“I read ‘Break’ with a smile on my lips, and butterflies in my stomach. This story is a delightful confection—clever, witty, well-written, and oh-so-romanticbut it also packs a punch. I hope Sophie Meridien has more up her sleeve/on her hard drive because YA lovers will be craving more (and also, maybe, Kikade’s father’s famous cake).”
—Gayle Forman, #1 New York Times bestselling author    

Spin #1

Izzy Morgan’s Drinkapalooza

June 3rd

Kiki St. Germain had no business being at this party, or anywhere near the tenth circle of hell known as Seven Minutes in Heaven. 

She was in a sour mood. She’d just had her braids done—thick, chunky, heavy ones—and her scalp was extra tender. Kendra does them too damn tight. But she’d promised herself that senior year was going to be her year. She was gonna get the grades, secure an acceptance letter to her dream school, and perfect a damn crème brûlée. 

She was gonna get out of her comfort zone. 

This party seemed like the perfect way to do just that. Every summer, the neighborhoods surrounding Orange Grove High became a battleground for competing house parties, and Kiki was never allowed to attend any of them. Considering what some of these other kids were doing, her parents should’ve been thankful that she wasn’t much of a rebel. She wasn’t even in the circle. She was hovering, watching, working up the courage to join. 

She set a timer on her phone. Lying to her parents was one thing, but she wasn’t going to risk missing curfew. 

From the circle, Josie and Amari tried to wave Kiki over. She immediately squinted at her phone like she’d just received a very important text. She even muttered to herself to sell it.


She turned and tried not to groan. Chris Keller exuded the type of sheer assholery that she tried to avoid. 

His pale skin was sunburnt. He smiled a too-perfect smile. “I’ve never seen you at one of these before.”

She forced a smile of her own. “Yeah, just thought I’d stop by.”

He looked at her quizzically. “Your hair grows superfast.”

She felt every bit of her soul leave her body as he took a few braids and played with them. 

Just as Kiki was contemplating punching his screaming red skin, Chris put his arms up and whooped loudly. He wasn’t the only one. A boy she didn’t recognize had just entered the living room, and everyone seemed very excited about that. 

He was a twig of a boy, tall and slim. It was too hot for the gray hoodie he wore under his oversized Marlins jersey. His skin had the slightest tan, and judging from the way he kept running his fingers through it, he was a big fan of his sleek, dark hair. 

Kiki knelt down behind Josie and Amari. “Who’s he?” she asked.

Josie raised a brow. “He just moved onto my block. Name’s Kastov.”

“He’s new here?” Kiki looked him up and down. He spoke to the lacrosse team like they were all best friends, threw an arm over Izzy’s shoulder, and plopped himself in the circle next to the notoriously selective Alexa Ayers. 

Impossible. He already had a group of friends larger than hers, and she’d known these people since kindergarten. Maybe it’s better to be new. Kiki had only just managed to shake off the nickname vomi-gator from when she threw up on the airboat during the fifth-grade trip to the Everglades. And some people could just be friendly and cool and magnetic without effort. She decided she was into it, totally buying what he was selling, right up until Chris whispered something to him and the kid threw his head back and laughed. 

Ugh, another douchebag to avoid.

Amari passed the bottle to Kastov. 

Kiki returned to her phone.

The bottle spun and spun and spun.

“Woof, I gotta pee,” Josie said lazily.

Kiki, scrolling through her favorite fic, scooted over to let Josie out of the circle.

The bottle stopped, and the crowd cheered. 

Kiki looked up.

The bottle pointed at the gap that Josie had just created. The one Kiki now sat in. 

“I wasn’t—” she started, but the circle drowned her out. 

Amari shouted, “Go ’head, Kiki!”

The new kid was already at the coat closet, holding the door open for her. She considered walking away, but she knew the judgment would be merciless. She didn’t need another nickname.

Anxiety biting at her stomach, she followed him.

He closed the door, wiped his palms on his jeans, and offered his hand. “Hi, I’m—”

“Just so we’re clear, I’m not kissing you, okay?” she blurted out. 

The corner of his mouth ticked up in amusement. “Probably for the best. I’ve been devouring salt and vinegar chips all night.”

Her lips twitched, but she held in the laugh. “I mean, I don’t even know you.”

“To be fair, I don’t know you either.” His hand was still held out to her. “I’m Kastov.”

She took it. “Kikade.”


“Rhymes with cicada,” she added, before realizing that he’d already gotten it right.

She waited for it. Can’t I just call you Kiki? 

She liked being called Kiki. Her parents called her Kiki. She called herself Kiki. She just wasn’t into people deciding a nickname was owed to them.

“Kikade,” he repeated.

He let go of her hand.

