From: Margot Covey
To: Lara Jean Covey
How’s school going so far? Have you joined any new clubs? I think you should consider Lit Mag or Model UN. Also don’t forget it’s Korean Thanksgiving this week and you have to call Grandma or she’ll be mad! Miss you guys.
PS Please send Oreos! I miss our dunk contests.
From: Lara Jean Covey
To: Margot Covey
School is good. No new clubs yet, but we’ll see. I already have it down in my planner to call Grandma. Don’t worry about a thing, I’ve got everything under control here!
PETER’S MOM OWNS AN ANTIQUE store called Linden & White in the cobblestoney part of downtown. She sells furniture mostly, but she has jewelry cases too, arranged by decades. My favorite decade is the aughts, which means the 1900s. There’s this one gold heart locket with a tiny diamond chip in the center; it looks like a starburst. It costs four hundred dollars. The store is right next to McCalls bookstore, so I go in sometimes and visit with it. I always expect it to be gone, but then it never is.
We once bought our mom a gold clover pin from the 1940s for Mother’s Day. Margot and I ran a lemonade stand every Saturday for a month, and we were able to chip in sixteen dollars for it. I remember how proud we were when we presented Daddy with the money, we had it nice and neat in a ziplock bag. At the time I thought we were paying the lion’s share and my dad was only helping out a little. I realize now that the pin cost a lot more than sixteen dollars. I should ask Daddy how much it really cost. But then maybe I don’t want to know. Maybe it’s nicer not knowing. We buried her with it because it was her favorite.
I’m standing over the case, touching my finger to the glass, when Peter comes out from around back. “Hey,” he says, surprised.
“Hey,” I say. “What are you doing here?”
Peter gives me a look like I’m a dummy. “My mom owns the place, remember?”
“Well, duh. I’ve just never seen you here before,” I say. “Do you work here?”
“Nah, I had to drop something off for my mom. Now she’s saying I have to go pick up a set of chairs in Huntsburgh tomorrow,” Peter says in a grumbly voice. “It’s two hours there and back. Annoying.”
I nod companionably and lean away from the case. I pretend to look at a pink-and-black globe. Actually, Margot would like this. It could be a nice Christmas present for her. I give it a little spin. “How much is this globe?”
“Whatever it says on the sticker.” Peter rests his elbows on the case and leans forward. “You should come.”
I look up at him. “Come where?”
“To pick up the chairs with me.”
“You just complained about how annoying it’s going to be.”
“Yeah, alone. If you go, it might be slightly less annoying.”
I roll my eyes. Peter says “you’re welcome” to everything! It’s like, No, Peter, that was not a genuine thank-you, so you do not need to say you’re welcome.
“So are you coming or what?”
“Come on! I’m picking the chairs up from an estate sale. The owner was some kind of shut-in. Stuff has just been sitting there for like fifty years. I bet there’ll be stuff you can look at. You like old stuff, right?”
“Yes,” I say, surprised that he knows this about me. “Actually, I’ve kind of always wanted to go to an estate sale. How did the owner die? Like, how long was it before someone found him?”
“God, you’re morbid.” He shudders. “Didn’t know you had that side to you.”
“I have lots of sides to me,” I tell him. I lean forward. “So? How did he die?”
“He isn’t dead, you weirdo. He’s just old. His family’s sending him to a nursing home.” Peter raises an eyebrow at me. “So I’ll pick you up tomorrow at seven.”
“Seven? You never said anything about leaving at seven in the morning on a Saturday!”
“Sorry,” he says contritely. “We have to go early before all the good stuff gets snatched up.”
That night I pack lunches for Peter and me. I make roast beef sandwiches with cheese and tomato, mayonnaise for me, mustard for Peter. Peter doesn’t like mayonnaise. It’s funny the things you pick up in a fake relationship.
Kitty zooms into the kitchen and tries to grab a sandwich half. I smack her hand away. “That’s not for you.”
“Then who’s it for?”
“It’s for my lunch tomorrow. Mine and Peter’s.”
She climbs onto a stool and watches me wrap the sandwiches in wax paper. Sandwiches look so much prettier wrapped in wax paper than encased in ziplock. Any chance I get, I use wax paper. “I like Peter,” Kitty says. “He’s a lot different than Josh, but I like him.”
I look up. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. He’s really funny. He jokes around a lot. You must really be in love if you’re making sandwiches for him. When Margot and Josh first became a couple, she made three-cheese macaroni and cheese all the time because that’s his favorite. What’s Peter’s favorite?”
“I—I don’t know. I mean, he likes everything.”
Kitty gives me the side eye. “If you’re his girlfriend, you should know what his favorite food is.”
“I know he doesn’t like mayonnaise,” I offer.
“That’s because mayonnaise is gross. Josh hates mayonnaise too.”
I feel a pang. Josh does hate mayonnaise. “Kitty, do you miss Josh?”
She nods. “I wish he still came over.” A wistful look crosses over her face, and I’m about to give her a hug when she puts her hands on her hips. “Just don’t use all the roast beef, because I need it for my lunch next week.”
“If we run out, I’ll make tuna salad. Sheesh.”
“See that you do,” Kitty says, and zooms off again.
“See that you do”? Where does she get this stuff?
At seven thirty I’m sitting by the window, waiting for Peter to pull up. I’ve got a brown paper bag with our sandwiches and my camera, in case there’s anything spooky or cool I can take a picture of. I’m picturing a crumbling, gray old mansion like you see in horror movies, with a gate and a murky pond or a maze in the backyard.
