Dabney couldn't believe it. She blinked twice, thinking she no longer had the eyes of a girl or even a young woman, thinking she hadn't been feeling well lately, and was this a trick of her mind? Twenty-seven years later? Subject line: Hello.
Dabney Kimball Beech, who had served as the director of the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce for twenty-two years, was in her second-floor office, overlooking historic, cobblestoned Main Street. It was late April, the Friday morning of Daffodil Weekend, Dabney' second-most-important weekend of the year, and the forecast was a springtime fantasy. It was sixty degrees and sunny today and would be sixty-four and sunny on Saturday and Sunday.
Dabney had just checked the weather for the fifth time that day, the five thousandth time that week (the year before, Daffodil Weekend had been ruined by a late-season snowstorm), when the e-mail from Clendenin Hughes appeared in her in-box.
Subject line: Hello.
"Oh my God," Dabney said.
Dabney never swore, and rarely took the Lord' name in vain (thanks to cayenne pepper administered to her ten-year-old tongue by her devoutly Catholic grandmother for saying the word jeez). That she did so now was enough to get the attention of Nina Mobley, Dabney' assistant for eighteen of the past twenty-two years.
"What?" Nina said. "What' wrong?"
"Nothing," Dabney said quickly. Nina Mobley was Dabney' closest friend, but Dabney could never tell her that an e-mail from Clendenin Hughes had just popped onto her screen.
Dabney gnawed on one of her pearls, as was her habit when she was deeply concentrating, and now she nearly bit clear through it. She was aware that millions of people across the world were receiving e-mails at that moment, a good percentage of them probably upsetting, a smaller but still substantial percentage probably shocking. But she wondered if anyone anywhere on the planet was receiving an e-mail as upsetting and shocking as this one.
She stared at the screen, blinked, clenched the pearl between her teeth. It was grainy, which was how one judged authenticity. Hello. Hello? Not a word for twenty-seven years—and then this. An e-mail at work. Hello. When Clen had left for Thailand, e-mail hadn't existed. How had he gotten her address? Dabney laughed. He was a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist; finding her e-mail address wouldn't have presented much of a challenge.
Dabney' finger tapped the mouse lightly, a tease. Would she open the e-mail? What would it say? What could it possibly say after twenty-seven years of silence?
Dabney could not open the e-mail. She, who never smoked and rarely drank hard liquor, wanted a cigarette and a shot of bourbon. The only thing that would have stunned her more than this was an e-mail from her mother.
Her mother was dead.
Dabney felt like she was being electrocuted right down to her bone marrow.
Nina was at her own computer, sucking on her gold cross, a bad habit that had traveled by osmosis across the four feet between their desks.
Nina said, "Dabney, really, what is it?"
Dabney let her pearls fall from her mouth; they thumped against her chest like they were made of lead. She had not been feeling right for weeks, maybe as long as a month, and now her body was really going haywire. The e-mail from Clendenin Hughes.
Dabney forced a smile at Nina. "The weather this weekend is going to be perfect!" she said. "We are going to have guaranteed sun."
"After last year," Nina said, "we deserve it."
Dabney said, "I'm going to run to the pharmacy for a frappe. Do you want anything?"
Nina furrowed her brow. "Frappe?" She glanced at the wall calendar, theirs each year courtesy of Nantucket Auto Body. "Is it that time of the month again already?"
Dabney wished she weren't so predictable, but of course predictability was her trademark. She got a frappe only once a month, the day before her period was due, which was still ten days off.
"I just feel like it today for some reason," Dabney said. "Do you want anything?"
"No, thank you," Nina said. She gave Dabney an extra beat of her attention. "You okay?"
Dabney swallowed. "I'm fine," she said.
Outside, the atmosphere was festive. After four cold, punishing months, spring had arrived on Nantucket. Main Street was teeming with people wearing yellow. Dabney spied the Levinsons (Couple #28), whom she had introduced ten years earlier. Larry had been a widower with twins at Yale and Stanford, Marguerite a never-married headmistress at a prestigious girls' boarding school. Larry wore a yellow cashmere sweater and a pair of kelly-green corduroy pants, and Marguerite was in a yellow poplin blazer; she held the leash of their golden retriever, Uncle Frank. Dabney adored all dogs, and especially Uncle Frank, and Larry and Marguerite were one of "her couples," married only because she had introduced them. Dabney knew she should stop and talk; she should rub Uncle Frank under the muzzle until he sang for her. But she couldn't fake it right now. She crossed the street to Nantucket Pharmacy, but did not go inside. She headed down Main Street, through the A&P parking lot, to the Straight Wharf. At the end of the Straight Wharf, she gazed at the harbor. There was Jack Copper, working on his charter fishing boat; in another few weeks, summer would arrive in all its crazy glory. Jack waved, and Dabney, of course, waved back. She knew everyone on this island, but there was no one in the world she could tell about this e-mail. It was Dabney' to grapple with alone.
Dabney could see the Steamship, low in the water, rounding Brant Point. In the next hour, the Chamber office would be inundated with visitors, and Dabney had left Nina all alone. Furthermore, she had left the office without "signing out" on the "log," which was the one thing Vaughan Oglethorpe, president of the board of directors of the Chamber, absolutely required. Dabney needed to turn around right this second and go back to the office and do the job that she had been doing perfectly for the past two decades.
Subject line: Hello.
Three hours later, she opened it. She hadn't planned on opening it at all, but the urge to do so mounted until it was physically painful. Dabney' back and lower abdomen ached; knowledge of this e-mail was tearing her up inside.
I wanted to let you know that I am on my way back to Nantucket for an indefinite period of time. I suffered a pretty serious loss about six months ago, and I've been slow recovering from it. Furthermore, it' monsoon season, and my enthusiasm for writing about this part of the world has dwindled. I've given the Times my notice. I never did get assigned to the Singapore desk. I was close several years ago, but—as ever—I pissed off the wrong person simply by speaking my mind. Singapore will remain a dream deferred. (Big sigh.) I've decided that the best thing is for me to come home.
I have respected your long-ago mandate to "never contact [you] again." More than a quarter century has passed, Cupe. I hope that "never" has an expiration date and that you will forgive me this e-mail. I didn't want to show up on the island without giving you advance warning, and I didn't want you to hear the news from anyone else. I will be caretaking the house of Trevor and Anna Jones, 436 Polpis Road, living in their guest cottage.
I am afraid of both saying too much and not saying enough. First and foremost, I want you to know how sorry I am for the way things ended. They didn't have to be that way, but I categorized it a long time ago as an IMPOSSIBLE SITUATION: I could not stay, and you could not go. Not a day has gone by—honestly, Cupe, not an hour—when I have not thought of you. When I left, I took a part of you with me, and I have treasured that part these many years.
I am not the same person you knew—not physically, not mentally, not emotionally. But, of course, I am ever the same.
I would very much like to see you, although I realize this is almost too much to hope for.
I am writing this from my layover at LAX. If all goes well, I should be back on Nantucket tomorrow morning.
