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Home for the Summer: The Chesapeake Diariesby Mariah Stewart
Stewart / HOME FOR THE SUMMER
When Lucy Sinclair was twelve years old, she packed a suitcase to go away by herself for the first time. There had been something exciting and so grown-up about folding her clothes and tucking them inside the plaid fabric travel bag next to her sneakers and sandals and the plastic cosmetic case she borrowed from her mother for her toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss, and shampoo. She’d also packed a diary—in which she planned to write every day—and a pen with which she could record the anticipated noteworthy moments as well as write postcards home.
She’d returned from those two August weeks at her aunt and uncle’s Pennsylvania farm without having opened the diary and all but three of her postcards were still secured in the rubber band. As instructed, she’d sent one to her parents at the end of the first week (“Aunt Clarissa and Lydia were both stung by yellow jackets yesterday and we spent the whole afternoon in the emergency room. Jake got poison ivy from playing in the weeds. I don’t think I have it yet. Love, Lucy”). The other two went to her younger brother, Ford, who at eight was deemed too young to go away by himself (“Uncle Pat says you can come when you’re ten, which is totally unfair because I had to wait until I was twelve”), and to her best friend, Clay Madison (“I went fishing in the lake and caught three bass in one day! We found a cool old cemetery that has graves from the Revolutionary War! I took lots of pictures—can’t wait to show you!”).
Now, at thirty-five, packing had become so routine she could do it with her eyes closed, and these days, her trips rarely promised such adventure. The old plaid suitcase had been banished years ago to the attic, and, knowing her mother, was probably still tucked up under the eaves, and she couldn’t remember the last time she’d gone fishing. The one thing that hadn’t changed was the look on her mother’s face when Lucy entered the lobby of the Inn at Sinclair Point, suitcase in tow and her computer bag over her shoulder, and announced that she was ready to leave for the airport.
“Do you have everything?” Grace Sinclair asked her daughter.
Lucy opened her handbag and checked for her plane ticket, her sunglasses, and the keys to her rental car. “Got it all. And if by chance I did forget something, you can always send it out or hold on to it until I come back next month to meet with Robert Magellan.
“I’m still having a hard time convincing myself that’s really going to happen.” Lucy shook her head as if still in disbelief that one of the wealthiest men in the country wanted to talk to her about planning his wedding. “Thanks for arranging it, Mom.”
“Thank Trula. She’s the one who’s insisting that Robert not even consider another event planner,” Grace reminded her. “Or another venue.”
“I did thank her.” Lucy slid her sunglasses to the top of her head. “I thought I’d get to thank her again this morning, but she doesn’t seem to be up yet.”
“I’m glad she’s sleeping in.” Grace lifted Lucy’s computer bag. “She never gets a chance to—”
“Baloney. I’ve been up for hours.” Trula Comfort, Grace’s best friend for just about as long as either could remember, marched down the steps and joined them near the information desk. “I thought I’d be gracious and allow you two to have a nice breakfast together without me hanging around.”
“Trula, you can hang around as much as you want.” Lucy hugged the older woman. “I’m so happy you were here this weekend.”
“I was glad to be here. Thought it would be good to see your work product before I browbeat Robert and Susanna into having their wedding here, with you at the helm.”
“Ha.” Grace grinned. “You just admitted to browbeating.”
“One does what one must when one must.” Trula gave Lucy one last hug, then looked around for something to carry.
“I’ll take that.” Daniel, Lucy’s brother and the inn’s proprietor, grabbed the handle of Lucy’s suitcase just as Trula was about to. “You weren’t planning on sneaking out on me without saying good-bye, were you?” He put a hand on his sister’s shoulder.
“Have I ever?” Lucy asked as she fished in her bag for the keys she’d had just a moment ago but dropped when she hugged Trula. “I’m just trying to get organized. It appears I need a committee to get on my way.”
Daniel wheeled the suitcase toward the inn’s double doors and held one side open for the trio who trailed behind him.
“Thanks, Danny.” Lucy smiled as she stepped outside into a crisp early winter morning. “Brrr. I keep forgetting how chilly it gets here in December. Remind me to bring a coat back with me next time.”
“Any chance next time might be Christmas?” her mother asked. Lucy could tell that Grace was trying her best not to appear too hopeful.
