Tuesday afternoon, Emily stood in front of her green metal locker after the final bell of the day had rung. The locker still had her old stickers from last year—USA Swimming, Liv Tyler as Arwen the elf, and a magnet that said, COED NAKED BUTTERFLY. Her boyfriend, Ben, hovered next to her.
“You want to hit Wawa?” he asked. His Rosewood swimming jacket hung loosely off his lanky, muscular body, and his blond hair was a little messy.
“Nah, I’m good,” Emily answered. Because they had practice at three-thirty after school, the swimmers usually just stayed at Rosewood and sent someone off to Wawa so they could get their hoagie/iced tea/Cheats/Reese’s Pieces fix before swimming a billion laps.
A bunch of boys stopped to slap Ben’s hand as they headed toward the parking lot. Spencer Hastings, who was in Ben’s history class last year, waved. Emily waved back before realizing Spencer was looking at Ben, not her. It was hard to believe that after everything they’d been through together and all the secrets they shared, they now acted like strangers.
After everyone passed, Ben turned back to her and frowned. “You’ve got your jacket on. You’re not practicing?”
“Um.” Emily shut her locker and gave the combination a spin. “You know that girl I’ve been showing around today? I’m walking her to her house ’cause this is her first day and all.”
He smirked. “Well, aren’t
“Come on.” Emily smiled uneasily. “It’s like a ten-minute walk.”
Ben looked at her, vaguely nodding for a little while.
“What? I’m just trying to be nice!”
“That’s cool,” he said, and smiled. He took his eyes off her to wave at Casey Kirschner, the captain of the boys’ varsity wrestling team.
Maya appeared a minute after Ben loped down the side stairs out to the student parking lot. She wore a white denim jacket over her Rosewood oxford shirt and Oakley flip-flops on her feet. Her toenails weren’t painted. “Hey,” she said.
“Hey.” Emily tried to sound bright, but she felt uneasy. Maybe she should’ve just gone to practice with Ben. Was it weird to walk Maya home and walk right back?
“Ready?” Maya asked.
The girls walked through campus, which was basically a bunch of very old brick buildings off a twisty back road in Rosewood. There was even a Gothic clock tower that chimed out the hours. Earlier, Emily had shown Maya all the standard stuff that every private school has. She’d also shown her the cool things about Rosewood Day that you usually had to discover on your own, like the dangerous toilet in the girls’ first-floor bathroom that sometimes spewed up geyser-style, the secret spot on the hill kids went when they cut gym class (not that Emily ever would), and the school’s only vending machine that sold Vanilla Coke, her favorite. They’d even developed an inside joke about the prim, stick-up-her-butt model on the anti-smoking posters that hung outside the nurse’s office. It felt good to have an inside joke again.
Now, as they cut through an unused cornfield to Maya’s neighborhood, Emily took in every detail of her face, from her turned-up nose to her coffee-colored skin to the way her collar couldn’t settle right around her neck. Their hands kept bumping against each other when they swung their arms.
“It’s so different here,” Maya said, sniffing the air. “It smells like Pine-Sol!” She took off her denim jacket and rolled up the sleeves of her button-down. Emily pulled at her hair, wishing it was dark and wavy, like Maya’s, instead of chlorine-damaged and a slightly greenish shade of reddish blond. Emily also felt a little self-conscious about her body, which was strong, muscular, and not as slender as it used to be. She didn’t usually feel so aware of herself, even when she was in her swimsuit, which was practically naked.
“Everyone has stuff they’re really
“Really? What do you play?”
“Guitar,” Maya said. “My dad taught me. My brother’s actually a lot better, but whatever.”
“Wow,” Emily said. “That’s cool.”
“Omigod!” Maya grabbed Emily’s arm. Emily flinched at first but then relaxed. “You should join the band too! How fun would that be? Sarah said we’d practice three days a week after school. She plays bass.”
“But all I play is the flute,” Emily said, realizing she sounded like Eeyore from
“The flute would be awesome!” Maya clapped her hands. “And drums!”
Emily sighed. “I really couldn’t. I have swimming, like, every day after school.”
“Hmm,” Maya said. “Can’t you skip a day? I bet you’d be so good at the drums.”
“My parents would murder me.” Emily tilted her head and stared at the old iron railroad bridge above them. Trains didn’t use the bridge anymore, so now it was mostly a place for kids to go and get drunk without their parents knowing.
“Why?” Maya asked. “What’s the big deal?”
Emily paused. What was she supposed to say? That her parents expected her to keep swimming because scouts from Stanford were already watching Carolyn’s progress? That her older brother, Jake, and oldest sister, Beth, were now both at the University of Arizona on full swimming rides? That anything less than a swimming scholarship to somewhere top-notch would be a family failure? Maya wasn’t afraid to smoke pot when her parents were buying groceries. Emily’s parents, by comparison, seemed like old, conservative, controlling East Coast suburbanites. Which they were. But still.
“This is a shorter way home.” Emily gestured across the street, to the large colonial house’s lawn she and her friends used to cut through on winter days to get to Ali’s house faster.
They started up through the grass, avoiding a sprinkler spraying the hydrangea bushes. As they pushed through the brambly tree branches to Maya’s backyard, Emily stopped short. A small, guttural noise escaped her throat.
She hadn’t been in this backyard—
Maya, who had walked on ahead of her, looked over her shoulder. “You okay?”
Emily shoved her hands into her jacket pockets. For a second, she considered telling Maya about Ali. But a hummingbird swept past her and she lost her nerve. “I’m fine,” she said.
“Do you wanna come in?” Maya asked.
“No…I…I have to go back to school,” Emily answered. “Swimming.”
“Oh.” Maya crinkled up her eyes. “You didn’t have to walk me home, silly.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t want you to get lost.”
“You’re so cute.” Maya looped her hands behind her back and swung her hips back and forth. Emily wondered what she meant by
“So, well, have fun at swimming,” Maya said. “And thanks for showing me around today.”
“Sure.” Emily stepped forward, and their bodies smushed together in a hug.
“Well, then, I’ll be French too.” Emily giggled, forgetting about Ali and the tree for a second. “Mwah!” She kissed Maya’s smooth left cheek.
Then Maya kissed her again, on her right cheek, except now just a teensy bit closer to her mouth. There was no
Maya’s mouth smelled like banana bubble gum. Emily jerked back and caught her swimming bag before it slid off her shoulder. When she looked up, Maya was grinning.
“I’ll see ya,” Maya said. “Be good.”
Emily folded her towel into her swim bag after practice. The whole afternoon had been a blur. After Maya skipped into her house, Emily jogged back to school—as if running would untangle the jumble of feelings inside her. As she slipped into the water and swam lap after lap, she saw those haunting initials on the tree. When Coach blew her whistle and they practiced starts and turns, she smelled Maya’s banana gum and heard her fun, easy laugh. Standing at her locker, she was pretty sure she’d shampooed her hair twice. Most of the other girls had stayed in the communal showers for longer, gossiping, but Emily was too spaced out to join them.
As she reached for her T-shirt and jeans, folded neatly on the shelf in her locker, a note came fluttering out. Emily’s name was written on the front in plain, unfamiliar handwriting, and she didn’t recognize the graph notebook paper. She picked it up off the cold, wet floor.
Emily curled her toes around the rubber locker room mat and stopped breathing for a second. She looked around. No one was looking at her.
She stared at the note and tried to think rationally. She and Maya were out in the open, but no one was around.
Emily had kissed just one other friend. It was two days after she carved their initials into that oak tree and just a week and a half before the end of seventh grade.