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Ramona's Law of Reciprocal Actions

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Ramona Quimby is seventeen years old, a graffiti artist who tags the streets of Portland as “Q” and idolizes Banksy, an honor student secretly crushing on the captain of the football team who also happens to be her current tutee, and she is standing over one of her best friends and holding a pair of scissors. 

Oh, how long she has dreamed of this, this exact moment.  She never thought it would happen, but here she is, standing over Susan with a pair of scissors, about to take one of Susan’s fat curls in her hand and snip it off.

The sound “Boing-boing-boing!” rings out in her head like it has since that first day of kindergarten so many years ago when she had seen Susan for the first time.

She picks up a curl and before Susan can even whisper, “I don’t think my mother…” Ramona snips it off.  She hears Daisy’s indrawn gasp and Davy’s small clap a split second later.

“It’s your hair, Susan, not your mother’s.  And you’re seventeen, not seven.  She can’t boss everything you do,” Ramona says firmly, grabbing another curl and clipping again.

It is better than the boings.

*

“Why, Ramona?  Why would you do that to Susan’s lovely hair?” her mother asks that night, a pained expression on her face.

“Because she wanted me to, Mother.”

And that part is true.  The week before, Susan had been yanking on her hair at lunch, tangling a finger through her curls.  “I hate this stupid hair,” she’d sighed, “but my mother still thinks it’s the most adorable thing she’s ever seen.”

Ramona looked up from her yogurt cup and had the answer at once.  “Let’s cut it off then.”

Daisy giggled.  Dave had chimed in with excitement. “Now that is a fabulous idea.”  Susan’s eyes went round.

“I’m serious.  We’ll chop it all off.  Show your mom what adorable really looks like,” Ramona said without hesitation.

As soon as it was said, the four of them knew it would be done.  They exchanged tentative grins as Ramona nodded her head definitively. 

“It’s not like we’re still little kids, Mom,” Ramona finds herself telling her mother after the tearful, indignant call from Susan’s mother.  Ramona glances around and sees her little sister Roberta playing with her hermit crab at the table, seemingly unaware of their conversation.  “It’s not like when Willa Jean was playing Beauty Shop with Bobbie and cut off all her hair,” temporizes Ramona, thinking back to the time when Willa Jean was seven and Bobbie was three and Willa Jean hacked through Bobbie’s thick brown hair with her safety scissors.  Willa Jean smiled proudly when they caught her and Bobbie cooed happily. 

Ramona, then twelve, had stared at the mess of her little sister’s hair, then glared at Willa Jean and shouted, indignantly, “Willa Jean, why are you such a pest?!”

She never understood why everyone had laughed so hard.

*

“So my mom says you guys went mental on Susan’s hair or something,” Howie says the next morning when he picks her up for school.

Howie Kemp still lives down the street and he is still Ramona’s best friend, though she would never tell (and, in all these years, has never told) Daisy or Susan this. 

Most mornings they ride to school together, because Howie has a car of his very own. He bought the 1969 Ford Mustang the summer after their freshman year for a few hundred dollars because not a single part on it worked, not even the doors.  Ramona and Howie exchanged triumphant looks the summer afternoon her father had towed the car to the Kemps' backyard.  That silly seller, he had no idea that he’d just sold his car to Howie Kemp, who could fix anything in the whole world, who knew how everything went together.

Sure enough, by the beginning of their sophomore year, Howie had the Mustang running like it was brand new and he and Ramona were free from the bus forever.  They named her “Sally” (OK, fine, Ramona named her Sally, Howie just rolled his eyes) and she wasn’t just their ticket off the bus, but their ticket to adventures all around Portland. 

Weekends at garbage dumps, digging for art supplies for Ramona’s crazy projects and things for Howie to fix up.  Out to Columbia River for Ramona to sketch and Howie to read physics books by the shore.  In some ways, they are still polar opposites: Ramona likes action, Howie likes tinkering and thinking things though.  Yet, somehow, this all balances out: Ramona helps Howie to stop thinking and get going and Howie helps Ramona step back and consider the outcomes.  That’s what best friends are supposed to do, right?  And, really, it makes all their adventures so much more interesting and unpredictable.

