Always and Forever, Lara Jean (21 page)

“I’m happy you’re happy,” Daddy says. He wipes a tear from his eyes. “I’m still furious with you for not calling. But I’m also happy.”

“So you’re really going, then?” Kitty asks from her perch on the stairs.

I look over at her. I smile shakily and say, “Yeah, I’m going.” Peter and I will find a way. We’ll make it work.

I tell them every little detail of the night: going to a show at Cat’s Cradle, eating burritos at Cosmic Cantina, the Old Well. Trina makes popcorn, and it’s nearly dawn before any of us goes to sleep. As Daddy shuffles off to bed, Trina whispers to me, “Your daddy just aged ten years in one night. Look at him walking like he needs a cane. Thanks to you, I’m marrying an old man.” We both start laughing, and neither of us can stop. I think we’re delirious from lack of sleep. Trina rolls onto her back and kicks her legs in the air, she is laughing so hard. Kitty, who has fallen asleep on the couch, wakes up and says, “What’s so funny?” which only makes us laugh harder. On his way up the stairs, Daddy stops and turns around and shakes his head at the two of us.

“You guys are already ganging up on me,” he says.

“Face it, Daddy. You’ve always lived in a matriarchy.” I blow him a kiss.

He frowns. “Hey, don’t think I’ve forgotten about you staying out all night without even a phone call home.”

Whoops. Maybe too soon for such gaiety. As he trudges up the stairs, I call out, “I truly am sorry!”

Sorry for not calling, but not sorry for going.

25

WHEN I WAKE UP, I
loll about in my bed for a while, stretching out my arms and legs like a big X, reaching north, south, east, west. Last night feels like a dream. Is it really true? Am I really going to
UNC
?

Yes, yes I really am. How crazy, how thrilling that your whole life trajectory can change in just one night. I’ve always been scared of change, but right now I don’t feel that way. I feel excited. I’m seeing now what a privilege it is, to be excited about where I’m going. Peter and Chris and Lucas, they’re going where they want to go, but my future felt like a second choice because it was, no matter how great a school William and Mary is.
UNC
is a choice I didn’t even know I had, like a door that magically appeared, a door that could lead anywhere.

When I’m done with my reverie, I look at my clock and see that I’ve slept the whole day away. I sit up, turn my phone on, and see all the missed calls and voice mails from my dad and Kitty from the night before. I delete those without listening to them, so I don’t have to hear the anger in Daddy’s voice; then I see that Peter left me a voice mail too. When I see his name on my phone, my heart does a little dive into my stomach. There are texts, too, wondering where I am. I call him back, but he doesn’t answer, so I figure he must be training. I leave a message telling him to
just come over when he gets back home. We’re supposed to go to Steve Bledell’s party tonight. I’m nervous to tell Peter the news. Our plan was set, and now I’m changing things around, but it’s not like I knew this door would open for me. He’ll understand. I know he will.

I flop back on my bed and FaceTime Margot. She’s outside walking, on her way somewhere. “What’s up?” she asks.

“Guess what.”

“What!”

“I got into
UNC
!”

She promptly screams and drops her phone. Thankfully, it falls in the grass. She scrambles to pick it up. She’s still screaming. “Oh my God! This is amazing! This is the best news! When did you find out?”

I roll onto my stomach. “Yesterday! Chris and I went to visit last night, and Gogo, it was so much fun. We went to see a band play, and we danced and we screamed ourselves silly. My throat is sore!”

“So wait—you’re going, right?”

“Yes!”

Margot screams again, and I laugh. “What’s
UNC
’s campus like?” she demands.

“Well, it’s a lot like
UVA
.”

“I’ve heard that. I’ve heard the campuses are very similar. The towns, too. Both liberal, but Chapel Hill maybe even a little more so. Lots of great minds there. I can’t wait to look at the course book with you.” She starts walking again. “You’re going to love it there. Maggie Cohen, she was a year above me, she
loves
it. You should talk to her.” Beaming, Margot says to me, “This is when everything begins, Lara Jean. You’ll see.”

*  *  *

After I get off the phone with Margot, I take a bubble bath and do all my rituals: face mask, loofah, brown sugar–lavender scrub. In the bath, I practice what I’m going to say to Peter.
There are two trees, on opposite sides, and their branches meet in the middle
. . . . I stay in for so long, Kitty screams at me to hurry up. When I get out of the tub, I dry my hair and then curl it; I redo my nails and I even apply the lemon cuticle cream I bought but never remember to use.