“It doesn’t look like it, Mom.” Lucy paused at the car and opened the doors and trunk with the remote. “We have so many parties lined up, and several weddings, including two on Christmas Eve and another on Christmas night. Bonnie had two big events this past weekend that she had to handle on her own, and I think her last nerve is just about gone. I can’t take off again in two weeks.”
“Well, I doubt either of those shindigs was as ‘big’ as the wedding of Dallas MacGregor.” Grace handed over the computer.
“That wedding was big even for us, and we’ve handled some big affairs over the years.” Lucy put her bag on the front seat and turned to hug her mother. “I don’t even know how to thank you for helping me to land that.”
“All I did was set the wheels in motion, dear.” Grace held on to her daughter for a long moment before patting her on the back and releasing her. “The ‘landing’ was all your doing.”
“Mom’s right, Luce.” Daniel placed her suitcase in the trunk. “The inn never would have gotten the MacGregor wedding without you.” He paused. “Sorry. The MacGregor weddings. We can’t forget that Dallas’s brother got married on Saturday, too. I’ve been running the inn for a long time and I’ve seen a lot of really spectacular weddings here, but nothing like Saturday’s affair.” He slammed the trunk. “It’s going to be a long time before people stop talking about it. And since all those stories and photographs started flooding the Internet on Sunday, our phone has been ringing off the hook and we can’t keep up with the emails.”
“Great. It’s about time the inn was recognized as the destination venue on the Eastern Shore.” Lucy reached out for her brother. “You run one hell of a business, bro.”
“We do our best.” Daniel planted a kiss on the top of his sister’s head. “But we never could have pulled off what you did this weekend. Madeline is a good event planner, but she doesn’t have your skill and creativity or your experience. We wouldn’t have gotten this job if you hadn’t agreed to come back and handle the planning.”
“Well, remember that I’ve been doing this for thirteen years now. I’ve made a lot of contacts.” She jangled her keys softly in her hands, a nervous habit. “It’s all in the contacts, Danny-boy.”
“I appreciate that you dug in and pulled it off with so little time. I know it was stressful,” he told her.
“It was so worth it, are you kidding me? Bonnie says our phones have been ringing nonstop since yesterday, too. What a plum for the résumé.”
“And perhaps an even larger plum awaits,” Trula said.
“From your lips, Trula.” Lucy kissed the older woman, then kissed her mother, and pretended not to see the touch of sadness in Grace’s eyes. “I’ll be talking to you, Mom. And I’ll be back soon enough. Maybe we could have our Christmas in January this year.”
“That’s a fine idea. We’ll leave the tree up.” Grace nodded and stepped back from the car. “Safe trip, love.”
“With any luck, I’ll be sleeping the whole time.” Lucy angled behind the wheel and her brother closed the door for her. “Take care, everyone.”
“Thanks again . . .”
Lucy turned the key in the ignition and headed around the circular drive to the long lane that led from the inn to the main road, trying to swallow the lump in her throat. For her, coming home was both agony and ecstasy. She loved her family more than anything, cherished the time she spent with her mother and brothers—but staying at the inn brought back her most painful memory. The irony was not lost on her that her childhood home, the place where she’d been raised with so much love and laughter, also housed her worst nightmares. The place where she should have felt most secure was where she had been most vulnerable.
She blinked back tears, knowing that her long absences hurt her mother, and yet she could never explain why she stayed away, why even this time around she’d slept more nights at the home of one of the brides, Steffie Wyler, than she had at the inn. Grace would all but die if she knew the truth, if Lucy were to tell her why she was more comfortable sleeping under another roof—any roof—than the inn’s. Keeping her secret was Lucy’s way of shielding her mother from an even greater pain, and so she’d moved to the opposite side of the country and came home only for those family events she could not avoid.
Turning her back on the inn with a conflicting sense of both relief and regret, Lucy negotiated the first broad curve in the road just as a dark Jeep rounded the bend at the same time. Pulling as far to the right as she could, Lucy slowed to pass the oncoming car on the narrow drive.
Daniel should have this widened, she was thinking, when she realized the driver of the Jeep had stopped next to her. She stared at the driver through her dark glasses against the glare of the morning sun, then reluctantly hit the brake and rolled down her window.
