Read Doreen Online

Authors: Ilana Manaster

Doreen (8 page)

“Of course! Shall we have the champagne back? Or how about a round of martinis? It's after three, isn't it?”

“I suppose,” Heidi said, and Peter disappeared to locate the waiter. Coburn walked around to sit beside Doreen. He reeked of salt and soap and money. Doreen turned toward him.

“So . . . did he say you were at Harvard? I wasn't really listening.”

Heidi could not have said it better herself.

Naturally they moved from drinks to dinner. The portions were miniature and artfully presented. There was raw beef and living oysters and seared duck liver and wine, of course, wine for days. Remarkably, Doreen said yes to everything—she was game to taste it all, to be exposed to delicacies the likes of which she could not possibly have imagined.

Heidi remembered what that was like, to experience everything for the first time, and watching Doreen made her enjoy her own meal even more. Dessert was a pear tart and chocolate mousse and they had sweet wine and coffee and when it was time to get up from the table, Heidi was afraid Doreen might swoon.

“Are you okay?” she whispered to her friend.

“Oh, yes, yes. Just happy,” said Doreen, and Heidi could see it shining in the girl's dewy face.

“Nightcap in our room?” asked Peter. “Don't worry, we are gentlemen.”

“Oh, I hope not.” Heidi held out a hand to him so he could help her around the chair and gestured that Doreen do the same.

“Would you mind taking these, Coburn?” Doreen waved a hand over the shopping bags. “I hate to be bogged down.”

The girl is a quick study
, thought Heidi, grinning despite herself.

“Coburn was trying to convince me to stay at one of the newer places—a boutique hotel or something with a single name. What? The George or somesuch. The Ted, I don't know. He's very interested in being hip. Aren't you, Coburn?”

“Not very,” said Coburn. He leered at Doreen.

Heidi hoped she didn't mind taking the dumb one. He was good practice, like playing a new card game open-handed.

“But for me, nothing beats the classic elegance of the Ritz. I mean, look at this view! Can you beat it? I guess I'm old-fashioned,” said Peter, making it seem like being old-fashioned was the most wonderful way to be.

There was a light knock on the door. “Room service!” A cart with scotch and four glasses was wheeled into the room. Peter popped up to sign the check. He pulled a few more notes from his billfold and handed them to the waitress. The guy was obviously loaded. Heidi gave him a look that she hoped seemed simultaneously alluring and thankful.

“Thank you, that will be all,” he said to the waitress.

But the girl wasn't looking at him. For some reason she was looking at Heidi, practically staring at her.

“Heidi?” she said. Heidi froze. She looked down at her nails.
Oh no oh no oh no oh no
. How could she have missed
this
? She didn't know what to do. “Heidi Whelan! Oh my god, it's Nicole Goswami from the Montauk! I thought that was you. I haven't seen you in a couple of years. How have you been?”

“Oh, uh, Nicole. Sure, yes, hello,” said Heidi. Nicole pulled her in for a tight hug.

“Yeah, I bet you didn't recognize me! I bet you didn't know I was workin' here! I still go down to Montauk in the summers, but the bills need to be paid all year round! You know what I mean.”

“Of course,” said Heidi. She felt a flush burn from her face down into her bust. Nicole just stood with her hand on her hip, shaking her head like what a small world.

“So, what have you been up to? You're lookin' good. Nice. You here, what? Traveling through or somethin'?” Nicole said.

“I'm, uh, well.” It was awful. Nobody did anything. What could they possibly think? She'd blown it. Heidi had blown it for herself and Doreen. It was all so humiliating. If there was a hole she could sink into, she would. “I'm here, I'm just—”

“It's so nice to meet you, Nicole,” Doreen said sweetly, reaching out a hand to shake. “I'm Doreen. And thank you so much for bringing the booze. These boys were getting restless. Weren't you, boys?” Doreen swung open the door to the suite and waited for the girl to exit with her cart. Quick, confident, persuasive without being rude. The execution could not have been more perfect. Heidi shot her a look of gratitude.

“Oh. Oh, sure, yes. Uh, no problem.” But Nicole just stood there, looking at Heidi and then at the rest of the party.

“It's no good when the boys get restless,” Doreen added. She looked out into the hallway. “Thank you.”

“Oh! Yeah, sure. So, uh, if that is all, I'll just . . . please let us know if there is anything else you might require.”

“We won't hesitate, will we?” said Doreen.

“Thank you, Nicole,” said Heidi, finally finding her voice. “It was nice seeing you.”

“Yeah? Well. Likewise,” she said. She wheeled her cart out of the room and Doreen closed the door behind her. There was a long silence.

“I knew you looked familiar!” said Peter jovially. He poured out the scotch. “My family has been staying at the Montauk for years. Nice to make friends with the staff, I think. The doorman, Manny? He sends us a Christmas card every year!” He raised his glass. “To Manny and that nice lady and all the other people who work hard to make our lives comfortable.”

