Read an Excerpt
Rules of Summer
By Joanna Philbin
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Copyright © 2014 Joanna Philbin
All rights reserved.
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."
Excerpted from Rules of Summer by Joanna Philbin. Copyright © 2014 Joanna Philbin. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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