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Such a beautifully written book with a tragic ending, I definitely recommend reading it!
29 November 2020 (16:26)
why cant i download the book? :(
22 February 2021 (13:20)
I just finished the book and I had to tell someone about it. I won’t say like it was the best book I ever read but it really gets you. It’s not a romantic story but there is this touch of love the love you’ll cherish forever, maybe. It isn’t that catchy in the beginning but when it nears the end it all actually doesn’t makes sense but you would be happy that it doesn’t make sense. Because it’s better when it doesn’t make sense. It keeps you thinking and you feel bad and you feel sad. I didn’t sob like those people said on internet (I’m a girl?) but it’s really heart wrenching but you’ll recover soon. Don’t worry. And we are not supposed to tell the truth about how it ends so I ain’t telling you. And yeah, you might like to hear the song “ love is gone” after you finish it or about to finish it. I really felt it the song and the near ending of the book. That’s it.
08 July 2021 (17:32)
my mental health was not ready for this :)
22 July 2021 (21:28)
I HAVE THE EXACT SAME PROBLEM AS LYANAGI
21 November 2021 (22:51)
Beverly Horowitz Vice President and Publisher Delacorte Press Dear Colleagues, It’s not often that I write a letter asking a reader to do this, but please trust me. I won’t tell you the plot of this book. It is better for you to just read it. Between the covers you will find: the beautiful Sinclair family on a windswept private island, four friends who are unconditionally loyal to one another, a lot of witty banter, and desperate true love. Also … family secrets, hallucinations, a terrifying accident, and many golden retrievers. We Were Liars is a dazzler. It’s suspenseful, literary, and romantic. It’s a modern, mazelike suspense story from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. You don’t need to know more. More would spoil it. Read it. I believe you’ll want to talk about this book with someone else who has read it. So read this ARC and give the duplicate to a friend, and let the conversation begin! Whatever you do, don’t spoil it for the people who haven’t read it yet. And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE. All my best, Beverly Horowitz 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019 • Phone: (212) 782-9657 • E-mail: email@example.com • Fax: (212) 782-8234 • Web site: www.randomhouse.com/kids; www.randomhouse.com/teens Also by e. lockhart The Ruby Oliver Novels The Boyfriend List The Boy Book The Treasure Map of Boys Real Live Boyfriends · · · Fly on the Wall Dramarama The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks How to Be Bad (written with Sarah Mlynowski and Lauren Myracle) This is an uncorrected eBook file. Please do not quote for publication until you check your copy against the finished book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely c; oincidental. Text copyright © 2013 by E. Lockhart All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc. Visit us on the Web! randomhouse.com/teens Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at RHTeachersLibrarians.com Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data to come Printed in the United States of America 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 First Edition Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read. Contents Cover Letter from the Publisher eBook Information By e. lockhart Title page Copyright page PART ONE Welcome PART TWO Vermont PART THREE Summer Seventeen PART FOUR Look, a Fire PART FIVE Truth Acknowledgments About the Author Part One Welcome 1 Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure. The Sinclairs are athletic, tall, and handsome. We are old-money Democrats. Our smiles are wide, our chins square, and our tennis serves aggressive. It doesn’t matter if divorce shreds the muscles of our hearts so that they will hardly beat without a struggle. It doesn’t matter if trust-fund money is running out; if credit card bills go unpaid on the kitchen counter. It doesn’t matter if there’s a cluster of pill bottles on the bedside table. It doesn’t matter if one of us is desperately, desperately in love. So much in love that equally desperate measures must be taken. We are Sinclairs. No one is needy. No one is wrong. We live, at least in the summertime, on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. Perhaps that is all you need to know. 2 My full name is Cadence Sinclair Eastman. I live in Burlington, Vermont, with Mummy and three dogs. I am nearly eighteen. I own a well-used library card and not much else, though it is true I live in a grand house full of expensive, useless objects. I used to be blond, but now my hair is black. I used to be strong, but now I am weak. I used to be pretty, but now I look sick. It is true I suffer migraines since my accident. It is true I do not suffer fools. I like a twist of meaning. You see? Suffer migraines. Do not suffer fools. The word means almost the same as it did in the previous sentence, but not quite. Suffer. You could say it means endure, but that’s not exactly right. My story starts before the accident. June of the summer I was fifteen, my father ran off with some woman he loved more than us. Dad was a middling-successful professor of military history. Back then I adored him. He wore tweed jackets. He was gaunt. He drank milky tea. He was fond of board games and let me win, fond of boats and taught me to kayak, fond of bicycles, books, and art museums. He was never fond of dogs, and it was a sign of how much he loved my mother that he let our golden retrievers sleep on the sofas and walked them three miles every morning. He was never fond of my grandparents, either, and it was a sign of how much he loved both me and Mummy that he spent every summer in Windemere House on Beechwood Island, writing articles on wars fought long ago and putting on a smile for the relatives at every meal. That June, summer fifteen, Dad announced he was leaving and departed two days later. He told my mother he wasn’t a Sinclair, and couldn’t try to be one, any longer. He couldn’t smile, couldn’t lie, couldn’t be part of that beautiful family in those beautiful houses. Couldn’t. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t. He had hired moving vans already. He’d rented a house, too. My father put a last suitcase into the backseat of the the Mercedes (he was leaving Mummy with only the Saab), and started the engine. Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound, then from my eyes, my ears, my mouth. It tasted like salt and failure. The bright red shame of being unloved soaked the grass in front of our house, the bricks of the path, the steps to the porch. My heart spasmed among the peonies like a trout. Mummy snapped. She said to get hold of myself. Be normal, now, she said. Right now, she said. Because you are. Because you can be. Don’t cause a scene, she told me. Breathe and sit up. I did what she asked. She was all I had left. Mummy and I tilted our square chins high as Dad drove down the hill. Then we went indoors and trashed the gifts he’d given us: jewelry, clothes, books, anything. In the days that followed, we got rid of the couch and armchairs my parents had bought together. Tossed the wedding china, the silver, the photographs. We purchased new furniture. Hired a decorator. Placed an order for Tiffany silverware. Spent a day walking through art galleries and bought paintings to cover the empty spaces on our walls. We asked Granddad’s lawyers to secure Mummy’s assets. Then we packed our bags and went to Beechwood Island. 3 Penny, Carrie, and Bess are the daughters of Tipper and Harris Sinclair. Harris came into his money at twenty-one after Harvard and grew the fortune doing business I never bothered to understand. He inherited houses and land. He made intelligent decisions about the stock market. He married Tipper and kept her in the kitchen and the garden. He put her on display in pearls and on sailboats. She seemed to enjoy it. Granddad’s only failure was that he never had a son, but no matter. The Sinclair daughters were sunburnt and blessed. Tall, merry, and rich, those girls were like princesses in a fairy tale. They were known throughout Boston, Harvard Yard, and Martha’s Vineyard for their cashmere cardigans and grand parties. They were made for legends. Made for princes and Ivy League schools, ivory statues and majestic houses. Granddad and Tipper loved the girls so, they couldn’t say whom they loved best. First Carrie, then Penny, then Bess, then Carrie again. There were splashy weddings with salmon and harpists, then bright blond grandchildren and funny blond dogs. No one could ever have been prouder of their beautiful American girls than Tipper and Harris were, back then. They built three new houses on their craggy private island and gave them each a name: Windemere for Penny, Red Gate for Carrie, and Cuddledown for Bess. I am the eldest Sinclair grandchild. Heiress to the island, the fortune, and the expectations. Well, probably. 4 Me, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat. Gat, Mirren, Johnny, and me. The family calls us four the Liars, and probably we deserve it. We are all nearly the same age, and we all have birthdays in the fall. Most years on the island, we’ve been trouble. Gat started coming to Beechwood the year we were eight. Summer eight, we called it. Before that, Mirren, Johnny, and I weren’t Liars. We were nothing but cousins, and Johnny was a pain because he didn’t like playing with girls. Johnny, he is bounce, effort, and snark. Back then he would hang our Barbies by the necks or shoot us with guns made of Lego. Mirren, she is sugar, curiosity, and rain. Back then she spent long afternoons with Taft and the twins, splashing at the big beach, while I drew pictures on graph paper and read in the hammock on the Clairmont house porch. Then Gat came to spend the summers with us. Aunt Carrie’s husband left her when she was pregnant with Johnny’s brother, Will. I don’t know what happened. The family never speaks of it. By summer eight, Will was a baby and Carrie had taken up with Ed already. This Ed, he was an art dealer and he adored the kids. That was all we’d heard about him when Carrie announced she was bringing him to Beechwood, along with Johnny and the baby. They were the last to arrive that summer, and most of us were on the dock waiting for the boat to pull in. Granddad lifted me up so I could wave at Johnny, who was wearing an orange life vest and shouting over the prow. Granny Tipper stood next to us. She turned away from the boat for a moment, reached in her pocket, and brought out a white peppermint. Unwrapped it and tucked it into my mouth. As she looked back at the boat, Gran’s face changed. I squinted to see what she saw. Carrie stepped off with Will on her hip. He was in a baby’s yellow life vest, and was really no more than a shock of white-blond hair sticking up over it. A cheer went up at the sight of him. That vest, which we had all worn as babies. The hair. How wonderful that this little boy we didn’t know yet was so obviously a Sinclair. Johnny leapt off the boat and threw his own vest on the dock. First thing, he ran up to Mirren and kicked her. Then he kicked me. Kicked the twins. Walked over to our grandparents and stood up straight. “Good to see you, Granny and Granddad. I look forward to a happy summer.” Tipper hugged him. “Your mother told you to say that, didn’t she?” “Yes,” said Johnny. “And I’m to say, nice to see you again.” “Good boy.” “Can I go now?” Tipper kissed his freckled cheek. “Go on, then.” Ed followed Johnny, having stopped to help the staff unload the luggage from the motorboat. He was tall and slim. His skin was very dark: Indian heritage, we’d later learn. He wore black-framed glasses and was dressed in dapper city clothes: a linen suit and striped shirt. The pants were wrinkled from traveling. Granddad set me down. Granny Tipper’s mouth made a straight line. Then she showed all her teeth and went forward. “You must be Ed. What a lovely surprise.” He shook hands. “Didn’t Carrie tell you we were coming?” “Of course she did.” Ed looked around at our white, white family. Turned to Carrie. “Where’s Gat?” They called for him, and he climbed from the inside of the boat, taking off his life vest, looking down to undo the buckles. “Mother, Dad,” said Carrie, “we brought Ed’s nephew to play with Johnny. This is Gat Patil.” Granddad reached out and patted Gat’s head. “Hello, young man.” “Hello.” “His father passed on, just this year,” explained Carrie. “He and Johnny are the best of friends. It’s a big help to Ed’s sister if we take him for a few weeks. And, Gat? You’ll get to have cookouts and go swimming like we talked about. Okay?” But Gat didn’t answer. He was looking at me. His nose was dramatic, his mouth sweet. Skin deep brown, hair black and waving. Body wired with energy. Gat seemed spring-loaded. Like he was searching for something. He was contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee. I could have looked at him forever. Our eyes locked. I turned and ran away. Gat followed. I could hear his feet behind me on the wooden walkways that cross the island. I kept running. He kept following. Johnny chased Gat. And Mirren chased Johnny. The adults remained talking on the dock, circling politely around Ed, cooing over baby Will. The littles did whatever littles do. We four stopped running at the tiny beach down by Cuddledown House. It’s a small stretch of sand with high rocks on either side. No one used it much, back then. The big beach had softer sand and less seaweed. Mirren took off her shoes and the rest of us followed. We tossed stones into the water. We just existed. I wrote our names in the sand. Cadence, Mirren, Johnny, and Gat. Gat, Johnny, Mirren, and Cadence. That was the beginning of us. Johnny begged to have Gat stay longer. He got what he wanted. The next year he begged to have him come for the entire summer. Gat came. Johnny was the first grandson. My grandparents almost never said no to Johnny. 