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Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.
“Mom, I seriously don’t know what happened. I tripped, and then I was knocked out, and then you found me and my arm was covered in blood. That’s probably why I was screaming.”
I winced as she tugged on the needle one more time, breaking the string. My skin was now pocked with her even little stitches.
“Are you sure that’s all that happened?”
“No, I’m not sure what happened at all. That’s what I just told you.” Hopping off the counter, I went to the window to peer down the street. My toe was almost better, but now of course I had another injury. I would have to wear long sleeves when Julius picked me up, and it was already approaching forty degrees.
“You really scared us, Hanna,” said Dad.
“Sorry, I just went to get my hat. This no-modeling thing is affecting my grace.” I looked at Mom pointedly.
“No dice, Hanna. You’re off for the summer. And don’t ask me about it again, or it will be until you’re eighteen.” Then she turned back to the police officer who was twiddling with our phone, trying to trace the call. It had taken him three hours to get here from somewhere in South America. “You find anything?”
“No, ma’am, his phone is encrypted.” He straightened.
“His voice sounded faked. A recording wouldn’t do much good, would it?”
“It’s worth a try.” But he didn’t sound convinced.
I skulked back to the living room to count my misgivings by myself. To wait until Julius came to save me.
The theatre was old, with red cushioned seats and a huge stage. The curtain was thick, with gold tasselled strings to draw them. I gazed around in delight with shining eyes. “Julius, you’re amazing,” I said in awe.
He looked embarrassed. “Am I, though?’
“Yes, you are. I can’t believe you actually got us in!” I squeezed his hand, and pulled him to our seats in the front row, picking up a program on the way.
My eyes widened as I gazed at the cast of characters. Ursula Lansfield, who had modeled with me in Barcelona two summers ago, was playing Juliet tonight. But I didn’t know she’d taken up acting.
The lights dimmed, and the curtains rose. Suddenly, we were no longer in Tianam, Dan Cae. Julius and I were in fair Verona, where we belonged.
“Ursula! Ursula, wait up!”
I pushed past the burly guard to get to her dressing room before she closed the door. She ignored me, until I burst in.
“Hanuara? Is that you?” she peered around her dislodged false lashes at me.
“I’m sorry, Miss Lansfield. She didn’t ask to come in,” said the guard, grabbing my arm. Carl and Sam tensed, ready to jump to my aid, knowing I deserved to be kicked out.
Ursula broke into a grin and bounded forward to hug me. “Its okay, Juan. She’s a friend.”
“Wow, Ursula, you did beautifully tonight.”
“I can’t believe you’re here.”
“It’s been so long. How have you been?”
We fell onto her divan, still clutching each other, chattering animatedly. “I didn’t know you wanted to be an actress, Ursula.”
She giggled, swinging her blond wig over her shoulder. “I didn’t, until I met Kevin. He convinced me to audition for Romeo and Juliet. Turns out I have talent. He got stuck with Paris, though. Anyway, we were married three days ago, and after this we’re going to finish our honeymoon.”
“Congratulations,” I said.
“Thanks! But I just can’t believe I’m married now. You’re talking to Mrs. Kevin Pelinsky.”
I swatted her. “You sound so old. Please let me be you for a day.”
“You found a man yet?” she asked coquettishly. “After Mo, I mean?” The name made both of us erupt in giggles.
“Yeah, he’s wonderful. He’s waiting outside because he wanted to give us some space.” I smiled wistfully.
Ursula had short, medium brown hair that fell just shy of her ears. She removed her wig, ran her fingers through her hair, and stripped out of her white cotton gown. In her underwear, she held up several different evening gowns for my critique. We finally settled on a long blue one with lace and a plunging neckline.
“I do like your dress though,” she said. “Wanna trade?”
The spring-green, long-sleeved chiffon I had chosen stylishly covered my stitches. It was the only slightly fancy thing I had packed. Julius hadn’t suspected a thing. “No, I think I’d like to keep my dress. It was a present from Kiss!.”
“Urs? Are you in there?” a male voice said.
“Oooh, that’s Kevin!” Ursula squealed. She threw open the door, and wrapped her arms around a handsome man with short spiky hair. “Kev, I’m sure you know Hanuara Fei-Ling. We go way back. Hanuara, this is my husband Kevin.”
“Hello,” said Kevin mildly. Ursula gazed at him adoringly.
