“You look like a farm girl,” Kitty says with a touch of meanness, and I know she’s still at least a little bit mad at me.
“Thank you,” I say. I’m wearing faded shortalls and a scoop-neck floral shirt. It does look farm-girlish, but I think in a nice way. Margot left her brown lace-up combat boots, and they’re only a half size too big. With thick socks, they’re a perfect fit. “Will you braid my hair to the side?” I ask her.
“You don’t deserve a braid from me,” Kitty says, licking her fork. “Besides, a braid would take it too far.”
Kitty is only nine, but she has good fashion sense.
“Agreed,” my dad says, not looking up from his paper.
I put my plate in the sink and then put Kitty’s bag lunch down next to her plate. It’s got all her favorite things: a Brie sandwich, barbecue chips, rainbow cookies, the good kind of apple juice.
“Have a great first day,” my dad chirps. He pops out his cheek for a kiss, and I bend down and give him one. I try to give Kitty one too, but she turns her cheek.
“I got your favorite kind of apple juice and your favorite kind of Brie,” I tell her pleadingly. I really don’t want us to start the school year off on a bad note.
“Thank you,” she sniffs.
Before she can stop me, I throw my arms around her and squeeze her so tight she yelps. Then I get my new floral back-to-school book bag and head out the front door. It’s a new day, a new year. I have a feeling it’s going to be a good one.
Josh is already in the car, and I run over and open the door and slide inside.
“You’re on time,” Josh says. He lifts his hand up for a high five, and when I slap it, our hands make a satisfying smack. “That was a good one,” he says.
“An eight at least,” I agree. We whizz past the pool, the sign for our neighborhood, then past the Wendy’s.
“Has Kitty forgiven you yet for the other night?”
“Not quite, but hopefully soon.”
“Nobody can hold a grudge like Kitty,” Josh says, and I nod wholeheartedly. I can never stay mad for long, but Kitty will nurse a grudge like her life depended on it.
“I made her a good first-day-of-school lunch, so I think that’ll help,” I say.
“You’re a good big sister.”
I pipe up with “As good as Margot?” and together we chorus, “Nobody’s as good as Margot.”
SCHOOL HAS OFFICIALLY BEGUN AND found its own rhythm. The first couple of days of school are always throwaway days of handing out books and syllabuses and figuring out where you’re sitting and who you’re sitting with. Now is when school really begins.
For gym, Coach White set us loose outside to enjoy the warm sun while we still have it. Chris and I are walking the track field. Chris is telling me about a party she went to over Labor Day weekend. “I almost got into a fight with this girl who kept saying I was wearing extensions. It’s not my fault my hair is fabulous.”
As we round the corner for our third lap, I catch Peter Kavinsky looking at me. I thought I was imagining it at first, him staring in my direction, but this is the third time. He’s playing ultimate Frisbee with some of the guys. When we pass them, Peter jogs over to us and says, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
Chris and I look at each other. “Her or me?” she asks.
Chris puts her arm around my shoulder protectively. “Go ahead. We’re listening.”
Peter rolls his eyes. “I want to talk to her in private.”
“Fine,” she snaps, and she flounces away. Over her shoulder she looks back at me with wide eyes, like What? I shrug back, like I have no idea!
In a low, quiet voice, Peter says, “Just so you know, I don’t have any STDs.”
What in the world? I stare at him, my mouth open. “I never said you had an STD!”
His voice is still low but actually furious. “I also don’t always take the last piece of pizza.”
“What are you talking about?”
“That’s what you said. In your letter. How I’m an egotistical guy who goes around giving girls STDs. Remember?”
“What letter? I never wrote you any letter!”
Wait. Yes I did. I did write him a letter, about a million years ago. But that’s not the letter he’s talking about. It couldn’t be.
“Yes. You. Did. It was addressed to me, from you.”
Oh, God. No. No. This isn’t happening. This isn’t reality. I’m dreaming. I’m in my room and I’m dreaming and Peter Kavinsky is in my dream, glaring at me. I close my eyes. Am I dreaming? Is this real?
I open my eyes. I’m not dreaming, and this is real. This is a nightmare. Peter Kavinsky is holding my letter in his hand. It’s my handwriting, my envelope, my everything. “How—how did you get that?”
“It came in the mail yesterday.” Peter sighs. Gruffly he says, “Listen, it’s no big deal; I just hope you’re not going around telling people—”
“It came in the mail? To your house?”
I feel faint. I actually feel faint. Please let me faint right now, because if I faint I will no longer be here, in this moment. It will be like in movies when a girl passes out from the horror of it all and the fighting happens while she is asleep and she wakes up in a hospital bed with a bruise or two, but she’s missed all the bad stuff. I wish that was my life instead of this.
I can feel myself start to sweat. Rapidly I say, “You should know that I wrote that letter a really long time ago.”
“Like, years ago. Years and years ago. I don’t even remember what I said.” Up close, your face wasn’t so much handsome as beautiful. “Seriously, that letter’s from middle school. I don’t even know who would have sent it. Can I see it?” I reach for the letter, trying to stay calm and not sound desperate. Just casual cool.
He hesitates and then grins his perfect Peter grin. “Nah, I want to keep it. I never got a letter like this before.”
I leap forward, and quick like a cat I snatch it out of his hand.
Peter laughs and throws up his hands in surrender. “All right, fine, have it. Geez.”
“Thanks.” I start to back away from him. The paper is shaking in my hand.
