Tonight the streets are.., p.1
Like all stories, the one you are about to read is a love story.
If it wasn’t, what would be the point?
Everything falls apart
“You can find your own way home,” Arden says to Lindsey, her voice shaking with rage.
“Home … to Maryland?” Lindsey asks.
The three strangers sitting on mildewing couches beside Lindsey look on impassively. The mannequin’s head, which hangs from a noose in the center of the room, sways gently back and forth, like it’s making eye contact with Arden, then Lindsey, then back again.
Arden hesitates. “I mean, if you need my help…” she begins, but it’s too late. Lindsey shakes her head. No. “Okay, then,” Arden says. “You’re on your own. Just how you wanted it. ”
“What’s her problem?” the girl with a ring pierced through the center of her nose asks Lindsey, sneering at Arden.
Arden has almost never heard anybody speak about her in that tone of voice. Her stomach twists, and she swallows hard, looking to the boy by her side for support. He nods, and that gives her the courage she needs.
“I’m over this,” Arden says to Lindsey. “Good luck finding your way out of here. ”
She turns and walks away, her legs trembling with every step. She focuses directly in front of her, navigating through the press of bodies and random sculptures of fairies and trees.
“Arden, wait!” she hears Lindsey call behind her, and she turns. But that must have just been her imagination crying out, because Lindsey is still sitting on the couch, talking to the pierced-nose girl, as if everything is normal. As if she doesn’t even care that Arden is leaving her.
So Arden squares her shoulders. And she keeps walking away.
Let’s go back in time
Two months before that night, back when Arden and Lindsey were still inseparable, when the only septum piercing Arden had ever seen was on punk rockers on TV and the only mannequins she’d encountered had been modeling clothes in store windows, shortly before the end of the school day on a Friday in February, Arden was summoned to the principal’s office.
A runner showed up at her Spanish class and briefly consulted with Senor Stephanolpoulos, and Arden paid no attention because when the principal needed someone, it never had anything to do with her. Instead she took this break in the class to try to make sense of her notes, which were supposed to illuminate the future tense, but which in practice just said things like Irregular verbs … something and Add “i” or “e” to end of words FIRST PERSON ONLY (??).
Spanish was not Arden’s strong suit.
“Arden. ” Senor Stephanolpoulos beckoned her. “You’re needed in Principal Vanderpool’s office. ”
There were a few “Ooohs” from her classmates, but halfhearted ones; none of them actually believed that Arden Huntley, of all people, would be in trouble serious enough that it would warrant a visit to the principal.
“I’ll take notes for you,” whispered Arden’s friend Naomi. Arden smiled her thanks. Naomi’s notes tended to be word-for-word transcripts of teachers’ lectures in stunningly legible purple-penned handwriting.
Arden lifted her bag and followed the runner out of the classroom, through a series of halls, and downstairs. Cumberland was one of those towns where land was at the opposite of a premium. It was in northwestern Maryland, so far west it was almost West Virginia, so far north it was almost Pennsylvania, a solid two-hour drive from the nearest big city (which was Pittsburgh), in a corner of the world that should have been called something like MaryVirgiPenn, but wasn’t. All Cumberland had was land. As a result, the high school was sprawling, mega-mall-size—and the principal’s office was at the other end of it.
Maybe Arden should have been nervous on that long walk to the principal, but she wasn’t. She suspected this had something to do with her mother, and as such, she flat-out refused to care.
Eventually they reached Vanderpool’s office, and the runner left her under the watchful eye of Mr. Winchell, the principal’s geriatric secretary. Arden waited on a too-small plastic chair that seemed better suited to an elementary school than to Allegany High.
When she thought Mr. Winchell wasn’t watching, Arden slid her cell phone out of her bag and texted Lindsey. GOT CALLED INTO VAN’S OFFICE. WTF.
A minute later, Lindsey texted back. Arden knew that Lindsey should be in Earth Studies right now, so either she was cutting or she was texting in the middle of class, both of which seemed like plausible Lindsey behaviors.
OH SHIT was Lindsey’s reply, and that gave Arden her first inkling that perhaps her best friend knew more than she herself did about why the principal wanted her. But before Arden could ask what, exactly, “oh shit” meant, Mr. Winchell snapped, “No telephones!” in the triumphant fashion of a man who has missed his true calling as a prison warden.
After another ten minutes of waiting, Arden was brought in to see the principal. Mr. Vanderpool was a preposterously tall human—so tall that it was easy not to notice how bald he was unless he was seated—who seemed awkward whenever confronted with actual teenagers rather than school board members or faculty. He rarely wandered the hallways and never showed his face in the cafeteria; his one interaction with the student body as a whole was during assembly, when he would stand on the stage and address them en masse from afar. He had a seemingly endless collection of novelty neckties, which was either the one area of his life where he gave himself permission to entertain whimsy or was his sad attempt at appearing kid-friendly. Arden wasn’t totally sure that Mr. Vanderpool knew who she was, as this was their first proper conversation in her nearly three years at his school.
