“Well—anyway. You look . . . taller.” He looks more than just taller. Now that I can take the time to really look at him, I notice more. With his fair hair and milky skin and rosy cheeks, he looks like he could be an English farmer’s son. But he’s slim, so maybe the sensitive farmer’s son who steals away to the barn to read. The thought makes me smile, and John gives me a curious look but doesn’t ask why.
With a nod, he says, “You look . . . exactly the same.”
Gulp. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? “I do?” I get up on my tiptoes. “I think I’ve grown at least an inch since eighth grade.” And my boobs are at least a little bigger. Not much. Not that I want John to notice—I’m just saying.
“No, you look . . . just like how I remembered you.” John Ambrose reaches out, and I think he’s trying to hug me but he’s only trying to take my bag from me, and there’s a brief but strange dance that mortifies me but he doesn’t seem to notice. “So thanks for inviting me.”
“Thanks for coming.”
“Do you want me to take this stuff up for you?”
“Sure,” I say.
John takes the bag from me and looks inside. “Oh, wow. All of our old snacks! Why don’t you climb up first and I’ll pass it to you.” So that’s what I do: I scramble up the ladder and he climbs up behind me. I’m crouched, arms outstretched, waiting for him to pass me the bag.
But when he gets halfway up the ladder, he stops and looks up at me and says, “You still wear your hair in fancy braids.”
I touch my side braid. Of all the things to remember about me. Back then, Margot was the one who braided my hair. “You think it looks fancy?”
“Yeah. Like . . . expensive bread.”
I burst out laughing. “Bread!”
“Yeah. Or . . . Rapunzel.”
I get down on my stomach, wriggle over to the edge, and pretend like I’m letting down my hair for him to climb. He climbs up to the top of the ladder and passes me the bag, which I take, and then he grins at me and gives my braid a tug. I’m still lying down but feel an electric charge like he’s zapped me. I’m suddenly feeling very anxious about the worlds that will be colliding, the past and the present, a pen pal and a boyfriend, all in this little tree house. Probably I should have thought this through a bit better. But I was so focused on the time capsule, and the snacks, and the idea of it—old friends coming back together to do what we said we’d do. And now here we are, in it.
“Everything okay?” John asks, offering me his hand as I rise to my feet.
I don’t take his hand; I don’t want another zap. “Everything’s great,” I say cheerily.
“Hey, you never sent back my letter,” he says. “You broke an unbreakable vow.”
I laugh awkwardly. I’d kind of been hoping he wouldn’t bring that up. “It was too embarrassing. The things I wrote. I couldn’t bear the thought of another person seeing it.”
“But I already saw it,” he reminds me.
Luckily, Chris and Trevor Pike show up and break up the conversation about the letter. They immediately tear into the snacks. Meanwhile Peter’s late. I text him a stern You better be on your way. And then: Don’t text back if you’re driving. That’s dangerous.
Just as I’m texting again, Peter’s head pops up in the door and he climbs inside. I’m about to give him a hug, but then right behind him is Genevieve. My whole body goes cold.
I look from him to her. She sails right past me and sweeps John into a hug. “Johnny!” she squeals, and he laughs. I feel the sharp twist of envy in my stomach. Must every boy be charmed by her?
While she’s hugging John, Peter’s looking at me with pleading eyes. He mouths, Don’t be mad, and he clasps his hands in prayer. I mouth back, What the hell, and he grimaces. I never explicitly said I wasn’t inviting her, but I would have thought it was pretty clear. And then I think, Wait a minute. They came here together. He was with her and he never said a word to me about it, and then he brought her here, here, to my house. Specifically to my neighbors’ tree house. This girl who has hurt me, hurt us both.
Then Peter and John are hugging and high-fiving and slapping each other on the back, like old war buddies, long-lost brothers in arms. “It’s been too fucking long, man,” Peter says.
Genevieve is already unzipping her puffy white bomber jacket and making herself comfortable. Whatever fleeting moment there was for me to kick her and Peter both out of my neighbors’ tree house is gone. “Hi, Chrissy,” she says, smiling as she settles on the ground. “Nice hair.”
Chris glares at her. “What are you even doing here?” I love that she says this—I love her.
“Peter and I were hanging out and he told me about what you guys were doing today.” Shrugging out of her jacket, Genevieve says to me, “I guess my invitation got lost in the mail.”
I don’t reply, because what can I say in front of all these people? I just hug my knees to my chest. Now that I’m sitting next to her, I realize how small this tree house has become. There’s hardly enough room for all the arms and legs, and the boys are so big now. Before, we were more or less the same size, boys and girls.
“God, was this place always so tiny?” Genevieve says to no one in particular. “Or did we all just get really big?” She laughs. “Except you, Lara Jean. You’re still itty-bitty pocket-sized.” She says it sweetly. Like sweetened condensed milk. Sweet and condescending. Poured on super thick.
I play along: I smile. I won’t let her get a rise out of me.
John rolls his eyes. “Same old Gen.” He says it dryly, with weary affection, and she smiles her cute wrinkly-nose smile at him like he’s paid her a compliment. But then he looks at me and raises one sardonic eyebrow, and I feel better about everything, just like that. In a strange way, maybe her presence here completes the circle. She can take whatever’s hers in that time capsule, and this history of ours can be done.
“Trev, throw me an ice cream sandwich,” Peter says, squeezing in between Genevieve and me. He stretches his legs out into the center of the circle, and everyone else adjusts to make room for his long legs.
I push his legs over so I can set the time capsule down in the center. “Here it is, everybody. All your greatest treasures from seventh grade.” I try to whip off the aluminum top with a flourish, but it’s really stuck. I’m struggling with it, using my nails. I look over at Peter and he’s digging into the ice cream bars, oblivious, so John gets up and helps me unscrew it. He smells like pine soap. I add this to the list of new things I’ve learned about him.