“What about homeroom?” I said. For all my pretend rebellion I’d never missed homeroom or skipped school in my life. Macon had a scattered attendance rate at best, and I didn’t even ask him about his grades. All the women’s magazines said you couldn’t change a man, but I was learning this the hard way.
“I’ll see you third period,” he said, ignoring the question altogether. Then he turned and started toward the parking lot, tucking his one hardly cracked notebook under his arm. A group of girls from my English class giggled as they passed me, watching him. We’d been big news the last two weeks; a month ago I’d been Scarlett’s friend Halley, and now I was Halley, Macon Faulkner’s girlfriend.
At the end of second period, someone knocked on the door of my Commercial Design class and handed Mrs. Pate a slip of paper; she read it, looked at me, and told me to get my stuff. I’d been summoned to the office.
I was nervous, walking down the corridor, trying to think of anything I’d done that could get me in trouble. But when I got there the receptionist handed me the phone and said, “It’s your mother.”
I had a sudden flash: my father, dead. My grandmother, dead. Anyone, dead. I picked up the phone. “Hello? Mom?”
“Hold on,” I heard someone say, and there were some muffled noises. Then, “Hello? Halley?”
“Shhhh! I’m your mother, remember?”
“Right,” I said, but the receptionist was busy arguing with some kid over a tardy slip and not even paying attention. “What’s going on?”
“I need you to come get me,” she said. “At the clinic.”
I looked at the clock. It was only ten-fifteen. “Is it over? Already?”
“No.” A pause. Then, “I changed my mind.”
“I changed my mind. I’m keeping the baby.”
She sounded so calm, so sure. There was nothing I could think of to say.
“Where’s Marion?” I said.
“I told her to leave me here,” she said. “I said she was making me nervous. I was supposed to call her to come get me after.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Can you come? Please?”
“Sure,” I said, and now the receptionist was watching me. “But, Mom, I think you have to tell them to give me a pass or something.”
“Right,” Scarlett said, all business. “I’m going to put my friend Mary back on the phone. I’m at the clinic on First Street, okay? Hurry.”
“Right,” I said, wondering how I was getting anywhere, since I had no car.
There were some more muffled noises, Scarlett giving instructions, then the same voice I’d heard earlier came back on. “This is Mrs. Cooke.”
“Hold on,” I said. I held out the phone to the receptionist. “My mom needs to talk to you.”
She tucked her pen behind her ear and took the receiver. “Hello?”
I concentrated on the late sign-in sheet on the counter in front of me, trying not to look twitchy.
“She does? Okay, that’s fine. No, it’s no problem. I’ll just give her a pass. Thank you, Mrs. Cooke.” She hung up and scribbled out a pass. “Just show this to the guard as you leave the parking lot. And keep it to show your teachers so your absence is excused.”
“Right,” I said as the bell rang and the hallway outside started to fill up. “Thanks.”
“And I hope the surgery goes well,” she said, eyeing me carefully.
“Right,” I said, backing into the door to push it open. “Thanks.”
I stood outside of P.E., waiting for Macon. As he passed, on his way to dress out, I grabbed his shirt and pulled him back.
“Hey,” he said, grinning. I still felt that rush whenever he looked so happy to see me. “What’s up?”
“I need a favor.”
“Sure. What is it?”
“I need you to skip P.E. with me.”
He thought for about a second, then said, “Done. Let’s go.”
“Wait.” I pulled him back. “And I need a ride somewhere.”
He shrugged. “No problem. Come on.”
We walked up to the parking lot and got into his car; he pushed a pile of stereo parts out of my seat. The car smelled slightly smoky and sweet, the same smell that followed him, faintly, wherever he went. He was always in a different car, which was also something he never felt it necessary to explain. So far I’d seen him in a Toyota, a pickup, and some foreign model that smelled like perfume. All of them had candy wrappers littering the floors and stuffed in the ashtrays.
Today he was in the Toyota.
“Wait a sec,” I said as he started the engine. “This isn’t going to work. You don’t have a pass to get out.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said casually, grabbing something from his visor, scribbling on it, and starting up the hill toward the guardhouse. The security guy, an African-American guy we called Mr. Joe, came out with his clipboard, looking bored.
“Macon,” I hissed as we slid to a stop. I doubted even the Jedi Mind Trick would fool Mr. Joe. “This will not work; you should just go back—”
“Hush,” he said, rolling down the window as Joe came closer, the sun glinting off his store-bought security guard badge. “What’s up, Joe?”
“Not much,” Joe said, looking in at me. “You got a pass, Faulkner?”
“Right here,” Macon said, handing him the scrap of paper he’d pulled down from the visor. Joe glanced at it, handing it back, then looked in at me.
“What about you?”
“Right here,” Macon said cheerfully, taking my pass and handing it over. Joe examined it carefully, taking much longer than he had with Macon’s.
“Y’all drive safe,” Joe said, handing my pass back. “I mean it, Faulkner. ”
“Right,” Macon said. “Thanks.”
Joe grumbled, ambling back to his stool and mini-TV in the guardhouse, and Macon and I pulled out onto the road, free.
“I cannot believe you,” I said as we cruised toward town, playing hooky on a Friday. It was my first time, and everything looked different, brighter and nicer, the world of eight-thirty to three-thirty on a school day, a world I never got to see.
“I told you not to worry,” he said smugly.
“Do you have a whole stack of those passes, or what?” I pulled at the visor and he laughed even as he grabbed my hand, stopping it.