Her dad drops her off at the San Diego Repertory Theatre at eleven, an hour before she and Gabe and Kevin are supposed to meet Zoe. Gabe is doing last minute tweaks on the Secret Project, and he promised Lissa she could help.
Gabe is her new favorite person. He came to her mom’s funeral with Kevin, largely to give Zoe some moral support, but he found Lissa tucked away in a corner during lunch with her sketchbook. He praised her work and gave her some pointers and asked if she wanted to be let in on a secret. Then he told her he’d been working on a prom dress for Zoe for weeks, and he wanted to know if she wanted to help with the surprise.
Lissa’s not naive — she knows that Gabe has kind of taken her under his wing because Zoe asked him to, but he also seems to genuinely like her. And she genuinely likes him, too, so it works out.
Today, though, Lissa is the one with a surprise for Gabe and Kevin.
The costume shop is full of people bustling around, working at sewing machines, labeling shoes, chattering happily. There must be a show coming up, she thinks. She sees Gabe’s mom, who she’s met a couple times while helping with The Secret Project.
“Hello, Lissa!” Mrs. Maxwell calls. Lissa waves. “The boys are in the back corner.”
“Thank you,” she says with a smile and winds her way through the press of people until she gets to Gabe’s little corner of the workroom. “I have a present for you,” she says as she skips up to the dummy Gabe and Kevin are easing into a dark blue gown.
“A present for us?” Kevin asks, glancing over his shoulder. “And what might that be, Miss Lissa?”
With a grin, she pulls a folded piece of paper out of her pocket and holds it up triumphantly. “I have Alex’s address,” she announces. Gabe and Kevin freeze, halfway through lowering the hem to the ground.
“How did you get your hands on that?” Gabe asks.
“Does Zoe even have Alex’s address?” Kevin asks.
“Nope,” Lissa says, trying not to sound too proud of herself, but she is quite proud of herself, so she’s fighting a losing battle. “And it was actually pretty easy,” she says to Gabe, answering her question. She plops into a chair, sitting backwards in it and resting her chin on the back. “See, Zoe told me about Alex’s siblings and where he goes to school, and I realized, my middle school funnels into Canyon Crest. Alex has twin brothers that are freshmen this year, and I remembered that there were twins in the year above me last year, so I pulled out my yearbook, and there they were. Asher and Aaron. Different last name, but they’re his step-brothers, so it would be. Now, I didn’t really know them, and they wouldn’t know me, but I know a guy in my class who hung out with them, so I asked him if they had an older brother named Alex, and he said yes, and he knew where they lived because he’d been to their house.”
She smiles smugly. Yesterday had been a good day’s work at school. “Please promise me you’re going to use this power for good and not evil,” Kevin says then, and Lissa laughs.
“Which one? Having the address or how I got the address?”
“Yes,” is his reply.
“What are you planning on doing with the address now that you have it?” Gabe asks her. She shrugs and tucks it back in her pocket.
“At the moment, nothing. In the future, maybe something. I don’t know yet. It depends on Zoe.” Kevin and Gabe exchange a glance at that, and Lissa rolls her eyes. “Come on,” she says, “I know you two are on my side in this. You think she should tell him how she feels.”
“Yes,” Kevin acknowledges, “but it does have to be her choice.”
“But she’s making the wrong one!” Lissa insists. “She thinks he doesn’t like her like that, which is ridiculous — have you heard the recordings he sends her?”
“No,” Gabe says, throwing her a strange look. “You have?”
“She listened to some in my bedroom when she stayed with us, and she turns the volume up really high on her computer and her earphones bleed, it’s not my fault I overheard things.”
Kevin cracks up at that. “You are really something else,” he tells her. “Have you considered world domination as a career?”
“Briefly,” she tells him with a smile, which makes him laugh harder. “But I’m telling you, those aren’t things you say to someone who’s just a friend. And I don’t get why Zoe can’t hear it herself.”
“Because it’s . . . complicated,” Gabe says, and Lissa rolls her eyes. There’s that explanation again.
“Is it really, or is it just complicated in Zoe’s head?”
“No, it’s complicated for real,” Kevin says. Lissa must not look like she believes him (not that she was trying to hide it), because he sighs and turns to Gabe. “You still need my hands, or has this become a one-man job?”
“I’m good,” Gabe says. “You can take this on.”
“Okay,” Kevin says, grabbing a nearby chair and sitting on it backwards, like her. “Do you like anybody, Lissa?”
It’s not the question she is expecting, and she turns beet red. “I — what? No!” Kevin raises an eyebrow. “Yes,” Lissa mumbles, “but you can’t tell anyone!”
Kevin laughs. “Who am I going to tell?” She looks a little embarrassed at that, because he’s right. “So,” he continues. “This person you like. Boy? Girl?”
“Boy,” she says. Kevin nods.
“This boy you like. Have you told him?”
She goes redder. “No,” she mumbles.
