After school we go to Ally’s. When we were younger—freshman year and even half of sophomore year—we’d sometimes stay in and put on clay masks and order as much Chinese food as we could eat, taking twenties from the cookie jar on the third shelf next to Ally’s refrigerator, where her dad keeps an emergency thousand dollars at all times. We called them our “egg-roll emergency” nights. Then we’d stretch out on her enormous couch and watch movies until we fell asleep—the TV in Ally’s living room is as big as the screen in a movie theater—our legs tangled together under an enormous fleece blanket. Since junior year, though, I don’t think we’ve stayed in even once, except when Matt Wilde broke up with Ally, and she cried so hard that the next morning her face was puffy, like a mole’s.
Today we raid Ally’s closet so we don’t have to wear the same outfit to Kent’s party. Elody, Ally, and Lindsay are paying special attention to how I look. Elody puts bright red polish on my nails, her hands shaking a little so some of it gets on my cuticles and makes it look like I’m bleeding, but I’m too nervous to care. Rob and I are going to meet up at Kent’s and he’s already sent me a text that says I evn made my bed 4 u. I let Ally pick out my outfit—a metallic gold tank top, too big in the chest, and a pair of Ally’s crazy four-inch heels (she calls them her stripper shoes). Lindsay does my makeup, humming and breathing vodka onto me. We’ve all taken two shots, chasing them with cranberry juice.
Afterward I lock myself in the bathroom, warmth tingling from my fingertips up to my head, and try to memorize exactly how I look there, in that second. But after a while all of my features seem like they’re just hanging there, like something I’m seeing on a stranger.
When I was little I used to do this a lot: lock myself in the bathroom and take showers so hot the mirrors would cloud completely over, then stand there, watching as my face took shape slowly behind the steam, rough outlines at first, then details appearing gradually. Each time I’d think that when my face came back I would see somebody beautiful, like during my shower I would have transformed into someone brighter and better. But I always looked the same.
Standing in Ally’s bathroom, I smile and think, Tomorrow I’ll finally be different.
Lindsay’s kind of music-obsessed, so she makes us a playlist for the ride to Kent’s house, even though he lives only a few miles away. We listen to Dr. Dre and Tupac, and then we blast “Baby Got Back” and all sing along.
It’s the weirdest thing, though: as we’re driving there along all those familiar streets—streets I’ve known my whole life, streets so familiar I might as well have imagined them myself—I get this feeling like I’m floating above everything, hovering above all of the houses and the roads and the yards and the trees, going up, up, up, above Rocky’s and the Rite Aid and the gas station and Thomas Jefferson and the football field and the metal bleachers where we sit and scream our heads off every homecoming. Like everything is tiny and insignificant. Like I’m already only remembering it.
Elody’s howling at the top of her lungs. She has the lowest tolerance out of all of us. Ally’s got the rest of the vodka tucked into her bag but nothing to chase it with. Lindsay’s driving because she can drink all night and hardly feel it.
The rain starts when we’re almost there, but it’s so light it’s almost like it’s just hanging in the air, like a big curtain of white vapor. I don’t remember the last time I was at Kent’s house—his ninth birthday party, maybe?—and I’ve forgotten how far it’s set back in the woods. The driveway seems to snake on forever. All we see is the dull light from the headlights bouncing off a twisting, gravelly path and revealing dead tree branches crowding closely overhead, and tiny pellets of rain like diamonds.
“This is how horror movies start,” Ally says, adjusting her tank top. We’ve all borrowed new tops from her, but she’s insisted on keeping on the fur-trimmed one, even though she was the one who was initially against it. “Are you sure he’s number forty-two?”
“It’s just a little farther,” I say, even though I have no idea, and I’m starting to wonder whether we turned too early. I have butterflies in my stomach, but I’m not sure whether they’re good or bad.
The woods press closer and closer until they’re nearly brushing up against the car doors. Lindsay starts complaining about the paint job. Just when it seems like we’ll be sucked up into the darkness, all of a sudden the woods stop completely and there’s the biggest, most beautiful lawn you can imagine, with a white house at its center that looks like it’s made out of frosting. It’s got balconies and a long porch that runs along two sides. The shutters are white too, and carved with designs it’s too dark to make out. I don’t remember any of it. Maybe it’s the alcohol, but I think it’s the most beautiful house I’ve ever seen.
