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Are they fighting? They never fight. Kat can’t imagine it. They’re both so smart and ambitious and—well—boring, honestly. They used to be all gooey-sweet, holding hands and kissing, but now they seem so comfortable together. Like everything they do is a routine worn soft by time. Maybe that’s what happens when you’ve been dating forever like they have.
At least Bea doesn’t have to worry about Erik cheating on her. He would never. Bea is totally the person in charge in their relationship.
Kat hides a smile. Earlier this spring, she asked Bea what sex was like. She was pretty sure Bea and Erik had sex: they had been together for five years, and she’d seen birth control pills on Bea’s nightstand. She didn’t know who else to ask, since Pen was a virgin too. Bea told her sex was fun and awkward and great. She said a girl should know her own body, figure out what she liked and didn’t like, and not be afraid to speak up about it. Kat definitely didn’t want to imagine her sister having sex, but she was amused by the idea of Bea ordering Erik around in bed. It was very Bea to want to be in charge, always.
Bea also told Kat not to have sex with Adam unless she could trust him.
There’s a knock on the door, and Kat rushes to open it. Mase. He’s wearing skinny jeans and a T-shirt for a band she’s never heard of. His eyeliner is on point, and his fauxhawk is appropriately spiky. “Hey, gorgeous,” he greets her cheerfully. Then he sees Bea and Erik and his body language changes. “Uh, hi, Bea. Erik.”
“Hi, Mase,” Bea and Erik say in unison.
“Kat’s curfew is midnight,” Erik announces.
“No worries. Rehearsal is over at eleven,” Kat says. Then she wonders if she should have said something else. Pretended they were going to make out in the car or something. Are they going to make out in the car? How far does this fake-dating thing go? What if they don’t seem authentic?
“Drive carefully,” Bea says.
“Of course.” Mase is solemn. He knows what happened to their parents. Everybody knows what happened to their parents.
“Okay, bye. Have fun at the movie!” Kat takes Mase’s hand and pulls him out the door. “Sorry about that. After Adam, they obviously don’t trust my judgment in guys.”
“Adam’s an asshole,” Mase says as they climb into the VW Bug he shares with Em. “I mean…no offense, but why do you even want him back?”
“Don’t worry. I’m going to make him work for it. He’ll have to treat me like a queen,” Kat says, side-stepping the question. She feels weird telling Mase that she wants Adam to fall in love with her so she can dump him. “Why do you want Brandon back? He cheated on you too.”
“Truth. But…” Mase pulls on his seatbelt and waits for her to pull on hers before he starts the engine. “We were really happy before that. I mean, we fought a little at Christmas break because I wanted him to come home more often, and I think he felt kind of suffocated. Maybe I was too clingy or whatever. It was just…I could feel him pulling away.”
His honesty startles Kat into responding in kind. She isn’t very good at being emotionally vulnerable with people who aren’t Pen, but Mase is easy to talk to. “I felt that way with Adam all the time,” she admits. “It’s awful.”
“So why do you want to feel that way again?” Mase presses.
“When we get back together, it’ll be different,” Kat says. “Obviously, he’ll appreciate me more.”
Mase looks at her with a funny expression, and Kat can’t tell what he’s thinking. “I hope so,” he says finally. “You deserve that.”
They’re quiet for the rest of the drive, till Mase parallel parks on High Street, a block away from the Remington Theater. “You ready for this?” he asks after they climb out of the Bug.
“I guess so. Do I look okay?” Kat twirls in a circle. She’s wearing a red maxi skirt with a white tank top that is backless except for two wide horizontal straps.
“You look amazing,” Mase says.
“Yeah? Thank you. It’s not too much for rehearsal?”
“Nope. You look good. Really good.” Mase tugs at the collar of his T-shirt, and Kat grins. Is he blushing? Does he think she’s pretty? Like, not in an intellectual, we-take-good-selfies way, but like he’s actually attracted to her?
“Okay. Let’s do this.” She holds out her hand, Mase takes it, and they walk down the street, into the theater, and down the quiet, echoing hall.
