He looks relieved. “Good,” he says back. Then he says it again. “Good.”
Things must be pretty serious if he’s asking me such a question. I wonder if he’s thinking of asking her to move in. Before I can ask, he says, “No one will ever take the place of your mom. You know that, don’t you?”
“Of course I do.” I lick the chocolate spoon with the tip of my tongue. It’s hot, too hot. It’s good that he should love again, that he should have someone, a real partner. He’s been alone so long it felt like the normal thing, but this is a better thing. And he’s happy, anyone can see it. Now that Ms. Rothschild’s here, I can’t picture her not here. “I’m glad for you, Daddy.”
All morning long I’ve been checking my phone, just like pretty much every senior at my school has been doing all week. Monday came and went with no word from UVA, then Tuesday, then Wednesday. Today is Thursday, and still nothing. The UVA admissions office always send out acceptances before April first, and last year, notices went out the third week of March, so it really could be any day now. The way it goes is, they put the word out on social media to check the Student Info System, and then you log in to the system and learn your fate.
Colleges used to send acceptance letters in the mail. Mrs. Duvall says that sometimes parents would call the school when the mailman came, and the kid would jump in their car and drive home as fast as they could. There’s something romantic about waiting for a letter in the mail, waiting for your destiny.
I’m sitting in French class, my last class of the day, when someone shrieks, “UVA just tweeted! Decisions are out!”
Madame Hunt says, “Calmez-vous, calmez-vous,” but everyone’s getting up and grabbing their phones, not paying attention to her.
This is it. My hands tremble as I log in to the system; my heart is going a million miles a minute waiting for the website to load.
The University of Virginia received over 30,000 applications this year. The Committee on Admission has examined your application and carefully considered your academic, personal, and extracurricular credentials, and while your application was very strong, we are sorry to inform you . . .
This can’t be real. I’m in a nightmare and any moment I’m going to wake up. Wake up wake up wake up.
Dimly, I can hear people talking all around me; I hear a scream of joy down the hallway. Then the bell rings, and people are jumping out of their seats and running out the door. Madame Hunt murmurs, “They usually don’t send out the notices until after school.” I look up, and she’s looking at me with sad, sympathetic eyes. Mom eyes. Her eyes are what undo me.
Everything is ruined. My chest hurts; it’s hard to breathe. All of my plans, everything I was counting on, none of it will come true now. Me coming home for Sunday night dinner, doing laundry on weeknights with Kitty, Peter walking me to class, studying all night at Clemons Library. It’s all gone.
Nothing will go like we planned now.
I look back down at my phone, read the words again. We are sorry to inform you . . . My eyes start to blur. Then I read it again, from the beginning. I didn’t even get wait-listed. I don’t even have that.
I stand up, get my bag, and walk out the door. I feel a stillness inside of me, but at the same time this acute awareness of my heart pumping, my ears pounding. It’s like all the parts are moving and continuing to function as they do, but I’ve gone completely numb. I didn’t get in. I’m not going to UVA; they don’t want me.
I’m walking to my locker, still in a daze, when I nearly run right into Peter, who is turning the corner. He grabs me. “So?” His eyes are bright and eager and expectant.
My voice comes out sounding very far away. “I didn’t get in.”
His mouth drops. “Wait—what?”
I can feel the lump rising in my throat. “Yeah.”
“Not even wait-listed?”
I shake my head.
“Fuck.” The word is one long exhale. Peter looks stunned. He lets go of my arm. I can tell he doesn’t know what to say.
“I have to go,” I say, turning away from him.
“Wait—I’ll come with you!”
“No, don’t. You have an away game today. You can’t miss that.”
“Covey, I don’t give a shit about that.”
“No, I’d rather you didn’t. Just—I’ll call you later.” He reaches for me and I sidestep away from him and hurry down the hallway, and he calls out my name, but I don’t stop. I just have to make it to my car, and then I can cry. Not yet. Just a hundred more steps, and then a hundred more than that.
I make it to the parking lot before the tears come. I cry the whole drive home. I cry so hard I can barely see, and I have to pull over at a McDonald’s to sit in the parking lot and cry some more. It’s starting to sink in, that this isn’t a nightmare, this is real, and this fall I won’t be going to UVA with Peter. Everyone will be so disappointed. They were all expecting I’d get in. We all thought it was going to happen. I never should have made such a big deal about wanting to go there. I should’ve just kept it to myself, not let anyone see how much I wanted it. Now they’ll all be worried for me, and it’ll be worse than Madame Hunt’s sad mom eyes.
When I get home, I take my phone and go upstairs to my room. I take off my school clothes, put on my pajamas, and crawl into bed and look at my phone. I’ve got missed calls from Daddy, from Margot, from Peter. I go on Instagram, and my feed is all people posting their reaction shots to getting into UVA. My cousin Haven got in; she posted a screen grab of her acceptance letter. She won’t be going there, though. She’s going to Wellesley, her first choice. She doesn’t even care about UVA; it was her safety school. I’m sure she’ll feign sympathy for me when she finds out I didn’t get in, but inside she’ll feel secretly superior. Emily Nussbaum got in. She posted a picture of herself in a UVA sweatshirt and baseball cap. Gosh, did everyone get in? I thought my grades were better than hers. I guess not.
A little while later, I hear the front door open and Kitty’s footsteps come running up the stairs. She throws open my bedroom door, but I am on my side, eyes closed, pretending to be asleep. “Lara Jean?” she whispers.
I don’t reply. I need a little while longer before I have to face her and Daddy and tell them I didn’t make it. I make my breathing go heavy and natural, and then I hear Kitty retreat and close the door quietly behind her. Before long, I fall asleep for real.