If anyone would be up at 6 AM on a Sunday morning, it’d be my older sister Margot.
I watch her on my laptop screen, waiting for her to finish rubbing the sleep from her eyes. I’ve found a cozy little alcove in which to conduct our Skype call, and if you ignore the occasional burst of laughter from down the hall, it almost feels like I’m in my room back home.
“Well?” Margot finally asks, adjusting the angle of her camera. “How was the first day of orientation?”
“Good.” I rotate the mug I’ve been balancing on my knee to show her. “There was a concert, and then I went to this thing afterwards where they gave us free mugs to decorate.” Mine’s black, with my initials doodled on, fancy monogram style. Classic with a touch of kitsch.
Margot peers closer at it. “That’s nice. It’s what, 1 AM over there?”
“Yep. There’s something going on at the pool until 2, but I got tired, so. ...Hey, do you think I should join Chi Alpha?”
“That’s the Christian fellowship, right?”
“Yeah. They’re the ones who put on this mug thing tonight.”
Margot scoffs. “Are you really going to become a Bible girl?”
“Margot!” I make a face at her. “That’s rude. I think they’re nice. And you know Grandma would like it.” Grandma attends the local Korean church religiously, in part because it’s her main pipeline of gossip. We only pray when she’s over or if we’re eating at the fancy dining room table, though those two events tend to go hand in hand. I do wonder if maybe we’d have stayed more devout, if Mom were still alive.
“I suppose she would. Well, college is the time to try new things, so if that’s really what you’re interested in, then go for it. What time do the dining halls open for breakfast?”
“Eight.” I yawn, resting my cheek against my knee. “But I’m sleeping in.”
Margot’s about to say something, but she gets interrupted by someone passing by. “Hey, Lara Jean!”
I whip my head up and wave a little maniacally. I can’t help it. It feels nice to be acknowledged here; it’s so different from high school already. Back there I was just quiet, under the radar—Principal Hammond even pronounced my name wrong at graduation.
“Who was that?” Margot raises an eyebrow.
“That was Jerry. He lives on my floor.”
“That’s good that you’re making friends already! How’s your roommate?”
At this, I hesitate, suddenly fascinated with the strings of my pajama shorts.
“She’s…nice?” I duck my head.
Alex, my roommate, is from Florida, and pretty in that perky, sunkissed sort of way. She’s got long, dark brown hair with highlights, and is part Turkish, part Italian. She moved in a day earlier than me, probably because she was out-of-state, and we made a bit of small talk while I set up my side of the room—mostly me asking if it was okay to put a rug down, and could we move that dresser—but then she’d darted out with her friends, and I hadn’t really seen her since.
Margot does this half-sigh thing, her patented noise of disapproval. “Lara Jean, you’re going to be living with this person for the next eight months. You need to make sure you’re comfortable enough with her to set down rules.”
“So go do that, right now.”
“No excuses! I’m going back to sleep.” And then she hangs up on me. Rude.
Grumbling to myself, I shut my laptop and slide off the chair.
If anyone can make me do something, it’s Margot, even though she’s all the way in Scotland. I guess that’s how it is with older sisters—their power never truly diminishes with distance or time.
“Oh, hey, you’re still up.” Closing the door behind me, I walk over to my desk to recharge my laptop. Alex lowers her phone and rolls over to peer down at me from her vantage point—she lofted her bed, so I have to crane my neck upwards to actually make eye contact.
“Yeah.” She tilts her head. “Cute mug.”
“It was from the Chi Alpha event,” I tell her. There’s an awkward pause; I can feel Margot invisibly drilling holes in the back of my head with her eyes, even though she’s across the Atlantic. “How’s your night been?”
“Pretty good, but I need classes to hurry up and start already. Hey, what do you think of this guy?”
I step forward, reaching up to accept the offered phone. The guy in the picture has curly blonde hair and piercing green eyes, made even more prominent by the camera angle: a slightly overhead shot that focuses on his face while still providing proof that he has abs.
I clear my throat. “He looks… uh…”
“Kind of fuckboy-ish,” Alex decides before I can articulate the proper words. She retracts her arm and rolls onto her back. “Well, left it is.”
“You’re on Tinder?”
She shoots me a look. “Who isn’t?” And then, amending: “I mean, I guess you don’t need to be.”
That catches me off guard. What kind of aura have I been giving off? “Why not?”
