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Summer Rental(2)
Mary Kay Andrews

Well, maybe Willa would mind. She was only older than the others by twenty months, but really, she could be so pushy and bossy. It would be just like Willa to accuse Ellis of hogging the best bedroom. Which she had no intention of doing. She just didn’t want a bedroom facing the street and a lot of noise. She was a light sleeper—and she had a lot of thinking to do. And anyway, as the only single woman in the group, she was used to her own space. Too used to it, she thought wryly.

She was dying to see Ebbtide up close. She glanced up and down the road. There was no sign of traffic. Just another sleepy summer morning at the beach. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to walk up the driveway of the burnt-out house to see what she could see. Technically, she knew, it was trespassing. But it wasn’t like she was looting the place. What was left to loot?

Quickly, before she lost her nerve, Ellis trotted up the crushed oyster-shell drive. Another wooden boardwalk and a set of stairs leading up and over the sand dune, just like the one at Ebbtide, seemed to have survived the fire that had taken this house. She trod the steps quickly, not wanting to be seen from the road.

There was a shed-roofed deck at the top of the dunes. At one time it would have been an amazing place to sit and sip a cocktail and enjoy the ocean breezes. But not now. Some of the decking had rotted out, and the railings missed pickets in several places. A couple of broken plastic lawn chairs lay sprawled on their side, but it was the view that captured Ellis’s attention. From here she could see the Nags Head she’d imagined. The dunes, covered with sea oats, beach plums, and shrubs whose names she didn’t know, sloped down to meet a wide, white beach. The tide was out, and the Atlantic Ocean sparkled gray-blue below. Here and there, people walked along the shore, stooping to pick up shells.

“Perfect!” Ellis exclaimed. Just then, she heard the slap of a wooden screen door. Turning, she saw movement from the second-floor apartment over the garage at Ebbtide. That apartment had a small wooden deck wrapping around the sides and back of it. As she watched, a man walked out onto the deck. She could see him clearly—good Lord—he was in his underwear.

The man was barefoot, deeply tanned, with unkempt sun-bleached brownish hair. A pair of baggy white boxer briefs hung low on his slim hips. He turned, faced the water, yawned and stretched. And then, while Ellis watched, slack-jawed with amazement and disgust, he quite casually proceeded to pee off the edge of the deck.

He took his own good time about it too. Ellis was rooted to the spot where she stood, her face crimson with embarrassment. When he was finally finished, he stretched and turned. And that’s when he spotted her, a lone figure in hot pink capris and a white T-shirt, her long dark hair blowing in the breeze coming off the beach.

The man gave her a nonchalant smile. His teeth were white and even, and from here she could see the golden stubble of a days-old beard. He waved casually. “Hey,” he called. “How ya doin’?”

Ellis managed a strangled “Hey.” And then she fled down the stairs as fast as her flip-flop-shod feet would take her.


Ellis jumped in the Accord and backed out onto the roadway so quickly she nearly mowed over the Ebbtide mailbox. That’s what she got for trespassing, she thought. A bird’s-eye view of a pervert. She checked over her shoulder, back towards that garage apartment, to see if the man would reemerge from the deck to see where she’d gone. But there was no sign of him now.

Hopefully, she thought, he was the owner of that Bronco parked in the garage. Hopefully, he would be checking out of Ebbtide any time now, and he would be long gone by her check-in. Hopefully.

But what was she going to do with herself until then? There was an outlet mall down the road, but it probably didn’t open until ten. And she needed to get groceries, but she didn’t want her refrigerated goods to sit in her hot car for the hours until check-in.

She drove aimlessly down the road until she came to a restaurant whose marquee promised BREAKFAST SERVED ALL DAY—EVERY DAY. The parking lot was full. She even spotted a couple of UPS trucks, which, her father had told her years ago, meant the joint must be half decent.

The hostess showed her to a table near the window, and Ellis ordered scrambled eggs, turkey sausage, and an English muffin. Unbuttered. No coffee. She was wide awake now. Instead, she asked for ice water and grapefruit juice.

When the food came, she ate slowly, willing the time to pass quickly. The restaurant was noisy with small children laughing and running between the tables and the excited chatter of vacationing families and friends. When she’d finished eating, Ellis took out her iPhone to check her e-mails.

The iPhone was new. All those years she’d worked at the bank, the BlackBerry clipped securely to the outside of her pocketbook had been her lifeline to her workday world. It was the first thing she touched every morning, weekends included—even before she brushed her teeth and showered—and it was the last thing she checked at night, before drifting off to sleep.

But two weeks ago, an e-mail on that BlackBerry had summoned her to a meeting with Phyllis K. Stone in human resources. Around the company, Ms. Stone was known as “the grim reaper” or “Stonehenge.” But she’d always been perfectly nice to Ellis on the rare occasions they’d had dealings. On that particular day, Ellis had assumed she was going to be given her new health-care packet. But the packet which Ms. Stone silently slid across her desk to Ellis had nothing to do with deductibles or co-pays. BancAtlantic, her employer for the past eleven years, was, Ms. Stone said blandly, being swallowed up—no, acquired was the exact word—by CityGroup, Inc.

“Obviously, CityGroup has its own marketing department,” Ms. Stone went on. “And because their concern at this time is in cost savings and maximum efficiency as well as financial stability for our stockholders, the executive committee has decided that BancAtlantic’s marketing group will be extraneous.”

Ellis wasn’t sure she understood what Ms. Stone was saying. “Extraneous? Does that mean I’ll be transferred over to the CityGroup side?”

Ms. Stone slid the packet a millimeter closer to Ellis. “I’m afraid not.”

Ellis felt her mouth go dry and her palms begin to sweat. She liked her job, liked the people she worked with, loved the lifestyle it afforded her: the town house in a good neighborhood, business travel with a generous expense account, a new car every three years. “Then,” she said, her voice quavering a little, “I’ll be offered another position within the bank? I mean, it’s not like I was born into marketing. My degree is in finance, and before I joined BancAtlantic…”

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