January 31, 2009

Rough Surf

Lucy: The mid-afternoon sun is hazy and heavy on my shoulders as Katie and I step out of the crisp, choppy waves and walk up the beach. Katie's long black hair hangs in wet ringlets down her back. I hastily pull my blond strands into a sloppy loop on top of my head.

"The waves were awesome!," Katie sighs as we reach our beach towels. She collapses onto her sand-splattered towel, dramatically throwing her tanned arm over her eyes.

I turn toward the water, shielding my gaze with my hand. The waves are white-capped and fat, rolling in thick spirals and slamming into one another. A small boy on a wakeboard in the shallow surf falls into the damp sand as a hard wave knocks into his ankles. The rest of the beach is almost deserted, except for a group of high school kids playing volleyball and Katie's mom, Bethany Heeley, who is sitting on a lounge chair a little distance away, reading Us Weekly magazine.

For me, this is a perfect day. I love when the water and the sky are the same shade of gray, when I can't distinguish between the foam of the ocean and the fog in the air. Gray days keep the tourists away, so when I float on the surface of the ocean I can close my eyes and let the tide carry me without having to watch out for sunburned kids wallowing on clunky Styrofoam boogie boards.

Katie props herself up on her elbows and kicks a spray of sand onto the back of my legs. "Hey! Luc! Are you even listening to me?"

Breaking my concentration, I spin around. "What? Oh, sorry Katie." I plop down onto my towel and lay back, gazing up at the humid, still layer of clouds overhead. "I'm so out of it today. The Fed Ex guy woke me up super early and…"

"Wait a minute. Your mom is still getting newspapers delivered to her?" Katie pulls a pair of oversized sunglasses out of her straw beach bag and slides them onto her face. "Is she, like, going crazy or something?"

By now I'm used to her brashness. Katie Heeley is an only child – an only, spoiled child – and she is a good friend, but sometimes she is a little wild – and a little insensitive.

"She's not going crazy," I mumble, exasperated. "At least, I don't think she's going crazy…" I roll away from Katie and onto my side, slowly brushing the sand off my towel with the side of my pinkie finger.

"I dunno…" Katie says in a singsong voice as she lies back on her blanket and adjusts the straps of her bikini. "I saw this lady on Oprah, who went totally crazy after her son died. She, like, adopted all these cats and then one day they found her wandering through the streets in her pajamas with cat litter in her hair."

Rolling my eyes, I begin to speak but then stop myself. Katie wouldn't understand, and I don't feel like trying to make her. I know my mom isn't crazy, and it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. Unless they had lost a son – a brother – no one would understand.

"Anyway, this is depressing." Katie says, rolling over onto her stomach and rifling through her bag. "Want me to ask my mom if she'll take us to Chez Amis for dinner? They have the best garlic bread ever."

"Um, yeah, sure." I sit up and lean over to grab my sandals as Katie shouts her dinner request to her mother.

"That's fine honey!" Bethany Heeley calls out without looking up from her magazine.

"Thanks Mommy!" Katie calls back, then turns to me. "It's expensive. But don't worry, my mom will pay for you," she says as she pulls on an Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt.

I cringe. Katie isn't shy about bringing up the differences between our families. While Katie's dad, Robert Heeley, is a successful businessman who practically lives at his office, and Bethany Heeley is the town's queen socialite who spends all her time planning fundraisers and community events, my mom is now a receptionist at a law firm during the day, and three nights a week she works as a Merry Maid, cleaning offices downtown. And although the check Dad sends every month helps us make ends meet, his salary as a park ranger doesn't stretch very far.

"I mean, my mom always says how, like, bad she feels for you and your mom," Katie whispers so her mom won't hear. She snaps open her cell phone and scrolls through the missed calls. "Like, what a loser your dad is, right? To just leave you and your mom to go play in the forest like a Boy Scout or - yuck! Why is Jason Keller calling my phone?" Katie clicks her phone off in disgust and throws it into her bag. "I mean, get over it, stalker. Sorry, what was I saying?"

I shove the final edge of my damp beach towel into my bag with such force that I hear the seams pop. Katie is the last person I want to talk to about my dad. Actually, I don't want to talk about him with anyone. Katie's words ring in my ears: I mean, get over it…

I am. Sort of.

"You were saying how good Chez Amis' garlic bread was. I'm siked – I'm starving!" I sling my bag over my shoulder and begin walking up the beach toward the wooden plank walkway that leads back to the parking lot.

Katie furrows her brow in thought. "Did I say something wrong?" she mutters. Then, with a shrug of her tanned shoulders, she yells, "Hey, wait up!" and sprints up the beach after me.

