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"It looks like an engagement ring," I tell the spike-haired girl at the counter. Behind me on the green velvet couch, Morgan is crying her face purple. "With a blue stone, like aquamarine?"
The girl flicks her puffy-lidded eyes at the other barista, a thin guy with a shaved head. Not like they both weren't just watching me as I scrambled under the table, lay flat on the nasty rug, and pressed my face practically against the floor trying to see Morgan's ring under the abyss of the incense-dusty couch. Not like they hadn't stood there, not offering to help, as I hoisted up the front end of the couch, revealing nothing but a bunch of wrappers and coffee lids. Not like they offer any reassurance when I write down Morgan's number and ask them to call if the ring shows up.
"It's engraved," I say to the guy, who looks at least slightly sympathetic. " 'Our angel forever' along the inside? It shouldn't be hard to miss."
"People lose stuff here all the time," Spike Girl says, glancing over my shoulder at Morgan, who's still crying. She could be vomiting blood, her eyeballs boiling to a liquid, and still I think this girl wouldn't be fazed. I twist my own ring -- a band of pale, multicolored stones set with an emerald-cut Swarovski crystal -- on my finger. I pray simultaneously for grace, patience, luck, forgiveness, and for this barbed-wire barista to get over herself and help me help my best friend.
Enter Priah: midnight hair a swinging sheen of straightness, her tiny feet followed by tiny knees, hips, rib cage, shoulders, neck, all topped off with these gigantic violet eyes and a two-thousand-pound grin. Only now she sees Morgan hyperventilating, and her face collapses.
"Oh, sweetie," she squeal-groans, crouching at Morgan's knees. "What happened?"
I level my eyes back at the baristas. "Of course we'll find it," Priah's canary voice insists behind me. I know Priah is crossing herself (even though none of us are Catholic), I know this girl in front of me sees it, and I know what she thinks. I don't care. I turn my back on her. Though losing the ring wouldn't be near (God forgive me) as awful as losing the virginity it's symbolically protecting, to Morgan the two might as well be, well, One, and I gotta at least keep trying to help her find it.
The next morning I have two texts from Morgan, so I head to the hallway phone to call her back. I'm strictly forbidden to speak on my cell unless it's to my parents, and since Mom actually finds a perverse pleasure in looking line by line through the bill for unauthorized calls, there's no way around this, except for texting if I keep it under twenty per month and never during school.
"What are you doing up so early?" Morgan wants to know right away.
"About to go to work, duh. What about you? I thought I'd go straight to voicemail."
I'm legitimately surprised at her chipperness, really. After finally leaving Java Monkey yesterday with no ring and only a slim chance of getting it back if it was found, Morgan was beside herself.
"Oh, it's so exciting! I couldn't wait to tell you! Did you get my texts? Well, last night at dinner when I told Daddy all about my ring slipping off, he just got the sweetest sheepiest puppiest look on his face." Morgan's own face, I can tell from her voice, currently has that rapture look she gets whenever her dad comes into the conversation. "He said that it was a sign, really, because just this week he'd started to go looking for a replacement ring for me in celebration of my sweet sixteen next month, and that my losing that old ring just meant I needed a new one right then, so he'd do the ring now, and then for my birthday go ahead and get me the Audi he'd been considering, but not sure about. Isn't that great?"
"Of course it's great." I remember to add an exclamation point in there. It is great, really. But when you're on the ninety-millionth instance of divine intervention in your best friend's life, it's hard to muster the same excitement as the first time.
"So this morning we're going up to Buckhead to have a daddy-daughter brunch and then we'll look at some new rings. Do you want to come?"
"What? To brunch? Can't. I gotta be at the Center in, like, twenty. Remember?"
"Oh. Right. Work. Well, call me when you're done, right?"
"Yeah. Probably around five? Mom can drop me off after, I think. We're still on, yeah?" We've been planning to get ready together for tonight's Jesus-Generation Co-Christian dance since we got the Evite last weekend. We're always excited about the JGCC events, but this one's particularly crucial.
"Duh. Why do you think I want you to come over right now? Ooh but soon-soon-soon I'll be able to pick you up whenever, and whisk you off wherever we want to go!"
