Always and Forever, Lara Jean (31 page)

I busy myself with spooning honey into mugs. “Oh, nothing.” The last thing Trina needs on the night before her wedding is to hear about my problems.

She gives me a look. “Come on, girl. Tell me.”

“I don’t know. I guess we’re broken up?” I shrug my shoulders high so I don’t cry.

“Oh, honey. Bring that tea over here and come sit next to me on the couch.”

I finish making the tea and bring the mugs over to the couch and sit next to Trina, who tucks her legs under her and drapes a blanket over both of us. “Now tell me everything,” she says.

“I guess things started to go sideways when I got into
UNC
. Our plan was for me to go to William and Mary and then I’d transfer, and we’d be long distance for the first year. But
UNC
is a lot farther, and when I visited, I knew I wanted to be there. Not with one foot in and one foot out, you know?” I stir my spoon. “I really want to give it a chance.”

“I think that’s a thousand percent the right attitude.” Trina warms her hand on her tea mug. “So that’s why you broke up with him?”

“No, not entirely. Peter’s mom told me he was talking about transferring to
UNC
next year. She wanted me to break up with him before he messed up his life for me.”

“Damn! Peter’s mom is kind of a bitch!”

“She didn’t use those exact words, but that was the gist of it.” I take a sip of tea. “I wouldn’t want him to transfer for me either. . . . My mom used to say not to go to college with a boyfriend, because you’ll lose out on a true freshman experience.”

“Well, to be fair, your mom never met Peter Kavinsky. She didn’t have all the facts. If she had met him . . .” Trina lets out a low whistle. “She might’ve been singing a different tune.”

Tears fill my eyes. “Honestly I regret breaking up with him and I wish I could take it all back!”

She tips up my chin. “Then why don’t you?”

“I don’t think he’ll ever forgive me for hurting him like that. He doesn’t let people in easily. I think I’m probably dead to him.”

Trina tries to hide a smile. “I doubt that. Look, you’ll talk to him at the wedding tomorrow. When he sees you in that dress, all will be forgiven.”

I sniffle. “I’m sure he’s not coming.”

“I’m sure he is. You don’t plan a man’s bachelor party and then not show to the wedding. Not to mention the fact that he’s crazy about you.”

“But what if I hurt him again?”

She wraps both her hands around her mug of tea and takes a sip. “You can’t protect him from being hurt, babe, no matter what you do. Being vulnerable, letting people in, getting hurt . . . it’s all a part of being in love.”

I take this in. “Trina, when did you figure out that you and my dad were the real thing?”

“I don’t know. . . . I think I just—decided.”

“Decided on what?”

“Decided on him. On us.” She smiles at me. “On all of it.”

It’s so crazy to think that a year ago, she was just our neighbor Ms. Rothschild. Kitty and I would sit on our stoop and watch her run to the car in the morning and spill hot coffee all over herself. And now she’s marrying our dad. She’s going to be our stepmom, and I’m so glad for it.

40

THE AIR SMELLS LIKE HONEYSUCKLES
and summer days that go on and on. It is the perfect day to get married. I don’t think there’s any place prettier than Virginia in June. Everything in bloom, everything green and sunny and hopeful. When I get married, I think I might like it to be at home too.

We woke up early, and it seemed like there would be plenty of time, but of course we’re running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Trina is flying around the upstairs in her silky ivory robe that Kristen bought her. Kristen bought pink ones for us bridesmaids, with our names embroidered in gold on the front pocket. Trina’s says
The Bride
. I’ve got to hand it to Kristen. She’s annoying but she has vision. She knows how to make things nice.

Trina’s photographer friend takes a picture of all of us in our robes, Trina sitting in the middle like a very tan swan. Then it’s time to get dressed. We compromised on Kitty’s tuxedo—she’s wearing a white short-sleeved button-down shirt, a jaunty plaid bow tie, and pants that hit at her ankle. Her hair is in Swiss Miss braids, tucked under and pinned up. She looks so pretty. She looks so . . . Kitty. I compromised by putting baby’s breath in my hair but no flower crown. I also compromised on my vision of fairy nightgowns for Margot
and me. Instead we are wearing vintage 1950s floral dresses that I found on Etsy—Margot’s is cream with yellow daisies, and mine has pink flowers and straps that tie at the shoulder. Mine must have been owned by a short person, because we didn’t even have to alter it, and it hits at the knees, right where it’s supposed to, .

