The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls


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“Of course it would, but I don’t think that will be necessary,” Gram says.

Vi’s blue eyes are owlish with worry. “Cece says her abuela thinks we’re going to hell.”

Gram clucks. “Vi, sweetheart, stop and think for a minute. Would I be friends with someone who believes you are going to hell?”

Vi hesitates. “No, but…what about her abuela’s brother? Cece says he got disowned for being gay, and her abuela never talks about him.”

“Ernesto? Honey, that was back in the sixties. Things are different now for a lot of folks. Not everybody, unfortunately. But Julia probably doesn’t talk about him because she regrets not standing up to her father back then. Cecilia is her only granddaughter. She loves that girl more than life itself. I assure you, she does not think either of you are going to hell. Now.” Gram draws a baton out from behind her back and raps it on the coffee table. “Let this family meeting begin. You all remember the rules, don’t you?”

“Oh noooo,” Vi moans. “Not the talking stick!”

The talking stick is a sparkly blue relic from Kat’s brief stint in the elementary school color guard. It has white streamers on each end, as befits the navy-and-white of the Remington Hollow Buccaneers. They used the baton for family meetings when they were younger, so that everybody had a fair chance to talk without being interrupted half a dozen times. It has been resting in peace in the hall closet for the past few years.

“I love the talking stick,” Kat says, reaching for the baton.

“You love it when you’re holding it,” Vi mutters.

“Oldest first,” Gram says, handing the baton to Des.

“Whyyyyy?” Kat complains, just as Vi says, “No fair!” Bea only scowls.

Des stands up. She doesn’t know why. She shifts the baton nervously from one hand to the other and stares down at her red Toms. She takes a deep breath.

“First, I’m really sorry that I yelled at you, Gram,” she says, meeting Gram’s eyes. “I didn’t want to believe you about Paige, but you were right. She did take the money from Arden and from me. I saw her today on her way out of town, and she admitted it. She took Miss Lydia’s engagement ring too. And she didn’t even seem sorry.” Des shakes her head. “I trusted her with the cash box, and I shouldn’t have. I’ll pay you back.”

“That’s not necessary,” Gram says.

“Please let me pay you back,” Des says. “I have the money in my savings. And I was so awful. I left in the middle of my shift. I was irresponsible and disrespectful, and I displayed bad judgment, and I understand if—if you want to fire me.” She holds her breath. She would deserve it. But she doesn’t know what she’ll do if she can’t work at Arden anymore. She loves being a bookseller, and she loves the connection it gives her to her mom.

Gram shakes her head, her silver earrings dancing. “I’m not going to fire you, honey. But I appreciate the apology. And I admit, there was some truth in the things you said. I’ve relied on you an awful lot lately. Maybe too much. And you haven’t exactly gotten a lot of help from this bunch.”

Gram sweeps a stern eye around the room, and all three of Des’s sisters shrink into themselves. Des purses her mouth. Paige wasn’t a good friend to her, but she wasn’t entirely wrong about everything. Des should have spoken up sooner, when she started feeling so overwhelmed and unappreciated.

“As you girls get older,” Gram continues, “there will be times I don’t agree with your decisions or like your friends. And maybe sometimes I’ll meddle a little too much. Mostly that’s me trying to protect you and keep you from getting hurt, but sometimes…well, sometimes I am a little old-fashioned. To tell you the truth, Des, I don’t care for your tattoo or that blue hair, but it’s your body, and it’s your right to do whatever you want with it.”

“Thank you.” Des shifts awkwardly. “So…the other thing is that Savannah was right. I am moving out.”

“What?” Kat gasps, popping up from her yoga stretch. “When?”

“Where?” Bea asks.

“Who’s going to run the store? Who’s going to cook dinner?” Kat demands.

“Maybe some other people will have to learn to cook dinner. And do their own laundry,” Gram suggests, with a pointed look at Kat.

“Are you going to art school?” Vi looks worried. “Will you be far away?”

