Always and Forever, Lara Jean (23 page)

I spend the rest of the day filling up my yearbook, and people write generic things like
Good luck at
UNC
,
and
You made freshman year gym fun
, and
Add me on Instagram,
but also more meaningful things, like
I wish you had started coming out more sooner, so I’d know you better.
Ben Simonoff writes,
It’s always the quiet ones that are the most interesting. Stay interesting.
I hand the yearbook over to Peter at the end of the day. “Keep it safe,” I tell him.

*  *  *

The next morning, he forgets to bring it to school with him, which is annoying, because I want to get the whole senior class’s signatures, and I still have a few more to go. Tomorrow is the last day of school.

“Did you at least finish it?” I ask him.

“Yeah! I just forgot it,” he says, wincing. “I’ll bring it tomorrow, I swear.”

*  *  *

Beach Week is a tradition where we’re from. It’s exactly what it sounds like. The day after graduation, the senior class packs up and goes to Nags Head for a week. Never in a million years did I think I would be going. For one thing, you have to gather up enough friends to rent a house together—like ten friends! Before Peter I didn’t have ten friends I could rent a beach house with. Somebody’s parent has to rent the house in their name, because no one wants to rent out a house to a bunch of high school kids. Margot didn’t go her year. She and Josh went camping with some friends. She said Beach Week wasn’t really her thing. A year ago, it wouldn’t have been my
thing either. But now I have Peter, and Pammy, and Chris and Lucas.

When the topic of Beach Week first came up months ago, Peter asked me if I thought my dad would let me stay at his house. I said no way. Instead I’m staying with a bunch of girls. Pammy’s older sister Julia rented the house, and Pammy assured me it had air-conditioning and everything. She said the boys’ house was on the beach and we were two rows back, but it was better this way because then we could junk up their house with sand and ours would stay pristine.

My dad said yes at the time, but I’m fairly certain he’s forgotten about it, because when I bring up Beach Week tonight at dinner, he looks confused. “Wait, what’s Beach Week again?”

“It’s when everybody goes to the beach after graduation and parties all week,” Kitty explains, stuffing her slice of pizza in her mouth.

I shoot her a look.

“My Beach Week was
insane
,” Trina says, and a fond smile crosses her face.

I shoot Trina one too.

Daddy’s forehead creases. “Insane?”

“Well it wasn’t
that
insane,” Trina amends. “It was just a fun girls trip. One last fling with all the girls before college.”

“Where’s Peter staying?” Daddy asks me, and now his forehead looks as wrinkled as a walnut.

“In a boy house. I told you all about it ages ago and you
said yes, so you can’t go back on it now. It’s the day after graduation!”

“And there won’t be any adult supervision? Just kids?”

Trina puts her hand on Daddy’s arm. “Dan, Lara Jean isn’t a kid anymore. In a few months she’ll be living on her own. This is just practice.”

“You’re right. I know you’re right. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.” He sighs heavily and stands up. “Kitty, help me clear the table, will you?”

As soon as they’re gone, Trina turns to me, and in a low voice she says, “Lara Jean, I know you’re not a drinker, but here’s a pro tip that you can take with you to Beach Week and college and beyond. Always, always have a buddy system in place. It’ll go like this: One night, you get to drink. The next night, your girlfriend gets to drink. That way one person is always sober enough to hold the other person’s hair back and make sure nothing bad happens.”

Smiling, I say, “Peter will be there. He’ll hold my hair back if need be. Or I can just wear it in a ponytail.”

“True. I’m just saying, for the future.” For when he isn’t there. My smile dims, and she quickly goes on to say, “At my Beach Week, we took turns cooking dinner for the house. When it was my turn, I made chicken parmesan and all the smoke detectors went off and we couldn’t figure out how to make the beeping stop all night!” She laughs. Trina has such an easy laugh.

“I doubt my Beach Week will get that crazy,” I say.

“Well, let’s hope it gets a
little
crazy,” she says.

29

THIS IS THE LAST TIME
we’ll walk up this staircase together, Peter taking the stairs two at a time, me nipping at his heels, huffing and puffing to keep up. It’s the last day of school for seniors, the last day of my high school career.

When we reach the top of the staircase, I say, “I feel like taking the stairs two at a time is just bragging. Have you ever noticed that only boys ever take stairs two at a time?”

