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Des doesn’t correct her, even though literally no one else calls her Desdemona.
It’s the third week of June, and the whole summer stretches out before her, lonely as hell, except for her endless to-do list. Her best friend—former best friend?—is too cool for watching old British murder mysteries or decorating their planners or anything else they used to do together. She’s barely texted Des since she’s been home from college. What is there to look forward to? Everything—all the work at Arden and at home—will keep falling on Des, at least until Gram can get around better.
Des bites her lip, remembering the conversation they had about Gram’s living will and her funeral wishes. Just in case, Gram had insisted. The doctor and the physical therapist say she’s making good progress. But Des can’t help worrying. Gram has always seemed young and strong and indomitable. It’s been hard to see her weak, in pain, looking…old. It hurts Des’s heart, and it makes her wonder how their family will function, moving forward.
What if all her new responsibilities aren’t temporary?
The Garrett girls’ roles have long been established among themselves and around town. At fifteen, Vi is the sensitive, bookish one. At sixteen, Kat is the diva: emotional, theatrical, and never afraid to make a scene. Eighteen-year-old Bea is the brilliant, ambitious one, off to Georgetown in the fall. And Des? At nineteen, Des is the oldest. The responsible one.
The boring one, maybe. Next to glamorous, artistic Paige, she felt hopelessly dull.
But Des wants things for herself beyond running the bookstore. Beyond taking care of her sisters. Maybe she needs to try to carve out more time for her illustrations. For making new friends. For figuring out who she is now, a year after high school graduation.
What if she isn’t boring, responsible Des this summer?
What if she tries being Desdemona? That’s what Mom named her, after all. Maybe it’s past time she tried it on for size.
Dread slows Bea’s footsteps as she approaches the Daily Grind. She scuffs her sensible black flats against the brick sidewalk, glancing in the window of the Tabby Cat Café to see how many cats she can spot. It’s a game she plays with herself on anxious days; if she sees five or more cats, it’s good luck. It means that whatever she’s worried about will work itself out.
The original tabby, Cinnamon, is snoozing in a puddle of sunshine on the flowered love seat, flanked by pillows bearing his likeness. Snowflake, the floofy Persian, is perched on a bookshelf like a watchful sentinel, tail twitching. A small black cat is in the process of batting a figurine off a high café table. Two calicos are curled together on the back of an overstuffed armchair. One, two, three, four, five. Bea takes a deep breath and waves at Mason Kim, the sulky fauxhawked waiter, who’s messing around on his phone behind the counter. Mase waves back half-heartedly.
“Bea! Yoo-hoo! Bea Garrett!” Mrs. Lynde calls down Prince Street. “That was a real nice story in the Gazette yesterday!”
Bea considers pretending that she didn’t hear her. Maryanne Lynde is a talker, a notorious busybody, and this short walk—the five blocks between the offices of the Gazette over on Queen Street and the Daily Grind—is the only time Bea will have to herself all day.
Instead, she takes a deep breath and heads down the street toward Mrs. Lynde. That is what’s expected of her, after all, and that’s what Bea does: she takes what is expected of her, and then she exceeds those expectations. She pokes her rectangular black glasses back up her nose and gives the older woman a practiced, polite smile. “Thank you, Miss Maryanne. I’m really grateful that Charlie gave me the column. It’s a great opportunity to spotlight local women-owned businesses.”
“Well, you earned it, didn’t you? It’s about time you got to do more than book reviews,” Miss Maryanne says, and Bea feels a rush of satisfaction. She did earn it. Unlike some people. “So Charlie’s treating you all right?”
Charlie—Charles Lockwood, the editor of the Remington Hollow Gazette—is treating Bea just fine. He’s a great boss, encouraging but challenging. His daughter Savannah, home from Vassar for the summer, is another story entirely. She’s a gossipy, entitled, brat who’s writing the Gazette’s new Around Town blog and competing with Bea for features.
“Charlie’s great.” Bea keeps the smile on her face. Nepotism aside.
“How’s Helen?” Miss Maryanne stretches out one thick leg, clad in purple linen trousers, and massages her knee. “Dr. Kim says I might want to start thinking about a knee replacement myself.”
