She reached down, twisting the knob, then pushed the door open. "Here it is," she said. "Can you believe it?"
I couldn't. The wall in front of me, like the ones on either side, was covered from top to bottom with pictures from magazines. Model after model, ad after ad, celebrity after celebrity. There were blondes, brunettes, redheads. High fashion, prom fashion, casual fashion, showbiz fashion. One beautiful, high-cheekboned face after another, striking a pose this way, that way, every possible way. There were so many pictures, cut out and edges overlapping, that you couldn't even see the wall behind them.
"Well?" Mallory said. "What do you think?"
Truth be told, it was all completely overwhelming, even before she pulled me forward, pointing at one specific face. It was only after I moved closer that I realized it was mine.
"See," she said, "this is from the Lakeview Models calendar last year, when you were April, and posed with the tires? Remember?"
I nodded, and then she was pulling me a few feet to the right, pointing again. Meanwhile, the other girls had scattered, the redheads flopping onto the nearby bed, where they were flipping through a stack of magazines, while the blonde and the dark-haired girl jockeyed for position on the chair that faced a nearby vanity.
"And this," Mallory said, her finger inches from the wall, "is the Boca Tan ad that was in the program for a basketball game I went to last year at the university. See, your hair is blonder there, right?"
"Right," I said. I looked slightly orange, as well. So strange. I'd forgotten all about that. "It sure is."
Another tug, and the photos blurred as we moved again, this time in the opposite direction, coming to a stop on the far left. "But this one," she said, "is my all-time favorite. That's why I have it right next to my bed."
I leaned in closer. It was a collage of shots from the Kopf's back-to-school commercial: me in the cheerleader uniform, on the bench with the girls behind me, at a desk, on the arm of the cute boy in the tux. "Where did you get photos?" I asked her.
"It's a screen capture," she said proudly. "I burned the commercial to a DVD, then uploaded it and saved the images on my computer. Cool, huh?"
I leaned in, looking even more closely, remembering, as I did each time I saw the commercial, that day in April when I'd shot it. I was so different then; everything was different then.
Mallory dropped my hand, leaning in beside me. "I just love that commercial," she said now. "At first, it was because of the cheerleading outfit, because I was really into that this summer? But then it was all about the clothes, and the story… I mean, it's great."
"The story," I said.
"Yeah." She turned to look at me. "You know, that you're this girl, and you're going back to high school after a great summer."
"Oh," I said. "Right."
"At first, it's, like, all the stuff that happens right at the beginning of school. Like cheering at the big game. And studying for tests, and hanging out with all your friends on the quad."
Hanging out with all my friends on the quad, I thought. Right.
"And then," she said, "it ends with the first dance, where you get the hot guy, which means the rest of the year will be even better." She sighed. "It's like you have this great life, and get to do all this cool stuff. All the stuff high school should be. You're like—"
I looked at her again. Her face was inches from the pictures, still staring. "The girl who has everything," I said, remembering the director's words.
She turned to face me, nodding. "Exactly," she said.
I wanted to tell her, right then, that this wasn't true. That I was far from the girl who had everything; that I wasn't even that girl in the pictures, if I ever had been. No one's life was really like that, one glorious moment after another, especially mine. A real set of snapshots from my back-to-school experience would be something else entirely: Sophie's pretty mouth forming an ugly word, Will Cash smiling at me, me alone behind the building retching in the grass. This was the real truth about me going to back to school. The story of my life.
I heard heavy footsteps in the hallway, then a heavy sigh. "Mallory, I told you, if you want me to take pictures, let's go ahead and do it. I've got a show to work on and I don't—"
I stood up; Owen was standing in the open doorway. When he saw me, his eyes widened. "—have all night," he finished. "Hey. What are you doing here?"
"She came for my party," Mallory told him.
Owen narrowed his eyes. "You came for this?"
"You're helping with the photo shoot?" I replied.
"No," he said. "I just—"
"We needed a photographer," Mallory explained to me, "for the group shots. And now we have a stylist, too! This is perfect." She clapped her hands. "Okay, everyone, downstairs and into position. We'll do our group pictures first, then move on to individual. Who has our shoot list?"
The dark-haired girl got up off the chair by the mirror, reaching into her pocket to pull out folded piece of paper. "Here," she said.
"Okay," Owen said as Mallory took it from her, "tell me why you're really here."
"Fashion is my life," I told him. "You know that."
Mallory cleared her throat. "Daytime Casual first," she said, pointing to the redheads, "followed by Workplace Classy, Evening Elegant, and Nighttime Formal."
"Fantasy Engagement," the blonde corrected her.
"Downstairs!" Mallory said. "Let's go!"
The redheads got off the bed, heading for the door, the dark-haired girl in the black following along. The blonde, in comparison, took her time, shooting me a look as she passed.
"Hi, Owen," she said as she walked by him, the hem of her dress dragging on the carpet.
Owen nodded at her, a flat expression on his face. "Hello, Elinor," he said. At the sound of her name, her face flushed pink and she picked up speed, darting out the door and down the hallway, where she was greeted with a burst of giggling.
Mallory followed her friends, then stopped in the doorway, turning back to look at us. "Owen," she said, "I'll need you downstairs in five, ready to shoot. Annabel, you can style and supervise."
"Watch the tone, Mallory," Owen told her. "Or you'll be taking self-portraits."
"Five minutes!" she said. Then she clomped down the hallway, her voice rising up as she continued to order her friends around.