I ignore him and continue on. “This was your big chance. So you took it. You asked me out that very day and we’ve been hanging out ever since and now we’re basically a couple.”
“I don’t think Gen’s going to buy this,” he says, shaking his head.
“Peter,” I say in my most patient voice, “the most believable lies are the ones that are at least a little bit true. I did get into a car accident; you did stop and sit with me; we did kiss in middle school.”
“It’s not that.”
“Gen and I hooked up that day after I saw you.”
I sigh. “Okay. Spare me the details. My story still works, though. After the car accident, you couldn’t get me out of your mind, so you asked me out as soon as Genevieve dumped—I mean, as soon as you guys broke up.” I clear my throat. “Since we’re on the topic, I’d also like to set some ground rules.”
“What kind of ground rules?” he asks, leaning back.
I press my lips together and take a breath. “Well . . . I don’t want you trying to kiss me again.”
Peter curls his lip at me. “Trust me, I don’t want to do it either. My forehead still hurts from this morning. I think I have a bruise.” He pushes his hair off his forehead. “Do you see a bruise?”
“No, but I see a receding hairline.”
Ha. I knew that would get him. Peter’s so vain. “Calm down, I’m only kidding. Do you have a piece of paper and a pen?”
“You’re gonna write this down?”
Primly I say, “It’ll help us remember.”
Rolling his eyes, Peter reaches into his backpack, pulls out a notebook, and hands it to me. I turn to a clean page and write at the top, Contract. Then I write No kissing.
“Are people really gonna buy it if we never touch each other in public?” Peter asks, looking skeptical.
“I don’t think relationships are just about physicality. There are ways to show you care about someone, not just using your lips.” Peter’s smiling, and he looks like he’s about to crack a joke, so I swiftly add, “Or any other body part.”
He groans. “You’ve gotta give me something here, Lara Jean. I have a reputation to uphold. None of my friends will believe I suddenly turned into a monk to date you. How about at least a hand in your back jean pocket? Trust me, it’ll be strictly professional.”
I don’t say what I’m thinking, which is that he cares way too much what people think about him. I just nod and write down, Peter is allowed to put a hand in Lara Jean’s back jean pocket. “But no more kissing,” I say, keeping my head down so he can’t see me blush.
“You’re the one who started it,” he reminds me. “And also, I don’t have any STDs, so you can get that out of your head.”
“I don’t think you have any STDs.” I look back up at him. “The thing is . . . I’ve never had a boyfriend before. I’ve never been on a real date before, or held hands walking down the hallway. This is all new for me, so I’m sorry about the forehead thing this morning. I just . . . wish all of these firsts were happening for real and not with you.”
Peter seems to be thinking this over. He says, “Huh. Okay. Let’s just save some stuff, then.”
“Sure. We’ll save some stuff for you to do when it’s the real thing and not for show.”
I’m touched. Who knew Peter could be so thoughtful and generous?
“Like, I won’t pay for stuff. I’ll save that for a guy who really likes you.”
My smile fades. “I wasn’t expecting you to pay for anything!”
Peter’s on a roll. “And I won’t walk you to class or buy you flowers.”
“I get the picture.” It seems to me like Peter’s less concerned about me and more concerned about his wallet. He sure is cheap. “So when you were with Genevieve, what kinds of things did she like you to do?”
I’m afraid he’s going to take this opportunity to make a joke, but instead he stares off into space and says, “She was always bitching at me to write her notes.”
“Yeah, at school. I didn’t get why I couldn’t just text her. It’s immediate, it’s efficient. Why not use the technology that’s available to us?”
This I understand perfectly. Genevieve didn’t want notes. She wanted letters. Real letters written in his handwriting on actual paper that she could hold and keep and read whenever the mood struck her. They were proof, solid and tangible, that someone was thinking about her.
“I’ll write you a note a day,” Peter says suddenly, with gusto. “That’ll drive her ass crazy.”
I write down, Peter will write Lara Jean one note every day.
Peter leans in. “Write down that you have to go to some parties with me. And write down no rom coms.”
“Who said anything about rom coms? Not every girl wants to watch rom coms.”
“I can just tell that you’re the kind of girl who does.”
I’m annoyed that he has this perception of me, and even more annoyed that he’s right. I write, NO DUMB ACTION MOVIES.
“Then what does that leave us with?” Peter demands.
“Superhero movies, horror movies, period films, documentaries, foreign films—”
Peter makes a face, grabs the pen and paper from me, and writes down, NO FOREIGN FILMS. He also writes, Lara Jean will make Peter’s picture her phone wallpaper. “And vice versa!” I say. I point my phone at him. “Smile.”
Peter smiles, and ugh, it’s annoying how handsome he is. Then he reaches for his phone and I stop him. “Not right now. My hair looks sweaty and gross.”
“Good point,” he says, and I want to punch him.
“Can you also write down that under no circumstances can either of us tell anyone the truth?” I ask him.
“The first rule of Fight Club,” Peter says knowingly.
“I’ve never seen that movie.”
“Of course you haven’t,” he says, and I make a face at him. Also: mental note, watch Fight Club.
Peter writes it down, and then I sit next to him and take the pen and underline “under no circumstances” twice. “What about an end date?” I ask suddenly.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, how long are we going to do this for? Like, two weeks? A month?”
Peter shrugs. “For as long as we feel it.”
“But—don’t you think we should have something set—”
He cuts me off. “You need to relax, Lara Jean. Life doesn’t have to be so planned. Just roll with it and let it happen.”
