John and I follow Genevieve around town for a bit, but we lose her at a stoplight so we just head over to Belleview. There’s a USO party planning meeting I have to get to. With the party so close, we’re all doubling our efforts to have everything ready in time. Belleview has become my solace, my safe place throughout all this. In part because Genevieve doesn’t know about it, so she can’t tag me out, but also because it’s the one place I won’t run into her and Peter, free to do whatever they want together now that he’s single again.
It starts snowing at the beginning of our meeting. Everyone crowds around the windows to look, shaking their heads and saying, “Snow in April! Can you believe it?” and then we go back to work on USO decorations. John helps with the banner.
By the time we’re done, there are a few inches of snow on the ground, and the snow has turned to ice. “Johnny, you can’t drive in this weather. I absolutely forbid it,” Stormy says.
“Grandma, it’ll be fine,” John says. “I’m a good driver.”
Stormy delivers a stinging smack on his arm. “I told you never to call me Grandma! Just Stormy. The answer is no. I’m putting my foot down. The both of you will stay at Belleview tonight. It’s far too dangerous.” She sends me a stern look. “Lara Jean, you call your father right now and tell him I won’t allow you out in this weather.”
“He can come get us,” I suggest.
“And have that poor widower get into a car accident on the way here? No. I won’t have it. Give me your phone. I’ll call him myself.”
“But—there’s school tomorrow,” I say.
“Cancelled,” Stormy says with a smile. “They just announced it on the TV.”
I protest, “I don’t have any of my things! No toothbrush, or pajamas, or anything!”
She puts her arm around me. “Lie back and let Stormy take care of everything. Don’t you worry your pretty little head.”
So that is how it came to be that John Ambrose McClaren and I are spending the night together at a retirement home.
A snowstorm in April is a magical thing. Even if it is because of climate change. A few pink flowers have already sprouted in the gardens outside Stormy’s living room window, and snow is shaking down on it hard, the way Kitty shakes powdered sugar on pancakes—fast and a lot. Soon you can’t even see the pink of the flowers; it’s all just covered in white.
We’re playing checkers in Stormy’s living room, the big kind of checkers you can buy at Cracker Barrel. John has beaten me twice and he keeps asking me if I’m hustling him. I’m coy about it, but the answer is no, he’s just better than me at checkers. Stormy serves us piña coladas that she mixes in her blender with “just a splash of rum to warm us up,” and she microwaves frozen spanakopita that neither of us touches. Bing Crosby is playing on her stereo. By nine thirty Stormy is yawning and saying she’ll need her beauty sleep soon. John and I exchange a look—it’s still so early, and I don’t know the last time I went to bed before midnight.
Stormy insists I stay with her and John stay with Mr. Morales in his spare bedroom. I can tell John isn’t crazy about this idea, because he asks, “Can’t I just sleep on your floor?”
I’m surprised when Stormy shakes her head. “I hardly think Lara Jean’s father would appreciate that!”
“I really don’t think my dad would mind, Stormy,” I say. “I could call him if you want.”
But the answer is a firm and resounding no: John must bunk with Mr. Morales. For a lady who’s always telling me to be wild and have adventures and bring the condom, she’s far more old-fashioned than I thought.
Stormy hands John a face towel and a pair of foam earplugs. “Mr. Morales snores,” she tells him as she kisses him good night.
John raises an eyebrow at her. “How do you know?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know!” She shimmies off into the kitchen like the grand dame she truly is.
In a low voice John says to me, “You know what? I really, really wouldn’t.”
I bite the cushiony part of my cheek to keep from laughing.
“Keep your phone on vibrate,” John says before he goes out the door. “I’ll text you.”
I hear the sound of Stormy snoring and the whispery sound of icy snowflakes hitting the windowsill. I keep getting twisted up in Stormy’s sleeping bag, twisted and hot and wishing Stormy didn’t have the heat turned up so high. Old people are always complaining about how cold it is at Belleview, how the heat is “piss-poor,” as Danny in the Azalea building says. Feels plenty hot to me. Stormy’s peach high-neck satin nightgown she insisted I wear isn’t helping matters. I’m lying on my side, playing Candy Crush on my phone, wondering when John will hurry up and text me.
Wanna play in the snow?
I text back right away:
YES! It’s really hot in here.
Meet me in the hallway in two min?
I stand up so fast in my sleeping bag I nearly trip. I use my phone to find my coat, my boots. Stormy is snoring away. I can’t find my scarf, but I don’t want to keep John waiting, so I run out without it.
He’s already in the hallway waiting for me. His hair is sticking up in the back, and on that basis alone I think I could fall in love with him if I let myself. When he sees me, he holds his arms out and sings, “Do you want to build a snowman?” and I burst out laughing so hard John says, “Shh, you’re going to wake up the residents!” which only makes me laugh harder. “It’s only ten thirty!”
We run down the long carpeted hallway, both of us laughing as quietly as we can. But the more you try to laugh quietly, the harder it is to stop. “I can’t stop laughing,” I gasp as we run through the sliding doors and to the courtyard.
We’re both out of breath; we both stop short.
The ground is blanketed in thick white snow, thick as sheep’s wool. It’s so beautiful and hushed, my heart almost hurts with the pleasure of it. I’m so happy in this moment, and I realize it’s because I haven’t thought of Peter once. I turn to look at John, and he’s already looking at me with a half smile on his face. It gives me a nervous flutter in my chest.
I spin around in a circle and sing, “Do you want to build a snowman?” And then we’re both giggling again.
“You’re going to get us kicked out of here,” he warns.