“You’re the greatest, Covey.”
“So… you’re just gonna stay home? On a Saturday night? Sounds kinda depressing, Lara Jean.
A frown creases Lara Jean's forehead as she stares at the pixelated image of her sister on her screen.
“That is way harsh, Kitty.”
“What?” Kitty asks, with a jerky but unconcerned shrug. “I just thought you’d go out more when you reached college. You know, do different things.”
“I have been doing different things! This is the first weekend I’ve stayed in since classes started, and I’ll have you know, I’m actually looking forward to a good John Hughes marathon.”
“Which you’ve seen a million times,” Kitty interjects, rolling her eyes. “What about the guy from across the hall? Why don’t you go see what he’s up to?”
Lara Jean hesitates, ducking her head instinctively and avoiding eye contact with her sister’s image even though she knows she’s on a webcam. “Um, I don’t know. I think he’s busy.”
Truth be told, all her friends seemed to busy that night. Stormy had left for the weekend to visit her cousin, Chris had a date with a guy from one of her classes, Lucas had mentioned something about a frat party, and Peter… well, Lara Jean didn’t know what Peter was doing that evening.
He’d been busy all day with some boot camp training thing for the lacrosse team, and Lara Jean had spent the majority of the day ensconced in the library, finishing a paper.
The fact that they had not hung out during the day wasn’t that strange. They were two separate people, with differing commitments and schedules, but…
For the first time in a long while, there had been no message waiting for Lara Jean when she’d returned home that afternoon.
“Well, are there any parties you could go to? I mean, I thought that’s what college is all about. Wild parties and getting drunk, or whatever,” Kitty asks. She also raises her brow at Lara Jean suggestively, like the ‘whatever’ could actually translate to something more.
But Lara Jean just shrugs. “Um, yeah, I guess, but I think I’d rather watch my movies. Have a quiet relaxed evening. It’ll be fun!” She tries to inject as much enthusiasm as she can muster into her response, but it probably doesn’t ring completely true. Her sister knows her well enough to tell when she’s lying.
Of course, this feeble attempt at an excuse earns another eyeroll. “Fine,” Kitty says exasperated. “Did you wanna come home, then? I could call Megan and postpone our sleep over.”
Lara Jean smiles, appreciating her younger sister's 'noble offer’, but shakes her head. “As tempting as your very gracious sacrifice sounds...I’d rather not seem completely ‘depressing’,” she finishes, air quotes and all.
“Well, aren’t you?” Kitty asks, but Lara Jean can tell from her tone that she’s mostly joking. Mostly.
“Still harsh, Kitty…” Lara Jean deadpans. “But thanks for the offer. I’m perfectly fine with hanging out on my own.”
“Okay, if you say so…” Kitty spins around on her chair and starts to get ready to leave for her sleepover, but then pauses. “But we’re still on for breakfast tomorrow, right? I’m expecting waffles.”
Lara Jean laughs. “Of course, you heathen.”
“Great! Then I gotta go. Enjoy your Hughesy feels.”
They sign off and Lara Jean busies herself with getting ready. Her movies are already queued up in order, starting from favorite first, and she’s already changed into her pyjamas. All that’s missing is the popcorn and her korean face masks.
As she watches the microwave timer slowly tick down, her mind inevitably wanders to where Peter might be.
Perhaps he’s still out with the team, she reasons. Doing the whole male bonding thing.
But even so, she thought Peter might have written her message (or texted) to let her know. Not that he needs to, of course. She isn’t his girlfriend, and he doesn't owe her any explanations, but well, he told her (or was with her) so often that it felt really strange not knowing.
Lara Jean can't help but wonder if this silence is significant. Like… perhaps the reason is why Gen had been uncharacteristically silent all day too.
It was very possible that they were together. And Peter hadn’t mentioned anything to spare her feelings.
Groaning loudly, Lara Jean retrieved her bowl of popcorn, slamming the microwave door a little harder than necessary and moving to flop down on her bed. She wanted to bury her face in her pillow, wanted to scrub the images of Peter and Gen ‘together’ somewhere out of her head.
She was so preoccupied with their imaginary romance playing through her mind, remembering the way Gen giggled at Peter’s jokes, or touched his arm, that when someone knocked on her door, Lara Jean shuffled to answer without much thought.
When she opens the door, her eyes go comically wide, struck with the sudden surprise of her visitor.
