Natalie's Dark Shadows cover "audition" lasted all of 90 seconds, and that included the exit interview with a photo assistant who'd asked her to scribble her name, phone number, and date of birth on a legal pad next to the notations "BWN/BWN/5'6"/SL." For an emergency contact, she'd provided her stepfather's name and the main number at his office. It wasn't a lie exactly, but Natalie knew the chance of anyone getting past the switchboard operators to one of the New York Times' senior editors was narrow to nil .
As she waited outside the makeshift studio for Jenna, whose session seemed to be going on and on, Natalie tried to work out what "SL" meant. "Slow"? She'd definitely frozen up a little in there. "Slim"? She was a track star, after all. But wait—could "SL" refer to Snow Lake, the out-of-reach location where Nicolai's evil twin Malachai stored his victims' souls?
"Well, that was eventful." Jenna's sarcasm broke Natalie's reverie. "They got me at every angle, including turned around all the way. Wouldn't it be awesome if they decided to feature the back of my head on the next cover?"
"Totally," Natalie said, faking a laugh as Jenna pulled her long red hair up in a fist. The photographer, an alarmingly buff near-albino, had handily dismissed Natalie within a split-second of seeing her. He'd probably only taken that one photo—straight on, with a slight smile—to spare her feelings.
"Okay, so you ready to start paying me back for coming to this geek fest?" Jenna asked obliviously. "Let's hit Calypso first. I desperately needa cover-up for swim class. And if you're nice, Daddy may buy you a patriotic camisole to wear at the beach," she added, referring to the Stecklows' Fourth of July extravaganza at their Nantucket house, which Natalie always attended.
Jenna could afford to be generous with her parents' money: Her father, Brice Stecklow, had become CEO of Diamond Pharmaceuticals seven weeks before the FDA ruled against Diamond's competitor's cholesterol drugs. In other words: ka-ching.
"Sure." Natalie nodded, too distracted to put up a fight. In their brief time at the audition, she'd experienced a week's worth of emotions and was now feeling a little light-headed, or maybe just dehydrated. Apart from the sip of Jenna's Diet Mountain Dew on the bus ride in, she hadn't consumed any liquid since—
"Don't go!" someone shrieked, and Natalie swiveled around to see the Terra model emerging from the photo area with a hyperventilating fan clinging to her wrist. "Please!"
"Did I say geek fest?" Jenna muttered. "Freak fest is more like it."
Up close, far away—Terra was one of those rare lucky creatures who looked the same (i.e., perfect) from every perspective. She was like a cartoon version of a real person, all bright colors and smooth flowing lines. Natalie reached into the bottom of her hobo bag and fished around for her digital camera, which of course was nowhere to be found. She was still rooting around when Jenna gave her a firm shove toward the Exit sign.
Out at the elevator bank, the girls were checking their voice mail when a low raspy voice spoke behind them: "So what—you're trying to escape me already?"
Natalie was staggered to see Terra sauntering out of the studio, one hand clutching a key with an oversize WOMEN tag; the other a black notebook. Her hunter green leggings came to the tops of her ankles, exposing the mostly-showered-off remains of a henna tattoo.
"Not that I blame you," Terra went on with a winning smile. "I swear, those kids in there are crazy like the wolf, huh? One of the girls kept touching my face, so I had to plead bathroom break before I snapped. Fiona was totally insaniac to open up this audition to fans. More so than usual, I mean."
"Well, what can you expect from a woman who's allergic to lightbulbs?" Natalie said, drawing from her familiarity with Fiona St. Claire's Wikipedia page.
The model smiled again, revealing a slightly crooked right incisor. "James," she said, extending out a slender arm. The stack of bangles looped around her wrist jangled faintly. It took a second for Natalie to react: So Terra was actually "James"? Nice name if you could get away with it. Which this girl totally, totally could.
"I'm Natalie," she said after too long a pause.
"Jenna," her friend chimed in, warily. "We were just heading down."
"I'm sorry, but can I ask you something?" James spoke directly to Natalie, as if not having heard Jenna. "I was noticing your bracelet at the tryout. It's awesome—where'd you get it?"
