MEREDITH MARTIN DELINN
They had agreed not to speak about anything meaningful until Meredith was safely inside the house on Nantucket. First, they had the highway to face. Meredith knew it too well, just like every other American with a home (or, in her case, three homes) between Maine and Florida. There were the ninety-three tedious exits of Connecticut before they crossed into Rhode Island and, a scant hour later, Massachusetts. As they drove over the Sagamore Bridge, the sun came up, giving the Cape Cod Canal a cheerful pink glaze that hurt Meredith's eyes. There was no traffic on the bridge even though it was the first of July; that was why Connie liked to do the drive overnight.
Finally, they arrived in Hyannis: a town Meredith had visited once with her parents in the early 1970s. She remembered her mother, Deidre Martin, insisting they drive by the Kennedy Compound. There had been guards; it was just a few years after Bobby's assassination. Meredith remembered her father, Chick Martin, encouraging her to eat a lobster roll. She had been only eight years old, but Chick Martin had confidence in Meredith's sophistication. Brilliant and talented, Chick used to brag shamelessly. The girl can do no wrong. Meredith had tasted the lobster salad and spit it out, then felt embarrassed. Her father had shrugged and finished the sandwich himself.
Even all these years later, the memory of Hyannis filled Meredith with a sense of shame, which lay on top of the disgrace Meredith had been feeling since her husband, Freddy Delinn, had been indicted. Hyannis was a place where Meredith had disappointed her father.
Thank God he couldn't see her now.
Although they had agreed not to talk about anything meaningful, Meredith turned to Connie, who had decided—against her better judgment—to shelter Meredith, at least for the time being, and said, "Thank God my father can't see me now."
Connie, who was pulling into the parking lot of the Steamship Authority, let out a sigh and said, "Oh, Meredith."
Meredith couldn't read Connie's tone. Oh, Meredith, you're right; it's a blessing Chick has been dead for thirty years and didn't have to witness your meteoric rise and your even more spectacular fall. Or: Oh, Meredith, stop feeling sorry for yourself. Or: Oh, Meredith, I thought we agreed we wouldn't talk until we got to the house. We laid ground rules, and you're trampling them.
Or: Oh, Meredith, please shut up.
Indeed, Connie's tone since she'd rescued Meredith at two in the morning was one of barely concealed… what? Anger? Fear? Consternation? And could Meredith blame her? She and Connie hadn't spoken in nearly three years, and in their last conversation, they had said despicable things to each other; they had taken a blowtorch to the ironclad chain of their friendship. Or: Oh, Meredith, what have I done? Why are you here? I wanted a quiet summer. I wanted peace. And now I have you, a stinky international scandal, in my front seat.
Meredith decided to give Connie the benefit of the doubt. "Oh, Meredith" was a quasi-sympathetic non-answer. Connie was pulling up to the gatehouse and showing the attendant her ferry ticket; she was distracted. Meredith wore her son Carver's baseball hat from Choate and her last remaining pair of prescription sunglasses, which fortunately were big, round, and very dark. Meredith turned her face away from the attendant. She couldn't let anyone recognize her.
Connie pulled up the ramp, into the ferry's hold. Cars were packed like Matchbox models in a snug little suitcase. It was the first of July; even at this early hour, the mood on the boat was festive. Jeeps were laden with beach towels and hibachi grills; the car parked in front of Connie's was a vintage Wagoneer with at least sixteen beach stickers, in every color of the rainbow, lining the bumper. Meredith's heart was bruised, battered, and broken. She told herself not to think about the boys, but all that led to was her thinking about the boys. She remembered how she used to load up the Range Rover with bags of their bathing suits and surf shirts and flip-flops, and their baseball gloves and cleats, the aluminum case that held the badminton set, fresh decks of cards, and packs of D batteries for the flashlights. Meredith would load the dog into his crate and strap Carver's surfboard to the top of the car, and off they'd go—bravely into the traffic jam that lasted from Freeport all the way to Southampton. Inevitably, they timed it badly and got stuck behind the jitney. But it had been fun. The boys took turns with the radio—Leo liked folk rock, the Counting Crows were his favorite, and Carver liked the headbanger stuff that would make the dog howl—and Meredith always felt that the hotter and slower the drive was, the happier they were to arrive in Southampton. Sun, sand, ocean. Take your shoes off, open the windows. Freddy did the drive on the weekends, and in later years, he arrived in a helicopter.
As Meredith looked on the summer revelers now, she thought, Leo! Carver! Leo. Poor Leo. For all of the years of their growing up, Leo had taken care of Carver. Protected him, schooled him, included him. And now, Carver was the one who would be supporting Leo, propping him up. Meredith prayed he was doing a good job.
A voice came over the loudspeaker, announcing the rules and regulations of the boat. The foghorn sounded, and Meredith heard distant clapping. The good, fortunate souls headed to Nantucket Island on this fine morning were applauding the start of their summer. Meanwhile, Meredith felt like she was still three states away. At that very moment, federal marshals would be entering Meredith's penthouse apartment on Park Avenue and seizing her belongings. Meredith wondered with a curious detachment what this seizing would be like. To go with Connie, Meredith had packed one duffel bag of simple summer clothes, and one cardboard box of personal effects—photographs, her marriage license, the boys' birth certificates, a few of her favorite paperback novels, one particular spiral-bound notebook from her freshman year at Princeton, and one record album—the original 1970 release of Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water, which Meredith had no hope of ever listening to, but which she couldn't bring herself to leave behind.
She'd been permitted to take her eyeglasses, her prescription sunglasses, and her four-karat diamond engagement ring. The ring had been inherited from her grandmother, Annabeth Martin, and not bought with dirty money. There was a strand of pearls from Meredith's mother, a present on Meredith's graduation from Princeton, which fell into the same category, but Meredith had no use for pearls now. She couldn't wear pearls in jail. With a little forethought, she might have pawned them and added the money to the paltry sum she had left.
