Authors: Jenny Han
Peter calls out, “Is everything okay?”
“Just a sec!” Should I put my clothes back on or just come out in my bra and underwear? He’s never seen me in just my underwear before. Well, I guess he’s about to see me without any clothes at all, so I might as well.
I step out of the bathroom, carrying my clothes in front of me like a shield, and Peter does a double take when he sees me and quickly takes his shirt off. I can feel myself blush. I stuff my bra and underwear in my suitcase, and then dig around inside until I find the packet of condoms. I take one out and then climb back into bed and get under the sheets. “Okay, now I’m ready.”
“I like your bra,” Peter says, peeling the sheet away from me.
He moves closer to me and kisses my eyelid. First the left, then the right. “Are you nervous?”
“We don’t have to do anything tonight, Covey.”
“No, I want to.” I hold up the condom, and Peter’s
eyebrows shoot up. “From my dad’s kit. Remember, I told you he made me a contraception kit?”
Taking the condom from me, he kisses my neck and says, “Can we not talk about your dad right now?”
“Sure,” I say.
Peter rolls on top of me. My heart is thrumming in my chest, the way it does whenever I am close to him, but now even more so, because everything’s about to change. I’m going somewhere with him I’ve never gone before. He’s careful to keep his weight on his forearms, to not crush me, but I don’t mind the weight of his body on mine. His hand is in my hair the way I like; his lips are warm. We’re both breathing fast.
And then he’s suddenly not kissing me anymore. I open my eyes and he’s hovering above me, his brow furrowed. “Is this because we had a fight last night? Because, Covey—”
“It’s not because of the fight. I just—I just want to feel close to you.” Peter’s looking at me so intently, and I can tell he’s waiting for more, for me to give him some grand reason. It’s pretty simple, really. “It’s not all of a sudden. I want to have sex with you because I love you and I want it to be you.”
“But why me?”
“Because—because you’re my first love, so who else would it be?”
Peter rolls off me and sits up; his head is in his hands.
I sit up too, pulling the sheet up around me. “What’s wrong?” He doesn’t say anything for what feels like forever.
“Please just say it.” I’m starting to feel sick to my stomach.
“I don’t want to do this right now.”
“Why not?” I whisper.
He can’t look at me. “I don’t know. . . . I just have a lot on my mind. Between lacrosse, and my dad not showing up at graduation, and now you’re leaving for the summer.”
“Not the whole summer. Just July. I’ll be back at the end of July! Why are you fast-forwarding the whole summer away?”
Peter shakes his head. “It just seems like you’re leaving and you don’t really care.”
“You know it wasn’t my choice! My dad surprised me! You’re not being fair, Peter.”
He looks at me for a long beat. “What about
? Are you even planning on transferring to
anymore? When it was William and Mary, it was a given, and now it doesn’t seem like it.”
I wet my lips. My heart is pounding out of control. “I’m not sure. Maybe? But maybe not.
feels different to me.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s obvious.”
“Don’t make it sound like a bad thing! Would you rather I go somewhere and be unhappy?”
“Temporarily unhappy,” he corrects.
“Come on, Lara Jean. Do you really think that shitty of me?”
“No. I . . . I just don’t understand why you’re acting this
way. I want to at least give
a real chance. I want to give myself a chance.” My eyes well up with tears, and it’s hard to speak. “And I think you should want that for me too.”
Peter flinches like I’ve hit him. This bed is small, but it feels like he’s so far away from me right now. I ache inside, wanting to go to him. But I can’t.
Silently he puts his shirt back on. “I think I’m gonna go,” he says. Then he gets up, walks out the door, and leaves. I wait for the front door to shut before I start to cry.
AS WE PACK UP THE
car that morning, I keep thinking Peter might show up to take me home, but he doesn’t, and I don’t reach out to him, either. I ride back up to Virginia with the girls.
I don’t hear anything from Peter until the next day. I get a text that says:
I’m sorry for last night. I was a dick.
We’re gonna make this work, I promise.
I have to do some stuff for my mom but can I see you later?
I text back:
He texts back:
I really am sorry.
I love you.
I’m starting to text back,
I love you, too
, when my phone rings. It’s Peter’s house number, and I answer it eagerly.
“I love you, too,” I say.
There is surprised silence on the other end, then a little laugh to cover it up. “Hi, Lara Jean. This is Peter’s mom.”
