Friday, November 30, 2012

The Virgins of Martha's Vineyard

This is the first chapter of my novel, The Virgins of Martha's Vineyard.

Chapter One
It’s Raining Tall, Thin Blondes On My Parade

     The household meteorological forecast veered into the wrath of God realm that morning. Mr. Ewing had called to announce that he wouldn’t be able to make it to the Vineyard that weekend. Some big deal requiring his special services. Mrs. Ewing translated this to mean some big-busted mistress required being serviced. She floated through the house like an angry wraith. 
     Havens laid out the children’s pajamas and gave them kisses. She told Guadalupe, the family’s housekeeper and back-up babysitter, that it was after five and she was leaving. Forget nanny overtime. She bolted. Her makeup bag was in her purse; she’d put herself together later. She just had to get out. 


  Once in the car, Havens cranked the tinny old radio. She was driving the battered Volvo the family kept at the Vineyard year-round. It was a classic “Vineyard car”, slightly shabby and old, the kind summer people took perverse pleasure in owning. Havens was just grateful to have the use of anything that ran.
  Edgartown was crawling with people flocking to the bars in search of some release from the depressing atmosphere. Havens found a parking space after twenty minutes of irritated circling.
  Of course, she had forgotten her umbrella. She wasn’t up for some spirited, girlish run through the rain, so she threw her jacket over her head and trudged.
     The Newes was a cozy basement pub attached to the Kelley House. Low-key, low-ceilinged, dark wood and brick with exposed copper plumbing. The building was eighteenth-century, and the overall effect was classic British pub. On this night, someone had had the good sense to light the fireplace, even if it was summer.
  Havens climbed onto an empty bar stool. She pushed her wet hair back from her face and exhaled. She’d arranged to meet up with Pernilla, then they were going to head over to Oak Bluffs, the other town on the Island that sold liquor. A good band was playing at The Atlantic Connection, and Barbi and Maryanne were going to join them. The four girls had met in New York at the orientation sessions their nanny agency held for its new employees. 
  Havens analyzed the tap handles, trying to decide what she wanted. Beer to pace herself? Or something to really take the edge off? Havens decided that the chill weather called for something with a little heat.
  “I’d like a shot of Dewar’s please.”
  The bartender looked her over. “Can I see some ID?”
  Havens wasn’t quite old enough to be flattered by this. She dug out her license and handed it over, shifty-eyed. She’d never flinched when she’d been asked to present the fake, but the real one made her squirmy. The bartender handed it back and turned towards the scotches.
  “Doug, give her a Mac Twelve.”
  Havens turned to look. A man was sitting one bar stool away from her. Early to mid thirties, sea-blue eyes, strong jawline without a trace of stubble. The man was nodding to the bartender, his eyes fixed on the top shelf of liquor bottles. He was wearing a Polo shirt with a worn pair of Nantucket Reds sailing shorts. His dark hair was perfectly in place.
  He looked completely untouched by the weather, unlike Havens, who felt the water dripping down her neck. His look was so casual yet poised that he must be well-off. The heavy stainless steel chronograph on his wrist confirmed it. He also had that air of self-assurance that years of material comfort bring.
  None of this made her any more inclined to accept the drink. Her life circumstances were making her a little cheap, but not easy. She also had no idea what a Mac Twelve was.
  She started to refuse, only to discover that the guy was already ignoring her. His eyes were glued to the TV installed in the left-hand corner behind the bar. Some soccer game was on. The bartender noticed her looking at the man and waited for a moment, then put the drink down in front of her. 
  “Excuse me, but no thank...”
  “No! Goddamn it! I can’t believe this!” he yelled. 
     Havens jumped a little, then realized that the man was still totally engrossed in the TV screen. She heard the announcer screaming, “Goal!”
  She tried again. “Thanks, but I don’t accept drinks from people I don’t know.”
  The man finally turned to look at her. “I’m MacAndrews Roth.” He extended his hand. 
  Firm grip. Havens looked down. His hands were large, the nails bitten short. 
  “Now that we’ve met, drink up.” He briefly looked her over, before his eyes swung back to the lure of the screen.
  “Um, OK, thanks.” 
  She raised her glass in a semblance of a toast. She sniffed. Seemed like scotch.
  Havens took a sip, enjoying the way the drink that was indeed scotch burned down her throat. She loved that first taste. She drank some more and studied the man, as surreptitiously as possible, while he continued his worship of the TV. Nice profile too. Ring-free left hand. His profile started to look even better. 
