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Chapter no 2

The Summer of Broken Rules

My cousin was getting married. Sarah Jane Fox and Michael Phillipe Dupré, set to wed on Saturday, the sixteenth of July, at four o’clock in the afternoon at St. Andrew’s Church in Edgartown. Dinner and dancing to follow at Paqua Farm.

Paqua Farm, or The Farm, as we called it, had been in the Fox family since before World War I. It was no longer a working farm but a sprawling six-hundred acres between Edgartown and Tisbury with a mile of private beach. For hours, we would get bounced around by the ocean waves and then blissfully float in the Vineyard’s famous lakes and ponds. Claire’s and my favorite had always been the secluded Paqua Pond.

I hugged a wriggling Loki close as Dad sped up Paqua’s three-mile sandy dirt road, leaving dust in our wake. “Dad, slower,” I said from the back seat, but he was too busy laughing. The road’s unofficial speed limit was twenty-five miles per hour, but everyone loved bending that rule. “We raced back in the day,” Uncle Brad would sometimes say, clapping my dad on the shoulder. “Oh, how we flew.”

It used to be fun, breaking the rules. But now my gut was twisting, and I leaned forward to see the speedometer: a little under fifty. “Please, Dad!” I repeated, shrilly this time. My heart pounded. “Slow down!”

Mom put a hand on my dad’s arm. “Tom,” she said quietly.

My stomach settled when he hit the brakes, the speedometer immediately dropping to twenty. Soon we reached the fork in the road, where a tall

wooden sign steadfastly stood year after year. It finally had a fresh white paint job—definitely Aunt Christine’s doing—and pointed out the direction of each summer house. There were eight of them scattered across The Farm, no two alike. Some were bigger, some smaller, all rustic with their own names and character. Most of the wedding guests were staying out here, so I knew every house would be filled to capacity—maybe more, as Uncle Brad had told my dad about some people pitching tents.

Dad veered left, and a few minutes later, the Raptor’s wheels crunched onto the Annex’s gravel driveway. Well, parking spot. The rest of the houses had driveways, but the Annex just had a parking spot. It was a cottage, only one story and cedar-sided with a pitched roof, and it was considered ours whenever we were on the Vineyard. We usually rented it for three weeks, and the rest of the summer it saw a series of extended family and friends. Two green Adirondack chairs sat on the tiny weathered deck, overlooking the big green field speckled with yellow flowers. The tall grass and scrub trees swayed in the breeze, and in the distance, I could hear the ocean washing up on the beach.

We’re here, I thought, suddenly wanting to break into a dance. We’re here, we’re here, we’re here!

Through the screen door was the sitting room with a braided rug covering the worn oak floor and a faded green-and-white-striped love seat facing the small TV positioned in between the two front windows. Books upon books had been crammed into both bookcases, and photographs covered the beadboard walls, including some really old black-and-white ones. Decades and decades of Foxes and our friends.

The tight hallway was flanked by the galley kitchen on one end and my parents’ room on the other. Straight ahead was Claire’s and my room, the bunk room that was roughly the size of a ship’s sleeping quarters. So many nights, Claire had accidentally woken me by rolling over and bronco-kicking the wall. Sorry, Mer, she’d say in a sleep-slurred voice.

I bit my lip and pushed open our bedroom door to see that nothing was out of place, that nothing had changed. There was the light blue dresser with the sea glass-and-wampum framed mirror above it, along with the Paqua map my sister and I had drawn when we were younger. After so many scavenger hunts and games of manhunt, the two of us had learned every inch of The Farm.

A white wicker nightstand stood next to the bunk beds, matching their white coverlets. Claire was afraid of heights, so she always slept on the bottom with me on top. The ladder had broken long ago and was never replaced, but I had a special talent for scrambling up the side.

After unpacking my duffel and hanging up my dress for the wedding, safe in a garment bag, I heard the Annex’s door swing open and shut. “Anyone home?”

Mom and Dad were outside, unloading the last of our stuff from the car, but I called back a hello and bounded into the sitting room…only to trip over the rug once I got there. My heart stopped when I saw Claire standing there and smiling at me.

But no—no, it wasn’t Claire.

