Always and Forever, Lara Jean (12 page)

14

IT’S DECIDED THAT DADDY WILL
propose to Ms. Rothschild on Saturday, after hiking on one of their favorite trails. He’s going to do it right by a waterfall. The plan is for Peter and Kitty and me to hide behind trees and record the whole thing, then pop out with a romantic picnic basket. Daddy was nervous about the video part, in case Ms. Rothschild doesn’t say yes, but Kitty begged. “It’s for Margot,” she kept saying, when really she’s just nosy and wants to see it go down. Of course I do too. Peter’s along for the ride, literally. He’s giving us a ride.

That morning, before he leaves to pick up Ms. Rothschild, Daddy says, “Guys, if it doesn’t look like it’s going to be a yes, can you stop videotaping?”

I’m carefully wrapping roast beef sandwiches in wax paper. I look up to say, “She’s going to say yes.”

“Just promise me you’ll quietly slip away,” he says. He gives Kitty a pointed look.

“You got it, Dr. Covey,” Peter says, lifting his hand for a high five.

As they slap hands, I say, “Daddy, did you pack the ring?”

“Yup!” Then he frowns. “Wait, did I?” He pats his pockets and unzips the inside compartment of his windbreaker. “Damn, I forgot it!” Then he runs upstairs.

Peter and I exchange a look. “I’ve never seen your dad so stressed out,” he says, popping a grape in his mouth. “He’s usually a cool customer.”

I slap Peter’s hand away from the grapes.

Kitty steals a grape and says, “He’s been like this all week.”

Daddy runs back downstairs with the engagement ring. Kitty and I helped him pick it out. It’s a white-gold princess cut with a diamond halo. I was certain about the princess cut and Kitty was certain about the halo.

Daddy heads off to pick up Ms. Rothschild, and I finish putting together the picnic basket. I’m glad to have an excuse to bring it out. I bought it from a yard sale ages ago, and I haven’t used it once. I pack a bottle of champagne, a perfect cluster of grapes, the sandwiches, a wedge of Brie, crackers.

“Pack a bottle of water, too,” Peter says. “They’ll be dehydrated from the hike.”

“And probably from all the crying after she says yes,” Kitty says.

“Should we play some music for them, when he gets down on one knee?” Peter suggests.

“We didn’t discuss that part of the plan, and Daddy’s nervous enough as it is,” I say. “He can’t be thinking about how we’re hiding in the bushes waiting to cue up music for them. It’ll make him self-conscious.”

“Besides, we can add the music in post,” Kitty says. “We need to be able to hear the dialogue.”

I give her a look. “Katherine, this isn’t a movie. This is real life.”

I leave them to go to the downstairs bathroom, and after I wash my hands, I’m turning off the faucet when I hear Kitty say, “Peter, when Lara Jean’s gone, will you still come visit me sometimes?”

“Course I will.”

“Even if you guys break up?”

There’s a pause. “We’re not breaking up.”

“But if you do?” she presses.

“We won’t.”

She ignores this. “Because we never see Josh anymore, and he said he’d visit too.”

Peter scoffs. “Are you kidding me? You think I’m the same as Sanderson?
Me?
I’m a completely different league than him. I’m insulted you would even compare us.”

Kitty lets out a relieved kind of laugh, the kind that sounds more like a sigh. “Yeah, you’re right.”

“Trust me, kid. You and I have our own thing.”

I love him so much for that I could cry. He’ll look after Kitty for me, I know he will.

*  *  *

Daddy told us they’d get to the waterfall around noon, so we should be there by eleven forty-five to get into position. We end up going a little earlier than that, just to be on the safe side, at Kitty’s insistence.

We pick a hiding spot far enough away that Ms. Rothschild won’t spot us, but close enough to see. Kitty and I hide behind a tree, and Peter crouches behind one close by, phone in his hand, ready to record. Kitty wanted to be
the one to do it, but I make the executive decision that it should be Peter, because he isn’t as emotionally invested in this moment and will have a steady hand.

Just after twelve, they come up the trail. Ms. Rothschild is laughing about something, and Daddy is laughing robotically with that same nervous look on his face. It’s funny to watch them interact when she doesn’t know we’re watching. Kitty was right; it is a bit like a movie. He looks somehow younger next to her—maybe it’s because he’s in love. They walk over to the waterfall, and Ms. Rothschild sighs with happiness. “God, it’s gorgeous up here,” she says.

“I can barely hear anything,” Kitty whispers to me. “The waterfall is too loud.”

“Shh. You’re the one being loud.”

