THE NEXT MORNING, I WAKE
up unsure if Peter and I are in a fight. Last night felt like a fight, only I’m not sure if he’s mad at me or if I’m supposed to be mad at him. It’s an unsettling feeling.
I don’t want to be mad at him. I leave for Korea on July 1. We don’t have time to get into dumb fights over carrots and John Ambrose McClaren. Every second we have left together is precious.
I decide to make him French toast as a peace offering. His favorite breakfast food, besides donuts, is French toast. In the kitchen I find a box of sugar in the cabinet, milk, half a loaf of bread, a couple of eggs, but no cinnamon. The cinnamon is essential.
I take Pammy’s car keys and drive to the little market near our house, where I buy a shaker of cinnamon, butter, a dozen eggs, and a new loaf of white bread, because I figure I might as well make toast for Peter’s whole house while I’m at it. At the last second, I throw in a bag of carrots.
Everyone at his house is still asleep, and the place looks even worse than it did the night before. Beer bottles all over the place, empty bags of chips strewn about, bathing suit trunks drying on furniture. Dirty dishes are piled high in the
sink, and I have to wash a bowl and a spatula caked in old egg in order to start cooking.
Because the bread is fresh, my first few pieces end up disintegrating in the egg mix, but I get the hang of it on the third try, dipping the bread for only a few seconds before I drop it in the frying pan.
The boys drift downstairs, and I keep frying more French toast. Every time the stack dwindles, I add more. Peter’s the last one down, and when I offer him a piece, one of the good crispy ones, he shakes his head and says he’d better not, because of his diet. He doesn’t meet my eyes as he says it. He just doesn’t want to eat something I made.
After breakfast I don’t stick around, and again Peter doesn’t try to stop me. I drive back home and wake up Chris, who is still in last night’s clothes. “I have a piece of French toast for you downstairs,” I say. I brought her the piece I saved for Peter.
* * *
There’s a cookout that night, at a house a few streets down from ours. Our house brings tubs of neon-yellow potato salad and all the wine coolers we have left. Since it’s the last night, we are emptying out the fridge.
Out on the deck, I end up in a conversation with Kaila and Emily Nussbaum, one of Genevieve’s friends. I’ve barely seen Genevieve at all this week, because she’s here with her church friends, and her house is a mix of people from other schools.
Emily asks me, “So are you and Kavinsky really going to stay together?”
Right this second?
I have no idea, seeing as how we’ve barely said two words to each other all night. Of course I don’t say that. Whatever I say to Emily will get right back to Genevieve. Gen might have moved on, but she would surely still take pleasure in Peter and me being in a fight. I say, “Yes, we’re staying together.
aren’t that far.”
Kaila sucks up rum and Diet Coke out of her straw, giving me a sidelong look. “You know, you’re an interesting girl, Lara Jean. You seem shy and kind of babyish at first, but you’re actually very confident. That was a compliment, by the way.”
“Thanks,” I say. If someone is giving you a compliment, I don’t think they should have to tell you they’re giving you one; it should probably be obvious to the person receiving it. I take a sip of the drink Chris made me, and I nearly spit it out because she made it so strong. She called it a grown-up Shirley Temple, whatever that means.
“I can see why Kavinsky likes you,” Kaila says. “I hope it works out.”
“Thank you,” I say.
Emily puts her feet up on my chair and says, “If Blake broke up with me, I would freak out. I would be absolutely devastated.”
“Well, you guys are super intense. You’ll probably get married right after college.”
“No way,” Emily says, but she’s obviously pleased.
“Y’all are going to the same school. It’s different.” Kaila regards me. “I don’t think I could ever do long distance.”
“Why not?” I ask.
“I like seeing my man every day. I don’t want to wonder what he’s up to. Like, am I a possessive person? Yes. But also, I don’t want to have to play catch-up at the end of the day. I need to be a part of his daily life and he needs to be a part of mine.” She crunches ice with her teeth.
That’s what happened with Margot and me when she went to college. The distance came slowly, like seawater filling up a boat, without us even realizing it. Before you know it you’re underwater. We made it through, but we’re sisters. Sisters always find their way back to each other. I don’t think it’s the same for boyfriends. The thought of it happening to Peter and me fills me with such sadness. How will we ward it off? By talking every day? Visiting at least once a month? He said it himself—his life is going to be so busy and so full because of lacrosse. He’s already changing, with his healthy diet and his workouts. And we’re fighting, and we never fight, not really. Not the kind of fights you can’t take back. So what now? How do we negotiate this next step?
I stay a few more minutes, and when Emily and Kaila start talking about whether or not to rush a sorority, I make my escape to find Peter. Between this conversation and last night’s fight, I just want him close, while we’re still in the same vicinity. I find him standing around with a bunch of guys who are building a bonfire. He already seems so far away, and I want so badly for things to feel normal between us again. I take big sip of my grown-up Shirley Temple, for
courage. Our eyes meet, and I mouth,
Do you want to go?
He nods. I start to head back inside, and he follows me.
As I take another sip of my grown-up Shirley Temple, he asks, “What are you drinking?”
“Something Chris made me.”
He takes the red Solo cup from me and tosses it in the trash on our way out.
Our walk back to my house is pretty quiet, except for the sound of the ocean waves. I don’t think either of us knows what to say, because whatever is wrong between us, we both know it wasn’t John Ambrose McClaren, or the carrots.
As we make our way down the street, I hear Peter’s subdued voice. “Are you still mad about last night?”
“Okay, good,” he says. “I saw the carrots you bought in the fridge. Sorry I didn’t eat your French toast.”
“Why didn’t you? I know it wasn’t because of your diet.”
Peter rubs the back of his neck. “I don’t know what my problem was. I’ve just been in a weird mood.”
