"Just because you have cancer doesn't give you the right to be a destructive bitch. If you ask me, you need to get your head out of your ass. Because you've really messed shit up for yourself."
Cathy rubs the place where her friend slapped her; it feels good, in a way. Like a little bit of light coming through a crack you didn't notice was there. She doesn't want to disappoint Marlene, or shock her, or offend her: The fact that she can do any of these things is news. It makes her feel closer to Marlene and it helps her understand two things.
The first is that Marlene loves her. Not just likes her, not just that she's on the same road toward the same end, not that she understands. Not the burden of the secret, or the way she cares for Adam, or the way she drops her walls one by one by one. What the slap means is that Marlene loves her, and this would not be a known fact but for the second thing, which is that:
The truth feels good. You say your thing, you get your slap, it's over. There is more light on more surfaces than there was a moment ago. The wall that your lies put between you and the world, the wall you build with every one, lets a little light through. Because in the end the truth is only really, was only really ever, about self-respect:
You can't affect what goes on in people's heads. They're always getting the wrong idea and you may never know that they've done so, or if you can change that for the better, or if they are themselves lying. You usually know these things, but you can't say for sure that you ever know these things. Trust is a complex organism that has wings but fairly obscure mechanics on the inside, where you will never find them. Lying isn't about them, it's about you, casting a shadow between yourself and the world that never needed to be there.
Marlene apologizes for slapping Cathy, with her hand and with her words, and Cathy thanks her for both, because the truth that Marlene said, that felt good too. Somebody needed to do it, Cathy says, and soon enough they've made their decisions and she's headed back home.
On the porch is Rebecca, her old friend from college, the girl she wasn't sad to let go. The one that surprised her, with how little it hurt. The one who is back, sleeping with her brother, screaming about it now, on her porch, about how Cathy isn't returning her calls and cracking jokes about the situation and backing away from the jokes and trying, again and again, to locate the truth and say just the truth and nothing more.
"I'm in town. And I would like to see you, and catch up, and be friends. How is that a problem?" None of which, Cathy can admit, is the problem. Rebecca is the problem. She makes that the problem. She chooses men over friends and now the man is Sean, a broken toy from a dusty lonely toyshop that the children used to love and now they fear. Her brother. And Rebecca no better than that, a pair of freaks on her lonesome, with no idea how afraid Cathy grew up to be.
"This isn't all me," Rebecca says, holding onto the truth like the mechanical bulls that time in Cozumel. "From the minute you met Paul, he's all you talked about. And the next thing I knew, you were living the suburban housewife dream, and making me feel ridiculous for my partying, and my serial dating... But what the hell else was I supposed to do? Nobody fell in love with me."
Cathy stares up at her. She's not wrong. The truth feels good. But this, this is a start when it should be an end. Hello, just to say goodbye seconds later. Why relearn Rebecca? Why become the pair of freaks again, when she's only going to break Rebecca's heart? Why won't Rebecca let her fade, and remember her as the strong one, and remember her the way she was? The story could stay in place, like a photograph.
Rebecca is wrong when she says nobody loved her.
"Well I guess we're both screw-ups," Cathy spits, grateful. Lying again. "Maybe we should break up? Huh: We already did." She marches away, on the high road but only as an excuse, to save her friend from stronger and more exquisite betrayals down the road:
When she thinks nobody loves her, Rebecca is wrong.
Andrea has been showing up late, has been skipping weigh-ins, is dropping out of summer school altogether and is only here to clean out her locker. "I don't like the way you teach," she explains airily, in a way meant both to smooth it over and to really sting. When Cathy points out that this class means graduating with her grade next year, she shrugs. "Oh well," she says, and Cathy's jaw drops: "Oh well? I have bent over backwards for you!"
"It's all about you, isn't it?"
The truth feels good. Nobody wants to hurt what they love; nobody can help it. But the truth feels good, and you'd never slap someone you didn't care about.
Andrea explains how much she's come to resent and regret this experience, the summer project, believing Cathy when she said -- over and over, she said -- how beautiful Andrea is, how quickly she could see results, how happy she could be in just months, weeks, days. How fast it fell apart when she learned just how many lies Cathy was buried under; how easy it is for Cathy to believe in beauty -- to rhapsodize and remonstrate and promise, promise, promise -- when Cathy is beautiful, and thin, and white.
She tells this truth through a parable. A lie of its own, meant to wound and to cut, the way Cathy's unthinking privileges have led her to lead Andrea in turn out over treacherous ledges and great waterfalls, saying "Don't you worry, I have you. You will be caught, and safe. I would never hurt you." And all this time, Cathy knowing there was no way for her to get hurt, herself.
"It must be so nice to be you. Pretty white girl, living in suburbia, whose biggest concern is finding an eye shadow that doesn't totally wash her out. Take a walk in my shoes for a fucking day: Growing up in the hood, having to hit a drive-thru for breakfast because mommy spent the last of the grocery money on her morning fix. But that's okay. I can always rely on Dad. Wait, I can't, because when I was a baby he was shot to death trying to rob a liquor store. So excuse the fuck out of me if I'm not the model student you want me to be."
Cathy takes her at her word, of course. Of course Cathy assumes this is true, because it fits one of only a few models she has on which to base her picture of Andrea's world. "I had no idea," she thinks, she says, "It really is as bad as the movies. I never could have imagined." When what she means is, "I only could have imagined." Which is why Andrea tells her this story: Because lies only have power when you don't have the facts. The facts are bright.
"We all have our secrets, don't we? I know you're fucking that painter man; I know a lot of things: That you're a self-righteous slut, that your son's a judgmental asshole, and that I'm through with your sorry-ass class, and this whole sorry-ass fucking school."
Andrea leaves, with a surprising amount of dignity intact, and just like that Cathy sees the whole story, from beginning to end. When Cathy was young, her parents took her to church what seemed like all the time. And then one summer, this freak tornado took out a bunch of houses in the next town over, and killed the pastor and his kids. And they stopped going. Freak tornado, out of the summer sky, like truth, like a slap from a friend, and the things you trust fall away. Grownups break your heart, or vanish. Cathy was the pastor, all summer, leading Andrea into fantasies; Cathy was the tornado, ripping those fantasies apart.
Paul Jamison is getting drunk, drunk enough to call the bartender "Chief," in the middle of the day when he runs into Rugby Slut. His life, he explains, is a complete fucking clusterfuck; Tina can identify, as she relates:
"Last week, my cat was diagnosed with feline leukemia. And then yesterday I drop my iPhone into the toilet while I was video-chatting with a client. And I hope that video fried out before he got a potty shot of my pooter."
Paulie stares at h