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Cece winces. “Vi—”
“It’s okay,” Vi interrupts, because she doesn’t want Cece to look at her like that. Like she’s scared that if she is bi or pan or whatever, she might face the same kind of slurs someday. “I mean, it’s not okay as in acceptable. Liam’s a dick. But most people are pretty cool. I’ve got my sisters, I’ve got Gram, and they’re all super supportive.”
“You’re lucky. My parents,” Cece begins, and then she hesitates. Maybe she’s wondering if it’s okay to criticize her parents to a girl whose mom and dad are dead. Vi nods encouragingly, and Cece continues. “I love my parents, but…they’re very conservative in some ways. Not politically, but when it comes to gender norms, they’re very old-fashioned still. Mami is brilliant, you know? She’s incredible at math. She’s been doing the accounting for Tia Julia’s for years, and now that Abuela Julia’s getting older, Mami basically runs the restaurant. But I’m her only daughter, and she treats me so different from my brothers. She was appalled when I started tutoring Ben. She thinks boys don’t like girls who are smarter than them.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Vi says. “Why do you think she feels that way?”
That was one of Vi’s therapist’s favorite questions.
“She had kind of a hard life before she met my dad.” Cece goes back to petting Rogue. “Her parents were first-generation immigrants, and they had to work really hard for everything. Her dad left her mom and got remarried and had a whole other family. Money was tight. Abuela Maria worked super long hours, so my mom practically raised her little brothers. I think she feels like she married up, you know? A family that was more established here, that had their own business instead of cleaning houses for other people. I mean, it’s not like she married my dad for money or anything. They’re in love. But I’ve never heard him compliment her on how smart she is. It’s always how pretty she looks. And he’s the same way with me.”
“But you get straight As!” Vi says, outraged. Cece’s always on the honor roll.
“Yeah.” Cece gives her a gorgeous, dimpled grin. “I do.”
They’ve both run out of carrots. They pet the horses in silence for another minute or two, and then, one by one, the horses wander away.
Cece turns to face Vi. “You’re a good listener.”
“You’re interesting.” Vi drops her eyes to the fence, tracing the top rail with one fingertip. “I mean…no problem.”
Cece laughs. “I guess I don’t think of myself as very interesting.”
“I don’t think of myself as confident,” Vi confesses. “Mostly I feel awkward, like I was raised by wolves and don’t know how to interact properly with other humans. I guess I’m a feral bookstore child.” Cece’s looking at her—really looking at her—and she can’t seem to stop talking. “I’m more comfortable with books than with people.”
“Me too. I just fake it really well.” Cece is still looking at her, and Vi knows she is blushing. “I feel like maybe too much of my life is faking things lately.”
Vi wants to tell Cece that she can change that, but she knows it’s easier said than done. Instead, she reaches out and touches Cece’s arm. Cece’s skin is soft and warm against her fingertips. Then Vi lets her hand fall to her side. “I’m here any time you want to talk.”
“Thank you. That means a lot.” They look at each other for a minute, and Vi has to force herself not to hold her breath. Her heart is racing. Then Cece’s phone buzzes, and she pulls it out of her pocket. “It’s Ben. I should probably go back to the party. You want to walk back with me?”
Vi looks over at the horses and up at the stars. “No,” she says. She needs some time to think about everything that’s happened. “I think I’ll stay here a little bit longer.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Gram stops by Arden after physical therapy.
“Hi, honey. How are things going?” Gram’s using a cane now instead of her walker, but her mouth always looks a little pinched after physical therapy, despite her toothy smile and signature red lipstick.
“Slow.” Des sighs. There have hardly been any customers since she opened the store at ten. Outside, their neighbors scurry past with umbrellas, eager to escape the rain. “How was physical therapy?”
“All right.” Gram makes her way behind the counter, takes off her rain-speckled glasses, and wipes them on her long gray tunic. “Honey, there’s something I want to talk to you about.”
