Always and Forever, Lara Jean (30 page)

“Peter, that’s not what I’m saying! I’m saying that if you came, if you gave up everything you’ve worked for at
UVA
, you’d only end up resenting me.”

Flatly he says, “Just stop it, Lara Jean. I saw this coming a mile away. Ever since you decided to go to
UNC
, you’ve been saying good-bye to me.”

My arm drops away from him. “What does that even mean?”

“There’s the scrapbook, for one thing. You said it was to remember us by. Why would I need something to remember us by, Lara Jean?”

“That isn’t how I meant it! I spent months working on that scrapbook. You’re putting this all on me, but you’re the one who’s been pushing me away. Ever since Beach Week!”

“Fine, let’s talk about what happened that night at Beach Week.” I can feel my face flush as he looks at me with a challenge in his eyes. “That night you wanted to have sex, it was like you were trying to put a bow on this whole thing. Like you were putting me in your—your hatbox. Like I played my part in your first love story, and now you can go on to the next chapter.”

I feel light-headed, unsteady on my feet. Peter, who I thought I understood so well. “I’m sorry you took it that way, but that’s not how I meant it. Not at all.”

“It clearly is how you meant it, because you’re doing it right now. Aren’t you?”

Is there some hidden truth to what he’s saying, even a little bit? It’s true that I wouldn’t want my first
time to be with anyone else. It’s true that it felt right to have it be with Peter, because he’s the first boy I ever loved. I wouldn’t want it to be with some boy I meet in college. That boy is a stranger to me. Peter I’ve known since we were kids. Was I just trying to close a chapter?

No. I did it because I wanted it to be him. But if that’s how he sees it, maybe it’s easier this way.

I swallow. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I did want my first time to be with you so I could close a chapter on high school. On us.”

He freezes. I see the pain in his eyes, and then his face closes up like a shuttered empty house. He starts to walk away. This time I don’t try to stop him. Over his shoulder he says, “We’re good, Covey. Don’t worry about it.”

As soon as he’s gone, I turn to the side and throw up everything I drank and ate tonight. I’m bent over, heaving, when Trina and Daddy and Margot walk out of the karaoke bar. Daddy rushes over to me. “Lara Jean, what’s the matter? Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” I mumble, wiping my eyes and mouth.

His eyes widen, alarmed. “Have you been drinking?” He looks accusingly at Trina, who is rubbing my back. “Trina, you let Lara Jean drink?”

“She had a few sips of a pomegranate martini. She’ll be fine.”

“She doesn’t look fine!”

Trina stands up straight, her hand still on my back. “Dan, Lara Jean’s a young woman now. You can’t see it, because you still see her as a little girl, but she’s grown up so much in the time I’ve known her. She can handle herself.”

Margot breaks in. “Daddy, I let her have a few sips of my drink—that’s it. She really doesn’t have any tolerance. Frankly, it’s something she should work on before she gets to college. Don’t blame Trina.”

Daddy looks from Margot to Trina and back to Margot. She is standing shoulder to shoulder with Trina, and in that
moment they are united. Then he looks over at me. “You’re right. This is all on Lara Jean. Get in the car.”

On the way home we have to pull over once so I can throw up again. It’s not the pomegranate martini that’s making me want to die. It’s the look on Peter’s face. The way the light in his eyes went away. The hurt—if I close my eyes I can see it. The only other time I’ve seen him look that way was when his dad didn’t show up at graduation. And now that look is there because of me.

I start to cry in the car. Big sobs that make my shoulders shake.

“Don’t cry,” my dad says with a sigh. “You’re in trouble, but not that big of trouble.”

“It’s not that. I broke up with Peter.” I can barely get the words out. “Daddy, if you could’ve seen the look on his face. It was—terrible.”

Bewildered, he asks, “Why did you break up with him? He’s such a nice boy.”

“I don’t know,” I weep. “Now I don’t know.”

He takes one hand off the steering wheel and squeezes my shoulder. “It’s all right. It’s all right.”

“But—it isn’t.”

“But it will be,” he says, stroking my hair.

I made the right choice tonight. I did, I know it. Letting him go was the right thing.

I can see the future, Peter. That way lies heartbreak. I won’t do it. Better to part while we can still see each other in a certain way.