I am mortified. “Oh! Hi, Mrs. Kavinsky.”
She wants me to come over and chat with her. She says Peter isn’t home, that it’ll be just the two of us. She must have sent him out to run errands for her so she could ask me over. What can I do but go?
I put on a yellow sundress and lipstick, brush my hair, and drive to Peter’s house. She answers the door with a ready smile on her face; she’s wearing a gingham blouse and Bermuda shorts. “Come on in,” she says.
I follow her into the kitchen, and she says, “Lara Jean, would you like something to drink? Sun tea?”
“Sure,” I say, climbing onto a stool.
Peter’s mom pours me a glass of sun tea out of a plastic frosted pitcher. She hands me the glass and says, “Thank you for coming over here to visit with me, just us girls. There’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about.”
“Sure,” I say again. My skin is prickling.
She takes my hands in hers. Her hands are cool and dry; mine suddenly feel clammy. “Peter’s been through a lot, and he’s worked so hard. I’m sure you know how disappointing it was for him when his dad didn’t come to graduation.” Her eyes search mine, and I nod. “He pretends he doesn’t care, but he’s hurting inside. He came back from Beach Week talking about transferring to
for his sophomore year. Did you know that?”
I can feel all the blood rush to my face. “No, I didn’t know that. He . . . he hasn’t said a word to me about it.”
She nods, as if she suspected as much. “If he were to transfer, he wouldn’t be able to play for a year. That means he wouldn’t keep his athletic scholarship. Out-of-state tuition is very expensive, as I’m sure you know.”
It is. Daddy said it would be all right, that Margot only has two more years of college, and Kitty has ages before it’s her turn. But I know it’s expensive. And I know, even though we don’t talk about it, that my dad makes more money than Peter’s mom does.
“Peter’s dad says he wants to contribute, but his dad isn’t someone to be depended on. So I can’t count on him.” She pauses delicately. “But I’m hoping I can count on you.”
I rush to say, “You don’t need to worry about me. I’ll tell Peter not to transfer to North Carolina.”
“Honey, I appreciate that so much, I really do, but it’s not just transferring that I’m worrying about. I’m worried about his mind-set. When he gets to
, he needs to be focused. He’s going there to be a student athlete. He can’t be driving down to North Carolina every weekend. It just isn’t practical. You’re both so young. Peter’s already making big life decisions based on you, and who even knows what’s going to happen with you two in the future. You’re teenagers. Life doesn’t always work out the way you think it’s going to work out. . . . I don’t know if Peter ever told you this, but Peter’s dad and I got married very young. And I’d—I’d just hate to see you two make the same mistakes
we did.” She hesitates. “Lara Jean, I know my son, and he’s not going to let you go unless you let him go first.”
“He’d do anything for you. That’s his nature. He’s loyal to his very core. Unlike his father.” Mrs. Kavinsky looks at me with sympathetic eyes. “I know you care about Peter and you want what’s best for him. I hope you’ll give what I said some thought.” She hesitates, then says, “Please don’t mention anything to him. Peter would be very upset with me.”
I struggle to find my voice. “I won’t.”
Her smile is bright, relieved. “You’re a sweet girl, Lara Jean. I know you’ll do the right thing.” She pats my hands and releases them. Then she changes the subject, asking me about my dad’s wedding.
When I get back to my car, I flip down the mirror and see that my cheeks are still stained pink. It feels like the time in seventh grade when Chris’s mom found her cigarettes and she thought we’d both been smoking them. I wanted to say it wasn’t me, but I couldn’t. I just shriveled up with shame. That’s how I feel right now. Like I’ve gotten in trouble.
Was it foolish of Peter and me to think that we could be the exception to the rule? Is Peter’s mom right? Are we making a huge mistake? Suddenly it feels like every decision we make is so momentous, and I’m so scared to make the wrong one.
* * *
Back at home, Daddy, Margot, and Kitty are in the living room debating over where to go for dinner. It’s such a normal
thing to be discussing on a Thursday evening, but I feel so strange, because it’s as if the earth is shifting beneath my feet, and the ground isn’t steady anymore, but everyone around me is talking about food.
“What do you feel like, Lara Jean?” Daddy asks me.
