“We’re not going to be done in time for the game,” I tell him.
“Then we’ll just go to the party after.” Peter shoots me an incredulous look. “That was in the note I wrote you today! God, why do I even bother?”
“I was really busy today,” I say meekly. I feel bad. He’s following through on his end of the deal and faithfully writing me a note a day and I can’t even be bothered to read them. “I don’t know if I can go to a party. I don’t know if I’m allowed to go out that late.”
“Is your dad home? I’ll ask him.”
“No, he’s at the hospital. Besides I can’t just leave Kitty here by herself.” I pick up the measuring cup again.
“Well, what time does he get home?”
“I don’t know. Maybe late.” Or maybe like in the next hour. But Peter will be long gone by then. “You should just go. I don’t want to hold you up.”
Peter groans. “Covey. I need you. Gen hasn’t said a word about us yet, which is kind of the whole point of this. And . . . she might bring that dickhole she’s dating.” Peter pushes out his lower lip. “Come on. I came through for you with Josh, didn’t I?”
“Yes,” I admit. “But, Peter, I have to make these cupcakes for the bake sale—”
Peter stretches his arms out. “Then I’ll help you. Just give me an apron.”
I back away from him and start rummaging around for another apron. I find one with a cupcake print and hand it to him.
He makes a face and points at mine. “I want the one you’re wearing.”
“But it’s mine!” It’s red-and-white gingham with little brown bears; my grandma got it for me in Korea. “I always bake in this. Just wear that one.”
Slowly Peter shakes his head and holds out his hand. “Give me yours. You owe me for not reading any of my notes.”
I untie the apron and hand it over. I turn around and go back to my measuring. “You’re a bigger baby than Kitty.”
“Just hurry up and give me a task.”
“Are you qualified, though? Because I only have exactly enough ingredients for six dozen cupcakes. I don’t want to have to start over—”
“I know how to bake!”
“Okay, then. Dump those sticks of butter into the mixing bowl.”
“And then when you’re done, I’ll give you your next task.”
Peter rolls his eyes but he does as he’s told. “So this is what you do on Friday nights? Stay home and bake in your pj’s?”
“I do other stuff too,” I say, tying my hair into a tighter ponytail.
I’m still so flustered from Peter’s sudden appearance that I can’t think. “Um, I go out.”
“God, I don’t know! Quit interrogating me, Peter.” I blow my bangs out of my eyes. It’s getting really warm in here. I might as well just turn off the oven, because Peter’s arrival has slowed down this whole process. At this rate I’ll be up all night. “You made me lose my count on the flour. I’m going to have to start over from scratch!”
“Here, let me do it,” Peter says, coming up close behind me.
I jerk away from him. “No no, I’ll do it,” I say, and he shakes his head and tries to take the measuring cup from me, but I won’t let go, and flour poufs out of the cup and into the air. It dusts us both. Peter starts cracking up and I let out an outraged shriek. “Peter!”
He’s laughing too hard to speak.
I cross my arms. “I’d better still have enough flour.”
“You look like a grandma,” he says, still laughing.
“Well, you look like a grandpa,” I counter. I dump the flour in my mixing bowl back into the flour canister.
“Actually, you’re really a lot like my granny,” Peter says. “You hate cussing. You like to bake. You stay at home on Friday nights. Wow, I’m dating my granny. Gross.”
I start measuring again. One, two. “I don’t stay home every Friday night.” Three.
“I’ve never seen you out. You don’t go to parties. We used to hang out back in the day. Why’d you stop hanging out?”
Four. “I . . . I don’t know. Middle school was different.” What does he want me to say? That Genevieve decided I wasn’t cool enough so I got left behind? Why is he so clueless?
“I always wondered why you stopped hanging out with us.”
Was I on five or six? “Peter! You made me lose my count again!”
“I have that effect on women.”
I roll my eyes at him and he grins back at me, but before he can say anything else, I yell, “Kitty! Get down here!”
