Authors: Candace Bushnell
“Oh, I’m happy all right.” He gave the front tire a good kick. “I’m happy as
I turned and started walking up the road. My back was a firestorm of nerves. When I got about fifty feet away, I started whistling. When I was a hundred feet away, I heard the puttering sound of the car engine, but I kept going. Eventually, he passed me, looking straight ahead as if I didn’t exist. I picked up a strand of dried grass and tore it with my fingers, watching the pieces blow away.
I did tell this story to The Mouse and Maggie. I even told it to Walt. I told it again and again, but I made it funny. I made it so funny, The Mouse couldn’t stop laughing. Funny always makes the bad things go away.
“Carrie, you’re not going to be able to joke your way out of this,” Mrs. Givens says, pointing to the can of paint.
“I wasn’t planning to make a joke,” I insist, as if I’m completely innocent. I have a problem with authority. I really do. It turns me into mush. I’m a real jellyfish when it comes to facing adults.
“What were you planning to do with the paint, then?” Mrs. Givens is one of those middle-aged ladies who you look at and think, If I ever end up like her, shoot me. Her hair is teased into a dried bush that looks like it could self-ignite at any moment. I suddenly picture Mrs. Givens with a conflagration on her head, running through the halls of Castlebury High, and I nearly crack up.
“Carrie?” she demands.
“The paint is for my father—for one of his projects.”
“This is not like you, Carrie. You’ve never been in trouble before.”
“I swear, Mrs. Givens. It’s nothing.”
“Very well. You can leave the paint with me and pick it up after school.”
“Givens confiscated my paint can,” I whisper to The Mouse as we enter calculus.
“How did she find it?”
“She saw me trying to shove it into my locker.”
“Damn,” The Mouse says.
“I know. We’re going to have to go to plan B.”
“What is plan B?”
“Action must be taken,” I say. “I’ll think of something.”
I sit down and look out the window. It’s October now. Time to find a perfect red leaf and iron it between two pieces of waxed paper. Or stick cloves into a crisp apple, the juice running all over your fingers. Or scoop the slimy guts out of a pumpkin and roast the seeds until they nearly explode. But mostly, it’s time to paint the year of our high school graduation on the roof of the dairy barn.
It’s a grand tradition around here. Every fall, a few members of the graduating class scrawl their year on the roof of the barn behind the school. It’s always some boys who do it. But this year, The Mouse and I decided we should do it. Why should the boys have all the fun? Then we got Lali involved. Lali was going to bring the ladder, and The Mouse and I would get the paint. Then Maggie wanted to come. Maggie is fairly useless in these kinds of
situations, but I figured she’d be good for booze and cigarettes. Then Maggie spilled the beans to Peter. I told her to un-tell Peter, but she said she couldn’t do that, and now Peter’s all excited about it even though he says he won’t actually be participating. Instead, he plans to stand there and direct.
After calculus, I head out to the barn, where I take a good look at the structure. It’s at least a hundred years old, and though it looks sturdy enough, the roof is higher and steeper than I’d imagined. But if we chicken out, next week the boys will probably do it, and I don’t want that to happen. No more missed opportunities. I want to leave some mark on Castlebury High, so when I’m old, I can say, “I did it. I painted the year of our graduation on the old barn out back.” Lately, high school hasn’t been bugging me as much as usual and I’ve been in a pretty good mood. Today, I’m wearing overalls, Converse sneakers, and a red and white checked shirt that I got at a vintage store in honor of the occasion. I also have my hair in braids, and I’m wearing a strip of rawhide around my head.
I’m standing there, staring up at the roof, when I’m suddenly overcome by a mysterious happiness and I have to start doing my best John Belushi
imitation. I run all the way around the barn and when I get back to where I started, Sebastian Kydd is there, looking at me curiously while he shakes a cigarette out of a pack of Marlboro Reds.
“Having fun?” he asks.
“Sure,” I say. I should be embarrassed, but I’m not. I
hate the way girls are supposed to be embarrassed all the time and I decided a long time ago that I just wouldn’t do it. “What about you? Are you having fun?”
I’m sure he is having fun, but not with me. After that night at The Emerald—nothing. He never called, never came by my house—all I get are bemused looks from him when he sees me in calculus or in the halls or occasionally hanging out here at the barn. I tell myself it’s just as well; I don’t need a boyfriend anyway—but it doesn’t prevent my mind from veering out of control every time I sense he’s in the vicinity. It’s almost as bad as being twelve—worse, I remind myself, because I ought to know better by now.
