It’s true, Chris does always have fun. Sometimes a little too much fun, but fun nonetheless.
THE NIGHT BEFORE MARGOT LEAVES, all three of us are in her room helping pack up the last little things. Kitty is organizing Margot’s bath stuff, packing it nice and neat in the clear shower caddy. Margot is trying to decide which coat to bring.
“Should I bring my peacoat and my puffy coat or just my peacoat?” she asks me.
“Just the peacoat,” I say. “You can dress that up or down.” I’m lying on her bed directing the packing process. “Kitty, make sure the lotion cap is on tight.”
“It’s brand-new—course it’s on tight!” Kitty growls, but she double-checks.
“It gets cold in Scotland sooner than it does here,” Margot said, folding the coat and setting it on top of her suitcase. “I think I’ll just bring both.”
“I don’t know why you asked if you already knew what you were going to do,” I say. “Also, I thought you said you were coming home for Christmas. You’re still coming home for Christmas, right?”
“Yes, if you’ll stop being a brat,” Margot says.
Honestly, Margot isn’t even packing that much. She doesn’t need a lot. If it was me, I’d have packed up my whole room, but not Margot. Her room looks the same, almost.
Margot sits down next to me, and Kitty climbs up and sits at the foot of the bed. “Everything’s changing,” I say, sighing.
Margot makes a face and puts her arm around me. “Nothing’s changing, not really. We’re the Song girls forever, remember?”
Our father stands in the doorway. He knocks, even though the door is open and we can clearly see it is him. “I’m going to start packing up the car now,” he announces. We watch from the bed as he lugs one of the suitcases downstairs, and then he comes up for the other one. Drily he says, “Oh no, don’t get up. Don’t trouble yourselves.”
“Don’t worry, we won’t,” we sing out.
For the past week our father has been in spring-cleaning mode, even though it isn’t spring. He’s getting rid of everything—the bread machine we never used, CDs, old blankets, our mother’s old typewriter. It’s all going to Goodwill. A psychiatrist or someone could probably connect it to Margot’s leaving for college, but I can’t explain the exact significance of it. Whatever it is, it’s annoying. I had to shoo him away from my glass-unicorn collection twice.
I lay down my head in Margot’s lap. “So you really are coming home for Christmas, right?”
“I wish I could come with you.” Kitty pouts. “You’re nicer than Lara Jean.”
I give her a pinch.
“See?” she crows.
“Lara Jean will be nice,” Margot says, “as long as you behave. And you both have to take care of Daddy. Make sure he doesn’t work too many Saturdays. Make sure he takes the car in for inspection next month. And make sure you buy coffee filters—you’re always forgetting to buy coffee filters.”
“Yes, drill sergeant,” Kitty and I chorus. I search Margot’s face for sadness or fear or worry, for some sign that she is scared to go so far away, that she will miss us as much as we will miss her. I don’t see it, though.
The three of us sleep in Margot’s room that night.
Kitty falls asleep first, as always. I lie in the dark beside her with my eyes open. I can’t sleep. The thought that tomorrow night Margot won’t be in this room—it makes me so sad I can hardly bear it. I hate change more than almost anything.
In the dark next to me Margot asks, “Lara Jean . . . do you think you’ve ever been in love before? Real love?”
She catches me off guard; I don’t have an answer ready for her. I’m trying to think of one, but she’s already talking again.
Wistfully, she says, “I wish I’d been in love more than once. I think you should fall in love at least twice in high school.” Then she lets out a little sigh and falls asleep. Margot falls asleep like that—one dreamy sigh and she’s off to never-never land, just like that.
I wake up in the middle of the night and Margot’s not there. Kitty’s curled up on her side next to me, but no Margot. It’s pitch dark; only the moonlight filters through the curtains. I crawl out of bed and move to the window. My breath catches. There they are: Josh and Margot standing in the driveway. Margot’s face is turned away from him, toward the moon. Josh is crying. They aren’t touching. There’s enough space between them for me to know that Margot hasn’t changed her mind.
I drop the curtain and find my way back to the bed, where Kitty has rolled farther into the center. I push her back a few inches so there will be room for Margot. I wish I hadn’t seen that. It was too personal. Too real. It was supposed to be just for them. If there was a way for me to unsee it, I would.
I turn on my side and close my eyes. What must it be like, to have a boy like you so much he cries for you? And not just any boy. Josh. Our Josh.
To answer her question: yes, I think I have been in real love. Just once, though. With Josh. Our Josh.
THIS IS HOW MARGOT AND josh got together. In a way I heard about it from Josh first.
It was two years ago. We were sitting in the library during our free. I was doing math homework; Josh was helping because he’s good at math. We had our heads bent over my page, so close I could smell the soap he’d used that morning. Irish Spring.
And then he said, “I need your advice on something. I like someone.”
For a split second I thought it was me. I thought he was going to say me. I hoped. It was the start of the school year. We’d hung out nearly every day that August, sometimes with Margot but mostly just by ourselves, because Margot had her internship at the Montpelier plantation three days a week. We swam a lot. I had a great tan from all the swimming. So for that split second I thought he was going to say my name.
But then I saw the way he blushed, the way he looked off into space, and I knew it wasn’t for me.
Mentally, I ran through the list of girls it could be. It was a short list. Josh didn’t hang out with a ton of girls; he had his best friend Jersey Mike, who had moved from New Jersey in middle school, and his other best friend, Ben, and that was it.
It could have been Ashley, a junior on the volleyball team. He’d once pointed her out as the cutest of all the junior girls. In Josh’s defense, I’d made him do it: I asked him who was the prettiest girl in each grade. For prettiest freshman, my grade, he said Genevieve. Not that I was surprised, but it still gave me a little pinch in my heart.
