Always and Forever, Lara Jean (7 page)

7

It’s a six-hour trip back to Virginia, and I’m asleep for most of it. It’s dark out by the time we pull into the school parking lot, and I see Daddy’s car parked up front. We’ve all had our own cars and been driving ourselves around for so long, but pulling into the school parking lot and seeing all the parents waiting there for us feels like being in elementary school again, like coming back from a field trip. It’s a nice feeling. On the way home, we pick up a pizza and Ms. Rothschild comes over and she and Daddy and Kitty and I eat it in front of the
TV
.

After, I unpack, do the bit of homework I have left, talk to Peter on the phone, and then get ready for bed. But I end up tossing and turning for what feels like eternity. Maybe it’s all the sleep I got on the bus, or maybe it’s the fact that any day now, I’ll hear from
UVA
. Either way, I can’t sleep, so I creep downstairs and start opening drawers.

What could I bake this time of night that wouldn’t involve waiting for butter to soften? It’s a perpetual question in my life. Ms. Rothschild says we should just leave butter out in a dish like she does, but we aren’t a leave-the-butter-out family, we are a butter-in-the-refrigerator family. Besides, it messes with the chemistry if the butter is too soft, and in Virginia in the spring and summertime, butter melts quick.

I suppose I could finally try baking the cinnamon roll brownies I’ve been playing around with in my head. Katharine Hepburn’s brownie recipe plus a dash of cinnamon plus cinnamon cream cheese swirl on top.

I’m melting chocolate in a double boiler and already regretting starting this project so late when Daddy pads into the kitchen in the tartan robe Margot gave him for Christmas this past year. “You can’t sleep either, huh?” he says.

“I’m trying out a new recipe. I think I might call them cinnabrownies. Or sin brownies.”

“Good luck waking up tomorrow,” Daddy says, rubbing the back of his neck.

I yawn. “You know, I was thinking maybe you’d call in for me and I’d sleep in a little and then you and I could have a nice, relaxing father-daughter breakfast together. I could make mushroom omelets.”

He laughs. “Nice try.” He nudges me toward the stairs. “I’ll finish up the sin brownies or whatever they’re called. You go to bed.”

I yawn again. “Can I trust you to do a cream cheese swirl?” Daddy looks alarmed and I say, “Forget it. I’ll finish making the batter and bake them tomorrow.”

“I’ll help,” he says.

“I’m pretty much done.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Okay then. Can you measure me out a quarter cup of flour?”

Daddy nods and gets out the measuring cup.

“That’s the liquid measuring cup. We need the dry measuring cups so you can level off the flour.” He goes back to the cupboard, and switches them out. I watch as he scoops flour and then carefully takes a butter knife to the top. “Very good.”

“I learn from the best,” he says.

I cock my head at him. “Why are you still awake, Daddy?”

“Ah. I guess I have a lot on my mind.” He puts the top back on the flour canister and then stops and hesitates before asking, “How do you feel about Trina? You like her, right?”

I take the pot of chocolate off the heat. “I like her a lot. I think I might even love her. Do
you
love her?”

This time Daddy doesn’t hesitate at all. “I do.”

“Well, good,” I say. “I’m glad.”

He looks relieved. “Good,” he says back. Then he says it again. “Good.”

Things must be pretty serious if he’s asking me such a question. I wonder if he’s thinking of asking her to move in. Before I can ask, he says, “No one will ever take the place of your mom. You know that, don’t you?”

“Of course I do.” I lick the chocolate spoon with the tip of my tongue. It’s hot, too hot. It’s good that he should love again, that he should have someone, a real partner. He’s been alone so long it felt like the normal thing, but this is a better thing. And he’s happy, anyone can see it. Now that Ms. Rothschild’s here, I can’t picture her not here. “I’m glad for you, Daddy.”

8

All morning long I’ve been checking my phone, just like pretty much every senior at my school has been doing all week. Monday came and went with no word from
UVA
, then Tuesday, then Wednesday. Today is Thursday, and still nothing. The
UVA
admissions office always send out acceptances before April first, and last year, notices went out the third week of March, so it really could be any day now. The way it goes is, they put the word out on social media to check the Student Info System, and then you log in to the system and learn your fate.

