They were on the ferry, the hulking white steamship that was properly named the Eagle, but which Margot had always thought of as Moby-Dick, because that was what their mother used to call it. Every year when the Carmichael family drove their Ford Country Squire into the darkened hold of the boat, Beth used to say it was like being swallowed by a whale. She had found the ride on the steamship romantic, literary, and possibly also biblical (she would have been thinking of Jonah, right?)—but Margot had despised the ferry ride then, and she despised it even more now. The thick, swirling fumes from the engines made her queasy, as did the lurching motion. For this trip, Margot had taken the Dramamine that Jenna offered her in Hyannis. Really, with the seven thousand details of her wedding to triage, the fact that Jenna had remembered to pack pills for her sister's seasickness was astonishing—but that was Jenna for you. She was thoughtful, nearly to a fault. She was, Margot thought with no small amount of envy, exactly like their mother.
For Jenna's sake, Margot pretended the Dramamine was working. She pulled down the brim of her straw hat against the hot July sun, which was blinding when reflected off the surface of the water. The last thing she wanted was to freckle right before the wedding. They were outside, on the upper deck. Jenna and her best friend, Finn Sullivan-Walker, were posing against the railing at the bow of the boat. Nantucket was just a smudge on the horizon; even Christopher Columbus might not have said for sure there was land ahead, but Jenna was adamant that Margot take a picture of her and Finn, with their blond hair billowing around their faces, as soon as Nantucket was visible in the background.
Margot planted her feet at shoulder width to steady herself against the gentle and yet nefarious rocking of the boat and raised the camera. Her sister looked happy. She looked excited-happy that this was the beginning of her wedding weekend, which was certain to be the most fun-filled and memorable weekend of her life—and she also looked contented-happy, because she was confident that marrying Stuart James Graham was her life's mission. Stuart was the One.
Stuart had proposed to Jenna on a park bench across the street from Little Minds, the progressive, "sustainable" preschool where Jenna was the lead teacher, presenting her with a ring featuring Sri Lankan sapphires and ethically mined diamonds from Canada. (Stuart was a banker, who made money buying and selling money, but he knew the path to Jenna's heart.) Since that day, Margot had cast herself as devil's advocate to Jenna's vision of a lifetime of happiness with Stuart. Marriage was the worst idea in all of civilization, Margot said. For two people to meet when they were young and decide to spend the rest of their lives together was unnatural, Margot said, because everyone knew that human beings changed as they got older, and what were the chances—honestly, what were the chances—that two people would evolve in ways that were compatible?
"Listen," Margot had said one evening when she and Jenna were having drinks at Cafe Gitane in SoHo. "You like having sex with Stuart now. But imagine doing it four thousand times. You'll lose interest, I promise you. You'll grow sick of it. And the enthusiasm that you used to have for having sex with Stuart will migrate—against your will—to something else. You'll develop an unhealthy interest in cultivating orchids. You'll be that mother on the baseball field, harassing the umpire over every pitch that crosses the plate. You'll start flirting with the cashier at Whole Foods, or the compost guru at the local nursery, and the flirting will turn into fantasies, and the fantasies will become a fling, then perhaps a full-blown affair, and Stuart will find out by checking your cell phone records, and your life will be ruined, your reputation will end up in shreds, and your children will require expensive therapy." Margot paused to sip her sauvignon blanc. "Don't get married."
Jenna had stared at her levelly. Or almost. Margot thought that this time, maybe, somewhere deep inside those clear blue eyes, she detected a flicker of worry.
"Shut up," Jenna said. "You're just saying that because you're divorced."
"Everyone is divorced," Margot said. "We owe our very livelihood to the fact that everyone is divorced. It put food on the table, it paid for our orthodontia, it sent us to college." Margot paused again, more wine. She was under the gun to get her point across. It was nearly seven o'clock, and her children were in the apartment without a babysitter. At twelve years old, Drum Jr. was okay to be left in charge until it got dark, then he would panic and start blowing up Margot's phone. "Divorce, Jenna, is paying for your wedding."
Margot was referring to the fact that their father, Douglas Carmichael, was the managing partner at Garrett, Parker, and Spence, a very successful family law practice in midtown Manhattan. Technically, Margot knew, Jenna would have to agree with her: divorce had always paid for everything.
"There is no man on earth better suited for me than Stuart," Jenna said. "He traded in his Range Rover for a hybrid for me. He and two of the guys on his trading desk showed up last weekend to fix a hole in the roof at Little Minds. He brings me coffee in bed every morning when he stays over. He goes with me to foreign films and talks with me about them afterwards at the fondue place. He likes the fondue place and doesn't mind that I always want to eat there after the movies. He doesn't complain when I listen to Taylor Swift at top volume. Sometimes he even sings along."
This was a litany Margot had heard many times before. Famously, after only three dates, Stuart had showed up at Jenna's apartment with a bouquet of yellow roses and a screwdriver, and he had fixed the towel bar in her bathroom, which had been broken since she'd moved in two years earlier.
"What I'm saying is that you and Stuart are tra-la-la now, everything is sunshine and lollipops, but it might still fail down the road."
"Shut up," Jenna said again. "Just shut the eff up. You're not going to talk me out of it. I love Stuart."
"Love dies," Margot said, and she snatched up the bill.
Now Margot tried to center Jenna's and Finn's shining faces in the viewfinder. She snapped a picture, all hair and toothy smiles.
"Take another one, just in case," Jenna said.
