He’s distracted me completely, and I’ve forgotten all about the game for a moment. “Yeah . . .”
Clearing his throat, he says, “I was pretty surprised that you guys were together.”
“Why? Because I’m not his type?” I say it casually, like it’s nothing, a fact, but it stings like a little pebble thrown directly at my heart.
“No, you are.”
“Then why?” I’m pretty sure John’s going to say “because I didn’t think he was your type,” just like Josh did.
He doesn’t answer right away. “That day you came to Model UN, I tried to follow you out to the parking lot, but you were already gone. Then I got your letter, and I wrote you back, and you wrote me back, and then you invited me to the tree-house thing. I guess I didn’t know what to think. You know what I mean?” He looks at me expectantly, and I feel like it’s important that I say yes.
All the blood rushes to my face, and I hear a pounding in my ears, which I belatedly realize is the sound of my heart beating really fast. My body is still dancing, though.
He keeps talking. “Maybe it was dumb to think that, because all that stuff was such a long time ago.”
All what stuff? I want to know, but it wouldn’t be right to ask. “Do you know what I remember?” I ask suddenly.
“The time Trevor’s shorts split open when you guys were playing basketball. And everybody was laughing so hard that Trevor started getting mad. But not you. You got on your bike and you rode all the way home and brought Trevor a pair of shorts. I was really impressed by that.”
He has a faint half smile on his face. “Thanks.”
Then we’re both quiet and still dancing. He’s an easy person to be quiet with. “John?”
I look up at him. “I have to tell you something.”
“I’ve got you. I mean, I have your name. In the game.”
“Seriously?” John looks genuinely disappointed, which makes me feel guilty.
“Seriously. Sorry.” I press my hands against his shoulders. “Tag.”
“Well, now you have Kavinsky. I was really looking forward to taking him out, too. I had a whole plan and everything.”
All eagerness I ask, “What was your plan?”
“Why should I tell the girl who just tagged me out?” he challenges, but it’s a weak challenge, just for show, and we both know he’s going to tell me.
I play along. “Come on, Johnny. I’m not just the girl who tagged you out. I’m your pen pal.”
John laughs a little. “All right, all right. I’ll help you.”
The song ends and we step apart. “Thanks for the dance,” I say. After all this time, I finally know what it’s like to dance with John Ambrose McClaren. “So what would you have asked for if you won?”
He doesn’t hesitate even one beat. “Your peanut butter chocolate cake with my name written in Reese’s Pieces.”
I stare at him in surprise. That’s what he would have wished for? He could have anything and he wants my cake? I give him a curtsy. “I’m so honored.”
“Well, it was a really good cake,” he says.
ON THE PHONE A FEW nights later, Peter suddenly says, “You have me, don’t you?”
“No!” I haven’t told him I took out John over the weekend. I don’t want him—or Genevieve, for that matter—to have any extra info. It’s down to the three of us now.
“So you do have me!” He lets out a groan. “I don’t want to play this game anymore. It’s making me lonely and really . . . frustrated. I haven’t seen you outside of school for a week! When is this going to be over?”
“Peter, I don’t have you. I have John.” I feel a little guilty for lying, but this is how winners play this game. You can’t second-guess yourself.
There’s a silence on the other end. Then he says, “So are you going to drive over to his house to tag him out? He lives in the middle of nowhere. I could take you if you want.”
“I haven’t figured out my game plan yet,” I say. “Who do you have?” I know it has to be me or Genevieve.
He gets quiet. “I’m not saying.”
“Well, have you told anyone else?” Like, say, Genevieve?
Hmm. “Okay, well, I just told you, so you obviously owe me that same courtesy.”
Peter bursts out, “I didn’t make you, you offered up that information yourself, and look, if it was a lie and you have me, please just freaking take me out already! I’m begging you. Come to my house right now, and I’ll let you sneak up to my room. I’ll be a sitting duck for you if it means I can see you again.”
“No, I don’t want to win like that. When I get your name, I want to have the satisfaction of knowing I beat you fair and square. My first ever Assassins win can’t be tainted.” I pause. “And besides, your house is a safe zone.”
Peter lets out an aggravated sigh. “Are you at least coming to my lacrosse game on Friday?”
His lacrosse game! That’s the perfect place to take him out. I try to keep my voice calm and even as I say, “I can’t come. My dad has a date, and he needs me to watch Kitty.” A lie, but Peter doesn’t know that.
“Well, can’t you bring her? She’s been asking to go to one of my games.”
I think fast. “No, because she has a piano lesson after school.”
“Since when does Kitty play the piano?”
“Recently, in fact. She heard from our neighbor that it helps with training puppies; it calms them down.” I bite my lip. Will he buy it? I hurry to add, “I promise I’ll be at the next game no matter what.”
Peter groans, this time even louder. “You’re killing me, Covey.”
Soon, my dear Peter.
I will surprise him at the game; I’ll get all decked out in our school colors; I’ll even paint his jersey number on my face. He’ll be so happy to see me, he won’t suspect a thing!
I can’t fully explain why this game of Assassins is so important to me. I only know that with each passing day I want it more and more—the win. I want to beat Genevieve, yes, but it’s more than that. Maybe it’s to prove that I’ve changed too: I’m not a soft little marshmallow; I’ve got some fight in me.