The first time Lara Jean Covey fell in love, it was immediate. She was six and her new neighbor, Josh Sanderson, had just moved in. She had only recently learned how to ride her bike without training wheels, and was riding in front of his house when her wheel hit a rock and she fell over. Josh was playing with Legos on his front porch, but he ran over to her when he heard her fall. He gently helped her up and brought her into his house, where he methodically put a Batman man bandage over her skinned knee and said, “There you go. Now you won’t catch an infection.”
She didn’t know what an infection was, but she was grateful not to catch one. She also was grateful for him, with his warm eyes and easy grin. He told her that his name was Josh and she thought to herself that she had never heard a prettier name. She whispered it to herself as she fell asleep that night, certain that her life was about to be changed forever.
Her life would soon, in fact, be changed forever, but not in the way she expected. The next morning, her mother was making breakfast for Lara Jean and her two sisters when she collapsed. Lara Jean’s older sister, Margot, immediately called 9-1-1, but there was nothing to be done. Her mother died from a pulmonary embolism, something that Lara Jean wouldn’t understand until years later. At her young age, all she knew was that one minute her mom was breathing and the next she wasn’t.
Lara Jean didn’t cry throughout the wake or the funeral. She was too worried about her sisters. Too worried about her dad. She didn’t cry until she was in her back treehouse with Josh, and then once she started she couldn’t stop. She remembered how he wrapped his arms around her and didn’t say a word. He didn’t try to tell her it would be okay or that things would get better. He just held her. That moment confirmed for Lara Jean what she already knew from the moment he carefully applied the Batman bandage to her knee. She loved Josh Sanderson.
Twenty years later, she still loved him. And he was marrying her sister.
Lara Jean knew it was coming. Margot and Josh started dating in high school. They made it through those four years, and then miraculously made it through long-distance in college when Josh stayed in Virginia and Margot moved to Scotland. When Margot returned to the states, they rented a small apartment in Alexandria and posted pictures of their domestic bliss and weekend trips to colonial Williamsburg. They were happy and Lara Jean was miserable, but she put on a good face. She smiled at their stories and championed their successes, only to cry later when she got home. In a way, the years of pain were of benefit to Lara Jean, because she was practically numb by the time she learned of their engagement.
Invitations went out, and Margot, always the planner, texted Lara Jean:
Should I give you a plus-one for the wedding?
There were many options with which Lara Jean could have responded. She could have told the truth, which was that she was not seeing anyone. She could have deflected, saying that she might have one, but wasn’t sure. Instead, she downright lied.
Yes. I’m bringing someone.
It was a stupid decision. She knew that when she sent the text. She especially knew that when her sister immediately called her and said, “I can’t believe you’re finally seeing someone! Who is it?”
“Someone at work," she said evasively, hoping that her sister wouldn't pry further. Which, of course, she did.
“Okay, well, what’s his name? I need it for the invitation.”
Lara Jean was never particularly good under pressure, and she said the first name that came to mind. Which was incredibly stupid, considering she hadn’t seen him in years, but he recently popped up as someone she might know on Facebook, and the night prior she did a remarkably deep dive into his profile.
“Wait, seriously? Didn’t we go to school with him?”
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
“Yeah, it’s new,” Lara Jean said quickly.
“Huh, okay. Well, Josh and I will be excited to catch up. We should all get dinner soon.”
“Yeah sure,” Lara jean said evasively, already thinking up all the excuses that she would have to make in the future. “Anyway, I have to go. Talk later?”
She hung up the phone and the sinking feeling in her stomach sunk even lower. How in the world was she going to get away with this? She hadn’t spoken with Peter in years, and even if they were speaking, she doubted they would be on wedding date terms. She could just imagine Margot going over to his Facebook. At least she knew that he was single. She also knew that they were not Facebook friends. Well, she could remedy that.
She added him as a friend, and as she tidied up in her apartment she worked out a plan. She would put off the dinner, obviously. In the meantime, she’d work on finding herself an actual date for the wedding. How difficult could that be? She’d double her online efforts. Maybe actually take her co-worker up on his offer for a blind date. She could do this. Once she found a suitable real date, she'd orchestrate a spectacular breakup with Peter to report to Margot that would squelch any future questioning. It was a decedent plan, and Lara Jean practically forgot all about her Peter Kavinsky lie until she received a Facebook message from him several weeks later.
Covey, I think we need to talk.
A screenshot of a message from Margot followed. Her sister asked Peter for help in arranging a surprise birthday party for her, the word boyfriend liberally used throughout the message. Lara Jean quickly typed back a response and then deleted it. She tried again. No luck. She was deleting her fourth response when Peter sent her:
Do you want to meet at the Starbucks over on 7th and Maple?