We’re all silent for a minute, looking. Half the house is dark, but warm light is shining from the top floor, and where it makes it to the lawn it turns the grass silver.
Lindsay says, “It’s almost as big as your house, Al.” I’m sorry she spoke: it feels like a spell has been broken.
“Almost,” Ally says. She takes the vodka out of her bag and swigs it, coughs, burps, and wipes her mouth.
“Give me a shot of that,” Elody says, reaching for the bottle.
The bottle’s in my hand before I realize it. I take a sip. It burns my throat and tastes awful, like paint or gasoline, but as soon as it’s down I get a rush. We climb out of the car and the light from the house surges and expands, winking at me.
Walking into parties always gives me a crampy feeling at the bottom of my stomach. It’s a good feeling, though: the feeling of knowing anything can happen. Most of the time nothing does, of course. Most of the time one night blends into the next, and weeks blend into weeks, and months into other months. And sooner or later we all die.
But at the beginning of the night anything’s possible.
The front door is locked and we have to go around the side, where a door opens onto a really narrow hallway all paneled in wood and a tiny flight of steep wooden stairs. It smells like something I remember from childhood, but I can’t quite place it. I hear the tinkle of breaking glass and someone yells, “Fire in the hole!” Then Dujeous roars from the speakers: All MCs in the house tonight, if your lyrics sound tight then rock the mic. The stairs are so narrow we have to squeeze up in single file because people are coming down in the opposite direction, empty beer cups in hand. Most of them have to turn so their backs are against the wall. We say hi to a few people and ignore the rest. As usual I can feel all of them looking at us. That’s another nice thing about being popular: you don’t have to pay any attention to the people paying attention to you.
At the top of the stairs a dim hallway is hung all over with multicolored Christmas lights. There are a series of rooms, each leading off the next, and all seem to be filled with draped fabrics and big pillows and couches and all are packed with people. Everything is soft—the colors, the surfaces, the way people look—except the music, which pumps through the walls, making the floor vibrate. People are smoking inside too, so everything’s happening behind a thick blue veil. I’ve only smoked pot once, but this is what I imagine it’s like to be stoned.
Lindsay leans back and says something to me, but it gets lost in the murmur of voices. Then she’s moving away from me, weaving through the crowd. I turn around, but Elody and Ally are gone too, and before I know it my heart is pounding and I get this itchy feeling in my palms.
Recently I’ve been having this nightmare where I’m standing in the middle of an enormous crowd, being pushed from left to right. The faces look familiar, but there’s something horribly wrong with all of them: someone will walk by who looks like Lindsay, but then her mouth is weird and droopy like it’s melting off. And none of them recognize me.
Obviously standing in Kent’s house isn’t the same thing, since I pretty much know everybody except for some of the juniors and a couple of girls who I think might be sophomores. But still, it’s enough to make me freak out a little.
I’m about to head over to Emma Howser—she’s super cheesy and normally I wouldn’t be caught dead talking to her, but I’m getting desperate—when I feel thick arms around me and smell lemon balm. Rob.
He puts a wet mouth against my ear. “Sexy Sammy. Where’ve you been all my life?”
I turn around. His face is bright red. “You’re drunk,” I say, and it comes out more accusatory than I meant it to.
“Sober enough,” he says, trying and failing to raise one eyebrow. “And you’re late.” His grin is lazy. Only one half of it curves upward. “We did a keg stand.”
“It’s ten o’clock,” I point out. “We’re not late. I called you, anyway.”
He pats his fleece and his pockets. “Must’ve put my phone down somewhere.”
I roll my eyes. “You’re a delinquent.”
“I like it when you use those big words.” The other half of his smile is creeping upward slowly and I know he’s going to kiss me. I turn partly away, searching the room for my friends, but they’re still MIA.
