He turns to face Kitty as he leans back against the countertop. She stares back at him, her gaze icy and hard.
“So you apologized,” she says after a moment, her voice flat.
“And what exactly did you apologize for?”
He squares his shoulders.
“The way I treated her in college. Disappointing her. Making her feel like she wasn’t loved.”
She bares her teeth at him.
“She didn’t feel like she was loved because you stopped loving her, you asshole.”
He puts his hands out in front of him and shakes his head.
“No, I stopped treating her like I did.” He clears his throat and chews on his bottom lip. “I never stopped loving her. I -- I just stopped acting like I did.”
Kitty blows out an angry breath and shakes her head.
“Oh, what the fuck is the difference? If I stop taking care of my car, it’ll break down, even if I want it to work. If I stop treating a plant like I want it to live, it dies whether or not that’s how I really feel.” She glares at him, her words jagged with anger. “If you loved Lara Jean but stopped treating her like you did, it feels the same way to her either way: shitty.”
“I don’t care if you say you’re sorry, Peter,” she bursts out, her eyes blazing with rage. “And I can’t believe Lara Jean does either!” She takes a deep breath, casting her eyes towards the door then visibly wrangling control over anger. When she speaks again, her words are measured and crisp. “I bet she didn’t even tell you what it was like for her after you broke up with her?”
She looks at him and waits for him to nod his head before she gives a snort of disgust.
“Of course she didn’t.” She scoffs angrily. “After all this time and she’s still trying to spare your feelings.” She glares at him. “You deserve nothing from her and yet…” She shakes her head. “You absolutely destroyed her self-esteem with your bullshit, you know that?” She hisses, her voice shaking from the effort of not yelling at him. “After you, it’s like...it’s like she didn’t trust herself anymore. She retreated back into herself -- she retreated from life. She came home every weekend. She never saw her friends. There was a time where I really thought she was going to just stop going to school and just move back home.”
She throws him a look so full of loathing and spite he honestly feels like the next thing she might throw at him is her fist.
He’d welcome it.
She takes a deep breath, then shakes her head angrily.
“She didn’t...she didn’t bake for over a year, Peter. Did she tell you that?” He shakes his head, and he has to bite down hard on his lower lip to distract himself from the sharp pain of guilt and shame in the center of his chest. “Not a cupcake, not a biscuit, not a single fucking cookie,” Kitty continues, her voice getting quieter as her words land harder. “In fact...she stopped -- she didn’t make anything at all for that year. She didn’t even touch her hot glue gun on Christmas or Valentine’s Day or for anyone’s birthday.”
Kitty bites out a grating, bitter laugh.
“I never wanted a glittery paper card with layered scrapbook paper so badly as I did that year.” She looks at him with a jagged, sour grin. “The day I came home and found her holding a batch of chocolate chip cookies she’d baked, I almost started crying.”
She shakes her head and closes her eyes for a moment, and he steels himself for the loud and angry barrage of words he knows he deserves, but when she speaks again, her voice is soft, the words landing with devastating pinpoint accuracy.
“You took so much from her in those last few months when you were together -- her love and her forgiveness and her time and her kindness...and you gave back absolutely nothing. Not a single fucking thing.” She punctuates each word with a sharp snap of syllables that makes him wince. “And then…” She looks at him directly, her gaze unflinching and cold. “And then you left, and on your way out, you even took the things that brought her joy.”
He takes a deep breath and tries to swallow back the tightness in his throat.
“I...I didn’t know any of that.”
A long, heavy silence settles between them. Kitty looks away from him, her mouth pressed into a tight line. Still, he can almost see her picking up each word she’s about to say and discarding it, choosing only the exact right phrasing.
When she speaks again, there’s a quaver to her voice, and somehow that’s even worse than the anger in her eyes.
“You made her feel worthless,” Kitty finally says, her words quiet and wholly devastating.
He has to keep himself from closing his eyes from how much that hurts to hear. There’s so much shame in the back of his throat he thinks he might choke on it.
“Ki -- Katherine, I --.”
Kitty shakes her head and he stops. She scowls at him and grits her teeth angrily -- like she’s trying to chew up the waver in her words.
“Lara Jean is the best person...the -- the kindest person I know and she treated you like you were the kind of guy that deserved that. And you --.” She bares her teeth at him and exhales a long, harsh breath. “It’s not just that you made her feel like she wasn’t loved -- you made her feel like she wasn’t good enough to be loved.” She shakes her head. “How could you do that?”
