Authors: Shirley Jump
arcy Williams had come
barreling into the world two weeks early, all lungs and legs and attitude, as her mother had often told everyone from the mailman to the checkout clerk. Darcy had been headstrong and stubborn, the kind of girl who spent more time in the principal’s office than in a classroom. From day one, her mother had thrown up her hands and given up trying to corral her wild child. Darcy didn’t care. She’d much rather make her own rules than live under someone else’s. Because if there was one thing she’d learned growing up in the historic and stodgy town of Plymouth, it was this: There were a lot of rules made by people with more money than sense.
Darcy had been labeled as one of those “wrong side of the tracks” girls, though there’d never been any real railroad tracks near her house, just a general sense of despair, as if even the houses had given up on living up to the lofty example set by the tony neighborhoods further north. When she’d been a little girl, Darcy hadn’t noticed that dividing line. It wasn’t until sixth grade that she noticed there was a whole other world outside her own, one where the boys wore khakis and blazers, and the girls sported shiny ribbons in their hair and shoes as pristine as newly painted walls. Then there’d been Darcy and her friends, wearing hand-me-downs and carrying peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in paper bags reused so often, they had permanent creases. The kids in their pressed shirts and shiny shoes didn’t understand—couldn’t possibly understand—what life was really like when you were living in a double-wide surrounded by weeds.
On the days when Darcy found her mother passed out in the recliner, an empty amber bottle on the folding table beside her, Darcy would hop on her bike, cut through the busy Plymouth tourist traffic, pedaling hard and fast, almost out of breath, until she reached the seawall that curved away from the Massachusetts coastline like an arm reaching into the sea. She would walk all the way to the end, past the spot where the tourists stopped—at the point where the wind and waves crashed over the rocky path and turned it treacherous. Darcy always ventured as far as she could, because there she knew she could see the very tip of Fortune’s Island, nestled in the crook of the elbow of Massachusetts, like a protected kitten.
Fortune’s Island was the forgotten stepchild of the islands surrounding the humble state where Pilgrims first landed. It lacked the uppercrust visitors of Martha’s Vineyard, and the haughty attitude of Nantucket. For generations Fortune’s Island had been one of the best kept secrets in Cape Cod Bay, far from the tourist traffic its southern cousins attracted.
Then Brewster Matheson came along, a self-made man who practically sweated money, and decided to turn Fortune’s Island into something worth visiting. He’d been named honorary mayor, renamed it from its old moniker of Gull Island, and been, for a time, revered as the island’s benefactor. For a while, the island had been the
place for the wealthy who lay on the beach and complained in weary tones about how commercial the Vineyard had become. Then, like all things “hot,” Fortune’s Island hit its peak as a destination, then began to fall off in favor of the next big thing.
Fortune’s Island never quite achieved Brewster’s vision, but it still did a reasonable amount of business, collecting its fair share of tourists in the peak season, and a regular round of residents who battened down the hatches in the winter, suffering through the gale force winds and whipping waves for the chance at another spectacular spring.
On those tearful afternoons when Darcy would run away from everything in her life that didn’t understand her, she would set her eyes on Fortune’s Island. She’d sit on the hard rock wall, staring out at the speck in the ocean, watching the ferry putter back and forth between Fortune’s Island and Plymouth Bay, and dream of escape. By the time she was seventeen, her mother had sat down at the kitchen table with a liter of scotch, a carton of Marlboros, and a pen, and finally given Darcy the one gift she wanted—a signature on the papers that would let Darcy graduate early and set her free.
A week later, Darcy had loaded everything she owned into the back of a Nissan hatchback older than she was, then caught the ferry to Fortune’s Island. She’d celebrated her eighteenth birthday on the island a month later and had been there ever since, seven-plus years of long, harsh winters bookended by spectacular springs and breathtaking falls. Her first job had been her only job—waitressing at The Love Shack, a glorified shed that sat twenty yards from where the ferry docked, and the best place to catch a party on Fortune’s Island, regardless of the date on the calendar.
That was where she was, pretty much every day of the week after four, working until closing. Anyone else would have developed the rocker lifestyle—sleeping till noon, then hurrying to get her crap together before her shift started—but Darcy had other priorities, ones she had never expected to have when she’d first crossed the ocean and landed here. But life had a way of throwing curveballs, and redirecting a person.
Her mother had resented being “chained to a job and a roof,” and told Darcy a thousand times that in the future, she too would resent those restrictions. Seven years ago, Darcy would have agreed. Then she got a taste of a life that was predictable, one where there was always a light welcoming her home at the end of the day. It wasn’t so bad. Not bad at all.
So these days, Darcy grabbed a handful of hours of sleep every night, the rare nap, and did her best to keep all those slippery balls of her world going in a constant juggle. It wasn’t the easiest existence, but it was the best one she knew how to have. She lived in a little house no bigger than a speck of dust on the curve of Fortune’s southern neck, far enough to get a little privacy from the tourists but close enough to walk to town and work. On the days when she worried that she was sagging her way toward thirty, she’d ride her bike and try to make a half-assed stab at exercise. She still had a bit of a rebellious streak, but for the most part kept herself in check and kept her crap together, because she had things in her life far more important than all those rules that used to seem so important to ignore.
Today was one of those days. It had been an oh-shit moment when she’d gotten out of the shower and caught her naked reflection in the bathroom mirror. Too many burgers after her shift, way too many beers in her early twenties, and a little laziness that crept into her days when the weather warmed and her beach chair beckoned.
Darcy wrestled her bike into the rusting, bent bike rack behind The Love Shack, ignoring the stench of the dumpster. She draped her lock over the frame, trying to make it look like she hadn’t forgotten the key again. Then she headed into the dim interior, her scuffed cowboy boots crunching on the sand that formed a perpetual path across the plank floors.
