Always and Forever, Lara Jean (5 page)

She takes a bite of her cheese sandwich. “I’m making myself another sandwich, then. I don’t want to eat old freezer-burn chicken.”

I sit up suddenly. “Kitty, I’ll make something else if you’ll braid my hair tomorrow morning. I want to do something
special for New York.” I’ve never been to New York before in my life. For our last family vacation, we took a vote, and I picked New York, but I was voted down in favor of Mexico. Kitty wanted to eat fish tacos and swim in the ocean, and Margot wanted to see Mayan ruins and have a chance to work on her Spanish. In the end, I was happy to be outvoted. Before Mexico, Kitty and I had never even left the country. I’ve never seen water so blue.

“I’ll braid your hair only if I have time left over after I do mine,” Kitty says, which is the best I can hope for, I suppose. She’s just so good at doing hair.

“Who will braid my hair when I’m at college?” I muse.

“I will,” Peter says, all confidence.

“You don’t know how,” I scoff.

“The kid will teach me. Won’t you, kid?”

“For a price,” Kitty says.

They negotiate back and forth before finally settling on Peter taking Kitty and her friends to the movies one Saturday afternoon. Which is how I come to be sitting cross-legged on the floor while Peter and Kitty sit on the couch above me, Kitty demonstrating a French braid and Peter recording it on his phone.

“Now you try it,” she says.

He keeps losing a piece and getting frustrated. “You have a lot of hair, Lara Jean.”

“If you can’t get the French, I’ll teach you something more basic,” Kitty says, and there is no mistaking the contempt in her voice.

Peter hears it too. “No, I’m gonna get it. Just give me a second. I’m gonna master it just like I mastered the other kind of French.” He winks at me.

Kitty and I both scream at him for that. “Don’t talk like that in front of my sister!” I yell, shoving him in the chest.

“I was kidding!”

“Also, you’re not
that
good at French kissing.” Even though, yeah, he is.

Peter gives me a
Who are you kidding?
look, and I shrug, because who
am
I kidding?

*  *  *

Later, I’m walking Peter to his car when he stops in front of the passenger-side door and asks, “Hey, how many guys have you kissed?”

“Just three. You, John Ambrose McClaren—” I say his name fast, like ripping off a Band-Aid, but Peter still has enough time to scowl. “And Allie Feldman’s cousin.”

“The kid with the lazy eye?”

“Yeah. His name was Ross. I thought he was cute. It happened at a sleepover at Allie’s; I kissed him on a dare. But I wanted to.”

He gives me a speculative look. “So me, John, and Allie’s cousin.”

“Uh-huh.”

“You’re forgetting one person, Covey.”

“Who?”

“Sanderson!”

I wave my hand. “Oh, that doesn’t really count.”

“Allie Feldman’s cousin Ross who you kissed on a dare counts, but not
Josh
, who you technically cheated on me with?” Peter wags his finger at me. “Nuh-uh. I don’t think so.”

I shove him. “We weren’t actually together then and you know it!”

“A technicality, but okay.” He gives me a sidelong look. “Your number’s higher than mine, you know. I’ve only ever kissed Gen, Jamila, and you.”

“What about the girl you met at Myrtle Beach with your cousins? Angelina?”

A funny look crosses over his face. “Oh yeah. How’d you know about that?”

“You bragged about it to everyone!” It was the summer before seventh grade. I remember it drove Genevieve crazy, that some other girl had kissed Peter before she did. We tried to find Angelina online, but we didn’t have much to go on. Just her name. “So that makes it four girls you’ve kissed, and you did a lot more with them than kiss, Peter.”

“Fine!”

I’m on a roll now. “You’re the only boy I’ve ever
kissed
kissed. And you were the first. First kiss, first boyfriend, first everything! You got so many of my firsts, and I didn’t get any from you.”

Sheepishly he says, “Actually that’s not entirely true.”

I narrow my eyes. “What do you mean?”

“There was never any girl at the beach. I made the whole thing up.”

“There was no Angelina with big boobs?”

“I never said she had big boobs!”

“Yes you did. You told Trevor that.”

“Okay, fine! Geez. You’re missing the whole point, by the way.”

“What’s the whole point, Peter?”

He clears his throat. “That day in McClaren’s basement. You were my first kiss too.”

Abruptly I stop laughing. “I was?”

“Yeah.”

