“I HAVE AN EXPERIMENT,” GENEVIEVE CLARKE BEGAN as she leaned forward on the driftwood log, toward the crackling beach bonfire. She paused, waiting for Darcy Scott to put down her beer bottle and Gray Hartnett to glance up from her iPhone. Miranda O’Rourke raised her eyebrow. Genevieve always had grandiose theories, and the later it was and the more beer she’d taken from the cooler, the more she tended to expound on them. But Genevieve had been Miranda’s best friend since seventh grade, and even when her experiments were ridiculous—like the time she convinced Miranda to sneak into a frat party at Coastal Carolina with her and pretend they were exchange students from Estonia—her enthusiasm made up for any absurdities.
“I’ll only do it if I don’t have to stand up,” Miranda cracked as she opened her Sigg water bottle and took a large sip. It was already almost midnight, and she had an exhibition soccer tourney tomorrow afternoon, which college scouts were supposed to attend. But she didn’t want the party to end. Not yet. After all, who knew how many nights like this they’d have left? School started next week, and then next summer they’d all be scattered across the country at colleges, embarking on their “real” lives. That was a thought that simultaneously terrified and excited Miranda. Sometimes, Miranda tried to close her eyes and imagine what it would be like to be surrounded by strangers, to not live steps away from the ocean, but she couldn’t. And right now, she didn’t want to.
“Okay, lazy,” Genevieve said, interrupting Miranda’s reverie. “Ya’ll don’t need to do anything. I’ll do all the work. I learned to read tarot cards this summer. And it sounds so stupid, but it works. Like, when I got it done at the beginning of the summer, the cards said I’d have a summer fling. And I totally did!” Genevieve crowed, obviously still thrilled about the totally hot hookup she’d had with a Columbia University rising sophomore when she was enrolled in a pre-college program in New York City during the summer. Or at least the hookup she’d claimed to have. That was the thing with Genevieve: It wasn’t like she lied per se, but she definitely often embellished, and more than once, Miranda had witnessed a flirtatious gaze across a crowded party on a Friday night become an all-out hookup when she described it to everyone else on Monday morning. Miranda never called her on it, and Genevieve never seemed to feel guilty. It was as if, in her mind, she actually began to believe the things she said. Miranda wished she could be more like that.
Miranda was convinced that Genevieve’s faux-scandalous life was pretty much designed to be one step more scandalous than that of Genevieve’s mother, Jane. Jane had been divorced three times, and Whym Islanders were still up in arms that she’d been the one to inherit the sprawling seventeenth-century mansion on Witch’s Knee, the most exclusive area on the island. Jane had converted half the mansion into a yoga studio and had turned the once meticulously landscaped lawn into an organic vegetable plot. And Genevieve followed in her mom’s footsteps, attempting to scandalize the next generation of Whym Islanders by dying her hair bright red, getting a tiny silver stud pierced into her nose and a star tattoo inked onto her wrist, and ending almost every statement with a no? at the end, as if she were daring anyone to disagree with her.
“Did you sleep in his bed? I heard New York is full of bedbugs. I wouldn’t hook up with anyone there,” Gray drawled, wrinkling her nose and purposefully edging away from Genevieve. “Course, I’d never be in New York anyway. Too dirty.”
“It’s also full of hot guys,” Genevieve smirked as she pulled the cards out of her bag. The light from the bonfire was flickering on Genevieve’s face, making her look different than usual—older, more sophisticated, like someone who had a whole different life back in New York. “Right, Miranda?” Genevieve asked.
“Yeah, the guys I remember from pre-school were really hot,” Miranda joked. That was one of the things about Whym: unless you were born there, you’d always be considered an outsider on some level, no matter how many years you’d lived there or how many ties you could claim to the island. Miranda was technically a sixth-generation islander, but because her mother had dared to move and have children elsewhere, she’d never been fully embraced as a local, even though she’d moved here full-time more than ten years ago.
“Ya’ll know I haven’t been back since I was five. Besides, wasn’t the point the tarot-reading thing?” she asked as she hugged her knees to her chest and pulled her giant Calhoun Academy soccer shirt as far as it would go down her legs. Despite the fire, she was freezing. Still, she didn’t want to break up the moment and suggest they head into the pool house.
