THE MORNING OF PROM, KITTY
comes in my room as I’m painting my toes. “What do you think about this color with my dress?” I ask her.
“It looks like you dipped your toenails in Pepto-Bismol.”
I peer down at my feet. It kind of does look like that. Maybe I should do a beige color instead.
The consensus is that the dress requires an updo. “To show off your collarbone,” Trina says. I’ve never thought of my collarbone as something to be shown off; in fact I’ve never thought of my collarbone at all.
After lunch Kitty goes with me to the hair salon, to supervise. She tells the stylist, “Don’t make it too
, do you know what I mean?”
The stylist gives me a nervous look in the mirror. “I think so? You want it to look natural?” She’s talking to Kitty, not me, because it’s obvious who is in charge. “Like a natural chignon?”
“But not too natural. Think Grace Kelly.” Kitty pulls up a picture on her phone and shows it to her. “See, like this, but we want the bun to the side.”
“Just please don’t use too much hairspray,” I say meekly, as the stylist coils my hair into a knot at the nape of my neck and shows Kitty.
“That’s great,” Kitty says to her. To me she says, “Lara Jean, she has to use hairspray if you want it to stay up.”
Suddenly I’m having second thoughts about an updo. “Are we sure about the updo?”
“Yes,” Kitty says. To the stylist she says, “We’re doing the updo.”
* * *
The updo is more “done” than I’m used to. My hair is in a side bun; the top is smooth like a ballerina. It’s pretty, but when I look in the mirror, I don’t recognize myself. It’s an older, sophisticated version of me who’s going to the opera, or the symphony.
After all the time the woman at the salon spent putting my hair up, I end up taking it down when I get home. Kitty yells at me as she brushes my hair out, but I bear it. Tonight I want to feel like me.
“How are we doing your grand entrance?” Kitty asks me as she sweeps the brush through my hair one last time.
“Grand entrance?” I repeat.
“When Peter gets here. How are you going to enter the room?”
Trina, who is lying on my bed eating a Popsicle, pipes up with, “When I went to prom, we did a thing where the dads walked the girls down the stairs and then somebody would announce you.”
I look at them both like they are nuts. “Trina, I’m not getting married. I’m going to prom.”
“We could turn off all the lights and put on music, and
then you walk out and do a pose at the top of the stairs—”
“I don’t want to do that,” I interrupt.
Her forehead creases. “What part?”
“All of it.”
“But you need a moment where everybody looks at you and only you,” Kitty says.
“It’s called a first look,” Trina explains. “Don’t worry, I’ll get the whole thing on video.”
“If we’d thought about this earlier, we could’ve really done it up, and maybe it would’ve gone viral.” Kitty shakes her head at me in a disgusted way, as if this is somehow my fault.
“The last thing I need is to go viral again,” I tell her. Pointedly I say, “Remember my hot tub video?”
She at least looks a little abashed, for a second. “Let’s not linger on the past,” she says, fluffing up my hair.
“Hey, birthday girl,” Trina says to me. “Is the plan still to go for barbecue tomorrow night?”
“Yup,” I say. With Stormy passing away and prom and the wedding and everything else, I haven’t given my birthday much thought. Trina wanted to throw me a big party, but I told her I’d rather just have a family dinner out, and cake and ice cream back at the house. Trina and Kitty are baking the cake while I’m at prom, so we’ll see how that goes!
* * *
When Peter and his mom arrive, I’m still running around doing last minute things.
“Guys, Peter and his mom are here,” my dad calls up the stairs.
“Perfume!” I screech to Kitty, who sprays me. “Where’s my clutch?”
Trina tosses it to me. “Did you pack a lipstick?”
I open it to check. “Yes! Where are my shoes?”
“Over here,” Kitty says, picking them up off the floor. “Hurry up and get strapped in. I’ll go downstairs and tell them you’re coming.”
“I’ll open up a bottle of champagne for the grown-ups,” Trina says, following her out.
I don’t know why I’m so nervous. It’s only Peter. I guess prom really is its own kind of magic. The last thing I do is put on Stormy’s ring, and I think of how she must be looking down on me right now, happy I’m wearing her ring on prom night, in honor of her and all the dances she went to.
When I come down the stairs, Peter is sitting on the couch with his mom. He is shaking his knee up and down, which is how I know he’s nervous too. As soon as he sees me, he stands up.