Adam and Jillian aren’t in the rehearsal room yet. Pen has saved Kat a seat, but only one. Awkward. Pen raises her eyebrow when Kat and Mase saunter in hand-in-hand. The stage manager is handing out scripts and contact sheets. Coffee and tea and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies are on a long table near the door.
Kat sets her script and her contact sheet and her clutch down between Mase and Hannah Adler, mouths an apology at Pen, and then goes to make herself a cup of tea. The air-conditioning is on full blast, and it’s freezing. Maybe the backless shirt was not the smartest idea. Adam has strutted in, and he and Jillian sit on the other side of Hannah. Jillian’s wearing her field hockey jacket.
Kat grabs a mint tea packet and dunks the tea bag into a cup of hot water, trying to ignore them.
“Hey, Kat,” Adam says behind her.
She startles, spills the hot water on her hand, and swears. “Um, hi.” She sets the tea down and grabs a handful of napkins.
He pours himself coffee and then hands her a packet of Splenda. Her eyes rush up to meet his. He remembers what kind of sweetener she uses. What does that mean?
It means they dated for almost a year and he’s minimally polite. Get it together, Kat.
“I saw you at the party the other night,” he says. “With Mase.”
“Yeah,” Kat says, guarded. “I saw you too. With Jillian.”
“Are you guys dating now?” Adam asks.
Kat tosses her hair over her shoulder and turns slightly away from him, purposely revealing the long, pale curve of her back. “Not that it’s any of your business, but yes.”
“Huh. I didn’t think he was your type.”
Kat purses her lips. So that’s his tactic? He’s going to be snarky about Mase? “He’s nice and he treats me well. I think that’s my new type.”
“Just kinda surprised. I didn’t think you’d want to share your makeup,” Adam mutters.
What an asshole. Kat smiles. “I don’t mind. Guyliner’s totally on-trend. I don’t think you could pull it off, but it works for Mase. It definitely works.” Adam rolls his eyes as Kat throws the tea bag in the trash. “Jealousy is unbecoming, Adam.”
“What?” he sputters. “I’m not—”
Kat has already walked away. She takes her seat between Hannah and Mase, then leans over to plant a kiss on his cheek. Her lipstick leaves a red lip print, and she giggles.
“Kat. How many times do I have to tell you?” Mase says, loud. “Stop. I’m going to have lipstick all over my body at this rate. Everywhere. If you know what I mean.”
She swats at him, laughing. “Shut up!”
He leans in to whisper in her ear. “Aren’t we trying to make him jealous? He’s totally watching you.”
Kat smirks. “Yes, but we’ve only been dating for three days. I’m not a slut.”
“Four days. You wound me,” Mase whispers. “Maybe you were overcome by my many charms. You couldn’t help yourself. You swooned when presented with the prodigious talent of my tongue.” He waggles his eyebrows at her.
Oh God, now she’s wondering what Mase does with his tongue. Their kisses have been nice but close-mouthed so far. Or did he mean—wait, did he mean other things with his tongue? Like, below-the-belt things? Adam had wanted her to go down on him, and she’d done it a couple times, but he’d never offered to reciprocate. Kat flushes.
“Aw, I forget your youth and innocence,” Mase teases.
“Shut up!” Kat says.
God, Kat, you look like a tomato,” Pen says.
Now everyone’s looking. Curse her redhead genes and loud-mouthed friend.
Kat kicks Mase beneath the table. Then kicks him again, harder, just for good measure.
“Ouch,” the man playing Mase’s grandfather says.
“Sorry! I thought that was the table,” Kat lies, mortified.
“What did the table do to you, young lady?” the older man jokes.
Kat buries her face in her hands. “Nothing! I have done this to myself,” she mutters.
“Cece’s book came in,” Des tells Vi on Thursday afternoon. “Do you want to call her?”
Vi shakes her head emphatically, her red braid flying out behind her. She hates talking on the phone.
From behind the counter, Des raises her eyebrows and gives her a look that clearly says, You are being silly.
