Okay. So. This guy comes in to the bakery every Friday like clockwork. It’s not Lara Jean’s fault that she notices, the guy is noticeable. Tall, lanky, white. Shoulders like a Greek god, forearms like a North Sea fisherman, and eyes like a small town veterinarian who makes house calls even in the dead of winter. If Lara Jean tends to drop things when he walks through the door of her bakery, it’s the fault of his genetics, not her.
He brings his son with him. The boy can’t be more than six or seven, and he looks enough like the man that Lara Jean can safely assume it’s his son, or maybe nephew. Every Friday at two-thirty in the afternoon, the two come in and split a cupcake. Always a different cupcake, because the boy wants to try as many as possible and Lara Jean always adds new flavors in addition to keeping the classics.
“That one,” the boy says, a firm demand softened by his brilliant, dimpled smile.
“You sure?” the man asks, peering down at the boy’s curly blond-brown head. “I could have sworn we tried that one already.”
The boy looks up at Lara Jean with incredibly solemnity. “It’s really good,” he tells her. She feels like she has just received the Nobel Prize for Children’s Approval.
Humming a laugh, the man nods. “All right. Your call, kid. One lemon lavender cupcake, please.” Quickly, Lara Jean gets the cupcake and takes the man’s card, trying not to be a complete creeper and stare too long at his broad hands as he hands it to her. “This is Colin, by the way,” he says, nodding his head toward the boy standing on his toes to see over the counter.
“Nice to meet you, Colin,” Lara Jean says to the boy, who half ducks behind the man’s leg. “You have excellent taste in cupcakes, if I do say so myself. I’m Lara Jean.”
“Hi, Lara Jean,” Colin parrots.
“Hi, Lara Jean,” says the man. There’s a sort half-smile on his face that makes his eyes crinkle at the corners. Her stomach absolutely does not flip when he looks at her. “I’m Peter.”
Peter Kavinsky. She notices the name on his credit card.
It’s getting bad. She’s dreaming about the sound of the bell above the door chiming. She’s imagining very Not PG-13 Things happening in the kitchen that ends with both of them covered in flour and powdered sugar. Her weeks begin to revolve around Friday afternoons.
Finally, she does what she has been aching to do for ages, and walks straight to their usual table by the window. The November sunlight is thin but bright, glancing off the silverware on the table and filling her eyes with glittering light. Colin is chatting happily to Peter (His father? Uncle?) while Peter listens and asks occasional questions. Taking a deep breath, Lara Jean walks up and offers a plate with a single cupcake on it. They look up at her—or, really, Colin looks straight at the cupcake—in confusion. She never steps out from behind the counter during business hours.
“Here,” she says, setting the plate on the table. “I’m testing a new flavor, and since you guys are some of my best customers and have such great taste in cupcakes,” she winks at Colin, “I was hoping you’d let me know what you think. Free of charge,” she adds, looking at Peter. Peter Kavinsky.
Who is looking at her. Looking at her kind of looking. With these crinkly eyebrows and squinty eyes and a mouth that—dear God, she has to stop.
With his eyes still on Lara Jean, Peter holds up one hand—stopping Colin from diving head-first into the dark chocolate mint cupcake. “What do we say?” he prompts, quirking an eyebrow, half admonishing and half affectionate.
“Thank you,” murmurs Colin, his attention still on the cupcake. When Peter lifts his hand, the boy grabs the cupcake with lightning speed.
“Thank you,” Peter leans back in his chair, watching the boy demolish the cupcake. “You didn’t have to do that.”
Lara Jean waves a hand. “It’s no problem. You guys really are my best customers. Some of my best customers. I mean, no one else has standing cupcake appointments like you two. What do you think?” she asks Colin seriously, pulling out a small notepad and pen, waiting for the boy’s opinion.
Colin’s entire face is covered in chocolate crumbs and mint icing, as is the table. But, miraculously, some of the baked good did end up in his mouth. “So good,” he tells her, still chewing. “So good! Dad, try some.”
