She gets a pen and paper from the kitchen and starts writing things down. “So we said the chicken dish, caviar dip, cheese puffs, punch . . . We can bake some cookies or brownies. We’ll invite all the neighbors—Josh and his parents, the Shahs, Ms. Rothschild. Who of your friends do you want to invite? Chris?”
I shake my head. “Chris is visiting her relatives in Boca Raton.”
“What about Peter? He could bring his mom, and doesn’t he have a younger brother?” I can tell she is trying.
“Let’s leave off Peter,” I say.
Her forehead creases and she looks up from her list. “Did something happen on the ski trip?”
Too quickly I say, “No. Nothing happened.”
“Then why not? I want to get to know him better, Lara Jean.”
“I think he might be going out of town too.” I can tell Margot doesn’t believe me, but she doesn’t press me further.
She sends the evites out that night, and right away there are five yeses. In the comments section Aunt D. (not our real aunt, but one of Mommy’s best friends) writes, Margot, I can’t wait to hear you and dad sing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside!” Another recital party tradition. Margot and Daddy sing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and I am always commissioned to sing “Santa Baby.” I used to do it lying on top of the piano with my mom’s high heels on and our grandma’s fox stole. Not this year. No way.
When Margot tries to get me to go with her and Kitty to deliver our cookie baskets to the neighbors the next day, I beg off and say I’m tired. I go up to my room to put the finishing touches on Margot’s scrapbook and listen to only the slow songs from Dirty Dancing, and I keep checking my phone to see if Peter’s texted again. He hasn’t, but Josh has.
I heard what happened. Are you okay?
So even Josh knows? He’s not even in our grade. Does the whole school know?
I write back, It isn’t true, and he writes back, You don’t have to tell me—I didn’t believe it for a second, which makes me feel weepy.
He and Margot have hung out once since she’s been home, but they haven’t taken that DC trip Josh mentioned. It’s probably for the best if I go ahead and take the Josh-and-Margot page out of the scrapbook.
I stay up late just in case Peter texts again. I think to myself, if Peter calls or texts me tonight, I’ll know he’s thinking about me too and maybe I’ll forgive him. But he doesn’t text or call.
Around three a.m. I throw away Peter’s notes. I delete the picture of him from my phone; I delete his number. I think that if I just delete him enough, it will be like none of it ever happened and my heart won’t hurt so badly.
CHRISTMAS MORNING, KITTY WAKES UP everyone while it is still dark out, which is her tradition, and Daddy makes waffles, which is his tradition. We only ever eat waffles on Christmas, because we all agree it’s too much trouble to lug the waffle iron out and clean it and store it back on the cabinet top shelf where we keep it. And anyway it makes waffles more of a special occasion this way.
We take turns opening presents to make it last longer. I give Margot her scarf, and the scrapbook, which she loves. She pores over every page, exclaiming over my handiwork, marveling over my font choices and paper scraps. Hugging it to her chest, she says, “This is the perfect gift,” and I feel like all the tension and bad feelings between us evaporate into nothingness. Margot’s gift to me is a pale pink cashmere sweater from Scotland. I try it on over my nightgown and it’s so soft and luxurious.
Kitty’s present from Margot is an art set with oil pastels and watercolors and special markers, which makes Kitty squeal like a piglet. In return Kitty gives her socks with monkeys on them. I give Kitty a new basket for her bike and the ant farm she asked for months ago, and Kitty gives me a book on knitting. “So you can get better,” she says.
The three of us pitched in for Daddy’s present—a thick Scandinavian sweater that makes him look like an ice fisherman. It’s a little too big, but Daddy insists he likes it that way. He gives Margot a fancy new e-reader, Kitty a bike helmet with her name on it—Katherine, not Kitty—and me a gift certificate to Linden & White. “I wanted to get you that locket necklace you’re always looking at, but it was gone,” he says. “But I bet you’ll find something else you like just as much.” I jump up and throw my arms around him. I feel like I could cry.
Santa, aka Daddy, brings silly gifts like sacks of coal and water guns with disappearing ink inside, and also practical things like athletic socks and printer ink and my favorite kind of pens—I guess Santa shops at Costco too.
When we’re done opening presents, I can tell Kitty is disappointed there is no puppy, but she doesn’t say anything. I pull her into my arms and whisper to her, “There’s always your birthday next month,” and she nods.
Daddy goes to see if the waffle iron is hot and the doorbell rings. “Kitty, could you get that?” he calls from the kitchen.
Kitty goes to the door, and seconds later we hear her high-pitched scream. Margot and I leap up and run to the door, and right there on the welcome mat is a basket with a biscuit-colored puppy in it and a ribbon around its neck. We all start jumping up and down and screaming.
Kitty scoops the puppy up in her arms and runs into the living room with it, where Daddy stands grinning. “Daddy Daddy Daddy!” she squeals. “Thank you thank you thank you!”
According to Daddy, he picked the puppy up from the animal shelter two nights ago, and our neighbor Ms. Rothschild has been hiding him in her house. It’s a boy, by the way—we figure that out pretty quick, since he pees all over the kitchen floor. He is a Wheaten Terrier mix, which Kitty declares is far better than an Akita or a German shepherd.
“I always wanted a dog with bangs,” I say, cuddling him to my cheek.
“What should we name him?” Margot asks. We all look to Kitty, who chews on her bottom lip in a contemplative way.
“I don’t know,” she says.
“How about Sandy?” I suggest.
Kitty sneers. “Unoriginal.”
So I say, “What about François? We can call him Frankie for short.”
“No thanks,” Kitty says. Cocking her head, she says, “What about Jamie?”
“Jamie,” Daddy repeats. “I like it.”
Margot nods. “It has a nice ring to it.”
“What’s his full name?” I ask, setting him down on the floor.
