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Chapter no 6

The Summer of Broken Rules

Morning Glory Farm was only a short bike ride from Paqua, but first Wit and I had to make it the three miles down The Farm’s sandy dirt driveway. “Give me five seconds!” I’d said to him after Luli had circled back to the beach, pulling my hair into a messy bun and racing into the Annex to change out of my swimsuit. My sneakers were still wet from the pond, so I switched to my spare pair.

Now we were riding our beach cruisers, the sun beating down on us but a smooth breeze also blowing. My guess was that it was about seventy-five degrees, the perfect Vineyard temperature. I wanted to ask Wit about eliminating Isabel, but his head was on a swivel, taking everything in—the magic of it all. The tall oak trees and short scrub trees with their spider-leg-like branches, the sweet grass and patches of violet flowers, not a streetlamp in sight. “When we were younger,” I said at one point, “it was a dare.”

“What was a dare?” Wit asked.

“This.” I nodded at the road ahead. “When Claire and I were in middle school, Sarah’s brothers would dare us to walk to the top of the road and back alone.”

Wit wasn’t fazed. “That seems pretty doable.”

“At night,” I added. “Pure darkness, no flashlights, with all the animals lurking.”

“Okay, yeah,” he said after a beat. “I see it now.”

“Claire and I did it, though,” I said, a small lump forming in my throat. “We danced the entire time and belted out Taylor Swift songs.”

The Fearless album flashed through my mind. We’d sung every song so loud and off-key to scare away any skunks, raccoons, or foxes. Real foxes.

Wit chuckled. “Did you win anything?”

“Not really,” I replied. “Bragging rights, I guess, even though Peter and Ian never believed us.” I rolled my eyes. “According my mom, it also gave us a boost of self-confidence.”

He nodded. “Well, I’m game,” he said. “Should we do it sometime this week?”

“Sure…” I said slowly, already able to picture us strolling together. Like we had last night around The Farm, talking and joking and laughing.

Sure…” Wit echoed. “That didn’t sound very convincing.”

“No, we’ll do it.” I blinked a few times, then turned to give him a leering smile. “I officially dare you.”

“Excellent,” Wit said. “And hey, if you’re still scared, you can always bring your knife for protection.”

My knife—the Swiss Army pocketknife I’d threatened him with in the darkness. “I actually do have one,” I said as the two of us reached the stone obelisk at the tip of the drive. PAQUA was carved vertically down the front. “Wink gave it to me for my birthday this year, but it’s at home.” Hidden in my jewelry box, because Ben thought it was weird that I had one. For Meredith, the blade’s engraving read. May you always kick ass and take names.

Wit and I coasted right onto West Tisbury Road’s paved bike path. “Oh, trust me, I figured as much,” he said. “Seems totally on-brand for you.”

Totally on-brand for me?

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, a bit breathless. “What’s my brand?”

Because maybe I wanted him to tell me. Maybe I wanted to hear what he thought of me.

But he just smirked and shrugged.

So I scowled at him and kept on pedaling, staying silent for the next ten minutes until we reached our destination. “Welcome to Morning Glory!” I said, hitting my brakes and sliding off my bike. Wit followed suit, and we leaned them against the split-rail fence.

Morning Glory Farm was one of my favorite places on the Vineyard: sixty-five acres of fields with big barns, greenhouses, and best of all, the community farm stand. It was the antithesis of every supermarket back on the mainland, a rambling house full of warmth, wood beams, fresh fruits and vegetables, and plenty of homemade treats. Morning Glory was so popular that it had published its own cookbook. Claire had gifted a copy to my parents one year for Christmas, its spine now cracked from so much use.

I watched Wit admire the farm, no doubt noticing all the people unwrapping and digging into mouthwatering sandwiches at the worn picnic tables, the children playing tag, and the dogs running around with them. But then I checked my phone to see that it was 1:55. We only had a few minutes. “Okay, okay,” I said, grabbing a handful of his shirt. “Come on!”

He let me drag him down the gravel walkway, past the buckets overflowing with beautiful wildflower bouquets, up the porch steps, and through the swinging doors. Voices reverberated off the high ceiling, and bursts of every color in the rainbow greeted us. I wanted to show Wit everything, but first we had a mission to accomplish. A crowd was beginning to congregate. “Are you going to tell me what’s happening?” he asked.

“The pies,” I whispered, like it was some big secret and not common knowledge. “The pies come out at 2:00 but are immediately ravaged. They’re picked over by 2:15.”

Wit raised an eyebrow. “So they’re pretty good?”

Pretty good?” I gave him a look. “Try delicious! My dad and Uncle Brad once ate nine in only five days…” I dropped off; that was a story for another time. We could now smell the sweetness of the pies as Morning Glory’s bakers brought them out of the kitchen and arranged them on the display. We needed to focus. “Here,” I said, my hands going to Wit’s waist and forcing him over a few steps. My fingers tingled a little as I felt his warm skin through his shirt. “Stand here, and don’t move. You need to be a blockade.”

