“I'm so excited, Mom! Imagine me, Tulip O'Brien going to a sleepover at Katherine Bannister's house.” She was standing just inside their front door. “Maybe I'll get to see her pony. I'm sure I'll see the big TV she's got and I bet we'll watch some DVDs. Too bad it's not summer or we'd be able to swim in her pool.”
“Yes dear, I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time,” her mom said as she helped Tulie into her jacket.
“You don't' understand. I thought Katherine Bannister hated me. She never talks to me in school.”
“Don't be silly. If she didn't like you, she wouldn't have invited you, would she?”
But she only hangs out with rich kids and we'reÉ!” Tulie stopped. She didn't want to hurt her mom's feelings.
“Poor? It doesn't matter who's rich or who's not. We may not have all the things that the Bannisters have, but remember we have a nice roof over our heads, good warm clothes and plenty of food on the table.”
Mom just didn't understand how it was at school. There was a big difference between the kids who lived near the tracks and the kids who lived on the hill. They wore the kind of clothes kids on TV shows wore and had more than one pair of school shoes and walked around in the halls wearing little earphones listening to their ipods all the time or talking on the iphones to each other even if they were in the same room. They acted like they were so special and Katherine Bannister acted like she was their Queen or something.
Gran said, “You're every bit as good as those kids on the hill, and don't you ever forget that.” She handed Tulie a round tin box filled with homemade cookies to take to the party.
“I wish Brenda was coming too. She's going to miss out on everything. But her cold is too bad and her mom said she had to stay home. I'm kind of worried that I won't know any of the other girls besides Winsome” Tulie said. “She knows all the other girls who will be there. They're her new friends.”
“Well then, you will have a chance to make some new friends too, won't you?” insisted her mom. Then she handed Tulie the new nylon gym bag that she had brought home from Wal-Mart that day especially. It was packed with a brand new pair of pajamas, a new toothbrush, a tube of Crest, and a hairbrush.
Gran gave Tulie a warm hug and handed her the shoebox. Tulie had tied a red ribbon around the box. She was sure that once the girls saw the paper dolls that they would be envious of her for a change and she'd be as popular as any girl at James Thurber Middle School. After all, Winsome said that's what would happen.
As Tulie skipped quickly down the front porch steps, the streetlights came on, making pools of brightness in the twilight. She looked back and could see Mom and Gran watching her from behind the lace curtains in the bay window. Mom waved and Gran blew a kiss. Tulie knew they were pleased that she had been invited to a party up on the hill.
The door of the Lee's apartment upstairs banged shut and soon Winsome was coming down the steps to join her. By this time Tulie was used to her friend's idea of fashion. She didn't even blink at Winsome's outfit.
“Nice tutu,” was all she said.
“I used to like, take ballet class every Saturday. I was so totally into it,” Winsome explained. She did not explain the Eskimo boots or the Australian hat with corks bobbing off its brim. Tulie often wondered what Winsome would wear when Halloween actually came along next month.
The two girls walked along Butternut Street, crossed the old railroad tracks and climbed the hill that led to Main Street. They walked past the stores and James Thurber Middle School and then they turned into Parkwood Drive. As they walked along four more blocks, the houses got bigger and bigger and the yards got fancier and fancier. Finally they turned onto Bannister Crescent.
“I wonder what it would be like to live on a street named after your own family?” asked Winsome.
“I can't imagine,” replied Tulie.
A tall boxwood hedge did its best to hide the big brick house with dark green shutters outlining the tall windows glowing with light. The driveway was a half circle made of tiny snow white gravel that almost looked like pearls. It made a loud crunching sound as Tulie and Winsome walked on it. They went up the wide marble front steps to the big front door with a brass knocker that looked like a lion's head. Winsome grabbed the ring in the lion's mouth and banged it.
The door was opened by a kind looking lady with gray hair. She was wearing a pretty white apron with a ruffle along the bottom.
“Good evening, Mrs. Bannister,” chirped Tulie who had been rehearsed in social graces by Gran earlier in the day. “My name is Tulip O'Brien and I'm very pleased to meet you.”
“Oh no, miss. I'm not Mrs. Bannister. I'm Mrs. Lloyd, the housekeeper.”
Tulie cringed and didn't look at Winsome who she thought was probably giggling.
“The other young ladies are down at the stable, but they'll be back in a few minutes, I'm sure. Why don't you wait in the sitting room? This way, please.”