He’s standing there in a nice green shirt and bomber jacket, hanging on his built frame like the clothes were made specifically for him. His expectant expression changes though, mirroring her surprise as his gaze travels down to take in her yummy cupcake nightgown, all the way down to her fuzzy Hufflepuff slippers.
“Whoa, that’s what you’re wearing?” he asks, raising his brow, his tone obviously torn between amusement and confusion.
Lara Jean self-consciously tugs at the hem of her nightie, really aware that this particular nightgown is probably a little too small for her - her grandma had bought it for her back in her freshman year of high school - and she had not bothered to put on tights or pyjama bottoms like she normally did when she expected to be around other people - namely Stormy, because no one else has yet been in a position to see her in her pyjamas.
“Um… yeah?” she asks back, equally confused. “I-It’s my favorite. And they’re really comfy.”
“Okay…” Peter replied slowly, nodding as if he understands, though he clearly doesn’t. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, the cupcakes are really nice and all - and the potter slippers are cute - so if that’s what you wanna wear to the party, then I have no problems with it - but…”
She blinks. Huh? “Wait. What party?” Lara Jean interrupts.
“Er, the Stevensons party? Didn’t you get my note?”
Both their heads turn to look at the completely blank whiteboard, frowns returning to their faces.
“I, um, left you a message earlier about the party at Stevenson hall.” Peter explains. “Said I’d pick you up around now?”
“Oh…” Lara Jean is still staring at the whiteboard, her head tilted to the side like she’s trying to solve a particularly difficult puzzle. “Um, no, sorry, Petter. I didn’t see it. Maybe someone in the halls thought it’d be funny to erase the message…” But even as she says it, she knows she doesn’t sound too convinced.
“Well, if you wanna go…” Her attention turns back to Peter, and she appreciates that he’s only looking at her face - and not her bare legs, or the fact that he can see the straps of her bra. “I’ll wait for you to get ready,” he says in a hopeful tone. “Or, I can change into my PJs and we can make a statement together. Though mine aren’t nearly as nice. Mostly old sweatshirts and track packs… so it might not have the same effect.”
Lara Jean laughs, subconsciously tugging at her nightie again. Why couldn’t the ground just open up and swallow her whole? For once?? “Oh, well, I was just about to watch a movie,” she begins, the instinct to retreat and bury this embarrassing moment as quickly as possible taking over. “I mean, I even have the popcorn popped and everything.”
“Yeah?” Peter takes a step inside, glancing at her laptop propped open on her bed, as if trying to see the screen. “What movie?”
“Sixteen Candles,” she replies, still just as shyly.
He pauses and meets her gaze again. “Isn’t that, like, really old? Like from the 70’s?”
“The 80’s. It’s John Hughes. He was from the 80’s.”
“80’s, right.” Peter nods. “But I bet you’ve already seen it, like, a hundred times, am I right?”
Lara Jean squints at him, predicting where he is going with this. “Maybe…” she replies slowly.
He grins at her. “Aw, come on, Covey. Come to the party with me. It’ll be fun.”
“I don’t know, Peter…” she begins, but Peter interjects.
“Please? Just for, like, an hour. If you’re not into it after an hour, we can come back and watch your Candles movie. Please?”
Lara Jean looks at Peter, his eager expression, his pleading eyes, and before she realizes it, she’s nodding, agreeing to Peter’s request. “Okay, deal. One hour.” She holds up her finger to emphasize her point, before reaching out to shake his hand. Lara Jean hasn’t been to many parties before, not even during high school. It’s just not really her thing. So she’s pretty sure Peter will be too busy having fun, and won’t even notice if she ducks out before the hour is done.
A short while later, Lara Jean and Peter are walking across the UVA grounds towards the party. She’s a little self conscious about what she’s wearing.
Obviously, the cupcakes and slippers have been replaced by a simple dress and jacket combo, paired with some platform boots that make her look taller and her legs look really long. Nothing too fancy, because, one, no time, and two, she wasn’t too sure what this was.
If Peter was just taking his friend to a party, she didn’t want to build up her expectations, and if he wasn’t, well… Lara Jean’s not sure her brain can handle that scenario just now.
He still smiled the same smile when he saw her, is still walking beside her like he does every day… Nothing about all this screams something more, and yet, her stomach is fluttering with butterflies as they walk.
