“Oh.” She was nodding. “Okay. What are you two doing?”
I thought of Macon, of that clock in the gym, of the momentous day I’d had, and held back everything. “Nothing much. Just hanging out. I think we’re going out for pizza.”
A pause. Then, “Well, be in by eleven. And don’t forget you’re mowing the lawn tomorrow. Right?”
My mother, deep into writing a book about teens and responsibility, had decided I needed to do more chores around the house. It enhances the sense of family, she’d said to me. We’re all working toward a common goal.
“The lawn,” I said. “Right.”
I was halfway up the stairs when she said, “Halley? If you and Scarlett get bored, come on over. The more the merrier.”
“Okay,” I said, and I thought again how she always had to have her hands in whatever I did, keeping me with her or herself, somehow, with me, even when I fought hard against it. If I’d told her about Macon, I could hear her voice already, asking questions: Whose party was it? Would the parents be there? Would there be drinking? I imagined her calling the house, demanding to speak to the parents like she had at the first boy-girl party I’d ever gone to. I knew I had to keep him to myself, as I’d slowly begun to keep everything. We had secrets now, truths and half-truths, that kept her always at arm’s length, behind a closed door, miles away.
Scarlett and I pulled up at the party at nine-thirty, which we figured was fashionably late since there were already lines of cars up and down the street, parked haphazardly on the curbs and against mailboxes. It was Ginny Tabor’s house, Ginny Tabor’s party, and the first thing we saw when we walked up the driveway was Ginny Tabor, already drunk and sitting on the back of her mother’s BMW with a wine cooler in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
“Scarlett!” she screamed at us as we came up on the front porch, which was white and chocolate brown like the rest of the house. The Tabors lived in what looked like a big ginger-bread house, all Tudor and eaves and flower boxes.
Ginny was still yelling at Scarlett as she jumped off the back of the car, dragging Brett Hershey by the hand.
“Hey, girll” Ginny said as she came closer, stumbling a bit, past a big fountain that was in the middle of the circular driveway. She was in a red dress and heels, too fancy for just a Friday night beer bash. “You’re just the person I want to talk to.”
Beside me I heard Scarlett sigh. She had a cold and hadn’t wanted to come out anyway. It was only because I’d begged her, not wanting to make an entrance by myself, that she’d gotten up off the couch where she’d been comfortable with her tissue box and the television. And that was only after I’d had to dodge Noah Vaughn, who sat sulking in our kitchen as I said good-bye, glaring at me, as if he’d expected me to suddenly decide to be his girlfriend again. His little sister, Clara, clung to my legs and begged me to stay, and my mother reminded me again to bring Scarlett over if I wanted. I half expected them to tie me down and force me to be with them, keeping me from what I was sure would be the most important night of my life.
I only hoped that Macon could appreciate what I’d been through to meet him.
I kept trying to look for him without being obvious, while Ginny threw her arms around Scarlett. Brett stood by looking uncomfortable. He was a steely kind of guy, an All-American jock, with broad shoulders and a crew cut.
“This has been the best night. You would not believe the stuff that has happened,” Ginny said into Scarlett’s face, and I could smell her breath from where I was standing. “Laurie Miller and Kent Hutchinson have been in the guest bedroom like all night, and the neighbors already called the police once. But our housekeeper is chaperoning, so they couldn’t do anything but tell us to keep it down.”
“Really.” Scarlett sniffled, reaching in her pocket for a tissue.
“And Elizabeth Gunderson is here, with all those girls she’s been hanging out with since Michael died. They’re all up in the attic drinking wine and crying. I heard they had some shrine set up to him, but I’m not sure if that’s just a rumor.” She took another swig of her wine cooler. “Isn’t that weird? Like they’re trying to bring him back or something.”
“We should go in,” I said, grabbing the back of Scarlett’s shirt and pulling her behind me. Inside, the music had stopped suddenly, and I could hear a girl laughing. “We’re looking for someone.”
“Who?” Ginny shouted after us, as Brett wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her back. The music came back on inside, bass thumping, as we got closer. She yelled something I couldn’t make out, words half slurred and unfinished, as we went inside.
I pushed the half-open door with my hand, then stepped in and promptly bumped right into Caleb Mitchell and Sasha Benedict, who were lip-locked next to the grandfather clock. In the living room, I could see some people dancing, others lying across the couch in front of the TV, an MTV VJ talking soundlessly on the wide screen. Further back, in the den, a group of girls were playing quarters, bouncing a coin across the coffee table. I didn’t see Macon anywhere.
“Come on,” Scarlett said, and I followed her down the hall into the kitchen, where a bunch of people were perched on the bright white counters and sitting at the table, smoking cigarettes and drinking. Liza Corbin, who had been the biggest geek before a summer of modeling school and a nose job, was perched on some linebacker’s lap, head thrown back against his shoulder, laughing. Another girl from my homeroom was sitting on the floor, knees pulled up to her chest, holding a wine cooler and looking kind of green. Scarlett walked down a side hallway and pushed open a door, surprising a Hispanic woman inside who was sitting on a twin bed watching a Falcon Crest rerun and doing needlepoint.
“Sorry,” Scarlett said as the woman looked up at us, eyes wide, and we closed the door again. She shook her head, smiling. “That must be the chaperone.”
“Must be,” I said. I was beginning to think this whole night had been a mistake; we’d seen just about every member of the football team, all the cheerleaders, about half the school tramps, and no Macon anywhere. I felt stupid in the clothes I’d so carefully picked out to seem thrown on at random, as if I went to parties to meet boys all the time.
We went upstairs, still looking, but he wasn’t there. I felt like a fool, searching for him when he was probably miles away, on the way to the beach or D.C., just because he felt like it.