As Violet handed her the tiny shell, Heather looked straight into her eyes. Then she walked off the playground and headed home, refusing a ride on Dell's handlebars. She arrived home with the shell still jiggling in her small, sweaty palm.
At recess, Violet had been telling the gang about her family vacation to Yachats, where her family had stayed in a hotel for three nights. Heather had never stayed anywhere longer than one night and her folks always called it a motel. They said it wasn't necessary to pay good money for a room they weren't going to spend any time in. As Heather listened, Violet told Francine, Deborah, and Susie about the seal caves, the kite festival, the shells she found on the beach. "Could I have one?" Francine asked. Deborah and Susie jumped in before Violet answered. "Can I have one too?"
"Sure," Violet said, as if she had more than enough to go around. "No sweat. I'll give them to you after school. "
The bell rang and kids darted for buses, car-rides and corners. The gang waited anxiously for Violet's disbursement. Francine, Deborah and Susie each grabbed their rewards. But Heather stood patiently. Violet finally looked at her. "What?" she asked. Though Violet's voice was sharp, Heather wanted to believe her heart was as smooth as her straight black hair and shiny dark eyes.
"Could I have one?"
Violet stared at her.
"Yeh, sure, why not," she said, "but it'll have to be a small one. "
"Small's OK. I'll like it anyway. "
Heather gazed at Violet as she opened her hand, felt the shell land on her skin and closed her fist. She left without saying a word. Heather knew that Violet did not tell stories for her benefit nor was she interested in offering her much of anything. Still, she wanted something from Violet, if only the smallest shell.
Arriving home, Heather strode straight for her bedroom. She stopped at the bureau, the boxes and bottles carefully arranged, and considered which to place the shell in. She picked up a blue one, turned it in her free hand, sat it down again. Then she picked up a green one, faded from its original bright green hue to a fuzzy olive and dropped the shell in the narrow opening. It fell with a soft ping.
Wet fall leaves stained the street the day Heather and Dell played Ding Dong Ditch. The air hung warm and humid as if it were still summer. Heather rounded the corner slowly, each step a full roll from heel to toe. Dell ran ahead, cutting across the parking lot onto Tillamook Street. Apartment buildings gave way to Victorians. Heather glanced at them only when a color caught her eye -- a tree in front turned lemon yellow or mint green rather than the usual reds and oranges. Soon Heather caught sight of her friend again, her black curls bouncing playfully. As they neared Violet's house, Heather saw Dell scurrying up the steps, ringing the doorbell and running back down. As with everything Dell began, there was never a conclusion to this game. The pleasure in knowing you'd fooled somebody by ringing their bell and running away was enjoyed only in hiding. You never got to see the reaction of your unsuspecting target but could only imagine it.
Dell ran toward home, but Heather decided to wait this one out. She slipped behind a wide oak next door and watched as Violet stepped outside, walked to the edge of the porch and down the first three steps. Heather held her breath. As Violet looked in all directions, her face appeared older than fourteen, and her body, with more plump curves than any of the other girls their age, had already begun to look weighted, like an older woman's. Heather exhaled, then drew warm air into her lungs.
Instead of turning back inside, Violet suddenly sat on the front step, her head in her hands. Her long straight hair fell forward, hiding her face. Her creme-colored blouse and peach prairie skirt fell loosely around her curled figure, concealing the actual shape of her body. Heather looked down at her own body, long and slim, dressed in dirty jeans and a t-shirt her grandfather had given her from Parrot Jungle. Heather felt like a child next to Violet, though they were really the same age. As she turned and walked quickly home, she wondered if Violet had looked up and seen her leaving.
Three more falls passed, each more colorful than the last. Heather planted flower bulbs outside her parents' house, tucking them securely in the soil. Their fist shoots appeared on a cold March afternoon, as Heather and David ran laughing up the steps to her house, skipping every other one. They fell into the rust-colored couch that was waiting for a Salvation Army pickup, a couch worn thin where family friends had sat, heads had rested and elbows rubbed.
By sixteen, David had eased into his body. Without the chubbiness of childhood, the features on his face, his chin, cheeks, mouth, and brows had sharpened. The scars on his face, as if someone had splashed pink paint on his pale skin, remained. Once unsettling, Heather now found his scars comforting, so that even as his body grew and his circle of friends changed, David remained familiar.
