“What’s sadistic?” Kitty wants to know. She puts her head between us.
I push her back and say, “Put your seat belt on.”
Peter puts the car in reverse. “It means seeing other people in pain makes you happy.”
“Oh.” She repeats it to herself softly. “Sadistic.”
“Don’t teach her weird stuff,” I say.
“I like weird stuff,” Kitty protests.
Peter says, “See? The kid likes weird stuff.” Without turning around, he lifts his hand up for a high five and Kitty leans forward and slaps it heartily. “Hey, gimme a sip of whatever it is you’re drinking back there.”
“It’s almost gone, so you can have the rest,” she says.
Kitty hands it over, and Peter tips back the plastic container in his mouth. “This is good,” he says.
“It’s from the Korean grocery store,” Kitty tells him. “They come in a pack and you can put them in the freezer and if you pack it for lunch, it’ll be icy and cold when you drink it.”
“Sounds good to me. Lara Jean, bring me one of these tomorrow morning, will you? For services rendered.”
I shoot him a dirty look and Peter says, “I mean the rides! Geez.”
“I’ll bring you one, Peter,” Kitty says.
“That’s my girl.”
“As long as you give me a ride to school tomorrow, too,” Kitty finishes, and Peter hoots.
BEFORE FOURTH PERIOD, I’M AT my locker, trying to repin my milkmaid braid in the little mirror hanging from the door.
I peek around the door and it’s Lucas Krapf, wearing a thin V-neck sweater in brilliant blue and stone-colored khakis. “I’ve had this for a while now . . . I wasn’t going to say anything, but then I thought maybe you’d want it back.” He puts a pink envelope in my hand. It’s my letter. So Lucas got his, too.
I drop it into my locker, make a yikes face at myself in the mirror, and then close the door. “So you’re probably wondering what this is all about,” I begin. And then I immediately falter. “It’s um, well, I wrote it a long time ago, and—”
“You don’t have to explain.”
“Really? You’re not curious?”
“No. It was just really nice to get a letter like that. I was actually pretty honored.”
I let out a relieved sigh and sag against my locker. Why is Lucas Krapf just so exactly right? He knows how to say the perfect thing.
And then Lucas gives me a half grimace, half smile. “But the thing is . . .” He lowers his voice. “You know I’m gay, right?”
“Oh, right, totally,” I say, trying not to sound disappointed. “No, I totally knew.” So Peter was right after all.
Lucas smiles. “You’re so cute,” he says, and I perk up again. Then he says, “Listen, can you not tell anybody, though? I mean, I’m out, but I’m not out out yet. You know what I mean?”
“Totally,” I say, super confident.
“For instance, my mom knows but my dad only kind of knows. I haven’t outright told him.”
“I just let people believe what they please. I don’t feel like it’s my responsibility to quantify myself for them. I mean, you get what I’m talking about. As a biracial person, I’m sure people are always asking you what race you are, right?”
I haven’t thought of it that way before, but yes yes yes! Lucas just gets it. “Exactly. It’s like, why do you need to know?”
We smile at each other and I feel that wonderful sensation of being known by someone. We walk together in the same direction; he has Mandarin class and I have French. At one point he asks me about Peter, and I’m tempted to tell him the truth, because I’m feeling so close to him. But Peter and I made that pact: we explicitly said we would never tell anyone. I don’t want to be the one to break it. So when Lucas says, “Hey, so what’s the deal with you and Kavinsky?” I just shrug and give him an enigmatic smile.
“It’s crazy, right? Because he’s so . . .” I search for the exact right word, but I can’t think of it. “I mean, he could play the part of a handsome guy in a movie.” Hastily I add, “So could you, though. You’d play the guy the girl should pick.”
Lucas laughs, but I can tell he likes it.
I never met a boy with manners as good as yours. You ought to have a British accent. At homecoming, you wore a cravat and it suited you so well I think you could wear one all the time and get away with it.
Oh, Lucas! I wish I knew what kind of girls you liked. As far as I can tell, you haven’t dated anyone . . . unless you have a girlfriend at another school. You’re just so mysterious. I hardly know a thing about you. The things I know are so unsubstantial, so unsatisfying, like that you eat a chicken sandwich every day at lunch, and you’re on the golf team. I guess the one remotely real thing I know about you is you’re a good writer, which must mean you have deep reserves of emotion. Like that short story you wrote in creative writing about the poisoned well, and it was from a six-year-old boy’s perspective. It was so sensitive, so keen! That story made me feel like I knew you at least a little bit. But I don’t know you, and I wish I did.
I think you’re very special. I think you are probably one of the most special people at our school, and I wish more people knew that about you. Or maybe I don’t, because sometimes it’s nice to be the only one who knows something.
Love, Lara Jean
AFTER SCHOOL, CHRIS AND I are hanging out in my room. She’s in trouble with her mom for staying out all night, so she’s hiding out over here until her mom leaves for book club. We’re sharing a big bag of Kitty’s Pirate Booty, which I’m going to have to replace because she’ll complain if it’s missing from her lunch on Monday.
Chris stuffs a handful of Pirate Booty puffs in her mouth. “Just tell me, Lara Jean. How far have you guys gone?”
I almost choke. “We’ve gone nowhere! And we have no plans to go anywhere in the near future.” Or ever.
“Seriously? Not even over-the-bra action? A quick swipe across your chest?”
“No! I told you, me and my sister aren’t like that.”
Chris snorts. “Are you joking me? Of course Margot and Josh have had sex. Quit being so naive, Lara Jean.”
