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No Words: Chapter 22

I choked on the mouthful of shrimp I’d just swallowed.

Looking concerned, Will asked, “Are you all right?” and patted me lightly on the back while signaling a passing server for water.

“Well, you’d probably be number one,” Jasmine said, mistaking my suddenly streaming eyes for dismay, “if Timothée Chalamet hadn’t been spotted on a beach in Ibiza with Harry Styles earlier today.”

“Oh, please.” Cassidy looked disdainful. “Everyone knows Harry and Timothée are just friends.”

The server arrived with the water Will had requested. I thanked her and, taking the glass, quickly gulped down enough liquid to keep from dying at the table from asphyxiation.

Dying of embarrassment was another matter.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” Will asked me.

I nodded vigorously, still unable to speak. Scanning the crowd, I finally found Bernadette seated a few tables away with young fans of her own. She was too engrossed in conversation with them, however, to notice the distress signals I was sending her with my eyes.

“Well, that’s good,” Will said to me. “I know we’ve got some of the best seafood in the world here, but you might not want to inhale it. Now, who did you say is trending?” he asked the girls curiously.

As Jasmine sucked in her breath to reply, I felt my life flash before my eyes.

But fortunately an enormous burst of static came from one of the nearly four-foot-tall speakers sitting not far from us, and everyone’s attention shifted to the stage, where Chloe stood in front of five of her fellow dance team members—the stage was too small to accommodate more—each in a power pose, their pom-poms on their hips.

“Um, hello, may I have everyone’s attention?” Chloe asked into the microphone she was clutching. “Hi, welcome. I’m Chloe Price, co-captain of the Little Bridge Island High School Snappettes. We’re so honored to be here helping out during this first-ever Little Bridge Island Book Festival. Are you enjoying yourselves so far?”

This was met with cheers and applause from not only everyone on the deck as well as inside the restaurant but even farther down the pier, where people who weren’t attending the book festival had stuck around after sunset to continue enjoying the warm night air and ocean breeze. Now they were also gleefully watching the stage at Cracked, which was suddenly covered in cheerleaders.

Chloe looked encouraged by this positive response, and said into the microphone, “Great! Well, we couldn’t be happier to have all of you here, and to show you our appreciation, we wanted to perform a piece we’ve been working on. It’s called ‘Dances to Songs About Writing and Books.’”

What. The. Kitten.

I threw Will a quick, questioning look. He smiled and leaned over to whisper in my ear, “Chloe begged me to allow them to perform this. And after what I did to you at Novel Con, I’m not exactly in a position to judge someone else’s artistic choices, am I?”

I tried to grin back at him but failed, not because I didn’t agree with him—I did—but because his warm, sweet-smelling breath had tickled my neck, causing gooseflesh to rise on the backs of my arms, and other parts of me—parts I didn’t want him anywhere near, but also very definitely did—to snap to tight attention.

Fortunately, he didn’t seem aware of any of this, since his gaze was on the stage, where Chloe had laid down her microphone, lifted a pair of pom-poms, and moved into formation with her fellow dance team members just as the loud bossa nova music from inside the restaurant suddenly went silent.

I’m certain the only expression I was able to make after that was one of utter astonishment, especially as the first chords of “Kitty Katz to the Rescue”—the theme song from the short-lived animated television series Kitty Katz, Kitten Sitter—boomed from the speakers near us.

Then the Snappettes dropped their pom-poms, placed their hands upon one another’s shoulders, and broke into a perfectly synchronized kick line to the riotous, high-pitched all-girl band chords of:

Which li’l kitty is the head of her class?

Which li’l kitty’s got lots of sass?

Which li’l kitty is tons of fun?

Which li’l kitty is number one?

Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty,

Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty,

Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty,

Kitty Katz!

I could hardly believe what I was hearing, much less seeing. But there it was, right onstage in front of me.

I glanced around the deck to see how other people were registering what was happening, but none seemed to be quite as astonished as I was. Most looked delighted . . . especially when “Kitty Katz to the Rescue” ended and Elvis Costello’s “Every Day I Write the Book” came on. The less manic pace of this song gave the girls a chance to show off more balletic stuff . . . at least until Don Henley’s “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” began to boom from the sound system.