436 Polpis Road, cottage in the back.
Ever yours, Clen
Dabney read the e-mail again, to make sure her addled brain had understood.
Couple #1: Phil and Ginger (née O'Brien) Bruschelli, married twenty-nine years
Ginger: It would have been presumptuous of me to call myself Dabney' best friend, because even in 1981, freshman year, Dabney was the most popular girl in the school. When I say "popular," you might be thinking she was blond, or a cheerleader, or that she lived in a big house on Centre Street. No, no, no—she had straight thick brown hair cut into a bob, and she always, always wore a headband. She had big brown eyes, a few freckles, and a smile like the sun coming out. She was about five-three and she had a cute little body, but she never showed it off. She wore either cable-knit sweaters and kilts or a beat-up pair of Levi' and an oversize men' oxford shirt. She had the shirt in four colors: white, blue, pink, and peach. She always wore penny loafers, and she always wore a strand of pearls and pearl earrings. That was Dabney.
Dabney Kimball was the most popular girl in the school because she was genuinely kind to everyone. She was kind to Jeffrey Jackson, who had a port-wine stain on his face; she was kind to Henry Granger, who started wearing wingtips and carrying a briefcase in second grade. She included everyone in planning events like Homecoming floats and December Delight. She had grown up an only child raised by her father, Lieutenant Kimball, who was a police officer. Her mother was…well, no one knew exactly what had happened to her mother. A couple of different stories had circulated, as gossip does, but all we knew for sure was that Dabney no longer had a mother, which made us love her even more.
Dabney was also smarter than everyone else at Nantucket High School, except for Clendenin Hughes, who was what our English teacher, Mr. Kane, called a "hundred-year genius." Dabney was probably a ninety-nine-year genius.
Freshman year, Dabney and I were fledglings on the yearbook committee. The committee was mostly upperclassmen—it was, actually, all upperclassmen, except for the two of us. Dabney felt that, despite our lowly status, freshmen should be represented just like the other three classes, and that no one was going to look out for us if we didn't look out for ourselves. So that winter, Dabney and I hung out a lot. We would go to yearbook meetings every Tuesday and Thursday after school, and when we were finished, we would watch the boys' varsity basketball team.
I had a huge, horrible crush on Phil Bruschelli. Phil was a sophomore, and in the varsity games he mostly sat on the bench. If the team was ahead by more than twenty points, Phil would go in for a few minutes. One such time when this happened, I grabbed Dabney' arm in excitement.
I'll never forget the look on her face. It was what I'll now call amused recognition. She said, "You like him. You like Phil."
"No, I don't," I said. Because even though Dabney and I were practically best friends, my crush on Phil wasn't a secret I was willing to share.
"Yes," she said. "You do. I can see it. You're all…pink."
"Of course I'm pink," I said. "It' a hundred degrees in here and I'm Irish."
"Not your face, silly," Dabney said. "Your, I don't know, your aura is rosy."
"My aura?" I said. "Rosy?"
After the game, Dabney insisted that I wait with her in the hallway outside the boys' locker room. Her father was coming to pick her up, she said.
"Why aren't you walking?" I asked. Dabney lived right across the street from the school.
"Just wait with me," Dabney said. And then she pushed my hair back off my shoulders and flipped up the collar of my IZOD shirt. She was so close to me I could have counted her freckles.
I said, "How come you don't have a boyfriend? You're so pretty and everyone likes you."
She said, "I do have a boyfriend. He just doesn't know it yet."
I wanted to ask her whom she meant, but at that instant Phil Bruschelli walked out of the locker room, all six foot three of him. His dark hair was still damp from the shower and he was wearing a dark-brown shearling jacket. I nearly fainted away, he was so cute.
Dabney stepped into his path. "Hey there, Phil."
Phil stopped. "Hey, Dabney."
Dabney said, "Nice that you got a little playing time today. Varsity game, you must be psyched."
He shrugged. "Yeah, whatever. Coach says I have to pay my dues. Wait until next year."
Dabney pulled me close to her side. "You know Ginger, right, Phil? Ginger O'Brien? We're doing yearbook together."
Phil smiled at me. My vision blurred. I teetered. Smile! I thought. Smile back! But it felt like I was going to cry instead.
Phil said, "You serve at church, right? You're an altar girl?"
I felt flames of embarrassment licking my cheeks. Rosy indeed. I nodded, and then made a chirping noise like a sparrow. Who wanted to be recognized as an altar girl? And yet, I was an altar girl, and I had been since I was ten years old. It wasn't exactly a secret.
Phil said, "My mother makes me go to Mass once a month, and I see you there whenever I go."
"I'm not surprised you noticed Ginger," Dabney said. "She' gorgeous." With that, Dabney hooked her arm around my neck and kissed my scorching-hot cheek. "See ya, gotta go! My dad is here!"
She bounded out the door to the back parking lot, but her father wasn't waiting. Lieutenant Kimball drove a squad car, which I would have noticed. There were no cars waiting. Dabney was walking home, abandoning me at a time when I needed her to prop me up. I decided I would never forgive her.
But then Phil asked if I liked basketball and I said yes, and he asked if I wanted to come watch him play for the JV team the following afternoon, and I said sure. He said he would have a lot more playing time in that game, and I said, Okay, great. And he said, Well, I'll see you tomorrow, don't forget me! And I felt like a flock of birds had startled in my chest.
Phil and I have been married for twenty-nine years and we have four beautiful sons, the youngest of whom plays power forward for Villanova University.
Dabney left the Chamber office at four-thirty as usual. All preparations for Daffodil Weekend were in place; Dabney could have organized it in her sleep—thank goodness—because her afternoon had been consumed with rereading Clen' e-mail and then obsessing about it.
I suffered a pretty serious loss about six months ago, and I've been slow recovering from it.
What kind of loss? Dabney wondered. Had he lost a good friend, a lover? Dabney had lost her father from a heart attack a decade earlier, and her beloved chocolate Lab, Henry, had died at the age of seventeen, just before Christmas. But neither of these losses compared with the loss of Clendenin.
Not a day has gone by—honestly, Cupe, not an hour—when I have not thought of you.
She would be lying if she said that she had not thought of him, too. The love of her life, her perfect match, her Meant to Be. The father of her child. How it had pained her to break off contact. But years and years later, Dabney was stunned by the wisdom and maturity of her decision.
The only way I am going to survive is with a clean break. Please respect my wishes and let me, and this child, go. Please, Clendenin Tabor Hughes, do me the favor of never contacting me again.
He had been so, so angry. He had called Dabney in the middle of the night, and over the staticky, time-delayed phone line, they had screamed at each other for the first time in their relationship, often stepping on each other' words until Clen ended the call by saying, We all make choices, and slamming down the phone. But he had let her do things her way. He had not contacted her.
IMPOSSIBLE SITUATION: I could not stay, and you could not go.
That was about the size of it.
