It was the license plate that told her. At one glance, she knew exactly who had arrived, and she didn't care why. She decided to alert the others.
"Oh my God it's Erica!" she screeched, volume increasing with every word.
"There goes the card game," muttered Josh.
Rachel was already running toward the car that barely had a chance to stop, heedless of the purse, book bag, and lunch tote she was carrying. She got to the curb at the same time as the short Chinese girl who had launched herself out of the driver's seat, and both of them managed to stop in time to avoid collision before a big hug.
"It's Erica and Mark!" exclaimed Jenny, waving to the guy exiting on the passenger side.
"I knew it was you, I saw the license plate and I knew," Rachel babbled. "Oh, God, I can't believe this! How are you?"
Erica's answer was lost in a jumble of hugs and greetings. Everyone was talking at once, more or less coherently, and hearing very little.
"I am so glad to see you!"
"--saw the license plate--"
"My turn, my turn!"
"--you, I will shake your hand--"
"--knew who it was--"
"Let's go sit down," Sarah shouted, and though the hubbub did not die down, it did begin to migrate. It was a short walk to the covered hallway by the door of the drama room, and the group slung their bags to the cement, unconsciously forming a rough circle as they sat down. The overhang, originally built to shelter people queueing for school plays, had become one of the gang's favorite hangouts.
"So how's college?" asked Jamie.
"It's great," said Erica, adjusting her glasses. "Did you guys know that in California all the halls are like this? In the schools? It's a bunch of buildings with open space all over and covered hallways between them."
"It doesn't snow there," Josh mused, "so I guess it would work."
"Sure beats being snowed in," Rachel commented.
Erica pounced on the brief silence. "I guess I'd better tell you guys why I'm here."
Rachel, sitting next to her, tried to flash a look of concern. She had known what was coming since seeing the license plate.
"First of all, I think you guys should know, Mark and Lauren have been with me all day, 'cause I've basically been crying all day." She paused. "My grandmother--my grandmother is dying. My mom called me and my brother and we had to come back."
"How long do they think she has?" asked Sarah.
"They.....don't expect her to live past Sunday." Erica blinked. "So that's why I'm here. And I want to do something with you guys."
"Yeah," put in Mark. "We just had lunch. We went to Carrows and I had the steak special. With chicken--"
"You just ate lunch?" asked Jenny.
"And shrimp," Mark continued, oblivious.
"It's two-forty-five," said Sarah, "and you just had lunch."
"--baked potato, and it--"
"Shut up, you're making me hungry," Jamie ordered. "So what do you want to do?"
"I'd really like to go see the kittens but Amy's at work," said Erica. "But Scott's back 'cause--"
"Let's go get him!" suggested Josh.
Rachel was quick to concur. "Yeah, you've got a car, let's go get him."
"Well, we gotta get in the car first." Erica stood and headed back to the car. "And we gotta all fit. Rachel's in front."
Rachel grinned. "Thank you, thank you."
"Bags in the trunk!" Erica announced. "'Bye, Sarah!"
"Adieu, adieu, parting is such sweet sorrow," Sarah called mournfully from the hall as the gang tried to stuff themselves into Erica's Toyota Camry.
"How are we gonna get Scott in here?" asked Jenny, squishing over to let Josh sit down. "There's four of us back here already."
"We'll stick you on his lap," said Jamie.
"She's already on my lap," Josh informed her. "You get to sit on Scott."
"I'm sitting on Jenny," Jamie returned. "Sort of."
"Maybe he can lie on the floor," Mark suggested.
Something occurred to Rachel, and she twisted around to face the back seat. "Hey, Josh, did you get that question about anagnorisis?" she asked.
Josh rolled his eyes. "Oh, God, did anybody get it?"
"English quiz," Josh explained. "It's a term in Greek drama. It means self-knowledge, moment of truth."
"Yeah," snickered Rachel. "Hoffman says it's good for excuses ar work. You call in and say you have a case of anagnorisis and you can't come in. It sounds medical. They'll never know."
They rounded the corner onto Scott's cul-de-sac. "Okay, I'll go ring the bell and you guys stand around and I'll bring him out with his eyes closed," Erica directed, parking the car and letting her passengers pile out before locking the car with her remote. She disappeared behind the shrubs next to Scott's door, and did not reappear.
They waited. Jamie sat down on Scott's neighbor's lawn. Josh picked up a feather and handed it to Jenny, who returned it just as Rachel looked up from cleaning her nails. The effect was immediate.
"Oh my God do you know what you just did?" she demanded of a bewildered, head-shaking Jenny. "Tell her what she just did," she ordered Josh, who was snickering and toying with the feather. "I can't believe you did that, I can't believe you didn't tell her!"
"What did I do?" Jenny was baffled.
"I know what you did," said Jamie.
Josh stared. "You can't," he stated flatly. "You--"
"It's in the ones I just finished, believe me, I just read them." Jamie addressed her twin. "In these books he's loaning us, if you give somebody a feather, it basically means you want to consummate the relationship."
Rachel was still ranting. "Oh, I cannot believe you didn't know."
"Calm down," said Josh. "I gave it to her first."
"Like that makes a difference."