Peter’s mom’s minivan pulls up at seven forty-five, which is annoying. I could’ve slept a whole hour longer. I run out to the car and hop inside, and before I can say a word, he says, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. But look what I brought you.” He passes me a donut in a napkin, still warm. “I stopped and got it special, right when they opened at seven thirty. It’s mocha sugar.”
I break off a piece and pop it into my mouth. “Yum!”
He gives me a sidelong glance as he pulls out of my driveway. “So I did the right thing being late, right?”
I nod, taking a big bite. “You did the exact right thing,” I say, my mouth full. “Hey, do you have any water?”
Peter hands me a half-full water bottle and I gulp it down. “This is the best donut I ever had,” I tell him.
“Good,” he says. Then he takes one look at me and laughs. “You have sugar all over your face.”
I wipe my mouth off with the other side of the napkin.
“Cheeks, too,” he says.
“All right, all right.” Then it’s quiet, which makes me nervous. “Can I put some music on?” I start pulling out my phone.
“Actually, do you mind if we just drive in quiet for a while? I can’t have music blaring in my face before my caffeine kicks in.”
“Uh . . . sure.” I’m not sure if that means he wants me to be quiet too. I wouldn’t have agreed to come on this little outing if I’d known I would have to be silent.
Peter has a serene look on his face, like he is a fishing-boat captain and we are floating placidly along in the middle of the sea. Except he isn’t driving slowly; he is driving really fast.
I stay quiet for all of ten seconds and then say, “Wait, were you wanting me to be quiet too?”
“No, I just didn’t want music. You can talk as much as you want.”
“Okay.” And then I’m quiet, because it’s awkward when someone tells you you can talk as much as you want. “Hey, so what’s your favorite food?”
“I like everything.”
“But what’s your favorite? Like, your favorite favorite. Is it macaroni and cheese, or um, fried chicken, or steak, or pizza?”
“I like all that stuff. Equally.”
I let out an aggrieved sigh. Why does Peter not get the concept of picking a favorite thing?
Peter mimics my sigh and laughs. “Fine. I like cinnamon toast. That’s my favorite thing.”
“Cinnamon toast?” I repeat. “You like cinnamon toast better than crab legs? Better than a cheeseburger?”
“Better than barbecue?”
Peter hesitates. Then he says, “Yes! Now quit picking my choice apart. I stand by my choice.”
I shrug. “Okay.” I wait, give him a chance to ask me what my favorite food is, but he doesn’t. So I say, “My favorite food is cake.”
“What kind of cake?”
“It doesn’t matter. All cake.”
“You just gave me so much shit for not picking,” he begins.
“But it’s so hard to pick one kind!” I burst out. “I mean, there’s coconut cake, the kind with white frosting that looks like a snowball—I like that a lot. But then I also like cheesecake, and lemon cake, and carrot cake. Also red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, and chocolate cake with chocolate ganache frosting.” I pause. “Have you ever had olive-oil cake?”
“No. That sounds weird.”
“It’s really, really good. Really moist and delicious. I’ll make it for you.”
Peter groans. “You’re making me hungry. I should have gotten a whole bag of those donuts.”
I open up my brown paper bag and pull out his sandwich. I wrote a P on his in Sharpie so I’d know whose was whose. “Do you want a sandwich?”
“You made that for me?”
“I mean, I was making one for myself, too. It would have been rude to just bring one sandwich and eat it in front of you.”
Peter accepts the sandwich and eats it with the bottom half still wrapped. “This is good,” he says, nodding. “What kind of mustard is this?”
Pleased, I say, “It’s beer mustard. My dad orders it from some fancy food catalog. My dad’s really into cooking.”
“Aren’t you going to eat yours, too?”
“I’m saving it for later,” I say.
Halfway into the ride, Peter starts weaving in and out of traffic, and he keeps looking at the clock on the dashboard.
“Why are we in such a hurry?” I ask him.
“The Epsteins,” he says, rapping his fingers on the steering wheel.
“Who are the Epsteins?”
“They’re an old married couple with an antiques store in Charlottesville. Last time, Phil got there five minutes before me and cleared the whole place out. That’s not gonna happen today.”
Impressed, I say, “Wow, I had no idea this business was so cutthroat.”
Like a know-it-all Peter smirks and goes, “Isn’t all business?”
I roll my eyes at the window. Peter’s so Peter.
We’re at a stoplight when Peter suddenly sits up straight and says, “Oh, shit! The Epsteins!”
I was halfway asleep. My eyes fly open and I yell, “Where? Where?”
“Red SUV! Two cars ahead on the right.” I crane my neck to look. They are a gray-haired couple, maybe in their sixties or seventies. It’s hard to tell from this far away.
As soon as the light turns green, Peter guns it and drives up on the shoulder. I scream out, “Go go go!” and then we’re flying past the Epsteins. My heart is racing out of control, I can’t help but lean my head out the window and scream because it’s such a thrill. My hair whips in the wind and I know it’s going to be a tangled mess, but I couldn’t care less. “Yahhh!” I scream.
“You’re crazy,” Peter says, pulling me back in by the hem of my shirt. He’s looking at me like he did that day I kissed him in the hallway. Like I’m different than he thought.
We pull up to the house and there are already a few cars parked in front. I’m craning my head trying to get a good look. I was expecting a mansion with a wrought iron gate and maybe a gargoyle or two, but this just looks like a normal house. I must look disappointed, because as he puts the car in park, Peter says to me, “Don’t judge an estate sale by the house. I’ve seen all kinds of treasures at regular houses and junk at fancy houses.”