At the end of the night, she put on her mother's pearls. She zipped her dress, forced pins into her dark spill of hair, slipped on her high heels. The old clocks wound backwards, minutes spinning in reverse; the new ones counted down with bright green faces flashing in the dark. She scrubbed her makeup on at the bathroom sink, brushed her teeth. The door shut behind her.
Downstairs, she called her father, set out the empty cans on the piano. They helped the maid decorate with soiled tablecloths and half-eaten platters of food. They left plastic plates on every surface and her father thanked her for all the help.
The guests began to arrive, trickling in, half drunk. They sipped from the glasses scattered over the house, picked up plates that grew fuller the longer they ate from them. They laughed and the room grew over warm with the close press of bodies. Musicians began to play, slow and stately, notes all in reverse-the rising crescendo trailing off to quiet opening strains.
Her boyfriend arrived, dressed in a dark suit. His arm snaked around her waist and he whispered, "Let's get out of here," but they both stayed, moving slowly through the crowd of people.
Everyone clapped and cheered and then her father made a toast. Someone rang their spoon against a glass.
His hand at her waist played with the drape of her dress while she spoke to one of her father's friends. They grew more interested the longer they stood, until she swept out onto the balcony, away from the crush of people. He kissed her behind the potted plants, she protested and a hand reached for the low neckline of her dress. They slipped furtively out of the shadows and stood at the railing, talking innocently. Her feet were sore. He started with a kiss, ended by pulling her back into the party.
She couldn't concentrate; the room was close. She needed air.
Her father met her boyfriend at the door. They shook hands. He left, mostly sober and charming.
The first of the guests began to leave-the bohemian women, with their beaded shawls, their unpainted faces. They left in their flat shoes, their bone jewelry, and the women in their evening gowns didn't miss them. The tables filled with food.
The last guest left, the doorbell ringing behind him. Silence stretched over the house; silence as thin as glass. She stood in the hallway in her dress, smoothing wrinkles into the skirt. The bottles were full, the linens clean. The caterers had come, packed up the food, and gone. Their truck rumbled along the drive.
She untied her father's tie, crossed to the stairs, retreated to her room. Her father called, and she went to the mirror.
She took off her mother's pearls, kicked off her shoes, slipped out of her dress. She undid her makeup, unpinned her hair, brushed and blow-dried it into damp, tangled curls. Finally plain, she stepped into the shower.
She cried, sitting at the bottom of the shower; stepped out, now dry, and pulled on her clothes-wrinkled t-shirt and worn out jeans. In the mirror, she was tired and drawn.
She crossed to the phone. The caterer would be late, but he confirmed the number of drinks, the delicate hors d'oeuvres. "I need to speak with whoever's in charge of the order," she said hoarsely, and hung up.
The phone rang.
She ran down the drive and across the street, blinded by tears.
He drove away.
"Please. It's probably best if you don't come back."
"I think I may be in love with you, Annalié," he said softly, looking at the shadows cast across her cheek by her eyelashes in the embers of the day. No one could see her-see through her-like that.
The summer light was sending the shadows of trees across the road, shadows that shortened. The leaves looked golden in the fading day.
They sat side by side on the back bumper of his car. The trunk behind them was filled with boxes of books. "Everything I need," he would say to her. His clothes were piled on the back seat, like an afterthought. They spoke slowly, in fits and starts, not needing to fill the silence. The book she had given him was on his lap-a worn copy of Peter Pan.
"If this didn't ruin everything," she thought.
"I could come to love this."
He told her about his plan-the night-highways, the pine tree-mornings, the drive that would take him through forty-nine states. Every word was a poem.
He knew all her secrets.
She complained about life in the house on the hill. Her father's silence, the pressure, the dinner parties. She interrupted: "I feel aimless."
He began to talk about literature, starting mid-sentence. Kerouac, he said, and the Beats, the Russians, the Victorians, the avant-garde movement. He talked forever, voice low, and she could listen to him talk forever.
"Dad would hate him," she thought.
"Mom would have loved him."
"Sometimes, you find something so beautiful, so perfect, you want to tell everyone, you know? I love that line-" he said, looking at her, looking at her profile while she started out into the golden fields. "'A tuning fork struck against the stars.' Fitzgerald. I want to tell everyone."
She took back the book, hugged him. He smelled like laundry and paper-clean and beautiful. Crossed the street, ran up the drive.
"I'm across the street."
Her phone rang.
Time ground to a halt, as though somewhere, the mechanism had broken. Annalié froze mid-breath. The wheels of his car stopped turning, his hand stopped playing in the current of air out his window. Air, he thought, that brought him closer to her. Air she might have breathed.
The world hung, for a moment, in the balance.
Her phone rang.
"I'm across the street."
She ran down the drive, flew across the street, bare feet barely touching the pavement. He was standing by the trunk of his car. His dark hair was mussed by the wind and though his hands looked through the boxes of books, his eyes watched driveway. He was quiet and beautiful and safe. She hugged him, fiercely, unwilling to let go.
"Hi," he said breathlessly.
"I brought you this," she said, and thrust her worn copy of Peter Pan into his hands.
He looked tenderly at the cover, fingers tracing the creases. His eyes smiled. "Thank you," he said seriously.
"Sometimes, you find something so beautiful, so perfect, you want to tell everyone. I want to tell everyone."
The summer light was fading and soon, the house would be lit up. She would dress and tie her father's tie. She would see her boyfriend, who would make her father happy and fumble drunkenly at her breasts. She would be a charming hostess.
Things would go back to the way they had always been, and he would be so much smoke and dust.
But now, they sat by his books and could have sat until the sky cracked and broke and fell around them.
"I think I love this," she thought.
"I have to go and get ready."
"Not yet," he said, examining the fields with endless eyes.
"Come with me."
"I can't. You know I can't," she said, but for a moment, she imagined her father, 8:00, standing in the hall with his tie undone, calling up stairs for footsteps that would never come. She imagined him waiting all by himself, waiting until the doorbell rang, lost, looking toward her room for someone that could save him, someone that could knot a tie.
"We could be aimless and unafraid," he said.
"Would be like a dream, and I'd wake you up in the middle of the night to stop the nightmares, and we'd huddle together in some foreign hotel room, talking about poetry and by morning, you'd have forgotten him."
She was silent.
"I think I may be in love with you, Annalié," he said at last. As though it were simple-obvious. As though it were next to nothing. As though it was a philosophical conclusion he had suddenly come to. "I'm sorry."
And she was silent. As though everything wasn't breaking.
"Please," she said, eyes closed, tears leaking across her freckled cheeks. He did not lean to catch them, as he wanted to; did not cross the short, infinite space. Their knees were touching on the back bumper of his car, but she was so, so far away.
"It's probably best if you don't come back."
He drove away, not even one kiss.
She put on her mother's pearls.