Grover says, once they are in his car, which they took because she said it was better, “I’m glad your dad thinks I’m your date.”
“Why?” He feels angry and is driving.
“I don’t know, I think he might be a little jealous.” Grover drags her kettle-shaped purse up from the back seat, rifles through, extracts an unopened pack. She scoots herself forward so her knees are near her chin and begins de-cellophaning. “Don’t say anything.”
Arthur frowns and looks at the highway. Grover powers down her window.
He has told her, and he had to tell her: It’s because of the time they went to the diner and he went to the restroom and forgot to bolt it and Grover bustled in and caught him sitting naked on the toilet. “Fuck!” he had shouted at her, and she had dragged the door shut.
“Oh by the way,” Arthur is on the off-ramp now, and Grover is stubbing her cigarette out on the outside of the door. She tosses the butt and turns back to Arthur, narrowing her eyes against the glare, “You know Sophie’s coming?”
“No,” Arthur says, adjusting some discomfort in the region of his crotch by scooting his body closer to the wheel.
“She didn’t tell you?”
“She doesn’t call me.”
“Since we decided we wouldn’t go.”
“She’s not going to the prom.”
“I know that.”
“But she was never, you know, that’s, like, what she said since we were 12.”
“I am aware of that.”
Gravel rasps against the tires as the car swings into the hedge fenced drive of the house belonging to the parents of Chloë who Arthur is remembering he dated once for three weeks in the 8th grade. The house is a small mansion. Half-dead pines crowd up the back.
Because both of Chloë’s parents are doctors inside it’s a dump. Of the four other children besides Chloë, not one has reached the 7th grade. Alison opens the door. She smiles. Velcro rollers cling to her head.
“Hey guys.” Alison uses a squeaky voice. She is built like a scarecrow. Her tiny breasts are fixed with perennially hard nipples like pebbles. She has a good foot on Grover, a few inches on Arthur. Grover gives her a formal hug and kind of smacks the air near her cheek.
“Hey babe,” Grover seems to tell all three of them and advances into the house.
“Hey Arthur,” Alison slides out of his way, her feet are bare below her jeans. “You want to have a beer with us?” She is going into the kitchen. Arthur follows. They pass a beige couch across which plastic objects, possibly children’s gardening tools, have been flung. There is a white robe in a lump on the floor before them and Alison takes a long step over it. The bottoms of her feet are dirty, gray with dust.
“Hello?” There is someone in the kitchen.
“Hello!” Alison’s voice seems to travel ahead of her like a very large, very soft ball. Arthur realizes that she is drunk.
“Hello, hello,” Alison says again, heartily, as they get through the door.
Sophie is sitting at the counter. There are bottles lined up in front of her. She is hunched over, wearing something blue.
Arthur stands in the doorway. Alison jogs up to Sophie’s barricade and begins rearranging the bottles. She sings, “Say hi to Arthur!”
Sophie shuts her eyes then bangs her head down, face-first on the counter.
“Oh!” A gurgle comes out of Alison.
“Hey,” says Arthur. He moves over to the counter swinging his body side to side as he does, and he goes around it and sits down. Sophie’s shaved her head again. There is a kind of blue light along her neck where the black hairs are already coming back, and the outfit she has on is like a set of pajamas, loose t-shirt over thin cotton pants. She rolls her head on the counter. She extends her arms out between the bottles, each short finger bearing a patterned silver band.
It’s not exactly that they’ve broken up.
“Hey,” Arthur says again, trying to pilot himself toward what he imagines are her good graces.
She rolls her head side to side, he sees her small nose and one dark eye, and the eye catches on him.
“Hi,” she says, finally. “I was being silly.”
He raises his eyebrows, feeling his heart deflate and start going very fast.
“I’ve been drinking, we’ve been drinking,” she tells him.
“Chloë’s upstairs,” Alison says for some reason.