She looks at me with such complete and utter disdain, like I’m a child who’s asked for the moon. “Grow up, Lara Jean.”
In a lot of ways, I feel like I have.
I’M LYING DOWN ON MY back in the tree house, looking out the window. The moon is carved so thin, it’s a thumbnail clipping in the sky. Tomorrow, no more tree house. I’ve barely thought about this place, and now that it’s disappearing, I’m sad. It’s like all childhood toys, I suppose. It doesn’t become important until you don’t have it anymore. But it’s more than just a tree house. It’s good-bye, and it feels like the end of everything.
As I sit up, I see it, purple string poking out of a floorboard, sprouting forth like a blade of grass. I tug on the end and it pulls free. It’s Genevieve’s friendship bracelet, the one I gave to her.
Believe me, we weren’t friends anymore from that moment on.
That isn’t true. We still had sleepovers, birthdays; she still cried to me the time she thought her parents were getting divorced. She couldn’t have hated me that whole time. I won’t believe it. This friendship bracelet proves it.
Because it’s what she put in the time capsule, her most treasured thing, just like it was mine. And then, at the party, she took it out, she hid it; she didn’t want me to see. But now I know. I was important to her then too. We were true friends once. Tears spring to my eyes. Good-bye, Genevieve, good-bye middle school years, good-bye tree house and everything that was important to me that one hot summer.
People come in and out of your life. For a time they are your world; they are everything. And then one day they’re not. There’s no telling how long you will have them near. A year ago I could not have imagined that Josh would no longer be a constant for me. I couldn’t have conceived of how hard it would be to not see Margot every day, how lost I would feel without her—or how easily Josh could slip away, without me even realizing. It’s the good-byes that are hard.
“Covey?” Peter’s voice calls up to me from outside, down below in the dark.
I sit up. “I’m here.”
He climbs up the ladder quickly, ducking so his head doesn’t hit the ceiling. He crawls over to the tree-house wall opposite from me, so we are sitting on either side. “They’re bulldozing the tree house tomorrow,” I tell him.
“Yeah. They’re going to put up a gazebo. You know, like in The Sound of Music?”
Peter squints one eye at me. “Why did you call me over here, Lara Jean? I know it wasn’t to talk about The Sound of Music.”
“I know about Genevieve. Her secret, I mean.”
He leans his back against the tree-house wall, and his head drops back with a slight thud. “Her dad’s an asshole. He’s cheated on her mom before. Just never with someone so young.” He speaks in a rush, like it’s a relief to finally say the words out loud. “When things got really bad with her parents, Gen would find ways to hurt herself. I had to be the one to protect her. That was my job. Sometimes it scared me, but I liked being, I don’t know . . . needed.” Then he sighs and says, “I know she can be manipulative—I’ve always known that. In some ways it was easier for me to default back to what I knew. I think maybe I was scared.”
My breath catches. “Of what?”
“Of disappointing you.” Peter looks away. “I know sex is a big deal to you. I didn’t want to mess it up. You’re so innocent, Lara Jean. And I have all this shit in my past.”
I want to say, I never cared about your past. But that isn’t true. It’s only then that I realize: Peter wasn’t the one who needed to get over Genevieve. It was me. All this time with Peter, I’ve been comparing myself to her, all the ways I don’t measure up. All the ways our relationship pales next to theirs. I’m the one who couldn’t let her go. I’m the one who didn’t give us a chance.
Suddenly he asks, “What do you wish for, Lara Jean? Now that you’ve won. Congrats, by the way. You did it.”
I feel a rush of emotion in my chest. “I wish that things could go back to the way they were between us. That you could be you and I could be me, and we’d have fun with each other, and it would be a really sweet first romance that I’ll remember my whole life.” I feel like I’m blushing as I say this last bit, but I’m glad I did, because it makes Peter’s eyes go soft and caramelly at me for just a second, and I have to look away.
“Don’t talk like it’s doomed already.”
“I don’t mean to. The first isn’t necessarily the last, but it will always be the first, and that’s special. Firsts are special.”
“You’re not first,” Peter says. “But you’re the most special to me, because you’re the girl I love, Lara Jean.”
Love. He said “love.” I feel dizzy. I am a girl who is loved, by a boy, and not just her sisters and father and dog. A boy with beautiful eyebrows and a sleight of hand. “I’ve been going crazy without you.” He scrubs the back of his head. “Can’t we just—”
“You’re saying I drive you crazy too?” I interrupt.
He groans. “I’m saying you drive me more crazy than any girl I’ve ever met.”
I crawl toward him, and I reach out and trace my finger along his eyebrow that feels like silk. I say, “In the contract we said we wouldn’t break each other’s hearts. What if we do it again?”
Fiercely he says, “What if we do? If we’re so guarded, it’s not going to be anything. Let’s do it fucking for real, Lara Jean. Let’s go all in. No more contract. No more safety net. You can break my heart. Do whatever you want with it.”
I put my hand to his chest, over his heart. I can feel it beating. I let my hand fall away. His heart is mine, just mine. I believe it now. Mine to protect and care for, mine to break.
So much of love is chance. There’s something scary and wonderful about that. If Kitty had never sent those letters, if I hadn’t gone to the hot tub that night, it might’ve been him and Gen. But she did send those letters, and I did go out there. It could have happened lots of ways. But this is the way it happened. This is the path we took. This is our story.
I know now that I don’t want to love or be loved in half measures. I want it all, and to have it all, you have to risk it all.
So I take Peter’s hand; I put it on my heart. I tell him, “You have to take good care of this, because it’s yours.”