Twenty minutes later she was sitting in the Starbucks, anxiously awaiting her first sighting of her fake-boyfriend. She couldn’t believe that this had gone so horribly wrong. Actually, she sort of could. It was a monumental lie, so it only seemed fair that it blew up spectacularly in her face. She saw Peter walk in and swallowed hard. It took him a moment to spot her in the back corner table, but then he walked over and took the empty seat across from her.
“Hi,” she said shyly. “Thanks for meeting me. Good idea."
“It didn’t seem like we were going to get anywhere on messenger. You do realize that people can see when you type, right?”
Lara Jean did, in fact, know that, but she did not think of it as she wrote and erased paragraphs of explanation. Now she could not stop thinking about it.
“Anyway, I’m guessing there’s an explanation for why your sister thinks we’re dating?” Peter said.
“Yes, there is. I can’t promise it’s a good explanation, but there is one.”
He looked at her leadingly and she reluctantly began to tell him everything. She lied enough for one lifetime, and didn’t want to complicate things further.
“My sister, Margot, is marrying Josh Sanderson. The boy I have been in love with since the first grade. I couldn’t bear the thought of going to the wedding alone, so when she asked if I needed a plus-one, I lied and said that I did. Naturally, that led to her asking for a name, and I had just come across your Facebook the night before, and…well…you know the rest.”
“So, you just told her we were dating?”
Lara Jean scrunched her nose and murmured, “Yeah, I sort of panicked.”
“How long ago?”
“Um, about a month. Look, I’ll just tell her the truth. I never meant to get you pulled into all of this.”
“Well, who were you planning on taking to their wedding?”
Lara Jean shrugged. “I was sort of hoping I’d actually meet someone. Obviously, that has not worked out particularly well. I just…I don’t want to be alone for it. And I know that might seem pathetic – it probably is pathetic – but I have to sit there and pretend to be happy, and I don’t know, I thought it’d be easier if I had someone with me.”
Peter considered this for a moment and then asked, “When is the wedding?”
“Two months, huh? You’re certainly cutting it short to find a date. What were you going to do, pick a guy up off the street?”
“Honestly, that isn’t out of the running.”
Peter laughed. “This sounds pretty serious if you’re willing to resort to street men.” She only shrugged, not knowing what else to say in response. Peter looked at her for a long moment, and then said, “Alright, I’ll do it.”
She looked at him with surprise and blurted, “I’m sorry, what?”
“I’ll do it. I’ll be your fake boyfriend.”
“Are you being serious right now?” she sputtered. He nodded congenially and she asked, “Why would you do this for me?”
“To be honest, it’s sort of sad.”
“Oh gee, thanks,” she said sarcastically. “You know what, forget it. This situation is already upsetting enough, I don’t need-“
“Hey, hey, that’s not the only reason,” Peter interrupted, leaning forward as he spoke. “I also know what it’s like to watch someone you care about be with someone else, and it sucks.”
Lara Jean looked at him questionably and he continued with, “My college girlfriend dated another one of my friends after we broke up. They got married last month and I was at the wedding. Let’s just say, it wasn’t my finest night. So, I know what you’re going through.”
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“It’s okay. They had a Blackhawks themed wedding. Her idea. So, honestly, I dodged a bullet.”
“You don’t have to do this. I can face this alone.”
“Yeah, I bet you could. But, why should you? Besides, I like weddings. I like the vibes. The cake. There will be cake, right?”
“Yes, there will be cake.”
Peter nodded appreciatively and said, “Yeah, I’m game. Just tell me when and where to show up.”
Lara Jean couldn’t believe that this was actually happening. She had envisioned many different ways this coffee could go, but not a single one included him saying yes and being so evidently game.
“So, you’ll do the birthday party, too?” Lara Jean asked after a moment. “Because Margot will be suspicious if you’re not there.”
“Sure. Her plans sounded pretty fun, by the way. I didn’t send you all of the message. I figured I shouldn’t ruin the entire surprise.”
Lara Jean smiled slightly. “That is very thoughtful of you.”
Lara Jean nodded, taking a deep breath, and said, “So. We’re doing this.”
Peter cocked his head to the side and said, “As long as I get cake, yes.”
“There will be cake. Probably at my birthday, too. So double cake.”
“Well, then I’m sold,” he said, extending his hand. “Double cake in exchange for a fake boyfriend. Deal?”
She laughed and shook his hand, still not quite believing this was all happening. “Deal.”