A/N: because the world needs more Peter and Lara Jean.
The last day of summer arrives full force, my alarm blaring throughout my room and sunlight hitting my face as someone yanks the curtains open.
"Lara Jean, Lara Jean!" Kitty pounces on me, the bed sinking with her weight. "It's 8 o'clock!"
"I know, Kitty, that's when I set my alarm for," I grumble, but I'm already throwing off the covers and fumbling around my vanity for my hairbrush. I picked out my outfit last night; the floral blue-green dress hangs neatly from the handle of my closet. "Braids?" I question, a hair tie clamped between my teeth.
"Not with that dress, you'll look too much like a farm girl," frowns Kitty, taking the brush from me and pulling it through my hair while I apply some lip gloss. "Just wear it down. You always look pretty with it down."
"Thanks, Kitty," I beam.
Downstairs, Margot sits at the table sipping coffee and reading a book. She seems so focused, so grown-up, that there's a moment where I almost mistake her for Mom before I blink and it goes away. I'm noisy as I slip on my white sandals, and Margot catches the sound, looking up.
"Today's the day?"
"Today's the day," I nod.
Margot smiles. There's pride but there's a little bit of sadness as well, and I wonder—do I seem grown-up to Margot now, too?
"Good luck, Lara Jean," she finally says.
"Thanks, Gogo." And then I'm opening the front door and the day—it's starting.
The first thing I see when I step out onto my front porch is Peter's black Audi. And then there's Peter, leaning against it, handsome as ever in a plain white v-neck, hands tucked in the pockets of his jeans.
"Hey," I say, stopping on the sidewalk in front of him.
"Hey," he says in return, reaching out easily to snag me around the waist.
I steady myself against his chest and poke his cheek. "Look who's on time."
Peter rolls his eyes. "I was early, actually." He waves his phone at me. "You're the one who's ten minutes late. What took you so long?"
"Excuse me!" I stick my tongue out and pull back from him, twirling to show off my dress. "It takes time to look this cute."
"Okay, okay." Peter steps onto the curb with me, grinning. In a minute he has me in his arms again and then we're kissing, his hair soft under my fingers and his lips warm against mine—
My stomach growls.
"Gosh, Lara Jean," teases Peter, his voice husky like it always gets right after we kiss. "Way to ruin the moment."
"I haven't had breakfast!"
"Good thing I've got us covered, then," brags Peter, reaching behind him through the open window of the passenger side. He pulls out a white paper bag, holding it in front of my face.
My mouth waters. "Mocha sugar?"
"Obviously," Peter says, handing me the donuts before opening the car door with a flourish. "Now come on, we've got places to be."
At the rollercade, Peter won't let go of my hands. His tongue sticks out of the corner of his mouth in concentration as I skate backwards while tugging him along. A group of middle school girls decked out in party hats passes us, studying us curiously, until Peter winks at them and they take off, giggling.
"Peter." I shoot him a look.
"What?" he asks, the picture of innocence.
"You're such a flirt."
"Please, Covey," says Peter, leaning back in an attempt to get me to stop. I oblige, mostly because I know that Peter will fall if I don't go to him. The toes of our skates bump against each other as I roll toward Peter, who promptly nuzzles the spot behind my ear and says, "There's only one girl I'm interested in, and—"
"Peter!" I slap his arm, glaring. "No PDA." Quickly, I push away from him, calling, "Race you!" over my shoulder.
"Hey—wait, Lara Jean!" yelps Peter, stranded. When I look back, he's careened into the side of the rink and is hunched over the wall, holding on for dear life. Laughing, I take the opportunity to skate a lap by myself, lifting one of my feet behind me and clasping my hands behind my back as I pass Peter, who glares and mouths, "Show-off."
I take pity on him and come back. At first I think that Peter will make a show of accepting my outstretched hand, but he grabs it immediately, and we start moving again. With the disco ball throwing its colorful spots everywhere and music playing overhead and Peter in the corner of my vision, I'm transported back to middle school, feeling like there's nothing to worry about except the golden gleam of the hardwood floor underneath us.
Peter catches my eye and asks, amused, "What are you thinking about?"
"Nothing," I smile, before I bend my knees and pull him along faster.
Later, when our ankles are tired and our feet are blistered, we go back to Peter's car. In the parking lot, Peter looks over at me while he buckles his seatbelt. "What's next on the list?"
