There was something about cemeteries. Something eerily calming. As she always did, Jackie felt the urge to hold her breath as she pulled into Oak Hill Cemetery. A futile attempt to silence the whirlwind in her mind.
* * *
“Quick, hold your breath! Quick!” Taylor said, nudging me. She took a deep breath, closing her eyes and pursing her lips—Dior Addict Scarlet Siren. Even at twelve, she had a signature color. And I was stuck wearing clear gloss until I was thirteen. I was jealous as hell.
She opened her eyes and shook my arm. “Hold your breath until we pass a white house!”
I did. We all did, holding our breath until our cheeks burned and we felt light-headed. Afterward I asked her why.
“Because you have to!” Laura Beth answered, as if I’d been asking her. “People always hold their breath when they pass a cemetery. It’s to keep from breathing in the spirits. If you breathe them in, they could possess your soul.”
“I just thought it was to be nice,” Lettie said, blushing the way only she could. “Since dead people don’t breathe, you have to hold your breath for them.”
Taylor laughed. “I just wanted to see if you’d do it!”
* * *
Jackie shifted the bouquet of gardenias and calla lilies in the passenger seat next to her and tried not to gag at the overwhelming perfume. She preferred subtle scents, like Coco Mademoiselle. Her flowers of choice would have been long-stemmed roses, freshly cut, in a white box with a red bow. The kind Cary Grant would have given to Katharine Hepburn.
But this wasn’t about her. It was about Taylor, who collected perfume and La Perla lingerie the same way she collected guys. And Taylor’s favorite flowers were gardenias.
It took a week to get permission to cut these blooms, but it was worth it. They were from the White House garden where Taylor always stole a single gardenia on her way out. She’d put it behind her ear or twirl it through her long fingers, showing it off for the rest of the day, like everyone would know, just by glancing at her, where she’d gotten it—would know she could get behind the most guarded gates in D.C. And that was so Taylor, to want the most unattainable flowers even if no one knew just how exclusive they were. She would’ve loved these.
Jackie bought the purple callas separately, just for color, because putting plain white flowers on Taylor’s grave wasn’t right.
When she parked the car and turned off the ignition, she felt fine. But one second later, it was like she was going to pass out if she didn’t get fresh air right now. She swung the door open, and fled the cool air-conditioning into the sauna of D.C.’s summer humidity. The sun beat down on her and she shifted her Chanel sunglasses to avoid the glare, leaning against the car until she had her breath back. Anxiety attacks, her doctor told her yesterday. They were happening more and more. This one was quick though, and aside from the inescapable heat, she felt fine again. Or as fine as she could, considering where she was.
The heels of her strappy sandals sank a few inches into the ground, and she wished for a moment that she were at Laura Beth’s, lying flat on her back on one of the pool floats, letting her long blond hair trail in the water while she worked on her tan. That’s how she and Laura Beth—and Taylor—had spent most of their summers since elementary school. But instead of her hot pink bikini and a day at the pool with nothing on her mind, Jackie chose a navy blue sundress and a trip to the cemetery. To see Taylor.
Because even if she’d gone to Laura Beth’s, just like I did yesterday and the day before and the day before that, she wouldn’t have been able to have nothing on her mind. If only.
She recognized Taylor’s headstone instantly by the little yellow daisies at the base. Someone had left a fresh bouquet every week since Taylor’s death, but Jackie didn’t know who. She’d asked Taylor’s twin brother, Daniel, if they were from him. His response? “Taylor thought daisies were practically weeds.”
The marble headstone itself was nondescript. No color. No details that said Taylor! It was just … ordinary.
Jackie frowned as she stepped closer. Taylor doesn’t belong here. It was a familiar thought that always came with a tightening in her chest and a shortness of breath. Her eyes burned a little as she leaned over and placed the bouquet in front of the headstone, wishing she’d brought candles or a picture or something to go with it.
Straightening her back and lifting her chin, Jackie composed herself, fingering the silver charm bracelet on her wrist until her breathing evened out. She focused on the reason she was here. The thing she could only talk to Taylor about.
She couldn’t stop thinking about him. The flirty grin he’d given her when they first met the other day at the White House. His perfect, but not too perfect, white teeth. The way his brown hair curled at the back of his neck. She could practically feel the faint stubble on his cheek. Their kiss …
Oh my God, the kiss!
The way his lips had come down on hers, forcefully, like he needed her kiss to survive. The touch of his tongue against her own—the way he had sucked on her bottom lip, reluctantly pulling away, like he didn’t want to stop.
Jackie brought a hand up to her lips, almost feeling the way he’d lingered. Just remembering it made her hot. It wasn’t just the sun. Glancing around to make sure she was alone, she knelt down, leaning forward as if she could still whisper in Taylor’s ear and tell her all her secrets.
“Tay, you wouldn’t believe it,” she breathed, a conspiratorial smile coming to her lips. “I’ve been dying to tell you. I met a guy. Eric Moran. He’s a lawyer—a top aide to a senator! And he’s into me.
