THAT NIGHT BEFORE THE WEDDING
, when my cakes are cooling on the kitchen counter and everyone at my house is setting up lawn chairs outside, I drive over to Chris’s to say good-bye.
As soon as she lets me in, she says, “I’m not letting you in here if you cry.”
“I can’t help it. I feel like this is going to be the last time I ever see you.” A tear slips down my cheek. There is a finality to this moment. I know it, I just know it. Chris is catapulting on to the next thing. Even if we see each other again, it won’t be like this. She’s a restless spirit. I’m lucky to have had her for as long as I did.
“You’ll probably see me again next week when I fly right back home,” she jokes, and there is the tiniest note of trepidation in her voice. Chris, with all her bluster and bravado, is nervous.
“No way. You’re just getting started. This is it, Chris.” I jump up and hug her. I’m trying not to cry. “It’s all happening now.”
“You’re so corny,” she says, but I could swear I see tears in her eyes.
“I brought you something,” I tell her. I take the present out of my bag and give it to her.
She tears off the wrapping paper and opens the box. It’s a picture of the two of us in a little heart frame, no bigger than a Christmas tree ornament. We are at the beach, in matching bathing suits; we are twelve, maybe thirteen. “Hang this up on your wall wherever you go so people know you have somebody waiting for you back home.”
Her eyes tear up and she brushes them with the back of her hand. “Oh my God, you’re the worst,” she says.
I’ve heard people say you meet your best friends in college, and they’re the ones you’ll know your whole life, but I’m certain that I’ll know Chris my whole life too. I’m a person who saves things. I’ll hold on forever.
* * *
When I get back home, Trina’s at SoulCycle. Daddy is still outside setting up the chairs, Margot is steaming our bridesmaid dresses, and Kitty is cutting paper flags for the bunting that will go over the dessert table. I get to work icing the wedding cake—yellow cake with buttercream frosting, just like I promised Trina. Daddy’s groom’s cake is already done, Thin Mints and all. This is my second try with the wedding cake—I scrapped the first one because I didn’t trim enough off the tops of the layers and when I stacked it, the cake looked hopelessly lopsided. This second one is still a tiny bit uneven, but a thick layer of buttercream covers all manner of sins, or so I keep telling myself.
“You’re putting enough frosting on that cake to give us all diabetes,” Kitty remarks.
I bite my tongue and keep spinning the cake and frosting the top so it’s smooth. “It looks all right, doesn’t it, Margot?”
“It looks professionally done,” she assures me, zooming the steamer along the hem of her dress.
As I sail past Kitty, I can’t resist saying, “P.S., the last three flags you cut are crooked.”
Kitty ignores me and sings to herself, “Sugar shock, whoa baby, that cake’ll give us sugar shock,” to the tune of that oldies song “Sugar Shack.” It’s probably my own fault for playing it whenever I bake.
“This is the last time it’ll be just us,” I say, and Margot looks over at me and smiles.
“I’m glad it won’t be just us anymore,” Kitty says.
“So am I,” Margot says, and I’m fairly certain she means it.
Families shrink and expand. All you can really do is be glad for it, glad for each other, for as long as you have each other.
* * *
I can’t sleep, so I go downstairs to make a cup of Night-Night tea, and as I run the water for my kettle, I look out the window and see the red embers of a cigarette glowing in the darkness. Trina is outside smoking!
I’m debating whether or not to forego my tea ritual and go to bed before she sees me, but as I’m emptying the kettle, she comes back inside, a can of Fresca in her hand.
“Oh!” she says, startled.
“I couldn’t sleep,” I say, just as she says, “Don’t tell Kitty!”
We both laugh.
“I swear it was a good-bye smoke. I haven’t had a cigarette in months!”
“I won’t tell Kitty.”
“I owe you one,” Trina says, exhaling.
“Would you like a cup of Night-Night tea?” I ask her. “My mom used to make it for us. It’s very soothing. It’ll make you feel nice and cozy and ready for bed.”
“That sounds like heaven.”
I fill the kettle and put it on the stove. “Are you nervous about the wedding?”
“No, not nervous . . . just, nerves, I guess? I really want everything to go off—without a hitch.” A giggle escapes her throat. “Pun intended. God, I love a good pun.” Then she straightens up and says, “Tell me what’s going on with you and Peter.”
I busy myself with spooning honey into mugs. “Oh, nothing.” The last thing Trina needs on the night before her wedding is to hear about my problems.
She gives me a look. “Come on, girl. Tell me.”
“I don’t know. I guess we’re broken up?” I shrug my shoulders high so I don’t cry.
“Oh, honey. Bring that tea over here and come sit next to me on the couch.”
I finish making the tea and bring the mugs over to the couch and sit next to Trina, who tucks her legs under her and drapes a blanket over both of us. “Now tell me everything,” she says.
“I guess things started to go sideways when I got into
. Our plan was for me to go to William and Mary and then I’d transfer, and we’d be long distance for the first year. But
is a lot farther, and when I visited, I knew I wanted to be there. Not with one foot in and one foot out, you know?” I stir my spoon. “I really want to give it a chance.”
“I think that’s a thousand percent the right attitude.” Trina warms her hand on her tea mug. “So that’s why you broke up with him?”
“No, not entirely. Peter’s mom told me he was talking about transferring to
next year. She wanted me to break up with him before he messed up his life for me.”
“Damn! Peter’s mom is kind of a bitch!”
“She didn’t use those exact words, but that was the gist of it.” I take a sip of tea. “I wouldn’t want him to transfer for me either. . . . My mom used to say not to go to college with a boyfriend, because you’ll lose out on a true freshman experience.”
“Well, to be fair, your mom never met Peter Kavinsky. She didn’t have all the facts. If she had met him . . .” Trina lets out a low whistle. “She might’ve been singing a different tune.”
Tears fill my eyes. “Honestly I regret breaking up with him and I wish I could take it all back!”
She tips up my chin. “Then why don’t you?”
“I don’t think he’ll ever forgive me for hurting him like that. He doesn’t let people in easily. I think I’m probably dead to him.”
Trina tries to hide a smile. “I doubt that. Look, you’ll talk to him at the wedding tomorrow. When he sees you in that dress, all will be forgiven.”
I sniffle. “I’m sure he’s not coming.”
“I’m sure he is. You don’t plan a man’s bachelor party and then not show to the wedding. Not to mention the fact that he’s crazy about you.”
“But what if I hurt him again?”
She wraps both her hands around her mug of tea and takes a sip. “You can’t protect him from being hurt, babe, no matter what you do. Being vulnerable, letting people in, getting hurt . . . it’s all a part of being in love.”
I take this in. “Trina, when did you figure out that you and my dad were the real thing?”
“I don’t know. . . . I think I just—decided.”
“Decided on what?”
“Decided on him. On us.” She smiles at me. “On all of it.”
It’s so crazy to think that a year ago, she was just our neighbor Ms. Rothschild. Kitty and I would sit on our stoop and watch her run to the car in the morning and spill hot coffee all over herself. And now she’s marrying our dad. She’s going to be our stepmom, and I’m so glad for it.