Chapter no 9

The Summer of Broken Rules

I trekked over to the Nylon Condo Complex around 4:00 that afternoon. The village of tents was off one of the winding roads not too far from The Farm’s only McMansion: Moor House. “I’m sure the Duprés are thrilled,” someone joked when I’d stopped by yesterday. “Could our campground be any more of an eyesore?”

Which was kind of true—the twelve tents did obstruct Moor House’s crystal-clear view of Job’s Neck Pond. Now Eli and I were zipped up in his tent talking. Pravika and Jake had left for work, and I’d not seen hide nor hair of Luli since the beach. “Do you think she’s still on the hunt?” I asked. “Maybe waiting out Margaret somewhere?”

“Mmm,” Eli replied. “Could be.” He looked up from the book he was half reading. “She might be hiding from her own assassin.”

I groaned. Ian had also disappeared for the day, but that didn’t make me feel any better—if anything, it put me more on edge. After leaving the lobster in Wit’s room, I’d triple-checked that the coast was clear before sneaking back to the Annex.

“At least you know who has you now,” Eli commented and then went back to reading. I glanced around to see a new pile of books near his sleeping bag.

“Eli…” I said slowly. “Where were you this morning?” No response.

“You weren’t at the bookstore, were you?”

Eli gripped his book tighter, almost white-knuckling it.

I laughed. “If he works at the yacht club, he’s not going to be at the bookstore during the—”

“I went at lunchtime!” His voice jumped a few octaves. “Because you never know!”

“And?” I asked. “Did your sailing instructor make an appearance?”

Eli’s shoulders slumped. “No.” He shook his head. “But the guy working today was cute…black hair, tortoiseshell glasses, the bookish type.” He paused. “Shy, though. He said hello but then went back to whatever he was reading behind the register.”

“Doesn’t sound like great customer service,” I commented and thought of Claire. If she’d worked at Edgartown Books this summer, she would have made recommendations to anyone and everyone. Nobody would have left the store without a bag in hand. They would’ve loved her.

“I bet he gives the sailing instructor great customer service,” Eli grumbled.

“Oh my god, Eli!” I tossed a book at him. “How do you even know they’re gay?”

Eli made a face before changing the subject. “Are you going to the Varsity Room tonight?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Provided Ian doesn’t ambush me on the way there.”

“Nah, he’ll be too busy. He’s the host now, remember? Since what’s-her-face graduated?” He cocked his head at my confused expression, and then it dawned on him. “Ah, right,” he said gently. “You weren’t here last year.”

“Nope.” I shook my head and ignored the slight twist in my stomach before checking my phone to see that it was nearly 4:30.

Almost go-time.

“Good luck,” Eli said when I unzipped the tent’s flap. “Let me know how it turns out.”

“I will,” I said and did some of Aunt Rachel’s deep-breathing exercises as I weaved through the tents toward Moor House. Because it was nerve-racking—the thought that I was both hunting and being hunted. My brain was telling me to abort this mission, to revert to my defensive stance and go hide somewhere. I mean, who knew? Ian could be carefully tailing me. It also didn’t help that the piece of paper in my pocket read: OSCAR WITRY.

Last night, I’d been so anxious to tell Wit that I now had his dad, especially after what we’d talked about, but when I finally came clean, he’d laughed. “That’s hilarious,” he’d said. “Honestly, really funny.” He yawned. “There’s a prime time to get him, too, since he’s in total vacation mode.”

Thinking of Wit’s laugh suddenly made me miss him. I hadn’t seen him all day; after the most leisurely lunch ever, he’d messaged to say they were touring Chappaquiddick for the rest of the afternoon. The island was right off the coast of Edgartown, only five hundred feet across the channel. Of course a bridesmaid had posted a photo of everyone on what was affectionately called the Chappy Ferry. Wit wasn’t looking at the camera, his sandy hair whipped up by the wind and his head turned to study whatever had caught his eye.