Des’s stomach twists. “Is everything okay?” This is how Gram started the conversation last month about her power of attorney and end-of-life care. They also discussed her will, the money she’s set aside for each of the girls, and her funeral wishes. It was awful. Des hopes they won’t have to revisit it for another twenty years at least.
“I hope so. Don’t look at me like that; I’m fine.” Gram runs a hand over her straight, shoulder-length gray hair. “You know we had our girls’ night last night.”
Des nods. Gram’s “girls” are the sixty- and seventy-year-old town matriarchs, grandmothers, and savvy businesswomen who run some of Remington Hollow’s most successful shops and restaurants. They get together every Monday night when Tia Julia’s is closed to drink sangria and play cards and gossip.
“I don’t like to tell tales out of school,” Gram starts. Which is a bit of a stretch. Des is nosy, and she knows exactly who she gets it from. “I don’t know if I should say anything at all.”
“Now you’ve got me curious, so you have to.” Des suspects that is exactly what Gram intended.
Gram’s blue eyes brighten behind her glasses, and she settles back into the sturdy, flowered armchair beside the counter. “Lydia said her granddaughter went out to the Penningtons’ with you on Saturday night,” she begins.
“She did.” Des scoots past Gram, out from behind the counter and over to the racks of board books. She’s been worried that this conversation was coming. That Gram would find out she smoked weed with Paige and give her a lecture. Kat and Vi aren’t stupid. They must have wondered why Des let Kat drive home. Or why her hair reeked of smoke. Or why she and Paige were so giggly in the back seat. Des is not the giggly type.
Would one of her sisters actually tattle, though? Without talking to her first? She scans her memory for recent offenses, but she can’t think of any reason they’d want to get her in trouble.
Des frowns. Why is she freaking out about this? She is technically, legally, an adult. Gram trusts her to run the bookstore, to hold her power of attorney, to take care of Kat and Vi if something terrible happens. Why is Des still scared of getting in trouble, like she’s still in high school?
“I think I’m going to reorganize the board books. They’re a mess,” she announces. Toddlers are always pulling them out and throwing them on the floor, and their harried parents don’t put the books back in the right section.
“You want to reorganize?” Gram laughs. “You’re good at a lot of things, Des, but organization isn’t one of them. What are you avoiding?”
“Nothing!” Des yanks books off the rack. She has a bad habit of losing interest halfway through organizational projects and convincing Bea or Vi to finish them. But she needs something to do with her hands right now. “What were you saying about Paige?”
Gram hesitates. “Lydia is worried. I don’t know what Paige has told you about why she’s in town this summer…”
“Not much,” Des admits. Only that it wasn’t her decision. But Paige is twenty-one, which is pretty old to be shipped off to spend the summer with her grandma. The more Des thinks about it, the stranger it seems that—as a senior in college—Paige is waitressing at Tia Julia’s and not doing an internship at some fancy art gallery in Baltimore. Does she need the money?
“Her poor mother is at her wits’ end with that girl,” Gram explains.
“Why?” Des settles cro
ss-legged on the alphabet rug. She doesn’t like the way Gram says that girl, as though Paige is bad or broken. “We haven’t spent much time together, but I like Paige.”
Gram gives her a sharp look. “I want you to be careful around her, Des. Maybe she seems glamorous to you. Free-spirited. Bohemian. But she isn’t the kind of girl I want you emulating.”
“What kind of girl? What is that supposed to mean?” Des asks, irritated, as she stacks the books by subject: one pile about trucks, one pile about animals, one pile about bedtime, ones for learning colors and numbers and ABCs.
“It means she’s made some bad choices,” Gram says bluntly. “Drugs. Stealing from her mother. I know you and Em have grown apart . Maybe you’re looking to make a new friend. I’m not doubting your judgment, honey, but…” She trails off.
“Okaaay,” Des says, but it feels like Gram is doing exactly that. Like she’s one step away from saying she doesn’t want Des to hang out with Paige anymore. Which would be ridiculous. So Paige smokes weed sometimes. Gram went to all kinds of protest marches back in the sixties. She’s probably smoked weed herself. And stealing isn’t okay, but whatever problems Paige and her mother have, Gram’s only heard one side of the story. “I’m a little old for you to pick out my friends, aren’t I?”
