“What’s that you’ve got crumpled up in your pocket?”
My hand flies down to my pocket. “That? Oh, it’s nothing. It’s junk mail. It was on the ground by your mailbox. No worries, I’ll recycle it for you.”
“Give it to me and I’ll recycle it right now,” he says, holding out his hand.
“No, I said I’ll do it.” I reach down to stuff the letter deeper into my coat pocket, and Peter tries to snatch it out of my hand. I twist away from him wildly and hold on tight. He shrugs, and I relax and let out a small sigh of relief, and then he lunges forward and plucks it away from me.
I pant, “Give it back, Peter!”
Blithely he says, “Tampering with US mail is a federal offense.” Then he looks down at the envelope. “This is to me. From you.” I make a desperate grab for the envelope, and it takes him by surprise. We wrestle for it; I’ve got the corner of it in my grip, but he’s not letting go. “Stop, you’re going to rip it!” he yells, prying it out of my grasp.
I try to grab harder, but it’s too late. He has it.
Peter holds the envelope above my head and tears it open and begins to read. It’s torturous standing there in front of him, waiting—for what, I don’t know. More humiliation? I should probably just go. He’s such a slow reader.
When he’s finally done, he asks, “Why weren’t you going to give me this? Why were you just going to leave?”
“Because, I don’t know, you didn’t seem so glad to see me. . . .” My voice trails off lamely.
“It’s called playing hard to get! I’ve been waiting for you to call me, you dummy. It’s been six days.”
I suck in my breath. “Oh!”
“‘Oh.’” He pulls me by the lapels of my coat, closer to him, close enough to kiss. He’s so close I can see the puffs his breath makes. So close I could count his eyelashes if I wanted. In a low voice he says, “So then . . . you still like me?”
“Yeah,” I whisper. “I mean, sort of.” My heartbeat is going quick-quick-quick. I’m giddy. Is this a dream? If so, let me never wake up.
Peter gives me a look like Get real, you know you like me. I do, I do. Then, softly, he says, “Do you believe me that I didn’t tell people we had sex on the ski trip?”
“Okay.” He inhales. “Did . . . did anything happen with you and Sanderson after I left your house that night?” He’s jealous! The very thought of it warms me up like hot soup. I start to tell him no way, but he quickly says, “Wait. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”
“No,” I say, firmly so he knows I mean it. He nods but doesn’t say anything.
Then he leans in, and I close my eyes, heart thrumming in my chest like hummingbird wings. We’ve technically only kissed four times, and only one of those times was for real. I’d like to just get right to it, so I can stop being nervous. But Peter doesn’t kiss me, not the way I expect. He kisses me on my left cheek, and then my right; his breath is warm. And then nothing. My eyes fly open. Is this a literal kiss-off? Why isn’t he kissing me properly? “What are you doing?” I whisper.
“Building the anticipation.”
Quickly I say, “Let’s just kiss.”
He angles his head, and his cheek brushes against mine, which is when the front door opens, and it’s Peter’s younger brother, Owen, standing there with his arms crossed. I spring away from Peter like I just found out he has some incurable infectious disease. “Mom wants you guys to come in and have some cider,” he says, smirking.
“In a minute,” Peter says, pulling me back.
“She said right now,” Owen says.
Oh my God. I throw a panicky look at Peter. “I should probably get going before my dad starts to worry. . . .”
He nudges me toward the door with his chin. “Just come inside for a minute, and then I’ll take you home.” As I step inside, he takes off my coat and says in a low voice, “Were you really going to walk all the way home in that fancy dress? In the cold?”
“No, I was going to guilt you into driving me,” I whisper back.
“What’s with your outfit?” Owen says to me.
“It’s what Korean people wear on New Year’s Day,” I tell him.
Peter’s mom steps out of the kitchen with two steaming mugs. She’s wearing a long cashmere cardigan that’s loosely belted around her waist, and cream cable-knit slippers. “It’s stunning,” she says. “You look gorgeous. So colorful.”
“Thank you,” I say, feeling embarrassed over the fuss.
The three of us sit down in the family room; Owen escapes to the kitchen. I still feel flushed from the almost kiss and from the fact that Peter’s mom probably knows what we were up to. I wonder, too, what she knows about what’s been going on with us, how much he’s told her, if anything.
“How was your Christmas, Lara Jean?” his mom asks me.
I blow into my mug. “It was really nice. My dad bought my little sister a puppy, and we’ve just been fighting over who gets to hold him. And my older sister’s still home from college, so that’s been nice too. How was your holiday, Mrs. Kavinsky?”
“Oh, it was nice. Quiet.” She points to her slippers. “Owen got me these. How did the holiday party go? Did your sisters like the fruitcake cookies Peter baked? Honestly, I can’t stand them.”
Surprised, I look over at Peter, who is suddenly busy scrolling on his phone. “I thought you said your mom made them.”
His mom smiles a proud kind of smile. “Oh no, he did it all by himself. He was very determined.”
“They tasted like garbage!” Owen yells from the kitchen.
His mom laughs again, and then things are silent. My mind is racing, trying to think up potential conversation pieces. New Year’s resolutions, maybe? The snowstorm we’re supposed to get next week? Peter’s no help at all; he’s looking at his phone again.
She stands up. “It was nice to see you, Lara Jean. Peter, don’t keep her out too late.”
“I won’t.” To me he says, “I’ll be right back; I’m just gonna get my keys.”
When he’s gone, I say, “I’m sorry for dropping in like this on New Year’s Day. I hope I wasn’t interrupting anything.”
“You’re welcome here anytime.” She leans forward and puts her hand on my knee. With a meaningful look she says, “Just be easy with his heart is all I ask.”