Chapter Eight: l'epilogue
March is supposed to be a miserable, rainy month in Harkness, Connecticut. And it’s true about the weather. But there’s nothing miserable at all about being Pepe’s girlfriend.
It’s Friday night, and we just beat Harvard in a conference semifinal. I have never been so excited in my life as I was when the buzzer sounded. Down on the ice, the whole team piled onto each other like a pack of puppies, while those poor souls in the Crimson jerseys hung their heads.
“So long, suckers!” I screamed.
Now we’re at Capri’s which is crammed with an entire ecstatic hockey team and way too many happy fans.
But these days, Nadia and I are no longer lurking in the next room. Tonight I’m tucked into a booth beside Pepe, his arm slung casually around my shoulders as he relives the winning play with John Rikker.
“That deke!” Pepe’s low, gravely laughter resonates through my body. I should be listening to the story, but I’m too focused on what will happen a little later tonight. Nadia is out of town, for starters. But earlier this week she made sure to inform Pepe that my birthday is tomorrow, and that she wouldn’t be home tonight.
“Magnifique!” he’d said. “At midnight we celebrate.”
At the time I’d been embarrassed at this little exchange. But now? Not so much. Every time Pepe touches me tonight, I check the clock, but midnight just won’t hurry.
I’m like Cinderella in reverse, waiting for the clock to strike. I can’t wait to shed a slipper…and then all the rest of my clothing.
But first, hockey smack talk.
“Did you see the look on their goalie’s face?” Rikker asks, and then cackles. “Trevi snuck in there and that dude was not expecting it.”
“Boom!” Pepe shouts. “He put the cookie in the…” My boyfriend stops, frowning.
“The biscuit in the basket?” Rikker asks, grinning.
“What is a biscuit in English?” Pepe asks.
“In America it’s a buttery thing, but not sweet,” I explain.
“Although in the UK, a biscuit is a cookie,” Rikker adds.
Pepe buries his face in his hands. “I will never get English.”
“But you get hockey, and we’re headed to the finals!” Rikker holds up a hand, which I high five. “Lake Placid, baby! It’s going to be awesome.”
I sneak a look at my watch. It’s after eleven-thirty. Not long now.
“You want anything from the bar?” Rikker asks. “I’m getting a pitcher.”
Pepe slaps a ten on the table. “Can you bring Jhosephine a glass of wine?”
“Of course.” Rikker nudges the ten away. “But I hear she’s having a birthday. It’s on me.”
“Thanks,” I say. “That’s so nice.” But inside I’m thinking, who needs another glass of wine? We could just go home and jump each other.
Lately our tutoring sessions are going really well. And I’m not talking about essay writing.
Pepe’s hand curls around the side of my body as Rikker walks away. “It is almost time for your birthday surprise,” he says right into my ear. “I can’t wait.”
“Me neither,” I admit. I turn my head and kiss him. PDA is so not like me. But the man is seriously attractive, and when he whispers in my ear I go a little crazy sometimes.
Pepe kisses me slowly and then pulls away, his dark eyes glittering. “You need to press pause on that, chaton. Just a little while longer.”
“Why?” I whine. “We could just leave now.”
He closes his eyes and gives his head a quick shake. Then he opens them again. “How did I get so lucky?”
“What do you mean?”
“Some girls—they only want the bling and the jersey and the front row seats to the conference final. You just want to drag me home and kiss me.”
“Well of course I do.”
His eyes gleam. “Désolé. You have to wait ten minutes because I make a surprise for you that happens here.”
Rikker sets a glass of wine in front of me. “Pepe, Bella is looking for you.” He points at the doorway.
My heart sinks just a little bit. Lately I’ve worked out that Bella and Pepe used to fool around sometimes, during those intervals when Marie had broken up with Pepe. They never mention it, but I’ve heard a joke or two these last couple of months.
So I usually avoid Bella, because I don’t like thinking about the two of them together.
We both look toward the entrance, and sure enough, Bella is standing there, the bar lighting making a perfect halo of her shimmering blond curls. It doesn’t help my confidence that she’s ridiculously beautiful.
Pepe raises a hand and gives her a thumb’s up sign. Then Bella smiles and disappears.
I don’t know what that’s all about. But then suddenly I do. Bella reappears, this time lit up by candle light. And those candles are on a cake…
John Rikker grabs a spoon and taps his glass to get everyone’s attention. “Listen up! Somebody else has to start the singing Happy Birthday to Josie because you do not want it to be me,” he says.
“Happy Birthday to you!” Sings a younger player named D.J. He’s a substitute on the team, although tonight he scored his first goal of the season. And apparently he and his girlfriend can both sing, because together they carry the song for two bars before the whole team joins in.
My birthday has never been so loud.
I just sit there with my mouth hanging open as Bella draws closer. It’s a big cake—rectangular but tall. When she finally sets it down in front of me, I can finally make out its shape. It’s styled like a book. ROGET’S THESAURUS, it reads. EDIBLE EDITION.
It’s the cutest thing I have ever seen in my entire life. And Pepe is grinning and singing a very enthusiastic but slightly off key version of Happy Birthday.
“Oh, wow,” I say when the song ends.
“Make a wish!” Rikker yells, holding up his phone to take a picture.
I take a deep breath and blow all the candles out. Okay, it takes two breaths. It’s a lot of candles on a big cake.
“Joyeux Anniversaire!” Pepe says, squeezing me.
