I felt her cut her eyes at me as I said this, and too late I realized she thought I was talking about her. I waited for her to snap or say something nasty, but she didn't, instead just handing me back the pictures. "Well," she said. "I guess we'll never know."
As she stepped out into the hallway I looked down at the pictures; Mallory's boa shot was back on top. "Sleep well," I said.
"Yeah." She glanced over at me, the light behind her, and I was struck by the simple perfection of her cheekbones and lips, so striking and accidental all at once. "Good night, Annabel."
Later, when I got into bed, I picked up the pictures again, then sat back in bed, flipping through them. After going through the stack twice, I got out of bed and went to my desk, digging around in the top drawer until I found some pushpins. Then I tacked the pictures up, in rows of three, on the wall above my radio. So you can look at me sometimes, Mallory had said, and as I turned off my light I did just that. The moon, coming in, was slanted across them, making them bright, and I kept my eyes on them as long as I could. At some point, though, I could feel myself falling asleep, and I had to turn away, back to the dark.
My mother returned from her first vacation in over a year rested, manicured, and rejuvenated. Which would have been great, if her newfound energy hadn't been directed at the one thing I least wanted to think about, but now could not avoid: the Lakeview Models Fall Fashion Show.
"So you've got to be at Kopf's today for a fitting, tomorrow for a rehearsal," she said to me as I poked at my breakfast before school. "And the final run-through is on Friday. Your hair appointment is on Thursday, and I booked your nail stuff for Saturday morning, early. Okay?"
After an entire weekend to myself, not to mention the last few months with very few work commitments, this did not sound okay. It sounded painful. But I didn't say anything. As much as I was dreading the week and the show, at least I had something to look forward to afterwards, which was going to Bendo with Owen.
"You know, something occurred to me this weekend," my mom continued. "The Kopf's people are probably just about to start casting for the spring campaign. So this show is a great opportunity for them to see you in person, don't you think?"
Hearing this, I felt a twinge of dread, knowing I should tell her I wanted to quit modeling. But then I had a flash of me and Owen on the wall, role-playing this very scenario, and how even when it was just a game I hadn't been able to get the words out. Across from me, my mother was sipping her coffee, and I knew that this, right now, was the perfect moment. She'd dropped a sweater, and I could just pick it up. But like Rolly, I froze up. And stayed silent. I'd do it later, I told myself. After the show. I would.
At the same time that I was walking down a runway at the mall, modeling winter clothes, my sister Kirsten would also be in front of a crowd, albeit for a different reason. The day before, she'd finally e-mailed her short piece to me as promised. Because I was used to Kirsten explaining—if not overex-plaining—everything that was any part of her life whatsoever, the message she'd sent with it took me by surprise.
Hi, Annabel, here it is. Let me know what you think. Love, K.
At first, I'd actually scrolled down through the body of the e-mail, looking for the rest of the message—if my sister was long-winded on the phone, her e-mails were equally verbose. But there was nothing else.
I hit the download now button, then watched as blue squares filled up the screen. When it was done, I clicked on
The first shot was of grass. Green, beautiful grass, just like the kind on the golf course across the street, i.e., totally chemically induced, filling the screen from one side to the other. Then the camera pulled back, back, to show it was the yard in front of a white house with pretty blue trim, and two figures on bikes blurred past.
The camera cut, and we were suddenly facing two girls as they rode toward us. One, a blonde, looked to be about thirteen; the other, a brunette, was thinner and more slight, lagging a little bit behind.
Suddenly the girl in front looked back at the other, then began pedaling faster, pulling away from her. As she did so, the camera cut back and forth between her pedaling, wind blowing back her hair, and pretty images of the neighborhood: a dog asleep on the sidewalk, a man picking up his paper, the blue, blue sky, a sprinkler sending water in an arc over a flower bed. As she kept on, picking up speed, the images came faster and faster, repeating, until the camera cut to a shot of the road ahead, coming to a T. She skidded to a stop, then turned around. Behind her, in the distance, you could just see a bike lying in the middle of the road, one wheel spinning, the smaller girl sitting beside it, holding her arm.
The next shot was of the blonde skidding to a stop beside her. "What happened?" she asked.
The younger girl shook her head. "I don't know," she said.
The blonde pushed herself over, closer. "Here," she said. "Get on."
In the next shot, the smaller girl was balanced on the handlebars, holding her arm, as the blonde pedaled up the street. Again the camera cut between them and images of the neighborhood, although both were different now: the dog lunging and barking as they passed, the man stumbling as he reached for his paper, the sky gray, the sprinkler hissing as water splatted a nearby car, then ran in streaks down the side. It was the same, and yet so different, and when the house rose up in the distance, it looked different, too. The blonde pedaled up the driveway, the camera pulling back as she did so, then stopped as the younger girl slid off the handlebars, holding her arm tight against her. They dropped the bike onto the grass and started toward the house. They climbed the steps. The door opened for them, but you couldn't see who was on the other side. As they disappeared inside, the camera panned down until the grass filled the screen again, side to side, scarily green and bright and fake. And then it was over.
I just sat there for a moment, staring at the screen. Then I hit play and watched it again. And a third time. I still wasn't sure what to make of it, even as I reached for the phone and dialed Kirsten's number. But when she answered, and I told her I liked it but didn't get it, she wasn't upset. Instead, she said that was the whole point.
"What, that I be confused?" I asked.
"No," she said, "that the meaning not be spelled out. It's supposed to be left up to your interpretation."
"Yes, but you know what it means," I said. "Right?"
"And that is?"
She sighed. "I know what it means to me," she said. "For you, it's going to be different. Look, film is personal. There's no right or wrong message. It's all what you take from it."