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Chapter no 18

The Summer of Broken Rules

After Wit narrowly escaped elimination and I relinquished my target to Uncle Brad, I went to Secret Beach to sulk, but I wasn’t quite sure what I was sulking about. Was it Assassin? Apparently, my name had been passed around a lot this week. Ian’s mysterious ally was my first killer, but Uncle Brad had inherited me from Jeannie Dupré. “She hesitated before giving me your name,” he said. “Even though you shot her husband, she hesitated big-time.”

Now I swam out to Paqua Pond’s float and flipped onto my back to stew in the sun. No one would be looking for me right now—I didn’t have any plans until tonight’s rehearsal dinner. I’m so sorry, Claire, I thought when the sun disappeared behind some clouds. I’m so sorry I couldn’t do you proud. I threw it all away for some guy.

Why was I like this? Luli had been spot-on; I had gone from being with Ben to being all in with Wit. So committed that instead of effortlessly eliminating him from Assassin, I’d decided to delay and delay—I’d decided to protect him. I’d put myself second again. My eyes welled up, tears soon slipping down my face.

I started thinking about Sarah’s Instagram video—Claire and Wit talking together, laughing together—and the fact that he didn’t tell me about it. Hey, I met your sister. I honestly couldn’t say how I would’ve reacted, but the point was that he’d never said anything.

Claire had said something, though. I’d realized it on my walk out here, when I’d opened our old text conversation that I couldn’t bring myself to delete. The last message she’d ever sent me was: I have unbelievable news! The fates have finally aligned!

I hadn’t responded right away, since our family was hosting a New Year’s party. Ben and I had played games with everyone for a while, then there was dinner and dessert, and after that, we’d snuck away for some alone time. I hadn’t checked my phone until a couple of hours later, once we’d settled down to watch Ryan Seacrest host Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. My stomach had swooped at that text. Unbelievable news!

Have you met a boy? I’d written back, because after reading about endless love interests in her books, Claire more than deserved to have one of her own.

The message had been marked delivered, but by then, it was late enough in the evening that she’d been busy on Bourbon Street and hadn’t had a chance to respond.

Of course, it turned out she never had a chance to respond. I’d wondered about that message for so long once she was gone. The fates have finally aligned.

What had she meant by that? I asked myself time and time again, but mostly I didn’t give two flying fucks about the fates, instead just wishing she’d texted I love you, Mer before safely going to bed that night.

Finally I had my answer.

Yes, Claire had met a boy in New Orleans. Just not one for herself.

“Stephen,” she’d decided back when we were still young enough to match our outfits and joke about who I would marry someday. “His name will be Stephen!”

Now I felt as faint as I had when I’d first seen his name on my Assassin slip. Stephen…

I must’ve fallen asleep, because I lurched awake when a slick hand tugged my ankle. My eyes snapped open to see Wit treading water with his elbows resting on the float. “You’re burnt to a crisp,” he said. “Sunscreen slip your mind?”

I winced as I tried to sit up, my arms and legs scorched red. How long had I been out? The sun was no longer behind the clouds; in fact, it had moved across the sky.

“There’s aloe,” Wit told me. His voice sounded strangely formal. “I have that big bottle on my dresser, remember?”

“Your middle name is Oscar,” I replied, a sudden epiphany. “Isn’t it?” He nodded.

@sowitty17, I thought. Not obnoxious, but admittedly witty. It had been there the entire time: SOW.

Stephen Oscar Witry.

“I like that,” I said, dipping a few toes in the water. The cool rush was such a relief—even my feet were burnt. I took a deep breath. “Look, about earlier…”

“Yeah, about earlier,” he said. “Why did you do that?”

The slight sharpness in his voice made my stomach twist. I was going to bring up Claire, but he was clearly talking about something else.

Assassin.

“I believed you, Meredith,” Wit said. “When you said you didn’t have me, I believed you. I even guessed the truth, and still.” He splashed the water. “You lied to me.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Wit, I’m so sorry. I wanted to tell you, I really did, but…”

“But what?” he asked. “You thought everything would end if I found out?”

