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Authors: Lauren Frankel

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BOOK: Hyacinth Girls
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Contrary to what Callie had feared, nobody blamed her when Robyn left school. Robyn disappeared quickly, without fanfare, group hugs, or contagious tears, and according to the Siamese Triplets, hardly anyone noticed. One week Robyn was there, splattered with red paint, and the next week she simply wasn't. There was nothing for them to do but get on with their lives.

Callie graduated eighth grade with first honors and an award in science. The ceremony was held in the school auditorium and they put on one of those sentimental slideshows that makes everyone weep. I spotted Callie in different pictures, smiling out among a sea of children, posing on the playing field, arms wrapped around her friends. The music soared as the pictures flashed past, exhorting everyone to remember, remember before it slipped away. Some of the kids started sobbing into one another's necks. Our last time in middle school. Our last time in this building. Our lockers, our lunchroom! Oh my God, we're gonna miss it so much!

I'd bought matching necklaces for Dallas and Ella even though they cost more than I would usually spend, and as we arrived at Dallas's graduation party I was happy I'd stretched my budget. Dallas lived in an
enormous white mini-mansion, complete with Greek columns. It was set back from the street on a wide lawn dotted with weeping trees and stone paths and tall, bushy clusters of yellow and purple flowers. It was only four o'clock, but already the circular driveway was packed with cars, and we had to find a space on the edge of her neighbor's lawn. Music drifted from the backyard as Callie strode confidently ahead to the wooden gate, which was draped with roses and honeysuckle. To one side, there was a table that had been piled with gifts, and then a collage covered with pictures of Dallas. Dallas in riding gear. Dallas in front of the Eiffel Tower. Dallas with her arms around her two best friends. Callie added our gift to the pile and rushed out into the yard, toward the roses and the gazebo and the barbecue smoke.

For months I'd been hearing the backseat gossip about this party. Dallas's mom had bought tiki torches to light around the pool. She'd hired someone to repaint the cabana and restain the decking. She'd arranged an ice-cream sundae station (even though Dallas complained that ice cream was babyish). Dallas's father was a well-known radio host, and Dallas was always teasing us about which celebrities might show up. I'd never even been to one of Editta's parties before, but Callie had reassured me about a hundred times that while the kids would dress formally, the adults would look casual. She'd picked out the plain black linen blouse and flat sandals that I now wore, and as I looked out at the crowd I was relieved to see she was right. Adult men wandered around like giant toddlers, wearing long baggy shorts that showed off their pudgy legs and bright polo shirts that stretched across their bellies. Meanwhile, their daughters stood together in little flocks, glossy and delicate, preening in high heels and golden earrings. The girls froze occasionally, as if startled by the giant toddlers, but they were just posing for a camera's flash, a snapping cell phone. I watched Callie in her electric-blue sheath as she embraced Ella and Dallas. Earlier, she'd asked our landlady, Mrs.
Romero, if she could take a white rose from her garden, and now I saw why. Even among all the elaborate hairdos and tiaras, the Siamese Triplets stood out. Dallas had a fat gardenia above one ear, Ella wore a white orchid, and Callie had threaded her rose into the braid that circled her head like a crown.

I began to wander over to the deck, where I could see Dallas's mom. Editta was waving her hands frantically—either trying to shoo away a wasp or experiencing a hot flash. As I climbed the steps, Editta continued flapping her hands, an irritated expression plain on her face.

“Editta,” I exclaimed. “It all looks gorgeous!”

For just a moment her irritated look passed into blankness. Then she smiled vaguely and stilled her hands. “Hi, hon. So glad you could make it.”

Editta leaned forward for an air-kiss. Her face was sultry and tanned and only slightly piglike. In the nineties (in another life, Editta said) she modeled swimsuits, although I couldn't imagine she was ever one of those fun, frolicking-in-the-sand kind of models, but rather the moodier sort who leaned against rocks, looking disdainful and pouty. Now a mother of three, she carried herself with the puffed-up grandeur of an opera singer.

“Look at the chairs!” I enthused. They were artfully draped with fabric and flowers, and stout white candles flickered on a nearby table.

“Yes,” Editta said, as if she hadn't noticed until now. “How's…how's your work?”

