Tuesday: Chapter no 8

The Summer of Broken Rules

I woke up to what sounded like someone breathing deeply and blushed when I realized it was Wit. I was in Wit’s room, in Wit’s bed, under his covers with him. He’s a mouth breather, I thought, since his mouth was wide open, like he’d fallen asleep halfway through saying something. Which he probably had—we’d talked so late into the night.

And we weren’t cuddling exactly, but my face grew warmer when I noticed that both of us had an arm flung out, unconsciously reaching for the other person. His was aimed for my waist while mine had gone for his chest. For a moment, I imagined what it would feel like to roll over and burrow into it, to feel his heartbeat.

The thought made my own heart catch, and then I felt a deep and longing tug.

“Time to leave,” I whispered to myself and slipped out from under his quilt before even more carefully escaping through the door. Those ancient hinges…

They screeched, of course. Wit didn’t wake up, but Michael’s head snapped up over by the firepit, where he was stretching for his morning workout. At first, he didn’t say anything, just raising an eyebrow at my outfit—the same eyelet dress I’d worn to the Big House for dinner. Except now it was wrinkled, and it didn’t help that my sandals dangled from my fingers by the straps. All signs pointed to a walk of shame.

“Nothing happened!” I blurted.

“I didn’t say anything did,” he replied.

“We fell asleep talking,” I explained. “It was completely innocent.”

Michael nodded, but he looked like he was holding back laughter. We eyed each other for a couple of seconds before he smirked and said, “Completely innocent, huh?”

I scowled and gave him the finger, which only made him smirk more. “Listen here, Michael Dupré,” I started, but when a door down the porch squeaked open, I took off for the Annex without another word. The paranoia was sinking in now—who was my assassin? Not a single rumor had circulated. It could be anyone, hungover groomsmen included.

My parents were already awake, eating scrambled eggs and toast with Honey’s homemade blackberry jam at the small table in the sitting room. “Good morning,” they said to me, but they didn’t ask where I’d spent the night, probably assuming I’d been with Luli and Pravika. It didn’t look like they’d gotten much sleep. My dad had bags under his eyes.

“I’m going to the Camp,” I said suddenly. “To meditate with Aunt Rachel.”

That made my mom brighten. “Okay.” She smiled. “Sounds good.”

“Don’t forget to take your gun,” Dad said after I’d changed clothes. He sipped his coffee. “You never know who you’re gonna run into.”

Instead of parading across the wide field in clear view of the houses, I snuck through the woods and around the back of the Camp. There was hustle and bustle inside—I heard Aunt Julia say something to Ethan about too much whipped cream on his waffles—but like yesterday, Aunt Rachel was at peace by the flagpole. “Hello,” she said once I sat down crisscross-applesauce next to her. “Ready for more?”

“Not today,” I told her, shaking my head as a lump formed in my throat. Because Claire—this was just so Claire, and I didn’t think I could truly focus yet. Memories flashed through my mind of my sister waking me up post–yoga class. She’d jump on my bed all sweaty and tickle me until I

couldn’t breathe. Now my heart ached to think of it. “But I’d like to sit for a while,” I said quietly, “if that’s okay.”

Aunt Rachel leaned over and kissed the top of my head. “Of course it is, Mer,” she whispered. “Of course it is.”

Although maybe letting my aunt take me under her wing and teach me meditation techniques would’ve been better, because sitting silently with my eyes closed allowed me to drift back to last night, to Wit and what I’d admitted to him. “Sometimes I’m so mad at her,” I’d said after our pinkie promise and after he’d switched off his bedside lamp. Somehow, the darkness made it easier to speak. “I don’t hold grudges, but sometimes…”

I trailed off to let Wit ask who I was talking about, but he didn’t. He knew.

“It was the same night,” I went on, my voice cracking a bit. “Why did she have to tell that story? About the salad and stuff? It was the same night, that night. Claire texted me that day saying they were going to the French Quarter after dinner.” My eyes prickled, and a moment later, I felt a few of Wit’s fingers gently twine with mine. Tears spilled over when I squeezed them.

“You don’t blame her,” he said—a question but not phrased as one.

