Ada was getting ready for the lake party by stuffing tons of alcohol in her backseat. I played with the ends of my t-shirt, happy to be out of that dress from earlier. She’d already told Uncle Frank we’d be staying at the lake house tonight. He’d told me to keep an eye on Ada, making sure she didn’t do anything too stupid.
“Don’t you think that’s enough?” I asked her, wincing at the amount of vodka she’d already placed in the car.
“Don’t you think you should shut the hell up?” she shot back. I scoffed. “Sorry. Viola said something to piss me off on the phone earlier.”
“Let me guess,” I pushed myself off of the pillar I was leaning against to come closer. “It had something to do with Duke?”
I knew they were salty with each other from whatever happened at the fair. From what I grasped, Viola was under the impression that Duke liked her. This upset Ada a little. It wasn’t because it seemed that Duke was choosing Viola over her. Ada could have her pick of any guy we saw. No, it was because of the way Viola treated her after this sudden revelation. Viola liked to talk down to Ada. This was something new for her to tease us about.
“I didn’t even like Duke that much,” Ada stopped what she was doing to talk to me. “Part of me just wanted her to shut the hell up about it.”
“Viola’s a bitch,” I said, not caring about my language. Ada let out a short laugh and shook her head.
“You’re right,” she agreed. “But she’s my bitch of a friend. I’ll get past it.”
“With the help of alcohol?” I lifted my brow as she stuck of six-pack of something on the back seat.
“With the help of the party I’m throwing,” she corrected, narrowing her eyes. “You’re only coming because of Duke, right?”
“Well,” I started to lie but stopped once I saw my cousin’s face. “Yes.”
“I told you, Viola’s got it in her head that he’s hers,” she explained. “No way she’s letting him out of her sight.
“Well, not if you don’t help me,” I added, giving her my best puppy dog eyes. She shook her head. “Please, Ada? I don’t ask you for anything. Like, ever.”
“Fat chance,” she snorted.
“I don’t even want the kid,” I insisted. “Remember the stuff he brought over yesterday?”
“Don’t you think it’s weird,” I questioned, hoping she was feeling the same way I was about all that cash. “I looked through the bag and found a little treasure chest at the bottom.”
“You did what?” she squeaked, eyes going wide. “Why’d you go through Dad’s things? He hates when people do that.”
“Well, there wasn’t just money in there!” I defended. “I got curious.”
“Don’t get curious again,” she warned, slamming her car door. “You may be perfect in his eyes, but if he catches you snooping, he’ll be so upset.”
“Uncle Frank’s not a mean guy,” I assured, following her into the house. “Aren’t you the least bit curious as to why there was a treasure chest in a bag full of money?”
“No, Clary. I’m not a freak like you that doesn’t know how to mind her own business,” she snapped. I flinched at her tone. “Look, sorry. Viola’s got me on edge. Dad’s got me on edge. Just—don’t worry about anything, okay? Mind your business like you normally do.”
I crossed my arms defiantly. I watched as she raided the kitchen to get snacks for the lake house. I knew out of all the houses throwing parties tonight, hers would be the one with the most people in attendance.
“Distract Viola for five minutes,” I tried after a moment of silence. “I just want to talk to Duke for five minutes. It’s just to question him about Mr. Devaroux.”
She let out a heavy sigh and wiped a hand down her face. When she looked back at me, I almost felt bad for asking. But I couldn’t waver on this. I could get that bag of money and treasure chest out of my mind. It was all too…eerie.
“I heard them fighting earlier,” she spoke, snapping me out of my thoughts. I lifted a brow. “Mr. Devaroux and Dad. I walked past his office and heard them going back and forth about the stuff Duke dropped off.”
“What?” I blurted. “When? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It was like an hour ago, right when he got home,” she shrugged. “So, listen to me when I say you should leave it alone. I’ve never heard them fight about anything.”
That was true. My uncle wasn’t much of a fighter and from what I knew about Mr. Devaroux, he was a kind enough man. Unfortunately for Ada, this only made me want to figure out the entire situation more.
“Fine,” I relented and stalked away from her. I pretended to be angry and slammed my door. Having Ada’s help would have been ideal, but I would think of a way to get Viola away from Duke long enough to ask him some questions.
After a mostly quiet dinner with Uncle Frank and Ada, I packed a bag for tonight. Ada made some comment about not embarrassing her, so I tried to pick a nice enough outfit after looking at Pinterest for inspiration. I’d put on a bright blue bikini underneath a white crocheted tank and a white jean skirt. Ada made no comment about my outfit, so I assumed that meant I looked okay.
Once we arrived at the lake house, she put me in charge of setting up drinks and snacks. I didn’t bother complaining because she was already in a bitchy mood about having people come over. I don’t know why she volunteered if she didn’t want to deal with random people trying to invite themselves. Her biggest worry was that people from Shale Valley would make their way over to her party. Weston arrived early to help as well and was assuring her that he’d be on the lookout for those ‘assholes’ to make sure they didn’t crash.
