Page 9


(“I KNEW IT!!,” from Crown Town)
Chapter 6
“Can I just state for the record that being called ‘the slutty one’ when I had exactly one boyfriend for less than a year is deeply unfair?”
Even through the computer screen, I can feel El tighten her shoulders as she shoots a glare toward the tiny camera. “Daisy, this is not funny.”
We’re all in the dining room, me, Mom, and Dad, crowded around my laptop. Ellie is in Edinburgh in the flat she shares with another girl who works at her publishing company, and since it’s about 2 a.m. there, she’s speaking in a whisper for the most part throughout our emergency family Skype session. She’s still dressed from work, too, which, weirdly, makes me feel kind of sorry for her. “Jammies by 5 p.m. or die” is practically my motto.
So maybe that’s why I keep my own voice soft when I reply, “Trust me, I know it’s not, El. I’m the one who had to delete her Facebook. Which, by the way, was so totally not boring. I had all those pictures from last year’s trip to Colonial Williamsburg!”
“I feel the lack of a book of faces is truly the least of our concerns at the moment,” Dad says. He’s sitting next to me, drinking cranberry juice out of a wineglass.
Mom is currently indulging in a cigarette. She quit about ten years ago but still gets three smokes a year to be used in either celebration or crisis.
There is no doubt what kind of cigarette this is.
“It’s just one blog post,” Mom says, stubbing out her cigarette in the lumpy clay ashtray I made for her two years ago when I went through a pottery phase. It’s supposed to be shaped like a hand, but it looks a lot more like a claw if I’m being honest. The fact that I painted it green doesn’t help. “It isn’t as though this is in the papers, or on the telly. Who reads those blogs anyway?”
“More people than you’d think. Even the lower-level blogs like Crown Town get around a million unique visitors per month,” a voice says off camera from Ellie’s side, and I see my sister glance off to her right before she turns her laptop slightly, sharing the frame with a woman in a cream jacket and tartan scarf, a gold pin winking at her throat. Her hair is dark and sleek, tucked behind her ears, and honestly, she could be twenty-five or fifty. It’s impossible to tell.
“Mom, Dad, Daisy, this is Glynnis,” Ellie says. We can only see half her face now, Glynnis’s taking up most of the screen. “She works for Alex’s family as a sort of . . .”
When Ellie just trails off, Glynnis’s scarlet lips spread in a wider smile. “Let’s say a liaison,” she supplies, giving the word the full French treatment. “I’m here to smooth anything that needs smoothing.”
Another flash of teeth, and Dad grumbles, setting his wineglass down so hard a bit of juice sloshes over the side. “Oh, I know you people,” he tells Glynnis, nodding at her. “The ones who keep things out of the papers, you are. The ones who made up ‘exhaustion,’ as though that’s a thing people actually have.”
Glynnis’s smile doesn’t falter even a little bit, which impresses me. For the most part, my dad is the mellowest dude in the world these days, but when he uses that piercing stare, it’s easy to remember that once upon a time, he could hold the attention of entire arenas.
“Even so,” she says, her voice brisk. Unlike my sister and Alex, Glynnis actually sounds Scottish, especially when she adds, “So it’s clear that we’re in a right fix now, isn’t it, Winters family?”
I can feel cold sweat breaking out between my shoulder blades at that. I kept thinking that if I just pretended this blog post was no big deal, it actually wouldn’t be a big deal. Kind of like how I thought I could just keep out of the wedding stuff except for actually showing up at the wedding. Isabel would have called that naive, but I was calling it “self-preservation.”
“The problem with these sorts of sites,” Glynnis continues, pulling out her smartphone and tapping at the screen, “is that new information triggers a game of one-upmanship. Crown Town posts your Facebook, so Off with Their Heads will want yearbook photos, interviews with friends or old boyfriends, anything they can find. And then, of course, some of the more legitimate press will follow, and before we know it, the entire thing is out of our hands.”
My sweat situation gets worse as thoughts of me on the covers of magazines with stupid headlines over my face start filling my brain. Why would they want me when they have El, who is way better at this kind of thing anyway?
Glynnis is still talking as I fight off my panic attack, and it takes me a minute to realize what she’s saying. Only when I hear “So I can arrange Daisy’s flight” do I look at the screen.
“Wait, what?”
Mom is sitting back in her chair, arms crossed, looking over the top of her glasses at Glynnis. “The entire summer?” she says, and I look over at her, my eyes wide.
“Hold up, what’s going on? Sorry, I was having an existential crisis, so I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Ellie’s face appears on the screen again as she leans over Glynnis to give me a Maximum Big Sister Look. “Maybe try to focus on things that are explicitly about you?”
“Maybe don’t give me a hard time when this whole thing is happening because of you?” I snap back, and Mom touches my arm, shaking her head slightly.
“Not now, girls,” she says, and flashes El a look through the screen, too. “You too, young lady.”
Ellie scowls, and I see her look over at Glynnis, who is very diplomatically focusing on her phone and not our sisterly sniping.
“The plan is,” Glynnis says, still not looking up, “for you to come here for the summer. To Scotland, rather. It will be far easier for us to control access to you if you’re in Eleanor and Alexander’s circle.”
“I don’t want to be in a circle,” I reply, “and besides, I can’t go to Scotland. Isabel and I are going to Key Con in Key West in a couple of weeks.”
Mom hums, nodding. “That’s true, you’ve been planning that for ages. Maybe after—”
Glynnis leans a little closer, her smile becoming a grimace. “I’m so sorry,” she says, “but the family is rather insistent we get this sorted as soon as possible, and the summer schedule is already locked. It would really be so much easier to slide Daisy in now.”
“Easier for who?” I ask, but that’s stupid, because of course she means the royal family and Ellie.
“Daisy, we’re trying to help,” Ellie pleads, pulling her hair away from her face. When she does, I notice how sharp her jaw is. El definitely looked skinnier when she was here, but for the first time, I see that she’s really skinny now, and that there are faint violet shadows beneath her eyes. I had one stupid blog post about me, and it was making me feel like my skin didn’t fit right. What is it like to have thousands of those types of posts?
But then I remember that she’s trying to make me give up this trip, this thing Isabel and I have been excited about for a year. How am I supposed to tell Isa that, sorry, my sister pulled rank and now I can’t go?
And then, ugh, it’s so stupid, but I feel my throat tightening up. “No,” I say. “I’m not canceling on Isabel just because of one stupid gossip website, and one stupid boy. We planned this. Ash Bentley is going to be there, and she’s our favorite author, and—”