“Lara Jean, you’ve got this,” she says, and I listen hard, look hard for any doubt or falseness in her, any hint that she’s only saying it to bolster me. But there is none. Only confidence.
IT’S MARGOT’S LAST DINNER BEFORE she leaves for Scotland tomorrow. Daddy makes Korean short ribs and potatoes au gratin from scratch. He even bakes a lemon cake. He says, “It’s been so gray and cold; I think we’re all due a little sunshine by way of lemon cake.” Then he puts an arm around my waist and pats my side, and though he isn’t asking, I know he knows there’s something up with me that’s a lot bigger than my period.
We’ve barely had a chance to put our forks to our lips before Daddy’s asking, “Does this galbi jjim taste like Grandma’s?”
“Basically,” I say. Daddy’s mouth turns down and I quickly add, “I mean, it might even be better.”
“I tenderized the meat the way she said,” Daddy says. “But it’s not falling right off the bone the way hers does, you know? You shouldn’t even need a knife to eat galbi jjim if it’s prepared correctly.” Margot was sawing away at a piece of meat with her steak knife, and she stops short. “The first time I ever had it was with your mom. She took me to a Korean restaurant on our first date and ordered everything for us in Korean and told me about each dish. I was so in awe of her that night. My one regret is that you girls didn’t keep up with Korean school.” The corners of his mouth turn down for just a moment, and then he’s smiling again. “Eat up, girls.”
“Daddy, UVA has a Korean language program,” I say. “If I get in, I’m definitely going to take Korean.”
“Your mom would’ve loved that,” he says, and he gets that sad look in his eyes again.
Swiftly Margot says, “The galbi jjim is delicious, Daddy. They don’t have good Korean food in Scotland.”
“Pack some seaweed to take back with you,” Daddy suggests. “And some of that ginseng tea Grandma brought us back from Korea. You should take the rice cooker too.”
Kitty frowns. “Then how will we have rice?”
“We can buy a new one.” Dreamily he says, “What I’d really love to do is take a family vacation there. How great would that be? Your mom always wanted to take you girls on a trip to Korea. You still have a lot of family there.”
“Could Grandma come with us?” Kitty asks. She keeps sneaking bites of meat to Jamie, who sits on his hind legs, looking at us with hopeful eyes.
Daddy nearly chokes on a bite of potatoes. “That’s a great idea,” he manages. “She’d be a good tour guide.”
Margot and I exchange a little smile. Grandma would drive Daddy crazy after a week. What I’m excited about is the shopping. “Oh my gosh, just think of all the stationery,” I say. “And clothes. And hair pins. BB cream. I should make a list.”
“Daddy, you could take a Korean cooking class,” Margot suggests.
“Yeah! Let’s think about it for the summer,” Daddy says. He’s already getting excited, I can tell. “Depending on everyone’s schedules, of course. Margot, you’re going to be here all summer, right?” That’s what she was saying last week.
She looks down at her plate. “I’m not sure. Nothing’s been decided yet.” Daddy looks puzzled, and Kitty and I exchange a look. For sure this has to do with Josh, and I don’t blame her. “There’s a chance I could get an internship at the Royal Anthropological Institute in London.”
“But I thought you said you wanted to go back to work at Montpelier,” Daddy says, his forehead creased in confusion.
“I’m still figuring things out. Like I said, I haven’t decided anything yet.”
Kitty interjects. “If you do the royal internship, would you get to meet any royal people?”
I roll my eyes, and Margot throws her a grateful look and says, “I doubt it, Kitten, but you never know.”
“What about you, Lara Jean?” Kitty asks, innocent and round-eyed. “Aren’t you supposed to be doing stuff this summer to look good for colleges?”
I shoot her a dirty look. “I’ve got plenty of time to figure things out.” Under the table I pinch her hard, and she yelps.
“You were supposed to be looking for an internship for this spring,” Margot reminds me. “I’m telling you, Lara Jean, if you don’t act fast, all the good internships will be gone. Also have you emailed Noni yet about SAT tutoring? See if she’s doing summer school or if she’s going home for the summer.”
“All right, all right. I will.”
“I might be able to get you a job at the hospital gift shop,” Daddy offers. “We could ride to work together, have lunch together. It would be fun hanging out all day with your old man!”
“Daddy, don’t you have any friends at work?” Kitty asks. “Do you sit by yourself at lunch?”
“Well, no, not every day. Sometimes I suppose I do eat alone at my desk, but that’s because I don’t have much time to eat. If Lara Jean worked at the gift shop, I’d make time, though.” He taps his chopsticks on his plate absentmindedly. “There might also be a job for her at the McDonald’s, but I’d have to see.”
Kitty pipes up, “Hey, if you got a job at McDonald’s, I bet they’d let you eat fries as much as you want.”
I frown. I can see a preview into my summer, and I’m not liking what I’m seeing. “I don’t want to work at McDonald’s. And no offense, Daddy, but I don’t want to work at the gift shop, either.” I think fast. “I’ve been thinking about doing something more official at Belleview. Maybe I could be the activities director’s intern. Or assistant. Margot, which sounds more impressive?”
“Assistant activities director,” Margot says.
“That does sound more professional,” I agree. “I’ve got a lot of ideas. Maybe I’ll stop by this week and pitch them to Janette.”
“Like what?” Daddy asks me.
“A scrapbooking class,” I improvise. “They have so many pictures and tokens and things that they’ve collected, I think it’d be good to bind it all up in a book so nothing gets lost.” Suddenly I’m on a roll. “And then maybe we could have a little exhibit, with all of the scrapbooks on display, and people can flip through them and see their life stories. I could make cheese puffs, there could be white wine . . .”