Page 14 of 25
You’re all over each other at rehearsals.
Kat sighs. They kind of are. She wishes she could tell Pen it’s all an act, but things have been going so well, she can’t risk it. Everyone keeps saying how cute she and Mase are: the adults in the cast, when Mase makes her a cup of tea during breaks or loans her his cardigan with the leather patches on the elbows (which she has now permanently borrowed); her family, after Mase came over to watch a movie and brought her a pint of strawberry gelato from the creamery; Miss Lydia, after she caught them kissing outside the café one afternoon; even strangers on the street. And when they’ve had rehearsal together, Adam has been downright surly. It’s delicious. Kat can only conclude that he’s miserable because she’s happy.
The thing is, she has been really happy.
She’s been having so much fun with Mase. She’s rocking it at rehearsal and at work. Ms. Randall has been very complimentary about Kat’s portrayal of Jo. Miss Lydia loved her design suggestions and has given her a ton of responsibility. No one has ever trusted Kat with a project like this before. Everyone, even Gram, thinks she’s the flighty Garrett girl.
Sure you don’t want to come help us prime the chalkboard wall? she texts Pen.
Then I’ll see you at rehearsal!
Kat sighs. She has been kind of neglecting Pen. It’s been surprisingly challenging to find time for her best friend between work and rehearsals and Mase.
Mase clatters downstairs. “Okay. Let’s do this.”
Kat hands him a piece of chalk. “You start on that side, and I’ll start over here, and we’ll meet in the middle. Just do what I do.” She drags a stepladder over to her side, climbs up, and starts scrubbing the chalk against the top of the wall. Her shoulder aches, and she stretches it. “Ugh.”
“What’s up?” Mase asks, dragging a step stool across the floor.
“Do you have Advil? My shoulder hurts.”
Mase waggles his dark eyebrows at her. “Want a massage? I’ve got magic hands.”
“You don’t want to prime the wall,” she says.
“I am not especially looking forward to it,” he admits, shoving the step stool in her direction. “Sit. Come on. Don’t be a martyr. Brandon was a swimmer, and he was always messing up his shoulder. I know what I’m doing.”
He talks about Brandon differently now. Like maybe it doesn’t hurt so much to mention him or the things they used to do together.
Kat sits on the step stool, and Mase stands behind her. “Move your hair.”
She pulls her hair into a high bun. “All right, show me what you’ve got.”
He does. Kat doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing with his thumbs and forearms and maybe his elbow, but it’s definitely untangling some knots along her shoulder and neck, and it feels amazing. “Oh my God,” she breathes.
“I know, right? I told you so,” he gloats.
“You’re such a jerk. Why haven’t you been doing this, like, every day? I’m going to make you do this every day now.”
“What do I get in return?” His thumbs are moving in small, firm circles around her neck.
Kat tosses a flirty smile over her shoulder. “What do you want?”
He leans down and kisses her. It’s a soft, sweet kiss, but it surprises her, because there’s no one watching. No audience. Aren’t they only supposed to be kissing where people can see them?
It’s not the first time that’s happened this week. They’ve both initiated it. Last night when Mase dropped her off after rehearsal, they sat in his car talking and joking around for half an hour, and then Kat leaned over and kissed him. The street was quiet and dark, and she hadn’t done it in case one of her sisters was peeking out the window. She’d kissed him because she wanted to.
He hadn’t exactly complained either. He’d kissed her back, tugging gently on her bottom lip. It had been a really nice kiss.
“Okay, boss,” he says now. “Let’s prime this wall.”
“Nooooo,” Kat complains.
He tweaks her bun. “Come on, slacker.”
Then his phone sounds a weird chime, and he freezes.
“What?” Kat asks.
Mase is already across the room, snatching his phone off the counter, punching in his password. “That’s Brandon! That’s his ringtone. He hasn’t texted me since—since the last time I texted him. When he told me he needed some space.”
Which was the day Kat waltzed into the Tabby Cat Café and suggested they start fake-dating.
Her stomach tenses. She’s nervous for him; that’s all. She stands up. “What does it say?”