  “Go, go, go! Pass, for Christ’s sake!” He slammed his fist down on the counter, brushed his hand impatiently through his hair.
     “Who’s playing?” she asked. She was a little surprised when he managed to answer her. 
     “Norway versus Italy.” He remained fixated on the tiny running figures.
  “Who’s winning?”
  He came up for air and turned to look at Havens.
  The muscles around his eyes contracted like he was about to smile. “Don’t tell me you like soccer.”
  Havens flushed. “No, not so much, but I do like the scotch. This is a lot better than Dewar’s.”
  Now he did smile. 
  “I know,” he said. “That’s why I ordered it. You only get one body, give it the good stuff.” 
  Havens added, “This is scotch, isn’t it?”
  Roth looked puzzled for a moment. “Scotch, yes. It’s a twelve year MacCallan, hence Mac Twelve.” He continued to look straight at her. Havens felt a little rush, then a desperate need to say something, anything. 
  “Oh, that makes sense. I didn’t know there was shorthand for scotch.” 
  She clinked her glass against his. “Useful information. Well, this is great. So smoky. Thanks again.” 
  “My pleasure,” he said. “I can never stand to see anyone drink bad booze. The Dewar’s is blended; this stuff is pure.”
  He shifted in his seat, turning his body away from the flickering temptress on his left, and towards Havens. 
  His eyes took in her soggy appearance. “Besides, you’re too wet to drink swill. You’ll make yourself sick.”
  Havens remembered what she looked like. She’d forgotten her plan to duck into the ladies’ room to put herself together. She’d just wanted a drink. Now here she was, rain-washed makeup, stringy wet hair, shorts and a beat-up windbreaker. Worldly-looking she was not.
  “I am a little on the fresh-scrubbed side today, that’s true. The weather’s from hell and I had to practically park on the mainland to get here.”
  He shrugged. “I parked at my lawyer’s office. She’s just around the corner. I don’t think they’ll be needing their parking spaces on a Friday night.”
  Why does he have retained counsel? Havens wanted to ask if he was a captain of industry or a parolee. Instead she replied, “Probably not. Your name’s MacAndrews?”
  “Call me Roth.” He started tapping on the bar with his glass, quick, rhythmic.
  “I’m Havens. Havens Stanton.” She caught herself beginning to extend her hand again. Mid-motion, she adjusted the zipper on her windbreaker.
  “Family name?” He scrutinized her face.
  “That it is.” Havens smiled in a way that she hoped seemed sophisticated. “My great-great-great-whatever grandmother was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the suffragette. The great-whatever on the other side was Havens. Put together I’m Elizabeth Havens Stanton.”
  “I like it. It’s better than meeting the tenth girl in a row named Taylor.”
  “You meet a lot of girls then?” she said, teasing a little. He ignored that.
  “I like the Helly Hansen too,” he said, gesturing to Havens windbreaker. “Do you sail?”
  Havens shook her head. “No, skiing’s more my thing.” After years of family ski vacations, Havens guessed that she could claim it as her sport. It certainly sounded better than hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo, her current athletic pastimes.
  Roth smiled and leaned forward. “I love being on skis, just being part of the mountain. The escape of it.” 
  He paused. “What about yourself? Where do you like to go? Do you have a favorite place?”
  They launched into a conversation of ski areas they’d been to, New England and the occasional Colorado trip for Havens. Switzerland, back-country heli-skiing in British Columbia for Roth, a vague mention of a home in Aspen. It was a free-ranging conversation, with no further mention of soccer or the weather. Havens forgot to feel uncomfortable about the grunginess of her appearance.
  Roth tipped back the last of his drink and motioned to the bartender. He eyed Havens and her near-empty glass.
  “Joining me?” 
  Havens hesitated. “Let me get this round.” 
  “I’ll let you get the next one,” he said, waving away Haven’s move to pull out her wallet.  
     After the bartender put their drinks down, Roth raised his glass. “Good drinks and better company.” 
  “Cheers to that,” said Havens.
  He watched her take a sip, then motioned to the bartender again.
  “Doug, can we get some menus?” 
  He turned to Havens. “I was planning to order something to eat. They have great pub food. Why don’t you see what you’d like?”
  “I’d love to, thank you,” said Havens, glancing at her watch, “but I’m meeting a friend here and then we’re going someplace else. I don’t want to order something and then not have time to eat it.”
