“Whatever, dude. She told me you tried to kiss her. You try that again, and I’m kicking your ass.”
Josh lets out a short laugh. “Go ahead.”
Panic rises in my chest as Peter moves toward Josh with purpose. I pull Peter’s arm back. “Stop it!”
That’s when I see her. Margot, standing a few feet behind Josh, her hand to her mouth. The piano music has stopped, the world has stopped spinning, because Margot has heard everything.
“It’s not true, is it? Please tell me it’s not true.”
I open and close my mouth. I don’t have to say anything, because she already knows. Margot who knows me so well.
“How could you?” she asks, and her voice trembles. The hurt in her eyes makes me want to die. I’ve never seen that look in her eyes before.
“Margot,” Josh begins, and she shakes her head and backs away.
“Get out,” she says, her voice breaking. Then she looks at me. “You’re my sister. You’re the person I trust more than anybody.”
“Gogo, wait—” But she’s already gone. I hear her feet run up the stairs. I hear her door shut and not slam.
And then I burst into tears.
“I’m so sorry,” Josh says to me. Bleakly, he says, “This is all my fault.” He walks out the back door.
Peter moves to put his arms around me, but I stop him. “Can you just . . . can you just go?”
Hurt and surprise register on his face. “Sure, I can go,” he says, and he walks out of the kitchen.
I go to the bathroom off the side of the kitchen and sit on the toilet and cry. Someone knocks and I stop crying and call out, “Just a minute.”
Mrs. Shah’s cheery voice says, “Sorry, dear!” and I hear her heels clack away.
Then I get up and splash cold water on my face. My eyes are still red and puffy. I run water over a hand towel and I wet my face with it. My mom used to do this for me when I was sick. She’d put an ice-cold washcloth over my forehead and she’d switch it out with a fresh one when it wasn’t cold anymore. I wish my mom was here.
When I step back into the party, Mr. Choi is sitting at the piano playing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and Ms. Rothschild has my dad cornered on the couch. She’s throwing back champagne, and he has a mildly startled look on his face. As soon he sees me, my dad jumps off the couch and over to me. “Oh, thank God,” he says. “Where’s Gogo? We haven’t done our number yet.”
“She doesn’t feel well,” I say.
“Hm. I’ll go check on her.”
“I think she just wants to be left alone.”
Daddy’s forehead creases. “Did she and Josh have a fight? I just saw him leave.”
I swallow. “Maybe. I’ll go talk to her.”
He pats me on the shoulder. “You’re a good sister, honey.”
I force a smile. “Thank you, Daddy.”
I go upstairs and Margot’s bedroom door is locked. I stand outside it and ask, “Can I come inside?”
“Please, Margot. Please just let me explain. . . .”
“I’m sorry. Margot, I’m so sorry. Please talk to me.”
I sit down outside my door and start to cry. My big sister knows how to hurt me best. Silence from her, being shut out by her, is the worst punishment she could conjure up.
BEFORE MOMMY DIED, MARGOT AND I were enemies. We battled constantly, mostly because I was always messing up something of hers—some game, some toy.
Margot had a doll she loved named Rochelle. Rochelle had silky auburn hair, and she wore glasses like Margot did. Mommy and Daddy had given her to her for her seventh birthday. Rochelle was Margot’s only doll. She adored her. I remember begging Margot to let me hold her, just for a second, but Margot always said no. There was this one time, I had a cold, and I stayed home from school. I crept into Margot’s room and I took Rochelle, I played with her all afternoon, I pretended Rochelle and I were best friends. I got it into my head that Rochelle’s face was actually kind of plain; she would look better with lipstick on. It would be a favor to Margot if I made Rochelle more beautiful. I got one of Mommy’s lipsticks out of her bathroom drawer and I put some on her lips. Right away I knew it was a mistake. I’d drawn it on outside of her lip lines, she looked clownish, not sophisticated. So then I tried to clean off the lipstick with toothpaste, but it only made her look like she had a mouth disease. I hid under my blankets until Margot came home. When she found the state Rochelle was in, I heard Margot’s scream.
After Mommy died, we all had to realign ourselves. Everybody had new roles. Margot and I were no longer locked in battle, because we both understood that Kitty was ours to take care of now. “Look out for your sister,” Mommy was always saying. When she was alive, we did it begrudgingly. After she was gone, we did it because we wanted to.
Days go by and still nothing. She looks through me, speaks to me only when necessary. Kitty watches us with worried eyes. Daddy is bewildered and asks what’s going on with us, but doesn’t push me for an answer.
There is a wall between us now, and I can feel her moving farther and farther away from me. Sisters are supposed to fight and make up, because they are sisters and sisters always find their way back to each other. But the thing that scares me is that maybe we won’t.
OUTSIDE MY WINDOW, SNOW IS falling in clumps that look like cotton. The yard is starting to look like a cotton field. I hope it snows all day and all night. I hope it’s a blizzard.
There’s a knock at my door.
I lift my head up from my pillow. “Come in.”
My dad comes in and sits down at my desk. “So,” he says, scratching his chin the way he does when he’s uncomfortable. “We need to talk.”
My stomach drops. I sit up and wrap my arms around my knees. “Did Margot tell you?”
My dad clears his throat. “She did.” I can’t even look at him. “This is awkward. I never had to do this with Margot, so . . .” He clears his throat again. “You’d think I would be better at this since I’m a health professional. I’ll just say that I think you’re too young to be having sex, Lara Jean. I don’t think you’re ready yet.” He sounds like he’s about to cry. “Did . . . did Peter pressure you in any way?”
