“Hey, Cami,” I call out.
She’s walking up the driveway, hovering over a dinner plate, shielding it, and her hair is going wild. “Hey. What are you doing out here?”
“I needed to get away from the noise.”
I wave off her concern. “Cookies?”
“Brownies. From my mom. We’re all really glad you’re home.”
“Thanks.” I remember what she said earlier. “Why aren’t our moms friends now?”
A gust of wind nearly upends the plate in Cami’s hand. Her teeth chatter. “I don’t know, exactly. But I think it’s because maybe your mom couldn’t handle it once you were gone. My mom still had me, but your mom didn’t have you. Constant reminder. That’s what my mom thinks.”
I nod and try to shield her from the wind. “That would be hard, I suppose.”
We go inside.
It always happens like this for me, you know? Blindsided by a girl. Back with Ellen in Oklahoma, when I was thirteen, there was this girl, Bree Ann, in the apartment next door. Her mother left her alone a lot too. She was older, fifteen, maybe. I used to listen for her. Climb out the window to the fire escape when I heard her go out there to smoke or write in her little notebook. I longed to jump across just to be closer. We didn’t ever talk, and she ignored me, but she was my secret and I loved her. I did. I loved just being near her. I wanted to get closer, sit down with her. Talk to her. But back then, before I had to really go out and learn how to get what I wanted, I didn’t dare.
I guess I just wanted Ellen to come home, but she was always out working her johns . . . or partying, toward the end of things. That was right before she got rid of me. Everybody gets caught up sometime, she said.
I watch Cami talk to my mother and father and I can hear that laugh. It’s like a cat bell, so pretty yet alarming, because I know I’m letting myself fall when maybe I should fly away. But that loneliness inside, it’s so fucking painful. It’s that longing feeling that scratches to escape and makes you want to blurt out all kinds of gushy crap just to get the girl to look at you. It’s like I had with Bree Ann, trying to guess her schedule every day so I’d know when I could just be near her, and a little bit with Tempest, who was always disappearing. I hate it. Love its melty-ness and hate its leash around my neck.
When she’s done talking to them and I can pry myself away from other guests I don’t remember, she says near my ear, “Let’s get away from the mob. Go talk somewhere.”
I shiver and nod. We find a spot on the basement steps, away from the noise. Close the door to the rest of the house, and sit. I lean against the wall and she hugs her knees.
“What’s your favorite color?” she asks.
She laughs. “You can’t have black as a favorite color.”
“Why not? It’s all the colors. Maybe I have a hard time committing to just one.” I smile. “What’s yours?”
She laughs again and says, “Mine’s green. Yours used to be red. What do you like to do for fun? Do you ski?”
“I don’t know how,” I say. “I’m not really accustomed to this perpetual snow thing . . .” I run my fingers over the carpeted step between us. Brushing it one way, then the other, seeing the color change slightly.
“Skateboard? How about music?”
I look up at her. “Nope, never tried it. Music is nice, I guess.”
“Rock, emo, screamo, ska? Punk? Pop? Not country, I hope.” She looks at me expectantly.
I feel like I know what I’m supposed to like, but I really don’t know that much about music, especially current stuff—just that canned music they play on downtown streets and at the zoo. I shrug. “I like all kinds. Not country.”
“Cool,” I say. My tongue is in a knot. I’m so surprised she’s not asking me all the usual questions I’ve been bombarded with all night. All the tough questions. Like where the hell was I for the past nine years and what did the evil abductor do to me? Like how was it living in a youth home and on the streets?
“Did you go to school at all while you were away?” She pulls her hair in front of her shoulder and smiles at me. So easy.
I just look at her a minute, contemplating the question, and I feel myself smiling back—I can’t even help it. “Yeah,” I say. She makes it comfortable. “At first, I don’t think I did—I can’t remember. But then yes, some of the time. We moved around a lot, so I was always catching up.”
“I’m really glad you’re home,” she says. “And it’s cool to see inside your house again. It’s been a long time.”
“You haven’t been over? I thought you were sort of friends with Blake.”
She laughs. “Nah. We just ride the bus together. He’s just a kid, you know? I think he has a little crush on me, actually.”
The crowd noise increases suddenly and Russell shoots down the stairs like a gremlin. I look up. Blake stands at the top, glowering. “Mom needs you,” he says. He looks from me to Cami, then back to me, and slams the door. I look at Cami and her eyes are wide.
“Gosh,” she says. “I hope he didn’t hear that.”
I shrug. “Don’t worry, he probably didn’t. I think he’s mad at me. Besides, I don’t blame him.”