In the corner I spot Kent, wearing a tie and a collared shirt about three sizes too big for him, which is half tucked into a pair of ratty khakis. At least he’s not wearing his bowler hat. He’s talking to Phoebe Rifer and they’re laughing about something. It annoys me that he hasn’t noticed me yet. I’m kind of hoping he’ll look up and come barreling over to me like he usually does, but he just bends closer toward Phoebe like he’s trying to hear her better.
Rob pulls me into him. “We’ll only stay for an hour, okay? Then we’ll leave.” His breath smells like beer and a little like cigarettes when he kisses me. I close my eyes and think about how in sixth grade I saw him kissing Gabby Haynes and was so jealous I couldn’t eat for two days. I wonder if I look like I’m enjoying it. Gabby did, in sixth grade.
It relaxes me to think about things like that: how funny life is.
I haven’t even taken off my jacket, but Rob unzips it and moves his hands along my waist and then under my tank top. His palms are sweaty and big.
I pull away long enough to say, “Not right here , in the middle of everyone.”
“Nobody’s watching,” he says, and clamps down on me again. This is a lie. He knows everyone watches us. He can see it. He doesn’t even close his eyes.
His hands inch over my stomach and his fingers are pulling at the underwire of my bra. He’s not very good with bras. He’s not that good with breasts in general, actually. I mean, it’s not like I really know what it’s supposed to feel like, but every time he touches my boobs he kind of just massages them hard in a circle. My gyno does the same thing when I go in for an exam, so one of them has to be doing it wrong. And to be honest, I don’t think it’s my gyno.
If you want to know my biggest secret, here it is: I know you’re supposed to wait to have sex with someone you love and all that, and I do love Rob—I mean, I’ve kind of been in love with him forever, so how could I not?—but that’s not why I decided to have sex with him tonight.
I decided to have sex with him because I want to get it over with, and because sex has always scared me and I don’t want to be scared of it anymore.
“I can’t wait to wake up next to you,” Rob says, his mouth against my ear.
It’s a sweet thing to say, but I can’t concentrate while his hands are on me. And it occurs to me all of a sudden that I’d never thought about the waking-up part. I have no idea what you’re supposed to talk about the day after you’ve had sex, and I imagine us lying side by side, not touching, silent, while the sun rises. Rob doesn’t have any blinds in his room—he ripped them down once when he was drunk—and during the day it’s like a spotlight has been turned on his bed, a spotlight or an eye.
“Get a room!”
I pull away from Rob as Ally appears next to me, making a face. “You two are perverts,” she says.
“This is a room.” Rob lifts both arms and gestures around him. He sloshes a little bit of beer onto my shirt, and I make a noise, annoyed.
“Sorry, babe.” He shrugs. Now there’s only a half inch of beer in his cup and he stares at it, frowning. “Gonna go for a topper. You guys want?”
“We brought our own.” Ally pats the vodka in her purse.
“Smart thinking.” Rob brings a finger up to tap the side of his head but nearly takes an eye out instead. He’s drunker than I thought. Ally covers her mouth and giggles.
“My boyfriend’s an idiot,” I say as soon as he lurches away.
“A cute idiot,” Ally corrects me.
“That’s like saying ‘a cute mutant.’ Doesn’t exist.”
“Sure it does.” Ally’s looking around the room, pouting her lips to make them look more kissable.
“Where did you go, anyway?” I’m feeling more annoyed than I should by everything: by the fact that my friends ditched me after thirty whole seconds, by the fact that Rob’s so drunk, by the fact that Kent’s still talking to Phoebe Rifer, even though he’s supposed to be obsessively in love with me. Not that I want him to be in love with me, obviously. It’s just a constant that’s always been comforting, in a weird way. I wrestle the bottle out of Ally’s bag and take another sip.
“We made a round. There’s, like, seventeen different rooms up here. You should check it out.” Ally looks at me, notices the face I’m pulling, and holds up her hands. “What? It’s not like we abandoned you in the middle of nowhere.”
She’s right. I don’t know why I’m feeling so pissy. “Where did Lindsay and Elody go?”
“Elody’s suctioned to Muffin’s lap. And Lindsay and Patrick are fighting.”
“Yeah, well, they kissed for the first three minutes. They waited until minute four to start going at it.”
