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Of course. Des has a total new-friend crush on the purple-haired waitress over at Tia Julia’s. Half of her sentences lately have started with Paige says. Frankly, Bea finds Paige more than a little pretentious, but she’s hoping Paige will give Des a sense of direction. Not that being a bookseller isn’t amazing. Bea loves books, especially nonfiction (and, secretly, the occasional hot Regency romance). But Des has real artistic talent. After she drew an illustrated Tom Stoppard quote for Bea’s graduation gift, Bea told her she should start her own shop on Etsy or Society6. Des totally blew off the suggestion. Maybe if Paige tells her, she’ll consider it.
“You were out late,” Bea says. That’s new too; usually Des is in bed with a book by eleven. “Even I was asleep, and I haven’t been sleeping much.”
She regrets the words as soon as they’re out of her mouth. She doesn’t want to draw attention to her late-night stress baking, although the banana bread on the counter is a bit of a giveaway. Maybe she’ll take it to work. Is trying to bribe one’s boss with baked goods against the rules? It can’t be any more against the rules than nepotism, she thinks, glaring at the very idea of Savannah Lockwood and her stupid blog. Gossip is not real journalism.
“Is everything okay?” Des asks.
No. For a minute, Bea thinks about confiding in her sister. I almost kissed another boy on Saturday night. And when I said I wasn’t feeling well, what I meant was that the idea of going to Georgetown with Erik makes me want to throw up.
“Bea?” Des prompts, her brown eyes worried.
Bea focuses intently on her banana. Des is already doing so much. Too much. Bea knows she should be helping out more at home and at Arden instead of spending hours down at the marina, staring into the river. But being around her family is hard. It feels like she’s lying to them every second she doesn’t confess her growing doubts about the future.
What if she did confess? If she said the words I’m not sure I want to go to Georgetown anymore out loud? They would freak out. Gram has sacrificed so much for her. She paid for Bea to go to journalism camp four summers in a row, and that was not cheap. She’s delving into her savings so Bea doesn’t have to take out too many loans for tuition. She has read every single one of Bea’s papers and articles. And Des—Des has taken Bea’s shifts at Arden and her chores at home, uncomplaining, so that Bea could focus on school. Des would have every right to be furious that she’s sacrificed all of that for nothing.
Bea feels like the worst, most selfish girl in the world.
“I’m fine, but the bathroom is a mess. Are you supposed to wash your hair this soon? You should Google that,” Bea says. “It looks like a Smurf homicide in there.”
Des’s shoulders go stiff. “Sorry. I’ll clean it up later.”
“I’ve got to get ready for work,” Bea says, and she rushes back upstairs.
• • •
At the newspaper, Bea delivers the banana bread to her editor, who compliments her on her baking and on the article she wrote last week about Mrs. Ellinghaus, the owner of Remington Hollow’s flower shop, In Bloom. They review Bea’s assignments for the next week: in addition to her usual proofreading, she’ll be interviewing Mrs. Lynde about her yarn shop, Unraveled; writing a book review of a new memoir; and doing a movie review of the latest Marvel blockbuster. She and Erik are supposed to see it tonight.
Her iced coffee lurches in her stomach. Erik will want to hold her hand during the movie. He always wants to hold her hand. She used to love that, but now it seems so clingy. She’s hardly seen him since he got back from camping with his dad, but the thought of their date tonight makes her feel panicky and cornered. She used to miss him when he went away for the weekend; they’d text and send each other silly pictures and talk on the phone before bed. This time, she was relieved he didn’t have cell service. She made excuses not to meet up when he got home Monday night. They had a quick coffee date yesterday after the group meeting for this year’s Tea Party raft, but then she lied about having to run back to the office.
Erik is going to catch on soon that something’s wrong. Gabe was right; she has a terrible poker face.
Why is she thinking about Gabe? She has to stop thinking about Gabe.
She sets her coffee on her desk and pulls out her to-do list.
“Hey, Bea! Did you hear the news?” a familiar voice chirps.