“I should probably get going,” I said. “I don’t want to keep Julius waiting too long.”
“Do you have my number?” Ursula asked.
“Yeah, somewhere on my contacts list. I’ll call you.”
We hugged one more time, I even hugged Kevin, and then I left.
“Shall we be off?” I linked arms with Julius.
“Why, yes we shall. Where do you desire to sup this fair evening, my darling dear?”
I blushed. “Actually, I was wondering if you would like to join us at home. My father wishes to make a better acquaintance with you.” I dropped the fake accent. “It was the only way he would let me out tonight.”
He shrugged. “I don’t care. I’m happy as long as I’m with you.” I giggled as he nuzzled my cheek.
Supper went flawlessly. Dad and Julius talked about writing; turns out Julius writes his own poems and music for the trumpet. I learned some things about him that night that I never knew before. I sat mesmerized, as he told about his childhood growing up in Madrid. His parents had been the victims of a drive-by shooting when he was three, and he had lived with his uncle. When he was seventeen, he followed his first girlfriend to Dan Cae, and stayed even when they broke up. The girlfriend thing didn’t sit well with me, but I ignored the pang of jealousy.
I swallowed hard when Julius sat in Monica’s place at the table. I refused to admit that I missed my sister. Of course I didn’t.
So why did it feel so wrong, every time I saw my boyfriend in my sister’s rightful place?
“And then I met Hanuara,” he said, cautiously reaching over to pat my hand. “And I want you to know that I respect her as a human being, and I would never hurt her, I swear on my own grave.” He looked at my father earnestly.
He sniffed, and then sneezed to cover it up. “Well, um, that’s very good, son. I appreciate it.” and then he went back to his chicken Alfredo.
But later, after Julius had left, he winked at me and said, “Honey, where was he all my life?”
My father had politely closed the blinds when I walked Julius to the front step. Grateful for the privacy, I creeped my fingers up his arms until they were perched on his strong shoulders.
“You never told me about your past before,” I said, pressing my lips to the hollow of his throat and slowly making my way up.
His eyelids dropped, and he hummed with pleasure. “You never asked.”
Suddenly his brown eyes smouldered down at me, anticipating my kiss. But instead I stepped away from him and crossed my arms.
“But I told you everything,” I said, embarrassed at the whiny tone my voice now had. “The least you could have done was shared a little.”
“Hanuara, I’m sorry.” he held out his hands. “But what you told me, it was just so tragic; I didn’t think you needed more tragedy to deal with.” His pleading gaze almost knocked down my defences, but I was still considering. Finally, I dropped my arms and folded myself back into him.
“Fine, that’s fine. But tonight, I want you tell me everything.”
He stiffened. “Hanuara, I just got on your father’s good side. And I almost got caught this morning. I don’t think your father would appreciate…”
My lower lip trembled, and I gazed down at my hands. A single tear rolled down my cheek. “But… I didn’t tell you, Julius. But the Poet called my mom today. He told her…he said he was watching us.” I swallowed. “I just don’t want to be alone…”
He shifted. “But you won’t be alone. You’ll have Carl and Gary.”
“That’s not the same thing and you know it.” I sniffled. “Why? Why are you so anxious to leave me?”
“I’m not… I just…”
After much pleading and basic arguing, Julius agreed to stay over again. He just had to drive his car around the block, and I told my parents that I was going to bed early. We sat on the balcony railing under a blanket of stars that were for once visible.
“I’m really sorry about that call,” he said, his voice expressing the deepest sympathy. “That must be tough. This whole stupid mess must be really hard.”
I shrugged, swallowing. “It’s not your fault.”
We were both silent for a moment, and then I was crying. “I just miss him so much.” I turned my face into him and sobbed as he stroked my hair. “If only he were still alive…”
“Shhhh, Hanuara, you can’t think like that. Please don’t cry.”
“I’m sorry, I just…Julius, can you sing me a song?”
His hands never stopped stroking. “All right. I don’t have my guitar, though. But here goes nothing.” He took a deep breath. “You are my treasure, who I’d give my life for, you are mi ciello, mon vrais amour…”
The song was so familiar, I found myself drifted along on the notes. But then with a start, I realized that he was singing the song of the woman in white.
Monday, June 23rd, day 23
My scream was cut off by Julius’s warm lips. My eyes flew open, and I realized I was in my room, and the sun was shining brightly.
“Hanuara! What’s wrong?” Julius whispered fiercely.
