Here’s Lindsay’s big secret: when she came back from visiting her stepbrother at NYU our junior year, she was awful for days—snapping at everybody, making fun of Ally for having weird food issues, making fun of Elody for being such a lush and a pushover, making fun of me for always being the last to do things, from picking up on trends to going to third base (which I didn’t do until late sophomore year). Elody, Ally, and I knew something must have happened in New York, but Lindsay wouldn’t tell us when we asked her, and we didn’t push it. You don’t push things with Lindsay.
Then one night toward the end of the school year, we were all at Rosalita’s, this crappy Mexican restaurant one town over where they don’t card, having margaritas and waiting for our dinners to come. Lindsay wasn’t really eating—hadn’t really been eating since returning from New York. She wouldn’t touch the free chips, saying she wasn’t hungry, and instead kept dipping a finger into the salt that was rimming her margarita glass and eating the crystals one by one.
I don’t remember what we were talking about, but all of a sudden Lindsay blurted out, “I had sex.” Just like that. We all stared at her in silence, and she leaned forward and told us in a breathless rush how she’d been drunk and how because her stepbrother wasn’t ready to leave the party the guy—the Unmentionable—offered to walk her back to the dorm where she was staying with her stepbrother. They’d had sex on her stepbrother’s twin long bed with Lindsay fading in and out, and the guy—the Unmentionable—was gone even before Lindsay’s brother got back from the party.
“It was only, like, three minutes,” she said at the end, and I knew then she was already filing it away under Things We’ll Never Talk About, tucking it back in some far corner of her mind and building other, alternate stories on top of it, better stories: I went to New York and had a great time. I’m totally going to move there one day. I kissed a guy, and he wanted to come home with me, but I wouldn’t let him.
Right after that our food came. Lindsay was hugely relieved after telling us—even though she swore us on pain of death to absolute secrecy—and her whole mood changed instantly. She sent back the salad she’d ordered (“Like I want to choke down that rabbit crap”) and ordered cheese-and-mushroom quesadillas, pork-stuffed burritos with extra sour cream and guacamole, an order of chimichangas for the table to split, and another round of margaritas. It was like a weight had been lifted, and we had the best dinner we’d had in years. All of us were stuffing our faces, even Ally, and drinking margarita after margarita in different flavors—mango, raspberry, orange—and laughing so loudly at least one table asked to be moved to a different part of the restaurant. I don’t remember what we were even talking about, but at one point Ally took a picture of Elody wearing a flour tortilla on her head and holding up a bottle of hot sauce. In the corner of the frame, you can see a third of Lindsay’s profile. She’s doubling over, cracking up, her face a bright purple. One hand is clutching her stomach.
After dinner Lindsay threw down her mom’s credit card to pay for the whole thing. She’s only supposed to use it for emergencies, but she leaned forward over the table and made us all grab hands like we were praying. “This, my friends, was an emergency,” she said, and we all laughed because she was being melodramatic as usual. The plan was to go off to a party in the arboretum: a tradition on the first warm weekend of the year. We had the whole night ahead of us. Everyone was in a good mood. Lindsay was being normal again.
Lindsay went to the bathroom to fix her makeup, and five seconds after she left the table, all those margaritas and all that laughing hit me at once: I’d never had to pee so bad in my life. I sprinted to the bathroom, still laughing, while Elody and Ally pegged me with half-eaten chips and crumpled napkins and yelled, “Send us a postcard from the Niagara Falls” and “If it’s yellow, keep it mellow!” so that yet another table asked to be moved.
The bathroom was single-person, and I leaned up against the door, calling for Lindsay to let me in, rattling the handle at the same time. I guess she’d been in a rush to get in there because she hadn’t locked the door correctly and it opened as I was leaning against it. I tumbled into the bathroom, still laughing, expecting to find Lindsay standing in front of the mirror with her lips puckered, applying two coats of MAC Vixen lip gloss.
Instead she was kneeling on the floor in front of the toilet, and the remains of the quesadillas and the pork-stuffed burrito were floating on the surface of the water. She flushed but not quickly enough. I saw two whole undigested tomato pieces swirl down the toilet bowl.
All the laughter left me instantly. “What are you doing?” I asked, even though it was obvious.
“Shut the door,” she hissed.
I closed it quickly, the noise of the restaurant vacuumed away, leaving silence.
Lindsay got up from her knees slowly. “Well?” she said, looking at me like she was already preparing her arguments—like she expected me to accuse her of something.
“I had to pee,” I said. It’s so lame, but I couldn’t think of anything else. There was a tiny piece of food clinging to a strand of hair and seeing it made me feel like bursting into tears. She was Lindsay Edgecombe: she was our armor.
“Pee then,” she said, looking relieved, though I thought I saw a flicker of something else—maybe sadness.
I did. I peed while Lindsay bent over the sink, cupping her hands and sipping water from them, rolling it around in her mouth and gargling. That’s a funny thing: you think, when awful things happen, everything else just stops, like you would forget to pee and eat and get thirsty, but it’s not really true. It’s like you and your body are two separate things, like your body is betraying you, chugging on, idiotic and animal, craving water and sandwiches and bathroom breaks while your world falls apart.
I watched Lindsay fish out a Listerine strip and place one in her mouth, grimacing slightly. Then she went to work with her makeup, touching up her mascara and reapplying her lip gloss. The bathroom was small, but she seemed very far away.
Finally she said, “It’s not a habit or anything. I think I just ate too quickly.”
“Okay,” I said, and forever afterward I didn’t know if she was telling the truth.
“Don’t tell Al or Elody, okay? I don’t want them freaking out over nothing.”
“Obviously,” I said.
She paused, pressed her lips together, puckered them at the mirror. Then she turned toward me. “You guys are my family. You know that, right?”
She said it casually, as though she were complimenting my jeans, but I knew that it was one of the most sincere things she’d ever said to me. I knew that she really meant it.
We went to the party in the arboretum as planned. Elody and Ally had a great time, but I got a stomachache and had to double up on the hood of Ally’s car. I’m not sure if it was the food or what, but it felt like something was trying to claw its way out of my stomach.
Lindsay had a great night: that night she kissed Patrick for the first time. Three months later, at the tail end of the summer, they had sex. When she told us about losing her virginity to her boyfriend—the candles, the blanket on the floor, the flowers, the whole nine yards—and how great it was that her first time was so romantic, none of us even batted an eyelash. We all rushed in and congratulated her, asked her for details, told her we were jealous. We did it for Lindsay, to make her happy. She would have done it for us.
That’s the thing about best friends. That’s what they do. They keep you from spinning off the edge.