I’m breathless by the time I’m in my seat. He turns around and shoots a web in my direction, and I explode into giggles again and Mr. Meyers glares at me. “Settle down,” he says, and I nod obediently. As soon as his back is turned, I giggle into my robe. I want to still be mad at Peter, but it’s just no use.
Halfway through class he sends me a note. He’s drawn spiderwebs around the edges. It says, I’ll be on time tomorrow. I smile as I read it. Then I put it in my backpack, in my French textbook so the page won’t crease or crumble. I want to keep it so when this is over, I can have something to look at and remember what it was like to be Peter Kavinsky’s girlfriend. Even if it was all just pretend.
WHEN WE PULL UP IN my driveway, Kitty runs out of the house and over to the car. “Spider-Man!” she shrieks. She’s still in her ninja costume, though she’s taken the mask off. “Are you coming inside?”
I glance at Peter. “He can’t. He has to go condition.” Peter spends an hour a day conditioning for lacrosse. He’s very dedicated to it.
“Condition?” Kitty repeats, and I know she’s imagining Peter washing his hair.
“I can hang out for a little bit,” Peter says, turning the engine off.
“Let’s show him the dance!”
“Kitty, no.” The dance is something Margot and I made up when we were bored one night a few summers ago at the beach. Let’s just say neither of us is particularly talented at choreography.
Peter’s eyes light up. He’ll take any opportunity for a laugh, especially at my expense. “I wanna see the dance!”
“Forget about it,” I tell him. We’re in the living room; each of us has our own couch or armchair. I poured us iced teas and put out a bowl of potato chips, which we’ve already finished.
“Come on,” he pouts. “Show me the dance. Please, please show me the dance.”
“That’s not going to work on me, Peter.”
“What’s not going to work?”
I wave my hand in his Handsome Boy face. “That. I’m immune to your charms, remember?”
Peter lifts his eyebrows like I’ve dared him. “Is that a challenge? ’Cause I’m warning you, you do not want to step into the ring with me. I’ll crush you, Covey.” He doesn’t take his eyes off mine for several long seconds, and I can feel my smile fade and my cheeks heat up.
“Come on, Lara Jean!”
I blink. Kitty. I’d forgotten she was still in the room. I scramble to my feet. “Cue up the music. Peter just challenged us to a dance-off.”
Kitty squeals and runs to turn on the speakers. I push back the coffee table. We take our places in front of the fireplace, backs turned, heads down, hands clasped behind our backs.
When the bass kicks in, we jump and turn around. Hip thrust, swivel, then move into our knee slides. Then the running man, then this move Margot made up called the treadmill. The music stops, and Kitty and I freeze in our crunking positions—and then it starts up again, and we’re doing the butterfly, then back into the knee slides. I forget what the next move is so I sneak a peek at Kitty, who’s shimmying and clapping her hands. Oh yeah.
Our big finish is splits, with our arms crossed for emphasis.
Peter’s bowled over, laughing his head off. He claps and claps and stomps his feet.
When it’s over, I try to catch my breath and manage to say, “Okay, you’re up, Kavinsky.”
“I can’t,” Peter gasps. “How do I follow a performance like that? Kitty, will you teach me that pop-and-lock move?”
Kitty gets shy all of a sudden. She sits on her hands and looks at him through her lashes and shakes her head.
“Please, please?” he asks.
Kitty finally caves in—I think she just wanted to make him work for it. I watch them dance all afternoon, my little sister the ninja and my pretend boyfriend Spider-Man. First I laugh, but then a worrying thought comes out of nowhere—I can’t let Kitty get too attached to Peter. This is temporary. The way Kitty looks at him, so adoringly, like he’s her hero. . . .
When Peter has to leave, I walk him out to his car. Before he gets in, I say, “I don’t think you should come over anymore. It’s confusing to Kitty.”
Frowning, he says, “How is it confusing to Kitty?”
“Because . . . because when our . . . our thing is over, she’s going to miss you.”
“I’ll still see the kid around.” Peter pokes me in the stomach. “I want joint custody.”
All I can think of is how patient he was with her, how sweet. Impulsively I get up on my tiptoes and kiss him on the cheek, and he jerks back in surprise.
“What was that for?”
My cheeks feel scalded. I say, “For being so nice to Kitty.” Then I wave good-bye and I run into the house.
IF I DON’T BUY GROCERIES today, it’s scrambled eggs for dinner tonight. Again.
Margot’s car is fixed and sitting in the driveway, where it’s been sitting for the past few weeks. I could go to the store if I wanted to. I do want to. But I don’t want to drive. If I was a nervous driver before, the accident has only made me worse. What business do I have behind the wheel of a car? What if I hurt someone? What if I hurt Kitty? They shouldn’t just give out driver’s licenses so easily. I mean, a car is a really dangerous thing. It’s practically a weapon.
But the store is less than ten minutes away. It’s not like I’d be getting on the highway. And I really really don’t want to eat scrambled eggs for dinner tonight. Besides . . . if Peter and Genevieve are getting back together, he won’t be giving me rides anymore. I’ve got to learn how to do for myself. I can’t depend on other people to help me.
“We’re going to the store, Kitty,” I say.
She’s lying down in front of the TV, propped up on her elbows. Her body looks so long; it’s getting longer every day. Pretty soon she’ll be taller than me. Kitty doesn’t look away from the TV. “I don’t want to come. I want to watch my shows.”
“If you come, I’ll let you pick out an ice cream.”
Kitty gets to her feet.
On the drive there, I’m going so slow that Kitty keeps telling me the speed limit. “They give tickets for going under the limit too, you know.”
“Who told you that?”
