Always and Forever, Lara Jean (9 page)

“Don’t ever say that. You earned it. You deserve to go to
UVA
.”

His head down, he says, “So do you, though.” Then his head snaps up, his eyes alight. “Do you remember Toney Lewis?” I shake my head. “He was a senior when we were freshmen. He went to
PVCC
for two years and then he transferred to
UVA
his junior year! I bet you could do that too, but you’d be able to do it even sooner, since you’re going to a regular four-year college. Getting in as a transfer is a million times easier!”

“I guess that’s true. . . .” Transferring hadn’t occurred to me. I’m still getting used to the idea that I won’t be going to
UVA
.

“Right? Okay, so this fall you’ll go to William and Mary or U of R or wherever you get in, and we’ll visit each other all the time, and you’ll apply to transfer for next year, and then you’ll be with me at
UVA
! Where you belong!”

Hope flares inside of me. “Do you really think it’ll be that easy for me to get in?”

“Yeah! You should’ve gotten in in the first place! Trust me, Covey.”

Slowly, I nod. “Yeah! Okay. Okay.”

Peter breathes a sigh of relief. “Good. So we have a plan.”

I steal a french fry off his plate. I can already feel my appetite coming back to me. I’m stealing another fry when my phone vibrates. I snatch it up and check—it’s an e-mail from
the office of admissions at William and Mary. Peter looks over my shoulder and back at me, his eyes wide. His leg bounces up and down against mine as we wait for the page to load.

It is with great pleasure that I offer you admission to the College of William and Mary . . .

Relief floods over me. Thank God.

Peter jumps out of his seat and picks me up and swings me around. “Lara Jean just got into William and Mary!” he shouts to the table and anyone who is listening. Everyone at our table cheers.

“See?” Peter crows, hugging me. “I told you everything would work out.”

I hug him back tightly. More than anything else, I feel relieved. Relieved to be in, relieved to have a plan.

“We’ll make it work until you’re here,” he says in a soft voice, burrowing his face in my neck. “It’s two hours away—that’s nothing. I bet your dad would let you take the car. It’s not like Kitty needs it yet. And I’ll do the trip with you a few times to get you comfortable with it. It’s gonna be all good, Covey.”

I’m nodding.

When I sit back down, I send a group text to Margot, Kitty, Ms. Rothschild, and my dad.

I got into W&M!!!

I throw in those exclamation marks for good measure, to show how excited I am, to make sure they know they shouldn’t feel sorry for me anymore, that everything is great now.

My dad sends back a string of emojis. Ms. Rothschild writes,
You go girl!!!!!
Margot writes,
YAYYYYYYY! We will celebrate IRL next week!

After lunch, I stop by Mrs. Duvall’s office to tell her the good news, and she is thrilled. “I know it’s your second choice, but in some ways it might be an even better fit than
UVA
was. It’s smaller. I think a girl like you could really shine there, Lara Jean.”

I smile at her, receive her hug, but inside I’m thinking,
I guess she didn’t think a girl like me could really shine at
UVA
.

*  *  *

By the end of the week, I get into James Madison and University of Richmond, too, which I’m happy about, but I’m still set on William and Mary. I’ve been to Williamsburg plenty of times with my family, and I can picture myself there. It’s a small campus, a pretty one. And it really isn’t far from home. It’s less than two hours away. So I’ll go, I’ll study hard, and then after a year I’ll transfer to
UVA
, and everything will be exactly the way we planned.

11

I’M THE ONE WHO GOES
to the airport to pick up Margot and Ravi, while Daddy puts finishing touches on dinner and Kitty does her homework. I put the address into the
GPS
, just in case, and I make it there without incident, thank God. Our airport is small, so I just circle around while I wait for the two of them to come out.

When I pull up to the curb, Margot and Ravi are waiting, sitting on their suitcases. I park and then jump out and run over to Margot and throw my arms around her. Her hair is freshly bobbed around her chin, she’s wearing a sweatshirt and leggings, and as I squeeze her tight, I think
Oh, how I’ve missed my sister!

I let go, and then I take a good look at Ravi, who is taller than I realized. He is tall and skinny with dark skin and dark hair and dark eyes and long lashes. He looks so unlike Josh, but so like a boy that Margot would date. He has one dimple, on his right cheek. “It’s nice to meet you in real life, Lara Jean,” he says, and right away I’m bowled over by his accent. My name sounds so much fancier all dressed up in an English accent.