Peter smirks, holding back a bigger smile. With great care, he collects some crumbs and icing and licks it off his finger. Briefly, innocently, but something low in Lara Jean’s stomach still clenches. “So good,” Peter agrees, making a humming noise of satisfaction and nodding in agreement with his son. Seeing Colin with chocolate in his hair, Peter can’t help but grin, a grin that scrunches his nose and his eyes and oh my god it’s just so much to handle.
Holding up her notepad, she writes, “So...good…All right, I’ll be sure to take that into account. Anything else?”
“I mean, I didn’t get that much,” Peter raises his eyebrows at his completely unapologetic son, “but it seems like it’s the exact right ration of mint to chocolate. The mint tastes like real mint, too, so it’s not overpoweringly sweet.” His eyes fall to her hands, to the notepad in her hands, the unmoving pen, and his mouth quirks to one side. “What, my feedback’s not as valuable as his?”
“Oh, right, yeah,” Lara Jean says in a rush, scribbling something on the notepad that is straight nonsense. It doesn’t matter, though, because everything he says is burned into her mind forever. “Thanks.” She leaves them, heading back to the kitchen.
“You own this place?” Peter calls after her.
She turns, her ponytail swinging around her shoulders. “Yeah, it’s mine.”
“You make all the cupcakes?” Colin asks, awed.
Lara Jean can’t help but laugh, the smile on her face so wide it hurts. “Yes, I do.”
Colin looks at his dad. “Best job ever.”
“Definitely,” Peter agrees, leaning back with one elbow propped on the back of the chair as he studies her. “I’m almost tempted to leave my day job. Any chance you’re hiring?”
Lara Jean lets out a vaguely hysterical laugh, too high to be casual. “Don’t tempt me. Those bags of flour are seriously heavy.”
“Let me know if you ever need a hand,” he says, and she laughs again, sure he’s joking. “I’m serious.”
Still chuckling, Lara Jean says, “Sure” as she walks away.
There are other customers, and her day continues, but it’s a little bit less bright after the two of them leave. When she goes to clear their table, she finds a piece of paper folded in half. Carefully, she opens it. Inside is a note.
Thank you, Lara Jean.
And then, in wobbly child’s scrawl, LJ.
She doesn’t stop smiling for hours.
Chris gets right to the point. “Does he wear a wedding ring? Because you should jump his bones.”
Lara Jean chokes on the cocktail she’s drinking. It’s fresh and delicious, something with lemon and cucumber and somehow vibrantly pink. She wishes she could turn it into a cupcake. “Chris. Seriously. Calm yourself.”
“I’m just saying,” Chris comments, swiveling on the bar stools where they’re perched at their favorite dive bar between the bakery and the office where Chris works. “He’s hot, he’s kind, he has an adorable son...he’s just begging to have you eat frosting off of every inch of his body.”
Lara Jean takes a huge gulp of her drink and holds up a hand. “I never said he was hot.”
“The way you don’t talk about his looks tells me everything I need to know,” her friend replies smugly. “Does he have a ring?”
“I’ve actually never even looked,” Lara Jean realizes. The bar is playing an old Goo Goo Dolls song that Kitty thinks is cheesy but Lara Jean loves. Her little sister may be the coolest college student in the history of college students, but that doesn't mean she’s always right.
Suddenly Chris sits up straight. “I’ll look for you! I’ll ask all the questions you want to ask but you don’t think you can. If he’s married, if he’s with the kid’s mom, blah blah. What time did you say he always comes in?”
Glancing at her friend sideways, Lara Jean mutters, “I’m not telling you.”
“But you said it’s Fridays, right?” There is a light in Chris’s eyes that Lara Jean finds worrisome. “I’ll come in this Friday and stake out the place all day.”
“Don’t you have a little pesky thing we like to call work?”
