Read by Katie Koster
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Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of Since Last Summer
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She really should have just told someone. Just dropped it casually into conversation the last day of school, when people were talking about their summer plans. Oh, really? You're going to tennis camp? You're spending a month at Wildwood? You got that internship in New York that you applied for six months ago?
Well, that's great.
I'll be spending this summer in the Hamptons.
Rory looked up from her notebook and out the train window. She hadn't expected so many potato fields. Brown furrows lined with lush green potato plants passed by in a blur, and here and there, at the edge of the fields, a cedar shingle house stood watch. But these houses didn't look like old, decrepit farmhouses. They looked like newly built mansions. There definitely weren't mansions on the chicken and dairy farms in Stillwater, New Jersey, at least as far as she knew. And there wasn't this radiant sunlight, either, she thought, looking up at the cobalt-blue sky. It probably had to do with the ocean to the south and the bay to the north, but she'd never seen light like this before. She wished she'd known how pretty it was here when she was trying to sell her mom on the idea. But it probably wouldn't have worked.
"Errand girl?" her mom had asked when Rory had finally told her the plan. "What the hell is that?"
Her mom had stood next to her, opening a bottle of wine. Lana McShane was never home from work more than a few minutes before she had a bottle of Charles Shaw Chardonnay out of the fridge and on the counter, and a corkscrew in her manicured hand. Rory watched her mom twist in the corkscrew, then put the bottle between her knees and pull. Thwock, went the cork. Lana was barely a hundred pounds soaking wet, but she'd never met a wine bottle that she couldn't handle.
"I guess it means I'll be running errands," Rory said, slicing through a fat yellow onion. "Whatever they need. They weren't specific over e-mail."
"Are they going to pay you?"
"I'll be staying with them for free. In their mansion on the beach. They don't need to pay me."
Her mom shook her red hair and took a long sip.
"I don't know why you always need a glass of wine ten minutes after you get home," Rory said.
"It relaxes me. You try cutting hair for nine hours." She placed the glass down on the counter. "What about Mario? Does he know?"
"It's a pizza place. I think he'll find someone else." Rory tipped the onions into the pan and watched them sizzle. "And I have some money saved up from this past year. So you don't have to worry."
"It's not the money. It's you." Rory could hear her mom digging in her purse for her cigarettes. "You're the smartest kid in your class. If you wanted to study abroad, I'd understand. If you wanted to get a job in the city, fine. But to go off and live with some family you don't even know? So you can pick up after them like your aunt?"
"Fee's been working for them my whole life," Rory pointed out. "If they were awful, she would have left a long time ago."
"But… what are you going to do out there?" her mom continued, still digging. "Those aren't your people. You think they're going to let you in? That you're going to join their clubs and go to their parties? Oh, here they are."
Rory turned to see her mom pull a Merit out of the pack and light it with her favorite lighter, the one that said LAS VEGAS in cheery blue script.
"You're going to be a glorified servant," her mom said, taking a drag on the Merit. "Is that what you want?" She blew out the smoke and narrowed her green eyes, the ones Rory wished she'd inherited.
"I don't care about being a servant. The whole point is to get out of here," Rory said. "Widen my horizons. Don't you want me to get out of here? Ever?"
"Just say it," her mom said, taking her glass. "The whole point is to get away from me."
From you and your boyfriend, Rory thought as she turned back to the stove. Bryan, who yelled when he talked on the phone. Bryan, whose Xbox had taken up permanent residence in their living room. Bryan, who couldn't make rent at his own place, so naturally would be moving in with them, like her mom's last two disasters in tight jeans. Rory picked up the spatula and pried a burning onion slice from the pan.
"Let me know when it's ready," her mom said. Then she'd strolled out of the kitchen on her cowboy boots, trailing smoke and the smell of Paris eau de cologne. That had been the end of the discussion.
