Home > The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(5)

The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(5)
Mary Alice Monroe

Marietta’s fingertips tapped along the porch railing. Well, at least they were all coming this time, even if it was perhaps her subtle promise of loot that had lured them in. The little pirates . . . It was well known that the founding father of the celebrated line of sea captains in the family’s long and illustrious history was, in fact, a pirate. It was never talked about in polite society, but it was quietly understood that the family’s subsequent wealth sprang from the seed of that buccaneer’s bounty.

Her thinning lips pursed in worry. What she had not mentioned in her letter was that she would also be unearthing family secrets, especially about their father. In her long life she’d learned that those dark and musty facts always had a way of leaching out and fouling lives. Best to air them out, while she still had time.

Time—that was at the crux of her invitation. She’d invited her granddaughters to her birthday party. She hoped they would agree to spend the entire summer. They simply had to, she thought with a twinge of anxiety. She clasped her hands together. Please God, let them agree to stay for one final season.

Marietta looked at her hands, which were graced with a large, mine-cut diamond. Ah, the ravages of time, she thought. Back in the day, her hands had been smooth and graceful, not withered as they were now. It pained her to see the wrinkled skin, the dark spots, the way her once-long fingers curled around the railing like an old crone’s claw. Old age could be so humbling.

But she didn’t feel old—certainly not as old as eighty. That was much older than she’d ever dreamed of being. Older than her mother or father had ever been, and many of her friends. Or her beloved husband, Edward, who had passed a decade earlier. And even her darling son, Parker. She’d thought she’d die herself when he did. A parent should never have to survive the death of a child. But she had survived, for quite a long time. And in her mind, she was not old Marietta or young Marietta. She was simply Marietta.

The aches and pains were real enough, though, as were her fading eyesight and her inability to remember names. Marietta took in one last sweeping view. From high on the roof deck of her house, Sea Breeze, Marietta could see beyond the front row of island houses and the thick expanse of maritime shrubs far out to the golden beach. When she’d first come to Sea Breeze as a young bride, there were no houses between hers and the ocean. Now another two rows of houses crammed the narrow space before the beach. But from the roof deck she still could look over the obstructing rooftops to see the same view of shimmering ocean. The azure water mirrored a cloudless sky and white-tipped waves rolled ashore at an unhurried pace, tossing sand as ancient and teeming with mystery as time itself.

She laughed ruefully. As ancient as herself.

“Miz Marietta!”

Oh bother, Marietta thought. Lucille was no doubt upset to discover she’d snuck up to the rooftop again. Marietta turned from the rooftop railing to look anxiously down the steep stairs. When she was young she would race like a gazelle up these same stairs each morning, breathless with anticipation to peer out at the condition of the sea. Backbone, she told herself as she gripped the stair railing tight. Marietta tentatively, slowly, began her way down the narrow stairwell. She was met halfway by Lucille. Her maid’s dark, round eyes flashed as she looked up at Marietta.

“Lucille, you gave me a start!” Marietta exclaimed, tightening her grip on the railing.

“I gave you a start? What do you mean, running up and down those stairs like a girl? You could fall! And with your bones, that’d be the end of it. I’m out of breath racing to get here once I figured out where you snuck off to.” She climbed a few steps closer and placed a firm grip on Marietta’s arm. “I can’t let you be on your own for one minute without you getting yourself into trouble.”

“Nonsense,” Marietta scoffed, accepting Lucille’s support. “I’ve gone up and down those same stairs for longer than I can remember.”

Lucille snorted. “And you remember a long, long time, too. You ain’t that young girl no more, Miz Marietta, no matter what you think. You promised me you’d let me know when you was heading up to that roof. I got to come with you, so’s you don’t fall.”

“And what would you do if I did fall?” Marietta asked archly. “You’re as old as I am. We’d both fall into a heap of broken bones.”

“Not as old . . .” Lucille mumbled as she reached the landing of the porch, then guided Marietta down the final steps.

Marietta didn’t like being watched and tended like some child. She’d always prided herself on her independence. As she prided herself on having her own opinions and not being shy to offer them. When she reached floor level, she pulled back her shoulders and shook off Lucille’s hold, sniffing. “I know exactly how old you are. You’re sixty-nine and every bit the old coot I am.”

Lucille chuckled and ruefully shook her head. “I am that,” she conceded, “but I’ll take every year I can, thank you very much.”

Marietta gazed at Lucille standing across from her, arms resolutely locked across her breast. They stood almost eye to eye and took each other’s measure. Marietta was as long and sleek as an egret. Her cropped white hair feathered her head and when she stood silent and watching, as she did now, she appeared as regal as that elegant marsh bird.

In contrast, Lucille was as compact and stout as a well-fed marsh hen. Her once-shimmering black hair was more white now, but her large dark eyes still gleamed with the stubbornness and guile of that gregarious bird. And Lord knew her cackle was as harsh. Though she was nearly seventy, Lucille’s skin was as smooth as polished ebony, and it had been Marietta’s secret mission for years to get Lucille to divulge what ointments kept her aging skin so supple. Lucille had been hired as Marietta’s maid some fifty years earlier and had faithfully tended the Muir home and family on East Bay in Charleston. When Marietta sold the great house and moved permanently to Sea Breeze, Lucille had come with her.

Today Lucille was more a companion than a maid. Lucille knew every secret in Marietta’s life and stood as a fierce gatekeeper at her door. Marietta sometimes thought Lucille knew too much about her and her family. She felt vaguely uncomfortable that there was one person intimately involved in her life whom she couldn’t hoodwink. Only Lucille was allowed to make the wry comments that could shatter Marietta’s illusions or state the bald truth, no matter how harsh it was for Marietta to hear. Marietta trusted Lucille implicitly and her loyalty to Lucille was unquestioned. They were, in fact, devoted to one another.

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