Margot took another as the boat pitched side… to… side. She grabbed one of the plastic molded chairs that were bolted to the deck. Oh, God. She breathed in through her nose, out through her mouth. It was good to be gazing at the horizon. Her three children were down in the hold of the ship, sitting in the car, playing Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja on their iDevices. The movement of the boat didn't faze them; all three had their father's ironclad constitution. Nothing made them sick; physically, they were warriors. But Drum Jr. was afraid of the dark, and Carson, Margot's ten-year-old, had nearly failed the fourth grade. At the end of the year, his teacher, Ms. Wolff, had told Margot—as if she didn't know already—that Carson wasn't stupid, he was just lazy.
Like his father. Drum Sr. was living in San Diego, surfing and managing a fish taco stand. He hoped to buy the stand and possibly turn it into a franchise; someday he would be a baron of fish taco stands up and down the coast of California. The business plan sounded hazy to Margot, but she encouraged him nonetheless. When she met him, Drum Sr. had had a trust fund, which he'd frittered away on exotic surfing and skiing trips. His parents had bought Drum and Margot a palatial apartment on East Seventy-third Street, but his father offered nothing more in the way of cash, hoping that Drum would be inspired to get a job. But instead Drum had stayed home to care for the kids while Margot worked. Now she sent him a support check for $4,000 every month—the trade-off, along with a lump sum of $360,000, for keeping the apartment.
However, after the phone call she had received last night, she supposed the palimony payments would end. Drum Sr. had called to tell her he was getting married.
"Married?" Margot had said. "To whom?"
"Lily," he said. "The Pilates instructor."
Margot had never heard of Lily the Pilates instructor before, and she had never heard the kids—who flew to California the last weekend of every month, trips that were also financed by Margot—mention anyone named Lily the Pilates instructor. There had been a Caroline, a Nicole, a Sara, pronounced "Sah-RAH." Drum had women moving through a revolving door. From what Margot could tell, girlfriends lasted three to four months, which aligned with what she knew to be his attention span.
"Well, congratulations," Margot said. "That's wonderful." She sounded genuine to her own ears; she was genuine. Drum was a good guy, just not the guy for her. She had been the one to end the marriage. Drum's laid-back approach to the world—which Margot had found so charming when she met him surfing on Nantucket—had come to drive her insane. He was unambitious at best, a slacker at worst. That being said, Margot was astonished to find she felt a twinge of—what? jealousy? anger? resentment?—at his announcement. It seemed unfair that news of Drum's nuptials should arrive less than forty-eight hours before Jenna's wedding.
Everyone is getting married, she thought. Everyone but me.
Jenna and Finn were as young and blond and pretty as a couple of milkmaids on a farm in Sweden. Finn looked more like Jenna than Margot did. Margot had straight black hair, the hair of a silk weaver in Beijing—and she had six inches on her sister, the height of a tribeswoman on the banks of the Amazon. She had blue eyes like Jenna, but Jenna's were the same color as the sapphires in her engagement ring, whereas Margot's were ice blue, the eyes of a sled dog in northern Russia.
Jenna looked exactly like their mother. And so, bizarrely, did Finn, who had grown up three houses away.
"We need to get a picture of the three of us now," Jenna said. She took the camera from Margot and handed it to a man reading the newspaper in one of the plastic molded chairs.
"Do you mind?" Jenna asked sweetly.
The man rose. He was tall, about Margot's age, maybe a little older; he had a day or two of scruff on his face, and he was wearing a white visor and sunglasses. He looked like he was going to Nantucket to sail in a regatta. Margot checked his left hand—no ring. No girlfriend in the vicinity, no children in his custody, just a folded copy of the Wall Street Journal now resting on his seat as he rose to take the picture. "Sure," he said. "I'd love to."
Margot assumed that Jenna had picked the guy on purpose; Jenna was on a mission to find Margot a boyfriend. She had no idea that Margot had allowed herself to fall in love—idiotically—with Edge Desvesnes, their father's law partner. Edge was thrice married, thrice divorced, nineteen years Margot's senior, and wildly inappropriate in half a dozen other ways. If Jenna had known about Margot and Edge, she would only be more eager to introduce Margot to someone else.
Margot found herself assigned to the middle, pegged between the two blond bookends.
"I can't see your face," Regatta Man said, nodding at Margot. "Your hat is casting a shadow."
"Sorry," Margot said. "I have to leave it on."
"Oh, come on," Jenna said. "Just for one second while he takes the picture?"
"No," Margot said. If her skin saw the sun for even one second, she would detonate into a hundred thousand freckles. Jenna and Finn could be cavalier with their skin, they were young, but Margot would stand vigilant guard, despite the fact that she must now seem rigid and difficult to Regatta Man. She said in her most conciliatory voice, "Sorry."
"No worries," Regatta Man said. "Smile!" He took the picture.
There was something familiar about the guy, Margot thought. She knew him. Or maybe it was the Dramamine messing with her brain.
"Should I take one more, Margot?" he said. "Just to be safe?"
Regatta Man removed his sunglasses, and Margot felt as though she'd been slapped. She lost her footing on the deck and tipped a little. She looked into Regatta Man's eyes to be sure. Sure enough, heterochromia iridum—dark blue perimeters with green centers. Or, as Margot had thought when she first saw him, he was a man with kaleidoscope eyes.
Before her stood Griffin Wheatley, Homecoming King. Otherwise just known as Griff. Who was, out of all the people in the world, among the top five Margot didn't want to bump into without warning. Didn't want to bump into at all. Maybe the top three.