“Girls probably would if they were as tall.”

“Margot’s friend Chelsea is five eleven, and I don’t think she does it.”

“So what are you saying—boys brag more?”

“Probably. Don’t you think?”

“Probably,” he admits.

The bell rings, and people start heading for class.

“Should we just skip first period? Go get pancakes?” He raises his eyebrows at me enticingly, pulling me toward him by the dangling straps of my book bag. “Come on, you know you want to.”

“No way. It’s the last day of school. I want to say good-bye to Mr. Lopez.”

Peter groans. “Goody-goody.”

“You knew who I was when you started dating me,” I tell him.

“True,” he says.

Before we go our separate ways, I hold out my hands and wait expectantly. Peter gives me a curious look. “My yearbook!”

“Oh shit! I forgot it again.”

“Peter! It’s the last day of school! I only got half the signatures I wanted!”

“I’m sorry,” he says, rubbing his hand through his hair and making it go all messy. “Do you want me to go back home and get it? I can go right now.” He looks genuinely sorry, but I’m still annoyed.

When I don’t say anything right away, Peter starts to head back toward the stairs, but I stop him. “No, don’t. It’s fine. I’ll just pass it around at graduation.”

“Are you sure?” he asks.

“Sure,” I say. We’re not even here the full school day; I don’t want him to have to run back home just for my yearbook.

Classes are pretty lax; we mostly just walk around saying good-bye to teachers, the office staff, the cafeteria ladies, the school nurse. A lot of them we’ll see at graduation, but not everyone. I pass around cookies that I baked last night. We get our final grades—all good, so no worries there.

It takes me forever to clean out my locker. I find random notes I saved from Peter, which I promptly put in my bag so I can add them to his scrapbook. An old granola bar. Dusty black hair ties, which is ironic because you can never seem to find a hair tie when you need one.

“I’m sad to throw any of this stuff away, even this old granola bar,” I say to Lucas, who is sitting on the floor keeping me company. “I’ve seen it there at the bottom of my locker every day. It’s like an old pal. Should we split it, to commemorate this day?”

“Sick,” Lucas says. “It’s probably got mold.” Matter-of-factly he says, “After graduation I probably won’t see any of these people again.”

I throw him a hurt look. “Hey! What about me?”

“Not you. You’re coming to visit me in New York.”

“Ooh! Yes, please.”

“Sarah Lawrence is so close to the city. I’ll be able to go to Broadway shows whenever I want. There’s an app for same-day student tickets.” He gets a faraway look in his eyes.

“You’re so lucky,” I say.

“I’ll take you. We’ll go to a gay bar, too. It’ll be amazing.”

“Thank you!”

“But everybody else I can take or leave.”

“We still have Beach Week,” I remind him, and he nods.

“For the rest of our lives, we’ll always have Beach Week,” he says mockingly, and I throw a hair tie at him.

Lucas can mock me for being nostalgic all he wants. I know these days are special. High school
will
be a time we remember the whole rest of our lives.

*  *  *

After school, Peter and I go to his house because mine is a disaster zone with wedding stuff, and Peter’s mom has her book club after work, and Owen has soccer, so we have the
house all to ourselves. It seems the only place we’re ever truly alone is in his car, so moments like these are rare and of note. My last drive home from high school, and Peter K. is the one who’s driving me. It’s fitting, to end high school the way I spent it—riding in the passenger seat of Peter’s car.

When we go up to his room, I sit down on his bed, which is neatly made, with the comforter pulled in tight; the pillows look fluffed, even. It’s a new comforter, probably for college—a cheery red and cream and navy tartan that I’m sure his mom picked out. “Your mom makes your bed, doesn’t she?” I ask him, leaning back against the pillows.

“Yes,” he says, without an ounce of shame. He flops onto the bed, and I scoot over to make room for him.

Late afternoon light filters in through his pale curtains, and it casts the room in a dreamy kind of filter. If I were going to name it, I would call it “summer in the suburbs.” Peter looks beautiful in this light. He looks beautiful in any light, but especially this one. I take a picture of him in my mind, just like this. Any annoyance I felt over him forgetting my yearbook melts away when he snuggles closer to me, rests his head on my chest, and says, “I can feel your heart beating.”