“I hope you weren’t going to leave town without saying good-bye.” Clay Madison had rolled down his driver’s-side window as well.
“Sorry. I have an afternoon flight out of Baltimore and am running a little late.” Lucy cleared her throat. “Besides, I thought we said good-bye after the wedding on Saturday.”
“I thought we’d only said good night.” He paused, then added, “I was hoping for a chance to sit and talk, you know. Catch up.”
“We did that on Saturday,” she replied, suddenly aware that she’d sounded somewhat prim, and wished she hadn’t.
“We only touched the surface, LuLu.” He took off his sunglasses and held them in the hand that hung out the window. His eyes were an odd mix of blue and gray, and they studied her face with what she’d first thought might be amusement, but now wasn’t quite sure. Looking into them, Lucy felt a spark of guilt. Over the weekend, she’d had an opportunity to say things to him that needed to be said, and she had let it slip away.
“Maybe next time,” she told him, hoping she’d have found the nerve by then, but suspecting that she might not.
“When’s that going to be?”
“I might be back in January to talk to . . . to a potential client.”
“Yeah, I heard Robert Magellan was interested in booking the inn for his wedding this summer but only if you’d do your wedding planning thing.”
Lucy frowned. “Where’d you hear that?”
“Trula mentioned it last week when she stopped in with your mom for coffee at Cuppachino.”
“There’s no such thing as discretion in this town,” she grumbled, and he laughed, the sound touching something inside her, the way his laughter always had. “I need to go if I’m going to make my plane.”
“This is where you’re supposed to say, ‘It was great seeing you, Clay.’ ” He slid his glasses back onto his face.
“It was great seeing you again.” Lucy nodded. It had been great.
“Thanks, LuLu. You, too. See you next time around.” He rolled up his window and continued on the drive toward the inn.
“You need to stop calling me ‘LuLu,’ ” she muttered, though he was gone.
It took a moment for her to realize that her foot was still on the brake. She hit the accelerator and followed the lane to Charles Street, where she made a left, trying not to think about Clay and the fact that when he wanted to get her attention, he still called her by the name he’d given her when they were in kindergarten, for crying out loud. No one, but NO ONE, had ever been permitted to call her that, except Clay, her onetime best friend.
All weekend long, the guilt from knowing that she still owed him, if not an apology, certainly an explanation for something she’d done long ago, hung between them. He’d not asked, and she’d not offered, but it was there nonetheless. It rankled that even now, so many years later, she was unable to bring it up and out into the open. Perhaps if she could, she’d be done with it, once and for all, and the nightmares would stop. Maybe then she could come home and sleep in her old room and not wake up in the middle of the night, cold with sweat and shaking with fear. Maybe just telling someone after all these years would make a difference . . .
She was mulling that thought over as she drove through the center of town and past the shops that had helped to rejuvenate this small bayside community when renewal had been needed most. For several hundred years, the town had quietly grown on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, the crab and oyster industries supporting the residents for generations. But time, overfishing, and polluted waters had taken their toll on the famed Chesapeake Blue crabs and the Bay’s oysters alike, and the local watermen had to turn to other means to make their living. As their businesses began to die, so did the town. Soon an exodus began, as more and more families moved away in search of a life that could sustain them. For years, it was said that Charles Street only led out of town.
And now new businesses were thriving: Bling, for upscale women’s clothing and accessories; Cuppa- chino, for the best coffee on the Eastern Shore and darned good light lunches; the Checkered Cloth for tasty takeout; Let’s Do Brunch, for quick breakfasts through elegant brunches; One Scoop or Two, for incredible homemade ice cream; and Bow Wows and Meows, the pricey shop for pampered pets (after all the years she’d spent in L.A., dogs wearing sundresses and pearls no longer gave Lucy pause) which, rumor had it, was being turned over to the present owner’s daughter—Clay’s sister, Brooke—who was converting the shop into a bakery to be called Cupcake, which would sell only, well, cupcakes.
Charles Street represented an all-new St. Dennis to Lucy, and she was just fine with that. When she was growing up, many of those same shops were single-family homes, and others were boarded-up storefronts. There’d been fewer businesses and hardly any tourists, though the inn had always been packed in the summer, and of course, the crabbing and oyster fishing had had some good years along with some not so good. The St. Dennis Gazette—owned and operated for over a century by her mother’s family—was still the only local newspaper, but the inn was no longer the only place in town to book a room. Now, Lucy mused, it seemed like every other house that had been built before 1900 had been turned into a bed-and-breakfast.
