Tonight the streets are.., p.18
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       Tonight the Streets Are Ours, p.18
 

          
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  “I can’t really say. ” Peter buried his face in his hands. Arden resisted the urge to stroke his back, to hold him.

  She considered saying she was sorry for Peter’s loss, but that wasn’t so much what she was thinking about. “It’s so selfish,” she said instead.

  “What?” Peter looked up, and she realized that probably most people just said they were sorry, and that was the correct answer, and she should have stuck with that.

  Page 68

  “I shouldn’t have said that,” she said. “I take it back. ”

  “No. Tell me what you meant. ”

  “Well,” she said, “he just … left you. He was thinking about himself, and where he was going, but he obviously didn’t give a damn thought to who he was leaving behind to worry about him and to pick up the pieces. Okay, so his life was hard. Big deal. Life is hard for you, too. And I’m sorry if he’s out there begging on the street or dealing drugs somewhere, truly, I am. But he’s not the only victim here. You are, too. And that’s what makes him selfish. ” Arden shrugged. “That’s what I think, anyway. ”

  “I think you’re right,” Peter said. “And I don’t want to feel sad tonight. ” Peter jumped off the rocking chair. “Screw that. I’m going to be a best-selling author, and you’re only in New York City for one night. And if my girlfriend or my brother or anyone else isn’t here to appreciate all that, then screw them. This is our celebration. From here on out, let’s have no more talk of death and heartbreak. Tonight, let’s have only happy things. ”

  “Tonight, the streets are ours,” Arden said, and she jumped to the ground.

  Lindsey and Arden don’t see eye to eye

  Arden and Peter were playing on one of the rooftop seesaws, Arden shrieking with laughter every time her butt hit the ground, when she heard a voice call, “Peter!” She turned around to see a girl in an ethereal pink slip dress stumble-running toward them.

  “Hey, cutie!” Peter climbed off the seesaw and kissed both the girl’s cheeks. Without his weight to lift her, Arden thudded to the ground.

  “I’m so glad you came,” the girl said, her voice a little too loud, like she couldn’t quite hear herself. She tilted to the side and balanced herself on Peter’s shoulder. “Oh my God it’s been forever! How are you, kiddo?”

  He nodded. “I’m great. I’m doing great. ”

  “Oh, that’s so good. So where’s Bianca tonight?” She looked all around without lowering her eyes the few inches it would take to notice Arden. Arden sighed and clambered to her feet, pulling her skirt around her.

  The girl raised her eyebrows dramatically as she suddenly took in Arden’s presence. “Oh. I see what’s going on here. Peter, you are such a ladies’ man. Like brother, like brother, am I right?”

  “Oh, no,” Arden protested, noticing Peter’s hands clench. “It’s not like that—”

  “’Sokay,” the girl said, leaning in close enough that Arden could smell the alcohol on her breath. “Your secret’s safe with me. Just between us girls. What Bianca doesn’t know won’t hurt her, right?”

  “Honestly,” Arden said, “I’d never even met Peter before tonight—”

  But the girl was squinting at her cell phone now and had already stopped paying attention. “Oh, yay, Leo’s coming!” she squealed.

  Peter startled, his whole body going rigid. “Here?” he asked, his voice strangled. “Leo’s coming here?”

  “That’s what he says. ” The girl held up her phone as proof.

  “Did you tell him I’m here?”

  “Nuh-uh. I can tell him now…”

  She started typing, but Peter said, “No, no, that’s okay. We need to go anyway. ”

  “We need to go,” Arden echoed. She was curious, desperately curious, to see Bianca’s ex-boyfriend in person. What did he look like? What had Bianca seen in him? Could he have ever really been a match for Peter? But she also understood why Peter wouldn’t want to see him—maybe not at any point, but certainly not three days after losing Bianca.

  “Do you want to do shots first?” the girl asked, but Peter was already rushing toward the ladder that led back into the building.

  “Peter!” Arden shouted.

  He turned back, wide-eyed. “I need to go,” he said again.

