” Doreen said aloud. She plucked the photograph of her former self off her desk and was about to rip it up, but then something made her want to keep the picture around—as a reminder of the pathetic creature she had once been. Carefully, she replaced the picture in the nightstand drawer. Knowing how far she'd come would make her glory even sweeter. She would keep the picture for herself, and only herself. It would be her delicious little secret.

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