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.”
No Peter K and Lara Jean interaction, but plenty of backstory. I feel like I needed to go through the dissolution of their relationship and how everything fell apart. No worries though -- lots more PK + LJ moments next chapter! Thank you SO much to everyone who commented and subscribed!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The truth of it is this:
Lara Jean is not the first girl he’s ever loved. She’s not the only girl he’s ever loved.
She isn't even the girl he loved last. Five years is a long time, and if he never quite got over it all, he at least got on with it -- living his life, dating, falling for someone new.
But what's also true is this --
He has never loved anyone the way he loved Lara Jean.
And maybe it's an exaggeration -- some leftover dramatics from adolescence, or residual romanticism rubbed off on him from all those years of being with Lara Jean -- but there's still some small part of him that believes he never will.
Of course, he says none of this at dinner as he stares across the table at Natalie and Brittany.
Instead, he unfolds the story of him and Lara Jean's beginning, all fake relationship and contracts and slowly blossoming teenage feelings. It's all so dramatic and so very high school that he can't help but laugh out loud when Brittany shakes her head in disbelief and says --
“Holy shit, Peter. I was over here worried about the AP Lit test and you're out here living a fucking teen romcom.”
He tries to refute that by talking about the subsequent years of high school -- John Ambrose, their senior year, the breakup at the end of it and the culminating contract before they headed off to college. Tries to frame their relationship as just like any other.
But all that does is make Jason throw his head back and laugh as Natalie puts her hand over her heart and Brittany leans forward to very loudly exclaim --
“Are you fucking kidding me? How are either of you even real right now?”
Natalie lets out an impatient noise and makes a vague waving motion in her best friend's direction.
“You aren't even asking the right questions.” She tilts her head at Peter and looks closely at him. “What I wanna know is why you guys ended up breaking up.”
“Yeah and,” Brittany adds, crunching on the ice from her now empty cup. “Why it was your fault.”
He looks down and taps his fingers on the table. He wants to believe what Lara Jean said, but years of replaying the events over and over again in his mind have basically convinced him of his culpability. If he's being honest with himself, young or not, the collapse of his relationship with Lara Jean rests pretty squarely on his shoulders.
“At the end of Lacrosse season Sophomore year, I blew out my knee. It was pretty bad -- I had to get surgery, do PT, the whole thing, you know?” He plays with his glass, shoving it back and forth between his fingertips. “And I worked really hard to get strong again, and Lara Jean was super supportive and took me to PT and made sure I did my exercises. She even learned how to bake all these different healthy protein bars for me. But my knee was just too fucked up, and I couldn't really play at the level that I needed to my Junior year, so I dropped from the team.”
“So?” Jason asks, his eyebrow raised. “I’m guessing Lara Jean didn't start dating you because of your lacrosse abilities.”
He grins at his best friend, then shakes his head and sighs.
“I know, but lacrosse…” He shrugs and looks away. “I’d played it my entire life. It was the one thing I was ever good at it. I mean, it was the reason I even went to college. Without it, I wasn't really sure…” He huffs out a bitter laugh. “I wasn't really sure about anything.”
“Including Lara Jean?” Natalie asks.
He shakes his head firmly.
“No, I was always sure about her.” He scrubs his hand over his forehead. “But I just stopped treating her like that was true.”
He'd missed the camaraderie of being on a team, and so had gotten heavily involved in greek life -- all the worst parts of it. He’d become more concerned with the next party or frat event or social than with school or family or his relationships. Eventually, he’d stopped writing Lara Jean letters; had gone out so frequently that even though she kept her end of the contract and called him every night, he'd often miss it.
He crosses his arms in front of him and hunches his shoulders, the memory of who he was during that time setting off the low burn of shame in the pit of his stomach.
“I was a pretty shitty boyfriend for the first half of Junior year. She probably should’ve broken up with me half a dozen times, but she…” He trails off and shakes his head. “She was always better than I deserved.”
Natalie shakes her head and looks at him kindly.
“Even now, I’m sure Lara Jean would agree with me that that wasn’t always true, Peter,” she says firmly. He smiles; is reminded for about the thousandth time why he’s so happy for Jason.
Brittany cocks her head to the side as she looks at him.
“But it does sound like it was true during that time in your life.” She tuts at him and narrows her eyes. “So, did you end up cheating on her?”
“C’mon, give me more credit than that, Britt.”
“It just sounded like that’s where this was going.”
He shakes his head.
“It isn’t, but…” He chews on the corner of his lip as he leans back in his chair. “So there was this huge event that Lara Jean was helping put on for the ASA -- the Asian Student Association -- and she’d planned it for, like, months. It was basically her event. And I’d told her that I’d go earlier in the year, but then my frat decided to put on a beer olympics on the same day and -- .”
Jason groans out loud and shakes his head as Natalie says --
“Oh, Peter, you didn’t.”
He looks at the varying disappointed looks on his friends faces and grimaces.
“I was stupid. I thought I could do both -- start with the beer olympics in the early afternoon, sober up enough to get dressed and take an Uber -- .”
“All the way to UNC from UVA?” Brittany asks with a look of disbelief.
He gives her a wry look.
“I told you, I was stupid.” He shakes his head. “Anyway, it didn’t end up happening. I passed out and woke up super hungover the next day in one of the girl’s rooms from our sister sorority with ten missed calls and, like, 20 text messages from Lara Jean.”
Brittany glares at him.
“You just told me that you didn’t cheat on her.”
“I didn’t. The room I was in was the long-time girlfriend of one of my frat buddies -- Jeffrey. He was one of the only decent ones, actually. She was cool. She really, really hated me then because she’d met Lara Jean a couple of times and I, uh, I guess Jeff must’ve told her what a dick I was being then.” He coughs. “She -- uh -- she ended up answering one of Lara Jean’s calls and telling her what happened to me. ”
Brittany narrows her eyes.
“But what if it hadn’t been that girl?”
“What do you mean?” Jason asks, his brow furrowed in confusion.
“I mean,” she says turning towards him and jerking her head in Peter’s direction. “What if it hadn’t been that girl’s room that Peter ended up crashing at? What if it had been some random, less cool girl that he’d ended up in?”
“That’s what Lara Jean asked then, too,” Peter says, circling his finger around the rim of his glass.
“When she came up to break up with your dumbass self?” Brittany asked.
He presses his lips tightly together and shakes his head.
“She came up and wanted to talk everything over. Not just me missing the fundraiser -- although that, too -- but just, you know, everything.” He looks down at the table and scowls at the memory -- at himself, at all the bad decisions and awful words he’s spent a lot of time wishing he could take back. “And I was guilty and ashamed and frustrated and such a fucking idiot and -- .” He takes deep breath and lets it out slowly. “I said a lot of shit I wish I hadn’t -- that wasn’t even true, just -- .” He shakes his head. “I told her that I was tired of feeling like I was disappointing her all the time, that I had enough disappointment to deal with without having to deal with hers, too.”
Natalie shakes her head at him.
“Her being disappointed in you wasn’t her fault, Peter -- it was yours. She deserved to be disappointed in you.”
He looks at her wryly.
“I mean, I know this now. But no one was telling me this when I was 21.”
Brittany huffs angrily.
“You had shitty friends then.”
“Well, yeah. I was a shitty person and shitty people have shitty friends.” He clears his throat. “Anyway, I broke up with her and then…” He chews on the corner of his lip. “And then, just to make sure it took, and to, you know, really be an asshole, I immediately went out and slept with a bunch of girls and, uh, plastered it all over social media, basically.”
Natalie looks at him with extreme disappointment as Jason shakes his head and Brittany scowls at him.
“I know that this was past you and that past you did all this shitty stuff,” she says, looking at him hard. “But current me is still kind of angry at you about it.”
“How come I didn’t know any of this?” Jason asks, furrowing his brows at Peter. “When I met you, you weren’t, you know -- .”
“A piece of shit?” He finishes up.
Peter shrugs and taps his fingers across the top of the table.
“Grad school Peter was no longer surrounded by frat douches and also got a wake up call when his mom got cancer and he needed to stop being a self-centered prick to help take care of her and Owen.”
Jason purses his lips and tilts his head.
“Yeah, that makes sense. I remember she’d just finished up her last round of chemo when we met, right?”
“So we got to miss out on asshole Peter and came in when you were nice guy Peter?” Natalie asks with a smile.
“Something like that.”
“I’m guessing from that exchange in the bakery, you never really talked to Lara Jean after y’all broke up?” Jason asks.
He sucks in the air between his teeth and nods.
“We ran into one another at the grocery store a little bit after graduation. She -- she was with a boyfriend.”
It’s been five years now since then, but he briefly wonders if the guy is still part of her life. Or if someone is.
Probably, he thinks. Lara Jean’s so easy to love.
“You didn’t even stalk her Instagram? Like, both Nat and I have been following her since she had her fashion blog. Which was, I don’t know, three or four years ago, right?” Brittany looks over to Natalie, who nods.
He shakes his head.
“She unfriended me on all social media -- .”
“As she should’ve,” Natalie interjects.
He huffs a small laugh.
“Yeah, and I just…” He shrugs. “At first, I didn’t want to look her up -- I guess I didn’t care, or that’s what I told myself. And then enough time passed and I realized what an asshole I’d been, that it seemed weird to try. And I -- I don’t know -- I kind of figured that she wouldn’t accept any request from me anyway.”
“I gotta say that she was really nice to you given what you just told us,” Jason says. “I wouldn’t have even thought that it ended that badly given how the two of you interacted.”
He chuckles, then nods.
“That’s Lara Jean.” He looks down and smiles at nothing in particular. “She gives away kindness so easily. She always has. It’s what makes her so lovable. I mean, one thing, at least.”
He looks up at and sees the three friends looking at him intensely.
Jason and Natalie exchange a look, then look over at Brittany, who rolls her eyes before she turns to him.
“It didn’t look like she was wearing a ring. I checked.”
He raises an eyebrow.
Jason laughs loudly next to him.
“So, we’re just going to pretend like you didn’t spend the entire time at the bakery staring at her with literal heart eyes?”
He frowns at him.
“I did not stare at her with literal heart eyes.”
Brittany guffaws, then scrolls through her phone.
“You do, and I have photo evidence, which I also sent to Sam.”
She slides her phone over to him and he sees a text message from Sam demanding the full story later on. He clicks open the photo and --
Well, he can’t deny that he is looking at Lara Jean with something almost approaching adoration.
He slides the phone across the table back to Brittany.
“Don’t you and your girlfriend have better things to do than take surreptitious photos of me looking at a beautiful woman?”
Brittany snorts loudly.
“One, this is the most interesting you’ve been maybe, like, ever. And two, every woman you date is beautiful, but you don’t look at any of them the way you were looking at Lara Jean.”
He looks over at Jason and Natalie, who both nod in agreement with Brittany.
“There was -- .” Natalie purses her lips and thinks hard for a moment. “There was a vibe in that room, Peter. Something between the two of you.”
“Yeah,” he says. “A whole lot of baggage.”
“Yeah, there’s that, too. I mean, more now than what I thought. But -- .” She tilts her head at him. “A lot of history, too. And enough of it was good that she still smiled at you when you weren’t looking.”
He has to stop himself from saying really? From asking Natalie to describe the way Lara Jean smiled, how she looked at him when he was looking away.
“I was a real shitbag,” he finally says.
Jason lifts his shoulders and turns his palms out in front of him.
“You aren’t now, though.”
He feels the corner of his mouth turn up, but doesn’t say anything for a long moment.
“I don’t know, I put her through a lot.” he says staring down at the tablecloth. He folds his arms across his chest. “Lara Jean is right, in a way -- we were so young. Sometimes I feel like we met when we were too young.”
Natalie nods, a thoughtful look on her face as she smiles at him.
“But you aren't too young anymore.”
Whew. That was a lot.
I've always thought that college would be tough for Peter and Lara Jean, and having Peter lose something as fundamental to his identity as lacrosse would really throw him, I think. I know that a lot of times in media, relationships explode in these really dramatic ways, but oftentimes in real life, they fall apart for a lot of little reasons put together and I wanted something a little more realistic for these two. We'll go more into the fallout and the subsequent years in future chapters, but hopefully this made sense! Let me know what you think!
As always, my OCs run away with me and I just let them. Thanks for all the support, sorry I haven't been able to get back to all of you (any of you, really), but know that I appreciate it all so much!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It goes like this:
They have to do a second cake tasting when the first one ends in a tie, so they come back Lara Jean’s bakeshop a week later.
He drives up from Virginia Beach with Sam in tow this time, who’s apparently meant to function as the tiebreaking vote but also requested to come along to -- as she termed it -- watch the unfolding reunion show in real life.
“It’s not what Britt and Nat say it is,” he says when she asks him how he feels about seeing Lara Jean again.
She raises an eyebrow at him.
“Really? Because that picture said a lot without them even telling me anything.”
He taps his fingers on the steering wheel.
“Nat and Britt told you the whole -- .” He makes a waving motion with his hand. “Everything?”
“They did it while we stalked Lara Jean on her blog and on Instagram to see if she was dating anyone.” She glances over at him with a grin. “She isn’t, by the way.”
“She was never the type to put all her private stuff online anyway, so she might still be.” He clears his throat. “I mean, not that it would matter -- I’d be happy for her if she was. She deserves someone amazing.”
“He said in the most pained, monotone voice ever,” Sam teases, then laughs when Peter glares at her.
“It’s weird that you guys are so into this -- this whole, thing, or really, lack of a thing, with Lara Jean and me.” He glances over at her. “I mean, we just saw each other once at her bakery an -- .”
“And now you’ll be seeing her twice at her bakery, which she named because of you, by the way.”
He can’t help the smile that comes over his face when she says that, can’t stop the warmth that blossoms in his chest.
“That is pretty cool, yeah?”
“Yeah, it is pretty cool, Peter.” She shifts in her seat to look at him better. “C’mon, you’re telling me you’re not the least bit interested in, I don’t know, seeing her again after these cake tastings? That you’re not the least bit curious about who she is now and what she’s up to?”
He chews on the corner of his lip and reflects back over the past two weeks where he did, in fact, think about those exact things.
“I did look through her Instagram feed a few times.”
Sam lets out a shout of laughter, her hands raised above her head.
“Did you follow her?”
He shakes his head.
“It’s too weird right now.”
Sam purses her lips in an attempt to hide her smile.
“Weirder than just lurking on her profile anonymously?”
He reaches over to shove her gently as she laughs. He makes a show of rolling his eyes at her, which just makes her laugh even more. He knows she’s only a couple of years younger than him, but sometimes he feels like Sam is the younger sister he was meant to have all along.
“I’m not lurking. I’m just curious to see how business is going.” He glances over at her before turning back to face the road. “In college, Lara Jean would always send me these care packages with all these baked goods, and of course I’d end up sharing them with the lacrosse guys and they’d share them with their girlfriends. And if I mentioned that someone liked something she’d made, next time she’d bake extra of that cookie or scone or mini pie and make sure I gave it to that person.” He shakes his head as he huffs a laugh. “Then Lara Jean mentioned that she had to pick up extra hours in the library so that she could pay for shipping costs, but she refused to take any money for the stuff she made -- she honestly just liked knowing that people wanted to eat what she made.” He shakes his head again at the memory. “So I started making people Venmo me at least the cost of shipping. I’d set aside that money in a separate account, and then we’d use it for dates and trips and stuff every time we were able to see one another. It was cool.” He clears his throat. “Anyway, all that -- uh -- all that to say that I just wanted to know business was going well because she’s so good at what she does and she deserves all the success.”
He looks over at Sam, who stares back at him with a soft smile on her face.
“You know, you get this, like, expression on your face when you talk about her -- like this really, soft, tender, faraway look.” She looks closely at him and lifts a shoulder up. “It’s a good look on you, Peter.”
He turns away and shrugs his shoulders.
“She was really good to me. And good for me.”
“And you guys were good together.”
He nods, but doesn’t turn to look at her.
“We were.” He breathes out heavily. “Until we weren’t.”
They’re both quiet for a long moment until Peter tuts loudly and looks over at Sam.
“Anyway, why are we talking about my past relationships when we should be talking about the future of yours.” He laughs as Sam suddenly becomes very interested in the freeway outside their window. “Sam, it took me forever to figure out Britt’s ring size without her, Nat or Jason figuring it out. And I helped you look for a ring months ago. Where have you even been hiding it in that tiny ass apartment you guys have?”
“In the back of the cleaning cupboard.”
He furrows his brows at her.
“What if Brittany decides she wants to clean something?”
Sam laughs and finally turns towards him.
“Peter, have you met Britt?”
“Right, dumb question. But honestly, you should just ask her. I’ll even help you plan it -- take pictures and play music and make it go viral, if you want.” He laughs when she makes a sour face at that. “Ok, I won’t do that. But just ask -- you know she’s gonna say yes.”
When she doesn’t say anything, he reaches over and taps her on the knee.
“Hey, c’mon, you know she’s gonna say yes, right? That she’d be absolutely thrilled to marry you? That she thanks whatever deity or supernatural force out there that she believes in every single day that you’re in her life?”
Sam makes a non-committal noise, then gives an unconvincing nod of her head, so he does what he thinks the situation calls for and immediately pulls off onto the shoulder of the freeway.
“What are you -- is everything ok, did something happen to the car?”
He turns off the car and nods.
“The car is fine but this -- .” He gestures between her and a random point in the air that he decides is a stand in for Brittany. “Is not.” He turns so that he’s fully facing her. “Is this why you haven’t proposed? Because you don’t know if she would say yes? Because I am 100% positive that she would.”
Sam looks down and picks at a small rip in her jeans.
“I mean, we have talked about it -- like, the future, you know, in general. And I know that she loves me, but, I don’t know. What if I’m rushing things? I mean, Britt is so -- she’s so, I don’t know, effervescent and people love her and she wants to travel and see the world -- ”
“And you can still do those things when you’re married, too. It’ll just be even more fun because she’ll be doing all those things with her wife.” He looks closely at her. “And yes, people love her, but they love you, too, yeah? And the important thing is that Britt loves you the most, out of everyone in this entire world. When you went on that business trip to Germany last year? God, she was unbearable.”
“She really was, wasn’t she? You’ve mentioned that, like, multiple times.”
“It bears repeating.”
She laughs again and he smiles at her.
“Look, you love her and want to marry her, yeah?”
“And -- be honest with me -- you know that she loves you and wants to marry you, right?”
Sam gives him a long look, then takes a deep breath and smiles -- a small, bright, genuine thing.
“Yeah, I do know that.”
He leans back into the seat and nods firmly.
“So just fucking go for it, bro.”
She wrinkles her nose and sticks her tongue out as she shakes her head.
“Sometimes I completely forget that you were such a college bro, and then you say something like that and I’m unpleasantly reminded all over again.”
He laughs as he starts up the car again.
“It’s a part of me, Sam, you just gotta accept it.”
He chuckles as he pulls back into the freeway, reaches over to turn the music up a little bit louder for the final twenty minutes of the trip.
“I’m not gonna do it until after the wedding though,” Sam says, breaking the comfortable quiet between the two of them. “Doesn’t exactly seem fair to Nat and Jason, you know?”
“Makes sense.” He looks over at her and grins. “Plus, that gives you three months to plan a pretty sweet ass proposal.”
Sam makes a humming noise before she looks at him with an expression he can only describe as mischievous.
“So, uh, you planning on bringing a date to the wedding?”
He looks at her warily and shakes his head.
“You already know I am not.”
She makes that same humming noise again as she purses her lips in the way that he knows she’s trying to hold back a smile.
“Nothing, just, you know -- two and a half months is plenty of time to convince a certain ex of yours to do you a solid and come to your best friend’s wedding so that you’re not all sad and alone.”
He nods, a serious, solemn expression on his face.
“So, are you saying I should invite Elisabeth to the wedding with me, then?”
Sam makes a sound that can only be described as a growl and shoves him hard enough that he honest to god yelps.
“Dude! I’m driving here.” He glares at her. “And it was obviously a joke.”
“Do not even joke about Elisabeth. She. Was. The. Worst,” Sam says, elongating every single word.
“As you, Britt, Natalie and Jason have all said. You and Britt multiple times.”
“Well, it bears repeating,” she replies, tossing his own words back to him with a smile.
He shakes his head.
“Anyway, I doubt Lara Jean is gonna go to a wedding of a client with her ex-boyfriend from college.”
She makes that same humming noise in the back of her throat, but this time it sounds way more mischievous and plotting, which is something he didn’t even realize a noise could sound like. He’s about to ask her what she’s planning on doing when he turns into the street that Voyager is on and he suddenly feels his palms start to sweat.
He drives slowly down the street and parks, shuts off the car and then just sits there.
“Uh, are we ok?” Sam asks, looking over at him.
He nods and runs his hands through his hair a few times.
“Yeah, it’s just -- uh.” He looks over at her. “It’s just different knowing that she’s in there this time.”
“Well, running your hands through your hair has made it sufficiently sexily tousled and you wore that button up shirt that really shows off your shoulders, so I think we’re in the clear.” She opens the door, then walks around and opens his.
He sighs and gets up, tugging on his pants as he does to brush out the wrinkles from the drive.
“Just so you know,” He says as they walk towards the front door of the bakeshop. “Running my hands through my hair was out of stress, not vanity.”
She raises her eyebrow at him.
“And the shirt?”
“Oh that was definitely out of vanity.”
He opens the door door for Sam and steps through after her, trying to not display the fact that he is visibly steeling himself as he walks in.
He waves at Jason, Brittany and Natalie, who are all sitting at a table at the far end of the bakeshop. He’s about to start walking over when Lara Jean comes out from the kitchen in the back, the double doors swinging behind her.
Her hair is down this time, falling in loose, shiny waves around her face. She isn’t wearing an apron this time, either, but instead is clad in a flowing, multicolored blouse and dark jeans. Nothing about it feels done up or out of the ordinary, but he feels frozen in place all the same. He thinks that he might literally have had to remind himself to keep breathing.
“Peter, breathe.” Sam hisses next to him, her voice only loud enough for him to hear. Oh, so it was her who apparently saved him from passing out where he stood. “You really need to start walking and stop staring because it’s gonna go from charming to creepy real quick.”
She pinches the skin right below where he’s rolled up his shirt, just hard enough for him to start and begin walking towards the far table.
When he sits down, Natalie and Brittany are both deep in a conversation about butter cream versus icing. Jason leans over towards him.
“Dude, you are so lucky they are here to run interference. When she came out you started looking someone in middle school who just saw his crush in the cafeteria.”
He scowls and gently shoves Jason away from him, who only laughs and mouths I speak the truth.
The conversation across the table from him dies down and Sam takes the opportunity to extend her hand towards Lara Jean.
“Hi Lara Jean, I’m Sam, it’s so nice to meet you.”
Lara Jean smiles widely as she takes Sam’s hand.
“So, you’re gonna be the tie breaker, huh?”
“Well, I take my sweets very seriously, so I’m proud to have this honor.”
Lara Jean laughs, then sets down the tray in her hands and lifts the cover with a flourish. Beneath it are two mini cakes which not only look amazing, but whose sweetness he can smell from where he’s sitting.
“So, I wanted to give you a better idea of what the cakes will actually look like as cakes rather than just giving you guys slices. We have the same two flavors from last week -- over here is the hazelnut almond cake with dark chocolate ganache, mocha buttercream, and raspberry preserves, and here is the caramelized vanilla cake with salted caramel buttercream and whipped dark chocolate ganache.”
Sam puts her hand over her heart and Natalie literally gasps out loud at the sight of them. Even Jason looks visibly impressed.
“How are you not marveling at the beauty of these two cakes right now, Peter?” Brittany demands.
“I am marveling over them, just, you know, silently.” He grins at Lara Jean. “And I’m saving all my marveling for whatever mystery third cake Lara Jean has hidden in that next tray, which I’m sure will be the most beautiful one of them all.”
She smiles at him, then grabs the second tray behind her.
“So, Natalie, we were talking over the phone the other day, and you were kind of telling me about you and Jason and your wedding, and I just had, like, this vision of a new a cake that felt like it might fit so,” she tosses her hair back behind her ears and draws herself up, a bright and proud look on her face that feels infectious. “I made you a pink champagne cake topped with with with raspberry mousse and vanilla buttercream.”
She pulls away the cover from the cake plate and all three let out various exclamations of oh my god and this is amazing.
It’s a mini cake like the other two, though this one has a slice cut out and lying on the side so that you can see the pink cake and layered with vanilla buttercream. The outside is covered in white vanilla buttercream, the top of it drizzled with light pink raspberry mousse that’s artfully dripped down the sides as well. It’s topped with a few pink and red fresh flowers, which he’s not completely sure, but thinks must be close to the flowers that Natalie picked for the wedding.
