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Authors: Roz Bailey

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BOOK: Postcards From Last Summer
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As the noodles and goulash were passed, I made quick introductions. “The blond guys are Skeeter and Johnny Fogarty. Johnny's the one with the moon-shaped scar over one eye.”
Johnny tipped his head to the side, showing off the scar. “Got that from a shark attack,” he said.
“You did not!” I snapped. Although the Fogarty twins were pushing thirty, they'd never grown out of the Lost Boy thing. Hard to believe they were holding down jobs, but then the family business had been handed to them—a chain of Christmas stores, where business conveniently slowed during the surf season. Perfect surf mojo.
“The big ugly one is my brother Steve”—Steve reached over to give me a noogie, but I ducked—“and that's Bear.”
“Where does the name Bear come from?” Milo asked, focusing on my crush.
“My real name's Barrett,” Bear admitted, all dimples and flashing blue eyes. “Which means ‘mighty as a bear.' ”
“He says that,” Steve said, “but the truth is, he still sleeps with a stuffed animal named Huggy Bear.”
“Get a life!” Bear snarled, which made me wonder if it was true; was there really a worn stuffed animal in the van parked at the edge of Bikini Beach?
As we ate, the guys talked surf. Everyone was jazzed because, after years of lugging packages for a delivery service, Steve was going to put his engineering degree to use at a real job with a company that specialized in sports equipment. A real job, with an office and a salary and paid travel expenses.
“You should get Victory to start a line of surfboards,” Bear told Steve.
“I'd love to do it, man,” Steve said. “First, I need to dig in, get the lay of the land.”
“And we could help you try them out,” Bear went on. “Test them for endurance . . .”
“Bang 'em on rocks,” John said, his gray eyes popping against his sunburned skin.
“That'd be cool,” Skeeter agreed. “I spent a fortune on that board I lost down in the Keys. That hurt.”
Johnny laughed. “You were crying, man.”
“Ginny was crying.” Ginny was Johnny's wife. “She was calculating how much it cost. I was just pissed.”
“Now, we'll have no cursing at the table,” Ma warned, glaring at Johnny until he apologized and hung his head over his stew. Go Ma—the only woman who could tame Steve's motley group. My brother and his crew respected my mother. If only Steve could muster a scintilla of respect for his little sister.
“Gidget,” Steve started on me, “you might want to reel in the blond pop-tart. We saw her rip through Southampton at warp speed this afternoon,” he said, waving his fork. “She's gonna take out half of the antiques shops on Winthrop Lane.”
I shrugged. “If you're referring to Darcy, we are no longer on speaking terms.”
“What's that?” Ma's dark eyes went wide. “Did you two have a fight?”
“You might say that.” I filled Milo and my mother in on the morning's incident at the beach, which the other guys had witnessed. “I don't think Darcy wanted to hear what I had to say. She's in denial about Kevin's addictions. Honestly, right now I have no desire to be around her.” Except for the cool car and lux house, of course.
“And here I thought this summer would be my chance to meet the notorious Darcy Love,” Milo teased.
“Believe me,” Steve said, “you're not missing anything.”
“Stephen . . .” There was warning in Ma's eyes as she added pepper to the goulash. “I don't know what her parents were thinking, handing a young person a car like that,” she said. “There's something wrong with that. Poor Darcy will never have a chance to learn true responsibility.”
“Yeah, poor Darcy,” Steve mused, “crying all the way to the ATM.”
“Ma, the money's not the problem,” I said, feeling this developing into a McCorkle debate. “It's her sense of entitlement.” That and the fact that she'd nearly compared me to a beached whale. “Darcy has become this insensitive, selfish, beautiful monster. I feel like I don't know her anymore.” I pushed the noodles around on my plate. “I'm not sure I want to know her, and that's a very bad feeling.”
“Well, you can put that feeling on hold and think about what Darcy's been through,” Ma said sternly. “The Loves may have more money than God, but that girl has been neglected since she was ten, raised by a housekeeper now and again. All that money couldn't buy her the love and nurturing she needed. The girl has no family, she never has, and if you ask me it's a crying shame.”
“Who needs a family when you've got a million bucks?” Steve asked.