She crossed her arms. 

He wiggled to the music, then took a step back to give her some space. He seemed utterly unperturbed by this situation, as if he found himself in close quarters with girls he’d just met all the time.

Kiki needed to fill the silence. “You’re new here? Josie said you just moved into her neighborhood.”

“Yeah! It’s funny because where I’m from, you act like your neighbors don’t exist unless their tree grows over your fence or their dog craps all over your lawn. But Josie and her dad brought us this really, really, really yummy cake—” 

Kiki’s eyes widened. “What kind of cake?”

He closed his eyes momentarily. “Coconut … something…”

“Coconut rum cake?”


“My dad made that cake! She got it from our restaurant. I love it, but his butter cake is even better. It’s like a slice of heaven—” 

Her phone chimed, and the screen lit up with a clock counting down.

Kastov’s expression changed—now there was slight disappointment in his eyes, though he was still smiling. “We can totally just walk out of here. I know that breaks the rules, but—”

“Oh! No, I—it’s not you—” Kiki could feel herself reddening. She had the tendency to ramble. “Thing is, I’m not actually here right now. I’m at the movies. My parents would kill me if I were here.”

Ah. What are we seeing?”

Man vs. Robot 3.

He snorted.

“Don’t judge me.”

“I’m judging.”

“The first one’s not bad.”

“Uh, it’s notoriously bad.”

“But the second one gets better!”

Kastov paused for a moment. “Is that the one where The Rock fights a thousand ant-sized robots with nothing but a spoon?”

“Yes! Shirtless!”

Kastov chuckled again. Something about his laugh made her crave another once it was over. She’d never been one to turn to jelly solely because she was on the receiving end of a face-crinkling smile, but here she was. Jelly. She hated it.

“Still,” he continued, “MVR 2 is a pretty bad movie, and I don’t mean that in a so bad it’s good sort of way.”

“I heard that in the new one, Channing Tatum rips off the MegaMech’s arm and slaps him with it! So it’s already an improvement.”

Sold. I guess we’ll have to check it out.” 

Kiki didn’t let her mind linger on that we. But she figured this was how you made friends as quickly as he did. You opened an invitation to someone you barely knew. “Where’d you move from?”

“New York. My dad’s sick of the cold.” His voice softened, and his toe-taps to the beat became an awkward shift from one leg to the other. “It was kind of abrupt.” 

Kiki sensed that there was something more there that he didn’t want to talk about. He’d said it himself: I don’t know you either

He pointed at the orange emblem on her phone case. “You go to Orange Grove?”


“Same—nice. Well, if I can get into twelfth grade. I’m taking summer classes at Miami Dade; some of my credits didn’t transfer. Just gotta pass calc and French.”

“French? Easy.”

“You know French?”

“I know Kreyòl, and it’s helped a ton.”

“I could use some help.” He leaned in a little. “Hey, maybe—”

Thankfully, someone opened the door, and Kiki and Kastov were greeted with applause. Some of the boys bowed or thumbs-upped when they walked out, but Kastov only turned to her once more. 

“I gotta go,” she said quickly. “Curfew.”

Kastov dipped his head, touching his prayer hands to his lips. “See you around? I heard Chris is throwing a party next week.”

She said, “Yeah, maybe,” though she had no intention of going.

As she made her way out of the house, gleeful yells erupted from the living room. Someone turned the music up higher, and Kastov was at the center of it all, dancing. He was terrible, but between the grin on his face and his sheer confidence, it didn’t matter. 

He pulled some people away from the spin circle to dance with him. They rushed to him like wildcats to prey. Or maybe he was the cat—Kiki wasn’t quite sure yet.

Just as his eyes found her, she hurried out the door.

Spin #2

The González Twins’ Birthday Bash

June 16th

Kiki missed when Marisol and Luna’s birthday party had involved pizza, cake, and a PG-13 movie. But Kiki swam and socialized for a good hour, and she thought it was finally an appropriate time to wish the twins a final happy birthday and make a swift exit. She could only force extroversion for so long. 

She looked over at the circle of kids on the kitchen floor.

Kiki scanned their faces. Disappointment tickled her chest the same way it had when Chris, Robby, and the rest of the lacrosse crew had entered the party without Kastov. 

It wasn’t like she was obsessing over him. She wasn’t here for Kastov; she was here because Marisol and Luna were nice, and she never missed one of their birthday parties.

It would be silly to dwell on a boy she had talked to for just seven minutes, obviously.

Sighing, her multicolored beach towel tight under her armpits, Kiki hit the snack table. Amari paused her conversation with Nayelie to pass the vodka, but Kiki shook her head. Her mother had foolproof Mom Senses and would totally be able to tell, even if she had only a sip.

