AS WE PACK UP THE
car that morning, I keep thinking Peter might show up to take me home, but he doesn’t, and I don’t reach out to him, either. I ride back up to Virginia with the girls.
I don’t hear anything from Peter until the next day. I get a text that says:
I’m sorry for last night. I was a dick.
We’re gonna make this work, I promise.
I have to do some stuff for my mom but can I see you later?
I text back:
He texts back:
I really am sorry.
I love you.
I’m starting to text back,
I love you, too
, when my phone rings. It’s Peter’s house number, and I answer it eagerly.
“I love you, too,” I say.
There is surprised silence on the other end, then a little laugh to cover it up. “Hi, Lara Jean. This is Peter’s mom.”
I am mortified. “Oh! Hi, Mrs. Kavinsky.”
She wants me to come over and chat with her. She says Peter isn’t home, that it’ll be just the two of us. She must have sent him out to run errands for her so she could ask me over. What can I do but go?
I put on a yellow sundress and lipstick, brush my hair, and drive to Peter’s house. She answers the door with a ready smile on her face; she’s wearing a gingham blouse and Bermuda shorts. “Come on in,” she says.
I follow her into the kitchen, and she says, “Lara Jean, would you like something to drink? Sun tea?”
“Sure,” I say, climbing onto a stool.
Peter’s mom pours me a glass of sun tea out of a plastic frosted pitcher. She hands me the glass and says, “Thank you for coming over here to visit with me, just us girls. There’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about.”
“Sure,” I say again. My skin is prickling.
She takes my hands in hers. Her hands are cool and dry; mine suddenly feel clammy. “Peter’s been through a lot, and he’s worked so hard. I’m sure you know how disappointing it was for him when his dad didn’t come to graduation.” Her eyes search mine, and I nod. “He pretends he doesn’t care, but he’s hurting inside. He came back from Beach Week talking about transferring to
for his sophomore year. Did you know that?”
I can feel all the blood rush to my face. “No, I didn’t know that. He . . . he hasn’t said a word to me about it.”
She nods, as if she suspected as much. “If he were to transfer, he wouldn’t be able to play for a year. That means he wouldn’t keep his athletic scholarship. Out-of-state tuition is very expensive, as I’m sure you know.”
It is. Daddy said it would be all right, that Margot only has two more years of college, and Kitty has ages before it’s her turn. But I know it’s expensive. And I know, even though we don’t talk about it, that my dad makes more money than Peter’s mom does.
“Peter’s dad says he wants to contribute, but his dad isn’t someone to be depended on. So I can’t count on him.” She pauses delicately. “But I’m hoping I can count on you.”
I rush to say, “You don’t need to worry about me. I’ll tell Peter not to transfer to North Carolina.”
“Honey, I appreciate that so much, I really do, but it’s not just transferring that I’m worrying about. I’m worried about his mind-set. When he gets to
, he needs to be focused. He’s going there to be a student athlete. He can’t be driving down to North Carolina every weekend. It just isn’t practical. You’re both so young. Peter’s already making big life decisions based on you, and who even knows what’s going to happen with you two in the future. You’re teenagers. Life doesn’t always work out the way you think it’s going to work out. . . . I don’t know if Peter ever told you this, but Peter’s dad and I got married very young. And I’d—I’d just hate to see you two make the same mistakes
we did.” She hesitates. “Lara Jean, I know my son, and he’s not going to let you go unless you let him go first.”
“He’d do anything for you. That’s his nature. He’s loyal to his very core. Unlike his father.” Mrs. Kavinsky looks at me with sympathetic eyes. “I know you care about Peter and you want what’s best for him. I hope you’ll give what I said some thought.” She hesitates, then says, “Please don’t mention anything to him. Peter would be very upset with me.”
I struggle to find my voice. “I won’t.”
Her smile is bright, relieved. “You’re a sweet girl, Lara Jean. I know you’ll do the right thing.” She pats my hands and releases them. Then she changes the subject, asking me about my dad’s wedding.
