Monday: Chapter no 4

The Summer of Broken Rules

I woke up on the Annex’s couch at sunrise, my face smashed into an old needlepoint throw pillow and legs bent at an odd, almost painful angle. I can’t go back to the bunk room, I’d decided once Wit and I had parted ways last night. I can’t sleep there without her.

Across the sitting room, Loki stared at me from his dog bed. It was so early, but the Jack Russell was ready for the day. “All right, all right,” I said after rubbing my eyes and stretching my arms above my head. “Breakfast time.”

He leapt up and followed me into the kitchen, where I scooped a cup of kibble into his bowl, and he gobbled it up as I grabbed a banana for myself. Loki finished his food before I finished peeling the fruit, so I paused to open the back door and watched the dog shoot outside and vanish into the woods. It was like that with all the dogs on The Farm—they’d eat breakfast, then disappear until dinner. Sometimes even later.

Any other early morning, I would’ve gone back to bed, but today was not any other early morning. It was day one of Assassin. Mom and Dad were still asleep, so I tiptoed into my room and changed out of my pajamas and into Claire’s and my standard Vineyard outfit: a bikini with jean cutoffs and a lightweight fishing shirt on top. Instead of flip-flops, I grabbed my sneakers and laced them up on the back stoop, just in case I needed to run for my life.

After a quick visit to the outhouse, I cracked open the storage shed. Because along with the bikes, crabbing nets, boogie boards, toolboxes, and other randomness, it was where Claire kept her arsenal. The water handgun, the Super Soaker, and my sister’s big kahuna: the high-pressure soaker contraption. Everyone had a weapon of choice, and thank goodness Claire kept hers on The Farm. Since no one had known about Assassin ahead of time, each house had been gifted a basket of tiny squirt guns, compliments of the bride and groom. Last night, Wit had told me that his was pink and wouldn’t cut it. “I mean, Amazon’s fast,” I’d replied, thinking he meant to order something online, “but out here, it’s not that fast.”

“Oh, no.” He shook his head. “I don’t need Jeff Bezos’s help on this one!

I already have an idea.”

Of course he’d already opened his envelope, and I’d crossed my fingers when ripping into mine when I had gotten home—crossed my fingers that I hadn’t made a mistake in waiting, that I hadn’t wasted an opportunity for a dossier. Wit and I hadn’t exchanged numbers, so I couldn’t text him.

But it turned out I’d gotten lucky. My first target was not only someone I knew but also someone whose routine I knew. RACHEL EPSTEIN-FOX, my slip of paper read, and I’d smiled to myself. Aunt Rachel, who was known for rising at the crack of dawn to meditate in the Camp’s front yard. Assassin wasn’t the bride’s side versus the groom’s; it was everyone for themselves.

I scanned Claire’s weapons once more before selecting the water handgun. The Super Soaker had been her favorite—she liked to intimidate, to send people’s paranoia through the roof by walking around with that flashy water gun slung over her shoulder twenty-four-seven. Its neon-orange and electric-green color combination warned everyone to watch their backs.

Nope, I thought, unable to imagine myself being that badass. Not for me.

After shutting the shed door, I loaded the gun with water in the Annex’s shower, tucked it into the back of my shorts, and set off as if taking a casual morning walk. The Camp was a ways down the road on the other side of the Cabin. I wondered if I would see Danielle, Sarah’s maid of honor, embark on a walk of shame from the best man’s room. Or was it too early for that? The sun was getting higher in the sky—I had to hurry so I wouldn’t miss catching Aunt Rachel midmeditation.

But as soon as I picked up my pace, someone shouted my name. “Meredith!” Michael called, and I turned to see him running toward me. Sweaty, shirtless, six-pack on full display. He shone so brightly that it took a beat for me to notice there was someone at his side. The two slowed in front of me. “Bit early for you, isn’t it?” Michael asked, smiling with his head half-cocked. Everyone on The Farm knew I liked sleeping late.

“Well, excuse me,” I said, a joking hand on my hip, “but people change, Michael.”