Curled up in bed, Lara Jean has long since set the romance novel she’s reading on her lap, forgotten. Usually, her mind would be miles away in a book, but tonight is miles away...and in real life. She can’t remember the last time that happened. High school, maybe?
Peter draws her thoughts like an anchor to the bottom of the ocean. Every time she pulls her focus to something else, she suddenly sees his hands peeling back a cupcake wrapper, or the thick curl of his brown hair, or the scar on his chin. Cocooned in her nest of pillows and blankets, Lara Jean stares at the ceiling and imagines what it would feel like if he stood close enough for her to feel the heat coming off him.
She turns her head, loose hair sliding across her teal pillow, and imagines him next to her in her bed. In her head, he looks back at her, quiet and calm. Her phone chimes, dragging her back to the real world...and the group chat with her sisters is blowing up.
Um, did you guys know dad is taking Korean cooking classes? writes Margo.
Kitty texts back in a flash. AFTER we leave home?????
Grinning, Lara Jean curls on her side, the glow from her phone bright in the soft lighting of her lamps and fairy lights. Whaaat, not fair! Why now?
Don’t know, Margot tells them, but that’s not the weirdest part.
Apparently…..he’s dating a woman from the class???
OH MY GOD WHAT
How did you find out?? Lara Jean texts, her fingers flying over the screen of her phone. Her chest feels tight, a tangle of sadness and joy and surprise.
Josh saw them at a restaurant and told me about it.
Texts come simultaneously from Kitty and Lara Jean, variations on: Wait wait wait, you text with Josh??
Yes, I text with Josh. We’re friends. Lara Jean can feel Margo’s aloof dismissal through the phone, and snickers to herself. Then, with a jolt, she realizes that Peter is still there in her head. “What are you laughing about?” he asks, propped up one elbow. She shakes her head to get rid of him, but he waits stubbornly while she texts with her sisters.
For about half an hour, they hash over the details of their dad’s love life before switching to Skype and talking for another hour and a half. Every conflicting emotion is thoroughly discussed: happiness that their dad is happy, sadness that their mom is gone and their dad has a life beyond her, gratitude that he does, disgust that their dad has a girlfriend, because ew, and everything in between. By the time they say goodbye, Lara Jean has forgotten that Peter was ever there. Her head is full of other things.
But, the thing is, he’s there when she wakes up. She slides her hands across her sheets to where she sees him in the hazy light before dawn, lying on his back with his face tipped away from her. In her head, she can see the long sweep of his lashes and the slope of his shoulder under her blankets. Her fingers curl back before she can touch him...because, of course, she can’t touch him. He’s not there. He’s not turning his face into the light, rolling toward her, slinging an arm around her waist under the covers. She gives her head a sharp shake and gets out of bed.
The tiny thank you note is sitting on her vanity.
On Friday morning, Lara Jean has to force herself to concentrate on baking in the early hours before the bakery opens. Her mind wants to leap ahead to 2:30, but she can’t afford the distraction. Mornings are for baking before she opens at 6:30. She works until close, then spends the evening handling the bakery’s finances and making sure her supplies are stocked and everything is clean. One of her two employees, Lucas, helps with the baking in the morning and clean-up at night; his vampire sleep schedule has him passed out during the day and running a radio show at night, so it works out. Sometimes, Chris (who has found a shockingly normal and respectable career as an accountant) keeps her company at night and helps with budgeting when Lara Jean has too much cleaning or prep for the next day.
That is her life. The bakery, her business, all of it. She built it and it is hers.
After she opens, she’s busy brewing coffee when the bell over the door chimes. When she looks up, an electric jolt travels the entire length of her body.
“Morning,” Peter says, strolling through her door like it’s the most natural thing in the world for him to be there. He has this loose, rolling walk that is unbearably attractive. She’s never found a walk attractive before. And...dear God, he’s wearing a suit and tie. Is he trying to kill her?!