“This is perfect,” Natalie says in an awed voice.
“It’s so pretty, I don’t even want to eat it,” Sam adds.
Lara Jean beams at both of them.
“Well, it’s also meant to be eaten -- the flavor is a little bit different because I used champagne in the batter instead of water, but --.” She shrugs, then smiles at Natalie. “It just seemed like it fit your wedding.”
“A beautiful, classy, pink, slightly boozy cake? That is absolutely Natalie,” Brittany says with a laugh. “And honestly, I feel like it could taste like literal garbage and it would still be the one.”
Peter shakes his head.
“I have eaten literally hundreds -- maybe even thousands -- of baked goods from Lara Jean and I can honestly tell you that all of them were nothing short of amazing.”
Lara Jean narrows her eyes at him, though there’s a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.
“What about the time I was experimenting with stevia and those cookies came out all crumbly?”
“I liked the texture of them. It was unique.”
“What about those macarons I put too much basil in?”
“I love basil, you know that.”
She grins at him, and it shouldn’t make his heart thud loudly in his chest, but it does.
“I do know that.” She tilts her head to the side, her hair falling across her face as she thinks. He’s abruptly overwhelmed by the desire to tuck it back behind her ear, and shifts in his seat to sit on his hand instead. “What about that time that I was trying to make the perfect chocolate chip cookie and I made that batch with too much baking soda?”
He pulls his lips between his teeth and gives her a guilty look.
A brief look of something that could be hurt flickers over her face before it smooths out into open friendliness once more.
“Do you not remember that?”
He shakes his head and makes sure to meet her gaze before she drops it to the floor.
“Lara Jean, I remember everything you ever made for me.” It comes out sounding more serious than the teasing conversation around it, but it’s suddenly important to him that she knows that he’s always valued what baking meant to her. And that she knows what it meant to him.
The uncertain look in her eyes softens as she nods at him.
“So, what was the guilty look for?” She asks, the teasing tone lingering at the edges of her words.
He clears his throat and chews on the corner of his lip.
“It’s cuz, uh, all those cookies you made at that time -- they, uh, all kind of tasted the same to me?”
She looks so seriously and adorably affronted that he has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.
“Peter! I was counting on you to be an objective judge.”
He laughs and puts his hands out in front of him.
“I’m sorry, Lara Jean, but I was never going to be able to be objective when it came to you.” It sounds way more romantic out loud than what he’d intended in mind, so he shakes his head and gives her what he hopes is an easy, carefree smile. “Besides, Kitty was there for to do that for you.”
She nods slowly, seemingly mollified.
“That is one thing you could count on her for.” She chuckles. “That’s actually still what I count on her for.”
She glances over at the rest of the table, who are looking on at the conversation between them with varying levels of barely contained interest and glee. She looks slightly embarrassed.
“Kitty’s my little sister and my official taste tester. Although I guess she mostly goes by Kate, now.”
“Does she really?” He asks, surprised and also a little sad, even though he has no right to be. He and Kitty were close enough that he considered her his little sister, years and years ago. But of course she stopped talking to him once he was a grade A dick to Lara Jean.
Lara Jean nods.
“She’s still Kitty to us -- um, family, I mean. But she started going by Katie in college, then decided she was gonna be Kate when she graduated.”
“Holy shit, I forgot she would’ve graduated by now.” He shakes his head. “Damn, we’re old, Covey.”
“I mean, you guys are,” Sam interjects, motioning to all of them. “I’m still here firmly in my mid 20’s.”
“Meanwhile Jason and I are going to his ten year high school reunion next month,” Natalie says with the laugh.
“Are you really?” Peter asks, because Jason doesn’t necessarily strike him as the kind of guy who’d want to go.
“Yeah, of course,” Natalie says as Jason shrugs. “I think it’ll be interesting.”
“God, I’d never go to mine,” Brittany says. “High school was the worst.”
Sam nods next to her. He makes a noise that’s meant to be non-committal, but ends up sounding like one of agreement.
“Don’t you think you’d go to ours?” Lara Jean asks, turning towards him.
“I guess I hadn’t really thought about it.”
Lara Jean nods, a thoughtful, almost dreamy look on her face.
“I think I’ll probably go.”
“Yeah, I like the idea of going back to something and thinking about who I was then. Thinking about how things have changed and how I’ve grown, but also remembering, you know, everything.” She glances up at him. “And high school -- I don’t know, it was what it was. But I don’t think it was the worst.”
The corner of his mouth turns up as he nods.
“A lot of it was pretty good, actually.”
She smiles, a soft, tender upturn of her lips.
“Yeah, it was.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he thinks he sees either Britt or Natalie taking another surreptitious photo of him and Lara Jean, but he can’t be sure because in the next moment she breaks eye contact with him and he feels like he has to look down and take a moment to catch his breath.
Lara Jean clears her throat, then looks down at the cakes on the table.
“So,” she says brightly, motioning to the cakes. “Pink champagne was clearly the favorite.”
Natalie leans back in her hair and looks over at Jason, who nods.
“Yeah, that one is the one,” Jason says firmly.
Lara Jean clasps her hands in front of her chest and smiles brightly at them.
“Ok, awesome! I’m so glad you guys liked it. Lemme just get an order sheet so we can nail down specifics.”
She grabs a clipboard with a sheet on it and sits down next to him. He figures he should leave them to it, so he gets up and goes to look at the displayed pastries up by the counter.
He’s there for less than a minute when Sam and Britt sidle up next to him.
“Soooo, what are your thoughts?” Britt asks, her voice dropped low.
“I’m thinking that these macaron prices are way too low compared to what I’ve seen at other bakeshops, and knowing how good they definitely are, they should at least be a dollar fifty more.”
Sam nudges him with her shoulder on the other side of him.
“No, about Lara Jean.”
He keeps his eyes firmly on the prettily stacked pastries in front of him.
“What about her?”
Sam shoves him again.
“You cannot seriously be saying that you’re not going to do anything, after what we just witnessed during this cake tasting?” Britt asks, incredulous.
“I’m -- .” He frowns at the pastries like they’ve now just insulted him. “I don’t know what you’re expecting me to say.”
Brittany sighs loudly.
“We have to do everything for you,” she mumbles under her breath before she turns and heads back to the table.
He looks at her retreating figure with alarm, then turns to Sam.
“Wait, what does she mean? What is she doing?”
Sam gives him a wry look.
“Whatever she wants, as she does,” she replies, then laughs at his panicked expression.
He finds out a few minutes later when Lara Jean goes back into the kitchen and he walks back over to the group.
“So, what are you guys doing?”
Jason shrugs his shoulders, but there’s a hint of a smile beneath his placid features.
“So, Lara Jean is coming to dinner with us now, apparently.”
“As a thank you for letting us come after she’d already closed for the day. Plus, she just said she hasn’t tried that new Thai place near our house, so, you know -- of course we had to invite her.”
He raises his eyebrow at her.
Brittany slings an arm around him and squeezes him tightly.
“You can thank us later, Peter.”
Whew, this was long and fewer PK + LJ moments than I'd intended. But, it is a slowburn and I wanna make sure I build up the world around them.
The next update might take a bit (week or so). I'm a middle school teacher and the end of the quarter is fast approaching, so things get a little bit hectic. But there are bits and pieces of it written, so I'm hoping to be able to get it up sooner than that. Thanks again for your support!
A shorter update than I was planning, but I wanted to let you guys know I was still here!
Thank you so much for your continued support and comments!
Halfway through dinner, Lara Jean excuses herself to go to the bathroom and he leans across the table and gives Natalie, Brittany and Sam a grin that’s half teasing, half perplexed.
“I’m so confused -- you guys keep pushing me to try and date Lara Jean again, but I’m pretty sure you three are the ones who are secretly in love with her.”
“Oh Peter, we’re not secretly in love with her.”
“Yeah,” Brittany says, slathering her fries in ketchup. “There’s really nothing secretive about it.”
Natalie laughs again, then shakes her head.
“No, it’s just we’ve all followed her blog for years -- I mean, that’s how I knew about her bakery in the first place -- so it kinda feels like we know her even though we don’t really know her.” She sees the look on Peter’s face and laughs. “Ok, yes, it’s a little bit creepy but also?” She takes a bite of her dessert and glances over at the other two girls. “It’s cool that she’s just as, like, genuine and personable in person as she is online.”
“Obviously,” he says, taking a sip of his drink and then putting it back down. “It is weird though.”
Sam grins at him.
“That we're borderline fangirling all over Lara Jean?”
“Calling it borderline is pretty generous.” He laughs when Sam sticks her tongue out at him and shakes his head. “No, that -- uh -- you guys have all just met her, but it's like you know her better than I do.”
There's also a feeling lingering just outside of the strangeness of it all, one that he knows is completely irrational and unfair, but one that he can't help feeling all the same.
And apparently one that Sam picks up on immediately.
“Dude, are you --.” She looks closely at him. “Are you jealous?”
He shakes his head.
“No, but I am a little envious.”
Brittany furrows her eyebrows.
“What's the difference?”
“Jealousy is being afraid that something you have will be taken by someone else,” he explains as he swirls his straw in his drink. “Envy is wanting what someone else has.”
“What is it that we're envying?” Lara Jean asks as she sits back down.
“Well, those boots for one,” Brittany says smoothly, turning away from Peter and back towards Lara Jean.
“And your ability to braid your own hair for another,” Natalie quips, eyeing the complicated looking braid in Lara Jean's hair.
Lara Jean beams at the two women.
“So the boots I got at Twice as Nice on Richmond street.”
“Seriously? They're so good.” Brittany says. “I have such a hard time finding good stuff at secondhand stores. Everything I grab has a stain or smells like feet. Or both.”
Lara Jean laughs.
“Yeah, I mean, it is a little bit of a hunt, but every once in a while you get something good.” She hesitates for a moment, then continues on, her voice a little more unsure than before. “We can go together sometime, if you want. I'm pretty good at finding things that are stain and foot smelling free.”
He wants to laugh because she's so obviously nervous -- at least to him -- about offering to hang out when he knows it's probably what Brittany was angling for the whole time.
Brittany grins at Lara Jean.
“Oh my God, that would be amazing.”
“Aaand also, we're tagging along, too,” Sam announces, gesturing to herself and Natalie, who nods enthusiastically.
Lara Jean smiles, the expression a mixture of delight and surprise. He smiles at her, wants to shake his head at her dismay that people like her. He isn't in the least bit surprised. Lara Jean has always been the type of person people want to be around.
“Ok, awesome!” She says with a bright smile. “It's actually been a while since I've gotten a good shopping session in and even longer since I've had anyone to go with.” She huffs a laugh, the edges of it slightly embarrassed. “I've just been so busy with getting Voyager up and running that I haven't really had time to relax or make many friends...or, you know, any.”
“I totally know what you mean,” Natalie says with a sympathetic smile. “Jay and I moved here three months ago and still the only people I hang out with are him and Britt and Sam -- when she's down here.”
“Uh, that's because we're all the people you need in your life, really.” Brittany says.
“Yeah, and what about me?” Peter asks with a mock look of hurt on his face.
“I'm just not sure if you and Jason playing video games and talking about sports for hours on end counts as us hanging out, Peter.” Natalie teases.
“And besides, you aren't down here all that much anyway,” Brittany adds.
“That's too bad,” Lara Jean interjects, grinning over at him. “Because Peter could really help you guys out with your braiding needs.”
“Wait, what now?” Sam asks.
Lara Jean laughs.
“Kitty taught him how to French braid when we were in high school and he was pretty good at it by the time we were sophomores in college.”
“You mean to tell me that I could've been asking you to braid my hair this whole time?” Natalie asks, rounding on him.
“Yep,” He replies, wiggling his fingers in front of her. “Master at the french braid over here.”
Lara Jean tilts her head at him.
“Master is overdoing it just a little. I'd say you were highly proficient, but you weren't at Kitty's level.”
“As she constantly loved to remind me.”
“I mean, it's all y'all's own fault that you didn't ask Peter to braid your hair,” Jason says nonchalantly. “He's been braiding mine for years.”
Lara Jean and Sam laugh as Natalie turns to Jason.
“Ooh, so that's what you guys are doing when you hang out then?” Natalie says with a grin. “You're not talking about your fantasy basketball team but braiding each other's hair?”
“Tch, please, braid each other's hair?” Peter says with mock affront. “Sorry, Nat -- he's nice and handsome and has a good job, but he can't french braid your hair.”
Natalie smiles, then leans back against Jason.
“Three outta four ain't bad,” she says, giving him a kiss on the cheek. “I still think I'm getting a pretty good deal.”
Jason nuzzles his cheek against the top of her head and drops a kiss along her hairline.
“I'll have Peter teach me and then I'll be your perfect man.”
“Can you still French braid?” Sam asks, turning towards Peter.
“It's been…” He glances over at Lara Jean for a moment before looking back at Sam. “Um, six years, about, since I have, so I'm actually not sure. Is it like riding a bike?”
Lara Jean gives him a small smile and glances down at the food on her plate before looking back up at him.
“No one else got to see your mastery at the french braid, huh?”
“Oh, so you admit that I'm a master after all?” He teases, nudging her with his shoulder.
“I admit to nothing,” she says primly, though he can see a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.
Before he can answer, the waitress comes up to the table to bring the check, and then it’s a matter of dividing up the cost and figuring out who needs a ride where.
Because -- of course -- it ends up that he’s tasked with taking Lara Jean home, since Sam and Brittany all of a sudden decide that they’re going to stay over at Jason and Natalie’s house for the night.
“Lara Jean’s on the opposite side of town,” Sam points out matter of factly. “And it’ll be on your way back to Virginia Beach.”
“I can always take an Uber, too, Peter,” Lara Jean adds, shifting from toe to toe. “It’s not a big deal.”
He holds up his hand in front of him.
“Of course I’m not going to make you take an Uber, Lara Jean,” Peter says, furrowing his brow and crossing his arms. “Just -- uh -- my car is a mess, so no judgment.”
Lara jean puts her right hand over her heart.
“I am a complete no-judgement zone, I swear.”
“Wow, you really weren’t kidding,” Lara Jean says, peeking into the backseat of his car and looking at the assortment of file folders, discarded blazers and travel mugs littered across the seat and floor.
“Hey! What happened to a complete no-judgement zone?” He says with mock indignation, leaning against his Prius and grinning at her.
“I mean, you had to know that still meant just a tiny bit of judgment,” she replies with a smile on her face. “But, to counteract the judgment, I’ll offer you a compliment.” She gestures towards his car. “I never pegged you as a Prius kind of guy, but it...fits you.”
“Yeah, well,” he starts, unlocking the car and opening her door. “I commute a lot, and this thing is crazy good with mileage. Plus, you know -- the environment and everything.”
She laughs as she nods thank you at him and steps into the car.
“Of course -- the environment and everything.”
He grins at her, then shuts the door and walks around towards the back of the car. He’s buzzing with a nervous kind of energy, like he’s fifteen all over again and picking up a girl for his very first date. And even though this isn’t a date at all, he’s well over the age of fifteen and past getting this nervous for dates in general, the feeling still remains.
“Get it together, Peter,” he mumbles to himself as he rounds the back of his car, like that’s gonna work at all.
It doesn’t, which means he’s still slightly on edge when he gets into the car and starts it. Because even if Lara Jean has been nothing but unfailingly kind, and even if their exchanges have been easy and carefree, the weight of six years of silence still weighs heavily in his mind.
And worse than all the things he hasn’t said to her in those six years is the memory of all the things that he did to her when he was 21; all the things he said and now can never take back.
“Your friends are nice,” Lara Jean says softly, her voice breaking him out of his spiraling.
He taps his fingers on the steering wheel.
“Yeah, they’re good people.” He glances over at her and smiles. “I think Britt and Nat might already like you more than they’ve ever liked me.”
Lara Jean offers him a small smile as she shakes her head.
“I don’t think so -- Brittany gives you a hard time when you’re around, but she and Natalie were nothing but complimentary about you at the shop before you and Sam got there.” She tilts her head at him. “And you and Sam seem really close.”
“She was actually my friend first. She was taking a graduate level class that I was when she was an undergrad. It was my idea to introduce her to Britt, which, as you can see -- turned out pretty well.”
“And which I’m sure you almost never mention.”
“Oh, you know, only about once every other time I see them.”
Lara Jean laughs and he smiles as they roll to a stop at a red light.
Silence suddenly blankets the car, thick and uncomfortable, and for the first time in a very long time, he has no idea what to say.
“So this is weird, right?” Lara Jean says, breaking the silence. “I mean not, you know, bad weird,” she adds in a rush, glancing over at him. “Just, I don't know, weird-weird, right?”
She's slightly flustered, her hands twisting in her lap and her eyes all screwed up in worry, and he finds it so unfailingly endearing that he's close to saying something completely ridiculous and inappropriate like, "you're weird, but in a cute, quirky way."
He manages to stop himself, though just barely. Instead, just shrugs and tries to hide the smile that's tugging at the corner of his mouth.
She wrinkles her nose at him and shoots him a mock glare.
“So you're just gonna let me flounder over here?” She demands, and there's something about the way she says it that makes him think she's internally sticking her tongue out at him.
“I wasn't letting you flounder, I was giving your question the attention that it deserves.” At this, she actually does stick her tongue out at him and he laughs. “I mean, yeah, it's a little weird. But -- um -- good weird.”
She nods slowly, a small grin on her face as she raises an eyebrow at him.
“Yeah, um.” He glances over at her. “Like those caramelized bacon s'mores we tried at that restaurant in Richmond our Sophomore year.”
She furrows her brows.
“That is...an odd comparison.” She tilts her head and brushes her hair behind her ear. “Explain please.”
He clears his throat and shifts his hands on the steering wheel.
“Ok, so, it's like -- we never expected to find a place that even had caramelized bacon s'mores, and if you were just to kind of think of it, it doesn't seem like it'd be a great idea.” He shifts in his seat. “But then we had them and they were great, even if they were weird and totally unexpected, but we were still glad we'd had them.”
“Wow, I didn’t even remember having them until right this very moment.” She gives him a soft smile, her eyes turned inward in memory. “But now that I do, I remember really loving them.”
He drums his fingers on the steering wheel.
“Really?” He glances over at her, then quickly looks away. “I actually think about them kind of a lot.”
And, ok, he’d initially pulled that caramelized bacon s’mores example out of nowhere, but the more he talks about it, the more he realizes how unnervingly analogous it actually is.
“I’m ok with this interaction being good-weird, then,” Lara Jean says brightly, breaking him out of his internal musing. “And I also just wanna say…” She chews on her lip, then takes a deep breath and smiles at him. “I’m glad we ran into each other. It is really good to see you, Peter. Things seem like they're going well.”
She phrases it like a statement, but he can hear the question just on the edges of it, so he nods.
“They are.” He motions to the mess in the back. “I mean, other than the fact that I can’t keep a clean car.”
He grins when she laughs.
“I’m really glad to see you too, Lara Jean.”
There's more he wants to say -- how sorry he is for the way things ended, how much he regrets treating her the way he did, how he knows her kindness and forgiveness are both things he doesn't deserve.
But it's only a ten minute car ride to her house, and if he's going to drudge all that up, he thinks she probably deserves more apology than one car ride can convey.
So he just clears his throat instead and smiles at her.
“And I am so incredibly amped about Voyager. It's so great that you did it.”
A slight blush starts on her cheeks as she smiles, then looks away from him.
“Well, I'm trying to do it, at least. Business is ok, but I'm still trying to get a foothold in the community.” She twists her fingers in her lap. “I have a huge event on Friday that should be good for me and I'm really excited, except that the person that was supposed to help me set up and everything can't make it, so now I have to put together 100 favor bags, transport and arrange three cakes and set up a cupcake buffet in like, an hour and a half, by myself. And I think I’ll have to rent a car because there’s no way all that’s gonna fit in my little Toyota.”
He glances over at her, and there's already a slight look of panic on her face. They stop at a stoplight and without really thinking about what he's offering, he turns to her and says --
“So, I'm free this Friday. I can totally help you out if you want.”
Not even remotely close to being true;
Incredibly inconvenient for his schedule; and,
Is probably a bad idea given those first two facts --
But seems like the right decision all the same.
The light turns green and he has to focus his attention back on the road, so he’s not quite sure what Lara Jean’s expression is.
But then she says his name, all soft and surprised, the way she used to when they were younger and he’d remember some offhand fact about Harry Potter or a random romcom, and whatever doubt he had lingering disappears completely.
“Oh, Peter. Are you sure? It’s -- .”
“It’s done,” he says firmly, then glances over to her and smiles. “Just let me know what time to show up and what I need to wear, and I’m there for you, Lara Jean.”
“You’re absolutely sure?”
And maybe it’s because he’s tired and it’s a little bit late, or maybe because it’s dark and quiet and she’s looking at him through those long eyelashes of hers, and he finds it hard to really think straight.
Or maybe it’s just because it’s Lara Jean and he still remembers their contract, still feels in his bones that promise of telling each other the truth, even if it’s hard.
“There's nowhere else I'd rather be.”
A warm, bright smile slowly unfolds on her face, tender at the edges, and he thinks that there’s isn’t a lot he wouldn’t do to put that expression on her face.
“Ok, good,” she says. “10 am ok? I know you aren’t much of a morning person.”
“You oversleep one 10 am class and someone,” he says, waggling his eyebrows at her. “Never lets you forget it.”
“Peter, you didn’t just oversleep once -- you overslept the entire semester.”
“I did not!” At her unimpressed look, he laughs and shakes his head. “I was there the first two classes and the last two, and that was enough to pass. It all worked out.”
She shakes her head at him, her look of exasperation shot through with something he might even call fondness. It at least sets off a spread of warmth in his chest when he catches it.
“Oh, I’m just here on the right,” Lara Jean blurts out quickly and he just barely catches the turn into the entrance to her apartment complex.
“Thanks for the ride, Peter,” she says as they drive up slowly to her building. “And thanks for offering to help on Friday.” She puts her hand on the door handle, then stops and pulls out her phone. “I just realized -- I should probably give you my phone number in case something comes up or things change or…”
“Lara Jean, nothing is going to come up,” he replies, pulling his phone out of his pocket. “I’ll be at the bakery 10 a.m. sharp on Friday morning.”
He unlocks his phone and looks up at her, his fingers hovering above the number pad.
“Uh -- is it still the same number?” He asks, nodding at her phone.
“Oh, yeah, it’s --.”
His fingers fly over the numbers before she can finish, clicking send before he looks back up at her.
She looks down a moment later at her phone, which is vibrating in her hand, his phone number lit up on the screen.
“And that’s my number.” He grins at her. “It’s changed about half a dozen times since, um, before.”
She stares down at her phone a moment longer before looking back up at him.
“You still remember my phone number?”
He nods. There’s a part of him that wants to look away, but it’s overruled by the part of him that’s trying to puzzle out the look on Lara Jean’s face right now.
“Four and a half years is a long time.”
His intention was to aim for a kind of loud, breezy charm, but it comes out quiet and solemn, almost.
She gives him a small nod, then lifts her shoulder up slightly.
“Yeah, just --.” She tilts her head at him. “Six years is a long time, too.”
He chews on the corner of his lip and gives one tiny shake of his shoulders.
“Some things just stick, you know?”
She gives a slow, small nod.
“I know.” She looks at him for a moment longer before she clears her throat and levels a bright look at him. “I’ll see you Friday, Peter Kavinsky.”
He smiles and nods.
“Good night, Lara Jean.”
I'm sorry for the long delay between updates! The end of first quarter really kicked my ass!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
By chance, he ends up having to drive into Richmond for work two days later. He resists the urge to google whether or not the restaurant with the s’mores is still open, because for some reason whether it is or not feels like it’d be some sort of sign.
He’s proud of himself, too, because he makes it all the way until he’s stopped at a light two streets down from his meeting before he finally breaks.
It’s still open.
And even though it’s on the complete opposite side of town than where his meeting is at, the moment it ends he heads straight for it. He stops himself from ordering the s’more straightaway and actually does things in order -- has an appetizer and a full dinner, and finishes both before he finally orders dessert.
The smell of chocolate and bacon is incredibly appetizing, and he’s about to take a bite that would probably take care of at least half of the s’more when he has an idea. He takes out his phone and before he can talk himself out of it, takes a picture and sends it Lara Jean.
He sets his phone down and tells himself that he’s going to focus on eating his dessert. That Lara Jean might be away from her phone, or weirded out that he just randomly texted her a picture of his dessert after years of silence or --
His phone buzzes on the table and he immediately picks it up and clicks on her message.
