I grip the steering wheel tighter. “I bet you are.” Brat. I bet when Kitty starts driving, she’s going to be a speed demon without the slightest concern for those around her. But she’ll still probably be better at it than me. A reckless driver is better than a scared one; ask anybody.
“I’m not scared of things like you are.”
I adjust my rearview mirror. “You sure are proud of yourself.”
“I’m just saying.”
“Is there a car coming? Can I switch lanes?”
Kitty turns her head. “You can go, but hurry.”
“Like how much time do I have?”
“It’s already too late. Wait . . . now you can go. Go!”
I jerk into the left lane and look in my rearview. “Good job, Kitty. You just keep being my second pair of eyes.”
As we push the cart around the store, I’m thinking about the drive home and having to get behind the wheel again. My heart still races even as I’m trying to decide if we should have zucchini or green beans with dinner. By the time we’re in the dairy aisle, Kitty’s whining. “Can you hurry? I don’t want to miss my next show!”
To appease her, I say, “Go pick out an ice cream,” and Kitty heads off toward the frozen-food aisle.
The way home, I stay in the right lane for blocks and blocks so I don’t have to switch lanes. The car in front of me is an old lady, and she’s moving at a snail’s pace, which suits me just fine. Kitty begs me to switch lanes, but I just ignore her and keep doing what I’m doing, nice and easy. My hands are gripping the steering wheel so tightly my knuckles are white.
“The ice cream’s going to be all melted by the time we get home,” Kitty gripes. “And I’ve missed every single one of my shows. Can you please go to the fast lane?”
“Kitty!” I screech. “Will you just let me drive?”
“Then drive already!”
I lean across the console to cuff her upside the head, and she scoots closer to the window so I can’t reach her. “Can’t touch me,” she says gleefully.
“Quit playing around and be my eyes,” I say.
A car is coming up on my right, zooming off a highway exit. He’s going to have to merge into my lane soon. Lightning fast I look over my shoulder for my blind spot, to see if I can switch lanes. Every time I have to take my eyes away from the road, even for a second, I feel so much panic in my chest. But I don’t have a choice, I just hold my breath and I switch over to the left lane. Nothing bad happens. I exhale.
My heart races the whole way home. But we make it, no accidents and nobody honking their horn at me, and that’s the important thing. And the ice cream is fine, only a little melted on top. It will get easier each time, I think. I hope. I just have to keep trying.
I can’t stand the thought of Kitty being scornful of me. I’m her big sister. I have to be someone she looks up to, the way I look up to Margot. How can Kitty look up to me if I’m weak?
That night I pack Kitty’s and my lunches. I make what Mommy used to make us sometimes when we went on picnics at the winery in Keswick. I dice up a carrot and an onion and fry it with sesame oil and a little vinegar; then I mix in sushi rice. When it’s cooked, I scoop pats of rice into tofu skins. They’re like rice balls in little purses. I don’t have an exact recipe to follow, but it tastes right enough. When I’m finished, I get on a ladder and search for the bento boxes Mommy used to put them in. I finally find them in the back of the Tupperware cabinet.
I don’t know if Kitty will remember eating these rice balls, but I hope that her heart will.
AT THE LUNCH TABLE PETER and his friends can’t get enough of the rice balls. I only get to eat three. “These are so good,” Peter keeps saying. When he reaches for the last one, he stops short and quickly looks up at me to see if I noticed.
“You can have it,” I say. I know what he’s thinking of. The last piece of pizza.
“No, it’s all right, I’m good.”
“I don’t want it!”
I pick up the rice ball with my fingers and put it in his face. “Say ‘ah.’?”
Stubbornly he says, “No. I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of being right.”
Darrell hoots with laughter. “I’m jealous of you, Kavinsky. I wish I had a girl to feed me my lunch. Lara Jean, if he doesn’t take it, I will.” He leans forward and opens his mouth for me.
Peter shoves him to the side and says, “Step off, it’s mine!” He opens his mouth and I pop it in like he’s a seal at Sea World. With his mouth full of rice and his eyes closed, he says, “Yum yum yum.”
I smile, because it’s so cute. And for a second, just for a second, I forget. I forget that this isn’t real.
Peter swallows the food in his mouth and says, “What’s wrong? Why do you look sad?”
“I’m not sad. I’m hungry because you guys ate my lunch.” I cross my eyes at him to show him I’m joking.
Immediately Peter pushes out his chair and stands up. “I’m gonna get you a sandwich.”
I grab his sleeve. “Don’t. I’m just kidding.”
“Are you sure?” I nod, and he sits back down. “If you’re hungry later, we can stop somewhere on the way home.”
“About that,” I say. “My car’s fixed now, so I won’t be needing you to give me rides anymore.”
“Oh, really?” Peter leans back in his chair. “I don’t mind picking you up, though. I know you hate to drive.”
“The only way I’ll get better is if I practice,” I say, feeling like Margot. Margot the Good. “Besides, now you’ll get back your extra five minutes of sleep.”
Peter grins. “True.”
VIRTUAL SUNDAY NIGHT DINNER WAS an idea I thought up.
I’ve got my laptop propped up on a stack of books in the center of the table. Daddy and Kitty and I are all sitting in front of it with our slices of pizza. It’s our lunchtime and Margot’s dinnertime. Margot’s sitting at her desk with a salad. She’s already in her flannel pj’s.
“You guys are eating pizza again?” Margot gives me and Daddy a disapproving look. “Kitty’s going to stay tiny if you don’t feed her any green food.”
“Relax, Gogo, there’s peppers on this pizza,” I say, holding up my slice, and everybody laughs.