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.”
This is honestly the best fandom. Thank you all SO much for your amazing reviews. Consider this Tolstoy long chapter as a token of my reader appreciation!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lara Jean pulled on an outfit for her birthday party, unsure if the short plaid dress and boots fit the evening, and frustrated at her guest for not providing more guidance. She opened up her door and stuck her head out just enough to ask, “You really aren’t going to give me any clues about the plans for tonight?”
Peter shook his head. He was stretched out on her couch, arguably more comfortable than someone should be for their first visit to another person’s home. But, he did agree to fake-date her, so she figured she could excuse some overfamiliarity. At least he took his shoes off. She shot him a disgruntled look and disappeared back into her bedroom to finish getting ready. She brushed her hair out and added a bit of winged eyeliner. After a spritz of perfume, and one final glance in the mirror, she walked out into the living room and pushed Peter’s legs over, settling on her normal couch cushion.
“Remind me again why you’re being so tightlipped about tonight,” she said.
“I’m part of the ruse tonight, Covey. I can’t betray the ringleader’s trust.”
“Yeah, but aren’t we both already majorly betraying that trust? You know, by lying to her about us. What’s one more minor betrayal?”
Two wrongs did not make a right, but she wanted to be dressed appropriately, damn it.
“I can’t do it, Covey. But, I would wear comfortable shoes.”
He sized up her chunky moto-boots, and she said, “Oh God, we’re playing mini golf, aren’t we? For some reason, Margot has this idea that I like mini golf.”
“What’s wrong with mini golf?”
“It’s for deranged people who enjoy frustrating hand-eye-coordination challenges.”
Peter considered that for a moment and said, “Or maybe you just don’t like it because you lack hand-eye-coordination.”
“Peter, please tell me it’s not mini golf.”
Peter laughed and assured her, “It’s not mini golf. Look, let’s just say – what Margot has planned is very you.”
“How would you know?” she asked pointedly.
Peter gave her this look, as if she asked the most idiotic question, and said, “Come on, you wear your brand very openly. I know. Besides, don’t you trust your sister?”
“Margot isn’t always the most observant with me,” Lara Jean said. “That’s sort of how I’ve gone on being in love with her boyfriend for years without her knowing.”
To be honest, Lara Jean wasn’t entirely sure it was a lack of observance on her sister’s part, or just willful ignorance. After all the years and pining glances that she knew she wasn’t entirely successful in hiding, Lara Jean always found it odd that Margot hadn’t at least broached the subject. Their younger sister, Kitty, had. It was right when Lara Jean graduated high school, and she and Josh had a joint graduation party in their backyards. Nothing unusual happened between them, but at the end of the night as she and Kitty brought in the last of the plastic cups, Kitty asked, “How long have you been in love with Josh?”
Lara Jean was so startled that she answered, “Don't tell Margot.”
Kitty only nodded, knowing that it wasn’t a conversation worth having because Lara Jean would never tell Margot. She spent most of her childhood being second best to her older sister, so why shouldn’t this be any different?
“What you’re wearing is fine,” Peter said. “Will you stop spazzing?”
“I’m not spazzing. I just don’t like surprises.”
Peter nodded slowly and said, “So, I’m guessing the story of how we met won’t include a surprise.”
“They know how we met. We all went to school together, Peter.”
“I know,” he said off-handedly. “I mean how we re-met. Our relationship origin story.”
Lara Jean snorted. “Seriously?”
“Don’t mock. I thought that’s why you made me come all the way over here.”
“No, I made you come all the way over here because you won’t tell me where we’re going. So, I literally have no way of getting there without you. And I told you to be here at eight. You’re the one who came an hour early.”
“I had nothing better to do,” Peter said with a shrug.
“How charming,” she returned. “But, you’re right. We should have our story down for tonight.” He propped his feet on her lap and she promptly pushed them off. “Okay. What about we ran into each other at a grocery store.”
Peter immediately shook his head and said, “No way. No one goes to grocery stores anymore.”
That was the stupidest thing Lara Jean ever heard, and she told him as much.
“What are you talking about? Everyone goes to grocery stores.”
He sat up and emphatically said, “Ever heard of a thing called Peapod? Instant Cart? Amazon Fresh?”
She waved her hand dismissively toward him and said, “Okay, okay, I get it. There are other means of grocery shopping. But, I still go to an actual store and Margot knows that. It would be very meto meet a man at a grocery store.”
Peter gave her an odd look and said, “Why? Do you cruise the produce aisle or something?”
With feigned sincerity, Lara Jean returned, “Yes, and I hand out cards that say – Lara Jean Covey, open for business.”
“Please never say that to anyone other than me.”
“Fine, if you don’t like the grocery story idea then what’s your great idea?”
Peter shrugged and said “I don’t know, why don’t we meet in a bar like normal people.”
“I don’t go to bars,” Lara Jean said. “And Margot will know that. We need something believable, Peter.”
“Oh, because meeting in a grocery store is so much more believable than meeting in a bar.”
“It is for me!” Lara Jean threw back. “Look, Peter, if this is going to work we need to be able to agree on something as simple as how we met. It shouldn’t be this difficult!”
“Okay, okay,” Peter relented. “I’m sorry. We can go with your grocery store.”
“No,” Lara Jean sighed. “You’re right, it sounds…I don’t know…made up.” He gave her a look, as if to say, you think?, and she said, “I guess I can put myself in a bar for one night.”
“Hold on, I have an idea. What if we sort of told the truth? You accidentally added me on Facebook. We started talking and reconnected.”
Lara Jean nodded slowly and said, “I do have a well-known fear of accidentally friending people in that People You May Know ticker.”
Peter grinned, clearly proud of his idea, and said, “See, that could work.”
“Okay,” Lara Jean said. “I accidentally added you on Facebook. I like it.”
“You know, Covey, I think this is the start of a beautiful fake relationship.”
Thirty minutes later, an Uber with Peter and Lara Jean in tow pulled to a stop in front of a non-descript building. It had a lone symbol in wrought-iron above the door, and while Lara Jean vaguely recognized it, she couldn’t quite place it. Peter climbed out of the car first and helped Lara Jean out onto the sidewalk. He took her hand and she immediately pulled away.
“You know, people are going to get suspicious if you act like you were burned anytime I touch you.”
“Sorry,” Lara Jean said quickly, tucking her hair behind her ears. “You’re right. Let’s just…”
She grabbed his hand impulsively, surprised by how seamlessly her small hand fit in his larger palm. He interlaced their fingers and gave her hand a squeeze. “See, it’s not that bad, right?”
She went to answer when she spotted Margot and Josh walking toward them on the sidewalk. Lara Jean suddenly thought that all of this was a horrible idea. Surely, Margot would see through it. Or Josh.
Fuck. Josh. Lara Jean’s stomach did a whole little parade at the sight of him. She thought distance would have tempered his effect on her, but it only intensified the feelings. The absolute lack of abandon she suddenly felt when his eyes met hers. How was she ever going to get through this wedding? How was she going to get through this evening?
Peter sensed her sharp change in demeanor squeezed her hand. She looked over at him and he murmured, “We’ve got this.”
He nodded slightly, as if to drive home the point, and she mirrored his movement. She did not agree that they, in fact, had this. She felt the exact opposite. But, he believed in them, and she at least owed it to him to try. So, she gripped his hand with both of hers, and held on for dear life.
