And then I felt his arms wrap around me from behind, his hand, cool, on my stomach, and in the dark of my parents’ alcove he kissed me. He didn’t seem to have any problem negotiating the dark of the empty house, walking me backwards to the living room and the couch, pushing me down across my mother’s needlepoint pillows. I kissed him back, letting his hand slide up my shirt, feeling the warmth of his legs pressing against mine. Another plane was rumbling in the distance.
“Macon,” I said, coming up for air after a few minutes, “my father could be home any second.”
He kept kissing me, his hand still exploring. Obviously this wasn’t as much of a threat to him as it was to me.
“Macon.” I pushed him back a little. “I’m serious.”
“Okay, okay.” He sat up, bumping back against another stack of pillows. My mother was into pillows. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”
“You don’t know my father,” I said, like he was some big ogre, chasing boys across the yard with a shotgun. I was running enough risk just having him there; my father finding us alone in the dark would be another story altogether.
I got up and went into the kitchen, flicking on lights as I went. All the familiar things looked different with him trailing along behind me. I wondered what he was thinking.
“Do you want something to drink?” I said, opening the fridge.
“Nah,” he said, pulling out a chair from the kitchen table and sitting down.
I was bending into the fridge, searching out a Coke, when I suddenly heard my father’s voice, as if he’d stepped up right behind me. I swear I almost stopped breathing.
“Well, we’re over here at the new Simpson Dry Cleaners, at the Lakeview Mall, and I’m Brian and I gotta tell you, I’ve seen a lot of dry cleaners before but this place is different. Herb and Mary Simpson, well, they know a little bit about this business, and... ”
I felt my face get hot, blood rushing up in sheer panic, even after I realized it was just the radio and turned around to see Macon smiling behind me, his hand still on the knob.
“Not funny,” I said, pulling over a chair to sit down next to him. He turned the volume down and I could only hear my father murmuring, something about same-day service and starch.
He said he wanted to see my room, and I knew why, but I took him up there anyway, climbing up the steps in the dark with him holding my hand. He walked around my bed, leaning into my mirror to examine the blue ribbons I’d gotten in gymnastics years ago, the pictures of Scarlett and me from the photo booth at the mall, mugging and smiling for the camera. He lay across my bed like he owned it. And as he leaned to kiss me, I had my eyes open, looking straight over his head to the top of my bookcase, at the Madame Alexander doll Grandma Halley had given me for my tenth birthday. It was Scarlett O’Hara, in a green-and-white dress and hat, and just seeing it for that second before I closed my eyes gave me that same pang of guilt, my mother’s face flashing across, telling me how wrong this was.
Outside, the planes kept going over, shaking my windows. Macon kept sliding his hand under my waistband, pushing farther than he had before, and I kept pushing him back. We’d turned on my clock radio, low, to keep track of my father’s whereabouts, but after a while it cut off and it was just us and silence, Macon’s lips against my ear coaxing. His voice was low and rumbly and right in my ear, his fingers stroking the back of my neck. It all felt so good, and I would feel myself forgetting, slipping and losing myself in it, until all of a sudden—
“No,” I said, grabbing his hand as he tried to unsnap my jeans, “this is not a good idea.”
“Why not?” His voice was muffled.
“You know why not,” I said.
“No, I don’t.”
“What’s the big deal?” he asked me, rolling over onto his back, his head on my pillow. His shirt was unbuttoned; one hand was still on my stomach, fingers stretched across my skin.
“The big deal is that this is my house and my bed, and my father is due home at any time. I could get so busted.”
He rolled over and turned up the radio again, my father’s voice filling the room. “So come on down here to Simpson’s Dry Cleaners, we’ve got some prizes and great deals, and cake -there’s cake, too?—how can you say no to cake? I’m Brian, I’m here till nine.” He just lay there, watching me, proving me wrong.
“It’s just not a good idea,” I said, reaching over and turning on the light. All around me my room jumped into place, the familiar parameters of my life: my bed, my carpet, my stuffed animals lined up across the third shelf of my bookshelf. There was a little green pig in the middle that Noah Vaughn had bought me for Valentine’s day two years before. Noah had never slid his hand further than my neck, had never found ingenious ways to get places I was trying zealously to guard. Noah Vaughn had been happy just to hold my hand.
“Halley,” Macon said, his voice low. “I’m into being patient and waiting and all, but it’s been almost three months now.”
“That’s not that long,” I said, picking at the worn spot in my comforter.
“It is to me.” He rolled a little closer, putting his head in my lap. I had a sudden flash, out of nowhere, that he had done this before. “Just think about it, okay? We’ll be careful, I promise.”
“I think about it,” I said, running my fingers through his hair. He closed his eyes. And I did think about it, all the time. But each time I was tempted, each time I wanted to give up my defense and pull back my troops, I thought of Scarlett. Of course I thought of Scarlett. She’d thought she was being careful, too.
He left not long after that. He didn’t want to stay and watch TV or just hang out and talk. Something was changing, something I could sense even though I’d never been here before, like the way baby turtles know to go to the water at birth, instinctively. They just know. And I already knew I’d lose Macon, probably soon, if I didn’t sleep with him. He kissed me good-bye and left, and I stood in my open door and watched him go, beeping like he always did as he rounded the corner.
As I lost sight of him, I thought of that sketched black outline, the colors inside just beginning to get filled in. The girl I’d been, the girl I was. I told myself the changes had come fast and furious these last few months, and one more wasn’t that big of a deal. But each time I did I thought of Scarlett, always Scarlett, and that new color, that particular shade, which I wasn’t ready to take on just yet.