Home > The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(6)

The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(6)
Mary Alice Monroe

Marietta strode from the porch with purpose. The west wing was original to the old beach house. It was a warren of three rooms: one she and Edward had slept in, one had been Parker’s room, and the wide room with heart-pine paneling, bookshelves, and paintings of hunting dogs had been the den. Years later when Marietta had expanded the house and Parker’s three daughters came for summers, the girls laid claim to the west wing by virtue of squatter’s rights. In her mind she could still hear the giggling and squeals. The poor men were chased out of their lair, grumbling about hormones and the vanities of youth.

“Did you get the necklaces out as I asked?” Marietta said as they walked through the den.

“They’re in your room, on your bed.”

Marietta walked through the living room to the master bedroom. The master suite made up the house’s east wing, and it was her sanctuary. She’d restored and remodeled Sea Breeze when she’d made the permanent move from Charleston to the island. Poor Edward hadn’t lived long enough to enjoy his retirement. Marietta had found him slumped over his computer only a year after Parker’s death, leaving her utterly alone in her redone house.

She walked across the plush carpeting directly to her ornately carved, mahogany four-poster bed, where she saw three black velvet bags lying on the bedspread. Three necklaces for three granddaughters.

“It’s high time I selected which necklace to give which girl.”

Lucille crossed her arms over her ample breast. “I thought you said you was gonna let them pick out the one they like the best.”

“No, no, Lucille,” Marietta replied impatiently. “That wouldn’t do at all.” She paused, turning her head to meet Lucille’s gaze. “It’s said,” she said in the manner of a sage, “that pearls take on the essence of the person who wears them.” She nodded, as though adding emphasis to the declaration. She began walking again. “I’ve worn those pearl necklaces for decades. Why, each pearl is positively infused with my essence. Don’t you see,” she said as though it were obvious, “that by giving my granddaughters my pearls, I’m passing on a bit of myself to each of them?” The very idea of it still had the power of giving her pleasure. “I’ve been looking forward to this moment for years.”

Lucille was accustomed to the air of the dramatic in Marietta and remained unconvinced. “They can still pick their own necklace and get that essence juju. What if they don’t like the one you picked out for them?”

“Don’t like? What’s not to like? Each necklace is priceless!”

“I’m not talking about how much it’s worth. I’m talking about liking it. You don’t want them sneaking looks at each other, checking out what the other one got. Chances are, you’ll get it wrong. I’ve never known three people more different than those girls. If you asked me to choose, why, I couldn’t. Wouldn’t have a clue what they like.” She narrowed her eyes and nodded her head in a jerky motion. “And you don’t neither.”

Marietta lifted her chin. “Of course I do. I’m their mamaw. I know.”

“Uh-huh,” Lucille replied with a doubtful shake of her head as they crossed through the living room. “So much for you trying not to manipulate folks so much.”

“What’s that? You think I’m manipulating them?”

“I’m just saying . . . Seems to me I remember you saying how you wanted to sit back and watch the girls choose, so’s you could see for yourself what their tastes were and what kind of women they’d grown up to be. You said you wanted to help them get close again. How’re you gonna do that if you’re already setting things up the way you like? Didn’t you learn nothin’ from Parker?”

Marietta looked away, troubled by the truth in the accusation. “My life was devoted to Parker,” she said, her voice trembling with emotion.

“I know it,” Lucille replied gently. “And we both know it was that boy’s undoing.”

Marietta closed her eyes to calm herself. Now that years had passed since her son’s early death, she could look at his life with a more honest eye, one no longer blurred by her devotion.

Marietta and Edward had wanted children, expected them. Not a horde, but an heir and a spare at the very least. In retrospect, it was a miracle that Marietta had delivered a son. After Parker’s birth she’d suffered countless miscarriages and the despair of a stillborn child. She had doted on Parker . . . spoiled him. She didn’t learn until years later that she was what the doctors called an enabler.

Edward had complained it’d cost him a fortune in donations just to get the boy through the drunken debauchery of fraternity parties and countless girls to miraculously collect a degree. After college graduation, Edward had wanted to “boot his son off the payroll” and force him to “become a man and find out what it meant to earn a dollar.” To which Marietta had responded with tongue in cheek, “Oh? You mean like you had to do?”

Parker could do no wrong in his mother’s eyes, and Marietta became adept at making excuses for his failings. If he was moody, she declared him sensitive. His womanizing, even after marriage, was always the fault of his unsatisfactory mates. And his drinking . . . well, all men liked to drink, didn’t they?

Parker had been a beautiful child and had grown to become, no one could argue, an unfairly handsome man. He was tall and lean, with pale blond hair and azure eyes—the Muir color—rimmed with impossibly long lashes. Combined with his upper-class Southern heritage, to her mind he was Ashley Wilkes incarnate. When Parker looked appealingly into his mama’s eyes, it was impossible for her to stay angry with him for his indiscretions. Though his father had grown immune to it over the years.

Never the women, however.

Women flocked to him. Marietta had secretly loved to watch them flutter their feathers around him like plumed birds. In her vanity, she took credit for it. Yet, Marietta had never been naive. It was precisely because she knew Parker could be indifferent to consequences that she’d taken it upon herself to introduce him to his future wife.

That woman was Winifred Smythe, an acceptably attractive young woman from a fine Charleston family. More to the point, she was a woman who was malleable, of moral upbringing, and willing. Everyone who saw them together couldn’t help but agree they were a “golden couple.” Their wedding at St. Philip’s made headlines on the society pages. When Winnie gave birth to a daughter one year later, Marietta felt it was a personal triumph. Parker named his daughter Dora, after his favorite Southern author, Eudora Welty.

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