Mairi Stevenson is adopted. Not a lot of people know this. I only know because Mama told me. Mairi sure lucked out when she got Cal and Lindy Stevenson for parents—the Stevensons are rich folk. They’re richer than anybody I know. Ever since we were little, Mairi talked about her debutante party, and how she was going to have her gown flown in from Paris. How there would be a band, how she would wear silk stockings, how everyone would be jealous because her debutante party would be the grandest party Clementon ever saw. How only the prettiest and most popular girls would be invited. She said that if I promised to buy a nice dress and curl my hair, I could come too. I promised. We were seven then.
The Stevensons live in the nice part of our neighborhood, just the three of them in a five-bedroom house. Their brick house is on a hill, and their paved driveway looks about a mile long. They have an outdoor hot tub and a workout room for Mrs. Stevenson.
Mairi has two rooms: one bedroom and one “office” for her books and her computer. It used to be her playroom. That’s where she kept her dollhouse. She had a gigantic dollhouse that used to be her grandmother’s. It had real wallpaper and fancy brocade furniture and even miniature Monet paintings on the walls. I used to love to play with that dollhouse. I’d pretend that I lived in the house with my pretend family. My mother, Beth, my father, John, and my brother, John Junior. It just about broke my heart when Mairi decided she was too old for a dollhouse and Mr. Stevenson had to put it away in the attic. I wanted to ask her if I could have it. I’d have traded Meeks for that dollhouse. But Mrs. Stevenson’s allergic to dogs. And anyway, you don’t go around asking people for a family heirloom, no matter how badly you want it.
Mrs. Stevenson is a good cook. She makes special sleepover food for Mairi’s parties—caramel popcorn, mini gourmet pizzas, macadamia double-fudge brownies. Even though I didn’t want to go to Mairi’s sleepover, I was still looking forward to the snacks. I should have known Mairi is now too grown up for junk food. On the marble-topped kitchen counter, Mrs. Stevenson has set out a platter of raw vegetables, bags of rice cakes, and fancy bottled water.
There’s a great big Christmas tree in the living room. It’s so tall it touches the ceiling, and the ornaments are navy and silver. No homemade Popsicle-stick ornaments for this tree. Not like the Findleys, with their cinnamon and applesauce cookie-cutter ornaments and their popcorn on a string, and their rag-doll angel that sits on top. But at least the Stevensons have a tree. We don’t. Mama thinks it’s silly, commercial.
Mrs. Stevenson’s on the phone when I get to Mairi’s house, and she’s all dressed up. Her hair is curled in an updo, and she’s wearing a silky black tank top and white pants. She waves at me to sit down as she makes a face into the phone. “Suzy sweetie, I’ve got to run. There’s a thing at the club tonight, and of course Cal and I have to make a little appearance. … I’ll call you later, hon.”
Hanging up, she says to me, “Miss Annemarie, it has been far too long, darlin’. How have you been? How’s your mama? Is she doin’ all right?”
Mrs. Stevenson makes me nervous, always has. My palms are sweating as I say, “I’m fine, Mrs. Stevenson, just fine. Mama’s fine too.”
“And that handsome daddy of yours?” She winks, resting her elbows on the kitchen counter.
“He’s good too.”
“Well, you tell them both that Lindy and Cal say hello.”
The doorbell rings then, and Mrs. Stevenson rushes off to get the door. She returns with Elaine, who sits in the chair next to me. Elaine and I sit at the kitchen table like two inmates waiting to be released for good behavior. My hands are in my lap, and I’m sitting straight as an arrow.
Mrs. Stevenson says, “The other girls have gone with Mr. Stevenson to rent some movies. They’ll be back any minute now.” She beams at Elaine. “Elaine, I’m so thrilled you and Mairi have gotten to be friends. She’s told me all about you. It was so sweet of you to have her over for dinner at your house.”
I look at Elaine in surprise. When had Mairi gone to Elaine’s house for dinner? And why hadn’t she invited me?
“I told Mairi that she’s so lucky to have a friend from a different culture,” Mrs. Stevenson continues. “I want you to teach her all about where you come from. Maybe she could even learn some Chinese! Imagine that, my baby girl speakin’ Chinese.”
“Oh, I’m not Chinese, Mrs. Stevenson. I’m Korean, Korean American,” Elaine says. “And I’m actually from New York.”
Mrs. Stevenson’s smile doesn’t waver. “Well, Korean, then. You could teach her Korean.”
Elaine smiles back. “Well, I’m not that great myself, but I could try.”
Mairi and everyone come home then, and we all go upstairs. After we drop off our overnight bags in Mairi’s room, she tells us that her mom and dad are going to a country club party and won’t be back till late. She and Hadley exchange grins. Suddenly the air feels charged, and I have no idea what’s coming.
We change into our pajamas—Mairi in a hot pink camisole set, Hadley in a crop top and boxer shorts, Jo Jo in a striped tank top with matching shorts, and Elaine in an oversized T-shirt with a ripped shoulder. Me, I’m wearing a white tank top I borrowed from Elaine and a pair of Celia’s terry cloth shorts.
I haven’t been in Mairi’s bedroom in a long time, and there are little differences now. Your feet still sink into the marshmallowy pink carpet, she still has twin beds, but she has new sheets. There’s a framed Degas print where her Beauty and the Beast poster used to be, and her collection of glass ballerina figurines is gone. Whenever I came to her house, I would count the ballerinas and name them—Suzette, Violetta, Antoinette, Bridgette, all fancy double-t names. I wonder where they went, if they’re with that dollhouse in the attic.
We’re sprawled out on Mairi’s twin beds doing our nails when Mairi jumps up suddenly. “Be right back, girls.” She disappears.
“What do you think?” I ask, holding out my hands for Elaine’s inspection. The color is called Arabian Nights, and my nails sparkle like rubies. I hardly ever wear nail polish, and I can’t stop looking at my nails.
“Hot,” she says. Then she lifts up her hand—her nails are glittery pink.
“White hot,” I say. “What’s it called?” I like to know the names of things.