“They said that?” I said, swiveling in my chair to find Maryann Lister, who just stared back at me, startled, until I turned away.
“I don’t care now,” she said. “But yesterday I’d been sick all morning and I was kind of blue and you weren’t here and it just got to me, you know? So I start blubbering right here in Commercial Design, and I’m trying to hide it but I can’t and right when I’m just feeling completely pathetic, Cameron scoots his chair over and puts this little piece of clay on the table in front of me. And it’s Maryann Lister.”
“It’s Maryann Lister. I mean, it’s this perfect little head with her face on it, and the details were just amazing. He even had that little mole on her chin and the pattern of the sweater she was wearing.”
“Why did he do that?” I said, glancing back to the supply room where Cameron was pacing the aisles, putty knife in hand, looking for something.
“I had no idea. But I just told him it was nice, and pretty, and he kind of ignored me and then handed me his history book. And he just puts it in my hand, but I still didn’t know what he wanted me to do with it, so I handed it back to him. And right then she and her friends said something about him and me, like we would be perfect for each other or something.”
“I hate her,” I grumbled.
“No, but listen.” She was laughing. “So Cameron, totally solemn, takes the book, centers the little clay Maryann on the table in front of us, and then lifts the book up, drops it, and flattens her. Just like that, smoosh. It was so funny, Halley. I mean, it just about killed me. And then I took the book and pounded her, and he did, and we just pummeled her into nothing. I’m telling you, he’s a riot.”
“A riot,” I said as Cameron came out of the paper room with another wad of clay in his hands. He looked straight ahead as he walked, as if he was on a mission. “I don’t know.”
“He is,” Scarlett said with certainty as he came closer. “Just wait.”
I spent the rest of that week in Commercial Design getting to know Cameron Newton. And Scarlett was right: he was funny. In a weird, under-his-breath-as-if-totally-not-meaning-to way that made you think you shouldn’t laugh, even when you wanted to. He was incredibly artistic, truly gifted even; he could make a clay face of anyone in minutes, completely accurate down to the last detail. He did Scarlett beautifully, the curve of her face and smile, her hair spilling across her shoulders. And he did me, half smiling, my face tiny and accurate. He had a way of being able to capture the world, perfectly, in miniature.
So Scarlett took Cameron in, the way she’d taken me in all those years ago. And Cameron grew on me as well; his low, quiet voice, his all-black ensembles, his strange, jittery laugh. I had nothing in common with Cameron Newton except for the one thing that counted: Scarlett. And that, alone, was enough to make us friends.
My mother still wasn’t happy about Macon. There were things he did that she couldn’t pin on him directly, but she was suspicious, Like the calls he made to me every night: when I didn’t answer he either hung up or wouldn’t leave a message. Sometimes he called late at night, the phone seeming to ring incredibly loud, just once, before I could grab it. Often she’d pick it up, and I could hear her, half-asleep, breathing on the other end.
“I got it,” I’d say, and she’d slam it down. Macon would laugh, and I’d huddle deeper under the covers, and whisper so she couldn’t hear.
“Your mom hates me,” he’d say. He seemed to enjoy it.
“She doesn’t even know you.”
“Ah,” he’d say, and I could feel him grinning on the other end. “And to know me, as you have discovered, is to love me.”
Because of this, and other frustrations, she started making new rules.
“No phone calls after ten-thirty,” she said one morning, over her coffee cup. “Your friends should know better.”
“I can’t stop them from calling,” I said.
“Tell them you’ll get your phone taken away,” she said curtly. “Okay?”
“Okay.” But of course the calls didn’t stop. I never was able to fully fall asleep, with one hand always on the phone. All this just to say good night to Macon, from wherever he was.
There were other things, too. Some nights, when Macon knew I couldn’t see him, he’d drive by and just beep or sit idling at the stop sign across from my window. I knew he was waiting for me, but I could never go. I knew he knew that, too. But he still came. And waited.
So I’d just lie there, smiling to myself, goofily secure in the knowledge that he was thinking about me for those few rumbling minutes before he hit the gas and screeched away. This always brought on the light at the Harpers’ next door, and Mr. Harper, neighborhood watch chairman, standing on his porch, glaring down the street. I don’t know why Macon did it; he knew I was on thin ice anyway, that my parents were strict, a concept he clearly could not understand. Every time I heard a beep or a squealing of tires, I felt that same pull in my stomach, half exhilaration, half dread. And always my mother would look up from her book, her paper, her plate and look at me as if it was me behind that wheel, me hitting the gas, me terrorizing the neighbors.
Because of this, I had to devise new ways for him to pick me up. I’d leave the house most weekend nights, bound for Scarlett’s, and cut through the woods behind her pool to meet him on Spruce Street. And from there, we went everywhere and anywhere. Slowly, I was beginning to see bits and pieces of the rest of his life.
One night, after a few hours of driving around, we pulled into a parking lot at the bottom of a huge hill. It faced a tall apartment building lit up with row after row of bright lights. The highest floor was all windows, and I could see people moving around, holding wine glasses and laughing, like a party on top of the world.
“What’s this?” I said as we got out of the car and climbed the hill, then a winding flight of stairs with a thick iron rail.
“This,” Macon said as we came to a row of glass doors, and a lobby with cream-colored walls and a huge chandelier, “is home.”
“Home?” He held the door for me. When I stepped inside, the first thing I smelled was lilacs, just like the perfume my mother wore on special occasions. I looked at my watch: 11:06. I had fifty-four minutes to curfew.
Macon led the way to the elevator, hitting a triangle-shaped button with the back of his hand. The door slid open with a soft beep. The elevator was carpeted in deep green pile and even had a little bench against the far wall if you got tired of standing. He hit the button for P and we started moving.