Colleges used to send acceptance letters in the mail. Mrs. Duvall says that sometimes parents would call the school when the mailman came, and the kid would jump in their car and drive home as fast as they could. There’s something romantic about waiting for a letter in the mail, waiting for your destiny.

I’m sitting in French class, my last class of the day, when someone shrieks, “
UVA
just tweeted! Decisions are out!”

Madame Hunt says,
“Calmez-vous, calmez-vous,”
but everyone’s getting up and grabbing their phones, not paying attention to her.

This is it. My hands tremble as I log in to the system; my
heart is going a million miles a minute waiting for the website to load.

The University of Virginia received over 30,000 applications this year. The Committee on Admission has examined your application and carefully considered your academic, personal, and extracurricular credentials, and while your application was very strong, we are sorry to inform you . . .

This can’t be real. I’m in a nightmare and any moment I’m going to wake up. Wake up wake up wake up.

Dimly, I can hear people talking all around me; I hear a scream of joy down the hallway. Then the bell rings, and people are jumping out of their seats and running out the door. Madame Hunt murmurs, “They usually don’t send out the notices until after school.” I look up, and she’s looking at me with sad, sympathetic eyes. Mom eyes. Her eyes are what undo me.

Everything is ruined. My chest hurts; it’s hard to breathe. All of my plans, everything I was counting on, none of it will come true now. Me coming home for Sunday night dinner, doing laundry on weeknights with Kitty, Peter walking me to class, studying all night at Clemons Library. It’s all gone.

Nothing will go like we planned now.

I look back down at my phone, read the words again.
We are sorry to inform you . . .
My eyes start to blur. Then I read
it again, from the beginning. I didn’t even get wait-listed. I don’t even have that.

I stand up, get my bag, and walk out the door. I feel a stillness inside of me, but at the same time this acute awareness of my heart pumping, my ears pounding. It’s like all the parts are moving and continuing to function as they do, but I’ve gone completely numb. I didn’t get in. I’m not going to
UVA
; they don’t want me.

I’m walking to my locker, still in a daze, when I nearly run right into Peter, who is turning the corner. He grabs me. “So?” His eyes are bright and eager and expectant.

My voice comes out sounding very far away. “I didn’t get in.”

His mouth drops. “Wait—what?”

I can feel the lump rising in my throat. “Yeah.”

“Not even wait-listed?”

I shake my head.

“Fuck.” The word is one long exhale. Peter looks stunned. He lets go of my arm. I can tell he doesn’t know what to say.

“I have to go,” I say, turning away from him.

“Wait—I’ll come with you!”

“No, don’t. You have an away game today. You can’t miss that.”

“Covey, I don’t give a shit about that.”

“No, I’d rather you didn’t. Just—I’ll call you later.” He reaches for me and I sidestep away from him and hurry down the hallway, and he calls out my name, but I don’t stop. I just have to make it to my car, and then I can cry. Not
yet. Just a hundred more steps, and then a hundred more than that.

I make it to the parking lot before the tears come. I cry the whole drive home. I cry so hard I can barely see, and I have to pull over at a McDonald’s to sit in the parking lot and cry some more. It’s starting to sink in, that this isn’t a nightmare, this is real, and this fall I won’t be going to
UVA
with Peter. Everyone will be so disappointed. They were all expecting I’d get in. We all thought it was going to happen. I never should have made such a big deal about wanting to go there. I should’ve just kept it to myself, not let anyone see how much I wanted it. Now they’ll all be worried for me, and it’ll be worse than Madame Hunt’s sad mom eyes.

When I get home, I take my phone and go upstairs to my room. I take off my school clothes, put on my pajamas, and crawl into bed and look at my phone. I’ve got missed calls from Daddy, from Margot, from Peter. I go on Instagram, and my feed is all people posting their reaction shots to getting into
UVA
. My cousin Haven got in; she posted a screen grab of her acceptance letter. She won’t be going there, though. She’s going to Wellesley, her first choice. She doesn’t even care about
UVA
; it was her safety school. I’m sure she’ll feign sympathy for me when she finds out I didn’t get in, but inside she’ll feel secretly superior. Emily Nussbaum got in. She posted a picture of herself in a
UVA
sweatshirt and baseball cap. Gosh, did everyone get in? I thought my grades were better than hers. I guess not.