Mrs. Lloyd led the two girls through the foyer with a big staircase that curved around as it went up and up and up. A sparkling chandelier hung from the high ceiling that was painted with clouds to look like the sky. Tulie had never seen so many flowers in one vase as the arrangement that was regally centered on a round shining wood table that stood alone without any chairs around it. She wondered if the flowers were real and then their fragrance told her. They were.
Mrs. Lloyd stopped next to a big archway and motioned them to go in. The sitting room was big, so big that Tulie imagined it would be right at home in Mad King Ludwig's castle. The walls were pale yellow stripes and the furniture was mostly white. Even the fireplace, glowing with flickering light, was white. Over it was a big painting in a heavy gold frame. The picture was a portrait of Katherine Bannister sitting gracefully beside a lady even more perfect than Katherine. They both wore white sweaters and pants and were sitting in a garden with two golden Labradors.
“Hello girls,” said the real life version of the lady, looking up from the fashion magazine she was reading. “I'm Katherine's mother and we're so delighted you both could come. It's a shame you didn't arrive earlier. All the girls are down at the stable watching Katherine put her pony, Glory, though his paces.” She smoothed her blonde hair over her shoulders the same way Katherine did. But Tulie thought her smile was a whole lot nicer than her daughter's as she said, “My, what an unusual outfit you're wearing again, Winsome. You have such flair! And now tell me, who is your little friend?” she asked, looking Tulie up and down.
“This is Tulie. Tulip O'Brien.”
A puzzled look crossed Mrs. Bannister's face and she frowned slightly.
“Katherine didn't mention any Tulip. Such an unusual name. I thought you were the only girl missing, Winsome. There are already four other girls here. Oh dear.”
Tulie's eyes opened wide as she turned to Winsome who didn't blink an eye.
Winsome just smiled sweetly and said, “Oh, I'm sure it's okay. I asked Katherine if I could bring a surprise and she said it was like, fine.”
“Tulip is your surprise?” asked Mrs. Bannister and her eyebrows went so high they nearly shot off her forehead. Mrs. Bannister's surprised expression was nothing compared to Katherine's who came bounding into the room at just that moment.
“Winsome!” she shouted and then skidded to a halt as she saw Tulie. Her jaw dropped and she blinked as if she couldn't believe her eyes. She opened her mouth to speak but before she could say a word, her mother rose from the sofa, walked to Tulie's side and put her arm around her.
“Isn't this a nice surprise, Katherine, dear? Your new friend Winsome has brought us an unexpected pleasure, another guest for your sleepover.”
Katherine's mouth closed firmly and her eyes narrowed as she glared at her mother.
Mrs. Bannister smiled at Tulie and Tulie smiled back. It wasn't her real smile, but she kept smiling and smiling because she didn't know what else to do.
“Now you two girls go right upstairs to Katherine's playroom and join the others. It's the last door on the right. Katherine will be with you shortly. Run along,” said Mrs. Bannister shooing them out of the room.
As they mounted the long stairway, Tulie pretended not to hear the loud whispers coming from the sitting room. But she heard every word and she knew Winsome did, too.
“I didn't invite her! Tulip O'Brien! Really, Mother. She can't stay, she just can't. She'll spoil everything.”
“Well, Winsome evidently misunderstood something you said, dear. Just make the best of it. I'll have Mrs. Lloyd bring a folding bed from somewhere. We'll manage somehow.”
“Why can't she just go home where she belongs?”
The voices faded as the two girls reached the top of the stairs.
Tulie grabbed Winsome's arm. She was so angry she could hardly speak.
“HowÉhow could you? What made you tell such a lie? I wasn't invited at all! You made the whole thing up. I hate you, Winsome Lee and I'll never, ever forgive you for this. Never!”
“Oh Tulie, I'm so sorry, really I am. I didn't think I was doing anything so bad, honest. I thought once you and Katherine got to know each other that you could become friends.”
“She doesn't want to be my friend. You heard her, didn't you? I'm going home!” Tulie snapped and started to go down the steps. Then she stopped. How could she face Mom and Gran? How could she tell them that Katherine Bannister didn't want her after all? They would know it was because the O'Briens lived by the tracks, that Mom worked at Wal-Mart, that Tulie's winter coat was three years old and too small. They had been so happy for Tulie and she wasn't going to make them unhappy.
“Don't go, Tulie, please.” Winsome begged, following her down a few steps.
Tulie stopped. “Okay. But it's going to take me a long time to forgive you for this, Winsome. A long, long time.”