He raises his eyebrows. “You look—wow.” For the past week, he’s been asking for details on what my dress looks like, and I held him at bay for the surprise, which I’m glad I did, because it was worth it to see the look on his face.
“You look wow too.” His tux fits him so nicely, you’d think it was custom, but it’s not; it’s a rental from After Hours Formal Wear. I wonder if Mrs. Kavinsky made a few sly adjustments. She’s a marvel with a needle and thread. I
wish guys could wear tuxedos more often, though I suppose that would take some of the thrill away.
Peter slides my corsage on my wrist; it is white ranunculus and baby’s breath, and it’s the exact corsage I would have picked for myself. I’m already thinking of how I’ll hang it over my bed so it dries just so.
Kitty is dressed up too; she has on her favorite dress, so she can be in the pictures. When Peter pins a daisy corsage on her, her face goes pink with pleasure, and he winks at me. We take a picture of me and her, one of me and Peter and her, and then she says in her bossy way, “Now just one of me and Peter,” and I’m pushed off to the side with Trina, who laughs.
“The boys her age are in for it,” she says to me and Peter’s mom, who is smiling too.
“Why am I not in any of these pictures?” Daddy wonders, so of course we do a round with him too, and a few with Trina and Mrs. Kavinsky.
Then we take pictures outside, by the dogwood tree, by Peter’s car, on the front steps, until Peter says, “Enough pictures! We’re going to miss the whole thing.” When we go to his car, he opens the door for me gallantly.
On the way over, he keeps looking at me. I keep my eyes trained straight ahead, but I can see him in my periphery. I’ve never felt so admired. This must be how Stormy felt all the time.
* * *
As soon as we get to prom, I tell Peter we have to get in line to take our official prom picture with the professional
photographer. He says we should just wait till the line dies down, but I insist. I want a good one for my scrapbook, before my hair goes flat. We do the requisite prom pose, with Peter standing behind me, his hands on my hips. The photographer lets us take a look at our picture, and Peter insists on taking another one because he doesn’t like the way his hair looks.
After we take our picture, we find all of our friends on the dance floor. Darrell has matched his tie to Pammy’s dress—lavender. Chris is wearing a tight black bandage dress—not unlike the one Kitty picked out for me to wear when she and Margot and I went shopping. Lucas looks like an English dandy in his suit, which is tailored to his body just beautifully. I finally convinced the two of them to come, by suggesting they just “stop by.” Chris said she was still going clubbing with her work friends, but from the looks of it, she isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. She’s getting so much attention in her bandage dress.
“Style” comes on and we all go crazy, screaming in each other’s faces and jumping up and down. Peter goes craziest of all. He keeps asking me if I’m having fun. He only asks out loud once, but with his eyes he asks me again and again. They are bright and hopeful, alight with expectation. With my eyes I tell him,
Yes yes yes I am having fun.
We’re starting to get the hang of slow dancing, too. Maybe we should take a ballroom-dancing class when I get to
so we can actually get good at it.
I tell him this, and fondly he says, “You always want to take
things to the next level. Next-level chocolate chip cookies.”
“I gave up on those.”
“Next-level Halloween costumes.”
“I like for things to feel special.” At this, Peter smiles down at me and I say, “It’s just too bad we’ll never dance cheek to cheek.”
“Maybe we could order you some dancing stilts.”
“Oh, you mean high heels?”
He snickers. “I don’t think there’s such a thing as ten-inch heels.”
I ignore him. “And it’s too bad your noodle arms aren’t strong enough to pick me up.”
Peter lets out a roar like an injured lion and swoops me up and swings me around, just like I knew he would. It’s a rare thing, to know someone so well, whether they’ll pivot left or right. Outside of my family, I think he might be the person I know best of all.
* * *
Of course Peter wins prom king. Prom queen is Ashanti Dickson. I’m just relieved it isn’t Genevieve up there, slow dancing with him with a tiara on her head. Ashanti is nearly Peter’s height, so the two of them actually can dance cheek to cheek, though they don’t. Peter looks out at me and winks. I’m standing off to the side with Marshawn Hopkins, Ashanti’s date. He leans over to me and says, “When they come back, we should ignore them and just dance away,” which makes me laugh.
I’m proud of Peter out there, at how he dances so tall,
with his back so straight. At a pivotal moment in the song, Peter dips Ashanti, and everyone hoots and hollers and stomps their feet, and I’m proud of that, too. People are so sincere in their affection for him; they can all celebrate Peter because he is nice, and he makes everyone feel good. He just gives the night a little extra shine, and they are glad for it, and so am I. I’m happy he gets this send-off.
