Lovie and Oscar Sweeney had been providing vacationers to the South Carolina coast with fresh-from-the-ocean seafood since opening their doors in May of 1959—and little had changed since then. Not the quality of the service or the layout of the store. The same brass ship’s clock still hung on the wall above the door, ticking away the decades. The customers didn’t mind the outdated decor as long as the knowledgeable staff served superior product with a friendly smile. The creaking floorboards and dusty shelves welcomed them back year after year, just as the pungent odor of the marsh at low tide greeted them upon arrival in the small inlet town of Prospect.
When it came time to do something about the termites eating away at the floor joists—and to replace the electrical system that was one spark away from a catastrophic fire and the refrigerated display cases that were held together with hope, prayer, and a wad of electrical tape—Samantha Sweeney, the middle daughter of Lovie and Oscar, decided their market was way overdue for an upgrade. Their local customers encouraged Sam to remodel in the same vintage that had brought them success for more than fifty years, but she ignored their advice. Following her gut instincts, Sam had opted for a radically different approach.
After years of planning and saving, the renovations were nearing completion. With exposed ceiling pipes and pendant lighting, subway tile wainscoting and concrete floors, Sam had envisioned a minimalist style, the seafood being their main event. But as she surveyed the gleaming new showroom, she worried the results were more operating-room sterile than upscale industrial.
Sam suspected her sisters shared her concerns.
Faith turned in circles, contemplating the empty space. “Once the shelves are stocked and the refrigerated cases filled, the place will come to life.”
“Why don’t we paint the walls?” Jackie whipped her color wheel out of her oversized black patent bag. Sam had hired her older sister, an interior decorator, to offer guidance on trim selections. Jackie thumbed through the color strips, eventually holding out the wheel for Sam to see. “Here we go. I’ve used this linen color many times before. It’s neutral, but at the same time soft and warm.”
Sam barely glanced at the color. “But the painters have already finished. They’re out back cleaning up.”
“I’ve never known a painter to turn down more work.” Jackie tucked the paint wheel under her arm, and, like a cheetah in search of her prey, she glided toward the kitchen in the back. With mahogany hair styled in a sleek bob, dressed in a tailored black sleeveless top and white pique cropped pants, Jackie embodied the picture of elegance.
“Don’t tell her I said so,” Faith whispered to Sam, “but I think she might be right this time.”
Sam smiled at her younger sister, who was every bit as pretty as Jackie but in a less sophisticated way.
“She better be. We can’t afford another mistake with only two days left before the grand reopening.”
Sam took a step back and closed her eyes, trying to imagine the showroom walls washed in linen. She pictured the wooden wine racks stocked with bottles and specialty dry goods arranged neatly on the metal shelves. She envisioned fresh produce overflowing from baskets on the carts in the front of the store, raw seafood on display in the refrigerated cases in the center of the room, and prepared meals filling the merchandisers along the sidewalls. She imagined customers moseying about, sipping wine from little plastic cups while the staff offered advice on the best practices for grilling tuna.
Sam drew in a deep breath of confidence and exhaled any leftover feelings of doubt. She respected her sister’s tastes. If Jackie thought linen-colored walls were the finishing touch the room needed, then who was she to argue?
Jackie returned with a self-satisfied smirk on her face. “The painters promised to have everything wrapped up by noon tomorrow. There’s hardly any wall space to paint, considering the pass-through to the kitchen in the back and all the windows out here.”
Sam ran through her mental checklist. “Noon tomorrow means we’ll lose half a day of cleaning and stocking. We’ll have to work around the clock in order to open on time on Saturday.”
“Why don’t you hire someone?” Jackie said with a flippant wave of her hand, as though a strong-bodied person might materialize from thin air.
“What about the twins?” Sam asked. “They’re always looking for a way to earn extra spending money.”
Jackie’s sixteen-year-old sons, Cooper and Sean, often showed up at the market, late in the afternoon, peddling their day’s catch—fish and shrimp and crabs, anything they could catch with a net, a trap, or a fishing rod. Sam paid them the same amount she would a wholesaler, even more when their product was fresher, which it usually was.
“You’ll have to find someone else.” Jackie busied herself with gathering up tile and concrete samples that were scattered across the wine-tasting table. “The boys are busy getting ready to leave for camp on Saturday.”
“Today is only Wednesday,” Sam said. “Since when does it take a teenager two days to pack?”
“They’re not just packing, Samantha. They’ve made plans with friends.”
“Ask them anyway. I’m sure they’ll want to help. They already talked to me about working at the market when they get home from camp.”
“They’ll be busy with football practice when they get home from camp.” Jackie flung her bag over her shoulder. “This may come as a surprise to you, but I have higher aspirations for my boys than running a seafood market.”
Even if that smelly seafood market provided you all the luxuries you felt entitled to when we were growing up, Sam thought. “I’m not talking about a full-time career, Jackie. The boys just want to earn some money while they have a little fun.”
“They will have plenty of fun at camp, and they’ll get paid this year, as junior counselors.”
“Why do you send them off to camp, anyway, when we live ten minutes from the beach?” Sam asked.
“Not that it’s any of your business, but having them tucked away in the mountains keeps them out of trouble.”
“And out of your hair,” Sam mumbled.
Jackie’s face turned red. “Don’t you have enough to worry about with your own son without worrying about mine?”
Sam’s eyes narrowed and her back stiffened. She was preparing for battle with her older sister when Faith intervened. “Curtis can help. With stocking the showroom. He’s looking for work.”
“I take that to mean the job at the brick plant didn’t work out,” Jackie said.
Faith picked at a hangnail. “Turns out they hired too many people. Since Curtis was the last one hired, he was the first one they fired.”
“He’ll find something else soon, I’m sure. In the meantime, I can definitely put him to work around here. At least for the next couple of days,” Sam said, thinking how Curtis’s physical strength made up for his lack of brainpower. “I’ll work out the details with him when I see him at the party tonight.”
“Speaking of the party, I’ve gotta run.” Jackie positioned her oversized sunglasses on her face, the dark frames in contrast to her pale unblemished skin. “Can one of you pick up Mom?”
“Since when does Mom need a driver?” Sam asked.
“Since she’s been acting so forgetful lately,” Jackie said. “Surely you’ve noticed.”
“Of course she’s forgetful,” Sam said. “She’s eighty-two years old.”
Jackie slid her sunglasses down and peered at Sam over the top of her bug-eyed lenses. “She’s not just forgetful. She’s downright demented. I can hardly have a conversation with her anymore. She asks the same questions over and over again.” Jackie turned toward Faith. “You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?”
Faith shook her head, her eyes wide with concern. “I haven’t seen much of Mama since we started the renovations.”
“Well . . .” Jackie repositioned her sunglasses on her nose. “I’ve invited some important people to my party. I don’t want Mom embarrassing herself.”
Sam glanced at the ship’s clock above the door. “Okay, look. It’s already five o’clock. Clearly this is something we need to talk about later.”
“I agree,” Jackie said. “Let’s just get through tonight first.”
Sam turned to Faith. “I might be running a few minutes late by the time I pick Jamie up from physical therapy and help him get changed. If you can bring Mom to the party, I’ll take her home.”
“I can do that,” Faith said.
“Perfect.” Jackie leaned over and kissed Faith’s cheek, then Sam’s. “In case I forget to tell you both later, Happy Birthday.”