ITâS LATE. IâM IN MY
bed looking through my welcome packet from William and Mary. It turns out William and Mary doesnât allow freshmen to have cars on campus, and Iâm about to call Peter to tell him, when I get a text from John Ambrose McClaren. When I first see his name on my phone, I feel a jolt of surprise, because itâs been so long since we last talked. Then I read the text.
Stormy died in her sleep last night. The funeral is in Rhode Island on Wednesday. I just thought youâd want to know.
I just sit there for a moment, stunned. How can this be? When I last saw her, she was fine. She was great. She was Stormy. She canât be gone. Not my Stormy. Stormy, who was larger than life, who taught me how to apply red lipstick âso it lasts even after a night of kisses and champagne,â she said.
I start to cry and I canât stop. I canât get air in my lungs. I can barely see for crying. My tears keep falling on my phone, and I keep wiping it with the back of my hand. What do I say to John? She was his grandmother, and he was her favorite grandson. They were very close.
First I type,
Iâm so sorry. Is there anything I can do?
Then I delete it, because what could I possibly do to help?
Iâm so sorry. She had the most spirit of anyone I ever met. Iâll miss her dearly.
Thank you. I know she loved you too.
His text brings fresh tears to my eyes.
Stormy was always saying that she still felt like she was in her twenties. That sometimes sheâd dream she was a girl again, and sheâd see her ex-husbands and theyâd be old but sheâd still be Stormy. She said when she woke up in the morning, sheâd be surprised to be in her old body with her old bones. âIâve still got the gams, though,â she said. And she did.
Itâs almost a relief that the funeral is in Rhode Island, too far away for me to go. I havenât been to a funeral since my mom died. I was nine, Margot was eleven, Kitty just two. The clearest memory I have of that day is sitting beside my dad, Kitty in his arms, feeling his body shake next to mine as he cried silently. Kittyâs cheeks were wet with his tears. She didnât understand anything except that he was sad. She kept saying, âDonât cry, Daddy,â and he would try to smile for her, but his smile looked like it was melting. Iâd never felt that way beforeâlike nothing was safe anymore, or would be ever again.
And now Iâm crying again, for Stormy, for my mom, for everything.
She wanted me to transcribe her memoirs for her.
, she wanted to call it. We never did get around to doing that. How will people know her story now?
Peter calls, but Iâm too sad to talk so I just let it go to voicemail. I feel like I should call John, but I donât really have the right. Stormy was his grandma, and I was just a girl who volunteered at her nursing home. The one person I want to talk to is my sister, because she knew Stormy too, and because she always makes me feel better, but itâs the middle of the night in Scotland.
* * *
I call Margot the next day, as soon as I wake up. I cry again as I tell her the news, and she cries with me. Itâs Margot who has the idea to have a memorial service for her at Belleview. âYou could say a few words, serve some cookies, and people could share memories of her? Iâm sure her friends would like that, since they wonât be able to make it to the funeral.â
I blow my nose. âIâm sure Stormy would like it too.â
âI wish I could be there for it.â
âI wish so too,â I say, and my voice quivers. I always feel stronger with Margot beside me.
âPeter will be there, though,â she says.
Before I leave for school, I call my old boss Janette over at Belleview and tell her the idea about the memorial service. She agrees right away, and says we could have it this Thursday afternoon, before bingo.
When I get to school and tell Peter about Stormyâs memorial service, his face falls. âShit. I have to go to that
Days on the Lawn thing with my mom.â Days on the Lawn is an open house for incoming first-years at
. You go with your parents; you sit in on classes, tour the dorms. Itâs a big deal. I was really looking forward to it, when I thought I might be going.
He offers, âI could skip it, though.â
âYou canât. Your mom would kill you. You have to go.â
âI donât mind,â he says, and I believe him.
âItâs really okay. You didnât know Stormy.â
âI know. I just want to be there for you.â
âThe offer is what counts,â I tell him.
