“Sure,” I said, pushing the thought of my father away as quickly as it came. I handed Macon my empty cup and took the bong, pressing it to my mouth the way I’d seen it done at other parties. He lit it and I breathed in, the smoke curling up toward my mouth, thicker and thicker, until there was a sudden rush of air and my lungs were full, hot. I held it until it hurt and then blew it out, the smoke thick against my teeth.
“Thanks,” I said to Ronnie, handing it back as Macon slid his hand across my back. He’d been wrong. I could fit in here. I could fit in anywhere.
After a while Ronnie and Macon went outside to do something and left me and Elizabeth alone in the dark together. He handed me his beer as he left, which I downed half of because I was suddenly so thirsty, my tongue sticking to my lips. I’d never been stoned before, so I didn’t know what to think about what I was feeling. I wasn’t about to ask Elizabeth Gunderson, who had taken three bong hits before I lost count and was now stretched out across the bed, smoking, examining her toes. I was still perched at the foot, looking at the shag carpet which was suddenly fascinating, and wondering why I’d never tried this before.
“So,” she said suddenly, rolling over onto her stomach. “When’s Scarlett due, anyway?”
“May,” I said, and my voice sounded strange to me. “The second week, or something.”
“I can’t believe she’s having Michael’s baby,” she said. “I mean, I didn’t even know they’d hooked up.”
I licked my lips again, taking a tiny sip of beer, then looked around Ronnie’s room, at the towels hung over the window for a curtain, at the Penthouse magazine by my foot, at the litter box that was by the door. I didn’t see any cat.
Then I remembered I was talking to Elizabeth, so I thought back to what we’d been saying, which was hard, and then said, “They didn’t hook up. They went out all summer.”
“Did they?” Elizabeth said. Her voice didn’t sound strange at all. “I had no idea.”
“Oh, yeah,” I said, taking another precious sip of my beer, which was warm and flat. “They were really in love.”
“I didn’t know,” she said slowly. “They must have been awfully secretive about it. I saw Michael a lot last summer, and he never mentioned her.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. I had the feeling we were getting into sticky territory, so I changed the subject. Scarlett didn’t belong in this room, in this place, any more than my mother did. “So is Ronnie your boyfriend?”
She laughed, like she knew something I didn’t. “Boyfriend? No. He’s just—Ronnie.”
“It’s funny that she’s keeping the baby,” Elizabeth said, pulling Scarlett right back between us. “I mean, it’s going to ruin her life.”
I was looking at that litter box, wondering about the cat again. “No, it won’t. It’s what she wants to do.”
“Well,” she said, and there was that hair flip as she sat up, pulling another cigarette out of the pack on the headboard. “If it was me, I’d just kill myself before I’d have a baby. I mean, I’d know enough to realize there was no way I could handle it.”
I decided, at that moment, that I truly hated Elizabeth Gunderson. It was all clear to me now; she was evil. She lived her life to swoop down and catch me off guard, dropping bombs and walking off, leaving them to explode in my face.
“You’re not Scarlett,” I said.
“I know it.” She got off the bed, tucking her cigarettes in her pocket. “Thank God for that, right?” She walked to the door, brushing past me, and pushed it open. “You coming?”
“No,” I said, looking back at her, “I think I’ll just—” But she was already gone, the door left half-open with light spilling in, and I was alone.
I sat there on the bed by myself for a long time, the music drifting in from the hallway along with voices and noise, girls giggling, the bathroom door slamming. I lost all track of time and I was sure hours had passed, that I’d missed the New Year altogether, when Macon finally slipped back through the door, locking it behind him.
“Hey,” he said. I could only see his teeth in the dark, just a mouth coming toward me. “You okay?”
I leaned forward, determined to make out his face. As he got closer I was relieved to see he looked the same. My Macon. My boyfriend. Mine. “What time is it?”
“I don’t know.” He looked at his watch, glowing green in the dark. “Eleven-thirty. Why?”
“I just wondered,” I said. “Where have you been?”
“Mingling.” He handed me the beer in his hand, which tasted good and cold going down. I’d lost track of how many I’d had. I felt liquid and warm, and I curled up against him on the bed, kissing his neck as he wrapped his arms around me. As I closed my eyes the world began to spin in the dark, but he held me tight, his hand already moving up my leg, to my waistband. This was it.
I kept kissing him, trying to lose myself in it, but the room was hot and small and the bed smelled bad, like sweat. As we went further and further, I kept thinking that this wasn’t how I’d imagined it would be. Not here, in a smelly bed, when my head was spinning and I could hear each flush of the toilet in the room next door. Not here, in a room with a dirty litter box and Penthouse magazine on the floor, where Elizabeth Gunderson had preceded me. Not here.
I started to get nervous, jumpy, and as Macon kept on, un-snapping my jeans, the noise from the bathroom only got louder, and outside some girl was coughing, and I felt something pressing against my bare back, something hard. When I reached around I felt it cool against my palm, and held it up over Macon’s head to the dim light. It was an earring, a gold teardrop; the one Elizabeth had lost. Scarlett had the same pair.
“Wait,” I said suddenly to Macon, pushing him up and away from me. We were very close, almost there, and I could hear him groan even as I squirmed out from beneath him.
“What?” he said. “What’s wrong?”
“I feel sick,” I told him, and it wasn’t really true until I said it, and then I thought of all those beers and that bong hit and being here in this sweaty stinky bed and the reeking litter box. “I think I need some air.”
“Come on,” he said, sliding his hand up my back but it felt cold and creepy, suddenly, “lay back down. Come here.”