You Say It First - Katie Cotugno



“In conclusion,” Meg said brightly, standing at the podium under the harsh fluorescent lights of the PTA meeting room on Wednesday evening, “it’s the position of the student council that our school is already sorely behind in doing its part to combat climate change. Adding solar panels to the roof of the main building is not only the fiscally responsible and environmentally sustainable thing to do, but will help ensure we’re living up to the values the Overbrook community has instilled in us all these years.” She smiled her most competent smile, sweating a little bit inside her uniform blazer. “Thank you very much for your time.”

When the applause had finished and the meeting was adjourned, Meg made her way through the crowd of parents and teachers milling around the room to where her friends were waiting near the table of gluten-free brownies. “That was amazing!” Emily said, blond hair bouncing as she wrapped Meg in a bear hug. Adrienne and Javi saluted her with a pair of black-and-white cookies. “You looked like freakin’ AOC up there.”

“Nice job, kid,” said Mason, ducking his head to peck her briefly on the cheek. Meg grinned and squeezed his hand. They’d been dating more than a year now, though more often they still hung out in a pack just like this—the five of them perpetually clustered around their usual table at the juice place near school, planning a fund raiser or a protest or world domination. By now they’d all heard her solar-panel speech about a thousand times.

“Good work, Meg,” added Ms. Clemmey, her AP Government teacher, coming up behind them with a cup of watery-looking coffee, her graying hair frizzing out of its bun. “Now we’ll just have to see if they bite.”

“They’ll bite,” Javi declared, all confidence, then stuffed another brownie into his mouth.

Ms. Clemmey quirked an eyebrow. “Anything from Cornell, meanwhile?” she asked quietly.

Meg shook her head, a little bit startled. “Not yet,” she said, glancing instinctively over at Emily. Rooming together at Cornell had been their plan for as long as they’d been talking about colleges, but ever since she’d submitted her application, Meg kept finding herself forgetting about it altogether for days at a stretch until somebody, usually Em, said something that reminded her. It wasn’t that she wasn’t excited—she was, definitely. She just had a lot of other stuff on her plate right now. “We should be hearing soon, though.”

Ms. Clemmey nodded. “Well, they’ll be lucky to have you.”

Meg shook her head, blushing a little. “We’ll see.”

The five of them went to Cavelli’s to celebrate, ordering a large veggie pie so Adrienne could have some and two pitchers of Coke. “To the Green New Deal of Overbrook Day,” Emily said, holding up her red plastic cup. They laughed and clinked and ate their pizza, Meg sitting back in her chair and listening as the conversation wandered: from Javi’s parents’ new labradoodle puppy, to a bunch of idiot sophomores who’d gotten drunk and thrown up all over the skating rink during spring break, to a New York Times podcast Emily was obsessed with. It made Meg happy to picture what they must look like from outside the wide front window, their faces lit by the fake Tiffany lamp over the table. Most of all she felt normal, like she hadn’t for so much of last year.

It was almost ten by the time they paid their bill and headed out, Meg following Mason across the parking lot to where his Subaru was parked right next to her Prius. It was still mostly winter in Pennsylvania, with that damp blue-green whiff of spring on the air if you breathed deep enough. Meg tugged her cashmere beanie down over her ears.

“You were really great tonight,” Mason said, turning to face her as he reached his driver’s-side door.

“You think so?” she asked, taking a step closer. He looked handsome in the yellow glow of the parking lot light, with his dark eyes and high cheekbones. They’d known each other since kindergarten, back when Meg’s mom put her hair in French-braid pigtails every morning and he was still the only Korean kid in their grade. Twelve years later, flush with victory, she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close.

Mason stiffened. “Meg,” he said, his hands landing gently on her waist, then letting go again.

“Hm?” she said, tilting her face up so he’d kiss her. Neither of them were into PDA—Meg hated any kind of nonpolitical public spectacle as a general rule—but