Friends with Boats, Publishing 5/23
Greenleaf Book Group will publish my novel, Friends with Boats, in May 2023, just in time for your summer beach read! Stay tuned for more, but here is a sneak peek:
When the text came in early that morning, Sadie immediately knew that something was terribly wrong. She rolled over in bed, fumbled for her cell phone, put on her glasses, and felt an immediate sense of dread: Mack Taylor’s pick-up truck hit a telephone pole on Route 151 and Currier Road in the early morning hours and had rolled over. The truck was totaled, and an ambulance had taken him to Falmouth Hospital. Details to follow.
Sadie felt the need to throw up. She had caused that accident. Not directly, but she had wished him dead at the Farewell to Summer Fling at Woods Hole Golf Club the night before. In fact, all three of them — Sadie, Charlotte, Ada — had wished Mack dead. Through the early morning brain fog, Sadie thought about how she had gone up to the bar to get her third glass of Whispering Angel. This was when Mack approached her from behind. She could feel the warmth of his muscular body behind her, as she slowly inhaled the familiar smell of salt air mixed with pine.
But there was nothing left to say. The summer had been an absolute disaster for all four of them, ever since Mack arrived back home on Cape Cod.
He reached over Sadie’s shoulder to grab his Moscow Mule in the chilled, copper mug. She sensed Mack was desperate to engage, as he kept turning his head toward her, but she avoided eye contact, especially with her husband, Chip, there. She slowly backed up and headed to the ballroom where the 10-piece swing band, Stage Door Canteen, played. Charlotte flailed her arms about and above her head on the dance floor, along with Caroline Wall and the other ladies from tennis. She had just returned to the Cape for the weekend. Ada, on the other hand, sat at a table with four empty chairs around her. She was picking at the bouquet of peonies and hydrangeas while her husband Ben was very animated telling a story to Chip by the window.
But, when Mack entered the room, Sadie felt the tension escalate. All three women glanced at him. He surveyed each one of them. Mack took a final swig of his drink, steadying the cup on table, and made his way bombastically to the center of the dance floor. Since she knew he hated dancing with a passion, (he was her date at prom and at her older sister Mimi’s wedding), Sadie guessed the night was not going to end well. Mack was clearly on another bender, verifying the rumors circulating around town about his fall from grace. It was a fall that was a long time coming and one that he had brought on himself.
But getting into a deadly car crash? He didn’t deserve that. Or did he?
Charlotte didn’t really want to meet Ada at the Lobster Trap, and she certainly didn’t plan on liking her. Anyone who was a new friend of Sadie’s was a threat to her. Charlotte was the jealous type, worrying that she wouldn’t measure up or that her friendship would be overlooked in lieu of someone more “shiny” or someone wearing Frye motorcycle boots.
“I don’t have time for new friends,” Charlotte said when Sadie first suggested they meet.
“What does that even mean?” Sadie grumbled. “So, like, that’s it? You’re never going to make new friends again? You’ve reached the saturation point?” Charlotte hated when Sadie interrogated her. She didn’t want to make new friends. Friends were drama, especially women friends. She was going to follow the wise advice of her mother to “circle the wagons,” keep her world small to keep the toxins out.
“I’m just busy. I’m tired of trying to pretend I’m going to meet for drinks or assuring someone that I won’t tell so-and-so what they just told me. This town is too much drama for me. Everyone hates each other,” Charlotte said.
She meant it. The last few times she had been at the gym, she couldn’t help but overhear all the local gossip. Charlotte Crane was pissed at Missy Obermeier, because Missy pulled her kid out of her dance camp. And Stephanie Knowlton was disappointed with Meghan Clark, because Meghan didn’t invite her to couples’ poker night. Come to think of it, she wasn’t invited to the poker night either.
“Stop being so negative,” Sadie said. “I feel like you cycle in and out of your hatred for this town every time you have a bad week. Did something happen with John?”
“Nothing happens with John,” Charlotte said. “I may as well be single. I can’t remember the last time we had a conversation about something other than where his dry cleaning is.”
“This is why you have girlfriends,” Sadie said. “We are here for you to talk about all that other stuff. I wish you’d give Ada a chance. You have a lot in common.”
Charlotte finally agreed to meet Ada that afternoon, welcoming a reprieve from her self-pity. When Ada greeted her at the hostess stand, Charlotte looked her up and down, assessing her outfit. She wore skinny, dark wash Rag & Bone jeans and a thin long-sleeved black shirt with thumb loops. Her thumbs poked out of them, making her look insecure and coy. Charlotte hated those shirts. Only skinny women who were cold all the time wore them.
