“What do you mean you were an idiot?” I asked.
Stuart fell silent. The ringing stopped and started again. Mobg really wanted to talk to me.
“I told Chloe I would wait for her,” he finally said. “I told her I would wait as long as it took. She told me not to bother, but I waited anyway. For months, I was determined not to even look at another girl. I even tried not to look at the cheerleaders. Not look, look, I mean.”
I knew what he meant.
“But I noticed you,” he went on. “And it drove me crazy, from the first minute. Not just that I noticed you, but that I could see that you were going out with some supposedly perfect guy who clearly didn’t deserve you. Which, frankly, was kind of the situation I was in. It sounds like he’s kind of realized his mistake, though.”
He nodded at the phone, which started ringing again.
“I’m still really glad you came,” he added. “And don’t give in to that guy, okay? If nothing else? Don’t give in to that guy. He doesn’t deserve you. Don’t let him fool you.”
It rang and it rang and it rang. I looked at the screen one last time, then at Stuart, and then I reached my arm back and threw the phone as hard as I could (sadly, not that far), and it vanished into the snow. The eight-year-olds, who were truly fascinated with our every move at this point, chased after it.
“Lost it,” I said. “Whoops.”
This was the first time in all of this that Stuart actually looked up at me. I had dropped the horrible grimace by this point. He stepped forward, lifted my chin, and kissed me. Kissed me, kissed me. And I didn’t notice the cold, or care that the girls who now had my phone came up behind us and started going, “OoooOOOoooOOoooh.”
“One thing,” I said, when we had broken apart and the swirling feeling in my head subsided. “Maybe . . . don’t tell your mom too much about this. I think she has ideas.”
“What?” he asked, all innocence, as he put an arm around my shoulders and led me back toward his house. “Don’t your parents cheer and stare when you make out with someone? Is that weird where you come from? I guess they don’t get to see it much, though. From jail, I mean.”
“Shut it, Weintraub. If I knock you down in the snow, these kids will swarm and eat you.”
A lone truck puttered past, and Tinfoil Guy gave us a stiff salute as he drove farther into Gracetown. We all moved to make way for him—Stuart, me, the little girls. Stuart zipped open his coat and invited me to tuck myself under his arm, and then we made our way through the snow.
“You want to go back to my house the long way?” he asked. “Or the shortcut? You have to be cold.”
“Long way,” I replied. “The long way, for sure.”
a cheertastic christmas miracle
To Ilene Cooper, who has guided me through so many blizzards
JP and the Duke and I were four movies in to our James Bond marathon when my mother called home for the sixth time in five hours. I didn’t even glance at the caller ID. I knew it was Mom. The Duke rolled her eyes and paused the movie. “Does she think you’re going somewhere? There’s a blizzard.”
I shrugged and picked up the phone.
“No luck,” Mom said. In the background, a loud voice droned on about the importance of securing the homeland.
“Sorry, Mom. That sucks.”
“This is ridiculous!” she shouted. “We can’t get a flight to anywhere, let alone home.” They’d been stuck in Boston for three days. Doctors’ conference. She was getting kind of despondent about the whole Christmas-in-Boston thing. It was as if Boston were a war zone. Honestly, I felt sort of giddy about it. Something about me has always liked the drama and inconvenience of bad weather. The worse the better, really.
“Yeah, sucks,” I said.
“It’s supposed to blow through by morning, but everything is so backed up. They can’t even guarantee we’ll be home tomorrow. Your dad is trying to rent a car, but the lines are long. And even then it will be eight or nine in the morning, even if we drive all night! But we can’t spend Christmas apart!”
“I’ll just go over to the Duke’s,” I said. “Her parents already told me I could stay there. I’ll go over there and open all my presents, and talk about how my parents neglect me, and then maybe the Duke will give me some of her presents because she feels so bad about how my mom doesn’t love me.” I glanced over at the Duke, who smirked at me.
“Tobin,” Mom said disapprovingly. She wasn’t a particularly funny person. It suited her professionally—I mean, you don’t want your cancer surgeon to walk into the examination room and be like, “Guy walks into a bar. Bartender says, ‘What’ll ya have?’ And the guy says, ‘Whaddya got?’ And the bartender says, ‘I don’t know what I got, but I know what you got: Stage IV melanoma.’”
“I’m just saying I’ll be fine. Are you guys gonna go back to the hotel?”
“I guess, unless your father can get us a car. He’s being such a saint about all this.”
“Okay,” I said. I glanced at JP, and he mouthed, Hang. Up. The. Phone. I really wanted to return to the place on the couch between JP and the Duke and go back to watching the new James Bond kill people in fascinating ways.
“Everything’s fine there?” Mom asked. Lord.
“Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s snowing. But the Duke and JP are here. And they can’t really abandon me, either, because they’d freeze if they tried to walk back to their houses. We’re just watching Bond movies. Power’s still on and everything.”
“Call me if anything happens. Anything.”
“Yup, got it,” I said.
“Okay,” she said. “Okay. God, I’m sorry about this, Tobin. I love you. I’m sorry.”
“It’s really not a big deal,” I said, because it really wasn’t. Here I was, in a large house without adult supervision, with my best friends on the couch. Nothing against my parents, who are fine people and everything, but they could have stayed in Boston right through New Year’s without my being disappointed.
“I’ll call you from the hotel,” Mom said.
JP apparently heard her through the phone, because he mumbled, “I’m sure you will,” as I said my good-byes.
“I think she has an attachment disorder,” JP said when I hung up.