Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Book 1 > Chapter 26

On the Monday morning, Julie reached her locker just as Bruno was dialling out his own combination nearby. She said, 'Have you seen Coco yet this morning?'

'Nope,' Bruno said.

'Did she call you or anything?'

'Yup. I'll let her tell you herself.'

'Oh,' Julie said, disappointed at this lack of hot news. 'She didn't get the part?'

'I didn't say that.'

'She's got a part, but not the one she wanted?'

'I didin't say that, either.'

'She got a walk-on, but with lines?'

'Julie, if you ever get tired of the cello, you'd make a great interrogator for the KGB.'

Julie left her locker to come closer to Bruno, and she lowered her voice conspiratorially. 'I won't tell anyone you told me,' she said.

'Told her what? Danny Amatullo said over Julie's shoulder.

'About Coco's screen test,' Bruno replied automatically, before he'd even realised what he was saying.

'Wow!' Julie said as Leroy passed behind her. 'A screen test!'

'Hey,' Bruno said quickly. 'Do me a favour and don't get all weird about this. Coco's feeling a little uptight, so don't make a big deal out of it, okay?'

Leroy gave a little whistle. 'Temperamental star already, huh?'

'And she doesn't need that kind of talk, either.'

'You her manager now?'

'I'm her friend, just like you are. So give her a break, all right?'

Danny looked around, helplessly. 'So how are we supposed to react?'

'Calm and restrained,' Bruno advised. 'Normal, if that's possible.'

'But Bruno,' Julie said with barely-suppressed excitement, 'this could be the turning point of her whole career - her whole life . . . '

She would have gone on, but Danny signalled her to be quiet. Coco was just coming down the locker room stairs.

'Hey,' she called as she come over, 'Bruno tell you what happened?'

'Ah, no,' Julie said. 'He said you'd tell us.'

'They want me back for a screen test.'

Four faces around her smiled pleasantly at the good news. It was the kind of reaction that she might have expected if she'd come back from the dentist with a clean bill of health.

She tried again. 'Isn't that fantastic?'

'That's very exciting, Coco,' Julie said neutrally.

'That's great,' Danny added in the same kind of tone, and Leroy said, 'Real happy for you.'

Coco's look was one of puzzlement, but she covered it over. She had, after all, other things on her mind. She said, 'Well, I know you guys are all dying to hear the details, but I've got to get working on my scene. I'll fill you in later.'

With the Cakewalk screenplay tucked under her arm, she gave them a brief wave and headed off down the hall.

Bruno turned a jaundiced eye on the group.

'I think you overdid it just a bit,' he said.

Watching Doris in dance class, Danny started to get worried. It wasn't only that she seemed to have no energy, but when he got close-up he saw that she seemed drawn and ill with dark half-moon circles under her eyes. She drew Leroy as a partner, and Leroy left her standing.

In the mid way rest, Danny got himself beside her. He was right, she looked terrible. He said, 'Doris, what's wrong with you?'

'Nothing,' she said. 'I've never felt better. Light as a feather.'

'What are you on, some crazy diet or something?'

'A diet's when you eat nonfattening food. I've been fasting for the past three days and taking those diet snacks you get in the grocery.'

'You mean you haven't eaten anything?'

'Look,' she said, 'I'm fine, really. The important thing is that I've lost four pounds already.'

'Come on,' Danny urged, 'at least eat an apple or something. I've got one in my locker.'

'No,' Doris insisted, 'I've got a plan and I'm sticking to it. I'll start working my way back onto food in two or three days. I'll just have to stay away from Miss Grant's class until then. I'll be fine, really.' And she giggled, a sound which was anything but reassuring to Danny.

But what could he do? It was obvious that he was talking to a fanatic. White knights and monsters. Whoever won, they sure seemed to be making a mess of the battle field.

Coco managed to catch David Reardon between classes, and she handed him a half-dozen pages. It was the scene that she'd been given for the test, and the one for which she'd asked Reardon's help in the form of extra coaching.

'It would help if the rest of the play was attached,' he commented, scanning the pages.

Hesitantly, Coco pulled out the rest of the script and handed it over. He looked at the bound screenplay, at the cover with the movie-company logo. 'How did you get hold of this?' he said.

'Well,' she began, 'I have this friend in the crew . . . '

'Save that, and level with me.'

For a long and uncomfortable moment, Coco searched for the right thing to say. The right thing would have been the truth, but the truth wouldn't come.

She said, 'Hey, if it's too much trouble, we can just forget it.'

'All I want is a straight answer, which you're not giving me.'

'I'm sorry,' Coco said, her guilt beginning to show, 'but if I just came in and said . . . '

She couldn't finish. Now it didn't really matter, Reardon had guessed all that he needed to know.

He said, 'Is this why you've been letting your other commitments go?'

She nodded. 'Do you understand how important this is to me?

Reardon sat back. The look he gave her was long and cool and difficult to read. Finally he said, 'Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. That's why I'm probably going to help you. Come by after school and we'll see what we can manage.'

'And maybe a little before school tomorrow?' Coco said eagerly. 'Could we do that, too?'

'Before school?' Readon echoed.

'I can be here by six-thirty.'

'Six-thirty? Coco, my heart doesn't start beating before seven. Let's take it a step at a time, okay?'

Even without the dawn workout, Coco had a lot to be elated over. Her mind was so out-of-tune with her surroundings that she narrowly missed running into Leroy as she hurried out of the classroom.

'Hey, roadrunner,' he said. 'See you after school.'

'Can't,' she said, still flying high. 'I'm rehearsing with Reardon.'

