I could tell something big was happening before we even got back downstairs; it was too quiet, and I could hear someone screaming. As I peered around the corner, I saw Ginny in the living room, standing over a pile of broken glass on the carpet. A red stain that matched her dress was seeping into the thick, white pile. She was unsteady, her face flushed, one finger pointed at the door.
“That’s it, get out!” she screamed at the group of people huddled around her, who all stepped back a couple of feet and kept staring. “I mean it. Now!!!”
“Uh-oh,” Scarlett said from behind me. “I wonder what happened.”
“Someone broke some precious heirloom,” a girl in front of us, who I recognized from P.E., said in a low voice. “Wedgwood or crystal or something, and spilled red wine all over the carpet.”
Ginny was down on her hands and knees now, blotting the carpet with a T-shirt, while a few of her friends stood around uncertainly, offering cleaning tips. The crowd around the living room started to shift toward the door.
“This is lame,” some girl in a halter top said over her shoulder as she passed us. “And there’s no beer left anyway.”
Her friend, a redhead with a pierced nose, nodded, flipping her long hair back with one hand. “I heard there’s a frat party uptown tonight. Let’s go up there. It’s gotta be better than all these high-school boys.”
One by one Ginny’s friends drifted off, gathering their cigarettes and purses and backing out of the room. Brett Hershey, ever the gentleman, had found a brush and dustpan and was cleaning up the glass while Ginny sat down on the carpet, crying, as the house got quieter and quieter.
I just looked at Scarlett, wondering what we should do, and she glanced into the living room and called out in a cheerful voice, “Bye, Ginny. See you Monday.”
Ginny looked up at us. Her mascara had run, leaving black smudges under her eyes. “My parents are going to kill me,” she wailed, patting at the stained carpet helplessly. “That glass was a wedding gift. And there’s no way I can cover this.”
“Soda water,” Scarlett said as I inched open the door, hoping for a clean getaway. Ginny just looked up at us, confused. “And a little Clorox. It’ll take it right out.”
“Soda water,” Ginny repeated slowly. “Thanks.”
We slipped out the door, letting it fall shut behind us. Someone had left an empty six-pack container on the fountain, and a bottle was floating in its sparkling water and knocking against its sides, clinking, as we passed.
“What a drag,” Scarlett said as we came up on her car. She was being quietly respectful of my sulking. “Really.”
“I should have known better,” I said. “Like he was really asking me to meet him.”
“It sounded like he was.”
“Whatever,” I said, getting in the car as she started the engine. “I’m probably better off.”
“I know I am,” she said cheerfully, pulling out onto the street, the big houses of the Arbors looming on either side of us. “Now I don’t have to hear the sordid details of P.E. every day.”
“Leave me alone.” I leaned my head against the cool glass of the window. “This sucks.”
“I know,” she said softly, reaching over and patting my leg. “I know.”
When we got home we sat out on the front steps, drinking Cokes and not talking much. Scarlett blew her nose a lot and I tried to salvage what was left of my pride, making lame excuses neither one of us believed.
“I never really liked him,” I said. “He’s too wild anyway.”
“Yeah,” she said, but I could feel her smiling in the dark. “He’s not your type.”
“He isn’t,” I went on, ignoring her. “He needs to be dating Ginny Tabor. Or Elizabeth Gunderson. Someone with a reputation to match his. I was so stupid for even thinking he’d look twice at someone like me.”
She leaned back against the door, stretching out her legs. “Why do you say stuff like that?”
“Stuff like what?” Across the street I could see Noah Vaughn pass in front of our window.
“Someone like you. Any guy would be damn lucky to have you, Halley, and you know it. You’re beautiful and smart and loyal and funny. Elizabeth Gunderson and Ginny are just stupid girls with loud voices. That’s it. You’re special.”
“Scarlett,” I said. “Please.”
“You don’t have to believe me,” she said, waving me off. “But it’s true, and I know you better than anyone. Macon Faulkner would be damn lucky if you chose him.” She sneezed again, fumbling around for a Kleenex. “Shoot, I’ll be right back. Hold on.”
She went inside, the door creaking slowly shut behind her, and I sat back against the steps, staring up at my brightly lit house and the dark sky above it. Inside, my father was probably popping popcorn and drinking a beer, while my mother and Mrs. Vaughn talked too much during the movie so you couldn’t hear anything. Noah was still sulking, for sure, and Clara was probably already curled up asleep on my bed, to be carried to the car later. I knew those Friday nights by heart. But my mother didn’t understand why I couldn’t spend the rest of my life on that couch with Noah, a bowl of popcorn in my lap, with her on my other side. Why just the thought of it was enough to make me feel like I couldn’t breathe, or too sad to even look her in the eye.
Then, suddenly, I noticed someone walking up the street toward my house, dodging through the McDowells’ yard and through their hedge, then darting across the sidewalk and down the far end of my front yard. I sat up straighter, watching the shadow slip past the row of trees my mother was trying to nudge into growing against the fence, stepping smoothly over the hole where my father had sprained his ankle mowing the lawn the summer before. I got up off the steps and crept across the street, coming up on the side of my house.
Whoever it was finally came to a stop under my side bedroom window, then stood looking up at it for a good long while before bending down, picking up something, and tossing it. I heard a ping as it bounced off the glass and I moved closer, close enough to see the person more clearly as he tossed up another rock, missing altogether and hitting the gutter, which was loose and rattled loudly. I was also close enough to hear the voice now, a hushed whisper.
“Halley!” Then a pause, and another ping of a rock hitting the glass. “Halley!”