The corners of my eyes started to sting as my cousin said my name. Because while Claire and I looked nothing alike, she and Sarah were nearly identical twins. The same cascading auburn hair and slenderness, the same love of being barefoot, even the same tilt of the head when they smiled. It was only when I noticed the pink-and-green Lilly Pulitzer shift dress and pearl earrings that I really relaxed. Sarah—this was Sarah.

“Hi,” I said, my voice wavering a little. But I surged forward and let the bride hug me tight. It had been so long since I’d seen her, months and months. Uncle Brad, Aunt Christine, Sarah, and her brothers were from Maryland and spent every summer on the Vineyard, living in Lantern House. If you looked up “preppy” in an encyclopedia, their family Christmas card would be right beside it.

Now Sarah was twenty-six, and after graduating from Tulane a few years ago, she worked for New Orleans’s preservation society. “How’re things?” she asked after pulling away, giving me a look through her horn-rimmed glasses. Like Claire, Sarah loved interesting glasses. But this pair was a little too big. I watched her push them up her nose, which drew attention to the sharp scar across her forehead, running from her hairline all the way down past her right temple. Straight and thin for the most part, but with one jagged zigzag above her left eyebrow. From the shattered glass, from that awful night two winters ago.

I blinked. “How are you doing?” she asked again.

Ben. I knew she was talking about Ben. Because without Claire’s shoulder to cry on, I’d called Sarah the morning after his grad party. “He—said—he

—would—still—come,” I hiccuped over the line. “If—I—wanted—him— to.”

“Wait, what?” she said. “He said what now? That he was ending things but still wanted to come?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Oh, jeez, Mer,” Sarah sighed. “I’m sorry. What a dick. Please tell me you said no.”

“But I said I was bringing a date,” I blubbered. “On your invitation. I told you I had a plus-one. I need a plus-one.”

“No, you don’t,” Sarah said. “You absolutely don’t. One uneaten fillet— or whatever he requested—isn’t going to make or break the wedding.”

Now, I gave my cousin a smirk. “Well, he texted me earlier,” I said, folding my arms over my chest. “And I straight-up called him a shithead.”

Sarah gasped. “You didn’t.” I grinned. “I did.”

I’d been crying at the time, but technically I had.

“Yes!” She grinned back. “Go, Mer! Assert yourself!” My smile slipped.

Assert yourself.

Claire had loved that phrase. “I know I’m on the sidelines here,” I remembered her once saying, “but it seems like you need to stand up to Ben more.” She shrugged. “If you don’t want to go to the party, tell him that. Assert yourself.”

It was always about Ben, I was beginning to realize. Our relationship was uneven—never about me. Everything revolved around him.

Claire had seen it, but I hadn’t listened. She doesn’t have a boyfriend; she’s never had a boyfriend, I’d tell myself as I pulled on jeans and cute tops and curled my hair and applied eyeliner. She doesn’t get it. She’s wrong.

“Sarah!” My parents appeared in the sitting room. The cozy space was now even cozier with four of us in it. The most people we’d ever squeezed in here was ten. “We thought we heard your voice!”

“Aunt Liz!” Sarah gave them both hugs. “Uncle Tom! Welcome!”

“You look beautiful,” my mom said as I noticed her eyes land on Sarah’s scar. My heart dipped. Part of me suspected she couldn’t really tell how well it had healed, instead still seeing all the stitches. Neat and clean but also grisly and brutal. I hadn’t seen them in person like my parents, only in pictures…but there had been so many. I worried my mom would always be haunted by them. “You’re radiating that bride-to-be glow!”

Sarah smiled. “I just came by to say hello,” she said, then turned to my dad. “And to tell you that the outhouse is fully stocked.”

“Charmin?” my dad asked.

She nodded seriously. “Of course.”

Everyone chuckled. Another one of the Annex’s quirks was that it had no bathroom. All the houses on The Farm had outdoor showers—heavenly after a long day on the beach—but our cottage had no bathroom, period. You had to follow a well-worn dirt trail several yards into the woods, where

a tall wooden structure waited at the end. A quest that was especially daunting in the middle of the night.