“No, I don’t,” I said back, all choked up. “I really don’t. She didn’t do anything wrong. She didn’t get Claire drunk, she didn’t try to drive, it was a freak accident, but I’m still angry. Claire was only eighteen. Why did Sarah have to find her a fake ID and take her to Bourbon Street? Why couldn’t they visit during the day like tourists?” My heart pounded. “I love Sarah, and I’m so happy she’s okay, that she’s marrying Michael, but…sometimes I’m a terrible person. I think that if she hadn’t brought Claire there, she would still be here. She would be here right now. With me, with us. You would’ve met her.” I wiped away more tears, my eyes already swollen. “I wish you could’ve met her.”

Wit swallowed hard enough for me to hear. There was a long pause, and then he murmured, “You’re not a terrible person. You’re a person. Believe me, I understand how you feel. I’ve been there.” He twined more of our fingers together. We were nearly holding hands. “I’ve been there…”

Now, after several minutes, I straightened my shoulders. “Actually, yes,” I said to Aunt Rachel. “Please, teach me more.”

* * *

“It’s so easy,” Pravika told Luli. “Go over and do it.”

Luli sighed. “But that’s the thing,” she said. “It’s too easy. I want my first kill to be front-page news.” She looked at me. “Like Wit’s rooftop assassination, or your 007 moment.”

The three of us were floating in the Oyster Pond on the loud-and-proud rainbow unicorn tube. We’d stolen it from the Pond House’s back deck after the bridesmaids had left for a bayside lunch at Atlantic with the groomsmen. Maid of honor Danielle had posted a video of Sarah and Michael together, feeding each other oysters. The caption read: 5 MORE

DAYS! #HurrayShesADupré.

Wit and I still hadn’t exchanged numbers, so I’d messaged @sowitty17 and advised him to order the lobster guacamole as an appetizer. It was served in a stone mortar with the best tortilla chips. That had been a few hours ago.

Now Luli, Pravika, and I were doing recon on Cousin Margaret, Luli’s target. She was related to the Foxes, but you’d need a family tree to figure out how. All I knew for sure was that she was in her thirties, that she told the most hilarious stories after a few of my dad’s margaritas, and that Pravika was right: it would be a piece of cake for Luli to oust her. Right now, she was sitting in a beach chair with her head in a romance novel, wearing a floppy hat and big round sunglasses.

“Look,” I said after a few more minutes of watching Margaret flip from one page to the next. “Unfortunately, this move isn’t going to be flashy.” I shrugged, remembering the letdown of assassinating Aunt Rachel. It had been a stepping-stone, nothing more. “If you really want drama, maybe do a cartwheel or something.”

“Yeah,” Pravika agreed. “Do a cartwheel, then shoot her.” Luli bit her lip, then nodded. “Okay.”

We paddled back to shore and quietly dispersed. Pravika went to devour a PB&J from our cooler as Luli returned to her towel to unearth her squirt gun. Then she hid it again by pulling her waist-length dark hair into a loose ponytail and tucking the gun into her colorful scrunchie.

Meanwhile, I grabbed a crabbing net and joined Ethan and Hannah in the Oyster Pond’s shallows. They were scooping up crabs and depositing them in the “tanks” they’d dug in the sand. Each one had a tributary running into the pond so the water would be refreshed.

“No, Ethan!” Hannah shouted. “Don’t make them fight!”

“Wait, fight?” I turned away from Luli, who was saying a casual hello to every cluster of people on beach chairs on the way to Margaret’s lone one. “You’re making them fight?”

“Yeah,” Ethan said and gestured at one of the pools with his net. It contained only two male crabs, both big and blue. They appeared to be in a standoff. “This is the center ring.” He poked one of them with his pole as if to say, Make your move!

“Okay, no.” I shook my head. “There’s no fighting allowed, Ethan— ever.” I netted one crab and moved him to the tank Hannah had finished digging. Because whether provoked or not, sometimes the male crabs went at it.

Ethan huffed, then waded back into the water. I refocused on Luli, only a yard or two away from her target now. If she had indeed cartwheeled, I’d

missed it. Now she faced the ocean. “I think I’m going to take a dip!” I heard her say. “Wanna join, Margaret?”

Margaret didn’t glance away from her book, instead holding up a hand. “I’m almost finished with the epilogue.”

Luli tugged her scrunchie and dramatically shook out her hair—she caught her squirt gun before it fell to the sand and concealed it behind her back, pointer finger on the trigger. “Are you sure?” she asked. “Meredith says the water’s amazing.”

Come on, Luli! I thought. I haven’t been near the ocean today!

