“He’s said it. He’s told you.”
“He doesn’t have to,” I said. “I just know.” There was a crash as Cameron dropped a cookie sheet, picked it up, and banged it against the stovetop, mumbling to himself.
“Halley,” she said, shaking her head. “Don’t be a fool. Don’t give up something important to hold onto someone who can’t even say they love you.”
“This is what I want to do,” I said loudly. “I can’t believe you’re doing this now, after we’ve been talking about this for weeks. I thought you were my friend.”
She looked at me, hard, her hands clenched. “I am your best friend, Halley,” she said in a steady voice. “And that is why I am doing this.”
I couldn’t believe her. All this talk about trusting myself, and knowing when it was time, and now she fell out from beneath me. “I don’t need this now,” I said, getting up and shoving my chair in. “I have to go.”
“It’s just not right,” she said, standing up with me. “And you know it.”
“Not right?” I said, and I already knew something hateful was coming, before the words even left my lips. “But with you it was right, Scarlett, huh? Look at how right you were.”
She took a step back, like I’d slapped her, and I knew I’d gone too far. From the stove I could see Cameron looking at me, with the same expression I saved for Maryann Lister and Ginny Tabor and anyone who hurt Scarlett.
We just stood there, silent, facing off across the kitchen, when the doorbell suddenly rang. Neither of us moved.
“Hello?” I heard a voice say, and over Scarlett’s shoulder I saw Steve, or who I thought was Steve, coming into the room. The transformation, clearly, was complete. He was wearing his cord necklace, his boots, his tunic shirt, thick burlaplike pants, what appeared to be a kind of cape, and he was carrying a sword on his hip. He stood there, beside the spice rack, a living anachronism.
“Is she ready?” he said. He didn’t seem to notice us outright staring at him.
“I don’t know,” Scarlett said softly, taking a few steps back toward the stairs. She wouldn’t look at me. “I’ll go see, okay?”
So Vlad and I stood there together, both of us fully evolved, in Scarlett’s kitchen at the brink of the New Year. I heard Scarlett’s voice upstairs, then Marion’s. On the table in front of me I could see the pregnancy Bible, lying open to Month Six. She’d highlighted a few passages in pink, the pen lying beside.
“I have to go,” I said suddenly. Vlad, who was adjusting his sword, looked up at me. “Cameron, tell Scarlett I said good-bye, okay ?”
“Yeah,” Cameron said slowly. “Sure.”
“Have a good night,” Vlad called out to me as I got to the back door. “Happy New Yearl”
I got halfway across the backyard before I turned around and looked back at the house, the windows all lit up above me. I wanted to see Scarlett in one of them, her hand pressed against the glass, our old secret code. She wasn’t there, and I thought about going back. But it was cold and getting late, so I just kept walking to Spruce Street, Macon’s car idling quietly by the mailbox, and what lay ahead.
The party was at some guy named Ronnie’s, outside of town. We had to go down a bunch of winding dirt roads, past a few trailers and old crumbling barns, finally pulling up at a one-story, plain brick house with a blue light out front. There were a few dogs running around, barking, and people scattered across the stoop and the yard. I didn’t recognize anyone.
The first thing I thought when I stepped inside, past a keg set up at the front door, was what my mother would think. I was sure the same things would jump out at her: the fake oak paneling, the coffee table crammed with full ashtrays and beer bottles, the yellow and brown shag carpet that felt wet as I walked over it. This house wasn’t like Ginny Tabor’s, where you knew in its real life it was a home, with parents and dinner and Christmas.
A bunch of people were lined up on the couch, drinking, and beside them the TV was on with just static, a soundless blur. I couldn’t hear, the music was so loud, and I kept having to step over people sitting on the floor and backed against the walls, as I followed Macon to the kitchen.
He seemed to know everybody, people reaching out to slap his shoulder as he passed, his name floating over my head in different voices. At the keg he filled up a cup for me, then himself, while I tried to make myself as small as possible to fit in the tiny space behind him.
Macon handed me my beer and I sucked most of it down right away out of nervousness. He grinned and filled it again, then motioned me to follow him down a hallway, past a trash can overflowing with beer cans, to a bedroom.
“Knock-knock,” he said as we walked in. A guy was sitting on the bed, and there was a girl with him, leaning over the side. The room was small and dark, with just a candle lit on the headboard, one with cabinets and shelves, like in my parents’ room.
“Hey, hey,” said the guy on the bed, who had short hair and a tattoo on his arm. “What’s up, man?”
“Not much.” Macon sat down at the foot of the bed. “This is Halley. Halley, this is Ronnie.”
“Hi,” I said.
“Hello.” Ronnie had very sleepy eyes and his hair was short and spiky, black, his voice low and gravelly. He slid his hand across the bed to the leg of the girl beside him, who gave up on whatever she was looking for on the floor and started to lift her head out of the shadows.
“I lost my damn earring,” she said, as her hair slid across her face, and I could make out her mouth. “It rolled under the bed and I can’t reach it.” As she sat upright, her features all falling into place, she looked at me, and I looked right back. It was Elizabeth Gunderson.
“Hey,” she said to Macon, doing that hair swing, so out of place here. “Hi, Halley.”
“Hi.” I was still staring at her. She was wearing a T-shirt that was too big on her and shorts, obviously not what she’d come to the party in. Elizabeth Gunderson worked fast.
Ronnie reached down beside the bed, on the floor, and picked up a purple bong, which he handed to Macon. I sucked down the rest of my beer, just to have something to do, as he took the hit and handed it back.
“You want one?” Ronnie asked me, and I could feel Elizabeth watching me as she lit a cigarette. I wondered what her father, with his Ralph Lauren looks and BMW, would think if he could see her. I wondered what my father would think of me. As she watched me, in the dark, I could have sworn she was smiling.