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Kat wraps an arm around her shoulder. “Are you okay?”
“No,” Bea says truthfully. Every time she meets someone’s eyes, they quickly avert theirs. Like she’s a human car wreck. Bea feels hot and panicky, like she might throw up right here in front of everyone.
“So…you broke up with Erik? And you’re hooking up with some other guy?” Kat asks.
Bea nods, breathing deeply. She should ask Kat about Mase. She should ask Kat if she’s okay. Has she read the blog? Does she know about Mase and Brandon?
Then Bea sees her.
Savannah is standing with her father right down by the edge of the river. She’s wearing a striped red-and-white maxi dress. Her brown hair cascades down over her slim white shoulders. She looks tall and willowy and beautiful, belying the fact that she is bitter and vindictive and evil on the inside. It has been a long time since Bea has hated anyone so much.
“I’ll be right back,” she says to Kat, and then she marches across the grass toward Savannah and Charlie.
“Bea!” Savannah says, her red lips curling into a venomous smile. “I hear you’ve been very busy lately.” She puts an emphasis on busy, and Bea knows she’s proud of her stupid busy little bee line.
There are many things Bea wants to say, but they all involve four-letter words, and she doesn’t want to be that unprofessional in front of her boss. Instead, she pulls out her phone and starts to bring up Savannah’s blog. “Did you approve this, Charlie?”
“Approve what?” Charlie raises his thick brown eyebrows. “Is everything all right?”
He doesn’t know. Of course he doesn’t know. Charlie is a genuinely nice guy, even if he’s clueless where his daughter’s concerned. Savannah didn’t get his approval before she published the blog, even though it’s linked on the Gazette’s homepage.
“No, everything is not all right. Are you okay with your daughter outing a fifteen-year-old girl in her column? Is that the kind of journalistic standard the Gazette wants to be associated with? Here, read it for yourself.” She hands Charlie her phone. “In addition to being incredibly irresponsible and just plain mean-spirited, you’ll also notice there are not one but two typos. Anne Shirley is famously Anne-with-an-e. And ‘tattoo’ has two t’s, Savannah. Sending your columns to the copyeditor is important.”
Savannah turns to her dad. “I’ll fix the typos. Bea’s only mad because now everybody knows she cheated on her boyfriend. She’s embarrassed. As she should be.” She turns to Bea and mouths slut, and Bea thinks of a few things that might be worth getting fired for.
Behind his glasses, Charlie’s blue eyes are narrowed. “Savannah, you know I had misgivings about this column. One of my conditions was that you refrain from featuring anyone under eighteen. You cannot publish gossip about children.”
“Dad, people post everything online,” Savannah argues.
He waves the phone at her. “This is not the blog I signed off on yesterday, which means you went behind my back to publish it. You knew I wouldn’t approve. You’ve hurt the paper’s reputation with this nonsense. You’ve hurt my reputation. This is inexcusable.”
“Inexcusable? Are you firing me?” Savannah gasps.
“I understand if you need to fire me too,” Bea says.
Charlie frowns at her. “Why would I fire you?”
“Because of this.” Bea reaches out and pushes Savannah sideways. Hard.
Savannah makes a nice splash.
The river isn’t deep on the other side of the bulwark, maybe three feet. There’s no danger of Savannah drowning. She flails for a minute but pops right back to the surface, sputtering. Her hair is plastered to her face. Inky black trails of mascara weave their way down over her cheeks.
“You say whatever you want about me,” Bea tells her, “but you leave my sisters the hell alone.”
• • •
Later, on the Stella Anne, Bea recounts the awful events of the afternoon to Gabe.
“You pushed her into the river?” Gabe shakes his head. He’s wearing his dark-blond hair loose, down to his shoulders. “Remind me never to make you mad.”
“You’d better not,” Bea teases. They’re sitting curled up next to each other on the gray futon. “So…there’s something I’ve been wondering, and I can no longer contain my curiosity. Who is Stella Anne? Is she an ex?”
