Read an Excerpt
By Holly Chamberlin
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Elise Smith
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhere the past exists, the future may flourish. —Peter Ackroyd
Maggie Weldon Wilkes steered her Lexus IS C 10 convertible around a slow-moving station wagon decorated with three bikes and a canoe. The Lexus had been a present to herself for a very successful bonus season. Retractable hardtop, cruise control, even a backup camera—this particular car was more of an indulgence than a necessity.
She reached for her iPhone on the seat beside her. She knew it was dangerous to text while driving—everybody knew that, especially after Oprah had made a deservedly big deal out of it—but Maggie did it anyway, occasionally. It gave her a bit of a thrill to do something possibly illegal and definitely reckless, though she could barely admit that to herself. Besides, it wasn't like she reached for her phone on a busy New York City street. Like right now, mid-morning on a Friday, there were only a few cars within sight and what was the harm in typing out a brief, abbreviated note to her husband? Nothing. Not much. Except that in spite of wearing bifocal contact lenses she couldn't quite see what she was doing.
"In ME," she managed, the intelligence of habit overcoming the limitations of vision. "How r u?" She put her phone back on the passenger seat and realized that she hadn't actually heard Gregory's voice in days. They had tweeted and texted and e-mailed but not actually spoken, not even on voice mail. This, however, was par for the course with the Wilkeses and not to be taken as a sign of marital distress or discord. Maggie reassured herself on this point with some frequency. She and Gregory were a highly successful career couple whose jobs took them out of each other's sight, not out of each other's minds. Maybe they weren't as close as they once had been, but ... It was what it was.
So, she was on her way to spend a few weeks in Ogunquit, that "beautiful place by the sea." She had been so happy there, mostly, of course, because of Delphine Crandall, but also because of the sheer beauty of the area. Maggie still remembered the slightly punky smell of the wildflowers that grew in profusion along the road to the Lilac House, the place her parents had rented for all those years. She could hear in her mind the absurdly loud chirping of the teeny peepers in the pond in the woods behind the Crandalls' house. She remembered the softness of the summer evening air. She remembered how she and Delphine and sometimes their siblings would go down to the beach at a superhigh tide, when the water would come all the way up to the parking lot. She remembered being both frightened and excited by the cold Atlantic rushing around her feet. She remembered the swing set behind the Lilac House and the new kittens at Delphine's family's farm. She remembered the joy.
Now, after almost three hours on the road Maggie was finally getting close to her destination. So much had changed since she had last driven this far north. Traffic was definitely worse than it once had been, especially now along Route 1 in Wells. There were just way too many people, period. She didn't recognize half of the restaurants along the road, though she was pleased to see that the rickety old clam shack that Delphine's family had taken them to once a summer was still open. There was a whole new crop of summer cottage developments sprawled on either side of the road. Some of the cottages were unbelievably tiny; it was hard to imagine even a family of three being comfortable in them. Then again, kids could be comfortable anywhere, especially with the beach within sight. Still, Maggie could not imagine herself tolerating such tight quarters, not now, not as a forty-eight-year-old. She had become used to a degree of luxury. A high degree of luxury, in all honesty. Her hair color was professionally maintained at an award-winning salon on Newbury Street. She had a manicure and pedicure once every two weeks. Around her left wrist she wore a Rolex, another gift to herself after a particularly good year at the office. Around her neck, on a white gold chain, she wore a two-carat diamond set in platinum. That was from Gregory, an anniversary gift she thought, or maybe a birthday gift. She couldn't really remember. He had given her so many expensive presents. He was very good about that sort of thing. For their wedding, though he could barely afford them at the time, he had given her diamond stud earrings.
Thinking about those earrings, Maggie realized that the last time she had seen Delphine had been at the wedding, and that was over twenty years ago. Maggie had invited her with a guest, but she had come alone, and had only accepted the invitation after ascertaining that Robert Evans, her former fiancé, wouldn't be there. He had been invited, also with a guest, but would be on an assignment in Thailand. It would have been ridiculous to turn down a major journalistic gig for the sake of a friend's wedding. Besides, Robert and Maggie had really only been friends because of Delphine. Once Delphine had gone back home to Ogunquit after breaking up with Robert, Maggie's friendship with him had steadily waned. She hadn't heard from him in over fifteen years, though she could see his face, hear his name, and read his words all over the media. You'd have to be living in a cave not to be aware of Robert Evans.
Maggie adjusted the air-conditioning a bit and thought of the pale blue velvet box carefully tucked between layers of clothing in her suitcase. Inside the box was an aquamarine pendant on a gold chain. Aquamarine was Delphine's birthstone; her birthday was March 23. The necklace should have been hers. And it would have been if Maggie had asked Delphine to be her maid of honor. But she hadn't. The necklace had been in that pale blue velvet box, in the back of Maggie's lingerie drawer, for close to twenty-four years.
