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Top Ten

By´╝ÜKatie Cotugno

RYAN


Sitting with his ankles crossed in Gabby’s leafy green backyard two hours after their high school graduation, Ryan tilted his head back and squinted up at the proud June sun. “Okay,” he said, breathing in grill smoke and the smell of new grass, the yard buzzing with the hum of a couple dozen people all talking at once. “Top ten moments of senior year, go. Actually no,” he amended, before Gabby could say anything. “Top ten moments of high school.”

Gabby groaned. “That’s an ambitious list, my friend,” she told him, heaving herself indelicately out of the hammock they’d been sharing and edging through the crowd of her aunts and uncles, neighbors and family friends. “Also, extremely corny.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Ryan followed her over toward the folding tables at the far end of the lawn, watched her fill a plastic cup with an exacting assortment of chips and pretzels and M&M’s. She was still in the outfit she’d worn to the ceremony that morning, a silky blue dress that was cut like a big V-neck T-shirt and made her eyes look very bright. Her blond hair hung long and smooth down her back. “You’re just embarrassed that all the most important moments of your adolescence include me.”

“Screw off,” Gabby said cheerfully, dropping a couple of pretzels into his outstretched palm. Ryan looked out at the yard as he crunched. He and Gabby had been best friends since freshman year, but it was rare for their families to spend any actual time together. He’d thought it might be weird, but the party seemed to be going fine so far. His mom was yakking away with Gabby’s aunt Liz while Gabby’s sisters, Celia and Kristina, set up a game of cornhole on the long stretch of grass on the side of the house. Her little cousins ran circles around the Adirondack chairs, bright red Popsicles dripping in their hands.

“Hi, lovey,” Ryan’s mom said, coming up behind him in her sundress and off-brand Birkenstocks, tucking herself under his arm. He was a full foot taller than her by now, which made him feel like a giant. “How you doing?”

“I’m good,” Ryan said, ducking his head away. He knew why she was asking—and why she’d asked him twice already—which was that his dad had made noise about coming to graduation and then just blatantly hadn’t, not even bothering with a perfunctory sorry, kid text this time. Ryan knew he ought to be used to stuff like that by now, but it always managed to surprise him. Still, he definitely did not want to have a moment with his mom about it in the middle of Gabby’s backyard. He didn’t want to have a moment about it, period. It was what it was. It was fine.

Over by the grill Mr. Hart was holding his cup in the air now, proposing a toast: “To the graduates,” he began, “our daughter Gabby, National Merit Scholar and winner of the Colson High Prize for Photography, and to her best friend, Ryan, who—”

“Who managed to graduate at all,” Ryan called out. He liked Gabby’s dad, and wanted to let him off the hook before he got to the end of that sentence and realized Ryan had virtually nothing to distinguish him.

Gabby shot him a look. “Don’t do that,” she murmured, shaking her head. Then, loud enough so the whole party could hear her, she called out, “And who also got a giant hockey scholarship to University of Minnesota, PS.”

Ryan was surprised at that, and dorkily pleased that she’d said it—it wasn’t like Gabby at all to draw attention to herself in any context, but especially not in a big group of people. He grinned, lifting his can of Coke in the air amid everyone’s assorted congratulations. Gabby made a face in return. The sun shone through the gaps between the leaves in the oak trees, making patterns on the early-summer grass.

Kristina turned the music up, the yuppie Paul Simon–type stuff they were always listening to at the Hart house. He and Gabby wandered back over to the hammock, made themselves comfortable for the rest of the afternoon. It was weird, thinking all this would be ancient history in less than three months, everybody he knew scattering in all different directions. Ryan wasn’t one of those people who thought life would never get better than high school, but at least he knew where he fit in, as far as Colson High went. He wasn’t sure about the rest of the world.

He rubbed a hand over his head, which was aching a little—although, he told himself firmly, not any worse than usual. Probably he was thinking too much. After all, it wasn’t like he didn’t want to play hockey for Minnesota. It just didn’t always feel like something he’d actively picked.

He was trying to figure out how to ask Gabby about it when one of her little cousins flung himself onto the other side of the hammock, shifting their center of gravity enough that Gabby tumbled over into Ryan’s side, her long hair brushing the bare skin of his arm. “Easy, tiger,” Gabby called as the kid picked himself up and careened off in the opposite direction, but she didn’t straighten up right away. “You smell nice today,” she said to Ryan, the weight of her body warm against him. “Did you bathe or something?”

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