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This is a work of fiction.

Names, characters, places, and incidents


either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2014 by Miranda Beverly-­W hittemore


All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crown Publishers,
an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group,
a division of Random House LLC,
a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
www.crownpublishing.com

Crown and the Crown colophon are registered trademarks of


Random House LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-­in-­Publication Data


Beverly-Whittemore, Miranda.
Bittersweet : a novel / Miranda Beverly-Whittemore.
pages cm
1. Female friendship—Fiction. 2. Summer—Fiction.
3. Roommates—Fiction. 4. Upper class—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3602.E845B68 2014
813'.6—dc23
2013031473

ISBN 978- ­0 -­8041-­3856-­7


Ebook ISBN 978-­0 -­8041-­3857-­4

Printed in the United States of America

Book design by Donna Sinisgalli


Title page photograph by Gavin Mills/stock.xchng
Jacket design by Anna Kochman
Jacket photograph by Justin Carrasquillo

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

First Edition

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CHAPTER ONE

The Roommate

B efore she loathed me, before she loved me, Genevra Katherine
Winslow didn’t know that I existed. That’s hyperbolic, of course; by
February, student housing had required us to share a hot shoe box
of a room for nearly six months, so she must have gathered I was a
physical reality (if only because I coughed every time she smoked her
Kools atop the bunk bed), but until the day Ev asked me to accom-
pany her to Winloch, I was accustomed to her regarding me as she
would a hideously upholstered armchair—­something in her way, to
be utilized when absolutely necessary, but certainly not what she’d
have chosen herself.
It was colder that winter than I knew cold could be, even though
the girl from Minnesota down the hall declared it “nothing.” Out in
Oregon, snow had been a gift, a two-­day dusting earned by enduring
months of gray, dripping sky. But the wind whipping up the Hudson
from the city was so vehement that even my bone marrow froze.
Every morning, I hunkered under my duvet, unsure of how I’d make
it to my 9:00 a.m. Latin class. The clouds spilled endless white and
Ev slept in.
She slept in with the exception of the first subzero day of the se-
mester. That morning, she squinted at me pulling on the flimsy rub-
ber galoshes my mother had nabbed at Value Village and, without

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4   Miranda Beverly-W hittemore

saying a word, clambered down from her bunk, opened our closet,
and plopped her brand-­new pair of fur-­lined L.L.Bean duck boots
at my feet. “Take them,” she commanded, swaying in her silk night-
gown above me. What to make of this unusually generous offer? I
touched the leather—­it was as buttery as it looked.
“I mean it.” She climbed back into bed. “If you think I’m going
out in that, in those, you’re deranged.”
Inspired by her act of generosity, by the belief that boots must
be broken in (and spurred on by the daily terror of a stockpiling
peasant—­sure, at any moment, I’d be found undeserving and sent
packing), I forced my frigid body out across the residential quad.
Through freezing rain, hail, and snow I persevered, my tubby legs
and sheer weight landing me square in the middle of every available
snowdrift. I squinted up at Ev’s distracted, willowy silhouette smok-
ing from our window, and thanked the gods she didn’t look down.

Ev wore a camel-­hair coat, drank absinthe at underground clubs in


Manhattan, and danced naked atop Main Gate because someone
dared her. She had come of age in boarding school and rehab. Her
lipsticked friends breezed through our stifling dorm room with the
promise of something better; my version of socializing was curling
up with a copy of Jane Eyre after a study break hosted by the house
fellows. Whole weeks went by when I didn’t see her once. On the few
occasions inclement weather hijacked her plans, she instructed me in
the ways of the world: (1) drink only hard alcohol at parties because
it won’t make you fat (although she pursed her lips whenever she said
the word in front of me, she didn’t shy from saying it), and (2) close
your eyes if you ever have to put a penis in your mouth.
“Don’t expect your roommate to be your best friend,” my mother
had offered in the bold voice she reserved for me alone, just before
I flew east. Back in August, watching the TSA guy riffle through

