When I run downstairs at seven twenty-five, Kitty is sitting at the kitchen table with her jean jacket on waiting for me. “Why are you downstairs already?” I ask her. Her bus doesn’t come until eight.
“I have my field trip today, so I have to go to school early. Remember?”
I run and look at the calendar on the refrigerator. There it is, in my handwriting: Kitty’s Field Trip. Shoot.
I was supposed to drive her, but that was before my car accident. Daddy had an overnight shift at the hospital and he’s not home yet, so I don’t have a car. “Can one of the carpool moms come get you?”
“It’s too late. The bus leaves at seven forty.” Kitty’s face is getting splotchy and her chin is starting to quiver. “I can’t miss the bus, Lara Jean!”
“Okay, okay. Don’t get upset. I’ve got a ride coming for us right now. Don’t worry, okay?” I pluck a greenish banana from the banana hammock. “Let’s go outside and wait for him.”
Kitty and I are waiting on the front steps sharing the greenish banana. We both prefer an unripe, greenish banana to a brown speckled one. It’s Margot who likes the speckled ones. I’ll try to save them for banana bread, but Margot gobbles them up, mushy bruised parts and all. I shudder to even think of it.
There’s a chill in the air, even though it’s still September and therefore practically still summer. Kitty rubs her legs to keep warm. She says she’ll wear shorts all the way to October; that’s her plan.
It’s past seven thirty now and no Peter yet. I’m starting to get nervous, but I don’t want Kitty to worry. I decide that if he’s not here in exactly two minutes, I’ll go next door to Josh’s and ask him to run Kitty over to school.
Across the street, our neighbor Ms. Rothschild waves at us as she locks her front door, a big coffee thermos in her hand. She dashes toward her car.
“Good morning, Ms. Rothschild,” we chorus. I elbow Kitty and say, “Five, four, three—”
“Damn it!” Ms. Rothschild shrieks. Ms. Rothschild has spilled coffee on her hand. She does this at least twice a week. I don’t know why she doesn’t just slow down or maybe just put the top on the thermos or not fill it up so high.
Just then Peter drives up, and his black Audi is even shinier in the daylight. I get up and say, “Come on, Kitty,” and she trails behind me.
“Who’s that?” I hear her whisper.
His windows are down. I come up close to the passenger side and stick my head in. “Is it okay if we drop my little sister off at the elementary school?” I ask. “She has to be there early today for a field trip.”
Peter looks annoyed. “Why didn’t you mention it yesterday?”
“I didn’t know about it yesterday!” Behind me I can feel rather than hear Kitty fidgeting.
“This is a two-seater,” Peter says, as if I can’t see with my own two eyes.
“I know that. I’ll just put Kitty in my lap and the seat belt over us.” Which my dad would kill me for if he knew, but I’m not telling, and neither will Kitty.
“Yeah, ’cause that sounds really safe.” He’s being sarcastic. I hate when people are sarcastic. It’s so cheap.
“It’s two miles!”
He sighs. “Fine. Get in.”
I open the door and slide in, laying my bag at my feet. “Come on, Kitty.” I make space for her between my legs, and she climbs in. I strap us in tight, my arms around her. “Don’t tell Daddy,” I say.
“Duh,” she says.
“Hey. What’s your name?” Peter asks her.
Kitty hesitates. More and more this happens. With new people she has to decide if she’ll be Kitty or Katherine.
“But everyone calls you Kitty?”
“Everyone who knows me,” Kitty says. “You can call me Katherine.”
Peter’s eyes light up. “You’re tough,” he says admiringly, which Kitty ignores, but she keeps sneaking peeks at him. He has that effect on people. On girls. Women, even.
We drive through the neighborhood in silence. At last Kitty says, “So who are you?”
I look over at him and he’s looking straight ahead. “I’m Peter. Your sister’s, um, boyfriend.”
My mouth drops. We never said anything about lying to our families! I thought this was going to be an at-school-only thing.
Kitty goes completely still in my arms. Then she twists around to look at me and shrieks, “He’s your boyfriend? Since when?”
“Since last week.” At least that much is the truth. Sort of.
“But you never said anything! Not one frigging word, Lara Jean!”
Automatically I say, “Don’t say ‘frig.’?”
“Not one frigging word,” Kitty repeats with a shake of her head.
Peter cracks up, and I give him a dirty look. “It all happened really fast,” he offers. “There was barely time to tell anybody—”
“Was I talking to you?” Kitty snaps. “No, I don’t think so. I was talking to my sister.”
Peter’s eyes widen, and I can see him trying to keep a straight face.
“Does Margot know?” she asks me.
“Not yet, and don’t you go mentioning it to her before I have a chance to.”
“Hmph.” This seems to appease Kitty a tiny bit. Knowing something first, before Margot, is a big deal.
Then we’re at the elementary school, and thank God the bus is still there in the parking lot. All the kids are lined up in front of it. I let out the breath I’ve been holding the whole way over, and Kitty is already untangling herself from me and bounding out of the car. “Have a good time on the field trip!” I call out.
She spins back around and points an accusing finger at me. “I want to hear the whole story when I get home!” With that decree she’s off running for the bus loop.
I rebuckle my seat belt. “Um, I don’t remember us deciding to tell our families that we’re boyfriend-girlfriend.”
“She was going to have to find out at some point, with me chauffeuring you and her around town.”
“You didn’t have to say ‘boyfriend.’ You could’ve just said ‘friend.’?” We’re getting close to school now, just two more lights. I give my side braid a nervous tug. “Um, so have you talked to Genevieve at all?”