"Kiss me," he said, smiling.
"All right," she said, but did not move. How was it, she wondered, that she could be so playful and brazen with David when she couldn't raise her hand to answer one question in class, couldn't entertain Deborah and Susie with a single story they'd listen to without interruption.
"Well," he said, "what about it?" He smiled unflinchingly at her, appearing more interested in challenging Heather than kissing her. She was relieved by his lack of passion. Leaning forward, eyes as wide open as David's, she placed her lips on his. Only their lips touched; neither of their hands moved.
"You can go home now. "
David's smile disappeared. But as he stood, he turned his head towards her, puckered his lips and made a loud smacking noise into the air. "Goodbye, my darling," he added. Heather laughed. After he left, she stood for a moment on the porch. That was what she liked about being with David, she thought, how playful they could be together, how easy.
At Francine's seventeenth birthday party, Heather watched Violet emerge barefoot from the master bedroom of Francine's house. Violet's cotton blouse was stretched at the neck, revealing a pink bra and red blotches, probably the result of someone's probing teeth and tongue. Carrying an unfinished beer, Heather left her solitary post by the kitchen door and followed Violet. Heather had been worrying about Violet, always from afar, as her appearance became more dishevelled these past weeks, her voice more belligerent at school.
As she and Violet passed unnoticed through the living room, Heather glanced over at Deborah arranging lines of coke on the coffee table. Heather was used to passing unnoticed, but she had never understood why Violet, who had once captured the interest of her peers, no longer fascinated anyone. The group huddled around Deborah groaned and laughed as they shared predictable stories about the time some amateur had carelessly blown a night's worth of coke to kingdom come.
Still following Violet, Heather entered the kitchen where four unfamiliar girls played a game of quarters. When Violet reached the back door, she tried to bang it open with the palm of her hand. When it didn't open, she kicked it explosively. "Fucking door," she muttered.
"Let me try," Heather said, reaching around Violet to turn the doorknob. Violet didn't look up to see who it was. "Just stuck," Heather said, trying to make her feel better, trying not to bring attention to the fact that Violet was simply drunk.
Violet stepped out into the unlit backyard and mumbled something inaudible. Heather set her unfinished beer on the windowsill and stepped outside. "What?" she asked.
As the door swung shut, Violet turned towards Heather. "I said, don't make excuses for me. "
"About what?" Heather said. Though Violet stood in front of her, she couldn't make out her features in the dark.
"Hey, this isn't the right place. Where's the fucking front door?"
As the girls stood together in the dark backyard, Heather wondered what it was she wanted from Violet. As a kid, it had been her style, the way she wore her fancy clothes. Then it was her stories, the attention they garnered. More recently, it had been to touch her, a desire to place the palm of her hand on Violet's cheek or hips. Heather never felt she had anything to give Violet. All she might offer now were excuses for Violet's behavior.
"Why do you get so fucked up," she asked, surprised by what came out of her mouth. Heather was accustomed always to thinking before she spoke, but the darkness urged her on, protected her from Violet's gaze. Violet didn't answer. As Heather followed, she heard gravel crackling under her shoes and thought of Violet's bare feet.
Once under the streetlights in front of Francine's house, Heather could see more clearly. Violet glanced from side to side and said, "How do I get to the bridge from here?"
"You're going to walk home?" Heather said. "It's got to be miles and you don't even have a jacket or shoes. "
Violet looked down at her feet. "Oh. " Head bent down, Violet looked so helpless.
"Come on, I'll drive you home," she said.
Violet wrapped her hands around herself as if to warm up and followed Heather quietly across the street. "Want me to drive?" Violet asked. As Heather started to say no, that she wouldn't let Violet drive when she'd been drinking, she glanced at her over the top of the car. Violet was chuckling, drunkenly beaming at her. Heather managed to laugh.
They drove quietly back to Violet's house. When Violet got out of the car, she stood on the curb for a moment. Heather could see her only from the waist down. Violet said nothing before closing the door. After she was safely inside, Heather sat in the running car for a few moments. Then she drove on. She slowed down in front of David's house but continued on and drove the long way home.