I’m feeling nervous, and then I see that his T-shirt says
DUMBLEDORE’S ARMY
, and I relax. He’s a Potter person, like us. “It’s nice to meet you, too. So what house are you?”

He grabs both Margot’s and his suitcases and loads them into the trunk. “Let’s see if you can guess. Your sister got it wrong.”

“Only because you were trying to impress me for the first month I knew you,” she protests. Ravi laughs and climbs into the backseat. I think it’s a good sign of his character that he doesn’t automatically go for shotgun. Margot looks at me. “Do you want me to drive?”

I’m tempted to say yes, because I always like it better when Margot drives, but I shake my head, jingle my keys high. “I’ve got it.”

She raises her eyebrows like she’s impressed. “Good for you.”

She goes to the passenger side, and I get in the front seat. I look at Ravi in my rearview mirror. “Ravi, by the time you leave our house, I will have figured out
your
house.”

*  *  *

When we get home, Daddy and Kitty and Ms. Rothschild are waiting for us in the living room. Margot looks startled to see her there sitting on the couch with Daddy, her bare feet in his lap. I’ve grown so used to it, to her being around, that it feels to me like Ms. Rothschild is part of the family now. It hadn’t occurred to me how jarring it would be for Margot. But the truth is, Ms. Rothschild and Margot haven’t spent a lot of time together because she’s been away at school; she wasn’t around when Ms. Rothschild and Daddy first started dating and she’s only been home once since, for Christmas.

As soon as Ms. Rothschild sees Margot, she jumps up to
give her a big hug and compliments her on her hair. She hugs Ravi, too. “God, you’re a tall drink of water!” she quips, and he laughs, but Margot just has a stiff smile on her face.

Until she sees Kitty, who she wraps up in a bear hug and then, seconds later, squeals, “Oh my God, Kitty! Are you wearing a bra now?” Kitty gasps and glares at her, her cheeks a dull angry red.

Abashed, Margot mouths,
Sorry.

Ravi hurries to step forward and shake Daddy’s hand. “Hello, Dr. Covey, I’m Ravi. Thank you for inviting me.”

“Oh, we’re glad to have you, Ravi,” Daddy says.

Then Ravi smiles at Kitty and lifts his hand in greeting and says, a tad awkwardly, “Hi, Kitty.”

Kitty nods at him without making eye contact. “Hello.”

Margot is still staring at Kitty in disbelief. I’ve been here all along, so it’s harder for me to see how much Kitty has grown in the past year, but it’s true, she has. Not so much in the chest department—the bra is merely ornamental at this point—but in other ways.

“Ravi, can I get you something to drink?” Ms. Rothschild chirps. “We have juice, Fresca, Diet Coke, water?”

“What’s a Fresca?” Ravi asks, his brow furrowed.

Her eyes light up. “It’s a delicious grapefruity soda. Zero calories! You have to try it!” Margot watches as Ms. Rothschild goes to the kitchen and opens up the cabinet where we keep our cups. Filling a glass with ice, she calls out, “Margot, what about you? Can I get you something?”

“I’m fine,” Margot answers in a pleasant enough tone, but
I can tell she doesn’t appreciate being offered a drink in her own home by someone who doesn’t live there.

When Ms. Rothschild returns with Ravi’s Fresca, she presents it to him with a flourish. He thanks her and takes a sip. “Very refreshing,” Ravi says, and she beams.

Daddy claps his hands together. “Should we take the bags upstairs? Give you guys a chance to freshen up before dinner? We’ve got the guest room all set up.” He gives me a fond look before saying, “Lara Jean put in a new pair of slippers and a robe for you, Ravi.”

Before Ravi can reply, Margot says, “Oh, that’s so nice. But actually, I think Ravi’s just going to stay with me in my room.”

It’s as if Margot has dropped a stink bomb in the middle of our living room. Kitty and I are looking at each other with huge
OMG
eyes; Daddy just looks stunned and at a complete loss for words. When I made up the guest room for Ravi, folded a set of towels for him on the side of the bed, and put out the robe and slippers, it never occurred to me that he’d be staying in Margot’s room. Clearly, the thought never occurred to Daddy either.

Daddy’s face is growing redder by the second. “Oh, um . . . I don’t know if . . .”

Margot purses her lips nervously as she waits for Daddy to finish his sentence. We’re all waiting, but he can’t seem to figure out what to say next. His eyes dart over to Ms. Rothschild for help, and she puts her hand on the small of his back in support.

