Peter frowns. “No.”
“She hasn’t said a word to you about it?”
“Nope. But I’m sure she will soon.”
Peter speeds into the parking lot and zooms into a space. When we get out of the car and head for the entrance, Peter’s fingers lace through mine. I think he’s going to drop me off at my locker like he did before, but he leads us in the opposite direction.
“Where are we going?” I ask him.
I’m about to protest, but before I can, he says firmly, “We need to start hanging out in public more. The caf is where we’ll get the most bang for our buck.”
Josh won’t be in the cafeteria—that’s for popular people—but I know who will most certainly be there: Genevieve.
When we walk in, she’s holding court at their lunch table—her and Emily Nussbaum and Gabe and Darrell from the lacrosse team. They’re all eating breakfast and drinking coffee. She must have a sixth sense where Peter is concerned, because she beams lasers at us immediately. I start slowing down, which Peter doesn’t seem to notice. Peter makes a beeline for the table, but at the last second I chicken out. I tug on his hand and say, “Let’s sit over here,” and point to an empty table in their line of vision.
“Just—please.” I think fast. “Because, you see, it would be too blatantly jerky of you to bring a girl to the table after you’ve only been broken up for, like, a minute. And this way Genevieve can watch from afar and wonder for just a little bit longer.” And also, I’m terrified.
As I drag Peter over to the table, he waves to his friends, shrugging his shoulders like Whaddareyougonnado? I sit down and Peter sits down next to me. He pulls my chair closer to his. Raising his eyebrows, he asks, “Are you that afraid of her?”
“You’re going to have to face her sometime.” Peter leans forward and grabs my hand again and starts tracing the lines on my palm.
“Quit,” I say. “You’re creeping me out.”
He flashes me a hurt look. “Girls love it when I do that.”
“No, Genevieve loves it. Or she pretends to love it. You know, now that I think of it, you actually don’t have that much experience when it comes to girls. Just one girl.” I take my hand away from his and perch it on the table. “I mean, everybody thinks you’re this big ladies’ man, when in reality you’ve only ever been with Genevieve and then Jamila for like a month—”
“Okay, okay. I get it. Enough already. They’re watching us.”
“Who is? Your table?”
Peter shrugs. “Everyone.”
I do a quick look around. He’s right. Everyone is watching us. Peter’s so used to people watching him, but I’m not. It feels funny, like a new sweater that makes my skin feel itchy. Because no one ever watches me. It’s like being onstage. And the funny thing, the really strange thing is, it’s not an altogether unpleasant feeling.
I’m pondering this when my eyes meet Genevieve’s. There’s this very brief moment of recognition between us, like I know you. Then she looks away and whispers something to Emily. Genevieve is looking at me like I am a tasty morsel and she is going to eat me alive and then spit out my bones. And then, just as quickly, the look is gone and she’s smiling.
I shiver. The truth is, Genevieve scared me even when we were kids. One time I was playing at her house, and Margot called looking for me to come home for lunch, and Genevieve told her I wasn’t there. She wouldn’t let me leave because she wanted to keep playing dollhouse. She kept blocking the door. I had to call for her mom.
The clock reads five minutes past eight. The bell’s going to ring soon. “We should get going,” I say, and when I stand up, my knees feel shaky. “Ready?”
He’s distracted because he was looking over at his table of friends. “Yeah, sure.” Peter gets up and propels me toward the door; he keeps one hand on the small of my back. With his other hand he waves at his friends. “Smile,” he whispers to me, so I do.
I have to admit, it’s not a bad feeling, having a boy sweep you along, usher you through crowds. It’s the feeling of being cared for. It’s kind of like walking in a dream. I’m still me and Peter’s still Peter, but everything around me feels fuzzy and unreal, like the time Margot and I snuck champagne on New Year’s Eve.
I never knew it before, but I think maybe all this time I’ve been invisible. Just someone who was there. Now that people think I’m Peter Kavinsky’s girlfriend, they’re wondering about me. Like, why? What about me made Peter like me? What do I have? What makes me so special? I would be wondering too.
I am now a Mysterious Girl. Before I was just a Quiet Girl. But becoming Peter’s girlfriend has elevated me to Mysterious Girl.
I take the bus home from school because Peter has to go to lacrosse practice. I sit in the front the way I’ve been doing, but today people have questions for me. Underclassmen, mostly, because hardly any upperclassmen take the bus.
“What’s with you and Kavinsky?” a sophomore girl named Manda asks me. I pretend like I don’t hear her.
Instead I sink lower into my seat and open up the note Peter left for me in my locker.
Dear Lara Jean,
Good job today.
I start to smile and then I hear Manda whisper to her friend, “It’s so weird that Kavinsky would like her. I mean . . . look at her and then look at Genevieve.” I can feel myself shrink. Is that what everyone thinks? Maybe it’s not that I’m a Mysterious Girl. Maybe it’s that I’m a Not Good Enough Girl.
When I get home, I go straight to my room, put on a soft nightgown, and release my braid. It’s sweet relief to let it out. My scalp is tingling with gratitude. Then I lie in my bed and stare out the window until it gets dark. My phone keeps buzzing, and I’m sure it’s Chris, but I don’t lift my head to look.
Kitty barges in at one point and says, “Are you sick? Why are you still lying in bed like you have cancer like Brielle’s mom did?”
“I need peace,” I say, closing my eyes. “I need to replenish myself with peace.”
“Well . . . then what are we eating for dinner?”
