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Authors: Roz Bailey

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BOOK: Postcards From Last Summer
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PART ONE
One Big Sorority Bash
Summer 1997
1
Lindsay
M
y friends tell me I'm always the narrator of their lives, the person who helps them decipher their feelings and attach meaning to life events. If that's true, I guess I have to start with Darcy Love in the summer of 1997, a hot day for May, and it was shaping up to be the last day of our friendship.
The minute she emerged from the path between the dunes, her golden hair blowing in the offshore breeze, I knew there was going to be trouble. Darcy was twenty-one, slim, wealthy, and gorgeous, and she knew it. I had decided to be her friend years ago, when she was eight and I was seven. Back then, we'd both been slim. Even last year, I was passably fit. Now, unfortunately, I wasn't, but I was working on that. So what if I didn't have the kind of svelte body that Darcy owned with such entitlement? I'd spent the winter working on my mind, dammit. If I had to spend the summer surfing in these swim trunks borrowed from my brother and this old Billabong surf shirt, it was still okay, right?
The scowl that pinched Darcy's face immediately let me know that it wasn't okay with her. Strike one.
I solemnly wished that I could fast-forward a year or two. A sad thing, to want to skip the year of your twentieth summer, but I had a strong suspicion my big fat self wasn't going to make it into Darcy's posse this year. Darcy had always warned us that she'd “divorce” anyone who blimped out, and during a rather intense junior year at college, aliens from the planet Chunky Monkey had kidnapped me, Lindsay McCorkle, and dropped my slender surfer's body into a hideous fat suit. Somehow, while I was exercising my mind, pursuing Jungian theory and the juicy atrocities of abnormal psych, my body had fallen into disrepair.
“Holy crap!” Darcy cursed, good Catholic girl that she was. “What happened to you?”
I pulled the wet surf shirt away from my tummy, trying to distort my overall shape. This was the reason I hadn't called Darcy or Tara when I arrived last week. I'd decided to play it under the radar, but necessity had forced me into her sights this morning.
“I mean, I heard you put on a few pounds but, whoa, girl,” Darcy pushed on. “Time to drive past the drive-thru.”
“Thanks for sharing, but I didn't call you in to be my personal trainer,” I said, trying not to reveal that she'd stung me anyway. I pointed down the beach, to where Kevin McGowan, the love of Darcy's life, lay in a drunken heap. She nearly yelped when she spotted him there. “The lifeguards are going to call the police if he's not out of here in ten minutes,” I told her.
“Oh, poor Kevin!” She pressed a fist to her glossed lips and began marching down the beach toward him. “Is he okay?” she yelled back over her shoulder. “Did anyone even check? Maybe he's sick.”
Against my better judgment, I followed her. “He's drunk, Darcy. Or stoned. And he's scaring people away from Bikini Beach.”
“Maybe he just fell and hit his head or something,” she said hopefully.
“He was here with Fish.” Fenwick “Fish” Peters, local pothead, was Kevin's sidekick, supplier, and enabler. “Fish left when the lifeguards mentioned calling the police.”
“That is just so wrong,” Darcy said. “This is parkland. A free beach. Kevin should be able to take a nap, just like anybody else.”
“A nap?” I stopped walking, not wanting to get any closer to Kevin, a nasty drunk. Darcy and I had been down the road of denial before. She refused to accept that the boy she had some twisted attraction to had an addictive personality. “What's wrong is that your boyfriend, who's so blown out of his shorts he can't even stand, is freaking out little kids and families.”
She froze, then turned to glare at me. “Well, isn't that just the voice of compassion from the psych major? How can you talk that way about my boyfriend? You never did like him, did you?”
Strike two—I couldn't stand the love of her life. In my book, Kevin McGowan was a soulless, spineless creature, a scavenger bird, circling until he could swoop down on the next feeding frenzy. Aside from the fact that his father owned Coney's, one of the coolest hangouts in the Hamptons, I didn't understand the attraction at all.
“You know what I think?” she said when I didn't answer. “I think you're just jealous of Kevin. Jealous that he's
my
boyfriend.”
