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. Theyâre both late sleepers.
I will miss these house sounds when Iâm 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 didnât turn out the way Iâd 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
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. Itâs a collage of pictures of us, but sheâs used some sort of app to turn the pictures into line drawings, like a coloring book. Sheâs colored them all with coloring pencils. On the inside sheâs written,
Congratulations. Have fun at college. P.S. Iâll 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, âAll right, all rightâenough already,â
but I can tell she is pleased. âIâm going to frame it,â I declare.
My gift from Trina is a vintage tea setâcream with pink rosebuds and rimmed in gold. âIt was my momâs,â she tells me, and I feel like I could cry, I love it so much. When I hug her, I whisper in her ear, âThis is my favorite gift,â and she winks at me. Winking is one of Trinaâs talents. Sheâs great at it, very natural.
Daddy sips from his coffee and then clears his throat. âLara Jean, your gift from me is one that Margot and Kitty will also partake in.â
âWhat is it, what is it?â Kitty presses.
âHush, itâs my gift,â I say, looking at Daddy expectantly.
Grinning, he says, âIâm sending you three girls to Korea with Grandma this summer. Happy graduation, Lara Jean!â
Kitty screams and Margot is beaming, and Iâm in shock. Weâve been talking about going to Korea for years. Mommy always wanted to take us. âWhen, when?â Kitty asks.
âNext month,â Trina says, smiling at her. âYour dad and I will go on our honeymoon, and you guys will jet off to Korea.â
âAw, you guys arenât coming?â Kitty pouts. Margot, on the other hand, is smiling. Raviâs visiting family in India over the summer, and she doesnât have any big plans.
âWe really want to come, but I canât take that much time away from the hospital,â Daddy says, regretful.
âFor how long?â I ask. âHow long will we go?â
âFor all of July,â Daddy says, gulping the rest of his coffee.
âGrandma and I have set the whole thing up. Youâre going to stay at your great-auntâs in Seoul, youâll take Korean language classes a few times a week, and youâre going on a tour of the whole country, too. Jeju, Busan, the works. And Lara Jean, something special for youâa Korean pastry-making class! Donât worry, itâll be in English.â
Kitty starts doing a little dance in her seat.
Margot looks at me then, her eyes shining. âYouâve always wanted to learn how to bake Korean cream cakes! Weâll go shopping for face masks and stationery and cute things, like, every day. By the time we come back, weâll be able to watch Korean dramas without subtitles!â
âI canât wait,â 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, itâll 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. Iâm wearing Margotâs dress from two years agoâsleeveless with Swiss dots and a crisp knee-length skirt. Trinaâs taken up the hemline for me because Iâm shorter. Margot wore it with Converse, and Iâm 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, âMaybe you could wear this dress for your high
school graduation too, Kitten. And youâll pose by the oak tree just like we did. Itâll be a beautiful triptych.â I wonder what shoes Kitty will wear. Sheâs about as likely to wear white stilettos as she is white Reeboks or white roller skates.
Kitty makes a sour-lemon face. âI donât want to wear the same dress as you and Margot. I want my own dress. Besides, itâll
be out of style by then.â She pauses. âWhatâs a triptych?â
âItâs, um, three pieces of art that come together and make one.â Furtively, I google âtriptychâ on my phone to make sure Iâm telling her the right thing. âItâs, like, three panels, sort of hinged side by side. Theyâre meant to be appreciated together.â
âYouâre reading that off your phone.â
âI was just double-checking,â I say. I smooth my dress down again, making sure my cap is in my bag. Iâm graduating from high school today. It snuck up on meâgrowing up, I mean. In the driverâs seat, Trinaâs looking for a parking spot, and Margotâs next to her, texting on her phone; Kittyâs next to me, looking out the window. Daddy has driven separately, to pick up Grandma. Nana, Daddyâs mom, is in Florida with her boyfriend and wonât be able to make it. I only wish my own mom were here for this. All these big moments sheâs missing, that sheâll 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 Peterâs family. I wonder if his dad is sitting with Peterâs brother and his mom, or separately. I wonder if Iâll get to meet Peterâs two half brothers too. Iâve already spotted my own familyâthey are hard to miss. Every time I look in their direction, they all wave madly. Plus, Trinaâs wearing a wide brimmed Kentucky Derby hat. Whoever is sitting in the row behind her probably canât 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 âa bit much,â but Trina asked me what I thought and I said I loved it, which I kind of do.
