“Just a few,” he said. “Definitely not a stack.”
“You are so bad,” I said, but I was impressed. “He didn’t even hardly look at your pass.”
“He likes me,” he said simply. “Where are we going, anyway?”
He switched lanes, hitting his turn signal. “What’s on First Street?”
I looked over at him, so cute, and knew I’d have to trust him. We both would. “Scarlett.”
“Okay,” he said easily. And as I looked over, the scenery was whizzing past houses and cars and bright blue sky, on and on. “Lead the way.”
Scarlett was sitting on a bench in front of the clinic with a heavyset woman in a wool sweater and straw hat.
“Hey,” I said as we pulled up beside them. Now, closer, I could see the woman had a little dog in her lap with one of those cone collars on its head to keep it from biting itself. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she said quickly, grabbing her purse off the bench. To the woman she said, “Thanks, Mary. Really.”
The woman petted her dog. “You’re a good girl, honey.”
“Thanks,” Scarlett said as I unlocked the door and she slid into the backseat. “I paid her five bucks,” she explained to me. The dog in the woman’s lap looked at us and yawned. To Macon, in a lower voice, Scarlet said, “Go. Now. Please.”
Macon hit the gas and we left Mary behind, pulling out of the shopping center and into traffic. Scarlett settled into the backseat, pulling her hands through her hair, and I waited for her to say something.
After a few stoplights she said quietly, “Thanks for coming. Really.”
“No problem,” Macon said.
“No problem,” I repeated, turning back to look at her, but she was facing the window, staring out at the traffic.
When Macon stopped at the Zip Mart and got out to pump gas, I turned around again. “Hey.”
She looked up. “Hey.”
“So,” I said. I wasn’t sure quite where to start. “What happened?”
“I couldn’t do it,” she blurted out, as if she’d only been waiting, holding her breath, for me to ask. “I tried, Halley, really. I knew all the argurnents-I’m young, I have my whole life ahead of me, what about college-all that. But when I lay down there on that cot and stared at the ceiling, just waiting for them to come do it, I just realized I couldn’t. I mean, sure, nothing is going to be normal for me anymore. But how normal has my life ever been? Growing up with Marion sure wasn’t, losing Michael wasn’t. Nothing ever has been.”
I watched Macon as he stood in line inside, tossing a pack of Red Hots from hand to hand. Two months ago, when Michael died, I hadn’t even known him. “It isn’t going to be easy, at all,” I said. I tried to imagine us with a baby, but I couldn’t picture it, seeing instead just a blur, a vague shape in Scarlett’s arms. Impossible.
“I know.” She sighed, sounding like my mother. “I know everyone will think I’m crazy or even stupid. But I don’t care. This is what I want to do. And I know it’s right. I don’t expect anyone to really understand.”
I looked at my best friend, at Scarlett, the girl who had always led me, sometimes kicking, into the best parts of my life. “Except for me,” I said. “I understand.”
“Except for you,” she repeated, softly, looking up to smile at me. And from that moment, I never questioned her choice again.
We spent the whole day just driving around, eating pizza at one of Macon’s hideouts, looking for some guy he knew for a reason that was never quite clear, and just listening to the radio, killing time. Scarlett called Marion and said she’d taken a cab home. Everything, for now, was taken care of.
Macon dropped us off a few streets over from our houses, so I could pretend I’d taken the bus, then drove off, beeping the horn as he turned out of sight. Scarlett steadied herself and went to wait for Marion, and I walked in the door and found a strange, uneasy silence, as well as my father, who darted out of sight the second he saw me. But not fast enough: Milkshakes. Big Time.
“I’m home,” I called out. The house smelled like lasagna, and I suddenly realized I was starving, which distracted me until my mother stepped out of the kitchen, holding a dishtowel. Her face had taken on that pointy, angular look, a dead giveaway that I was in trouble.
“Hi there,” she said smoothly, folding the towel. “How was school today?”
“Well,” I said, as my father passed by quickly again, into the kitchen, “It was ...”
“I would think very hard before answering if I were you,” she interrupted me, her voice still even and calm. “Because if you lie to me, your punishment will only be worse.”
Busted. There was nothing I could do.
“I saw you, Halley, today at about ten forty-five, which I believe is when you’re supposed to be in gym class. You were in a car, pulling out of the First Street Mall.”
“Mom,” I said. “I can—”
“No.” She held up her hand, stopping me. “You’re going to let me finish. I called your school and was told, to my surprise, that I had just spoken with someone to have you sent home due to a family emergency.”
I swallowed, hard.
“I cannot believe that you would lie like this to me.” I looked at the floor; it was my only option. “Not to mention,” she went on, “cutting class and running around town with some boy I don’t know, and Scarlett, who of all people should know better. I called Marion at work and she was equally furious.”
“You told Marion that Scarlett was with us?” I said. So she knew; she knew before Scarlett would even have a chance to explain.
“Yes, I did,” she snapped. “We agreed if this was a new trend for you two, it needed to be nipped in the bud, right now. I will not have this, Halley. You’ve been pushing it with Ginny and camp all summer, but today was the last straw. I’m not going to let you openly defy me when it suits you. Now go upstairs and stay there until I tell you to come down.”
“Go. Now.” She was shaking, she was so mad. There’d been that strange uneasiness all summer, the rippling of irritation—but this was the real deal. And she didn’t even know half of it yet.
I went up to my room and straight to the window, grabbing my phone. I dialed Scarlett’s number and just as it started ringing I saw Marion’s car coming down the street. Scarlett answered right as she turned into the driveway.