“I’ve been working a lot,” I say. I don’t add, to avoid East End, actually.
“You still running?”
“No. Too hot.”
“Yeah, me too. Figured I’d give it a rest until fall.” We walk a few more paces in silence and then Hana squints at me, tilting her head. “So what else?”
Her question catches me off guard. “What do you mean, what else?”
“That is what I mean. I mean, what else? Come on, Lena.
It’s the last summer, remember? The last summer of no responsibilities and all that good stuff. So what have you been doing? Where have you been?”
“I—nothing. I haven’t done anything.” This was the whole point—to stay out of trouble, to do as little as possible—but saying the words makes me feel kind of sad. The summer seems to be narrowing rapidly, shrinking down to a fine point before I’ve even had a chance to enjoy it. It’s already almost August. We’ll have another five weeks of this weather before the wind starts cutting in at night and the leaves get trimmed with edges of gold. “What about you?” I say. “Good summer so far?”
“The usual.” Hana shrugs. “I’ve been going to the beach a lot, like I said. Been babysitting for the Farrels some.”
“Really?” I wrinkle my nose. Hana’s always had a thing against children. She’s always staying they’re too sticky and clingy, like Jolly Ranchers that have been left too long in a hot pocket.
She makes a face. “Yeah, unfortunately. My parents decided I needed to ‘practice managing a household,’ or some crap like that. You know they’re actually making me work out a budget? Like figuring out how to spend sixty dollars a week is going to teach me about paying bills, or responsibility or something.”
“Why? It’s not like you’ll even have a budget.” I don’t mean to sound bitter but there it is, the difference in our futures cutting between us again.
We go silent after that. Hana looks away, squinting slightly against the sunlight. Maybe I’m just feeling depressed about how quickly the summer is cycling by, but memories start coming thick and fast, like a deck of cards being reshuffled in my head: Hana swinging open the bathroom door that first day in second grade, folding her arms as she blurted out, Is it because of your mom?; staying up past midnight one of the few times we were ever allowed to have a sleepover, giggling and imagining amazing and impossible people for our matches some day, like the president of the United States or the stars of our favorite movies; running side by side, legs beating in tandem on the pavement, like the rhythm of a single heartbeat; bodysurfing at the beach and buying triple cones of ice cream on the way home, arguing about whether vanilla or chocolate was better.
Best friends for more than ten years and in the end it all comes down to the edge of a scalpel, to the motion of a laser beam through the brain and a flashing surgical knife. All that history and its importance gets detached, floats away like a severed balloon. In two years—in two months—Hana and I will pass each other on the streets with nothing more than a nod—different people, different worlds, two stars revolving silently, separated by thousands of miles of dark space.
Segregation has it all wrong. We should be protected from the people who will leave us in the end, from all the people who will disappear or forget us.
Maybe Hana’s feeling nostalgic too, because she suddenly comes out with, “Remember all our plans for this summer? All the things we said we’d finally do?”
I don’t even skip a beat. “Break into the Spencer Prep pool—” “—and go swimming in our underwear,” Hana finishes. I crack a smile. “Hop the fence at Cherryhill Farms—” “—and eat the maple syrup straight out of the barrels.”
“Run all the way from the Hill to the old airport.”
“Ride our bikes down Suicide Point.”
“Try and find that rope swing Sarah Miller told us about. The one above Fore River.”
“Sneak into the movie theater and see four movies back to back.”
“Finish off the Hobgoblin Sundae at Mae’s.” I’m fully smiling now and Hana is too. I start quoting, “‘A gargantuan sundae for enormous appetites only, featuring thirteen scoops, whipped cream, hot fudge—’”
Hana jumps in, “‘And all the toppings your little monsters can handle!’”
Both of us laugh. We’ve probably read that sign a thousand times. We’ve been debating making a second attack on the Hobgoblin since fourth grade: That’s when we tried the first time. Hana insisted on going there for her birthday and took me along. Both of us spent the rest of the night rolling around on the floor of her bathroom, and we’d only made it through seven of the thirteen scoops.
We’ve reached my street. A few kids are playing in the middle of the road. It’s a makeshift game of soccer:
They’re kicking a can around and shouting, bodies brown and shiny with sweat. I see Jenny among them.
As I’m watching, a girl tries to elbow her out of the way, and Jenny turns around and pushes her to the ground. The younger girl starts to wail. No one comes out of any of the houses, even as the girl’s voice crescendos to a high-pitched scream, like a siren going off. A curtain or a dish towel flutters in a window: Other than that, the street is silent, motionless.
I’m desperate to keep riding the wave of good feeling, to fix things between Hana and me, even if it’s only for a month. “Listen, Hana”—I feel like I’m working the words past an enormous lump in my throat; I’m almost as nervous as I was before the evaluations—“they’re playing The Defective Detective in the park tonight.