My breathing came in short gasps. I had been dreaming that Blair was swimming in the ocean, and great swells were rising above his head. Cuddles was paddling fiercely, but he just couldn’t reach him. I was on the bridge, watching, and no matter what I did I couldn’t seem to go down there. Some unnamed force was holding me back.
Now I had the all-consuming need to go see him. the dream left me feeling that something was not right, and I had to know if Blair was okay.
But my father stopped me before I could race out the door. He was on his way out, too, and I could see my mother waiting in the limo.
“Hanna, please don’t argue, but you have to come with us. Your sister’s in the hospital. We need to leave now.”
Every girl likes to be told they’re beautiful. Vanity might breed vanity, but compliments breed vanity of the purest kind. People were always telling me that I was beautiful, and that they wished they had my height, and that I should be a model. When I turned thirteen, people also began to mistake me for eighteen or nineteen. One lady even asked me, conversationally, if I had kids. this notion was fascinating to me. it’s hard to explain, but I felt sort of empowered, knowing that if nobody let it slip, strangers would think I was older than I was. I loved being able to say, “Nope, I’m only thirteen, but thanks for the compliment.” To me, this was a ticket that allowed me to grow up just a little faster. When you’re thirteen, not a whole lot matters more.
But having a family member or someone you meet in the drugstore saying you should be a model is different than an actual agent saying it. when Joseph Reynolds first approached me with my first job, I turned him down with a feeling of rebellious ecstasy. I had no interest in such things at the time, but after a while, I began to entertain the notion that it could be fun, if only because I got to be on the cover of magazines like my mom and dad were. At twelve years old, I was a dancer, and all I could imagine doing was dance for the rest of my life, with Adam as my partner, for ever. But I wanted to dance, and I would dance, no matter what.
Another agent came, and then another, and another, and I let them slip by. Adam became a little concerned; he thought I was giving up a chance to let my true colours shine. But I assured him that all I wanted was to dance. Though one day, I wondered what it would be like, and that curiosity grew until I finally said yes to a job for Wal-Mart’s women’s summer wear.
The media hailed my decision with a series of talk shows and interviews, as if I had just announced I had found the perfect solution to world hunger or global warming. My shoot went well, and a whole team of reporters stood behind me, cheering me on, but on my way out, I passed the door of the manager’s office, and heard my name.
“Yeah, she’s a beaut, but it’s too bad we couldn’t nail her sister. now, that would make a good model. This one just don’t have the right look, you know?”
“I hear ya,” said the other man. “And what kind of name is Hanuara, anyway? Monica Fei-Ling is the name I would have for my models.” They both laughed, and my heart sank.
Monica was pretty, yes, but I had never heard anyone go out of their way to tell her that. she wasn’t as tall or curvy as I was, and I thought Hanuara was a wonderful name. But they still wanted Monica, and that is a fuel for the fire of sibling rivalry that will forever hold its place. My depression turned to anger, and my focus turned to beating my sister in a competition she wasn’t aware she was in.
I called Joseph Reynolds, one of the bigger agents in the modeling world, and asked if he still had a job for me. he said the photographer friend had been holding his breath, praying that I would change my mind. It turns out he was the photographer for Fashion magazine. That was my first big job, and Joe kept getting me more and more until I earned my title, supermodel-on-the-rise. The media had a field day.
But always, I remembered the Wal-Mart manager’s comment. Obviously, Monica had no interest in being a model, but I couldn’t help notice the way Joe’s eyes seemed to follow her when ever she came to a fashion show that I was in. Especially when I had to turn some jobs down because of my dancing. I began to compare myself to my sister more and more, even dyed my hair black once to match hers. Joe had a cow, and made me bleach it back, and I realized I would never be as pretty as she was, so I might as well just stop trying. Sometimes, though, I wished I could be prettier than her for just one day.
And now, I regretted those wishes more than I regretted the downfall of Lucifer.
Monica was anything but beautiful now. All the times I had found her drunk and dishevelled, or wild and sallow, she had still had an inner radiance that somehow broke through all that. now, it was gone.
I stared down at my sister, fitfully asleep in the hospital bed, connected to so many tubes and wires and machines I didn’t think she could possibly be comfortable, wondering if this was some cruel joke. Why had I even wished such a terrible thing on her, and why would such a terrible wish be honoured? My stomach curled in on itself. How had things gotten this bad?