But what of her other possessions? Meredith imagined grim, strapping men in black uniforms with handguns concealed in their waistbands. One might lift the delicate Shalimar bottle off her dressing table and, unable to help himself, inhale the scent. One would strip her Aurora linens from Schweitzer off the bed. Those sheets were worth thousands of dollars, but what would the marshals do with them? Launder them, fold them, sell them off? They would take her Hostetler sculpture and the Andrew Wyeth sketches; they would clip the Calder mobile from the ceiling in the living room. They would go through Meredith's closet and box up the Louboutins and the Sergio Rossis; they would carry off her everyday dresses—Diane von Furstenberg, Phillip Lim—and her gowns—the Dior, the Chanel, the Caroline Herreras. The Feds had told Meredith that her belongings would be sold at auction and the proceeds funneled into a restitution fund for the fleeced investors. Meredith thought of her baby-blue Dior gown, which she had paid $19,000 for—a fact that, now, made her want to gag with disgust—and wondered who would own it next. Someone petite—Meredith was only five foot one and weighed a hundred pounds. That gown had been custom-tailored for her by John Galliano himself. Who would end up with Meredith's copper All-Clad sauté pans (never used, except occasionally by Leo's girlfriend, Anais, who thought it was a sin that Meredith didn't cook in her gleaming gourmet kitchen). Who would end up with the cut crystal whiskey decanter that Freddy had never poured a drink from, except in the final days before his exposure to the world. (It was the sight of Freddy throwing back three successive shots of a 1926 Macallan that put Meredith on high alert. A Pandora's box of accusations had cracked open in her mind: No one knows how he does it. He says it's black magic, but it can't be legal. He's breaking the law. He's going to get caught.)
Meredith knew the Feds would be most interested in what they found in Freddy's home office. Freddy had always kept the door to his office locked, a practice that began when the children were young and he wanted to keep them from interrupting him on the phone, though it continued into later years. The door had remained locked—both when he was in the office and when he wasn't—even against Meredith. If she wanted entry, she had to knock. She had testified to this in her deposition, but the authorities didn't believe her. Her fingerprints (literal) were on the doorknob. And her fingerprints (figurative) had been found on one illegal transaction. Three days before the collapse of Delinn Enterprises, Meredith had transferred $15 million from the company's "slush fund" into the personal brokerage account she and Freddy shared.
The federal marshals would also be interested in Freddy's den. Their decorator, Samantha Deuce, had masterminded the "gentleman's library" look with shelves of books on finance, antique piggy banks, and baseball memorabilia from Babe Ruth's stint with the Yankees. Freddy wasn't even a Yankees fan, but Samantha had likened him to Babe Ruth because, she said, they were both iconic men of their times. Iconic men of their times. Meredith had believed Samantha to be a maestro of overstatement.
Freddy had nearly always enjoyed his den alone; Meredith was hard-pressed to remember anyone else relaxing in the deep suede club chairs or watching the fifty-two-inch television. The boys didn't like hanging out in that room; even when the ball game was on, they preferred to watch in the kitchen with Meredith. There was a hidden dartboard in the back of the den that Meredith was sure had never been used; the darts were still in the bubble wrap.
The only person that Meredith could remember ever seeing in Freddy's den was Samantha. Meredith had come across Freddy and Samantha in that room a few years earlier. They had been standing side by side admiring a hunting print that Samantha had bought at Christie's. (The choice of this print was ironic, since Freddy didn't hunt and hated guns: his brother had been killed by an errant bullet in a training exercise in the army.) Freddy had been resting his hand on Samantha's lower back. When Meredith walked in, Freddy whipped his hand away so quickly that it called attention to the fact that he had been touching Samantha in the first place. Meredith thought of that moment often. Freddy's hand on Samantha's lower back: No big deal, right? Samantha had been their decorator for years. Freddy and Samantha were friends, chummy and affectionate. If Freddy had simply left his hand there, Meredith wouldn't have thought a thing about it. It was his startled reaction that made Meredith wonder. Freddy never got startled.
The ferry lurched forward. Connie had wedged her hunter-green Escalade between a Stop & Shop semi and a black Range Rover not so different from the one that Meredith used to drive to the Hamptons. Connie got out of the car, slamming her door.
Meredith panicked. "Where are you going?" she asked.
Connie didn't answer. She opened the back door of the Escalade and climbed in. She foraged in the way-back for a pillow, and lay across the backseat.
"I'm tired," she said.
"Of course," Meredith said. Connie had left her house at eight o'clock the night before, a scant four hours after receiving Meredith's phone call. She had driven six hours to Manhattan and had idled in the dark alley behind 824 Park Avenue, waiting for Meredith to emerge. There had been a reporter standing behind a Dumpster, but he had been smoking a cigarette and hadn't gotten his camera ready until Meredith was in the car and Connie was screeching out of the alley in reverse, like a bank robber in a heist movie. Meredith had ducked her head below the dashboard.
"Jesus, Meredith," Connie said. "And have you seen the front of the building?"
Meredith knew it was swarming with reporters, television lights, and satellite trucks. They had been there on the day Freddy was led out of the apartment in handcuffs, then again on the morning that Meredith had gone to visit Freddy in jail, and they had gathered a third time nearly two days earlier in anticipation of Meredith's removal from the building by federal marshals. What the public wanted to know was, where does the wife of the biggest financial criminal in history go when she is turned out of her Park Avenue penthouse?
Meredith had two attorneys. Her lead attorney's name was Burton Penn; he asked Meredith to call him Burt. He was new to her. Freddy had taken their longtime family lawyer, Richard Cassel. Goddamned Freddy, taking the best, leaving Meredith with prematurely balding thirty-six-year-old Burton Penn. Though he had, at least, gone to Yale Law School.
