“But John and I don’t like each other like that,” I said, teeth clenched to keep my face mask from shifting.
“You will,” she said. She said it like it was a preordained fact, and I believed her. I always believed her.
But none of it came to be, except for the Gen and Peter part.
LUCAS AND I ARE SITTING cross-legged in the hallway, sharing a strawberry-shortcake ice cream bar. “Stick to your side,” he reminds me as I lower my head for another bite.
“I’m the one who bought it!” I remind him. “Lucas . . . do you think it’s cheating to write letters to someone? Not me, I’m asking for a friend.”
“No,” Lucas says. He raises both eyebrows. “Wait, are they sexy letters?”
“Are they the kind of letter you wrote me?”
A meek little “no” from me. He gives me a look like he isn’t buying whatever I’m selling. “Then you’re fine. Technically you’re in the clear. So who are you writing to?”
I hesitate. “Do you remember John Ambrose McClaren?”
He rolls his eyes. “Of course I remember John Ambrose McClaren. I had a crush on him in seventh grade.”
“I had a crush on him in eighth!”
“Of course you did. We all did. In middle school you either liked John or you liked Peter. Those were the two main choices. Like Betty and Veronica. Obviously John is Betty and Peter’s Veronica.” He pauses. “Remember how John used to have that really endearing stutter?”
“Yes! I mourned it a little when it went away. It was so sweet. So boyish. And do you remember how his hair was the color of pale butter? Like, the way I bet freshly churned butter looks.”
“I thought it was more like moonlit corn silk, but yeah. So how did he turn out?”
“I don’t know. . . . It’s strange because there’s the him I remember from middle school, and that’s just my memory of him, but then there’s the him now.”
“Did you guys ever go out back then?”
“Oh no! Never.”
“So that’s probably why you’re curious about him now.”
“I didn’t say I was curious.”
Lucas gives me a look. “You basically did. I don’t blame you. I’d be curious too.”
“It’s just fun to think about.”
“You’re lucky,” he says.
“Lucky that you have . . . options. I mean, I’m not officially ‘out,’ but even if I was, there are, like, two gay guys at our school. Mark Weinberger, who’s a pizza face, and Leon Butler.” Lucas shudders.
“What’s wrong with Leon?”
“Don’t patronize me by asking. I just wish our school was bigger. There’s nobody for me here.” He stares off into space moodily. Sometimes I look at Lucas and for a second I forget he’s gay and I want to like him all over again.
I touch his hand. “One day soon you’ll be in the world, and you’ll have so many options you won’t know what to do with them. Everyone will fall in love with you, because you’re so beautiful and so charming, and you’ll look back on high school as such a tiny blip.”
Lucas smiles, and his moodiness lifts away. “I won’t forget you, though.”
“THE PEARCES FINALLY SOLD THEIR house,” Daddy says, heaping more spinach salad on Kitty’s plate. “We’ll have new backyard neighbors in a month.”
Kitty perks up. “Do they have kids?”
“Donnie says they’re retired.”
Kitty makes a gagging noise. “Old people. Boring! Do they have grandkids, at least?”
“He didn’t say, but I don’t think so. They’re probably going to take down that old tree house.”
I stop mid-chew. “They’re demolishing our tree house?”
Daddy nods. “I think they’re putting in a gazebo.”
“A gazebo!” I repeat. “We used to have so much fun up there. Genevieve and I would play Rapunzel for hours. She always got to be Rapunzel, though. I just got to stand underneath it and call up”—I pause to put on my best English accent—“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, miss.”
“What kind of accent is that supposed to be?” Kitty asks me.
“Cockney, I think. Why? Was it not good?”
“Oh.” I turn to Daddy. “When are they tearing the tree house down?”
“I’m not sure. I’d imagine before they move in, but you never know.”
There was this one time I looked out the window and saw that John McClaren was up in the tree house alone. He was just sitting by himself, reading. So I went out there with a couple of Cokes and a book and we read up there all afternoon. Later in the day Peter and Trevor Pike showed up, and we put the books away and played cards. At the time I was deep in the throes of liking Peter, so it wasn’t romantic in the slightest, of that I’m sure. But I do remember feeling that our quiet afternoon had been disrupted, that I’d rather have just kept reading in companionable silence.
“We buried a time capsule under that tree house,” I tell Kitty as I squeeze toothpaste onto my toothbrush. “Genevieve, Peter, Chris, Allie, Trevor, me, and John Ambrose McClaren. We were going to dig it up after we graduated high school.”
“You should have a time capsule party before they demolish the tree house,” Kitty says from the toilet. She’s peeing and I’m brushing my teeth. “You can send invitations and it can be a fun little thing. An unveiling.”
I spit out toothpaste. “I mean, in theory. But Allie moved, and Genevieve is a—”
“Witch with a b,” she supplies.
I giggle. “Definitely a witch with a b.”
“She’s scary. One time when I was little, she locked me in the towel closet!” Kitty flushes the toilet and gets up. “You can still have a party, just don’t invite Genevieve. It doesn’t make sense for you to invite your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend to a time capsule party anyway.”
As if there were some set etiquette for who to invite to a time capsule party! As if there were really such a thing as a time capsule party! “I got you out of the closet right away,” I remind her. I set my toothbrush back down. “Wash your hands.”
“I was going to.”
“And brush your teeth.” Before Kitty can open her mouth, I say, “Don’t say you were going to, because I know you weren’t.”