“No. Oh my God, chill,” Des says, waving the talking stick at them. “I’m moving into the Adlers’ garage apartment. I’ll be all of five blocks away.”

Vi turns to Gram, bouncing in her seat. “Does that mean we can get a dog?”

“No! A cat!” Kat crawls across the floor to lean on Gram’s good knee and look up at her with pleading eyes. “There’s the sweetest little black cat at the café. Her name’s Sassy. Pleeeeease, Gram?”

“What about both?” Vi suggests. “You know I’m responsible. I walk Juno and Athena all the time.”

“I’ve been super responsible at the café! Ask Miss Lydia. She said I could practically run the whole place,” Kat says, glowing with pride.

Great, Des thinks. I am being replaced by a dog and/or a cat. I can’t believe I felt so guilty about this. “So…you’re all okay with me moving out?”

“I think it’s excellent!” Kat crows. “Does this mean I can have your room? Since Bea will be at Georgetown?”

“Actually,” Bea says quietly, curling into herself, “I’m not going to Georgetown.”

Chapter Thirty-Four

BEA

“Actually,” Bea says quietly, curling into herself, “I’m not going to Georgetown.”

This time, the living room doesn’t explode into a flurry of questions. Four heads swivel to silently gape at her. Des hands her the baton without a word.

Bea wishes she could disappear into the couch cushions like she used to when she was little. She used to make great pillow forts.

“I’m deferring my acceptance for a year,” she explains. “To figure some things out. I, um, assume I can live here for another year?”

“Of course you can,” Gram says, but there’s a big furrow in her forehead. “Why, though? Is this about Amelia’s grandson? I thought he was only here for the summer.”

“He is,” Bea says, exasperated. “I am not postponing college for a cute boy. Although he is. Cute. Very, very cute.”

“Do you have a picture?” Kat asks, interested.

Bea shakes her head.

“But you are seeing him,” Gram says.

Bea nods, fighting against a blush. She is seeing a lot of him. She’s better at poker than she expected.

How can it be possible to feel so many different things at once? She remembers all the ugly things Erik said to her in the park. He wasn’t wrong. She was selfish. She was more worried about what people would think of her, about disappointing her family, than about hurting him. She regrets how badly she handled this. It wasn’t fair to him or to Gabe.

But for the first time in months, she’s not filled with dread when she thinks of her future, all neatly mapped out before her. Bea is not a spontaneous person. She likes routines and schedules and rules. Now her future is a question mark, and that’s scary. But last night, she finally slept. For eleven hours straight.

“Why did you break up with Erik?” Vi asks.

Bea pushes her glasses up her nose and draws on Chloe’s inspirational speech. “We’ve been together for so long, you know? Since I was thirteen. I’m not the same person now that I was at thirteen. I don’t want the same things. And trying to make myself want them, to convince myself I was still happy and in love with him and couldn’t wait to go to Georgetown…I’ve been having panic attacks. I haven’t been sleeping.”

“I noticed you’ve been stress baking a lot,” Kat says.

“Actually, I was thinking…” Bea hesitates. “Maybe I could go see Jenna? Maybe she could help me with my anxi

ety. Teach me some coping strategies or something. You liked her, right?”

“Jenna, my old therapist?” Kat twirls a red curl around her finger. “Yeah. I mean…I resented that Gram made me go, at the time, but Jenna was actually pretty great.”

“I’m so tired,” Bea says, near tears. “I’m anxious all the time, and it’s exhausting. I get mad at myself for the tiniest mistakes. The mean way I talk to myself…I would never talk to anybody else like that. I feel like if I’m not perfect, everyone will be disappointed in me. And then this summer, I’ve made so many mistakes. I know I should have broken up with Erik months ago, but I was afraid you’d all be mad. That maybe you like him better than me. I know I’m not always easy.”

“What? That’s dumb.” Kat leans her head against Bea’s leg. “You’re my sister.”