Margaret’s gaze shifted. “Did she?” she said lightly, raising her sunglasses to look at Luli. “Because I actually haven’t seen Meredith go for a swim yet.”

That made Luli panic. She scampered several steps forward, straightened her shoulders, and suddenly, she had her gun aimed at Margaret.

Who once again simply held up her hand. “Last page, Luli,” she said. “Last page in the book.”

Luli’s gun began to shake. The beach was riveted, my dad and Uncle Brad leaning forward in their seats. This is taking a while, I thought. Maybe Margaret’s savoring the ending, but…

And then it happened.

In the blink of an eye, Margaret sprang up from her chair, karate-chopped Luli’s squirt gun from her hand, and took off down the beach. The breeze swept away her floppy hat, which twirled in the air before landing in the sand.

“Dammit!” Luli shouted, then grabbed her gun and raced after Margaret. Everyone else broke into laughter, even me. It turned out there had been room for some drama.

Ethan returned from the pond with a whopping three crabs in his net. He was pretty talented for a six-year-old. I watched him deposit them in the

largest pool, one’s claws tangled in the netting. Then he whispered something that sent chills up my spine. “What?” I asked. “Repeat that?”

“I heard my moms talking,” he replied, kicking up wet sand. “About you

—they know who has you.”

My heart went still. “Who?” I tried not to waver, to keep my cool. “Who has me?”

Ethan shrugged. “Ask them.”

Ask them?

No, I couldn’t ask them. If my aunts hadn’t already given me a heads-up, it meant they weren’t on my side. I couldn’t fully trust them.

“No, Ethan,” I said, shaking my head. “I’m asking you.” He hesitated.


“Ian,” he mumbled. “They said Ian has you.”

I released a deep breath. Well, that explained it. Sarah’s brother was Aunt Julia’s godson. Of course her loyalty would lie with him.

You need to leave, Claire’s voice inside my head advised. He’s here, remember? He skipped lunch at Atlantic to surf.

Shit, I thought after spotting my cousin floating in the ocean with his surfboard. Claire was right; I had to go, because there was no way Ian’s only motive for passing on oysters was to catch some waves. He would call it quits soon enough, and if I was tanning on my towel or busy building sandcastles…

I didn’t make an announcement that I was heading home. I quickly and quietly packed up my tote bag, draped my towel around my neck, and slipped into my flip-flops.

Nevertheless, I heard Aunt Julia shout through Uncle Brad’s beloved megaphone, “Bye, Meredith!”

My pulse pounded. Was Ian out of the water?

Don’t turn around, Claire said as I fought the urge. Don’t turn around and make a run for it. It’ll give everything away. They’ll know that you know!

So I raised a stiff arm in farewell.

But as soon as I’d disappeared from sight, I broke into a sprint. My life depended on it.

* * *

Once I was safe in the Annex, I took a piping-hot outdoor shower— complete and utter bliss—and afterward threw on a tank top and my favorite faded pair of J.Crew shorts. I unplugged my phone from the sitting room outlet and flopped down on the couch to check any notifications, wondering if @sowitty17 had replied to my suggestion about the lobster guacamole. Had he ordered it?

But instead of an Instagram message notification, I had five missed texts. All from Ben.

“What the fuck?” I said aloud, typing in my passcode to read them. “What the actual fuck?”

First: Hey, Mer.

Second: How’s everything going?

Third: Seems like you’re having a lot of fun.

“Yeah,” I mumbled. “Because you’re not here.” Fourth: You looked really pretty yesterday.

Aha! I thought, entire body simmering as I switched over to Instagram, to @meredithfox’s profile. And there we have it!

Last night, I’d posted a picture from Wink and Honey’s dinner. My mom had taken it after Luli, Eli, and I had returned from Edgartown. The three of us had our arms around each other with the pink-and-orange sunset in the background (a pink-lemonade sunset, Claire would’ve called it). I was smiling in the middle, my cheeks flushed from the rush of Assassin adrenaline and my hair blowing in the breeze. Cousins! I’d captioned the

photo, completely forgetting about the wedding hashtag. It had gotten a ton of likes, but I’d turned off those notifications ages ago. Now, though, I couldn’t help but notice the top comment: @benfletcher had left behind three fire emojis. I rolled my eyes. Ben had loved me, but I’d realized that it never went very deep for him. His compliments always revolved around my looks.

I reopened my texts to read Ben’s final one: I think we need to talk.

