I wind my hair into a honey bun and secure it with a ponytail holder. “You know who you sound like? You sound like my grandpa,” I say. “Also I think you’re stalling because you don’t want to answer the question.”
“I answered it, you just didn’t like my answer.”
We pull up in front of my house. Peter turns off the engine, which is what he does when he wants to talk a little while longer. So I don’t jump out right away, I put my bag in my lap and search for my keys even though the lights are on upstairs. Gosh. To be sitting in the passenger seat of Peter Kavinsky’s black Audi. Isn’t that what every girl has ever wanted, in the history of boys and girls? Not Peter Kavinsky specifically, or yes, maybe Peter Kavinsky specifically.
Peter leans his head back against the headrest and closes his eyes.
I say, “Did you know that when people fight with each other, that means they still really care about each other?” When Peter doesn’t answer, I say, “Genevieve must really have a hold on you.”
I expect him to deny it, but he doesn’t. Instead he says, “She does, but I wish she didn’t. I don’t want to be owned by anyone. Or belong to anyone.”
Margot would say she belongs to herself. Kitty would say she belongs to no one. And I guess I would say I belong to my sisters and my dad, but that won’t always be true. To belong to someone—I didn’t know it, but now that I think about, it seems like that’s all I’ve ever wanted. To really be somebody’s, and to have them be mine.
“So that’s why you’re doing this,” I tell him—I’m partly asking but I’m mostly telling. “To prove you don’t belong to her. Or with her.” I stop. “Do you think there’s a difference? Between belonging with and belonging to, I mean?”
“Sure. One implies choice; the other doesn’t.”
“You must really love her to go to all this trouble.”
Peter makes a dismissive sound. “You’re too dreamy-eyed.”
“Thank you,” I say, even though I know he doesn’t mean it as a compliment. I say it just to bug him.
I know I’ve succeeded when he says, his face sour, “What would you know about love, Lara Jean? You’ve never even had a boyfriend before.”
I’m tempted to make up someone, a boy from camp, from another town, from anywhere. His name is Clint is on the tip of my tongue. But it would be too humiliating, because he’d know I was lying; I already told him I never dated anybody before. And even if I hadn’t, it is far more pathetic to make up a boyfriend than to just admit the truth. “No, I’ve never had a boyfriend. But plenty of people I know have had boyfriends but they’ve never once been in love. I’ve been in love.” That’s why I’m doing this.
Peter snorts. “With who? Josh Sanderson? That tool?”
“He’s not a tool,” I say, frowning at him. “You don’t even know him to say that.”
“Anybody with one eye and half a brain could tell what a tool that guy is.”
“Are you saying my sister’s blind and brainless?” I demand. If he says one bad word about my sister, that’s it. This whole thing is off. I don’t need him that badly.
Peter laughs. “No. I’m saying you are!”
“You know what? I changed my mind. You’ve obviously never loved anyone but yourself.” I try to jerk the passenger door open, but it’s locked.
“Lara Jean, I was just kidding. Come on.”
“See you on Monday.”
“Wait, wait. First tell me something.” Peter leans back in his seat. “How come you never dated anybody?”
I shrug. “I don’t know . . . because nobody ever asked?”
“Bullshit. I know for a fact that Martinez asked you to homecoming and you said no.”
I’m surprised he knows about that. “What is it with you guys all calling each other by your last name?” I ask him. “It’s so—” I struggle to find the right word. “Effected? Affected?”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“I guess I said no because I was scared.” I stare out the window and run my finger along the glass, making an M for Martinez.
“No. I like Tommy. It’s not that. It’s scary when it’s real. When it’s not just thinking about a person, but, like, having a real live person in front of you, with, like, expectations. And wants.” I finally look at Peter, and I’m surprised by how hard he’s paying attention; his eyes are intent and focused on me like he’s actually interested in what I’m saying. “Even when I liked a boy so much, loved him even, I would always rather be with my sisters, because that’s where I belong.”
“Wait. What about right now?”
“Right now? Well, I don’t like you that way so . . .”
“Good,” Peter says. “Don’t go falling for me again, okay? I can’t have any more girls in love with me. It’s exhausting.”
I laugh out loud. “You’re so full of yourself.”
“I’m kidding,” he protests, but he’s not. “What did you ever see in me anyway?” He grins at me then, cocky again and so sure of his charm.
“Honestly? I really couldn’t tell you.”
The grin falters and then rights itself, but now it’s not so certain. “You said it was because I make people feel special. You . . . you said it was because I was a good dancer and I was science partners with Jeffrey Suttleman!”
“Wow, you really memorized every single word of that letter, huh?” I tease. It gives me a small, mean surge of satisfaction to see Peter’s grin fade completely. That surge is immediately followed by remorse, because now I’ve hurt his feelings for no good reason. What is it in me that wants to hurt Peter Kavinsky’s feelings? To make it better, I quickly add, “No, it’s true—you really did have something about you then.”
I guess I made it worse, because he flinches.
I don’t know what else to say, so I open the car door and climb out. “Thanks for the ride, Peter.”
When I get inside the house, I go look in the kitchen first to check on the cupcakes. They’re packed away in Tupperware and my cupcake carrier. The frosting’s a little messy and the sprinkles are haphazard, but overall they look pretty good. That’s a relief. Kitty won’t be shamed at the PTA bake sale on my account, at least!