5 Summer fourteen, Gat and I took out the small motorboat alone. It was just after breakfast. Bess made Mirren play tennis with the twins and Taft. Johnny had started running that year and was doing loops around the perimeter path. Gat found me in the Clairmont kitchen and asked, did I want to take the boat out? “Not really.” I wanted to go back to bed with a book. “Please?” Gat almost never said please. “Take it out yourself.” “I can’t borrow it,” he said. “I don’t feel right.” “Of course you can borrow it.” “Not without one of you.” He was being ridiculous. “Where do you want to go?” I asked. “I just want to get off-island. Sometimes I can’t stand it here.” I couldn’t imagine, then, what it was he couldn’t stand, but I said all right. We motored out to sea in wind jackets and bathing suits. After a bit, Gat cut the engine. We sat eating pistachios and breathing salt air. The sunlight shone on the water. “Let’s go in,” I said. Gat jumped and I followed, but the water was so much colder than off the beach, it snatched our breath. The sun went behind a cloud. We laughed panicky laughs and shouted that it was the stupidest idea to get in the water. What had we been thinking? There were sharks off the coast, everybody knew that. Don’t talk about sharks, God! We scrambled and pushed each other, struggling to be the first one up the ladder at the back of the boat. After a minute, Gat leaned back and let me go first. “Not because you’re a girl but because I’m a good person,” he told me. “Thanks.” I stuck out my tongue. “But when a shark bites my legs off, promise to write a speech about how awesome I was.” “Done,” I said. “Gatwick Matthew Patil made a delicious meal.” It seemed hysterically funny to be so cold. We didn’t have towels. We huddled together under a fleece blanket we found under the seats, our bare shoulders touching each other. Cold feet, on top of one another. “This is only so we don’t get hypothermia,” said Gat. “Don’t think I find you pretty or anything.” “I know you don’t.” “You’re hogging the blanket.” “Sorry.” A pause. Gat said, “I do find you pretty, Cady. I didn’t mean that the way it came out. In fact, when did you get so pretty? It’s distracting.” “I look the same as always.” “You changed over the school year. It’s putting me off my game.” “You have a game?” He nodded solemnly. “That is the dumbest thing I ever heard. What is your game?” “Nothing penetrates my armor. Hadn’t you noticed?” That made me laugh. “No.” “Damn. I thought it was working.” We changed the subject. Talked about bringing the littles to Edgartown to see a movie in the afternoon, about sharks and whether they really ate people, about Plants Versus Zombies. Then we drove back to the island. Not long after, that, Gat started lending me his books and finding me at the tiny beach in the early evenings. He’d search me out when I was lying on the Windemere lawn with the goldens. We started walking together on the path that circles the island, Gat in front and me behind. We’d talk about books or invent imaginary worlds. Sometimes we’d end up walking several times around the edge before we got hungry or bored. Beach roses lined the path, deep pink and white. Their smell was faint and sweet. One day I looked at Gat, lying in the Clairmont hammock with a book, and he seemed, well, like he was mine. Like he was my particular person. I got in the hammock next to him, silently. I took the pen out of his hand—he always read with a pen—and wrote Gat on the back of his left, and Cadence on the back of his right. He took the pen from me. Wrote Gat on the back of my left, and Cadence on the back of my right. I am not talking about fate. I don’t believe in destiny or soul mates or the supernatural or any of that stuff. I just mean we understood each other. All the way. But we were only fourteen. I had never kissed a boy, though I would kiss a few the next school year, and somehow we didn’t label it love. 6 Summer fifteen I arrived a week later than the others. Dad had left us, and Mummy and I had all that shopping to do, consulting the decorator and everything. Johnny and Mirren met us at the dock, pink in the cheeks and full of summer plans. They were staging a family tennis tournament and had bookmarked ice cream recipes. We would go sailing, build bonfires. The littles swarmed and yelled like always. The aunts smiled chilly smiles. After the bustle of arrival, everyone went to Clairmont for cocktail hour. I went to Red Gate, looking for Gat. Red Gate is a much smaller house than Clairmont, but it still has four bedrooms up top. It’s where Johnny, Gat, and Will lived with Aunt Carrie—plus Ed, when he was there, which wasn’t often. I walked to the kitchen door and looked through the screen. Gat didn’t see me at first. He was standing at the counter wearing a worn gray T-shirt and jeans. His shoulders were broader than I remembered. He untied a dried flower from where it hung upside down on a ribbon in the window over the sink. The flower was a beach rose, deep pink and loosely constructed, the kind that grows on low bushes along the Beechwood perimeter. Gat, my Gat. He had picked me a rose from our favorite walking place. He had hung it to dry and waited for me to arrive on the island so he could give it to me. I had kissed an unimportant boy or three by now. I had lost my dad. I had come here to this island from a house of tears and falsehood and I saw Gat, and I saw that rose in his hand, and in that one moment, with the sunlight from the window shining in on him, the apples on the kitchen counter, the smell of wood and ocean in the air, I did call it love. It was love, and it hit me so hard I leaned against the screen door that still stood between us, just to stay vertical. I wanted to touch him like he was a bunny, a kitten, something so special and soft your fingertips can’t leave it alone. The universe was good because he was in it. I loved the hole in his jeans and the dirt on his bare feet and the scab on his elbow and the scar that laced through one eyebrow. Gat, my Gat. As I stood there, staring, he put the rose in an envelope. He searched for a pen, banging drawers open and shut, found one in his own pocket, and wrote. I didn’t realize he was writing an address until he pulled a roll of stamps from a kitchen drawer. Gat stamped the envelope. Wrote a return address. It wasn’t for me. I left the Red Gate door before he saw me and ran down to the perimeter. I watched the darkening sky, alone. I tore all the roses off a single sad bush and threw them, one after the other, into the angry sea. 7 Johnny told me about the New York girlfriend that evening. Her name was Raquel. Johnny had even met her. He lives in New York, like Gat does, but downtown with Carrie and Ed, while Gat lives uptown with his mom. Johnny said Raquel was a modern dancer and wore black clothes. Mirren’s brother, Taft, told me Raquel had sent Gat a package of homemade brownies. Liberty and Bonnie told me Gat had pictures of her on his phone. Gat didn’t mention her at all, but he had trouble meeting my eyes. That first night, I cried and bit my fingers and drank wine I snuck from the Clairmont pantry. I spun violently into the sky, raging and banging stars from their moorings, swirling and vomiting. I hit my fist into the wall of the shower. I washed off the shame and anger in cold, cold water. Then I shivered in my bed like the abandoned dog that I was, my skin shaking over my bones. The next morning, and every day thereafter, I acted normal. I tilted my square chin high. We sailed and made bonfires. I won the tennis tournament. We made vats of ice cream and lay on the tiny beach in the sun. One night, the four of us ate a picnic down on the tiny beach. Steamed clams, potatoes, and sweet corn. The staff made it. I didn’t know their names. Johnny and Mirren carried the food down in metal roasting pans. We ate around the flames of our bonfire, dripping butter onto the sand. Then Gat made triple-decker s’mores for all of us. I looked at his hands in the firelight, sliding marshmallows onto a long stick. Where once he’d had our names written, now he had taken to writing the titles of books he wanted to read. That night, on the left: Being and. On the right: Nothingness. I had writing on my hands, too. A quotation I liked. On the left: Live in. On the right: today. “Want to know what I’m thinking about?” Gat asked. “Yes,” I said. “No,” said Johnny. “I’m wondering how we can say your granddad owns this island. Not legally but actually.” “Please don’t get started on the evils of the Pilgrims,” moaned Johnny. “No. I’m asking, how can we say land belongs to anyone?” Gat waved at the sand, the ocean, the sky. Mirren shrugged. “People buy and sell land all the time.” “Can’t we talk about sex or murder?” asked Johnny. Gat ignored him. “Maybe land shouldn’t belong to people at all. Or maybe there should be limits on what they can own.” He leaned forward. “When I went to India this winter, on that volunteer trip, we were building toilets. Building them because people there, in this one village, didn’t have them.” “We all know you went to India,” said Johnny. “You told us like forty-seven times.” Here is something I love about Gat: he is so enthusiastic, so relentlessly interested in the world, that he has trouble imagining the possibility that other people will be bored by what he’s saying. Even when they tell him outright. But also, he doesn’t like to let us off easy. He wants to make us think–even when we don’t feel like thinking. He poked a stick into the embers. “I’m saying we should talk about it. Not everyone has private islands. Some people work on them. Some work in factories. Some don’t have work. Some don’t have food.” “Stop talking, now,” said Mirren. “Stop talking, forever,” said Johnny. “We have a warped view of humanity on Beechwood,” Gat said. “I don’t think you see that.” “Shut up,” I said. “I’ll give you more chocolate if you shut up.” And Gat did shut up, but his face contorted. He stood abruptly, picked up a rock from the sand, and threw it with all his force. He pulled off his sweatshirt and kicked off his shoes. Then he walked into the sea in his jeans. Angry. I watched the muscles of his shoulders in the moonlight, the spray kicking up as he splashed in. He dove and I thought: If I don’t follow him now, that girl Raquel’s got him. If I don’t follow him now, he’ll go away. From the Liars, from the island, from our family, from me. I threw off my sweater and followed Gat