“Boy or girl?”
Again her answer is prompt. “Boy.”
“What’ll you name him?”
Kitty hesitates, and I know why. I roll over and tickle Kitty’s bare foot. “I know what you’ll name him,” I say in a singsong voice.
“Be quiet, Lara Jean!” she screeches.
I have Josh’s full attention now. “Come on, tell us,” Josh begs.
I look at Kitty and she is giving me evil glowy red eyes. “Never mind,” I say, feeling nervous all of a sudden. Kitty might be the baby of the family, but she is not someone to trifle with.
Then Josh tugs on my ponytail and says, “Aw, come on, Lara Jean! Don’t leave us in suspense.”
I prop myself up on my elbows, and Kitty tries to put her hand over my mouth. Giggling, I say, “It’s after a boy she likes.”
“Shut up, Lara Jean, shut up!”
Kitty kicks me, and in doing so she accidentally rips one of her dog pictures. She lets out a cry and drops to her knees and examines it. Her face is red with the effort of not crying. I feel like such a jerk. I sit up and try to give her an I’m sorry hug, but she twists away from me and kicks at my legs, so hard I yelp. I pick the picture up and try to tape it back, but before I can, Kitty snatches it out of my hands and gives it to Josh. “Josh, fix it,” she says. “Lara Jean ruined it.”
“Kitty, I was only teasing,” I say lamely. I wasn’t going to say the name of the boy. I would never ever have said it.
She ignores me, and Josh smooths the paper back out with a coaster, and with the concentration of a surgeon he tapes the two pieces together. He wipes his brow. “Phew. I think this one will make it.”
I clap, and I try to catch Kitty’s eye, but she won’t look at me. I know I deserve it. The boy Kitty has a crush on—it’s Josh.
Kitty whisks her collage away from Josh. Stiffly she says, “I’m going upstairs to work on this. Good night, Josh.”
“Night, Kitty,” Josh says.
Meekly, I say, “Good night, Kitty,” but she’s already running up the stairs, and she doesn’t reply.
When we hear the sound of her bedroom door closing, Josh turns to me and says, “You’re in so much trouble.”
“I know,” I say. I’ve got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Why did I do that? Even as I was doing it, I knew it was wrong. Margot would never have done that to me. That’s not how big sisters are supposed to treat their little sisters, especially not when I’m so much older than Kitty.
“Who’s this kid she likes?”
“Just a boy from school.”
Josh sighs. “Is she really old enough to have crushes on boys? I feel like she’s too young for all that.”
“I had crushes on boys when I was nine,” I tell him. I’m still thinking about Kitty. I wonder how I can make it so she isn’t mad at me anymore. Somehow I don’t think snickerdoodles will cut it this time.
“Who?” Josh asks me.
“Who what?” Maybe if I can somehow convince Daddy to buy her a puppy . . .
“Who was your first crush?”
“Hmm. My first real crush?” I had kindergarten and first- and second-grade crushes aplenty, but they don’t really count. “Like the first one that really mattered?”
“Well . . . I guess Peter Kavinsky.”
Josh practically gags. “Kavinsky? Are you kidding me? He’s so obvious. I thought you’d be into someone more . . . I don’t know, subtle. Peter Kavinsky’s such a cliché. He’s like a cardboard cutout of a ‘cool guy’ in a movie about high school.”
I shrug. “You asked.”
“Wow,” he says, shaking his head. “Just . . . wow.”
“He used to be different. I mean, he was still very Peter, but less so.” When Josh looks unconvinced, I say, “You’re a boy, so you can’t understand what I’m talking about.”
“You’re right. I don’t understand!”
“Hey, you’re the one who had a crush on Ms. Rothschild!”
Josh turns red. “She was really pretty back then!”
“Uh-huh.” I give him a knowing look. “She was really ‘pretty.’?” Our across-the-street neighbor Ms. Rothschild used to mow her lawn in terry-cloth short shorts and a string bikini top. The neighborhood boys would conveniently come and play in Josh’s yard on those days.