Despite this, Dabney had thought Clendenin might appear at the hospital when she gave birth. She had thought he might materialize in the back of the church on the afternoon she married Box and, just like in the movies, interrupt the priest at the critical moment. She had thought he might attend Agnes' first piano recital, or show up at Dabney' fortieth birthday party, at the Whaling Museum. She had thought he might come back to the island when his mother, Helen, died—but Helen Hughes had been cremated and there was no service.
Dabney had always thought he might come back.
If all goes well, I should be back on Nantucket tomorrow morning.
Dabney walked home from work, wishing it were a weekday so that she would have the house to herself, time and space to think. Dabney' husband, John Boxmiller Beech—Box, to his familiars—held an endowed chair in economics at Harvard and spent four nights a week in Cambridge, teaching. Box was fourteen years older than Dabney, sixty-two now, his hair gone completely white. He was a brilliant scholar, he was witty at dinner parties, he had nurtured Dabney' intellect and saved her in a million ways. Not least of all, he had saved her from the memories of Clendenin Hughes decades earlier. Box had adopted Agnes when Agnes was only three years old. He had been awkward with her at first—he had never wanted children of his own—but as Agnes grew, Box enjoyed teaching her how to play chess and quizzing her about European capital cities. He groomed her to go to Harvard and was disappointed when she chose Dartmouth instead, but he was the one who had driven back and forth to Hanover—sometimes through ferocious snowstorms—because Dabney wouldn't leave the island unless her life depended on it.
Tomorrow morning. It was Friday, which meant that Box was at their house on Charter Street. He would be Dabney' escort all through the festivities of Daffodil Weekend, although he was slower now after his knee replacement, and he had a hard time with the name of anyone he hadn't known for twenty years. Box would be working, and therefore distracted, but if Dabney knocked on the door of his study, he would set down his pen and turn down the Mozart and he would listen as Dabney spoke the words he had surely been dreading for more than twenty years.
I've had an e-mail from Clendenin Hughes. He' coming back to Nantucket for an indefinite period of time. He' arriving tomorrow morning.
What would Box say? Dabney couldn't imagine. She had been honest with Box since the day she'd met him, but she decided, while walking home, that she wouldn't tell him about Clen. She revised history so that she had deleted the e-mail without reading it, and then she deleted it from her deleted file, which meant it was gone, so gone that it was as if it had never existed in the first place.
Couple #8: Albert Maku and Corrine Dubois, married twenty-two years
Albert: Dabney Kimball was the first person I met at Harvard. She was sitting on the side steps of Grays Hall, crying her eyes out. All the other freshmen were carrying their trunks and boxes across Harvard Yard with their good-looking, well-dressed parents and their rambunctious brothers and sisters in tow. I watched people hug and scream—happy reunion!—they had gone to Camp Wyonegonic together, they had been bitter lacrosse rivals, one at Gilman, one at Calvert Hall, they had sailed together from Newport to Bermuda, they had skied in Gstaad—it just got more and more absurd, and I could not listen a second longer without feeling woefully displaced. I was from Plettenberg Bay, South Africa—my father a truck driver, my mother the head of housekeeping at a tourist hotel, my tuition at Harvard paid by a scholarship through the United Church of Christ. I did not belong in Grays Hall, at Harvard, in Cambridge, in America. I slipped out the side door with the intention of escape—back to the T-station, back to Logan Airport, back to Cape Town.
But then I saw Dabney crying, and I thought, Now, look, Albert, there is someone else at Harvard who seems as miserable as you. I sat down on the hot step and offered her a handkerchief. My mother had sent me half a world away, to the planet' most prestigious university, armed with little more than a dozen white pressed handkerchiefs.
The first white handkerchief won me my first friend. Dabney accepted it, and unceremoniously blew her nose. She did not seem surprised by my presence, despite the fact that I was six foot six and weighed 165 pounds and had skin the same purple-black color as the plums sold by the fruit vendor in Harvard Square.
When she finished blowing her nose, she folded the handkerchief into a neat, damp square and laid it on her dungaree-covered knee.
"I'll launder this before I give it back," she said. "I'm Dabney Kimball."
"Albert," I said. "Albert Maku, from Plettenberg Bay, South Africa." And then, as a flourish, I said, "Ngiyajabula ukukwazi," which means, "It' nice to meet you," in Zulu.
She burst into tears again. I thought maybe the Zulu had frightened her and I made a mental note not to use this tactic ever again when introducing myself to someone in America.
"What' the matter?" I said. "Are you lonely? Are you scared?"
She looked at me and nodded.
I said, "Yes, me too."
Later, we walked to Mr. Bartley' Burger Cottage. This was a famous burger place mentioned in the freshman handbook. We ordered burgers with onions and chili sauce and cheese and pickles and fried eggs, and we ordered fries with gravy, and as I ate I thought happily that this was American food, and I loved it.
Dabney Kimball had been born and raised on Nantucket Island, which was sixty miles away on land and another thirty over the sea. She told me she was the fifth generation of her family to be born on the island, and I understood that for an American, this was an accomplishment. Her great-great-great-grandfather had traveled to Nantucket when he was only newly graduated from Harvard himself.
Dabney didn't like to leave the island, because of something that had happened when she was a child, she said.
"Oh, really?" I said. "What?"
I thought maybe she had been mugged or had been in a highway accident, but she pressed her lips together and I realized I had probably overstepped the bounds of our brand-new friendship by asking.
"There is no university on Nantucket," she said. "Otherwise, I would have matriculated there." She picked at the last remaining fries, swimming in gravy. "It' a phobia. I leave the island and I panic. I only feel safe when I'm on that island. It' my home."
I told her my home was Plettenberg Bay, and that I had not, until two days earlier, ever been out of South Africa. But Plettenberg Bay wasn't an island, and I had traveled around the country quite a bit with the choir of my church youth group—to Cape Town, Knysna, Stellenbosch, and Franschhoek, to Jo-burg and Pretoria, the capital, and to the fine beaches of Durban. Compared to Dabney, I felt worldly.
"Also," she said, "I'm in love with a boy named Clendenin Hughes. He goes to Yale, and I'm afraid I'm going to lose him."
Ah, she had me there. At that time, I knew nothing about love.
Dabney and I remained friends for all four years at Harvard. She went home to Nantucket each weekend and over the span of each school vacation, and every time she left for home, she invited me to come with her. I had an idea of Nantucket as a white place, an expensive place, an elitist place, and despite the fact that someone as fine as Dabney lived there, I felt that a painfully lean, dirt-poor African boy with purple-black skin on a church scholarship would not be welcomed, and I always said no.
But then finally, during spring break of senior year, when I had been accepted at medical school at Columbia Physicians and Surgeons, and I had a pocket full of money from working as a bellman at the Charles Hotel, and my self-confidence was plumped not only by my future as a doctor and ample pocket cash but by the realization that I had become sort of American (I enjoyed movies with the actor Mickey Rourke, I drank the occasional beer at the Rathskeller), I said that yes, I would go.
Dabney drove, at that time, a 1972 Chevy Nova, which I folded myself into for the ride to Hyannis, where we would catch the ferry to Nantucket.