Bea smooths her gray pencil skirt. “Gram’s better, thank you. Still having a little trouble with the stairs. She’s doing physical therapy twice a week.”
“With that good-looking Jacob Kim, huh? I tell you, I wouldn’t mind seeing him twice a week!” Miss Maryanne cackles. “It’s nice that one of Doc’s boys followed in her footsteps. And Emily’s studying criminology, isn’t she? That’s a sort of science. Now, Mase, who knows what’s going on with him these days.” She shoots a disapproving look down toward the Tabby Cat Café. “Spends all his time frowning at that phone of his. He’s going to give himself wrinkles. And did you see what he did with his hair? It’s so spiky.”
Bea smiles for real this time. “It’s called a fauxhawk.”
“Well, it doesn’t do him any favors, if you ask me. And neither does all that eyeliner. Gay or not, in my day, young men didn’t wear makeup!”
“Mase is bisexual,” Bea says, “and it’s called guyliner. It’s very trendy.”
“Is it now? Well, speaking of handsome guys”—Miss Maryanne gives an exaggerated wink—“how’s that young man of yours?”
Bea’s smile goes sour. Gram’s friends love to tease her about Erik. She didn’t used to mind. It used to make her blush and giggle, but lately…lately she wishes they would mind their own damn business.
“Let me see your hand,” Miss Maryanne says.
Confused, Bea holds up her right hand, aware of her ragged nails and chipped peach polish. Biting her nails is one of her worst habits.
But Miss Maryanne shakes her curly gray head. “No, no, the other one. Your left hand.” Bea holds her left hand out obediently, and the woman cackles. “No ring yet, huh? What’re you two waiting for?”
Bea’s stomach lurches. “What? Um—we—” she mumbles, flustered. Why doesn’t she have some kind of witty comeback? Kat would. Her younger sister is stupidly self-possessed. Kat would probably give Miss Maryanne a speech on feminism, maybe rant about how marriage is an antiquated notion based on property laws and dowries and how her worth cannot be measured in goats. It would be ridiculous and dramatic; the old lady would be confused but admire her spirit. A real spitfire, that girl, she’d say.
No one ever calls Bea a spitfire. She’s ambitious. She’s smart. She’s going places.
Whether she wants to or not.
“Maryanne, give them time. They’re so young!” Lydia Merrick, owner of the Tabby Cat Café, strolls up right in time to overhear. She pats Bea’s shoulder. “Ignore her, sweetheart.”
“You’d better go on in. You don’t want to keep Erik waiting!” Miss Maryanne chides.
Bea is unreasonably irritated that Erik is already waiting. They aren’t supposed to meet for another ten minutes, but he’s always early. She used to like that he respected her enough not to waste her time. Now his punctuality annoys her. Like being on time isn’t good enough. Even when she’s early, he’s earlier.
“You know she’s going to Georgetown,” Miss Lydia says as Bea heads inside. “She doesn’t need to get married at eighteen, Maryanne. It’s different now. She’s going to do big things someday!”
Bea used to be proud of her ambition. It felt like her defining characteristic, how much she wanted things. How determined she was never to settle. Now her dreams feel anxious-making and impossible. All year, she’s felt like she’s drowning, barely keeping
her head above water, barely making the next A or the next deadline. She’s doing everything and doing it well, but somehow it feels like it’s never enough. She feels like she’s never enough. If she’s so flustered by this—her internship and Erik and getting ready for Georgetown—how will she ever be a serious journalist? Do serious journalists have panic attacks?
She’s so lost in her spiraling worry that she collides face-first with a broad chest. Iced coffee splashes onto her cheek.
Bea yelps as ice cubes slide down her chest. “Sorry!”
A callused hand reaches out to steady her. Warm fingers wrap around her shoulder, thumb brushing her collarbone.
She pushes up her glasses and looks at her victim. He’s maybe a few years older than her, tall and tanned and scruffy, with dark-blond hair caught up in a man bun. Coffee drips down his black T-shirt.