Rory checked her watch as the train rattled past a vegetable stand. She thought of Sophie and Trish, probably sunning themselves at the lake right now, taking advantage of the last free weekday before they started their jobs on Monday. Every summer she'd meet them after her shift at Mario's, and they'd hang out at the mall or in front of the frozen-yogurt place, and talk about their days. Now she was more than a hundred miles away. The farthest she'd ever been from home was New York City, and the last time had been three years ago. She'd gone in with her mom for her fourteenth birthday and seen Mamma Mia! Or at least, half of Mamma Mia!—they'd had to leave early because her mom was almost positive that Martin or Tommy or Gordon or whomever she was dating at the time was cheating on her and she wanted to catch him in the act. To nobody's shock, she did.
"East Hampton," the conductor announced over the PA. "East Hampton, next."
The train was still moving, but passengers leaped out of their seats to grab their bags off the luggage rack. Quickly, she reached into her purse and flipped open the cracked Estée Lauder compact she'd had since ninth grade. After six hours of traveling, her wavy dark brown hair had gone frizzy from the humid June afternoon, and her kohl eyeliner had bled into a raccoonlike mask around her hazel eyes. She thought about trying to fix things but decided it was a lost cause. She'd never been pretty enough—in her opinion—to care too much about looking perfect, unlike her mom, who'd been beautiful enough to be preoccupied by it for her entire life. Still, she slipped on a plastic headband and ran the last dregs of some Wet n Wild Bronze Berry gloss over her full lips. It didn't hurt to clean up a little. Rich people liked that. Actually, her aunt never used the word rich. Polished was the word she always used about the Rules. They're a very polished family.
The train finally screeched to a full stop. She grabbed her duffel bag, her book bag, and her favorite vintage black leather motorcycle jacket off the luggage rack and moved toward the doors. When she stepped out on the platform, the air smelled like the ocean. Squinting in the bright sunlight, she made her way past the white station house and over to the small parking lot, where a line of SUVs and convertibles waited to pick people up. Rory glanced at the people streaming over to the cars. The men wore polo shirts and khaki shorts and loafers with no socks. The women wore toothpick-thin jeans and delicate silk cardigans and flat sandals with just a sliver of beaded leather between the toes. Rory looked down at her own outfit. Her light denim miniskirt, sleeveless yellow T-shirt, and platform slides had looked stylish that morning, but now she wasn't so sure.
She turned to see a guy with short brownish-blond hair and a tanned, chiseled face coming toward her in the crowd. His mirrored sunglasses gave him the air of someone paid to be athletic. Or maybe it was the matching white T-shirt and shorts.
"Hey, I'm Steve," he said. "The tennis pro for the Rules. Fee asked me to come get you."
For a moment, she felt her usual panic at coming face-to-face with a cute, athletic guy in his twenties and then willed it away. "Oh, hi," she said. "Nice to meet you."
"Here, let me take that," he said, taking her duffel and throwing it onto his shoulder. "We're over here."
Rory watched Steve walk ahead of her. Even from behind, he was good-looking, with a long, narrow back and sun-browned calves. But she put his looks out of her mind. When it came to good-looking guys, she knew her role: best buddy. It was so much easier that way, listening to their problems, making them laugh, giving them advice. And above all, staying away from drama. Because, with guys, there was always drama. And who needed more drama when she had so much of it at home already?
Steve aimed the remote at a shiny silver Mercedes convertible parked in the last spot, and the trunk popped up. "Careful, the seats might be a little hot," he said.
Rory got inside and shut the heavy door. A man walking by stared at the car with visible envy.
Steve opened the door and folded himself behind the wheel. "All right, let's get on our way," he said, turning the key in the ignition. The engine purred, quiet but strong. "Nice car, huh? The Rules just got it last week."
"Nice is an understatement," Rory said.
Steve laughed. "I know what you mean," he said as he backed out of the space. "Definitely makes my Jetta seem a little lame. So how was the trip? Not too many stops?"