I swallowed.

He shook his head. “We could’ve worked out a plan—created some sort of arrangement to get us both further along, to get us to the finals together.” “That’s what I’ve been doing, though,” I said, because mistake or not, it was the truth, and I was going to defend myself. “It’s exactly what I’ve been doing. I’ve never once approached you with a gun. I wanted you to

take down as many people as possible so that it was us in the end.”

“Yeah, but you went about it the wrong way,” he said. “You broke our pact. We agreed to tell the other if one of our names came up.” He shrugged. “And you didn’t.”

My voice had never been smaller; if I were Loki, my tail would’ve been curled between my legs. “Wit…”

He sighed. “I’ve gotta go. We’re leaving for the rehearsal soon.” “When will you be back?” I asked.

“We won’t,” he replied. “We’re going straight from there to dinner.” He paused. “I’ll bring our script.”

“Okay, thanks,” I said, thinking of the folded sheet of paper tucked in his New Zealand guidebook. “And, um…” I bit my lip. “Can we talk more later?”

Because I felt like nothing between us had been solved; our situation and communication had only become more complicated. He’d lied to me. I’d lied to him. For once, we weren’t on the same page.

“Sure.” Wit nodded. “I know I owe you a better…a much better…” He trailed off, took a deep breath, then looked me in the eye. “Yeah, we’ll talk later.”

Then he pushed away from the float and swam back to shore.

* * *

Sarah and Michael’s rehearsal dinner was up-island in Chilmark, amid its bucolic hills at the Beach Plum Inn. Formal gardens and private cottages dotted the property’s seven acres, but the rehearsal dinner was at the main

house, where my cousin had taken her fiancé the first time he’d visited the Vineyard. They wanted to recreate that first island date and keep everything as simple as possible—long oak farmhouse tables on the back brick terrace with linen table runners and vases of Morning Glory’s wildflowers. Unlike tomorrow’s reception, there was no assigned seating. “This is beautiful,” my mom said as we climbed the terrace steps. “Absolutely beautiful.”

“Not as beautiful as you, Liz,” my dad said before kissing her. It warmed my heart. Sarah and Michael weren’t the only ones who were perfect for each other.

Ironically, the bride and groom and their entourage were among the last to arrive. “There was an incident at the church,” Aunt Christine said, her high heels clicking loudly. “I told everyone wedding events were off-limits!”

“Mom, relax.” Sarah smiled. She looked stunning in a white cocktail dress with gold wedges. “Nice shoes, Mer,” she said to me and winked, since I wore the same pair. My dress was a light coral color, its off-the-shoulder sleeves fluttering in the breeze.

Said “incident” had been Nicole Dupré trying to assassinate one of the groomsmen at the ceremony rehearsal. “But it wasn’t during it,” she protested. “We’d all left the church and were getting into the cars.”

Wink had yet to make an official ruling, but once cocktails had been mixed, Aunt Christine announced that if she saw any water guns tonight, there would be serious consequences.

My dad snorted into his drink and clapped Uncle Brad on the shoulder. “Excuse me while I run to the restroom,” my uncle said, handing off his martini to his wife. “I’ll only be a moment.”

We all laughed, watching him speed inside. “The father of the bride, ladies and gentlemen,” Aunt Christine deadpanned and took a long sip of Uncle Brad’s drink. She affectionately rolled her eyes. “Also known as my husband.”

I found Wit with his fellow groomsmen. “Wait, what?” I said when he turned to me. “Where’s the…” I gestured to his face, which was completely bruise-less. Still sunburned but missing its swamp-green splotch.

“Oh, it’s there all right,” Wit said. “Just hidden under about fifty pounds of makeup.” He rubbed some of it off for me to see. “Your aunt summoned me to the Pond House, where the bridesmaids used a mixture of foundation and concealer and whatever ‘contouring’ is to make sure I look wholesome for the pictures.” He shrugged. “Not too bad, I guess.”

“Not too bad at all,” I said, kind of stunned. I’d only ever known Wit with his giant bruise. Now he looked more like the boy in Sarah’s Instagram video. It was a little eerie.