Gram purses her red lips. “You are. Is that your way of telling me to mind my own beeswax?”
“It’s my way of telling you that you don’t have to worry,” Des says. She’s never really lied to Gram before. Never had to. But she can choose her own friends, and she doesn’t plan to stop hanging out with Paige.
“That’s what I thought. You’re never any trouble,” Gram says.
Somehow, that irks Des. She’s nineteen. Isn’t she supposed to be a little bit of trouble? Isn’t she supposed to have a wild, rebellious stage where she gets a tattoo or stays out all night or sleeps with a boy who breaks her heart? Isn’t she supposed to do something her seventy-year-old grandmother would disapprove of? She doesn’t have any interest in sleeping with anybody, and she’s usually in bed with a book by eleven o’clock. But maybe…maybe it’s time for a physical change. Something to signify that she’s not the same girl she was a year ago. Like how Em cut her waist-length hair into a lob.
Des twirls an auburn curl around her finger. She saw the way people looked at Paige on Saturday night. They saw her purple hair and her septum ring and her tattoos, and they made certain assumptions. They looked at her like she was somebody they didn’t want to mess with.
Nobody ever looks at Des like that.
Des is never any trouble.
She doesn’t want to worry Gram. But maybe Em had a point. Maybe she could stand to be a little more nineteen sometimes. To step out of her small, safe comfort zone and her rigid routine. As she starts to reshelve the books, Des feels an unfamiliar restlessness sweep over her. She wants to do something. Something different. Be someone different.
What would it be like to change her hair? It’s been long and red and curly since she was little. She remembers Mom braiding it for her first day of first grade. If she dyed it, everyone would notice. Being a redhead is just part of being a Garrett girl, like having freckles and working in the bookstore.
Maybe it would be nice to do something that set her apart for once.
She thinks of how surprised Em looked on Saturday night, when she saw her laughing and dancing with Paige.
Des had liked that. Being surprising.
Em would never expect her to dye her hair.
“I’m going to take my break,” she says suddenly.
“Now?” Gram looks at the stacks of board books strewn across the bright alphabet carpet. Des isn’t even halfway through reshelving them. “The books are all over the floor, honey.”
“I’ll be right back,” Des promises.
Gram looks like she wants to object, but she doesn’t. Des has been working ten-hour days, without complaint, for the last month. It’s a struggle for Gram to go up the steep staircase to the second-floor stockroom and office; she climbs the stairs at home slowly and arduously with her cane and with Des hovering anxiously behind her.
“Five minutes, okay?” Des flies out the front door, down the sidewalk, and into Tia Julia’s before she can change her mind. She spots Paige behind the bar cutting limes.
“Hey, Desdemona!” Paige says.
“I want to dye my hair blue. Can you help?”
Paige grins. “Hell yes, I can.”
• • •
“Planning a murder?”
Des looks up, startled, to find her high school classmate Savannah Lockwood peering down at her with enormous cornflower-blue eyes. “Excuse me?” Des says.
“I’m joking.” Savannah nods at the elbow-length rubber gloves and the bottle of bleach in Des’s arms.
“Oh. I’m dyeing my hair,” Des explains. Of course there’s a line at Carl’s Pharmacy tonight, and of course the town bigmouth, Savannah Lockwood, has to be here. Des should have driven over to the CVS.
“Ooh, what color?” Savannah leans into Des’s personal space. “My readers will want to know.”
Des takes a step back. “You honestly think your readers will care that I’m dyeing my hair blue?”
“A Garrett girl without red hair? That’s positively shocking, by Remington Hollow standards,” Savannah drawls. “What prompted the change? Can I quote you?”
“No,” Des says.
Savannah huffs. “There are no secrets in Remington Hollow, you know. Not for long.”