"It was fine," Rory said.
"That's good. Sometimes the jitney can be faster."
"Why do they call it the jitney?" she asked.
"Because people here don't like to say the word bus," he said with a grin.
Rory chuckled. "Got it," she said. Steve seemed funny, despite his tennis-god looks.
"So where are you from in New Jersey?" Steve asked, flipping on his turn signal.
"Sussex County. A town called Stillwater."
"Stillwater?" he asked.
"It's near the Pennsylvania border. It's really pretty, lots of farms and lakes. Very country. Where are you from? Out here?"
"Hampton Bays," he said, glancing at her. "Which is not really the Hamptons. Or at least, the exclusive Hamptons," Steve said, using his fingers to make quotation marks. "It's out near Westhampton, back toward the city. Went to high school out here, then went down to Florida for college. And then, after I quit playing on tour, I came back here. It's great. Lots of tennis lovers. Including Lucy and Larry."
"Lucy and Larry?" she asked.
"The Rules," he said. "They're awesome. Really down-to-earth."
They began driving along a quaint-looking main street lined with shops and cafés. American flags hung over some of the store windows, and baskets of impatiens dripped color from the tops of lampposts. A group of towheaded kids walked down the sidewalk eating ice-cream cones. It could have been any main street in any East Coast town, but there was an unmistakable sheen of money over all of it. Almost every store awning dripped luxury: James Perse. Intermix. Ralph Lauren. Tiffany. "Wow," she said, looking out the window. "This place is so… upscale."
"Yeah, it's gotten that way," Steve said. "It didn't used to be. There's just so much money here now."
Rory gazed at the pretty storefronts and forest-green benches. There wasn't a scrap of litter anywhere. It's like Martha Stewart designed a town, she thought. High.
"So how many kids do the Rules have?" she asked.
"Four," Steve said. "Two boys, two girls. And their youngest is about your age. You're seventeen, right?"
"Right," she said.
"So's Isabel. You'll have a lot of fun with her. She's like the queen of the Hamptons."
Fee had never mentioned Isabel, which was strange, only because adults usually thought that any two people the same age would instantly become best friends. But maybe Fee knew that anyone qualified to be called the queen of the Hamptons probably wouldn't have too much in common with someone like her. Rory had friends, but nobody would ever call her the social director of Stillwater.
They turned onto a quiet street lined with stately homes and trees that formed a canopy overhead with their branches. "Lily Pond Lane," Rory said, glancing at the sign. "That's a pretty name."
"This is a famous street," Steve said. "It's where all the millionaires built their summer homes a hundred years ago. Including Lucy Rule's great-grandfather."
"So the home's been in her family that long?"
"Yep," Steve said. As they drove down the street, the homes began to be hidden by tall manicured hedges. "And now she owns it. Her dad willed it to her when he died."
"And what about Mr. Rule?" Rory asked. "Is he also…"
"Old money?" Steve asked.
Rory had never heard that term before, but she nodded.
He turned left into a break in the hedges and pulled up to a pair of tall iron gates. "Technically, yes. But his father was found to be bankrupt after he died. So he had to go into business for himself. He works in commercial real estate." Steve lowered his window. "New money, old money—it's starting to become the same thing out here," he said with an ironic smile. He typed a code into a small security box just outside the window. With a soft clang, the gates swung open.
There was the crunch of gravel under the tires as they rounded a bend, past a stand of elm trees, and suddenly they were driving alongside the longest, widest front lawn she'd ever seen. The grass was perfectly trimmed, emerald green, and as large and flat as a football field. And perched on a slight hill at the far end of the lawn, as unreal and ephemeral-looking as something in a dream, was a sprawling shingle home.
"Over there's the tennis court," Steve said, pointing to the other side of the lawn. "And the changing cabanas, and the gym."
Through another group of trees she could see the bluish-green tennis court. A hopper full of balls stood on spiderlike legs.