I sigh and say, “Words of wisdom from the great Kavinsky,” and Peter wiggles his eyebrows at me. “Just as long as it’s over by the time my sister comes back for Christmas break. She can always tell when I’m lying.”
“Oh, we’ll definitely be done by then,” he says.
“Good,” I say, and then I sign the paper, and so does he, and we have our contract.
I’m too proud to ask for a ride, and Peter doesn’t offer, so I put my helmet back on and ride Kitty’s bike back home. I’m halfway there when I realize we never exchanged phone numbers. I don’t even know my own supposed boyfriend’s phone number.
I’M AT MCCALLS BOOKSTORE, PICKING up a copy of The Glass Menagerie for English and scanning the store for Josh. Now that Peter and I have everything worked out, I can triumphantly crow all about it. That’ll show him for thinking I’m just a homebody no boy would want to date.
I spot him setting up a display of new books in the nonfiction section. He doesn’t see me, so I sneak up behind and yell, “Boo!”
He jumps and drops a book on the floor. “You scared the crap out of me!”
“That was the point, Joshy!” I’m having a giggle fit. The look on his face! I wonder, why is it so deliciously funny to sneak up on people?
“All right, all right. Quit laughing. What are you here for?”
I hold up my book and wave it in his face. “I have Mr. Radnor for English. You had him, right?”
“Yeah, he’s good. He’s strict but fair. I still have my notes if you want them.”
“Thanks,” I say. Brightly I add, “So guess what. Peter and I aren’t broken up after all. It was just a misunderstanding.”
“Oh yeah?” Josh starts stacking books into a column.
“Mm-hmm. I saw him yesterday and we talked and talked, for hours. I feel like I could talk to him about anything, you know? He just really gets me.”
Josh’s forehead wrinkles. “What do you guys talk about?”
“Oh, everything. Movies, books, the usual stuff.”
“Huh. I never saw him as the reading type.” He squints and looks over my shoulder. “Hey, I’ve gotta go help Janice out at the counter. When you’re ready to check out, come to my register so I can give you my discount.”
Hmm, this isn’t exactly the reaction I was hoping for. I barely even got a chance to crow. “Sounds good,” I say, but he’s already walking away.
I hug my book to my chest. Now that Josh knows I’m not in love with him anymore and I’m with Peter, I guess everything will slide right back into place and be normal again. Like my letter never happened.
“MARGOT CALLED WHEN YOU WERE out today,” my dad says over dinner.
Dinner is just salad. Salad for me and Daddy and cereal for Kitty. There were supposed to be chicken breasts, but I forgot to take them out of the freezer this morning, so there’s just lettuce and carrot with balsamic dressing. Daddy’s supplementing his with two boiled eggs, and I have a piece of buttered toast. Some dinner. Cereal and lettuce. I need to get to the grocery store stat.
Since Margot left, I’ve only spoken to her twice, and once was over video chat with all of us crowded around my laptop. I didn’t get to ask her about the good stuff—the real deal, all the adventures she’s been going on and the people she’s been meeting. I think I heard that British people drink absinthe at pubs. I wonder if she’s tried it by now. I’ve e-mailed Margot so many times and have only gotten back one e-mail in return so far. I understand that she is busy, but the least she can do is e-mail back once a day. For all she knows, I could be dead in a ditch. “What did she say?” I ask as I cut my carrot into tiny pieces.
“She’s thinking about trying out for the shinty club team,” my dad says, wiping salad dressing off his chin.
“What’s shinty?” Kitty asks me, and I shrug.
“It’s a Scottish sport that’s similar to field hockey,” Daddy explains. “It started out as safe swordfight practice in medieval Scotland.”
Boring. Before Daddy can get started on telling us more about medieval Scotland, I say, “Let’s send Gogo a care package! Stuff she can’t get over there.”
“Yeah!” Kitty cheers.
“What should we send?” I ask. “I say we all contribute something.”
Daddy chews and taps his finger to his chin. “I’ll send gummy vitamins,” he says. “And Advil. I think she only took a small bottle of Advil, and you know how she gets migraines sometimes.”
“I approve.” I point my fork at Kitty. “And what about you?”
“I’ve got something I could send,” Kitty says. “Should I go get it?”
Daddy and I look at each other and shrug. “Sure.”
Kitty comes running back with a picture she’s drawn of Margot. Petting a dog. The exact breed of dog Kitty wants. Akita. I have to laugh.
Kitty frowns. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” I say.
“Do you think it’s good enough?” Kitty asks me. “Good enough to hang up on her wall?”
“Definitely,” I say.
“No, I want you to really look at it,” she says. “Critique it. I can always do better. Margot won’t want it if it’s not my best work.”
“Kitty, it definitely is,” I say. “Why would I lie?”
She sighs. “I just don’t know if it’s finished yet.”
“Only the artist knows,” Daddy says with a sage nod.
“What do you think about the dog?” she asks him. “Isn’t it cute?”
Daddy takes the picture from me and looks at it closely. “Yes, the dog is undeniably a good-looking dog.”
“I’m Asian too,” she says. Kitty sits back down and takes a bite of cereal and tries not to smile. She is doing her inception thing. Planting positive associations about dogs in Daddy’s head. The kid never rests. She always has an angle.
“What else is going in the care package?” Kitty wants to know.
I start ticking off with my fingers. “Tampons because I don’t know if they have our brand in Scotland, flannel pj’s, thick socks, Girl Scout cookies—”