This cracks me up and Ally and I laugh over it. I start to feel better, more comfortable. The vodka fills my head with warmth. More people are arriving all the time and the room seems to be revolving just a little bit. It’s a nice feeling, though, like being on a really slow carousel. Ally and I decide to go on a mission to save Lindsay before her fight with Patrick turns into an all-out brawl.
It seems like the whole school has shown up, but really there are only sixty or seventy kids. This is the most that ever shows up at a party. There’s the top and middle of the senior class, popularity-wise—Kent’s just holding on to the lower rung of the ladder, but he’s hosting so it’s okay—some of the cooler juniors, and a couple of really cool sophomores. I know I’m supposed to hate them, like we were hated when we were sophomores at all the senior parties, but I can’t bring myself to care. Ally gives a group of them one of her ice stares as we go by, though, and says “Skanks” loudly. One of them, Rachel Kornish, supposedly hooked up with Matt Wilde not long ago.
Obviously no freshmen are allowed in. The social bottom doesn’t show either. It isn’t because people would make fun of them, although they probably would. It’s more than that. They don’t hear about these parties until after they’ve happened. They don’t know the things we know: they don’t know about the secret side entrance to Andrew Roberts’s guesthouse, or the fact that Carly Jablonski stashed a cooler in her garage where you can keep your beers cold, or the fact that Rocky’s doesn’t check IDs very closely, or the fact that Mic’s stays open around the clock and makes the best egg and cheeses in the world, absolutely dripping with oil and ketchup, perfect for when you’re drunk. It’s like high school holds two different worlds, revolving around each other and never touching: the haves and the have-nots. I guess it’s a good thing. High school is supposed to prepare you for the real world, after all.
There are so many tiny hallways and rooms, it feels like a maze. All of them are filled with people and smoke. Only one door is closed. It has a big KEEP OUT sign plastered on it over a bunch of weird bumper stickers that say things like VISUALIZE WHIRLED PEAS and KISS ME. I’M IRISH.
By the time we get to Lindsay, she and Patrick have made up, big surprise. She’s sitting on his lap and he’s smoking a joint. Elody and Steve Dough are in a corner. He’s leaning against the wall and she’s half dancing and half grinding against him. She has an unlit cigarette dangling from her lips, butt end out, and her hair is a mess. Steve is steadying her, using one arm to keep her on her feet, but he’s having a conversation with Liz Hummer (her real name—and, coincidentally, her car) like Elody isn’t even there, much less rubbing on him.
“Poor Elody,” I say. I don’t know why I suddenly feel bad for her. “She’s too nice.”
“She’s a whore,” Ally says, but not meanly.
“Do you think we’ll remember any of this?” I’m not sure where the words come from. My whole head feels light and fuzzy, ready to float away. “Do you think we’ll remember any of it two years from now?”
“I won’t even remember tomorrow.” Ally laughs, tapping the bottle in my hand. There’s only a quarter of it left. I can’t think when we drank it all.
Lindsay squeals when she sees us and stumbles off Patrick’s lap, throwing an arm around each of us like it’s been years since we were together. She snatches the vodka from me and takes a sip while her arm is still wrapped around my shoulders, her elbow tightening momentarily against my neck.
“Where did you go?” she yells. Her voice is loud, even over the music and the sound of everybody talking and laughing. “I was looking everywhere for you.”
“Bullshit,” I say, and Ally says, “In Patrick’s mouth, maybe.”
We’re laughing over the fact that Lindsay’s a bullshitter and Elody’s a drunk and Ally’s OCD and I’m antisocial, and someone cracks a window to let out the smoke, and a fine mist of rain comes in, smelling like grass and fresh things, even though it’s the dead middle of winter. Without anyone noticing I reach my hand back and rest it on the sill, enjoying the freezing air and the sensation of a hundred pinpricks of rain. I close my eyes and promise myself I’ll never forget this moment: the sound of my friends’ laughter and the heat from so many bodies and the smell of rain.
When I open my eyes I get the shock of my life. Juliet Sykes is standing in the doorway, staring at me.
She’s staring at us, actually: Lindsay, Ally, and Elody, who has just left Steve and come over to stand with us, and me. Juliet’s hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and I think it’s the first time I’ve ever really seen her face.