Trina is a beautiful bride. Her teeth and dress look very white against her tanned skin. “I don’t look silly, do I?” She casts a nervous look in my direction. “Too old to wear white? I mean, I
am
a divorcée.”

Margot answers before I can. “You look perfect. Just perfect.”

My older sister has a way of sounding right. Trina’s whole body relaxes, like one big exhale. “Thank you, Margot.” Her voice goes tremulous. “I’m just . . . so happy.”

“Don’t cry!” Kitty screeches.

“Shh,” I tell her. “Don’t scream. Trina needs serenity.” Kitty’s been a nervous bundle of energy all day; it’s like her birthday and Christmas and first day of school combined.

Trina fans her armpits. “I’m sweating. I think I need more deodorant. Kitty, do I smell?”

Kitty leans in. “You’re good.”

We’ve already taken a hundred pictures today, and we’ll take hundreds more, but I know this one will be my favorite. Us three Song girls flocked in tight around Trina, Margot dabbing at Trina’s eyes with a tissue, Kitty standing on a footstool fussing with Trina’s hair, Trina’s arm around me. We’re smiling so big. Things are ending, but they are beginning, too.

As for Peter, there’s been no word. Every time a car comes down our street, I go to the window to see if it’s him, but it never is. He isn’t coming, and I don’t blame him one bit. But still I hope, because I can’t help but hope.

*  *  *

The backyard is covered in Christmas lights and white paper lanterns. Granted, there’s no wall of roses, but it still looks lovely. All of the chairs are set up; the runner is rolled out in the middle for Trina to walk down. I greet guests as they come in—it’s a small group, under fifty people. The perfect size for a backyard wedding. Margot’s sitting with Grandma, Nana, and Trina’s dad and sister in the first row, keeping them company while I walk around saying hello to our neighbors the Shahs, Aunt Carrie and Uncle Victor, my cousin Haven, who compliments my dress. Throughout it all, I keep my eyes trained on the driveway, waiting for a black Audi that doesn’t come.

When “Lullaby” by the Dixie Chicks begins to play, Kitty, Margot, and I get into our places. Daddy walks out and stands on the groom’s side, and we all look toward the house, where Trina is making her way toward us. She is resplendent.

We cry throughout the vows, even Margot, who never cries. They go with the traditional ones, and when Reverend Choi, the pastor from Grandma’s church, says, “You may kiss the bride,” Daddy turns beet red, but he kisses Trina with a flourish. Everyone claps; Kitty whoops. Jamie Fox-Pickle barks.

*  *  *

The father-daughter dance was Trina’s idea. She said she’d already been there and done that and didn’t feel the need to
do it again, and that it would be far more meaningful for us girls to do it instead. We practiced earlier this week, on the dance floor Daddy rented.

We planned the father-daughter dance to go Margot first, then I cut in, then Kitty cuts in. The song Daddy chose is “Isn’t She Lovely,” a song Stevie Wonder wrote for his daughter when she was first born.

Kitty and I stand off to the side, clapping to the beat. I know she’s already relishing her moment to cut in on me.

Before Daddy releases Margot, he pulls her close and whispers something in her ear, and she gets tears in her eyes. I won’t ask what he said; it is a moment just for them.

Daddy and I have practiced a few moves. The crowd-pleaser is when we dance-walk side by side and shimmy together in unison.

“I’m so proud of you,” he says. “My middle girl.” It’s my turn for my eyes to fill. I kiss him on the cheek and hand him off to Kitty. Daddy swings her around just as the harmonica starts up.

I’m walking off the dance floor when I see him. Peter, in a suit, standing to the side, beside the dogwood tree. He looks so handsome I can hardly stand it. I cross the backyard, and he watches me the whole time. My heart is pounding so hard. Is he here for me? Or did he just come because he promised my dad?

When I’m standing in front of him, I say, “You came.”

Peter looks away. “Of course I came.”

Softly I say, “I wish I could take back the things I said the
other night. I don’t even remember all of them.”

Looking down, he says, “But you meant them, right? So it’s a good thing you said them then, because somebody had to and you were right.”

“Which part?” I whisper.

“About
UNC
. About me not transferring there.” He lifts his head, his eyes wounded. “But you should have told me my mom talked to you.”

