“I told you, it’s a surprise.” I dump my premeasured flour into a mixing bowl. “So how was your day?”
“Good. I got an A-minus on my math quiz.”
“Oh, yay! Anything else cool happen?”
Kitty shrugs her shoulders. “I think Ms. Bertoli accidentally farted when she was taking attendance. Everybody laughed.”
Baking powder, salt. “Cool, cool. Did, um, Peter drive you straight to school, or did you stop somewhere along the way?”
“He took me to get donuts.”
I bite my lip. “That’s nice. Did he say anything?”
“I don’t know. Life.”
Kitty rolls her eyes. “He didn’t say anything about you, if that’s what you’re wondering about.”
This stings. “I wasn’t wondering about that at all,” I lie.
Kitty and I have the whole sleepover planned down to a T. Zombie makeovers. Photo booth with props. Nail art.
I chose Kitty’s cake with utmost care. It’s chocolate with raspberry jam and white chocolate frosting. I’ve made three different kinds of dips. Sour cream and onion, red pepper hummus, and cold spinach dip. Crudités. Pigs in a blanket. Salty caramel popcorn for the movie. Lime sherbet punch, the kind you pour ginger ale over. I even scrounged up an old glass punch bowl in the attic, which will also be perfect for the USO theme party. For breakfast in the morning I’m making chocolate chip pancakes. I know all of these details are important to Kitty, too. Already she’s mentioned to me that at Brielle’s birthday, her mom made strawberry smoothies for their snack, and who could forget how Alicia Bernard’s mom made crepes when she’s mentioning it all the time?
Daddy’s banished to his room for the night, which he looks relieved about—but not before I made him drag down the little vintage chest of drawers I have in my room. I artfully arrange my collection of nightgowns and pj’s and footie long underwear, plus fuzzy slippers. Between Kitty, Margot, and me, we have a lot of fuzzy slippers.
Everyone changes into pajamas right away, giggling and screaming and fighting over who gets what.
I am wearing a pale pink peignoir set I got from a thrift store brand-new with the tags still on. I feel like Doris Day in The Pajama Game. The only thing I’m missing are furry slippers with a kitten heel. I tried to convince Kitty that we should have an old movie night, but she shot that idea down right away. To be funny, I put my hair in rollers. I offer to put the girls’ hair in rollers too, but everyone shrieks and says no.
They’re so loud I keep having to say, “Girls, girls!”
Halfway into the mani session I notice that Kitty is hanging back. I thought she’d be in her element, belle of the birthday ball, but she’s ill at ease and playing with Jamie.
When all the girls run upstairs to my room to do the mud packs I’ve prepared, I grab Kitty’s elbow. “Are you having fun?” I ask. She nods and tries to dart away, but I give her stern eyes. “Sister swear?”
Kitty hesitates. “Shanae’s gotten really good friends with Sophie,” she says, her eyes welling up. “Like better friends than me and her. Did you see how they did matching manicures? They didn’t ask me if I wanted to do matching manicures.”
“I don’t think they meant to leave you out,” I say.
She shrugs her bony shoulders.
I put my arm around her, and she just stands there stiffly, so I push her head down on my shoulder. “It can be tough with best friendships. You’re both growing and changing, and it’s hard to grow and change at the same rate.”
Her head pops up, and I push it back down on my shoulder. “Is that what happened with you and Genevieve?” she asks.
“Honestly, I don’t know what happened with me and Genevieve. She moved away, and we were still friends, and then we weren’t.” I realize belatedly that it’s not the most comforting thing to say to someone who’s feeling left out by her friends. “But I’m sure that will never happen to you.”
Kitty lets out a defeated little sigh. “Why can’t things just stay the same as before?”
“Then nothing would ever change and you wouldn’t grow up; you would have stayed nine forever and never have turned ten.”
She wipes her nose with the back of her arm. “I might not mind that.”
“Then you’d never get to drive, or go to college, or buy a house and adopt a bunch of dogs. I know you want to do all that stuff. You have an adventurous spirit, and being a kid can get in the way of that, because you have to get other people’s permission. When you’re older, you can do what you want and you won’t have to ask anybody.”
Sighing she says, “Yeah, that’s true.”
I smooth her hair away from her forehead. “Want me to put on a movie for you guys?”
“A horror one?”
She’s perking up, going into bargaining mode like the business lady she is. “It has to be rated R. No kid stuff.”
“Fine, but if you guys get scared, you aren’t sleeping with me in my room. Last time you guys kept me up all night. And if any parents call to complain, I’m telling them you guys snuck the movie on your own.”
I watch her fly up the stairs. Impossible as she is, I like Kitty just as she is. I wouldn’t have minded if she’d stayed nine forever. Kitty’s cares are still manageable; they can fit in the palm of my hand. I like that she still depends on me for things. Her cares and her needs make me forget my own. I like that I am needed, that I am beholden to somebody. This breakup with Peter, it’s not as big as Katherine Song Covey turning ten. She has sprung up like a weed, without a mother, just two sisters and a dad. That is no small feat. That’s something extraordinary.
But ten, wow. Ten isn’t a little girl anymore. It’s right in between. The thought of her getting older, outgrowing her toys, her art set . . . it makes me feel a bit melancholy. Growing up really is bittersweet.
My phone buzzes, and it’s a pitiful text from Daddy:
Is it safe to come downstairs? I’m so thirsty.
Coast is clear.
FOLLOWING GENEVIEVE AROUND IS A strangely familiar feeling. Nothing little observations come flooding back. It’s a heady combination of the things I used to know about her and the things I don’t. She goes through the drive-thru at Wendy’s, and without even looking, I know what’s in the bag. Small Frosty, small fries to dip, six-piece chicken nuggets, also to dip.