“Well!” I jokingly clapped my hands together and started backing toward the screen door. I wanted to hear my mom laugh again. “On that note, if you’ll excuse me a moment…”

* * *

Sarah told us there was a cookout planned for that night to officially welcome everyone, but once she left, I dug one of the beach cruisers out of the Annex’s storage shed, pumped air into its tires, and pedaled off to do some casual recon. Just down the road was the Cabin, covered in rust-colored wooden siding and built like an old motel: T-shaped, with each bedroom door leading out onto the front porch. I slowed a little when I saw a few cars parked haphazardly at the side of the house, their trunks still popped open, along with a handful of guys sitting around the front yard’s huge firepit. Michael’s groomsmen.

I spotted the groom among them, a can of beer resting on his knee as he used his arms to reenact some story for everyone. Even from afar, it was impossible to ignore how handsome Michael was: built like a quarterback with deep bronze skin, dark hair that Sarah was always running her hands through, and the smoothest Southern accent. He and my cousin had met at Tulane, but Michael had lived in New Orleans his whole life. His family had Creole roots, French and African ancestry. A die-hard football fan, Michael now worked in the Saints’ front office.

Michael spotted me, too, and raised his hand in a wave, but right then, a guy burst out the Cabin’s main door. “Why isn’t there more ice in the freezer?” he asked as everyone turned. “His face is getting worse— seriously a mess. Looks like he went a couple rounds in the ring…”

Well, good luck with that, I thought, whatever it was. I’d talk to Michael tonight. I gripped my handlebars and resumed pedaling, upping my speed

and then coasting until I turned onto the road that led straight to the Big House.

The Big House was not Paqua’s largest house, but it was the oldest. A Victorian farmhouse with cedar shingles and faded green shutters, it was the only house that wasn’t rented each summer, since Wink and Honey—my grandparents—lived there full-time.

Now they were on the Big House’s slightly sagging front porch, Honey serenely swinging in the hammock and Wink leaning against one of the columns, tracking me through his ancient binoculars. “For bird-watching,” he always said, but I knew my grandfather liked keeping an eye on Farm activity. The Big House’s porch was the perfect spy base. It wrapped around the entire house, so you could see everything.

“Anything good happening?” I asked after hitting my kickstand.

“Julia and Rachel just arrived at the Camp,” Wink replied, still scanning the horizon. “It appears Ethan is having a tantrum, and Hannah must really be enjoying her ballet class. She’s wearing a pink tutu.”

I laughed. Aunt Julia was my dad’s younger sister. She and her wife, Rachel, had two kids: six-year-old Ethan and four-year-old Hannah. Aunt Rachel was very pregnant with their third child, a boy. She was due sometime next month.

“Come sit by me, sweetie,” Honey said and patted the spot next to her in the hammock. She put her arm around me once I was all settled in, her lavender scent so familiar. I thought my grandmother was one of the most beautiful women in the world with her long white hair, blue eyes, light linen tunics, and chunky necklaces to add “pops of color.” She designed and beaded them herself, and they were always in high demand at jewelry stores around the island.

“It seems like everyone’s here,” I commented. “I passed Michael and his groomsmen outside the Cabin.”

Wink put down his binoculars. “Yes, he stopped by earlier to promise they wouldn’t trash the place.”

Honey laughed. “I do so adore that boy.”

I smiled. My grandmother’s crush on Michael was no secret. “Where’s his family staying?”

“Christine assigned them Moor House,” Wink said, gesturing to the hill in the distance. “It’s on the Excel spreadsheet.” He grumbled a little. “Honestly, you’d think this was her wedding.”

“Oh, now, now.” Honey rolled her eyes. “That’s not fair, Andrew. Sarah’s her only daughter, and we know how Christine is.”

I nodded, picturing the wedding invitation, right down to the little lighthouse embossed on the envelope flap. That detail was unmistakably Aunt Christine’s touch. “She might be wound a little too tightly,” my mom had admitted, “but she has impeccable taste.”

“At least Sarah put her foot down about it being black-tie,” Wink said. “Black-tie outside in July?” He shook his head. “I’ve done it too many times, and it’s not fun.”

“Though I’m sure Michael looks gorgeous in a tux,” Honey said dreamily. “Then why don’t you marry him, Bea?” Wink asked, and when he winked

at me, I giggled. That’s why he was “Wink” to us grandchildren.