The other attorney was even younger, with dark shaggy hair and pointy incisors, like one of those teen vampires. He wore glasses, and in passing, he'd told Meredith that he had an astigmatism. "Yes, so do I," Meredith said; she had worn horn-rimmed glasses since she was thirteen years old. Meredith had bonded more closely with this second attorney. His name was Devon Kasper. He asked her to call him Dev. Dev told Meredith the truth about things, but he sounded sorry about it. He had sounded sorry when he told Meredith that, because she had transferred the $15 million into her and Freddy's shared brokerage account, she was under investigation, and it was possible she would be charged with conspiracy and sent to prison. He had sounded sorry when he told Meredith that her son Leo was also under investigation, because he had worked with Freddy at Delinn Enterprises.
Leo was twenty-six years old. He worked for the legitimate trading division of Delinn Enterprises.
So why, then, were the Feds investigating Leo? Meredith didn't understand, and she was trying not to panic—panic wouldn't serve her—but this was her child. He was her responsible son, the one who got into Dartmouth and was captain of the lacrosse team and vice president of the Dartmouth chapter of Amnesty International; he was the one who had a steady girlfriend; he was the one who, to Meredith's knowledge, had never once broken the law—had never shoplifted a pack of gum, had never taken a drink underage, had never gotten a parking ticket.
"Why are they investigating Leo?" Meredith had asked, her bruised heart racing. Her child in danger, as surely as a three-year-old running out into traffic.
Well, Dev said, they were investigating Leo because another trader—a well-respected, ten-year veteran on the legitimate floor named Deacon Rapp—had told the SEC and the FBI that Leo was involved in his father's Ponzi scheme. Deacon testified that Leo was in "constant contact" with colleagues on the seventeenth floor, which was where the Ponzi scheme was headquartered. Freddy had a small office on the seventeenth floor, as well as a secretary. This came as a shock to Meredith. She had known nothing about the existence of the seventeenth floor, nor the secretary, a Mrs. Edith Misurelli. The Feds couldn't question Mrs. Misurelli because she had apparently been due months of vacation time and had left for Italy the day before the scandal broke. No one knew how to reach her.
Dev sounded especially sorry when he told Meredith that she absolutely could not be in contact with either of her sons until the investigation was cleared up. Any conversation between Leo and Meredith might be seen as evidence of their mutual conspiracy. And because Carver and Leo were living together in an old Victorian that Carver was renovating in Greenwich, Meredith couldn't call Carver, either. Burt and Dev had met with Leo's counsel, and both parties agreed there was too much chance for cross-contamination. Meredith should remain in one camp, the boys in another. For the time being.
"I'm sorry, Meredith."
Dev said this often.
Meredith peered at Connie, who had scrunched her long, lean form to fit across the backseat. Her head was sunk into the pillow, her strawberry-blond hair fell across her face, her eyes were closed. She looked older, and sadder, to Meredith—her husband, Wolf, had died two and a half years earlier of brain cancer—but she was still Connie, Constance Flute, née O'Brien, Meredith's oldest, and once her closest, friend. Her friend since the beginning of time.
Meredith had called Connie to ask if she could stay with her "for a while" in Bethesda. Connie had artfully dodged the request by saying that she was headed up to Nantucket for the summer. Of course, Nantucket. July was now upon them—a fact that had effectively escaped Meredith, trapped as she was in her apartment—and Meredith's hopes tanked.
"Can you call someone else?" Connie asked.
"There isn't anyone else," Meredith said. She said this not to invoke Connie's pity, but because it was true. It astounded her how alone she was, how forsaken by everyone who had been in her life. Connie was her one and only hope. Despite the fact that they hadn't spoken in three years, she was the closest thing to family that Meredith had.
"You could turn to the church," Connie said. "Join a convent."
A convent, yes. Meredith had considered this when casting about for options. There were convents, she was pretty sure, out on Long Island; she and the boys used to pass one on their way to the Hamptons, set back from the highway among rolling hills. She would start out as a novice scrubbing floors until her knees bled, but maybe someday she'd be able to teach.
"Meredith," Connie said. "I'm kidding."
"Oh," Meredith said. Of course, she was kidding. Meredith and Connie had attended Catholic schools together all through their childhood, but Connie had never been particularly devout.
"I guess I could pick you up on my way," Connie said.
"And do what?" Meredith said. "Take me to Nantucket?"
"You do owe me a visit," Connie said. "You've owed me a visit since nineteen eighty-two."
Meredith had laughed. It sounded strange to her own ears, the laugh. It had been so long.
Connie said, "You can stay a couple of weeks, maybe longer. We'll see how it goes. I can't make any promises."
"Thank you," Meredith had whispered, weak with gratitude.
"You realize you haven't called me in three years," Connie said.
Yes, Meredith realized that. What Connie really meant was: You never called to apologize for what you said about Wolf, or to give me your condolences in person. But you call me now, when you're in heaps of trouble and have nowhere else to go.
"I'm sorry," Meredith said. She didn't say: You didn't call me, either. You never apologized for calling Freddy a crook. Now, of course, there was no need to apologize. Connie had been proved right: Freddy was a crook. "Will you still come get me?"
"I'll come get you," Connie said.
Now, Meredith wanted to wake Connie up and ask her: Can you please forgive me for the things I said? Can we make things right between us?
Meredith wondered what the federal marshals would think about the mirror she'd smashed in the master bath. In a fit of rage, she'd thrown her mug of peppermint tea at it; she had savored the smack and shatter of the glass. Her reflection had splintered and fallen away, onto the granite countertop, into Freddy's sink. Goddamn you, Freddy, Meredith thought, for the zillionth time. The ferry rocked on the waves, and Meredith's eyes drifted closed. If there were beating hearts beneath the federal marshals' black uniforms, then she supposed they would understand.
