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Miranda Beverly- Whittemore
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The Borough Press
An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
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Hammersmith, London W6 8JB
Published by HarperCollinsPublishers 2014
Copyright © Miranda Beverly-Whittemore 2014
Miranda Beverly-Whittemore asserts the moral right to
be identiﬁed as the author of this work
A catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library
This novel is entirely a work of ﬁction.
The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are
the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is
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the responsible management of the world’s forests. Products carrying the
FSC label are independently certified to assure consumers that they come
from forests that are managed to meet the social, economic and
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and other controlled sources.
Find out more about HarperCollins and the environment at
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C H A P T E R O N E
Before 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-Whittemore
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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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
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-Whittemore
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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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
“You know about art, right?” she asked, the sudden sweetness
in her voice drawing me out. “You’re thinking of majoring in art
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.
Ev beamed, her smile a break between thunderheads. “We’ll
make you a dress,” she said, clapping. “You look pretty in blue.”
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C H A P T E R T W O
Three weeks later, I found myself standing in the main, glassy
hall of the campus art museum, a silk dress the color of the sea deftly
draped and seamed so I appeared twenty pounds lighter. At my
elbow stood Ev, in a column of champagne shantung. She looked like
a princess, and, as for a princess, the rules did not apply; we held full
wineglasses with no regard for the law, and no one, not the trustees
or professors or senior art history majors who paraded by, each taking
the time to win her smile, batted an eye as we sipped the alcohol. A
single violinist teased out a mournful melody in the far corner of
the room. The president— a doyenne of the ﬁrst degree, her hair a
helmet of gray, her smile practiced in the art of raising institutional
monies— hovered close at hand. Ev introduced me to spare herself
the older woman’s attention, but I was ﬂattered by the president’s
interest in my studies (“I’m sure we can get you into that upper- level
Milton seminar”), though eager to extract myself from her company
in the interest of more time with Ev.
Ev whispered each guest’s name into the whorl of my ear— how
she kept track of them, even now I do not know, except that she had
been bred for it— and I realized that somehow, inexplicably, I had
ended up the guest of honor’s guest of honor. Ev may have beguiled
each attendee, but it was with me that she shared her most private
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observations (“Assistant Professor Oakley— he’s slept with everyone,”
“Amanda Wyn— major eating disorder”). Taking it all in, I couldn’t
imagine why she wouldn’t want this: the Degas (a ballerina bent over
toe shoes at the edge of a stage), the fawning adults, the celebration of
birth and tradition. As much as she insisted she longed for the evening
to be over, so did I drink it in, knowing all too well that tomorrow I’d
be back in her winter boots, slogging through the sleet, praying my
ﬁnancial aid check would come so I could buy myself a pair of mittens.
The doors to the main hall opened and the president rushed to
greet the newest, ﬁnal guests, parting the crowd. My diminutive stat-
ure has never given me advantage, and I strained to see who had
arrived— a movie star? an inﬂuential artist?— only someone impor-
tant could have stirred up such a reaction in that academic group.
“Who is it?” I whispered, straining on tiptoe.
Ev downed her second gin and tonic. “My parents.”
Birch and Tilde Winslow were the most glamorous people I’d
ever seen: polished, buffed, and obviously made of different stuff
Tilde was young— or at least younger than my mother. She had
Ev’s swan- like neck, topped off by a sharper, less exquisite face, al-
though, make no mistake, Tilde Winslow was a beauty. She was
skinny, too skinny, and though I recognized in her the signs of years
of calorie counting, I’ll admit that I admired what the deprivation
had done for her— accentuating her biceps, deﬁning the lines of her
jaw. Her cheekbones cut like razors across her face. She wore a dress
of emerald dupioni silk, done at the waist with a sapphire brooch the
size of a child’s hand. Her white- blond hair was swept into a chignon.
Birch was older— Tilde’s senior by a good twenty years— and he
had the unmovable paunch of a man in his seventies. But the rest
of him was lean. His face did not seem grandfatherly at all; it was
handsome and youthful, his crystal- blue eyes set like jewels inside the
dark, long eyelashes that Ev had inherited from his line. As he and
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10 Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
Tilde made their slow, determined way to us, he shook hands like a
politician, offering cracks and quips that jolliﬁed the crowd. Beside
him, Tilde was his polar opposite. She hardly mustered a smile, and,
when they were ﬁnally to us, she looked me over as though I were a
dray horse brought in for plowing.
