The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls


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“Like someone else I know,” Mrs. Pérez says, and Cece practically glows with happiness.

“Nerd,” Miguel coughs.

“Hush. You could stand to follow your sister’s good example,” Mrs. Pérez says.

“I don’t need good grades to be a famous fútbol player,” Miguel argues, which sets off Cece and his abuela. Vi smiles and eats her tamales, relieved to be rid of the spotlight.

After dinner, they all help clear the table, and then Mrs. Pérez serves warm chipotle chocolate brownies and big frosted glasses of milk while the six of them play Canasta. The sliding glass door is open, letting in a soft summer breeze from the backyard, and the rich scent of chocolate fills the kitchen. Overhead, a ceiling fan whirs lazily. Gram taught Vi and her sisters how to play Canasta when they were littler than Luis, and they play after Friday night dinner too. It feels so homey that Vi relaxes, trash talking and teasing the boys as though they’re her own little brothers.

Danny is the first one to reach five thousand points. He does a ridiculous victory dance that makes them all laugh, except Luis, who got bored a few rounds ago and is curled up snoring on the sofa in the corner.

“All right, I need to get this one to bed. It’s past your bedtime too, Danny,” Mrs. Pérez says as she wakes Luis.

“It’s summer!” ten-year-old Danny protests. “There shouldn’t be bedtime in summer.”

“I guess I should get home,” Vi says reluctantly. “Thank you so much for dinner, Mrs. Pérez. It was delicious.”

“You’re very welcome. I put some brownies in that blue container on the counter. They’re for you to take home. Tell Helen she has to share with you and your sisters, okay?” Mrs. Pérez says.

Cece gets the brownies and walks Vi to the front door.

“I have to work tomorrow afternoon,” Cece says, “but do you want to watch the fireworks together tomorrow night?”

Vi gapes at her. Cece doesn’t know it, but this is kind of a big deal. One year ago, the night before the Tea Party, Gram asked Vi to pick up Friday night dinner from Tia Julia’s. Vi had run into Cece—almost literally run into her in the crowd of customers waiting to be seated or pick up takeout orders at the bar—and noticed her quick dimpled grin. Noticed how super pretty she was. The next night, Vi had watched the fireworks from a picnic blanket in Bishop Park with Des and Em. She had watched as Bea snuck off with Erik and Kat with Adam, and for the first time, she had felt jealous. She had wondered when she would have someone to sneak off and kiss. As golden fireworks shimmered and crackled and streaked across the sky like falling stars, she had made a wish: that next year, she’d have someone special to watch the fireworks with.

Now, exactly a year later, Cece is asking her to do just that.

It’s only as friends, Vi reminds herself. It’s better, smarter, not to get her hopes up.

But they already are. She doesn’t know if she can reel them back in. The truth is, she doesn’t want to be just friends. She wants more. And what could be more romantic than watching the fireworks together?

“I would love that,” she says.

Chapter Twenty-Five

DES

“This is amazing!” Des says early Saturday afternoon, flipping through her illustrations to see how many are left. She and Paige have been selling their art since nine a.m. at a card table on the sidewalk outside Arden.

The parade is just finishing—Des can still hear the high school drummers down by the river—but she’s already sold twenty of her illustrations. She worked like crazy on her days off to finish five different hand-lettered quotes by Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, L. M. Montgomery, C. S. Lewis, and Jane Austen. Last night, she had ten eight-by-tens printed of each. She’s selling them for ten dollars apiece, which means—she does the math quickly in her head—she’s made two hundred dollars so far!

“I told you so, didn’t I?” Paige says, slumped in the folding chair behind the table.

“You did. Hey.” Des takes in her friend’s purple-lipped frown. Paige didn’t even bother with her fake lashes this morning. “Is everything okay?” Des asks, taking advantage of the momentary lull in customers. Most of the tourists are rushing down to the river to watch the reenactment aboard the Abigail. “I texted you a couple times last night. Not that you have to text me back right away. It’s okay if you were busy. I was just kind of worried.”

