Page 11 of The Perfect Couple

“Did Merritt go into town?” Nick asks.

“I assume she led the charge,” Abby says. “No, wait!” Abby’s voice rises so dramatically that Nick nearly leaps from the chair. “Wait, wait, wait! I saw Celeste and Merritt out in the rose garden after the party broke up! Our bedroom window looks right over the garden and I saw them when I went to pull the shade. Merritt was crying. Celeste had her hands on Merritt’s shoulders. They were talking. Then they hugged and Celeste walked toward the driveway and Merritt stayed in the garden.” Abby looks at Nick in astonishment. “I totally forgot about that until just this instant. If I had remembered, I would have started out by telling you that.”

Merritt and the bride in the rose garden. Merritt crying.

“In the scene you’re describing, did it look like Merritt was upset and Celeste was comforting her, or did it look like they were arguing?” Nick asks.

“The first,” Abby says. “I’m pretty sure Celeste went out with Benji, Thomas, and the others. But I couldn’t say for sure about Merritt. I pulled the shade and went to bed.”

Really? Nick thinks. Abby didn’t seem to miss much, and wouldn’t a former University of Texas sorority girl be naturally drawn to drama of this kind? She just described Merritt as “one of the guys,” so wouldn’t seeing Merritt crying make Abby very, very curious? “You didn’t peek again?” Nick asks. “To see what happened? To see if Merritt was okay?”

Abby looks him dead in the eye. “I was bone-tired. I went to bed.”

This is her reminding him, once again, that she’s pregnant. He nods. “From the looks of things under the tent, there was some late-night partying. Is it possible that the people who went out came home and drank some rum?”

“Possible,” Abby says.

“Do you have any idea who that might have been?” Nick asks.

Abby’s face shuts down. It’s as abrupt as a slamming door. “Nope.”

She’s lying, Nick thinks. This must have been when things got interesting.

“Was Merritt part of the group who had the nightcap?” he asks.

“I honestly have no idea,” Abby says. She couldn’t be less convincing.

Nick takes a sustaining breath. “When Thomas got back to your room, did you happen to notice what time it was? This is very, very important. Please think.”

“It was late.”

“Late like midnight?” Nick says. “Or late like four a.m.?”

“I didn’t look at the clock. I didn’t know…” Here, Abby tears up. “I didn’t know this would happen!”

“Please don’t get upset,” Nick says. “Let me find you some tissues.”

“I’m fine,” Abby says. And then, almost to herself, she says, “I can’t believe this is real. It’s real. Merritt is dead.”

“Abby, I have to ask: Did you hear anything else in the middle of the night? Did you hear anyone in the water? There was a two-person kayak down by the beach—”

Abby’s head snaps up. “A kayak? That would be Tag’s.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes,” Abby says. “Tag has two kayaks and he treats them like they’re his babies. They’re handmade by some guy in Alaska or wherever kayaks were invented. Tag has a one-person kayak and a two-person kayak and when he invites someone out on the two-person kayak, it’s a really big deal, like an even bigger deal than when he invites you into his study to drink his thousand-year-old scotch.”

“Since the kayak was out, would you guess Mr. Winbury was the one who used it?”

“Absolutely, yes,” Abby says.

“No chance someone might have borrowed it without asking?”

“No chance,” Abby says. “Tag keeps the kayaks locked up. I know this because… well, because Thomas and I have tried to use the two-person kayak without permission. We tried to guess the combination—we ran through every birthday, every anniversary, and we could not unlock those kayaks. Frankly, I can’t believe a kayak was left out on the beach. That’s a sure indication that something went very wrong last night. Tag isn’t careless like that.”

“Abby, would you say Mr. Winbury is a person with a lot of secrets?”

“Everyone in the Winbury family has secrets!” Abby says.

Nick holds his breath. He’s afraid to move. Come on, Abby, he thinks. Give me a little bit more.

“I’m sure Tag has secrets,” she says. “But I really like Tag and I admire and respect him and I want that feeling to be mutual. I’m pretty sure both he and Greer think I’m a failure because I haven’t managed to give them a grandchild… but they don’t know what I’m dealing with. Thomas is… and the pressure…” Abby stops, sniffs. “I’m sorry I’m crying. This can’t be good for my baby. May I please be excused?”

Nick sighs. He was so close. But he can’t push her, not in her present condition. He’ll have to get his answers elsewhere. “Yes, of course. Thank you, Abby.” He smiles at her as he lies and says, “You’ve been very helpful.”

Friday, May 18–Saturday, May 19, 2018

TAG

He catches a brief glimpse of the friend on Friday evening when she and Celeste and Abby arrive from the city for the bachelorette weekend that Greer has arranged. Tag sees the friend from the back—long dark hair and a sweet little behind put on display in a tight sequined miniskirt. When she turns, he’s treated to her profile. Pretty. Then she pivots at the hip, notices Tag checking her out, waggles her fingers at him, and offers a half smile.

“What’s the friend’s name?” Tag asks his wife later.

“Merritt Monaco,” Greer says. “She’s a brunette. Not your type.”

Tag gathers his wife up in his arms, and as usual, she places both palms on his chest as if to push him away, but he holds her tight. Tag maintains—untruthfully—that he has no interest in brunettes. “You’re my type,” he says.

“Yeah, right,” she says in an American accent, which she knows he can’t resist. He kisses her neck. He’ll introduce himself to the friend later.

The introduction comes the next morning. Tag is in the kitchen reading the weekend Journal and enjoying coffee and grapefruit and a poached egg on whole-grain toast after having gone for a five-mile run and then taken a soak in the hot tub. He feels clean and virtuous, nearly relaxed. His wife and future daughter-in-law left a short while ago to meet with the wedding caterers. He has forgotten all about the friend until she comes wandering into the kitchen. She’s barefoot, wearing a tiny pair of cotton sleep shorts and a threadbare T-shirt. No bra. Tag can see the two pellets of her nipples through the material.

“Good morning,” he says brightly.

She jumps, startled. Or maybe she’s just pretending. She’s too pretty to be an innocent. Her hand flies to her chest as she turns to him. Her hair is mussed.

“Good morning,” she says, her voice froggy with sleep. Or maybe it’s naturally gravelly. She collects herself and offers a hand. “You must be Mr. Winbury. How are you? I’m Merritt, as in the parkway.”

“Call me Tag, please,” he says. “As in hash.”

This earns him a smile. Oh, the Millennials!

“Thank you for hosting us this weekend,” she says. “It’s a surprise luxury. Your house is sublime.”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” Tag says. “What did you girls get up to last night?”

“Dinner at Cru,” she says. “Great oysters there.”

“Agreed,” Tag says.

“Then we went to the Afterhouse for caviar,” Merritt says.

“Well, well,” Tag says. Oysters and caviar. He assumes he was footing the bill.

“Then we went to Proprietors. Then to the Boarding House. Then to the Chicken Box. Then to Steamboat for pizza, since we were all starving. Then we caught an Uber home. Around two, I think? Early night.”

Tag laughs. In New York, she’s probably out every night until four. If she’s anywhere close to Celeste’s age, then she’s still in her twenties.

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