* * *
Instead of wearing black, I choose a sundress that Stormy once said she liked me in. Itâs white, with cornflower-blue forget-me-nots embroidered on the skirt, short puffy sleeves that go a little off the shoulder, and a nipped-in waist. Because I bought it at the end of summer, Iâve only had the chance to wear it once. I stopped by Belleview on my way to meet Peter at the movies, and Stormy said I looked like a girl in an Italian movie. So I wear that dress, and the white sandals I bought for graduation, and a little pair of lacy white gloves that I just know sheâd appreciate. I found them at a vintage store in Richmond called Bygones, and when I put them on, I can almost imagine Stormy wearing them at one of her cotillions or Saturday night dances. I donât wear her pink diamond ring. I want the first time I wear it to be at my prom, the way Stormy would have wanted.
I bring out the punch bowl, a crystal bowl of peanuts, a stack of cocktail napkins embroidered with cherries that I found at an estate sale, the tablecloth we use for Thanksgiving. I put a few roses on the piano, where Stormy used to sit. I make a punch with ginger ale and frozen fruit juiceâno alcohol, which I know Stormy would have balked at, but not all of the residents can have it, because of their medications. I do put out a bottle of champagne next to the punch bowl, for anyone who wants to top off their punch with a little something extra. Lastly, I turn on Frank Sinatra, who Stormy always said shouldâve been her second husband, if only.
John said heâd come if he made it back from Rhode Island in time, and Iâm feeling a little nervous for that, because I havenât seen him since almost exactly a year ago, on my birthday. We were never a thing, not really, but we almost were, and to me, thatâs something.
A few people file in. One of the nurses wheels in Mrs. Armbruster, who has fallen to dementia but used to be pretty friendly with Stormy. Mr. Perelli, Alicia, Shanice the receptionist, Janette. Itâs a good little group. The truth is, there are fewer and fewer people that I know at Belleview. Some of them have moved in with their children; a few have passed away. Not as many familiar faces in the staff, either. The place changed while I wasnât looking.
Iâm standing at the front of the room, and my heart is pounding out of my chest. Iâm so nervous to make my speech. Iâm afraid of stumbling over my words and not doing her
justice. I want to do a good job on it; I want to make Stormy proud. Everyoneâs looking at me with expectant eyes, except for Mrs. Armbruster, who is knitting and staring off into space. My knees shake under my skirt. I take a deep breath, and Iâm about to speak when John Ambrose McClaren walks in, wearing a pressed button-down shirt and khakis. He takes a seat on the couch next to Alicia. I give him a wave, and in return, John gives me an encouraging smile.
I take a deep breath. âThe year was 1952.â I clear my throat and look down at my paper. âIt was summer, and Frank Sinatra was on the radio. Lana Turner and Ava Gardner were the starlets of the day. Stormy was eighteen. She was in the marching band, she was voted Best Legs, and she always had a date on Saturday night. On this particular night, she was on a date with a boy named Walt. On a dare, she went skinny-dipping in the town lake. Stormy never could turn down a dare.â
Mr. Perelli laughs and says, âThatâs right, she never could.â Other people murmur in agreement, âShe never could.â
âA farmer called the police, and when they shined their lights on the lake, Stormy told them to turn around before she would come out. She got a ride home in a police car that night.â
âNot the first time or the last,â someone calls out, and everyone laughs, and I can feel my shoulders start to relax.
âStormy lived more life in one night than most people do their whole lives. She was a force of nature. She
taught me that loveââ My eyes well up and I start over. âStormy taught me that love is about making brave choices every day. Thatâs what Stormy did. She always picked love; she always picked adventure. To her they were one and the same. And now sheâs off on a new adventure, and we wish her well.â
From his seat on the couch, John wipes his eyes with his sleeve.
I give Janette a nod, and she gets up and presses play on the stereo, and âStormy Weatherâ fills the room. âDonât know why thereâs no sun up in the sky . . .â
After, John shoulders his way over to me, holding two plastic cups of fruit punch. Ruefully he says, âIâm sure sheâd tell us to spike it, but . . .â He hands me a cup, and we clink. âTo Edith Sinclair McClaren Sheehan, better known as Stormy.â
âStormyâs real name was Edith? Itâs so serious. It sounds like someone who wears wool skirts and heavy stockings, and drinks chamomile tea at night. Stormy drank cocktails!â
John laughs. âI know, right?â
âSo then where did the name Stormy come from? Why not Edie?â
âWho knows?â John says, a wry smile on his lips. âSheâd have loved your speech.â He gives me a warm, appreciative sort of look. âYouâre such a nice girl, Lara Jean.â Iâm embarrassed, I donât know what to say. Even though we never dated, seeing John again is what I imagine seeing an old boyfriend feels like. A wistful sort of feeling. Familiar, but just a little bit awkward, because thereâs so much left unsaid between us.