  “Have the Roquefort Stilettos then. They’re light, and they get prepared quickly. I was going to have them for an appetizer.” 
  He absently nodded his thanks as the menus were put down.
  Havens’ miserable day had done quite the 180. Roth was charming, the scotch was doing what scotch does, and now a dinner invitation. She skimmed the menu.
  “I think I might enjoy eating something named after my favorite shoe,” she said, smiling down at her feet. “If I’m not wearing them, at least I can eat them.” She swung her legs slightly to the side of the bar stool.
  Havens experienced the satisfaction of seeing Roth’s involuntary glance down at her legs.
  “You should be doing both,” he said. “You definitely have the legs for a good heel. I could see you in a pair of Manolos, maybe some strappy Jimmy Choos.”
  A man who knew his shoes. Havens had a momentary flash of confusion. Was this just misconstrued gay friendliness? A sociable man’s man killing time at the bar before meeting up with some guy with a much bigger shoe size than hers?
  His comments about girls in general and about Havens in particular did have a strange detached quality, but the glance he gave her body was definitely connected. He’d been looking at her with the eyes of a man, not a shoe salesperson. Havens clutched her glass tighter, an island of certainty in a sea of confusion.
  Roth seemed to get it. He laughed. “Don’t worry, I don’t really give a damn about your feet.”
  A man who made her feel beautiful and comfortable at the same time, where was the catch?


  The catch was, in fact, sauntering in. Pernilla Elmqvist, who was usually guaranteed to arrive shockingly late if at all, had managed to arrive more or less on time. She had also found the time to make herself look flawless.
  Havens had felt the vibe change before she even turned around. A charge ran through the room, all the separate people suddenly connected by their united fixation on the beautiful creature walking the length of the small pub. Her height, the short blonde hair, pale blue eyes, the broad cheekbones. There was an almost electric hum, as if they were all appliances plugged into one overloaded current. Pernilla strolled the narrow aisle between the tables like a catwalk.
  In a culture obsessed with appearance, beauty is a currency. It’s what many girls carry and flash around like the way some men pull out their wallets. Pernilla leaned on the bar, and neatly inserted her narrow body into the narrower space between Havens and Roth.
  Her makeup looked so rainy-day fresh that it was clear to Havens that she’d spent a great deal of time on it. The baseball cap she was wearing kept her hair looking good in the rotten weather while helping her to project the air of a famous person trying to go casually incognito. The jeans jacket over the shrunken T-shirt with slouchy khakis and sport sandals completed the picture. Havens wanted to kill her. Then she wanted to kick herself. 
  Pernilla had taken an au pair job to escape her small hometown in Sweden, get to New York, and have access to the modeling agencies. She wanted to get signed to a big agency when she went back to Manhattan, but a big spender who summered on the Vineyard would do just as well.
  A wave of small and awkward feelings Havens thought she’d left behind in junior high broke over her again. She closely observed Roth’s reaction to Pernilla, all the while smiling. Pernilla turned to her, indolently calm as usual.
  “Hi,” she said. “I’m here.” 
  She was working the accent, sounding as Swedish as it was humanly possible to get while still actually speaking English. She gazed at Haven’s drink and involuntarily licked her lips. She smiled vaguely, tilted her head back and sighed.
  The fact that she performed all this while in perfect profile to Roth was of course pure coincidence. Pernilla raised her arms and stretched languorously, saying, “What a day. I need a drink.” She paused.
  Nothing happened. Havens was not going to offer to buy. She also hoped that Roth’s generosity knew some definite bounds. Havens couldn’t quite gauge his reaction. She’d seen him turn to look as Pernilla walked through the room. He quickly checked her out, then turned away when it became clear that she was headed towards them.
  He had a kind of hunted look on his face and ducked back into his drink, like he was trying to ward off her approach. He looked definitely unhappy at the sight of a beautiful girl bearing down on them.
  Havens couldn’t quite figure out what this move was about. Whatever it was, his reaction seemed strange. She would have felt a little more comfortable with predictable slack-jawed gaping. She couldn’t tell if this was some weird instance of male shyness in the face of beauty, which would of course offend her, since he’d had no problem approaching her.
     There were some other options. Maybe he was trying to deflect Pernilla because he just wanted to be alone with Havens, but her ego was having a little trouble supporting that notion right now. She was feeling eclipsed by Pernilla’s aggressive radiance, like an early risen moon that hangs unnoticed in the sky before the sun has set.