Bea looks up to find Savannah leaning against the cubicle wall. She’s wearing a black miniskirt, pink blouse, and black crocodile heels. Her lipstick perfectly matches her blouse, and fake lashes emphasize her already enormous eyes. Bea is suddenly very conscious of her still-wet hair and the wrinkled yellow cardigan she snatched out of her laundry basket.
“What news?” she asks.
“Alison is having a girl! She found out the gender this morning at her ob-gyn appointment!” Savannah squees. Alison is the Gazette copyeditor.
“She found out the sex,” Bea corrects. She debates and dismisses giving Savannah a lecture on the difference between biological sex and gender identity.
“It’s one of my blind items, but I think people will figure it out pretty fast,” Savannah says. “Also, a certain member of a notoriously redheaded family was spotted buying bleach and gloves to dye her hair yesterday. I heard she was going blue! Can you confirm?”
Bea pastes a smile on her face. This is not the kind of journalism Savannah should be proud of, but fine. Whatever. “Yep. Des dyed her hair blue!” She takes a long sip from her iced coffee, hoping Savannah will go away. She doesn’t understand why Savannah pretends to be all chummy. It’s so fake. Bea knows it’s fake. Savannah has hated her for at least two years, since Bea was appointed editor of the school paper. Savannah tried to convince Bea to give it to her, since she was going to be a senior. Needless to say, Bea did not.
“That’s a long list.”
Bea covers her to-do list with one hand. Savannah was totally reading it over her shoulder. What a snoop.
“So you’re going out with Erik tonight?” Savannah asks. “I was wondering if maybe there was trouble in paradise.”
“No. What? No. Why would you say that?”
Savannah props her hip against the corner of Bea’s desk. Bea already regrets that she asked. What does Savannah know?
There’s nothing to know, she reminds herself. Not unless Savannah’s a mind reader.
“I met the cutest guy the other day at the Daily Grind. Turns out he’s old Miss Amelia’s grandson, Gabe.” Her cornflower-blue eyes are trained on Bea, hawklike, and Bea tries to keep her face carefully blank. Where is Savannah going with this? “I vaguely remember him coming to visit when we were kids, but he has grown up really well. Like, really, really well. I thought we hit it off, so I invited him to the farm party last weekend. I thought he stood me up. But when I ran into him yesterday, he said he left early. Because he was giving a friend a ride.”
For a minute, Bea panics. Savannah knows. She’s going to tell everybody.
She forces herself to breathe evenly. She cannot have an anxiety attack right now. All she and Gabe did was play Canasta and drink tea. Okay, he drank whiskey. But there’s nothing scandalous in that.
Except that she never mentioned it to Erik.
Savannah is still staring with her big, curious, anime eyes.
“That would be me,” Bea says cheerily. “Sorry. I wasn’t felling well, and Gabe offered me a ride home. He didn’t say he was on a date.”
In fact, he specifically said he wasn’t on one. She bites back a smile.
Savannah drums her nails on the desk. The sound grates on Bea’s nerves. “Where was Erik?”
“Camping with his dad. Last time I checked, I’m still allowed to talk to other guys.” It doesn’t make sense to get all worked up about this; Savannah is pushing her buttons. But she seems to have this creepy, unerring sense of exactly which button to push.
. As long as you’re just talking. I call dibs on Gabe.” Savannah gives her a sharky smile. How many teeth does she have? “Hands off, okay?”
“He’s a person. You can’t call dibs. It’s not like riding shotgun.” Bea knows she should let it go. But the second Savannah says hands off, all she can think of is Gabe’s hands on her. Holding her steady as the boat rocked beneath them.
She wanted him to kiss her.
Does that make her a terrible person?
“But you and Gabe are just friends. You’ve already got a boyfriend,” Savannah reminds her.
She’s like a damn bloodhound. Bea forces a laugh. “Obviously.”
“Obviously,” Savannah echoes, but she sounds skeptical. “Have fun tonight. Maybe I’ll see if Gabe wants to catch a movie too.” She gives Bea a sly smile and saunters off.