“No, we certainly do not, Shithead,” I muttered and debated whether or not to throw my phone across the room. But no, I settled for deleting Ben’s texts. Then I swiped back to my Instagram profile and did a little identity changing.

I scrolled through my feed for a few minutes. Instagram stories of my former classmates picnicking on Clinton’s town square, videos of my favorite bands performing on tour, photos of cute dogs, and funny memes. I double-tapped Timothée Chalamet’s most recent post. He was on vacation in Italy.

Although the next picture caught my eye even more than Timothée… because it was of me. Not me now, but me from years ago. I was maybe ten, with my hair in braids and a napkin tucked into my shirt, and I instantly recognized the wicker chair I was sitting in. On my knees, I knew, since I’d been too tiny to reach the table.

And I’d needed to reach the table, to reach the giant stone bowl in front of me, filled with Atlantic’s famous lobster guacamole. But rather than using my best manners and politely dipping a tortilla chip, I’d grabbed a gob of guac and smeared it across my face. Someone had dared me.


I stopped gawking long enough to blink and see who was responsible for such blasphemy. Just delightful@sowitty17 had written. Thank you, my lobster, for the recommendation! #HurrayShesADupré.

I immediately DMed him: WHERE DID YOU FIND THAT PICTURE?!?!

And then: You watch Friends?

Because “my lobster,” Wit’s term of endearment for the day, was not only a pun about his meal but also a direct reference to the old sitcom. Phoebe had a theory that when lobsters linked claws, it meant they’d fallen in love and would mate for life. “She’s your lobster,” she always said to Ross about Rachel. It was iconic.

Wit! Half of me wanted to kick him in the face again while the other half wanted to smile and laugh with him. But my only option right now was to check if he’d messaged back.

Not yet.

Where did he get that picture? I wondered again as I glanced around the sitting room at the photos covering the walls. The one of me wasn’t here, but Fox family photos decorated every house on Paqua Farm. I smirked to myself. Every house, but Wit was only staying in one.

Several minutes later, I marched into the Cabin’s empty main room with its mammoth stone fireplace, collection of cracked leather couches, and teeth-bearing tiger painting. I’d taken the back way through the woods in case Ian was lurking nearby. Relax, relax, I now told my pulse. You’re inside. You’re safe.

I surveyed the room, once, twice, three times before I noticed the series of framed photos displayed on the fireplace’s mantel. Most of them had been taken two centuries ago, but there was a pop of color amid all the black and white.

Of course, it was me.

“Gotcha,” I said and crossed the room to grab the frame as I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I dug it out to see a DM from @sowitty17.

Did you swipe right? it asked.

Swipe right? @claires_sister tapped back. Excuse me, but I don’t recall us matching on Tinder.

You wouldn’t, he said. I don’t have Tinder.

Neither do I, I almost replied, but another message from Wit popped up:

I meant here, on the good old gram. Did you swipe right on my post?

Swipe right on his post? I frowned and tapped back to his throwback shot of me, only to realize that he’d uploaded multiple photos.

Two photos.

No way, I thought, thumb hovering over my screen. There’s no way he could have…

But he had. When I swiped, I was treated to nineteen-year-old Wit Witry full-on imitating little Meredith Fox. Just like me, he had a blue napkin tucked into his shirt collar with a heavy mortar of guacamole on the table in front of him, and also like me, he’d taken a glob and smeared it across his smiling face.

My stomach swooped.

Wit must’ve messaged again after I’d liked the photo, but I was too busy to respond, risking another run-in with Ian to steal something from the Camp.

Hannah’s red lobster stuffed animal.

She won’t notice, I told myself as I raced back to the Cabin, to the last room in the row. She has so many toys, she won’t even notice!

Wit hadn’t made his bed, but I bypassed that to decorate his nightstand. I moved last night’s ice pack in favor of arranging my picture frame just so and then placed the lobster on top of his New Zealand guidebook. A trip with his mom? I guessed. Maybe to close out the summer?

I noticed his unmade bed again before I left…and by that, I mean I stopped and borderline-creepily stared at it. His covers were kicked to the foot, some sand on his sheets, and you could still see where we’d slept. Our indentations in the mattress were a little too close to be fully platonic. I remembered this morning, waking up next to him and seeing our arms stretched toward each other.

Yes, I thought. I want to smile and laugh with him…

My heart flipped, realizing that wasn’t all I wanted to do. I also wanted to kiss him.

I wanted to kiss Wit.

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