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1.

"Mom and Dad are so going to kill you," Hilary Faye informed Roland when he rolled into the house at three o'clock the day after the prom.

"For what?"

"For being out all night."

"What, you think I didn't call them? They know where I was." Roland was utterly unconcerned. "You're the one who's going to be in trouble when they see the van."

She knew it, but Hilary Faye made a face at his back as he headed towards the kitchen. "There wasn't much damage. The billboard wasn't that heavy."

"Lucky for you. Want a sandwich?"

"No." She watched as he got to work getting things out of the refrigerator. "So? Are you going to tell me all the ways I messed up?"

"Nope. Seems like you had a pretty good idea of it last night. Although if you'd like a refresher, my services are always available."

Hilary Faye rolled her eyes. "Shut up."

"You asked," Roland said with a shrug. He poured himself a glass of milk and then glanced up at her, his face serious. "Really, though. Are you okay?"

Normally, she would have snapped at him and flounced off to her room. But to her horror, tears welled up in her eyes. Roland saw it and came over, hand on her arm. "Hey. Hey, it's okay, all right? You'll get through this."

"I'm going to be in so much trouble," Hilary Faye said, flopping down onto the kitchen chair. "And I know I deserve it." Roland snorted. "I know you don't believe me, but I do, okay? I really screwed up, and I thought Jesus… I thought he wanted me to do the things I did."

"Why would Jesus tell you to paint graffiti on the school and blame it on us?"

"Because you needed to learn! I thought that- never mind what I thought! I thought-"

"You were angry. You wanted to get revenge."

That touched a nerve, and her anger flared again. "Don't sit there and judge me! You don't know a thing about it. And if you think you can sit there and tell me what God is thinking-"

"Who said anything about God?" Roland asked, unperturbed. "Or judging, for that matter. We made you look like a fool and you wanted revenge. It's really a pretty human reaction."

Hilary Faye stared at him.

"I'm not saying I'm not a little pissed off, mind you," Roland continued, taking the milk back to the refrigerator. "I mean, you did try to get us expelled. That was pretty shitty, and you owe me for that. But I get why you did it, and for what it's worth, I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?"

"Yeah. About taking your credit card in the first place. Although not too sorry, since Mom and Dad pay for it all."

"You're pathetic," Hilary Faye informed him. Roland just shrugged again.

She should have gone up to her room, but at the moment, she didn't want to be alone. Roland might be a smug, obnoxious, helpless pest, but even his company was better than no company right now. She sat at the kitchen table, glaring at him as he ate his sandwich.

The sound of footsteps made her jump, and when her mother appeared in the kitchen door, Hilary Faye knew by the expression on her face exactly what she was going to say.

"Hilary Faye, I just got a very disturbing phone call from Pastor Skip. He said that there was some sort of incident at the Prom last night, and that you were involved. What's this all about?"

"Well, I…." Hilary Faye's blood ran cold. Because what had Pastor Skip told her mother? Had he told her about the graffiti? What if he told her about lying in front of the entire school? "I… It was…."

"It was all a big misunderstanding," Roland cut in. "There were some kids that came in from Mercy House, and one of them was giving Hilary Faye a hard time."

"Oh." Their mother's face cleared up. "I should have known that it was something like that. Those kids will do anything..." She shook her head and clucked her tongue, and then floated out of the room. Hilary Faye stared after her in disbelief.

"In case she asks, you don't remember what the guy looked like." Roland went back to eating his sandwich. "I'll lie to get you out of trouble with Mom, but I'm not going to set her loose on some poor kid stuck in that hellhole."

"Why?" Hilary Faye asked. "Why did you do it at all?"

Roland shrugged. "I don't know. Brotherly loyalty?" Hilary Faye leveled a glare at him, and he shrugged. "Okay. Maybe not. But it seems like what you need right now isn't Mom breathing down your neck and preaching at you."