Double feature, Michael Wynn. We could go if you want.”
The Defective Detective is this film franchise Hana and I used to love when we were little, about a famous detective who’s actually incompetent, and his dog sidekick: The dog always ends up solving the crimes. A lot of actors have played the lead role, but our favorite was Michael Wynn. When we were kids, we used to pray to get matched with him.
“Tonight?” Hana’s smile falters, and my stomach sinks.
Stupid, stupid, I think. It doesn’t matter anyway.
“It’s okay if you can’t. No worries. Just an idea,” I say quickly, looking away so she won’t see how disappointed I am.
“No—I mean, I want to, but—” Hana sucks in a breath. I hate this, hate how awkward we both are. “I kind of have this party”—she corrects herself quickly— “this thing I’m supposed to go to with Angelica Marston.”
My stomach gets that hollowed-out feeling. It’s amazing how words can do that, just shred your insides apart.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me—such bullshit. “Since when do you hang out with Angelica Marston?”
Again, I’m not trying to sound bitter, but I realize I sound like someone’s whiny little sister, complaining about being left out of a game. I bite my lip and turn away, furious with myself.
“She’s actually not that bad,” Hana says mildly. I can hear it in her voice; she feels sorry for me. This is worse than anything. I almost wish we were screaming at each other again, like we did the day at her house—even that would be better than her careful tone of voice, the way we’re dancing around each other’s feelings. “She’s not really stuck-up. Just shy, I guess.”
Angelica Marston was a junior last year. Hana made fun of her for the way she wore her uniform. It was always perfectly pressed and spotless, the collar of her button- down turned down exactly, her skirt hitting exactly at the knee. Hana said Angelica Marston had a stick up her butt because her father was a big scientist at the labs.
And she did kind of walk that way, all constipated and careful.
“You used to hate her,” I squeak out. My words don’t seem to be asking my brain for permission before popping out of my mouth.
“I didn’t hate her,” Hana says, like she’s trying to explain algebra to a two- year-old. “I didn’t know her. I always thought she was a bitch, you know? Because of her clothes and stuff. But that’s all her parents. They’re super strict, really protective and stuff.” Hana shakes her head. “She’s not like that at all. She’s . . . different.”
That word seems to vibrate in the air for a second:
different. For a second I have an image of Hana and Angelica, arms linked, trying not to laugh, sneaking through the streets after curfew: Angelica fearless and beautiful and fun, just like Hana. I push the image out of my head. Down the street one of the kids kicks the can, hard. It skitters between two dented silver garbage cans that have been set out in the road, a makeshift goal. Half of the kids start jumping up and down, pumping their fists; the others, Jenny included, gesticulate and yell something about offsides. It occurs to me for the first time how ugly my street must look to Hana, all the houses squished together, half of them missing windowpanes, porches sagging in the middle like old beaten-down mattresses. It’s so different from the clean, quiet streets in West End, from the silent, gleaming cars and the gates and the green hedges.
“You could come tonight,” Hana says quietly.
A rush of hatred overwhelms me. Hatred for my life, for its narrowness and cramped spaces; hatred for Angelica Marston, with her secretive smile and rich parents; hatred for Hana, for being so stupid and careless and stubborn, first and foremost, and for leaving me behind before I was ready to be left; and underneath all those layers something else, too, some white-hot blade of unhappiness flashing in the very deepest part of me. I can’t name it, or even focus on it clearly, but somehow I understand that this—this other thing—makes me the angriest of all.
“Thanks for the invitation,” I say, not even bothering to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. “Sounds like a blast.
Will there be boys there too?”
Either Hana doesn’t notice the tone of my voice—which is doubtful—or she chooses to ignore it. “That’s kind of the whole point,” she says, deadpan. “Well, and the music.”
“Music?” I say. I can’t help but sound interested. “Like the last time?”
Hana’s face lights up. “Yeah. I mean, no. Different band.
But these guys are supposed to be amazing—even better than last time.” She pauses, then repeats quietly, “You could come with us.”
Despite everything, this gives me pause. In the days after the party at Roaring Brook Farms, snatches of music seemed to follow me everywhere: I heard it winging in and out of the wind, I heard it singing off the ocean and moaning through the walls of the house.
Sometimes I woke up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, my heart pounding, with the notes sounding in my ears. But every time I was awake and trying to remember the melodies consciously, hum a few notes or recall any of the chords, I couldn’t.
Hana’s staring at me hopefully, waiting for my response.
For a second I actually feel bad for her. I want to make her happy, like I always did, want to see her give a whoop and put her fist in the air and flash me one of her famous smiles. But then I remember she has Angelica Marston now, and something hardens in my throat, and knowing that I’m going to disappoint her gives me a kind of dull satisfaction.