I glance at Sebastian, thinking it’s a good thing he can’t read my mind, but he’s no longer paying attention. He’s looking over my shoulder at the two Jens, who are carefully picking their way up the hill in high heels, like they’ve never walked on grass before. Their appearance is not surprising. The two Jens have taken to following Sebastian everywhere, like two small, cheery tugboats. “Ah,” I say. “Your fan club is here.”
He looks at me quizzically but says nothing. In my fantasy, Sebastian is a person of great and perceptive thought. But in reality, I don’t know a thing about him.
Lali picks me up in the truck at nine o’clock that evening. We’re dressed in black turtlenecks, black jeans, and sneakers. There’s an enormous harvest moon. Lali hands me a beer and I crank up the radio and we scream over
the music. I’m pretty sure this is going to be the best thing we’ve ever done. I’m pretty sure this is going to be a real Senior Moment—A Moment to Remember. “Fuck Cynthia Viande,” I scream, for no good reason.
“Fuck Castlebury High,” Lali says. “Fuck the Pods.”
We pull into the driveway of the high school going about eighty miles an hour and drive right over the grass. We try to drive straight up the hill, but the truck gets stuck, so we decide to park it in a dark corner of the parking lot. While we’re struggling to get the ladder out of the back, I hear the telltale sputter of a fully loaded V-eight engine, and sure enough, Sebastian Kydd pulls up beside us.
What the hell is he doing here?
He rolls down the window. “You girls need some help?”
“Yes,” Lali says. She gives me the shut-up look. I give her the shut-up look right back.
Sebastian gets out of the car. He’s like a panther getting up from a nap. He even yawns. “Slow night?”
“You could say that,” Lali says.
“Or you could get off your keister and help us. Since you don’t appear to be leaving,” I add.
“Can we trust you?” Lali asks.
“Depends on what you want to trust me
,” he says.
Eventually, we get the ladder up against the barn, and then The Mouse shows up with the paint and a large brush. Two enormous cone-shaped lights play over the parking lot, indicating Maggie’s arrival in the Cadillac. Maggie insists she can’t keep track of her high and low
beams and usually blinds her fellow motorists. She parks the car and meanders up the hill with Walt and Peter in tow. Peter busies himself by examining the paint. “Red?” he says, and then, as if we didn’t hear him the first time,
“What’s wrong with red?”
“It’s not the traditional Castlebury color for this exercise. It should be blue.”
,” I counter. “Whoever does the painting gets to pick the color.”
“But it’s not right,” Peter insists. “For the rest of the year, I’m going to be looking out the window seeing the year of our graduation painted in red instead of blue.”
“Does it really matter?” Sebastian asks.
“Red is a statement. It’s a fuck-you to tradition,” Walt says. “I mean, isn’t that the point?”
“Right on, brother.” Sebastian nods.
Maggie hugs her arms around her chest. “I’m scared.”
“Have a cigarette,” Walt remarks. “That will calm your nerves.”
“Who’s got the booze?” Lali asks. Someone hands her a bottle of whiskey, and she takes a swig, wiping her mouth on her shirt sleeve.
“Okay, Bradley. Get on up there,” The Mouse commands.
In unison, we tip our heads back and look skyward. The orange moon has come up behind the roof, casting a boxlike black shadow below. In the spooky light, the peak appears as high as Mount Everest.
going up?” Sebastian asks, astonished.
“Bradley used to be very good in gymnastics,” The Mouse says. “
. Until she was about twelve, anyway. Remember when you did that jump onto the balance beam and landed right on your—”
“I’d rather not,” I say, sneaking a glance at Sebastian.
“I’d do it, but I’m scared of heights,” Lali explains. Heights, indeed, are the only thing she admits to being scared of, probably because she thinks it makes her more interesting. “Every time I cross the bridge to Hartford, I have to get down on the floor so I don’t get dizzy.”
“What if you’re the one who’s driving?” asks The Mouse.
“Then she has to stop in the middle of traffic and sit there shaking until the police come and tow her car,” I say, finding this vision hysterical.
Lali gives me a dirty look. “That is so not true. If I’m driving, it’s different.”
“Uh-huh,” Walt says.
Maggie takes a gulp of whiskey. “Maybe we should go to The Emerald. I’m getting cold.”
Oh no. Not after we’ve made all this effort. “
go to The Emerald, Magwitch. I’m going to do this,” I say, with what I hope sounds like gutsy determination.
Peter rubs Maggie’s shoulders, a gesture not lost on Walt. “Let’s stay. We can go to The Emerald later.”
