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I closed my eyes and inhaled just long enough to recognize the first sign of summer. Luckily, I opened them again in time to see the four-way stop ahead. But as I pressed my foot on the brake and came to a stop at the intersection, I inhaled again, leaning my head out the open window. I knew that scent even before I could see where it was coming from. The smell of summer. Skunk.
I glanced at the clock on the dashboard: 8:49. Mona's ferry would be arriving in eleven minutes. Almost ten months of waiting and I had just eleven minutes to go.
After looking both ways, I dropped my foot on the gas pedal and headed toward the ferry. Even without spotting the skunk, the slight burning in my nose told me I was getting closer, until there it was, pushed just off the road toward the bike path. Mona always complained when I lowered the car window at the first whiff of skunk. She'd crinkle up her nose and then pinch it shut, her index finger self-consciously rubbing the bridge of her nose and the invisible bump that wasn't noticed by anyone but her. Still, I always kept the window down and breathed deep, even knowing how much it bugged her, because eventually she'd always end up laughing, a nasally laugh that turned into a snort when she finally unpinched her nose.
But now, I avoided looking at the black-and-white mound next to the bike path and instead looked straight ahead at the sign announcing I'd entered Vineyard Haven.
It was near the end of June, and a Sunday, which meant there would be two types of cars at the ferry the tourists leaving the island after a week's vacation, and the tourists arriving. The thing is, if it weren't for the fact that they were facing different directions, you probably wouldn't be able to tell which was which. But as someone who has lived on the island her entire life, I could tell. It wasn't the stuff they packed in their cars, because coming or going, the SUVs and sedans were layered to the roof with duffel bags, pillows, beach chairs, and boogie boards. If they were really ambitious, and unwilling to trade their expensive ten-speeds with cushy leather seats and spindly rearview mirrors for an on-island rental, there were always the bike racks hanging off the backs of trunks, wheel spokes slowly turning as they caught the breeze off the harbor. And it wasn't their license plates, because just about every other car was clearly labeled "tourist" Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and even a few Pennsylvanias tossed in for good measure. No, it was the difference between the shiny, sparkling cars with their polished hubcaps, and the cars coated with dirt and sand, their once gleaming exteriors dusted on-island like powdered donuts.
I made the left onto Water Street, following a BMW with wash me handwritten in block letters in the layer of dirt on the bumper. I patiently waited for the cars ahead of me to pull into the Steamship Authority parking lot and line up single file between the painted rows so they could board the ferry. Then I veered left and pulled Lexi's car into the row of spaces for people like me.
My sister knew I'd wanted to meet Mona at the ferry, and since she was planning to be at the deli early to let in the last of the contractors, she'd offered me her car. Even though July Fourth was almost two weeks away, which meant the worst of the summer traffic hadn't even started, I left the house early. Not as early as my parents and Lexi and Bart, who just had to be at the deli by seven, but early by a seventeen-year-old's standards, and especially early for someone whose last day it was to sleep late.
Mona's ferry wasn't in sight yet, so I walked to the edge of the water, where waiting families shared overpriced muffins from the Black Dog. They were all there, the Vineyard vacationers you saw in travel brochures and websites. There was the little boy who'd undoubtedly whined until his mom purchased the stuffed black lab puppy now clutched under his arm. His brother with the shark-tooth necklace. The girl with the rope bracelet. A mom in Lily Pulitzer Capri pants.
They might as well have been wearing the same T-shirts I WENT TO MARTHA'S VINEYARD AND ALL I GOT WAS EVERYTHING I ASKED FOR.
I turned toward the voice calling my name and recognized Ryan Patten down by the gazebo. He waved and started walking toward me. When you lived on the island, you didn't really expect to see people you knew at the ferry this time of year. Maybe in November when you were heading off-island to Target, or in March when everyone was going stir-crazy from the long, gray winter, but for three months during the summer the ferry was for strangers.
"What are you doing here?" Ryan asked, pulling a leash, and a very large dog, behind him.
"Mona's on the nine o'clock." I pointed to the golden retriever sniffing the grass and flicking his tail against Ryan's leg. "Who's that?"
"Dutch. He's along for the ride. My cousins and aunt and uncle are coming for a visit. You know how it is."
I nodded as if I did, but I didn't. Nobody in my family ever moved off the island. "So, what are you doing this summer?"
"Renting bikes at Island Wheels. What about you?" Dutch pulled at his leash and I followed along as Ryan let him continue sniffing the trail of whatever he thought he'd found.
"Working at the Willow Inn. We start tomorrow."
"Me and Mona," I told Ryan, lowering my voice as if there was any chance she could hear me from the ferry.
I hadn't told her yet. The job was my surprise. We'd always talked about working at one of the inns for a summer. It met all three of our criteria. One, no lines. The idea of scooping ice cream while a line of exhausted parents and their demanding kids impatiently shouted out orders for Oreo cookie frappés wasn't exactly appealing, no matter how much free ice cream you could eat. Two, no retail (see number one, but replace pissy parents and their whiny kids with pissy women who don't understand why there are no more size 6 Bermuda shorts on the rack). And three, no nights. Serving breakfast at the Willow Inn was perfect. Technically, there could be times when people would be anxiously waiting for their morning coffees, but with only nineteen rooms, it wasn't like there'd be a line for the blueberry muffins. Besides, we'd always figured people were still optimistic that early in the morning, and therefore nicer to be around. By the end of the day they'd be sunburned, cranky from spending twenty minutes in traffic on Main Street, and downright rude after driving around for an hour, looking for a parking space, only to discover a ticket on their windshield when they returned. The Willow didn't serve dinner, just breakfast and picnic lunches for guests. Spend three minutes with a hostess trying to placate families who have been waiting over an hour for a dinner table, and you'd understand why.
