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The alarm rang at six-thirty. And that's when I learned that my mother doesn't even wake up the way she used to. No snooze button. No moaning and groaning. No "Oh, please!" from under the covers. Instead, she clicked off the buzz, swung out of bed, smiled, and cried, "It's gone! It's completely gone!"
I wanted to moan and groan and say "Oh, please!" from under the covers, but instead I asked, "Your headache?"
She stands up. "Yes! C'mon, girls. Rise and shine! I told LeBrandi we'd switch back right at six-thirty. She's got to get her things, and I've got to get mine." She comes over and sits on my edge of the bed. "Samantha, I'm really sorry about this. About all of this. And I'll come home the first chance I get so that we can talkónow that I know you want to talk. But I think you can see that this is not the time to discuss things. If I can get the part of Jewel, then we'll have some options. But in order for me to do that, I've got to live and breathe nothing but Jewel so that I can become sort of a reincarnation of her."
Marissa sits up and rubs her eyes. "Why can't you just be a new Jewel?"
My mother takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "Jewel is already an established character. And sure, it'd be a lot more fun for me to do my own interpretation of her, but this is a big, big role. The casting director has made it very clear that the producer wants to fill the part as closely as possible in likeness, manner, and voice to the old Jewel, so that Lords fans will embrace her return. Once you're accepted by the viewers, then you can start making subtle changes."
"Is that why your hair's all . . ." Marissa ruffled the top of her head, trying to find the words.
"Exactly. It has really helped me get into character. Max says it also shows commitment, which is something this casting director is looking for. And now that I think about it, it may have helped LeBrandi and me to make the final cut."
"LeBrandi did her hair like that, too?"
My mother nodded. "We did it at the same time. It was scaryó" she grinned at usó"but fun."
Marissa says, "But I don't get it. If Jewel's got amnesia, maybe she doesn't remember how she used to be. I mean, she doesn't even know who she is, right?"
"Marissa, all I can tell you is that if this is what the producer wants, this is what you try to deliver."
"What happened to the old Jewel, anyway? Did she die in real life?"
"No," my mother says, standing up. "The truth is, she got too old and too fat. Now come on, girls. Let's get going."
We got dressed quickly and stuffed our jammies away, and we were following her to the door when she says, "Why don't you wait right here." She checks her watch. "If LeBrandi's not ready, I don't want you standing out in the hallway with that suitcase."
So she goes out while we wait. And when she isn't back a minute later, I stick my nose out and look up and down the hallway.
Marissa says, "Well?"
She looks out, too, checking both directions. "Where'd she go?"
"I have no idea."
She points to the left. "That's her room, right?"
"Maybe she went inside."
Just then we see her, scurrying toward us from the bathroom. She comes inside the room, shuts the door, and says, "The room's locked, she's not in the bathroom, she's not in the gym . . . do you think she's still asleep?"
She's really just talking to herself, so she doesn't wait around for an answer. She goes back to her door, knocks, and whispers, "LeBrandi! LeBrandi, wake up!"
I whisper, "Don't you have a key?" and that's when I look down at our doorknob and notice that it doesn't have a keyed lock. All of the doors just have privacy locks like you find on people's bathrooms.
So I say, "She must be in there. You wouldn't lock it unless you were inside, right?"
She knocks a little louder, "LeBrandi! LeBrandi, it's getting late!"
Marissa offers, "Maybe she locked it by accident. I've done that before."
My mother comes back and says, "What am I going to do?"
I shrug and say, "Just break in."
"Break in? How? I'm not going to rip the door off its hinges."
"Samantha!" She barked it like a dog with laryngitis.
"Sorry! Aunt Dominique."
"Well, what? How would you get in."
"All you need is something like a cake tester."
"I don't happen to have a cake tester!"
"Anything skinny and hard. A paper clip. A piece of wire. A bobby pin?"
She's all over it. In two seconds flat she's got the drawers of LeBrandi's desk flying in and out, but the best she can produce is a pencil.
"No. It's got to fit into that little hole in the middle of the knob."
She starts tearing through the empty drawers of Opal's desk. "Well, help me look! Maybe there's something in LeBrandi's dresser."
So we go rummaging through LeBrandi's underwear and stockings, bathing suits and polo shirts, and find absolutely nothing that will work. Then a pair of socks stabs me. Just digs in and jabs me. I squeal, "Owwww!" then yank my hand out of the drawer as blood erupts from my ring finger.