“Arden Huntley,” he said once she was seated in his office, on the other side of his desk. “Do you want to tell me why you’re here?”
Arden blinked at him. “You called me here, Principal Vanderpool. ”
He looked pained. “I am aware of that. Do you want to tell me why I called you here?”
Arden really wished that Lindsey had said something a little more useful than “oh shit. ”
“Um, I don’t know,” Arden told the principal.
He cleared his throat and reached into a drawer in his desk. What he pulled out was a small plastic bag filled with some brownish flakes. “Does this look familiar?” he asked Arden.
He sighed. “Arden, we found this bag of drugs in your locker today. ”
“What were you doing in my locker?” Arden blurted out, even though that was, perhaps, not her most pressing question.
“Routine random locker checks,” Mr. Vanderpool replied. “But what I’d like to know is, what was this”—here he shook the baggie—“doing in your locker?”
Now Arden knew exactly what Lindsey’s text message had meant, and she knew the answer to the principal’s question, as well.
She and Lindsey shared lockers, as they shared pretty much everything. Thanks to stupid school bureaucracy and geography, they had been assigned lockers on opposite ends of the building from each other, and from where most of their classes and activities were. So Lindsey usually used the one that was officially Arden’s, because it was closer to the gym, while Arden usually stored her stuff in Lindsey’s, which was right by the theater and library. They had always known each other’s combinations, to school lockers and to everything else, and Arden had seen nothing but benefits to this sort of sharing.
But that was before Lindsey, apparently, stashed a bag of pot in her locker.
Arden knew that Lindsey got high sometimes: weekends, parties, whatever. People did that—not Arden, b
But the worst part, for Lindsey, was that getting caught with drugs meant you were immediately kicked off all sports teams for the rest of the year. No way around it. And Lindsey lived for the school track team. She loved running roughly as much as Arden hated it. Not only that, but being recruited for track was basically Lindsey’s only hope for getting accepted into a good college. She didn’t have a whole lot else going for her. This was not, by the way, Arden’s opinion. This was the opinion of countless guidance counselors, teachers, and Lindsey’s own parents.
Arden knew what would happen if she explained how that bag of marijuana wound up in her locker. Lindsey would lose it all. Over one casual, stupid decision, and one massive helping of bad luck. That sounded about par for the course for Lindsey.
But fortunately, Arden didn’t play any sports.
Let’s go even further.
Let’s go way, way back
When she was nine years old, Arden Huntley was turned into a doll.
It’s a very competitive process, to be a doll.
Only one girl gets this honor each year, and there are a lot of rules. She must be between the ages of eight and twelve. She must be a United States citizen. She must write an essay explaining why she thinks she has what it takes to be the Doll of the Year, and she must submit this essay to the Just Like Me Dolls Company by July 1, and if her application is chosen above all the other thousands and thousands of girls who are vying for this honor, then she and only she will have a Just Like Me Doll modeled after her that goes on sale six months later.
When she turned eight, Arden’s grandparents gave her the Just Like Me Doll of that year, whose name was Tabitha. Tabitha had brown skin, brown eyes, and brown hair. Tabitha was a ballerina. That was her “thing. ” They could have given her Tabitha’s barre and Tabitha’s performance tutu and Tabitha’s pointe shoes as well. Instead they just gave her Tabitha herself, in her normal, everyday leotard, and the four illustrated books that told the story of Tabitha’s life. Arden would have preferred the pointe shoes to the books, but she dutifully wrote a thank-you note anyway.
Tabitha’s first story was called Tabitha on Stage, and it was about Tabitha’s performing in The Nutcracker and how she took a leadership role to get all the mouse dancers to work together. The next one was called Break a Leg, Tabitha! and was about how Tabitha helped teach ballet at an underprivileged elementary school. Maybe you are starting to get a sense of what the Just Like Me Dolls’ books are like.
Arden didn’t know anything about the real-life Tabitha, not even where in the country she lived, but she was fascinated by her. Whenever Arden saw a black girl around her own age (which didn’t happen all that often, since Cumberland was overwhelmingly white), she would stare at her, trying to figure out if maybe this was the real Tabitha. Then her mother told her this behavior was rude and borderline racist and asked her to please stop.
Arden dreamed of becoming a Just Like Me Doll, but she didn’t see how to make that happen, since she, unlike Tabitha, did not have a “thing. ” She didn’t do ballet, or gymnastics, or figure skating (all of which would lead to excellent doll accoutrements). She played soccer but badly, she took swimming lessons but only so she wouldn’t drown, she hadn’t quite yet gotten the hang of riding a bike without training wheels. She drew pictures that her mother called “abstract” and wrote stories that never got gold stars and got cast as fish number two in her class’s production of The Little Mermaid. One time she tried to cook something, and she exploded a glass mixing bowl on the stove. After that, her mother banned her from the kitchen.
What Arden did superlatively was this:
She was nice.
