Chapter 1: One Week Ago Tuesday, December 26
1 ONE WEEK AGO TUESDAY, DECEMBER 26 Six Days Until the Engagement Party ADDISON
The Acker-Mayweathers are accustomed to breezing through life’s annoying little lines—at the farmers’ market, the post office, the florist where Mom buys fresh-cut lilies on Sundays “to brighten up the breakfast nook.” People know us in Rhyne Ridge. People let us through. But the Cancún International Airport is six hours and one connecting flight away from New York’s Hudson Valley, and here, we are three cogs in an epic crush of sweaty, stinking bodies, everyone trying to make their way from the arrival gate to the six men and women in their little plexiglass huts checking passports and releasing exhausted travelers into the bright Caribbean sunshine.
“This blows.” My twin brother, Mason Acker-Mayweather. For the third time in the last five minutes, he lets his backpack slump from one shoulder to the floor.
“Mason, don’t say ‘blows.’?” Our mom, Elizabeth Acker-Mayweather. She twists her shiny brown hair behind her, then pats her wrist fruitlessly for a hair tie. The air-conditioning is blasting, but it’s no match for the sheer magnitude of body heat in here.
We landed approximately forty-five minutes ago, an arrival time apparently shared by every other international flight touching down in Cancún on the day after Christmas. After half an hour inching along a corridor stretching from our gate to a single escalator, we descended into the massive sea of travelers already jammed into the Passport Control hall, everyone jostling to join the six long lines snaking their way toward the agents at the front. I do a quick head count of the travelers in my general circumference, then multiply by eighteen, the approximate quantity of similarly sized areas in the hall. Roughly, there are nine hundred people inside, all waiting to see six agents.
An airport official glances at our customs slips and ushers us toward the end of line five. Give or take, one hundred and fifty people wait ahead of us. We’re going to be here a while.
I click open my red roller case and pull out the novel I need to have finished for Miss Dern’s class when I get back to school next week. Then I flip my suitcase on its side and take a seat.
“I don’t know how you can read in here,” Mason says, squatting down next to me. “It’s loud as hell.”
“White noise.” I shrug. I’m good with words, but lit has never been my favorite. I’m a science and math girl. So the faster I can get through this book, the less of the trip I’ll spend with it hanging over me.
But Mason clearly isn’t going to let me read in peace. “Have you tried the Wi-Fi? I can’t get past terms and conditions.”
I shake my head. “Reading.”
“Can you try it, though? Or give me your phone.”
I dig it out of my pocket and hand it over. There’s nothing on my phone my brother and cousins can’t see; I made sure of that before this trip. “Help yourself. But there are nearly a thousand people in this room alone trying to log on. The network is overloaded.”
The line inches forward, and I scoot my suitcase up a foot, then sit back down. Mason pokes at the screen and scowls, clearly getting nowhere. When we were little, people always wanted to know if we had that “twin thing,” which seemed to mean something between a deep empathetic understanding of one another and straight-up telepathy. We didn’t, even then, but we were close in the way many little siblings are close. And we looked a lot alike, for fraternal twins. Dusty blond hair, which we got from our dad, small noses and wide-set blue eyes from Mom. And we were both short for our age.
That changed in sixth grade, when Mason shot up and filled out, shoulders and chest broadening faster than most high school boys, and I stayed five feet flat. Soon Mason needed glasses, and I didn’t, and by the time we were thirteen, we were barely recognizable as siblings. Thirteen was the year we began to grow apart, too, until our physical differences mirrored even bigger changes on the inside. Sometimes I wish we could go back in time.
I scoot my suitcase again and try to finish my paragraph. James Joyce is so obscure.
“We should have been at the hotel by now,” Mason grumbles. He drops my phone into my lap, letting my book catch it. “I should be on the beach.”
Mom glances at her delicate gold watch. “Austin and Ted—Theo—were scheduled to land a few minutes after we did. Can you see them anywhere, hon?”
Mom only has an inch or two on me; “hon” is definitely directed at Mason, who towers over both of us.
He gives the crowd a cursory glance, then shakes his head, shaggy hair flipping back and forth before it settles in his eyes. “If there was any service in here, we could text them.”
Mom sighs, and the queue inches forward again. It’s been ten minutes since we joined line five, and we’ve almost reached the first curve. Eight belted lanes between us and the gate agent at ten minutes per lane; my guess is we’ll be out of here around two thirty. I don’t share that with Mason.
“I just wish I knew they got in okay.” Mom twists her hair back again, and I climb off my suitcase and unzip it to find her a hair tie.
“I’m sure they’re fine,” I say, holding out an elastic.
Gratefully, Mom pulls her hair through it. Honestly, I could go a little longer without running into Austin and Theo—known to his father as Teddy, a habit Mom’s trying to break after Theo made it clear the nickname’s off-limits. Ahead of us stretches an entire week of enforced bonding with the new step-fam. Austin Hunt is Mom’s fiancé; they’re getting married in Rhyne Ridge this June. Theo Hunt is Austin’s seventeen-year-old son, a senior at a high school about forty-five minutes away from the school where Mason’s a junior. I’m about an hour and a half south, in my junior year at Tipton Academy, a private school known for, among other things, its cutting-edge science program. Austin and Theo seem fine; I’ve only met them once, last month, when I came home from school and we all got together for Thanksgiving. I’m not opposed to getting to know them, but a whole week together at an all-inclusive Caribbean resort with the rest of the Mayweathers is going to be a lot.