Hilary Faye bit her lip. "Maybe I do," she said finally, and those words hurt to say. "I said I deserve to be in trouble."

"Yeah, you do. But it's not like Mom will be any help. This one's between you and Pastor Skip. And maybe God," he added, like He was some sort of afterthought. "Mom can sit this one out."

"Thanks," Hilary Faye said. "That was… that was really cool of you."

Roland smiled at her. "Hey. That's what brothers are for, right?"

 

2.

 

Roland might have redeemed himself somewhat in the brotherly category, but he still had terrible taste in girls. Hilary Faye felt guilty even thinking that- after all, Cassandra was the first person to take her side and help her after the disaster that was Prom. But there was a difference between being grateful and dating someone, and just because Hilary Faye appreciated what Cassandra had done didn't mean she wanted to be swapping spit with her any time soon.

But Roland apparently still liked it, because Cassandra was over all the time, even more than she had been before. Hilary Faye would have liked to avoid her. On the one hand, she still found Cassandra unnerving and scary. (Not that she'd ever admit that. But a stripper! Hilary Faye had heard what strippers did in their spare time and well, Roland needed a lot of prayer for his soul, that was for sure.) On the other hand, well…. But it was still hard to look at her knowing that Cassandra had seen the worst in her soul. Or really, had seen it for a long time before that. Not that Hilary Faye wanted to admit that, either. So really, it was easiest just to avoid her. For the most part, it was easy since they stayed in Roland's room (with the door open, of course, at least as long as her parents were home). But one afternoon Hilary Faye left her room to get a drink and almost ran into Cassandra on the stairs.

"Watch where you're going," she snapped. "We both could have fallen."

"Thought I already had," Cassandra said with a mocking sort of smirk. The smirk faded. "Hey, what are you up to?"

"Getting a drink."

"Brilliant answer. I meant are you doing anything this afternoon? Or are you gracing your followers with your presence?"

"Not really." Hilary Faye tried to sound casual and breezy, as if it was no big deal that she was staying home and that Veronica hadn't returned any of her calls.

"Roland and I are going to see the new X-Men movie. I hear that Hugh Jackman is totally hot in it. You wanna come?"

Hilary Faye wrinkled her nose. "It's a movie about mutants."

"Yeah- hot mutants. Come on, Hill. It's not like you've got anything better to do."

Ouch, but she had a point. "All right."

"Awesome. We'll leave in twenty minutes."

***

Cassandra barely waited until the bathroom door swung shut behind them. "Okay, you've got to admit. Hugh Jackman is so hot."

"Ugh. Are you insane?"

"What, not your type?" Cassandra nudged Hilary Faye with her elbow. "Come on. Spill. Let me guess. You liked James Marsden." Hilary Faye felt herself smirking. "I knew it! He's the pretty boy type. I prefer a little hair on a guy's chest."

"Well, you're going to be sadly disappointed in dating my brother."

Cassandra stared at her for a moment, eyes wide with shock. "You did not just say that."

"What? I've seen armadillos with more hair."

"Yeah, but it was a joke. I didn't think you made those."

"I make jokes," Hilary Faye said crossly. "They just aren't always ones that you'd find funny. There's not much sex or sacrilege in them."

"Whatever. You really think Cyclops is hotter than Wolverine?"

"I like men who shower," Hilary Faye said primly, fishing a lip gloss out from her purse. "You obviously don't."

Cassandra shrugged. "More for me. Come on. Roland's going to think we fell in."

Veronica would have gone for Wolverine- Hilary Faye knew that. Although Mary would have agreed with her about Cyclops. A pang of loneliness shot through her.

"You coming?"

Cassandra had no reason to like Veronica, but she was friends with Mary. And yet, she was still being nice to Hilary Faye. She wasn't going to understand this at all. Hilary Faye jammed the top back on her lip gloss and straightened her shoulders. "I'm coming." She pulled on her bright, affected smile and followed Cassandra out of the bathroom.