"Presuming after tonight I want to be seen anywhere."
"Oh, come on. The worst that can happen is he's not there at all, right? It's not like he's going to publicly humiliate you or anything. Mainly because I'm not going to let you humiliate yourself. And it's going to be fun," she finishes lightly. "Boys or no boys."
"Right," I mutter, convincing neither of us. She's referring to the fact that her own boyfriend, Cody, isn't coming (because the JGCC group includes churches that openly support homosexuals), and also my own nail-biting hope that Jake -- the cute guy I met at the freezing-cold-but-who-cares JGCC hayride in February -- will be there.
When I hang up I'm still a little jittery. Tonight's the first chance I've had to see Jake again, at least anywhere outside my mind. We'd gotten squooshed together in the back of one of the pickups during the Valentine's hayride; our conversation started when he stepped on my hand, turning somehow into episodes of This American Life, whatever happened to bubble tea, and having to read I Am the Cheese, which then turned into my crush. We didn't really get to say good-bye when everyone started piling out of the trucks and into their own carpool rides, so he never asked for my number, but nevertheless I've been increasingly butterflyville for the past six days.
After hanging up with Morgan, I dial Cara's cell. It goes straight to voicemail, which doesn't bode well for her attendance tonight, though she did say yesterday at school that she and Michael would try to be there. I leave a message saying we hope she's still coming. Calling Priah next for last-minute wardrobe requests is a good idea, but I know her family would frown on a breakfast interruption, especially over something so "superficial." I consider calling Naeomi and asking her again what she's going to wear, but Naeomi's not much of a morning person, and I already know when she meets us there she'll be wearing her favorite baby-blue capris with "something shimmery" up on top. Since there's no one else to call, really, it's down to breakfast I go.
When I tromp down the stairs later after my post-work shower, I'm still uncertain about the four tops and jeans plus backup jeans I've crammed in my sleepover bag along with the two appropriate, possibly matching pairs of shoes I have, plus makeup, flat iron, and pretty much every piece of jewelry I own. I've also called Morgan twice to say I'm thinking of not going.
Dad is waiting for me in the den, flipping through an issue of The Week, wearing his oh-so-hip cargo sweats and yellow rubber clogs. "You ready?" he says, arching his thick eyebrows halfway up his skull.
"Oh." He puts the magazine carefully back in the chair-side rack and frowns. "Well, she suffered an attack of partial-temporary amnesium ridiculosum this morning, and vanished about an hour ago."
In Dad-ese this means Mom's pulling one of her famous I'm Independent Even Though I'm a Mother moments and has left me in Dad's care so that she can shop or go have coffee or do some work at her campus office or whatever.
"Well, I just hope we don't have to put up Lost Mom flyers again," I say in an attempt to mask my disappointment. Dad can't help his dorkiness, and I know he wants to be my favorite. I do love him and all, but before going off to a dance to maybe see a boy she maybe wants to see again if he's maybe there and maybe remembers who she even is, a girl kinda wants her mom around.
In the car my throat is chalk and I think I'm sweating every drop of moisture in my body out through my palms, so I keep tapping them on my thighs in weak efforts to dry them off. He is probably not going to be there. Probably not. So this is stupid. But thinking that isn't doing much in the hyper-perspiration department.
"What band is playing again?" Dad asks when we turn onto Morgan's street.
"Not a band, Dad. A DJ. You know, like at a regular club? Gospel choirs are still reserved for worship only."
Dad chuckles. "Chaperones going to be there?"
"Cell phone charged?"
"Yes, Dad, but I promise to use it only if there's an emer-gency."
"And Mr. and Mrs. Kent know where you're going to be at all times." "Yes, Dad. Gah!"
His eyes are twinkling and I'm only half as exasperated as I'm acting, but when the car stops I've got one hand on the door handle and the other undoing my seat belt.
"Okay, okay. I'll stop." He leans over to squeeze me around the shoulders and I quick-squeeze him back. "Have a good time and don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"Come on, Dad." I hold up my left hand and wiggle my ring at him -- a routine he loves. "You already know I won't." Copyright © 2009 by Terra Elan McVoy