You and a guest are cordially invited
to an end-of-term party for
Peter Henry Shaw
Saturday, June fifteenth
Eight o’clock p.m.
2409 Belmont Boulevard
R.S.V.P. Black Tie
Graduation was still a year away, but Peter’s great-uncle Jeremiah gave him a couple of presents anyway: a red Lexus SC10 convertible and a party that would make My Super Sweet 16 look like an afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese’s.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not sour grapes talking. In fact, if any seventeen-year-old could be said to be deserving of a new Lexus, it would be Peter Shaw. He is humble and hardworking and respectful of his elders and conscientious about the environment. Also generous, modest, levelheaded,
kind, sensitive, spiritual, and deep, not to mention extremely good-looking. He smells good too.
So no, it’s not that he’s a wiener with a car. It’s just that it all came as such a shock. Peter’s great-uncle, Jeremiah Shaw, had never spoken to him before last year. Nor had any of his other relatives. A birthday card from the old man would have been a surprise, let alone a Lexus. Or this amazing party at the biggest house in town.
The Shaw mansion had fifty rooms on four floors, plus five or six outbuildings, an Olympic-size pool, tennis court, and a number of gardens, including one with a waterfall. Double stairways led to a huge balcony at the front entrance to the house, and there were several patios and balconies in the back, where gigantic party tents outlined in lights had been erected.
On the lawn, an army of waiters carried trays of canapés and soft drinks in crystal champagne glasses. SOMA, a nine-piece band that won a bunch of Grammy awards last year, was playing in a specially built amphitheater.
The guests were sharply divided by dress. The townies—meaning my friends—wore the same clothes they’d worn to junior prom or Winter Frolic. But the Muffies—that was my term for the rich girls who boarded at my school—all seemed to be in new gowns.
Actually, I got a new dress too, but it wasn’t my idea. As Peter’s “official” girlfriend, I guess I was expected to look as if I lived up to the Shaw standard. So one of Jeremiah’s assistants brought over a Vera Wang dress the color of glacial ice that must have cost a fortune, plus a lot of blue jewelry that I thought were rhinestones but that turned out to be sapphires rented from Tiffany in New York.
I looked good, I admit, but I felt ridiculous. For one thing, it must have seemed as if I was trying to show off, which offended my friends while at the same time eliciting the contempt of the Muffies, who thought I was trying to be one of them. For another—and this was much worse—some guy was assigned to follow me wherever I went to make sure I didn’t lose or steal any of the jewelry.
“Well, so what?” Peter said when I complained about the security guy. “It’s not like you have to talk to him or anything.”
“That’s not the point,” I insisted as I wobbled on my Jimmy Choo sandals with five-inch heels. “I feel like I’m being stalked.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Peter said. “You’re practically the guest of honor.”
“No, Peter,” I answered hotly. “You’re the guest of honor. I’m just one of the locals that thug over there’s been asked to keep an eye on in case I walk out with the family silver.”
That was the extent of our conversation, because a second later Peter was pulled away by someone wearing a Rolex and a toupee.
I turned around to face the lurking security guy and gave him the stink eye. His face never changed expression.
I sighed. He had already creeped out everyone I knew there. Whenever I tried to make conversation with the few people I’d made friends with since I came to Ainsworth in my sophomore year, they fled as soon as the beefy guy with the earpiece lumbered into view. I couldn’t blame them. This was supposed to be Peter’s party, but none of us saw much of Peter. Well, we saw him, looking like a movie star
in an Armani tuxedo, but he spent almost every minute with Jeremiah and the old people.
Oh, and yes, also a cluster of fashion model types who seemed to be there for the sole purpose of having their pictures taken with Peter. They spoke only French. That is to say, they were French. And did I say gorgeous? Grr.
The only one I knew was a girl named Fabienne de la Soubise. Yes, that was really her name. She’d spent her freshman year at Ainsworth School, where Peter and I both had scholarships. I hadn’t seen much of her since Winter Frolic, which she’d attended as Peter’s date. That hadn’t been her idea—or Peter’s—so I’d let it go, but I hadn’t been really chummy with her afterward. Not that she needed any attention from me. Everyone noticed Fabienne.
She was beautiful. I mean really, deeply beautiful. Pale, blond, willowy, and tall—all the things I’d always wished I was, instead of being short, dark-haired, and with green eyes that most people described as “strange” or “supernatural.” Whatever. I don’t remember ever seeing Fabienne when she wasn’t surrounded by guys. She never went out with them, though. At least that was the gossip circulating: The fabulously attractive Miss de la Soubise wouldn’t even think of dating anyone from Ainsworth, merci beaucoup.
The Muffies had taken her under their wing at first, but I guess she was too good-looking even for them. So most of the time it was just Fabienne in the middle of a bunch of drooling guys. Served her right, I thought. Outdo the Muffies and you walk alone.
So anyway, here was this huge party filled with beautiful people in gorgeous clothes, with great music and terrific food,
so you’d think everyone would be having a great time.
Everyone except me.
It wasn’t just that Peter wasn’t paying any attention to me. I didn’t love that, but I’m not really so insecure that not spending every minute in Peter’s arms was going to ruin the party for me. I knew that Jeremiah Shaw’s influence was going to make a big difference in Peter’s life.
I just didn’t understand why the old man had chosen Peter in the first place. The Shaws were one of the oldest families in Whitfield. There were hundreds of them who lived right in town, and most of them worked for Jeremiah. So if he was looking for an heir or whatever, it seemed weird that he would seek out someone he’d ignored for the past eleven years. That, incidentally, had been when Jeremiah Shaw disinherited Peter as payback for his father’s unpardonable offense: The man had appointed Hattie Scott, a restaurant cook, as Peter’s guardian in the event of his death, instead of Jeremiah. And then he had died.
