Home > The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(4)

The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(4)
Mary Alice Monroe

Harper looked back at her mother and smiled cheerily. “All right then. I rather think I will go.”

Four weeks later Carson’s battered Volvo wagon limped over the Ben Sawyer Bridge toward Sullivan’s Island like an old horse heading to the barn. Carson turned off the music and the earth fell into a hush. The sky over the wetlands was a panorama of burnt sienna, tarnished gold, and moody shades of blue. The few wispy clouds would not mar the great fireball’s descent into the watery horizon.

She crossed the bridge and her wheels were on Sullivan’s Island. She was almost there. The reality of her decision made her fingers tap along the wheel in agitation. She was about to show up on Mamaw’s doorstep to stay for the entire summer. She sure hoped Mamaw had been sincere in that offer.

In short order Carson had given up her apartment, packed everything she could in her Volvo, and put the rest into storage. Staying with Mamaw provided Carson with a sanctuary while she hunted for a job and saved a few dollars. It had been an exhausting three-day journey from the West Coast to the East Coast, but she’d arrived at last, bleary-eyed and stiff-shouldered. Yet once she left the mainland, the scented island breezes gave her a second wind.

The road came to an intersection at Middle Street. Carson smiled at the sight of people sitting outdoors at restaurants, laughing and drinking as their dogs slept under the tables. It was early May. In a few weeks the summer season would begin and the restaurants would be overflowing with tourists.

Carson rolled down the window and let the ocean breeze waft in, balmy and sweet smelling. She was getting close now. She turned off Middle Street onto a narrow road heading away from the ocean to the back of the island. She passed Stella Maris Catholic Church, its proud steeple piercing a periwinkle sky.

The wheels crunched to a stop on the gravel and Carson’s hand clenched around the can of Red Bull she’d been nursing.

“Sea Breeze,” she murmured.

The historic house sat amid live oaks, palmettos, and scrub trees overlooking the beginning of where Cove Inlet separated Charleston Harbor from the Intracoastal Waterway. At first peek, Sea Breeze seemed a modest wood-framed house with a sweeping porch and a long flight of graceful stairs. Mamaw had had the original house raised onto pilings to protect it from tidal surges during storms. It was at that same time that Mamaw had added to the house, restored the guest cottage, and repaired the garage. This hodgepodge collection of wood-frame buildings might not have had the showy grandeur of the newer houses on Sullivan’s, Carson thought, but none of those houses could compare with Sea Breeze’s subtle, authentic charm.

Carson turned off the lights, closed her bleary eyes, and breathed out in relief. She’d made it. She’d journeyed twenty-five hundred miles and could still feel the rolling of them in her body. Sitting in the quiet car, she opened her eyes and stared out the windshield at Sea Breeze.

“Home,” she breathed, tasting the word on her lips. Such a strong word, laden with meaning and emotion, she thought, feeling suddenly unsure. Did birth alone give her the right to make that claim on this place? She was only a granddaughter, and not a very attentive one at that. Though, unlike the other girls, for her, Mamaw was more than a grandmother. She was the only mother Carson had ever known. Carson had been only four years old when her mother died and her father left her to stay with Mamaw while he went off to lick his wounds and find himself again. He came back for her four years later to move to California, but Carson had returned every summer after that until she was seventeen. Her love for Mamaw had always been like that porch light, the one true shining light in her heart when the world proved dark and scary.

Now, seeing Sea Breeze’s golden glow in the darkening sky, she felt ashamed. She didn’t deserve a warm welcome. She’d visited a handful of times in the past eighteen years—two funerals, a wedding, and a couple of holidays. She’d made too many excuses. Her cheeks flamed as she realized how selfish it was of her to assume that Mamaw would always be here, waiting for her. She swallowed hard, facing the truth that she likely wouldn’t even have come now except that she was broke and had nowhere else to go.

Her breath hitched as the front door opened and a woman stepped out onto the porch. She stood in the golden light, straight-backed and regal. In the glow, her wispy white hair created a halo around her head.

Carson’s eyes filled as she stepped from the car.

Mamaw lifted her arm in a wave.

Carson felt the tug of connection as she dragged her suitcase in the gravel toward the porch. As she drew near, Mamaw’s blue eyes shone bright and welcoming. Carson let go of her baggage and ran up the stairs into Mamaw’s open arms. She pressed her cheek against Mamaw’s, was enveloped in her scent, and all at once she was four years old again, motherless and afraid, her arms tight around Mamaw’s waist.

“Well now,” Mamaw said against her cheek. “You’re home at last. What took you so long?”

CHAPTER TWO

Marietta Muir hated birthdays. In a few days she was turning eighty years old. She shuddered.

She stood on the rooftop porch of her beach house overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, which was serene this morning and caressing the shoreline like an old friend. How many summers had she spent in the embrace of that body of water? she wondered. Never enough.

Marietta’s fingers tapped the porch railing. There was no point in fussing about her birthday now. After all, she herself had made the party arrangements and invited her granddaughters to Sullivan’s Island. But what choice did she have but to make her eightieth birthday an event? How many times over the years had she invited her granddaughters to her island house, and how many times had they replied with excuses? Marietta thought of the letters she’d received, each written in a script as different in personality and style from the others as the girls themselves, yet each filled with the same excuses. Oh, Mamaw! I’m so sorry! I’d love to come, but . . . The exclamation marks at the ends of the excuses made the apologies feel all the more insincere. How else could she wrangle three recalcitrant young women from all over the country to travel to South Carolina to visit?

When they were young they loved coming to Sea Breeze. Once adolescence was over, however, they all became too engrossed in their grown-up lives. Dora got married and became, quite frankly, overwhelmed with all the demands of her son and husband. Carson’s ambition had her flying all over the world with her camera. And Harper . . . Who knew? She had slipped away into her mother’s camp, ignoring letters, sending perfunctory thank-you notes for gifts received, never calling. The simple truth was that since the girls had become women, they rarely visited their grandmother.

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