Saturday: Chapter no 20

The Summer of Broken Rules

The sun woke me up, soft beams spilling in through the bunk room’s blinds. I hadn’t expected to sleep so well in Claire’s bed, but I hadn’t woken up once. Thank you, I thought, snuggling back into the cozy pillows and closing my eyes again before taking a sweet deep breath and pushing back my sister’s white coverlet.

Today was a special day.

I fed an impatient Loki and then headed over to the Cabin, welcomed by the remains of the rehearsal dinner after-party—someone’s guitar on an Adirondack chair, empty beer cans scattered around the firepit, and a few coals still glowing. The walk to Wit’s room was now second nature, the screen door opening and squeaking shut behind me. “Ugh,” he groaned, voice absolutely shot. It crackled like a campfire. “Michael, no—I’m not going on a run.”

“It’s not Michael.” I took a flying leap onto his bed. “It’s someone much, much worse!”

“Oh, is that so?” Wit laughed, and together we maneuvered me under his covers and into his warm arms. He smelled like oranges and the Vineyard breeze but also cigar smoke.

That explained his broken voice.

“Party too hard last night?” I joked. He must’ve joined the shenanigans after our disaster of a driveway dare.

Another groan. “Peer pressure.”

“Yeah,” I said. “They say you’re supposed to resist it.”

Wit buried his face in my blue Hamilton College T-shirt, and I ran a hand through his hair. It was stiff from the ocean’s salt. “I’m so tired,” he croaked. “Things didn’t wind down until 4:00 a.m. I went to bed at 2:30, but how are you supposed to sleep when the party’s right outside your door?”

“You aren’t,” I replied, suddenly nervous for him. It was 8:00, and his first obligation of the day was in less than an hour.

Wit nodded before popping his head up to look at me. “Did you sleep well?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, smiling a little. “Yeah, I actually slept really well.” “Good.” He smiled back. “That’s good.”

Then we just looked at each other, his heavy-lidded turquoise eyes staring into mine. I knew he wanted to kiss me, and I knew I wanted to kiss him. Because if we were going to pretend today, I was going to pretend. “Will you brush your teeth first?” I whispered. “Cigar breath…” I wrinkled my nose. “Yuck.”

Wit pushed back his covers, and I watched as he stood there in his boxers, stretching his wiry limbs—languidly, dramatically, totally-on-purposely.

“You’re wicked,” I said.

“You go wild for it,” he said back and disappeared into the tiny bathroom attached to his room. Just a toilet and sink—the Cabin’s only shower was out back. I heard him turn on the faucet.

“Do you have a plan?” I asked a few minutes later after several minty-fresh kisses.

“A plan?”

“Yes,” I said. “A plan.”

Because you needed a plan for Paqua’s Assassin Showdown. Forget about having the entire Farm as your playground; the grand finale was held Hunger Games–style in a certain sector of the vast field. Spectators created

the borders of the arena with their beach towels and chairs; the commissioners’ were almost exact replicas of Wimbledon’s tall green referee thrones. They’d been wheeled out of the barn yesterday, and each had an awning to prevent any sun-related view obstruction.

This morning, people yawned as they unfolded their chairs. Eli had even brought a pillow along, spreading out his beach towel and promptly falling asleep. “Way to support, Eli,” Luli grumbled as she double-knotted her sneakers. “You’ll be the first I thank when I win.”

Jake and Pravika laughed. Per Aunt Christine’s request, the Showdown was happening much earlier than usual so as not to interfere with the wedding itinerary. Both the bridesmaids and groomsmen were having private brunches before spending the day getting ready. Well, at least the bridesmaids were. Wit had mentioned that Michael and his groomsmen had agreed to go surfing later. “It’s a suit and tie,” Gavin the Best Man had rationalized. “It’ll take ten seconds.”

“All right, everyone!” Wink’s voice boomed through his commissioner megaphone. “Welcome, welcome to this summer’s Assassin Showdown!”

Exhaustion aside, we mustered up cheers.

“Are all our finalists here?” Honey asked, glancing around today’s playing field. Like clockwork, the number of active assassins had severely diminished in the last few days. The largest showdown I’d witnessed was twelve, the smallest three.

