“Oh, okay. I was just wondering.”
Peter looks over at me with expectant eyes.
“What?” I say.
“I’m just waiting for the next question. You never just have one question.”
“Well, do you miss him?”
“Oh. I don’t know. I think it’s more that I miss how it used to be with us. Him and my mom and me and Owen. We were like a team. He used to come to every lacrosse game.” Peter gets quiet. “He just . . . took care of things.”
“I guess that’s what dads do.”
“That’s what he’s doing for his new family.” Peter says it matter-of-factly, without bitterness. “What about you? You miss your mom?”
“Sometimes, when I think about it.” Suddenly I say, “You know what I miss? I miss bath time. I miss when she would wash my hair. Don’t you think getting your hair washed is just the best feeling? Like, warm water and bubbles and fingers in your hair. It’s so nice.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“Sometimes I don’t think about her at all, and then . . . and then sometimes I’ll have a thought like, I wonder what she would think of me now? She only knew me as a little girl, and now I’m a teenager, and I wonder, if she saw me on the street, would she recognize me?”
“Of course she would. She’s your mom.”
“I know, but I’ve changed a lot.” An uncomfortable look has crossed his face, and I can tell he’s regretting complaining about his dad, because at least his dad is still alive. And then, because Peter’s looking at me like he feels sorry for me, I straighten up and say in a haughty voice, “I’m very mature, you know.”
He’s grinning now. “Oh yeah?”
“Oh, yes, I’m very refined, Peter.”
When Peter drops me off, right before I get out of the car, he says, “I can tell my mom liked you.” This makes me feel good inside. It’s always been really important to me that other people’s moms like me.
It was my favorite part of going over to Genevieve’s house—hanging out with her mom. Wendy was so stylish. She used to wear a silky blouse and nice pants and a statement necklace, just for sitting around the house. Perfect hair, always smooth and flat. Genevieve has that same good hair, but she doesn’t have her mom’s perfect straight nose. Hers has a little bump on the bridge that I think only adds to her appeal.
“By the way, you definitely don’t wear more makeup than Gen. She was always getting bronzer on my white shirts.”
For someone who’s over Genevieve, he sure does talk about her a lot. Though it’s not just him. I was thinking about her too. Even when she’s not here, she’s here. That girl has some kind of reach.
DURING CHEMISTRY, PETER WRITES ME a note that says, Can I come over tonight to study for the test?
I write back, I don’t remember study sessions being in the contract. After he reads it, he turns around and gives me a wounded look. I mouth, I’m kidding!
At dinner I announce that Peter’s coming over to study and we’re going to need the kitchen, and my dad raises his eyebrows. “Leave the door open,” he jokes. We don’t even have a door to the kitchen.
“Daddy,” I groan, and Kitty groans with me.
Casually he asks, “Is Peter your boyfriend?”
“Um . . . something like that,” I say.
After we eat and Kitty and I do the dishes, I set up the kitchen like a study room. My textbook and notes are stacked up in the center of the table, with a row of highlighters in blue, yellow, and pink, a bowl of microwave kettle corn, and a plate of peanut-butter brownies I baked this afternoon. I let Kitty have two but that’s it.
He said he’d be over around eight. At first I think he’s just late as usual, but the minutes tick by and I realize he’s not coming. I text him once but he doesn’t text back.
Kitty comes down between commercial breaks, sniffing around for another brownie, which I give her. “Is Peter not coming?” she asks. I pretend I’m so absorbed in my studying I don’t hear.
Around ten he sends a text that says, Sorry something came up. I can’t come over tonight. He doesn’t say where he is or what he’s doing, but I already know. He’s with Genevieve. At lunch he was distracted; he kept texting on his phone. And then, later in the day, I saw them outside the girls’ locker room. They didn’t see me, but I saw them. They were just talking, but with Genevieve it’s never just anything. She put her hand on his arm; he brushed her hair out of her eyes. I may only be a fake girlfriend, but that’s not nothing.
I keep studying, but it’s hard to concentrate when your feelings are hurt. I tell myself it’s just because I went to the trouble of baking brownies and cleaning up the downstairs. I mean, it’s rude to just not show up somewhere. Does he not have manners? How would he like it if I did that? And really, what’s the whole point of this charade if he’s just going to keep going back to her anyway? What’s even in it for me anymore? Things are better with Josh and me, practically normal. If I wanted to I could just call the whole thing off.
The next morning, I wake up still mad. I call Josh to ask him for a ride to school. For a second I worry he might not pick up; it’s been so long since we hung out. But he does, and he says no problem.
Let’s see how Peter likes it when he comes to my house to pick me up and I’m not there.
Halfway to school I start to feel uneasy. Maybe Peter had a legitimate reason for not coming over. Maybe he wasn’t with Genevieve and now I’ve just done a very petty thing out of spite.
Josh is looking at me with suspicious eyes. “What’s wrong?”
He doesn’t believe me, I can tell. “Did you and Kavinsky have a fight?”
Josh sighs and says, “Just be careful.” He says it in a patronizing older-brother kind of way that makes me want to scream. “I don’t want to see you hurt by that guy.”
“Josh! He won’t hurt me. Geez.”
“He’s a douche. I’m sorry, but he is. All the guys on the lacrosse team are. Guys like Kavinsky, they only care about one thing. As soon as they get what they want, they’re bored.”
“Not Peter. He dated Genevieve for almost four years!”
“Just trust me. You haven’t had much experience with guys, Lara Jean.”
Quietly I ask, “How would you know?”