“Uh. No.” Gabe ducks his head, blushing. “The boat’s named after my moms: Stella Beauford and Anne Stewart.”
“Seriously? That is adorable!” Bea squeals. “I’ve been jealous of your moms for weeks!”
“Well, they are pretty rad,” Gabe says.
“Were you ever into Savannah?” she asks. “Like, even a tiny bit?”
He shakes his head. “I have been raised never to speak ill of a lady, but…you have nothing to worry about there. Seriously, nothing.” He grins and curls his hand around her ankle. “I was thinking…you want to take the boat out tonight? We could go down the river.”
Bea’s phone beeps with a text from Gram.
Family meeting at 6. At home. Expect you all to be there ON TIME.
Uh-oh. Bea is guessing that some nosy neighbor showed Gram the blog.
“I would love to, but I can’t. We’re having a family meeting. It’s nonnegotiable. My sisters are going to have a million questions about my breakup and about you. And I still have to tell them I’m not going to Georgetown.”
“You start looking at any other schools yet?” Gabe asks, his thumb tracing circles on the thin skin of her ankle. “You could come visit me this fall at Vandy. See how you like Nashville.”
Bea looks up at him, startled. Is he already thinking that far ahead? Does he think they’ll stay together after he leaves Remington Hollow?
Gabe laughs, low and rumbly. “The look on your face! I freaked you out, didn’t I? I freaked you out so bad.”
“No, you didn’t!” she protests. He stares at her until she relents. “Okay, yeah. Maybe a little. I’m sorry. I just…I need to take this slow.”
“All right.” Gabe slides across the futon toward her, scooping her legs into his lap, giving her a wicked grin. “Slow it is.” He bends his head and presses a soft kiss to her collarbone. Slowly, maddeningly slowly, he kisses his way up the pale, freckled line of her throat. When he reaches her ear, he proceeds to do incredible things with his lips and teeth and tongue. Bea melts. By the time he lowers his mouth to hers, she is ready to devour him whole.
Half an hour later, she untangles her fingers from his hair and climbs out of his lap. “Slow,” she reminds herself out loud.
“Slow is gonna kill me,” he groans.
Bea tucks her hair behind her ear. “Are you complaining?”
“I am not.” He grins and goes to sit at the table. “Come on. I’m going to teach you how to play poker.”
She remembers the first night she came on board the Stella Anne. It feels like ages ago. “I am not going to play strip poker with you.”
“We’ll see about that.” He pulls off his heather-gray Henley, revealing the muscles of his shoulders and chest and abs. All that construction is doing excellent things to his upper body. Really excellent things. “What if I give you a head start?”
Bea’s mouth goes dry. “That is not fair.”
“Oh wow,” Kat says as she watches her sister push Savannah Lockwood right into the river.
She didn’t think Bea had such a diva gesture in her. Bea looks flushed and victorious as she pokes her glasses up on her freckled nose, snatches her phone from Charlie, and marches back to Kat. She does all of this while wearing her Rey costume and holding her head high despite the staring eyes of nearly everyone in Bishop Park.
“Are you okay?” she asks Kat.
“Better now,” Kat says, eyes wide. “That was amazing.”
; “She deserved it,” Bea mutters darkly.
“I am so proud of you.” Kat gives her sister a high five. She can’t believe Bea and Erik broke up. And that Bea is already seeing somebody else. Apparently Kat isn’t the only Garrett sister who’s been keeping secrets this summer. “So…tell me about this mysterious new guy!”
Bea gazes down at the grass, shifting her feet in Kat’s clunky black boots. “You’re not mad?”
Kat tugs at the hem of her blue romper. It’s not like she approves of Bea kissing someone else before she broke up with Erik, but Bea is her sister. Kat’s always going to defend her. That’s what sisters do. “Mad that you cheated on Erik? I mean…that’s not really my business, is it?”
“Oh. Well. That’s very enlightened of you,” Bea says, but Kat can tell she means unusually forgiving. “I know he was practically part of the family. Like a big brother to you and Vi. I thought maybe…I don’t know…you liked him better than me.”
