There’s no such thing as a secret in this town. But I’m keeping this one, just for today. I fold the letter once, twice, three times and slide it into my back pocket like a golden ticket, because that’s what it is. A ticket out. Being chosen as a finalist for the Cruz-Farnetti Scholarship is my version of winning the lottery. It means Stanford pre-med and everything else I’ve worked for.
Icy wind sears my cheeks red as I cross the school parking lot, and I curse Johnny Mountain for being right when he forecast the late spring storm. If the biting wind and swirling white sky are any indication, we may be graduating in the snow, which is not at all how I pictured it. But today I don’t really mind. Today the wind and I burst through the double doors together, and it carries me like someone who’s going places, because now it’s official. I am.
Kat’s already at my locker when I get there and it gives me the smallest pause. We don’t keep secrets from each other. Her eyes run over me, top to bottom, and she smiles slowly. “You look like you’re in a good mood.” It’s more friendly accusation than casual greeting, and she punctuates it by leaning back against the blue metal of the lockers and waiting expectantly.
“What? I can’t be in a good mood?” I reach around her and spin the lock without looking at the numbers, try to hide my smile.
She shrugs and steps aside. “I’m not. This weather sucks. Mountain says it’s gonna be the worst storm in ten years or some bullshit like that. I’m so over the frickin’ snow. It’s May. We should be wearing tiny shorts and tank tops instead of . . . this.” She looks down at her outfit in disdain.
“Well,” I say, trying to pull my mind away from visions of the red-tiled roofs and snowless breezeways of Stanford, “you look cute anyway.”
Kat rolls her eyes, but straightens up her shoulders the slightest bit and I know that’s exactly what she wanted to hear. She stands there looking effortless in her skinny jeans, tall boots, and a top that falls perfectly off one shoulder, revealing a lacy black bra strap. Really, cute isn’t the right word for her. The last time she was cute was probably elementary school. By the time we hit seventh grade, she was hot and all its variations, for a couple more reasons than just her tumbling auburn hair. That was the year Trevor Collins nicknamed the two of us “fire and ice,” and it stuck. In the beginning I thought the whole “ice” thing had something to do with my last name (Frost), or maybe my eyes (blue), but over the years, it’s become increasingly clear that’s not what he meant. At all.
Kat shuts my locker with a flick of her wrist as soon as I unlock it. “So. There’s a sub for Peters today, a cute one I’d normally stick around for, but I’m starving and Lane’s working at Kismet. Let’s get outta here and eat. He’ll give us free drinks and I’ll have you back by second period. Promise.” She’s about to come up with another inarguable reason for me to ditch with her when Trevor Collins strolls up. Even after this long, that’s still how I think of him. Trevor Collins. It was how he introduced himself when he walked into Lakes High in seventh grade with a winning smile, natural charm, and the confidence to match.
His eyes flick to me, not Kat, and heat blooms in my cheeks. “Hey, Frost. You look saucy today. Feelin’ adventurous?” He dangles a lanyard in front of me, and a smile hovers at the corners of his mouth. “I got the keys to the art supply closet, and I could have you back before first period even starts. Promise.” He hits me with a smile that lets me know he’s joking, but I wonder for a second what would happen if I actually said yes one of these days.
I meet his eyes, barely, before opening my locker so the door creates a little wall between us, then give my best imitation of disinterested sarcasm. “Tempting.” But between his dyed black hair and crystal blue eyes, it kind of is. I have no doubt a trip to the art supply closet with him would be an experience. Half the female population at Lakes High would probably attest to it, which is exactly why it’ll never happen. I like to think of it as principle. And standards. Besides, this has been our routine since we were freshmen, and I like it this way, with possibility still dancing between us. From what I’ve seen, it’s almost always better than reality.
Kat blows him a kiss meant to send him on his way. “She can’t. We’re going to get coffee. And she’s too good for you. And you have a girlfriend, jackass.” There’s that, too, I remind myself. But I’ve never really counted Trevor’s girlfriends as legitimate, seeing as they don’t generally last beyond being given the title.