So Peter had grown up totally outside the patrician family he’d been born into. That had been fine with him, though. Peter didn’t need a pedigree to prove his value, and Hattie had been a better mother to him than anyone else on earth could have been. But then one day last fall Jeremiah—who is the Shaw, by the way, the big Kahuna of Shaw Enterprises—phoned Hattie’s Kitchen and said he wanted to get to know Peter better.
At first neither of us took the invitation very seriously. It wasn’t much of an invitation in the first place, and this codger who’d hardly made an appearance in Peter’s life until that day wasn’t exactly on either of our buddy lists.
Except that he’d been serious. He started sending limos to the dorm to pick Peter up on Saturday mornings, and they didn’t bring him back until after nightfall.
“What’d he want?” I asked after one of Peter’s all-day sessions with his great-uncle.
Peter shook his head slowly, incredulously. “He wants to teach me the family business.”
“Which is what?”
He shrugged. “Shipping. Import-export. International labor. It’s Shaw Enterprises, Katy. You know what Shaw does.”
I blinked. “I guess,” I said.
Shaw Enterprises was a vast multinational conglomerate, the umbrella for a host of businesses from parking garages to African banks. “It’s just strange that he’d suddenly want you in his life, that’s all.”
“Maybe,” he said. That was the sort of noncommittal answer Peter liked and that drove me crazy. “Just trust me, okay?” He spoke close to my face. I could feel the stubble of his beard against my cheek. His hair, silky waves of it, fell over my eyes. “It’s going to be okay, Katy,” he whispered, and kissed me, making me shudder all over. “Better than okay. He’s going to send me to college. Maybe I could even go to Harvard, like you.”
“I don’t know if I’ll go to Harvard,” I said, although that prospect had pretty much been a given, at least as far as my dad was concerned.
“Of course you will. And now I will too. I’ll be able to make a life for us.”
“We have a life,” I said. “Two lives.”
“Not like what Shaw Enterprises can give us.”
I backed away. I wasn’t part of this deal. “Don’t say us.”
He looked annoyed. “All right. Me. I’m getting a big break, bigger than I can even explain to you right now. You just have to trust me.”
“You already said that,” I said.
But I did. I would trust Peter with my life. I have trusted him with my life, more than once. Peter wasn’t the problem.
Jeremiah Shaw was.
• • •
Everything changed after that. A tailor came up from Boston to make clothes for Peter, and just about every day some fabulous electronic gizmo would show up in the mail. One of Jeremiah’s assistants took Peter into New York every two weeks just to get his hair cut. He had a standing meeting with Aldritch, the Shaw butler, who gave him etiquette lessons. For a while, he even moved into the Shaw mansion.
It was all pretty disgusting, and didn’t accomplish much except to estrange Peter from the townies. The Muffies, of course, loved it. They judged everyone on things like clothes and hair and which generation smartphone they owned.
But then, they’d liked Peter even before his two-hundred-dollar haircuts and True Religion jeans. And who wouldn’t? He was six feet tall, with honey-blond hair and gray eyes, and long legs and a thin but muscular body, and soft lips and skin that blushed easily, and big hands and a kind of sexy-without-meaning-to-be walk, and a soft voice, and thick dark eyelashes. Did I mention that he always smelled good? Really, really good.
And, hard as it was for me to believe, he loved me.
To give him credit, Peter had used the technology available to him through the Shaw laboratories to do a lot of good
in our community. There were quite a few people in Whitfield who owed Peter their lives after he’d quelled the kind of crisis that could only happen in a town like Whitfield—but more about that later.
• • •
Back at Peter’s megabuck non-graduation party, the grounds were lit by thousands of twinkling lights. At around ten, the band changed and the music turned into old people’s dance tunes. That was when most of my friends left—I guess they were afraid the musicians were going to swing into a rendition of the Hokey Pokey—and the waiters brought out the hard liquor. I wandered over to where Peter had spent most of the evening, to see if he would dance with me. The French girls, I noticed, were clustered around him.
“Where is everyone?” he asked as we walked toward the dance floor.
“I think they went for pizza,” I said.
“Chicken hearts,” Peter said as he twirled me decisively. Jeremiah had made him take dancing lessons in preparation for the party, along with the tutoring in etiquette.
I guessed Peter could be a wiener after all.
“We’d have had a lot more fun at Hattie’s Kitchen,” I said. He only smiled. I tried to make the best of things. “At least we didn’t have to work tonight.” As after-school employees, Peter and I had to serve and clean up at every party at Hattie’s. At least this one was labor-free.
“My uncle wanted to introduce me to the people he works with,” he said.
“Who work for him, you mean.”
“Yeah. I guess.”
“So you’re like the son Jeremiah never had?”
I couldn’t hold it in any longer. “But why?” I demanded, as if it were the first time I’d asked him that question. “Why you? Why now?”
Peter looked uncomfortable. “Maybe he just likes me.”
I stared at him. He didn’t meet my eyes. “Right,” I said coldly. If he thought I was that dumb, I wasn’t even going to argue about it. “That must be it.”
“Try not to be cynical, Katy,” he said quietly. Then he smiled. “You look beautiful.”
I looked away.
“Like always,” he said.
God. No wonder I love him.
“I think I’ll be able to get away before too long,” he whispered in my ear. “Maybe we could go—”
“Excuse me,” someone said as an ancient hand separated us. It was Jeremiah Shaw. Of course.
“Pardon me for interrupting, Peter.” He stared at me. “Ummm . . .”
“Katy,” I reminded him.
“Yes,” Jeremiah said, his momentary notice of me already a distant memory. “Peter, I want you to meet someone . . .” He led Peter away, leaving me behind without a backward glance.