Dabney said, "And guess what? My friend Corinne Dubois is coming, too."
I didn't want Dabney to sense my disappointment. I craved Dabney' attention; I didn't like the idea of being rendered mute while Dabney gabbed with her girlfriend, this Corinne Dubois.
"She' great, wonderful, beautiful, smart, you'll love her," Dabney said. "She' about to graduate from MIT with a degree in astrophysics."
We picked up Corinne Dubois outside the Museum of Science on Edward Land Boulevard. She had curly, copper-colored hair. She wore long silver earrings and a long peasant skirt and dark round sunglasses. I noted these things in an instant and I was not particularly overcome except by thinking that Corinne Dubois did not look like a person about to graduate from MIT with a degree in astrophysics. But when she climbed into the car, I smelled her perfume, and something stirred in me. She slammed the door and pushed her sunglasses on top of her head and I introduced myself.
"Albert Maku," I said, offering my hand.
She shook it mightily. "Corinne Dubois," she said. "Lovely to meet you, Albert."
Her eyes were green, and they were smiling at me. And although I had not known what love was, I felt it then.
Dabney noticed. She looked at me and said, "Albert, you're rosy."
And I thought, How does a man with the blue-black skin of a plum look rosy?
But I knew she was right.
Dabney Kimball Beech was descended from a long line of strong women, with one exception.
Dabney had been named after her great-great-great-grandmother, Dabney Margaret Wright, married to Warren Wright, who had served as captain of the whaling ship Lexington and had died during his second trip at sea. Dabney had three sons, the youngest of whom, David Warren Wright, married Alice Booker. Alice was a Quaker; her parents had been abolitionists in Pennsylvania and had helped fugitive slaves. Alice gave birth to two girls, and the elder girl, Winford Dabney Wright, married Nantucket' only attorney, Richard Kimball. Winford was a suffragette. Winford gave birth to one son, Richard Kimball, Jr., called Skip, who dropped out of Harvard and scandalously married an Irish chambermaid named Agnes Bernadette Shea. Agnes Bernadette Shea was Dabney' beloved grandmother. Agnes gave birth to David Wright Kimball, Dabney' father, who fought in the Americans' first efforts in Vietnam, then came home and served as one of Nantucket' four policemen. He married a Nantucket summer girl named Patricia Beale Benson.
Patty Benson, Dabney' mother, represented the weak link in the genealogy. She left Nantucket when Dabney was eight years old and never returned.
When Dabney discovered she was pregnant (and really, if one wanted to talk about scandal, there was no greater scandal in the year 1988 than Dabney Kimball' becoming pregnant out of wedlock), she had wished for a son. To have a daughter after growing up without a mother seemed a challenge beyond Dabney' capabilities. But when a baby girl was set in Dabney' arms, the love specific to all new mothers overtook her. She named the baby Agnes Bernadette after her grammie and decided that the only way to ameliorate the pain of her mother' abandonment was to do right herself. She would be a mother first, a mother forever.
As Dabney approached her house on Charter Street, she saw Agnes' Prius in the driveway.
Agnes! Dabney' spirits soared. Agnes had come home for Daffodil Weekend! Agnes had surprised her, which meant, Dabney assumed, that all was forgiven.
Dabney didn't want to think about the misunderstanding at Christmas. It had been the worst misunderstanding since, well…since the only other real conflict Dabney and her daughter had ever had, back when Agnes was sixteen and Dabney had explained who her real father was. Compared to that hurricane, the blowup at Christmas had been minor.
Dabney stepped in through the mudroom door.
"Agnes?" she cried out.
Agnes was in the kitchen, eating a sandwich at the counter. She looked skinny to Dabney. Her jeans were hanging off her hips. And—even more shocking—she had cut her hair!
"Eeeek!" Dabney said. She reached out and touched Agnes' shorn head. All that beautiful, straight dark hair, the hair that had reached down to Agnes' nearly missing behind, had been chopped off. She looked like a boy.
"I know, right?" Agnes said. "It' so different, I feel like someone else. Yesterday morning in the mirror, I didn't even recognize myself."
Dabney pressed her lips closed against the fifty annoying mom questions that threatened to escape: When did you cut it? Why did you cut it? Oh, honey, why?
Agnes took a bite of chicken salad sandwich and Dabney thought, Yes, eat, eat! She thought this was her punishment for never going to visit her daughter in New York, despite at least two hundred invitations to do so. Her daughter had come home looking like a cross between Twiggy in the 1966 Rolling Stone shoot and a teenage boy newly released from juvie.
Agnes swallowed and said, "CJ convinced me to do it."
CJ, of course.
Dabney hugged her daughter. "How is CJ?" she asked.
"Great!" Agnes said. "He' here. He came with me."
"Did he?" Dabney sounded excited and happy, even to her own ears. "Where is he?"
"He went for a run," Agnes said.
"Oh, good!" Dabney said. To her, the "oh, good" sounded okay. It sounded like, Oh, good for CJ, out enjoying this glorious spring weather! What she meant was, Oh, good, she didn't have to deal with CJ right this second.
Dabney took a cleansing breath and renewed her vow not to be critical of CJ. Charles Jacob Pippin was forty-four years old to Agnes' twenty-six; he was only four years younger than Dabney. But, as Box had pointed out, Dabney had no room to complain about the age difference because Box was fourteen years older than Dabney and it had rarely, if ever, been an issue. CJ was divorced from a woman named Annabelle, who—he was eager to mention—now lived in Boca Raton, heedlessly spending the million dollars a year CJ paid her in alimony. CJ was a sports agent in New York; his client list included nine New York Giants and four prominent Yankees, as well as some top-ranked tennis players and golfers. CJ had met Agnes the preceding September at the annual benefit for the Morningside Heights Boys & Girls Club, where Agnes was the executive director. CJ had written a large check to the club, and then he had danced with Agnes in the Waldorf ballroom all night long. The following Monday, a box containing two dozen brand-new basketballs had arrived at the club, followed on Tuesday by a slew of new art supplies. On Wednesday, Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz called the club to see if he could come in to sign autographs for the kids; at first, Agnes had thought it was a prank call. On Thursday, a huge bouquet of flowers arrived for Agnes, along with an invitation for her to have dinner with CJ at Nougatine on Friday.
It was a wooing straight out of the movies, and Dabney couldn't blame Agnes for succumbing. What twenty-six-year-old could resist? CJ was smart, successful, and sophisticated—he could talk about everything from Frank Lloyd Wright to the World Wrestling Federation. Since they had started dating, CJ had taken Agnes on trips to Nashville, Las Vegas, and Italy, where they drove down the Amalfi coast in a rented Ferrari.
Box, who was impressed by no one, thought CJ was the greatest thing since sliced bread. CJ golfed, he understood economic theory, he was a Republican. In Box' mind, it was a two-for-one deal: a beau for Agnes, a friend for him.
The fight at Christmas had started when Agnes asked her mother if she and CJ were a perfect match.