3.

The three of them sat outside the café, eating ice cream and enjoying the summer sunshine.

"You're joking," Hilary Faye said. "You've got to be joking."

"Swear to God I'm not," Cassandra said, holding up her right hand and opening her eyes extremely wide. "But what was I supposed to do? He was trying to look up my skirt, and he wasn't being very subtle about it, either. If he didn't want his nose broken, he should have kept it out of there. Am I right?"

"I guess so," Hilary Faye was forced to admit. "God does say that lust is a sin."

Cassandra snorted derisively. "I don't care so much about lust. It's trying to get something I'm not in the market to give."

Hilary Faye nodded. "That's why I learned to shoot."

"What, like a bow and arrow? Sorry, but archery isn't exactly going to help you in the bar scene."

"No, a handgun."

Cassandra gaped at her. "You can shoot a handgun?"

"You can't?"

"She's been shooting since she was a kid," Roland said. "And she brags about it, too."

Hilary Faye knew that look on Cassandra's face- it was respect. Something in her jumped up at it. "If you want, I could teach you," she heard herself offering.

"That would kick ass, you know that?" Cassandra was grinning. "Really, that would be great."

"All right then." Hilary Faye settled back as if it was no big deal, but if she was honest with herself, she was definitely smiling. She had no idea why she was looking forward to this, but she was.

 

***

 

"No. Your grip is all wrong, and your shoulders are too relaxed." Hilary Faye put her own gun down, and came over to correct Cassandra's stance. "You're not an action hero in a leather catsuit."

"Too bad. Roland would like that."

"Funny. Here, like this." Hilary Faye made a few adjustments and nudged Cassandra's shoulders, and then nodded. Cassandra shot again, and this time, she actually hit the target.

"Wow. That is hot."

"It's not hot. It's…" Hilary Faye struggled for the word she was looking for. "Powerful."

"Yeah, I know. That's what makes it hot." Cassandra pulled off her earmuffs. "You don't think so?"

"I… I don't know." Because actually, she did know. "I've just always felt in control when I shoot."

"Mmm." Cassandra looked at the gun and then put it down. "I don't know. I can't quite feel it yet."

"That's because you're not any good at it."

"No, I think it's just… it's not me."

Hilary Faye raised her eyebrows in disbelief. "Guns aren't you?"

"No need to look so surprised. Not my kind of evil. There's other Commandments I'm more interested in breaking. Which one's the no-sex one again?"

Hilary Faye shook her head. "You really are impossible." She picked up her own gun and fired at the target six times in rapid succession.

"Well, what about you?" Cassandra shouted when she was done. "Isn't 'don't kill' like, right up there? If that guy was real, he'd look like the Terminator or somebody had a whack at him."

"It's self-defense. I'm not going to let some perv violate me or some freak kill me. Besides, it's not like my parents let me own a gun. I still have to use the ones from here." She reloaded and took aim again, squeezing off another six shots. The shooting made her feel brave and free enough to say, "I took Mary here a few times."

"Yeah? I can't see Mary shooting."

"She was better at it than you are." Hilary Faye hesitated. "How is she?"

"Good." There was a definite chill between them right now. "Busy with the baby."

The baby. Hilary Faye had avoided thinking about that, because, well… weird. She'd tried to avoid thinking about Mary altogether, because the truth was, it hurt to think about Mary. They'd been best friends since third grade. Hilary Faye didn't approve of any of the choices Mary had made, obviously, and she'd done the right thing by getting away from a sinner rather than letting her drag her down with her, but still.

"You know," Cassandra said, breaking into Hilary Faye's thoughts, "I'll bet if you called her-"

"No."

"Your choice." Cassandra shrugged. "Okay. I think I'm ready to try again." She picked up her gun. "Can you help a girl out?"