Then he says, âStormy kept asking me to bring my girlfriend to visit her, and I never got around to it. I feel bad about that now.â
As casually as I can, I say, âOh, are you dating someone?â
He hesitates for just a split-second and then nods. âHer name is Dipti. We met at a Model
. She beat me out for the gavel for our committee.â
âWow,â I say.
âYeah, sheâs awesome.â
We both start to speak at the same time.
âDo you know where youâre going to school?â
âHave you decidedâ?
We laugh, and a sort of understanding passes between us. He says, âI havenât decided. Itâs between College Park and William and Mary. College Park has a good business school, and itâs really close to
. William and Maryâs ranked higher, but Williamsburg is in the boonies. So I donât know yet. My dadâs bummed, because he really wanted me to go to
, but I didnât get in.â
âIâm sorry.â I decide not to mention that I got wait-listed at
John shrugs. âI might try and transfer there sophomore year. Weâll see. What about you? Are you going to
âI didnât get in,â I confess.
âAw man! I hear they were insanely selective this year. My schoolâs salutatorian didnât get in, and her application was killer. Iâm sure yours was too.â
Shyly, I say, âThanks, John.â
âSo where are you gonna go if not
âWilliam and Mary.â
His face breaks into a smile. âSeriously? Thatâs awesome! Whereâs Kavinsky going?â
He nods. âFor lacrosse, right.â
âWhat about . . . Dipti?â I say it like I donât remember her name, even though I do, I mean, I just heard him say it not two minutes ago. âWhereâs she going?â
âShe got in early to Michigan.â
âWow, thatâs so far.â
âA whole lot farther than
and William and Mary, thatâs for sure.â
âSo are you guys going to . . . stay together?â
âThatâs the plan,â John says. âWeâre going to at least give the long-distance thing a try. What about you and Peter?â
âThatâs our plan too, for the first year. Iâm going to try to transfer to
for the second year.â
John clinks his cup against mine. âGood luck, Lara Jean.â
âYou too, John Ambrose McClaren.â
âIf I end up going to William and Mary, Iâm going to call you.â
âYou better,â I say.
I stay at Belleview a lot longer than I expected. Someone brings out their old records and then people start dancing, and Mr. Perelli insists on teaching me how to rumba, in spite of his bad hip. When Janette puts on Glenn Millerâs song âIn the Mood,â my eyes meet Johnâs, and we share
a secret smile, both of us remembering the
party. It was like something out of a movie. It feels like a long time ago now.
Itâs strange to feel happy at a memorial for someone you loved, but thatâs how I feel. Iâm happy that the day has gone well, that weâve sent Stormy off in style. It feels good to say a proper good-bye, to have the chance.
* * *
When I get back from Belleview, Peterâs sitting on my front steps with a Starbucks cup. âIs nobody home?â I ask, hurrying up the walk. âDid you have to wait long?â
âNah.â Still sitting, he reaches out his arms and pulls me in for a hug around my waist. âCome sit and talk to me for a minute before we go inside,â he says, burying his face in my stomach. I sit down next to him. He asks, âHow was Stormyâs memorial? Howâd your speech go?â
âGood, but first tell me about Days on the Lawn.â I grab his Starbucks cup out of his hands and take a sip of coffee, which is cold.
âEh. I sat in on a class. Met some people. Not that exciting.â Then he takes my right hand in his, traces his finger over the lace of my gloves. âThese are cool.â
Thereâs something bothering him, something he isnât saying. âWhatâs wrong? Did something happen?â
He looks away. âMy dad showed up this morning and wanted to come with us.â
My eyes widen. âSo . . . did you let him come?â
âNope.â Peter doesnât elaborate. Just, nope.
