The East End social order—old money, new money, and the local population—has inspired writers for generations, and now Holly Peterson is shaking it all up in a tart cocktail of a novel meant to be consumed poolside. This exclusive excerpt from It Happens in the Hamptons comes with an introduction written by the author especially for Hamptons magazine.
Every year, when the last Friday in May rolls around, the towns on the tip of Long Island fade from black and white to Technicolor. New energy suddenly pumps through the veins of the roadways and pulsates in the crashing waves.
Everything is sexier: the loose strap of a tank top and the swing of a hip newly exposed to bright, warm sunlight. In turn, everyone feels it: the clubby families sipping Southsides on their forlorn couches, the flashy hedgefunders checking themselves out in the mirrors of their shiny new Teslas, and the locals bracing themselves for the pleasure-seeking crowds.
The summer tears on, and the different classes swirl around each other like the frothy wake of the Atlantic we share. It Happens in the Hamptons is a novel that explores this clash of cultures.
By July, the wife is flirting with the golf pro, and the husband with the yoga teacher. The impeccable matron, reared with manners fit for a queen, is abusing her staff now that the lunch guests have departed. The banker, who briefly considered his architect a buddy, excoriates him over shallow shelves that don’t hold his polo shirts.
As the diverse backgrounds, incomes, and desires that were pent up all winter begin to boil over in the heat of summer, things get messy, unpredictable, and as dangerous as the ocean’s nighttime waves. Summer life becomes an inferno of sweaty cash, couture, food, sex, and parties. Pros and pretenders of all sorts roil and lurk around us. It is a wonder we make it out alive to tell the tale…
Anyone could have predicted that the summer’s turmoil would start the moment Kona’s rusty Jeep blasted through the wooden white entry gates that Saturday night. The car skidded around a rare Japanese tree and screeched to a stop. Kona marveled at the deep tire marks he’d made in the cinnamon pebbles raked like frosting.
Luke stepped out from the passenger side first. He swiped his hands down his black pants and stiffened the collar on his white shirt. His soft, dark eyes itched from a day in the salt water, and a trace of white zinc remained in a small patch of stubble on his handsome jaw. No matter how hard he’d worked, nothing felt right.
The guys were trying their best, but that didn’t extinguish the “fish out of water” neon sign blinking on their foreheads as they entered the fray of the .001 percenters at the Chase estate. The mansion bulged with impossible weight over the fragile oceanfront dune.
“You think we’re dressed right?” Luke asked. “Hamptons Festive might mean those pink ties and blazers.”
“Nah. Black and white. Always the safe bet. All good,” answered Kona. Years battling waves had sculpted his burly frame, now sheathed in a wrinkled white button-down he’d found in the depths of his dresser. “When you’re tan and good-looking and not a fat banker, it doesn’t matter what clothes you got on. F--- these people: we look good.”
“Thanks, man,” Luke said, as Kona threw the parking attendant his keys in an arc over the exposed roll bar of his Jeep. “We teach the Chase kids to water-ski and surf; I’m sure little Richie made them invite us.”
He remembered this same kid had dented the shiny right bumper of the owner’s new four-seater Porsche Panamera “family car” when the automatic driveway gates had opened on their own last summer. Jake Chase, the forty-seven-year-old corpulent owner of the otherwise pristine vehicle, didn’t much mind. He knew he’d simply have someone tell someone to tell someone to repair it.
At the scene of the fender bender, Jake, amazed by his uncanny ability to keep everything so well in perspective, had assured the young man: “It happens, kid. Don’t sweat it. Hell, why should a fifty-thousand-dollar gate function properly when you push a button?”
The legendary Jake Chase was like that, always trying to prove he was on even par with the local guys because he started out driving a laundry truck to get by in college. By the time he was thirty-five, that stint behind the wheel led Jake to create the country’s largest Laundromat chain. Developing entire malls followed, and the cash rolled in with the same certainty as those pounding waves in front of his summer home.
Jake would punch the guys too hard in the upper arm to make sure they were alert when he recounted tales of his career. He’d then throw his balding head back in laughter, hoping deep down in his short, stubby build that they got his inane jokes. Cool is a gift bestowed. Luke and Kona knew one couldn’t buy, rent, borrow, or steal it.
