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In a Moment Close to Now

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Not bringing a bathing suit was a really stupid idea. Lara Jean wishes she could say that it had been some kind of statement -- Contractually obligated trip, all work and no play -- but really she just forgot that ski lodges come with hot tubs. She doesn’t ski, okay? She doesn’t even know how. It’s not intuitive that there would be outdoor water-based activities in a place that literally owes its existence to the weather remaining solidly below freezing.

But now, somehow, impossibly, she’s in the water, sweating and shivering at the same time, the heat of the steam and the chill of the air and -- and Peter, his legs under hers, his hands on her back. The other thing she didn’t know, the other thing that should have been intuitive. His hands, where her stupid nightgown is clinging to her, dripping and freezing and so definitively not a bathing suit.

“What?” Peter asks her again. His hands linger on her waist. She can feel the heat of his thumb against her bottom rib, hotter than the throbbing warmth of the water around them. He cocks an eyebrow, that mix of openness and tease, and she breaks.

“I feel ridiculous,” Lara Jean says, and tugs one sodden strap up from where it’s threatening to ease off her shoulder. Peter’s eyes follow her hand.

“Just wish I’d brought a bathing suit, okay? I wasn’t exactly prepared for -- this.”

The last word lingers.

“You cold, Covey?” Peter asks. His hands come up, shedding warm water, to spread out across her exposed upper back, her shoulders. His arms press against hers.

There’s a space, right between his shoulder and his neck, where her forehead would fit. It looks warm.

“No,” she says. “Just kind of dumb. In retrospect, you know, I would love to be wearing my cutest bikini in this situation and not, like, my literal nightgown.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Peter asks. He leans in, damp curls streaking against her forehead. When he speaks, his lips brush her ear.

“You literally could not look hotter right now,” Peter says, a quiet edge to his voice, and his hands move back down to her sides, to where the thin cotton is sticky and clinging. She looks at where he’s touching her, then up to see his eyes, the gentle question there.

“Disagree, but go on,” Lara Jean says, reckless. She feels a drop of sweat drip down the back of her neck and linger, chilled, between her shoulder blades.

“No, no, Covey,” Peter says, lips against her neck now. He pauses, kisses her once, then again when she shivers in the steam.

“You gotta trust me here,” Peter says. “No bathing suit could be as sexy as the image -- which will stay with me for the rest of my life, by the way, thanks for that -- of you just walking into this hot tub like this, and I mean --”

He pauses and looks at her again, and this time she sees his eyes linger on her chest, the way the fabric there is clinging to her breasts, almost see-through. For a second it’s like she can see herself through her eyes, and okay. Maybe he has a point. She can feel a rush move through her at the thought, and she’s aware, suddenly, of how much her skirt is riding up, under the water, clogging and matted around her thighs.

She doesn’t know what to say so she kisses Peter instead, once and then again, harder, and feels the way his hands tighten all at once around her. Around them, the air smells like snow and pine. Peter’s body is smooth and impossible against hers and Lara Jean edges forward, losing herself. She follows the trail of his jaw to his ear, his neck, and when she kisses there he bites back a sound, fingers curling in the wet cotton of her dress.

It’s hard to tell where she’s hot from the water and the steam and where she’s hot from the way Peter’s soft noises burn through her, from the shift of his muscles against her skin. If she pressed forward even just a tiny bit more she thinks she could feel him, maybe, his dick, and the thought is terrifying and thrilling. An hour ago she thought she’d lost him to Gen forever and now she’s here, somehow, and if she wanted to -- she thinks, knows, that he would.

It’s that thought that nudges her awake from the trance of Peter’s lips and hands and skin -- the sudden knowledge that she could. It’s hers to decide. Her mind flashes, briefly, to the paper bag sitting in her hotel room, the memory of rolling her eyes at her dad as she grabbed the condoms from him.

“What’s up, Lara Jean?” Peter asks, and when she looks at him there’s that flicker of unsure in his eyes, the one that was painted there when she first got to the hot tub tonight. She wants, suddenly and fiercely, to erase it.

“We should probably stop,” she says, because she can’t feel this way about him right now. The wanting, sure, yes. Naturally. The gut-punch of protectiveness? Not part of the contract, anywhere, ever. She looks down, at the water where it’s roiling and bubbling around them.

“Yeah, Covey, it’s super late,” Peter says. “Plus, you’re covered in goosebumps, did you realize?”

Lara Jean shrugs, and then Peter’s tilting his head down so that his eyes are level with hers.

“Hey,” he says, voice careful. “You okay?”

No, Lara Jean thinks. But his face is right there, smudged with that infuriating, golden warmth, even when he’s confused, and she can’t -- it would be true, but it would also be a lie.

“Yeah,” she says, instead, and tries not to feel the way his smile spreads through her.

“Good,” Peter says. “Now, come on.”

She lets him pull her up and out of the tub. In the freezing air, her nightgown transforms back into clumps of heavy wet fabric, and she shivers. She’ll have to walk through the whole lobby to get back to her room, dripping, and --

And then there’s warmth at her back, and around her. Peter’s wrapped a towel around her, pressing her to him and rubbing like her dad used to do when she was tiny and she got out of the bath.

“Seriously, Covey, a nightgown?” he asks, mock-stern, and she can’t see him through the fuzz of the towel.

“Of all the ridiculous things,” he says, and she shoves at him, warming.

“You loved it,” she says, finally, when her head emerges. He’s right there, gone still. Looking right at her.

“Don’t know where you got that idea,” he says, but his eyes are quiet. They don’t look away from hers, not even when she reaches up and kisses him, gives in to the spreading thaw.