“I could maybe text her,” Vi concedes, kneeling on the colorful alphabet carpet. She’s in the middle of reorganizing the board books for real. Des started the project on Tuesday, then lost interest in the middle of it and threw all the books back on the shelves in random order. Vi is cleaning up her sister’s mess and thinking about Cece. She’s been thinking about her a lot since the farm party, but she hasn’t had a good excuse to text her till now. Mrs. Chan doesn’t need Vi to walk Athena this week, so their dog-walking date (not that it’s a real date, obviously) has been postponed. Just when she’s finally stopped avoiding Cece, she hasn’t actually run into her since Saturday night.
Is Cece avoiding her now?
Vi stares at the lock screen of her phone—a picture of Betty and Veronica from Riverdale—as she wills up the courage to text Cece. She types and backspaces and then retypes: Hi Cece. Your book came in at Arden. You can come pick it up anytime. —Vi
As soon as she presses send, she doubts herself and reexamines her word choice. Was that too formal? She slips her phone into the back pocket of her jeans, then immediately fishes it back out and stares at it as though it’s a bomb.
She shouldn’t expect Cece to text right back. She might be at work, or babysitting her brothers, or reading a really good book.
Oh. The ellipsis shows that Cece is typing. Vi holds her breath.
Her phone buzzes. Awesome! Thanks! I’ll come over now.
Vi’s stomach starts to twist itself into nervous knots. They confided in each other at the party. Maybe it was only because there was nobody around to overhear except the horses. Maybe it was because it was so dark, they could hardly see each other’s faces. Whatever the reason, they let themselves be honest and vulnerable. What if Cece regrets that? What if she’s cool and distant now? That would hurt. It would hurt a lot.
A storm’s been brewing all afternoon, and it finally breaks. Rain pounds against the front windows. Thunder cracks, loud, above the classical music playing over the speakers. Vi eyes her sister warily. She isn’t used to the blue hair yet. She isn’t sure she likes it. Des changing her hair—the red hair that all four Garrett sisters share, in varying hues and textures and lengths—seems like a portent of some kind. Like more change is on the way. Vi doesn’t like change. Bea is already leaving at the end of the summer; isn’t that bad enough?
When Cece walks in, the yellow hood of her sweatshirt pulled up over her dark hair, rubber duck rain boots on her feet, and raindrops glittering on her eyelashes, Vi is certain her crush is written all over her face. How could it not be? How could one girl, dripping wet from dashing through a thunderstorm to pick up a book she’s already read, be so completely perfect? Vi looks at Des, helpless. She remembers the way Cece confided in her on Saturday about her family, about Ben, and it feels like a distant, impossible dream. Of all the girls in their class, why would Cece choose to befriend her?
“Hey, Cece,” Des says. “Here to pick up your book?”
Cece nods, lowering her hood, but she heads right for the children’s section, where Vi is still kneeling on the rug, stacking books by subject. “Hey, Vi. What are you doing?”
As Vi explains, Cece settles cross-legged next to her. “Can I help? I love organizing things.”
Is Cece avoiding the storm? Or does she actually want to hang out? Vi tries to temper her excitement. “Sure.”
As they sort the books into piles and then reshelve them by subject (books about animals, families, manners, trucks, bedtime, colors, numbers, ABCs, etc.), they talk about the Nina LaCour book, which Cece says she loved. Vi tells Cece how she went with Des to the NoVa TEEN Book Festival in northern Virginia two springs ago, where Nina LaCour was the keynote speaker, and how beautiful and inclusive her speech was. How it made Vi cry. How she brought a stack of Nina’s books with her and got them all signed. How Nina wasn’t even the only LGBTQ author there.
Somehow, as they’ve talked, they’ve reshelved all the books.
“Do you want to get Frappuccinos? My treat,” Vi says. “As a thank you for helping.”
“You don’t have to do that.” Cece gives her a dimpled grin. “But I’ll never turn down a Frappuccino.”
“Yeah? Des, I’m going to take a break, okay?” Vi gives her sister a quelling look. If Des objects, Vi will murder her.
“Take your time. I think I can handle things here.” Des gestures to the empty store. “I owe you for fixing my mess.”
They dash around the corner to the Daily Grind. By the time they push open the door, Vi’s green Chucks are soaked, and her hair is dripping wet. As they wait behind a pair of elderly women taking a really long time to decide which herbal tea they want, Vi unwinds her messy wet braid.