“You have a boyfriend, right?” She indicates the collage of photos I’ve put up on my wall, and I follow her gaze to one in particular. It was taken at the beginning of my sophomore year: I’m sitting on the trunk of Josh Sanderson’s car while he stands next to me, key dangling from his ring finger. My younger sister Kitty’s in the picture, too, squeezed right between us. It does look a little couple-y from an outsider’s perspective, I realize.
“Oh, no, Josh is my sister’s boyfriend. Or—was. They broke up two years ago, but they’re still friends, since he’s my next-door neighbor and everything…” I don't need to be going into this messy history right now, especially the part where I might have been a little bit in love with him. For a time. “I’ve never had a boyfriend,” I finish lamely.
Alex lights up. “Well then, now’s the perfect time to start seeking.” She practically jumps off her bed—I twitch slightly at the loud thunk of her feet hitting the ground. Before I know it, she’s in my space, palm facing upward.
“What are you doing?”
“We’re making you a Tinder. Trust me, I’m great at dating profiles; I do them for all my friends.”
I hide my phone behind my back. “I’m not really sure dating apps are for me…”
“Because you’re an old-school romantic?”
Well. It’s not that I don’t believe you can find love online, and I’m all too guilty of developing hopeless, starry-eyed crushes on strangers. Margot once said that I was “in love with love,” which isn’t far from the truth. My favorite part of romance movies and novels is that pivotal moment where the main character realizes that they’ve fallen, irrevocably. For example, my aunt and uncle had their moment during the first day of freshmen orientation. Or, my uncle did—it took my aunt another three years to come around. Still, that’s what I’m holding out for, and the whole mindless swiping game feels like it might take away from that.
“Look, Lara Jean,” says Alex, leaning against my desk. “You can still have your sweeping, toe-curling romance. Tinder’s just, like, the vetting process. So that if you do see a cutie in Chem class, and you saw him on the app the other day, you know he’s fair game.”
When you put it that way…
“Okay, fine,” I say, bringing my phone out from behind my back. As I navigate to the App Store to download it, I clarify, “But I’m only using it to browse.”
Alex’s eyes sparkle like she doesn’t believe me, but she doesn’t say anything. When the download’s complete, I look to her for guidance.
“Can we sit on your bed?” she asks.
“Yeah.” The springs squeak as we both clamber on. In my head, I’m thinking, When Margot said to bond with your roommate, I’m not sure she meant randomly creating a dating profile the day before classes start, but c’est la vie.
Right away, Alex takes the reins, practically plucking my phone from my hands. “Men or women?”
“Men, I – I guess,” I stammer, thrown off by her sudden aggressiveness.
Alex raises an eyebrow. “We can unpack that later. Okay, so first step is pictures…”
Luckily, I’ve got a pretty good selection. This past summer, we took a family trip to Korea, leaving me with a fair amount of candids, plus the street fashion photoshoot I managed to convince Margot and Kitty to do with me for fun. Kitty especially enjoyed it; she’s got her fierce face down pat. Afterwards, we agreed that if we were a 90s girl group, a la the Spice Girls, Kitty could take Scary Spice, no question. Margot would be Posh, and I’m somewhere in between that and Baby.
“Damn, these boots, though,” says Alex, ogling a pair I bought for 34,000 won—about 30 dollars. There’s an appreciative glint in her eye; I think her estimation of my cool factor has just gone up.
Some of the shots she picks for my profile make me seem edgier than I really am, but she quickly assures me that’s okay: “Sweet with a kick of spice—guys love that.”
We finish writing my bio, and then Alex hands my phone back with a flourish.
“All right, now swipe,” she instructs, flicking her finger through the air.
It takes me a while to get into the rhythm of it. At first, I feel guilty. Everyone I’m assessing in under a second is a person, after all. There are some cute guys with frustratingly blank bios; I pass on those. Others I get stuck on, imagining whole backstories in my head, toggling between photos of them with family, holding puppies, jumping into pools. There’s one guy, Adrian, with dark hair and a beanie, who says he likes waffles, 90s punk music, and books, and I spend some time wondering what kind of books until Alex groans and leans over.
“Hey!” I yelp. “I said I was just going to browse!”
“Relax, Lara Jean.” She rolls her eyes. “He still has to match with you back, and if you end up being too chicken to talk to him, then just don’t.”
I bite my lip. So that’s that, I guess—my first swipe right. It’s a little uneventful, but my profile is super new, and it’s now… 2:15 AM? Time sure does fly.
Right as I decide to call it quits at 2:30, I find him.
6’ 0” Lacrosse
Fight Club & chocolate milkshakes
Kombucha is valid you all are just mean