Spencer made a face. “So he bulldozes farmland and wildlife sanctuaries to make way for ugly tract homes?”
“He created Applewood, Spence,” Melissa gushed happily. “You know, those beautiful carriage houses on the golf course?”
Spencer turned her fork over in her hands, unimpressed. Whenever she drove around Rosewood, it seemed like a new development was springing up. Apparently it was this Nicholas guy’s fault.
“Girls, shh.” Mrs. Hastings snapped suddenly, her eyes on the doorway. Two people walked toward their table. One was a tall, burly man who looked like he could’ve been a rugby player in a past life. He had neatly combed graying hair, steel blue eyes, a regal, slanting nose, and the beginnings of jowls. His navy blue blazer and khaki pants looked freshly ironed, and he wore gold cuff links embossed with the tiny initials NP. In his hand were three long-stemmed, dethorned, blood-red roses.
A girl of about fifteen was with him. A velvet headband held back her short, curly black hair, and she wore a gray jumper that looked like a chambermaid’s uniform. There was a bitter scowl on her face as though she’d been constipated for days.
Mrs. Hastings rose clumsily, bumping her knee on the underside of the table and making their water glasses wobble. “Nicholas! It’s so lovely to see you!” She blushed happily as he handed her one of the flowers. Then she gestured around the table. “These are my daughters, Melissa and Spencer.”
Melissa stood, too. “So nice to meet you,” she said, pumping Nicholas’s—er, Mr. Pennythistle’s—hand. Spencer said hello, too, though less enthusiastically. Ass-kissing just wasn’t her style.
“Very nice to meet you both,” Mr. Pennythistle said in a startlingly kind, gentle voice. He handed each of the girls a rose, too. Melissa cooed with delight, but Spencer just twirled it in her fingers suspiciously. There was something about the whole thing that was very The Bachelor.
Then Mr. Pennythistle gestured at the girl next to him. “And this is my daughter, Amelia.”
Amelia, whose own red rose was peeking out of the top of her ugly messenger bag, shook everyone’s hands, though she didn’t look very happy about it. “I like your headband,” Spencer offered, trying to be magnanimous. Amelia just stared at her blankly, her lips still a tight, straight line, her eyes canvassing Spencer’s long blond hair, gray cashmere sweater dress, and black Frye boots. After a moment, she let out a sniff and turned away, as if Spencer was the fashion faux pas, not her.
“Zachary will be along soon,” Mr. Pennythistle said as he sat down. “He had an Advanced Placement study group that ran late.”
“Understandable.” Mrs. Hastings lifted her water glass. She turned to her girls. “Both Zachary and Amelia go to St. Agnes.”
The ice cube Spencer had been sucking on slipped down her throat. St. Agnes was the snootiest school in the Main Line, so uptight that it made Rosewood Day look like juvie. Spencer had met a girl named Kelsey from St. Agnes this summer, while she was in an accelerated AP program at Penn. At first they’d been best friends, but then . . .
Spencer inspected Amelia carefully. Did Amelia know Kelsey? Had she heard what happened to her?
Then there was a long silence. Spencer’s mom kept sighing at her rose, looking around, and smiling awkwardly. Innocuous classical music tinkled softly over the stereo. Mr. Pennythistle politely ordered a Delamain cognac from the waitress. He kept making these irritating little coughs at the back of his throat. Just spit out your phlegm already, Spencer wanted to snap.
Finally, Melissa cleared her throat. “This is a lovely restaurant, Mr. Pennythistle.”
“Oh, absolutely!” Mrs. Hastings said, clearly grateful someone had broken the ice.
“Really Revolutionary War–esque,” Spencer added. “Let’s hope the food doesn’t date from then, too!”
Mrs. Hastings barked out a fake-laugh, but she stopped as soon as she saw the confused, almost hurt look on her boyfriend’s face. Amelia wrinkled her nose as if she’d smelled something rancid in the air. “Oh, Spencer didn’t mean it seriously,” Mrs. Hastings said quickly. “It was just a joke!”
Mr. Pennythistle tugged at his starched collar. “This has been my favorite restaurant for years. They have an award-winning wine list.”
Whoop-de-doo. Spencer glanced around, wishing she could sit with the table of tittering sixty-something ladies in the corner—at least they looked fun. She sneaked a peek at Melissa, hoping to commiserate, but Melissa was beaming at Mr. Pennythistle as though he were the Dalai Lama.
After the waitress delivered their drinks, Mr. Pennythistle turned to Spencer. Up close, he had little wrinkles around his eyes and wiry, out-of-control eyebrows. “So you’re a senior at Rosewood Day?”
Spencer nodded. “That’s right.”
“She’s very involved,” Mrs. Hastings bragged. “She’s on Varsity field hockey, and she was cast as Lady Macbeth in the senior production of Macbeth. Rosewood Day has a top-notch drama program.”
Mr. Pennythistle’s eyebrow arched at Spencer. “How are your grades this semester?”
The question caught Spencer off guard. Nosy, aren’t we? “They’re . . . fine. But I got into Princeton early decision, so it’s not such a big deal this term.”
