Always and Forever, Lara Jean (11 page)

The
absolutely
is what gives her away. Daddy’s too busy being relieved to notice, but I do. Of course it’s weird for her. She’s still getting used to seeing Ms. Rothschild in our kitchen. She hasn’t gotten to see all the ways Ms. Rothschild and Daddy make sense. To Margot, she’s still just our neighbor who used to wear terry-cloth booty shorts and a bikini top to mow the lawn.

“I’ll need your guys’s help with the proposal,” Daddy says. “Lara Jean, I’m sure you’ll have some ideas for me, right?”

Confidently I say, “Oh, yeah. People have been doing promposals, so I have lots of inspiration.”

Margot turns to me and laughs, and it almost sounds real. “I’m sure Daddy will want something more dignified than ‘Will You Marry Me’ written in shaving cream on the hood of somebody’s car, Lara Jean.”

“Promposals have gotten way more sophisticated than in your day, Gogo,” I say. I’m playing along, teasing her so she
can feel normal again after the bomb Daddy just dropped.


My
day? I’m only two years ahead of you.” She tries to sound light, but I can hear the strain in her voice.

“Two years is like dog years when it comes to high school. Isn’t that right, Kitty?” I pull her toward me and hug her tight to my chest. She squirms away.

“Yeah, both of you guys are ancient beings,” Kitty says. “Can I be a part of the proposal too, Daddy?”

“Of course. I can’t get married without you guys.” He looks teary. “We’re a team, aren’t we?”

Kitty is hopping up and down like a little kid. “Yeah!” she cheers. She’s over the moon, and Margot sees it too, how important this is to her.

“When are you going to propose?” Margot asks.

“Tonight!” Kitty pipes up.

I glare at her. “No! That’s not enough time to think up the perfect way. We need a week at least. Plus you don’t even have a ring. Wait a minute, do you?”

Daddy takes off his glasses and wipes his eyes. “Of course not. I wanted to wait and talk to you girls first. I want all three of you to be here for the proposal, so I’ll do it when you come back for the summer, Margot.”

“That’s too far away,” Kitty objects.

“Yes, don’t wait that long, Daddy,” Margot says.

“Well, you’ll have to help me pick out the ring at least,” Daddy says.

“Lara Jean has a better eye for that kind of thing,” Margot says serenely. “Besides, I barely know Ms. Rothschild. I
haven’t a clue what kind of ring she’d like.”

A shadow crosses over Daddy’s face. It’s the
I barely know Ms. Rothschild
that put it there.

I rush to put on my best Hermione voice. “You ‘haven’t a clue’?” I tease. “P.S., did you know you’re still American, Gogo? We don’t talk as classy as that in America.”

She laughs; we all do. Then, because I think she saw that brief shadow too, she says, “Make sure to take tons of pictures so I can see.”

Gratefully Daddy says, “We will. We’ll videotape it, whatever it is. God, I hope she says yes!”

“She’ll say yes, of course she’ll say yes,” we all chorus.

*  *  *

Margot and I are wrapping slices of pizza in plastic and then double wrapping in foil. “I told you guys two pizzas would be too much,” she says.

“Kitty will eat it for her after-school snack,” I say. “So will Peter.” I glance toward the living room, where Kitty and Daddy are snuggled up on the couch, watching
TV
. Then I whisper, “So how do you really feel about Daddy asking Ms. Rothschild to marry him?”

“I think it’s completely bonkers,” she whispers back. “She lives across the street, for pity’s sake. They can just date like two grown-ups. What’s the point of getting
married
?”

“Maybe they just want it to be official. Or maybe it’s for Kitty.”

“They haven’t even been dating that long! How long has it been, six months?”

“A little longer than that. But Gogo, they’ve known each other for years.”

She stacks up the slices of foiled pizza and says, “Can you imagine how weird it’ll be to have her living here?”

Her question gives me pause. Ms. Rothschild
is
at the house a lot, but that’s not the same as living here. She has her own ways of doing things, and so do we. Like, she wears shoes at her house, but we don’t wear them here, so she takes them off when she comes over. And, now that I think about it, she’s never slept over here before; she always goes back home at the end of the night. So that might feel a little weird. Also, she stores bread in the refrigerator, which I hate, and to be quite honest, her dog Simone sheds a lot and has been known to pee on the carpet. But the thing is, since I’m not going to
UVA
, I won’t be around much longer—I’ll be away at college. “Neither of us will be living here full-time though,” I say at last. “Just Kitty, and Kitty’s thrilled to death.”