CONSTANCE O'BRIEN FLUTE
They had agreed not to speak about anything meaningful until Meredith was safely inside the house on Nantucket. Connie needed time to digest what she'd done. What had she done? She had six hours in the car from Bethesda to Manhattan to repeatedly ask herself. The roads were clear of traffic; on the radio, Connie listened to Delilah. The heart-wrenching stories of the callers boosted Connie's spirits. She knew about loss. Wolf had been dead for two and a half years, and Connie was still waiting for the pain to subside. It had been nearly as long since Connie had spoken to their daughter, Ashlyn, though Connie called Ashlyn's cell phone every Sunday, hoping that one time she might answer. Connie sent Ashlyn flowers on her birthday and a gift certificate to J. Crew at Christmas. Did Ashlyn tear up the gift certificate, throw the flowers in the trash? Connie had no way of knowing.
And now look what she'd done. She had agreed to go to Manhattan to pick up her ex–best friend, Meredith Delinn. Connie thought ex-friend, but inside Connie knew that she and Meredith would always be tethered together. They had grown up on the Main Line in Philadelphia. They attended Tarleton in the 1960s, then grammar school, then high school at Merion Mercy Academy. They had been as close as sisters. For two years in high school, Meredith had dated Connie's brother, Toby.
Connie fingered her cell phone, which rested in the console of her car. She considered calling Toby now and telling him what she was doing. He was the only person who had known Meredith as long as Connie had; he was the only one who might understand. But Toby and Meredith had a complicated history. Toby had broken Meredith's heart in high school, and over the years, Meredith had asked Connie about him, the way a woman asks about her first true love. Connie had been the one to tell Meredith about Toby's voyages around the world captaining megayachts, his hard-partying lifestyle that landed him in rehab twice, the women he met, married, and abandoned along the way, and his ten-year-old son who was destined to become as charming and dangerous as Toby himself. Meredith and Toby hadn't seen each other since the funeral of Connie and Toby's mother, Veronica, six years earlier. Something had happened between Meredith and Toby at the funeral that ended with Meredith climbing into her waiting car and driving away before the reception.
"I can't be around him," Meredith had said to Connie later. "It's too painful."
Connie hadn't been gutsy enough to ask Meredith exactly what had happened. But she decided it would be wisest not to call Toby, as tempting as it was.
Connie had seen Meredith on CNN back in April, on the day that Meredith went to visit Freddy in jail. Meredith had looked gray haired and haggard, nothing like the blond, Dior-wearing socialite that Connie had most recently seen in the society pages of the New York Times. Meredith had been wearing jeans and a white button-down shirt and a trench coat; she had been ducking into a cab, but a reporter caught her before she closed the door and asked her, "Mrs. Delinn, do you ever cry about the way things have turned out?"
Meredith looked up, and Connie had felt a sharp rush of recognition. Meredith's expression was feisty. This was the Meredith Connie had known in high school—the competitive field-hockey player, the champion diver, the National Merit Scholarship finalist.
"No," Meredith said.
And Connie thought, Oh, Meredith, wrong answer.
She had meant to call Meredith in the days following. The press was brutal. (The headline of the New York Post read, JESUS WEPT. BUT NOT MRS. DELINN.) Connie had wanted to reach out and offer some kind of support, but she hadn't picked up the phone. She was still bitter that Meredith had allowed money to sink their friendship. And besides, Connie was too involved with her own melancholy to take on Meredith's problems.
Connie had seen a picture of Meredith, peering from one of her penthouse windows, published in People. The caption read, At daybreak, Meredith Delinn gazes out at a world that will no longer have her.
The paparazzi had caught her in her nightgown at the crack of dawn. Poor Meredith! Again, Connie considered calling, but she didn't.
Connie then saw the article on the front page of the New York Times Style section entitled "The Loneliest Woman in New York." It told the story of Meredith's ill-fated trip to the Pascal Blanc salon, where she'd been getting her hair colored for fifteen years. The newspaper reported that Meredith had been calling for an appointment at the salon for weeks, but she kept getting put off by the receptionist. Finally, the owner of the salon, Jean-Pierre, called Meredith back and explained that he couldn't risk offending his other patrons, many of whom were former Delinn investors, by having her in the salon. The article said that Meredith asked for an after-hours appointment, and he said no. Meredith asked if the woman who normally colored her hair could come to her apartment—Meredith would pay her in cash—and Jean-Pierre said no. The article also stated that Meredith was no longer welcome at Rinaldo's, the Italian restaurant where she and Freddy had dined at least twice a week for eight years. "They always sat at the same table," Dante Rinaldo was quoted as saying. "Mrs. Delinn always ordered a glass of the Ruffino Chianti, but Mr. Delinn drank nothing, ever. Now, I can't let Mrs. Delinn come to eat, or no one else will come to eat." The article had made one thing perfectly clear: everyone in New York City hated Meredith, and if she were to show her face in public, she would be shunned.
Awful, Connie thought. Poor Meredith. After she read the article, she picked up the phone, and, with numb fingers, dialed the number of Meredith's Park Avenue apartment. She was promptly informed by an operator that the number had been changed and that the new number was unlisted.
Connie hung up, thinking, Well, I tried.
And then that very day, at one o'clock, Connie had been watching Fox News as she packed her suitcases for Nantucket. It was the day of Freddy's sentencing. The talking heads at Fox were predicting a sentence of twenty-five to thirty years, although Tucker Carlson mentioned how savvy and experienced Freddy's counsel was.
"His attorney, Richard Cassel," Carlson said, "is asking for seventeen years, which could become twelve years with good behavior."
And Connie thought, Ha! Richard Cassel! Connie had done beer bongs with Richard Cassel when she'd gone to visit Meredith at Princeton. Richard had tried to lure Connie back to his suite, but she had turned him down. He was such a casual aristocrat in his button-down shirt with the frayed collar, and his scuffed penny loafers. Hadn't Meredith told Connie that Richard once cheated on an exam? He was a fitting attorney for Freddy.
Connie's memories of Richard Cassel were interrupted by the announcement that Frederick Xavier Delinn had been sentenced to 150 years in federal prison.