Luckily, the guy who sold Lexi the cash register for the deli knew someone who knew the new owner of the Willow, and two weeks after Lexi placed an order for the Sam4s register with integrated credit card capabilities, I had secured jobs for Mona and me.
"Does Kevin know she's coming back?" Ryan asked.
I shrugged. "I don't know. She e-mailed me with her ferry time and that was it."
Mona hadn't seen Kevin since she left, that I did know. She only came back to the island once after she moved, last October for her grandfather's funeral, and I'm sure I would have known if Kevin had gone to Boston to visit her. Kevin went out with Melissa Madsen for a few months this winter, but I was still sort of hoping they'd get back together when Mona returned, and then everything would be just like it was before she left. At least for the summer.
"It's here." Ryan pointed past the houses hugging the shores of the harbor and I could see the ferry come into view, white peaks of water cresting on either side of the bow as it made its way toward us.
"Hungry?" Ryan asked, and then pointed to the hand I had clutched against my stomach.
What could I say? That seeing the ferry coming toward us, the ferry with my best friend on it, had turned my stomach upside down? That all of a sudden the idea of seeing Mona again made me nervous because I didn't know what to expect?
"Yeah," I lied, and rubbed my stomach as if all I needed was a good bowl of cereal. "Starving."
We started walking toward the dock. "Where are you meeting your cousins?" I asked.
"Where they walk off. They got to Woods Hole late and missed their ferry, again. Couldn't get another reservation for the car until Monday, so they'll have to go over tomorrow and pick it up."
Ryan began telling me how his cousins missed their ferry every year, but even though I nodded in all the right places as if I was listening, all I really heard was the ferry engine revving loudly as it slid into place against the dock.
"You know what I mean?" Ryan finished. He looked to me for a response.
"Exactly," I answered, even though I had no idea what I was agreeing to.
We stood there with Dutch and watched as the front door to the boat's belly opened up to expose rows of idling cars. Once the guys working the controls for the ramp gave them the go-ahead, the cars slowly moved across the steel incline, forming a steady, orderly procession as they took turns driving off the boat and past the ferry building before accelerating in the direction of their rental house or relative's house or, in Mona's case, their new stepfather's summer estate.
I stood on my tiptoes trying to see if I could spot Malcolm's black Range Rover inside. Last summer, when Malcolm married Izzy in the backyard of his house overlooking South Beach, Mona and I wrote "Just Married" along the side of the car with a bar of Ivory soap. The soap was from Mona's grandfather's house. We couldn't find a bar in Malcolm's six-bedroom summer "cottage," where every bathroom had a bottle of L'Occitane almond shea soap on the sink and a matching bottle of body wash in the shower but not a bar of Ivory soap in the whole place. L'Occitane seemed to be the soap of choice in Malcolm's house, and it smelled amazing. It was actually the second thing I noticed the first time I went to Malcolm's house with Mona. The smell. It wasn't sweet like the air fresheners my mother seemed to have inserted into every electrical outlet in our house. And it wasn't comforting, like the lavender sachets the Willow Inn placed on the guests' pillows every night. The only way I could describe it was manly, like a combination of fresh-cut grass, seawater, and limes. Even though Malcolm had hired an interior designer from Vineyard Haven to decorate his summer home, it was definitely a house that had been occupied by a man. Malcolm didn't have any kids, even though Izzy told Mona he was married briefly to his college sweetheart. By the time Malcolm met Izzy, he'd been divorced for way longer than he was married, which is why the first thing I noticed about Malcolm's house was that it was way too big for a single guy with no kids.
"There are my cousins." Ryan nudged me and waved to a family walking toward us. "I guess this is it. Tell Henry I said hi and have fun with Mona."
"I will," I told him, realizing I'd almost forgotten about Mona's twin brother.
And that's when I saw it, the shiny black hood making its way out of the ferry doors and down the ramp. The back passenger window was open and I waited for Mona to poke her head out and scream my name. Instead I watched as Henry waved in my direction.
I waved back and walked toward the car, now pulling up against the curb to let the cars behind it pass by.
"Kendra!" Mona jumped out and ran toward me, her arms outstretched like in those slow-motion sequences in the movies. When she reached me, the force of her hug knocked me backward, quite a feat for someone who was at least four inches shorter, and fifteen pounds lighter, than me.
"You look so great," she told me, giving me one last squeeze before taking my hand and pulling me toward the car. "Mom, look at her, she looks exactly the same!"
Well, not exactly the same my hair was longer and not as blonde as when Mona left the island last summer, but I didn't point that out. Instead I let her tow me toward the Land Rover.
"Kennie!" Izzy reached through the open passenger-side window and held her arms out.
I leaned in and let her hug me. "Hi, Malcolm," I said over Izzy's shoulder.
Malcolm smiled at me. "Hello, Kennie."
"I know you girls have a lot of catching up to do. So don't let us stop you. Are you going with Kennie?" Izzy asked Mona.
"Yeah," I answered before Mona could even get a word out. "I can take you to the house, Lexi let me borrow her car."
"Great." Mona reached into the backseat and grabbed her purse with one hand and my elbow with the other. "Let's go."
Copyright © 2008 by Jennifer O'Connell