Chapter no 19

The Summer of Broken Rules

Michael’s groomsmen hosted a rehearsal dinner after-party at the Cabin with a bonfire, s’mores, music, and plenty of beer and cigars, although I only stayed for a half hour or so. Long enough to watch Jake and Luli win a few rounds of cornhole but not long enough to get caught up in a conversation with Wit. I’d wanted to talk to him so badly at the Beach Plum, and now I just didn’t. Because what did it matter? Everything was ending.

I slipped away to the Camp to help my mom “babysit” Hannah and Ethan. They were both asleep in their bunk room, the actual babysitter having put them to bed hours ago. Tomorrow, they would wake up to find out their baby brother had arrived.

My mom was sitting on the couch with me sprawled across her like a sad little girl. I still wore my coral dress, but my hair had come out of its updo, now loose and wavy—she was running her fingers through it. “What’s wrong, Mer?” she asked when I sighed. “Why aren’t you having fun with your friends and Wit?”

“Because things with Wit are shit,” I mumbled. Neither of us laughed at the rhyme.

“I told you it would be difficult,” she said after a minute. “Saying goodbye to him.”

I nodded, remembering the other night at the Annex—admitting how much I liked Wit and that troubled look she gave me. “But it’s not just

that,” I murmured and rolled over so I was faceup on her lap. Our eyes found each other. “He met Claire,” I said. “When she visited Sarah and Michael in New Orleans. He met her, and he never told me.” My voice was thick. “He says he tried to a few times, but I interrupted him once, so he thought I knew but didn’t want to talk about it. Mom, he kept the whole thing a secret. He lied.”

“How did you find out?” my mom asked softly. “If he didn’t tell you?”

“An old video on Sarah’s Instagram,” I said. “It was from that night at Basin. Claire was sitting across the table from Sarah, and guess who was sitting next to her?” A lump formed in my throat.

She pulled me closer and gently wiped away my tears when they inevitably fell. “Yes, he should’ve told you,” she said. “Especially after how much time you’ve spent together, how close you’ve become.” She kissed my forehead. “I don’t believe he lied, Mer, but yes, he also wasn’t truthful. If he tried telling you but didn’t, I think he was”—she paused—“reading the tea leaves.”

Reading the tea leaves.

Anyone else would say “reading the room,” but reading the tea leaves— that was my sister. That was Claire.

My eyes spilled over again. “I just miss her so much,” I said. “I miss her so much, Mom.”

“Oh, Meredith, I miss her, too—we all do. My heart aches every day.” She touched her hand to my cheek. “But being here this week, it’s ached a little less. As impossible as it might sound, I feel her presence. I feel her all around us.”

I thought about Claire’s voice in my head this week, the hugs she gave me through the sunshine. “She’s everywhere,” I agreed, although that didn’t stop my sobs. It might’ve worsened them, dredging up my Assassin elimination and its aftermath. “I’m so upset with Wit,” I cried. “And he’s upset with me, too.”

My mom didn’t say anything, waiting for me to explain.

“We made a deal right before Assassin started,” I said. “Not an alliance but a pact to feed each other information and tip the other person off if our names came up.” I swallowed hard. “I ended up inheriting him as a target, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t do anything. I never went after him; I had this whole plan to get us to the end together.” I paused. “But when he found out today, he was pissed—really pissed.”

Again, my mom didn’t comment.

“Which is stupid, right?” I asked, but my voice was weak. “Assassin is all about secrets and deception. You lie to survive. I mean, I lied to Luli and my actual alliance. I’m not proud of it, but I did.” I rubbed my forehead. “Wit…he plays like Claire. He should understand.”

“Yes, he should understand,” my mom said. “It’s only a game, and there should be no hard feelings when it ends.” She tucked a lock of my hair behind my ear. “But in this case, I don’t think Wit could help it. His emotions got the better of him.”

My breath caught. “What?”

She gave me a bittersweet smile. “Mer, your pact started out as strategy, but now I think it means more than either of you expected it to. You both know that.”

This time, it was me who didn’t say anything. My heart was hammering.

“I’m very grateful to him,” she added. “He’s brought you back to us. The Farm and him. You’ve been in this sleepy haze this last year and a half—I know we all have—and I don’t think I’ve seen you so awake and alive since that awful day. When the two of you are together…” She shook her head. “I think you should talk to him. If you part on poor terms, you’ll regret it.”

I burrowed into her side. “I can’t talk to him.” “Why not?”

“Because—” I started, but I was cut off by my mom’s phone buzzing on the coffee table.

Tom, the screen said.

