"Annabel," she called out. "Come on, it's late."
We all stopped talking. I could see Chris squint as he looked into the dark. "What was that?"
"Shhh," Bill said. "Someone's out there."
"It's not someone," Sophie said, rolling her eyes. "It's Ca-larke."
"Ca-what?" Bill said, laughing.
Sophie reached up, pinching her nose shut with two fingers. "Ca-larke," she repeated, her voice sounding so like Clarke's, stuffed up and adenoidal, that it was startling. I felt a pang in my chest as everyone laughed, and I looked back over at her again, knowing she could hear it. She was still there, across the street under the light, but I knew she would come no farther, and that it was my job to leave now and go to her.
"I better—" I said, stepping forward.
"Annabel." Sophie leveled her gaze at me. At the time this was new, but later I'd come to recognize her expression, a mix of annoyance and impatience. It was the look she'd give me a million times over the years, whenever I wasn't doing what she wanted. "What are you doing?"
Chris and Bill were both watching us. "It's just," I began, then stopped. "I should just go."
"No," Sophie said. "You shouldn't."
I should have just walked away, from Sophie, from all of it, and done the right thing. But I didn't. I told myself later it was because Chris Pennington had his hand on the small of my back and it was summer, and earlier, his lips on mine, hands in my hair, he had whispered to me that I was gorgeous. Really, though, it was this moment with Sophie, my fear of what would happen if I stood up to her, that stopped me. And shamed me for years to come.
So I stayed where I was, and Clarke went home, and later, when I tried to go back to her house, the lights were off, the door locked. I went up anyway, but unlike that night we'd gone to Sophie's, the door didn't open. Instead, Clarke left me waiting, as I had done to her, and eventually I went home.
I knew she was really mad at me. I assumed, though, that we'd work it out. It was just one night—I'd made a mistake; she'd come around. But the next day, when I walked up to her at the pool, she wouldn't even look at me and ignored my repeated hellos, turning away when I sat down on the chair beside her.
"Come on," I said. No response. "It was stupid of me to go. I'm sorry, okay?"
But it wasn't okay, clearly, as she still wouldn't look at me, giving me only her sharp profile. She was so mad, and I felt so helpless, I couldn't stand to sit there, so I got up and left.
"So what?" Sophie said when I went to her house and told her what had happened. "Why do you even care she's pissed?"
"She's my best friend," I told her. "And now she hates me."
"She's just a kid," she replied. I was sitting on her bed, watching her as she stood in front of her bureau mirror. She picked up her brush, giving her hair a few strokes. "And to be honest, she's kind of a nerd, Annabel. I mean, is that how you really want to spend your summer? Playing cards and listening to her sniffle? Please. You hooked up with Chris Pennington last night. You should be happy."
"I am," I said, although I wasn't sure this was true, even as I said it.
"Good." She put down her brush, then turned around, looking at me. "Now come on. Let's go to the mall or something."
And that was that. Years of friendship, all those card games and pizza nights and sleepovers, finished in less than twenty-four hours. Looking back, maybe if I had approached Clarke again, we could have worked things out. But I didn't. It was like the passing time and my guilt and shame opened up a chasm, wider and wider. Once, I might have been able to leap it, but eventually it was too distant to even look across, much less find a way to the other side.
Clarke and I would run into each other again, of course. We lived in the same neighborhood, rode the same bus, went to the same school. But we never spoke. Sophie became my best friend, although nothing ever happened with Chris Pennington, who, despite all the things he'd said in the dark that night, never talked to me again. As for Clarke, she found a new group of friends on the soccer team, which she joined in the fall, going on to be a starting forward. Eventually we were so different, and moving in such different crowds, that it was hard to believe we'd ever been close at all. In my photo albums, though, there was page after page of proof—the two of us at backyard cookouts, riding bikes, posing on her front steps, that ever-present pack of Kleenex between us.
Before Sophie, people knew who I was because of my sisters and my modeling, but it was only once we were friends that I was popular. And there was a difference. Sophie's particular brand of fearlessness was perfect for navigating the cliques and various dramatics of middle school and high school. The bossy girls and whispered comments that had always unnerved me didn't bother her at all, and I found it was much easier to cross the various social barriers once she'd already busted through them for me. Suddenly, everything I'd always watched and envied from a distance—the people, the parties, and especially the boys—was not only closer but altogether possible, and all because of Sophie. It made the other things I had to put up with, like her moodiness, and everything that had happened with Clarke, seem almost worth it. Almost.
At any rate, everything with me and Clarke and Sophie had happened ages ago. But this past summer, I'd found myself thinking about Clarke a lot, especially when I was alone at the pool. So much would have been different if I'd just stayed in that night, taken my spot beside her, and let Sophie go on without me. I'd made my choice, though, and I couldn't take it back.
Although sometimes, in the late afternoon, when I'd close my eyes and start to drift off, listening to kids splashing in the water and the lifeguard's whistle, it almost seemed like nothing had changed. At least until later, when I'd jerk awake to find myself in the shade, the air suddenly cooler, long past time to go home.
When I got home from school, the house was empty and the light on the answering machine was blinking. I pulled an apple out of the fridge, polishing it on my shirt as I walked across the room to play the messages. The first one was from Lindy, my agent.
"Hi, Grace, it's me, returning your call. Sorry it took so long, my assistant quit and I've had this useless temp manning the phones, it's been a total disaster. But anyway. No news yet, but I have a call in to the Mooshka office, so we'll hopefully hear something soon. I'll keep you posted, hope all is well, love to Annabel. Bye!"
Beep. I'd hadn't thought about the Mooshka go-see for days, but clearly it was on my mother's mind. I didn't want to think about it now either, so I moved on to the next message, which was from Kirsten. She was famous for leaving long, rambling missives, often having to call back for a part two when the machine cut off on her, so as soon as I heard her voice, I pulled out a chair.