“I think that was around when Trevor’s old brother told us he made a girl . . .” John hesitates, and I nod eagerly so he’ll go on. “He claimed he gave a girl an orgasm just by kissing her.”
I let out a shrieky laugh and clap my hands to my mouth. “That’s the biggest lie I ever heard! I never saw him talk to even one girl. Besides, I don’t think that’s even possible. And if it was possible, I highly doubt Sean Pike was capable of it.”
John laughs too. “Well, I know it’s a lie now, but at the time we all believed him.”
“I mean, was it a great kiss? No, it wasn’t.” John winces and I quickly continue. “But it wasn’t an altogether terrible one. I swear. And listen, it’s not like I’m an expert on kissing anyway. Who am I to say?”
“Okay okay, you can stop trying to make me feel better.” He sets down his glass. “I’ve gotten much better at it. That’s what the girls tell me.”
This conversation has taken a strange and confessional turn, and I’m nervous but not in a bad way. I like sharing secrets, being coconspirators. “Oh, so you’ve kissed that many, huh?”
He laughs again. “A respectable number.” He pauses. “I’m surprised you even remember that day. You were so into Kavinsky, I don’t think you even noticed who else was there.”
I push him in the shoulder. “I was not ‘so into Kavinsky’!”
“Yes you were. You kept your eyes on that bottle the whole game, like this.” John picks up the bottle and lasers his eyes at it. “Waiting for your moment.”
I’m bright red, I know I am. “Oh, be quiet.”
Laughing, he says, “Like a hawk on its prey.”
“Shut up!” Now I’m laughing too. “How do you even remember that?”
“Because I was doing the same thing,” he says.
“You were staring at Peter too?” I say it like a joke, to tease, because this is fun. For the first time in days I’m having fun.
He looks right at me, navy-blue eyes sure and steady, and my breath catches in my chest. “No. I was looking at you.”
There’s a humming in my ears, and it’s the sound of my heart beating in triple measure. In memory, everything seems to happen to music. One of my favorite lines from The Glass Menagerie. If I close my eyes I can almost hear it, that day in John Ambrose McClaren’s basement. Years from now, when I look back on this moment, what music will I hear then?
His eyes hold mine, and I feel a flutter that starts in my throat and moves across my collarbone and chest. “I like you, Lara Jean. I liked you then and I like you even more now. I know you and Kavinsky just broke up, and you’re still sad, but I just want to make it unequivocally clear.”
“Um . . . okay,” I whisper. His words—they come clearly; they don’t miss in either direction. Not even a trace of a stutter. Just—unequivocally clear.
“Okay, then. Let’s win you a wish.” He takes out his phone and pulls up Google Maps. “I looked up Gen’s address before I came over here. I think you’re right—we should take our time, assess the situation. Not go in half-cocked.”
“Mm-hm.” I’m in a sort of dream state; it’s hard to concentrate. John Ambrose McClaren wants to make it unequivocally clear.
I snap out of it when Kitty jostles her way back into the living room, balancing a glass of orange soda, the tub of red pepper hummus, and a bag of pita chips. She makes her way over to the couch and plonks down right between us. Holding out the bag, she asks, “Do you guys want some?”
“Sure,” John says, taking a chip. “Hey, I hear you’re pretty good at schemes. Is that true?”
Warily she says, “What makes you say that?”
“You’re the one who sent out Lara Jean’s letters, aren’t you?” Kitty nods. “Then I’d say you’re pretty good at schemes.”
“I mean, yeah. I guess.”
“Awesome. We need your help.”
Kitty’s ideas are a bit too extreme—like slashing Genevieve’s tires, or throwing a stink bomb in her house to smoke her out, but John writes down every one of Kitty’s suggestions, which does not go unnoticed by Kitty. Very little does.
THE NEXT MORNING, KITTY IS dawdling over her peanut butter toast, and from behind his newspaper, Daddy says, “You’re going to miss the bus if you don’t hurry.”
She merely shrugs and takes her time going upstairs to get her book bag. I’m sure she thinks she can just catch a ride with me if she misses the bus, but I’m running late too. I overslept and then I couldn’t find my favorite jeans so I had to settle for my second favorite.
As I’m rinsing my cereal bowl, I look out the window and see Kitty’s school bus drive by. “You missed the bus!” I yell upstairs.
I stuff my lunch in my bag and call out, “If you’re coming with me, you’d better hustle! Bye, Daddy!”
I’m putting on my shoes by the front door when Kitty shoots right past me and out the door, book bag bouncing against her shoulder. I follow after her and close the door behind me. And there, across the street, leaning against his black Audi, is Peter. He grins broadly at Kitty, and I stand there just completely blindsided. My first thought is, Is he here to see me? No, couldn’t be. My second thought is, Could this be a trap? My eyes dart around, looking for any sign of Genevieve. There is none, and I feel guilty for thinking he could ever be that cruel.
Kitty waves madly and runs up to him. “Hi!”
“Ready to go, kid?” he asks her.
“Yup.” She turns back to look at me. “Lara Jean, you can come with us. I’ll sit in your lap.”
Peter is looking at his phone, and what little hope I had that maybe he partly came to see me is dashed. “No, that’s okay,” I say. “There’s only room for two.”
He opens the passenger-side door for her, and Kitty scrambles in. “Go fast,” she tells him.
He barely spares me a glance before they’re gone. Well. I suppose that’s that, then.
“What kind of cake are you making me?” Kitty sits on a stool and watches me. I’m baking the cake tonight so it’s all set for tomorrow’s party. I’ve got it in my head that Kitty’s slumber party has to be just the best night ever, partly because the party is so belated and should therefore be worth the wait, and partly because ten is a big year in a girl’s life. Kitty may not have a mom, but she will have a spectacular birthday sleepover if I’ve got anything to do with it.