The Secret Circle: The Divide Chapter 6
The moon overhead was a bright white waxing crescent, and the sky was clear. Cassie and Adam were standing by the maypole hand in hand, and she felt radiant in the yellow camisole dress her friends picked out for her. She’d found it in the dining room early that morning. Suzan had dropped it off with a note written in her loopy script: This dress screamed your name!
Suzan had also bought ties for all the guys, and they looked good, but the girls outshone them in their dresses.
Melanie was in green chiffon and Laurel in carnation-pink voile. Suzan, always voluptuous, had chosen a copper-colored tank dress for herself that was pushing the boundary of indecent exposure. Diana wore an understated ivory silk tunic.
Deborah, who rarely wore dresses, was decked out in her own way. She had on tight white jeans, a white T-shirt, and a purple leather jacket. “Have you seen Faye?” she asked Cassie and Adam.
Adam shrugged his shoulders, but Sean responded,
“She’s out on the lookout for Max.”
Deborah scoffed. “She hasn’t given up on him yet? He’s been evading her all week.”
Sean shook his head. “Not a chance,” he said. “Faye never backs down that easily.”
“What about Nick?” Cassie asked. “Have you seen him?” Deborah’s face hardened at the question. When it came to Cassie, she was extremely protective of her cousin. “I don’t think he’s coming.”
“Why not?” Cassie asked.
“Because he’s not.” Deborah tried to stare Cassie down, but Cassie brushed it off. Deborah thought she was doing the right thing, guarding Nick from getting hurt any more than he already had, but she didn’t understand that Cassie’s intentions were good. After clearing the air with Diana, she’d felt so much better. She hoped to do the same with Nick tonight.
Diana frowned at Deborah in a way that revealed she sympathized with Cassie’s predicament. “Nick may show,” she said. “If he’s anything, he’s unpredictable.” There was a moment of silence as Cassie let her eyes wander up the maypole. She admired the multicolored garlands and ribbons streaming down from its apex. Then Diana said, “Hey, Cassie, isn’t that Scarlett?” Scarlett had spotted them and was making her way through the crowd in their direction. She was wearing a cornflower-blue baby-doll dress, and her long red hair was stuffed beneath a brown felt bowler hat. She waved when her eyes locked with Cassie’s, and then she picked up her pace to a trot.
“Who is that?” Adam asked.
Cassie noticed a shard of fascinated curiosity in Adam’s voice.
“Ooh, I love that hat,” Suzan said.
Deborah nodded. She always appreciated a girl stylish enough to successfully pull off wearing an article of men’s clothing. “Those boots are killer, too,” she said.
Scarlett was all smiles and confidence as Cassie introduced her to the rest of the group. Her dark eyes passed over each of them individually, and she greeted everyone with the affection of an old friend.
It wasn’t just Scarlett’s fashion sense that was captivating, Cassie noted. It was her nature; she was immediately comfortable with everyone she met. And she was pretty. Sean’s tongue was practically hanging out of his mouth when he shook her hand.
Scarlett extracted herself from Sean’s grasp with a chuckle and turned to Diana.
“Good to see you again,” she said.
“Yes,” Diana answered, in a way that made Cassie cringe. But Scarlett flashed a white smile that showed she refused to take Diana’s indifference to heart.
“The egg toss is starting,” Sean said excitedly, trying to regain Scarlett’s attention. “We should go cheer on Chris and Doug. The grand prize is a five-hundred-dollar gift certificate to Pete’s Candy Store, and they’re determined to win it.”
Scarlett scanned the many booths and food trucks.
“Actually,” she said, “I’m famished. And I’m dying for one of those chorizo skewers.”
“I’ll come with you,” Cassie said. She was anxious to learn more about Scarlett and, come to think of it, she was pretty hungry herself.
The group split up then, everyone heading over to the egg-toss lawn, except for Adam and Diana, who were on their way to visit Melanie and Constance at their jewelry booth.
Cassie and Scarlett each bought a skewer and struggled to not talk with their mouths full as they walked the festival’s perimeter. “So you’re staying at the B and B?” Cassie asked as innocently as possible.
Scarlett nodded, chewed, and swallowed.
“Where are your parents?”
“My mom passed away,” Scarlett said abruptly, like she wanted to get that information out of the way as fast as possible.
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“She grew up here,” Scarlett continued. “That’s why I wanted to come to New Salem, to kind of reconnect with her, and my past.” She looked away then, perhaps afraid she was oversharing.
Cassie searched her mind for the right thing to say. “I think that’s great. I mean, I think that’s a really brave thing to do. Even if it’s painful.”
Scarlett nodded. “I guess I’m just looking for a new start.”
“I know what you mean,” Cassie said.
“So tell me something about you.”
Cassie’s mind raced. She wanted to change the subject to something less heavy, but it occurred to her that every good and exciting thing she wanted to tell also involved the Circle, so she was left speechless. For the first time since she moved to New Salem, she understood why being friends with an Outsider could be such a challenge.
“Well,” Cassie said, “that’s my mother over there selling raffle tickets.” But when she pointed her mother out, she also caught sight of Adam and Diana off in the corner, sharing a vanil a ice-cream cone. They were laughing because Adam had gotten ice cream on his nose and chin, and the more he tried to wipe it away, the more ice cream he smeared around.
Cassie felt her stomach drop. But why? It was only an ice-cream cone. A shared snack between friends was nothing to get upset over. She would just join them. She led Scarlett their way and then noticed Faye approaching from the opposite direction.