We round the bend to the line’s second lane, and Mason bounces up and down on the balls of his feet, then pulls out his phone to check the Wi-Fi once again. My brother never could sit still. I don’t know him like I used to, before playing Division 1 hockey became his entire identity and I moved away from home to study biology and attempt to figure out what being a Mayweather means without my twin brother and my cousin Natalia constantly by my side. But some things haven’t changed. Mason needs to be in motion always, and he has the attention span of a fly. He’s also fiercely protective of Mom, ever since she got out of a bad situation with Dad, and Dad lost custody.
“How well do you really know Austin?” Mason asks her for what is clearly not the first time, judging by the expression on Mom’s face.
“Hon, you don’t need to worry. Austin’s a very different man from your father. I’m so happy we’re going to have this time to really get to know one another.”
“You’ve only been dating for a few months, though. How do you know he’s the one?”
“Eight months,” Mom says. “And still another five until the wedding. And I just know, I suppose. He’s attentive and smart and kind, and he’s fantastic with Theo. I think you’re all really going to hit it off.”
I close my book, giving up, and crouch down to unzip my suitcase again. I hope Mom’s right, that we’re all really going to hit it off, although it’s Mason and Natalia I most want to spend time with. It’s been far too long since my brother, my cousin, and I have truly talked.
I’m tucking my book back into my suitcase and digging around for a snack when my fingertips brush against something that definitely shouldn’t be inside. Something I’m sure I packed in a different suitcase—one safely locked in storage back at Tipton.
A golf-ball-sized lump lodges in my throat, and I peel back a layer of neatly folded shirts to be sure. The wooden cigar box is right here, in this suitcase, in Cancún, where it definitely should not be. Quickly, I smooth the shirts back in place and re-zip my suitcase, making a point to keep my gaze cast down, away from Mom and Mason.
This is bad. Very, very bad.
How did I let this happen? Everyone in my dorm had to clear out our rooms last week so Anders could be used as housing for the Hudson Valley Student Leadership Conference, which Tipton is hosting over winter break. My bookcase, my mini-fridge, and most of my belongings are in campus storage, which is where I meant to leave the box I usually keep tucked away in my dorm room. But somehow, in the rush to get home for the holidays and probably precisely because I was so nervous about keeping it safely locked up over break, I packed the box into the wrong suitcase. This suitcase. The one with my vacation stuff, which is now irrevocably here in Mexico with the exact people who absolutely cannot find out what’s inside.
I force a grin up at Mom. “I’m sure we will. Hit it off. Mason and I can’t wait to spend time with the Hunts this week.”
Dad’s in a hurry the moment we touch down, eager to meet up with Elizabeth and her kids. My soon-to-be family, which is beyond weird to think about. It’s been ten years since Mom died, ten years that Dad and I have been a unit of two. What we have works fine, but I’m trying to keep an open mind. Elizabeth makes Dad happy, and she seems cool enough. It’s the other Mayweathers—eight on this trip alone—I’m not so sure about.
We trot down a short hallway with the rest of the passengers from JetBlue Flight 1127, then take the stairs one level up to a small arrivals hall. I’ve never flown internationally before. Jay said to brace myself for a long wait at Passport Control and customs, but it looks like we’re in a wing of the airport only serving a couple of airlines. A guy in uniform checks the customs sheets we filled out before landing. He taps Dad’s at the bottom and reminds him to sign.
“Ah, silly me.” Dad rubs at the brown-and-gray stubble at the back of his neck, and the official points him to a counter with a row of ballpoint pens chained to the top.
“Can’t believe I forgot to sign,” he mumbles when we’ve joined the end of the line leading toward passport check. It’s moving pretty quickly, the minutes separating me from a plunge into the deep end with the entire stepfamily shrinking fast. Too fast.
Dad’s a copyeditor for a business magazine that rates snow equipment and winter gear, and he’s also a registered notary, both of which require a close attention to detail. I can’t remember the last time he forgot anything. But when Dad’s nervous—especially when he feels out of control—he gets irritable. It’s been years since his temper really flared up, at least that I’ve seen, but something tells me I’m not the only one whose nerves have been set on edge by the week ahead.
“Not too late to turn back.” I give Dad a weak grin. We’re halfway to the front of the line now, and my passport feels slippery in my hand despite the air-conditioning blasting in here.
He nudges my shoulder with his in an attempt to lighten the mood. “It’s going to be fine, Teddy. Dare I even say fun?”
“Sure, sure. But can we stick with Theo on this trip, please?”
“Right.” Dad gives a crisp nod, the skin around his dark brown eyes crinkling in concentration. “I really am going to try. Honest.”
