The next week-end when Brenda and Freddie came over on Saturday afternoon they wanted to play with the paper dolls. But Tulie had a better idea.
“Paper dolls are just for poor kids. I've thought of something much more fun for us to do today. Let's go up to my room and pretend we're three famous writers living in a garret in Paris where we're practically starving to death while we're waiting to be famous. It can be during the French Revolution and we'll be in danger because we're aristocrats and we might get guillotined.”
“What's guillotined?” asked Brenda.
“That's French for having your head cut off,” explained Tulie.
“Gross,” was all that Freddie said, wrinkling his nose.
“You're not going to be a princess again, are you, Tulie?” asked Brenda.
Tulie knew it was because Brenda got tired of curtseying to Tulie over and over again. “No, I'm going to be a Comtesse. And you're going to be a Duchess,” she added quickly, sensing that Brenda wasn't too enthusiastic. “You can wear the cape.” The cape was an old chenille bedspread that they all could easily imagine was fur.
“Do we really have to write anything?” asked Freddie. “It sounds like doing homework and I don't have to do homework on Sundays. My mom said so.”
“No,” assured Tulie. “I've already written out the stories for all of us. All about spies and duels and heads getting cut off. We'll read them aloud to each other. It will be neat.” Tulie had been reading A Tale of Two Cities.
“Okay, then,” said Freddie as he and Brenda obediently followed Comtesse Tulie up the stairs to her bedroom. Tulie could easily imagine her own hair powdered white, piled high and festooned with flowers, ribbons, a few plumes and maybe even a bird or two. Brenda and Freddie sometimes needed a little help with their imaginations so she had borrowed Gran's talcum powder to dust onto their hair. She was sure Gran would have said okay but she didn't want to bother her grandmother by asking. Freddie's blonde hair was easy to powder but it took an awful lot to make Brenda's black hair look white. Brenda wasn't sure she wanted powdered hair at first but Tulie was sure she did. Just as Comtesse Tulie was patting a cloud of white onto her own red curls, the doorbell rang.
“Who can that be?” Tulie wondered.
“Maybe it's Winsome Lee,” ventured Brenda. “You've got to speak to her sometime, Tulie,”
“Yeah, you didn't talk to her all week at school. It's getting kind of embarrassing,” added Freddie.
“Embarrassing? Just imagine how embarrassed I was at that stupid sleepover!”
Gran's voice came calling from downstairs. “Tulie. Winsome's here!”
Tulie felt Brenda and Freddie watching her to see what she was going to do. They didn't know she had already decided to forgive Winsome. Her decision had been helped along by a long, long talk with Gran who finally convinced Tulie that forgiving somebody her mistake was the right thing to do.
There was a timid knock on the door and Winsome stuck her head in the room. Then, before she could even say, “Like, hi,” a look of amazement crossed her face. She blinked. She frowned. Her jaw dropped. “Huh? Why is your hair like, white? You look like the three of you stuck your heads in a bag of flour.” She put her hand over her mouth as she started to giggle.
“For your information, Winsome, we happen to be French aristocrats,” explained Tulie.
“Well, you look totally, totally funny,” said Winsome, laughing so hard she had to hold her stomach.
Tulie looked at Freddie who suddenly seemed to resemble a white rabbit instead of a Frenchman. Then she looked at Brenda who had turned into a panda bear. She turned to look at herself in the mirror of her dresser and saw that she was a dead ringer for her own white-haired grandmother. Winsome was right. They did look funny.
Tulie couldn't help herself. She started to laugh.
And then Brenda laughed.
And Freddie laughed.
Soon all four of them were laughing and they couldn't stop. Tulie was shrieking. Brenda was hiccoughing. Winsome's eyes were watering. Freddie was rolling around on the floor, doubled-up with laughter.
After a long time the laughing stopped, but only after several false stops when they'd catch each other's eye and start again. Finally, they were all breathing deeply as if they had run a long race and the room got quiet.
“I'm sorry,” said Winsome. “I didn't mean to spoil your game. I just came over because I wanted toÉwanted toÉ”
“Wanted to what, Winsome?” asked Tulie very sweetly, as if she didn't know.
“To say I'm really sorry for what I did. I didn't mean to like, cause trouble, really.”
“Oh, that's okay,” Tulie said with a shrug. She saw the looks of amazement on Brenda's and Freddie's face. “Do you want to play with us, Winsome? I've got some talcum powder left.”
Winsome put her hands over her hair and shook her head. “Put that white powder in my hair? Hello? I don't think so. I was hoping you were playing with your paper dolls.”
