Read Dottie’s New Book

Curl up in your favorite chair to savor the first chapter of author Dorthea Benton Frank’s much-anticipated sequel, Return to Sullivans Island.
Dorthea Benton Frank

Beth suspected what everyone else already knew. That unseen force, that Lowcountry Force, the Goddess of the Island Gamble, if you like, was waiting for her. That's why surrender was the only choice. She guessed that any other course could be met with some strange but actual version of Universal Mockery until she gave in and became a willing player in the game. Welcome back to the chessboard! Get in position! Let's see, that would make Beth a pawn.

But, she thought, in spite of everything, it would be very interesting to see how the year would unfold. A year was a long time. Her intention was to avoid any and all controversy and every kind of chaos.

Beth laughed to herself realizing she had almost no real hand in the whole scenario anyway. She knew better. With the beckoning curl of their fingers, Aunt Maggie and her mother, Susan Hamilton Hayes, had coaxed her to the edge of their ancestral frying pan and she was crawling in like a lean slice of bacon. It wouldn't take long to cook her.

The taxi crossed over the Cooper River on the new bridge and next thing she knew, they were cruising down Coleman Boulevard, Mr. Brown's van straining to meet thirty miles an hour.

Stylistically, that is, if you wanted to impress anyone, his vehicle, that great hulking Chariot of Smoke and Fire, was not the optimal way to arrive in your hometown. Not that anyone beyond the gene pool was expecting her. But Beth thought it would have been awesome to be driving in some hot convertible wearing oversized sunglasses listening to some new music, something she knew all the words to so that she could sing at the top of her lungs. It would have been very, very awesome, she thought, if someone in another convertible, someone of the opposite sex who resembled a movie star perhaps, like Hugh Jackman, turned his head and the question of her true identity stopped him dead, all he could do was grin and follow her home, promising to rescue her from her dreary existence. Starting now. Lasting forever. Why not? A girl could dream, right?

But she wasn't of that ilk – the rescued damsel type. She was well, sort of the pathetically serious one, the one sporting the inexpensive copy of Tina Fey's eyeglasses, without the benefit of her jaw line or innate sense of style. Not to mention Tina Fey was really smart and funny while Beth was smart, her humor was dry and sometimes she was marginally dour. Okay, so she knew her eyeglasses were an infinitesimal attempt at stardom chic, but it was a start.

Beth left Charleston four years ago dressed like a Lowcountry princess in training and somehow fell into the student life, adopting a Beacon Hill slash Jack Kerouac kind of look that wasn't exactly Lilly Pulitzer. Lately, people knitted their eyebrows together at the sight of her and completely unsolicited, they offered her rubber bands to restrain her hair. She was the first one chosen as a lab partner and the last one invited on the conga line. Oh sure, she drank her share of beer in college and once she actually got completely toasted on tequila shots and had to spend two days in bed drinking Maalox and nibbling little bites of bananas dipped in peanut butter. But that was the exception, not the rule. Perhaps she had overdone the brainiac study thing in college and didn't look like a Carolina girl on her way to the Windjammer to shag all night―and that's a dance, not a sexual act―and well, so what? Beth was still a smart cookie who simply had yet to latch onto a lasting personal style.

Beth knew very early on that if she wanted to go to graduate school she was going to need a scholarship. So when all her girlfriends were out raising hell, dressed in bed sheets and acting like boozerellas, she was in her dorm memorizing biology spellings and studying finance. Unlike her friends and roommates who all seemed happy to have predestined futures, she viewed college as a ticket out of a life on that great southern hamster wheel. One generation hopped off and went to heaven and the next one hopped on, picking up where the others left off, running like idiots in Ray Bans and Top Siders until they dropped dead too. Not that she really had anything super serious against her family or that life, it was just that she wanted to see the world and think about things, be somebody different, do something great, like write the great American novel or at least have her blog picked up for publication before she was thirty. Was that too much to hope for? She was thinking now that maybe it was. At least, so far. Because if she was so Albert Einstein smart and destined for such global literary greatness, what was she doing with a deferred scholarship, sweating like a pig in the back of a clanking van, headed for a funky old haunted house on a sandbar? She already knew the answer but to reinforce her own commitment, she would breathe the words again. She was Beth Hayes, The Obedient One.

They crossed the Ben Sawyer Bridge and for the billionth time she wondered who Ben Sawyer was. It would have made sense if the bridge was named for Edgar Allen Poe, who actually lived on Sullivans Island for a while. But Ben Sawyer? She had never heard of any Sawyers on Sullivans Island. Like her mother always said, who were his people? But there you had one more small but significant enigma of Sullivans Island, a land washed in mystery and populated with the kind of characters Tennessee Williams would have loved to have known.

They were on the island then, and Beth was straining her neck to read the leash laws that were posted on the huge sign on the right. She didn't want Lola to get busted by the dog police for dropping her carte du visite in the wrong spot.

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