Peter grimaces. “Ugh, Covey, I’m sorry.”
“Were you hanging out with her? Is that why you didn’t come early to help me set up?”
He hesitates. “Yeah, I was with her. She called me crying, so I went over there, and then I couldn’t just leave her by herself . . . so I brought her.”
Crying? I’ve never known her to cry. Even when her cat Queen Elizabeth died, she didn’t cry. She must have been faking to get Peter to stay. “You couldn’t just leave her?”
“No,” he says. “She’s going through some shit right now. I’m just trying to be there for her. As a friend. That’s it!”
“Gosh, she really knows how to work you, Peter!”
“It’s not like that.”
“It’s always like that. She pulls the strings and you just . . .” I dangle my arms and head like a marionette doll.
Peter frowns. “That was mean.”
“Well, I feel mean right now. So watch out.”
“You’re not mean, though. Not usually.”
“Why can’t you just tell me? You know I won’t tell anyone. I really want to understand it, Peter.”
“Because it’s not for me to say. Don’t try to make me tell you, because I can’t.”
“She’s just doing this to manipulate you. It’s what she does.” I hear the jealousy in my voice, and I hate it, I hate it. This isn’t me.
He sighs. “Nothing’s happening with us. She just needs a friend.”
“She has a lot of friends.”
“She needs an old friend.”
I shake my head. He doesn’t get it. Girls understand each other in a way boys never will. It’s how I know this is all just another one of her games. Showing up at my house today was just another way for her to exert dominance over me.
Then Peter says, “Speaking of old friends, I didn’t realize you and McClaren were so buddy-buddy.”
I flush. “I told you we were pen pals.”
Raising his eyebrows, he says, “You’re pen pals but he doesn’t know we’re together?”
“It never came up!” Wait a minute—I’m the one who’s supposed to be mad at him right now, not the other way around. Somehow this whole conversation has flipped around, and now I’m the one flailing.
“So that day you went to the Model UN thing a few months ago, I asked you if you saw McClaren and you said no. But then today he brought up Model UN, and you clearly did see him there. Did you not?”
I swallow. “When did you turn into a prosecutor? Sheesh. I saw him there but we didn’t even talk; I just handed him a note—”
“A note? You gave him a note?”
“It wasn’t from me—it was from a different country, for Model UN.” Peter opens his mouth to ask another question, and I quickly add, “I just didn’t mention it because nothing came of it.”
Incredulous, he says, “So you want me to be honest with you, but you don’t want to be honest with me?”
“It wasn’t like that!” I cry out. What is even happening here? How did our fight get so big so fast?
Neither of us says anything for a moment. Then, quietly, he asks, “Do you want to break up?”
Break up? “No.” All of a sudden I feel shaky, like I could cry. “Do you?”
“You asked me first!”
“So that’s it. Neither of us wants to break up, so we just move on.” Peter sinks down on a chair at the kitchen table and rests his head on it.
I sit across from him. He feels so far away from me. My hand is itching to reach out and touch his hair, smooth it out, to make this fight be over and in our rearview.
He lifts his head; his eyes are sad and enormous. “Can we hug now?”
Shakily I nod, and we both get up and I wrap my arms around his middle. He holds me tight against him. His voice is muffled against my shoulder as he says, “Can we never fight again?”
I laugh a shaky kind of laugh, shaky and relieved. “Yes, please.”
And then he’s kissing me; his mouth is urgent against mine, like he’s searching for some sort of reassurance, some kind of promise only I can give. In answer I kiss him back—yes, I promise, promise, promise, let’s never fight again. I start to lose my balance, and his arm locks around me tight, and he kisses me until I am breathless.
ON THE PHONE THAT NIGHT, Chris says, “Spill it. Who do you have?”
“I’m not telling.” I’ve made this mistake in the past, telling Chris too much, only to have her tag her way to victory.
“Come on! I’ll help you if you help me. I want my wish!” Chris’s strength in this game is how bad she wants it, but it’s also her weakness. You have to play Assassins in a cool, measured way, not go too hot too fast. I say this as someone who’s observed all the nuances but has never personally won, of course.
“You might have my name. Besides, I want to win too.”
“Let’s just help each other out on this first round of hits,” Chris wheedles. “I don’t have your name, I swear.”
“Swear on your blankie that you won’t let your mom throw away.”
“I swear on my blankie Fredrick and I double swear on my new leather jacket that cost more money than my damn car. Do you have my name?”
“Swear on your ugly beret collection.”
I make an indignant sound. “I swear on my charming and jaunty beret collection! So who do you have then?”
“I’ve got John McClaren.”
“Let’s team up to take them out,” Chris suggests. “Our alliance can last as long as this first round, and then it’s every girl for herself.”
Hmm. Is she for real or is this all strategy? “What if you’re lying just to smoke me out?”
“I swore on Fredrick!”
I hesitate and then say, “Text me a picture of the name slip and then I’ll believe you.”
“Fine! Then text me yours.”
“Wait. Tell me the truth. Does my hair look like shit? It doesn’t, right? Gen’s just a heinous troll. Right?”
I hesitate the tiniest of beats. “Right.”
Chris and I are slumped down in her car. We are one neighborhood over from mine; it’s the neighborhood Trevor will drive through to shortcut to school for track practice. We’re parked in some random person’s driveway. She says, “Tell me what you’re going to wish for if you win.” The way she says it, I know she doesn’t think I’m going to win.