“I finally get to meet the one and only Charlotte!” Ada exclaimed, grinning widely, extending her fragile hand.
“Yes, nice to meet you,” Charlotte replied, weary of her poaching her best friend.
The women looked around the restaurant wondering if they should sit at a table or just go to the bar. The Lobster Trap was the classic old Cape Cod type of place, with dark wood, buoys hanging from the ceiling, the smell of salty air and fresh fish, and views of wetlands and water. It was the place to be on a sunny day, because you could take your drinks outside to the porch or sit down by the water that had choppy currents rolling by and seagulls swooping in and out.
Charlotte opted to sit in the bar so they could people watch. There was a young couple sitting in the corner, sipping on Trap-aritas (a spicy twist on the traditional margarita), and three men in baseball hats dressed in Carhartt lumberjack pants and hooded sweatshirts that had the names of landscaping companies stitched on them.
Charlotte, Ada, and Sadie found a four-top in the corner and ordered a bottle of Whispering Angel. They began with the simplicities and commonalities of talk about their children and then got right down to the fun and dirty conversation: sex.
“Chip wants me to put on stockings and a garter belt when we do it,” Sadie said. “I can’t think of anything less flattering, with my baby gut spilling over and my thighs bulging out of the thigh highs.” She reached for a wonton, scooping up a lump of sushi-grade tuna and avocado. “Not to mention, it’s like interrupting the mood to go put on some sort of costume! ‘Oh, excuse me for a moment while I slip into something more comfortable’ . . . or just downright uncomfortable, embarrassing, and libido crushing!”
“Well, Ben and I barely even have sex, so you’re one up on me,” Ada replied. “I wish he would want me to wear a costume. I don’t even think he thinks of me that way anymore.” Charlotte wondered if Ada’s lingerie was also long-sleeved with thumb loops, and she imagined her holding a vibrator with the thumb loop resting on top of the speed adjuster.
“Speaking of bad sex, I feel really bad for Kim Clemson,” Sadie said.
“Wait, I didn’t say the sex was bad . . .” Ada replied, trailing off.
“No, I just mean poor Kim told me that she started dating this new guy after her divorce,” she said, then paused. The women awaited the end of her response. “And, he has a wee-nis.” The table erupted in laughter.
“Ugh, a wee-nis!” Charlotte guffawed, chewing a paper straw that looked more like a pixie stick than a straw. “What do you even do in that situation?”
“Okay, I know I’m a little bit obtuse when it comes to this stuff, but what the hell is a wee-nis?” Ada asked.
“A wee, little penis!” Charlotte yelled, holding her pinky up to demonstrate. The men in baseball hats at the bar turned their heads toward her. She lifted her glass to cheer them. “Sorry, guys. Not you,” she laughed. One of them gave a raspy laugh like he’d smoked too many cigarettes and stayed out too late the night before.
“Oh my God,” Ada said, covering her mouth with her hands. “That’s terrible.”
“Yeah, it’s basically like boning a baby carrot,” Charlotte said. They all burst out laughing. “So, what is Kim going to do? Is she going to stay with him?”
“I have no clue,” Sadie said. “It sucks, because she really likes him, and she’s had such a rough go of things after the divorce. I really wanted this for her.”
Charlotte thought about what it’d be like if she got a divorce from John and wondered if she’d be the topic of discussion at the Lobster Trap, or, worse yet, dating someone with a wee-nis.
“Well, at least he has money and a huge boat?” Sadie said, as if that were a consolation prize.
“A big boat can’t make up for a small dick,” Charlotte said.
“But it can make a good summer great!” Sadie said.
“True. Maybe she should just ride out the summer, no pun intended,” Charlotte said. “Even if the ride isn’t much of a ride. Friends with boats are priceless.”
Charlotte glanced at Ada, who was moving food around aimlessly on her plate. She wondered if Ada was turned off by her irreverence. Maybe she was a total prude. No wonder her hot husband wasn’t interested in her. She probably was a dead fish in bed, which might even be worse than having a baby carrot for a unit. That was the problem with waif women who were too pretty. They didn’t have to develop personalities to attract men or to get into bed with them, so they would just lie there and let the men do all the work, thanking their lucky stars they had such a pretty wife. Not the case. That’s why men will cheat, Charlotte thought. They have the pretty waif for the wife, and they get a ballsy sidepiece with curves. Made her wonder: was John getting a sidepiece? Was a brazen burlesque woman the one who’d left her fake fingernail in the bed? She wanted to change the topic.
