“You could do with a little less baking and a little more living life.” She’s being prickly, and she’s never prickly with me. “Youth is truly wasted on the young.” She frowns. “My legs ache. Get me some Tylenol PM, would you?”
I leap up, eager to be in her good graces again. “Where do you keep it?”
“In the kitchen drawer by the sink.”
I rummage around, but I don’t see it. Just batteries, talcum powder, a stack of McDonald’s napkins, sugar packets, a black banana. Covertly, I throw the banana in the trash. “Stormy, I don’t see your Tylenol PM in here. Is there anywhere else it could be?”
“Forget it,” she snaps, coming up behind me and pushing me to the side. “I’ll find it myself.”
“Do you want me to put on some tea?” Stormy is old; that’s why she’s acting this way. She doesn’t mean to be harsh. I know she doesn’t mean it.
“Tea is for old ladies. I want a cocktail.”
“Coming right up,” I say.
MY SCRAPBOOKING TO THE OLDIES class has officially begun. I won’t deny that I’m disappointed with the turnout. So far it’s just Stormy, Alicia Ito, who is sprightly and put-together—short, buffed nails, pixie cut—and wily Mr. Morales, who I think has a crush on Stormy. Or Alicia. It’s hard to know definitively, because he flirts with everyone, but they both have full pages in the scrapbook he’s working on. He’s decided to title it “The Good Old Days.” He’s decorated Stormy’s page with music notes and piano keys and a picture of the two of them dancing on Disco Night last year. Alicia’s page he’s still working on, but his focal point is a picture of her sitting on a bench in the courtyard, gazing off into space, and he’s affixed some flower stickers around it. Very romantic.
I haven’t got much of a budget, so I’ve brought my own supplies. I’ve also instructed the three of them to collect scraps from magazines and other little bobbles and buttons. Stormy’s a pack rat like me, so she has all kinds of treasures. Lace from her kids’ christening gowns, a matchbook from the motel where she met her husband (“Don’t ask,” she said), old ticket stubs to a cabaret she went to in Paris. (I piped up, “In 1920s Paris? Did you ever meet Hemingway?” and she cut me with her eyes and said she obviously wasn’t that old and I needed a history lesson.) Alicia’s style is more minimalist and clean. With my black felt tip calligraphy pen, she writes descriptions in Japanese underneath each picture.
“What does it say here?” I ask, pointing to a description below a picture of Alicia and her husband, Phil, at Niagara Falls, holding hands and wearing yellow plastic ponchos.
Alicia smiles. “It says ‘the time we got caught in the rain.’”
So Alicia’s a romantic too. “You must miss him a lot.” Phil died a year ago. I only met him a couple of times, back when I’d help out Margot with Friday cocktail hour. Phil had dementia, and he didn’t talk much. He’d sit in his wheelchair in the common room and just smile at people. Alicia never left his side.
“I miss him every day,” she says, tearing up.
Stormy jostles her way between us, green glitter pen tucked behind her ear, and says, “Alicia, you need to jazz up your pages more.” She flicks a sheet of umbrella stickers Alicia’s way.
“No, thank you,” Alicia says stiffly, flicking the page back at Stormy. “You and I have different styles.”
Stormy’s eyes narrow at this.
I quickly go over to the speakers and turn up the volume to lighten the mood. Stormy dances over to me and sings, “Johnny Angel, Johnny Angel. You’re an angel to me.” We put our heads together and chorus, “I dream of him and me and how it’s gonna be . . .”
When Alicia goes to the bathroom, Stormy says, “Ugh, what a bore.”
“I don’t think she’s a bore,” I say.
Stormy points at me with her hot-pink manicured nail. “Don’t you dare go liking her better than me just because you’re both Asian.”
Hanging around a retirement home, I’ve gotten used to the vaguely racist things old people say. At least Stormy doesn’t use the word “Oriental” anymore. “I like you both equally,” I tell her.
“There’s no such thing,” she sniffs. “No one can ever like anyone exactly the same.”
“Don’t you love your kids the same?”
“Of course not.”
“I thought parents didn’t have favorites?”
“Of course they do. My favorite’s my youngest, Kent, because he’s a mama’s boy. He visits with me every Sunday.”
Loyally I say, “Well, I don’t think my parents had favorites.” I say it because it seems like the right thing to say, but is it true? I mean, if somebody put a gun to my head and said I had to choose, who would I say was Daddy’s favorite? Margot, probably. They’re the most alike. She’s genuinely into documentaries and bird-watching, just like him. Kitty’s the baby, which automatically gives her an edge. Where does that leave me, the middle Song girl? Maybe I was Mommy’s favorite. I wish I could know for sure. I’d ask Daddy, but I doubt he’d tell the truth. Margot might.
I’d never be able to pick between Margot and Kitty. But if, say, they were both drowning and I could only throw one a life jacket, it would probably have to be Kitty. Margot would never forgive me otherwise. Kitty’s both of ours to care for.
The thought of ever losing Kitty puts me in a kinder, more contemplative mood, and so that night after she’s asleep, I bake off a tray of snickerdoodles, her favorite cookie. I have bags of cookie dough in the freezer, frozen into perfect cylindrical balls so that when any of us gets a taste for cookies, we can have them in twenty minutes flat. She’ll have a nice surprise when she opens her lunch bag tomorrow.
I let Jamie have a cookie too, even though I know I shouldn’t. But he keeps looking up at me with sorrowful puppy eyes and I can’t resist.
“WHAT ARE YOU DAYDREAMING ABOUT?” Peter taps my forehead with his spoon to get my attention. We are at Starbucks doing homework after school.
I dump two raw sugar packets into my plastic cup and stir it all up with my straw. I take a long sip, and sugar granules crunch satisfyingly against my teeth. “I was thinking about how it would be neat if people our age could be in love like it’s the 1950s.” Right away I wish I didn’t say “in love,” because Peter’s never said anything about being in love with me, but it’s too late, the words are already out of my mouth, so I just press on and hope he didn’t catch it. “In the 50s, people just dated, and it was as easy as that. Like one night Burt might take you to a drive-in movie, and the next night Walter might take you to a sock hop or something.”