My mother was waiting for me inside, by the stairs. As I shut the door behind me I could hear Macon’s engine rumbling, testing fate again. Bad timing.
“You’re late,” she said in an even voice. “It’s past curfew.”
“I know,” I said, revving up for my excuse, “but Scarlett and I were watching this movie, and I lost track of time.”
“You weren’t with Scarlett.” This was a statement. “I could see her sitting in her living room by herself, all night. Nice try, Halley.”
Outside, Macon was still there, rumbling. He didn’t know how much worse he was making it.
“Where were you?” she said to me. “Where did you go with him?”
“Mom, we were just out, it was nothing.”
“Where did you go?” Now her voice was getting louder. My father appeared at the top of the stairs, watching.
“Nowhere,” I said, as Macon’s revving got louder and louder, and I clenched my fists. There was no way to stop it. “We were at his house, we were just hanging out.”
“Where does he live?”
“Mom, it doesn’t matter.”
She had her stony face on, that look again, like a storm crossing over. “It does to me. I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately, Halley. Sneaking around, creeping in the door. Lying to me to my face. All because of this Macon, some boy you won’t introduce to us, who we don’t even know.”
The rumbling got louder and louder. I closed my eyes.
Her voice rose too, over it. In the alcove, it seemed to bounce all around me. “How can you keep lying to us, Halley? How can you be so dishonest?” And she caught me off guard, sounding not mad, not furious, just—sad. I hated this.
“You don’t understand,” I said. “I don’t want to—” and then the engine was tacking up higher and higher, louder and louder, God he wanted me to get caught, he didn’t understand, as the tires squealed and screeched, burning, and he took off down the street, racing, stopping to beep as he rounded the corner. All this I knew, without even looking, as well as I knew Mr. Harper’s light was already on, he was already out there in his slippers and bathrobe, cursing the smoke that still hung in the air.
“Did you hear that?” my mother said, twisting to look up at my father, who just nodded. “He could kill someone driving like that. Kill someone.” Her voice was shaky, almost scared, just like Grandma Halley’s.
“Mom,” I said. “Just let me—”
“Go to bed, Halley,” my father said in a low voice, coming down step by step. He took my mother by the arm and led her into the kitchen, flicking on the light as they went. “Now.”
So I went, up to my room, my heart thumping. As I passed the mirror in the hallway I glanced at myself, at a girl with her hair tumbling over her shoulders, in a faded jeans jacket, lips red from kissing. I faced my reflection and committed this girl to memory: the girl who had risen out of that night at Topper Lake, the girl who belonged with Macon Faulkner, the girl who broke her mother’s heart, never looking back. The girl I was.
“Look at this,” Scarlett said, passing me the magazine she was holding. “By Month Four, the baby is learning to suck and swallow, and is forming teeth. And the fingers and toes are well defined.”
“That’s surprising,” I said, “considering it’s existing only on hot dogs and orange juice.” It was the next day, and we were at the doctor’s office for the fourth-month checkup. Scarlett had always been phobic of stethoscopes and lab coats and needed moral support, so I’d been pardoned from my most recent grounding, for (1) lying about being with Macon and (2) breaking curfew. I was becoming an expert at being grounded; I could have written books, taught seminars.
“I’m eating better, you know,” she said indignantly, shifting her position on the table. She was in one of those open-back gowns, trying to cover her exposed parts. Behind her, on the wall, was a totally graphic poster with the heading The Female Reproductive System. I was trying not to look at it, instead focusing on the plastic turkey and Pilgrims tacked up around it; Thanksgiving was two weeks away.
“You’re still not getting enough green leafy vegetables,” I told her. “Lettuce on a Big Mac doesn’t count.”
“Shut up.” She leaned back, smoothing her hand over her stomach. In just the last few weeks she was finally starting to show, her waist bulging just barely. Her breasts, on the other hand, were getting enormous. She said it was the only perk.
There was a knock on the door, and the doctor came in. Her name tag said Dr. Roberts and she was carrying a clipboard. She had on bright pink running shoes and blue jeans, her hair in a twist on the back of her head.
“Hello there,” she said, then glanced down at her notes and added, “Scarlett. How are you today?”
“Fine,” Scarlett said. She was already starting to wring her hands, a dead giveaway. I concentrated on the Life magazine in my lap; the cover story was on Elvis.
“So you’re about sixteen weeks along,” Dr. Roberts said, reading off the chart. “Are you having any problems? Concerns?”
“No,” Scarlett said in a low voice, and I shot her a look. “Not really.”
“Any headaches? Nosebleeds? Constipation?”
“No,” Scarlett said.
“Liar,” I said loudly.
“You hush,” she snapped at me. To the doctor she said, “She doesn’t know anything.”
“And who are you?” Dr. Roberts turned to face me, tucking her clipboard under her arm. “Her sister?”
“I’m her friend,” I said. “And she’s scared to death of doctors, so she won’t tell you anything.”
“Okay,” the doctor said, smiling. “Now, Scarlett, I know all of this is a little scary, especially for someone your age. But you need to be honest with me, for the good of yourself and your baby. It’s important that I know what’s happening.”
“She’s right,” I chimed in, and got another death look from Scarlett. I went back to Elvis and kept quiet.
Scarlett twisted the hem of her gown in her hands. “Well,” she said slowly, “I have heartburn a lot. And I’ve been dizzy lately.”
“That’s normal,” the doctor said, easing Scarlett onto her back and sliding her hand under the gown. She ran her fingers over Scarlett’s stomach, then put her stethoscope against the skin and listened. “Have you noticed an increase in your appetite?”