Usually, Alex defends his friends when I make fun of them, but this time, he doesn’t say anything.
For the rest of the ride, I think about what’s going to happen when school starts, if Alex and I will still be friends. Sure, we’ve hung out a bunch this summer, but I don’t know if I want to associate with the kid at school. In public.
Alex and I . . . we work best like this. When it’s just us.
Alex pulls into the ferry parking lot. Before he has a chance to park, I make a split-second decision and say, “I can bail on the show, if you want to hang out tonight.” It’s not like I’m some Puppy Ciao groupie. Plus, they’ll probably come around again. But me and Alex? This might be it for us. Our last night. And I think, on some level, we both know it.
Alex grins. “Seriously? You’ll stay with me?”
I open my window and light up a cigarette to hide the fact that I’m smiling too. “Yeah, why not? I want to see this Richie Rich yacht for myself.”
So that’s where Alex takes us. We pull up to his uncle Tim’s mansion, where the thing is docked. As we walk toward it, I immediately start making fun of how gaudy it is, but what I’m thinking is, Holy crap. This yacht is bigger than my freaking house. It’s definitely the nicest boat I’ve ever seen. Better than any of the other yachts in the marina.
Alex climbs aboard first, and I’m right behind him. He gives me a quick tour, and it’s even more posh on the inside. Italian marble and about a hundred flat-screen televisions, and a wine cellar filled with bottles from Italy, France, South Africa.
I think of Rennie. She’d die over this place.
Just as quick, I push her out of my head. It hardly happens anymore, but I hate that it happens at all.
I’m trying to figure out the stereo when Alex comes up beside me. Really close beside me. He pushes my hair off to one side. “Kat?”
I freeze. Alex’s lips brush against my neck. He grabs my h*ps and pulls me toward him.
He’s not my type. Not even close.
That’s why it’s so crazy. Because as soon as I turn my head, we’re kissing. And I suddenly feel like I’ve been waiting the whole summer for it to happen.
ONE WEEK LATER
I’M SITTING ON MY BATHROOM COUNTER, TRYING TO remember what the makeup lady at Saks told me about how to do eyeliner on Asian eyes. Only . . . I can’t think straight.
I think she said to wing it just the tiniest bit. I do my right eye first, and it looks okay. I’m finishing up my left eye when my little sister, Nadia, bangs on the door so loudly that I jump.
“Lil! I need to take a shower!” she yells. “Lilli-uhh!”
I pick up my hairbrush and then reach over and unlock the door. Nadia rushes in and turns on the water. She sits on the edge of the tub, in her big soccer T-shirt with her shiny black hair mussed up in the back and watches me brush my hair. “You look pretty,” she says, her voice scratchy with sleep.
Do I? At least the outside is still the same.
I keep brushing. Twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, done. I brush my hair twenty-five strokes every morning. I’ve done it that way since I was little.
Today will be like any other day.
“But I thought you weren’t supposed to wear white after Labor Day,” Nadia adds.
I look down at my sweater. It’s new—white cashmere, soft and snug. I’m wearing it with my white short shorts. “Nobody follows that rule anymore,” I tell her, hopping down from the counter. “Besides, this is winter white.” I swat at her butt with my hairbrush. “Hurry up and get in the shower.”
“Do I have time to curl my hair before Rennie gets here?” she asks me.
“No,” I say, closing the door behind me. “Five minutes.”
Back in my room I start filling my brown saddlebag with my school things, like I’m on autopilot. My new pen and the leather planner my mom got me as a back-to-school gift. Lollies. Cherry ChapStick. I try to think if I’m forgetting something, but nothing comes to mind, so I grab my white espadrilles and head down the stairs.
My mom is in the kitchen, wearing her robe and drinking an espresso. My dad bought her one of those fancy espresso machines for Christmas, and she makes a point of using it at least once a week, even though she prefers tea, and even though my dad is hardly ever at home to see her use it. He’s a doctor, the kind who does research. For as long as I can remember, he’s been working on some new drug to cure cancer. He spends part of the month working at a lab in Boston, and he gets sent all over the world to present his findings. He was on the cover of some science journal this summer. I forget the name of it.
Gesturing to the plate of muffins, my mom says, “Sit down and eat before you go, Lilli. I got those sugary ones you love.”
“Rennie will be here any minute,” I say. When I see the disappointed look on my mom’s face, I take a muffin and wrap it in a napkin. “I’ll eat it in the car.”
Touching my hair, she says, “I can’t believe you’re a senior in high school. One more year and you’ll be away at college. My pretty girl is grown-up.”
I look away. I guess I am grown-up now.
“At least I still have my baby. Is Nadi getting ready?”
“You have to look out for Nadi now that you’re at the same school. You know how she looks up to you, Lilli.” My mom squeezes my arm, and I swallow hard. I do have to look out for Nadia better. Not like how I did on Saturday night, when I left her at Alex’s party. She was with her friends, but still.
I should have stayed.
Rennie’s horn honks outside, and I stand up. “Nadia!” I yell. “Rennie’s here!”
“Just one more minute!” Nadia shrieks back.
I hug my mom and head for the garage door.
“Take a muffin for Rennie,” she calls out as I close the door behind me. Rennie wouldn’t eat it anyway. She goes off carbs at the start of every cheerleading season. She only lasts about a month before she gives in, though.
In the garage I slip on my espadrilles, and then I walk down the driveway to Rennie’s Jeep.
“Nadia’s right behind me,” I say, climbing inside.
Rennie leans over and hugs me good morning. Hug her back, I tell myself. And I do.
“Your skin looks awesome against the white,” she says, eyeing me up and down. “I wish I could get as tan as you.”
Rennie’s wearing tight jeans and an even tighter lacy scoop neck top, with a nude cami underneath. She’s so tiny, I can see her rib cage. I don’t think she’s wearing a bra. She doesn’t have to. She’s got a gymnast’s body.