“So, what’s the deal with the hospital gala committee, Sadie?” Charlotte asked. Sadie was chair of the Cape Cod Hospital Gala, and she implored all of her friends to join the committee to help her gather sponsorships and silent auction items from local businesses. She did it every year, and up until this point Charlotte had participated, despite the fact that she hated it, let alone didn’t have time for it. “Is it all the same women this year?”
“Oh, that reminds me! Ada, will you join the committee too?” Sadie said, grabbing her by the wrist. “Please?”
“I don’t know. That sounds sort of daunting. What does it entail?” Ada asked.
“It’s totally just fun. A bunch of us girls get together, and we plan this big party to raise money for the hospital. We basically just sit around, drink wine, and talk about what silent auction items we can get. The commitment is fairly minimal. I mean, maybe Ben would want to sponsor with his contracting business?”
Sadie was always pushing her fundraisers and volunteer groups. It was like she couldn’t help but ask everyone she came across to contribute to the gala. When they went into stores on Main Street, she could see the owners running for the back to avoid having to engage and hand over a gift certificate.
“Well, I guess I could join,” Ada said. “Though I hope it’s not a conflict of interest that I run my own nonprofit.” There were more than two thousand nonprofits on the Cape. This wasn’t going to be a conflict of interest, but Charlotte wasn’t sure she wanted Ada in on it.
“Oh, that might be a conflict,” Charlotte said. “I don’t know. I would think it would be.” She hoped Ada would take the bait.
“No, it’s no problem at all!” Sadie said. “The first meeting is in two weeks on Tuesday at seven. I’ll email you the information. Yay!” Sadie began to clap.
This was going to be a long fundraising season, Charlotte thought. She took another swig of her wine and peered around the bar. The landscaper in the red Life is Good baseball cap gave her a nod. She smiled with a head tilt and wondered if she gave off a single vibe. Would John even be remotely jealous that men flirted with her? He never seemed to notice or care. In fact, it seemed like he preferred that she dressed scantily and looked sexy when they went out, as opposed to those other husbands she heard about, who wanted their wives basically covered in a burka with only their eyes showing. It was as if he just married her to have arm candy, flaunting her for show, and then dispensed of her in private. She was a candy dispenser, like Pez.
When she and John first moved to the Cape, with visions of barbecues, boats, and a simpler life, they were all over each other. They’d tear off their work clothes at five o’clock, put on flip-flops, and head to the beach with a canister of margaritas in a cooler. They’d sit for hours watching the sunset from a blanket in the sand, an old, maroon tapestry Charlotte had on her wall in college. Then they’d grill steaks in the backyard and talk under the moonlight. Time was just something that passed, not something that dictated their every move.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Sadie said.
“Oh, nothing, really. The usual.” Charlotte liked that she and Sadie had this internal dialogue where they didn’t have to say much but they knew what each other was thinking. The exclusivity might bother Ada, but Charlotte didn’t care. Sadie was her friend first.
The large, wooden bar door opened, and fresh, salty, humid air blew in. A tall man, about six foot two with blond hair and Maui Jim sunglasses stood in the doorway. He was a head-turner.
“Who is that?” Charlotte asked, trying not to let her jaw drop.
“Who?” Sadie said, swiveling her head around, despite the obvious.
“Stop! You’re drawing attention to us!”
“Oh. My. God,” Sadie said, squinting, trying to focus. “I think that’s Mack.”
“Mack? As in . . . your ex, Mack?”
“Holy shit,” Sadie said. “Yeah, he’s back in town. He messaged me on Facebook to tell me he was coming back to start a resort or something.”
“Wait, whaaaat? I can’t believe you did not share this! Where? When? What the hell?” Charlotte screeched.
“Relax! I didn’t say anything because it’s not a big deal. I kind of forgot, even,” Sadie fibbed. Charlotte knew Sadie was lying, because she smiled and would not make eye contact. This was a telltale sign. Plus, her feigned nonchalance was thrown out the window when Sadie immediately reached for her lip gloss and smoothed down the fly-away hairs.
“Fill me in,” Ada said. “He’s your ex-boyfriend?”