“Anyway, Ms. Rothschild wasn’t my first crush.”
“No. You were.”
It takes me a few seconds to process this. Even then, all I can manage is, “Huh?”
“When I first moved here, before I knew your true personality.” I kick him in the shin for that, and he yelps. “I was twelve and you were eleven. I let you ride my scooter, remember? That scooter was my pride and joy. I saved up for it for two birthdays. And I let you take it for a ride.”
“I thought you were just being generous.”
“You crashed it and you got a big scratch on the side,” he continues. “Remember that?”
“Yeah, I remember you cried.”
“I didn’t cry. I was justifiably upset. And that was the end of my little crush.” Josh gets up to go and we walk to the foyer.
Before he opens the front door, Josh turns around and says to me, “I don’t know what I would’ve done if you hadn’t been around after . . . Margot dumped me.” A blush blooms pink across his face, underneath each sweetly freckled cheek. “You’re keeping me going, Lara Jean.” Josh looks at me and I feel it all, every memory, every moment we’ve ever shared. Then he gives me a quick, fierce hug and disappears into the night.
I’m standing there in the open door and the thought flies in my head, so quick, so unexpected, I can’t stop myself from thinking it: If you were mine, I would never have broken up with you, not in a million years.
THIS IS HOW WE MET josh. We were having a teddy-bear, tea-party picnic on the back lawn with real tea and muffins. It had to be in the backyard so no one would see. I was eleven, way too old for it, and Margot was thirteen, way, way too old. I got the idea in my head because I read about it in a book. Because of Kitty I could pretend it was for her and persuade Margot into playing with us. Mommy had died the year before and ever since, Margot rarely said no to anything if it was for Kitty.
We had everything spread out on Margot’s old baby blanket, which was blue and nubby with a squirrel print. I laid out a chipped tea set of Margot’s, mini muffins studded with blueberries and granules of sugar that I made Daddy buy at the grocery store, and a teddy bear for each of us. We were all wearing hats, because I insisted. “You have to wear a hat to a tea party,” I kept saying until Margot finally put hers on just so I’d stop. She had on Mommy’s straw gardening hat, and Kitty was wearing a tennis visor, and I’d fancied up an old fur hat of Grandma’s by pinning a few plastic flowers on top.
I was pouring lukewarm tea out of the thermos and into cups when Josh climbed up on the fence and watched us. The month before, from the upstairs playroom, we’d watched Josh’s family move in. We’d hoped for girls, but then we saw the movers unload a boy bike and we went back to playing.
Josh sat up on the fence, not saying anything, and Margot was really stiff and embarrassed; her cheeks were red, but she kept her hat on. Kitty was the one to call out to him. “Hello, boy,” she said.
“Hi,” he said. His hair was shaggy, and he kept shaking it out of his eyes. He was wearing a red T-shirt with a hole in the shoulder.
Kitty asked him, “What’s your name?”
“You should play with us, Josh,” Kitty commanded.
So he did.
I didn’t know it then, how important this boy would become to me and to the people I love the most. But even if I had known, what could I have done differently? It was never going to be me and him. Even though.
I THOUGHT I WAS OVER him.
When I wrote my letter, when I said my good-byes, I meant it, I swear I did. It wasn’t even that hard, not really. Not when I thought about how much Margot liked him, how much she cared. How could I begrudge Margot a first love? Margot, who’d sacrificed so much for all of us. She always, always put Kitty and me before herself. Letting go of Josh was my way of putting Margot first.
But now, sitting here alone in my living room, with my sister four thousand miles away and Josh next door, all I can think is, Josh Sanderson, I liked you first. By all rights, you were mine. And if it had been me, I’d have packed you in my suitcase and taken you with me, or, you know what, I would have stayed. I would have never left you. Not in a million years, not for anything.