In her dreams. Darcy had been sniffing after Kevin McGowan since she was ten years old, the day we came across Kevin in his cutoff denim shorts trying to float down the beach in an apple crate. Not even in a trainer bra yet, and Darcy had begun plotting and scheming ways to win over the smiley, freckle-faced boy and secure her place as Mrs. Kevin McGowan, queen of a small but popular restaurant empire. It was a dream we'd all come to call the Darcy and Kevin Bliss Package, as if it were something you could win on a game show. The big quandary was that Kevin wasn't falling for Darcy. Although she possessed the three girl
B
's my brother's friends so admired—Blond, Beautiful, and Bodacious in Bed—for reasons none of us could decipher, Kevin remained lukewarm toward her.
But I didn't want to go there, especially since I was already low on her list. This year she was drinking age and I was not, which probably accounted for the fact that I hadn't heard from her at all over the past week. So now my limited summer options were dwindling fast. There'd be no cruising in Darcy's lipstick red convertible, no tanning by the pool, no country club visits or yummy meals cooked up by the Love family's housekeeper, Nessie. It bugged me to miss out on all these summer goodies, but were poolside perks worth sucking up to the Queen of Mean? I had to think not.
“What am I saying?” Darcy let out a bitter laugh. “Now that you're a full-figure gal, you probably don't even have a boyfriend. Certainly not the hillbilly surfer you always moon over.”
“Shut up,” I said, wishing I'd never told her about my feelings for Bear, one of my older brother's surfer friends. I wrung out the hem of my stretched-out surf shirt, wishing I could wring Darcy's skinny neck. Did she know that Bear was within hearing range in the water behind me, surfing less than a hundred yards away?
Just minutes ago, I'd been on my board, bobbing in the water beside him while I waited for Darcy to arrive. We'd been talking about repairs on his VW camper, and he'd told me about some of the surfing competitions he'd entered over the winter. Bear wanted to give up his part-time jobs and surf for a living but didn't have enough sponsors to do that yet.
“If I had to pick, I'd say the Pipeline tops everything,” he said, all the guys in the lineup listening with a far-off glaze. Skeeter and John Fogarty, Napolean and my brother Steve—they all had jobs now. Skeeter and John even had wives with kids on the way. The guys were mired in commitmentland—all except Bear. Most of us had never even been to Hawaii, let alone surfed the Pipeline.
“I hear the reef is deadly there,” Skeeter said.
“Scary awesome,” Bear answered, swiping a handful of salt water over his board. “You gotta die a few times before you come alive. You need to have nine lives.”
I found my eyes following the line of his board to his sturdy legs, his Hawaiian-print Jams, and up to the Billabong shirt stretched over his shoulders and rounded muscles.
“Is it worth it?” I asked. “Surfing the Pipeline?”
“Definitely,” he said, his blue eyes flashing, killing me.
That's one death,
I thought, feigning interest in a piece of bobbing seaweed. With rare dimples, glimmering blue eyes framed by impossibly dark lashes, and dark hair buzzed short, Bear was heartthrob material. His chipped front teeth gave him a look I thought of as “gritty,” though my friends labeled it hillbilly. Still, he was my secret crush, which was an exercise in futility, since it was one of those unwritten rules that a good guy does not go after his best friend's little sister.
Now I swallow hard, wishing that Darcy didn't own any personal information about me. Stupid me, I had spilled my guts over the years. She could be a walking Lindsay encyclopedia.
“You know what?” I said, my voice a little too high pitched to call calm. “I'm sorry I got involved, okay? Next time your boyfriend passes out in the surf from partying his brains out, I'll just let them call the cops.”
“You wouldn't. You . . . you'd better not. The next time, why don't you just keep your fat ass out of my business, okay? The lifeguards can call me directly. If there even is a next time.”
“Oh, there will be.” I knew Kevin's addiction wasn't drying up anytime soon. “You can bet your perfect highlights on it.”
“Stop that!” she hissed. “Just stop. You never liked him, and I'm not going to stand here and let you tear him down. So just stop it!” She kicked at the sand, sending fine grains spewing onto my legs.
“Or what?” I put my hands on my well-padded hips. “What are you gonna do, Darcy? Push me off the jetty?”
Strike three—hit on Darcy's weak spot, the one event in her life that still made her awaken in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and a case of the guilts.
Furious, she held her hand out in front of her eyes. “You no longer exist in my world,” she said as she repositioned her hand to block her view of me. “I have blotted you out. Not an easy task, at your size. But . . . there. You're gone. That's a relief.”
