Always and Forever Episode 4
senior week, and during Senior Week, every day there’s a theme. Today’s theme is school spirit, and I’m wearing Peter’s lacrosse jersey and pigtails with yarn ribbons in our school colors, light blue and white. Peter has painted his face half blue and half white. When he picked me up this morning, I screamed when I saw him.
The rest of the week goes: Tuesday seventies day, Wednesday pajamas day, Thursday characters day (the day I am truly looking forward to), and Friday we’re off on our senior trip. The vote was between New York City and Disney World, and New York won. We’re driving up on a charter bus for the three-day weekend. It’s perfect timing for a trip like this, because the seniors are going crazy waiting to hear from colleges and we could all use a distraction. Except for those of us who applied early decision and already know where they’re going, like Peter, and Lucas Krapf, who’s going to Sarah Lawrence. The majority of my class will stay in state. It’s like our guidance counselor, Mrs. Duvall, is always saying: What’s the point of living in Virginia if not to take advantage of all the great state schools? I think it’s nice that so many of us will still be here in Virginia, that we aren’t scattering off to the four corners of the earth.
At lunchtime, when Peter and I walk into the cafeteria, the a cappella group is serenading a junior girl with the song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” but with the words “Will You Go to Prom with Me, Gina?” We stop and listen before we get in line for our food. Prom isn’t for another few months, but promposals have already started in earnest. So far the most impressive was last week, when Steve Bledell hacked into the announcements board and replaced the day’s events with
Will you go to prom with me, Liz?
and it took two days for the
department to figure out how to fix it. Just this morning, Darrell filled Pammy’s locker with red roses, and he spelled out
in petals on the door. The janitor yelled at him for it, but the pictures look amazing on Pammy’s Instagram. I don’t know what Peter’s planning. He’s not exactly one for big romantic gestures.
When we’re in line for food, Peter reaches for a brownie and I say, “Don’t—I brought cookies,” and he gets excited.
“Can I have one now?” he asks. I pull my Tupperware out of my bag and Peter grabs one. “Let’s not share with anybody else,” he says.
“Too late,” I say, because our friends have spotted us.
Darrell is singing, “Her cookies bring all the boys to the yard,” as we walk up to the table. I set the Tupperware down on the table and the boys wrestle for it, snatching cookies and gobbling them up like trolls.
Pammy manages to snag one and says, “Y’all are beasts.”
Darrell throws his head back and makes a beastlike sound, and she giggles.
“These are amazing,” Gabe groans, licking chocolate off his fingers.
Modestly I say, “They’re all right. Good, but not amazing. Not perfect.” I break a piece off of Peter’s cookie. “They taste better fresh out of the oven.”
“Will you please come over to my house and bake me cookies so I know what they taste like fresh out of the oven?” Gabe bites into another one and closes his eyes in ecstasy.
Peter snags one. “Stop eating all my girlfriend’s cookies!” Even a year later, it still gives me a little thrill to hear him say “my girlfriend” and know that I’m her.
“You’re gonna get a gut if you don’t quit with that shit,” Darrell says.
Peter takes a bite of cookie and lifts up his shirt and pats his stomach. “Six-pack, baby.”
“You’re a lucky girl, Large,” Gabe says.
Darrell shakes his head. “Nah, Kavinsky’s the lucky one.”
Peter catches my eye and winks, and my heart beats quicker.
I have a feeling that when I’m Stormy’s age, these everyday moments will be what I remember: Peter’s head bent, biting into a chocolate chip cookie; the sun coming through the cafeteria window, bouncing off his brown hair; him looking at me.
After school, Peter has lacrosse practice, and I sit in the stands and do my homework. Of all the guys on the team, Peter is the only one going to a division one school, and Coach White is already crying about what the team will
look like when Peter’s gone. I don’t understand all the ins and outs of the game, but I know when to cheer and when to boo. I just like to watch him play. He thinks every shot he takes will go in, and they usually do.
* * *
Daddy and Ms. Rothschild are, officially, a couple, and they have been since last September. Kitty’s over the moon; she takes credit for it at every opportunity. “It was all a part of my master plan,” she brags. I’ll give it to her. The girl does have vision. After all, she got Peter and me back together against all the odds, and now we’re in love.