Kat shakes her head, her high ponytail swinging. Bea is being way too hard on herself, as usual. “Look, you’re my sister. Maybe I don’t always like you, but I love you. And it’s bullshit that girls are always expected to be nice and cute and likable. So you’re kind of snappish and impatient and self-absorbed sometimes. So what? You’re also super smart and ambitious. I…you know…admire that. I admire you.”
Bea looks like she might cry. “Thank you. That means a lot. I’ve been so scared everybody would be mad at me…especially you.”
“Why?” Kat knows she can be melodramatic sometimes, but this is really not about her.
“Well, I mean…given what happened with you and Adam, and now Mase. I’m really sorry about that. And I’m sorry that Savannah posted stuff about you to get back at me.”
Kat’s stomach plunges down around her wedge heels. “Wait…what happened with Mase, exactly?”
Bea’s face falls. “Oh shit. Kat.”
Kat grabs for Bea’s phone. “Let me see that.”
Bea hands it over, and Kat scans Savannah’s blog till she gets to the part about her: Meanwhile, looks like the poor kitty cat got dumped again. We spotted her new boyfriend kissing his not-so-ex at the fireworks. Claws are sure to come out when our favorite diva hears about that. Meow!
Mase and Brandon kissed.
Mase didn’t come back to work after his lunch break, even though they were open for another three and a half hours. Miss Lydia was understandably pissed. Kat stayed past closing, helping her clean up. Hoping futilely that Mase would come back and apologize. That he’d tell her he and Brandon had a long talk but ultimately decided their breakup was for the best. That she was the one he wanted to be with.
Kat had looked at the pictures Pen took of her and Mase—the posed one and then the second one, where they were blushing and grinning at each other after Pen busted them for making out upstairs—and she had felt temporarily buoyed. Whatever she and Mase had, it felt like it was worth fighting for. The pictures were proof.
Mase is a good actor, but he likes her. She knows he likes her. The way he kissed her yesterday, the way he looked at her…that wasn’t pretend.
But whatever is happening between them is just beginning. How can she compete with Brandon? She and Mase were only supposed to be a ruse, a scheme to get their exes back. Brandon was always supposed to be his endgame.
Kat feels small and silly and sort of crushed for ever thinking otherwise.
Then, slowly—more slowly than she would like—anger starts to burn through her veins. Even if Mase doesn’t like her back—or if he decided he likes Brandon more—they have an agreement. Even if he can’t face her, he could text. He should have respected her enough to tell her their fake relationship was over.
How could Mase let her find out that he and Brandon were back together by reading about it in the newspaper? What a coward.
And now everyone’s going to read Savannah’s blog and know that Kat got dumped again. It reinforces everything Adam says about her. That she’s crazy and jealous and so much drama.
Kat lowers her angry blue eyes to her sister’s anxious ones.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Bea asks, hovering.
“Not with you,” Kat snaps.
Bea takes a step back. “Kat, you said you weren’t mad at me.”
“That was before I read this. God, why can’t everyone just be honest? Why is that so hard?”
“You’re right.” Bea’s shoulders droop. “I don’t know.”
Kat’s anger dims. She wants Bea to argue, not agree with her. To fight back, so she can stay angry instead of giving in to the sadness lurking around the edges.
“Erik was right,” she says. “You should get out of here. And I guess since you’re not in the raft race after all, I’m going back to the café.”
Kat stalks toward the entrance of Bishop Park. God, what if Mase is at the café? What if he’s there with Brandon? He wouldn’t do that, would he? Bring him to the place he and Kat worked together, where they started to fall for each other?
Kat knows he was starting to fall for her.
“Hey, kitty Kat,” a familiar male voice says.
Kat looks up to find Adam and Jillian entering the park, hand-in-hand. Adam is doing his popped-collar strut, new Jordans on his feet. Jillian is wearing a black cold-shoulder sundress and flat black sandals. Kat wonders if Adam makes her wear flats so that she’s not taller than him. He used to do that with Kat too. His masculinity is pathetically fragile.