The Mouse says pointedly. “Anyone who doesn’t want to be here should go now. Anyone who wants to stay should just shut up.”
“I’m staying,” Walt says, lighting up a cigarette. “And I’m not shutting up.”
The plan is simple: Lali and Peter will hold the ladder while I go up. Once I’m at the top, Sebastian will climb up after me with the can of paint. I place my hand on a rung. The metal is cold and grooved. Look up, I remind myself. The future is ahead of you. Don’t look down. Never look back. Never let ’em see you sweat.
“Go on, Carrie.”
“You can do it.”
“She’s at the top. Ohmigod. She’s on the roof!” That’s Maggie.
“Carrie?” Sebastian says. “I’m right behind you.”
The harvest moon has transformed into a bright white orb surrounded by a million stars. “It’s beautiful up here,” I shout. “You should all have a look.”
I slowly rise, testing my balance, and take a few steps to get my footing. It’s not so hard. I remind myself of all the kids who have done this in the past. Sebastian’s at the top of the ladder with the paint. With the can in one hand and the brush in the other, I make my way to the side of the roof.
I begin painting, as the group takes up a chant below. “One…Nine…Eight…”
“NINETEEN. EIGHTY—” And just as I’m about to paint the last number, my foot slips.
The can flies out of my hand, bounces once, and rolls off the roof, leaving a huge splotch of paint behind. Maggie screams. I drop down to my knees, scrambling to get a handhold on the wooden shingles. I hear a soft thud
as the can hits the grass. Then…nothing.
“Carrie?” The Mouse says tentatively. “Are you all right?”
“Don’t move,” Peter shouts.
And it’s true. I’m not moving. But then, with excruciating slowness, I begin to slide. I try to jam my toe into the shingles to stop, but my sneaker glides right over the slick spill of red paint. I reassure myself that I will not die. It’s not my time. If I were going to die, I’d know it, right? Some part of my brain is aware of the scraping of skin, but I have yet to feel the pain. I’m picturing myself in a body cast, when suddenly a firm hand grabs my wrist and drags me up to the peak. Behind me I see the tips of the ladder fall away from the edge, followed by a whomp as it clatters into the bushes.
Everyone is screaming.
“We’re okay. We’re fine. No injuries,” Sebastian shouts as the wail of a police siren rips the air.
“There goes Harvard,” Peter says.
“Hide the ladder in the barn,” Lali commands. “If the cops ask we’re just up here smoking cigarettes.”
“Maggie, give me the booze,” Walt says. There’s a crash as he throws the bottle into the barn.
Sebastian tugs on my arm. “We need to get to the other side.”
“Don’t ask questions. Just do it,” he orders as we
scramble over the peak. “Lie flat on your back with your knees bent.”
“But now I can’t see what’s happening,” I protest.
“I’ve got a record. Don’t move and don’t say a word, and pray the cops don’t find us.”
My breath is as loud as the pounding of a drum.
“Hello, Officers,” Walt says when the police arrive.
“What are you kids up to?”
“Nothing. Just smoking some cigarettes,” Peter says.
“Have you been drinking?”
“Nope.” A group answer.
Silence, followed by the sound of feet squelching around in the wet grass. “What the hell’s this?” demands one of the cops. The beam from his flashlight slides up the roof and into the sky. “You kids painting the barn? That’s a misdemeanor. Violation of private property.”
“Yo, Marone,” Lali says to one of the cops. “It’s me.”
“Whoa,” Marone says. “Lali Kandesie. Hey, Jack. It’s Lali, Ed’s girl.”
“You want to take a look around?” Jack asks cautiously, now that he’s being confronted by the boss’s daughter.
“Nah. Looks okay to me,” says Marone.
Jack snorts. “Okay, kids. Party’s over. We’re going to make sure you get to your cars and get home safely.”
And they all leave.
Sebastian and I lie frozen on the roof. I stare up at the stars, intensely aware of his body a few inches from mine. If this isn’t romance, I don’t know what is.
Sebastian peers over the side. “I think they’re gone.”
Suddenly, we look at each other and laugh. Sebastian’s laugh—I’ve never heard anything like it—is deep and throaty and slightly sweet, like ripe fruit. I imagine the taste of his mouth as being slightly fruity too, but also sharp, with a tang of nicotine. Boys’ mouths are never what you think they’re going to be anyway. Sometimes they’re stiff and sharp with teeth, or like soft little caves filled with down pillows.
“Well, Carrie Bradshaw,” he says. “What’s your big plan now?”