Authors: William Bayer
Tags: #Suspense & Thrillers
"WowâI'm sorry. You're really hard to please these days."
"Anyway I don't see what difference it makes."
Suzie laughed, then turned herself over to tan her front.
"Well, I know how you feel,
, but it makes a big difference to me." She gave Cynthia a kick. "
uzie playing tennis: Penny looked out at the court just in time to see her sister smash down a volley at a
opponent's feet. She had a special way of showing she was pleased when she made a shot like that. While Cynthia applauded from the sidelines and some other boy who was in love with her (Dartmouth soccer player, Amherst track starâwho could tell? They all looked alike anyway) gasped at what she'd done, Suzie stood there with her racket over one shoulder, her other hand resting lightly on her hip, smiling as she watched the ball skid away.
How did she get away with it, savoring her little victories like that? The boys she was always beating at tennis, and shoving off balance and into the pool, seemed to adore her all the more for her abuse. They panted all the harder for her attention and felt all the more fortunate when she finally invited them to join her in the
for a night. A night was all they usually got, unless they were especially amusing and adept, in which case they were asked back. In the end, though, there would come a morning when they'd be sent away. Then Penny would see them stumbling across the garden, confused, wondering what they'd done to earn Suzie's displeasure, why her passion had turned so quickly to indifference once they'd held her in their arms.
er mother drank so much she looked mummified by the afternoon, pale and pickled, Penny thought, stumbling about, trying to keep her dignity intact. She'd speak slowly, try too hard to be accurate with her pronunciation, and when she walked in the garden she took slow deliberate steps. Sometimes she just stood in the living room frozen like a statue, looking out through the French doors toward the pool. Once Penny had come upon her like that and, herself unseen, watched with fascination: her mother wasn't still but was trembling, shaking, fists clenched at her sides.
When her father flew in for weekends he seemed to Penny the very essence of successâpressed, cool, boyish, every hair in place, voice soothing, sincere, concealing raw energy and power. Even in his Maine lumberjack's shirt he was the square-jawed boy-wonder entrepreneur. Penny had read an article about him in a business magazine. His holdings in Chapman International were estimated at between seven and eleven million dollars. He had enemies. An unnamed rival called him "sanctimonious." A worshipful subordinate said he was "brilliant," admired his "daring strokes" and "ruthless cuts."
slept in adjoining bedrooms. They quarreled in penetrating whispers muffled by the walls. Her mother looked fifteen years older than her father. Sometimes Penny could hear her weep and shriek; her father's voice was always hushed. Their lights were usually off by ten, which was the time Suzie's parties usually began.
Penny didn't find her sister's little dramas of love and torment particularly painful at first. She was a spy, clinically detached, fascinated by the little flashes she saw, the bits of sound she overheard.
Music: that was always the beginning, old mournful out-of-date Bob Dylan tunes, "Just Like a Woman" and "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" played on Suzie's stereo over and over again. There'd be dancingâshe'd see the movements through the window, and later, when her parents were asleep, the inevitable nude swim, which Penny could make out clearly or vaguely depending upon the moonlight and the fog. There would be giggling, then, as they wrestled in the water and kissed, and as they moved back to the cottage, naked silhouettes against the shimmering surface of the pool, low murmurs broken by an occasional raucous laugh. They'd be smoking joints, she knew, getting high.
There was evidence, sometimes, to be examined in the dawn: a piece of discarded male underwear half-sinking in the pool, a damp towel or two, reefer butts crushed out against the tiles. Sometimes, very cautiously, Penny would approach the door of the cottage and gaze inside, at Suzie and her lover lying tangled on the waterbed, the sheets pushed away to the sides, the bed undulating slightly as their bodies trembled in sleep. She'd peer in at Suzie's face, blank and passionless. Inhaling deeply she'd catch a whiff of mingled odors: sweat and sex, the stale smoke of pot, and the rich dark aroma of Suzie's perfume,
. Once she saw Cynthia French tangled with them, which meant
there'd been an orgy and the nameless boy in the center had been used to satisfy them both.
She'd wonder about the boys as she'd walk softly back to the house to feed the dogs, her bare feet slipping in the grass, cool and moist with morning dew. Those poor beautiful sun-tanned boys dreaming proud dreams of having possessed the most desired girl on the resort. What did Suzie do to them? What scars did she leave? When they grew up, became lawyers and brokers and businessmen, would they look back upon their night or two with her and still feel some residue of pain?
Sometimes Penny could hear the dismissals, Suzie's words so sharp they sliced through the morning fog: "Bye-bye."
"Uh-uh. It's bye-bye time."
"What's bugging you?"
"Please just go away."
? I really want to be alone. Can't you get that through your skull?"
"Look, if I
"Okay, if that's the way you want it. You're really being a shit."
"So I'm a shit.
? I know thatâ
? And you're not so great yourself this morning either. You're really not.
Penny wondered what drove Suzie to perform these nightly rituals of seduction and dismissal. What did she gain by them? Why? Then Penny would think about herself, the outsider watching, imagining the intimate things her sister did. Thinking of herself peering out her window and gazing through the
door, she felt appalled. Would her own life always be like this? Would the melancholy longing she felt to participate, to put down her books and to liveâwould that and her painful solitude turn to bitterness until she ended up one of those terse, bony-faced ladies who run needlecraft shops in little towns?