She grabs some napkins from the counter. “I am so sorry.” She starts to dab ineffectually at his shirt, then realizes that’s kind of inappropriate and hands him half the napkins.
“It’s all right. I think you got the worst of it.” His voice has a Southern twang. His brown eyes dart to the scoop neck of her white shirt, where the coffee stain is spreading rapidly.
“It was totally my fault. I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going. Can I get you another coffee?” She can’t believe she ran right into him.
He shrugs and holds up the half-full plastic cup. “Nah, I’ve still got most of it.”
“Are you sure?” Bea presses.
“Yeah. No problem.” He grins at her. He is completely not her type—way too hipster. Besides the man bun and the scruff, he’s got a half sleeve of tattoos. He looks as though he should be drinking bourbon and playing a banjo in some impossibly cool bar. But he is incredibly good-looking. Totally lickable, Chloe would say. Chloe Chan was their class salutatorian and yearbook editor and is going to the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. In the five years Bea’s been dating Erik, Chloe’s had a dozen boyfriends.
“It’s okay, really,” the guy says. His eyes dart to Bea’s chest again and, while she knows he’s only checking out the coffee stain, for a second, she wishes she had Kat’s impressive cleavage instead of her own A-cup situation. “Have a good afternoon.”
“Thanks. You too.” She steps aside so he can leave. Then she pulls a stain stick out of her purse, applies it to her shirt, yanks on her mustard-yellow cardigan, and buttons it to hide the stain. Bea might not have been a Boy Scout, but she’s always prepared.
She spots Erik at a table in the back, leaning against the exposed-brick wall, sipping his iced coffee, and flipping through a stack of books. He doesn’t seem to have noticed her clumsy entrance. She squints, recognizes two guidebooks on Washington, DC, and feels like she might literally throw up.
But this is the plan, right? This has always been the plan. Their grades and extracurriculars and letters of recommendation were impeccable. Bea was valedictorian. She aced three AP classes while working after school at Arden, editing the school paper, and copyediting the yearbook. Erik was third in their class, shining star of the debate and tennis teams. They have worked so hard, and now, in eight weeks, they’ll head off to Georgetown. Together. Erik will be pre-law; Bea will study journalism.
Erik is highlighting something carefully, his forehead furrowed, his glasses slipping down his broad nose. There’s an extra iced coffee on the table. Bea knows it will have three Splendas and a dash of cream in it. They’ve been dating since they were thirteen. Erik knows how she likes her coffee. Erik knows everything about her.
Except that she’s not in love with him anymore.
“It’s the twenty-first century,” Penelope Lawton complains. “Why can’t they email the cast list? Or text us? Why do they make us go through this torture in person? It’s positively archaic.”
Kat smiles, smug. “It’s only torture if your name’s not on the list.”
A crowd is already gathered at the far end of the hall, between the men’s and women’s dressing rooms. A single fluttering piece of paper is tacked to the bulletin board.
“Easy for you to say,” Pen grumbles. Jazzy piano music drifts from one of the practice rooms. “Your name is always on the list. I hate you.”
Kat grins. But beneath the grin and her confident stride, her stomach tips and tumbles. This show is important. This is community theater, not the fall play or the spring musical at Remington Hollow High. She’s competing against seniors and girls from Bea’s class, even some girls from Des’s class who are home for the summer. And she has to be Jo. She has to be Jo, and Adam Warren has to be Laurie.
Kat has it all planned out. They’ll banter and flirt all summer, onstage and off, and by opening night, when Jo refuses Laurie’s declaration of love, Adam will be heartbroken. Only he won’t be acting; he’ll be legit heartbroken. By then he’ll realize how much he misses Kat, he’ll break up with bland blond Jillian, and things will go back to the way they’re supposed to be. Except, once she has him back, once she has the upper hand, Kat will dump his ass.
It’s written out in her head like a script. Like fate.
The crowd parts to make way for her.
“Congratulations!” a few girls squeal—at her or Pen or both, she’s not sure, but Kat mutters her thanks, a smile stuck to her lips like poison as she scans the names printed on that all-important piece of paper.
JO MARCH: Kat Garrett.
