“Watch out,” I said quickly, whispering, “we’re busted. And Marion knows you didn’t do it.”
“What?” she said. “No, she doesn’t. She thinks I took a cab home.”
“No,” I said, and I could hear my mother coming up the stairs, down the hall, “my mother called her. She knows.”
“She what?” Scarlett said, and I could see her garage door opening.
“Halley, get off that phone!” my mother said from outside my door, rattling the handle because thank God it was locked. “I mean now!”
“Gotta go,” I said, hanging up quickly, and from my window I could see Scarlett in her kitchen, holding her phone and staring up at me as Marion burst in, her finger already pointing. My mother was outside my own door, her voice meaning business, but I saw only Scarlett, trying to explain herself in the bright light of her kitchen before Marion reached and yanked at the shade, making it fall crooked, sideways, and shutting me out.
I had to sit and wait for my punishment. I could hear my parents downstairs conferring, my father’s voice low and calm, my mother’s occasionally bouncing off the walls, peaking and plummeting. After an hour she came upstairs, stood in front of me with her hands on her hips, and laid down the law.
“Your father and I have discussed it,” she began, “and we’ve decided you should be grounded for a month for what happened today. You are also on phone restriction indefinitely. This does not count your birthday tomorrow; the party will go on as planned. But as far as anything else goes, you may go to school and to work but not anywhere else.”
I was watching her face, how it transformed when she was angry. The short haircut that always framed her face looked more severe, all the angles of her cheekbones hollowing out. She looked like a different person.
“Who was the boy who was with you today? The one who was driving?”
Macon flashed into my head, smiling. “Why?”
“Who is he? Was he the boy who cut the lawn that day?”
“No,” I said. My father had either forgotten Macon’s name or was choosing, wisely, to stay out of this. “I mean, it’s not him, it was my—”
“He took you off campus and I need to know who he was. Anything could have happened to you, and I’m sure his parents would like to know about this as well.”
The thought alone was mortifying. “Oh, Mom, no. I mean, he’s nobody. I hardly know him.”
“You obviously know him well enough to leave school with him. Now what’s his name?”
“Mom,” I said. “Please don’t make me do this.”
“Is he from Lakeview? I must know him, Halley.”
“No,” I said, and thought You don’t know everyone I know. Not everyone is from Lakeview. “You don’t.”
She took a step closer, her eyes still on me. “I’m losing patience here, Halley. What’s the boy’s name?”
And I hated her at that moment, hated her for assuming she knew everyone I did, that I was incapable of life beyond or without her. So I stared back, just as hard. Neither of us said anything.
Then the phone rang, suddenly, jarring me where I sat. I started to reach for it, remembered about phone restriction, and sat back. I knew it was Macon. It rang on and on as she stood there watching me, until my father answered it.
“Julie!” he yelled from downstairs. “It’s Marion.”
“Marion?” my mother said. She picked up the phone next to my bed. “Hello? Hi, Marion.... Yes, Halley and I were just discussing what happened.... What? Now? Okay, okay ... calm down. I’ll be right over. Sure. Fine. See you in a minute.”
She hung up the phone. “I have to go across the street for a few minutes. But this conversation is not over, understand?”
“Fine,” I said, but I knew already things would have changed by the time she got back.
Marion met her at the end of the walk, by the prickle bush, where they stood talking for a good five minutes. Actually Marion talked, standing there nervously in a mini-dress and wedge heels, chain-smoking, while my mother just listened, nodding her head. From across the street I could see Scarlett in her own window, watching them as well; I pressed my palm against my window, our special signal, but she didn’t see me.
Then my mother walked inside with Marion, shut the door, and stayed for an hour and a half. I expected to see a ripple, a shock wave shaking the house when my mother was told the news; instead, it was quiet, like the rest of the neighborhood on a Friday night. At seven the Vaughns arrived, and by eight I could smell popcorn from downstairs. The phone rang only once more, right at eight o’clock; I tried to grab it but my father answered first and Macon hung up, abruptly. A few minutes later I heard the blender whirring as my father did his part to mend fences.
At eight-fifteen Marion walked my mother to the door, standing on the stoop with her, arms crossed against her chest. My mother hugged her, then crossed back to our house, where my father and the Vaughns were already watching a movie with a lot of gunfire in it. A few minutes later she came up the stairs and knocked at my door.
When I opened it she was standing there with a bowl of popcorn and, of course, a milkshake. It was so thick with chocolate it was almost black, foaming over the edge of the glass. Her face was softer now, back to its normal state. “Peace offerings,” she said, handing them to me, and I stepped back and let her in.
“Thanks.” I took one suck off the straw in the shake but nothing budged.
“So,” she said, sitting on the edge of my bed, “why didn’t you tell me about Scarlett?”
“I couldn’t,” I said. “She didn’t want anyone to know.”
“You thought I’d be mad,” she said slowly.
“No,” I said. “I just thought you’d freak out.”
She smiled, reaching over for a handful of popcorn. “Well, to be truthful, I did.”
“She’s going to keep it, right?” I asked.
She sighed, reaching back to rub her neck. “That’s what she’s saying. Marion is still hoping she’ll change her mind and put it up for adoption. Having a baby is hard work, Halley. It will change her life forever.”
“I mean, of course it’s nice to have someone that’s all yours, that unconditional love, but with being a mother there are responsibilities: financial, emotional, physical. It will affect her education, her future, everything. It’s not a smart decision to take all that on now. And I’m sure that some of this is an attempt to hold on to a part of Michael, an extension of the mourning process, but a baby goes way beyond that.” She was on a roll now, her voice getting louder and smoother.