She was crossing into Ogunquit now and traffic was still at a crawl. Every other minute it came to a complete stop for pedestrians crossing the road, many of whom ignored the official crosswalks and dashed out at random. Maggie frowned. She did not care for traffic jams or for pedestrians who didn't follow the rules. Well, she supposed nobody did. As she waited for a family, which included a baby in a stroller and three small children, to organize themselves across the road, her mind wandered.
Delphine Crandall. There had been long periods of Maggie's life in which she hadn't thought about Delphine at all. Like when business school had overwhelmed her, and when she was starting her career, and then when the children had come along. There had been other long periods when she thought of Delphine occasionally, randomly, and without much emotion. Like when her daughters did or said something that reminded her of her own childhood self, or when Robert Evans's face popped up on the TV screen. Once in a very great while Delphine would make an appearance in a dream, and mostly those dreams were somehow disturbing, though Maggie could never remember them clearly when she woke. Some details lingered—something about being forced to leave boxes of books behind, an eviction, someone crying, dirty floors. None of it made any sense.
But in the past two years or so, Maggie had found herself thinking more and more often of her old friend. Specific memories were coming back to her with a vividness that was startling. The time when they were about ten when they had stumbled on a teenage couple kissing behind a shack in Perkins Cove and had run away giggling and shrieking. The time when they were about sixteen and had snuck out one night to go to the only dance club in town, even though their parents had forbidden them. The time in college when Delphine had woken in the middle of the night with a raging fever and Maggie had bundled her into a cab and then to the emergency room. The time when Maggie had thought she was pregnant. She had been too frightened and ashamed to buy an at-home pregnancy kit, so Delphine had bought it for her, and had sat holding her hand while they waited for the result.
And the feelings, too, they were coming back, rather, memories of how it had felt to be so comfortable with someone, so loved and appreciated. She had begun to think of Delphine Crandall with a longing that seemed more than mere nostalgia. It was a longing that finally became too real to ignore.
So back in April, Maggie had made a decision to find her. She had no idea if Delphine was online or if she had married and changed her name, so she sent an old-fashioned, handwritten letter to Delphine in care of her parents. In it Maggie mentioned her job, Gregory's job, her daughters' being in college. She suggested that she come to Ogunquit to visit. August would be a good time for her. She had several weeks of vacation saved up. She would stay in a hotel so as not to burden anyone. She needed a low-key, quiet break from her busy life. She said nothing about the memories or the dreams.
She had waited a month, hoping for a reply, and when no reply came she took the more direct measure of making a telephone call. There was a Delphine Crandall listed in Ogunquit. It was her Delphine Crandall.
She called one night, about eight o'clock, and was surprised to hear a voice groggy with sleep. She asked Delphine if she had gotten her letter. Yes, Delphine had. But she had been terribly busy and hadn't had time to reply. She said she was sorry. Maggie hadn't entirely believed her.
"So," Maggie had said, suddenly nervous, "what do you think about my coming to visit this summer?"
There had been a long beat of silence, one Maggie couldn't attribute to anything other than Delphine's reluctance. Just when Maggie, feeling both embarrassed and annoyed, was about to retract the suggestion of a visit, Delphine had blurted something like, "Yeah. Okay." The moment of retreat had been lost. A reunion was going to happen.
Traffic was crawling again, which was better than sitting still. Maggie felt a tiny flutter of anxiety, which seemed to be growing the closer she came to her destination. There was no doubt about it. Delphine had sounded less than thrilled about this visit. Maybe she had just caught her at a bad time. And then again, Delphine had never been a particularly effusive person. Or had she? Maggie frowned. Memory was a tricky thing, made up of truth, fiction, desire, and a whole lot of dubious detail. She wondered if the Delphine Crandall she would find today would have anything in common with the Delphine Crandall of her memory. The thought was troubling. And it was nonsense to think that someone's character and personality could change so drastically over time that she would be unrecognizable. Nonsense.
There it was, coming up on the right. Maggie turned up into the driveway of Gorges Grant and brought the car to a stop outside the hotel's big front doors. She had chosen to stay here because it offered not only a heated indoor pool and Jacuzzi (both of which she would definitely use), and an outdoor pool and sunning deck (she had brought plenty of high-powered sunblock), but also a fitness center. She never went anywhere without her workout gear. At forty-eight, closing in on forty-nine, she was in the best shape of her life, thanks to a healthy diet and a rigorous exercise regime. For someone who worked as hard as she did—long, tension-filled hours in an office and frequent travel, always a nightmare what with security issues and unexplained delays—being in good physical shape was essential. Which didn't mean she didn't occasionally crave junk food and a nap, rather than an apple and a half hour on the treadmill. Not that her fit and healthy body seemed to attract Gregory's attention these days. Then again, she hadn't exactly been seeking him out for anything other than resetting the digital clock on the oven after a blackout. It was what it was.
