The girls ambled along, telling stories, but as soon as they reached the huge old oak that signified the borderline of the Kellys’ property, Carla would shout “See you!” and take off like a shot. Sometimes she’d glance over her shoulder and Tessa would still be watching her, her pale hair framing her beautiful face. Even when Tessa called out, “Wait! Carly! I’ll walk you all the way home!” Carla kept running. Where she came from was so plain, so ordinary, she didn’t want Tessa to see it and think less of her. Carla’s mother was upset with her because she was never home anymore, but who could blame her for choosing the Coopers’ cottage over her own house? As for Marian Kelly, she didn’t like what she was hearing about Ava Cooper, who was going around town looking for work, chatting people up, offering free cakes to the folks at Hightop Inn and the coffee shop and even at the Jack Straw Bar and Grill as she looked for a position that would pay the bills.

“What’s she like?” Marian asked Carla.

“She’s an amazing baker.” Carla knew enough to keep her descriptions brief. No stories of Seven Deadly Sins cakes, particularly Lust Cake, a lemon poppy seed triple layer with sugary frosting that was impossible to resist. She wisely failed to mention that Tessa carelessly walked around town wearing little more than her underwear, unaware that this might be considered unusual. She certainly didn’t tell her mother that Ava served them coffee at breakfast or that on that very first night, when the Coopers had moved into the cottage and there were still unpacked boxes stacked everywhere, Ava had allowed the girls small glasses of champagne and they’d all made a giddy toast. Once Carla let slip that Tessa’s father was an actor, but she quickly fell quiet when she saw the look on her mother’s face.

ON SATURDAYS CARLA never went to the Coopers. “I’ll meet you at the river before supper,” she told Tessa. When asked why she was never around on Saturdays, she said only that she had family obligations, or errands to run. The truth was she had to report to the gas station. She prayed Ava Cooper’s station wagon didn’t need gas while she was at work. Carla counted the minutes while she sat behind the cash register or helped her father bleed the brakes on Leo Mott’s Chrysler. Her brother, Johnny, often had a hangover, and when he was in a bad mood, Carla stayed away from him. He was the sort of young man who could charm someone one minute and have a fistfight with him the next. He had the up-and-down personality many of the Kellys were said to have. Women couldn’t stay away from him.

Carla bolted her lunch while working the cash register and ducked her head when a group of girls she knew from the high school walked by. One of the girls, Madeline Hall, was sent in by the others to ask if Johnny was around. They were all much too young for him, yet they yearned for him, or who they thought he was. They’d become something of a fan club.

“He’s in the back working,” Carla said.

“Well, we’re all going to the movies in Lenox next weekend,” Madeline told her. “You could come, too, and bring Johnny.”

“Thanks, but no thanks,” Carla replied.

Before, she would have died for an invitation. Now she had plans with Tessa. Carla sat there the rest of the day dreamily biding her time. She had her bathing suit on under her clothes. As soon as the clock hit five, she headed out.

The high school girls were gathered on the steps of the library when she passed by. “Hey, Carla,” one of them called. It was Jennifer Starr. “Don’t forget the movies next Saturday.”

Carla wished those girls would disappear into thin air. They were so small-town in their shorts and T-shirts, their hair braided or pushed back with headbands. They’d never been anywhere at all, let alone seen Manhattan. They probably didn’t even know who Jack Kerouac was. And they certainly didn’t have Tessa Cooper as their best friend.


As it turned out, Tessa seemed to need Carla just as much as Carla needed her. She had confided that she was frightened of crowds. She grew uneasy on buses and in theaters. Sometimes she couldn’t speak in class. She became totally tongue-tied. She was smart and beautiful and there was no reason for her to be shy, but she was.

“Don’t worry,” Carla had assured her. “We’ll be in all the same classes. If you can’t speak, I’ll just say you have laryngitis.”

Tessa had thrown her new friend a grateful look.

CARLA CUT THROUGH the woods after work. She followed along the marsh where there were cattails and the ground turned spongy. There were little frogs in the puddles and white butterflies with green specks on paper-thin wings circling the purple thistle. The sun was like honey, falling in splashes. It was a relief not to be on Main Street, in her father’s gas station, where everyone knew her and everything about her. Carla hadn’t imagined the ways in which her life might follow a different path until the Coopers moved into the museum cottage. Since then she’d been seized with the impulse to create a more intriguing persona for herself. Lately, everything seemed brand-new, including Blackwell, even though Carla knew every street and lane.

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