61. Amy and Zoe fall in love for the first time, at the same time, with the same boy
Sasha is a former student of their father’s at Tulsa Junior College, from the eastern part of Ukraine where they speak both languages. He is tall and thin, with pale skin and smooth features. His nose is slightly crooked, which the girls find charming.
Everything about Sasha is charming to the girls. He has curly black hair and long eyelashes and scruffy black eyebrows. The girls like the way he laughs and the way he walks and the things he talks about. He teaches Zoe Ukrainian for half an hour and Amy Russian for an hour every Thursday from 3:30 to 4:00 and from 4:00 to 5:00 respectively.
Sasha is an energetic boy who always has something new to report to them about the outside world. Sasha stars in plays and plays in a band. To Amy and Zoe, Sasha might as well be Michael Jackson, or the President.
The girls compete for his attention, but there is no competition. Amy is almost thirteen years old now. She is almost all grown up. She can feel him watching her sometimes, and in these moments, she feels both thrill and panic, neither first, and she understands that she is in love.
Sasha’s eyes are kind, and soft, and one time she gets lost in them and loses her train of thought and can’t finish her sentence and turns bright red. The whole week between that class and the next class she spends blushing each time it comes back to her, which is all the time. She doesn’t tell Zoe. This is the second secret that exists between them.
Amy spends hours studying Russian in their room with the door closed. Her favorite letter in the Cyrillic alphabet is ж, which looks like a butterfly and sounds like the s in treasure, zh. Amy copies out all the words from her pocket dictionary that start with ж.
Zoe is less diligent, preferring to play. Zoe rescues two baby squirrels from the street and names them Orange and Banana and dedicates her afternoons to feeding them and training them to become wild again when they are old enough.
Amy learns twenty new words per day and goes over all the old ones. She makes flashcards out of expired coupons and junk mail. Then in her spare time she plays Oregon Trail with Zoe, taking over whenever it is time to hunt the rabbits because the sound it makes when your shot is successful is the most satisfying sound in the world. Zoe claims it isn’t fair for Amy to do all the shooting because in real life Amy stopped even eating any meat, but Amy says that doesn’t matter and leaves Zoe with no option but to relent.
Their mother tells Sasha that Zoe’s memory got damaged in the surgery, but Amy knows the doctors said it didn’t, and that it must just be the squirrels. She does not say so. She just gives Sasha a significant glance that she is sure he understands.