Maggie shook her head, turned off the ignition, and got out of the car. It was time to forget, at least for a while, all the troublesome stuff of daily life back in Massachusetts. Stuff like a diminished sex drive and a husband you communicated with mostly in cyberspace. Stuff like children who seemed to forget you existed until they needed money for iPhones and iPads and whatever electronic gadget was going to replace them. It was time to revive an old friendship. At least, it was time to try.
Chapter TwoDelphine Crandall was out of bed by five o'clock most mornings, which wasn't so hard to do when you were asleep by eight o'clock the night before. Farming was not a job for night owls or late risers. This particular Friday morning she had been awake since four, unable to keep thoughts of Maggie Weldon Wilkes's imminent, and largely unwelcome, arrival out of her head.
With a groan that was not strictly necessary, she got out of bed and made her way to the kitchen for that blessed first cup of coffee. She enjoyed mornings at home, a brief time of peace and quiet before the demands of the day started clamoring. Alone with Melchior, her three-year-old cat, she could scratch and grumble and moan and not feel guilty about it. This morning, Melchior was waiting for her at his empty food bowl, eyes narrowed in annoyance.
"Is it breakfast time?" she asked him unnecessarily. He answered with a deep and affirmative, Waah.
Delphine flipped on the coffee machine—she always set it up the night before—and went about getting Melchior's breakfast. Melchior's predecessor had also been a barn cat. Felix had died at the ripe old age of twenty-one. To say that Delphine missed Felix was an understatement. You couldn't share a home with another living being for twenty-one years and not feel bereft upon his death. For months after Felix had passed she was unable to bear the thought of taking in another cat, and then, suddenly, the thought of continuing to live without another cat was intolerable. So she had gone out to the barn, where one of the females, a small calico, had recently given birth to a motley litter, and watched. On Delphine's very first visit, one of the kittens in particular had caught her eye. This one's father had clearly been a Maine coon cat, and an extrabig one at that. Even at a few weeks old, this kitten was larger than his siblings, even a sister who seemed also to have a Maine coon, possibly the same one, as a father.
From the very first the male kitten had disdained—that was Delphine's dramatic take on it—life in the barn with his numerous siblings and cousins and whenever she visited had followed her around more like a dog than a cat, pawing at her ankles and attempting to climb up her leg. Well, the climbing was very catlike, and very painful. So when Melchior—she had already given him this name, one fit for a king—was about two months old she had taken him home, hoping he would like his new, more sophisticated digs, and within hours he had settled in as lord of the house. He barely tolerated people other than Delphine and hated dogs, two traits that probably had come from his mother or some other, more distant relative, not his Maine coon father. When Delphine's sister, Jackie, stopped by with her mixed-breed dog named Bandit, Melchior made a great show of hissing, which only made the good-natured Bandit wag his tail. Also unlike other Maine coons, Melchior had little interest in play, preferring to spend his time eating, sleeping, and watching his surroundings with a careful, critical eye.
Delphine gave Melchior his wet food and refilled his bowls of dry food and water. He dug in ferociously. He was a big boy, pushing twenty pounds. His coat was long, wild, and a riot of black, brown, and white. Long tufts of fur sprouted from the tips of his ears. His ruff alone made him look like a particularly imperious and important courtier or politician from the court of Elizabeth I. Delphine sometimes thought she should have named him Leicester, or Cecil, or Essex, instead. The fact that Melchior hated to be brushed was a bit of a problem. Delphine woke each morning with cat hair in her eyes and cat hair glued to her lips. Every piece of furniture was decorated with clumps of fur. She wouldn't be surprised if, in spite of her vigilant daily cleaning rituals, she herself coughed up a hairball one day.
Coffee mug in hand, Delphine went back upstairs to get washed and dressed. Twenty minutes later, she said good-bye to Melchior, who was now cleaning himself on the couch in the living room. In response, he ostentatiously closed his eyes on her. Delphine locked the front door behind her and skipped down the steps of the porch. Most people she knew, including her parents, didn't lock their doors, but Delphine did. She wasn't really sure why. Maybe it was a habit left over from the years she had spent in Boston.
Excerpted from Summer Friends by Holly Chamberlin Copyright © 2011 by Elise Smith. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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