I hop out and bend down to tie my shoelace. “Hurry, Lara Jean! The Epsteins will be here any second!” Peter grabs my hand and we run up the driveway; I am breathing hard trying to keep up with him. His legs are so much longer than mine.
As soon as we are inside, Peter goes right up to a man in a suit and I bend over and try to catch my breath. A few people are milling around looking at the furniture. There’s a long dining room table in the center of the room with china and milk glass and porcelain knickknacks. I go up to it and take a closer look. I like a little white creamer with pink rosebuds but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to touch it and see how much it costs. It could be really expensive.
There’s a big basket with olden-day Christmas memorabilia in it, plastic Santas and Rudolphs and glass ornaments. I’m sifting through it when Peter comes up to me, a huge grin on his face. “Mission accomplished,” he says. He nods at an older couple who are looking at a wooden sideboard. “The Epsteins,” he whispers to me.
“Did you get the chairs?” Mr. Epstein calls out. He’s trying to sound casual and not annoyed, but his hands are on his hips and he’s standing very rigidly.
“You know it,” Peter calls back. “Better luck next time.” To me he says, “Do you see anything cool?”
“Lots of stuff.” I hold up a hot pink reindeer. It’s glass, with an electric blue nose. “This would look great on my vanity. Will you ask the man how much it costs?”
“No, but you can. It’ll be good for you to learn how to negotiate.” Peter grabs my hand and leads me over to the man in the suit. He’s filling out some paperwork on a clipboard. He looks very busy and important. I’m not even sure if I’m supposed to be here. I’m thinking I don’t really need this reindeer.
But Peter’s looking at me expectantly, so I clear my throat and say, “Excuse me, sir, but how much is this reindeer?”
“Oh, that’s part of a lot,” he says.
“Oh. Um, I’m sorry but what’s a lot?”
“It means it’s part of a set,” he explains. “You have to buy the whole set of ornaments. Seventy-five dollars. They’re vintage, you see.”
I start to back away. “Thank you anyway,” I say.
Peter pulls me back and gives him a winning smile and says, “Can’t you just throw it in with the chairs? A gift with purchase?”
The man sighs. “I don’t want to separate them.” He turns away to flip through his clipboard.
Peter throws me a look, like You’re the one who wants the reindeer; you should step up. I give him back a look that says I don’t want it that bad, and Peter shakes his head firmly and pushes me toward the man. I say, “Please, sir? I’ll give you ten dollars for it. No one will know they’re missing a reindeer. And look, his paw is a little chipped on the bottom, see?” I hold it up.
“All right, all right. Just take it,” the man says begrudgingly, and I beam at him and start to pull my wallet out of my purse, but he waves me off.
“Thank you! Thank you so much.” I clutch the reindeer to my chest. Maybe haggling isn’t as hard as I thought.
Peter winks at me, and then he says to the man, “I’ll bring my van closer so we can load up the chairs.”
They go out the back, and I hang around, looking at the framed pictures on the wall. I wonder if they’re for sale too. Some of them look really old: black-and-white pictures of men in suits and hats. There’s one picture of a girl in a confirmation dress, it’s white and lacy like a wedding gown. The girl isn’t smiling, but she has a mischievous glint in her eye that reminds me of Kitty.
“That’s my daughter, Patricia.”
I turn around. It’s an old man in a navy blue sweater and stiff jeans. He’s leaning against the staircase watching me. He looks very frail; his skin is paper white and thin.
“She lives in Ohio. She’s an accountant.” He’s still gazing at me, like I remind him of someone.
“Your house is lovely,” I say, even though it isn’t. It’s old; it could use a good cleaning. But the things inside it are lovely.
“It’s empty now. All my things sold up. Can’t take it with you, you know.”
“You mean when you die?” I whisper.
He glares at me. “No. I mean to the nursing home.”
Whoops. “Right,” I say, and I giggle the way I do when I feel awkward.
“What do you have there in your hand?”
I lift it up. “This. He—the man in the suit gave it to me. Do you want it back? I didn’t pay for it. It’s part of a lot.”
He smiles, and the wrinkles in his paper skin deepen. “That was Patty’s favorite.”
I hold it out to him. “Maybe she’d like to keep it?”
“No, you have it. It’s yours. She couldn’t even be bothered to help me move, so.” He gives a spiteful nod. “Is there anything else you want to take? I’ve got a trunk full of her old clothes.”
Yikes. Family drama. Best not to get involved in that. But vintage clothes! That’s tempting.
When Peter finds me, I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor in the music room, looking through an old trunk. Mr. Clarke is snoozing on the couch next to me. I found a mod minidress the color of cotton candy pink that I’m crazy about, and a sleeveless button-down with little daisies on it that I can tie at the waist. “Look, Peter!” I lift up the dress. “Mr. Clarke said I could have it.”
“Who’s Mr. Clarke?” Peter asks, and his voice fills the room.
I point at him and put my finger to my lips.
“Well, we’d better get out of here fast before the guy in charge of the sale sees him giving stuff away for free.”
I get up in a hurry. “Bye, Mr. Clarke,” I say, not too loud. Probably better to let him sleep. He was very down earlier, when he was telling me about his divorce.
Mr. Clarke’s eyes flutter open. “Is this your feller?”
“No, not really,” I say, and Peter throws his arm around my shoulder and says, “Yes, sir. I’m her feller.”
I don’t like the way he says it, like he’s making fun. Of both me and Mr. Clarke. “Thank you for the clothes, Mr. Clarke,” I say, and he sits up straight and reaches for my hand. I give it to him and he kisses it, and his lips feel like dry moth’s wings.
“You’re welcome, Patty.”
