“What kind do you want most of all?” Josh asks her.
Kitty answers back lightning fast. “An Akita.”
“Boy or girl?”
Again her answer is prompt. “Boy.”
“What’ll you name him?”
Kitty hesitates, and I know why. I roll over and tickle Kitty’s bare foot. “I know what you’ll name him,” I say in a singsong voice.
“Be quiet, Lara Jean!” she screeches.
I have Josh’s full attention now. “Come on, tell us,” Josh begs.
I look at Kitty and she is giving me evil glowy red eyes. “Never mind,” I say, feeling nervous all of a sudden. Kitty might be the baby of the family, but she is not someone to trifle with.
Then Josh tugs on my ponytail and says, “Aw, come on, Lara Jean! Don’t leave us in suspense.”
I prop myself up on my elbows, and Kitty tries to put her hand over my mouth. Giggling, I say, “It’s after a boy she likes.”
“Shut up, Lara Jean, shut up!”
Kitty kicks me, and in doing so she accidentally rips one of her dog pictures. She lets out a cry and drops to her knees and examines it. Her face is red with the effort of not crying. I feel like such a jerk. I sit up and try to give her an I’m sorry hug, but she twists away from me and kicks at my legs, so hard I yelp. I pick the picture up and try to tape it back, but before I can, Kitty snatches it out of my hands and gives it to Josh. “Josh, fix it,” she says. “Lara Jean ruined it.”
“Kitty, I was only teasing,” I say lamely. I wasn’t going to say the name of the boy. I would never ever have said it.
She ignores me, and Josh smooths the paper back out with a coaster, and with the concentration of a surgeon he tapes the two pieces together. He wipes his brow. “Phew. I think this one will make it.”
I clap, and I try to catch Kitty’s eye, but she won’t look at me. I know I deserve it. The boy Kitty has a crush on—it’s Josh.
Kitty whisks her collage away from Josh. Stiffly she says, “I’m going upstairs to work on this. Good night, Josh.”
“Night, Kitty,” Josh says.
Meekly, I say, “Good night, Kitty,” but she’s already running up the stairs, and she doesn’t reply.
When we hear the sound of her bedroom door closing, Josh turns to me and says, “You’re in so much trouble.”
“I know,” I say. I’ve got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Why did I do that? Even as I was doing it, I knew it was wrong. Margot would never have done that to me. That’s not how big sisters are supposed to treat their little sisters, especially not when I’m so much older than Kitty.
“Who’s this kid she likes?”
“Just a boy from school.”
Josh sighs. “Is she really old enough to have crushes on boys? I feel like she’s too young for all that.”
“I had crushes on boys when I was nine,” I tell him. I’m still thinking about Kitty. I wonder how I can make it so she isn’t mad at me anymore. Somehow I don’t think snickerdoodles will cut it this time.
“Who?” Josh asks me.
“Who what?” Maybe if I can somehow convince Daddy to buy her a puppy . . .
“Who was your first crush?”
“Hmm. My first real crush?” I had kindergarten and first- and second-grade crushes aplenty, but they don’t really count. “Like the first one that really mattered?”
“Well . . . I guess Peter Kavinsky.”
Josh practically gags. “Kavinsky? Are you kidding me? He’s so obvious. I thought you’d be into someone more . . . I don’t know, subtle. Peter Kavinsky’s such a cliché. He’s like a cardboard cutout of a ‘cool guy’ in a movie about high school.”
I shrug. “You asked.”
“Wow,” he says, shaking his head. “Just . . . wow.”
“He used to be different. I mean, he was still very Peter, but less so.” When Josh looks unconvinced, I say, “You’re a boy, so you can’t understand what I’m talking about.”
“You’re right. I don’t understand!”
“Hey, you’re the one who had a crush on Ms. Rothschild!”
Josh turns red. “She was really pretty back then!”
“Uh-huh.” I give him a knowing look. “She was really ‘pretty.’?” Our across-the-street neighbor Ms. Rothschild used to mow her lawn in terry-cloth short shorts and a string bikini top. The neighborhood boys would conveniently come and play in Josh’s yard on those days.
“Anyway, Ms. Rothschild wasn’t my first crush.”
“No. You were.”
It takes me a few seconds to process this. Even then, all I can manage is, “Huh?”
“When I first moved here, before I knew your true personality.” I kick him in the shin for that, and he yelps. “I was twelve and you were eleven. I let you ride my scooter, remember? That scooter was my pride and joy. I saved up for it for two birthdays. And I let you take it for a ride.”
“I thought you were just being generous.”
“You crashed it and you got a big scratch on the side,” he continues. “Remember that?”
“Yeah, I remember you cried.”
“I didn’t cry. I was justifiably upset. And that was the end of my little crush.” Josh gets up to go and we walk to the foyer.
Before he opens the front door, Josh turns around and says to me, “I don’t know what I would’ve done if you hadn’t been around after . . . Margot dumped me.” A blush blooms pink across his face, underneath each sweetly freckled cheek. “You’re keeping me going, Lara Jean.” Josh looks at me and I feel it all, every memory, every moment we’ve ever shared. Then he gives me a quick, fierce hug and disappears into the night.
I’m standing there in the open door and the thought flies in my head, so quick, so unexpected, I can’t stop myself from thinking it: If you were mine, I would never have broken up with you, not in a million years.
THIS IS HOW WE MET josh. We were having a teddy-bear, tea-party picnic on the back lawn with real tea and muffins. It had to be in the backyard so no one would see. I was eleven, way too old for it, and Margot was thirteen, way, way too old. I got the idea in my head because I read about it in a book. Because of Kitty I could pretend it was for her and persuade Margot into playing with us. Mommy had died the year before and ever since, Margot rarely said no to anything if it was for Kitty.