THE NEXT MORNING, I PUT
on the poppy-colored lipstick Stormy likes me in, gather up my Easter eggs in a white wicker basket, and drive over to Belleview. I stop at the reception desk to drop off the eggs and chat with Shanice for a bit. I ask her what’s new, and she says there are two new volunteers, both
students, which makes me feel a lot less guilty about not coming around as much.
I say good-bye to Shanice and then head over to Stormy’s with my Easter egg. She answers the door in a persimmon-colored kimono and lipstick to match and cries out, “Lara Jean!” After she sweeps me into a hug, she frets, “You’re looking at my roots, aren’t you? I know I need to dye my hair.”
“You can barely tell,” I assure her.
She’s very excited about her Marie Antoinette egg; she says she can’t wait to show it off to Alicia Ito, her friend and rival. “Did you bring one for Alicia, too?” she demands.
“Just you,” I tell her, and her pale eyes gleam.
We sit on her couch, and she wags her finger at me and says, “You must be completely moonstruck over your young man since you’ve barely had time to visit with me.”
Contritely I say, “I’m sorry. I’ll come visit more now that college applications are in.”
The best way to deal with Stormy when she’s like this is to charm and cajole her. “I’m only doing what you told me, Stormy.”
She cocks her head to the side. “What did I tell you?”
“You said to go on lots of dates and lots of adventures, just like you did.”
She purses her orangey-red lips, trying not to smile. “Well, that was very good advice I gave you. You just keep listening to Stormy, and you’ll be right as rain. Now, tell me something juicy.”
I laugh. “My life isn’t that juicy.”
She tsks me. “Don’t you have any dances coming up? When’s prom?”
“Not till May.”
“Well, do you have a dress?”
“You’d better get a move on it. You don’t want some other girl wearing your dress, dear.” She studies my face. “With your complexion, I think you ought to wear pink.” Then her eyes light up and she snaps her fingers. “That reminds me! There’s something I want to give you.” Stormy hops up and goes to her bedroom and she returns with a heavy velvet ring box.
I open the box and let out a gasp. It’s her pink diamond ring! The one from the veteran who lost his leg in the war. “Stormy, I can’t accept this.”
“Oh, but you will. You’re just the girl to wear it.”
Slowly, I take the ring out and put it on my left hand, and
oh, how it sparkles. “It’s beautiful! But I really shouldn’t . . .”
“It’s yours, darling.” Storm winks at me. “Heed my advice, Lara Jean. Never say no when you really want to say yes.”
“Then—yes! Thank you, Stormy! I promise I’ll take good care of it.”
She kisses me on the cheek. “I know you will, dear.”
As soon as I get home, I put it in my jewelry box for safekeeping.
* * *
Later that day, I’m in the kitchen with Kitty and Peter, waiting for my chocolate chip cookies to cool. For the past few weeks I’ve been on a quest to perfect my chocolate chip cookie recipe, and Peter and Kitty have been my steadfast passengers on the journey. Kitty prefers a flat, lacy kind of chocolate chip cookie, while Peter likes his chewy. My perfect cookie is a combination of the two. Crunchy but soft. Light brown, not pale in color or flavor. A little height but not puffy. That’s the cookie I’ve been searching for.
I’ve read all the blog posts, seen the pictures of all white sugar versus a mix of brown and white, of baking soda versus baking powder, vanilla bean versus vanilla extract, chip versus chunk versus chopped bars. I’ve tried freezing in balls, flattening cookies with the bottom of a glass to get an even spread. I’ve frozen dough in a log and sliced; I’ve scooped, then frozen. Frozen, then scooped. And yet, still, my cookies rise too much.
This time I used considerably less baking soda, but the cookies are still vaguely puffy, and I am ready to throw the
entire batch out for not being perfect. Of course I don’t—that would be a waste of good ingredients. Instead I say to Kitty, “Didn’t you say you got in trouble for talking during silent reading last week?” She nods. “Take these to your teacher and tell her you baked them and you’re sorry.” I’m running low on people to give my cookies to. I’ve already given some to the mailman, Kitty’s bus driver, the nurses’ station at Daddy’s hospital.
“What will you do when you figure it out?” Kitty asks me, her mouth full of cookie.
“Yeah, what’s the point of all this?” Peter says. “I mean, who cares if a chocolate chip cookie is eight percent better? It’s still a chocolate chip cookie.”
“I’ll take pleasure in the knowledge that I am in possession of the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. I will pass it down to the next generation of Song girls.”
“Or boys,” Kitty says.
“Or boys,” I agree. To her I say, “Now go upstairs and get a big Mason jar for me to put these cookies in. And a ribbon.”
Peter asks, “Will you bring some to school tomorrow?”
“We’ll see,” I say, because I want to see him make that pouty face I love so much. He makes the face, and I reach up and pat his cheeks. “You’re such a baby.”
“You love it,” he says, snagging another cookie. “Let’s get the movie started. I promised my mom I would stop by the store and help her move some furniture around.” Peter’s mom owns an antiques store called Linden & White, and Peter helps her out as much as he can.