She lets out a tiny breath of relief. She did it. She beat everyone; she was the very best.
“Oh,” Pen says, her voice tinged with surprise. Kat keeps reading.
MEG MARCH: Penelope Lawton. Yes! Plays are always more fun when they’re both cast.
BETH MARCH: Hannah Adler. Hannah was in Bea’s class. She’s fine. Nice enough. Plain. Nonthreatening.
AMY MARCH: Jillian Crawford.
Well. That won’t be much of a stretch, acting-wise; Amy March is notoriously blond and bratty, just like Jillian.
But Kat’s still the star. Jo is the lead role, not Amy.
Kat keeps reading:
JOHN BROOKE: Adam Warren.
THEODORE “LAURIE” LAWRENCE: Mason Kim.
Oh. Hell. No.
She whirls around, her blue eyes narrowed. Pen grabs her elbow and drags her down the hall, away from the chorus of congratulations, before she can erupt.
“What?!” Kat’s voice rises. “What is Ms. Randall thinking? Adam would’ve been perfect as Laurie!”
Pen hesitates. “It wasn’t his best audition. He was distracted.”
By Jillian. That girl ruins everything. She and Adam read together, and she was so nervous, stumbling over her lines—giggle giggle!—that he kept screwing around to make her laugh. Ms. Randall had to tell him to knock it off and take this seriously—that maybe that kind of behavior was okay at school, but this wasn’t a high school production, and she expected him to behave more professionally. Kat had been mortified for him. She never in a million years would have let him mess around like that if he’d auditioned with her.
“Jillian cost him that part. Maybe now he’ll see—”
“He cost himself that part,” Pen corrects.
Kat wants to argue, to blame it all on Jillian, but she knows that Pen’s right. And she appreciates it when Pen stands up to her. Not many girls do. Kat blows out a big sigh and tucks one long leg behind her, up against the tiled wall. Her flamingo pose, Pen calls it. Kat’s bendy from her years of ballet. Before she got hips and realized that she was never going to be the best at it, she loved dance. The year she was twelve, she stopped eating almost entirely in an attempt to erase the new curves her teacher had pointed out, humiliatingly, in front of everyone. Pen had worried and bargained and tried to shove food at her every chance she got. Eventually, she told Gram that Kat wasn’t eating all day, and then Kat had to
quit ballet and see a therapist. She didn’t speak to Pen for six months, till they were both cast in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
“Better that he marry me onstage than Jillian, right? You know I’m not going to flirt with him.” Pen runs a hand over her bleached-blond hair, which is chin length on the left and newly buzzed on the right.
Kat nods. They have been best friends since kindergarten, aside from those six months in seventh grade, and Pen has made it crystal clear that she thinks Adam is a lying, cheating snake. She is basically the only girl Kat trusts not to fall for his stupid storm-cloud eyes and his adorable dimples.
Kat’s jealousy is legendary. She isn’t proud of it. It’s as if the whole year she and Adam were together, she was just waiting for him to cheat on her. Once a cheater, always a cheater, right? She should have known that. He and Kat had started flirting during Into the Woods, while he was still dating Bailey. When he and Jillian were cast opposite each other the following spring, Kat knew it was only a matter of time. When she caught them kissing backstage, she wasn’t even surprised. Furious, absolutely. But it was almost a relief, knowing that her jealousy hadn’t been unfounded.
So, yeah, Adam was fickle as hell.
Kat planned to take advantage of that.
“I’ll talk you up,” Pen offers. “I don’t think he’s worthy of you, but I’ll do it.”
Kat frowns. No one should need to talk her up. Adam should see her onstage, being fierce and passionate and freaking unstoppable, and remember that he loves her. Her, not bland, blond Jillian. She refuses to believe that she has lost him forever.
“Come on.” Pen reaches in her Kate Spade bag. “Let’s do this.”
They go back to the cast list and take turns writing their initials next to their names—the ritual acceptance of the role. Even though things aren’t going entirely according to her script, Kat can’t help feeling a glow of satisfaction. Jo is unquestionably the lead. A lot of other girls auditioned for this part, and she beat them all. She was the very best.
Back to The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls book
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