Then the team launched into what I could only assume were the capoeira moves Will had been describing earlier, since the many spins and jumps in the choreography sent the girls flying off the stage and onto the deck. Those seated nearby had to duck for fear of having their heads kicked off.

The crowd loved it, however. Jasmine wasn’t the only person who raised her phone and began filming. I clapped along with everyone else, but when the performance ended—with the girls performing flips off the stage and landing in perfectly timed splits to the theme song of Salem Prairie, Kellyjean’s series on Netflix—I still had questions.

“‘All She Wants to Do Is Dance’ is based on a book?” I shouted at Will. I had to shout because the crowd had burst into a standing ovation. I was standing along with them, clapping loudly enough to hurt my hands. The girls deserved it for their grand finale alone.

The Great Gatsby,” Will shouted back, looking as proud of his little sister’s ingenuity as he was her athletic prowess. “And The Ugly American. Oblivious rich Americans dancing as the world around them burns—sound familiar?”

“Oh.” I couldn’t believe I’d listened to this song so many times and not realized the Molotov cocktails referenced in it were actual bombs and not drinks. “Of course.”

“Totally putting this on the ’gram,” Jasmine was yelling to no one in particular. “Otherwise no one’s going to believe me back home when I tell them about it.”

I knew how she felt. Not that I hadn’t loved every minute of it. I wasn’t the only one, either.

“Oh my God, Jo!” Frannie and Saul appeared at my side. “Can you believe this?” Tears of laughter glistened in the corners of Frannie’s eyes. “I swear they were better than the Knicks City Dancers!”

“They were,” I agreed. I’d never been to a Knicks game, because sports—aside from cooking competitions on the Food Network—were not my thing. But I knew Frannie had never missed one, so if she thought this, it had to be true.

“This is some book festival.” Saul had a bright orange streak of buffalo shrimp sauce on his black shirt, in sharp contrast with his image as the king of horror fiction. “Way better than Novel Con. The meals and entertainment are much higher class, and you don’t have to fight for taxis afterward to get back to your hotel. The lines for booze are shorter, too.”

I had to stifle a laugh at this. A quick glance up at Will showed me that he was holding back a chuckle as well. His gaze, bright with suppressed mirth, met mine.

And suddenly that same odd sensation I’d felt before—first when I’d stepped off the plane into the hot, humid air and onto the rickety steps leading to the Little Bridge Island tarmac, and then when I’d kissed Will—swept over me again. A certainty that this was where I belonged . . . a conviction that I was home.

Which was completely absurd.

What was happening to me? I wondered as I tore my gaze from Will’s and searched once again for Bernadette in the crowd. Was I drunk again? No, that wasn’t possible. I’d only had one glass of champagne.

Food poisoning, then. My God, Frannie had been right all along. Why had we eaten the locally sourced seafood?

“Are you all right?” Will asked curiously.

I realized the horror I’d been feeling at my shocking self-revelation—that I liked this island, and even more startling, was beginning to like Will—must have been showing on my face.

“Oh, fine,” I said, waving away his concern. “I’m fine. Just—” I looked around quickly for an excuse and found it on the table. “I’m so thirsty.” I snatched up my empty champagne glass.

“I think I can rectify that for you.” Smiling, he signaled once again to one of the servers.

Phew. That had been a narrow escape. Now so long as the girls at our table kept their mouths shut about how Will and I were trending as a couple on social media, I might actually make it through the rest of the evening and back to the hotel without—

“What’d you think?” Chloe came bounding over, her pom-poms clutched tightly under her chin, her expression anxious.

“You were great!” Will threw an arm around her shoulders and kissed the top of her ponytailed head.

“You really were,” I said, meaning it, as Frannie and Saul and Lauren and her friends all added their kudos as well.

“I don’t know how you remembered all that choreography,” Lauren said.

“Oh.” Chloe beamed. “We practiced tons. I’m glad you liked it.”

“I’m going to incorporate some of your moves into Felicity Feline’s next cheer routine,” I said, only half joking.

But Chloe took me seriously, her mouth falling open. “Oh, Ms. Wright, do you mean that? That—that would be amazing! That would be the biggest compliment ever!”

I glanced uncertainly at Will, only to see that he’d covered his mouth with a hand to hide his grin.