An hour or so after this, the party was in full swing. It wasn’t overly crowded, I could still walk through the party without bumping into people, but this wasn’t my ideal scene. I didn’t have any friends here besides my cousin and she was too busy mingling with people she actually liked to pay attention to me.
Plus, Duke hadn’t arrived yet. Thankfully, Viola was always asking Weston where he was so I was also updated on his whereabouts. After her third time asking him, he groaned as she walked away.
“She’s a piece of work,” he muttered, but he knew I could hear him. I nodded in agreement. “If he knows what’s best for him, he’ll stay away from her.”
“Are you and Duke friends?” I decided to ask him. Weston looked deep in thought before he answered.
“I mean, I know the kid,” he began. “But I don’t like know the kid.”
That wasn’t helpful.
“Thanks,” I grinned before walking away. I was planning on going outside for some fresh air when I ran into the man who had me so perplexed for the past day and a half. My eyes widened and I stopped in my tracks. He looked around at the party with furrowed brows before his eyes landed on me. I couldn’t even get a word out before I was rudely pushed and blocked from his view as Viola stood in front of me.
“Hey D,” she beamed, giggling even. I rolled my eyes and walked away. I’d have to be patient and wait for my chance to strike.
When I’d turned around, Ada was standing there with an annoyed look on her face. I looked back at her questioningly.
“I’ll try to give you five minutes,” she huffed, glaring at Viola behind me. “I can’t promise anything more than that.”
“What made you change your mind?” I asked excitedly.
“She asked me if I thrifted my top,” she scoffed. “Can you believe that?”
I wanted to tell her there was nothing wrong with thrifting clothing, but kept my mouth shut to not jeopardize the deal we’d just made. I listened to her complain about Viola for a moment before she insisted she needed something more to drink and left me to stand there.
So, I wandered around aimlessly for God knows how long. At some point, kids made their way to the lake and I decided to join. I’d discarded my top and sat on the edge of the dock with a wine cooler in my hand. I was sitting near Ada, Weston, and a couple of their friends. People swam leisurely and music blasted from some speaker Weston had set up earlier. Viola was nowhere in my line of sight and neither was Duke. I sighed.
“Where you from again?” Greer asked. I’d met him a few summers back. Like a lot of Ada’s friends who weren’t Viola, he was decently nice to me. “Iowa?”
“Michigan,” I corrected.
“Oh,” he responded lamely. “You a senior?”
“I’m going to be a junior,” I shook my head. He was asking buffer questions to fill the silence. I wasn’t feeling the effects of alcohol and with how boring this conversation was, I wanted to. After a couple more minutes of him asking me random things about Michigan, I was pleasantly surprised to see Duke and Viola join us by the lake.
“Let’s go for a swim,” Ada suggested suddenly. Weston was more than happy to oblige and so were the rest of their friends. They all jumped in eagerly and I was left sitting there, a strong grip on my drink.
“C’mon in, Clary!” Weston invited.
“I’m good,” I held up my hand. I glanced at Ada and she gave me a very subtle nod. My heart soared at this opportunity. Viola and Duke edged closer and before I knew it, Ada was calling out towards her best friend.
“V!” she screamed, shocking Viola. Duke furrowed his brows at the noise. “Bet you won’t jump in!”
“I didn’t bring a swimsuit,” Viola called out, waving her off.
“Pussy!” Weston joined in on the taunting. I was quite sure Weston wasn’t involved in my cousin’s plan; he was just like that naturally.
“Oh, shut up,” Viola yelled, frowning now. The chanting had started, and not wanting to look like a chicken in front of everyone, Viola cursed because she wasn’t one to back down from a challenge. It’s probably why she and Ada were always in some type of fight. Everything was a competition to her. “Fine!”
She stripped off her shirt before diving in headfirst off the dock. There were loud screamed and laughter coming from the teens in the water. I wasted no time in getting up from my sitting position to greet Duke.
“Hi,” I said almost shyly. I guess I wasn’t prepared to actually talk to him. Questions had been running through my mind all day, but I didn’t know how to smoothly ask them.
He only nodded in response. He wasn’t a man of many words. I mentally huffed.
“So, you haven’t been in Joyston long,” I observed. Duke wore the same casual clothing from earlier. His blonde curls were being blown by the cool wind and his hands were tucked into his pockets. I had to almost crane my head up completely to look him in the eyes. Though, he wasn’t looking at me. He was looking out at the water.
“Guess not,” he responded, shrugging. I bit my lip and looked away from him. He wasn’t making this easy. Should I just go for it?
“You have any idea what was in the bag you brought over yesterday?” I quizzed. I assumed this was the last thing he’d thought I’d talk to him about because his brows furrowed and for the first time during this conversation, he looked at me. Like, in the eye, he looked at me.
I hadn’t noticed it before, but he had the same accent as most of the kids here which led me to believe that before he came to stay with his father, he was native to the state of Mississippi.
“Um,” I stammered. “You know, yesterday? You brought that duffle bag over to my Uncle’s house?”
