“You look like a farm girl,” Kitty says with a touch of meanness, and I know she’s still at least a little bit mad at me.
“Thank you,” I say. I’m wearing faded shortalls and a scoop-neck floral shirt. It does look farm-girlish, but I think in a nice way. Margot left her brown lace-up combat boots, and they’re only a half size too big. With thick socks, they’re a perfect fit. “Will you braid my hair to the side?” I ask her.
“You don’t deserve a braid from me,” Kitty says, licking her fork. “Besides, a braid would take it too far.”
Kitty is only nine, but she has good fashion sense.
“Agreed,” my dad says, not looking up from his paper.
I put my plate in the sink and then put Kitty’s bag lunch down next to her plate. It’s got all her favorite things: a Brie sandwich, barbecue chips, rainbow cookies, the good kind of apple juice.
“Have a great first day,” my dad chirps. He pops out his cheek for a kiss, and I bend down and give him one. I try to give Kitty one too, but she turns her cheek.
“I got your favorite kind of apple juice and your favorite kind of Brie,” I tell her pleadingly. I really don’t want us to start the school year off on a bad note.
“Thank you,” she sniffs.
Before she can stop me, I throw my arms around her and squeeze her so tight she yelps. Then I get my new floral back-to-school book bag and head out the front door. It’s a new day, a new year. I have a feeling it’s going to be a good one.
Josh is already in the car, and I run over and open the door and slide inside.
“You’re on time,” Josh says. He lifts his hand up for a high five, and when I slap it, our hands make a satisfying smack. “That was a good one,” he says.
“An eight at least,” I agree. We whizz past the pool, the sign for our neighborhood, then past the Wendy’s.
“Has Kitty forgiven you yet for the other night?”
“Not quite, but hopefully soon.”
“Nobody can hold a grudge like Kitty,” Josh says, and I nod wholeheartedly. I can never stay mad for long, but Kitty will nurse a grudge like her life depended on it.
“I made her a good first-day-of-school lunch, so I think that’ll help,” I say.
“You’re a good big sister.”
I pipe up with “As good as Margot?” and together we chorus, “Nobody’s as good as Margot.”
SCHOOL HAS OFFICIALLY BEGUN AND found its own rhythm. The first couple of days of school are always throwaway days of handing out books and syllabuses and figuring out where you’re sitting and who you’re sitting with. Now is when school really begins.
For gym, Coach White set us loose outside to enjoy the warm sun while we still have it. Chris and I are walking the track field. Chris is telling me about a party she went to over Labor Day weekend. “I almost got into a fight with this girl who kept saying I was wearing extensions. It’s not my fault my hair is fabulous.”
As we round the corner for our third lap, I catch Peter Kavinsky looking at me. I thought I was imagining it at first, him staring in my direction, but this is the third time. He’s playing ultimate Frisbee with some of the guys. When we pass them, Peter jogs over to us and says, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
Chris and I look at each other. “Her or me?” she asks.
Chris puts her arm around my shoulder protectively. “Go ahead. We’re listening.”
Peter rolls his eyes. “I want to talk to her in private.”
“Fine,” she snaps, and she flounces away. Over her shoulder she looks back at me with wide eyes, like What? I shrug back, like I have no idea!
In a low, quiet voice, Peter says, “Just so you know, I don’t have any STDs.”
What in the world? I stare at him, my mouth open. “I never said you had an STD!”
His voice is still low but actually furious. “I also don’t always take the last piece of pizza.”
“What are you talking about?”
“That’s what you said. In your letter. How I’m an egotistical guy who goes around giving girls STDs. Remember?”
“What letter? I never wrote you any letter!”
Wait. Yes I did. I did write him a letter, about a million years ago. But that’s not the letter he’s talking about. It couldn’t be.
“Yes. You. Did. It was addressed to me, from you.”
Oh, God. No. No. This isn’t happening. This isn’t reality. I’m dreaming. I’m in my room and I’m dreaming and Peter Kavinsky is in my dream, glaring at me. I close my eyes. Am I dreaming? Is this real?
I open my eyes. I’m not dreaming, and this is real. This is a nightmare. Peter Kavinsky is holding my letter in his hand. It’s my handwriting, my envelope, my everything. “How—how did you get that?”
“It came in the mail yesterday.” Peter sighs. Gruffly he says, “Listen, it’s no big deal; I just hope you’re not going around telling people—”
“It came in the mail? To your house?”
I feel faint. I actually feel faint. Please let me faint right now, because if I faint I will no longer be here, in this moment. It will be like in movies when a girl passes out from the horror of it all and the fighting happens while she is asleep and she wakes up in a hospital bed with a bruise or two, but she’s missed all the bad stuff. I wish that was my life instead of this.
I can feel myself start to sweat. Rapidly I say, “You should know that I wrote that letter a really long time ago.”
“Like, years ago. Years and years ago. I don’t even remember what I said.” Up close, your face wasn’t so much handsome as beautiful. “Seriously, that letter’s from middle school. I don’t even know who would have sent it. Can I see it?” I reach for the letter, trying to stay calm and not sound desperate. Just casual cool.
He hesitates and then grins his perfect Peter grin. “Nah, I want to keep it. I never got a letter like this before.”
I leap forward, and quick like a cat I snatch it out of his hand.
Peter laughs and throws up his hands in surrender. “All right, fine, have it. Geez.”
“Thanks.” I start to back away from him. The paper is shaking in my hand.
“Wait.” He hesitates. “Listen, I didn’t mean to steal your first kiss or whatever. I mean, that wasn’t my intention—”