No Return – Chapter One
“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper–Erin’s list of all-time favorite songs
“I love this month more than any other of the year,” Tori said dreamily as she lay on her back beneath the heavy branches of the oak tree. It was early June and the weather in Dover was unusually warm for England’s standards. It was a comfortable seventy degrees with a light breeze and only fluffy, white clouds to occasionally cover the sun.
“At least, it’s not raining. I don’t know how you can stand all the rain, Tori. England is like Seattle in that regard and that is one town I hope to never see again,” said Erin.
“When were you in Seattle?” asked Hayley.
“When I was seven, the band was there for six agonizingly long weeks. Rained the entire time. I swore to myself then I would never step foot in Seattle again…and I haven’t.”
The women laughed and went back to their daydreaming. They’d been the best of friends for close to twelve years, despite their vastly different personalities and upbringings. They met at summer camp the year they all turned ten. They were placed in the same cabin and during the first weeks of camp, they formed their own little June Girl’s club as they all had June birthdays. After that first summer, they found a way to return to camp every year until they were twenty-one, first as campers and then as counselors. This was the first summer they did not return to camp; instead, they were spending the summer at Tori’s family estate, Fernwood Grange, near the coast outside Dover, England.
“Erin,” asked Tori, “Have you given any thought to what you want to do tomorrow? As birthday girl, it’s your day.” Tradition dictated that the birthday girl choose how the June girls would celebrate each of their special days.
“I think more of this,” Erin replied. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Hayley grimace. They had spent all day lazily relaxing under the giant oak tree at the edge of the Grange estate, simply talking. Erin was surprised Hayley had been able to endure the last two hours without any movement as she was always in perpetual motion. She never sat still.
“Surely there is something you’d like to do?” Hayley asked.
“Honestly, this is my idea of heaven. I’m on the road forty-five weeks of the year. Sitting in the sunshine, under a tree with nowhere to go and nothing to do is my idea of bliss.”
“I’m with Erin–this is the best,” said Tori.
“Oh, is that you talking there, Tor? Taking your nose out of the book to join the conversation? I have no doubt you agree with Erin. Heaven forbid, you should stop reading.” Hayley gave her friend a sarcastic grin.
“Ha Ha,” mocked Tori. “You’re just annoyed because Erin doesn’t want to run a marathon, cook and devour an eight course meal, and barhop ’til she drops for her birthday.”
“How did you know the plan for my birthday?” Hayley laughed.
As Erin looked around at her friends, she thought perhaps the reason they were such good friends was because of differing personalities. Each of them brought something unique to the group. Although Erin was the oldest, by a few days, she felt like she was the only one still floundering about trying to figure out what to do with her life. College had never really been an option for her as it had been for Tori and Hayley, as she was never what anyone would call a model student. She’d spent her childhood on a rickety band bus with her father, Phil. Her dad was a musician and, while others grew up in houses with white picket fences, Erin’s fences were the guardrails along the highways they traveled.
Erin’s mother, Karen, had abandoned her at the hospital the day after she was born. Karen simply called Phil, informed him he was a father, and told him where he could pick up his daughter. Phil Delancy, a man with a heart as big as California, drove all night to reach the little hospital outside Phoenix, Arizona where she was born and Erin was sent home with him. While her childhood had been anything but conventional, she wouldn’t change one moment of it.
From the time she was old enough to hold a guitar, she had been playing and singing. Her father’s band, Delancy’s Dreamers, traveled from honky tonk bars to festivals all over the country and Erin was home-schooled—or bus-schooled, as she referred to it–by the band members. While her math skills were lacking, despite the valiant efforts of the Hal the drummer, she could play seven different instruments and sing like an angel. She began playing with her father’s band when she was eight; however, she was not allowed to perform in bars until she was sixteen.
It had been Hal the drummer’s idea to send her to summer camp that first summer many years ago and Erin recalled the night he suggested it. Delancy’s Dreamers had performed at a Chili cook-off in Oklahoma City. A group of young kids was playing kickball in an adjoining field and Hal suggested Erin go play with them. She’d said no as she preferred to stay with the band. Hal told Phil it wasn’t natural for a nine-year-old to spend so much time with adults and the band chipped in to pay for Erin to attend Camp Spring Rock.