I can feel all the blood rush to my face. “Daddy, we didn’t have sex.”
He nods, but I don’t think he believes me. “I’m your dad, so of course I’d rather you wait until you’re fifty, but . . .” He clears his throat again. “I want you to be safe. I’m making an appointment with Dr. Hudecz on Monday.”
I start to cry. “I don’t need an appointment, because I’m not doing anything! I didn’t have sex! Not in the hot tub or anyplace. Somebody made the whole thing up. You have to believe me.”
My dad has a pained expression on his face. “Lara Jean, I know it’s not easy to talk about this with a dad and not a mom. I wish your mom was here to navigate us through this.”
“I wish she was too, because she’d believe me.” Tears are running down my cheeks. It’s bad enough for strangers to think the worst of me, but I never thought my sister and dad would believe it.
“I’m sorry.” My dad puts his arms around me. “I’m sorry. I do believe you. If you tell me you’re not having sex, you’re not having sex. I just don’t want you to grow up too fast. When I look at you, you’re still as young as Kitty to me. You’re my little girl, Lara Jean.”
I sag against him. There’s no place safer than my dad’s arms. “Everything’s a mess. You don’t trust me anymore; Peter and I are broken up; Margot hates me.”
“I trust you. Of course I trust you. And of course you and Margot will make up like you always do. She was only worried about you; that’s why she came to me.” No, it’s not. She did it out of spite. It’s her fault that Daddy thought that of me for even a second.
Daddy lifts my chin and wipes the tears off my face. “You must really like Peter, huh?”
“No,” I sob. “Maybe. I don’t know.”
He tucks my hair behind my ears. “Everything will work out.”
There is a specific kind of fight you can only have with your sister. It’s the kind where you say things you can’t take back. You say them because you can’t help but say them, because you’re so angry it’s coming up your throat and out your eyes; you’re so angry you can’t see straight. All you see is blood.
As soon as Daddy leaves and I hear him go to his room to get ready for bed, I barge into Margot’s room without knocking. Margot is at her desk on her laptop. She looks up at me in surprise.
Wiping my eyes, I say, “You can be mad at me all you want, but you had no right to go to Daddy behind my back.”
Her voice is piano-string tight as she says, “I didn’t do that as revenge. I did it because you clearly have no idea what you’re doing, and if you’re not careful, you’re going to end up some sad teenage statistic.” Coldly, as if she is speaking to a stranger, Margot continues. “You’ve changed, Lara Jean. I honestly don’t even know who you are anymore.”
“No, you definitely don’t know me anymore, if you think for one second that I would have sex on a school trip! In a hot tub, in plain view of anybody who might happen to walk by? You must not know me at all!” And then I lay it down, the card I’ve been holding against her. “Just because you had sex with Josh, that doesn’t mean I’m going to have sex with Peter.”
Margot sucks in her breath. “Lower your voice.”
I feel happy that I’ve wounded her too. I yell, “Now that Daddy’s already disappointed in me, he can’t be disappointed in you, too, right?”
I whirl around to go back to my room, and Margot follows close behind me.
“Come back here!” she shouts.
“No!” I try to close my door in her face, but she wedges her foot inside. “Get out!”
I lean my back against the door, but Margot is stronger than me. She pushes her way in and locks the door behind her.
She advances toward me and I back away from her. There’s a dangerous light in her eyes. She’s the righteous one now. I can feel myself start to shrink, to cower. “How did you know Josh and I had sex, Lara Jean? Did he tell you that himself while you two were going behind my back?”
“We never went behind your back! It wasn’t like that.”
“Then what was it like?” she demands.
A sob escapes my throat. “I liked him first. I liked him all that summer before ninth grade. I thought . . . thought he liked me back. But then one day you said you were dating, and so I just, I just swallowed it. I wrote him a good-bye letter.”
Margot’s face twists into a sneer. “Do you seriously expect me to feel sorry for you now?”
“No. I’m just trying to explain what happened. I stopped liking him, I swear I did. I didn’t think of him like that again, but then, after you left, I realized that deep down I still had feelings for him. And then my letter got sent and Josh found out, so I started pretend dating Peter—”
She shakes her head. “Just stop. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t even know what you’re talking about right now.”
“Josh and I only kissed one time. Once. And it was a huge mistake, and I didn’t even want to do it in the first place! You’re the one he loves, not me.”
She says, “How can I believe anything you ever say to me now?”
“Because it’s the truth.” Trembling, I tell her, “You have no idea the power you have over me. How much your opinion means to me. How much I look up to you.”
Margot’s face screws up like a fist; she is holding back tears. “You know what Mommy would always say to me?” She lifts her chin higher. “?‘Take care of your sisters.’ So that’s what I did. I’ve always tried to put you and Kitty first. Do you have any idea how hard it was being so far away from you guys? How lonely it was? All I wanted to do was come back home, but I couldn’t, because I have to be strong. I have to be”—she struggles for a breath—“the good example. I can’t be weak. I have to show you guys how to be brave. Because . . . because Mommy isn’t here to do it.”
Tears roll down my cheeks. “I know. You don’t have to tell me, Gogo. I know how much you do for us.”
“But then I left, and it’s like you didn’t need me as much as I thought.” Her voice breaks. “You were fine without me.”
“Only because you taught me everything!” I cry out.
Margot’s face crumbles.
“I’m sorry,” I weep. “I’m so sorry.”