It’s shocking that she’s there, but it’s even more shocking that she’s pretty. She has blue eyes set wide apart and high cheekbones, like a model’s. Her skin is perfectly clear and white. I can’t stop staring at her.
People are elbowing and pushing her because she’s blocking the doorway, but she just stands there, staring.
Ally catches on first and her mouth drops open. “What the…?”
Elody and Lindsay turn to see what we’re both staring at. Lindsay goes pale at first—she actually looks afraid, which is beyond strange, but I don’t have time to wonder about it because just as quickly her face goes purple, and she looks ready to rip someone’s head off. That’s a more natural look for her. Elody begins giggling hysterically until she doubles over and has to cover her mouth with both hands.
“I can’t believe it,” she says. “I can’t believe it.” She tries to start singing “Psycho killer, qu’est-ce que c’est ,” but we’re all still in shock and don’t join in.
You know how in movies someone says or does something inappropriate and the record scratches and there’s dead silence all of a sudden? Well, that isn’t exactly what happens, but it’s close. The music doesn’t stop, but as everyone in the room starts to pick up on the fact that Juliet Sykes—bedwetter, freak, and all-around psycho—is standing in the middle of a party giving four of the most popular girls at Thomas Jefferson the stink eye, conversation drops off and a low sound of whispering fills the room, getting louder and more insistent until it’s a constant hum, until it sounds like wind or the ocean.
Juliet Sykes finally steps away from the door and into the room. She walks slowly and confidently toward us—I’ve never seen her look so calm—stopping three feet in front of Lindsay.
“You’re a bitch,” she says. Her voice is steady and too loud, like she’s deliberately addressing everyone in the room. I’d always imagined her voice would be high-pitched or breathy, but it’s as full and deep as a boy’s.
It takes Lindsay a half second to find her voice. “Excuse me?” she croaks out. Juliet hasn’t made eye contact with Lindsay since the fifth grade, much less spoken to her. Much less insulted her.
“You heard me. A bitch. A mean girl. A bad person.” Juliet turns to Ally next. “You’re a bitch too.” To Elody, “You’re a bitch.” She turns her eyes to me and for a second I see something flashing there—something familiar—but just as quickly it’s gone.
“You’re a bitch.”
We’re all so shocked we don’t know how to respond. Elody giggles again nervously, hiccups, and goes silent. Lindsay’s mouth is opening and shutting like a fish’s, but nothing’s coming out. Ally’s balling up her fists like she’s thinking of clocking Juliet in the face.
And even though I’m infuriated and embarrassed, the only thing I can think when I look at Juliet is: I never knew you were so pretty.
Lindsay pulls herself together. She leans forward so her face is only inches from Juliet’s. I’ve never seen her so angry. I think her eyes are going to pop out of her head. Her mouth is twisted into a snarl, like a dog’s. For a second she looks really and truly ugly.
“I’d rather be a bitch than a psycho,” she hisses, grabbing Juliet by the shirt. Spit is coming out of her mouth—that’s how angry she is. She shoves Juliet backward, and Juliet stumbles into Matt Dorfman. He pushes Juliet again and she careens into Emma McElroy. Lindsay starts screaming, “Psycho, Psycho,” and making the high-pitched knifing noises from the movie, and suddenly everyone’s screaming out, “Psycho!” and making the motion of an invisible knife and screeching and pushing Juliet back and forth. Ally’s the first to overturn a beer on her head, but everyone catches on to that too; Lindsay splashes her with vodka, and when Juliet stumbles my way, half drenched, arms outstretched, trying to get her balance, I grab a half-finished beer from the windowsill and dump it on her. I don’t even realize I’m screaming along with everybody else until my throat is sore.
Juliet looks up at me after I dump the beer out. I can’t explain it—it’s crazy—but it’s almost a pitying look, like she feels bad for me .
All of the breath leaves my body in a rush, and I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. Without thinking, I lunge at her and shove as hard as I can, and she goes backward into a bookshelf that almost falls over. I’ve pushed her back toward the door, and as everyone is still squealing and laughing and screaming “Psycho,” she runs out of the room. She has to squeeze by Kent. He’s just come in, probably to see what everyone’s screaming about.
