Peter frowns. “No.”
“She hasn’t said a word to you about it?”
“Nope. But I’m sure she will soon.”
Peter speeds into the parking lot and zooms into a space. When we get out of the car and head for the entrance, Peter’s fingers lace through mine. I think he’s going to drop me off at my locker like he did before, but he leads us in the opposite direction.
“Where are we going?” I ask him.
I’m about to protest, but before I can, he says firmly, “We need to start hanging out in public more. The caf is where we’ll get the most bang for our buck.”
Josh won’t be in the cafeteria—that’s for popular people—but I know who will most certainly be there: Genevieve.
When we walk in, she’s holding court at their lunch table—her and Emily Nussbaum and Gabe and Darrell from the lacrosse team. They’re all eating breakfast and drinking coffee. She must have a sixth sense where Peter is concerned, because she beams lasers at us immediately. I start slowing down, which Peter doesn’t seem to notice. Peter makes a beeline for the table, but at the last second I chicken out. I tug on his hand and say, “Let’s sit over here,” and point to an empty table in their line of vision.
“Just—please.” I think fast. “Because, you see, it would be too blatantly jerky of you to bring a girl to the table after you’ve only been broken up for, like, a minute. And this way Genevieve can watch from afar and wonder for just a little bit longer.” And also, I’m terrified.
As I drag Peter over to the table, he waves to his friends, shrugging his shoulders like Whaddareyougonnado? I sit down and Peter sits down next to me. He pulls my chair closer to his. Raising his eyebrows, he asks, “Are you that afraid of her?”
“You’re going to have to face her sometime.” Peter leans forward and grabs my hand again and starts tracing the lines on my palm.
“Quit,” I say. “You’re creeping me out.”
He flashes me a hurt look. “Girls love it when I do that.”
“No, Genevieve loves it. Or she pretends to love it. You know, now that I think of it, you actually don’t have that much experience when it comes to girls. Just one girl.” I take my hand away from his and perch it on the table. “I mean, everybody thinks you’re this big ladies’ man, when in reality you’ve only ever been with Genevieve and then Jamila for like a month—”
“Okay, okay. I get it. Enough already. They’re watching us.”
“Who is? Your table?”
Peter shrugs. “Everyone.”
I do a quick look around. He’s right. Everyone is watching us. Peter’s so used to people watching him, but I’m not. It feels funny, like a new sweater that makes my skin feel itchy. Because no one ever watches me. It’s like being onstage. And the funny thing, the really strange thing is, it’s not an altogether unpleasant feeling.
I’m pondering this when my eyes meet Genevieve’s. There’s this very brief moment of recognition between us, like I know you. Then she looks away and whispers something to Emily. Genevieve is looking at me like I am a tasty morsel and she is going to eat me alive and then spit out my bones. And then, just as quickly, the look is gone and she’s smiling.
I shiver. The truth is, Genevieve scared me even when we were kids. One time I was playing at her house, and Margot called looking for me to come home for lunch, and Genevieve told her I wasn’t there. She wouldn’t let me leave because she wanted to keep playing dollhouse. She kept blocking the door. I had to call for her mom.
The clock reads five minutes past eight. The bell’s going to ring soon. “We should get going,” I say, and when I stand up, my knees feel shaky. “Ready?”
He’s distracted because he was looking over at his table of friends. “Yeah, sure.” Peter gets up and propels me toward the door; he keeps one hand on the small of my back. With his other hand he waves at his friends. “Smile,” he whispers to me, so I do.
I have to admit, it’s not a bad feeling, having a boy sweep you along, usher you through crowds. It’s the feeling of being cared for. It’s kind of like walking in a dream. I’m still me and Peter’s still Peter, but everything around me feels fuzzy and unreal, like the time Margot and I snuck champagne on New Year’s Eve.
I never knew it before, but I think maybe all this time I’ve been invisible. Just someone who was there. Now that people think I’m Peter Kavinsky’s girlfriend, they’re wondering about me. Like, why? What about me made Peter like me? What do I have? What makes me so special? I would be wondering too.
I am now a Mysterious Girl. Before I was just a Quiet Girl. But becoming Peter’s girlfriend has elevated me to Mysterious Girl.
I take the bus home from school because Peter has to go to lacrosse practice. I sit in the front the way I’ve been doing, but today people have questions for me. Underclassmen, mostly, because hardly any upperclassmen take the bus.
“What’s with you and Kavinsky?” a sophomore girl named Manda asks me. I pretend like I don’t hear her.
Instead I sink lower into my seat and open up the note Peter left for me in my locker.
Dear Lara Jean,
Good job today.
I start to smile and then I hear Manda whisper to her friend, “It’s so weird that Kavinsky would like her. I mean . . . look at her and then look at Genevieve.” I can feel myself shrink. Is that what everyone thinks? Maybe it’s not that I’m a Mysterious Girl. Maybe it’s that I’m a Not Good Enough Girl.
When I get home, I go straight to my room, put on a soft nightgown, and release my braid. It’s sweet relief to let it out. My scalp is tingling with gratitude. Then I lie in my bed and stare out the window until it gets dark. My phone keeps buzzing, and I’m sure it’s Chris, but I don’t lift my head to look.
Kitty barges in at one point and says, “Are you sick? Why are you still lying in bed like you have cancer like Brielle’s mom did?”
“I need peace,” I say, closing my eyes. “I need to replenish myself with peace.”
“Well . . . then what are we eating for dinner?”
I open my eyes. That’s right. It’s a Monday. I’m in charge of dinner on Mondays now. Ugh, Margot, where are you? It’s dark already, there’s not enough time to defrost anything. Maybe Mondays should be pizza nights. I eye her. “Do you have any money?”