Katie Calling

Lucy: I jump across my bed and reach over to grab the phone from my nightstand.

"Where ARE you?" my best friend Katie whines into my ear before I can even say hello. I can hear seagulls screeching in the background and the sound of the waves. I can picture Katie on the other end of the line, tossing her long black curls to one side and applying lip gloss while lying on her beach towel.

"I'm coming, I'm coming!" I reply, ducking down and peering below my bed for my missing pair of flip-flops. "I'll meet you at the beach in ten minutes."

"OK but hurry. I'm soooo bored right now!" Katie sighs.

Katie is always "soooo" something, I think with a smile. "Soooo" tired or "soooo" excited or "soooo" angry. Maybe that's why she's been my best friend for "soooo" long - since we were six, when Katie's dad's real estate company constructed the Fort Myers Paradise mega-mall downtown and her family moved into a huge house on a hill overlooking Fort Myers Beach.

"I promise, I'm hurrying!" I snap my phone shut just as I find my second flip-flop behind a pile of dirty clothes. Slipping it on, I grab my beach bag and run out the door to grab my bike, leaving my thoughts behind me.

January 27, 2009

Looking Back...

As I change into my bathing suit – a new Roxy lavender two-piece with turquoise sequins lining the edges – I can’t help but think about how different my life has turned out. Just four years ago, my family was pretty conventional. I was ten years old, living with both my parents, Bonnie and Mark Malone, here in Ft. Myers, Florida.

It sometimes got crowded in our shoebox-sized house, but all in all it fit our family fine because my older brother Billy, a 25-year-old financial adviser, lived with his new wife Gretchen and their newborn son Andrew across the country in Milford, Connecticut.

But then Billy died in a car accident on his way to his New York City office. The details are fuzzy in my memory – as if someone has covered them with a blanket – but I know that a garbage truck ran a red light and smashed into four cars, one of them Billy’s. It became a huge news story in Connecticut, and there was a big criminal trial against the company that owned the truck. That’s when my mom began to read all the Connecticut newspapers – to feel close to the story, and to help make sense of it all.

After the accident, my mom and dad became very distant from each other – and from me. Dad, who had been a lawyer for almost 30 years, began to spend more time hiking and kayaking and less time at the office. Mom, who wrote children's books, kept missing her deadlines, until she finally stopped writing completely. And that’s when Dad decided to get an apartment of his own.

I felt a little lost – and honestly, a little mad at Billy. And guilty for feeling mad. I loved my brother, and I was devastated when he died. But Billy had been more like a distant uncle than an older brother to me. He was 15 when I was born, and he moved to Massachusetts to go to Harvard University when I was only three. I saw him on some holidays, and on my birthdays he would always send me really fancy gold jewelry that I would never wear, but other than that, Billy was a stranger.

I used to think that when I was old enough for Billy to finally stop treating me like a kid, we would be best friends. Like real brothers and sisters. Billy would help teach me how to drive, or give my first boyfriend the third degree on the front porch, or call me just to talk. But now that was impossible. And if I felt like an only child before, I really was just "only" now.

The high-pitched sound of my cell phone ringing snaps me back into reality.

January 25, 2009

Billy's Scrapbook

Lucy: Ever since my older brother Billy died, my house has been overrun by newspapers. My mother keeps them in stacks in the basement on two long wooden tables that we used to use for wrapping Christmas presents. At first, she was subscribing to every newspaper in Connecticut – which is where Billy lived. By now, she has canceled them all and only gets week-old copies from the reporter she has made friends with, John Bainbridge. I think she just reads them out of habit – stories about my brother’s accident are long gone.

“Mom, you down there?”

The basement door creaks softly as I slowly pulled it open, peering down into the hazy light. No response. Shifting the large stack of papers from one arm to the other, I walk halfway down the basement stairs and peer out through the banister rails. There's my mom, snuggled into my father’s old brown recliner, her powder-blue robe pulled tightly around her curled-up legs and a pile of old photographs littered around her on the floor.

“Mom.” I say flatly, trying to get her attention. When she doesn’t look up, I clamber down the rest of the stairs and drop the stack of papers onto the concrete floor near her feet. “Here.”

Startled, she finally looks up. “Oh! Oh, good morning, honey.” She pulls her reading glasses off her face and smiles up at me. “Sleep well?”

“Well, until the FedEx man scared me to death by knocking like a maniac!” I sigh, plopping down onto the floor with my legs folded beneath me. “Didn’t you hear it?”

