Home > The Dollhouse(10)

The Dollhouse(10)
Fiona Davis

Darby glanced at the other girls. She didn’t look like them, not even close. He was trying to be kind. Not that he was a movie star himself, by any means.

She swallowed the last snail and turned to him the way Stella had done to Thomas. “And what are you doing here in New York City?”

“I’m working as a sales representative for International Mutoscope.”

“Sounds like you’re a spy.”

He grinned, pleased. “No, nothing of the sort. We make the Voice-O-Graph. You may have seen it in Times Square.”

She shook her head.

“It looks like a telephone booth. You pick up the phone inside, put in your money, and record whatever you want: jokes, a story, whatever. You wait a couple of minutes and then a record pops out, of whatever you’ve said. The thing’s wild, I tell you; it’s going to change everything.”

In his excitement, a drop of spittle had landed on her arm. She stayed still, not wanting to embarrass him. “How will it do that?”

“It’s your actual voice. Why send a letter or a card anymore when you can make a recording and mail it off to your grandmother for her birthday? Or let your family know how you’re getting on? They can replay it whenever they like. It’s like sending along a piece of yourself.”

“What an interesting job you have. I wonder if they’ll be hiring secretaries by the time I’m done with my course.”

“If so, I’ll put in a good word, I promise you that.”

She’d hardly been there for two days and she already had a potential job referral. Imagine that! She’d include that in the letter as well.

After dinner, they wandered up Broadway to the edge of Central Park. Even though the hour was late, people streamed along the sidewalks, women clutching the arms of their husbands, clacking along on high heels. Carriages drawn by patient, bored-looking horses lined Central Park South. One of the animals snorted as they walked by and Stella jumped.

They were lagging behind the rest of the group, but Thomas pulled Stella closer to the horse and insisted she pet its nose.

“No, I can’t!”

Darby stepped in. “It’s nothing, really. They’re lovely and feel like velvet. Here.”

She took Stella’s wrist and guided it up to the horse’s face, between its eyes. “My grandfather had horses, and they like to be stroked.”

Stella’s date nudged Walter in the ribs and guffawed.

“Stop it, you two,” Stella demanded.

“Hey, step away from there.” The driver came out from behind the carriage. “He’s a biter.”

Before he’d finished the sentence, the horse tossed its head. Stella leapt away and narrowly missed being nipped on the soft skin of her forearm.

“He’ll chomp off your hand, girly. Don’t you know to ask first?”

A blush of shame fell over Darby. She’d been showing off and had almost gotten Stella hurt.

Stella rubbed her arm, and Thomas was immediately at her side, fuming. He turned to Darby. “You’re a lucky one. If Stella’d been bitten, she wouldn’t be able to work next week. You need to think before you do something so rash.” He rubbed the inside of Stella’s arm gently.

Darby didn’t bother to point out that it was his idea in the first place.

“Sorry, Stella.”

“Don’t be silly. I’m fine.”

“It’s nearly curfew; we should be heading back.”

“We don’t want to get you ladies home late.” Even though Thomas spoke in a mocking tone, Darby was relieved by his words. Until he added, “Let’s cut through the park.”

“Do you think that’s wise?” Darby hated the sound of her voice, so plaintive. But Mrs. Eustis had advised against venturing in after the sun had set.

“Walter and I have the situation well in hand.”

Walter offered Darby his arm and she took it. They headed in at Seventh Avenue and followed the street as it curved east.

“The path that lets out onto Fifth Avenue isn’t far,” Walter offered. “We’ll be back out in civilization in no time. Don’t be nervous.”

The sound of the wind rattled in the trees, and the dim lamplight illuminated a small circle of road at a time.

“Hopefully, we’ll outnumber any marauders,” Darby joked.

“That’s my girl.”

Thomas moved toward a rocky outcropping on their left, pulling Stella along with him. “We’re going to climb to the top so I can show Stella the view. You can come up if you like.”

“No, thanks.” She didn’t want to be climbing anywhere right now. She wanted to be back at the Barbizon.

Stella took off her shoes and handed them to Darby. “Hold these for me. I’ll be right back.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea? You might cut your feet.”

“Thomas says the view is gorgeous.” She winked and clambered up after him.

Walter shrugged. “I guess they needed some time alone. Hope you don’t mind. We can sit here and wait. Or head back now.”

She couldn’t imagine leaving Stella behind. Walter took off his jacket and laid it down on a nearby boulder, gesturing for her to sit.

“Thank you.” She shoved her hands under her legs, tightening the dress around her like a mermaid’s tail.

Walter’s side touched hers and she shivered. “Would you rather wear my jacket?” he asked.

“No, this is fine.”

In the darkness, his breathing quickened and she heard him lick his lips.

“Thomas is desperately in love with Stella; she’s all he talks about.”

“She seems quite taken with him as well.”

“So tell me about yourself, Darby.”

“Not much to tell. I have two dogs, Judy and Josephine. They’re chocolate Labs. I live with my mother and her husband.”

“What happened to your father?”

Strange. Most people avoided asking the question outright. No one in Defiance ever asked about Daddy, even before he’d died, when he’d been terribly ill for months and months. After the private funeral, Mr. Saunders had not tolerated any talk of the man who’d come before him. In a way, it had been a relief.

“He passed away. Cancer.”

“Sorry to hear about that.” Walter stared at her, his eyes glassy in the darkness. “My mother died. When I was born.”

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