* * *
When I wake up, it’s dark outside. It always feels so bleak to fall asleep when it’s still light out and then wake up to darkness. My eyes feel swollen and sore. Downstairs, I hear water running in the kitchen sink and the clink of silverware against dishes. I go down the staircase and stop before I make it to the bottom. “I didn’t get into UVA,” I say.
Daddy turns around; his sleeves are rolled up, his arms soapy, his eyes even sadder than Madame Hunt’s. Dad eyes. He turns off the faucet and comes over to the staircase, hoists me up, and draws me into his arms for a hug. His arms are still wet. “I’m so sorry, honey,” he says. We’re almost the same height, because I am still standing on the stairs. I’m focusing on not crying, but when he finally releases me, he tips up my chin and examines my face worriedly, and it’s all I can do to keep it together. “I know how badly you wanted this.”
I keep swallowing to keep down the tears. “It still doesn’t feel real.”
He smooths the hair out of my eyes. “Everything is going to work out. I promise it will.”
“I just—I just really didn’t want to leave you guys,” I cry, and I can’t help it, tears are rolling down my face. Daddy’s wiping them away as fast as they can fall. He looks like he’s going to cry too, which makes me feel worse, because I had planned to put on a brave face, and now look.
Putting his arm around me, he admits, “Selfishly, I was looking forward to having you so close to home. But Lara Jean, you’re still going to get into a great school.”
“But it won’t be UVA,” I whisper.
Daddy hugs me to him. “I’m so sorry,” he says again.
He’s sitting next to me on the staircase, his arm still around me, when Kitty comes back inside from walking Jamie Fox-Pickle. She looks from me to Daddy, and she drops Jamie’s leash. “Did you not get in?”
I wipe my face and try to shrug. “No. It’s okay. It wasn’t meant to be, I guess.”
“Sorry you didn’t get in,” she says, her voice tiny, her eyes sorrowful.
“Come give me a hug at least,” I say, and she does. The three of us sit like that on the staircase for quite some time, Daddy’s arm around my shoulder, Kitty’s hand on my knee.
* * *
Daddy makes me a turkey sandwich, which I eat, and then I go back upstairs and get back in bed to look at my phone again, when there’s a knock at my window. It’s Peter, still in his lacrosse uniform. I jump out of bed and open the window for him. He climbs inside, searches my face, and then says, “Hey, rabbit eyes,” which is what he calls me when I’ve been crying. It makes me laugh, and it feels good to laugh. I reach out to hug him and he says, “You don’t want to hug me right now. I didn’t shower after the game. I came straight here.”
I hug him anyway, and he doesn’t smell bad to me at all. “Why didn’t you ring the doorbell?” I ask, looking up at him, hooking my arms around his waist.
“I thought your dad might not like me coming over so late. Are you okay?”
“Kind of.” I let go of him and sit down on my bed, and he sits at my desk. “Not really.”
“Yeah, me too.” There’s a long pause, and then Peter says, “I feel like I didn’t say the right things earlier. I was just bummed. I didn’t think this was going to happen.”
I stare down at my bedspread. “I know. Me either.”
“It just sucks so much. Your grades are way better than mine. Cary got in, and you’re better than him!”
“Well, I’m not a lacrosse player or a golfer.” I try not to sound bitter-hearted, but it’s an effort. A very traitorous, very small thought worms its way into my head—it’s not fair that Peter’s going and I’m not, when I deserve it more. I worked harder. I got better grades, higher SAT scores.
“Sorry. Screw them.” He exhales. “This is insane.”
Automatically I say, “Well, it’s not insane. UVA’s a really competitive school. I’m not mad at them. I just wish I was going there.”
He nods. “Yeah, me too.”
Suddenly, we hear the toilet flush from the hallway, and we both freeze. “You’d better go,” I whisper.
Peter gives me one more hug before climbing back out my window. I stand there and watch him run down the street to where he parked his car. After he drives away, I check my phone, and there are two missed calls from Margot and then a text from her that says, I’m so sorry.
And that’s when I start to cry again, because that’s when it finally feels real.
WHEN I WAKE UP IN the morning, it’s the first thing I think of. How I’m not going to UVA, how I don’t even know where I’m going. My whole life I’ve never had to worry about that. I’ve always known where my place is, where I belong. Home.
As I lie there in bed, I start a mental tally of all the things I’m going to miss out on, not going to a college just around the corner from home. The moments.
Kitty’s first period. My dad’s an OB, so it’s not like he doesn’t have it covered, but I’ve been waiting for this moment, to give Kitty a speech about womanhood that she’ll hate. It might not happen for another year or two. But I got mine when I was twelve and Margot got hers when she was eleven, so who knows? When I got my first period, Margot explained all about tampons and what kind to use for what days, and to sleep on your belly when your cramps are particularly bad. She made me feel like I was joining some secret club, a woman’s club. Because of my big sister, the grief I felt about growing up was less acute. Kitty likely won’t have either of her big sisters here, but she does have Ms. Rothschild, and she’s only just across the street. She’s grown so attached to Ms. Rothschild that she’ll probably prefer a period talk from her anyway, truth be told. Even if in the future Daddy and Ms. Rothschild were to break up, I know Ms. Rothschild would never turn her back on Kitty. They’re cemented.
I’ll miss Kitty’s birthday, too. I’ve never not been at home for her birthday. I’ll have to remind Daddy to carry on our birthday-sign tradition.
For the first time ever, all of the Song girls will be living truly apart. We three probably won’t ever live in the same house together again. We’ll come home for holidays and school breaks, but it won’t be the same. It won’t be what it was. But I suppose it hasn’t been, not since Margot left for college. The thing is, you get used to it. Before you even realize it’s happening, you get used to things being different, and it will be that way for Kitty too.