Lara Jean is still fidgeting with her outfit when they arrive, the pounding music making her more nervous with every step. She’s midway through retying her ponytail for the fifth time when Peter looks at her with a bemused smile.
“What are you doing?” he asks, stepping towards her and reaching for her scrunchie. “Give me that.”
Before she can protest, Peter is sliding it out of her hair, letting it fall like a curtain down her back.
“Huh? No, give me that back.”
“I am keeping it,” he replies, standing firm and shaking his head, while hiding the scrunchie behind his back and out of sight. “I like your hair down.”
Lara Jean huffs disbelievingly in response, running her fingers through her hair and trying to smooth out any kinks.
“You look pretty.” Peter continues with an assertive nod. “I’ll prove it to you.” He takes the picture so quickly that Lara Jean barely has time to react, cupping her cheeks shyly. Her heart is beating so fast in her chest, she’s sure Peter must be able to hear it, even over the loud thrum of music. “See?”
Peter looks so certain, like he really believes what he’s saying, that all she can do to respond is say, “Fine,” though she still can’t quite believe him. “But you can’t lose it, okay? That’s my favorite scrunchie.”
He nods, exasperatedly, snapping the scrunchie on his wrist to indicate that it’s secure. Then he reaches out and takes her hand, beginning to drag her inside towards the party. “Leggo.”
“Wait! Maybe I should…” She begins to protest again, dragging her feet, but Peter is having none of it.
He pauses to look directly into her eyes, those golden flecks sparkling back at her. She gulps.
“Relax, Lara Jean,” he says reassuringly. “You’re gonna have fun. And if not, we’ll leave. Promise.” Her hand is still in his, and she can feel his warmth, the pad of his thumb rubbing soothing figure eight patterns on her wrist.
“Okay,” she nods again, nervously pressing her lips together.
He smiles. “Try it again one more time.”
Lara Jean can’t help but smile back. “Okay,” she repeats, more confidently this time, and Peter’s nose crinkles.
They walk into the party together, her small hand still tucked neatly in his, Peter taking the lead. He’s stopped multiple times as they wade through the throng of students, but he doesn’t let go.
The party is in full swing, and surprisingly, Lara Jean finds that she genuinely is having a good time. She’s watching Peter play an animated game of beer pong with Greg, and they’re losing. Badly.
“Lara Jean, darling!” A voice calls out and she turns her head to see Stormy making her way over.
“Hey! I thought you were in Williamsburg this weekend?”
Stormy rolls her eyes, and gestures to the guy following behind. “My dear cousin misunderstood the plans and ended up driving here instead. Luckily, I hadn’t gone far when he arrived. Lara Jean, it is my pleasure to introduce you to John Ambrose McLaren.”
Her gaze switches to John and Lara Jean’s first thought is just how striking he is. He handsome in a traditional way. Much like Stormy, his style looks like something straight of the 1950’s, with his blazer and hair slicked to the side, and also like Stormy, he seems very approachable.
“Nice to meet you, Lara Jean,” John says, sticking out his hand. “Edith has told me so much about you.”
Stormy hisses at John. “I’ve told you a thousand times not to call me that, Johnny.”
John laughs. “And I’ve told you a thousand times not to call me Johnny. I can say we’re pretty even.”
“Nice to meet you, too, John,” Lara Jean pipes in, returning his hand shake. “What did you two get up to today?”
“Oh, Stormy just gave me a tour of campus,” he replies with a shrug. “But I came here when I was applying for college, so I kind of already had a feel of the place.” He leans in closer, conspiratorially. “I think she just wanted an excuse to drag me around, particularly when we went to the mall ‘to buy souvenirs’, which is code for clothes. For her.”
Lara Jean laughs, and Stormy makes a show of huffing indignantly.
At that moment, Peter appears by Lara Jean’s side, and they introduce him to John. There’s a strange air to the way Peter says ‘John Ambrose’, when they shake hands, and Lara Jean can’t quite put her finger on why .
“I’m gonna get a drink,” Peter announces a short while later. “Do you want anything?” he asks Lara Jean, but she shakes her head.
“I’ll come with you,” John chimes in, and takes an order from Stormy.
As the two head towards the drinks table, Stormy links her arm around Lara Jean and whispers. “Looks like Peter has some competition.”
This earns a confused look from Lara Jean.
“My dear cousin likes you, I can tell. And so can Peter. And he definitely doesn’t like it.”
