Fucking Kiawah Island again, Andrea thought. Couldn’t they come up with somewhere new for once?
Her family had been going to the same vacation place each summer since she was eight years old. The beach was pleasant, and you could ride a bicycle from one end of the island to the other, but that grew tiresome after two days. She had agreed to stay for five nights, cutting her time with her family short, but it would still feel like forever.
She had arrived two days late, and her parents and brother had already slipped into a comfortable routine, which as usual, would exclude her. Her father seemed equally detached from his children, but she wondered why her mother favored her brother. Andrea was the successful one. She had excelled in math at school and now was a trader with a large Wall Street bank. Andrea was swimming in lucre. Her bonuses were obscene, but she deserved them. She worked hard for her firm, and they profited from her trading skills. And she had to put up with all the shit from her male colleagues.
Frank had none of that. He was a poet who worked as a bartender to make a living, a cliché if there ever was one. Yes, he had published one slim volume of poetry and did well at some of the New York poetry slams, but really – what had he accomplished? Like her, he was still unmarried, but unlike her, he dated successfully. Well, of course, he was a heterosexual bartender in New York. How hard could it be to find a date when you’re serving beautiful, single, sometimes desperate women every night? She, on the other hand, could not hold onto a relationship. All her male colleagues at work unequivocally wanted trophy wives, not someone independent, assertive, and alpha. All the dating apps seemed to supply only wimps and clones of her colleagues, nothing in between.
On occasion, Frank would bring his latest squeeze to Kiawah, but – fortunately – he wasn’t dating anyone significant lately. The last one, Angela, had garnered so much attention, Andrea had felt invisible to her parents, who cooed endlessly over Angie. So what if she was knock-down, drop-dead gorgeous, and always Pollyannaish? She had the brain of an acorn. With that IQ, she couldn’t be a trophy wife, so she was stepping up big-time to date a pretend poet, masquerading as a bartender.
Andrea arrived late Monday morning, but her Dad, Eugene, had held up preparing breakfast, crêpes – Andrea’s favorite – pending her arrival. Her mother, Astrida, greeted her warmly and with a hug, while Eugene waved nonchalantly and rubbed her back before returning to the stove. Frank looked up from his book and beamed a megawatt, blinding-white smile her way. He was handsome, and he knew it.
“How was your trip down, honey?” Astrida asked Andrea.
“Just fine,” Andrea replied. “The plane was on time, and the limo was waiting for me.”
“That’s lovely,” Astrida said. “I’m so happy you can afford limos. I’m very proud of how well you are doing at work.”
“We’re both very proud,” Eugene said as he flipped the first crêpe.
“Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad. It’s hard work, but I enjoy it.”
“I wish I understood how you made so much money just buying and selling securities,” Astrida said.
“It’s not complicated,” Andrea replied. “I buy low and sell high.”
“Yes, but where does the money come from?” Astrida asked.
“I’ve explained it before. Right now, I’m starving.”
“Here you go,” Eugene said, placing a crêpe on Andrea’s plate. Andrea sprinkled powdered sugar on it, squeezed a lemon half over it, and began eating.
Frank rose from the sofa to join his mother and sister at the table. The second crêpe landed on his plate shortly thereafter.
“No girlfriend this time?” Andrea asked her brother.
“I’m taking a break from dating and concentrating on my next book of poems,” Frank said.
“Oh, what’s it about?” Astrida asked. “Tell us, dear. Can you read us one of your poems?”
“It’s about apocryphal love, but I haven’t completed any one of them yet, and I don’t like to share unfinished poems.”
“Why not about genuine liaisons?” Andrea asked. “You’ve had many,” she added dryly.
“Touché,” Frank said. “Perhaps I’ve been reflecting on your dating experiences.”
“Stop it, you two,” Astrida said. “We have only all just come together. This is family time. Please try to be civil to one another.”
Eugene had been busy and arrived at the table with a stack of crêpes. “Bon appetit!” he said as he sat down. “More, Frank, please. Have you found a publisher? How many poems will the book include?”
“The volume is somewhat inchoate at present,” Frank said. “I have put out some feelers to a couple of publishers, but they want to see some final pieces.”
“How convenient that your work is still so undeveloped,” Andrea said.
“Andrea, that’s enough!” Astrida said. “You’re sniping will be the death of me.”
“Unlikely, but duly noted,” Andrea replied.
“In any case, I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far,” Frank said. “I like a lot of the ideas and phrasing I have in my drafts.”
“We look forward to reading it when you finish it,” Eugene said. “Astrida and I thoroughly enjoyed your first volume. You liked it too, didn’t you, Andrea?”
