I mull this over. I don’t want to be a girl who gets her heart broken, but I also don’t really want to break boys’ hearts. “Stormy, did you have a lot of boyfriends in high school?”
“Oh, sure. Dozens. That’s how we did it in my day. Drive-in on Friday with Burt and cotillion with Sam on Saturday. We kept our options open. A girl didn’t settle down unless she was supremely, supremely sure.”
“Sure that she liked him?”
“Sure that she wanted to marry him. Otherwise what was the point in ending all the fun?”
I pick up a picture of Stormy in a sea-foam formal gown, strapless with a full skirt. She looks like she could be Grace Kelly’s sneaky cousin, with her pale blond hair and the lift of her brow. There’s a boy standing next to her, and he isn’t very tall or particularly handsome, but there’s something about him. A glint in his eye. “Stormy, how old were you in this one?”
Stormy peers at it. “Sixteen or seventeen. About your age.”
“Who’s the boy?”
Stormy takes a closer look, her face wrinkling like a dried apricot. She taps her red fingernail on the picture. “Walter! We all called him Walt. He was a real charmer.”
“Was he your boyfriend?”
“No, he was just a boy I saw from time to time.” She waggles her pale eyebrows at me. “We went skinny-dipping out by the lake, and we got caught by the police. It was quite the scandale. I got to ride home in a police car in nothing but a blanket.”
“And so . . . did people gossip about you?”
“I’ve had a little bit of a scandale of my own,” I say. Then I tell her about the hot tub, and the video, and all the fallout. I have to explain to her what a meme is. She is delighted; she’s practically vibrating from the salaciousness of it all.
“Excellent!” she crows. “I’m so relieved you have some bite to you. A girl with a reputation is so much more interesting than a Goody Two-shoes.”
“Stormy, this is on the Internet. The Internet is forever. It’s not just gossip at school. And also, I kind of am a Goody Two-shoes.”
“No, your sister Margaret’s the Goody Two-shoes.”
“Margot,” I correct.
“Well, she certainly seems like a Margaret. I mean, really, every Friday night at a nursing home! I’d have slit my wrists if I was a teenage girl spending all my beauty years at a damn nursing home. Excuse my French, darling.” She fluffs up the pillow behind her. “Oldest children are always high-achieving bores. My son Stanley is a frightful bore. He’s the worst. He’s a podiatrist, for God’s sake! I suppose it’s my fault for naming him Stanley. Not that I had any say in it. My mother-in-law insisted we name him after her dead husband. Good Lord, she was a crone.” Stormy takes a sip of her iced tea. “Middle children are supposed to have fun, you know. You and I, we have that in common. I was glad you hadn’t been coming around as much. I was hoping you were getting into trouble. Sounds like I was right. Although you might’ve come around a bit more.”
Stormy’s terrific at making a person feel guilty. She’s mastered the art of the injured sniff.
“Now that I’ve got a proper job here, I’ll be around a lot more often.”
“Well, not too often.” She perks up. “But next time bring that boy of yours. We could use some fresh blood around here. Give the place a jolt. Is he handsome?”
“Yes, he’s very handsome.” The handsomest of all the handsome boys.
Stormy claps her hands together. “Then you must bring him by. Give me advance notice, though, so I look my absolute best. Who else have you got waiting in the wings?”
I laugh. “No one! I told you, I have a boyfriend.”
“Hmm.” That’s all she says, just “hmm.” Then, “I have a grandson who could be about your age. He’s still in high school, anyhow. Maybe I’ll tell him to come by and see you. It’s good for a girl to have options.” I wonder what a grandson of Stormy’s might be like—probably a real player, just like Stormy. I open my mouth to say no thank you, but she waves me off with a shh. “When we’re done with my scrapbook, I’m going to transcribe my memoirs to you, and you’ll type them up for me on the computer. I’m thinking of calling it The Eye of the Storm. Or Stormy Weather.” Stormy starts to hum. “Stormy weather,” she sings. “Since my man and I ain’t together . . . keeps rainin’ all the time. . . .” She stops short. “We should have a cabaret night! Picture it, Lara Jean. You in a tuxedo. Me in a slinky red dress draped over the piano. It’ll give Mr. Morales a heart attack.”
I giggle. “Let’s not give him a heart attack. Maybe just a tremor.”
She shrugs and goes on singing, adding a shimmy to her hips. “Stormy weather . . .”
She’ll go off on a singing jag if I don’t redirect her. “Stormy, tell me about where you were when John F. Kennedy died.”
“It was a Friday. I was baking a pineapple upside-down cake for my bridge club. I put it in the oven and then I saw the news and I forgot all about the cake and nearly burned the house down. We had to have the kitchen repainted because of all the soot.” She fusses with her hair. “He was a saint, that man. A prince. If I’d met him in my heyday, we really could’ve had some fun. You know, I flirted with a Kennedy once at an airport. He sidled up to me at the bar and bought me a very dry gin martini. Airports used to be so very much more glamorous. People got dressed up to travel. Young people on airplanes these days, they wear those horrible sheepskin boots and pajama pants and it’s an eyesore. I wouldn’t go out for the mail dressed like that.”
“Which Kennedy?” I ask.
“Hmm? Oh, I don’t know. He had the Kennedy chin, anyway.”
I bite my lip to keep from smiling. Stormy and her escapades. “Can I have your pineapple upside-down cake recipe?”
“Sure, darling. It’s just yellow box cake with Del Monte pineapple and brown sugar and a maraschino cherry on top. Just make sure you get the rings and not the chunks.”
This cake sounds horrible. I try to nod in a diplomatic way, but Stormy is onto me. Crossly she says, “Do you think I had time to sit around baking cakes from scratch like some boring old housewife?”
“You could never be boring,” I say on cue, because it’s true and because I know it’s what she wants to hear.