AS WE PACK UP THE
car that morning, I keep thinking Peter might show up to take me home, but he doesnât, and I donât reach out to him, either. I ride back up to Virginia with the girls.
I donât hear anything from Peter until the next day. I get a text that says:
Iâm sorry for last night. I was a dick.
Weâre gonna make this work, I promise.
I have to do some stuff for my mom but can I see you later?
I text back:
He texts back:
I really am sorry.
I love you.
Iâm starting to text back,
I love you, too
, when my phone rings. Itâs Peterâs house number, and I answer it eagerly.
âI love you, too,â I say.
There is surprised silence on the other end, then a little laugh to cover it up. âHi, Lara Jean. This is Peterâs mom.â
I am mortified. âOh! Hi, Mrs. Kavinsky.â
She wants me to come over and chat with her. She says Peter isnât home, that itâll be just the two of us. She must have sent him out to run errands for her so she could ask me over. What can I do but go?
I put on a yellow sundress and lipstick, brush my hair, and drive to Peterâs house. She answers the door with a ready smile on her face; sheâs wearing a gingham blouse and Bermuda shorts. âCome on in,â she says.
I follow her into the kitchen, and she says, âLara Jean, would you like something to drink? Sun tea?â
âSure,â I say, climbing onto a stool.
Peterâs mom pours me a glass of sun tea out of a plastic frosted pitcher. She hands me the glass and says, âThank you for coming over here to visit with me, just us girls. Thereâs something Iâve been wanting to talk to you about.â
âSure,â I say again. My skin is prickling.
She takes my hands in hers. Her hands are cool and dry; mine suddenly feel clammy. âPeterâs been through a lot, and heâs worked so hard. Iâm sure you know how disappointing it was for him when his dad didnât come to graduation.â Her eyes search mine, and I nod. âHe pretends he doesnât care, but heâs hurting inside. He came back from Beach Week talking about transferring to
for his sophomore year. Did you know that?â
I can feel all the blood rush to my face. âNo, I didnât know that. He . . . he hasnât said a word to me about it.â
She nods, as if she suspected as much. âIf he were to transfer, he wouldnât be able to play for a year. That means he wouldnât keep his athletic scholarship. Out-of-state tuition is very expensive, as Iâm sure you know.â
It is. Daddy said it would be all right, that Margot only has two more years of college, and Kitty has ages before itâs her turn. But I know itâs expensive. And I know, even though we donât talk about it, that my dad makes more money than Peterâs mom does.
âPeterâs dad says he wants to contribute, but his dad isnât someone to be depended on. So I canât count on him.â She pauses delicately. âBut Iâm hoping I can count on you.â
I rush to say, âYou donât need to worry about me. Iâll tell Peter not to transfer to North Carolina.â
âHoney, I appreciate that so much, I really do, but itâs not just transferring that Iâm worrying about. Iâm worried about his mind-set. When he gets to
, he needs to be focused. Heâs going there to be a student athlete. He canât be driving down to North Carolina every weekend. It just isnât practical. Youâre both so young. Peterâs already making big life decisions based on you, and who even knows whatâs going to happen with you two in the future. Youâre teenagers. Life doesnât always work out the way you think itâs going to work out. . . . I donât know if Peter ever told you this, but Peterâs dad and I got married very young. And IâdâIâd just hate to see you two make the same mistakes
we did.â She hesitates. âLara Jean, I know my son, and heâs not going to let you go unless you let him go first.â
âHeâd do anything for you. Thatâs his nature. Heâs loyal to his very core. Unlike his father.â Mrs. Kavinsky looks at me with sympathetic eyes. âI know you care about Peter and you want whatâs best for him. I hope youâll give what I said some thought.â She hesitates, then says, âPlease donât mention anything to him. Peter would be very upset with me.â
I struggle to find my voice. âI wonât.â
Her smile is bright, relieved. âYouâre a sweet girl, Lara Jean. I know youâll do the right thing.â She pats my hands and releases them. Then she changes the subject, asking me about my dadâs wedding.