“Lara Jean, happy birthday!” Margot said, pulling her sister away from Peter to give her a tight hug.
Her sister smiled sweetly over her shoulder and said, “I see your boyfriend got you here on time. Hello there, Peter.”
“Nice to see you, Margot.” Peter chucked his chin in Josh’s direction, the uniform male greeting, and said, “Hey man.”
“Hey Peter,” Josh said, looking somewhat quizzically at Lara Jean. She knew that he was surprised. The last they had all been together was high school, and she and Peter hadn’t exactly seemed like a logical match. He was a lacrosse playing jock with a reputation for taking girls under the bleachers. She was a straight-A student who spent her Friday nights baking.
“So, how did this happen?” Josh asked, gesturing between her and Peter.
She stiffened at the phrasing, and Margot said, “What Josh means is how did you two end up together? We were so surprised when you told us, Lara Jean!”
She went to give their previously decided upon story when Peter said, “We met a grocery store.”
She looked up at him with a soft smile, and said, “Yeah, a grocery store. Who would’ve thought, right?”
“Should we head in?” Peter asked. “Our reservation is in a few minutes.”
“Yes, thank you for keeping track of the time.” Margot said. She strode forward, the rest following. Lara Jean poked Peter’s arm and said in a low voice, “A grocery store, huh?”
He only grinned in response and then they walked into the building, Lara Jean surprised to see a collection of her friends waiting for her. They eyed Peter appreciatively, especially Lara Jean’s best friend, Chris, who said, “Why is PK here and what have you been keeping from me?”
“Um…” she slid her gaze over to Peter, who seemed to be enjoying this a bit too much, and said, “He’s my boyfriend? It’s new-ish.”
“The former king of the cafeteria crowd,” Chris said, her mouth turning up into a devious grin. “Okay then, LJ. I expect a full explanation at a later date.”
“Yep,” Lara Jean said quickly, her cheeks flushed.
Peter grabbed her arm and said, “Come on, Covey. They’re ready for us.”
She and Peter led the group into a back room, and then she figured out where they were. The table of wands. Whismical music. Hogwarts crest.
“Oh my God,” she said suddenly. “Peter. OH MY GOD. Are we at a Harry Potter escape room?”
Peter nodded, grinning wide at her reaction, and said, “I told you that your sister killed it.”
“Technically it is not Harry Potter-themed,” a nearby employee imparted. “Because that would be a copyright infringement.”
Undeterred, Lara Jean breathed out, “We’re escaping to Hogwarts.”
Margot hugged Lara Jean from behind and said, “Happy birthday, little sister.”
After the escape room, they went to a nearby Irish pub. A small band played live music on a stage near the back, alternating between classic Irish drinking songs and 90s standards. Peter lowered his mouth to her ear and said over the music, “I thought you didn’t do bars.”
She grinned and told him, “This is a pub, Peter. Very different.”
“Ah, I see. So, what are you drinking? My treat.”
“Oh, Peter, you don’t have to-“
He placed his hands on her shoulders and said, “This is how a birthday works, Covey. People buy you drinks. So, what do you want?”
“A Magners, please,” she relented.
“Coming right up.”
“Thank you!” she called after him, grinning as she watched him attempt to maneuver his way around a particularly drunk group of middle aged women. She didn’t feel Josh next to her until he spoke.
“So, you and Kavinsky.”
She looked over at him with surprise, and said, “Yeah. Me and Kavinsky.”
“It’s so weird to see you guys together. It’s almost unbelievable.”
Her nerves prickled at his words, and she carefully asked, “Why is that?”
“I don’t know. It’s just…you always seemed too good for guys like him.”
Josh’s view of the situation seemed incredibly near-sighted to Lara Jean. How he could judge someone for the person they were ten years ago. But still, part of her delighted at his words. Delighted at the obvious interest – and disapproval – with which he viewed her dating life.
“Peter’s a good guy,” she said after a moment.
Josh took a sip of his drink. “I guess I’ll take your word for it.”
Margot called Josh over to her, and he raised his glass in a sort of salute toward Lara Jean before re-joining his fiancée. A few minutes later, Peter returned with her drink. She took it from his gratefully and chased away her memory of that Josh conversation with a large gulp.
Peter watched and said, “Wow. Okay.”
“Sorry,” she said in a low voice. She looked around to make sure that no one was near, and told him, “Josh came over here when you were gone. He was all – what are you doing with Kavinsky? Like he has any right to an opinion. But, the worst part is that I likedit. I liked that my sister’s fiancée had an opinion about who I’m dating. I’m a horrible person. I am the worst. I am-”
“Whoah, whoah, slow down,” Peter said. “You are not the worst.”
“How can you say that?”
Peter took a hold of her arm and pulled her over closer to the band, so they wouldn’t be heard.
“Did you bring me here to make him jealous?” Peter asked.
“What? No! How could you-“
“Hey, hold on,” he said, lightly grasping her arms. “What I’m trying to say is that you did nothing wrong tonight. And you can’t control how he acts. If he’s being weird, that’s on him. Not you, Covey.”
“I’m probably reading too much into this,” Lara Jean said after a moment. “I mean, he’s marrying my sister. Why would he care who I’m dating?”
“Don’t let this ruin your night.”
Lara Jean nodded, taking another sip of her beer. The band struck up the opening notes of Wonderwall, and Lara Jean found herself smiling almost involuntarily. It was one of her favorite songs, and she had never heard it played by a live band before. Peter noticed and asked, “What is it?”
“I love this song.”
There was a mischievous glimmer in his eyes before he slid his arm around her waist and pulled them onto the dance floor. The dance floor was empty, save for them, and when she advised Peter of that observation, he said, “Yeah. I don’t see your point.”
She grinned and slid one arm around his neck, the other still pressed to her side with her Magners. They didn’t dance so much as sway, the music bouncing around them.
“If this is a sneak peak of your dancing for the wedding, we need to have a serious talk,” Lara Jean said.
He gave her a challenging look and said, “I’d dip you, but I don’t think management would enjoy all the alcohol that would end up on the ground.”
You’re gonna be the one that saves me
Cause after all
You’re my wonderwall
I had to keep myself from having these two make out in that bar. Honestly. I was like - IT'S TOO SOON LIZ. Sigh. Anyway, I cannot stop writing these two and just want them to fall in love over and over again. I hope you enjoyed this update!
Hello lovely readers! Sorry for the long delay for this chapter. I spent a few days in Florida and didn't have much time for writing (too much eating and walking in Disney World!). But, we should be back to more regular updates now. I hope you enjoy this!
Lara Jean slowly walked down the aisle, examining the collection of blenders with a military precision. She stopped in front of a Vitamix and closely read the accompanying placard detailing its virtues and blade speed. She moved to the next blender, and Peter said, “If we look at one more blender I’m going to need something with alcohol in it.”
Lara Jean did not shift her gaze away from the blender. “I’m sorry, who invited you to this afternoon of shopping?”
Peter relented with, “It was me. I invited myself. But, you did not tell me that we would be looking at blenders for two hours.”
“It has not been all blenders,” she corrected him.
“Oh, I’m sorry, the examination of silverware before this was so much better.”
“I’m picking out a wedding shower gift for Margot and Josh,” she said. “What did you expect me to be looking at?”
