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Authors: Jane Green

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The Beach House

BOOK: The Beach House
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Table of Contents
 
 
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
Straight Talking
Jemima J
Mr. Maybe
Bookends
Babyville
Spellbound
The Other Woman
Swapping Lives
Second Chance
VIKING
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. • Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England • Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) • Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) • Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in 2008 by Viking Penguin,
a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Copyright © Jane Green, 2008
All rights reserved
Publisher’s Note
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product
of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Green, Jane, 1968-
The beach house / Jane Green.
p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-4406-3586-1
1. Widows—Fiction. 2. Nantucket (Mass.)—Fiction. 3. Life change events—
Fiction. 4. Bed and breakfast accommodations-Fiction. I. Title.
PR6057.R3443B43 2008b
823’.914—dc22
2008015516
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrightable materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

http://us.penguingroup.com

To Ian Warburg
For being my home
Chapter One
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 sky, 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 has 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.
The village of Siasconset, known to all simply as Sconset, is burning with a bright morning light by the time Nan arrives on her bike. She cycles past the Sconset café, around the corner past the Book Store that isn’t a book store but sells liquor instead, and hops off at the general store to get some delicious sweetmeats, designer candles.
All the way at the back there is still a refrigerator stuffed full of yogurt, milk, eggs—the bare essentials of life—but the rest of the store is taken up with gourmet foods, sesame crackers, delicious sweetmeats, and with designer candles and the necessary wall of T-shirts, baseball caps and tote bags advertising that the tourists had been to Sconset for a vacation, were wealthy enough to afford to come to a place where billionaires play.
As always, she heads to the back, nodding at the tourists, waving hello to the woman behind the cash register.
She is a familiar sight in Sconset, her long linen skirts floating behind her as she cycles along on a rusty old Schwinn. It is not a bike you often see these days, with its huge oversized basket on the front, but it is the one that she and Everett bought when they spent their first summer here, back in 1962, when she was twenty, and he’d brought her home to Windermere to meet his parents.
Nan cycles slowly, one hand lightly balanced on the handlebar, the other wielding a cigarette. She waves at everyone she passes, greets them with a smile, stopping to chat if the whim takes her, or if she sees a neighbor busy in the garden.
Most wave back, but more and more often she is noticing the change in the people around here, the people who don’t wave back, who pretend they don’t see the crazy blond lady on the old bicycle, the people who are so bright and shiny, so clean and perfect as they walk down Main Street tapping on their iPhones, it almost hurts to look at them.
This wouldn’t have happened had she been thirty years younger, she thinks from time to time, when yet another young, glamorous New York couple hesitate as she approaches them, weaving wildly on her bike as she attempts to light her cigarette without stopping. Thirty years ago he would have pulled a lighter out of his pocket and lit it for her, instead of turning when his wife prods him, sneering with distaste, as Nan’s cigarette lights and the smoke wafts, as if planned, right under the woman’s nose. She coughs dramatically, and Nan happily gives her the finger as she cycles off, while the woman gasps in horror and attempts to shield the eyes of the toddler who is with them.
What has happened to
people,
Nan thinks as she traverses the cobblestones. When did we become so
precious
? A family of six passes her, father, mother, then four little ones, like four little ducklings with sparkly aerodynamic helmets on. When did our children have to wear helmets, she thinks, turning her head to watch them wobble into the distance. When did we all become so scared?
She thinks of Michael, at seven, falling off the monkey bars and splitting his head open on the concrete ground. She didn’t panic, it was just one of the things that happened to everyone. She bundled him in the front of the car and drove him to Dr. Grover’s house where he was stitched up in the Grovers’ kitchen as Mrs. Grover served them lemonade and ginger snaps.
She never knew where Michael was when he was growing up. Someone had a boat on the marshes, and Michael and his friends once got stranded for the day. Nan only knew when they ran in the kitchen door, shrieking with excitement at what swiftly became their near-death adventure. Whatever adults were around smiled affectionately, one ear on the conversation, the other somewhere else, because life, in those days, revolved around the adults. Not around the children.
BOOK: The Beach House
13.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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