“We did not go ‘mental’ … we just cut it off,” Ramona says, rummaging through her bag for a brush.  As usual, she flew out of the door that morning half-assembled (What could Bobbie doing in the bathroom for so long?  She was eight, for goodness sake!  How had her mother forgotten to put the clothes in the dryer, although that might have been Ramona’s job, and what was she going to wear now that her cute blue skirt was still wet?) and she has tutoring first period, so she wants to look her best.

Howie, nonplussed as ever, simply replies, “I think letting you cut off her hair counts as mental, Ramona.”

Ramona smacks Howie’s arm with back of the brush she’s just liberated from the tangle of her bookbag and the two of them dissolve in laughter.

*

Ramona used to call the captain of the football team and her first period tutee Yard Ape, but now everyone just calls him Dan.  Sometimes, after a particularly amazing game, the name shouted out in the hallways is Dan the Man.

Dan the Man is not doing so well in calculus.  Ramona finds calculus to be absolutely tedious but then, she finds anything that is not either art class or the school literary magazine to be tedious.  She was assigned Dan at random a few months ago (she’s sought after in the National Honor Society tutoring program because she can tutor in any subject.  Some days, she dreams she will be assigned an art tutee.  “He really needs help with his abstract expressionism, Ramona.”) but she thinks it was a gift of fate.

Dan hasn’t teased, flirted, or interacted with Ramona at all since the eighth grade, when he shot off to super-popularity and she, Dave, Howie, Susan, and Daisy stayed in the “sort of nerdy but in a cool kind of way” middle stratosphere in the unofficial, but still very real, school popularity rankings.  Now, however, she and Dan spend most of first period both working through calculus problem sets and, well, flirting.

Ramona is sure they are flirting; sure of the way Dan teases her and asks what she did that weekend and lightly touches her hand sometimes.  She just can’t figure out why he hasn’t asked her out yet or why she can’t seem to make herself ask him.

Ramona never has a problem with things like that, but all it takes is for Dan to look up at her and give that same teasing half-smile he’s been giving since she was eight and she finds her throat closed up. 

“Just tell him already,” Howie said that morning as Ramona pulled the brush through her messy hair.

“I don’t know what you mean,” she had sniffed.

“He’s just a boring football player, Ramona.  If he doesn’t want to go out with you, it’s his stupid loss.”

She’d stared out the window and not met Howie’s eyes.

“Here,” she says, pointing at the last problem set, trying not to look too closely at Dan, “try this set again.”

Dan sets to work while Ramona lets herself drift off to how she would casually ask him out.  Soon.  She would do that very soon.

“How does that look?” Dan asks.

Ramona looks down at the problem, ready to be gentle but firm with her comments.  It usually takes Dan three attempts to get through a problem set.  When she glances down, instead of the usual scribble of numbers he's written, “So, are you going to go out with me already or what?  How does Madison’s party this Friday sound?”

Ramona gulps and feels a slow flush creep up her neck.  She raises her eyes to meet Dan's and smiles.  “Um, that’s a good solution.”

*

“It’s about time he asked you out,” Dave says at lunch.  He’s in the morning tutoring session too, getting extra help for his dyslexia.  He’d seen Ramona’s face light up and cornered her the second the bell rang. 

“We can’t all be as successful as you with the boys,” Daisy deadpans. 

“With great power comes great responsibility,” Dave answers with mock solemnity.

(Dave came out freshman year.  “There was a reason I used to run away from your kisses on the playground, Ramona.”  From then, he’d fallen in with Ramona, Susan, and Daisy almost without comment.)

The girls giggle and Ramona feels herself beaming triumphantly.

*

To: Howie Kemp
10:05 PM
This party is the worst.  Come save me.

To: Ramona Q
10:07 PM
Where are you?

To Howie Kemp
10:07 PM
Madison
’s house?  Which is … somewhere?  Dunno!

*

It doesn’t start out as the worst.  Dan shows up at her house right on time and shakes her parents' hands and smiles and talks about rushing downs or whatever and even talks to Bobbie like she is a grown-up, which is her favorite thing in the world. 

He opens the door for Ramona, tells her that her blue skirt looks great, and apologizes that they are going to a party, but it will maybe be fun and half the school will be there.

