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“Okay.” She watches as he hurries away, falling into step beside Sierra. Part of her wants to hurry after him and beg him to talk to her. To find out whether he’s been feeling as out of sorts and anxious as she has. Whether he knows she’s unhappy, and whether he’s been unhappy too.
The other part of her is relieved it was so easy to extricate herself. It’s only seven thirty, and the evening is all hers. It stretches out before her, full of promise, and she finds herself looking down the river toward the marina.
“Hey,” Chloe says, sidling up to her. Drew and Faith have packed up and wandered off while Bea was daydreaming. “Is everything okay?”
“What? Yes,” Bea says automatically. “Why?”
“You seem a little distracted,” Chloe explains, pulling her long black hair into a bun. “The meeting ran late. Your meetings never run late.”
Bea’s shoulders stiffen. She was distracted. She feels guilty because she still hasn’t talked to Erik. She was going to—she absolutely was—last Wednesday, after the movie, but then she overheard Kat telling Erik how much she’ll miss him when he and Bea go to Georgetown. I’ll miss Bea too, I guess. But I’ve got more sisters. You’re my only brother. Well, almost, she’d teased. And Bea’s heart had broken a little.
For five years, Erik has been part of her family, acting like a big brother to Kat and Vi. He taught Kat how to play tennis and sees all her shows. He threatened to kick the ass of anyone who hassled Vi after she came out. He brought Gram flowers after her surgery.
Bea’s family adores Erik. She couldn’t help thinking that maybe they like him better than they like her. Bea knows she isn’t always very likable. She can be prickly. Self-centered. Selfish. If she broke up with him, would Kat and Vi be mad at her? Would they take his side?
“Is there somewhere you need to be?” Bea asks Chloe, her voice icy.
“I wasn’t criticizing you,” Chloe says. “I just meant…you seem a little off. I thought maybe…do you want to grab coffee?”
“With you?” Bea asks, surprised. They’ve known each other since kindergarten—been competing against one another for nearly as long—but they’ve never grabbed coffee. Not without some kind of group project or class assignment to work on. What is Chloe up to?
“Yeah, with me. I thought maybe we could hang out.”
Chloe smiles, and Bea feels bad that her first instinct was to be suspicious. She remembers Chloe hugging her at the farm party: We’re friends now, right? You beat me. You got valedictorian. But now we’ve graduated, so none of that matters anymore.
“You look like you could use a friend,” Chloe says.
Is she that obvious? That pathetic? “I’m fine.”
Chloe sighs and flops back down on her Burberry plaid blanket. “All right, maybe I could use a friend. We don’t have to have coffee. We can sit here and watch the boats.”
“Oh. Okay.” This is very new territory. Tentatively, Bea sits cross-legged on the blanket. “Um…how’s your internship going? You’re doing an internship this summer, right?”
“Yeah. With Dr. Holt at Remington Vet. She’s great.”
Bea recognizes the strained tone in Chloe’s voice, the way Chloe avoids her eyes. Something isn’t great.
“Is it weird not working at the inn?” she asks. Chloe’s parents run the most popular bed and breakfast in Remington Hollow. Her mom is the manager; her dad is the chef. Chloe’s worked there every summer, after school, and on weekends, except during tennis season. Like Bea, Chloe has always had a plan. She’s going to the University of Pennsylvania (the fifth-best undergraduate school of business in the country) to study business, and then she’ll come back to Remington Hollow and help her parents take the inn to the next level. Maybe even start a franchise in other cute touristy towns on the Eastern Shore.
“It’s definitely weird.” Chloe sighs, stretching her legs out in front of her. “But you should see Amber—Dr. Holt—she’s amazing. She cares so much about every single animal who comes in, and she has a sliding scale for people who can’t afford pet care. She volunteers at the rescue clinic. She’s incredibly kind. When we had to put Percy to sleep—that was our old golden retriever—she sent us a sympathy card and a bouquet of flowers.”
“That’s really nice.” Bea remembers Chloe coming to class red-eyed after Percy died.
