• • •
We don’t talk again after that. But I discreetly keep tabs on Kennedy the rest of the afternoon—where she’s standing, who she chats with. Tension prickles my skin if she’s out of my field of vision for too long, but when I find her again, relief detonates in my chest. For a long time—years—I wondered what she was doing, where she was, wanted so fucking badly to see her—the way an alcoholic craves just one more taste.
It wasn’t easy, but eventually I went cold turkey, gave up on her completely—because wondering and wanting are lost causes. So, as good as it is to be able to watch her now, I’m not thrilled to fall off the wagon just yet.
“I don’t want to go, Mommy!” Jonathon cries, yanking at his mother’s hand, trying to dig his heels into the grass.
Because Katherine just told her kids it’s getting late—time to head home.
Annie adds her own plaintive wail. “I wants da fireworks.”
I step up beside my cousin as her children join forces against her.
“We’re gonna miss the fireworks, Mommy!” Jonathon yells.
“Settle down, little man.” I tell him. “There aren’t any fireworks tonight. We only have them on New Year’s Eve.”
Every year, my parents go all out throwing a huge, formal New Year’s Eve party—they have since before I was born. There’s tuxedos and gowns, dancing, fountains of champagne . . . and fireworks at midnight that light up the sky and bathe the Potomac River in bright, sparkling color. Young kids in the family, like Jonathon and Annie, aren’t allowed to stay at the party all night. They’re sent to bed in one of the dozens of upstairs rooms before midnight. But Jonathon and Annie obviously know about the fireworks. They probably slip out of bed and watch the show through the window. That’s what I did every year, when I was their age.
Only—I didn’t watch from the window. And I didn’t watch alone.
“I’ll go first,” I tell Kennedy at the base of the ladder. “So I can open the hatch.”
Even though we’re both nine, she’s a lot smaller than I am. This is the first time we’ve gone up to the roof—and I’m the boy, so I should definitely go first. There could be rabid birds up there, or bats.
We’re in the big attic, where trunks, old books, paintings, and plastic-wrapped dresses get stored. It’s dark and dusty, with shadowed corners that look like they’re moving if you stare too long. Kennedy loves it up here.
“Come on, it’s going to start soon,” I tell her. “We’ll come back here tomorrow.”
Her eyes are still wide behind her thick-lensed, yellow-framed glasses as she gazes around the room, but she nods. “All right.”
I head up the ladder and push open the access door in the ceiling. Then I climb through and reach down my hand. Kennedy grabs it as she climbs through and then we’re standing on the flat peak of my house. Sometimes Kennedy calls it a castle—Mason Castle—because of the ballroom. Her house is just as big. They don’t have a ballroom, but they have a home movie theater, which is a thousand times cooler.
The icy wind cuts right through my robe—it’s freezing this year, cold enough to see every breath. The sky is a black blanket above us, and the stars are so bright, it feels like I could reach up and grab one—as easily as picking an apple off a tree. Kennedy spins in quick circles, her long brown hair fanning out. “You were right—this is the best!”
She’s smiling, and the metal line of her retainer shines in the moonlight.
I grin back—until she gets too close to the edge of the roof. I grab her hand and pull her back. “Watch out!”
We sit down close to one of the five chimneys, to block the wind. When Kennedy’s teeth start to chatter, I put my arm around her. She snuggles against me, warming us both up a little. We talk while we wait for the show to start.
“. . . So they let me quit fencing and start lacrosse instead,” I tell her. “It’s awesome.”
“You’re so lucky!” Kennedy cries. “Mother said I couldn’t stop ballet even if my leg was broken. She said I’m going to marry a prince, and no prince wants a princess who doesn’t know how to dance.”
Music floats up from the band downstairs. “I wonder if Claire is dancing with your cousin Louis,” Kennedy tells me. “She said she’s going to kiss him at midnight.”
I feel my face scrunch. “Why?”
“She said that’s what you do at midnight. Kiss the boy you like.”
My face stays scrunched—because I can’t imagine anyone liking Louis—let alone kissing him.
Then a chorus of voices surge from the veranda below. “10, 9, 8 . . .”
A few seconds later, the band begins “Old Lang Syne” and the sky explodes with color. Bursts of reds and blues, slashes of silvery purples and swaths of sparkling greens light up the night and reflect on the river’s surface.
While I watch the fireworks, Kennedy turns under my arm. And then she kisses me on the cheek.
“Happy New Year, Brent,” she whispers.
I look at her and smile.
“Happy New Year, Kennedy.”
As I shake off the memory I scan the yard, searching for that red dress. But when I find her, it’s not just relief I feel—it’s something else. Something rougher, hotter, hungrier.
Because Kennedy is staring at me.
She doesn’t notice that I’ve noticed. Her gaze is too busy trailing over my chest, my arms, my ass. Her eyes are eager and her cheeks are flushed pink—and I don’t think it has anything to do with the afternoon sun. I turn her way, holding my arms out, so she can get the full viewing pleasure—and her eyes snap up to mine.