Heidi and Doreen exchanged looks. Heidi had said it herself a million times, when you looked the part and acted like you belonged, nobody would ever question your origins.

“To Manny and Nicole!” Heidi echoed. She clinked Peter's glass, then Coburn's, then Doreen's.

“To their hard work and loyalty,” Doreen added. Where in the world did she come up with that? The girl had talent.

“Here, here!” said Coburn. They drank. The booze trickled hot and slippery down Heidi's throat. Peter kissed her on the mouth and she thought,
now this
.
This! THIS!

Autumn came. It swept the leafy hillsides of New Hampshire like a change of heart.
Like falling in love
, Doreen thought, and that is exactly what she did. She fell in love.

It all began one afternoon, when Doreen emerged from her Japanese class to find Gordon Lichter waiting for her. He seemed to lurk around every corner these days—appearing after every class, hovering nearby during every meal. At first she had enjoyed his attentions. After all, a boy with Gordon's looks and affluence would never have given the old Doreen a first glance. But it grew irksome to have him forever on her tail, seizing every opportunity to guide her to a table somewhere so he could ply her with trinkets and brag about his family's money.

Plus, his infatuation with Doreen had changed him. When they met that first day in the cafeteria, he'd been confident and full of fun. But now he seemed to be standing in shadow all the time, with a dark expression despite his adorable face. So he was a drag. And so ubiquitous! When Doreen saw him leaning against the languages building after her class, his hands deep in the pockets of his Barbour coat, it irritated her.

“Doreen! Hey! I mean, hi. How are you? Did you, I mean, was Japanese, like, good?”

“Hello, Gordon,” said Doreen. She continued to walk and he scuttled off the wall to keep up with her.

“I've been wanting to see you. I called. Did you get my message? There's something I wanted to—”

“I'm sorry, but I'm running late.”

“Doreen. Doreen! Will you stop for a minute? I want to ask you about the Fall Dance.”

“Mm? You know I love talking to you Gordon, but I have an appointment in town that I can't be late for. You understand. Can we pick this up later?”

“In town? Right now? Can I come with you? Or let me give you a ride.”

“No, no. Thank you, but I have to go by myself. It's, uh, it's a private matter.”

“But . . . okay. Yeah, okay. Fine. Go. We'll talk later.” Gordon stood by a pillar and watched her walk away. He was really very miserable over her. It was wonderful in an annoying way or annoying in a wonderful way, she couldn't be sure which. In any case, when she turned the corner, away from his line of vision, Doreen felt remarkably free.

Of course, there was no appointment in town. Doreen walked without a destination. It felt like stolen time—to be away from campus with nowhere to go and to be totally alone. She was content to wander, to allow her mind to do the same. After all, she had experienced so many changes in just a few short weeks, she often felt like it was all happening without her.

She walked and walked, letting whim be her guide, rejoicing in the brisk fall air, the precious freedom. Her mind churned away and the afternoon turned to dusk. She found herself standing before a field where local kids were gathering on bleachers to watch a football game. She heard band music and cheering. Without thinking, she followed the throng into the stands and settled into a seat on the away side.

The scene was harrowing. Doreen recognized the crowd—not individually, but as a force that had caused her so much pain in her previous life. She sat among kids who would have been her enemies, who would have mocked her, made her feel worthless. Now all had changed. In the chic red coat that had been a gift from Biz, she still didn't fit in, but rather than feeling inferior, she felt the opposite.

You poor thugs
, she thought, looking around at the crowd of face-painted, pennant-waving idiots.
You poor, sick souls who think this is the best in life. I know the best. I've seen it, tasted it, worn it. You don't know anything but this, you cretins. You will never have power over me again! You will never be able to make me feel anything but grateful for having escaped your ugly little world.

The cheerleaders flip-flopped and cartwheeled and threw one another in the air. Doreen had been jealous of the cheerleaders at her old school. But now she saw how vulgar they were, volunteering their bodies for ogling in the name of school spirit. They were nothing but flesh for the eyes. It was delightfully horrible. And then there was the band. The band! They were insufferable! Could they be playing their instruments wrong? Trying to blow from the wrong side? It was all so deliciously bad, she sat on her hard seat grinning, unable to pull herself away.

But then there was a change on the field. The home team, Hamilton High, had taken possession of the ball and a reverent hush came over the crowd, as if they were not on bleachers, but on pews. Doreen spotted the source right away. It was the quarterback. Number Ten. He was some kind of genius, a physical genius. Doreen had never seen anything like it. Masculine, with an impressively built-up body, he had the grace of a dancer. Quick and light on his feet, he moved deliberately, fast but unhurried, even when chased by a defensive line. And despite his lightness he possessed a deep center, a gravitas, as if his body was in communication with the earth's core.

It was masculine beauty the likes of which Doreen had never experienced. She sat and watched like she was witnessing a miracle.