“Yeah. When we took Athena for her first puppy checkup, I asked Dr. Holt about interning for her this summer. My dad was pissed. He and Mom were expecting me to work at the inn, like always. He wanted me to back out of my internship with Amber—and usually Dad is super firm about not going back on my word. He thinks I just want to slack off and play with puppies this summer. I mean, I do want to play with puppies, but it’s not slacking off. It’s hard work. And I love it.”
Bea looks at the mix of exhilaration and anxiety on Chloe’s face. It feels familiar. “That’s cool,” she says. “Are you…maybe rethinking your plan?”
Chloe nods without looking at her. “Penn is one of the best veterinary schools in the country too. Super competitive.”
Bea laughs. “Wait, how long have you been thinking about this? Do your parents know?”
“A while,” Chloe admits, meeting her eyes. “Amber is super inspiring, but I did all my community service at the animal rescue, and I really loved that too.” Bea remembers. She was a little jealous of Chloe; she did her one hundred hours scanning and archiving ancient issues of the Gazette. “I haven’t told my parents yet. It meant so much to them that I wanted to go into the family business, you know? We’ve been planning that for ages. I decided I was going to help turn the inn into a franchise back when I was twelve, when we went on a trip to St. Michaels. But I was twelve. I’m not the same person now. I don’t want the same things. Does that make sense?”
“It definitely makes sense to me.” Bea’s mind is whirring. “I think it’s brave to pursue a career you love, especially when it’s not what your parents expect.”
“Well, I haven’t done the hardest part: telling them. But thank you.” Chloe smiles. “What about you? Still excited about Georgetown?”
“I’ve been—um. I’ve been kind of wondering whether Georgetown is still the right move for me, actually.” Bea feels an incredible relief from saying it. She turns to Chloe, expecting her to—she doesn’t know—drop dead from shock or something.
Chloe nods, tucking a stray hair back into her bun. “I’ve wondered.”
“You have? How?” Bea whisper-shrieks.
“I’ve known you since kindergarten, Bea. Sometime this spring, you started to get this…look when someone asked you about Georgetown. Like you were stuck in a mousetrap. Super panicky. I knew the feeling.” Chloe gives a sympathetic grimace. “Did you apply anywhere else?”
“Nope. Just Georgetown, early action.”
Chloe winces. “Does Erik know?”
Bea shakes her head. She is grateful that Chloe doesn’t assume of course Erik knows. That Chloe isn’t judging her.
“Are you guys okay?” Chloe asks.
Bea shakes her head again. She can’t bring herself to say the words.
“Wow. I—that must be really hard,” Chloe says.
Bea blinks back tears. Chloe is being so nice to her. After all the snarky things Bea has thought—and said!—about her over the years, she doesn’t feel like she deserves this kindness.
She takes a deep breath.
“I think I want to break up,” she whispers, tracing the squares of the Burberry plaid blanket. “Am I a terrible person?”
“No! No. Bea. Hey. Look at me.” Bea lifts her chin. Chloe grabs her hand. “You are not a terrible person. You’re just not the same person you were when you were thirteen, or fifteen, or seventeen. You don’t want the same things. And that’s okay.”
Tears trickle down Bea’s cheeks. She lets them. She is sitting in the park, holding hands
with Chloe Chan and crying, and for once, she doesn’t care who sees her. She is profoundly relieved. “Thank you.”
Chloe smiles. “Oh my God, why haven’t we ever actually talked to each other before?”
Bea sniffles. “I don’t know. Can we—will you be my friend?” As soon as she says it, she feels stupid. If Chloe laughs at her, she will die of embarrassment.
Instead, Chloe beams and squeezes her hand. “Hell yeah, I will. Let’s be friends instead of frenemies, Bea Garrett.”
• • •
Bea and Chloe stay at the park till the shadows lengthen and turn to twilight. Then Chloe has to head home and walk the puppy before dinner.
Bea doesn’t want to go home. She’s tired of pretending, but she’s not ready to tell Gram and her sisters the truth. The difference between her and Chloe is that Bea doesn’t know what she wants to do, if not Georgetown. She doesn’t have a plan at all.