I stare at him. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“I don’t know. I guess I forgot. Also it’s embarrassing that I made up a girl. Don’t tell anybody!”

I’m filled with a glowy kind of wonder. So I was Peter Kavinsky’s first kiss. How perfectly wonderful!

I throw my arms around him and lift my chin expectantly, waiting for my good-night kiss. He nuzzles his face against mine, and I feel gladness for the fact that he has smooth cheeks and barely even needs to shave. I close my eyes, breathe him in, wait for my kiss. And he plants a chaste peck on my forehead. “Good night, Covey.”

My eyes fly open. “That’s all I get?”

Smugly he says, “You said earlier that I’m not that good at kissing, remember?”

“I was kidding!”

He winks at me as he hops in his car. I watch him drive away. Even after a whole year of being together, it can still
feel so new. To love a boy, to have him love you back. It feels miraculous.

I don’t go inside right away. Just in case he comes back. Hands on my hips, I wait a full twenty seconds before I turn toward the front steps, which is when his car comes peeling back down our street and stops right in front of our house. Peter sticks his head out the window. “All right then,” he calls out. “Let’s practice.”

I run back to his car, I pull him toward me by his shirt, and angle my face against his—and then I push him away and run backward, laughing, my hair whipping around my face.

“Covey!” he yells.

“That’s what you get!” I call back gleefully. “See you on the bus tomorrow!”

*  *  *

That night, when we’re in the bathroom brushing our teeth, I ask Kitty, “On a scale of one to ten, how much will you miss me when I go to college? Be honest.”

“It’s too early for this kind of talk,” she says, rinsing her toothbrush.

“Just answer.”

“A four.”

“A four! You said you missed Margot a six point five!”

Kitty shakes her head at me. “Lara Jean, why do you have to remember every little thing? It’s not healthy.”

“The least you can do is pretend you’ll miss me!” I burst out. “It’s the decent thing to do.”

“Margot was going all the way across the world. You’re
only going fifteen minutes away, so I won’t even have a chance to miss you.”

“Still.”

She clasps her hands to her heart. “Okay. How’s this? I’m going to miss you so much I’ll cry every night!”

I smile. “That’s more like it.”

“I’ll miss you so much, I’ll want to slit my wrists!” She cackles wildly.

“Katherine. Don’t talk like that!”

“Then quit fishing for compliments,” she says, and she goes off to bed, while I stay behind and pack up my toiletries for the New York trip tomorrow. If I get into
UVA
, I’ll probably just keep a set of my makeup and creams and combs here at home, so I won’t have to pack every time. Margot had to be so careful about what she brought with her to Saint Andrews, because Scotland is so far away and she isn’t able to make the trip back home very often. I’ll probably only pack for fall and winter and leave all my summer things at home, and then just switch them out when the seasons change.

6

IN THE MORNING, DADDY DRIVES
me to school to catch the charter bus. “Call me as soon as you’re settled in your room,” he says as we wait at the traffic light by school.

“I will.”

“Did you pack the emergency twenty?”

“Yes.” Last night, Daddy gave me a twenty-dollar bill to put in the secret pocket of my jacket, just in case. I have his credit card, too, for spending money. Ms. Rothschild loaned me her tiny umbrella and her portable cell phone charger.

Daddy gives me a sidelong look and a sigh. “It’s all happening so fast now. First your senior trip, then prom, then graduation. Only a matter of time before you’re out of the house too.”

“You’ll still have Kitty,” I say. “Though it’s true that she isn’t exactly the ray of sunshine that I am.” He laughs. “If I get into
UVA
, I’ll be around all the time, so don’t you worry about a thing.” I sing it the way he does, like Stevie Wonder.

*  *  *

On the bus I sit next to Peter; Chris sits with Lucas. I thought it might be a tough sell to get Chris to come on the senior trip, and it would have been, if Disney World had won out.
But she’s never been to New York before either, so it ended up being easy peasy.

We’re on the road for an hour before Peter engages everybody in a game of Never Have I Ever, which I pretend to be asleep for, because I have not done much of anything, drugs-wise or sex-wise, and that’s all anybody cares about. Mercifully, the game dies down pretty fast, I suppose because it’s a lot less exciting when there are no red Solo cups involved. Just as I’m opening my eyes and stretching my arms and “waking up,” Gabe suggests Truth or Dare, and my stomach takes a nosedive.