“What are you doing here?” she demands of him. “I mean...good morning.”
Laughing, Peter sidles up to the counter and points to the pot of coffee still clutched in her hands. “I wanted some of that, actually. Colin’s with his mom this weekend, so we weren’t going to come in this afternoon, and who knows what would happen if I went a week without the Friday afternoon dose of sugar. For now, coffee’s gonna have to do.”
Colin's mom. But the way Peter phrased it makes it seem like… “Does Colin’s mother live somewhere else? You know what, that’s a personal question, I’m sorry. I blame the early...everything.” She waves her hand at the still-dark sky and the lack of customers.
But Peter doesn’t look offended. In fact, he’s looking at her like she’s some sort of puzzle he doesn’t quite understand, but there’s still a smile curling up the corners of his mouth. “Nah, it’s okay. His mom lives a couple hours away, and we share custody. Usually I have him Thursday through Sunday, but she wanted to take him to visit her parents, so.” He shrugs.
“You miss him,” she finds herself saying.
Peter blinks, looking surprised that she didn’t take his shrug at face value. “Yeah. All the time.” A settled sort of silence hangs between them. “But, you know, I don’t want him to be away from his mom for too long. Gen and I...we were never married, we just dated in college and when she got pregnant we decided to keep the baby. Best decision of my life. Not the easiest, but the best.” His eyes are doing that happy, crinkly thing again, and it’s so hard to handle. Then he laughs, ducking his head. “Sorry, that’s a lot more information than you probably wanted.”
“It’s all right,” she says. “It’s early, and I haven’t even gotten your coffee yet. What can I get you?” Right. She has a job to do. He’s here for the coffee.
Except...he came in even though Colin isn’t there.
As she takes care of Peter’s order, they talk with surprising ease. “Are you kidding me? You’ve never seen Sixteen Candles?” she demands as she rings him up, seeing his confusion at her reference. “Okay, that’s unacceptable. If you want a cupcake next week, then you better watch Sixteen Candles. I’ll quiz you.”
There is something so warm in his brown eyes that her skin tingles. “Somehow, I don’t think I’d mind it if you quizzed me.” A shiver shoots straight from the top of her head to her toes. “Any chance you run a secret, 80’s movie-watching club? Not that you’d tell me if you did, first rule of Fight Club and all that.” When she tilts her head, his grin turns shocked. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, are you kidding me now? You’ve never seen Fight Club? That’s your homework, then.”
“Fine,” she fires back, still caught up in I don’t think I’d mind it if you quizzed me. “Before next Friday, I’ll watch Fight Club.”
Taking his coffee, Peter adds casually, “Who knows, I might be back on Monday.”
“I’ll expect a full report on Sixteen Candles, then,” she quips, hands on her hips. She’s pretty sure there’s flour on her chin and she’s not exactly in her cutest clothing, but somehow she doesn’t really care. Somehow, somehow, when Peter talks to her, she feels lovely in a baffling assortment of ways.
Bemused, Peter shakes his head and murmurs, “You are trouble, Lara Jean Covey.”
When she squints at him in question, he nods with his chin toward the business license posted behind the counter, where her full name is in plain view. “Thanks for the coffee. See you later, Covey.”
Hours later, Lara Jean still has the sound of his voice in her ears.
Peter comes in first thing in the morning once more, and they talk movies.
Peter stays for half an hour, until her first customer arrives and he has to get to work. He leaves his phone number on the back of a receipt. She is beside herself with nerves to text him, but some encouragement/threats from Chris get her there, and she texts him. Hi, it’s Lara Jean.
He texts back, Hey there, Covey.
He tells her that he drives twenty minutes out of his way to get coffee from her bakery. She gives him shit for it, and then after he leaves has a mini Freak Out in the store room. Thursday He doesn’t come in, but when she texts him to say she’s going to charge a retainer fee for her coffee services, he tells her that he’s picking up Colin that morning. Even though she had been joking, it’s oddly touching that he feels in some way accountable to her.