Hilary Faye moved over to help Cassandra, relieved that the subject had been dropped. But when they left the shooting range and headed to meet Roland, she couldn't help thinking that Cassandra had really let it drop because she'd said exactly what she wanted to say.

 

4.

 

"Where have you been?" Hilary Faye asked on late July evening when Roland came home. She took a better look at him. "You look terrible."

"Thanks." Roland did look tired, and there was something white crusted on his shirt. "I've been babysitting," he told Hilary Faye. "Mary and Patrick went out, and Cassandra and I watched Sarah for them."

"They went out? How can she go out? She has a baby!"

"Yeah, and that's what they need a babysitter for. It's not rocket science."

"That's not what I mean. She's a single mother, for Gods' sake! She should be…" Hilary Faye trailed off, frustrated.

"Repenting?" Roland offered.

"Yes!"

"Like, hitting herself with flails like those Opus Dei guys?"

"Well, maybe not that far. But you don't just shove your baby off on someone else so you can go party and… and… and do whatever!"

"Not that it's any of your business, but they just went to the movies. Look, she made a mistake. That doesn't mean she should have to pay for it the rest of her life, does it?" Hilary Faye didn't answer. "Well?" Roland pressed. "Would you want to?"

This isn't how I wanted to remember my senior year. This isn't how I wanted to remember my life. The words sprang up fresh in her mind and she looked away, not wanting Roland to see that she was about to cry. "So why you?" she said when she could trust herself to speak again. "Why not her mother or Dean?"

"Her mom's away and Dean had to work." Roland made it sound so simple. "Look. This whole baby thing, it's hard on her."

"Well, it sounds like she has plenty of help, and I am not going to babysit, if that's what you're getting at."

"It's not. You're right. She's got help. She doesn't really need that right now. But she needs friends."

She huffed a bitter laugh. "A friend. Like we've been friends this year."

"You fought. It happens."

"For a year, Roland. I'd say that pretty much ends our friendship."

"Only if you let it. The way I see it, you can sit around and punish yourself, or you can forgive yourself and move on with life."

But what if she doesn't forgive me? The thought made Hilary Faye's blood chill. "It's not going to work."

"It will."

"It won't."

"It will."

"Roland! I've known Mary since we were in the third grade, okay? She's obviously got her life now, with all her family and her friends and her baby and her- her- whatever else. She doesn’t need me in it!"

"Then you don't know Mary as well as you think you do," Roland said. He stretched and yawned. "I'm going to bed. See you tomorrow." He headed for his own room.

Hilary Faye stared after him, and then flopped down on the couch. Roland was wrong. Once someone made a mistake it became a part of them, and only God could take that away. She wiped at her eyes angrily, brushing away the tears. Forgiveness was a Christian thing, but it couldn't erase the past.

 

5.

"Come on. We're going for a field trip." Cassandra gestured with her head towards the passenger seat of her car, and Hilary Faye climbed in without a second thought.

"Where are we going?"

"Just out. Come on." Cassandra turned the music up.

She still didn't play Christian rock on the radio, but Hilary Faye noticed that she didn't play heavy metal on the radio when she was in the car, either. The music was something they could both agree on. They talked as they drove- about college plans, about summer jobs, about things Cassandra had done with Roland and Hilary Faye's disastrous date with a boy from a nearby church group. Three months after prom, it was surprising how easy it was.

They drove for miles, and finally ended up at Cassandra's favorite café. Hilary Faye was enjoying sipping her drink and watching people go by when out of the blue Cassandra said, "I'm sorry I was such a bitch to you last year."

Hilary Faye nearly spilled her drink. "What?"

"I'm sorry I was such a bitch to you last year." Cassandra shook out a cigarette and lit it. She rarely smoked around Hilary Faye anymore, but as she took a drag, her hand trembled slightly. "I mean, you were a total bitch too, so we're pretty even, but I just thought I should say it."

"You didn't have to." Hilary Faye was still flustered. "I just… I don't…."

