And then she walked over to the closet door, pushing it shut, and I saw myself.
Yes, the jeans were faded and frayed, the heart on the leg crooked, too dark. But they fit me really well: they could have been mine. And the tank top was a bit much, glittering in so many places from the overhead light, but the shirt over it toned it down, giving only glimpses here and there. The shoes, which had looked dorky when I put them on, somehow went with the jeans, which hit in such a way that they showed a thin sliver of my ankle. And my hair, without the clear, even part that I worked so hard for every morning, drawing a comb down the center with mathematical precision, was loose and falling over my shoulders, softening my features. None of it should have worked together. But somehow, it did.
“See? I told you,” Kristy said from behind me, where she was standing smiling, proud of her handiwork, as I just stared, seeing the familiar in all these changes. How weird it was that so many bits and pieces, all diverse, could make something whole. Something with potential. “Perfect.”
It took Kristy considerably longer to assemble her own look, a retro sixties outfit consisting of white go-go boots, a pink shirt, and a short skirt. By the time we finally went out to meet Bert, he’d been waiting for us in the doublewide’s driveway for almost a half hour.
“It’s about time,” he snapped as we came up to the ambulance. “I’ve been waiting forever.”
“Does twenty minutes constitute forever now?” Kristy asked.
“It does when you’re stuck out here waiting for someone who is selfish, ungrateful, and thinks the whole world revolves around her,” Bert said, then cranked up the music he was playing—a woman wailing, loud and dramatic—ensuring that any retort to this would be drowned out entirely.
Kristy tossed her purse inside the ambulance, then grabbed hold of the side of the door, pulling herself up. The music was still going, reaching some sort of climax, with a lot of thundering guitars. “Bert,” she yelled, “can you please turn that down?”
“No,” he yelled back.
“Pink Floyd. It’s my punishment, he knows how much I hate it,” she explained to me. To Bert she said, “Then can you at least turn on the lights back here for a second? Macy can’t see anything. ”
A second later, the fluorescent light over her head flickered, buzzed, and then came on, bathing everything in a gray, sallow light. It was so hospital-like I felt the nervousness that had been simmering in my stomach since we’d left the house—ambulance phobia—begin to build. “See, he’ll do it for you,” she said. She stuck out her hand to me. “Here, just grab on and hoist yourself up. You can do it. It’s not as bad as it looks.”
I reached up and took her hand, surprised at her strength as she pulled me up, and the next thing I knew I was standing inside the ambulance, ducking the low ceiling, hearing the buzz of that light in my ear. There was now an old brown plaid sofa against one wall, and a small table wedged between it and the back of the driver’s seat. Like a traveling living room, I thought, as Kristy clambered around it, grabbing her purse on the way, and slid into the passenger seat. I sat down on the couch.
“Bert, please turn that down,” Kristy yelled over the music, which was now pounding in my ears. He ignored her, turning his head to look out the window. “Bert. Bert!”
Finally, as the shrieking was reached a crescendo, Bert reached over, hitting the volume button. And suddenly, it was quiet. Except for a slow, knocking sound. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
I realized suddenly that the sound was coming from the back doors, so I got up, pushing them open. Monica, a cigarette poking out of one side of her mouth, looked up at me.
“Hand,” she said.
“Put that out first,” Bert said, watching her in the rearview mirror. “You know there’s no smoking in the Bertmobile.”
Monica took one final drag, dropped the cigarette to the ground, and stepped on it. She stuck her hand out again, and I hoisted her up, the way Kristy had done for me. Once in, she collapsed on the couch, as if that small activity had taken just about everything she had.
“Can we go now, please?” Bert asked as I pulled the doors shut. Up in the passenger seat, Kristy was messing with the radio, the wailing woman now replaced by a boppy pop beat. “Or would you like another moment or two to make me insane?”
Kristy rolled her eyes. “Where’s Wes?”
“He’s meeting us there. If we ever get there.” He pointed, annoyed, at the digital clock on the dashboard, which said 7:37. “Look at that! The night is just ticking away. Ticking!”
“For God sakes, it’s early,” Kristy said. “We’ve got plenty of time.”
Which, I soon found out, was a good thing. We’d need it, with Bert behind the wheel.
He was a slow driver. More than slow, he was also incredibly cautious, a driver’s ed teacher’s dream. He paused for green lights, came to full stops before railroad crossings that hadn’t seen trains in years, and obeyed the speed limit religiously, sometimes even dropping below it. And all the while, he had both hands on the wheel in the ten-and-two position, watching the road like a hawk, prepared for any and all obstacles or hazards.
So it seemed like ages later that we finally turned off the main road and onto a gravel one, then began driving on grass, over small rises and dips, toward an area where several cars were parked, encircling a clearing with a few wooden picnic tables in the center. People were sitting at them, on them, grouped all around, and there were several flashlights scattered across the surfaces of the tables, sending beams of light in all directions. Bert backed in, so we were facing the tables, then cut the engine.
“Finally,” Kristy said, unbuckling her seat belt with a flourish.
“You could have walked,” Bert told her.
“I feel like we did,” she said. Then she pushed her door open, and I heard voices nearby, someone laughing. “I’m going to get a beer. Anybody else want one?”
“Me,” Monica said, standing up and pushing open the back doors. She eased herself out with a pained expression, then started across the grass.
“Macy?” Kristy asked.
“Oh, no thanks,” I said. “I’m fine.”
“Okay.” She climbed out the front door, letting it fall shut behind her. “Be right back.”
I watched them cross into the clearing and walk past one of the picnic tables to a keg that was under some nearby trees. Two guys were standing by it, and one of them, who was tall with a shock of red hair, immediately went to work getting Kristy a beer, eyeing her appreciatively as he did so. Monica was standing by with a bored expression, while the redhead’s friend shot her sideways looks, working up to saying something.