“There’s this party, I don’t know,” he said. “Over in the Arbors.”
“Yeah. It might be lame, though.”
I nodded, because that was always safest, then lied, which was second best. “Oh, yeah. I think Scarlett might have mentioned it.”
“Yeah, I’m sure she knows about it.” Scarlett was our middle ground. “You guys should come, you know?”
“Maybe we will,” I said, having already made up my mind we would be there even if God himself tried to stop us. “If she wants to. I don’t know.”
“Well,” he said, looking up at me with a shock of blond hair falling across his forehead, “even if she can’t make it, you should come.”
“I can’t come by myself,” I said without thinking.
“You won’t be by yourself,” he said. “I’ll be there.”
“Oh.” That was when I looked at the clock, over his head, marking this moment forever. The culmination of all those badminton matches and volleyball serves, of laps run around the gym in circles. This was what I’d been waiting for. “Okay. I’ll be there.”
“Good.” He was smiling at me, and right then I would have agreed to anything he asked, as dangerous as that was. “I’ll see you there.”
The bell rang then, loud and jarring and bounding off the walls of the huge, hollow gym as everyone stood up. Coach Van Leek was yelling about bowling starting on Monday and how we should all come ready to learn the five-step approach, but I wasn’t hearing him, or anyone, as Macon grabbed his notebook and stood up, sticking out a hand to me to pull me to my feet. I just looked up at him, wondering what I could be getting myself into, but it didn’t matter. I put my hand in Macon’s, feeling his fingers close over mine. I let him pull me toward him, to my feet, and my eyes were wide open.
After school Scarlett and I went to her house, where Marion was busy getting ready for a big date with an accountant she’d met named Steve Michaelson. She was painting her fingernails and chain-smoking while Scarlett and I ate potato chips and watched.
“So,” I said, “what’s this Steve guy like anyway?”
“He’s very nice,” Marion said in her gravelly voice, exhaling a stream of smoke. “Very serious, but in a sweet way. He’s the friend of a friend of a friend.”
“Tell her the other thing,” Scarlett said, popping another chip in her mouth.
“What thing?” Marion shook the bottle of polish.
“What?” I said.
Marion held up one hand, examining it. “Oh, it’s just this thing he does. It’s a hobby.”
“Tell her,” Scarlett said again, then raised her eyebrows at me so I knew something good was coming.
Marion looked at her, sighed, and said, “He’s in this group. It’s like a history club, where they study the medieval period together, on weekends.”
“That’s interesting,” I said as Scarlett pushed her chair out and went to the sink. “A history club.”
“Marion.” Scarlett ran her hands under the faucet. “Tell her what he does in this club.”
“What? What does he do?” I couldn’t stand it.
“He dresses up,” Scarlett said before Marion even opened her mouth. “He has this, like, medieval alter-ego, and on the weekends he and all his friends dress up in medieval clothes and become these characters. They joust and have festivals and sing ballads.”
“They don’t joust,” Marion grumbled, starting on her other hand.
“Yes, they do,” Scarlett said. “I talked to him the other night. He told me everything.”
“Well, so what?” Marion said. “Big deal. I think it’s kind of sweet, actually. It’s like a whole other world.”
“It’s, like, crazy,” Scarlett said, coming back to the table and sitting down beside me. “He’s a nut.”
“He is not.”
“You know what his alter-ego name is?” she asked me. “Just guess.”
I looked at her. “I cannot imagine.”
Marion was acting like she couldn’t hear us, engrossed in buffing a pinky nail.
“Vlad,” Scarlett said dramatically. “Vlad the Impaler.”
“It’s not the Impaler,” Marion said snippily, “it’s the Warrior. There’s a difference.”
“Whatever.” Scarlett was never happy with anyone Marion dated; mostly they were men who stared at her uncomfortably as they passed out the door on weekend mornings.
“Well,” I said slowly as Marion finished her left hand and waved it in the air, “I’m sure he’s very nice.”
“He is,” she said simply, getting up from the table and walking to the stairs, fingers outstretched and wiggling in front of her. “And Scarlett would know it too, if she ever gave anyone a fair chance.”
We heard her go upstairs, the floor creaking over our heads as she walked down the hall to her room. Scarlett picked up the dirty cotton balls, tossing them out, and collected the polish and the remover, putting them back in the basket by the bathroom where they belonged.
“I’ve given lots of people chances,” she said suddenly, as if Marion was still in the room to hear her. “But there’s only so much faith you can have in people.”
We sat in her bedroom and watched as Steve arrived, in his Hyundai hatchback, with flowers. He didn’t look much like a warrior or an impaler as he walked Marion to the car, holding her door open and shutting it neatly behind her. Scarlett didn’t look as they drove off, turning her back on the window, but I pressed my palm against the glass, waving back at Marion as they pulled away.
When I went home later, my mother was in the kitchen reading the paper. “Hi there,” she said. “How was school?”
“Pine.” I stood in the open kitchen doorway, my eyes on the stairs.
“How was that math test? Think you did okay?”
“Sure,” I said. “I guess.”
“Well, the Vaughns are coming over tonight for a movie, if you want to hang around. They haven’t seen you in a while.”
Noah Vaughn was in eleventh grade and he still spent his Friday nights watching movies with his parents and mine. I couldn’t believe he’d ever been my boyfriend. “I’m going over to Scarlett’s.”