It might have been a glorious beach day. Horned larks looked happy among the plum and bayberry shrubs, yellow sunflowers, and purple roses. The blue waters of the Long Island Sound were as beguiling as the landscape. Young men were perched on railings that glistened under the glare of the sun—ogling, whistling, and confessing their undying love. I witnessed this phenomenon whenever I walked to and from the bus stop in my school uniform, and came to realize I could easily disrupt traffic and possibly cause a collision.
I had never achieved a placid familiarity with the horn-honking and people clamoring for my attention. I had spent many years feeling like the ugly duckling muddling haplessly through the dark green marsh. If I had advanced from there at all, it was to become the tiniest winged critter, never able to keep up with the flock, and never certain I wanted to.
My metamorphosis was magical. I had the same golden brown hair—by then almost waist length—the same hazel eyes, coveted high cheekbones, enviable skin, and ravishing lips as before, but it had all become relevant! I believed I had willed and constructed this change. More accurately, I’d grown into my beauty, and my painstaking efforts to straighten my thick, wavy tresses made no difference. People looked mostly at my chest. I was a busty girl of five-foot-four who kept herself trim and toned with exercise.
Pain hindered my walking that day.
“We should rent a summer beach house here—or a cabin,” Farran said. “You met those two older guys here the other day, didn’t you? The ones you made a date with?”
“Yeah, one of them was thirty,” my cousin Angie chimed in. “The other guy was twenty-nine.” Her angelic voice was a touch above a whisper.
“Well, they knew you were both sixteen, didn’t they?”
“Yes, they knew,” I replied.
Mental images intruded—gold crucifix chains upon masculine chests. I had noticed those chains from the moment the men approached us on the beach. Perhaps I had an ingrained trust in that sacred symbol. I shouldn’t have. People wore things for different reasons. We adorned our arms with plastic jelly bracelets in neon colors because Madonna wore them, and she was the most fussed-about pop star. She also wore crucifix chains, which Angie and I had displayed with devotion since childhood.
We spread out our blankets in the middle of the beach. All eyes were on me when I stripped down to my halter-style swim top. In light of the ensuing commotion, I decided to keep the shorts on.
“With you around, I get no respect for my B-cup,” Farran complained. I saw the twinkle in her electric blue eyes when she smiled. Her high-cut one-piece elongated her pretty legs and flattered her figure. She was taller than me, with a nice head of light brown, shoulder-length hair that she often wore in a ponytail or chignon.
“What about me? I have nothing,” Angie lamented. She left her shorts on as well, with a skimpy bandeau top.
Angie and I had grown up together in Glastonbury. We’d been in the same classes since kindergarten. In a couple of weeks, we’d be seniors at the same high school. She was an inch shorter than I was, and always in sneakers, jellies, or flip-flops. Her dark hair was past shoulder length, framing a heart-shaped face and prominent brown eyes.
All three of us wanted admiration and, yes, adoration—from males, especially. When it became uncomfortable, I figured I wasn’t used to it. At the same time, I preferred being uncomfortable to being ridiculed and shamed.
I don’t recall which of the two men that day had asked what country I was from, insisting he detected a trace of European, and possibly Latin, in my New England accent. This extravagant attention to every detail did more than flatter me—I felt like it validated my existence. I’m certain I had blushed when I assured him I was a Connecticut native from Glastonbury.
“The whole thing was a nightmare,” I blurted out, as if Farran and Angie had been following my thoughts.
“A nightmare! Why?” Farran looked at Angie, probably to gauge her reaction. “Wait, I thought it was a date you all went on yesterday? I mean, you were both there, right? Angie said she liked the guy.”
Yes, Angie had liked Phil, the muscular, tattooed one with the mustache and short blond curls. When she’d unexpectedly begun kissing him, I had wanted to pull her away and shout, “What the hell has gotten into you?” She had always been painfully shy, but while surrendering to Phil’s embrace, there were moans coming out of that girl that she would not likely have emitted in private, let alone in a room with three other people.
I remembered how horrified we’d both been in seventh grade when a group of boys from our class began following girls to the bus stop. They would wait for an opportunity to grab a girl, and then pull her into the bushes or woods. They did whatever they could get away with before she broke free. Angie and I had had to walk, sometimes run, in a different direction, and wait until they were gone before we could return to our bus stop. They never caught us. When I told my brothers, they made it stop.
Angie and I had clung to our perception of that sacrosanct bequest—being “saved” for the right person. Our parents had never talked to us about defiled reputations or unwanted pregnancies, but in school, there were proclamations that only bad girls welcomed attention from boys. I didn’t think Angie had intended to go beyond kissing, but these men could not have known that. She had this tranquilizing humility, and though she kept her composure now, I could see a trace of fear in her large, haunted eyes. Could Farran not see it, or was I wrong about that, too?
“It was supposed to be a date, just to Pleasure Beach,” I explained. We sat on the blanket. I used some of Angie’s lotion on my already bronzed skin.
Farran applied sunblock. “Pleasure Beach … my parents used to go there back in the fifties.”
Things came to me in shadowy flashes. Phil had carried Angie away, and I was alone with the other guy. Sergio was his name. Though I did think he was cute with his close-cropped brown hair, brown eyes, and pencil-thin mustache, I was not attracted to him. I had felt dizzy trying to stand. The room spun, and I fell back on the sofa with only a blurred impression of the room. Sergio’s voice sounded like it was a distance away. I couldn’t see his face.
