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“You’re smart and kind and thoughtful. What more could they want?”
“Straight?” Cece jokes, giving Vi her most genuine, dimpled grin. She is quiet for a moment, thoughtful. “Do you think your parents would have cared?”
“That I’m gay? I don’t think so.” It’s impossible to know for sure. Would her mom have gotten a rainbow bumper sticker and taken her to DC Pride? Helped her make LGBTQIA book displays at Arden every June? Would her dad have made a rule that if her sisters couldn’t have boys in their rooms with the doors closed, she couldn’t have girls in her room with the door closed, because fair is fair? “Gram says they would have wanted me to be happy.”
Cece sighs and redoes her ponytail. “I’m worried what people will think. What they’ll say about me. You’re so brave.”
“I’m not that brave.” Not brave enough to tell Cece how she really feels. “And remember, you don’t have to tell anyone till you’re ready.”
Cece hugs her knees to her chest, dislodging Juno from her lap. “I’m not sure when that will be.”
“There’s no time limit. I knew for a couple of months before I told Des. I was super nervous, even though I was pretty sure she’d be okay with it. When she was cool, I told Kat and Bea, and then Gram. You don’t have to tell everybody all at once.”
“But they were all supportive? Your whole family?” Cece asks.
Vi nods, remembering. Des illustrated a quote with dancing rainbows as a coming-out present. Bea did research on how to be a good ally and then printed it out at Gram’s request. Kat joined the GSA for a hot second, till she got too busy with the spring musical and tried to convince Vi to join the drama club instead because it was very gay-friendly.
“You’re lucky,” Cece says. “Abuela Julia…I don’t want her to think I’m going to hell, Vi.”
“You’re not going to hell. That’s ridiculous,” Vi says firmly. “Look, maybe she won’t know what to say right away. Maybe she’ll say the wrong thing at first. But she loves you. I don’t think that will change. If she wants advice, she knows she can ask Gram.”
“You won’t tell her, though, right? Or your sisters?” Cece’s shoulders tense.
“Of course not,” Vi says. “It’s not mine to tell.”
Cece slumps back on her elbows and stares up at the cloudless blue sky. “Thank you. I’m so grateful for you, Vi. I kind of don’t know what I’d do without you anymore.”
“Me too,” Vi says. Only she thinks she means it differently. Is it possible that her feelings aren’t written all over her face? That Cece still doesn’t know Vi is crazy about her? Or if she does know and hasn’t said anything, what does that mean? What if Cece is attracted to girls, but not Vi, and doesn’t want to hurt her feelings by addressing the elephant in the room that is Vi’s crush?
Slow down, Vi reminds herself. This is still really new for Cece. She’s still figuring things out. Maybe she just needs time. It’s not like you’ve told her how you feel.
Vi looks down at her green Chucks, her freckled legs, her cutoff shorts, and her blue Destroy the Patriarchy, Not the Planet T-shirt. She knows she’s kind of weird. Awkward, sometimes. Cece is gorgeous and popular. But they have so much in common. They never run out of things to talk about. And she’s honored that Cece confided in her first. She is happy to be able to help her through the coming-out process, however long that takes. She wants to be Cece’s friend, and she is trying so hard not to be selfish or make any of this about herself.
But she can’t help wondering if maybe, someday soon, Cece might see her as something more than a friend.
“I love it,” Des says, staring down at the words freshly inked across her left forearm.
“Let me see!” Paige bounces up from her chair across the room. “Are you sure you don’t want to add a little color? Some flowers or something?”
“It’s perfect exactly the way it is,” Des says firmly. She smiles up at Lola, the pink-haired tattoo artist. “Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome, sweets.” Lola gives her instructions on how to care for a new tattoo as she covers her forearm in plastic wrap. Des can’t stop grinning. She wrote out the quote last night in one of her favorite styles, the letters swooping and curling. Lola traced it and then copied it onto Des’s skin in blue ink. And now it’s there on her forearm. Forever. After the blue hair fades, after Paige goes back to Baltimore in August, the tattoo will still be there. Maybe the thought should daunt her, but it doesn’t.
