“How OOC could a family drama that’s set in sandy St. Barts get? Very.” —Cosmopolitan on White Sand, Blue Sea
Set on St. Barts, the jewel of the Caribbean, Anita Hughes's WHITE SAND, BLUE SEA is a heartwarming story about romance and adventure, and most important, about knowing yourself, and what makes you happy.
Olivia Miller is standing on the porch of her mother and stepfather's plantation style villa in St. Barts. They have been coming here every April for years but she is always thrilled to see the horseshoe shaped bay of Gustavia and white sand of Gouverneur's Beach. This trip should be particularly exciting because she is celebrating her twenty-fifth birthday and hoping that Finn, her boyfriend of four years, will propose.
The only person who won't be here is her father, Sebastian, whom she hasn’t seen in twenty years. He’s a well-known artist and crisscrosses the globe, painting and living in exotic locations like Kenya and China. When Sebastian unexpectedly walks through the door and floats back into Olivia’s life like a piece of bad driftwood she never knew she wanted, she starts to wonder if her world is too narrow. She questions the dreams and the relationship she’s always thought she wanted. But there seems to be more to the story than an innocent fatherly visit, and Olivia must decide if love is more important than truth.
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About the Author
ANITA HUGHES is the author of Monarch Beach, Market Street, Lake Como, French Coast, Rome in Love, Island in the Sea, Santorini Sunsets, Christmas in Paris, White Sand, Blue Sea, and Emerald Coast. She attended UC Berkeley's Masters in Creative Writing Program, and lives in Dana Point, California, where she is at work on her next novel.
Read an Excerpt
White Sand, Blue Sea
By Anita Hughes
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Anita Hughes
All rights reserved.
It was late morning and the sky was bright blue and the sun was the color of honey.
Olivia stood on the porch of her mother and stepfather's plantation-style villa and thought the view reminded her of a Gauguin painting. The ocean was a sheet of glass and the hills were dotted with palm trees and the horseshoe-shaped bay of Gustavia was filled with white sailboats. She slipped on her sunglasses and was glad to be back in St. Barts.
No matter how many years she had been coming, she was thrilled when the tiny plane landed at Gustaf airport. The customs officer greeted her in French and the taxi drivers lined up in their floral shirts and leather sandals. She scanned the brightly painted Volkswagen buses until she found Jean-Claude because he had the best gossip on the island.
He drove too quickly along the coast and she admired the white sand of Grand Cul de Sac and the chaise longues at St. Jean Beach. Whenever she tried describing St. Barts to her friends in New York, they could never understand how an island smaller than Manhattan had endless green coves and fourteen beaches.
Then Jean-Claude climbed the winding road to the villa and Olivia felt her shoulders relax. The gray New York spring dissolved like the final scene of a movie she'd watched on the plane, and all she could think about was snorkeling and eating coconut sorbet and stuffed crab.
Now she smoothed her blond hair and thought of the wonderful things they were going to do this week. Her twenty-fifth birthday was in four days and they would celebrate with an intimate dinner at Maya's. The maître d' would bring out the same banana soufflé she'd ordered since she was five years old and her mother and stepfather would give her a diamond tennis bracelet or ruby earrings.
And she was almost certain her boyfriend, Finn, was going to propose. He had been so nervous going through customs, Olivia thought he was going to fish out a diamond ring and drop to his knee on the linoleum floor. Finally he'd whispered to the customs officer and they'd disappeared into a private room. When they emerged, his blue eyes sparkled and his smile was as bright as the sun.
Finn was so traditional; he was probably on the tennis court now asking Felix, her stepfather, for her hand in marriage. She wondered if he would book a table at Eden Rock and propose over Caribbean lobster and chocolate cake with mango ice cream. Or perhaps they would take a moonlight stroll to see the turtles and he would draw her close and kiss her.
Only one person wasn't here to celebrate her birthday and she tried not to think about him. Her father had walked out of their Morningside Heights apartment twenty years ago, and she hadn't seen him since.