After all, this was the last summer the Whym Island seniors—the Ferries, as they’d been annoyingly dubbed back in first grade, when their parents (or, in Miranda’s case, grandmother) had all had to sit down and create a chaperone schedule to get them all to the mainland to school at Calhoun Academy. The Ferries were the progeny of the Whym Island elite: The kids who’d never attended Whym Public, the tiny redbrick school house on the other end of the island that held kindergarten through twelfth grade. Whym Public was for the sons and daughters of the fishermen, housekeepers, gardeners, and clerks who worked year-round to keep the island in its postcard-perfect condition. Calhoun was a private school founded in the seventeenth century that had always catered to wealthy Carolinians. That was what made it weird to be a Ferry: They didn’t really know the other Whym kids, and most of the Calhoun kids lived on the mainland, fifteen miles of ocean away.
And now, none of them could imagine it any differently. Sure, some of them had awkward romantic histories with each other, some of them never quite forgave others for excluding them from seventh-grade sleepovers, and some of them hardly came to parties in favor of hanging out with mainland kids, but all of that seemed to be forgotten in summer—especially this year. So far, the routine had been perfect: Spend the day at soccer practice, at the beach, or doing SAT prep, and then at night, head down to the two-mile stretch of beach in front of the O’Rourke house.
Sometimes, Miranda couldn’t help but wonder whether her own mother would be proud or appalled. Miranda’s mother, Astrid, had hated the island, and had only begrudgingly come back during the summer to allow her mother, Eleanor Ashford, to get to know her children. It was a good island for kids—it had pristine beaches with fine white sand, when the tide was out. The ocean was gentle and sparkling blue, and the ride on the ferry was a guaranteed way to effortlessly entertain a child on an otherwise sweltering day. So that’s why every summer, Miranda’s mother Astrid and her father Hank would pack Miranda and her younger brother, Teddy, into the car and drive down from New York City to set up house in the sprawling mansion Astrid had grown up in. After a week or so, Astrid and Hank would leave, eager to enjoy a temporarily kid-free existence of downtown parties and concerts. For the next two months, Teddy and Miranda would play under the watchful eye of Miranda’s grandmother, Eleanor.
As a four-year-old, Miranda had felt like an outsider. Always shy, she noticed all the other toddlers on the beach at Whym had friends to build sandcastles with and chase in and out of the water. She didn’t. She only had Teddy, Eleanor, and Louisa, the nanny Eleanor hired each summer.
Until the night when Miranda was five and Teddy was two. They’d been listlessly playing with Teddy’s trucks on Eleanor’s screened-in porch one evening after dinner. Louisa was rocking back and forth in a rocking chair, fanning herself with her hand and reading a gossip magazine. It had been storming, and Miranda remembered watching the way bolts of lightning would illuminate the sky. A roll of thunder struck, and Teddy began sobbing. At that point, before Louisa could scoop him up to console him, Eleanor walked in, her face white.
“Teddy and Miranda need to go upstairs,” she’d said, circling her wrist with her opposite hand, as if she were holding onto a banister.
“I was just gonna give them their bath,” Louisa had said guiltily, sure she was about to be chastised for letting them stay up so late.
“Now,” Eleanor whispered.
The next morning, Miranda’s whole world had changed. Now, although she remembered the moments leading up to Eleanor’s announcement perfectly clearly, she didn’t remember the next morning: Who told her, how it was phrased, why their car possibly could have driven off the bridge on Johns’ Island, en route to the dock, where they’d been coming from an afternoon festival. All she knew was that she wasn’t going back to New York City. Not at the end of the summer. Not ever. And her parents were dead.
In her new life on Whym, she was to wear a dress at all times, call her grandmother and all her grandmother’s friends “ma’am,” and play with the dolls that Eleanor bought her, even though she’d repeatedly told her that she only liked stuffed animals. She’d soon learned to never, ever talk about her parents in front of Eleanor, since doing so tended to cause her grandmother to get a faraway look in her eyes, then disappear into the master suite with a headache, for hours at a time. What she hadn’t known until she got older were all the rumors...