“C’mon, man,” yelled Kona, shaking his stringy blond hair that graced the lower part of his shoulders—a perfect length to attract the lady folk, while still thrusting a middle finger at any semblance of a desk job. “Julia Chase is waiting for me upstairs; I just feel it.” Julia Chase, the buxom hostess of tonight’s Memorial Day weekend cocktail affair, had pushed the guys hard to show, insisting her glamorous friends wanted to meet real surfers.
Luke, thirty-one, and Kona, thirty-four, had both grown up in the same Southampton school district. Their local friends and relatives were electricians, land surveyors, restaurateurs, AV technicians, shop owners—normal American folks who actually lived in one residence all year round. They knew middle-class childhoods, nothing more—and a lot less when times were tough.
The gray slate steps were illuminated with a subtle line of lights flooding the stairs as if they were leading to the entrance of a royal Egyptian tomb. As he strode up to the event, Kona couldn’t decide if Julia Chase’s supersized wealth and married status were an inconvenient reality, or one of those thrilling challenges that tended to smack him in the face.
“The beach was empty, my towel was like a goddamn postage stamp in the sand,” Kona declared, with boorish confidence. “And Julia chooses to do a down-dog yoga move like five feet in front of me? She’s dying for it.”
“She may have not even noticed you were there,” counseled Luke. “Don’t get us in hot water with Jake Chase. The season is just starting and that kook is sharper than he looks.”
Entering her territory and this grandiose house, Kona began to question everything he’d felt on his territory: the water sports camp on his beach. Whether he could properly evaluate Julia’s stretching needs or not, he resorted to his fail-safe stance and walked up those illuminated steps like he owned the entire forty-million- dollar beachfront property. He reminded himself that life was all about making moves—on bored, horny housewives, on job connections with the city people, on any opportunity that befell him. He rubbed the stubborn sand out of his eyebrows and shook his head a bit to cast off these rare schoolboy inhibitions.
Near the twelve-foot-high privet to the side of the estate, a young woman escaped the party and raced behind the pool shed, her heart beating violently. She tried to create moisture in her dry mouth by sucking on the insides of her cheeks. Pulling her glorious, curly mane off her bare back, she knotted it up into a bun.
Waiting for her, he lay like a starfish in the dark, tangled brush. His blazer flapped open against the sandy earth beneath him, exposing the Lilly Pulitzer pink-and-yellow gardenia lining he found so festive and reassuring all at once. He passed the time deciphering the sparkling constellations above, his eyes eventually settling on the hunter, Orion.
He checked his vintage Rolex Daytona. Indeed, she was eighteen minutes late. Off in the distance, the waves of the Atlantic pounded the shoreline, making the ground beneath him reverberate with a gentle rumbling. He had all night to mingle, and he knew all the arrivistes sipping their colorful cocktails on the other side of the hedge wouldn’t discover them. His reasoning, honed on the debate team at Exeter, usually did not fail him.
As she opened the wooden gate, it creaked loudly, and she carefully closed it back while covering it with dangling branches.
“Over here,” he said quietly, calmly. She liked his voice. It was so gentlemanly, so evolved, so not like men her age.
“I’m coming!” she whispered loudly, hopping on one platform espadrille as she pulled off the other. She walked with both shoes hanging from her two fingers as she moved along the pathway toward him. Before reaching the clearing where he lay, she noticed the stars flickering above as the evening sky transformed the landscape into a hazy, Hamptons purple hue. She snapped a photo to be posted later. For sure.
“You smell delicious,” he muttered as he pulled her down toward him.
“It’s not like we’re saving some hedge fund client in rough currents; they hardly need us here,” Luke whispered loudly to Kona. He looked back at the lawn, which was as long as the five-par golf holes he used to caddy. He pointed at the never-ending driveway behind them. A dozen cars snaked along, while uniformed valets raced around to open doors as if they were saving children from a burning building. First rolled in a vintage 1970s Mercedes convertible 280SL, then a Porsche Turbo S, and then an Aston Martin V12 Vantage.
Kona yelled back to Luke. “‘A’ole pilikia. Stop sweating this. Let’s go crush the buffet.” For the first time, the men were able to check out the grounds of the famous Chase house, normally hidden behind twenty-foot-tall hedges. Only in the late autumn and winter, when the leaves fell and the green walls turned to barren branches, could anyone get even a glimpse of the landscaped Southampton estates filled with outdoor art installations, tennis courts, and infinity pools stretching out toward the sea.
Kona and Luke passed an enormous sculpture that looked like a poodle made up of long balloons that clowns twist into shapes. Luke wondered if it cost over a million dollars, or over ten million, or possibly even more.