“Why don’t you just order something online off their registry like everyone else,” Peter said. He looked down at the blender she was looking and visibly guffawed when he saw the price tag. “How the hell is this blender worth 600 dollars?”
“The blades turn so fast that it can bring a soup to a boil.”
“Why do you need a blender to do that?”
Lara Jean tried to explain the wonders of a Vitamix blender to Peter, but perhaps rightfully thought that it would go over the head of her audience, so she settled on, “It’s not a matter of need, but a matter of want. But, anyway, I don’t think a blender is right.”
“Especially not a six hundred dollar blender.”
They headed off to the next area of Bed, Bath & Beyond, Lara Jean trying to find the perfect gift to encapsulate what both Josh and Margot meant to her, but falling short. She thought it would be odd to have Peter with her, but it actually made the shopping trip more fun. Somewhere in the several weeks since her birthday party, her and Peter settled into a comfortable friendship. He dropped by her apartment to watch silly weeknight game shows (Beat Shazamwas a favorite of theirs – he was good but Lara Jean was better) and she sent him cat videos. Being around each other had become like second nature, which Lara Jean imagined would be useful for the upcoming wedding.
Peter wandered off ahead of Lara Jean in the store and held up a large inflatable pool toy. He jokingly said, “What about this?”
Lara Jean tilted her head to the side and asked, “You want me to get my sister a large inflatable hot dog for the pool she doesn’t own?”
“You’d stand out.”
She snatched the pool toy from him and put it back on the display, but she couldn’t help but smile just a little. Peter tended to have that effect on her.
“Come on, we need to focus,” Lara Jean said. “I need a gift and none of these are saying what I want them to say.”
“You’re expecting a lot from a gift, Covey. Most people just put a c-note in an envelope and call it a day.”
“I can’t do that. Mine has to be perfect.”
What Lara Jean didn’t say is that it had to make up for her being in love with her sister’s soon-to-be-husband for the entire duration of their relationship. It was a tall order for a gift, but Lara Jean was determined to find it.
Peter sensed there was more to the gift crusade than Lara Jean let on, and he said, “Alright then, let’s keep looking.”
They wandered through the store, breezing through table settings and the crystal section. Lara Jean noticed that Peter was uncharacteristically quiet, and she kept catching him looking at her, but he would quickly look away and find the nearest object interesting. The jig was up when he started examining a large wine pitcher with “Rose All Day” etched into the side.
“Okay, what’s going on? You’re being weird.”
“Can I ask you something and you promise not to be get mad at me?” Peter asked.
Lara Jean sucked in her cheeks. It was definitely not the most promising start to the conversation, but she figured he couldn’t have any question that bad in mind.
“Okay, fine,” she said.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with you recently. You’re funny. Outgoing. You have a great sense of style.”
Lara Jean blushed. “I’m sorry, what part of this would I be mad at?”
“Why aren’t you actually seeing anyone?”
There it was.
“It can’t just be Josh,” Peter continued. “Because it’s irrational to hold out for the person dating your sister, and you’re the most rational person I know. And, it’s not a lack of interest. I see the way guys look at you when we’re out. Which, frankly, is a little annoying considering I’m supposed to be your boyfriend.” She smirked. “I’m sure you’ve had offers. So, what is it really? What’s holding you back?”
It was a valid question, and unfortunately one that Lara Jean didn’t quite have an answer for. He was right that it wasn’t entirely about Josh. When you are in love with your sister’s boyfriend, you give up most hope of ever being with him. And, although there is that sliver of hope. That one minor chance that they wouldn’t work out and Josh would realize that it was Lara Jean he was in love with all this time, it was more of an afterthought. A nice fantasy before she drifted off to sleep at night.
“I’ve dated,” she finally said, eyes trained on a collection of wine glasses in front of her. It wasn’t exactly comfortable to discuss her unsuccessful dating history. “But, it never felt right. They weren’t right. For me. So, I never took things further. It all sort of felt like a waste of time.”
“Maybe you didn’t give it enough time.”
Lara Jean shook her head. “No, when it’s right you know. My dad always told me that he fell in love with my mom the moment they met. It was in a dining hall at UVA. They were both reaching for the last lemon poppy seed muffin. My mom gave it to my dad, but he split it in two so they both could have some.”
“I think I’m seeing the source material for your grocery store meeting.”
Lara Jean grinned. “I want a love like my parents and I’m not really interested in anything less. So far, I haven’t really found anyone better than less.”
“Who knows, maybe you’ll meet a Sanderson cousin or something at the wedding.”
Lara Jean laughed. “Maybe.” Turning the tables, she asked, “And, what about you? Why are you still single?”
Peter puffed out his chest. “Covey, I’m a man in my prime. I can’t be tied down.”
“Uh huh. That’s why you’re shopping at a Bed, Bath & Beyond on a Saturday afternoon with your fake girlfriend.”
“You don’t know what I’m doing tonight,” he returned pointedly.
Lara Jean patted his arm and said, “I’m sure you have very fun plans for tonight, Peter.”
Peter looked over her shoulder and his eyes lit up. She was confused by what grabbed his attention, and was about to ask when he grabbed her arm and said, “I think I found the perfect gift.”
“Really? What –“
Any semblance of hope died the moment he brought her over to a small cloister of karaoke machines. Josh might actually like it. Margot would hate it. Her sister didn’t like kitschy things, and karaoke was the definition of kitsch. Peter clearly was a fan of kitsch, and excitedly pushed nearly all of the buttons on a nearby machine.
“Don’t break it,” Lara Jean said half-heartedly.
“We’re done shopping. This is it. We cannot top this. Look at all the songs!”
“Yes, Peter, there are a lot of songs,” she said. “But, Margot would never speak to me again if I got her a karaoke machine as a wedding gift.”
“Don’t knock it until you try it,” Peter said, cuing up a song. The beginning chords of Sweet Carolinebegan to play, and Lara Jean’s eyes went wide as she said, “Peter, no, don’t –“
But he did. Sing, that is. Horribly off-key, and arguably too loud for a store at midday, but he didn’t seem to care. He finished out a phrase and held the microphone out for Lara Jean. She in no way wanted to sing, but he looked at her so expectantly, his sweet eyes wide and earnest. Sighing, she grabbed the microphone and began to sing the next verse. She wasn’t quite as pitchy as him, but still not perfectly on-key, some of the notes a bit low for her. It actually was somewhat fun, and she felt herself getting into a little, but when she looked over at Peter he wasn’t watching. His gaze was farther down the aisle on a petite woman with an upturned nose and sandy blonde hair. Lara Jean recognized her from the pictures on Facebook when he was in college. Rebecca Bosworth. Peter’s college girlfriend.
Rebecca spotted them and walked over, her stride oddly in time to the background Sweet Caroline instrumental. She stopped in front of them and looked briefly at Lara Jean before saying, “Peter, it’s so great to see you!”
Lara Jean thought the tone Rebecca’s voice range false. She enveloped him in a tight hug, her wedding ring sparkling under the institutional lighting. Lara Jean could see the stiff hold of Peter’s shoulders. He was uncomfortable, something that Lara Jean hadn’t seen often. He awkwardly patted Rebecca’s back before she pulled away.
“How are you, Rebecca?”