Daddy, Trina, and Kitty have gone out to see a movie, so I’m all alone in the house when Peter arrives around eight. He’s wearing new
UVA
sweats; his hair is freshly washed and still damp. He smells like Dove soap, which I love on him. He pulls me in for a hug, leaning his body weight into me. “I’m so sore,” he says, falling onto the living room couch. “Can we not go to Steve’s tonight? I just want to stay here and hang out with you and not have to talk to people. I’m fucking exhausted.”

“Sure,” I say, and take a deep breath to tell him my news, but then he looks up at me with weary eyes.

“Those guys on the team are in incredible shape. It was hard to keep up.”

I frown. “Hey, you’re in good shape too.”

“Not as good as them. I need to get my act together.” He rubs the back of his neck. “So are you finally gonna tell me where you were last night?”

I sit down on the couch and face him, my legs tucked
under my butt. I put the backs of my hands to my cheeks, which feel flushed. Then I put them in my lap. “Well, okay.” I pause. “Are you ready for this?”

He laughs. “Yeah, I’m ready.”

“Okay. This is so crazy, but I was in North Carolina with Chris.”

Peter raises his eyebrows. “Weird. Okay. Go on.”

“I was there because . . . I got into
UNC
!”

He blinks. “Wow. That’s . . . wow. That’s awesome.”

I take another deep breath. “I didn’t think I’d want to go there, but then when Chris and I visited, the town was really charming, and the people were really nice, and there’s this bench, by the Old Well, where if you lie down and look up, two trees on opposite sides, they meet in the middle. Their branches touch, like this.” I start to demonstrate, and then I stop, because I realize Peter isn’t really listening. He’s staring into space. “What are you thinking?”

“Does this mean you’re going there now and not William and Mary?”

I hesitate. “Yes.”

He nods to himself. “I’m happy for you, I am. It just sucks that you’re going to be so far away. Like, if I had to get in my car and drive to Chapel Hill right now, I’d fall asleep at the wheel. How far away is Charlottesville from Chapel Hill? Four hours?”

I feel a sinking sensation in my stomach. “Three hours and twenty-five minutes. I know it sounds long, but I swear it goes by fast!”

“That’s double how long it takes to get from
Charlottesville to William and Mary. And that’s without traffic.” He drops his head back against the couch.

“It’s not double,” I say quietly. “It’s an extra hour and a half.”

He looks over at me, and I see the regret in his eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m just really wiped right now. This is going to be a lot harder than I thought it would be. Not you and me, but college. I’m going to be at practice 24/7, and when I’m not at practice, I’m training or I’m in class or I’m sleeping. It’s gonna be intense. Nothing like high school. It’s a lot of pressure. And . . . I didn’t think you’d be so far away.”

I’ve never seen him like this before. He looks so defeated. When it comes to lacrosse, to school, he’s always so easygoing, so confident. Everything’s always come easily for him. “Peter, you’re going to be great. You’re just starting out. Once you get the hang of things, it’ll be like always.” Shyly I say, “And . . . we’ll get the hang of things too.”

All of a sudden he sits up straight. “You know what? Let’s go to that party.”

“Are you sure?”

“Sure. You’re all dressed up. Let’s not waste your hair.” He pulls me toward him. “Let’s celebrate your big W.”

I put my arms around him and hug him to me. His shoulders feel tight; I can feel the tension in his back. Most boys wouldn’t notice a thing like that: that I curled my hair, put on a blouse. I try to concentrate on that and not on how he didn’t really congratulate me.

26

AT STEVE BLEDELL’S HOUSE, A
bunch of people are in the family room smoking pot and watching soccer on the huge flat-screen
TV
mounted on the wall. Lucas is here, and when I tell him my big news, he picks me up and spins me around. “You’re getting out of here too!” he shouts.

“Well, I’m only going next door to North Carolina,” I say, laughing. What an unexpected thrill to say those words out loud. “It’s not that far.”

“But it’s
away
.” Lucas sets me back down on the floor and puts his hands on my cheeks. “This is going to be very good for you, Lara Jean.”

“You think?”

“I know it.”

I’m in the kitchen getting myself a Coke when Genevieve walks in, barefoot, wearing a Virginia Tech hoodie and carrying a beer in a Virginia Tech koozie. She sways on her feet before saying, “I heard you got into Chapel Hill. Congrats.”