Either way, Claire had always made short work of everyone. I felt a tug in my heart, still disappointed that I hadn’t been able to pull the trigger on Wit. If I had, maybe I’d be one of the assassins gearing up for their final assignments.

This year, there were seven contenders: Wit, Luli, Uncle Brad, Nicole Dupré, Pravika’s older sister, a groomsman, and…

“Everyone but Julia!” Uncle Brad told his parents. “Although she might


“She might what, Brad?” Aunt Julia asked, sauntering into the ring with her water gun. “She might what?”

“Mommy!” Hannah and Ethan exclaimed from the sidelines.

Aunt Julia smirked. “You didn’t think I was going to forfeit, did you?” A hand on her hip. “I would never.”

Except that was exactly what she did. When Honey blew the whistle for the Showdown to commence, every assassin spread out and claimed their own space while Aunt Julia stood stock-still in the center of the arena. “I’m not going anywhere, Divya!” she said to Pravika’s sister. “Come on over here.” She sat down in the grass. “I’m all yours!”

Divya seized her chance and quickly struck.

“Wonderful!” Aunt Julia stood and surrendered her target—Luli, I knew. “Let’s go, kiddies,” she said to Ethan and Hannah, waving to them. “There’s someone Mama and I want you to meet!”

Play got serious after that. Now with plenty of momentum, Pravika’s sister was making Luli work for it, the two of them running in circles. “Seriously, Divya?” Luli shouted. “After all we’ve been through together? Sharing a tent for the past week?”

“Ooh!” Jake jeered from the sidelines. “What happened in the tent?” His sister flashed him the finger and continued dodging Divya.

Meanwhile, Nicole Dupré was pursuing the groomsman as he pursued Uncle Brad—a triangle that was far too preoccupied to notice bandanna bandit Wit perch in the tree at the field’s edge.

He hid there for ten minutes, revealing himself only when it became clear Divya was worn out from chasing Luli. Her ponytail swung back and forth, her breathing heavy. “Divya!” he called out, swinging down from a branch. “Do you need water?” He held up his Gatorade bottle. “I have water.”

Hands on her knees, Divya nodded.

“Oh, Divya,” Pravika sighed. “You idiot.”

“She’s dehydrated,” Jake said. “She’s not thinking straight.”

Pravika snorted. “I certainly hope not.”

I stifled a giggle as Wit, seemingly harmless, walked up to Divya and squirted her in the stomach. “Divya!” came Honey’s voice over her megaphone. “Terminated!”

“And Vincent!” Wink said. “Terminated!”

Our heads swiveled to see Nicole cheer as the groomsman fell to the ground. It was down to her, Uncle Brad, Luli, and Wit.

But you could only see the women in the arena. Wit had scrambled back up into his tree, and Uncle Brad had hidden in the tall grass.

Two of the most offensive players, I smirked to myself, now playing defensively.

“Brad!” my dad whisper-yelled. “You’re almost out of bounds!” “Hey!” I called down the line. “No coaching!”

Hypocrite, Claire joked, and I felt myself blush.

Luli and Nicole were both pacing to catch their breath. Wit now had Luli, while Luli had Nicole.

Go for it, I wanted to tell my friend. She’s right there—

“Oh, shit,” Eli said, all of a sudden awake. “Look.” He pointed to Luli, who was picking up Wit’s Gatorade bottle. He’d abandoned it in the grass after knocking off Divya. We watched Luli chug water—the sun was beating down on us this morning. “Is this…”

“A trap?” I said and gestured to Wit’s tree when Eli raised an eyebrow. You couldn’t see Wit, but poking out from behind the trunk were the six purple nozzles of Claire’s elaborate water gun. With three nozzles on either side, the jetpack contraption provided inconceivable range.

“No,” Pravika whined. “Not Luli! Not yet!”

Jake shifted excitedly. His humiliation over Wednesday’s water balloon attack was nothing compared to what was about to happen to his sister. “Pass the fucking popcorn.”

One, I thought, heart speeding up, two…



Six streams of water nailed Luli in the back. “Ouch!” was the collective reaction from the crowd. Luli’s shirt was soaked. She whipped around, and when she spotted Wit, she chucked his water bottle at him.