I felt some sick need to defend my friend, but fortunately Ma intervened as she passed the rolls down the table. “No need to be flippant, Stephen. Now put your napkin on your lap and pass the carrots, please.”
And though the topic of dinner conversation moved on, I was stuck with an unbidden image of thirteen-year-old Darcy, her blond hair stringy and sticking to her tear-stained face as she waited at the police precinct for parents who never arrived. Finally, when the police released her to my mother's care, even more tears had welled up in Darcy's periwinkle blue eyes as she sobbed a thank-you and collapsed in Ma's arms. That was my first glimpse of the importance of family . . . and the despair of having no one.
3
Darcy
“A
nybody here?” The sun was low in the sky as Darcy hugged the container of take-out sushi to her chest, hoping that one of the cleaning ladies or the day maid, Nessie, might still be around.
She hated coming home alone. Next time she was going to drive Kevin straight over and dump him on the overstuffed sofa. Even passed out, he'd be more reassuring than the hollow darkness.
Damn Kevin. Damn Nessie, too.
When there was no answer she braced herself and stepped into the grand foyer, hardwood floors gleaming up at her, the new tapestry print runner zigzagging up the stairs looking more welcoming than last year's cream Berber carpeting. Mother had swept through here with Miguel, her design consultant, last month and ordered a few decorating changes, but no amount of renovation or redesign could bring the life that was lacking to this house—people.
Darcy hated being alone in the house in particular. She was often the only one living here, and some nights, when she was alone in bed and listening to the scrape of tree branches against the side of the house, she felt like the last person on earth.
Lowering the thermostat, she wished Kevin had come home with her. Even if he wanted to sleep, it would have been better just having him in the house, but somehow he didn't get that. No one understood how lonely Darcy's perfect life was inside this architectural gem.
The Love Mansion was the envy of anyone who dared to trespass down the private Mockingbird Lane. Darcy saw them sometimes from her bedroom window—faces looming in the open windows of Mercedes and Audis, twentysomethings in big, bruising SUVs soaking up eyefuls of the lush, luxurious estate. But Darcy wanted to yell at them that it wasn't all it seemed. Despite the family name, this gorgeous house had never become the warm, familial home she'd dreamed of when her parents had purchased it from a famous actress. Dad rarely spent more than a weekend here. He was CEO of a giant corporation, and his job always demanded his presence in the office, in the boardroom, in the convention center. On the rare weekend when he did make it out to the Hamptons, Bud Love spent his time barking on the phone by the pool or golfing with business associates. And while Darcy's mother, Melanie Love, had plenty of time on her hands, she'd always found it difficult to extract herself from the social whirl of their home in Great Neck, the Garden Society, and the girls at the country club and, of late, the young tennis pro at the club who Darcy suspected was fooling around with her mother. Disgusting. Not that Mother hadn't kept herself in good shape, but really, what did a young, okay guy like Jean-Michelle see in her mother, a woman as chiseled as a cathedral spire and cool as cucumber gazpacho?
No, the Love Mansion had never fulfilled its name. Couldn't feel the love in this place. “It's all crap!” she once shouted down from her window to a bald man with the nerve to drive by in a Porsche convertible. “It's
crap!”
He'd turned that dick-mobile around pretty fast.
“Hello?” Darcy called out again, but Nessie was long gone. Damn. Although Ness had done a good job cooking and corralling Darcy and her friends for many years, Darcy didn't really need her anymore. Twenty-one and going into her last year of college, she didn't need a nanny. And now, each afternoon, Nessie seemed eager to get back to her own family in Riverhead, Long Island, much to Darcy's regret. She didn't blame Nessie, and she didn't know how to ask her if she could occasionally stick around to keep her company, to make some normal household noises and ward off the evening shadows.
If only she could have a big, noisy houseful of people, the way it was at the McCorkle house. Darcy used to love staying over with Lindsay, listening to Granny McCorkle's stories and sitting at the dinner table with all the cousins. She'd been planning to wrangle a few invitations out of Lindsay this summer, but those prospects were shot now that Lindsay had said all those mean things about Kevin. Besides, Darcy didn't think she'd want to be seen hanging around with someone that chunky. Darcy couldn't understand how her friend could let herself go that way. For chrissakes, why didn't she just stop eating?