'What about our rehearsal?'

Coco braked, her elation taking a sudden dive. She turned to face Leroy. 'I totally forgot about it,' she said.

Leroy either couldn't believe her, or he didn't want to. 'Coco, he said simply, 'I've got to be ready in three days.'

'But I just don't have any time with this thing that's coming up. You'll have to find somebody else.'

Somebody else? With three days to go before his showcase presentation? Bruno could say what he liked, but Leroy had been right. Coco was showing just a little too ready to try the tempermental starlet outfit on for size.

'My mistake,' he said, and his eyes held a coldness that chilled Coco like a dark cloud passing over her grave. 'Well,' he said, 'good luck, Miss Diva.'

He didn't turn, he didn't walk away.

Coco had to do that part all on her own.

Compositions were being returned in Elizabeth Sherwood's English class. Danny watched his paper slowly making it's way down the row towards him, regarding it with some apprehension.

'On the whole,' Sherwood was saying, 'you did pretty well this time. Although some of you might look up the word "plagiarism" for future reference.'

'Why don't you just tell us what it means?' Danny said, turning his paper over for a look at the grade and preparing himself for a mental ouch.

Sherwood focussed on him with a grim gleam in her eye. 'It means,' she said, 'In general, that I prefer to read what you think about your subject, rather than what Woody Allen thinks.'

'Oh,' Danny said. 'But how come I got a B-plus and a D-minus?'

'The top grade is for grammar and spelling, and the lower grade is for content.'

'I know. So what's wrong with the content of my cousin's wedding?'

'All you talked about was the food. I felt like I was reading an Italian restaurant review. I wanted to know what happened at the wedding.'

Danny shrugged. 'My cousin got married. That's what always happens at weddings.'

Sherwood turned to include the whole of the class in what she was saying. 'I mean how did people feel and act, not the intimate details of how the manicotti tasted or how the lasagna smelled or how moist the rumcake was.' Something moved at the corner of her vision. Doris Schwartz was getting shakily to her feet. 'Doris, what do you think you're doing?'

'I'm just going to get myself a little sip of water,' Doris began, but she kind of ran out of steam halfway.

'Doris,' Elizabeth Sherwood said with concern, 'are you all right?'

Confusion and disorientation suddenly mixed in Doris like explosive gases. 'No!' she almost shouted, 'I'm not all right! I'm too short and I don't have cheekbones and I dance like a rock and there are people in this place who are so damned perfect I can't handle it!'

Sherwood started towards her, but Doris pulled away. She shouldn't have done it, because once she'd started she found with alarm that she had no strength either to stop herself or to keep on standing. She described a perfect arc through the air, and hit the floor like a sack.

'Get the nurse,' Sherwood ordered the boy who was sitting closest to the door. 'Hurry!'

The boy shot out of the room like a cat from under a burning house, and Julie Miller gave Sherwood a hand to raise Doris into a sitting position. Her eyes were open, but she was obviously out.

'Oh, Doris,' Sherwood said, and she smoothed away some of the damp tendrils of hair that were clinging to Doris's pale forehead. 'Oh, Doris.'

Sherwood's face was the first thing that Doris saw when she came around, but it was with a weird kind of effect; the classroom had faded away, to be replaced by somewhere smaller and dimmer and thankfully more quiet.

'You'll do anything to get out of a snap test, won't you?' Sherwood said, and Doris managed a weak smile.

She recognised the place now; she was in the nurse's cubicle, lying on an ancient iron-frame cot with an equally ancient blanket spread over her.

Elizabeth Sherwood reached over to the bedside table, and handed her a small carton of juice with a plastic straw. Doris started to shake her head, but Sherwood wasn't going to let her get away with that.

'You'll drink it or wear it.' she said, and so Doris accepted and took a small sip. It barely tasted of anything at all.

'How long?' Sherwood said.

'Dieting a little over a week. Fasting about three days . . . '

Sherwood sighed. 'You know, you and I have had some go-rounds in class. When I thought you were being stubborn, and arguementative, and arrogant. But this is the first time I've ever seen you do something that was simply boneheaded dumb.'

'Dumb?'

'Very.'

Doris managed to push herself up a few inches. 'It's always people like you who make speeches like that.'

'You mean teachers?'

'I mean people who are . . . complete. I come to school in the mornings, and you're always so great looking and ladylike and stylish and together - it's like you've got a handle on everything. You know what you're doing and there isn't anything about you that's . . . well, unfinished. I know I'll never be like that. I'll never be the kind of lady you are. I'm a schlump.'

'Doris . . . '

'Hey, come on, let's face the truth. A schlump.' Doris broke off, and took a long pull at the straw in the orange juice container. A sound like a wooden rattle indicated the end of the contents.

Sherwood took the container from Doris, and dropped it in the waste bin on her way to the door.

'Your mother's coming to get you,' she said. 'You're supposed to stay until she arrives.'

Doris nodded. It was no less than she'd expected, and she slid back down under the blanket. Sherwood was about to go, but she stopped with her hand on the lightswitch.

'You know the difference between an adult and a kid?' she said unexpectedly. 'When you come up against something that knocks you for a loop, you think that maybe it hurts so much you'll never get up. But we're older - and we've been knocked down enough by life to know that we almost always can get up. And we also know that we get up just a bit stronger than we were before.'

Doris was about to speak, but Sherwood hadn't finished. She went on, 'Think this over. This so-called stylish and together lady would give her right arm to be half as magical and talented as you are.' She smiled. 'You little schlump.'

And then she switched off the light, and left Doris to her thoughts.
 
 
 
 

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