No. Way. I’m so jealous! Was it just as good as you remembered?
He smiles and takes a big bite of the s’more, chewing it slowly as he thinks of a reply. He’s suddenly feeling slightly panicked, even this is exactly what he was hoping for the entire day. He finishes up the rest of the s’more, chewing the second bite even slower as he types out and erases the words on his screen three more times.
Finally, he just shakes his head and takes a gulp of water before clicking send, running his hands through his hair because he’s just spent five minutes typing out a relatively simple text.
You know, I was worried that I’d built it up to be better than it actually was but...nope. It was just good as I remember. This place is still amazing.
He tells himself that there isn’t subtext in that message, but even he isn’t believing it at this point. He at least hopes that Lara Jean isn’t reading the subtext in it.
He finishes up the second s’more on his plate, forcing himself not to watch his phone. He takes a long drink of water to wash down the marshmallow taste when his phone buzzes twice in quick succession.
I’m glad that it lived up to the version in your head.
What are you doing in Richmond? I thought you worked in Virginia Beach.
He smiles as he raises his hand to ask for the check.
I do, but I travel a lot for work. That’s why my car is so messy, remember?
She sends him the thinking face emoji.
I do remember seeing a lot of travel mugs and fast food containers in the backseat. I’m glad you decided to get a good meal in rather than stop by Biscuitville or something equally unhealthy.
He laughs as he signs the check, tapping out his reply.
The continued judgement! The hypocrisy! Like you didn’t love going to Biscuitville every time we took a trip together.
He presses send and then just leans against his car, squinting his eyes shut as he rubs the back of his hand across his forehead. Because what he said was true, but it’s also a reference to when they were together and he’s pretty sure that’s a weird place to go and --
His phone buzzes in his hand and he lifts it immediately to look at her reply.
It starts with a laughing face emoji, which he feels like is a good sign. Probably means he didn’t necessarily cross a line, although her message is short, just -- Ok, ok, that’s fair.
He nearly screenshots the exchange so that he can send it to Sam and Britt, and ask their opinion, but manages just to stop himself. He knows he’d never hear the end of it, for one; and two, it feels juvenile -- something he can absolutely picture 16 year old Peter doing, but is ridiculous for a 27 year old man to do.
He gets in his car and turns it on, backing out of the parking lot and trying to think of something else to text Lara Jean to keep the conversation going when his phone buzzes again. He knows that the amount of relief he feels when he sees that it’s Lara Jean is disproportionate to the text itself. He just tries not to think about that feeling too much.
So, I don’t think I actually ever asked -- what do you do? Other than make trips to Richmond and eat a lot of fast food.
He sets his phone in his lap and waits for the next stoplight. Richmond is strict about texting and driving and he’d rather not end the day on a sour note.
Unfortunately, the next red light doesn’t happen for another fifteen minutes, because for once in his life he gets all green lights. He knows that Lara Jean isn’t just waiting around for him to text back, but he also gets increasingly irritated at his good luck. He even tries to slow down a bit, to the point where a car behind him actually honks at him, but each light continues to shine on green.
Finally, he’s stopped, so he picks up his phone and types out a reply.
Sorry it took me so long to reply, I’m driving and they’re really strict about texting and driving here. Finally got a red light! But I’m assistant director of development for the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center.
He glances down at this phone, the three blue dots appearing on screen without a sent text for the next few green lights. It isn’t until he’s stopped at the next red light when Lara Jean’s message finally pops up.
Does your car have bluetooth? Don’t text me the answer until you’re stopped at a light!
He smiles brightly at the phone, his heart thudding loudly in his chest as he clicks on her name and presses call before he can overthink her text or lose his nerve.
“Hello?” Her voice echoes through his car, soft and a little uncertain, and he has a slight moment of panic that he misread her text.
“He - hey.” He clears his throat. “I’m stopped at a light and figured it’d be easier to call you. Or, um, I figured that’s what you meant -- that’s why you were asking. About the bluetooth?”
He doesn’t mean for it to, but the last part of his sentence comes out as a question, his voice turning up on the last word. He just barely stops himself from groaning out loud. He really does feel like he’s sixteen all over again.
“Cool, yes, I -- .” She gives a small laugh and he can almost picture her shaking her head. It makes him smile and he feels his body relax a bit at the sound. “That is why I asked about the bluetooth.” She clears her throat. “I, just, um --.” She huffs out a quiet puff of air and it puts him at ease -- the knowledge that she seems just as thrown off and nervous as he feels. She clears her throat again, and this time the uncertainty is no longer lingering at the edges of her words. “So, I’m looking at your job title and I know what all of those words mean individually, but together I have no idea what it means you actually do.”
“Basically, I spend half my time writing grants to get money for the aquarium and the other half going around and trying to convince people to either give money to the aquarium or become partners with the aquarium, so that sometime in the near future they’ll give money to the aquarium.”
“Ok, that makes sense.” She says, and he hears a soft thud in the background, like she’s just plopped down on a chair or a sofa. “I’d be awful at that job, but I bet you’re really good at it.”
He huffs a laugh.
“Because I’m a talker?”
He hears a rustling next and assumes it’s her shaking her head.
“No, not at all.” She laughs. “I mean, yes, you are a talker.” He laughs, and he can tell by the tone of her voice when she starts talking again that she’s smiling. “But also, you’d be good at it because you’re just good with people. You know how to make people feel special and important and listened to, and that makes it easy for people to like you.”
He’s glad that they aren’t facetiming this conversation, because he’s sure that his expression is too soft and tender and wanting than is probably appropriate at this point in their newly re-established friendship. It’s not that she hasn’t said things like this to him before -- she has, because Lara Jean has never been shy about telling him exactly what she thinks of him -- it’s the fact that despite all he’s done to her and the years that stretch out between them, she still thinks that of him.
“Thank you, Lara Jean,” he says quietly, the words still tinged with that special kind of softness that only Lara Jean has ever really been able to bring out of him.
He hears her swallow.
“And, you know,” she follows up quickly, the words overly bright. “I, um, I assume it’s more than them just liking you -- but I bet it doesn’t hurt to establish that as a base before you start talking business.”
He nods, then rolls his eyes at himself.
“Um, yeah, it certainly helps.” He chews on the corner of his mouth, then clears his throat. “And it also helps that I like the aquarium and wanna make sure we keep providing the programs that we do, so it actually makes my job pretty easy and fun.”
“That makes sense.” She’s quiet for a moment. “So, what’s your favorite thing about working for the aquarium?”
He smiles, partially because of the answer to the question, but also partially because asking it is such a Lara Jean thing to do.
He hadn’t realized until this very moment that you could miss the way someone asks you questions.
“I’d say that my absolute favorite thing is getting to see Hector and Piper any time I’m stressed out or need cheering up.”
Lara Jean makes a humming sound in the back of her throat.
“They work at the aquarium?”
“Yeah, in a way.” And even though he has absolutely no way of knowing for sure, he can just about picture the confused look on her face -- the way her forehead scrunches right above her nose, how she tilts her head in a way that makes her hair fall from behind her ear. “They’re two of our harbor seals in the Bay and Ocean pavilion. We have a good working relationship.”
“Yeah, I’ve been allowed to feed them enough times that they always come up to me and say hello. And, you know, I think only half the time are they actually looking for food.”
He hears the clicking of a keyboard.
“Aww,” Lara Jean coos. “Harbor seals are cute. They look like chubby puppies.”
“Yeah, and Piper is an absolute ham for the camera. I have one photo of him that’s over the top cute. Hold on --.”
“Wait! Don’t look through your phone, you’re driving.”
He huffs a laugh.
“Lara Jean, I’m out of Richmond. No one’s gonna catch me for driving and texting.”
“Uh, I am. It can wait, remember?”
“Are you really quoting an ad at me right now?”
“Yes, because they’re correct. It can wait. I’d rather you be safe.” He hears her shift. “Just text me the photo when you get home.”
“That’ll be like in an hour, Lara Jean. You’ll be sleeping by then.”
“Well, I’ll still have my phone in an hour, Peter.” She pauses for a moment. “And how do you know I’ll be sleeping? It’s still early.”
He freezes at that, his brain scrambling for an answer. Because the honest answer is that he recognizes the tired undertone to her voice -- how it’s rougher at the edges, more hushed than normal. It’s a tone of voice that brings him back to being 18 and propped against his dorm room wall, his feet dangling off his lofted bed, the lights dim as Lara Jean tells him about her day.
But of course he can’t say that. A text referencing the time they used to spend together is one thing, but saying out loud that he can still remember what she sounds like when she’s tired seems like the crossing of a line he doesn’t think he should be even be close to approaching.
So instead he just clears his throat -- and by now, he feels like he’s done that so many times that he’s given himself a sore throat -- and says the first thing that pops into his mind.
“Because of the bakery.” He shakes his head at himself and runs a hand through his hair. “I mean, you probably have to get up really early to start baking everything every morning, so I just figured you go to bed pretty early.”
And actually, as far as things go, it’s a pretty good guess, and one that’s obviously right because in the next moment, Lara Jean agrees with him.
“Yeah, I do have to get up stupid early.”
“What counts as stupid early?”
He gasps out loud and Lara Jean laughs.
“Ok,” he says, grinning. “That was a little overblown but not by much. That is really, really stupid early.” He glances at the clock. “So, when do you start getting ready for bed then?”
“Um.” She makes a coughing sound. “Usually about right now.”
“Yeah, I was gonna say -- at this point you’d get maybe seven and a half hours of sleep.” He taps his fingers against the steering wheel. “Off to bed with you then.” He cringes at the words. “And, um, thanks for chatting with me, Lara Jean.”
She gives a soft laugh, and after a moment, he does too. It’s an oddly formal way to end the conversation. Still, he’s glad he said it because he means it.
“And thanks for clarifying what an assistant director of development does,” she says. She yawns into the phone. “And I expect to wake up to an adorable picture of Piper.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He hears her yawn again and laughs.
“Alright, I get it, you’re over talking to me,” he says with a teasing tone to his words.
“No! I’m really not -- this is just later than I’ve stayed up in a while.”
“Oh, Lara Jean.”
He means the words to come out gently teasing because it’s 8:30 at night and she’s falling asleep, but instead they’re tender and warm and slightly concerned -- all the things he actually feels but didn’t intend to show.
He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly as he hears a rustling sound against the phone.
“Good night, Peter Kavinsky,” she says, her voice quiet, sleep already crawling in on the edges of the words.
“Sweet dreams, Lara Jean,” he says softly, unable to shake the tenderness from his voice. Because the sound of her voice, the darkness around him, the words between them -- it all brings him back to when he was 19 and so in love with her. To a time when these conversations were both commonplace and the highlight of his day. And that tenderness in his tone, that softness that lines his words -- it returns to him again like muscle memory.
He thinks about that the entire rest of the way home. Runs through their conversation over and over again in his mind, marveling at how easy it was to fall back into well-worn patterns despite the years between them. He’s struck once again by how wholly undeserving he is of her kindness, and how that much more grateful he is for it because that’s true.
The last thing he does before he goes to bed is text her the photo of Piper. He closes his eyes with a smile on his face, thinking about how happy she’ll be when she wakes up and sees it.
The last thing he thinks before he falls asleep is how good it feels to once again be -- at least this one time -- Lara Jean’s last phone call before she goes bed.
I'm on Fall Break, so i'm hoping to get another chapter up before the week's end! Thanks for your support and patience! Love y'all!
It's been forever, I know. Thanks to anyone still following this story and to those who've kudos'd and commented. This quarter is really kicking my ass, but just know that this story is never far from my mind or my heart. Love you all!
He wakes up earlier than usual and checks his phone immediately, a smile lighting up his face when he sees two texts from Lara Jean.
Oh. My. God. That is beyond adorable. This is the best way to start my morning.
The second message is a picture of a tray of what he thinks are cherry turnovers, with a text underneath that says --
And this is how the rest of my morning is going.
He sits up in his bed and runs a hand through his hair before he taps out a reply.
That photo is both the best and worst way to start my morning.
He figures that she’s probably busy getting the shop ready for opening, so he’s surprised and pleased when his phone buzzes on the counter a few minutes later as he’s making his morning coffee.
Why the worst?!
Because your cherry turnovers are my favorite and it sucks that I won’t be able to have any.
She sends back a grinning emoji, and it’s stupid how happy a cartoon smile can make him but he finds that he can’t help but picture her grinning down at her phone, happy about something that he sent to her.
She doesn’t reply until he’s grabbing his car keys from the kitchen table.
I’m make you some on Friday when you’re here as a thank you for helping me out.
He grins at his phone.
I’m gonna hold you to that.
He doesn’t have time to look at his phone again until he’s almost ready to leave and finds a text and two more photos from Lara Jean, one a fully stocked pastry display that makes his mouth water just from looking at it, and a second that shows an empty space behind a sign that reads ‘Cherry Turnovers.’
Guess you’re not the only one who loves those turnovers.
He turns left towards the outdoor exhibit space rather than right towards the parking structure and starts walking as he taps out a reply.
Good to know that me and the people of Williamsburg have similarly good taste.
He walks over to the seal enclosure and after a few moments of cajoling and convincing, manages to get a photo of Hector and Piper looking pretty damn cute.
He sends it Lara Jean, along with a text that reads --
Hector and Piper say hello to their favorite baker.
He’s in his car driving home when his phone buzzes. He taps on her message and sees a photo of Sam, Britt and Natalie holding wine glasses and grinning widely as they toast the camera.
Natalie, Sam and Britt say hi to their favorite assistant director of development.
He gets a second text a moment later.
Also, I'm getting to hear quite a few interesting stories about you.
He grins at his phone, even as his mind races through all the stories she could potentially be hearing.
He sends her a sweat smile emoji, followed by an upside down smiley face.
Don't believe anything that Britt says, only half of what Natalie says and about 75% of what Sam says.
She sends him a laughing so hard it's crying emoji.
Britt's offended at your ranking. Maybe I'll call you before I head to bed to run them by you - see if your ranking was correct. If you're still up.
He smiles widely at his phone.
Lara Jean, I'm 100% certain I will still be up at 8:00 tonight. Most people over 12 are.
She replies with the sunglasses wearing emoji.
Don't you know that all the best people go to bed at 8:00, Peter?
He chews on his lip.
I do. He types out. I learned that last night.
He sends the text, then types out the next one and clicks send before he can lose his nerve.
But really, call me later if you want -- I'll be up.
She sends him back a smiling emoji, followed by a thumbs up, and he's glad no one else is around to see the way he smiles back at that text message or the way he holds his phone -- cradling it in his hand like it's something sacred as he tells himself he won't count down the minutes until 8 pm.
(Already knowing that he absolutely will.)
Lara Jean calls at 8:17, enough time for him to just about have convinced himself that he isn't deeply disappointed that she didn't call.
He picks up the phone right away from where it's resting on the counter, then has a moment of hesitation as he debates whether he should let it ring a few more times so that she doesn't think he's been waiting for her to call.
He walks away from his phone and waits halfway through the second ring before he panics, suddenly worried that she’ll think he’s busy or doesn’t want to talk to her and hang up, so he jumps over the back of his couch and clicks answer on the screen of his phone.
“Hi - hey,” he says, cringing at the way he sounds slightly out of breath because he ran across the room and then hit his ankle when jumping over his couch.
“Hey -- is everything ok? You sound winded.”
He flops down on his couch and rubs his ankle.
“Yeah, I’m good. I, uh, just got back from a run, so. Uh, you know...how that...is.”
He rolls his eyes and scrubs a hand across his forehead. The easiness from their earlier conversation has all but evaporated, replaced by the same bumbling, stilted awkwardness he had when he was 13 and talking to a girl on the phone for the very first time.
Luckily, Lara Jean either doesn’t notice or is nice enough to ignore it.
“I mean, I don’t actually know -- still not a huge fan of running, but I get it.” She laughs quietly to herself. “I love that you’re out being healthy while I consumed maybe an entire cheeseboard by myself and drank more wine than I have in years.”
“So, like an entire glass?”
She huffs into phone, though he can hear the smile in her voice when she starts speaking.
“Two glasses, actually.” She yawns. “But then I had to go home because all that wine just made me tired.”
“You’re sure that you being tired didn’t make you tired?” He laughs when she makes a disgruntled sound. “No, I’m glad you went home -- you were up stupid early and you need sleep, whereas I know for a fact that Britt doesn’t even think about getting out of bed until 9 a.m.”
“The joys of working from home,” Lara Jean says, a wistful tone in her voice. “I miss it sometimes.”
“I didn’t know you worked from home,” he says, then immediately regrets it. Because of course he wouldn’t know that. It’s just hard to remember that now when talking to her is so easy -- like those six years where he didn’t once speak to her never happened.
But they did. That’s why he doesn’t know that she ever worked from home, or that she had a blog, or that she opened up her own bakery. Knowing that there’s now so much that he doesn’t know about her makes his chest ache.
He clears his throat.
“What’d you do -- when you worked from home, I mean?”
“I guess worked from home is being a little generous. I was, uh, creatively unemployed -- that’s how Kitty liked to put it.”
“That sounds like something Kitty would say.”
He hears her shift, a rustling next to the phone that makes him think that she’s settling into a pillow or in sheets.
“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do after I graduated, so I decided to focus on my blog full-time for a while and that actually worked out pretty alright.”
“Pretty alright in Lara Jean speak is astounding in normal person speak, so I’m gonna take it that your blog was pretty damn successful. Which, you know, makes sense since that’s why Britt, Nat and Sam knew all about you.” He pauses for a moment. “You did already know that, right? I didn’t just inadvertently reveal how creepy they were? Well -- are, I guess.”
She giggles into the phone, and he thinks that there’s a slight edge of sleepiness to it.
“I just spent the last three and half hours at happy hour with the three of them. We covered a lot of ground in that amount of time.”
“Including how creepy they are?”
She laughs again.
“Peter! No, including how much they enjoyed watching me pose in outfits in front of my house for two years.”
“So, what I said, then.”
She huffs into the phone.
“You can’t see me but I want you to know that I’m rolling my eyes at you.”
“I didn’t need to see you to know that’s what was happening.”
“Yeah?” And the way she says it -- all soft and warm, almost like the way she used to when he’d compliment her on something or reassure her when she was worried, makes his heart contract painfully in his chest.
“Yeah.” He takes a deep breath, his feet digging into the cushions of his couch. “So, um, any stories that you heard tonight that made you think any less of me?”
He hears a rustling sound, then silence.
“Um, I assume that’s you shaking your head no? Or at least I hope that’s what that means.”
She lets out a soft sound that’s somewhere between a laugh and a yawn.
“Oh, sorry Peter. Yes.”
He raises an eyebrow.
“Yes, you now think less of me?” He asks, with a worried tone that’s only halfway joking.
“Peter, no,” she says, emphatic on the last word. She clears her throat. “I meant, yes, I was shaking my head no.” She breathes out sharply into the phone. “Ugh, it’s the wine -- my thought process is all over the place.”
“Yeah, it’s probably the wine and the fact that it’s --.” He checks his watch. “45 minutes or so past your usual bedtime.” He bites his lip. “I should probably let you go.”
She’s quiet for a moment, another soft swishing sound in the background that makes him think she’s burrowing further down in her sheets.
“A few more minutes?” She finally asks, her voice warm and sleepy and so much that he’s missed about her.
He leans back against the couch cushions and closes his eyes, pretends for a moment that there was never six years of silence between them, that he never made all the wrong decisions once upon a time.
“Yeah, of course, Lara Jean. If that’s what you want.”
“It is.” He hears her take a deep breath. “Anyway, everything I heard about you tonight -- it.” She pauses and he can imagine her wrinkling her nose at him and shrugging. “It gave me a better idea of who you are now.”
“Yeah?” He says, softer than he’d meant, because he wants to keep the desperate sort of curiosity that he’s feeling right now from creeping into his voice. “And who am I now?”
“The man I always thought you’d grow up to be.” She says after a moment, and there’s a warm tenderness to her words that makes him want to fall into them.
“That’s a good thing, then.” He doesn’t phrase it like a question, but she answers it anyway.
“It is.” She clears her throat, her next words louder, more playful. “Plus, you know how much I love to be right.”
“That I do.” He chews on the corner of his lip. “You know, it is a little bit unfair.”
“That you got to hear all about what I’ve been up to and figure out who I am now, but I still don’t know all that much about you.”
She huffs out a laugh.
“Oh Peter, there’s a lot you know about me.”
“Yeah, but my files are all out of date.”
“I mean, some things don’t really change -- but I get what you mean.” He hears her make a humming sound in the back of her throat. “Ok, how about this -- we’ll take turns. Every night, you get to ask me one question and I have to answer it honestly, and every morning I get to do likewise.”
“That’s --.” He stops himself, because what he’s thinking is that it’s more than he could’ve ever hoped for. What he says instead, in his breeziest, most lighthearted tone of voice is -- “That’s acceptable.”
She giggles, and now he knows for sure that there’s a slight edge of sleepy delirium to it.
“I’m glad that it’s met your standards, Peter.”
“So, before you fall asleep on me, I’ll ask my question.” There’s a long, drawn out pause because the truth is that he can think of a hundred different questions he wants to ask, but right now all of them seem too serious or too personal or too wrapped up in his own swirling feelings about Lara Jean, and he doesn’t want to put any unnecessary pressure on her. So he clears his throat, then offers up the only somewhat neutral question he can think of at the moment.
“Was there ever any other name in contention for Voyager and if so, what were they?”
She tuts into the phone.
“That’s technically two questions, Peter, but I’ll count it as one since the answer is that there was never any other name in contention. Once I knew I was going to open my own bakery, I knew from the very start that I was going to call it Voyager.” She chuckles. “It’s probably the only thing that didn’t change in the planning process.”
“What -- .” He starts, then stops himself. “One night, one question, right?”
“Right.” She’s quiet for a moment, then continues, her words shot through with amusement and tenderness. “Do we need to draw up a contract, Peter?”
He laughs, though to his ears it sounds performed and overly bright. But he does it because that’s what he should do at her comment -- laugh and think fondly of being young and ridiculous, not breathe in deeply and rub a hand across his chest in some absurd attempt to push off all the emotion spinning through his veins.
“I think we’re old enough now to not need one.”
“I think -- ,” she starts, then is interrupted by a yawn.
“I think you really need to get to bed,” he says, glancing down at his watch.
“I think you’re right,” she says, her words garbled together as she tries to stifle another yawn. “But you better be ready for my question in the morning.”
“I’ll start looking through all my journal entries from the last six years to prepare, Lara Jean.”
“That’s goo -- wait. Have you really kept a journal for the last six years?”
“Is that really what you wanna waste your first question on -- which, by the way, I’m not going to answer since it’s not tomorrow yet.”
She huffs loudly into the phone, though somehow he can still tell that she’s smiling as she does it.
“Being able to ask one question per day doesn’t preclude asking any other ones, you know.”
“So then how do I know when I’ve hit my question quota?” He asks, only halfway joking. “Do I have to officially state that this is my question for the night before asking it? Does that mean I can ask as many questions as I want?”
She makes a humming sound into the phone.
“Of course you can ask as many questions as you want, but the official question I have to answer with the utmost and complete honesty and vice versa. Every other question we can choose not to answer or, you know, just ignore.”
“So does this mean that you can ask me a question and I can choose not to answer it, but then if you make it your official question, then I have to answer it, no matter what?”
“Yes.” She sighs. “Well, no -- I mean, I don’t want you to feel like you should have to answer any question if it makes you feel uncomfortable.”
He turns her words over in his mind.
“I think...I mean, I think it’s still good for me to answer questions that you’re really curious about, even if it makes me uncomfortable.” He coughs, then swallows. “Maybe especially if it makes me uncomfortable. I’d say you’ve earned that right, don’t you?”
“Oh, Peter,” she says after an elongated pause, and somehow it both is and isn’t an answer.
He makes a sound that’s an approximation of a laugh, because he’s not really quite how to reply to that. Luckily, Lara Jean offers him an out when she yawns again.
“Ok, I’ve kept you up long enough. We’ll figure out the rules of the question game tomorrow.” Suddenly, a thought pops into his head. “Hey, before you go to bed, do you want me answer your question with a text, or should I, um, call you back tomorrow night to answer it?”
“Hm.” And he can picture her eyes darting to side, her lips pursed together as she thinks it over. “How about this -- if it warrants a longer explanation, call me tomorrow night but give me at least a short answer in a text. That way I know you just aren’t ignoring me.”
He’s about to say -- you know I wouldn’t, but then stops himself. Because how would she know that? The last few months of their relationship were just exactly that, followed by a prolonged six years of trying to pretend like she didn’t exist.
