“Thank you, God, for this food you have blessed us with. Thank you for my beautiful daughters, and please watch over our Margot. In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.”
“Amen,” we echo.
“Looks pretty great, right, girls?” My dad is grinning as he assembles a lettuce leaf with pork and rice and kimchi. “Kitty, you know how to do it, right? It’s like a little taco.”
Kitty nods and copies him.
I make my own lettuce-leaf taco and nearly spit it out. The pork is really really salty. So salty I could cry. But I keep chewing, and across the table Kitty’s making a horrible face at me, but I give her a shush look. Daddy hasn’t tried his yet; he’s taking a picture of his plate.
“So good, Daddy,” I say. “It tastes like at the restaurant.”
“Thanks, Lara Jean. It came out just like the picture. I can’t believe how beautiful and crispy the top looks.” My dad finally takes a bite, and then he frowns. “Is this salty to you?”
“Not really,” I say.
He takes another bite. “This tastes really salty to me. Kitty, what do you think?”
Kitty’s chugging water. “No, it tastes good, Daddy.”
I give her a secret thumbs-up.
“Hmm, no, it definitely tastes salty.” He swallows. “I followed the recipe exactly . . . maybe I used the wrong kind of salt for the brine? Lara Jean, taste it again.”
I take a teeny-tiny bite, which I try to hide by putting the lettuce in front of my face. “Mmm.”
“Maybe if I cut more from the center . . .”
My phone buzzes on the table. It’s a text from Josh. Was coming back from a run and saw the light on in the dining room. A totally normal text, as if yesterday never happened.
Josh has some sixth sense of when my dad’s cooking Korean food, because he’ll come sniffing around right when we’re sitting down to eat. He loves Korean food. When my grandma comes to visit, he won’t leave her side. He’ll even watch Korean dramas with her. She cuts him pieces of apple and peels clementines for him like he’s a baby. My grandma likes boys better than girls.
Now that I think of it, all the women in my family really do love Josh. Except for Mommy, who never got to meet him. But I’m sure she’d love him too. She’d love anyone who’s as good to Margot as Josh is, was, to her.
Kitty cranes her neck to look over my shoulder. “Is that Josh? Is he coming over?”
“No!” I set down my phone and it buzzes again. Can I come over?
“It says he wants to come over!”
My dad perks up. “Tell him to come over! I want to get his opinion on this bo ssam.”
“Listen, everyone in this family needs to accept that Josh is no longer a part of it. He and Margot are donzo—” I hesitate. Does Kitty still not know? I can’t remember if it’s still supposed to be a secret. “I mean now that Margot’s at college and they’re long distance . . .”
“I know they’re broken up,” Kitty says, making a lettuce wrap with just rice. “Margot told me over video chat.”
Across the table my dad makes a sad face and stuffs a piece of lettuce in his mouth.
Her mouth full, Kitty continues, “I just don’t see why we can’t still be friends with him. He’s all of our friend. Right, Daddy?”
“Right,” my dad agrees. “And look, relationships are incredibly amorphous. They could get back together. They could stay friends. Who’s to say what will happen in the future? I say we don’t count Josh out just yet.”
We’re finishing up dinner when I get another text from Josh. Never mind, it says.
We are stuck eating that salty pork shoulder for the rest of the weekend. The next morning, my dad makes fried rice and cuts the pork into tiny pieces and says to “think of it like bacon.” For dinner I test that theory by mixing it with Kraft macaroni and cheese, and I end up throwing out the whole batch because it tastes like slop. “If we had a dog . . . ,” Kitty keeps saying. I make a batch of regular macaroni instead.
After dinner I take Sadie the Sweetheart for a walk. That’s what my sisters and I call Sadie; she’s a golden retriever that lives down the street. The Shahs are out of town for the night, so they asked me to feed her and walk her. Normally, Kitty would beg to be the one to do it, but there’s some movie on TV that she’s been waiting to see.
Sadie and I are doing the usual route around our cul-de-sac when Josh jogs up to us in his running clothes. Crouching down to pet Sadie, he says, “So how are things going with Kavinsky?”
Funny you should bring that up, Josh. ’Cause I’ve got my story locked and loaded. Peter and I had a fight via video chat this morning (in case Josh has noticed I haven’t left the house all weekend), and we broke up, and I’m devastated about the whole thing, because I’ve been in constant love with Peter Kavinsky since the seventh grade, but c’est la vie.
“Actually, Peter and I broke up this morning.” I bite my lip and try to look sad. “It’s just, really hard, you know? After I liked him for so long and then finally he likes me back. But it’s just not meant to be. I don’t think he’s over his breakup yet. I think maybe Genevieve still has too strong a hold on him, so there’s no room in his heart for me.”
Josh gives me a funny look. “That’s not what he was saying today at McCalls.”
What in the world was Peter K. doing at a bookstore? He’s not the bookstore type. “What did he say?” I try to sound casual, but my heart is pounding so loudly I’m pretty sure Sadie can hear it.
Josh keeps petting Sadie.
“What did he say?” Now I’m just trying not to sound shrill. “Like, what was said exactly?”
“When I was ringing him up, I asked him when you guys started going out, and he said recently. He said he really liked you.”
What . . .
I must look as shocked as I feel, because Josh straightens up and says, “Yeah, I was kind of surprised too.”
“You were surprised that he would like me?”
“Well, kind of. Kavinsky just isn’t the kind of guy who would date a girl like you.” When I stare back at him, sour and unsmiling, he quickly tries to backtrack. “I mean, because you’re not, you know . . .”
“I’m not what? As pretty as Genevieve?”
“No! That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m trying to say is, you’re like this sweet, innocent girl who likes to be at home with her family, and I don’t know, I guess Kavinsky doesn’t strike me as someone who would be into that.”