“Let’s take a picture,” Daddy says, fishing around in his windbreaker pocket.

“I thought you were morally opposed to selfies!” She laughs. “Hold on, let me try and fix my hair for this momentous occasion.” She pulls her hair out of its ponytail holder and tries to fluff it up. Then she pops what looks like a cough drop or a piece of candy in her mouth.

Daddy’s taking so long that for a second I’m afraid he’s lost the ring or his nerve, but then he gets down on one knee. Daddy clears his throat. It’s happening. I grab Kitty’s hand and squeeze it. Her eyes are shining. My heart is bursting.

“Trina, I never expected to fall in love again. I thought I got my shot, and I was okay with that, because I had my girls. I didn’t realize anything was missing. Then came you.”

Ms. Rothschild’s hands are covering her mouth. She has tears in her eyes.

“I want to spend the rest of my life with you, Trina.” Ms. Rothschild starts choking on her candy, and Daddy leaps up off his knee and starts pounding her on the back. She’s coughing like crazy.

From his tree Peter whispers, “Should I go do the Heimlich on her? I know how to do it.”

“Peter, my dad’s a doctor!” I whisper back. “He’s got it.”

As her coughing subsides, she stands up straight and wipes her eyes. “Wait. Were you asking me to marry you?”

“I was trying to,” Daddy says. “Are you all right?”

“Yes!” She claps her hands to her cheeks.

“Yes, you’re all right, or yes, you’ll marry me?” Daddy asks her, and he’s only half kidding.

“Yes, I’ll marry you!” she screams, and Daddy reaches for her, and they kiss.

“This feels private,” I whisper to Kitty.

“It’s all part of the show,” she whispers back.

Daddy hands Ms. Rothschild the ring box. I can’t quite make out what he says next, but whatever it was, it makes her double over laughing.

“What’s he saying?” Kitty asks me, just as Peter says, “What did he say?”

“I can’t hear! Both of you be quiet! You’re ruining the video!”

Which is when Ms. Rothschild looks over in our direction.

Shoot.

We all pop back behind our respective trees, and then I hear Daddy’s wry voice call out, “You can come out, guys. She said yes!”

We run out from behind the trees; Kitty launches herself into Ms. Rothschild’s arms. They fall over onto the grass, and Ms. Rothschild is laughing breathlessly, her laughter echoing through the woods. I hug Daddy, and meanwhile Peter’s still playing videographer, recording the moment for posterity like the good boyfriend he is.

“Are you happy?” I ask, looking up at my dad.

His eyes brimming with tears, he nods and hugs me tighter.

And just like that, our little family grows bigger.

15

IT’S THE FIRST NIGHT WE’VE
all been together for dinner since the engagement, and Daddy’s in the kitchen making a salad. Us girls are sitting in the living room just hanging out. Kitty is doing her homework; Ms. Rothschild is sipping on a glass of white wine. It’s all very mellow—perfect timing for me to bring up wedding business. I’ve spent the last week working on a mood board for Daddy and Ms. Rothschild’s wedding:
Pride and Prejudice
the movie, a whole wall of roses for the photo-booth area,
The Virgin Suicides
, wine-bottle floral centerpieces as a nod to Charlottesville wineries.

When I present it to Ms. Rothschild on my laptop, she looks vaguely alarmed. She sets down her wine glass and looks closer at the screen. “This is beautiful, Lara Jean. Really lovely. You’ve put a lot of time into this!”

So much time, in fact, that I skipped Peter’s lacrosse game this week, plus a movie night at Pammy’s. But this is important. Of course I don’t say any of this out loud; I just smile a beatific smile. “Does this vision feel in line with what you were thinking?

“Well . . . to be honest, I think we were thinking we’d just go to the justice of the peace. Selling my house and figuring out how I’m going to fit all my junk in here is enough of a headache already.”

Daddy comes out with the wooden salad bowl in his hands. Dryly he says, “So you’re saying marrying me is a headache?”

She rolls her eyes. “You know what I’m saying, Dan! It’s not like you have the time to plan a big wedding either.” She takes a sip of wine and turns to me. “Your dad and I have both been married before, so neither of us feels like making a big fuss. I’ll probably just wear a dress I already have.”

“Of
course
we should make a big fuss. Do you know how many years it took Daddy to find someone who’d eat his cooking and watch his documentaries?” I shake my head. “Ms. Rothschild, you’re a miracle. For that we
have
to celebrate.” I call out to my dad, who’s disappeared back into the kitchen. “Did you hear that, Daddy? Ms. Rothschild wants to go to
city hall
. Please disabuse her of this notion.”