So he just says --
“Ok, deal.” He stands up and stretches. “Good night, Lara Jean. Sorry I kept you up to the late hour of...9:00 p.m.”
“It was worth it.” She yawns. “Ok, good night, Peter. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
He clicks end before he says something cheesy and true like, looking forward to it or it’ll be the best part of my day, then sets the phone down and walks over to the kitchen to get a drink of water.
He grabs the last LaCroix out of his fridge and then reaches over to the pad of paper on his counter where he writes down his grocery list. He’s about to write on the fresh sheet on paper when an idea pops into his head.
He carefully writes out a few lines on the small pad of paper, then gets out his phone out and takes a picture.
He clicks on Lara Jean’s name and attaches the picture. He takes a deep breath and stares hard at it. Its zoomed in, so that the small pad of paper looks full sized, and he’d taken his time on his handwriting, so that it actually looks halfway decent.
At the top, written in all caps is ‘Contract.’ Beneath it, it reads --
I, Peter Kavinsky, of sound mind and body, do hereby enter into a contract with Lara Jean Song Covey wherein I will answer one question per day of her choosing with the utmost and complete honesty, no matter if it makes me uncomfortable, awkward, or embarrassed.
Lara Jean will preface her question with: here is my question of the day, so that I, Peter, know that it is the official question which I must answer truthfully.
Signed, Peter Kavinsky
He’d even put the date next to his signature. The language is a little over the top, especially compared to their contracts from high school, but he thinks that Lara Jean will get a kick out of it.
He hopes, at least.
He stares at his phone for a few more minutes before finally typing out a text message --
I know I said we’re old enough to not have one, but then I realized that contracts are actually a pretty grown-up thing to do. We were just ahead of our time in high school.
He takes a deep breath and clicks send, then puts his phone in his pocket and grabs his laptop to ostensibly check his email, but really to distract himself from his phone.
It’s nearly 9:30, so he doesn’t expect anything from her until morning, so he’s pleasantly surprised when his phone buzzes in his pocket and he sees that Lara Jean has sent him a message back.
He clicks on it and laughs out loud. There’s no message, just a picture attached. It’s a piece of stationary with watercolor flowers around the edges of it because of course there are, and the paper itself a light pink that he’s certain is called blush.
Written at the top in flourished, bold blue brushlettering is the word ‘Contract,’ with Lara Jean’s own beautiful winding cursive beneath it --
I, Lara Jean Song Covey, of sound mind, body and good moral character, do hereby enter into a contract with Peter Kavinsky wherein I will answer one question per day, making sure to be completely and totally honest, no matter how ridiculous, personal or strange the question may be.
Peter Kavinsky will begin his question with, “Be honest with me,” so that I, Lara Jean, will know that it is the official question which I must answer honestly.
Signed, Lara Jean Song Covey
It's a rather short chapter update despite how long y'all have had to wait for it! Thank you for continuing to follow along and having patience with my erratic updates. Love y'all!
He wakes up earlier than usual the next day and immediately turns over and grabs his phone from where it’s charging on his nightstand.
A trill of happiness runs through him when he sees Lara Jean’s name on his screen. He opens the text message and smiles -- partly because he sees that she sent it at 4 a.m, which means it’s one of the first things she did when she got up, and partly because it feels like the exact right kind of Lara Jean question.
So, here is my question of the day: What has been your favorite memory from the last six years?
He sits up in bed and runs a hand through his hair, thinking for just a brief second before he starts typing out his reply.
Easy -- it’d definitely have to be graduating with my MBA a few years ago.
He clicks send and then looks down at his reply and starts typing another message.
It was the one of the hardest things I ever worked at and one of the most worthwhile. Also, I was the student speaker and didn’t completely suck at it, which was great because my mom and dad were at the very front of the crowd.
He sets his phone down and heads to the bathroom to start getting ready for the day, picks his phone back up when he’s out of the shower and heading to the kitchen to make coffee and breakfast.
I have a super, super busy day today -- but call me tonight to tell me more about it?
He smiles, even though he’s a little bit disappointed that he won’t be able to look forward to texts from her all day.
Absolutely. And, of course, to ask you my question.
She immediately texts back -- a grinning emoji that makes him more stupidly joyful than any one emoji has a right to.
Definitely. Bakery closes at 3 and I should be done prepping for tomorrow around 5:30ish, so call whenever after!
Of course, he wants to call as close to four as he can without making it seem like he’s been waiting all day to do so, but work has other plans for him.
Taking Friday off is wildly inconvenient for his schedule and he ends up texting Lara Jean around 5:45, just in case she expected a call earlier.
Got pulled into some last minute meetings - ok if I call a little after 7?
And yeah, the meeting thing isn't true at all - he doesn't think he's even talked to anyone since lunchtime, but the last thing he wants to do is in any way hint to Lara Jean how difficult taking tomorrow off will be for him.
Absolutely! Good luck in your meetings!
He feels a little guilty for lying to her, but he justifies by telling himself it's for the greater good. He sets his phone down and turns his attention back to his laptop, losing himself once again in a paragraph about the impact of their educational programs in the last fiscal year.
He forces himself to close his laptop at 6:45, packs up and texts Lara Jean on his way to his car.
Call you in twenty? Just finishing up dinner.
Which is kind of true, since he's eating a protein bar as he walks.
That works! I’m still at Voyager, but I could use a break.
He frowns at his phone, but doesn’t answer since he’s five minutes from home and figures he might as well just wait to call her.
He walks into his house and throws his keys and blazer on the couch and loosens his tie as he taps on Lara Jean’s name on his phone screen.
She picks up halfway through the first ring, her bright greeting simultaneously making him relax his shoulders and sending a rush of excitement through his veins.
“Hey,” he says, toeing off his shoes and sitting down on the edge of his couch to take off his socks. “So, what are you still doing at work? Because by my count, you have now officially been there for...14 hours.”
She lets out a sigh that somehow just sounds utterly exhausted and he frowns at the sound of it.
“Believe me, I know. If I could be at home right now, not moving, I would be.”
“So why aren’t you?”
“The party tomorrow -- it’s a huge bridal shower -- and the maid of honor called me all panicked because she just found out a bunch of family friends of the bride’s parents are coming who didn’t RSVP, so I needed to make sure we had enough for an extra 30 people.” She makes a groaning sound. “God, I should’ve just closed today to fully prepare, but I’m already closing tomorrow for the day and I can’t really afford to be closed two days in a row.”
He furrows his brows.
“Holy shit, just -- an extra 30 people? How many people do her parents know?”
She huffs out a laugh.
He sighs and runs a hand through his hair.
“Well, she’s paying extra, right?”
“Yeah, and, I mean it’s -- it’s a lot extra. And she said she’d write a review on Yelp and Google and put it all over Instagram, so at least it’ll be good promo.” She takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “But it’s just a lot more work putting everything together.”
He checks the clock on his microwave.
“How much extra work do you need to get done?”
“Hm, um…” And even though it’s been years since he’s seen it, he can so clearly picture her scrunching up her nose and looking off to the side, an adorable look of thoughtfulness on her face that always made him want to kiss her. “Probably like an hour and a half, two hours or so. Just to be, like, 100% prepared.”
“Ok, so really you mean 200% overprepared.” He laughs at the sputtering sound she makes into the phone. “Lara Jean, why don’t you go home and get rest, and I’ll get there tomorrow morning at 7 to help you…” He thinks for a moment. “And to make sure you’re caffeinated.”
“Oh no, Peter, I can’t ask that of you.”
“Well, you aren’t -- asking, I mean. I’m simply informing you that I’ll be there at 7 a.m. to do whatever you need.” He clears his throat. “But I am asking you to leave whatever it is you’re doing for tomorrow and go home and sleep.”
She’s quiet for a long moment.
“Peter, are you sure you don’t mind coming here that early? That’s just -- you’d have to leave at 6 a.m. and -- .”
“Lara Jean, I get up at 5:15 every morning.” Which is a complete lie -- he doesn’t think he’s seen 5 a.m. since he was in his early twenties and the kind of guy who would still be up at that time from the night before. “It’s no big deal at all.”
“Only if you’re absolutely sure.”
“I am.” He looks at the clock again, because he really is anxious about the amount of time she must’ve been up on and on her feet. “Are you packing up right now?”
She gives a quiet laugh.
“Yes, Peter, I’m packing up and closing up the store.”
“Ok, I’ll let you go but can you text me when you get home so that I know you got home ok and didn’t, like, fall asleep and roll into a ditch or something?”
“Peter, there aren’t any ditches for me to roll into.” He can hear the sounds of various things closing and dishes clinking in the background. “And, um, I have bluetooth in my car -- maybe, um, we can just keep talking on the phone -- that way you’ll know for sure that I’m not rolling into any of your imaginary ditches.”
He lets out a sigh of relief.
“Yeah, that’d be perfect.”
“Good,” she says, and he grins when he hears a shy sort of sweetness in her voice. “So, um -- ,”she starts, and he can hear something clatter in the background. “Tell me more about your favorite memory -- and tell me about getting your MBA. And -- ah -- you said your dad was there, too?”
Her voice is a little bit muffled and close to the phone, like she’s got it trapped between her cheek and shoulder.
“Yeah, he was there. I mean, I know that for most of the time we...you knew me, er, you know before.” He closes his eyes and shakes his head, just barely able to keep himself from making a sound of disgust at how awkward he’s being. He’s still not sure how to refer to when they were together. “So, um, towards the end of college, dad got it together and he was good to Owen when I was off...not being good to Owen. And then when mom got sick, he really just -- I don’t know, showed up, I guess.”
He hears a car door slam in the background of Lara Jean’s end of the call.
“What do you mean?” She asks as her keys jingle.
He shrugs and squints his eyes in thought.
“He was around more for us -- and for her, even though they’d been divorced for like, a decade. He’d make sure we were doing ok, buy us groceries, send food home for us when we went to go see him.” He picks at a loose thread in his couch cushions. “He was in the rotation for taking mom to chemo, and when shit got rough and we had trouble paying bills, he stepped up and covered costs.”
“So, things are good with the two of you now?”
He chews on his lip for a moment.
“Yeah, they’re better.” He sits up and rolls his shoulders. “And, you know, he’s working at it and so am I. I guess that’s how it goes.”
“I’m glad, Peter.” He hears the clicking of her turn signal and the quiet hum of the car accelerating. “Hey, what’d you end up getting your MBA in -- I don’t think I actually know.”
“For a while, I thought it was gonna be media, sports and entertainment -- just because, you know, of lacrosse and everything.”
“Yeah, that makes sense.”
“But then...I don’t know, mom got sick, things were tough on Owen...and things changed...I changed, I guess and social enterprise ended up being the program that really...spoke to me, I guess.” He pauses and gives a small laugh. “I know that sounds cheesy or whatever, but -- .”
“It’s not cheesy, Peter. I’m really proud of you, and I’m sure your parents are, too.”
“Yeah, they really were -- especially since I kind of dicked around a lot in undergrad.”
“There was always more to you than you believed, Peter. I always knew that.”
He swallows and nods his head.
“I know you did, Lara Jean,” he says quietly.
He doesn’t say what he’s thinking though -- that he knows it because her belief in him was one of the last things they ever argued about. He remembers their last fight -- her crying, eyes red, a look of anger and dismay written across her face:
“I know you’re better than this, Peter.” She’d said, the words cobbled together with her tears, torn at the edges with her rage. “You’re better than this -- this guy who doesn’t -- this person who thinks only about himself.”
“I’m not, Lara Jean.” He’d spit out, venom in his words, the intent to hurt in his veins. “That’s just some version that you made up in your head and it was so fucking good, even I believed it for a while. But this is who I am, so take it or leave it.”
Lara Jean clears her throat on the other end, drawing him out of his backwards fall into their history.
“So, I have like...seven or so minutes until I get to my house, and then I fully intend on falling right into bed. But, before I do that -- do you wanna ask your question?”
He blinks a few times.
“Oh, um, yeah. I do.” Except of course every question he’d thought of during the day has now disappeared from his mind, submerged beneath a swirling mess of emotions that he can’t shake because of his trip into their past.
So he just grabs at the one that’s simmering on top of his emotions because it’s the one he thinks about a lot anyway and he might as well get it out of the way now.
“Ok, be honest with me -- is it weird to mention, um, memories and...stuff from when we were together?”
“Hm,” she starts, and he’s relieved because she just sounds like she’s thinking it over, not thrown off or upset by his question. “I mean, I guess the honest truth is that it is weird -- but not bad-weird or even weird-weird.” He hears the smile in her voice.“ It’s good-weird.”
He smiles and lets out the breath he didn’t mean to hold in.
“Like caramelized bacon s’mores?”
“Exactly like that.” She takes a deep breath and he imagines her tilting her head at him, a thoughtful expression on her face. “There was a lot between us, Peter. And some of it was bad…” And here her voice gets soft and just a little bit sad, and he hates himself for being the reason for it. “But…” She continues on, her voice louder, stronger. “More of it was good. Good memories and happiness and lo...um, just lots of good stuff. I don’t want to act like none of it ever happened, you know? Because it did happen and it was good. A lot of it was even great.” She pauses. “Right?”
“The best, Lara Jean,” he says, his voice quiet, the tone firm. He clears his throat. “And you’re right -- I don’t want to pretend like it never happened. That’s --.” He shakes his head. “That’s the last thing I want.” He gives a short, bewildered chuckle. “I just don’t know, or, uh, wasn't sure of the, like, protocol of all this.”
She gives a short, soft laugh that makes him smile.
“Neither do I, Peter. And I don’t think anyone really does. We just...muddle through it and figure it out together.”
He leans back into the couch and nods his head.
“I like the sound of that.”
“I’m glad.” He hears the sound of her keys jingling. “And just in time too because I just got home.”
He stands up and takes a look at the clock.
“Alright, off to bed with you then and I’ll see you right at 7 a.m. with a honey vanilla latte with soy and an extra shot in the biggest size I can find.” He furrows his brows for a moment, because it just now occurs to him that perhaps her drink preferences have changed. “Unless you’d want something else?”
“No, that’s -- that’s exactly right, Peter.”
“You sound surprised.”
She huffs a laugh.
“I guess I’m just surprised that one stuck.”
He chuckles, mostly to give himself time to think around what he actually wants to say, which is some unnecessary and true thing like -- there isn’t a lot about you that hasn’t stuck.
“Well, it’s hard to forget when your girlfriend starts crying because you come back to her dorm room with the wrong coffee order,” he says after a moment’s pause.
“Peter!” She says, her voice equal parts amused and affronted. “It was Freshman year finals and I was running on, like, two hours of sleep and I fully admitted to that being ridiculous, even as I was crying.”
“I know you did, Lara Jean. But it also did the trick, because I will forever remember your favorite coffee drink order. I’m just glad it hasn’t changed in six years so that I won’t have to update my memory banks.”
He hears a door close in the background.
“And you sound like you’re officially in the door, so I’m gonna let you go so you can fall into bed and not move for the next 8 hours or so.”
Lara Jean makes a sound that sounds like it’s half a yawn and half a laugh.
“You know, with you coming earlier, maybe I’ll even let myself sleep in til 4:30 in the morning.”
He shakes his head.
“Please definitely sleep in at least until then, and I’ll make sure to come in at 6:30 to make up the difference.”
“Oh, Peter, you don’t ne --.”
“It’s done,” he says, interrupting her. “I’ll see you at 6:30 tomorrow, Lara Jean. Sleep tight.”
“Sweet dreams, Peter Kavinsky.” She pauses, her voice quiet on the other side of the line. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
I know, it has been such a long time since I've updated. If you're still around, thank you for sticking with me! Winter break is two weeks away and I'm hoping to get a lot done before then and during then. Thanks again to those who have kudosed, commented, subscribed and encouraged. When the kids are bad, the parents worse, and the stack of papers that need grading high, y'all are the ones who keep me going. <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The next day, he wakes up earlier than he thinks he ever has in his adult life and practically jumps out of bed and into the shower.
He spends entirely too long styling his hair -- trying to make his curls look just tousled enough without looking like he either just got out of bed or that he spent 25 full minutes on them. Luckily, he’d laid out his clothes the night before, which means he doesn’t have to worry about rifling through his closet for something to wear.
Satisfied with his hair, he turns back around to where his clothes are hanging. It’s a simple outfit -- his nicest pair of dark jeans, a crisp white t-shirt, a black bomber jacket with his black leather vans slip-ons -- that took him nearly an hour of deep thought and a thirty minute phone call with Sam to decide on. He’d feel ridiculous about that if it hadn’t actually helped give him peace of mind.
He pulls the t-shirt over his head, takes a look in the mirror and laughs as he thinks back to his conversation with Sam the night before.
“I want the outfit to say that I know that this is a completely casual thing, but also that I know it’s an important event to her, and therefore it’s important to me.” He’d said, pointing the phone camera in the direction of the mirror. “But I want to look grown-up and, you know, adult, but still like the Peter she knew when we were together. But I also wanna be the Peter that she always thought I was gonna be. Does that make sense? Does this outfit say that?”
Sam had laughed then, her face a mixture of amusement and incredulity and teasing. He’d faced the phone back towards him and glared at her, which had only served to make her laugh even harder.
“What?” He’d asked, suddenly self-conscious. “Does this outfit not say that?”
“Peter, I --” she’d started, then stopped, the corner of her mouth turning up in a smile. “I just think it’s a lot to put on one outfit, don’t you?”
He’d sighed then and sat down on his bed.
“Listen, you look great in the outfit and you feel comfortable in it. That’s all that really matters. Just let your actions, and, you know, your actual words say everything else you wanna let Lara Jean know.”
He stares at his reflection in the mirror and takes a deep breath in, then lets it out slowly. He repeats Sam’s words back to himself as he runs his hand through his hair one more time. He’s just about to leave his room and grab his keys when he stops in front of his drawer and, after a moment’s thought, pulls out a box from the back corner and opens it.
Inside is a plain black leather watch, minimal but sleek, and still looking new despite being almost a decade old. It’s an old Christmas gift from Lara Jean that he hasn’t thought about in years, just moved it with him from apartment to apartment without ever really knowing why. Last year, he’d noticed that the battery had died and replaced it, then put it back in the box.
He takes it out and puts it on his wrist, tightens the strap and then shrugs his jacket sleeve back down over it. And even though he knows that Sam is right -- that wanting to ascribe meaning to his shirt or shoes or hair is a bit much -- he can’t help but feel like wearing this watch on this day is somehow right, too.
He shows up outside of Voyager at 6:05 with a honey vanilla latte, a double chocolate mocha and two breakfast sandwiches in tow.
The door is locked, but the lights are on and he’s just about to set his drink down and knock when he sees Lara Jean come out from behind the counter. She has a look of intense concentration on her face, powdered sugar dusted across her cheek and what looks to be blue food coloring all across her fingers. Briefly the thought crosses his mind that out of all the things about Lara Jean that he’s missed, seeing her like this -- in her element -- is what he’s missed the most.
She looks up and catches his eye, and her look of deep focus immediately fades into a wide, bright smile that catches in the center of his chest and sets off a thrumming in his veins. She walks quickly over to the door, her high ponytail swishing behind her, and unlocks it.
“Hey, you’re here!” Her cheeks go faintly pink as she gives a small shake of her head and shrugs her shoulders. “I mean, of course you’re here -- you said you’d be here. I just -- um -- you’re earlier than I thought you’d be.”
He grins at her.
“Should I wait outside until 6:30? Because by then your honey vanilla latte will be cold and so will your breakfast sandwich.”
Her face brightens immediately.
“You brought breakfast, too?”
He brandishes the bag in front of him.
“I was worried that you’d just bolt out of bed, half panicked even though you have absolutely no reason to be, drink half a cup of coffee and start working without getting anything in your stomach which --.” He laughs at the incredulous expression on her face. “I’m guessing is exactly what happened.”
She sticks her tongue out at him as she reaches forward for the bag and pulls out a wrapped breakfast sandwich.
“No, not exactly.” She waves over to the counter, where he can see a mug next to the register. “I made a cup of tea and drank the whole thing, thank you very much. I didn’t wanna be too jittery and I knew you were bringing coffee.”
He grins at her, then gestures towards the back of the shop.
“Ok, well, since I’m here early, why don’t you take a bit and relax and eat breakfast, and I can get started on whatever needs to be done.”
She takes a sip of her drink and closes her eyes, sighing contentedly as she swallows her drink.
“This is such a good latte, Peter. Thank you.” She opens her eyes and smiles at him. “And since you’re here so early, we definitely have time to sit down and have breakfast -- if you want?”
He smiles and takes off his jacket, draping it over the back of his chair before he sits down.
“I definitely want.” He reaches across the table and takes the other breakfast sandwich out of the bag, stopping abruptly when he feels Lara Jean’s fingertips across the edge of his wrist.
She tilts her head down, studying the watch on his wrist, then looks up and meets his eyes.
“Is that -- ?”
He nods, tries to keep as still as possible so that she doesn’t drag her fingers away from his skin.
“Yeah, it is.” He gives her a solemn half smile. “Just seemed like it went with the outfit.”
She gives him a soft, warm smile in return.
“It does.” She shifts her hand, but doesn’t move it away from his. “I -- .” She puts her head down and huffs a laugh before looking back up at him. “I guess I just thought you would’ve thrown this out...or, I don’t know, given it away by now.”
He shakes his head.
“No, I --.” He sucks in a breath and lifts a shoulder in a half shrug, gives a sly, small smile. “You wanna know a secret?”
She gives him a wide grin and leans forward, her eyes bright.
He leans forward.
“I never threw away anything you gave me,” he says, meaning for it to come out in loud, carefree stage whisper, but instead finds himself speaking in soft and serious tones.
Her wide grin softens into a sweeter expression, the brightness in her eyes dimming to something so tender he might call it delicate.
His fingers twitch underneath hers, the tips of them just brushing up against the pulsepoint in her wrist. He thinks that it must be some kind of small miracle of self-control that he keeps himself from moving his hand back and threading his fingers through hers.
Lara Jean takes a deep breath and moves back away from him, her fingers withdrawing from where they’re resting on his hand and wrapping around her coffee cup. He finds himself mirroring her actions, wonders if the feel of his hands had the same effect on her as it did on him.
She takes a long drink, then sets it back down on the table, her fingers still wrapped around it. She licks her lips and briefly looks down at her cup before looking back up at him.
“So, here’s my question of the day.” She waits for him to nod before she continues. “Why didn’t you ever throw anything I gave you away?”
He chews on the corner of his lip and looks down as he plays with the edges of the paper that was once wrapped around his sandwich as he tries to figure out how to put years of mixed up feelings into words. Finally, he glances up at her.
“Because I like remembering that I used to be someone that was worth all that.”
She looks down and presses her lips together, though he can still see the edges of her mouth turn up in a flattened out smile. She clears her throat and pushes a strand of hair behind her ear before she lifts her head to look at him.
“You really kept everything? The scrapbook? The cards? My letters?”
He nods at each of her questions.
She raises an eyebrow at him, a smile playing at the edges of her words.
“All those recipe cards you never used?”
He nods, then lifts the corner of his mouth in a half grin.
“You should know that I’ve used that cinnamon coffee cake recipe at least a dozen times. I even made it for my mom’s birthday one year.”
Her eyebrows go up as a bright smile lights up her face.
“You’re not serious.”
“I am.” He makes an x over his heart and smiles when Lara Jean laughs. “Though I do feel like I never quite got the crumb topping right.”
“All it takes is practice, Peter.”
“That’s what I’ve heard.”
She’s about to say something in return when her stomach rumbles loudly, which makes him laugh.
“I guess that means we need to stop talking about food and actually eat something.”
She nods, already taking a large bite out of her sandwich as he does the same. After a few minutes of companionable silence, they both finish up their sandwiches. Lara Jean leans back in her chair just as a loud bell rings in the back.
“And that’ll be the last batch of cookies,” she says, balling up her sandwich wrapper before standing up. “Ready to start handling more baked goods than you ever have in your entire life?”
He stands up and raises an eyebrow.
“In my entire life, Lara Jean? After knowing you for half of it?”
“More baked goods than you ever have in a span of four hours, then.”
He stands up straight and holds his hands out in front of him, palms up.
“Whatever you need, I’m yours.” He clears his throat. “Just point me in the direction of whatever needs doing.”
She nods, then points to a big stack of what looks like gold, glittery cardboard in the far corner of the bakery.
“Can you fold those favor boxes for me and put five different kinds of cookies in each one?”
He nods, just now noticing the endless trays of cookies littered around the shop.
She gives him a quick thumbs up before she rushes back towards the kitchen, then pauses at the double doors and turns around.
