It starts like this:
He's sitting in his car outside of a bakery in Williamsburg, tapping out the last few sentences of an email while Jason waits impatiently outside the car for him. He waves his hand in his best friend's direction and clicks send before stepping out of the car.
He squints up at the bakery, the name of it tickling at something at the back of his mind. Like he recognizes it, even though he knows that's impossible. He hasn't been to Williamsburg since he was a kid, and according to Jason, this bakery's only been open half a year.
"No work stuff," Jason says, pointing at Peter's phone.
Peter rolls his eyes and makes a show of putting it in his pocket.
"I promise no work stuff will interrupt this obviously very important cake tasting."
He looks up at the bakery again, then glances down the street. That itch is still there, insistent to the point of annoying. It also happens to be right alongside another thought that rises up from the depths of his mind, completely unbidden though at least no longer painful --
Lara Jean would really love it here.
His brain doesn’t seem to care that it's been five years since he's seen her, that it’s been years since anyone has even said her name around him.
The moment he looks at the squat brick buildings of downtown Williamsburg, the antiquated lightposts, the cobblestoned walkways, all he can think is about is Lara Jean.
And it's with that thought camping out in the back of his mind, right next to that itch in his brain that tells him he knows this bakery despite never having been to it, that he walks into the store.
And finds himself staring directly at Lara Jean Song Covey.
She doesn't see him -- not at first. She's in the middle of a conversation with Natalie, Jason's fiancee. There’s a bright look in her eyes as she leans over and scrolls through her phone before setting it down on the table in front of Natalie.
She's beautiful, but that's not a surprise. She always has been. But Lara Jean at 26 has a different beauty than Lara Jean at 16, when he first fell in love with her, or Lara Jean at 20, when they said their last goodbyes.
There's an easy sort of confidence to her now that you used to have to dig to find. It doesn't announce itself, but it's there in every movement, every word and gesture. And while she still has the same kind smile, the same sparkling eyes, the same killer style -- somehow it's now both more lived in and sophisticated at the same time time.
He can't keep his eyes off of her.
(But that's nothing new.)
He can see Jason looking at him from the corner of his eye, and tries to smooth his features out into something less telling when Lara Jean lifts her head and looks directly at him.
He suddenly feels caught in a way that makes him think he should look away, but if it was hard to keep his eyes off her before, it's now all but impossible. He watches her face cycle through half a dozen different expressions -- surprise, worry, a wry kind of acceptance -- before it settles on a sort of muted pleasantness.
It makes his chest ache a bit because there's nothing familiar about it. He thinks it must be the expression she gives to anyone that might walk through the door.
Still, a part of him is glad, too, because he can at least tell that she's shuttered away the most obvious of her emotions. And even if he's not quite as good at reading her as when they were 18 and in love, he's at least still good enough to know when she's clamping down on feelings she'd rather not show.
"Peter Kavinsky," she says, and there's a warmth to the way she says his name that makes him forget that they haven't spoken in five years.
"Hey Covey," he says, the name slipping out easily, his face easing into a carefree, lopsided grin like they're still in high school. Like she was never the person he thought he was going to spend the rest of his life with. As if so many of his decisions since he was 17 haven’t been influenced by her in some way.
He hears a throat clear to the right of him, and looks over to find Natalie, Jason and Brittany, Natalie's maid of honor, staring at him with varying levels of interest. And while Natalie is at least trying to hide hers and Jason shoots him a look that tells him he'll be forced to tell a lengthy story later, Brittany is openly grinning at the two of them.
He’s not surprised. As well as they get along, she’s always enjoyed giving him shit.
"So, how do you two know each other?" She asks, all easy breeziness like she's only being polite. He wants to roll his eyes because she's leaning forward in her chair, her eyes lit up in equal parts interest and mischievousness. He thinks Lara Jean would like her; she’s always reminded him a little bit of Chris.
He doesn't though, because he's curious what Lara Jean might say.
She hesitates for a moment and glances over at him, gives him a long look that he hates that he can't read. It shouldn't matter what she says about them -- whether she chooses or not to disclose to random strangers all that they were to one another once upon a time should have nothing to do with him.
Stiill, his heart clamps in his chest at the thought of her describing them as just having gone to the same high school or simply growing up together. A truth that is and isn't at the same time, a truth that washes out all they were to one another once upon a time.
"We dated for a while when we were younger," she finally says, offering the words with a soft smile that he thinks is a little wistful at the edges. He thinks he isn’t imagining it, at least.
He's glad that she isn't looking at him because his heart slowly unclamps and lets out a breath he doesn't realize he was holding.
"What happened?" Brittany asks, looking over at him and quirking an eyebrow at his glare.