We lock eyes for a moment. I can’t exactly tell what he’s thinking, but whatever it is, it’s not good. I look away, feeling hot and uncomfortable. Everyone’s buzzing with energy now, laughing and talking about Juliet, but my breathing won’t go back to normal and I feel the vodka burning my stomach, creeping back up my throat. The room is stifling, spinning faster than before. I have to get out for some air.
I try to push my way out of the room, but Kent gets in my face and blocks my way.
“What the hell was that about?” he demands.
“Can you let me by, please?” I’m not in the mood to deal with anyone, and I’m especially not in the mood to deal with Kent and his stupid button-down shirt.
“What did she ever do to you?”
I cross my arms. “I get it. You’re friends with Psycho. Is that it?”
He narrows his eyes. “Pretty clever nickname. Did you think of that all by yourself, or did your friends have to help you?”
“Get out of my way.” I manage to squeeze past him, but he grabs my arm.
“Why?” he says. We’re standing so close together I can smell that he’s just eaten peppermints and see the heart-shaped mole under his left eye, even though everything else is blurry. He’s looking at me like he’s desperate to understand something, and it’s worse, much worse than anything else so far—than Juliet or his anger or the feeling I’m going to be sick any second.
I try to shake his hand off my arm. “You can’t just grab people, you know. You can’t just grab me . I have a boyfriend.”
“Keep your voice down. I’m just trying to—”
“Look.” I succeed in shaking him off. I know I’m talking too loud and too fast. I know I sound hysterical, but I can’t help it. “I don’t know what your problem is, okay? I’m not going to go out with you. I would never go out with you in a million years. So you can stop obsessing over me. I mean, I shouldn’t even know your name.” The words fly out and it’s as though they strangle me on the way up: suddenly I can’t breathe.
Kent stares at me hard. Then he leans in even closer. For a second I think he’s going to try to kiss me and my heart stops.
But he just puts his mouth up to my ear and says, “I see right through you.”
“You don’t know me.” I jerk backward, shaking. “You don’t know one thing about me.”
He holds his hands up in surrender and backs off. “You’re right. I don’t.” He starts to turn away and mutters something else.
“What did you say?” My heart is pounding in my chest so hard I think it will explode.
He turns to look at me. “I said, ‘Thank God .’” I spin around, wishing I hadn’t borrowed a pair of Ally’s heels. The room spins with me and I have to steady myself against the banister.
“Your boyfriend’s downstairs, puking in the kitchen sink,” Kent calls after me.
I give him the finger over my shoulder without turning around to see if he’s watching me, but I get the feeling he’s not.
Even before I go downstairs to see whether what Kent said about Rob is true, I know it: tonight isn’t the night after all. The combination of disappointment and relief is so overwhelming I have to hold on to the walls as I walk, feeling the stairs spiral up under me like they’re going to slip away any second. Tonight isn’t the night. Tomorrow I’ll wake up and be exactly the same, and the world will look the same, and everything will feel and taste and smell the same. My throat gets tight and my eyes start to burn, and all I can think in that moment is that it’s all Kent’s fault, Kent’s and Juliet Sykes’s.
Half an hour later the party starts to wind down. Inside, someone has ripped the Christmas lights off the wall and they’re trailing along the floor like a snake, lighting up the dust mites in the corners.
I’m feeling better now, more like myself. “There’s always tomorrow,” Lindsay said to me, when I told her about Rob, and I run the phrase over and over in my head like a mantra: There’s always tomorrow. There’s always tomorrow.
I spend twenty minutes in the bathroom, first washing my face and then reapplying makeup, even though my hands are unsteady and my face keeps doubling in the mirror. Every time I put on makeup it reminds me of my mother—I used to watch her bend over her vanity, getting ready for dates with my father—and it calms me down. There’s always tomorrow.
It’s the time of the night I like best, when most people are asleep and it feels like the world belongs completely to my friends and me, as though nothing exists apart from our little circle: everywhere else is darkness and quiet.
