I have a sudden revelation. I lower my voice and say, “Wait . . . can you read?”
He bursts out laughing. “Yes, I can read! Geez, Lara Jean. Not everything has a story behind it, okay? I’m just lazy.” He snorts. “Can I read? I’ve written you multiple notes! You’re hilarious.”
I can feel my face get flushed. “It wasn’t that funny.” I squint at him. “Is everything a joke to you?”
“Not everything, but most things, sure.”
I drop my chin. “Then maybe that’s a character flaw that you should work on,” I say. “Because some things are serious and they should be taken seriously. Sorry if you think that’s me being judgey.”
“Yup, I think that’s judgey. I think you’re judgey in general. That’s a character flaw that you should work on. I also think you need to learn how to kick back and have fun.”
I’m listing off all the ways I have fun—biking (which I hate), baking, reading; I consider saying knitting but I’m pretty sure he’ll only make fun of me—when Kelly drops off our food and I stop so I can bite into my grilled cheese while it’s still oozy.
Peter steals one of my french fries. “So who else?”
“Who else what?”
With his mouth full, he says, “Who else got letters?”
“Um, that’s really private.” I shake my head at him, like Wow, how rude.
“What? I’m just curious.” Peter dips another fry into my little ramekin of ketchup. Smirking, he says, “Come on, don’t be shy. You can tell me. I know I’m number one, obviously. But I want to hear who else made the cut.”
He’s practically flexing, he’s so sure of himself. Fine, if he wants to know so bad, I’ll tell him. “Josh, you—”
Peter snorts. “Kenny? Who’s he?”
I prop my elbows up on the table and rest my chin on my hands. “A boy I met at church camp. He was the best swimmer of the whole boys’ side. He saved a drowning kid once. He swam out to the middle of the lake before the lifeguards even noticed anything was wrong.”
“So what’d he say when he got the letter?”
“Nothing. It was sent back return to sender.”
“Okay, who’s next?”
I take a bite of sandwich. “Lucas Krapf.”
“He’s gay,” Peter says.
“He’s not gay!”
“Dude, quit dreaming. The kid is gay. He wore an ascot to school yesterday.”
“I’m sure he was wearing it ironically. Besides, wearing an ascot doesn’t make someone gay.” I give him a look like Wow, so homophobic.
“Hey, don’t give me that look,” he objects. “My favorite uncle’s gay as hell. I bet you fifty bucks that if I showed my uncle Eddie a picture of Lucas, he’d confirm it in half a second.”
“Just because Lucas appreciates fashion, that doesn’t make him gay.” Peter opens his mouth to argue but I lift up a hand to quiet him. “All it means is he’s more of a city guy in the midst of all this . . . this boring suburbia. I bet you he ends up going to NYU or some other place in New York. He could be a TV actor. He’s got that look, you know. Svelte with fine-boned features. Very sensitive features. He looks like . . . like an angel.”
“So what did Angel Boy say about the letter, then?”
“Nothing . . . I’m sure because he’s a gentleman and didn’t want to embarrass me by bringing it up.” I give him a meaningful look. Unlike some people is what I’m saying with my eyes.
Peter rolls his eyes. “All right, all right. Whatever, I don’t care.” He leans back in his seat and stretches his arm out on the back of the empty seat next to him. “That’s only four. Who’s the fifth?”
I’m surprised he’s been keeping count. “John Ambrose McClaren.”
Peter’s eyes widen. “McClaren? When did you like him?”
“I thought you liked me in eighth grade!”
“There may have been a little bit of overlap,” I admit. Stirring my straw, I say, “There was this one time, in gym . . . he and I had to pick up all the soccer balls, and it started to rain . . .” I sigh. “It was probably the most romantic thing that ever happened to me.”
“What is it with girls and rain?” Peter wonders.
“I don’t know . . . I guess maybe because everything feels more dramatic in the rain,” I say with a shrug.
“Did anything actually happen with you two, or were you just standing out in the rain picking up soccer balls?”
“You wouldn’t understand.” Someone like Peter could never understand.
Peter rolls his eyes. “So did McClaren’s letter get sent to his old house?” he prompts.
“I think so. I never heard anything back from him.” I take a long sip of my soda.
“Why do you sound so sad about it?”
Maybe I am, a little. Besides Josh, I think John Ambrose McClaren matters the most to me of all the boys I’ve loved. There was just something so sweet about him. It was the promise of maybe, maybe one day. I think John Ambrose McClaren must be the One That Got Away. Out loud I say, “I mean, either he never got my letter or he did, and . . .” I shrug. “I just always wondered how he turned out. If he’s still the same. I bet he is.”
“You know what, I think maybe he mentioned you once.” Slowly he says, “Yeah, he definitely did. He said he thought you were the prettiest girl in our grade. He said his one regret from middle school was not asking you to the eighth-grade formal.”
My whole body goes still and I think I even stop breathing. “For real?” I whisper.
Peter busts up laughing. “Dude! You’re so gullible!”
My stomach squeezes. Blinking, I say, “That was really mean. Why would you say that?”
Peter stops laughing and says, “Hey, I’m sorry. I was just kidding—”
I reach across the table and punch him in the shoulder, hard. “You’re a jerk.”
He rubs his shoulder and cries out, “Ow! That hurt!”
“Well, you deserved it.”