“Genevra,” she acknowledged, once satisﬁed I had nothing to
“Mum.” I caught the tightness in Ev’s voice, which melted as
soon as her father placed his arm around her shoulder.
“Happy birthday, freckles,” he whispered into her perfect ear,
tapping her on the nose. Ev blushed. “And who,” he asked, holding
out his hand to me, “is this?”
“This is Mabel.”
“The roommate!” he exclaimed. “Miss Dagmar, the pleasure is
all mine.” He swallowed that awful g at the center of my name and
ended with a ﬂourish by rolling the r just so. For once, my name
sounded delicate. He kissed my hand.
Tilde offered a thin smile. “Perhaps you can tell us, Mabel, where
our daughter was over Christmas break.” Her voice was reedy and
thin, with a brief trace of an accent, indistinguishable as pedigreed
Ev’s face registered momentary panic.
“She was with me,” I answered.
“With you?” Tilde asked, seeming to ﬁll with genuine amuse-
ment. “And what, pray tell, was she doing with you?”
“We were visiting my aunt in Baltimore.”
“Baltimore! This is getting better by the minute.”
“It was lovely, Mum. I told you— I was well taken care of.”
Tilde raised one eyebrow, casting a glance over both of us, before
turning to the curator at her arm and asking whether the Rodins
were on display. Ev placed her hand on my shoulder and squeezed.
I had no idea where Ev had been over Christmas break— she
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certainly hadn’t been with me. But I wasn’t lying completely— I’d
been in Baltimore, forced to endure my Aunt Jeanne’s company for
the single, miserable week during which the college dorms had been
shuttered. Visiting Aunt Jeanne at twelve on the one adventure my
mother and I had ever taken together— a ﬁve- day East Coast foray—
had been the highlight of my preteen existence. My memories of
that visit were murky, given that they were from Before Everything
Changed, but they were happy. Aunt Jeanne had seemed glamor-
ous, a carefree counterpoint to my laden, dutiful mother. We’d eaten
Maryland crab and gone to the diner for sundaes.
But whether Aunt Jeanne had changed or my eye had become
considerably more nuanced in the intervening years, what I discov-
ered that ﬁrst December of college was that I’d rather shoot myself
in the head than become her. She lived in a dank, cat- infested condo
and seemed puzzled whenever I suggested we go to the Smithsonian.
She ate TV dinners and dozed off in front of midnight infomercials.
As Tilde turned from us, I remembered, with horror, the promise my
aunt had extracted from me at the end of my stay (all she’d had to do
was invoke my abandoned mother’s name): two interminable weeks
in May before heading back to Oregon. I dared to dream that Ev
would come with me. She’d be the key to surviving The Price Is Right
and the tickle of cat hair at the back of the throat.
“Mabel’s studying art history.” Ev nudged me toward her father.
“She loves the Degas.”
“Do you?” Birch asked. “You can get closer to it, you know. It’s
I glanced at the well- lit painting propped upon a simple easel.
Only a few feet separated me from it, but it may as well have been a
million. “Thank you,” I demurred.
“So you’re majoring in art history?”
“I thought you were majoring in English,” the president inter-
rupted, suddenly at my side.
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12 Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
I grew red- faced in the spotlight, and what felt like being caught
in a lie. “Oh,” I stammered, “I like both subjects— I really do— I’m
only a ﬁrst- year, you know, and— ”
“Well, you can’t have literature without art, can you?” Birch asked
warmly, opening the circle to a few of Ev’s admirers. He squeezed his
daughter’s shoulder. “When this one was barely ﬁve we took the chil-
dren to Firenze, and she could not get enough of Medusa’s head at
the Ufﬁzi. And Judith and Holofernes! Children love such gruesome
tales.” Everyone laughed. I was invisible again. Birch caught my eye
for the briefest of seconds and winked. I felt myself ﬂush gratefully.
After the president’s welcome toast, and the passed hors d’oeuvres,
and the birthday cupcakes frosted with buttercream that matched
my dress, after Ev made a little speech about how the college had
made her feel so at home, and that she hoped the Degas would live
happily at the museum for many years to come, Birch raised a glass,
garnering the room’s attention.
“It has been the Winslow tradition,” he began, as though we
were all part of his family, “for each of the children, upon reaching
eighteen, to donate a painting to an institution of his or her choice.
My sons chose the Metropolitan Museum. My daughter chose a
former women’s college.” This was met with boisterous laughter.