"And in back, behind the house, is the pool and the beach," he added.
As they neared the house, she could see more details. The shingles had once been brown but had now faded to an elegant silvery gray. The third-floor windows were arched, with dormers, and three crumbling brick chimneys rose up from the roof. But the front door, the portico, and all the windows were covered in bright white paint, giving the house a crisp, new look despite its feeling of age.
"This is just the weekend house?" Rory asked.
"That's right," Steve said. "Most of the year, they live in the city. But their apartment in town isn't nearly this big."
She thought of her own house—a boxy bilevel with a slate roof and peeling yellowish-green paint. All her friends lived in the same kind of house, too. Could someone even call that a house after seeing this one? And did anyone need to live in a house this big?
Steve drove past the front of the house, where the gravel drive wound around an oval garden of boxwoods, and veered left toward a five-car garage. The row of cars parked outside ranged from a dusty black VW Jetta—Steve's car, Rory noted—to a gleaming black Porsche convertible. He slid the car between a silver Prius and the Porsche, then turned off the ignition. "We're here," he said.
"Great," she said brightly.
He turned to look at her. "Don't be intimidated. They're really cool. You'll see."
He got out of the car, and she realized that her heart was pounding. Just before she got out, she remembered her black leather jacket lying on the floor near her feet. She picked it up, but already it felt useless and outdated, like an old party dress.
She followed Steve past a garden of pink roses and toward a side entrance. Below her she could hear the muted sound of waves. She'd almost forgotten that this house was on the beach.
Suddenly, the back door swung open, and the short, solid frame of Aunt Fee leaped onto the paving stones, her pale arms in the air. "There you are!" she cried. "My god, you're taller than I am!"
"Hi, Fee!" Rory said, giving in to her aunt's unforgiving hug. "It's been a while."
"That's because your mother has a very odd definition of family," she said, squeezing Rory's ribs.
Rory had always found it hard to believe that Fee and her mom were sisters. Lana was delicate and slender, while Fee, older by a few years, was compact and sturdy, with cheerful brown eyes that disappeared into squints when she smiled. The only thing the sisters shared was red hair, but Fee's was streaked with gray.
"I'm so excited to be here," Rory said, pulling away from Fee's hug. "I can hear the ocean."
"I'll take you down there in a bit." Fee plucked at the front of her forest-green polo shirt. That and a pair of pressed khaki pants seemed to comprise her uniform. "Steve, I'll take her bag."
Steve handed Rory's duffel bag to Fee. "Rory, I'll see you soon. Maybe on the tennis court?" He clapped his hand over her shoulder. "Have fun here."
"Thanks." Rory watched him walk back toward the cars. It hadn't occurred to her that she might play tennis or have fun while she was here, but hearing Steve mention both eased her nerves. Fee pulled her toward the door.
"Sorry I couldn't come get you," said Fee as she walked back into the house. "But things are a little hectic around here. We're having our first dinner party tonight and poor Eduardo is beside himself."
Rory stepped into the house, and as her eyes adjusted to the light, she noticed two things: She was standing in a long hall lined with doors, and something was scrambling around her feet. She looked down to see a tiny white dog trying to jump onto her legs. "Oh my god," she said. "Is this a puppy?"
"Puppy or dog, I'm not really sure," said Fee. "It's Mrs. Rule's. Trixie."
Rory crouched down to pet her. "She's adorable," she said as Trixie began to lick her hand. "Is she a Maltese?"
"Maltipoo. Or cockapoo. Something poo. Okay, Trixie!" she ordered. "Go back to your place!"
The dog jumped slightly and then trotted back to her bed at the end of the hall.
"My mom still won't let us get a dog," Rory said.
"Because she keeps dating them," Fee said, rolling her eyes. "Come on. You're down here." She began to walk toward the end of the hall. Fee walked with purpose, swinging her arms. Rory could already tell that Fee felt at home here.
