“So I’m doing my science project on contraptions or robots,” Jess said smoothly. She was talking to Bailey, who was on the other end of the phone.
“Yeah. Can I do it with you?”
Jess stopped. Uh-oh, she thought, better tell her now.
“Bailey, I’m really sorry, but… I totally forgot to ask you, and I’ve already chosen my teammates, Cassidy and Stewart. Can I make it up to you? Like having you over for dinner?”
There was a pause on the other end.
“No,” she said flatly, “just leave me alone. What was I thinking? Having a friend who lives with her grandma and on a farm? No way. Oh. And by the way, that was totally rude!” And Bailey hung up.
Jess’s feelings were hurt as she walked into the kitchen.
“Friends, isn’t it?” her grandmother asked, seeing her unhappy face as she chopped some onions. “Ah, yes. I remember when I was friends with Nora.”
“Yes, my friend back in high school. If you want them back, you’ll either let them wait it out or apologize after a week or so and make it up with a present or something. You’re perfect—I bet you’ll fix things up.”
“How? How am I perfect?”
“Oh, let’s see—you’re wonderful in a gazillion ways, Jess. You’ve got the prettiest silky-black hair and creamy skin with dazzling blue eyes, the most splendid abilities at music, art, and cooking—sweetie, I can’t name them all!”
“Was my mother like that?” Jess asked quietly after a few seconds.
Her grandmother paused as she was pressing the dough of the wonton strips together and hugged Jess close to her.
“Yes. Come with me.”
They walked up the rickety old stairs and into the attic. There were dusty old trunks, some a rustic tan, some with gold bolting, and some only half-closed, like the eye of a person trying to get more sleep.
“How come you never told me about this place, Grandma Fiona?”
“I wanted to wait until the time was right,” she replied, bending over a dusty brown trunk with cobwebs creeping all over it. It creaked and groaned resentfully as she opened it, and to Jess’s surprise it was filled with notebooks.
“Whose are these?” Jess asked, picking up a navy-blue one with a crimson bookmark.
“Your mother’s,” the elderly woman replied, picking up one herself. “Some of them are written in Italian, but you know this is because our family immigrated from Italy.”
“Yeah,” Jess said. She remembered how coming from one country to another was hard, especially since they had been very poor and they had barely any money when they arrived in America.
“Look at these awhile, and dinner should be ready in a bit. By the way, we’re having wonton soup for dinner.”
Jess carried up one of the journals to her room and opened it up to the first page. This journal was a light ivory color with a turquoise bookmark, the ribbonfish kind that all the journals had. An envelope was stuck in it, and Jess decided to read the entry first, then the note.
I was so upset today when Sally read the note that now lies in the hands of this journal. She mocked me afterwards and said I was “an immigrant flirting with another Italian.” How dare she? I guess that’s her way of life, being like that. But still.
When I got back to the dorm, Francesca, my roommate, was still at her geography class, so I nestled down in the cozy featherbed with flannel sheets St. Claire’s college provides.
Pretty soon, Francesca came in and plopped onto her bed. Apparently, Rebecca invited her to join her on her trip to Barbados or Jamaica or somewhere like that, but I’m working at the farm this summer for a bit of money. As soon as I finish college, I’m going back to Italy.
Jess stared at the entry for a while and then opened the letter.
You are certainly one of a kind! When I read your last note, I cracked up with laughter. It is lovely here in Italy. The sun shines with great gusto, and the deep, rolling hills shimmer with life when the moon shines.
Giovanni, my cousin, has opened a small shop on the corner of Main Street. It sells hand creams of all sorts, like violet or lemon or lavender—and they certainly are splendid! There are also things like watches, bolts of silks, and so much more.
When you come back to Italy, we must pore over it!
I miss you much, my love.
Jess folded up the letter carefully and put it back in its envelope, smiling. She missed her parents, now that they were dead, but they felt so alive when she read the letter and the entry.
“Dinner!” called Jess’s grandmother from the dining room.
Over dinner, they talked about Bailey, and about what to do.
“I have an idea,” put in Jess, through a mouthful of wonton strips, onions, and shrimp. Grandma Fiona liked to cook foods from all cultures.
“What is it, dear?”
“I could take Bailey out camping one night near the farm, you know, in the meadow. Wouldn’t it be wonderful?”
Her grandmother looked thoughtful.
“That’s a good idea. I could send you two with some food, some blankets and sleeping bags, a tent—Jess, you truly are perfect!”
* * *
TWO WEEKS LATER
“Bailey?” Jess said into the phone,
“Are you there?”
“Yeah,” Bailey grumbled, “I’m here.”
“Look. I’m really sorry for what I did, so to make up for it, do you want to come over for a sleepover in the meadow?”
There was a hesitation on the other end.
“Sure. I forgive you. I’ll come.”
Jess realized she was holding her breath and let out a deep sigh of relief as Bailey said goodbye and hung up.
* * *
The next day, Bailey came over with her sleeping bags, blankets and the bag of things she always brought with her on sleepovers. For the first time in a long time, she was actually smiling.
“Hi, J,” she said, grinning at Jess when she answered the door, then putting on an apologetic face. “Look, I’m really sorry for blowing up at you. I…”
“Hey, let’s not ruin this. Have fun!” interrupted Jess, who was also smiling.
When they finished setting up the tent and putting out the sleeping bags and blankets, they had a delicious dinner. Bailey and Jess were so excited that they were bubbling over with grins and smiles.
“I’m going to send you two girls off with a basket of food for tomorrow’s breakfast,” Grandma Fiona said, putting a basket filled with breakfast food in front of them, along with a two thermoses of rich, milky hot chocolate with two mugs and a jar of farm-made butter, the thick and creamy kind.
* * *
When it was just about midnight, Bailey crept out from under the covers and poked and prodded Jess until she woke up.
“Come on!” she whispered enthusiastically. “Let’s catch some fireflies.”
Jess quickly pulled on some clothes over her pajamas and, taking an empty jar, clambered out of the tent. Lying on their stomachs in the dewdrop-filled grass, Jess remembered what her father, Peppe, had said in his letter. “The sun shines with great gusto, and the deep, rolling hills shimmer with life when the moon shines.” This was almost like Italy.
“You see those stars up there?” Bailey murmured happily.
Jess tilted her head back as the cool night air bathed her locks of black hair. The dragonflies dipped their crystal wings in the pond they had decided to camp by, making little plopping noises as Jess and Bailey spoke. The crickets chirped too, and all together, it was like a quiet melody ringing throughout the night.
“I was thinking—don’t you think those stars resemble us?”
Jess paused, and then nodded. “Kind of,” she replied, “but in what way?”
“Well, they’re golden and silver, but—oh, I hope this makes sense— they’re not separated. You see, we’re totally different—you’re Italian and I’m American, you like silk and I like velvet, you live with your grandmother on a farm and I live in the city with my parents—but the thing is, we’re not separated. The stars combine, Jess—they don’t separate, even if they’re two completely different things! If I had chosen to be stupid and not your friend, then it would have been like if the sky ripped apart or if the sun disappeared, and it would be horrible!”
“Yeah,” said Jess after a moment. “Yeah, it would.”