“Sarah did say she had a surprise, though,” I said. “Back at the Annex, she said she and Michael were announcing something tonight.”

My grandparents exchanged a look.

“You already know,” I guessed. “You already know what it is.”

“Perhaps.” The corner of Wink’s mouth tugged up slyly. “Perhaps we do.” “Tell me!”

His smile widened.

I groaned and buried my face in Honey’s shoulder, and a second later, I felt her kiss the top of my head.

“We’re so happy to see you, Meredith,” she whispered. “So, so happy.”

* * *

I had plenty of cousins on The Farm, but there were also close family friends in the mix. Eli, Jake, Luli, and Pravika were practically family. They were already at Lantern House when my parents and I arrived for the cookout, sitting together at the picnic table under the big oak tree. “There’s the crew,” Mom said as my heart hesitated, giving me a little push toward them. Two years—I hadn’t seen my friends in almost two years, and it would be different now without Claire. She’d been the oldest, our unspoken captain.

“Meredith!” Pravika called. “Meredith!”

Okay, here we go, I thought, seeing the others’ heads turn and their eyes find me. A shiver of shyness ran up my spine. I’d been terrible about keeping in touch, barely reaching out or responding to their texts, calls, Snapchats, or FaceTime requests.

Pravika pulled me into her arms first, squeezing me so tightly that I worried my lungs would collapse. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

The corners of my eyes instantly stung. “I love you, too,” I whispered back.

“Jeez, Pravika, let her breathe,” Eli said, and after Pravika and I broke apart, he moved in for his hug. “Missed you.”

“You too,” I said. “I really like the hair.” Eli had grown out his light brown curls since I’d last seen him, down to his shoulders. Right now, he had half pulled up in kind of a man bun.

He stepped back and grinned at me, touching a strand. “Thanks.” “Ugh, no.” Jake shook his head. “Dude, it has to go.”

“You’re just jealous,” Luli said to her brother. “Since you’re following in Prince William’s footsteps.”

We all assessed Jake’s fair hair. There was still enough to ruffle, but it had thinned since I’d last seen him. Baldness ran in his family. “Okay, Jake,” I

said to change the subject. “Where’s my welcome-back hug?”

Then only Luli was left. While Jake burned within an hour of being on the beach (even after liberally applying sunscreen), his sister had been adopted from Central America and tanned like she was born to live by the sea. She did not move forward to hug me. All she said was, “It’s good to see you, Meredith.”

“It’s good to see you, too,” I said back, swallowing hard. Those ignored texts came to mind again. What were the odds she was thinking of them, too?

My stomach knotted.

Pretty damn high, I thought.

There was a moment of awkwardness before Pravika suggested we get food. Neither Sarah nor Michael had arrived yet, but a conga line of family members, bridesmaids, groomsmen, and other guests was forming, so we headed over to the house and fell into place. Even from the back, I could tell Uncle Brad and my dad were joking together behind the grill while my mom stood with Aunt Julia and Aunt Rachel a few people ahead of us. “Oh, I feel it!” she exclaimed, a hand on Aunt Rachel’s swollen stomach. “What a kick!”

As we waited, I glanced back at Lantern House. It was undeniably gorgeous: white clapboard with big bay windows and a tiny top-floor study that looked like a lantern when lit up at night. The side deck’s door kept swinging open and shut, Aunt Christine constantly going in and out with another big bowl of potato salad or more juice boxes for the kids.

“Would you like some help, Christine?” Honey asked from her Adirondack chair. Every house had a cluster of them; Lantern House’s were yellow.

“No, no,” Aunt Christine told my grandmother. “Don’t worry. I’ve got it.” She sighed. “Now if only Sarah and Michael would show up.”

Cheers suddenly erupted. Because finally, there were the bride and groom, walking hand in hand. Still barefoot, Sarah had changed into a blue cocktail dress, and even though she wore no makeup, her cheeks were sun-kissed pink. Her hair was wet and tangled, as was Michael’s. They’d probably been at the beach and lost track of time—Sarah had never been known for being punctual.

“Hi, everyone!” she shouted before her mother could march up to her and say, “You’re late.” She smiled and waved. “How’d y’all feel if we crashed your party?”

