Finally, some girl named Wendy starts throwing up over the side of the railing, and the distraction is enough for me to take Carmel by the arm and walk with her alone along the wooden walkway. I wanted to make it all the way to the other side, but when we get to the center, staring down over the drop of the falls, she stops.
“Are you having fun?” she asks, and I nod. “Everybody likes you.”
I can’t imagine why. I haven’t said a single interesting thing. I don’t think that there’s anything interesting about me, except for the thing that I don’t tell anyone about.
“Maybe everybody likes me because everybody likes you,” I say pointedly, and I expect her to scoff, or to make some remark about flattery, but she doesn’t. Instead she just nods quietly like I’m probably right. She’s smart, and aware of herself. I wonder what she was doing dating someone like Mike. Someone from the Trojan Army.
Thinking of the Army makes me think of Thomas Sabin. I thought he’d be here, skulking around in the trees, dogging my every move like a lovesick … well, like a lovesick schoolboy, but I haven’t seen him. After some of the hollow conversations I’ve had tonight, I kind of regret that.
“You were going to tell me about ghosts,” I say. Carmel blinks at me and then starts to smile.
“I was.” She clears her throat and does her best to start, laying out the technical specs of last year’s party: who was there; what they were doing; why they came with this or that person. I guess she wants me to have a full and realistic picture. Some people need that, I suppose. Personally, I’m the type who likes to fill in the blanks and make it my own. It’s probably better that way than it really was.
She finally gets to the dark, a dark filled with intoxicated and unreliable kids, and I hear a thirdhand recounting of ghost stories that were told that night. About swimmers and hikers who died at Trowbridge Falls, where the party was that year. About how they liked to try to make you have the same accident that they did, and more than one person had been victim to an invisible push at the cliff edge, or an invisible hand dragging them down into the river current. That part makes me prick up my ears. From what I know of ghosts, it sounds probable. In general, they like to pass around the badness that happened to them. Take the hitchhiker for example.
“Then Tony Gibney and Susanna Norman come screaming down off of one of the trails, shouting about how they were assaulted by something while they were making out.” Carmel shakes her head. “It was getting pretty late, and a lot of us really were kind of freaked, so we got into our cars and took off. I was riding with Mike and Chase, Will was driving, and as we left the park, something jumped down in front of us. I still don’t know where it came from, if it was running down the hill, or if it had been perched in a tree. It looked like a big, shaggy cougar or something. Well, Will hit the brakes and the thing just stood there for a second. I thought it was going to jump on the hood and I swear, I would have screamed. But instead, it bared its teeth and hissed, and then—”
“And then?” I prod, because I know that I’m supposed to.
“And then it moved out of our headlights, stood up on two legs, and walked away into the woods.”
I start laughing and she hits me on the arm. “I’m not good at telling this,” she says, but she’s trying not to laugh too. “Mike does it better.”
“Yeah, he probably uses more swear words and crazy hand gestures.”
I turn around and there’s Mike again, with Chase and Will on either hip, spitting Carmel’s name out of his mouth like a shot of sticky web. It’s strange how just the sound of someone’s name can be made to act like a branding.
“What’s so funny?” Chase asks. He puts his cigarette out on the railing and places the old butt back into his pack. I’m sort of grossed out, but impressed with his eco-consciousness.
“Nothing,” I reply. “Carmel just spent the last twenty minutes telling me how you guys all met Sasquatch last year.”
Mike smiles. There’s something different. Something’s off, and I don’t think it’s just the fact that they’ve all been drinking. “That story is true as shit,” he says, and I realize that what’s different is he’s being friendly to me. He’s looking at me instead of at Carmel. Not for one second do I take this to be genuine. He’s just trying something new. He wants something, or worse, he’s going to try to get one over on me.
I listen as Mike tells me the same story that Carmel just finished, only with lots more swear words and hand gestures. The versions are surprisingly similar, but I don’t know if that means they’re probably accurate, or just that they’ve both told the story a lot. When he’s done, he sort of wavers where he’s standing, looking lost.