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The Beach Houseby Jane Green
The bike crunches along the gravel path, weaving around the potholes that could present danger to someone who didn't know the road like the back of their hand.
The woman on the bike raises her head and looks at the ski, sniffs, smiles to herself. A foggy day in Nantucket, but she has lived here long enough to know this is merely a morning fog, and the bright early-June sunshine will burn it off by midday, leaving a beautiful afternoon.
Good. She is planning lunch on the deck today, is on her way into town via her neighbor's house, where she has spent the last hour or so cutting the large blue mophead hydrangeas and stuffing them into the basket on the front of the bike. She doesn't really know these neighbors — so strange to live in the same house you have lived in for forty-five years, a house in a town where once you knew everyone, until one day you wake up and realize you don't know people anymore — but she has guessed from the drawn blinds and absence of cars they are not yet here, and they will not miss a couple of dozen hydrangea heads.
The gate to their rear garden was open, and she had heard around town they had brought in some super-swanky garden designer. She had to look. And the pool had been open, the water was so blue, so inviting, it was practically begging her to strip off and jump in, which of course she did, her body still slim and strong, her legs tan and muscled from the daily hours on the bike.
She dried off naturally, walking naked around the garden, popping strawberries and peas into her mouth in the kitchen garden, admiring the roses that were just starting, and climbing back into her clothes with a contented sigh when she was quite dry.
These are the reasons Nan has come to have a reputation for being slightly eccentric. A reputation she is well aware of, and a reputation she welcomes, for it affords her freedom, allows her to do the things she really wants to do, the things other people don't dare, and because she is thought of as eccentric, exceptions are always made.
It is, she thinks wryly, one of the beautiful things about growing old, so necessary when there is so much else that is painful. At sixty-five she still feels thirty, and on occasion, twenty, but she has long ago left behind the insecurities she had at twenty and thirty, those niggling fears: that her beauty wasn't enough, not enough for the Powell family; that she had somehow managed to trick Everett Powell into marrying her; that once her looks started to fade, they would all realize she wasn't anyone, wasn't anything, and would then treat her as she had always expected when she first married into this illustrious family... as nothing.
Her looks had served her well. Continue to serve her well. She is tall, skinny and strong, her white hair is glossy and sleek, pulled back in a chignon, her cheekbones still high, her green eyes still twinkling with amusement under perfectly arched brows.
Nan's is a beauty that is rarely seen these days, a natural elegance and style that prevailed throughout the fifties, but as mostly disappeared today, although Nan doesn't see it, not anymore
Now when she looks in the mirror she sees the lines, her cheeks concave under her cheekbones, the skin so thin it sometimes seems that she can see her bones. She covers as many of the imperfections as she can with makeup, still feels that she cannot leave her house without full makeup, her trademark scarlet lipstick the first thing she puts on every morning, before her underwear even, before her bath.
But these days her makeup is sometimes patchy, her lipstick smudging over the lines in her lips, lines that they warned her about in the eighties, when her son tried to get her to stop smoking, holding up photographs in magazines of women with dead, leathery skin.
"I can't give up smoking," she would say, frowning. "I enjoy it too much, but I promise you, as soon as I stop enjoying it, I'll give it up."
The day is yet to come.
Thirty years younger and she would never have dared trespass, swim naked in an empty swimming pool without permission. Thirty years younger and she would have cared too much what people thought, wouldn't have cut flowers or carefully dug up a few strawberry plants that would certainly not be missed, to replant them in her own garden.
But thirty years younger and perhaps, if she had dared and had been caught, she would have got away with it. She would have apologized, would have invited the couple back for a drink, and the husband would have flirted with her, would have taken the pitcher of rum punch out of her hand and insisted on pouring it for her as she bent her head down to light her cigarette, looking up at him through those astonishing green eyes, flicking her blond hair ever so slightly and making him feel like the most important man in the room, hell, the only man in the room, the wife be damned.
Thirty years younger and the women might have ignored her, but not, as they do now, because they think she's the crazy woman in the big old house on the bluff, but because they were threatened, because they were terrified that she might actually have the power to take their men, ruin their lives. And they were right.
Not that she ever did.
Not back then.
Of course there have been a few affairs, but Nan was never out to steal a man from someone else, she just wanted some fun, and after Everett died, after years of being on her own, she came to realize that sometimes sex was, after all, just sex, and sometimes you just had to take it where you could find it.
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