into the sea in my dress. I crashed into the water, swimming out to where he lay on his back. His wet hair was slicked off his face, showing the thin scar that laced through one eyebrow. I reached for his arm. “Gat.” He startled. Stood in the waist-high sea. “Sorry,” I whispered. “I don’t tell you to shut up, Cady,” he said. “I don’t ever say that to you.” “I know.” He was silent. “Please don’t shut up,” I said. I felt his eyes go over my body in my wet dress. “I talk too much,” he said. “I politicize everything.” “I like it when you talk,” I said, because it was true. When I stopped to listen, I did like it. “It’s that everything makes me …” He paused. “Things are messed up in the world, that’s all.” “Yeah.” “Maybe I should”—Gat took my hands, turned them over to look at the words written on the backs—“I should live for today and not be agitating all the time.” My hand was in his wet hand. I shivered. His arms were bare and wet. We used to hold hands all the time , but he hadn’t touched me all summer. “It’s good that you look at the world the way you do,” I told him. Gat let go of me and leaned back into the water. “Johnny wants me to shut up. I’m boring you and Mirren.” I look at his profile. He wasn’t just Gat. He was contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee. All that was there, in the lids of his brown eyes, his smooth skin, his lower lip pushed out. There was coiled energy inside. “I’ll tell you a secret,” I whispered. “What?” I reached out and touched his arm again. He didn’t pull away. “When we say Shut up, Gat, that isn’t what we mean at all.” “No?” “What we mean is, we love you. You remind us that we’re selfish bastards. You’re not one of us, that way.” He dropped his eyes. Smiled. “Is that what you mean, Cady?” “Yes,” I told him. I let my fingers trail down his floating, outstretched arm. “I can’t believe you are in that water!” Johnny was standing ankle-deep in the ocean, his jeans rolled up. “It’s the Arctic. My toes are freezing off.” “It’s nice once you get in,” Gat called back. “Seriously?” “Don’t be weak!” yelled Gat. “Be manly and get in the stupid water.” Johnny laughed and charged in. Mirren followed. And it was—exquisite. The night looming above us. The hum of the ocean. The bark of gulls. 8 That night I had trouble sleeping. After midnight, he called my name. I looked out my window. Gat was lying on his back on the wooden walkway that leads to Windemere. The golden retrievers were lying near him, all five: Bosh, Grendel, Poppy, Prince Philip, and Fatima. Their tails thumped gently. The moonlight made them all look blue. “Come down,” he called. I did. Mummy’s light was out. The rest of the island was dark. We were alone, except for all the dogs. “Scoot,” I told him. The walkway wasn’t wide. When I lay down next to him, our arms touched, mine bare and his in an olive-green hunting jacket. We looked at the sky. So many stars, it seemed like a celebration, a grand, illicit party the galaxy was holding after the humans had been put to bed. I was glad Gat didn’t try to sound knowledgeable about constellations or say stupid stuff about wishing on stars. But I didn’t know what to make of his silence, either. “Can I hold your hand?” he asked. I put mine in his. “The universe is seeming really huge right now,” he told me. “I need something to hold on to.” “I’m here.” His thumb rubbed the center of my palm. All my nerves concentrated there, alive and thrilling to every movement of his skin on mine. “I am not sure I’m a good person,” he said after a while. “I’m not sure I am, either,” I said. “I’m winging it.” “Yeah.” Gat was silent for a moment. “Do you believe in God?” “Halfway.” I tried to think about it seriously. I knew Gat wouldn’t settle for a flippant answer. “When things are bad, I’ll pray or imagine someone watching over me, listening. Like the first few days after my dad left, I thought about God. For protection. But the rest of the time, I’m trudging along in my everyday life. It’s not even slightly spiritual.” “I don’t believe anymore,” Gat said. “That trip to India, the poverty. No God I can imagine would let that happen. Then I came home and started noticing it on the streets of New York. People sick and starving in one of the richest nations in the world. I just—I can’t think that anyone’s watching over those people. Which means no one is watching over me, either.” “That doesn’t make you a bad person.” “My mother believes. She was raised Buddhist but goes to Methodist church now. She’s not very happy with me.” Gat hardly ever talked about his mother. “You can’t believe just because she tells you to,” I said. “No. The question is: how to be a good person if I don’t believe anymore.” We stared at the sky. The dogs went into Windemere via the dog flap. “You’re cold,” Gat said. “Let me give you my jacket.” I wasn’t cold but I sat up. He sat up, too. Unbuttoned his olive hunting jacket and shrugged it off. Handed it to me. It was warm from his body. Much too wide across the shoulders. His arms were bare now. I wanted to kiss him there while I was wearing his hunting jacket. But I didn’t. Maybe he loved Raquel. Those photos on his phone. That dried beach rose in an envelope. 9 At breakfast the next morning, Mummy asked me to go through Dad’s things in the Windemere attic and take what I wanted. She would get rid of the rest. Windemere is gabled and angular. Two of the five bedrooms have slanted roofs, and it’s the only house on the island with a full attic. There’s a big porch and a modern kitchen, updated with marble countertops that look a little out of place. The rooms are airy and filled with dogs. Gat and I climbed up to the attic with glass bottles of iced tea and sat on the floor. The room smelled like wood. A square of light glowed through from the window. We had been in the attic before. Also, we had never been in the attic before. The books were Dad’s vacation reading. All sports memoirs, cozy mysteries, and rock star tell-alls by old people I’d never heard of. Gat wasn’t really looking. He was sorting the books by color. A red pile, a blue, brown, white, yellow. “Don’t you want anything to read?” I asked. “Maybe.” “How about First Base and Way Beyond?” Gat laughed. Shook his head. Straightened his blue pile. “Rock On with My Bad Self? Hero of the Dance Floor?” He was laughing again. Then serious. “Cadence?” “What?” “Shut up.” I let myself look at him a long time. Every curve of his face was familiar, and also, I had never seen him before. Gat smiled. Shining. Bashful. He got to his knees, kicking over his colorful book piles in the process. He reached out and stroked my hair. “I love you, Cady. I mean it.” I leaned in and kissed him. He touched my face. Ran his hand down my neck and along my collarbone. The light from the attic window shone down on us. Our kiss was electric and soft, and tentative and certain, terrifying and exactly right. I felt the love rush from me to Gat and from Gat to me. We were warm and shivering, and young and ancient, and alive. I was thinking, It’s true. We already love each other. We already do. 10 Granddad walked in on us. Gat sprang up. Stepped awkwardly on the color-sorted books that had spilled across the floor. “I am interrupting,” Granddad said. “No, sir.” “Yes, I most certainly am.” “Sorry about the dust,” I said. Awkward. “Penny thought there might be something I’d like to read.” Granddad pulled an old wicker chair to the center of the room and sat down, bending over the books. Gat remained standing. He had to bend his head beneath the attic’s slanted roof. “Watch yourself, young man,” said Granddad, sharp and sudden. “Pardon me?” “Your head. You could get hurt.” “You’re right,” said Gat. “You’re right, I could get hurt.” “So watch yourself,” Granddad repeated. Gat turned and went down the stairs without another word. Granddad and I sat in silence for a moment. “He likes to read,” I said eventually. “I thought he might want some of Dad’s books.” “You are very dear to me, Cady,” said Granddad, patting my shoulder. “My first grandchild.” “I love you, too, Granddad.” “Remember how I took you to a baseball game? You were only four.” “Sure.” “You had never had Cracker Jack,” said Granddad. “I know. You bought two boxes.” “I had to put you on my lap so you could see. You remember that, Cady?” I did. “Tell me.” I knew the kind of answer Granddad wanted me to give. It was a request he made quite often. He loved retelling key moments in Sinclair family history, enlarging their importance. He was always asking what something meant to you, and you were supposed to come back with details. Images. Maybe a lesson learned. Usually, I adored telling these stories and hearing them told. The legendary Sinclairs, what fun we’d had, how beautiful we were. But that day, I didn’t want to. “It was your first baseball game,” Granddad prompted. “Afterward I bought you a red plastic bat. You practiced your swing on the lawn of the Boston house.” Did Granddad know what he’d interrupted? Would he care if he did know? When would I see Gat again? Would he break up with Raquel? What would happen between us? “You wanted to make Cracker Jack at home,” Granddad went on, though he knew I knew the story. “And Penny helped you make it. But you cried when there weren’t any red and white boxes to put it in. Do you remember that?” “Yes, Granddad,” I said, giving in. “You went all the way back to the ballpark that same day and bought two more boxes of Cracker Jack. You ate them on the drive home, just so you could give me the boxes. I remember.” Satisfied, he stood up and we left the attic together. Granddad was shaky going downstairs, so he put his hand on my shoulder. I found Gat on the perimeter path and ran to where he stood, looking out at the water. The wind was coming hard and my hair flew in my eyes. When I kissed him, his lips were salty. 11 Granny Tipper died of heart failure eight months before summer fifteen on Beechwood. She was a stunning woman, even when she was old. White hair, pink cheeks; tall and angular. She’s the one who made Mummy love dogs so much. She always had at least two and sometimes four golden retrievers when her girls were little, all the way until she died. She was quick to judge and played favorites, but she was also warm. If you got up early on Beechwood, back when we were small, you could go to Clairmont and wake Gran. She’d have muffin batter sitting in the fridge, and would pour it into tins and let you eat as many warm muffins as you wanted, before the rest of the island woke up. She’d take us berry picking and help us make pie or something she called a slump that we’d eat that night. One of her charity projects was a benefit party each year for the Farm Institute on Martha’s Vineyard. We used to all go. It was outdoors, in beautiful white tents. The littles would run around wearing party clothes and no shoes. Johnny, Mirren, Gat, and I snuck glasses of wine and felt giddy and silly. Gran danced with Johnny and then my dad, then with Granddad, holding the edge of her skirt with one hand. I used to have a photograph of Gran from one of those benefit parties. She wore an evening gown and held a piglet. Summer fifteen on Beechwood, Granny Tipper was gone. Clairmont felt empty. The house is a three-story gray Victorian. There is a turret up top and a wraparound porch. Inside, it is full of original New Yorker cartoons, family photos, embroidered pillows, small statues, ivory paperweights, taxidermied fish on plaques. Everywhere, everywhere, are beautiful objects collected by Tipper and Granddad. On the lawn is an enormous picnic table, big enough to seat sixteen, and a ways off from that, a tire swing hangs from a massive magnolia tree. Gran used to bustle in the kitchen and plan outings. She made quilts in her craft room, and the hum of the sewing machine could be heard throughout the downstairs. She bossed the groundskeepers in her gardening gloves and blue jeans. Now the house was quiet. No cookbooks left open on the counter, no classical music on the kitchen sound system. But it was still Gran’s favorite soap in all the soap dishes. Those were her plants growing in the garden. Her wooden spoons, her cloth napkins. One day, when no one else was around, I went into the craft room at the back of the ground floor. I touched Gran’s collection of fabrics, the