I wish I hadn’t come.
Emily leans forward. “We’re all dying to know . . . what’s the story with you and Kavinsky?”
I know she’s been commissioned by Gen to ask. Gen’s sipping her drink, casual as can be, but she’s waiting for my answer. Is she drunk yet? I wonder. From everything I’ve heard and know about Gen, she is a mean drunk. Not that I’ve ever personally experienced it, but I’ve heard things. There are stories.
I wet my lips. “Whatever Peter said . . . I guess that’s the story.”
Emily waves this off like whatever Peter says doesn’t really count. “We want to hear it from you. I mean, it’s just so surprising. How did this even happen?” She leans closer, like we are girlfriends.
When I hesitate, when my eyes dart toward Genevieve, she smiles and rolls her eyes. “It’s okay, you can say, Lara Jean. Peter and I are over. I don’t know if he told you this, but I’m actually the one who broke up with him, so.”
I nod. “That’s what he said.” That is not what he said, but it’s what I already knew.
“So when did you guys get together?” She tries to sound offhand, but I know my answer is important to her. She’s trying to catch me in something.
“Pretty recently,” I say.
“How recently?” she presses.
I swallow. “Right before school started,” I tell her. Isn’t that what Peter and I decided the story was going to be?
Genevieve’s eyes go bright and my heart sinks. I’ve said the wrong thing, but it’s too late. It’s hard not to get caught up in her spell. She’s the kind of person you want to like you. You know she can be cruel; you’ve seen her be cruel. But when her eyes are on you, and she’s paying attention to you, you want it to last. Her beauty is part of it, but there’s something more—something that draws you in. I think it’s her transparency—everything she thinks or feels is written all over her face, and even if it wasn’t, she’d say it anyway, because she says what she thinks, without thinking first.
I can see why Peter has loved her for so long.
“I think it’s adorable,” Genevieve says, and then the girls start talking about some concert they’re trying to get tickets for and I just sit there, glad I don’t have to talk anymore, wondering how it’s going with the cupcakes back at home. I hope Daddy isn’t overbaking them. There’s nothing worse than a dry cupcake.
The girls move on to talking about Halloween costumes, so I get up and go to the bathroom. I come back to find Peter sitting in a wingback leather armchair, drinking a beer and talking to Gabe. There’s nowhere for me to sit; my spot on the couch has been taken. Now what?
I stand there for a second and then I go for it: I do what a girl in love with Peter would do. I do what Genevieve would do. I march right in and plop down in his lap like it’s my rightful place.
Peter yelps in surprise. “Hey,” he says, coughing on his beer.
“Hey,” I say. Then I tweak him once on the nose like I saw a girl do in a black-and-white movie.
Peter shifts in his seat and gives me a look like he’s trying not to laugh, and I get nervous—tweaking a boy on the nose is romantic, right? Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see Genevieve glaring at us. She whispers something to Emily and stalks out of the room.
Later I am pouring myself Cherry Coke and I see Genevieve and Peter, talking in the kitchen. She’s speaking to him in a low, urgent voice, and she reaches out and touches his arm. He tries to brush her hand away, but she doesn’t let go.
I’m so mesmerized I don’t even notice when Lucas Krapf comes up to me, popping the cap off a bottle of Bud Light. “Hey, Lara Jean.”
“Hi!” I’m relieved to see a familiar face.
He stands next to me, our backs against the dining room wall. “What are they fighting about?”
“Who even knows?” I say. I smile a secret smile. Hopefully, it’s about me, and Peter will be happy our plan is finally working.
Lucas crooks his finger at me so I’ll come closer. He whispers, “Fighting isn’t a good sign, Lara Jean. It means you still care.” His breath smells like beer.
Hmm. Genevieve obviously still cares. Peter must too.
Lucas pats me on the head fondly. “Just be careful.”
“Thank you,” I say.
Peter stalks out of the kitchen and says, “Are you ready to go?” He doesn’t wait for me to answer him; he just starts walking, his shoulders stiff.
I give Lucas a shrug. “See you on Monday, Lucas!” Then I scurry after Peter.
He’s still mad; I can tell by the way he jerks the keys into the ignition. “God, she makes me crazy!” He’s so keyed up energy is vibrating off him in waves. “What did you say to her?”
I shift uncomfortably in my seat. “She asked me when we got together. I told her just before school started.”
Peter does a full-body groan. “We hooked up that first weekend.”
“But . . . you guys were broken up already.”
“Yeah, well.” Peter shrugs. “Whatever. What’s done is done.”
Relieved, I click on my seat belt and kick my shoes off. “What were you two fighting about tonight, anyway?”
“Don’t worry about it. You did a good job, by the way. She’s so jealous it’s killing her.”
“Yay,” I say. Just as long as she doesn’t kill me.
We drive through the night in silence. Then I ask, “Peter . . . how did you know you loved Genevieve?”
“God, Lara Jean. Why do you have to ask those kind of questions?”
“Because I’m a naturally curious person.” I flip down his mirror and start braiding the top of my hair. “And maybe the question you should be asking yourself is, why are you so afraid to answer those kinds of questions?”
“I’m not afraid!”
“Then why won’t you answer the question?”
Peter goes silent, and I’m pretty sure he’s not going to answer, but then, after a long pause where my question just hangs in the air, he says, “I don’t know if I ever loved Genevieve. How would I even know what that felt like? I’m seventeen, for God’s sake.”
“Seventeen’s not so young. A hundred years ago people got married when they were practically our age.”