“No one. I just know it. I bet I’m going to be a better driver than you, Lara Jean.”
I grip the steering wheel tighter. “I bet you are.” Brat. I bet when Kitty starts driving, she’s going to be a speed demon without the slightest concern for those around her. But she’ll still probably be better at it than me. A reckless driver is better than a scared one; ask anybody.
“I’m not scared of things like you are.”
I adjust my rearview mirror. “You sure are proud of yourself.”
“I’m just saying.”
“Is there a car coming? Can I switch lanes?”
Kitty turns her head. “You can go, but hurry.”
“Like how much time do I have?”
“It’s already too late. Wait . . . now you can go. Go!”
I jerk into the left lane and look in my rearview. “Good job, Kitty. You just keep being my second pair of eyes.”
As we push the cart around the store, I’m thinking about the drive home and having to get behind the wheel again. My heart still races even as I’m trying to decide if we should have zucchini or green beans with dinner. By the time we’re in the dairy aisle, Kitty’s whining. “Can you hurry? I don’t want to miss my next show!”
To appease her, I say, “Go pick out an ice cream,” and Kitty heads off toward the frozen-food aisle.
The way home, I stay in the right lane for blocks and blocks so I don’t have to switch lanes. The car in front of me is an old lady, and she’s moving at a snail’s pace, which suits me just fine. Kitty begs me to switch lanes, but I just ignore her and keep doing what I’m doing, nice and easy. My hands are gripping the steering wheel so tightly my knuckles are white.
“The ice cream’s going to be all melted by the time we get home,” Kitty gripes. “And I’ve missed every single one of my shows. Can you please go to the fast lane?”
“Kitty!” I screech. “Will you just let me drive?”
“Then drive already!”
I lean across the console to cuff her upside the head, and she scoots closer to the window so I can’t reach her. “Can’t touch me,” she says gleefully.
“Quit playing around and be my eyes,” I say.
A car is coming up on my right, zooming off a highway exit. He’s going to have to merge into my lane soon. Lightning fast I look over my shoulder for my blind spot, to see if I can switch lanes. Every time I have to take my eyes away from the road, even for a second, I feel so much panic in my chest. But I don’t have a choice, I just hold my breath and I switch over to the left lane. Nothing bad happens. I exhale.
My heart races the whole way home. But we make it, no accidents and nobody honking their horn at me, and that’s the important thing. And the ice cream is fine, only a little melted on top. It will get easier each time, I think. I hope. I just have to keep trying.
I can’t stand the thought of Kitty being scornful of me. I’m her big sister. I have to be someone she looks up to, the way I look up to Margot. How can Kitty look up to me if I’m weak?
That night I pack Kitty’s and my lunches. I make what Mommy used to make us sometimes when we went on picnics at the winery in Keswick. I dice up a carrot and an onion and fry it with sesame oil and a little vinegar; then I mix in sushi rice. When it’s cooked, I scoop pats of rice into tofu skins. They’re like rice balls in little purses. I don’t have an exact recipe to follow, but it tastes right enough. When I’m finished, I get on a ladder and search for the bento boxes Mommy used to put them in. I finally find them in the back of the Tupperware cabinet.
I don’t know if Kitty will remember eating these rice balls, but I hope that her heart will.
AT THE LUNCH TABLE PETER and his friends can’t get enough of the rice balls. I only get to eat three. “These are so good,” Peter keeps saying. When he reaches for the last one, he stops short and quickly looks up at me to see if I noticed.
“You can have it,” I say. I know what he’s thinking of. The last piece of pizza.
“No, it’s all right, I’m good.”
“I don’t want it!”
I pick up the rice ball with my fingers and put it in his face. “Say ‘ah.’?”
Stubbornly he says, “No. I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of being right.”
Darrell hoots with laughter. “I’m jealous of you, Kavinsky. I wish I had a girl to feed me my lunch. Lara Jean, if he doesn’t take it, I will.” He leans forward and opens his mouth for me.
Peter shoves him to the side and says, “Step off, it’s mine!” He opens his mouth and I pop it in like he’s a seal at Sea World. With his mouth full of rice and his eyes closed, he says, “Yum yum yum.”
I smile, because it’s so cute. And for a second, just for a second, I forget. I forget that this isn’t real.
Peter swallows the food in his mouth and says, “What’s wrong? Why do you look sad?”
“I’m not sad. I’m hungry because you guys ate my lunch.” I cross my eyes at him to show him I’m joking.
Immediately Peter pushes out his chair and stands up. “I’m gonna get you a sandwich.”
I grab his sleeve. “Don’t. I’m just kidding.”
“Are you sure?” I nod, and he sits back down. “If you’re hungry later, we can stop somewhere on the way home.”
“About that,” I say. “My car’s fixed now, so I won’t be needing you to give me rides anymore.”
“Oh, really?” Peter leans back in his chair. “I don’t mind picking you up, though. I know you hate to drive.”
“The only way I’ll get better is if I practice,” I say, feeling like Margot. Margot the Good. “Besides, now you’ll get back your extra five minutes of sleep.”
Peter grins. “True.”
VIRTUAL SUNDAY NIGHT DINNER WAS an idea I thought up.
I’ve got my laptop propped up on a stack of books in the center of the table. Daddy and Kitty and I are all sitting in front of it with our slices of pizza. It’s our lunchtime and Margot’s dinnertime. Margot’s sitting at her desk with a salad. She’s already in her flannel pj’s.
“You guys are eating pizza again?” Margot gives me and Daddy a disapproving look. “Kitty’s going to stay tiny if you don’t feed her any green food.”
“Relax, Gogo, there’s peppers on this pizza,” I say, holding up my slice, and everybody laughs.