Kelly approaches Pearl and I wearily, his eyes taking us in under lowered brows, his finger lodged in the middle of his book to mark the page.
"Yes?" he asks. His intonation teeters on the edge of annoyance, or maybe nervousness. I'm not sure which. Maybe it's both.
I look at him, a proper once-over, but mostly he’s just a boy in a school uniform. The knees of his pants are worn down, and the sleeve of his shirt has a small ink stain on it. His black hair is caught somewhere between romantically windswept and just being in his eyes too much, but it doesn't cover the freckles on his nose. He’s almost scowling, which is a normal expression on him, so I find it kind of endearing.
He's… the same as always. As he's been. As he was at Maggie's party and the Spring Fling. I look down at my school flats, then up again.
"Whatcha reading?" Pearl asks, burrowing into her pink cardigan as a gust of cold wind blows by. It ruffles Kelly's hair, pushes it out of his eyes.
He huffs. "Um. The Terrapin Case. Why?" His words are clipped, but his eyes are alert, darting away and back and occasionally to me and always back to Pearl. A blush is coloring his neck, seeping up towards his ears.
"We're looking for book suggestions," I cut in, and his gaze shifts more permanently to me.
His mouth slants up. "Well, this one's good," he says matter-of-factly. "It's about a gravedigger that forms a crew of ragtag criminals--classic--to solve the murder of his son." Kelly's eyes jump to Pearl, and his jaw shifts. "But I'm not sure what your taste is in books exactly."
"Interesting," Pearl replies sweetly. I'm not really sure if she does find it interesting, but she seems to convince him, because Kelly's mouth slides into a lopsided smile.
"Yes. Well, my dad's here. Bye," he says. He trips a little as he walks toward a car idling behind us, but not enough for it to be super embarrassing. Just a little. I laugh.
He turns and meets my eye, ducks his head. I think I saw him smile.
He gets into the car, a beat-up, low-to-the-ground, crackling-stereo kind of vehicle. A man who I assume is his father is at the wheel, wearing a tank top and smoking a cigarette. Is that really his dad?
"Aw, see? Wouldn’t you be cute with him?" Pearl says as we watch the Kelly's car peel away.
"Ugh. Stop it," I groan, suddenly feeling that little squiggly feeling in my gut again.
She has no intention of stopping it. “Admit it. You think he’s attractive, don’t you?” She dances around me, trying to meet my gaze as I try to avoid looking at her. Her grin is so wide that it makes my own mouth curl into a smile.
My laughter is stiff. Attractive? Yeah, I do. Right?
She knocks her shoulder against mine. “I knew it. I knew it. God, wouldn’t you two be adorable, right? You should ride home with me every day. Or with him, maybe? What do you think his house is like?”
I squint at a beetle crawling on the sidewalk near my feet. She sounds way too chipper.
Moments later a car drives up, and our ride is here. Mr. Fellows greets Pearl and I warmly, adjusts the volume of the Christian rock on the radio, and pulls out of the Robinson High School parking lot.
. . .
Pearl’s house smells like a bakery. If ever I needed a movie set that looked like the perfect little country house, I’d choose this place.
The entryway is lined with Pearl’s school pictures, one per year, and in each one her blonde hair is immaculate and she’s grinning a toothy grin and her head is tipped at a mysterious angle, as if she’s regarding you through the photo. The kitchen is just around the corner, and I can already tell there’s at least one pie being baked, if not more. Pans clatter and a mixer winds down. The closest window overlooks the backyard, which goes on for ages, with plenty of room for tomato and squash plants.
Everything looks perfect.
“Dan?” Mrs. Fellows calls from the kitchen, and Mr. Fellows nods to Pearl and I.
“I’ve got baby duty. Let me know if you girls need anything,” he says, showing dimples. He heads into the kitchen, and I can hear Mrs. Fellow’s soft voice and the cooing of a child.
That would be William, Pearl’s little brother. He must be one and a half or something by now. And when he’s old enough, I suspect he’ll have his school pictures line the entry as well.
Pearl skips up to her room, and I follow.
It’s different than I remember it. She’s rearranged her furniture so there’s less floor space, covering the teal blue rug that we used to sit and color on. Now her bed is in the center of the room, with fairy lights dangling off the bed posts and a new hanging plant in the corner. A giant rainbow flag hangs on the wall.
“Where’s your magazine cut-outs?” I ask, dropping my backpack and touching a fingertip to the flag.
Pearl sits backwards on her rolling desk chair and spins once. “I took them down. Do you like it?” Her face is still spotlessly joyous, as it was the whole ride home while she’d recounted most of the school day to her dad. (Not including the bit about the office, thank goodness.)
I stare at the rainbow stripes, then sit down on what little of the teal rug is still showing from under her bed. “Yeah.” I didn’t mind it.
Pearl beams, then her face falls. “Amber got it for me.” She stands and closes her bedroom door, then sits next to me on the floor, leaning against the bed.
I scoot over to give her more room, and we both sit silently for a moment, facing forward and contemplating the flag.
“Will you see her this weekend? At your…” I can’t remember what she called it, her meetings at Our Lady of Guidance.
“She’s there every week. She’s always in trouble,” Pearl says with a mirthless laugh. Then her tone shifts higher, lighter. “It’ll be fine though, because I’ll only be at the two-hour session, then I get to leave. I’ve told Dad that I’ll help him rip up the carpet in the basement, plus, my group leader doesn’t really think I need to be at the retreats anymore, anyway. I need time to do homework, also, especially with this essay coming up. And our science test next week, I should study for that.”
I let her finish before saying, “Is there something you want to talk about? You’re being Extra-Super-Happy Pearl.”
A short laugh escapes her. “Extra-super-happy?”
“You act like everything’s brilliant when there’s something wrong.”
Pearl sighs. She wraps her pink-cardigan arms around her chest. “It’s stupid.”
“Whatever it is, it’s not stupid. You can tell me anything.” I pause, Amber’s accusations floating into my head like a ghost whisper. She says she came out to you, and the best you can do is never talk about it? What a shitty thing to do. I'll be better this time. Whatever it is.
“We usually don’t talk about this kind of stuff.” I wait. When Pearl speaks again, her voice is quiet and cracked. “It’s about Amber.”
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/443218/trinity-18)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/444775/pearl-20)