“Oh,” my mother said, adjusting the School Marm's little slate, “I guess you're right.”
“Now, Mrs. O'Koren,” Rina went on briskly, “don't you think Caitlin should come with me out to the lake for the afternoon instead of sitting around here waiting for Rogerson to call?” My mother looked at me. “Absolutely,” she said. ”It's so lovely out! And Caitlin, honey, you could use a little color. You've been so pale lately.“ ”Exactly,“ Rina said, winking at me. ”See? We'll go out there, have a late lunch, and be back in plenty of time for the party. I promise.“ ”I really can't“ ”I told you, no arguments,“ Rina said right over me, walking to my closet and yanking it open. ”Now I am going to the store to buy some snacks and suntan lotion, and while I am gone I want you to take a shower, find your bathing suit, and put on“ and she reached into my closet, rummaging around before finally pulling out the white, ivy-?patterned dress my mother had just bought me ”this dress, right here. It's pretty and you can wear it and still get good sun. I'll be back in twenty minutes. Be ready.“ And then she threw the dress on the bed beside me, put on her sunglasses, and walked out of the room. A few seconds later we heard the front door slam behind her. I looked down at the dress, feeling a bit of the swishy material between my fingers. Of course Rogerson hadn't said when he was coming: I always had to wait around to find out what our plans were, which usually meant putting off any invitations to do anything else until it was too late. I didn't think he'd mind if I could just tell him where I was goingno surprises. I just had to let him know. ”Oh, i can't wait to see how you look in that dress!“ my mother said, tucking the Pledge under her arm. ”You know, I have some tuna salad I made for the party, plus this great pimento cheese spread. With some crackers you'll have a wonderful meal and you girls won't even have to cook anything. I'll just pack it up for you right now.“ ”Oh, Mom, you don't have to* “I want to. It'll just take a jiffy.” And she turned around, so happy to be involved, somehow, in getting me out of the house, back to my old life again. I could hear her fussing around, ripping plastic wrap out of the box, shaking out grocery bags, the same noises I knew from the preparation for all those bake sales and Girl Scout camping trips.
I took a quick shower, then tried to call Rogerson. I had my easy tone ready: Just doing a girl thing, no big deal, I'll be back in an hour or two. But the phone just rang and rang. After I dried my hair, I tried again. Still no answer. I called Corinna's, then the main number at his parents' house. Nobody was home either place. Relax, I told myself. Get dressed and then try again. When I put the dress on, it felt good: light and airy, like wearing summer. I had a pretty big bruise on my leg, which it covered, and one fading on my arm that it didn't; there were a couple of others, one on my back, a very old one at the base of my neck, but when I put on my jacket you couldn't see any of them. Then I sat down and called Rogerson again. Five, six, seven rings. Still no answer, and of course he was the only one in the world without a machine. Where was he? Halfway across town? Orthe worst case scenarioon his way, ready to pull up the minute I left with Rina? I hung up the phone, took a deep breath, and hit redial. No answer. I was still trying when I heard a beeping outside. “Rina's here!” my mother called out cheerfully from the kitchen. “Okay,” I said, hanging up and dialing again. I could feel my heart beating, that same trapped feeling I had every day at lunch as I rushed through the hallways, trying to make it to the turnaround on time. I'd been so stupid to let Rina convince me to do this. Come on, come on, I thought. Just be there. “I've packed some food for lunch,” I heard my mother saying to Rina. “I just made gobs too much for tonight anyway.”
“Great,” Rina said. “Wow, is that pimento cheese?”
“Caitlin! Rina's here!”
“Okay,” I said. “I'll be there in a second.” And I listened to them talking in the hallway, my mother explaining the best way to serve the tuna salad, on lettuce, while Rina made listening noises and popped her gum. And Rogerson's phone rang, on and on. No answer.
“Hey, O'Koren, get the lead out!” Rina yelled. “Let's go!”
“Honey,” my mother said, “I'm putting one of these two-?liter Cokes in this bag, too, since I overbought for the party.”
“Caitlin,” Rina said, “don't make me come get you.”
“I'm coming,” I said, and now I was getting nervous, shaky, trying to find a way out of this. I kept dialing, again and again, while my mother and Rina talked on, cheerfully, their voices bouncing down the hallway and off my closed door. “God, Rogerson, pick up the phone,” I said under my breath, even as I heard Rina coming down the hallway, her fingers already rapping on the door as she pushed it open. “Let's go,” she said impatiently. “You can call him from the lake if you want. Okay?”
“And I will tell Rogerson where you are if he calls,” my mother called out from the kitchen. “I promise.”
“Okay,” I said, but even as I hung up the phone my stomach was aching, twisting in on itself. “Come on then,” Rina said, and stuck out her hand just like we used to do as cheerleaders, pulling each other to our feet, one bouncy move. “Let's go.”
“Oh, honey!” my mother said as I came down the hallway, clapping her hands excitedly. “That dress looks just wonderful. But you certainly don't need that jacket. You can hardly see the lovely neckline.”
“I'm kind of cold,” I said, glancing outside quickly, wishing Roger-?son would just pull up, so I could explain everything while I still had the chance. “Oh, nonsense, it's over seventy out,” she said, walking over and beginning to tug at my sleeve. “Let us see the dress by itself.”
“Mom, I don't want to,” I said, clinging to my cuffs even as she tried to pull it off of me. Rina looked at me, raising her eyebrows. “Oh, don't be silly,” my mother said, laughing easily. “It's a sleeveless dress, Caitlin, and you have such lovely arms. You should show them off!”
“Just let me see for a second.” She just would not let up, reaching behind me to pull at the collar, her thumb brushing the tender spot I had back there, and it hurt. “I'm cold,” I said again. “Oh, please. Do this one thing for your poor mother,” she said, jabbing at the bruise now, and I winced, pulling myselfhardout of her grasp. “I said no,” I said firmly, and her face fell, shocked, as if I'd slapped her. She dropped her hands and they just hung there, limp, in front of her. “Aren't you listening to me?” Her mouth opened, but no sound came out. Then she swallowed shakily and said, “I'm sorry, Caitlin. I... I just wanted to see how it looked.” She was looking at me as if I'd somehow become possessed, changing right before her eyes. As if just then, at that second, she saw who I'd become over all these months, and it scared her. I felt like some prickly animal, lashing out, scared as those ugly possums that sometimes stumbled out into daylight. “We should go,” Rina said quickly, picking up the bag my mother had packed for us. “Thanks for the food, Mrs. O'Koren. We'll be back by six-?thirty at the latest.”