“I’m not teasing. Why do you think I kissed you that day at McClaren’s house back in seventh grade? It’s why I went along with this thing in the first place. I’ve always thought you were cute.”
My face feels hot. “In a quirky way.”
Peter grins his perfect grin. “So? I guess I must like quirky, then.”
Then he leans his head closer to mine, and I blurt out, “But aren’t you still in love with Genevieve?”
“Why are you always bringing up Gen? I’m trying to talk about us, and all you want to do is talk about her. Yeah, Gen and I have history. I’m always going to care about her.” He shrugs. “But now . . . I like you.”
People are walking in and out of the lodge; a guy from school walks by and claps Peter on the shoulder. “What up,” Peter says. When he’s gone, Peter says to me, “So what do you say?” He’s looking at me expectantly. He’s expecting me to say yes.
I want to say yes, but I don’t want to be with a boy whose heart belongs to somebody else. Just once, I want to be somebody’s first choice. “You might think you like me, but you don’t. If you did, you wouldn’t still like her.”
Peter shakes his head. “What Gen and I have is completely separate from you and me,” he says.
“How can that be true when from the very first minute, this has been about Genevieve?”
“That’s not fair,” he objects. “When we started this thing, you liked Sanderson.”
“Not anymore.” I swallow hard. “But you still love Genevieve.”
Frustrated, Peter backs away from me and runs his hands through his hair. “God, what makes you such an expert on love? You’ve liked five guys in your life. One was gay, one lives in Indiana or Montana or some place, McClaren moved away before anything could actually happen, one was dating your sister. And then there’s me. Hmm, what do we all have in common? What’s the common denominator?”
I feel all the blood rush to my face. “That’s not fair.”
Peter leans in close and says, “You only like guys you don’t have a shot with, because you’re scared. What are you so scared of?”
I back away from him, right into the wall. “I’m not scared of anything.”
“The hell you’re not. You’d rather make up a fantasy version of somebody in your head than be with a real person.”
I glare at him. “You’re just mad because I didn’t die of happiness because the great Peter Kavinsky said he liked me. Your ego really is that enormous.”
His eyes flash. “Hey, I’m sorry I didn’t show up on your doorstep with flowers and profess my undying love for you, Lara Jean, but guess what, that’s not real life. You need to grow up.”
That’s it. I don’t have to listen to this. I turn on my heel and walk away. Over my shoulder I say, “Enjoy the hot tub.”
“I always do,” he calls back.
Is it true? Could he be right?
Back at the room, I change into my flannel nighty and put on thick socks. I don’t even go wash up. I just turn out the lights and crawl into bed. I can’t fall asleep, though. Every time I close my eyes, I see Peter’s face.
How dare he say I need to grow up? What does he know about anything? As if he’s so mature!
But . . . is he right about me? Do I only like the boys I can never have? I’ve always known Peter was out of my reach. I’ve always known he didn’t belong to me. But tonight he said he liked me. The thing I’ve been hoping for, he said it. So why didn’t I just tell him I liked him back when I had the chance? Because I do. I like him back. Of course I do. What girl wouldn’t fall for Peter Kavinsky, handsomest boy of all the Handsome Boys. Now that I really know him, I know he’s so much more than that.
I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I want to be brave. I want . . . life to start happening. I want to fall in love and I want a boy to fall in love with me back.
Before I can talk myself out of it, I put on my puffy coat, slip my keycard in my pocket, and head off to the hot tub.
THE HOT TUB IS BEHIND the main lodge, tucked in the woods on a wooden platform. On the way there, I run into kids with wet hair who are on their way back to their rooms before curfew. Curfew is at eleven, and it’s already ten forty-five. There’s not much time left. I hope Peter’s still out there. I don’t want to lose my nerve. So I quicken my pace and that’s when I spot him, alone in the hot tub, his head tipped back with his eyes closed.
“Hi,” I say, and my voice echoes into the woods.
His eyes fly open. Nervously, he looks over my shoulder. “Lara Jean! What are you doing out here?”
“I came to see you,” I say, and my breath comes out in white puffs. I start taking off my boots and socks. My hands are shaking, and not because it’s cold. I’m nervous.
“Uh . . . what are you doing?” Peter’s looking at me like I’m crazy.
“I’m getting in!” Shivering, I unzip my puffy coat and set it on the bench. Steam is rising out of the water. I dip my feet in and sit down on the ledge of the hot tub. It’s hotter than a bath, but it feels nice. Peter’s still watching me warily. My heart is racing out of control and it’s difficult to look him in the eyes. I’ve never been so scared in my life. “That thing you brought up earlier . . . you caught me off guard, so I didn’t know what to say. But . . . well, I like you too.” It comes out so fumbly and uncertain, and I wish I could start over and say it smoothly and confidently. I try again, louder. “I like you, Peter.”
Peter blinks, and he looks so young all of a sudden. “I don’t understand you girls. I think I have you figured out, and then . . . and then . . .”
“And then?” I hold my breath as I wait for him to speak. I’m so nervous; I keep swallowing, and it sounds loud to my ears. Even my breathing sounds loud, even my heartbeat.
His pupils are dilated he’s looking at me so hard. He’s staring at me like he’s never seen me before. “And then I don’t know.”
I think I stop breathing when I hear him say “I don’t know.” Did I screw things up that badly that now he doesn’t know? It can’t be over, not when I finally found my courage. I can’t let it be. My heart is pounding like a million trillion beats a minute as I scoot closer to him. I bend my head down and press my lips against his, and I feel his jolt of surprise. And then he’s kissing me back, open-mouthed, soft-lipped kissing-me-back, and at first I’m nervous, but then he puts his hand on the back of my head, and he strokes my hair in a reassuring way, and I’m not so nervous anymore. It’s a good thing I’m sitting down on this ledge, because I am weak in the knees.