"Griff!" she exclaimed. "How are you?"
"I'm good, I'm good," he said. He cleared his throat and nervously shoved the camera back at Margot; the question of the second photo seemed to have drifted off on the breeze. Margot figured Griff was about half as uncomfortable as she was. He would be thinking of her only as the bearer of disappointing news. She was thinking of him as the worst judgment call she had made in years. Oh, God.
He said, "Did you hear I ended up taking the marketing job at Blankstar?"
Margot couldn't decide if she should pretend to be surprised by this, or if she should admit that she had been Googling his name every single day until she was able to reassure herself that he'd landed safely. The job at Blankstar was a good one.
She changed the subject. "So why are you headed to Nantucket?" She tried to recall: Had Griff mentioned Nantucket in any of his interviews? No, she would have remembered if he had. He was from Maryland somewhere, which meant he had probably grown up going to Rehoboth or Dewey.
"I'm meeting buddies for golf," he said.
Ah, yes, golf—of course golf, not sailing. Griff had spent two years on the lower rungs of the PGA Tour. He'd made just enough money, he said, to buy a case of beer each week and have enough left over for the Laundromat. He had lived out of the back of his Jeep Wrangler and, when he played well, at the Motel 6.
These details all came back unbidden. Margot couldn't stand here another second. She turned to Jenna, sending a telepathic message: Get me out of here! But Jenna was checking her phone. She was texting her beloved Stuart, perhaps, or any other of the 150 guests who would gather on Saturday to drink in the sight of Jenna wearing their mother's wedding gown.
"I'm here for my sister's wedding," Margot said. She chewed her bottom lip. "I'm the maid of honor."
He lit up with amused delight, as though Margot had just told him she had been selected to rumba with Antonio Banderas on Dancing with the Stars. "That's great!" he said.
He sounded far more enthusiastic than she felt.
She said, "Yes, Jenna is getting married on Saturday." Margot indicated Jenna with a Vanna White flourish of her hands, but Jenna's attention was glued to her phone. Margot was afraid to engage Jenna anyway, because what if Jenna asked how Margot and Griff knew each other?
Thankfully, Finn stepped forward. "I'm Finn Sullivan-Walker," she said. "I'm just a lowly bridesmaid."
Griff shook hands with Finn and laughed. "Not lowly, I'm sure."
"Not lowly at all," Margot said. This was the third time that Finn had made reference to the fact that she wasn't Jenna's maid of honor. She had been miffed when Jenna first announced her decision to Margot and Finn, over dinner at Dos Caminos. Finn had ordered three margaritas in rapid succession, then gone silent. And then she had gotten her nose out of joint about it again at the bridal shower. Finn was upset that she had been stuck writing down the list of gifts while Margot the maid of honor fashioned the bows from the gifts into a goofy hat made from a paper plate. (Jenna was supposed to wear that hat tonight, to her bachelorette party. Margot had rescued it from the overly interested paws of Ellie, her six-year-old daughter, and had transported it here, more or less intact, in a white cardboard box from E.A.T. bakery.)
Margot had told Jenna that it would be fine if Jenna wanted to ask Finn to be the matron of honor. Margot was eleven years older than Jenna; Finn had always been more like Jenna's sister. Now Jenna and Finn were both in the throes of the nuptial era; everyone they knew was getting married. For the two of them, being the maid of honor was an actual honor—whereas Margot had been married and divorced and, quite frankly, couldn't care less.
But Margot knew the reason why Jenna would never ask Finn to be matron of honor. It was because of the Notebook. It had been assumed by their mother that Margot would serve as Jenna's maid of honor.
Margot said, "Finn just got married last October."
"Oh, really?" Griff said.
Finn gazed out at the water. "Yeah."
"Her husband is a golfer, too," Margot said. "Scratch!"
Finn's husband, Scott Walker, had been on the golf team at Stanford, where Tiger Woods had played. Now Scott was a hedge fund manager making a bajillion dollars a quarter.
Finn made a face like she had just eaten snail and vinegar stew, and Margot wondered if something was awry in her seemingly perfect marriage. Scott, Margot knew, wasn't coming to the wedding because of one of the inevitable conflicts for those mired in the nuptial era: his best friend, his roommate from Stanford, was having his bachelor party this very same weekend. Scott was in Las Vegas.
Probably Finn just missed him, the way that Margot missed Edge. The way that Margot lived in a perpetual state of missing Edge. She had sex with Edge, she had conversations with Edge, some more meaningful than others, she occasionally had dinner with Edge—but never the movies, never theater, never ever any kind of benefit or dance or party where other people they knew would be in attendance. Those kinds of events Margot attended alone or with her brother, Nick, who was always sure to leave with someone else.
"Well!" Margot said. She was dying to put the small talk with Griffin Wheatley, Homecoming King, to bed. She would have excused herself to check on the children below, but she wasn't feeling well enough to even step inside the cabin in the name of such a bluff. "Have fun playing golf! Birdie, birdie, eagle!"
"Thanks," Griff said. He took a step toward the chair where his Wall Street Journal awaited, and Margot thought, Okay, that's over. Good-bye, Griffin Wheatley, Homecoming King! Jenna could have asked Idi Amin to take their picture and Margot might have been less flustered.
"See ya," Margot said.
"Have a great wedding," Griff said. And then to Finn, "Nice meeting you, lowly bridesmaid."
Finn scowled at him, but undeterred, Griff called out to Jenna, "Congratulations!"