I start playing with his hair, which I know he likes. It’s so soft for a boy. I love the smell of his detergent, his soap, everything.

He looks up at me and traces the bow of my lip. “I like this part the best,” he says. Then he moves up and brushes his lips against mine, teasing me. He bites on my bottom lip
playfully. I like all his different kinds of kisses, but maybe this kind best. Then he’s kissing me with urgency, like he is utterly consumed, his hands in my hair, and I think, no, these are the best.

Between kisses he asks me, “How come you only ever want to hook up when we’re at my house?”

“I—I don’t know. I guess I never thought about it before.” It’s true we only ever make out at Peter’s house. It feels weird to be romantic in the same bed I’ve slept in since I was a little girl. But when I’m in Peter’s bed, or in his car, I forget all about that and I’m just lost in the moment.

We’re at it kissing again—Peter’s shirt is off; mine is still on—when the phone rings downstairs, and Peter says it’s probably the repairman calling about when he’s coming to fix the pipes. He puts on his shirt and runs downstairs to answer it, and that’s when I spot my yearbook on his desk.

I get out of bed and pick it up and flip to the back. It’s still empty. When Peter comes back upstairs, I’m sitting on his bed again and I don’t mention my yearbook, I don’t ask why he still hasn’t written in it. I’m not sure why. I tell him I’d better get going, because Margot’s coming home from Scotland tonight, and I want to stock the fridge with all her favorite foods.

Peter’s face falls. “You don’t want to hang out a little longer? I can take you to the store.”

“I still have to clean up the upstairs, too,” I say, standing up.

He tugs on my shirt and tries to pull me back onto the bed. “Come on, five more minutes.”

I lie back down next to him and he cuddles in close, but I’m still thinking about the yearbook. I’ve been working on his scrapbook for months; the least he can do is write me a nice yearbook message.

“This is good practice for college,” he murmurs, pulling me toward him, wrapping his arms around me. “The beds are small at
UVA
. How big are the beds at
UNC
?”

My back to him, I say, “I don’t know. I didn’t get to see the dorms.”

He tucks his head in the space between my neck and shoulder. “That was a trick question,” he says, and I can feel him smile against my neck. “To check and see if you visited a random
UNC
guy’s dorm room with Chris. Congrats, you passed the test.”

I can’t help but laugh. Then my smile fades and I give him a test of my own. “Don’t let me forget to take my yearbook with me when we leave.”

He stiffens for a second and then says in an easy tone, “I have to hunt it down. It’s here somewhere. If I can’t find it, I’ll just bring it over later.”

I pull away from him and sit up. Confused, he looks up at me. “I saw my yearbook on your desk, Peter. I know you haven’t written anything yet!”

Peter sits up and sighs and scrubs his hand through his hair roughly. His eyes flit over to me and then back down again. “I just don’t know what to write. I know you want me to write some great, romantic thing, but I don’t know what to say. I’ve tried a bunch of times, and I just—I freeze
up. You know I’m not good at that kind of thing.”

Feelingly, I tell him, “I don’t care what you say as long as it’s from the heart. Just be sweet. Be you.” I crawl closer to him and put my arms around his neck. “Okay?” Peter nods, and I give him a little kiss, and he surges up and kisses me harder, and then I don’t even care about my dumb yearbook anymore. I am aware of every breath, every movement. I memorize it all, I hold it in my heart.

When we break away, he looks up at me and says, “I went to my dad’s house yesterday.”

My eyes widen. “You did?”

“Yeah. He invited me and Owen to come over for dinner, and I wasn’t going to go, but then Owen asked me to come with him and I couldn’t say no.”

I lie back down, rest my head on his chest. “How was it?”

“It was fine, I guess. His house is nice.” I don’t say anything; I just wait for him to go on. It feels like a long time before he says, “You know that old movie you made me watch, where the poor kid was standing outside with his nose pressed to the glass? That’s how I felt.”

“That old movie” he’s referring to is
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
, when Charlie is watching all the kids go hog wild at the candy store but he can’t go inside because he doesn’t have any money. The thought of Peter—handsome, confident, easy Peter—feeling that way makes me want to cry. Maybe I shouldn’t have pushed him so hard to reconnect with his dad.

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