When I get back to my car, I flip down the mirror and see that my cheeks are still stained pink. It feels like the time in seventh grade when Chrisâs mom found her cigarettes and she thought weâd both been smoking them. I wanted to say it wasnât me, but I couldnât. I just shriveled up with shame. Thatâs how I feel right now. Like Iâve gotten in trouble.
Was it foolish of Peter and me to think that we could be the exception to the rule? Is Peterâs mom right? Are we making a huge mistake? Suddenly it feels like every decision we make is so momentous, and Iâm so scared to make the wrong one.
* * *
Back at home, Daddy, Margot, and Kitty are in the living room debating over where to go for dinner. Itâs such a normal
thing to be discussing on a Thursday evening, but I feel so strange, because itâs as if the earth is shifting beneath my feet, and the ground isnât steady anymore, but everyone around me is talking about food.
âWhat do you feel like, Lara Jean?â Daddy asks me.
âIâm not very hungry,â I say, looking down at my phone. What will I say to Peter when he calls? Do I tell him? âI might just stay home.â
Daddy peers at me. âAre you all right? Coming down with something? You look pale.â
I shake my head. âNo, Iâm fine.â
âHow about Seoul House?â Margot suggests. âIâve really been craving Korean food.â
Daddy hesitates, and I know why. Trina doesnât exactly have the most sophisticated palate. She lives off of Diet Coke and chicken fingers; kale salads are about as adventurous as she gets. When we order sushi, sheâll only eat California rolls and cooked shrimp. She doesnât eat any fish at all. But nobodyâs perfect.
âTrinaâs not big on Korean food,â I say, to spare Daddy having to say it. My phone buzzes, but itâs just an email from
âs housing department.
Incredulous, Margot says, âAre you serious?â
âItâs a little spicy for her.â Hastily he adds, âBut itâs fine. She can get the bulgogi sliders or the fried rice.â
âI donât want Korean food either,â Kitty says.
âWeâll go to Seoul House,â Daddy says. âTrina will be fine.â
As soon as Daddy goes to make a reservation, I say to Margot, âDonât judge Trina for not liking Korean food.
She canât help it if she canât eat spicy stuff.â
Kitty is quick to jump in with, âYeah, donât judge her.â
A hurt look flashes across Margotâs face, and she protests, âI didnât say anything!â
âWe know what you were thinking,â I say. I know what sheâs thinking because Iâve had the same thought. And Iâm now in the curious position of having to defend Trina for something I also think is annoying. It wouldnât kill Trina to broaden her culinary horizons.
âFried rice, though? Really?â
âWhatâs the big deal if she doesnât like Korean food?â Kitty says.
âKorean food is our biggest link to Korean culture,â Margot tells her. âAre we just never going to eat Korean food anymore because Trina doesnât like it?â Margot doesnât wait for us to answer. âI just hope she realizes that when she marries Daddy, she gets the whole package, and Koreaâs a part of that package.â
âMargot, she knows that,â I say. âAnd besides, weâll get to eat Korean food every day this summer.â Every day this summer when Iâm away from Peter.
âI wish Daddy and Trina were coming too,â Kitty says.
âItâs better this way,â Margot says. âWhat would Trina even eat in Korea?â Sheâs halfway joking but not really.
Kitty, who is petting Jamie, ignores her and asks me, âWhoâs going to take care of Jamie Fox-Pickle and Simone when weâre all gone?â
âA dog sitter?â I suggest. My heartâs not really in it. Iâm
only halfway here. All I can think of is Peter. âWeâll figure something out.â
Margot looks around the room. Her eyes land on Trinaâs big armchair. âThis house feels so small all of sudden. There isnât enough room for all of Trinaâs stuff.â
Kitty says, âIt doesnât feel that small when youâre not here.â
I gasp. âKitty!â
All the color drains from Margotâs face, and then her cheeks go splotchy. âDid you really just say that to me?â
I can tell Kitty regrets it, but she lifts her chin in her stubborn Kitty way. âWell, Iâm just saying.â
âYouâre a brat.â Margot gets the words out strong, but I see her face as she turns to go upstairs, and I know sheâs going to her room to cry in private.