“I’m great, thanks. You know, Steve and I have been meaning to invite you over to dinner. It’s been too long since we all got together.”
Lara Jean saw in Peter the same yearning she felt whenever she was near Josh. Hands tied by circumstance, if nothing else. He helped her with Josh. Maybe she could repay the favor.
“Yeah, that would be great.”
“Babe, don’t forget we have all the wedding stuff coming up,” she said, sliding her arm around his waist. He looked down at her in surprise and she gave him a little nod. “My sister’s wedding, remember?” Lara Jean looked over at Rebecca and said, “They forget so quickly. I’m Lara Jean, by the way. Peter’s girlfriend.”
“I’m Rebecca. Peter and I went to college together.”
Lara Jean noticed that she left out the part about her and Peter dating for most of college.
“So, how long have you two been together?” Rebecca asked.
“A few months now. But, we actually went to high school together,” Lara Jean said. “So, we’ve known each other for a long time.”
“And you just started dating? Small world.”
“I had a crush on her even back then,” Peter said, seemingly finding his confidence again. She tried to hide her amusement as he said, “It just took me some time to wise up.”
“That’s wonderful. Well, I should get going, but we’ll be in touch for dinner, yeah?”
“Sounds great,” Lara Jean said. “It was great meeting you.”
Peter watched her leave and said, “They’ve said they would be in touch for years. Still hasn’t happened.”
Lara Jean dropped her arm from his waist.
“I thought she married your best friend,” Lara Jean said, not understanding how he could go years without speaking with his best friend. Her and Chris could hardly go twenty-four hours.
“She did. And I found out not long after their wedding that my best friend slept with her while we were still together. So, you can see why my phone isn’t ringing off the hook.”
She lightly touched his arm and said, “Peter, I’m so sorry. Why didn’t you tell me that before?”
Peter shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. It’s in the past. Anyway, thanks for jumping in there like that.”
“It was my pleasure. Besides, what’s a fake girlfriend good for if not jumping into awkward moments with ex-girlfriends?”
“You make a valid point.”
“By the way, nice little fib there about you having a crush on me in high school,” Lara Jean said. “We should add that to our story. It gives it a nice full circle feel.”
“Sure, we can add it in. But, it wasn’t a fib,” Peter said. “I did have a crush on you.”
“No, you didn’t,” Lara Jean said immediately.
Peter laughed. “Yes, I did!”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Why are you being so difficult about this? I had a crush on you.”
“That makes no sense,” Lara Jean said.
“Why is that?”
“Um, because I was me and you were you. We weren’t…you couldn’t have…”
“Okay, calm down, it’s not like I was in love with you. It was a crush. Everyone has silly crushes.”
“And you had one on me,” Lara Jean said slowly.
“Yes, I did,” he returned simply. “But, don’t worry, I have no such crush on you now, so you’re safe.”
Her skin felt all tingly and she said, “Good. I can’t have you falling in love with me. That would just complicate things.”
“Hey, what about you falling in love with me?” he asked.
“Not a chance, buddy,” she returned lightly. “I can only handle falling for one unattainable guy in a lifetime, and I’ve used up that credit.”
Peter grinned. “So, we’re agreed. No falling in love with each other.”
Lara Jean held his gaze, and levelly said, “I’ll add it to the contract along with the cake.”
Hi guys! So, I know it's been a while. Somewhere along the way I contracted a really nasty stomach virus and was pretty much unable to do anything. Luckily I'm on the mend, so here is an update! I hope it was worth the wait!
Lara Jean and Peter should have known that eventually their not so secret fake relationship would expand beyond the contained bubble of people they intentionally told. It was only a matter of time, which was precisely why Lara Jean should not have been surprised when Peter approached her and divulged that his mother knew.
“She ran into Rebecca at the grocery store and she told her about running into us at Bed, Bath & Beyond,” Peter said.
“I’m surprised your mom is friendly with Rebecca. I’m pretty sure if my dad met someone who cheated on me…” Lara Jean trailed off, “Actually, I don’t know what he’d do. My dad isn’t really the confrontational type. He’d probably ice him out. The coldest cold shoulder on this side of the East Coast.”
“My mom is polite to a fault,” Peter said. “Which means she held stilted conversation until she could escape with some lie about needing chicken cutlets.”
Lara Jean smirked and said, “What a daring lie. I see where you get it from.”
Peter seemed to want to respond to that, but quickly shook his head and said, “Anyway, the point of all of this is that she knows about you and wants to meet you.”
Lara Jean nodded, pressing her lips together. “Okay. How do you feel about that?”
“Not great,” Peter admitted. “I just don’t want to lie to her. But, if we put off going she’ll read into it and I don’t want that either.”
“What would she read into?”
“I don’t know, that I’m embarrassed of her. Or you.” His voice turned light and he said, “Either way, one of my women is put in an unnecessarily negative light. I can’t have that.”
“Well, of course not,” she returned with a light smile. “If you’re okay with it, I am. I got us into this mess.”
“Perfect,” Peter said, shoulders slackening. “She’s having us over for dinner tonight.”
Lara Jean stared at him. “Tonight?”
“Yeah. We may have had this conversation earlier in the week and I was putting off telling you.”
Lara Jean looked down at her watch and felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. It was already three o’clock in the afternoon. Dinner couldn’t be any more than a few hours away, which didn’t leave much time for prep. If she had known about the dinner earlier, she would have baked something for dessert. Maybe a nice batch of snickerdoodle cookies or a cheesecake. Now, she’d have to go in empty-handed. Or even worse, store-bought.
“Anything else you’ve been putting off telling me? Is there a breakup this weekend that I’m unaware of?”
Peter winced slightly and said, “No, just that.”
“Okay. Well, looks like we’re getting a trial run of meeting the parents tonight.”
Peter’s childhood home was only a few blocks away from Lara Jean’s house, but she had never been there growing up, save for once a year for trick or treating. She remembered that Mrs. Kavinsky always wore a smart sweater set and would compliment each child on their costume before dropping exactly two pieces of candy into each bag. Even at a young age, Lara Jean appreciated the precision.
This time, when she opened the door, it was not Halloween but she was still dressed in that smart sweater set, her short hair cut in the same tidy bob that Lara Jean remembered from when they were kids. She smiled wide when she saw Lara Jean, appreciatively taking in her navy dress and simple flats.
“Well, Lara Jean, don’t you look wonderful. It is so great to see you.”
“You too, Mrs. Kavinsky.”
Lara Jean felt a rush of pride, and sent a small smile over to Peter. He told her she was taking too long dressing before they left, and she felt vindicated that his mother specifically noticed her clothes. Peter rolled his eyes, but tempered it with a warm smile.
“Mom, whatever you’re making smells amazing,” Peter said, stepping forward and giving his mother a quick hug.
“It’s just a quick pot roast.”
Lara Jean knew that there was no such thing as a quick pot roast, and was touched that Mrs. Kavinsky would take the time to make something like that for their dinner. She stepped inside after Peter, taking in the room around her. It was all wood paneling and delicate end tables and knick knacks. She remembered that Peter’s mom owned an antique shoppe and added it to her list of places to visit.
“Your house is beautiful, Mrs. Kavinsky. I can’t believe it’s the first time I’m in here.”
“Me too, Lara Jean. And, please, call me Evelyn. We’re all adults here now.”