Sarah’s fiancé chuckled. “This is my stepbrother, by the way,” he said, motioning for the Gatorade bottle full of water his running partner held. He squirted it in his face. “I don’t know if you got the chance to meet yesterday.”

“Oh, we’ve met,” Wit said before I could. He wore a white T-shirt and looked so slight standing next to six-foot-four Michael. But I noticed the sinewy muscle cording his arms when he took the water back. He, too, was strong, just in a different way. I thought I remembered him mentioning something about skiing and rock climbing on our 2:00 a.m. walk back to the houses. “Meredith made quite the first impression,” he added now and motioned to his bruise. “The next Picasso.”

Michael’s jaw dropped, horrified. I shot Wit a glare.

He smirked.

“Why, Mer?” Michael asked. “Just why? Sarah’s mom is talking about leaving him out of the wedding photos!”

“Listen, it wasn’t on purpose,” I said, then glanced over my shoulder—I really had to move it. “And I’m sure he’ll heal by then…”

I trailed off, Wit suddenly at my back. “Hold on a sec,” he whispered, breath swirling warm against my ear. “Conceal your weapon.” He pulled up the back of my shirt to cover my water gun. Slow shivers rippled up my spine. “You’ll lose the element of surprise.”

“Thanks,” I whispered back. “I only have limited time, too. I gotta go.”

Michael had an eyebrow raised when we both straightened up, like he’d caught us making out or something. His eyes went from me to Wit and back to me.

Pulse pounding, I chose not to explain. “Enjoy your run, Duprés. I’ll see you later!”

Wit responded by spraying me with his water bottle. I dodged him, but the bottle’s stream did have a nice range to it. Forget the tiny squirt gun, I thought, deciphering his silent message. The Gatorade bottle was Wit’s weapon. Shrewd, sly, something no one would suspect.

He was clever.

“Wait,” Michael said as I started speed walking away, and I thought he was talking to me, but before pivoting back around, I heard, “She thinks your last name is Dupré?”

* * *

The Camp had been built a few years before World War I, and back then, it was George Fox’s duck hunting camp. It resembled the Annex from the outside—a simple one-story shingled structure plus a pine front porch—but it was deceptively big inside, able to sleep twelve people and with space for two full bathrooms. “Aunt Julia’s kids will never know the terror of

sneaking out to an outhouse in the dead of night,” Claire and I once joked. “How cruel!”

Sure enough, decked out in Lululemon, Aunt Rachel with her big belly had unrolled a yoga mat by the flagpole and sat cross-legged with a perfectly erect spine. Her palms rested on her lap faceup, and her eyes were calmly closed. I remembered her mentioning that it was counterproductive to squeeze them shut. It didn’t let the rest of your body relax.

I crept as quietly as I could across the grass, wincing every time my sneakers squeaked from the morning dew. “Hello?” Aunt Rachel said once I was only a few feet away, keeping her eyes closed. “Julia?”

My shoulders sagged. “No,” I felt like I had to say. “It’s, um, Meredith.”

“Oh, Meredith.” Eyes still shut, she didn’t shift her position, but she did smile. “Isn’t it a little early for you to be out and about?”

I didn’t reply, unable to breathe. My heart was beating so fast.

“Feel free to join me,” she said as I pulled my water gun from the back of my shorts. I aimed it at her head, hand shaking. “Your mom and I were talking yesterday, and we agreed meditation might be good for you—”

I pulled the trigger, a fatal blow to her temple.

My aunt laughed. Her eyes popped open, she fell back against her yoga mat, and she laughed.

It wasn’t nearly as dramatic a takedown as I wanted. Far from it.

“Oh, come on!” I whined like one of her young children. “You think this is funny?” I stamped my foot for emphasis. “Really?”

“Yep.” She sat up and nodded. “I’m pregnant, silly.” She rubbed her stomach. “I was hoping someone would shoot me today. There’s no way I can play this game. I almost texted Wink to drop out, but I didn’t want to mess up the assignments.”

I sighed an especially melodramatic sigh. “Well, I guess that’s understandable.”

Aunt Rachel gave me a lopsided grin. “I’m sorry for not being more pissed.” Then she patted her mat. “Join me.”