“You wouldn’t have believed Laura Beth when I told her. She was so jealous! And Lettie was mortified, of course. Her eyes almost popped out of her head.”
And that’s why Taylor was the one person she had to tell about Eric. None of her other friends would want to hear the details. Taylor would. Tay would love it. Taylor would understand.
Jackie bit her lip to keep from letting her smile get away from her. “Oh, Tay, you’d love him. I was outside the Oval Office, waiting for my mom to come out of a meeting with Aunt Deborah and Senator Hampton Griffin. You know, he’s that sketchy Republican from Texas—who’s of course an old family friend of Laura Beth’s.”
She stuck out her tongue and shuddered at the thought of the senator’s gaudy pinky ring with its oversized diamond. “Anyway, Eric was waiting outside Aunt Deborah’s door. I thought he was some cute new intern, so I offered to take him on a tour of the West Wing. I know, lame, right? But the entire time, he was flirting like crazy, saying stuff like, No wonder Deborah Price’s first term has been charmed if she has an angel on her side.” Jackie giggled. “Okay, so I know that’s a line. And on another guy it would have been totally cheesy and lame, but he smiled when he said it, like he knew it was ridiculous, but he had to say it anyway.
“And when we got to my mom’s office, we went inside, and within thirty seconds half our clothes were off.
“He’s older and so hot. Swoon-worthy. And he was so hot for me. It was like he’d die if he couldn’t have me.” She’d never felt like that before. Of course, she’d seen guys fall all over Taylor like that. But no guy had ever wanted Jackie like that. Not even her boyfriend.
At the thought of Andrew, Jackie sighed. “But I couldn’t exactly tell Lettie and Laura Beth the details—or that no one’s ever kissed me like that before. I started to, but they both freaked out. Lettie did one of those gasps she always does, and Laura Beth just asked, ‘What about Andrew?’ And you know the whole time she was thinking we might break up and she could have him. And she can have him. I’m so sick of Andrew. He’s always so careful and predictable—always worrying about his public image. Nothing like Eric.”
She leaned in closer, lowering her voice again to a whisper. “And who knows how far we would’ve gone, but we heard Senator Griffin and Mom coming down the hall.” Okay, so that was only partly true. She couldn’t really be sure she would have let him take things much further. But Taylor would have done it in a heartbeat.
She remembered the surprised look on her mom’s face when she and Eric came out of her office together. No wonder Taylor was always taking risks. Even just thinking about it made Jackie’s heart race a little faster—made her feel a little more alive.
She leaned back and fingered her charm bracelet again. “Oh, Tay, I wish you were here. I need your advice. I mean, Eric’s not even a Democrat! If Andrew and I broke up it’d be all over the tabloids. Can’t you see the headlines: ‘Top Democrat’s Daughter Dating Republican’.”
Jackie giggled. “Okay, well actually it might be more like, ‘Underaged Daughter of Presidential Aide Mauled by Republican Sex Maniac’ because you know how the tabloids exaggerate everything. And my birthday isn’t for another eight days. Eight days! I can’t possibly go eight days without seeing Eric. What am I going to do?”
What am I going to do? She was so used to asking Taylor that question. So used to throwing herself on Taylor’s king-size water bed, burying her face in the satin pillows and waiting for a slice of no-bullshit advice to cut through what everyone else wanted her to do.
Only now it was a more loaded question. Because even though she was here asking what she should do about Eric, there was a much deeper sense of restlessness in the back of her mind. One she had been swallowing down with each lump in her throat and pushing back into a tiny corner of her heart for the last six months.
Jackie got to her feet and brushed the top of the headstone, almost like saying good-bye. Taylor had always had her own gravitational force. She was infuriating, but impossible not to like. Just when you wanted to strangle her for flirting with your boyfriend, or being high in front of your parents, or skipping school then demanding you give her your class notes, she’d redeem herself. Like the time she accidentally-on-purpose dumped her Coke and tray of marinara pasta on Christie Haggart’s new white Dior pants to get back at her for spreading a rumor about Jackie. Or when she snuck into Dan Hayman’s house and stole his journal and photocopied the especially sensitive entries and passed them out to people at school after the girls found out he’d only asked Laura Beth to prom because his friends bet he couldn’t score with a sophomore. She didn’t think twice about cheating on guys yet she was absolutely loyal to her three best friends. They could totally count on her when they really needed her. And as lame as it might sound, she gave great advice.
She never took her own advice, of course. “Hey, do as I say, not as I do,” she would say with a shrug and a laugh. And God, her laugh. It was infectious. When Taylor laughed, everyone laughed.
And right when Jackie felt completely lost, as if coming here had only made her feel more alone rather than help her figure things out, a light breeze played over her shoulders and ruffled the bouquet of flowers. No. She knew what she had to do. She’d take a page out of Taylor’s playbook and not worry about Andrew or her mom or even political allegiances. Eric was hot. He wanted her.
And maybe it was time she went after what she wanted for a change. Consequences be damned.
Copyright © 2012 by Marilyn Rauber and Amy Reingold