* * *
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 UVA 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 SAT score is higher than the UVA average. Margot got in with just forty more than me. I got a five on the AP US history exam. I’ve known people to get into UVA 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.
IT’S THURSDAY, CHARACTERS DAY, THE day I’ve been looking forward to all week. Peter and I spent hours going back and forth over this. I made a strong case for Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler, but had to back down when I realized how expensive it would be to rent Colonial costumes on such short notice. I think couples costumes might be my favorite part of being in a couple. Besides the kissing, and the free rides, and Peter himself.
He wanted to go as Spider-Man and have me wear a red wig and be Mary Jane Watson, mostly because he already had the costume—and because he’s really fit from lacrosse, and why not give the people what they want? His words, not mine.
In the end we decided to go as Tyler Durden and Marla Singer from Fight Club. It was actually my best friend Chris’s idea. She and Kitty and I were watching it at my house, and Chris said, you and Kavinsky should go as those psychos. She said it would be good for the shock value—for me, anyway. At first I balked because Marla isn’t Asian and I have my only-Asian-people-costumes policy, but then Peter’s mom found him a red leather jacket at an estate sale, and it just came together. As for my costume, Ms. Rothschild is loaning me clothes from her own wardrobe, because she was young in the nineties.
This morning, Ms. Rothschild comes over before work to help me get ready. I’m sitting at the kitchen table in her black slip dress and a fake mohair jacket and a wig, which Kitty delights in messing up to get that crazy bedhead look. I keep swatting her moussed-up hands away, and she keeps saying, “But this is the look.”