“I’m --.” She hesitates for a moment, then shrugs her shoulders and simply offers him a warm smile.”Thanks for helping today.”
He smiles at her.
“Of course. I’m glad I could be here.”
She nods and is halfway through the doors when he calls out to her.
“Hey, Lara Jean?”
She stops and turns around, halfway between the kitchen and the back counter.
“Just out of curiosity - did you keep anything from me?” He clears his throat. “From - uh - before, I mean.”
“You know I'm the type of girl who keeps things.”
“Even if it isn't worth keeping?”
“It was.” Her expression softens at the edges. “Worth it, I mean.”
He's known Lara Jean long enough to know not to bother her as she intricately pipes frosting onto cupcakes and glazes her cakes, which is just as well since putting together 130 favor boxes with five different kinds of cookies in each takes longer than he anticipates.
Around 9:00, as he’s finishing up his last few boxes, Lara Jean comes back out to the front of the bakery, her hands dusted in flour.
“So, you were right -- I overprepared. I’m all finished up and --.” She looks over to the multiple stacks of boxes on the table around him. “It looks like you are, too.”
He nods at her and smiles.
“What time do we need to start setting up?”
She looks at the clock above him.
“Not for another three and a half hours.” She gestures towards the kitchen, and holds out an apron in her hands. “Wanna help me make turnovers for tomorrow?”
“Do I get to have one as a reward?” He asks, already walking over to grab the apron from her.
She raises an eyebrow.
He ties the apron on as he shoots her what he considers to be his most charming look.
“I mean, I was gonna start out by asking for just one but was planning on convincing you to let me have at least two.”
“Honestly, I was already planning on setting aside at least three for you. Plus, I promised you that you'd get some as a thank you for today.”
He grins widely.
“So you did.” He puts the last box on top of the stack closest to him. “Though you should know that I would've come and helped you even without the promise of cherry turnovers.”
She smiles as she holds the door into the back kitchen open for him to walk through.
“You did in fact offer to help without any promise of turnovers.” She gives him a sidelong glance as they come to a stop at the edge of a long counter. “Why did you, by the way? Offer to help.”
He grabs a bowl filled with cherries and pulls it over to him and pits a cherry before he answers.
“Think I owe you at least that much, don't you think?” He glances over at her, then back down at the bowl as he grabs a large batch of cherries. “Besides,” he continues, throwing the cherry pits into a smaller bowl that's nearby. “I always liked helping you when we were younger.” He looks over and gives her a teasing grin. “Even if it took almost three years of being your boyfriend before you trusted me enough to help.”
She knocks her shoulder into his.
“Like you didn't only offer to help me that first time because it was your brother's birthday I was making cupcakes for.”
He furrows his brows and blows out a sound of mock incredulity.
“Maybe that was the first time I actually thought you'd accept my help.”
She rolls her eyes at him, though there's a smile pulling at the corner of her lips.
“If I remember it correctly, I was only making those cupcakes for his birthday because you volunteered my services to your mom without asking me first.”
“Ok, that's definitely true but --.” He turns and leans against the countertop. “You did make bank that whole summer when the other moms heard about how awesome your cupcakes were.” He holds his hands out and gestures around the shop. “So really, I'm at least a little bit responsible for the genesis of Williamsburg's best bakery.”
She smiles at him, then reaches over and grabs the bowl of pitted cherries and starts chopping them.
“I'll even allow you more than a little bit of responsibility for the start of Voyager.” She glances over at him, then looks back down at the cutting board. “Although calling it Williamsburg's best bakery is --.”
“Exactly right,” he says firmly, grabbing another handful of cherries. “Williamsburg just hasn’t realized it yet.”
She looks at him out of the corner of her eye and then ducks her head back down, smiling as she finishes up chopping the cherries. She lays the knife down, then reaches over and turns the stove on medium high.
“Hey, how is Owen, by the way?” She asks after a moment. “Is he still thinking about going to law school?”
He nods, reaching over to grab the knife from her side of the counter so he can start chopping the pitted cherries in front of him.
“Yeah, he --.” He stops, then looks over at her, his brows furrowed in confusion. “Wait, how did you know he was thinking about law school?”
She shrugs, her attention on pouring the chopped cherries into a large saucepan.
“Kitty told me -- he reached out to her after she got into Georgetown. Said he was thinking about applying to law school next year.”
He finishes chopping, then pushes the cherries in her direction before he turns to face her
“Wait, Kitty’s in law school?”
Lara Jean nods, a proud look in her eyes.
“Yup -- she started about two months ago.” She dumps the rest of the cherries into the saucepan and picks up a wooden spoon. “She loves it, even though she says it’s already the hardest thing she’s ever done.”
“I’ll bet.” He crosses his arms in front of him. “Kitty in law school.” He shakes his head, then laughs. “It totally makes sense.” He clears his throat, then tilts his head at her. “But I am still confused as to why my little brother would reach out to your little sister.”
Now it’s Lara Jean’s turn to look confused.
“Well, they’re pretty good friends.” He doesn’t say anything -- can’t really say anything because he honestly had no idea the two of them even knew each other. “I mean, I know they kind of lost touch in college a little bit,” Lara Jean continues on, apparently not noticing his complete and utter confusion. “But with social media and everything, you never really lose touch, right? She still basically knew what was going on with him even if they didn’t talk as much as they did in high school.” She glances over at him. “Why are you looking at me weird?”
He shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders.
“Sorry -- I don’t mean to.” He licks his lips, then gives a small laugh. “I just had absolutely no idea they even really knew each other beyond, you know, me and you.”
She stops stirring and stares at him.
“I swear he has never once mentioned her.”
She taps the wooden spoon on the edge of the pan.
“That’s so strange. I remember him being over at our house at least half a dozen times Senior year of college. And you know they went to prom together both years, right?” At his surprised look, she shakes her head. “I mean, not together-together as dates or anything, but in the same group of friends. Split the limo, took the group picture, went to the same after parties -- everything.” She looks closely at him. “Are you sure you really didn’t know?”
“I -- .” He stops and thinks for a long moment. “Well, to the surprise of absolutely no one in this room, I was a pretty shitty brother all around during Owen’s last two years of high school, so it’s completely possible that he mentioned being friends with Kitty and I just didn’t listen.” He gives a side to side motion of his head, considering it, before shaking his head. “No, I think I still would’ve caught it.” He pauses, and tilts his head, suddenly coming across a thought. “Although, did you say that Kitty started going by Katie?”
Lara Jean nods.
“I mean, college was when she officially decided that she was gonna be Katie, but she started transitioning into it in the back half of high school.”
He leans back against the counter, his palms pressing down against the edge of it.
“That’s why, then.” He nods slowly, then looks back over at her. “I distinctly remember the name Katie being mentioned a lot -- but I, you know.” He shrugs, then looks away. “Didn’t care enough at that time to really ask any more questions.”
They’re both quiet for a moment, with only the sound of Lara Jean scraping the edges of the pan and the smell of sugar sweetened cherries in the air.
“So, other than this weird lack of communication, how are you and Owen otherwise these days?” Lara Jean finally asks, only briefly looking over at him as she thickens the cherry filling mixture.
“We’re actually really good. We talk at least twice a week and we both go home to visit mom for the weekend once a month.” He taps his fingertips against the edge of the counter. “When mom got sick…” He swallows, and takes a sharp intake of breath. “It put a lot of things into perspective.” He glances over at her and gives her a small smile. “Actually, I should thank you -- and Owen probably should to.”
“Because it was you that I thought of when I was trying to figure out how to be a better brother to Owen.”
She smiles at him, the expression tender at the edges.
“That’s really sweet of you to say, Peter.”
He nods, holding her gaze for a moment longer before he looks away and clears his throat.
“And, um, to answer your earlier question -- law school is still very much the plan. He’s taking the LSAT in December.”
“Oh, wish him good luck from me. Kitty studied forever for that test.”
“I will definitely be sure to pass along your good luck the next time I talk to him.”
Which, he thinks, considering the questions he has regarding this new bit of information from Lara Jean, will be sooner rather than later.
He spends the next three hours helping Lara Jean make three batches of cherry turnovers, a few quiches and two loaves of something that he randomly remembers is called brioche -- much to his own surprise and Lara Jean’s delight.
“I will say that your knife work has gotten a lot better since we were in college,” she says, peering over at his stack of apple slices as they’re making the brioche loaves.
He flashes her a wide grin.
“And I will say that while you have been and always will be the supreme ruler of baking,” he finishes up slicing the apple with a flourish, then bows in her direction. “I can now totally kick your ass in terms of cooking a fine meal.”
She laughs delightedly.
“Well, you’ll have to prove that to me sometime.”
His grin widens -- so much so that he thinks his cheeks will probably hurt tomorrow.
“I’m gonna hold you to that.”
Really, he’s grateful for his skills with basic slicing, chopping and peeling, because that, combined with the fact that Lara Jean knows each of the recipes by heart and complete muscle memory, means that they both are able to hold a steady stream of conversation despite having their hands occupied by sharp blades, rolling pins and steaming hot piles of fruit.
He not only hears about how Kitty is doing in law school (terrifically, obviously), he learns that Margot is now married (for two years, to a history professor), that Jamie Fox-Pickle is still alive (and has been joined by a boxer pup and a ginger haired cat), and that Lara Jean is already planning the 10 year anniversary party for her dad and Trina.
“Isn’t that, like, a year away, Lara Jean? I feel like they didn’t even take that much time to plan the wedding.”
She unties her apron and reaches up to tighten her ponytail.
“Exactly,” she says, grabbing a tray from the cooling rack and bringing it over to the counter. “So their anniversary party should make up for it.”
He purses his lips and nods at her with an exaggerated look of solemnity.
“Of course, that makes total sense.”
“I can’t believe you’re mocking me as I’m about to bring you over your cherry turnover,” she says, picking one up and setting it on a plate.
He holds his hands up in a defensive movement.
“I’m not mocking. I’m genuinely impressed with your dedication to celebrations.” He grins as she sets the plate down in front of him and gives him a feigned glare, a smile playing at the edges of her mouth. “No, really, that’s one things I always liked about being around you.”
“The free baked goods?”
He shakes his head.
“No.” At her skeptical look, he laughs. “I mean, yes, that, too. But I meant your ability to make even the most ordinary, everyday things seem special and important.”
“You know, you’re really good at giving compliments like you’re just stating facts.”
He shrugs, glancing over at her only briefly before he starts grabbing the dirty utensils and walking them over to the sink.
“They are.” He sets the utensils into the sink, then looks over at her. “Facts, I mean.”
She ducks her head down and smiles, busying herself with tossing the random bits of fruit peels and extra dough into the trash as he fills the sink with hot water. He’s about to start scrubbing when he feels her hand on his shoulder blade and immediately stills his movements.
“Oh, go ahead and just leave those for now.” He looks back at her as she glances up at the clock. “We should start packing up for the party.”
He nods and wipes his hands on a dishrag, then unties his apron and hangs it on the hook next to hers.
“So, I cleaned out my entire car and laid the back seat down, which means I can fit a shit ton amount of stuff back there.”
“Oh, that’s perfect.” She points towards the stacks of boxes on the far counter. “Think you can fit the cupcakes and the favor boxes, and I’ll take all the staging material and the cakes?”
He nods, then notices her bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet.
He reaches over and rests his hand on her shoulder.
“Hey, everything looks beautiful and everyone at this party is gonna be so impressed and awed at everything you’ve made. Every single person is gonna take, like, a thousand Instagram pictures of it. People who don’t even have an Instagram are gonna make one just to take pictures of your baked goods.” He squeezes her shoulder, and she reaches across her chest and lays her hand on his. “And then they’re gonna actually taste what you made, and they’re gonna vote you the queen of all baked goods and pastries right then and there.”
She shakes her head and laughs.
“That’s not a real thing, Peter.”
“Well, it isn’t right now, but that’s just because they haven’t tasted your cupcakes yet.” He ducks his head down so that he can look meet her gaze directly. “They’re gonna love everything, Lara Jean, believe me.”
She takes a deep breath and nods, then closes her eyes and rests her head against his hand.
“Hey, Peter?” She says after a long, still moment.
She opens her eyes and squeezes his hand, then lets go and wraps her arms around his torso. His own arms immediately come up and settle across her shoulders, his head dipping down so he can rest his cheek against the top of her head.
It’s muscle memory and habit, like the last six years never happened; it’s an open ache and regret, because he can’t forget that they did.
“Thank you so much for being here today,” she says quietly, her words muffled against his chest. She pulls back, just enough so that she can tip her head up to look at him. “I was such a nervous mess thinking about today but now --.” She shrugs her shoulders and smiles up at him, warm and bright and everything he thinks he’s ever wanted. “I feel ready to be crowned the queen of all baked goods and pastries.”
He smiles, wanting desperately to reach up and cup her face in his hands, but settling for brushing his fingers back and forth across her shoulder blades instead.
“Just don’t forget me when you’ve ascended to your throne.”
She gives a soft laugh and shakes her head.
“Not even if I were queen would I forget you, Peter Kavinsky.”
The smell of cupcakes and cookies in his car is so good that it’s almost maddening, so he decides to call up Owen to distract himself.
And also because he has quite a few questions to ask.
“Hey,” Owen says, his voice echoing across the car. “What’s up?”
“Hey, you busy?”
“I’m walking out to get coffee, so I got some time. Everything ok?”
“Yeah, yeah, everything’s good.” Peter says, tapping his fingers across the steering wheel. “So, I was talking to Lara Jean earlier and --.”
“Whoa, whoa, hold on, what?” Owen asks, obviously surprised. “You’re talking to Lara Jean? How?”
“What do you mean how?”
“I mean, she’s in Williamsburg and you are...not.” Owen clears his throat. “And also you haven’t talked to her or, you know, about her even, in years, so...I’m confused.”
“Um,” he starts, running a hand through his hair. “Yeah, we, uh.” He gives a short laugh. “We recently reconnected and are, ah, friends. Or something.”
“Or something? What does that mean? What’s going on? Are you trying to get back -- .”
“No,” he interrupts loudly, then clears his throat. “Just -- no.”
“You don’t want to?”
He sighs loudly.
“Owen, c’mon man.”
He makes a sound that’s some combination of a sigh, a snort and a growl.
“This isn’t why I called.”
“You didn’t call me to inform me that you’re once again talking to the one who got away?”
He furrows his brows.
“I have never once called Lara Jean the one who got away.”
“Yeah,” Owen says in a mock serious tone. “She’s more like the one you drove away. Sucks, too, because she was the best girlfriend you ever had.”
“Yeah,” he says quietly. “I know.”
“So,” Owen says after a moment. “You are trying to get back together with her?”
“No,” he replies, then shakes his head, because that doesn’t feel right or honest at all. “I mean, I don’t know. I guess --.” He makes a deep growling sound in his throat. “It doesn’t matter right now.” He glares down at his phone like it’s Owen himself. “How come you never told me that you and Kitty were good friends?”
“I --.” Owen starts, then stops. There’s silence on the line for a few moments, then Owen sighs. “I didn’t not tell you. It’s not like you ever asked me if I was.”
He rolls his eyes.
“Yeah, how weird of me not to ask you if you were friends with my ex-girlfriend’s little sister.”
Owen clears his throat.
“You know how we became friends -- Katie and me, I mean?”
It feels so strange for him to reconcile the image of 13 year old Kitty with whatever teenage version of Katie his brother is bringing up, so he just makes a non-committal noise so that Owen continues on.
“We were partnered up for a project junior year and she was pissed about it. When I called her out on it, she said that she hated you, so she didn’t wanna be around me. But then I said I hated you too, so that was actually something we had in common.” He makes a sound that’s halfway between a laugh and a sigh. “And from then on, we were friends.”
Silence settles on the line for a long moment.
“I didn’t really hate you then,” Owen finally says. “It was just, you know, hard to be around you at that time.”
“No dude, I get it.” And honestly, he does. He isn’t even hurt that 16 year old Owen said he hated him, just sad that he was the type of older brother worth hating at the time. “It’s still kind of weird that you never brought up the fact that the two of you were friends, though.”
“Yeah, I know.” Owen huffs a small laugh. “Just, you know, when you stopped sucking, Katie and I weren’t that close any more, so it felt like bringing it up was a moot point. And then when we got close again -- I don’t know.” And here he can picture his brother shrugging. “Then it felt weird to bring up anything related to Lara Jean for other reasons.”
“What do you mean?”
Owen gives a loud, long suffering sigh.
“You’ve thrown away almost everything from high school and college except for, like, your diplomas. And yet everything Lara Jean has ever made for you or given to you is just sitting in perfect condition in boxes at mom’s house.”
“I --.” He shrugs, even though he knows Owen can’t see it. “It’s not like I ever talked about her.”
“Dude, I know. But it’s the way you never talked about her.”
“What --.” He shakes his head. “What the fuck does that even mean?”
“Peter, you aren’t stupid. I think you know what I mean. Oh -- hold on.” He hears a rustling sound, like Owen is pressing his phone against his shirt, then a muffled conversation. “Alright, I gotta head back up soon -- is that all you wanted to talk to me about?”
“Uh, yeah, pretty much.”
“Alright, well -- I’ll ask you more when I see you at mom’s next weekend, so prepare for it.”
He hears a door beep in the background of Owen’s call.
“Oh, before I go -- does Katie know that you and Lara Jean are friends or talking or doing whatever it is the two of you are doing?”
“Uh, I don’t know. Lara Jean hasn’t mentioned it.” He chews on the corner of his lip, because this is something he hadn’t even thought of up until this moment. “Why?”
“Because she fucking hates you.” Owen laughs. “Like, a lot.”
“Well,” Owen says, “have you apologized?”
“I -- well.” He groans. “No.”
“Then she still hates you.” He pauses. “And honestly? She deserves to if you still haven’t apologized.”
“I keep meaning to -- apologize, I mean. But there just hasn’t been a good moment for it.”
Owen barks out a short laugh.
“Dude, I think any moment is a good moment to admit that you were an asshole who treated her like shit and that you’re sorry about it.” He drops his voice down, and Peter can tell he’s walking back into his office. “You are right -- sorry about how you treated her?”
“Then tell her that,” Owen says firmly. “Because whatever you're hoping for, you're not gonna get any where if you don't own up to your bullshit first.”
So, I write everything out of order and have a ton of scenes written after this, but I had a bit of writer's block figuring out how to link everything up. Hope this was good despite all that (and despite all the jumping around). Thanks again for reading!
Life + work + the holidays all conspired to keep me away, but I have returned. This story and all you all were never far from my thoughts, and both my deepest apologies that I was away so long, and my sincerest appreciation for those of you who are still reading. Thank you, and I love you.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Peter Kavinsky, this might be the proudest that I’ve ever been of you.”
He’s putting the finishing touches on his side of the cupcake buffet -- a responsibility that he’d initially been wary of taking on. But, now that he steps back and surveys his work next to hers, he has to admit that he might actually deserve that genuine sense of pride Lara Jean has in her voice.
He turns to her and gives her a wide smile, then shrugs.
“You don't date Lara Jean Song Covey for four years and not come away without at least a basic understanding of aesthetics.”
She purses her lips to the side as she tries to fight back a grin at his words, and turns away slightly to look over at where the maid of honor is setting up the favor boxes on the far side of the lush garden.
Before he can think about what he’s doing or even stop himself, his hand is already up at her cheek, his fingers lightly ghosting over her cheek.
He sees her take a sharp breath in at his touch, but she doesn’t shake him off -- just turns slowly, her eyes finding his.
“There’s, um --.” He starts, his mouth suddenly dry, his fingers still lingering across the slope of her cheekbone. He licks his lips, then clears his throat. “You got frosting on your cheek.”
He brushes his fingertips back across her cheek, too light to get the entire smear of pink buttercream on her face.
“Did you get it?” She asks, her voice soft -- breathless, even.
He shakes his head and curls his fingers just underneath her cheekbone, drags the edge of his thumb across her skin. He watches her eyes flutter closed for the slightest moment and it takes everything he has within him not to cup her face in his hand and do something completely stupid.
“There,” he says, and he has to keep his voice quiet because any louder might give everything that he’s feeling away right now.
She takes a deep breath and squares her shoulders a bit, but doesn’t step away from him. Instead, she smiles, wide and little overly bright, but still genuine.
“Thank you, Peter.”
He nods, then looks over at her shoulder and tries not to let the warring feelings of relief and disappointment crowd his face.
“So, I think the maid of honor...and someone else...wants your attention.”
She turns and sees the woman in question gesturing her over, another older woman at her side.
“Oh! That’s the bride’s mom -- she’s the one that’s paying for all of this.” A nervous look passes over her face. “Hopefully she likes everything.”
He raises his eyebrow.
“Lara Jean, she’d have to be both completely dumb and slightly blind not to like everything.” He makes a sweeping gesture towards everything they’ve set up. “Everything is gorgeous. This whole setup looks like it should be in a magazine.” He smiles down at her. “Now go on over there so she can crown you cupcake queen.”
She laughs, then reaches over and squeezes his hand before turning and walking over to the two women. He watches her walk away, then grins widely when the maid of honor squeals loudly and gives her a big hug -- a hug that’s only eclipsed by the one she receives from the bride’s mom.
He watches as the two women speak animatedly at her, their hands gesturing wildly, his grin widening when he sees the three women walk over to the cake table and a fourth woman is looped into taking about a dozen photos of Lara Jean and the two other women.
As the maid of honor and mother of the bride are scrolling through the pictures, Lara Jean looks over at him, her eyebrows raised and an excited look on her face. He makes a deep, flourishing bow in her direction and mouths my queen, which makes her laugh out loud -- a sound that she quickly turns into a small coughing fit when the two women close to her look up at her in surprise.
She turns her head down to look at the photos with the two women as he laughs out loud. She glances up momentarily at him and rolls her eyes before looking back down, but even from where he’s standing he can see that she’s smiling.
“Oh my god, stop, Peter.”
He holds his hands up in front of him.
“Stop what? I’m not saying anything.” He gestures towards the trunk of his car. “And I’m being very helpful by loading up all your empty cake and cupcake holders into my car.”
“And I appreciate that second thing very, very much.” She stacks the last of the cupcake holders in the back of his car. “But I can, like, feel your smugness radiating off of you.”
“I’m not being smug!”
She tilts her head at him.
He crosses his arms in front of him, and tries to keep the smile from his face, only to fail miserably.
“Ok, I am feeling smug, but to be fair, it is on your behalf.” He grins widely at her. “Because you did hear that woman say that she was going to get an Instagram just to take photos of your pastries, right?”
She gives him a small smile, though he can see a bigger one threatening to break through.
“And you did then see the fact that her very first post was of your three beautiful cakes, and she even managed to tag your instagram account?”
Lara Jean knocks her shoulder into his.
“Only because someone really turned on the charm and got her to do it.”
“Bold of you to assume that I ever turn off the charm, Lara Jean.”
She rolls her eyes at him.
“You must turn it off around me, because I don’t always find you charming.” She motions between them. “Like when you’re being smug, for instance.”
He laughs, then shakes his head.
“That’s just because you’ve built up an immunity to it.”
She gives a small laugh.
“Oh, is that --,” she starts, then is interrupted by a big yawn. She shakes her head. “Oh, excuse me.”
He shuts the back door of his car and leans against it.
“So, are you planning on going home and taking a long nap? Because you should.”
But she just shakes her head at that.
“I was planning on heading back to the shop and finishing up cleaning, then prepping more food for Sunday morning.” She stretches her arms above her. “What about you? You gonna head back to Virginia Beach?”
He shakes his head, even though that’s actually exactly what he was planning on doing until right this very moment.
“Nah, I was planning on staying the weekend at Jay and Nat’s, play some NBA2k, maybe start to figure out what he wants for his bachelor party.” He looks over at her, squinting slightly in the noontime sun. “If I helped you prep food tomorrow morning, would that mean that you could take a nap right now?”
She blinks at him, her mouth opening and closing a few times before she shakes her head.
“I still have to clean up.”
He shrugs his shoulders and pushes off the back of his car.
“So? I can do that, too.” He jerks his head towards her car and smiles. “Why don’t you go take a nap?”
She glances over at him, a small smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.
“Is this your way of telling me that I look tired?”
He huffs a short laugh, then shakes his head.
“You look as beautiful as always, Lara Jean.” It comes out before he can really think about what he’s saying, but he doesn’t try to take it back. It’s true, and he doesn’t think about that being a particular truth he should try to shy away from. “But this is my way of telling you that you deserve to get some rest, and that I can handle cleaning today and helping you prep food tomorrow morning.”
She chews on the corner of her lip, a battle between exhaustion and polite denial warring across the open planes of her face.