“You went through the bag?” He was frowning now, and to be honest, it kind of spooked me.
“No,” I lied. “Wait, why? Did you?”
“My father asked me to bring it over to your house,” he looked away again, the frown leaving his face quickly. “It was none of my business and it’s not yours either.”
“You don’t know what my business is and what it’s not,” I argued. He did a double-take as if he didn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth.
“I can promise you,” he began, looking me straight in the eye. “You want to stay out of it.”
“Why?” I prodded, ignoring the warning signs going off in my head. “Does Mr. Devaroux have it out for Uncle Frank?”
After the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them. Because the moment I was done speaking, a big mocking smile broke out across Duke’s face. He even let out a dark chuckle.
“Does he have it out for him?” he repeated, looking thoughtful.
“Duke!” A voice yelled, pulling us out of our conversation. He looked up at Viola who was waving her arms for him to come and join. He gave me one last look.
“I wouldn’t,” he said to me softly before reaching behind him and pulling his shirt off. The breath caught in my throat at this move. I took a moment to admire his sculpted arms and chest. What seventeen-year-old is this built? Ada’s other friends sure weren’t. I was snapped out of my trance by him jogging and jumping off the dock. I flinched as water sprinkled over me. Well, that was a bust.
“Little Clarice!” Weston was taunting me now because I’d started walking away from the water. I wasn’t going to lie to myself, I’d felt intimidated by Duke. I wanted so badly not to be, but I couldn’t help it. Now I was embarrassed that I’d asked him those questions only for him to treat me like I was insignificant. Though, a small part of me was urging me to continue pushing because he seemed like he had something to hide. The bigger part of me, the more rational part, told me to drop it. It was none of my business and I’m sure my Uncle Frank was old enough to handle whatever Mr. Devaroux threw at him.
“C’mon, Clary,” A voice said, his voice sounding much closer now.
“Greer!” Ada yelled, laughter in her voice. I gasped when I felt myself being picked up and furiously hit the boy carrying me.
“Don’t hurt her!” Weston exclaimed, also sounding amused.
“Let me go,” I pleaded, pounding on his arms wrapped around my waist. I felt the vibrations of his laugh throughout my body. Next thing I knew, I was submerged beneath the water. I was sputtering as I broke through the surface, taking deep breaths.
“So dramatic,” Viola teased. She was treading water next to Duke who looked unimpressed by my existence. I resisted the urge to pout.
“Sorry,” Greer shrugged beside me, a wide smile on his face. “Your cousin dared me.”
Of course she did.
I waited for the attention to be off of me before I swam towards the dock and pulled myself up. No one called out for me as I made my way back to the house and to my designated room for the night. I was done interacting with people for the time being.
I changed and stayed holed up in my room until I was sure the party was over. Someone had cut the music off and I heard a couple of voices talking downstairs. I was sure it was Ada and Weston cleaning up.
I hesitantly made my way down there to see if they needed help when I ran into Viola talking animatedly to Duke at the bottom of the stairs. I rolled my eyes at the interaction and squeezed past them. Sure enough, Weston was holding a garbage bag and picking up trash off the floor.
“Sorry about Greer,” Ada walked into the room, eyeing me cautiously. “You looked like you could go for a swim.”
“Mhm,” I murmured, crossing my arms. “Do you need help?”
“Nah,” Weston answered. “We got it, right Ada?”
I think Weston felt a little bad for me.
“Right,” Ada sighed, looking away from me now. They were the only four people in the house besides me. I decided to take a look in the backyard to check if anyone else was lurking around. It was around two in the morning and I yawned as I walked onto the deck. Needing to relax, I took a seat with my legs dangling over the edge. Across the lake, I could see a party happening over in Shale Valley.
Involuntarily, I thought back to the conversation I’d had with Duke. He’d seemed to get serious when he told me to stay out of it. Our talk was the most I’ve seen him interact with people, even Viola. At that moment, I decided to heed his warning and stay out of it.
I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I hadn’t even felt the wind pick up until it was whistling past my ears. I furrowed my brows at the air hitting my eyes forcefully causing them to water. Hastily wiping the tears away, I stood up and stumbled backward. The trees rustled and I was shocked to see that there was a heavy fog rolling in from off the lake. Weird. I’ve never seen it do that before.
A dark feeling washed over me and I knew it was time to go inside. When I turned around, though, it felt like a heavyweight was placed on my shoulders. I gasped as I looked forward.
There Duke stood on the back porch, looking at me intently. I stayed still, wondering if he was truly looking at me or something behind me. After a quick look back, I realized the fog was gone and I noticed the wind had stopped. Huh?
When I faced forward again Duke was nowhere to be seen. I tried to steady my erratic breathing as I thought about what had just occurred. That was more than creepy. In fact, it was so odd and off-putting that I could barely fall asleep later that night. Even weirder, when I looked out my window out of pure curiosity, I saw a similar fog from before rolling off the lake and towards the house. The wind whistled outside my window all night.