Birch tipped his glass toward the president in rhetorical apology. He
cleared his throat as a wry smile faded from his lips. “Perhaps the
tradition sprang from wanting to give each child a healthy deduction
on their ﬁrst tax return”— again, he was met with laughter— “but its
true spirit lies in a desire to teach, through practice, that we can never
truly own what matters. Land, art, even, heartbreaking as it is to let
go, a great work of art. The Winslows embody philanthropy. Phila,
love. Anthro, man. Love of man, love of others.” With that, he turned
to Ev and raised his champagne. “We love you, Ev. Remember: we
give not because we can, but because we must.”
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C H A P T E R T H R E E
One too many glasses of champagne, one too few canapés, and
an hour later, the overheated room was swimming. I needed air,
water, something, or I felt sure that my ankles— bowing under my
body’s pressure upon the thin, pointed pair of heels Ev had insisted
I borrow— would blow. “I’ll be back,” I whispered as she nodded
numbly at a trustee’s story about a failed trip to Cancún. I teetered
down the long, glass- covered walkway leading into the gothic wing
of the museum. In the bathroom, I splashed tepid water on my face.
Only then did I remember I had makeup on. But it was too late; the
wetness had already wreaked havoc— smeared lips, raccoon eyes. I
pumped down paper towels and scrubbed at my face until I looked
like I’d slept on a park bench, but not actively insane. It didn’t matter
anyway— we were just going back to the dorm. Perhaps we’d order
I traipsed back up the hallway, a woman made new with the
promise of pajamas and pepperoni. I was surprised to discover the
great room already empty— save the violinist packing up her instru-
ment and the waiters breaking down the naked banquet tables. Ev,
the president, Birch, Tilde— all of them were gone.
“Excuse me,” I said to one of the waiters, “did you see where they
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14 Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
His eyebrow ring caught in the light as he raised his brows in a
“why should I care” I recognized from my own nights working late at
the cleaner’s. I went to the ladies’ room and peeked under the bath-
room stalls. Tears began to sting my eyes, but I fought against them.
Ridiculous. Ev was probably headed home to ﬁnd me.
“Goodness, dear,” the curator tsked when she caught me in there.
“The museum is closed.” Had Ev been by my side, she wouldn’t have
said it, and I wouldn’t have quickened my departure. I plucked my
lonely coat from the metal rack in the foyer, and plunged out into
There, in sight of the double doors, were Ev and her mother,
their backs to me. “Ev!” I called. She did not turn my way. The wind,
surely, had carried off my voice. So I approached, concentrating on
my steps so as not to twist an ankle. “Ev,” I said when I was close.
“There you are. I was looking for you.”
Tilde snapped her head up at the sound of my voice as though I
were a gnat.
“Hey, Ev,” I said gingerly. She did not answer. I reached out to
touch her sleeve.
“Not now,” Ev hissed.
“I thought we could— ”
“What part of not now don’t you understand?” She turned toward
me, rage on her face.
I knew well what it was to be dismissed. And I knew enough
about Ev to know that she had spent much of her life dismissing. But
it seemed so incongruous after the night we’d had— after I’d lied for
her, and she’d ﬁnally acted like my friend— and so I remained fro-
zen, watching Tilde steer Ev to the Lexus that Birch brought around.
She didn’t come home that night. Which was ﬁne. Normal,
even. I had lived for months with Ev with no expectations of her—
not of friendship, or loyalty— but by the next day, her dismissal was
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gnawing at me, rubbing me raw, like the heels she’d lent me, making
blisters I should have anticipated, and tried to prevent.
Despite pulling on her boots and letting them cup my arches;
despite allowing myself to wish, with every step I took, that the pre-
vious night’s unpleasantness had been an anomaly, the day turned
worse. Six classes, ﬁve papers, four midterm projects on the horizon,
a thirty- pound backpack, the onset of a sore throat, pants sodden
with snowmelt, and a hollow, growing loneliness inside. Trudging
up our hall as evening fell, I could smell the telltale cigarette smoke
whispering from under our door and remembered our RA’s offhand
comment about how next time it happened she’d be in her rights
to ﬁne us ﬁfty bucks, and I allowed myself to feel angry. Ev had
returned, but so what? I had asthma. I couldn’t survive in a room
ﬁlled with smoke— she was literally trying to suffocate me. My
asthma medication’s one beneﬁt— justiﬁcation for the extra weight I
carried— wouldn’t do me any good if I were dead.
