“Where’s Macon?” Scarlett said.
“I don’t know.” I felt like I was going to cry, suddenly, and now everything was beginning to hurt all at once. “Isn’t he outside?”
“No,” she said, and now her mouth was moving into a thin, hard line, her words clipped. “I didn’t see him.”
“He had to stay at the accident,” I told her. “He said he’d be right here. He was really worried.”
“Well, good,” she snapped. “He almost killed you.”
I closed my eyes, hearing only the beeping of some machine in the next room. It sounded just like the bell halfway up Grandma Halley’s stairs, chiming.
“I didn’t do it,” I said to her after a long silence. “In case you were wondering.”
“I wasn’t,” she said. “But I’m glad.”
“When my parents find out about this, I’m dead meat,” I said, and I was so sleepy it was hard to even get the words out. “They’ll never let me see him again.”
“He’s not even here, Halley,” she said softly.
“He’s at the accident,” I said again.
“That was over an hour and a half ago. The cop was in the waiting room, too. I talked to him. Macon left.”
“No,” I said, fighting off the sleep even as it crept over me. “He’s on the way.”
“Oh, Halley,” she said, and she sounded so sad. “I’m so, so, sorry.” But she was getting fuzzier and fuzzier and the beeping quieter, as I drifted away.
When I woke up next, the first thing I saw was a quarterback going out for a pass on the TV over my head. The ball was flying, curving through the air, as he just reached up, grabbed it, and began to dodge through the bodies and helmets, running, while the crowd screamed behind him. When he hit the end zone he spiked the ball, high-fived one of his teammates, and the camera zoomed into his smiling face, his fist pumping overhead. Touchdown.
“Hi there,” I heard my mother say, and I turned to see her sitting beside me, her chair pulled close. “How are you feeling?”
“Okay,” I said. My father was on the other bed in my room, still in the tacky Mexican shirt he always wore for the New Year’s party. “When did you get here?”
“Just a little while ago.” I looked at the clock on the wall as she reached over and brushed my hair out of my face, smoothing her fingers over the bandage on my eye. It was three-thirty. A.M.? P.M. ? I wasn’t sure. “Halley, honey, you really, really scared us.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, and it was work just to talk, I was so tired. “I ruined your party.”
“I don’t care about the party,” she said. She looked tired too, sad, the same face she’d had that whole week we were with Grandma Halley. “Where were you? What happened?”
“Julie,” my father said from the next bed, his voice thick. “Let her sleep. It’s not important now.”
“The policeman said you were with Macon Faulkner,” she went on, and she sounded uneven, as if she was running over broken ground. “Is that true? Did he do this to you?”
“No,” I said, and it was coming back to me now, the cold and the bright light and all the stars, falling. I was so drained, I closed my eyes. “It was just—”
“I knew it, I knew it,” she said, and she was still holding my good hand, squeezing it now, hard. “God, you just can’t listen to me, you just can’t understand that I might be right, I might know what’s best, you always have to prove it to yourself, and look what happens, look at this....” Her voice was getting softer and softer, or maybe I was just slipping off. It was hard to say.
“Julie,” my father said again, and I could hear him coming around the bed, his steps moving closer. “Julie, she’s sleeping. She can’t even hear you, honey.”
“You promised me you wouldn’t see him,” she whispered, close to my ear now, her voice rough. “You promised me.”
“Let it go,” my father said. Then, again, so soft I could hardly hear it, “Let it go.”
I was half asleep, wild thoughts tangled in with the sounds around me, pulling me away. But right before I fell off entirely, or maybe I was already dreaming, I heard a voice close to my ear, maybe hers, maybe Macon’s, maybe just one I made up in my head. I’ll be right here, it said as I drifted off into sleep. Right here.
January was flat, gray, and endless. I spent New Year’s Day in the hospital and then went home with everything aching and took to my bed for the next week, staring out the window at Scarlett’s house and the planes overhead. My mother took complete control of my life, and I let her.
We didn’t talk about Macon. It was understood that something had happened to me that night before the accident, something big, but she didn’t ask and I didn’t offer. Instead she rebandaged my eye and wrist, and gave me my pills, bringing me my meals on a tray. In the quiet of my house with her always so close by, Macon seemed like a dream, something barely visible, hardly real. It hurt too much to even picture him.
But he was trying to get in touch with me. My first night home I heard him idling at the stop sign, our old signal, and I lay staring at my ceiling and listened. He left after about ten minutes, turning the corner so that his headlights traced a path across my walls, lighting up a slash of my mirror, a patch of wallpaper, the smiling face of my Madame Alexander doll. Then he beeped the horn, one last chance, and I turned again to the night sky and closed my eyes.
I didn’t know what to think. That night was a mad blur, beginning with my fight with Scarlett and ending being cold cold cold on the side of the road. I was hurt and angry and I felt like a fool, for my wild notions, for turning even on Scarlett, the only one who really mattered, when she tried to tell me the truth.
Sometimes when I lay in bed that week I still felt for the ring he’d given me, forgetting they’d cut it off at the emergency room. It was on my desk, in a plastic baggie, next to the saucerful of candy I’d never touched. He wasn’t what I’d thought he was; maybe he never had been. I wasn’t what I’d thought I was, either.
Of course, some of us had already formed our opinions. “He’s such a jerk,” Scarlett said after the first week, as we sat at my kitchen table playing Go Fish and eating grapes. We never discussed our argument on New Year’s Eve; it made both of us uncomfortable. “And today he kept asking about you at school. He would not leave me alone. Like he couldn’t come over and visit you himself.”