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 whatâs 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 Stormyâs with my Easter egg. She answers the door in a persimmon-colored kimono and lipstick to match and cries out, âLara Jean!â After she sweeps me into a hug, she frets, âYouâre looking at my roots, arenât you? I know I need to dye my hair.â
âYou can barely tell,â I assure her.
Sheâs very excited about her Marie Antoinette egg; she says she canât wait to show it off to Alicia Ito, her friend and rival. âDid you bring one for Alicia, too?â she demands.
âJust you,â I tell her, and her pale eyes gleam.
We sit on her couch, and she wags her finger at me and says, âYou must be completely moonstruck over your young man since youâve barely had time to visit with me.â
Contritely I say, âIâm sorry. Iâll come visit more now that college applications are in.â
The best way to deal with Stormy when sheâs like this is to charm and cajole her. âIâm only doing what you told me, Stormy.â
She cocks her head to the side. âWhat did I tell you?â
âYou said to go on lots of dates and lots of adventures, just like you did.â
She purses her orangey-red lips, trying not to smile. âWell, that was very good advice I gave you. You just keep listening to Stormy, and youâll be right as rain. Now, tell me something juicy.â
I laugh. âMy life isnât that juicy.â
She tsks me. âDonât you have any dances coming up? Whenâs prom?â
âNot till May.â
âWell, do you have a dress?â
âYouâd better get a move on it. You donât want some other girl wearing your dress, dear.â She studies my face. âWith your complexion, I think you ought to wear pink.â Then her eyes light up and she snaps her fingers. âThat reminds me! Thereâs something I want to give you.â 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. Itâs her pink diamond ring! The one from the veteran who lost his leg in the war. âStormy, I canât accept this.â
âOh, but you will. Youâre just the girl to wear it.â
Slowly, I take the ring out and put it on my left hand, and
oh, how it sparkles. âItâs beautiful! But I really shouldnât . . .â
âItâs yours, darling.â Storm winks at me. âHeed my advice, Lara Jean. Never say no when you really want to say yes.â
âThenâyes! Thank you, Stormy! I promise Iâll take good care of it.â
She kisses me on the cheek. âI know you will, dear.â
As soon as I get home, I put it in my jewelry box for safekeeping.
* * *
Later that day, Iâm in the kitchen with Kitty and Peter, waiting for my chocolate chip cookies to cool. For the past few weeks Iâve 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. Thatâs the cookie Iâve been searching for.
Iâve 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. Iâve tried freezing in balls, flattening cookies with the bottom of a glass to get an even spread. Iâve frozen dough in a log and sliced; Iâve 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 donâtâthat would be a waste of good ingredients. Instead I say to Kitty, âDidnât you say you got in trouble for talking during silent reading last week?â She nods. âTake these to your teacher and tell her you baked them and youâre sorry.â Iâm running low on people to give my cookies to. Iâve already given some to the mailman, Kittyâs bus driver, the nursesâ station at Daddyâs hospital.
âWhat will you do when you figure it out?â Kitty asks me, her mouth full of cookie.
âYeah, whatâs the point of all this?â Peter says. âI mean, who cares if a chocolate chip cookie is eight percent better? Itâs still a chocolate chip cookie.â
âIâll 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.â
âOr boys,â Kitty says.
âOr boys,â I agree. To her I say, âNow go upstairs and get a big Mason jar for me to put these cookies in. And a ribbon.â
Peter asks, âWill you bring some to school tomorrow?â
âWeâll see,â 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. âYouâre such a baby.â
âYou love it,â he says, snagging another cookie. âLetâs get the movie started. I promised my mom I would stop by the store and help her move some furniture around.â Peterâs mom owns an antiques store called Linden & White, and Peter helps her out as much as he can.
Todayâs movie off our list is
Romeo + Juliet
, the 1996 version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. Kittyâs already seen it a dozen or so times, Iâve seen bits and pieces, and Peterâs 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 sheepâs-wool blanket that Margot sent from Scotland.
From the moment Leo comes on screen in that navy blue suit, I have chest palpitations. Heâs like an angel, a beautiful, damaged angel.
âWhatâs he so stressed out about?â Peter asks, reaching down and stealing a handful of Kittyâs popcorn. âIsnât he a prince or something?â
âHeâs not a prince,â I say. âHeâs just rich. And his family is very powerful in this town.â
âHeâs my dream guy,â Kitty says in a proprietary tone.
âWell, heâs all grown up now,â I say, not taking my eyes off the screen. âHeâs practically Daddyâs age.â Still . . .
âWait, I thought
was your dream guy,â Peter says. Not to me, to Kitty. He knows heâs not my dream guy. My dream guy is Gilbert Blythe from
Anne of Green Gables
. Handsome, loyal, smart in school.
âEw,â Kitty says. âYouâre like my brother.â
Peter looks genuinely wounded, so I pat him on the shoulder.
âDonât you think heâs a little scrawny?â Peter presses.
I shush him.
He crosses his arms. âI donât get why you guys get to talk during movies and I get shushed. Itâs pretty bullshit.â
âItâs our house,â Kitty says.
âYour sister shushes me at my house too!â
We ignore him in unison.
In the play, Romeo and Juliet were only thirteen. In the movie theyâre 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 didnât 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 canât 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 sheâs taking Jamie Fox-Pickle outside to
pee. Off they go, and meanwhile Iâm still lost in my emotions on the couch, wiping tears from my eyes. âThey had such a good meet-cute,â I croak.
âWhatâs a meet-cute?â Peterâs 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.