Lissa sighs. “Because . . . he’s the only person at school right now not treating me like I’m made of glass. He — his mom died in a car accident a few years ago, so he knows what it’s like.” Kevin reaches out and puts a comforting hand on her arm for a moment, and she is determined not to cry today. She blinks hard, waiting for him to make his point.
“So you don’t want to mess up a friendship,” he says, and Lissa nods.
“Look,” she says, because she knows where he’s going with this. “I know what you’re getting at. But Zoe is the one who keeps championing telling people how you feel about them. She did it with you two, and she told me I should tell Eli, and I just don’t understand why she won’t follow her own advice.”
“Because Alex likes someone else,” Kevin says quietly.
“He doesn’t!” Lissa exclaims, and Kevin holds up a hand.
“You can’t prove that, Lissa.”
“I know what I heard,” she insists stubbornly.
“I’m sure you do,” Kevin says with infinite patience, and coming from anyone else, it would sound condescending, but it doesn’t coming from him, somehow. “But you still can’t prove how Alex feels. And neither can Zoe.”
“She could ask,” Lissa points out.
“But she won’t.”
“Why not?” Lissa demands. Kevin seems at a loss, and Lissa is about to chalk one up to victory when Gabe speaks.
“You know the song “You Belong With Me”?”
“Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t know that song?”
Gabe lifts his eyes toward the ceiling. “The sarcasm of children these days,” he says.
“Said the wizened old man of seventeen,” Kevin jumps in, winking at Lissa, who bites back a grin.
“I know the song,” Lissa says, prompting Gabe to continue.
“Zoe hates it,” he tells her, and Lissa frowns.
“She just used it on a Spotify playlist!”
“Yes,” Gabe says patiently, “called ‘This Playlist is Beneath Me.’ Identifying with the song doesn’t mean she doesn’t hate it.”
“But why does she hate it? It’s fine.”
“Say that around Zoe,” Kevin says with a laugh, “and I hope you have an hour to discuss girl vs girl narratives and the dangers they present to feminism.”
“You said that was one of the most fascinating conversations you’d had in ages,” Gabe points out with a raised eyebrow.
“It was,” Kevin agrees. “But also time consuming.”
“Boys,” Lissa says with a snap of her fingers. “Focus.”
“Right,” Gabe says. “Girl vs girl narrative aside, Zoe doesn’t like the song because . . .” He searches visibly for the right words, and Lissa tries to be patient. “Of how possessive it is,” he finally finishes, and Lissa must make a face because after a second, he explains. “The girl singing, she believes that she deserves the guy because of how badly she wants him. She thinks she knows what makes him happy better than he does, and so she’s not respecting the choice that he made to date the other girl. The attitude of the song is ‘I deserve a relationship with you because of how good a friend I am, and therefore the choice you made was wrong and you should fix it and be with me.’”
Lissa slumps. “Well, when you say it like that . . .”
“Zoe is all about respect, and she’s all about choice, and that’s why Zoe won’t say anything. She will respect the choice she thinks Alex has made, no matter what.”
“But that’s all wrong,” Lissa argues, sitting up straight again. “Alex isn’t dating Emma, so he hasn’t really made a choice, and how can he choose if he doesn’t know what his options are?”
Gabe and Kevin exchange a long look, and then Kevin sighs. “Look, kid,” he says kindly, “we’re not saying you don’t have good points, and we’re not saying we don’t agree with you. But this is where Zoe’s head is. You wanted to know why. This is why.”
Lissa considers this unhappily for a long moment. “Well, it’s stupid,” she finally says, and Kevin laughs a little.
“Maybe,” he says. “But it’s her choice. We can’t make it for her, and we need to respect the choice she makes, even if we don’t agree with it.”
“But—” A look from Kevin stops her. She fiddles with a loose thread on the back of the chair and chews at her lip. “Okay,” she says finally. “I just . . . I want Zoe to be happy.”
“Join the club, kid,” Gabe says with a grim smile.
“Gabe’s making jackets,” Kevin adds, then Gabe gets more serious.
“We all want Zoe to be happy. But take it from me, with unfortunate personal experience — your sister really doesn’t like it when people around her make decisions for her. We can’t fix this for her, much as we want to.”
“Look at you and all that personal growth,” Kevin says proudly. Gabe glares at him for a second. Kevin smiles at him, then, to Lissa, he says, “The way to make Zoe happy, at least in the short term, is to pull today off without a hitch.”
“And hope that in the next half hour, I can fix whatever is still wrong with this god-forsaken gown,” Gabe mutters. Kevin looks at Lissa and rolls his eyes. “I saw that,” Gabe says, though his focus is still on the dress. Lissa shares a smile with Kevin and jumps in to help. But her mind lingers on the conversation.
They’re right, Lissa knows. She doesn’t like it. She doesn’t like it one bit. But they are right. So she tries to put the address out of her mind, and she silently vows not to mention it to Zoe and not to use it to contact Alex herself. At least, she amends, not unless I absolutely have to.