Dabney' heart had seized. She was "Cupe" for Cupid; she was Nantucket' matchmaker, with forty-two couples to her credit, all of them still together. Dabney could tell if a couple was a perfect match just by looking at them. She saw either a rosy glow or an olive-green haze. However, Dabney didn't like to offer her opinion on couples she didn't fix up herself. It was pointless. People were going to make their own decisions regardless of Dabney' predictions. Hot, passionate love—and even worse, lust—were the enemies of reason and good sense.
Dabney said, "Oh, honey, I have no idea."
Agnes said, "Mom, please. Please tell me."
Dabney thought about Agnes and CJ. For Christmas, CJ had given Agnes a pair of Christian Louboutin heels, a new iPad, and a gold Cartier love bracelet, which he dramatically locked onto her wrist. This final gift, especially, underscored CJ' controlling nature. He liked Agnes to watch what she ate, and he liked her to exercise at least once a day, preferably twice. He disapproved of Agnes' girlfriends; he thought they were "a danger to the relationship" because they met for cocktails and went to clubs in the Meatpacking District on the weekends. Now, Dabney suspected, most of the friends had fallen away. When CJ and Agnes walked together, CJ pulled her along like she was a recalcitrant child.
CJ was always charming with Dabney, but charming in a way that verged on ingratiating. He liked to reference that fact that he and Dabney were practically the same age. They had both grown up in the eighties, the era of the J. Geils Band and Ghostbusters; they were both in high school when the Union Carbide disaster killed half a million people in India. Dabney didn't like that CJ had changed his name after his divorce; his first wife, Annabelle, and everyone else in his life at that time, had called him Charlie. Dabney was alarmed when CJ said he didn't like dogs ("too dirty,") and that he never wanted to have children. Agnes loved children; that was why she worked at the Boys & Girls Club. Now, Agnes had started saying that she didn't care if she had children or not. Dabney wasn't sure how to explain it reasonably, but she sensed something rotten, possibly even sinister, under CJ' charismatic facade.
When Dabney looked at Agnes and CJ, she saw a haze that was the gray-green of clouds before a thunderstorm. Normally, when Dabney saw a miasma that bad, the couple split right away.
Dabney saw no choice but to tell Agnes the truth. A mother first, a mother forever.
"No," she'd said. "You are not a perfect match."
Agnes had packed her suitcase and left that very afternoon, a day and a half early, ignoring their usual day-after-Christmas tradition of prime-rib sandwiches and board games. She had left without taking any of her gifts; Dabney had been forced to pack them up and mail them to New York.
Box had been confused when he emerged from his study. "Wait a minute," he said. "What happened? Why did they leave?" Agnes had left without saying goodbye to Box, and Dabney knew she had done so because she didn't want Box to have the chance to try to persuade her to stay.
Dabney had sighed. "I told Agnes something she didn't want to hear."
Box lifted his square, black-framed glasses so that they rested in his snowy-white hair. He was a gifted and esteemed man, but there were times when Dabney wished she would be spared the lecture. Box thought her matchmaking was frivolous and silly on a good day, and abominably meddlesome in the private affairs of others the rest of the time. "What?" he asked. "What did you tell her?"
"I'd like to keep that between her and me," Dabney said.
"Dabney." His eyes were a piercing blue, clear and cold, exacting.
"She asked if I thought she and CJ were a perfect match."
Box raised his chin a fraction of an inch. "Certainly you didn't offer your opinion?"
Dabney didn't answer. Her feet were together and her hands were clasped in front of her kilt. She was the errant student facing the headmaster. Box was her husband, she reminded herself. They were equals.
Box' visage turned a florid pink. "Certainly you did offer your opinion. Otherwise she wouldn't have run off."
"Run off," Dabney said. It was a bad habit of hers to repeat the phrases Box used that she found asinine. Like "run off." That was Professor Beech trying to sound not only Harvard-like but British. Heroines in Edwardian literature "ran off." Agnes had climbed into her Prius and absconded without noise or toxic emissions.
"Rude of them not to say goodbye," Box said. "I would have expected more from CJ. You just don't stay in a man' house, and then up and leave without a word."
"You were working, darling," Dabney said. "The closed door is very intimidating, as I've told you hundreds of times. I'm sure they didn't want to disrupt you."
"They wouldn't have been disrupting me," Box said. "I was only reading. And there is nothing intimidating about a closed door. All they had to do was knock."
"It' my fault," Dabney said. The day after Christmas and the day after the day after Christmas were now ruined.
Box breathed audibly. He wanted to say something punishing, perhaps, but like the perfect gentleman he was, he refrained. He knew that Agnes' departure was punishment enough.
The weather for Daffodil Weekend would be perfect, but that was it; everything else about Dabney' life was disheveled and topsy-turvy. Her daughter had come home—that was good—but she had brought CJ with her, and that was bad. And Clendenin Hughes would be arriving on Nantucket the next morning. Dabney did not feel well—her abdomen was tender, her back was sore, she was fatigued. On top of everything else, she probably had Lyme disease!
Dabney dealt with her mixed bag of circumstances the way she had dealt with everything else in her forty-eight years: she used forbearance. She began by calling Ted Field' office and scheduling an appointment for Monday morning. Ted Field, the doctor of choice on the island, was wildly popular and always overbooked. But Dabney knew she would get an appointment because decades earlier, at her own wedding, Dabney had introduced Ted Field' receptionist, Genevieve Lefebvre, to her husband, Brian (Couple #17). They had been married twenty-one years and had five daughters.
"What' the matter?" Genevieve asked. "You sick?"
"Not quite right," Dabney said. "Maybe Lyme. I don't know. Maybe old age."
"Oh, hush. You look the same as you did when you were seventeen," Genevieve said. "The doc can see you at nine."
That accomplished, Dabney felt marginally better. Maybe Lyme. Maybe just stress.
She was able to grit her teeth and make it through the rest of the day. She greeted CJ warmly, then sent him and Agnes out to pick up the blanket of daffodils and the daffodil wreath that would festoon the Impala in the Antique Car Parade the next day. She called Nina and apologized for being distracted in the office and for needlessly snapping at her.
(When Dabney had returned to the Chamber of Commerce without a strawberry frappe from the pharmacy, Nina had squinted at her in confusion. "So where did you go, then?"
And Dabney said, "You need glasses, Nina."
Nina had recoiled as though Dabney had smacked her across the nose with a newspaper, and Dabney felt like a terrible, cranky friend.)
Now, Dabney said, "I really don't feel well. I'm coming down with something, I think."
"Get rest tonight, sister," Nina said. "Tomorrow is showtime."
