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The Seaside Library
Author: Brenda Novak




   Mariners Island seemed like an empty movie set—cheerful and pristine but merely a facade—until the season hit. Then it was as if a director had screamed “Action!” and a flood of tourists rushed in with the tide.

   After a long, dreary winter, Ivy Hawthorne couldn’t wait for the warm days of summer. She loved the sun and the sand and the happy vacationers who flocked to the island’s expensive summer houses, pristine beaches and exclusive shops and restaurants. The influx made for a nice change of pace, especially this year, when fog and bad weather had cut off the island from the mainland more often than usual, curtailing the activity of the supply boats and planes that would otherwise have come in and out on a more regular basis.

   After such a hard winter, summer was literally a breath of fresh air. But this year it promised even more than the usual excitement. Ivy was looking forward to seeing Ariana Prince, a lifelong friend who’d grown up with her on Mariners. Ariana lived in New York City these days, and although there were plenty of direct flights, only an hour long, she’d stopped visiting the island regularly a decade ago—about the time she’d graduated from Yale.

   She didn’t stay in touch very often anymore, either. Until a few weeks ago, she’d worked as an editor for one of the bigger publishers in the city and insisted she couldn’t get away. But Ivy ran the only library on the island. She understood how the book industry worked. August was slow because it fell between the big sales periods, so it was the month most editors took vacation. Ariana could’ve come back for a few days or a week every August—if she’d wanted to.

   At least she was coming now. And not only for a week. She’d be on Mariners all summer. Ivy hoped it would seem like old times. But she couldn’t avoid a certain amount of trepidation. Ariana had quit her job, but she’d been elusive as to the reason, what she planned to do next and if she’d be going back to New York when the summer was over. Why? And why was she returning this summer when she’d missed so many others?

   Given the recent headlines, Ivy had a sinking feeling she knew what was drawing her friend. But she was loath to even think of the decision they’d made so many years ago. What was done was done. She didn’t want to second-guess herself. She and Ariana had acted according to what they felt was right at the time.

   Shoving the memory she’d suppressed for two decades back into the farthest recesses of her brain, she tried to shake off the attendant anxiety. Hopefully, they wouldn’t even have to talk about the past.

   But when her phone went off as she glanced at the clock hanging on the wall over the popular fiction section—because she was expecting Ariana to walk in any second—it seemed rather portentous that it was the only other person who’d been involved in what’d happened their junior year.


   “There you are.”

   Cam Stafford sounded as casual as he always did. But the timing of his call made the anxiety she’d been fighting worse. “What’s up?” she asked.

   “Melanie said she ran into Ariana’s grandmother at Anchors Away when she went to pick up my lunch. Did you know that Ariana’s coming to the island?”

   Ivy froze. Melanie was Cam’s wife of four years. He was the only one out of the three of them who was married, and it was seeing Melanie with their child around the island so often that had convinced Ivy to leave everything as it was, despite what was being reported on the news. “Um...yeah. I’ve been meaning to tell you. Ariana called me a few days ago and said she’d be here for the summer.”

   “Why didn’t she call me?”

   Deep down, he had to at least suspect the reason, didn’t he? They’d tried to move on after what’d happened, and for a while everything had seemed fine. As teenagers, the secret the three of them shared might even have brought them closer. They’d both admired Cam and were so certain, so defiant of any doubt.

   But after graduation everything began to change, and with change came an increase in tension. It was almost as if that night had put an invisible rubber band around the three of them. As they moved on with their lives and grew apart, it stretched and stretched until...what? Would it finally snap, allowing them to live their lives unencumbered by the friendship and loyalty that’d bound them so far? Or would that rubber band suddenly contract and pull the three of them back together?

   Was that what Ariana’s return meant? Was it the past that’d finally brought her back to Mariners?

   “She probably expected me to tell you,” Ivy said, implying it was an oversight. “I’ve just been so darn busy that...you know...I kept putting it off, thinking I’d talk to you soon and...”

   She let her words dwindle away because she couldn’t come up with a strong finish. She could’ve texted him, at least. And yet...something had stopped her. Lately, even before the news broke, she’d found herself avoiding him in general.

   “How can she stay all summer?” he asked as if she hadn’t given him the most unbelievable and stilted response ever. “What about her job?”

   “Apparently, she no longer has one. She told me she quit.”

   “Why? I thought she loved her work.”

   “She loves books. Maybe she’d rather write one.”

   “She’s coming here to write?”

   “Who knows? But if anyone could come up with the next Great American Novel, she could.” Ariana was both talented and clever. But she was also a sensitive person and tended to worry more about morally gray areas than most people. That was what had Ivy on edge. Maybe that night twenty years ago had been weighing on Ariana the whole time, or she’d changed her mind about the morality of what they’d done.

   That wouldn’t be good news for Cam. Especially now.

   After maintaining the lie they’d told for so long, it wouldn’t be good news for Ivy, either.

   “Her grandmother’s getting pretty frail,” Ivy continued. “Ariana could be coming to spend time with her.”

   “Or she could be looking for a place to regroup while she decides what to do with the rest of her life,” he said.

   “True. She didn’t tell me. She’d barely said she was coming to the island when she got another call and had to hang up.”

   “When will she be here?”

   Ivy hesitated but ultimately didn’t feel she had any reason to act like she didn’t know. Ostensibly, nothing had changed among the three of them. She could simply be creating problems. “Today.”

   “Today?” he echoed in surprise.

   “Yeah. She should be stopping by the library any minute.”

   “Are you two going out tonight? If so, can I join you?”

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