Paige tugs on the end of her messy purple braid. “Yeah. Sorry about that. My mother”—her voice goes icy on the word—“canceled my cell phone service.”

“What? Why would she do that?” Des asks.

“Apparently, she doesn’t think I’m paying her back fast enough.” Paige taps her shiny silver nails on her jean-clad knee. “I kind of owe her some money. But don’t worry. I’ll pay you back for the tattoo, I promise.”

“I’m not worried about the money.” Des isn’t sure if she is or not. “I’m worried about you.”

Paige buries her face in her hands. “I didn’t want to have to tell you; you’re, like, the one person who still thinks that I have my shit together, but…look, Desdemona, everything I’ve told you is a lie.”

“Everything?” Des asks, alarmed. She knew there was stuff Paige wasn’t telling her, like whatever’s going on between Paige and her mom. But they’ve only known each other for a couple of weeks, and Des didn’t want to pry.

“Not everything,” Paige concedes. She avoids Des’s eyes, rearranging her earrings on the rack. She’s made dozens of them in different colors, all intricate knots and tangles of wire. “But I’m not a student at MICA…at least not anymore. I got kicked out. Not invited back for the spring semester. Same difference.”

Des tries to swallow her shock. MICA was one of the first things Paige told her. It’s one of the first things Paige tells everybody. Like it’s some badge of honor that made her legit.

“I was pretty messed up, and getting kicked out…it made it worse. I was so excited when I got accepted, you know? I was never very good at school. Not like you, I bet.” She gives Des a half-hearted smile. “I made it work for a while, but when I got kicked out, I felt like there was no more point in trying. Like I might as well live down to my parents’ terrible expectations. I got a job waitressing at this dive bar, and I met this guy who was—he was not a good guy, Desdemona. I did some really stupid shit when I was with him. Like stealing money from my mom. She was so mad that she threatened to call the cops. I was sad and scared and—” Paige swallows. “I took some pills.”

“Oh shit.” Des grabs Paige’s hand. “Why would you do that?”

“I guess I felt like I’d screwed everything up so bad, I could never fix it. Mom found me and called an ambulance, so I got my stomach pumped and spent a couple of days in the psych ward. When I got out, she just stared at me all day. It was like living under a microscope. We got into a big fight about me not wanting to see that therapist anymore, and she threatened to kick me out of the house. I said she was a terrible mother for not noticing I was depressed until I tried to kill myself. That’s when she sent me here.”

Des bites her lip. “That sounds really hard.”

“Yeah. So I’m not some kick-ass art student. I’m just a fucked-up waitress.”

Des pokes Paige in the arm. “That is not true. Repeat after me: I am an artist, and my art is rad.”

Paige doesn’t even smile. “I’m pathetic is what I am. I can’t even sell these stupid earrings.”

“That’s not true. You’ve already made… How much have you made so far?”

“Not enough.” Paige sighs and adjusts the display again. “Maybe I should have priced them lower. What do you think? Is twenty dollars too much? You’re selling way more than me.”

Des shrugs. “People know me. They’re being nice.”

Paige rolls her gray eyes. “Stop. They are not.”

“Maybe we need to make a sign advert

ising that you’re Miss Lydia’s granddaughter. Hey! Maybe she could sell some at the Tabby Cat Café,” Des suggests.

Paige purses her purple lips. “Grandma and I are not on speaking terms right now. I wore a halter top yesterday, and she saw the new tattoo and she was pissed. She said all my money should be going straight to my mom, not to tattoos and weed. I didn’t want to tell her that you paid for the tattoo, so…she called Mom and snitched, and that’s probably why my phone got disconnected.” Paige sighs. “I think it might be time for me to leave town. I can couch surf with some friends in Baltimore if I have to. Maybe I could get a job waitressing over in Fell’s Point. That’d be cool, right? I could hang with Lola and Grace.”

“No!” The word bursts out of Des’s mouth. “You can’t leave yet. It’ll be so boring here without you.”

“Aw, Desdemona.” Paige wraps an arm around her shoulders. “I’d miss you too.”

