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THE WAY IT HAPPENS IS a strange sort of serendipity. A slow-motion train wreck. For something to go this colossally wrong, everything must intersect and collide at the exact right, or in this case, wrong, moment.
If the bus driver hadn’t had trouble backing out of the cul-de-sac, taking four extra minutes to get to school, I never would have run into Josh.
If Josh’s car had started up and he hadn’t had to get a jump from his dad, he wouldn’t have been walking by my locker.
And if Peter hadn’t had to meet Ms. Wooten in the guidance office, he would not have been walking down the hallway ten seconds later. And maybe this whole thing would not have happened. But it did.
* * *
I’m at my locker; the door is jammed, and I’m trying to yank it open. I finally get the door loose and there’s Josh, standing right there.
“Lara Jean . . .” He has this shell-shocked, confused expression on his face. “I’ve been trying to talk to you since last night. I came by, and nobody could find you. . . .” He holds out my letter. “I don’t understand. What is this?”
“I don’t know . . . ,” I hear myself say. My voice feels far away. It’s like I’m floating above myself, watching it all unfold.
“I mean, it’s from you, right?”
“Oh, wow.” I take a breath and accept the letter. I fight the urge to tear it up. “Where did you even get this?”
“It got sent to me in the mail.” Josh jams his hands into his pockets. “When did you write this?”
“Like, a long time ago,” I say. I let out a fake little laugh. “I don’t even remember when. It might have been middle school.” Good job, Lara Jean. Keep it up.
Slowly he says, “Right . . . but you mention going to the movies with Margot and Mike and Ben that time. That was a couple of years ago.”
I bite my bottom lip. “Right. I mean, it was kind of a long time ago. In the grand scheme of things.” I can feel tears coming on so close that if I break concentration even for a second, if I waver, I will cry and that will make everything worse, if such a thing is possible. I must be cool and breezy and nonchalant now. Tears would ruin that.
Josh is staring at me so hard I have to look away. “So then . . . Do you . . . or did you have feelings for me or . . . ?”
“I mean, yes, sure, I did have a crush on you at one point, before you and Margot ever started dating. A million years ago.”
“Why didn’t you ever say anything? Because, Lara Jean . . . God. I don’t know.” His eyes are on me, and they’re confused, but there’s something else, too. “This is crazy. I feel kind of blindsided.”
The way he’s looking at me now, I’m suddenly in a time warp back to a summer day when I was fourteen and he was fifteen, and we were walking home from somewhere. He was looking at me so intently I was sure he was going to try to kiss me. I got nervous, so I picked a fight with him and he never looked at me like that again.
Until this moment.
Don’t. Just please, don’t.
Whatever he’s thinking, whatever he wants to say, I don’t want to hear it. I will do anything, literally anything, not to hear it.
Before he can, I say, “I’m dating someone.”
Josh’s jaw goes slack. “What?”
“Yup. I’m dating someone, someone I really really like, so please don’t worry about this.” I wave the letter like it’s just paper, trash, like once upon a time I didn’t literally pour my heart onto this page. I stuff it into my bag. “I was really confused when I wrote this; I don’t even know how it got sent out. Honestly, it’s not worth talking about. So please, please don’t say anything to Margot about it.”
He nods, but that’s not good enough. I need a verbal commitment. I need to hear the words come out of his mouth. So I add, “Do you swear? On your life?” If Margot was to ever find out . . . I would want to die.
“All right, I swear. I mean, we haven’t even spoken since she left.”
I let out a huge breath. “Great. Thanks.” I’m about to walk away, but then Josh stops me.
“Who’s the guy?”
“The guy you’re dating.”
That’s when I see him. Peter Kavinsky, walking down the hallway. Like magic. Beautiful, dark-haired Peter. He deserves background music, he looks so good. “Peter. Kavinsky. Peter Kavinsky!” The bell rings, and I sail past Josh. “I’ve gotta go! Talk later, Josh!”
“Wait!” he calls out.
I run up to Peter and launch myself into his arms like a shot out of a cannon. I’ve got my arms around his neck and my legs hooked around his waist, and I don’t even know how my body knows how, because I’ve for sure never touched a boy like this in my life. It’s like we’re in a movie and the music is swelling and waves are crashing around us. Except for the fact that Peter’s expression is registering pure shock and disbelief and maybe a drop of amusement, because Peter likes to be amused. Raising his eyebrows, he says, “Lara Jean? What the—?”
I don’t answer. I just kiss him.
My first thought is: I have muscle memory of his lips.
My second thought is: I hope Josh is watching. He has to be watching or it’s all for nothing.
My heart is beating so fast I forget to be afraid of doing it wrong. Because for about three seconds, he’s kissing me back. Peter Kavinsky, the boy of every girl’s dreams, is kissing me back.
I haven’t kissed that many boys before. Peter Kavinsky, John Ambrose McClaren, Allie Feldman’s cousin with the weird eye, and now Peter again.
I open my eyes and Peter’s staring at me with that same expression on his face. Very sincerely I say, “Thank you.” He replies, “You’re welcome,” and I hop out of his arms and sprint off in the opposite direction.
* * *
It takes all of history class and most of English for my heart rate to slow down. I kissed Peter Kavinsky. In the hallway, in front of everybody. In front of Josh.
I didn’t think this thing through, obviously. That’s what Margot would say, including and especially the “obviously.” If I had thought it through, I would have made up a boyfriend and not picked an actual person. More specifically, I would not have picked Peter K. He is literally the worst person I could have picked, because everybody knows him. He’s Peter Kavinsky, for Pete’s sake. Kavinsky of Gen and Kavinsky. It doesn’t matter that they’re broken up. They’re an institution at this institution.
I spend the rest of the day hiding out. I even eat my lunch in the girls’ bathroom.
My last class of the day is gym. With Peter. Coach White gives us a reintroduction to the weight room, and we have to practice using the machines. Peter and his friends already know how to use them, so they separate off from the group and have a free-throw contest, and I don’t get a chance to talk to him. At one point he catches me looking at him and he winks, which makes me want to shrivel up and die.
After class is over, I wait for Peter outside the boys’ locker room, planning out what I’m going to say, how I’m going to explain it. I’ll start out with, “So about this morning . . . ,” and then I’ll give a little laugh, like how hilarious was that!
Peter’s the last one to come out. His hair is wet from a shower. It’s weird that boys take showers at school, since girls never do. I wonder if they have stalls in there, or just a bunch of shower heads and no privacy.
“Hey,” he says when he sees me, but he doesn’t stop.
To his back I hurriedly say, “So about this morning . . .” I laugh, and Peter turns around and just looks at me.