Connie sat down for that. A hundred and fifty years? She thought, The judge is making an example of him. Well, Connie hated to say this, but Freddy deserved it. So many people had been left penniless; futures had been destroyed, kids were forced to drop out of college, family homes had been foreclosed on, eighty-year-old women had to get by living on Social Security, eating from cans. A hundred and fifty years. Connie thought, Poor Meredith.
Connie was angry with Meredith for her own personal reasons, but unlike everyone else, she didn't blame Meredith for Freddy's crimes. Meredith couldn't have known what Freddy was doing. (Had she? Okay, there was always room for doubt.) But when Connie closed her eyes and searched inside of herself for an answer, she thought, There is no way Meredith knew. There was no way Meredith would accept fraud in her life. She was a straight arrow. Connie should know: growing up, it had driven her crazy. And still, Connie wondered, just as the rest of the world wondered, how could she not have known? Meredith was a smart woman—she had been the class salutatorian at Merion Mercy, she had gone to Princeton. How could she be blind to the crimes going on under her own roof? So, she knew. But no, she couldn't have.
Connie had opened her eyes in time to see Freddy, looking gaunt and nauseous and wearing an ill-fitting suit, being led from the courthouse, back to his dungeon.
You bastard, she thought.
It was a few hours later that the phone had rung. The caller ID said, NUMBER UNAVAILABLE, which always stirred up hope in Connie, because any unidentified number might be Ashlyn calling.
Connie picked up. "Hello?"
"Connie? Con?" It was a woman's voice, so familiar, though Connie was slow to identify it. It wasn't her daughter, it wasn't Ashlyn, so there was an immediate stab of disappointment to experience before she realized… that the woman on the phone was Meredith.
"Meredith?" Connie said.
Meredith said, "Thank God you answered."
What had she done? Why had she said yes? The truth was, Meredith had been on Connie's mind for months. The truth was, Connie felt sorry for Meredith. The truth was, Connie had been closer to Meredith than to any other woman in her entire life—her own mother included, her own daughter included. The truth was, Connie was lonely. She yearned for another person in the room, someone who knew her, who understood her. The truth was, Connie didn't know why she had agreed, but she had agreed.
Connie had balked when she saw the throng of reporters outside Meredith's building. She had nearly cruised on past, but she knew Meredith would be waiting for her in the dark alley behind the building and that to abandon her there would be cruel.
When Connie pulled up, Meredith ran from the back door and leapt into the car. She was wearing the same white button-down blouse, jeans, and flats that Connie had seen her photographed in months earlier when she went to visit Freddy in jail. Connie barely waited for Meredith to shut the door before she hit the gas and reversed out. A photographer got a shot of the car departing; thankfully, Meredith's head had been down. Connie floored it up Park Avenue, although she didn't feel safe until they were off the FDR and on I-95. That was when Meredith had wanted to talk, but Connie had held up her palm and said, "Let's not discuss anything until we're safely in the house on Nantucket."
Though there was much, of course, that she wanted to know.
When the announcement came over the loudspeaker that the ferry was pulling into Nantucket harbor, Connie startled awake. Meredith was in the front seat, and there were two steaming cups of coffee—light, with sugar—snug in the console. Connie and Meredith drank their coffee the same way, a habit learned together at age six during tea parties with Meredith's grandmother, Annabeth Martin, who unorthodoxly served the little girls real coffee from a silver pot.
Meredith was wearing a baseball hat and sunglasses. When she saw that Connie was awake, she said, "I got coffee. A guy in line stared me down, but he was a foreigner, I think. I heard him speaking Russian."
Connie said, "I don't want to burst your bubble…"
Meredith said, "Believe me, there is no bubble."
Connie said, "You're going to have to be incredibly careful. No one can know you're here with me. No one Russian, no one Swedish, I mean no one."
"Except for my attorneys." Meredith took a sip of her coffee. "They have to know where I am. Because I'm still under investigation. Me, and Leo, too."
"Oh, Meredith," Connie said. Connie found herself feeling both concerned and annoyed. Meredith should have told her this before she asked Connie to come get her, right? Would that have changed Connie's mind? And poor Leo, Connie's own godson, one of the greatest kids she had ever known. Still under investigation? But why? Connie refrained from asking the obvious: Do they have anything to charge you with? Am I going to become some kind of accessory to conspiracy? Instead, she said, "I almost called Toby last night, to tell him I was bringing you here."
"Toby?" Meredith said.
"Do you mind if I ask where he is?"
Connie metered her breath. She said, "He's in Annapolis, running a wildly successful charter sail business. In the winter, he takes off and barefoots through the Caribbean."
"Meaning he sleeps with models half his age in Saint Barth's," Meredith said.
Connie couldn't tell if Meredith was being playful or bitter. She decided to go with playful. "I'm sure that's correct," Connie said. "He's never really grown up. But that's what we love about him, right?"
Meredith bleated. Ha. Connie felt the old ambivalence about Meredith and Toby's long-ago relationship return. There was jealousy—once Meredith had fallen in love with Toby, he had become far more important to Meredith than Connie was; there was guilt that Toby had so mercilessly trampled Meredith's feelings; there was disbelief that all these years later, Meredith still cared about him. Even after Meredith was married to Freddy and ludicrously wealthy with her twenty houses and her fleet of Rolls-Royces and a private jet for every day of the week, she always asked: How is Toby? Is he still married? Dating anyone? Does he ever ask about me?
"Listen," Connie said. It was weird having Meredith next to her like this. There was so much shared history—years and years and years, and many of those years they had been together every single day—and yet so much had changed. "I know you don't have anywhere else to go. But it's possible that this won't work. I'll be miserable, you'll be miserable, we won't be able to mend the friendship. You're under investigation, but I can't be under investigation. You understand that? If anything happens that I'm not comfortable with, you'll have to leave. You'll have to find your own way."
