“Brielle’s family put their tree up the day after Thanksgiving,” Kitty says.
“Let’s just do it, then,” I say. “Can we, Daddy?”
“Well, if Brielle’s family is doing it,” Daddy says.
We drive out to the Christmas tree farm an hour away, because that’s where the really nice ones are. Kitty insists on seeing each and every tree to make sure ours is the best one. I vote for a plump balsam fir because it smells the best, but Kitty doesn’t think it’s tall enough. We go for a Douglas fir instead, and the whole drive home the air smells like Christmas morning.
Josh runs out of his house when he sees us struggling to get the tree inside. He and my dad heft it up and take it inside the house. He holds the tree up straight as my dad screws the Christmas tree stand around it tight. I have a feeling like he’s going to want to stay and help decorate the tree. I can’t stop thinking about what Peter said. How Josh could maybe like me.
“A little to the left,” Kitty directs. “It’s not straight enough.”
I bring down the box with the twinkle lights and the ornaments and start sorting through them. My favorite is the painted blue star I made in kindergarten out of dough. It’s my favorite because there’s a bite taken out of it—I told Kitty it was a cookie and she chomped right into it like the Cookie Monster. And then she cried, and I got in trouble, but it was worth it. “Should we do colored lights or white lights this year?” I ask.
“White,” Kitty says. “It’s classier.”
“But colored lights are whimsical,” Josh argues. “I mean, they’re nostalgic.”
I roll my eyes. “Whimsical, Josh?” And then Josh proceeds to make a case for colored lights, and he and I argue back and forth until Daddy intercedes and says we should just do half and half. This is when things finally feel really and truly normal between us, now that we are bickering again like old times. Peter was wrong about Josh.
The tree is so tall it nearly touches the ceiling. We run out of lights, so Daddy goes to buy more at the store. Josh puts Kitty on his shoulders so she can put the star on the tippy top.
“I’m glad we got a big tree this year,” I say with a happy sigh, falling back onto the sofa and looking up at the top. There’s nothing cozier than a Christmas tree all lit up.
A little later, Daddy has to go in to the hospital, and Kitty goes over to our neighbor’s house because they’re making s’mores in the fireplace, so it’s just Josh and me cleaning up. I’m putting ornament hooks back into their different ziplock bags and Josh is loading up a cardboard box with the ornaments we didn’t have room for. He hoists the box in his arms and bumps into a branch on the tree, and a glass ornament slips off and breaks.
“Jo-osh,” I say. “I made that in home ec.”
“It’s okay. It wasn’t my best work anyway. I put in too many feathers.” It’s a clear glass ball with white feathers and white sequins inside.
I go get a broom, and when I come back, he says, “You act different around Kavinsky. Did you know that?”
I look up from sweeping the broken ornament. “No I don’t.”
“You don’t act like you. You act like . . . like how all girls act around him. That’s not you, Lara Jean.”
Annoyed, I say, “I act the same as I always do. What would you know about it, Josh? You’ve barely ever even been around us.” I crouch down and pick up a shard of glass.
“Be careful,” Josh says. “Here, I’ll do it.” He stoops down next to me and reaches for another shard. “Ow!”
“You be careful!” I lean close to him and try to get a closer look at his finger. “Are you bleeding?”
He shakes his head. “I’m fine.” And then he says, “You know what I don’t get?”
Josh stares at me, his cheeks a dull red. “Why you never said anything. If all that time you felt like that about me, why didn’t you say anything?”
My whole body goes stiff. I wasn’t expecting that. I’m not prepared. I swallow hard and say, “You were with Margot.”
“I wasn’t always with Margot. The stuff you wrote—you liked me before I ever liked her. Why didn’t you just tell me?”
I let out a breath. “What does that even matter now?”
“It matters. You should have told me. You should have at least given me a chance.”
“It wouldn’t have made a difference, Josh!”
“And I’m telling you it would have!” He steps toward me.
Jerkily I rise to my feet. Why is he bringing this up now, just when things are back to normal again? “You’re so full of it. You’ve never thought of me that way, not ever, so don’t go trying to reinvent history now when I have somebody.”
“Don’t tell me what I think,” he snaps. “You don’t know my every thought, Lara Jean.”
“Yes I do. I know you better than anyone. You know why? You’re predictable. Everything you do. It’s so predictable. The only reason you’re even saying this now is because you’re jealous. And it’s not even because of me. You don’t care about who I’m with. You’re just jealous that Peter took your spot. Kitty likes him better than you now too.”
His face darkens. He glares at me and I glare back. “Fine!” he yells. “I’m jealous! Are you happy now?”
And then he jerks his head toward mine, and he kisses me. On the lips. His eyes are closed, mine are wide open. And then mine close too, and for a second, just for a second, I kiss him back. Then I break away. I push him off.
Triumphantly he says, “Did you predict that, Lara Jean?”
My mouth opens and closes, but no words come out. I drop the broom and run up the stairs, as fast as I can. I run all the way to my room and lock my door behind me. Josh just kissed me. In my living room. My sister is coming back in a few weeks. And I have a fake boyfriend I just cheated on.
AFTER THIRD PERIOD, LUCAS IS waiting for me.
He’s wearing a skinny tie today with a V-neck and he has a full-size bag of Cheetos in his hand. He stuffs a handful of Cheetos into his mouth, and orange dust floats onto his white V-neck. The corners of his mouth look slightly orange too. With his mouth full he says, “Look, there’s something I need to tell you.”