“Yeah, that was before electricity and the Internet. A hundred years ago eighteen-year-old guys were out there fighting wars with bayonets and holding a man’s life in their hands! They lived a lot of life by the time they were our age. What do kids our age know about love and life?” I’ve never heard him talk like this before—like he actually cares about something. I think he’s still all worked up from his fight with Genevieve.
I wind my hair into a honey bun and secure it with a ponytail holder. “You know who you sound like? You sound like my grandpa,” I say. “Also I think you’re stalling because you don’t want to answer the question.”
“I answered it, you just didn’t like my answer.”
We pull up in front of my house. Peter turns off the engine, which is what he does when he wants to talk a little while longer. So I don’t jump out right away, I put my bag in my lap and search for my keys even though the lights are on upstairs. Gosh. To be sitting in the passenger seat of Peter Kavinsky’s black Audi. Isn’t that what every girl has ever wanted, in the history of boys and girls? Not Peter Kavinsky specifically, or yes, maybe Peter Kavinsky specifically.
Peter leans his head back against the headrest and closes his eyes.
I say, “Did you know that when people fight with each other, that means they still really care about each other?” When Peter doesn’t answer, I say, “Genevieve must really have a hold on you.”
I expect him to deny it, but he doesn’t. Instead he says, “She does, but I wish she didn’t. I don’t want to be owned by anyone. Or belong to anyone.”
Margot would say she belongs to herself. Kitty would say she belongs to no one. And I guess I would say I belong to my sisters and my dad, but that won’t always be true. To belong to someone—I didn’t know it, but now that I think about, it seems like that’s all I’ve ever wanted. To really be somebody’s, and to have them be mine.
“So that’s why you’re doing this,” I tell him—I’m partly asking but I’m mostly telling. “To prove you don’t belong to her. Or with her.” I stop. “Do you think there’s a difference? Between belonging with and belonging to, I mean?”
“Sure. One implies choice; the other doesn’t.”
“You must really love her to go to all this trouble.”
Peter makes a dismissive sound. “You’re too dreamy-eyed.”
“Thank you,” I say, even though I know he doesn’t mean it as a compliment. I say it just to bug him.
I know I’ve succeeded when he says, his face sour, “What would you know about love, Lara Jean? You’ve never even had a boyfriend before.”
I’m tempted to make up someone, a boy from camp, from another town, from anywhere. His name is Clint is on the tip of my tongue. But it would be too humiliating, because he’d know I was lying; I already told him I never dated anybody before. And even if I hadn’t, it is far more pathetic to make up a boyfriend than to just admit the truth. “No, I’ve never had a boyfriend. But plenty of people I know have had boyfriends but they’ve never once been in love. I’ve been in love.” That’s why I’m doing this.
Peter snorts. “With who? Josh Sanderson? That tool?”
“He’s not a tool,” I say, frowning at him. “You don’t even know him to say that.”
“Anybody with one eye and half a brain could tell what a tool that guy is.”
“Are you saying my sister’s blind and brainless?” I demand. If he says one bad word about my sister, that’s it. This whole thing is off. I don’t need him that badly.
Peter laughs. “No. I’m saying you are!”
“You know what? I changed my mind. You’ve obviously never loved anyone but yourself.” I try to jerk the passenger door open, but it’s locked.
“Lara Jean, I was just kidding. Come on.”
“See you on Monday.”
“Wait, wait. First tell me something.” Peter leans back in his seat. “How come you never dated anybody?”
I shrug. “I don’t know . . . because nobody ever asked?”
“Bullshit. I know for a fact that Martinez asked you to homecoming and you said no.”
I’m surprised he knows about that. “What is it with you guys all calling each other by your last name?” I ask him. “It’s so—” I struggle to find the right word. “Effected? Affected?”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“I guess I said no because I was scared.” I stare out the window and run my finger along the glass, making an M for Martinez.
“No. I like Tommy. It’s not that. It’s scary when it’s real. When it’s not just thinking about a person, but, like, having a real live person in front of you, with, like, expectations. And wants.” I finally look at Peter, and I’m surprised by how hard he’s paying attention; his eyes are intent and focused on me like he’s actually interested in what I’m saying. “Even when I liked a boy so much, loved him even, I would always rather be with my sisters, because that’s where I belong.”
“Wait. What about right now?”
“Right now? Well, I don’t like you that way so . . .”
“Good,” Peter says. “Don’t go falling for me again, okay? I can’t have any more girls in love with me. It’s exhausting.”
I laugh out loud. “You’re so full of yourself.”
“I’m kidding,” he protests, but he’s not. “What did you ever see in me anyway?” He grins at me then, cocky again and so sure of his charm.
“Honestly? I really couldn’t tell you.”
The grin falters and then rights itself, but now it’s not so certain. “You said it was because I make people feel special. You . . . you said it was because I was a good dancer and I was science partners with Jeffrey Suttleman!”
“Wow, you really memorized every single word of that letter, huh?” I tease. It gives me a small, mean surge of satisfaction to see Peter’s grin fade completely. That surge is immediately followed by remorse, because now I’ve hurt his feelings for no good reason. What is it in me that wants to hurt Peter Kavinsky’s feelings? To make it better, I quickly add, “No, it’s true—you really did have something about you then.”
I guess I made it worse, because he flinches.
I don’t know what else to say, so I open the car door and climb out. “Thanks for the ride, Peter.”
When I get inside the house, I go look in the kitchen first to check on the cupcakes. They’re packed away in Tupperware and my cupcake carrier. The frosting’s a little messy and the sprinkles are haphazard, but overall they look pretty good. That’s a relief. Kitty won’t be shamed at the PTA bake sale on my account, at least!