IT’S LATE. I’M IN MY
bed looking through my welcome packet from William and Mary. It turns out William and Mary doesn’t allow freshmen to have cars on campus, and I’m about to call Peter to tell him, when I get a text from John Ambrose McClaren. When I first see his name on my phone, I feel a jolt of surprise, because it’s been so long since we last talked. Then I read the text.
Stormy died in her sleep last night. The funeral is in Rhode Island on Wednesday. I just thought you’d want to know.
I just sit there for a moment, stunned. How can this be? When I last saw her, she was fine. She was great. She was Stormy. She can’t be gone. Not my Stormy. Stormy, who was larger than life, who taught me how to apply red lipstick “so it lasts even after a night of kisses and champagne,” she said.
I start to cry and I can’t stop. I can’t get air in my lungs. I can barely see for crying. My tears keep falling on my phone, and I keep wiping it with the back of my hand. What do I say to John? She was his grandmother, and he was her favorite grandson. They were very close.
First I type,
I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do?
Then I delete it, because what could I possibly do to help?
I’m so sorry. She had the most spirit of anyone I ever met. I’ll miss her dearly.
Thank you. I know she loved you too.
His text brings fresh tears to my eyes.
Stormy was always saying that she still felt like she was in her twenties. That sometimes she’d dream she was a girl again, and she’d see her ex-husbands and they’d be old but she’d still be Stormy. She said when she woke up in the morning, she’d be surprised to be in her old body with her old bones. “I’ve still got the gams, though,” she said. And she did.
It’s almost a relief that the funeral is in Rhode Island, too far away for me to go. I haven’t been to a funeral since my mom died. I was nine, Margot was eleven, Kitty just two. The clearest memory I have of that day is sitting beside my dad, Kitty in his arms, feeling his body shake next to mine as he cried silently. Kitty’s cheeks were wet with his tears. She didn’t understand anything except that he was sad. She kept saying, “Don’t cry, Daddy,” and he would try to smile for her, but his smile looked like it was melting. I’d never felt that way before—like nothing was safe anymore, or would be ever again.
And now I’m crying again, for Stormy, for my mom, for everything.
She wanted me to transcribe her memoirs for her.
, she wanted to call it. We never did get around to doing that. How will people know her story now?
Peter calls, but I’m too sad to talk so I just let it go to voicemail. I feel like I should call John, but I don’t really have the right. Stormy was his grandma, and I was just a girl who volunteered at her nursing home. The one person I want to talk to is my sister, because she knew Stormy too, and because she always makes me feel better, but it’s the middle of the night in Scotland.
* * *
I call Margot the next day, as soon as I wake up. I cry again as I tell her the news, and she cries with me. It’s Margot who has the idea to have a memorial service for her at Belleview. “You could say a few words, serve some cookies, and people could share memories of her? I’m sure her friends would like that, since they won’t be able to make it to the funeral.”
I blow my nose. “I’m sure Stormy would like it too.”
“I wish I could be there for it.”
“I wish so too,” I say, and my voice quivers. I always feel stronger with Margot beside me.
“Peter will be there, though,” she says.
Before I leave for school, I call my old boss Janette over at Belleview and tell her the idea about the memorial service. She agrees right away, and says we could have it this Thursday afternoon, before bingo.
When I get to school and tell Peter about Stormy’s memorial service, his face falls. “Shit. I have to go to that
Days on the Lawn thing with my mom.” Days on the Lawn is an open house for incoming first-years at
. You go with your parents; you sit in on classes, tour the dorms. It’s a big deal. I was really looking forward to it, when I thought I might be going.
He offers, “I could skip it, though.”
“You can’t. Your mom would kill you. You have to go.”
“I don’t mind,” he says, and I believe him.
“It’s really okay. You didn’t know Stormy.”
“I know. I just want to be there for you.”
“The offer is what counts,” I tell him.