When I get back to my car, I flip down the mirror and see that my cheeks are still stained pink. It feels like the time in seventh grade when Chris’s mom found her cigarettes and she thought we’d both been smoking them. I wanted to say it wasn’t me, but I couldn’t. I just shriveled up with shame. That’s how I feel right now. Like I’ve gotten in trouble.
Was it foolish of Peter and me to think that we could be the exception to the rule? Is Peter’s mom right? Are we making a huge mistake? Suddenly it feels like every decision we make is so momentous, and I’m so scared to make the wrong one.
* * *
Back at home, Daddy, Margot, and Kitty are in the living room debating over where to go for dinner. It’s such a normal
thing to be discussing on a Thursday evening, but I feel so strange, because it’s as if the earth is shifting beneath my feet, and the ground isn’t steady anymore, but everyone around me is talking about food.
“What do you feel like, Lara Jean?” Daddy asks me.
“I’m not very hungry,” I say, looking down at my phone. What will I say to Peter when he calls? Do I tell him? “I might just stay home.”
Daddy peers at me. “Are you all right? Coming down with something? You look pale.”
I shake my head. “No, I’m fine.”
“How about Seoul House?” Margot suggests. “I’ve really been craving Korean food.”
Daddy hesitates, and I know why. Trina doesn’t exactly have the most sophisticated palate. She lives off of Diet Coke and chicken fingers; kale salads are about as adventurous as she gets. When we order sushi, she’ll only eat California rolls and cooked shrimp. She doesn’t eat any fish at all. But nobody’s perfect.
“Trina’s not big on Korean food,” I say, to spare Daddy having to say it. My phone buzzes, but it’s just an email from
’s housing department.
Incredulous, Margot says, “Are you serious?”
“It’s a little spicy for her.” Hastily he adds, “But it’s fine. She can get the bulgogi sliders or the fried rice.”
“I don’t want Korean food either,” Kitty says.
“We’ll go to Seoul House,” Daddy says. “Trina will be fine.”
As soon as Daddy goes to make a reservation, I say to Margot, “Don’t judge Trina for not liking Korean food.
She can’t help it if she can’t eat spicy stuff.”
Kitty is quick to jump in with, “Yeah, don’t judge her.”
A hurt look flashes across Margot’s face, and she protests, “I didn’t say anything!”
“We know what you were thinking,” I say. I know what she’s thinking because I’ve had the same thought. And I’m now in the curious position of having to defend Trina for something I also think is annoying. It wouldn’t kill Trina to broaden her culinary horizons.
“Fried rice, though? Really?”
“What’s the big deal if she doesn’t like Korean food?” Kitty says.
“Korean food is our biggest link to Korean culture,” Margot tells her. “Are we just never going to eat Korean food anymore because Trina doesn’t like it?” Margot doesn’t wait for us to answer. “I just hope she realizes that when she marries Daddy, she gets the whole package, and Korea’s a part of that package.”
“Margot, she knows that,” I say. “And besides, we’ll get to eat Korean food every day this summer.” Every day this summer when I’m away from Peter.
“I wish Daddy and Trina were coming too,” Kitty says.
“It’s better this way,” Margot says. “What would Trina even eat in Korea?” She’s halfway joking but not really.
Kitty, who is petting Jamie, ignores her and asks me, “Who’s going to take care of Jamie Fox-Pickle and Simone when we’re all gone?”
“A dog sitter?” I suggest. My heart’s not really in it. I’m
only halfway here. All I can think of is Peter. “We’ll figure something out.”
Margot looks around the room. Her eyes land on Trina’s big armchair. “This house feels so small all of sudden. There isn’t enough room for all of Trina’s stuff.”
Kitty says, “It doesn’t feel that small when you’re not here.”
I gasp. “Kitty!”
All the color drains from Margot’s face, and then her cheeks go splotchy. “Did you really just say that to me?”
I can tell Kitty regrets it, but she lifts her chin in her stubborn Kitty way. “Well, I’m just saying.”
“You’re a brat.” Margot gets the words out strong, but I see her face as she turns to go upstairs, and I know she’s going to her room to cry in private.