Margot doesn’t respond right away. “Yes, they do seem really close.” She goes to the freezer and makes space for the pizza, and with her back facing me she says, “Don’t forget, we have to go prom-dress shopping before I leave.”

“Ooh, okay!” It feels like two seconds ago that we were shopping for Margot’s prom dress, and now it’s my turn.

Daddy, who I didn’t realize had walked into the kitchen, pipes up with, “Hey, maybe Trina could go too?” He casts a hopeful look my way. I’m not the one he should be looking at. I already love Ms. Rothschild. It’s Margot she has to win over.

I look over at Margot, who is giving me wide panic eyes. “Um . . . ,” I say. “I think it should just be a Song girls thing this time.”

Daddy nods like he understands. “Ah. Got it.” Then he says to Margot, “Can the two of us spend a little daughter-dad time together before you leave? Maybe take our bikes on a trail?”

“Sounds good,” she says.

When his back is turned, Margot mouths,
Thank you.
I feel disloyal to Ms. Rothschild, but Margot is my sister. I have to be on her side.

*  *  *

I think maybe Margot’s feeling guilty about cutting Ms. Rothschild out of the dress shopping expedition, because she keeps trying to make it more of a thing. When we go to the mall the next day after school, she announces that we’ll each pick two dresses, and I have to try all of them on no matter what, and then we’ll rate them. She even printed out thumbs-up and thumbs-down emojis and made paddles for us to use.

It’s cramped in the dressing room, and there are dresses everywhere. Margot gives Kitty the job of rehanging and organizing, but Kitty’s already given it up in favor of playing Candy Crush on Margot’s phone.

Margot hands me one of her picks first—it’s a flowy black dress with fluttery cap sleeves. “You could do your hair up for this one.”

Without looking up, Kitty says, “I would go with beachy waves.”

Margot makes a face at her in the mirror.

“Is black really me, though?” I wonder.

“You should try wearing black more often,” Margot says. “It really suits you.”

Kitty picks at a scab on her leg. “When I go to prom, I’m going to wear a tight leather dress,” she says.

“It can get hot in Virginia in May,” I say, as Margot zips me up. “You could wear a leather dress to homecoming though, since it’s in October.”

We study my reflection in the mirror. The dress is too big in the bodice, and the black makes me look like a witch, but a witch in an ill-fitting dress.

“I think you need bigger boobs for that dress,” Kitty says. She holds up the thumbs-down paddle.

I frown at her in the mirror. She’s right, though. “Yeah, I think you’re right.”

“Did Mommy have big boobs?” Kitty asks suddenly.

“Hmm. I think they were on the small side,” Margot says. “Like an A?”

“What size do you wear?” she asks.

“A B.”

Eyeing me, Kitty says, “And Lara Jean’s small like Mommy.”

“Hey, I’m practically a B!” I protest. “I’m a large A. An almost B. Somebody unzip me.”

“Tree has big boobs,” Kitty says.

“Are they real?” Margot asks as she pulls down my zipper.

I step out of the dress and hand it over to Kitty to hang. “I think so.”

“They’re real. I’ve seen her in a bikini, and hers spread when she’s lying down, and that’s how you know. The fake
ones stay in place like scoops of ice cream.” Kitty picks up Margot’s phone again. “Also, I asked her.”

“If they were fake, I doubt she’d tell you that,” Margot says.

Kitty frowns at her. “Tree doesn’t lie to me.”

“I’m not saying she’d lie; I’m saying she might be private about plastic surgery! Which is her right!” Kitty just shrugs coolly.

I quickly put on the next dress to get off the subject of Ms. Rothschild’s boobs. “What do you guys think of this one?”

They both shake their heads and reach for the thumbs-down paddle at the same time. At least they are united in their dislike of my dress.

“Where’s my pick? Try mine on next.” Kitty’s pick is a skin-tight, white, off-the-shoulder bandage dress I would never in a million years wear, and she knows it. “I just want to see it on you.”

I try it on to appease her, and Kitty insists it’s the best dress of all the dresses, because she wants to have the winning pick. In the end, none of the dresses are my style, but I’m not bothered by it. Prom is still more than a month away, and I want to scour vintage shops before I commit to anything from a regular store. I like the idea of a lived-in dress, a dress that has gone places, seen things, a dress that a girl like Stormy might’ve worn to a dance.