Bea props her chin on her hand and stares into space. She and Gabe talked a lot while they played Canasta, not all of it trash talk. She told him about her sisters and Gram. He told her his mom and dad got divorced when he was five and he wasn’t in touch with his dad anymore. How his moms adopted Lyric from foster care as a baby. How excited he was to be the best man when his moms were allowed to get legally married in Tennessee.
Bea should have told him she had a boyfriend.
Except, when she was with him, she didn’t want to have a boyfriend. It was such a nice evening. The nicest. She felt more serene than she’d felt in ages. The only thing she worried about was whether Gabe had those last three kings in his hand.
She frowns down at her to-do list. She and Erik need to talk. Whatever is going on with Gabe is making that super clear. Erik has to know something’s wrong. Maybe he doesn’t want to see it. But she’s been so distant. They haven’t had sex in months. She’s made up dozens of different excuses to cut their dates short or cancel and avoid him altogether.
She tries to picture herself saying the words. In her imagination, they are sitting in his car outside her house. We need to talk, she’ll say. I’m so sorry. You haven’t done anything wrong. You are amazing. I will always love you, but I’m not in love with you anymore, and we need to break up. She has written it out twenty times in her notebook, trying to find the perfect words, words that won’t hurt as much. She has memorized it. But when they’re together, she can’t seem to bring herself to say any of it.
She keeps coming up with excuses. Not at the coffee shop—it’s too public. Not at her house—there’s never any privacy. Not at his house—she can’t face his mom and dad and his little sisters afterward. She’s known his sisters since they were in kindergarten. His parents struggled to have another kid after Erik, and then they did IVF and had the twins when he was eight. Erik adores them. He’s a good big brother.
He’s been a good boyfriend too. He is clever and ambitious and kind. He was her first love. Her first everything. He’s been endlessly supportive, no matter how competitive and bitchy she gets about Chloe or Savannah or anyone else. He never complained when she wanted to study instead of make out or when she canceled a date to work late on the newspaper. He planned and plotted right alongside her. She honestly can’t remember whose idea it was to go to Georgetown. It was theirs.
How can she go without him?
She isn’t sure she can. She isn’t sure she wants to.
But she has to tell him the truth. She owes him that much.
Tonight, she decides. After the movie. She’ll tell him tonight.
Wednesday night is the first rehearsal for Little Women.
Kat is super nervous, which is absurd. She doesn’t get stage fright. She never gets stage fright. Not for her ballet recitals as a kid. Not during four years of fall plays and spring musicals or last year’s Theater I class productions. And this is just a read-through of the script! She knows she can rock this part. She’s not worried about her acting. No, she is suddenly, stupidly self-conscious about merely existing in front of Adam and Jillian.
Last night, she had a nightmare about being onstage, playing Jo, while the two of them critiqued her from the audience. It was awful. She woke up feeling panicky and insecure, and the feeling has stayed with her all day. She knows they won’t mock her during rehearsal—Ms. Randall would put a stop to that—but what if they make fun of her later? It’s not like it’s beyond the realm of possibility. Adam’s done it before.
Sophomore year, after weeks of Adam flirting with Kat during Into the Woods rehearsals, his girlfriend Bailey broke up with him. And then he made fun of her incessantly, whenever the director wasn’t paying attention. When Bailey didn’t hit one of her high notes, when she tripped during a dance, when she ruined her costume brushing up against wet paint on a forest backdrop—Adam pointed it out. He said he was just kidding and she needed to lighten up. But it made Bailey so nervous that she made even more mistakes. Once, after a curtain call, Kat saw her crying alone backstage.
And Kat never spoke up. Never once told Adam to knock it off. His petty behavior actually made her feel good, confirmed that she was the one he wanted to be with. She was excited that a gorgeous, talented upperclassman—the one playing Prince Charming himself—had chosen her. So she enabled him and laughed it off when he was an asshole.
She never thought she would be in Bailey’s position.
Now that she is, Kat knows she cannot trust Adam to be kind. What if he embarrasses her? Undermines her in front of the whole cast and Ms. Randall? Kat wants this to be the first of many community theater productions she stars in. Impressing Ms. Randall is key.
