See the previous 4 installments of this series here.
When we finally got to our hotel (some fancy Trump building that I had written down but immediately forgotten the name of as soon as we checked it) the TV was already on: Overly bright, somehow menacingly swathes of colors showed a cartoon chihuahua doing unspeakable things to his friend, a fat blob of a cat. Dawn, who had been holding out on me the entire train ride from Stoneybrook, immediately flopped down on the bed, riding her sugar high and giggling like an idiot. I was very, very thirsty.
“Hey Stacey!” Dawn said, her eyes closed and oblivious, “Have I ever told you what the beaches are like in California are like? You can just see like, blue and green for miles, it doesn’t even look like the ocean. It’s like…something else.” Her brow furrowed, and when she tried to discreetly slip her hand into her coat jacket and put whatever items retrieved quickly into her mouth, a yellow ball fell on the floor.”Whoops,” she giggled.
Peanut butter M&M’s. That bitch.
“You know, I just read a study that said sugar makes you fat,” I said, turning off the TV and going into the bathroom.
“Since when do you read?” was the retort from the next room, but I barely heard it as I slammed the door and stared hard into the mirror. Guess Jeans, a simple Benetton blouse, and a understated black bowler hat that seemed like an ironic nod at Boy George when I bought it in Connecticut, but looked garish and draggy in the harsh fluorescent lights of the bathroom. What passed for “chic” in Stoneybrook where I lived with my mom might as well have screamed “John Hughes Reject!” here.
What was I even doing in the city? My mother’s friend Ms. Martin had invited us up to talk about some sort of “special opportunity” and I wasn’t about to turn down a free trip back to the city…but this was just wrong. I hadn’t even called my dad to tell him I was coming, although I couldn’t say why. I had fleeting images of his fleshy face leering over Dawn while she droned on about vacations in wine country and how glamorous the lights in LA looked from the desert. Or whatever. No, I couldn’t deal with either of them right now.
White spots flashed in front of my eyes and I pulled out my own vanity case. Despite the three bottles of Evian I had chugged on the way down here, there was still sandpaper in my throat, but I tried not to cough or make any noise as I pulled out my Insulin syringes, and laid them out delicately next to the Snickers bar I had been hiding in my room for the past month. It was almost time.
“Whaaat are you doing in there?” Dawn yelled from the bedroom, “We have to meet Ann downstairs in ten minutes!” Ann. Like Dawn already knew Ann Martin on a first-name basis. Even I called her Ms. Martin, and I’ve known her since I was a kid. I looked again and quickly swept the needles and chocolate back into the case. This was going to be my reward. I just had to make it past dinner.
Ann met us in the lobby, impecibly dressed as always. I noticed with envy that she was one of the few women I knew who could pull off the Dynasty look without coming off as some leapord print trash bag. Ms. Martin was an author, or at least she was always talking about her “projects,” but I had yet to ever see her name on any bestsellers list, or even in the byline of Sassy. However she was making her money – and I wasn’t judging here, just making an observation – it certainly wasn’t from hours in front of a type writer.
“Darling!” Ann came in for a hug, and stood back to assess me, “You look so thin! How are you feeling?” My face may have involuntarily twitched, because she hastily added “Of course, girls can never be too skinny, can they? And you must be Dawn, I’ve heard so much about you!” Ms. Martin took Dawn’s arm in her own and led us to the hotel’s restaurant, the two of them making noises like some form of exotic, foreign birds. I was grateful for the darkness of the restaurant, though even the candles on the table seemed to burn into my retinas.
“So girls,” Ann said once we ordered our appetizers and I tried to inconspicuously drink the entire carafe of ice water in front of us, “I’m very excited about this new series I’m working on — Dawn, you may not know this but I’ve been developing a series of young women’s novels for a couple months now — and I think I finally have my first draft ready.” She signaled the waiter with a bright red nail, tapping it against her wine glass. Irritated, I closed my eyes. Is that why we were here? To be the “first reviewers” of whatever Narnia rip-off my mother’s friend had written?
Ann grinned and gave three beats of a dramatic pause,”It’s going to be called ‘The Baby-Sitters Club,” she announced, her incisors gleaming as she grinned.
Dawn squeeled, “That’s so funny! We have a club called the same thing!” My eyes shot open. My mother couldn’t have…could she? Ann gauged my expression and closed her mouth, looking away.
“Yes Dawn, I’m pretty sure Ann knows that,” I glowered. “So, what is this series about anyway, Ms. Martin? It sounds so interesting.”
Ann shifted uncomfortably, and was given a temporary reprieve as the waiter came with her Chardonnay and a glass of Sprite for Dawn. “Well, it’s…it’s about you guys. Ms. McGill…Stacey’s mom…she’s told me about your little group and I think it’s just darling. So I came up with a couple concepts that I’d love to run by you, maybe get some more details on exactly how your little group works!”
“I don’t think our ‘little group’ is very interesting,” I muttered, suddenly very tired. When was the last time I checked my blood-sugar level? “In fact, I think it’s ridiculous to base a story on real people if you don’t even know most of them. That’s just lying then, isn’t it?”
Ann laughed self-consciously and dipped beneath the table for a moment, coming back up with two thin manuscripts. “Oh Stacey, you are your father’s child, aren’t you?” she chirped. “You could be famous and all you care about is whether or not I’ve made your life…factually correct?”
“You’re 13-years-old darling,” she continued, this time all pretense of flirtatiousness gone flat from her voice, “What sort of life have you led that would require fact-checking?”
“That’s probably true,” I smiled politely, nodded my head, and reached across the table to drink the entirety of Dawn’s Sprite in one giant gulp. Right before I blacked out, before the ambulance sirens and the white antiseptic rooms became my reality again, I knew I would treasure the look on Ann’s face for the rest of my life.
(Bret Easton Ellis is the acclaimed author of American Psycho, Less Than Zero, and Rules of Attraction. His books have been published in over 40 languages, and banned in 8 countries. This is his first attempt at writing young adult fiction.)