He pulls me into the water so I’m sitting in the hot tub too, and my nightgown is soaked now but I don’t care. I don’t care about anything. I never knew kissing could be this good.
My arms are at my sides so the jets won’t make my skirt fly up. Peter’s holding my face in his hands, kissing me. “Are you okay?” he whispers. His voice is different: it’s ragged and urgent and vulnerable somehow. He doesn’t sound like the Peter I know; he is not smooth or bored or amused. The way he’s looking at me right now, I know he would do anything I asked, and that’s a strange and powerful feeling.
I wind my arms around his neck. I like the smell of chlorine on his skin. He smells like pool, and summer, and vacations. It’s not like in the movies. It’s better, because it’s real.
“Touch my hair again,” I tell him, and the corners of his mouth turn up.
I lean into him and kiss him. He starts to run his fingers through my hair, and it feels so nice I can’t think straight. It’s better than getting my hair washed at the salon. I move my hands down his back and along his spine, and he shivers and pulls me closer. A boy’s back feels so different than a girl’s back—more muscular, more solid somehow.
In between kisses he says, “It’s past curfew. We should go back inside.”
“I don’t want to,” I say. All I want is to stay and be here, with Peter, in this moment.
“Me either, but I don’t want you to get in trouble,” Peter says. He looks worried, which is so sweet.
Softly, I touch his cheek with the back of my hand. It’s smooth. I could look at his face for hours, it’s so beautiful.
Then I stand up, and immediately I’m shivering. I start wringing the water out of my nightgown, and Peter jumps out of the hot tub and gets his towel, which he wraps around my shoulders. Then he gives me his hand and I step out, teeth chattering. He starts drying me off with the towel, my arms and legs. I sit down to put on my socks and boots. He puts my coat on me last. He zips me right in.
Then we run back inside the lodge. Before he goes to the boys’ side and I go to the girls’ side, I kiss him one more time and I feel like I’m flying.
WHEN I SEE PETER AT the bus the next morning, he’s standing around with all his lacrosse friends, and at first I feel shy and nervous, but then he sees me, and his face breaks into a grin. “C’mere, Covey,” he says, so I go to him and he throws my tote over his shoulder. In my ear he says, “You’re sitting with me, right?”
As we make our way onto the bus, somebody wolf whistles. It seems like people are staring at us, and at first I think it’s just my imagination, but then I see Genevieve look right at me and whisper to Emily Nussbaum. It sends a chill down my spine.
“Genevieve keeps staring at me,” I whisper to Peter.
“It’s because you’re so adorably quirky,” he says, and he rests his hands on my shoulders and gives me a kiss on the cheek, and I forget all about Genevieve.
Peter and I sit in the middle of the bus with Gabe and the lacrosse guys. I wave to Chris so she’ll sit with us, but she’s cozy with Charlie Blanchard. I haven’t had a chance to tell her about last night. When I got back to the room, she was already asleep. This morning, we both overslept and there wasn’t time. I’ll tell her all about it later. But, for now, it’s kind of nice that Peter and I are the only ones who know about it.
The way down the mountain, I share my Pocky sticks with the boys and we play a heated round of Uno, which I also brought.
An hour into the trip, we stop at a rest-stop diner for breakfast. I eat a cinnamon bun, and under the table Peter and I hold hands.
I go to use the bathroom, and there is Genevieve, alone, applying lip gloss with a little brush. I step inside the stall to pee and hope she’ll be gone by the time I come out, but she’s still there. I wash my hands quickly, and then she says, “Did you know that when we were kids, I used to wish I was you?” I freeze. Genevieve snaps her compact shut. “I used to wish your dad was my dad and Margot and Kitty were my sisters. I loved coming over to your house. I would hope and pray that you would invite me to sleep over. I hated being at home with my dad.”
Haltingly, I say, “I-I didn’t know that. I used to like going to your house, because your mom was so nice to me.”
