But I do not do that, either. I do not complain or ask for pity.
I cry instead. I cry and squeeze Mirren and kiss her on her warm cheek and try to memorize her face.
We hold hands as the three of us walk down to the tiny beach.
Gat is there, waiting for us. His profile against the lit sky. I will see it forever like that. He turns and smiles at me. Runs and picks me up, swinging me around as if there’s something to celebrate. As if we are a happy couple, in love on the beach.
I am not sobbing anymore, but tears stream from my eyes without cease. Johnny takes off his button-down and hands it to me. “Wipe your snotface,” he says kindly.
Mirren strips off her sundress and stands there in a bathing suit. “I can’t believe you put on a bikini for this,” says Gat, his arms still around me.
“Certifiable,” adds Johnny.
“I love this bikini,” says Mirren. “I got it in Edgartown, summer fifteen. Do you remember, Cady?”
And I find that I do.
We were desperately bored; the littles had rented bikes to go on this scenic ride to Oak Bluffs and we had no idea when they’d return. We had to wait and bring them back on the boat. So, whatever, we’d shopped for fudge, we’d looked at wind socks, and finally we went into a tourist shop and tried on the tackiest bathing suits we could find.
“It says The Vineyard Is for Lovers on the butt,” I tell Johnny.
Mirren turns around, and indeed it does. “Blaze of glory and all that,” she says, not without bitterness.
She walks over, kisses me on the cheek, and says, “Be a little kinder than you have to, Cady, and things will be all right.”
“And never eat anything bigger than your ass!” yells Johnny. He gives me a quick hug and kicks off his shoes. The two of them wade into the sea.
I turn to Gat. “You going, too?”
“I am so sorry, Gat,” I say. “I am so, so sorry, and I will never be able to make it up to you.”
He kisses me, and I can feel him shaking, and I wrap my arms around him like I could stop him from disappearing, like I could make this moment last, but his skin is cold and damp with tears and I know he is leaving.
It is good to be loved, even though it will not last.
It is good to know that once upon a time, there was Gat and me.
Then he takes off, and I cannot bear to be separate from him, and I think, this cannot be the end. It can’t be true we won’t ever be together again, not when our love is so real. The story is supposed to have a happy ending.
He is leaving me.
He is dead already, of course.
The story ended a long time ago.
Gat runs into the sea without looking back, plunging in, in all his clothes, diving underneath the small waves.
The Liars swim out, past the edge of the cove and into the open ocean. The sun is high in the sky and glints off the water, so bright, so bright. And then they dive—
and they are gone.
I am left, there on the southern tip of Beechwood Island. I am on the tiny beach, alone.
I SLEEP FOR what might be days. I can’t get up.
I open my eyes, it’s light out.
I open my eyes, it’s dark.
Finally I stand. In the bathroom mirror, my hair is no longer black. It has faded to a rusty brown, with blond roots. My skin is freckled and my lips are sunburnt.
I am not sure who that girl in the mirror is.
Bosh, Grendel, and Poppy follow me out of the house, panting and wagging their tails. In the New Clairmont kitchen, the aunties are making sandwiches for a picnic lunch. Ginny is cleaning out the refrigerator. Ed is putting bottles of lemonade and ginger ale into a cooler.
He waves at me. Opens a bottle of ginger ale and gives it to Carrie. Rummages in the freezer for another bag of ice.
Bonnie is reading and Liberty is slicing tomatoes. Two cakes, one marked chocolate and one vanilla, rest in bakery boxes on the counter. I tell the twins happy birthday.
Bonnie looks up from her Collective Apparitions book. “Are you feeling better?” she asks me.
“You don’t look much better.”
“Bonnie is a wench and there’s nothing to do about it,” says Liberty. “But we’re going tubing tomorrow morning if you want to come.”
“Okay,” I say.
“You can’t drive. We’re driving.”
Mummy gives me a hug, one of her long, concerned hugs, but I don’t speak to her about anything.
Not yet. Not for a while, maybe.
Anyway, she knows I remember.
She knew when she came to my door, I could tell.
I let her give me a scone she’s saved from breakfast and get myself some orange juice from the fridge.
I find a Sharpie and write on my hands.
Left: Be a little. Right: Kinder.
Outside, Taft and Will are goofing around in the Japanese garden. They are looking for unusual stones. I look with them. They tell me to search for glittery ones and also ones that could be arrowheads.
When Taft gives me a purple one he’s found, because he remembers I like purple rocks, I put it in my pocket.
GRANDDAD AND I go to Edgartown that afternoon. Bess insists on driving us, but she goes off by herself while we go shopping. I find pretty fabric shoulder bags for the twins and Granddad insists on buying me a book of fairy tales at the Edgartown bookshop.
“I see Ed’s back,” I say as we wait at the register.
“You don’t like him.”
“Not that much.”
“But he’s here.”
“Yes, he is.” Granddad wrinkles his brow. “Now stop bothering me. Let’s go to the fudge shop,” he says. And so we do. It is a good outing. He only calls me Mirren once.
THE BIRTHDAY IS celebrated at suppertime with cake and presents. Taft gets hopped up on sugar and scrapes his knee falling off a big rock in the garden. I take him into the bathroom to find a Band-Aid. “Mirren used to always do my Band-Aids,” he tells me. “I mean, when I was little.”
I squeeze his arm. “Do you want me to do your Band-Aids now?”
“Shut up,” he says. “I’m ten already.”
* * *
THE NEXT DAY I go to Cuddledown and look under the kitchen sink.
There are sponges there, and spray cleaner that smells like lemons. Paper towels. A jug of bleach.
I sweep away the crushed glass and tangled ribbons. I fill bags with empty bottles. I vacuum crushed potato chips. I scrub the sticky floor of the kitchen. Wash the quilts.