Jenna raised her eyes from her iPhone long enough to offer the quick, impersonal wave of an Oscar winner.
Finn said, "I'm going down below."
Margot nodded, and with a glance at Griff and another awkward, unnecessary "See ya!" she took Jenna by the arm and led her to the railing on the side of the boat opposite from Griff.
"Look," Margot said. She pointed past the hovering seagulls and the scattered sailboats. They could both see clearly now: the north and south steeples of the churches, the column of Brant Point Lighthouse.
Nantucket Island, their summer home.
Jenna squeezed the heck out of Margot's hand. Just as Jenna had helped Margot with her seasickness by remembering to bring the Dramamine, so now Margot would forget about the unnerving interaction with Griffin Wheatley, Homecoming King, and focus on helping Jenna with her surfeit of overwhelming emotion.
"I miss her," Jenna said.
Margot's eyes stung. The longest, most excruciating weekend of her life had officially begun.
"I know, honey," she said, hugging her sister close. "I miss her, too."
Somehow, he had ended up with the Notebook.
It was Thursday afternoon. Doug had left the office early and had taken the 3:52 to Norwalk, Connecticut, where he lived with Pauline, in a house across the street from the Silvermine Tavern. But when the conductor announced the stop for Darien, Doug grabbed his briefcase and stood halfway up before remembering.
Remembering that the life he had lived for thirty-five years—married to Beth, father of four, in a center-entrance colonial on the Post Road—was over. Beth was dead, she'd been dead seven years, the kids had all moved out, they had lives of their own, some of which they'd already managed to screw up, and Doug was now married to Pauline Tonelli, who had, once upon a time, been his client.
This wasn't the first time he'd nearly stood up at the Darien stop. But it seemed more meaningful today because today wasn't just any Thursday. Today was the Thursday before his youngest child got married.
The girls, as far as Doug knew, were already on Nantucket. They had a reservation for Margot's car on the afternoon ferry, which meant they would be arriving right about now, driving up Main Street to their home on Orange Street. They would pull the key from under the stone turtle in the garden, where the key had always been kept, despite the caretaker. They would walk into the house, they would throw open the windows and unstick the back screen door, they would turn on the water heater, they would make a shopping list. They would hasten to get all the suitcases inside, but they would be arrested by the view of the sparkling harbor below. Margot's kids would head out to the backyard to see Alfie, the two-hundred-year-old oak tree, and sit in the swing. Or at least Ellie would; the boys might be beyond that now.
Of course, Doug remembered when it was Jenna in that swing.
Pauline's car wasn't in the driveway, which came as a relief. For the past twelve months, maybe longer, Doug had found he was happier without Pauline around. This was a bad sign. For his entire professional life, Doug had sat on one side of his partners desk and listened while the person on the other side shared the details of his or her disintegrating marriage. Doug had heard it all—He cheated with Her best friend, She cheated with the tennis pro, there was wife swapping, He hit the kids, She had Munchausen's, She had a drinking problem, He gambled away the kids' college funds, He was addicted to pornographic websites, She abused prescription drugs, He lost his job and sat around the house all day in his bathrobe, She weighed three times what She had when He married Her, He was an asshole, She was a bitch, He wasn't giving Her one red cent, She was going to take Him for all He was worth. For thirty-five years, Doug had nodded along, pretending to be feeling his clients' angst, but really, he had no idea. He was happily married; he flat-out adored his wife. Even after twenty-five years of marriage, he had sat on this very train and looked forward to the moment he would walk into the house and see Beth.
It was only in the past year that Doug had finally understood what his clients were feeling. He didn't recognize himself in the dramatic scenes—there was no abuse in his marriage to Pauline, no derelict behavior, no destructive habits, no special needs children, no financial woes, no infidelity—rather, Doug identified with his quieter, sadder clients. The marriage no longer provided any joy. They got on each other's nerves, there was a constant buzz of low-level bickering, they were happier and more comfortable when they were apart from each other.
Yes, that was him. That was him exactly.
Pauline was out somewhere, she had probably told him where, but he had forgotten; it went in one ear and out the other, just as she always said. He didn't care where she was, as long as she wasn't home. Lately, Doug had even had fantasies of Pauline driving on Route 7 while talking on the phone to her daughter, Rhonda, and having a fatal accident. He couldn't believe it. He had heard similar sentiments come out of his clients' mouths—I wish he/she would just die!—but he never believed himself capable of such a thought. And yet it did now occasionally cross his mind. He nearly always amended this fantasy. Pauline didn't have to die to set him free. She might, one day, wake up and decide that she wanted to go back to her ex-husband, Arthur Tonelli. She might climb into the car, get Rhonda immediately on the phone, as was her annoying habit, and announce to Rhonda that she was driving to the Waldorf Astoria to see if Arthur would take her back.
Doug shed his suit coat and his briefcase and loosened his tie. He'd skipped lunch so he could get out of the office early. Edge was going to court first thing in the morning to deal with the shitshow Cranbrook case (Mr. Cranbrook, investment banker, leveraged to the hilt because he was keeping a woman on the side in an apartment on East Sixtieth Street and had bought her a Porsche Carrera, all with his secret credit card, the fate of three children under seven, one of them with extreme special needs, hanging in the balance)—and thus Edge wouldn't get to Nantucket until six o'clock tomorrow evening at the very earliest. He would miss the first round of golf, and Doug felt guilty about that. The Cranbrook case was Doug's case, and it was a hot, steaming mess. Edge was helping Doug out by taking over tomorrow. Doug obviously couldn't do it himself and risk missing his daughter's wedding.