  “I know that. But give me one minute. We need to get Lindsey first. ”

  “Okay,” he said. “Fine. But be quick. ” He checked his watch and his phone and followed Arden back to the cage with the disembodied mannequin head.

  Arden’s adrenaline spiked as she realized that she hadn’t even thought to worry about her friend in the whole time she’d been gone. Thank God, Lindsey was sitting right where she’d left her. She was deep in discussion with the pierced-nose girl who had complimented Lindsey’s aura when they’d first arrived. But she was holding a joint in her hand.

  Page 69

  “What the hell, Lindsey?” Arden said by way of greeting. “Whatever happened to you being scared straight and not trying any sort of drugs until college? Remember that?”

  “Hey, look,” muttered one of the guys in the cage. “Mom is back. ”

  “I wasn’t really smoking it,” Lindsey said quickly. “This is Jamie’s. Oh, right: Arden, meet Jamie. ”

  The girl with the uncomfortable-looking nose ring stuck out her palm and said, without a trace of a smile, “Pleasure. ”

  They shook, Jamie almost crushing Arden’s hand in her own. Arden extracted her hand and pulled it into her chest for safety. She didn’t give a shit who Jamie was, or who technically had ownership of that joint in Lindsey’s hand, because none of that made up for Lindsey’s complete inability to keep a promise, or to think about how her actions might affect anybody other than herself. “Peter needs to go,” she said to Lindsey.

  “Okay,” said Lindsey. She didn’t move.

  “So, let’s go,” Arden said, exasperated.

  “You can go ahead,” Lindsey said. “I’ll just stay here. ”

  Arden’s laugh came out as a loud snort. Jamie raised her eyebrow. “Don’t be silly, Lindsey,” Arden said. “We’re going. ”

  Lindsey shrugged. “I’m not ready yet. ”

  “Why not?”

  “Because. I’m having fun here. ”

  “You girls can totally stay here if you want,” Peter offered. “I’ll just see you around, Arden, ’kay?”

  He made a move toward the cage door, and Arden felt a desperate contraction in her chest. If they stayed here and Peter left, then this would be where it ended. She would have driven three hundred miles and called every bookstore in New York City for this, only what she’d gotten already and not one bit more, and it would be over. Peter would walk out of her life and on to his next adventure, and she would go home with nothing.

  It reminded her of that party almost two months ago, at Matt Washington’s house, the night she first discovered Peter. How she’d gone out expecting everything to change and come home exactly the same.

  She wasn’t going to let that happen again.

  “No,” she said to Peter, “we want to go with you. ” She grabbed Lindsey’s hand and pulled. “Come on, Linds. ”

  Lindsey leaned her weight back against the couch, her hand limp in Arden’s. “I told you already,” she said, “I’m not ready to leave yet. Just go without me, if it’s so important to you to follow Peter. ”

  Arden cast her eyes toward Peter and blushed. “I’m not following him…”

  “You know what I mean. If you want to go, go. I’m staying here. ”

  “That’s not an option, Lindsey. I’m not leaving you alone with a bunch of strangers—no offense,” she added to the cluster of onlookers.

  “Why not?” Lindsey said. “I can take care of myself. ”

  “Oh, please. ” The words were out before Arden had even considered them. But even if she had thought it through, she would have said the same thing—surely Lindsey must know that she wa
s completely unfit to take care of herself. Surely this could not come as news to her. The joint in her hand, the physical proof of her failed promise, was just driving home this truth that they both already knew.

  But Lindsey acted like this was all some big surprise. “What do you mean, ‘oh, please’?” she demanded, standing up. “What makes you think I can’t stay here by myself?”

  “Because, what if something happens?”

  “Something … like what?” Lindsey threw her arms out. “Like I talk to some nice people and make some friends and have a beer?”

  “Lindsey, you’re embarrassing yourself. Stop making this into a whole big deal, and just come with me. ”

  “Stop telling me what to do,” Lindsey said.

  Arden’s eyes widened.

  “You always act like you know what’s best for me. I’m sick of it. I told you I don’t want to go. So how about you stop making this into a whole big deal and just let me do what I want. ”

  “Oh, because things always go so well for you when you just do what you want?” Arden retorted.