Mase stares at his phone and then at her. “He’s coming home for Tea Party. He wants to know if we can talk.” Mase grins. “I think our plan is working! Oh my God, Kat, you’re freaking brilliant!”
Kat’s stomach sinks.
Isn’t this what she wanted, though? What they both wanted?
Wasn’t this the whole point?
The next day, at lunchtime, Vi walks down Queen Street with Athena and Juno. She’s meeting Cece in Bishop Park for their first dog-walking date. It’s not really a date, of course—Cece hasn’t even said that she likes girls!—but Vi keeps calling it a date in her head. Which is making her nervous. Which is absurd.
Just ahead of her, Bea pushes through the door of the Daily Grind with Chloe Chan. They settle into the wrought iron chairs with a pair of iced coffees. Vi stares in astonishment as she approaches them. She has never heard Bea say anything nice about Chloe. Not once. They’ve always been fiercely competitive. Or at least Bea has. Vi’s never been sure if the competition was quite as fierce on Chloe’s side.
Athena sees Chloe and yanks Vi down the street toward her owner, barking ecstatically.
“Hey! Oh my gosh. Hi, Athena!” Chloe squeals, kneeling on the sidewalk to pet the little golden retriever. Athena puts her enormous paws on Chloe’s shoulders and almost knocks her over.
“Hey, Vi,” Bea says.
It’s nice to be greeted before the dogs for once…although, to be fair, Vi knows her neighbors’ pets’ names better than she knows her neighbors’. For a good six months, the Hannigans were “the couple with that fat ginger cat named Crookshanks.”
“Hi. Are you guys working on your raft?” Vi asks.
Bea leans over to pet Juno. “No. We’re having coffee. We can have coffee without working on something.”
“You can?” Vi asks. Bea is the queen of multitasking. She usually acts as though if she stops to just breathe for a minute, the world might fall apart.
“It’s weird, right? We’re friends now,” Chloe says, climbing back into her chair.
“Oh. Okay.” Vi honestly thought Bea hated Chloe. “Where’s Erik?”
“It’s just Chloe and me. Having coffee. I’m allowed to have coffee on my lunch break without Erik,” Bea snaps.
“You’re saying ‘coffee’ a lot,” Vi points out. “Are you okay?”
Chloe laughs, and then Bea is laughing too, both hands covering her freckled face. “No. Not really. I don’t want to talk about it.”
Vi frowns. Bea has seemed more stressed than usual lately. She’s been staying up super late, baking. Usually, she only does that before big exams. Vi wonders if her sister is getting nervous about going to Georgetown. She doesn’t want to embarrass Bea by asking in front of Chloe, though. “Um, okay. See you later.”
“Thanks for walking Athena,” Chloe calls. “See you later, boo!”
Vi is ninety-five percent sure “boo” is directed at Athena, not her. She loops Athena’s leash around her wrist and heads down the street. She only gets as far as the Tabby Cat Café before she runs into another of her sisters. Kat is hauling a giant bag of trash out to the curb. She dumps it next
to the already-full trashcan and heaves a theatrical sigh. Naturally, both dogs hurry over to sniff the garbage and see if there’s anything they could eat.
“Kat?” Vi says.
“Vi! Hey, are you busy?” Kat scratches her nose, leaving a streak of white paint across it.
Vi waves her free hand at the two dogs. “Kind of, yeah.”
“Oh. I have three more trash bags to bring out, and they’re heavy,” Kat complains. There’s white paint on her knee too. And on her elbow.
“Where’s Mase?” Vi asks.
“Mase. Called. Out. Sick.” Kat’s voice is brittle, and she overenunciates every word.
Vi takes a big step back. “You probably have whatever he has. Don’t breathe on me.”
Kat narrows her blue eyes. “He’s not actually sick, Vi. He’s hiding from me.”
“Oh.” There seems to be a lot going on with her sisters today. “Is—um, is everything okay?”
“No. I don’t know. I hate boys,” Kat says. “Is being a lesbian easier?”
“I don’t think so,” Vi says. She doesn’t exactly have any point of comparison.
“Wait, is today your dog-walking date with Cece?” Kat looks at her, suddenly interested.