He was starving and went into the kitchen for something, anything, to eat. Pauline, like a housewife from the Depression era, liked to leave the fridge and cupboards all but bare before they went away. In the crisper, Doug found one apple and a few stalks of celery. He bit into the apple and dragged the celery lavishly through a jar of peanut butter that he pulled out of the pantry.
Then he saw it on the kitchen counter, next to the prep sink where Pauline was defrosting a couple of sad-looking lamb chops that were probably going to be their dinner.
His mouth was sticky with peanut butter, but he let a garbled cry escape: Oh, shit!
That was it, right? The spiral-bound notebook with the kelly green cover and the word in black Sharpie written in Beth's handwriting: WEDDING. The notebook itself had probably cost $1.69 at Staples, but it was no less precious than the Magna Carta. That notebook contained all of Beth's hopes, wishes, and suggestions for Jenna's wedding. She had written it in the eight months between the time she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and the time she died. She had written it not to interfere or be prescriptive but because more than anything she wanted Jenna to feel like she had a mother during that time when she most needed a mother.
Beth had filled the notebook hoping that she would be part of the special day, even though she would be gone. She planned the details of Jenna's wedding even though Jenna had not yet met the man who was to be her husband. Beth had confidence in Jenna. She would meet someone wonderful, and she would want a lavish, traditional wedding.
In the summertime, of course.
At the house on Nantucket, of course.
Their older daughter, Margot, had gotten married to a fellow named Drummond Bain on a cliff in Antigua with just the immediate family in attendance—Doug and Beth, Nick and Kevin, Kevin's wife, Beanie, and Jenna. From Drum's side, only the Bain parents had attended because Drum was an only child. That was half the problem with Drum, or maybe that was the whole problem. He had been handed things without having to earn them. Mitchell Bain was a big shot with Sony, always back and forth between New York and Tokyo. He had set up a trust fund for Drum on his twenty-first birthday. The kid had done nothing with his life but surf, ski, and zip carelessly through his money. Why had Margot fallen for him? Doug and Beth had gently expressed their reservations about Drum, but then Margot got pregnant. Doug had been sure Drum would say sayonara and run for the hills. Doug and Beth had actually wished for this to happen; they would help Margot raise the baby themselves. But Drum had done the unthinkable and proposed.
Margot had worn a flowing maternity dress to the ceremony, in a color Beth called "blush."
Doug remembered lying in bed with Beth after Margot's wedding. He and Beth, and Drum's parents, Mitchell and Greta Bain, had heedlessly plowed through six bottles of wine at the reception. Kevin and Nick had pulled Drum off to the bar, and Margot had been left behind with Beanie, who was also pregnant, and Jenna, who had been only sixteen at the time. The three of them sipped sparkling water.
"She looked absolutely miserable tonight," Beth said.
"I wouldn't say miserable," Doug said.
"What word would you use to describe her, then?"
"Resigned," Doug said.
"Well, that's perfectly awful!" Beth said. "I wanted more for her. I wanted more than a shotgun wedding, even if it is in the Caribbean."
"Honey, she loves him."
"It'll never last," Beth said.
Drummond Bain Jr. had been born, and then Carson. When Beth had died, Margot hadn't been pregnant with Ellie yet. When Beth died, things were still okay between Margot and Drum Sr. But Beth had ended up being right, of course. The marriage didn't last.
Doug touched the front cover of the Notebook. He opened to the first page. I wish for you a beautiful day, Jenna, my darling. You alone will make it so.
Doug closed the Notebook. The rest of it was filled with information, ruminations, suggestions: Where in the closet to find Beth's wedding dress should Jenna want to wear it (of course Jenna would wear it) and the names of places to get it dry-cleaned and altered. Which flowers to use, which florist, what hymns were Beth's favorites, what to say when Jenna called Reverend Marlowe and asked him to perform the ceremony on Nantucket. The Notebook contained menu suggestions and an invitation list and poems Beth had clipped that would make excellent readings. Doug knew there were more than a few "DO NOTS," such as "Do not, under any circumstances, use Corinthians 13 as a reading. If you use Corinthians 13, you will hear a collective groan."
Doug hadn't read the Notebook, although he had started out with that intention. He had meant to read the pages closely, as he would have a legal brief, before presenting it to Jenna, just after Stuart proposed. But Doug had found even reading the opening letter painful. Beth's voice was too vivid on the page, and the emotion was too raw. My hand aches knowing that it will not be squeezing your hand just before you walk down the aisle. Doug realized there were stories and memories, bits of Carmichael family lore—some of which he might have forgotten—interspersed throughout. It would be excruciating for him to read the pages that he'd watched Beth furiously scribbling, right up until the very end, when hospice arrived and the morphine made it difficult for her to hold a pen, much less write anything. Furthermore, the Notebook hadn't been meant for his eyes. It had been meant for Jenna; it was a mother-daughter document.
Doug had, however, stumbled across the following lines: Your father is going to be a cause for concern. Margot is married, Kevin is married, and who knows if Nick will ever get married. So you're it, the last one, his baby flying from the nest. He will take it hard. But Jenna, he will have no prouder moment than escorting you down the aisle. I saw him with Margot before they walked out onto that cliff in Antigua. He could barely hold back the tears. You must promise me that you will (A) check to see that his tie is straight (B) pin his boutonniere and (C) please make sure he has a clean white handkerchief. He will need it. Even if your father has Another Wife, I want you to do those things. Do them for me, please.