For not having a lot in common, Ms. Rothschild and Daddy are a surprisingly good couple. (Again, not unlike Peter and me.) Proximity really does make all the difference. Two lonely neighbors, Netflix, a couple of dogs, a bottle of white wine. If you ask me, it’s lovely. Daddy has way more of a life now that Ms. Rothschild’s in it. They’re always going places together, doing actual activities. Like on a Saturday morning, before any of us are awake, they’ll go hiking and watch the sun rise. I’ve never known Daddy to hike, but he’s taken to it like a fish to water. They go out to dinner; they go to wineries; they meet up with Ms. Rothschild’s friends. Sure, he still likes to stay in and watch a documentary, but his world is so much more with her in it—and so much less lonely, which I never knew he was, these eight long years since Mommy died. But he must have been, now that I see him so energized and so out and about. Ms. Rothschild eats with us at least a few times a week, and it’s gotten to where it
feels strange to not see her sitting there at the kitchen table, with her rich, throaty laugh and her glass of white wine next to Daddy’s glass of beer.
After dinner that night, when I bring out cookies and ice cream for dessert, Daddy says, “More cookies?” and he and Ms. Rothschild exchange a meaningful look. Spreading vanilla ice cream on a cookie with a spoon, Daddy says, “You’ve been doing a lot of baking lately. You must be pretty stressed waiting on those college acceptance letters.”
“It has nothing to do with that,” I tell them. “I’m only trying to perfect my chocolate chip cookie recipe. Just be grateful, you guys.”
Daddy begins, “You know, I read a study that found that baking is actually therapeutic. It’s something to do with the repetition of measuring ingredients, and creativity. Psychologists call it behavioral activation.”
“Hey, whatever works,” Ms. Rothschild says, breaking a piece of cookie off and popping it into her mouth. “I go to SoulCycle; that’s where I find my center.” If Margot were here, she’d roll her eyes at that. Ms. Rothschild made me go with her once—I kept losing the beat and trying to find it again but to no avail. “Lara Jean, you’ve got to come with me again. There’s a great new instructor who plays all Motown music. You’ll love it.”
“When can I go with you, Tree?” Kitty asks. That’s what Kitty’s taken to calling Ms. Rothschild. I still think of her as Ms. Rothschild, and I slip up from time to time, but I try to call her Trina to her face when I remember.
“You can come with me when you’re twelve,” she says. “Those are the rules of SoulCycle.”
It’s hard to believe that Kitty is eleven already. Kitty is eleven and I’ll be eighteen in May. Time goes by so quickly. I look across the table at Daddy, who is looking at Kitty with a sad kind of smile, and then at me. I know he must be thinking the same thing.
He catches my eye and sings, “Lara Jean, don’t you worry ’bout a thing,” in his best Stevie Wonder voice, and we all groan. Biting into his makeshift ice cream sandwich, Daddy says, “You’ve worked hard; everything will turn out the way it’s supposed to.”
“There’s no way in the world that
would ever say no to you,” Ms. Rothschild says.
“Knock on wood,” Kitty says, rapping the kitchen table with her knuckle. To me she says, “You knock too.”
Dutifully I knock on the table. “What does knock on wood even mean?”
Daddy perks up. “Actually, it’s thought to come from Greek mythology. According to Greek myths, dryads lived in trees, and people would invoke them for protection. Hence knocking on wood: just that added bit of protection so as not to tempt fate.”
Now it’s Ms. Rothschild, Kitty, and me exchanging a look. Daddy’s so square, and Ms. Rothschild seems so young compared to him, even though he’s not that much older than her. And yet it works.
* * *
That night I can’t fall asleep, so I lie in bed going over my extracurriculars again. The highlights are Belleview and my internship at the library last summer. My
score is higher than the
average. Margot got in with just forty more than me. I got a five on the
history exam. I’ve known people to get into
with less than that.
Hopefully my essay gave me a bit of shine. I wrote about my mom and my sisters, and all the ways she’s shaped us—when she was alive and after she wasn’t. Mrs. Duvall said it was the best she’d read in years, but Mrs. Duvall has always had a soft spot for the Song girls, so who knows.
I toss and turn for another few minutes, and finally I just throw off my covers and get out of bed. Then I go downstairs and start measuring out ingredients for chocolate chip cookies.