And it is fun, that second they walk in the door and she is standing right next to Dan and she can feel the ripple of “Isn’t that the weird art kid, you know, the one that got caught with a can of spray paint outside the gym?” in the stares and Dan doesn’t mind at all, he just laces his fingers through hers and pulls her into the party, grinning the whole time. She smiles back.

But that lasts about twenty minutes, until Dan is pulled off in some other direction and Ramona finds herself standing awkwardly by the sliding glass doors, looking out at Madison’s pool and wondering how practical that really is in a city with a climate like Portland’s.

Dan keeps coming back, it isn’t like he just forgets her in the corner, every ten or fifteen minutes he stops by and makes conversation before another group pulls him off.  Ramona doesn’t mind so much, it is fun to observe everyone and she runs into Janet, whom she hasn’t seen in ages and they are chatting. 

It just doesn’t feel very … date-like.

Finally, Dan breaks off from the latest crowd of admirers and pulls Ramona through the sliding glass door outside.  They walk a few steps out into Madison’s backyard, under a tree, next to the pool.  There is peace and quiet and just the two of them staring at each other and it feels … date-like.

“Sorry about the party,” he gestures vaguely behind them.  “It’s just, you know, people expect you to be places and do stuff and, well,” he shrugs.

Ramona nods as if she understands, as if that makes sense.  But it doesn’t, not really.  There is nothing Ramona hates more than doing what is expected of her, especially when the expectations belong to a bunch of her classmates who, if attendance at this party was the bar, seem to have very low expectations indeed. 

Instead she blurts out, “Do you remember the first time we met?”

Dan smiles and steps closer to her.  “Sure.  Like, the first day of … what, third grade?  When we started riding the bus for the first time?”

Ramona feels a fizzy excitement.  “Yeah, you stole my new pink eraser.”

“Really?  I don’t remember that part.” He keeps smiling and moving closer to Ramona.

He can’t remember stealing her eraser?  Playing keep-away with it?  How she’d shouted he was a YARD-APE!  How can he not remember?  To Ramona, this moment is as clear as if it happened yesterday, the way it felt to see her eraser disappear, Dan’s laugh rising over the playground.

“Yeah, it was …” she trails off.  It is silly.  That was eight years ago!  Who cares! She smiles at Dan instead.  “Remember you used to call me SuperFoot?”

He laughs, indulgently.  “SuperFoot?  I don’t remember that either.  I remember when you barfed in front of the whole class, though.”

She winces.  This is still one of her worst memories, The Third Grade Vomiting.  (the event always has caps in her memories.) She knows it's stupid to still be so acutely embarrassed when she thinks of this moment, but the sting is still sharp.  Dan must see her expression change, because he steps even closer to her.

“Hey, I don’t care about all that stuff.  That’s baby-stuff.  I care about now.”

Yes!  Now!  Ramona cares about NOW too!  That’s what is important!  How Dan is leaning down, right now, about to kiss her.

She tilts her face up, closes her eyes, feels the first warm press of his lips against hers, after all this time, at last, and –

She doesn’t feel a thing.

*

They kiss for what feels like an eternity to Ramona, but really mustn’t be more than ten minutes.  When they pull apart, Dan gives her a soft look.  “Wow.  That was great.”

She gives him a tiny smile and nods her head.  That isn’t quite lying, is it?

“Um, I have to go back inside for a little bit,” he says apologetically, “but I really, really want to stay out here.”

“So then stay out here,” Ramona wants to shout.  “It’s some stupid high school party, not a meeting of the United Nations!”  She bites her tongue, however, because the truth is, she doesn’t want Dan to stay.

“Oh, I’ll be fine,” she assures him. 

He gives her another king of the world grin and lopes back to the party without so much as a backward glance over his shoulder. 

She texts Howie before the door entirely slides shut behind Dan.

*

To: Ramona Q
10:33 PM
Me and Sally are out front.  Come on, then.

 *

She dashes out the front door the second her phone buzzes.  Dan was pulled into yet another group; she isn’t even sure he saw her leave.  She’d apologize on Monday.

She jumps in Sally and beams at Howie.  “How did you find me?”