Doug had welled up when he read that paragraph. Jenna had been present when this happened. She had said, "If you think that's sad, you should skip ahead and read the last page."
"What's on the last page?" he asked.
"Just read it," she said.
"I can't. It's too hard."
"I think Mom would want you to see it."
"No," he said. And then he had closed the Notebook.
Now, Doug thought to panic. The Notebook was here, on the counter, at Pauline's house (even now, five years after moving in, he still always thought of it as Pauline's house). Jenna was on Nantucket. It was the Thursday before the wedding. Two days before.
He pulled his cell phone out of his briefcase. He had an iPhone, purchased for him by his children, all of whom used iPhones themselves. Doug had been a BlackBerry user for years, Edge was a BlackBerry user, all self-respecting attorneys were BlackBerry users. iPhones were toys. But the children had bought him this iPhone, and Margot had shown him how to use it and demonstrated how easy it was to text. Then Drum Jr. had gotten one, and Kevin's oldest son, Brandon, had gotten one, and Doug liked the idea of being able to communicate with his grandsons. He found the iPhone made him feel younger than sixty-four.
The face of his phone was an emergency crash site. He had four missed calls from Margot, three missed calls from Jenna, a missed call from Pauline, two texts from Margot, two texts from Jenna, a text from Edge, and a text from Drum Jr. Doug didn't know where to look first. He decided to just call Margot.
"I have it," he said peremptorily.
"Dad?" Margot said. "We have a crisis."
"No, you don't. I have it."
"Yes," she said. "We do."
"I have it," he said. "It's here. The Notebook. I have it here, I'm looking right at it. I'll bring it with me tonight. She'll have it in her hands by nine a.m."
"Dad has it!" Margot shouted. To Doug, she said, "Thank God, oh, thank God you have it. Jenna thought she left it in a cab because the last time she remembered having it was at dinner with you and Pauline at Locanda Verde, when she took a cab all the way uptown. Yes, he has it, he has it! Can you imagine how catastrophic that would have been? Okay, Dad, I've gotta go, because now she's having a reverse nervous breakdown that strongly resembles the nervous breakdown she's been having for the past thirty minutes. She's crying hysterically, but they're tears of relief, I'm happy to say." Margot paused, and Doug did indeed hear sounds of female hysteria in the background. "Jesus, can you imagine what would have happened if she'd left it in a cab? And it was gone forever?"
Doug swallowed. The thought was too awful to contemplate. Please make sure he has a clean white handkerchief. Had there ever been a purer declaration of love? he wondered.
"No," he said.
"What is the Notebook doing there, anyway?" Margot asked.
"Forget it, Daddy, I have to go. This place is a madhouse."
"See you in the morning," Margot said. "Don't forget to bring it!"
"I won't," he said.
He carried the Notebook upstairs and slid it into the pocket of his suitcase right away, just to put his mind at ease.
What was the Notebook doing there?
Doug lay down on the bed, still in his shirt and tie and suit pants and Gucci loafers. He was suddenly tired. He and Pauline would be rising at 3 a.m. to make his 10:30 a.m. tee time at Sankaty; the mere thought was exhausting. Plus, Pauline set the air conditioner lower in the bedroom the way he liked it; the cool room was begging him to nap.
What was the Notebook doing there?
Jenna had brought it to dinner at Locanda Verde. Doug remembered her setting it on the table next to the platter of crostini with house-made herbed ricotta. He remembered Jenna saying, "There's a cheat sheet in here, Daddy, an index card with the names of all of Mom's cousins and their spouses and children. I memorized it, and you should, too."
"Sure," Doug had said automatically. He then wondered what it would be like to see Beth's cousins, people he hadn't seen since the funeral. He was grateful when conversation turned to another topic.
If the wine had gone to her head, Jenna might have left the Notebook at the restaurant. But she hadn't left it at the restaurant. It had ended up here.
How, though? He certainly hadn't carried it out.
So there was only one answer: Pauline had taken the Notebook and brought it home. However, Doug didn't remember Jenna offering to show the Notebook to Pauline, nor did he remember Pauline asking to see the Notebook. If that had happened, he would have remembered. Pauline was jealous of the Notebook, which really meant that Pauline was jealous of Beth. Beth, who had been dead seven years, who had died in a matter of months under excruciatingly painful circumstances, leaving behind the family she'd loved more than anything. How could Pauline be jealous of Beth? How could she begrudge Jenna a missive filled with motherly love and advice? Well, Pauline hadn't been granted access to the Notebook, a fact that bugged the shit out of her, but as Doug pointed out, the Notebook was private. It was Jenna's choice to share it or not share it. Pauline was further bothered because she had offered to take Jenna shopping for a wedding dress and Jenna had informed Pauline that she would be wearing Beth's dress (per the Notebook). Pauline had suggested calla lilies in the bridal bouquet; Jenna was going with limelight hydrangeas and tight white peonies (per the Notebook). Pauline had wanted herself and Doug listed on the invitation by name, but Jenna had gone with this wording: Jennifer Bailey Carmichael and Stuart James Graham, along with their families, invite you to share in the celebration of their wedding (per the Notebook).
Doug had gently advised Pauline to back off where the wedding was concerned. Pauline had a daughter of her own. When it was Rhonda's turn to get married, Pauline could interfere all she wanted.
"When Rhonda gets married?" Pauline had exclaimed.
"Yes," Doug said.
"She'll never get married!" Pauline said. "She's never had a relationship last more than six weeks."