“I’m not very hungry,” I say, looking down at my phone. What will I say to Peter when he calls? Do I tell him? “I might just stay home.”
Daddy peers at me. “Are you all right? Coming down with something? You look pale.”
I shake my head. “No, I’m fine.”
“How about Seoul House?” Margot suggests. “I’ve really been craving Korean food.”
Daddy hesitates, and I know why. Trina doesn’t exactly have the most sophisticated palate. She lives off of Diet Coke and chicken fingers; kale salads are about as adventurous as she gets. When we order sushi, she’ll only eat California rolls and cooked shrimp. She doesn’t eat any fish at all. But nobody’s perfect.
“Trina’s not big on Korean food,” I say, to spare Daddy having to say it. My phone buzzes, but it’s just an email from
’s housing department.
Incredulous, Margot says, “Are you serious?”
“It’s a little spicy for her.” Hastily he adds, “But it’s fine. She can get the bulgogi sliders or the fried rice.”
“I don’t want Korean food either,” Kitty says.
“We’ll go to Seoul House,” Daddy says. “Trina will be fine.”
As soon as Daddy goes to make a reservation, I say to Margot, “Don’t judge Trina for not liking Korean food.
She can’t help it if she can’t eat spicy stuff.”
Kitty is quick to jump in with, “Yeah, don’t judge her.”
A hurt look flashes across Margot’s face, and she protests, “I didn’t say anything!”
“We know what you were thinking,” I say. I know what she’s thinking because I’ve had the same thought. And I’m now in the curious position of having to defend Trina for something I also think is annoying. It wouldn’t kill Trina to broaden her culinary horizons.
“Fried rice, though? Really?”
“What’s the big deal if she doesn’t like Korean food?” Kitty says.
“Korean food is our biggest link to Korean culture,” Margot tells her. “Are we just never going to eat Korean food anymore because Trina doesn’t like it?” Margot doesn’t wait for us to answer. “I just hope she realizes that when she marries Daddy, she gets the whole package, and Korea’s a part of that package.”
“Margot, she knows that,” I say. “And besides, we’ll get to eat Korean food every day this summer.” Every day this summer when I’m away from Peter.
“I wish Daddy and Trina were coming too,” Kitty says.
“It’s better this way,” Margot says. “What would Trina even eat in Korea?” She’s halfway joking but not really.
Kitty, who is petting Jamie, ignores her and asks me, “Who’s going to take care of Jamie Fox-Pickle and Simone when we’re all gone?”
“A dog sitter?” I suggest. My heart’s not really in it. I’m
only halfway here. All I can think of is Peter. “We’ll figure something out.”
Margot looks around the room. Her eyes land on Trina’s big armchair. “This house feels so small all of sudden. There isn’t enough room for all of Trina’s stuff.”
Kitty says, “It doesn’t feel that small when you’re not here.”
I gasp. “Kitty!”
All the color drains from Margot’s face, and then her cheeks go splotchy. “Did you really just say that to me?”
I can tell Kitty regrets it, but she lifts her chin in her stubborn Kitty way. “Well, I’m just saying.”
“You’re a brat.” Margot gets the words out strong, but I see her face as she turns to go upstairs, and I know she’s going to her room to cry in private.
As soon as she’s gone, I turn to Kitty. “Why did you say that to her?”
Tears leak from her eyes. “Because! She’s been so mean to Tree for no reason.”
I wipe her tears with the back of my hand. I feel like crying too. “Gogo feels left out, that’s all. We know Trina, because we’ve had time to know her. But Margot doesn’t know her at all. And Kitty—Gogo practically raised you. You don’t talk to her like that.”
Halfheartedly, she mutters, “I talk to you like that.”
“That’s different and you know it. We’re closer in age.”
“So you’re saying you and I are on the same level?”
“I mean—no. Margot and I are almost on the same level, and you’re on the level below us, because you’re the
youngest. But you and I are more on the same level than you and Margot. Just try and understand her. She doesn’t want to feel like her place has been taken.”
Kitty’s shoulders hunch. “It hasn’t been taken.”
“She just needs a little reassurance, that’s all. Be understanding.” Kitty doesn’t reply or lift her head, but I know she’s hearing me. “You
a little brat, though.” Her head snaps up and she lunges at me, and I laugh. “Go upstairs and say sorry to Gogo. You know it’s the right thing to do.”