“She really liked you,” Genevieve says.
I screw up all my courage and I ask, “So why did you stop being friends with me?”
Genevieve narrows her eyes at me. “You really don’t know?”
“You kissed Peter that day at my house in seventh grade. You knew I liked him, but you kissed him anyway.” I recoil, and she continues. “I always knew your goody-goody act was fake. It’s no wonder you and my cousin are BFFs now. Although at least Chris owns her sluttiness. She doesn’t put on an act.”
My whole body goes rigid. “What are you talking about?”
She laughs, and it’s chilling how happy she sounds. That’s when I know I’m already dead. I brace myself for whatever mean thing will come out of her mouth, but even still I’m not ready for what comes next.
“I’m talking about how you and Peter had full-on sex in the hot tub last night.”
My mind goes completely blank. I might even black out for a second. I can feel myself sway on my feet. Somebody come quick with the smelling salts; I’m about to faint.
My head is swimming. “Who told you that?” I choke out. “Who said that?”
Genevieve tilts her head to the side. “Everybody?”
“But—but we didn’t—”
“I’m sorry, but I think it’s absolutely disgusting. I mean, sex in a hot tub—a public hot tub—is just . . .” She shudders. “God only knows what kind of stuff is floating around in there now. Families use that hot tub, Lara Jean. There could be a family in there right now.”
Tears are spiking my eyes. “All we did was kiss. I don’t know why people would even say that.”
“Um, because Peter’s telling them you did?”
My whole body goes cold. It’s not true. There’s no way that’s true.
“All the guys think he’s a god ’cause he got sweet little Lara Jean Covey to give it up in the hot tub. Just so you know, the only reason Peter even dated you was to make me jealous. His ego couldn’t take the fact that I dumped him for an older guy. He was using you. If he got free sex out of it, all the better. But he still came running whenever I called. That’s because he loves me. He will never love another girl as much as he loves me.” Whatever she sees in my face must please her, because she smiles. “Now that Blake and I are done . . . well, I guess we’ll see, won’t we?”
I stand there mute and numb as she fluffs her hair in the mirror.
“But don’t worry. Now that you’re a slut, I’m sure you’ll have plenty of guys who’ll want to date you. For a night.”
I flee. I run out of the ladies’ room and out the doors, back onto the bus, and I cry.
PEOPLE ARE STARTING TO FILE back on the bus. I can feel their eyes on me so I keep my head turned toward the window. I run my finger along the edge of the foggy glass. The window is cold, so it leaves a trail.
Chris slides in next to me. In a low voice she says, “Um, I just heard something cray-cray.”
Dully I say, “What did you hear? That Peter and I had sex in the hot tub last night?”
“Oh my God! Yeah! Are you okay?”
My chest feels really tight. If I get in a good breath, I am going to start crying again, I know it.
I close my eyes. “We didn’t have sex. Who told you that?”
Peter’s making his way down the aisle. He stops at our seat. “Hey, why didn’t you come back to the table? Is everything okay?” Peter is looming over the seat, looking at me with concerned eyes.
In a quiet voice I say, “Everybody’s saying how we had sex in the tub.”
Peter groans. “People need to mind their own business.” He doesn’t sound surprised, not at all.
“So you already knew?”
“Some of the guys were asking me about it this morning.”
“But . . . where did they even get that idea?” I feel like I’m going to be sick.
Peter shrugs. “I don’t know, maybe somebody saw us. What does it even matter? It’s not true.”
I screw my lips together tight. I can’t cry right now, because if I start, I’ll never be able to stop. I will cry the whole way home, and everyone will see, and I can’t have that. I fix my gaze somewhere over Peter’s shoulder.
“I don’t get it. Why are you mad at me?” He’s still confused.
People are starting to bottleneck behind Peter. They need to get to their seats. “People are waiting behind you,” I say.
Peter says, “Chris, can I have my seat?”
