"So," said Vanessa, brushing her long dark hair in the mirror. It fell in shimmering waves to her hips. "What was up with Straighty Katie?"
Sandra was sitting cross-legged on Vanessa's bed, setting out her French manicure kit on Vanessa's battered old "Intro to Psych" textbook. She started and blushed.
"Nothing much. Do you want your nails rounded or square?"
"Square," said Vanessa. She wrapped her hair into a chignon and fixed it with a comb. A lesser woman would have pointed out that she had seen Katie crying in the lounge, but Vanessa was above such brutal attacks. Instead she flipped through the carefully compiled social dossier in her memory, and chose her words carefully.
"Katie would be really popular if she made more of an effort," she said, languidly clambering onto her bed. She sat across from Sandra and leaned back against the silk cushions. Vanessa, who was not herself South Asian, had a thing for India and had draped her dorm room in sari fabric and decorated with elephants and idols. The more sensitive Catholic girls, made nervous by the presence of Ganesh & Co., were afraid to go in.
"I think Katie is popular," said Sandra indignantly. "Give me your left hand. Everybody likes Katie."
"Oh, sure," said Vanessa, extending a slender arm. "Everybody likes Katie. As a friend. She's pretty, but she doesn't know how to play it up, do you know what I mean? She'd got to ditch those skirts that go down to her ankles and rock a miniskirt once in a while. Otherwise..."
"Otherwise a certain somebody is always going to see her as the friend type."
"Oh my gosh!" squealed Sandra, dropping the emery board. "Who? Who?"
"I don't think I should say," purred Vanessa. "I've seen her looking at him from time to time, even at Mass, scandal. But I don't want to start any rumours. I like Katie and I'm sorry she was so upset just now. I guess she tried her luck with this guy and he shot her down."
"No!" said Sandra. "It wasn't like that at all. It was--! But I'm not supposed to say anything."
"That's okay," said Vanessa, mentally letting out metaphorical fishing line, "I think I can guess. Don't tell me."
"You'd never guess in a million years," said Sandra. "But you cannot tell anybody."
"I never do," said Vanessa.
"Okay," said Sandra, colouring slightly. "Give me your other hand. Some guy--."
"I don't know. They never said. Some guy asked Katie to be his VPD."
"You mean his girlfriend?"
"No," said Sandra excitedly. For once she knew something Vanessa didn't. "His VPD. His Vocational Discernment Partner."
"That's a VDP, not a VPD."
"Whatever," said Sandra. "And she said No, and now she's sad because she really likes this guy, and he said she would make a good nun. Or wait--no he didn't--but nuns came up. There was something about nuns."
"Hmm," said Vanessa. "I thought a Vocation Discernment Partner was a euphemism for a girlfriend or boyfriend. You know, you're dating and you're discerning if you really want to marry this person or if you just like making out with them and having someone to fall back on at parties."
"Nope." Sandra put down Vanessa's right hand and began to shake the bottle of white nail paint. "It's when the guy--or girl--is trying to figure out if he's called to be a priest or a monk or married or just single or whatever."
She picked up Vanessa's left hand and drew a white stripe on her thumbnail.
"I once dated a guy who told me he thought he might have a vocation to the priesthood," said Vanessa dreamily. "That was in first year, before your time. And I had met his parents at Thanksgiving and everything. I was extremely p.o.'d."
"Oh my gosh," said Sandra. It had not occured to her that such things might happen even to Vanessa. "What did you say?"
"I said I was terribly relieved, and that it was an answer to my prayers because I had fallen in love with his older brother at Thanksgiving and didn't know how to tell him."
Sandra slopped the next line.
"The cool part," said Vanessa, "was that he'd spent his entire life trying to outdo his brother, so you can imagine how that went down. He told me he'd never felt so betrayed in his life, blah, blah, blah."
Sandra erased the line with nail polish remover and redrew it.
"So did he go into the seminary?"
"Oh, please," said Vanessa. "What do you think? But he did transfer to State, so that was nice for me. I like my endings tidy."
Like many of the girls, Sandra thought that Vanessa was both really cool and kind of scary. But her conscience told her she had to say something so she said:
"Isn't that a bit....?"
"A bit what?"
"Dog eat dog, baby," said Vanessa, triumphantly. "That's looking very good, by the way."
"Thanks," said Sandra, relieved.
"Now," said Vanessa, "the thing to do is to determine who this insensitive rat is and to punish him."
"I don't think Katie would like that," was the alarmed response. "She really, really likes him."
"And they never said who it was?"
"And yet she was actually crying," mused Vanessa. "So I think it has to be Mike."
"What!" squeaked Sandra. "Mike Machowski?"
"Yeeesss... That would be right. Come on, haven't you seen her looking at him? Sometimes I think I'm the only person in this school with eyes. Come to think of it, he's been looking at her lately, too. But it turns out he just wants some chick to talk at about his vocation. Interesting!"
"Oh my gosh," said Sandra. "I'm so relieved. I thought it might be Nick."
"Of course you did," said Vanessa. "You're obsessed with Nick."
"Then why do you work his name into every conversation? It's a dead giveaway. Anyway, don't interrupt my thought processes here. Mike Machowski is not bad-looking. In fact, he's mighty fine--and, we've discovered, available!"
"Well, not available, if he doesn't know if he's called to the priesthood or the married life or the monastery or..."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," said Vanessa. "Like I said, av-ail-a-ble. So what is he going to do now that Katie's said No? Find someone else to be his VDP?"
"I don't know," said Sandra. "That's what Katie thinks."
"I will ponder this," said Vanessa. "Indeed, yes, I will ponder this. Hurry up with that topcoat, chica. I have places to be and people to see."
"Don't smudge it," the younger girl yelped. "You'll wreck my hard work."
Vanessa laughed and promised she wouldn't. For the next fifteen minutes she sat perfectly still and watched Sandra paint her nails and listened to Sandra enthuse about the mostly imaginary perfections of Nick Rivero. Nick Rivero was embroiled in a psychodrama with a Teaching Assistant, but Vanessa didn't think Sandra needed to know that.
When Sandra was done, she went away happily, although a little guilty that she had told Vanessa Katie's secret when she had promised not to. She comforted herself with the thought that although Vanessa rather spookily seemed to know everything, she very rarely told what she knew.
Vanessa waited for her nails to dry and then carefully plucked her phone out of her Coach bag. She went over to her computer and signed into her email account. After a few moments of clicking around, she found what she was looking for. She punched a number into her phone, got up, and looked out the window. The afternoon had faded away; it was almost time for dinner.
A male voice sounded from the phone.
"Hey, Mike," said Vanessa warmly. "It's Vanessa. Listen, will you meet me for dinner? I have something to ask you. You might think it's kind of random, but it would really mean a lot to me. No... no... Well, it'd kind of hard to explain over the phone, but it's a discernment thing. I'm looking for someone called a VDP."
To be continued... Part 4: Vanessa Discerns