She led them into the kitchen and her and Peter sat down, Evelyn flitting around the kitchen and obstinately refusing any help because, as she put it, they were guests and guests were not allowed to help. She was clearly comfortable in the kitchen, and it did not take long before the table was filled with food, the delectable smells making Lara Jean’s stomach growl. Evelyn cut several thick slices and put them on Lara Jean’s plate next to a heaping mound of mashed potatoes.
“I was so surprised when Rebecca told me that you two were together. I thought I heard her wrong initially,” Evelyn said conversationally as she spooned some gravy over Lara Jean’s pot roast. “Of course, once I was sure I heard her right I could not have been more excited. You were always such a sweet girl, Lara Jean. And so smart.”
“Are you saying I strayed from my usual?” Peter joked.
“I did not say that,” Evelyn said stoutly, although the quirk of her mouth suggested that she meant it. “Anyway, I am very happy that you are here. So, Lara Jean, tell me all about yourself. Where are you working now?”
“I’m a lawyer with a small firm downtown.”
“That must be an exciting job. Although, I’m guessing it’s not like on TV?”
“Not really,” Lara Jean said. “They tend to have more drama than we do.”
“I don’t know, that case you were telling me about last week was pretty dramatic,” Peter said. “You know, the one with the guy who was talking over you?”
“Oh, it’s really not that dramatic.”
“She’s being modest,” Peter told his mother. “She was in court arguing a motion and this older male attorney kept talking over her.”
“Not only that, he tried to argue against my motion before I even got to argue it,” Lara Jean said, feeling her skin prickle angrily at the memory. “Which demonstrates a complete lack of professional courtesy.”
“The guy sounded like a total dick. But, anyway, Lara Jean fought hard and ended up winning her motion.”
Evelyn’s eyes lingered on her son for a moment, his face beaming with pride, before she told Lara Jean, “That is exciting. It’s like a scene out of The Good Fight.”
“My job has some good days, and that was definitely one of them.”
“I always wanted Peter to be a lawyer,” Evelyn said. “But, his interests were elsewhere.”
Peter worked in public relations for one of the larger agencies in the city. He specialized in fundraising, working with local charities to raise money for their various causes. Just last month, he spearheaded a campaign for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Richmond.
“I think his job suits him,” Lara Jean said. “It has a lot of heart.”
Lara Jean realized a moment later just how sappy that sounded, and she blushed as Peter looked over at her with an unreadable expression. She covered the moment with a large mouthful of pot roast.
After dinner, Evelyn corralled Peter into pulling out some old photo albums as she and Lara Jean cleaned up the kitchen. The two women held easy conversation as they handled the dishes. Evelyn washed and Lara Jean dried. As Evelyn handed her the gravy boat, she said, “Peter is very comfortable around you.”
Lara Jean didn’t know how to respond, so she stayed quiet.
“I don’t know how much he told you about the one before you, but she changed him. You know how he used to be. Open and sweet. But after her, he was so closed off. I think he was afraid to be hurt again. Who can really blame him. But, tonight…tonight, I feel like I’m finally starting to see my son again.”
Lara Jean carefully dried the gravy boat, hoping that somewhere in the curves and crevices she would find a suitable response to what Peter’s mother just told her. She didn’t truly believe she had the effect that Peter’s mother described, but it was a nice thought.
“Anyway, all of that is to say that both of you have made me very happy tonight. So, thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Lara Jean said, finally finding her voice. “But, um, it’s not just me. We’re both good for each other.”
Evelyn’s eyes were warm. “I can tell.”
They finished up their cleaning and then walked back into the living room, where Peter was going through the albums. Lara Jean sat next to him, suddenly acutely aware of the smell of his aftershave and slight heat emanating from his leg only a shift away from hers. He came upon a picture of them as kids and laughed, knocking his arm against hers. It must have been from Halloween, given his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume and her Cinderella dress.
“Hey, I don’t remember this,” she said, picking up the album. “When do you think this was?”
“Halloween around ’94 or ’95,” Evelyn said after looking at the photograph.
Peter pointed at the chunky plastic slippers that were at least half a size too small on her tiny feet, and said, “Those look like a tripping hazard.”
“They probably were. What we do for fashion.”
Lara Jean turned the page, and held back laughter as she encountered various photographs of Peter as a child. He clearly enjoyed hamming it up for the camera, and from the variety of shots, he had an eager audience.
“Does this mean you’re going to follow around the photographer at Margot’s wedding?”
“Only if I get to wear this,” Peter said, pointing at a particular ensemble including knee socks and one of those hats with the spinner on the top.
“I’ll run it past Margot.”
They left the Kavinsky residence just after nine, both Peter and Lara Jean with copious left overs and warm hugs from the Kavinsky matriarch. Peter drove, and after they piled back into his car he said, “Thanks for playing along tonight. I appreciate it.”
“Of course. You’re welcome.”
It occurred to Lara Jean that it hadn’t felt like playing at all. It wasn’t an earth-shattering realization, but she found herself looking over at him more as they drove. He had a nice profile, all the different features in proportion with the rest of his face. He caught her looking and said, “What? You keep looking at me.”
“What if this isn’t a good idea.”
“What if what isn’t a good idea?”
“Us. You and me doing this. Bringing in our families. What are you going to tell your mom when this ends?”
He shrugged. “I’ll tell her the same thing I always do. You came to your senses.”
“Peter, I’m serious,” she said. “What are you going to tell her?”
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I don’t know. I figured you had that all planned out. You sure seem to have everything else planned.”
She sensed an edge to his voice and asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing,” he said quickly. “I didn’t mean anything. I just…we’re in a fake relationship, Covey. How did you expect this to end?”
“I know it has to end,” Lara Jean said. “But, maybe we didn’t need to bring your mom into this. We could have put it off. The wedding’s only a few weeks away.”
“I thought you were cool with visiting my mom.”
“I was…or I mean, I am. I just feel like this is getting a bit out of control. It was supposed to be an easy thing. You take me to my birthday party and the wedding. Done. Your ex-girlfriend wasn’t supposed to get involved. Your mom wasn’t supposed to.”
“It was one dinner,” he said. “And with Rebecca, you’re the one who told her that we were together, not me. So, that’s on you.”
“I think we need to set some boundaries here. We’ve been spending all this time together, and –“
“Yeah, because we’re friends, Covey. Unless that’s the out of control part you’re really talking about.”
She didn’t respond, because he was partially right and also entirely wrong, but she couldn’t tell him that because her own mind was like a boomerang, tossing itself between various equally inadequate things to say. She didn’t know why tonight had pushed her so over the edge, but she couldn’t stop picturing herself in that kitchen, his mother’s gentle words and the undercurrent of warning.
They didn’t speak for the rest of the ride, although she wanted to, but the words never seemed to be there. She thought that he almost did, too, because she could see his tightening grip on the wheel, followed by a relenting exhale. When he pulled to a stop in front of her apartment, she mumbled a half-hearted good bye and climbed out of the car, hating herself a little more with each step toward her apartment.
She last one hour and three minutes before she called him. She was curled up in bed, her phone pressed tightly to her ear. She was afraid that he would be sleeping, but she could tell from his voice that he was awake like her.
“I’m sorry,” she said, without any preamble.
“What the hell happened tonight?” His words were hard, but his voice was soft. Lara Jean was so relieved that she wanted to cry.