“You asshole!” she shouted. “You complete ass—”

“Stand down, Luli!” Wink interrupted. “Stand down!” She scoffed and stomped over to the sidelines.

“Cover your ears,” Jake said as Honey announced Luli’s termination. “She’s gonna scream.”

We did as told, but nothing could drown out Luli’s cry of frustration.

Out on the field, Wit left Claire’s jetpack on the ground and climbed up the tree. Nicole, his new target, stood there, studying him. “He’s going to win this from a tree,” Jake said. “I’m calling it right now. He’s going to win this whole thing without leaving the tree.”

“No, he’s not,” I said.

Jake leaned forward in his beach chair. “You wanna bet?”

I laughed. “Jake, I really don’t want to rob you of your Mad Martha’s tips.”

“Okay, but Meredith,” Eli said a few beats later, “how many weapons”— he pointed to the tree, the neon Super Soaker now dangling from a branch

—“does he have up there?”

“And is that even legal?” Pravika asked. “Should I ask Wink—”

“Sit your butt down, Pravika,” Luli said, joining us. It looked like the screaming had helped—she seemed calmer, and she immediately accepted the iced coffee I offered her. “You know the only rule is to stay within the arena’s border.”

“I believe that’s all of them,” I said to Eli as Wit slung the Super Soaker over his shoulder. He needed to switch from defense to offense now; there

was no way Nicole was going anywhere near the tree, and Uncle Brad was slowly army crawling through the tall grass.

“So how’re we gonna do this, Wit?” Nicole asked her stepbrother. Even from afar, I could see her water gun shaking in her hands. It wasn’t aimed; Wit wasn’t her target. “You wanna run around some?”

He shrugged. “Not really.” “You’re no fun.”

“Suppose not.”

They remained in a standoff. I glanced down the sidelines to see Michael looking absolutely distraught. His younger sister and his beloved stepbrother. Who did he want to win?

Wit raised the Super Soaker with one hand, and Nicole tried to fake him out a few times before running straight at him.

Just as predicted.

“Drop it,” I murmured. “Drop it now.”

“Holy crap,” Luli said when Wit dropped the big water gun in favor of grabbing Claire’s handgun from the back of his shorts. He shot his stepsister in the neck. “That was—”

“Amazing,” Pravika breathed. “Genius,” Jake marveled.

“I think I’m in love with him,” Eli declared.

“Think again,” I muttered at the same time a roar went through the crowd and Honey announced with way too much joy in her voice, “Nicole! Terminated!”

“Oh, think again?” Eli asked. He leaned over and pinched me. “Why’s that, Mer?”

Luckily, I was saved from answering; Nicole had fully tackled Wit, and they were rolling around in the grass. “Stop!” Aunt Christine and Jeannie Dupré shouted. “The wedding photos!”

And Uncle Brad, I thought. It’s just him and Wit now.

Nicole conceded, following in Luli’s footsteps and stalking off the field. “Well, it’s you and me, Uncle Brad,” Wit said when the father of the bride rose from the tall grass. “You and me.”

“I knew it would be,” my uncle said, shaking his head. “You or Mer—I knew it would be one of you.” He bowed. “May the best man win.”

Wit bowed, too. “May the best man win.” His hands were splayed open, nothing to hide.

“Oh my god,” Pravika said. “He’s unarmed.”

Eli latched on to my arm. “Please tell me he has another water gun hidden in his shorts.”

“How would I know?” I asked. My friends gave me a look.

“No,” I told them. “He doesn’t. It would only weigh him down.”

Because now Wit needed to be light on his feet, taking Uncle Brad on a little run. He weaved in figure eights across the field, then abruptly pivoted and sprinted in the opposite direction. Sarah’s dad fired again and again, but Wit was always gone before the spray could catch him.

“Is he going to grab the Super Soaker?” Jake wondered aloud. “I’d do the water bottle,” Luli said. “Easy to sweep up.”

“What about the handgun?” Pravika suggested.

I looked down the sidelines, everyone now wide awake and leaning forward in their seats. Soon, I thought. We’ll be celebrating soon.