“It’s not a date!” Vi blushes. She confided in Des this morning at breakfast that she was excited about her plans with Cece, and maybe she referred to it as a date. Kat had been lurking in the hall, eavesdropping, and overheard her poor choice of words. “Please don’t call it a date. Also, do you know you’re covered in paint?”
“I know.” Kat sighs.
Vi is surprised that her sister hasn’t already scrubbed it off then. Kat is usually immaculate in public. Vi peers at her: Kat’s long, bright-red curls are straggling out of their bun; she’s wearing jean shorts and an old Star Wars T-shirt with the neck cut out; she’s covered in paint; and she’s not wearing lipstick. Something is definitely wrong.
“I’m repainting the trim because it was all gross and gray. I figured while I’m waiting for it to dry so I can give it a second coat, I should haul out the trash. It’s full of all those ugly old cat figurines and china plates. But Mase isn’t here, and I really need his help.”
Vi frowns. She likes Mase. He’s one of the handful of openly out kids at school; he’s in the Gay Straight Alliance with her. When he came over to watch a movie with Kat the other night, she found out that he’s also a Riverdale fan. He is about a hundred times nicer than Kat’s last boyfriend. Still, something is clearly amiss. Kat looks like she’s going to cry—not fake, crocodile tears to get something she wants, but legit cry.
“Cece and I are going to walk the dogs in the park, and then I have to take them home,” Vi says. “But…I could come help you paint the trim after that, if you want.”
“Seriously? You’re the best!” Kat steps forward as though she’s going to hug her, and Vi hastily steps back.
“Don’t touch me; you’re gross. I’ll help you, but I get to choose the painting music,” she stipulates. “No Broadway stuff. I’m thinking Halsey.”
Kat nods. “Fair. Totally fair. Thank you, Vi.”
Vi watches her sister trudge back inside. Then she leads the dogs past the SunTrust and Carl’s Pharmacy and the post office with its flags hanging limp in the still summer air. The working historical replica of the USS Abigail is anchored down at the dock, with a crowd of tourists waiting to board. There will be tours every afternoon for the next week, till the Tea Party reenactment next Saturday.
Athena spots a little black spaniel across the street and starts barking and yanking Vi forward. The Chans are still working on leash training so that she doesn’t pull so much, but for now, she’s wearing a special puppy harness instead of a collar. Vi turns onto Water Street. Tall, narrow brick colonials stand like sentinels right up against the sidewalk, with gorgeous back porches overlooking the river. Vi always wonders what it’d be like to live in one of those houses. She imagines spending whole afternoons reading and watching sailboats go by. She imagines holding hands with Cece and watching the fireworks, just the two of them.
Cece has stopped by the store twice this week before her shifts at Tia Julia’s. On Tuesday, she and Vi sat inside the pirate ship beneath the stairs, their knees almost touching, and talked about their favorite books for two whole hours. Yesterday, Cece texted Vi to tell her she had seen Algernon, and then they texted back and forth about Reign of the Fallen, which Cece had borrowed and loved. Now, every time her phone buzzes, Vi’s heart leaps.
As she waits for Cece at the entrance to Bishop Park, it feels like her heart is still leaping. Like it’s in a permanent state of hope.
Are they becoming friends—awesome in itself, of course—or is it possible that maybe, just maybe, Vi’s feelings aren’t totally unrequited? She might write swoony Beronica fics, but IRL Vi’s never had a girlfriend. Back in eighth grade, she and her online friend Cara, a.k.a. CaraLovesClexa, flirted and chatted and sent each other snaps on Snapchat all the time. But Cara lived all the way in Portland, Oregon, and after a while, they drifted apart. Vi’s never kissed anyone. At school, she’s always been a loner. She’s not ostracized or anything, but most of the time, she’d honestly rather be alone with a good book.
It turns out, it’s kind of amazing to have someone to text back and forth with. Someone who stops by the store to see her, not Des. Someone who thinks she’s cool and funny and confident, not weird. Vi still feels self-conscious with Cece, better at listening than talking, but she’s learning to open up. She’s afraid to hope for more and get disappointed—or, worse, risk losing this fledgling friendship.