“They told us they’d forgotten their camera and wanted to stop and get it, since it wasn’t far,” I explained. “It might have been one of the beach cottages on Long Beach West. I had to fight them …”
Yet I remembered them driving us home. Angie was in the front seat, talking to Phil, who was driving. She appeared to be okay. Sergio was in the back with me. I had slept most of the time, with my head resting on his shoulder. We’d gone over that rickety bridge.
“Come on, Dani!” Farran’s smile was ingenuous. “Sounds like you had some wild experience that maybe got out of control, and you’re feeling guilty. You shouldn’t. Guys would be celebrating! I mean, you can’t take it back. It sounds like that’s what you’re trying to do. Maybe it’s time you grew up. I’m serious! Don’t be such a baby!” She laughed.
Farran was generous with smiles and laughter, right down to the wrinkling of her nose and an occasional wink. I imagined those eyes would shine until her dying day, and she would forever be as lovable and sweet as she was. I adored her. With her self-deprecating humor, people liked her in an instant. I expected boys to be falling all over her. What I didn’t understand was their interest in me. My assets were merely the luck of the draw.
“It was horrible,” I insisted. “I thought about going to the police.”
She looked dumbfounded, and that solidified for me the idea that going to the police would be futile.
I looked to Angie, and she didn’t avert her eyes. Those dark pools were now an ocean, with depths I couldn’t fathom. I saw her concern for me. Farran seemed to latch onto how Angie hadn’t confirmed any of it, but she ignored that Angie never denied it. Still, I backed down. My sense of reality had been undermined, but I didn’t doubt what I’d recalled, not for a moment.
Farran grabbed her radio, reminding me of how she and I would sing at the beach. When she turned up the volume, I looked away.
I thought about my family.
My dad had liked this beach when we were kids. It was Hammonasset in Madison, a two-mile stretch from Tom Creek on the western end to the Hammonasset River and Clinton Harbor on the east. He used to take us to West Beach. We were on East Beach now, which we preferred. It was quieter, with fewer kids.
The waves were no more than one or two feet, and I liked the gentle breeze. I loved watching the birds—osprey, piping plovers, sandpipers, willets, snowy egrets, and all the amazing herons. Birds resonated with me.
Innocent singing on the beach was a pleasant memory, as were family days when we searched for shells and copper scraps, marveling at starfish. Joey liked big-clawed hermit crabs and breaking rocks on the pier to find garnets. Uncle Dom usually brought a kite to fly—Angie’s favorite thing. Joey and Robbie played Frisbee. There were coolers with food and drinks. When the adults had had enough sun, we packed up and moved over to a picnic table in the shade. We could spend hours at the beach and still not want to go home—until Robbie had about had it with the stinging black flies that came up from the marshes. By his reaction, you would have thought they targeted him alone.
“Are you okay, Dani?” Angie was searching my eyes.
“She’s fine,” Farran assured her.
I held back tears. “They keep calling me. They called me five times when I got back from the so-called date and a few more times this morning.”
“Well, tell ‘em to call me,” Farran quipped.
“I don’t want them calling!”
“Dani?” Angie called out.
“I’m okay.” I didn’t know what else to say.
Her wide-stretched lips eased into a smile, endearing her to me, as always.
Farran, however, was off on another tangent. “Hey, we’re not far from Marauders Cove. It’s about twenty minutes from here. Isn’t that where your brother, Joey, hangs out? And doesn’t he live only two blocks from there?”
“He hangs out with bikers,” I reminded her.
“I know.” She beamed.
“Besides, you have to be twenty-one.”
“Well, Joey’s not twenty-one.”
“He will be in a couple of months.”
She waved if off, flashing an ear-to-ear grin. “Danielle, Marauders Cove is an old-fashioned pub owned by the McGrath family. I practically grew up with them.”
Yes, and the McGrath family included Mike McGrath, my first and only love—someone I had always been able to trust. The mention of his name now evoked a twinge of melancholia that fanned the flames of my anguish.
“I’m sure your brother will be looking after you anyway, and so will his friends,” she went on. “I can get us phony proof. Hey, I’m starting college in the fall! It’s a rite of passage!”
This behavior was typical of Farran. She thought nothing of suggesting we hitchhike to the beach if we didn’t have a ride. Thankfully, a neighbor of hers had given us a ride that day. The plan was to meet up with the woman by three-thirty at Joshua Rock, just to the east of the park entrance.
“I’m not sure we should be barhopping,” I said.
“Oh, please.” She lit a cigarette, took a long drag, and exhaled. “You are always so uptight, Dani. You have to live a little.”
I wanted to address the absurdity of that second statement, but I didn’t know where to begin.
“School starts in a couple of weeks. It’s probably our last beach day. We gotta do something for excitement—like meet up with people. Maybe if I were a total knockout, I could sit home and wait for them to beat down my door, but that ain’t gonna happen.” She laughed. “Hey, I’m surprised you didn’t bring one of your car magazines. Still looking for a Nissan?” She was making nice, I could see, piling on the sugar.
“Yeah. I’m hoping by my birthday I will finally pass the road test.”
“Third time’s the charm, right?”
Angie laughed, a gentle laughter, but I saw the change in her. She looked more fragile to me.
Deadly Veils Book One: Shattering Truths was originally published as Deadly Veils: Book One: Provenance of Bondage copyright © October 2015 by Kyrian Lyndon. The revised edition, Deadly Veils: Book One: Shattering Truths was published in December 2016. Cover design by KH Koehler Design.