Instead, Kiki shoved a whole handful of popcorn into her mouth, spun, and bumped right into a tall, grinning boy.


Kiki chewed furiously. “Kastov!” It sounded more like Athoff! She spat a few kernels at him, but he didn’t seem to mind. 

He wasn’t dressed for a pool party, or any party. He’d come straight from work at Steak ’N Go, judging from the restaurant name stitched onto his red polo. He wore a baby blue snapback backwards, tufts of dark hair curling adorably at the edges.

He took a long draw from his Solo cup, then regarded it curiously. “I didn’t know they made these in hot pink.”

“The González twins are very particular about color schemes.” She pulled the towel tighter. “Nice hat. That shade of blue’s my favorite color.”

“I’d let you have it, but I’ve got such bad hat hair that if you saw it, you’d run away screaming.”

She laughed.

And her laugh made him laugh. He looked over at the circle, and then back at Kiki.

She looked away. “Seven Minutes is kind of the worst game ever.”

His brow twitched.

“I just think that if you like someone, you should tell them instead of hoping they end up sequestered in a closet with you.”


“I’m being extra, but you know what I mean.”

“Maybe people just wanna kiss other people without all that.”

She shrugged. “Well. Yeah. I guess that’s fair.”

Alexa spotted them from the circle and pointed a finger at him. “Kastov! Your turn!”

His gaze remained on Kiki. Brown eyes beaming.

Kiki shook her head. “Got popcorn kernels all up in my teeth. Super gross.”

He chuckled. “What a shame.”

She was grateful that he walked away, leaving her to blush in peace. 

He found a spot next to Luna. He said something to her, and the two of them giggled like kids. Kiki was beginning to understand that this was so like him. Always laughing, always smiling, always so damn glad to be there, wherever he was. She wanted to find him annoying, but he seemed so utterly genuine. 

Kastov steadied the bottle on its side. It glistened as it spun.

Kiki’s stomach turned. She hadn’t realized until this very moment that she had absolutely no desire to see the bottle land on anyone but her. 

“Shit!” Izzy cried from the circle. “Sorry!” 

Next to her, Hanna got up and ran to the marble island, red punch dripping from her shirt. 

The bottle slowed. 

It was almost automatic, the way Kiki hurried to take Hanna’s place.

The bottle stopped between Izzy and Tommy.

It pointed at her.

Kastov looked up.

Their eyes locked, and her stomach went all fluttery the same way it had after the first spin. But it felt different. It stemmed less from anxiety and more from excitement, which was its own form of torture. 

Kastov held the pantry door open for her. “Don’t you even think about kissing me,” he said. 

“Check your ego. No one was thinking about kissing you.”

He looked around at the absurd amounts of canned tuna, baked beans, and toilet paper. “What are we thinking? Hoarders? Doomsday preppers? Extreme couponers?”

Kiki laughed. “I think they’re just rich.” 

“Hm, true. So, what movie are we watching tonight?”

“My parents know I’m here, actually. They’re cool with Marisol and Luna’s dads. But they think the twins are throwing the same pizza party they’ve been doing since we were seven.”


“But I can’t stay for the sleepover. My parents are very strict. They don’t really let me do things like other kids do.” 

Like white kids do

“I haven’t even told them…” Her voice trailed off.

Kastov raised a brow. “What?”

“Um. I’m applying to this fancy culinary school in August.” It wasn’t something that anyone else knew. But even though he still felt like a stranger to her, telling him was easy. Like she could say anything in the seven minutes they had and it would be okay. “The Auguste Giroud Culinary Academy. It’s in California. They’re gonna flip.”

“Doesn’t your dad own a restaurant?”

It took a moment for her to remember telling him that. He said it so simply, completely oblivious to what it meant to her that he’d thought it important enough to keep. “There’s a difference. It’s, you know…” She searched for a word to describe the nausea that commonly rose in her gut or the stress that knotted up her shoulders. “The first-gen affliction. I gotta be a doctor or a lawyer; I gotta make a gazillion dollars a year. I can’t date ’til I’m married.”

“To be the child of an immigrant.” He played with a loose thread on his snapback. “My mom’s from Korea—I get it.”

“I tried to show them the pamphlets once, and they refused to listen. If I get in, I’ll tell them. But not until then. That way I won’t have to deal with their smugness if I don’t.”

“You’ll get in.”

She sighed. “What about you? What’s your plan?” 

He rubbed the back of his neck. “Dunno. I like coding, and my mom liked that idea up until I told her I want to make video games.”

“What does your dad think?”

Kastov laughed humorlessly. “My dad doesn’t really care.” He rolled his shoulders uncomfortably. “In other news, I got roped into seeing Man v. Robot 3 last week.”