Chris looks at me and I shake my head.
“It’s my seat now, Kavinsky,” she says.
“Come on, Lara Jean,” Peter says, touching my shoulder.
I jerk away from him and his mouth drops open. People are looking at us and whispering and snickering. Peter glances over his shoulder, his face red. Then he finally makes his way down the aisle.
“Are you okay?” Chris asks.
I can feel my eyes welling up. “No. Not really.”
She sighs. “It’s not fair for the girl. Guys have it easy. I’m sure they were all congratulating him, pounding him on the back for being such a stud.”
Sniffling, I say, “Do you think he’s the one who told people?”
A tear trickles down to my cheek and Chris wipes it away with her sweater sleeve. “It might not have been him. But it doesn’t matter, Lara Jean, because even if he didn’t encourage all the talk, I doubt he discouraged it, if you know what I’m saying.”
I shake my head.
“What I’m saying is, I’m sure he denied it—with a shit-eating grin on his face. That’s how guys like Peter are. They love to look like the man, have all the other guys look up to them.” Bitterly she says, “They care more about their reputation than yours.” She shakes her head. “But what’s done is done. You’ve just gotta hold your head up and act like you don’t give a shit.”
I nod, but more tears leak out.
“I’m telling you, he isn’t worth it. Let Gen have him.” Chris tousles my hair. “What else can you do, kid?”
Genevieve comes on board last. I quickly straighten up and wipe my eyes and brace myself. But she doesn’t go directly to her seat. She stops at Bethy Morgan’s seat and whispers something in her ear. Bethy gasps and turns in her seat—and looks right at me.
Oh my God.
Chris and I watch as Genevieve goes from seat to seat.
“Bitch,” Chris breathes.
Tears burn my eyes. “I’m just gonna go to sleep now,” and I rest my head on Chris’s shoulder, and I cry. She keeps her arm tight around me.
MARGOT AND KITTY PICK ME up from school. They ask me how the trip was, if I stayed on the bunny slope all day. I try to be upbeat; I even make up a story about how I went down a blue circle slope. Softly Margot asks, “Is everything okay?”
I falter. Margot always knows when I’m not telling the truth.
“Yeah. I’m just tired. Chris and I stayed up late talking.”
“Take a nap when we get home,” Margot advises.
My phone buzzes, and I look down at it. A text from Peter.
Can we talk?
I turn off my phone. “I think maybe I’ll just sleep right through Christmas break,” I say. Thank God and Jesus for Christmas break. At least I have ten days before I have to go back to school and face everyone. Maybe I’ll just never go back. Maybe I can convince Daddy to home school me.
When Daddy and Kitty go to bed, Margot and I wrap presents in the living room. Mid-wrap, Margot decides that we should have recital party the day after Christmas. I’d hoped she’d forgotten all about her grand idea to have recital party, but Margot’s memory has always been killer. “It’ll be a post-Christmas, pre–New Year’s Eve party,” she says, tying a bow on one of Kitty’s presents from Daddy.
“It’s too last-minute,” I say, carefully cutting a sheet of rocking-horse wrapping paper. I’m being extra careful because I want to save a strip of it for a background page in Margot’s scrapbook, which is nearly done. “No one will come.”
“Yes they will! We haven’t had one in ages; tons of people used to come.” Margot gets up and starts pulling down Mommy’s old cookbooks and stacking them on the coffee table. “Don’t be a Grinch. I think this should be a tradition that we bring back for Kitty’s sake.”
I cut off a strip of fat green ribbon. Maybe this party will help me take my mind off things. “Find that Mediterranean chicken dish Mommy used to make. With the honey-yogurt dip.”
“Yes! And remember the caviar dip? People love the caviar dip. We have to make that, too. Should we do cheese straws or cheese puffs?”
“Cheese puffs,” I say. Margot’s so excited about it that even in my current state of self-pity, I can’t begrudge her.