“Vi!” Cece is jogging toward her. Athena jumps up, planting her oversized paws on Cece’s thighs. Cece is wearing short pink shorts that show off her long brown legs. She’s only an inch or two taller than Vi, but it seems like her legs go on forever. She’s like a stork, or—something prettier than a stork. “Hey! How are my favorite girls?”
Vi would like to think that she is one of Cece’s favorite girls, but she’s pretty sure Cece means the dogs. “Hey,” she says. “Want to take Juno? I’m trying to leash train this monster.”
“Of course. Aw. Furry little monsterface, you’re so adorable. Yes, you are,” Cece coos, petting Athena’s floppy ears. She reaches for Juno’s leash, but Vi’s banned books bracelet gets tangled up with it. “Hold still,” Cece says, her fingers gentle against Vi’s wrist. Vi blushes and hopes Cece can’t feel her pulse racing.
They follow the jogging path down to the river and around the perimeter of the park. The midday sun is killer, and there’s no breeze coming off the water today. After two laps, sweat is trickling down Vi’s neck and along her spine, and her hair is escaping its braid in little wisps around her face.
A kid on a skateboard whizzes past, and Athena barks and lunges toward him. “Athena, no!” Vi says, trying to redirect her with a treat. It is more successful than it was yesterday, but her job is going to get harder as the town gets more crowded with tourists.
“Let’s give the monsters some water,” she says. Both dogs are panting, pink tongues lolling.
“Want to go over in the shade?” Cece suggests. The white gazebo in the middle of the park is a popular site for proposals and weddings, and it’s the only patch of shade nearby.
When they reach it, Vi pulls out a bottle of water and the collapsible dog bowl. The dogs take turns lapping up water, nudging each other out of the way. She can’t imagine being furry in this heat.
“Can we talk for a minute?” Cece asks.
“Sure.” Vi’s heart starts to hammer in her chest. She’s suddenly unsure what to do with her hands. She gulps the last of the water from the bottle, swallows wrong, and starts coughing.
“Are you okay?” Cece asks.
Vi nods, red-faced and sputtering.
Cece sits on the grass with her long legs stretched out in front of he
r. Vi sits next to her, cross-legged, leaving enough space for Juno to plop down between them. Cece laughs, swats Juno’s fluffy white tail away from her face, and then fiddles nervously with the silver cross she wears around her neck.
“There’s something I want to tell you.” Her dark eyes meet Vi’s.
Vi nods encouragingly. Cece looks so serious. Is this what she thinks it is?
Cece takes a deep breath and then says it fast, in a rush: “I think I like girls too. I mean…I do. I like girls in addition to boys. I think maybe I’m bi.” She stares down at the grass, then darts a glance at Vi. “You don’t look surprised.”
Vi smiles. Tries to look calm and reassuring, even though inside she is freaking out. Cece likes girls! That means it is not impossible that, someday, Cece could like her.
“Reading every bi and lesbian YA book at Arden was kind of a big clue,” she admits. “But thank you for telling me.”
Not that this is about her—it’s not—but it makes her so happy that Cece trusts her enough to share this with her.
Cece smiles back. “You’re the first person I’ve told. I wanted to tell you last week, actually, at the Daily Grind. But I got nervous and chickened out.”
“You don’t have to tell anybody unless you want to,” Vi reassures her.
“I haven’t told my parents yet. I’m scared how they’ll react.” Cece tugs on the cross around her neck. “I’m scared what my abuela will say. But I did tell them Ben and I broke up.”
“I’m really proud of you,” Vi says, and then she winces, hoping that doesn’t sound too presumptuous or patronizing. “I mean, I know you were worried about it. How did they take it?”
“It was hard. They really love Ben, and they’ve been friends with his parents for years. They were so excited when we started dating. I think they were planning our wedding and naming hypothetical future grandchildren,” Cece admits. Juno, maybe sensing her distress—dogs are awesome like that—puts her furry white head in Cece’s lap.
“You’re fifteen,” Vi says. “They shouldn’t put that kind of pressure on you.”
Cece pets Juno. “I know. I just hate feeling like I disappointed them somehow.”
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