“No spoilers! Was it amazing?”

“That robot arm slap was something. Chris couldn’t stop laughing.”

Kiki felt her smile go stiff. “Chris Keller?”


She bit the inside of her cheek. “You guys are friends, huh?”

“He’s chill. Was the first person I met here, kinda took me in.” 

Kiki only nodded.

“So,” he continued. “Two spins. We’re on a streak.”

“I’m sure plenty of people get the same person more than once.”

“But I’ve only played twice. That’s…” He scrunched up his face and counted on his fingers. “One hundred percent.”

“Two for two isn’t, like, ten for ten.”

“I have a theory. Maybe we’re being pushed together.”

“By who?”

“The party gods!”

“And why are the party gods pushing us together?”

He shrugged. “Maybe you need to help me with my French homework. Or maybe I need to help you, I don’t know, refine your movie tastes!” 

She scoffed. “Careful.”

He took a step closer to her. “Or. Maybe…”

She stilled. He looked at her, eyes full of wanting, and she thought, That is a look that breaks hearts.

“Maybe they’re waiting for us to kiss.” 

Kiki didn’t know how he’d gotten so close. She clutched her towel, suddenly feeling exposed. A braid came loose from her bun. 

Gently he slipped it back over her shoulder, his fingers slow against her bare skin.

Someone banged on the door. “Get your clothes on, sluts! One minute left!

She leaned back suddenly with a jolt like waking up from a dream.

Kastov looked away, sheepish. She hadn’t seen him like this before, all red in the cheeks, eyes cast down. He lifted his snapback and ran his hand through his hair before replacing the hat. 

Kiki screamed dramatically, covering her eyes. “The hat hair!”

He smiled, easy and slow. “You’re hilarious. Come to Hanna’s thing tomorrow. Test my theory.”

“Fine. But this time, I spin. If your theory’s correct, it shouldn’t matter who’s got the bottle.”

“Just don’t go spinning on anyone else, okay? They totally don’t have what we have.”

She knew he was just being Kastov, but her stomach flipped anyway.

Spin #3

Hanna Bilson’s Low-Key Thing in Coconut Grove

June 17th

This time Kiki didn’t hover on the fringes of the circle. When Robby waved the bottle in the air and shouted, “Who wants next?” she snatched it from him.

From four people over, Kastov gave her a mischievous smirk. She’d grown accustomed to his cute, cozy smiles. His self-deprecating grins. His shy little laughs. This look was something else entirely.

She held the bottle against the floor. Don’t spin too hard. Don’t spin too … soft? She shook her head. Don’t overthink it.

Kiki spun the bottle.

Cardi was blaring in the background, and she focused only on the music. Kiki refused to look at the bottle, and she certainly didn’t want to look at him. He had a way of reading her, and she didn’t need him to know that she was internally shouting his name.

With a clack against the tiles, the bottle stuttered to a stop. 

She looked up.

It pointed at the center of Kastov’s knee.

He leaped over Robby’s leg to beat her to the linen closet. He opened the door, grinning devilishly. 

As she walked in wearing a grin of her own, Kiki heard someone say, “Am I high, or has this happened before?”

Spin #4

Amari Jones’s “HBD A-meh-ica” Party

July 4th

Kastov danced his way into the closet. “Kikade!” he shouted. 

The music was so blisteringly loud that the walls shook. 

“Kastov!” she yelled back.

“I love this song!”

She leaned in. “What?!”

“Let’s dance!”

She understood that perfectly but pointed at her ear as if she didn’t. It didn’t matter. He started up with his signature move, the shoulder shimmy. 

It hit her hard. Suddenly she realized how much she’d missed him these past few weeks while she was working overtime at the restaurant, testing her dad’s new recipes, and dealing with tourists. It’d kept her busy enough that she hadn’t had much time to think of Kastov, but now that they were together again, she couldn’t stop staring at him.

He wagged his eyebrows. “Come on! Dance with me!”


“Who doesn’t like dancing?!”

“I like dancing! Alone! In my room!”

“We’re alone! We’re in a room!”

“This is a closet!”

He caught her by the waist and spun her around a few times. 

It was so absurd that she giggled. “You’re cute,” she blurted out, normal volume.

He leaned in. “Huh?”

“You’re cute!” she said a little louder, knowing full well that he couldn’t hear.

“What?! I’m what?”

She smiled hard. “YOU’RE”—the music cut out, then—“CUTE!”

Instantly she slapped her hand over her mouth. 

Her heart stopped. She was going to die of embarrassment, here in a closet with a cute boy. Her parents would find out, resurrect her, and kill her all over again. 