I gritted my teeth and told myself to be strong, that I didn’t need
the damn boots. I could just write to my father and ask for a pair
(why hadn’t I done that already?). I didn’t need a Degas- bestowing
supermodel snob lying around my room, reminding me what a noth-
ing I was. I gripped the doorknob and told myself to say it how Ev
would say it, formulated “Fuck, Ev, could you smoke somewhere
else?” (I would make my voice nonchalant, as though my objection
was philosophical and not an expression of poverty), and barged in.
She usually smoked atop her desk beside the window, cigarette
perched in the corner of her mouth, or cross- legged on the top bunk,
ashing into an empty soda bottle. But this time, she wasn’t there.
As I dropped my bag, I imagined with delighted gloom that she’d
left a cigarette smoldering on the bedclothes before heading out to
some glamorous destination— the Russian Tea Room, a private roof-
top in Tribeca. The whole dorm was doomed to go up in ﬂames,
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16 Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
and I would go down with it. She would be forced to remember me
And then I heard it: a snifﬂe. I squinted at the top bunk. The
The sound of soft crying.
I approached. I was still in my drenched jeans, but this was elec-
I stood at that awkward angle, neck craned up. She was really
under there. I wondered what to do as her voice began to break into
a full, throaty sob. “Are you okay?” I asked.
I didn’t expect her to answer. And I certainly didn’t mean to put
my hand on her back. Had I been thinking clearly, I never would
have dared— my anger was too proud; the gesture, too intimate.
But my little touch elicited unexpected results. First, it made her cry
harder. Then it made her turn in the bed, so that her face and mine
were much closer than they’d ever been and I could see every mil-
limeter of her ﬂooding, Tiffany- blue eyes; her stained, rosy cheeks;
her greasy blond hair, limp for the ﬁrst time since I’d known her.
Her mouth faltered, and I couldn’t help but put my hand to her hot
temple. She looked so much more human this close up.
“What happened?” I asked, when she’d ﬁnally calmed.
For a moment it seemed as if she might start sobbing again. In-
stead, she ﬁshed out another cigarette and lit it. “My cousin,” she
said, as if that told the whole thing.
“What’s your cousin’s name?” I didn’t think I could stand not to
know what was breaking Ev’s heart.
“Jackson,” she whispered, the corners of her mouth turning down.
“He’s a soldier. Was,” she corrected herself, and her tears spilled all
“He was killed?”
She shook her head. “He came back last summer. I mean, he was
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acting a little strange and everything, but I didn’t think . . .” And
then she cried. She cried so hard that I slipped off my parka and jeans
and got in bed beside her and held her quaking body.
“He shot himself. In the mouth. Last week,” she said ﬁnally, what
seemed like hours later, when we were lying beside each other under
her four- ply red cashmere throw, staring up at the cracked ceiling as
if this was what we did all the time. It was a relief to ﬁnally hear what
had happened; I had started to wonder if this cousin hadn’t walked
into a post ofﬁce and shot everyone up.
“Last week?” I asked.
She turned to me, touching our foreheads. “Mum didn’t tell me
until last night. After the reception.” Her nose and eyes began to
pinken in anticipation of another round of tears. “She didn’t want me
to get upset and ‘ruin things.’ ”
“Oh, Ev,” I sympathized, ﬁlling with forgiveness. That was why
she had snapped at me after the party— she was grief- stricken.
“What was Jackson like?” I pushed, and she began to weep again.
It was so strange and lovely to be lying next to her, feeling her ﬂaxen
hair against my cheek, watching the great globes of sorrow trail down
her smooth face. I didn’t want it to end. I knew that to stop speaking
would be to lose her again.
“He was a good guy, you know? Like, last summer? One of his
mom’s dogs, Flip, was running on the gravel road and this asshole
repair guy came around the curve at, like, ﬁfty miles an hour and hit
the dog and it made this awful sound”— she shuddered— “and Jack-
son just walked right over there and picked Flip up in his arms— I
mean, everyone else was screaming and crying, it, like, happened in
front of all the little kids— and he carried her over to the grass and
rubbed her ears.” She closed her eyes again. “And afterward, he put
a blanket over her.”
I looked at the picture of the gathered Winslows above my desk,
although it was as silly an enterprise as opening the menu of a diner
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18 Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
you’ve been going to your whole life; I knew every blond head, every
slim calf, as though her family was my own. “This was at your sum-
mer place, right?”
She pronounced the name as if for the ﬁrst time. “Winloch.”
I could feel her eyes examining the side of my face. What she said
next, she said carefully. Even though my heart skipped a beat, I mea-
sured my expectations, telling myself that was the last I’d hear of it:
“You should come.”
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