Des isn’t squeamish, but she didn’t watch the actual tattooing process. There was plenty to look at around the room, which is decorated with strange tchotchkes and pop art and pin-up photos of Lola and her girlfriend, Grace. It’s the perfect aesthetic for Lola, with her pink curls and 1950s-style pineapple-print halter dress.
“It barely even stung, right?” Paige crows. “I told you so. I told you Lola was amazing!”
“She is. This place is incredible.” Des is still a little starstruck as they clatter downstairs.
“Right? Worth getting up early,” Paige hands Grace her credit card.
Grace runs the card through the machine and then tucks her dark, pin-curled hair behind her ear. “Those are really cute earrings,” she says to Des.
Des touches the blue and silver wire tangles. “Thank you. Paige made them, actually.”
“Yeah?” Grace looks at Paige with interest. “Do you sell them? I’d love to buy some.”
“Oh, thank you, but—I just make them for myself. Sometimes for friends,” Paige says. It’s the first time Des has ever seen her flustered. “Mostly I do sculptures. I go to MICA.”
“You should think about selling them.” Grace frowns at the card reader. “I’m sorry, your card was declined.”
Paige cusses, then fumbles in her wallet and hands Grace another card. “Here, try this one.”
“Sure.” There’s an awkward pause. Des stares at the pop art Marilyn Monroe on the wall behind the counter. “That was declined as well,” Grace says, her voice a little chillier.
“Oh my God. I’m so sorry.” Paige’s porcelain skin is flushed. “This is really embarrassing. I don’t have any cash on me. I’m, like, dead-ass broke right now.”
Des looks at her, perplexed. How can that be true? Paige has picked up tons of hours at Tia Julia’s over the last few weeks, and yesterday, she was crowing about getting great tips even though she’s new and works mostly weeknights.
Regardless, this is super awkward. They can’t stiff Lola for her work. Des reaches into her bag. “I’ll pay for both of us.”
“You sure?” Grace asks.
“Really? Thank you so much, Desdemona.” Paige hugs her. “You’re the best. Thank you. I’ll pay you back as soon as I get paid on Friday, I promise.”
“Thanks, sweetheart.” Grace rings them up, and Des tries not to wince when she sees the total. Paige’s tattoo—a gorgeous tangle of skulls and roses, a Day of the Dead design based on something Paige saw at Tia Julia’s—is twice as expensive. It took almost two hours for Lola to ink it on her right shoulder blade.
“Want to get coffee? My treat, if I can scrounge up enough quarters,” Paige jokes as they walk, blinking, back into the bright sunshine of Fell’s Point.
Des checks her phone and groans. She’s supposed to work at four, but it’s already almost three. It will take at least two hours to drive from Baltimore back to Remington Hollow. “I can’t. That took way longer than I estimated. I’m going to be so late. I’ve got to text Gram.”
“Can’t she cover for you?” Paige leans against her car. “We could go to the Visionary Art Museum. It’s for self-taught artists. Outsiders. Have you ever been?”
Des tugs her red Curious George T-shirt down over her hips. “No. I really can’t, though. Gram has physical therapy.”
emona. Come on.” Paige levels her with a stern, gray-eyed stare. “She totally takes advantage of you. You know that, right? You’ve been working ten-hour days, six days a week. Half the time, you don’t even get a real lunch.”
Des shakes her head. Paige doesn’t understand. Gram’s done everything for them. Not every grandparent would raise four orphaned girls and take on a small business that was barely in the black. “She’s not taking advantage! She had major surgery. She’s still recovering.”
“And your sisters can’t help out? There are four of you, aren’t there? How come you’re the only one I see working her ass off at the store? And at home too. Has anybody else been pitching in to cook and clean, or is it all you?” Paige asks.
“I don’t clean that much.” Des bites her lip. “I should, the house is a mess, but—”
“Des, stop it. You’re not fucking Cinderella.”