Natalie drew her wounded elbow closer to her chest as James examined the bracelet on her other arm. The only piece of jewelry Natalie ever wore—and she wore it all the time, even at track meets—was her medical ID bracelet.
Natalie's disease was her reason for running track in the first place—her last resort after basketball and softball had proven too violent for somebody whose last nosebleed had landed her in the hospital overnight. Her "coagulation anomaly," as the doctors generously called it, wasn't exactly her favorite topic of conversation with strangers, especially those of the drop-dead-gorgeous Terra-model persuasion.
"Isn't it the cutest?" Jenna said, suddenly enthusiastic. "I got it for her at Tiffany's, for her last birthday. Poor Natty has to wear it in case she loses too much blood and winds up in the hospital or whatever—it makes sure the doctors know what's up."
"Jenna, enough," Natalie hissed. Jesus, why didn't Jenna just fling open the studio door and carnival-bark at the crowd: "Attention, world! Natalie Anne Pollock has a repulsive bleeding disorder! She's covered in bruises and gets monster periods! Step right up and see the freak show in the flesh!"
"Let me see," James said, examining the bracelet. "So Von Willebrand, eh—AKA the good old monthly massacre?"
Natalie looked up with a start. No one knew about Von Willebrand, much less pronounced it correctly. To Natalie's startled glance, James explained: "My friend April has it. It sucks, but she lets me play hearts on her arm."
"What do cards have to do with it?" Jenna asked.
James-Terra shook her head. "No, no—tattoo hearts."
"OK, you are officially random!" Jenna's favorite catch-all phrase boinged through the air, and Natalie cringed at how stupid and suburban it sounded.
"I'll show you," James said, her eyes dark eyes sparkling at Natalie. "Give me your arm."
A little nervously, Natalie proffered the forearm that hadn't been damaged in the elevator. James placed her icy-cold fingertips against Natalie's skin and leaned forward while Jenna turned away in disgust.
"Ready?" And before Natalie could respond, James sank her fingernails into Natalie's arm. "There!"
"It hurt?" James sounded surprised.
"N-no, just surprised me a little," said Natalie. Her eyes flicked down and there it was: a tiny heart-shaped bruise by the crook of her elbow. She blinked hard.
"Okaaay," Jenna said through her teeth, using the tone she reserved for crazies at the food court. "It was nice to meet you. We've got to get—"
But James wasn't paying attention; took no interest even when the elevator dinged its arrival. She was studying Natalie carefully, with Terra-like intensity. "I told you it was cool, did I not?"
Natalie nodded numbly as the pain gave way to a new sensation, a zinging through her ears and hair and fingertips.
"I should introduce you to April sometime," James said, her fingers still pressing hard into Natalie's wrist. "You guys could bond over decorative bruising techniques."
This was too much for Jenna, who heaved a dramatic sigh. "OK, it was ni—"
"By the way," James said. "You have the greatest coloring. Are you Mediterranean or something?"
Natalie chortled. She was bad at accepting compliments, not that she had much practice at it. "Sort of," she said. "I mean, my mom was born in Greece, but she moved here when she was little." It was impressive that James had picked up on this detail of her heritage, since Natalie had inherited her late father's pallor.
"Come on, Nat," Jenna huffed. "We really have to book it or we'll miss our bus!"
This lie was too obvious even to acknowledge, and besides, Natalie could no longer really hear Jenna, whose voice sounded distant and echoey, as if coming from the bottom of the Canyon of Sorrows.
"I thought so," James said. "You're lucky. All the Mediterranean girls I know are really kicking ass in the modeling world right now. Casting agents are totally bored by the whole blond-redhead thing—I mean, it's just so over."
"Well, you're not exactly blond yourself," Natalie spluttered, taking in James' dark ringlets.
"Yeah," James said, turning to reveal a depressingly perfect profile. "But it's not the same. What you have is special. You'll see."
Natalie knew she was blushing, but seriously? What you have is special. Her mind flashed to the amazing scene in My Darklying where Igor reveals that he is a Maker and prophesies that Terra will have the Sight. She caught herself—this was getting ridiculous. Dark Shadows was not real. And this girl was not Terra. Right?