  Maybe he’d already slept with Pernilla and was now trying to avoid her. Roth was turning from Prince Charming into the Prince of Darkness in the space of a minute.
  Pernilla was looking a little peeved that no one had leaped at the opportunity to supply her with a drink. She was now openly eying Roth.
  She leaned over towards him.
  “Excuse me, would you get the bartender for me? I need to order.”
  “Sure,” he said, his face impassive. “Doug, when you get a moment?”
  The bartender was over immediately. “What can I get you, Mr. Roth?”
  It was obvious Roth was one of his better customers. The two seemed quite used to each other.
  “Nothing for me. She’s the one that’s ordering.” Roth jerked his head in Pernilla’s direction.
  The bartender didn’t move for a second, deciding on whose tab the drink went. He looked from Havens to Pernilla and back. Roth’s gaze was on the soccer match. The bartender turned to Pernilla. 
  “What are you having, Miss?” This being Massachusetts, he followed with the obligatory request for ID.
  Havens had already seen Pernilla’s fake ID. It was the passport of some model she’d known in New York. She said that the girl had given it to her because she wanted to get her passport redone with a better photo, but Pernilla had probably just ripped it off.
  She ordered a glass of wine and turned to Havens. “So, aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend? I saw you two talking when I walked in. Is he coming with us to the club?”
  She turned her 1000 Watt smile onto Roth and raised an eyebrow at him inquiringly.
  Havens turned to look at Roth. To her dismay she saw him making the universal sign for ‘bring me the check’, the air signature. He was not looking at either of the girls, and seemed to be in full flight mode. She really could kill Pernilla.
  Roth seemed to be doing his best to ignore the beautiful girl’s very existence. She was looking at him incredulously. She gave Havens a dirty look, as if this were somehow her fault. Havens was getting madder by the second and not just at Pernilla. She didn’t much care for the sudden cold shoulder treatment she was getting.  
  Roth leaned towards Doug and spoke softly, then put down the cash for his bill and looked up. Pernilla’s eyes flicked reflexively at the money. Roth leaned back on his bar stool to see around Pernilla, who was planted firmly between him and Havens.
  “Not having your dinner after all?” said Havens, determined not to act bothered.
  Roth smiled. “I lost my appetite along with my dinner companion. Have fun with your friend.”
  Havens nodded.
  “Doug’s boxing your stilettos for you. I hope you like them.”    
  She stopped staring over Roth’s shoulder. “Thank you.” She smiled back. “They’ll make a great late-night snack.”
  Roth stood up, walking around Pernilla like she didn’t even exist. Standing next to Havens, she noticed that he was tall, a solid six feet. Roth put his arm on the back of her stool.
  “I owe you a dinner,” he said into her ear. Havens felt him put something in her hand. He was standing close enough to her that she almost expected an air kiss goodbye, but instead he just turned and left. She watched him walk away, checking out his body since he couldn’t see.
  She opened up her fist. It was an old-fashioned calling card; there was no business number or fax or e-mail address. There was just his name, a home address, and a phone number at the bottom.
  Pernilla was looking impatiently over Havens’ shoulder.
  “Let me see,“ she insisted. “What is it?” 
     She tried to grab the card. Havens snatched her hand back and shoved the card in her pocket.
  “He gave it to me,” she said, letting her irritation show.
  “What’s with you anyway? I was getting along great with him until you showed up. Then he couldn’t get out of here fast enough.”
     Havens was too engrossed in bitching out Pernilla to notice that Roth had turned to give her a final glance before he left the room. Pernilla looked genuinely puzzled.
  “It’s not my fault. I haven’t even met him before.” She leaned towards Havens with an excited look on her face.
  “I know who he is, though. He’s a totally important fashion photographer. Did he give you his phone number? I have to get to know him.” She was looking at Haven’s jacket like she wanted to rip the card right out of her pocket.
  “No,” Havens lied. “There’s just a mailing address in West Tisbury. I’ll give it to you later if you want.”
  “Fabulous,” said Pernilla, beaming. “I can send him my composite. Maybe he’ll want to shoot me. Promise you’ll give it to me.” She looked at Havens uncertainly.
  “I promise.” Havens knew that there would be no saying no to her. Pernilla would probably knock the small children she theoretically cared for right off a pier if they stood between her and a photographer she thought could make her famous.
  Havens took the path of least resistance. She’d give Pernilla an address to shut her up. The fact that she would accidentally write down the wrong number for the house address would just be an unfortunate mistake.
  Pernilla’s info was starting to sink in. Havens liked the sound of it.