She answered the call and looked at me after they hung up a couple of minutes later. “Oliver Isaac Epstein-Fox,” she announced with a smile. “Eight pounds, five ounces.”

* * *

I was just settling in for the night on the Annex’s love seat when I heard the porch steps creaking outside. Not my parents, I knew. Aunt Julia was staying at the hospital, so they were going to sleep at the Camp with Ethan and Hannah.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hey,” someone said back.

I pushed away my quilt and took several steps over to the door. Wit stood outside. “Where have you been?” he asked. “I must’ve taken a hundred laps around the Cabin.”

“I wasn’t there,” I said. “Well, I was for a little while, but then I went to babysit Ethan and Hannah with my mom.”

“Oh, gotcha.”

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

Wit raised his hand and rested it against the door’s screen. I instinctively did the same, our palms pressed together. “Because we never did it,” he told me.

My eyebrows knitted together. “Never did what?” “The dare,” he said. “The driveway dare.”

The driveway dare.

“You dared me on Monday, at Morning Glory. We agreed to do it sometime this week.” He shrugged. “But tomorrow is the big day, so…”

I dropped my hand. Tomorrow is the big day. He’d hit the nail on the head and on the heart—that was why I couldn’t do this. Crossed wires aside, our time together was rapidly dwindling, and I needed to be okay with that. I

didn’t care if we still had the wedding tomorrow—I needed to put space between us now. “Sorry,” I told him, faking a yawn, “but I’m about to go to bed.”


“Please,” Wit murmured. “Please, let’s walk.” He paused. “Let’s walk and talk.”

I laughed. Hollowly, but I laughed. “Okay,” I said, thinking of what my mom had said about Wit—how I would have no closure if I didn’t talk to him. “Let’s walk.” I lifted my hand and matched my palm to his for another moment. “And talk.”

But for the first ten minutes of the walk, the only sound was our feet scuffing against the sandy dirt road and nighttime critters skittering away from our footsteps. We kept an easy pace, walking side by side without holding hands. If the backs of our fingers brushed, it was an accident. Neither of us spoke.

Until out of nowhere, Wit did. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry for not telling you about Claire. You were right. I had so many chances, but I was worried about overstepping and making you sad, and then as more time went by, I convinced myself that you probably figured I’d met her with Sarah and Michael.”

I sighed. “I was really shaken when I saw that video, Wit,” I said. Then, after a pause: “But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and it’s okay.”

Because it was. Since leaving the Camp, I’d made peace with them having met, and in a way, it made me happy they had. I wish you could’ve met her. She would’ve really liked you.

How many times had I said that this week? I’d lost count.

“Sarah talked about her for months before her visit,” Wit said quietly. He chuckled. “It was like Taylor Swift was coming to town.”

I half smiled. Sarah was the most devoted of Swifties.

“I spent Christmas in Vermont with my mom and stepdad,” he continued in the darkness. “But I flew back to New Orleans for New Year’s. Sarah and Michael invited me to dinner with them at Basin. Well, more an instruction than an invitation. I had to meet the famous Claire.”

I took a breath, nervous to ask but needing to know. “What did you think of her?”

Wit whistled. “I thought she was extraordinary,” he said. “She looked like Sarah’s twin, of course, but I’m not making air quotes when I say she had a sparkling personality.”

“Yes,” I nodded. “That was Claire. She dazzled.” She just had no idea she dazzled, what big things awaited her.

My heart sank.


Big things had awaited her.

I didn’t think I would ever get used to that past tense. “What did you guys talk about?” I asked.

Wit’s fingers mingled with mine. “What do you think we talked about?” “I don’t know,” I said. “Tulane?”

“No, Tulane didn’t come up,” Wit replied. “While I was watching your sister not eat her salad, she couldn’t stop talking about you.”

My stomach dropped. “What?”

“‘You need to meet my sister,’” he said. “‘You would love her, Stephen. She’s so many things, but really a combination of adorable and acerbic. All your jokes I only laughed at? Meredith would’ve had killer comebacks instead. I bet you two could go back and forth for hours.’”

I slowed my pace.

“Smart,” Wit went on. “Goofy.” He took a breath. “Dramatic. Midnight snacker. Loyal. Fantasy reader. Competitive. Deep sleeper. Fearless.” He hooked a few fingers around mine.

The corners of my eyes stung. I hadn’t felt like that girl—Claire’s sister— in a very long time, not until coming back to the Vineyard and meeting Wit. My voice cracked when I spoke. “How did she know your name was Stephen?”