shiny bright buttons, the colored threads. My head and shoulders melted first, followed by my hips and knees. Before long I was a puddle, soaking into the pretty cotton prints. I drenched the quilt she never finished, rusted the metal parts of her sewing machine. I was pure liquid loss, then, for an hour or two. My grandmother, my grandmother. Gone forever, though I could smell her Chanel perfume on the fabrics. Mummy found me. She made me act normal. Because I was. Because I could. She told me to breathe and sit up. And I did what she asked. Again. Mummy was worried about Granddad. He was shaky on his feet with Gran gone, holding on to chairs and tables to keep his balance. He was the head of the family. She didn’t want him destabilized. She wanted him to know his children and grandchildren were still around him, strong and merry as ever. It was important, she said; it was kind; it was best. Don’t cause distress, she said. Don’t remind people of a loss. “Do you understand, Cady? Silence is a protective coating over pain.” I understood, and I managed to erase Granny Tipper from conversation, the same way I had erased my father. Not happily, but thoroughly. At meals with the aunts, on the boat with Granddad, even alone with Mummy—I behaved as if those two critical people had never existed. The rest of the Sinclairs did the same. When we were all together, people kept their smiles wide. We had done the same when Bess left Uncle Brody, the same when Uncle Jonathan left Carrie, the same when Gran’s dog Peppermill died of cancer. Gat never got it, though. He’d mention my father offhandedly— quite a lot, actually. Dad had found Gat both a decent chess opponent and a willing audience for his boring stories about military history, so they’d spent some time together. “Remember when your father caught that big crab in a bucket?” Gat would say. Or to Mummy: “Last year Sam told me there’s a fly-fishing kit in the boathouse; do you know where it is?” Dinner conversation stopped sharply when he’d mention Gran. Once Gat said, “I miss the way she’d stand at the foot of the table and serve out dessert, don’t you? It was so Tipper.” Johnny had to start talking loudly about Wimbledon until the dismay faded from our family’s faces. Every time Gat said these things, so casual and truthful, so oblivious—my veins opened. My wrists split. I bled down my palms. I went light-headed. I’d stagger from the table or collapse in quiet shameful agony, hoping no one in the family would notice. Especially not Mummy. Gat almost always saw, though. When blood dripped on my bare feet or poured over the book I was reading, he was kind. He wrapped my wrists in soft white gauze and asked me questions about what had happened. He asked about Dad and about Gran—as if talking about something could make it better. As if wounds needed attention. He was a stranger in our family, even after all those years. When I wasn’t bleeding, and when Mirren and Johnny were snorkeling or wrangling the littles, or when everyone lay on couches watching movies on the Clairmont flat-screen, Gat and I hid away. We sat on the tire swing at midnight, our arms and legs wrapped around each other, lips warm against cool night skin. In the mornings we’d sneak laughing down to the Clairmont basement, which was lined with wine bottles and encyclopedias. There we kissed and marveled at one another’s existence, feeling secret and lucky. Some days he wrote me notes and left them with small presents under my pillow. Someone once wrote that a novel should deliver a series of small astonishments. I get the same thing spending an hour with you. Also, here is a green toothbrush tied in a ribbon. It expresses my feelings inadequately. Better than chocolate, being with you last night. Silly me, I thought that nothing was better than chocolate. In a profound, symbolic gesture, I am giving you this bar of Vosges I got when we all went to Edgartown. You can eat it, or just sit next to it and feel superior. I didn’t write back, but I drew Gat silly crayon drawings of the two of us. Stick figures waving from in front of the Colosseum, the Eiffel Tower, on top of a mountain, on the back of a dragon. He stuck them up over his bed. He touched me whenever he could. Beneath the table at dinner, in the kitchen the moment it was empty. Covertly, hilariously, behind Granddad’s back while he drove the motorboat. I felt no barrier between us. As long as no one was looking, I ran my fingers along Gat’s cheekbones, down his back. I reached for his hand, pressed my thumb against his wrist, and felt the blood going through his veins. 12 One night, late July of summer fifteen, I went swimming at the tiny beach. Alone. Where were Gat, Johnny, and Mirren? I don’t really know. We had been playing a lot of Scrabble at Red Gate. They were probably there. Or they could have been at Clairmont, listening to the aunts argue and eating beach plum jam on water crackers. In any case, I went into the water wearing a camisole, bra, and underwear. Apparently I walked down to the beach wearing nothing more. We never found any of my clothes on the sand. No towel, either. Why? Again, I don’t really know. I must have swum out far. There are big rocks in off the shore, craggy and black; they always look villainous in the dark of the evening.I must have had my face in the water and then hit my head on one of these rocks. Like I said, I don’t know. I remember only this: I plunged down into this ocean, down to rocky rocky bottom, and I could see the base of Beechwood Island and my arms and legs felt numb but my fingers were cold. Slices of seaweed went past as I fell. Mummy found me on the sand, curled into a ball and half underwater. I was shivering uncontrollably. Adults wrapped me in blankets. They tried to get me warm at Cuddledown. They fed me tea and gave me clothes, but when I didn’t talk or stop shivering, they brought me to a hospital on Martha’s Vineyard, where I stayed for several days as the doctors ran tests. Hypothermia, respiratory problems, and most likely some kind of head injury, though the brain scans turned up nothing. Mummy stayed by my side, got a hotel room. I remember the sad, gray faces of Aunt Carrie, Aunt Bess, and Granddad. I remember my lungs felt full of something, long after the doctors judged them clear. I remember I felt like I’d never get warm again, even when they told me my body temperature was normal. My hands hurt. My feet hurt. Mummy took me home to Vermont to recuperate. I lay in bed in the dark and felt desperately sorry for myself. Because I was sick, and even more because Gat never called. He didn’t write, either. Weren’t we in love? Weren’t we? I wrote to Johnny, two or three stupid, lovesick emails asking him to find out about Gat. Johnny had the good sense to ignore them. We are Sinclairs, after all, and Sinclairs do not behave like I was behaving. I stopped writing and deleted all the emails from my sent mail folder. They were weak and stupid. The bottom line is, Gat bailed when I got hurt. The bottom line is, it was only a summer fling. The bottom line is, he might have loved Raquel. We lived too far apart, anyway. Our families were too close, anyway. I never got an explanation. I just know he left me. 13 Welcome to my skull. A truck is rolling over the bones of my neck and head. The vertebrae break, the brains pop and ooze. A thousand flashlights shine in my eyes. The world tilts. I throw up. I black out. This happens all the time. It’s nothing but an ordinary day. The pain started six weeks after my accident. Nobody was certain whether the two were related, but there was no denying the vomiting and weight loss and general horror. Mummy took me for MRIs and CT scans. Needles, machines. More needles, more machines. They tested me for brain tumors, meningitis, you name it. To relieve the pain they prescribed this drug and that drug and another drug, because the first one didn’t work and the second one didn’t work, either. They gave me prescription after prescription without even knowing what was wrong. Just trying quell the pain. Cadence, said the doctors, don’t take too much. Cadence, said the doctors, watch for signs of addiction. And still, Cadence, be sure to take your meds. There were so many appointments I can’t even remember them. Eventually the doctors came through with a diagnosis. Cadence Sinclair Eastman: post-traumatic headaches, also known as PTHA. Migraine headaches caused by traumatic brain injury. I’ll be fine, they tell me. I won’t die. It’ll just hurt a lot. 14 After a year in Colorado, Dad wanted to see me again. In fact, he insisted on taking me to Italy, France, Germany, Spain, and Scotland—a ten-week trip beginning in mid-June, which meant I wouldn’t go to Beechwood at all, summer sixteen. “The trip is grand timing,” said Mummy brightly as she packed my suitcase. “Why?” I lay on the floor of my bedroom and let her do the work. My head hurt. “Granddad’s redoing Clairmont.” She rolled socks into balls. “I told you that a million times already.” I didn’t remember. “How come?” “Some idea of his. He’s spending the summer in Windemere.” “With you waiting on him?” Mummy nodded. “He can’t stay with Bess or Carrie. And you know he takes looking after. Anyway. You’ll get a wonderful education in Europe.” “I’d rather go to Beechwood.” “No, you wouldn’t,” she said, firm. In Europe, I vomited into small buckets and brushed my teeth repeatedly with chalky British toothpaste. I lay prone on the bathroom floors of several museums, feeling the cold tile underneath my cheek as my brain liquefied and seeped out my ear, bubbling. Migraines left my blood spreading across unfamiliar hotel sheets, dripping on the floors, oozing into carpets, soaking through leftover croissants and Italian lace cookies. I could hear Dad calling me, but I never answered until my medicine took effect. I missed the Liars that summer. We never kept in touch over the school year. Not much, anyway, though we’d tried when we were younger. We’d text, or tag each other in summer photos, especially in September, but we’d inevitably fade out after a month or so. Somehow, Beechwood’s magic never carried over into our everyday lives. We didn’t want to hear about school friends and clubs and sports teams. Instead, we knew our affection would revive when we saw one another on the dock the following June, salt spray in the air, pale sun glinting off the water. But the year after my accident, I missed days and even weeks of school. I failed my classes, and the principal informed me I would have to repeat junior year. I stopped soccer and tennis. I couldn’t babysit. I couldn’t drive. The friends I’d had weakened into acquaintances. I texted Mirren a few times. Called and left her messages that later I was ashamed of, they were so lonely and needy. I called Johnny, too, but his voice mail was full. I decided not to call again. I didn’t want to keep saying things that made me feel weak. When Dad took me to Europe, I knew the Liars were on-island. Granddad hasn’t wired Beechwood and cell phones don’t get reception there, so I began writing emails. Different from my pitiful voice messages, these were charming, darling notes from a person without headaches. Mostly. Mirren! Waving at you from Barcelona, where my father ate snails in broth. Our hotel has gold everything. Even saltshakers. It is gloriously vile. Write and tell me how the littles are misbehaving and where you are applying to college and whether you have found true love. /Cadence · · · Johnny! Bonjour from Paris, where my father ate a frog. I saw the Winged Victory. Phenomenal body. No arms. Miss you guys. How is Gat? /Cadence · · · Mirren! Hello from a castle in Scotland, where my father ate a haggis. That is, my father ate the heart, liver, and lungs of a sheep mixed with oatmeal and boiled in a sheep stomach. So, you know, he is the sort of person who eats hearts. /Cadence. · · · Johnny! I am in Berlin, where my father ate a blood sausage. Snorkel for me. Eat blueberry pie. Play tennis. Build a bonfire. Then report back. I am desperately bored and will devise creative punishments if you do not comply. /Cadence I wasn’t entirely surprised they didn’t answer. Besides the fact that to get online you have to go to the Vineyard, Beechwood is very much its own world. Once you are there, the rest of the universe seems nothing but an unpleasant dream. Europe might not even exist. 