Better Than the Movies

“A girl will never forget the first boy she likes.”

He’s Just Not That into You

“But she’ll also never forget the first boy she hates.”

Liz Buxbaum

I dropped the bright yellow mum into the hole and covered the roots with dirt. The early-September sun was hot on my face as I planted the Aowers, but it had the blurry feel of a day in transition, like its heat was all for show and entirely lacking in the power it’d once held.

“Since you have daisies in the summer, we thought it might be nice for you to have mums in the fall.” I looked at my mom’s headstone and wondered how I was going to cope with the distance. I was down to one hour until I left for California, and even though logically I knew it was silly, a tiny part of me worried I was going to feel lost without our daily chats.

“It was all Helena’s idea.” Wes took a sip of water before picking up the bag of potting soil and saying to my mother’s headstone, “Don’t let your kid take all the credit.”

It had been Helena’s idea. She and I had had a lot of good talks after prom, and she had been super understanding about my grief. Instead of trying to convince me that I should move on or get closure, she’d bought a little bench for the gravesite—with a lovely Aoral cushion—so I wouldn’t have to sit on the ground.

She’d also bought me a jacket made of alpaca hair because she’d read that ghosts inherently know that the wearer of that material is not a threat. She made

me wear it every time I went to the cemetery after dark, because she didn’t want me getting possessed by the devil or one of his lackeys.

I was really starting to love my goofy stepmom.

“He’s right.” I said, sticking out my tongue at Wes. “But I love the idea. This way, even though I’m not here, my Aowers will bloom beside you.”

“Unless they die because Liz is a horrible gardener.”

I grinned and launched the trowel in his direction. “That could actually happen. Your green thumb—and frankly, your desire to even have one—is clearly skipping a generation.”

Wes caught the gardening tool as if he’d expected the throw and took the supplies to his car. I dusted my hands on my jeans and sat back on my heels. It was a little hard to believe that Wes and I were both going away to California after we were done, but it felt right. He’s always been there—the annoying boy next door—and now he was going to be the annoying boy in the dorm next door.

As it turned out, Wes was a rock star pitcher and got oPers from schools all over the country. In the end he’d selected UCLA, but he made sure I knew it had nothing to do with me. I believe his exact words had been So we’re totally free to dump each other in Cali without any weird guilt. This is just a freak accident that we’re going to the same school, not any love bullshit.

And then he’d given me a boyish grin and a kiss that made me forget my name.

For a few months now, Wes had been going with me to my mom’s grave a couple times a week. He usually wandered away so I could talk to her—rain or shine—but then he always came back in time to say goodbye to my mom and tell her something sarcastic about me.

It was cheesy, and I adored him for it.

“Well,” I said, “we should probably get going because we’re supposed meet Dad, Helena, and Joss in ten minutes.”

We were meeting at a café for breakfast, and then my dad and Helena were driving the U-Haul to California while Wes and I followed in his car.

I stood and looked over at him as he closed the trunk. He was wearing the T-shirt I’d bought him as a graduation present; it said EDUCATED FEMINIST BRO. I’d

bought it to be funny, but he wore it all the time.

It went well with his smart-ass smile.

I watched him walk around the car and open the back door, where Mr. Fitzpervert was sitting in his carrier in my favorite little plaid scarf, ears up and listening to every outdoor noise the cemetery had to oPer. Wes called him Mr. Fuzzy with the Silly Clothes and acted like he didn’t like cats, but he also always scratched him in that exact place Fitz liked behind his ear. And as I stood there, watching him talk to my cat, I realized the truth.

Wes was the good guy in the movie. Yes, he was funny and the life of the party, but he was also dependable and understanding and loyal. Even though I realized after prom that I didn’t need him to be, he was a Mark Darcy.

Only better.

I was about to say it out loud, to my mom, when Wes looked at me with that smile I loved. “You ready, Buxbaum? Mr. Fuzzy’s getting hungry and so am I.”

It was Wes’s idea to choose somewhere with outdoor seating so Fitz could enjoy the great outdoors from his carrier before the long car ride.

How could I not love him?

“Yeah.” I narrowed my eyes at him but ruined the ePect by smiling. “But it’s ‘Mr. Fitzpervert,’ you tool.”

I started walking toward him, but when I glanced back at my mom’s headstone, I almost tripped. Because a cardinal had landed on the chokecherry branch that hung down beside it. He was bright red and beautiful, just sitting on the branch and looking in my direction.

I blinked fast and narrowed my eyes as he opened his beak and chirped the sweetest little melody.

I turned back to Wes, and he was looking at it over my shoulder. I said, “You see it too, right?”

He gave a nod. “Holy shit.”

We both stood there, staring at the bird. After another moment he Aew away, but my heart felt lighter, like my mother had wanted to make sure I knew she was happy about me leaving. I cleared my throat and faced him. “You ready?”

“You okay?” He took two steps and was there, wrapping his big body around mine. He ran his hand over my back and said into my hair, “Because we can stay

as long as you want, Liz.”

“I’m great, actually.” I pulled back and let myself stare at his handsome face, at the person who had always been there for me, even when I hadn’t wanted him to be. “Let’s go eat.”

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