âA meet-cute is when the hero and heroine meet for the very first time, and itâs always in a charming way. Itâs how you know theyâre going to end up together. The cuter the better.â
, when Reese saves Sarah Connor from the Terminator and he says, âCome with me if you want to live.â Freaking amazing line.â
âI mean, sure, I guess thatâs technically a meet-cute. . . . I was thinking more like
It Happened One Night
. We should add that to our list.â
âIs that in color or black-and-white?â
Peter groans and falls back against the couch cushions.
âItâs too bad we donât have a meet-cute,â I muse.
âYou jumped me in the hallway at school. I think thatâs pretty cute.â
âBut we already knew each other, so it doesnât really count.â I frown. âWe donât even remember how we met. How sad.â
âI remember meeting you for the first time.â
âHey just because you donât remember something doesnât mean I donât. I remember a lot of things.â
âOkay, so how did we meet?â I challenge. Iâm sure that whatever comes out of his mouth next will be a lie.
Peter opens his mouth, then snaps it shut. âIâm not telling.â
âSee! You just canât think of anything.â
âNo, you donât deserve to know, because you donât believe me.â
I roll my eyes. âSo full of it.â
After I turn off the movie, Peter and I go sit on the front porch, drinking sweet tea I made the night before. Itâs cool out; thereâs still enough bite in the air to let you know it isnât 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 âteenage hangout.â Peterâs mom doesnât outwardly dislike me, and I donât even think she inwardly dislikes meâbut she still hasnât forgiven me for breaking up with Peter last year. Sheâs kind to me, but thereâs this distrust, this wariness. Itâs a letâs-wait-and-see kind of feelingâletâs wait and see when you hurt my son again. Iâd always imagined I would have a great, Ina Gartenâtype relationship with my first boyfriendâs mom. The two of us cooking dinner
together, sharing tea and sympathy, playing Scrabble on a rainy afternoon.
âWhat are you thinking about?â Peter asks me. âYouâve got that look.â
I chew on my lower lip. âI wish your mom liked me better.â
âShe does like you.â
âPeter.â I give him a look.
âShe does! If she didnât like you, she wouldnât invite you over for dinner.â
âShe invites me over for dinner because she wants to see you, not me.â
âUntrue.â I can tell this thought has never occurred to him, but it has the ring of truth and he knows it.
âShe wishes weâd break up before we leave for college,â I blurt out.
âSo does your sister.â
I crow, âHa! So youâre admitting your mom wants us to break up!â I donât know what Iâm being so triumphant about. The thought is depressing, even if I already suspected it.
âShe thinks getting serious when youâre young is a bad idea. It has nothing to do with you. I told her, just because it didnât work out with you and Dad, it doesnât mean itâll be like that for us. Iâm nothing like my dad. And youâre nothing like my mom.â
Peterâs 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 doesnât say much. Itâs rare for him to even bring him up, but this
year, out of the blue, his dad has been trying to reconnect with himâinviting him to a basketball game, over to his house for dinner. So far Peterâs been a stone wall.
âDoes your dad look like you?â I ask. âI mean, do you look like him?â
Sullenly he says, âYeah. Thatâs what people always say.â
I put my head on his shoulder. âThen he must be very handsome.â
âBack in the day, I guess,â he concedes. âIâm taller than him now.â
This is a thing that Peter and I have in commonâhe 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 didnât mind. Itâs the kind of memory I like bestâmore 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 weâd drop Margot off at piano lessons, and Mommy and I would have secret ice cream sundaes in the McDonaldâs parking lot. Caramel and strawberry sauce; sheâd give me her peanuts so I had extra. Once I asked her why she didnât 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 wouldnât trade for anything, I know that even if my mom was a dirtbag, Iâd rather have her here with me than not. One day, I hope Peter will feel that way about his dad.
âWhat are you thinking about now?â Peter asks me.
âMy mom,â I say.
Peter sets down his glass and stretches out and rests his head in my lap. Looking up at me, he says, âI wish I couldâve met her.â
âShe wouldâve really liked you,â I say, touching his hair. Hesitantly, I ask, âDo you think I might get to meet your dad some day?â
A cloud passes over his face, and I wish I hadnât brought it up. âYou donât want to meet him,â he says. âHeâs not worth it.â Then he snuggles closer to me. âHey, maybe we should go as Romeo and Juliet for Halloween this year. People at
go all out for Halloween.â
I lean back against the post. Heâs changing the subject, and I know it but I play along. âSo weâd be going as the Leo and Claire version of Romeo and Juliet.â
âYeah.â He tugs on my braid. âIâll be your knight in shining armor.â
I touch his hair. âWould you be willing to consider growing your hair out a little bit? And maybe . . . dyeing it blond? Otherwise people might think youâre just a knight.â
Peter is laughing so hard I doubt he hears the rest of my
sentence. âOh my God, Covey. Why are you so hilarious?â
âI was joking!â Half joking. âBut you know I take costuming seriously. Why bother doing something if youâre only going to do it halfway?â
âOkay, I would maybe wear a wig, but Iâm not promising anything. Itâll be our first
âIâve been to
for Halloween before.â The first fall Margot got her driverâs 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.
âI mean weâll 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.â
I look at him in surprise. âYou? Youâre never embarrassed.â
âWell, 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, âGet your ass out of here, scrub,â and she and her friends laughed. Jerks.â
I lean down and kiss him on both cheeks. âI would never laugh.â
âYou laugh at me all the time,â he says. He lifts his head up and pulls my face closer and we are kissing an upside-down Spider-Man type of kiss.
âYou like it when I laugh at you,â I say, and, smiling, he shrugs.