That night I bake chai sugar cookies with cinnamon-eggnog icing—they’re like a hug in your mouth. Baking calms me; it’s stabilizing. It’s what I do when I don’t want to think about anything hard. It is an activity that requires very little from you—you just follow the directions, and then at the end you have created something. From ingredients to an actual dessert. It’s like magic. Poof, deliciousness.
After midnight, I’ve set the cookies on the cooling rack and put on my cat pajamas, and I’m climbing into bed to read when there’s a knock at my window. I think it’s Chris, and I go to the window to check and see if I’ve locked it, but it’s not—it’s Peter! I push the window up. “Oh my God, Peter! What are you doing here?” I whisper, my heart pounding. “My dad’s home!”
Peter climbs in. He’s wearing a navy beanie on his head and a thermal with a puffy vest. Taking off the hat, he grins and says, “Shh. You’re gonna wake him up.”
I run to my door and lock it. “Peter! You can’t be here!” I am equal parts panicky and excited. I don’t know if a boy has ever been in my room before, not since Josh, and that was ages ago.
He’s already taking off his shoes. “Just let me stay for a few minutes.”
I cross my arms because I’m not wearing a bra and say, “If it’s only a few minutes, why are you taking off your shoes?”
He dodges this question. Plopping down on my bed, he says, “Hey, why aren’t you wearing your Amish bikini? It’s so hot.” I move to slap him upside the head, and he grabs my waist and hugs me to him. He buries his head in my stomach like a little boy. His voice muffled, he says, “I’m sorry all this is happening because of me.”
I touch the top of his head; his hair feels soft and silky against my fingers. “It’s okay, Peter. I know it’s not your fault.” I glance at my moonbeam alarm clock. “You can stay for fifteen minutes, but then you have to go.” Peter nods and releases me. I sink down on the bed next to him and put my head on his shoulder. I hope the minutes go slow. “How was the party?”
“Boring without you.”
He laughs an easy kind of laugh. “What did you bake tonight?”
“How do you know I baked?”
Peter breathes me in. “You smell like sugar and butter.”
“Chai sugar cookies with eggnog icing.”
“Can I take some with me?”
I nod, and we lean our backs against the wall. He slides his arm around me, safe and secure. “Twelve minutes left,” I say into his shoulder, and I feel rather than see him smile.
“Then let’s make it good.” We start to kiss, and I’ve definitely never kissed a boy in my bed before. This is brand-new. I doubt I’ll ever be able to think of my bed the same way again. Between kisses he says, “How much time do I have left?”
I glance over at my clock. “Seven minutes.” Maybe I should tack on an extra five . . .
“Can we lie down, then?” he suggests.
I shove him in the shoulder. “Peter!”
“I just want to hold you for a little bit! If I was going to try to do more, I’d need more than seven minutes, trust me.”
So we lie down, my back to his chest, him curved around me, his arms slung around mine. He snuggles his chin into the hollow between my neck and my shoulder. It might be my favorite thing we’ve ever done. I like it so much I have to keep reminding myself to be vigilant that we don’t fall asleep. I want to close my eyes but I keep them trained on my clock.
“Spooning’s the freaking best,” he sighs, and I wish he didn’t say it, because it makes me think of how many times he must have held Genevieve just like this.
At the fifteen-minute mark, I sit up so fast he jumps. I clap him on the shoulder. “Time to go, buddy.”
His mouth falls into a sulk. “Come on, Covey!”
I shake my head, resolute.
If you hadn’t made me think of Genevieve, I would’ve given you five minutes more.
After I send Peter off with a bag of cookies, I lie back down and close my eyes and imagine his arms are still around me, and that’s how I fall asleep.
I GO TO JANETTE’S OFFICE at Belleview the next day, armed with my notebook and my pen. “I had an idea for a craft class. ‘Scrapbooking to the Oldies.’” Janette nods at me and I continue. “I can teach the residents how to scrapbook, and we’ll go through all their old photos and mementos and listen to oldies.”
“That sounds great,” she says.
“So I could run that class and also I could take on Friday night cocktail hour?”
Janette takes a bite of her tuna-fish sandwich and swallows. “We might cut the cocktail hour altogether.”
“Cut it?” I repeat in disbelief.
She shrugs. “Attendance has been waning ever since we started offering a computer class. The residents have figured out Netflix. It’s a whole new world out there.”
“What if we made it more of an event? Like, more special?”
“We don’t really have the budget for anything fancy, Lara Jean. I’m sure Margot’s told you how we have to make do around here. Our budget’s tiny.”
“No, no, it could be really DIY stuff. Just simple little touches will make all the difference. Like we could make a jacket mandatory for the men. And couldn’t we borrow glassware from the dining room instead of using plastic cups?” Janette is still listening, so I keep on going. “Why serve peanuts right out of the can, when we can put them in a nice bowl, right?”
“Peanuts taste like peanuts no matter the receptacle.”
“They’d taste more elegant served out of a crystal bowl.”
I’ve said too much. Janette is thinking this all sounds like too much trouble, I can tell. She says, “We don’t have crystal bowls, Lara Jean.”
“I’m sure I can scrounge one up at home,” I assure her.
“It sounds like a lot of work for every Friday night.”
“Well—maybe it could just be once a month. That would make it feel even more special. Why don’t we take a little hiatus and bring it back in full force in a month or so?” I suggest. “We can give people a chance to miss it. Build the anticipation and then really do it right.” Janette nods a begrudging nod, and before she can change her mind I say, “Think of me as your assistant, Janette. Leave it all to me. I’ll take care of everything.”