The Aristocrat by Penelope Ward

“I promise not to take off my clothes...” He added a crooked smile.

I let out a much-needed laugh. “Well, since you put it that way.”

“Tomorrow at two, then? Or whatever time works for you.”

A part of me wanted to refuse, but why? It wasn’t like I had anything more exciting going on. I didn’t quite understand whether he genuinely wanted my expertise on Narragansett, or if there was something more to the invitation, now that I knew he wasn’t gay.

“Sure. Two tomorrow works.”

“Brilliant. You know how to get to the house without having to swim across, I take it?”

“Yes.” I smiled.

“Very well, then. And I promise, Sigmund will be on his best behavior.”

“I can handle it if he’s not.”

This seemingly rich traveler had no idea just how much I could handle. I might turn red when I was embarrassed, but I’d grown a pretty-thick skin over the years.

That’s the way it is when you always had to fend for yourself.

* * *


Track 2: “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” by the Original Broadway Cast of Annie

“What exactly does one wear to tea?” I asked.

“I’ll tell you what they don’t wear. That raggedy ‘gamer girl’ T-shirt you’ve got on.”

My best friend, Bailey, was entering her second year of grad school at Brown. She lived about forty minutes away in Providence, but was visiting me a couple of hours before I was set to head over to the neighbors’ house.

“That’s why I’m asking you. You have much better fashion sense than I do.”

She sifted through my closet. “I’m thinking…something buttoned up and proper, yet chic.”

“Really? Aside from their accents, these guys don’t seem that proper at all. They’re more wild.”

“Think about it. Tea? That’s like synonymous with high necks and buttons.” She reached for a white blouse I often wore to interviews. “This looks nice. What do you have for skirts?”

“I don’t really wear them.”

“Seriously. Your entire closet is jeans, the same few T-shirts in different colors, and a couple of sweatshirts.”

“Well, that’s what I like.”

“You need something for special occasions, though.”

“I don’t really go anywhere.”

She managed to find the one skirt I had in the back of my closet. “What’s this?”

“That’s the skirt I wore to concert choir performances in high school.”

“Does it fit?”

“I think so, but don’t you think that’s too formal?”

“Nah. Try it on.”

I undressed, putting on the white shirt and buttoning it before slipping the long, black skirt over my legs.

Bailey looked me up and down. “You look nice.” She continued searching through my closet. “What about this over it?” She took a gray blazer off one of the hangers. “You need something to spruce up the white shirt.”

“It’s June. Isn’t it too warm out for a blazer?”

“Well, you’ll be in the air conditioning, right?”

“Maybe. Not sure.” I slipped the jacket over my shoulders.

“Why are these guys renting that house again?”

“He said they picked Narragansett randomly. They’re on a six-month vacation here in the States.”

“Weird. But cool at the same time.” She beamed. “You think this guy likes you?”

I closed the last button on the jacket. “I don’t know.”

“Well, he has no clue he’s invited the chess champion of Narragansett High over for tea.”

“Yeah, I don’t think that’s something to advertise. It’s bad enough I’m dressed like I’m going to a job interview. I don’t need to highlight my nerd tendencies.”

She laughed. “Okay. Well, I gotta run. Let me know how it goes, okay?”

“Will do.”

“And Felicity? Come meet me in the city next week. Let’s go shopping. I didn’t realize how bad this closet situation was.”

“Not necessary.”

“Oh, believe me, it’s necessary.”

I parked my tiny car in front of the beautiful property, which had a circular driveway. The house featured wood-shingle siding and a stunning front porch with four white Adirondack chairs. This was the quintessential Narragansett house, yet most people could only afford it in their dreams.