She said Princeton with relish—surely that would impress Mr. Pennythistle and his snotty daughter. But Mr. Pennythistle just inched closer. “Princeton doesn’t like slackers, you know.” His kindly voice turned sharp. “Now isn’t the time to rest on your laurels.”
Spencer recoiled. What was with the reprimanding tone? Who did he think he was, her father? It was Mr. Hastings who’d told Spencer she should take it easy this semester—she’d worked hard, after all.
Spencer looked to her mother, but she was nodding along. “That’s true, Spence. Maybe you shouldn’t relax too much.”
“I’ve heard colleges are looking at your final term grades a lot more these days,” Melissa agreed. Traitor, Spencer thought.
“I’ve told my son that, too.” Mr. Pennythistle opened the restaurant’s wine list, which was the size of a dictionary. “He’s going to Harvard.” He said it in a haughty voice that seemed to say which is much, much better than Princeton.
Spencer ducked her head and arranged her fork, knife, and spoon so that they were exactly parallel with one another on the table. Organizing usually made her calm down, but not today.
Then Mr. Pennythistle turned to Melissa. “And I heard you got an MBA at Wharton. You’re working for Brice Langley’s hedge fund now, right? Impressive.”
Melissa, who had tucked her rose behind her ear, blushed. “I got lucky, I guess. Had a really good interview.”
“It must have taken more than luck and a good interview,” Mr. Pennythistle said admiringly. “Langley only hires the best of the best. You and Amelia have a lot to talk about. She wants to go into finance, too.”
Melissa beamed at Amelia, and Her Highness actually smiled back. Great. So this was going to be like any other family event Spencer had ever attended: Melissa was the shining star, the golden child, and Spencer was the second-rate freak no one quite knew how to handle.
Well, she’d had enough. Murmuring an excuse, she rose and placed her napkin on the back of her chair. She wove her way to the bathrooms at the bar area at the back of the restaurant.
The women’s bathroom, which was painted pink and had an antique brass knob, was locked, so Spencer slumped down on a cushy barstool at the bar to wait. The bartender, a handsome guy in his mid-twenties, swept over and set a Goshen Inn–embossed cocktail napkin in front of her. “What can I get you?”
The gleaming bottles of alcohol behind the bar winked temptingly. Neither Spencer’s mother nor Mr. Pennythistle could see Spencer from this angle. “Um, just coffee,” she decided at the last minute, not wanting to push her luck.
The bartender pivoted to the carafe and poured her a cup. As he set it in front of her, she noticed an image on the TV screen. A recent photo of Ali—the real Ali, the one who’d tried to kill Spencer and the others—dominated the top right corner. Across the bottom ran a headline that said DILAURENTIS POCONOS FIRE ANNIVERSARY: ROSEWOOD REMINISCES. Spencer shuddered. The last thing she wanted to do was reminisce about Real Ali trying to burn them alive.
A few weeks after it happened, Spencer made a conscious decision to look on the bright side—at least the terrible ordeal was over. They finally had closure, and they could begin the process of forgetting. She’d been the one to propose the Jamaica trip to her friends, even offering to help pay Emily’s and Aria’s way. “It’ll be a way for us to start fresh, forget everything,” she urged, spreading the resort brochures across the cafeteria table at lunch. “We need a trip that we can always remember.”
Famous last words. They’d never forget the trip—but not in a good way.
Someone groaned a few feet down. Spencer looked over, expecting to see an old codger in the middle of a heart attack, but instead saw a young guy with wavy brown hair, broad shoulders, and the longest eyelashes she’d ever seen.
He glanced at Spencer and gestured to the iPhone in his hand. “You don’t know what to do when this thing freezes, do you?”
One corner of Spencer’s mouth twisted into a smile. “How do you know I have an iPhone?” she challenged.
The guy lowered his phone and gave her a long, curious once-over. “No offense, but you don’t look like the kind of girl who’d walk around with anything but the best and the latest.”
“Oh really?” Spencer pressed her hand to her chest, mock-offended. “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you know.”
The guy stood up and dragged his barstool over to her. Up close, he was even cuter than she’d originally thought: His cheekbones were well defined, his nose ended in a cute bump on the end, and a dimple on his right cheek appeared whenever he smiled. Spencer liked his white, even, square teeth, untucked white-button down, and Converse All-Stars. Messy prepster was her favorite look.
“Okay, truth?” he said. “I asked you because you look like the only person in this place who actually owns a cell phone.” He glanced covertly at the aged population around the bar. There was a whole table of old guys in power scooters. One of them even had an oxygen tube under his nose.
Spencer snickered. “Yeah, they’re more of a rotary-dial crowd.”
“They probably still use the operator to make a call.” He pushed his phone in Spencer’s direction. “Seriously, though, do I restart or what?”
“I’m not sure . . .” Spencer stared at the screen. It was frozen on the stream for 610 AM, the local sports station. “Oh, I listen to this all the time!”
The boy looked at her skeptically. “You listen to sports radio?”
“It calms me down.” Spencer sipped her coffee. “It’s nice to hear people talking about sports instead of politics.” Or Alison, she silently added in her head. “Plus I’m a Phillies fan.”