This was true. Rhonda had pretty, dark hair like her mother, and she was very thin. Too thin, if you asked Doug. She spent something like five hours a day at the gym. Going to the gym was Rhonda's job, and freelance graphic design was a hobby from which she received the occasional paycheck. She was thirty-eight years old, and Arthur Tonelli still paid her rent and gave her an allowance. At thirty-eight! The reason Rhonda's relationships didn't last was because she was impossible to please. She was negative, dour, and unpleasant. She never smiled. The reason Rhonda worked freelance was because she'd lost her last three office jobs due to "problems cooperating with coworkers" and "insufficient interpersonal skills with clients." Which meant: no one liked her. Except, of course, for Pauline. Mother and daughter were best friends. They told each other everything; there was absolutely no filter. This fact alone made Doug uncomfortable around Rhonda. He was sure that Rhonda knew how frequently he and Pauline made love (lately about once a month), as well as the results of his prostate exam and the cost of his bridgework.
Pauline was right: Rhonda would never get married. Pauline would never become a grandmother. And so could Doug really blame her for clinging to his family with such desperation?
Pauline burst into the bedroom, and Doug sat straight up in bed. He had fallen asleep; his mouth was cottony and still tasted faintly of peanut butter.
"Hi," he said.
"Were you sleeping?" she asked. She was wearing her tennis clothes but had removed her shoes and socks, and so Doug smelled, or imagined he could smell, her feet.
"I took a nap," he said. "I was tired, and I thought it would be a good idea, considering the drive." Doug studied his wife. She was an ample woman with large breasts and wide hips; she was the despondent possessor of what she called a "muffin top," which kept her constantly dieting. Food wasn't just food with Pauline; it was a daily challenge. She always started off well—power walking along the Silvermine River with two other women from the neighborhood and coming home to eat a bowl of yogurt with berries. But then there was a thick sandwich with fries at the country club, followed by the two pieces of pound cake she ate at book group, and not only would Doug have to hear about it when he got home from work, but he would have to share in Pauline's punishment: a dinner that consisted of grilled green beans and eggplant or a bowl of Special K.
Beth had been such a good cook. Doug would kill to taste her creamy mac and cheese or her pan-fried pork chops smothered with mushroom sauce. But he didn't like to compare.
He was glad to see Pauline had actually gone to play tennis. Her dark hair was in a ponytail, and her forehead had a sheen of sweat that gave her a certain glow. The short, pleated skirt showed off her legs, which were her best feature. Sometimes Pauline went to the club to "play tennis," but the courts would be booked, so instead she would sit at the bar with Christine Potter and Alice Quincy and drink chardonnay for two hours, and Pauline would come home feeling combative.
Pauline was a prodigious drinker of chardonnay. Doug remembered that during the divorce proceedings, Arthur had referred to her as "the wino." Doug had found that mean and unnecessary at the time, but he realized now that Arthur had not been complaining for no reason.
"How was tennis?" Doug asked.
"Fine," Pauline said. "It felt good to work out some of my anxiety."
Anxiety? Doug thought. He knew an attentive husband would ask about the source of his wife's anxiety, but Doug didn't want to ask. Then he realized that Pauline had anxiety about the upcoming weekend. He remembered the Notebook, now safely tucked into his suitcase.
He swung his feet to the floor and loosened his tie. "Pauline," he said.
She pulled her top off over her head and unhooked her sturdy white bra. Her breasts were set free. Had they always hung so low, he wondered?
"I'm going to shower," she said. "And then I have to finish packing. We're having lamb chops for dinner." She wriggled out of her skirt and underwear. She stood before him naked. Pauline was not an unlovely woman; if he touched her, he knew her skin would be soft and smooth and warm. Once upon a time, Doug had been very attracted to Pauline; their lovemaking had always been a strong point between them. He allowed himself to think about having wild, ravishing sex right now, maybe up against the closet door. He willed himself to feel a stir of arousal. He envisioned his mouth on Pauline's neck, her hand down his pants.
This was not good.
She turned to face him, panicked. She sensed, maybe, that he was after sex—which she explicitly did not allow during daylight hours.
"What?" she said.
"Did you take the Notebook from the restaurant last night?"
Doug closed his eyes, wishing she hadn't just said that. He lowered his voice, the way he would have for a hostile witness or a client who insisted on lying to him despite the fact that he had been hired to help.
"You know which notebook."
Pauline's forehead wrinkled and her eyes widened, and she did, at that moment, resemble Rhonda very strongly, which did not improve her case. "You mean the green notebook? Jenna's notebook?"
"Yes," Doug said. "Jenna's notebook. I found it downstairs. Did you take it?" The question was ridiculous—of course she'd taken it—but Doug wanted to hear her admit to it.
"Why are you being so weird?"she asked.
"Define ‘weird,' " he said.
" ‘Define weird.' Don't harass me, counselor. Save it for the courtroom." Pauline took a step toward the bathroom, but Doug wasn't going to let her escape. He stood up.
"I need to get in the shower," she said. "I'm not going to stand around naked while you accuse me of things."
Doug followed Pauline to the bathroom. He stood in the doorway as she turned on the water. This was the master bath she had shared with Arthur Tonelli for over twenty years. Pauline and Arthur had built this house together; they had picked out the tile and the sink and the fixtures. For the first few years of their marriage, Doug had felt like an impostor in this bathroom. What was he doing using Arthur Tonelli's bathroom? What was he doing sleeping with Arthur Tonelli's wife? But by now Doug had grown used to it. He and Beth had renovated their 1836 colonial on the Post Road until it was exactly to their taste, but after Beth died, it occurred to Doug that material things—even entire rooms—held no meaning. A bathroom was a bathroom was a bathroom.
