Mid-kiss, he says, “Wait, so we’re never having sex? Like ever?”

“I didn’t say never. But not now. I mean, not until I’m really, really sure. Okay?”

He lets out a laugh. “Sure. You’re the one driving this bus. You have been from the start. I’m still catching up.” He snuggles closer and sniffs my hair. “What’s this new shampoo you’re wearing?”

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“I stole it from Margot. It’s juicy pear. Nice, right?”

“It’s all right, I guess. But can you go back to the one you used to wear? The coconut one? I love the smell of that one.” A dreamy look crosses his face, like evening fog settling over a city.

“If I feel like it,” I say, which makes him pout. I’m already thinking I should buy a bottle of the coconut hair mask, too, but I like to keep him on his toes. Like he said, I’m the one driving this bus. Peter pulls me against him so he’s curved around my back like shelter. I let my head rest on his shoulder, rest my arms on his kneecaps. This is nice. This is cozy. Just me and him, just for a while, apart from the rest of the world.

We’re sitting there like that when suddenly I remember something, an important something. The time capsule. John Ambrose McClaren’s grandmother gave it to him for his birthday in seventh grade. He’d asked for a video game, but the time capsule was what he got. He said he was going to throw it away, but then he thought one of us girls might want it. I said I wanted it, and then Genevieve said she wanted it, so of course Chris chimed in too. And then I had the idea to bury it right there in the Pearces’ backyard under the tree house. I got really excited and said everybody needed to put in something that they had on them at that very moment. I said we should come back the day we graduate from high school and open it up and reminisce.

“Do you remember that time capsule we buried?” I ask him.

“Oh, yeah! McClaren’s. Let’s dig it up!”

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“We can’t open it without everybody else,” I say. “Remember, we were going to do it after high school graduation?” This was when I still thought we’d all be friends. “You, me, John, Trevor, Chris, Allie.” I don’t say Genevieve’s name.

Peter doesn’t appear to notice. “All right, then we’ll wait. Whatever my girl wants.”

30

Dear Lara Jean,

I will give you your letter back on one condition. You have to make a solemn unbreakable vow that you will return it to me after you’re done reading it. I need physical proof that a girl liked me in middle school, otherwise who would ever believe it?

And for what it’s worth, that peanut butter chocolate cake you baked was the best I ever ate. I never had another cake quite like that one, with my name written in Reese’s Pieces. I still think about it sometimes. A guy doesn’t forget a cake like that.

I have one question for you. How many letters did you write? Just wondering how special I should feel.

John

Dear John,

I, Lara Jean, hereby make a solemn vow—nay, an unbreakable vow—to return my letter to you, intact and unchanged. Now give me my letter back!

Also you’re such a liar. You know very well that plenty of girls liked you in middle school. At sleepovers, girls would be like, are you Team Peter or Team John? Don’t pretend like you didn’t know that, Johnny!

And to answer your question—there were five letters. Five meaningful boys in my whole life history. Though, now that I’m writing it down, five sounds like a lot, considering the fact that I’m only sixteen. I wonder how many there’ll have been by the time I’m twenty! There’s this lady at the nursing home I volunteer at, and she’s had so many husbands and lived so many lives. I look at her and I think, she must not have even one regret, because she’s done and seen it all.

Did I tell you my older sister Margot’s all the way in Scotland, at St. Andrews? It’s where Prince William and Kate Middleton met. Maybe she’ll meet a prince, too, haha! Where do you want to go to college? Do you know what you want to study? I think I want to stay in state. Virginia has great public schools and it’ll be much cheaper, but I guess the main reason is I’m very close to my family and I don’t want to be too-too far away. I used to think I might want to go to UVA and live at home, but now I’m thinking dorms are the way to go for a true college experience.

Don’t forget to send back my letter, Lara Jean

Daddy’s at the hospital, but he’s made a big pot of oatmeal, a vat of it like you see in a soup kitchen. By this time it’s gummy and I have to put half a bottle of maple syrup and dried cherries on mine to make it palatable, and even then I’m not sure if I like oatmeal. I make a bowl for me with some chopped-up pecans on top, and a bowl with just honey on top for Kitty. “Have some gruel,” I call out. She’s in front of the TV, of course.

We sit on stools at the breakfast bar and eat our gruel. I will say there is something satisfying about it, the way it sticks to your insides like paste. As I eat, I keep my eyes toward the window.

Kitty snaps her fingers in my face. “Hello! I asked you a question.”

“Has the mail come yet?” I ask.

“The mailman doesn’t come until after twelve on Saturdays,” Kitty says, licking honey off her spoon. Eyeing me she says, “Why have you been so excited about the mail all week?”

“I’m waiting for a letter,” I say.

“From who?”

“Just . . . no one important.” A rookie mistake. I should’ve made up a name, because Kitty’s eyes narrow, and now she’s really interested.

“If it wasn’t someone important, you wouldn’t be so gaga looking out the window for it. Who’s it from?”

“If you must know, it’s actually a letter from me. One of those love letters of mine you sent out.” I reach across the table and pinch her arm. “It’s coming back my way.”

“From the boy with the funny name. Ambrose. What kind of name is Ambrose?”

“Do you remember him at all? He used to live on our street.”

“He had yellow hair,” Kitty says. “He had a skateboard. He let me play with it once.”

“That sounds like him,” I say, remembering. Of all the boys, he had the most patience with Kitty, even though she was a pain.

“Stop smiling,” Kitty commands. “You already have a boyfriend. You don’t need two.”

My smile slips. “We’re just writing letters, Kitty. Also don’t snap at me.” I lean in to give her another pinch, and she jumps up before I can. “What are you going to do today?”

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