Finally, she scrunches her nose and nods.
“Ok, but only if you let me take you out to dinner tonight to say thanks for everything.” She puts her hands in front of her. “I mean, unless you already have plans to hang out with Jason, because I definitely don’t want to --.”
He shakes his head as he reaches out towards her, the tips of his fingers knocking against her palms.
“I’d love to go to dinner with you.” He smiles at her. “But not as a payment for helping today -- I believe I already got my cherry turnovers as payment.”
“But, I would love to go to dinner just --.” He clears his throat, swallowing back the words to spend more time with you. “Just because.”
She squints at him, chewing on her lip.
“It doesn’t seem fair that you did all this work for free.”
He snorts and gives her an incredulous work.
“I got fresh cherry turnovers, I was proven right because someone actually did get an Instagram just to take a picture of your pastries, and that older woman over there --.” He points to an elderly lady who’s looking closely at the cupcake buffet. “Literally pinched my cheeks and said I was adorable.” He smiles when she laughs. “Plus, I got to spend the whole day with you.” He shrugs, and shoots her a grin. “If anything, I’d say I was a little bit overpaid.”
She looks down and huffs a small laugh, though he can see a small blush rising across her cheeks. When she looks back up, the expression on her face is one of pure fondness -- the kind that, once upon a time, would’ve prompted him to reach over and hug her close. It aches a bit to think of it -- that there was ever a time where it was that simple and that easy.
“Oh, Peter,” she says, that same fondness lining the edges of his name. “You really can’t turn off the charm.”
He gives her that same crooked grin that he knows she used to love when they were young, and tilts his head in her direction.
“So it still works on you, then?”
She laughs and pushes him away from her gently before she starts to walk backwards away from him. She lifts her hands out in front of her and shrugs, a teasing grin on her face.
“I guess my immunity faded a bit after all these years.”
He calls Jason as he's driving back to Voyager, who picks up after the second ring.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Hey,” he says, trying to figure out how to phrase his ask before he decides that the direct approach is best. “Hey, uh, I know it's last minute, but can I crash on your couch tonight? If not, it's totally cool, I can get a hotel - just figured I might as well ask before I did that.”
“Nah dude, that's fine. I'll even let you stay in the extra bedroom rather than the couch.”
“Ok, cool, thanks Jay.”
“No worries,” Jason says, then clears his throat. “So, uh, I'm guessing this means that things went well with Lara Jean this morning and now you're staying longer to spend more time with her?”
“That’s a pretty good guess.” He chews on the his bottom lip. “How’d you figure?”
“You sound happy,” Jason replies. “And, you know, she's the one who got away, so I figured you're working on making sure that doesn't happen twice.”
“Huh.” He sucks on his teeth, then shifts in his seat. “You’re the second person today that's called her that.”
“Well,” Jason says, and Peter can picture him shrugging. “Isn't she?”
“Just, I -- I don’t know. I’ve never really thought of it -- of her -- that way.”
“How did you think about her?”
He shrugs even though he knows Jason can’t see him.
“I mostly tried not to.”
“Uh huh. And why do you think that is?”
He’s quiet for a long moment, the only sound the tapping of his fingers on the steering wheel.
“It somehow got more painful over time,” he finally says, then clears his throat. “Thinking about how everything ended up, I mean.” He gives a short, rough laugh. “I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to go.”
“You know it isn’t,” Jason replies, without judgment or conjecture -- just says it like it’s a simple and easy fact. There’s a long pause. “So, what’s your plan?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Jason says, sounding impatient. “You’re the guy who always has a plan -- I mean, it’s not always a good one.” Jason laughs quietly to himself, and Peter is torn between scowling and snickering, because he can think of at least half a dozen disastrous plans of his from the past couple years. “But you do always have one at the very least -- so what is it with you and Lara Jean?”
He makes a noise that’s halfway between agreement and amusement.
“You know, if you described me to Lara Jean as the guy who always has a plan, she probably wouldn’t believe you.”
“Well, I guess it’s good for everyone that you’ve gotten better with time, then.”
He grunts his assent, then sighs and runs a hand through his hair.
“I don’t know -- I don’t --.” He chews on his lip and shrugs helplessly at the phone. “I’m honestly just surprised every time she even, uh, talks to me and lets me help her, so I’m mostly just trying to give her reasons to, you know, continue to want to do that.”
“Hm.” Jason huffs out a laugh. “Well, that’s definitely a plan.” He clicks his tongue. “Could be a long-term one, too, if I’m being honest.”
Peter makes a humming noise in the back of his throat as he turns the car towards the center of Williamsburg.
“Owen says I should apologize to her,” he says after a moment.
“Owen is correct,” Jason follows up, almost immediately.
“I know. I keep meaning to, but --.”
“You don’t want to bring up all that shit from the past when things seem to be going so well in the present? Because it’s easier just to pretend it never even happened?” Jason finishes for him.
He makes a noise of protest.
“No, it’s not --.” He scrubs a hand across his cheek. “I mean, we’ve kind of, you know, like -- alluded to everything.”
“And it’s not like I’ve pretended all that didn’t happen, or, like, that I wasn’t a complete tool.”
“Mhm.” And the sound is tinged with a gentle kind of sarcasm.
He lets out a deep sigh.
“There just hasn’t been a good time to bring it up. I don’t --.” He clears his throat. “I’m not really sure when I should bring it up.” He rubs a hand across his face. “I mean, not that I think that the universe has to give me some big sign or something -- or that --.”
“Well,” Jason says, interrupting him. “What are you doing tonight?”
He’s quiet for a moment before he gives a small laugh.
“Lara Jean and I are going out to dinner.”
“So,” Jason starts. “That seems like the universe giving you a pretty big opportunity to get your shit all settled -- well, to get your past shit settled, at least.” He pauses for a moment. “Look, you need start this off right with Lara Jean, and that means owning up -- I mean, really owning up -- to the shit you did from before.”
He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly.
“This...thing...or, you know, whatever, uh. With me and Lara Jean,” he says slowly, then clears his throat. “I don’t even really know what it is.”
Jason makes a noise that’s some combination of a scoff, a laugh and a sigh, and even though Peter can’t see him, he can almost feel Jason’s intense stare through the phone.
“But you do know what you want it to be, don’t you?” Jason asks, the words a question, but his tone turning the sentence into a statement.
He’s quiet for a long, still moment, turning the words over in his mind.
“Yeah,” he finally says, the words soft, his tone firm. “I do.”
Lara Jean spends about twenty minutes going through her cleaning checklist and the few things that he can do to make baking tomorrow morning easier for the both of them, then spends the next ten minutes after both asking him if he really doesn’t mind staying and trying to convince him that he does not, in fact, need to stay.
Finally, he gently rests both his hands on her shoulders, just so he can stop her from talking herself out of agreeing to let him handle the shop while she gets rest.
“Lara Jean, I spent years helping you clean up after your baking extravaganzas.” He smiles. “Remember Kitty’s thirteenth birthday party bonanza?” He waits until she nods, a wistful look on her face. “I know this kitchen is a lot bigger and a lot nicer than your one at home, but I’m also a little bigger and a lot nicer now, too.” He smiles at her snort of laughter. “I promise that you can trust me to take care of all the cleaning and preparation.”
She shoots him a teasing look.
“A lot more humble now, too.” He furrows his brows at her and she smiles. “When we were younger, you never would’ve said you were just a little bigger.”
He shrugs and gives her a grin.
“I figured I’d met my smug quota for today and shouldn’t push it.”
She laughs, then breathes out a long sigh.
“Ok, you’re right -- I know I can trust you.” She closes her eyes and rubs her hand across them. “And I am just so incredibly tired.”
“So go rest,” he says, and he’s vaguely aware that he’s started to rub small circles across the contours of her shoulders. He keeps that knowledge at the edge of his awareness, so that he can pretend he still hasn’t noticed that he’s doing it. “You deserve it. Let me take care of all this.”
She nods, then gives him a soft, tired smile, and it’s like all her exhaustion drapes itself on her all at once. Her entire body goes slack and her eyes drift shut as she lifts her shoulder slightly and dips her head down to brush her cheek against his hand.
His heart stutters in his chest and he can’t help the short, sharp intake of breath at the way her cheek grazes against the back of his hand. It’s a small, soft gesture, and if he was still eighteen, he would consider it commonplace.
But he's not eighteen. He's twenty-seven now and this one touch speaks of an intimacy that he isn’t sure he’s earned, and that knowledge sets off an ache in his chest that’s half longing, half regret. His other traitorous hand twitches against her shoulder and he almost feels like he’s never wanted anything the way he wants to reach over, cup her face in his hands and --
Her eyes fly open and too late he realizes that in his attempt to still his desperate longing, he’s instead squeezed her shoulder, grounding them both back in the moment, breaking whatever spell momentarily transported them to another time, another version of Lara Jean and Peter.
She lifts her head and gives it a small shake, and he drops his hands as she steps away from him, glancing around the bakery as she clears her throat. Her movements are jerky and tense, and he can almost feel the anxiety radiating off of her.
He wants to reach back over to reassure her -- tell her to relax, that he knows she's just tired -- but he's a little bit shaken too.
Finally, she squares her shoulders and takes a deep breath before she locks eyes with him, her smile too bright in that way that tells him she’s still -- unsettled? embarrassed? -- but trying to hide it.
“Thank you, Peter,” she says quietly, and her smile softens to something more genuine. “I’ll see you at 4:30?”
“I won’t be late.” He smiles. “There’s a pretty fair chance I might even be early.”
She tilts her head and gives him a look of exaggerated surprise.
“So you’re a little bigger, a lot nicer, and never late.” She smiles at him. “Anything else I should know about this version of you?”
He leans back against the counter and rubs his hand across his chin before he shrugs.
“Well, I’d tell you, Lara Jean,” he starts, then gives her a teasing grin. “But you’ve already used up your question of the day.”
She lets out a sound of mock indignation and he laughs before pushing her gently towards the door.
“Alright, get out of here and let me clean in peace.”
She grabs his hand, and wraps her own two around it and squeezes gently.
“Thanks, Peter -- really. For -- for everything.”
He smiles. Then, before he can talk himself out of it, he wraps his hands around the tips of her fingertips and brings it towards him so he can brush his lips against the edges of her fingers.
He keeps her hand in his as he bows low to her, makes sure to keep his voice light and breezy even though his feelings right now are anything but.
“Anything for my queen of all baked goods and pastries.”
He's glad to have the next hour or so to himself, his hands occupied with the tedious work of cleaning the bake area of the kitchen and then tidying up the front of the store.
It gives him something to do while he tries to craft the perfect apology to Lara Jean, which seems more and more out of his grasp the longer he thinks of it.
Because how do you apologize to the best person you know for being the worst ever version of yourself to them? What do you say to the person you once loved more than anything after you’ve treated them worse than anyone else in your entire life?
And how do you come back from hurting the person closest to you?
Not just one big, cruel, intentional hurt, but the dozens of little hurtful moments and indignities, both intentional and thoughtless -- missed phone calls and ignored hurt looks, misplaced promises and hurtful words, all portioned out bit by brutal bit over a long period of time.
What can you possibly say to make that better?
It’s the question he asks himself, over and over again, as he scrubs pans and breaks down boxes and peels apples. And it’s that question that he asks to Natalie and Jason later, as he paces in front of them, nerves frayed with anxiety, stomach roiling with guilt and shame and sadness.
He sees Natalie and Jason glance over at each other, communicating in that silent way that long-time lovers do, before Natalie rests a calming hand on his shoulder and guides him over to the chair opposite of her and Jason.
“Ok first, relax,” she says kindly before stepping back and sitting back down on the couch next to Jason.
He takes a deep breath, his hands gripping his knees tightly. He lets a long, slow sigh before he looks back over at Jason and Natalie with a sheepish smile.
“Guess I started spiraling a little bit there.” He gives an abrupt laugh, partly out of embarrassment, partly because he feels strangely emotional and wants to swallow down the tightness in his throat. “I know I have to say something but --.” He looks down, his fingers knotting themselves together. “There’s just so much to say and nothing --.” He shrugs and looks back up at them, helpless with his words. “Nothing that can take back what I did. Nothing that I can say to make it better.”
Natalie leans forward.
“Peter,” she says. “The goal isn’t to make it better.” She glances over at Jason, who nods imperceptibly. “Because you’re right, you know. There’s no taking back what you did to her, or how terribly you treated her.” She looks at him intently. “So that can’t be your goal. Because all you can do is apologize, honestly and openly, and leave it up to Lara Jean as to whether or not she’ll take it.” She offers him a small smile. “And then you take it from there.”
He nods slowly, sighing heavily as he leans back in the chair.
“Do you think --.” He chews at the corner of his lip, worried and wondering at what their answer might be. “Do you think she’ll take it?”
“I wouldn’t,” Jason says, without judgment or meanness, and even though it hurts, Peter smiles. Jason’s open, guileless, sometimes gutting honesty is one of the things he’s always liked most about his best friend. Is just the thing he needs, he thinks, considering who he’d become without it in his life. “If I were her, I wouldn’t.”
He shifts his gaze over to Natalie, who looks thoughtfully back at him.
“I probably wouldn’t either, Peter.” She gives him a look that’s half apologetic, half encouraging. “But neither of us are Lara Jean, and neither of us really know what the two of you had or what it was like with you guys before it all fell apart.”
He sucks on his teeth, his shoulders scrunching up, his arms crossing themselves in front of him.
“Even if she does.” He swallows thickly. “Forgive me, I mean. Maybe I’m not --.” He shrugs, then looks away. “What I’m still not the kind of guy who deserves it?” He finally says, giving voice to his deepest fear.
“Forgiveness isn’t about deserving it,” Natalie says gently, at the same time Jason says, his tone matter of fact and confident --
“Then keep trying to be the kind of guy who deserves it.”
His two friends look at each other and smile, then Natalie reaches over and laces her fingers with Jason’s.
“Nat had a better final point than mine -- listen to her instead.” Jason says, glancing over at Natalie.
Natalie laughs and gives Jason a kiss on the cheek before she turns back to Peter.
“We’re both right.” She smiles at him, gentle and kind, and he briefly wonders if this is what it would’ve been like to grow up with an older sister. He thinks he would’ve liked it. “If Lara Jean does forgive you, then you can’t spend all your energy worry about whether or not you deserve it because that’s not what forgiveness is about. You just have to trust Lara Jean’s judgment and appreciate her kindness, and then spend the rest of your energy working to be the type of man who deserves it -- not her forgiveness, but her time and her attention and her love.”
He looks away from her when she says that last word -- from his own wide-eyed kind of wariness or for fear of his own transparency, he couldn’t say.
He hears Jason clear his throat, and turns back just in time to see Jason shoot Natalie an amused look before he turns to look back at him.
“Anyway,” Jason says loudly, “Right now, you need to just focus on getting out a good apology.” He makes a gesture towards some vague, nebulous future. “You can try and figure out what it all means for you and Lara Jean once she’s actually accepted it.”
He spends the next hour trying to get his thoughts in order, writes out a few sentences in the notes app of his phone in an attempt to organize his words in a way that at least tries to convey how sorry he is.
By the time he gets in his car, he’s buzzing with anxiety and apology, his words all jumbled in his mind. He tries to map out the best way to get his apology out as he walks up the stairs to Lara Jean’s apartment, feels twitchy with unspent energy. Briefly, he thinks of how funny it would be if in response to Lara Jean’s hello he instead just blurted out an poorly timed “I’m sorry.”
He grimaces at the thought and reaches out to knock on her door. No, he thinks, that probably wouldn’t be all that funny. Why start out a celebratory dinner on such a dour note.
Suddenly, he starts thinking about how starting dinner with an apology might actually be the best course of action, reconsidering his plan for the entire night, when Lara Jean opens the door and all thoughts of any kind -- apology or otherwise -- leave him completely.
She’s wearing a short, subtly sequined skirt and a plain black sweater, a black leather jacket draped over her arm. Her hair is in a long, complicated side braid and her lips are a deep shade of red that he can’t stop looking at.
It’s more dressed up than he’s seen her recently -- which, seeing as he’s only ever seen her at work, isn’t anything a touch over casual. Still, as simple and easy as her outfit is, she looks breathtaking -- he thinks that has to be the word to describe it, since he has to literally remind himself to breathe after a brief moment.
He likewise thinks that Lara Jean might be the only person he knows that could wear a black, sparkly skirt and make it look both dressed down and sophisticated at the same time.
And he also thinks that he’s probably spent a minute or three too long just staring at her, and quickly clears his throat, shuffling his feet awkwardly.
“You look beautiful, Lara Jean,” he says with a smile that’s only a little bit awkward, the words all too earnest to be at all charming.
Still, she smiles, wide and bright and beautiful, and he thinks he must have at least hit endearing.
“Thank you, Peter,” she says demurely, then laughs. “I do have to say that it is nice to be able to wear something that isn’t going to get covered in flour and icing after the first hour I put it on.”
He snaps his fingers and looks at her in mock apology.
“Guess I shouldn’t have planned to take you to a flour and icing factory for dinner, then.”
She laughs even as she rolls her eyes at him, and weirdly that gesture relaxes him. The tension of where and when and how he’ll apologize to her melts away as they strike up a ridiculous conversation about what a flour and icing factory would even look like, or be.
It’s a conversation that takes them all the way to the car and halfway to the restaurant, then segues easily into less hypothetical, more grounded topics -- what she hopes for with Voyager, what his career aspirations are. They catch up on each other’s families and friends, and he’s reminded all over again that breakups aren’t just between two people, but between two complete lives.
Mostly, he’s struck by how much of one another’s lives they’ve missed -- he’s surprised, for example, to learn that Margot is married and has a 6 month old baby -- yet how easy it is to slip back into familiar habits and comfortable habits.
He offers, almost without thinking, his plate to her to put her discarded tomatoes from her meal onto his, and she reaches over in the same token to take the pickle that comes with his meal, because she knows he won’t eat it.
The conversation never falters, even if those small callbacks to another version of these dinners makes his chest hurt a bit. He keeps thinking about interjecting to drive the conversation back around towards an apology, but then the waiter comes back to them, or Lara Jean asks about his mom, or he’s laughing too hard at a story about Chris -- who, it seems, hasn’t really changed all that much from when he knew her -- and the moment is lost.
It’s only a few hours later, when they’re both taking small bites from a shared cranberry orange tart, that the conversation slows enough for him to make an attempt. He’s chewing slowly, thoughtfully at the pastry -- which is good, he thinks, but Lara Jean has a better version -- when Lara Jean sets down her fork and looks over at him, her expression somewhere between curious and nervous.
She clears her throat, and his stomach clenches a bit at her expression.
“So, I heard something pretty interesting the other day.”
He nods and points his fork to the candied orange peel on top of their dessert, trying to keep his voice carefree and light.
“That the original oranges weren’t actually orange?”
“I -- well, no, although that is really interesting.” She gives him a sidelong glance. “I heard that this was actually a really hard week for you to take Friday off.”
And even though he tries to keep his face completely emotionless, he thinks that enough of his reaction flickers through his features for Lara Jean to figure it out.
“And where did you hear this?”
She gives him a sheepish look.
“Sam might’ve accidentally mentioned it when all went out to happy hour earlier this week.” She clears her throat and gives him an apologetic look. “She looked mortified right after she said it, so I have to figure that it’s true.”
“No, I --.” He shrugs and looks away, focuses on a point just above her ear. “It’s isn’t.”
She looks closely at him, her eyes narrowing.
“I’ll be really disappointed if I find out you’re lying to me.”
He licks his lips, then nods slowly, a self-effacing smile on his face.
“I am definitely lying to you.”
“Peter!” She reaches over and hits him lightly on the shoulder. “I didn’t know that helping me out this weekend was going to be that inconvenient.”
He shakes his head.
She presses her lips together, her eyebrow lifted and head tilted to the side.
He huffs a laugh and shakes his head.
“It isn’t convenient for my job, but it’s what I want to do and I’m glad that I do it.
“You didn’t have to though.”
“I know. I just wanted --.” He stops himself, because he’s about to say to be around you, which is true but a truth he loses his nerve to say at the last moment. “I wanted to help you. To be here..”
He makes a waving motion around him, vague enough that it might mean anywhere from here in this bakery to here in Williamsburg.
She bites her lip and looks away from him for second, her fingers twisting in her lap. Finally, she glances up at him.
He glances down at his hands and takes a quick, deep breath before he looks back up at her, letting tenderness leak into his words.
“Because it’s you, Lara Jean.”
And it’s a little bit scary to say it out loud, because they’ve only been back in each other’s lives for a few weeks now. But it’s also freeing in its raw honesty; comforting, too, because she more than anyone deserves the truth out of him.
She takes a deep breath and straightens out her spine, bracing herself against his imagined answer in a way that makes him feel like he already knows the question.
“What happened to us, Peter?”
And of course it’s a kindness that she says us instead of just you, even though that’s what it should be. It’s a kindness that cuts through him, all the more so because Lara Jean is so openly kind, so utterly without malice or insult, even though that’s what he deserves.
She must take his silence as confusion, because she chews on the corner of her lip before she goes on.
“I mean, before, you know? It’s just -- you stopped caring and you stopped loving me and --.” She shrugs helplessly and looks away. “And I know it was a long time ago now and it probably shouldn’t really matter but --.”
“It does,” he says quietly, interrupting her. “It does matter,” he repeats, louder this time, because it needs to be said. “And it should matter, Lara Jean, because I was terrible to you and I made you feel like you didn’t matter to me and that you weren’t important, when that’s the last thing in the entire world I should’ve ever made you feel.”
She looks surprised for a moment at his words; shaken enough to look down at her hands and shake her head slightly.
“It’s -- it was a long time ago,” she says quietly, as though she’s only just saying it to herself.
He shakes his head.
“It was, but it doesn’t change that it happened and it never should have," he says firmly, then finds disgust laces his next few words. "And I never even said sorry.”
She looks back up at him, her eyes sad and serious.
He gives a short, joyless laugh, because even in this -- even his attempt at an apology, he’s managed to mess up.
“And I even waited until you were the one to bring it all up.”
He shakes his head, then takes a deep breath and locks his gaze with hers.
“But I am so sorry, Lara Jean. That I hurt you that way. That I was an asshole who ever made you feel like you weren’t worth everything I had to give, because you are.” He gestures between them. “And I’m -- I keep thinking about how much I don’t deserve any of this -- this moment or this day or any of your time, really. I keep thinking how I had all this, once upon a time, and how badly I fucked it up and kept on fucking it up.” He takes a deep breath and pushes it out slowly. “I am so incredibly sorry, Lara Jean. I took you for granted and I treated you like you weren’t worth anything to me and...god, I’m so sorry.”
She looks down, her fingers tangled together in her lap. She takes a shaky breath and looks back up at him -- a lost, lonely look in her eyes that he hates himself for.
“I loved you so much, Peter. And you…” She gives a small, sad shrug. “It’s like you just woke up one day and decided that you weren’t going to love me any more.”
He shakes his head.
“I didn’t stop loving you, Lara Jean.”
And if he’s being honest with himself, he isn’t sure if he’s speaking in the past or present tense.
“I know it seemed like it it,” he says, “but I...I just stopped showing you that I did. I stopped treating you like that was true. Which just makes it all so much worse.” He sucks on his teeth, a bitter taste in the back of his throat. “I was terrible to you and I made you feel like you didn’t matter to me and that you weren’t important, and you never deserved any of that.” He swallows thickly. “There’s no excuse for the way I treated you. And there’s no bigger regret in my life than making you feel like you aren’t worth everything I have to give, because you are.”
“Were,” she says quietly.
But he shakes his head at that, because she deserves all the honesty he can give her, even if it opens him up and makes his feel raw.
“It's as true now as it was then.”
She blinks at him, her mouth opening and closing, her eyes wide with surprise and -- he thinks, he hopes -- tenderness and joy mixed together.
He licks his lips, looks intently at her.
“I’m sorry, Lara Jean. I’m so fucking sorry for it -- for me and how I treated you.” He shakes his head and gives her a sharp smile. “If I could, I’d go back in time and kick my own ass.”
She gives him a long, inscrutable look before she inclines her head, a small smile tugging on the corners of her mouth.
“If I could, I’d take you up on the offer.”
Silence settles between the two of them, though not, he thinks as jagged or as painful as it could be.
“You’re not that guy any more,” she finally says, her words soft, with a slight upturn of a question at the end.
He shakes his head.
“I’m not. And I’m never gonna be that guy again, ever.”
She doesn’t say anything for a long, drawn-out moment. Then, she tilts her head and looks at him, her eyes less weary now, a tenderness he’ll never stop craving softening the edges of her expression.