He does close his eyes then, the pain in his heart so profound, the weight on his chest so crushing that for a brief, wild moment he wonders if he’s having a heart attack.
But no -- it’s only the force of his guilt and despair pressing down on him, threatening to drown him in it.
Silence settles between them once again, thick with all the empty platitudes he swallows back. Because the truth is there is no good answer to that question, no way to explain or defend or excuse away what he did and who he was.
Which, really, is the only thing he can say.
“There’s no justification for it,” he finally replies. He meets Kitty's eyes and though she's still scowling sharply at him, he can detect a flicker of surprise in her eyes when he says it. “I did it and I hate that I did it and I hate that I have to live with knowing that I hurt the most important person to me because I was stupid and selfish and cruel. It makes me feel like a piece of shit every time I think about it."
"Good. That's the least of what you deserve."
He nods in agreement, and somehow that only serves to deepen Kitty's scowl.
"You're right -- Lara Jean is the best person I know. And because I know that's true, I also know that I don’t deserve her forgiveness for what I did to her. Even before you told me all this I knew that, Ki -- Katherine.” He gives her a half bewildered look. “But for whatever reason, she’s chosen to forgive me."
"She always does," Kitty interjects. "She always has."
"I know. But I'm not some dumbass 20 year old now. I'm old enough to know better. I'm smart enough not to take it for granted." He glances at the door that leads to the front of the store, then looks back at Kitty as he gestures to the store around them. "I missed out on all of this, Katherine." He sighs and shakes his head. "I've lived a life without Lara Jean in it -- enough to know that I don't want that. I don't want to miss out on her life anymore." He pauses for a moment and squares his shoulders and makes sure his voice is firm even though what he’s about to say is a truth he’s only just managed to find the words to express. "I don't want to spend the rest of my life missing her -- because that's what I'd spend my life doing if I didn't have the privilege of being a part of it.” He takes a deep breath and spreads his hands out in front of his in a plaintive motion. “So even though I know I don't deserve her forgiveness, I’m going to spend every single moment I can earning that -- being the type of person who deserves it.”
She eyes him carefully.
“You were always good with the big speeches.” She tilts her head at him. “It’s the follow-through I don’t believe in any more.”
“I haven’t given you any reason to. All I can tell you is that I’m not that person any more.”
She exhales sharply, then looks away from him for a moment as she taps her fingers across the countertop.
“You know, I thought you guys were going to get married,” she mutters after a moment, and if there’s an acid tone to her voice, he thinks that it feels at least partially forced. “I thought you’d finally actually be my brother.” She looks back at him and gives him a venomous look. “But I should’ve known that you were always going to be a disappointment.”
She looks away from him again, her face twisted up into a sour grimace.
He looks at her -- at the way she’s refusing to look at him -- and for the first time, he realizes, in a way he never has before, that breakups aren’t just between two people. They’re between two lives, two families, two visions of the future.
A shattering, not just a split.
“I’m sorry, Kitty.”
She bunches her shoulders up by her ears.
“It’s Katherine. And you don’t need to apologize to me.”
“Yeah, I do.”
She barks out a grating laugh.
“Well, I don’t want it.”
“That’s fair. But I’m still sorry.” He’s mostly apologizing to the back of her head, but he thinks he sees her shoulders relax a tiny amount. “I always told you I’d still be there for you no matter what happened with me and Lara Jean.”
She waves away the apology with her hand.
“That was years before anything happened. And, honestly, that’s just a stupid thing you say to stupid kid sisters.”
He shakes his head even though he knows she can’t see it.
“I meant it and I didn’t follow through with it.” He chews on the corner of his lip. “I’m sorry.”
She finally turns to look at him and rolls her eyes.
“So you’ve said.” She shakes her head. “Anyway, if you’d even tried to come around after that shit you pulled with Lara Jean, I would’ve probably, I don’t know, punched you in the stomach and then slammed the door in your face.”
He allows himself the tiniest upturn of the corner of his mouth. She doesn't return it, but she also doesn't deepen her scowl at him.
He'll take that.
“I would’ve deserved it.” He tilts his head at her. “I should’ve at least given you the opportunity to do it.”
“Yeah, you should’ve.” There’s less venom in her tone now, and while she crosses her arms as she narrows her eyes at him, her shoulders at least aren’t as rigid as they were before. When she speaks again, there’s more frustration than fury in her tone. “You know, this is a lot less...satisfying than I thought it’d be when I was 16.”