Lara Jean shakes her head. “Nah uh,” she says, feeling her cheeks grow warm. “Peter is just as friendly as he always is.”
“Mark my words, Lara Jean,” Stormy nods sagely. “You’ll see. Perhaps this is the kick up the backside that dear Mr. Kavinsky needs to get a move on. Otherwise, my cousin is supposed to be quite good with the ladies.” She shudders. “I’ve heard rumors that I really wish I hadn't.”
“Thanks for the advice, Stormy. But, no thanks.” Lara Jean could barely handle her muddled emotions for Peter. She certainly did not need to throw anyone else into the mix. “Besides…”
Their eyes travel to the girl who has just made a striking entrance in the hall, her cherry red dress wrapped tightly around her body and showing off all the right curves. As soon as Gen spots Peter near the drinks, she makes a beeline for him, and Lara Jean watches from across the room as she engages him in conversation.
Her intention is clear, and suddenly the butterflies that have been dancing around Lara Jean's stomach all night have turned to lead, a horrible sinking feeling taking its place
“Um, I’m gonna go find a bathroom,” Lara Jean says, turning her face away from the scene before her.
Stormy scowls. “No, you should march over there and stake your territory. Don’t let that little tart sink her claws into your man.”
“He’s not my man, Stormy.”
“Darling, even if that isn’t the case right this moment, he will be, he wants to be, and Genevieve is the harlot that obstacle that all great love stories must endure.”
Lara Jean shakes her head in disbelief. Peter didn’t see her that way. She was sure of it. If he did, then he would have made it more obvious tonight, perhaps treated this as a date. He had the entire walk over here to say something, but he didn’t.
But, he did say you were pretty , a voice in her head says, but Lara Jean easily pushes it aside. He was just being nice, and it was more than likely that he dragged her along to be his wingman or something, since from the looks of things, Gen definitely knew he’d be here tonight. Even if he did think she was 'pretty', Lara Jean could admit that Gen looks absolutely gorgeous. And she really didn't want to compete with that. She knew that she'd definitely come out second best in that scenario.
She spots John making his way over to them, drinks in hand, and she uses that as an excuse to slip away. “I really need to pee,” she says to him apologetically as they pass, and she disappears down the hall.
Winding her way through the crowds, Peter and Gen left somewhere behind her, Lara Jean travels one floor up where the sounds of the party are a little more subdued.
When she does manage to find the bathroom, she’s shocked to see by who it’s already occupied.
“Chris?” she asks, rushing forward when she notices her best friend with her head in the toilet.
“I thought you were on a date,” she exclaims, soothing out her hair, and checking to see what damage needs to be attended to first. Overall, it just looks like Chris has just had too much to drink. There are clumps of vomit sticking to strands of hair, and her make up is running. Perhaps the worst of it will the killer hangover she’ll have in the morning.
“I was,” Chris slurs. “But he turned out to be a jerk,” she finishes with a shrug.
“You’re not hurt, are you?” she says softly, grabbing some toilet paper to help clean up her friend, but Chris shakes her head.
“Nah, just my pride. He’d heard about some of the stuff that happened in high school, and I guess he thought I’d be easy.” She shrugs as if she doesn’t care, but Lara Jean knows that she does.
She studies her worriedly, knowing that as much as Chris pretended not to care about her reputation, there was a part of her that had hoped it wouldn’t follow her to college. She really wished there was something she could do to help Chris make that a reality. It was so ridiculously unfair that girls were shamed for something guys did regularly… but they lived in a ridiculously chauvinistic world.
“Come here,” she says gently, tugging her friend into a tight embrace, vomit hair and all.
Chris attempts to give her a grateful smile, but it quickly turns to a groan as her head reaches for the toilet once more. Lara Jean stands behind Chris, holding back her hair and rubbing soothing circles on her back, waiting for the worst to be over.
“Let me take you home,” she implores when Chris’ stomach finally seems to have settled. Chris gives her a pathetic little nod and the pair slowly make their way downstairs.
As they’re heading out the door, Lara Jean tries to look over her shoulder for Peter, wanting to let him know that she’s leaving. But she can’t see him. He’s no longer near the drinks, or near the beer pong table. After careful observation, she realises she can’t see even a flash of that bright red dress anymore.
In fact, he and Gen have disappeared somewhere, both nowhere to be seen.