"The diner," I read quickly, and then I refold the sheet of notebook paper and tuck it away, because I don't want to think about the very last item:
Peter and Lara Jean's Pre-College Checklist
-Peter and Lara Jean will say goodbye
"It's all yours," I say, wiping crumbs from my grilled cheese off the corner of my mouth and pushing the basket across the table to Peter so that he can have the last French fry. Peter makes a face but doesn't bother fighting me; we've moved past the days of my teasing him about the last slice of pizza, mostly because there's so much else for me to tease him about, now.
He's managed to get a spot of grease on his cheek from the plate of bacon he gulped down, and I toss a napkin at him. Peter uses it to wipe his face, not embarrassed in the least.
Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to order my usual black-cherry soda; my stomach churns, unsettled. It's already noon, one step closer to the end of the day, the end of this—the routine, the familiarity.
"Hey." Peter rattles his cup of iced tea, the ice cubes clinking loudly against the glass. "Don't zone out on me, Lara Jean. That was part of the agreement."
"Sorry." I inspect his plate, which is wiped clean save for a few streaks of syrup. "Are you ready to go?"
"Not yet. Wait here." Peter stands up and goes over to the jukebox. He fiddles with it for a few minutes; I don't let my hopes get too high, since the jukebox is broken more often than it works, but soon enough a song starts and Peter struts back to our booth, looking like he won the lottery.
"Dance with me."
My cheeks heat up. "Here?" I glance around the diner; in one corner, Kelly is bent over a table wiping it down, and an elderly couple sits by the window, enjoying their cups of tea.
"So there are three people," says Peter, tugging me to my feet. "So what?"
"Three's a crowd," I point out.
"Then forget about them," advises Peter, holding his arm up above my head so that I can spin under it.
It's awkward and I do it halfheartedly, stumbling, but Peter takes it in stride, placing a hand on my hip and clasping my other hand in his as he leads us in a slow circle while swaying from side to side. "It's just you and me," he says, a bit softer, his voice layering over the banjo and cello in the background. I'm reminded of senior prom: how Ms. Rothschild came over to help me get ready, how Chris and I loaded up at the sundae bar, how Peter and Genevieve were crowned Prom King and Queen but I didn't mind because in the end it was Peter and me dancing under the twinkling fairy lights.
And normally I wouldn't classify goofily dancing to the Beatles' "All You Need is Love" in the middle of a diner in broad daylight as romantic, but somehow, with Peter, it is.
When we get to the park, the sky is overcast. Parents coax their kids down from the monkey bars and out of the sandbox, casting worried glances at the sky. A little boy blinks curiously at me when I walk right past him, plopping into the swing seat he just vacated.
Some raindrops fall, but they're few and far between. Eventually, though, we hear the distant crack of thunder.
"Pretty sure this is a safety hazard," announces Peter behind me, his hands on either side of the swing I'm sitting on. "I'm going to get struck by lightning in the middle of a deserted park and die."
I tilt my head back and ask him, sweetly, "Push me?"
Peter scoffs but obliges, footsteps crunching in the gravel as he pulls me back as high as he can before releasing me. The breeze is nice on my legs; we settle into an easy rhythm, back and forth.
"I haven't been here in forever," Peter muses aloud.
"Neither have I. Did you know Margot and I used to play pirates, over there?" I point toward the jungle gym. "Whoever lost rock paper scissors had to walk the plank, which just meant we had to go out into the middle of the monkey bars and then let go, because the mulch was the ocean."
"What about Kitty?"
"She was busy building sand castles and declaring herself queen."
Peter laughs. "That sounds just like her."
"Yep. What about you and Owen?" When I lean back, expecting Peter's touch, I get only empty air, because he's walked around the side of the swing set so he can stand in front of me and talk face-to-face.
"We played a lot of tetherball. It was really easy to beat him since he was like a head shorter than me," grins Peter, holding a hand up to his side.
The rain is falling harder, now; the shoulders of Peter's shirt are spotted with moisture. I can tell he's waiting to see what I'll do, whether I'll call it a day. But I want to stay out with him for as long as I can, so I pump my legs back and forth, the swing creaking with my motions. When I feel like I can't get any higher, I launch myself out of the seat, my dress billowing behind me.
I almost fall but I catch myself just in time, using my momentum to push off the ground and against Peter's stomach.
"Tag, you're it!" I yell, running for my life.
Peter's in better shape than I am; I know he could catch up to me easily. But he lets me lead, chasing me around the jungle gym and the sandbox and the tetherball pole before catching me around the waist and swinging me in a dizzy circle, then setting me back down. I hum contentedly and stretch out my arms, turning my face toward the sky. I'm probably going to have a cold tomorrow and my dress clings wetly to my shins, but I don't feel heavy at all; I feel light and clean, like all the dark thoughts have been washed out of me.
