Always and Forever, Lara Jean (2 page)

But if I had the choice, I would still pick
UVA
every time. I’ve never wanted to be far from home. I’m not like my big sister. Going far away, that was her dream. She’s always wanted the world. I just want home, and for me,
UVA
is home, which is why it’s the college I’ve measured all other colleges against. The perfect storybook campus, the perfect everything. And, of course, Peter.

We stay a bit longer, me telling Peter more facts about
UVA
and Peter making fun of me for knowing so many facts about
UVA
. Then he drives me home. It’s nearly one a.m. when we pull up in front of my house. The downstairs lights are all off, but my dad’s bedroom light is on. He never goes to bed until I’m home. I’m about to hop out when Peter reaches across me and stops me from opening the door. “Give me my good-night kiss,” he says.

I laugh. “Peter! I have to go.”

Stubbornly he closes his eyes and waits, and I lean forward and plant a quick kiss on his lips. “There. Satisfied?”

“No.” He kisses me again like we have all the time in the world and says, “What would happen if I came back after everyone went to sleep, and I spent the night, and left really early in the morning? Like, before dawn?”

Smiling, I say, “You can’t, so we’ll never know.”

“But what if?”

“My dad would kill me.”

“No, he wouldn’t.”

“He’d kill you.”

“No, he wouldn’t.”

“No, he wouldn’t,” I agree. “But he’d be pretty disappointed in me. And he’d be mad at you.”

“Only if we got caught,” Peter says, but it’s halfhearted. He won’t risk it either. He’s too careful about staying in my dad’s good graces. “You know what I’m really looking forward to the most?” He gives my braid a tug before saying, “Not having to say good night. I hate saying good night.”

“Me too,” I say.

“I can’t wait until we’re at college.”

“Me too,” I say, and I kiss him one more time before jumping out of the car and running toward my house. On the way, I look up at the moon, at all the stars that cover the night sky like a blanket, and I make a wish.
Dear God, please, please let me get into
UVA
.

2

“SHOULD I DUST MARIE’S WIG
with pink glitter or gold glitter?” I hold up an Easter egg to my computer screen for Margot’s inspection. I’ve dyed the shell pale turquoise blue and decoupaged it with a cameo of Marie Antoinette.

“Hold it up closer,” Margot says, squinting into the camera. She’s in her pajamas; a sheet mask clings to her face. Her hair has grown just past her shoulders, which means she’ll probably cut it soon. I have a feeling she’ll always keep her hair short now. It really suits her.

It’s night in Scotland, and still afternoon here. We are five hours and 3,500 miles apart. She’s in her dorm room; I’m sitting at our kitchen table, surrounded by Easter eggs and bowls of dye and rhinestones and stickers and fluffy white feathers that I saved from when I made Christmas ornaments a few years ago. I’ve got my laptop propped up on a stack of cookbooks. Margot’s keeping me company while I finish decorating my eggs. “I think I’m going to do a pearl border around her, if that helps inform your decision,” I tell her.

“Then I say go with the pink,” she says, adjusting her sheet mask. “Pink will pop more.”

“That’s what I was thinking too,” I say, and I get to work
dusting glitter with an old eye-shadow brush. Last night I spent hours blowing the yolks out of the shells. This was supposed to be a fun thing for Kitty and me to do together like the old days, but she bailed when she was invited over to Madeline Klinger’s house. An invitation from Madeline Klinger is a rare and momentous occasion, so of course I couldn’t begrudge Kitty that.

“Only a little while longer before you find out, right?”

“Sometime this month.” I start lining up pearls in a row. Part of me wishes I could just get this over with, but another part of me is glad to have this time of not knowing, of still hoping.

“You’ll get in,” Margot says, and it’s like a proclamation. Everyone around me seems to think that my getting into
UVA
is a foregone conclusion. Peter, Kitty, Margot, my dad. My guidance counselor, Mrs. Duvall. I’d never dare say it out loud, for fear of jinxing anything, but maybe I think so too. I’ve worked hard: I got my
SAT
scores up by two hundred points. My grades are almost as good as Margot’s were, and Margot got in. I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do, but will it be enough? At this point, all I can do is wait, and hope. And hope and hope.

I’m in the middle of hot-gluing a little white bow to the top of my egg when I stop to cast a suspicious look at my sister. “Wait a minute. If I get in, are you going to try to convince me to go somewhere else, just so I can spread my wings?”