Our principal calls my name, âLara Jean Song Covey,â 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, âItâs
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 Kittyâs whoop, Daddyâs whistle. When itâs Peterâs turn, I clap and scream like crazy, and of course everyone else does too. Even the teachers clap extra loud for him. Itâs 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, heâs smiling, making jokes, saying hi to people, but thereâs something wrong. Thereâs a blankness in his eyes, even as he grabs me for a
hug. âHey,â he says, kissing me swiftly on the lips. âSo weâre officially college kids now.â
Looking around, I straighten my robe and say, âI didnât 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?â
Peter shakes his head. He doesnât quite meet my eyes. âMy dad couldnât come last minute.â
âThere was some kind of emergency. Who knows.â
Iâm stunned. His dad seemed so sincere when I saw him at the lacrosse game. âI hope it was a really big emergency to miss his own sonâs high school graduation.â
âItâs fine.â Peter shrugs like he doesnât care either way, but I know that canât 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 canât miss Trinaâs hat, even in this swarm of people. My dadâs carrying a big bouquet of all different-colored roses. Grandmaâs 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. âIâm sorry,â I say, and I want to say more, of course I do, but my family arrives, and everyoneâs 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 heâs too far away, and he doesnât 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 doesnât 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
âbut sheâs trying, and thatâs what Grandma appreciates. Iâm 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 Kittyâs cheek and says, âWeâll get that taken care of.â
Daddy looks alarmed, and Trinaâs quick to ask, âIsnât she too young?â
Grandma waves her hand. âSheâll be fine.â
Then Kitty asks, âHow old do you have to be to get a nose job in Korea?â and Daddy nearly chokes on his beer.
Grandma gives her a threatening look. âYou can never, ever change your nose. You have a lucky nose.â
Kitty touches it gingerly. âI do?â
âVery lucky,â Grandma says. âIf you change your nose, youâll change your luck. So never do it.â
I touch my own nose. Grandmaâs never said anything about my nose being lucky.
âMargot, you can get new eyeglasses in Korea,â Grandma
says. âItâs very cheap to buy eyeglasses in Korea. All the newest fashions.â
âOoh,â Margot says, dunking a piece of tuna in her soy sauce. âIâve always wanted red frames.â
Grandma turns to me and asks, âWhat about you, Lara Jean? Are you excited about the cooking class?â
excited,â I say brightly. Underneath the table I text Peter.
Are you okay?
Weâre 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 sheâd ride with us, Grandma insisted that Margot come along with them. She knows Margot isnât crazy about Trina; I know sheâs just trying to matchmake them a bit. Grandma doesnât miss a beat.
On the drive home, Daddy looks over at me from the driverâs seat with misty eyes and says, âYour mom wouldâve been so proud of you today, Lara Jean. You know how much she cared about your education. She wanted you to have every opportunity.â
Fingering the tassel on my graduation cap in my lap, I ask him, âDo you think Mommy was sad she never got to get her masterâs? I mean, not that she ever regretted having Kitty or anything. Just, do you think she wished things happened differently?â
Heâs taken aback. Glancing at me, he says, âWell, no. Kitty really was a happy surprise. Iâm 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.â
âNo way. She was going to get her masterâs. In fact she was going to take a class that fall. She just . . . ran out of time.â Daddyâs voice chokes a little. âWe only had eighteen years together. We had as many years as youâve been alive, Lara Jean.â
A lump gathers in my throat. When you think about it, eighteen years with the person you love isnât much time at all. âDaddy, can we stop by the drugstore? I want to get some photo paper.â Peter and I took a picture together in our caps and gowns this morning, before the ceremony. Itâll be the last page of his scrapbook, our last high school chapter.