“Where are we going to get Girl Scout cookies this time of year?” Daddy asks.
“I have a box of Thin Mints hidden in the freezer,” I say.
He gives me a hurt look. “Hidden from who?” Thin Mints are his favorite. If there are Thin Mints in the house, forget about it. Daddy is a Thin Mint Monster.
I give an enigmatic shrug. “Also I’m sending Margot’s favorite kind of roller-ball pen, and . . . I think that’s it.”
“Don’t forget her brown boots,” my dad reminds me. “She specifically requested we send her brown boots with the laces.”
“Did she?” I was hoping Margot hadn’t noticed she’d left them behind. “When did she say that?”
“She e-mailed me yesterday.”
“I’ll see if I can find them.”
My dad says, “Weren’t you wearing them this weekend?” and at the same time Kitty says, “They’re in your closet.”
I throw up my hands. “All right, all right!”
“If you get the box together tonight, I can drop it off at the post office tomorrow morning on my way to work,” Daddy offers.
I shake my head. “I want to send the scarf I’ve been knitting, and it won’t be ready in time. Maybe in another week or two?”
Slurping her milk, Kitty waves a hand at me and advises, “Just give up on the scarf already. Knitting isn’t your thing.”
I open my mouth to argue and then close it. Maybe she’s right. If we wait for my scarf to be done to send the care package, Margot will probably be out of college already. “All right,” I say. “We’ll send the care package sans scarf. I’m not saying I’m giving up on knitting, though. I’ll keep chugging along on it and have it ready for you for your Christmas gift, Kitty.” I smile at her sweetly. “It’s pink. Your favorite.”
Kitty’s eyes go wide with horror. “Or Margot. You could also give it to Margot.”
Kitty slides a piece of paper under my door that night. It’s her Christmas list. It’s only September—Christmas is still months away! “Puppy” is written at the top in capital block letters. She also wants an ant farm and a skateboard and a TV in her room. Yeah, that TV’s not going to happen. I could buy her the ant farm, though. Or maybe I could talk to Daddy about the puppy. She hasn’t said so, but I think she misses Margot a lot. In a way, Margot is the only mother she’s known. It must be hard for Kitty having her so far away. I’ll just have to remind myself to be more patient with her, more attentive. She needs me now.
I go to her room and climb into her bed. She’s just turned the lights off but is already halfway to sleep. “What if we got a kitten?” I whisper.
Her eyes fly open. “No way in heck.”
“Don’t you think we’re more of a kitten family?” Dreamily I say, “A fluffy gray-and-white kitten with a bushy tail. We could name him Prince if it’s a boy. Ooh, or Gandalf the Gray! Wouldn’t that be cute? Or if it’s a girl, maybe Agatha. Or Tilly. Or Boss. It really depends on her personality.”
“Quit it,” Kitty warns. “We’re not getting a cat. Cats are blah. They’re also very manipulative.”
Impressed, I say, “Where’d you learn that word?”
“A puppy is a lot of work. Who’s going to feed him and walk him and house-train him?”
“I’ll do it. I’ll do it all. I’m responsible enough to take care of it on my own.”
I snuggle closer to her. I love the way Kitty’s head smells after she’s had a bath. “Ha! You don’t even do the dishes ever. And you never clean your room. And when have you ever helped fold laundry even once in your life? I mean, really, if you don’t do any of those things, how you can be responsible for another living creature?”
Kitty shoves me off. “Then I’ll help more!”
“I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“If I help out more, will you help me convince Daddy about the puppy?”
“If you help out more,” I agree. “If you can prove to me you’re not a baby anymore.” Kitty will be ten in January. That’s plenty old enough to help out around the house. Margot babies her too much, I think. “I’m putting you in charge of emptying the upstairs trash cans once a week. And helping with the laundry.”
“So . . . would I get a raise in my allowance?”
“No. The incentive is me helping you convince Daddy to get a dog, and also you not being so babyish anymore.” I fluff up my pillow. “By the way, I’m sleeping in here tonight.”
Kitty gives me a swift kick and I almost fall out of the bed. “You’re the babyish one, not me, Lara Jean.”
“Just let me sleep in here one night!”
“You take up all the covers.”
Kitty tries to kick me again, but I make my body heavy and pretend I’m already asleep. Soon we both fall asleep for real.
Sunday night I’m doing my homework in bed when I get a call from a number I don’t recognize. “Hello?”
“Hey. What are you doing?”
“Um . . . sorry, but who’s this?”
“Oh. How did you get my number?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
There’s a longish silence. It’s agonizing, every millisecond that ticks by with neither of us talking, but I don’t know what to say. “So, what did you want?”
Peter laughs. “You’re so awk, Covey. Your car’s in the shop, right? So how about I pick you up for school?”
“O-kay . . .”
“Bye,” I say, and I hang up.
THE NEXT MORNING, I WAKE kitty up early so she can braid my hair. “Leave me alone,” she says, rolling on to her other side. “I’m sleeping.”
“Please please please can I get a braid crown?” I ask her, squatting in front of her bed.
“No. You can have a side braid and that’s it.”
Swiftly Kitty braids my braid, and then she falls right back to sleep and I’m on my way to figure out clothes. Now that Peter and I are official, people will be noticing me more, so I should wear something good. I try on a polka-dot puffy-sleeved dress with tights, but it doesn’t look right. Neither does my favorite heart sweater with the little pom-poms. Everything looks so kiddish all of a sudden. I finally settle on a floral babydoll dress I ordered off a Japanese street fashion site, with ankle boots. Sort of a seventies London look.