My stomach churned. Claire used to get up early on the weekends for yoga and would always demonstrate the difficult poses when we hung out in her room. I failed miserably whenever I attempted them. “That’s okay,” I said softly. “I’m not flexible.”

“This isn’t yoga,” Aunt Rachel replied just as softly. “It’s simple meditation.” She gestured to the mat again. “Please sit.”

* * *

I fled the Camp once Aunt Rachel passed on her target after about twenty minutes of meditation exercises. “Do you feel that?” she asked during one deep-breathing sequence. “Do you feel the flow?”

“I do,” I whispered, even though it was a half truth. I felt more calm but not fully calm, squeezing my eyes shut to hold back tears. Meditation might not be the exact same thing as yoga, but it was still Claire. “I actually do.”

Michael was doing crunches when I got to the Cabin. Good, I thought; I was hoping he and Wit would be back from their run. Because the name on my new slip of paper?

It did not ring a single wedding bell.

“Hey,” I said to him. “Is Wit around?”

This time, no eyebrows were raised; Michael kept doing his crunches but avoided my question. “Who’d you off?” he asked instead.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I replied. “I went to the Camp to meditate.”

“So Aunt Rachel?” “Fuck,” I mumbled.

“Don’t worry,” Michael said. “Sarah and I are impartial. Wink and Honey made us swear we wouldn’t help with any eliminations.”

“And you’re confident Sarah’s gonna abide by that?” My cousin was the worst secret keeper. Claire always used that to her advantage, feeding Sarah incorrect intel to spread around The Farm.

Michael laughed. “She’s going to do her best.” “So…” I ventured after a beat. “Wit?”

“Ah.” He nodded. “What’s up with you and Witty, anyway?” “Nothing,” I said quickly.

The corners of Michael’s mouth turned up, bemused. “Impartial,” he reminded me. “I’m impartial.” He mimed zipping his lips, then pointed to the far end of the Cabin, to the last room in the row. “He’s in the shower right now, but that’s his.”

“Thanks,” I squeaked and dashed over to Wit’s door before Michael could say anything else, taking a seat on the ancient wood bench outside his room. While waiting, I unlocked my phone and texted Wink that I’d eliminated Aunt Rachel.

He responded: Roger that.

Along with: What are you doing awake, Meredith?

I rolled my eyes and started to type something back, but then I heard a surprised, “Oh.”

Wit was standing there with only a red beach towel around his waist. I didn’t even blink, used to seeing people walking around in only towels that was how it was with outdoor showers. Much to Aunt Christine’s chagrin, Uncle Brad was infamous for enjoying a beer in his towel while listening to James Taylor on Lantern House’s deck.

“Hi,” I said to Wit, rising from the bench. “Mission accomplished.” I patted my water gun. “Not as dramatic as I wanted, but…”

“But you got the job done,” he said. “Awesome.” Then he adjusted his towel around his waist, and it wasn’t like I meant to check him out, but it happened anyway. The beads of water dripping down his chest and his tanned, taut, washboard abs.

“I need your help, though,” I said, clearing my throat. “I don’t know who”—I pulled my new mark out of my pocket and waved it around—“this is.”

“Sure, of course.” Wit nodded, and when he swung his screen door open, I started to follow him right into his room. He turned and blocked the doorway, that crooked grin on his face. “Nice try, baby.” He motioned to his half-naked body. “Give me a sec?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry.” My cheeks blazed, both with embarrassment and irritation. I didn’t like being called baby. Ben used to call me babe.

Hey, babe.

Love you, babe. Bye, babe.

When we first started dating, he called me his “girl” in an endearing and old-fashioned way, and it seemed so special…but then somewhere along the way, I became an impersonal “babe.” Babe in public, babe in private, babe always.

“All right!” Wit called from inside his room. “All good!”

He was pulling on a T-shirt when the door shut behind me, and I had to bite back a laugh.

The shirt was a transformed version of Sarah and Michael’s wedding invitation—pastel blue with a lighthouse sketched on the front, and in the reflection in Wit’s mirror, I made out #HURRAYSHESADUPRÉ on the back.

“Hurray, she’s a Dupré?” I said.