Margot laughs, and her sheet mask slips down her face. Readjusting it, she says, “No. I trust you to know what’s best.”
She means it, I can tell. Just like that, her words make it so. I trust me too. I trust that when the time comes, I will know what’s best. And for me,
UVA
is best. I know it. “The only thing I’ll say is, make your own friends. Peter will be making tons of friends because of lacrosse, and the people he’ll be friends with aren’t necessarily the kinds of people you’d pick to be friends with. So make your own friends. Find your people.
UVA
is big.”

“I will,” I promise.

“And make sure you join the Asian association. The one thing I feel like I’ve missed out on by going to school in a different country is an Asian-American group. It’s definitely a thing, you know, going to college and finding your racial identity. Like Tim.”

“Tim who?”

“Tim Monahan, from my class.”

“Oh,
Tim
,” I say. Tim Monahan is Korean, and he was adopted. There aren’t all that many Asian people at our school, so we all know who each other are, at least tangentially.

“He never hung out with Asians in high school, and then he went to Tech and met a ton of Korean people, and now I think he’s the president of an Asian fraternity.”

“Wow!”

“I’m glad Greek life isn’t a thing in the
UK
. You’re not going to join a sorority, are you?” She is quick to add, “No judgment if so!”

“I hadn’t thought about it.”

“Peter will probably join a fraternity, though.”

“He hasn’t said anything about it either. . . .” Even though he hasn’t mentioned it, I could easily picture Peter in a fraternity.

“I’ve heard it’s hard if your boyfriend’s in one and you’re not. Something about all the mixers and stuff, like it’s easier if you’re friends with the girls from the sister sorority. I don’t know. The whole thing seems silly to me, but it could be worth it. I hear sorority girls like to craft.” She waggles her eyebrows at me.

“Speaking of which.” I hold up my egg for her. “Ta-da!”

Margot moves closer to the camera to look. “You should go into the egg-decorating business! I want to see the other ones.”

I hold up the egg carton. I’ve got a dozen blown-out eggs, pale pink with neon pink rickrack trim, brilliant blue and lemon yellow, lavender with dried lavender buds. I was glad to have an excuse to use that dried lavender. I bought a sack of it months ago for a lavender crème brûlée, and it’s just been taking up space in our pantry.

“What are you going to do with them?” Margot asks.

“I’m bringing them over to Belleview so they can put them on display in the reception area. It always looks so dreary and hospitaly there.”

Margot leans back against her pillows. “How is everyone at Belleview?”

“Fine. I’ve been so busy with college apps and senior year stuff, I haven’t been able to go by as much as I used to. Now
that I don’t officially work there anymore, it’s a lot harder to find the time.” I spin the egg in my hand. “I think I’ll give this one to Stormy. It’s very her.” I set the Marie Antoinette egg down on the rack to dry, and I pick up a lilac egg and begin affixing it with candy-colored gemstones. “I’m going to visit more, from here on out.”

“It’s hard,” Margot agrees. “When I come home for spring break, let’s go over there together. I want to introduce Ravi to Stormy.”

Ravi is Margot’s boyfriend of six months. His parents are from India, but he was born in London, so his accent is as posh as you might imagine. When I met him over Skype, I said, “You sound just like Prince William,” and he laughed and said, “Cheers.” He’s two years older than Margot, and maybe it’s because he’s older, or maybe it’s because he’s English, but he seems very sophisticated and not at all like Josh. Not in a snobby way, but definitely different. More cultured, probably from living in such a grand city, and going to the theater whenever he wants, and meeting dignitaries and the like because his mother is a diplomat. When I told Margot that, she laughed and said it’s just because I haven’t gotten to know him yet, but Ravi’s actually a huge nerd and not at all smooth or Prince Williamish. “Don’t let the accent fool you,” she said. She’s bringing Ravi home with her over spring break, so I suppose I’ll see for myself soon enough. The plan is for Ravi to stay at our house for two nights and then fly to Texas to see relatives. Margot will stay here with us for the rest of the week.

“I can’t wait to meet him in real life,” I say, and she beams.

“You’re going to love him.”

I’m sure I will. I like everyone Margot likes, but the truly lucky thing is that now that Margot’s gotten to know Peter better, she sees how special he is. When Ravi’s here, all four of us will be able to hang out, true double dates.

My sister and I are both in love at the same time, and we have this thing we can share, and how wonderful is that!

3

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
UVA
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.”

“Hmph!”

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?”

“Not yet.”

“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.

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