  “How do you know who he is?” she demanded.
  Pernilla looked happy to share. “The mother I work for told me. She knows everybody like that who comes to the island. She has the most amazing parties. All the movie people, all the fashion people are there.”
  Havens nodded impatiently.
  “Maybe he’ll come to one and I’ll get to meet him that way. Maybe there’ll be someone even better.” Pernilla was already planning her coup, to sweep into an as yet nonexistent party and walk out with fame and fortune on her arm.
  The fact that her employer probably would not appreciate the hired help crashing one of her parties never even entered Pernilla’s head. The lady of the house was a socialite, with a minor business as an accessories designer that was majorly bankrolled by her husband. She had chosen Pernilla to work for her because her look complemented the woman’s idea of country living, like a live action Ralph Lauren ad.
  Pernilla had been quite lucky to be hired by anyone. Most women would sooner raise their own children (or at least put in a lot of effort to find an aesthetically unchallenging surrogate) before they would let a girl as beautiful as Pernilla live under the same roof as their husbands. Pernilla had lucked out because the wife’s real worry was the cute teenage boy who came twice a week to maintain their lawn.
  “So what else do you know about him? He’s not married, I hope?”
  “How should I know? She didn’t mention anything like that.” 
  The detail of marriage did not interest Pernilla.
  “All I know is, he’s done a million shoots for Vogue, Elle, W, ad campaigns for all the big designers, and he’s worked with everybody worth mentioning. The mother told me who he was when we saw him up at Menemsha, buying fish at that little shack there. He was by himself then too.” Pernilla looked bored.
  “Let’s finish our drinks and leave. There’s no-one interesting here. I want to go see that band.” She looked hard at Havens.   
“When we get there, I’m going to get you good and drunk. You’re going to tell me everything that happened with him. How did you get him to talk to you anyway?”
  Pernilla was looking at Havens with newfound respect. She had succeeded, shockingly, to Pernilla’s mind, where Pernilla had failed.
  Havens should have been offended by Pernilla’s implication that Havens’ accomplishment was nothing short of miraculous, but she was feeling too pumped up to bother. She’d managed to attract the interest of a glamorously employed, good-looking guy who wouldn’t give Pernilla the time of day, much less a good scotch. She smiled smugly at Pernilla and said nothing.


  The band at the Atlantic Connection was blasting, the crowd rowdy. The room was packed tight with searching, drunken people. The band was pounding out house-music style reggae, accompanied by a jittery light show. When Havens and Pernilla got there, they found Barbi downing technicolor shots at the bar. Her long, overly blonde hair swirled about her as she waved.
  “Oh, my God, what a week,” Barbi slurred. “This weather has made everyone insane. I think I’m starting to lose my tan.”
  As she talked to them, Barbi’s glazed eyes scanned the room, checking out the male population. She saw Maryanne, looking small and squashed, trapped in a corner of the room by a group of big drunks who were oblivious of her attempts to push past them.
  Barbi surged to the rescue. She distracted the drunks with the sight of her breasts, barely encased in a too tight T shirt, and pulled Maryanne past them to the safety of the group.
  “Shots for everyone,” she proclaimed happily.
  Everyone agreed. After the bar shut down at one (last call on the Vineyard being a pitifully early 12:30), the girls walked to an after hours party in one of the apartments above the shops on Circuit Avenue. Maryanne went home early to get some sleep, while Barbi disappeared into a bedroom with one of the hosts and a bottle of vodka. Havens switched to water so she could drive. Pernilla alternated between watching the room and scrutinizing Havens for clues as to her sorceress-like abilities. She drank in silence.
  Havens did her best to avoid Pernilla, who relentlessly floated after her while ignoring the guys following in her own wake. The party eventually died down and Havens drove Pernilla home.
  Havens crept in the back door of her family’s house around four, paranoid that she’d wake them up and suffer the consequences. Luckily, her maid’s room quarters by the kitchen were quite some distance from the other bedrooms in the house. Even Guadalupe’s room was several storage areas and a laundry room away. No-one would have heard a sound if she’d brought the reggae band back to party with her.
  Before she went to bed, she pulled Roth’s card out of her pocket. She read it again, running her finger along the engraving, wondering if she’d ever get up the nerve to call him. Finally, she put the card away for safekeeping in the giant antique steamer trunk she’d gotten from her grandparents’ attic.
  She crawled under her blankets. Visions of magazine covers danced in her head.

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