“Hey, Darce,” said Whit as she passed the hostess station. “You’re in early.”
Darcy leaned over and gave Whit a one-armed hug. When she’d moved here, Whit Matheson—a direct descendant of Brewster he was proud to say—and his wife Grace had become her defacto parents, and she loved them more than she loved pretty much anybody. They had two kids of their own, Jillian and Carter, who both worked at The Love Shack, and were the siblings Darcy had never had, complete with the teasing and kitschy Christmas gifts. If someone had asked her to draw a picture of the perfect family, it would be every last one of the Mathesons. They weren’t blood, but they might as well have been in Darcy’s book. “Couldn’t wait to see you, Whit.”
He chuckled at that. “Right. Wouldn’t have anything to do with the cake shipment that arrived from the mainland this afternoon, would it?”
Once a week, The Love Shack got a load of cakes from a small bakery over in Plymouth. They were like heaven on a plate, and the one indulgence Darcy figured was worth the bike ride. “Might have something to do with it.”
Whit nodded toward the swinging door at the back. “There’s already a slice in there with your name on it. Gracie set it aside first thing.”
Darcy gave Whit another hug and pressed a quick, loud kiss to his cheek. “And that’s why I love you two.”
“Quit sucking up,” Jillian said, as she sailed up to the hostess station and deposited a stack of menus in the bin. “You know you’re not in the will.”
Darcy grinned. “Who says you are?”
“DNA.” Jillian corralled Darcy with an arm around her shoulders and started walking with her toward the kitchen. The Love Shack was nearly ready for opening. The room was filled with wooden tables topped with freshly cleaned vinyl tablecloths and a collection of salt and pepper shakers that ranged from kissing frogs to nestled pairs of lovebirds. On the back wall, tattered and fading dollar bills decorated with dark black markers told the tale of hundreds of relationships, some over, some so fresh the ink had barely dried on the bill. Legend had it that if you put the name of your true love on a bill and stapled it to the wall, you’d guarantee a lifetime of happiness together. As far as Darcy could tell, the legend’s rate of success was about 50/50, but that didn’t stop people from adding to the wall.
Somewhere in there, was one of Darcy’s own dollars, a crazy moment long in the past. Most days, she forgot about the bill, about her silly declaration scrawled across George Washington’s beatific face.
Today, for some reason, Darcy’s gaze strayed to the weathered buck stapled to the plank wall, one of dozens and dozens just like it. In the seven years it had been there, it had faded a bit, but the dark markered words seemed to still leap off the pale green background.
D Will Love K 4-Eva
She could still remember writing the words, in those days when she’d been foolish enough to believe that fairy tales came true for girls like her. Star-crossed lovers finding happiness and all that crap.
“So…tell me all about your date last night,” Jillian said.
“Didn’t happen.” Darcy shrugged. “I should have known better than to hook up with a lander.”
That’s what they called the people who lived a half-hour ferry ride away. It might as well have been a different world, far removed from the quirky island world that Darcy loved. The landers inhabited that khakis and shiny shoes world. The same group of wealthy people who populated the island during the summer months, to avoid the crowds in the Vineyard. For the most part, the landers stuck to their own little cliques, but every once in a while, one became human, as Darcy called it, and popped into The Love Shack.
“Besides, I don’t need a man in my life,” Darcy went on. “I have a big supply of batteries.”
Jillian laughed. “Honey, batteries don’t warm your bed at night.”
“They also don’t leave the toilet seat up and track dirt on my floors. Use ‘em, put ‘em back in the drawer and still have total domination over the remote control afterwards.” Darcy grinned.
“If the only thing you want to dominate is a remote control, then I think we better get you a date. Soon.” Jillian flashed her left hand and wiggled the finger and the diamond she’d sported for a year. “Nothing like a steady man in your life to keep you busy at night.”
Jillian’s fiancé was a singer in a local band that performed a few nights a week at The Love Shack. They’d been together for nearly eight years, though it seemed to Darcy if Zach was that into Jillian, he would have married her already. He’d spent a long time dithering about even getting a ring, and was stalling even more on a wedding date. Darcy liked men who knew what they wanted, who didn’t wander around a decision. A man who wouldn’t let her down when she needed him most. A man who could stand toe-to-toe with her. And at five-foot-seven, sometimes that alone was a challenge. “I don’t need a steady man. What I need right now is cake.”
“You and me, sister.” Jillian pushed on the swinging door that led to the kitchen. A second later, they had dished up two slices, then sat at the stainless steel counter in the kitchen and devoured them in blissful silence. That was the best thing about Jillian—she was the kind of friend who knew when to lend a listening ear and when to hand over a second fork and a heapload of sugar.
Grace came bustling into the kitchen, a sixty-year-old powerhouse at five-foot-two, with short curly gray hair and a sassy attitude ten feet tall. When a customer got out of line at The Love Shack, it was Grace who more often than not rebuked with a single stern look, and if that wasn’t enough, she’d send them packing. She was the kind of woman who believed in second chances, unfettered forgiveness and deep-seated love, and she was more mom to Darcy than her own mother ever had been. And now, it was too late to hope for that second chance.
“I see you girls found the cake delivery.” Grace grinned. “I helped myself to a piece earlier. It’s a wonder we ever have any left for the customers.”
“We’re saving the rest, we promise,” Darcy said.
“Only because it’s time to drag out the bathing suits again. That means we should be watching what we eat, at least until the summer ends.” Jillian sighed and pushed her empty plate away. “Four months of abstinence so we can have flat bellies, then we start the holiday eating frenzy.”