“Yeah,” I said. “You're right.” He nodded, then let the hood fall gently shut. I closed my eyes as the breeze blew through again, smelling like summer. “That's a long time,” he said, and I opened my eyes, remembering how he'd stood in the doorway of that party, all those months ago, lifting his chin in that same way and calling to me. Come on, he'd said. Come on. A billion years. It was long enough to learn a lot about someone. “Yeah,” I said, as the breeze blew over us both, sweet and fresh and so brand-?new under a perfect blue sky. He was smiling at me, and for some reason it almost broke my heart. “It is.”
On the Friday before the Fool's Party, my mother came into my room and sat on the bed with a bag in her lap from Belk's department store. Then, she took a deep breath. I was lying on my bed, still a little stoned from the bowl Rogerson and I had smoked on the way home from school. “Honey,” she said, scooting a little closer, “I've been worried about you.” Instantly, even in my detached state, my interior alarms started to flash. Cover, cover, cover. Set the play, keep the defense going. Run and shoot. “I'm fine,” I said. “Caitlin,” she said, cocking her head to the side. “There are some things a mother can't help but notice.” She crossed her legs, her panty hose rubbing against my elbow. She still dressed like the perfect housewife, in nice skirts, flats, and lipstick at all times. She was like one of her dolls: delicate, lovely, and somewhat dated. “I'm okay,” I said. “Really.” She sighed again, and I wondered if this was how it would all end. That maybe she wasn't as blind as I'd thought and had been watching me as closely as she scanned that TV screen each day for a glimpse of her other lost daughter. April Fool, on me. Surprise.
“I'm concerned,” she said, and I realized I was holding my own breath, bracing myself for what was coming next. Maybe I would tell her everything, roll up my sleeves and jeans to detail each bruise and blemish. Crumple into her arms and cry as hard as I did that day she rescued me from the park, holding me tight against her as she ran block after block. Swim up through that water, higher and higher, and burst out to grab her arm before I drowned. I looked up into her face, my own heart aching. Maybe this was it. Maybe she could save me. “I'm concerned,” she repeated, “that you seem to have completely abandoned primary colors.”
“What?” I said. “Primary colors,” she repeated. “Caitlin, all you ever wear now is black. An occasional red or white, but that's it. You know how nice you always looked in blue.” I still do, I thought. Look here, on the back of my wrist, those two spots the size of fingertips. Or here, at the base of my back: That's blue, too. “Mom,” I said. “Well, I just think with a face as pretty as yours color can only make you look better. Black washes you out, honey. Color adds. Color enhances.” I looked up into her face, but she didn't seem to see me, even as I pleaded that she would. “So, with that in mind,” she went on briskly, “I saw this dress today and I just had to buy it for you for the party tomorrow night. Look at this!” She opened the Belk's bag, pulling out a short white dress with a swooshy skirt, covered with a green ivylike print. It was the kind of dress you wore with bare legs and bare arms, white strappy sandals and your hair loose and long. “What do you think?” I rubbed the fabric between my fingers: It was smooth and stretchy. A summer dress, like so many others in my closet I wouldn't wear this year. “It's beautiful,” I said, and looked up at my mother, with her hair in its little flip, her pearls, her pumps with the scuffs on the heel. I looked at her hard, right in her eyes, and dared her in that one second to see something else in me. Not the bruises, which I could hide well, or the shame, which I hid better. But something else at the very heart of me that she should have seen from miles and miles away.
And my mother looked right back, blinked happily, and then patted my leg, standing up. “Good, good,” she said, smiling down at me. “I just wanted you to have something bright and cheerful to wear.”
“I know,” I said. “Thank you.” When she left I locked the door behind her and stood up, sliding off my jeans and shirt and pulling the dress over my head. It was beautiful: The summer before, it would have looked great on me. But now my legs and arms seemed thin and spindly, marked here and there by blue-?black or black-?yellow bruises in different phases of healing, scrapes and spots where the skin had been twisted and yanked that someone else wouldn't notice but I could not miss. I stood in front of my mirror and turned slowly, watching the skirt twirl up and fall around my knees. I wanted to be a girl that could wear a dress like this. Instead, the girl in the mirror looked back at me, and I hardly recognized her. She was just some strange girl who'd tumbled off a pyramid, falling into a dream, and now waited, in a beautiful dress, like some princess in a forgotten fairy tale, for someone to come save her.
That night, my parents, Boo and Stewart and I all went outside to help put up the tent my father had rented for the party. The rental place always offered to set it up for a fee, but my father insisted we could do it ourselves. After the year before, when my mother had been reduced to tears and Stewart had been clocked in the head with a pole, rendering him temporarily unconscious, my father had broken down and recruited a few fraternity brothers who were on thin ice for hazing infractions to help us.
It was just dusk and we were all standing around with poles and bindings, waiting for my fatherwho was already grumbling under his breathto get things started. “All right, Buckley, I need you over here,” he shouted, and one of the brothers nodded and crossed in front of us diagonally, dragging the tent behind him. “And Charles, get that end piece and stand right across from him.”
“Jack, should I put on the back light?” my mother called out.
“No, no,” he said, irritated, even though now it was almost too dark for us to see each other. We all stood there, silently, waiting for orders. "Caitlin, go stand directly across from Buckley. And Margaret, you get five feet down from her.“ ”Okay!“ my mother called out cheerfully, looping her arm in mine as we walked across the grass together. ”I'm so excited about the party,“ she said, squeezing my shoulder. ”Aren't you?“ ”Sure,“ I said. There was something nice, actually, about being there in the falling darkness with my family's voices all around me. It was the same time of night Cass and I had always played tag and kickball, running across yards and over fences until we were called in to dinner, smelling of sweat, our knees muddy and grass-?stained. ”Stewart!“ my father yelled. ”Yes,“ Stewart said cheerfully from right behind him. My father jumped, startled, and then smoothed down his hair over his small bald spot, calming himself. ”I need you,“ he said slowly, ”about one foot down from where you are.“ ”One foot,“ Stewart said in his soft voice, measuring it carefully with one step. Boo, to his right, scooted down a few feet and planted herself, already onto my father's system. ”Okay,“ my father said, after distributing stakes and bindings to ail of us. ”Now what we're going to do is plant this center stake, and then connect all of the bindings to it, therefore raising the tent.“ ”Sounds good!“ my mother, the cheerleader, said. ”Ouch! Christ!“ someone said loudly. ”Buckley!" my father said.