* * *

It felt really good to be back with my friends. After filling our plates, we reclaimed the picnic table and stayed there long after finishing our burgers. “So guess what,” Eli said once Pravika had admitted that working at Murdick’s Fudge this summer had made her a total addict.

“What?” we said.

“I saw him,” Eli replied, unable to contain his excitement. “Today, in town.”

Everyone but me groaned.

“Wait, huh?” I said, turning to Eli. “Who’s him? You have a him?”

“No, he doesn’t,” Luli said before Eli could. She shook her head. “It’s just this guy he’s seen around Edgartown a few times, and now he thinks they’re meant to be, so he’s stalking him.”

“Haha.” Eli rolled his eyes. “I am not stalking him.”

“Then how do you know he teaches sailing at the yacht club?” “Ooh, the yacht club?” I said. “Swanky!”

“Look,” Eli said, “he was wearing a windbreaker! It’s not like I hung out on the docks and watched him lead a whole session.”

“Funny,” Jake said dryly, “because if I’m remembering correctly, those kids had some solid skills.”

Eli hid his head in his hands as we laughed.

I nudged him. “Okay, where’d you see him today?”

“Walking into the bookstore.” He sighed. “Which means he’s a reader, and whoever I date has to be a reader.”

“Why didn’t you go inside?”

“Because…” He hesitated, then sighed again and looked at his empty plate. “Because you know I’d have no idea what to say.”

“Oh, come on,” Luli said, pulling her hair up into a not-so-subtle imitation of Eli’s man bun. “Hi, my name is Eli. I saw you at the yacht club the other day, and I think you’re really hot, so I’ve been tailing you ever since—”

“All right, all right.” Eli’s cheeks were so red that I swore I saw flames flickering. “Quit it.”

Luli gave his arm a loving squeeze before her attention shifted to me. “What about you, Meredith?” she asked.

“What about me?” I asked back, able to feel the tension between us.

“Well, we heard Ben dumped you,” she said, just like that, so matter-of-factly that my cheeks started burning like Eli’s. “Which means you’re here alone.” She cocked her head. “Are you gonna find someone to stalk?”

“I’m not stalking him!” Eli shouted.

The table snickered while I did my best to keep my voice level. “No,” I said. “I don’t think so.”

“Why not?” Pravika asked. “Everyone hooks up at weddings.” She gestured to the front lawn where some guys had started up a game of cornhole. “They’re perfect for a fling.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But I’m not looking for a rebound.” I shrugged all thoughts of Ben off my shoulders. “I’m here to celebrate Sarah and Michael and spend time with my family.” My voice quieted, and I wished for the millionth time that Claire were sitting next to me. “And you,” I added. “I’m

here to hang out with you guys, friends and family.” I waggled my finger like Aunt Christine to get a laugh. “Forget about any flings!”

* * *

Even after a lot of joking and laughter, I still felt the divide between Luli and me once the table disbanded. Eli and Jake left to join the cornhole game, and Pravika wanted to see Sarah’s engagement ring up close while Luli walked off to talk to another friend and her boyfriend, the two of them arm in arm. That would’ve been Ben and me, I thought before telling myself to stop sulking. It was Sarah’s wedding, and I was here to have fun!

But first I felt like I needed to apologize to Luli. Her name had popped up on my phone the most over the last eighteen months, and I’d ignored her again and again. Why? Because when I wasn’t working at Clinton’s bagel shop, I’d spent all my time with Ben, and after the accident, I’d held on to him even more tightly, eating only the occasional lunch with my school friends. I found myself turning down invitations to get ready and pregame before parties together. “Wow, Meredith,” a friend had said at one party as I held her hair back. She was drunk and hunched over the toilet but had somehow still managed to laugh so hard. “This is, like, the most time we’ve spent together in forever.”

Tomorrow, I thought now, seeing Luli smile as she shook the boyfriend’s hand. You’ll apologize tomorrow—apologize for shutting her out, apologize for going off the grid.

My stomach rumbled, so I slid off my bench in pursuit of the buffet, deciding it was time for dessert. Which wasn’t an easy mission—there were people everywhere. Sarah and Michael had wanted to keep their wedding small, but it seemed like there were a hundred guests here.