“We’re Team Bea,” Vi says. “No matter what.”

“Always,” Des adds.

Bea blinks back tears. “You’re not mad at me? I’m sorry I let you down.”

“You didn’t let us down, sweet Bea,” Gram says. “I think maybe you let yourself down a little. Maybe that’s something you and Jenna can talk about.”

“I have a question,” Vi says. “What are you going to do this year, if you’re not going to Georgetown?”

Bea chews on one of her already-ragged fingernails. “I’m still figuring that out. I’m going to ask Charlie if I can keep interning at the Gazette. I really like working for a small-town paper. I know it’s not exactly hard-hitting, Pulitzer Prize–winning reporting,” she says apologetically and then wonders why she feels the need to apologize. “But I love my women entrepreneurs series. It’s really inspiring to see how many women in our community have started their own businesses. I’d like to interview you later this summer, Gram.”

“Now you’re just buttering me up,” Gram jokes, but her cheeks go pink with pleasure.

“I was also thinking I could pick up some of the slack around here, if Des moves out. Some of it. You two have to help out more,” she says to Kat and Vi. “We’ll make a chore chart!”

“Can it have stickers?” Kat asks.

“It can definitely have stickers.” Bea looks at her older sister. “Des, I’m sorry. Gram’s right, we all took you for granted, and that’s not fair. You’ve been working so much overtime at Arden since Gram’s surgery. Maybe I could take some of those hours? I was thinking…I’d kind of like to start a nonfiction book club.”

“That would be rad,” Des says. “I would love to have more time to work on my art.”

“I guess this means I can’t have your room, huh,” Kat pouts.

“Nope. Not for at least another year,” Bea says.

Kat bats her eyelashes. “How would you feel about getting a cat?”

“Don’t you spend all day with cats? Isn’t that why you took that job working for Lydia?” Gram asks.

“Actually…” Kat grabs the baton from Bea and starts twirling it through her fingers. “Since we’re all being super honest today, I took the job because Mase and I had this plan to make our ex-boyfriends jealous by fake-dating.”

Chapter Thirty-Five

KAT

“Actually…” Kat grabs the baton from Bea and starts twirling it through her fingers. “Since we’re all being super honest today, I took the job because Mase and I had this plan to make our ex-boyfriends jealous by fake-dating.”

“What? I thought you really liked him,” Bea says. “I know you’re a good actress, but…”

“No, I did. I do.” Kat jumps to her feet and twirls the baton faster and faster, till it’s just a flash of navy blue and white. “It got complicated.”

“Why would you take Adam back after how he treated you? He was a jerk,” Vi says, uncurling herself from her armchair. “He cheated on you! No offense, Bea.”

“None taken. I was a jerk too,” Bea acknowledges.

“Adam gaslighted you all the time. He’d flirt with another girl right in front of you and then tell you that you were being crazy and overdramatic when you got mad. He didn’t respect your feelings at all,” Vi says, clearly outraged. Kat had no idea that her little sister felt that strongly about it. “You can do so much better.”

“You’re right,” Kat says.

Vi’s eyes go wide with surprise. “I am?”

“Yeah. It took me a while to figure out that I only wanted him back because Jillian had him. You may have noticed I’m a little competitive sometimes. Just a teeny-tiny bit,” Kat says, and all three of her sisters and Gram burst out laughing. “Okay, it’s not that funny.”

She isn’t that bad. Is she?

“Kat, we couldn’t play Monopoly for years because of the epic tantrums you threw when you lost. Epic,” Des reminds her. “Do you guys remember that?”

Bea nods. “You are the second most competitive person I have ever met, after myself.”

“I think I might actually be even more…” Kat starts and then trails off as she sees the smile twitching at Bea’s lips. “Oh ha ha. I see what you did there.”

Gram is shaking her gray head. “So this was all some kind of act?”

“No,” Kat says, pacing and twirling the baton. “Mase and I were pretending at first, but then we ended up really liking each other. We talked this afternoon, and he explained what happened with Brandon, and now we’re going to try dating for real.”