“I don’t know. Your mom was saying this stuff to me when we were in the kitchen and I sort of wigged. Bigtime. I wigged bigtime.”
“What did she say to you?”
Lara Jean chose not to answer that, and instead said, “I didn’t think of the collateral damage from what we’re doing. But, your mom is part of that. And my family. Chris.”
“I think you’re overvaluing our effect on people.”
“We’re lying to people we love. I signed up for that, but you didn’t. And I’m really sorry.”
She hesitated for a moment and then said, “And our friendship isn’t too much. It’s just enough.”
Lara Jean didn’t know what a smile sounded like, but she imagined it was close to the silence that fell on the phone. After a moment Peter cleared his throat and said, “My mom liked you tonight.”
“I’m very good with parents.”
“It was a good move to offer to help with dishes. Rebecca never offered.”
Lara Jean smiled and said, “I guess it’s a good thing I’m not Rebecca.”
“Yeah, I guess it is.”
With the unseemliness settled, Lara Jean felt bone-tired and she yawned loudly, Peter’s warm chuckle filling her ear before he said, “It sounds like you need to go to bed. And, so do, I. Good night, Lara Jean.”
Lara Jean burrowed deeper into her pillow and murmured, “Good night, Peter.”
Seated in an over-crowded bar with the music blaring so loudly that she could barely follow conversation, Lara Jean realized several things. She did, in fact, continue to hate bars. The only reason she was at this particularly loud one was because of Chris. Apparently, she still couldn’t say no to her friend when met with a pleading look. Chris convinced her to bring Peter along for a double date with Chris’ latest fling, and when she shared her lack of enthusiasm to Peter he told her, “We should absolutely go. We gotta sell it. Right, Covey?”
Lara Jean lost track of who exactly they were supposed to be selling it to anymore, so she said yes, and they went on the stupid double date where the booths were too small and their arms kept brushing. She used to jump at his touch, but now she was accustomed to it. She didn’t move when they sat too close. She almost liked it. Which was her other stupid realization.
Sitting close to Peter in the booth, it was becoming increasingly hard to follow conversation, because she kept noticing things about him. He casually held his beer glass, idly turning it in half circles as he talked. When someone else spoke, he leaned in attentively, mouth pulling into a grin when he found something amusing. He smiled with his whole face. She couldn’t stop watching him. It was like he was this new specimen of human that she discovered and everything about him was fascinating.
She stared just a moment too long at one point and he glanced over, mouth pulling into a slack smile as he leaned in and said, “You look like you have something to say.”
“Nope,” she said, swallowing hard as he gave her a challenging look.
She nodded mutely and put deliberate distance between them, only to feel herself pulled toward him again. And again. He shifted in the booth and his thigh pressed casually against hers. She held her breath before she added some pressure in his direction and she could have sworn she saw his jaw tighten. Heat coursed through her and she jumped, nearly knocking her beer over as she said, “I need to run to the bathroom. Chris, you want to go, too?”
She knew she was acting strange and tried to temper it with a breezy smile that only succeeded in making her seem more deranged. Chris nodded quickly, sensing danger on the horizon, and said, “Yeah. Boys, try to behave yourselves in our absence.”
“We’ll try,” her date said.
Peter touched Lara Jean’s arm lightly and asked, “You okay?”
“I’m fine,” Lara Jean said loudly, her voice a good step or two higher than normal. “Just, you know, a lot of liquid. What goes in comes out.”
Chris took a hold of her arm and Lara Jean was gratefully pulled away before she provided any further urination clichés. They walked into the bathroom and as the door closed behind them Lara Jean murmured, “What goes in comes out? Why did I say that? What is wrong with me?!”
Chris took a hold of Lara Jean’s shoulders. “Slow down. Why are you freaking out right now?”
“That was literally the worst thing I could have said.”
“Hey! Focus here, LJ. What’s going on?”
Lara Jean took a deep breath and said, “Well, long story short, Peter and I have been fake dating all this time, but now I’m pretty sure I’m developing real feelings and that can only end in complete and utter disaster. So, that’s what is going on.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“It all started because of Margot and Josh’s wedding. But now, it’s more than that. And I’m terrified by that. I can’t chase after another unattainable guy, Chris. I don’t think I could take that again.”
“So, this entire time, you guys have been faking?” Chris asked slowly.
“Well, shit. That’s…hold on, why is he unattainable?”
“Because, he’s Peter Kavinsky. Guys like him don’t go for girls like me.”
“That is such a bullshit frame of mind,” Chris said. “We’re not in high school anymore, LJ. It’s not the jocks and the nerds.”
“I didn’t mean it that way,” Lara Jean said stubbornly.
“Yeah, you sort of did. Look, why don’t you just tell him how you feel?”
“I told you, Chris. I can’t set myself up to be hurt again. I’ve spent most of my life in love with someone who doesn’t want me, and-“
“Don’t use Josh as some excuse for being a chicken shit,” Chris said. Lara Jean went to argue, and Chris held up a hand. “No, you’ve been doing that for years, LJ. Josh was never an option and you know it. Over and over again I’ve seen you use him as an excuse for not putting yourself out there. But, I am not letting you do that here.”
“I don’t use Josh as an excuse,” Lara Jean said defensively.
“Yeah, you do. Or wanting the perfect love or whatever. It’s your own way of isolating yourself, but I won’t let you do that with Peter. Because he is sitting out there waiting for you.”
“What guy would go through all of this if he wasn’t interested? It’s been months, LJ. He’s interested.”
Lara Jean’s concerns on the subject disagreed but her logical side couldn’t deny Chris’ strong argument. They had been spending a lot of time together. In fact, when she thought about it, he was usually the one who pushed for them to go out as a couple.
Lara Jean sucked in a breath and asked, “You really think he is?”
Chris nodded exaggeratedly.
“What if you’re wrong?”
“But, what if you are?” Lara Jean asked quietly.
Chris sighed. “Then, I’m wrong. But, you need to take a chance sometime, LJ. And he seems like a pretty safe bet.”
Lara Jean nodded, tucking her hair tightly behind her ears. “We should probably head back out there.”
“We can take a few more minutes if you need them. We’ve already been in here a questionable amount of time.”
Lara Jean smiled a bit and shook her head. “No, let’s go.”
Chris pulled her in for a tight hug and kissed the side of her head. “You’re going to be okay, kid.”
The cab ride home, Lara Jean couldn’t stop thinking about what Chris said in the bathroom. Had she really just been using Josh all these years as a shield against risking heartbreak? It was a convenient excuse. She had fallen for him at such an impressionable time in her life, how was anyone ever supposed to compare? Somehow, Peter did. It had only been a few months, but he already felt like a constant in her life. Was he really a safe bet, like Chris said? It almost felt like wishful thinking, but then she remembered the warmth in his gaze. The lopsided grin that seemed reserved for her.
She leaned forward and told the driver that there was an address change. It was a blur as they wove their way through the city. The driver parked the car. She paid. She went up to his apartment and knocked, her breathing growing faster, and faster, and faster until he opened the door and then she couldn’t breathe at all. He was already changed into a pair of pajama pants and a worn t-shirt with rip in the collar.
