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THE MORNING OF THE PARTY I come downstairs after ten, and they’ve been working for hours. Margot’s the head chef and Daddy’s her sous-chef. She has him chopping onions and celery and washing pots. To us she says, “Lara Jean, I need you to clean the downstairs bathroom and mop and tidy. Kitty, you’re overseeing decorations.”
“Can we at least have some cereal first?” I ask.
“Yes, but be quick about it.” She goes back to scooping cookie dough.
To Kitty I whisper, “I didn’t even want to have this party and now she’s got me scrubbing the toilet. Why do you get the good job?”
“Because I’m the littlest,” Kitty says, climbing onto a stool at the breakfast bar.
Margot spins around and says, “Hello, the toilet needed to be scrubbed anyway! Besides, it’ll all be worth it. We haven’t done recital party in so long.” She slides a cookie sheet into the oven. “Daddy, I’m going to need you to make a run to the store soon. We’re out of sour cream and we need a big bag of ice.”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” our dad says.
The only one of us Margot doesn’t put to work is Jamie Fox-Pickle, who is taking a nap under the Christmas tree.
* * *
I’m wearing a red-and-green plaid bow tie with a white button-down and a tartan skirt. I read on a fashion blog that mixing plaids is a thing. I go to Kitty’s room to beg her to give me a braid crown, and she curls her lip at me and says, “That’s not very sexy.”
I frown. “Excuse me? I wasn’t trying to look sexy! I was trying to look festive.”
“Well . . . you look like you’re a Scottish waiter, or maybe a bartender at a bar in Brooklyn.”
“What do you know about bartenders in Brooklyn, Katherine?” I demand.
She gives me a withering look. “Duh, I watch HBO.”
Hmm. We might need to put some parental controls on the TV.
Kitty goes to my closet and pulls out my red off-the-shoulder knit dress with the swishy skirt. “Wear this. It’s still Christmasy but less elf-costumey.”
“Fine, but I’m putting my candy-cane pin on it.”
“Fine, you can wear the pin. But leave your hair down. No braid.” I give her my best sad pouty face, but Kitty shakes her head. “I’ll curl the ends to give it some body, but no braids of any kind.”
I plug in the curling iron and sit on the floor with Jamie in my lap, and Kitty sits on the bed and sections my hair off. She wraps my hair around the barrel like a real pro. “Did Josh RSVP yes to the party?” she asks me.
“I’m not sure,” I say.
“What about Peter?”
“He’s not coming,” I say.
“He just can’t,” I tell her.
* * *
Margot’s at the piano playing “Blue Christmas,” and our old piano teacher Mr. Choi is sitting next to her singing along. Across the room, Daddy’s showing off a new cactus to the Shahs from down the street, and Kitty and Josh and a few of the other little kids are trying to teach Jamie how to sit. I’m sipping cranberry-and-ginger-ale punch and talking to Aunt D. about her divorce when Peter Kavinsky walks in wearing a hunter-green sweater with a button-down shirt underneath, carrying a Christmas tin. I almost choke on my punch.
Kitty spots him when I do. “You came!” she cries. She runs right into his arms, and he puts down the cookie tin and picks her up and throws her around. When he sets her down, she takes him by the hand and over to the buffet table, where I’m busying myself rearranging the cookie plate.
“Look what Peter brought,” she says, pushing him forward.
He hands me the cookie tin. “Here. Fruitcake cookies my mom made.”
“What are you doing here?” I whisper accusingly.
“The kid invited me.” He jerks his head toward Kitty, who has conveniently run back over to the puppy. Josh is standing up now, looking over at us with a frown on his face. “We need to talk.”
So now he wants to talk. Well, too late. “We don’t have anything to talk about.”
Peter takes me by the elbow and I try to shake him off, but he won’t let go. He steers me into the kitchen. “I want you to make up an excuse to Kitty and leave,” I say. “And you can take your fruitcake cookies with you.”
“First tell me why you’re so pissed at me.”
“Because!” I burst out. “Everyone is saying how we had sex in the hot tub and I’m a slut and you don’t even care!”
“I told the guys we didn’t!”
“Did you? Did you tell them that all we did was kiss and that’s all we’ve ever done?” Peter hesitates, and I go on. “Or did you say, ‘Guys, we didn’t have sex in the hot tub,’ wink wink, nudge nudge.”
Peter glares at me. “Give me a little more credit than that, Covey.”
“You’re such a scumbag, Kavinsky.”
I spin around. There is Josh, in the doorway, glaring at Peter.
“It’s your fault people are saying that crap about Lara Jean.” Josh shakes his head in disgust. “She’d never do that.”
“Keep your voice down,” I whisper, my eyes darting around. This is not happening right now. At recital party, with everyone I’ve ever known my whole entire life in the next room.
Peter’s jaw twitches. “This is a private conversation, Josh, between me and my girlfriend. Why don’t you go play World of Warcraft or something. Or maybe there’s a Lord of the Rings marathon on TV.”
“Fuck you, Kavinsky,” Josh says. I gasp. To me Josh says, “Lara Jean, this is exactly what I’ve been trying to protect you from. He’s not good enough for you. He’s only bringing you down.”
Beside me Peter stiffens. “Get over it! She doesn’t like you anymore. It’s over. Move on.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Josh says.
“Whatever, dude. She told me you tried to kiss her. You try that again, and I’m kicking your ass.”
Josh lets out a short laugh. “Go ahead.”
Panic rises in my chest as Peter moves toward Josh with purpose. I pull Peter’s arm back. “Stop it!”