She looks up to find Cece watching her. “Your hair is so pretty.”
Her hair? Her hair is stick-straight and hangs limp in the summer humidity. Cece’s hair is all thick dark curls. Vi wonders what it would be like to tangle her fingers through it, and then she flushes. “Thanks. What kind of Frappuccino do you want?”
“Mocha chip. Always. What about you?”
“Black cherry.” Vi doesn’t say that anything cherry reminds her of Cece’s lip gloss.
“Let’s play the question game,” Cece says, and Vi’s mind races. Does Cece think she’s a terrible conversationalist, or is this Cece’s way of getting to know her better? “I’ll start. What’s your favorite color?”
“Violet. Violet for Viola. Cliché, I know. What’s yours?”
“Pink.” Cece holds out her shimmery fuchsia nails and grins. “When I was ten, I convinced Mami to let me paint one of my bedroom walls hot pink. The other three are bubblegum.”
“I remember. From when we were kids.” Cece had a big, wooden dollhouse, and they acted out stories with their dolls. They made their Barbies kiss. Is it weird that Vi remembers that? Do straight girls do that too?
“I still like it, even though I hate the stereotypes that go with it. People assume that if I wear pink and do my nails, I must be super girly and not very smart. You wouldn’t believe some of the comments I get at the restaurant.” Cece rolls her eyes. “So many gross old guys telling me how pretty I am and asking if I have a boyfriend. Or they see that I’m brown and I speak Spanish, so they ask where I’m from. Sometimes they compliment me for speaking English so well.”
“People seriously do that?” Vi asks, horrified.
Cece nods, pursing her lips. “All the time. A couple of months ago, Papi was bussing some tables at the restaurant, and he spoke Spanish to one of the waiters. Some dumb ass told him to speak English because he was in America now and asked if he was illegal. It’s ‘undocumented,’ first of all, and second, Papi was born right here in Remington Hollow. Obviously, the guy didn’t know our family owns the restaurant.”
“I hope your dad spit in his drink.” Vi feels clueless for never considering the microaggressions that Cece and her family must encounter on the regular. Unless she chooses to wear one of her
Pride shirts, her neighbors can’t tell she’s gay just by looking at her, whereas Cece is one of only three Latinx kids in their grade.
“Papi kicked him out. But he made sure he left that night with some of the kitchen staff in case the guy and his friends were waiting around to cause trouble. I heard him tell Mami about it, and she said he should have just let it go.” Cece makes a face. “Anyhow. Sorry to be a downer. Let’s change the subject.”
“You’re not a downer!” Vi protests. “Let’s see…what’s your favorite TV show?”
“Jane the Virgin. Is yours The 100?”
Vi can’t believe Cece remembers that detail from their conversation a week ago. She remembers pretty much everything Cece has ever said, but that’s different. “No. I still watch it, but my favorite is Riverdale. I kind of have a crush on Veronica.”
She has a type. Dark-haired, feminine, badass but big-hearted. Like Cece.
“I’ve seen commercials for it,” Cece says as the elderly women in front of them finally pay for their blueberry iced teas and strawberry scones.
Vi and Cece order Frappuccinos, and Vi pays for both. Almost like it’s a date. It’s not a date, obviously. It’s a thank you. But she can’t help wondering what a date with Cece would be like.
As they settle at a small café table in the back, Cece grins at Vi. “Okay…what’s your favorite book of all time?”
“Of all time? That’s a terrible question,” Vi teases. “How can I possibly choose? But I read a really awesome fantasy book yesterday, Reign of the Fallen. It’s about a badass bisexual necromancer who has to save her kingdom from monsters called Shades, which are kind of like zombies. The world building is so good. And it’s going to be a duology! I can’t wait for book two.”
Cece looks interested. “Do you have it at Arden?”
“We do, but you can borrow mine…if you tell me what your favorite book of all time is.” Vi sips her Frappuccino.
Cece laughs her high, fizzy laugh. “I can’t choose either! I’m such a hypocrite. Um…my recent favorite is Wild Beauty. I love that it’s intersectional, you know? There aren’t enough books about queer Latina girls.”
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