He’s always on a swivel, I’d thought, remembering our bike ride to Morning Glory, how he’d observed everything. He wants to appreciate it all.

I liked that.

My stomach flip-flopped when I reached Moor House, the forest footpath I’d taken spitting me out into the side yard. “He’ll be alone,” Wit had told me. “Well, alone with a cigar and some bourbon. He likes sitting outside and taking in the day, enjoying the silence.”

But right now, instead of silence, there were voices. My pulse pounded when I heard them in the backyard. Bocce ball, I suspected, and I pressed myself up against the house’s white clapboard siding to regroup. If they

were playing bocce ball, it meant there were at least four people out there. Three additional wedding guests to warn Wit’s dad to run.

Close, but no cigar, I thought, deciding I would try again tomorrow.

Then I heard a woman laugh. “Oscar, what was that?” Kasi Dupré said as I peeked around the corner of the house to watch the game play out. The bocce ball court was sixty feet long and twelve feet wide, covered with the same green crumbly clay as a tennis court. Michael’s older sister stood at one end with their younger brother, Wit’s dad and stepmom at the other. They both had tumblers of bourbon, and Oscar was indeed smoking a cigar.

He chuckled. “There’s a learning curve to this, Kase.”

“And we have all progressed,” Michael’s brother deadpanned as he rolled his heavy ball across the court, knocking one of Oscar’s out of orbit. “Except you.”

Oscar huffed in that way dads did.

“Ah, cher bébé,” his wife said, kissing his cheek. “Don’t you worry.”

Out of nowhere, my face burst into fire, and I made sure my water gun was secure in the back of my shorts. I’d come to assassinate Oscar Witry, and that was exactly what I was going to do.

“I understand how you feel,” Wit had said after I’d told him about my gnawing grudge against Sarah. “I’ve been there.” He gave my fingers a squeeze. “I love the Duprés. Jeannie, Kasi, Michael, Nicole, and Lance—I love them, but it took a while.” He paused. “My mom and dad split up when I was fourteen; we stayed in Vermont, and he moved to New Orleans. We kept in touch—or tried to at least—but we never talked about anything important.” He sighed. “‘How’re things? How’s school? Been skiing a lot?’ Every call ended with, ‘We should get you down here for a visit.’”

“When did that visit happen?” I asked after he went quiet.

Wit coughed. “Two years later,” he said. “I always thought the ‘we’ meant him and me, but he wasn’t talking about us. He was referring to himself and

Jeannie.” He started playing with my fingers. “Because when he finally bought me a plane ticket, it was for their wedding.”

“No,” I breathed. “You’re kidding.”

“I am not,” he replied. “They began dating a few months after he moved there and never thought to mention it.” He dropped his voice deep. “Welcome to New Orleans, son! Meet your soon-to-be stepmother!”

My heart sank. “Wit…”

“I was so upset,” he whispered. “So angry that I thought about flying home right then and there.”

“What happened?” I whispered back.

He shrugged. “They got married. They got married, and I suddenly had four siblings who made me feel like shit at first. Four siblings who made me feel forgotten, because watching my dad with them…” He trailed off. “It was obvious how much he loved them.”

“You felt replaced,” I said.

“Yes, I did, and I held that grudge for a long time—long after I fell in love with the Duprés myself.” I could almost see him smiling in the darkness. “They’re very easy to love.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, thinking of Michael. How effortlessly he’d fit into the Fox family from the moment Sarah had introduced him. “They are.”

Then we were both silent for a long time, so long that I thought Wit had fallen asleep, but eventually I heard him say, “I picked Tulane for him. I know I said I chose it for the adventure, but it isn’t one, and I knew it wouldn’t be. Not with my dad living only fifteen minutes away.” He let out a deep breath. “I picked Tulane because I thought it would get him to notice me.”

“And has he?” I asked. “Noticed you?”

“Yes,” Wit said. “He’s noticed me, I’ve noticed him, we’ve noticed each other.” He paused, then added in a softer voice, “And now I want an adventure.”

