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Then Pen elbows her. “Ouch!” Kat yelps. Her glow fades as she turns and sees Adam strutting down the hall, hand in hand with Jillian. He has the same brown curls, light-brown skin, stormy gray eyes, adorable dimples, and all. It’s not fair that he hasn’t turned hideous.
Jillian’s steps falter when she sees Kat and Pen. She’s scared of them, but not as scared as Kat wants her to be. Not scared enough to keep her from kissing Kat’s boyfriend and breaking Kat’s stupid, traitorous heart.
Kat flips her long, flat-ironed hair over her shoulder. She’s wearing high-waisted white shorts and Vi’s black boatneck The Future Is Female T-shirt, which shows off her collarbones. She suddenly remembers Adam pressing his mouth there, kissing his way up to her ear. Her pale skin flushes.
She’s glad now that she didn’t have sex with him, even though he made it pretty clear that he wanted to. On her sixteenth birthday, back in April, his parents had gone out, and he’d made dinner—homemade pizza and chocolate mousse—and given her a necklace with a star on it. A star because she was going to be a star, he said, which was cheesy but sweet. Only all through dinner, he kept texting someone. He said it was his friend Carter, but he wouldn’t let Kat see his phone, and he kept it with him all night so she couldn’t snoop. He also said he wanted it to be a special night for them, and when he went to the bathroom, she found a new box of condoms in his nightstand. Kat was not about to have sex with someone who was texting another girl, though. Adam claimed she was being ridiculous. But a month later, she caught him kissing Jillian backstage. It was almost as vindicating as it was awful.
Would he have stayed with Kat if she’d had sex with him? Would it have been worth it?
“Congratulations,” she says, syrupy sweet, before Adam and Jillian can reach the list. “You both got cast. Adam, you’re John Brooke.”
Adam frowns. He wanted Laurie. He expected Laurie, despite his crap audition. He always got the lead in school musicals.
“You’re Amy.” Kat gives Jillian a sharky smile. “Pen is Meg, and I’m Jo. We’re all going to have so much fun.”
“Kat,” Adam says.
Kat doesn’t like the way he says her name anymore. It’s like he’s said it a thousand times and he’s tired of it now. Like she exhausts him.
“Adam,” she says back mockingly. She hands him the pen. Acts like it doesn’t affect her when their hands brush, like there’s no chemistry anymore. “Too bad you didn’t get Laurie. You were a little off your game at auditions. This isn’t high school, you know. We all need to be our very best.”
“Yeah, well. You heard what Ms. Randall said. She wants us to act professional.” He looks between Kat and Pen and Jillian. “That means no mean-girl shit. No drama.”
It’s got to be on purpose, the way he echoes the words from the day she caught him and Jillian kissing. I can’t do this anymore, Kat. I’m tired of fighting all the time. You’re just—you’re too much drama.
The words hurt, and this reminder—right in front of Jillian and Pen and all the listening, jealous girls in the hall—stings almost as much.
The idea that she’s lost Adam to Jillian, to this leggy girl with her blond ponytail and her tiny waist, is impossible. Jillian plays field hockey and sings in the school choir and has two doting parents and a black Labrador. She is perfectly, infuriatingly ordinary. She does not deserve—does not need—this play or this boy like Kat does.
Kat gives her an unnerving blue-eyed stare that sizes her up and lets her know she’s been found wanting.
Adam thinks Kat is too much drama? Well, just wait. He has not seen what kind of schemes Kat Garrett is capable of when she really puts her mind to it.
Vi freezes, clutching a stuffed giraffe, when she hears Cecilia Pérez’s voice.
“Hey, Des, do you have the new Nina LaCour book?” Cece asks.
“Oh, we sold out, sorry,” Des says. “I should’ve told Vi.”
“Vi?” Cece sounds puzzled.
“Where’d she go? She was here a minute ago,” Des says, and Vi slouches lower in the little cupboard beneath the stairs, hoping her sister won’t give her away. The reading nook for kids is decorated on the outside to look like a pirate ship, with a few small portholes cut into one side and a bigger porthole serving as the entrance and exit. It’s awkward for grown-ups to crawl into. It’s also awkward for Vi now, at fifteen, but it’s her favorite place at Arden. Maybe her favorite place, period. She spends whole afternoons here during the summer, reading books and checking her Tumblr and writing fics on her phone.