Hadley, her mother, would laugh and say, Being Sebastian, he didn't simply walk out. He left a bouquet of sunflowers and a list of things to ship when he had a forwarding address: his collection of Kipling's poems and Lawrence Durrell's travel writings and the alpaca jacket they'd bought in Peru.
For the first five years, Olivia had helped her mother mail his birthday invitation. Every April she expected him to bound up the stone steps of the villa and swing her in his arms, like a sitcom father on television.
Often the invitations were returned "address unknown" and sometimes she received a letter with details of his latest adventure. He spent three months painting in Tanzania and he wished he could show her the wide plains and amber light. He was on a barge on the Nile and was sorry he missed the piñata and vanilla custard birthday cake.
Most years he sent exotic presents: a tea set when he lived in Kyoto, jade earrings from a jeweler in Guiyang, a bolt of fabric from Marrakesh with the colors of the rainbow. But lately the presents had dried up and were replaced by cards that were late.
Felix had been the most wonderful stepfather, paying for her education at the Brearley School and Vassar and taking her to the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan on the weekends. And how could she miss something she never had? The only thing she remembered about Sebastian was his musk cologne and the occasional stubble on his chin.
A taxi stopped in front of the villa and a man stepped out. He wore blue slacks, a white shirt, and a straw hat. His suit jacket was slung over his shoulder and he carried a leather bag.
Olivia leaned over the balcony and wondered whether her mother and Felix had invited a guest and forgot to tell her. Sundial was always open to friends and often the bedrooms were filled with artists that Hadley represented or members of Felix's club. Esther was happy to set extra place settings at the glass dining room table and make pots of fish stew.
The doorbell rang and Olivia walked inside and hurried down the wooden staircase. She opened the door and saw the man standing on the porch, smoking a cigarette. His eyes widened and he dropped the cigarette.
"Hello, Olivia! God, it's been a long time. You shouldn't answer the door dressed like that, what if I were a complete stranger?" He glanced at her yellow swimsuit. "You should never dress like that at all, what was your mother thinking?" He handed her his jacket. "At least put this on, you're going to give the taxi driver a stroke."
"I don't remember you, but I don't seem to be in any danger," Olivia laughed. "And it's too hot to wear anything but the thinnest fabric. If you'll follow me, I'm sure your room is ready. My mother loves to keep the villa filled with guests and there are fresh towels next to the swimming pool. We only arrived yesterday and Esther is out buying papayas and caramboles. Wait until you try the fruit on the island, it's the best you've ever tasted."
"What sounds good right now is bourbon over ice." He loosened his collar. "I haven't had a chance to convert my yen to euros; could you pay the taxi driver? And there's another bag in the trunk. My back is terrible and I can't lug it up the stairs.
"This is some place!" he exclaimed and whistled when Olivia had paid the taxi driver and carried his bag into the marble foyer. He entered the living room and studied the parquet floor and yellow plaster walls and French doors leading onto the porch. Silk sofas were covered with floral throws and a marble bar was lined with brightly colored bottles.
He filled a glass with ice and poured a shot of bourbon. "If I had known the bar was stocked with Hennessy and there was a view of the whole island, I might have visited sooner."
"What did you say your name was?" Olivia asked, perching on a leather stool. "My mother must have forgotten to mention that you were coming. Though it is odd she asked someone outside of the immediate family; you see, we're celebrating my birthday. But it's always nice to have company and Esther will bake her buba rhum cake."
"I didn't say my name." He twirled his straw hat and looked at Olivia. "But you may have heard of it, it's the same as yours. I'm Sebastian, your father."
Olivia felt almost dizzy. Of course he was her father; why hadn't she seen it before! His eyes were the same green as in the old photograph on her bedside table. But his hair was salt and pepper and there were lines on his forehead.