“Yeah.” He glanced over his shoulder. “It’s the hashtag for the wedding.

You know, for Instagram and stuff.”

I smirked. “I know what it’s for, baby.” Wit blushed through his bruise.

Good, I thought. Payback.

“I don’t really do Instagram.” He shrugged. “But all the groomsmen and bridesmaids have been instructed to wear these whenever we do something together.”

“By my aunt Christine,” I guessed.

“By your aunt Christine, yes, but fully backed by Jeannie.” He flopped down on his bed, full-sized with a plaid patchwork quilt on top. “Michael’s mom.”

I nodded and perched at the edge of his bed, looking around—it had been a while since I’d been in the Cabin, which had the most masculine décor of the houses. Wit’s walls were wood paneled and his dresser dark green. I remembered there was a hilariously obnoxious painting of a tiger bearing its teeth hanging over the massive stone fireplace in the main room.

In short, it was the perfect house for a groom and his six buds to spend the week.

“What’re you guys doing today?” I asked. “Going into town?” My heart sort of sped up, secretly hoping he’d say no. Sarah and Michael would be excellent tour guides for their wedding party, but I didn’t want Wit to sit down for lunch at Atlantic in Edgartown and squeeze lemon and shake Tabasco onto his oysters (as delicious as they were). I wanted him to cram into the local dive, Dock Street Coffee Shop, and devour a messy breakfast sandwich with me.

That was the Vineyard.

“No.” Wit shook his head, and my pulse spiked before slowing in relief. “Not today. We’re taking a big group photo and then heading to the beach, I think.” He yawned. “Which is cool, because I want to get going.” He gestured lazily to the Gatorade bottle on his dresser, correctly assuming I’d decoded why he’d sprayed me. I watched him snuggle up with his pillow, wince slightly because of his bruise, then yawn again and close his eyes. “Tell me who you have,” he said as I moved a little farther onto the mattress. “I’m listening.”

I told him, and then he told me what I needed to know.

“And you can lie down if you want,” he said afterward. “I hear you yawning.”

“Oh, no,” I said, even though I had yawned more than a handful of times. Because believe it or not, it wasn’t even 9:00 a.m. I’d need a nap before tubing at noon. “That’s okay. I’ll go back to the Annex.”

“Nah, stay,” Wit said, his eyes fluttering open. His impossibly turquoise eyes. “I promise I won’t call you baby again.”

I felt pinpricks on my neck. Had it really been that obvious? How much it had bothered me?

“That’s what Shithead called you,” Wit said. “Isn’t it?”

“Shithead’s name is Ben,” I replied, sighing. “And it was more babe than baby.”

“Ben? I like Shithead better.”

“Me too, actually.” I laughed and stretched out next to him. Not close enough for us to touch but more than comfortable enough to fall asleep. The sheets and pillows smelled like the sea and citrus. “Oranges,” I murmured.

“My shampoo,” Wit murmured back. “I love oranges.”

“So you love me.”

I giggled. He hadn’t phrased it as a question, and for some reason—lack of sleep, probably—that made me giggle. Really giggle.

“You have a nice laugh,” Wit commented.

“A nice laugh?” I asked, giggles gone. Nobody had ever told me that, at least not in a long time. The last time someone had mentioned my laugh, it was my dad saying he missed it.

“Mm-hmm,” he replied and rolled over so that our toes touched. I curled mine, tingles going through them, but didn’t move away. “I like it.”

So you like me, I thought about saying but didn’t. A little casual flirting with Wit was fine, but a lot was not. He was my new partner in crime, my

new pal, my new friend. I wanted him to stay my friend. It had been so long since I’d made one.

“Wit?” I whispered.

“Yes?” he whispered back.

“What’s your last name? It’s not Dupré, right?”

“No,” he said. “My dad’s married to Michael’s mom. Our last name is Witry.”

“How alliterative,” I said. “Wit Witry.”

“Mmm, that’s…” Wit started but drifted away to dreamland before he could finish his thought, breathing now slow and steady. I suddenly wanted to reach over and feel his heartbeat.

But instead I burrowed deeper into his pillow and closed my eyes.

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