Steven was there, and he didn’t look any better than Monica did. Even though he was up and walking, he still looked like he was dying inside. And it’s only what’s on the inside that counts, right?
“It’s liver cancer,” said the doctor, coming in and closing the door. I was surprised to see that it was the same man who Lee had called his employer. What was his name? Sevence. Milo Sevence. He hung a chart at the foot of bed and turned to face us gravely. My mother’s face had turned to an unreadable mask of stone, and my father looked like he wasn’t quite there. I felt like throwing up my entire stomach, and my heart.
“How long?” Mom whispered.
The doctor sighed. “She’s had it for a long time. It’s approaching its final stages. There’s nothing I can do. she should live to Christmas, though.”
It was a vain attempt at solace. My mother cried out once and then crumpled to the floor.
Dad snapped to attention. “Su?”
“She just fainted,” said Dr Sevence, pulling her into a chair and reaching up for smelling salts. “This is a terrible thing to spring on her at this time.”
“I got the IV like you asked, Dr Sevence,” Lee said as he entered the room.
I stared at him without really seeing him. Even though he worked here, he was the last person I had expected to see. His white lab coat made his pale hair seem darker, and his blue eyes were like summer. And in the midst of the moment, all I wanted was for him to take me aside, and show me something wonderful, and tell me something else about art. I just wanted to pretend this wasn’t really happening. Of course it wasn’t. I was a vivid dreamer, after all. Maybe the lingering desperation for Blair I had had this morning had morphed itself into the fear I secretly had for my sister. this was not real, and I pinched myself as hard as I could.
Mom awoke suddenly, leaping from the chair and running out the door. dad ran after her, calling her name.
“What caused this? Why is my sister going to die?” I asked the doctor. This was only a dream, after all, so what harm could it do?
He looked haggard as he swept a dark brown curl off his forehead. “Alcohol has a bad affect on the entire body, but the liver especially,” he explained tiredly. “It has to work really hard to try and clean all the alcohol out of your blood, but it can’t get all of it. In short, it was her drinking that caused this.
In motions that didn’t seem real, Lee slowly hung up the IV bag and through the old one away. I carefully avoided looking at Monica, instead keeping my eyes on Lee. his words the day before were now like a slap. Art is beauty, it makes you feel so powerful. But was beauty so worth it if it made you into a monster?
Logically, I knew that it wasn’t my fault, that there were so many round about ways that other things had. The Poet, for one, had taken Adam, which caused Monica to turn to drinking, which harmed her liver, which landed her here. but if I had been a little bit more supportive, instead of screaming at her when she got drunk, tried to do more love, would it have made a difference? If I had not focused on my self so much, would she have been more motivated to stop?
“Hey.” Lee touched my shoulder, making me flinch so hard I almost knocked over a ficus on a cherry wood table. “Come with me.”
When I didn’t move, he took my arm and took me away. I was vaguely aware of Dr Sevence shooting him a warming glance as we passed, Sam and Carl drifting behind like silent ghosts.
He took me to the empty cafeteria and handed me a folded up sheet of paper. “Read it.” but my fingers were shaking to much, and I couldn’t make the words clear, so he gently took it from me and began to read:
“Wisdom has built her house
With its seven columns
She has prepared the meal
And set out the wine
Her feast is ready
She has sent her servant woman
To announce her invitation
From the highest hills
Everyone who is ignorant
Or foolish is welcome to come
All of you are welcome
To my meat and wine
If you want to live
Give up your foolishness
And let understanding
Guide your steps.”
His accent made the words sound almost like music. He lowered the paper and looked at me expectantly. But I didn’t know what the point of that was. “That was part of the ninth chapter in the book of Proverbs,” he prompted. But I still drew a blank. he lowered himself into the chair opposite me. “Art is wisdom, Hanuara,” he said. “Art is like a big feast ready for anyone to join in, if they can figure out how to get there.”
I stared numbly at my hands. “Yeah, so?”
“So, notice how sometimes art can have hidden meanings and messages between the lines? If you can look a little closer, not just on the surface, you’ll find them. So, it’s wise to let understand guide your steps. Let the chips fall where they may; this will all work out eventually.”
I sprung up, suddenly enraged. “But my sister is going to die! For Christmas, my sister is going to die. How can anything good come out of that?”
He took a deep breath. “God created the universe,” he said simply. “He has a reason for everything.”
Face flushed with anger, I stormed away.
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