Kastov’s perfect mouth curled into her favorite smile. The soft, knowing one, so different from his usual grin. It was the only thing that stopped her from bolting, changing her name, and fleeing the whole damn country.

The music returned but at a lower volume. Kiki would’ve liked more noise. 

“I missed”—he paused—“this.”

She wondered if he’d meant to say something else. “I missed this too.”

He wore happiness well. Everything seemed brighter with his grin. “I always looked for you. At Alexa’s party, at Robby’s … where have you been hiding?”

She laughed a little, like the way his voice went all low didn’t give her heart palpitations. “I’ve been working nonstop. There’s gonna be an article in the Miami Times about the restaurant. It’s super exciting, but my dad’s stressed. He keeps changing recipes and messing with the menu—he’s rearranged the seating seven times in the past two weeks! I get my anxiety from him, apparently.” She shook her head at herself. “You?”

“Oh, you know.” He casually leaned one hand against the wall. It was so extra that Kiki had to laugh. “Acing French tests. No thanks to you…”

“I was sending you good vibes, okay—”

“…and avoiding spinning bottles.”

Kiki fidgeted slightly. She hadn’t thought about him playing the game without her. “Avoiding?”

“Eh. It got boring.” He shrugged.

She appreciated how comfortable the following silence felt. 

Kastov sighed. “Speaking of the restaurant, I have a favor to ask. It’s an emergency.”


“A cake emergency! My mom’s birthday is in two days, and she deserves something nice. You remember that party at Izzy’s? You said your dad makes this awesome butter cake?”

“Oh! Sorry, he doesn’t sell them; he just makes them for my mom and me.”

“Okay. So, like … could you teach me how to make one?”

The smile slipped off of her face. 

He laughed at her. “Don’t look at me like that. I can come by the restaurant—”

No, oh my god!”


Kastov. My parents would kill me! You’re a boy, and they hate boys!”

“All boys?”

“Yes! Doesn’t matter if you’re smart or nice or—”

He winked at her. “Cute?

She ignored that. “Do you want me to die, Kastov?”

He fiddled with his snapback. “My mom’s been having a tough time since we moved. All of her family’s up north, and we still haven’t found a good Korean restaurant, and my dad’s a total dick who is going to do the bare minimum for her, like he does every year. You said the cake is like a slice of heaven.”

Kiki didn’t know how to explain that it was even better. The butter, the vanilla, the sugar, the lime—comforting enough to cure her anxieties, ease the ache of a scraped knee, salve a hard day. She knew that good food held a certain power, but only her dad’s butter cake felt like this.

“See?” Kastov said, catching her dreamy expression. “I need the cake that does that to a person.”

“How about I make one and bring it to you?”

“Well, I would like to be able to recreate it. That way I won’t have to ask next year.”

Her stomach fluttered. He wants to hang out with you.

She thought up a plan. “Tomorrow’s Sunday—we open late.” 

With a wild grin that made her nerves fuzzy, Kastov handed her his phone. 

She keyed in her number and her address. “Meet me at the restaurant by noon sharp.”

He squeezed his phone. “Thank you, Kikade, you absolute angel.”

She bit the inside of her cheek. “You can call me Kiki, you know.”

Spin #5

St. Germain, Prince Avenue

July 5th

“Kiki!” her mom called from the living room. “There’s a skinny boy on our doorstep!” 

Eyes wide, Kiki bolted from her bed. 

Her mom switched to Kreyòl. “Di li nou pa vle okenn ti liv!” 

Kiki had spent the whole morning practicing what she was going to say. Lying about going to a party instead of the movies felt wildly different than lying about meeting a boy.

And then he had just … shown up. He stood at the front door with an apron rolled up in his hand and that perfect smile.

Kastov offered his other hand to her mom. “Jin-ho.” She took it, thank god. “Nice to meet you.”

Kiki’s mom looked him up and down. He took a shoe off, and she nodded in approval, so he slipped off the second one. 

And then he wasn’t on the doorstep anymore; he had a foot in the doorway. He was inside her house.

Quickly, Kiki ran up to him and forced him backward onto the doorstep, her hands firm on his chest.

He looked down at them, grinned, and she dropped them.

“You’re here,” she said, out of breath. “Why?”

“Uh. Cake emergency? I know I’m early—”

“We’re meeting at the restaurant!”

Brow wrinkled in confusion, Kastov pulled out his phone. “233 Southwest—”

Oh my god.” She covered her face with her hands. “I gave you my address instead of the restaurant’s.”

Kastov chuckled. “You know, your mom seems perfectly nice.”

Kiki made a sound halfway between a laugh and a sob.

“I’m sorry, I can go—my bad.”

“It’s okay.” Finally she lifted her head. “I have work later, so let me go change into my uniform. It’s three blocks away on Prince Ave. I’ll meet you there.”