“He’s the one who got away,” Charlotte said, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh, stop!” Sadie chided. She had that I’m going to barf look about her. Charlotte knew it well.
“But he didn’t get too far, if he’s back at the Trap!” Charlotte whispered. She was enjoying the discomfort. It was way more interesting than planning for the hospital gala. “Let’s call him over here!” Charlotte gave Mack a wave and motioned for him to come over.
“Oh my God. Dying,” Sadie said, pulling her shirt up over her mouth to beneath her nose in embarrassment.
Mack returned Charlotte’s wave tentatively.
“Come over here!” Charlotte called out, laughing. Mack glanced behind him. “Yes, you!” she said. She tossed her blonde hair to the side, an expert flirtatious move.
Mack approached the bar table, smiling with his beautiful white teeth, the kind that looked like he wore Crest Whitestrips to bed.
“Hi,” Mack said to Charlotte. And then he noticed Sadie. “Oh, wow! HI!” he said, going in for the hug. Charlotte felt a pang of envy. She preferred to be the center of attention.
“Mack! You’re here!” Sadie said, beaming.
“I guess I am,” he said, grinning. “Got in a couple days ago.”
“To start the resort?” Sadie asked. “How long will you be here? This is wonderful.” She was flirting, Charlotte thought. This was going to be trouble.
“For the foreseeable future, at least,” Mack said. He put his hands in his jeans pockets and leaned forward on his brown square-toed cowboy boots. Despite his obvious nerves, he was confident.
Charlotte couldn’t help but notice how handsome Mack had become since she’d seen him last. He had always been handsome, but now he was downright hot. Was it terrible to be looking at him that way, since Sadie was her best friend? But what difference did it make? They’d ended things years ago, and besides, Sadie was married to Chip. Oh, and she remembered that she was married to John, too. But Mack was literally a panty-dropper.
“What brings you back to these parts? A resort, I hear?” Charlotte asked. “Wait, do you even remember who I am?” she said, reaching for him. She just wanted to touch him. His forearm was strong and tan, with bleached-out blond hairs on it. She took note of his biceps too, that bulged through his soft, white T-shirt he wore underneath a navy blue Patagonia vest.
“Of course I do, Charlotte,” he said, making a face. “How could I forget? When a guy gets to go skinny dipping for luminescence on Nobska beach with two beautiful women at midnight, he doesn’t forget.”
Charlotte’s face flushed. She recalled the skinny dipping night, when she, Mack, and Sadie plunged naked into the ocean and her leg had brushed up against Mack’s underwater. It was dark, so Sadie hadn’t seen this happening, but it was electric, like the glow of the jellyfish.
Swimming with luminescence was something all Cape Cod kids did on summer nights. The luminescence were small comb jellyfish, harmless ones that didn’t sting, and they glowed in the dark, lighting up the black night seas. Charlotte and Mack and Sadie had been at a bonfire on Nobska beach, drinking beers and playing hide-and-go-seek in the private bathhouses that lined the exclusive part of the beach. At one point, Charlotte and Mack were alone hiding in a bathhouse, crouched down underneath a wooden bench. They had to be quiet so Sadie wouldn’t find them.
“Ready or not, here I come!” Sadie yelled from the beach. They could hear Sadie’s flip-flops as she opened and closed the doors to the adjacent bathhouses. Charlotte could feel Mack’s breath upon her, and she had the urge to kiss him but thought better of it. Suddenly, the door burst open, followed by Sadie’s loud yell, “Got you!” she exclaimed.
“Let’s go swimming,” Charlotte said, not wanting the moment to end.
The girls ran down to the edge of the water and stripped down to their bras and underwear.
“Are you coming?” Charlotte called back to Mack, who was slowly making his way down the beach.
“Not if you’re going in like that,” he said. “I want to see some skin!”
“If you say so,” Charlotte cooed, ripping off her underwear. She let out a shrill scream and ran into the warm, dark ocean with the sand sinking underneath her and between her toes. The jellyfish lit up like fireflies around her. As she moved her arms treading water, the jellies slipped in and out of her fingers. Mack and Sadie followed, with Sadie grabbing Mack by the hand. Charlotte tried not to look, but she couldn’t help but glance at Mack’s naked body. He swam out toward her, his face and strong jaw line lit up by the moon overhead. Sadie swam a few feet off to do handstands, when Mack’s leg brushed up against Charlotte’s underwater. They exchanged a look, a long moment, one that was just between them. Had Sadie not been there, things may have turned out differently. But Sadie paddled back, leapt onto Mack’s back, trying to ride him like a dolphin. Charlotte was envious, wishing he were all hers. She wanted a boyfriend just like Mack. She made a wish on a star, hoping she’d find one.