Winsome gave her a hug but Tulie stood still as a statue. Winsome stooped down a little to look right straight into Tulie's angry eyes. “You heard Mrs. Bannister say it will all be fine. And it will. You'll see. Please stay.”
“I'm staying,” said Tulie. “But don't think it's because you asked me to.” She pulled herself up to her full height; put her shoulders back and her chin out. Then she walked down the long hall and into Katherine Bannister's playroom. Four girls turned, smiled at Winsome and then stared at Tulie. Sally Biondi. Julie Patterson. Gay Marino. Maggie Williams. The most popular girls in school. Tulie could just hear Gran describing her as a fish out of water and she knew just how that fish would have felt.
Tulie was saved from having to make conversation by Katherine who burst into the room, bubbling over with high spirits that Tulie knew were just an act.
“Isn't it great that Winsome brought Tulie with her?” she exclaimed. The girls nodded but did not say a word.
“You said you were going to show us your doll collection, Katherine,” said Sally.
Before Katherine could say anything, Tulie saw her chance. Maybe everything could turn out okay after all if she just took charge. She took a deep breath and the words just gushed out of her. “I have a doll collection, too. A paper doll collection. I brought it with me to show you. Winsome thinks they're cool. Don't you, Winsome?”
“Like, totally,” Winsome nodded very softly.
Tulie went to the table in the middle of the room and untied the ribbon around the box with a great flourish. She took off the lid and took out a paper doll. The girls gathered around she took out several more dolls and some dresses.
“They look kind of old,” said Maggie.
“They are. Practically antiques. They used to belong to my Gran,” explained Tulie.
“I think my grandmother told me once that she had paper dolls when she was little,” said Katherine. Tulie thought that perhaps her plan was working. Then Katherine said, “Of course, that was a long time ago and her family was too poor for her to have real dolls like my collection.”
“Where is your collection, Katherine?” asked Gay, looking around the playroom with its pretty green and white striped wallpaper and flowered curtains.
“I don't see any dolls here,” Julie said.
Tulie looked around and didn't see any dolls either. But she did see the biggest TV ever. She also saw an aquarium even bigger than the TV. Brightly colored tropical fish darted around an underwater kingdom with coral grottos and a castle. Tulie could imagine a mermaid lived in it. She had already noticed the rocking horse in the corner. Nobody could miss that. It was almost life-size, a golden palomino with real hair for its mane and tail. And it wore a bright red leather saddle. One wall of the playroom was covered with books that Tulie would have liked to inspect. There was a big, four-story dollhouse filled with miniature antique furniture. But there was not a doll in sight.
“This way to the doll room,” commanded Katherine. The girls left the table without so much as a backward glance at the paper dolls and Katherine led them through a doorway. Tulie put the paper dolls back into the box, but she didn't bother tying the ribbon. She followed the girls into a room lined with four shelves on three of the walls. Every shelf held a row of dolls, beautiful dolls. Tulie had ever seen so many dolls, not even at ÔToys R Us.”
All the girls started talking at once.
“What beautiful dolls!” said Sally.
“Look at their clothes!” gasped Julie.
“This one has furs!” exclaimed Gay.
“Oh, I love this hat!” said Maggie.
Tulie didn't say anything. She couldn't. Her mouth hung open and her eyes grew wider and wider. Never, never, in her wildest dreams had she ever imagined anything as wonderful as these dolls. They were not like any dolls she had ever seen. They certainly weren't like any dolls she had ever owned herself. They were not baby bolls or Barbies. They were miniature ladies, each one dressed in an outfit that made Tulie imagine they were going to a ball or a fancy restaurant or a shopping excursion in Chicago or even New York. No, it would have to be in Paris!
The continuing exclamations of the other girls faded from Tulie's ears as she was drawn into an imaginary world populated by the dolls. Suddenly she heard Katherine saying something she wanted to hear and she jolted back to attention.
“They are called ÔFashion Dolls' and they're not for little girls. Grown-ups collect them. They're not to play with,” she explained in such a know-it-all, show-off manner that Tulie would not have listened to a word Katherine was saying if it had not been so interesting.
The girls were full of questions.
“Where do they come from?”
“Do they have names?”
“Can we touch them?”