Meredith nodded solemnly, and Connie hated herself for sounding harsh.
"But I want to try it," Connie said. "I want to give you a place to rest your mind. I want to spend time with you. I'm not completely selfless, Meredith. I'm lonely, too. I've been lonely every hour of every day since Wolf died. Ashlyn has made herself a stranger to me. We don't speak. There was a misunderstanding at the funeral." Connie shook her head. She didn't want to think about that. "She has no idea how cruel she's being. She won't understand until she has children of her own."
"I'm sorry," Meredith said. "If it makes you feel any better, I'm not allowed to contact either of the boys because of the ongoing investigation. And although Freddy isn't dead, he might as well be."
There was symmetry in their situations, but Connie didn't want to contrast and compare to determine whose situation was worse. Thankfully, at that moment, the cars in front of hers started pulling off the ferry, and Connie edged the Escalade forward. As she did so, the panorama of Nantucket in the morning sun was revealed: blue sky, gray-shingled houses, the gold-domed clock tower of the Unitarian Church. Meredith had owned homes in glamorous places—before their falling out, Connie had been to visit her in Palm Beach and Cap d'Antibes—but for Connie, the vista of Nantucket Island was the most breathtaking in the world.
"Wow," Meredith whispered.
"Get down," Connie advised. "Just in case."
There were no cameras, no satellite trucks, no reporters—just the relaxed pace of a Friday morning in early July on Nantucket. There were tourists on Steamship Wharf and the usual crowd on "the strip"—people ordering sandwiches for the beach, renting bicycles, getting their surfboards waxed at Indian Summer. Connie drove past the Nantucket Whaling Museum. Wolf had loved the whaling museum; he had been a maritime buff, reading all of Nathaniel Philbrick's books and everything by Patrick O'Brian. Wolf's family had owned the land on Nantucket for generations, and when Connie and Wolf had the money, they tore down the simple cottage that sat on three acres of beachfront land and built a proper house.
The house was located in the hinterlands of Tom Nevers. When Wolf and Connie mentioned that they lived in Tom Nevers, people who knew the island said, "Really? All the way out there?"
It was true that Tom Nevers was "out there" by island standards. It was a six-mile journey down the Milestone Road, and it wasn't as chic as the village of Sconset, nor was it as prestigious as owning a home that fronted the harbor. Tom Nevers had no restaurants and no shopping; to get coffee and the paper, Connie had to drive to Sconset. Because Tom Nevers faced southeast, it was frequently blanketed in fog, even when the rest of the island was bright and sunny. But Connie loved the peace and quiet, the rugged, deserted beach, and the friendly seal that swam offshore. She loved the low horizon and the simplicity of the other houses. Tom Nevers wasn't glamorous, but it was home.
As soon as Connie turned into their long, dirt driveway (marked by a weathered wooden plank that said "Flute") she told Meredith it was okay to sit up.
"Wow," Meredith said again. The driveway was bordered on either side by eelgrass and wind-flattened Spanish olive trees. They drove on, and Connie wondered what Meredith was thinking. It had been a sensitive topic—long before the thing with Wolf and the money—that Meredith and Freddy had never deigned to visit Wolf and Connie here on Nantucket. Meredith had promised to visit the summer after she graduated from college; she had been on her way with her bus and boat tickets already booked, but she'd canceled at the last minute because of Freddy. And then once Meredith and Freddy were married, Meredith became wrapped up with her fabulous life in the Hamptons.
The house came into view, and the ocean beyond.
Meredith said, "My God, Connie, it's huge. It's magnificent."
Connie felt a bloom of pride, which she knew she should usher away. They had learned, hadn't they, that material things were evanescent. Meredith had once had everything in the world; now, she had nothing. And yet, Connie couldn't help feeling a certain satisfaction. It had forever been the case that Connie was considered the pretty one, Meredith the smart one. Connie had been given a life filled with love; Meredith had been given a life filled with fortune: money, places, things, and experiences beyond one's wildest dreams. Meredith's home in Palm Beach had once been owned by the Pulitzers. Meredith had hosted Donald and Ivanka for dinner; Jimmy Buffett had sung to her on her fortieth birthday. It was rumored that she even had a star in the heavens named for her.
In the face of this, wasn't it okay for Connie to feel pleasure that Meredith was impressed by the house? It was huge; it was magnificent.
It was, alas, empty.
That was the thought that met Connie when she opened the front door. Connie's footsteps echoed in the two-story foyer. The floors were made from white tumbled marble, and there was a curved staircase to the right that swept up the wall like the inside of a nautilus shell. The house had been Wolf's design.
Wolf was dead. He would never walk into this house again. This reality hit Connie anew in a way that felt unfair. It had been two and a half years; friends and acquaintances had told Connie that life would get incrementally easier, her sorrow would fade, but that day hadn't come.
Connie struggled for a breath. Beside her, Meredith looked very small and overwhelmed, and Connie thought, We're a couple of basket cases. Me, once voted "Prettiest and Most Popular." Meredith, once voted "Most Likely to Succeed."
Connie said, "Let me show you around."
She led Meredith through the foyer into the great room, which ran the whole length of the house, and flooded with rosy light at dawn. To the left was the kitchen: maple cabinets fronted with glass, countertops fashioned from blue granite. The kitchen had every bell and whistle because Connie was a gourmet cook. There was an eight-burner Garland stove, a porcelain farmer's sink, a wine refrigerator, double ovens, a custom-made extra-wide dishwasher, a backsplash of cobalt and white Italian tile that she and Wolf had found on their trek through Cinque Terre. The kitchen flowed into the dining room, which was furnished with a glossy cherrywood table and twelve chairs. Beyond a break for the double doors that led to the back deck was the living area, also decorated in white and blue. At the end of the room was a white brick fireplace with a massive mantel made of driftwood that Wolf's grandfather had found on their beach after Hurricane Donna in 1960.