“Um, no big deal.  I just … I figured Brittani would probably be here, since she is everywhere Madison is and you know how she checks in with Foursquare when she walks more than five steps at a time, so …”

Ramona is dazzled.  “Howie, are you telling me you found Brittani’s Foursquare account, saw she checked in at this party, got the address, and came here?”

Howie runs his fingers through his hair, his favorite gesture when he's feeling uncomfortable.  “I mean, you said you needed to be saved,” he mutters, looking down at the steering wheel.

“Howie, you’re the best best friend ever,” Ramona sighs, clicking her seatbelt.   She glances over at him and sees a dull red flush rising in his cheeks.  He won’t look up to meet her eyes and she has the weirdest feeling that she’s said something terribly wrong, but she can’t put her finger on what.  Maybe Howie is embarrassed he hadn’t been out on a Friday night.  Maybe she shouldn’t have said anything.

“Let’s go find some adventures,” she says quickly and Howie smiles, just a little, and nods.

*

To: Howie Kemp
10:35 AM
This is the most boring Tuesday ever.

To: Ramona Q
10:36 AM
Aren’t you supposed to be in class?

To: Howie Kemp
10:37 AM

Boring!  Let’s skip after lunch.

To: Ramona Q
10:38 AM

Oh?  And do what?

To: Howie Kemp
10:39 AM
I don’t know.  Something more fun than school.

To: Ramona Q
10:39 AM
I have an idea…

To: Howie Kemp
10:39 AM
YES!  Meet by Sally @ lunch.  Can everyone else come?

To: Ramona Q
10:41 AM
Sure.  See everyone then.

*

Dave, Daisy, Susan, and Ramona all pile in Sally.  “I am going to get in so much trouble for this,” Susan frets, reaching up to tuck a non-existent curl behind her ear.

“Oh, come on Susan, your mother will probably never find out.  And, besides, she can’t be as mad as she was about your hair,” Ramona assures her.

Dave chimes in next.  “It’s been raining for about three hundred years; we all need a break.”

“We don’t even know where Howie is taking us,” Susan answers.

“I’m sure it’ll be somewhere fun,” Daisy reassures.

“Susan, I promise it’s somewhere great,” Howie says, pulling out of the parking lot.  Ramona sees him glance at Susan in the rearview mirror.  “And your new haircut looks nice, by the way.”

Dave groans while Susan bats her eyelashes.  For some reason, Ramona feels a sharp kick of unhappiness in the bottom of her stomach.

*

“Is that it?” Daisy asks, twenty minutes later, as they drive up a street Ramona can’t name, with the Willamette River on Howie’s side.

“Oh my god!” Dave shouts as a Ferris Wheel rises up in the distance. “That’s Oak Park!  I had my seventh birthday there!  None of you were invited.”

Daisy and Susan laugh and jab him with their elbows. 

“Oak Park?” Ramona questions.  “But the rides are all closed for the winter.”

Howie never takes his eyes off the road. “Yeah, the rides are closed but, um, the skating rink is still open.”

Ramona knows her friends must be clapping and hooting in the back seat, but it sounds like it's coming from a million miles away, because all she can hear is the thumping of her heart in her chest.

*

The rink is almost deserted and the woman behind the counter looks suspiciously at the group of teenagers showing up in the middle of the afternoon.

“We’re … uh …” Dave begins, grasping for a reasonable explanation.

“We’re homeschooled,” Ramona lies with wide-eyed sincerity.

Daisy and Susan stare guiltily at their feet.  Just when Ramona thinks they're goners, Howie steps up and puts on his best grown-up face.

“Our physics teacher was going crazy having us cooped up all day, so he sent us here to do some hands-on experiments with Newton’s Third Law,” Howie says in a completely level, completely believable voice.

Ramona grins and picks up the lie without a second’s hesitation.  “Yeah, absolutely.  We have to write a boring lab report after it’s over, so it’s not all fun!”

The woman behind the counter nods sympathetically and asks their skate sizes. 

Ramona can’t help herself, she grabs Howie’s hand and squeezes.

He squeezes back.