Lara Jean shrugs and tucks her hair behind her ear, seemly nonplussed by a weirdly personal line of questioning.
"We were young," she says, that same small smile on her face, the words coming out at the same time that he says --
"I was an idiot."
Lara Jean looks over at him, surprise flitting over her face before she grins at him, a gesture he can't help but return.
"From what I know about Peter, I'm gonna guess his is closer to the truth."
He expects Lara Jean to agree, but she just shakes her head and gives him a smile he used to love when they were younger -- the one that made him feel like she was sharing something special only with him.
"I'd say that a majority of the idiocy was due to the fact that we were both so young."
“So I was still responsible for a minor amount of idiocy, age notwithstanding?”
Lara Jean laughs, the sound landing squarely in the center of his chest and making him feel like he's 17 all over again.
“You said it, Peter, not me.”
He ducks his head down and grins, looking at her through his eyelashes. The easiness in their exchange is in such stark contrast to their last stilted conversation at graduation five years ago; is worlds apart from the heaviness and heartache of the last few that preceded it.
He wants to laugh -- partially out of relief, partially out of joy. He remembers the rawness of their breakup, the way he felt like it would never stop feeling like razor wire wrapped around his heart. Part of him wonders if this is the way that all breakups end up, eventually -- just another story you laugh about against a backdrop of cupcakes and washed out pastels.
But then he looks at Lara Jean -- the softness of her smile, the kindness in her eyes -- and thinks, no. Thinks that this could only ever happen with her. Even in this -- even in heartbreak and healing -- she is set apart from anyone that came before or after her.
That hasn't changed at all then, either.
He hears Jason clear his throat next to him, and blinks; realizes he's just been staring and smiling at Lara Jean for a good minute or so.
“So you finally did it, huh?” He says, motioning around the bakery.
“I finally did it.”
He thinks -- I always knew you could.
It’s only when she looks down, a smile spreading across her face, the tips of her ears turning pink as she glances up at him through her eyelashes that he realizes that he did, in fact, murmur it softly under his breath.
“Thanks, Peter.” She says quietly, then lifts her head to smile at him. “And I guess I have you to thank, too.”
He furrows his brows.
She points to the large brush lettered name on the wall behind them.
He suddenly realizes why the name of it sounded so familiar to him, even when he and Lara Jean haven’t had any contact in five years.
She’s staring over at him, her gaze uncertain, her teeth worrying at the corner of her lip.
“It’s, um, totally fine if you don’t remember -- it was a long time ago and it was just a random conversation that -- .”
He shakes his head and reaches a hand out to stop her, the tips of his fingertips just barely grazing the edge of her wrist.
“Lara Jean, I remember,” he says firmly, meeting her eyes so that she knows he means it (meeting her eyes so that he doesn’t stare at where his fingertips are touching her skin). “Freshman year -- that time that you drove down to UVA to give me those mint lavender macarons.”
She purses her lips to the side and rolls her eyes, though he catches a hint of a smile as she does.
“I didn’t drive up to UVA just to give you that, Peter.”
He raises his eyebrow at her and grins when her cheeks turn slightly pink.
“I mean,” she says loudly, darting a glance between him and the rest of the wedding party that he just now remembers are there, too. “That I went to go visit Kitty and you, and happened to be experimenting with macarons that weekend, too.”
“God, mint lavender macarons sound so amazing,” Natalie says, looking over at Lara Jean, who looks relieved at the interjection.
“I have some at the counter,” Lara Jean says, backing away from the table. “And, I should go and get those cake samples for you, too. Sorry I got a little distracted.”
He’s about to say something corny like, it’s alright, I understand that I’m pretty distracting -- mostly because it’s the type of thing that he used to say to Lara Jean all the time when they were younger -- when she turns to him with an exasperated look on her face and just shakes her head before heading back towards the kitchen.
He’s simultaneously caught off guard that she anticipated his move and incredibly pleased at the same time. The two emotions crash into one another and make him huff out a surprised sound of laughter before he scrubs his hands across the front of his pants and sits down next to Jason.
“So, you still free after this cake tasting?” Jason asks.
He nods, his eyes still focused on the door that Lara Jean just disappeared behind.
“Yeah, you still wanna get a beer afterwards?”
He hears Natalie and Brittany laugh and turns to look at them.
“Sorry Peter, the beer is now a full-scale dinner,” Natalie says, grinning at him.
“And,” Brittany adds, “Nat and I are inviting ourselves. We have to.”
He raises an eyebrow.
“And why is that?”
Jason huffs a laugh and motions to the swinging kitchen door that he keeps on glancing over at.
“Because obviously there’s a pretty damn interesting story there that you just happened to have never mentioned to any of us and we absolutely need to hear it.”