When I run downstairs at seven twenty-five, Kitty is sitting at the kitchen table with her jean jacket on waiting for me. “Why are you downstairs already?” I ask her. Her bus doesn’t come until eight.
“I have my field trip today, so I have to go to school early. Remember?”
I run and look at the calendar on the refrigerator. There it is, in my handwriting: Kitty’s Field Trip. Shoot.
I was supposed to drive her, but that was before my car accident. Daddy had an overnight shift at the hospital and he’s not home yet, so I don’t have a car. “Can one of the carpool moms come get you?”
“It’s too late. The bus leaves at seven forty.” Kitty’s face is getting splotchy and her chin is starting to quiver. “I can’t miss the bus, Lara Jean!”
“Okay, okay. Don’t get upset. I’ve got a ride coming for us right now. Don’t worry, okay?” I pluck a greenish banana from the banana hammock. “Let’s go outside and wait for him.”
Kitty and I are waiting on the front steps sharing the greenish banana. We both prefer an unripe, greenish banana to a brown speckled one. It’s Margot who likes the speckled ones. I’ll try to save them for banana bread, but Margot gobbles them up, mushy bruised parts and all. I shudder to even think of it.
There’s a chill in the air, even though it’s still September and therefore practically still summer. Kitty rubs her legs to keep warm. She says she’ll wear shorts all the way to October; that’s her plan.
It’s past seven thirty now and no Peter yet. I’m starting to get nervous, but I don’t want Kitty to worry. I decide that if he’s not here in exactly two minutes, I’ll go next door to Josh’s and ask him to run Kitty over to school.
Across the street, our neighbor Ms. Rothschild waves at us as she locks her front door, a big coffee thermos in her hand. She dashes toward her car.
“Good morning, Ms. Rothschild,” we chorus. I elbow Kitty and say, “Five, four, three—”
“Damn it!” Ms. Rothschild shrieks. Ms. Rothschild has spilled coffee on her hand. She does this at least twice a week. I don’t know why she doesn’t just slow down or maybe just put the top on the thermos or not fill it up so high.
Just then Peter drives up, and his black Audi is even shinier in the daylight. I get up and say, “Come on, Kitty,” and she trails behind me.
“Who’s that?” I hear her whisper.
His windows are down. I come up close to the passenger side and stick my head in. “Is it okay if we drop my little sister off at the elementary school?” I ask. “She has to be there early today for a field trip.”
Peter looks annoyed. “Why didn’t you mention it yesterday?”
“I didn’t know about it yesterday!” Behind me I can feel rather than hear Kitty fidgeting.
“This is a two-seater,” Peter says, as if I can’t see with my own two eyes.
“I know that. I’ll just put Kitty in my lap and the seat belt over us.” Which my dad would kill me for if he knew, but I’m not telling, and neither will Kitty.
“Yeah, ’cause that sounds really safe.” He’s being sarcastic. I hate when people are sarcastic. It’s so cheap.
“It’s two miles!”
He sighs. “Fine. Get in.”
I open the door and slide in, laying my bag at my feet. “Come on, Kitty.” I make space for her between my legs, and she climbs in. I strap us in tight, my arms around her. “Don’t tell Daddy,” I say.
“Duh,” she says.
“Hey. What’s your name?” Peter asks her.
Kitty hesitates. More and more this happens. With new people she has to decide if she’ll be Kitty or Katherine.
“But everyone calls you Kitty?”
“Everyone who knows me,” Kitty says. “You can call me Katherine.”
Peter’s eyes light up. “You’re tough,” he says admiringly, which Kitty ignores, but she keeps sneaking peeks at him. He has that effect on people. On girls. Women, even.
We drive through the neighborhood in silence. At last Kitty says, “So who are you?”
I look over at him and he’s looking straight ahead. “I’m Peter. Your sister’s, um, boyfriend.”
My mouth drops. We never said anything about lying to our families! I thought this was going to be an at-school-only thing.
Kitty goes completely still in my arms. Then she twists around to look at me and shrieks, “He’s your boyfriend? Since when?”
“Since last week.” At least that much is the truth. Sort of.
“But you never said anything! Not one frigging word, Lara Jean!”
Automatically I say, “Don’t say ‘frig.’?”
“Not one frigging word,” Kitty repeats with a shake of her head.
Peter cracks up, and I give him a dirty look. “It all happened really fast,” he offers. “There was barely time to tell anybody—”
“Was I talking to you?” Kitty snaps. “No, I don’t think so. I was talking to my sister.”
Peter’s eyes widen, and I can see him trying to keep a straight face.
“Does Margot know?” she asks me.
“Not yet, and don’t you go mentioning it to her before I have a chance to.”
“Hmph.” This seems to appease Kitty a tiny bit. Knowing something first, before Margot, is a big deal.
Then we’re at the elementary school, and thank God the bus is still there in the parking lot. All the kids are lined up in front of it. I let out the breath I’ve been holding the whole way over, and Kitty is already untangling herself from me and bounding out of the car. “Have a good time on the field trip!” I call out.
She spins back around and points an accusing finger at me. “I want to hear the whole story when I get home!” With that decree she’s off running for the bus loop.
I rebuckle my seat belt. “Um, I don’t remember us deciding to tell our families that we’re boyfriend-girlfriend.”
“She was going to have to find out at some point, with me chauffeuring you and her around town.”
“You didn’t have to say ‘boyfriend.’ You could’ve just said ‘friend.’?” We’re getting close to school now, just two more lights. I give my side braid a nervous tug. “Um, so have you talked to Genevieve at all?”