A little while later, I hear the front door open and Kitty’s
footsteps come running up the stairs. She throws open my bedroom door, but I am on my side, eyes closed, pretending to be asleep. “Lara Jean?” she whispers.

I don’t reply. I need a little while longer before I have to face her and Daddy and tell them I didn’t make it. I make my breathing go heavy and natural, and then I hear Kitty retreat and close the door quietly behind her. Before long, I fall asleep for real.

*  *  *

When I wake up, it’s dark outside. It always feels so bleak to fall asleep when it’s still light out and then wake up to darkness. My eyes feel swollen and sore. Downstairs, I hear water running in the kitchen sink and the clink of silverware against dishes. I go down the staircase and stop before I make it to the bottom. “I didn’t get into
UVA
,” I say.

Daddy turns around; his sleeves are rolled up, his arms soapy, his eyes even sadder than Madame Hunt’s. Dad eyes. He turns off the faucet and comes over to the staircase, hoists me up, and draws me into his arms for a hug. His arms are still wet. “I’m so sorry, honey,” he says. We’re almost the same height, because I am still standing on the stairs. I’m focusing on not crying, but when he finally releases me, he tips up my chin and examines my face worriedly, and it’s all I can do to keep it together. “I know how badly you wanted this.”

I keep swallowing to keep down the tears. “It still doesn’t feel real.”

He smooths the hair out of my eyes. “Everything is going to work out. I promise it will.”

“I just—I just really didn’t want to leave you guys,” I cry, and I can’t help it, tears are rolling down my face. Daddy’s wiping them away as fast as they can fall. He looks like he’s going to cry too, which makes me feel worse, because I had planned to put on a brave face, and now look.

Putting his arm around me, he admits, “Selfishly, I was looking forward to having you so close to home. But Lara Jean, you’re still going to get into a great school.”

“But it won’t be
UVA
,” I whisper.

Daddy hugs me to him. “I’m so sorry,” he says again.

He’s sitting next to me on the staircase, his arm still around me, when Kitty comes back inside from walking Jamie Fox-Pickle. She looks from me to Daddy, and she drops Jamie’s leash. “Did you not get in?”

I wipe my face and try to shrug. “No. It’s okay. It wasn’t meant to be, I guess.”

“Sorry you didn’t get in,” she says, her voice tiny, her eyes sorrowful.

“Come give me a hug at least,” I say, and she does. The three of us sit like that on the staircase for quite some time, Daddy’s arm around my shoulder, Kitty’s hand on my knee.

*  *  *

Daddy makes me a turkey sandwich, which I eat, and then I go back upstairs and get back in bed to look at my phone again, when there’s a knock at my window. It’s Peter, still in his lacrosse uniform. I jump out of bed and open the window for him. He climbs inside, searches my face, and then says, “Hey, rabbit eyes,” which is what he calls me when I’ve
been crying. It makes me laugh, and it feels good to laugh. I reach out to hug him and he says, “You don’t want to hug me right now. I didn’t shower after the game. I came straight here.”

I hug him anyway, and he doesn’t smell bad to me at all. “Why didn’t you ring the doorbell?” I ask, looking up at him, hooking my arms around his waist.

“I thought your dad might not like me coming over so late. Are you okay?”

“Kind of.” I let go of him and sit down on my bed, and he sits at my desk. “Not really.”

“Yeah, me too.” There’s a long pause, and then Peter says, “I feel like I didn’t say the right things earlier. I was just bummed. I didn’t think this was going to happen.”

I stare down at my bedspread. “I know. Me either.”

“It just sucks so much. Your grades are way better than mine. Cary got in, and you’re better than him!”

“Well, I’m not a lacrosse player or a golfer.” I try not to sound bitter-hearted, but it’s an effort. A very traitorous, very small thought worms its way into my head—it’s not fair that Peter’s going and I’m not, when I deserve it more. I worked harder. I got better grades, higher
SAT
scores.

“Fuck them.”

“Peter.”

“Sorry. Screw them.” He exhales. “This is insane.”

Automatically I say, “Well, it’s not
insane
.
UVA
’s a really competitive school. I’m not mad at them. I just wish I was going there.”

He nods. “Yeah, me too.”

Suddenly, we hear the toilet flush from the hallway, and we both freeze. “You’d better go,” I whisper.

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