As I Descended
“Please don’t lie to me, Ree.”
“I’m not lying.”
Lily took Maria’s hand and squeezed it. Maria squeezed back.
Maria had a thing about holding hands. She could do it for hours and never get tired. Sometimes she even liked it better than kissing. When you were holding hands, she said, you knew it wasn’t about sex. It was about liking somebody and wanting them to know it.
Last year Maria had been in charge of a fund-raising drive for the student council. They were supposed to raise $5,000 for a women’s shelter in Lennox. Maria started calling Acheron alumni and made their goal with her very first call, to a lawyer in New York who said she was delighted to hear Acheron was finally trying to do some good in the community. The lawyer wrote a $5,000 check then and there, and everyone celebrated the end of the fund raiser.
But then Maria raised their goal to $10,000. She made more phone calls. She organized parent receptions and car washes. The council members grumbled about how much work they had to do, but no one worked harder than Maria, even though it was the middle of soccer season. They raised $12,000 for the shelter in the end—and the girls’ soccer team lost the league championship qualifier to Birnam. Maria said the fund raiser didn’t have anything to do with it, but Lily suspected that if the team had won that game, Maria would’ve looked a lot better to the Kingsley committee.
Maria was sweet, no question. Sometimes, though, that sweetness got in the way of her getting what she deserved.
“I looked up the Spanish,” Lily told her. “It said you were going to get whatever you wished for most.”
Maria shook her head.
“It did,” Lily said. “Didn’t it?”
“Something like that.”
“Then come on, Ree!” Lily squeezed her hand. “You should be happy! Whoever it was—Jesus or Satan or my great-grandpa James—it said you’re winning. We’ll get to be together next year!”
Maria shook her head again. “You know how much I want that, but none of this means anything. It’s done.”
“It’s not done until they announce the actual winners. That won’t be until after Christmas break. It’s barely even November. We’ve got time to change things.”
“But it’s too late to—”
“Don’t you want to come to the same school as me?” Lily shook her head. She loved Maria, but she could be so frustrating sometimes. So willing to accept things the way they were. When Lily always saw the way things could be. “Don’t you want to win, Ree? Isn’t that what you’ve wanted your whole life?”
That wasn’t fair to say, and Lily knew it. Of course Maria wanted to win.
The Kingsley Prize was half the reason Maria’s parents had sent her to Acheron instead of one of the day schools near their house in McLean. Everyone knew an Acheron senior always got a spot on the list, and it would look good for Maria’s mother if her daughter won the most prestigious scholarship in the state.
Lily hated to picture Maria at some boring, lesser college, like Cornell or UVA. She’d be wasted someplace like that. Someplace where she wouldn’t be challenged.
Someplace where she might meet someone she liked more than Lily.
But it wouldn’t be that way. Lily wasn’t going to let it.
“At least try, that’s all I’m asking,” she begged Maria. “Don’t make me go all the way to California without you just because you didn’t want to try.”
“I tried.” Maria stared down at the floor. “I’ll try again. I’ll keep trying. Maybe if they’d made me soccer captain I’d have had a chance, but—”
“Wait.” Lily frowned, thinking. “The Kingsley Prize. Homecoming. Soccer. Maybe there’s a way to do all of that.”
Maria’s heart pounded. The air in the bathroom was starting to feel way too much like the old dining hall had the night before.
That strange sensation hovered at the edges of her consciousness. The feeling that she and Lily weren’t the only two people here.
“Hang on.” Lily pulled her phone out of her pocket. Maria watched over her shoulder. She was texting Brandon. Asking him when the athletics department had scheduled the fall round of drug testing.
“What are you doing?” Maria said. “What difference does that make?”
“It’s just an idea.”
Lily’s phone buzzed right away. Apparently, Brandon was still awake, hanging out alone in his room while his friends were all down here. It made Maria sad to think about.
According to his text, the testing was scheduled for Wednesday. If they told anyone where they got the info, Brandon would get suspended for sure, and—
Lily shut off the screen.
“Wednesday,” Maria said.
Lily and Maria gazed at each other. Suddenly Lily’s plan became clear.
Maria had always regretted not turning Delilah in. She’d be soccer captain right now if she’d told on Delilah and Coach Tartar. She might even have been in the top spot on the list this morning.
Was this . . . her second chance?
“If Delilah comes up positive on the drug test—”
“Then she’s off the team, and on probation too,” Lily finished. “Maybe even suspended.”
Last year two seniors had tested positive for pot a month before graduation. They’d gotten suspended for three weeks. They both had to take incompletes for the year and make up the credits over the summer.
“It’ll go on her permanent record,” Lily said. “The prize committee will find out. It would go on her college applications too.”
“And that means—”
Maria’s heart was still pounding. But with excitement this time.
Delilah was high right now. Right on the other side of that door. How perfect would it be if she got herself kicked off the team, kicked out of first place in the senior class, kicked off the list of Kingsley finalists?
Lily was right. It should have been Maria the whole time. All of it should have been hers. With Delilah out of the way, Maria could have everything she’d ever wanted.
This was too good to be true.
“Hang on,” Maria said. “Today’s Saturday. How long does oxy stay in your system?”
Lily picked up her phone again and Googled. It wasn’t easy to find the answer. They had to go to a bunch of different sites, and they all seemed to say different things. Most said you’d test positive for oxy about three or four days after your last dose.
“Three or four days,” Lily said.
“Three or four days.”