37

I WAKE UP IN THE
middle of the night crying, and my first thought is, I want to take it back. I’ve made a huge mistake and I want to take it all back. Then I cry myself back to sleep.

In the morning, my head throbs, and now I’m the one throwing up in the bathroom, just like the girls at Beach Week, only there’s no one to hold my hair back. I feel better after, but I lie on the bathroom floor for a while in case another wave of nausea hits. I fall asleep there, and wake up to Kitty shaking me by the arm. “Move, I have to pee,” she says, stepping over me.

“Help me up,” I say, and she drags me to my feet. She sits down to pee and I splash cold water on my face.

“Go eat some toast,” Kitty says. “It’ll soak up the alcohol in your stomach.”

I brush my teeth and stumble downstairs to the kitchen, where Daddy is cooking eggs and Margot and Trina are eating yogurt.

“Rise and shine, little girl,” Trina says with a grin.

“You look like someone ran you over with a truck,” Margot says.

“You’d be grounded right now if it weren’t for the wedding,” Daddy says, trying to sound stern and failing. “Eat some scrambled eggs.”

I gag at the thought.

“First eat some toast,” Margot instructs. “It’ll soak up the alcohol.”

“That’s what Kitty said.”

Trina points her spoon at me. “And then, once you’ve put some food in your belly, you can have two Advil. Never, ever take Advil on an empty stomach. You’ll be feeling much better in no time.”

“I’m never drinking again,” I vow, and Margot and Trina exchange a smirk. “I’m serious.”

I spend the whole day in bed, lights off with the curtains drawn. I want so badly to call Peter. To ask him to forgive me. I don’t even remember everything I said. I remember the gist of it, but the memory itself is blurry. The one thing I do remember so clearly, what I’ll never forget, is the stricken look on his face, and it makes me hate myself for putting it there.

I give in. I text him. Just three words.

I’m so sorry.

I see the . . . on the other end. My heart pounds madly as I wait. But the reply never comes. I try calling, but my call goes straight to voice mail, and I hang up. Maybe he’s already deleted me from his phone, like he did his dad. Maybe he’s just . . . done.

38

CHRIS IS THE FIRST TO
leave. she comes by the house that week and says, “I can’t go to your dad’s wedding this weekend. I’m leaving for the Dominican Republic tomorrow.”

“What?”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Chris doesn’t look the least bit sorry; she has a huge grin on her face. “It’s so crazy. A spot opened up for me at an eco-hotel, and there’s no way I can pass this up. They speak Spanish in the Dominican Republic, too, right?”

“Yes. But I thought you were going to Costa Rica!”

Shrugging, she says, “This other opportunity came up so I pounced on it.”

“But—I can’t believe you’re leaving so soon! You weren’t supposed to leave until August. When do you come back?”

“I don’t know. . . . I guess that’s the beauty of it. I could stay for six months, or something else will come up and I’ll go there.”

I blink. “So you’re leaving for good, then?”

“Not for
good
. Just for now.”

Something inside of me knows that this really is for good. I don’t see Chris coming back here a year from now
to go to Piedmont Virginia Community College. This is Chris, the stray cat, who comes and goes as she pleases. She’ll always land on her cat tippy-toes.

“Don’t look so sad. You’ll be fine without me. You have Kavinsky.” For a second I can’t breathe. Just hearing his name is like a dagger in my heart. “Anyway we’re all leaving soon enough. I’m just glad I’m not going to be left behind.”

That’s how it would feel to her—staying here, going to a community college, working at Applebee’s. I feel a surge of gladness that instead of that, she’s off on an adventure. “I just can’t believe you’re leaving so soon.” I don’t tell her that Peter and I broke up, that I don’t have him anymore. Today isn’t about me and Peter; it’s about Chris, and her exciting new future. “Can I at least come help you pack?”

“I’m already packed! I’m only bringing the essentials. My leather jacket, bikinis, a few crystals.”

“Shouldn’t you bring sneakers and work gloves and that kind of thing, just in case?”

“I’ll wear sneakers on the plane, and whatever else I need, I’ll get when I’m there. That’s the whole point of an adventure. Pack light and figure the rest out as you go.”

I thought we’d have more time, me and Chris in my bedroom, sharing secrets late into the night, eating chips in bed. I wanted to cement our friendship before she left: Lara Jean and Chrissy, like the old days.

It’s all ending.