“Meredith!” Aunt Julia swept me into a hug, and then I met Michael’s mom and older sister, whose toddler had the cutest chubby cheeks. Then Ethan, Hannah, and a couple other children tackled me to the ground. I

wrestled with them for a minute, not really caring about getting covered in grass stains or messing up my hair.

“Kids!” Aunt Rachel called from the deck. “Enough!”

After brushing myself off, I tried to edge around a circle of bridesmaids, but a hand on my arm stopped me. “Wait, are you Meredith?” an African American girl with the whitest and brightest smile asked. Danielle, Sarah’s maid of honor. I recognized her from my cousin’s Instagram. “Claire’s sister?”

Claire’s sister.

“Yes,” I said. “That’s me.” I felt myself smile. It was nice being called that. Even though I was a year younger, Claire was always “Meredith’s sister” at Clinton High School. She was quiet and shy and hid behind homework while I went to games and parties and could put a name to every face. “You should run for student body president,” Claire had encouraged me, but when the time came, I didn’t. The possibility of winning haunted me, knowing I wouldn’t be able to call her afterward.

Danielle squeezed my arm. “Claire was the coolest,” she said gently. “A bunch of us met her when she came to visit New Orleans.” She shook her head. “So vibrant.”

“Yeah.” I nodded, my smile growing but my eyes also watering. “She was.” I blinked away some tears, because that was the true Claire: vibrant, full of life…especially out on the Vineyard. “My happy place,” she called it. Three weeks was never enough. “I’m going to live here,” I remembered her saying. “After my freshman year of college, I’ll get a job and be able to spend the whole summer out here.”

I liked to think she would’ve worked at Edgartown Books or Bunch of Grapes Bookstore in Vineyard Haven. Claire never went anywhere without a book, and she’d taught me to do the same.

Someone behind us called Danielle’s name, and I took the opportunity to slip away, my stomach really demanding dessert.

Aunt Christine’s famous ice cream sandwiches were waiting in one of the big Yeti coolers by the buffet table. I sighed at the sight of them: chocolate chip cookies the size of your hand with a huge scoop of ice cream in the middle. Chocolate, vanilla, mint chip, banana cream pie—anything and everything. The various flavors were arranged in boxes lined with wax paper, of course labeled in Aunt Christine’s beautiful penmanship.

I grabbed one mint chip sandwich, a salted caramel, and a honey lavender before spotting my grandparents still holding court by the Adirondack chairs. Wink had his arm casually around Honey’s waist, and after taking a brain freeze–worthy bite of ice cream, I weaved my way toward them to see if they’d spill the beans about Sarah’s secret announcement.

By the time I made it over, they’d struck up a conversation with someone new—a mystery man, his back to me. “You can call me Wink,” my grandfather was saying. “And this is my bride, Honey.”

I smiled as I took another bite of my sandwich. Wink and Honey had been married for over half a century, but that was always how he introduced her. “And that’s what I’m going to call him someday,” I suddenly remembered telling Claire years and years ago. We’d been here on The Farm, squashed into an Adirondack chair together. “It’ll be ‘This is my groom’ instead of ‘This is my husband.’”

My sister snorted. “What’s his name? This groom of yours?”

“How am I supposed to know?” I said. “I haven’t met him yet.” “Stephen!” Claire had giggled. “His name will be Stephen!”

“Stephen?” “Stephen.”

I’d pretended to consider before launching a tickle attack.

Sarah had introduced us to Taylor Swift’s early albums that summer, and there was this one song I played from dawn till dusk and even sang in the shower. I just couldn’t get enough of it. Now I hummed the tune softly as if I still listened to it daily.

Honey’s face lit up when she noticed me. She beckoned me over, melting ice cream sandwiches and all. “Sweetie!”

“Hi!” I called, and when the mystery man turned, it took everything to force my feet forward and put on a pleasant smile, not to spin around and make a run for it like I had this afternoon on the ferry. My insides churned upon seeing the purple bruise that had since bloomed on his cheekbone, spreading up under his eye and across the bridge of his nose. “Oh, whoa,” he’d said after I kicked him. “Ouch!”

Yeah, whoa, I thought. Ouch.

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