“Peter’s here!” I know that will get her.
In five seconds flat, Kitty’s running into the kitchen. She skids to a stop, all of a sudden shy. “Why are you here?” she asks him.
“To pick up Lara Jean. Why aren’t you helping?”
“I was running an experiment. Wanna help me?”
I answer for him. “Sure, he’ll help you.” To Peter I say, “You’re distracting me. Go help Kitty.”
“I don’t know if you want my help, Katherine. See, I’m really distracting to women. I make them lose their count.” Peter winks at her and I make a gagging sound. “Why don’t you stay down here and help us bake?”
“Bo-ring!” Kitty turns tail and runs back up the stairs.
“Don’t you dare try to sprinkle or frost when it’s all over!” I yell. “You haven’t earned the right!”
I’m creaming the butter and Peter’s cracking eggs into a chipped salad bowl when my dad gets home. “Whose car is that out front?” Daddy asks as he walks into the kitchen. He stops short. “Hello,” he says, surprised. He has a Chan’s Chinese Bistro bag in his hands.
“Hey, Daddy,” I say, like it’s perfectly normal that Peter Kavinsky is cooking in our kitchen. “You look tired.”
Peter stands up straighter. “Hi, Dr. Covey.”
My dad sets the bag down on the kitchen table. “Oh, hello,” he says, clearing his throat. “Nice to see you. You’re Peter K., right?”
“One of the old gang,” my dad says jovially, and I cringe. “What are you kids up to tonight?”
“I’m baking cupcakes for Kitty’s PTA bake sale and Peter’s helping,” I say.
My dad nods. “Are you hungry, Peter? I have plenty.” He lifts the bag. “Shrimp lo mein, kung pao chicken.”
“Actually, Lara Jean and I were going to stop by our friend’s party,” Peter says. “If that would be okay? I’ll bring her back early.”
Before my dad can answer, I say to Peter, “I told you I have to finish these cupcakes.”
“Kitty and I will finish them,” my dad interjects. “You two go to that birthday party.”
My stomach flips. “It’s really okay, Daddy. I have to be the one to do them; I’m decorating them specially.”
“Kitty and I will figure it out. You can go get changed. We’ll keep working on these cupcakes.”
I open and close my mouth like a trout. “All right, then.” And I don’t make a move, I just stand there, because I’m afraid to leave the two of them alone together.
Peter smiles at me broadly. “You heard the man. We’ve got this covered.”
I think, Don’t act too confident, because then my dad will think you’re arrogant.
There are certain outfits you have that make you feel good every time you wear them, and then there are outfits where you wore them too many times in a row because you liked them so much, and now they just feel like garbage. I’m looking at my closet now and everything looks like garbage. My anxiety is only compounded by the fact that I know Gen will be wearing the exact right thing, because she always wears the exact right thing. And I have to be wearing the right thing too. Peter wouldn’t have come by and made such a point of going to this party if it weren’t important to him.
I pull on my jeans and try on different tops—a frilly peach one that suddenly looks prissy in my eyes, a long fuzzy sweater with a penguin on it that looks too kiddish. I’m stepping into a pair of gray shorts with black suspenders when someone knocks at my door. I freeze and grab a sweater to cover myself up.
“Lara Jean?” It’s Peter.
“Are you almost ready?”
“Almost! Just—just go downstairs. I’ll be down soon.”
He lets out an audible sigh. “Okay. I’m gonna see what the kid’s doing.”
When I hear his footsteps walking away, I scramble and try a cream polka-dot blouse with the shorts-suspenders ensemble. It’s cute, but is it too cute? Too much? And should I do black tights or black knee socks? Margot said I look Parisian in this outfit. Parisian is a good thing. It’s sophisticated, romantic. I try on a beret, just to see the effect, and I immediately throw it off. Definitely too much.
