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IF I COULD CRAWL INTO a hole and burrow in it comfortably and live out the rest of my days in it, well, then that is what I would do.
Why did I have to bring up that kiss? Why?
I still remember everything about that day at John Ambrose McClaren’s house. We were in the basement, and it smelled like mildew and laundry detergent. I was wearing white shorts and an embroidered blue-and-white halter top I stole out of Margot’s closet. I had on a strapless bra for the first time ever. It was one of Chris’s, and I kept adjusting it because it felt unnatural.
It was one of our first boy-girl hangouts on a weekend and at night. That was a weird thing too, because it felt purposeful. Not the same as going over to Allie’s house after school and neighborhood boys are there hanging out with her twin brother. Also not the same as going to the arcade at the mall knowing we would probably run into boys. This was making a plan, getting dropped off, wearing a special bra, all on a Saturday night. No parents around, just us in John’s ultraprivate basement. John’s older brother was supposed to be watching us, but John paid him ten dollars to stay in his room.
Not that anything exciting happened, for instance an impromptu game of spin the bottle or seven minutes in heaven—two possibilities for which us girls had prepared for with gum and lip gloss. All that happened was the boys played video games and us girls watched and played on our phones and whispered to each other. And then people’s moms and dads were picking them up, and it was so anticlimactic after all that planning and anticipation. It was disappointing for me, not because I liked anyone, but because I liked romance and drama and I was hoping something exciting would happen to someone.
Peter and I were downstairs alone, the last two people to be picked up. We were sitting on the couch. I kept texting my dad, Where are uuuuuu? Peter was playing a game on his phone.
And then, out of nowhere, he said, “Your hair smells like coconuts.”
We weren’t even sitting that close. I said, “Really? You can smell it from there?”
He scooted closer and took a sniff, nodding. “Yeah, it reminds me of Hawaii or something.”
“Thanks!” I said. I wasn’t positive it was a compliment, but it seemed like enough of one to say thanks. “I’ve been switching between this coconut one and my sister’s baby shampoo, to do an experiment on which makes my hair softer—”
Then Peter Kavinsky leaned right in and kissed me, and I was stunned.
I’d never thought of him any kind of way before that kiss. He was too pretty, too smooth. Not my type of boy at all. But after he kissed me, he was all I could think about for months after.
* * *
What if Peter is just the beginning? What if . . . what if my other letters somehow got sent too? To John Ambrose McClaren. Kenny from camp. Lucas Krapf.
Oh my God, Josh.
I leap up off the floor. I’ve got to find that hatbox. I’ve got to find those letters.
I go back outside to the track. I don’t see Chris anywhere, so I guess she is smoking behind the field house. I go straight over to Coach, who is sitting on the bleachers with his phone.
“I can’t stop throwing up,” I whimper. I double over and cradle my arms to my stomach. “Can I please go to the nurse’s office?”
Coach barely looks up from his phone. “Sure.”
As soon as I’m out of his eye line, I make a run for it. Gym’s my last period of the day, and my house is only a couple of miles from school. I run like the wind. I don’t think I’ve ever run so hard or so fast in my life, and I likely never will again. I run so hard, a couple of times I have to stop because I feel like I really am going to throw up. And then I remember the letters, and Josh, and Up close, your face wasn’t so much handsome as beautiful, and I’m off and running again.
As soon as I get home, I dash upstairs and go into my closet for my hatbox. It’s not sitting on the top shelf where it usually sits. It’s not on the floor, or behind my stack of board games. It’s not anywhere. I get on my hands and knees and start rifling through piles of sweaters, shoe boxes, craft supplies. I look in places it could not possibly be, because it’s a hatbox and it’s big, but I look anyway. My hatbox is nowhere.
I collapse onto the floor. This is a horror movie. My life has become a horror movie. Next to me my phone buzzes. It’s Josh. Where are you? Did you get a ride home with Chris?
I turn my phone off and go down to the kitchen and call Margot on the house phone. It’s still my first impulse, to go to her when things get bad. I’ll just leave out the Josh part of it and focus on the Peter part. She’ll know what to do; she always knows what to do. I’m all set to burst out, Gogo, I miss you so much and everything’s a mess without you, but when she picks up the phone, she sounds sleepy, and I can tell that I’ve woken her up. “Were you sleeping?” I ask.
“No, I was just lying down,” she lies.
“Yes you were sleeping! Gogo, it’s not even ten o’clock over there! Wait, is it? Did I calculate wrong again?”
“No, you’re right. I’m just so tired. I’ve been up since five, because . . .” Her voice trails off. “What’s wrong?”
I hesitate. Maybe it’s better not to burden Margot with all of this. I mean, she just got to college: this is what she’s worked for; this is her dream come true. She should be having fun and not worrying over how things are going back home without her. Besides, what would I even say? I wrote a bunch of love letters and they got sent out, including one I wrote to your boyfriend? “Nothing’s wrong,” I say. I’m doing what Margot would do, which is figure it out on my own.
“It definitely sounds like something’s wrong.” Margot yawns. “Tell me.”
“Go back to sleep, Gogo.”
“Okay,” she says, yawning again.
We hang up and I make myself an ice cream sundae right in the carton: chocolate sauce, whipped cream, chopped nuts. The works. I take it back up to my room and eat it lying down. I feed it to myself like medicine, until I’ve eaten the whole thing, every last bite