Erin felt her eyes begin to mist as she remembered her father. Philip Delancy was the greatest man in her life. His sudden death after Christmas two years earlier still left her with a tremendous ache inside. He’d suffered a massive heart attack while breaking down the stage after a late night set in a bar outside Austin, Texas. Erin had been there and the helplessness she felt when he collapsed never left her. He simply grabbed his left arm and fell over. The doctor tried to explain there is nothing anyone can do for a massive heart attack, but Erin couldn’t help thinking there must have been something she could have done to prevent it. One minute he was there, the next he wasn’t.
The June girls rallied and took care of her for weeks after Phil’s death until she slowly came out of the fog that surrounded her. She began writing music to help her deal with her loss and eventually rejoined Delancy’s Dreamers, touring with a new, almost possessed energy. The music eased the pain she felt and helped her begin to live again. A recording agent had approached her in April with an offer to make an album. It had been her father’s dream for her and she wished Phil had lived to see her achieve it.
While she enjoyed performing, Erin was beginning to wonder if perhaps there wasn’t more to life than a different venue every night. The record deal forced Erin to realize that the album was more Phil’s dream than her own. Her whole life had been spent on the stage in front of an audience. What she really longed for privacy and companionship. The time spent with the June girls these past few days reinforced that desire. Erin wanted to be someone completely different from the performer for a while–she wanted to experience love, buy a home that didn’t move, and maybe even have children. Right now, the only family she had in the world was Hayley, Tori, and the Dreamers.
“Erin, we really don’t mind if you want to hang out and relax tomorrow. What do you want for your birthday dinner? I’ll need to run to Tesco’s this afternoon to pick up the ingredients,” Tori said.
“You know I love anything and everything you make. We’ve been here less than a week and I swear I’ve gained ten pounds! If you keep it up, I’ll have to run that damn marathon on Hayley’s birthday just to fit into my clothes again.” Tori could cook anything and her birthday meals were legendary.
“Yeah, like you have to worry about a few extra pounds, Erin. What are you wearing now, a size four?” Tori teased. “My heart bleeds for you and your supermodel body!”
Erin grinned. She was one of those fortunate people who could eat whatever she wanted and not gain weight. It had a lot to do with the fact she was tall. At five foot eleven, she was easily the tallest of the June girls, and she was grateful for her height, as it tended to make her a bit more intimidating on stage and off. Some of the honky-tonk bars where the band played were on the rough side. Of course, the rest of her appearance helped to set her apart as well. The June girls had nicknamed her Cher and Erin had to admit she did favor her favorite singer. She had thick jet-black hair that reached halfway down her back and large black eyes. The only problem she had with being thin was that she was also “curveless.” She wished she had more of the hourglass figure that Tori and Hayley both possessed.
“Hey, Erin, why don’t you play us that song you sang last night? You know the new one you wrote about coming home,” Hayley requested.
Erin took her guitar out of the battered case and began tuning it. “You really like that one?” While she performed all types of music, from country to jazz, pop to disco, the songs she wrote and performed had a definite folksy sound. Once the guitar was tuned, she began to strum the first bars of the song and sing. It was her unique singing range had been what attracted the record producer to her. According to whatever song she sang, her voice could be deep and rich or strong and high. She had been compared to Jewel, Nanci Griffith, Norah Jones, and, of course, Cher.
The June girls joined in on the chorus she’d taught them the previous evening. Before the song ended, Tori began to imitate Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” breathless voice and they all started to laugh uncontrollably.
“Jeez, Tori, don’t ever quit your day job,” Hayley teased when Tori’s high pitched imitation turned into a silly screech. “Wait a minute. What’s that I hear? Dogs baying?”
“Don’t let her discourage you, Tori. I’ve always sensed some real potential in your voice there,” Erin said between giggles. “Few years of serious training and you could be a real force in the dog baying industry!”