*

Ramona has almost forgotten that roller-skating was her favorite childhood pastime, has almost forgotten all those hours she spent going up and down Klickitat Street, her skates singing out the whole time.  Chong-chong-chong: she hears the sound and feels eight years old again: free and possible and just about ready to burst out of her skin.

Susan skates smoothly next to Ramona, Daisy shortly behind her.  Howie and Dave are stuck behind the girls, trying not to fall down and pretending they don’t care. 

“So, Ramona,” Susan begins. “Howie is like your brother, right?”

Only years of practice keep Ramona from stumbling.  “What?”

“I mean, you grew up, like, two houses down and you’re together all the time, but it’s really more like he’s your brother, right?”

“What does that even mean, Susan?” Ramona asks, trying to keep her voice level.

“Just … you wouldn’t … ” Susan skates ahead, effortlessly of course, with a few strong pushes.  “You wouldn’t feel mad if, you know, he asked me out.”

Did Howie ask you out?” Daisy gasps before Ramona can say anything.

Susan smiles her perfect Susan smile.  “No.  But he might.

But Susan’s voice doesn’t seem to say, “might.”  Susan’s voice seems to say, “will.”

Ramona wants to push Susan over.  Instead she swallows hard and says, “Howie can do what he wants.”

She skates ahead, away from Susan and Daisy, pushing harder and harder until her legs burn.

*

“So, Newton’s Third Law, huh?” Ramona says as Howie pulls up to her house.

They just dropped everyone off at home and are back at Klickitat Street.  She plans to tell her parents she skipped the afternoon.  They'll be slightly mad, but since Ramona has never gotten a B in her entire high school career, they don’t have much to complain about.  Besides, they’ll love the story about roller-skating.

Howie puts Sally in park.  “For every action,” he begins.

“There is an equal or opposite reaction,” they finish together.

“It’s true, you know.  A classic Newtonian example is two skaters pushing against each other.  Every force has two ends.  That’s what made me think of it.”

“It was brilliant,” Ramona says, and she means it.  She loves it when Howie gets all science-y. 

“Thanks for today,” she says, giving a big sigh and leaning back in her seat.  “I needed it after the terrible weekend with Dan.”

“Not so terrible, it sounds like he liked you.”

“Big deal.  I didn’t like him.  Besides, he couldn’t even remember stealing my pink eraser.  AND he said that was ‘baby stuff.’” Ramona says the phrase with the same disgust Bobbie would use for anything that seems remotely childish.  

Howie snorts.  “Holding onto a grudge about your eraser from eight years ago?”

“It’s not that.  It’s … it’s remembering.  It’s knowing.  I don’t expect him to remember every single thing that’s ever happened between us, Howie.  It’s just some things, some moments, they’re important.”

When she says the last word she grasps Howie’s upper arm and feels his wiry muscles.  It's like she can feel his skin burning through the thin fabric of his t-shirt.  Howie gulps.  Ramona isn’t sure why she did that, but she doesn’t want to let go.

“I…know what…you mean,” Howie stutters out, turning in his seat to face her.  He's leaning towards her, into her grip, closer and closer and –

Suddenly Ramona has the strangest feeling that she is in one of those moments, that something important is about to happen.  And it's a little too overwhelming, a little too confusing.

Ramona pulls back.  “Susan wants you to ask her out!” she blurts out, breaking the tension.

Howie recoils, moving away from Ramona.  “Come again?”

“She said today, she thought, she wanted to know if we were brother and sister and she said she you might ask her out but she meant that you would ask her out and I know she wants you to ask her out after you went and said that dumb thing about her hair!” The words tumble freely out of Ramona, she can feel her anger rising with each one.  Howie is staring at her, puzzled.

“Brother and sister?” he says faintly, looking a little queasy.

“It was stupid, I know.  I told her you could do whatever you wanted,” Ramona says, unable to meet Howie’s eyes, looking down at her hands, now folded tightly in her lap.

“Um, thank you?”

“I got so mad at the way she said it, like she just assumed you’d ask her out if she just looked at you and I –” Ramona finds herself back in the awkward place, the place without words deep in her stomach, that jealous, mean place.  “She just thinks the whole world revolves around her!” Ramona defends, furiously.  “It… it made me think of when she copied my owl!” Ramona spits out the last part almost triumphantly.