She didn’t trust herself to speak, so she didn’t try. Instead, she stepped forward and grabbed onto that worn t-shirt, tugging his face down toward hers. She didn’t quite know what to expect, but was exhilarated when he kissed her back, his arms winding around her waist. She let go of his shirt and slid her arms up around his neck, rising up on her tip toes as he deepened the kiss. It had been a while since Lara Jean properly kissed someone, and she had forgotten just how good it could be. In fact, she didn’t know if she ever had it this good. After a moment, she pulled away and murmured, “I should go home.”
His fingers pressed into her waist and she made no effort to move. “Okay.”
“I mean it. I’m going.”
He smirked and leaned down, pressing a kiss to the side of her mouth. “Okay. Then go.”
He pressed a kiss on the other side of her mouth, his movements slow and deliberate. She gave in and met him in the middle, melting against him as he kissed her. When they pulled apart she murmured, “We’re not pretending anymore, are we?”
Peter brushed her hair away from her face. “No. I don’t think we are.”
Thank you all so much for your feedback on that last one!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lara Jean woke up slowly, her eyes adjusting to the brightness of the room before she realized that she was (a) not in her bedroom and (b) there was someone next to her. She turned her head to the side, stomach fluttering when she saw the familiar back of his head. Peter was turned away from her, one arm tucked under his head. He was still asleep, snoring softly. She planted her hand on her pillow and sat up, craning her neck as she tried to steal a glance at his face. She shifted a bit and lost her balance, pulling herself back frantically to fall back on the pillow as to avoid careening into his sleeping form. All the commotion woke him up, and he turned toward her with a groggy, “You okay?”
“Mhmm,” she said, nodding quickly. She suddenly realized that the sheet dropped down to her waist and she picked it up quickly, clutching it at her chest. He was still half asleep, but noticed enough of that last bit to say, “I didn’t see anything.”
“I highly doubt that, but thank you.”
He chuckled and laid on his back, wiping the sleep from his eyes with the back of his hand. He paid little heed to where the sheet ended up on him, his bare torso angularly leading down to –
“I don’t normally do this,” Lara Jean blurted out.
He looked over at her, eyes confused. “Okay.”
“I mean, not that I regret it. I don’t. I just…I don’t normally do this. So, I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do right now. Or what I’m supposed to say. Am I even supposed to say something? Maybe this is a time for not talking. See? I never really know and –“
“Whoah whoah, you can do or say whatever you want,” he said, sitting up and taking a hold of her hand. He interlaced their fingers and she wondered if he could feel her heart beat in her fingertips. She could.
Lara Jean never intended to sleep with him. Hell, she barely intended to kiss him. It just sort of happened. Like them. She was starting to think that some of the best things happened that way.
“I really like you, Peter Kavinsky.”
He leaned in and kissed her. “I really like you, too, Lara Jean Covey.” He kissed her again and then asked, “Is this going to be a thing now? Us calling each other by our whole names? Because, I have to say, I like it.”
“I always thought of you as a full name when we were kids,” Lara Jean said, taking a hold of his other hand and tracing the lines on his palm. “It just made sense.”
“How?” he asked, laughing.
“I don’t know. You always seemed like a Peter Kavinsky.”
“You know what, I’ll take that. People who go by their full names are distinguished.”
He leaned in and kissed her again, his mouth more insistent this time as he pressed her down into the mattress. The sheets were twisted between them, but she could feel him hard on her leg. Suddenly, she started thinking. Too much. A familiar heaviness settled on her chest and her mind whirred. Last night was a blur, not from alcohol but from the heat of the moment. Both of them were overwhelmed by their respective declarations, and they barely made it to his bedroom before she unzipped his pants and he had her shirt off. It was a maddening rush and Lara Jean found herself doubting that they – or particularly she – could recreate that in his sunlit bedroom. His hand slid beneath the sheet and she pulled away sharply.
“You should know something.”
Lara Jean took a deep breath. “I’m not always good at this.”
“You know…this,” she said obviously, gesturing between them. “I get really in my head and it sort of ruins it. Last night-“
“You didn’t feel pressured or anything, did you?” Peter asked, his eyes going wide. “Because I didn’t mean to-“
“No,” she said resolutely. “I wanted to. Believe me. I just…last night I was sort of able to get out my head, and now I’m squarely back in it, so-“
“We don’t have to do anything,” he said. “We can just hang out.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I like spending time with you, Covey.”
She smiled slightly, relieved, and said, “Thank you." The sort of ringing in her ears that had started began to fade away, and she asked, "Um, do you know where my clothes went? It feels sort of strange to hang out naked.”
“Really? That’s the only way I hang out.”
“I’m never sitting on your couch again.”
He dropped a kiss onto her shoulder. “Okay, you stay here and I will locate clothes. But be warned, because I am also naked under here. So, close your eyes.”
He darted out from under the sheet, quickly maneuvering himself over to his dresser while stark naked. She dutifully closed her eyes, laughing when a t-shirt hit her in the face. She heard him suck in air and say, “Sorry, I was honestly not aiming. This is why I didn’t make it to college lacrosse.”
She opened her eyes and said, “These are not my clothes.”
“Yeah, you were wearing a dress yesterday. That is not lounging apparel. You’ll be more comfortable in that.”
He was already changed into basketball shorts and a t-shirt. He looked at her for a long moment and then he seemed to catch himself and turned around quickly.
“Sorry,” he said. “I got distracted.” His head turned slightly toward her, but not enough that he could see her. “You know, you’re really pretty in the morning.”
She changed into that shirt as quickly as she could. It was several sizes too large and hit her mid-thigh. She stood up and walked over to him slowly, stopping right behind him to reach up and tap on his shoulder. He turned around and she wrapped her arms around him, resting her head against his chest. He kissed the crown of her head and she murmured, “I’m really glad I convinced you to fake date me.”
“To be fair, I didn’t need much convincing. And if I knew then how good you’d look in one of my old t-shirts…”
“I don’t think either of us would have predicted this back then.”
Peter shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe.”
She stared up at him. “Really? I was asking you to help me convince my sister I wasn’t in love with her fiancée. What part of that made you think – she’s going to fall for me.”
“Out of all the guys you knew – many of whom I’m guessing you had regular interactions with – you chose me, the guy you hadn’t talked to in years. The guy who you weren’t even Facebook friends with. I don’t know, it seemed suspicious.”
“You are so full of it,” she said with a grin, shaking her head.
“Plus, add in my dashing good looks, how could you not?” She was giving him a playful glare when he tightened his grasp on her waist. “And then, you. How could I possibly not fall for you?”
“I am a pretty remarkable specimen of woman.”
“Yes. Even when you say things like that.” He reached down and took her hand, gently pulling her to the bed. “Come on, Netflix binge time. What are your thoughts on The Office?”
“Yes,” she returned simply.
“That is the correct thought. Let’s queue it up, Covey.”
They spent the rest of the day watching The Office, piling up takeout boxes next to the bed with each meal. She ended up staying the night again, but they only slept, the ever present knot in her chest loosening slightly when he pressed a kiss into the crook of her neck after he turned off the light, and nothing else. He wrapped his arm around her waist and she held it against her belly, running her thumb along his knuckles. He fell asleep first, and then, to the soft chorus of his deviated septum, she fell asleep.
I'm not quite sure if I liked how this turned out, but I wanted to play with the idea of her having anxiety about physical intimacy. I think it would fit considering that she was somewhat stunted in the rest of her love life before Peter. Anyhoo, I hope you all enjoyed this one!