“Vi’s been recommending it to everybody, so we don’t have any on hand. But we’ve ordered more. Would you like a text alert when it’s back in stock?” Des asks. “It should be here in a few days.”
“Um, sure.” Cece starts to rattle off her phone number, but Des says they already have it. Cece’s a frequent customer. It’s one of Vi’s top five favorite things about her, in addition to the way she has to stop and pet literally every dog she passes, her addiction to Skittles, how much she loves her Abuela Julia, and her incredibly long eyelashes.
Peeking out through the nearest porthole, Vi can see the backs of Cece’s calves, sloping down to her ankles and her black gladiator sandals. She makes even torturous strappy sandals look amazing. She makes everything look amazing. Vi looks down at her own cutoff jean shorts and white Empowered Women Empower Women T-shirt. Her stick-straight auburn hair—not wild riotous curls like Des’s and Kat’s, not bright and eye-catching like Bea’s—is falling out of its braid. She looks like a little kid, and Cece looks like a Latina supermodel. Like a younger, browner, taller version of Camila Mendes, Vi’s biggest celebrity crush.
“Have you read any of her other books? She’s one of Vi’s favorite authors,” Des says.
Vi is gay! she might as well shout.
Not that it’s a secret. Vi’s been wearing Pride shirts since she was thirteen.
But she’s never had an actual girlfriend. Fact is, there are not a lot of out queer girls in Remington Hollow.
Cece scratches the back of one perfect calf with her other foot. “She’s one of my favorite authors too.”
“Have you read Our Own Private Universe? Or, um, Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit?” Des asks, and Vi covers her eyes in embarrassment, even though no one can see her. Those are some of her other favorite contemporary young adult books; they’re all about girls who fall in love with other girls. “What about Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel?”
“I’ve, um, I’ve read all of those, actually,” Cece says quietly.
Vi strangles the stuffed giraffe in her arms. Wait a minute. What is happening?
Vi recommends these books all the time. To everyone. You don’t have to be gay to read them. But she’s never recommended them to Cece.
Why is Cece reading all of Vi’s favorite books? It’s not like they’re giant bestsellers, even though Vi wants them to be.
She probably bought them right here, Vi thinks, affronted. And my sisters didn’t even tell me.
Why didn’t they tell her? This is huge. She drums her nails—currently painted in rainbow colors to celebrate LGBTQIA Pride Month—against her knees and then takes a deep breath. Her sisters are not responsible for reporting their neighbors’ reading habits. And the fact that they didn’t tell her—maybe that means her crush on Cece is less obvious than she fears. Maybe her strategy of avoiding Cece is working. It’s not easy, because Cece is a good customer, and the Pérezes’ family restaurant, Tia Julia’s, is right next door to the bookstore. Cece’s Abuela Julia and Gram are good friends. Every Monday night, they get together with a bunch of the other town matriarchs and play Canasta and drink sangria.
When they were little, Vi and Cece were good friends too. Like, inseparable.
But that was a long time ago. Before the accident. Before
Vi knew she liked girls. Before Cece got gorgeous and got a boyfriend.
Well…that’s not entirely true. Cece was always beautiful, even as a toddler. People used to stop her mom on the street to coo over her. Even with avocado all over her face and hands, her dark curls tangled in knots, her knees scratched up, and covered in dog hair from the Pérezes’ Great Danes, she was adorable. Vi’s seen pictures. It’s completely unfair.
“Well, what did you like about those books?” Des launches into reader advisory.
Vi starts to feel like she shouldn’t be listening. Like she’s eavesdropping on a private conversation. Whatever Cece says next, she’ll say it because she thinks she and Des are alone in the store. But to crawl awkwardly out of the porthole and admit she’s been eavesdropping the whole time would be mortifying. Instead, Vi waits, full of equal parts anticipation and dread.
“Never mind,” Cece says. “I’ll just stick with this one.”