He furrows his brows at her.
She glares at him.
“That’s the problem -- I actually believe you.” She shakes her head, her mouth twisting again in distaste as she continues on. “But you know, apologizing doesn’t change what happened before. It doesn’t make it all magically go away.”
“I know that.” He looks at her steadily, imploringly. “Nothing can erase what I did and nothing should. But I meant what I said -- I’m going to spend every single moment I can earning her forgiveness...in trying to be the type of person I should’ve always been.”
She tilts her head at him, considering.
“For how long?”
His answer is so immediate it feels automatic, like he’s been hoarding the words in his heart, waiting for just the right moment to say them.
“For however long Lara Jean will have me.”
Kitty sighs heavily.
“Well, fuck.” She shakes her head wearily. “If it’s up to Lara Jean…” She sighs again. “She has such a blindspot for your bullshit and such a soft spot for you in her heart, it’s outrageous.”
“Ouch, Kitty,” Lara Jean says from her place by the kitchen door, a slight look of hurt on her face. “At least have some faith in me.”
He turns towards her in surprise. He’d been so wrapped up in his conversation with Kitty, he hadn’t even heard her come in. He glances over at Kitty, who looks just as surprised as he does and more than a little chagrined.
“I do have faith in you,” Kitty says, turning away from him and facing Lara Jean. “It’s just…it’s Peter, Lara Jean.”
Lara Jean sighs, and walks towards Kitty, glancing at him only momentarily but resting her hand on his wrist.
“Peter, can you watch the store while I talk to Kitty please?”
He nods, glancing between the two sisters and squeezing Lara Jean’s hand before turning towards the kitchen door.
He pauses before he exits and turns back to face Kitty.
“I know the feeling isn’t mutual, but it was nice seeing you again, Katherine.” He gives her a small but sincere smile. “Thanks for being honest with me.”
She rolls her eyes at him, but doesn’t say anything.
He takes it as a small measure of progress. At least it wasn’t a scowl.
He lets the door swing shut behind him, but rather than shutting completely, the hinges stick a bit, leaving it just open enough for the conversation behind him to carry out into the front of the store. Lara Jean has had soft indie music playing in the bakery throughout the morning, but either the playlist has ended or she’d turned it off, because now it’s dead silent in the bakery.
That, coupled with some strange trick of acoustics in the bakery means that it kind of feels like the entire universe is conspiring to make it so he can basically hear the entire conversation as it goes on behind him.
“...not completely unreasonable, you know,” he hears Kitty say in an exasperated tone, clearly responding to something that Lara Jean has just said. “I know you guys were young. I know he was going through this, like, foundation-shattering event in his life. I know he was more than a little bit lost as a person. And Owen’s told me enough times that he’s different now that I can believe it.” She takes a deep breath. “It’s just --.”
“Just what, Kitty?”
“You were so hurt and so sad for so long,” Kitty says quietly, her words so soft and sad he can barely catch them through the slightly opened door. “When you guys broke up, it was...” She pauses. When she starts speaking again, she sounds as young as he remembers her being the last time he saw her. “It was like my sister was just...gone and no matter what I did or how hard I tried, I didn’t know how to get you back.”
“Oh, Kitty.” Her tone is tender, the words draped with regret. “It wasn’t your responsibility to bring me back or make me feel better. I’m sorry I made you feel like you had to take that on.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Kitty declares fiercely. “It was his.”
Lara Jean laughs softly.
“Everything can’t be his fault, Kitty.”
“I don’t see why not.”
He hears a shuffling sound, and he imagines that Lara Jean is wrapping her arms around Kitty in comfort.
“I was drowning and I made you feel like you needed to save me, and I’m sorry, Kitty.” Lara Jean’s voice sounds slightly muffled, like she’s tucked her chin against Kitty’s shoulder and is speaking somewhat into her sister’s sweater. “But you didn’t need to save me -- no one needed to save me. I just needed to learn to swim again.”
“You shouldn’t’ve had to.”
“I know,” Lara Jean replies simply. “But it happened, and I got through it.”
He hears Kitty sigh.
“Why are you such a good person.”
She says it like a statement, but Lara Jean answers it as if she’s been asked a question.
“I’m not especially -- I just know there’s more to Peter than what he gave during those last six months of our relationship.”
Kitty makes a noise that’s half growl, half scoff.
“So you keep saying, but those last six months are hard to forget.” He hears a loud shuffling sound. “I mean, how do you know he’s not just going to fuck up again the way he did last time?”
