MARGOT AND KITTY ARE BOTH asleep in the backseat. Kitty’s got her head in Margot’s lap; Margot’s sleeping with her head back and her mouth wide open. Daddy is listening to NPR with a faint smile on his face. Everyone’s so peaceful, and my heart is thumping a million beats a minute just in anticipation of what I’m about to do.
I’m doing it now, this very night. Before we’re back at school, before all the gears shift back to normal and Peter and I are nothing more than a memory. Like snow globes, you shake them up, and for a moment everything is upside down and glitter everywhere and it’s just like magic—but then it all settles and goes back to where it’s supposed to be. Things have a way of settling back. I can’t go back.
I time it so that we are one stoplight from Peter’s neighborhood when I ask Daddy to drop me off. He must hear the intensity in my voice, the necessity, because he doesn’t ask any questions, he just says yes.
When we pull up to Peter’s house, the lights are on and his car is in the driveway; so is his mom’s minivan. The sun is just going down, early because it’s winter. Across the street, Peter’s neighbors still have their holiday lights up. Today’s probably the last day for that, seeing as how it’s a new year. New year, new start.
I can feel the veins in my wrists pulsing, and I’m nervous, I’m so nervous. I run out of the car and ring the doorbell. When I hear footsteps from inside, I wave Daddy off, and he backs out of the driveway. Kitty’s awake now, and she’s got her face up against the back window, grinning hard. She sends me a thumbs-up and I wave back.
Peter opens the door. My heart jumps like a Mexican jumping bean in my chest. He’s wearing a button-down I’ve never seen before, plaid. It must have been a Christmas present. His hair is mussed on top, like he’s been lying down. He doesn’t look so very surprised to see me. “Hey.” He eyes my skirt, which is poofing out from under my winter coat like a ball gown. “Why are you so dressed up?”
“It’s for New Year’s.” Maybe I should’ve gone home and changed first. At least then I would feel like me, standing at this boy’s door, proverbial hat in hand. “So, hey, how was your Christmas?”
“Good.” He takes his time, four whole seconds, before he asks, “How was yours?”
“Great. We got a new puppy. His name is Jamie Fox-Pickle.” Not even a trace of a smile from Peter. He’s cold; I didn’t expect him to be cold. Maybe not even cold. Maybe just indifferent. “Can I talk to you for a second?”
Peter shrugs, which seems like a yes, but he doesn’t invite me in. I have this sudden sick-to-mystomach fear that Genevieve is inside—which quickly dissipates when I remember that if she were inside, he wouldn’t be out here with me. He leaves the door ajar as he puts on sneakers and a coat, and then steps onto the porch. He closes the door behind him and sits down on the steps. I sit next to him, smoothing my skirt around me. “So, what’s up?” he says, like I’m taking up his precious time.
This isn’t right. Not what I expected at all.
But what, exactly, did I expect from Peter? I’d give him the letter, and he’d read it, and then he’d love me? He’d take me in his arms; we’d kiss passionately, but just kissing, just innocent. Then what? We’d date? How long until he grew bored of me, missed Genevieve, wanted more than I was prepared to give, bedroomwise and also just lifewise? Someone like him could never be content staying at home and watching a movie on the couch. This is Peter Kavinsky we’re talking about, after all.
I take so long swept up in my fast-forward reverie that he says it again, just slightly less cold this time. “What, Lara Jean?” He looks at me like he’s waiting for something, and suddenly I’m afraid to give it.
I tighten my fist around the letter, shove it into my coat pocket. My hands are freezing. I don’t have any gloves or hat; I should probably just go home. “I just came to say . . . to say I’m sorry for the way things turned out. And . . . I hope we can still be friends, and happy new year.”
His eyes narrow at this. “‘Happy new year’?” he repeats. “That’s what you came here to say? Sorry and happy new year?”
“And I hope we can still be friends,” I add, biting my lip.
“You hope we can still be friends,” he repeats, and there is a note of sarcasm in his voice that I don’t understand or like.
“That’s what I said.” I start to stand up. I was hoping he’d give me a ride home, but now I don’t want to ask. But it’s so cold outside. Maybe if I hint. . . . Blowing on my hands, I say, “Well, I’m gonna head home.”
