“What do you want to know about him?
“Does he play any sports?”
“He plays lacrosse.”
“Lacrosse?” she repeats. “Not football or baseball or basketball?”
“Well, he’s very good. He’s being recruited by colleges.”
“Can I see a picture of him?”
I get my phone out and pull up a picture of the two of us in his car. He’s wearing a hunter green sweater that I think he looks particularly handsome in. I like him in sweaters. I get the urge to cuddle and pet him like a stuffed animal.
Stormy looks at it closely. “Huh,” she says. “Yes, he is very handsome. I don’t know if he’s as handsome as my grandson, though. My grandson looks like a young Robert Redford.”
“I’ll show you if you don’t believe me,” she says, getting up and rooting around for a picture. She’s opening drawers, moving papers around. Any other grandmother at Belleview would already have a picture of her beloved grandson on display. Framed, above the TV or on the mantel. Not Stormy. The only pictures she has framed are pictures of herself. There’s a huge black-and-white bridal portrait in the entryway that takes up nearly the whole wall. Though I suppose if I was once that beautiful, I would want to show it off too. “Huh. I can’t find a picture.”
“You can show me next time,” I say, and Stormy lowers herself back down on the couch.
She puts her legs up on the ottoman. “Where do young people go these days for a little alone time? Is there no ‘Lookout Point’ type of place?” She’s digging, she’s definitely digging for information. Stormy’s a bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out juicy goods, but I’m not giving up a thing. Not that I even have much juice to offer her.
“Um, I don’t know . . . I don’t think so.” I busy myself with cleaning up a pile of scraps.
She starts to cut up some trimmings. “I remember the first boy I ever went parking with. Ken Newbery. He drove a Chevy Impala. God, the thrill of a boy putting his hands on you for the first time. There’s nothing quite like it, is there, dear?”
“Mm-hmm. Where’s that stack of old Broadway playbills you had? We should do something with those, too.”
“They might be in my hope chest.”
The thrill of a boy putting his hands on you for the first time.
I get a shivery feeling in my stomach. I do know that thrill. I remember it perfectly, and I would even if it hadn’t been caught on camera. It’s nice to think of it again as its own memory, separate from the video and everything that followed.
Stormy leans in close and says, “Lara Jean, just remember, the girl must always be the one to control how far things go. Boys think with their you-know-whats. It’s up to you to keep your head and protect what’s yours.”
“I don’t know, Stormy. Isn’t that kind of sexist?”
“Life is sexist. If you were to get pregnant, you’re the one whose life changes. Nothing of significance changes for the boy. You’re the one people whisper about. I’ve seen that show, Teen Moms. All those boys are worthless. Garbage!”
“Are you saying I shouldn’t have sex?” This whole time, Stormy has been telling me to stop being such a stick-in-the-mud, to live life, to love boys. And now this?
“I’m saying you should be careful. As careful as life and death, because that’s what it is.” She gives me a meaningful look. “And never trust the boy to bring the condom. A lady always brings her own.”
“Your body is yours to protect and to enjoy.” She raises both eyebrows at me meaningfully. “Whoever you should choose to partake in that enjoyment, that is your choice, and choose wisely. Every man that ever got to touch me was afforded an honor. A privilege.” Stormy waves her hand over me. “All this? It’s a privilege to worship at this temple, do you understand my meaning? Not just any young fool can approach the throne. Remember my words, Lara Jean. You decide who, how far, and how often, if ever.”
“I had no idea you were such a feminist,” I say.
“Feminist?” Stormy makes a disgusted sound in her throat. “I’m no feminist. Really, Lara Jean!”
“Stormy, don’t get worked up about it. All it means is that you believe men and women are equal, and should have equal rights.”
“I don’t think any man is my equal. Women are far superior, and don’t you forget it. Don’t forget any of the things I just told you. In fact you should probably be writing it down for my memoirs.” She starts to hum “Stormy Weather.”
There was never a threat of things going too far when we were fake. But I see now how fast things can change without you even realizing it. It can go from a kiss to hands under my shirt in two seconds, and it’s so feverish, so frenzied. It’s like we’re on a high-speed train that’s going somewhere fast, and I like it, I do, but I also like a slow train where I can look out the window and appreciate the countryside, the buildings, the mountains. It’s like I don’t want to miss the little steps; I want it to last. And then the next second I want to grow up faster, more, now. To be as ready as everyone else is. How is everyone else so ready?
I still find it very surprising, having a boy in my personal space. I still get nervous when he puts his arm around my waist or reaches for my hand. I don’t think I know how to date in the 2010s. I’m confused by it. I don’t want what Margot and Josh had, or Peter and Genevieve. I want something different.
I guess you could call me a late bloomer, but that implies that we’re all on some predetermined blooming schedule, that there’s a right or a wrong way to be sixteen and in love with a boy.
My body is a temple not just any boy gets to worship at.
I won’t do any more than I want to do.
PETER AND I ARE AT Starbucks, sitting side by side, studying for our chemistry exam. Idly, he puts his arm around my chair and starts twisting my hair around his pencil and letting it unfurl like a slice of ribbon. I ignore him. He pulls my chair closer to his and plants a warm kiss on my neck, which makes me giggle. I scoot away from him. “I can’t concentrate when you do that.”
“You said you like when I play with your hair.”
“I do, but I’m trying to study.” I look around and then whisper, “Besides, we’re in public.”
“There’s hardly anybody in here!”