“What are you doing?” she said. We turned to her.
“Sorry, Suzanna, we were just—” Tara crossed her arms over the dress.
“What the fuck?” Suzanna said. Her eyes slid back behind their lids.
I walked over to her and touched her arm. “It’s just us.”
“Don’t touch me,” she moaned. Her face went white.
“Make her stop, please,” Tara pleaded.
“Go get some water!” It came out louder than I’d intended. Tara clomped off down the hall in her too-big heels.
“I feel like I’m dying,” Suzanna said.
“What did you take?”
“I’m going to die.”
“Stop it,” I said. I heard Tara come in and turned to grab the water. But it wasn’t Tara, it was Suzanna’s mother, standing in the doorway in her gray scrubs and white sneakers, her hair blond and wild around her shoulders. I heard Tara gasp in the hall.
Suzanna’s mother grabbed the trashcan from the corner of the bedroom, pushed me away from the bed, grabbed Suzanna by the shoulders, and sat her up. Suzanna moaned and clawed at her but her mother held her tight. She bent Suzanna in half over the bucket and stuck her finger down Suzanna’s throat. Suzanna began to gag and tried to wiggle away. Her mother squeezed her harder, her face in Suzanna’s hair, and kept at it. Tara looked green. I took the water from her hands, put it on Suzanna’s desk, and led Tara out of the room. As we descended the staircase we could hear Suzanna throwing up whatever she had ingested.
In the sunroom I fumbled with the remote and turned on the TV. Tara’s arms were still crossed in front of her chest. She was hiccupping and trying not to cry. We sat in from on the TV like that until the last strips of light cut through the blinds and lay on the furniture in rays. Tara fidgeted with her dress, pulling the hem out, and I tried not to look at my thighs all squashed up in Suzanna’s skirt. Finally we heard whispers, and mother and daughter emerged from the darkened hallway and joined us in the sunroom. Suzanna’s mother led her to the couch and sat her down in the large, quiet space between Tara and me. Suzanna’s face looked freshly scrubbed and her hair was pulled back in a tight braid. Her mother handed Tara and me each a plastic Rite Aid bag and left the room. In mine were my shorts, folded twice.
“Sorry we’re wearing your clothes,” said Tara.
“You can keep them,” Suzanna said, cradling herself. A Friends marathon was on so we watched it, and Suzanna’s mother brought us chicken and mashed potatoes in plastic containers. We watched and ate, and Suzanna picked at everything and licked the mashed-potato spoon, her elbows taking up more room on the couch than her body.
“Are you OK?” I asked finally. “We’ve been here all day.”
“Since this afternoon,” said Tara, pointing outside to the dark.
“I get the picture,” Suzanna snapped. She pulled a bent cigarette out of the pocket of her tracksuit.
“I was scared,” Tara whispered, throwing me a look over Suzanna’s shoulder. Suzanna dragged on her cigarette and stared into the TV screen.
“I didn’t ask you for anything, Tara.” Suzanna said. Her mom came in with Suzanna’s purse and keys. Suzanna looked up at her and said, “It’s time to go. She’s going to give you both a ride home.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“My mother said it was good to see you,” Suzanna said to me. “She always liked having you over. You should come chill next weekend.” She gave me a thin smile and tapped her ashes into a container of chicken. Tara slid her feet out of Suzanna’s shoes and pulled her sneakers out of her Rite Aid bag. She jammed her toes in them with her head down, placed the pink heels by Suzanna’s bare feet, and followed me out.
Tara and I got in Suzanna’s mom’s run-down Mercedes, and she drove us to my house. I told Tara to come in with me and we both got out of the car. When I leaned in to thank her, Suzanna’s mother’s eyes looked tired.
“Goodbye, Maria,” she said.
We went through in the back door so my mom wouldn’t see our clothes, tiptoed to my room, and changed into sweatpants. We went to the living room and sprawled out on the carpet to read magazines with the TV on. Tara said she wished she had boobs like the girl in the “Best Bathing Suits” spread or even like mine. I blushed and told her I wished I had long legs like her.
“No, no,” she said. “I’m too bony, I wish I had muscle like Suzanna.” The Friends marathon was still going, and I said I always thought the show was cheesy. “Suzanna loves Friends,” Tara whispered. Then she laughed and added, “But I hate laugh tracks.”
“Are you gonna call her?” I asked. Tara’s face reverted to the look she had worn earlier in the day, pinched and helpless, and her hands got all jittery again. “She’s your best friend?” Tara nodded. I said nothing, knowing that the weight of all this didn’t fall on me. Already people Tara hardly knew were texting her back to check that everything was cool and writing “ok then see you at the house next weekend.” Then I guess we fell asleep, because I woke up some time later to Tara’s phone vibrating and the wind hissing outside. It was as if someone had turned down the TV and turned the up volume outside. The wind cracked against the windows and I could just make out the trees wobbling like paper dolls in the dark, bending and breaking. ♦