There are soft footsteps, and then the bells above the front door chime. Vi is filled with a potent rush of relief and disappointment. She turns the giraffe over in her hands, her mind whirring. It can’t be a coincidence that Cece’s read all of those books, can it? There aren’t that many YA books about girls falling in love with other girls. There are more than there were two years ago, when Vi was figuring out her sexuality, but still not enough.
Her sister’s round, freckled face appears in the porthole, and Vi jumps. “Jesus, Des!”
“She’s gone,” Des says with a smile. “You can come out now.”
“I wasn’t hiding; I was reading.” Vi drops the stuffed giraffe and snatches up her book, which is about two princesses who fall in love. She’s only recently started branching out into YA fantasy, but she’s digging this one.
Des rolls her brown eyes. “Uh-huh. Right.”
Vi frowns as she crawls out of the pirate ship. So much for her crush being top secret. “Am I that obvious?”
She isn’t sure she wants to hear the answer.
Des wraps an arm around her waist and squeezes. “Probably only to your big sister.”
“Yeah, it’s the ‘probably’ that concerns me.” Vi sighs. She is both desperate for information about Cece, carefully filing away anything that Gram mentions from Cece’s abuela or any gossip she hears at school, and terrified to betray her interest. She’s not afraid that Cece would be mean. Cece would never; she’s super nice. But Vi could not bear it if Cece felt sorry for her. She has had enough pity to last her a lifetime.
She knows what people in town say about her, even though it’s been ten years since the accident. Gram’s friends still treat her like a fragile, breakable thing. They ask her how she is in soft, careful voices, and as she walks away, they remind each other of what happened. How she was in the car the night her parents were both killed by a drunk driver. How she didn’t talk for almost a year afterward.
“What do you think it means?” Vi blurts out, then glances over her shoulder to confirm there’s no one else in the store. There isn’t. It’s a lazy, sunny Friday afternoon, and most tourists are out on their sailboats or still making their way over the Bay Bridge and up Route 213 to Remington Hollow.
“That Cece’s reading about girls falling in love?” Des straightens some board books about trucks. “I mean…I guess it could be a Pride reading challenge?”
“Right. I mean…maybe it doesn’t mean anything. I don’t want to assume…” Vi flushes.
Des raises one feathery eyebrow. “That she’s gay? Or bi? Or pan?”
“She has a boyfriend,” Vi points out. Ben. Tall. Handsome, she guesses; other girls seem to like boys with floppy dark hair. He’s the school’s best soccer forward.
“That doesn’t mean she’s straight,” Des says.
Vi feels a tiny pinprick of hope.
“It doesn’t matter,” she says. Even if she was interested in girls, Cece wouldn’t go from handsome, popular soccer star to strange, bookish little Vi Garrett. “Nothing’s ever going to happen between Cece and me.”
“Well, not if you keep running away every time you see her, no.” Des tucks a wayward strand of hair behind Vi’s ear.
Vi jerks away, annoyed. Maybe if her sisters weren’t always babying her, Cece would see her. Really see her. Not as the weird girl next door with the tragic backstory, but as someone who’s smart and interesting, who loves dogs and the same books she does.
“You should talk to her. You two have so much in common!” Des says. “Remember what Mom used to say? ‘Don’t hide your light under a bushel.’ You have so much light in you, Viola Garrett.”
Vi rolls her eyes. Des has to say that, because she’s her big sister.
Vi doesn’t feel like she’s full of light. She feels weird and bored and lonely.
Late that afternoon, the bell above the door chimes, and Des looks up from her tattered copy of Murder on the Orient Express.
“Hey, stranger!” Emily Kim bounces in. “What’s new?”
Em is Des’s best friend. Or at least she used to be.
“Nothing,” Des says, dog-earing her page. “What’s up?”
“I was texting with Bri and Alyssa, and I have an amazing plan.” Em flips her shiny black hair out of her face. Sometime this spring, she cut it into a long, asymmetrical bob. A lob, she calls it. It makes her look older. Less like the girl Des used to spend every Saturday night watching British mysteries and splitting a pint of Ben & Jerry’s with. Less like the girl who threw a murder-mystery dinner party for her seventeenth birthday and went to an escape room in DC for her eighteenth. More like the girl who spent her nineteenth getting trashed with her new friends at the University of Maryland.