“Oh, same old same old. Lots of whitening treatments now that it's summer.”

I was used to blank stares and vague responses from Editta, so I wasn't surprised when she failed to respond. She had trouble focusing. Her eyes were always darting away, distracted, so I'd learned a few techniques over the years. I made a habit of asking her lots of questions
in a loud, engaging voice. I exclaimed enthusiastically at everything she said, and when all else failed, I asked about her horses.

“Were you up all night, getting ready for the party?”

“Yes,” she said finally. “You have no idea.”

I nodded agreeably:
not a clue
.

“It's been a nightmare,” she said through her teeth. “From beginning to end.”

She told me that the caterers had brought in
store-bought
biscuits. And the tarts they had made were too soggy to eat. I tried to appear sympathetic and alarmed.

“What kind of tarts?”

“Rhubarb,” she said. “And they thought we wouldn't even notice.”

Editta threw a dismissive look at all the beautiful food, the stuffed figs and skewered watermelon, the chocolate-covered strawberries. I knew this was how she'd ended up living the way she did. Every detail mattered to her. If it was me, I wouldn't have minded if the caterers put out cheap biscuits. I would have been too busy taking notes on how they'd created such a feast. But Editta maintained a constant vigilance—rejecting carpets with the wrong fibers, curtain rods with the wrong filigree, shower handles with the wrong finish—so her family could live this elegant life.

“Imagine,” she said. “They thought I wouldn't care!”

She abruptly excused herself, muttering about a quiche, and I wandered across the lawn, toward a tree covered in climbing roses. Nearby, girls circled together like garlands in the afternoon sun. They bent to examine a shoe, casually adjusted earrings, leaned carelessly on one another's arms.

Alison, Alison!

Lilla smooch
.

Randomness on the blog
.

Such a prink! Bomb!

I couldn't understand them, but I watched as they crowded around to examine a phone, ate off one another's plates, danced and squealed and touched one another's hair. The thrill of connection, the easy intimacy—they seemed deliriously happy. I wished I felt the same. From a distance, I could see Callie lift the gold heart around her neck before letting it drop. The girl beside her suddenly jumped in the air and landed safely, grabbing Callie's arm.

Down at the pool, boys bobbed among the tubes and rafts in the unclouded water, while a group of girls stood to one side. As I lingered, I noticed that the girls looked about ten years older than the skinny, hairless boys. The girls held themselves aloof, even as they drew closer to the pool, aware of their hips and angles and fluttering lashes. The boys started throwing a football back and forth, pretending they didn't notice the girls, while a mom, oblivious to the sexual tension, ran alongside the edge of the pool, shouting to the boys as she took their pictures. One boy drifted lazily on a yellow raft, soda in hand, smiling beneath his sunglasses as the ball whizzed overhead. “Powder puff!” a girl shouted, and then another jumped back as if afraid of getting splashed. The ball whizzed closer and closer to the boy on the raft while the mom took pictures and the girls sipped their drinks. I could see what was coming a moment before it happened. The ball caught the boy's hand and his soda went flying. The boys all hooted as the soda's brown contents spilled into the water. “You got him, Jimmy!” the mom yelled, taking another memorable picture.

At just that moment, I saw Ella's mom coming toward me. Ali Brooks managed the careers of some of the country's top filmmakers, and she'd once brought Callie along to a shoot where she ended up eating pizza with Steve Buscemi. “We've been so crazy busy,” she gushed, as she lifted her oversized sunglasses. She wore one of her perfectly tailored shirt-dresses,
cinched with a quirky belt, and I wished, not for the first time, that we were real friends. We drifted over to a pair of loungers while Ali told me about funding a client's documentary.

“But what about you!” she exclaimed. “I've been dying to talk to you about that nightmare girl in their class.” Ali's collarbone poked out beneath her tanned skin, and she leaned in closer like we were best buddies. I couldn't resist. I began telling her everything.

“You mean Robyn?” I said coyly. “Oh, Robyn was terrific.”

“I heard the mother called you up.”

“Cerise.” I drew out the name ominously. “She wanted me to know that Callie is evil.”

“Incredible!” Ali's earrings swayed against her cheeks. “The nerve of some people!”

