I look over at Peter, who has turned off the ignition. Suddenly I say, “Why don’t we go up to Carolyn Pearce’s old tree house?”
Readily, he agrees. “Let’s do it.”
It’s dark outside; I’ve never been up here in such darkness. There was always a light on from the Pearces’ kitchen or garage or from our house. Peter climbs up first and then shines his phone flashlight down on me as I make my way up.
He marvels at how, inside, nothing’s changed. It’s just like we left it. Kitty never had much interest in coming up here. It’s just been sort of abandoned since we stopped using it in eighth grade. “We” was the neighborhood kids my age: Genevieve, Allie Feldman, sometimes Chris, sometimes the boys—Peter, John Ambrose McClaren, Trevor. It was just a private place; we weren’t doing anything bad like smoke or drink. We’d sit up there and talk.
Genevieve was always thinking up games of Who Would You Choose. If we were on a deserted island, which of us here would you choose? Peter picked Genevieve without hesitation, because she was his girlfriend. Chris said she’d pick Trevor because he was the meatiest and also the most obnoxious, and who knew if at some point she’d have to resort to cannibalism. I said I’d pick Chris because I’d never get bored. Chris liked that; Genevieve frowned at me, but she’d already been picked once. And besides, it was true: Chris would be the funner island companion, and probably more helpful around the island. I doubted Genevieve would help gather firewood or spear a fish. John took a long time to decide. He went around the circle, weighing all of our merits. Peter was a fast runner, Trevor was strong, Genevieve was crafty, Chris could handle herself in a fight, and for me he said I would never give up hope of being rescued. So he picked me.
It was the last summer we spent outside. Just, every day was outside. As you grow up, you spend less and less time outside. Nobody can say “Go play outside” anymore to you. But that summer we did. It was the hottest summer in a hundred years, they said. We spent most of it on bikes, at the pool. We played games.
Peter sits down on the floor and takes off his coat and spreads it out like a blanket. “You can sit here.”
I sit down, and he pulls me toward him by my ankles, reeling me in carefully like a big fish that might jump off the line. When we’re knees to knees, he kisses me: soft-lipped, we have all the time in the world kisses. I’m shaking, but not from the cold. I feel jittery heart-palpitations kind of nerves. Peter bends his head and starts kissing my neck, making his way down to my collarbone. I’m so keyed up, it doesn’t even tickle the way it normally does when someone touches my neck. His mouth is warm, and it feels nice. I fall back against my hands, and he moves over me. Is this it? Is this when it’s supposed to happen? On the floor of Carolyn Pearce’s tree house?
When his hand moves under my blouse, but still over my bra, a panicky thought leaps into my head, one I haven’t thought before—Genevieve’s boobs are definitely bigger than mine. Will he be disappointed?
Suddenly I blurt out, “I’m not ready to have sex with you.”
His head jerks up in alarm. “God, Lara Jean! You scared me.”
“Sorry. I just wanted to make that clear, in case it wasn’t.”
“It was clear.” Peter flashes a hurt look at me and sits up, his back ramrod straight. “I’m not some caveman. Damn!”
“I know,” I say. I sit up and fix my necklace so the heart is in front. “Just . . . I hope you weren’t thinking that because you gave me this beautiful necklace, that . . .” I stop talking because he’s glaring at me. “Sorry, sorry. But . . . do you miss sex? Since you and Genevieve used to do it all the time, I mean?” We’ve all heard the stories about Kavinsky and Gen’s sex life, how they did it in Steve Bledell’s parents’ bedroom at his last-day-of-school party, how she went on the pill in ninth grade. How can someone who’s used to having sex 24/7 be content with someone like me, a virgin who’s so far barely been to second base with him? Not content. “Content” is the wrong word. Happy.
“We didn’t do it all the time! I don’t want to talk about this with you. It’s too weird.”
“I’m just saying, since I’ve never done it, but you’ve done it a lot, is that, like, a void in your life? Do you maybe feel like . . . like you’re missing out? Is it, like, if I never had an ice cream sundae, so I don’t know how good it is, but then I finally try one and I’m craving it all the time?” I chew on my bottom lip. “Are you . . . craving it all the time?”
“Do I wish we were having sex? I mean, okay, yes. But it’s not like I’m trying to pressure you. I’ve never even brought it up! And it’s not like guys don’t have other ways of . . .” He goes red. “Of release.”
“So . . . do you look at porn, then?”
“I have a naturally inquisitive personality! You know that about me. You used to answer all my questions.”
“That was before. Now it’s different.”
Sometimes Peter can say the most insightful thing and not even realize he’s said it. Things are different. They were easier before. Before sex was ever up for discussion.
Haltingly I say, “In the contract we said we’d always tell the truth.”
“Fine, but I’m not talking to you about porn.” I start to ask another question and Peter adds, “All I’ll say about it is, any guy that says he never looks at porn is a liar.”
“So you do.” I nod to myself. Okay. Good to know. “You know those statistics people are always spouting off, about teenage boys thinking about sex every seven seconds? Is that really true?”
“Nope. And I just want to point out that you’re the one who keeps bringing up sex. I think teenage girls might be more obsessed than boys.”
“Maybe,” I say, and his eyes widen, all excited. Hastily I add, “I mean, I’m definitely curious about it. It’s definitely a thought. But I don’t see myself doing it anytime soon. With anybody. Including you.”
I can tell Peter is embarrassed, the way he rushes to say, “Okay, okay, I got it. Let’s just change the subject.” Under his breath he mutters, “I didn’t even want to talk about it in the first place.”
It’s sweet that he’s embarrassed. I didn’t think he would be, with all his experience. I tug on his sweater sleeve. “At some point, when I’m ready, if I’m ready, I’ll let you know.” And then I pull him toward me and press my lips against his softly. His mouth opens, and so does mine, and I think, I could kiss this boy for hours.