“I’ll leave the singing to you, Erin. Mercifully, it’s not a prerequisite for elementary school librarians,” Tori replied.
“Well, that’s enough laziness for me this month,” Hayley interjected. “I need to do something.”
“I’m headed to the food mart,” Tori replied. “You’re welcome to come along.”
“Grocery shopping?” Hayley grimaced, wrinkling her nose up distastefully. “Thanks, but no thanks. Not my thing.”
“Well, here, then,” Tori tossed her romance book to Hayley. “Broaden your horizons and read a book.”
Hayley caught the book in mid-air, studying the cover. “How can you read this trash?”
“It’s not trash, simply my guilty pleasure. Give it a try, you may like it,” Tori said with a laugh. “Just don’t lose my spot. Erin, do you want to come along?”
“I think I’ll keep plugging along with some of these songs,” Erin replied. “Plus, I like my birthday dinners to be a surprise.”
Hayley, still looking at the book, giggled. “So, let me see if I can figure out the plot from just the cover. This brawny pirate kidnaps, then ravishes the beautiful, but dim-witted heroine. I’m guessing he has some deep, dark past and this well-endowed blonde here shows him how to love again. Was that close?”
“You’ll have to read it to find out.” Tori rose and dusted off her shorts. “Actually, all that cover lets you know that it is full of juicy sex scenes.”
“How does it show me that?” Hayley asked.
“You can tell because of the purple cover and the inches of cleavage you can see on the heroine,” Tori answered with a laugh.
“To think–you actually mold impressionable children’s minds, while dreaming of nothing, but pirates, dukes, and rogues!”
“I have dibs on that book when you’re both finished reading it,” Erin joked.
Still giggling, Tori headed back to the house. Hayley grinned at Erin, then shrugged lightly and started reading. Erin strummed on the guitar, but found herself thinking about the June girls and their friendship more than the song.
Erin, with her unconventional upbringing, did not realize how much she’d needed the companionship of other girls her age, until Tori and Hayley entered her life.
Tori Hamilton was the fun-loving daughter of a wealthy British diplomat and his American wife. Her mother was an incredibly successful lawyer in Washington, D.C. Her parents owned a home in Virginia, a beach house on Cape Cod, and the Grange near Dover. Despite the fact she lived a life of privilege, she worked a fulltime job, while attending college and was about to embark on her chosen career as a librarian at an elementary school at the end of the summer.
Hayley Garland was Tori’s complete opposite. Her parents divorced when Hayley was nine. Her father was an alcoholic and his abusive nature left long-lasting scars on Hayley and her mother. Hayley began working fulltime when she was fourteen to help pay the bills. Through hard work and scholarships, Hayley double majored and earned a degree in psychology and social work at Virginia Tech and had just been hired as a counselor at a shelter for abused women in St. Louis.
Erin was pulled out of her thoughts by a deep sigh from Hayley. “Good book?” she asked.
“They call these books historical romance, but I think they’d be more accurate if they called them female fantasy. If guys like this used to exist, they certainly don’t anymore.”
Teasingly, Erin began to sing a variation on an old folk song. “Where have all the pirates gone? Long time passing…”
“Ha Ha,” said Hayley. “I’m being serious.”
“I assume the romance with the accountant is over?”
“Over? Do three incredibly lame dates classify as a romance? Why do I seem to be a magnet for losers?” Hayley lamented.
“Did you ever consider the fact you are a fairly strong female, even for these times? I think you may be a bit intimidating to most men.”
“Better to stand up for myself then be some man’s doormat.”
“I agree, but sometimes I wonder if you don’t automatically view all men as the enemy,” Erin said seriously.
“It’s a possibility, but I don’t seem to be able to help it. In my experience, they are. What about you? No prospects?”
“It seems I am destined to live my entire life utterly alone.”
“Well, let’s face it, Cher. You don’t stay in one place long enough to form any type of long-term relationship. I always thought you preferred it that way. You’ve never expressed much interest in members of the opposite sex. I thought music was your man,” Hayley said.
