“Fine,” my mother said, one hand fluttering to her mouth as she forced a smile. “Have fun.” I was only half-?listening to Rina as we drove out of the neighborhood and she kept up a constant chatter, talking about Jeff and her life, her voice floating out behind us. But all I could do was feel my dread building as I watched the road whisk by in the side mirror, miles and miles of it, each one taking me farther from home.
By the time we pulled onto the highway that passed Corinna's, there was a part of me I was afraid would explode. I kept thinking of Rogerson showing up at my house, beeping the horn. Waiting. And the penalty I'd pay, the hardest of fouls, when he found out I was gone. “Rina,” I said quickly as Corinna's came into view, “turn in here.”
“What?” she said. I'd interrupted her in mid-?story, something about Jeff's ex- girlfriend and a series of mysterious earrings she kept finding in his couch cushions. “Here?”
She hung a hard left, spinning out gravel as we started down the dirt road to their driveway. Mingus was sitting on the porch, and he started barking when he saw us. I didn't see Corinna's car.
“What is this place?” Rina said, cutting off the engine. She glanced around, taking in the trailer next door and the huge field to our left that always smelled like manure. “Just a friend of mine's,” I said, getting out of the car. “I'll be right back.”
I started up to the house, praying that Corinna was home. She would understand this, could get in touch with Rogerson or explain if he showed up there before coming to look for me. I was already planning what I'd say to her, how she'd shake those bracelets and fix everything, as I started up the stairs, glanced through the screen door and saw the living room. It was mostly empty. The couch was still there, and the TV, but all the knickknacks the blue glass in the windowsill, the framed Ansel Adams prints, the clock where the numbers were marked by steaming coffee cupswere gone. As were the afghan from the couch, all of Corinna's buttons from the coffee table, and the picture I'd taken of her sitting on the front porch with Mingus. It was all just gone. I stepped inside, letting the door fall softly shut behind me. Outside I could see Rina in the car, picking at her bangs impatiently, fingers drumming on the outside door. I pushed the kitchen door open: it, too, was stripped of just about everything, even the velvet Elvis. Mingus's bowl was still there, on the cracked tile, and the sink was full of dishes, the window over the small table open, drapes blowing in the breeze. “She's gone,” I heard Dave say behind me, and I turned around to see him standing there, in a pair of shorts, barefoot. He was holding a pack of cigarettes, his hair sticking up in all directions, a crease mark across his face from sleeping. “She left yesterday.”
“What?” I said. “Where did she go?” He looked down at the cigarettes, shaking one out of the pack and sticking it in his mouth. "Home.
California. I don't know. Anywhere away from me.“ He laughed as he lit the cigarette, then coughed a couple of times, closing his eyes. ”Had enough of my shit, I guess.“ Outside, Rina beeped the horn, and Dave glanced behind him, pushing the kitchen door open to glance out the front window at her. ”Um ... did she say anything?“ I asked him. ”I mean...“ ”Nope,“ he said, shaking his head. Then he smiled, kind of grimly, and flicked his ash into the sink. ”It's been coming a while, I guess. I just didn't think she'd really go, you know?“ He rubbed one hand over his head, his hair springing up underneath his palm. ”I justI didn't think she'd really go.“ And then he laughed, like it was funny, but he wouldn't look at me. All this time, Corinna had been the only one who just took me as I was, not caring about whether I wore primary colors, or stuck with cheerleading, or spent too much time with Rogerson. And now, she was gone. Rina beeped the horn again, longer this time. She hated to wait. ”So,“ Dave said, ”you wanna smoke a bowl or something?“ And then he smiled at me, and I felt strange, as if it was suddenly wrong for me to be there. ”No,“ I said. ”I mean, I have a friend waiting for me.“ ”Tell her to come in,“ he said. ”No, I should go.“ I took a step forward and he didn't move, so I dodged around him, knocking my hipbone against the handle of the stove. I could smell himlike sweat and sleep and I was suddenly disgusted with both of us. ”Come back later,“ he called out as the kitchen door swung shut behind me. ”I'll be here. Okay?" I walked quickly through the living room, hitting the screen door hard with the palm of my hand. But just as I started to step out on the porch, I saw something sitting on the little table in a small glass dish where Corinna always kept her keys. The bracelets. They were all there, stacked neatly, glinting in the small square of sunlight coming through the window above them, like a treasure, shining and waiting for me to find them.
I wasn't sure what I was thinking as I scooped them out of the dish, then slid them, one by one, onto my own wrist. I watched as they fell down my arm: clink, clink, clink, a sound I knew so well. I stepped onto the porch, wondering where Corinna was, and how she could leave them behind. But as I watched them catch the light on my own wrist, making her music, I knew the truth was that at home, or California, or anywhere in between, even Corinna couldn't help me now.
The first thing Rina did when we got to the lake house was put on her bikini and pop open a beer. We sat out on the front porch, overlooking the water, where she slathered Bain du Soleil all over her until she stank of coconut, and I sat in my dressand jacketchainsmoking, the cordless phone in my lap. I still couldn't get ahold of Rogerson, and I was starting to panic. If he showed up at Dave's and found out I'd been with Rina, and didn't tell himno. I couldn't even think about it. “Will you put that thing down, for God's sakes?” Rina snapped at me after I'd been dialing for a solid ten minutes, reaching over with one slippery hand to grab the phone away from me and dropping it onto the deck beside her chair, completely out of my reach. “Honestly, I have never seen anyone so co-?dependent in my life. Why don't you go put on your suit, have a beer, and relax?”
“I'm fine like this.” I stretched my legs out to make my point, easing the hem of my dress over the fading bruise on my upper thigh. The truth was I was sweating under my jacket: It was unbearably hot. I turned my attention to the lake, where I could see someone waterskiing, the motor humming as a girl on skis cut a swath back and forth across the water. “Caitlin.” She lifted up her sunglasses and looked at me. “What is the matter with you?”