“Oh God, no. I have regrets.” She laughs a husky laugh, the sexy kind that only smokers or people with colds get to have. “I don’t know why I’m sitting here trying to give you advice. I’m a single divorcée and I’m forty. Two. Forty-two. What do I know about anything? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.” She lets out a sigh filled with longing. “I miss cigarettes so much.”
“Kitty will check your breath,” I warn, and she laughs that husky laugh again.
“I’m afraid to cross that girl.”
“‘Though she be but little, she is fierce,’” I intone. “You’re wise to be afraid, Ms. Rothschild.”
“Oh my God, Lara Jean, will you please just call me Trina? I mean, I know I’m old, but I’m not that old.”
I hesitate. “Okay. Trina . . . do you like my dad?”
She goes a little red. “Um. Yeah, I think he’s a great guy.”
“Well, he’s not my usual type. And also he hasn’t shown any particular interest in me, either, so, ha-ha!”
“I’m sure you know Kitty’s been trying to set you two up. Which, if that’s unwelcome, I can definitely make her stop.” I correct myself. “I can definitely try to make her stop. But I think she might be onto something. I think you and my dad could be good together. He loves to cook, and he likes to build fires, and he doesn’t mind shopping because he brings a book. And you, you seem fun, and spontaneous and just really . . . light.”
She smiles at me. “I’m a mess is what I am.”
“Messiness can be good, especially for someone like my dad. It’s worth a date, at least, don’t you think? What’s the harm in just seeing?”
“Dating neighbors is tricky. What if it doesn’t work out and then we’re stuck living across the street from each other?”
“That’s a tiny inconsequential risk compared to what could be gained. If it doesn’t work out, you wave politely when you see each other and then you keep on walking. No big deal. And I know I’m biased, but my dad is really worth it. He’s the best.”
“Oh, I know it. I see you girls and I think, God, any man who could raise those girls is something special. I’ve never seen a man so devoted to his family. You three are the pearls in his crown, you know? And that’s how it should be. A girl’s relationship with her father is the most important male relationship of her life.”
“What about a girl’s relationship with her mother?”
Ms. Rothschild tilts her head, contemplating. “Yeah, I would say a girl’s relationship with her mom is the most important female relationship. Her mom or her sisters. You’re lucky to have two of them. I know you know this already, better than most people, but your parents won’t always be there. If it happens the way it’s supposed to, they’ll go first. But your sisters are yours for life.”
“Do you have one?”
She nods, a hint of a smile forming on her tanned face. “I have a big sister. Jeanie. We didn’t get along as well as you girls do, but as we get older, she looks more and more like our mom. And so when I’m missing my mom a lot, I go visit Jeanie and I get to see my mom’s face again.” She wrinkles her nose. “Does that sound creepy?”
“No. I think it sounds . . . lovely.” I hesitate. “Sometimes when I hear Margot’s voice—like, she’s downstairs, and she calls us down to hurry up and get in the car, or she says that dinner’s ready—sometimes she sounds so much like my mom, it tricks me. Just for a second.” Tears spring to my eyes.
Ms. Rothschild has tears in her eyes too. “I don’t think a girl ever gets over losing her mom. I’m an adult and it’s completely normal and expected for my mom to be dead, but I still feel orphaned sometimes.” She smiles at me. “But that’s just inescapable, right? When you lose someone and it still hurts, that’s when you know the love was real.”
I wipe my eyes. With Peter and me, was the love real? Because it does still hurt, it does. But maybe that’s just part of it. Sniffling, I ask, “So, just to make sure, if my dad asks you out, you’ll say yes?”
She roars with laughter, then claps her hand over her mouth when Kitty stirs on the couch. “Now I see where Kitty gets it from.”
“Trina, you didn’t answer the question.”
“The answer is yes.”
I smile to myself. Yes.
By the time I wash off all my makeup and get into my pajamas, it’s nearly three in the morning. I’m not tired, though. What I really want to do is talk to Margot, go over every single detail of the night. Scotland is five hours ahead, which means it’s almost eight a.m. over there. She’s an early riser, so I figure it’s worth a shot.
I catch her as she’s getting ready to go have breakfast. She sets her computer on her dresser so we can talk as she puts on sunscreen and mascara and lip balm.
I tell her about the party, about Peter and Genevieve’s appearance, and most importantly the kiss with John. “Margot, I think I could be a person who is in love with more than one person at a time.” I might even be a girl that falls in love twelve hundred times. I get a sudden picture in my head of myself as a bee, sipping nectar from a daisy to a rose to a lily. Each boy sweet in his own way.
“You?” She stops putting her hair in a ponytail and taps her finger to the screen. “Lara Jean, I think you half-fall in love with every person you meet. It’s part of your charm. You’re in love with love.”
This may be true. Perhaps I am in love with love! That doesn’t seem like such a bad way to be.
OUR TOWN’S SPRING FAIR IS tomorrow, and Kitty has promised the PTA a cake for the cake walk on my behalf. At a cake walk, music plays while kids walk around a circle of numbers, like musical chairs. When the music stops, a number is picked at random, and the kid standing in front of the corresponding number gets the cake. This was always my favorite carnival game, of course, because I liked looking at all of the homemade cakes and also for the sheer luck of it. Certainly, the kids crowd around the cake table and earmark the cake they most want and try to walk slowly when they come upon the number, but beyond that there isn’t much to it. It’s a game that does not require any skill or know-how: You literally just walk around a circle to old-timey music. Sure, you could go to the bakery and pick out the exact cake you want, but there is a thrill in not being sure what you’ll end up with.