I give him a good-bye wave and grab my new things. As we walk out the front door, Peter says, “Who’s Patty?” and I pretend I don’t hear.
I must fall asleep in about two seconds from the excitement of the day, because the next thing I know, we’re parked in my driveway, and Peter’s shaking my shoulder, saying, “We’re here, Lara Jean.”
I open my eyes. I’m clutching my dress and shirt to my chest like a security blanket, and my reindeer is in my lap. My new treasures. I feel like I just robbed a bank and got away with it. “Thanks for today, Peter.”
“Thanks for coming with me.” Then, abruptly, he says, “Oh yeah. I forgot to ask you something. My mom wants you to come over to dinner tomorrow night.”
My mouth drops. “You told your mom about us?”
Peter gives me a dirty look. “Kitty knows about us! Besides, my mom and I are close. It’s just her and me and my brother, Owen. If you don’t want to come, then don’t come. But just know that my mom will think you’re rude if you don’t.”
“I’m just saying . . . the more people that know, the harder it is to manage. You have to keep lies restricted to as few people as possible.”
“How do you know so much about lying?”
“Oh, I used to lie all the time as a kid.” I didn’t think of it as lying, though. I thought of it as playing make-believe. I told Kitty she was adopted and her real family was in a traveling circus. It’s why she took up gymnastics.
I’M NOT SURE HOW DRESSED up I should get for dinner at Peter’s house. At the store his mom seems so fancy. I just don’t want to meet her and have her be thinking of all the ways that I’m lacking compared to Genevieve. I don’t see why I have to meet her at all.
But I do want her to like me.
I go through my closet, and then Margot’s closet. I finally pick a cream-colored sweater and a blouse with a Peter Pan collar, with a corduroy mustard circle skirt. Plus tights and flats. Then I put on some makeup, which I hardly ever wear. I put on peach blush and I try to do some eye makeup, but I end up washing everything off and starting over again, this time with just mascara and lip gloss.
I go show Kitty and she says, “Looks like a uniform.”
“Like in a good way?”
Kitty nods. “Like you work at a nice store.”
Before Peter arrives at my house, I go on the computer and look up what fork to use with what, just in case.
It’s strange. Sitting at Peter’s kitchen table, I feel like I’m living someone else’s life. It turns out Peter’s mom has made pizzas, so I didn’t even need to worry about forks. And their house isn’t fancy on the inside; it’s just normal and nice. There’s a real butter churner on display in the kitchen, pictures of Peter and his brother hanging on the walls in wooden frames, and red-and-white gingham everything.
There are a bunch of pizza toppings on the breakfast bar—not just pepperoni and sausage and mushroom and pepper, but also artichoke hearts and greasy kalamata olives and fresh mozzarella and whole cloves of garlic.
Peter’s mom is nice. She keeps putting more salad on my plate all throughout dinner, and I keep eating it even though I’m full. Once, I catch her looking at me, and she has a soft smile on her face. When she smiles, she looks like Peter.
Peter’s younger brother is named Owen. He’s twelve. He’s like a miniature Peter, but he doesn’t talk as much. He doesn’t have Peter’s easy way. Owen grabs a slice of pizza and shoves it into his mouth even though it’s too hot. He puffs out hot air and he almost spits a piece back out into his napkin, and their mom says, “Don’t you dare, Owen. We have company.”
“Leave me alone,” Owen mumbles.
“Peter says you have two sisters,” Mrs. Kavinsky says with a bright smile. She cuts a piece of lettuce into bite-sized bits. “Your mother must love having three girls.”
I open my mouth to answer her, but before I can, Peter does. He says, “Lara Jean’s mom passed away when she was little.” He says it like she should already know, and embarrassment crosses her face.
“I’m so sorry. I remember that now.”
Quickly I say, “She did love having three girls. They thought for sure my little sister Kitty was going to be a boy, and my mom said she was so used to girls she was nervous about what she was going to do with a boy. So she was really relieved when Kitty turned out to be a girl. My sister Margot and I were too; we would pray every night we’d get a sister and not a brother.”
“Hey, what’s wrong with boys?” Peter objects.
Mrs. Kavinsky’s smiling now. She puts another piece of pizza on Owen’s plate and says, “You’re heathens. Wild animals. I bet Lara Jean and her sisters are angels.”
“Well . . . Kitty might be part heathen,” I admit. “But my older sister Margot and I are pretty good.”
Mrs. Kavinsky takes her napkin and tries to wipe tomato sauce off Owen’s face, and he swats her hand away. “Mom!”
When she gets up to take another pizza out of the oven, Peter says to me, “See how my mom babies him?”
“She babies you way more,” Owen counters. To me he mumbles, “Peter doesn’t even know how to cook ramen.”
I laugh. “Can you?”
“Hell yeah, I’ve been cooking for myself for years,” he says.
“I like to cook too,” I say, taking a sip of iced tea. “We should give Peter a cooking lesson.”
He eyes me and then says, “You wear more makeup than Genevieve did.”
I shrink back like he slapped me. All I’m wearing is mascara! And a little lip gloss! I know for a fact that Genevieve wears bronzer and eye shadow and concealer every day. Plus mascara and eyeliner and lipstick!
Swiftly Peter says, “Shut up, Owen.”
Owen’s snickering. I narrow my eyes. This kid is only a few years older than Kitty! I lean forward and wave my hand in front of my face. “This is all natural. But thank you for the compliment, Owen.”
“You’re welcome,” he says, just like his big brother.
On the drive home, I say, “Hey, Peter?”
“What? Just ask.”
“Well . . . your parents are divorced, right?”
“So how often do you see your dad?”