“Awesome. K&K, making a cake. Dream team.” He high-fived himself. 

Kiki smiled, and nodded, and slipped behind the door, and closed it.

“It’s for his mom,” she told her own mother, who then made a sound that was uniquely hers. Close to an mm-hm, but not quite, and Kiki couldn’t replicate it, but she knew what it meant. It wasn’t no, however, and she wondered if maybe her parents could be chill. Maybe she was too in her head.

She considered this seriously until her mom sent five texts about behaving. There would be a talk later. Kiki was already dreading it.

Kastov sat on the stone steps leading up to the worn-down, well-loved, itty-bitty restaurant. He was wearing the apron. It said, “Kiss The Cook.”


Kiki led Kastov into the cozy kitchen. It was nothing like the kitchen collaged in her journal, ripped from the pages of the Giroud promotional booklet. That was Kitchen of the Future: stainless steel everything, a double-wide oven, and fridges that looked big enough to hide multiple bodies. 

But this was good too. A large cooktop, a small walk-in freezer, and an oven that usually worked. 

Kiki scrolled to the cooking playlist on her phone and pressed play. “Did you say your name was Jin-ho? I’ve, uh, only ever called you by your last name.”

“Yep.” He pulled down a bowl hanging from a hook attached to the ceiling. 

“Why do you go by Kastov, then?”

He shrugged, flipping the bowl over in his hands. “It’s easier to give at Starbucks, for one.”

She nodded. She felt that in her heart. 

He bobbed his head to the music. “What is this?”

“There’s a girl on SoundCloud who mixes classical music with rap. This is MozartxMigos.”

Mmm. You have eclectic taste, Kiki.”

She brought out the milk, eggs, and butter from the fridge and instructed him to get the flour, sugar, and baking powder from the dry pantry. She set the oven to 350. “Sugar, one and a half cups. Then add eggs, two sticks of butter, and some lime zest. We’re gonna mix it, then add some milk, the flour, and some rum. Then just some salt, some nutmeg, and some vanilla. It’s easy.”

Kastov picked up the measuring cup, then put it down. “Can we slow down?”

“No, my dad will be in soon.”

“Your mom knows I’m here.”

“My dad won’t be as nice. Anyway, it’s not just that. He also doesn’t like me opening up shop without him.” 

He cocked his head at her. “Really?”

“So … my dad has had this place for years, right? And when he started, this neighborhood didn’t look like it does now. But things have changed.”

Kastov nodded. 

“My dad came home once and realized he’d left his phone here, so he came back, and as he was opening up, I guess some dumbass passerby reported that he was breaking in. I don’t know.”

“Oh, shit.”

“It’s fine. The, uh, cop that came by eats here sometimes. So. It’s fine.” Her brain was scattered. She felt the anxiety in her fractured sentences. 

He moved closer to her. “I know your parents are strict, but it sounds like they really care.”

“They do,” Kiki offered softly. “Can I ask … what’s with your dad?” She wanted him to give her something the way she so easily did with him.

He raised a brow in surprise. “Nothing. I mean, nothing major.” He shrugged. “Just a run-of-the-mill absent dad. I know it sucks, but sometimes I wish I had a curfew like you, you know? He’s the complete opposite of my mom. Do you ever wonder how two people ended up together?”

Or as friends? she thought. “Yeah.” She pulled away from him. “Anyway. Cake?”

He grinned. “Cake!”

Kiki passed him the spatula. “Do as I say, and this will go awesomely.”

He listened well, and he danced, and most importantly, he didn’t pester her with questions. It was strange, being with him out in the open. She was so used to being right in front of him, walls closing in. She didn’t know how to act with so much space. 

“I’m a master egg-white folder,” he said, easing the spatula into the bowl. He finished with the batter and poured it into the Bundt pan Kiki had meticulously buttered, and she slipped the cake into the oven. 

“Kiki,” Kastov said suddenly. “We forgot something.”

She turned to him.

On the other side of the kitchen, he pulled an empty glass bottle from the recycling bin. 

Kiki swallowed hard.

He spun it on the counter. Silently, without the usual party backing track, they watched as it landed on her.

He bit his lip. “Come here, Kiki.”

She willed herself to not overthink it for once, to not second-guess, and he met her halfway, the two of them nearly crashing into each other in front of the spice rack.

Kastov slipped his arm around her waist. She brushed a stray bit of flour off his cheek. He touched his forehead to hers just as the familiar sound of a churning motor rumbled outside of St. Germain. 

Kiki froze. “That’s my dad.” She quickly angled herself away from him, cheeks prickly with warmth. “Wait here.”

If Kastov responded, she didn’t hear it. She quickly pushed through the kitchen door.

