THE DAY OF MY GRADUATION,
I wake up early and lie in bed listening to the sounds of the house waking up. Daddy is puttering around downstairs making coffee; Margot has the shower running; Kitty is probably still sound asleep. Trina, too. They’re both late sleepers.
I will miss these house sounds when I’m gone. A part of me is already homesick for them. Another part of me is so, so excited to take this next step, and I never thought I would be, not after things didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped.
* * *
For my graduation present, Margot gives me a college kit. A pink satin eye mask with my name embroidered on it in pale silvery blue. A USB drive shaped like a gold tube of lipstick. Earplugs that look like circus peanuts, pink fuzzy slippers, a nylon makeup bag covered in sketches of bows. I love every single thing in the kit equally.
Kitty makes a beautiful card. It’s a collage of pictures of us, but she’s used some sort of app to turn the pictures into line drawings, like a coloring book. She’s colored them all with coloring pencils. On the inside she’s written,
Congratulations. Have fun at college. P.S. I’ll miss you an 11.
Tears spring to my eyes, and I scoop Kitty into my arms and hug her tightly, for so long that she says, “All right, all right—enough already,”
but I can tell she is pleased. “I’m going to frame it,” I declare.
My gift from Trina is a vintage tea set—cream with pink rosebuds and rimmed in gold. “It was my mom’s,” she tells me, and I feel like I could cry, I love it so much. When I hug her, I whisper in her ear, “This is my favorite gift,” and she winks at me. Winking is one of Trina’s talents. She’s great at it, very natural.
Daddy sips from his coffee and then clears his throat. “Lara Jean, your gift from me is one that Margot and Kitty will also partake in.”
“What is it, what is it?” Kitty presses.
“Hush, it’s my gift,” I say, looking at Daddy expectantly.
Grinning, he says, “I’m sending you three girls to Korea with Grandma this summer. Happy graduation, Lara Jean!”
Kitty screams and Margot is beaming, and I’m in shock. We’ve been talking about going to Korea for years. Mommy always wanted to take us. “When, when?” Kitty asks.
“Next month,” Trina says, smiling at her. “Your dad and I will go on our honeymoon, and you guys will jet off to Korea.”
“Aw, you guys aren’t coming?” Kitty pouts. Margot, on the other hand, is smiling. Ravi’s visiting family in India over the summer, and she doesn’t have any big plans.
“We really want to come, but I can’t take that much time away from the hospital,” Daddy says, regretful.
“For how long?” I ask. “How long will we go?”
“For all of July,” Daddy says, gulping the rest of his coffee.
“Grandma and I have set the whole thing up. You’re going to stay at your great-aunt’s in Seoul, you’ll take Korean language classes a few times a week, and you’re going on a tour of the whole country, too. Jeju, Busan, the works. And Lara Jean, something special for you—a Korean pastry-making class! Don’t worry, it’ll be in English.”
Kitty starts doing a little dance in her seat.
Margot looks at me then, her eyes shining. “You’ve always wanted to learn how to bake Korean cream cakes! We’ll go shopping for face masks and stationery and cute things, like, every day. By the time we come back, we’ll be able to watch Korean dramas without subtitles!”
“I can’t wait,” I say, and Margot and Kitty and Daddy start discussing all the logistics, but Trina looks over at me closely. I keep the smile on my face.
A whole month. By the time I get back, it’ll be nearly time to leave for college, and Peter and I will have spent the summer apart.
* * *
At graduation all the girls wear white dresses. All white everything. I’m wearing Margot’s dress from two years ago—sleeveless with Swiss dots and a crisp knee-length skirt. Trina’s taken up the hemline for me because I’m shorter. Margot wore it with Converse, and I’m wearing white patent-leather sandals with a T-strap and little perforations.
In the car on the way over, I smooth down my skirt and say to Kitty, “Maybe you could wear this dress for your high
school graduation too, Kitten. And you’ll pose by the oak tree just like we did. It’ll be a beautiful triptych.” I wonder what shoes Kitty will wear. She’s about as likely to wear white stilettos as she is white Reeboks or white roller skates.
Kitty makes a sour-lemon face. “I don’t want to wear the same dress as you and Margot. I want my own dress. Besides, it’ll
be out of style by then.” She pauses. “What’s a triptych?”
“It’s, um, three pieces of art that come together and make one.” Furtively, I google “triptych” on my phone to make sure I’m telling her the right thing. “It’s, like, three panels, sort of hinged side by side. They’re meant to be appreciated together.”
“You’re reading that off your phone.”
“I was just double-checking,” I say. I smooth my dress down again, making sure my cap is in my bag. I’m graduating from high school today. It snuck up on me—growing up, I mean. In the driver’s seat, Trina’s looking for a parking spot, and Margot’s next to her, texting on her phone; Kitty’s next to me, looking out the window. Daddy has driven separately, to pick up Grandma. Nana, Daddy’s mom, is in Florida with her boyfriend and won’t be able to make it. I only wish my own mom were here for this. All these big moments she’s missing, that she’ll keep missing. I have to believe that she knows, that somehow she still sees. But I also just wish I could have a hug from my mom on my graduation day.
* * *
Throughout the valedictorian speech, I keep looking out in the crowd for Peter’s family. I wonder if his dad is sitting with Peter’s brother and his mom, or separately. I wonder if I’ll get to meet Peter’s two half brothers too. I’ve already spotted my own family—they are hard to miss. Every time I look in their direction, they all wave madly. Plus, Trina’s wearing a wide brimmed Kentucky Derby hat. Whoever is sitting in the row behind her probably can’t see a thing. Margot exercised a lot of self-control by not rolling her eyes when Trina came downstairs wearing it. Even Kitty said it was “a bit much,” but Trina asked me what I thought and I said I loved it, which I kind of do.
