THIS IS THE LAST TIME
weâll walk up this staircase together, Peter taking the stairs two at a time, me nipping at his heels, huffing and puffing to keep up. Itâs the last day of school for seniors, the last day of my high school career.
When we reach the top of the staircase, I say, âI feel like taking the stairs two at a time is just bragging. Have you ever noticed that only boys ever take stairs two at a time?â
âGirls probably would if they were as tall.â
âMargotâs friend Chelsea is five eleven, and I donât think she does it.â
âSo what are you sayingâboys brag more?â
âProbably. Donât you think?â
âProbably,â he admits.
The bell rings, and people start heading for class.
âShould we just skip first period? Go get pancakes?â He raises his eyebrows at me enticingly, pulling me toward him by the dangling straps of my book bag. âCome on, you know you want to.â
âNo way. Itâs the last day of school. I want to say good-bye to Mr. Lopez.â
Peter groans. âGoody-goody.â
âYou knew who I was when you started dating me,â I tell him.
âTrue,â he says.
Before we go our separate ways, I hold out my hands and wait expectantly. Peter gives me a curious look. âMy yearbook!â
âOh shit! I forgot it again.â
âPeter! Itâs the last day of school! I only got half the signatures I wanted!â
âIâm sorry,â he says, rubbing his hand through his hair and making it go all messy. âDo you want me to go back home and get it? I can go right now.â He looks genuinely sorry, but Iâm still annoyed.
When I donât say anything right away, Peter starts to head back toward the stairs, but I stop him. âNo, donât. Itâs fine. Iâll just pass it around at graduation.â
âAre you sure?â he asks.
âSure,â I say. Weâre not even here the full school day; I donât want him to have to run back home just for my yearbook.
Classes are pretty lax; we mostly just walk around saying good-bye to teachers, the office staff, the cafeteria ladies, the school nurse. A lot of them weâll see at graduation, but not everyone. I pass around cookies that I baked last night. We get our final gradesâall good, so no worries there.
It takes me forever to clean out my locker. I find random notes I saved from Peter, which I promptly put in my bag so I can add them to his scrapbook. An old granola bar. Dusty black hair ties, which is ironic because you can never seem to find a hair tie when you need one.
âIâm sad to throw any of this stuff away, even this old granola bar,â I say to Lucas, who is sitting on the floor keeping me company. âIâve seen it there at the bottom of my locker every day. Itâs like an old pal. Should we split it, to commemorate this day?â
âSick,â Lucas says. âItâs probably got mold.â Matter-of-factly he says, âAfter graduation I probably wonât see any of these people again.â
I throw him a hurt look. âHey! What about me?â
âNot you. Youâre coming to visit me in New York.â
âOoh! Yes, please.â
âSarah Lawrence is so close to the city. Iâll be able to go to Broadway shows whenever I want. Thereâs an app for same-day student tickets.â He gets a faraway look in his eyes.
âYouâre so lucky,â I say.
âIâll take you. Weâll go to a gay bar, too. Itâll be amazing.â
âBut everybody else I can take or leave.â
âWe still have Beach Week,â I remind him, and he nods.
âFor the rest of our lives, weâll always have Beach Week,â he says mockingly, and I throw a hair tie at him.
Lucas can mock me for being nostalgic all he wants. I know these days are special. High school
be a time we remember the whole rest of our lives.
* * *
After school, Peter and I go to his house because mine is a disaster zone with wedding stuff, and Peterâs mom has her book club after work, and Owen has soccer, so we have the
house all to ourselves. It seems the only place weâre ever truly alone is in his car, so moments like these are rare and of note. My last drive home from high school, and Peter K. is the one whoâs driving me. Itâs fitting, to end high school the way I spent itâriding in the passenger seat of Peterâs car.
When we go up to his room, I sit down on his bed, which is neatly made, with the comforter pulled in tight; the pillows look fluffed, even. Itâs a new comforter, probably for collegeâa cheery red and cream and navy tartan that Iâm sure his mom picked out. âYour mom makes your bed, doesnât she?â I ask him, leaning back against the pillows.
âYes,â he says, without an ounce of shame. He flops onto the bed, and I scoot over to make room for him.
Late afternoon light filters in through his pale curtains, and it casts the room in a dreamy kind of filter. If I were going to name it, I would call it âsummer in the suburbs.â Peter looks beautiful in this light. He looks beautiful in any light, but especially this one. I take a picture of him in my mind, just like this. Any annoyance I felt over him forgetting my yearbook melts away when he snuggles closer to me, rests his head on my chest, and says, âI can feel your heart beating.â
I start playing with his hair, which I know he likes. Itâs so soft for a boy. I love the smell of his detergent, his soap, everything.
He looks up at me and traces the bow of my lip. âI like this part the best,â he says. Then he moves up and brushes his lips against mine, teasing me. He bites on my bottom lip
playfully. I like all his different kinds of kisses, but maybe this kind best. Then heâs kissing me with urgency, like he is utterly consumed, his hands in my hair, and I think, no, these are the best.