Josh gives me an Oh, come on look. “Because I know you.”
“Not as well as you think.”
We’re quiet the rest of the way.
It won’t be that big of a deal. Peter will stop by my house, see that I’m not there, and then he’ll leave. Big deal, so he had to go five minutes out of his way. I waited for him last night for two friggin’ hours.
When we get to school, Josh heads for the senior hall and I go straight to the junior hall. I keep sneaking peeks down the hallway at Peter’s locker, but he doesn’t arrive. I wait at my locker until the bell rings, and he still doesn’t come. I run off to first period, my backpack banging against my back as I go.
Mr. Schuller is taking attendance, when I look up and see Peter standing in the doorway glaring at me. He gestures at me to come out. I gulp and quickly look down at my notebook and pretend like I didn’t see him. But then he hisses my name, and I know I have to talk to him.
Shakily I raise my hand. “Mr. Schuller, can I go the bathroom?”
“You should have gone before class,” he grumbles, but he waves me on.
I hurry out to the hallway and pull Peter away from the door so Mr. Schuller can’t see.
“Where were you this morning?” Peter demands.
I cross my arms and try to stand tall. It’s hard, because I’m so short and he really is tall. “You’re one to talk.”
Peter huffs, “At least I texted you! I’ve called you like seventeen times. Why is your phone off?”
“You know we’re not allowed to have our phones on at school!”
He huffs, “Lara Jean, I waited in front of your house for twenty minutes.”
Yikes. “Well, I’m sorry.”
“How’d you get to school? Sanderson?”
Peter exhales. “Listen, if you were pissed I couldn’t come over last night, you should’ve just called and said so instead of the shit you pulled this morning.”
In a small voice I say, “Well, what about that shit you pulled last night?”
A smile tugs at the corners of his mouth. “Did you just say ‘shit’? It sounds really funny coming out of your mouth.”
I ignore that. “So . . . where were you? Were you with Genevieve?” I don’t ask what I really want to know, which is, Did you guys get back together?
He hesitates and then he says, “She needed me.”
I can’t even look at him. Why is he such a dummy? Why does she have such a hold on him? Is it just the amount of time they’ve been together? Is it the sex? I don’t understand. It’s disappointing, how little self-control boys have. “Peter, if you’re just going to go running every time she beckons, I don’t see a point to any of this.”
“Covey, come on! I said I was sorry. Don’t be pissed.”
“You never said you were sorry,” I say. “When did you say you were sorry?”
Chastened, he says, “Sorry.”
“I don’t want you to go to Genevieve’s anymore. How do you think that makes me look to her?”
Peter looks at me steadily. “I can’t not be there for Gen, so don’t ask me to.”
“But Peter, what does she even need you for when she has a new boyfriend?”
He flinches, and right away I’m sorry I said it. “I’m sorry,” I whisper.
“It’s fine. I don’t expect you to understand it. Gen and I . . . we just get each other.”
He doesn’t know it, but when Peter talks about Genevieve, he gets a certain softness in his face. It’s tenderness mixed with impatience. And something else. Love. Peter can protest all he wants, but I know he still loves her.
Sighing, I ask, “Did you at least study for the test?”
Peter shakes his head, and I sigh again.
“You can look at my notes during lunch,” I say, and I head back to my class.
It’s starting to make sense to me. Why he’d go along with a scheme like this, why he’d spend his time with someone like me. It’s not so he can move on from Gen. It’s so he can’t. I’m just his excuse. I’m holding Genevieve’s place for her. When that piece makes sense, everything else starts to.
JOSH’S PARENTS FIGHT A LOT. I don’t know if it’s a normal amount of fighting because I only have one parent, but I don’t remember my parents fighting that much when I had two. Our houses are close enough that I can hear them sometimes, if my window is open. The fights usually start out with something small, like Mrs. Sanderson accidentally leaving the car door open and the battery going dead, and end with something big, like how Mr. Sanderson works too much and is inherently selfish and not cut out for a family.
When they fight bad, Josh comes over. When we were younger, he’d sneak out sometimes in his pajamas with his pillow, and he’d stay until his mom came looking for him. It’s not something we talk about. Maybe him and Margot, but not me and him. The most he ever said about it was that sometimes he wished they’d just get divorced so it could finally be over. They never did, though.
I can hear them tonight. I’ve heard them other nights since Margot left, but tonight sounds particularly bad. So bad I close my window. I gather up my homework and go downstairs and turn on the living room light so Josh knows he can come over if he wants.
Half an hour later there’s a knock at the door. I wrap myself in my pale blue baby blanket and open it.
It’s Josh. He smiles at me sheepishly. “Hey. Can I hang out here for a bit?”
“Course you can.” I leave the door open and trudge back to the living room. I call back, “Lock it behind you.”
Josh watches TV and I do my homework. I’m highlighting my way through US history when Josh asks me, “Are you going to try out for Arcadia?” That’s the spring play. They just announced it yesterday.
“No,” I say, switching highlighter colors. “Why would I?” I hate public speaking and getting up in front of people, and Josh knows it.
“Duh, because it’s your favorite play.” Josh changes the channel. “I think you’d be a really good Thomasina.”
I smile. “Thanks but no thanks.”
“Why not? It could be something good to put on your college apps.”
“It’s not like I’m going to be a theater major or anything.”
“It wouldn’t kill you to get out of your comfort zone a little bit,” he says, stretching his arms out behind his head. “Take a risk. Look at Margot. She’s all the way over in Scotland.”