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Bittersweet  5

my granny underpants while my mother waved a frantic good-­bye, I


shelved her comment in the category of Insulting. I knew all too well
that my parents wouldn’t mind if I failed college and had to return
to clean other people’s clothes for the rest of my life; it was a fate
they—­or at least my father—­believed I’d sealed for myself only six
years before. But by early February, I understood what my mother
had really meant; scholarship girls aren’t meant to slumber beside the
scions of America because doing so whets insatiable appetites.
The end of the year was in sight, and I felt sure Ev and I had
secured our roles: she tolerated me, while I pretended to disdain ev-
erything she stood for. So it came as a shock, that first week of Feb-
ruary, to receive a creamy, ivory envelope in my campus mailbox, my
name penned in India ink across its matte expanse. Inside, I found
an invitation to the college president’s reception in honor of Ev’s eigh-
teenth birthday, to be held at the campus art museum at the end of
the month. Apparently, Genevra Katherine Winslow was donating a
Degas.
Any witness to me thrusting that envelope into my parka pocket
in the boisterous mail room might have guessed that humble old
Mabel Dagmar was embarrassed by the showy decadence, but it was
just the opposite—­I wanted to keep the exclusive, honeyed sensation
of the invitation to myself, lest I discover it was a mistake, or that
every single mailbox held one. The gently nubbled paper stock kept
my hand warm all day. When I returned to the room, I made sure to
leave the envelope prominently on my desk, where Ev liked to keep
her ashtray, just below the only picture she had posted in our room,
of a good sixty people—­young and old, all nearly as good-­looking
and naturally blond as Ev, all dressed entirely in white—­in front of
a grand summer cottage. The Winslows’ white clothing was infor-
mal, but it wasn’t the kind of casual my family sported (Disneyland
T-­shirts, potbellies, cans of Heineken). Ev’s family was lean, tan,

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6   Miranda Beverly-W hittemore

and smiling. Collared shirts, crisp cotton dresses, eyelet socks on the
French-­braided little girls. I was grateful she had put the picture over
my desk; I had ample time to study and admire it.
It was three days before she noticed the envelope. She was smok-
ing atop her bunk—­the room filling with acrid haze as I puffed on
my inhaler, huddled over a calculus set just below her—­when she let
out a groan of recognition, hopping down from her bed and plucking
up the invitation. “You’re not coming to this, are you?” she asked,
waving it around. She sounded horrified at the possibility, her rose-
bud lips turned down in a distant cousin of ugly—­for truly, even in
disdain and dorm-­room dishevelment, Ev was a sight to behold.
“I thought I might,” I answered meekly, not letting on that I’d
been simultaneously ecstatic and fretful over what I would ever wear
to such an event, not to mention how I would do anything attractive
with my limp hair.
Her long fingers flung the envelope back onto my desk. “It’s
going to be ghastly. Mum and Daddy are angry I’m not donating
to the Met, so they won’t let me invite any of my friends, of course.”
“Of course.” I tried not to sound wounded.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” she snapped, before dropping back
into my desk chair and tipping her porcelain face toward the ceiling,
frowning at the crack in the plaster.
“Weren’t you the one who invited me?” I dared to ask.
“No.” She giggled, as though my mistake was an adorable trans-
gression. “Mum always asks the roommates. It’s supposed to make
it feel so much more . . . democratic.” She saw the look on my face,
then added, “I don’t even want to be there; there’s no reason you
should.” She reached for her Mason Pearson hairbrush and pulled
it over her scalp. The boar bristles made a full, thick sound as she
groomed herself, golden hair glistening.
“I won’t go,” I offered, the disappointment in my voice betraying
me. I turned back to my math. It was better not to go—­I would have

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Bittersweet  7

embarrassed myself. But by then, Ev was looking at me, and continu-


ing to stare—­her eyes boring into my face—­until I could bear her
gaze no more. “What?” I asked, testing her with irritation (but not
too much; I could hardly blame her for not wanting me at such an
elegant affair).
“You know about art, right?” she asked, the sudden sweetness
in her voice drawing me out. “You’re thinking of majoring in art
history?”
I was surprised—­I had no idea Ev had any notion of my interests.
And although, in truth, I’d given up the thought of becoming an
art history major—­too many hours taking notes in dark rooms, and
I wasn’t much for memorization, and I was falling in love with the
likes of Shakespeare and Milton—­I saw clearly that an interest in art
was my ticket in.
“I think.”
Ev beamed, her smile a break between thunderheads. “We’ll
make you a dress,” she said, clapping. “You look pretty in blue.”
She’d noticed.

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