They really should have kept the No Kissing rule.
Peter insisted no one would believe they if they never kissed - even with her brilliant Sixteen Candles reference - and she had to admit he was right. If they were going to make this believable, they simply had to kiss sometimes. She comforted herself with the thought that this was all an elaborate theatrical production; the kisses weren't real except in the sense that they were physically happening. And they certainly didn't mean anything. Not to her, anyway.
For his part, Peter was respectful of her discomfort, initiating a kiss only with her express permission and never with tongue. And it worked, of course. The whole school bought it.
But then one day she found herself leaning over for a kiss before heading off to Trig and thought for the first time that she would really miss this.
So yeah, they should have kept the No Kissing rule.
"Is this really a good idea?" she asked, fidgeting in the passenger's seat of his car as they pulled up to his house. He'd picked her up to bring her to dinner with his family, where she'd be meeting his mom and his younger brother. It had occurred to her, when he pulled up in front of her house, that her dad could have easily dropped her off at the Kavinsky's instead, but even faking it, Peter just had to be the best boyfriend ever. It was in his blood or something.
"You having dinner at my house? Why wouldn't it be?" he asked, his brow furrowing in that way she had to admit was cute.
"Just - bringing our families into this whole thing... I just don't want anybody getting hurt when we, y'know, fake break up."
He stilled, and when she glanced over, a dark cloud had creeped over his expression.
"Peter?" she asked, tentative.
"I just, uh, I hadn't really thought about that," he admitted. "Our fake break up."
"I mean, we can't just do this forever..."
His eyes searched her face as she trailed off. For one brief moment, she thought he might contradict her, but it was gone before she could even calculate the why behind it. He grinned brightly, stupidly, the way only he could.
"Well, we'll figure that out when we get there," he said, leaning in toward her. "Kiss for good luck?"
It was so sure, she didn't bother reminding him they were alone.
The thing is, even though she hadn't wanted Peter Kavinsky to use up all of her 'firsts,' she eventually had to secretly admit to herself that she liked it just a little. Not because she was developing a massive crush on him or anything - she.wasn't. - but because Peter was just good at all of it. All this came so naturally to him, from wrapping his arms around her every day at lunch to the simple way his eyes would always find her in a crowded room.
It was kind of lovely to hang out with someone who paid such detailed attention to her.
And here he was doing it again in the cafeteria as he attempted to cram in some last-minute studying for his Chemistry test next period - it was was his worst subject, and she knew, like every good fake girlfriend would, that it stressed him out - but even amidst all his concentration on the periodic table, he still had one hand on her knee, tracing little circles with his thumb.
It wasn't the first time she wished he'd just move his hand further up her leg already.
With five minutes left of lunch, he face-dived into his textbook, groaning miserably. His clutch on her knee tightened.
"I'm gonna fail," he whined. Lara Jean rubbed his back almost instinctively.
"Hey, come on," she soothed him. "No you're not. And if you do, who cares? It's just a test."
"Says you. You've never failed a test in your life."
"She smiled softly and shrugged because, well, he was right, but now didn't seem like the best time to bring it up.
He groaned again. "I'm so stupid."
With any other boy, she might have wondered if he was merely looking for sympathy, but, despite the fact that this whole charade was his idea, Lara Jean was fairly convinced Peter didn't have much of a manipulative bone in his body.
"If you keep talking like that, Kavinsky, you don't get any of the cookies I made you," she warned him sternly. Head still on his chem book, Peter turned to her gleefully.
"You made me cookies?"
"Only if you stop calling yourself stupid."
She pulled them out anyway and offered him one. Greg, across the table, whistled in appreciation and leaned over to grab one.
"You know I love me some Largie cookies!" he said, stuffing a whole one in his mouth. "Damn, girl, you can bake! You gotta keep her around, Peter. I don't know what you were doing with Gen when this girl was right here the whole time."
"Hands off my cookies, man," Peter teased, then turned back to her. "Thanks."
"Any time," she returned brightly.
And because Greg was there, he leaned over to kiss her, and so what if she opened her mouth just a bit and when he pulled away, her face was hot? It didn't mean anything.
It was inevitable that, at some party, they'd run into Spin the Bottle. They were teenagers, after all, and what activity did teenagers love more than macking on each other for kicks? But she was still going to murder whoever dragged her and Peter into it.
She was a little surprised Peter even wanted to play, mostly because she'd admittedly been frequently forgetting that this was all pretend.
Of course he wanted to play Spin the Bottle. After all, Gen was playing, and wasn't that the point of this whole facade anyway? Peter and Gen forever. So when it was his turn and the bottle landed squarely on Genevieve, she tried not to be hurt. It really wasn't her place.
An awkward hush fell over the group. Somebody - she was pretty sure it was Lucas - said, "You've gotta be kidding me," as Gen leaned toward Peter expectantly.
But apparently Peter Kavinsky had lost his mind because he made it half-way to Gen before frowning, pulling back, and crawling deliberately over to Lara Jean.