When Margot leaves for Scotland the next morning, she makes me promise to send pictures of potential dresses so she can weigh in. She doesn’t say another word about Ms. Rothschild, but then, she wouldn’t, because that’s not her style.

13

LUCAS SAYS, “I THINK PROM
is a lot like New Year’s Eve.” He and Chris and I are hanging out in the nurse’s office, because she is out to lunch, and she doesn’t care if we lie on her couch. Since we’re so far into senior year, all the teachers are in a pretty generous mood.

“New Year’s Eve is for basics,” Chris sneers, picking at her nails.

“Will you let me finish?” Lucas sighs and begins again. “As I was
saying
, prom buckles under the weight of all the expectations you put on it. One perfect high school night that every American teenager is supposed to have. You spend all this time and money and you feel obligated—no,
owed
an epic night. What can possibly live up to that amount of pressure?”

I think the perfect high school night will end up being some random little nothing moment that you didn’t plan or expect; it just happened. I think I’ve already had like twelve perfect high school nights, with Peter, so I don’t need prom to be epic. When I picture my prom night, I picture Peter in a tux, being polite to my dad, putting a corsage on Kitty. All of us taking a picture by the mantel. I make a mental note to ask Peter to get an extra little corsage for her.

“So does that mean you aren’t going?” I ask Lucas.

He sighs again. “I don’t know. There’s no one here I would even want to go with.”

“If I wasn’t going with Peter, I would ask you,” I say. Then I look from Lucas to Chris. “Hey, why don’t you guys go together?”

“I’m not going to prom,” Chris says. “I’ll probably go clubbing in
DC
with my Applebee’s people.”

“Chris, you can’t not go to prom. You can go clubbing with your Applebee’s friends anytime. We only get one senior prom.”

My birthday’s the day after prom and I’m a little hurt that Chris seems to have forgotten. If she goes clubbing in
DC
, she’ll probably stay all weekend and I won’t even see her on my actual birthday.

“Prom’s going to be lame. No offense. I mean, I’m sure you’ll have fun, Lara Jean; you’re going with the prom king. And what’s that girl’s name you’re friends with now? Tammy?”

“Pammy,” I say. “But it won’t be fun if you’re not there.”

She puts her arm around me. “Aww.”

“We always said we’d go to prom together and watch the sun rise over the elementary school playground!”

“You can watch it with Kavinsky.”

“That’s not the same!”

“Calm down,” Chris says. “You’re probably going to lose your V that night anyway, so I’ll be the last thing you’ll be thinking about.”

“I wasn’t planning on having sex on prom night!” I hiss.
My eyes dart over at Lucas, who is looking at me, bug-eyed.

“Lara Jean . . . you and Kavinsky haven’t had sex yet?”

I look to make sure no one’s in the hallway listening. “No, but please don’t tell anybody. Not that I’m ashamed of it or anything. I just don’t want everyone knowing my business.”

“I get it, obviously, but wow,” he says, still sounding shocked. “That’s . . . wow.”

“Why is it so wow?” I ask him, and I can feel my cheeks warming.

“He’s so . . . hot.”

I laugh. “That’s true.”

“There’s a reason why having sex on prom night is a thing,” Chris says. “I mean, yes, it’s tradition, but also, everybody’s dressed up, you get to stay out all night . . . Most of these people will never look as good as they do on prom night, grooming-wise, and that’s sad. All these lemmings getting their manis and their pedis and their blowouts. So basic.”

“Don’t you get blowouts?” Lucas says.

Chris rolls her eyes. “Of course.”

I say, “Then why are you judging other people for—”

“Look, that’s not my point here. My point is . . .” She frowns. “Wait, what were we talking about?”

“Blowouts, manis, lemmings?” Lucas says.

“Before that.”

“Sex?” I suggest.

“Right! My point is, losing your virginity on prom night
is a cliché, but clichés are clichés for a reason. There’s a practicality to it. You get to stay out all night, you look great, et cetera, et cetera. It just makes sense.”

“I’m not having sex for the first time because it’s convenient and my hair looks good, Chris.”

“Fair enough.”

I don’t know for sure, but I imagine my first time will probably be at college, in my own room, as an adult. It’s hard to imagine it happening now, at home, when I’m Lara Jean the sister and the daughter. At college, I’ll just be Lara Jean.

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