How has she—a consummate list-maker, the ultimate goal-oriented girl—found herself with no plan at all? It’s totally anxiety inducing. Thinking about it makes her stomach tie itself into a knot.
Instead of heading home, Bea finds herself walking toward the marina. Toward the Stella Anne.
She stands on the dock for a long time, weighing the decision. The lamp is on. Gabe is settling down at the table with a box of Sabbatini’s pizza. Bea feels the pull of all of the things she should want, all the things she thought she wanted at thirteen and fifteen and seventeen. And she feels the pull of something new and scary and thrilling, something that could be a mistake—or could be a new beginning.
She steps gingerly onto the deck of the houseboat. Knocks on the open sliding glass door.
“Permission to come aboard?” she calls.
Gabe comes to the door. “Permission granted.” He’s shirtless, barefoot, clad only in a pair of paint-splattered jeans. His dark-blond hair is pulled up into a bun. The sight of him—of his broad, tanned chest and the sharp cut of his hips—makes Bea’s mouth go dry. Makes her stomach flutter and swoop. She feels almost unbearably nervous, like a string stretched too tight.
“Hey.” His smile is ginormous.
He’s happy to see me, she realizes with relief. She was worried he liked Savannah, or had a girlfriend back in Nashville, or maybe just wasn’t attracted to her. But the way he’s looking at her…
“Hey,” she says back, and she’s smiling so wide, she thinks her face might break.
“Come on in. You here for a Canasta rematch?”
She hasn’t seen him since he destroyed her at cards last week. But she’s been thinking about him all the time. About this.
“Yes.” She walks inside. “No. Yes, but—but first—”
She’s so nervous. Jesus. Has she ever in her whole life been so nervous?
She has never kissed anyone else.
Once she does this, she can’t go back. Can’t undo it. It’s an ending as well as a beginning.
“First?” Gabe prompts.
Bea launches herself at him. She is not graceful about it. She is awkward and eager. She rises up on her toes and throws her arms around his neck and pulls his head down toward hers. He makes a surprised noise at the back of his throat, and then their mouths crash into each other. Their first kiss is hard and curious and hungry. Bea can’t stop touching him. She runs her hands over the muscles of his shoulders, over the jut of his hipbones, over the smooth warm skin of his back. Gabe’s hands skim down her sides to settle on her hips, and she shudders and presses a kiss against the salty curve of his shoulder. Bites him gently. She’s always been assertive, the one who initiates things, but not like this. Never like this, wild and a little desperate.
Gabe sucks in a breath, and then he’s picking her up. He sits her down on the table, shoving the pizza box aside. A glass crashes to the floor, and he mumbles shit, but it doesn’t shatter, and he doesn’t stop kissing her. They kiss until Bea feels like she might combust, like she’s ready to fly apart into pieces. Then she breaks away.
“Wait,” she pants. She’s lost time. Has it been minutes or hours?
This can’t go further. Not tonight. And definitely not sitting on the table in front of the window, where anyone walking by could see them.
She’s breathing hard. So is he, she notes with satisfaction. She takes a deep breath and leans her forehead against his chest, listening to the rapid beat of his heart.
“That,” he says, “was unexpected.”
She looks up at him. “Good unexpected or bad unexpected?”
He grins. “Definitely good unexpected.”
She slides off the table. “Excellent.” She smiles. “Now I’m ready for that rematch.”
“Watch out!” Mase yells as a black cat streaks toward the open door of the Tabby Cat Café.
“No! Bad Shadow!” Kat shrieks, kicking the door closed behind her. She drops several IKEA bags on the floor, narrowly missing the cat. “I thought they were all penned upstairs!”
“Obviously, we missed one. Did you count wrong?” Mase puts his bags down and picks up Shadow. “What are you doing, huh, troublemaker? Making a run for your freedom? It’s nicer in here. You get all the head scratches and Fancy Feast you want.”