“Well, I could see where Robyn gets it from. I actually felt sorry for her, with a mother like that.”

“She never should have called. It's completely out of line.”

“The thing is she acted like she was doing
me
a favor. Warning me about Callie.”

“Ugh, you know, you can't tell people how to raise their kids.”

There was an awkward pause as we both remembered that Callie wasn't my kid. I smiled and cleared my throat, pretending I hadn't noticed. “And the thing is
her daughter
is the one who needs help.”

Ali nodded vigorously, the cords on her neck stretching. “If she called me up like that, I would've just lost it. I would've laid into her.”

“Well, I hung up on her. I couldn't stand to hear her voice.”

We continued to chummily insult Robyn's mother until I noticed Ella making her way around the pool to us. She wore a white dress that showed off her narrow waist and swimmer's arms. “Mom, I need the clips,” she said, stopping in front of us. Her eyelashes were caked in fine purple sparkles, and her angular jawline had a pearly glow.

“You look so adult, Ella. I almost didn't recognize you.”

Ali grinned at her daughter. “I know! How elegant is she!”

Ella lifted one foot with an exaggerated kick so I could admire her high silver shoes.

Ali pulled a bag of hair clips out of her bag, handing them to Ella. “I was just talking to Rebecca about your good friend Robyn.”

“Ugh, ugh.” Ella shuddered. “You said it was just like that movie.”

“Oh, yeah.
Single White Female
. Hopefully Robyn didn't kill any puppies.”

“She might've killed puppies,” Ella said. “Urgh, nasty. She was so needy, trying to dress like Callie.”

I hadn't heard that before. I asked Ella what had happened.

“At first it was just little stuff—the same bracelet as Callie—but she got all stalkery, wearing the same kind of clothes.”

Ali caught my eye, realizing this was news to me.

“Hopefully it's all in the past now.” Ali patted my arm. “She had a little crush and it's over.” She turned to her daughter. “It's lucky you girls could be Callie's witnesses.”

Ella mashed her lips together. “We couldn't let some creeper ruin her life.”

Ella spoke with such revulsion that I almost felt uncomfortable. But then I reminded myself that this was loyalty at fourteen. Feeling like your minds were perfectly connected, every problem shared between you, her enemies were yours, and you even dreamed sometimes the same.

I started thinking about Joyce and how we'd tried to give ourselves ESP, sending our thoughts out like arrows into each other's brains. We were thirteen years old when we sat knee-to-knee on Joyce's denim bedspread, eyes squeezed shut, focusing on our thoughts. If we wanted it enough, it had to happen. If we truly believed, it would come true.

“You're thinking about hate,” I told Joyce. “You hate Phil Collins.”

“I do,” Joyce whispered. “But that's not it.”

That was our hyacinth-girl summer, when Joyce showed me that scrap of poetry, and read it aloud in a wistful voice. “ ‘They called me the hyacinth girl,' ” she read. “ ‘Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden, / Your arms full and your hair wet, I could not / Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither / Living nor dead, and I knew nothing.' ”

Joyce clutched her neck as she said “could not speak,” and we mulled over the riddle. We didn't know who the hyacinth girl was, or what had happened to her exactly. But there was something romantic and chilling about the images that sprang to mind. We decided to splash water on our hair, so it dripped messily down our T-shirts. Then we wandered around Joyce's yard, picking weeds and dandelions, pretending to weep, mourning the things we hadn't yet lost. We were hyacinth girls, our arms full of flowers. We were heartbroken victims, but this game soon grew old. We needed more action, more violence, so we decided the hyacinth girls would become heroes. “We'll use our ESP,” Joyce said, and this made the whole thing much more satisfying.

Joyce and I set about creating people who needed to be rescued. We imagined stolen babies in dirty diapers, little girls trapped in wells. We made up whole armies of victims to defend, as well as enemies who attacked us, their dastardly plans binding us closer together. We were shot, strangled, locked in tiny boxes. We were thrown off cliffs, only to be saved by our hyacinth partner.

We should've known how it would look, running around, screaming our heads off, but we were so engrossed we didn't know we were being watched.

BOOK: Hyacinth Girls
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