“This isn’t me being naive,” I tell her. “I know for a fact that he and Margot haven’t done it.”
“How? How do you know ‘for a fact’? I’d love to hear this.”
“I’m not telling you.”
If I tell Chris, she’ll only laugh more. She doesn’t understand; she only has a little brother. She doesn’t know how it is with sisters. Margot and I, we made a pact, back in middle school. We swore we wouldn’t have sex until we were married or we were really, really in love and at least twenty-one. Margot might be really, really in love, but she’s not married and she’s not twenty-one. She’d never go back on her word. With sisters a pact is everything.
“No, I’d really love to know.” Chris has that hungry glint in her eyes, and I know she’s just getting warmed up.
“You just want to make fun of it, and I’m not going to let you,” I say.
Chris rolls her eyes. “Fine. But there’s no way they haven’t boned.”
I think Chris talks like that on purpose to get a reaction from me. She loves a reaction, so I’m careful to not give her one. I calmly say, “Can you please stop talking about my sister and Josh having sex. You know I don’t like it.”
Chris takes a permanent marker out of her bag and starts to color in her thumbnail. “You need to stop being such a scaredy-cat. Seriously, you’ve built it up in your head to be this huge, life-changing moment, but it’s actually done in under five, and it’s not even the best part.”
I know she’s waiting for me to ask what the best part is, and I am curious, but I ignore her and say, “I think permanent marker is toxic for your nails,” to which she shakes her head at me like I’m a lost cause.
I wonder, though . . . what would it be like? To be that close to a boy and have him see all of you, no holding back. Would it be scary only for a second or two, or would it be scary the whole time? What if I didn’t like it at all? Or what if I liked it too much? It’s a lot to think about.
“DO YOU THINK IF A guy and a girl have been dating for a long time, they’ve automatically had sex?” I ask Peter. We’re sitting on the floor of the library, our backs against the wall of the reference section nobody ever goes to. It’s after school, the library’s empty, and we’re doing homework. Peter gets Cs and Ds in chemistry, so I’ve been helping him study.
Peter looks up from his chem book, suddenly interested. He tosses the book aside and says, “I need more information. How long have they been dating?”
“A long time. Like two years, something like that.”
“How old are they? Our age?”
“Then most likely but not necessarily. It depends on the girl and the guy. But if I had to put money on it, yeah.”
“But the girl’s not like that. The guy isn’t either.”
“Who are we talking about here?”
“That’s a secret.” I hesitate, and then say, “Chris thinks there’s no way they haven’t. She says it’s impossible.”
Peter snorts. “Why are you going to her for advice? That girl is a train wreck.”
“She is not a train wreck!”
He gives me a look. “Freshman year she got wasted on Four Loko and she climbed up on Tyler Boylan’s roof and did a striptease.”
“Were you there?” I demand. “Did you see it with your own two eyes?”
“Damn straight. Fished her clothes out of the pool like the gentleman I am.”
I blow out my cheeks. “Well, Chris never mentioned that story to me, so I can’t really speak to that. Besides, didn’t they ban Four Loko or whatever it’s called?”
“They still make it, but a shitty watered-down version. You can dump Five-Hour Energy in it to get the same effect.” I shudder, which makes Peter smile. “What do you and Chris even talk about?” he asks. “You have nothing in common.”
“What do we talk about?” I counter.
Peter laughs. “Point taken.” He pushes away from the wall and puts his head in my lap, and I go completely still.
I try to make my voice sound normal as I say, “You’re in a really strange mood today.”
He raises an eyebrow at me. “What kind of mood am I in?” Peter sure loves to hear about himself. Normally, I don’t mind, but today I’m not in the mood to oblige him. He already has too many people in his life telling him how great he is.
“The obnoxious kind,” I say, and he laughs.
“I’m sleepy.” He closes his eyes and snuggles against me. “Tell me a bedtime story, Covey.”
“Don’t flirt,” I tell him.
His eyes fly open. “I wasn’t!”
“Yes, you were. You flirt with everyone. It’s like you can’t help yourself.”
“Well, I don’t ever flirt with you.” Peter sits back up and checks his phone, and suddenly I’m wishing I didn’t say anything at all.
I’M IN FRENCH CLASS, LOOKING out the window as I am wont to do, and that’s when I see Josh walking toward the bleachers by the track. He’s carrying his lunch, and he’s alone. Why is he eating alone? He has his comic-book group; he has Jersey Mike.
But I guess he and Jersey Mike didn’t hang out so much last year. Josh was always with Margot and me. The trio. And now we’re not even a duo, and he’s all alone. Part of it’s Margot’s fault for leaving, but I can see my part in it too—if I’d never started liking him, I wouldn’t have had to make up this whole Peter K. story. I could just be his good friend Lara Jean like always.
Maybe this is why Mommy told Margot not to go to college with a boyfriend. When you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, you only want to be with that person, and you forget about everybody else, and then when the two of you break up, you’ve lost all your friends. They were off doing fun stuff without you.
All I can say is, Josh sure is a lonely figure eating his sandwich on the very top bleacher.
I take the bus home from school because Peter had to leave early for a lacrosse game with his club team. I’m in front of the house, taking the mail out of our mailbox, when Josh pulls into his driveway. “Hey!” he calls out. He climbs out of his car and jogs over to me, his backpack slung over his shoulder.
“I saw you on the bus,” he says. “I waved, but you were doing your daydreaming thing. So how long’s your car going to be in the shop?”