Kitty promptly says, “Jamie Fox-Pickle, but we’ll only call him that when he’s in trouble.” She claps her hands and coos, “Come here, Jamie!” and he skitters over to her, tail wagging like mad.
I’ve never her seen her so happy or so patient. She spends all of Christmas Day trying to teach him tricks and taking him outside to pee. Her eyes never stop shining. It makes me wish I was little again and everything could be solved with a Christmas Day puppy.
I only check my phone once to see if Peter called. And he didn’t.
THE MORNING OF THE PARTY I come downstairs after ten, and they’ve been working for hours. Margot’s the head chef and Daddy’s her sous-chef. She has him chopping onions and celery and washing pots. To us she says, “Lara Jean, I need you to clean the downstairs bathroom and mop and tidy. Kitty, you’re overseeing decorations.”
“Can we at least have some cereal first?” I ask.
“Yes, but be quick about it.” She goes back to scooping cookie dough.
To Kitty I whisper, “I didn’t even want to have this party and now she’s got me scrubbing the toilet. Why do you get the good job?”
“Because I’m the littlest,” Kitty says, climbing onto a stool at the breakfast bar.
Margot spins around and says, “Hello, the toilet needed to be scrubbed anyway! Besides, it’ll all be worth it. We haven’t done recital party in so long.” She slides a cookie sheet into the oven. “Daddy, I’m going to need you to make a run to the store soon. We’re out of sour cream and we need a big bag of ice.”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” our dad says.
The only one of us Margot doesn’t put to work is Jamie Fox-Pickle, who is taking a nap under the Christmas tree.
I’m wearing a red-and-green plaid bow tie with a white button-down and a tartan skirt. I read on a fashion blog that mixing plaids is a thing. I go to Kitty’s room to beg her to give me a braid crown, and she curls her lip at me and says, “That’s not very sexy.”
I frown. “Excuse me? I wasn’t trying to look sexy! I was trying to look festive.”
“Well . . . you look like you’re a Scottish waiter, or maybe a bartender at a bar in Brooklyn.”
“What do you know about bartenders in Brooklyn, Katherine?” I demand.
She gives me a withering look. “Duh, I watch HBO.”
Hmm. We might need to put some parental controls on the TV.
Kitty goes to my closet and pulls out my red off-the-shoulder knit dress with the swishy skirt. “Wear this. It’s still Christmasy but less elf-costumey.”
“Fine, but I’m putting my candy-cane pin on it.”
“Fine, you can wear the pin. But leave your hair down. No braid.” I give her my best sad pouty face, but Kitty shakes her head. “I’ll curl the ends to give it some body, but no braids of any kind.”
I plug in the curling iron and sit on the floor with Jamie in my lap, and Kitty sits on the bed and sections my hair off. She wraps my hair around the barrel like a real pro. “Did Josh RSVP yes to the party?” she asks me.
“I’m not sure,” I say.
“What about Peter?”
“He’s not coming,” I say.
“He just can’t,” I tell her.
Margot’s at the piano playing “Blue Christmas,” and our old piano teacher Mr. Choi is sitting next to her singing along. Across the room, Daddy’s showing off a new cactus to the Shahs from down the street, and Kitty and Josh and a few of the other little kids are trying to teach Jamie how to sit. I’m sipping cranberry-and-ginger-ale punch and talking to Aunt D. about her divorce when Peter Kavinsky walks in wearing a hunter-green sweater with a button-down shirt underneath, carrying a Christmas tin. I almost choke on my punch.
Kitty spots him when I do. “You came!” she cries. She runs right into his arms, and he puts down the cookie tin and picks her up and throws her around. When he sets her down, she takes him by the hand and over to the buffet table, where I’m busying myself rearranging the cookie plate.
“Look what Peter brought,” she says, pushing him forward.
He hands me the cookie tin. “Here. Fruitcake cookies my mom made.”
“What are you doing here?” I whisper accusingly.
“The kid invited me.” He jerks his head toward Kitty, who has conveniently run back over to the puppy. Josh is standing up now, looking over at us with a frown on his face. “We need to talk.”
So now he wants to talk. Well, too late. “We don’t have anything to talk about.”
Peter takes me by the elbow and I try to shake him off, but he won’t let go. He steers me into the kitchen. “I want you to make up an excuse to Kitty and leave,” I say. “And you can take your fruitcake cookies with you.”
“First tell me why you’re so pissed at me.”
“Because!” I burst out. “Everyone is saying how we had sex in the hot tub and I’m a slut and you don’t even care!”
“I told the guys we didn’t!”
“Did you? Did you tell them that all we did was kiss and that’s all we’ve ever done?” Peter hesitates, and I go on. “Or did you say, ‘Guys, we didn’t have sex in the hot tub,’ wink wink, nudge nudge.”
Peter glares at me. “Give me a little more credit than that, Covey.”
“You’re such a scumbag, Kavinsky.”
I spin around. There is Josh, in the doorway, glaring at Peter.
“It’s your fault people are saying that crap about Lara Jean.” Josh shakes his head in disgust. “She’d never do that.”
“Keep your voice down,” I whisper, my eyes darting around. This is not happening right now. At recital party, with everyone I’ve ever known my whole entire life in the next room.
Peter’s jaw twitches. “This is a private conversation, Josh, between me and my girlfriend. Why don’t you go play World of Warcraft or something. Or maybe there’s a Lord of the Rings marathon on TV.”
“Fuck you, Kavinsky,” Josh says. I gasp. To me Josh says, “Lara Jean, this is exactly what I’ve been trying to protect you from. He’s not good enough for you. He’s only bringing you down.”
Beside me Peter stiffens. “Get over it! She doesn’t like you anymore. It’s over. Move on.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Josh says.