  “Sure,” Lindsey said. “Things go fine. ”

  “Right, I bet it does feel that way to you, because you just do whatever you want and you don’t think about the consequences. Because I get all the consequences, Lindsey. ”

  Page 70

  Arden was on a roll now. All of this had built up inside of her, because what she was getting from Lindsey now was basically the same thing she’d gotten from Chris twelve hours prior, and it was the same thing she got all the time, from everyone—people who didn’t even realize how much she did for them, who didn’t even appreciate her. She was sick of it.

  So even though Arden had planned never to say this to Lindsey, she found herself demanding, “Do you know what happened that time they found your pot in my locker?”

  “Yes, of course! You got suspended and—”

  “And it’s going on my permanent record,” Arden interrupted. “It’s going on the transcript they send to colleges. Not just that I was suspended once, but that I have a known history of drug use. My entire future will be different because of your dumb decision. ”

  Lindsey was silent as Arden’s words hit her. She slowly sank back onto the couch. One of the guys sitting with her gave a long, low whistle.

  “You didn’t tell me that,” Lindsey said at last.

  “Because I didn’t want to worry you. I didn’t want you to feel bad. So why couldn’t you just return the favor? You claim you love me, and oh, that’s so sweet, Lindsey, but I don’t think you have any idea what it actually means. Love means sometimes sacrificing the things you want in order to make someone else happy. It means being there for someone, even when maybe you don’t feel like it, because they need you. ” Arden’s eyes felt hot as she added, “No wonder no girl wants to kiss you. You don’t know the first thing about love. ”

  She heard Peter suck in his breath.

  “That’s a low blow,” Lindsey said, her voice catching in her throat. “That’s really, despicably low, Arden. And as for the pot, you did not need to take the blame for that. Are you insane? I never asked you to do that for me. ”

  “You didn’t ask,” Arden agreed, “but you let me do it. ”

  “When you found out it was going to go on your transcript, you could have just told them the truth,” Lindsey argued. “Let me take the blame. I would have been fine. ”

  Arden imagined a Lindsey without the track team. She imagined how Mr. and Mrs. Matson would have reacted. She imagined Lindsey trying to apply to college or to jobs, trying to do anything with her life, with her terrible grades and a record of drug possession. Maybe this was Lindsey’s real problem: a failure of the imagination.

  Arden recalled her mother’s old theory that some people are flowers and some people are gardeners. Lindsey was the worst kind of flower: one who didn’t even realize she needed a gardener to help her survive.

  “You don’t always have to jump to my rescue, Arden. I can handle things on my own. ” Lindsey gestured around the room. “I was handling this just great, until you showed up and started screaming at me. ”

  “Oh, really?” Arden said.

  “Yes, really!”

  “So you don’t even need me? When you were the first kid at our school to come out, you would have handled that without me? When your dad almost died, you didn’t need me then, either? Do you honestly think you don’t need my friends, my invitations to parties, rides in my car—you’d do just fine without any of that?”

  Lindsey lifted her chin. “I didn’t even need your stupid Disney vacation. ”

  That struck Arden like a physical punch.

  “You know what I think?” Lindsey went on, her eyes bright. “I think you need me to be the screwup. Because then you get to swoop in and save the day. ‘La, la, la, I’m Arden! I’m important! Lindsey’s going to absolutely fall to pieces without me!’”

  “And you think I like that?” Arden asked, outraged.

  “Oh, please. I know you do. ”

  “You think I come to your rescue, when you’re crying, or you’re about to fail a class, or you’re grounded, because it’s fun. For me. ”

  “I didn’t say fun—”

  “Lindsey, if that is how you feel, then I am done rescuing you. ”

  Lindsey was silent, wary. She knotted her fingers in her lap and squinted up at Arden.

  “I’m not going to force my unwanted support on you any longer,” Arden said. “You can hang out here with your shiny new friends, and using all your awesome powers of self-reliance, you can find your own way home. ”

  “Home … to Maryland?” Lindsey asked.

  Arden hesitated. This did seem unrealistic. How, exactly, was Lindsey going to travel three hundred miles without her? On what bus? With what money?