"You could say you're sorry, too," Cassandra said with a wink.

"I am." The words rushed out of her. "I was horrible to you and I am sorry."

"Good. Just thought we should get that out there." Cassandra leaned back and stubbed out her half-smoked cigarette. "So, did you see House last night? It was a good Wilson episode." And just like that, the subject was off the table.

Three months. They'd been friends for three months. Hilary Faye would be lying if she never thought about how much she'd hated Cassandra in the past, and all the things they'd done to each other, but she'd hoped she could get away without ever addressing it or facing it again. Now they had, and it had been so easy. Easy and freeing. They sat outside together and Hilary Faye closed her eyes and enjoyed the sunlight on her face.

 

1.

 

Hilary Faye had been to this house dozens of times- maybe even hundreds of times. It was a small house, warm and welcoming. Not as nice as her house, of course, but Mary's mom was a single mother and she couldn't help it. It was still nice. But today it looked cold and forbidding. Hilary Faye took a deep breath, prayed for courage, and rang the doorbell.

What if it was Mary's mother who came? Would she just order Hilary Faye away? What if it was Patrick or Dean? Roland said they were over here all the time. What if- Hilary Faye cut herself off. There were no what ifs- only what she'd come here to do. The worst thing Mary would (realistically) do was ask her to leave.

The door opened, and there was Mary. Hilary Faye drew back. "You look better than I thought you would," was the first thing she said. And she did. She looked put together, her hair pulled back, and wearing clothes that weren't a t-shirt or sweatpants.

"I had work today," Mary said, leaning against the door jamb and crossing her arms. "What do you want, Hilary Faye?"

Cassandra and Roland had both offered to come with her. Right now, facing Mary, Hilary Faye almost wished that she had said yes. She took another deep breath and dived in.

"Look, I know you're busy with your new life and everything, but I came because… I came because…" Oh God, this was hard to say. Mary raised her eyebrows questioningly. "I came because I wanted to say I'm sorry for how I treated you this year. Oh, thank God it's out. That was not easy to say."

Mary's brows furrowed. "You came to say you're sorry." She didn't seem like she was softening, but Hilary Faye didn't care. Now that she'd said the hard part, the words came out more easily.

"I am. I know it's not really enough, especially after I tried to get you expelled and got you kicked out of prom and kicked you out of the Christian Jewels. But I wanted you to know I was sorry."

"You're sorry." Mary laughed a little and looked away. "And what do you want me to do with that? Are we supposed to just have a good cry and I forgive you?"

"Well, yes." That was how it had gone with Cassandra, after all. And Roland, now that she thought about it, although brothers didn't count.

"I can't do that. Thank you for apologizing, but I really have a lot to do and I need to go." Mary stepped back and shut the door.

Hilary Faye stood staring at the closed door, her mouth open. This was not how it was supposed to go. She'd said she was sorry, for God's sake! Didn't Mary know how hard that was? Didn't she realize the enormity of what Hilary Faye was saying? When you apologized to someone, they weren't just supposed to turn you away like this! Hot tears welled up in Hilary Faye's eyes, and she wiped them away, wishing she had something to wipe her nose on.

She was about to storm away when the door cracked open again. Mary was still standing there, her eyes a little red and her face conflicted. "You're still here," she said, sounding surprised.

"I was just leaving." Hilary Faye tried to maintain some dignity. "I can-"

"Are you going to pray for me? Or do an exorcism?"

"No. I just wanted to say I'm sorry."

Mary bit her lip, and then opened the door a little wider. "If you wanted to come in, I guess you could. Just for a bit."

Hilary Faye nodded. "All right."

It wasn't the warm friendship it used to be, or the welcome and reunion and reconciliation that she'd dreamed about. But it was something, and Hilary Faye had learned enough to know that it was a start. And maybe it could become something more again. She smiled at Mary, wiped her eyes, and stepped inside the door.