I take a shaky breath. “You should have told me you were thinking about transferring! You should’ve told me how you were feeling, period. You shut down after graduation; you wouldn’t let me in. You kept saying everything was going to be fine.”

“Because I was fucking scared, okay!” he bursts out. He looks around to see if anyone heard, but the music is loud, and everyone is dancing; no one is looking at us, and it’s like we are alone here in this backyard.

“What were you so scared about?” I whisper.

His hands tighten into fists at his sides. When he finally speaks, his voice comes out raw, like he hasn’t used it in a while. “I was scared that you were going to go to
UNC
and you were gonna figure out I wasn’t worth it, and you were going to leave.”

I take a step closer to him. I put my hand on his arm; he doesn’t pull away from me. “Besides my family, you’re the most special person to me in the world. And I meant some of those things I said the other night, but not the part when I said I only wanted to lose my virginity to you to close a chapter on us. I wanted it to be you because I love you.”

Peter puts one arm around my waist, pulls me in, and, looking down at me, he says fiercely, “Neither of us wants to break up. So why should we? Because of some shit my mom said? Because your sister did it that way? You’re not the same as your sister, Lara Jean. We’re not the same as Margot and Sanderson or anybody else. We’re you and me. And yeah, it’s gonna be hard. But Lara Jean, I’ll never feel for another girl what I feel for you.” He says it with all the certainty only a teenage boy can have, and I have never loved him more than at this very moment.

*  *  *

“Lovin’ in My Baby’s Eyes” is playing, and Peter takes my hand and leads me out to the lawn.

We’ve never danced to this kind of song before. It’s the kind of song where you sway together and make a lot of eye contact and smile. It feels different, like we’re already older versions of Peter and Lara Jean.

Across the dance floor, Trina and Kitty and Margot are dancing in a circle, with Grandma in the middle. Haven is dancing with my dad. She catches my eye and mouths,
He’s so cute.
Peter, not my dad. He is. He is so, so cute.

I will never forget tonight, not for as long as I live. One day, if I’m lucky, I’ll tell some young girl all my stories, just like Stormy told me hers. And I’ll get to live them again.

When I’m old and gray, I will look back on this night, and I will remember it just as it was.

Is.

We’re still here. It’s not the future yet.

*  *  *

That night, after all the guests have gone, after the chairs have been stacked back up, and the leftovers put in the fridge, I go up to my room to change out of my dress. Sitting on the bed is my yearbook. I flip to the back of the book, and there it is, Peter’s message to me.

Only, it’s not a message, it’s a contract.

Lara Jean and Peter’s Amended Contract

Peter will write a letter to Lara Jean once a week. A real handwritten letter, not an e-mail.

Lara Jean will call Peter once a day. Preferably the last call of the night, before she goes to bed.

Lara Jean will put up a picture of Peter’s choosing on her wall.

Peter will keep the scrapbook out on his desk so any interested parties will see that he is taken.

Peter and Lara Jean will always tell each other the truth, even when it’s hard.

Peter will love Lara Jean with all his heart, always.

41

THE NIGHT BEFORE I LEAVE
for college, there is a Perseids meteor shower in the forecast. It’s supposed to be a good one. Peter and I are going out to the lake to watch. Kitty doesn’t say so, but she wants to come too; she’s dying to. Her whole body is rigid with wanting and not being able to ask. Any other time I would say yes.

When I say good-bye, her lips twist in disappointment for just a second, but she hides it well. How hard it must be to be the youngest sometimes, to be the one left behind.

In the car I feel sick with guilt for being so possessive about my time with Peter. It’s just that there’s so little time left now. . . . I’m a terrible big sister. Margot would have brought her.

“What are you thinking about?” Peter asks me.

“Oh, nothing,” I say. I’m too ashamed to say out loud that I should have invited Kitty along.

When I come home for fall break, we’ll do something the three of us. Peter and I will take her to the midnight show at the drive-in, and she’ll go in her pajamas and I’ll set up the backseat with a blanket for when she falls asleep. But tonight I want it to be just Peter and me, just this once. There’s no use lingering in the guilt and ruining the night, when I’ve already done the selfish deed. And if I am truly honest with
myself, I would do it again. That’s how covetous I am of every last moment I have left with Peter. I want his eyes only on me; I want to talk only to him, to be just him and me for this little while longer. One day she’ll understand. One day she’ll love a boy and want to keep him all to herself and not share his attention with anyone else.

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