I asked Tilly to get coffee with me during third period.
It turned out to be more uncomfortable than I meant it to be, because Tilly has about ten thousand friends and she’s always surrounded by them.
So anyways, she was sitting at a table with Simon Corfeild and Erica Ngo, and she was talking about a show she did with her band last weekend (apparently it went well) and then I’m hovering there over Simon’s shoulder like “…hey?” and Tilly looks up at me expectantly with her huge brown eyes and I just panicked:
“Tilly can I buy you a coffee?” except I might actually have said something closer to “Tilly, coffee me?”
And she passed a hand through her thick, dark, corkscrew curls, smiled just barely and said, “sure I’ll coffee you.”
And I was so relieved that I literally gave this girl finger guns. They might have been snapping finger guns. Literally kill me.
But Tilly, bless her, just gave me this huge grin like she thought my finger guns were charming. So I said, “can we go today? After school?” and she said, “yeah totally, I’ll meet you in the south lot?” And I said sure and then I ran the heck out of there because it was so fucking awkward. Like you don’t just walk up to the coolest girl in school and ask her to coffee you. Y i k e s
Tilly didn’t have her car today and I don’t have a car period, so there was a moment of awkwardness when Simon said, “oh I can drive you, that’s no problem!” But sitting in the back of Simon’s infamous mid-nineties brown mini van was too much for me to handle, so I glanced at Tilly and said, “I mean I don’t mind walking.”
And she grinned at me and my stomach gave this unexpected twinge and I was like oH m ygod please no — because I needed to ask her some very important questions re: the woods and Madelyn. Developing a crush on Tilly Marlow was so low on my to-do list it was freezing in Satan’s ice lake. (cuz the bottom circle of hell is full of ice? Get it?)
So we walked. And it was kind of great?
It wasn’t exactly warm or even dry, but the sun was out in that golden October way, and there were lots of leaves to crunch, and it smelled super fresh and clean outside. And also it was nice to be like… with someone else? With Madelyn missing I’ve become painfully aware of how much time we used to spend together. I’ve been pretty much solo for like weeks. I mean obviously, I have people to talk to in class or whatever, and I have my mom. But this was different.
It was a little bit uncomfortable at first, but Tilly isn’t the coolest girl in school for no reason.
“Hey did you draw the comic of Mr. Herman in the C hall bathroom?”
K context: it is a truth universally acknowledged that the geography teacher Mr. Herman is the hottest teacher in school. Not even Madelyn was immune to his beauty. The first week of school I was pooping and happened to have a sharpie on me so I drew Mr. Herman looking like a pretty anime girl with like sparkles and flowers on the bathroom stall. It was scrubbed off a few days later, but most people saw it.
“I did,” I admitted and Tilly laughed.
“I knew that was you. Everyone thought it was Jenna Huff, but I knew it was you.”
And after that it was actually pretty easy. We talked about my art a little bit, and then I asked her about her band and she shrugged.
“I don’t know, mostly we’re just playing in houses in Seattle. But lots of cool bands play in houses in Seattle. Like, even if this isn’t the band that makes it big, who cares, you know? We’re having a lot of fun. You should come see us play some time.”
I’ve never heard their music, but according to everyone they’re actually good. But like, even if they were bad I think I would have wanted to go.
I said, “yeah I’d love that,” and I glanced sideways at her, and our eyes met and we both sorta laughed and it was totally ✨A Moment✨
It took us like half an hour to walk to Ann Beth’s Diner from school, and it wasn’t weird at all, which is a testament to Tilly’s social skills not mine.
Until today I hadn’t been back to Ann Beth’s since Madelyn disappeared, so when we first went in and the bell on the door rang I had a strange moment of vertigo. But then Tammy, the manager called, “Come on in and seat yourselves ladies!” and Tilly looked at me inquiringly, so I took a deep breath and pulled myself together.
We slid into mine and Madelyn’s usual booth — the one in the back corner, with a good view of both the parking lot and the door. Tilly immediately reached for the menu, saying, “I’m totally ordering food, is that weird? I’m starving.” And then with a quirked smile: “don’t worry I’ll buy.”
I felt a small stir of understanding then, but before I could totally follow my suspicions through, our waitress appeared.
It was Melinda. She said, “oh hey Shiloh. The usual?”
“Yeah,” I managed, while Melinda looked expectantly at Tilly.
Tilly ordered apple cinnamon waffles. Melinda made a quick note on her pad, took our menus and stalked off, leaving us alone.
