“Ms. Rothschild said she’d take me and Jamie to the dog park,” Kitty says, putting her dirty bowl in the sink. “I’m gonna go over and remind her.”
“You’ve been hanging out with her a lot lately.” Kitty shrugs and gently I say, “Just don’t become a nuisance, all right? I mean, she’s like, forty; she might have other things she wants to be doing with her Saturday. Like go to a winery or a spa. She doesn’t need you harassing her about dating our dad.”
“Ms. Rothschild loves hanging out with me, so keep your little opinions to yourself.”
I frown at her. “Seriously, you have such bad manners, Kitty.”
“Blame my manners on you and Margot and Daddy, then. You’re the ones who raised me this way.”
“Then I guess nothing will ever be your fault in life because of the shoddy way you were raised.”
“I guess not.”
I let out a scream of frustration, and Kitty skips off, humming to herself, pleased as punch to have annoyed me.
Dear Lara Jean,
For the record, the only reason girls ever paid me any attention was because I was Peter’s best friend. It’s why Sabrina Fox asked me to be her date to the eighth grade formal! She even tried to sit next to Peter at Red Lobster before the dance.
As for college, my dad went to UNC, so he’s really pushing for that. He says I have tar in my blood. My mom wants me to stay in state. I haven’t told anyone this, but I really want to go to Georgetown. Knock on wood. Studying for the SATs as we speak.
Anyway . . . here’s your letter back. Don’t forget your promise. I’m really enjoying writing letters back and forth, but can I also have your phone number? You’re pretty hard to find online.
My very first thought is: He hasn’t seen the video. He can’t possibly have! Not if he’s saying I’m so hard to find online. I suppose deep down I must have been worrying about it, because I feel so relieved to know for certain. What a comfort, to know that he can still have a certain idea of me in his head, the same as I have of him. And truly, John Ambrose McClaren isn’t the type of boy to look at Anonybitch. Not the John Ambrose McClaren I remember.
I look back down at the letter, and there, at the bottom, is his phone number.
I blink. Letters were harmless enough, but if John and I started talking on the phone, would that be a betrayal of sorts? Is there even a difference between texting and letter writing? One is more immediate. But the act of writing a letter, of selecting paper and pen, addressing the envelope, finding a stamp, let alone putting pen to paper . . . it’s far more deliberate. My cheeks heat up. It’s more . . . romantic. A letter is something to keep.
Speaking of which . . . I unfold the second piece of paper in the envelope. It’s creased, a stationery I recognize well. Thick creamy paper with LJSC engraved in navy at the top. A birthday gift from my dad because of my delight in anything monogrammed.
Dear John Ambrose McClaren,
I know the exact day it all started. Fall, eighth grade. We got caught in the rain when we had to put all the softball bats away after gym. We started to run back to the building, and I couldn’t run as fast as you, so you stopped and grabbed my bag too. It was even better than if you’d grabbed my hand. I still remember the way you looked—your T-shirt was stuck to your back, your hair wet like you just came out of the shower. When it started to pour, you whooped and hollered like a little kid. There was this moment—you looked back at me, and your grin was as wide as your face. You said, “Come on, LJ!”
It was right then. That’s when I knew, all the way down to my soaking-wet Keds. I love you, John Ambrose McClaren. I really love you. I might have loved you for all of high school. I think you might have loved me back. If only you weren’t moving away, John! It’s so unfair when people move away. It’s like their parents just decide something and no one else gets a say in it. Not that I even deserve a say—I’m not your girlfriend or anything. But you at least deserve a say.
I was really hoping that one day I would get to call you Johnny. Your mom came to get you after school once, and a bunch of us were hanging out on the front steps. And you didn’t see her car, so she honked and called out, “Johnny!” I loved the sound of that. Johnny. One day, I bet your girlfriend will call you Johnny. She’s really lucky. Maybe you already have a girlfriend right now. If you do, know this—once upon a time in Virginia, a girl loved you.
I’m going to say it just this once, since you’ll never hear it anyway. Good-bye, Johnny.
I let out a scream, so loud and so piercing that Jamie barks in alarm. “Sorry,” I whisper, falling back against my pillows.
I cannot believe that John Ambrose McClaren read that letter. I didn’t remember it to be so . . . naked. With so much . . . yearning. God, why do I have to be a person who yearns so much? How horrible. How perfectly horrible. I’ve never been naked in front of a boy before, but now I feel like I have. I can’t bear to look at it again, to even think about it. I scramble up and stuff it back inside the envelope and push it under my bed so it no longer exists. Out of sight, out of mind.
Obviously John won’t be getting this letter back. In fact I don’t know if I should write him back at all. Things feel . . . altered, somehow.
I’d forgotten that letter, how ardently I longed for him. How certain I was, how absolutely certain I believed we were meant to be, if only. The memory of that belief shakes me up; it leaves me feeling unsettled and even uncertain. Unmoored. What was it about him, I wonder, that made me so sure?
Strangely, there’s no mention of Peter in my letter. In the letter I say I started liking him in the fall of eighth grade. I liked Peter in eighth grade too, so there was a definite crossover. When did one begin and the other end?
The one person who would know is the one person I could never ask.
She is the one who foretold that I would like John.
Genevieve slept over at my house most nights that summer. Allie was only allowed to sleep over on special occasions, so it was usually just the two of us. We’d go over what happened that day with the boys, every detail. “This is going to be our crew,” she said to me one night, her lips barely moving. We were doing Korean face masks my grandma had sent, the kind that look like ski masks, and drip with “essence” and vitamins and spa-like things. “This is what high school is going to be like. It’ll be me and Peter and you and McClaren, and Chrissy and Allie can share Trevor. We’ll all be power couples.”