I leave with Elody, Ally, and Lindsay. The crowd is thinning as people take off, but it’s still hard to move. Lindsay keeps calling out, “Excuse me, excuse me, move it, feminine emergency!” Years ago we discovered at an under-eighteen concert in Poughkeepsie that nothing clears people faster than referencing a feminine emergency. It’s like people think they’ll catch it.
On our way out we pass people hooking up in corners and pressed against the stairwell. Behind closed doors we hear the muffled sounds of people giggling. Elody slams her fist against each door and yells out, “No glove, no love!” Lindsay turns around and whispers something to Elody, and Elody shuts up and looks at me guiltily. I want to tell them I don’t care—I don’t care about Rob or missing my chance—but I’m suddenly too tired to talk.
We see Bridget McGuire sitting on the edge of a bathtub with the door just cracked open. She has her head in her hands and she’s crying.
“What’s wrong with her?” I say, trying to fight the feeling of swimming in my own head, of my words coming from a distance.
“She dumped Alex.” Lindsay grabs on to my elbow. She seems sober, but her pupils are enormous and the whites of her eyes bloodshot. “You’ll never believe it. She found out that the Nic Nazi busted Alex and Anna together. He was supposed to be at a doctor’s appointment.” The music’s still going so we can’t hear Bridget, but her shoulders are shaking up and down like she’s convulsing. “She’ll be better off. Scumbag.”
“They’re all scumbags!” Elody says, raising her beer and spilling some of it. I don’t even think she knows what we’re talking about.
Lindsay takes her cup and sets it on a side table, on top of a worn copy of Moby Dick. She pockets a little ceramic figurine too: a shepherd with curly blond hair and painted eyelashes. She always steals something from parties. She calls them her souvenirs.
“She better not hurl in the Tank,” she says in a whisper, tipping her head back toward Elody.
Rob is stretched out on a sofa downstairs, but he manages to grab my hand as I go by and tries to pull me down on top of him.
“Where’re you goin’?” he says. His eyes are unfocused and his voice is hoarse.
“Come on, Rob. Let me go.” I push him off me. This is his fault, too.
“We were supposed to…” His voice trails off and he shakes his head, confused, then narrows his eyes at me. “Are you cheating on me?”
“Don’t be stupid.” I want to rewind the whole evening, rewind the past few weeks, go back to the moment when Rob leaned over, rested his chin on my shoulder, and told me he wanted to sleep next to me, go back to that quiet moment in that dark room with the TV blue and muted in front of us and the sound of his breathing and my parents sleeping upstairs, go back to the moment I opened my mouth and heard “I do too.”
“You are. You’re cheating. I knew it.” He lurches to his feet and looks around wildly. Chris Harmon, one of Rob’s best friends, is standing in the corner laughing about something, and Rob stumbles over to him.
“Are you cheating with my girlfriend, Harmon?” Rob roars, and pushes Chris. Chris stumbles and knocks against a bookshelf. A porcelain figurine topples over and shatters and a girl screams.
“Are you crazy?” Chris jumps back on Rob and suddenly they’re locked together, wrestling, shuffling around the room and knocking into things, grunting and yelling. Somehow Rob gets Chris down on his knees and then they’re both on the floor. Girls are shrieking and jumping out of the way. Someone cries out, “Watch the beer!” just before Rob and Chris roll up against the entrance of the kitchen, where the keg is sitting.
“Let’s go, Sam.” Lindsay squeezes my shoulders from behind.
“I can’t just leave him,” I say, though a part of me wants to.
“He’ll be fine. Look—he’s laughing.”
She’s right. He and Chris are already done fighting and are sprawled on the floor, laughing their heads off.
“Rob’s going to be so pissed,” I say, and I know Lindsay knows I’m talking about more than just ditching him at the party.
She gives me a quick hug. “Remember what I said.” She starts to singsong, “Just thinkin’ about tomorrow clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow….”
For a moment my stomach clenches, thinking she’s making fun of me, but it’s a coincidence. Lindsay didn’t know me when I was little, wouldn’t even have spoken to me. She has no way of knowing I used to lock myself in my room with the Annie soundtrack and belt that song at the top of my lungs until my parents threatened to throw me out onto the street.
The melody starts repeating in my head and I know I’ll be singing it for days. Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya tomorrow. A beautiful word, when you really think about it.
