The Last Summer (of You & Me)
by Ann Brashares
Published by Riverhead Books
320 pages, 2007
In the town of Waterby on Fire Island, the rhythms and rituals of summer are sacrosanct: the ceremonial arrivals and departures by ferry; yacht club dinners with terrible food and breathtaking views; the virtual decree against shoes; and the generational parade of sandy, suntanned kids, running, swimming, squealing and coming of age on the beach.
Set against this vivid backdrop, The Last Summer (of You and Me) is the story of a beach-community friendship triangle among three young adults for whom summer and this place have meant everything. Sisters Riley and Alice, now in their 20s, have been returning to their parents' modest beach house every summer for their entire lives. Petite, tenacious Riley is a tomboy and a lifeguard, always ready for a midnight swim, a gale-force sail, or a barefoot sprint down the beach. Beautiful Alice is lithe, gentle, a reader and a thinker, and worshipful of her older sister. And every summer growing up, in the big house that overshadowed their humble one, there was Paul, a friend as important to both girls as the place itself, who has now finally returned to the island after three years away. But his return marks a season of tremendous change, and when a simmering attraction, a serious illness, and a deep secret all collide, the three friends are launched into an unfamiliar adult world, a world from which their summer haven can no longer protect them.
Ann Brashares has won millions of fans with her blockbuster series The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, in which she so powerfully captured the emotional complexities of female friendship and young love. With The Last Summer (of You and Me), she moves on to introduce a new set of characters and adult relationships just as true, endearing and unforgettable. With warmth, humor and wisdom, Brashares makes us feel the excruciating joys and pangs of love -- both platonic and romantic. She reminds us of the strength and sting of friendship, the great ache of loss, and the complicated weight of family loyalty. Thoughtful, lyrical, and tremendously moving, The Last Summer (of You and Me) is a deeply felt celebration of summer and nostalgia for youth.
Alice waited for Paul on the ferry dock. He'd left a crackly message on the answering machine saying he'd be coming in on the afternoon boat. That was like him. He couldn't say the 1:20 or the 3:55. She'd spent too long staring at the ferry schedule, trying to divine his meaning.
With some amount of self-hatred, Alice had first walked out onto the dock for the 1:20, knowing he wouldn't be on it. She'd looked only vaguely at the faces as they emerged from the boat, assuring herself she wasn't expecting anything. She'd sat with her bare feet on the bench at the periphery, her book resting on her knees so she wouldn't have to interact with anyone. I know you're not going to be on it, so don't think I think you are, she'd told the Paul who lived in her mind. Even there, under her presumed control, he was teasing and unpredictable.
For the 3:55, she put Vaseline on her lips and brushed her hair. The boat after that wasn't until 6:10, and though Paul could miss the so-called afternoon ferry, he couldn't call 6:10 the afternoon.
How often she did attempt to process his thoughts in her mind. She took his opinions too seriously, remembered them long after she suspected he'd forgotten them.
It was one thing, trying to think his thoughts when he was close by, his words offering clues, corrections, and confirmations by the hour. But three years of silence made for complex interpolations. It made it harder, and in another way it made it easier. She was freer with his thoughts. She made them her own, thought them to her liking.
He had missed two summers. She couldn't imagine how he could do that. Without him, they had been shadow seasons. Feelings were felt thinly, there and then gone. Memories were not made. There was nothing new in sitting on this dock, on this or that wooden bench, watching for his boat to come. In some ways, she was always waiting for him.
She couldn't picture his face when he was gone. Every summer he came back wearing his same face that she could not remember.
Absently, she saw the people on the dock who came, went, and waited. She waved to people she knew, mostly her parents' friends. She felt the wind blow the pounding sun off her shoulders. She slowly dug her thumbnail along a plank of the seat, provoking a splinter but caking up mold and disintegration instead.
When it came to waiting, Riley always had something else to do. Paul was Riley's best friend. Alice knew Riley missed him, too, but she said she didn't like waiting. Alice didn't like it. Nobody did.
But Alice was a younger sister. She didn't have the idea of not doing things because you didn't like them.
She watched for the ferry, the way it started out as a little white triangle across the bay. When it wasn't there, she could hardly imagine it. It was never coming. And then it appeared. It took shape quickly. It was always coming.
