The Summer I Turned Pretty
To all the important sister women in my life and most especially Claire
First and always, thank you to the Pippin women:
Emily van Beek. Holly McGhee, and Samantha
Cosentino. Thank you to my editor extraordinaire
Emily Meehan, who supports me like no other, as well as Courtney Bongiolatti. Luck Ruth Cummins and everyone at S&S. Many thanks to Jenna and Beverly and the Calhoun School for their continuous support of my writing life. Thanks to my writing group the
Longstockings, and one Longstocking in particular, who has sat across from me every Monday and cheered
me on--Siobhan, I'm looking at you. And thank you to
Gram, who inspired me to write about the forever kind of friendship, the kind that spans over boyfriends and beaches and children and lifetimes
I say, "I can't believe you're really here."
He sounds almost shy when he says, "Me neither." And then he hesitates. "Are you still coming with me?"
I can't believe he even has to ask. I would go anywhere. "Yes," I tell him. It feels like nothing else exists outside of that word, this moment. There's just us. Everything that happened this past summer, and every summer before it, has all led up to this. To now.
We'd been driving for about seven thousand years. Or at least that's how it felt. My brother, Steven, drove slower than our Granna. I sat next to him in the passenger seat with my feet up on the dashboard. Meanwhile, my mother was passed out in the backseat. Even when she slept, she looked alert, like at any second she could wake up and direct traffic.
"Go faster," I urged Steven, poking him in the shoulder. "Let's pass that kid on the bike."
Steven shrugged me off. "Never touch the driver," he said. "And take your dirty feet off my dashboard."
I wiggled my toes back and forth. They looked pretty clean to me. "It's not your dashboard. It's gonna be my car soon, you know."
"If you ever get your license," he scoffed. "People like you shouldn't even be allowed to drive."
"Hey, look," I said, pointing out the window. "That guy in a wheelchair just lapped us!"
Steven ignored me, and so I started to fiddle with the radio. One of my favorite things about going to the beach was the radio stations. I was as familiar with them as I was with the ones back home, and listening to Q94 made me just really know inside that I was there, at the beach.
I found my favorite station, the one that played everything from pop to oldies to hip-hop. Tom Petty was singing "Free Fallin'." I sang right along with him. "She's a good girl, crazy 'bout Elvis. Loves horses and her boyfriend too."
Steven reached over to switch stations, and I slapped his hand away. "Belly, your voice makes me want to run this car into the ocean." He pretended to swerve right.
I sang even louder, which woke up my mother, and she started to sing too. We both had terrible voices, and Steven shook his head in his disgusted Steven way. He hated being outnumbered. It was what bothered him most about our parents being divorced, being the lone guy, without our dad to take his side.
We drove through town slowly, and even though I'd just teased Steven about it, I didn't really mind. I loved this drive, this moment. Seeing the town again, Jimmy's Crab Shack, the Putt Putt, all the surf shops. It was like coming home after you'd been gone a long, long time. It held a million promises of summer and of what just might be.
As we got closer and closer to the house, I could feel that familiar flutter in my chest. We were almost there.
I rolled down the window and took it all in. The air tasted just the same, smelled just the same. The wind making my hair feel sticky, the salty sea breeze, all of it felt just right. Like it had been waiting for me to get there.
Steven elbowed me. "Are you thinking about Conrad?" he asked mockingly.
For once the answer was no. "No," I snapped.
My mother stuck her head in between our two seats. "Belly, do you still like Conrad? From the looks of things last summer, I thought there might be something between you and Jeremiah."
"WHAT? You and Jeremiah?" Steven looked sickened. "What happened with you and Jeremiah?"
"Nothing," I told them both. I could feel the flush rising up from my chest. I wished I had a tan already to cover it up. "Mom, just because two people are good friends, it doesn't mean there's anything going on. Please never bring that up again."
My mother leaned back into the backseat. "Done," she said. Her voice had that note of finality that I knew Steven wouldn't be able to break through.
Because he was Steven, he tried anyway. "What happened with you and Jeremiah? You can't say something like that and not explain."
"Get over it," I told him. Telling Steven anything would only give him ammunition to make fun of me. And anyway, there was nothing to tell. There had never been anything to tell, not really.
Conrad and Jeremiah were Beck's boys. Beck was Susannah Fisher, formerly Susannah Beck. My mother was the only one who called her Beck. They'd known each other since they were nine--blood sisters, they called each other. And they had the scars to prove it-- identical marks on their wrists that looked like hearts.
Susannah told me that when I was born, she knew I was destined for one of her boys. She said it was fate. My mother, who didn't normally go in for that kind of thing, said it would be perfect, as long as I'd had at least a few loves before I settled down. Actually, she said "lovers," but that word made me cringe. Susannah put her hands on my cheeks and said, "Belly, you have my unequivocal blessing. I'd hate to lose my boys to anyone else."
We'd been going to Susannah's beach house in Cousins Beach every summer since I was a baby, since before I was born even. For me, Cousins was less about the town and more about the house. The house was my world. We had our own stretch of beach, all to ourselves. The summer house was made up of lots of things. The wraparound porch we used to run around on, jugs of sun tea, the swimming pool at night--but the boys, the boys most of all.
I always wondered what the boys looked like in December. I tried to picture them in cranberry-colored scarves and turtleneck sweaters, rosy-cheeked and standing beside a Christmas tree, but the image always seemed false. I did not know the winter Jeremiah or the winter Conrad, and I was jealous of everyone who did. I got flip-flops and sunburned noses and swim trunks and sand. But what about those New England girls who had snowball fights with them in the woods? The ones who snuggled up to them while they waited for the car to heat up, the ones they gave their coats to when it was chilly outside. Well, Jeremiah, maybe. Not Conrad. Conrad would never; it wasn't his style. Either way, it didn't seem fair.