As soon as sheâs gone, I turn to Kitty. âWhy did you say that to her?â
Tears leak from her eyes. âBecause! Sheâs been so mean to Tree for no reason.â
I wipe her tears with the back of my hand. I feel like crying too. âGogo feels left out, thatâs all. We know Trina, because weâve had time to know her. But Margot doesnât know her at all. And KittyâGogo practically raised you. You donât talk to her like that.â
Halfheartedly, she mutters, âI talk to you like that.â
âThatâs different and you know it. Weâre closer in age.â
âSo youâre saying you and I are on the same level?â
âI meanâno. Margot and I are almost on the same level, and youâre on the level below us, because youâre the
youngest. But you and I are more on the same level than you and Margot. Just try and understand her. She doesnât want to feel like her place has been taken.â
Kittyâs shoulders hunch. âIt hasnât been taken.â
âShe just needs a little reassurance, thatâs all. Be understanding.â Kitty doesnât reply or lift her head, but I know sheâs hearing me. âYou
a little brat, though.â Her head snaps up and she lunges at me, and I laugh. âGo upstairs and say sorry to Gogo. You know itâs the right thing to do.â
Kitty actually listens to me for once. She goes upstairs, and then, sometime later, they both come down with red eyes. In the meantime I get a text from Peter, asking if I can come out. I tell him I canât, that Iâm going out to dinner with my family, but Iâll see him tomorrow night. The guys are meeting us at the karaoke bar after they have their steak dinner. I hope that by the time I see him, Iâll know what to do.
* * *
In my room that night, I am painting my nails mint green for the bachelorette party tomorrow night, and Margot is lying on my bed looking at her phone. âDo you want me to do your nails too?â I ask.
âNo, I donât care,â she says.
I sigh. âListen, you have to stop being in a bad mood about Trina. She and Daddy are getting married, Gogo.â
Margot sighs. âItâs not just Trina. Trinaâs . . . Trina.â
Margot chews on her top lip, something I havenât seen her do since she was little. âItâs like I came back and there was a
whole new family here that I wasnât a part of.â
I want to tell her that nothing has changed, that sheâs still just as much a part of it as she always was, but that wouldnât be true. Life here kept going on without her, just like itâll keep going on without me when I leave this fall.
A tear rolls down her cheek. âAnd I miss Mommy.â
My throat tightens up. âMe too.â
âI wish Kitty could have known her.â Margot sighs. âI know itâs selfish . . . but I guess I just never pictured Daddy getting married again. I thought heâd date, maybe have a long-term girlfriend at some point, but married?â
Gently I say, âI never really thought about it either, but then when you left for Scotland, I donât know . . . it just started making more sense. The thought of him having someone.â
âI know. And itâs good for Kitty, too.â
âI think she thinks of Trina as hers. I have my own relationship with Trina, but Kittyâs had a special thing with her from the start.â
âGod, sheâs like a pit bull with Trina!â Margot laughs a shaky kind of laugh. âShe really loves her.â
âI know thatâs why you got so upset about Korean food today. You think that if Daddy stops cooking Korean food because Trina doesnât like it, Kitty wonât have that connection anymore. And if we forget Korea, we forget Mommy.â Tears are rolling down her cheeks, and she is wiping them away with the back of her sweatshirt sleeve. âBut weâll never forget Korea, and weâll never forget Mommy. Okay?â
Margot nods and takes a deep breath. âGod, Iâve cried twice today! Itâs so un-me.â
She smiles at me, and I smile back, as brightly as I can. Her brow furrows. âLara Jean, is something up with you? Youâve seemed sort of . . . I donât know, melancholy, ever since you got back from Beach Week. Did something happen with you and Peter?â
I want so desperately to tell her everything, to lay all my burdens upon my big sister, to have her tell me what to do. Things would be so much simpler if she would just tell me what to do. But I know what Margot would do, because sheâs already done it.
Donât be the girl who goes to college with a boyfriend.
Thatâs what my mom said. Thatâs what Margot said.