Page 13 of The Perfect Couple

He has never quite mastered the art of getting out of the kayak and nearly always dunks himself in the process. This gives Greer much joy and himself a much-needed cooling-off so he is half guilty of facilitating the mishap. After he pulls the kayak up on the shore, he towels himself dry and checks his phone. There’s a voice mail from his friend Sergio Ramone.

Tag finds Greer arranging flowers on the sunporch.

“Sergio called,” he says. “He has two tickets to the Dujac Grand Cru wine-festival dinner tonight. The chef from Nautilus is doing the food and it’s at some swanky house out on Quaise Pasture Road. I told him we’d take them. They’re ridiculously expensive, but we deserve it.”

“I can’t go,” Greer says.

“What?” Tag says. “Why not? You love Dujac. It’s bluechip terroir. Not Sonoma, not South Africa. These wines will be once-in-a-lifetime. You know how these French vintners are. If you show the proper appreciation, they can’t help themselves—they open up the bottles they aren’t supposed to, the really, really good stuff, the rare vintages that we’ll never have the opportunity to taste again.”

“I have to stay home and write tonight,” Greer says. “My deadline is in thirty days and I’m dreadfully behind because of the wedding. Also, I had an idea while Celeste and I were out and I want to get it down before I forget.”

“The dinner isn’t until seven,” he says. “Go write now and you’ll be finished by six, in time for a shower and a dressing drink.”

“I can’t now,” Greer says. “I’m busy.”

“I’ll arrange the flowers,” Tag says. “You go write.”

“You know it doesn’t work like that, darling,” she says.

He wants to strangle her. He should never have expected his wife to suddenly display a penchant for spontaneity. He knows it doesn’t work like that; he knows Greer can’t be prodded to write, that she has to listen to her internal muse, and the muse prefers the nighttime hours, a quiet, dark house, a glass of wine (ordinary wine, a fifteen-dollar bottle of chardonnay, for example, which will have nothing in common with the wine that will be served with this dinner).

“What the hell am I going to do?” Tag says. “I promised Sergio I’d take the tickets off his hands.” If it were anyone else, Tag would call and renege, but Sergio is an esteemed criminal-defense attorney and he’s also the friend who got Thomas into law school at NYU when there was no prayer of Thomas getting in on his own. And then Sergio angled to get Thomas a job at Skadden, Arps, the law firm where Thomas now works. Thomas, Tag has to admit, isn’t the achiever the rest of them are; Tag suspects he’ll quit law before he makes partner. But even so, Tag and Greer owe Sergio Ramone a lifelong debt of gratitude. Tag can’t back out on these tickets. He can pay the $3,500 apiece and just not go, he supposes, but what a waste that would be. “Please, darling.”

Greer stabs a peony into the vase. The peony is deep pink and resembles a human heart unfurling in desperation. Or possibly he’s projecting. “Take one of the girls,” she says.

Tag scoffs.

“I’m serious,” Greer says. “Don’t be a martyr for me. I won’t like that one bit. Ask one of the girls.”

“But isn’t this supposed to be a bachelorette weekend?” Tag says.

“They partied last night,” Greer says. “Unless I’m mistaken, they’re planning on staying home tonight. But I’m sure you can talk one of them into it.”

The girls, as Greer calls them, are in the casual dining area, reading magazines, snacking on chips and salsa. Merritt-as-in-the-Parkway, Tag is relieved to see, has covered herself properly, in white jeans and a navy cashmere sweater. Abby is resting her head on her arms on the table.

“Hello, ladies,” Tag says. His stomach feels leaden; it’s nerves. He knows how this is going to end. Greer too must know how this is going to end. She is the one he will hold responsible. She has suspected him of cheating for the entirety of their marriage, he knows, and now it feels like she is pushing him toward it. “I have an extra ticket to a very fancy wine dinner tonight and my wife feels she needs to stay home and write. Would any of you three like to go with me?”

“God, no.” Abby groans.

“No, thank you,” Celeste says sweetly. “I’m exhausted.”

Merritt raises her face and looks him dead in the eye. His heart skips a beat.

Tag wears a jacket but no tie. Merritt wears a lavender dress with thin straps that crisscross her back and a pair of silver stiletto heels. It’s the heels Greer chooses to comment on.

“You’ll break your neck in those,” she says.

“I’ll be fine,” Merritt says. “Years of practice.”

“Well,” Greer says in Tag’s ear as she kisses him good-bye, “I believe Quaise Pasture is in for quite a shock.”

Once they’re in the Land Rover headed out the Polpis Road, Tag worries that Merritt will reach over and put her hand on his leg. Then he worries she won’t. He has an erection simply from smelling her perfume and listening to her rummage through her clutch purse in the dark. He can’t go inside in this state; he needs to talk himself down. He takes a deep breath. He worries there will be someone he knows at this dinner—and how will he explain who Merritt is? My future daughter-in-law’s best friend. It sounds sleazy. It is sleazy. What will people think? They’ll think… well, they’ll think the obvious.

But then Tag calls upon one of his favorite sayings: Perception is reality. This situation can be translated in more than one way. Tonight, Tag will perceive this outing as innocent and fun and that is what it will become. He relaxes a little.

“Is this your first time on Nantucket?” he asks.

“Not at all,” she says. “I’ve come with friends over the years, in college and then as a so-called adult.”

“Where was college?” he asks.

“Trinity,” she says. “In glamorous Hartford.”

He has friends whose children went to Trinity but he doesn’t dare ask if Merritt knows any of them; he’s already self-conscious enough about how young she is. Or how old he is.

“Do you have siblings?” Tag asks.

“A brother,” she says. “Married with kids and a mortgage.”

“And where did you grow up?” Tag asks.

“On Long Island,” she says. “Commack.”

Tag nods. He and Greer have successfully avoided Long Island, though he does have a client with a house in Oyster Bay whom he visits on occasion and there was one long-ago rainy weekend in Montauk when the boys were small. He has never heard of Commack. “I always wanted a daughter,” he says. “But Greer didn’t. She’s happy with the boys.”

“Greer is lovely,” Merritt says.

“Isn’t she?” he says. “Anyway, now we have a daughter-in-law. Abby. And soon, Celeste.”

“Celeste is a treasure,” Merritt says. “I met her at a difficult time in my life. She saved me.”

This statement seems to warrant a follow-up question, but it’s too late. They’ve arrived. The house is, in fact, grand—it’s all lit up from within, overlooking the sound but from a more dramatic vantage point than Tag’s house. There are two unfamiliar cars in the driveway.

Tag parks, then smiles at Merritt. This is going to be innocent and fun. “Shall we?” he says.

The evening unfolds easily. There are ten diners, plus the French gentleman from the esteemed Dujac vineyard plus one of the sous-chefs from Nautilus plus two kitchen staff and two waitstaff. Tag doesn’t know a soul. The other eight diners are all one group. They tell Tag it’s their first time to Nantucket. They live in Texas.

“Where in Texas?” Merritt asks.

Tag steels himself to hear that they’re from Austin and then to find out that they are best friends or business partners of Abby’s parents, the Freemans.

“San Antonio,” they say. “Remember the Alamo.”

It quickly becomes obvious that Merritt knows nothing about wine, not even the basics. She doesn’t know that cabernet sauvignons are from Bordeaux and that pinot noirs and chardonnays are from Burgundy. She doesn’t know what terroir is. She has never heard of pinot franc; she has never heard of the Loire Valley. How can she be an influencer of culture when she doesn’t have even a basic vocabulary of wine? What does she drink when she goes out?