At home, she takes the tiny thank you note and smooths it flat, tucking it in the edge of her vanity mirror.
Lara Jean is buzzing. Lucas asked her what was up, and if it has anything to do with ‘the hot single dad who looks like he’d go down on you for hours and love every second of it’, and Lara Jean drops her spoon with a clatter.
By the time two-thirty rolls around, she is practically standing on her toes and craning her neck to see out the window. The afternoon sun has soaked the bakery in buttery yellow sunlight. There are a few people working on laptops at the communal table, but it’s not too busy, so Lara Jean is mostly tidying up and plotting a new recipe in her head. Cinnamon sugar cupcake with eggnog icing. She can roll it out in December when everyone is in a pre-holiday craze.
The bell over the door chimes. Lara Jean’s chest squeezes tight as she catches sight of Peter Kavinsky and his son coming through her door. “Hi, you guys,” she greets, her smile so wide it hurts her cheeks.
“Say hi, kiddo,” Peter urges, but Colin is majorly sulking. The boy shoots Lara Jean a resentful glance, and flops into his normal chair by the windows with enough drama to satisfy a Real Housewives franchise. “We’ll go to the Natural History Museum tomorrow, I promise.” Peter shoots her an apologetic look, but Lara Jean is busy studying his son.
She remembers how jealous she was of the first girlfriend her father had after her mother, how it had felt like suddenly her dad had no time for her and her sisters. It wasn’t the case, she knows that, but that’s what it felt like.
Not that she’s....she’s not dating Peter, or anything...but kids get jealous of anything that takes up their parents’ attention.
“The Natural History Museum?” she asks casually, wiping her floury hands on her apron and sliding open the display case. “You know, I’ve got these cookies here that you could help me take care of…” Setting a couple of the cookies (Jurassic Park themed, a dinosaur footprint in a cinnamon sugar cookie) on a plate, she slips around the counter and delivers them to the table by the window. “You can compare these to what you see at the museum tomorrow and let me know how I did.” Colin still looks wary, so she adds. “I was thinking of doing cupcakes next like the amber with the mosquito in it, like from Jurassic Park. Think I can pull it off?”
Finally, Colin’s thin shoulders relax. “That’s gross,” he gasps in admiration, taking one of the cookies and shoving it in his mouth.
Peter laughs, his nose crinkling, and prompts, “Say thank you.”
“Thank you,” mumbles Colin around his mouthful of cookie.
Lara Jean’s cheeks ache. “You’re welcome.
A few days later, just before closing, the bell above the door jangles, and Lara Jean can’t help but be annoyed. It’s the end of the day, she’s exhausted, and she just wants to clean up and go home. Vaguely bitter, she delays turning around until she hears the person get close to the counter.
“Hey there, Covey.”
Whipping around, her ponytail whirling all the way around her shoulders until it lands on the other side of her neck, Lara Jean’s eyes are wide. “Peter Kavinsky,” she says, “what are you doing here?”
Hearing his full name makes him grin. “I thought maybe I could help you close up for the night.”
Even though she’s surprised and utterly charmed, Lara Jean can’t help but scoff. “Are you kidding me? That’s the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard for trying to get a woman to take you home.”
Laughing, he puts his hands in the air. “I just came to help you clean up. I swear.”
Eyes narrowed, she doesn’t let him off the hook for a moment before finally saying, “Fine.” A part of her is disappointed. Does he not want her to take him home? An unwelcome reminder of Chris’s comment about licking and frosting barges into her mind.
And clean they do, at least for a little while. Peter washes dishes while Lara Jean makes dough for the next morning and then dries and puts away her equipment and supplies. It’s surprisingly easy, having him in her space. “No way, you make all your own recipes?” he glances over his shoulder, eyebrows shooting up in surprise.
She tucks stray hair behind one ear. “Sometimes I modify an existing recipe, but yeah, for the most part they’re mine.”
