Read Beach Girls Online

Authors: Luanne Rice

Tags: #Contemporary Women, #Fiction

Beach Girls

BOOK: Beach Girls
7.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

To Rosemary Goettsche,
Maureen Onorato,
and Suzi Chapman,
with love


Sand castles and sea glass to Debbie Buell and Maggie Henry, Karen Covert, Laurette Laramie, Kathleen Stingle, Sue Detombeur, Susan Ravens, Marilyn Gittell, Amy and Molly Gittell-Gallagher, Andrea, Alex, and Jesse Cirillo, Meg Ruley and Alexandra Merrill-Lovett, Sam Whitney and my darling goddaughter, Sadie Whitney-Havlicak.

Love and thanks to Irwyn Applebaum, Nita Taublib, and Tracy Devine—for their encouragement and kindness, and for being such wonderful friends and publishers.

Many thanks to Mark Lonergan and Dore Dedrick for the music, and for introducing me to the real Tilly.

Deep gratitude to Sea Education Association (SEA) of Woods Hole, MA. Many years ago I spent a semester at sea aboard
R/V Westward,
a one-hundred foot staysail schooner. We sailed the Caribbean tracking humpback whales. Navigating by charts, instruments, and the stars, we learned to use sextants and shoot sun lines. We towed hydrophones to listen to and attempt to analyze whale songs; we studied with oceanographers and towed nets and took sediment samples. We spent Christmas on Silver Bank, and visited beaches on Grand Turk, St. Bart's, and Mona Island. Amy Gittell, my shipmate, became a lifelong friend. SEA nurtures students and their love of oceans; it is a wonderful organization.

I am very thankful to Karen, Joshua, and Elijah Stone; Jolaine Johnson; and Pam Paikin and Ed Barker for their friendship and support.

Mia O. and the BDG are great.

Love and beach memories to Bill, Peg, Lindsay, and Katie Decker; Carmen, Stacy, and Stephanie Decker; Rick and Courtney Decker; Laura, Kevin, Stephen, and Jenny Boyle; Rita Decker, Thomas Decker Sisco, and Michael Decker Sisco; Kathy, Michael, and Julie LeDonne; Kevin, Annette, and Christopher Brielmann; Jim and Kathie Brielmann; Tom and Renée Brielmann; Peter, Joanne, Kara, and Alex Brielmann; Harry Jr., Shirley Louise-May, Isabelle, Gabriel, and Rose Brielmann.

Just a few of the beach boys: William Twigg Crawford, Paul James, Gene Reid, Martin Ruf, Tom Murtha, David Ryder, Jeff Woods, Scott Phelps, and the memory of Dennis Shortell.


June, 1976

their towels all in a row, on the white sand down by the water's edge, under an azure sky. The beach was hot beneath their backs, but a fresh breeze blew off the Sound to keep them cool. Small waves licked closer, just beyond their feet. The tide was flooding in, and the girls knew they would have to move their towels to avoid getting wet—but this single minute on a late June morning of their sixteenth year was too perfect, too wonderful, to interrupt.

Stevie knew how quickly things could change; when she was very young, she had learned lessons of loss. A natural-born artist, she understood how impossible it was to grab onto a moment—something always happened. The wind shifted, or a shadow moved across the sun, or the light turned the water from dark blue to green. You glanced away, and by the time you looked back, everything could be different. The person you thought would be there forever had disappeared. Drawing was the only way she had discovered to hold on. . . .

Madeleine never had such thoughts. She was the younger sister of the most popular boy in school. Being swept along in his wake had made her feel always safe, always wanted, always part of whatever was going on. He protected her from things she never even thought about—till after it was too late to worry, till the danger or trouble had passed. Maddie savored the hot sun and blue sky, knowing that this was what summer was for—beaching it with her best friends. And when this day passed . . . there'd be another one right behind it.

Emma yawned and stretched, her legs extended, right foot arched as close as she could get to the water. She loved the feeling of the sea spray on her calves, getting more intense with each wave. Sunbathing could be so boring. Knowing the tide was coming up, surging closer with pure force, excited her. The sea was like a great lover—or what she hoped that would turn out to be. Whenever she wanted to dive in, the ocean embraced her. She loved how it was seductive, elusive, constantly changing . . . to Emma, change was like ecstasy—it let her know she was alive.

“So?” Emma asked, lying on her back with her eyes closed. Her friends didn't reply at first—if she didn't know better, she'd think she was alone on the beach.

“I don't want to move,” Maddie said, lying between the other two. “This feels too delicious. The sun is perfect.”

“Stevie—you're quiet over there,” Emma said, calling across Maddie. “Are you ready to swim?”

“Only if we can hold hands,” Stevie said. Emma hid a smile. Stevie loved being connected.

Maddie giggled. “People will think we're weird.”

“We are—or maybe just I am,” Stevie said.

Emma listened for her to laugh, but she didn't. Stevie's absence of laughter always made Emma feel sad, and she didn't like such emotions. Her parents didn't approve of them—they liked everything upbeat and attractive, and so did Emma. She did just about anything she could to avoid introspection, which seemed to be Stevie's lot in life; Emma had found several effective ways of blocking sad or upsetting things, and they involved either boys, shopping, or her best friends. She grabbed onto Maddie's hand and tugged.