Her dad gave a surprised laugh when he saw her. “What are you doing here? You know—”

“I know, I’m not supposed to open up, but—” 

“It’s fine, but we have a problem, a big problem. It’s gonna be a mess!” He wiped sweat from his dark brown face.

Kiki shook her head. “Wait, what is?”

“Tonight!” He threw his hands up. “They published that article in the Miami Times about us.”

“What? That’s amazing!”

No, it’s supposed to go up next month! Kiki, people have been calling me all day to make reservations.”

Her mouth popped open a little. “We don’t … take reservations.”

“Jean-Luc’s still on vacation. Call Kendra—I’ll call your mother. We need all hands on deck—” 

He stopped suddenly. 

From behind her, a voice said, “I can help.”

Kiki cursed Kastov out in her head.

Her dad turned to her with a look that said, Whose boy is this?

With her own look, she said, Not mine!

Kiss the cook, eh? Nan kwizin mwen?

There was no kissing in your kitchen! She sighed. “Dad, this is Kastov—uh, Jin-ho. He just moved here, and it’s his mom’s birthday tomorrow, and he wanted to bring her a cake.”

Kastov put a hand out. “Hi.”

“Hi,” her dad said skeptically, ignoring the hand.

Kiki turned to Kastov. “The cake’s not done, plus it needs to cool. You can pick it up tomorrow.”

“Can you wait tables?” her father said suddenly.

Kastov looked at her, and she looked at her father, and her father looked at Kastov.

“What?” said Kastov.

What?” said Kiki.

Her dad hurried past Kastov and into the kitchen. “Three hours until we open! Fè vit!”

Triumphant, Kastov put his fists at his sides. “Parents love me.”

Kiki released a tinny scoff. “It’s only ’cause he’s stressed out and doesn’t have time to be guard dad right now, so don’t flatter yourself.”

His phone chimed, and he pulled it from his pocket. “Sorry, it’s Chris. I was supposed to meet him to prep for his party after this.”

Kiki felt her heart shrink. “Oh.”

Kastov laughed, still tapping at his phone.

They’re joking about you, she thought, even though she didn’t have a reason to believe it. But the thought persisted. And what kind of person is Kastov if he’s cool with Chris Keller?

“You should go,” said Kiki.

Immediately Kastov looked up. His expression softened. “It’s no big—I can help.”

“We got it. It’s fine. Have fun.”

She turned, but he rounded a table and cut her off. “Wait, what just happened?”


“Well, are you coming tonight?”

“I’ll probably be exhausted.”

“Then I’d rather be here.”

Kiki’s cheeks went hot again. “Go help Chris. He’s your friend.”

You’re my friend.” He scanned her face. “What’s your deal with him?”

She could still hear him.

“Were you guys…” He ran his fingers through his hair twice before being able to finish his sentence. “A thing, or something?” 

He was with Robby, whispering during lunch.

Carina or Kiki?

Carina’s hot.

Carina is so hot.

But like, Kiki’s cute though. She’s cute. I mean, for a Black girl.

“Kiki?” Kastov whispered.

“I’ll bring the cake to your place tomorrow.”

He shook his head. “Actually, you know what? No worries. I’ll just—I’ll run by Publix.”

Finally he turned toward the door, and Kiki knew what she should’ve said. It’s your cake—you made it. Bring your mom a slice of heaven. 

And I like you, Kastov. But I can’t like you if you’re like him.

But she said nothing.

She only watched him go.

Spin #6

Nayelie López’s Last Call Before Fall

August 1st

Kiki had convinced herself that she was over it.

She had attempted to reach out, but Kastov had never responded. She had ended up giving the cake to Josie to deliver, even though she was dying to see him herself. She’d spent days mulling over what to text after that and ended up texting nothing. 

But Nayelie López, who lived across the street, was throwing the final party of the summer. The Last Call Before Fall. 

Kiki peeked through the pink lace curtains of her bedroom window. After pacing for an hour and reluctantly changing out of pajamas, she tiptoed out of her house.

It didn’t take long to find him. He was where she knew he’d be. In the circle, begging to be kissed.

He sat between Tara and Robby, eyes on the bottle in his hands.

Kastov, she thought, and it must’ve been a telepathic phenomenon, because through all the noise, he heard, and he looked up at her. His expression wasn’t unfriendly, but it unsettled her. Anything but utter joy looked wrong on him. 

He said, “Someone else should go—”

His protest was drowned out by boos. Amari even playfully threw a straw at him, and Kastov smiled like he couldn’t resist, a crack in the unusually icy demeanor he wore tonight. In that flash of teeth, Kiki saw the boy she recognized, the one she’d fallen for completely. 