Faye was wearing a sheer black dress that fit her like a corset. A few paces behind her was Max, who, even in his casual polo shirt, still looked like he’d just stepped out of an Abercrombie catalog.
Adam and Diana stopped laughing and regained control of their ice-cream situation once they noticed Cassie and the others heading their way.
Faye introduced Max and then sized up Scarlett. “Who are you?” she asked.
“This is Scarlett,” Cassie said. “She’s new to town, just like you, Max.”
Max gave a nod to Scarlett, but his focus was clearly on Diana. “I saw you at the assembly on Friday,” he said. “You were the only one paying attention to my dad’s boring speech.”
Diana appeared flustered. “You saw me?” she said, and then added, “It wasn’t boring.”
“No? Are you sure?” Max stared at her roguishly until she cracked.
“Okay, maybe just a little.”
“Thank you for your honesty.” Max reached for Diana’s hand and squeezed it between his thick fingers. “Now we can be friends.”
Diana blushed, and Cassie noticed Adam shift uncomfortably.
“My dad’s here somewhere,” Max said, still addressing only Diana. “If you find him, you should let him know what a great orator you think he is.”
Faye was clenching her jaw so tightly, Cassie feared her head might explode.
“I’ll do that,” Diana said. “But if you’ll excuse me for right now, we were about to go cheer for our friends.” She gestured toward the egg-toss competition.
Max looked a little disappointed. “Yeah, I should go find my dad,” he said.
Faye made a move to follow him, but he stopped her. “I’ll see you later,” he said, and then disappeared into the crowd.
Adam, who’d been deathly silent till now, had a look of disgust on his face. “Well, that was weird.”
“Adam,” Diana scolded. “He was just trying to fit in.
That’s what people do when they’re new. They’ll do anything to impress you.”
Scarlett looked down, assuming that was a knock at her.
Cassie opened her mouth to say something, but before any words came out, Faye stormed off.
“Max wasn’t working so hard to impress her,” Adam said.
“Faye’s been sexually harassing him since the moment he got here,” Diana said, raising her voice. “He doesn’t have to try for her.”
Cassie wished Scarlett wasn’t witnessing this strange moment of tension. It was actually embarrassing, how petty her friends must have appeared.
“Let’s go,” she said to Scarlett. “They’ll catch up.” Together they crossed the square. “Diana and Adam aren’t usually like that,” Cassie said. “You just happened to catch them in a weird moment.”
“I get it.” Scarlett smiled. “Couples get jealous; they fight.” Suddenly Cassie felt sick again. “Adam’s my boyfriend,” she said quietly. “Not Diana’s.”
“Oh.” Scarlett bit her lip. “That was stupid of me, I didn’t realize – “
“No, it’s fine. I can see why you’d think that. It’s kind of complicated.”
When they found the rest of the group clustered at one end of the cheering section, Cassie was relieved for the chance to change the subject. The competition was down to Chris and Doug, and a brother-sister team who couldn’t be a day over eleven years old.
“They really like candy,” Cassie said to Scarlett, as if that were a reasonable explanation.
“I can respect that,” Scarlett said. “I really like candy, too. I once ate so many Skittles, I sneezed rainbows for three days.”
It was a dumb joke, but Cassie recognized it for what it was. Scarlett was trying to lighten things up, to comfort her, and she appreciated that. Outsider or not, she liked this girl.
Just then, a scream for help came from the north side of the square, and everyone’s attention shifted. All eyes searched for the source of the bloodcurdling sound, but the group recognized it immediately as Melanie’s voice. They dashed toward the jewelry booth. Even Chris and Doug let their eggs fall to run and help.
When Cassie reached the booth, she pushed through the crowd to find Melanie’s great-aunt Constance sprawled out on the ground. Melanie was crying out for someone to call an ambulance. A few townspeople with medical training kneeled over Constance, taking her vital signs, ordering everyone to stay back and give her some air. One of them had a hold on Melanie, who was thrashing and swinging at him before Diana and Laurel caught her by the arms and pulled her off to the side.
A woman who’d been about to purchase a necklace from Constance said, “She was fine one second, and then she got this panicked look on her face and just collapsed.” Adam eyed the crowd for anyone suspicious. Cassie searched the mass of strangers’ faces for her mother but couldn’t find her. Maybe she’d gone for help. Or maybe the sight of Constance dropping to the ground was too much for her. In moments of crisis her mother tended to break down rather than rise up. It wouldn’t have surprised Cassie if she’d gone running home.
The paramedics arrived, and Cassie had to look away while they performed CPR on Constance’s unresponsive body. The group embraced Melanie while Adam hugged Cassie close. She buried her head in his shoulder.
It was impossible to know how much time passed while the paramedics worked on Constance. Cassie kept thinking it had to be a joke. Ha ha, got you, Cassie imagined Constance saying from her spot on the ground.
Constance was always trying to remind them of the fragility of life and the delicate balance of all things. Maybe this was just one more lesson. But then the paramedics stopped their pushing and pulling and pumping and gasping. There were no more mouthfuls of air to be given or received, and there was no more hope. The paramedic in charge stood up and brought their efforts to the ultimate conclusion. He declared Aunt Constance dead. Expired was the word he used, which struck Cassie as unbelievably harsh.
“Probably a brain aneurysm,” he told his deputy, and then he expressed his condolences to Melanie. “We did everything we could, miss,” he said.
Cassie had never seen Melanie lose it the way she did at that moment. She’d always kept herself together in the face of any hardship – especially in public. But this was just too much. She fell to her knees and wailed. So much for new beginnings, Cassie thought.