“Your owl? From parents' night in first grade?  You’ve been friends with her for a decade since then!” Howie’s voice cracks at the end of the sentence, and he can’t stop his laughter.

It starts off as a friendly chuckle but it's the icebreaker they both needed. In a matter of seconds, Ramona and Howie are howling with laughter.

“Your freaking owl!” Howie gasps between belly laughs. 

*

Later that night, lying on her bed, Ramona thinks back to the way it felt to laugh with Howie about first grade owls. 

It's embarrassing to be called on such petty behavior.

It's fun to laugh with your best friend so hard that you have tears in your eyes.

It's comforting to know that someone knows you so well they remember first-grade you.

And it's something else, it's that nameless thing Ramona has been feeling more and more often around Howie. 

But maybe it isn’t that she can’t name that feeling that creeps up when they are having adventures or laughing on the ride to school in the morning, it's that she doesn’t want to.  Howie is absolutely her best friend and that’s one thing she really, really doesn’t want to mess up, that’s one thing that should just … be.

Howie Kemp, the boy down the street, her best friend, why everyone thought they were boyfriend and girlfriend since they were in kindergarten, just because they played together.  How stupid, how trite, how clichéd could you get? If there's one thing Ramona hates it is doing what everyone expects. 

*

RamonaQ
I have an idea.

Kemp_How
Does it involve paper bags and owls?

RamonaQ
Haha.  I’m gonna write a novel.

Kemp_How
?

RamonaQ
About Klickitat Street.  And growing up. What it’s REALLY like.   The owls made me think of it.  And the skating. And just …

Kemp_How
Just what?

RamonaQ
I don’t want to forget.  I want to … remember.  Stuff like the owls or how happy skating used to make me or what it was like to be Bobbie’s age, Willa Jean’s age.  Dan was wrong, none of that is baby stuff.

Kemp_How
He’s just a Yard Ape, don’t listen to him. ;)

RamonaQ
YARD APE!  You remember!!!!

Kemp_How
I always remember, Ramona.  So … who will this novel be for?

RamonaQ
I dunno. Bobbie.  Willa Jean.  Me and you…and Susan and Daisy and Dave.  The world. Everyone who has grown up.  People who are tired of reading about vampires.

Kemp_How
LOL, Edward Cullen Comes To Klickitat Street!

RamonaQ
I’m serious!  What do you think?

Kemp_How
You should do it.  But …

RamonaQ
But what?

Kemp_How
Make it a comic book.

RamonaQ

??

Kemp_How
You should
draw it.  You’re amazing at drawing and that would make it special.

RamonaQ
OMG that is an epic idea, Howie!!!!

Kemp_How
:)

RamonaQ
OK, am totally energized and excited now!  This is GOING to happen.  Wanna sneak out and go find some wall that desperately needs a Q-cat?

Kemp_How
Well, it’s 11:30 on a Tuesday night and we ditched school this afternoon so …

RamonaQ
Meet me at the end of the street in 10?

Kemp_How
You got it.

 *

Ramona and Beezus have a standing Sunday meet-up in Pioneer Square.

Four years ago when she graduated from high school, Beezus decided she wanted to go to Lewis and Clark instead of Portland State, but even with scholarships, the private school tuition was too much for the Quimbys' budget.  Beezus said she didn’t mind, both her parents had worked their way through school and she would too.  She only took a handful of classes at a time while she worked full-time, sometimes two jobs.  It was worth it, she told Ramona, because when a Quimby knows the right thing to do, she does it, no matter the cost.  At thirteen, this made Beezus the coolest person in the world to Ramona. 

Beezus is finishing her sophomore year at Lewis and Clark, studying the literature, working on campus and living with her fiancé and their shaggy dog in a very tiny, very hip apartment.

And though she is loath to admit it out loud, at seventeen, Ramona still thinks Beezus is the coolest person in the world.

Ramona is a little late, as usual, and Beezus is a little early, as usual, and they try to adjust their schedules accordingly but never seem to manage.  Sometimes, if she doesn’t want a whole day with her parents to herself, Bobbie comes along too.

