I grabbed the bottle from Lucy and she climbed into the room. “Whew,” she said. “This place a dump.”
“How come you’ve never brought us here before?” said Beth. She walked toward the hall. As she reached the door there was a crack and she gasped. When she lifted her foot the floor was sunken in there. She looked up at us and blushed. I was glad the boys weren’t here to see it.
“Don’t worry about it, it’s all moldy,” I said, walking around the spot. “Come on, let’s go down to the first floor.” We went down the hall and I tried not to think of all the cliché creepy corridors from every horror movie I’d ever seen. The carpet by the stairs had a geometric print like in The Shining. By the time we got downstairs it was dark outside. In the largest room, empty gallon buckets were scattered about and an industrial vacuum cleaner lay next to a fold-up table, covered in dust. We poked around, using our phones as flashlights, and found a working floodlight and a place to plug it in.
“Wow, electricity. We’ve found our headquarters,” said Lucy. She put the vodka down in the middle of the table with a flourish. We found buckets and pulled them over to use as chairs and swung the light to face us. Lucy’s shadow loomed large behind her. Her hair glowed white-blond in the spotlight. “Let’s play,” she said.
You would think truth or dare would get old among friends (at least the truth part) but new things kept surfacing each time we played. Recently Beth admitted her enormous crush on Josh, whom she had loved since they had their bat and bar mitzvahs one week apart. He had asked her to dance to “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” at his afterparty, and she was done for. That was four years ago. We each took a swig from the plastic handle.
“Josh is a jerk,” I said. “He was the one who told me that Jesus didn’t exist in elementary school.”
“Do you believe in Jesus, Maria?” Lucy said.
“I certainly did then.”
“OK, your turn, Lucy,” Beth said.
Lucy took another swig. “Yessss,” she said.
“Would you ever have sex with Haden?”
Lucy pretended to spit out the vodka. “Jesus,” she said. “I don’t know, I don’t know!”
“Would you tonight?” came a man’s voice from the darkness. I screamed.
Haden walked into the spotlight. Soren was behind him with a case of Natty Lite balanced on one shoulder.
“Whoa, whoa, Maria, it’s just me,” Haden said, rubbing my shoulder. “Lucy texted me to take the ladder.”
“I brought beers,” Soren said.
“How did you climb the ladder with that?” Beth asked him. He shrugged. We pulled up more buckets and settled down. The drinks were starting to kick in and our eyes got shiny.
“This place is awesome,” Haden said. “Nice find.”
“Just don’t come here without me,” I warned, though I knew I couldn’t keep them from a secret place to drink. I felt a kind of hunger while in this room, like I was a detective. My eyes darted here and there and I took quick peeks into each corner, looking for some trace of her. Sometimes at home I looked through her old school papers, trying to figure out who she’d been in high school. I’d last seen her at Easter, calm, collected, polite. She had asked me about Harriton, because she had gone to school there too, and then she excused herself from the table to smoke in the backyard. In our bathroom I’d found a bottle of pills that treated depression. I was not content with her current shadow self, slinking in and out of our house on holidays and then back across the country to California. I also envied her elusiveness. It seemed so much more dignified than my way of showing what I felt even before I opened my mouth.
At some point during our last summer together I’d picked up a crayon and tried to copy my sister’s biggest painting. The canvas was taller than her, blotched with color like a bruised peach. When she came out of the house she saw what I was doing and grabbed the paper from me. “Listen, don’t copy me,” she said. “This painting is crap.” “But I like it,” I said. She shook her head. “I’m going to get rid of it,” she said, “I hate it.” But next day when I came out to the porch she had set up a second workspace next to hers. I would draw while she painted until I got frustrated and lay back on the cool stone floor. That summer we made paper dolls, clay beads, and a diorama of our favorite beach in Cape Cod. Her hands were wiry and precise; as I struggled to cut straight or make tiny knots, I wished she could make whatever it was for me. “Just think of it as a personal challenge,” she would say, bending wire like it was Play-Doh.
But by late afternoon my sister would be exhausted and would retire to her room while mom made dinner. When I peeped through the keyhole, she was lying down and staring at the ceiling. Mom would sigh and tell me to leave her alone, but dad was less sympathetic. One day we tried to make candles by melting down old crayons in the stir-fry pan. “Am I paying you to demolish our kitchen?” he said when he saw the mess. “How am I supposed to clean this pan?” “Just think of it as a personal challenge,” I said. My sister actually laughed.