Finley followed the path that led to the Walking Dunes, an ecological anomaly that shifted the huge, domed mounds inland several inches each year, subsuming anything in the sands’ path. She had read about them in Whitt’s guidebook and was looking forward to seeing the tops of trees sticking out of the sand like decapitated skeletons in an eerie tableau.
The rest of the crew had decided to take advantage of the warm weather to catch a bit of sun on the beach at the back of the house. A pleasant flat of firm sand that had the benefit of a fanned dune on one side to both block the winds and give some degree of privacy, the house’s beach still afforded an uninterrupted view of the expanse of the southern Long Island shoreline. Pristine, powder-light sand and blue-gray sheets of smooth water called to Whitt and Mooney. Even Mama had donned her suit and a coverup to enjoy the weather.
Finley had taken a few shots of the three of them hamming it up on the beach—Mama and Whitt’s legs battling it out to see whose would be the longest, shapeliest, and most toned. For a woman of Mama’s age, she gave Whitt a run for her money. She could have been a professional model, given her height, slim build, and classic features, but instead went to culinary school in Paris just after college, when the strictures of a small Southern town grew too confining. It had been there that she had met Ry—Langdon Ryker Blake III—a handsome bear of a man with a cub’s kindness who had stolen her heart and never bothered to give it back.
Instead, he married her and took her around the world as a military wife while he rose through the ranks. By the time he was in his early fifties, he had one star, but to everyone’s surprise, had no interest in sticking around to get his second. Mama had two kids by then and an idea for a design firm that Daddy could run while she tried her hand at writing cookbooks. So, they left Korea for Chevy Chase and settled down.
“You guys are too cute! It looks like two skyscrapers and a darling little bungalow!” Finley chortled, her eye fixed on the camera display as her sister, mother, and best friend vogued. All three of the Blake women were tall. That was where her similarity to her mother and sister stopped. While they had classic features, Finley had inherited the patrician Meryl-Streep nose that ran on her mother’s side of the family but had somehow skipped her mother. To that was added Helen Bonham-Carter full lips and large, doe-shaped eyes—in alligator green. As her grandmother had said, she was handsome in the British sense while her mother and sister were undeniably pretty. “Pose, ladies!”
When the others had chosen their positions on the lounge chairs at the beach, Finley dropped her beach bag and grabbed her day pack and the camera. She stuffed a few extra lenses in a side pocket and struck off for the nature reserve that housed the mysterious dunes.
Even though they were less than a half-mile from the house, the trek had taken her over forty-five minutes and one hundred-plus shots. In one area, she had stood for almost fifteen minutes, capturing the sand etchings created as the wind whipped the sand into different patterns. The serene palette of the sea-glass water, greige sands, verdant dune grasses moving in the wind had her mesmerized.
She had turned to photography as a way to pass the time without having to talk to anyone while she was staying at her parents’ house, just after she got back from Morocco. People asked too many questions, especially southern people—questions she either wasn’t ready to probe herself or questions she didn’t have the answers to. In either case, there were some things she still wanted to avoid right now. And when she was behind the camera lens, people stayed clear, gave her space, and talked in hushed, reverent tones. She found she liked the silence and so adopted the camera as a shield.
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