Dabney put the finishing touches on the tailgate picnic for the next day, although she had prepared most of it in advance. Dabney made the same picnic every year because, just like Thanksgiving and Christmas, Daffodil Weekend was all about tradition. The ribbon sandwiches were the highlight of her picnic—crustless Pepperidge Farm white bread with a layer of egg salad (yellow), a layer of scallion cream cheese (green), and a layer of maraschino cherry cream cheese (pink). Agnes and Box teased her both for making the ribbon sandwiches and for enjoying them. It was WASP cuisine at its very essence, they said. Why not serve Velveeta on Triscuits while she was at it? Or a dish of pickled cauliflower? Dabney ignored the taunts; their aversion simply left more ribbon sandwiches for her, and for Peter Genevra, superintendent of the water company, who stopped at her picnic every year to wolf down half a dozen.
Dabney also made a bourbon-glazed spiral-cut ham, a loaf of braided honey-curry bread, poached asparagus with hollandaise sauce, and a tortellini salad with herbed mayonnaise. She served lemon tarts from the Nantucket Bake Shop. She bought a bottle of Taittinger champagne for herself and Agnes, good white Bordeaux for Box, and a twelve-pack of Stella Artois to offer those who stopped to visit.
As Dabney was cutting the crusts from the Pepperidge Farm loaf, Box entered the kitchen. He had arrived that morning while she was at work; she hadn't seen him since Monday at 7:00 a.m., when she'd dropped him at the airport as she did every Monday morning.
"Hello, dear," he said, and he kissed her chastely on the cheek. His greeting alone summed up the way things were between them. Pleasant, civilized, sexless. He called her "darling," or occasionally "dear." When they were dating and first married, Dabney used to long for Thursday afternoons because back then, Box would leave Harvard when his last class was over at three, and he would often make it to the island by five. Dabney would meet his plane or his boat and they would head straight home to make love. Now, Box stayed in his faculty apartment on Thursday nights. He worked until seven or eight and then went out to dinner with colleagues. He tried to convince Dabney to come to Cambridge on Thursday evenings. There were so many new restaurants, they could attend the reading series at the Coop or go to the Symphony. But Dabney always declined. Box knew that asking Dabney to come to Cambridge was like asking her to scuba dive without an oxygen tank in Marianas Trench. She believed, in her own mind, that she simply would not survive.
Box grew weary at her refusal to travel, and Dabney grew aggravated at him for trying to prod her into it. I never pretended to be anyone else! she had shouted at him a few years back. The shouting had been startling to them both—theirs was not a marriage where emotions ran hot—and the discussion died there. Box stayed in Cambridge on Thursday nights, and Dabney stayed on Nantucket.
Now, as usual, Dabney said, "How was your week?"
"Good," Box said. "My Turkish editor called. They're picking up the new edition."
"Oh, wonderful," Dabney said. In addition to holding an endowed chair, Box had authored the macroeconomics textbook used by more than four hundred universities across the country. It had been translated into twenty-four languages. Box wrote an updated edition every three years; the amount of income this generated was nauseating. Box made somewhere between three and four million dollars a year off the textbook; his salary from Harvard was a mere three hundred thousand. The money meant little to Box and even less to Dabney, other than that they never had to worry about it. Their house on Charter Street was historically preserved in its every element, and they had slowly and carefully filled it with antiques and art. It would pass to Agnes. Dabney was the proud owner of a 1966 tomato-red Chevy Impala with a white vinyl top, which was something of a money pit, but she treasured it. Box drove a battered Jeep Wrangler on Nantucket and an Audi RS 4 on the mainland. They never took vacations, because of Dabney, although Box went to London for two weeks every June to teach at the School of Economics, and he attended a conference in November that switched locations—San Diego, Amsterdam, Honolulu. They anonymously donated a hundred thousand dollars each year to the Morningside Heights Boys & Girls Club, where Agnes worked, and a hundred thousand to the Nantucket Cottage Hospital. And that was the extent of their spending.
Dabney wondered if Clendenin Hughes knew she had married a celebrated and esteemed economist. She presumed he did. One could find out anything on the Internet now. Was Clen jealous? Of course, Clen had won a Pulitzer; Dabney had discovered this by reading the alumni notes in her high school newsletter. She had felt a surge of pride for him, followed by annoyance. She had thought, For what he gave up, he'd better have won a Pulitzer!
She wanted to stop thinking about Clendenin Hughes.
"How was your week?" Box asked. "I take it you're all aflutter for the weekend? Can you give me the rundown again?"
"Dinner tonight at the Club Car," Dabney said. "I made the reservation for two, but we'll have to bump it to four, since Agnes and CJ are here." She paused, thinking about how Box and CJ would fight for the check. That was another thing about CJ: he always had to pay for everything, otherwise he became downright sullen. "Parade at noon tomorrow, and picnic at one."
"Collapse in exhausted heap by five," Box said.
Dabney said, "I have an appointment with Ted Field at nine o'clock Monday morning."
"Really?" Box said. "Are you not well?"
Dabney stared at the perfect squares of white bread on the cutting board. Those squares were her life—or like her life had been until the e-mail arrived that morning. "Not well," she confirmed. "I'm thinking maybe Lyme."
Box said, "Have you been bitten by a tick?"
"Not that I know of," Dabney said. The last time Dabney had walked in the moors was the preceding fall, with their dog, Henry. Just thinking of Henry made Dabney weepy.
"It' not like you to get sick," Box said. "I can't even remember the last time you had a cold."
"I know," Dabney said. Her voice was filled with impending tears. It was also not like Dabney to get dramatic or emotional. She knew that doing so now was making Box uncomfortable.
"I would offer to stay on Monday," Box said. "But…"
"You can't," Dabney said. Mondays at one, Box taught a seminar on Tobin to twelve handpicked seniors; it was his favorite class.
"I suppose I could ask Miranda to cover it," Box said.
Ah, yes, Miranda. Thirty-five-year-old Australian economics prodigy Miranda Gilbert, with the naughty-librarian glasses and the enchanting accent. She had been Box' teaching and research assistant for the past four years. Dabney had always been a little jealous of Miranda. But Box would never keep a secret from Dabney as she was now doing. She should just tell him: Clendenin Hughes would be arriving on Nantucket tomorrow. So what? To not tell him turned it into a bigger deal than it was. To not tell him made it seem like Dabney was affected by it.
Dabney was affected by it.
"How is Miranda?" Dabney asked.
"Miranda?" Box plucked a maraschino cherry from the jar and ate it, then grimaced. "She' fine. Dr. Bartelby is getting ready to propose, I guess."
Dr. Bartelby, Miranda' boyfriend, was an internist at Mass General. Dr. Bartelby (whose Christian name was Christian) and Miranda had come to visit the Beeches on Nantucket the past three summers. "He told her he' getting ready to propose? That takes all the fun out of it."
"I'm not sure how it works these days," Box said. "But I do believe Miranda is about to join the married ranks."
A wave of dizziness overcame Dabney and she steadied herself against the counter.
"Are you all right?" Box asked. He put a hand on her lower back, but even that light touch hurt.
She had to make the ribbon sandwiches before the bread dried out. And the asparagus needed to be trimmed and roasted. Agnes and CJ would be home soon with the daffodils for the car. Decorating the Impala on Friday evening was one of Dabney' favorite parts of the weekend. But all Dabney could do was stagger through the kitchen and into the library, where she collapsed on the sofa. Box covered her with an afghan crocheted by her beloved grammie, the first Agnes Bernadette. Dabney felt like she was going to die.
