It was a chaste kiss, but a long one, and one neither boy wanted to end.
“I suppose I should have sent you a missive,” said Brian when they finally did break apart. “Asked for a token of some sort.”
“Will you shut up?” Hugo said, trying to act annoyed. “This is one of the biggest moments of my life so far, and all you can do is reference musicals.”
“The biggest moment of your life? Hugo, I’m touched!” Hugo just rolled his eyes.
“It’s getting late,” he said. “James’ll wonder where I am soon. I’ve gotta go home. I’ll call you tomorrow.” The boys stood up to head home.
“Okay. G’night, Hugo.” Brian leaned in and kissed him one more time before turning and skipping toward his house.
The popcorn was delicious. The music was the perfect volume. The sleeping bags were laid out and the nail polish ran freely.
Clearly, Erin was the queen of all sleepovers, and she wore her crown well.
“So how was your skiing trip?” asked the queen, pouring the popcorn into her open, smiling mouth.
“Really fun,” said Mary, reflecting on the sunlit slopes, alive with children’s laughter.
“Did Hugo mention me? Did he miss me?”
It was Erin’s one great delusion. She couldn't come to terms with the fact that she simply wasn’t Hugo’s type. Mary wasn’t really sure what Hugo’s type was, but it wasn’t Erin. But Mary believed that if you couldn’t find happiness inside your imagination, you couldn’t find it anywhere, and so she found herself caving every time Erin said something like this.
“We didn’t talk a whole lot-” lie- “since we were so tired after skiing all day.” Truth. “But yeah, he mentioned you once or twice.” Lie.
“What did he say?” Erin squealed, grabbing another handful of popcorn.
“I… I don’t really remember.” Halfway between lie and truth. “I was tired, too.” Truth.
Thou shalt not lie, says the Bible, and the Bible is absolute. But what could she do? Which is better-to lie, or hut your friend? Love thy neighbor, says the Bible as well, and to love Erin could require lies.
The sleepover concerto played on, the girls’ voices blending in harmonies of the clandestine meeting of the Order of Pajama-wearers. Wonderful crescendoes, rising to a squeal of “She did not!” or “That’s so awesome!” mixed with the secretive pianissimo of the information too private, too unknowable, for the ears of anyone but the Best Friend.
It was one of these that Mary became aware of something very strange, very off-key.
“You know we were staying in Iowa, right?” Erin’s family made a yearly pilgrimage to Huxley, to visit Erin’s great-aunt Eve. A fitting name for the ancient matriarch, as it meant mother of all.
“Yeah,” she said out loud.
“Well I met this boy there, Riley Finn. And he was cute, no lie.”
Erin continued about this new Mr. Finn. Mary found herself hoping that he’d replace Hugo as Mary’s crush. Even if he turned out to be a new Great Delusion, it was surely easier to delude a friend about someone you didn’t know than about your own step-brother.
But her thoughts were wandering. As they always did, but in this case she should pay attention. It’s what a good Best Friend would do. Why were her thoughts cursed to wander so? Perhaps, she thought wryly, my mind was held as a slave in Egypt. I’ll wander, a stranger in my own head, for forty years, then reach Nirvana when I hit middle age.
At any rate, there she went again. Focus on Erin, Mary.
“So after this Christmas Eve-Eve dance thing, well, Riley and I went back to his house, and his parents were still out, and we went into his room…”
Mary was generally not the best at Context Clues. But she knew what was coming next.
“Erin, you… That’s not Christian!” Was all she could think of to say. She was hardly the most versed in Scripture, but all the experts agreed-this was wrong, wrong, wrong. “You should go see my dad right now. Or tomorrow, when he gets to church. You-”
Erin laughed. She laughed.
“Mary, don’t worry. I’m a good Christian.” And for a moment, Mary believed it would be all right. Maybe she’d made a wrong assumption-it wouldn’t be the first time. “I’m sure that God will forgive it just this once.”
Mary could have sworn her jaw dropped to the ground.
“So, how’re things going with Brian?” asked Erin, as if nothing was wrong.
Denial is a blessed state in which to live. I’ll think about it later, says the psyche, letting the unpleasantness just drift away.
This was what happened to Mary now.
“Well, I talked about him a little with Hugo-you know how they’re always hanging out. Hugo says I’ve got a pretty good chance with him.” She smiled and ate some more popcorn, joining Erin in the world of nothing-bad-could-happen.
The sleepover concerto will resume now, ladies and gentlemen. We apologize for our second violinist’s temporary breakdown. Everything will continue as usual. No need for alarm.
At least not for now.
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