Today’s movie off our list is
Romeo + Juliet
, the 1996 version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. Kitty’s already seen it a dozen or so times, I’ve seen bits and pieces, and Peter’s never seen it at all.
Kitty drags her beanbag cushion downstairs and arranges herself on the floor with a bag of microwave popcorn beside her. Our wheaten terrier mix Jamie Fox-Pickle immediately plants himself next to her, no doubt hoping for a falling popcorn crumb. Peter and I are on the couch, cuddled under a sheep’s-wool blanket that Margot sent from Scotland.
From the moment Leo comes on screen in that navy blue suit, I have chest palpitations. He’s like an angel, a beautiful, damaged angel.
“What’s he so stressed out about?” Peter asks, reaching down and stealing a handful of Kitty’s popcorn. “Isn’t he a prince or something?”
“He’s not a prince,” I say. “He’s just rich. And his family is very powerful in this town.”
“He’s my dream guy,” Kitty says in a proprietary tone.
“Well, he’s all grown up now,” I say, not taking my eyes off the screen. “He’s practically Daddy’s age.” Still . . .
“Wait, I thought
was your dream guy,” Peter says. Not to me, to Kitty. He knows he’s not my dream guy. My dream guy is Gilbert Blythe from
Anne of Green Gables
. Handsome, loyal, smart in school.
“Ew,” Kitty says. “You’re like my brother.”
Peter looks genuinely wounded, so I pat him on the shoulder.
“Don’t you think he’s a little scrawny?” Peter presses.
I shush him.
He crosses his arms. “I don’t get why you guys get to talk during movies and I get shushed. It’s pretty bullshit.”
“It’s our house,” Kitty says.
“Your sister shushes me at my house too!”
We ignore him in unison.
In the play, Romeo and Juliet were only thirteen. In the movie they’re more like seventeen or eighteen. Definitely still teens. How did they know they were meant to be? Just one look across a bathroom fish tank was all it took? They knew it was a love worth dying for? Because they do know. They believe. I guess the difference is, in those times people got married so much younger than they do now. Realistically, till death do us part probably only meant, like, fifteen or twenty years, because people didn’t live as long back then.
But when their eyes meet across that fish tank . . . when Romeo goes to her balcony and professes his love . . . I can’t help it. I believe too. Even though, I know, they barely know each other, and their story is over before it even truly begins, and the real part would have been in the everyday, in the choosing to be with each other despite all the hardships. Still, I think they could have made it work, if they had only lived.
As the credits roll, tears roll down my cheeks and even Peter looks sad; but unsentimental, dry-eyed little Kitty just hops up and says she’s taking Jamie Fox-Pickle outside to
pee. Off they go, and meanwhile I’m still lost in my emotions on the couch, wiping tears from my eyes. “They had such a good meet-cute,” I croak.
“What’s a meet-cute?” Peter’s lying on his side now, his head propped up on his elbow. He looks so adorable I could pinch his cheeks, but I refrain from saying so. His head is big enough as it is.
“A meet-cute is when the hero and heroine meet for the very first time, and it’s always in a charming way. It’s how you know they’re going to end up together. The cuter the better.”
, when Reese saves Sarah Connor from the Terminator and he says, ‘Come with me if you want to live.’ Freaking amazing line.”
“I mean, sure, I guess that’s technically a meet-cute. . . . I was thinking more like
It Happened One Night
. We should add that to our list.”
“Is that in color or black-and-white?”
Peter groans and falls back against the couch cushions.
“It’s too bad we don’t have a meet-cute,” I muse.
“You jumped me in the hallway at school. I think that’s pretty cute.”
“But we already knew each other, so it doesn’t really count.” I frown. “We don’t even remember how we met. How sad.”
“I remember meeting you for the first time.”
“Hey just because you don’t remember something doesn’t mean I don’t. I remember a lot of things.”
“Okay, so how did we meet?” I challenge. I’m sure that whatever comes out of his mouth next will be a lie.
Peter opens his mouth, then snaps it shut. “I’m not telling.”
“See! You just can’t think of anything.”
“No, you don’t deserve to know, because you don’t believe me.”
I roll my eyes. “So full of it.”
After I turn off the movie, Peter and I go sit on the front porch, drinking sweet tea I made the night before. It’s cool out; there’s still enough bite in the air to let you know it isn’t quite full-on spring yet, but soon. The dogwood tree in our front yard is just beginning to flower. There is a nice breeze. I think I could sit here all afternoon and watch the branches sway and bow and the leaves dance.
We still have a little time before he has to go help his mom. I would go with him, mind the register while he moves around furniture, but the last time Peter brought me, his mom frowned and said her store was a place of business, not a “teenage hangout.” Peter’s mom doesn’t outwardly dislike me, and I don’t even think she inwardly dislikes me—but she still hasn’t forgiven me for breaking up with Peter last year. She’s kind to me, but there’s this distrust, this wariness. It’s a let’s-wait-and-see kind of feeling—let’s wait and see when you hurt my son again. I’d always imagined I would have a great, Ina Garten–type relationship with my first boyfriend’s mom. The two of us cooking dinner
together, sharing tea and sympathy, playing Scrabble on a rainy afternoon.