Forbearance: her ancestors had endured much worse, Dabney knew. Her great-great-great-grandmother, Dabney Margaret Wright, had come to Nantucket from Beacon Hill, leaving behind home, furnishings, and society. She and their three sons had moved into a house on Lily Street while Warren sailed off to hunt whales. He had been gone for eighteen months on his first trip, then home for six months—and he never returned from his second trip. Dabney Wright had made the best of a tragic situation: she joined the congregation of the Summer Street Church, and befriended other women who had been widowed by the sea. She had not complained, at least not in Dabney' imagination. She had kept a stiff upper lip.
And Dabney, too, would persevere. After Dabney recovered from her spell, she assembled the ribbon sandwiches and wrapped them in wax paper. She roasted the asparagus. Agnes and CJ took charge of bedecking the Impala: a daffodil wreath on the grille and a blanket of daffodils laid across the wide trunk. Dabney showered and put on her navy and yellow Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress. It was one of the dresses Patty Benson had left hanging in her closet when she abandoned her husband and daughter. Dabney didn't attach sentimental value to things, or at least she didn't in this case. She wore her mother' dresses all the time because she liked them, and they fit.
Dabney tried to make a reasonable effort at dinner at the Club Car, despite the fact that she wished she were in bed with a bowl of soup and a Jane Austen novel. Instead, she ordered the lamb chops, as she always did, and Box selected an excellent Australian Shiraz to go with them. One sip of the wine set Dabney' head spinning.
She said, "You know, Box was teaching at Harvard when I was a student there, but I never took one of his classes."
Agnes stared at her mother. She had ordered the crab cake, but she hadn't taken a single bite. "Yes, Mommy, we know."
CJ smiled at Dabney. He was wearing a navy blazer and a sumptuously patterned Robert Graham shirt. Before they left the house, Box had admired CJ' chocolate suede Gucci loafers and then said to Dabney, "You should get me a pair like that!" Dabney had to admit, CJ presented well, he smelled good, and he had a nice head of wavy salt-and-pepper hair and straight white teeth. Too white, like maybe he treated them. But that wasn't a reason to dislike the man. CJ had ordered the lamb chops, medium rare, just like Dabney had, and this reminded Dabney of a time the autumn before when he had ordered exactly the same thing as she had. It was as if he was copying her in an attempt to be found agreeable.
CJ said, "If I remember correctly, you were an art history major? You wrote your thesis on Matisse?"
"We named our dog, Henry, after him," Agnes said softly.
CJ, who did not care for dogs ("too dirty"), didn't respond to this. He said to Dabney, "You should go see the Matisse chapel in Nice."
It wasn't likely that Dabney would ever make it to France, but she gave him credit for trying.
"My favorite painting is La Danse," Dabney said. "It' at MOMA, but I've never seen it."
CJ said, "The director at MOMA is a friend of mine. So if you ever decide to come to New York, I'll set something up."
Dabney drank her wine. She didn't touch her lamb chops. She had absolutely no appetite.
She imagined Clendenin Hughes walking into the dining room of the Club Car, throwing Dabney over his shoulder, and carrying her out. Then she indulged in a moment of deep self-pity. She had lived a calm and peaceful existence, a happy and productive existence—until this morning.
She drank her wine.
Between dinner and dessert, champagne arrived at the table, and not just champagne but a bottle of Cristal. Dabney blinked. Both she and Agnes were fond of champagne, but it gave Box a headache, and, as wealthy as he was, he would never have spent three hundred dollars on a bottle of Cristal.
They all sat silently as the server uncorked the bottle and filled four flutes. Dabney was confused. She gave their server—a severe-looking woman in a white dinner jacket—a beseeching look, but the woman' face was as implacable as a guard at Buckingham Palace.
Suddenly, CJ cleared his throat and stood up, raising his glass. "Agnes and I have an announcement to make."
Oh no, Dabney thought. Nononononononono.
Agnes smiled shyly and raised her left hand so that Dabney could see the diamond—Tiffany cut, platinum setting, bright and sparkling perfection. Dabney urged happy excitement onto her face.
"Agnes has agreed to be my wife," CJ said.
Dabney uttered a cry of horror, which they all mistook for delight. She alone was able to see the green fog emanating from Agnes and CJ like toxic radiation.
"How wonderful!" Dabney said.
Box stood to embrace Agnes and then CJ, and Dabney, realizing that this was an appropriate response, followed suit. She held Agnes' hand—the same hand Agnes had pressed into clay as a kindergartner, the same hand Dabney had high-fived when Agnes had scored a 1400 on her SATs—and admired the ring.
"What a beautiful ring!" Dabney said. This, at least, was true. CJ had nailed the ring—simple, classic, timeless. The stone was enormous. Dabney guessed three carats, or nearly.
But the ghoul-green haze enveloping Agnes could only signify some future catastrophe—CJ would cheat on Agnes with one of the Giants cheerleaders, or an intern in his office. Or he would do something worse. Dabney wouldn't wait to find out. She would, somehow, figure out a way to save her daughter.
On Saturday morning, Dabney felt even worse than usual, thanks to too much Shiraz, the cataclysmic news of "the engagement," and Clen' looming arrival. Despite this, she donned her usual Daffodil Parade clothes—yellow oxford shirt, jeans, navy blazer, penny loafers, and her beautiful straw Peter Beaton hat with the navy grosgrain ribbon. She had her clipboard, which listed the 120 entries for the Antique Car Parade. The sun was shining, the air was actually balmy; Dabney felt warm in her blazer and considered removing it, but she knew she would be chilly once she was riding out to Sconset in the Impala with the top down.
Main Street was a swarm of festive humanity. Everyone wore yellow and green to celebrate the three million daffodils blooming on Nantucket. There were children with daffodils painted on their faces and daffodils wound around the handlebars of their bikes. There were dogs with daffodil collars. Every single person seemed to want Dabney' attention. In years past, she had handled this situation with grace and aplomb. She used to love knowing everyone and having everyone know her. She used to trade inside jokes with the town administrator and the garbage collector, the bookstore owner, the woman who owned the lingerie store, Andrea Kapenash, wife of the police chief, Mr. Berber, the fifth-grade teacher who had been Agnes' favorite, a certain summer resident who sat on the board of the New York Stock Exchange, and a different summer resident who anchored the six o'clock news in Boston. This was a cross section of humanity who had one thing in common…they all loved Nantucket Island. But in this contest, Dabney was the undisputed frontrunner. She loved Nantucket more than anyone else had ever loved Nantucket. She knew her devotion was unusual, possibly even unhealthy, but on a day like today, it didn't matter. Today she was among like-minded people.