“She guessed Wit was a nickname for Witry,” he said. “So she asked what my first name was.” He paused. “Why? Does it matter that I’m named Stephen?”

I stopped in my tracks. We must’ve walked only a mile out of three, but it was time. “No, it doesn’t,” I said, untangling my fingers from his. “There’s nothing between me and Stephen.”

Wit didn’t respond at first. “In what sense?” he eventually asked. “You and the name? Or you and me? Us?”

I sighed. “The latter.”

The moon was shining bright enough that I saw Wit’s brows furrow. “I don’t—”

“The week’s over, Wit,” I said, swallowing hard. “And when the wedding ends, the other things end, too.”

“Wait,” he said. “Other things?”

Our thing,” I said, gesturing between us. “What we’ve been doing for the past few days, acting like…”

#HitchMeToWitry, I thought. Acting like #HitchMeToWitry.

“Well, why can’t things continue?” he asked. “Why can’t we go beyond this?”

My pulse spiked. “You imagined going beyond this?” He was quiet, then sighed. “Not exactly.”

“See?” I shook my head.

“No, no,” he said quickly. “I expected this week to go one way, but then it didn’t, and I got caught up in the magic—got caught up in you. It sounds stupid, but I never considered that time was running out. This place…” He trailed off to gaze up at the moon. “It’s one of those special places where

you feel like time doesn’t exist. Where it will always be summer, where I’ll always wake up with you.”

My body began trembling. “Well, that’s not how it works,” I said. “It may feel that way, but it’s an illusion—a fantasy. This week will end. It will.”

Wit put his hands on my shoulders. “We don’t have to,” he said. “We can stay together.”

“How?” I backed away from him. “You’re going to New Zealand! You’re going to the other side of the world for a whole year!”

“A school year,” he corrected. “Late August to May, and we can do long distance.”

Long distance.

Everyone said it was difficult, and I applauded those couples who skillfully navigated it…but me? There was a reason why Claire hadn’t said “patient” when painting a picture of me to Wit. I was not patient. The huge time difference, waiting for scheduled FaceTimes, or if we were lucky, a visit—I would not be able to handle that. I would be miserable. Ben and I had planned on staying together, and look how that had turned out! He’d changed his mind before we’d even tried. Four years together, and he didn’t have enough confidence in us.

“We’d be long distance anyway,” Wit was saying. “Even if I was back at Tulane.”

“I can’t,” I said. “I can’t do long distance—at least not a-whole-other-hemisphere long distance. It wouldn’t be enough, Wit. It wouldn’t work for me.”

The breeze rustled the tree branches, and I pretended I couldn’t smell the skunk stench in the air. Hopefully all the dogs were inside for the night.

“Then come with me,” Wit said softly. “Come to New Zealand.” I snorted. “You’re kidding.”

“I’m not.”

A shiver ran up my spine.

“We’ve had so many great adventures here,” he said. “Let’s go on more together, so many more. Claire said you’re fearless.” His voice dropped to a murmur. “And I think you need this as much as I do. I think you need something, something different…” He trailed off. “Come with me.”

I felt my throat begin to close. “I can’t,” I choked out. “I can’t. I have to start school. I have to meet my roommate, sign up for classes, make new friends, study, walk home for dinner once a week. I can’t leave. No way.”

Wit didn’t respond. We just stood there for a couple of minutes and then resumed walking down The Farm road. Even if the mood had plummeted, he was going to touch the Paqua obelisk. He was going to complete the dare.

And complete the dare we did. We did it in silence, but I tagged the cold stone and released a long, exhausted breath. If only we didn’t have three miles back to the houses.

It was 2:00 a.m. by the time Wit walked me to the Annex’s door. We awkwardly stood there for a moment, not quite sure what to do. “Good night,” I said at the same time he took my hand and said, “One more day.”

“What?” I asked.

“There’s one more good day,” he said. “The week isn’t over yet. We still have the wedding tomorrow.” He squeezed my hand. “Let’s pretend.”


I knew what he was suggesting. Let’s pretend that time doesn’t exist. Let’s pretend that this week isn’t ending. Let’s pretend that we will always be us— happy, sunburnt, and tangled up together.

It would hurt. It would really hurt, but it would be wonderful, too—one last perfect day with him. “All right,” I whispered, squeezing his hand back. “We’ll pretend.”

* * *

Instead of curling up on the love seat, I walked through the sitting room and into the bunk room. The window was open, wisps of the Cabin’s music and laughter spilling inside—a lullaby of sorts. I smiled to myself and then slipped under Claire’s covers and closed my eyes.

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