She turned away and thought she mustn't cry. She flashed on all the years she'd imagined this moment: Sebastian appearing on the doorstep of her mother and stepfather's Central Park duplex and Olivia showing him her princess bedroom. Sebastian showing up at awards day at the Brearley School and clapping when she received the history prize. Sebastian coming to parents' day at Vassar and taking her out for a cheeseburger and a chocolate shake.
She was a grown woman and soon she'd be engaged; she didn't need her father. But he was exactly how she'd imagined him: with slicked-back hair and sparkling eyes and a small dimple on his cheek. How could she turn him away when he was finally here?
"We've been talking for ten minutes." Olivia glared at Sebastian. "Why didn't you tell me who you are?"
"It's an old trick I learned from a Serengeti tribesman." He refilled his glass. "I was trying to paint a herd of elk. He said the best way to capture their essence was to not let them know you were there."
"I'm not an elk, I'm your daughter," Olivia continued. "I've been waiting twenty years for you to show up. The least you could have done was tell me your name."
"Feisty like your mother ... you have every reason to be angry with me. Where is Hadley? The last time I saw her, her hair was the color of flax and her eyes were like cornflowers." He fiddled with his glass. "Does she still do that thing when she is nervous, a slight cough that became a laugh?"
"I hadn't noticed." Olivia flushed. "She went to the post office but she'll be back in a minute. No one told me you were coming. I don't know anything about you: where you've been, where you're going, why you are here at all."
"I'm here for your birthday, of course," he explained, taking a silver cigarette case out of his pocket. "Do you mind? Your generation is so politically correct, lighting a cigarette is worse than reading a copy of Playboy." He lit the cigarette with a pearl lighter. "I don't want to talk about me right now. I want to hear all about you. Start by telling me what you do for fun."
"Finn and I like to visit the Frick on the weekends," she replied. "And sometimes we go to the Strand and I buy the latest paperback books. Finn loves biographies and anything on war and history."
"Museums and bookstores?" He raised his eyebrow. "Can't you do better than that? When I was your age I ate yak with a snake charmer in Tibet and drank ouzo with a cliff diver on Corfu."
"I spent a semester in Florence when I was at Vassar," she sighed. "It was wonderful to stroll along the Arno and imagine Raphael and Tintoretto crossing the same bridge." Her eyes were bright. "The first time I saw Michelangelo's David I thought I was finally alive."
"Michelangelo did know his way around the human body," he murmured. "But that's not traveling, that's reading newspapers in different languages. In my day it was a rite of passage to see the places you read about in National Geographic: Senegal and Salamanca. Now the criteria for going somewhere is whether it has Wi-Fi and bottled water."
"We don't have time for twenty-four-hour flights and long layovers." Olivia shrugged. "Finn is an associate at his family's law firm and I manage my mother's art gallery. We come to St. Barts twice a year and spend a week in Nantucket during the summer." She stopped and a smile lit up her face. "But next year we might take a longer vacation. I'd like to go somewhere fabulous like Tahiti or Fiji."
He looked at Olivia and inhaled deeply on his cigarette. "A longer vacation? Do you mean a honeymoon?"
She nodded. "I'm not supposed to know but I think Finn is going to propose. He asked for my ring size and he's always busy on Thursday evenings. I'm sure he's designing the engagement ring."
"Are you sure he isn't doing what normal young men do?" Sebastian asked. "Going to a nightclub or playing poker in a friend's basement?"
"Finn's friends only have penthouses," Olivia laughed, "and he hates crowds, he'd never go to a nightclub. We've been dating for four years and his mother is making noises about grandchildren." She paused. "I'm not ready for children, but I wouldn't mind buying an apartment on the Upper West Side and maybe a weekend cottage in Montauk."
"I certainly hope you're not ready for children, you're not yet twenty-five," he spluttered. "When you have a baby, you'll think it's the loveliest thing in the world: a tiny perfect being that loves you unconditionally.
"But then they get older and you can't throw diapers and sterilized bottles into a bag and catch the next flight to Nairobi. All sorts of things get in the way: the dentist and ballet lessons and kindergarten. You may as well write out your will, your life is over."