"So how big is the staff here?" she asked.
"Well, there's me, Eduardo the chef, and Bianca the house manager," Fee said, as they passed a laundry room. "We're the live-ins. Then there's the help that comes in."
"Comes in?" Rory asked.
"Laura the masseuse, Siddha the yoga teacher, and Frederika, who does Mrs. Rule's hair. Steve, the tennis pro. And then there are the people they hire to come in and serve for parties. Like tonight." They finally stopped at a closed door. "So this is where you'll be staying," Fee said, opening the door.
Rory caught her breath. The room was easily three times the size of her bedroom at home and a hundred times more stylized. The king-size bed was covered with a creamy-white duvet and a pile of blue-and-white bed pillows edged in lace. A vintage nautical map of eastern Long Island hung above the latticework headboard. The nightstands, also painted cream, held a stack of the latest hardcover novels wedged beside crystal lamps. The other furniture—a curved-leg desk, a stool, and a pair of tufted club chairs—were also cream-colored, while the walls were painted the softest shade of blue. And across from the bed, nestled inside a shabby-chic white armoire, was a sleek flat-screen TV. "This is my room?" she asked. "Are you sure?"
"Of course," said Fee, ignoring Rory's surprise. "And the bathroom is in here."
Fee dropped Rory's duffel bag on the velvet bench at the foot of the bed and led the way into the bathroom. Rory gaped. The glass steam shower had a wide marble bench inside, big enough for her to fall asleep on if she wanted to. The sunken marble tub had a silver faucet that curved up and over like the neck of a swan.
"And there are plenty of products if you forgot anything," Fee said, opening the drawers under the sink to reveal a tidy row of shampoos and conditioners.
"This is beautiful," Rory said as they walked back into the bedroom. "Why have you never talked about how nice it is here?"
Fee shrugged. "After a while, you get used to it," she said, glancing around the room. "Some people work in an office. I work here."
Rory smiled. For years, her mom had felt sorry for Aunt Fee. "At least I'm not a housekeeper," she'd say whenever one of her checks bounced or the county cut off their heat. But here was Aunt Fee, living in the midst of all this luxury and beauty. If only her mom could see this, Rory thought. She'd never say anything like that again.
"So, let's get into it," said Fee, unzipping Rory's duffel bag. "Is she still working at that salon?"
"Most of the time, yeah."
"And the new boyfriend? Is he really twenty-one?"
"That's what he says."
"And he's moving in?"
"They always do."
Fee shook her head. "Your father must be thrilled."
"It's not like we really talk about it when I go to his house for Thanksgiving," Rory said, taking out a heap of folded T-shirts. "He and Sharon are having a third kid, by the way."
"I wonder if your mom ever regrets what she did," Fee said. "Driving away a good man like that. At least you still get to see him."
Just barely, Rory thought. No matter how hard she worked in school, no matter how diligently she returned his e-mails and phone calls, her dad seemed to see her the same way he saw her mother: a flake that was best kept at a distance.
"You know, I'm proud of you," Fee said, smoothing the wrinkles out of an unpacked dress. "You could be just like her. Chasing boys, staying out all night. She'd probably love it if you turned out like that, just so she'd have some company. But you're a hard worker." Her eyes were full of pride as she looked at Rory. "Smart. Disciplined. You're too independent to get involved with boys."
Was that the word for it? Rory wondered. Her friends said other things. Afraid. Closed off. Too sensitive. Sophie had the best term for it: relationship-averse.
"Thanks," she said, dumping the T-shirts in the middle drawer of the dresser. "So, what can I do first?"
"Yes, let's put you to work," said a voice, and Rory whirled around.
A small woman with a sharp face and piercing eyes stood in the doorway. Silver hair fell past her narrow shoulders, and she was so thin that the belt on her silk wrap dress looked like it had been pulled around her waist at least three times.