“For what?”

I gestured around us at the customers closing in on the pies. Personal space did not exist at a moment like this. I also wasn’t afraid of playing dirty, dropping down to the floor to crawl through the people in front of me. A perk of being petite.

When I glanced back at Wit, he was standing in place like a wiry pillar. But now his head was cocked and one side of his mouth turned up at the corner. Sandy hair flopped over his forehead.

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said. “You’re just—”

“Don’t say cute,” I cut in, neck heating. “Everyone says that.”

Ben was one of them, especially when I got really enthusiastic or passionate about something. The Vineyard, for instance. “And the pies!” I remembered once saying, my voice loud and proud. “They’re made daily, in the afternoons, and you don’t even need to reheat them after dinner. They’re still so warm, and with a huge scoop of ice cream…”

Afterward, he’d kissed me and told I was cute for the millionth time. It was like being called babe. Claire had known it bothered me, so whenever she was in a bad mood and wanted me to shut up or leave her alone, she’d flatly say, “Aw, you’re cute, Meredith.”

Wit gave me a wry look. “That wasn’t exactly the word I had in mind…”

Whatever he said next was drowned out, the jockeying for a prime position now in motion. I started pushing through shuffling legs, smiling to myself. It was officially pie o’clock.

“Oh my!” a baker exclaimed when I popped up in front of the display. Now nothing stood between me and my prize. “Where did you come from?”

* * *

After successfully securing three pies (blueberry, peach, and strawberry rhubarb), I handed them to Wit and found a wicker shopping basket for us to fill. “The zucchini bread is incredible,” I said, grabbing a loaf. “So are the champagne grapes.” I dangled a bunch in front of Wit, the purple grapes so adorably tiny. “Especially if you freeze them. They’re the perfect beach snack.”

Our basket got heavier and heavier as Wit added ripe plums, raspberries, big bell peppers, tomatoes, and freshly squeezed orange juice. We soon needed another basket to hold two dozen ears of corn. Then we ordered sandwiches at the deli counter: turkey, cheddar, and sliced Granny Smith apple on sourdough bread.

“Wow,” the girl at the register commented once we finally made it there. Her blond hair was pulled up in a ponytail, and she gave Wit’s bruise a funny look but didn’t say anything. “You guys have quite the haul here!”

I nodded, and we chatted while she scanned our groceries—well, she chatted with Wit. She smiled when she noticed his shirt, wrinkled from where I’d snatched it and pulled him inside the little market. SUGARBUSH, it said across his chest. “Yeah, I’m from Vermont,” he explained. “My mom works there as a ski instructor.”

“I love Sugarbush!” she said as I hid my hands behind my back and knotted my fingers together, resisting the urge to smooth out Wit’s shirt.

“That’s where my family and I spend Christmas, and it’s only an hour away from Middlebury. I’ll be a sophomore this fall.”

Wit went quiet. “That was my first choice,” he said eventually. “But I’m at Tulane now.”

“Cool, New Orleans!” The cashier was still expertly unloading, scanning, and bagging—a talented multitasker. SAGE, her name tag read. “My friend goes to Tulane, and I’m hoping to visit during Mardi Gras. Do you know…”

Okay, that’s it, I thought, untangling my fingers and stepping closer to Wit so that our arms were pressed up against each other. Enough!

I reached to smooth the front of Wit’s T-shirt, feeling the flutter of his heartbeat. It soon fluttered faster, and mine did, too, when he casually slipped an arm around my neck, fingertips dancing along my collarbone.

“Oh,” Sage said as I held my breath. “Oh no—sorry, I didn’t mean anything.” She laughed and shook her head, then held up the last item to scan: a pie. “Strawberry rhubarb is my boyfriend’s favorite.” Her face lit up like the sun. “He says it’s totally epic.”

* * *

Wit’s and my coupledom charade ended as quickly as it had begun, right after I swiped my dad’s credit card to pay our outrageous bill. Wit was in complete shock. “Seriously?” he said once we’d walked back to our bikes and arranged our paper bags in the old fruit crates attached to the backs. “Those pies were twenty-five dollars each?”

“Uh-huh,” I replied and recited one of Wink’s favorite sayings. “It’s impossible to leave Morning Glory with pies and a bill under a hundred dollars!”

Wit laughed, but I all could think about were his fingers on my collarbone, the way they had flashed against my skin—the little shocks of electricity. It had left me so light-headed that I felt myself swaying.

“Hey.” Wit’s voice made me blink. Somehow we were now sitting across from each other at a picnic table, chowing down on our sandwiches. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” I said and forced myself to take a bite of sandwich. “I’m fine.” Wit didn’t look convinced. “Are you sure?”

