Home > The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(9)

The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(9)
Mary Alice Monroe

This summer was her final attempt to circle back, to recognize each granddaughter with clear vision, to close the gaping distance that had been growing between them over the last decade, and hopefully to restore some measure of their affection for each other.

Three granddaughters, three necklaces, three months . . . she thought to herself. This was the plan.


Carson had always believed salt water ran in her veins. She couldn’t bear to be inland too long. A day spent without her toes dipping at least once into an ocean was a day half lived. Simply put, the ocean was her life.

The day had begun as a typical May morning on Sullivan’s Island. After just a couple days back at Sea Breeze, Carson was already settling into a comfortable rhythm. She awoke as the pale rays of dawn painted her bedroom walls a pearlescent pink. Soundlessly, the young woman rose from the single bed of the room she’d always claimed in her grandmother’s house. This morning, her head was woozy and her mouth felt like dry cotton from the wine she’d drunk the night before. She still didn’t know how Mamaw could stop after just two glasses. When would she ever learn that heavy drinking and early rising didn’t mix?

Carson slipped into a bikini, still cold, damp, and sticky with salt from yesterday’s late swim. Peeking out the shutters as she applied a thick coating of SPF 50 to her face, she spied the ghostly remnants of a moon in the dusky dawning sky.

She smiled at the possibility of catching a wave while the red sun broke free of the horizon. It was her favorite moment of the day.

Carson hurried, stepping into flip-flops and loosely tying back her long, dark brown hair into a sloppy bun with an elastic. The pine floors creaked in the old beach house as she crept along the narrow hall to the kitchen. The last thing she wanted to do was awaken Mamaw. Her grandmother didn’t appreciate the importance of getting out on the incoming tide.

Except for the newer appliances, the ancient kitchen with its pine cabinets and flooring and multipaned windows had never changed. Lucille wouldn’t allow it. Long ago the kitchen had been painted yellow, but over the years it had dulled to a hue that, in the heat of a Southern summer, always made Carson think of rancid butter. Still, Carson loved everything about this house and it pained her deeply to think that Mamaw might be selling it.

Opening the screen door, she stepped out into the morning’s fresh promise. There was a hush in the air. The day was as yet cool and unspoiled. As she crossed the porch and made her way across the dewy grass, her gaze swept the leaning garage, the house, and the quaint cottage that Lucille lived in. The buildings clustered together around an ancient oak drooling long trails of moss. In the morning light, the sight looked like an Elizabeth Verner pastel depicting historic Charleston. Mamaw adored Sea Breeze and had always seen that it was meticulously maintained. It struck Carson that now the place was as tired and aged as its matron. Carson thought again how precious each day was.

Beside her surfboard she kept a large canvas bag filled with sandals, suntan lotion, a towel, and a cap. To it she added a fresh towel and an icy bottle of water and headed across the yard to her car, nicknamed the Beast. The car smelled of salt and coconut oil and the floors were covered in sand and empty water bottles.

It was a short drive to her favorite spot on the neighboring Isle of Palms. Carson recognized the few cars already parked along Palm Boulevard near Thirty-Second Avenue. Grand houses sat side by side between the road and dunes like a pastel-colored fence blocking the view of the ocean from the street. She walked along the beach path, her heels carving deep prints in the cool sand. The dunes were alive with spring wildflowers—yellow primroses, purple petunias, and the brilliant red and orange gaillardia. She spotted the ravaged frame of a dead bird, barely visible among the blossoms. Ants were marching to and from the hollow bones while bits of broken feathers stirred in the breeze. Poor thing, Carson thought. Nature, she knew, wasn’t always pretty.

The weight of the surfboard was heavy on her arm but she pushed on without pause up the final dune. Reaching its peak, she felt the first gust of salt-tinged air. Carson rested her board in the sand and her face broke into a wide grin as she took in the unparalleled vista of dark sea and sky melting into an endless horizon. Closing her eyes, she breathed deep the taste of home.

Carson couldn’t deny the unswerving pull of the tides. There was something about the smell here—the tangy mud mixed with salt—that sparked memory. The Southern coastline with its glassy, peeling waves was softer, more welcoming, than the rocky cliffs and powerful surf of California. Everything about the lowcountry soothed. And no matter how many times she’d left, or how often she’d sworn never to return, those deep tidal roots kept tugging her back.

The beach was dotted with a few tanned men and women waxing their boards and chatting with one another. The camaraderie between local surfers ran deep. They grew up together, and over years of seeing each other daily on the water, those loose friendships forged bonds that lasted a lifetime. Echoes of their high-pitched laughter mingled with birdcalls. Farther out in the ocean, a few surfers were already on their boards, bobbing in the lineup while waiting for a decent wave. She quickly joined them and freshened up the board wax where her back foot had worn through the last coat.

She wasted no time. The swell was two to three feet, solid by South Carolina standards. She felt her enthusiasm begin to bubble in her veins. Lastly, she wiggled into a spring suit—a short-sleeved, short-legged wet suit—that hugged her body like a second skin. It was a tight squeeze and she ignored the annoying stares from some of the men on the beach. Done with her preparations, Carson hoisted her board and took her first few steps into the brisk water.

Here we go, she thought as she plowed through the surf, paddling hard in the chilly water out to where the breakers hit. When she caught sight of the first blue wall of a good wave she gripped the sides of her board, pushed down, ducked her head, and dove under it. The board cut through the water as the cold wave broke over her. She burst from the water, hair streaming, gasping for air, droplets of water shimmering on her face in the sunlight.

Carson loved this first exhilarating immersion in the ocean. For her, it was akin to a baptism, leaving her refreshed and clean, forgiven of all sins. That epiphany was what kept her coming, morning after morning. It was addictive. Grinning, she kept paddling as she braced herself for the next wave.

Once out beyond the breakers, Carson pulled herself up to sit on her board and wait for a wave. Her long bare legs dangled in the murky coastal water as she looked out at the sandy shore beyond. From this distance, she felt more a part of the sea than of the land. There was a profound sense of solitude this far out in the ocean, an awareness of how small one truly was in the scheme of such vastness. Rather than feel small, however, in this arena she felt part of something much bigger than herself. This gave her both a sense of power and peace.

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