“I’m Mack,” he said, extending a hand to Ada at the Lobster Trap.
“Oh, sorry,” Sadie said. “This is our new friend Ada.”
Ada shook Mack’s hand. Charlotte noticed how weak the shake was. Her arm was going to fall off, she was so frail. Eat a skewer; no wonder Ben didn’t want to bone her. He’d probably break her if he were on top.
“Hello, nice to meet you,” Ada said demurely. She looked like a lost fawn, helpless and scared. Men loved that, the damsel in distress kind of thing. They needed a rescue from the big, bad world. Charlotte rolled her eyes, hoping no one noticed.
“This is nuts!” Sadie exclaimed. “Do you want to grab a chair? Or . . . are you meeting someone?”
All three women braced themselves for an answer.
“Nope, just me,” he said. “I think you guys are the only women I still know in this town.”
“Let me grab the waitress,” Charlotte said, again raising her hand.
“Well, I know her too,” Mack joked.
“What are you drinking? On us! A welcome home drink!” Charlotte exclaimed.
Sadie stared at Charlotte as if to say back the bus up . . . Charlotte pretended she didn’t feel the weight of it.
“Yes! On us,” Ada said, smiling.
“Well, then, if you guys insist.” Mack laughed. “I’ll have a Jack and Coke.”
“Old school!” Sadie said. “You always liked the dark stuff.” Charlotte noticed that Sadie seemed smitten. She had that glow about her.
“Well, it grows hair on your chest,” Mack said.
They peered at his chest. His pecks were visible through his white T-shirt, as if he’d been tree climbing or hauling bricks.
“So how is your family?” Charlotte asked, digging for answers.
“Well, I’m kind of taking a break, trying to recalibrate.” He paused and took a sip. “I recently got a divorce.”
All three women chimed in with “I’m sorry” and “aww” simultaneously.
“That sucks,” Sadie said, even though it didn’t. “Marriage can be hard, and no one really talks about it.”
Sadie was definitely dropping hints. Read: my marriage is on the rocks. She peered at Mack to see how the news landed.
“I’m not far behind you,” Charlotte said, finishing off her last drop of wine and motioning to the bartender for a refill.
Sadie glanced at her, as if to say, Are you seriously announcing this right now?
“You are?” Sadie asked, like a bad actress. She knows damn well that John and I are basically over, Charlotte thought. But this was like a game of chess.
“Um, yeah?” Charlotte retorted. “I’m, like, one step away from filing.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Ada said.
“Meh, happens,” Charlotte replied. She could hear herself sounding too nonchalant and wondered if it might be a turnoff that she was so dismissive of her husband. “I mean, no. It’s horrible, but I’m just trying to get through it one day at a time. What’s that they say in AA? Easy does it? One day a time? I will not drink today!”
“Except you’re drinking today,” Sadie said.
“Well, is it a day that ends in ‘y’? Then, yes, I’m drinking.” Charlotte laughed.
“You haven’t changed a bit.” Mack laughed.
Charlotte liked that he recalled what she was like in the past. She wondered if he ever thought about her, in that way.
“Nope. Some things never change.”
But something was changing. Things were starting to look up for Charlotte, get more exciting in this town. If she were lucky, she’d get checkmate.
“Hey, I know it’s late notice, but would you ladies like to join me at a party later tonight? I’m heading over to Peter Lawson’s boathouse on Penzance Point around five for cocktails and apps. I’d love some company.”
The three women made eye contact and grabbed for their phones. Sadie glanced at her calendar, Ada scrolled, maniacally searching for something, and Charlotte piped in, “Sure!” After all, one would not want to miss a party on Penzance Point, as it was one of the nicest places to live in in Woods Hole. Not to mention, Peter Lawson was a reputable financier from Boston, Charlotte recalled from her conversations with John, and he surely would be a good connection to make.
“Oh, maybe I could ask Peter to sponsor the gala,” Sadie said excitedly.
“Sadie!” Charlotte exclaimed.
“Sorry, that’s tacky. I can’t help it! I’m always working!” Sadie said.
“Great,” Mack said. I’ll text you guys the info. You can meet me there.”
Perfect, Charlotte thought. Simply perfect.