“That’s creepy,” Des says, leaning back against the rack of magazines. “Seriously, isn’t nepotism still a thing in journalism? Couldn’t your dad give you a real assignment?”
Savannah flips her shiny dark curls over her shoulder. “The blog is helping to establish the Gazette’s online presence for a millennial audience. I wouldn’t expect you to understand, working retail.”
Des smiles. “I actually know a lot about journalism from Bea. I’m sure you’ve heard about the new feature she scored, writing about women-owned businesses in Remington Hollow? Interviewing a different proprietor every week? Your dad has been so impressed with her work. We’re all super proud.”
Savannah’s eyes narrow. She hates Bea. As a senior, Savannah assumed she would be named editor of the school paper—not because she showed any real talent for it, but because her father is editor of the Remington Hollow Gazette and she thought it was somehow her due. She was furious when Bea, a junior, got the position instead. Last summer, Savannah interned at the Gazette and—to hear Bea tell it—mostly fetched coffee and flirted with the sports reporter. This summer, she’s pressured her dad into letting her write an About Town blog, which is a thinly veiled gossip column.
“Yes, Daddy’s so impressed with Bea. Editor of the school paper. Copyeditor for the yearbook. Valedictorian. Georgetown. That handsome boyfriend too.” Savannah taps one pointy mint-green nail against her dimpled chin. “It must be hard for the rest of you, having such a perfect sister.”
Des blinks. She isn’t sure where Savannah’s going with this, but Des certainly isn’t going to give her anything quotable. “Like I said, we’re very proud.”
“But how can any of you compete? I mean, look at you. I don’t blame you for deciding not to even try. Not everyone’s cut out for college,” Savannah says, so condescending that Des has to resist the urge to slap the smile off her face.
“Well, you know, with my dead parents and all, I felt some obligation to stay home and help Gram with my sisters and the bookstore,” Des says through her gritted teeth. It’s rare that she plays that card, but Savannah deserves it. “Also, I happen to love working at Arden. A bookstore is such a vital part of a community, don’t you think? It’s important to me—to all of us—that we’re fulfilling my mom’s legacy.”
“I’m sure it is. You poor things,” Savannah coos.
/> Des’s fists clench around the rubber gloves. Planning a murder is starting to sound awfully appealing.
The door opens, and a tall, scruffy guy with dark-blond hair caught up in a bun walks over to the old-fashioned soda fountain. Des has never seen him before, but Savannah’s face lights up.
“Excuse me, my date is here,” she says, hurrying in his direction right as the line finally moves forward.
Des sets her gloves and bleach on the counter. Poor guy, she thinks. He has no idea what he’s gotten himself into.
When Bea stumbles bleary-eyed into the bathroom on Wednesday morning, the first thing she notices is blue. Watery blue spots polka-dot the white-tiled floor. The towel crumpled in the corner is stained blue. Bea yanks the shower curtain back and finds blue streaks all over the tub. It looks like somebody murdered a damn Smurf in there.
It is too early to deal with this. She brushes her teeth and then marches downstairs to the kitchen. “Des? I think maybe Kat dyed her hair. Have you—?”
She stops short in the doorway. Her older sister is sitting at the kitchen counter, eating her bowl of Cheerios, drinking a mug of tea, with her planner and Tombow pens in front of her and NPR on the radio, exactly as expected at eight-thirty on a weekday. Totally, completely unexpected? Des’s hair is bright blue.
“Jesus Christ,” Bea gasps. “What did you do to your hair?”
Des pulls back some of her curls, revealing more blue beneath. “Do you like it?”
“I—” Bea swallows. “I don’t know yet.”
“I like it.” Des smiles shyly. “I really like it.”
“Good. It’s probably going to take a while to wash out.” Bea grabs the last browning banana on the counter and starts to peel it, still staring at her sister.
Des chuckles. “You thought it was Kat!”
“I definitely didn’t think it was you.” Dyeing her hair on a whim isn’t like Des, but the blue suits her.
Des shrugs. “Paige helped me dye it last night.”
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