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I flew down the stairs, half sliding across the marble entry, when I heard the car. I had the front door open before Bea had even set a foot out of the Acenta. She had shorts and a t-shirt on, but I could see the strap of her bathing suit protruding from the crew neck. Liam, too, was wearing a shirt and his swim trunks. Just regular trunks, unfortunately. If anything, they were a little loose.
Tim emerged from around the side of the house; he’s uncanny that way. “Give Tim your keys,” I called to Liam. “He’ll take the car around out of the drive.”
The exchange made, Bea and Liam came inside. Bea had been over plenty of times, though I usually prefer to hide out at her place. Liam, however, had only visited on a couple of occasions, namely parties that I’d insisted the Polleys be invited to. Dad had never minded, but Mom had always made a face; the Polleys, after all, were nobodies. Mom hated wasting her excess of personality on nobodies.
We were heading toward the back of the house to the stairs that lead down to the indoor pool when Eoin stuck his head out of Dad’s office. “Hey. Whatcha doing?”
“We’re going to swim,” I said without stopping.
“Are these your school friends?”
I sighed and swung around. “This is Bea and Liam. They live down the road. My school friends are already down at the pool, so . . .” I spread my hands. “Rude to keep them waiting.”
To his credit, Liam extended a hand and shook with Eoin.
“I’ll send Marta down with some refreshments,” Eoin said. “Are your friends staying for dinner?”
“Rosalind and Gwendolyn are,” I said. God, didn’t he know that already? “Bea and Liam might, too, I don’t know.”
“The more the merrier,” said Eoin. And he smiled in a way that made his eyes squint up. It totally was not a genuine smile. Beside me, Bea actually cringed.
“Okay, well, I’m sure you’ve got a ton of whatever it is you do,” I said, swinging back around for the stairs.
“What does he do?” Bea half whispered as we made our way down.
“I don’t even know,” I admitted. “He and Dad weren’t super close. Eoin always just sort of hung around. Like ugly wallpaper.”
“He gives me a bad vibe,” said Liam, which coming from Liam is a lot. I mean, Liam is the most laid-back person I know, very live-and-let-live. For someone like Liam, “bad vibes” is on par with Hitler.
As we got closer to the pool, I could hear Rosalind’s voice ricocheting around the space. Our indoor pool is closed on three sides by natural rock; the fourth wall is thick glass with one door leading out to the outdoor entertainment space. And yes, there is an outdoor pool as well, for the two days a year it’s warm enough in England to swim outside. (Actually, the outdoor pool is heated, so we get all of a week out of it when we’re feeling brave and there’s no rain.)
“. . . Get to go to The Globe,” Rosalind was saying. “Everyone who is anyone will be there. Even the Queen!”
Gwendolyn’s response was so soft I couldn’t make out the words. But I stopped on the stairs, just shy of the last turn that would make us visible to anyone at the pool. Bea and Liam halted behind me.
“Of course she will!” exclaimed Rosalind. “It’s, like, a national day of mourning or something. He was a national treasure!”
Another murmur from Gwendolyn.
Unable to stand it any longer, I moved forward, allowing my sandals to slap on the stairs. When I rounded the stairs, I saw Rosalind sitting on a chaise while Gwendolyn was on the pool steps, idly swirling her ankles.
“Finally!” said Rosalind. Then, spotting Bea, “Who’s this?” And as Liam appeared, “Ooh, who’s this?”
They’d taught us at school the proper way to introduce people at a party, like, whose name goes first or whatever, but I could never remember. Except that men are introduced to women. And go last. I think. Or maybe it has to do with rank, I don’t know. But none of us had any rank, so I said, “Rosalind, Gwendolyn, this is Bea and Liam.” And Rosalind rolled her eyes in a way that made me figure I’d done it wrong but whatever.
Rosalind got up from the chaise, and as she passed me whispered, “You should have said Gwendolyn’s name first. Her grandmother was a marchioness,” before advancing on her prey.
Okay, so I guess one of us had rank. Kind of. I glanced over at Gwendolyn, but if she felt slighted, she didn’t show it. She was as expressionless as ever. The only time I could tell how Gwendolyn felt about anything was when she furrowed her brow. Then I knew she was either worried or confused. Or both. Being confused worried Gwendolyn a lot.
She spent a lot of her life worrying.
As Rosalind began chatting up Liam, I realized the flaw in my brilliant plan. It would be rude of me to go talk to Bea privately and leave Gwendolyn alone. I looked to Bea and she shrugged. I love that I can talk to Bea without words sometimes.
I kicked off my sandals and pulled my coverup over my head. Bea similarly stripped down to her bathing suit, a somber black one-piece with a bow at the front neckline and another along the low-cut back. Together, Bea and I looked “classic,” while Rosalind’s hot pink bikini was glaring. Or so I thought. It was trimmed in rhinestones, for God’s sake.
After dropping my stuff onto a chaise, I went over to the edge of the pool not far from Gwendolyn and sat down to dip my feet in. “Sorry,” I said. “I know this isn’t all that exciting or anything.”
Gwendolyn blinked up at me. “No,” she said. “I mean, yes. I mean, it’s fine. This is fine. It’s nice.”
Good God, no wonder she almost never talked.
I was momentarily distracted by Liam taking off his shirt and diving into the deep end. Rosalind shrieked—after being sure to stand where she’d be splashed, of course.
“You’d probably rather be home with your family for the holiday, though,” I said. Bea came and sat a little ways down from me, also dangling her feet in the pool.
Gwendolyn shrugged. “Not really. I have four sisters. It gets loud and crowded . . .”
“Four?” No wonder she didn’t talk. She probably couldn’t get a word in anyway.
“Are you the oldest?” Bea asked.
“Second to youngest,” said Gwendolyn.
“But they’re not all at our school,” I said. Were they? Admittedly, I didn’t pay much attention. It occurred to me then I kind of sucked as a person. At, you know, not being interested in anything but myself.
“I got a scholarship. And my younger sister did, too. She’ll be starting in the fall.”
“Oh.” I hadn’t thought about people going to the school on scholarship. I’d just assumed they were all rich.
“You must be pretty smart then,” said Bea, covering for me. God bless her.
Another shrug. “I—”
But then Rosalind was shrieking again as Liam tried to pull her into the pool. Something hard and bitter rose in my throat, but I swallowed and forced it back down. Focus, I reminded myself. You’ve got more important problems.