"Rory, this is the house manager," Fee said. "Bianca Vellum. Bianca, this is Rory. My niece."
"Oh," Rory said, hoping she didn't look too startled. "Hi."
Bianca stepped into the room. "Welcome," she said, approaching Rory. She shook Rory's hand slowly, regally. "I hope you had a good trip?"
"Yes. It was very easy."
"I always prefer taking the jitney rather than the train," she said, "but to each his own." She smiled faintly and patted one of the bed pillows in a proprietary way. "How do you like your room?"
"Oh, it's incredible," Rory said. "I mean, it's the nicest room I've ever seen."
Bianca smiled. "Good. And getting back to your question, about what you could do first, I'm wondering if you have any experience with serving?"
"Serving?" Rory glanced at Fee. "Like, at the table?"
"Bianca, she just got here," Fee said. "I really don't think that—"
"The person we hired for tonight just canceled," Bianca cut in, as if Fee weren't even speaking. "Can't say I'm that surprised. Things get worse every summer. So I'm wondering if you might be able to step in for them."
"But the plan was for her to run errands—" Fee attempted.
"The plan was for her to step in when we needed her," Bianca said crisply. She turned to Rory with her eyebrows raised, waiting. "So… do you have experience?"
"Well, I've waitressed," Rory said. "At a pizza place. Mario's. I'm sure I can pick it up."
"Wonderful. We can give you some pointers." She stepped closer on her ballet flats. "And you should know that this is the first time we've had family of staff here for the summer." Bianca didn't blink.
"Oh?" Rory said.
"But Mrs. Rule is a very generous employer. And when I told her that we could use an extra pair of hands around here, to run errands, pick people up from the train, do the shopping… well, she thought it was a terrific idea."
"And when I asked her if Rory could stay," Fee said, "she really thought that it was a terrific idea."
Bianca shot Fee a look. So they don't get along, Rory thought. Great.
"Why don't you unpack and Fee can get you situated?" Bianca said. "I'll have Eduardo make you a little lunch, and then I can give you a tour. Anything you don't eat?"
"No. I eat everything."
Bianca's eyes flicked up and down Rory's body. "Yes, I'm sure you do. I'll see you soon." She glided out of the room and closed the door.
"Don't pay any attention to her," Fee said before Rory could say anything. "She just likes to intimidate people."
"She doesn't want me here, does she?"
Fee put her hands on her waist. "I have seniority over her. So it doesn't matter."
Rory thought for a moment. Then she headed straight out the door. "Uh, Ms. Vellum?" she called out to the empty hall. "Ms. Vellum?"
A swinging door opened, and Bianca stepped into the hall.
"I just want you to know that you can count on me a hundred percent," Rory said. "With whatever—serving at a dinner party or running errands, anything you need. I just wanted you to know that."
"Very good," Bianca said.
"And I am very, very happy to be here," Rory went on, as Fee came to stand by her side. "I know that this is a big deal to be a guest here for the summer, and I just want you to know how much I appreciate it."
Before Bianca could reply, a girl's voice called down from upstairs. "Has anyone seen my Calypso dre-ess? The white one with the silk be-elt?"
Rory noticed Bianca and Fee look past her at a back staircase Rory hadn't noticed. A moment later, heavy footsteps pounded down the stairs.
"Anyone?" called the voice. "Fee-eee?"
A girl appeared on the landing, and with one glimpse of her straight blond hair, large blue eyes, and long, tan legs, Rory knew that this was the queen of the Hamptons herself. The girl stared at Rory as if she were some kind of alien species and then tossed a curtain of blond hair insouciantly over her shoulder. "Who's this?" she asked, playing with a gold charm bracelet around her right wrist.
"Isabel, this is Rory," Fee said. "My niece. The one we told you about. She's going to be staying with us for the summer."
Isabel looked at Rory blankly. "Right," she said, with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.
"Rory, this is Isabel," Fee said. "You two are the same age."
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