So my mother came inside newly informed and sympathetic and made me a huge breakfast that I picked at while she sat across the table, coffee mug in hand, smiling as if waiting for me to say something. As if all it took was Michael Sherwood mowing a lawn, or finding the perfect banana, to make him worth mourning.
“So what time’s the service?” Marion asked me, picking up her Marlboro Lights from the lazy Susan in the middle of the table.
She lit a cigarette. “We’re packed with appointments today, but I’ll try to make it. Okay?”
“Okay,” Scarlett said.
Marion worked at the Lakeview Mall at Fabulous You, a glamour photography store where they had makeup and clothes and got you all gussied up, then took photographs that you could give to your husband or boyfriend. Marion spent forty hours a week making up housewives and teenagers in too much lipstick and the same evening gowns, posing them with an empty champagne glass as they gazed into the camera with their best come-hither look. It was a hard job, considering some of the raw material she had to work with; not everyone is cut out to be glamorous. She often said there was only so much of a miracle to be worked with concealer and creative lighting.
Marion pushed her chair back, running a hand through her hair; she had Scarlett’s face, round with deep green eyes, and thick blond hair she bleached every few months. She had bright red fingernails, smoked constantly, and owned more lingerie than Victoria’s Secret. The first time I’d met her, the day they moved in, Marion had been flirting with the movers, dressed in hip-huggers, a macramé halter top that showed her stomach, and heels at least four inches high. She wasn’t like my mother; she wasn’t like anyone’s mother. To me, she looked just like Barbie, and she’d fascinated me ever since.
“Well,” Marion drawled, standing up and ruffling Scarlett’s hair with her hand as she passed. “Got to get ready for the salt mines. You girls call if you need me. Okay?”
“Okay,” Scarlett said, taking another mouthful of cereal.
“Bye, Marion,” I said.
“She won’t come,” Scarlett said once Marion was safely upstairs, her footsteps creaking above us.
“Funerals freak her out.” She dropped her spoon in her bowl, finished. “Marion has a convenient excuse for everything.”
When we went upstairs to get ready I flopped on the edge of her bed, which was covered in clothes and magazines and mismatched blankets and sheets. Scarlett opened her closet and stood in front of it with her hands on her hips, contemplating. Marion yelled good-bye from downstairs and the front door slammed, followed by the sound of her car starting and backing out of the driveway. Through the window over Scarlett’s bed, I could see my own mother sitting in the swing on our front porch, drinking coffee and reading the paper. As Marion drove past she waved; her “neighbor smile” on, and went back to reading.
“I hate this,” Scarlett said suddenly, reaching into the closet and pulling out a navy blue dress with a white collar. “I don’t have a single thing that’s appropriate.”
“You can wear my twelve-year-old dress,” I offered, and she made a face.
“I bet Marion’s got something,” she said suddenly, leaving the room. Marion’s closet was legend; she was a fashion plate and a pack rat, the most dangerous of pairings.
I reached over and turned on the radio next to the bed, leaning back and closing my eyes. I’d spent half my life in Scarlett’s room, sprawled across the bed with a stack of Seventeen magazines between us, picking out future prom dresses and reading up on pimple prevention and boyfriend problems. Right next to her window was the shelf with her pictures: me and her at the beach two years ago, in matching sailor hats, doing a mock salute at my father’s camera. Marion at eighteen, an old school picture, faded and creased. And finally, at the end and unframed, that same picture of her and Michael at the lake. Since I left for Sisterhood Camp, she’d moved it so it was in easy reach.
I felt something pressing into my back, hard, and I reached under to move it; it was a boot with a thick sole that resisted when I pulled on it. I shifted my position and gave it another yank, wondering when Scarlett had bought hiking boots. I was just about to yell out and ask her, when it suddenly yanked back, hard, and there was an explosion of movement on the bed, arms and legs flailing, things falling off the sides as someone rose out of the mess around me, shaking off magazines and blankets and pillows in all directions. And suddenly, I found myself face to face with Macon Faulkner.
He glanced around the room as if he wasn’t quite sure where he was. His blond hair, cut short over his ears, stuck up in tiny cowlicks. In one ear was a row of three silver hoops.
“Wha—?” he managed, sitting up straighter and blinking. He was all tangled up, one sheet wrapped around his arm. “Where’s Scarlett?”
“She’s down there,” I said automatically, pointing toward the door, as if that was down, which it wasn’t.
He shook his head, trying to wake up. I would have been just as shocked to see Mahatma Gandhi or Elvis in Scarlett’s bed; I had no idea she even knew Macon Faulkner. We all knew who he was, of course. As a Boy with a Reputation, his neighborhood legend preceded him.
And what was he doing in her bed, anyway? It couldn’t mean—no. She would have told me; she told me everything. And Marion had said Scarlett slept on the couch.
“Well, I think I can wear this,” I heard Scarlett say as she came back down the hallway, a black dress over her arm. She looked at Macon, then at me, and walked to the closet as if it was the most normal thing in the world to have a strange boy in your bed at ten in the morning on a Thursday.
Macon lay back, letting one hand flop over his eyes. His boot, and his foot in it, had somehow landed in my lap, where it remained. Macon Faulkner’s foot was in my lap.
“Did you meet Halley?” Scarlett asked him, hanging the dress on her closet door. “Halley, this is Macon. Macon, Halley.”
“Hi,” I said, immediately aware of how high my voice was.
“Hey.” He nodded at me, moving his foot off my lap as if that was nothing special, then got off the bed and stood up, stretching his arms. “Man, I feel awful.”
“Well, you should,” Scarlett said in the same scolding voice she used with me when I was especially spineless. “You were incredibly wasted.”