Turning back to the dishes, he shakes his head. “Wow, that’s really creative. Especially given how often you rotate what cupcakes you’re selling. It must take a lot of work.”
“It does,” she says, feeling momentarily off balance. He hums, marveling. Marveling at her.
What a wonderful thing, to be seen by someone.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” he tells her after a while, setting some of the mixing bowls on a high shelf. His jacket rides up, baring a stripe of tanned skin at the small of his back. “Colin can get a little touchy when he thinks I’m interested in someone. I think he gets jealous.”
Lara Jean’s heart trips. “It’s fine.”
“It’s...complicated. Obviously.” His mouth twitches to the side in a wry smile. “Colin’s the center of my universe, but…” Scrubbing a hand across his face, he leans back against the counter. “It’s hard to explain.”
Lara Jean leans her hip against the counter a little ways down from him, wanting to close the distance so badly, but every inch feeling a mile. “I get it. My mom died when I was little, and my dad built his entire life around me and my sisters. It wasn’t easy when he finally started dating, but we wanted him to be happy, and that meant that we couldn’t be the only thing in his life. And we know he never loved us any less.”
There is stark gratitude in Peter’s eyes. It’s so bare, so honest, that she can’t look away from him. “Thank you for saying that,” he says, his voice low and a little rough. “I’m sorry about your mom.”
“Thanks,” she murmurs.
They’re quiet for a second, the only noise the hum of the refrigerator. Peter steps close to her with that rolling walk of his. “Colin likes you. You’re good with him.”
At this, Lara Jean’s smile brightens, and she tips her head to the side. “He’s pretty wonderful.” Peter’s answering grin enters her bloodstream like heroin. Or, you know, what she imagines heroin feels like. Actually, no, there’s no way heroin can feel this good.
He’s coming closer, still, his broad hands in his pockets. “Hey, Covey?”
“Yeah?” She swallows.
“I’m gonna kiss you, now.”
His hands slide out of his pocket and up to cup her jaw. She has just enough time to breath in, her face tipping up, before his lips are on hers. And then her body melts. She just melts into him, gripping the sides of his shirt, something inside her chest cracking open. He hums against her mouth, the sound shivering down her spine. Peter pulls back, letting out a shuddering breath against her lips. “What,” he laughs, “are you doing to me, Lara Jean?”
“I’m so sorry to have inconvenienced you,” she retorts, pressing a kiss to his chin. Then the scar by his mouth. Then, again, his smiling mouth. He lifts her to the counter, swallowing her gasp of happy surprise, pressing her back into the cabinets. She had imagined he would kiss her in a way that burned, a forest fire of a kiss, but that is not what this is.
This kiss is a cathedral. It is Peter Kavinsky, on his knees, speaking a prayer against her skin.
It is as satisfying as it is hungering.
When her hands attempt to push up his shirt, brushing against the warm skin of his stomach, he goes, “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” and gently pulls away from her, but her mouth still follows his. “I think we may be approaching a health code violation.” His eyes are dark, his thick hair tousled (tousled by her, oh my god) and she is on the verge of telling him that she doesn’t care about health code, when he takes her face in his hands. His broad hands that encompass the curve of her cheeks and make her feel light as air and anchored all at the same time. But, confusingly, he’s stopping her from divesting him of his clothing.
“What is it?” she asks, brows pinching together. “I know the bakery isn’t exactly the best—”
“No, no,” he laughs, the sound low and rich. “Your bakery is the best, by the way, but that’s not it.” Still cupping her face, his thumb sweeps across her cheekbone. “I’ve got plans for us, Covey.”
A slow smile unfurls across Lara Jean’s face. She thinks of the tiny thank you note at her mirror. “I could be amenable to plans,” she tells him. “Feel like sharing?”
“With you?” Peter Kavinsky dips his head, his lips a breath from hers. “Always.”