39

THAT NIGHT BEFORE THE WEDDING
, when my cakes are cooling on the kitchen counter and everyone at my house is setting up lawn chairs outside, I drive over to Chris’s to say good-bye.

As soon as she lets me in, she says, “I’m not letting you in here if you cry.”

“I can’t help it. I feel like this is going to be the last time I ever see you.” A tear slips down my cheek. There is a finality to this moment. I know it, I just know it. Chris is catapulting on to the next thing. Even if we see each other again, it won’t be like this. She’s a restless spirit. I’m lucky to have had her for as long as I did.

“You’ll probably see me again next week when I fly right back home,” she jokes, and there is the tiniest note of trepidation in her voice. Chris, with all her bluster and bravado, is nervous.

“No way. You’re just getting started. This is it, Chris.” I jump up and hug her. I’m trying not to cry. “It’s all happening now.”

“What is?”

“Life!”

“You’re so corny,” she says, but I could swear I see tears in her eyes.

“I brought you something,” I tell her. I take the present out of my bag and give it to her.

She tears off the wrapping paper and opens the box. It’s a picture of the two of us in a little heart frame, no bigger than a Christmas tree ornament. We are at the beach, in matching bathing suits; we are twelve, maybe thirteen. “Hang this up on your wall wherever you go so people know you have somebody waiting for you back home.”

Her eyes tear up and she brushes them with the back of her hand. “Oh my God, you’re the worst,” she says.

I’ve heard people say you meet your best friends in college, and they’re the ones you’ll know your whole life, but I’m certain that I’ll know Chris my whole life too. I’m a person who saves things. I’ll hold on forever.

*  *  *

When I get back home, Trina’s at SoulCycle. Daddy is still outside setting up the chairs, Margot is steaming our bridesmaid dresses, and Kitty is cutting paper flags for the bunting that will go over the dessert table. I get to work icing the wedding cake—yellow cake with buttercream frosting, just like I promised Trina. Daddy’s groom’s cake is already done, Thin Mints and all. This is my second try with the wedding cake—I scrapped the first one because I didn’t trim enough off the tops of the layers and when I stacked it, the cake looked hopelessly lopsided. This second one is still a tiny bit uneven, but a thick layer of buttercream covers all manner of sins, or so I keep telling myself.

“You’re putting enough frosting on that cake to give us all diabetes,” Kitty remarks.

I bite my tongue and keep spinning the cake and frosting the top so it’s smooth. “It looks all right, doesn’t it, Margot?”

“It looks professionally done,” she assures me, zooming the steamer along the hem of her dress.

As I sail past Kitty, I can’t resist saying, “P.S., the last three flags you cut are crooked.”

Kitty ignores me and sings to herself, “Sugar shock, whoa baby, that cake’ll give us sugar shock,” to the tune of that oldies song “Sugar Shack.” It’s probably my own fault for playing it whenever I bake.

“This is the last time it’ll be just us,” I say, and Margot looks over at me and smiles.

“I’m glad it won’t be just us anymore,” Kitty says.

“So am I,” Margot says, and I’m fairly certain she means it.

Families shrink and expand. All you can really do is be glad for it, glad for each other, for as long as you have each other.

*  *  *

I can’t sleep, so I go downstairs to make a cup of Night-Night tea, and as I run the water for my kettle, I look out the window and see the red embers of a cigarette glowing in the darkness. Trina is outside smoking!

I’m debating whether or not to forego my tea ritual and go to bed before she sees me, but as I’m emptying the kettle, she comes back inside, a can of Fresca in her hand.

“Oh!” she says, startled.

“I couldn’t sleep,” I say, just as she says, “Don’t tell Kitty!”

We both laugh.

“I swear it was a good-bye smoke. I haven’t had a cigarette in months!”

“I won’t tell Kitty.”

“I owe you one,” Trina says, exhaling.

“Would you like a cup of Night-Night tea?” I ask her. “My mom used to make it for us. It’s very soothing. It’ll make you feel nice and cozy and ready for bed.”

“That sounds like heaven.”

I fill the kettle and put it on the stove. “Are you nervous about the wedding?”

“No, not nervous . . . just, nerves, I guess? I really want everything to go off—without a hitch.” A giggle escapes her throat. “Pun intended. God, I love a good pun.” Then she straightens up and says, “Tell me what’s going on with you and Peter.”

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