"It's wonderful," Meredith said. "Who decorated?"
"I did," Connie said.
"I never decorated a thing in my life," Meredith said. "We always had Samantha." She wandered to the far end of the living room, where Wolf's barometer collection lined the shelves. "That always felt like a privilege, you know, to have Samantha pick things out for us, put things together, create a style for us. But it was phony, like everything else." She touched the spines of Wolf's books. "I like this so much better. This room is you and Wolf and Ashlyn."
"Yes," Connie said. "It is. It was. It's hard, you know." She smiled wistfully. She was happy not to be alone, but it was excruciating to hear Meredith repeating the things that Connie found it impossible to say. "Shall we go down to the water?"
It was particularly hard to be on the beach, because that was where she'd scattered Wolf's ashes two summers earlier in the presence of Wolf's brother, Jake, and his wife, Iris, and Toby, who had used the memorial on Nantucket as an opportunity for his last ridiculous bender. As Connie and Meredith left footprints in the wet sand—the tide was low—Connie wondered where the remains of Wolfgang Charles Flute were now. He had been a whole, warm, loving man with impressive height—Wolf was nearly six foot seven—and a baritone voice, a keen intellect, a crackerjack eye. He had been the owner of an architectural firm that built civic office buildings in Washington that were considered innovative, yet traditional enough to hold their own against the monuments. He had been a busy man, an important man, if not particularly powerful by Washington standards or wealthy by Wall Street standards. The best thing about Wolf had been the balanced attention he gave to every aspect of his life. He'd helped Ashlyn make the most dazzling school projects; he had mixed a shockingly cold and delicious martini; he had been a fanatic about the unicycle (which he learned to ride as an undergraduate at Brown) as well as paddleball, tennis, and sailing. He had collected antique sextants and barometers. He had studied astronomy and believed the placement of the stars in the sky could teach man about terrestrial design. Wolf had always been emotionally present in Connie's life, even when he was working on deadline. On days he had to work late—and there had been two or three a month—he sent flowers, or he invited Connie to come to his office for a candlelight dinner of Indian take-out. When Connie went out with her women friends, he always sent wine to the table and the other women cooed about how lucky Connie was.
But where was he now? He had died of brain cancer, and Connie had followed his wish to be cremated and have his ashes scattered off the beach in Tom Nevers. The ashes had broken down, disintegrated; they had become molecules suspended in seawater. The body that Wolf had inhabited, therefore, was gone; it had been absorbed back into the earth. But Connie thought of him as here somewhere, here in this water swirling around her ankles.
Meredith waded to midshin. The water was still too cold for Connie, but Meredith seemed to be enjoying it. The expression on her face fell somewhere between rapture and devastation. She spoke in a voice full of tears, though as the New York Post promised, her eyes remained dry.
"I never thought I'd put my feet in the ocean again."
Connie nodded once.
Meredith said, "How do I thank you for this? I have nothing."
Connie hugged Meredith. She was tiny, like a doll. Once, in high school, they had gotten drunk at a party at Villanova, and Connie had carried Meredith home on her back. "I want nothing," Connie said.
That was a lovely little Beaches moment down by the water, Connie thought, and it did feel good to have company and it did feel good to have Meredith indebted to her for life, but the magnitude of what Connie had done was now sinking in. Her best friend from childhood was married to the biggest crook the world had ever known. Meredith was persona non grata everywhere. She had millions of disapprovers and thousands of enemies. She was "still under investigation." The "still" made it seem like being under investigation was a temporary condition that would be cleared up, but what if it wasn't? What if Meredith was found guilty? What if Meredith was guilty?
What have I done? Connie thought. What have I done?
Meredith settled into her room—a simple guest room with white wainscoting and a small private bath. Both bedroom and bath were done in pinks, decorated by Connie herself with help from Wolf and the woman at Marine Home Center. The bedroom had French doors that opened onto a tight, Romeo-and-Juliet-type balcony. Meredith said she loved the room.
"My room is down the hall," Connie said. The "room" she was speaking of was the master suite, which comprised the western half of the second floor. There was the bedroom with its California king bed that faced the ocean; there was a bathroom with a deep Jacuzzi tub, glassed-in rainfall shower, dual sinks, water closet, heated tiles in the floor, a wall of mirrors, and a scale that generously dropped a pound or two. There were two enormous closets. (Last summer, Connie had finally taken Wolf's summer clothes to the hospital thrift shop.) And there was Wolf's study, complete with drafting table, framed oceanographic maps, and a telescope that had been positioned to view the most interesting summer constellations. Connie didn't have the emotional strength to show Meredith the master suite, and the fact of the matter was, she hadn't spent a single night in her own bed since Wolf died. Every night she had been on Nantucket, she had fallen asleep, with the aid of two or three chardonnays, on the sofa downstairs—or, when she had houseguests, on the bottom bunk of the third-floor bedroom, which she was pointlessly preserving for future grandchildren.
She didn't want to sleep in the bed without Wolf. The same held true at home. She couldn't explain it. She had read somewhere that the death of a spouse was number one on a list of things that caused stress—and what had she done that morning but invited more stress into her life?
"I have to go to the grocery store," Connie said.
Meredith said, "Would it be all right if I came along?"
Connie watched Meredith bouncing on her toes, as she used to on the end of a diving board.
"Okay," Connie said. "But you have to wear your hat and glasses." Connie was terrified of getting caught. What would happen if someone discovered that Meredith Delinn was here, living with Connie?
"Hat and glasses," Meredith said.
Connie drove the six miles to Stop & Shop while Meredith made a list on a pad of paper braced against her thigh. Connie's fear subsided and a sense of well-being sneaked up on her, which she normally only experienced after a very good massage and three glasses of chardonnay. She opened the sunroof, and fresh air rushed in as she turned up the radio—Queen, singing "We Are the Champions," the victory song of the Merion Mercy field-hockey team, which she and Meredith had both played on for four years. Connie grinned and Meredith turned her face toward the sun, and the car was a happy place for a moment.
