I giggle. I’ve never met a third before. “Are you really?”
“Yeah. It’s annoying. My dad’s a junior, so he’s JJ, but my extended family still calls me Little John.” He grimaces. “I’d much rather be John Ambrose than Little John. Sounds like a rapper or that guy from Robin Hood.”
“Your family’s so fancy.” I only ever saw John’s mom when she was picking him up. She looked younger than the other mothers, she had John’s same milky skin, and her hair was longer than the other moms’, straw-colored.
“No. My family isn’t fancy at all. My mom made Jell-O salad last night for dessert. And, like, my dad only has steak cooked well-done. We only ever take vacations we can drive to.”
“I thought your family was kind of . . . well, rich.” I feel immediate shame for saying “rich.” It’s tacky to talk about other people’s money.
“My dad’s really cheap. His construction company is pretty successful, but he prides himself on being a self-made man. He didn’t go to college; neither did my grandparents. My sisters were the first in our family.”
“I didn’t know that about you,” I say. All these new things I’m learning about John Ambrose McClaren!
“Now it’s your turn to tell me something I don’t know about you,” John says.
I laugh. “You already know more than most people. My love letter made sure of that.”
The next morning, I sneeze as I’m putting on my coat, and Stormy raises one pencil-drawn eyebrow at me. “Catch a cold playing in the snow last night with Johnny?”
I squirm. I’d hoped she wouldn’t bring it up. The last thing I want to do is discuss her midnight rendezvous with Mr. Morales! We watched Stormy go back to her apartment and then waited half an hour before John went back to Mr. Morales’s. Weakly, I say, “Sorry we snuck out. It was so early, and we couldn’t fall asleep, so we thought we’d play in the snow.”
Stormy waves a hand. “It’s exactly what I hoped would happen.” She winks at me. “That’s why I made Johnny stay with Mr. Morales, of course. What’s the fun in anything if there aren’t a few roadblocks to spice things up?”
In awe, I say, “You’re so crafty!”
“Thank you, darling.” She’s quite pleased with herself. “You know, he’d make a great first husband, my Johnny. So, did you French him, at least?”
My face burns. “No!”
“You can tell me, honey.”
“Stormy, we didn’t kiss, and even if we had, I wouldn’t discuss it with you.”
Stormy’s nose goes thin and haughty. “Well, isn’t that so very selfish of you!”
“I have to go, Stormy. My dad’s waiting for me out front. See you!”
As I hurry out the door, she calls out, “Don’t you worry, I’ll get it out of Johnny! See you both at the party, Lara Jean!”
When I step outside, the sun is shining bright and much of the snow has already melted away. It’s almost like last night was a dream.
THE NIGHT BEFORE THE USO party, I call Chris on speakerphone as I’m rolling a log of shortbread dough in sage sugar. “Chris, can I borrow your Rosie the Riveter poster?”
“You can have it but what do you want it for?”
“For the 1940s USO party I’m throwing at Belleview tomorrow—”
“Stop, I’m bored. God, all you ever talk about is Belleview!”
“It’s my job!”
“Ooh, should I get a job?”
I roll my eyes. Every conversation we have turns back to Chris and the concerns of Chris. “Hey, speaking of fun jobs for you, what do you think about being a cigar girl for the party? You could wear a cute outfit with a little hat.”
“No, chocolate ones. Cigars are bad for old people.”
“Will there be booze?”
I’m about to say yes, but only for the residents, but I think better of it. “I don’t think so. It could be a dangerous combination with their medications and their walkers.”
“When is it again?”
“Oh, sorry. I can’t give up a Friday night for this. Something better will definitely come up on a Friday. A Tuesday, maybe. Can you change it to next Tuesday?”
“No! Can you just please bring the poster to school tomorrow?”
“Yeah, but you have to text me with a reminder.”
“’Kay.” I blow my hair out of my face and start slicing the cookie roll. I still have to chop carrots and celery for the crudités and also pipe my meringues. I’m doing red-white-and-blue-striped meringue kisses, and I’m nervous about the colors blending together. Oh well. If they do, then people will just have to live with purple meringue kisses. There are worse things. Speaking of worse things . . . “Have you heard anything from Gen? I’ve been so careful, but it seems like she’s barely playing.” There’s silence on the other end.
“She’s probably too busy doing sex voodoo on Peter,” I say, half-hoping Chris will chime in. She’s always the first in line to rip on Gen.
But she doesn’t. All she says is “I’ve gotta go—my mom’s bitching at me to take out the dog.”
“Don’t forget the poster!”
AFTER SCHOOL KITTY AND I set up camp in the kitchen, where there’s the best light. I bring down my speakers and play the Andrews Sisters to get us in the right spirit. Kitty puts down a towel and lays out all my makeup, bobby pins, hair spray.
I hold up a packet of individual false eyelashes. “Where’d you get these from?”
“Brielle stole them from her sister and she gave me a pack.”
“She won’t notice. She has tons!”
“You can’t just take people’s stuff.”
“I didn’t take it—Brielle did. Anyway, I can’t give it back now. Do you want me to put them on you or not?”
I hesitate. “Do you even know how?”
“Yeah, I’ve watched her sister put them on plenty of times.” Kitty takes the eyelashes out of my hand. “If you don’t want me to use them on you, fine. I’ll save them for myself.”
“Well . . . all right then. But no more stealing.” I frown. “Hey, do you guys ever take my stuff?” Come to think of it, I haven’t seen my cat-ears knit beanie in months.