“Is Alyssa the blond with the nose ring?” Des has trouble keeping Em’s college friends straight.
“No, that’s Lauren. Alyssa is the blond with the cute glasses. My lab partner. You’d know that if you ever came to visit,” Em snarks, tapping her glossy pink nails on the counter. Since when does she paint her nails? “Anyway, Bri’s having a party next weekend up in Pennsylvania at her parents’ cabin. It’s going to be epic. Lauren and Alyssa are coming, and so are Alex and Devonte…and Hunter.” Em grins as she mentions the guy she’s been crushing on all spring. “My parents said I could go, and I was thinking… Why don’t you come with me?”
“Me?” Des asks, stalling for time. Em is so excited, she’s practically vibrating. She definitely doesn’t need the mint chip Frappuccino she’s carrying.
“Yes, you. Bri said it’s totally fine. Come on, Des! I was so bummed when you got sick and couldn’t make it for my birthday. I can’t wait for you to meet everybody! Then you’ll finally be able to keep Lauren and Alyssa straight. And I know you’ll love Bri. She’s the best.”
A little splinter of jealousy slices its way beneath Des’s skin. She used to be Em’s best. “I can’t. I have to work next weekend.”
Em’s shoulders slump, and she sets her Frappuccino on the counter with a little more force than necessary. “You have to work every weekend.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I do story time Saturday mornings now.”
Em rolls her eyes. “Let Kat do story time! She loves being the center of attention.”
That’s true. Em knows Des’s sisters and all their annoying traits, just like Des knows that Em’s brother Mase takes forever in the bathroom every morning and her brother Jacob leaves dirty socks all over his room.
From the day of their fifth-grade class field trip to the Baltimore Aquarium, when they sat next to each other on the bus, till Em left for college last August, she and Des were inseparable. And Des honestly—stupidly—thought that even though she wasn’t going to college with Em, they would always be that close.
At first, it was okay; they texted and sent each other silly pics all the time. Em came home for fall break and Thanksgi
ving and for a month at Christmas. But this spring, things changed. Em changed. And Des doesn’t know what to do. She thought—hoped—that when Em came home for the summer, things would go back to normal. But it’s been almost a month, and this is only the second time Em’s stopped by Arden.
“If Kat gets a part in Little Women, she’ll have rehearsal Saturday,” Des says.
“If. You don’t know for sure,” Em argues. “If she does, can’t you figure it out with Bea? You seriously can’t take one weekend off?”
Des hesitates, fiddling with the silver ring on her index finger. Kat’s impossible; she’d never voluntarily work on a Saturday, even if she doesn’t have rehearsal, but Des could probably trade with Bea. Georgetown isn’t cheap, even with scholarships. Bea could use the extra hours.
Em sees her hesitation. “Come on. Gram would let you go; I know she would. Don’t you want to get out of Remington Hollow? Have some fun for once? You’re nineteen, not ninety.”
“I have fun,” Des retorts, stung. She twirls the ring faster, staring at the turquoise stone instead of Em’s pout. The ring belonged to her mom; it was a birthday present from Dad the year Des was nine. She remembers him giving it to Mom at the dinner table, after they had all sung “Happy Birthday” and Mom blew out the candles. Mom kissed him, slid the ring on her finger, and held it up for all her girls to see. That was in June, two months before Des’s parents were killed by a drunk driver.
Des doesn’t drink alcohol. Not even a little. Em didn’t used to. She said it was no big deal, that if it bothered Des—and it did—she wouldn’t drink either.
That’s another way she’s changed this spring.
“What have you done in the last week that was fun?” Em asks.
Des bites her tongue. Maybe she doesn’t play flip cup and get throw-up drunk. Maybe she doesn’t go to the local all-night diner (because there is no all-night diner in Remington Hollow). Maybe she doesn’t hang out until three a.m. playing video games with the boy she likes (because there is no boy she likes). But she has fun. In her own quiet, comfortable ways, she has fun… Doesn’t she? Doubt worms its way through her as she remembers how hopelessly boring she felt this morning standing next to Paige.
Back to The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls book
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