“Will you please stop calling me Ms. Rothschild? Now that I’m going to be your wicked stepmother, you should at least call me Trina. Or Tree. Whatever feels right to you.”

“How about Stepmother?” I suggest, all innocence. “That feels pretty right.”

She swats at me. “Girl! I will cut you.”

Giggling, I dart away from her. “Let’s get back to the wedding. I don’t know if this is a sensitive issue or not, but did you keep your old wedding photos? I want to see what your bridal style was.”

Ms. Rothschild pulls a terrible face. “I think I threw out everything. I might have a picture tucked in an album somewhere. Thank God I got married before social media
was a thing. Can you imagine, getting divorced and having to take down all your wedding pictures?”

“Isn’t it bad luck to talk about divorce when you’re planning your wedding?”

She laughs. “Well then, we’re already doomed.” I must look alarmed because she says, “I’m kidding! I’ll hunt around for a wedding picture to show you if you want, but honestly, I’m not real proud of it. Smoky eye was the thing back then, and I took it a little too far. Plus I did that early two thousands thing with the chocolate lip liner and the frosted lip.”

I try to keep my face neutral. “Right, okay. What about your dress?”

“One-shoulder, with a mermaid style skirt. It made my butt look amazing.”

“I see.”

“Quit judging me!”

Daddy puts his hand on Ms. Rothschild’s shoulder. “What if we did it here at the house?”

“Like in the backyard?” She considers this. “I think that could be nice. A little barbecue, just family and a few friends?”

“Daddy doesn’t have any friends,” Kitty says from across the living room, her math book in her lap.

Daddy frowns at her. “I do too have friends. I have Dr. Kang from the hospital, and there’s Marjorie, and Aunt D. But er, yes, it would be a small group on my side.”

“Plus Nana,” Kitty says, and both Daddy and Ms. Rothschild look nervous at the mention of Nana. Daddy’s mother isn’t the friendliest person.

“Don’t forget Grandma,” I throw in.

Grandma and Ms. Rothschild met at Thanksgiving, and while Daddy didn’t explicitly introduce her as his girlfriend, Grandma is shrewd and she doesn’t miss a thing. She gave Ms. Rothschild the third degree, asking if she had any kids of her own, how long she’d been divorced, if she had any student-loan debt. Ms. Rothschild held up pretty well, and when I walked Grandma out to the car to say good-bye, she said Ms. Rothschild was “not bad.” She said she dressed young for her age, but she also said that Ms. Rothschild had a lot of energy and a brightness to her.

“I’ve already done the big wedding thing,” Ms. Rothschild says. “It’ll be small on my side too. A few friends from college, Shelly from work. My sister Jeanie, my SoulCycle friends.”

“Can we be your bridesmaids?” Kitty asks, and Ms. Rothschild laughs.

“Kitty! You can’t just ask that.” But I turn to Ms. Rothschild, waiting to hear what she will say.

“Sure,” she says. “Lara Jean, would you be okay with that?”

“I would be honored,” I say.

“So you three girls, and my friend Kristen, because she’ll kill me if I don’t ask her.”

I clap my hands together. “Now that that’s settled, let’s get back to the dress. If it’s going to be a backyard wedding, I feel like your dress should reflect that.”

“As long as it has sleeves so my bat wings don’t flap around,” she says.

“Ms. Roth—I mean, Trina, you don’t have bat wings,” I say. She’s very in shape from all her Pilates and SoulCycle.

Kitty’s eyes light up. “What are bat wings? That sounds gross.”

“Come here, and I’ll show you.” Kitty obeys, and Ms. Rothschild lifts her arm and stretches it out; then at the last second she grabs Kitty and tickles her. Kitty’s dying laughing, and so is Ms. Rothschild.

Breathlessly she says, “Gross? That’ll teach you to call your wicked stepmother-to-be gross!”

Daddy looks as happy as I’ve ever seen him.

*  *  *

Later that night in our bathroom, Kitty’s brushing her teeth, and I’m scrubbing my face with a new exfoliant I ordered off a Korean beauty site. It’s walnut shells and blueberry. “Mason jars and gingham—but elegant,” I muse.

“Mason jars are played out,” Kitty says. “Look on Pinterest. Literally everybody does Mason jars.”

Her words do have the ring of truth. “Well, I’m definitely wearing a flower crown on my head. I don’t care if you say it’s played out.”

Flatly she says, “You can’t wear a flower crown.”

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