“Sorry,” he says again. But there’s still a trace of laughter in his eyes, so I turn my head away from him. “Hey, come on. Don’t be mad. Who knows? Maybe he did like you. Let’s call him and find out.”
My head snaps up. “You have his phone number? You have John Ambrose McClaren’s number?”
Peter pulls out his cell phone. “Sure. Let’s call him right now.”
“No!” I try to grab his phone away from him, but he’s too quick. He holds his phone above my head and I can’t reach. “Don’t you dare call him!”
“Why not? I thought you were so curious about what ever happened to him.”
I shake my head fervently.
“What are you so afraid of? That he doesn’t remember you?” Something changes in his face, some dawning realization about me. “Or that he does?”
I shake my head.
“That’s it.” Peter nods to himself; he tips back in his chair, his hands linked around his head.
I don’t like the way he’s looking at me. Like he thinks he’s figured me out. I hold my palm out to him. “Give me your phone.”
Peter’s jaw drops. “You’re going to call him? Right now?”
I like that I’ve surprised him. It makes me feel like I’ve won something back. I think throwing Peter off guard could be a fun hobby for me. In a commanding voice I’ve only ever used with Kitty, I say, “Just give me your phone.” Peter hands me his phone, and I copy John’s number into mine. “I’ll call him when I feel like it, not because you feel like it.”
Peter gives me a look of grudging respect. Of course I’m never going to call John, but Peter K. doesn’t need to know that.
That night, I’m lying in bed still thinking about John. It’s fun to think of the what-if. Scary, but fun. It’s like, I thought this door was closed before, but here it is open just the tiniest crack. What if? What would that be like, me and John Ambrose McClaren? If I close my eyes, I can almost picture it.
MARGOT AND I ARE ON the phone; it’s Saturday afternoon here and Saturday night there. “Have you lined up an internship for the spring?”
“Not yet . . .”
Margot lets out a sigh. “I thought you were going to try and do something at Montpelier. I know they need help in the archives. Do you want me to call Donna for you?”
Margot did an internship at Montpelier for two summers and she loved it. She was there for some important dig where they found a shard of Dolley Madison’s china plate, and you’d have thought they found diamonds or a dinosaur bone. Everybody loves Margot over there. When she left, they gave her a plaque for all her hard work. Daddy hung it up in the living room.
“Montpelier’s too far of a drive,” I say.
“What about volunteering at the hospital?” she suggests. “You could get a ride with Daddy on the days you have to go in.”
“You know I don’t like the hospital.”
“Then the library! You like the library.”
“I’ve already filled out an application,” I lie.
“Have you really?”
“Or I was just about to.”
“I shouldn’t have to push you to want things. You should want them for yourself. You need to take the initiative. I’m not always going to be beside you to push you.”
“I know that.”
“I mean, do you realize how important this year is, Lara Jean? It’s kind of everything. You don’t get a do-over: this is junior year.”
I can feel tears and panic building up inside me. If she asks me another question, it will be too much, and I’ll cry.
“I’m still here.” My voice comes out tiny, and I know Margot knows how close I am to crying.
She pauses. “Look, you still have time, okay? I just don’t want you to wait too long and have all the good placements go to other people. I’m just worried about you is all. But everything’s fine; you’re still okay.”
“Okay.” Even just that one little word is an effort.
“How’s everything else?”
I started out this conversation wishing I could tell her about Peter and everything that’s been going on with me, but now I’m just feeling relieved that there are all these miles between us and she can’t see what I’m up to. “Everything’s good,” I say.
“How’s Josh? Have you talked to him lately?”
“Not really,” I say. Which I haven’t. I’ve been so busy with Peter I haven’t really had a chance.
KITTY AND I ARE ON the front steps. She’s drinking her Korean yogurt drink and I’m working on that scarf for Margot while I wait for Peter. Kitty’s waiting for Daddy to come out. He’s dropping her off at school today.
Ms. Rothschild hasn’t come outside yet. Maybe she’s sick today or maybe she’s running even later than usual.
We’ve got our eyes locked on her front door when a minivan drives down our street and slows in front of our house. I squint my eyes. It’s Peter Kavinsky. Driving a tan minivan. He ducks his head out the window. “Are you coming or not?”
“Why are you driving that?” Kitty calls out.
“Never mind that, Katherine,” Peter calls back. “Just get in.”
Kitty and I look at each other. “Me too?” Kitty asks me.
I shrug. Then I lean back and open the front door and yell out, “Kitty’s getting a ride with me, Daddy!”
“Okay!” he yells back.
We stand up, but just then Ms. Rothschild comes dashing out of the house in her navy blue suit, briefcase in one hand, coffee in the other. Kitty and I look at each other gleefully. “Five, four, three—”
Giggling, we hurl ourselves toward Peter’s minivan. I hop into the passenger seat and Kitty climbs into the back. “What were you guys laughing about?” he asks.
I’m about to tell him when Josh walks out of his house. He stops and stares at us for a second before he waves. I wave back and Kitty hangs her head out the window and yells, “Hi, Josh!”
“What up,” Peter calls out, leaning over me.
“Hey,” Josh says back. Then he gets in his car.
Peter pokes me in the side and grins and puts the car in reverse. “Tell me why you guys were laughing.”
Clicking into my seat belt, I say, “At least once a week, Ms. Rothschild runs out to her car and spills hot coffee all over herself.”
Kitty pipes up, “It’s the funniest thing in the world.”
Peter snorts. “You guys are sadistic.”