But it was all good, she reminded herself, because it meant that her hometown was alive and growing. St. Dennis had always had charm, even when it had been little more than a tiny watermen’s village on the Bay. Houses that back then had been plagued by peeling paint and sagging porches were now the stars on the annual Christmas Tour. While in some parts of town the rejuvenation was still a work in progress, efforts had been made to offer something that would bring the tourists—and their dollars—coming back twelve months of the year. Certainly her family had benefited—the inn was slowly becoming the place for destination weddings on the Eastern Shore, and the St. Dennis Gazette was kept in print by virtue of the advertisements the local businesses were only too happy to place.
The big news, of course, was Dallas MacGregor’s decision to form her own production company and establish a film studio right there in St. Dennis. She’d purchased several old warehouses on some good acreage down near the river on the way out of town, and was already renovating them to suit her needs. In a million years, no one would have predicted that one day major feature films would be produced and made right there in St. Dennis.
Well, that was progress, Lucy thought, and thank heaven for it. Just as she was proud of herself for her own accomplishments, she was proud of her family and friends—including all the newcomers she’d gotten to know—for their ability to adapt and meet the needs of a changing world. It was the rare St. Dennis family that could survive solely as watermen anymore.
The divide between the commercial and residential districts was gradual, but soon Lucy passed the last of the businesses. Charles Street narrowed where it crossed Old St. Mary’s Church Road, and from that point, the homes were larger and more ornate, and set upon bigger lots that were increasingly farther apart. A mile farther, however, well-maintained homes gave way to woods that led down to the New River on the right side of the road, and fields of now-harvested corn on the right.
Lucy slowed as she rounded the curve that she knew from memory marked the beginning of the Madisons’ farm. From the road, she could see that the orchard where the apple trees grew was almost completely bare, only a few leaves and some overlooked fruit hanging on. Behind the orchard was the pond where all the kids skated when it froze over. Mrs. Madison and some of the other mothers would bring folding chairs so they could sit and watch their kids and socialize at the same time. There would be thermoses of hot chocolate and always a snack—rich brownies or gingerbread—and some nights, bonfires in a nearby field where they’d toast marshmallows.
Lucy remembered her first time at the farm, sitting on her mother’s lap, sniffing back a runny nose while she watched her marshmallow turn black and crispy.
“Hey, you’re not supposed to let it burn.” Clay had grabbed the stick on which her marshmallow had been speared and pulled it from the fire. He’d tossed the charcoaled nugget into the dark field and stabbed another on the stick for her. “Here, try again,” he’d said. “Don’t hold it so much in the flame. Just get it close . . .”
She’d leaned forward, her face flushed with embarrassment. For some reason, it was suddenly very important to her that she get it right this time.
“There you go.” Clay had smiled at her accomplishment. “It’s just right.”
Lucy had nodded and pulled the stick from the fire. With cold fingers she’d popped the marshmallow into her mouth and grinned when the white goo spilled out onto her lips and chin. She’d laughed and licked the sticky mess from her fingers, and Clay had laughed with her. The scene had remained in her memory all these years for two reasons: that night had been the first time Lucy had really laughed since the death six weeks earlier of her best friend, Natalie Wyler, and it had marked the beginning of her friendship with Clay.
The blast of the horn from the car behind her made Lucy jump, and she realized she’d all but come to a stop in the middle of the road. She waved a hand out the window, a gesture she hoped would be understood as an apology, and she stepped on the gas.
Get a grip, Lucy. She shook herself from her reverie.
LuLu. She could almost hear Clay’s voice, and in spite of herself, Lucy smiled. Hearing the name from his lips had brought back memories of the best time in her life, a time when everything had been so simple, so uncomplicated. Growing up in this place, at that time, could have spoiled her for living anywhere else. Would have spoiled her, but for that one thing . . .
The light up ahead turned green as she approached, and she breezed through it, made a left onto the highway, and headed toward Baltimore, her flight back to the West Coast, and the life she’d made for herself far from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.
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