“I have a Korean hair mask my grandma bought me,” I say, putting my arm around her.
We go upstairs, and Chris goes to my room while I root around in the bathroom for the hair mask. When I get back to my room with the jar, Chris is sitting cross-legged on the floor, sifting through my hatbox.
“Chris! That’s private.”
“It was out in the open!” She holds up Peter’s valentine, the poem he wrote me. “What’s this?”
Proudly I say, “That’s a poem Peter wrote for me for Valentine’s Day.”
Chris looks down at the paper again. “He said he wrote it? He’s so full of shit. This is from an Edgar Allan Poe poem.”
“No, Peter definitely wrote it.”
“It’s from that poem called ‘Annabel Lee’! We studied it in my remedial English class in middle school. I remember because we went to the Edgar Allan Poe museum, and then we went on a riverboat called the Annabel Lee. The poem was framed on the wall!”
I can’t believe this. “But . . . he told me he wrote it for me.”
She cackles. “Classic Kavinsky.” When Chris sees that I’m not cackling with her, she says, “Eh, whatever. It’s the thought that counts, right?”
“Except it isn’t his thought.” I was so happy to receive that poem. No one had ever written me a love poem before, and now it turns out it was plagiarized. A knockoff.
“Don’t be pissed. I think it’s funny! Clearly he was trying to impress you.”
I should’ve known Peter didn’t write it. He hardly ever reads in his spare time, much less writes poetry. “Well, the necklace is real, at least,” I say.
“Are you sure?”
I shoot her a dirty look.
When Peter and I talk on the phone that night, I’m all set to confront him about the poem, to at least tease him about it. But then we get to talking about his upcoming away game on Friday. “You’re coming, right?” he says.
“I want to, but I promised Stormy I’d dye her hair on Friday night.”
“Can’t you just do it on Saturday?”
“I can’t, the time capsule party is on Saturday, and she has a date that night. That’s why her hair needs to be done on Friday. . . .” It sounds like a weak excuse, I know. But I promised. And also . . . I wouldn’t be able to ride on the bus with Peter, and I don’t feel comfortable driving forty-five minutes away to a school I’ve never been to. He doesn’t need me there anyway. Not like Stormy needs me.
“I’ll come to the next one, I promise,” I say.
Peter bursts out, “Gabe’s girlfriend comes to every single game and she paints his jersey number on her face every game day. She doesn’t even go to our school!”
“There have only been four games and I’ve gone to two!” Now I’m annoyed. I know lacrosse is important to him, but it’s no less important than my commitments at Belleview. “And you know what? I know you didn’t write that poem for me on Valentine’s Day. You copied it off of Edgar Allan Poe!”
“I never said I wrote it,” he hedges.
“Yes you did. You acted like you wrote it.”
“I wasn’t going to, but then you were so happy about it! Sorry for trying to make you happy.”
“You know what? I was going to bake you lemon cookies on game day, and now I don’t know.”
“Fine, then I don’t know if I’m going to make it to your tree-house party on Saturday. I might be too tired from the game.”
I gasp. “You’d better be there!” This party is small as it is, and Chris isn’t the most reliable person. It can’t just be me and Trevor and John. Three people does not a party make.
Peter makes a harrumph sound. “Well, then I’d better see some lemon cookies in my locker come game day.”
On Friday I bring his lemon cookies and wear his jersey number on my cheek, which delights Peter. He grabs me and throws me in the air, and his smile is so big. It makes me feel guilty for not doing it sooner, because it took so very little on my part to make him happy. I can see now that it’s the little things, the small efforts, that keep a relationship going. And I know now too that in some small measure I have the power to hurt him and also the power to make it better. This discovery leaves me with an unsettling, queer sort of feeling in my chest for reasons I can’t explain.
I’D WORRIED IT WOULD BE too cold for us to stay in the tree house for long, but it’s unseasonably warm, so much so that Daddy starts on one of his rants about climate change, to the point where Kitty and I have to tune him out.
After his rant I get a shovel from the garage and set about digging under the tree. The ground is hard, and it takes me a while to get into a good groove digging, but I finally hit metal a couple of feet in. The time capsule’s the size of a small cooler; it looks like a futuristic coffee thermos. The metal has eroded from the rain and snow and dirt, but not as much as you’d think, considering it’s been nearly four years. I take it back to the house and wash it in the sink so it gleams again.
Close to noon, I load up a shopping bag with ice cream sandwiches, Hawaiian Punch, and Cheez Doodles and take it all out to the tree house. I’m crossing our backyard to the Pearces’, trying to juggle the bag and the portable speakers and my phone, when I see John Ambrose McClaren standing in front of the tree house, staring up at it with his arms crossed. I’d know the back of his blond head anywhere.
I freeze, suddenly nervous and unsure. I’d thought Peter or Chris would be here with me when he arrived, and that would smooth out any awkwardness. But no such luck.
I put down all my stuff and move forward to tap him on the shoulder, but he turns around before I can. I take a step back. “Hi! Hey!” I say.
“Hey!” He takes a long look at me. “Is it really you?”
“My pen pal the elusive Lara Jean Covey who shows up at Model UN and runs off without so much as a hello?”
I bite the inside of my cheek. “I’m pretty sure I at least said hello.”
Teasingly he says, “No, I’m pretty sure you didn’t.”
He’s right: I didn’t. I was too flustered. Kind of like right now. It must be that distance between knowing someone when you were a kid and seeing them now that you’re both more grown-up, but still not all the way grown-up, and there are all these years and letters in between you, and you don’t know how to act.