“Ok.” She nods, a gentle motion, like she’s answering a silent question to herself. “Ok, then.”
He lets out a breath that he doesn’t realize he was holding, then gives her a tentative half smile, the edges laced with gratitude and tenderness and hope.
She smiles at him, then reaches across the table to still his tapping fingers, wrapping her hand around his and squeezing once before letting go.
“Thank you, Peter. I didn’t --.” She shakes her head and gives a small puff of a laugh. “I didn’t realize how much I wanted that from you until you started saying it.”
He shakes his head -- dazed, almost, with the feeling of lightness around his shoulders.
“Thank you, Lara Jean.” He clears his throat. “I should’ve said it to you a long time ago,” he says, that familiar guilt laying back down into his veins.
But she just shakes her head at that.
“You said it now, that’s all that matters.” She tilts her head at him and smiles, though the expression on her face says that she will not be argued with on this point. “Ok, Peter?”
He gives her a long look, then nods, his chest aching with a different kind of pain -- one that comes from an overflow of joy, from the flush of happiness that's rushing through his veins.
“Ok, Lara Jean.”
Whew. I tried to make up for the lack of a steady posting schedule with a longer than usual update. I hope you enjoyed it! I won't make any false promises about when I'll update -- life is a tad unpredictable right now and I'm trying to get a lot of things settled -- but I hope that it'll be sooner rather than later. Thank you, again, for your support and love for this story.
I know, I know, I know. Please accept my dearest, sincerest apologies for the SIX MONTHS I have spent NOT updating this. But in my defense -- in those six months: my husband got a new job and moved to a new town, I packed up the house we lived in for 9 years, put it on the market, sold it, quit my job, bought a new house in a new town, moved to that new town AND got a new job.
So it's been busy.
But still -- I'm sorry this has been languishing. This isn't a long update, but I made Back to You my CampNanoWrimo commitment, so expect more updates more frequently.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The car ride back to Lara Jean’s is quiet, but -- thankfully -- not tense.
It’s the kind of quiet between two people who know they don’t always have to fill the air with their words, rather than the kind of quiet between two people who have nothing left to say to one another.
It surprises him -- that he and Lara Jean should so quickly find themselves back into that comfortable sort of silence. There’s so much he wants to say to her and so little that he feels like he knows about her now, and he thinks that if she were any other girl, he might feel nervous in the presence of this kind of quiet.
But he doesn’t.
Because now, with this dinner and her questions and his apology, she’s given him the gift of feeling like there’s time now between them to ask everything he needs and to learn all the new things about her that he wants.
He wants to laugh out loud with the joy of it, the lightness in his chest and off his shoulders. He settles for glancing over at Lara Jean and smiling instead.
It’s cool enough now in the evening to keep their windows down, and he tells himself that he’s driving at least seven miles under the speed limit so that the wind doesn’t drown out anything Lara Jean might have to say, and not because he’s trying to prolong the night as long as he can.
He slows the car down substantially as he nears a yellow light, even though he’s close enough to have made it through. He hears Lara Jean shift next to him and turns towards her. She’s studying him, and it speaks to her confidence now that she doesn’t turn away when he meets her eyes -- just keeps looking at him with a soft, thoughtful expression on her face.
He quirks an eyebrow up and she smiles.
“You never asked me your question of the day,” she says quietly, gesturing towards the now green light ahead of them.
He looks forward again and lifts his shoulder in a half-shrug.
“Figured I, uh, made you do enough talking tonight.” He glances over at her, then back towards the road again. “Didn’t seem fair to ask for more.”
She shakes her head and gently pushes her hand against his shoulder.
“It’s not like talking to you is hard, Peter.” She shrugs. “And we can’t give up on our contract after one measly day, I won’t let us.”
He laughs as he pulls into the parking lot of her apartment complex, slowly eases the car into a parking spot and shuts it off.
“Well, we’re here now, so -- .”
She rolls her eyes and motions towards his door as she puts her hand on her door handle.
“So, walk me to my door and ask me on the way.”
She takes in the surprised look on his face and furrows her brow at him.
“What, were you not going to walk me to my door?”
He gives her an affronted look before he gets out of his car, then quickly jogs around the front of his car to open her door.
“Of course I was going to walk you to your door, Lara Jean -- I didn’t become some kind of heathen in the last six years.”
She gets out of the car and grins up at him as she gives an exaggerated shrug.
“I don’t know, Peter, like you said -- it’s been six years. Maybe you became the type of guy who felt like he didn’t need to walk his date to her door any more.”
He gives an inelegant snort.
“Lara Jean, I --.” He stops short and takes a sharp, short breath. “Wait, what --. You, um.” He swallows, then licks his lips. “This was a date?”
Lara Jean laughs, then reaches forward with a teasing smile and brushes her hand against his cheek.
“Oh Peter, is that really gonna be your question of the day?”
He reaches up and catches her hand in his before she draws it away. He does it in some desperate moment of self-preservation -- her open palm against his cheek is too inviting and he's tempted to lean into it, nuzzle his cheek against her palm the way old lovers do. But then her hand in his is a new, different kind of temptation. He wants to run his thumb across the indents of her fingers, turn his face and kiss the soft dip of her palm.
He does neither of these things, just keeps a gentle hold of her hand and watches as Lara Jean’s expression shifts.
The teasing smile slips from her face, replaced by a thoughtful, gentle kind of warmth playing across the upturn of her lips.
“Be honest with me,” he begins, squeezing her hand once and then forcing himself to let it go. “What did you think when you saw me for the first time at Voyager that day?”
She bites her lip in an attempt to still the smile that’s stealing across her lips and ducks her head down. He can see the telltale rise of a blush in her cheeks
He stares down at her, his eyes tracing the rise of her cheekbone, the shape of her lips. His hand is raised before he knows it, his fingertips wanting to chart their own treacherous path along the curve of her jawline. He catches himself before they land and redirects his hand to rest on her shoulder instead.
He makes himself focus on the steady rhythm of his heart in his chest as he gently taps a rhythm across the ridges of her shoulder.
She tilts her head and looks at him, a small grin tugging at the corners of her lips, though it’s lined with apprehension.
“I thought --.” She purses her lips to the side and gives a small shake of her head, her embarrassment obvious.
He squeezes her shoulder, and the expression on her face relaxes somewhat as she looks up at him with a smile -- one that’s sweet in its relief.
“You don’t have to answer it, if you don’t want.”
She huffs loudly and though she doesn’t actually do it, he has the vague impression that she’s mentally stamping her foot.
“That’s not how the contract works, Peter.”
“I know -- I just don’t want you to be uncomfortable.” He clears his throat. “It’s ok if whatever you were thinking was...less than nice.” He shrugs and gives her a wry look. “I deserved at least that much after what the way things ended...and everything after things ended.”
She takes a small, short breath, then shakes her head, looking up at him with a look that’s half tender, half teasing.
“When I saw you again, the first thing I thought was that you were still the handsomest of all handsome boys.”
He blinks rapidly at her, a slow smile pulling at his lips.
She takes in the smile on his face and laughs, leaning closer and knocking her shoulder against his arm.
"Don't let it go to your head, Peter."
He grins at her, wants to shake his head and make a motion towards his heart. It aches, he thinks, but in a good way -- the ache of your muscles when you’ve just put down something heavy you’ve been carrying for a long time.
"No promises." She stifles a yawn and he thinks about how much he wants to brush his hand against her cheek, feel the softness of her skin against his palm.
He settles for reaching over to squeeze her shoulder instead.
"C'mon, I'll walk you up so you can get to bed."
She wrinkles her nose at him, the gesture almost unbearably endearing.
"You know, when I was in high school, I used to think that being an adult meant that you could stay up as late as you wanted, whenever you wanted," she says as they start walking down the path to her apartment. "But I have an earlier bedtime now than I ever did as a kid."
He nods as they turn to walk up the stairs.
"I always thought about how sweet it'd be to not have to go to school any more -- you know, never have to study or memorize anything or read a textbook." He turns to face her when they reach her door and shrugs. "But now? I actually really miss being in school. I sometimes think about taking a class now and again just for, like, fun." He takes in the surprised look on her face and laughs. "Maybe my brain is just trying to make up for all the years I just kind of sat in class and zoned out."
She tilts her head at him and smiles.
"Maybe you just needed a few years to --.”
“Grow up?” He says with a self-effacing grin.
She laughs and shakes her head.
“I was gonna say figure out what you really wanted and have the discipline to pursue it.”
He shrugs and leans against the wall.
“So, basically what I said.”
She purses her lips to the side in an attempt to keep herself from smiling, then lifts her shoulder in a half shrug.
“I’m just glad you figured out everything that you wanted.”
He looks down at her, his figures twisting themselves together in knots to keep him from brushing back the strand of hair that’s fallen across her face.
“Well, not everything but --.” He pauses briefly, then tilts his head as he gives her a small smile, though he can tell that it doesn’t mask the solemnity in his eyes. “I’d say I at least figured out what I want in life.”
She meets his gaze, and even though the dimness of Virginia night obscures half her face in darkness, and even though there’s six years of silence between them, he can see the exact moment on her face when she decides to swallow back her question.
Instead she just lets silence coat the moment, her eyes searching his face, looking for some answer to a question that she’s managed to keep hidden from him.
He doesn’t know if she finds it, but he thinks she must’ve found something worth believing in, because in the next moment she lifts herself up onto her tiptoes and gives him a featherlight kiss on his cheek. He tries not to, but he can’t help the breath he draws in or the way his eyes close at the feel of her lips.
“Thank you for dinner, Peter,” she says as she steps away from him, her voice soft enough to blend in the buzz of the nighttime insects and hum of the electricity.
He takes a deep breath and reaches forward with his hand, brushing his thumb across the slant of her cheekbone as he gently cups her cheek.
“You’re welcome, Lara Jean.”
She smiles at him, soft and warm and kind, the shape of it so familiar he feels his heart clench with the weight of how much he’s missed it, with the weight of how much he wants to see more of it.
She turns away from him to unlock her door, and he steps back towards the railing -- to give her space, yes, but also to hide the shakiness in his breathing.
She steps into her apartment and turns around, leaning against the slant of the open door.
“See you tomorrow morning?”
He smiles, then nods.
She gives him one last smile before she closes the door.
He slumps against the railing and lets out a shaky breath, bringing his hand up to touch the place on his cheek that she kissed. Now that she’s behind her door, he feels safe letting the biggest, cheesiest smile he thinks he’s ever had break through his expression. He feels light and cheery -- effervescent is the word that comes to mind -- in a way he hasn’t since he was in high school.
He turns and starts the walk back to his car, unable to wipe the smile from his face. He feels his phone buzz and tries to guess who it might be as he grabs it from his pocket -- Sam and Britt had both demanded he text them immediately afterwards, Owen had made a similar -- much less demanding -- request, and while Jason had simply wished him luck as he’d headed out the door, Nat had called out that they’d wait up for him.
He checks the screen and feels a pleasant flush of warmth surge through him when he sees Lara Jean’s name on the screen.
Just so you know -- it was a date.
He stops midway down the hallway and laughs out loud -- just barely keeps himself from punching his fist into the air, like some high school movie character from one of those 80’s films that Lara Jean used to love so much.
He runs a hand through his hair and taps his phone against his leg for a few moments before he starts typing out a response. There’s a lot that he wants to say -- about second chances, about apologies, about who he was and who he is -- but he gets halfway through an imagined text in his head and rolls his eyes at himself.
As much as he wants to say to Lara Jean -- and as much as she deserves from him -- it probably needs to be given in a format better than a text message at the end of the night. So instead he types out what’s true right this very moment.
And just so you know -- I had a really, really good time.
He’s at his car before she responds with a smiling emoji and a short text.
Good night, Peter Kavinsky.
Good night, Covey.
It's a little rusty, I'm very rusty, but I appreciate anyone who has stuck around and encouraged me. This is by no means abandoned. Again, I'm so grateful to y'all for reading and I'm sorry I disappeared!
So it's been a year and a half since I last updated and I'm sure most of you (if anyone is still following this) thought this story was relegated to WIP forever. To be honest, I kind of did, too. I love this story with all my heart, but after the last chapter, lots of life happened, then the pandemic happened, and then it kept happening and then our democracy was crumbling and I just lost all motivation or drive to do anything creative.
BUT. It's a new year with a new administration, and we got a new trailer and I've been feeling hopeful lately, and all that lead to a burst of creativity, so here we are. I'm a little rusty, so forgive me as I shake that off, but trust that I love this story and these characters and all of you -- however many of you are still around -- as much as ever.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
He wakes up a half an hour before his 4:30 a.m. alarm the next day, his mind instantly awake and alert, cycling through scenes from the night before. He feels like he’s waking up from a dream he’s had over and over again, only to realize it wasn’t a dream at all -- the brush of her lips against his cheek wasn’t a product of his yearning, the feel of her skin against his fingertips wasn’t a sensation he’d conjured up only in his mind.
Only now -- in the quiet of this borrowed room, in the ethereal half-light of dawn -- does he allow himself to admit how deeply Lara Jean is embedded in his heart. He thinks of what Owen said: That it was the way he never talked about her that gave him away. He thinks about how the ache of losing her never really left him or even dulled, just became something he got better at ignoring.
Lara Jean has always occupied a special space in his heart and in his memory, but now he realizes in a way he never has before that he’d never filled the absence of her with anything else; he’d simply rebuilt himself and his life around that absence, enough so that he could claim some kind of approximation of moving on.
Which he can now admit -- if only to himself -- that he never really did.
Slowly, he picks through all the emotions lingering across his skin, embedded in his heart, coursing through his veins. He knows that it’s absolutely irrational and completely absurd, but he’s always been a little bit of both when it comes to Lara Jean, so he forces himself to ask the question he knows is at the center of it all: Does he love her?
As he closes his eyes and thinks of her -- the rush of emotions he felt when he saw her in Voyager those few short weeks ago, the floating feeling of happiness he only ever associates with Lara Jean -- he wants to say yes.
More than that, he wants to say he never stopped loving her, that his heart never learned not to. That he knows it just as much now at 27 with six years of silence between them as he knew when he was 16 and telling her for the first time, or when he was 18 and saying it at the end of every phone call, or when he was 20 and waking up next to her on the weekends.
But he isn’t 16 and fumbling through his feelings any more, and he isn’t 18 and ruled by the them, or 20 and still too dumb to balance his heart with his head.
Because while his heart beats yes every time he thinks of her, his mind balks against forming the sentiment in full. It tells him it's been less than a month since he first saw her again, that he doesn’t fully know who she is now -- that he can’t, not with six years between them.
Mostly, it tells him that it can accept love but that there shouldn't be even the slimmest, smallest doubt -- from him or her or anyone else -- that he only loves the idea of her or the memory of them.
Because while he can remember her coffee order and her favorite childhood memory, knows how her voice sounds when she's sleepy and the shape of her mouth when she's proud of him, there's also six years of emptiness between them now. Six years of moments and memories he knows nothing about, facets of her that he can't understand because of the chasm he hollowed out between them.
So he moves back to the spaces before love; asks himself what he wants instead.
The answer to that question is easier for his mind to accept because it's less complicated in its implications -- he wants to be part of her life. He wants her to be part of his. Now that he realizes he’s been building a life around her absence, he wants to fill that space up again with her.
(He never wants to have to learn to live with her absence again.)
It’s a decision the rational part of his mind is satisfied with and one his heart can live with.
A bird chirps outside his bedroom window, drawing him out of his musing. He checks the bedside clock and laughs to himself -- not even 4:30 a.m. yet but he feels like he’s already accomplished so much.
He reaches over to the nightstand and grabs his phone, grinning as he scrolls through messages from Owen, Sam, Britt and even Natalie -- who is just sleeping two rooms over from him -- all of whom are asking (or in Britt’s case, demanding) for more details about his dinner with Lara Jean.
He smiles as he thinks about the previous night.
Jason and Natalie are cuddled up on the couch when he comes in, both of them turning to look expectantly at him.
“So it obviously went well,” Jason says with an expression that’s half shit-eating smirk, half genuine glee.
“Is it that obvious?”
Natalie laughs and claps her hands together delightedly.
“You look like you just won the lottery.” She looks up and thinks for a moment, then shakes her head. “No, it looks like you just found out the Wizards won the NBA finals.”
“Oooh, turn the phone around, I wanna see,” says a voice that sounds like Sam’s, and for the first time he realizes that Natalie is in the middle of a FaceTime call.
It turns out to be both Sam and Britt, their faces pressed closely together on the screen.
Sam is smiling brightly, and even Britt’s usual teasing grin has an air of genuine happiness around it.
“So, we’re going to definitely need all the details that lead up to you coming home with that expression on your face,” Sam says.
“Given that look,” Britt says with a mischievous look, “I’m surprised you ended up coming home at all.”
Natalie lets out a surprised shout of laughter, while Sam dissolves into giggles.
He rolls his eyes, even though he doesn’t think Britt will necessarily see it. The effect of it is probably offset by the fact that he can’t stop smiling.
“Look, it went really well.” His smile stretching out even further at the words, his fingers curling inward as he thinks about the feel of her cheek against his fingertips. “But I kind of just want to, um, savor it, I guess? Just for tonight.”
“Ugh, Peter,” Britt practically yells. “It was a dinner, not the last piece of cake.”
“Actually, it was -- confirmed by her, by the way -- a date, not just dinner.”
A cacophony of sound breaks out in the room, with Britt, Natalie and Sam all bombarding him with questions, one after another. Even Jason chimes in with a loud “dude, c’mon!” in the midst of their questioning.
He shoots them his most charming grin as he heads towards the guest bedroom.
The buzzing of his alarm jolts him back to the present, and he stretches before getting out of bed.
He’s sure if Sam and Britt had had their way, he would’ve stayed up half the night recounting every single moment of their date. Generally speaking, he does humor them more often than not, even if he complains about it every step of the way. But he’d meant what he’d said last night -- about wanting to savor it. He’d wanted to live in the memory of that night and keep it all to himself before sharing it with anyone else.
However, now that he’s gotten his jumble of feelings sorted out and come to a decision that both his head and heart can agree on, he figures he should give them something to go on.
He puts Natalie, Sam and Britt in a group chat. After a brief moment, he adds Owen and Jason in as well, figures he might as well get everyone in one place.
I know it’s early, so hopefully your phone is on silent. But to answer all your questions: I apologized, she accepted it, it does feel like what I imagine seeing the Wizards win the championship would feel like, it was the best date I’ve been on since my last first date with Lara Jean, what this all means going forward is too long to put in a text.
I’m helping her at Voyager this morning/afternoon, but Sam and Britt, we can all have a joint FaceTime this afternoon if you want; Owen, I’ll see you at mom’s next weekend.
He grabs the newly bought (and newly washed, thanks to Jason) clothes that are neatly folded on the bench at the far side of the bed and is about to toss his phone on the bed and head to the shower when it vibrates.
He smiles when he sees Lara Jean’s name pop up on his screen.
Good morning! I’m about to head out. I’ll heat up some quiches for us and a turnover for you. I’ll keep the door unlocked, so just walk right in. 😊
I’m just gonna shower real quick and then I’ll head over. Want me to bring coffee?
I wouldn’t say no 😁
He foregoes shaving like he’d planned and takes the shortest shower he thinks he’s ever taken. He runs his hand over his pronounced five o’clock shadow before he leaves his room and tells himself it makes him look rugged instead of sloppy.
Natalie is standing in the kitchen in a robe and staring at the percolating coffee machine, which makes him pause on his way to the front door.
“Morning, Nat,” he says, peeking his head in the doorway. “I didn’t wake you up with my text, did I?”
She turns towards him and smiles.
“No, I’ve been doing this sunrise yoga thing on an app I bought and it actually helps me feel energized for the rest of the day, hence --.”
“Why you’re up at the crack of dawn on the weekend.”
She smiles and takes a sip of coffee.
“So, are you excited to see your lady love first thing in the morning?” She asks in a teasing voice.
He laughs -- partially because the phrase lady love is such a silly-sounding yet perfectly Natalie thing to say, partially because he actually likes it as a descriptor for Lara Jean despite its silliness -- and scrubs his hand across his stubbled cheek.
Natalie gives a delighted clap of her hands.
“So she is your lady love.” She lifts her shoulders up and gives him a wide smile. “So are we going to be seeing a lot more of you here in Williamsburg?"
He huffs out a sound that’s halfway between a sigh and a laugh as he rubs his hand across the back of his neck.
Natalie lets out a noise that he can only really describe as a squeal and jumps up in excitement, and for a moment he’s worried that she might spill hot coffee on herself.
“Babe, be careful,” he hears Jason say behind him before watching his best friend take three long strides into the kitchen and set Natalie’s mug down on the counter beside her.
“It’s fine,” she says dismissively, before smiling up at Jason and going up on her tiptoes to kiss him good morning. “Did you hear? Lara Jean is Peter’s lady love now.”
Jason loops his arm around Natalie’s waist and draws her closer to him, planting a kiss onto the top of her head before he shoots an amused look at Peter.
“I didn’t hear that particular phrase, though I did hear that you'll be down here more.”
He nods, then looks down at his watch.
“Hopefully, anyway -- though I don’t want to erase the goodwill I stored up from our date by being late to help her this morning. I still need to stop by somewhere and get us coffee.”
“Peter, don’t be ridiculous,” Natalie says, furrowing her brows at him. “I’ll pour some into to-go cups for you guys. And don’t worry, it’s really good -- I only get the best for this household.”
“That’s why she’s marrying me,” Jason teases, swooping down to give a kiss to her on the cheek and laughing as she rolls her eyes at him.
Natalie takes out two travel mugs and pours one almost to the brim, then hesitates before pouring the second mug.
“Peter, I know you like yours black, but what about Lara Jean?” Natalie asks.
“Unbearably sweet and barely recognizable as coffee.” He shakes his head and walks over to the counter. “Do you have honey and almond milk?”
She nods and brings over their honey jar and dipper while Jason grabs the almond milk from the fridge.
“Are you guys eating breakfast there?” Natalie asks as he makes Lara Jean’s coffee. “Or do you want me to heat something up for you two before you go?”
“Thanks, mom, but Lara Jean is heating up quiches for us.”
Natalie gives him a gentle push and then laughs.
“Ok, I just wanted to make sure the two of you have breakfast!”
“So, what’s going on with the two of you then?” Jason interjects, leaning back against the counter and sipping his coffee.
“Jay," Natalie says, "she’s his lady love, we established that.”
“Yeah, I know babe, but what does that mean? That’s not really a phrase people use.”
Peter grins as he screws on the lid of the coffee mug and then turns to face Jason and Natalie.
“I feel like people should use it more if I’m being honest,” he says with exaggerated sincerity, earning him pleased look from Natalie and a roll of the eyes from Jason. “Anyway, it’s just been one dinner and one conversation.”
“But you have thoughts,” Jason says. “And, if I know you, some kind of direction and a semblance of a plan.”
He gives his best friend a small smile.
“All those things, but not enough time to get into it right now without being late.” He tilts his head from side to side.”I mean, I have enough time just to say what I’m thinking, but not enough time to answer all the questions I’d get from Natalie, Sam and Britt, who I’m assuming also want to know.” He looks at his watch again. “Anyway, I really have to go -- I’ll see you guys this afternoon!”
“I’ll set up a FaceTime call with Britt and Sam!” Natalie shouts on his way out the door.
"Just make sure it's after four!" He yells back before shutting the door behind him.
He arrives at Voyager exactly on time and walks in to soft indie music playing overhead and Lara Jean arranging trays behind the display case.
She pops her head up from underneath the counter and smiles at him.
"Hey, you're here!" She says brightly, the words the same as the day before but more teasing now.
"I am here," he echoes, smiling at her. "Sorry I'm late, but I do --." He holds up the two travel mugs. "Come bearing coffee."
She grabs two plates that are next to the register and brings them over to the same table they shared the day before.
"You aren't late, Peter," she says, setting a plate in front of him and taking the proffered travel mug from him. "In fact, have I mentioned how glad I am that you're here at all? Because I am really glad that you're here." She takes a sip of her coffee and immediately brightens. "Especially when you bring me a perfect cup of coffee."
"I mean, you've mentioned that you're grateful that I'm here to help you, but you could stand to mention it a little more."
He grins when she sticks her tongue out at him, then gestures to the coffee cup.
"So I guess I've still got the touch when it comes to your coffee."
She nods enthusiastically.
"Peter, this is divine." She takes another long sip, her eyes closing as her tongue darts out to lick her lips. "Honestly, you make a better cup of coffee for me than I can make for me."