“No, I guess I didn’t,” Mom says, sliding her glasses back on. “I was looking at these pictures of Billy’s sixth birthday.” She runs her finger along the edge of the worn photo. “He was so excited because we were going to have a pony. But when it got here, we realized our backyard was too small, and the pony didn’t even have room to turn around!” She laughs softly. “The kids just took turns sitting on its back…”

I sit quietly as she speaks, picking up faded photos from the floor and arranging them in neat stacks. Billy riding a tricycle… Billy opening presents under a tinsel-covered Christmas tree… Billy proudly holding up a tiny silver fish hanging from a fishing line…

Finally, I clear my throat, interrupting her. “Maybe you should put these away for a while, Mom…” I say softly, picking up a pile and returning them to the old shoebox where Mom keeps them. But Mom reaches over and puts her hand on my wrist, suspending my hand in the air.

“Lucy… I’m sorry, but I’m just not ready yet.” She sighs. “I wish I was, but I’m not.”

I stare up into her face. It has aged so quickly these past few years. Her blue eyes seem gray and tired, and deep lines have formed across her forehead and around her mouth. Her thick black hair, which she always pulls back into a long, low braid, is beginning to show hints of silver. I think Mom is still beautiful – like she was in the old photographs of her and my dad as they drove across the country right after they got married – but now, she just looks defeated.

“Ok Mom, I’m sorry.” I reach up and give her a tight hug. “I’ll let you be. It’s a good thing I got up early anyway. I’m going to the beach with Katie this morning.”

“Well, have fun and be safe.” Mom says, giving me a final squeeze. I place the photos back on the floor and stand up, turning toward the stairs.

“Hey Luc?”

At the top step, I pause and slowly turned around. Mom is standing at the bottom of the stairs. “So John sent these papers?” she asks.

“Um, yep.” I turn quickly toward the door, trying to avoid further questions.

“And… well, he didn’t write a note this time?”

I feel my face get hot and red, so I don’t turn back around. “Not that I saw!” I call out, quickly jumping up the last step and running across the kitchen. I don’t hear Mom sigh, and I don’t see her begin to sift through the seven-day stack of papers, looking for the missing Post-It. Instead, I race to my room to call my best friend Katie to see if she’s ready to head to the beach.

January 24, 2009

Old News

Lucy: The man in a FedEx shirt and cap smiles. He lifts up a white box and shakes it lightly with one hand, holding out a plastic screen with a pen in the other. I open the screen the door and grab the pen, scribbling my name on the green screen – Lucy Malone.

As FedEx man turns back to his truck, I step out into the hazy sun. The street in front of our house looks wrinkled in the steam rising from the pavement. The small patch of grass that makes up our front yard is yellow-tipped and fried brown in some spots. It must already be 80 degrees.

I sit down on the top step of the porch and stretch my legs out in front of me, hoisting the package into my lap.

It's addressed to my mom, Bonnie Malone, but I tug the box's little cardboard tab anyway. And as soon as I open it, I know exactly what's inside. I can smell it – the musty scent of newspaper. Reaching inside, I pull out a stack of seven fat newspapers. The Hartford Courant. The same package came every Saturday – a week’s worth of papers from Connecticut. On top of the stack was a little yellow Post-It note:

Dear Bonnie: Another week has gone by, but unfortunately there hasn‘t been much excitement here in the newsroom. I had to cover a story about the Boy Scout Camporee last weekend – you know, I get all the breaking, hard-hitting stories. I wonder if I can still be considered a fledgling reporter at age 47. Oh well, my break will come. Hopefully yours will come too. All the best – John.

I pull the note off the stack of papers and stick it to my finger, waving it in the air like a tiny flag of surrender. Every week this stranger's notes seem to get a little more relaxed, a little more personal… Is he trying to flirt with my mother?

The sun is beating down on my bare shoulders. I can already see a light pink blush forming down my arms and across my kneecaps. Standing up, I gather the thick pile of papers into my arms… and as an afterthought, I crumble the tiny note into a ball and flick it off the steps into the bushes. Then I step back inside.

January 23, 2009

A Rude Awakening


Lucy: At first I think the banging is part of my dream. In it, I'm on the American Idol stage for some reason, about to read one of my short stories to Randy, Paula and Simon. I'm wearing the pair of ratty old Strawberry Shortcake pajamas I loved when I was five, and big lipstick-pink high heels. My heart is knocking in my chest. But right when I’m about to take the microphone from Ryan Seacrest:


“Mooooooom, someone’s at the door!” I groan, grabbing my feather pillow out from behind my head and pulling it over my face.

