We went to Lamaze classes, me sitting in a long row of fathers, her head in my lap. We were the youngest ones there. We breathed and we pushed, and I tried to tell myself that I could handle this when it happened, that I could do it. Scarlett was scared and tired, with all that huffing and puffing, and I always nodded at her, confident.
And Marion had come around. She acted like she was firm on adoption until about Month Seven, early March, when I walked in on her in the nursery. The sun was slanting through the window, warm and bright, bouncing off the yellow walls, and the constellations Cameron had painted on the ceiling. Everything was ready: the clothes all folded in the drawers, the crib and changing table in place, the stroller finally assembled (with the help of a neighbor, who was an engineer and the only one who could figure out the instructions). She was just standing there, arms crossed, surveying it all with a smile on her face. And I knew it then. There’d never been a question of where this baby was going or who it belonged with. Of course, when she saw me she turned around and scowled, muttering something about paint fumes, and hurried out. But that was Marion. I knew what I had seen.
And lastly, I walked with Scarlett to the mailbox as she carried the letter we’d worked and re-worked, all these months. Dear Mrs. Sherwood, it began, You don’t know me, but I have something to say. She dropped it in, the mailbox door clanked, and there was no going back. If we heard from her, we heard from her. If not, this baby had enough love to carry on.
And now, on May twelfth, we were going to the prom. I was doing this for Scarlett; it was important to her. When Cameron asked her, I had to go, too. Which is how I ended up with Noah Vaughn.
Actually, it was my mother’s fault. She brought up the prom one Friday night when the Vaughns were over, Mrs. Vaughn lit up like the sun, and it went from there. Of course I keep telling Halley she should go, my mother said, I mean, it’s the prom. Well, Noah, I can’t believe you haven’t mentioned this, said Mrs. Vaughn. Well, Halley’s best friend is going, you know Scarlett, but Halley hasn’t been asked, said my mother, and now I was realizing what was happening, how awful this could be, as Noah watched me from across the table and my father giggled at his plate. But Noah doesn’t have a date either, said Mrs. Vaughn, so I don’t see why you two couldn’t ... And then my mother, who had learned something, looked across the table, realizing too late, and said quickly, Actually I think Halley might have plans that weekend, but of course now it was too late, way too late, and Mrs. Vaughn was already clapping her hands together excitedly, and smiling big, and my mother kept trying to get me to look at her but I wouldn’t. All I could see was Noah across the table, eating a slice of pizza, with cheese all over his chin.
Of course Scarlett was ecstatic. She dragged me out to buy a dress and shoes, and insisted we get ready together. And I went along, trying not to complain, because I knew somehow that this was the end of something for her, before the baby came and everything changed.
“Smile!” my mother said, stepping back across the kitchen with her camera’s red light blinking. My father was leaning against the kitchen door, making faces at me. “Oh, you two look just great. So glamorous!”
Scarlett put her arm over my shoulder, pulling me closer, tighter in for the shot. I saw the red in her hair, her easy smile, the small sprinkling of freckles across her nose.
“Okay!” my mother said, now against the far wall, crouching down. “Now say prom night!”
“Prom night!” Scarlett said, still smiling.
“Prom night,” I said, more softly, my eyes on her, and not the camera, as the flash popped bright all around me.
I could tell that Noah was drunk the minute he crossed the living room holding the corsage.
“Hi,” he said as he got close, reaching out with the pin toward my bodice, his breath hot and sweet. “Hold still.”
“I’ll get it,” I said, taking it from him before he stabbed me while Mrs. Vaughn, who obviously hadn’t gotten close to him lately, and my mother, who looked like she might bust with happiness, watched from across the room. Beside us Cameron was carefully attaching Scarlett’s corsage, a group of pink roses and baby’s breath, to her ample bustline. Cameron looked very small and very dapper in his tuxedo and cranberry-colored cummerbund and socks. Very European, my mother had said when he arrived, with Noah in his rented tux and too-short pants with gym socks peeking out beneath. I stuck my corsage on, barely missing poking myself in my haste, and settled in for another round of pictures.
“Wonderful!” Mrs. Vaughn said, circling us with the video camera while Noah snaked his arm around my waist. The liquor had obviously emboldened him. “Halley, smile!”
“One more,” my mother said, going through at least another roll of film, flash after flash. “What a great night you’ll have! Terrific!”
Marion was there, with one of those disposable cameras, taking picture after picture of Scarlett in her dress. She was going to a medieval tournament with Vlad that night, and was already dressed for the part in a long velvet dress with puffy sleeves that made her look like Guinevere, or maybe Sleeping Beauty. She’d gotten into Vlad’s weekend hobby, bit by bit, and she seemed to like it, tagging along to tournaments and drinking mead while he jousted. Scarlett was embarrassed, but Marion just said being someone else was kind of nice, every once in a while.
“Scarlett,” she called out, waving one hand over her head. “Over here, honey. Perfect. Perfect!”
After we’d been satisfactorily documented, we finally got out the door and to the limousine, on loan from the hotel where Cameron’s father worked. Cameron, for all his quirkiness, really knew how to make an evening. I couldn’t exactly say the same for my date.
“Where’s the bar?” Noah slurred as soon as we shut the door and drove off. “There’s supposed to be a bar in these things, right?”
Scarlett was just eyeing him, settling her dress around her, and I said, “He’s wasted. Ignore him.”
“I am not,” Noah said indignantly. Already he’d talked more to me, total, than he had in the entire year and a half we’d been broken up. “But there is supposed to be a bar.”
“I’m sure they just took it out,” Cameron said quietly. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Scarlett said to him, squeezing his arm. “We don’t care.”
“I don’t need it anyway,” Noah said loudly, pulling a plastic juice container from his inside pocket. “Got it all taken care of, right here.”