This is what I know about the truth: the farther you get away from it, or it gets away from you, the harder it is to tell.
If only I had told the truth that night.
Life would have gone on. Life has gone on, but everything is different. I wish more than anything that I could go back to that night, walk in my front door, and undo everything we did.
This is the story of what really happened. This is the truth.
I knew Mariah was hanging out with a guy from the local high school. Everyone knew. That’s what it’s like when you go to a school as small as ours. I wasn’t one of the girls Mariah would peel down her turtleneck and show her hickeys to, but I’d heard about them. I’d heard they were the size of golf balls and as dark as overripe plums. I wished she would show them to me. I wished she would pull me into the bathroom and block the door with her black Converse high-top and say “Check this out” and I’d gasp and then we’d both be late to our next class. But Mariah never gave me the time of day.
It was Emma who first brought me into Mariah’s orbit. They were assigned a scene from Romeo and Juliet. They had to rehearse it and then perform it for their English class. Emma was playing Romeo because there’s a shortage of boys in our school. Maybe that’s why Mariah was hanging out with the guy from the public high school, although really, I think she was just trying to be different. To stand out. To be talked about. And probably to get away from all the boys in gray slacks and navy V-neck sweaters we’re trapped with day after day after day.
I don’t think anybody really knew what “hanging out” meant, but most of us chose to believe it meant “having sex,” and that gave Mariah even more of an edge than she already had. It’s hard to stand out in a school where everyone wears the same uniform and everyone lives in the same community and everyone’s parents work either at the college or for CompuCorp. But Mariah managed to stand out. She was pretty, but not girly. Smart, but not a teacher’s pet. Boys liked her. Girls wanted to be like her. There is no other way to say it: she was the coolest person in school, or at the very least, she was the coolest person in the freshman class.
So when Emma was assigned to be her Romeo she couldn’t stop talking about Mariah this and Mariah that. Finally she invited me to her house one afternoon when Mariah was coming over to work on their scene.
Emma’s been my best friend since third grade, when she moved here from the city. Her parents are literature professors at the college. They live only two blocks away and her older brother, Silas, was a senior who somehow managed not to look dorky in our school uniform. He wanted to go to Columbia next year and even though I knew Columbia was only an hour and fifteen minutes away by train, I still secretly hoped he wouldn’t get in.
When I got to Emma’s house, they were down in the basement, drinking lemonade and eating Oreos. They’d both changed into jeans and Mariah was wearing a tank top and right away I could see the hickeys. They looked like they ached, like if I reached my hand over and touched one, she’d wince.
I sat down in a beanbag chair and threw my backpack on the floor. My plaid skirt felt itchier than usual. Why didn’t I think to change my clothes?
“Hey, Anna Banana,” Mariah said, and she dipped her Oreo into her lemonade.
Anna Banana. It’s what my dad used to call me when I was a little kid and no matter how hard I try I can’t get him to break the habit. But for some reason, coming from Mariah, I kind of liked the way it sounded.
“What’re you doing here?” she asked.
I looked over at Emma, but she just sat there, twirling her finger in her hair and staring at her lines. “I’m always over here,” I said. The beanbag chair was disappearing beneath me. I readjusted the stuffing. “I practically live over here.”
“That’s cool. Wanna be our audience?”
“Sure,” I said.
She smiled at me. “Feel free to applaud wildly when we’re done.”
They stood up and I stayed in the beanbag. Emma was pretty good, but she seemed a little uncomfortable and stiff, and Mariah was amazing and beautiful. I could see why a guy like Romeo might kill himself over her.
After that we just sat around and talked and I got to hear firsthand about DJ and his car and his favorite leather jacket that he gave her and even about the hickeys. She said he had some really cool friends and we should all hang out sometime and I probably should have just said “No thanks” but I didn’t because she’s Mariah and I’m just plain old ordinary Anna with nothing at all to show for it.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Harmless by Dana Reinhardt. Copyright © 2007 by Dana Reinhardt. Excerpted by permission of Ember, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.