* * *

I tried to pull off a casual walk across the yard to the bocce ball court, but inside, my heart raced. “Hi, Meredith!” Kasi called out. “Are you looking for Wit?”

“Um, yeah,” I lied. “Do you know if he’s back yet?”

Kasi shook her head. “Not yet. Nicole texted that they’re thinking of grabbing dinner in one of the other towns. Chill-something?”

“Chilmark,” I said. “Probably Chilmark Tavern.”

“Are we missing out on much?” Jeannie asked, a pleasant smile on her face. She and Michael had the same brown eyes, eyes that put you at ease.

“Not really,” I said. “The food’s delicious, but the restaurant’s extremely loud.” I found myself returning her smile. “My sister used to say that listening to all those voices was the equivalent of banging your head against a wall.”

There was a collective groan from the group. “Wit’s going to be miserable,” Oscar remarked. “He likes peace and quiet.” He turned to exchange a look with his wife.

So I took the chance to grab my gun, and when he looked back at me, I raised it. “It’s not personal, Mr. Witry,” I said, “but it must be done.”

Oscar nodded. His stepchildren shouted for him to make a run for the house, but Wit’s dad closed his eyes and then faked a fall once I’d squirted him square in the chest. I stifled a snort; it reminded me of something his son would do.

“I haven’t the faintest idea who this is,” he said, handing over his target. “I asked Michael, but of course he’s pretending to be impartial, and Sarah apologized profusely when I inquired.”

I read the name and smirked. “You know?”

“I do.”

“Well, best of luck, Miss Meredith.” Wit’s dad offered his hand for a shake.

I took it. “Thank you, Mr. Witry.”

* * *

My stomach rumbled as I walked down Moor House’s crushed-seashell driveway, so instead of slowly making my way back to the Annex—hiding behind trees and glancing over my shoulder every five seconds—I decided to throw caution to the wind and race home. I figured if I was hungry, Ian was probably hungrier. Maybe he’d even driven to Chilmark to meet the rest of the wedding party for dinner.

I was jogging past the turnoff to Job’s Neck Pond when I caught a voice that had me skidding to a stop. “No, it’s absolute bullshit,” a woman was saying, and I pivoted to see her pacing near an oak tree with AirPods in her ears, talking on the phone. “I’m sleeping on a couch in a house with her little cousins, who wake up so goddamn early.”

This is too good to be true, I thought, making sure my gun was at the ready before I quite literally skipped over to Viv Malitz—one of Sarah’s good friends but not good enough to be a bridesmaid. “I keep saying that’s not true,” Sarah had told us. “But she’s still so salty about it that I almost wish she weren’t coming.”

Now I was confident Viv was wishing the same thing. “I need to call you back,” she said dully after I sprayed her. A merciful kill, a mere splash on the arm.

But she still shot me the dirtiest of looks. “May I have your target?” I asked meekly.

“I was on the phone,” she responded, gesturing to her AirPods.

“I know,” I said. “But, um, the game’s twenty-four hours a day.” I avoided eye contact, afraid her icy stare would pierce me. “And you’re, uh, outside, so…” I swallowed. “Your target, please?”

Viv stared at me, and her eyes did indeed cut like knives. “I don’t have it.”


“I don’t have it,” she repeated. “It’s in the Camp, probably covered in peanut butter, thanks to your cousins.”

Ethan’s allergic to peanuts, I almost said, but I didn’t want to get off topic. I shifted from one foot to the other. “Can we meet later?” I asked. “Or maybe you can leave it in my mailbox? Or I’ll pick it up from yours? It’s important, to continue—”

“Oh my god!” she interrupted. “Yes, fine, whatever! Relax, I’ll find it for you!”

Then she adjusted her AirPods and Face ID’d into her iPhone. I took that as my dismissal.

“I need your help,” she said as I walked away, back on her call with whomever. “I need you to get me off this island.”

