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He scooted closer and took a sniff, nodding. “Yeah, it reminds me of Hawaii or something.”

“Thanks!” I said. I wasn’t positive it was a compliment, but it seemed like enough of one to say thanks. “I’ve been switching between this coconut one and my sister’s baby shampoo, to do an experiment on which makes my hair softer—”

Then Peter Kavinsky leaned right in and kissed me, and I was stunned.

I’d never thought of him any kind of way before that kiss. He was too pretty, too smooth. Not my type of boy at all. But after he kissed me, he was all I could think about for months after.

What if Peter is just the beginning? What if . . . what if my other letters somehow got sent too? To John Ambrose McClaren. Kenny from camp. Lucas Krapf.

Josh.

Oh my God, Josh.

I leap up off the floor. I’ve got to find that hatbox. I’ve got to find those letters.

I go back outside to the track. I don’t see Chris anywhere, so I guess she is smoking behind the field house. I go straight over to Coach, who is sitting on the bleachers with his phone.

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“I can’t stop throwing up,” I whimper. I double over and cradle my arms to my stomach. “Can I please go to the nurse’s office?”

Coach barely looks up from his phone. “Sure.”

As soon as I’m out of his eye line, I make a run for it. Gym’s my last period of the day, and my house is only a couple of miles from school. I run like the wind. I don’t think I’ve ever run so hard or so fast in my life, and I likely never will again. I run so hard, a couple of times I have to stop because I feel like I really am going to throw up. And then I remember the letters, and Josh, and Up close, your face wasn’t so much handsome as beautiful, and I’m off and running again.

As soon as I get home, I dash upstairs and go into my closet for my hatbox. It’s not sitting on the top shelf where it usually sits. It’s not on the floor, or behind my stack of board games. It’s not anywhere. I get on my hands and knees and start rifling through piles of sweaters, shoe boxes, craft supplies. I look in places it could not possibly be, because it’s a hatbox and it’s big, but I look anyway. My hatbox is nowhere.

I collapse onto the floor. This is a horror movie. My life has become a horror movie. Next to me my phone buzzes. It’s Josh. Where are you? Did you get a ride home with Chris?

I turn my phone off and go down to the kitchen and call Margot on the house phone. It’s still my first impulse, to go to her when things get bad. I’ll just leave out the Josh part of it and focus on the Peter part. She’ll know what to do; she always knows what to do. I’m all set to burst out, Gogo, I miss you so much and everything’s a mess without you, but when she picks up the phone, she sounds sleepy, and I can tell that I’ve woken her up. “Were you sleeping?” I ask.

“No, I was just lying down,” she lies.

“Yes you were sleeping! Gogo, it’s not even ten o’clock over there! Wait, is it? Did I calculate wrong again?”

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“No, you’re right. I’m just so tired. I’ve been up since five, because . . .” Her voice trails off. “What’s wrong?”

I hesitate. Maybe it’s better not to burden Margot with all of this. I mean, she just got to college: this is what she’s worked for; this is her dream come true. She should be having fun and not worrying over how things are going back home without her. Besides, what would I even say? I wrote a bunch of love letters and they got sent out, including one I wrote to your boyfriend? “Nothing’s wrong,” I say. I’m doing what Margot would do, which is figure it out on my own.

“It definitely sounds like something’s wrong.” Margot yawns. “Tell me.”

“Go back to sleep, Gogo.”

“Okay,” she says, yawning again.

We hang up and I make myself an ice cream sundae right in the carton: chocolate sauce, whipped cream, chopped nuts. The works. I take it back up to my room and eat it lying down. I feed it to myself like medicine, until I’ve eaten the whole thing, every last bite.

18

A LITTLE WHILE LATER I wake up to kitty standing at the foot of my bed. “You’ve got ice cream on your sheets,” she informs me.

I groan and turn over to my side. “Kitty, that’s the least of my problems today.”

“Daddy wants to know if you want chicken for dinner or hamburgers. My vote is chicken.”

I sit straight up. Daddy’s home! Maybe he knows something. He was on that cleaning binge, throwing things away. Maybe he’s spirited my hatbox away somewhere safe, and the Peter letter was just an unfortunate fluke!

I jump out of bed and run downstairs, my heart thumping hard in my chest. My dad’s in his study, wearing his glasses and reading a thick book on Audubon paintings.

All in one breath I ask, “Daddy-have-you-seen-my-hatbox?”

He looks up; his face is hazy and I can tell he is still with Audubon’s birds and not at all focused on my frenzied state. “What box?”

“My teal hatbox Mommy gave me!”

“Oh, that . . . ,” he says, still looking confused. He takes off his glasses. “I don’t know. It might have gone the way of your roller skates.”

“What does that mean? What are you even saying?”

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“Goodwill. There’s a slight possibility I took them to Goodwill.”

When I gasp, my dad says defensively, “Those roller skates don’t even fit you anymore. They were just taking up space!”

I sink to the floor. “They were pink and they were vintage and I was saving them for Kitty . . . and that’s not even the point. I don’t care about the roller skates. I care about my hatbox! Daddy, you don’t even know what you’ve done.” My dad gets up and tries to pull me off the floor. I resist him and flop onto my back like a goldfish.

“Lara Jean, I don’t even know that I got rid of it. Come on, let’s have a look around the house, all right? Don’t let’s panic yet.”

“There’s only one place it could be, and it’s not there. It’s gone.”

“Then I’ll check Goodwill tomorrow on my way to work,” he says, squatting down next to me. He’s giving me that look—sympathetic but also exasperated and mystified, like How is it possible that my sane and reasonable DNA created such a crazy daughter?

“It’s too late. It’s too late. There’s no point.”

“What was in that box that’s so important?”

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