Dabney chatted with everyone who crossed her path, but she felt like she was speaking in an automated voice, like the voice that played on the Chamber of Commerce voice mail when one called after business hours. Yes, it was magnificent about the weather, no, she couldn't remember a nicer day, no, she couldn't believe another year had passed, yes, she was ready for summer, she was always ready for summer. Good to see you, she said, but her words clinked like counterfeit coins. Could everyone tell? Dabney yearned to grab someone by the arm—even the channel 5 news anchor—and spill her guts. I don't feel well at all, there' something wrong with me, Clendenin Hughes is coming back to Nantucket today, he might even be here as we speak, and my husband doesn't know. My daughter announced last night that she is engaged to a man who seems like the Second Coming, but whom I alone know to be unsuitable. And there is nothing I can do or say. Here I am, Nantucket' matchmaker, ostensibly a romance expert, and yet my life is unraveling. Nothing is as it should be.
Can you help? Can you help me?
Dabney bumped into Vaughan Oglethorpe, the Chamber board president, her boss, who stood out like a sore thumb in his black shirt, black tie, and black suit. Vaughan was the island' only undertaker, and he could cast a pall over the sunniest of days. His hair was whiter than when Dabney had last seen him, and his nose more beaky; he was starting to resemble the national bird. He was as tall and lanky as ever, but more hunched in the shoulders; he looked like Lurch from The Addams Family, or like some other benevolent monster. Perfect for an undertaker.
"Dabney," he said. The lugubrious voice, too, suited his profession. Vaughan had known Dabney her entire life—he had been an old beau of Dabney' mother, Patty Benson—and he liked to take credit for all of Dabney' successes on the job.
"Hello, Vaughan," she said. "How do you like this weather?"
Vaughan stroked his bony chin, his expression dour. He smelled like embalming fluid; often when Dabney stood this close to him, she held her breath. She looked down at her loafers.
"What a turnout!" he boomed suddenly. "You've done it again, Dabney! Good work!"
"Thank you, sir," Dabney said.
"No!" he shouted. "Great work!"
As usual, Box drove the Impala in the parade while Dabney rode shotgun. This smarted a little, as it did every year. The Impala was Dabney' car; Box drove it exactly once a year, in this parade. Why didn't Dabney drive and Box ride shotgun? This, after all, was Dabney' festival. But Agnes and Nina Mobley and even Box himself thought it looked better if he drove. Dabney should be free to wave at the crowds like she was passing royalty.
Fine, Dabney said. Fine, whatever.
Agnes and CJ sat in the back, exuding the smugness of the newly engaged. Dabney wanted to scowl, but she couldn't. All eyes were on her. She had to smile. She had to beam. She put a hand on top of her straw hat to keep it from blowing away.
Once they had parked in Sconset, under giant elms showing off their new spring leaves, Dabney poured herself and Agnes a glass of champagne. Dabney wasn't one to seek solace in alcohol, but circumstances were piling up against her so rapidly that she saw no alternative. She took a nice, long sip of champagne, which sparkled against her tongue. Any second now, she would relax.
She set out the picnic on a card table covered with her yellow linen tablecloth, used only this one day a year.
She realized that she had forgotten to pick up the lemon tarts from the Nantucket Bake Shop.
"Oh my gosh!" she said. "I forgot the tarts!"
Box was uncorking the white Bordeaux. He shrugged. "It doesn't matter," he said. "No one ever eats them anyway."
Dabney stared at her husband. Forbearance, she thought. But emotion overcame Dabney' sturdy genes: her eyes filled with hot tears. She turned away from Box, and from Agnes and CJ, who now seemed like some hideous two-headed monster, and all the others who were starting to mill on the street. She couldn't let anyone see her crying about the forgotten tarts. She felt like Clarissa Dalloway, who decided that she would get the flowers for the dinner party herself. This picnic, with the ham, and the asparagus, and the ribbon sandwiches that everyone felt comfortable ridiculing, was Dabney' picnic. It was an expression of her very self, and yet here was John Boxmiller Beech, the brilliant and celebrated economist, telling her it didn't matter. Which was the equivalent of saying that she, Dabney, didn't matter.
She stumbled down the street, wishing she were alone, wishing she were anonymous, wishing—for the first time in her forty-eight years—that she were not stuck on this island where every last person thought he knew her, but where in reality no one knew her.
Oh, something was wrong.
Dabney' vision was blurred by tears, and by drinking champagne on an empty stomach. She knew she should return to the car and eat a ribbon sandwich. There was a big crowd around the 1948 woodie wagon, which had won Best Car three times in the past decade; this year they had done a Wizard of Oz theme. The police chief, Ed Kapenash, was dressed as the Scarecrow.
Dabney didn't stop, didn't turn around, she just kept going. Clarissa Dalloway had survived, but someone at her dinner party had committed suicide. Was that right? And then of course Virginia Woolf had done herself in. She'd walked into the River Ouse with rocks in her pockets.
Dabney felt unsteady on her feet. Her hand was shaking so badly that champagne spilled onto the cuff of her yellow oxford.
She saw him waiting at the corner of Main and Chapel Streets. He was straddling a ten-speed bicycle, the same one he had ridden everywhere as a teenager because there had been no money to buy him a car. He used to ride that bike whenever he met Dabney to be alone. They used to meet in the Quaker Cemetery, they would meet at the old, abandoned NHA property called Greater Light, and they would meet at the high school football field. Their song growing up had been Van Morrison' "Brown Eyed Girl," not only because Dabney had brown eyes but because of the line about making love in the green grass behind the stadium. That line had been written for her and Clen.
She knew it was him even though he in no way resembled the twenty-two-year-old she had last seen at Steamship Wharf in 1987. He was bigger—seventy or eighty pounds heavier at least—and he had a mustache and a beard. He was a grown-up, a man.
He was wearing a red T-shirt, jeans, and a pair of black Chuck Taylors. Twenty-seven years later and he still wore Chuck Taylors? In high school they had been the only thing he would spend money on. He had owned five pairs.
Something else was different about him, something off balance. It took Dabney another second to realize that Clen had only one arm. She blinked, thinking it was a trick of the light, or the champagne. But what she saw was real: his left arm was a stump. There was the sleeve of his red T-shirt, and nothing below it.
He had lost his arm.
Dabney' vision grew dark at the edges, but there was still color—the red of Clen' T-shirt and the green glen and weak tea of his Scottish hazel eyes. I could not stay, and you could not go. She couldn't speak. Nina Mobley would be looking for her, as it was time to judge the picnics. It doesn't matter, nobody ever eats them anyway. Clen! She wanted, at least, to say his name, just his name, but even that was beyond her. She was in the power of some other force; something had her by the back of the neck and was pushing her down. I hope that "never" has an expiration date. She wanted to ride away on his handlebars. Any second now, she would relax. He was there. It was him.
She did not stop for him. She walked on. Even if she could have spoken, what would she have said? She was unprepared. She wasn't feeling well. Around the corner, hidden by hedges, she tried to breathe, but found she could not breathe. She heard the sound of breaking glass and realized the champagne flute had dropped to the road and shattered. There was wind in her ears. Her knees gave way.