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I HAVEN’T SEEN JOSH SINCE he kissed me, but when I get home that night from studying at the library, he is sitting on the front porch in his navy parka, waiting for me. The lights are on in the house; my dad is home. Kitty’s bedroom light is on. I’d rather go on avoiding Josh, but here he is, at my house.
“Hey,” he says. “Can I talk to you?”
I sit down next to him and look straight ahead, across the street. Ms. Rothschild’s put her Christmas tree up too. She always puts it by the window near the door so people can see it from the outside.
“We have to figure out what we’re going to do before Margot gets here. It was my fault what happened. I should be the one to tell her.”
I stare at him in disbelief. “Tell her? Are you nuts? We’re never telling Margot because there’s nothing to tell.”
He juts his chin out. “I don’t want to keep a secret from her.”
“You should have thought of that before you kissed me!” I hiss. “And for the record, if anybody was going to tell her, it would be me. I’m her sister. You were just her boyfriend. And you’re not even that anymore, so . . .”
Hurt flashes across his face and it stays there. “I was never just Margot’s boyfriend. This is weird for me, too, you know. It’s like, ever since I got that letter . . .” He hesitates. “Forget it.”
“Just say it,” I say.
“Ever since I got that letter, things have been messed up between us. It’s not fair. You got to say everything you wanted to say, and I’m the one who has to rearrange the way I think about you; I have to make sense of it in my head. You totally blindsided me, and then you just shut me out. You start dating Kavinsky, you stop being my friend.” He exhales. “Ever since I got your letter . . . I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you.”
Whatever I was expecting him to say, it wasn’t that. It definitely wasn’t that. “Josh . . .”
“I know you don’t want to hear it, but just let me say what I need to say, okay?”
“I hate that you’re with Kavinsky. I hate it. He’s not good enough for you. I’m sorry to say it, but he’s just not. In my opinion, no guy will ever be good enough for you. Least of all me.” Josh ducks his head, and then suddenly he looks up at me and says, “There was this one time, I guess it was a couple of summers ago. We were walking home from somebody’s house—I think it was Mike’s.”
It was hot, around dusk. I was mad because Mike’s older brother Jimmy had said he’d give us a ride home, and then he went somewhere and didn’t come back, so we had to walk. I was wearing espadrilles and my feet were hurting something terrible. Josh kept telling me to keep up with him.
Quietly he says, “It was just me and you. You had on that tan suede fringy shirt you used to wear, with the straps, and it showed your belly button.”
“My Pocahontas-meets-seventies-Cher-style shirt.” Oh, how I loved that shirt.
“I almost kissed you that day. I thought about it. It was this weird impulse I had. I just wanted to see what it would be like.”
My heart stops. “And then?”
“And then I don’t know. I guess I forgot about it.”
I let out a sigh. “I’m sorry you got that letter. You were never supposed to see that. It wasn’t meant for you to ever read. It was just for me.”
“Maybe it was fate. Maybe this was all supposed to happen just like this, because . . . because it was always gonna be you and me.”
I say the first thing that comes to mind. “No, it wasn’t.” And I realize it’s true.
This is the moment I realize I don’t love him, that I haven’t for a while. That maybe I never did. Because he’s right there for the taking: I could kiss him again; I could make him mine. But I don’t want him. I want someone else. It feels strange to have spent so much time wishing for something, for someone, and then one day, suddenly, to just stop.
I tuck my fingers inside my jacket sleeves. “You can’t tell Margot. You have to promise me, Josh.”
Reluctantly he nods.
“Has Margot been in touch with you recently?” I ask him.
“Yeah. She called the other night. She said she wants to hang out while she’s home. She wants to go to DC for the day. Go to the Smithsonian, get dinner in Chinatown.”
“Great. Then that’s what you’ll do.” I pat him on the knee and then quickly take my hand back. “Josh, we just have to act like before. Like always. If we do that, everything will be fine.” I repeat it to myself in my head. Everything will be fine. We’ll all go back to our proper places now. Josh and Margot. Me. Peter.