Pete arrived a month after Colin and Tyler had met and moved into their London flat in Chelsea. They were both in college in the fall of 1984, Tyler at Oxford and Colin at vet school.
Early one Saturday morning in October, as the hand-sized, yellowing leaves of the plane trees outside his window began carpeting the cobbled pavement below, Colin was awakened by the downstairs doorbell. He assumed it was Strong, too hammered, as usual, to find his keys. He struggled into a shirt, padded downstairs in his undershorts, threw open the door, and was already turning back toward the stairs when it registered that the person at the door wasn’t, in fact, Tyler, but a wisp of a girl standing beside a massive knapsack. Her face, delicate and angular, was slightly elongated, as if it had been shaped by Modigliani. Her eyes were the color of seawater, shifting between blue and green in the morning light as if tidal and flecked with gold like sunshine on wavelets.
“Hi, I’m Pete!”
Colin stared. He wasn’t actually awake yet.
“I’m Tyler’s girlfriend? From Seattle?”
“Oh. Right…” he said, though he hadn’t a clue why. Tyler hadn’t mentioned a girlfriend in Seattle. “Um, I think he’s still up at Oxford.”
He’d just realized he was standing at the open door, in front of a luminously beautiful young woman, without his trousers. This did not seem to faze the girl in the least.
“May I come in?” the sylph asked.
“Jeez, I’m sorry! Of course you can; I’m a little slow in the morning.” This was an understatement; Colin barely had a pulse in the morning, at least until he’d had his second cup of very strong tea.
“Let me take your backpack; we’re just up the stairs.”
He groaned as he lifted the pack, wondering what in heaven’s name she had in it and how so small a woman, only a couple of inches over five feet, had ever managed to get it here from Heathrow.
“I’m sorry to be so early,” Pete chirped as she closed the door. The apartment was above a space that once had stabled horses and now cosseted a perfectly restored red MG-TC roadster, complete with wire wheels which belonged to their very rich, very spoiled landlord, a lesser Saudi prince.
“It’s just that the overnight flights from the States get in practically at dawn and I didn’t know what else to do.”
Colin’s attention, at this moment, was fixed upon the rear elevation of the perfectly proportioned, almost doll-like woman climbing the stairs ahead of him. She was wearing a nearly ankle-length skirt with a small floral print on a straw-yellow background, a waist-length cotton cardigan the color of French vanilla ice cream, and saddle-tan flats. As she ascended, there was a very slight hitch in her right hip, an asymmetry that gave her a delightful bounce. Long blond hair, almost as pale as the cardigan and parted in the middle, shimmered like a shaft of sunlight between her shoulder blades. Why hadn’t Tyler told him this lovely creature—this “girlfriend”—was coming to visit?
Colin stashed Pete’s pack in a corner of Tyler’s room and settled her on the sofa in the bay window that overlooked their shady cul-de-sac—a “mews” was what the English called it. After he’d pulled on a pair of jeans, he put on some music and went to the kitchen to make tea. When he returned with their mugs the girl was fast asleep, curled like a ginger cat among the worn cushions of the couch. He watched her sparrow-like chest gently rise and fall, her porcelain face childlike in repose. There were the faintest freckles scattered across the bridge of her nose. Her right hand cradled her cheek and the slender fingers of her left hand, the nails neatly manicured but unpainted, draped limply over the seat cushion like tassels. He had never seen anything or anyone so perfect in his life.
He knelt and touched her arm. She jerked awake.
“Oops,” she said, rubbing her eyes and smiling sheepishly. “Jet lag.”
He stood, then handed her a mug of tea.
She peered into the cup and sniffed. “No coffee?”
“Um, no; you’re in England now. The choice is very bad coffee or very good tea. Go for the tea every time; no use trying to resist.”
She smiled. “And it cures jet lag?”
“Actually, no. There is only one known cure.”
“Wrong. A walk. Daylight affects the melatonin in your brain, which in turn tells you when to be awake or asleep. Your melatonin is someplace over the mid-Atlantic, where it’s still dark. You need to let it catch up.