“Wait a minute. Let’s go back to the apology part. What are you apologizing for, exactly? For kicking me out of your house, or for thinking I’m a dirtbag who would go around telling people we had sex when we didn’t?”
A lump forms in my throat. When he puts it that way, it really does sound terrible. “Both of those things. I’m sorry for both of those things.”
Peter cocks his head to the side, his eyebrows raised. “And what else?”
I bristle. What else? “There is no ‘what else.’ That’s it.” Thank God I didn’t give him the letter, if this is how he’s going to be. It’s not like I’m the only one with stuff to apologize for.
“Hey, you’re the one who came here talking about ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘let’s be friends.’ You don’t get to force me into accepting your half-assed apology.”
“Well, I wish you a happy new year anyway.” Now I’m the one being sarcastic, and it sure is satisfying. “Have a nice life. Auld lang syne and all that.”
I turn to go. I was so hopeful this morning, I had such stars in my eyes imagining how this was all going to go. God, what a jerk Peter is. Good riddance to him!
“Wait a minute.”
Hope leaps into my heart like Jamie Fox-Pickle leaps into my bed—swift and unbidden. But I turn back around, like Ugh, what do you want now, so he doesn’t see it.
“What’s that you’ve got crumpled up in your pocket?”
My hand flies down to my pocket. “That? Oh, it’s nothing. It’s junk mail. It was on the ground by your mailbox. No worries, I’ll recycle it for you.”
“Give it to me and I’ll recycle it right now,” he says, holding out his hand.
“No, I said I’ll do it.” I reach down to stuff the letter deeper into my coat pocket, and Peter tries to snatch it out of my hand. I twist away from him wildly and hold on tight. He shrugs, and I relax and let out a small sigh of relief, and then he lunges forward and plucks it away from me.
I pant, “Give it back, Peter!”
Blithely he says, “Tampering with US mail is a federal offense.” Then he looks down at the envelope. “This is to me. From you.” I make a desperate grab for the envelope, and it takes him by surprise. We wrestle for it; I’ve got the corner of it in my grip, but he’s not letting go. “Stop, you’re going to rip it!” he yells, prying it out of my grasp.
I try to grab harder, but it’s too late. He has it.
Peter holds the envelope above my head and tears it open and begins to read. It’s torturous standing there in front of him, waiting—for what, I don’t know. More humiliation? I should probably just go. He’s such a slow reader.
When he’s finally done, he asks, “Why weren’t you going to give me this? Why were you just going to leave?”
“Because, I don’t know, you didn’t seem so glad to see me. . . .” My voice trails off lamely.
“It’s called playing hard to get! I’ve been waiting for you to call me, you dummy. It’s been six days.”
I suck in my breath. “Oh!”
“‘Oh.’” He pulls me by the lapels of my coat, closer to him, close enough to kiss. He’s so close I can see the puffs his breath makes. So close I could count his eyelashes if I wanted. In a low voice he says, “So then . . . you still like me?”
“Yeah,” I whisper. “I mean, sort of.” My heartbeat is going quick-quick-quick. I’m giddy. Is this a dream? If so, let me never wake up.
Peter gives me a look like Get real, you know you like me. I do, I do. Then, softly, he says, “Do you believe me that I didn’t tell people we had sex on the ski trip?”
“Okay.” He inhales. “Did . . . did anything happen with you and Sanderson after I left your house that night?” He’s jealous! The very thought of it warms me up like hot soup. I start to tell him no way, but he quickly says, “Wait. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”
“No,” I say, firmly so he knows I mean it. He nods but doesn’t say anything.
Then he leans in, and I close my eyes, heart thrumming in my chest like hummingbird wings. We’ve technically only kissed four times, and only one of those times was for real. I’d like to just get right to it, so I can stop being nervous. But Peter doesn’t kiss me, not the way I expect. He kisses me on my left cheek, and then my right; his breath is warm. And then nothing. My eyes fly open. Is this a literal kiss-off? Why isn’t he kissing me properly? “What are you doing?” I whisper.
“Building the anticipation.”
Quickly I say, “Let’s just kiss.”
He angles his head, and his cheek brushes against mine, which is when the front door opens, and it’s Peter’s younger brother, Owen, standing there with his arms crossed. I spring away from Peter like I just found out he has some incurable infectious disease. “Mom wants you guys to come in and have some cider,” he says, smirking.
