“Mom,” I pointed out, “I’m not Scarlett.”
She was taking a breath, readying herself for another point, but now she stopped, sighing. “I know you’re not, honey. It’s just frustrating to me because I can see what a mistake she’s making.”
“She doesn’t think it’s a mistake.”
“Not now, no. But she will, later. When she’s tied down to a baby and you and all her other friends are going off to college, traveling abroad, living other lives.”
“I don’t want to go abroad,” I said quietly, taking a handful of popcorn.
“My point is,” she said, putting her arm around my shoulder, “that you have an entire life ahead of you, and so does Scarlett. You’re too young to take on anyone else’s.”
From downstairs there was a hail of movie gunfire, then my father’s chuckling. Another Friday night, at home with the Vaughns. My life before Macon.
“So, about what happened today,” she said, but she’d lost the fire, the anger that had brought her up here earlier, ready to draw and quarter me. “We can’t just let this go, honey. Your punishment will have to stand, even if you thought you were helping Scarlett.”
“I know,” I said. But it was clear; by the pure fact of not being pregnant, I’d escaped the worst of her wrath. Scarlett had saved me, again.
She stood up, brushing off her slacks. I could see her at Scarlett’s kitchen table, a place that I considered mine, negotiating Marion and Scarlett to some kind of truce. My mother was good at all kinds of peace except my own.
“Why don’t you come down and watch the movie?” she said. “The Vaughns haven’t seen you for so long. Clara thinks you’re just fabulous.”
“Clara’s five, Mom,” I said. I tried another sip of the shake, then gave up and stuck it on my bedside table.
“I know.” She stood at my open door, leaning against the frame. “Well, you know. If you change your mind.”
She started to leave, then stopped in the doorway and said in a low voice, “Marion says that boy you were with is named Macon. She says he’s your boyfriend.”
Marion and her big mouth. I lay down on my bed, turning my back to her and pulling my knees up to my chest. “He’s just this guy, Mom.”
“You never mentioned it to me,” she said, as if I had to, as if that was required.
“It’s no big deal.” I couldn’t look at her, couldn’t risk it. Her voice sounded sad enough. I had my eyes on the window, where the lights of a plane were coming closer, red and green blinking, the noise not quite loud yet.
Another sigh. Sometimes I wondered if she’d have breath left to speak. “Okay, then. Come down if you feel like it.”
But she lingered there, maybe thinking I figured she’d left, as that plane came closer and closer, the lights brighter, the sound growing louder and louder and finally starting to shake the house, the panes in the window rattling. I could see its broad belly, coasting overhead, white like a whale. And in the din of its passing, the shaking and thundering and noise, my mother slipped out of the doorway and down the stairs. When I turned back over, in sudden silence, she was gone.
At work, in the middle of a typical terrible Saturday rush, Macon stepped up to my station and grinned at me.
“Hey,” he said. “Happy birthday.”
“Thanks,” I said, taking as long as I could to scan his Pepsi and four candy bars. Scarlett reached over to poke him and he waved to her.
“So,” he said, “How’d it go this morning? Did you pass, or what?”
I looked at him. “Of course I did.”
He laughed, throwing his head back. “Halley with a license, look out. I’m staying off the roads for a while.”
“You’re funny,” I said, and he grinned.
“You didn’t answer the phone last night,” he said, leaning over my register and lowering his voice. “I called, you know.”
“That,” I said, hitting the total button, “is because I got busted.”
“What do you think?”
He thought back. “Oh. Skipping school? Or helping Scarlett go AWOL?”
“Both.” I held out my hand. “That’ll be two fifty-nine.”
He handed me a five, pulling it out of his back pocket all wrinkled. “How bad did you get it?”
“For how long?”
He sighed, shaking his head. “That’s too bad.”
The woman behind him was murmuring under her breath, irritated.
As I handed him his change he grabbed my fingers, holding them, then leaned over the register and kissed me fast, before I even had a chance to react. “For me,” he said, and with his other hand slipped a candy bar into the front pocket of my Milton’s apron.
“Really?” I said, but he just grabbed his bag and walked off, turning back to smile at me. Everyone in my line was watching, grumpy and impatient, but I didn’t care.
“Really,” he said, taking a few steps still facing me, smiling. Then he turned and walked out of Milton’s, just like that, leaving me speechless at my register.
“Man,” Scarlett said as my next customer stepped up, slapping a carton of Capris on the belt. “There’s something wrong with that boy.”
“I know,” I said, still feeling his kiss on my lips, saving me from all the Saturdays ahead. “He likes me.”
That evening we had my party at Alfredo’s: my parents and me, Scarlett, and of course the Vaughns. Scarlett sat next to me; the way she told it, my mother had saved her baby. She said when Marion had come storming in she’d already made another appointment for the next day and planned to sit outside the operating room, chair blocking the door, if that was what it took to see it was done. They had a huge blowout, and she said she’d been packing a bag, ready to leave to go somewhere, anywhere, when my mother appeared at the front door in her red cardigan sweater like Mr. Rogers, ready to handle everything. She held Scarlett’s hand and passed her tissues, calmed Marion down, and then mediated through the twists and turns of what Scarlett had done. In the end, it was decided: Scarlett would go through with the pregnancy, but would honor Marion’s wishes of seriously considering adoption. This was the truce.