I look over at him; his face is obscured by the dark. “We only have a little bit of time before I leave for Korea. Let’s not waste it.” Then I slide my hand in his, and he squeezes it.
The house is completely empty, for the first time all week. All the other girls are still at the party, except for Chris, who ran into somebody she knows through Applebee’s. We go up to my room, and Peter takes off his shoes and gets in my bed. “Want to watch a movie?” he asks, stretching his arms behind his head.
No, I don’t want to watch a movie. Suddenly my heart is racing, because I know what I want to do. I’m ready.
I sit down on the bed next to him as he says, “Or we could start a new show—”
I press my lips to his neck, and I can feel his pulse jump. “What if we don’t watch a movie or a show? What if we . . . do something else instead.” I give him a meaningful look.
His body jerks in surprise. “What, you mean like now?”
“Yes.” Now. Now feels right. I start planting little kisses down his throat. “Do you like that?”
I can feel him swallow. “Yes.” He pushes me away from him so he can look at my face. “Let’s stop for a second. I can’t think. Are you drunk? What did Chris put in that drink she gave you?”
“No, I’m not drunk!” I had a little bit of a warm feeling in my body, but the walk home woke me right up. Peter’s still staring at me. “I’m not drunk. I swear.”
Peter swallows hard, his eyes searching mine. “Are you sure you want to do this now?”
“Yes,” I say, because I really, truly am. “But first can you put on Frank Ocean?”
He grabs his phone, and a second later the beat kicks in and Frank’s melodious voice fills the room. Peter starts fumbling with his shirt buttons and then gives up and starts to pull my shirt up, and I yelp, “Wait!”
Peter’s so startled, he jumps away from me. “What? What’s wrong?”
I leap off the bed and start rummaging through my suitcase.
I’m not wearing my special bra and underwear set; I’m wearing my normal every day cappuccino-colored bra with the frayed edges. I can’t lose my virginity in my ugliest bra.
“What are you doing?” he asks me.
“Just wait one second.”
I run to the bathroom and change out of my old bra and underwear and put on the lacy ones. Then I brush my teeth, look at my face in the mirror. This is it. I, Lara Jean Song Covey, am about to lose my virginity to Peter K.
Peter calls out, “Is everything okay?”
“Just a sec!” Should I put my clothes back on or just come out in my bra and underwear? He’s never seen me in just my underwear before. Well, I guess he’s about to see me without any clothes at all, so I might as well.
I step out of the bathroom, carrying my clothes in front of me like a shield, and Peter does a double take when he sees me and quickly takes his shirt off. I can feel myself blush. I stuff my bra and underwear in my suitcase, and then dig around inside until I find the packet of condoms. I take one out and then climb back into bed and get under the sheets. “Okay, now I’m ready.”
“I like your bra,” Peter says, peeling the sheet away from me.
He moves closer to me and kisses my eyelid. First the left, then the right. “Are you nervous?”
“We don’t have to do anything tonight, Covey.”
“No, I want to.” I hold up the condom, and Peter’s
eyebrows shoot up. “From my dad’s kit. Remember, I told you he made me a contraception kit?”
Taking the condom from me, he kisses my neck and says, “Can we not talk about your dad right now?”
“Sure,” I say.
Peter rolls on top of me. My heart is thrumming in my chest, the way it does whenever I am close to him, but now even more so, because everything’s about to change. I’m going somewhere with him I’ve never gone before. He’s careful to keep his weight on his forearms, to not crush me, but I don’t mind the weight of his body on mine. His hand is in my hair the way I like; his lips are warm. We’re both breathing fast.
And then he’s suddenly not kissing me anymore. I open my eyes and he’s hovering above me, his brow furrowed. “Is this because we had a fight last night? Because, Covey—”
“It’s not because of the fight. I just—I just want to feel close to you.” Peter’s looking at me so intently, and I can tell he’s waiting for more, for me to give him some grand reason. It’s pretty simple, really. “It’s not all of a sudden. I want to have sex with you because I love you and I want it to be you.”
“But why me?”
“Because—because you’re my first love, so who else would it be?”
Peter rolls off me and sits up; his head is in his hands.
I sit up too, pulling the sheet up around me. “What’s wrong?” He doesn’t say anything for what feels like forever.
“Please just say it.” I’m starting to feel sick to my stomach.
“I don’t want to do this right now.”
“Why not?” I whisper.
He can’t look at me. “I don’t know. . . . I just have a lot on my mind. Between lacrosse, and my dad not showing up at graduation, and now you’re leaving for the summer.”
“Not the whole summer. Just July. I’ll be back at the end of July! Why are you fast-forwarding the whole summer away?”
Peter shakes his head. “It just seems like you’re leaving and you don’t really care.”
“You know it wasn’t my choice! My dad surprised me! You’re not being fair, Peter.”
He looks at me for a long beat. “What about
? Are you even planning on transferring to
anymore? When it was William and Mary, it was a given, and now it doesn’t seem like it.”
I wet my lips. My heart is pounding out of control. “I’m not sure. Maybe? But maybe not.
feels different to me.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s obvious.”
“Don’t make it sound like a bad thing! Would you rather I go somewhere and be unhappy?”
“Temporarily unhappy,” he corrects.
“Come on, Lara Jean. Do you really think that shitty of me?”
“No. I . . . I just don’t understand why you’re acting this
way. I want to at least give
a real chance. I want to give myself a chance.” My eyes well up with tears, and it’s hard to speak. “And I think you should want that for me too.”
Peter flinches like I’ve hit him. This bed is small, but it feels like he’s so far away from me right now. I ache inside, wanting to go to him. But I can’t.
Silently he puts his shirt back on. “I think I’m gonna go,” he says. Then he gets up, walks out the door, and leaves. I wait for the front door to shut before I start to cry.