"Did you take the Notebook?" Doug asked.
Pauline tested the water with her hand. She did not answer.
She whipped around. "Yes," she said. "Jenna left it on the table at the restaurant last night and I picked it up." She widened her brown eyes at him. When they'd first met, her eyes had reminded Doug of chocolate candy. "I rescued the Notebook. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to take a shower. In peace."
"No," Doug said. "I will not excuse you. Why didn't you give it back to Jenna? What is it doing here?"
"She was in a hurry, remember? She and Stuart raced away in that cab."
What Doug remembered was standing out on Greenwich Avenue trying to hail Jenna and Stuart a cab, but having no luck. That far downtown, cabs were impossible to find. What Doug remembered was considering asking the maître d' to call a car service for the kids, but then at the last moment a cab appeared, and Jenna and Stuart hopped in it. But there had been a full ten minutes, maybe longer, with the four of them outside on the sidewalk. And Pauline had had the Notebook; she had probably stuffed it into one of the enormous purses she liked to carry.
"She wasn't in a hurry," Doug said. "We waited around for goddamned ever for that cab. I'm not wrong about that, am I?"
"I forgot to give it back to her," Pauline said. "I meant to, but then we were so caught up in trying to get them a cab, I forgot."
"You forgot?" Doug said.
Pauline nodded once, with conviction. That was her story and she was sticking to it. As Arthur Tonelli's bathroom filled with steam, Doug realized something. He realized that he did not love Pauline. It was possible that he had never loved Pauline. On Monday, once the wedding was over and they were safely back home, he was going to ask Pauline for a divorce.
He turned and walked out. It felt good to have made that decision.
Pauline must have sensed something dire because she shut off the water, wrapped herself in a towel, and followed him out.
"I need you to believe me," she said.
Doug watched her clutch the towel to her chest. Her thick, dark hair, out of its ponytail, fell in damp ropes over her shoulders.
"I do believe you," he said.
"Yes," he said. "You've presented a plausible argument. Jenna left behind the Notebook, you wisely scooped it up, and amidst all the brouhaha of trying to flag a taxi, you forgot to return it to her."
Pauline exhaled. "Yes."
"My question now is, did you read it?"
As Pauline stared at him, he watched conflicting emotions cross her face. He was an attorney; he dealt every day with people who wanted to lie to him.
"Yes," she admitted. "I read it."
"You read it." He had no reason to be surprised, but he was anyway.
"It was driving me crazy," Pauline said. "The Notebook this, the Notebook that, what ‘Mom' wrote in the Notebook. Your daughters—and you, too, Douglas—treated the thing like the fifth gospel. Jenna wouldn't accept one suggestion—not one—from me. She only wanted to follow what was in the goddamned Notebook. And I wanted to see exactly what that was. I wanted to see what Beth had to say."
Doug didn't like hearing his second wife speak his first wife's name. This had always been true.
"So you read it?" Doug said. "You read it today? While I was at work?"
"Yes," Pauline said. "And I have to say, Beth covered all the bases. She let Jenna know exactly what she wanted—down to the pattern of the silver, down to the song you and Jenna should dance to, down to the earrings Jenna should wear with ‘the dress.' It was the most blatant exercise in mind control I have ever seen. Beth planned her own wedding. She didn't leave anything for Jenna to decide."
Doug wondered if Pauline had read the last page. He wondered what the last page said.
"I think those were meant to be suggestions," Doug said, feeling defensive.
"Suggestions?" Pauline said. "Beth flat-out told Jenna what to do."
"Jenna is a strong person," Doug said. "If she had disagreed with something Beth wrote, she would have changed it."
"And go against the wishes of her dead mother?" Pauline said. "Never."
"Hey now," Doug said. "That's out of line."
"I offered to take Jenna out to try on wedding dresses," Pauline said. "To try them on, that was all, to see what else was out there, to see if there was anything that suited her better than Beth's dress—and she wouldn't go. She wouldn't even try."
"I'm sure she looks lovely in Beth's dress," Doug said.
"You know," Pauline said, "I thought it was a good thing that you were widowed instead of divorced. I was glad there wasn't an ex-wife I had to see at family functions or that you were paying alimony to. But guess what? Beth is more intrusive than any ex-wife could have been."
"Intrusive?" Doug said. "Define intrusive."
"She's everywhere. Especially with this wedding. She is a palpable presence in the room. She is an untouchable standard by which the rest of us have to be judged. She has taken on sainthood. Saint Beth, the dead mother, whose memory grows more burnished every day."
"Enough," Doug said.
"I just can't compete," Pauline said. "I'll never come first, not with the kids, not with you. You are, all of you Carmichaels, obsessed with her."
Doug thought that hearing such words might anger him, but he merely found them validating. "Listen," he said. "I don't think you should come to Nantucket this weekend."
"What?" Pauline said.
"I guess what I'm really trying to say is that I don't want you to come to Nantucket this weekend. It's my daughter's wedding, and I think it would be best if I went alone." Doug heard Pauline inhale, but he didn't wait around for what she was going to say. He left the bedroom, shutting the door behind him.
Down the stairs, through the kitchen. His cell phone was on the counter. He snatched it up and saw the two meager lamb chops sitting in a pool of bloody juices.
He wasn't going to eat them. He was going out for pizza.