Darcy wandered down the hall, stopping to stare into the darkness that loomed there. The living room, or parlor, as Mother called it, was way too grand for anyone to ever relax or want to spend any amount of time there. A large stained-glass piece set into the center window always reminded Darcy of a medieval chapel, and the silk upholstered furniture, including authenticated pieces from one of those King Poopy-pants dynasties, made the room feel like a museum. Darcy paused in the doorway, wondering for a moment if she'd ever in fact sat in that room.
She padded barefoot over the Chinese rug and chose the red silk chair, sitting like a queen on her throne. The chair creaked, and a faintly musty scent mixed with the mango-coconut smell of her suntan lotion. Wouldn't Mother freak to know she was getting Coppertone on the antiques.
Whatever.
Popping open the container, she bit into a slice of California roll, not worrying about the grains of rice that fell to the floor. That's what the cleaning people were for, right? Gotta give Nessie and the girls something to do.
The cozier den in the back of the house, with its brown suede chairs, entertainment center, and gray stone fireplace, was more her style. She snapped open a Diet Pepsi, turned on the VCR, and sank into a chair to devour sushi and catch up on the soaps she'd missed that day. The characters of daytime dramas were Darcy's year-round friends, and they never failed to appear with a new scandal or heartbreak, a thorny, submerged problem that made the issues swirling beneath the surface of Darcy's life seem simple and harmless. Soaps broke through the hollow aloneness. So what if her mother was sleeping with a tennis pro? Affairs were a daily occurrence in soaps. And all the accusations swirling around Dad's investment firm were petty grievances compared to the serial murders, switched-at-birth babies, and vindictive lovers of the daytime soaps.
Watching as two lovers shared a kiss on a moonlit balcony, Darcy glimpsed her own future, and it was good. No more putting up a happy front and knocking around in empty houses. No more being alone. No more Darcy . . . just Darcy and Kevin. The McGowans. Mrs. Kevin McGowan . . . God, that sounded good. Together, Darcy and Kevin were going to make a life right here on America's Riviera, where Kevin's father already owned Coney's on the Beach, a buzzing hotspot, a small gold mine. She and Kevin would have money, lux houses and sleek cars, great bodies, and lots of good sex.
Really, when you got down to it, what more could a person want?
4
Tara
I
f Tara had to hear one more word of debate from her mother regarding the merits of microblinds versus sheers she was going to rip the window dressing aside and jump out onto the sand.
“I don't know . . .” Serena Washington stepped back from the window and lowered her reading glasses. The cat's-eye rhinestone glasses fell to her chest, dangling on their chain as she reassessed the design crisis. “The microblinds are better for privacy, but then the sage drapes go so well with this armoire. Very seventeenth-century French provincial.”
But we're in a twenty-first-century Southampton beach house,
Tara wanted to tell her mother
. The era of microwaves and VCRs.
“Whatever you think,” she said dutifully.
“Though I worry that this armoire might be too big for this room.” Tara's mother paced around the bed in Wayne's room, her Dolce and Gabanna sandals leaving footprints in the deep carpeting. “I wouldn't mind getting rid of the armoire altogether, but your brother is so attached to those video games and he'd pitch a fit if I got rid of them.”
Tara just nodded and stared down at the carpet, thinking how the family had always catered to Wayne while Tara and her older sister, Denise, were the ones moving the armoires and cleaning the blinds and vacuuming footprints of designer shoes out of the carpeting. In some ways she envied Denise, having a life in Baltimore, a house of her own where she could fill each room with five armoires and not worry. Denise had hit the jackpot, landing on freedom and a guy her parents approved of, an African American architect with a steady business and a rambling, warm, loving family in Baltimore.
Serena Washington had moved from the furnishings to the wall treatments when the phone rang.
“I'll get it,” Tara answered, running for her life down the stairs of the starkly geometric beach home.
“You have got to meet me tonight,” Darcy ordered, bossy as ever. “I'll be at Coney's.”
“Somehow that doesn't surprise me,” Tara said, familiar with Darcy's quest for Kevin McGowan. “But I'm incarcerated in spring-cleaning boot camp,” Tara said under her breath.
“Hire a maid service,” Darcy said.
“Have you learned nothing about my mother over all these summers?” Tara said. “Serena Washington has two maids, Tara and Denise, only Denise wised up and got the hell out of here.”
