Looking back, the knock on the door should have scared me. It should at least have come as a surprise. My house—the same one I grew up in—is set at the farthest curve of a cul-de-sac in Pleasant Ridge, Illinois, a Chicago suburb of fourteen thousand souls with quiet streets, neatly kept lawns, and well-regarded public schools. There are rarely pedestrians or passersby on Crescent Drive. Most weeks, the only signs of life after ten p.m. are the flash of headlights on my bedroom wall on the nights that my next-door neighbor Mrs. Bass has her Shakespeare Society meeting. I live alone, and I'm generally asleep by ten-thirty. But even so. When I heard the knock, my heartbeat didn't quicken; my palms did not sweat. At some level underneath conscious thought, a place down in my cells where, the scientists tell us, memories reside, I'd been waiting years for that knock, waiting for the feel of my feet moving across the floor and my hand on the cool brass knob.
I pulled open the door and felt my eyes get big and my breath catch in my chest. There was my old best friend, Valerie Adler, whom I hadn't spoken to since I was seventeen and hadn't seen in person since high school ended, standing underneath the porch light; Valerie with her heart-shaped face and Cupid's-bow lips and lashes heavy and dark as moth's wings. She stood with her hands clasped at her waist, as if in prayer. There was something dark staining the sleeve of her belted trench coat.
For a minute, we stood in the cold, in the cone of light, staring at each other, and the thought that rose to my mind had the warmth of sunshine and the sweet density of honey. My friend, I thought as I looked at Val. My friend has come back to me.
I opened my mouth—to say what, I wasn't sure—but it was Val who spoke first. "Addie," she said. Her teeth were gleaming, perfect and even; her voice was the same as I remembered from all those years ago, husky, confiding, an I've-got-a-secret kind of voice that she currently deployed to great effect, delivering the weather on the nightly newscasts on Chicago's third-rated TV station. She'd been hired six months ago, to great fanfare and a number of billboards along the interstate announcing her new gig. ("Look who just blew into town!" the billboards read, underneath a picture of Val, all windswept hair and crimson, smiling lips.) "Listen. Something . . . something really bad happened," she said. "Can you help me? Please?"
I kept my mouth shut. Val rocked back on high heels that seemed no thicker than pins, gulping as she raked both hands through her hair, then brought them to waist level and began twisting her belt. Had I known she had that haircut, that buttercup-yellow color, that shoulder-length style, with layers that curled into ringlets in the rain, when I'd given my hairdresser the go-ahead? I made a point of not watching her station, but maybe I'd caught a glimpse of her as I changed channels or the billboards had made an impression, because somehow here I was, in flannel pajamas and thick wool socks, with my ex-best-friend's hair on my head.
"Look at you," she said, her voice low and full of wonder. "Look at you," said Valerie. "You got thin." "Come in, Val," I said. If time was a dimension, and not a straight line, if you could look down through it like you were looking through water and it could ripple and shift, I was already opening the door. This had all already happened, the way it always did; the way it always would.