"You still haven't told me why you're here. You've missed my birthday for twenty years, why show up now?" she asked and her lips trembled. "I can't believe my mother would keep it a secret but she must know, or you wouldn't be here at all."
He was about to answer when the front door opened. Olivia turned and saw her mother carrying a stack of envelopes. She wore a floral dress and her blond hair touched her shoulders.
"I asked Esther to pick up the mail but it always seems to collect at the post office." Hadley put her purse on the side table, then looked up. She gasped and the envelopes scattered over the wood floor.
Sebastian picked them up and handed them to Hadley. He studied her small waist and long legs and whistled.
"Hadley Miller," he said. "You don't look a day older than the last time I saw you."
"It hasn't been Hadley Miller in twenty years," she snapped. "What are you doing here and why didn't you tell anyone you were coming?"
"You sent me an invitation." He fiddled with his collar. "I thought I was welcome."
"I stopped sending you invitations to Olivia's birthday when she was ten years old." Hadley moved to the bar and filled a glass with tonic water and took a long sip. "Have you explained to your daughter why you never came?"
"St. Barts isn't the most convenient location for a birthday party." He turned to Olivia. "But there was not one night in the past two decades that I didn't think about you before I fell asleep." He walked over to the balcony. "I'm just a better father in my mind than in person. I wasn't cut out for watching Thanksgiving plays full of kindergartners with runny noses."
"How dare you waltz in unannounced," Hadley interjected. "This is not the time for a Sebastian pity party. I need to talk to Olivia in private."
"Your mother thought I was too self-centered to have a baby, but she was wrong," Sebastian continued. "I spent the first six months after you were born studying your plump body. You had a way of lying on your back and kicking your legs. And the first time you smiled, I felt like I won a prize." He paused. "But I'm an artist, I have to create. And you can't create if you spend all your time looking at the greatest creation of all."
"I'm sure I read that in a Hallmark card," Hadley retorted. "If you'll excuse us, I need Olivia in the pool house."
"Don't leave now, we're just getting reacquainted. Speaking of cards, I brought you a present," Sebastian said to Hadley and reached into his bag. "I was painting poppies near Tokyo and a farmer's wife wore these red slippers. I remember how your feet were always cold and thought they'd be perfect."
"My feet don't get cold in St. Barts." Hadley unwrapped the paper and discovered a pair of satin slippers with gold tassels. She handed them back to Sebastian. "Keep them. I'm sure they'll come in handy when you're sleeping in a tent in the Himalayas."
"Your mother always insisted I give her her birthday presents early because she wanted your birthday to be special," Sebastian explained to Olivia.
Olivia turned to her mother. "I thought you like that we share the same birthday."
"Of course I do." Hadley flushed. "But for a child a birthday is like Christmas but better. The whole world exists just for you." She paused. "Anyway, Felix likes me to pick out my own presents. Every year I go to Bloomingdale's the week before my birthday."
"How romantic," Sebastian murmured. "The best part about receiving a gift is being surprised when you unwrap the tissue paper."
"Felix is very practical," Hadley explained. "I've never returned a present, and every Christmas I get my favorite L'Occitane face cream."
"You do have the same peaches and cream complexion as when I painted you in Bombay." He paused. "My skin looks like it weathered ice storms in Greenland and desert winds in the Sahara."
"It's called age, Sebastian." Hadley smoothed her skirt. "But I do always celebrate April twenty-fifth. It is my and Olivia's birthday, and it's the day our divorce was final."
"I was sitting in a bar in the Australian outback and received the papers in a manila envelope," he sighed. "Those damn bush pilots can deliver mail anywhere."
"I'm enjoying your version of Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days but you must be tired after a long flight." She handed Olivia her car keys. "Olivia can drive you to your hotel and you can return for dinner."
Felix put his shot glass on the counter. "I don't have a hotel room."
Excerpted from White Sand, Blue Sea by Anita Hughes. Copyright © 2017 Anita Hughes. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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