I wish Peter hadn’t snuck up on me with this. I need time to plan, to prepare. Though truthfully, if he’d asked me ahead of time, I would have come up with an excuse not to go. It’s one thing to go to Tart and Tangy after school, but a party with all of Peter’s friends, not to mention Genevieve?
I hop around my room, searching for my over-the-knee socks, then searching for my strawberry lip pot that looks like a strawberry. Gosh, I really need to clean my room. It’s hard to find anything in this mess.
I run to Margot’s room for her big grandpa cardigan, and I pass Kitty’s open door, where I see Peter and Kitty lying on the floor, working with her lab set. I root through Margot’s sweater drawer, which is now T-shirts and shorts because she’s taken most of her sweaters. No grandpa cardigan. But at the bottom of the drawer there is an envelope. A letter, from Josh.
I want to open it so badly. I know I shouldn’t.
Carefully, ever so carefully, I take out the letter and unfold it.
You say we had to break up because you don’t want to go to college with a boyfriend, and you want your freedom, and you don’t want to be held back. But you know and I know that’s not the real reason. You broke up with me because we had sex and you were scared of getting close to me.
I stop reading.
I can’t believe it. Chris was right and I was wrong. Margot and Josh did have sex. It’s like everything I thought I knew is the opposite. I thought I knew exactly who my sister was, but it turns out I don’t know anything.
I hear Peter calling my name. “Lara Jean! Are you ready yet?”
Hastily I fold the letter up and put it back in the envelope. I put it back in the drawer and slam the drawer shut. “Coming!”
WE’RE STANDING AT THE FRONT door of Steve Bledell’s mansion. Steve’s on the football team; he’s mostly known for having a rich stepdad with his own plane.
“Ready?” Peter asks me.
I wipe my palms on my shorts. I wish I’d had time to do something better to my hair. “Not really.”
“Then let’s talk strategy for a second. All you have to do is act like you’re in love with me. That shouldn’t be too hard.”
I roll my eyes. “You’re the vainest boy I’ve ever met.”
Peter grins and shrugs. He’s got his hand on the doorknob, but then he stops. “Hold on,” he says, and he pulls the hair tie out of my hair and tosses it into the yard.
“It looks better down. Just trust me.” Peter runs his fingers through my hair and fluffs it up, and I swat his hand away. Then he takes his phone out of his back pocket and he snaps a picture of me.
I give him a puzzled look, and he explains, “In case Gen checks my phone.” I watch as he sets the picture as his wallpaper.
“Can we do another one?” I don’t like the way my hair looks.
“Nah, I like it. You look pretty.” He probably only said it so we could hurry up and go inside, but it makes me feel good.
Walking into this party with Peter Kavinsky, I can’t help but feel a sudden rush of pride. He’s here with me. Or is it that I’m here with him?
I see her as soon as we walk in—she’s on the couch with her girls; they’re all drinking from red Solo cups. No boyfriend in sight. She raises her eyebrows at me and whispers something to Emily Nussbaum. “Heyyy, Lara Jean,” Emily calls out, crooking her finger at me. “Come sit by us.”
I start to walk toward them, thinking Peter is next to me, but he’s not. He’s stopped to say hi to someone. I look at him with panicky eyes and he just gestures at me to keep going. He mouths, You’re up.
Crossing the room alone feels like crossing a continent, with Gen and her friends watching me. “Hi, guys,” I say, and my voice comes out high-pitched and little-girlish. There’s no room for me on the couch, so I perch on an armrest like a bird on a telephone wire. I keep my eyes trained on Peter’s back; he is across the room with some guys from the lacrosse team. It must be nice to be him. So at ease, so comfortable with himself, knowing that people are waiting for him, like Peter’s here, now the party can really get started. I look around the room, just to have something to do, and see Gabe and Darrell, and they wave at me very nicely, but they don’t come over. It feels like everyone is waiting and watching, waiting and watching to see what Genevieve will do.