“Wait.” He hesitates. “Listen, I didn’t mean to steal your first kiss or whatever. I mean, that wasn’t my intention—”
I laugh, a forced and fake laugh that sounds crazy even to my own ears. People turn around and look at us. “Apology accepted! Ancient history!” And then I bolt. I run faster than I’ve ever run. All the way to the girls’ locker room.
How did this even happen?
I sink to the floor. I’ve had the going-to-school-naked dream before. I’ve had the going-to-school-naked-forgot-to-study-for-an-exam-in-a-class-I-never-signed-up-for combo, the naked-exam-somebody-trying-to-kill-me combo. This is all that times infinity.
And then, because there’s nothing left for me to do, I take the letter out of the envelope and I read it.
Dear Peter K,
First of all I refuse to call you Kavinsky. You think you’re so cool, going by your last name all of a sudden. Just so you know, Kavinsky sounds like the name of an old man with a long white beard.
Did you know that when you kissed me, I would come to love you? Sometimes I think yes. Definitely yes. You know why? Because you think EVERYONE loves you, Peter. That’s what I hate about you. Because everyone does love you. Including me. I did. Not anymore.
Here are all your worst qualities:
You burp and you don’t say excuse me. You just assume everyone else will find it charming. And if they don’t, who cares, right? Wrong! You do care. You care a lot about what people think of you.
You always take the last piece of pizza. You never ask if anyone else wants it. That’s rude.
You’re so good at everything. Too good. You could’ve given other guys a chance to be good, but you never did.
You kissed me for no reason. Even though I knew you liked Gen, and you knew you liked Gen, and Gen knew you liked Gen. But you still did it. Just because you could. I really want to know: Why would you do that to me? My first kiss was supposed to be something special. I’ve read about it, what it’s supposed to feel like—fireworks and lightning bolts and the sound of waves crashing in your ears. I didn’t have any of that. Thanks to you it was as unspecial as a kiss could be.
The worst part of it is, that stupid nothing kiss is what made me start liking you. I never did before. I never even thought about you before. Gen has always said that you are the best-looking boy in our grade, and I agreed, because sure, you are. But I still didn’t see the allure of you. Plenty of people are good-looking. That doesn’t make them interesting or intriguing or cool.
Maybe that’s why you kissed me. To do mind control on me, to make me see you that way. It worked. Your little trick worked. From then on, I saw you. Up close, your face wasn’t so much handsome as beautiful. How many beautiful boys have you ever seen? For me it was just one. You. I think it’s a lot to do with your lashes. You have really long lashes. Unfairly long.
Even though you don’t deserve it, fine, I’ll go into all the things I like(d) about you:
One time in science, nobody wanted to be partners with Jeffrey Suttleman because he has BO, and you volunteered like it was no big deal. Suddenly everybody thought Jeffrey wasn’t so bad.
You’re still in chorus, even though all the other boys take band and orchestra now. You even sing solos. And you dance, and you’re not embarrassed.
You were the last boy to get tall. And now you’re the tallest, but it’s like you earned it. Also, when you were short, no one even cared that you were short—the girls still liked you and the boys still picked you first for basketball in gym.
After you kissed me, I liked you for the rest of seventh grade and most of eighth. It hasn’t been easy, watching you with Gen, holding hands and making out at the bus loop. You probably make her feel very special. Because that’s your talent, right? You’re good at making people feel special.
Do you know what it’s like to like someone so much you can’t stand it and know that they’ll never feel the same way? Probably not. People like you don’t have to suffer through those kinds of things. It was easier after Gen moved and we stopped being friends. At least then I didn’t have to hear about it.
And now that the year is almost over, I know for sure that I am also over you. I’m immune to you now, Peter. I’m really proud to say that I’m the only girl in this school who has been immunized to the charms of Peter Kavinsky. All because I had a really bad dose of you in seventh grade and most of eighth. Now I never ever have to worry about catching you again. What a relief! I bet if I did ever kiss you again, I would definitely catch something, and it wouldn’t be love. It would be an STD!
Lara Jean Song
IF I COULD CRAWL INTO a hole and burrow in it comfortably and live out the rest of my days in it, well, then that is what I would do.
Why did I have to bring up that kiss? Why?
I still remember everything about that day at John Ambrose McClaren’s house. We were in the basement, and it smelled like mildew and laundry detergent. I was wearing white shorts and an embroidered blue-and-white halter top I stole out of Margot’s closet. I had on a strapless bra for the first time ever. It was one of Chris’s, and I kept adjusting it because it felt unnatural.
It was one of our first boy-girl hangouts on a weekend and at night. That was a weird thing too, because it felt purposeful. Not the same as going over to Allie’s house after school and neighborhood boys are there hanging out with her twin brother. Also not the same as going to the arcade at the mall knowing we would probably run into boys. This was making a plan, getting dropped off, wearing a special bra, all on a Saturday night. No parents around, just us in John’s ultraprivate basement. John’s older brother was supposed to be watching us, but John paid him ten dollars to stay in his room.
Not that anything exciting happened, for instance an impromptu game of spin the bottle or seven minutes in heaven—two possibilities for which us girls had prepared for with gum and lip gloss. All that happened was the boys played video games and us girls watched and played on our phones and whispered to each other. And then people’s moms and dads were picking them up, and it was so anticlimactic after all that planning and anticipation. It was disappointing for me, not because I liked anyone, but because I liked romance and drama and I was hoping something exciting would happen to someone.
Peter and I were downstairs alone, the last two people to be picked up. We were sitting on the couch. I kept texting my dad, Where are uuuuuu? Peter was playing a game on his phone.
And then, out of nowhere, he said, “Your hair smells like coconuts.”
We weren’t even sitting that close. I said, “Really? You can smell it from there?”