As she turned away and ran over to croon over the lame boyfriend, I lifted my board and tried to talk myself out of feeling any responsibility for the end of this relationship. Darcy had always been a high-maintenance friend, and somehow I was the one making peace between Darcy and Elle, smoothing things over between Darcy and Tara, hiding Darcy's smokes or her diaphragm, tutoring her in math so that she could get out of summer school. I was the great facilitator, and did she thank me?
As I paddled out, I wanted the cool water to wash me clean of any bad feeling. The Darcy years were over. Done.
End of a bitchy era.
2
Lindsay
I
had mixed feelings that afternoon as I leaned my board against the shed and ducked into the coolness of the Southampton house, the screen door slamming behind me. Home in the Hamptons was a three-story cedar-shingled house on Rose Lane that over the years had been a boardinghouse to any number of McCorkles and their friends, dogs, cats, two snakes, and a pet hamster named Wiggles who met an unfortunate end in a ride down the laundry chute that was supposed to be all in good six-year-old fun.
I'd left the beach with a vow to skip dinner, but once here in the kitchen, with the savory smell of goulash swirling from the kitchen and Mom smiling expectantly as she stirred, I knew I'd be obligated to fill a bowl and sit down with the crew, as was everyone in the McCorkle house.
“Isn't tonight the night your friend Milo is coming for dinner?” Ma asked.
Milo, of course! I smacked my sunburned forehead. “I forgot.”
“Forgot?” Ma rapped the wooden spoon against the kettle. “Well, then, I suppose you were serious when you said he was just a friend.”
“You gotta meet Milo, Ma,” I said. Milo Barry was a friend from college, my lab partner in bio who'd become a great sounding board and confidant. This year he was sharing a house with a bunch of guys in Sag Harbor, parking cars at Hamptons clubs to make summer money. I hadn't met any of the summer shares in Milo's house, but I sensed they would not be wild and crazy frat boys. I was fairly sure Milo was gay, though not sure he knew that just yet. So for the time being we avoided the topics of sex and romance, except to make our usual disparaging remarks.
As I stole a celery stick from the cutting board and headed up the back stairs to shower, it struck me that I had a lot more in common with Milo than with any of my Hamptons friends, or former friends, in Darcy's case. Milo and I shared a similar socioeconomic background—working our way through college, patching together scholarships, scrambling from one on-campus job to the next. I worked in the library and dormitory, he worked for the registrar and the theater box office. Our parents didn't hand us cars and clothes and spending money. No silver spoon for me, unlike Darcy and Tara, whose fathers were high-profile, high-salaried professionals. My father had been a New York City cop when he died, my mother a homemaker and a crossing guard in Brooklyn.
Basically, we McCorkles were a Hamptons novelty. Years ago working-class fishermen, trappers, and farmers resided in the Hamptons, but as the years went by it was changing as rocketing real estate prices made it more lucrative to build condos than work the land. Although my family had possessed the good fortune to buy this house on Rose Lane years ago, we would never have been able to afford it today. “Thank God your grandparents had such foresight,” Ma always said. So while we enjoyed the house and the beach and the beautiful town of picket fences, tidy gardens, and majestic beaches, the McCorkles were not among the wealthy Hamptons elite, the social whirl that Darcy's parents enjoyed and Tara's parents skirted. Don't get me wrong, I don't resent the fact that their families are loaded. I just didn't like the way Darcy was so obtuse about it, so insensitive to the fact that we all couldn't shop at Saks or party in Fort Lauderdale for spring break.
So as I stepped into the shower, part of me felt good about washing my hands of Darcy. If I had a nickel for every time that girl had gotten me into trouble, I'd be the one driving the lipstick red Saab convertible.
On the other hand, the jetty comment was a low blow. Not that she hadn't deserved it, but I felt kind of rotten about adding to her nightmares.
The jetty incident was one of those freakish childhood events that unfolds like a surreal movie in my memory. Years ago, Darcy had been accused of pushing our friend Elle off the rocks into the deep, churning waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Elle was only eleven at the time, and when the current swept her body away, most adults assumed the worst. And so thirteen-year-old Darcy was immediately blamed, which wasn't a stretch since she and Elle had always competed and argued, a relationship more tempestuous than the sloshing ocean that day. The miracle of it was that a Coast Guard ship found Elle and plucked her out of the ocean alive and surprisingly copacetic. But the consequences were harsh, as Elle's parents, these bookish, doctoral doctor types, had whisked her away from the Hamptons, taking her out of the country and vowing that there'd be no more summering in the Hamptons with Elle's pistol of a grandmother and those bad-influence girls. Which probably included me.
