“I’m not taking anybody’s side,” I say, bending down to pick up the paper cranes.
“If you’re taking a side, it should be mine,” Alicia says. She thrusts her chin in Stormy’s direction. “She thinks she’s some grand dame, but she is a child, throwing a tantrum over a party.”
“A child!” Stormy shrieks.
“Will you two please stop fighting?” To my mortification, tears spurt out the corners of my eyes. “I can’t take it today.” My voice trembles. “I really just can’t.”
They exchange a look, and then they both rush to my side. “Darling, what’s wrong?” Stormy croons. “It must be a boy.”
“Sit, sit,” Alicia says. They lead me over to the couch and sit on either side of me.
“Everybody, get out!” Stormy yells, and the others scatter. “Now you tell us what’s wrong.”
I wipe my eyes with the corner of my shirtsleeve. “Peter and I broke up.” It’s the first time I’ve said the words out loud.
Stormy gasps. “You and Mr. Handsome broke up! Was it over another boy?” She looks hopeful, and I know she is thinking of John.
“It wasn’t over another boy. It’s complicated.”
“Darling, it’s never that complicated,” Stormy says. “In my day—”
Alicia glares at her. “Will you just let her talk?”
“Peter never got over his ex-girlfriend, Genevieve,” I say, sniffling. “She was the one who posted that video of us in the hot tub, and Peter found out and he didn’t tell me.”
“Perhaps he wanted to spare your feelings,” Alicia says.
Vehemently Stormy shakes her head, so hard her earrings whoosh. “The boy is a dog, pure and simple. He ought to treat you like a queen, not this other girl Genevieve.”
Alicia accuses, “You just want Lara Jean to date your great-grandson.”
“So what if I do!” With a gleam in her eye she says, “Say, Lara Jean. Have you got any plans tonight?”
At that we all laugh. “I can’t think about any boy but Peter right now,” I say. “Do you still remember your first love?”
Stormy’s had so many—could she possibly? But she nods. “Garrett O’Leary. I was fifteen and he was eighteen and we only ever had a dance, but the way I felt when he looked at me . . .” She shivers.
I look to my left at Alicia. “And yours was your husband, Phillip, right?”
To my surprise she shakes her head. “My first love was named Albert. He was my older brother’s best friend. I thought I would marry him. But it was not to be. I met my Phillip.” She smiles. “Phillip was the love of my life. And yet I never forgot Albert. How young I was once! Stormy, can you believe we were ever so young?”
Stormy does not give her usual blithe reply. Her eyes go moist, and as softly as I’ve ever heard her speak she says, “It’s all a million lifetimes ago. And yet.”
“And yet,” Alicia echoes.
They both smile at me fondly, with such true and genuine affection that new tears come to my eyes. “What will I do now that Peter’s not my boyfriend anymore?” I wonder out loud.
“You’ll just do what you did before he was your boyfriend,” Alicia says. “You’ll go about your day, and you will miss him at first, but over time it will ease. It will lessen.” She reaches out, touches her papery hand to my cheek. A smile plays at her lips. “All you need is time, and you, little one, have all the time in the world.”
It’s a comforting thought, but I don’t know if I believe it is true, not completely. I think that time might be different for young people. The minutes longer, stronger, more vibrant. All I know is that every minute without him feels interminably long, like I’m waiting, just waiting for him to come back to me. I, Lara Jean, know he isn’t, but my heart doesn’t seem to understand it’s over.
After, energies renewed, tears dried, I am with Janette in her office, going over party details. When she offhandedly mentions the sitting room, I freeze. “Janette, the sitting room isn’t going to be big enough.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. The main activities room is booked for bingo. They have a standing Friday night reservation.”
“But this party is a huge event! Can’t the bingo people be in the sitting room just for one night?”
“Lara Jean, I can’t move bingo. People from all over the community come here for that, including the leasing agent’s own mother. There are a lot of politics at play here. My hands are tied.”
“Well, what about the dining room?” We could move all the tables and set up the dance floor at the center of the room and then put the refreshments on a long table against the wall. It could work.
Janette gives me a look like Girl, please. “And who’s going to put away all the tables and chairs? You?”
“Well, me, and I’m sure I could round up some volunteers—”
“And have one of the residents put out their back and sue the home? No, gracias.”
“We wouldn’t need to put away all of the tables, just half. Couldn’t you get the staff to help?” Janette’s already shaking her head when inspiration hits me. “Janette, I heard that Ferncliff might bus over some of their residents. Ferncliff. They already call themselves the premier retirement community of the Blue Ridge Mountains.”
“Oh my God, Ferncliff is a dump. The people who work at that place are garbage. I have a master’s. ‘Premier retirement community of the Blue Ridge Mountains’? Ha! My ass.”
Now I just need to bring it home. “I’m telling you, Janette, if this dance isn’t up to par, it’s going to make us look like fools. We can’t let that happen. I want those Ferncliff residents to walk or wheel out of here wishing they were Belleview!”
“All right, all right. I’ll get the janitors to help set up the dining room.” Janette shakes her finger at me. “You’re like a dog with a bone, girl.”
“You won’t regret it,” I promise her. “For the pictures alone. We’ll put them all over the website. Everyone will want to be us!”
At this Janette’s eyes narrow with satisfaction, and I let out the breath I’ve been holding. This party has to go right. It just has to. It is my one bright spot.
SUNDAY NIGHT I CURL MY hair. Curling your hair is an intrinsically hopeful act. I like to curl mine at night and think about all the things that could happen tomorrow. Also, it generally looks much better slept on and not so poofy.