Sophie glanced over at my mom, watching her for a second, and I had a flash of her that night at dinner, wincing as Whitney slammed her chair into the table. I'd been so worried about her that night, so many nights, and I couldn't imagine what she'd make of this if it ever got back to her.
"Sophie," I said again. "Just—"
"Get away from me," she said. "I never want to see you again."
Then she pushed past me, shaking her head, and walked away. Somehow, I managed to turn around and make my way back down the aisle, the shelves blurring as I passed them. I saw a woman with a kid on her hip, an old man pushing a walker, some stock clerk examining a price gun, and then, finally, my mom, standing by a sunscreen display, looking for me.
"There you are," she said as I approached. "How's Sophie?"
I forced myself to take in a breath. "She's good," I said. "Fine."
It was the first lie I told my mother about Sophie, but by no means the last. Then, I'd still thought everything I felt about that night—the shame, the fear—would fade in time, healing like a onetime gash to a single, barely noticeable scar. But that hadn't happened. Instead, the things that I remembered, these little details, seemed to grow stronger, to the point where I could feel their weight in my chest. Nothing, however, stuck with me more than the memory of stepping into that dark room and what I found there, and how the light then took that nightmare and made it real.
That was the thing: Once, the difference between light and dark had been basic. One was good, one bad. Suddenly, though, things weren't so clear. The dark was still a mystery, something hidden, something to be scared of, but I'd come to fear the light, too. It was where everything was revealed, or seemed to be. Eyes closed, I saw only the blackness, reminding me of this one thing, the most deep of my secrets; eyes open, there was only the world that didn't know it, bright, inescapable, and somehow, still there.
"Hey," Owen said, smiling as he turned around to face me. "You made it."
And I had. I was there, at Bendo, standing in front of the stage. How, though, I wasn't exactly sure. In fact, everything since Emily and I had finally come face-to-face was a bit of a blur.
Somehow, I'd managed to finish the fashion show, modeling three other outfits and clapping as Mrs. McMurty pretended to be both totally embarrassed and completely surprised to be coaxed onstage for flowers, just like every other year. Afterwards, I'd gone backstage, where my parents were waiting.
When my mother saw me, she pulled me in for a hug, her hands smoothing over my back. "You were fantastic," she said. "Absolutely gorgeous."
"Although that dress is a little low-cut," my dad added, eyeing the white sheath I'd worn for the formal segment, the last one of the show. "Wouldn't you say?"
"No," my mom said, swatting him as she pulled away from me. "It's perfect. You were perfect."
I forced a smile, but my mind was still reeling. There were so many people behind the stage, so much noise and commotion, but all I could think about was Emily. She knew, I thought as my mom said something about finding Mrs. McMurty. She knew.
I reached up, tucking a piece of hair behind my ear. I felt nervous, jumpy, the noise of the crowd and the heat of all those bodies not helping, and now my mother was talking again.
"… just wonderful, but we should get home. Whitney's fixing dinner, and I told her we'd be there ten minutes ago."
"Whitney?" I said as my dad nodded at a man in a suit as he passed, saying his name. "She's not here?"
My mom squeezed my shoulder. "Oh, sweetie, I'm sure she would have liked to come, but it's still hard for her, I think… She wanted to stay home. But we loved it. We really did."
With everything that had happened with Emily, I felt crazy, but I knew one thing: That had been my sister, watching me from a distance as I reached the end of the runway. I would have bet my life on it.
I felt a hand on my arm, and turned to see Mrs. McMurty standing there, a tall, gray-haired man in a suit beside her. "Annabel," she said, smiling, "I want you to meet Mr. Driscoll. He's the head of marketing for Kopf's, and he wanted to say hello."
"Hi," I said. "It's nice to meet you."
"And you as well," he replied, reaching out his hand. His palm was dry and cool. "We're all big fans. We loved you in the back-to-school commercial."
"Thank you," I said.
"Great show." He smiled, nodding at my mom and dad, and then he and Mrs. McMurty were moving on, through the crowd. My mother watched them go, her face flushed.
"Oh, Annabel," she said. She squeezed my arm again, not saying anything else, but I got the message. Loud and clear.
Just then, over my mom's head, I saw Mrs. Shuster, a coat folded over her arm, standing by the back edge of the stage. She looked at her watch, then glanced around, worried. A second later, her face relaxed, and I saw Emily walking toward her. Her hair was still up, her makeup on, but she'd changed back into regular clothes and wasn't talking to anyone as she made her way through the crowd.
"Urn, I should go change," I said to my parents. "These shoes are killing me."
My mom nodded, then leaned in, giving me another kiss. "Of course," she said as Mr. Driscoll walked past again, this time without Mrs. McMurty. My mom watched him go, then said, "I'll put aside a plate for you, all right?"
"Actually," I said, "um, some of us were going to go out for pizza. You know, to celebrate the show being over, and all."
"Oh," my mom said. "Well, I know you must be exhausted, so don't stay out too long. Okay?"
I nodded as, behind her, I watched Mrs. Shuster reach out to Emily, handing her the coat and standing there, her face somber, as Emily shrugged it on. Then she slid her hand down her daughter's arm, rubbing it slightly, and they started toward the mall exit. I turned my attention back to my mother, quickly. "I won't be too late," I said.
"Eleven at the latest," my father said as he leaned down to give me a hug. "Right?"
"Right," I replied.
The entire time I was changing out of my outfit, then walking to my car and driving across town, I told myself I had to push what had happened with Emily out of my mind. I'd been looking forward to going to Bendo, and I was determined to enjoy it. Or try to.
Starting right now.
"So," I said as Owen turned back to the stage, "what'd I miss?"
"Not much," he replied as someone bumped me from behind. As I pitched forward he reached out, grabbing my arm. "Whoa," he said. "Watch the footing, this place is kind of a madhouse." There was a burst of feedback from the stage in front of us, and a group of people to our left let loose with a loud chorus of boos. Owen leaned his head down closer to my ear. "How was the fashion show?"