The Conspiracy of Us

Page 16

Yesterday, I'd never left the United States. Today, I was shopping in Paris. I opened my own door before the driver got there, and followed Stellan out of the car and down the street.
And then we turned up the walk to one of the shops and I stopped, my foot halfway up a step. The tasteful gold lettering on the cream-colored building said PRADA.
A young man opened the doors, his deep-set eyes dark and shadowed behind wire-rimmed glasses. His shoes clicked a staccato beat as he led us past the mannequins standing guard in the front window, across a black-and-white checkerboard floor, and into a foyer thick with the perfume of stargazer lilies and wealth.
"Where is everybody?" I whispered to Stellan. No one browsed the racks of buttery leather gloves, and not a single bored boyfriend read magazines on the white leather couches.
"Madame Dauphin prefers to shop alone," Stellan said. "She has the store closed for her guests as well."
I took a deep breath. Prada, in Paris, was closed. For me. To choose a ball gown. It was ridiculous. And extravagant. And . . . amazing. My father's family and the rest of the Circle were by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me.
A few minutes later, Stellan had left to do errands and I stood in an opulent dressing room, all snowy white with splashes of gold and magenta and a whole wall of mirrors. I held my arms out to the sides while a tall girl named Aimee, who had shockingly red hair, cinched a measuring tape around my hips. I remembered buying my purple prom dress off the sale rack at Macy's, and almost laughed out loud.
"Does Madame Dauphin come here a lot?" I asked, pretending to be capable of normal conversation.
Elisa, who was tiny with a dark pixie cut, nodded, and held swatches of colored fabrics up to my skin. "Every week."
"Has she sent other guests in this weekend?" I asked.
Aimee unzipped my sundress and gestured for me to take it off.
"Yes. You are the last appointment of the day. And the only one under the age of fifty," Elisa said, and Aimee swatted her with the tape measure. "It's true! The fashion sense of the other younger ladies must already meet Madame's approval. I don't mean to offend," she said to me, "but you are not a regular guest at the family's events, am I right?"
I shook my head.
Aimee lowered her voice conspiratorially. "Tell us. Who are they? We could never ask Madame Dauphin. Are they only rich, or diplomats, or-?"
"Aimee!" said Elisa, and I pressed my mouth closed. Even if I knew their whole story, I had a feeling I shouldn't respond to that kind of question. It did make me wonder, though. If the Dauphins were in French politics, Aimee and Elisa would know it.
"What dresses are we trying on?" I said, and the questions were over.
Soon, they were slipping gowns on and off me like I was a doll. Gowns that were as much art as clothing. There was a red-feathered dress that was pretty, but shaped weirdly in the hips, and a stiff, architectural cobalt gown Aimee loved.
One dress was black and modern, and a white one with a full skirt was gorgeous but could have been a wedding dress. Elisa was partial to a gray shift, but the top was too sheer, and another dress was short and pink and looked too eighties.
All of them were amazing pieces, but it felt like I was just playing dress-up until Elisa lowered a burnished silver gown over my head.
The dress looked like a glittering stormy night. I pushed my hair off my shoulders to see its delicate, sheer straps, which blended into shimmering raw silk that crossed my chest, then hugged close to my hips. I turned to see the back, open to my waist in a deep V. A small train swished behind my feet.
All of a sudden, I felt like I should be going to a ball.
Elisa giggled, and I realized my mouth was hanging open.
"You like it?"
I nodded. I couldn't find any words.
"We'll keep it aside, then," said Aimee.
They lifted the silver dress off me, and I fought the urge to touch it as Elisa hung it on the opposite wall. The next dress was flashier than what I'd usually choose-gold, covered in intricate beadwork and sequins-and I barely paid attention to it at first. I couldn't take my eyes off the silver dress. But when they slipped it over my head and the light hit me in the mirror, Elisa gasped out loud. I glowed.
The dress was nothing like the silver one. If that one had been storms, this was sunlight. It glowed against my dark hair, and hugged my body all the way down, from the plunging halter neckline to the flouncy mermaid hem. I ran my hands over my hips, and my reflection glittered.
Aimee had been prepping a pink dress with a lace bodice, but she put it back on the hanger. "The gold one. Or the silver. We do not need to try more, no?"
I glanced at myself in the mirror, then at the silver dress again. I shook my head.
Elisa led me to a three-way mirror, where a girl who hardly looked like me stared back in triplicate. They changed me into the silver dress and the girl in the mirror looked more serious, more elegant, then the gold again, and she was glamorous, striking. I pictured myself dancing in both dresses, because that's what you did at a ball, right? Dancing, laughing with the people I'd meet soon. Being introduced as part of the family.
Toska. The word echoed in my head. A change. In who I was, in how I saw myself. Filling that ache that never quite left my chest.
I found myself hoping fiercely that my mom would let me stay for the ball, and even a little longer. Meet the Saxons, find out more about my father's family and the rest of the Circle. To feel like I belonged in this strange, fascinating world. To feel like I belonged anywhere, just for a second.
"You have to choose eventually." Elisa smiled. In the mirror, the sequins shimmered.
The gold dress was perfect for my body type, Elisa said, and I had to admit it was dazzling. But there was something about the silver. It belonged on me. The silver felt right.
Aimee was grinning as big as I was. She unzipped the gold dress and left me to get out of it, following Elisa downstairs to wrap the silver one. I watched it go. I couldn't believe that, just like that, it was going to be mine.
I stood in front of the mirror for a few more minutes, watching the gold sequins twinkle. This was the only time I'd ever get to do anything like this. I wanted to make it last as long as I could.
I was about to step out of the gold dress when I heard footsteps coming up the stairs. "Elisa?" I said. "Aimee?" There was no answer. Source: www_Novel12_Com