  Page 71

  “I mean, if you need my help…” Arden backtracked.

  Lindsey scowled and shook her head

  “Okay, then. ” Arden gave her a mirthless smile. “You’re on your own. Just how you wanted it. ”

  “What’s her problem?” threw in Jamie, as Arden turned away.

  Arden flinched. Of course a stranger thought this was all her fault. She didn’t know anything about Arden or Lindsey or their years of friendship or how much had gone into this one moment. Arden didn’t care what this girl thought of her. But she looked at Peter. Because if he thought she was in the wrong, she didn’t think she’d have it in her to leave Lindsey now. Not if it meant losing his trust.

  But Peter locked eyes with her, and he nodded. And that gave Arden the courage to say to Lindsey, “I’m over this. Good luck finding your way out of here. ”

  She and Peter walked away.

  “Arden, wait!” she thought she heard Lindsey call after her. But when she turned, Lindsey was laughing with Jamie, as if Arden had never even been there.

  So Arden kept walking right back the way they’d come in two and a half hours earlier. Past the atonal ten-piece band, down the stairs lit only by a thousand glow-in-the-dark stickers, through the enchanted forest basement, all the way through Jigsaw Manor until she made it outside and into the fresh spring air, where she was, at last, free.

  And that brings us up to the present day

  Sucking air into her lungs, Arden keeps walking from Jigsaw Manor, step after step after step, like her legs have forgotten how to stand still.

  “Where are you going?” Peter asks. He’s almost jogging to keep up with her.

  “Away. ”

  She reaches the Heart of Gold and unlocks it, slamming herself into the driver’s seat. Peter climbs into the passenger seat—Lindsey’s seat—without a word.

  She turns the key in the ignition. And … nothing happens.

  She frowns and tries again. Still, the car does not start.

  “Oh, come on,” Arden mutters. She pulls the key out of the ignition and blows on it. She has no
reason to believe that blowing on a key will do anything to it—a car key is not a too-hot spoonful of soup—but she doesn’t know what else to do.

  “Is something wrong?” Peter asks.

  “My car won’t start. ”

  Peter looks baffled by this, and Arden realizes that even if she knows zero things about automobile maintenance, even if she did actually pour a Dairy Queen beverage under her car’s hood earlier today, she is still doing better than this guy, who lives in New York City and doesn’t drive outside of daddy’s BMW at his beach house.

  “It broke down on the highway earlier,” Arden explains. “I let it sit for a few minutes to recover, and after that it seemed fine. The engine had overheated, I think, which made sense because I’d been driving it at top speed for hours. But now it’s just been sitting here the whole time while we were in Jigsaw Manor, so I don’t know why…” She trails off and tries the key one last time. Please, please, please, I just need this to work, she thinks as hard as she can.

  Nothing.

  “Aaurghhh!” Arden throws her key down, and it clatters onto the floor of the car. She flings open the door, launches herself onto the street, and starts kicking at the Heart of Gold, her feet thumping against the wheels as if they were punching bags.

  She stops only when Peter grabs her from behind, wrapping his arms around her to stop her from hurling her fist through her window. “Shh,” he whispers.

  “Why won’t it work?” she cries. “I take care of this car. I treat it right. So why—won’t it—work!” She gets in one last good kick before Peter drags her away. He starts to laugh, and Arden whirls around, fists clenched. “Are you laughing at me?”

  “No. It’s just—you’ve only been here a few hours, and already you’re acting like a true New Yorker. ”

  “What are you talking about?” she demands.

  “Picking fights with inanimate objects. Experiencing rage meltdowns. ”

  “I am not a New Yorker. ”

  “Fine, then you’re just having a very New York response. Trust me, it comes with the territory when eight million people are trying to share limited resources. One time I saw a guy literally pick a fistfight with a mailbox because it was in his way. ”

  This distracts Arden from her rage meltdown. “Who won?”

  “The mailbox did, of course, but dude put up a good fight. I’m telling you, this sort of shit happens all the time in this city. People barely even register it. ”

 
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