Darcy laughed. “You're so funny. Meet me in half an hour.”
“What about Lindsay?” Tara asked. “Is she coming?”
“Big groan. I'll explain when I see you,” Darcy said, then clicked off.
Promising to return the sage curtains to the store in Riverhead tomorrow, Tara managed to escape Design 101. Soon she was cruising down Southampton's Main Street, a charming stretch strung with tiny white lights—small cafés, upscale boutiques, galleries, bed and breakfast inns, and outdoor markets that had a New England feel.
Waiting at a red light as a flock of pedestrians—all white—passed in their summer whites, Tara got to wondering why her parents, two educated, hardworking individuals, had chosen Southampton as their summer residence twelve years ago.
Tara was just nine when her parents bought the oceanfront house in the Hamptons, a sleek contemporary box on the beach that an architect had designed for his beloved wife, then put on the market when she left him for an artist she'd hooked up with at a cocktail party. Typical Hamptons story. Although Tara and her older siblings Wayne and Denise were not consulted about the purchase, Tara recalled the thrill of thinking her parents had purchased this house with its turquoise swimming pool and Jacuzzi tub, this land with its stubbly dunes and front-row view of the crashing ocean. That they owned a second house on the beach, well, surely this must mean they were rich and were simply feigning poverty when Tara pleaded for a television in her room and a VCR and a complete collection of Louisa May Alcott's books.
It wasn't long until Tara realized the Washingtons were not the average Hamptons summer residents. Though she was only nine she'd already developed a keen sense of the world around her, the awareness that African Americans were still a minority race but a significant part of New York City's ethnically diverse population. In Brooklyn, people didn't stare.
I belong here,
she used to tell herself as she walked down along a cobbled Park Slope sidewalk to the park with Denise or went down to the pizza place with a quarter for an Italian ice. Brooklyn was her home, and it welcomed her as readily as it embraced the Chinese, Latvian, and Pakistani children in her class.
But somehow, walking along the white picket-fenced gardens of their Hamptons neighbors, nine-year-old Tara didn't feel the safety in telling herself she belonged here. When all the faces around her were white, the bone structure and gazes as generically smooth as vanilla pudding, her mantra lost its power, becoming just a sequence of words. Especially when the murmuring started.
Murmured questions and curious looks. The staring waitress behind the counter in the diner. Patrons in the hardware store whispering about “passing.” Ladies who chose not to look beyond the brim of their floppy hats while strolling past the colorful awnings of Main Street.
The probing eyes and dull whispers were unsettling, but never menacing or threatening. Whenever Tara had feared someone would swoop closer and prey upon them, her mother would lift her menu and announce, “Laurence, let's order an appetizer for the family.” Or Serena Washington would pull a twisted brass concoction out of a bin in the hardware store with a hearty laugh and ask: “Now what in heaven's name would you use this for?” Or she would pause at a shop window, wondering about the price of a suit and whether the color would be flattering for her skin tone.
Skin tone . . . the bane of Tara's existence. Although she was African American, people often assumed that she was Caucasian because her skin was light, a creamy mocha shade. Their mistaken perception was a constant source of discomfort for her. Throughout her four years of private high school, she'd overheard murmurings from the other students, speculation over whether she was black or white, mixed race, Caribbean, or a descendant of Sally Hemmings.
Skin color was not discussed at home. Once, back in nursery school days, she had teased Wayne that she and Denise were better because their skin was lighter. They had even dumped out the bin of art supplies to search for crayons or markers that matched their skin tones—until Mama shut down the activity with a stern reminder that “we are all African American and we do not differentiate based on skin color.”
It was the same wherever she went, high school or college or summer camp; dark-skinned girls eyed her with suspicion, Latina girls snapped at her in Spanish, and during lecture halls she noticed other students staring at her curiously, as if a closer look at her hands or hair or feet would reveal the key to Tara Washington's ethnic identity. It made Tara want to turn inward, to remind everyone that race was just one part of a person's identity. As a teenager she'd felt freakish, until she glommed onto individuals who'd struggled to make their own way, their own identities. Princess Di, and Stephanie and Caroline of Monaco. Gypsy Rose Lee. Ellen DeGeneres. Elton John. Halle Berry. Sometimes she studied their bios, wishing for clues, searching for the key, the way to make it work.