“Lame party, huh?” Ally says, coming up on the other side of me. Even though I know she’s only pissed Matt Wilde didn’t show, I’m glad she says it.
The sound of the rain is louder than I thought it would be and it startles me. For a moment we stand under the porch eaves, watching our breath condense into clouds, hugging ourselves. It’s freezing. Water is falling in steady streams from the eaves. Christopher Tomlin and Adam Wu are throwing empty beer bottles into the woods. Every so often we hear one shatter, and the sound comes back to us like a gunshot.
People are laughing and screaming and running in the rain, which is coming down so hard everything looks as though it’s melting into everything else. There are no neighbors to call the cops for miles. The grass is churned up, great black pits of mud exposed. Headlights are flashing in the distance, in and out, on and off, as cars sweep down the driveway toward Route 9.
“Run for it!” Lindsay yells, and I feel Ally tugging on me and then we’re running, screaming, the rain blinding us and streaming down our jackets, the mud oozing into our shoes; rain so hard it’s like everything is melting away.
By the time we get to Lindsay’s car I really don’t care about the awful way the night turned out. We’re laughing hysterically, soaked and shivering, woken up from the cold and the rain. Lindsay’s squealing about wet butt marks on her leather seats and mud on the floor, and Elody’s begging her to go to Mic’s for an egg and cheese and complaining that I always get shotgun, and Ally’s yelling for Lindsay to turn on the heat and threatening to drop dead right there from pneumonia.
I guess that’s how we get started talking about it: dying, I mean. I figure Lindsay’s okay to drive, but I notice she’s going faster than usual down that awful, long, penned-in driveway. The trees look like stripped skeletons on either side of us, moaning in the wind.
“I have this theory,” I’m saying as Lindsay skids out onto Route 9 and the tires shriek against the slick black road. The clock on the dashboard is glowing: 12:38. “I have this theory that before you die you see your greatest hits, you know? The best things you’ve ever done.”
“Duke, baby,” Lindsay says, and takes one hand off the wheel to pump her fist in the air.
“First time I hooked up with Matt Wilde,” Ally says immediately.
Elody groans and leans forward, reaching for the iPod. “Music, please, before I kill myself.”
“Can I get a cigarette?” Lindsay asks, and Elody lights one for her off the butt she’s holding. Lindsay cracks the windows, and the freezing rain comes in. Ally starts to complain about the cold again.
Elody puts on “Splinter,” by Fallacy, to piss Ally off, maybe because she’s sick of her whining. Ally calls her a bitch and unbuckles her seat belt, leaning forward and trying to grab the iPod. Lindsay complains that someone is elbowing her in the neck. The cigarette drops from her mouth and lands between her thighs. She starts cursing and trying to brush the embers off the seat cushion, and Elody and Ally are still fighting and I’m trying to talk over them, reminding them all of the time we made snow angels in May. The clock ticks forward: 12:39. The tires skid a little on the wet road and the car is full of cigarette smoke, little wisps rising like phantoms in the air.
Then all of a sudden there’s a flash of white in front of the car. Lindsay yells something—words I can’t make out, something like sit or shit or sight —and suddenly the car is flipping off the road and into the black mouth of the woods. I hear a horrible, screeching sound—metal on metal, glass shattering, a car folding in two—and smell fire. I have time to wonder whether Lindsay had put out her cigaretteAnd thenThat’s when it happens. The moment of death is full of heat and sound and pain bigger than anything, a funnel of burning heat splitting me in two, something searing and scorching and tearing, and if screaming were a feeling it would be this.
I know some of you are thinking maybe I deserved it. Maybe I shouldn’t have sent that rose to Juliet or dumped my drink on her at the party. Maybe I shouldn’t have copied off Lauren Lornet’s quiz. Maybe I shouldn’t have said those things to Kent. There are probably some of you who think I deserved it because I was going to let Rob go all the way—because I wasn’t going to save myself.
But before you start pointing fingers, let me ask you: is what I did really so bad? So bad I deserved to die? So bad I deserved to die like that?
Is what I did really so much worse than what anybody else does?
Is it really so much worse than what you do?
Think about it.