Paige has a point. Why should Des be the one to cook and vacuum and dust and scrub the bathtub and do everybody’s laundry? Okay, maybe the bathtub is on her, because she stained it blue when she dyed her hair. But it’s still blue, two weeks later. None of her sisters has thought, Hey, Des is busy working ten hours a day at Arden and then cooking us dinner every damn night. Maybe I could at least scrub the bathtub for her.
She thought they would step up more after school was out, but they haven’t.
“Well, they’re all really busy,” she says. “Bea has her internship, and she’s working on a raft for the race.” Still, Bea has enough time to stay out until midnight lately and then stress bake until two a.m. “Kat has rehearsal every night, and she’s been working at your grandma’s place during the day.” Des is still annoyed that Kat got a job somewhere else—conveniently, where her new boyfriend works—and that Gram let her. “And Gram doesn’t want Vi working alone yet. She’s only fifteen. So, like, theoretically she worked with me the other day, but mostly she and Cece sat in the pirate ship and talked about books for two hours.”
Paige puts her hands on her skinny hips. “Let’s be real, okay? You’re making excuses for them. Fine, they have lives; whatever. You deserve to have a life too. You’re letting them walk all over you. It’s not cool.”
“I have a life!” Des snaps, wounded.
“Do you? How much time have you had to work on your art this summer?” Paige asks.
“My art?” Des blushes. The other day, Paige stopped by Arden on her break, and Des showed her two potential lettering options for the tattoo. While she was helping a customer, Paige flipped through her sketchbook and saw some of the quotes Des has been illustrating lately.
“Yes. Your art,” Paige says. “You are an artist. You’re really talented, okay?”
“I thought you were just high,” Des admits.
Paige cackles. “Nah. I mean, I was, but I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true. You should be doing something with your work.”
“Oh, you’re one to talk.” Paige looks blank, and Des tugs on her earring. “You heard Grace. You could sell these. Start an Etsy shop, or”—Des thinks for a minute—“sell them at the farmer’s market. People sell all kinds of stuff there: handmade candles, soap, fancy wooden cutting boards, photographs—”
“I’ll do it if you do it,” Paige interrupts.
Des twirls the turquoise ring on her finger. “What? No.”
“Yes.” Paige is nodding, her purple ponytail bouncing. “Yes! People would absolutely buy your quotes. They would probably buy them even if you weren’t very good, because you’re Desdemona Garrett, and everybody loves you and your whole crazy family. But you are good, so you’ll sell twice as many. Let’s do it. Let’s get a table at the farmer’s market. Do you think we could get one for Saturday? There’ll be a billion tourists in town for Tea Party.”
Des’s eyes go wide. “That’s in four days. I can’t have anything ready in four days!”
“You could if you took some time off work,” Paige says.
“I can’t.” It’s automatic.
“You can. You just have to tell your gram and your sisters what you need from them.”
Des twirls the ring around her finger faster and faster. “But it’s not really—I’m not really—”
“I mean this in the nicest possible way, but if you say that you’re not a real artist one more time, I’m going to punch you,” Paige says. “I’m not fucking around, okay? I’m telling you, those quotes are rad, and people will pay money for them. I’m not suggesting you quit your day job, but if you love doing this—”
“I do.” Des is nodding like a marionette. “I really do. I just—I’ve always thought of it as this nerdy hobby.” Practicing your handwriting, Em said.
“Look, you have to take yourself seriously if you want anybody else to.” Paige pokes her in the shoulder. “I want you to say it out loud. Say, ‘I am an artist and my art is rad.’ Say it!”
“Ouch!” Des ducks away, but she’s laughing. “Okay! I am an artist and my art is rad.”
“Hell yeah, it is.” Paige slings an arm around her. “All right. Let’s go home, Desdemona.”
• • •
Three hours later, Des rushes into Arden, the bell clanging above her. Gram sits in the flowered armchair near the counter, her leg propped on a red tasseled footstool. A mom with two kids is browsing in the children’s section. Mr. Dixon, Des’s eighth-grade Maryland history teacher, is scanning their nonfiction shelves.