“Kat!” Bea hammers on the bathroom door. It is ridiculous that they only have one bathroom to share among five women.
Kat throws the door open. “What?” she demands, eyeliner pencil in hand.
“Do your makeup in your room. I need to pee,” Bea says.
Kat steps into the hall. “The lighting’s better in the bathroom.”
“You look gorgeous. Just let me pee. Please.” Bea pushes past her and shuts the door.
Kat finishes her makeup and then wanders downstairs to the living room. Erik is watching CNN while he waits for Bea. “Hey, Kat.”
“Hey, Erik.” She looks in the mirror over the couch and tugs on one errant red curl. Should she have flat-ironed her hair? Would that make her look more professional?
Erik mutes the TV. “I heard you have a new job.”
“I do.” Monday morning, Kat went to the Tabby Cat Café and filled out an application. Then this morning, Miss Lydia called and offered her the job. Kat had to check with Gram before she accepted, but of course Des was at Arden when she went to ask Gram. And Des was now pissed that Kat wanted to work somewhere else.
“She only wants to work at the café so she can keep an eye on Mase,” Des said brattily. The blue hair seemed to have given her some new, entirely unwelcome sass.
Gram raised her feathery eyebrows. “Mason Kim?”
“They were making out at the farm party,” Des tattled.
Kat leaned over the counter and swatted her sister on the shoulder. “We were not making out! We kissed. That’s all. Mase is really funny and sweet and—”
“Opposites attract, I guess,” Des muttered.
“Des,” Gram chided. She was sitting in her armchair, her knee propped up on the footstool, her laptop on her thighs. “So that’s why you want to work for Lydia?”
“No. Well. Maybe,” Kat confessed. “I also want to help more cats get adopted. Mase said the adoption numbers are down because people haven’t been coming to the café as much. I really think I can help Miss Lydia. You don’t want the cats to be killed, do you? It’s not like we can adopt one.” Kat glared at Des. “Since someone has allergies.”
“All right, all right, you two,” Gram said, tucking her shoulder-length gray hair behind her ear.
“Please?” Kat knelt at Gram’s feet, her hands
clasped together. “Pretty, pretty please?”
Gram chuckled. “Are you sure this is what you want? Lydia doesn’t suffer fools, Kat. She’ll expect you to show up on time and work hard. No quitting if she asks you to clean out the litter box or something you think is beneath you. No calling in sick if you and Mason get into a fight.”
“Of course!” Kat felt injured by Gram’s implication that she was a diva.
Gram pushed her glasses up her nose. “All right. It’s fine with me.”
“Thank you! You’re the best!” Kat threw herself at Gram for a hug. “And Mase is great. You’ll really like him. He’s easy to like.”
It was true. It was easy to say nice things about Mase.
“I heard you have a new boyfriend, huh? Mase better treat you right,” Erik says now, echoing her thoughts.
Kat smiles at his stern look. He and Bea have been dating since Kat was eleven years old; he’s seen her with braces and awkward, gangly limbs. When she wasn’t eating, he brought her nonfat strawberry fro-yo to try to tempt her. He always remembers her birthday and gets her a goofy card with cats on it, like she’s still eleven. When Adam broke up with her, Erik threatened to kick his ass. It made Kat laugh, because she had never heard Erik swear before and she was pretty positive he would never actually fight anyone. She appreciated the symbolic patriarchal gesture, though.
“No worries. Mase is super sweet,” she reassures Erik.
“He’d better be,” Erik says darkly, straightening the collar of his navy-blue polo.
“You’re such a good big brother. I’m going to miss having you around. I’ll miss Bea too, I guess. But I’ve got more sisters. You’re my only brother. Well, almost.”
Erik smiles over her shoulder. “We’ll be back for fall break. Right, Bea?”
Kat turns to find Bea standing behind her in the doorway. She’s changed from her pencil skirt and cardigan into a T-shirt and jeans, but she still looks stressed. In fact, she looks sort of stricken. “Right. Yes,” she says quietly. When Erik takes her hand, Kat notices the tiniest hesitation before Bea links her fingers through his.
Back to The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls book
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