He laughs an embarrassed laugh. “Whoops. Sorry. Are you okay?”
I give him a hard elbow to the side, and he’s still laughing as we walk into the theater—which is when we see Genevieve and Emily coming out of the ladies’ room. The last time I saw Genevieve, she was telling everyone on the ski trip bus how Peter and I had sex in the hot tub. I feel a strong surge of panic, of fight or flight.
Peter slows down for a second, and I’m not sure what’s going to happen. Do we have to go over and say hi? Do we keep walking? His arm tightens around me, and I can feel Peter’s hesitance too. He’s torn.
Genevieve solves it for everyone. She walks into the theater like she didn’t see us. The same theater we’re going into. I don’t look at Peter, and he doesn’t say anything either. I guess we’re just going to pretend like she isn’t here? He steers me through the same set of doors and picks our seats, far left toward the back. Genevieve and Emily are sitting in the middle. I see her blond head, the back of her dove gray dress coat. I make myself look away. If Gen turns around, I don’t want to be caught staring.
We sit down, and I’m taking off my coat and getting comfy in my seat when Peter’s phone buzzes. He pulls it out of his pocket and then puts it away, and I know it was Gen, but I feel like I can’t ask. Her presence has punctured the night. Two vampire bite marks right into it.
The lights dim, and Peter puts his arm back around me. Is he going to keep it there the whole movie, I wonder. I feel stiff, and I try to even my breathing. He whispers in my ear, “Relax, Covey.”
I’m trying, but it’s sort of impossible to relax on command under these circumstances. Peter gives my shoulder a squeeze, and he leans in and nuzzles my neck. “You smell nice,” he says in a low voice.
I laugh, a touch too loudly, and the man sitting in front of us whips around in his seat and glares at me. Chastened, I say to Peter, “Sorry, I’m really ticklish.”
“No worries,” he says, keeping his arm around me.
I smile and nod, but now I’m wondering—is he expecting that we’re going to do stuff during the movie? Is that why he picked seats in the back when there were still free seats in the middle? Panic is rising inside me. Genevieve is here! And other people too! I might have made out with him in a hot tub, but there wasn’t anyone around to see. Also, I kind of just want to watch the movie. I lean forward to take a sip of soda, but really it’s just so I can subtly move away from him.
After the movie we have an unspoken understanding to hustle out so we don’t run into Genevieve again. The two of us bolt out of the theater like the devil is on our heels—which, I suppose, she sort of is. Peter’s hungry, but I’m too full from all the junk to eat a real dinner, so I suggest we just go to the diner and I’ll share his fries. But Peter says, “I feel like we should go to a real restaurant since this is your first date.”
“I never knew you had such a romantic side.” I say it like it’s a joke, but I mean it.
“Get used to it,” he boasts. “I know how to treat a girl.”
He takes me to Biscuit Soul Food—his favorite restaurant, he says. I watch him scarf down fried chicken with hot honey and Tabasco drizzled on top, and I wonder how many times Genevieve has sat and watched him do the very same thing. Our town isn’t that big. There aren’t many places we can go that he hasn’t already been with Genevieve. When I get up to go to the bathroom, I suddenly wonder if he’s texting her back, but I make myself push this thought out of my mind tout de suite. So what if he does text back? They’re still friends. He’s allowed. I’m not going to let Gen ruin this night for me. I want to be right here, in this moment, just the two of us on our first date.
I sit back down, and Peter’s finished his fried chicken and he has a pile of dirty napkins in front of him. He has a habit of wiping his fingers every time he takes a bite. There’s honey on his cheek, and a bit of breading is stuck to it, but I don’t tell him, because I think it’s funny.
“So how was your first date?” Peter asks me, stretching back in his chair. “Tell it to me like it wasn’t me that took you.”
“I liked it when you knew what kinds of movie theater snacks I like.” He nods encouragingly. “And . . . I liked the movie.”
“Yeah, I got that. You kept shushing me and pointing at the screen.”
“That man in front of us was getting mad.” I hesitate. I’m not sure if I should say this next thing I want to say, the thing I’ve been thinking all night. “I don’t know . . . is it just me, or . . .”
He leans in closer, now he’s listening. “What?”
I take a deep breath. “Is it . . . a little weird? I mean, first we were fake, and then we weren’t, and then we had a fight, and now here we are and you’re eating fried chicken. It’s like we did everything in the wrong order, and it’s good, but it’s . . . still kind of upside down.” And also were you trying to feel me up during the movie?
“I guess it’s a little weird,” he admits.
I sip my sweet tea, relieved that he doesn’t think I’m the weird one for bringing up all the weirdness.
He grins at me. “Maybe what we need is a new contract.”
I can’t tell if he’s joking or if he’s serious, so I play along. “What would go in the contract?”
“Off the top of my head . . . I guess I’d have to call you every night before I went to bed. You’d agree to come to all my lacrosse games. Some practices, too. I’d have to come to your house for dinner. You’d have to come to parties with me.”
I make a face at the parties part. “Let’s just do the things we want to do. Like before.” Suddenly I hear Margot’s voice in my head. “Let’s . . . let’s have fun.”
He nods, and now he’s the one who looks relieved. “Yeah!”
I like that he doesn’t take things too seriously. In other people that could be annoying, but not him. It’s one of his best qualities, I think. That and his face. I could stare at his face all day long. I sip sweet tea out of my straw and look at him. A contract might actually be good for us. It could help us to head problems off at the pass and keep us accountable. I think Margot would be proud of me for this.
I pull a little notebook out of my purse and a pen. I write Lara Jean and Peter’s New Contract on the top of the page.