Hadn't she felt compelled forward all afternoon, like a force had guided her wandering? Now she understood. The force had led her here, to see him, this quarterback, Number Ten.
It was fate
, she thought, as she watched the boy make his first run for a touchdown. She fell in love with him before she even knew his name. And she knew somehow that he would love her, too.

She waited for him in the parking lot near the buses. There was a lot of commotion and Doreen fought the urge to leave, to find the boy some other way. Heidi's voice in her head reminded her that it was important to be waited for, waited upon, but never to wait for anyone. It made a woman seem desperate, like less of a prize. But she could not leave, she had to see him, she had to have him see her. She stood under a streetlight, away from the crowd. Kids roughhoused around her and she leaned against the school in her light, waiting for Number Ten, trying to appear comfortable and aloof.

Even when he finally came out, looking as godlike in jeans and a sweatshirt as he had in a uniform, even as the crowd tightened around him, basking in his promise, his talent, still she did not move from her light.
Waiting here, that is as much as I will do
, she thought.
I will not make myself ridiculous. He must still come to me.

It did not take more than a minute or two before he looked up from the adoring mob to see her. She let him catch her eye for a moment. Her heart! She thought it must be visible through her coat! But then, to her dismay, he returned his attentions to his rambunctious fans. All was lost. She was wrong, wrong. How could she have thought? She was only Doreen Gray, not Heidi Whelan. She could never win the attentions of a boy like that.

She ducked out of her light and fled the parking lot, speeding up the hill toward Chandler. If she hurried, she might catch the last hour of dinner. No one of consequence had seen her pathetic display—and she would never mention a word about it to anyone. Ugh. It was awful to feel embarrassed.

“Excuse me. Miss! Miss!”

The voice came from behind her. She turned to find him—him!—racing to catch up, waving at her. How elegantly he moved! She was so happy to see him, she thought she could cry.

“Please, I . . .” He pressed something into her hand. His touch was electric. “Your glove.” He smiled at her, looked deep into her eyes, their hands clasped. “You dropped it, over by the school.” Slowly, she comprehended his meaning. She looked down to find a glove in her hand.

“How nice of you! Only, this isn't my glove.” It was a grimy, greenish thing. “This must have been dropped by someone else—and some time ago, by the looks of it.” She laughed. He blushed and smiled sheepishly. It was the most meaningless exchange and yet it felt positively momentous.

“That's what I get for trying to be chivalrous. I end up stealing some poor girl's glove! But anyway, I only wanted to meet you, even if it isn't your glove. I'm Simon Vale.”

“Simon, I'm Doreen. Doreen Gray.”

“Good to meet you,” he said. They stood looking at one another for a moment, then, without a word, began to walk together, side by side.

“I saw you play. You were wonderful!”

He blushed again. His humility was pure and irresistible. “Aw, well, thanks. Just football. You know. Nothing important. But how did you end up at the game? You don't go to Hamilton.”

“You sound so sure! You can't possibly know every single person at your high school.”

“No, I don't. But I never saw you before. I know that. Because there's no way I would forget seeing you. And no way I'd let you get away without talking to you. That's how I'm so sure. Are you from Chandler?”

“I am, in fact. Brand-new. Transfer.”

“Oh yeah? Where from?”

There are some people who have everything in common, yet cannot find a word to say to one another. Other people can be as different as day from night, but their conversation flows easily, naturally, without haste or embarrassment. Doreen and Simon spoke like that, effortlessly revealing themselves to one another, so that by the time they arrived at Chandler Academy they felt as if they'd known each other all their lives.

Simon's story was not typical of a high school quarterback. His father was an academic who had run off with a student, leaving his mother to raise Simon and his sister all on her own. Simon got his first job when he was only twelve, working in the hardware store where his mother was the cashier. The store owner was a former college football coach, and he saw how strong and graceful Simon was, even as a boy, and took him under his wing, teaching him to throw and other fundamentals of the game. Then the man died, leaving the store to Simon and his mother.

“It doesn't make much, just a little place in a small town. Everyone goes to Home Depot out on Highway 1. Sometimes I think my mom should just sell the place. I don't know. If I could just get a scholarship, go to a good school so that I could go out and make some real money for her.”

“You are a good person,” said Doreen. “The way you worry about her.” They stopped and faced one another near the entrance to campus. She wondered what time it was. Surely she had to be getting back.

He brushed a hair from her eyes. “Nice of you to say that, but I'm not that good. It's selfish, really. I want to be a hero, you know, come back and save the day.”

Doreen nodded. Her body's intense reaction to his closeness made a verbal response impossible. She was beyond words now. She closed her eyes and felt him lean in to kiss her.

It was the kiss of a lifetime. A kiss that promised joy in life the likes of which neither Simon nor Doreen had experienced before. It was a kiss of mutual discovery, of unity, of change and growth, and a brighter, better future. They kissed themselves out of their present, the hardship, the loneliness. It was the joining of souls, a meeting of hearts.

And just like that Simon Vale and Doreen Gray were hopelessly, miraculously in love.

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