I could see myself behind her in the mirror. “Is that what you decided to do?”
“There wasn’t much of a discussion.” She ran her hands over her stomach, along the waist of her jeans. “She said she had one, a long time ago. When I was six or seven. She said it’s no big deal.”
“It’d be so hard to have a baby,” I said, trying to help. “I mean, you’re only sixteen. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.”
“She did, too. When she had me.”
“That was different,” I said, but I knew it really wasn’t. Marion had been a senior in high school, about to go off to some women’s college out west. Scarlett’s father was a football player, student council president. He left for a Big East school and Marion never saw or contacted him again.
“Keeping me was probably the only unselfish thing Marion’s ever done in her life,” Scarlett said. “I’ve always wondered why she did.”
“Stop it,” I said. “Don’t talk like that.”
“It’s true,” she said. “I’ve always wondered.” She stepped back from the mirror, letting her hands drop to her sides. We’d spent our lifetimes in this room, but there had never been anything, ever, like this. This was bigger than us.
“It’ll be all right,” I told her.
“I know,” she said quietly, looking into the mirror at herself and me beyond it. “I know.”
It was going to be done that Friday. We never talked about it openly; it was whispered, never called by name, as a silence settled over Scarlett’s house, filling the rooms to the ceiling. To Marion, it was already a Done Deal. She went to the clinic counseling sessions with Scarlett, handling all the details. As the week wound down, Scarlett grew more and more quiet.
On Friday, my mother drove me to school. I’d told her Scarlett had something to do and couldn’t take me; then, we pulled up behind her and Marion at a stoplight near Lakeview. They didn’t see us. Scarlett was looking out the window, and Marion was smoking, her elbow jutting out the driver’s side window. It still didn’t seem real that Scarlett was even pregnant, and now the next time I saw her it would be wiped clean, forgotten.
“Well, there’s Scarlett right there,” my mother said. “I thought you said she wasn’t going to school today.”
“She isn’t,” I said. “She has an appointment.”
“Oh. Is she sick?”
“No.” I turned up the radio, my father’s voice filling the car. It’s eight-oh-four A.M., I’m Brian, and you’re listening to T104, the only good thing about getting up in the morning....
“Well, there must be something wrong if she’s going to the doctor,” my mother said as the light finally changed and Scarlett and Marion turned left, toward downtown.
“I don’t think it’s a doctor’s appointment,” I said. “I don’t know what it is.”
“Maybe it’s the dentist,” she said thoughtfully. “Which reminds me, you’re due for a cleaning and checkup.”
“I don’t know,” I said again.
“Is she missing the whole day or just coming in late?”
“She didn’t say.” I was squirming in my seat, keeping my eye on the yellow school bus in front of us.
“I thought you two told each other everything,” she said with a laugh, glancing at me. “Right?”
I was wondering exactly what that was supposed to mean. Everything she said seemed to have double meanings, like a secret language that needed decoding with a special ring or chart I didn’t have. I wanted to shout, She’s having an abortion, Mom! Are you happy now? just to see her face. I imagined her exploding on the spot, disappearing with a puff of smoke, or melting into a puddle like the Wicked Witch of the West. When we pulled into the parking lot, I was never so glad to see school in my life.
“Thanks,” I said, kissing her on the cheek quickly and sliding out of the car.
“Come home right after school,” she called after me. “I’m making dinner and we need to talk about your birthday, right?”
Tomorrow was my sixteenth birthday. I hadn’t even had much time to think about it. A few months ago, it had been the only thing I had to look forward to: my driver’s license, freedom, all the things I’d been waiting for.
“Right. I’ll see you tonight,” I said to her, backing up, losing myself in the crowd pushing through the front doors. I was walking through the main building, headed outside, when Macon fell into step beside me. He always seemed to appear out of nowhere, magic; I never saw him coming.
“Hey,” he said, sliding his arm over my shoulders. He smelled like strawberry Jolly Ranchers, smoke, and aftershave, a strange mix I had grown to love. “What’s up?”
“My mother is driving me nuts,” I said as we walked outside. “I almost killed her on the way to school today.”
“She drove you?” he said, glancing around. “Where is Scarlett, anyway?”
“She had an appointment or something,” I said. I felt worse, much worse, lying to him than I had to my mother.
“So,” he said, “don’t make plans for tomorrow night.”
“I’m taking you somewhere for your birthday.”
He grinned. “You’ll see.”
“Okay,” I said, pushing away the thought of the party my mother was planning, complete with ice-cream cake and the Vaughns and dinner at Alfredo’s, my favorite restaurant. “I’m all yours.”
The bell rang, and he walked with me toward homeroom until someone called his name. A group of guys I’d met uptown with him a few days before, with longer hair and sleepy eyes, were waving him over toward the parking lot. No matter how well I thought I was getting to know him, there was always some part of himself he kept hidden: people and places, activities in which I wasn’t included. I got a phone call each evening, early, just him checking in to say hello. What he did after that, I had no idea.
“I gotta go,” he said, kissing me quickly. I felt him slide something in the back pocket of my jeans as he started to walk away, already blending with the packs of people. I already knew what it was, before I even pulled it out: a Jolly Rancher. I had a slowly growing collection of candy at home, in a dish on my desk. I saved every one.