“Well, yes, I mean it,” I said to Chloe. “If I have your permission to steal your moves. I know people can be a little sensitive about—”

“Oh, you totally have our permission! We’d be honored! Which moves do you mean? I can make a list for you, if you want. I think it would be great if in your next book, Felicity is working on a back handspring—”

“Wow, folks, wasn’t that great?”

We were all startled by a man’s voice coming from the speakers on either side of the stage. I looked over to see Garrett standing in the stage lights, his hair looking wind-tossed and a bit sweaty from the island humidity—probably because he was wearing a cape, and the temperature was in the seventies.

“Let’s give those girls another round of applause, shall we?” Garrett beamed as everyone in the audience, looking confused, stared at him, then finally let out a polite patter of applause. “That was really great. For those of you who don’t recognize me in this amazing ensemble.” He did a full turn to show off the pirate outfit and cape. “I’m Garrett Newcombe, bestselling—and award-winning—author of the Dark Magic School series for kids.”

A number of children who were in the audience let out appreciative little shrieks and darted forward, eager to push through the crowd so that they could see the author of their favorite new series doing—well, whatever it was Garrett was about to do.

“Thank you,” Garrett gushed with what I felt was completely fake modesty as these same children sank to their knees in front of the stage. “Thank you so much. And thank you, too, to the board and staff of the Little Bridge Island Book Festival for hosting such an amazing event tonight. Are you all having as much fun as I am?”

The kids kneeling in front of Garrett exploded into appreciative cheers, and that same sentiment was echoed around us—except by Bernadette, who’d come weaving through the crowd toward us, Kellyjean and Jerome trailing not far behind her.

“What the hell is he doing up there?” Bernadette hissed into my ear as soon as she reached my side.

“I have no idea,” I whispered back. “I thought you would know. Is this part of his shtick?”

“How should I know?” she asked, slipping into a chair beside me. “I thought magic was his shtick.”

“So if his shtick is magic, why is he dressed in a pirate costume?”

“Oh, hon, that’s not a pirate costume.” Kellyjean sank into one of the chairs near us and peeled off her shoes. She was wearing her jeweled sandals, and once again they were rubbing her feet the wrong way. “He’s dressed as Professor Eurynomos, the hero of his books. Haven’t y’all read them? My kids can’t get enough of ’em, even though I don’t approve of any books that glorify—”

“Shhh!” One of the children sitting closest to us put his fingers to his lips and shushed Kellyjean.

Frannie, her eyebrows raised, looked mockly offended. “Well! I guess we’ve been told off. I certainly hope this doesn’t take long, though. There’s a Knicks game tonight, and I don’t want to miss the tip-off.”

Grinning, I caught Will’s eye. He grinned back. I felt a jolt of white-hot desire shoot through me, and quickly looked away.

Oh, this was not good. This was not good at all.

“Tonight,” Garrett was going on, up on the stage, “I’m going to introduce all of you to the mystical art of dematerialization—or, as some of you may be more familiar with, teleportation. But in order for me to do so, I’m going to need a volunteer to assist me.”

The hand of each child in the audience shot up. “Me!” every single one of them cried. “Me, me! Oh, please, pick me!”

“Hmmm.” Garrett looked out at the dozen or so children practically convulsing in front of him in their eagerness to be chosen. “I think not. I need someone very special to assist me. Someone highly skilled in the psychic sciences. Someone who believes. And while all of you children seem delightful, that someone is . . .” Garrett began scanning the audience on the deck, his index finger extended so he could point out the person he sought.

“Oh, no,” Kellyjean muttered as that finger swung in our direction. “I’m not havin’ anything to do with this. Dark magic is wrong, and he knows good and well I would never—”

“You,” Garrett cried, his roving finger pointing directly at me.

The Moment by Will Price

“And now, by the power invested in me,” said the preacher, “I declare you man and wife. Johnny, you may kiss your bride.”

Never in my life had I heard sweeter words. And never in my life had I seen a sweeter sight than the face of my new wife, Melanie, as she turned to me, eyes radiant and shining, ruby lips parted in a smile and ready for our first kiss as a married couple.

At least until a voice rang out from the back of the church:

“She’ll be no bride of yours, Johnny!”

I turned just in time to see her husband, alive and well, burst through the chapel doors, a gold-plated pistol in his hand.

When the shot rang out, I knew there was only one thing I could do—only one way I could make things right. I threw myself in front of the bullet he meant for Melanie.


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