That’s how I feel. When Kitty asks to try it on, I hesitate for a tiny second and then feel guilty for being so stingy. “Just be careful with it,” I tell her as I unclasp the necklace.
Kitty pretends to drop the locket off the chain and I shriek. “Just kidding,” she giggles. She goes over to my mirror and looks at herself, her head tilted, neck arched. “Not bad. Aren’t you so glad I set this whole you-and-Peter thing in motion?”
I throw a pillow at her.
“Can I borrow it for a special occasion?”
“No!” Then I think of Laura and the doll again. “Yes. If it’s a very special occasion.”
“Thank you,” Kitty says. Then she cocks her head and looks at me with serious eyes. “Lara Jean, can I ask you a question?”
“You can ask me anything,” I say.
“It’s about boys.”
I try not to look too eager as I nod. Boys! So we’re here already. All right. “I’m listening.”
“And you promise you’ll answer honestly? Sister swear?”
“Of course. Come sit by me, Kitty.” She sits down next to me on the floor and I put my arm around her, feeling generous and warm and maternal. Kitty really is growing up.
She looks up at me, doe-eyed. “Are you and Peter doing it?”
“What?” I shove her away. “Kitty!”
Gleefully she says, “You promised you’d answer!”
“Well, the answer is no, you sneaky little fink. God! Get out of my room.” Kitty skips off, laughing like a mad hyena. I can hear her all the way down the hallway.
JUST WHEN I THOUGHT THE hot-tub-video ordeal was well and truly over with, another version pops up and reminds me that this particular nightmare will never be over. Nothing on the Internet ever dies; isn’t that what people say? This time I’m in the library, and out of the corner of my eye I see two sophomore girls sharing a pair of earbuds, watching the video, giggling. There I am, in my nightgown, draped all over Peter’s lap like a blanket. For a few seconds I just sit there, trapped in my indecision. To confront or not to confront. I remember Margot’s words about rising above it and acting like I couldn’t care less. And then I think, Screw it.
I stand up, stalk over to them, and snatch the earbuds out of the laptop. “Part of Your World” comes blasting out the speakers.
“Hey!” the girl says, whirling in her seat.
Then she sees it’s me, and she and her friend exchange a panicky look. She slams the laptop shut. “Go ahead, play it,” I say, crossing my arms.
“No thanks,” she says.
I reach over her and open it and push play. Whoever’s made this video has spliced it with scenes from The Little Mermaid. “When’s it my turn? Wouldn’t I love, love to explore that shore up above . . .” I snap the computer shut. “Just so you know, watching this video is the equivalent of child pornography, and you guys could be charged for it. Your IP address is already in the system. Think about that before you forward it on. That’s distribution.”
The red-haired girl gapes. “How is this child porn?”
“I’m underage and so is Peter.”
The other girl smirks and says, “I thought you guys claimed you weren’t having sex.”
I’m stumped. “Well, we’ll let the Justice Department sort that out. But first I’m notifying Principal Lochlan.”
“It’s not like we’re the only ones looking at it!” the red-haired girl says.
“Think about how you’d feel if it were you in that video,” I say.
“I’d feel great,” the girl mutters. “You’re lucky. Kavinsky’s hot.”
It catches me off guard how upset Peter is when I show him the Little Mermaid video. Because nothing bad ever sticks to Peter; it just rolls off his back. That’s why people like him so much, I think. He’s sure of himself; he’s self-possessed. It sets people at ease.
But it’s the Little Mermaid video that breaks him. We watch it in his car, on his phone, and he’s so mad I’m afraid he’s going to throw the phone out the window. “Those fuckers! How dare they!” Peter punches the steering wheel, and the horn beeps. I jump. I’ve never seen him upset like this. I’m not sure what to say, how to calm him down. I grew up in a house full of women and one gentle dad. I don’t know anything about teenage boys’ tempers.
“Shit!” he yells. “I hate that I can’t protect you from this.”
“I don’t need you to,” I say, and I realize as I say it that it’s true. I’m coping on my own just fine.
He stares straight ahead. “But I want to. I thought I fixed it before, but here it is again. It’s like fucking herpes.”
I want to comfort him, to make him laugh and forget. Teasingly I ask him, “Peter, do you have herpes?”
“Lara Jean, it’s not funny.”
“Sorry.” I put my hand on his arm. “Let’s get out of here.”
Peter starts the car. “Where do you want to go?”
“Anywhere. Nowhere. Let’s just drive.” I don’t want to run into anybody, I don’t want any knowing looks or whispers. I want to hide. Peter’s Audi, our little haven. To cover up my bleak thoughts, I give Peter a bright smile, bright enough to make him smile back, just.
The drive calms Peter down, and by the time we get to my house, Peter seems to be in good spirits again. I ask him if he wants to come inside and have pizza, it being pizza night and all. I tell him he can order whichever toppings he wants. But he shakes his head, says he should get home. For the first time he doesn’t kiss me good-bye, and it makes me feel guilty, how bad he feels. It’s partly my fault, I know it is. He feels like he has to make things right for me, and now he knows he can’t, and it’s killing him.
When I walk into the house, Daddy is waiting for me at the kitchen table, just sitting and waiting, eyebrows knit together. “Why haven’t you been answering your phone?”
“Sorry . . . my battery died. Is everything okay?” Judging by the serious look on his face, everything is definitely not okay.
“We need to talk, Lara Jean. Come sit down.”
Dread hits me like a tidal wave. “Why, Daddy? What’s wrong? Where’s Kitty?”
“She’s in her room.” I put down my bag and make my way over to the kitchen table, feet moving as slow as I can make them. I sit down next to him and he sighs heavily, hands folded.