Peter closes his eyes briefly. “Why does it matter?”
I think back to that night in the woods. How he looked surprised to see me. Startled, even. He wasn’t waiting for me. He was waiting for her. He still is. “If I hadn’t gone out to apologize that night, would you have kissed her?”
He doesn’t answer right away. “I don’t know.”
Those three words confirm everything for me. They take my breath away. “If I win . . . do you know what I would wish for?” Don’t say it, don’t say it. Don’t say the thing you can’t take back. “I’d wish we never started any of this.” The words echo in my head, in the air.
He sucks in his breath. His eyes get small; so does his mouth. I’ve hurt him. Is that what I wanted? I thought so, but now, looking at his face, I’m not sure. “You don’t have to win the game to have that, Covey. You can have that right now if you want it.”
I reach out, put both hands on his chest. My eyes fill. “You’re out. Who do you have?” I already know the answer.
I stand up. “Bye, Peter.” And then I walk into my house and shut the door. I don’t look back, not once.
We broke so easily. Like it was nothing. Like we were nothing. Does that mean it was never meant to be in the first place? That we were an accident of fate? If we were meant to be, how could we both walk away just like that?
I guess the answer is, we weren’t.
PETER AND ME, OUR BREAKUP, it’s all so very high school. By that I mean it’s ephemeral. Even this pain will be fleeting, finite. Even the sharp sting of this betrayal I should hold on to and remember and cherish, because it is my first true breakup. It’s all just part of it, the process of falling in love. And it’s not like I thought we’d stay together forever; we’re only sixteen and seventeen. One day I will look back on all of this fondly.
This is what I keep telling myself, even as tears are filling my eyes, even as I’m lying in bed that night, crying myself to sleep. I cry until my cheeks sting from wiping away my tears. This well of sadness, it starts with Peter but it doesn’t end there.
Because over and over one thought runs in my head on a loop: I miss my mother. I miss my mother. I miss her so much. If she were here, she would bring me a cup of Night-Night tea, she would sit at the foot of my bed. She would put my head in her lap, and run her fingers through my hair, and whisper in my ear, It will all be fine, Lara Jean. It will all be fine. And I would believe her, because her words were always true.
Oh, Mommy. How I miss you. Why aren’t you here, when I need you most?
So far I’ve saved a napkin Peter drew a little sketch of my face on, a ticket stub from the first time we went to the movies, the poem he gave me on Valentine’s Day. The necklace. Of course the necklace. I haven’t been able to bring myself to take it off. Not yet.
I lie in bed all day Saturday, only getting up for snacks and to let Jamie out to pee in the backyard. I fast-forward to the sad parts of romantic comedies. What I should be doing is coming up with a plan to take Genevieve out, but I can’t. It hurts every time I think of her, of the game, of Peter most of all. I resolve to put it out of my mind until I can really concentrate.
John texts me once to see if I’m all right, but I can’t bring myself to reply. I put that off for later too.
The only time I leave the house is on Sunday afternoon to go to Belleview for a party planning committee meeting. With a little cajoling on Stormy’s part, Janette has okayed my USO party idea, and the show must go on, breakups be damned.
Stormy says the whole retirement community is abuzz about it. She’s particularly excited because there’s been talk that Ferncliff, the other big nursing home in town, might bus over some of their residents. Stormy says they have at least one eligible widower that she knows from the seniors book club at the local library. This gets the other female residents stirred up. “He’s a very distinguished silver,” she keeps telling everyone. “He still drives, too!” I make sure to spread that info around myself. Anything to build excitement.
At the party everyone will get five “war bonds,” which you can use for a cup of whiskey punch, a little flag pin, or a dance. That was Mr. Morales’s idea. Actually, his exact idea was one war bond for a dance with a lady, but we all slapped him down for being sexist and said that it should be a dance with a man or a lady. Alicia, pragmatic as ever, said, “There will be many more women than men, so it’s the women who will be in charge anyway.”
I’ve been going from apartment to apartment asking people to lend pictures from the forties if they have them, especially in uniform or at a USO party. One resident sniffed at me and said, “Excuse me, but I was six in 1945!” Hastily I told her that pictures of her parents would be welcome too, of course—but she was already closing the door in my face.
Scrapbooking to the Oldies has turned into a de facto dance-planning committee. I printed out war bonds, and Mr. Morales is using my paper cutter to cut them. Maude, who is new to the group and is Internet savvy, is clipping news articles from the war to decorate the refreshments table. Her friend Claudia is working on the playlist.
Alicia will have a little table of her own. She’s making a paper-crane garland, all different-colored papers, lilac and peach and turquoise and floral. Stormy balked at the deviation from the red, white, and blue theme, but Alicia held firm and I backed her up. Classy as always, her pictures of Japanese Americans in internment camps are in fancy silver frames.
“Those pictures are really going to bring the mood down,” Stormy stage-whispers to me.
Alicia whirls around. “These pictures are meant to educate the ignorant.”
Stormy gathers herself up to her full five feet three inches, five-six in heels. “Alicia, did you just call me ignorant?” I wince. Stormy’s been putting a lot of work into this party, and she’s been a little extra Stormy lately.
I just can’t take another fight between them right now. I’m about to plead for peace when Alicia fixes Stormy with a steely look and says, “If the muumuu fits.”
Stormy and I both gasp. Then Stormy stalks over to Alicia’s table and sweeps Alicia’s paper cranes to the floor with a flourish. Alicia screams, and I gasp again. Everyone else in the room looks up. “Stormy!”
“You’re taking her side? She just called me ignorant! Stormy Sinclair might be a lot of things, but I am not ignorant.”