* * *
One last dance.
We’re both quiet. It’s not over yet. We still have the whole summer ahead. But high school, the two of us here together, Lara Jean and Peter as we are today, that part is done. We’ll never be here exactly like this again.
I’m wondering if he’s feeling sad too, and then he whispers, “Check out Gabe over there trying to casually rest his hand on Keisha’s butt.”
He turns me slightly so I can see. Gabe’s hand is indeed hovering at Keisha Wood’s lower back/butt area, like an indecisive butterfly looking for a landing spot. I giggle. This is why I like Peter so much. He sees things I don’t see.
“I know what our song should be,” he says.
And then, like magic, Al Green’s voice fills the hotel ballroom. “Let’s Stay Together.”
“You made them play this,” I accuse. I’m tearing up a little bit.
He grins. “It’s fate.”
Whatever you want to do . . . is all right with me-ee-ee.
Peter takes my hand and puts it on his heart. “Let’s, let’s stay together,” he sings. His voice is clear and true, everything I love about him.
* * *
On the way to after-prom, Peter says he’s hungry, and can we stop at the diner first.
“I think there’s going to be pizza at after-prom,” I say. “Why don’t we just eat there?”
“But I want pancakes,” he whines.
We pull into the diner parking lot, and after we park, he gets out of the car and runs around to the passenger side to open my door. “So gentlemanly tonight,” I say, which makes him grin.
We walk up to the diner, and he opens the door for me grandly.
“I could get used to this royal treatment,” I say.
“Hey, I open doors for you,” he protests.
We walk inside, and I stop short. Our booth, the one we always sit in, has pale pink balloons tied around it. There’s a round cake in the center of the table, tons of candles, pink frosting with sprinkles and
Happy Birthday, Lara Jean
scrawled in white frosting. Suddenly I see people’s heads pop up from under the booths and from behind menus—all of our friends, still in their prom finery: Lucas, Gabe, Gabe’s date Keisha, Darrell, Pammy, Chris. “Surprise!” everyone screams.
I spin around. “Oh my God, Peter!”
He’s still grinning. He looks at his watch. “It’s midnight. Happy birthday, Lara Jean.”
I leap up and hug him. “This is just exactly what I wanted to do on my prom night birthday and I didn’t even know it.” Then I let go of him and run over to the booth.
Everyone gets out and hugs me. “I didn’t even know people knew it was my birthday tomorrow! I mean today!” I say.
“Of course we knew it was your birthday,” Lucas says.
Darrell says, “My boy’s been planning this for weeks.”
“It was so endearing,” Pammy says. “He called me to ask what kind of pan he should use for the cake.”
Chris says, “He called me, too. I was like, how the hell should I know?”
“And you!” I hit Chris on the arm. “I thought you were leaving to go clubbing!”
“I still might after I steal some fries. My night’s just getting started, babe.” She pulls me in for a hug and gives me a kiss on the cheek. “Happy birthday, girl.”
I turn to Peter and say, “I can’t believe you did this.”
“I baked that cake myself,” he brags. “Box, but still.” He takes off his jacket and pulls a lighter out of his jacket pocket and starts lighting the candles. Gabe pulls out a lit candle and helps him. Then Peter hops his butt on the table and sits down, his legs hanging off the edge. “Come on.”
I look around. “Um . . .”
That’s when I hear the opening notes of “If You Were Here” by the Thompson Twins. My hands fly to my cheeks. I
can’t believe it. Peter’s recreating the end scene from
, when Molly Ringwald and Jake Ryan sit on a table with a birthday cake in between them. When we watched the movie a few months ago, I said it was the most romantic thing I’d ever seen. And now he’s doing it for me.
“Hurry up and get up there before all the candles melt, Lara Jean,” Chris calls out.
Darrell and Gabe help hoist me onto the table, careful not to set my dress on fire. Peter says, “Okay, now you look at me adoringly, and I lean forward like this.”
Chris comes forward and puffs out my skirt a bit. “Roll up your sleeve a little higher,” she instructs Peter, looking from her phone to us. Peter obeys, and she nods. “Looks good, looks good.” Then she runs back to her spot and starts to snap. It takes no effort on my part at all to look at Peter adoringly tonight.
When I blow out the candles and make my wish, I wish that I will always feel for Peter the way I do right now.