Just then, both men heard laughter on the other side of the hedge.
“Let’s start some trouble if you wanna wait,” said Kona, trying to peer through the bushes at a couple in the sea grass. He grabbed Luke’s shoulder and pushed him behind the pool shed so they could both get a better look. “Let’s go,” cautioned Luke.
“Nope,” replied Kona. He waited a few more moments, and then yelled “Yo!” at the couple to get their attention.
Suddenly, from behind the pool shed on their side of the hedge, a muscled man tapped Luke’s arm with enough force to inflict a bruise. “Can we help you boys? Whom are you yelling at?” He elbowed his partner.
“No, uh, we were…” answered Luke, rubbing his arm.
“You were what?” The two security goons looked at each other, trying to divine if Luke and Kona were nosy guests or criminals.
Luke said, “All good, all fine.” The men walked up the stairs, while the guards muttered to themselves.
“I think we should figure out who the guy was in the grass with the young woman,” said Kona. “I got a nose for bad stuff and I’m telling you… sicko preppy pervert.”
On the expansive deck overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, a sea of kelly green and Tweety-Bird yellow now greeted Luke and Kona, as if they had suddenly walked onto a life-size board of Candy Land. Orange and pink weather balls were strung across the pool. Waiters meandered through the throngs with cantaloupe mojitos curated to match the guests.
The guys didn’t know where to move first, as wealthy summer people converged in tight, impermeable circles. On the couches, a media CEO who had just merged his company with a telecommunications giant pontificated gleefully about spineless antitrust legislation. And inside, a black artist, dressed in a Gucci bomber jacket, track pants, and snakeskin Balenciaga high-tops, mesmerized a crowd about his blockbuster show in Chelsea. While waxing on about cultural signifiers, his devotees jockeyed to secure one of his tar-covered sculptures they knew would triple in value by next summer.
Luke and Kona walked strategically around the herd of partygoers toward the bar, the drink less important to them than their dire need to look occupied and purposeful. Luke tapped his toe impatiently. “Like I predicted, we don’t know anyone.” The wind turned slightly, and they got a whiff of the wood-burnt pizzas the celebrity chef created in the Chases’ new outdoor pizza oven.
“Relax, man,” answered Kona, grabbing a slice with heirloom baby artichokes and truffle shavings. “We look fine, professional.” Of course “professional” to these two meant they had “a job,” such as running a water sports venture in summer. In winter, Kona worked as a Hawaiian landscaper and Luke, a part-time marine biology teacher. To everyone else at the party, “a job” meant “own, run, or be the majority stockholder in a multinational conglomerate.”
Luke and Kona waded around huge floor pillows covered in Mexican tapestries, an attempt by Julia Chase to make the “intimate” affair for one hundred and fifty guests seem thrown together and casual. The party planner had charged the Chases twenty-eight thousand dollars just for the “bohemian” décor, fifty-five thousand dollars for a tent complete with Latin American planters flown in from Belize, and sixty-four thousand dollars for food and beverage that included a shellfish taco bar with several handsome servers hacking open stone crabs flown in from Florida. The Kobe beef sliders and the hip-hop Pandora station pumping in the background helped boost the Chases’ belief that they were playing it down.
Minutes later, Julia Chase spotted Luke and Kona lying back on loungers by the pool, several black cod ceviche crisps they’d hoarded balancing on their thighs. As they chomped, she appeared before them like a Missoni mermaid, with a long knit skirt in shades of peach that strategically matched the setting sun.
“Kona, Luke, there’s so many people who want to meet real surfers!” Julia’s blond curls framed her beautiful, angular face, and her lips were permanently poised as if to whistle.
“Sure.” Kona slowly lumbered up as if he didn’t really need to meet anyone, because, well, he was fitting in just fine.
But before they could take the seven steps over to her, Julia had turned away to infiltrate another group of men and women who would rather swallow an orange beach ball than talk to someone who wouldn’t advance them socially or professionally.
Like twins in their monochrome black pants and white collared shirts, Kona and Luke stood there dumbstruck one moment too long.
Just then, a man dressed in Pepto-Bismol-colored pants shoved his empty highball glass in Kona’s one hand, mushed a pesto marinadecovered napkin and shell-encrusted toothpick in the other, and said, “Waiter. Be so kind. Fetch me two gin and tonics.”
Photography by: PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANDREW WERNER (PETERSON)