15 Welcome, once again, to the beautiful Sinclair family. We believe in outdoor exercise. We believe that time heals. We believe, although we will not say so explicitly, in prescription drugs and the cocktail hour. We do not discuss our problems in restaurants. We do not believe in explicit displays of distress. Our upper lips are stiff, and it is possible people are curious about us because we do not show them our hearts. It is possible that we enjoy the way people are curious about us. Here in Burlington, it’s just me, Mummy, and the dogs now. We haven’t the weight of Granddad in Boston or the impact of the whole family on Beechwood, but I know how people see us nonetheless. Mummy and I are two of a kind, in the big house with the porch at the top of the hill. The willowy mother and the sickly daughter. We are high of cheekbone, broad of shoulder. We smile and show our teeth when we run errands in town. The sickly daughter doesn’t talk much. People who know her at school tend to keep away. They didn’t know her well before she got sick anyway. She was quiet even then. Now she misses school half the time. When she’s there, her pale skin and watery eyes make her look glamorously tragic, like a literary heroine wasting from consumption. Sometimes she falls down at school, crying. She frightens the other students. Even the kindest ones are tired of walking her to the nurse’s office. Still, she has an aura of mystery that stops her being teased or singled out for typical high school unpleasantness. Her mother is a Sinclair. Of course, I feel no sense of my own mystery eating a can of chicken soup late at night, or lying in the fluorescent light of the school nurse’s office. It is hardly glamorous the way Mummy and I quarrel now that Dad is gone. I wake to find her standing in my bedroom doorway, staring. “Don’t hover.” “I love you. I’m taking care of you,” she says, her hand on her heart. “Well, stop it.” If I could shut my door on her, I would. But I cannot stand up. Often I find notes lying around that appear to be records of what foods I’ve eaten on a particular day: Toast and jam, but only 1/2; apple and popcorn; salad with raisins; chocolate bar; pasta. Hydration? Protein? Too much ginger ale. It is not glamorous that I can’t drive a car. It is not mysterious to be home on a Saturday night, reading a novel in a pile of smelly golden retrievers. However, I am not immune to the feeling of being viewed as a mystery, as a Sinclair, as part of a privileged clan of special people, and as part of a magical, important narrative, just because I am part of this clan. My mother is not immune to it, either. This is who we have been brought up to be. Sinclairs. Sinclairs. Part Two Vermont 16 When I was eight, Dad gave me a stack of fairy-tale books for Christmas. They came with colored covers: The Yellow Fairy Book, The Blue Fairy Book, The Crimson, The Green, The Gray, The Brown, and The Orange. Inside were tales from all over the world, variations on variations of familiar stories. Read them and you hear echoes of one story inside another, then echoes of another inside that. So many have the same premise: once upon a time, there were three. Three of something: three pigs, three bears, three brothers, three soldiers, three billy goats. Three princesses. Since I got back from Europe, I have been writing some of my own. Variations. I have time on my hands, so let me tell you a story. A variation, I am saying, of a story you have heard before. Once upon a time there was a king who had three beautiful daughters. As he grew old, he began to wonder which should inherit the kingdom, since none had married and he had no heir. The king decided to ask his daughters to demonstrate their love for him. To the eldest princess he said, “Tell me how you love me.” She loved him as much as all the treasure in the kingdom. To the middle princess he said, “Tell me how you love me.” She loved him with the strength of iron. To the youngest princess he said, “Tell me how you love me.” This youngest princess thought for a long time before answering. Finally she said she loved him as meat loves salt. “Then you do not love me at all,” the king said. He threw his daughter from the castle and had the bridge drawn behind her so that she could not return. Now, this youngest princess goes into the forest with not so much as a coat or a loaf of bread. She wanders through a hard winter, taking shelter beneath trees. She arrives at an inn and gets hired as assistant to the cook. As the days and weeks go by, the princess learns the ways of the kitchen. Eventually she surpasses her employer in skill and her food is known throughout the land. Years pass, and the eldest princess comes to be married. For the festivities, the cook from the inn makes the wedding meal. Finally a large roast pig is served. It is the king’s favorite dish, but this time it has been cooked with no salt. The king tastes it. Tastes it again. “Who would dare to serve such an ill-cooked roast at the future queen’s wedding?” he cries. The princess-cook appears before her father, but she is so changed he does not recognize her. “I would not serve you salt, Your Majesty,” she explains. “For did you not exile your youngest daughter for saying that it was of value?” At her words, the king realizes that not only is she his daughter—she is, in fact, the daughter who loves him best. And what then? The eldest daughter and the middle sister have been living with the king all this time. One has been in favor one week, the other the next. They have been driven apart by their father’s constant comparisons. Now the youngest has returned, the king yanks the kingdom from his eldest, who has just been married. She is not to be queen after all. The elder sisters rage. At first, the youngest basks in fatherly love. Before long, however, she realizes the king is demented and power-mad. She is stuck tending to a crazy old tyrant for the rest of her days. She will not leave him, no matter how sick he becomes. Does she stay because she loves him as meat loves salt? Or does she stay because he has now promised her the kingdom? It is hard for her to tell the difference. 17 The fall after the European trip, I started a project. I give away something of mine every day. I mailed Mirren an old Barbie with extra-long hair, one we used to fight over when we were kids. I mailed Johnny a striped scarf I used to wear a lot. Johnny likes stripes. For the old people in my family—Mummy, the aunties, Granddad—the accumulation of beautiful objects is a life goal. Whoever dies with the most stuff wins. Wins what? is what I’d like to know. I used to be a person who liked pretty things. Like Mummy does, like all the Sinclairs do. But that’s not me anymore. Mummy has our Burlington house filled with silver and crystal, coffee-table books and cashmere blankets. Thick rugs cover every floor, and paintings from several local artists she patronizes line our walls. She likes antique china and displays it in the dining room. She’s replaced the perfectly drivable Saab with a BMW. Not one of these symbols of prosperity and taste has any use at all. “Beauty is a valid use,” Mummy argues. “It creates sense of place, a sense of personal history. Pleasure, even, Cadence. Have you ever heard of pleasure?” But I think she’s lying, to me and to herself, about why she owns these objects. The jolt of a new purchase makes Mummy feel powerful, if only for a moment. I think there is status to having a house full of pretty things, to buying expensive paintings of seashells from her arty friends and spoons from Tiffany’s. Antiques and Oriental rugs tell people that my mother may be a dog breeder who dropped out of Bryn Mawr, but she’s got power—because she’s got money. Giveaway: my bed pillow. I carry it while I run errands. There is a girl leaning against the wall outside the library. She has a cardboard cup by her ankles for spare change. She is not much older than I am. “Do you want this pillow?” I ask. “I washed the pillowcase.” She takes it and sits on it. My bed is uncomfortable that night, but it’s for the best. Giveaway: paperback copy of King Lear I read for school sophomore year, found under the bed. Donated to the public library. I don’t need to read it again. Giveaway: a photo of Granny Tipper at the Farm Institute party, wearing an evening dress and holding a piglet. I stop by Goodwill on my way home. “Hey there, Cadence,” says Patti behind the counter. “Just dropping off?” “This was my Gran.” “She was a beautiful lady,” says Patti, peering. “You sure you don’t want to take the photo out? You could donate just the frame.” “I’m sure.” Gran is dead. Having a picture of her won’t change anything. “Did you go by Goodwill again?” Mummy asks when I get home. She is slicing peaches with a special fruit knife. “Yeah.” “What did you get rid of?” “Just an old picture of Gran.” “With the piglet?” Her mouth twitches. “Oh, Cady.” “It was mine to give away.” Mummy sighs. “You give away one of the dogs and you will never hear the end of it.” I squat down to dog height. Bosh, Grendel, and Poppy greet me with soft, indoor woofs. They’re our family dogs, portly and well-behaved. Purebred goldens. Poppy had several litters for my mother’s business, but the puppies and the other breeding dogs live with Mummy’s partner at a farm outside Burlington. “I would never,” I say. I whisper how I love them into their soft doggy ears. 18 If I Google traumatic brain injury, most websites tell me selective amnesia is a consequence. When there’s damage to the brain, it’s not uncommon for a patient to forget stuff. She will be unable to piece together a coherent story of the trauma. But I don’t want people to know I’m like this. Still like this, after all the appointments and scans and medicines. I don’t want to be labeled with a disability. I don’t want more drugs. I don’t want doctors or concerned teachers. God knows, I’ve had enough doctors. What I remember, from the summer of the accident: Falling in love with Gat at the Red Gate kitchen door. His beach rose for Raquel and my wine-soaked night,spinning in anger. Acting normal. Making ice cream. Playing tennis. The triple-decker s’mores and Gat’s anger when we told him to shut up. Night swimming. Kissing Gat in the attic. Hearing the Cracker Jack story and helping Granddad down the stairs. The tire swing, the basement, the perimeter. Gat and I in one another’s arms. Gat seeing me bleed. Asking me questions. Dressing my wounds. I don’t remember much else. I can see Mirren’s hand, her chipped gold nail polish, holding a jug of gas for the motorboats. Mummy, her face tight, asking, “The black pearls?” Johnny’s feet, running down the stairs from Clairmont to the boathouse. Granddad, holding on to a tree, his face lit by the glow of a bonfire. And all four of us Liars, laughing so hard we felt dizzy and sick. But what was so funny? What was it and where were we? I do not know. I used to ask Mummy when I didn’t remember the rest of fifteenth summer. My forgetfulness frightened me. I’d suggest stopping my meds, or trying new meds, or seeing a different physician. I’d beg to know what I’d forgotten. Then one day in late fall—the fall I spent undergoing tests for death-sentence illnesses—Mummy began to cry. “You ask me over and over. You never remember what I say.” “I’m sorry.” She poured herself a glass of wine as she talked. “You began asking me the day you woke in the hospital. ‘What happened? What happened?’ I told you the truth, Cadence, I always did, and you’d repeat it back to me. But the next day you’d ask again.” “I’m sorry,” I said again. “You still ask me almost every day.” It is true, I have no memory of my accident. I don’t remember what happened before and after. I don’t remember my doctor’s visits. I knew they must have happened, because of course they happened—and here I am with a diagnosis and medications—but nearly all my medical treatment is a blank. I looked at Mummy. At her infuriatingly concerned face, her leaking eyes, the tipsy slackness of her mouth. “You have to stop asking,” she said. “The doctors think it’s better if you remember on your own, anyway.” I made her tell me one last time, and I wrote down her answers so I could look back at them when I wanted to. That’s why I can tell you about the night-swimming accident, the rocks, the hypothermia, respiratory difficulty, and the unconfirmed traumatic brain injury. I never asked her anything again. There’s a lot I don’t understand, but this way she stays pretty sober. 