WELCOME TO THE beautiful Sinclair family.
No one is a criminal.
No one is an addict.
No one is a failure.
The Sinclairs are athletic, tall, and handsome. We are old-money Democrats. Our smiles are wide, our chins square, and our tennis serves aggressive.
It doesn’t matter if divorce shreds the muscles of our hearts so that they will hardly beat without a struggle. It doesn’t matter if trust-fund money is running out; if credit card bills go unpaid on the kitchen counter. It doesn’t matter if there’s a cluster of pill bottles on the bedside table.
It doesn’t matter if one of us is desperately, desperately in love.
that equally desperate measures
must be taken.
We are Sinclairs.
No one is needy.
No one is wrong.
We live, at least in the summertime, on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts.
Perhaps that is all you need to know.
MY FULL NAME is Cadence Sinclair Eastman.
I live in Burlington, Vermont, with Mummy and three dogs.
I am nearly eighteen.
I own a well-used library card and not much else, though it is true I live in a grand house full of expensive, useless objects.
I used to be blond, but now my hair is black.
I used to be strong, but now I am weak.
I used to be pretty, but now I look sick.
It is true I suffer migraines since my accident.
It is true I do not suffer fools.
I like a twist of meaning. You see? Suffer migraines. Do not suffer fools. The word means almost the same as it did in the previous sentence, but not quite.
You could say it means endure, but that’s not exactly right.
MY STORY STARTS before the accident. June of the summer I was fifteen, my father ran off with some woman he loved more than us.
Dad was a middling-successful professor of military history. Back then I adored him. He wore tweed jackets. He was gaunt. He drank milky tea. He was fond of board games and let me win, fond of boats and taught me to kayak, fond of bicycles, books, and art museums.
He was never fond of dogs, and it was a sign of how much he loved my mother that he let our golden retrievers sleep on the sofas and walked them three miles every morning. He was never fond of my grandparents, either, and it was a sign of how much he loved both me and Mummy that he spent every summer in Windemere House on Beechwood Island, writing articles on wars fought long ago and putting on a smile for the relatives at every meal.
That June, summer fifteen, Dad announced he was leaving and departed two days later. He told my mother he wasn’t a Sinclair, and couldn’t try to be one, any longer. He couldn’t smile, couldn’t lie, couldn’t be part of that beautiful family in those beautiful houses.
Couldn’t. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t.
He had hired moving vans already. He’d rented a house, too. My father put a last suitcase into the backseat of the Mercedes (he was leaving Mummy with only the Saab), and started the engine.
Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound,
then from my eyes,
It tasted like salt and failure. The bright red shame of being unloved soaked the grass in front of our house, the bricks of the path, the steps to the porch. My heart spasmed among the peonies like a trout.
Mummy snapped. She said to get hold of myself.
Be normal, now, she said. Right now, she said.
Because you are. Because you can be.
Don’t cause a scene, she told me. Breathe and sit up.
I did what she asked.
She was all I had left.
Mummy and I tilted our square chins high as Dad drove down the hill. Then we went indoors and trashed the gifts he’d given us: jewelry, clothes, books, anything. In the days that followed, we got rid of the couch and armchairs my parents had bought together. Tossed the wedding china, the silver, the photographs.
We purchased new furniture. Hired a decorator. Placed an order for Tiffany silverware. Spent a day walking through art galleries and bought paintings to cover the empty spaces on our walls.
We asked Granddad’s lawyers to secure Mummy’s assets.
Then we packed our bags and went to Beechwood Island.
PENNY, CARRIE, AND Bess are the daughters of Tipper and Harris Sinclair. Harris came into his money at twenty-one after Harvard and grew the fortune doing business I never bothered to understand. He inherited houses and land. He made intelligent decisions about the stock market. He married Tipper and kept her in the kitchen and the garden. He put her on display in pearls and on sailboats. She seemed to enjoy it.
Granddad’s only failure was that he never had a son, but no matter. The Sinclair daughters were sunburnt and blessed. Tall, merry, and rich, those girls were like princesses in a fairy tale. They were known throughout Boston, Harvard Yard, and Martha’s Vineyard for their cashmere cardigans and grand parties. They were made for legends. Made for princes and Ivy League schools, ivory statues and majestic houses.
Granddad and Tipper loved the girls so, they couldn’t say whom they loved best. First Carrie, then Penny, then Bess, then Carrie again. There were splashy weddings with salmon and harpists, then bright blond grandchildren and funny blond dogs. No one could ever have been prouder of their beautiful American girls than Tipper and Harris were, back then.
They built three new houses on their craggy private island and gave them each a name: Windemere for Penny, Red Gate for Carrie, and Cuddledown for Bess.
I am the eldest Sinclair grandchild. Heiress to the island, the fortune, and the expectations.
ME, JOHNNY, MIRREN, and Gat. Gat, Mirren, Johnny, and me.
The family calls us four the Liars, and probably we deserve it. We are all nearly the same age, and we all have birthdays in the fall. Most years on the island, we’ve been trouble.
Gat started coming to Beechwood the year we were eight. Summer eight, we called it.
Before that, Mirren, Johnny, and I weren’t Liars. We were nothing but cousins, and Johnny was a pain because he didn’t like playing with girls.
Johnny, he is bounce, effort, and snark. Back then he would hang our Barbies by the necks or shoot us with guns made of Lego.
Mirren, she is sugar, curiosity, and rain. Back then she spent long afternoons with Taft and the twins, splashing at the big beach, while I drew pictures on graph paper and read in the hammock on the Clairmont house porch.
Then Gat came to spend the summers with us.