“I’m sorry I’m late!” Des texted Gram to let her know she would be an hour late and then texted her again when they got stuck in traffic. “I’m sorry you had to reschedule your physical therapy. Bea couldn’t leave the paper early?”
“She had an interview with Lydia about the grand reopening,” Gram says.
Des can’t read the look on her face. “What about Kat?”
“Kat was rearranging furniture so the photographer could take pictures to accompany the article. Vi was out with Cece. And it wasn’t their responsibility.” Gram’s blue eyes are narrowed behind her glasses. “Des, this isn’t like you.”
“I’m sorry. I said I was sorry.” Des drops her bag behind the counter and tucks the telltale edge of plastic wrap beneath the sleeve of her black cardigan. Her tattoo is starting to sting like a bad sunburn.
“What’s that?” Gram asks.
Des wasn’t planning to hide the tattoo exactly, but she was hoping to find the right moment to reveal it. Preferably a moment that wouldn’t involve arguing in front of customers.
“I got a tattoo,” she explains, carefully pulling off the cardigan and holding out her plastic-wrapped forearm.
“You did what?” Gram’s feathery eyebrows, identical to Des’s, shoot up so high, they disappear beneath her bangs. “You didn’t think this was something you might mention?”
“I’m nineteen,” Des says. “I don’t need your permission.”
Gram purses her lips. “Was this Paige’s idea?”
“It was, but I love it. I really love it. Look. It’s an Agatha Christie quote.” Des gingerly unwraps the plastic. “I did the lettering, and then Lola traced it. It’s kind of swollen right now, but—”
“Lola? Did you research this place first and make sure it was safe?” Gram asks.
“Paige has gotten all her tattoos there,” Des says. “And Lola explained the whole process before she even touched me. She was great. We were supporting an awesome, woman-owned small business.”
“We? So Paige got a tattoo too? How on earth did she pay for that? Every dollar she makes this summer is supposed to go toward repaying her mother!” Gram’s voice is getting louder. Mr. Dixon peeks around the nonfiction display and then makes his way toward the door.
“Gram. I don’t want to argue about Paige.” Des is not about to confide that she paid for Paige’s tattoo. It’s only a loan, after all. “I need to talk to you about something else. I would really like
to take some time off this week. Do you think Bea or Kat could work for me Thursday and Friday?”
Gram rises from her chair, still a little wobbly, and grabs her cane. “You were two hours late because you were off getting a tattoo, and now you’re asking if you can take two days off with no notice? Your sisters are busy, Des. There are two issues of the Gazette this week. The café’s grand reopening is Saturday, and Kat has been working very hard to help Lydia get ready.”
Kat has been working very hard? What about all Des’s hard work over the last month? Hell, over the last year? Des tries to control her twitching temper. “Maybe you and Vi could work together? She can run upstairs for anything you need. I could help for an hour or two while she’s walking the dogs. I just—I really need some time off.”
“For what? Are you and Paige taking a trip? I have to tell you, Des, I really do not approve of this friendship.” Gram sighs.
“Excuse me.” It’s the woman with the two little boys, balancing the baby in one arm and a teetering stack of picture books in the other. “I’m ready to buy these.”
“Great. Thank you so much.” Des compliments the baby, asks how old he is, and hands the toddler a bookworm sticker while she rings up the purchase. She waits until they’re gone before she turns back to Gram. “I want to sell my art. Some of the quotes I’ve been working on. There will be so many people in town on Saturday for the parade and the reenactment and the fireworks. It would be the perfect time to try this, but I need to make more prints. Please, Gram.”
“Does that mean you want Saturday off too?” Gram shakes her head. “That’s one of the busiest days of the year for us, honey. You know that. I need you here.”
Des’s mind spins. She hadn’t thought that far ahead yet, but there has to be some way to make this work. She’s willing to compromise. “We always have a couple of tables on the sidewalk for Tea Party, right? What if you let me and Paige take one of them? She’s going to sell her earrings too. Then she can handle our table and I’ll handle the books. You’d need somebody outside anyway.”
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