Ever since Peter’s and my hot tub video scandal last year, I’ve felt self-conscious about what people might be thinking about what we do or don’t do. Sex-wise, I mean. And Truth or Dare is miles worse than Never Have I Ever!
How many people have you had sex with? Have you ever been in a threeway? How many times a day do you jerk off?
Those are the kinds of questions people ask each other, and if anybody ever asked them of me, I would have to say that I’m a virgin, and in some ways, that’s even more subversive than any other answer. Usually, I slip away to the kitchen or another room when this game gets started at other parties. But there’s nowhere for me to slip away to today, for we are on a bus, and I am well and truly trapped.

Peter gives me an amused look. He knows what I’m thinking. He says he doesn’t care what people think, but I know that’s not true. Historically, Peter cares very much what other people think of him.

“Truth or dare,” Gabe says to Lucas.

Lucas takes a swig of his Vitaminwater. “Truth.”

“Have you ever had sex with a dude?”

My whole body goes tight. Lucas is gay, and he’s out, but he isn’t
out
out. He doesn’t want to deal with having to explain himself to people all the time, and why should he have to? It’s not like it’s anybody else’s business.

There’s a quick beat before Lucas says, “No. Is that an offer?”

Everybody laughs, and Lucas has a slight smile on his face as he takes another swig of Vitaminwater, but I can see the tension in his neck, his shoulders. It must take a toll, having to be on guard for these kinds of questions, ready to deflect, to smile, to laugh it off. My virginity question is tiny in comparison. But I still don’t want to answer.

I pray that Lucas picks me next, because I know he’ll go easy on me. But Lucas must not notice the pleading glances I am throwing his way, because instead of picking me, he chooses Genevieve, who is sitting a few rows back, looking at her phone. She’s been dating a guy from her church and he goes to a different school, so no one sees her around as much. I heard from Chris that her parents got divorced, and that her dad moved into a new condo with his girlfriend. Chris said Genevieve’s mom had a breakdown and had to be hospitalized for a few days, but things are better now, which I’m glad for. Peter sent daffodils to her mom when she came back home, and we labored over what the card should say—we finally decided on just
Be well, Wendy. Love, Peter
.
The flowers were my idea, and I chipped in, but of course I didn’t put my name on the card. I’ve just always liked Wendy; she’s been nice to me since I was little. I still get that nervous dip in my stomach when I see Genevieve, but not as bad as it used to be. I know we’ll never be friends again, and I’ve made my peace with it.

“Truth or dare, Gen,” Lucas calls out.

She looks up. Automatically she says, “Dare.” Of course Genevieve picks dare; she’s a lot of things, but she’s no coward. I’d rather do anything than answer a sex question, so I’ll likely be picking dare too.

Lucas dares Genevieve to go sit next to Mr. Jain and put her head on his shoulder. “Make it believable,” Lucas says. Everyone howls with laughter. I can tell she really doesn’t want to do it, but again, she’s not a coward.

We all watch as she makes her way up the aisle and then stops at Mr. Jain’s row. Mr. Jain is new this year; he teaches biology. He’s on the younger side, handsome; he wears skinny jeans with button-downs to school. Genevieve slides into the seat next to him, and all I can see is the back of her head as she talks. He’s smiling. Then she snuggles closer to him and drops her head on his shoulder, and he jumps like a scared cat. Everyone is laughing, and Mr. Jain turns around and shakes his head at us, looking relieved it was a joke.

Genevieve returns to us, triumphant. She takes her seat and looks around the group; our eyes meet for a moment, and my stomach dips. Then she looks away. “Truth or dare, Chrissy.”

“This game is so lame,” Chris says. Gen just stares at her,
eyebrows raised in challenge, and Chris finally rolls her eyes and says, “Whatever. Truth.” When they go head-to-head like this, it’s impossible not to notice that they are related—first cousins, on their moms’ side.

Genevieve takes her time thinking up her question. Then she lands the whammy. “Did you or did you not play doctor with our cousin Alex when we were in third grade? And don’t lie.”

Everyone is whooping and hollering, and Chris’s face has gone bright red. I give her a sympathetic look. I know the answer to this one. “True,” she mutters, and everyone howls.

Luckily for me, this is about when Mr. Jain gets up and puts a
DVD
in the
DVD
player, so the game dissolves and my turn never comes. Chris turns around and says to me in a low voice, “You got off so easy.”

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