Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Book 1 > Chapter 24

There was a mist out over the Hudson River, even though the day was bright and some of the tall blocks in the city behind them were flaring with the late afternoon sun. Liberty was just a vague pastel smear in the distance as they came out of Battery Park and onto the promanade by the old red-and-white firehouse. Doris had been once to the statue, close to her ninth birthday when some cousins had come over to visit from Illinois; Bruno never.

The wide concrete way was almost deserted; of the few people around, most seemed to be killing time until the next ferry to Staten Island. A couple of gulls sat on the rail, staring eagerly at the bag of potato chips that Bruno had almost finished. Doris was trying not to do the same.

'Either you're in charge of your body,' he explained as they walked, 'or your body's in charge of you.'

'Tell that to the Elephant Man,' Doris said gloomily.

'You've got to realign your priorities. You've got to redefine Doris Schwartz.'

'Bruno, I will never be a skinny nun; I have appetites, okay?'

'You're not trying to deal with it. You're just feeling sorry for yourself.'

'Oh, yeah? You'll notice I haven't asked for any potato chips.'

'Good for you.'

'But would you mind if I licked the inside of the bag when you're done?' she said, and then added quickly, 'Joke.'



Bruno dumped the bag in the nearest trashcan. He turned to Doris with his full attention. The truth was that he was rather enjoying himself; it was flattering to be cast as confessor and unpaid analyst.

'Look,' he said. 'You know what imagining is?'

Doris nodded. 'The Pia Zadora School of Drama.'

Bruno waved the joke aside with a shred of impatience. 'You imagine your appetite as a terrible monster. And you imagine your willpower as a battalion of knights on white chargers.'

'Imagine my what?'

'Your willpower.'

'I've heard of the concept, that's about all.'

'You're not helping,' Bruno warned.

Doris squared herself up to make a serious effort. 'Okay. My appetite's a monster, and my willpower is a battalion of white knights.'

They began to follow the curve of the path around the Castle Clinton monument, heading back into the Castle Clinton monument, heading back into the park and towards the city. Bruno said, 'What you do is, try to imagine that battalion of knights attacking that monster. Over and over again. It's a terrible battle, but they're winning. They're driving the monster away. Are you imagining that?'

'I'm trying. It's not easy.' 'You're not trying hard enough.'

'It's always skinny people who pig out on potato chips who say things like that. I'm telling you, this is not easy. My battalion of knights is dodging the draft.'

Doris did her best to make the effort, but it was doomed before she started. As they turned a corner, they almost walked into a hot pretzel cart. Before Doris could leap out of range, Bruno took her elbow and steered her onto the grass and away from temptation.

'Keep thinking,' he said. 'They're attacking the monster. They're winning. The monster is faltering. The monster is retreating.'

'The monster isn't retreating,' Doris said plaintively, 'the monster is going out to dinner.'

'Look back, and you'll turn into a pillar of salt.'

'As long as I've got the salt, I might as well get some fries to go with it.'

Bruno sighed. Leading Doris out of the Valley of the Calories was going to be more of a trek than he'd imagined.

Coco's after-school session with Dave Reardon was, fortunately for her, going rather better.

'Applause, applause,' Reardon said from the back of the classroom as Coco reached the end of Angela's big solo speech from Cakewalk. 'It was good. I liked it.'

'Really?' Coco said, lowering the playbook as Reardon switched on the rest of the room lights.

'Yeah, really. You rushed some of the moments at the top, but I put that down to nerves more than anything else.'

'Yeah,' Coco admitted, 'that makes sense.'

Reardon stuck his hands deep in his pockets, and looked at her in a way that was more than a little searching. 'If this is just some kind of class exercise,' he said, 'frankly I don't see what the nerves are all about.'

'I'm not that nervous.'

'Coco,' Reardon said, and his tone said don't try to treat me like an idiot.

'Well,' Coco said, casting around in her mind for something that would suit the occasion without giving her big secret away, 'maybe I'm a little nervous because . . . Leroy and me are kind of on the outs, too.'

'How come?'

'Well, I was supposed to help him with a project he's been working on, and I've sort of been concentrating on this.' She shook her head. 'I just think he's maybe like . . . envious, you know?'

Reardon was doubtful. 'Of a classroom exercise?'

'Well,' Coco said lamely, 'sometimes it doesn't take much to get Leroy teed off.'

Reardon looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, and then he went around to his desk to collect his jacket and the evening's paperwork.

'And sometimes,' he said, 'being the new guy around here, I have to tread a little carefully. Like I know how the school feels about you kids going out for professional auditions.' he glanced at her. Coco knew what he was talking about; professional auditions were out. She'd always known it - but next to what she was hoping to achieve, a petty house rule didn't seem to count for much.

Reardon added, 'Teachers read casting call notices, too.'

He was inviting her to open up. But Coco simply said, 'I really want to thank you for your help, Mister Reardon. I truly appreciate it.'

She grabbed her things and was out of the door before he could say anything else.

Reardon looked after her, ill at ease with the exchange and her evasion. It was hard to know what to do - coming down hard on the side of the rules might mean a crushing of her hopes that would undo all of the work that they'd so far done together, whereas a blind eye meant that to some extent he'd be betraying the school.

Perhaps it would be best to let things run their course. One way or the other.

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