She envied Suzie for doing what she pleased, moving out to the
, going topless, taking lovers, not caring who watched or what they thought. Better to be an actor, she thought, than to sit in the audience. Better to suffer and cause suffering than to feel nothing but the safe smug superiority of the voyeur, hidden, envious, alone.
Later, looking back upon that summer, asking herself if there'd been an omen of its end, Penny remembered the angry cadence of Tucker's shears.
he met Jared Evans the second week of August. She was bicycling along the cliffs above the sea looking for a place to spread her blanket, lie down out of the wind and read. Then she heard him, shouting, or so she thought until she realized that his words were rhythmic and that he was declaiming against the surf.
It took her a little while to find himâthe wind confused her, blew his words about. Finally she spotted a motorcycle, and then she saw him sitting on a rock precipice below the path where the waves were breaking and spewing spray. He was shirtless, his arms wrapped around his jean-clad knees, fighting the sea-roar with a poem:
". . . caught this morning morning's. . .
kingdom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-
dawn-drawn Falcon. . ."
She recognized "The
" at once, she had memorized it her freshman year at Wellesley and had whispered it to herself certain winter nights huddled beneath her blankets in her dormitory room. She moved forward until she found a place above him where she could sit and look directly down upon his dark curly hair and listen.
". . . air, pride, plume. . .
. . . the fire that breaks from thee . . . a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous . . ."
Even when his words were lost to her she was able to fill them in from memory. The poem still moved her, which amazed her nearly as much as stumbling upon this boy, sitting on the rocks, his voice sharp, fierce, flinging poetry against the wind and spray.
She was inspecting him with extreme curiosity, wondering just who he was and what he was doing and how he'd gotten himself down upon those boulders, when, seeming to sense her presence, he suddenly turned around. "Hi!"
She wanted to run away. It was awful to be caught like that, staring down like a spy. "Sorry," she said. "I was passing. I heard you and Iâ"
She didn't understand him.
"Where were you when you heard me?"
She pointed at a spot a hundred feet farther along the ledge. He stood and raised his hand to shield his eyes. "From all the way down there? Wow! I had no idea I was reaching back that far."
He was beautifulâshe recognized that at once; like a classic sculpture, she thought, an Athenian, dark, lean, his cheeks sheer, his lips full, lovingly carved. She was marveling at how beautiful he was, how finely made and poised, but when she saw that he was going to climb up to where she stood she began to back away. She thought of fleeing, running back along the cliffs to her bike. Then angry with herself for being afraid, she stood her ground and watched him climb. He moved lightly, with the suppleness of a gymnast. His bare torso, gleaming in the sun, looked all the darker against the pale rocks and foaming surf below. As he twisted and stretched to pull himself up the last few feet, she gasped at the beauty of his back, his straining flesh taut against his spine.
"Hi. My name's Jared. I'm with the theater company at Hull's Cove."
Such a beautiful actor he was, she kept thinking, as they shook hands and began to talk. She gazed at his sculpted cheeks while he explained that he'd been practicing throwing his voice; she searched his dark liquid eyes as he spoke of the need he felt to project himself into every crevice in the rocks.
"Like in the theater, I want to reach into all the corners, even underneath the seats." He laughed, and as he did she regarded the perfect whiteness of his teeth. "Kind of old-fashioned, I guess. Everyone else likes to mumble and scratch." He scratched in mimicry of them, scratched at the curly dark hairs on his chest which matched the thick curls around his ears. She found herself becoming extremely conscious of his body, even the little droplets of sweat upon his brow and beneath his lips; quite unaccountably, she wanted to wipe the drops away.
"Seen us?" She shook her head. He shrugged. "Not surprised. We do these warmed-over Broadway comedies, and we don't do them very well. The company's practically bankrupt anyway. The guy who owns the building keeps threatening to throw us out. I doubt we'll last the season. The people who summer up hereâpeople like you, I guess âhaven't picked up on our act. Heyâ" He placed his hands on her shoulders. "Don't be afraid of me. I won't eat you. Relax." He smiled. "You looked good, really good standing up here. I had to climb up to see you close, see if you really looked so good." She didn't say anything. "Well âyou do." Slowly he raised his arms toward her and put his hands on her shoulders. "Kind of like a Muse, the way you appeared up here. You were listening for quite a while, weren't you? You like poetry. I bet you do."
He was looking directly into her eyes, and she could feel the strength in his fingers as he put pressure on the back of her neck to gently coax out her reply.
"I know that Hopkins poem," she said, surprised that she could speak at all, very conscious of his touch. "I once memorized it myself."
"What else do you know? Tell me."
Later she would remember the moment well, a turning point she'd think, a moment upon which her life suddenly pivoted. Below the sea smashed upon the rocks. In the distance, on the horizon, a sailboat with an orange spinnaker cut the pale blue summer sky. The smell of Maine was there, too, pine forest and seaweed, and then something of this young man, something coming off his body, an essence that made her dizzy, reel, flush. Yes, it was just then, in an instant she'd fix foreverâfeeling his hands link behind her neck and draw her slowly toward him, seeing his lips part and his head tilt down, knowing that he was going to kiss her, knowing that in a second her mouth would feel the warmth of hisâit was just then that she knew she could let go. She was so happy, thrilled at the discovery, the dry destiny she'd feared for herself dissolving as she closed her eyes. She was crossing the line, she knew, from thinking to feeling, from books to life, and having crossed it she knew she'd never willingly return to the other side.