* * *
Instead of wearing black, I choose a sundress that Stormy once said she liked me in. It’s white, with cornflower-blue forget-me-nots embroidered on the skirt, short puffy sleeves that go a little off the shoulder, and a nipped-in waist. Because I bought it at the end of summer, I’ve only had the chance to wear it once. I stopped by Belleview on my way to meet Peter at the movies, and Stormy said I looked like a girl in an Italian movie. So I wear that dress, and the white sandals I bought for graduation, and a little pair of lacy white gloves that I just know she’d appreciate. I found them at a vintage store in Richmond called Bygones, and when I put them on, I can almost imagine Stormy wearing them at one of her cotillions or Saturday night dances. I don’t wear her pink diamond ring. I want the first time I wear it to be at my prom, the way Stormy would have wanted.
I bring out the punch bowl, a crystal bowl of peanuts, a stack of cocktail napkins embroidered with cherries that I found at an estate sale, the tablecloth we use for Thanksgiving. I put a few roses on the piano, where Stormy used to sit. I make a punch with ginger ale and frozen fruit juice—no alcohol, which I know Stormy would have balked at, but not all of the residents can have it, because of their medications. I do put out a bottle of champagne next to the punch bowl, for anyone who wants to top off their punch with a little something extra. Lastly, I turn on Frank Sinatra, who Stormy always said should’ve been her second husband, if only.
John said he’d come if he made it back from Rhode Island in time, and I’m feeling a little nervous for that, because I haven’t seen him since almost exactly a year ago, on my birthday. We were never a thing, not really, but we almost were, and to me, that’s something.
A few people file in. One of the nurses wheels in Mrs. Armbruster, who has fallen to dementia but used to be pretty friendly with Stormy. Mr. Perelli, Alicia, Shanice the receptionist, Janette. It’s a good little group. The truth is, there are fewer and fewer people that I know at Belleview. Some of them have moved in with their children; a few have passed away. Not as many familiar faces in the staff, either. The place changed while I wasn’t looking.
I’m standing at the front of the room, and my heart is pounding out of my chest. I’m so nervous to make my speech. I’m afraid of stumbling over my words and not doing her
justice. I want to do a good job on it; I want to make Stormy proud. Everyone’s looking at me with expectant eyes, except for Mrs. Armbruster, who is knitting and staring off into space. My knees shake under my skirt. I take a deep breath, and I’m about to speak when John Ambrose McClaren walks in, wearing a pressed button-down shirt and khakis. He takes a seat on the couch next to Alicia. I give him a wave, and in return, John gives me an encouraging smile.
I take a deep breath. “The year was 1952.” I clear my throat and look down at my paper. “It was summer, and Frank Sinatra was on the radio. Lana Turner and Ava Gardner were the starlets of the day. Stormy was eighteen. She was in the marching band, she was voted Best Legs, and she always had a date on Saturday night. On this particular night, she was on a date with a boy named Walt. On a dare, she went skinny-dipping in the town lake. Stormy never could turn down a dare.”
Mr. Perelli laughs and says, “That’s right, she never could.” Other people murmur in agreement, “She never could.”
“A farmer called the police, and when they shined their lights on the lake, Stormy told them to turn around before she would come out. She got a ride home in a police car that night.”
“Not the first time or the last,” someone calls out, and everyone laughs, and I can feel my shoulders start to relax.
“Stormy lived more life in one night than most people do their whole lives. She was a force of nature. She
taught me that love—” My eyes well up and I start over. “Stormy taught me that love is about making brave choices every day. That’s what Stormy did. She always picked love; she always picked adventure. To her they were one and the same. And now she’s off on a new adventure, and we wish her well.”
From his seat on the couch, John wipes his eyes with his sleeve.
I give Janette a nod, and she gets up and presses play on the stereo, and “Stormy Weather” fills the room. “Don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky . . .”
After, John shoulders his way over to me, holding two plastic cups of fruit punch. Ruefully he says, “I’m sure she’d tell us to spike it, but . . .” He hands me a cup, and we clink. “To Edith Sinclair McClaren Sheehan, better known as Stormy.”
“Stormy’s real name was Edith? It’s so serious. It sounds like someone who wears wool skirts and heavy stockings, and drinks chamomile tea at night. Stormy drank cocktails!”
John laughs. “I know, right?”
“So then where did the name Stormy come from? Why not Edie?”