She fit herself in next to Alexa. 

He spun. 

The rim of the bottle sailed toward Kiki, but with its last shiver of momentum, it eased toward Alexa and stayed there.

Fuck it.

Heart pounding, Kiki rose to her knees, leaned forward, and tapped the bottle so it pointed at herself.

She looked at Alexa.

Alexa flashed her a smile and tipped her head toward him. “Well, I’m not gonna be the one to break the streak.”

Alexa then demanded that everyone take a shot. Their attention shifted, and they all seemed to forget that Kiki had broken the cardinal rule of Seven Minutes in Heaven. 

Kiki entered the bathroom and found Kastov leaning against the counter, his arms crossed. He had that baby blue cap on again, though the hair sticking out from under it seemed longer than before. Without looking at her, he said, “I think touching the bottle after it’s been spun is seven years of bad luck. You’ll anger the party gods.” 

“Worth it.” Kiki moved closer to him. “I’m gonna tell you something, and maybe you’ll think I’m overreacting, but I know in my heart that I’m not. I get that from my mom. She taught me that when someone shows you who they are, you believe them.”

He turned a little toward her, still not entirely making eye contact, brow winkled in confusion.

“I can’t stand Chris Keller. He’s just a big fan of, I don’t know, little racist shit.”

Now he looked at her. 

“Like, those, uh, pokes—” She made a stabbing motion with her finger. “Kiki, you’re so smart for a Black girl. So pretty for a Black girl. You know, you’re lucky, you don’t even need good grades like I do—you’ll get in anywhere, obviously.” She laughed now because it sounded so silly. “I called him out once, and he called me an uptight bitch.”

“I don’t usually punch people, but I’m reconsidering.”

Smiling, she rolled her eyes. “Anyway, I decided that I hated him.”

“I think that’s deserved.”

And all of his friends.” 

“I didn’t know he was like that, Kiki.”

“I know.” She put a hand on the porcelain sink, next to his. “You made it super hard for me to dislike you, anyway, and I’m pretty good at holding a grudge.” She swallowed hard, a summer’s worth of swooning building up in her chest. “It’s like, you … say things sometimes. And for days, those things are all that I can think about. I don’t like anyone having that power over me. Like, being able to make me or break me with just a few words.”

His expression went from distressed to dazed. “I know exactly what you mean.”

Kiki knew that this could be The Moment, but she didn’t return his gaze.

He was close. When he spoke, his lips almost brushed against her forehead. He smelled like shampoo and chlorine. “Do you remember our first spin? At Izzy’s thing?”

She nodded.

“You didn’t trust me at all. And that’s fine, but I spent the whole summer waiting for you to want to stay. It’s like the second our seven minutes were up, poof, you were gone, like you couldn’t wait to be rid of me.”

Kiki shook her head. “I have a curfew—”

“I know. I get that. But a little part of me still hoped you might risk it for me. That broke me, every single time.” His thumb brushed against hers. “But when you shouted at the top of your lungs that I was cute—”

She groaned. “God, please don’t remind me.”

He laughed, throwing his arms around her. “That made me. It was perfect.” 

He dipped his head down. She knew that if she looked up at those perfect and full and love-starved brown eyes, she wouldn’t be able to resist.



“Kiss me. It’s what the universe wants.”

She looked up, drank in those deep brown eyes, and kissed him. Someone outside shouted that they had to pee, and there was a crash and cheers from the kitchen, but Kiki hardly noticed any of it. Her senses were completely consumed by the feel of his soft lips on her nervous ones, the touch of his fingers against her cheek, and the flutters in her chest.

Kastov brushed his thumb across her lips. “How many spins is this?”

“Six.” She added, “I think,” though she knew it for sure.

“Look at us—forty-two whole minutes in heaven.”

Grinning, Kiki pulled off his hat and ran her fingers through his hair. “We have some catching up to do.”


A few years ago, I started working on a YA novel that hinged on fated games of Spin the Bottle/Seven Minutes in Heaven. I wanted to write a cozy story, a bit of fluff, something to smile at and cringe with. I hit about 15k before turning my attention to a completely different story that is very special to me, but I always knew I’d return to this concept.

Though this story is not autobiographical, Kiki is teen me in many ways. Dealing with the microaggressions, the anxiety, and the expectations of being a first-gen kid was never fun, and it didn’t end with adolescence. But I dreamed up this story as a love letter not only to my past self, but for those of us that publishing often doesn’t see as deserving of the meet-cutes and happy endings. 

This story is for me, and this story is for you.

Also, shout-out to my mom for lovingly editing my Kreyòl with only minimal teasing.

{ Edited by Denise Conejo. }
This new voice is sponsored by David Levithan.

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