Our principal calls my name, “Lara Jean Song Covey,” but he pronounces it Laura, which trips me up for a second.
When I accept my diploma from him and shake his hand, I whisper, “It’s
My plan was to blow my family a kiss as I walked across the stage, but I get so nervous that I forget. Over the applause I can hear Kitty’s whoop, Daddy’s whistle. When it’s Peter’s turn, I clap and scream like crazy, and of course everyone else does too. Even the teachers clap extra loud for him. It’s so obvious when teachers have favorites. Not that I could blame them for loving Peter. We all do.
After we are declared graduates, after we throw our caps in the air, Peter makes his way past the throngs of people to find me. As he moves through the crowd, he’s smiling, making jokes, saying hi to people, but there’s something wrong. There’s a blankness in his eyes, even as he grabs me for a
hug. “Hey,” he says, kissing me swiftly on the lips. “So we’re officially college kids now.”
Looking around, I straighten my robe and say, “I didn’t see your mom and Owen in the stands. Did your dad sit with them? Are your brothers here? Should I come over now or after I take pictures with my family?”
Peter shakes his head. He doesn’t quite meet my eyes. “My dad couldn’t come last minute.”
“There was some kind of emergency. Who knows.”
I’m stunned. His dad seemed so sincere when I saw him at the lacrosse game. “I hope it was a really big emergency to miss his own son’s high school graduation.”
“It’s fine.” Peter shrugs like he doesn’t care either way, but I know that can’t be true. His jaw is set so tight, he could break his teeth.
Over his shoulder I see my family making their way through the crowds to get to me. You can’t miss Trina’s hat, even in this swarm of people. My dad’s carrying a big bouquet of all different-colored roses. Grandma’s wearing a cranberry-colored suit; her hair is freshly permed.
I feel so rushed and panicky for more time with Peter, to comfort him, to just be at his side. I grab his hand. “I’m sorry,” I say, and I want to say more, of course I do, but my family arrives, and everyone’s hugging me. Peter says hi to my grandma and takes some pictures with us before he escapes to find his mom and brother. I call out to him, but he’s too far away, and he doesn’t turn around.
After we take pictures, Daddy, Trina, Grandma, Kitty, Margot, and I go to a Japanese restaurant for lunch. We order plates and plates of sashimi and sushi, and I wear a napkin bib so soy sauce doesn’t fling onto my white dress. Trina sits next to Grandma and chatters in her ear about all manner of things, and I can just hear Grandma thinking,
Damn, this girl talks a lot
—but she’s trying, and that’s what Grandma appreciates. I’m trying to be festive and appreciative and in the moment, since this lunch is in my honor, but all I can think of is Peter and how hurt I am on his behalf.
Over mochi ice cream, Grandma tells us about all the places she wants to take us in Korea: the Buddhist temples, the outdoor food markets, the skin clinic where she goes to get her moles lasered off. She points at a tiny mole on Kitty’s cheek and says, “We’ll get that taken care of.”
Daddy looks alarmed, and Trina’s quick to ask, “Isn’t she too young?”
Grandma waves her hand. “She’ll be fine.”
Then Kitty asks, “How old do you have to be to get a nose job in Korea?” and Daddy nearly chokes on his beer.
Grandma gives her a threatening look. “You can never, ever change your nose. You have a lucky nose.”
Kitty touches it gingerly. “I do?”
“Very lucky,” Grandma says. “If you change your nose, you’ll change your luck. So never do it.”
I touch my own nose. Grandma’s never said anything about my nose being lucky.
“Margot, you can get new eyeglasses in Korea,” Grandma
says. “It’s very cheap to buy eyeglasses in Korea. All the newest fashions.”
“Ooh,” Margot says, dunking a piece of tuna in her soy sauce. “I’ve always wanted red frames.”
Grandma turns to me and asks, “What about you, Lara Jean? Are you excited about the cooking class?”
excited,” I say brightly. Underneath the table I text Peter.
Are you okay?
We’re almost done at lunch.
Come over anytime.
The ride home from the restaurant is just Daddy and me, because Trina, Margot, and Kitty are driving Grandma back home. When Margot said she’d ride with us, Grandma insisted that Margot come along with them. She knows Margot isn’t crazy about Trina; I know she’s just trying to matchmake them a bit. Grandma doesn’t miss a beat.
On the drive home, Daddy looks over at me from the driver’s seat with misty eyes and says, “Your mom would’ve been so proud of you today, Lara Jean. You know how much she cared about your education. She wanted you to have every opportunity.”
Fingering the tassel on my graduation cap in my lap, I ask him, “Do you think Mommy was sad she never got to get her master’s? I mean, not that she ever regretted having Kitty or anything. Just, do you think she wished things happened differently?”
He’s taken aback. Glancing at me, he says, “Well, no. Kitty really was a happy surprise. I’m not just saying that. We always wanted a big family. And she planned on going back after Kitty was in preschool full-time. She never gave up that plan.”
“No way. She was going to get her master’s. In fact she was going to take a class that fall. She just . . . ran out of time.” Daddy’s voice chokes a little. “We only had eighteen years together. We had as many years as you’ve been alive, Lara Jean.”
A lump gathers in my throat. When you think about it, eighteen years with the person you love isn’t much time at all. “Daddy, can we stop by the drugstore? I want to get some photo paper.” Peter and I took a picture together in our caps and gowns this morning, before the ceremony. It’ll be the last page of his scrapbook, our last high school chapter.