“So nothing happened between them?” Bea asks.

“No…he and Brandon did kiss. But it was a goodbye thing.” Kat drops the baton, and it crashes to the hardwood floor. “I’m still a little mad about it. But love is complicated.”

“You didn’t cuss him out?” Vi asks.

“Of course not!” Kat bends and scoops up the baton. “I would never.”

“You,” Bea pronounces, “have grown as a person this summer, Kat.”

“Well, thank goodness,” Gram says. “I never really liked that Adam boy.”

“None of us did,” Des admits, twirling a blue curl around her finger.

“What? Why didn’t any of you tell me?” Kat demands. She didn’t know they’d come to a whole consensus about it.

“Because that would have only made you like him more. You would have thought it was some kind of star-crossed Romeo and Juliet thing,” Bea points out.

Kat puts her non–baton hand on her hip. “I would not!” she protests, but she has to admit it is possible. The quickest way to get her do something is to tell her she can’t.

“He’s so cocky. He walks like he’s trying to show everybody how big his…well, you know,” Vi says, blushing.

“We know.” Kat looks at her younger sister. “So…you and Cece, huh?”

Vi smiles. Actually, she kind of glows. Kat has never seen her look so happy. “I don’t know. I think that depends on her family.”

“No other deep, dark secrets? Do you even need the talking stick?” Kat jokes.

Vi grabs the baton and then curls back up in her armchair, clutching it. “Actually. You know how I’m always writing in my journal? It’s not really a journal. I write fan fiction, and I love it, and if any of you laugh at me, I’m going to beat you with this baton.”

Chapter Thirty-Six

VI

“Actually. You know how I’m always writing in my journal? It’s not really a journal. I write fan fiction, and I love it, and if any of you laugh at me, I’m going to beat you with this baton.” Vi glares at her sisters preemptively.

“Why would we laugh at you?” Kat asks, flopping back down onto the rug.

“What is fan fiction?” Gram asks, peering at Vi over her glasses.

“It’s when you write stories about characters from TV shows, right?” Bea asks.

“Or books or movies.” Vi nods. “How do you know that?”

Bea shrugs. “Chloe went through a big Teen Wolf phase.”<br

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“Are you serious?” Vi gasps. She doesn’t know anyone else in real life who is into TV fandoms like she is. “Oh my gosh. I want to read her fics! Are they still up? Do you know if she posted them on AO3? What name did she write under?”

“I have absolutely no idea.” Bea tucks her hair behind her ear. “You will have to consult with Chloe. But why did you think we’d laugh at you?”

Vi feels suddenly shy. She is fully clothed in her shorts and Ravenclaw Quidditch T-shirt, but she feels like she’s sitting in front of her sisters naked, just waiting for them to notice all her flaws and start criticizing her. “Because you’ve always been the writer. You’ve been winning essay contests since you were in third grade. And you’re kind of a literary and TV snob.”

“I am not!” Bea argues, sitting up straighter on her end of the couch.

“All you ever watch on television are those History Channel documentaries, unless you’re in a mood,” Gram points out.

“You act like Agatha Christie writes for the National Enquirer,” Des adds.

“Remember that time you caught me reading one of Pen’s Regency romances with one of those half-naked guys on the front?” Kat asks. “You said it was trashy. But most romance authors—and readers—are women. Did you ever think maybe that’s why romance gets less respect?”

Vi is pretty sure Kat is parroting things she’s heard from Pen, whose mom teaches gender studies, but she’s not wrong. It’s the same with most young adult fiction.

“But they’re so…tropey,” Bea argues, wrinkling her nose. “So cliché!”

“Sometimes you just need a happily-ever-after,” Vi says. “That’s why I write my fics. Lots of times queer characters still don’t get happy endings. That whole ‘bury your gays’ trope. Remember how they killed off Lexa on The 100?”




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