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I spin around. “Oh my God, Peter!”

He’s still grinning. He looks at his watch. “It’s midnight. Happy birthday, Lara Jean.”

I leap up and hug him. “This is just exactly what I wanted to do on my prom night birthday and I didn’t even know it.” Then I let go of him and run over to the booth.

Everyone gets out and hugs me. “I didn’t even know people knew it was my birthday tomorrow! I mean today!” I say.

“Of course we knew it was your birthday,” Lucas says.

Darrell says, “My boy’s been planning this for weeks.”

“It was so endearing,” Pammy says. “He called me to ask what kind of pan he should use for the cake.”

Chris says, “He called me, too. I was like, how the hell should I know?”

“And you!” I hit Chris on the arm. “I thought you were leaving to go clubbing!”

“I still might after I steal some fries. My night’s just getting started, babe.” She pulls me in for a hug and gives me a kiss on the cheek. “Happy birthday, girl.”

I turn to Peter and say, “I can’t believe you did this.”

“I baked that cake myself,” he brags. “Box, but still.” He takes off his jacket and pulls a lighter out of his jacket pocket and starts lighting the candles. Gabe pulls out a lit candle and helps him. Then Peter hops his butt on the table and sits down, his legs hanging off the edge. “Come on.”

I look around. “Um . . .”

That’s when I hear the opening notes of “If You Were Here” by the Thompson Twins. My hands fly to my cheeks. I can’t believe it. Peter’s recreating the end scene from Sixteen Candles, when Molly Ringwald and Jake Ryan sit on a table with a birthday cake in between them. When we watched the movie a few months ago, I said it was the most romantic thing I’d ever seen. And now he’s doing it for me.

“Hurry up and get up there before all the candles melt, Lara Jean,” Chris calls out.

Darrell and Gabe help hoist me onto the table, careful not to set my dress on fire. Peter says, “Okay, now you look at me adoringly, and I lean forward like this.”

Chris comes forward and puffs out my skirt a bit. “Roll up your sleeve a little higher,” she instructs Peter, looking from her phone to us. Peter obeys, and she nods. “Looks good, looks good.” Then she runs back to her spot and starts to snap. It takes no effort on my part at all to look at Peter adoringly tonight.

When I blow out the candles and make my wish, I wish that I will always feel for Peter the way I do right now.

 

 

23


THE NEIGHBORHOOD POOL ALWAYS OPENS up on Memorial Day weekend. When we were little, Margot and I would count down the days. Our mom would pack ham and cheese sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, carrot sticks, and a big jug of apple water. Apple water was watered down sugar-free apple juice, but mostly water. I begged for soda out of the machine, or fruit punch, but no. Mommy would slather us up with sunscreen the same way she slathered butter on a turkey. Kitty used to scream her head off; she was too impatient for the rubdown. Kitty’s always been impatient; she’s always wanted more, now. It’s funny how much of who we are as babies is who we are as we get older. I’d never have known it if it weren’t for Kitty. She still makes the same screwy faces.

Kitty isn’t doing swim team this year; she says it isn’t fun anymore now that none of her friends are doing it. When she didn’t know I was watching, I saw her looking at the meet schedule on the community board with wistfulness in her eyes. I guess that’s part of growing up, too—saying good-bye to the things you used to love.

Everyone’s lawns are freshly cut, and the air smells of clovers and green. The first crickets of summer are chirping. This is the soundtrack of my summer and every summer. Peter and I have staked our claim on the lounge chairs farthest away from the kiddie pool, because it’s less noisy. I’m studying for my French final, or trying to, at least.

“Come over here so I can get your shoulders first,” I call out to Kitty, who is standing by the pool with her friend Brielle.

“You know I don’t burn,” she calls back, and it’s true; her shoulders are already tanned like golden brioche. By the end of summer they’ll be dark as the crust on whole wheat bread. Kitty’s hair is slicked back, a towel around her shoulders. She’s all arms and legs now.

“Just come over here,” I say.

Kitty trots over to the lounge chairs Peter and I are sitting on, her flip-flops clacking against the pavement.

I spray her with the sunscreen and rub it into her shoulders. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t burn. Protect your skin so you don’t end up looking like an old leather bag.” That’s what Stormy used to tell me.

Kitty giggles at “old leather bag.” “Like Mrs. Letty. Her skin is hot dog–colored.”

“Well, I wasn’t talking about any one person in particular. But yeah. She should’ve worn sunscreen in her younger days. Let that be a lesson to you, my sister.” Mrs. Letty is our neighbor, and her skin hangs on her like crepe.

Peter puts on his sunglasses. “You guys are mean.”

“Says the guy who once toilet-papered her lawn!”

Kitty giggles and steals a sip of my Coke. “You did that?”

“All lies and propaganda,” Peter says blithely.

As the day heats up, Peter convinces me to put down my French book and jump in the pool with him. The pool is crowded with little kids, no one as old as us. Steve Bledell has a pool at his house, but I wanted to come here, for old times’ sake.

“Don’t you dare dunk me,” I warn. Peter starts circling me like a shark, coming closer and closer. “I’m serious!”

He makes a dive for me and grabs me by the waist, but he doesn’t dunk me; he kisses me. His skin is cool and smooth against mine; so are his lips.

I push him away and whisper, “Don’t kiss me—there are kids around!”

“So?”

“So nobody wants to see teenagers kissing in the pool where kids are trying to play. It isn’t right.” I know I sound like a priss, but I don’t care. When I was little, and there were teenagers horsing around in the pool, I always felt nervous to go in, because it was like the pool was theirs.

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