Always and Forever, Lara Jean
I LIKE TO WATCH PETER when he doesn’t know I’m looking. I like to admire the straight line of his jaw, the curve of his cheekbone. There’s an openness to his face, an innocence—a certain kind of niceness. It’s the niceness that touches my heart the most.
It’s Friday night at Gabe Rivera’s house after the lacrosse game. Our school won, so everyone is in very fine spirits, Peter most of all, because he scored the winning shot. He’s across the room playing poker with some of the guys from his team; he is sitting with his chair tipped back, his back against the wall. His hair is still wet from showering after the game. I’m on the couch with my friends Lucas Krapf and Pammy Subkoff, and they’re flipping through the latest issue of Teen Vogue, debating whether or not Pammy should get bangs.
“What do you think, Lara Jean?” Pammy asks, running her fingers through her carrot-colored hair. Pammy is a new friend—I’ve gotten to know her because she dates Peter’s good friend Darrell. She has a face like a doll, round as a cake pan, and freckles dust her face and shoulders like sprinkles.
“Um, I think bangs are a very big commitment and not to be decided on a whim. Depending on how fast your hair grows, you could be growing them out for a year or more.
But if you’re serious, I think you should wait till fall, because it’ll be summer before you know it, and bangs in the summer can be sort of sticky and sweaty and annoying. . . .” My eyes drift back to Peter, and he looks up and sees me looking at him, and raises his eyebrows questioningly. I just smile and shake my head.
“So don’t get bangs?”
My phone buzzes in my purse. It’s Peter.
Do you want to go?
Then why were you staring at me?
Because I felt like it.
Lucas is reading over my shoulder. I push him away, and he shakes his head and says, “Are you guys really texting each other when you’re only twenty feet away?”
Pammy crinkles up her nose and says, “So adorable.”
I’m about to answer them when I look up and see Peter sweeping across the room toward me with purpose. “Time to get my girl home,” he says.
“What time is it?” I say. “Is it that late already?” Peter’s hoisting me off the couch and helping me into my jacket. Then he pulls me by the hand and leads me through Gabe’s living room. Looking over my shoulder, I wave and call out, “Bye, Lucas! Bye, Pammy!
For the record, I think you would look great with bangs!”
“Why are you walking so fast?” I ask as Peter marches me through the front yard to the curb where his car is parked.
He stops in front of the car, pulls me toward him, and kisses me, all in one fast motion. “I can’t concentrate on my cards when you stare at me like that, Covey.”
“Sorry,” I start to say, but he is kissing me again, his hands firm on my back.
When we’re in his car, I look at the dashboard and see that it’s only midnight. I say, “I still have an hour until I have to be home. What should we do?”
Of the people we know, I’m the only one with an actual curfew. When the clock strikes one o’clock, I turn into a pumpkin. Everyone is used to it by now: Peter Kavinsky’s Goody Two-shoes girlfriend who has to be home by one. I’ve never once minded having a curfew. Because truly, it’s not like I’m missing out on anything so wonderful—and what’s that old saying? Nothing good happens after two a.m. Unless you happen to be a fan of watching people play flip cup for hours on end. Not me. No, I’d much prefer to be in my flannel pajamas with a cup of Night-Night tea and a book, thank you very much.
“Let’s just go to your house. I want to come inside and say hi to your dad and hang out for a bit. We could watch the rest of Aliens.” Peter and I have been working our way down our movie list, which consists of my picks (favorite movies of mine that he’s never seen), his picks, (favorite movies of
his that I’ve never seen), and movies neither of us have seen. Aliens was Peter’s pick, and it’s turning out to be quite good. And even though once upon a time Peter claimed he didn’t like rom coms, he was very into Sleepless in Seattle, which I was relieved for, because I just don’t see how I could be with someone who doesn’t like Sleepless in Seattle.
“Let’s not go home yet,” I say. “Let’s go somewhere.”
Peter thinks about it for a minute, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, and then he says, “I know where we can go.”
“Wait and see,” he says, and he puts the windows down, and the crisp night air fills the car.
I lean back into my seat. The streets are empty; the lights are off in most of the houses. “Let me guess. We’re going to the diner because you want blueberry pancakes.”
“Hmm. It’s too late to go to Starbucks, and Biscuit Soul Food is closed.”
