Since It Happened

Anne-Marie’s mother truly wanted what was best for her daughter. Wanted her to have all the adventures and excitements Mom had never had herself. Which is why, the year Anne turned sixteen, despite what had happened the year before, Mom agreed to a second summer at the beach. The family would stay on Hatteras this time—or, sort of on Hatteras, their rental a little west of the Cape—not up in the northern Outer Banks like the previous summer. No. They wouldn’t stay next to all those drunken college kids again. All those even drunker adults. Not after what had happened the last time. “Dad blew that whole thing out of proportion,” Anne said, taking her mother’s hand. “It wasn’t even like what he said. You know how he is.”

“I know,” Mom said, and wondered if she did.

Mom was sitting in a coffee shop a couple of days later, the sun strong and high for the first time in what seemed like forever, when the woman sitting next to her leaned over and said, “Isn’t this weather wonderful?” All the mothers in the neighborhood had been dying for the longer days to arrive, for the first pink buds to sprout and the summer pollen to infuse the air. “It’s a godsend,” Anne’s mother said. “My husband and I, we hadn’t planned on it, but we were just thinking that when the kids get out of school next week, we were thinking of just, you know, just taking off for the Outer Banks, just load everyone up in the car and go. We didn’t rent a place yet, but our kids really want to go. They’re at that stage, you know. One minute they’re digging for Blackbeard’s treasure, the next they’re going out on dates.” The woman next to Mom leaned closer.

“You know,” she said, and Anne’s mother sipped her espresso and listened while the woman told her about a friend of a friend who owned a house on a tiny private island west of Avon. “A private island sounds all fancy,” the woman said, “but really it’s just a small bar of sand off the Cape. It’s so close you can practically swim to it. For us old folks, though”—she half-laughed, the two of them several fingers shy of fifty, if appearances were to be trusted— “they have this little two-person rowboat that you can paddle back and forth to the island. It’s kind of fun, actually.”

Anne and Serge had always been more like best friends than siblings, so when their mother asked them that evening, “Well, what do you think of renting a private island?” Serge turned to his sister and said, “We’ll be like pirates,” and Anne said, “I’ll be Mary Read, the fiercest among them,” and Serge said, “I’ll be Calico Jack, the captain,” and, “No way,” Anne said, “you’re Mark Read, Mary’s half-brother,” and, “Totally,” he said, “I forgot Mary had a brother.” When they’d come to the Outer Banks the previous summer, Mom had brought a book called Pirates of the Carolinas and Caribbean, brought it for herself, really, but the kids spent the whole car ride down reading it and oohing and aahing. “Is that appropriate reading material for children?” their father had asked. “They’re like fairy tales,” Mom said. “And it’s keeping them busy, so don’t knock it.”

Within two weeks of running into the woman in the coffee shop, Mom and Dad and Anne and Serge were loading themselves in the car, driving seven hours down the coast, and parking in a lot reserved for residences reachable only on foot, the four of them lugging their bags over a half mile of hot sand, pushing forward until, finally, they came upon a small wooden pier with a rowboat chained to it. They’d been given the code to the lock, and by the time they’d loaded their bags onto the boat, there was enough room for only one person to paddle, and so, “I’ll be back in a jiffy,” Dad said, leaving Mom and the kids to wait by the pier, to gaze out across the water. The rental was close to the Cape, true, but not quite as close as the woman in the café had indicated. “It looks like the crown of a muffin,” Anne said, noting how the island was mounded. “Like the house is the cherry on top,” Serge said, noting its ochre-red exterior, how the house sat dead center. It looks like a breast, Mom thought, but didn’t say a thing.

“Why isn’t it on stilts like the other houses down here?” Anne said.

When their father returned, he said he’d carried their bags up onto the sand, but that maybe they should just swing by that seafood shack they’d passed earlier and grab something to grill before paddling back to the island. He wasn’t exactly out of breath, but it was clear he’d been straining, his brow dotted with sweat. “Why not save ourselves a trip?” he said, and he locked up the boat, and they walked the half mile back to the seafood shack, and inside the small space it was cool, almost cold, or cold enough, at any rate, that goosebumps raised on Anne’s flesh, her uncovered arms and shoulders. Mom’s little girl was sixteen now, and, to Mom’s chagrin, she dressed like it, standing there in her fluorescent bikini top and frayed shorts that were far too short.

“Ain’t seen you all here before,” the man behind the counter said.

“We’re just getting in,” Dad said.

“We’re renting that island,” M