It could have been Jodie, the college girl from the bookstore. Josh often talked about how smart Jodie was, how she was so cultured because she’d studied abroad in India and was now Buddhist. Ha! I was the one who was half-Korean; I was the one who’d taught Josh how to eat with chopsticks. He’d had kimchi for the first time at my house.
I was about to ask him who when the librarian came over to shush us, and then we went back to doing work and Josh didn’t bring it up again and I didn’t ask. Honestly, I didn’t want to know. It wasn’t me, and that was all I cared about.
I didn’t think for one second that the girl he liked was Margot. Not that I didn’t see her as a girl who could be liked. She’d been asked out before, by a certain type of guy. Smart guys who would partner up with her in chemistry and run against her for student government. In retrospect, it wasn’t so surprising that Josh would like Margot, since he’s that kind of guy too.
If someone were to ask me what Josh looks like, I would say he’s just ordinary. He looks like the kind of guy you’d expect would be good at computers, the kind of guy who calls comic books graphic novels. Brown hair. Not a special brown, just regular brown. Green eyes that go muddy in the center. He’s on the skinny side, but he’s strong. I know because I sprained my ankle once by the old baseball field and he piggybacked me all the way home. He has freckles, which make him look younger than his age. And a dimple on his left check. I’ve always liked that dimple. He has such a serious face otherwise.
What was surprising, what was shocking, was that Margot would like him back. Not because of who Josh was, but because of who Margot was. I’d never heard her talk about liking a boy before, not even once. I was the flighty one, the flibbertigibbet, as my white grandma would say. Not Margot. Margot was above all that. She existed on some higher plane where those things—boys, makeup, clothes—didn’t really matter.
The way it happened was sudden. Margot came home from school late that day in October; her cheeks were pink from the cold mountainy air and she had her hair in a braid and a scarf around her neck. She’d been working on a project at school, it was dinnertime, and I’d cooked chicken parmesan with thin spaghetti in watery tomato sauce.
She came into the kitchen and announced, “I have something to tell you.” Her eyes were very bright; I remember she was unspooling the scarf from around her neck.
Kitty was doing her homework at the kitchen table, Daddy was on his way home, and I was stirring the watery sauce. “What?” Kitty and I asked.
“Josh likes me.” Margot gave a pleased kind of shrug; her shoulders nearly went up to her ears.
I went very still. Then I dropped my wooden spoon into the sauce. “Josh Josh? Our Josh?” I couldn’t even look at her. I was afraid that she would see.
“Yes. He waited for me after school today so he could tell me. He said—” Margot grinned ruefully. “He said I’m his dream girl. Can you believe that?”
“Wow,” I said, and I tried to communicate happiness in that word, but I don’t know if it came out that way. All I was feeling was despair. And envy. Envy so thick and so black I felt like I was choking on it. So I tried again, this time with a smile. “Wow, Margot.”
“Wow,” Kitty echoed. “So are you boyfriend and girlfriend now?”
I held my breath, waiting for her to answer.
Margot took a pinch of parmesan between her fingers and dropped it in her mouth. “Yeah, I think so.” And then she smiled, and her eyes went all soft and liquid. I understood then that she liked him too. So much.
That night I wrote my letter to Josh.
Dear Josh . . .
I cried a lot. Just like that, it was over. It was over before I even had a chance. The important thing wasn’t that Josh had chosen Margot. It was that Margot had chosen him.
So that was that. I cried my eyes out; I wrote my letter; I put the whole thing to rest. I haven’t thought of him that way since. He and Margot are meant to be. They’re MFEO. Made for each other.
I’m still awake when Margot comes back to bed, but I quickly shut my eyes and pretend to be asleep. Kitty’s cuddled up next to me.
I hear a snuffly sound and I peek out of one eye to look at Margot. Her back is to us; her shoulders are shaking. She’s crying.
Margot never cries.
Now that I’ve seen Margot cry over him, I believe it more than ever—they’re not over.
THE NEXT DAY, WE DRIVE margot to the airport. Outside, we load up her suitcases on a luggage carrier—Kitty tries to get on top and dance, but our father pulls her down right away. Margot insists on going in by herself, just like she said she would.
“Margot, at least let me get your bags checked,” Daddy says, trying to maneuver the luggage carrier around her. “I want to see you go through security.”
“I’ll be fine,” she repeats. “I’ve flown by myself before. I know how to check a bag.” She stretches up on her toes and puts her arms around our dad’s shoulders. “I’ll call as soon as I get there, I promise.”
“Call every day,” I whisper. The lump in my throat is getting bigger, and a few tears leak out of my eyes. I’d hoped I wouldn’t cry, because I knew Margot wouldn’t, and it’s lonely to cry alone, but I can’t help it.
“Don’t you dare forget us,” Kitty warns.
That makes Margot smile. “I could never.” She hugs us each one more time. She saves me for last, the way I knew she would. “Take good care of Daddy and Kitty. You’re in charge now.” I don’t want to let go, so I hold on tighter; I’m still waiting and hoping for some sign, some indication that she will miss us as much as we’ll miss her. And then she laughs and I release her.
“Bye, Gogo,” I say, wiping my eyes with a corner of my shirt.
We all watch as she pushes the luggage carrier over to the check-in counter. I’m crying hard, wiping my tears with the back of my arm. Daddy puts one arm around me and one around Kitty. “We’ll wait until she’s in line for security,” he says.
When she’s done checking in, she turns back and looks at us through the glass doors. She lifts one hand and waves, and then she heads for the security line. We watch her go, thinking she might turn around one more time, but she doesn’t. She already seems so far away from us. Straight-A Margot, ever capable. When it’s my time to leave, I doubt I’ll be as strong as Margot. But, honestly, who is?