This morning I saw a Facebook post by an old college crush. He’s heading to Massachusetts for a few weeks to star in a production at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis. Reading this, I felt a pang of longing that made me actually, physically list northward. The longing wasn’t for the man – though according to his photos he’s still very handsome – but for the place. I lived in East Dennis, on Cape Cod, for seven years before moving to North Carolina in 2003. This summer is the first since then that I haven’t gone back. For me, fall is the most romantic time on Cape Cod, but my twelve year old daughter has known it mostly as a summer visitor. When she rhapsodizes about the Cape, it’s the lobster rolls at Sesuit Harbor Café, and the jetty at Harborview Beach. The last couple times we were there, I let her walk all the way to the end of that jetty by herself. She did it again and again while I pretended not to watch from the sand, nervously allowing her the inexplicable joy of hopping rocks until you’re standing smack out in the bay, sailboats floating inches away and large shadows moving beneath their wake. We’ve seen right whales breach not far from the edge, and ospreys dive close enough to spray us with their salty splash as they close talons around a fish and then return to the sky.
I’ve always been the sort of person who falls in love hard, not just with places, but with people. This makes it hard to let go. Once, weeks after we had broken up, I drove fourteen hours through heavy rain to show up on my first love’s doorstep. Not until I was about to knock did I consider that arriving without warning might be a mistake. But he opened the door right away and let me in. We didn’t get back together, but we did manage a few final, intense days. On our last night the weather cleared, and we lay together in the grass staring up at the stars.
“Will we ever feel this way again?” I asked him. “About anybody?”
“No,” he said. His voice was flat and definite. “We will never feel this way again.”
And he was right – though both of us have gone on to have families, and children. We have formed relationships with people whom we certainly love far more than we ever loved each other. But that first, dizzying instance of falling in love carries with it a particular kind of revelatory hope. It’s hard to let go of, and impossible to return to except in memory.
In my novel The Last September, Brett returns not only to Cape Cod but to her first love — against all best and obvious reason. And even though this leads to disaster, when I think of the sunset over Cape Cod Bay, or that endless and dangerous drive, I can’t help but understand her choices.
Brett has been in love with Charlie ever since he took her skiing on a lovely Colorado night fourteen years ago. And now, living in a seaside cottage on Cape Cod with their young daughter, it looks as if they have settled into the life they desired. However, Brett and Charlie’s marriage has been tenuous for quite some time. When Charlie’s unstable younger brother plans to move in with them, the tension simmering under the surface of their marriage boils over.
But what happened to Charlie next was unfathomable. Charlie was the golden boy so charismatic that he charmed everyone who crossed his path; who never shied away from a challenge; who saw life as one big adventure; who could always rescue his troubled brother, no matter how unpredictable the situation.
So who is to blame for the tragic turn of events? And why does Brett feel responsible?