Beezus is standing under the Mile Post Sign, their usual meeting spot, and Ramona, as ever, looks up to the tangle of city names and thinks about how someday, she’s going to go to every single one and feel every mile from Portland to there.

Beezus hugs her sister and the girls begin their walk over to the Waterfall Fountain, their favorite place to sit and talk.

“So, since we missed last week I am in desperate need to hear what happened after the first big Dan Date,” Beezus leads off.

“Oh, Beezus…” Ramona sighs and begins the whole story.

An hour later, sitting on top of the fountain, Ramona has her sketchbook open and is explaining her idea for a graphic novel about growing up on Klickitat Street.  “I’ve only had a few days but I’ve got some good sketches so far.  Here’s the day I made the crown out of burrs, remember that?” 

Beezus brays with laughter. “Oh my gosh, do I ever.  Poor Daddy.”

“So that got me thinking about hair …” Ramona says, mischievously.  She flips a page in her sketchbook.  “Recognize yourself here?”

Beezus gasps in mock outrage.  “Oh God, not the bouffant!  Going to that stupid student hairdressing academy was a terrible idea.”

“I don’t know, you looked pretty good for a 65 year old retiree …” Ramona teases.

“Oh, Ramona.  This is such a great idea!  People will love this and it will give you a good chance to really develop your drawing.  This will be an amazing portfolio addition when you apply to art school!” Beezus beams at her younger sister and Ramona feels herself practically glowing with pride.

“Thanks, I couldn’t believe how easy it was once I started,” Ramona says.

“Telling the story through your drawings is a fabulous idea.  It makes everything feel so alive, so present.”

Ramona smiles softly.  “Howie thought it up.”

Beezus gives her sister a long, knowing look.  “I can’t say I’m surprised.  I don’t think Howie forgets anything.”

“You know, that’s just what he said to me.”

“Ramona,” Beezus begins cautiously, her voice neutral, “have you ever thought about you and Howie and …” she trails off and looks at her little sister, eyes expectant.

Ramona considers it for a minute, out in the crisp Portland afternoon, thinking about how tightly she’d held Howie’s arm that afternoon in the car, the way he’d looked at her when she’d whizzed by him on her skates at Oak Park, how they’d run down Klickitat Street, her with a bag full of spray paint and Howie with a manic gleam in his eye.  She flips to another page in her sketchbook.

Howie, aged 8, wore a frown and formal short pants with fancy dress socks.  Ramona, in her pink flower girl dress, looked at him with affection.

She taps the drawing.  “Remember?  Aunt Bea and Uncle Hobart’s wedding day?”

“Oh, Ramona.”

“I thought back as far as I could.  I have so many memories of him, Beezus.  Tuna fish sandwiches in kindergarten, tin-can stilts and racing bikes, the science fair in seventh grade; all these moments.  But I kept coming back to this one, this day; the first time I could remember thinking that Howie looked handsome.”

“Ramona,” Beezus says quietly, “I really think you should show this to Howie.”

“How, Beezus?  How do you know?  How do you know when you…when you…” Ramona grasps for the words, almost afraid to say them out loud. “How do you know when it’s not just all these old memories and the idea of who you thought you were going to be when you grew up?  How do you know when it’s right?”

Beezus, careful and precise as always, pauses to consider.  Ramona can tell she is thinking very hard of the exact right thing to say.  Beezus opens her mouth and –

The girls hear a loud barking, followed by a huge splash.  A man’s voice rises up from beneath them, carried on the waves of a woman’s screams.  “Aw, now come on boy, get out of the fountain!  Stop shaking all over this nice lady, come on!”

Beezus and Ramona share a grin and look down.  “Henry Huggins, you get that dog out of the fountain right now,” Beezus shouts with mock severity.

Henry smiles up at the girls.  “Honey, you know I’m trying!” He pulls at his dog’s leash, as always an effort in futility, and waves to his soon-to-be sister-in-law.  “Hey, Ramona Q!”

She waves back. “Hey, Henry Huggins!”

Beezus  gives her little sister a look of pure, radiant happiness.  When she speaks, her voice is full of encouragement and reassurance.  “You just know, Ramona; you just know when it’s right.”