Here in the Hamptons, Tara wondered if the fact that she hung out with white girls confused people all the more. But could she help it if her two best friends at the beach were Irish-Catholic and WASP wannabe?
Every year, as summer shimmered over the city, Tara wondered if this would be the last year she'd leave Park Slope to hook up with her Hamptons peeps. She had gone through a lot with Darcy and Lindsay, but sometimes, as she packed up for the summer, she felt like these girls were way too much work and fantasized about spending a quiet summer in the half-empty city, wandering in the coolness of museums and taking in matinees in dark cinemas.
Coney's was hopping with patrons when Tara arrived, but it wasn't hard to find Darcy. Like the sun, she was the center of the bar, half the guys in the room caught in her gravitational pull. From head to toe, Darcy was model sleek—gold on blond highlights in waist-length hair, periwinkle blue eyes that sparkled with confidence, sheer white blouse that revealed the electric blue camisole underneath. Looking down at her own black tank and jean skirt, Tara felt like she was slumming.
Darcy greeted her with a lift of the chin. “Tara! Thank God.” She gave her a bony shoulder hug. “I was worried that you'd porked out, too.”
“Excuse me?” Tara squinted.
“Haven't you seen Lindsay?” Darcy's eyes closed to slivers. “I guess not. She's enormous. She'd make Carnie Wilson look svelte.”
“I haven't seen her,” she said haltingly, thinking that Darcy looked unattractive when she was being catty. “But I'm sorry to hear that.” Poor Lindsay. “So why isn't she here?”
“Are you kidding me?” Darcy shot a glance over her shoulder at two guys who seemed to be waiting for an audience. “She wasn't invited. I'm not going to be seen with a girlfriend like that. I mean, what'll people think?”
“They'll think you're her friend,” Tara said pointedly. “Which I thought you were. What's going on with you, Darcy?”
“Listen to me,” Darcy said, stepping up beside Tara so she didn't have to shout over the music. “I'm just not comfortable hanging out with someone like that. It's gross, okay?”
“She's your friend!” Tara shot back. “Our friend, since we were little kids.”
“Well, those days are gone,” Darcy said, raking back a strand of blond hair with crimson nails. “So why don't you move on, honey? Kevin is going to be here any minute, and if you mellow out and have a drink, we can have a few laughs, okay?”
But Tara was shaking her head fiercely. “I don't think so. Right now, I'm not liking you so much,
honey
.”
Darcy cocked her head to the side, a strand of hair falling seductively over one eye. “Oh, don't be that way. Come on, I'll buy you a drink. Want a margarita? A cosmo?”
But Tara backed away, shaking her head. “I don't think so. I've suddenly lost my appetite.” And with rage thrumming in her head, Tara pushed past Darcy, leaving the bar.
What an incredible bitch,
Tara thought as she closed the door of her mother's Mercedes and gripped the steering wheel. She still couldn't believe Darcy was that shallow, that catty.
As she started the car, Tara felt doubly guilty for not calling Lindsay in these past two weeks. She'd wanted to, but she had been under her mother's thumb, cleaning and redecorating. That would change this week, as soon as the guys got here from Korea, where Tara's older brother was stationed in the armed forces. Although Tara didn't feel a strong bond with her older brother Wayne, it would be a relief to have him finally arrive and put an end to the neurotic preparations. Besides, Wayne would provide enough distraction for Tara to get some of her life back.
Whatever was left of it.
Years ago they'd lost Elle in a near-tragic incident. Thank God Elle had survived, but when her parents whisked her away, never to return again, Tara felt as if Elle had taken a piece of them with her. And now this. Damn it, at the rate Darcy was cutting people off, there'd be nothing left of the Hamptons friends.
This was unacceptable. Time to take a stand.
Tara stopped at a pay phone and, surprised that she remembered it, dialed Lindsay's number. “Hey, girl,” she said when Lindsay got on the line, “I'm headed over your way and I won't take no for an answer. How about we catch a movie or something?”
That would show Darcy that she didn't have the power to decimate Tara's relationships. Granted, she could destroy her own, but while Darcy crashed and burned, her friends would be getting their groove on.
BOOK: Postcards From Last Summer
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