Until this moment.
Don’t. Just please, don’t.
Whatever he’s thinking, whatever he wants to say, I don’t want to hear it. I will do anything, literally anything, not to hear it.
Before he can, I say, “I’m dating someone.”
Josh’s jaw goes slack. “What?”
“Yup. I’m dating someone, someone I really really like, so please don’t worry about this.” I wave the letter like it’s just paper, trash, like once upon a time I didn’t literally pour my heart onto this page. I stuff it into my bag. “I was really confused when I wrote this; I don’t even know how it got sent out. Honestly, it’s not worth talking about. So please, please don’t say anything to Margot about it.”
He nods, but that’s not good enough. I need a verbal commitment. I need to hear the words come out of his mouth. So I add, “Do you swear? On your life?” If Margot was to ever find out . . . I would want to die.
“All right, I swear. I mean, we haven’t even spoken since she left.”
I let out a huge breath. “Great. Thanks.” I’m about to walk away, but then Josh stops me.
“Who’s the guy?”
“The guy you’re dating.”
That’s when I see him. Peter Kavinsky, walking down the hallway. Like magic. Beautiful, dark-haired Peter. He deserves background music, he looks so good. “Peter. Kavinsky. Peter Kavinsky!” The bell rings, and I sail past Josh. “I’ve gotta go! Talk later, Josh!”
“Wait!” he calls out.
I run up to Peter and launch myself into his arms like a shot out of a cannon. I’ve got my arms around his neck and my legs hooked around his waist, and I don’t even know how my body knows how, because I’ve for sure never touched a boy like this in my life. It’s like we’re in a movie and the music is swelling and waves are crashing around us. Except for the fact that Peter’s expression is registering pure shock and disbelief and maybe a drop of amusement, because Peter likes to be amused. Raising his eyebrows, he says, “Lara Jean? What the—?”
I don’t answer. I just kiss him.
My first thought is: I have muscle memory of his lips.
My second thought is: I hope Josh is watching. He has to be watching or it’s all for nothing.
My heart is beating so fast I forget to be afraid of doing it wrong. Because for about three seconds, he’s kissing me back. Peter Kavinsky, the boy of every girl’s dreams, is kissing me back.
I haven’t kissed that many boys before. Peter Kavinsky, John Ambrose McClaren, Allie Feldman’s cousin with the weird eye, and now Peter again.
I open my eyes and Peter’s staring at me with that same expression on his face. Very sincerely I say, “Thank you.” He replies, “You’re welcome,” and I hop out of his arms and sprint off in the opposite direction.
It takes all of history class and most of English for my heart rate to slow down. I kissed Peter Kavinsky. In the hallway, in front of everybody. In front of Josh.
I didn’t think this thing through, obviously. That’s what Margot would say, including and especially the “obviously.” If I had thought it through, I would have made up a boyfriend and not picked an actual person. More specifically, I would not have picked Peter K. He is literally the worst person I could have picked, because everybody knows him. He’s Peter Kavinsky, for Pete’s sake. Kavinsky of Gen and Kavinsky. It doesn’t matter that they’re broken up. They’re an institution at this institution.
I spend the rest of the day hiding out. I even eat my lunch in the girls’ bathroom.
My last class of the day is gym. With Peter. Coach White gives us a reintroduction to the weight room, and we have to practice using the machines. Peter and his friends already know how to use them, so they separate off from the group and have a free-throw contest, and I don’t get a chance to talk to him. At one point he catches me looking at him and he winks, which makes me want to shrivel up and die.
After class is over, I wait for Peter outside the boys’ locker room, planning out what I’m going to say, how I’m going to explain it. I’ll start out with, “So about this morning . . . ,” and then I’ll give a little laugh, like how hilarious was that!
Peter’s the last one to come out. His hair is wet from a shower. It’s weird that boys take showers at school, since girls never do. I wonder if they have stalls in there, or just a bunch of shower heads and no privacy.
“Hey,” he says when he sees me, but he doesn’t stop.
To his back I hurriedly say, “So about this morning . . .” I laugh, and Peter turns around and just looks at me.
“Oh yeah. What was that all about?”
“It was a dumb joke,” I begin.
Peter crosses his arms and leans against the lockers. “Did it have anything to do with that letter you sent me?”
“No. I mean, yes. Tangentially.”
“Look,” he says kindly. “I think you’re cute. In a quirky way. But Gen and I just broke up, and I’m not in a place right now where I want be somebody’s boyfriend. So . . .”
My mouth drops. Peter Kavinsky is giving me the brush-off! I don’t even like him, and he’s giving me the brush-off. Also, “quirky”? How am I “quirky”? “Cute in a quirky way” is an insult. A total insult!
He’s still talking, still giving me the kind eyes. “I mean, I’m definitely flattered. That you would like me all this time—it’s flattering, you know?”
That’s enough. That’s plenty enough. “I don’t like you,” I say, loudly. “So there’s no reason you should feel flattered.”
Now it’s Peter’s turn to look taken aback. He quickly looks around to see if anyone heard. He leans forward and whispers, “Then why did you kiss me?”
“I kissed you because I don’t like you,” I explain, like this should be obvious. “See, my letters got sent out by someone. Not me.”
“Wait a minute. ‘Letters’? How many of us are there?”
“Five. And the guy I do like got one too—”
Peter frowns. “Who?”
Why should I tell him anything? “That’s . . . personal.”
“Hey, I think I have a right to know, since you pulled me into this little drama,” Peter says with a pointed look. I suck in my top lip and shake my head and he adds, “If there even really is a guy.”
“There is so a guy! It’s Josh Sanderson.”
“Doesn’t he go out with your sister?”