My mother whispers, "What happened?"
I stick my finger in my mouth and mumble, "I got jabbed by a sock!"
She frowns. "Jabbed by a sock? And you're bleeding?"
I check my finger, then pop it back inside my portable blood vacuum. "Grm-hm."
Marissa's looking through the drawer. "Which pair?"
"They're sort of an olive green . . . yeah, those! Careful!"
Now, to my mother, bleeding is like farting. It's just not something you do in polite company. And if you do have an accident, well, you excuse yourself and leave the room before anyone realizes what you've done.
But I didn't have anywhere to go, so I just stood there, sucking on my finger while Lady Lana wrinkles her nose like the room is full of gas. Then Marissa untucks a pair of socks and gasps, "Look at this brooch!"
It's a large gold oval pin with a red stone in the middle. And even though the stone is too big to be a ruby, from the way it's cut and set, it sure seems like something expensive.
My mother gasps, too, and very gingerly takes it from the palm of Marissa's hand. She looks at the front, then the back. And when she sees the spear of gold used to pin the thing on, she says, "That would draw blood, all right."
I nod and say, "It'll also open a door."
It's like she'd forgotten. "Oh!" She hands me the brooch. "Here!"
So I take the thing, and that's when I see that the design etched in gold around the stone isn't just swirls and swiggles. It's two snakes. Intertwined. And I don't know why, but all of a sudden I get the creeps. Like I hadn't just been jabbed by a broochóI'd been bitten by a snake.
I look at my mother and say, "These are snakes."
She jumps back and looks around frantically. "Snakes? Where?"
"On the brooch, Mom. Right here."
She takes a quick look at it and says, "So what?" Then she adds, "And it's Dominique, Samantha."
I don't know why the snakes bothered me. Snakes are actually pretty cool. Unless they're coiled up and rattling, ready to inject you with poison, that is. But as I grabbed my backpack and followed my mother next door, I kept looking at the snakes, twined together around the stone, and something about it felt strange. Foreign. Like this brooch didn't belong anywhere near California.
Then I remembered the decorations downstairs and asked my mother, "Where do you think LeBrandi got this?"
She looked around nervously, then checked her watch. "I don't know. I don't care. Would you just open the door?"
So I did. I pushed the pin in, popped the lock out, opened the door, and stepped aside.
My mother blinks at me. "You made that look so easy . . . ! Where'd you learn how to do that?"
"It is easy. And everyone knows how to do that." I look at Marissa standing there with her suitcase. "Don't they?"
She shrugs. "That's what I do whenever Mikey locks himself in my room . . . but I think I learned it from you."
My mother peeks into her room, then motions us in, whispering, "She's still asleep! I can't believe it."
Other than the light from the hallway, it's pretty dark inside the room. But I can see the silhouette of someone in the bed against the wall. My mother sits on the edge of the mattress and shakes her a little, saying, "LeBrandi? LeBrandi, it's time to get up!"
Something about this is giving me the creeps. And it's more than the fact that my mother's room is like a little cave, small and dark and coolóit's the air. It feels like it's charged wrong. Like the ions are clashing, and angry or something.
So I put the brooch in my sweatshirt pocket and flip on the light.
My mother jumps, but LeBrandi keeps right on sleeping, the covers tucked up to her neck as she faces the wall. My mother shakes her again. "LeBrandi! Wake up!"
That's when I notice the orange vial of prescription pills sitting all by itself on the dresser, which butts up to the head of the bed. I whisper, "Look!" and point.
She grabs the pills and reads the label, saying, "I told her to stop taking these! She's missed morning conference twice already because of these!"
I moved a little closer. "Sleeping pills?"
"Yes." She hands them over to me, saying, "Opal got her started on them." She shakes LeBrandi again, only this time she shakes her hard. "LeBrandi! Wake up!"
Now, the first thing I notice when my mother hands me the vial is that it's empty. No rattle of pills inside. Then my mother rolls LeBrandi onto her back. And while she's smacking LeBrandi's cheeks with her fingertips, saying, "Wake up! LeBrandi, wake up!" the air seems to be zapping all around me. I mean, one look at LeBrandi and I know.
No matter how hard my mother slaps her, she's never going to wake up again.
From the Hardcover edition.