“That’s great.” I almost say something about Finch, but then I’m not sure what to say because I don’t know what we are or if we’re anything. “Thanks for telling me. I hope Suze knows what a good guy you are.”
He nods, gives me his signature smile—I can see the dimple—and then says, “I don’t know if you heard, but Roamer went after Finch today in gym.”
“What do you mean ‘went after’?”
“Whatever. Banged him up a little. Roamer’s an a*****e.”
“What happened? Like, to them? Did they get expelled?”
“I don’t think so. It was Kappel’s class, and he’s not going to report Roamer and risk losing him for practice. I gotta go.” A few steps away, he turns. “Finch didn’t even try to defend himself. He just stood there and took it.”
In the cafeteria, I walk past my regular table, past Amanda and Roamer and the audience gathered there. I can hear Roamer talking, but I can’t hear what he’s saying.
I walk to the other side of the room, toward a half-empty table, but then behind me I hear my name. Brenda Shank-Kravitz is sitting with the three Brianas and a dark-haired girl named Lara at a round table by the window.
“Hey,” I say. “Do you mind if I join you?” I feel like I’m the new girl again, trying to make friends and figure out where I fit.
Brenda picks up her backpack and sweater and keys and phone and all the other things that are spilled across the table and dumps them onto the floor. I set my tray down and sit next to her.
Lara is so small, she looks like a freshman, even though I know we’re in the same class. She is telling the story of how, just five minutes ago, she accidentally, without meaning to, told her crush she loved him. Instead of crawling under the table, she just laughs and keeps eating.
Then the Brianas are talking about life after high school—one is a musician, one is planning to be a copy editor, and the other is practically engaged to her longtime boyfriend. She says she might run a cookie shop one day or write book reviews, but whatever she does, she’s going to enjoy everything she can while she can. The boyfriend joins us, and the two of them sit side by side looking comfortable and happy and like they really might be together forever.
I eat and listen, and at some point Brenda leans over and says in my ear, “Gabe Romero is poison.” I raise my water bottle and she raises her soda can. We tap them together and drink.
By now, the wandering is really an excuse to drive somewhere and make out. I tell myself I’m not ready because to me sex is a Big Deal, even if some of my friends have been doing it since ninth grade. But the thing is, my body feels this strange, urgent tug toward Finch like it can’t get enough. I add a category to my Germ board—Sex Life—and write a few pages in our wandering notebook, which is slowly turning into my journal/sounding board/place to brainstorm material for the new webzine.
Before Amanda and I stopped being peripheral semi-friends, I remember sleeping over at her house and talking to her older brothers. They told us that girls who Do are sluts and girls who Don’t are teases. Those of us who were there that night took this to heart, because none of the rest of us had older brothers. When we were by ourselves again, Amanda said, “The only way around it is to stay with one guy forever.” But does forever have a built-in ending …?
Finch picks me up Saturday morning, and he looks a little battered. We don’t even drive that far, just to the Arboretum, where we park the car, and before he reaches for me, I say, “What happened with Roamer?”
“How’d you hear about Roamer?”
“Ryan told me. And it’s kind of obvious you were in a fight.”
“Does it make me look hotter?”
“Be serious. What happened?”
“Nothing you need to worry about. He was being an a*****e. Big surprise. Now, if we’re done talking about him, I’ve got other things on my mind.” He climbs into the back of Little B*****d and pulls me after him.
I feel like I’m living for these moments—the moments when I’m just about to lie down beside him, when I know it’s getting ready to happen, his skin on mine, his mouth on mine, and then when he’s touching me and the electric current is shooting through me everywhere. It’s like all the other hours of the day are spent looking forward to right now.
We kiss until my lips are numb, stopping ourselves at the very edge of Someday, saying not yet, not here, even though it takes willpower I didn’t know I had. My mind is spinning with him and with the unexpected Almost of today.
When he gets home, he writes me a message: I am thinking rather consistently of Someday.
I write, Someday soon.
Finch: Someday when?
Nine a.m. Sunday. My house. When I wake up and go downstairs, my parents are in the kitchen slicing bagels. My mom looks at me over the coffee mug Eleanor and I gave her one year on Mother’s Day. Rock Star Mom. She says, “You got a package.”
“Someone left it on the doorstep.”
I follow her into the dining room, thinking that she walks like Eleanor—hair swinging, shoulders back. Eleanor looked more like my dad and I look more like Mom, but she and Mom had the same gestures, same mannerisms, so everyone always said, “Oh my God, she looks just like you.” It hits me that my mother may never hear that again.
There’s something in brown paper, the kind you wrap fish in, sitting on the dining-room table. It’s tied with a red ribbon. The package itself is lumpy. Ultraviolet, it reads on one side.
“Do you know who it’s from?” My dad is in the doorway, bagel crumbs in his beard.
“James,” my mom says, and makes little brushing motions. He rubs at his chin.
I don’t have any choice but to open the package in front of them, and I just hope to God it’s nothing embarrassing because, from Theodore Finch, you never know.
As I tug off the ribbon and rip at the paper, I’m suddenly six years old at Christmas. Every year, Eleanor knew what she was getting. After we picked the lock to my mom’s office closet, my sister would open her gifts and mine too, but not before I left the room. Later, when she wanted to tell me what they were, I wouldn’t let her. Those were the days when I didn’t mind surprises.
Inside the brown paper is a pair of goggles, the kind you wear swimming.
“Do you have any idea who they’re from?” Mom says.