As soon as she’s gone, I turn to Kitty. “Why did you say that to her?”
Tears leak from her eyes. “Because! She’s been so mean to Tree for no reason.”
I wipe her tears with the back of my hand. I feel like crying too. “Gogo feels left out, that’s all. We know Trina, because we’ve had time to know her. But Margot doesn’t know her at all. And Kitty—Gogo practically raised you. You don’t talk to her like that.”
Halfheartedly, she mutters, “I talk to you like that.”
“That’s different and you know it. We’re closer in age.”
“So you’re saying you and I are on the same level?”
“I mean—no. Margot and I are almost on the same level, and you’re on the level below us, because you’re the
youngest. But you and I are more on the same level than you and Margot. Just try and understand her. She doesn’t want to feel like her place has been taken.”
Kitty’s shoulders hunch. “It hasn’t been taken.”
“She just needs a little reassurance, that’s all. Be understanding.” Kitty doesn’t reply or lift her head, but I know she’s hearing me. “You
a little brat, though.” Her head snaps up and she lunges at me, and I laugh. “Go upstairs and say sorry to Gogo. You know it’s the right thing to do.”
Kitty actually listens to me for once. She goes upstairs, and then, sometime later, they both come down with red eyes. In the meantime I get a text from Peter, asking if I can come out. I tell him I can’t, that I’m going out to dinner with my family, but I’ll see him tomorrow night. The guys are meeting us at the karaoke bar after they have their steak dinner. I hope that by the time I see him, I’ll know what to do.
* * *
In my room that night, I am painting my nails mint green for the bachelorette party tomorrow night, and Margot is lying on my bed looking at her phone. “Do you want me to do your nails too?” I ask.
“No, I don’t care,” she says.
I sigh. “Listen, you have to stop being in a bad mood about Trina. She and Daddy are getting married, Gogo.”
Margot sighs. “It’s not just Trina. Trina’s . . . Trina.”
Margot chews on her top lip, something I haven’t seen her do since she was little. “It’s like I came back and there was a
whole new family here that I wasn’t a part of.”
I want to tell her that nothing has changed, that she’s still just as much a part of it as she always was, but that wouldn’t be true. Life here kept going on without her, just like it’ll keep going on without me when I leave this fall.
A tear rolls down her cheek. “And I miss Mommy.”
My throat tightens up. “Me too.”
“I wish Kitty could have known her.” Margot sighs. “I know it’s selfish . . . but I guess I just never pictured Daddy getting married again. I thought he’d date, maybe have a long-term girlfriend at some point, but married?”
Gently I say, “I never really thought about it either, but then when you left for Scotland, I don’t know . . . it just started making more sense. The thought of him having someone.”
“I know. And it’s good for Kitty, too.”
“I think she thinks of Trina as hers. I have my own relationship with Trina, but Kitty’s had a special thing with her from the start.”
“God, she’s like a pit bull with Trina!” Margot laughs a shaky kind of laugh. “She really loves her.”
“I know that’s why you got so upset about Korean food today. You think that if Daddy stops cooking Korean food because Trina doesn’t like it, Kitty won’t have that connection anymore. And if we forget Korea, we forget Mommy.” Tears are rolling down her cheeks, and she is wiping them away with the back of her sweatshirt sleeve. “But we’ll never forget Korea, and we’ll never forget Mommy. Okay?”
Margot nods and takes a deep breath. “God, I’ve cried twice today! It’s so un-me.”
She smiles at me, and I smile back, as brightly as I can. Her brow furrows. “Lara Jean, is something up with you? You’ve seemed sort of . . . I don’t know, melancholy, ever since you got back from Beach Week. Did something happen with you and Peter?”
I want so desperately to tell her everything, to lay all my burdens upon my big sister, to have her tell me what to do. Things would be so much simpler if she would just tell me what to do. But I know what Margot would do, because she’s already done it.
Don’t be the girl who goes to college with a boyfriend.
That’s what my mom said. That’s what Margot said.