I wait for the whammy, the underhanded little dig, but it doesn’t come. She just stands there, a little drunk but sober enough. “Thank you,” I say. “Congrats on Tech. I know you always wanted to go there. Your mom must be happy.”

“Yeah. Did you hear Chrissy’s going to Costa Rica? Lucky bitch.” She takes a sip of her beer. “Chapel Hill and here are pretty far away, huh?”

“Not that far. Just three hours,” I lie.

“Well, good luck with that. I hope he stays as devoted to you as he is today. But knowing him, I seriously doubt it.” Then she lets out a loud belch, and the look of startled surprise on her face is so funny, I almost laugh out loud. For a second it looks like she might too, but she stops herself, glares, and leaves the kitchen.

I only catch glimpses of Peter throughout the night, talking to other people, swigging on his beer. He seems to be in a better mood. He’s smiling; his face is a little flushed from the beer. He’s drinking a lot more than I’ve seen him drink.

Close to one, I go looking all around the house for Peter, and when I find him, he’s with a bunch of people playing flip cup on the Ping-Pong table in Steve’s garage. They are all cracking up over something he just said. He sees me standing at the top of the steps and beckons to me. “Come play with us, Covey,” he says, too loudly.

My feet stay planted on the steps. “I can’t. I have to get home.”

His smile slips. “All right, I’ll take you.”

“No, it’s fine, I’ll get a ride or call an Uber to come get me.” I turn to leave, and Peter follows me.

“Don’t do that. I’ll take you,” he says.

“You can’t. You’re drunk.” I try not to make the words sound mean, but it is what it is.

He laughs. “I’m not drunk. I’ve only had three beers over the course of, what, three hours? I’m fine. You don’t drink so you don’t know, but that’s nothing. I promise.”

“Well, I can smell your breath, and I know you wouldn’t pass a breathalyzer.”

Peter peers at me. “Are you mad?”

“No. I just don’t want you driving me home. You shouldn’t drive yourself home either. You should just spend the night here.”

“Aw, you are mad.” He leans closer to me and looks around before he says, “I’m sorry for before. I should’ve been more excited for you. I was just tired is all.”

“It’s fine,” I say, thought it isn’t, not completely.

Stormy used to have a saying. Leave with the one you came with, unless he’s a drunk—then find your own way home. I end up getting a ride home from Lucas, and I make it before my curfew, just. After last night, I can’t be pushing it.

Peter keeps texting me, and I’m petty enough to be glad he’s not enjoying himself anymore. I make him wait long minutes before I text back a terse reply not to drive home tonight, and he texts back a picture of him lying on Steve’s couch, with somebody’s jacket as a blanket.

I can’t sleep, so I go downstairs to make myself a grilled cheese sandwich. Kitty’s down there too, watching late-night
TV
and playing a game on her phone. “Want a grilled cheese?” I ask.

“Sure,” she says, looking up from her phone.

I make Kitty’s first. I keep pressing the sandwich into
the pan, so the bottom gets crispy and the sandwich flattens. I cut off another dab of butter and watch it melt into a puddle, still feeling a bit out of sorts from the night, when out of nowhere it comes to me. Direct contact. The bread needs direct contact with the hot pan to get the right amount of crisp.

That’s it. That’s the answer to my chocolate chip cookie problem. All this time, I’ve been using my Silpat baking sheet so the cookies don’t stick to the pan. Parchment paper is the answer. It’s whisper thin, unlike Silpat. With parchment paper, the dough has more direct contact with heat, and therefore the dough spreads more! Voilà, thinner cookies.

I’m so determined, I start grabbing ingredients from the pantry. If I make the dough right this minute, it can rest all night, and I’ll be able to test my theory tomorrow.

*  *  *

I sleep in again, because there’s no school thanks to teacher meetings and because I was up till three making my dough and watching
TV
with Kitty. When I wake up, just like the day before there are texts from Peter.

I’m sorry.

I’m a dick.

Don’t be mad.

I read his texts over and over. They’re spaced minutes apart, so I know he must be fretting over whether I’m still
mad or not. I don’t want to be mad. I just want things to go back to how they were before.

Other books
The True Prince by J.B. Cheaney
Going Deep by Roz Lee
The Great Depression by Roth, Benjamin, Ledbetter, James, Roth, Daniel B.
The Greek's Baby Bargain by Elizabeth Lennox
Rapunzel by Jacqueline Wilson
Yours for Eternity: A Love Story on Death Row by Damien Echols, Lorri Davis
Never Give In! by Winston Churchill
122 Rules by Deek Rhew