“Yes, Tulie, let's get the paper dolls out. They're lots more fun than the French Revolution,” said Brenda.
“And we don't have to powder our hair,” added Freddie as he shook his head and a cloud of talcum powder settled onto his shoulders.
“Well, okay, if that's what you three want to do, but not me. I've got something more important to do. I'm working on a Christmas present for Gran.
“What is it?”
“A recipe scrapbook. I'm copying down all her favorite recipes in my very best handwriting and then finding pictures in magazines to paste on the pages with them.” Tulie went to her desk where she had been working on the project. She started to sort out pictures. “Come here, Freddie. Let Brenda and Winsome play with the cut-outs. You can help me. See if you can find a picture of a pie,” she instructed. He obediently joined her at the desk, but Tulie could tell he was really listening to the two girls chattering about the little paper outfits they kept pulling out of the shoebox.
She pretended not to listen when Brenda wished the doll she held up had a gold dress like one she had seen Naomi Campbell modeling in some fashion magazine.
“I could draw it, I'm sure,” said Freddie turning away from Tulie's desk.
“Could you really?” Brenda asked.
“Sure,” he said, going to sit on the floor. “I could just trace around the paper doll to get the size right and then draw the dress with those little tabs to make it stay on the doll. Easy!”
“Then I could color it with Tulie's crayons,” said Brenda with so much enthusiasm that Tulie had to listen. Besides, she realized that she had just written the words “gold gown” instead of “egg whites.”
For the first time ever, Tulip O'Brien was not in charge of the fun her friends were having. She had never before felt left out because she was always the one who came up with the idea. Brenda, Freddie and Winsome were always ready, willing and anxious to follow her lead. She was the one with the imagination, after all. And now, here she was at her desk while her friends sat on the floor, busy with Gran's old paper dolls and even busier imagining new clothes for them.
“Freddie, can you like, draw a pair of jeans, next?”
“Freddie, my paper doll is going on safari and she needs a jacket with lots of pockets.”
“Okay, as soon as I finish this ballerina dress.”
“Winsome, do you think I should color this dress blue or red?”
“Red, definitely red, Brenda. Please pass me the scissors when you're done cutting out that fur coat.”
Nobody asked Tulie to think of an outfit. But as she sat there, Tulip O'Brien, who, after all, often imagined herself a world famous fashion designer, was thinking all the time. She was imagining all kinds of fantastic clothes in all sorts of fabulous colors. But she kept them to herself. She stopped even pretending to work on the recipe scrapbook and just watched and listened to her friends as the afternoon flew by. Nobody even noticed her. Of course, she could have joined them, but something stopped her. It was as if they had gone on a trip and left her behind and now she just couldn't go running and beg to join them.
It was getting dark and they had switched on the lamps when Gran came into the bedroom with a tray of mugs steaming with hot chocolate and a plate of s'mores. “Time to call it a day kids. It's getting late.”
Tulie was glad it was time to call it a day. But her friends were not.
“Oh, I haven't finished drawing this cowgirl outfit for your doll yet, Winsome,” said Freddie.
“I want to finish cutting out this skirt,” said Winsome
“I haven't colored this blouse yet,” Brenda said.
Her friends carefully put the dolls and clothes back into the shoebox and Freddie placed the box back on the shelf.
“Let's come back next week-end,” suggested Freddie. “We can finish everything then. Brenda and Winsome quickly agreed. Nobody even asked Tulie if it was all right with her. And after all, they were her paper dolls weren't they? And Brenda, Freddie and Winsome were supposed to be her best friends, too, weren't they? And best friends were not supposed to have fun without her, were they?
* * *
When it was time to go to bed that night, Tulie went to the shelf to get the library book she was reading. It was right next to the shoebox. Tulie paused a minute and took the shoebox instead of the book. She crawled into bed, straightened the quilt and opened the box on her lap. The paper doll right on top was the beautiful lady with red hair. Tulie lifted her out and started to look for something to dress her in. A purple dress? A plaid coat? A red bathing suit? If only there was a pale blue gown with silver stars, the paper doll would look very much like Tulie's wished-for fashion doll. She looked through the whole box but the gown didn't exist. Of course she realized that Freddie could draw it. She could then color it perfectly in just the right shade of pale blue and cut it out carefully. Tulie put the paper doll back in the shoebox and placed it on her bedside table. She turned out the light.
“No. Paper dolls are just for kids who don't have real dolls and I'm going to have that real doll someday, somehow. I just know I am,” she thought. Then she said her prayers and she closed her eyes.