Macon leaned over and rooted around under the sheets, looking for something, while I sat there and stared at him. He was in a white T-shirt ripped along the hem and dark blue shorts, those clunky boots on his feet. He was tall and wiry, and tan from a summer working landscaping around the neighborhood, which was the only place I ever saw him, and even then from a distance.
“Have you seen—?” he began, but Scarlett was already reaching to the bedside table and the baseball cap lying there. Macon leaned over and took it from her, then put it on with a sheepish look. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” Scarlett pulled her hair back behind her head, gathering it in her hands, which meant she was thinking. “So, you need a ride to the service?”
“Nah,” he said, walking to the bedroom door with his hands in his pockets, stepping over my feet as if I was invisible. “I’ll see you there.”
“Okay.” Scarlett stood by the doorway.
“Is it cool? To go out this way?” he was whispering, gesturing down the hall to Marion’s empty room.
He nodded, then stepped toward her awkwardly, leaning down to kiss her cheek. “Thanks,” he said quietly, in a voice I probably was not supposed to hear. “I mean it.”
“It’s no big deal,” Scarlett said, smiling up at him, and we both watched him as he loped off, his boots clunking down the stairs and out the door. When I heard it swing shut, I walked to the window and leaned against the glass, waiting until he came out on the walk, squinting, and began those eighteen steps to the street. Across the street my mother looked up, folding her paper in her lap, watching too.
“I cannot believe you,” I said out loud, as Macon Faulkner passed the prickly bushes and turned left, headed out of Lakeview —Neighborhood of Friends.
“He was upset,” Scarlett said simply. “Michael was his best friend.”
“But you never even told me you knew him. And then I come up here and he’s in your bed.”
“I just knew him through Michael. He’s messed up, Halley. He’s got a lot of problems.”
“It’s so weird, though,” I said. “I mean, that he was here.”
“He just needed someone,” she said. “That’s all.”
I still had my eye on Macon Faulkner as he moved past the perfect houses of our neighborhood, seeming out of place among hissing sprinklers and thrown newspapers on a bright and shiny late summer morning. I couldn’t say then what it was about him that kept me there. But just as he was rounding the corner, disappearing from sight, he turned around and lifted his hand, waving at me, as if he knew even without turning back that I’d still be there in the window, watching him go.
When we got to the church, there was already a line out the door. Scarlett hadn’t said much the entire trip, and as we walked over, she was wringing her hands.
“Are you okay?” I asked her.
“It’s just weird,” she said, and her voice was low and hollow. She had her eyes on something straight ahead. “All of it.”
As I looked up I could see what she meant. Elizabeth Gunderson, head cheerleader, was surrounded by a group of her friends on the church steps. She was sobbing hysterically, a red T-shirt in her hands.
Scarlett stopped when we got within a few feet of the crowd, so suddenly that I kept walking and then had to go back for her. She was standing by herself, her arms folded tightly across her chest.
“Scarlett?” I said.
“This was a bad idea,” she said. “We shouldn’t have come.”
And that was as far as I got before Ginny Tabor came up behind me, throwing her arms around both of us at once and collapsing into tears. She smelled like hairspray and cigarette smoke and was wearing a blue dress that showed too much leg.
“Oh, my God,” she said, lifting her head to take in me and then Scarlett as we pulled away from her as delicately as possible. “It’s so awful, so terrible. I haven’t been able to eat since I heard. I’m a wreck.”
Neither of us said anything; we just kept walking, while Ginny fumbled for a cigarette, lighting it and then fanning the smoke with one hand. “I mean, the time that we were together wasn’t all that great, but I loved him so much. It was just circumstances—” and now she sobbed, shaking her head—“that kept us apart. But he was, like, everything to me for those two months. Everything.”
I looked over at Scarlett, who was studying the pavement, and I said, “I’m so sorry, Ginny.”
“Well,” she said in a tight voice, exhaling a long stream of smoke, “it’s so different when you knew him well. You know?”
“I know,” I said. We hadn’t seen much of Ginny since midsummer. After spending a few wild weeks with us, she’d gotten sent off to a combination cheerleading/Bible camp while her parents went to Europe. It was just as well, we figured. There was only so much of ongoing Ginny you could take. A few days later Scarlett had met Michael, and the second half of our summer began.
We kept following the line into the church, now coming up on Elizabeth. Ginny, of course, made a big show of running over to her and bursting into fresh tears, and they stood and hugged each other, crying together.
“It’s so awful,” a girl said from behind me. “He loved Elizabeth so much. That’s his shirt she’s holding, you know. She hasn’t put it down since she heard.”
“I thought they broke up,” said another girl, and cracked her gum.
“At the beginning of the summer. But he still loved her. Anyway, that Ginny Tabor is so damn shallow,” said the first girl. “She only dated him for about two days.”
Once inside, we sat toward the back, next to two older women who pulled their knees aside primly as we slid past them. Up at the front of the church there were two posters with pictures of Michael taped to them: baby snapshots, school pictures, candids I recognized from the yearbook. And in the middle, biggest of all, was the picture from the slide show, the one that had brought cheers in that darkened auditorium in June. I wanted to point it out to Scarlett, but when I turned to tell her, she was just staring at the back of the pew in front of us, her face pale, and I kept quiet.
The service started late, with people filing in and lining the walls, shuffling and fanning themselves with the little paper programs we’d been handed at the door. Elizabeth Gunderson came in, still crying, and was led to a seat with Ginny Tabor sobbing right behind her. It was strange to see my classmates in this setting; some were dressed up nicely, obviously used to wearing church clothes. Others looked out of place, awkward, tugging at their ties or dress shirts. I wondered what Michael was thinking, looking down at all these people with red faces shifting in their seats, at the wailing girls he left behind, at his parents in the front pew with his little sister, quietly stoic and sad. And I looked over at Scarlett, who had loved him so much in such a short time, and slipped my hand around hers, squeezing it. She squeezed back, still staring ahead.