35 Why Are We Here?
They parked and Gemma got her backpack from the trunk. She took the gloves out of her jeans pocket and put them on. "Let's leave our phones in the trunk," she said.
Brooke looked at her for a long minute. "Yeah, fine. We're getting our nature on," she said, slurring her speech. They locked up the phones and Gemma pocketed the car keys. They checked the sign on the edge of the parking lot. Hiking trails were marked in several colors.
"Let's go to the lookout," Gemma said, pointing to the trail marked in blue. "I've been there before."
"Whatever," said Brooke.
It was a four-mile hike round-trip. The park was nearly empty because of the cold and the Christmas season, but a few families were leaving as the day came to a close. Tired kids were whining or being carried. Once Brooke and Gemma began heading uphill, the path was empty.
Gemma felt her pulse increase. She led the way.
"You have a thing for Willow," said Brooke, breaking the silence. "Don't think that makes you special. Everyone has a thing for Willow."
"She's my best friend. That's not the same as having a thing," said Gemma.
"She's no one's best friend. She's a heartbreaker."
"Don't be mean about her. You're just mad she hasn't texted you."
"She has texted me. That's not the point," said Brooke. "Listen. When we made friends freshman year, Will was in my dorm room all the time: in the morning, bringing me a latte before class; dragging me out to movies the film department was screening; wanting to borrow earrings; bringing me Goldfish crackers because she knew I liked them."
Gemma didn't say anything.
Will had dragged her out to movies. Will had bought her chocolate. Will had brought her coffee in bed, when they lived together.
Brooke went on: "She'd come by every Tuesday and Thursday because we had this early-morning Italian class. And at first, I wouldn't even be awake. She'd have to wait while I got clothes on. My roommate bitched because Will was in there so early, so I started setting my phone. I'd get up and be standing outside the door before Willow got there.
"And then one day, she didn't come. It was early November, I think. And you know what? She never came again after that. She never brought me a latte or dragged me to the movies. She'd switched over to Vivian Abromowitz. And you know what? I could have been all grade-school about it, Gemma. I could have gotten huffy and acted like, ooh, poor me because you can't have two best friends and wah, wah, wah. But I didn't. I was nice to the two of them. And we were all friends. And it was fine."
Gemma hated this story. She hated, too, how she had never understood before that the reason Vivian and Brooke disliked each other was Willow herself.
Brooke went on: "What I'm saying is, Willow broke Vivian's little heart, too. Later. And Isaac Tupperman's. She led all these different guys on when she was going out with Isaac, and Isaac, of course, got all jealous and insecure. Then Will was surprised when he broke up with her—but what did she expect, when she hooked up with other guys? She wanted to see if people would lose their cool and obsess over her. And you know what? That is exactly what you've done, and exactly what a lot of people did in college. That's something Willow likes, because it makes her feel awesome and sexy, but then you don't get to be friends any longer. The other way to handle it is, you prove yourself a bigger person. Willow knows you're as strong as she is, or maybe even stronger. Then she respects you, and you go on together."
Gemma was silent. This was a new version of the Isaac Tupperman story, Isaac of the Bronx, Coates and Morrison, the poems left on Willow's bicycle, the possible pregnancy. Hadn't Will looked up at him with wide eyes? She'd been infatuated and then disillusioned—but only after he'd dumped her. It didn't seem possible she had stepped out on him.
Then, suddenly, it did seem possible. It seemed obvious to Gemma now that Willow—who had felt shallow and second-rate next to Tupperman's intellect and masculinity—would have made herself feel stronger and more powerful than he was by betraying him.
They kept walking through the woods. The sun began to set.
There was no one else on the path.
"You want to be like Will, then be like her. Fine," Brooke said. They had reached a walkway over a ravine. It led to wooden steps built up to a lookout tower that gave a view of the deep valley and the surrounding hillsides. "But you're not Willow, you understand?"
"I know I'm not Willow."
"I'm not sure you do," said Brooke.
"None of that is your business."
"Maybe I've made it my business. Maybe I think you're unstable and the best thing would be for you to back away from Will and get some help for your mental problems."
"Tell me this. Why are we out here?" asked Gemma. She stood on the steps above Brooke.
Below them was the ravine.
The sun was nearly down.
"Why are we out here, I asked," Gemma said. She said it lightly, swinging her backpack off her shoulder and opening it as if to get out her water bottle.
"We're going to talk it out, like you said. I want you to stop dicking around with Will's life, living off her trust fund, making her ignore her friends, and whatever else you're doing."
"I asked you why we're out here," said Gemma, bent over her backpack.
Brooke shrugged. "Here exactly? In this park? You drove us here."