In the end, our circle of friends was left with a hole. Darcy reveled in the new dynamic; suddenly she was top dog, or, more appropriately, top bitch. But Tara and I missed Elle and kept in touch, through letters, postcards, and the occasional phone call.
I remembered the jetty incident as if it were yesterday, and yet Darcy didn't recall it. She had repressed the memory, which might account for some of that bitchy anger she loved to toss around. Repression definitely fit Darcy's take on the jetty incident. She'd pushed it so far back that it had to seep out in vicious nightmares.
Then again, I'd have to say she also displaced her anger, blaming me and anyone else who crossed her path for things that went wrong in her life.
Here's the thing about majoring in psychology: it's way too tempting to go through your abnormal psych textbook and find deviant behaviors to explain all the bizarre traits of your friends and family members.
In my opinion as a junior in college, my brother and his friends all suffered from the Peter Pan complex. I even called them the Lost Boys, and they were sick enough to like it.
I diagnosed Sonia, one of my roommates at school, with hydrophobia; she was afraid to put her head underwater, and consequently couldn't shower or go swimming (and I guess surfing was out!).
Were it up to me, I would have diagnosed my sister-in-law Ashley with multiple personality disorder years ago and called it a day. I mean, anyone who could insist on those low-cut, harlot crimson bridesmaid gowns and then have a Catholic wedding? Believe me, if you met her—or one or two of her personalities—you'd concur with my diagnosis.
I worried that Tara's mother had narcissistic tendencies. I avoided the head librarian at school, convinced that he suffered from schizoid personality disorder.
And yet, despite my zeal for deviant behavior, I really didn't aspire to be Dr. Lindsay. I just didn't possess the patience a good therapist needs, the fortitude to listen as Ralphie droned on about why he couldn't get his life together or Tiffany complained that men were so mean to her. Ten minutes with one of these losers and I'd be snapping my fingers and doing a Z-wave with my hand. Yo, Ralphie! Get your feet off my couch, get your butt out of your mommy's basement, and get a job already! Hello? Tiff? Stop playing the doormat, and when you get home, throw out all those magazines you've saved with profiles of your perfect man. Maybe in a perfect world, chump girl!
Somehow, I don't think the licensing board would appreciate my direct approach, but really, it doesn't seem fair that I can't forgo the passive standard treatment of patients and just fix their fucked-up lives.
Wrapped in two fluffy pink towels, I left the billowing steam of the shower and sat at the old vanity table, a piece of princess furniture that I'd covered with pristine white linen when I hit the teen years. My attic room had lemon yellow walls that were like a big smiley daisy on a summer day. The woodwork was painted stark white, as was the old mantel of the fireplace, which, of course, didn't work but looked charming. I pulled the turban off my head and crimped brown hair tumbled onto my shoulders. Among my fabulous friends, I was the boring brunette with chocolate hair and chocolate eyes, skin that loves to freckle and that black Irish tendency to grow so much hair that I had to begin plucking my eyebrows and shaving long before junior high. Not that I'm complaining, but Darcy was born with pure vanilla blond dazzle, and Tara, with her mocha skin, amber eyes, and straight silky hair that could take a curl or wrap like a sophisticate, possessed an exotic quality that eluded me.
As I tossed the towel onto the vanity, a postcard that I kept forgetting to mail slipped to the floor.
Dear Elle:
Having a great time with the boys on the flip side! Kidding. How's London in the summer? Are you freaking them out at Cambridge with your secret genius? Darcy's a bitch this year—no friend of mine—but then you always saw that coming. God, I wish you were here.
xxxoo, Lindsay
The postcard photo was this year's crop of Southampton lifeguards, looking buff in their red suits and bronze tans. Just a little something for Elle to drool over. I propped the postcard against the lamp, vowing to mail it tomorrow. In fact, maybe I'd write Elle a long letter or call her. That would piss Darcy off, big-time, if, of course, she ever found out. Which she wouldn't. Because I was never speaking to her again.