“Actually, I’m not,” I say a little too abruptly. “Going to get coffee, I mean.” I shut my locker and Trevor raises an eyebrow, jingling his keys. “I uh . . . I can’t skip Kinney’s today. He’s got some big project for me.” Oh, the lameness.
Kat rolls her eyes emphatically. “You don’t actually have to show up to class when you’re the TA and it’s last quarter. You do realize that, right?”
“You don’t have to,” I say, matching her smart-ass tone, “because Chang has no idea she even has a TA. Kinney actually realizes I’m supposed to be there.”
The bell rings and Trevor takes a step backward, holding up the keys again. “Best four minutes you ever had, Frost. Going once, twice . . .”
I wave him off with a grin, then turn back to Kat, who’s now giving me her you know you want to look. “Never,” I say. I know what’s coming next, and I’m hoping that’s enough to squash it.
But it’s not, because as we walk, she bumps my hip with hers. “C’mon, P. You know you want to. He’s wanted to since forever.”
“Only because I haven’t.”
“Maybe,” she shrugs. “But still. School’s gonna end, you’re gonna wish that just once, you’d done something I would do.”
I stop at Mr. Kinney’s doorway. Now it’s me with the smile. “You mean did, right? Because I distinctly remember my best friend being the first girl here to kiss Trevor Collins.”
“That was in seventh grade. That doesn’t even count.” A slow smile spreads over her lips. “Although for a seventh grader, he was a pretty good kisser.”
I just look at her.
“Fine,” Kat says in her dramatic Kat way that communicates her ongoing disappointment every time I plant my feet firmly on the straight and narrow road. “Go to class. Spend the last few weeks of your senior year pining over the guy you could have in a second while you’re at it. I’ll see you later.” She smacks me on the butt as she leaves, right where my letter is, and for a second I feel guilty about not telling her because this letter means that Stanford has gone from far-off possibility to probable reality. But leaving Kat is also a reality at this point, and I don’t think either one of us is ready to think about that yet.
When I step through Kinney’s door, future all folded up in my back pocket, he’s headed straight for me with an ancient-looking box. “Parker! Good. I’m glad you’re here. Take these.” He practically throws the box into my arms. “Senior class journals, like I told you about. It’s time to send them out.” His eyes twinkle the tiniest bit when he says it, and that’s the reason kids love him. He keeps his promises.
I nod, because that’s all I have time to do before he goes on. Kinney drinks a lot of coffee. “I want you to go through them like we talked about. Double-check the addresses against the directory, which’ll probably take you all week, then get whatever extra postage they need so I can send them out by the end of the month, okay?” He’s a little out of breath by the time he finishes, but that’s how he always is, because he’s high-strung in the best kind of way. The million miles a minute, jump up on the table in the middle of teaching to make a point kind of way.
Before I can ask any questions, he’s stepped past me to hold the door open for the sleepy freshmen filing in. Most of them look less than excited for first period, but Mr. Kinney stands there with his wide smile, looks each one of them in the eye, and says “Good morning,” and even the grouchy-looking boys with their hoods pulled up say it back.
“Mr. Kinney?” I lug the box of journals a few steps so I’m out of their way. “Would you mind if I take these to the library to work on them?”
“Not at all.” He winks and ushers me on my way with the swoop of an arm. “See you at the end of the period.” Right on cue, the final bell rings and he swings his classroom door shut without another word.
I linger a moment in the emptied hallway and peek through the skinny window in his door as students get out their notebooks to answer the daily writing prompt they’ve become accustomed to by this point in the year. Sometimes it’s a question, sometimes a quote or artwork he throws out there for them to explain. Today it’s a poem, one I’m deeply familiar with, since my dad has always claimed we’re somehow, possibly, long-lost, distant relatives of the poet himself.
I read the eight lines slowly, even though I know them by heart. Today though, they hang differently in my mind—too heavily. Maybe it’s the unwelcome, swirling wind outside, or the fact that so much in my life is about to change, but as I read them, I feel like I have to remind myself that just because someone wrote them doesn’t make them true. I would never want to believe they were true. Because according to Robert Frost, “nothing gold can stay.”