The pulse reached her less as a sound than as a sensation, an electric shock shooting up her spine. In one motion Madeleine tore the pillow off her head and sat up in bed. She knew who was ringing the buzzer. It was her parents. She'd agreed to meet Alton and Phyllida for breakfast at 7:30. She'd made this plan with them two months ago, in April, and now here they were, at the appointed time, in their eager, dependable way. That Alton and Phyllida had driven up from New Jersey to see her graduate, that what they were here to celebrate today wasn't only her achievement but their own as parents, had nothing wrong or unexpected about it. The problem was that Madeleine, for the first time in her life, wanted no part of it. She wasn't proud of herself. She was in no mood to celebrate. She'd lost faith in the significance of the day and what the day represented.
She considered not answering. But she knew that if she didn't answer, one of her roommates would, and then she'd have to explain where she'd disappeared to last night, and with whom. Therefore, Madeleine slid out of the bed and reluctantly stood up.
This seemed to go well for a moment, standing up. Her head felt curiously light, as if hollowed out. But then the blood, draining from her skull like sand from an hourglass, hit a bottleneck, and the back of her head exploded in pain.
In the midst of this barrage, like the furious core from which it emanated, the buzzer erupted again.
She came out of her bedroom and stumbled in bare feet to the intercom in the hall, slapping the SPEAK button to silence the buzzer.
"What's the matter? Didn't you hear the bell?" It was Alton's voice, as deep and commanding as ever, despite the fact that it was issuing from a tiny speaker.
"Sorry," Madeleine said. "I was in the shower."
"Likely story. Will you let us in, please?"
Madeleine didn't want to. She needed to wash up first.
"I'm coming down," she said.
This time, she held down the SPEAK button too long, cutting off Alton's response. She pressed it again and said, "Daddy?" but while she was speaking, Alton must have been speaking, too, because when she pressed LISTEN all that came through was static.
Madeleine took this pause in communications to lean her forehead against the door frame. The wood felt nice and cool. The thought struck her that, if she could keep her face pressed against the soothing wood, she might be able to cure her headache, and if she could keep her forehead pressed against the door frame for the rest of the day, while somehow still being able to leave the apartment, she might make it through breakfast with her parents, march in the commencement procession, get a diploma, and graduate.
She lifted her face and pressed SPEAK again.
But it was Phyllida's voice that answered. "Maddy? What's the matter? Let us in."
"My roommates are still asleep. I'm coming down. Don't ring the bell anymore."
"We want to see your apartment!"
"Not now. I'm coming down. Don't ring."
She took her hand from the buttons and stood back, glaring at the intercom as if daring it to make a sound. When it didn't, she started back down the hall. She was halfway to the bathroom when her roommate Abby emerged, blocking the way. She yawned, running a hand through her big hair, and then, noticing Madeleine, smiled knowingly.
"So," Abby said, "where did you sneak off to last night?"
"My parents are here," Madeleine said. "I have to go to breakfast."
"Come on. Tell me."
"There's nothing to tell. I'm late."
"How come you're wearing the same clothes, then?"
Instead of replying, Madeleine looked down at herself. Ten hours earlier, when she'd borrowed the black Betsey Johnson dress from Olivia, Madeleine had thought it looked good on her. But now the dress felt hot and sticky, the fat leather belt looked like an S&M restraint, and there was a stain near the hem that she didn't want to identify.
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