“Thanks.” We take six more steps toward the front. I should have broken Dad of the habit years ago, but the truth is, the nickname reminds us both of Mom. At home, just the two of us, Teddy is fine. But to the rest of the world, it’s Theo. It was embarrassing enough when I learned Elizabeth had been calling me Teddy to her kids before I even met them. If she hadn’t, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten off on the wrong foot with Mason this fall. Then again, the cards were already stacked against me when it came to my new stepsiblings. Mason’s a hothead, quick to assume the worst in people and not shy about expressing his views. My stomach clenches at the thought of spending the next seven days as his roommate. The guy clearly hates me, and he’s huge.
Addison seems nice enough, if a little stuck-up. I get the impression she’s used to being around a certain type of person at boarding school, and I’m not that type.
Dad’s right. This week is going to be so fun.
“Next.” The agent in plexiglass hut number three is beckoning. We step up and hand over our passports and forms. I’m prepared to answer a volley of questions about where we’re staying and the purpose of our trip—more advice from Jay—but the agent gives our paperwork a quick review, then slaps her stamp briskly onto our passport pages and hands them back with a curt, “Welcome to Mexico.”
Dad grabs his giant suitcase at baggage claim, then we head toward the door marked NOTHING TO DECLARE. No one stops us. Everything I brought fits easily in my duffel; years of camping trips and ski weekends have taught me how to pack light, a skill Dad’s never quite mastered. He’s all about gear and extra socks.
Soon we’re stepping through wide glass doors and into the bright midday sun. I slip on my shades and run one hand through my short brown hair, glad I remembered to get it cut before this trip. It could be worse—in December, the highs here top out in the mid-eighties—but I’m not built for the heat. My pasty skin burns no matter what SPF I apply, and I’m not the world’s strongest swimmer. I’m not afraid of the water; hanging out in the shallow end of a pool is fine, and I can wade out in a lake to fish, but the ocean is not my friend. Even in salt water, somehow I sink.
If I was home, I’d be skiing with Jay right now. Unfortunately, my dream of spending break with my boyfriend of nearly six months evaporated into sunshine and salt air as soon as Dad announced this trip—a reunion for the Mayweather clan, culminating in an engagement party for Dad and Elizabeth on the final night. My attendance was mandatory.
It’s only been a few hours, and I’m already homesick. New Courtsburg is a forty-five-minute drive from super-trendy, everything-artisanal-and-handcrafted Rhyne Ridge, where the Acker-Mayweathers live. The place I’m from is bigger, less artsy, more “economically stressed.” A postindustrial town with mediocre schools, an A&W drive-in, and mini-golf may not be most people’s idea of paradise, but it’s home. Jay’s there. And we have killer slopes. I’m extremely pro-nature when nature means the woods or mountains of snow.
Sweat beads across my neck and runs down my T-shirt, and I can feel my jeans sticking to the backs of my knees. Hot. I jam my hands into my pockets and help Dad look for Activo, the transport company that’s going to be shuttling us to the hotel.
“Can you get on the Wi-Fi?” he asks.
I pull out my phone and search for the airport network. “We’re too far from the terminal. The only networks showing up are locked or people’s hot spots. But—there’s Activo.” I nod toward a black-and-white sign to the left of Margaritaville, an open-air bar bumping with American tourists getting loaded on Mexican booze one more time before their departing flights.
Dad frowns. “We’re supposed to be sharing a van with Elizabeth and the kids, but I’m not sure how to reach her. I was planning to extend our wireless coverage for the week, but she thought everywhere would have Wi-Fi.” He looks stressed. Again.
Before he starts to spiral, I dump my duffel at Dad’s feet and tell him I’ll run back into the terminal to see if I can get any service. “Hang on.”
It’s a failing mission. I find the network, but it’s maxed out, and I can’t get past terms and conditions. By the time I find Dad again, he’s speaking with a young Mexican guy holding a clipboard and wearing a black Activo T-shirt.
“I’m Jorge, your Activo captain,” he greets me in perfect English. “First time in Cancún?”
“First time out of the northeast US,” I say. Dad and I do fine, but the fun money from my part-time job at Aldi’s goes to skiing, and Dad’s never had a lot left over for things like vacations. After college, I’m going to travel.
“I understand we’re waiting for Ms. Elizabeth, Miss Addison, and Mr. Mason,” he says.
“I don’t know.” I turn to Dad. “I couldn’t get on the network inside the airport, either. Were they on JetBlue?”
He shakes his head. “American Airlines.”
“Ah,” Jorge says. “JetBlue, you’re lucky. Different terminal. American Airlines, one o’clock arrival?” He taps at an Apple Watch. “They’re gonna be in there a while. Let me take you now; Activo has many vans. We’ll bring the rest of your family separately, don’t worry. I’ll alert my driver.” He switches on a walkie-talkie and speaks to someone on the other end in rapid-fire Spanish.
Your family. Jorge’s words clang around in my ears, but Dad doesn’t flinch. He gives me a wide grin and wraps his arm around my shoulders. My T-shirt clings to my skin.