She stood. She couldn't help it. She left her book on the bench with its paper cover fluttering open in the wind. Would this be him? Was he on there?
She let her hair out of its elastic. She stretched her tank top down over her hips. She wanted him to see all of her and also none of her. She wanted him to be dazzled by the bits and blinded to the whole. She wanted him to see her whole and not in pieces. She had hopes that were hard to satisfy.
Her legs bounced; her arms clutched her middle. She saw the approach of the middle-aged woman in a pink sarong who taught her mother's yoga class.
"Who are you waiting for, Alice?"
Exposed as she was, the friendly question struck Alice as a cruelty.
"No one," Alice lied awkwardly. The woman's tanned face was as familiar to Alice as the wicker sofa on the screened porch, but that did not mean that Alice knew her name. She knew the lady's poodle was named Albert and that her yoga class was heavy on the chanting. In a place like this, as a child you weren't responsible for the names of grown-ups, though the grown-ups always knew yours. If you were a child, relationships here began asymmetrically, and there rarely came a specific opportunity for reevaluation. You bore the same age relationship to people here no matter how old you got.
The woman looked at Alice's feet, which told the truth. If you were getting on the 3:55, you wore shoes.
Alice self-consciously straggled over to the freight area as though she had some purpose there. She didn't lie easily, and doing it now conferred an unwanted intimacy. She preferred to save her lies for the people whose names she knew.
She couldn't look at the boat. She sat back down on the bench, crossing her arms and her legs and bowing her head.
It was a small village on a small island with customs and rules all its own. "No keys, no wallet, no shoes" was the saying that expressed their summer way of life. There were no cars and -- in the old days, at least -- nobody locked their house. The single place of commerce was the Waterby market, mostly trading in candy and ice cream cones, where your name was your credit and they didn't accept cash. Shoes meant you were coming, going, or playing tennis. Even at the yacht club. Even at parties. There was a community pride in having feet tough enough to withstand the splintering boardwalks. It's not that you didn't get splinters -- you always did. You just shut up about it. Every kid knew that. At the end of each summer, the bottoms and sides of Alice's feet were speckled black with old splinters. Eventually they disappeared; she was never quite sure where they went. "They are reabsorbed," a knowledgeable seven-year-old named Sawyer Boyd told her once.
Everyone's business came through this ferry dock, with rhythms and hierarchies unlike other places. You saw the people as they came and went and waited. You also saw their stuff piled on the dock until they loaded it onto their wagon and rolled it home. You knew what kind of toilet paper they bought. Alice still rated two-ply a luxury more subtle and telling than a person's bag or shoes. You knew that the people with the Fairway bags and the paper products were getting off here in Waterby or in Saltaire. The people getting off in the town of Kismet always had beer.
Cars were conveyors of privacy. Without them, you lived a lot more of your life out in the open. Where you went, who you went with. Who you waited for at the ferry dock. Who you brushed your hair for. You were exposed here, but you were also safe.
The carelessness of the place had always appealed to certain utopian types, even shallow ones. "Get rid of cars and you get rid of global warming, oil wars in the Middle East, obesity, and most crime, too," her father liked to say.
The ferry put an extra emphasis on coming and going. Adults went back and forth all the time, but there had been many summers when Alice and Riley had come and gone only once. They came with their pale skin, haircuts meant to last the summer, their tender feet, and their shyness. They left with brown, freckled, bitten skin; tangly hair; foot bottoms thick like tires; and familiarity verging on rudeness.
She remembered the hellos, and she remembered the good-byes even more. End-of-summer tradition dictated that whoever was last to leave the island saluted departing friends by jumping into the water as the good-bye ferry pulled away.
Now she heard the boat grinding up behind her. She loosened her arms and pressed her hands against the wood. She heard the slapping of the wake against the pilings as the boat came around. She untucked one leg and bounced her free heel on the plank in front of her. | June 2007
Copyright © 2006 Ann Brashares
Ann Brashares is the author of the young adult novels The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, Girls in Pants and Forever in Blue. This is her first novel for adults. She lives in Manhattan and spends summers on Fire Island, New York.