He's grateful for the compliment, but even more grateful that her eyes are closed. The simple act of her licking her lips causes his pulse to jump in a way that his facial expression doesn't hide quite fast enough.
He clears his throat and gives Lara Jean his most charming smile when she opens his eyes.
"So what you're saying is that I'm irreplaceable."
She rolls her eyes in reply, though the corners of her mouth turn up as she does.
"Ugh, Peter Kavinsky, it's too early for that."
"My overwhelming charm?"
"Your lame attempts at flirting."
"I'll try to only give you admirable attempts at flirting from now on then."
She smiles at him and shakes her head.
"Bringing me coffee this good will get you further than any flirting will -- admirable or otherwise."
He raises his brows at that reply.
"Guess I need to keep bringing you coffee then," he says softly, the teasing only at the barest edges of his words.
She takes a deep breath, then offers him a soft smile, her eyes dark and tender.
He gives her a long, heady look as silence blankets the small space between them. She drops her glance down to the table and sets the coffee cup down between them. His eyes are drawn to where her opposite arm is resting along the edge of the table, her fingers splayed out inches from his. It would take almost nothing to inch his hand forward and twine his fingers with hers, it would take even less than that to bring her hand up to his lips so he could brush his lips along her fingertips.
He forces himself to look away from her hand.
"Lara Jean --."
A shrill kitchen timer slices through the air. Lara Jean pulls her hand back and quickly stands up from her chair.
"I need to take the danishes out and put the muffins in," she says in a voice he thinks sounds slightly breathy. She motions to his plate as she starts to walk away. "Eat your quiche before it gets cold!"
She disappears behind the swinging kitchen doors as he dutifully digs into the quiche in front of him. Truthfully, he's somewhat relieved at the interruption. He isn't even really sure what he wanted to say next after murmuring her name out loud, only that he needed to say something to keep himself from reaching across the table for her.
He swallows the last few bites of his quiche and takes a large gulp of coffee to recenter himself. Reminds himself that all he wants right now is to be part of Lara Jean's life, and tries to figure out just how exactly to get that sentiment across without just blurting out that he wants to be part of her life, however she'll take him.
"So, I guess it was good then, huh?" Lara Jean asks, her voice breaking through his thoughts. He tilts his head in confusion and she grins and gestures to his now empty plate.
He smiles at her.
"Best quiche I've ever had and best way to start my day."
She purses her lips to the side.
"Oh Peter, you say that so genuinely that now I feel bad fishing for compliments."
"It's a stocked pond, Lara Jean, so fish away."
She lets out a small puff of breathe and tilts her head at him.
"That's a more admirable attempt, Peter."
"Flirting." She laughs brightly at the delighted look on his face. "Anyway," she continues, sitting down across from him, "what were you going to say before the timer went off?"
He stares at her dumbly for a moment, his mind racing through possibilities.
"Your question," he finally blurts out after a too-long pause. "I, uh, figured you should ask your question before you start putting me to work and I have to concentrate on not getting cherry juice everywhere."
"Peach juice this morning, more likely." She takes a sip of her coffee. "So, I’m not going to be embarrassed about this question even though it’s really embarrassing to ask but I just -- .” She gives him a quick peek through her lashes. “I’m honestly curious, even though it’s kind of weird -- and not like good-weird, more like pathetic-weird -- to even ask and --.”
“Lara Jean!” He says, laughing as he puts his palms out in front of him to stop the uncontrolled flow of her words. “Relax. I’m sure it’s not even as embarrassing as you think it is.”
“It really is,” she murmurs under her breath, then squares her shoulders and looks him straight in the eye. She’s so serious that he finds it adorable, and he has to bite the inside of his cheek not to grin at her and instead look back with the same type of solemnity.
“Ok, so here's my question of the day: did you ever look me up on social media during those six years?"
He raises an eyebrow.
“You want to know if I ever lurked on your accounts while we were broken up?”
“Oh my god, Peter.” She covers her face. “I already told you it’s embarrassing.”
He furrows his brows at her.
“How is this embarrassing for you? Wouldn’t it be more embarrassing for me to admit that I lurked on your, like, Instagram and Twitter after you unfriended me?”
“So you did?”
"Recently, yeah -- after we saw each other again at Nat and Jason’s cake tasting.” He gives her an embarrassed half-grin. “But not before that.”
“Not at all?”
He shakes his head.
“I didn’t even know you’d had a blog, remember? Natalie and Britt and Sam probably know more about that part of your life than I do.”
She huffs out a laugh.
“Well, they know what outfits I wore during that part of my life.” She smiles at him. “Believe me, Peter, you didn’t miss out on much.”
He's quiet for a moment.
“I did though,” he says softly, the words so quiet he sees Lara Jean lean in closer to catch them. He glances at her, then away -- thinks of some other life, some alternate universe where he was the one taking her outfit of the day photos, where he tagged along as she looked for a storefront for Voyager, where he celebrated with her the very day it opened. “It was my fault,” he finally says. “But that doesn’t make it any less…”
He trails off, then takes a deep breath. Lara Jean doesn't ask him to explain, just waits for him to continue.
“Sorry,” he says, shooting her an apologetic look. “That’s not what you asked about.”
He thinks back to what he told Natalie and Britt about never looking Lara Jean up on social media -- that at first he’d been too angry to look her up, then too embarrassed when enough time had passed -- which was the truth, kind of, but not the entire shape of it.
“You know, at first, I wanted to pretend that I didn't care.” He lifts the corner of his mouth in some approximation of a grin and shakes his head. “Then, after graduation -- .” He thinks about seeing her at the grocery store in their hometown, happy and smiling with someone new by her side. How the sight of her had left him breathless and raw for days afterwards. “By then, I'd realized what a fucked up thing I'd done. And it felt like…” He glances up at her, then down at his fingers. Picks at the edges of his fingertips. “It kind of felt like seeing what your life was like and how you were doing was something I, uh, you know, didn't deserve to know any more.” He glances up at her through his eyelashes, trying to read the expression on her face. “And then, after even more time had passed, and I thought…” He makes a sound that’s half sigh, half humorless chuckle. “It was like every time I thought about seeing what you were doing…”
He lets the sentence lapse into silence.
“It, just, uh, felt weird, you know?” He finishes lamely, then clears his throat and gives her a strained look. “Well, we're supposed to be honest, right?” He chews on the corner of his lip. “It made me sad.” He shakes his head in frustration. “God, not sad exactly but --.” He looks down at the table, dragging his finger along the surface like he’ll dig up the answer that way somehow. “Regretful, I guess? Mixed with wistful, mixed with longing maybe.”
Lara Jean looks at him tenderly.
“Feels like there should be a word for that.”
He gives her a long look and takes a deep breath.
“There is, I think.” He presses his lips together in a tight smile because what he’s about to say is both an uncomfortable truth he’s barely just confronted and an unbearably cheesy confession he hopes doesn’t make her grimace. “For the last few years, every time I thought of you, it’s like...like there was an ache in my chest.” He takes another deep breath and lets it out slowly. “I was missing so much of your life. So many moments I thought I’d be there for and there was no one to blame but myself.” He gives a half shrug. “I think if I was a better person, I could’ve just been happy that you were happy and living your life. And, you know, I’m not terrible, so part of me would be. A part of me was,” he corrects himself. “Most of me was.” He gives her a small smile. “But there was always that ache that I wasn’t ever going to be part of your life and that I’d done it to myself, and it was easier to live with that ache if I didn’t, uh, torture myself with it.”
He meets her gaze and tries not to guess what the stormy mix of emotions in her eyes.
“We’re back in each other’s lives now,” she says after a quiet, thoughtful moment. “Is that ache still there?”
He gives her a searching, steady look.
“It’s less now that I get to be here with you.” He takes a deep breath because now he’s about to say something he didn’t plan, and it's not quite sure if he should, but he hopes it comes out more intelligible than the tangle of thoughts that’s currently in the place of where his brain should be. “I fucked up -- badly -- six years ago, Lara Jean. And I’m so sorry for it. And I’ll never stop being sorry for it. I don’t think I should ever stop being sorry for treating you the way I did. So, I deserve that ache. And I know I don’t deserve a second chance to -- to be here. But --.” He pauses for a moment and takes another breath, lets it out slowly as he smiles at her. “I like being here with you. I like waking up to texts from you. I like hearing your voice before I go to bed. And I’m not --.” He puts his hands up in front of him, palms out. “I’m not, um, asking for this to be anything, uh, more than whatever you want to give me. I just -- I don’t want to miss.” He blows out a harsh breath and shrugs his shoulders. “I want to be part of your life. Whatever that means to you. However you’ll take me.”
Lara Jean takes a long, slow breath in, and for a moment his heart clenches in his chest, panic flooding into his veins.
Then, she smiles, her eyes soft and warm as she looks at him. She stands up and reaches down to wrap her hand around his. She traces the ridges of his knuckles with her thumb, the gesture so tender and familiar that it gives rise to a different kind of ache in his chest -- one of remembrance and want, rather than regret.
She gives a gentle tug upwards.
“Right now, I’ll take you as my assistant pastry chef.” She squeezes his hand as he stands up, threading their fingers together briefly before letting go. “But, I do think that’s a position with a lot of potential advancement.”
He laughs, loud and bright in the morning light, the impulse brought on by a mixture of relief, surprise and pure happiness. He'd managed to say the exact thing he thought he shouldn't and it hadn't been a disaster. In fact, he wonders if he hasn't just saved them both some time.
“So do I need to continue to wow you with my kitchen skills?” He asks, coming along side her.
“And not just your baking skills, Peter -- your cooking skills, too.” She tilts her head up at him and pokes him in the chest. “Remember you promised to make me dinner sometime.”
“Sometime soon?” He asks, trying not to sound too eager.
She eyes him carefully, her finger tapping against her cheek in an exaggerated consideration.
“Let’s see how helpful you continue to be in the kitchen, but --.” She smiles at him, her eyes bright and teasing with just enough tenderness to make him hopeful. “Soon does sound pretty good.”
If I'm being honest, this chapter was actually twice as long. However, the back half still needed some tinkering and I really wanted to get this posted today, so I cut it in half. On the plus side, that means another update is coming soon-ish.
Let me know what you think! I'm mostly on Twitter these days, so come say hi to me @fandammitt! :)
A shorter update than the last one, and -- just a warning -- a fair amount of cursing from a new (ish??) character, but I think it's all rather in character.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
They prep in companionable silence in the back -- Lara Jean rolling dough and weaving it into intricate braids, him coring apples and slicing peaches and chopping walnuts.
“You know,” she starts after loading a tray of apple galettes into the oven. “I really thought I was asking kind of a silly question this morning, since we had, like, a pretty...intense dinner conversation last night.”
He huffs a soft laugh.
“You mean, you don’t enjoy having a really emotionally heavy conversation before 6 a.m.?” He glances at her apologetically. “I’m sorry for unloading all that on you this morning.”
She shakes her head.
“Don’t be.” She smiles at him. “You were just fulfilling the terms of our contract by being honest.”
He nods slowly.
“That I did.” He clears his throat. “But the rest...about wanting to be part of your life again --.” He shoots her a wry grin. “I hadn’t, um, exactly planned on saying all that today. I know that’s -- I know it’s a lot.”
She tilts her head and gives him a soft, small smile.
“It isn’t.” She says simply, then turns back to a row of homemade pop-tarts in front of her and begins crimping the edges with a fork like she hasn’t just made his entire week.
“So when did you plan on saying it?” She asks after a moment, her eyes still trained on the row of pastries in front of her.
He turns towards her with a questioning look.
“You said you hadn’t planned on saying all that today.” She glances over at him. “So when had you planned on saying it?”
He clears his throat and raises a shoulder in a half shrug.
“I hadn’t really gotten that far.” He looks around the kitchen, then gestures to the front of the shop. “Though I think I pictured a slightly more, um, I guess...romantic setting when I finally got around to it.”
She tilts her to the side.
“I think telling me you like hearing my voice before you go to bed while standing in the bakery I named because of you is a pretty romantic in its own right, don’t you think?”
He laughs softly and almost gives in to the impulse to reach over and grab her hand and bring it to his lips. It’s something he might’ve done when they were kids, but something he doesn’t think he’s earned now quite yet.
So he just gives her his most charming smile and softest look and shrugs.
“Then let’s just pretend I planned it that way all along.”
She laughs and shakes her head before turning back to pastries in front of her.
He watches her for a moment with what he’s sure is a goofy grin on his face before he turns back to the bowl of apples he’s slicing into thin slivers when. It’s quiet for for a long stretch of time -- just the sound of his knife slicing and Lara Jean’s soft humming beside him.
There is absolutely nothing notable about it -- Lara Jean is going through movements she's gone through probably a hundred thousand times, and he has to dedicate extra focus on slicing the apples because he knows how thin she wants them -- so there are no stolen glances or sweet smiles or accidental brushes.
Still. There’s a soft sort of intimacy to it all and a steady flutter of emotion in his heart that’s at odds with how ordinary the moment is.
He stops cutting and glances over at Lara Jean -- takes in the slight furrow of her brows as she concentrates, the gentle tilt of her head that he knows she does when she’s considering adding something new to an established recipe -- and realizes that it’s the utter ordinariness of this moment that makes it feel so special.
He thinks about how he’s spent the last six years of his life without them, about how he never even tried to pretend he didn’t want them any more -- just moved in the spaces around them.
“Peter? Is everything ok?” Lara Jean asks, turning to look at him with a questioning raise of her eyebrow.
He can feel his cheeks heat up at having been caught and almost reaches over to swipe at an imaginary streak of flour in her hair to cover for himself, then decides if he’s just given her a monologue about how he wants to be in her life again, he can also admit to this other persistent thought.
“Yeah, I was just thinking about how ordinary this moment is.”
She tilts her head in confusion.
“That’s...an odd thing to say.”
It is, and definitely not what he meant to say.
He gives an embarrassed laugh.
“It’s just --.” He glances over at her with a small smile and a soft look in his eyes. “I just never thought I’d get to have them with you again.”
Lara Jean returns his smile with a gentle one of her own.
“Really working hard towards that potential advancement, aren’t you?” She says, the teasing in her voice offset by the tenderness in her eyes.
“Just continuing to fulfill the terms of our contract.”
She smiles and leans over to knock her shoulder against his arm.
“Keep it up and you’ll be well on your way to a promotion.”
It’s close to the end of the day and Lara Jean is in the back prepping cookies for Monday when a woman that he guesses to be in her early 20s enters the shop, her head buried in her phone.
Even though he can't really see her face, there's something about the way she walks and tilt of her head that sets off an itch of memory in the back of his mind.
"Hey, welcome to Voyager," he calls out, hoping to get a better look at her face.
"You must be new," she says distractedly, before lifting her head up from her phone. "Because --."
She stops abruptly, her eyes widening in surprise. Now that she's facing him, that feeling goes from an itch in the back of his mind to a sense of familiarity so acute it's maddening he can't identify it.
Before he can try to figure it out, the woman in front of him narrows her eyes and scowls so ferociously that he’s almost tempted to take a step back.
“Can I help you?” He asks, forcing a little more joviality into his voice than he normally would.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” She asks, advancing towards the counter at him. He doesn’t back away, but just barely.
“Um -- .” He starts, then pauses. Finally uncovers that feeling of familiarity in the back of his brain. “Hi Kitty.”
The scowl on her face deepens, which he didn’t actually think was possible.
“It’s Katherine to you now, asshole.” She says, her tone all acid. “And you didn’t answer my question. What the fuck are you doing here?”
“I, uh -- .” He glances around the bakery and makes a vague motion with his hand. “I’m helping Lara Jean with the bakery.”
She narrows her eyes at him.
“So you just happen across her bakery this morning and decide you’re going to walk in and help her? That makes no fucking sense, Peter.”
He shakes his head.
“No, it wouldn’t. But uh -- I was in town yesterday helping her with a bridal shower, and figured I’d help her today so she wouldn’t have to get up as early.”
Kitty was never as outwardly expressive as Lara Jean, and he thinks under normal circumstances she probably plays her emotions pretty close to the chest. Fortunately -- or maybe unfortunately, he can’t quite tell yet -- she’s so thrown off by his presence that he can read every emotion on her face as soon as she feels it.
The scowl remains constant throughout his entire explanation, but confusion, anger and just enough hurt sneak onto her face for him to read.
“You helped her with the Stonefield bridal shower?”
“How did you even know about it?” She looks around her like the answer will be emblazoned on the walls somewhere. “What the fuck is even going on here?” She asks, her voice rising with each word.
He hears Lara Jean clear her throat behind him.
“Kitty, calm down.”
The sister in question gives him a look of disdain then crosses her arms so tightly over her chest that he thinks they might never unravel.
“Oh good, you’re here so I can ask you.” She glares at Lara Jean. “What the fuck is going on here?”
Lara Jean walks over to the counter and rests her hand on it.
“I needed help with the Stonefield bridal shower and Peter -- .”
Kitty waves her hand in Lara Jean’s direction and shakes her head.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. But why is he here at all?”
“Well,” Lara Jean says, darting a quick look to him, then back to Kitty. Her expression falters for a moment before it’s replaced by something that almost looks like defiance. “Because we’re friends again.”
Kitty’s face twists up like she just bit into something unbearably sour.
“You’re friends again,” she says, her voice so dangerously icy that he winces, and for a moment it feels like a cold wind has just blown past his cheek.
Lara Jean nods.
Lara Jean glances at him, then back at her sister.
“Since Peter and I ran into each other here a few weeks ago. I’m making the cake for his best friend’s wedding.”
Kitty tilts her head at Lara Jean, her finger tapping against the top of the counter.
“And you just, what, failed to mention this the last 8 or 9 times we’ve facetimed? When we were at Dad’s house two weekends ago? When I dropped by last week?”
“I -- I kept meaning to bring it up.” She shoots him an apologetic look, then looks back over at Kitty, who now looks positively livid.
“Lara Jean, stop that.”
A flicker of irritation passes over Lara Jean’s face.
“Apologizing to him...or for him...whatever. This is his fault!”
Lara Jean doesn’t roll her eyes, but he has a distinct feeling that she wants to.
“It’s Peter’s fault that I didn’t tell you when the truth is that I didn’t want to tell you because I knew you’d act like this.”
“Because it’s Peter, Lara Jean!” Kitty practically shouts. “He doesn’t deserve your friendship or your time. He deserves absolutely nothing from you. Not after what he did to you.”
Lara Jean’s face softens as she walks around the counter and puts her hand on Kitty’s arm.
“Kitty,” she says softly. “It was a long time ago and --.”
Kitty shakes her head and throws another ferocious look at him before she turns back to Lara Jean.
“Let me guess -- you were both so young.” She throws her hands up in disgust. “All this time and you’re still making excuses for him -- just like you did before. But you know how that road ends.” She continues staring at Lara Jean, but he knows her words are directed at him. “You were young, but that was still old enough to know better -- to do better, Lara Jean. And he,” she says with an inflection that makes him think she’s censoring the word she actually wants to say, “didn’t do better.”
Lara Jean sighs.
“Will you let me finish?” She glances at him, then back at Kitty. “I agree with you -- we were young, but that doesn’t excuse the way he treated me then. And he knows that. He hasn’t tried to make excuses for what he did or how he treated me. He hasn’t tried to justify it. He just apologized for it. So now we’re moving past it.”
The tension in Kitty’s shoulders lessens by the barest degree, and though her mouth is still a vicious, downturned slash, he feels vaguely hopeful in a way that the acid look she shoots him doesn’t deflate.
She opens her mouth to speak, but is interrupted by the door opening and a young family stepping into the shop.
He puts on his broadest, most charming smile as he turns towards them and welcomes them into the shop. The family smiles back at him as the toddler runs towards the display case with her arms outstretched, squealing, “pretty!” as she looks at the display of macaroons.
He glances at Lara Jean and Kitty.
“I’ll take care of this if you two want to talk in the back.”
“Thank you, Peter,” Lara Jean says with a small smile, then tugs gently on Kitty’s arm. “C’mon Kitty.”
Kitty turns her back towards the customers and throws him one last icy glare before she lets herself be reluctantly pulled into the back room.
Kitty and Lara Jean are in the kitchen so long that he helps the steady stream of customers over the next half hour or so on his own.
He’s grateful that it’s relatively busy -- not just because it distracts him from whatever tense conversation he’s sure the two sisters are having, but because of how happy he is that Lara Jean seems to have a dedicated base of customers. Three different ones remark to him how they missed getting their pastry fix the previous day, with an elderly couple even asking how the Stonefield bridal shower went.
After he rings them up, he pulls out his phone and shows the photos that Voyager was tagged in on Instagram, beaming as the couple oohs and aahs over the spread.
“You know,” the woman says thoughtfully as she turns towards her husband, “Alethea might want something like this for her baby shower, don’t you think?”
Her husband shrugs, then nods.
“If you think so.”
The woman gives a confident nod in return.
“I’m sure of it,” she says, then turns back to him. “My granddaughter -- would she need to call to make an appointment?”
He purses his lips, unsure of how to answer. He isn’t actually sure how anyone sets up a custom order from Lara Jean, and so makes a mental note to ask her.
Out loud, he says, “Yeah, I think that’d be her best bet. Lara Jean can get the broad details over the phone -- or through a message on Instagram -- and then they can get together in person and discuss her specific vision.”
The couple thanks him and turns to go, the wife talking about what exactly she thinks her granddaughter might want while her husband silently nods along as he eats his danish.
Two women he guesses to be slightly older than him and Lara Jean come up to the counter next.
“What can I get for you?”
The one on the left points to the retreating backs of the couple he was just speaking to.
“We overheard what you said about event orders and we can set up an appointment, but should we give our broad details to you or is there a form we should fill out before then?”
He glances behind them and sees that the rest of the shop is empty and gestures to the kitchen in the back.
“You know, Lara Jean -- the owner -- is here right now, and we’re about to close up, so let me see what she wants to do.”
He makes sure to walk as loudly as he can towards the swinging door to the back and bangs his hand loudly on it as he swings it open -- he must honestly look like ten kinds of a clumsy idiot to the two women in the shop, but he wants the sisters to know that he’s coming back there.
They’ve both turned and are facing the door when he comes through it. Lara Jean has a slightly amused look on her face, Kitty has an expression that’s part irritation, part skepticism -- as if she’s not quite sure what she’s looking at, but she’s mostly sure she doesn’t like it.
“There are two customers who wanted to talk about an event order,” he says quickly, pointing to the door behind him. “I wasn’t sure if you wanted to talk to them or wanted me to have them make an appointment or --.”
“Go talk to them, Lara Jean,” Kitty says, interrupting him. “I want to talk to Peter anyway.”
“About what?” Lara Jean asks, turning and giving her sister a stern look.
“About things that need to be said.” Kitty turns and looks at him. “He’s a big boy, Lara Jean, I’m sure he can handle it.” She looks back at Lara Jean. “And if he can’t, then I just saved you a lot of trouble anyway.”
Lara Jean furrows her brows and is about to open her mouth to speak when he rests his hand on her wrist.
“Lara Jean, it’s fine.” He glances at Kitty, then back at her. “Katherine’s right -- on all accounts.”
“Don’t try to get on my good side by saying I’m right,” Kitty bites out, though he doesn’t miss the fleeting look of gratification that flits across her face.
“Really,” he says, squeezing Lara Jean’s arm. “We’ll be fine.”
Lara Jean takes a deep breath and reaches up to squeeze his hand, then looks over at Kitty.
“I definitely will not be.”
Lara Jean sighs and shakes her head, gives him one last look that he thinks is meant to inspire confidence and then disappears to the front of the shop.
This chapter was originally MUCH longer because I had the full breadth of Peter and Kitty's interaction in it, but the last bit has required a bit more tinkering than I originally thought, so now it gets its own chapter. Let me know what you think! And thanks again to everyone who read and kudos'd and commented on the last chapter after my 18 month hiatus. All of you are wonderful.
1. Kitty was a blast to write. I hope you enjoy her in this chapter!
2. I'm a teacher and we're back to teaching in-person while ALSO teaching the students who have opted for full-time remote, so school is truly kicking my ass -- which is why this update took so long. Well, that and the back half just really fought me the entire way. Whew.
3. Did everyone watch Always and Forever? My goodness, I swooned. Such a great adaptation!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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.”
I had an older sister who went through a devastating breakup in college when I was still in HS and (obviously) living at home, so I channeled all those feelings into Kitty for this chapter, so I'm hoping it rang true! I actually had more scenes and dialogue written between Kitty and Lara Jean, but I just had no real feasible way to include it all. Maybe someday I'll get around to writing a series of vignettes set in the story/world but told from Lara Jean's POV...
Hope you all enjoyed the chapter! Let me know what you thought! :)