Home > The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(7)

The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(7)
Mary Alice Monroe

It was at this time that Parker declared he was writing a novel. Marietta had been infatuated with the idea of her son as an artist. Edward saw it as an excuse not to get a real job. Parker had tried to work in the bank with his father but that had lasted less than a year. Parker hated being cooped inside a building without windows and hated numbers, suits, and ties. He claimed he needed to write.

So he was given an allowance by his parents and began writing a novel that, according to Parker, would allow him to join the hallowed ranks of celebrated Southern authors. It was the seventies, and Parker became a stereotype of an author: he holed up in his dingy office at the Confederate Home with bottles of Jim Beam and marijuana for his inspiration. He wore turtleneck sweaters, let his hair grow, and generally was self-indulgent regarding his “craft.”

Two years later, Parker’s novel was not completed and it was discovered he was having an affair with the nanny. Marietta had stormed to the house she’d bought the couple on Colonial Lake in Charleston and demanded that Parker leave the nanny and beg his wife’s forgiveness with a significant piece of jewelry. To her shock, Parker had stood up to her for the first time and refused to do her bidding. The other woman, a beguiling French girl of barely eighteen, was pregnant, and he intended to divorce Winnie to marry Sophie Duvall.

And so he did. Immediately after his divorce from Winnie was final, Parker married Sophie. True to form, Parker’s apologies and cajoling eventually brought his parents to the shack of a house he and Sophie rented on Sullivan’s Island. Marietta had wailed to Edward that the only reason the house was still standing was because the termites were holding hands. Marietta and Edward did not attend the sham wedding with the justice of the peace, but they took heart when their son found his first job, managing an independent bookstore in the city. Edward had been so hopeful about his son’s commitment to something that he’d agreed to an allowance to help support the couple after the baby was born—another girl. Parker named his second daughter Carson, after Carson McCullers, thus continuing his predilection for naming his children after Southern writers.

Poor Sophie, Mamaw thought to herself, recalling the waif of a woman. She suffered postpartum depression and eventually became Parker’s drinking partner. Their lifestyle slipped from bohemian to dysfunctional. Their drinking had kept Marietta awake nights with worry. The tragedy she feared occurred four years later. No one ever mentioned that horrible fire that took Sophie’s life. The circumstances were hushed and became yet another of the Muir family secrets.

After Sophie’s tragic death Parker dug deep enough to finish his novel. Energized with renewed enthusiasm, he moved to New York to work as an assistant in a publishing house. He was determined to find an editor, and, Mamaw thought with a sigh, in fact, he did. Unfortunately this editor didn’t publish his novel. Instead she married him. Georgiana James was an up-and-coming junior editor for Viking. She had drive, ambition, and the generous support of her wealthy British family. They’d married quickly—and divorced months later, before the baby was born. It was another girl, and in a rare concession to Parker because Georgiana approved of the literary reference, the child was named Harper after the Southern author Harper Lee.

Georgiana had proved a stalwart opponent to all things Muir. She steadfastly refused Marietta’s invitations to visit Charleston, nor was Marietta invited to New York to visit Harper. But Mamaw persevered, determined not to be snuffed out of any of her granddaughters’ lives.

During these tumultuous years, Carson had come to live with Mamaw in her South of Broad home in Charleston. During the summers, little Dora came to stay with them at Sea Breeze on Sullivan’s Island to play with Carson. Mamaw smiled wistfully remembering those years, so long ago. The two girls were like peas and carrots, always together. Even after Carson moved to Los Angeles with her father, she still came back to Sea Breeze to spend each summer with Dora. It wasn’t until years later that Harper was old enough to join them on the island.

Those few precious summers of the early 1990s were the only years all three granddaughters were together at Sea Breeze. Only three years, and what magical summers they’d been. Then the teenage years intervened. When Dora turned seventeen she no longer wanted to spend her valuable vacation time with her baby sisters. Carson and Harper became a duo. So it was that Carson was the link between all the girls. The middle child who had spent summers alone with each sister.

Mamaw brought her hand to her forehead. To her mind, all the summers seemed to blend together, like the ages of the girls when they played together. She had a kaleidoscope of memories. There once had been a very special bond between her granddaughters. It worried her to see them as near strangers today. Mamaw couldn’t abide the term half sisters. They were sisters, bound by blood. These girls were her only living kin.

Bolstered with resolve, Marietta turned to the velvet bags. One by one she spilled the pearl necklaces atop the pale pink linen coverlet. The three necklaces shone in the natural light that poured in through the large windows. As she studied the glistening pearls, her hand unconsciously rose to her neck. Once, each of these necklaces had graced the slender length of it, back when her neck had been her glory. Now, sadly, it was an embarrassment. High-quality natural pearls, all of them. Not these modern, freshwater bits that were more accessories than treasured pieces of fine jewelry. Back in her day, pearls were a rarity, among the most valued pieces of a woman’s jewelry collection.

It was traditional to give a modest, classic pearl necklace that rested just below the base of the neck to a young girl at her sixteenth birthday or at her debut. Reaching out, Marietta lifted the first necklace. It was a triple-strand necklace of pearls with a showy ruby-and-diamond clasp. Her parents had given her this choker for her coming-out at the St. Cecilia Debutante Ball. Her father loved extravagance and this had certainly been an extravagant choice, one that had made her feel like a queen among the other princesses bedecked in their white gowns and single-strand pearl necklaces.

Marietta studied the pearls dangling from her palm, considering to whom she should give this necklace.

“I shall give these to Harper,” Marietta announced.

“The quiet one,” Lucille commented.

“Not so much quiet as reserved,” Marietta said, contradicting her. “It’s the English in her, I suppose.”

“Same thing to me,” Lucille said. “She was like a little mouse, wasn’t she? Always holed up with a book. Startled easy, too. But Lawd, that girl was as sweet as Tupelo honey.” Lucille pursed her lips in thought, then shook her head. “Don’t know but that it’s a showy necklace for a tiny thing like her.”

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