“I did not count wrong!” Kat wonders if she counted Sassy twice, though. Shadow and Sassy look a lot alike. She strides across the mostly empty café, examining the chalkboard wall they painted yesterday. “I think this is ready to prime.”
“Did we buy primer? I don’t think primer was on the list.” This morning, Mase drove them across the Bay Bridge to the IKEA in College Park, where they picked up all the pillows and baskets and lamps that Miss Lydia had signed off on. The new futons and end tables will be delivered later, but Kat got to use the company credit card. It was very exciting. No one has ever trusted her with a business credit card before.
“You don’t use regular primer. You cure it with chalk,” she explains. “If you hurry, we can get this done before rehearsal.”
“Ugh, you’re so bossy,” Mase teases, sliding his sunglasses on top of his head.
“Only because you’re such a slacker.” She grins. Miss Lydia agreed to close the cafe this week so they could paint and clean and redecorate to their hearts’ content. She’d put them in charge of the redesign, although she had to approve every purchase over fifty dollars. But she loved Kat’s ideas.
Kat claps her hands twice. “Come on! We still have a lot to do! Everything has to be perfect by Tea Party weekend for the grand reopening.”
“Known as the Fourth of July in other, normal places,” Mase stage-whispers to Shadow.
“I love Tea Party weekend,” Kat confesses. “We had so much fun last year on the raft. Till it sank. Even after it sank, really.” She only remembers after the words are out that Mase and Brandon were on the drama club raft too.
“Maybe it was a harbinger of the garbage year to come,” Mase says.
At least he’s joking about it now.
“Put the cat upstairs, slacker,” she commands.
“But he’s my favorite!” Mase complains, petting Shadow.
“I thought I was your favorite.” She gives him an exaggerated wink. “Come on. I’ll let you play Hamilton again if you put Shadow upstairs with his friends!”
Mase is still obsessed with the Hamilton original cast recording. She can’t tell how much of it’s because of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genuine musical brilliance and how much is Mase’s enormous crush on Daveed Diggs. Then again, who doesn’t have an enormous crush on Daveed Diggs?
“Fine.” Mase fake stomps toward the stairs.
“Take some of those bags with you, please,” Kat calls.
“Bossy!” Mase tosses over his shoulder.
“You love it!” She rifles through some bags. In order to prime the chalkboard, t
hey have to cover it entirely with chalk, rub the chalk in with a clean rag, and then erase it. She doesn’t want to screw this up.
Kat thought that having to be at work every morning at ten a.m. would be a drag; she usually sleeps until noon during the summer. She thought packing up Miss Lydia’s figurines and china plates and emptying the cats’ litter boxes and painting the walls would be a pain. And it is, in the literal sense that her shoulder hurts after all the painting they did yesterday. But mostly it’s been super fun. Miss Lydia has been popping in twice a day to check their progress, but she trusts them to execute their vision. So mostly it’s Kat and Mase working, singing show tunes, and running their lines for Little Women, with breaks for lunch and playing with cats.
Kat cannot imagine a better summer job.
Her phone chimes, and she fishes it out of the back pocket of her cutoff jean shorts. It’s a text from Pen.
What are you doing? Want to come over?
Kat rolls her eyes. They have had this conversation every single afternoon this week. Pen doesn’t have a summer job besides occasionally babysitting her little cousins, which means she’s lounging around her pool every afternoon, eating Popsicles and reading Regency romance novels. It’s how Kat spent most of last summer too, except for the three afternoons a week she worked at Arden with Gram. Pen ate all the purple Popsicles because Kat hates grape-flavored anything, and Kat ate all the strawberry ones, and they read the most salacious parts of the novels out loud, red-faced and giggling.
I can’t. I’m working, she texts back.
You spend all your time with Mase now.
I do not! I’m WORKING.
Working on your sexytimes!
We are priming a chalkboard wall.
Want to come help?
I’ll leave you alone with Mase and his twitching member
Kat laughs. The books they read last summer involved a lot of euphemisms for the hero’s penis.
We’ve been dating for 2 weeks! I am nowhere near seeing his member!
Back to The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls book
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