Poor Ravi looks supremely uncomfortable. My first thought was that he was a Ravenclaw like Margot; now I’m thinking he’s a Hufflepuff like me. In a soft voice he says, “I truly don’t mind staying in the guest room. I’d hate to make things awkward.”

Daddy starts to answer him, but Margot gets there first. “No, it’s totally fine,” she assures Ravi. “Let’s go get the rest of our stuff out of the car.”

The second they leave, Kitty and I turn to each other. At the same time we say, “Oh my God.”

Kitty ponders, “Why do they need to stay in the same room together? Do they have to have sex that bad?”

“Enough, Kitty,” Daddy says, his tone sharper than I’ve heard him use with her. He turns and leaves, and I hear the sound of his office door closing. His office is where he goes when he is really mad. Ms. Rothschild gives her a stern look and follows after him.

Kitty and I look at each other again. “Yikes,” I say.

“He didn’t have to snap,” Kitty says sullenly. “I’m not the one whose boyfriend is staying in my bed.”

“He didn’t mean it.” I tuck her against me, wrapping my arms around her bony shoulders. “Gogo has a lot of nerve, huh?” She’s very impressive, my sister. I just feel sorry for Daddy. This isn’t a fight he’s used to having—or any kind of fight at all, really.

Of course I text Peter right away and tell all. He sends back a lot of wide-eyed emojis. And:
Do you think your dad would let us stay in the same room??
Which I ignore.

*  *  *

When Ravi goes upstairs to wash up and change, Ms. Rothschild says she has dinner out with the girls, so she’d better get going. I can tell Margot is relieved. After Ms. Rothschild leaves, Kitty takes Jamie Fox-Pickle for a walk, and Margot and I head to the kitchen to fix a salad to go with the chicken Daddy’s roasting. I’m eager to have a moment alone with her so we can talk about the whole sleeping-arrangements situation, but I don’t get a chance to ask, because as soon we step into the kitchen, Margot hisses at me, “Why didn’t you tell me Daddy and Ms. Rothschild are so serious?”

“I told you she’s over here for dinner almost every night!” I whisper back. I start rinsing a basket of cherry tomatoes so the sound of the water running will give us cover.

“She was walking around like she lives here! And since when do we have Fresca? We’ve never been a Fresca-drinking family.”

I start slicing the tomatoes in half. “She loves it, so I always make sure to buy a case when I go to the store. It’s actually very refreshing. Ravi seemed to like it.”

“That’s not the point!”

“What’s your problem with Ms. Rothschild all of a sudden? You guys got along great when you were home for Christmas—” I break off as Daddy walks into the kitchen.

“Margot, can I talk to you for a minute?”

Margot pretends to be busy counting out silverware. “Sure, what’s up, Daddy?”

Daddy glances at me, and I look back down at the tomatoes.
I am staying for moral support. “I would prefer if Ravi stayed in the guest room.”

Margot bites her lip. “Why?”

There’s an awkward silence before Daddy says, “I’m just not comfortable—”

“But Daddy, we’re in college. . . . You do realize we’ve shared a bed before, right?”

Wryly he says, “I had my suspicions, but thank you for that confirmation.”

“I’m almost twenty years old. I’ve been living away from home, thousands of miles away, for nearly two years.” Margot glances over at me and I shrink down. I should’ve left when I had the chance. “Lara Jean and I aren’t little kids anymore—”

“Hey, don’t bring me into this,” I say, as jokingly as I can.

Daddy sighs. “Margot, if you’re set on this, I’m not going to stop you. But I would just remind you that this is still my house.”

“I thought it was
our
house.” She knows she’s won this battle, so she keeps her voice light as meringue.

“Well, you freeloaders don’t pay the mortgage on it, I do, so that should make it my house slightly more.” With that final dad joke, he puts on oven mitts and takes the sizzling chicken out of the oven.

When we sit down to eat, Daddy stands at the head of the table and carves the chicken with the fancy new electric carving knife Ms. Rothschild got him for his birthday. “Ravi, can I offer you dark meat or white?”

Ravi clears his throat. “Um, I’m so sorry, but I actually don’t eat meat.”

Daddy gives Margot a horrified look. “Margot, you didn’t tell me Ravi was a vegetarian!”

“Sorry,” she says, grimacing. “I totally forgot. But Ravi loves salad!”

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