God, was he handsome.

“Where’re you sitting?” I asked.

With you, I hoped he’d say. We said we’d talk, we needed to talk, and I wanted us to talk.

“With my family,” he said, his voice sounding so reserved again, like we barely knew each other. My stomach sank. “How about you?”

“I’m not sure yet.” I matched his formal tone. “I should probably figure that out.” I turned away, but Wit’s warm fingers alighted on my elbow before I could take a step.

“It’s right here,” he told me when I glanced back at him, patting his suit jacket’s breast pocket. “I didn’t forget.”

“I didn’t think you would,” I said.

He cocked his head. “We’ll meet up?” I nodded. “We’ll meet up.”

* * *

“No, that’s impossible, Eli,” Jake said. “It cannot be done.”

“Yes, it can,” Eli countered, shaking his head. “I’ve already been in ten.”

“Ten what?” Aunt Julia asked, sitting back down with Aunt Rachel. The main course was on its way, but Aunt Rachel wasn’t feeling well, so they’d gone on a walk in the gardens. It didn’t look like it had helped much. Aunt Rachel’s face was still scrunched with discomfort.

Is the baby bronco-kicking her again? I wondered. Or is it more than that?

“Ten photobombs,” Pravika told them. “Eli has made it his mission to photobomb every wedding picture.”

“Not every one,” Luli said. “There’s no way Aunt Christine will let him past all the red tape she’ll put up tomorrow for the wedding party photos.”

I laughed. “They’ve been tasteful photobombs, though,” I added. “He doesn’t do bunny ears or anything; he just politely poses with the group.”

“Right,” Eli said as our food was served: a New Orleans–inspired dish. Jeannie had worked with the Beach Plum’s chef on a custom menu. “The idea isn’t to disrupt the photos but to make the guests ask themselves ‘Who the fuck is that?’ when the album goes online.”

More laughter, but I saw Aunt Rachel push away her dinner and rub her forehead. Aunt Julia’s spine straightened. “Rach—”

A rapid chime sounded, and like the flick of a light switch, all conversation halted. I spun in my seat to see Jeannie Dupré holding a champagne glass and microphone. Michael leaned over and whispered in Oscar Witry’s ear, and they exchanged a thoughtful look before Oscar rose from his chair to stand beside Michael’s mother. “Hello, everyone!” she said. “I’m Jeannie, the proudest mother of any groom that has ever existed!” She smiled at her son. “And I want to thank y’all for being here tonight. It’s such a special occasion, and it’s been made even more meaningful by having each of you with us to celebrate…”

“Rachel,” Aunt Julia murmured. “Are you all right?”

Aunt Rachel’s hands were fully pressed against her face. “No.” She shook her head. “Contractions.” She let out a low moan. “I think my water’s going

to break.”

My friends were wrapped up in Jeannie’s toast, but Aunt Julia and I made eye contact. “My parents,” she said to me. “Tell Wink and Honey.”

I nodded and slipped out of my seat, quickly walking to my grandparents’ table. “What’s up, sweetie?” Honey turned when I put a hand on her shoulder. Wink turned, too. “You’re interrupting Jeannie’s—”

I told them about Aunt Rachel.

They leapt into action. Honey immediately went to my aunts—Aunt Julia, Jake, and Eli were lifting Aunt Rachel from her chair—while Wink found Sarah and took her hands in his to explain. I’m sorry, he mouthed before kissing her forehead.

He was supposed to give a toast tonight.

Some people had picked up on the sense of urgency, but there was no shortage of applause when Jeannie raised a glass to the bride and groom. Jake and Eli returned to our table several minutes later. “On their way,” they confirmed. “In the car, on their way to the hospital.”

We all exhaled in relief, and Luli released my hand. I hadn’t realized she’d been holding it. Maybe it was an old ingrained habit, or maybe we were getting back on track as friends.

I chose to believe the latter.