*

On Monday, after last bell rings, Ramona opens her locker and finds a brick.  Attached to it is a note.  Brick Factory.

On Tuesday, there is an egg.  The Science Fair Egg Drop Disaster.

On Wednesday, a toy boat made out of wood.  Ocean Blue Rinse.

On Thursday, a tiny silver medal.  Track and Field Day Mixup.

Neither Howie nor Ramona breathes a word about these mementos during their rides to and from school.  But every day, Ramona feels Howie’s eyes lingering on her just a little bit longer.  Every day, Ramona feels her heart beat a little faster.

By the time Friday rolls around, Ramona can hardly contain her excitement.  She wakes to a new text message.

To: RamonaQ
5:12 AM
Sorry, can’t give ride to and from school.  Details later.

She slumps the way through the day, looking for Howie everywhere.

As Daisy and Ramona walk towards their lockers after school, Daisy runs a consoling hand down Ramona’s back.  “I don’t know why he’d say that, he was in AP Lit this afternoon and Dave told me he was here this morning too.”

Ramona doesn’t want to think about it.  And she doesn’t want to open her locker.

It is empty.

*

To: RamonaQ
11:45 PM
Meet at the end of the street?

To: Howie Kemp
11:45 PM
Sorry, can’t.  Details later.

To: RamonaQ
11:46 PM
C’mon, Ramona.  This is my later.

To: Howie Kemp
11:55 PM
Fine.  But five minutes only.

*

She sees Howie almost at once, in the mixed half-light of the moon and the street light, right next to the stop sign with the Klickitat Street sign.

She wills her heart to beat slowly, the butterflies out of her stomach.  It doesn’t seem to be working.

She should just turn around and walk away.  Leave him standing there.  See how he liked it.  But … but she can’t.

It's all those memories, yeah, but it's more than that.  It's about wanting to know what's next, wanting to know what memory is about to be made.  And it's the way the wind blows through her hair as the two of them rush headlong into tomorrow.

“Hey,” she says softly.

And Howie smiles, nervously, but brightly.

“It had to be perfect, this last one,” he says, without preamble or apology, staring right at her, unafraid to hold her gaze.  “I didn’t…I didn’t want to do it at school or in the car or with everyone around or out in front of your house with you in the passenger seat.  It had to be … perfect.”

She almost understands exactly, so she nods, just a tiny bit.

Howie reaches into his pocket and pulls out a long, red ribbon.

“The ribbon,” she gasps.

“Well, not the ribbon, but yeah.  The ribbon Miss Binney tied around your slimy old rabbit back in kindergarten, the ribbon we fought over – ” 

“Because it was my ribbon!” Ramona interrupts.

I brought the slimy old rabbit, Ramona Quimby, you didn’t want to!”

My rabbit, my ribbon, Howie Kemp!”

They smile at each other and Howie holds his hand out.  Ramona reaches out and wraps her fingers around the ribbon and Howie’s hand. 

A shock runs through her, like her whole body is lit up, and she knows from the way she sees him tremble slightly Howie feels it too.

“Thank you, Howie.  Thank you for the ribbon and for being by my side my whole life and thank you for remembering.”

“Ramona, I could never forget,” he says, softly, almost a whisper.

She takes the ribbon from his hand and uses it to tie back her hair.  No one has ever looked at her the way Howie is looking at her right now, she is sure of it.  She spins around once, suddenly feeling like she can take flight.  “What do you think?” she asks, coyly.

Howie steps towards her, reaches out his arms.  He winds his arms around her waist and she reaches up without a second thought, running her hands through his thick, curly hair.

“I think you look beautiful.  I think I want to remember this forever,” he breathes into her ear. She feels her skin break out in goosebumps and her heart beat triple-time.

Forever has such a nice sound to it.

And then, just like that, they are kissing.

It is fireworks and the way you feel when you get the shading just right on a drawing and hurtling forward on your bike with your best friend right beside you on his unicycle and skin tingling and your little sister looking at you like you were the coolest person in the world and every good, sweet, special memory all at once.

And there, on Klickitat Street in the cool evening, with Howie Kemp in her arms and a world of memory all around her, Ramona Quimby, age seventeen, knows just exactly what is right.