He backs out of the driveway. “Who?”
“Um . . . Margot?”
“Why would that be surprising? No, not Margot. John Ambrose McClaren!”
Peter just looks confused. “McClaren? Why would he write you a letter?”
“Because I wrote him one, remember? Same as I did to you. There were five love letters, and his was the only letter that never came back. I thought it was lost forever, but then a tree fell in John’s driveway after this last ice storm, and Mr. Barber came to haul it away and he brought the letter.”
“Who’s Mr. Barber?”
“He’s the man who bought John’s old house. He owns a landscaping company—that’s all beside the point, anyway. The point is, John only just got my letter last week; that’s why it took him so long to write back.”
“Hm,” Peter says, messing with the heating vents. “So he wrote you an actual letter? Not an email?”
“No, it was a real letter that came in the mail.” I watch to see if he is jealous, to see if this new development gets under his skin even a little.
“Hm,” Peter says again. The second hm is bored-sounding, noncommittal. Not the slightest bit jealous. “How is the Sundance Kid anyway?” He snickers. “McClaren used to hate when I called him that.”
“I remember,” I say. We’re at the stoplight; there’s a line to get into school.
“What’d the letter say?”
“Oh, you know, just ‘how are you,’ the usual sort of things.” I look out the window. I’m feeling a bit stingy about sharing extra information because his ho-hum reaction hasn’t merited any. Doesn’t he have the decency to at least act like he cares?
Peter drums his fingers on the steering wheel. “We should hang out with him sometime.”
The thought of Peter and John Ambrose McClaren in the same space together again is discomfiting. Where would I even look? Vaguely I say, “Hmm, maybe.” Perhaps bringing up the letter wasn’t such a great idea.
“I think he still has my old baseball glove,” he muses. “Hey, did he say anything about me?”
“I don’t know. Like did he ask what I was up to?”
“Hmm.” Peter’s mouth turns down into a miffed sort of expression. “What’d you write him back?”
“I just got it! I haven’t had time to write anything back.”
“Tell him I say hey when you do,” he says.
“Sure,” I say. I feel around in my bag to make sure the letter is still in there.
“So, wait, if you sent a love letter to five of us, does that mean you liked us all equally?”
He’s looking at me with expectant eyes, and I know he thinks I’m going to say I liked him best, but that wouldn’t be true. “Yes, I liked you all exactly the same,” I tell him.
“Bullshit! Who’d you like best? Me, right?”
“That’s a really impossible question to answer, Peter. I mean, it’s all relative. I could say I liked Josh best, because I liked him longest, but you can’t judge who you love the most by how long you love them.”
“Like,” I say.
“You definitely said ‘love.’”
“Well, I meant ‘like.’”
“What about McClaren?” he asks. “How much did you like him in comparison to the rest of us?”
Finally! A little jealousy at last. “I liked him . . .” I’m about to say “the same,” but I hesitate. According to Stormy, no one can ever like anyone exactly the same. But how can you possibly quantify how much you like a person, much less two? Peter always has to be liked the best. He expects it. So I just say, “It’s unknowable. But I like you best now.”
Peter shakes his head. “For someone who’s never had a boyfriend before, you really know how to work a guy.”
I raise my eyebrows. I know how to work a guy? That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that in my life. Genevieve, Chris, they know how to work guys. Not me. Never me.
First of all, thanks for writing me back. That was a really nice surprise. Second of all . . . the story behind the letter. I wrote you that letter in eighth grade, but I never meant for you to see it. It sounds crazy, I know, it was just a thing I used to do—when I liked a boy, I’d write the letter and then I’d hide it away in my hatbox. The letters were just for me. But then my little sister Kitty—remember her? Scrawny and willful?— sent them all out back in September, including yours.
I do remember that break-dancing contest. I think Peter won. He would’ve taken the biggest piece of peanut brittle either way, though! This is random but do you remember how he used to always take the last piece of pizza? So annoying. Do you remember how he and Trevor got into a fight over it and they ended up dropping the pizza and nobody got to have it? Do you remember how all of us went to your house to say good-bye when you moved? I made a chocolate cake with chocolate peanut butter frosting, and I brought a knife but your forks and plates were all packed up, so we ate it on the front porch with our hands. When I got home, I realized that the corners of my mouth were stained brown from the chocolate. I was so embarrassed. It feels like such a long time ago.
I’m not in Model UN but I was there that day and I did see you. Actually, I had a feeling you might be there because I remembered how into Model UN you were in middle school. I’m sorry I didn’t stick around so we could catch up. I think I was just startled because it had been so long. You looked the same to me too. Much taller, though.
I have a favor to ask—would you mind sending me back my letter? The other ones have found their way back to me, and though I’m sure it will be excruciating, I’d really like to know what I said.
Your friend, Lara Jean
IT’S LATE, AND ALL THE lights are off at my house. Daddy’s at the hospital; Kitty’s at a sleepover. I can tell Peter wants to come inside, but my dad will be home soon and he might be freaked out if he gets home and it’s just the two of us alone in the house so late. Daddy hasn’t said anything in so many words, but since the video, something shifted just the tiniest fraction. Now when I go out with Peter, Daddy oh-so-casually asks what time I’ll be home, where we’ll be. He never used to ask those kinds of questions, though I suppose he never had much reason to before.