After Peter and I hang up, I text John my idea, and he offers to drive me to the game. It’s at his school. I ask if he’s sure he doesn’t mind coming all the way to get me, and he says it’ll be worth it to see Kavinsky get taken down. I’m relieved, because the last thing I need is to get lost on the way there.
After school on Friday, I rush home to get ready. I change into school colors—light blue T-shirt, white shorts, white and light blue striped knee socks, a blue ribbon in my hair. I paint a big 15 on my cheek and outline it with white eyeliner.
I run outside as soon as John pulls into our driveway. He’s wearing his faded old Orioles baseball cap, pulled down low. He eyes me as I climb inside.
Smiling, John says, “You look like a rally girl.”
I tap him on the bill of his hat. “You used to wear this, like, every day that one summer.”
As he backs out of our driveway, John grins like he has a secret. It’s contagious. Now I’m smiling too, and I don’t even know why. “What? Why are you smiling?” I ask, pulling up my knee socks.
“Nothing,” he says.
I jab him in the side. “Come on!”
“My mom gave me a really bad haircut at the beginning of summer, and I was embarrassed. I never let my mom cut my hair again after that.” He checks the time on the dashboard. “What time did you say the game started? Five?”
“Yup!” I’m practically bouncing up and down in my seat I’m so excited. Peter will be proud of me for pulling this off, I know he will.
We get to John’s school in under half an hour, and there’s still time before the school bus arrives, so John jogs inside to get us snacks out of the vending machine. He comes back with two cans of soda and a bag of salt-and-vinegar chips to share.
He hasn’t been back long before a tall black guy in a lacrosse uniform comes jogging over to the car. He calls out, “McClaren!” He bends down and puts his face up close to the window, and he and John bump fists. “Are you coming to Danica’s after this?” he asks.
John glances over at me and then says, “Nah, I can’t.”
His friend notices me then; his eyes widen. “Who’s this?”
“I’m Lara Jean, I don’t go here,” I say, which is dumb, because he probably knows that already.
“You’re Lara Jean!” He nods enthusiastically. “I’ve heard about you. You’re why McClaren’s hanging around a nursing home, am I right?”
I blush and John laughs an easy sort of laugh. “Get outta here, Avery.”
Avery reaches over John and shakes my hand. “Nice to meet you, Lara Jean. See you around.” Then he runs off toward the field. As we sit and wait, a few more people come up to John’s car to say hi, and I see it’s just like I thought: He has lots of friends, lots of girls who admire him. A group of girls walks by the car, toward the field, and one in particular stares into the car and right at me, questions in her eyes. John doesn’t seem to notice. He is asking me what TV shows I watch, what I’m going to do for spring break in April, summer vacation. I tell him about Daddy’s idea to go to Korea.
“I have a funny story about your dad,” John says, looking at me sideways.
I groan. “Oh no. What did he do?”
“It wasn’t him; it was me.” He clears his throat. “This is embarrassing.”
I rub my hands together in anticipation.
“So, I went over to your house to ask you to eighth grade formal. I had this whole extravagant plan.”
“You never asked me to formal!”
“I know, I’m getting to that part. Are you going to let me tell the story or not?”
“You had a whole extravagant plan,” I prompt.
John nods. “So I gathered a bunch of sticks and some flowers and I arranged them into the letters FORMAL? in front of your window. But your dad came home while I was in the middle of it, and he thought I was going around cleaning people’s yards. He gave me ten bucks, and I lost my nerve and I just went home.”
I laugh. “I . . . can’t believe you did that.” I can’t believe that this almost happened to me. What would that have felt like, to have a boy do something like that for me? In the whole history of my letters, of my liking boys, not once has a boy liked me back at the same time as I liked him. It was always me alone, longing after a boy, and that was fine, that was safe. But this is new. Or old. Old and new, because it’s the first time I’m hearing it.
“The biggest regret of eighth grade,” John says, and that’s when I remember—how Peter once told me that John’s biggest regret was not asking me to formal, how elated I was when he said it, and then how he quickly backtracked and said he was only joking.
The school bus pulls up then. “Showtime,” I say. I’m giddy as we watch the players get off the bus—I see Gabe, Darrell, no Peter yet. But then the last person gets off the bus and still no Peter. “That’s weird . . .”
“Could he have driven his own car?” John asks.
I shake my head. “He never does.” I grab my phone out of my bag and text him.
Where are you?
No reply. Something’s wrong, I know it. Peter never misses a game. He even played when he had the flu.
“I’ll be right back,” I tell John, and I jump out of the car and run for the field. The guys are warming up. I find Gabe on the sideline lacing his cleats. I call out, “Gabe!”
He looks up, surprised. “Large! What’s up?”
Breathlessly I ask him, “Where’s Peter?”
“I don’t know,” he says, scratching the back of his neck. “He told Coach he had a family emergency. It sounded pretty legit. Kavinsky wouldn’t miss a game if it wasn’t important.”
I’m already running back to the car. As soon as I’m in, I pant, “Can you drive me to Peter’s?”
I see her car first. Parked on the street in front of his house. The next thing I see is the two of them, standing together on the street for all to see. He has his arms wrapped around her; she is leaning in to him like she can’t stand on her own two feet. Her face is buried in his chest. He is saying something in her ear, petting her hair tenderly.
It all happens in the span of seconds, but it feels like time goes in slow-motion, like I’m moving through water. I think I stop breathing; my head goes fuzzy; everything around me blurs. How many times have I seen them stand just like that? Too many to count.