I nod. I’m surprised he even knows this. I didn’t think Josh and Margot would be on his radar. “They’re broken up now. But I don’t want him to know I have feelings for him . . . for obvious reasons. So . . . I told him you were my boyfriend.”
“So you used me to save face?”
“I mean, basically.” Basically exactly.
“You’re a funny girl.”
First I’m cute in a quirky way; now I’m a funny girl. I know what that means. “Anyway, thanks for going along with it, Peter.” I flash him what I hope is a winning smile and turn on my heel to go. “See ya!”
Peter reaches out and grabs me by the backpack. “Wait—so Sanderson thinks I’m your boyfriend now, right? So what are you going to tell him?”
I try to shrug him loose, but he won’t let go. “I haven’t figured that part out yet. But I will.” I lift my chin. “I’m quirky like that.”
Peter laughs out loud, his mouth open wide. “You really are funny, Lara Jean.”
MY PHONE VIBRATES NEXT TO me. It’s chris.
“Is it true?” I can hear her puffing on her cigarette.
“Is what true?”
I’m lying on my bed, on my stomach. My mom told me that if my stomach hurt, I should lie on my stomach and it would warm up and feel better. I don’t think it’s helping, though. My stomach’s been in knots all day.
“Did you run up to Kavinsky and kiss him like a maniac?”
I close my eyes and whimper. I wish I could say no, because I’m not the kind of person to do that. But I did do it, so I guess I am. But my reasons were really good! I want to tell Chris the truth, but the whole thing is just so embarrassing. “Yeah. I went up to Peter Kavinsky and kissed him. Like a maniac.”
Chris exhales. “Damn!”
“What the hell were you thinking?”
“Honestly? I don’t even know. I just . . . did it.”
“Shit. I didn’t know you had it in you. I’m kind of impressed.”
“But you know Gen’s gonna come after you, right? They may be broken up, but she still thinks she owns his ass.”
My stomach lurches. “Yeah. I know. I’m scared, Chris.”
“I’ll do my best to protect you from her, but you know how she is. You better watch your back.” Chris hangs up.
I feel even worse than before. If Margot was here, she’d probably say that writing those letters was pointless in the first place, and she’d get on me about telling such a big lie. Then she’d help me figure out a solution. But Margot’s not here, she’s in Scotland—and even bigger than that, she’s the one person I can’t talk to. She can never-never-never know how I felt about Josh.
After a while I get out of bed and wander into Kitty’s room. She’s on the floor rifling through her bottom drawer. Without looking up, she says, “Have you seen my pajamas with the hearts?”
“I washed them yesterday, so they’re probably in the dryer. Tonight do you wanna watch a movie and play Uno?” I could use a cheer-up night.
Kitty scrambles up. “Can’t. I’m going to Alicia Bernard’s birthday. It’s in the schedule notebook.”
“Who’s Alicia Bernard?” I plop down on Kitty’s unmade bed.
“She’s the new girl. She invited all the girls in our class. Her mom’s making us crepes for breakfast. Do you know what a crepe is?”
“Have you ever had one? I heard they can be salty or sweet.”
“Yes, I had one with Nutella and strawberries once.” Josh and Margot and I drove down to Richmond because Margot wanted to go to the Edgar Allan Poe museum. We ate lunch at a café downtown and that’s what I had.
Kitty’s eyes go big and greedy. “I hope that’s the kind her mom makes.” Then she dashes off, I guess to find her pajamas in the laundry room downstairs.
I pick up Kitty’s stuffed pig and cuddle it in my arms. So even my nine-year-old sister has plans on a Friday night. If Margot was here, we’d be going to the movies with Josh, or stopping by the cocktail hour at the Belleview retirement home. If my dad was home, I could maybe get up the courage to take his car or have him drop me off, but I can’t even do that.
After Kitty gets picked up, I go back to my room and organize my shoe collection. It’s a little early in the season to switch out my sandals for my winter shoes, but I go ahead and do it because I’m in the mood. I think about doing my clothes too, but that’s no small undertaking. Instead I sit down and write Margot a letter on stationery my grandma bought me in Korea. It’s pale blue with a border of fluffy white lambs. I talk about school, and Kitty’s new teacher, and a lavender skirt I ordered from a Japanese website that I’m sure she’ll want to borrow, but I don’t tell her any of the real things.
I miss her so much. Nothing’s the same without her. I’m realizing now that the year is going to be a lonely one, because I don’t have Margot, and I don’t have Josh, and it’s just me alone. I have Chris, but not really. I wish I’d made more friends. If I had more friends, maybe I wouldn’t have done something as stupid as kiss Peter K. in the hallway and tell Josh he’s my boyfriend.
I WAKE UP TO THE sound of the lawn mower.
It’s Saturday morning and I can’t fall back to sleep, so now I’m lying in my bed staring at my walls, at all the pictures and things I’ve saved. I’m thinking I want to shake things up. I’m thinking maybe I should paint my room. The only question is, what color? Lavender? Cotton-candy pink? Something bold, like turquoise? Maybe just an accent wall? Maybe one marigold wall, one salmon pink. It’s a lot to consider. I should probably wait for Margot to come home before I make such a momentous decision. Plus I’ve never painted a room before, and Margot has, with Habitat for Humanity. She’ll know what to do.
On Saturdays we usually have something good for breakfast, like pancakes or frittata with frozen shredded potato and broccoli. But since there’s no Kitty and no Margot, I just eat cereal instead. Who ever heard of making pancakes or frittata for just one person? My dad’s been awake for hours; he’s outside mowing the lawn. I don’t want to get roped into helping him do yard work, so I make myself busy in the house and clean the downstairs. I Swiffer and DustBust and wipe the tables down, and all the while my wheels are turning about how I’m going to get myself out of this Peter K. situation with even a sliver of dignity. The wheels turn and turn, but no good solutions come to mind.