So that night, I sat at home, and Sophie went to Bendo to see the band, after which, I heard later, she went back to the A-Frame and slept with Will. Despite all her bragging and talk, he was her first, and from then on, he was all she cared about.
For me, though, it was difficult to see the appeal. While Sophie claimed that Will was sweet and funny and hot and smart (as well as a million other adjectives) none of these things really came to mind whenever I found myself face-to-face with him. Will was good-looking and incredibly popular. But he was also hard to read, the kind of guy who is just attractive enough that a warm personality is almost required to make him approachable. Will didn't have that. Instead, he came off as standoffish, as well as eerily intense, and whenever I found myself having to make conversation with him—in the car, when Sophie ran in to pay for gas, or at parties, when we both were looking for her—I felt nervous, entirely too aware of how he stared at me or let long silences fall between us.
Even worse, it was like he knew he unsettled me, almost as if he liked it. Usually I attempted to make up for my uneasiness by talking too much or too loudly, or both. And when I did, Will would just keep his eyes level, no expression on his face, as I floundered on endlessly before finally sputtering to a stop. I was sure he thought I was stupid. I sounded stupid, like a little girl trying too hard to impress. At any rate, I did my best to avoid him, although it wasn't always possible.
Other girls, though, didn't seem to have this problem, and because of it, dating Will turned out to be a full-time job, even for a girl as hardworking as Sophie. From the very start, there were rumors, and it seemed like everywhere they went Will knew someone, usually female. Add in the fact that they went to different schools, which made the stories we heard second-or thirdhand of his wandering eye and—if the constant rumors were to be believed—hands that much harder to confirm. Plus there was the being-in-a-band factor. Plainly put, Sophie had her work cut out for her, and their relationship quickly became defined by a recognizable cycle: Will interacts in any way with some girl, rumors abound, Sophie goes after said girl, then after Will, they argue, break up, get back together. And on and on.
"I just don't understand why you put up with this," I said to her late one night as we drove too fast through a strange neighborhood, yet again looking for the house of some girl she'd heard had been flirting with Will at a party.
"Of course you don't," she snapped, running a stop sign as we took a sharp right. "You've never been in love, Annabel."
I said nothing to this, because it was true. I'd dated a few guys but had never had anyone serious. Although, if this was love, I thought, as we screeched around another curve, Sophie leaning across me to scan house numbers, her face flushed, I had to wonder if that was really such a bad thing.
"Will could have any girl he wanted," she said, slowing down a bit as we approached a row of houses on the left. "But he chose me. He's with me. And I will be damned if I let some bitch decide she's going to change that."
"They were just talking, though," I said. "Right? I mean, that doesn't mean anything, necessarily."
"Just talking, alone, at a party, in a room with no one else, is not just talking," she snapped. "If you know a guy has a girlfriend—especially if that girlfriend is me—there's absolutely no reason you should be doing anything with him that could be taken the wrong way. It's a choice, Annabel. And if you make the wrong one, you have only yourself to blame when there are consequences."
I sat back in my seat, keeping quiet as she pulled up in front of a small white house. The front porch light was on, and there was a red Jetta in the driveway, a Perkins Day field hockey sticker on the back bumper. If I'd been bolder—or just very stupid—I might have pointed out that it couldn't just be that all the girls in town had it in for Sophie's relationship, that Will had to have some culpability in all the rumors. But then I looked at her face, and something in her expression reminded me of that day at the pool all those years ago, when she'd shown up and immediately zeroed in on Kirsten being her friend. It didn't matter that my sister ignored her or was outright rude to her. When Sophie decided she wanted something, she wanted it. And for all the drama, being with Will had made her more envied than ever. She didn't have to follow the most popular girl around anymore. She was the most popular girl. Because of this, I wondered if the way she saw Will wasn't, really, all that different from how I saw her; while staying could be difficult, doing without entirely would be much, much harder.
So I'd sat there in the car as she got out, dodging the thrown brightness of the porch light as she walked up the driveway to the Jetta. I wanted to look away as she took the key clutched in her hand and dragged it across its pretty red flank, spelling out what this girl now was to her. But I didn't. I watched, the way I always did, only turning away as she came back toward me, when I was already a partner to the crime.
The irony was that even though I'd seen Will and Sophie go through their drama enough times to know it by heart, I was still completely surprised when I suddenly found myself a part of it. One bad move on one night, and the next thing I knew it was me she was after—me who was the slut, the whore—and me cut out, not only of her life, but the one I'd come to know as my own, as well.
* * *
"Annabel," Mrs. McMurty, the director of the Models, said now as she passed behind me, "you're up next, okay?"
I nodded, then stood up, brushing myself off. Across the room, I could see one of the new girls, a tall brunette, posing awkwardly with a large blue serving platter from the kitchen store. The calendar shoot was always kind of weird. Each girl got a month, and you had pose with products from a particular store in the mall. The year before, I'd been unlucky enough to draw Rochelle Tire and got stuck with whitewalls and radials. "Hold it out, like you're offering something," the photographer said, and the girl reached forward, extending her neck. "Too much," he said, and she flushed, then pulled back.
I started up toward where the photographer was, working my way around a few girls who were leaning against the wall. I was almost there when Hillary Prescott stepped in front of me, blocking my path.
Hillary and I had started in the Models together. While initially we'd been kind of friends, I'd quickly learned to keep my distance, as she was a huge gossip. She was also an instigator, more than happy to not only report the dish but stir it up as well.
"Hi, Hillary," I said. She was unwrapping a stick of gum, which she now popped in her mouth, then offered the pack to me. I shook my head. "What's going on?"