As I finger-combed my hair I skimmed the collage of postcards tacked onto the wall over my bed, postcards from far-reaching locales like Thailand and Algiers, Paris and Vancouver and the Great Wall of China. Although the DuBois family had lived in some exotic places in the past eight years, Elle wasn't into it. I knew she missed having a home, missed her grandmother who never left the Hamptons, missed me.
Tucked among the postcards were snapshots that I took with a camera that last summer Elle was a part of our group. There we were, perched on a red-and-white striped blanket on Bikini Beach, Elle and Tara still looking boyish and flat-chested while Darcy and I smiled proudly over our expanding A-cups. Other photos showed us struggling with dripping ice cream cones on Southampton's main street, arm in arm in front of the windmill, and leaning off plaster horses on the Montauk carousel the night Elle got the golden ring. Elle's bright red ringlets curled around a face far too adorable for her own good. How many times had I studied these photos carefully, looking for some hint of sadness in Elle's green eyes, some forecast of the disturbance that would rock her world and cause her parents to spirit her away from the Hamptons and out of the States?
“You were always so skinny,” I said to the Elle in the photos.
Unfortunately, her photo didn't return the compliment.
By the time I got downstairs, Milo had arrived, met my mother, and been recruited to set the table. “And here I thought this was my night off!” he joked as he dropped place mats around the table. Since Milo Barry was one of those people wired with natural energy, it was probably best to keep him busy. High-strung and goofy, he'd gotten me through a handful of all-nighters during finals week at school on his caffeine-free charm.
“I'll help you,” I said, grabbing the silverware bin from the kitchen. “How many are we?”
“Seven!” Ma called from the kitchen. “Stephen and his friends are going to join us.”
“Hold on to your hat.” I handed Milo a stack of napkins. “The surfer dudes can be a real workout.”
“Linds, after six straight nights of parking cars for people who don't even look me in the eye, I can take on the dudes.”
“You know, your work schedule would actually be very surfa-ble,” I said. “Why don't you come down to Bikini Beach one morning and I'll give you some lessons? If the surf is right, you'll be standing the first day.”
“No can do.” He folded his arms with a sigh. “I just got a job working at the Bridgehampton bakery in the mornings. Six to two.”
I flicked his shoulder. “You're insane! When are you going to sleep?”
“Between shifts. It's very good money.”
I groaned, knowing I'd been putting off job hunting, half hoping the whole dilemma would just go away. “So when am I going to see you this summer? Is this your last free night?”
“We'll work something out,” he said. “Or else you can come down to the bakery. I'll sneak you a cinnamon roll.”
“Like I need it,” I said as Ma carried in a crock of steaming goulash.
“Sounds like you're going to be working your fingers to the bone, Milo,” Ma said.
“Please!” Milo adjusted his glasses—very cool rectangular frames, a new acquisition this year. “I'm just happy to have escaped Brooklyn for the summer. Last year I had to play slave to my father on job sites, and believe me, it's no fun running around fetching hammers and nails and sweeping sawdust when it's ninety degrees and humid as Hades.” I hadn't met Milo's father, but got the picture when Milo called him Brooklyn's answer to Archie Bunker.
“See, Lindsay? He's happy to be in the Hamptons, something we take for granted. And did I mention that I ran into Mr. Marino yesterday and he's looking for someone to work the counter at Old Towne Pizza? I told him you were looking for employment and I'd have you stop in right away.”
“Pizza?” I felt a wave of disappointment at the thought of hot ovens and baking dough. “Don't you think I'm a little overqualified for that?”After my work experience at school, I'd been hoping to work with people, not food. Even a gig as a counselor at a sweaty day camp would beat that.
“It's honest work,” Ma said, the gleam in her soft brown eyes warning me not to argue with the creed that had seen the McCorkle family through hard times over the years. Honest work, and lots of it.
“I'll go see him tomorrow.” I knew there was no arguing with my mother—one of the downsides of being a McCorkle.
Steve and his friends filed in, and I silently willed the other guys to the opposite side of the table so I could sit between Milo and Bear, who was cool and crisp in khaki shorts and an orange and blue Hawaiian shirt. Tonight he had that sweet, limey smell that lingers around guys just out of the shower—probably just deodorant, but better than any cologne, in my book. I tucked in my chair, melting as our bare knees brushed under the table. Cheap thrill, I know, but I'd take it.
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