“With a nap,” she repeated, snuggling into the pillows again and giggling.
“With a walk and lots of sunshine which, uncharacteristically for October, seems today to be in ample supply, though I doubt they call it ‘Indian Summer’ over here. A nap, you see, would only worsen your jet lag.”
“What are you, a doctor?”
“Sort of. But the science is very clear on this.” What’s more, I should very much like to spend the rest of the day while you’re in a conscious state, Colin thought to himself.
“So I have a modest proposal,” he continued.
“Didn’t Jonathan Swift have one of those?” the girl said, giggling again. Her laughter reminded him of sleigh bells.
“That was several centuries ago, and I’m not Swift.”
“Oh, I don’t know; you’re doing okay so far…”
Colin was caught off guard.
“And your proposal was…?” she prompted.
He collected himself. “I propose we head out and see what London has to offer us this fine day, while we await Tyler’s return.” He listened to his own words and heard how formal his address had become after a few years in London, how incongruously thick his New York accent still remained, and it flustered him even more.
But the girl sat up and grinned as if it were Christmas. Then her look turned serious.
“May I just ask you a question?”
“Who are you?”
“I mean, you know. Who are you? What’s your name? What are you doing in Tyler’s apartment?”
He had no idea why his roommate had never mentioned him to his girlfriend—any more than he knew why he’d never mentioned the girlfriend. Or that she would be visiting. Or that he wouldn’t be here when she arrived. And yet it didn’t entirely surprise him, either. He’d learned that Tyler Strong, while affable and generous, was chronically unreliable. It often seemed to Colin as if Tyler was perpetually distracted by a narrative that was running parallel with the one in which he appeared to live but attended to only fitfully. Often it was amusing…when it wasn’t annoying. Today, it was annoying.
Colin shook his head, smiled, and introduced himself. They had their tea. And after Pete freshened up in the bathroom, they stepped out into the crisp autumn streets, strolled through Chelsea, and played boulevardiers as they passed the designer shops along Fulham and Brompton roads, until they reached Knightsbridge. Colin guided Pete into that vast brick-red terra cotta palace of luxury, Harrods, and bought them a picnic lunch in the department store’s sprawling ground floor Food Halls, with its acres of cheeses and fish and game and meats and fruits and vegetables and breads, all presented so artfully you’d think the same people who merchandised the designer clothing upstairs did the food floor as well. They ate on a Hyde Park bench beside the long, gently curved lake called the Serpentine.
“How long have you and Tyler been dating?” Colin finally asked.
Pete looked at him and, to his surprise, just shrugged.
He squinted. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
She watched the swans which, like icebreakers plowing through floes, cut wedges of open water through the fallen leaves papering the lake’s surface.
“It means I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“No, not really. The thing is, we’ve just always been together, since childhood. I really don’t know when the ‘dating’ began. You know what I mean?”
Colin didn’t, but said he did.
“He was always there; I was always there. We were always an ‘us.’”
“And you never had a second thought?”
She turned from the swans and looked at him. “No. Not till now.”
He had a momentary rush of hope before she added, “Why’s he not here?”
Every summer for generations, three families intertwined by history, marriage, and career have spent “the season” at their beach cottage compounds on an island in Puget Sound. Today, Martha “Pete” Petersen, married to Tyler Strong, is the lynchpin of the “summer people.” In childhood, she was the tomboy every girl wanted to emulate and is now the mother everyone admires.
Colin Ryan, family friend and the island’s veterinarian, met Pete first in London, years earlier, when she visited his roommate, Tyler. He’s loved her, privately, ever since. Born in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, son of a bar owner, he’s always been dazzled by what he sees of the sun-kissed lives of the summer people.
But this summer, currents strong as the tides roil: jealousies grow, tempers flare, passions clash. Then, on the last day of the season, a series of betrayals alters the combined histories of these families forever.
As in previous novels, The Long Walk Home and Water, Stone, Heart, with Seasons’ End, Will North weaves vivid settings and memorable characters into a compelling tale of romance and suspense.
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Genre – Women's Contemporary Fiction
Rating – PG-13
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