“You already have a job here. What if you got your own place?” Des suggests. “Hannah Adler’s parents are renting out their garage apartment. It used to be a carriage house, so it’s small, but it’s super cheap.”

“I’m super broke, babe. I can’t swing a security deposit and first month’s rent.”

“What if you sold your car?” Des suggests. “The apartment is right over on Petunia. You could walk to Tia Julia’s.”

“The car’s in my mom’s name. I don’t see how it could work, unless…” She eyes Des. “Unless I had a roommate.”

“I don’t know anybody who’s looking, but I could ask around,” Des offers.

“I meant you, silly.” Paige pokes her in the arm. “Have you ever thought of moving out?”

Des looks over her shoulder, as if Gram and Vi—working inside—can somehow hear. “I can’t. They need me.”

“They would manage,” Paige says. “And maybe…maybe they’re not the only ones who need you, you know?”

Des hesitates. Asking for two days off was a big deal for her. She can’t imagine telling Gram and her sisters that she wants to move out. Although…it would be kind of cool to have her own apartment. She has the money. Aside from her phone bill, her art supplies, and a large collection of Out of Print book T-shirts, she hardly spends anything she makes working at Arden. She could pay for the security deposit and first month’s rent on the Adlers’ apartment, no problem.

But is that a good idea? Right now, she and Paige are cool. She doesn’t want to become the buzzkill roommate, nagging Paige about chores and her half of the rent. That would only exchange taking care of her family for taking care of Paige.

“I don’t know,” Des says uncertainly.

“It’s okay. I’ll figure something out,” Paige says.

There’s a boom from one of the cannons on the Abigail and then clapping and cheering from the crowd down by the dock. The reenactment has started. “I’m going to run inside to the bathroom.” Des kicks the cash box out of sight beneath the long red-and-white checkered tablecloth on the nonfiction table. “Can you keep an eye on things?”

“Yeah, of course,” Paige says. “No worries.”

• • •

The next few hours are busy. Vi watches their table while they take a quick lunch break, grabbing barbecue from one of the vendors in Bishop Park. After the reenactment and the mayor’s speech, the crowd floods back up Main Street. Paige volunteers to tend the front tables while Vi takes lunch and Des helps Gram inside.

When Vi returns, Des goes back out to find Dylan in her chair. “Hey,” she says.

“Hey, do you mind if I go down to the park?” Paige asks. “I want do some market research. See how jewelry is priced and how it’s set up and how it’s selling, that kind of thing.”

“Yeah, no problem.” Des promises to meet up with them later for the fireworks, and they stroll off hand-in-hand.

Vi pokes her head out a few moments later. “Did Paige leave? You want to switch places? I think you’re getting sunburned.”

Des smirks. Cece is working the hostess stand in the courtyard next door, and she strongly suspects Vi is motivated by that, not by genuine concern for Des’s sunburn. It’s stupid hot outside, though, and working in the air-conditioning would be nice.

“Sure, thanks.” She goes over the prices with Vi and hands her the iPad they use to process credit cards.

Gram is in her armchair near the counter, wearing a Hillary Clinton-esque red pantsuit. Like half the town, she’s also wearing a souvenir pin bearing the likeness of the USS Abigail. Despite her festive attire, she looks tired, her mouth pinched, and Des wonders if her knee hurts.

Des wanders around the store, picking up books that have been dropped or misshelved, making small talk with customers. She helps a young mom find the new Smitten Kitchen cookbook, recommends the Miss Fisher mystery series to a middle-aged woman, and locates some board books about trucks for an excited toddler with a face covered in chocolate. Gram rings them all up.

Then Vi rushes in. “Des, where’s the cash?”

Des looks up from reshelving some graphic novels. “In the cash box?”

Vi flips one red braid over her shoulder impatiently. “No, it’s not.”

“What do you mean ‘No, it’s not’? Yes, it is.” Des strides toward the door, but Vi is already holding out the metal cash box, its lid flung open to reveal the empty interior.

“Shit,” Des mutters. The money was there an hour—maybe an hour and a half?—ago. She made change for a twenty for a middle-aged man who bought a book on colonial ships.