“Yeah, I guess so. I’ve just been thinking lately maybe music isn’t enough.”
“What? Erin Delancy falling out of love with her music? I never thought I would see the day. This is a hell of a time to make that decision. You are about to break into the big time.” Hayley was Erin’s biggest fan and supporter since Phil’s death.
“Actually, that’s why this is exactly the time to decide.” After a brief pause, Erin asked, “Do you ever regret the pact we made?”
“Where did that question come from?”
“I don’t know,” Erin said truthfully. “Just wondering.”
The summer the June girls were fourteen, they’d all made a pact not to have sex until after marriage. The pact came about when Julie, a fellow camper, revealed that she had had an abortion after the boy she thought loved her broke up with her because of the unwanted pregnancy. She was only fifteen and the entire episode disturbed the June girls very much.
Hayley thought about it. “When I was dating Jeff, I nearly called you one night to beg off. Did I ever tell you that?” At Erin’s negative response, Hayley continued, “My curiosity was getting the better of me and I thought why not see what all the fuss is about? He seemed like a nice guy.”
Hayley got quiet for a minute. “What’s that saying? Hindsight is twenty/twenty? Thank God, I didn’t. The idea of Jeff now makes my skin crawl. If it hadn’t been for that pact, I would have done something that right now I would regret deeply. So I guess the answer to your question is no–I’m not sorry. In this day and age, we are unique. I can honestly say I don’t know too many twenty-one year old virgins! Why do you ask, Erin? Do you have regrets?”
“Oh, no, not at all. Truthfully, it’s never been an issue for me. The only man I would even consider a past boyfriend is Todd and he was more brother than boyfriend. I certainly never felt any burning desire to sleep with him.” Todd Clayton had been the bass player for the Dreamer’s for six months. “Did I tell you what he said to me when he broke off the relationship and dropped out of the band?” Hayley shook her head. “He called me an ice queen. He said I was incapable of love.”
“That asshole!” said Hayley indignantly. “I never liked him, you know.”
Erin laughed at that. “You liar. You said he was gorgeous and that we would have beautiful, talented children. The thing is…he was right. No one has ever made my heart race or made me want to break the pact. At least, Jeff made you consider it and if Tori could ever get past that damned shyness of hers she’d find the right guy, sweet as she is.”
“Erin, you are perfectly capable of love. You’ve just never met Mr. Right, or should I say, Lord Right?” Hayley waved Tori’s romance novel in the air. “I’m sure if Tori was here right now she would tell both of us that we will all meet the men of our dreams and live happily ever after. She is, after all, the queen of romance!”
“Or the queen of fantasy?” Erin said lightly.
“Touché. Do you think Tori reads these books because deep down inside she wants to believe it’s possible to find the perfect man and live the fantasy?”
“Maybe,” Erin admitted.
“Yeah maybe, and maybe she’s right.”
“Oh, Hayley, how uncommonly optimistic of you,” Erin said with a laugh. “But what if men like that really only exist in the past? We may be destined to live out our lives as old spinsters.”
“Oh my God, don’t even joke. Maybe we should reconsider the pact and start sleeping with as many men as possible, lest we be sitting under this tree fifty years from now still complaining about our virginity.” Hayley rose. “Well, that’s it. I’ve had it with just sitting around. Wanna jog on the beach with me?”
“No thanks. Your idea of a jog is racing ten miles down the beach at the speed of light until I think my heart is going to explode and it takes me three hours to catch my breath. I think I’ll just hang out here a little while longer. Bask in the quiet time and rest. When I’m rich and famous, there will be all those pesky helicopters and tabloid photographers to deal with.”
Hayley began walking toward the beach. As she walked away, Erin could hear her saying, “Well, hurry up and get famous. I have a few hot guys I want an introduction to. Heath Ledger, Vin Diesel, Mel Gibson, Sean Connery, Nicholas Cage…”
Erin laughed tiredly as Hayley’s list continued until her voice finally drifted away, silently wishing for true love. Sleepily, Erin hummed herself to sleep. “Where have all the pirates gone?”