But each time Grandma Halley called again, scared, I’d watch my mother’s face fold into the now-familiar frown of concern. And each time I’d think only of that comet overhead, as she held me in close to her, all those years ago. Look at that. There it is. And I’d close my eyes, trying to remember, but seeing nothing, nothing at all.
By the middle of November, Marion had been dating Steve the accountant for just about as long as I’d been seeing Macon. And slowly, he was beginning to show his alter ego.
It started around the third or fourth date. Scarlett noticed it first, nudging me as we sat on the stairs, talking to him and waiting for Marion to come down. He always showed up in ties and oxford shirts, nice sports jackets with dress pants or chinos, and loafers with tassels. But this night, suddenly, there was something different. Around his neck, just barely visible over his tie, was a length of brown leather cord. And dangling off the cord was a circular, silver thing.
“It is not a medallion,” I hissed at Scarlett after he excused himself to go to the bathroom. “It’s just jewelry.”
“It’s a medallion,” she said again. “Did you see the symbols on it? It’s some kind of weird warrior coin.”
“It is. I’m telling you, Halley, it’s like his other side can’t be held down any longer. It’s starting to push out of him, bit by bit.”
“Scarlett,” I said again, “he’s an accountant.”
“He’s a freak.” She pulled her knees up to her chest. “Just you wait.”
Marion was coming down the stairs now, her dress half-zipped, reaching to put in one earring. She stopped in front of us, back to Scarlett, who stood up without being asked and zipped her.
“Marion,” she said in a low voice as we heard the toilet flush and the bathroom door open, “look at his neck.”
“At his what?” Marion said loudly as he came around the corner, neat in his sports jacket with the leather cord still visible, just barely, over his collar.
“Nothing,” Scarlett muttered. “Have a good night.”
“Thank you.” Marion leaned over and kissed Steve on the cheek. “Have you seen my purse?”
“Kitchen table,” Scarlett said easily. “Your keys are on the counter.”
“Perfect.” Marion disappeared and came back with the purse tucked under her arm. “Well, you girls have a good night. Stay out of trouble and get to bed at a decent hour.” Marion had been acting a little more motherly, more matronly, since she’d taken up with conservative warrior Steve. Maybe she was preparing to be a grandmother. We weren’t sure.
“We will,” I said.
“Gosh, give us some credit,” Scarlett said casually. “It’s not like we’re gonna go and get pregnant or anything.”
Marion shot her a look, eyes narrowed; Steve still didn’t know about the baby. After only a month and a half, Marion figured it was still a bit early to spring it on him. She still wasn’t dealing with it that well herself, anyway. She hardly ever talked about the baby, and when she did, “adoption” was always the first or last word of the sentence. Steve just stood there by the door, grinning blandly, distinctly unwarriorlike. It was my hope that he would metamorphose into Vlad, right before our eyes.
“Have a good night,” I called out as they left, Marion still mad and not looking back, Steve waving jauntily out the door.
“Sheesh,” Scarlett said. “What a weirdo.”
“He’s not that bad.”
She leaned back against the step, smoothing her hands over her stomach. Though she wasn’t showing yet, just in the last week she’d started to look different. It wasn’t something I could describe easily. It was like those stop-action films of flowers blooming that we watched in Biology. Every frame something is happening, something little that would be missed in real time—the sprout pushing, bit by bit, from the ground, the petals slowly moving outward. To the naked eye, it’s just suddenly blooming, color today where there was none before. But in real time, it’s always building, working to show itself, to become.
Cameron Newton was probably the only person in school who was getting weirder looks than Scarlett that fall. He’d transferred in September, which was hard enough, but he was also one of those short, skinny kids with pasty white skin; he always wore black, which made him look half dead, or half alive, depending on how optimistic you were. Either way, he was having a tough time. So it didn’t seem unusual that he was drawn across Mrs. Pate’s Commercial Design class to Scarlett.
I’d missed one morning of school because of a doctor’s appointment, and when we came in the next there was Cameron Newton, sitting at our table.
“Look,” I said, whispering. “It’s Cameron Newton.”
“I know,” she said cheerfully, lifting a hand to wave to him. He looked nervous and stared down at his paste jar. “He’s a nice guy. I told him he should sit with us.”
“What?” I said, but it was already too late, we were there and Cameron was looking up at us, in his black turtleneck and black jeans. Even his eyes looked black.
“Hey, Cameron,” Scarlett said, pulling out the chair next to him and sitting down. “This is Halley.”
“Hi,” I said.
“Hello.” His voice was surprisingly deep for such a small guy, and he had an accent that made you lean in and concentrate to understand him. He had very long fingers and was busy working with a lump of clay and a putty knife.
“Cameron’s spent the last five years in France,” Scarlett told me as we got settled, pulling out all of our alphabet letters and getting them organized. “His father is a famous chef.”
“Really,” I said. Cameron was still making me a little nervous. He had the jumpy, odd quality of someone who’d spent a lot of time alone. “That’s neat.”
Scarlett kicked me under the table and glared at me, as if I was making fun of him, which I definitely wasn’t. Cameron got up suddenly, pushed out his chair, and stalked into the supply room. He walked like a little old man, slowly and deliberately. As he passed the paper cutter, a group of girls there dissolved into laughter, loud enough so I was sure he heard.
“You didn’t tell me you made friends with Cameron Newton,” I said in a low voice.
“I didn’t think it was that big a deal,” Scarlett said, cutting out an O. “Anyway, it was the coolest thing. I was here yesterday by myself, right? And Maryann Lister and her friends were talking about me. I could hear every word, you know, all about Michael and the baby and how I was a slut, blah blah blah.”