My cake will be chocolate, because kids and people in general prefer chocolate to any other flavor. The frosting is where I’ll get fancy. Possibly salted caramel, or passion fruit, or maybe a mocha whip. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing an ombré cake, where the frosting goes from dark to light. I have a feeling my cake will be in demand.
When I picked up Kitty from Shanae’s house this morning, I asked her mom what cake she was baking for the cake walk, because Mrs. Rodgers is vice president of the elementary school PTA. She heaved a sigh and said, “I’ll be baking whatever Duncan Hines I can find in my pantry. Either that or Food Lion.” Then she asked me what I was baking and I told her, and she said, “I’m voting you Teen Mom of the Year,” which made me laugh and also further spurred me to bake the best cake so everyone knows what Kitty’s working with. I never mentioned this to Daddy or Margot, but in middle school my English teacher sponsored a mother-daughter tea in honor of Mother’s Day. It was after school, an optional thing, but I really wanted to go and have the tea sandwiches and scones she said she was bringing. It was just for mothers and daughters, though. I suppose I could have asked Grandma to come—Margot did that a few times for miscellaneous events—but it wouldn’t have been the same. And I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that would bother Kitty, but it’s still something I think about.
The cake walk is in the elementary school’s music room. I’ve volunteered to be in charge of the walking music, and I’ve made a playlist with all sugar-related songs. Of course “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies, “Sugar Shack,” “Sugar Town,” “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch).” When I walk into the music room, Peter’s mom and another mom are setting up the cakes. I falter, unsure of what to do.
She says, “Hello, Lara Jean,” but her smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes, and it gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach. It’s a relief when she leaves.
There’s a decent crowd all day, with some people playing more than once for the cake of their dreams. I keep steering people toward my caramel cake, which is still in rotation. There’s a German chocolate cake that has people entranced, which I’m pretty sure is store-bought, but there’s no accounting for taste. I’ve never been a fan of German chocolate cake myself, because who wants wet coconut flakes? Shudder.
Kitty’s been running around with her friends, and she’s deigned to help me out at the cake walk for an hour when Peter walks in with his little brother, Owen. “Pour Some Sugar on Me” is playing. Kitty goes over to say hello, while I busy myself looking at my phone as she’s showing them the cakes. I’ve got my head down, pretend-texting, when Peter comes up beside me.
“Which cake is yours? The coconut one?”
My head snaps up. “I would never buy a grocery-store cake for this.”
“I was joking, Covey. Yours is the caramel one. I can tell by the way you frosted it so fancy.” He stops talking and shoves his hands in his pockets. “So, just so you know, I didn’t go to the nursing home with Gen to help her tag you out.”
I shrug. “For all I know you’ve already texted her and told her I’m here, so.”
“I told you, I don’t give a shit about this game. I think it’s dumb.”
“Well, I don’t. I’m still planning on winning.” I put on the next song for the cake walk, and all the kids run into position. “So are you and Genevieve back together?”
He makes a rude sound. “What do you care?”
Again I shrug. “I knew you’d be back with her eventually.”
Peter smarts at this. He turns like he’s going to leave, but then he stops. Rubbing the back of his neck, he says, “You never answered my question about McClaren. Was that a date?”
“What do you care?”
His nostrils flare. “I fucking care because you were my girlfriend up until a few weeks ago. I don’t even remember why we broke up.”
“If you can’t remember, then I don’t know what to say to you.”
“Just tell the truth. Don’t dick me around.” His voice cracks on the word “dick.” Any other time we would have laughed about it. I wish we could now. “What’s going on with you and McClaren?”
There’s a lump in my throat that’s making it hard to talk all of a sudden. “Nothing.” Just a kiss. “We’re friends. He’s been helping me with the game.”
“How convenient. First he’s writing you letters, now he’s driving you around town and hanging out with you at a nursing home.”
“You said you didn’t care about the letters.”
“Well, I guess I did.”
“Then maybe you should have said so.” Kitty’s looking over at us, her forehead pinched. “I don’t walk to talk about this anymore. I’m here to work.”
Peter eyes me. “Have you kissed him?”
Do I tell the truth? Do I have to? “Yes. Once.”
He blinks. “So you’re telling me I’ve been living the life of a celibate person ever since we started this stupid game—before, even—and meanwhile you’re fooling around with McClaren?”
“We’re broken up, Peter. Meanwhile, when we were actually together, you were with Genevieve—”
He throws his head back and yells, “I didn’t kiss her!” Some of the adults turn and look at us.
“You had your arms around her,” I whisper-yell. “You were holding her!”
“I was comforting her. God! She was crying! I told you! Did you do it to get back at me?” Peter wants me to say yes. He wants it to have been about him. But I wasn’t thinking about Peter when I kissed John. I kissed him because I wanted to.
The muscle in his jaw twitches. “When we broke up, you said you wanted to be someone’s number one girl, but look at you. You don’t want to have a number one guy.” He gestures rudely at the cake table. “You want to have your cake and eat it too.”
His words sting just the way he intends them to. “I hate that saying. What does it even mean? Of course I want to have my cake and eat it too—otherwise what’s the point of having cake?”
He frowns at me. “That’s not what I’m talking about and you know it.”
The song finishes then, and the kids come over to claim their cakes. Kitty and Owen, too. “Let’s go,” Owen says to Peter. He’s got my caramel cake.