"Hi," he said softly.
"Hi," she returned, baffled. What on earth was he doing? But before she could get any more words out, he was kissing her. Not nicely, either, but in this hot, needy way they'd never kissed before. She should have been mad, she thought, but instead she kissed him back with equal intensity and, shit, how did she do anything except kiss Peter Kavinsky?
People were cheering when they pulled away. Gen's shell-shocked face sent a shiver of pleasure down Lara Jean's spine. Was this karma for all the years she had to endure Gen's bullying?
(If Peter's smile was her reward for all the torture, Gen could keep torturing her forever.)
Three beers later and more than reasonably drunk, she was screeching Taylor Swift as Peter - very sober, Kombucha-drinking Peter - led her out towards his car. He grinned at her as she scream-sung the same two lines from "I Knew You Were Trouble" over and over.
"Okay, drunky, time to get you to bed," he said affectionately, but she evaded him by climbing onto the hood of his car to gaze up at the stars, suddenly and oddly solemn. Peter shook his head and wordlessly sat next to her, his shoulder warm against hers. She breathed in deeply, hoping to cement this memory somewhere deep in her subconscious.
"That was a good move," she said finally. "Kissing me instead of Gen."
He grinned. "Yeah?"
She nodded. "It definitely made her jealous."
His grin faded minutely, or maybe she was just drunk and imagining it that way. But a moment later it was back, softer and more secret this time, like it really was meant just for her.
"I like you, Covey," he said simply, and she smiled brightly back at him.
"Thanks! I like you too!"
She looked back up at the stars, and Peter laughed softly, burying his head in her shoulder.
On the car ride home, right before she passed out, she wondered why it felt like she was missing some very important piece of information.
"You're wrong," she said resolutely, glaring at Peter from the head of her bed. He'd come over to 'study,' which was really just code for 'distract her from the actual studying she needed to get done.' Why she continued to let him come over was a mystery she didn't want to unpack.
"I am not. Yellow m&m's taste way better," he argued, grabbing a handful from the bag between them and sitting up to face her.
"Here, close your eyes," he said.
"Just - come on, Covey, don't you trust me?" he asked, puppy dog eyes at the ready. 'No,' sat on the tip of her tongue, but at this point it felt more like a lie than the truth, so she rolled her eyes before closing them tightly.
"Okay, now I'm gonna give you two m&ms. Tell me which is better," he explained, shuffling even closer. Her heart raced ever more wildly the closer he moved towards her. "First one." He pressed the first m&m to her lips, and Lara Jean somehow managed to supress the insane instinct to lick his fingers where they brushed her bottom lip.
"Second one." She felt him pull away but only slightly, and when she opened her eyes, his face was just a foot away from her, expectant.
"They're both the same," she said, "cause you're wrong!"
Peter broke into hysterics, his head resting on her knee. "Why can't you just agree with me?" he asked, grinning up at her. His left hand came to rest just against her hip.
"I do agree with you. When you're right," she quipped, and, oh god, was his face getting even closer?
"I'm always right." His voice dipped lower, softer, the closer he moved toward her.
"Debatable," she replied, with that same lowness, and then, without knowing who really closed the space between them, they were kissing. Not anything like one of those fake kisses they had in the cafeteria, either. This was a real kiss, with Peter's hand tugging at her hair and her hand tugging at his shirt. He followed her insistence and pushed them back onto the bed, rolling over until they lay side by side, mouths glued together like they were each others' personal oxygen supply. His right hand traveled to her hip, and she pulled back, suddenly, looking him seriously in the eye.
"Peter," she said, her lips still inches from his. She wanted to say he looked happy, lying there next to her, but she knew how her imagination could get away from her. "There's nobody else here. We don't have to..."
She didn't finish the sentence, or couldn't, and the light in Peter's eyes died as he comprehended what she'd said.
"Right," he said, deflating and pulling away. "Right."
She tried not to miss his touch when it was gone.
A week later, Peter had started kissing her about half as much as he used to. Lara Jean told herself it was better that way; after all, if she really let herself enjoy it now, she would be all the more hurt when he inevitably went back to Gen, and she was already going to be hurt enough as it was. She could admit that much.
But then there were those stupid notes.
She hadn't been reading them, so it was an accident that she even started. One fell out of her pocket one day in the hallway, and Chris, busybody that she was, picked it up and opened it before Lara Jean could grab it back.
Mostly, she feared Chris would realize the notes didn't actually say anything. What she found was maybe worse.
Chris' eyes went wide as she scanned the note.
"Damn, LJ," she said, impressed.
"What?" Lara Jean demanded, swiping the note out of her best friend's hand.
There, scribbled in Peter's handwriting, was a simple yet terrifying sentence: God, Covey, you're driving me crazy.
"Oh," she said, a blush blooming on her cheeks.
"Are you gonna have sex with Peter Kavinsky?" Chris asked too loudly for the hallway setting.
"No!" Lara Jean snapped, blushing even harder. "He's just..." She shrugged, at a loss for words.
