I have a sudden revelation. I lower my voice and say, “Wait . . . can you read?”
He bursts out laughing. “Yes, I can read! Geez, Lara Jean. Not everything has a story behind it, okay? I’m just lazy.” He snorts. “Can I read? I’ve written you multiple notes! You’re hilarious.”
I can feel my face get flushed. “It wasn’t that funny.” I squint at him. “Is everything a joke to you?”
“Not everything, but most things, sure.”
I drop my chin. “Then maybe that’s a character flaw that you should work on,” I say. “Because some things are serious and they should be taken seriously. Sorry if you think that’s me being judgey.”
“Yup, I think that’s judgey. I think you’re judgey in general. That’s a character flaw that you should work on. I also think you need to learn how to kick back and have fun.”
I’m listing off all the ways I have fun—biking (which I hate), baking, reading; I consider saying knitting but I’m pretty sure he’ll only make fun of me—when Kelly drops off our food and I stop so I can bite into my grilled cheese while it’s still oozy.
Peter steals one of my french fries. “So who else?”
“Who else what?”
With his mouth full, he says, “Who else got letters?”
“Um, that’s really private.” I shake my head at him, like Wow, how rude.
“What? I’m just curious.” Peter dips another fry into my little ramekin of ketchup. Smirking, he says, “Come on, don’t be shy. You can tell me. I know I’m number one, obviously. But I want to hear who else made the cut.”
He’s practically flexing, he’s so sure of himself. Fine, if he wants to know so bad, I’ll tell him. “Josh, you—”
Peter snorts. “Kenny? Who’s he?”
I prop my elbows up on the table and rest my chin on my hands. “A boy I met at church camp. He was the best swimmer of the whole boys’ side. He saved a drowning kid once. He swam out to the middle of the lake before the lifeguards even noticed anything was wrong.”
“So what’d he say when he got the letter?”
“Nothing. It was sent back return to sender.”
“Okay, who’s next?”
I take a bite of sandwich. “Lucas Krapf.”
“He’s gay,” Peter says.
“He’s not gay!”
“Dude, quit dreaming. The kid is gay. He wore an ascot to school yesterday.”
“I’m sure he was wearing it ironically. Besides, wearing an ascot doesn’t make someone gay.” I give him a look like Wow, so homophobic.
“Hey, don’t give me that look,” he objects. “My favorite uncle’s gay as hell. I bet you fifty bucks that if I showed my uncle Eddie a picture of Lucas, he’d confirm it in half a second.”
“Just because Lucas appreciates fashion, that doesn’t make him gay.” Peter opens his mouth to argue but I lift up a hand to quiet him. “All it means is he’s more of a city guy in the midst of all this . . . this boring suburbia. I bet you he ends up going to NYU or some other place in New York. He could be a TV actor. He’s got that look, you know. Svelte with fine-boned features. Very sensitive features. He looks like . . . like an angel.”
“So what did Angel Boy say about the letter, then?”
“Nothing . . . I’m sure because he’s a gentleman and didn’t want to embarrass me by bringing it up.” I give him a meaningful look. Unlike some people is what I’m saying with my eyes.
Peter rolls his eyes. “All right, all right. Whatever, I don’t care.” He leans back in his seat and stretches his arm out on the back of the empty seat next to him. “That’s only four. Who’s the fifth?”
I’m surprised he’s been keeping count. “John Ambrose McClaren.”
Peter’s eyes widen. “McClaren? When did you like him?”
“I thought you liked me in eighth grade!”
“There may have been a little bit of overlap,” I admit. Stirring my straw, I say, “There was this one time, in gym . . . he and I had to pick up all the soccer balls, and it started to rain . . .” I sigh. “It was probably the most romantic thing that ever happened to me.”
“What is it with girls and rain?” Peter wonders.
“I don’t know . . . I guess maybe because everything feels more dramatic in the rain,” I say with a shrug.
“Did anything actually happen with you two, or were you just standing out in the rain picking up soccer balls?”
“You wouldn’t understand.” Someone like Peter could never understand.
Peter rolls his eyes. “So did McClaren’s letter get sent to his old house?” he prompts.
“I think so. I never heard anything back from him.” I take a long sip of my soda.
“Why do you sound so sad about it?”
Maybe I am, a little. Besides Josh, I think John Ambrose McClaren matters the most to me of all the boys I’ve loved. There was just something so sweet about him. It was the promise of maybe, maybe one day. I think John Ambrose McClaren must be the One That Got Away. Out loud I say, “I mean, either he never got my letter or he did, and . . .” I shrug. “I just always wondered how he turned out. If he’s still the same. I bet he is.”
“You know what, I think maybe he mentioned you once.” Slowly he says, “Yeah, he definitely did. He said he thought you were the prettiest girl in our grade. He said his one regret from middle school was not asking you to the eighth-grade formal.”
My whole body goes still and I think I even stop breathing. “For real?” I whisper.
Peter busts up laughing. “Dude! You’re so gullible!”
My stomach squeezes. Blinking, I say, “That was really mean. Why would you say that?”
Peter stops laughing and says, “Hey, I’m sorry. I was just kidding—”
I reach across the table and punch him in the shoulder, hard. “You’re a jerk.”
He rubs his shoulder and cries out, “Ow! That hurt!”
“Well, you deserved it.”
“Sorry,” he says again. But there’s still a trace of laughter in his eyes, so I turn my head away from him. “Hey, come on. Don’t be mad. Who knows? Maybe he did like you. Let’s call him and find out.”