19 Dad plans to take me to Australia and New Zealand for the whole of summer seventeen. I don’t want to go. I want to return to Beechwood. I want to see Mirren and lie in the sun, planning our futures. I want to argue with Johnny and go snorkeling and make ice cream. I want to build bonfires on the shore of the tiny beach. I want to pile in the hammock on the Clairmont porch and be the Liars once again, if it’s possible. I want to remember my accident. I want to know why Gat disappeared. I don’t know why he wasn’t with me, swimming. I don’t know why I went to the tiny beach alone. Why I swam in my underwear and left no clothes on the sand. And why he bailed when I got hurt. I wonder if he loved me. I wonder if he loved Raquel. Dad and I are supposed to leave for Australia in five days. I should never have agreed to go. I make myself wretched, sobbing. I tell Mummy I don’t need to see the world. I need to see family. I miss Granddad. No. I’ll be sick if I travel to Australia. My headaches will explode, I shouldn’t get on a plane. I shouldn’t eat strange food. I shouldn’t be jet-lagged. What if we lose my medication? Stop arguing. The trip is paid for. I walk the dogs in the early morning. I load the dishwasher and later unload it. I put on a dress and rub blusher into my cheeks. I eat everything on my plate. I let Mummy put her arms around me and stroke my hair. I tell her I want to spend the summer with her, not Dad. Please. The next day, Granddad comes to Burlington to stay in the guest room. He’s been on the island since mid-May and has to take a boat, a car, and a plane to get here. He hasn’t come to visit us since before Granny Tipper died. Mummy picks him up at the airport while I stay home and set the table for supper. She’s picked up roast chicken and side dishes at a gourmet shop in town. Granddad has lost weight since I saw him last. His white hair stands out in puffs around his ears, tufty; he looks like a baby bird. His skin is baggy on his frame, and he has a potbellied slump that’s not how I remember him. He always seemed invincible, with firm, broad shoulders and lots of teeth. Granddad is the sort of person who has mottos. “Don’t take no for an answer,” he always says to us. And “Never take a seat in the back of the room. Winners sit up front.” We Liars used to roll our eyes at these pronouncements—“Be decisive; no one likes a waffler”; “Never complain, never explain”—but we still saw him as full of wisdom on grown-up topics. Granddad is wearing madras shorts and loafers. His legs are spindly old-man legs. He pats my back and demands a scotch and soda. We eat and he talks about some friends of his in Boston. The new kitchen in his Beechwood house. Nothing important. Afterward, Mummy cleans up while I show him the backyard garden. The evening sun is still out. Granddad picks a peony and hands it to me. “For my first grandchild.” “Don’t pick the flowers, okay?” “Penny won’t mind.” “Yes, she will.” “Cadence was the first,” he says, looking up at the sky, not into my eyes. “I remember when she came to visit us in Boston. She was dressed in a pink romper suit and her hair stuck up straight off her head. Johnny wasn’t born till three weeks later.” “I’m right here, Granddad.” “Cadence was the first, and it didn’t matter that she was a girl. I would give her everything. Just like a grandson. I carried her in my arms and danced. She was the future of our family.” I nod. “We could see she was a Sinclair. She had that hair, but it wasn’t only that. It was the chin, the tiny hands. We knew she’d be tall. All of us were tall until Bess married that short fellow, and Carrie made the same mistake.” “You mean Brody and Jonathan.” “Good riddance, eh?” Granddad smiles. “All our people were tall. Did you know my mother’s side of the family came over on the Mayflower? To make this life in America.” I know it’s not important if our people came over on the Mayflower. It’s not important to be tall. Or blond. That is why I dyed my hair: I don’t want to be the eldest. Heiress to the island, the fortune, and the expectations. But then again, perhaps I do. Granddad has had too much to drink after a long travel day. “Shall we go inside?” I ask. “You want to sit down?” He picks a second peony and hands it to me. “For forgiveness, my dear.” I pat him on his hunched back. “Don’t pick any more, okay?” Granddad bends down and touches some white tulips. “Seriously, don’t,” I say. He picks a third peony, sharply, defiantly. Hands it to me. “You are my Cadence. The first.” “Yes.” “What happened to your hair?” “I colored it.” “I didn’t recognize you.” “That’s okay.” Granddad points to the peonies, now all in my hand. “Three flowers for you. You should have three.” He looks pitiful. He looks powerful. I love him, but I am not sure I like him. I take his hand and lead him inside. 20 Once upon a time, there was a king who had three beautiful daughters. He loved each of them dearly. One day, when the young ladies were of age to be married, a terrible, three-headed dragon laid siege to the kingdom, burning villages with fiery breath. It spoiled crops and burned churches. It killed babies, old people, and everyone in between. The king promised a princess’s hand in marriage to whoever slayed the dragon. Heroes and warriors came in suits of armor, riding brave horses and bearing swords and arrows. One by one, these men were slaughtered and eaten. Finally the king reasoned that a maiden might melt the dragon’s heart and succeed where warriors had failed. He sent his eldest daughter to beg the dragon for mercy, but the dragon listened to not a word of her pleas. It swallowed her whole. Then the king sent his second daughter to beg the dragon for mercy, but the dragon did the same. Swallowed her before she could get a word out. The king then sent his youngest daughter to beg the dragon for mercy, and she was so lovely and clever that he was sure she would succeed where the others had perished. No indeed. The dragon simply ate her. The king was left aching with regret. He was now alone in the world. Now, let me ask you this. Who killed the girls? The dragon? Or their father? After Granddad leaves the next day, Mummy calls Dad and cancels the Australia trip. There is yelling. There is negotiation. Eventually they decide I will go to Beechwood for four weeks of the summer, then visit Dad at his home in Colorado, where I’ve never been. He insists. He will not lose the whole summer with me or there will be lawyers involved. Mummy rings the aunts. She has long, private conversations with them on the porch of our house. I can’t hear anything except a few phrases: Cadence is so fragile, needs lots of rest. Only four weeks, not the whole summer. Nothing should disturb her, the healing is very gradual. Also, pinot grigio, Sancerre, maybe some Riesling; definitely no chardonnay. 21 My room is nearly empty now. There are sheets and a comforter on my bed. A laptop on my desk, a few pens. A chair. I own a couple pairs of jeans and shorts. I have T-shirts and flannel shirts, some warm sweaters; a bathing suit, a pair of sneakers, a pair of Crocs, and a pair of boots. Two dresses and some heels. Warm coat, hunting jacket and canvas duffel . The shelves are bare. No pictures, no posters. No old toys. Giveaway: a travel toothbrush kit Mummy bought me yesterday. I already have a toothbrush. I don’t know why she would buy me another. That woman buys things just to buy things. It’s disgusting. I walk over to the library and find the girl who took my pillow. She’s still leaning against the outside wall. I set the toothbrush kit in her cup. Giveaway: Gat’s olive hunting jacket. The one I wore that night we held hands and looked at the stars and talked about God. I never returned it. I should have given it away first of everything. I know that. But I couldn’t make myself. It was all I had left of him. But that was weak and foolish.Gat doesn’t love me. I don’t love him, either, and maybe I never did. I’ll see him day after tomorrow and I don’t love him and I don’t want his jacket. 22 The phone rings at ten the night before we leave for Beechwood. Mummy is in the shower. I pick up. Heavy breathing. Then a laugh. “Who is this?” “Cady?” It’s a kid, I realize. “Yes.” “This is Taft.” Mirren’s brother. He has no manners. “How come you’re awake?” “Is it true you’re a drug addict?” Taft asks me. “No.” “Are you sure?” “You’re calling to ask if I’m a drug addict?” I haven’t talked to Taft since my accident. “We’re on Beechwood,” he says. “We got here this morning.” I am glad he’s changing the subject. I make my voice bright. “We’re coming tomorrow. Is it nice? Did you go swimming yet?” “No.” “Did you go on the tire swing?” “No,” says Taft. “Are you sure you’re not a drug addict?” “Where did you even get that idea?” “Bonnie. She says I should watch out for you.” “Don’t listen to Bonnie,” I say. “Listen to Mirren.” “That’s what I’m talking about. But Bonnie’s the only one who believes me about Cuddledown,” he says. “And I wanted to call you. Only not if you’re a drug addict because drug addicts don’t know what’s going on.” “I’m not a drug addict, you pipsqueak,” I say. Though possibly I am lying. “Cuddledown is haunted,” says Taft. “Can I come and sleep with you at Windemere?” I like Taft. I do. He’s slightly bonkers and covered with freckles and Mirren loves him way more than she loves the twins. “It’s not haunted. The wind just blows through the house,” I say. “It blows through Windemere, too. The windows rattle.” “It is too, haunted,” Taft says. “Mummy doesn’t believe me and neither does Liberty.” When he was younger he was always the kid who thought there were monsters in the closet. Later he was convinced there was a sea monster under the dock. “Ask Mirren to help you,” I tell him. “She’ll read you a bedtime story or sing to you.” “You think so?” “She will. And when I get there I’ll take you tubing and snorkeling and it’ll be a grand summer, Taft.” “Okay,” he says. “Don’t be scared of stupid old Cuddledown,” I tell him. “Show it who’s boss and I’ll see you tomorrow.” He hangs up without saying goodbye. Part Three Summer Seventeen 23 In Woods Hole, the port town, Mummy and I let the goldens out of the car and drag our bags down to where Aunt Carrie is standing on the dock. Carrie gives Mummy a long hug before she helps us load our bags and the dogs into the big motorboat. “You’re more beautiful than ever,” she says. “And thank God you’re here.” “Oh, quiet,” says Mummy. “I know you’ve been sick,” Carrie says to me. She is the tallest of my aunts, and the eldest Sinclair daughter. Her sweater is long and cashmere. The lines on the sides of her mouth are deep. She’s wearing some ancient jade jewelry that belonged to Gran. “Nothing wrong with me that a Percocet and a couple slugs of vodka doesn’t cure,” I say. Carrie laughs, but Mummy leans in and says, “She’s not taking Percocet. She’s taking a non addictive medicine the doctor prescribes.” It isn’t true. The nonaddictive medicines didn’t work. “She looks too thin,” says Carrie. “It’s all the vodka,” I say. “It fills me up.” “She can’t eat much when she’s hurting,” says Mummy. “The pain makes her nauseated.” “Bess made that blueberry pie you like,” Aunt Carrie tells me. She gives Mummy another hug. “You guys are so huggy all of a sudden,” I say. “You never used to be huggy.” Aunt Carrie hugs me, too. She smells of expensive, lemony perfume. I haven’t seen her in a long time. The drive out of the harbor is cold and sparkly. I sit at the back of the boat while Mummy stands next to Aunt Carrie behind the wheel. I trail my hand in the water. It sprays the arm of my duffel coat, soaking the canvas. I will see Gat soon. Gat, my Gat, who is not my Gat. The houses. The littles, the aunts, the Liars. I will hear the sound of seagulls, taste slumps and pie and homemade ice cream. I’ll hear the pong of tennis balls, the bark of goldens, the echo of my breath in a snorkel. We’ll make bonfires that will smell of ashes. Will I still be at home? Before long, Beechwood is ahead of us, the familiar outline