That evening, we had a meeting at Scarlett’s kitchen table. Me, Scarlett, and Marion, who didn’t know anything yet and ate her dinner incredibly slowly as we edged around her. She had a date with Steve/Vlad at eight, so we were working with a time frame.
“So,” I said, looking right at Scarlett, who was overstuffing the napkin holder with napkins, “it’s almost eight.”
“Is it?” Marion turned around and looked at the kitchen clock. She reached for her cigarettes, pushed her chair out from the table, and said, “I better start getting ready.”
She started to leave, and I shot Scarlett a look. She looked right back. We battled it out silently for a few seconds before she said, very quietly, in a voice flat enough to ensure anyone wouldn’t, “Wait.”
Marion didn’t hear her. Scarlett shrugged her shoulders, like she’d tried, and I stood up and got ready to call after her. I could hear Marion heading up the stairs, past the creaky third one, when Scarlett sighed and said, louder, “Marion. Wait.”
Marion came back down and stuck her head into the kitchen. She’d had to get two two -hundred-and- fifty-pound women glamorous that day at Fabulous You, one of whom wanted lingerie shots, so she was worn out. “What?”
“I have to talk to you.”
Marion stood in the doorway. “What’s going on?”
Scarlett looked at me, as if this was some kind of relay race and I could carry the baton from here. Marion was starting to look nervous.
“What?” she asked, looking from Scarlett to me, then back to Scarlett. “What is it?”
“It’s bad,” Scarlett said, and started crying. “It’s really bad.”
“Bad?” Now Marion looked scared. “Scarlett, tell me. Now.”
“I can’t,” Scarlett managed, still crying.
“Now. ” Marion put one hand on her hip. It was my mother’s classic stance but it looked out of place on Marion, as if she was wearing a funny hat. “I mean it.”
Then Scarlett just spit it out. “I’m pregnant.”
Everything was really quiet all of a sudden, and I suddenly noticed that the faucet was leaking, drip drip drip.
Then Marion spoke. “Since when?”
Scarlett fumbled for a minute, getting her bearings. She’d been expecting something else. “When?”
“Yes.” Marion still wasn’t looking at either of us.
“Ummm ...” Scarlett looked at me helplessly. “August?”
“August,” Marion repeated, like it was the clue that solved the puzzle. She sighed, very loudly. “Well, then.”
The doorbell rang, all cheerful, and as I glanced out the front window I could see Steve/Vlad on the front porch carrying a bunch of flowers. He waved at us and rang the bell again.
“Oh, God,” Marion said. “That’s Steve.”
“Marion,” Scarlett began, stepping closer to her, “I didn’t mean for it to happen—I used something, but ...”
“We’ll have to talk about this later,” Marion told her, running her hands through her hair nervously, straightening her dress as she headed for the door. “I can’t-I can’t talk about this now.”
Scarlett wiped her eyes, started to say something, and then turned and ran out of the room, up the stairs. I heard her bedroom door slam, hard.
Marion took a deep breath, composed herself, and went to the front door. Steve was standing there, smiling in his sports jacket and Weejuns. He handed her the flowers.
“Hi,” he said. “Are you ready?”
“Not quite,” Marion said quickly, smiling as best she could. “I have to get something-I’ll be right down, okay?”
Marion went upstairs and I heard her knocking on Scarlett’s door, her voice muffled. Steve came in the kitchen. He looked even blander under bright light. “Hello there,” he said. “I’m Steve.”
“Halley,” I said, still trying to listen to what was happening upstairs. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Are you a friend of Scarlett’s?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, and now I could hear Scarlett’s voice, raised, through the ceiling overhead. I thought I could make out the word hypocrite. “I am.”
“She seems like a nice girl,” he said. “Halley. That’s an unusual name.”
“I was named for my grandmother,” I told him. Now I could hear Marion’s voice, stern, and I babbled on to cover it. “She was named for the comet.”
“Yes,” I said, “she was born in May of 1910, when the comet was coming through. Her father watched it from the hospital lawn while her mom was in the delivery room. And in 1986, when I was six, we watched it together.”
“That’s fascinating,” Steve said, like he really meant it.
“Well, I don’t remember it that well,” I said. “They say it wasn’t very clear that year.”
“I see,” Steve said. He seemed relieved to hear Marion coming down the stairs.
“Ready?” she called out, all composure, but she still wouldn’t look at me.
“Ready,” Steve said cheerfully. “Nice to meet you, Halley.”
“Nice to meet you, too.”
He slipped his arm around Marion as they left, his hand on the small of her back as they headed down the front walk. She was nodding, listening as he spoke, holding her car door open. As they pulled away she let herself look back and up, to Scarlett’s bedroom window.
When I went upstairs, Scarlett was on the bed, her legs pulled up against her chest. The flowers Steve had brought Marion were abandoned on the dresser, still in their crinkly cellophane wrapper.
“So,” I said. “I think that went really well, don’t you?”
She smiled, barely. “You should have heard her. All this stuff about the mistakes she’d made and how I should have known better. Like doing this was some way of proving her the worst mother ever.”
“No,” I said, “I think my mother’s got that one pegged.”
“Your mother would sit you down and discuss this, rationally, and then counsel you to the best decision. Not run out the door with some warrior.”
“My mother,” I said, “would drop dead on the spot.”
She got up and went to the dresser mirror, leaning in to look at herself. “She says we’ll go to the clinic on Monday and make an appointment. For an abortion.”