“Who knows?” John says, a wry smile on his lips. “She’d have loved your speech.” He gives me a warm, appreciative sort of look. “You’re such a nice girl, Lara Jean.” I’m embarrassed, I don’t know what to say. Even though we never dated, seeing John again is what I imagine seeing an old boyfriend feels like. A wistful sort of feeling. Familiar, but just a little bit awkward, because there’s so much left unsaid between us.
Then he says, “Stormy kept asking me to bring my girlfriend to visit her, and I never got around to it. I feel bad about that now.”
As casually as I can, I say, “Oh, are you dating someone?”
He hesitates for just a split-second and then nods. “Her name is Dipti. We met at a Model
. She beat me out for the gavel for our committee.”
“Wow,” I say.
“Yeah, she’s awesome.”
We both start to speak at the same time.
“Do you know where you’re going to school?”
“Have you decided—?
We laugh, and a sort of understanding passes between us. He says, “I haven’t decided. It’s between College Park and William and Mary. College Park has a good business school, and it’s really close to
. William and Mary’s ranked higher, but Williamsburg is in the boonies. So I don’t know yet. My dad’s bummed, because he really wanted me to go to
, but I didn’t get in.”
“I’m sorry.” I decide not to mention that I got wait-listed at
John shrugs. “I might try and transfer there sophomore year. We’ll see. What about you? Are you going to
“I didn’t get in,” I confess.
“Aw man! I hear they were insanely selective this year. My school’s salutatorian didn’t get in, and her application was killer. I’m sure yours was too.”
Shyly, I say, “Thanks, John.”
“So where are you gonna go if not
“William and Mary.”
His face breaks into a smile. “Seriously? That’s awesome! Where’s Kavinsky going?”
He nods. “For lacrosse, right.”
“What about . . . Dipti?” I say it like I don’t remember her name, even though I do, I mean, I just heard him say it not two minutes ago. “Where’s she going?”
“She got in early to Michigan.”
“Wow, that’s so far.”
“A whole lot farther than
and William and Mary, that’s for sure.”
“So are you guys going to . . . stay together?”
“That’s the plan,” John says. “We’re going to at least give the long-distance thing a try. What about you and Peter?”
“That’s our plan too, for the first year. I’m going to try to transfer to
for the second year.”
John clinks his cup against mine. “Good luck, Lara Jean.”
“You too, John Ambrose McClaren.”
“If I end up going to William and Mary, I’m going to call you.”
“You better,” I say.
I stay at Belleview a lot longer than I expected. Someone brings out their old records and then people start dancing, and Mr. Perelli insists on teaching me how to rumba, in spite of his bad hip. When Janette puts on Glenn Miller’s song “In the Mood,” my eyes meet John’s, and we share
a secret smile, both of us remembering the
party. It was like something out of a movie. It feels like a long time ago now.
It’s strange to feel happy at a memorial for someone you loved, but that’s how I feel. I’m happy that the day has gone well, that we’ve sent Stormy off in style. It feels good to say a proper good-bye, to have the chance.
* * *
When I get back from Belleview, Peter’s sitting on my front steps with a Starbucks cup. “Is nobody home?” I ask, hurrying up the walk. “Did you have to wait long?”
“Nah.” Still sitting, he reaches out his arms and pulls me in for a hug around my waist. “Come sit and talk to me for a minute before we go inside,” he says, burying his face in my stomach. I sit down next to him. He asks, “How was Stormy’s memorial? How’d your speech go?”
“Good, but first tell me about Days on the Lawn.” I grab his Starbucks cup out of his hands and take a sip of coffee, which is cold.
“Eh. I sat in on a class. Met some people. Not that exciting.” Then he takes my right hand in his, traces his finger over the lace of my gloves. “These are cool.”
There’s something bothering him, something he isn’t saying. “What’s wrong? Did something happen?”
He looks away. “My dad showed up this morning and wanted to come with us.”
My eyes widen. “So . . . did you let him come?”
“Nope.” Peter doesn’t elaborate. Just, nope.
Hesitantly, I say, “It seems like he’s trying to have a relationship with you, Peter.”
