I grab his hands and make him spin around with me as fast as I can. “Quit acting like you really belong in a nursing home, old man!” I yell.
He drops my hands and we both stumble. Then he grabs a fistful of snow off the ground and starts to pack it into a ball. “Old man, huh? I’ll show you an old man!”
I dart away from him, slipping and sliding in the snow. “Don’t you dare, John Ambrose McClaren!”
He chases after me, laughing and breathing hard. He manages to grab me around the waist and raises his arm like he’s going to put the snowball down my back, but at the last second he releases me. His eyes go wide. “Oh my God. Are you wearing my grandma’s nightgown under your coat?”
Giggling, I say, “Wanna see? It’s really racy.” I start to unzip my coat. “Wait, turn around first.”
Shaking his head, John says, “This is weird,” but he obeys. As soon as his back is turned, I snatch a handful of snow, form it into a ball, and put it in my coat pocket.
“Okay, turn around.”
John turns, and I lob the snowball directly at his head. It hits him in the eye. “Ouch!” he yelps, wiping it with his coat sleeve.
I gasp and move toward him. “Oh my God. I’m so sorry. Are you okay—”
John’s already scooping up more snow and lunging toward me. And so begins our snowball fight. We chase each other around, and I get in another great hit square in his back. We call a truce when I nearly slip and fall on my butt. Luckily, John catches me just in time. He doesn’t let go right away. We stare at each other for a second, his arm around my waist. There’s a snowflake on his eyelashes. He says, “If I didn’t know you were still hung up on Kavinsky, I would kiss you right now.”
I shiver. Up until Peter, the most romantic thing that ever happened to me was with John Ambrose McClaren, in the rain, with the soccer balls. Now this. How strange that I’ve never even dated John, and he’s in two of my most romantic moments.
John releases me. “You’re freezing. Let’s go back inside.”
We go to the parlor on Stormy’s floor to sit and thaw out. There’s only one reading light on, so it’s dim and quiet. All the residents are in their apartments for the night, it seems. It feels strange to be here without Stormy and everyone, like being at school at night. We sit on the fancy French-style couch, and I take off my boots so my feet can get warm. I wriggle my toes to get the feeling back.
“Too bad we can’t start a fire,” John says, stretching his arms and looking at the fireplace.
“Yeah, it’s fake,” I say. “There must be some sort of nursing-home law about fireplaces, I bet. . . .” My voice trails off as I see Stormy, in her silky kimono, tiptoeing out of her apartment and down the hall. To Mr. Morales’s apartment. Oh my God.
“What?” John asks, and I slap my hand over his mouth. I duck down low in my seat and slide all the way off the couch to the floor. I pull him down next to me. We stay down until I hear the door click closed. He whispers, “What is it? What did you see?”
Sitting up, I whisper back, “I don’t know if you want to know.”
“Dear God. What? Just tell me.”
“I saw Stormy in her red kimono, sneaking into Mr. Morales’s apartment.”
John chokes. “Oh my God. That’s . . .”
I give him sympathetic eyes. “I know. Sorry.”
Shaking his head, he leans back against the couch, his legs stretched out long in front of him. “Wow. This is rich. My great-grandmother has a way more active sex life than I do.”
I can’t resist asking, “So then . . . I guess, have you not had sex with that many girls?” Hastily I say, “Sorry, I’m a very inquisitive person.” I scratch my cheek. “Some might say nosy. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”
“No, I’ll answer. I’ve never had sex with anybody.”
“What!” I can’t believe it. How can that be?
“Why are you so shocked?”
“I don’t know, I guess I thought all guys were doing it.”
“Well, I’ve only had one girlfriend, and she was religious, so we never did it, which was fine. Anyway, trust me, not all guys are having sex. I’d say the majority aren’t.” John pauses. “What about you?”
“I’ve never done it either,” I say.
He frowns, confused. “Wait, I thought you and Kavinsky . . .”
“No. Why would you think that?” Oh. The video. I swallow. I thought maybe he was the one person who hadn’t seen it. “So you’ve seen the hot tub video, huh.”
John hesitates and then, says, “Yeah. I didn’t know it was you at first, not until after the time capsule party when I figured out you guys were together. Some guy showed it to me in homeroom, but I didn’t look at it that closely.”
“We were just kissing,” I say, ducking my head. “I wish you hadn’t seen it.”
“Why? Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me at all.”
“I guess I liked the thought of you looking at me a certain kind of way. I feel like people see me differently now, but you still thought of me as the old Lara Jean. Do you know what I mean?”
“That is how I see you,” John says. “You’re still the same to me. I’ll always see you that way, Lara Jean.”
His words, the way he is looking at me—it makes me feel warm inside, golden, all the way to my frozen toes. I want him to kiss me. I want to see if it’s different from Peter, if it will make the hurt recede. Make me forget him, just for a while. But maybe he senses it—that Peter is somehow here with us, in my thoughts, that it wouldn’t just be about him and me—because John doesn’t make a move.
Instead he asks a question. “Why do you always call me by my full name?”
“I don’t know. I guess that’s how I think of you in my head.”
“Oh, so you’re saying you think about me a lot?”
I laugh. “No, I’m saying that when I think about you, which isn’t very often, that’s how I think of you. On the first day of school, I always have to explain to teachers that Lara Jean is my first name and not just Lara. And then, do you remember how Mr. Chudney started calling you John Ambrose because of that? ‘Mr. John Ambrose.’”
In a fake hoity-toity English accent, John says, “Mr. John Ambrose McClaren the Third, madam.”