The service was formal and short; the heat was stifling with all the people packed in so tightly, and we could barely hear the minister over the fanning and the creaking of the pews. He talked about Michael, and what he meant to so many people; he said something about God having his reasons. Elizabeth Gunderson got up and left ten minutes into it, her hand pressed against her mouth as she walked quickly down the aisle of the church, a gaggle of friends running behind her. The older women next to us shook their heads, disapproving, and Scarlett squeezed my hand harder, her fingernails digging into my skin.
When the service was over, there was an awkward murmur of voices as everyone filed outside. It had suddenly gotten very dark, with a strange breeze blowing that smelled like rain. Overhead the clouds had piled up big and black behind the trees.
I almost lost Scarlett in the crowd of voices and faces and color in front of the church. Ginny was leaning on Brett Hershey, the captain of the football team, as he led her out. Elizabeth was sitting in the front seat of a car in the parking lot, the door open, her head in her hands. Everyone else stood around uncertainly as if they needed permission to leave, holding their programs and looking up at the sky.
“Poor Elizabeth,” Scarlett said softly as we stood by her car.
“They broke up a while ago,” I said.
“Yeah. They did.” She kicked a pebble, and it rattled off of something under the car. “But he really loved her.”
I looked over at her, the wind blowing her hair around her face, her fair skin so white against the black of Marion’s dress. The times I caught her unaware, accidentally, were when she was the most beautiful. “He loved you, too,” I told her.
She looked up at the sky, black with clouds, the smell of rain stronger and stronger. “I know,” she said softly. “I know.”
The first drop was big, sloshy and wet, falling on my shoulder and leaving a round, dark circle. Then, suddenly, it was pouring. The rain came in sheets, sending people running toward their cars, shielding themselves with their flimsy paper programs. Scarlett and I dove into her car and watched the water stream down the windshield. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen it rain so hard.
We pulled out onto Main Street in Scarlett’s Ford Aspire. Her grandmother had given it to her for her birthday in April. It was about the size of a shoe box; it looked like a larger car that had been cut in half with a big bread knife. As we crossed a river of water spilling into the road, I wondered briefly if we’d get pulled into the current and carried away like Wynken, Blynken, and Nod in their big shoe, out to sea.
Scarlett saw him first, walking alone up the street, his white dress shirt soaked and sticking to his back. His head was ducked and he had his hands in his pockets, staring down at the pavement as people ran past with umbrellas. Scarlett beeped the horn, slowing beside him.
“Macon!” she called out, leaning into the rain. “Hey!” He didn’t hear her, and she poked me. “Yell out to him, Halley.”
“Roll down your window and ask him if he wants a ride.”
“Scarlett,” I said, suddenly nervous, “I don’t even know him.”
“So what?” She gave me a look. “It’s pouring. Hurry up.”
I rolled my window down and stuck my head out, feeling the rain pelting the back of my neck. “Excuse me,” I said.
He didn’t hear me. I cleared my throat, stalling. “Excuse me.”
“Halley,” Scarlett said, glancing into the rearview mirror, “we’re holding up traffic here. Come on.”
“He can’t hear me,” I said defensively.
“You’re practically whispering.”
“I am not,” I snapped. “I am speaking in a perfectly audible tone of voice.”
“Just yell it.” Cars were going around us now as a fresh wave of rain poured in my window, soaking my lap. Scarlett exhaled loudly, which meant she was losing patience. “Come on, Halley, don’t be such a wuss.”
“I am not a wuss,” I said. “God.”
She just looked at me. I stuck my head back out the window.
“Macon.” I said it a little louder this time, just because I was angry. “Macon.”
Another loud exhalation from Scarlett. I was getting completely soaked.
“Macon,” I said a bit louder, stretching my head completely out of the car. “Macon!!”
He jerked suddenly on the sidewalk, turning around and looking at me as if he expected us to come flying up the curb in our tiny car to squash him completely. Then he just stared, his shirt soaked and sticking to his skin, his hair dripping onto his face, stood and stared at me as if I was completely and utterly nuts.
“What?” he screamed back, just as loudly. “What is it?”
Beside me, Scarlett burst out laughing, the first time I’d heard her laugh since I’d come home. She leaned back in her seat, hand over her mouth, giggling uncontrollably. I wanted to die.
“Um,” I said, and he was still staring at me. “Do you want a ride?”
“I’m okay,” he said across me, to Scarlett. “But thanks.”
“Macon, it’s pouring.” She had her Mom voice on, one I recognized. As he looked across me, I could see how red his eyes were, swollen from crying. “Come on.”
“I’m okay,” he said again, backing off from the car. He wiped his hand over his face and hair, water spraying everywhere. “I’ll see you later.”
“Macon,” she called out again, but he was already gone, walking back into the rain. As we sat at the stoplight, he cut around a corner and disappeared; the last thing I saw was his shirt, a flash of white against the brick of the alley. Then he was gone, vanishing so easily it seemed almost like magic—there was no trace. Scarlett sighed as I rolled up my window, saying something about everybody having their ways. I was only watching the alleyway, the last place I’d seen him, wondering if he’d ever even been there at all.
When I think of Michael Sherwood, what really comes to mind is produce. Deep yellow bananas, bright green kiwis, cool purple plums smooth to the touch. Our friendship with Michael Sherwood, popular boy and legend, began simply with fruits and vegetables.
Scarlett and I were cashiers at Milton’s Market, wearing our little green smocks and plastic name tags: Hello, I’m Halley! Welcome to Milton‘s! She worked register eight, which was the No Candy register, and I worked Express Fifteen Items and Under right next to her, close enough to roll my eyes or yell over the beeping of my price scanner when it all got to be too much. It wasn’t the greatest job by a long stretch. But at least we were together.