Hesitantly, I say, âIt seems like heâs trying to have a relationship with you, Peter.â
âHe had plenty of chances and now itâs too late. That ship has fucking sailed. Iâm not a kid anymore.â He lifts his chin. âIâm a man, and he didnât have anything to do with it. He just wants the credit. He wants to brag to his golf buddies that his son is playing lacrosse for
I hesitate. Then I think of how his dad looked when he was watching Peter out on the lacrosse field. There was such pride in his eyesâand love. âPeter . . . what ifâwhat if you gave him a chance?â
Peterâs shaking his head. âLara Jean, you donât get it. And youâre lucky not to get it. Your dadâs freaking awesome. Heâd do anything for you guys. My dadâs not like that. Heâs just in it for himself. If I let him back in, heâll just fuck up again. Itâs not worth it.â
âBut maybe it is worth it. You never know how long you have with people.â Peter flinches. Iâve never said something like that to him before, brought my mom up like that, but after losing Stormy, I canât help it. I have to say it because itâs true and because Iâll regret it if I donât. âItâs not about your dad. Itâs about you. Itâs about not having regrets later. Donât hurt yourself just to spite him.â
âI donât want to talk about him anymore. I came over here to make you feel better, not to talk about my dad.â
âOkay. But first, promise me youâll think about inviting him to graduation.â He starts to speak, and I interrupt him. âJust think about it. Thatâs all. Itâs a whole month away. You donât
have to decide anything right now, so donât say yes or no.â
Peter sighs, and Iâm sure heâs going to tell me no, but instead he asks, âHowâd your speech go?â
âI think it went okay. I think Stormy wouldâve liked it. I talked about the time she got caught skinny-dipping and the police came and she had to ride home in a squad car. Oh, and John made it back in time.â
Peter nods in a diplomatic sort of way. Iâd told him John might be coming today, and all he said was âCool, cool,â because of course he couldnât say anything different. John was Stormyâs grandson, after all. âSo whereâs McClaren going to school?â
âHe hasnât decided yet. Itâs between Maryland and William and Mary.â
Peterâs eyebrows fly up. â
Well, thatâs awesome.â He says it in a way that makes it clear he doesnât think itâs awesome at all.
I give him a funny look. âWhat?â
âNothing. Did he hear that youâre going there?â
âNo, I just told him today. Not that one thing has anything to do with the other. Youâre being really weird right now, Peter.â
âWell, how would you feel if I told you Gen was going to
âI donât know. Not that bothered?â I mean that sincerely. All of my bad feelings about Peter and Genevieve feel like such a long time ago. Peter and I have come so far since then. âBesides, itâs completely different. John and I never
even dated. We havenât spoken in months. Also, he has a girlfriend. Also, he hasnât even decided if heâs going there or not.â
âSo whereâs his girlfriend going then?â
He makes a dismissive sound. âThat ainât gonna last.â
Softly I say, âMaybe people will look at you and me and think the same thing.â
âItâs literally not the same thing at all. Weâre only going to be a couple of hours apart, and then youâre transferring. Thatâs one year tops. Iâll drive down on weekends. Itâs literally not a big deal.â
âYou just said literally twice,â I say, to make him smile. When he doesnât, I say, âYouâll have practice and games. You wonât want to be at William and Mary every weekend.â Itâs the first time Iâve had this thought.
For just a moment Peter looks stung, but then he shrugs and says, âFine, or youâll come up here. Weâll get you used to the drive. Itâs basically all just I-64.â
âWilliam and Mary doesnât let freshmen have cars. Neither does
. I checked.â
Peter brushes this off. âSo Iâll get my mom to drop my car off when I want to come see you. Itâs not like itâs far. And you can take the bus. Weâll make it work. Iâm not worried about us.â
I am, a little, but I donât say so, because Peter doesnât seem to want to talk about practicalities. I guess I donât either.
Scooting closer to me, he asks, âWant me to stay over tonight?
I can come back after my mom goes to bed. I can distract you if you get sad.â
âNice try,â I tell him, pinching his cheek.
âDid Josh ever spend the night? With your sister, I mean.â
I ponder this. âNot that I know of. I mean, I really doubt it. Weâre talking about my sister and Josh, after all.â
âThatâs them,â Peter says, dipping his head low and rubbing his cheek against mine. He loves how soft my cheeks are; heâs always saying that. âWeâre nothing like them.â
âYouâre the one who brought them up,â I start to say, but then he is kissing me, and I canât even finish a thought, much less a sentence.