Thinking these kinds of thoughts, feeling these kinds of feelings, it’s more than disloyal. I know that. It’s downright traitorous. It makes my soul feel dirty. Margot’s been gone less than a week and look at me, how fast I cave. How fast I covet. I’m a betrayer of the worst kind, because I’m betraying my own sister, and there’s no greater betrayal than that. But what now? What am I supposed to do with all these feelings?
I suppose there’s only one thing I can do. I’ll write him another letter. A postscript with as many pages as it takes to X away whatever feelings I have left for him. I’ll put this whole thing to rest, once and for all.
I go to my room and I find my special writing pen, the one with the really smooth inky-black ink. I take out my heavy writing paper, and I begin to write.
P.S. I still love you.
I still love you and that’s a really huge problem for me and it’s also a really huge surprise. I swear I didn’t know. All this time, I thought I was over it. How could I not be, when it’s Margot you love? It’s always been Margot . . .
When I’m done, I put the letter in my diary instead of in my hat box. I have a feeling I’m not done-done yet, that there’s still more I need to say, I just haven’t thought of it yet.
KITTY’S STILL MAD AT ME. In the wake of the Josh revelation, I’d forgotten all about Kitty. She ignores me all morning, and when I ask if she wants me to take her to the store for school supplies, she snaps, “With what car? You wrecked Margot’s.”
Ouch. “I was going to take Daddy’s when he comes back from Home Depot.” I back away from her, far enough away that she can’t lash out at me with a kick or a hit. “There’s no need to be nasty, Katherine.”
Kitty practically growls, which is exactly the reaction I was hoping for. I hate when Kitty goes mad and silent. But then she flounces away, and with her back to me she says, “I’m not speaking to you. You know what you did, so don’t bother trying to get back on my good side.” I follow her around, trying to provoke her into talking to me, but there’s really no use. I’ve been dismissed. So I give up and go back to my room and put on the Mermaids soundtrack. I’m organizing my first-week back-to-school outfits on my bed when I get a text from Josh. A little thrill runs up my spine to see his name on my phone, but I sternly remind myself of my vow. He is still Margot’s, not yours. It doesn’t matter that they’re broken up. He was hers first, which means he’s hers always.
Wanna go for a bike ride on that trail by the park?
Biking is a Margot-type activity. She loves going on trails and hikes and bikes. Not me. Josh knows it too. I don’t even own my own bike anymore, and Margot’s is too big for me. Kitty’s is more my size.
I write back that I can’t; I have to help my dad around the house. It’s not a total lie. My dad did ask me to help him repot some of his plants. And I said only if he was making me and if I had no say in the matter, then sure.
What does he need help with?
What to say? I have to be careful about my excuses; Josh can easily look out the window and see if I’m home or not. I text back a vague Just some random chores. Knowing Josh, he would show up with a shovel or a rake or whatever tool the chore entailed. And then he’d stay for dinner, because he always stays for dinner.
He said I was keeping him going. Me, Lara Jean. I want to be that person for him, I want to be the one who keeps him going during this difficult time. I want to be his lighthouse keeper while we wait for Margot’s return. But it’s hard. Harder than I thought.
I WAKE UP HAPPY BECAUSE it’s the first day of school. I’ve always loved the first day of school better than the last day of school. Firsts are best because they are beginnings.
While Daddy and Kitty are upstairs washing up, I make whole-wheat pancakes with sliced bananas, Kitty’s favorite. First-day-of-school breakfast was always a big thing with my mom, and then Margot took over, and now I guess it’s my turn. The pancakes are a little dense, not quite as light and fluffy as Margot’s. And the coffee . . . well, is coffee supposed to be light brown like cocoa? When Daddy comes down, he says in a merry voice, “I smell coffee!” And then he drinks it and gives me a thumbs-up, but I notice he only has the one sip. I guess I’m a better baker than I am a cook.