I open my eyes. That’s right. It’s a Monday. I’m in charge of dinner on Mondays now. Ugh, Margot, where are you? It’s dark already, there’s not enough time to defrost anything. Maybe Mondays should be pizza nights. I eye her. “Do you have any money?”
“Because I want to order a pizza for dinner.” Kitty opens her mouth to negotiate, but before she can get a word in, I say, “Daddy will pay you back when he gets home, so don’t even think about charging me interest. The pizza’s for you, too, you know. A twenty ought to do it.”
Kitty crosses her arms. “I’ll give you the money, but first you have to tell me about that boy from this morning. Your boyfriend.”
I groan. “What do you want to know?”
“I want to know how you got together.”
“We used to be friends back in middle school, remember? We’d all hang out in the Pearces’ tree house sometimes.” Kitty gives me a blank shrug. “Well, remember that day I got in a car accident?” Kitty nods. “Well, Peter was driving by, and he stopped and helped me. And we just . . . reconnected. It was fate.” Actually, this is good practice, telling Kitty this story. I’ll tell Chris the same story tonight.
“That’s it? That’s the whole story?”
“Hey, that’s a pretty good story,” I say. “I mean, a car accident is very dramatic, plus our history together.”
Kitty just says, “Hmm,” and she leaves it at that.
We have sausage and mushroom pizza for dinner, and when I broach the idea of Pizza Mondays, Daddy is quick to agree. I think he’s remembering my bo ssam mac and cheese.
It’s a relief that Kitty spends most of dinner talking about her field trip and all I have to do is chew on my pizza. I’m still thinking about what Manda said and wondering if maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.
When Kitty pauses to inhale her slice, Daddy turns to me and says, “Did anything interesting happen to you today?”
I swallow my mouthful of pizza. “Um . . . not really.”
Later that night I fix myself a bubble bath and soak in the tub for so long Kitty bangs on the door twice to check if I’ve fallen asleep. Once I almost do.
I’ve just drifted off when my phone buzzes. It’s Chris. I hit ignore, but then it keeps buzzing, and buzzing, and buzzing. I finally just pick up.
“Is it true?” she screams.
I hold the phone away from my ear. “Yes.”
“Oh my gawd. Tell me everything.”
“Tomorrow, Chris. I’ll tell you everything tomorrow. Good night.”
THAT FRIDAY I GO TO my first ever football game. I’ve never had even the tiniest bit of interest in it before, and I still don’t. I’m sitting high in the stands with Peter and his friends, and as far as I can tell, there’s not a lot to see. It just seems like a lot of waiting and huddling and not a lot of action. Nothing at all like football games in the movies and on TV shows.
By nine thirty the game’s almost over, I hope, and I’m yawning into my coat when Peter suddenly throws his arm around me. I nearly choke on my yawn.
Down below, Genevieve is cheering with the rest of the squad. She is shimmying and shaking her pom-poms. She looks up in the stands, and when she sees us, she stops for just a half second before launching into a new cheer, eyes blazing.
I glance at Peter, who has a satisfied smirk on. When Genevieve’s back on the sidelines, he drops his arm and suddenly seems to remember I’m there. He says, “Eli’s having people over tonight. Wanna go?”
I don’t even know who Eli is. I yawn again, a big one for show. “Um . . . I’m really tired. So . . . no. No, thank you. Can you just drop me off on the way there?”
Peter gives me a look, but he doesn’t argue.
On the way home, we pass by the diner and Peter suddenly says, “I’m hungry. Do you want to stop and get something?” Pointedly he adds, “Or are you too tired?”
I ignore the dig and say, “Sure, I can eat.”
So Peter turns the car around and we go to the diner. We get a booth up front. Whenever I used to come here with Margot and Josh, we would always sit in the back near the jukebox so we could put coins in. Half the time the jukebox was broken, but we still liked sitting near it. It’s weird to be here without them. We have so many traditions here. The three of us would get two grilled-cheese sandwiches and cut them up into squares, and we’d order a bowl of tomato soup to dip the squares in, and then Josh and I would share a waffle with extra whipped cream for dessert and Margot would have a bowl of tapioca pudding. Gross, I know. I’m pretty sure only grandmas like tapioca pudding.
Our waitress is Kelly, who’s a student at the college. She was gone all summer, and I guess now she’s back. She eyes Peter as she sets down our waters. “Where are your friends tonight?” she asks me.
I say, “Margot’s left for Scotland, and Josh . . . isn’t here.” Which Peter rolls his eyes at.
Then Peter orders blueberry pancakes and bacon and scrambled eggs. I get a grilled cheese with fries on the side and a black-cherry soda.
When Kelly leaves to put in our orders, I ask him, “Why do you hate Josh so much?”
“I don’t hate him,” Peter scoffs. “I barely know the guy.”
“Well, you certainly don’t like him.”
Peter scowls at me. “What’s to like? That kid turned me in once for cheating in seventh grade.”
Peter cheated? My stomach twists a little. “What kind of cheating was it? Like, homework?”
“No, a Spanish test. I wrote down the answers in my calculator, and Josh freaking told on me. Who does that?”
I search his face for some sign of embarrassment or shame at having cheated, but I don’t see even an iota. “What are you so high and mighty for? You’re the one who cheated!”
“It was seventh grade!”
“Well, do you still cheat?”
“No. Hardly ever. I mean, I have.” He frowns at me. “Would you quit looking at me like that?”
“With judgey eyes. Look, I’m going to school on a lacrosse scholarship anyway, so what does it matter?”