“Slow down on those hot dogs,” I said nervously. “Don’t get overconfident.”
“I feel fine,” she said, and Macon reached over and squeezed my leg. All through P.E. I’d agonized about how it was all my fault, Ginny Tabor faking me out, then spreading Scarlett’s secret like wildfire across the campus. “And I’m not mad at you, so stop looking at me like you’re expecting me to fly into a rage at any second.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said for at least the twentieth time. “I really am.”
“About what?” she said. “This isn’t about you, it’s about Ginny and her huge mouth. Period. Forget about it. At least it’s over now.”
“God,” I said, and Macon rolled his eyes. I’d already planned several ways I could kill Ginny with my bare hands. “I really am sorry.”
“Shut up and pass those chips back here,” Scarlett said, tapping my shoulder.
“Better pass them,” Macon told me, grabbing them out of my lap. “Before she starts eating the upholstery.”
“I’m hungry,” Scarlett said, her mouth full. “I’m eating for two now.”
“You shouldn’t be eating hot dogs, then,” Macon said, turning to face her. “At least not all the time. You need to eat fruit and vegetables, lots of protein, and yogurt. Oh, and vitamin C is important, too. Cantaloupe, oranges, that kind of thing. Green peppers. Loaded with C.”
We just looked at him.
“What?” he said.
“Since when are you Mr. Pregnancy?” I asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said, embarrassed now. “I mean, I’m not. It’s just common knowledge.”
“Cantaloupe, huh?” Scarlett said, finishing off the bag of chips.
“Vitamin C,” Macon said, starting up the car again. “It’s important.”
By the time we got back from lunch, everyone was definitely staring, entire conversations dissolving as we passed. Macon just kept walking, hardly noticing, but Scarlett’s face was pinched. I wondered if we’d see those hot dogs coming up again.
“Oh, please,” Macon said as we passed the Mouth herself, Ginny Tabor, standing with Elizabeth Gunderson, both of them staring, thinking, I knew, of Michael. “Like they’ve never seen a pregnant woman before.”
“Macon,” I said. “You’re not helping.”
Scarlett kept walking, facing straight ahead, as if by only concentrating she could make it all go away. I wondered what was more shocking, in the end; that Scarlett was pregnant, or that the baby was Michael’s. Of course girls got pregnant at our school, but they usually dropped out for a few months and then returned with baby pictures in their wallets. Some carried their babies proudly to the school day care, where little kids climbed on the jungle gym on the right side of the courtyard, running to the fence to watch their mothers go by on their way to class. But for girls like us, like Scarlett, these things didn’t happen. And if they did it was taken care of in secret, discreetly, and only rumored, never proven.
This was different. If we’d started to forget Michael Sherwood, any of us, it would be a very long time before we would again.
Then, in the middle of everything, we began losing my Grandma Halley.
It had actually started months earlier, in the late spring. She became forgetful; she would call me Julie, confusing me with my mother, forgetting even her own name. She kept locking herself out of her house, misplacing her key. My mother even convinced her to wear one on a string around her neck, but nothing worked. The keys just slipped away into cracks and crevices, sidewalks and street corners, thin air.
It got worse. She walked out of the Hallmark store with a greeting card she forgot to pay for, setting off all the alarms, which scared her. She started calling in the middle of the night, all anxious and upset, sure we’d said we were coming to visit the next day, or the previous one, when no plans had actually been made. For those calls her voice was unbalanced and high, scaring me as I handed the phone over to my mother, who would pace the kitchen floor, reassuring her own mother that everything was fine, we were all okay; there was nothing to be afraid of. By the end of October, we weren’t so sure.
I’d always been close to my Grandma Halley. I was her namesake and that made her special, and I’d spent several summers with her when I was younger and my parents went on trips. She lived alone in a tiny Victorian house outside of Buffalo with a stained-glass window and a big, fat cat named Jasper. Halfway up her winding staircase was a window, and from the top sill she hung a bell from a wire. I always touched it with my fingers as I passed, the chiming bouncing off the glass and the walls around me. It was that bell that always came to mind before her face, or her voice, when I heard her name.
My mother had Grandma Halley’s sparkling eyes, her tiny chin, and sometimes, if you knew when to listen for it, her singsong laugh. But my Grandma Halley was kind of wild, a little eccentric, more so in the ten years since my grandfather had died. She gardened in men’s overalls and a floppy sun hat, and made up her scarecrows to resemble neighbors she didn’t like, especially Mr. Farrow, who lived two doors down and had buck teeth and carrot-red hair, which fit a scarecrow nicely. She ate only organic food, adopted twenty kids through Save the Children, and taught me the box step when I was in fifth grade, the two of us dancing around the living room while her record player crackled and sang.
She was born in May of 1910, as Halley’s Comet lit up the sky of her small town in Virginia. Her father, watching with a crowd from the hospital lawn, considered it a sign and named her Halley. It was the comet that always made her seem that much more mystical, different. Magic. And when I was named after her, it had made me a little magical too, or so I hoped.
The winter I was six, we made a special trip to visit her for the comet’s passing. I remember sitting outside in her lap, wrapped in a blanket. There’d been so much hype, so much excitement, but I couldn’t see much, just a bit of light as we strained to make it out in the sky. Grandma Halley was quiet, holding me tight against her, and she seemed to see it perfectly, grabbing my hand and whispering, Look at that, Halley. There it is. My mother kept saying no one could see it, it was too hazy, but Grandma Halley always told her she was wrong. That was Grandma Halley’s magic. She could create anything, even a comet, and make it dance before your eyes.
Now my mother was suddenly distracted, making calls to Buffalo and having long talks with my father after I went to bed. I busied myself with school, work, and Macon; with my grounding over, I slipped off to see him for a few hours whenever I could. I went with Scarlett to the doctor, read to her from the pregnancy Bible, reminding her to get more vitamin C, to eat more oranges and green peppers. We were adjusting to the pregnancy; we had no choice. And after our being the scandal for a couple of weeks, Elizabeth Gunderson’s tongue-pierced boyfriend fooled around with her best friend Maggie, and Scarlett and the baby were old news.