* * *

It turned out that instead of heading up-island to Chilmark, the wedding party came back to The Farm for dinner while my parents suggested we go to Coop de Ville. It was an open-air seafood shack in Oak Bluffs, famous for fried clams, steamers, and chicken wings. Instead of scattered tables, there were long narrow ones with benches and high-top stools, and the walls were decorated with international soccer flags and faded signs that said stuff like SCALLOPS TODAY! and CLAMBAKE TONIGHT! Coop’s had been one of Claire’s favorites. My dad always had to twist her arm to get her to share her clams.

The three of us snagged stools overlooking the harbor, and after ordering our wings, my dad brought up Assassin. He’d eliminated a cousin and inherited yet another, while my mom admitted she was waiting for the right moment to pursue Nicole Dupré. “It’s difficult with her being a

bridesmaid,” she said. “They’re always on outings, and soon the wedding duties will ramp up.”

Later, I had both my parents cackling as I told them about my visit to Moor House to take out Wit’s dad. “He took it like a man,” I said through a mouthful of spicy chicken. My lips were probably stained with hot sauce.

“Well, he’s a very nice one,” Mom commented before I could mention my encounter with Viv. “We spoke to him on the beach for a couple of hours yesterday.” She sipped her water. “You can tell how much he adores his son.”

At that, my leg began bouncing up and down. Wit, Wit, Wit—why hadn’t I said goodbye this morning? I should’ve and would’ve if I’d known I wouldn’t see him at all today.

No, wait, scratch that, I thought, leg bouncing faster. I’ll see him tonight.

There’s this thing later, I’d DMed him before leaving Eli’s tent this afternoon.

At the Varsity Room.

Thing? He’d written back. Does that translate to party? Yes, I typed. It starts at 9.

No offense, he said, but I might pass. After spending all day with these people, I’m a little sick of them.

No, no, this is different, I replied. I promise.

A few minutes and then: Pinkie swear?

I smiled to myself. Pinkie swear.

“So what’s that make, Mer?” my dad asked, pulling my attention back to dinner. “How many?”

“Four,” I said without hesitation. “Four targets taken down.” Dad raised his beer. “I’ll drink to that.”

“Who’s going to be number five?” my mom asked after we clinked glasses.

“I don’t know,” I told her, frowning a little. Would Viv drop her target in the mailbox? Or would I have to track her down for it? “I actually don’t


* * *

The Varsity Room was right next to Paqua’s tennis court, and while it was traditionally cedar-shingled on the outside, it wasn’t like the rest of the houses. It wasn’t even a house per se. Inside, it looked like an unfinished basement whose purpose was so unclear that the space was used for many purposes. There were only two rooms, the larger one filled with workout equipment, lumpy couches, an old TV that no longer worked, an even older stereo that somehow still did, and a perplexing wooden structure that my dad and Uncle Brad insisted was a bar—they’d built it themselves in high school. A bumper sticker–covered fridge now stood behind it to make things more obvious.

On the other side of the wall was a Ping-Pong table and a big blackboard to keep track during tournaments—Wink was our unrivaled champion. String lights covered the ceiling, and there was a pinball machine in the corner (Honey’s forte).

In short, the Varsity Room was the perfect place for a party.

So when my family got back from Oak Bluffs, my parents wandered over to Lantern House to hang out with Uncle Brad and Aunt Christine while Luli, Pravika, and I took over the Annex to get ready.

“Eyeliner!” Luli shouted. “Tout suite!” She was still amped up from this morning; Margaret had indeed gotten away from her.

“Coming!” I called back, unplugging the blow-dryer and digging around in my makeup bag. Then I went into my parents’ room; it had the best mirror in the little cottage.

Luli turned, and we made eye contact.

“What?” I asked, suddenly a little self-conscious. “Nothing,” she replied.

“People still dress up, right?” I asked. It had always been tradition for the girls to dress up and for the guys to wear…whatever. “Or has that changed?”

“No, it hasn’t changed.”

Then she casually asked if Wit was coming. “Yeah, I invited him,” I said.

