Authors: Jen Malone and Gail Nall
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TO BROOKS O'BRIEN.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD, LITTLE GUY.
THE EYE IN THE STORM
PLEASE SAVE THE DATE
Alexandra Elise Worthington
Isaac Jacob Malix
on Saturday, November 14
Sandpiper Beach, North Carolina
Invitation and details to follow
TODAY'S TO-DO LIST:
Â meet with bride
Â back-to-school shopping with Bubby and the girls
Â break Mom's heart
o this thing just happened.
just, but “just” as in yesterday. And ever since then I've been walking around with an iron anchor scraping the bottom of my belly that jumps every so often, because this thing that happened is either going to be the best thing everÂ .Â .Â . or the worst thing ever.
Or maybe even both.
It's also the reason I'm out of bed at six a.m. on the third-to-last day of summer. All the girls in our familyâme, Mom, and my little sister, Izzyâare rise-and-shine, early-bird-gets-the-worm kind of people, but six o'clock during the summer is kind of a stretch for me. If Dad were still alive, he'd have seventeen pillows piled on top of his head right now, and nothing short of waving a can of coffee beans under his nose would wake him.
Mom doesn't hear me coming down the stairs, so I have a minute to study her. Her hands circle a mug of tea, and a few pieces of her hair fall out of a messy ponytail. She doesn't look like she's been up too long. She also doesn't look like she slept that well.
My stomach takes another dive, just like the pelicans circling the cove outside our window for fishy breakfasts. Am
the reason she was up all night? Not that she would know I was involved
Â .Â .Â .
I tiptoe over to my bag and rifle through it for my phone. Mom still doesn't notice me.
Okay, so here's the thing. All last year I helped my mom with her wedding-planning business, and it was Awesome with a capital
because Mom is crazy busy and working with her meant we got to hang out together. I
she needed me because I was her best helper. But then I made a teeny-tiny bridesmaid-overboard,
seagull-pooping, photographer-puking mistake at this Little Mermaidâthemed wedding she coordinated, andâpoofâI got fired.
By my own mother.
my three best friends and I cooked up this plan where we would organize a party ourselves to get my mom to realize how totally fantastic I am at party throwing and hire me back. Except that didn't happen. The party happenedâlots of parties actually, because after the first one went so well we just kept going with more and moreâbut Mom never made it to any of them, and she never got to see me in action at all.
it wasn't her fault, but still.
I flip through my texts, looking to see if there are any changes to our morning meeting spot. Despite my mood, I can't help smiling at a selfie my best friend Becca sent late last night. She's wearing a tiara. If I know Becca, she probably slept in the thing.
Because of Beccaâand my other best friends, Lauren and Viâit didn't even matter that much that Mom hadn't changed her mind about hiring me back, because our little party-planning company, RSVP, got so busy and I was having so much fun with my friends that I ended up having the Best Summer Ever and everything felt really okay. Better than okay.
And then yesterday happened.
I drop my phone back in my bag and turn, accidentally making the floorboard creak. Mom's head snaps up.
“Geez, Sades, you scared me half to death. What are you doing creeping around? More importantly, what are you doing
I cross the room and duck my head into the refrigerator so she can't see my face. I don't usuallyâscratch that, I don't
lie to my mom.
“Oh, um, wellÂ .Â .Â . I'm just really excited for shopping today.” Not technically a lie. Going into the city
exciting (okay, so it's just Wilmington, North Carolina, not, like, New York City, but when you live somewhere as small as Sandpiper Beach, anywhere that has dividing lines painted on the roads and four-way traffic lights passes for big-time).
“Oh, right,” Mom says. “Back-to-school shopping. Hang on, let me grab my credit card. You remember the limit we talked about, right? Things are tight this month, okay? And Lauren's mom and Bubby will be there if the store gives you any hassle over using this.”
She rummages in her purse and hands me the piece of plastic. I swallow down my guilt as I take it. I feel extra bad going on a shopping spree just before she finds out I'm a total backstabber. I really need to get out of here.
I gulp down some orange juice and grab a banana for the road. “I'm going over to Becca's to help her sort her closet by color so she can spot any underrepresented shades before we hit the shops.”
This is actually true. It's just that it's happening later this morning, not right this second.
“Okay, sweets. Have fun!”
I'm halfway out the door when Mom calls me back. Is she onto me?
“Hey, I just wanted to remind you: whatever you do, do
take Bubby's advice on skirt length. If it's not hitting midthigh when you sit, it doesn't come home with you! Got it?”
I nod and spin, making a run for the door and my bike.
â¢Â Â â¢Â Â â¢
My friends and I made plans to meet Alexandra Worthington at Salty Stewart's CafÃ© in the main square. Most of the businesses in Sandpiper Beach are clustered around the center, by the big statue of Merlin the Marlin, and down Main Street, which leads to the beach.
Merlin is this giant brass fish that's supposed to be a life-size representation of the biggest Atlantic marlin ever recorded, caught in 1942 by a descendant of our town's founder, Jebediah Bodington. If you live here, it's practically the law to know this stuff, but I get constant reminders every time I sneak behind the walking tours Becca has to give because her mom and dad run the Visitor's Center. Becca gets most of
information from Lauren, our resident smarty-pants.
I'm the first one to Stewie's (as we locals call it), so I grab the long table and wave to Lance Travis. He's going into seventh grade with us, and I have a sneaky feeling he's crushing on Vi, but she's way too blind to see it. His grandfather (Stewie himself) owns the place, his mom and dad run it, his older brother works as a waiter, and sometimes (like today) Lance buses tables.
“Water?” he calls over, as he wipes down a seat.
“Five, please,” I answer.
Becca is next through the door, which makes sense since she lives closest.
“This humidity is inhumane. It took me for-
-er to straighten this. I swear, I think the stars were still out when I started.” Becca runs a hand through her red hair and grimaces.
Lauren and âVi push through the door one right after the other and grab chairs. “Who knew there was life on the island at oh-dark-thirty?” Vi asks.
Lauren looks at her funny. “Vi, this island had its start as a fishing village. In 1769, when Jebediah Bodington incorporated the town, it's likely that everyone was up at five a.m. trawling the Intracoastal for shrimp.”
“Thanks for the history lesson, Lo.” Vi sticks out her tongue and then ducks her head when she catches sight of Lance. “Who's ordering the liver?”
It's kind of a long-running joke among us, because Stewie's has liver and chicken fried steak on the breakfast menu, right next to pancakes and omelets. Don't get me wrong, chicken fried steak is pretty delicious for lunch or dinner, but for breakfast? Um, no. Except if you're Mayor Keach, who orders it every single morning.
the liver. Blech.
“French toast for me,” I say. “But don't you think it would be more polite to wait for Alexandra Worthington?”
“Alexaaaaaaaandraaaaaa Worthingtonnnnnnn,” Becca says, drawling out the name and using a slight British accent. “It sounds so fancy. What do you think she looks like? My bet is she's a total glamour-puss.”
The door opens, and a woman teeters in on seventeen-inch heels (approximately), wearing a hat like the ones you see on TV during the Kentucky Derby. It's purple straw and so wide it brushes the sides of the door. She's paired those with a tiny tube top that shows off a giant tattoo of some kind of bird covering her entire left shoulder and a pair of too-tight black capri pants. Whoa. I don't really know if “glamour-puss” is the right term. More like a weird cross between royalty andÂ .Â .Â . I don't really know what. She's not a local, that much is painfully clear.