‘Which was?’ Esther asked.
I shrugged. ‘Throwing myself into books and school, basically blocking everyone out. Especially anyone who might call me on it.’
‘Like Eli,’ Maggie said.
‘Especially Eli,’ I replied. ‘We’d had this one night where we really connected… and the next day, I just shut down on him. It was so stupid of me.’
‘Did you tell him that, though?’ Maggie asked. ‘Today?’
‘Yep,’ I said. ‘But like I said, it was too late. He’s done.’
There was a moment of quiet as this was processed and considered. I picked up the pack of cupcakes, then put them back down.
‘Well,’ Leah said finally, ‘I say, screw it.’
‘Leah.’ Esther sighed. ‘Honestly.’
‘No, really. So you’re humiliated. It happens. And who needs boys anyway? We’ll all just go to the prom together tonight and have a good time.’
‘I thought,’ Esther said to her, ‘that you were determined to have a date, or you weren’t going.’
‘That was before I’d exhausted all my options,’ Leah explained. ‘Now, I’m embracing my single status and just hanging with the girls. Like we all are. Right?’
‘Right,’ Esther said.
They both looked at me. I said, ‘You know, having been rejected twice, I’m thinking I might just stay home.’
‘What?’ Leah shook her head. ‘That’s a total quitter attitude.’
‘Twice,’ I said again, holding up two fingers. ‘In fifteen minutes, within a hundred feet of each other. What’s next? An anvil on my head?’
‘This,’ Esther said to me, ‘is exactly when you need to go out with the girls. It’s a textbook situation. You go with us, we dance together, you’ll feel better. Right, Mags?’
I hadn’t noticed until right then that Maggie had kind of shrunk back toward the door, one foot actually already out in the hall. When we all turned our attention to her, she flushed. ‘Well,’ she said. ‘Actually…’
Silence. Then Leah said, ‘Actually what?’
‘I kind of have a date.’
‘What?’ Esther said. ‘What happened to sisterhood?’
‘You guys were totally blowing that off up until this very second!’ Maggie protested. ‘How was I supposed to know you’d actually come around?’
‘If you tell me you’re going with Jake Stock,’ Leah warned, ‘my head is going to explode.’
‘No.’ Maggie flushed again, then looked down at her hands. ‘Adam asked me.’
Leah and Esther looked at each other. Then at Maggie. Then at each other again. ‘Holy crap,’ Esther said, exhaling. ‘Finally!’
‘No shit,’ Leah said. ‘He finally got up the nerve!’
Maggie brightened, stepping back into the office. ‘So you’re not mad?’
‘Of course we are,’ Leah said.
‘But,’ Esther added, ‘we’re also happy that this sexual tension that’s been going on for years –’
‘Years,’ Leah agreed.
‘– will finally be resolved, one way or another,’ Esther finished.
‘Oh, it’s not like that,’ Maggie said, flipping her hand. ‘We’re just going as friends.’
‘No,’ I said. ‘You’re not.’
She looked at me. ‘What?’
‘He likes you,’ I told her. ‘He told me. And I’m telling you because if you blow your chance, you’ll be really sorry. Trust me.’
‘Excuse me?’ I heard someone yell from the sales floor. ‘Is anyone working here?’
‘Whoops,’ Maggie said, turning around.
‘I’m on it,’ Esther told her, brushing past her to the hallway. Leah followed her, tossing her cup in the trash as she went. A moment later I heard them burst out, already chattering at the customer, as if to compensate for the silence.
Maggie leaned against the doorjamb, looking in at me as I sat back in the office chair. ‘I wish you’d reconsider about tonight,’ she said after a moment. ‘It’s still a memory worth having, even if it’s not exactly what you imagined.’
‘I know,’ I told her. ‘But honestly, I just don’t think I have it in me.’
‘Well, if you change your mind, we’ll be there. Okay?’
She nodded, then pushed off the door, heading back to work. ‘Oh, I meant to tell you,’ she said. ‘Your bike? It’s awesome.’
‘A Gossie with Whiplash cranks, a Tweedle fork, and those fat Russel tires? You can’t go wrong.’
I sighed. ‘Well. At least I’ll be leaving at the end of the summer with something.’
‘I think,’ she said, ‘that was already the case.’
And then she patted the doorjamb twice and was gone again. I looked back at my cupcakes, noting that somehow Esther had remembered that they were the one thing I’d bought, on impulse, all those weeks ago. I unwrapped them, pulled one out, and took a bite. It was too rich, the icing sticky. But weirdly enough, it did match the coffee perfectly.
‘Are you sure about this?’ Heidi asked, for about the millionth time as she stood in the open door. ‘Because I can probably still –’
‘Heidi.’ I shifted Isby to my other hip. ‘Go.’
‘But it just seems so wrong! If anyone should miss this, it’s me. It’s not like I haven’t been to –’
‘Go,’ I repeated.
‘Look, if I find someone there who can relieve you, I’ll just send them –’
I narrowed my eyes, shooting her the best cold bitch look I could muster. She recoiled slightly, and stepped out onto the porch.
‘Okay, fine,’ she said. ‘I’m going.’
I stood there, watching, as she started down the steps. After much debate, she’d selected a long, coral-colored dress with spaghetti straps. It had looked strange on the hanger – too plain, the color odd – but once on, she was a total knockout. All the more reason not to wear the Baby-Björn over it, which had been her original plan, as she’d never found a babysitter.
‘I’m fine,’ I’d assured her, hours ago, when I volunteered. ‘I don’t want to go to the prom, I told you that.’