With its airy, open spaces, Bergdorf Goodman evoked a sense of uncluttered gentility that was a world away from the funky boutiques and consignment stores Cally Monture normally shopped. Indeed, it felt more like a museum, except that she was surrounded by mannequins in slinky evening clothes.
Cally browsed the racks with her new friends from school in search of gowns suitable for the upcoming Rauhnacht Grand Ball—all the while taking mental notes on the textures, lines, forms, and colors used by the high-end labels. With a little luck, she hoped to be able to replicate some of them on her sewing machine at home.
"Ooh! What about this one?" Cally asked, holding up a sleeveless Dolce & Gabbana black matte jersey gown with a gathered bust and plunging V-line.
"It's very nice, but don't you think it's a little too revealing?" Bella Maledetto frowned.
"Duh!" Melinda Mauvais said. A tall, attractive sixteen-year-old with smooth, mocha-colored skin and smoldering jade-green eyes, she was easily the most exotic of the quartet. "The whole point of the Grand Ball is advertising you're eligible!"
"It's just not my style," Bella insisted.
Cally rolled her eyes, unsurprised by her friend's reply. Bella's fashion sense was nonexistent, and her twin sister Bette's wasn't any better, given that they dressed exactly alike. Not that the whole Tokyopop look didn't work every now and then, but only if you were trying to be ironic. The only way anyone could tell them apart was by the color of the ribbons in their hair: blue for Bella, red for Bette. Luckily, the twins were aware they needed all the help they could get, which was why Cally and Melinda had been asked to accompany them.
Cally decided to try her luck with the other sister. "What do you think, Bette?"
"I think it's sexy," Bette said. Since she was ten minutes older than her twin, Bette liked to consider herself more mature.
"You need to pick something out, Bella. After all, the Grand Ball is next weekend!" Melinda reminded her.
"What about you? Do you have something selected for the Grand Ball, Melly?" Cally asked.
"As a matter of fact, my personal shopper called to tell me the alterations to my Valentino are finished. You want to go with me?"
"What about us?" Bella and Bette asked in unison.
"Why don't you go take another look at those Vera Wangs over there?" Cally suggested as Melinda dragged her off in the direction of the alterations department. "We'll catch up with you once we're finished."
"Here you are, Miss Mauvais," the saleslady said.
Melinda unzipped the garment bag and gave the dress a cursory check. She glanced at Cally, who was leaning over her shoulder for a better look. "What do you think?"
"I think it's gorgeous, Melly!" Cally said, running her hand over the fabric. As she did, she noticed that the sales tag was still attached. While Melinda turned to speak to the saleswoman, Cally flipped the tag over and stared at the numbers in front of and behind the comma. The ball gown cost the equivalent of three mortgage payments on the condo she and her mother shared in Williamsburg.
"Would you like to try it on in our dressing room to make sure the alterations are correct?" the saleslady asked.
"That won't be necessary," Melinda replied as she reached into her genuine crocodile Hermès bag and handed the saleslady one of her father's business cards. "I have a seamstress on my staff who can see to it, if necessary. Have it sent to this address."
"Right away, Miss Mauvais."
As they headed back to rejoin the Maledetto sisters, Melinda asked the question Cally had been dreading all afternoon: "So, what are you wearing for Rauhnacht?"
Cally paused, trying to decide whether to tell her friend she had not been invited to attend the Grand Ball as one of the year's debutantes. But it felt so good to be accepted as an equal, and she didn't want to do anything that would ruin the moment or embarrass Melinda by pointing out the social chasm between them.
"I've commissioned an original," she replied offhandedly, hoping it would deflect further inquiry.
"Cool! Anyone I know?"
"I don't think so," Cally lied. "She's just getting started, but she's very promising."
"Rauhnacht is all very sexist and medieval, if you ask me," Melinda said with a sigh. "But I can't bash it too hard. After all, it's how my parents met. My grandfather Asema came to the Grand Ball here in New York all the way from Suriname to find a husband for my mother."
"Your mom's from South America? Cool! I didn't know that."
"Since my ancestors came to the New World from West Africa instead of Europe, my totem is a panther, not a wolf. Lilith used to tease me for being different."
"She made catty comments, I take it?" Cally said dryly.
Cally and Melinda succeeded in tracking down the twins, who were dutifully sorting through the various gowns in the Vera Wang section.
"Have you found something you like yet?" Cally asked.
"I have," Bette said proudly, holding out a sleeveless black gown with a straight skirt.
"I think you have a winner there, Bette!" Cally said approvingly as she eyed the deep V-neck and ruched waistline. "How about you, Bella? What do you think?"
The other twin shook her head. "I don't like showing off so much skin."
"You know, you don't have to wear the same evening gown as Bette," Cally reminded her. "In fact, it's considered a big fashion no-no if you do."
"But we always dress alike," Bella protested. "We're twins."
"But that doesn't mean you're the same person. I mean, you two don't have the exact same likes and dislikes, am I right?"
Bella nodded. "She thinks Johnny Depp is cute. I like Orlando Bloom."
"See? That's exactly what I'm talking about!" Cally smiled. "You two might look the same on the outside, but on the inside you're different! And it's time you started letting others know that.
Excerpted from Vamps #2: Night Life by Nancy Collins Copyright © 2009 by Nancy Collins. Excerpted by permission.
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