Finally the inevitable awkwardness swelled up between us. There’s just no way to ask a girl if she was whisked away by a secret society or if she woke up alone in the woods with no explanation. I took a long drink of water.
“So…” Tilly said, facing me and clasping her hands on the table. “I didn’t know you like girls.”
I choked and spluttered water everywhere. “What?”
Which left poor Tilly to back-peddle. “Oh,” she said quickly. “I didn’t mean — I thought —”
I stared at her, watched her press her fingers to her brown cheeks. I must have been open mouthed. I must have looked totally stunned.
“Oh my god,” she said. “I’m so sorry. I’m gonna —” she was already grabbing her backpack and coat and sliding out of the booth.
“No!” I yelped. I couldn’t let her leave — I needed to ask her about the woods. Also, if I’d managed to accidentally ask Tilly Marlow on a date and she said yes there was no way I was letting her leave in the middle of it. “I do like girls! I like girls!”
How do you explain to the coolest girl in school that you asked her out on accident?
“I um… I need to ask you some questions. About Madelyn.”
“Also… I’ve never been on a date before,” I continued. “I don’t know how to spot one.” I offered her a queasy smile, feeling distinctly that if I’d been Tilly I’d have been calling Simon from the parking lot by now.
But again — there’s a reason Tilly’s the coolest girl in school and I am not. She slid back into the booth.
“I thought you dated Travis O’Kane sophomore year,” Tilly said.
Travis and I did a lot of things sophomore year, but ‘date,’ in the two-people-out-doing-romantic-things-together sense, was not one of them.
“I mean, he was my boyfriend,” I said. “But like… it was through, you know, long exposure and a series of strange accidents. He never asked me on a date.”
“So earlier when you walked up to me, surrounded by all my friends, and asked me to coffee you that wasn’t you asking me out?” she said.
I stared at her, blinking. Like a full ass idiot.
She tucked her lips between her teeth to hide her amusement, but there was no containing it. She fell to cackling. She laughed so completely that she went limp and her head rolled back to laugh at the ceiling.
I groaned and hid my face against the diner table, but I was laughing, too.
“God, I’m sorry,” she said, gasping. “I even asked Georgia if you liked girls and she said you did, so I just assumed…” She wiped her eyes. “Okay, so this isn’t a date. What did you need to ask me about?”
But now that Maddie was finally the topic of conversation I wanted to backtrack. She’d asked Georgia about me? I could only imagine how Georgia felt about that, given our last interaction, but still Tilly Marlow had been curious enough to ask someone about me? Me? Really?
Unfortunately I wasn’t sure how to go from wait this is a date? to wait no, let’s be on a date! So instead I just asked her: “what happened the night you woke up in the woods?”
The laughter faded.
“Why do you ask?” Suddenly she was really interested in her silverware.
I told her the truth. “Madelyn woke up out there the night before she disappeared. She told me she there was no secret society. She said she woke up out there completely alone. She was really freaked out.”
Tilly pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. They were very hip, just like the rest of her: delicate gold-rims, slightly over-sized.
“She was freaked out?” she asked. She looked up at me and I saw it all over her face: fear, uncertainty, the quiet hope that she might confide in me. I leaned forward.
“Alright ladies I have some apple cinnamon waffles, and a side of hashbrowns with a slice of pie,” Melinda said, sliding our plates down in front of us. “Need anything else?”
“Coffee,” I said.
“Me too,” Tilly agreed. And then she told me about waking up in the woods.
It was exactly the same story as Madelyn’s. Tilly went to bed, just the same way as she always did. She slept like a baby, she didn’t even dream. But when she woke up she was all alone in the woods. It was barely dawn, she was freezing cold and she was naked.
“I was totally freaked out obviously,” she said. “I was deep out there. It’s so far from my house. And my feet were all beat up, so I knew I must have walked.” She pushed up her glasses again.
“I was gonna go straight to my dad and tell him there was something wrong out there. But then… I don’t know I got home and snuck in and my mom asked where I was, so I said I was in the woods.” I noticed that her eyes had gotten sort of shiny. “And she got this look like… I don’t know, like she was so excited. And she asked how I got out there with this mysterious smile, and I told her I didn’t know, and she gave me this huge hug and I realized that like… maybe this was what happened to all the other girls, too, you know? Maybe everyone’s been telling the truth this whole time, but it’s just so insane and impossible that we’ve made it into a good thing? Does that make sense?”