They formed a chain—Emma, Madeleine, and Stevie. Holding hands, they faced the sparkling bay. The granite promontories of Hubbard's Point curved out into the Sound, protecting the white crescent beach from ocean waves. The cries of gulls carried from the rock island rookeries; Emma knew Stevie rowed out there at dawn to sketch the baby birds waiting for their mothers to come feed them.

The knowledge made Emma shiver, just slightly. She had been Stevie's best friend from babyhood. Maddie had come along later, but she had fit right in, completed their circle. Emma knew that, in their threesome, she was “the sassy one.” Maddie was “the happy one.” And Stevie was “the sensitive one.”

What Stevie—and definitely Maddie—didn't know was that Emma would just about die for them. She was sassy, funny, bossy, pretty, boy-crazy—all the lighthearted things they loved to tease her about. Although she had created the circle ceremony to bond them together, they thought she was casual about it: that they were just summer friendships that Emma took for granted year after year. The truth was, Stevie and Madeleine were her sun, moon, and stars; who needed celestial navigation when she had the beach girls?

“I thought we were going into the water,” Maddie said, tugging on her friends' hands.

“I wish, I wish . . .” Stevie said with her eyes squeezed tight.

Emma held her breath, waiting to hear what Stevie was going to say. Stevie saw the beach in such a different way than anyone else. She was so inspired by it—Emma loved the way she took the light, the breeze, the birdcalls, the stars, right into her being, and sent it all back out into the world, down on paper in her paintings and drawings.

Leaning forward to see around Maddie, Emma felt the waves come up around her ankles. She gazed upon the intensity of Stevie's face—so fine and chiseled, pale from the sunscreen she always wore, framed by sharp black bangs and bobbed hair—and she felt a pang deep inside.

“What, Stevie?” Maddie asked. “What do you wish?”

Emma felt her heart tug. She knew that Stevie was going to say something amazing, unexpected. She always did. She was so odd, the way she'd go rowing out to the bird islands before sunrise, or the way she'd go hiking into the marsh at night, listening for whippoorwills, or the way she would disappear for a whole day, and when Emma and Maddie—her fellow beach girls—would go knocking on her door, her father would tell them that she had gone to sketch the flowers on her mother's grave.

And then Stevie would come back, and she would tell a story about it. She was a true paradox—so solitary, but with intense need for connection with the people she loved most.

So she would tell—in such great detail Emma and Maddie would feel they were right there with her—about riding her bike past the salt-bleached cottages with bright, candy-colored shutters, to the little graveyard in among the wind-shaped cedars and oaks; about the scarlet trumpet vine growing up the base of the angel overlooking the grave where her dear mother slept. . . .

How the red flowers attracted hummingbirds, tiny one-and-a-half-inch-long birds with emerald feathers, to be with her mother . . . and how Stevie loved the birds beyond all reason, for keeping her mother company.

Stevie would say things like that—just out of the blue! The tale would unfold, with Stevie's words as evocative as her paintings—almost like the beautifully illustrated children's books Emma had grown up loving. And Emma had told her, too. “You're going to be famous, Stevie. Don't forget me and Maddie, after you've written a bunch of books—okay?”

“Never,” Stevie promised.

Emma loved Stevie for her talent, but she also felt . . . she hated to say it . . . envious. Because what would it be like—to see the world like that? To love nature and people in such a pure way that it would never occur to her to ask what they could do for her? Emma knew that Stevie was terribly vulnerable—things made her cry so easily.

Emma guessed that that was the trade-off—to be as creative and feel things the way Stevie did, she had to open her heart so wide, to let everything in. Sometimes Emma thought of Stevie as Snow White and herself as Rose Red . . . and Madeleine as their nice, normal, happy friend with a really hot brother.

you wish?” Emma asked now.

“Just,” Stevie said, “that this moment could last forever.”

Well—after all that, something so simple. Emma sighed with relief. She had expected Stevie to say something profound about birds and people, summer and love, best friends and life's journey. To her surprise, Madeleine was the one who got philosophical.

“It's the Bicentennial,” Maddie said. “We're part of history.”

“All I know is, we're sixteen and ready to be kissed, kissed, kissed,” Emma said.

“The beach girls of 1976,” Stevie said.

“Write a book about our summers,” Maddie said. “We'll read it to our children, and it'll become a classic, and people will read it to their kids for the next two hundred years.”

Emma shivered to hear that—she didn't like to think of Stevie writing books, becoming famous. It would make her feel second best.

“Come on—what are we waiting for?” Emma said, just to get them off the subject.

Holding hands, the three of them ran into the water, all at once, without stopping or flinching from the cold. They held tight, diving into the curling silver wave. When they came up for breath, they formed a circle—just like the one Emma had drawn in the sand. Their legs kicked underwater, buoying them up.

Once again, the sea had done its mystical work—washed away all unwanted feelings, made everything right again. Emma took the salt water into her mouth, spit it out. Feelings could come and go, but these were her best friends, and she loved them, and she would love them forever.

“What are we doing tonight?” Madeleine asked.

“Watching the moon rise,” Stevie said.

“Going to the beach movie to see who's there,” Emma said. “Watch out, boys . . .”

“Maybe we can do it all,” Maddie said, laughing. “The moon
the movie.”

“That's what I was thinking,” Emma said, watching Stevie gaze up at the sky without replying. The waves beat against the curved beach. Last night's half moon was still there, a white shadow marring the perfect blue. Emma shivered and turned her back on the moon, just taking in the blazing blue sky arching overhead, embracing all the beaches and all the beach girls.

Summer had barely begun.

BOOK: Beach Girls
7.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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