“I need change, like, now,” Vi says, heading to the register.

Gram looks at Des. “Where did the money go?”

“I don’t know. It was there when I came in for Vi’s lunch.” Des sets her armful of graphic novels down on the nearest table.

“It was there before you left Paige in charge of it,” Gram says as Vi rushes back outside.

Des puts her hands on her hips. “Paige didn’t take it.”

“No? That money just happened to walk off while she was watching it? I told you I didn’t trust her, Des. I told you she—”

“She didn’t steal it. She wouldn’t do that,” Des insists.

“Honey. She stole from her own mother.” The way Gram looks at her, blue eyes pitying—it feels like she’s been waiting for this to happen.

“That’s different. Paige was seeing this guy who was awful, and she did some stupid things because of him, but she didn’t do this, Gram. Maybe—maybe she wasn’t paying close enough attention. Maybe she was on her phone or—” Too late, Des remembers that Paige’s phone is disconnected. “There are so many strangers in town. You don’t know who—”

“I know exactly who,” Gram interrupts. “I know you don’t want to think—”

“You’re not listening! I’m telling you, Paige didn’t do it!” Des never raises her voice. Never. She’s certainly never yelled at Gram like this.

Gram is quiet. “I hear you, honey. But I think you’re wrong.”

Des starts for the door. “Dylan was there too. Maybe it was him. Maybe he took it when she was helping a customer. They went over to the park. I’m going to go ask if she saw anything suspicious.”

“Des. You can’t go chasing after her. You’re in the middle of a shift. I need you here till eight. I’ll send Vi over to the bank to get some change; we don’t have much in the register. Desdemona!” Gram’s voice is like a whip. It stops her at the door. “You can find Paige when your shift is over.”

“You want it to be her. You want her to be guilty so you can say I told you so. I only wanted what’s best for you. Well, if you want what’s best for me, maybe you should consider that I’ve been working my ass off for the past two months. I never complained about working ten-hour days six days a week or cooking dinner every single night or doing everything around the house. Why would I complain? I don’t have a

life, right? Bea and Kat and Vi, they get to have lives, they get to have fun, but not me. I’m the oldest. I’m the responsible one. I can’t complain. I have to set a good example. I’m supposed to take care of everybody else and never be selfish and never put myself first.” The words tumble out of Des, faster and faster. “Well, you know what? That’s bullshit!”

“Where is all this coming from?” Gram looks at her over her glasses. “If this is really how you feel, Des, let’s talk about it. But there’s no need to yell.”

“I’ll yell if I want to!” she yells. “I’m going to go find Paige. And I’m moving out. I’m tired of being goddamn Cinderella.” She storms out and slams the door behind her.

She doesn’t think she’s ever slammed a door in her life.

It is supremely satisfying.

Chapter Twenty-Six

BEA

On Saturday afternoon, Bea and Erik walk hand-in-hand through the farmer’s market in Bishop Park. Vendors sell bright bouquets of flowers, scented soaps and candles, wooden cutting boards, cheese, fruits and vegetables, jewelry, and all kinds of art. A bluegrass band plays on a wooden bandstand with a Remington Hollow Tea Party banner fluttering above them. Some of the restaurants in town have set up food tents. At Mama’s BBQ, old Miss Evie is selling her mouthwatering pulled pork and her sons are working the smoker. At Captain Dan’s Seafood Shack, Captain Dan himself is handing out crab cakes and coleslaw and fries dusted with Old Bay.

“Hi, Ms. Smith!” Bea calls to the red-haired newspaper advisor, who’s watching her granddaughter get her face painted like a lion. Ms. Smith waves.

Erik tugs Bea toward a nearby table. “There they are!”

“Bea!” Heather and Hailey, Erik’s ten-year-old twin sisters, rush toward her.

“We haven’t seen you in forever,” Heather says accusingly. Her face is painted like a cat.

“Forever,” Hailey adds emphatically, elbowing her twin out of the way to hug Bea. Her face is painted like a bumblebee. “Look! I’m a bee today too!”




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