This is the final chapter. Thank you so much for everyone who has read this! I hope you enjoy the conclusion!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lara Jean imagined this day more times than she could count. A big church. White lace. Josh standing in front of the alter, the edges of his mouth turned up slightly, in an almost reverential manner, as she glided down the aisle. Today was no different, except she didn’t stop in front of him like she did all those other times. Instead, she took her residence at the front of the bridesmaids, head swiveling toward the large mahogany doors as the opening chords of Pachobel’s Cannon in G reverberated through the hall. The doors opened with a flourish and there was her sister, perfect in all of her five foot three glory, their father dapper in a smart suit beside her. As they started to walk down the aisle, Lara Jean couldn’t help but grin, and then felt that grin quiver as the enormity of the moment struck her. An elbow lightly brushed hers and she heard her younger sister, Kitty, murmur, “Keep it together, LJ.”
And so, she did. Margot handed Lara Jean her bouquet, and she wrapped her fingers tight around it until her knuckles turned white, and didn’t so much as sniffle when her dad nervously fumbled with Margot’s veil when he lifted it to reveal the bride. Lara Jean’s eyes travelled over to Josh. She had never seen someone more in awe of another person. Margot reached her hands out toward him and he gently pulled her toward him, their interlaced hands dropping between them like an anchor. Watching them, it struck Lara Jean that everything was exactly how it should be.
Following the wedding, Lara Jean found Peter over with the rest of her family. He was engaged in an animated conversation with her father. So animated, in fact, that it took the two of them several moments to realize she was standing next to them. Dr. Covey laughed jovially and pulled her into a loose hug.
“Sorry about that, sweetheart. Your boyfriend and I were just talking comic books. Do you know that his grandpa worked with Stan Lee back at Atlas Comics?”
Peter grinned. “Yeah, he swears to this day that he actually created Spiderman.”
Dr. Covey let out a bark of laughter. “Him and about ten other guys.”
“I didn’t know about that,” Lara Jean said.
“I’m like an onion, Covey. There are just more and more layers,” Peter teased.
It was a corny joke that landed remarkably well with her over-fifty-father. Dr. Covey clapped Peter on the back and said, “I like him. You should have brought him around sooner.”
“Well, he’s here now,” she said, pressing herself to Peter’s side. “And I’m pretty sure he’ll be here all night.” She looked up at him. “Right?”
“At least through dinner.”
“You should stay for dessert. I helped pick out the cake. It’s good stuff.”
“You should listen to her,” Dr. Covey said conspiringly. “She knows cake.”
“I hate to put an end to our fun, but I see a distant cousin who will definitely hold a grudge if I don’t say hello,” Dr. Covey said. “I’ll see you guys at the table, okay?”
“Sounds good, Dad.”
Dr. Covey rushed off and Peter said, “I think your dad likes me.”
“Are you sure?”
“He literally said it thirty seconds ago.”
Lara Jean looked up at him innocently and returned, “He’s reeling from losing his oldest, and favorite, daughter. I don’t think he can be held accountable to anything he says.”
“Oh, is that so?”
Peter reached forward and his fingers danced across her sides, making her double over in laughter. She pushed against him and his arms encircled her waist, pulling her in until she was comfortably nestled against him, her face pressed against his chest.
“You look very pretty, by the way. Did I mention that yet?”
She hid her smile against his chest before she glanced up and said, “No, I don’t think you did.”
“Well, you do.”
He dipped his head down to hers for a soft kiss. Just as they parted, Kitty joined them for a well-timed, “The broom closet is down the hall, guys. You know, if you need it.”
“Hello Kitty,” Lara Jean said, extricating herself somewhat from Peter. They were in public, after all.
“Good job on your maid of honor duties. You did well. Even if you did drop Margot’s bouquet at the end.”
Lara Jean winced. “I don’t think anyone noticed?”
“Oh, we all noticed,” Peter said.
A waiter walked by with an empty appetizer tray and Kitty said, “You guys really did not situate yourselves well for appetizers. You’re on the outskirts of the caterer circle. You have to move in.”
“I’m sorry, the caterer what?” Lara Jean asked with bemusement.
“Everyone knows that caterers have set paths,” Kitty returned levelly. “And you two are squarely not on it. If we’re going to continue this, we need to move. I cannot miss out on another calzone.”
Peter’s eyes went wide. “There are calzones as an appetizer? Yeah, show me that caterer circle.”
Several calzones later, everyone settled at their respective tables and the speeches began. The best man went first, bringing everyone to tears first with laughter and then sentimentality. Lara Jean didn’t know how she was supposed to follow that. She wrote her entire speech out, because public speaking made her nervous and she didn’t want to chance blanking. Looking down at the typewritten words, she wondered if she over-prepared.
Peter felt the tension emanating from her and gave her knee a squeeze beneath the table. Her speech was announced too quickly, and then she was standing in front of the packed room, all eyes on her as the stack of papers trembled slightly in her hand. She looked over at Margot and Josh, taking in their easy demeanor. Josh had ditched his suit jacket, and their hands were clasped between them on the table. She could see Margot’s thumb brushing against Josh’s hand to an unheard melody. Lara Jean dropped the papers onto her seat.
“I don’t remember meeting Margot. Although, I’ve been told that I spit up formula on her and she asked if I could be returned.” A wave of laughter crossed the room. “I don’t remember meeting Margot, but I remember meeting Josh. And I remember Josh meeting Margot. We were playing on the swing set and Margot came out to ask me about something. I still remember the look on his face when he saw her. It was like he couldn’t believe she existed. He had that same look on his face today. I don’t think I’m wrong to say that Josh fell in love with Margot the minute he saw her and he hasn’t stopped loving her since. As her sister, nothing could make me happier.”
Lara Jean reached down for her glass and when she couldn’t find it easily, Peter pressed his into her palm. She smiled at him gratefully and raised the glass.
“To Margot and Josh!”
Lara Jean and Peter swayed slowly on the dance floor, Lara Jean’s body tucked neatly against his, their intertwined hands nestled against his chest. The dance floor had thinned out over the night, the revelers either calling it a night or giving their feet refuge at tables. Even Margot and Josh were out on a balcony, keeping the groomsmen company as they smoked celebratory cigars.
“It’s funny…” Lara Jean began, but then stopped herself, not wanting to ruin the moment with words.
“Nothing. It’s nothing.”
“Come on, tell me,” he said, giving her waist a squeeze.
“It was always her. From the moment he saw her, it was her. I wish I could have seen that sooner.”
“We all have our own blinders on,” he said reasonably. “Besides, if you saw it sooner I wouldn’t be here with you.”
Lara Jean decidedly did not like that version of events. Peter had been woven so deeply into the fabric of her life over the past few months that she couldn’t imagine it without him.
“They seem truly happy,” she said softly.
She glanced up at him, struck by the beauty of his face, and murmured, “I think I’m falling in love you.”
She probably should have been worried she was saying it too soon - or at least felt some hesitation at being so forthcoming – but she didn’t have a chance for any of that. Because just about as soon as the words left her mouth it was occupied by Peter’s, the slant of his lips and curl of his fingers into her waist suggesting that he just might be falling in love with her, too.
Thank you so much for reading!