"Just totally going crazy over you," Chris quipped as they linked arms to head to History together, but the next time she saw Peter, she couldn't stop her smile.
She didn't do anything about the notes for a while, except collect them like they were made of gold. Every day, she'd bounce up to Peter hoping he'd written her something new that she could pull out to re-read whenever she couldn't sleep at night.
She wasn't even sure the notes were really for her, honestly - or if they were even serious. For all she knew, he could just be method acting in case someone, just as Chris did, read the notes.
Secretly, though, she hoped they were for her.
At this point, it was useless to deny it: her crush on Peter had gotten so out of hand that she tripped or ran into something every time she saw him, which was not great for their whole facade and always left him a very cute combination of amused and bewildered, which, in turn, only flustered her more.
For his part, Peter mostly kept his distance since that night they'd made out in her room. He still acted all coupley at school, but when they hung out alone, he never touched her anymore.
Which she had to assume meant the notes weren't real.
Today he was noteless, merely offering her a kiss on the forehead as they headed to class, and maybe it was the power of the notes but Lara Jean was feeling bolder than usual, so before he could skip off to Chem, she said, "What, no note today?"
He was taken aback. "Uh..."
"Just...wouldn't want to give Gen the impression anything is wrong," she covered quickly.
"Right," he answered. "Um, yeah. I just...forgot today, I guess."
She nodded, grabbing him by the shoulders to kiss him right outside of her classroom, deep and longing, the way, for once, she truly felt.
Later, when she passed him in the hallway on her way to Trig, he spun her once and stuck a fresh note in her back pocket.
I could kiss you forever.
Peter was in her room, alone, when it occurred to her what she'd done. He came over to study, like he did, frankly, three times a week at this point, with little-to-no pretense, and she went downstairs to grab them snacks, leaving him alone in her room, with all those notes open - and very obviously recently read - on her desk.
Forsaking the snackage, she rushed back up the stairs.
It was too late; he stood over her desk, open note in hand, looking more than a little shocked. God, why had she been so stupid? Just like her letters, she should have known to keep the notes locked away where no one could find them.
He turned to her, brow furrowed. "You read these?"
"Yes," she said, cringing at the concern on his face. Is this how it was all going to end then, over the stupid notes she never should have taken to reading in the first place? Maybe that was fitting, since this whole mess had begun over a letter anyway.
"All of them?" he asked, urgently, and she nodded. His frown deepened, and she wanted to beg him to stop crushing the note in his hand. Even when he was gone, at least she'd have the notes.
"Is that..." he started started. "Is that why you didn't want to kiss me last week? Because you knew, and you, uh, you didn't return my feelings?"
Lara Jean cocked her head to the side, confused. "What?" she asked.
"The notes," Peter supplied, rather unhelpfully, she might add. "You knew I liked you, right? It's okay. If you don't feel the same, it's fine, I just - I don't want it to be, like, awkward for you or anything."
She shook her head, trying to piece together exactly what he was saying here. He liked her? And he didn't want her to feel awkward? How on earth was it that Peter Kavinsky was the one boy on earth who could face rejection and still care absolutely about her comfort?
"I'm sorry, what?" she asked again. She couldn't possibly be hearing him right. "You...like me?"
"Of course I do, Lara Jean. I told you that," Peter said, exasperated. "After that party with the spin the bottle. When I kissed you instead of Gen, which I thought would be obvious enough, but you just acted like you had no clue, so I thought..." He trailed off, looking embarrassed and incredibly vulnerable.
She blinked, her heart racing as her brain tried to play catch up. "Oh. I thought you were just being nice."
His grin crept back onto his face ever-so-slightly. "And these?" he asked, holding up a note. "You thought these were me just being nice?"
She had to admit, even when she was first reading through them all, that some of them were a tad more than nice - in particular the one that read: I'm in love with you, Lara Jean Covey. She'd read that one a thousand times since she'd found it hiding at the bottom of her backpack, but somehow she hadn't dared to imagine that he meant it.
"Well, how was I supposed to know?" she said proudly. "This was supposed to be a ruse, and you've been so obsessed with Gen - "
"God, fuck Gen. I'm in love with you, Lara Jean," he said. "Is there any way... I mean, do you think you'd ever, um, feel the same way about me?"
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, she was beaming like a maniac. Peter Kavinsky loved her. Peter Kavinsky loved her. Nothing could be more right or more fated. She took several steps to close the gap between them, looking up into his eager but terrified puppy-dog eyes.
"I like you so much, Peter Kavinsky." It felt like a weight off of her shoulders to say out loud, and her heart swelled at the way he grinned down at her, at the way she was the one who made him grin like that, at the warm feeling of his lips pressed against hers. All those romance novels had got it wrong, it seemed, because none of this felt like the adrenaline-rush she had anticipated; it just felt like coming home.
She pulled away quickly, looking up at him with concern. "Wait. This doesn't mean you're gonna stop writing me those notes, right?"
He bumped his nose against hers. "I'll write you notes forever, Covey."