“In a minute,” Peter says, pulling me back.
“She said right now,” Owen says.
Oh my God. I throw a panicky look at Peter. “I should probably get going before my dad starts to worry. . . .”
He nudges me toward the door with his chin. “Just come inside for a minute, and then I’ll take you home.” As I step inside, he takes off my coat and says in a low voice, “Were you really going to walk all the way home in that fancy dress? In the cold?”
“No, I was going to guilt you into driving me,” I whisper back.
“What’s with your outfit?” Owen says to me.
“It’s what Korean people wear on New Year’s Day,” I tell him.
Peter’s mom steps out of the kitchen with two steaming mugs. She’s wearing a long cashmere cardigan that’s loosely belted around her waist, and cream cable-knit slippers. “It’s stunning,” she says. “You look gorgeous. So colorful.”
“Thank you,” I say, feeling embarrassed over the fuss.
The three of us sit down in the family room; Owen escapes to the kitchen. I still feel flushed from the almost kiss and from the fact that Peter’s mom probably knows what we were up to. I wonder, too, what she knows about what’s been going on with us, how much he’s told her, if anything.
“How was your Christmas, Lara Jean?” his mom asks me.
I blow into my mug. “It was really nice. My dad bought my little sister a puppy, and we’ve just been fighting over who gets to hold him. And my older sister’s still home from college, so that’s been nice too. How was your holiday, Mrs. Kavinsky?”
“Oh, it was nice. Quiet.” She points to her slippers. “Owen got me these. How did the holiday party go? Did your sisters like the fruitcake cookies Peter baked? Honestly, I can’t stand them.”
Surprised, I look over at Peter, who is suddenly busy scrolling on his phone. “I thought you said your mom made them.”
His mom smiles a proud kind of smile. “Oh no, he did it all by himself. He was very determined.”
“They tasted like garbage!” Owen yells from the kitchen.
His mom laughs again, and then things are silent. My mind is racing, trying to think up potential conversation pieces. New Year’s resolutions, maybe? The snowstorm we’re supposed to get next week? Peter’s no help at all; he’s looking at his phone again.
She stands up. “It was nice to see you, Lara Jean. Peter, don’t keep her out too late.”
“I won’t.” To me he says, “I’ll be right back; I’m just gonna get my keys.”
When he’s gone, I say, “I’m sorry for dropping in like this on New Year’s Day. I hope I wasn’t interrupting anything.”
“You’re welcome here anytime.” She leans forward and puts her hand on my knee. With a meaningful look she says, “Just be easy with his heart is all I ask.”
My stomach does a dip. Did Peter tell her what happened between us?
She gives my knee a pat and stands up. “Good night, Lara Jean.”
“Good night,” I echo.
Despite her kind smile, I feel like I’ve just gotten in trouble. There was a hint of reproach in her voice—I know I heard it. Don’t mess with my son is what she was saying. Was Peter very upset by what happened between us? He didn’t make it out like he was. Annoyed, maybe a little hurt. Certainly not hurt enough to talk to his mom about it. But maybe he and his mom are really close. I hate to think I may have already made a bad impression, before Peter and I have even gotten going.
It’s pitch black out, not many stars in the sky. I think maybe it’ll snow again soon. At my house, all the lights are on downstairs, and Margot’s bedroom light is on upstairs. Across the street I can see Ms. Rothschild’s little Christmas tree lit up in the window.
Peter and I are warm and cozy in his car. Heat billows out the vents. I ask him, “Did you tell your mom about how we broke up?”
“No. Because we never broke up,” he says, turning the heat down.
He laughs. “No, because we were never really together, remember?”
Are we together now? is what I’m wondering, but I don’t ask, because he puts his arm around me and tilts my head up to his, and I’m nervous again. “Don’t be nervous,” he says.
I give him a quick kiss to prove I’m not.
“Kiss me like you missed me,” he says, and his voice goes husky.
“I did,” I say. “My letter told you I did.”
I kiss him before he can finish. Properly. Like I mean it. He kisses back like he means it too. Like it’s been four hundred years. And then I’m not thinking anymore and I’m just lost in the kissing.