looming. The first house I see is Windemere with its multitude of peaked roofs. That room on the far right is Mummy’s; there are her pale blue curtains. My own window looks to the inside of the island. Carrie steers the boat around the tip and I can see Cuddledown there at the lowest point of the land, with its chubby, boxlike structure. A bitty, sandy cove—the tiny beach—is tucked in at the bottom of a long wooden staircase. The view changes as we circle to the eastern side of the island. I can’t see much of Red Gate among the trees, but I glimpse its red trim. Then the big beach, accessed by another wooden staircase. Clairmont sits at the highest point, with water views in three directions. I crane my neck to look for its friendly turret—but it isn’t there. The trees that used to shade the big, sloping yard—they’re gone, too. Instead of the Victorian six-bedroom with the wraparound porch and the farmhouse kitchen, instead of the house where Granddad spent every summer since forever, I see a sleek modern building perched on a rocky hill. There’s a Japanese garden on one side, bare rock on the other. The house is glass and iron. Cold. Carrie cuts the engine down, which makes it easier to talk. “That’s New Clairmont,” she says. “It was just a shell last year. I never imagined he wouldn’t have a lawn,” says Mummy. “Wait till you see the inside. The walls are bare, and when we got here yesterday, he had nothing in the fridge but some apples and a wedge of Havarti.” “Since when does he even like Havarti?” asks Mummy. “Havarti isn’t even a good cheese.” “He doesn’t know how to shop. Ginny and Lucille, that’s the new cook, only do what he tells them to do. He’s been eating cheese toast. But I made a huge list and they went to the Edgartown market. We have enough for a few days now.” Mummy shivers. “It’s good we’re here.” I stare at the new building while the aunts talk. I knew Granddad renovated, of course. He and Mummy talked about the new kitchen when he visited just a few days ago. The fridge and the extra freezer, the warming drawer and spice racks. I didn’t realize he’d torn the house down. That the lawn was gone. And the trees, especially the huge old magnolia with the tire swing beneath it. That tree must have been a hundred years old. A wave surges up, dark blue, leaping from the sea like a whale. It arches over me. The muscles of my neck spasm, my throat catches. I fold beneath the weight of it. The blood rushes to my head. I am drowning. It all seems so sad, so unbearably sad for a second, to think of the lovely old magnolia with the swing. We never told the tree how much we loved it. We never gave it a name, never did anything for it. It could have lived so much longer. I am so, so cold. “Cadence?” Mummy is leaning over me. I reach and clutch her hand. “Be normal now,” she whispers. “Right now.” “What?” “Because you are. Because you can be.” Okay. Okay. It was just a tree. Just a tree with a tire swing that I loved a lot. “Don’t cause a scene,” whispers Mummy. “Breathe and sit up.” I do what she asks as soon as I am able, just as I have always done. Aunt Carrie provides distraction, speaking brightly. “The new garden is nice, when you get used to it,” she says. “There’s a seating area for cocktail hour. Taft and Will are finding special rocks.” She turns the boat toward the shore and suddenly I can see my Liars waiting, not on the dock but by the weathered wooden fence that runs along the perimeter path. Mirren stands with her feet on the lower half of the barrier, waving joyfully, her hair whipping in the wind. Mirren. She is sugar. She is curiosity and rain. Johnny jumps up and down, every now and then doing a cartwheel. Johnny. He is bounce. He is effort and snark. Gat, my Gat, once upon a time my Gat—he has come out to see me, too. He stands back from the slats of the fence, on the rocky hill that now leads to Clairmont. He’s doing pretend semaphore, waving his arms in ornate patterns as if I’m supposed to understand some kind of secret code. He is contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee. Welcome home, they are saying. Welcome home. 24 The Liars don’t come to the dock when we pull in, and neither do Aunt Bess and Granddad. Instead, it is only the littles: Will and Taft, Liberty and Bonnie. The boys, both ten, kick one another and wrestle around. Taft runs over and grabs my arm. I pick him up and spin him. He is surprisingly light, like his freckled body is made of bird parts. “You feeling better?” I ask. “We have ice cream bars in the freezer!” he yells. “Three different kinds!” “Seriously, Taft. You were a mess on the phone last night.” “Was not.” “Were too.” “Mirren read me a story. Then I went to sleep. No big whup.” I ruffle his honey hair. “It’s just a house. Lots of houses seem scary at night, but in the morning, they’re friendly again.” “We’re not staying at Cuddledown anyway,” Taft says. “We moved to New Clairmont with Granddad now.” “You did?” “We have to be orderly there and not act like idiots. We took our stuff already. And Will caught three jellyfish at the big beach and also a dead crab. Will you come see them?” “Sure.” “He has the crab in his pocket, but the jellies are in a bucket of water,” says Taft, and runs off. Mummy and I walk across the island to Windemere, a short distance on a wooden walkway. The twins help with our suitcases. Granddad and Aunt Bess are in the kitchen. There are wildflowers in vases on the counter, and Bess scrubs a clean sink with a Brillo pad while Granddad reads the Martha’s Vineyard Times. Bess is softer than her sisters, and blonder, but still the same mold. She’s wearing white jeans and a navy blue cotton top with diamond jewelry. She takes off rubber gloves and then kisses Mummy and hugs me too long and too hard, like she is trying to hug some deep and secret message. She smells of bleach and wine. Granddad stands up but doesn’t cross the room until Bess is done hugging. “Hello there, Mirren,” he says jovially. “Grand to see you.” “He’s doing that a lot,” Carrie says to me and Mummy. “Calling people Mirren who aren’t Mirren.” “I know she’s not Mirren,” Granddad says. The adults talk amongst themselves, and I am left with the twins. They look awkward in Crocs and summer dresses. They must be almost fourteen now. They have Mirren’s strong legs and blue eyes but their faces are pinched. “Your hair is black,” says Bonnie. “You look like a dead vampire.” “Bonnie!” Liberty smacks her. “I mean, that’s redundant because all vampires are dead,” says Bonnie. “But they have the circles under their eyes and the white skin, like you do.” “Be nice to Cady,” whispers Liberty. “Mom told us.” “I am being nice,” says Bonnie. “A lot of vampires are extremely sexy. That’s a documented fact.” “I told you I didn’t want you talking about creepy dead stuff this summer,” says Liberty. “You were bad enough last night.” She turns to me. “Bonnie’s obsessed with dead things. She’s reading books about them all the time and then she can’t sleep. It’s annoying when you share a room.” Liberty says all this without ever looking me in the eye. “I was talking about Cady’s hair,” says Bonnie. “You don’t have to tell her she looks dead.” “It’s okay,” I tell Bonnie. “I don’t actually care what you think, so it’s perfectly okay.” 25 Everyone heads to New Clairmont, leaving me and Mummy alone at Windemere to unpack. I ditch my bag and look for the Liars. Suddenly they are on me like puppies. Mirren grabs me and spins me. Johnny grabs Mirren, Gat grabs Johnny, we are all grabbing each other and jumping. Then we are apart again, going into Cuddledown. Mirren chatters about how glad she is that Bess and the littles will live with Granddad this summer. He needs somebody with him now. Plus Bess with her obsessive cleaning is impossible to be around. Plus again and even more important, we Liars will have Cuddledown to ourselves. Gat says he is going to make hot tea and hot tea is his new vice. Johnny calls him a pretentious assface. We follow Gat into the kitchen. He puts water on to boil. It is whirlwind, all of them talking over each other, arguing happily, exactly like old times. Gat hasn’t quite looked at me, though. I can’t stop looking at him. He is so beautiful. So Gat. I know the arc of his lower lip, the strength in his shoulders. The way he half tucks his shirt into his jeans, the way his shoes are worn down at the heel, the way he touches that scar on his eyebrow without realizing he’s doing it. I am so angry. And so happy to see him. Probably he has moved on, like any well-adjusted person would. Gat hasn’t spent the last two years in a shell of headache pain and self-pity. He’s been going around with New York City girls in ballet flats, taking them to Chinese food and out to see bands. If he’s not with Raquel, he’s probably got a girl or even three at home. “Your hair’s new,” Johnny says to me. “Yeah.” “You look pretty, though,” says Mirren sweetly. “She’s so tall,” says Gat, busying himself with boxes of tea, jasmine and English Breakfast and so on. “You didn’t used to be that tall, did you, Cady?” “It’s called growing,” I say. “Don’t hold me responsible.” Two summers ago, Gat was several inches taller than I. Now we are about even. “I’m all for growing,” says Gat, his eyes still not on my face. “Just don’t get taller than me.” Is he flirting? He is. “Johnny always lets me be tallest,” Gat goes on. “Never makes an issue of it.” “Like I have a choice,” groans Johnny. “She’s still our Cady,” says Mirren loyally. “We probably look different to her, too.” But they don’t. They look the same. Gat in a worn green T-shirt from two summers ago. His ready smile, his way of leaning forward, his dramatic nose. Johnny broad-shouldered, in jeans and a pink plaid button-down so old its edges are frayed; nails bitten, hair cropped. Mirren, like a pre-Raphaelite painting, that square Sinclair chin. Her long, thick hair is piled on top of her head and she’s wearing a bikini top and shorts. It is reassuring. I love them so. Will it matter to them, the way I can’t hold on to even basic facts surrounding my accident? I’ve lost so much of what we did together summer fifteen. I wonder if the aunts have been talking about me. I don’t want them to look at me like I’m sick. Or like my mind isn’t working. “Tell about college,” says Johnny. He is sitting on the kitchen counter. “Where are you going?” “Nowhere, yet.” This truth I can’t avoid. I am surprised they don’t know it already. “What?” “Why?” “I didn’t graduate. I missed too much school after the accident.” “Oh, barf!” yells Johnny. “That is horrible. You can’t do summer school?” “Not and come here. Besides, I’ll do better if I apply with all my coursework done.” “What are you going to study?” asks Gat. “Let’s talk about something else.” “But we want to know,” says Mirren. “We all do.” “Seriously,” I say. “Something else. How’s your love life, Johnny?” “Barf again.” I raise my eyebrows. “When you’re as handsome as I am, the course never runs smooth,” he quips. “I have a boyfriend named Drake Loggerhead,” says Mirren. “He’s going to Pomona like I am. We have had sexual intercourse quite a number of times, but always with protection. He brings me yellow roses every week and has nice muscles.” Johnny spits out his tea. Gat and I laugh. “Drake Loggerhead?” Johnny asks. “Yes,” says Mirren. “What’s so funny?” “Nothing.” Johnny shakes his head. “We’ve been going out five months,” says Mirren. “He’s spending the summer doing Outward Bound, so he’ll have even more muscles when I see him next!” “You’ve got to be kidding,” Gat says. “Just a little,” says Mirren. “But I love him.” I squeeze her hand. I am happy she has someone to be in love with. “I’m going to ask you about the sexual intercourse later,” I warn her. “When the boys aren’t here,” she says. “I’ll tell you all.” We leave our teacups and walk down to the tiny beach. Take our shoes off and wiggle our toes in the sand. There are tiny, sharp shells. “I’m not going to supper at New Clairmont,” says Mirren decisively. “And no breakfast, either. Not this year.” “Why not?” I ask. “I can’t take it,” she says. “The aunts. The littles. Granddad. He’s lost his mind, you know.” I nod. “It’s too much togetherness. I just want to be happy with you guys, down here,” says Mirren. “I’m not hanging around in that cold new house. Those people are fine without me.” “Same,” says Johnny. “Same,” says Gat. I realize they discussed this idea before I arrived. 