In the store, Connie sent Meredith for whole-wheat tortillas and Greek yogurt while she waited at the deli counter. She sent Meredith for laundry detergent, rubber gloves, and sponges, but then Meredith was gone for so long that Connie panicked. She raced through the store with her cart, dodging the other shoppers and their small children, everyone moving at a snail's pace, drugged by the effects of the sea air and sun. Where was Meredith? Connie was hesitant to call out her name. It was unlikely that she'd left the store, so what was Connie afraid of? She was afraid that Meredith had been handcuffed by FBI agents. Meredith should rightly be in the aisle with the Windex and the paper towels, but she wasn't there, nor was she in the next aisle, nor the next. Connie had only had her old friend back for a matter of hours, and now she was missing. And Connie wasn't even sure that she wanted Meredith to stay—so why was she now panicking that Meredith was gone?
Connie found Meredith standing in the bread aisle, holding a bag of kaiser rolls.
Connie flooded with relief, then thought, This is ridiculous. I have to get a grip. "Oh, good," she said. "I thought I'd lost you."
Meredith said, "There was a USA Today photographer who staked out the Gristedes by my house, and there was a guy from the National Enquirer who frequented the D'Agostino down the street. I couldn't go shopping for eggs. Or toothpaste."
Connie took the rolls from Meredith's hands and dropped them in the cart. "Well, no one's following you here."
"Yet," Meredith said, adjusting her sunglasses.
"Right. Let's not press our luck." Connie headed for the checkout. She was grateful not to know anyone in the store. She and Wolf had made a conscious decision not to engage in Nantucket's social scene. They attended parties and benefits and dinners at home in Washington all year long, and Nantucket was a break from that, although Wolf still had a few friends on Nantucket from summers growing up. His parents and grandparents had belonged to the Nantucket Yacht Club, and once or twice a summer Wolf was called on to sail, or he and Connie were invited to a cocktail party or barbecue in the garden of a friend's ancestral summer cottage. But for the most part, Connie and Wolf kept to themselves. Although she had been coming to Nantucket for over twenty years, Connie often felt anonymous. She knew no one and no one knew her.
As they stood in line, Meredith handed Connie three twenty-dollar bills. "I'd like to chip in for expenses."
Connie considered waving the money away. The television reporters had made it clear that—unless there was a cache of funds at some offshore bank—Meredith Delinn had been left penniless. "Do what you can," Connie said. "But there's no pressure."
"Okay," Meredith whispered.
On their way back to Tom Nevers, Connie noticed a commotion at the rotary. News vans were clustered in the parking lot of the Inquirer and Mirror, the island newspaper. Connie did a double take. Were those news vans?
"Get down," Connie said. "Those are reporters." She checked the rearview mirror. "CNN, ABC."
Meredith bent in half; she was as low as the seatbelt would allow. "You're kidding," she said.
"I kid you not."
"I can't believe this," Meredith said. "I can't believe they care where I am. Well, of course they care where I am. Of course the whole world needs to know that I am now summering on Nantucket. So they can make me look bad. So they can make it seem like I'm still living a life of luxury."
"Which you are," Connie said, trying to smile.
"Why couldn't you live someplace awful?" Meredith said. "Why couldn't you live in East Saint Louis? Why couldn't they be reporting that Mrs. Delinn was spending the summer in hot and dangerous East Saint Louis?"
"This isn't funny," Connie said. She checked her rearview mirror. The road behind them was clear. Connie checked again. "Well, guess what. They're not following us."
Connie motored on. She felt the teensiest bit disappointed. "False alarm, I guess." She tried to think why there would have been TV vans at the rotary, and then she remembered a third- or fourth-tier news story, buried way beneath the sentencing of Freddy Delinn. "Oh, that's right!" she said. "The president is here this weekend!"
Meredith sat up. "You scared me." She was doing some audible Lamaze breathing to calm herself down, and Connie remembered when Meredith was in the hospital after giving birth to Leo. Connie had taken two-year-old Ashlyn to the hospital to see Meredith and the baby. Freddy had been as proud as a goddamned rooster, handing out expensive (not to mention illegal) Cuban cigars; he'd pushed one on Connie, saying, "Go home and give it to Wolf. He's going to love it." Connie remembered feeling jealous that giving birth had come so easily for Meredith (Connie had slogged through twenty-three hours of labor with Ashlyn and she'd suffered a uterine rupture, which precluded her from having any more children). Meredith had said, "Thank God, Freddy got his boy and the hallowed Delinn name will live on." This had upset Connie; she had felt defensive that Ashlyn was a girl and that there would be no more children to carry on the hallowed Flute name. Feeling bad about this led to resentment that, while Connie had made the trip from Bethesda to New York to see Meredith in the hospital, Meredith hadn't made the reverse trip two years earlier when Ashlyn was born. It was amazing how memories intruded like that. It was amazing how Connie's mind held the good and the bad of every interaction, swirled together like children's paints. Meredith might only remember happiness that Connie had come, or recall the cute outfit that Connie had brought. When Meredith thought of Leo being born, she might only think, Leo is under investigation.
Connie turned into her driveway and parked in front of the house. Meredith scrambled to get the groceries out of the car.
"You go in and relax," Meredith said. "I'll get these."
Connie laughed. "You're not an indentured servant," she said. "But thank you for the help."
She flashed back to that day at the hospital. Meredith had allowed Ashlyn to hold her hours-old infant, even though the head nurse strongly advised against it. It'll be fine! Meredith had said. Connie and I will be right here. Meredith had snapped the pictures herself. She'd had one framed and sent it to Connie. And then, of course, she'd asked Connie to be Leo's godmother.
"It's nice to have someone else around," Connie said.
"Even me?" Meredith said.
"Even you," Connie said.