And then the piano music stops and I hear Stormy call out, “Lara Jean? Lara Jean, where are you? Come out from behind the table. I want to introduce you to someone.”
Slowly, I rise to my feet. John McClaren is staring at me. “What are you doing here?” he asks me, tugging on his shirt collar like it’s choking him.
“I volunteer here,” I say, still keeping a safe distance. Don’t want to spook him.
Stormy claps her hands. “You two know each other?”
John says, “We’re friends, Grandma. We used to live in the same neighborhood.”
“Stormy’s your grandma?” My mind is blown. So John is her grandson she wanted to set me up with! Of all the nursing homes in all the towns in all the world! My grandson looks like a young Robert Redford. He does; he really does.
“She’s my great-grandmother by marriage,” John says.
Stormy’s eyes dart around the room. “Hush up! I don’t want people knowing you’re my great-anything.”
John lowers his voice. “She was my great-grandpa’s second wife.”
“My favorite of all my husbands,” Stormy says. “May he rest in peace, that old buzzard.” She looks from John to me. “Johnny, be a dear and bring me a vodka soda with lots of lemons.” She sits back at the piano bench and starts to play “When I Fall in Love.”
John starts toward me and I point at him. “Stop right there, John Ambrose McClaren. Do you have my name?”
“No! I swear I don’t. I have—I’m not saying who I have.” He pauses. “Wait a minute. Do you have mine?”
I shake my head, innocent as a little lost lamb. He still looks suspicious, so I busy myself with making Stormy’s drink. I know just how she likes it. I drop in three ice cubes, an eight-second pour of vodka, and a splash of soda water. Then I squeeze three lemon slices and drop them in the glass. “Here,” I say, holding out the glass.
“You can put it on the table,” he says.
“John! I’m telling you, I don’t have your name!”
He shakes his head. “Table.”
I set the glass back down. “I can’t believe you don’t believe me. I feel like I remember you being a trusting kind of person who sees the good in people.”
Sober as a judge, John says, “Just . . . stay on your side of the table.”
Shoot. How am I supposed to take him out if he makes me stay ten feet away all night?
Airily I say, “Fine by me. I don’t know if I believe you, either, so! I mean, this is a pretty big coincidence, you showing up here.”
“Stormy guilted me into coming!”
I snap my head in Stormy’s direction. She’s still playing the piano, looking over at us with a big smile.
Mr. Morales sidles up to the bar and says, “May I have this dance, Lara Jean?”
“You may,” I say. To John I warn, “Don’t you dare come close to me.”
He throws his hands out like he’s warding me off. “Don’t you come close to me!”
As Mr. Morales leads me in a slow dance, I press my face against his shoulder to hide my smile. I’m really quite good at this espionage thing. John McClaren is sitting on a love seat now, watching Stormy play and chatting with Alicia. I’ve got him right where I want him. I can’t even believe how lucky I am. I’d been planning on showing up at his next Model UN meeting, but this is so much better.
I’m thinking I’ll come up from behind him, take him by surprise, when Stormy stands up and declares she needs a piano break, she wants to dance with her grandson. I go turn on the stereo and cue up the CD we decided on for her break.
John is protesting: “Stormy, I told you I don’t dance.” He used to try and fake sick during the square-dancing unit in gym—that’s how much he hates dancing.
Stormy doesn’t listen, of course. She pulls him off the love seat and starts trying to teach him how to fox-trot. “Put your hand on my waist,” she orders. “I didn’t wear heels to sit behind a piano all night.” Stormy’s trying to teach him the steps, and he keeps stepping on her feet. “Ouch!” she snaps.
I can’t stop giggling. Mr. Morales is too. He dances us over closer. “May I cut in?” he asks.
“Please!” John practically pushes Stormy into Mr. Morales’s arms.
“Johnny, be a gentleman and ask Lara Jean to dance,” Stormy says as Mr. Morales twirls her.
John gives me a searching look, and I have a feeling he’s still suspicious of me and whether or not I have his name.
“Ask her to dance,” Mr. Morales urges, grinning at me. “She wants to dance, don’t you, Lara Jean?”
I shrug a sad kind of shrug. Wistful. The very picture of a girl who is waiting to be asked to dance.
“I want to see the young people dance!” Norman yells.
John McClaren looks at me, one eyebrow raised. “If we’re just swaying back and forth, I probably won’t step on your feet.”
I feign hesitation and then nod. My pulse is racing. Target acquired.
We step toward each other, and I thread my arms around his neck, and he puts his around my waist, and we sway, off beat. I’m short, not even five-two, and he looks just under six feet tall, but in my heels we’re a good height for dance partners. From across the room Stormy smiles knowingly at me, which I pretend not to see. I should probably go ahead and take him out before he’s onto me, but the residents are so enjoying watching us dance. It couldn’t hurt to hold off just a few minutes.
As we sway, I’m remembering the eighth grade formal, how everyone paired up and no one asked me to go. I’d thought Genevieve and I were riding over together, but then she said Peter’s mom was taking them, and they were going to a restaurant first, like a real date, and it would be awkward if I tagged along. So it ended up being her and Peter and Sabrina Fox and John. I’d hoped John McClaren would ask me for a slow dance, but he didn’t; he didn’t dance with anyone. The only guy who really danced was Peter. He was always in the center of the cool-people dance circle.
John’s hand is pressed against my back, leading me, and I think he’s forgotten all about the game. I’ve got him in my crosshairs now.
“You’re not so bad,” I tell him. Song’s halfway over. I’d better hop to the beat. I’ve got you in five, four, three, two—
“So . . . you and Kavinsky, huh?”