26 Mirren and Johnny go in the water with snorkels and fins. They kick around looking for lobsters. Probably there are only jellyfish and tiny crabs, but even with those slim pickings we have snorkeled at the tiny beach, always. Gat sits with me on a batik blanket. We watch the others in silence. I don’t know how to talk to him. I love him. He’s been an ass. I shouldn’t love him. I’m stupid for still loving him. I have to forget about it. Maybe he still thinks I am pretty. Even with my hair and the hollows beneath my eyes. Maybe. The muscles of his back shift beneath his T-shirt. The curve of his neck, the soft arch of his ear. A little brown mole on the side of his neck. The moons of his fingernails. I drink him up after so long apart. “Are you looking at my troll feet?” Gat asks. “God, don’t do it.” “What?” “A troll snuck into my room in the middle of the night, took my normal feet for himself and left me with his thuggish troll feet.” Gat tucks his feet under a towel so I can’t see them. “Okay? Now you know the truth.” I am relieved we are talking about nothing important. “Wear shoes.” “I’m not wearing shoes on the beach.” He wiggles his feet out from beneath the towel. They look fine. “I have to act like everything’s okay until I can find that troll and kill him to the death and get my normal feet back. Have you got weapons?” “There’s a fire poker in Windemere.” “All right. You’ll help me. As soon as we see that troll, we’ll kill him to death with your fire poker.” “If you insist.” I lie back on the blanket and put my arm over my eyes.We are silent for a moment. “Trolls are nocturnal,” I add. “Cady?” Gat whispers. I turn my face to look in his eyes. “Yeah?” “I thought I might never see you again.” “What?” He is so close we could kiss. “I thought I might never see you again. After everything that happened, then when you weren’t here last summer.” Why didn’t you write me? I want to say. Why didn’t you call, all this time? He touches my face. “I’m so glad you’re here,” he says. “I’m so glad I got the chance.” I don’t know what is between us. I really don’t. He is such an ass. “Give me your hand,” Gat says. I am not sure I want to. But then of course I do want to. His skin is warm and sandy. We intertwine our fingers and close our eyes against the sun. We just lie there. Holding hands. He rubs my palm with his thumb like he did two summers ago beneath the stars. And I melt. 27 My room at Windemere is wood-paneled, with cream paint. There’s a green patchwork quilt on the bed. The carpet is one of those rag rugs you see in country inns. You were here two summers ago, I tell myself. In this room, every night. In this room, every morning. Presumably you were reading, playing games on the iPad, choosing clothes. What do you remember? Nothing. Tasteful botanic prints line the walls of my room, plus some art I made: a watercolor of the magnolia that used to loom over the Clairmont lawn and two crayon drawings: one of Granny Tipper and her dogs, Prince Philip and Fatima; the other of my father. I drag the wicker laundry basket from the closet, take down all the pictures, and load them into the basket. There’s a bookshelf lined with paperbacks, teen books and fantasy I was into reading a few years back. Kids’ stories I read a hundred times. I pull them down and stack them in the hallway. “You’re giving away the books? You love books,” Mummy says. She’s coming out of her room wearing fresh clothes for supper. Lipstick. “We can give them to one of the Vineyard libraries,” I say. “Or to Goodwill.” Mummy bends over and flips through the paperbacks. “We read Charmed Life together, do you remember?” I nod. “And this one, too. The Lives of Christopher Chant. That was the year you were eight. You wanted to read everything but you weren’t a good enough reader yet, so I read to you and Gat for hours and hours.” “What about Johnny and Mirren?” “They couldn’t sit still,” says Mummy. “Don’t you want to keep these?” She reaches out and touches my cheek. I pull back. “I want the things to find a better home,” I tell her. “I was hoping you would feel different when we came back to the island, is all.” “You got rid of all Dad’s stuff. You bought a new couch, new dishes, new jewelry.” “Cady.” “There’s nothing in our whole house that says he ever lived with us, except me. Why are you allowed to erase my father and I’m not allowed to—” “Erase yourself?” Mummy says. “Other people might use these,” I snap, pointing at the stacks of books. “People who have actual needs. Don’t you think of doing good in the world?” At that moment, Poppy, Bosh, and Grendel hurtle upstairs and clog the hallway where we are standing, snarfling our hands, flapping their hairy tails at our knees. Mummy and I are silent. Finally she says, “It’s all right for you to moon around at the tiny beach, or whatever you did this afternoon. It’s all right for you to give away your books if you feel that strongly. But I expect you at Clairmont for supper in an hour with a smile on your face for Granddad. No arguments. No excuses. You understand me?” I nod. 28 A pad is left from several summers ago when Gat and I got obsessed with graph paper. We made drawing after drawing on it by filling in the tiny squares with colored pencil to make pixilated portraits. I find a pen and write down all my memories of summer fifteen. The s’mores, the swim. The attic, the interruption. Mirren’s hand, her chipped gold nail polish, holding a jug of gas for the motorboats. Mummy, her face tight, asking, “The black pearls?” Johnny’s feet, running down the stairs from Clairmont to the boathouse. Granddad, holding on to a tree, his face lit by the glow of a bonfire. And all four of us Liars, laughing so hard we felt dizzy and sick. I make a separate page for the accident itself. What Mummy’s told me and what I guess. I must have gone swimming on the tiny beach alone. I hit my head on a rock. I must have struggled back to shore. Aunt Bess and Mummy gave me tea. I was diagnosed with hypothermia, respiratory problems, and a brain injury that never showed on the scans. I tack the pages to the wall above my bed. I add sticky notes with questions. Why did I go into the water alone at night? Where were my clothes? Did I really have a head injury from the swim, or did something else happen? Could someone have hit me earlier? Was I the victim of some crime? And what happened between me and Gat? Did we argue? Did I wrong him? Did he stop loving me and go back to Raquel? I resolve that everything I learn in the next four weeks will go above my Windemere bed. I will sleep beneath the notes and study them every morning. Maybe a picture will emerge from the pixels. A witch has been standing there behind me for some time, waiting for a moment of weakness. She holds an ivory statue of beautiful goose. It is intricately carved. I admire it only for a moment before she swings it with shocking force. It connects, crushing a hole in my forehead. I can feel my bone come loose. The witch swings the statue again and hits above my right ear, smashing my skull. Blow after blow she lands, until tiny flakes of bone litter the bed and mingle with chipped bits of her once-beautiful goose. I find my pills and turn off the light. “Cadence?” Mummy calls from downstairs. “Supper is on at New Clairmont.” I can’t go. I can’t. I won’t. Mummy promises coffee to help me stay awake while the drugs are in my system. She says how long it’s been since the aunts have seen me, how the littles are my cousins, too, after all. I have family obligations. I can only feel the break in my skull and the pain winging through my brain. Everything else is a faded backdrop to that. Finally she leaves without me. 29 Deep in the night, the house rattles—just the thing Taft was scared of over at Cuddledown. All the houses here do it. They’re old, and the island is buffeted by winds off the sea. I try to go back to sleep. No. I go downstairs and onto the porch. My head feels okay now. Aunt Carrie is on the walkway, heading away from me in her nightgown and a pair of shearling boots. She looks skinny, with the bones of her chest exposed and her cheekbones hollow. She turns onto the wooden walkway that leads to Red Gate. I sit, staring after her. Breathing the night air and listening to the waves. A few minutes later she comes up the path from Cuddledown again. “Cady,” she says, stopping and crossing her arms over her chest. “You feeling better?” “Sorry I missed supper,” I say. “I had a headache.” “There will be suppers every night, all summer.” “Can’t you sleep?” “Oh, you know.” Carrie scratches her neck. “I can’t sleep without Ed. Isn’t that silly?” “No.” “I start wandering. It’s good exercise. Have you seen Johnny?” “Not in the middle of the night.” “He’s up when I’m up, sometimes. Do you see him?” “You could look if his light is on.” “Will has such bad nightmares,” Carrie says. “He wakes up screaming and then I can’t go back to sleep.” I shiver in my sweatshirt. “Do you want a flashlight?” I ask. “There’s one inside the door.” “Oh, no. I like the dark.” She trudges once again up the hill. 30 Mummy is in the New Clairmont kitchen with Granddad. I see them through the glass sliding doors. “You’re up early,” she says when I come in. “Feeling better?” Granddad is wearing a plaid bathrobe. Mummy is in a sundress decorated with small pink lobsters. She is making espresso. “Do you want scones? The cook made bacon, too. They’re both in the warming drawer.” She walks across the kitchen and lets the dogs into the house. Bosh, Grendel, and Poppy wag their tails and drool. Mummy bends and wipes their paws with a wet cloth, then absentmindedly swipes the floor where their muddy paw prints were. They sit stupidly, sweetly. “Where’s Fatima?” I ask. “Where’s Prince Philip?” “They’re gone,” says Mummy. “What?” “Be nice to her,” says Granddad. He turns to me. “They passed on a while back.” “Both of them?” Granddad nods. “I’m sorry.” I sit next to him at the table. “Did they suffer?” “Not for long.” Mummy brings a plate of raspberry scones and one of bacon to the table. I take a scone and spread butter and honey on it. “She used to be a little blond girl. A Sinclair through and through,” Granddad complains to Mummy. “We talked about my hair when you came to visit,” I remind him. “I don’t expect you to like it. Grandfathers never like hair dye.” “You’re the parent. You should make Mirren change her hair back how it was,” Granddad says to my mother. “What happened to the little blond girls who used to run around this place?” Mummy sighs. “We grew up, Dad,” she says. “We grew up.” 31 Giveaways: childhood art, botanic prints. I get my laundry basket from Windemere and head to Cuddledown. Mirren meets me on the porch, skipping around. “It’s so amazing to be on the island!” she says. “I can’t believe I’m here again!” “You were here last summer.” “It wasn’t the same. No summer idyll like we used to have. They were doing construction on New Clairmont. Everyone was acting miserable and I kept looking for you but you never came.” “I told you I was going to Europe.” “Oh, I know.” “I wrote you a lot,” I say. It comes out reproachful. “I hate email!” says Mirren. “I read them all, but you can’t be mad at me for not answering. It feels like homework, typing and staring at the stupid phone or the computer.” “Did you get the doll I sent you?” Mirren puts her arms around me. “I missed you so much. You can’t even believe how much.” “I sent you that Barbie. The one with the long hair we used to fight over.” “Princess Butterscotch?” “Yeah.” “I was crazy about Princess Butterscotch.” “You hit me with her once.” “You deserved it!” Mirren jumps around happily. “Is she at Windemere?” “What? No. I sent her in the mail,” I say. “Over the winter.” Mirren looks at me, her brows furrowed. “I never got her, Cadence.” “Someone signed for the package. What did your mom do, shove it in a closet without opening it?” I’m joking, but Mirren nods. “Maybe. She’s compulsive. Like, she scrubs her hands over and over. Makes Taft and the twins do it, too. Cleans like there’s a special place in heaven for people with spotless kitchen floors. Also she drinks too much.” “Mummy does, too.” Mirren nods. “I can’t stand to watch.”