“He had plenty of chances and now it’s too late. That ship has fucking sailed. I’m not a kid anymore.” He lifts his chin. “I’m a man, and he didn’t have anything to do with it. He just wants the credit. He wants to brag to his golf buddies that his son is playing lacrosse for
I hesitate. Then I think of how his dad looked when he was watching Peter out on the lacrosse field. There was such pride in his eyes—and love. “Peter . . . what if—what if you gave him a chance?”
Peter’s shaking his head. “Lara Jean, you don’t get it. And you’re lucky not to get it. Your dad’s freaking awesome. He’d do anything for you guys. My dad’s not like that. He’s just in it for himself. If I let him back in, he’ll just fuck up again. It’s not worth it.”
“But maybe it is worth it. You never know how long you have with people.” Peter flinches. I’ve never said something like that to him before, brought my mom up like that, but after losing Stormy, I can’t help it. I have to say it because it’s true and because I’ll regret it if I don’t. “It’s not about your dad. It’s about you. It’s about not having regrets later. Don’t hurt yourself just to spite him.”
“I don’t want to talk about him anymore. I came over here to make you feel better, not to talk about my dad.”
“Okay. But first, promise me you’ll think about inviting him to graduation.” He starts to speak, and I interrupt him. “Just think about it. That’s all. It’s a whole month away. You don’t
have to decide anything right now, so don’t say yes or no.”
Peter sighs, and I’m sure he’s going to tell me no, but instead he asks, “How’d your speech go?”
“I think it went okay. I think Stormy would’ve liked it. I talked about the time she got caught skinny-dipping and the police came and she had to ride home in a squad car. Oh, and John made it back in time.”
Peter nods in a diplomatic sort of way. I’d told him John might be coming today, and all he said was “Cool, cool,” because of course he couldn’t say anything different. John was Stormy’s grandson, after all. “So where’s McClaren going to school?”
“He hasn’t decided yet. It’s between Maryland and William and Mary.”
Peter’s eyebrows fly up. “
Well, that’s awesome.” He says it in a way that makes it clear he doesn’t think it’s awesome at all.
I give him a funny look. “What?”
“Nothing. Did he hear that you’re going there?”
“No, I just told him today. Not that one thing has anything to do with the other. You’re being really weird right now, Peter.”
“Well, how would you feel if I told you Gen was going to
“I don’t know. Not that bothered?” I mean that sincerely. All of my bad feelings about Peter and Genevieve feel like such a long time ago. Peter and I have come so far since then. “Besides, it’s completely different. John and I never
even dated. We haven’t spoken in months. Also, he has a girlfriend. Also, he hasn’t even decided if he’s going there or not.”
“So where’s his girlfriend going then?”
He makes a dismissive sound. “That ain’t gonna last.”
Softly I say, “Maybe people will look at you and me and think the same thing.”
“It’s literally not the same thing at all. We’re only going to be a couple of hours apart, and then you’re transferring. That’s one year tops. I’ll drive down on weekends. It’s literally not a big deal.”
“You just said literally twice,” I say, to make him smile. When he doesn’t, I say, “You’ll have practice and games. You won’t want to be at William and Mary every weekend.” It’s the first time I’ve had this thought.
For just a moment Peter looks stung, but then he shrugs and says, “Fine, or you’ll come up here. We’ll get you used to the drive. It’s basically all just I-64.”
“William and Mary doesn’t let freshmen have cars. Neither does
. I checked.”
Peter brushes this off. “So I’ll get my mom to drop my car off when I want to come see you. It’s not like it’s far. And you can take the bus. We’ll make it work. I’m not worried about us.”
I am, a little, but I don’t say so, because Peter doesn’t seem to want to talk about practicalities. I guess I don’t either.
Scooting closer to me, he asks, “Want me to stay over tonight?
I can come back after my mom goes to bed. I can distract you if you get sad.”
“Nice try,” I tell him, pinching his cheek.
“Did Josh ever spend the night? With your sister, I mean.”
I ponder this. “Not that I know of. I mean, I really doubt it. We’re talking about my sister and Josh, after all.”
“That’s them,” Peter says, dipping his head low and rubbing his cheek against mine. He loves how soft my cheeks are; he’s always saying that. “We’re nothing like them.”
“You’re the one who brought them up,” I start to say, but then he is kissing me, and I can’t even finish a thought, much less a sentence.