Dinner continued, and so did the speeches. Uncle Brad set up a whole slideshow of photos of Sarah, from the day she was born to her first day of school to her engagement party to the other day on the beach. Michael’s favorite uncle talked about what an upstanding man he was but also that he needed to be a little more reliable when it came to securing free Saints tickets.

Wit signaled to me from across the terrace while we waited for dessert, raising his arm and waving. I gestured that he should join me at my table, and soon he was at my side, heat radiating off his body and onto mine. It reminded me of the lazy morning we’d spent in his bed composing the

toast, our handwriting all mashed up—Wit’s all-capital scribble and my loopy letters. “Yes, we’ve got it,” I remembered saying, leaning back against Wit’s pillows as he lay in my arms with a pen raised. “I love that.” I pointed to a few lines he’d written.

“Is it any good?” He had turned to give me a look. “I’m not the best poet.”

“Yes, you are,” I’d said, kissing him. “You just don’t know it.”

Neither Sarah nor Michael knew about our speech; we’d agreed it should be a surprise. Wit unfolded the paper, and I smiled at all the little memories on it. Between the two of us, we’d heard so many stories about their lives before they met and after they got together. “That’s why he chewed me out about the Tulane girls,” Wit admitted after cluing me in about Michael’s wild fraternity days. “He was like that, too, until Sarah.”

I’d been shocked. “But she always says it was love at first sight!”

Wit nodded. “Oh, he says that, too, but he adds that love at first sight doesn’t mean she didn’t need to whip him into shape.”

“Do you want to do the honors?” I asked now, offering him my water glass. We had the microphone, too. “Or should I?”

“You,” he said. “My fingers are shaking.”

I took his hand to check—they really were trembling. “Public speaking makes you nervous?”

He didn’t answer.

My heart knotted, and before I could stop myself, I kissed him. Just a light kiss on his lips—lips I had kissed so many times this week, lips I adored, lips I knew I needed to stop adoring. “Pretend it’s just us,” I murmured. “Pretend it’s just you and me, goofing off in the Cabin, like when we practiced. Okay?”

Wit closed his eyes. “Okay.”

I waited to see their gold rings again before tapping my glass. Heads turned toward us, Sarah and Michael looking especially amused. “Hello,

Sarah and Michael shippers,” I said confidently, mic in hand. “I’m Meredith, Sarah’s cousin, and this is”—I paused, about to say Stephen, but quickly recovered—“Wit, Michael’s stepbrother.”

“And while the competition’s been pretty stiff tonight,” Wit chimed in, “Meredith and I would like to try giving a toast. Does that sound good?”

Our audience applauded.

“Wonderful!” I nudged Wit’s shoulder with mine. “Wit and I both happen to be aspiring poets, so, Sarah and Michael, we’ve written one for you!”

Wit held up our script for everyone to see, his fingers no longer shaking. I dramatically cleared my throat and spoke through my smile:

Sweet Sarah and Michael, let’s go down memory lane, I guess to the beginning,

all the way back to Tulane

What was it about Michael, instantly your number one pick? His love for beef jerky,

or the infamous kick?

Laughter, whoops, and whistles filled the air. Michael hid his face in his hands as his groomsmen teased him, and even Sarah smirked. “The infamous kick” referred to a party at Sigma Chi where Michael had been so trashed that he accidentally punted a football through one of his fraternity house’s windows. He’d straight-up shattered the glass.

Once things settled down, I handed the mic to Wit. He glanced at me and grinned his crooked grin before beginning his part:

What was it about Sarah

that brought you to your knees?

Her Sailor Moon costume

or need for late-night grilled cheese? So many stories you’ve shared,

and now we’ve made it to this day when we’ll watch Michael cry as

he sees Sarah holding that bouquet.

There were more loud howls from the wedding party’s table and an aww from everyone else. My heart skipped, and I leaned in close so Wit and I could perform the final stanzas together. His hand went to my lower back, mine to his wrist, and our breath mingled as we read:

The two of you will be forever— of this there is no doubt.

Through honesty and humor,

you know each other inside out.

So now we’d like to raise a glass with everyone sitting here:

Sarah and Michael, we love you dearly and offer you this cheer!

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