"I still don't get what it is with girls and rain," grumbles Peter.
"Just come over here and turn your face up," I instruct, wiggling my fingers at him.
Peter does as I say and takes my hand.
"Ow!" he says almost immediately. "I just got a raindrop in my eye!"
"You're supposed to close your eyes, dummy."
We stand in silence for a few minutes, just listening to the plop, plop, plop all around us as the rain hits the dirt and gravel.
"Don't you feel so at peace?" I sigh dreamily.
"Mhmm yeah, real peaceful. But also really cold."
Slowly, I open my eyes and turn to Peter. Everything has a bluish tinge, like it gets when you wake up after falling asleep in the car, and I want to kiss him but I'm worried he'll mess it up by talking about how it's such a clichéd movie move, so instead I take his other hand as well and say, "Let's go."
Back at Peter's car, he produces two rolls seemingly from out of nowhere.
"Here, I've got two towels."
"You were prepared for this," I say in awe, rubbing myself dry with the soft white cloth.
"It's called a weather forecast," smirks Peter. He nods to the compartment in front of me. "I've got an extra shirt in there, could you hand it to me?"
I open the compartment but get distracted with watching Peter, who's turning on the heat so we won't get too cold. His white shirt is soaked through and clings to him, revealing some of the lean muscle underneath, and I'm fascinated by the single droplet of water trailing from the edge of his hair down his neck.
Peter catches me staring and grins. "Like what you see, Lara Jean?"
My face flames and I grab his extra shirt, hugging it to my chest. "I've seen better," I say, attempting to remain aloof.
Peter raises his eyebrows. "Oh yeah? Is there someone else I don't know about?"
"N-no!" I wrack my brain for the most attractive actor or model I can think of. "I just meant…Zac Efron has better abs."
"Yeah, but I bet you never got to touch them," Peter says easily, sliding out of his shirt.
In the year or so that Peter and I have been seriously, honestly dating, we've taken our shirts off in front of each other plenty. But I still get this swoop in my stomach as Peter's head disappears under the cloth before emerging again, slightly disheveled.
Peter reaches over and pushes a wet strand of hair behind my ear. "You know, if you'd wanted to get me shirtless, you didn't need to go through all this trouble."
There are two angles I could play here: I can protest, or I can roll with it, and with Peter's voice so low and the coziness of his car compared to the rainstorm outside, I decide on the latter.
"Yeah, but this way was so much more fun," I say, widening my eyes, and Peter chuckles, this deep, dark sound, before he begins trailing kisses from my bare shoulder up my neck.
He's got one hand braced on the back of my seat; the other cups my face. I reach out and pull him closer even though he's leaning halfway across the gear shift already. Peter's skin is still clammy from the rain, but his mouth is warm, and he smells fresh and familiar, comforting yet wild. I run my hand down his back, delighting in the way he shivers slightly when my fingertips brush along his spine.
"Okay," Peter says between kisses. I can feel his smile even with my eyes closed. "Not that I don't want to continue, but I think I'm about to sneeze into your hair so I should probably put a shirt on."
It takes all my willpower to pull away, but I manage. I press the soft gray cotton into Peter's hands and he eases back, sliding it on. Outside, the sky has begun to clear, sunlight filtering through the clouds. Peter opens his mouth to say something and ends up fiddling with the windshield wiper instead, but I still hear his unspoken words, clear as ice, in my head: what's next?
Nothing. There's nothing left on our list except…
I clench and unclench my skirt, staring at my lap.
Peter sucks in a breath; it sounds too loud, all of a sudden. "I think we have time for a movie," he suggests, drumming the steering wheel with his fingers. "What do you think?"
My heart surges; I blink quickly to avoid tears. "I think that's a great idea."
It's ten o'clock and we're driving aimlessly through my neighborhood. My mouth is cold from the cherry Icee I had earlier and my fingertips are cold, too, even though it's the middle of August. Through the window, the houses slide past us, like cardboard cutouts in the washed out light. The only thing that seems real is the inside of Peter's car.
I have so many memories of these leather seats, this dashboard. Fighting over the radio, Peter laughing in the sunlight. Rolling down the windows to listen to the wind whoosh by. Peter's fingers linked with mine. "It's you and me, kid." Whenever everything else seemed like too much, this was our little bubble.