The loud, continuous knocking finally stops. Thank goodness!, I think, putting the pillow back behind my head and pulling my white cotton blanket up to my chin. The hot Florida sun is already creeping around the corners of the thick white window shades, casting a rusty ribbon of light across the wall. I sigh deeply, snuggling back down into the cool blankets. Then suddenly --



Reluctantly, I pry open my left eye and push a few stands of my tangled straw-colored hair off my sweaty forehead. My mom, who was clearly not planning on answering the door, had also clearly forgotten to turn on the air conditioner – again.

As my blurry eyes finally begin to focus, I strain to make out the glowing green numbers of the digital clock on my nightstand. Oh no it’s not. It is NOT seven-thirty in the morning on a Saturday. With a huge sigh that I hope my mom can hear from wherever she is hiding in the house, I fling the blankets off my legs and plant my feet on the bare wood floor with a loud thud.

“Coming, coming, coming!”

I make my way down the hall, trying to rub the fog from my eyes. The rest of the house is still in shadows. Dust particles float motionless in the hot air as I stumble my way to the front door. The bathroom ceiling fan whirs softly, and Rufus, our old yellow lab, lays curled up on the cool tile floor near the shower.

Whoever is knocking certainly is persistent – the front screen door is rattling on its hinges with every rap. “Mom?” I call out again into the stillness, softer this time. No answer. The house seemed deserted.

I quietly open the front door and peer out through a tiny slit between the door and its frame.


The Drama Begins

Lucy: But before that. Before Connecticut, before the drama, before the Sisters, there was Ft. Myers.

I was happy in Ft. Myers. Right before we moved, I was finally feeling like life was getting back to normal. I was getting used to the quiet house, the phone calls from Dad, the forced happiness of Mom. I thought everything would actually be OK.

And then ... something shifted. At first it felt the way it does when you’re standing up straight and someone comes over and pushes in the back of your knees – your whole body feels wobbly and, for a split second, you lose your place in reality. Now that I look back, the day started out all wrong. I should have taken it as a sign…

January 19, 2009

Coming to Connecticut

Lucy: I met each of the girls at pretty much the same time, when I moved to South Haven, Connecticut from Ft. Myers, Florida last summer, right before starting 8th grade. I came to South Haven with my mom and my two labs - Samantha the hyper black one, and Rufus the "mellow yellow." It was just us four in our two-bedroom apartment because my parents had gotten divorced that spring.

The divorce was kind of expected, as much as things like that are ever really expected, because my dad had been living at his own apartment for about a year. Dad said it was so that he could be closer to work - he's a ranger at Everglades National Park - but I knew it was because he and mom had spent months and months floating by each other without saying a word. It was almost like they turned themselves to ghosts when my older brother Billy died ... But that's another story for some other time.

In Ft. Myers, we lived in this tiny white bungalow house that had four rooms – two bedrooms, a kitchen and a den – a closet-sized bathroom and a rickety front porch that was crowded with potted plants and outdoor sports equipment like surfboards, kayaks, mountain bikes and rollerblades. Strings of white lights in the shape of stars made a spider web on the porch’s overhang, and a walkway of broken white shells led from the cement steps to the metal front gate.

“It’s like living in our own life-size gingerbread house,” Mom would joke.

The house was small and cozy, and I loved it. On Sundays when I was little, Dad would take me on walks through the sand dunes and let quarters drop at his feet for me to find. “Looks like a pirate left us a trail to his booty,” he would say, a crooked grin on his face.

Mom would bring me to the used bookstore around the corner and let me pick out novels that she called “pre-loved.” I could ride my bike to school and to the beach, and one of my best friends since I was two years old, Brandon Bennett, lived right next door.

I get sad thinking about Ft. Myers, especially when I think about the day Mom told me we were moving to Connecticut. "A fresh start!" she exclaimed excitedly, flipping through this big Nutmeg State Tourism Guide as I sat in disbelief in my pajamas at the kitchen table. I just remember seeing all these unfamiliar pictures of covered bridges, lighthouses and, most disturbingly, snow, and I knew my life would never be the same.

Introducing Lucy Malone

It's pretty amazing the way your likes and dislikes can change so drastically as you grow up. For example, I used to hate mushrooms, and now I ask for them on top of everything from salads to hamburgers. And Taylor Swift. I used to make it clear that I hated country music in all forms. But when I actually listened to "Love Story," I, well, fell in love with it.

Finally, take my best friends in the entire world - Sara, Ellie, Hannah, Angelica and Gwynn. Not that I hated them when I first met them, but I wasn't putting any of them on my list of favorite things. And today, we couldn't be closer - which is why we're telling our story together.

But let me back up so you don't think I met these great girls and automatically didn't like them. That definitely wasn't the case - well, on my end anyway. I'll let them tell you their own feelings.