Katherine picked up a doll, the one wearing a gray suit with a daisy-covered hat. As she began removing the doll's white gloves and tiny black high-heel shoes, she answered their questions, taking her time as if she was a teacher and girls weren't very bright students. “Mostly, I get them from catalogues and on the Internet. I have thirty-four and I'm expecting two new dolls coming by Fed-Ex tomorrow. They do have names, of course. The dolls are called Gene and Tyler and Kitty. There are other fashion dolls, but I like these the best because I think they have the best clothes. And yes, you can touch them. They won't break. They're vinyl.”
“Like Barbie?” asked one of the girls.
“No! Not at all,” Katherine corrected. “They are taller, first of all. Sixteen and a half-inches tall, to be precise. And they certainly cost more than Barbie.”
Tulie had been afraid of that. She was so curious that she dared to speak up and ask, “How much do they cost, Katherine?”
Katherine shrugged. “Oh, I don't know exactly. Daddy buys them for me. I don't have to spend my allowance on them. But I would if I had to. You can find out how much they cost when you go to the doll's websites.”
Tulie didn't want to confess that she didn't have a computer. She hoped she might get one for Christmas, but that was a long way away. She'd have to use one of the computers at school. Mrs. Mosher, the librarian, always allowed Tulie to surf the web during lunch hour. So on Monday, she'd find all about these wonderful dolls. Maybe she could even buy one for herself. She had over twenty dollars that she had managed to save from the allowance she earned by helping Gran around the house and the yard.
Katherine had undressed the doll she was holding and carried it over to a tall cupboard. When she opened it, all the girls gasped with delight and Katherine stood back with a proud smile. Inside the cupboard were shelves and five rows of railings on which hung hundreds of little outfits.
“The top row is for daytime outfits, this one for evening gowns, this one for special costumes like Christmas or bride dresses, that sort of thing,” explained Katherine in her usual know-it-all voice that usually got on Tulie's nerves. But not now. She hung on every single word.
Tulie couldn't wait to tell Brenda about this. Nobody liked clothes more than Brenda. How she would have loved looking at all the little dresses and suits and gowns. Katherine's dolls probably had more clothes than Naomi Campbell! And certainly not even a supermodel had more shoes and handbags and hats.
“Why don't you all find an outfit you like and dress one of my dolls in it?” suggested Katherine. The girls eagerly began to scramble in the cupboard, chattering and showing each other the little clothes.
“Oh, look at this green dress! It has beads all over it!” said Maggie.
“I like this white fur jacket!” said Julie.
“I'm going to dress one of the dolls in this red dress with the big flower on the shoulder,” said Gay.
“I want to put this bride's dress on one of them!” said Sally. “Look, here's a veil to go with it!”
Winsome had found a little sweater with a reindeer on it and she was trying to decide whether to put it with a ruffled hoopskirt or a Hawaiian sarong. She had already decided that a tiny Mexican sombrero was just the hat she was looking for.
Tulie hung back, watching the girls as they busily fussed with miniscule buttons and little zippers. She waited until they had all moved away from the cupboard and she slowly and carefully looked at each little outfit one-by-one.
“Can't you decide on anything, Tulie?” asked Winsome who was busy adding lots of little jewelry to the odd outfit she had assembled.
“They're all so beautiful,” whispered Tulie. She was imagining what it would be like to have a fashion doll of her very own, thinking of how much fun it would be to dress it up in a different outfit every day and pretend the doll was a real person. Maybe she would be an actress or a pop star, maybe a princess or congresswoman or a famous writer or aÉ.why, the possibilities would be endless.
Tulie made up her mind right then and there that she was going to get a fashion doll of her own. She carefully looked at the rows of dolls and decided on one with long, very smooth reddish hair, just the shade of Tulie's own carrot colored hair. The doll was wearing a pale blue velvet evening gown decorated with sparkling silver stars. She had a tiara and a white fur stole. Tulie carefully removed the beautiful little gown and the tiny tiara. She looked through the outfits in the cupboard until she found a dress with puff sleeves and a long skirt. She chose a big hat with feathers and a cunning little lace parasol. When the doll was dressed she looked like she belonged in the turn of the century. The doll looked just the way Tulie always imagined herself to look when she was the famous scientist, Tulip O'Brien, the first woman to travel back through time.
Soon the other girls grew tired of undressing and dressing the dolls and they decided to watch a DVD of a movie they had all already seen. Tulie hadn't seen it but she didn't join them. Unnoticed and quiet as a mouse, she continued to pick-out outfits from the doll cupboard and dress the redhead doll that she had secretly named. Of course she couldn't even tell Winsome that the doll's name was ÔTulip.'