Between kisses he asks me, âHow come you only ever want to hook up when weâre at my house?â
âIâI donât know. I guess I never thought about it before.â Itâs true we only ever make out at Peterâs house. It feels weird to be romantic in the same bed Iâve slept in since I was a little girl. But when Iâm in Peterâs bed, or in his car, I forget all about that and Iâm just lost in the moment.
Weâre at it kissing againâPeterâs shirt is off; mine is still onâwhen the phone rings downstairs, and Peter says itâs probably the repairman calling about when heâs coming to fix the pipes. He puts on his shirt and runs downstairs to answer it, and thatâs when I spot my yearbook on his desk.
I get out of bed and pick it up and flip to the back. Itâs still empty. When Peter comes back upstairs, Iâm sitting on his bed again and I donât mention my yearbook, I donât ask why he still hasnât written in it. Iâm not sure why. I tell him Iâd better get going, because Margotâs coming home from Scotland tonight, and I want to stock the fridge with all her favorite foods.
Peterâs face falls. âYou donât want to hang out a little longer? I can take you to the store.â
âI still have to clean up the upstairs, too,â I say, standing up.
He tugs on my shirt and tries to pull me back onto the bed. âCome on, five more minutes.â
I lie back down next to him and he cuddles in close, but Iâm still thinking about the yearbook. Iâve been working on his scrapbook for months; the least he can do is write me a nice yearbook message.
âThis is good practice for college,â he murmurs, pulling me toward him, wrapping his arms around me. âThe beds are small at
. How big are the beds at
My back to him, I say, âI donât know. I didnât get to see the dorms.â
He tucks his head in the space between my neck and shoulder. âThat was a trick question,â he says, and I can feel him smile against my neck. âTo check and see if you visited a random
guyâs dorm room with Chris. Congrats, you passed the test.â
I canât help but laugh. Then my smile fades and I give him a test of my own. âDonât let me forget to take my yearbook with me when we leave.â
He stiffens for a second and then says in an easy tone, âI have to hunt it down. Itâs here somewhere. If I canât find it, Iâll just bring it over later.â
I pull away from him and sit up. Confused, he looks up at me. âI saw my yearbook on your desk, Peter. I know you havenât written anything yet!â
Peter sits up and sighs and scrubs his hand through his hair roughly. His eyes flit over to me and then back down again. âI just donât know what to write. I know you want me to write some great, romantic thing, but I donât know what to say. Iâve tried a bunch of times, and I justâI freeze
up. You know Iâm not good at that kind of thing.â
Feelingly, I tell him, âI donât care what you say as long as itâs from the heart. Just be sweet. Be you.â I crawl closer to him and put my arms around his neck. âOkay?â Peter nods, and I give him a little kiss, and he surges up and kisses me harder, and then I donât even care about my dumb yearbook anymore. I am aware of every breath, every movement. I memorize it all, I hold it in my heart.
When we break away, he looks up at me and says, âI went to my dadâs house yesterday.â
My eyes widen. âYou did?â
âYeah. He invited me and Owen to come over for dinner, and I wasnât going to go, but then Owen asked me to come with him and I couldnât say no.â
I lie back down, rest my head on his chest. âHow was it?â
âIt was fine, I guess. His house is nice.â I donât say anything; I just wait for him to go on. It feels like a long time before he says, âYou know that old movie you made me watch, where the poor kid was standing outside with his nose pressed to the glass? Thatâs how I felt.â
âThat old movieâ heâs referring to is
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
, when Charlie is watching all the kids go hog wild at the candy store but he canât go inside because he doesnât have any money. The thought of Peterâhandsome, confident, easy Peterâfeeling that way makes me want to cry. Maybe I shouldnât have pushed him so hard to reconnect with his dad.
âHe put up a basketball hoop for those kids. I asked him
for one so many times, but he never did it. His kids arenât even athletic. I donât think Everettâs picked up a basketball once in his whole life.â
âDid Owen have a good time?â
This he grudgingly concedes. âYeah, he and Clayton and Everett played video games. My dad grilled hamburgers and steaks. He even wore a damn chefâs apron. I donât think he ever helped my mom in the kitchen once the whole time they were married.â Peter pauses. âHe didnât do the dishes, though, so I guess he hasnât changed that much. Still, I could tell he and Gayle were trying. She baked a cake. Not as good as yours, though.â
âWhat kind of cake?â I ask.
âDevilâs food cake. Kind of dry.â Peter hesitates before he says, âI invited him to graduation.â
âYou did?â My heart swells.
âHe kept asking about school, and . . . I donât know. I thought about what you said, and I just did it.â He shrugs, like he doesnât care much either way if his dadâs there or not. Itâs an act. Peter cares. Of course he cares. âSo youâll meet him then.â
I snuggle closer to him. âIâm so proud of you, Peter.â
He gives a little laugh. âFor what?â
âFor giving your dad a chance even though he doesnât deserve it.â I look up at him and say, âYouâre a nice boy, Peter K.,â and the smile that breaks across his face makes me love him even more.