Home > The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(2)

The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(2)
Mary Alice Monroe

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” she told him with a lilt in her voice, feeling that the time was right to share Mamaw’s summer plans.

Nate tilted his head, mildly curious but uncertain. “What?”

She opened the envelope and pulled out the card, catching the scent of her grandmother’s perfume. Smiling with anticipation, Dora quickly read the letter aloud. When Nate didn’t respond, she said, “It’s an invitation. Mamaw is having a party for her eightieth birthday.”

He immediately shrank inward. “Do I have to go?” he asked, his brow furrowed with worry.

Dora understood that Nate didn’t like to attend social gatherings, not even for people he loved, like his great-grandmother. Dora bent closer and smiled. “It’s just to Mamaw’s house. You love going to Sea Breeze.”

Nate turned his head to look out the window, avoiding her eyes as he spoke. “I don’t like parties.”

Nor was he ever invited to any, she thought sadly. “It’s not really a party,” Dora hastened to explain, careful to keep her voice upbeat but calm. She didn’t want Nate to set his mind against it. “It’s only family coming—you and me and your two aunts. We’re invited to go to Sea Breeze for the weekend.” A short laugh of incredulousness burst from her throat. “For the summer, actually.”

Nate screwed up his face. “For the summer?”

“Nate, we always go to Sea Breeze to see Mamaw in July, remember? We’re just going a little earlier this year because it is Mamaw’s birthday. She will be eighty years old. It’s a very special birthday for her.” She hoped she’d explained it clearly enough for him to work it out. Nate was extremely uncomfortable with change. He liked everything in his life to be in order. Especially now that his daddy had left.

The past six months had been rocky for both of them. Though there had never been much interaction between Nate and his father, Nate had been extremely agitated for weeks after Cal moved out. He’d wanted to know if his father was ill and had gone to the hospital. Or was he traveling on business like some of his classmates’ fathers? When Dora made it clear that his father was not ever returning to the house to live with them, Nate had narrowed his eyes and asked her if Cal was, in fact, dead. Dora had looked at Nate’s taciturn face, and it was unsettling to realize that he wasn’t upset at the possibility his father might be dead. He merely needed to know for certain whether Calhoun Tupper was alive or dead so that all was in order in his life. She had to admit that it made the prospect of a divorce less painful.

“If I go to Mamaw’s house I will need to take my tetra,” Nate told her at length. “The fish will die if I leave it alone in the house.”

Dora slowly released her breath at the concession. “Yes, that’s a very good idea,” she told him cheerfully. Then, because she didn’t want him to dwell and because it had been a good day for Nate so far, she moved on to a topic that he wouldn’t find threatening. “Now, suppose you tell me about the new level of your game. What is your next challenge?”

Nate considered this question, then tilted his head and began to explain in tedious detail the challenges he faced in the game and how he planned to meet them.

Dora returned to the stove, careful to mutter, “Uh-huh,” from time to time as Nate prattled on. Her sauce had gone cold and all the giddiness that she’d experienced when reading the invitation fizzled in her chest, leaving her feeling flat. Mamaw had been clear that this was to be a girls-only weekend. Oh, Dora would have loved a weekend away from the countless monotonous chores for a few days of wine and laughter, of catching up with her sisters, of being a Summer Girl again. Only a few days . . . Was that too much to ask?

Apparently, it was. She’d called Cal soon after the invitation had arrived.

“What?” Cal’s voice rang in the receiver. “You want me to babysit? All weekend?”

Dora could feel her muscles tighten. “It will be fun. You never see Nate anymore.”

“No, it won’t be fun. You know how Nate gets when you leave. He won’t accept me as your substitute. He never does.”

She could hear in his voice that he was closing doors. “For pity’s sake, Cal. You’re his father. You have to figure it out!”

“Be reasonable, Dora. We both know Nate will never tolerate me or a babysitter. He gets very upset when you leave.”

Tears began to well in her eyes. “But I can’t bring him. It’s a girls-only weekend.” Dora lifted the invitation. “It says, ‘This invitation does not include husbands, beaus, or mothers.’ ”

Cal snorted. “Typical of your grandmother.”

“Cal, please . . .”

“I don’t see what the problem is,” he argued, exasperation creeping into his voice. “You always bring Nate along with you when you go to Sea Breeze. He knows the house, Mamaw . . .”

“But she said—”

“Frankly, I don’t care what she said,” Cal said, cutting her off. There was a pause, then he said with a coolness of tone she recognized as finality, “If you want to go to Mamaw’s, you’ll have to bring Nate. That’s all there is to it. Now good-bye.”

It had always been this way with Cal. He never sought to see all of Nate’s positive qualities—his humor, intelligence, diligence. Rather, Cal had resented the time she spent with their son and complained that their lives revolved around Nate and Nate alone. So, like an intractable child himself, Cal had left them both.

Dora’s shoulders slumped as she affixed Mamaw’s invitation to the refrigerator door with a magnet beside the grocery list and a school photo of her son. In it, Nate was scowling and his large eyes stared at the camera warily. Dora sighed, kissed the photo, and returned to cooking their dinner.

While she chopped onions, tears filled her eyes.

NEW YORK CITY

Harper Muir-James picked at the piece of toast like a bird. If she nibbled small pieces and chewed each one thoroughly, then sipped water between bites, she found she ate less. As she chewed, Harper’s mind was working through the onslaught of emotions that had been roiling since she opened the invitation in the morning’s mail. Harper held the invitation between her fingers and looked at the familiar blue-inked script.

“Mamaw,” she whispered, the name feeling foreign on her lips. It had been so long since she’d uttered the name aloud.

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