“Hey, food isn’t the only thing I think about,” he objects. Then: “Are there any cookies left in that Tupperware?”
“They’re all gone, but I might have some more at home, if Kitty didn’t eat them all.” I dip my arm out the window and let it hang. Not many more nights left like these, where it’s cool enough to need a jacket.
I look at Peter’s profile out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes I still can’t believe he’s mine. The handsomest boy of all the handsome boys is mine, all mine.
“What?” he says.
“Nothing,” I say.
Ten minutes later, we are driving onto the University of Virginia campus, only nobody calls it campus; they call it Grounds. Peter parks along the side of the street. It’s quiet for a Friday night in a college town, but it’s UVA’s spring break, so a lot of kids are still gone.
We’re walking across the lawn, his hand in mine, when I’m hit with a sudden wave of panic. I stop short and ask, “Hey, you don’t think it’s bad luck for me to come here before I’m actually in, do you?”
Peter laughs. “It’s not a wedding. You’re not marrying UVA.”
“Easy for you to say, you’re already in.”
Peter gave a verbal commitment to the UVA lacrosse team last year, and then he applied early action in the fall. Like with most college athletes, he was all but in, so long as his grades stayed decent. When he got the official yes back in January, his mom threw a party for him and I baked a cake that said, I’m taking my talents to UVA in yellow frosting.
Peter pulls me by the hand and says, “Come on, Covey. We make our own luck. Besides, we were here two months ago for that thing at the Miller Center.”
I relax. “Oh, yeah.”
We continue our walk across the lawn. I know where we’re going now. To the Rotunda, to sit on the steps. The Rotunda was designed by Thomas Jefferson, who founded the school, and he modeled it after the Pantheon, with its white columns and big domed top. Peter runs up the brick
steps Rocky-style and plops down. I sit down in front of him, leaning back and resting my arms on the tops of his knees. “Did you know,” I begin, “that one of the things that makes UVA unique is that the center of the school, right there inside the Rotunda, is a library and not a church? It’s because Jefferson believed in the separation between school and church.”
“Did you read that in the brochure?” Peter teases, planting a kiss on my neck.
Dreamily, I say, “I learned it when I went on the tour last year.”
“You didn’t tell me you went on a tour. Why would you go on a tour when you’re from here? You’ve been here a million times!”
He’s right that I’ve been here a million times—I grew up going here with my family. When my mom was still alive, we’d go see the Hullabahoos perform because my mom loved a cappella. We had our family portrait taken on the lawn. On sunny days after church, we’d come picnic out here.
I twist around to look at Peter. “I went on the tour because I wanted to know everything about UVA! Stuff I wouldn’t know just by living around here. Like, do you know what year they let women in?”
He scratches the back of his neck. “Uh . . . I don’t know. When was the school founded? The early 1800s? So, 1920?”
“Nope. 1970.” I turn back around and face forward, looking out onto the grounds. “After a hundred and fifty years.”
Intrigued, Peter says, “Whoa. That’s crazy. Okay, tell me more facts about UVA.”
“UVA is America’s only collegiate World Heritage UNESCO site in all of the United States,” I begin.
“Never mind, don’t tell me more facts about UVA,” Peter says, and I slap him on the knee. “Tell me something else instead. Tell me what you’re looking forward to most about going to school here.”
“You go first. What are you most excited about?”
Right away, Peter says, “That’s easy. Streaking the lawn with you.”
“That’s what you’re looking forward to more than anything? Running around naked?” Hastily I add, “I’m never doing that, by the way.”
He laughs. “It’s a UVA tradition. I thought you were all about UVA traditions.”
“I’m just kidding.” He leans forward and puts his arms around my shoulders, rubbing his nose in my neck the way he likes to do. “Your turn.”
I let myself dream about it for a minute. If I get in, what am I most looking forward to? There are so many things, I can hardly name them all. I’m looking forward to eating waffles every day with Peter in the dining hall. To us sledding down O-Hill when it snows. To picnics when it’s warm. To staying up all night talking and then waking up and talking some more. To late-night laundry and last-minute road trips. To . . . everything. Finally I say, “I don’t want to jinx it.”
“Okay, okay . . .
