“He was coming back to you.” Bronwyn, the golden girl I had played with while my mother performed her housekeeping duties, spoke quietly as she lay in a crumpled heap, unwashed and apparently unassuming, her face turned to the wall. I had been in the room for ten minutes. The first three of those were spent in silence; I know because I had trained my eyes on the analog clock that spun out the hours with no thought to those who were living and dying in the course of those passing moments. The next seven were filled with Bronwyn’s tears before she spat out that one sentence.
I sat down and waited, willing my face to remain blank.
She slowly righted herself and continued, “I wanted to keep it a secret. I’m the only one who knew. I could have kept it from you.”
Leave it to Bronwyn to grasp at honor after everything that had transpired between us, between her and Jake.
She watched me expectantly, reading me, skimming over the less important parts to examine my eyes. She always said my eyes told everything. I immediately closed them, denying her access to my painful thoughts.
“What happened?” I asked, forcing my eyelids to open so that I, in turn, could examine her. Bronwyn was much more complicated than I could ever hope to be; I had to watch more than just her eyes.
Some of what she told me I already knew--she and Jake had attended the party, the one my mother kept me from with a simple truth: “Seeing them together is too much for you, Katherine. It’s not healthy. I know you’re trying to be strong, but give yourself a break.”
Bronwyn painted a picture for me of the night’s progression: she had been drinking, Jake hadn’t. “He hated beer,” she informed me, as if this were an important tidbit I didn’t already know. The fact that she said it in that girlfriend-sort-of-way caused my breath to catch for a moment, but she was so ensconced in her story she didn’t notice. She had forgotten again, momentarily, that Jake had been mine, truly mine, first.
She spoke more slowly now: “I slipped on his jacket when it started to get cold, and I felt your necklace, you know, the cross necklace, in the pocket.” I nodded once. “I asked him why he was keeping it, why he was holding onto something from you when he was with me now.”
I felt it then, my heart warming, a gloat breaking loose from somewhere deep inside me. I could see it and feel its enormity, like watching a giant piece of paraffin traveling to the top of a lava lamp. He kept the necklace. I swallowed hard.
“I told him I was going to throw it in Speckler’s Pond, and I started running.” She paused, her eyes narrowing. “He caught up to me. I thought he was coming after me. But he was coming after the necklace. He asked me where it was, and I told him to go to hell, that he’d never see it again anyway.”
Bronwyn paused here briefly to study my reaction. “I was pretty drunk at that point, Kat.” This was her oft-used excuse. “I shouldn’t have said those things.” Her eyes were bright, and I knew she was impressed with herself for her honesty. For what she thought would bring her peace--this thoughtful confession.
“But he told me then. Told me he still loved you. I had just been a stand in. He knew I’d do things with him, Kat. Things you wouldn’t do. And that was really important to him in the beginning.”
I felt my heart heat up again at her condescension. I flashed back to Ms. Ranson’s 2nd grade class, when I was the only one who couldn’t provide my home address. I remembered the haughty angle of Ms. Ranson’s chin as she stared down at me and the sneer that marred her already unremarkable features. I didn’t know what everyone else knew, so, in her mind, I was somehow less than. I couldn’t even find my voice to inform Ms. Ranson that we had just recently moved.
“I did all those things with him, but it didn’t matter. So I jumped in the car to head to the pond.” She looked down at her hands and tilted her head, arranging her body into a picture of innocence.. “I didn’t know he was in front of the car when I hit the gas. I never even looked. I was so hurt. So angry. I just wanted to get out of there. It was all an accident. A horrible accident. Triggered, of course, by my broken heart.”
A female Rumpelstiltskin, Bronwyn had gathered the dirty pieces of that night and spun them into a glistening offering--a story that refuted her guilt and cast Jake as the perpetrator.
“Did you love him, Bronwyn?” This was the only question that mattered; the only answer that mattered. If she had loved him, I could forgive her because her soul would have been crushed upon hearing that Jake was returning to me. Maybe she would have been too upset to look before she stepped on the gas. After all, I knew what it felt like to lose Jake to my best friend.
If she didn’t love him, then, as I had often suspected, there was a worm-like maliciousness writhing in her soul, some deeply buried, inner rottenness that caused her to decide he would be hers, either in spite of me or because of me.
Bronwyn straightened her spine. “Yes. Of course, I did!” Her words filled the empty room, bouncing off the walls and hammering shrilly against my ears. She was counting on them to convince me.
But I had seen it--the dead giveaway--when she reached for her hair and ran her hand down the glorious length of it, the gesture I had noticed each time she lied--to her mom, her dad, my mom, me, our mutual friends, teachers, Jake. Everyone, really.
And the story she had so carefully crafted, that magnificently spun gold, reverted to dusty straw that littered the ground as I stood and walked away.