Luli nodded. “Nice.”

The back of my neck warmed. She didn’t make it sound nice; she made it sound like I’d done something wrong. “He’s really cool,” I said, trying to keep my voice light as I handed her the eyeliner. “Maybe tonight we can all


“Holy crap, Meredith!” Pravika walked into the room. She’d been painting her nails in the kitchen. “How sexy you look.” She gestured to my dress, which admittedly was kind of sexy: a black halter with a back that dipped so low it was almost nonexistent. Sarah had sent it to me for my birthday in April. “You wearing it for anyone special?”

“Just myself,” I replied, a white lie. “Sarah gave it to me.”

To mesmerize someone, she’d written on the card.

This was my first time wearing it, and never had I been happier that Ben hadn’t gotten a glimpse. I’d worn plenty of nice dresses with him, but never this one. Maybe I’d subconsciously known that he wasn’t “someone.”

My stomach twisted a little, remembering his text today: I think we need to talk.

Then it untwisted as I also remembered that I’d deleted the message.

Out of sight, out of mind.

As soon as Pravika and Luli were ready to leave, I pulled on my dad’s hooded raincoat. It wasn’t raining, but I didn’t want Ian seeing me until I was safe from his crosshairs.

Although once we arrived at the Varsity Room, I realized there was no need for the disguise. Ian was too busy playing bouncer by the deck’s steps,

blocking some guests from passing through the sliding doors. “Seriously, Ian,” Michael was saying, Sarah at his side and most of their friends waiting eagerly behind them. “Let us in.”

My assassin folded his arms across his chest. “Are you over the age of twenty-one, Michael?” he asked his almost brother-in-law. He jerked his chin at their group. “Aren’t you all too old?”

Sarah groaned. “Ian!”

He whistled. “You know the rules, Sis!”

Pravika, Luli, and I laughed as we slipped past them and through the wide doorway. I’d told Wit this party was different, and I hadn’t been lying. It was different, meant for The Farm’s “younger set,” as my grandparents called us.

But yes, there was some drinking. It was supposed to be a secret from our parents, but since most of the Paqua adults had once been Paqua teenagers, it was the worst-kept secret; I mean, Dad and Uncle Brad had built that so-called bar for a reason. “Wink stopped by,” Eli and Jake said by way of a hello, handing each of us a White Claw seltzer. “Made the speech.”

We nodded. My grandfather had strict rules, and he always showed up at Varsity Room parties to remind us of them. “If someone doesn’t want to drink, do not make them drink,” he’d say. “No hard liquor, only beer or that fizzy stuff. None of those stupid card games, please, and do not turn my Ping-Pong table into a beer pong table.” He cleared his throat. “And finally, if anyone gets in a car—even if you’re not driving—I will find the keys and throw them in the Oyster Pond myself!”

“Cold, Meredith?” Jake took a gulp of his beer.

I hadn’t realized my body had started shaking…and not because I’d ditched the raincoat. “A little,” I told him, blinking quickly and then popping the tab on my spiked seltzer. It was black cherry flavored, and I wouldn’t take more than one sip.

“I put our names down for Ping-Pong,” Jake told his sister as I surveyed the room. Music was pulsating through the medieval stereo, and some people were already dancing while Nicole Dupré and the terminated Daniel Robinson whispered to each other on one couch. Clusters of cousins chatted by the bar. It was crowded.

“Hell yeah,” Luli said and motioned her seltzer toward the other room. A round of cheers erupted. “Let’s go check out the competition.”

She and Jake disappeared into the Ping-Pong arena, and a few minutes later, Eli pulled Pravika out onto the dance floor (really a hideous shag rug from the seventies). “Mer!” They waved for me to join them. “Come on!”

But suddenly the music and their voices turned to white noise, because a group of girls moved away from the bar to reveal a familiar figure standing by the far wall. Not awkwardly or anything—it looked like he was waiting for someone.

With a hammering heart, I made my way over to him.

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