“They’re good poems, but the big-city angst theme was not my cup of tea,” Andrea said.
“Too close to home?” Frank asked.
“Too banal,” Andrea replied.
“Ouch,” Frank said.
“What have you been doing on your weekends, Andrea?” Astrida asked.
“Do you mean, have I been dating someone? The answer is ‘no.’ I’m pretty tired from work, but I go to yoga classes and see my friends for drinks or meals.”
“You look fit,” Eugene said.
“I stay in shape. It helps me think clearly at work. I try to exercise as often as possible.”
“You do look great,” Frank said.
“Thanks,” Andrea said, arching her brow as she gazed at her brother.
Frank no longer understood Andrea. When they were younger, she idolized her older brother. He sometimes let her play basketball, for example, with him and his friends. She openly enjoyed being included. They also played cards and board games together, and when she was younger, he would let her win sometimes. Later, if the games involved math and strategy, it was all he could do to compete.
Except for these Kiawah vacations, they didn’t see each other much when she was in college on the West Coast. Then when she arrived in New York, where he worked also, he tried to connect with her regularly, but she gradually became taciturn when they met. She was very absorbed in her work, and he wondered if the ruthless trading-floor environment had changed her. She often denigrated him and was disdainful of his life, particularly the women he dated and his bartending job. Was she jealous? No, she seemed to have changed. She had hard-edges and was often sarcastic. Was it a defense? He couldn’t fathom it.
He liked his job. It was sociable, and he enjoyed bantering with the customers, especially the attractive women. However, it could be exhausting, particularly if a boorish drunk parked themself at the bar. He was thankful for these seaside vacations each year, a welcome break from always performing for patrons. But his true love was writing. He delighted in creating poems that touched people emotionally. However, it was nearly impossible to make a living writing, especially as a poet. If he wrote exceptionally well and published a few books, he might find a position at a small college. He was taking classes towards a Masters of Fine Arts degree in New York. But had not told his family about his dream; he was afraid it would not lead to new prospects. Fortunately, he could afford the fees, and the classes were interesting, so nothing would be lost if he failed to become a professor. Did he think of himself as an ersatz intellectual? The truth was, he was an excellent bartender, but it would be brutal to have the same job when he was middle-aged. He couldn’t imagine doing it, even at a classy bar, like the King Cole.
Astrida wanted Frank and Andrea to get along. As children, they had been close. They played happily together, and Astrida often saw Andrea regarding Frank with awe, like he was a demi-god. What had happened? Now, Andrea was always quick with an acerbic comment about Frank, his job, his girlfriends, his aspirations as a poet. They were very different people today, but that was hardly a reason to scorn another person.
In her heart, she knew that she cared more for Frank. He was tall, ruggedly handsome, with a bolt of white in his dark wavy hair. His smile was endearing; it hugged you. He had a delightful sense of humor, which came out in his more playful poems. Andrea, on the other hand, was often negative. Petite, pretty and fair, she scowled at the slightest irritants. He was easygoing; she was wound up, a minor upset away from an explosion.
These Kiawah vacations were the only thing that brought the family together. Andrea was always busy at Christmas and Thanksgiving, either for work or a trip with friends to Iceland, Denmark, or Thailand. It was a pleasure to see her, Astrida loved her dearly also, but it was usually a relief at the end of the week when she returned to New York. Had she and Eugene failed as parents? Astrida could not think of what they had done to create so much unhappiness. Nor did she fully understand the relentless pursuit of wealth. What would she do with all the money? How would she find someone to share moments of joyful contentment?
She and Eugene were nearing retirement. In less than ten years, they would be able to spend more time together. Astrida was looking forward to that. Eugene was reserved and a bit aloof, but she knew he deeply loved and cared for her. They could go hiking together, travel, learn new skills – whatever they wanted to do. They shared an interest in cooking and relished a bottle of fine wine with a late-night meal.
She hoped Frank could become successful as an author and Andrea would obtain happiness through money or whatever it was she was chasing. We’ve done everything we could; I’ll just have to let it go, she thought.
Andrea struggled through the days of beach, biking, and the insufferable family meals. She honestly was trying to be as friendly and cordial as she could manage, but she frequently found Frank’s cheerfulness, her Dad’s remoteness, and her mother’s insistent pleasantness unbearable. The unclouded weather and heavy humidity did not help. She felt she needed ultra-dark glasses to protect herself from the glare of the sun.
Why do I bother? she asked herself. She lasted three days, then rearranged her flight and sent for a limo. Each of her family gave her a goodbye hug after the vehicle pulled up. Then, they helped her load her luggage and blew her kisses.
Could it be me? she thought as she stepped into the limousine.