“He won’t be able to hurt me in that same way again.”
“How do you know?
“Well, for one, we’re just friends, Kitty.”
Kitty snorts inelegantly.
“For now -- and judging by the way he looks at you every time you enter the room and what he’s said about you, it won’t be that way for very long if he can help it.” Lara Jean must look exasperated because in the next moment he hears Kitty snicker loudly. “What? You know I’m right.”
Lara Jean gives a huff that he thinks is mostly amused.
“What I know is that I appreciate you wanting to take care of me, even if it makes me kind of feel like you don’t trust me to take care of myself.”
“I trust you, Lara Jean. It’s just -- .” Kitty pauses. “Wait, what’s the second thing?”
“You prefaced that with 'you’re just friends' -- total bullshit by the way -- but you said ‘for one,’ so obviously there’s a second thing, too.”
“The second thing is that I’m stronger than I was six years ago.” Lara Jean is quiet for a moment. “You may not believe me about that, but I am asking you to trust me.”
“I believe you. I know you’re strong, Lara Jean,” Kitty says immediately and firmly. “You’re one of the strongest people I know.” She pauses, then sighs heavily, followed by a loud groan. “Ok, I trust you. But asking me to feel anything positive towards him is too much right now.”
“What about neutral?”
“You know I don’t do neutral.” She lets out a noise that’s half disgust, half acquiescence. “Fine, I’ll work towards feeling neutral towards him. But only if I see that he’s actually making good on all the shit he said to me about you.”
“What did he say to you about me?”
“I’m not telling you. I don’t need to help him score any more points with you.”
Lara Jean’s response is lost when a couple enters the bakery, followed by a young family with two very excited young children who immediately run to the display of cakes alongside the far left wall.
Apparently the universe has stopped conspiring to help him eavesdrop, which he can’t feel too bad about given how much of the conversation he was able to hear in the first place.
By the time he’s finished helping the sudden steady stream of customers that have come in, Lara Jean and Kitty have finished up their conversation in the back of the shop -- which he knows because Kitty comes out when he’s helping the last customer and reaches into the display case to grab the three pastries and slice of quiche the young mom he’s helping has asked to buy.
The minute the family leaves the store, Kitty jerks her head towards the back of the store.
“I’ll take a shift up here. Lara Jean wants to talk to you.”
She doesn’t say anything else to him, just turns to greet the elderly couple who walks in the door, her voice warm and welcoming in a way that he hasn’t heard from her all afternoon. He has to remind himself that she doesn’t hate the world, just him.
He walks back through the door and purposefully doesn’t check to see if it swings completely shut -- just leaves it up to the universe whether or not Kitty will get to eavesdrop on him and Lara Jean’s conversation in the same way he was able to eavesdrop on theirs.
Lara Jean smiles at him when he comes into the room as she loads a tray of what looks to be snickerdoodle cookies into the oven. And even though his stomach is still roiling with guilt and shame from his conversation with Kitty, he immediately feels his shoulders relax and the corner of his mouth turn up in return.
Still, there must be a level of uncertainty to his expression because the moment she closes the oven door, she turns around and reaches out to rest her hand against his wrist, her eyes gentle, her expression tinged with concern.
“Are you ok? I know Kitty can be...a lot when she’s angry.”
He shakes his head, and it feels like the shame in the pit of his stomach ends up in the center of his chest, rushing through his veins and tasting bitter in the back of his throat.
“She just said what I deserved to hear.”
Lara Jean flashes him a wry smile.
“Maybe, but she tends to be unnecessarily harsh even when what she’s saying is true.”
“I wouldn’t say that anything she said was unnecessary.”
He chews on the corner of his lip, then looks around the kitchen as an expectant sort of silence drifts down between the two of them. He feels adrift and unmoored after his conversation with Kitty; the giddiness of his self-reflection from this morning now feeling like a distant memory. Lara Jean gives his wrist a short squeeze, and he lets that brief touch bring him back to the present.
Still, that bitter taste of shame lingers in the back of his throat from his conversation with Kitty, and he can’t quite figure out how to clear it.
“Kitty said you stopped baking.” He finally says, dragging his eyes back up to meet her gaze. He isn’t sure if he’s looking for a confirmation or an explanation or an accusation -- he just knows that he needed to say it out loud to feel the full weight of what he’d done. “After we -- after I ended things.”
Lara Jean nods slowly and he can see her mulling over what to say next.