I nodded and she took a huge bite of waffle. “I don’t know,” she said. “It didn’t feel good at the time. Like… I was so vulnerable out there. I was asleep, and alone and then I’m suddenly naked, freezing, no idea where I am…. But then I got back home, and to school and… everyone treated it like it was so special and cool, you know? Like I was chosen or something. So I just let everyone think what they wanted. What was I supposed to do? Like no matter what I said, everyone would just think I was covering for what actually happened.” She swallowed hard and took another huge bite of waffles. “Fuck it feels good to tell someone.” She glanced at my pie. “You gonna eat or you just gonna watch me?”
I quickly took a bite too. It was cherry pie today with big crystals of sugar on the crust.
“Your story’s the same as Madelyn’s,” I said. “I think you’re right. I think everyone’s waking up alone out there, and everyone in town just sorta rolls with it.” I pointed my fork at her. “It’s fucked up.”
“Right?” Tilly said. “That shit was fucking scary.”
“I can’t even imagine,” I said.
“Well, maybe you won’t have to,” Tilly said. “There’s still time.” She grinned at me. “You might be next.”
I scoffed and gestured down at myself. “Do I look like the type?”
Tilly reached across the table with her fork and took a big bite of my pie. “I don’t know,” she said. She had just a little cherry redness on her lips. “I mean I agreed to date you so you must be doing something right.”
I turned as red as my pie.
Tilly + cherry pie
Her house was on my way home, so we walked together. We took the shortcut through the woods.
I didn’t quite know what to say when Tilly asked why I was asking her about that night. It’s not like I wanted to admit to her that I think her father’s doing a trash investigation.
I said, “Madelyn was just so freaked out, you know? And now she’s gone.”
We were quiet for a minute, and then Tilly said, “you think she ran away because of that?”
I decided to tell her the truth. “I don’t think she ran away at all.”
She raised her eyebrows. “But the note —”
“I don’t think she wrote it.”
She hesitated. “My dad’s pretty convinced —”
“I know,” I interrupted. “But he doesn’t know Mad the way I do. She didn’t write that note.” And then, because I suddenly remembered it, I added, “the day before she disappeared, she told me there was something in the woods.”
And then this:
Tilly stopped in her tracks so abruptly that I didn’t notice for several steps. When I turned back there were tears on her eyelashes.
“Shit,” she said, wiping her cheeks. “Shit, sorry.”
“Nothing,” she said and laughed shakily. “Sorry! God, I don’t know. My eyes just water sometimes when I’m — when I’m scared.”
I stared at her. “There is something out there, isn’t there?”
“Of course not,” Tilly said, struggling to laugh. But her eyes were round when she added, “there can’t be. Right? That’s crazy.”
But her expression said otherwise. We walked on in silence. I was distinctly aware that we were coming up on Tilly’s house. Above us in the evergreens several crows called at each other in hoarse, gravelly voices.
By the time we made it to her walkway the conversation hadn’t recovered, but Tilly at least had.
She asked if I wanted to come in. “My dad won’t be home for a while,” she said.
I considered it for a brief moment, imagined how Tilly might have decorated her bedroom, wondered what her house would smell like. But then I thought of Madelyn, and of Tilly, and of all those countless girls in the woods, and I just wanted to go home.
“Alright,” Tilly said, unlatching the low, picket fence. “Well… this has been…” she made a face, searching for a descriptor “…something.”
I smiled at my feet, unable to look at her. “Yeah.”
“Okay,” she said, and laughed, maybe at me, maybe at both of us. “I’ll see you in math I guess.”
“Yep,” I said. Trust me, if you think this is awkward in writing it was fucking agony in person.
But then she paused half way up the walk and turned back.
I looked up.
“If this had been a date,” she said, “I would have thought it went… pretty well. Considering.” She grinned the smallest, sweetest little smile and shrugged a little. “Just, ya know. So you know.” She tucked her lips between her teeth again and wheeled around slowly. “Later!” she said and ran the rest of the way up to her porch.
I stared, dumbfounded as she pulled open her screen door, flickered a little wave at me and disappeared into her house.
So yeah. That happened.
I’m like… obviously still terrified that Madelyn’s missing, and obviously it’s still most of what I think about. But now, occasionally, this afternoon explodes in my head and I remember Tilly eating my cherry pie and my head goes
I feel sort of guilty about that. I would probably be feeling really confused if I weren’t absolutely 100% sure that Mad would be fucking thrilled about this whole Tilly situation. I mean she’d be marching through the streets banging pots and pans. Honestly the force of her potential enthusiasm might be enough to psychically draw her back to me.
Fuck I hope so. Because as much as I’m glad to have Madelyn’s theories about the woods confirmed, I still don’t know what to do next.