Eyes closed, Shelby stretches half-asleep hands toward the source of a deafening noise and locates it vibrating on hardwood. A blind shove sends her phone sliding across the room into a pile of laundry where it continues its muffled screeching.
Shelby's room is always in a state of disarray, though she prefers the term eclectic. Walls are plastered with pages torn from second-hand art books; posters of rap stars; string lights; ironic photo booth printouts. Conservative oak furniture suggests a less chaotic intent: a four-poster bed and feminine vanity judge the mess silently and, despite their defiance, usually find themselves covered in various articles of clothing.
Undisturbed, Shelby can easily sleep for twelve hours or longer and has always been this way; she was one of those babies who slept through the night right away. Her mother finally wakes her around noon, swatting her awake with an errant t-shirt found strewn over a lamp. “You have to wake up,” Grace says. “The police are downstairs. Yes, I said the police! Get out of bed.”
“But I'm not dressed or showered or awake or anything.” Shelby blocks the afternoon sun with one hand to squint through raccoon eyes ringed by yesterday's eye makeup, bob spiked to one side like a crooked crown. Grace mentions police officers again and Shelby dives back into her pillow.
Downstairs, two officers sit in the formal living room, the one reserved for guests. While the TV room boasts supple leather furniture, these mauve couches have always been too firm and sized for giants. Grace deposits Shelby across from the odd couple.
“How's it going, Shelby?” asks the older officer with a kindly, child-appropriate smile. “My name's Mike.” Mike's partner, whose name tag reads Jennifer, looks about nineteen and terrified. “And this is Jennifer. We understand that you know Mae Brady. She's your friend, yes?”
“Of course,” Grace interrupts. “Mae and Shelby are best friends. She's over here all the time.”
Shelby wonders if it's possible to wake up drunk. She tries to remember, to no avail, if she did anything illegal last night. Perhaps nicked a car? She should have checked her bumpers. A futile exercise, in any case, as she hardly remembers coming home. Her father, Yeong-su, enters and immediately seems to grasp the situation. He wants to know if Mae is alright.
“Mae's mother reported her missing today,” Mike explains. “Apparently, she didn't come home last night. Shelby, do you have any idea where she might be?”
“Did you check Ethan Harrington's?”
The police officers exchange one of those adult looks. Jennifer scribbles on a note pad while Mike continues. “We were actually just at the Harrington's. Mae told her grandparents she was going there for a party last night. Were you at that party, Shelby?”
Grace interrupts again. “Afraid not. Shelby was studying at her friend Taylor Duncan's house. Taylor's parents should be able to verify that. Have you spoken to Taylor's parents?”
“Not yet, ma'am.”
Yeong-su motions to his wife. “Let's get these officers something to drink.” Grace, straight and prim as always, looks stricken. “Some of your famous mint lemonade, perhaps?”
Shelby doesn't realize how much she appreciates the presence of her parents until they are gone. She knows the officers will speak to the Duncans, and the Duncans will tell the truth. Taylor doesn't even know how to lie. “I was at the party. Of course I was. The whole school was. Don't you have a kid at Pearville High? Ask him.”
“When did you last see Miss Brady at the party?”
“We left early.”
“Taylor and I left early. Last I saw Mae was, um, when she was by the pool with Ethan, I think. You know, in his backyard.” Another look between the officers. More scribbling by silent Jennifer. Mike asks if Shelby knows where Mae might be. “I have no idea.” Her phone, a precious slip of a gadget that likely holds answers to all Mike's questions, beckons to Shelby from upstairs. “It's not like her to run away or vanish or anything. Did you call her?”
“Her phone is dead.”
“Did you track it before it died?”
Jennifer speaks for the first time. “You can do that?”
Mike is visibly annoyed. “We haven't reached that point yet, Miss Cho. But thank you for the suggestion.”
Shelby's parents reappear, bearing two glasses of lemonade stuffed with fresh mint leaves. Mike says this is kind of them, but the officers need to keep making the rounds in an effort to “nip this in the bud” before it becomes a full-fledged missing persons case. Rising, he asks Shelby, “Do you know anybody else she might have gone home with after that party, besides Ethan?” Shelby shakes her head. “So, in the pool with the Harrington boy. Got it. Thanks for your help.” Mike hands her parents a card and tells them to call him if they hear anything.
The officers gone, Shelby remains on the couch, bracing for the assault. Both parents loom over her, rejected lemonade glasses in their hands symbolic of the shame just inflicted upon their household.
“Well,” her father states finally. “I hope you were more truthful to those officers than you were to your mother.”
“You know you're not allowed to go to parties with alcohol.” Grace's voice trembles with rage. “Why would you do that? You need to explain yourself this instant.”
Shelby despondently acknowledges her well-meaning parents. They've invested so much time and money into her, she knows: violin lessons; dance lessons; elaborate birthday parties; after-school activities; those blasted SAT classes; scores of clothes; healthy food. They settled in the suburbs so Shelby and her older sister could live out idyllic American childhoods, financed by her father spending long hours straightening teeth in Chicago—always extending his office hours, taking on every new patient, hardly ever arriving home before ten at night. Her sister, now in college, was the first to point all this out. But Shelby is convinced that, somewhere along the way, her parents' best efforts to groom their youngest daughter to be a model student and productive member of society failed. The Shelby they tried to raise would not be hunched over on this couch, unable to remember most of last night. And so defeat marks the first time she is truly honest with her parents. “I've been to tons of parties with alcohol.”
“Are you still a virgin?” Grace demands.
“Yes! That's what's important to you?”
“How do we know you're telling the truth?”
Yeong-su is, thankfully, disinterested in his daughter's virginity. He's the only one drinking the lemonade. “If Shelby says it's true, it's true, right, Shelby? We need you to be honest with us. Do you promise to be honest?” Shelby might be about to throw up, but she agrees that honesty seems like the simplest solution. Her father kneels to her level. “Your friend missing is a very serious matter. I'm sure you've done nothing wrong, but we need to know what you know so her mother can find her. Do you understand?”
“But I don't know anything. My phone's upstairs.”
“Why don't you get your phone? Then we'll figure this whole thing out.”