The Summer of Lost and Found by Mary Alice Monroe

chapter one

Beware the Ides of March.

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

March 2020

HOW COULD THIS happen to her? Again?

Linnea Rutledge drove her vintage gold VW bug across the vast expanse of marshlands on the arching roadway known as the Connector. It was the main route from the mainland to the small island she called home. Below, the tide was low, revealing marsh grass that was just beginning to green at the bottom—one of the lowcountry’s first signs of spring. When Linnea reached the apex of the roadway, she caught her first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean. Today she didn’t feel her usual euphoria. Rather, she felt numb.

She crossed onto Isle of Palms and drove the short distance seaward to Ocean Boulevard. Less than a mile more until she reached the quaint house she called home. Primrose Cottage was one of the few remaining 1930s houses on the island. It sat now dwarfed by the luxury mansions that dominated the boulevard.

Pulling into the gravel driveway, hearing the crunch of stone under tires, Linnea climbed from her car and walked swiftly to the front door, struggling with tumultuous thoughts of the injustices of fate. She didn’t take in the first signs of wildflowers dotting the dunes or stop to enjoy the heady scent of honeysuckle along the fence. Linnea climbed the stairs with savage purpose, seeking safety. She pushed open the door, then closed it behind her and leaned against it, as one holding back a storm.

Closing her eyes, she panted, mouth open. She’d held herself together by sheer force of will while she gathered her personal photographs and belongings and carried them out in a cardboard box from her cubicle office at the South Carolina Aquarium. Her face muscles ached from hoisting a smile and bidding teary farewells to her fellows. It was a mass exodus of nonessential personnel. The aquarium was closing its doors to the public because of the pandemic.

She collected her breath and opened her eyes. Looking around the dimly lit house, Linnea felt the quiet familiarity embrace her. This was her aunt Cara’s beach house, left to Cara by her mother, Linnea’s beloved grandmother, Lovie. Linnea had grown up visiting here, becoming part of the group of women who loved the beach, sea turtles, and each other with an abiding devotion. This little beach house had been their sanctuary from whatever buffeted them outside the clapboard walls.

It was her house now, albeit by rental from Aunt Cara. She let her eyes glide across the creamy-white and ocean-blue walls of the small rooms, along the fireplace mantel where sat silver-framed photographs of the Rutledge family that went back generations in Charleston, across the shabby-chic white slipcovered furniture.

Linnea feared she wouldn’t be able to stay here any longer. She dug through her purse and pulled her phone to her ear. Within moments, the familiar voice of Cara answered.

“Hello, Sweet-tea. You’re home early today.”

Linnea loved the nickname her aunt had called her since she was little. “I, uh… was let off early. Can you come over? I have to talk to you.”

A pause. Then in a more cautious tone, “Of course. I have to get Hope gathered. She has a doctor’s appointment. I’ll be there in ten.”

Linnea tucked her phone away and strode directly to her bedroom. Sunlight poured in across the pine floors and oriental rugs. Her gaze swept the view of the ocean beyond; seeing it, she felt an immediate connection. Bolstered, she unzipped her pencil skirt and laid it on the mahogany four-poster bed that dominated the small bedroom. A simple skirt and crisp blouse constituted her uniform at the South Carolina Aquarium where she worked as the conservation education director. It was a style adopted from Cara.

Linnea had been Cara’s assistant at the aquarium. After Cara resigned, the position as education director was offered to her. It was her dream job. Linnea loved teaching and inspiring others, as she had been taught and inspired by the women in her life. Though Linnea emulated Cara’s sleek dress at work, at home she changed into her favored vintage look.

She went to the bathroom and, with efficient movements, washed the makeup from her face, then unpinned her blond hair, letting it fall to her shoulders. Scratching her head vigorously, she tried to shake off the tension that had held her taut since the news. Feeling a bit better, she put on cuffed jeans and a worn pink sweater, finally stepping into blush Capezio ballet slippers, a favorite since she’d taken ballet lessons as a girl.

Feeling more comfortable, she went out onto the porch from her bedroom and took in the view of sea and sky. The power of the vista had a calming effect. Then, hearing the crunch of tires on the driveway, Linnea hurried down the deck stairs and rounded the house to the driveway to see Cara’s car parked there.