“Here’s a knife,” Bella says, handing it to me.
“Thank you. Both of you,” I say, including Bella.
She shrugs. “Pepe did the whole thing. I just took delivery at the front door.”
“Let’s eat it,” Pepe suggests.
So I cut the cake and Bella produces a stack of little paper plates. After I serve a bunch of slices she takes over for me so I can eat one. “Single file line, boys!” she says. “No elbows. Save those for the finals next week.”
Pepe eats a huge slice of cake and then teases me when I can barely finish mine. “There is one more thing,” he says, reaching for his gym bag on the floor. “I got you a present. It is a little strange…”
“You didn’t have to do that,” I say quickly. Although I’m pretty excited to see what it is.
He hands me a pink gift bag, and I reach inside. It’s a T-shirt. Gray, with pink letters. It reads:
The first rule of thesaurus club is we don’t speak, mention, jabber, natter, expound upon, discourse or declare thesaurus club.
“Oh my God!” I squeal.
Pepe’s grin grows wider. “You like it?”
“I love it.” And I love you. It’s too soon to say that. But only the best kind of guy would know how much I adore this T-shirt. Pepe and I have only been together for three months. Okay, not even that long. But he somehow managed to choose a gift that was incredibly meaningful without being too expensive or too intimate. “It’s perfect in every way,” I assure him.
“Let’s see,” Bella says, helping herself to a blob of frosting that clings to the cake’s tray.
When I turn the shirt around, she cackles. “That is nerdy and cool.”
It’s tempting to bristle at the nerdy comment, but only because it’s Bella that made it. Imagine what I’d be like if I ever met Marie, his long-term girlfriend. One look at her and I’d probably implode with jealousy.
I’m still new at this girlfriend thing. But I’ve never dated anyone as popular as Pepe before. Last week we were at a party at the hockey house, and I watched a girl actually tuck her phone number into his pocket.
He just laughed it off, of course. But I wanted to smack her.
“Do you want to take extra cake home?” Pepe asks. “Or should I find someone to eat the last slice?”
“Let’s find a hockey player to eat it, and then let’s get out of here.”
“Good call, Jhosephine,” he says. “One moment.”
Pepe picks up the cake and moves across the room to offer it to a friend.
“Happy Birthday,” Bella says, gathering up a couple of sticky plates and forks. “He was super excited about that cake. He took a picture of your thesaurus on his phone and showed it to the bakery.” She smiles and shakes her head. “Don’t worry so much, okay? You don’t need to.”
Wait, what? “I don’t worry,” I say quickly.
Bella rolls her eyes. “Right. Sure you don’t.”
I sigh. “Okay, fine. I do. I just care too much sometimes.”
“No,” Bella shakes her head. “There is no such thing. Trust me. You and Pepe are the real deal. I know it when I see it. Speaking of which…” She checks her phone. “My man is back from visiting his mom. Gotta run! There’s things to see and a boy to do.”
These words don’t make Bella blush, so I do it for her. It will be a good long time before I can talk about sex without turning red-faced. “Goodnight. And thanks for helping with my birthday cake.”
She winks at me on the way out.
Pepe comes back. “Ready, chaton?”
I slide out of the booth and put on my jacket, tucking my gift back into its bag and hooking it over my hand. Pepe shoulders his gym bag, and we walk out into the night together. This is the same walk we did that evening in December, when I didn’t know how to invite him up to my room.
I’ll never be smooth, but I’m getting a little better at saying what I want. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Do you ever miss Marie? It’s okay if you do.”
Pepe turns his head sharply, his expression startled. “Noh? I don’t think about her much.”
“But you were together for such a long time.”
He shrugs. “Yes, and letting go was hard. But now that I have, it’s better. We outgrow each other, Marie and I. She called me last week and…”
“Last week?” I blurt out.
“Oui. She wants to see me over spring break.”
My heart staggers around in my chest.
“I tell her no. And it was so easy! I don’t want to play games. You never do that. You say you’re not so good at talking, but I don’t know if it’s true. Some people say too much, no? Marie always wanted me to know how unhappy she was when I went away. Like coming to Harkness was something I was doing to her intentionally. Like a punishment.”
“That’s not fair,” I say, even though it isn’t really my place to weigh in.
He shrugs. “I am happier now. You and I have fun, and we’re kind to each other.” His dark eyes find mine, and they’re shiny in the lamplight. “It’s not so complicated, I think. To be with you.”
We’ve arrived at the gate to Fresh Court. “You’re coming home with me, right?” I say. The words just tumble right out, with no hesitation.
“Of course, chaton. For as long as you’ll have me.”
He squeezes my hand, and we cross the slate path toward Parker. I lead him up the steps and put my key in the lock.
Pepe leans in to kiss my neck, and my fingers pause on the key. “I like that so much,” I whisper.
“Yes? And do you also like this?” He leans in and kisses my ear, then draws my earlobe into his mouth.
Goosebumps break out all over my body. “Yes. Very much.”
“Open that door, chaton. There are many other questions I have for you in this matter.”
I open the door and hurry through the hallway, opening my room, too.
Once inside, I don’t turn on the light.
Pepe takes the hint. He takes the gift bag from my hand and tosses both our bags onto my desk. Then he eases my jacket off my shoulders and kisses me. “Happy Birthday, chaton. I’m going to make it even happier.”
I know he will, and I can’t wait.
THE END... But you can get Josie's thesaurus shirt! And support a great cause!