Five minutes later, Uncle Brad was winded. It wasn’t that he was out of shape, but Wit was nineteen, and my uncle was nearing sixty. Wit stopped running and turned his back to us. There was a line of sweat running down his T-shirt, and his bandanna was now down around his neck. “Hot,” he commented.

“Blazing,” Uncle Brad replied, wiping his brow.

Still unarmed, Wit started walking backward toward the sideline, and my uncle noticed. I watched him step forward and reposition his water gun.

“No,” Pravika whispered. “He’s backing himself out of bounds.” “Relax,” I told her.

Wit kept backing up, Uncle Brad advancing. Slowly, smoothly.

They exchanged funny pleasantries along the way. It was a dance—a dance that concluded with Wit seemingly trapping himself in a corner.

But one directly in front of me.

“Wait, stop!” I exclaimed as Wit put a hand behind his back, fingers ready and waiting. “You’re right on the border! Don’t move!”

“Yes,” Uncle Brad drawled like a Disney villain. “Don’t move, kid.”

There was a gasp when he pulled his trigger and an even louder one a heartbeat later when Wit crouched down to avoid the stream and whispered, “Now, Killer!”

I quickly grabbed the pink squirt gun from under my seat and pressed it into his hand, my insides in a knot as Wit leapt up, lunged forward, and assassinated Uncle Brad for the victory.

The crowd went wild. “Witty!” Michael appeared out of nowhere and hoisted Wit up onto his shoulders. “Witty for the win!”

Uncle Brad stood there, stunned. “But no,” he said, shaking his head. “No.”

“What do you mean, no?” Sarah asked. “Dad, come on. You lost.” She kissed his cheek. “Second place is still great!”

“He broke the rules,” Uncle Brad said, Wink and Honey now on the scene. Michael lowered Wit back down to the ground. “Meredith handed him the gun.”

“Yes, dear,” Honey said, “but there is technically no rule about ‘phoning a friend.’” She smiled. “The finalists and their weapons need only stay within the border.” She gestured to the spray-painted line—my dad’s project yesterday afternoon.

“Mer’s chair is over the line, though, Mom,” Uncle Brad replied. “Just like everyone else’s.”

“Actually, it’s not,” I chimed in, “because I have a beach lounger, not your standard beach chair.”

The lounger was another gem I had found in the Annex’s storage shed. It was old and faded but still usable. I knew it would come in handy for something.

“The footrest is just across the line, inside the arena,” I continued smoothly, even though my heart was racing a hundred miles per hour. “I hid the gun right under there.”

Of course, an inspection followed. Wink bent down to see if there was the slightest of indentations in the grass from the water gun, and after getting Honey’s input, he raised the megaphone to his lips. “Our champion, everyone! Stephen Witry!”

Screams erupted again. Sarah launched herself at Wit, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Honey smile and lovingly pat her eldest child’s cheek. “Someday,” she said.

Once everyone had settled down, my grandparents presented Wit with this summer’s Assassin gold medal (plastic, from the pharmacy in town). Identical to all the ones Claire had hung on her bedroom wall.

I just watched him. I watched him give handshakes to all the other finalists; I watched him high-five my mom and dad; I watched him hug Jeannie and his stepsiblings. Then he and his father hugged for a long time.

Eventually, it was only the two of us in the arena. He was so sweaty, but he swept me up into his arms. “Congratulations,” I told him. “Eli has already proclaimed his love for you.”

He put me down and grinned at me. “I couldn’t have done it without you,” he said. “You’re the reason I won.”

I batted my eyelashes. “Am I?” “Yes.” He nodded.

“Oh, come on.” I waved him off. “All I did was hand you the gun.”

Wit wrapped me in another hug. “Do you think she’d be happy?” he whispered. “I know she would’ve wanted it to be you, but still…is it okay that I won?”

“Without a doubt,” I whispered back. The sun couldn’t be brighter— Claire was overwhelmingly proud. “Without a doubt.”

Then I broke away and tugged his bandanna before smiling and kissing him.

“And by the way,” he murmured, kissing me back, “I don’t want Eli.” His hands went to my waist. “I want you.”

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