Josh dropped the feather and opened his mouth, but said nothing.
Erica came bounding back out of Scott's house and down the sidewalk. "You guys, he won't be here till eight tonight," she said. "You gotta get back in, I have to take Mark home."
"Let's come back then," Rachel suggested, sitting down and fastening her seat belt.
"I don't think we coulda fit five anyway," Mark conceded, scooting closer to the door to let Josh sit down.
After returning Mark to his house, the carload proceeded to Erica's. A conversation was in full swing as they pulled into the driveway.
"--Twenty-Eight," Josh said, getting out of the car.
"Is that the one you guys were playing at the party?" Erica asked suspiciously, opening the front door.
"All night," Jamie agreed.
"And you two never won a--" Jenny began, but Erica shushed her."Quiet," she whispered. "Just don't make any noise."
Rachel obeyed without knowing why, walking as softly as possible. They walked single file into the back yard and entered Erica's garage apartment.
"Sorry it looks so bare," Erica apologized, kicking aside a couch cushion and turning on the light. "My uncle had it fumigated. Does it smell funny?"
"It does now." Rachel made a face as Josh removed his shoes.
"If you guys want to sit on those pillows, go ahead," Erica said, moving furniture so that the others could sit and play cards.
"You deal," Rachel told Josh, sitting down on the nearest cushion.
"So I bid," Jamie realized, putting one card facedown in front of her. "Fourteen."
Only Rachel, her playing partner, saw that she was wiggling her class ring as Josh finished dealing. Trumps was diamonds. Rachel held her cards with two fingers supporting them from behind. She had two; Jamie, she saw, had two as well.
"You know," said Erica, perched on the bed and peeking at everyone's cards, "I was talking to people at college and you know what? All these parties and get-togethers--I think we've bonded."
"I'll believe it," said Rachel. "I think you're exactly right."
There was a murmur of assent from the card players. Erica, satisfied with her diagnosis, lay down on the bed. Jenny and Josh took three hands, and Rachel and Jamie were about to take their third when Jenny suddenly stood up and bolted over to the bed.
Rachel looked, along with everyone else, and saw nothing around Jenny's kneeling form. Her ears told her what her eyes could not: Erica was crying. Leave it to Jenny to be the first to hear her.
The three remaining card players looked at one another. "Well," said Rachel, "this is wonderfully awkward."
Jamie gathered up the cards and tied them up with the ratty shoelace appointed for that purpose.
Rachel looked at her watch. "Good crud, I gotta go home," she said, reaching for Erica's cell phone.
Josh got up and took a place next to Jenny.
Determinedly, Rachel dialed her number. "Hello, Mother Dearest.........I'm at Erica's. I need a ride, can Daddy Dearest pick me up? He knows where it is.......No, I don't know the address." She winced as a particularly plaintive wail rose from the bed. "No, I can't ask Erica. Just please come get me.......'Bye." Rachel turned off the phone and put it back on the table that nearly blocked the door.
By now Jamie had moved closer to the bed, and Rachel joined her on the periphery. "They're gonna come get me," said Rachel. "Do you think she'll mind if I leave?"
Jamie shook her head. "You have to go, go."
Jenny was speaking to Erica in a constant, indistinct palilalia of soothing tones. "I couldn't do that," Rachel said, in as low a voice as she could. "I have to be alone when I cry."
Erica screamed into her pillow. "She wasn't supposed to suffer!" she sobbed, rocking the bed.
Rachel caught Jamie's eye and knew they were both trying not to do anything inappropriate. She bit her lip to keep from screaming, looked at Josh to keep her eyes off Jenny. He was rocking the bed, Erica wasn't. She bet he didn't even know it. They were so close . . . . .
Looking at Jamie again, she put on a quizzical expression and pointed at Josh and Jenny, back and forth, repeatedly.
Jamie responded with her best beats-me look, and it didn't appear to be an act.
Rachel, in response, made guns out of her fingers and shot Josh and Jenny both in the back.
Jamie looked completely lost.
For a second, Rachel was lost as well. She waved her hand to say it wasn't important, but her mind was working, slowly and deliberately. I told her, she thought. I told one of them at least, I told . . . Jenny . . .
Her eyes strayed to the bed again, her ears picked up the creaks of the bedframe and Jenny murmuring ". . . going to a better place . . ." and she looked hard at her nails to keep from crying herself. I told Jenny, she thought, and she doesn't care.
Rachel stood up, blinking. "Would the gate be open?" she asked Jamie, who shook her head.
"Go through the house," she said. "The keys are on the table."
Rachel slipped out, grimacing as she pushed past the table, which shifted and groaned, and as her feet landed creakingly on the wood floor of the house. She was able to get her bags without much trouble, and to return to Erica's room with no more noise than before. As quietly as she could, she put the keys on the table. Josh and Jenny didn't move. Jamie waved good-bye, a strange look on her face. Rachel left and shut the door.
As soon as she had silently closed the front door, she saw her parents drive up. She hoped they weren't planning on going anywhere but home. I can't go anyway, she thought, trudging toward the van. I have a bad case of anagnorisis and I have to stay home . . . . .
Copyright © 1996 by Katherine Foreman