“Everything reminded me of you,” she says quietly. “And everything about you hurt.”
He can’t help the sharp breath he draws in when he hears that, nor keep the wave of self-loathing that’s been lapping against his ankles from rising, threatening to drown him. He picks at an imaginary scratch on the countertop beneath him.
“She said I took everything from you.” The words are halting and slow, as if his brain and his mouth are forcibly pushing them out. “Even the things that brought you joy.”
Lara Jean presses her lips together tightly.
“That’s…” She shakes her head. “That’s a pretty dramatic statement.”
“Is it true?”
Lara Jean sighs.
“Kitty was still living at home when we broke up,” she starts, her eyes unfocusing slightly at whatever unknown memory she's reflecting on. “And since I was spending basically all my time at home, she was there to witness my entire grieving process -- which was long and messy and...admittedly pretty bad at times.” She chews on her bottom lip. “It was hard on her -- seeing me like that.” She’s quiet for a moment, and he knows she’s thinking about the conversation that she and Kitty have just had. “It was...a lot harder on her than I thought,” she murmurs, speaking so quietly it’s almost like she’s only talking to herself. She shakes her head as if to clear it, then dips her head down so that she can meet his downcast gaze. “So all she can think about now is how lost I was in the breakup; it’s harder for her to remember everything you gave me -- everything I got out of our relationship.”
“I did though, right? Take a lot from you,” he clarifies when he sees the confused look on her face. “Not just when we broke up, but in the last six months or so of our relationship. I took and I took and I didn’t give anything back.”
She gives him a long, careful look, then nods slowly.
“You took a lot in those last six months.” She squeezes his wrist and waits for him to look up at her. “But not everything.” She slides her hand down his arm to wrap her fingers around his hand. “And there were four years before those six months when you gave me so much, so often, Peter. One doesn’t erase the other.”
He drops his head down and nods slowly into his chest, then raises his head to meet her gaze.
“You're such a good person, Lara Jean,” he says quietly.
“I’m not especially,” she replies, echoing the words she’d said to Kitty earlier.
He shakes his head before she can go on.
“You are.” He takes a deep breath, then lets it out slowly. "I know I’ve said it a dozen times already but I’m so sorry for what I did to you, Lara Jean. I didn't realize..." He looks away from her, suddenly unable to meet her eyes. "I didn't know -- not really -- what it was like for you -- after, I mean." He sighs. "I didn't even think to ask."
She tilts her head up at him.
"To be fair, I haven't exactly wanted to rehash it all either. At least not right away." She lifts her hand from his and cups his cheek. "We have time to go through everything from the past six years, Peter. We don't need to get through it all in one weekend."
He closes his eyes and breathes in the scent of her as he tilts his head into her palm, shifting just enough so that his lips are resting just above her pulse point; not a kiss -- not quite -- but the faintest impression of one.
He breathes in deeply and opens his eyes to look at her.
"We have time." He echoes, and though he doesn't phrase it as a question, she nods anyway. He reaches up and wraps his fingers around her hand, bringing it down between them because the feel of it on his cheek is so tender he can hardly think straight. He runs his thumb over the ridges of her knuckles, tracing nonsense patterns across the softness of her skin. "I do want to hear about it, Lara Jean -- all of it. Everything from the last six years. Everything I missed out on because I was a prick. All the good stuff and all the bad stuff and just...everything in between."
She laughs softly and shakes her head.
"Everything in between is pretty boring, Peter."
He shakes his head.
"It couldn't be boring -- not if it's about you."
She smiles and looks down at their hands, a pretty blush rising in her cheeks. After a moment, she meets his gaze, tilting her head as she purses her lips.
"Then I want the same thing from you -- the good, the bad and everything in between."
He nods, then takes his free hand and draws an X over his heart.
"You have it." He clears his throat, then grins. "Should we draw up another contract?"
"Maybe we’ll just make it an addendum to our current one." She chews on her lip, considering. "Yeah, ok so, how about this -- after we give the answer to the question of the day, we also have to tell either a good memory, a bad memory or a something in between memory."
"Do we get to choose the memory type, or does the other person get to ask?"
"I think the other person gets to ask. What do you think?"
He squeezes her hand.
"I think that I'm here to do whatever you want, so let's go with the other person gets to ask."
She nods, then purses her lips to the side.
"You know this means that our nightly conversations might get pretty long.”
He gives her a small, soft smile.
“I honestly can’t think of a better way to end every night.”