I guess I’m most looking forward to . . . to going to the McGregor Room whenever I want.” People call it the Harry Potter room, because of the rugs and chandeliers and leather chairs and the portraits on the wall. The bookshelves go from the floor to the ceiling, and all of the books are behind metal grates, protected like the precious objects they are. It’s a room from a different time. It’s very hushed—reverential, even. There was this one summer—I must have been five or six, because it was before Kitty was born—my mom took a class at UVA, and she used to study in the McGregor Room. Margot and I would color, or read. My mom called it the magic library, because Margot and I never fought inside of it. We were both quiet as church mice; we were so in awe of all the books, and of the older kids studying.
Peter looks disappointed. I’m sure it’s because he thought I would name something having to do with him. With us. But for some reason, I want to keep those hopes just for me for now.
“You can come with me to the McGregor Room,” I say. “But you have to promise to be quiet.”
Affectionately Peter says, “Lara Jean, only you would look forward to hanging out in a library.”
Actually, judging by Pinterest alone, I’m pretty sure a lot of people would look forward to hanging out in such a beautiful library. Just not people Peter knows. He thinks I’m so quirky. I’m not planning on being the one to break the
news to him that I’m actually not that quirky, that in fact lots of people like to stay home and bake cookies and scrapbook and hang out in libraries. Most of them are probably in their fifties, but still. I like the way he looks at me, like I am a wood nymph that he happened upon one day and just had to take home to keep.
Peter pulls his phone out of his hoodie pocket. “It’s twelve thirty. We should go soon.”
“Already?” I sigh. I like being here late at night. It feels like the whole place is ours.
In my heart, it was always UVA. I’ve never really expected to go anywhere else, or even really thought about it. I was going to apply early when Peter did, but my guidance counselor, Mrs. Duvall, advised me against applying early action, because she said it would be better to wait so they could see my senior mid-year grades. According to Mrs. Duvall, it’s always best to apply at your peak moment.
And so I ended up applying to five schools. At first it was just going to be UVA, the hardest to get into and only fifteen minutes from home; William and Mary, the second hardest to get into and also my second choice (two hours away); and then University of Richmond and James Madison, both only an hour away, in a tie for third choice. All in state. But then Mrs. Duvall urged me to apply to just one out-of-state school, just in case, just to have the option—so I applied to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It’s really hard to get into out-of-states, but I picked it because it reminds me of UVA. It has a strong liberal arts
program, and it’s not too far away, close enough to come home in a hurry if I needed to.
But if I had the choice, I would still pick UVA every time. I’ve never wanted to be far from home. I’m not like my big sister. Going far away, that was her dream. She’s always wanted the world. I just want home, and for me, UVA is home, which is why it’s the college I’ve measured all other colleges against. The perfect storybook campus, the perfect everything. And, of course, Peter.
We stay a bit longer, me telling Peter more facts about UVA and Peter making fun of me for knowing so many facts about UVA. Then he drives me home. It’s nearly one a.m. when we pull up in front of my house. The downstairs lights are all off, but my dad’s bedroom light is on. He never goes to bed until I’m home. I’m about to hop out when Peter reaches across me and stops me from opening the door. “Give me my good-night kiss,” he says.
I laugh. “Peter! I have to go.”
Stubbornly he closes his eyes and waits, and I lean forward and plant a quick kiss on his lips. “There. Satisfied?”
“No.” He kisses me again like we have all the time in the world and says, “What would happen if I came back after everyone went to sleep, and I spent the night, and left really early in the morning? Like, before dawn?”
Smiling, I say, “You can’t, so we’ll never know.”
“But what if?”
“My dad would kill me.”
“No, he wouldn’t.”
“He’d kill you.”
“No, he wouldn’t.”
“No, he wouldn’t,” I agree. “But he’d be pretty disappointed in me. And he’d be mad at you.”
“Only if we got caught,” Peter says, but it’s halfhearted. He won’t risk it either. He’s too careful about staying in my dad’s good graces. “You know what I’m really looking forward to the most?” He gives my braid a tug before saying, “Not having to say good night. I hate saying good night.”
“Me too,” I say.
“I can’t wait until we’re at college.”
“Me too,” I say, and I kiss him one more time before jumping out of the car and running toward my house. On the way, I look up at the moon, at all the stars that cover the night sky like a blanket, and I make a wish. Dear God, please, please let me get into UVA.