I evaded the question with one of my own. “You wanted to go to Middlebury?”

“Yeah.” He nodded. “I was really bummed when I didn’t get in.” “Then why Tulane?” I asked. “They seem like polar opposites.”

Wit sighed. “Because if it couldn’t be Middlebury, I wanted college to be an adventure. New Orleans sounded like the ultimate one.” He shrugged. “It’s where my dad lives, but I’d never spent much time down there. I’ve always lived with my mom.” He glanced away for a second. “And my dad was obviously a fan, since the Duprés liked it so much.”

“But you don’t like it, do you?” I guessed. “It’s not an adventure?”

“Oh, it’s an adventure,” Wit said. “I’m just not sure it’s my adventure.” He chuckled. “I’ll shut up now. I don’t want to ruin Michael and Sarah’s NOLA utopia for you.”

“Already ruined,” I murmured, more to myself than him. “A while ago.”

But Wit heard it anyway, eyes widening. “Shit,” he said. “Meredith, I’m sorry.” He patted the bruise-free side of his face. “Feel free to kick me.”

I shook my head and tried to smile. “Let’s talk about something else.”

He nodded and swung his leg over the side of his bench to join me on mine—settling in close, like in the checkout line. “Have you been on Instagram lately?”

“Not since last night,” I said, watching him unlock his phone and tap the app. “But I thought you said you didn’t do Instagram.” I searched the screen for his handle. “Apparently I was mistaken, @sowitty17.”

Wit sighed. “Sarah asked me to make an effort this week.”

“Ah, I see,” I said. “Now, am I the only one who thinks your username’s obnoxious?”

The only response I got was a grumble.

I laughed and absentmindedly touched his bruise with the back of my hand. It was still big and blue and, from the way Wit winced, extremely tender. His fingers stopped typing. “Ouch,” I said, as if I were the one injured. “My bad.”

Literally.

Wit glanced up, turquoise eyes bright in the sunlight, their impossibly gold rings gleaming. “You’re very affectionate,” he said, gaze catching mine. “You know that?”

I shook my head, unable to respond. Who said stuff like that? Affectionate? I couldn’t imagine Ben or any of his friends ever using that word. And the way Wit said it—his voice. It was gentle, honest, intimate. How could it be that intimate? We’d just met.

My sister would’ve said it didn’t matter. An astrology lover, Claire believed that some people had written-in-the-stars fated connections, and even though I’d always rolled my eyes, maybe now I was beginning to believe her. I got goose bumps remembering Wit’s and my knees knocking while we created our pact and feeling disappointed when we’d said goodbye. I want to see him tomorrow was the last thing I’d thought before falling asleep in the Annex’s sitting room. There was an undeniable something between us.

But I couldn’t put my finger on it yet.

“Just an observation,” Wit whispered after several silent seconds. He shifted in his seat and went back to his phone.

#HurrayShesADupré, he typed into the search bar, and I pretty much leapt when I realized what he wanted to show me.

“Oh my god!” I exclaimed. “The group photo!”

Wit laughed, that melodious sound. “Wait until you see it.” He scrolled through a few pictures with the wedding hashtag—I caught a glimpse of Michael and the three groomsmen on the unicorn float—before tapping one posted by @Sarah_Jane. It had been taken in the Pond House’s backyard, and Sarah and Michael had their arms around each other in the middle, with the best man on my cousin’s other side and the maid of honor on Michael’s. Their smiles were picture-perfect.

But at the very end of the line, there was a look of complete and utter horror on bridesmaid Isabel’s face. Her eyes were so wide that if you zoomed in, it appeared they were about to bulge from their sockets, and her mouth had dropped open in a scream.

Because Wit, while grinning at the camera as commanded, had raised his arm high to dump his entire water bottle over Isabel’s head.

“Holy crap,” I breathed, awestruck. “Why didn’t you spray her?” The bottle’s orange cap was nowhere in sight, unscrewed and tossed away ahead of time.

“She called me kid earlier,” he replied. I pretended to gasp. “How dare she!”

Wit frowned. “I don’t like kid,” he said. “Only my mom calls me that.”

“What happened afterward?” I asked, wishing Eli had waited one more minute before powering up the boat. We could’ve heard the whole thing!

“Well, she pretty much cursed me before going inside with your exasperated aunt to get a new shirt and blow-dry her hair, and when they came back twenty minutes later, we had to retake the photo.”

“And then did she pass on her target?” “After another series of curses, yes.”

I laughed. “So who is it? Who do you have?”

Wit leaned in, and as he whispered a familiar name in my ear, a light hand landed on my knee. He didn’t give it a reassuring squeeze like Ben used to; he just let it rest there…which was somehow even more calming. Warmth

ignited under his palm, and I felt myself wanting to twine our fingers together.

“You’re affectionate, too,” I murmured, and when Wit looked at me, I smiled. “Just an observation.”

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