‘Ah,’ she said. Like she understood totally, even with so little given. Subtext, indeed. ‘Don’t we all.’
Maybe with normal mothers and daughters, it was more straightforward. They had the kind of back-and-forth that left no ambiguity or question, saying exactly what they meant, when they meant it. But my mom and I weren’t normal, so this – stilted and vague as it might be – was the closest we’d come to each other in ages. It was like reaching out for someone’s hand, then missing their fingers, or even their arm, and hitting their shoulder instead. But no matter. You hang on tight anyway.
For a moment, we just sat there on the line, neither of us saying anything. Finally I said, ‘I should go. My friends are downstairs.’
‘Of course.’ She coughed. ‘Call me tomorrow, though?’
‘All right. Good night, Auden.’
I closed my phone, then put it on the bed, on top of my textbook, and walked over to the door. As I went down the hallway and then the stairs, I could hear that same familiar melody, playing louder than ever.
‘… just don’t understand why suddenly we’re all acting like prom night was so great,’ Isabel was saying.
‘Because it was,’ Morgan replied.
‘For some of you.’
‘Exactly,’ Esther said. ‘Some of us got stuck with drunk dates who never made it out of the parking lot.’
Morgan snorted. Isabel said, ‘Shut up.’
‘Personally,’ Heidi was saying, ‘I think prom is one of those high school things that you either really loved or really hated. Like high school itself.’
‘I loved high school,’ Maggie said.
‘Of course you did,’ Leah told her. ‘You dated the hottest guy, you had the best grades, and everyone loved you.’
‘You never wanted everyone to love you,’ Esther said to Leah.
‘I wouldn’t have minded if somebody did, though,’ she replied.
‘My high school boyfriend broke my heart, remember,’ Maggie told her.
‘Mine, too!’ Morgan sighed. ‘God, that sucked.’
‘He was a tool,’ Isabel told her. ‘Way too much hair gel.’
Now Esther snorted. Leah said, ‘Shut up.’
‘See, though,’ Heidi said, ‘this is why this is such a good theme! People who loved prom can relive the experience. People who hated it get another shot. Everyone wins.’
‘Except the losers stuck doing three hundred favors,’ Leah grumbled. Then she looked up and saw me. ‘Hey. You decide to come be a loser, too?’
I swallowed, aware of Heidi looking at me, noticing my red eyes, her expression suddenly concerned. ‘You bet,’ I said.
Maggie scooted over in her chair, making a space for me, and I sat down beside her. ‘So,’ Isabel said. ‘Auden. Prom love or prom hate?’
‘Prom hate,’ I replied. ‘I got stood up.’
There was a round of gasps. ‘You what?’ Morgan said. ‘That’s terrible!’
‘And,’ Leah added, ‘the guy is down here now and won’t stop texting her.’
‘You know what you should do,’ Morgan said. ‘You should ask him to the Beach Bash, and then stand him up.’
‘Morgan.’ Isabel raised her eyebrows. ‘Listen to you, going all vigilante!’
‘I think,’ Heidi said, ‘that you should find someone you really want to go with, and do it right. That’s my opinion.’
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘I think it’s a little late for that.’
‘Not necessarily,’ Leah told me. ‘It’s Ladies’ Night at Tallyho.’
I smiled. ‘No, no, no to Tallyho.’
‘That’s my girl!’ Maggie beamed, then bumped me with her shoulder.
Everyone laughed, and just like that, the conversation shifted, jumping to another topic. It was fast and furious, the talking, the emotion, the back-and-forth and forth-and-back. I realized that if I tried to focus on it too much, I got overwhelmed. So I just decided to relax into it, bumpy and crazy as it might be, and try for once to just go along for the ride.
‘Wow. Nice road burn.’
I looked up to see Adam standing in the doorway to Heidi’s office, a box under one arm. ‘Well,’ I said, putting down my tube of Neosporin, which I’d been applying to the latest scrape on my shin, the result of a wobbly crash that morning. ‘I guess that’s one way of looking at it.’
‘It’s the only way.’ He put the box down on the file cabinet, then yanked up his shirt, showing me a scar on his stomach. ‘See this? Seventh grade, wiped out on a ramp. And then here’ – he slid up his shirtsleeve, showing another shiny white spot – ‘I crashed on a mountain bike trail when I hit a log.’
‘But the pièce de résistance,’ he continued, tapping his chest, ‘is right here. All titanium, baby.’
I just looked at him. ‘What is?’
‘The plate they used to put my sternum back together,’ he replied cheerfully. ‘Two years ago. Broke it with my full-face helmet going over a jump.’
‘You know,’ I said, considering my scrape again, ‘you’re kind of making me look like a wimp.’
‘Not at all!’ He smiled. ‘It all counts. If you’re not getting hurt, you’re not riding hard enough.’
‘Then I,’ I said, ‘am riding really hard.’
‘That’s what I hear,’ he said, picking up the box again. ‘Maggie says you’re like an animal out there.’
I was horrified. ‘She what?’
‘I’m paraphrasing,’ he said easily, flipping his hand. ‘She says you’re really working hard, that you’re doing great.’
I shrugged, capping the Neosporin. ‘I don’t know. If I was good, I wouldn’t be all banged up like this.’
I looked up at him. ‘No?’
He shook his head. ‘Of course not. Look at me. I’m a great rider, and I’ve bit dirt more times than I can even count. And the pros? They’re, like, bionic, they’ve crashed so much. Look at Eli. He’s broken his elbow, and his collarbone multiple times, and then there’s that arm thing…’
‘Wait,’ I said. ‘The arm thing? You mean the scar?’