“What are you thinking about?” Peter asks me. “You’ve got that look.”
I chew on my lower lip. “I wish your mom liked me better.”
“She does like you.”
“Peter.” I give him a look.
“She does! If she didn’t like you, she wouldn’t invite you over for dinner.”
“She invites me over for dinner because she wants to see you, not me.”
“Untrue.” I can tell this thought has never occurred to him, but it has the ring of truth and he knows it.
“She wishes we’d break up before we leave for college,” I blurt out.
“So does your sister.”
I crow, “Ha! So you’re admitting your mom wants us to break up!” I don’t know what I’m being so triumphant about. The thought is depressing, even if I already suspected it.
“She thinks getting serious when you’re young is a bad idea. It has nothing to do with you. I told her, just because it didn’t work out with you and Dad, it doesn’t mean it’ll be like that for us. I’m nothing like my dad. And you’re nothing like my mom.”
Peter’s parents got divorced when he was in sixth grade. His dad lives about thirty minutes away, with his new wife and two young sons. When it comes to his dad, Peter doesn’t say much. It’s rare for him to even bring him up, but this
year, out of the blue, his dad has been trying to reconnect with him—inviting him to a basketball game, over to his house for dinner. So far Peter’s been a stone wall.
“Does your dad look like you?” I ask. “I mean, do you look like him?”
Sullenly he says, “Yeah. That’s what people always say.”
I put my head on his shoulder. “Then he must be very handsome.”
“Back in the day, I guess,” he concedes. “I’m taller than him now.”
This is a thing that Peter and I have in common—he only has a mom and I only have a dad. He thinks I got the better end of the deal, losing a mom who loved me versus a dad who is alive but a dirtbag. His words, not mine. Part of me agrees with him, because I have so many good memories of Mommy, and he has hardly any of his dad.
I loved how after a bath, I would sit cross-legged in front of her and watch
while she combed the tangles out of my hair. I remember Margot used to hate to sit still for it, but I didn’t mind. It’s the kind of memory I like best—more of a feeling than an actual remembrance. The hum of a memory, blurry around the edges, soft and nothing particularly special, all kind of blending into one moment. Another memory like that is when we’d drop Margot off at piano lessons, and Mommy and I would have secret ice cream sundaes in the McDonald’s parking lot. Caramel and strawberry sauce; she’d give me her peanuts so I had extra. Once I asked her why she didn’t like nuts on her sundae,
and she said she did like them, but I
them. And she loved me.
But despite all of these good memories, memories I wouldn’t trade for anything, I know that even if my mom was a dirtbag, I’d rather have her here with me than not. One day, I hope Peter will feel that way about his dad.
“What are you thinking about now?” Peter asks me.
“My mom,” I say.
Peter sets down his glass and stretches out and rests his head in my lap. Looking up at me, he says, “I wish I could’ve met her.”
“She would’ve really liked you,” I say, touching his hair. Hesitantly, I ask, “Do you think I might get to meet your dad some day?”
A cloud passes over his face, and I wish I hadn’t brought it up. “You don’t want to meet him,” he says. “He’s not worth it.” Then he snuggles closer to me. “Hey, maybe we should go as Romeo and Juliet for Halloween this year. People at
go all out for Halloween.”
I lean back against the post. He’s changing the subject, and I know it but I play along. “So we’d be going as the Leo and Claire version of Romeo and Juliet.”
“Yeah.” He tugs on my braid. “I’ll be your knight in shining armor.”
I touch his hair. “Would you be willing to consider growing your hair out a little bit? And maybe . . . dyeing it blond? Otherwise people might think you’re just a knight.”
Peter is laughing so hard I doubt he hears the rest of my
sentence. “Oh my God, Covey. Why are you so hilarious?”
“I was joking!” Half joking. “But you know I take costuming seriously. Why bother doing something if you’re only going to do it halfway?”
“Okay, I would maybe wear a wig, but I’m not promising anything. It’ll be our first
“I’ve been to
for Halloween before.” The first fall Margot got her driver’s license, we took Kitty trick-or-treating on the lawn. She was Batman that year. I wonder if she might like to do that again.
“I mean we’ll finally be able to go to
Halloween parties. Like, legit go to them and not have to sneak in. Sophomore year me and Gabe got kicked out of an
party and it was the most embarrassing moment of my life.”
I look at him in surprise. “You? You’re never embarrassed.”
“Well, I was that day. I was trying to talk to this girl who was dressed up in a Cleopatra costume and these older guys were like, ‘Get your ass out of here, scrub,’ and she and her friends laughed. Jerks.”
I lean down and kiss him on both cheeks. “I would never laugh.”
“You laugh at me all the time,” he says. He lifts his head up and pulls my face closer and we are kissing an upside-down Spider-Man type of kiss.
“You like it when I laugh at you,” I say, and, smiling, he shrugs.