I put my arms around him and hug him to me. His shoulders feel tight; I can feel the tension in his back. Most boys wouldn’t notice a thing like that: that I curled my hair, put on a blouse. I try to concentrate on that and not on how he didn’t really congratulate me.
AT STEVE BLEDELL’S HOUSE, A bunch of people are in the family room smoking pot and watching soccer on the huge flat-screen TV mounted on the wall. Lucas is here, and when I tell him my big news, he picks me up and spins me around. “You’re getting out of here too!” he shouts.
“Well, I’m only going next door to North Carolina,” I say, laughing. What an unexpected thrill to say those words out loud. “It’s not that far.”
“But it’s away.” Lucas sets me back down on the floor and puts his hands on my cheeks. “This is going to be very good for you, Lara Jean.”
“I know it.”
I’m in the kitchen getting myself a Coke when Genevieve walks in, barefoot, wearing a Virginia Tech hoodie and carrying a beer in a Virginia Tech koozie. She sways on her feet before saying, “I heard you got into Chapel Hill. Congrats.”
I wait for the whammy, the underhanded little dig, but it doesn’t come. She just stands there, a little drunk but sober enough. “Thank you,” I say. “Congrats on Tech. I know you always wanted to go there. Your mom must be happy.”
“Yeah. Did you hear Chrissy’s going to Costa Rica? Lucky bitch.” She takes a sip of her beer. “Chapel Hill and here are pretty far away, huh?”
“Not that far. Just three hours,” I lie.
“Well, good luck with that. I hope he stays as devoted to you as he is today. But knowing him, I seriously doubt it.” Then she lets out a loud belch, and the look of startled surprise on her face is so funny, I almost laugh out loud. For a second it looks like she might too, but she stops herself, glares, and leaves the kitchen.
I only catch glimpses of Peter throughout the night, talking to other people, swigging on his beer. He seems to be in a better mood. He’s smiling; his face is a little flushed from the beer. He’s drinking a lot more than I’ve seen him drink.
Close to one, I go looking all around the house for Peter, and when I find him, he’s with a bunch of people playing flip cup on the Ping-Pong table in Steve’s garage. They are all cracking up over something he just said. He sees me standing at the top of the steps and beckons to me. “Come play with us, Covey,” he says, too loudly.
My feet stay planted on the steps. “I can’t. I have to get home.”
His smile slips. “All right, I’ll take you.”
“No, it’s fine, I’ll get a ride or call an Uber to come get me.” I turn to leave, and Peter follows me.
“Don’t do that. I’ll take you,” he says.
“You can’t. You’re drunk.” I try not to make the words sound mean, but it is what it is.
He laughs. “I’m not drunk. I’ve only had three beers over the course of, what, three hours? I’m fine. You don’t drink so you don’t know, but that’s nothing. I promise.”
“Well, I can smell your breath, and I know you wouldn’t pass a breathalyzer.”
Peter peers at me. “Are you mad?”
“No. I just don’t want you driving me home. You shouldn’t drive yourself home either. You should just spend the night here.”
“Aw, you are mad.” He leans closer to me and looks around before he says, “I’m sorry for before. I should’ve been more excited for you. I was just tired is all.”
“It’s fine,” I say, thought it isn’t, not completely.
Stormy used to have a saying. Leave with the one you came with, unless he’s a drunk—then find your own way home. I end up getting a ride home from Lucas, and I make it before my curfew, just. After last night, I can’t be pushing it.
Peter keeps texting me, and I’m petty enough to be glad he’s not enjoying himself anymore. I make him wait long minutes before I text back a terse reply not to drive home tonight, and he texts back a picture of him lying on Steve’s couch, with somebody’s jacket as a blanket.
I can’t sleep, so I go downstairs to make myself a grilled cheese sandwich. Kitty’s down there too, watching late-night TV and playing a game on her phone. “Want a grilled cheese?” I ask.
“Sure,” she says, looking up from her phone.
I make Kitty’s first. I keep pressing the sandwich into the pan, so the bottom gets crispy and the sandwich flattens. I cut off another dab of butter and watch it melt into a puddle, still feeling a bit out of sorts from the night, when out of nowhere it comes to me. Direct contact. The bread needs direct contact with the hot pan to get the right amount of crisp.
That’s it. That’s the answer to my chocolate chip cookie problem. All this time, I’ve been using my Silpat baking sheet so the cookies don’t stick to the pan. Parchment paper is the answer. It’s whisper thin, unlike Silpat. With parchment paper, the dough has more direct contact with heat, and therefore the dough spreads more! Voilà, thinner cookies.
I’m so determined, I start grabbing ingredients from the pantry. If I make the dough right this minute, it can rest all night, and I’ll be able to test my theory tomorrow.
* * *
I sleep in again, because there’s no school thanks to teacher meetings and because I was up till three making my dough and watching TV with Kitty. When I wake up, just like the day before there are texts from Peter.
I’m a dick.
Don’t be mad.
I read his texts over and over. They’re spaced minutes apart, so I know he must be fretting over whether I’m still mad or not. I don’t want to be mad. I just want things to go back to how they were before.
I text back:
Do you want to come over for a surprise?
He immediately replies:
ON MY WAY
“The perfect chocolate chip cookie,” I intone, “should have three rings. The center should be soft and a little gooey. The middle ring should be chewy. And the outer ring should be crispy.”
“I can’t hear her give this speech again,” Kitty says to Peter. “I just can’t.”
“Be patient,” he says, squeezing her shoulder. “It’s almost over, and then we get cookies.”