I turned back to face forward, and then Emily stepped out from behind the curtain. As I saw her, I heard Kirsten's voice in my head, explaining why she was scared to show her film: This is personal, she'd said. Real. This moment was, too, even if you couldn't tell at first glance. It was fake on the outside, but so true within. You only had to look, really look, to tell.
The weird thing was that all fall, at school, rehearsals, anytime we passed, Emily wouldn't meet my eyes. It was like she didn't want to see me at all. But this time as we approached each other, I could feel her staring at me, willing me to turn my head, pulling my gaze in her direction. I fought it as hard as I could. But just as she passed me, I gave in.
She knew. I could tell with one glance, one look, one simple instant. It was her eyes. Despite the thick makeup, they were still dark-rimmed, haunted, and sad. Most of all, though, they were familiar. The fact that we were in front of hundreds of strangers changed nothing at all. I'd spent a summer with those same eyes—scared, lost, confused—staring back at me. I would have known them anywhere.
It was the annual end-of-year party, the previous June, and I was late. Emily's voice, saying this, was the first thing I heard when I stepped in the door.
At the time I couldn't see her—the foyer was packed, the stairs crowded with people as well—but then, a moment later, she rounded the corner, a beer in each hand. When she saw me, she smiled. "There you are," she said. "What took you so long?"
I had a flash of my mother's face an hour earlier, how her eyes had widened when Whitney pushed back her chair, then slammed it against the table, making all our plates jump. This time, the issue had been chicken, specifically the half a breast my father had deposited on Whitney's plate. After cutting it up into quarters, then eighths, then impossibly small sixteenths, she'd pushed it all to the side before commencing to eat her salad, chewing each bite of lettuce for what seemed like ages. My parents and I acted like we weren't watching this, like we weren't even aware, keeping a conversation about the weather somehow aloft among the three of us. Still, a few minutes later, when Whitney dropped her napkin on her plate, I watched it drift down, draping the chicken like a magician's scarf as she willed it to disappear. No luck. My father told her to finish her food, and then she exploded.
By this point, we should have been used to her dinnertime histrionics—she'd been out of the hospital for several months, during which time they'd become routine— but there were still times when the volume and suddenness of her outbursts took us all by surprise. Especially my mom, who always seemed to take every raised syllable, every slam or crash, even the numerous sarcastic sighs like personal attacks. This was why I'd lingered after dinner, standing in the kitchen as my mother washed dishes. I could see her face reflected in the window over the sink, and I kept watching it closely, the way I always did when she got upset, worried I might see something besides her features that I recognized.
"I got held up at home," I told Emily now. "What'd I miss?"
"Not much," she said. "Have you seen Sophie?"
I looked around, past the clump of people beside us and into the living room, where I spotted her on a short couch by the window, a bored expression on her face.
"This way," I told Emily, taking one of the beers from her as I worked through the crowd over to the couch. "Hey," I called out to Sophie, over the din of a nearby TV. "What's going on?"
"Nothing," she replied, her voice flat. She nodded at the beer. "Is that for me?"
"Maybe," I said. She made a face at me, and I handed it over, then sat down as she took a sip, her lipstick staining the rim.
"God, I love your shirt, Annabel," Emily said. "Is it new?"
"Yeah. Pretty new." I reached up, running my hand over the pink suede top my mom and I had found at Tosca earlier the day before. It had been expensive, but we figured the whole summer's worth of wear I'd get out of it justified the price. "I just got it this week."
Sophie exhaled loudly, shaking her head. "This," she announced, "is officially the worst last-day-of-classes party ever."
"It's only eight thirty," I told her, looking around the room. There was a couple making out on a nearby armchair, and I could see a group of people sitting around the dining-room table playing cards. Music was coming from somewhere, probably out back, the bass thumping beneath our feet. "Things could improve."
She took another swig of her beer. "Doubtful. If this is any indication, this summer's going to be the worst yet."
"You think?" Emily said, sounding surprised. "There were some cute college guys outside."
"And you'd want to date a college guy who hangs out at a high-school party?" Sophie said.
"Well," Emily replied, "I don't know."
"Like I told you," Sophie said. "Lame."
There was a burst of noise to our left, and I turned to see a group of people pushing their way into the foyer. I saw a girl I recognized from my P.E. class, a couple of guys I didn't know, and, bringing up the rear, Will Cash.
"See? Things are looking up already," I said to Sophie. Instead of looking pleased, though, she narrowed her eyes.
They'd had some spat earlier in the week, but I'd thought it was resolved as much as anything ever was between them. Apparently not. Will only nodded at Sophie before following the people he'd come with down the hallway to the kitchen.
Once he was out of sight, she sat back, crossing her legs. "This sucks," she announced, and this time, I knew better than to disagree.
I stood up, holding my hand out to her. "Come on," I said. "Let's go circulate."
"No," she said flatly. Emily, who had started to get up, sat down again.
She shook her head. "You two go. Have a fabulous time."
"So you just want to stay here and sulk?"
"I'm not sulking," she said, her voice cold. "I'm just sitting."
"Fine," I said. "I'm going to get another beer. You need anything?"
"No," she said, her eyes on the dining room, where Will was talking to the guy at the head of the table who was dealing out cards.
"You want to come with me?" I asked Emily. She nodded, putting her beer on the coffee table, and followed me down the hallway.
"Is she okay?" she asked me as soon as we were out of Sophie's earshot.