All of a sudden I feel panicky and it’s hard to breathe and I couldn’t care less about cherry chocolate-chunk custard. I can’t picture Thanksgiving without Margot. I can’t even picture next Monday without her. I know most sisters don’t get along, but I’m closer to Margot than I am to anybody in the world. How can we be the Song girls without Margot?
MY OLDEST FRIEND CHRIS SMOKES, she hooks up with boys she doesn’t know hardly at all, and she’s been suspended twice. One time she had to go before the court for truancy. I never knew what truancy was before I met Chris. FYI, it’s when you skip so much school you’re in trouble with the law.
I’m pretty sure that if Chris and I met each other now, we wouldn’t be friends. We’re as different as different can be. But it wasn’t always this way. In sixth grade Chris liked stationery and sleepovers and staying up all night watching John Hughes movies, just like me. But by eighth grade she was sneaking out after my dad fell asleep to meet boys she met at the mall. They’d drop her back off before it got light outside. I’d stay up until she came back, terrified she wouldn’t make it home before my dad woke up. She always made it back in time though.
Chris isn’t the kind of friend you call every night or have lunch with every day. She is like a street cat, she comes and goes as she pleases. She can’t be tied down to a place or a person. Sometimes I won’t see Chris for days and then in the middle of the night there will be a knock at my bedroom window and it’ll be Chris, crouched in the magnolia tree. I keep my window unlocked for her in case. Chris and Margot can’t stand each other. Chris thinks Margot is uptight, and Margot thinks Chris is bipolar. She thinks Chris uses me; Chris thinks Margot controls me. I think maybe they’re both a little bit right. But the important thing, the real thing, is Chris and I understand each other, which I think counts for a lot more than people realize.
Chris calls me on the way over to our house; she says her mom’s being a beotch and she’s coming over for a couple hours and do we have any food?
Chris and I are sharing a bowl of leftover gnocchi in the living room when Margot comes home from dropping Kitty off at her swim team’s end-of-season barbecue. “Oh, hey,” she says. Then she spots Chris’s glass of Diet Coke on the coffee table, sans coaster. “Can you please use a coaster?”
As soon as Margot’s up the stairs, Chris says, “Gawd! Why is your sister such a beotch?”
I slide a coaster under her glass. “You think everyone’s a beotch today.”
“That’s because everyone is.” Chris rolls her eyes toward the ceiling. Loudly, she says, “She needs to pull that stick out of her ass.”
From her room Margot yells, “I heard that!”
“I meant for you to!” Chris yells back, scraping up the last piece of gnocchi for herself.
I sigh. “She’s leaving so soon.”
Snickering, Chris says, “So is Joshy, like, going to light a candle for her every night until she comes back home?”
I hesitate. While I’m not sure if it’s still supposed to be a secret, I am sure that Margot wouldn’t want Chris knowing any of her personal business. All I say is, “I’m not sure.”
“Wait a minute. Did she dump him?” Chris demands.
Reluctantly I nod. “Don’t say anything to her, though,” I warn. “She’s still really sad about it.”
“Margot? Sad?” Chris picks at her nails. “Margot doesn’t have normal human emotions like the rest of us.”
“You just don’t know her,” I say. “Besides, we can’t all be like you.”
She grins a toothy grin. She has sharp incisors, which make her look always a little bit hungry. “True.”
Chris is pure emotion. She screams at the drop of a hat. She says sometimes you have to scream out emotions; if you don’t, they’ll fester. The other day she screamed at a lady at the grocery store for accidentally stepping on her toes. I don’t think she’s in any danger of her emotions festering.
“I just can’t believe that in a few days she’ll be gone,” I say, feeling sniffly all of a sudden.
“She’s not dying, Lara Jean. There’s nothing to get all boo-hoo about.” Chris pulls at a loose string on her red shorts. They’re so short that when she’s sitting, you can see her underwear. Which are red to match her shorts. “In fact, I think this is good for you. It’s about time you did your own thing and stopped just listening to whatever Queen Margot says. This is your junior year, beotch. This is when it’s supposed to get good. French some guys, live a little, you know?”
“I live plenty,” I say.
“Yeah, at the nursing home.” Chris snickers and I glare at her.
Margot started volunteering at the Belleview Retirement Community when she got her driver’s license; it was her job to help host cocktail hour for the residents. I’d help sometimes. We’d set out peanuts and pour drinks and sometimes Margot would play the piano, but usually Stormy hogged that. Stormy is the Belleview diva. She rules the roost. I like listening to her stories. And Miss Mary, she might not be so good at conversation due to her dementia, but she taught me how to knit.
They have a new volunteer there now, but I know that at Belleview it really is the more the merrier, because most of the residents get so few visitors. I should go back soon; I miss going there. And I for sure don’t appreciate Chris making fun of it.
“Those people at Belleview have lived more life than everyone we know combined,” I tell her. “There’s this one lady, Stormy, she was a USO girl! She used to get a hundred letters a day from soldiers who were in love with her. And there was this one veteran who lost his leg—he sent her a diamond ring!”
Chris looks interested all of a sudden. “Did she keep it?”
“She did,” I admit. I think it was wrong of her to keep the ring since she had no intention of marrying him, but she showed it to me, and it was beautiful. It was a pink diamond, very rare. I bet it’s worth so much money now.
“I guess Stormy sounds kind of like a badass,” Chris says begrudgingly.
“Maybe you could come with me to Belleview sometime,” I suggest. “We could go to their cocktail hour. Mr. Perelli loves to dance with new girls. He’ll teach you how to fox-trot.”
Chris makes a horrible face like I suggested we go hang out at the town dump. “No, thanks. How about I take you dancing?” She nudges her chin toward upstairs. “Now that your sister’s leaving, we can have some real fun. You know I always have fun.”