Kat lifts her chin. Better to get this over with now, she guesses.
Adam doesn’t waste any time getting right into it. “So much for Guyliner not having a history of cheating, huh? For being someone you could really trust?”
“Adam.” Jillian elbows him, hard, and he makes a little oof noise.
“Mase is twice the guy you are. In every way,” Kat says, smirking suggestively. Going for the small penis joke is low, but so is Adam throwing this in her face.
“Like you’d know, virgin,” Adam says. “You talk big, but—”
“Adam! Shut. Up,” Jillian says, raising her mirrored sunglasses to glare at him.
“Mase probably got tired of being bossed around,” Adam mutters. “Although, I don’t know, maybe faggots like—”
Kat doesn’t wait for him to finish. She’s already grabbing the bottle of Diet Coke from her bag, unscrewing the cap in one quick twist, and tossing the contents right into Adam’s face.
She has always wanted to throw a drink in somebody’s face.
“What the fuck!” he gasps, soda dripping down his polo shirt and onto his precious white sneakers. She bets they were expensive.
“You know my sister’s gay, right? I am not here for your homophobic shit,” Kat hisses. “And you keep Mase’s name out of your mouth. If I hear you call him that ever again, I will kick your ass.”
“Jill, are you going to let this crazy bitch attack me?” Adam asks, wiping off his face with the hem of his blue shirt.
“No.” Jillian smiles at him beatifically. “I’m going to congratulate her.”
“What? Baby, I—”
“Don’t call me ‘baby,’” Jillian snaps. “You’re gross, Adam, and I’m breaking up with you for being a misogynistic, homophobic jerk. You’ve been talking shit about Kat ever since we got together. You’re the one who broke up with her, remember? To be with me? If you’re so threatened by your ex being happy with some other guy who happens to be bisexual then maybe you need to spend some time alone figuring that out.”
“Alone? You think I can’t get another girl like that?” Adam snaps his fingers.
“Good luck with that.” Jillian rolls her eyes. “Come on, Kat. Let me buy you another Coke to replace the one you threw on that loser.”
“Loser? I…” Adam starts ranting, but Kat doesn’t hear him. She’s walking away. With Jillian.<br
People are surprising her all over the place today.
“That was amazing,” Kat says, looking at her former archnemesis. “And I owe you an apology. It was cool of you to stick up for me after the way I’ve treated you.”
Jillian shrugs. “I did kiss your boyfriend. I kind of deserved it.”
“Still,” Kat says as they walk past the big old houses on Water Street. “I should have blamed him, not you.”
“He can be really charming,” Jillian says. “But, oh my God, he’s so insecure. He needs every girl in the room to be in love with him. He’s been pressuring me to have sex, but he’s already been flirting with Cassidy. And I’m tired of wearing flats just so I’m shorter than him. It’s ridiculous. Like, nobody cares that you’re short, dude.”
“I know, right?” Kat laughs. It feels good to laugh.
“I’m sorry about you and Mase. You guys seemed really happy.”
“Yeah.” Kat’s smile fades. “I thought we were.”
“You should talk to him. I mean, who am I to give you advice, right? But maybe it’s not true. Maybe Savannah got it wrong.”
“Maybe.” Kat doubts it. But maybe it’s worth at least talking to Mase before she goes all scorched earth on him. He’s not Adam. Not the kind of guy to hurt her on purpose. “Can I take a rain check on the Coke? I’m going to go see if Mase is at the café.”
“Yeah, of course.” Jillian hesitates, scuffing one sandal against the brick sidewalk, and then looks at Kat shyly. “So…friends now?”
“Friends,” Kat agrees. “And thanks again for having my back.”
“Chicks before dicks,” Jillian says, and Kat gives a startled laugh. “That’s what we say in field hockey. I’m sorry I broke the girl code.”
“It’s forgotten,” Kat says. “Honestly. I know I have a reputation for holding grudges, but we’re cool now.”
“Thanks.” Jillian grins at her. “Go get him, tiger! Fight for your man.”
Back to The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls book
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