I'm so lost in my thoughts that I don't notice we've pulled into my driveway until Peter has killed the engine.
"So this is it, then." Peter tilts his head back, staring at the ceiling of his car. In the darkness, I see the outline of his throat. His Adam's apple bobs as he swallows.
Tomorrow I'll be in another car but it won't be Peter's; it'll be me and Margot and Daddy and Kitty driving to Charlottesville while Peter's on a plane with Owen and his mom. And I'm thinking about how this all started with a car crash, with Peter pulling up in his black Audi and sitting beside me on the curb. Maybe all relationships are collisions; you move on but you always carry the pieces with you, like splinters of glass.
Neither of us wants to break the silence, but Peter eventually fumbles open his door and I follow suit. We meet around the back of his car, by his trunk.
"I have something for you," announces Peter, turning around and opening his trunk. Inside sits a cardboard box; it hasn't been taped up yet, and I can see the sleeve of a cream-colored sweater peeking through the flaps.
"What's this?" I ask, confused.
Peter scratches the back of his neck. "Your stuff. I didn't—I wasn't sure if you'd want some of it back."
I blink. The thought hadn't even occurred to me. I have one of Peter's hoodies hanging in the back of my closet and a box full of mementoes from our time together, and I always assumed I'd keep them because they were part of our story, of my story, just like the scrapbook pages I'd made back when we were dating.
When we were dating. I'm already speaking in past tense even though neither of us has said the words yet. But they need to be said. It was such a beautiful chapter, but now I'm turning the page. What I need is a clean break, so that I can keep the memory of Peter and me in a box with his sweatshirt and his notes and remember it fondly and not with bitterness or disappointment. But maybe it's not that easy for Peter. Maybe keeping some of my things will only hurt, not help.
Except, the way he keeps fidgeting, how he studies my face carefully for a reaction, like he's holding his breath—
"You can keep them," I decide, my voice watery.
Peter clears his throat, relieved. "Okay. I was hoping you'd say that."
Overwhelmed, I fling myself forward, throwing my arms around him and pressing my face into his chest.
He's startled but he still holds me as if it's the easiest thing in the world, like it's second nature, and I'm reminded of almost two years ago, when this all started, when I flew down a hallway into his arms and he caught me, no questions asked.
And suddenly I'm crying and I don't know how to stop.
"H-hey. Lara Jean?" Peter's voice cracks, which makes me cry even harder. "I…I thought we talked about this. I thought that this is what you wanted."
What I want is a guarantee. That Peter will go his way and I'll go mine and four months from now we'll meet back here and pick up right where we left off. But I've seen how much of love depends on timing and proximity. Will I still love Peter when I can't see him ruffle Kitty's hair every day or interact awkwardly with Daddy? Does it make me brave, ending this now so I can open myself up to something new? I want to be brave. But…
"I—I know. And I've thought about it a lot and I do think this is the best way, I do, but…but I don't want to lose you. Even if we pack up and go our separate ways, even if—even if we're not together, I don't want us to just drop out of each other's lives—"
"I'm not saying—it might not happen as fast as that. But eventually. We'll be talking and then we won't, it'll just fade away. You can't promise—"
"No one can promise, Lara Jean. But we can try."
Oh, Peter. Beautiful, hopeful Peter. Even the way he says my name hurts. Margot told me it'd be hard, but I'd still thought—selfishly, maybe stupidly—that Peter and I would be different. I'd thought it might be like my letters: we'd say everything we needed to say and that would be that, signed and sealed. But being in love makes people terrible at saying goodbye.
"Would it be so bad?" Peter asks hoarsely. "The whole long distance thing?"
I think of how insecure I was about Genevieve. I've gotten more mature since then, and it's not that I don't trust Peter, but I'm not sure that I'll like the person I'll be if I'm always waiting for a text or a phone call. Waiting and wondering.
I shake my head, my face still buried in his shoulder. "I meant what I said before. I think it's better if…if we just try to be friends, first."
"Okay," says Peter, resting his chin on my head. "Whatever you want."
"The only problem is," I burst out, voice scratchy and raw, "is that I don't know how. To go back to being just friends, when…what—what should I do?"
Peter links his fingers with mine. His hand brushes the hair away from my neck and he rubs my back, holding me close. I feel his lips press against my hairline, feather-light, like a butterfly I'm scared will fly away if I move, and for a brief, shining moment, everything in me goes still, like that hushed pause when the last bit of snow settles to the bottom of a snowglobe.
"Write me letters, Lara Jean," he murmurs. "Write me letters."