She absolutely killed at reading buddies—all the kindergartners fought to be paired up with her. She was the first to volunteer to collaborate on group projects with the kids who got bad grades. She was never without a hair elastic or tissues, just in case somebody needed to use them. One time she paid the library twenty dollars because her friend Maya had borrowed a book and lost it somewhere in the park, and that was enough to make Arden feel responsible.
Arden came by her niceness honestly. Her grandmother was nice. Her mother was nice. Her house was filled with wall art and embroidered pillows with quotations like If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all and Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty and You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose—this last one being a quote that her mother loved from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.
The height of Arden’s kindness career came near the end of third grade, though she didn’t know it at the time. Her dad had been representing someone who worked for the Disney corporation, and when the case was over, this client had, in gratitude, given Arden’s dad family tickets for an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World. This was easily the best thing ever to happen to Arden, or possibly to anyone.
And then she met Lindsey.
It was a Sunday in May. Arden’s brother, Roman, who was three at the time, was throwing a temper tantrum, as he did every single day, sometimes more than once. This particular tantrum was about how their cat, Mouser, was maliciously hiding under the couch instead of playing with him.
Arden escaped to the woods just behind her house so she wouldn’t have to listen to the screaming. She brought her Just Like Me Doll with her, even though her parents repeatedly asked her not to do this, since Tabitha had cost more than a hundred dollars and was already, after about five months, looking decidedly worse for the wear.
And it was there, in the woods, that Arden first encountered Lindsey.
She saw a tall, skinny, dark-haired girl in between the trees, focusing on a long metal device in her hands.
“Hi,” Arden said to the girl she did not recognize.
The girl looked up from the metal thing.
“I’m Arden,” said Arden. “You’re in my woods. ” As soon as she heard the words come out, Arden realized they sounded selfish, and she hastened to add, “It’s okay that you’re in my woods. There’s enough woods to go around. I just thought you should know. ”
The girl gave Arden a weird look, and Arden wondered about the sentence There’s enough woods to go around. That was what her mother always said, like when she and Roman got grabby over a pint of ice cream. There’s enough ice cream to go around. Maybe it didn’t make as much sense when it came to woods.
“These are my woods, too,” the girl said in a low, uncertain voice.
“I don’t think so. But like I said, it’s okay. You can play in my woods. ”
“We just moved in there. ” The girl pointed to the house behind Arden’s. Its backyard abutted the small section of woods, like a mirror image of the Huntleys’ own home. “So I think these are both of our woods. ”
“You’re right,” Arden said. “We’re neighbors!”
Arden learned that the girl’s name was Lindsey Matson, and that she was finishing up third grade, too, and that she and her parents had just moved to town from a farm.
“You had your own farm?” Arden demanded. “Did you have sheep?”
“Did you have horses?”
“Two of them!”
“Did you have zebras?” Arden had a particular yen for zebras.
“Um, no. ”
“That’s okay. ” Arden hadn’t really expected Lindsey’s personal farm to house zebras. She just thought it couldn’t hurt to ask.
Lindsey told Arden th
“It’s very expensive to treat cancer. Especially the kind my dad has,” Lindsey told Arden, sounding somber but also a tiny bit proud, like her dad was special for having a special kind of cancer. “That’s what this is for. ” She gestured at the long metal object in her hands.
“What does it do?” Arden asked, wondering if the answer was somehow “cure cancer. ”
“It’s a metal detector,” Lindsey explained. “I’m looking for coins. Preferably gold. That would help pay for my dad’s hospital bills. ”
“How much have you found so far?” Arden asked.
“Nothing. But I just started looking. ”
Arden thought if there was gold buried in her backyard, she would probably know about it. She changed the subject. “Are you going to start at Northeast tomorrow?” Northeast Elementary was where she went to school.
“I guess. ” Lindsey scuffed at the dirt. “I don’t really want to make new friends. ”
Arden didn’t quite know what to think of this. She’d never considered whether she wanted or didn’t want to make new friends. It was just something that happened. In fact, she was pretty sure it was happening right at this moment. “Everyone at Northeast is really nice,” Arden reassured Lindsey. “I’ll introduce you to them all tomorrow. ”
Lindsey looked cheered by this. “Anyway,” she said, “it’s just for another few weeks, and then it’s summer break. ”
“Yeah!” Arden enthused. “Are you going to camp this summer? I’m going to Disney World for the first time, and then day camp at the Y, and then we’re visiting my grandparents in Atlantic Beach in August. They live right on the ocean. ” Arden was excited for all of this, even visiting her mother’s parents, which usually was boring, but now she had hope that they might give her Tabitha’s barre and pointe shoes.
Lindsey shook her head. “I wish I could do something like that,” she said, “but we can’t anymore. We have to save all our money for Dad. That’s what my parents say. ” She shrugged, like What can you do?
Arden nodded. She felt bad about her expensive Just Like Me Doll still in her arms, and bad about her secret wish for Tabitha’s performance tutu. Probably Lindsey didn’t have any Just Like Me Dolls. “I hope you find some gold,” Arden said.
Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Lilah Pace / Young Adult / Romance & Love have rating 3.9 out of 5 / Based on47 votes