“And why,” Greer asked, “are you under investigation?”
“For fraud,” Featherleigh admitted glumly.
So clearly she was capable of deception. And that would explain the absence of the ring.
“When was this breakup?” Greer had asked. “Recently?”
Featherleigh’s bottom lip trembled. “May,” she said.
May? Greer thought. She’s positive Jessica Hicks said that Tag had bought the ring in June. But Greer supposes she could have been mistaken; she should have asked Jessica to forward the receipt to her e-mail, but Greer had been so stunned, so seized with angst, that she had hurried out of the store without proper follow-up.
After writing twenty-one novels in the persona of Miss Dolly Hardaway, Greer had cultivated the mind-set of a detective. Once her head cleared of all this champagne and excitement, she would go back over the events of May with a fine-tooth comb. See what nits she could pick.
“Go get yourself a drink,” Greer had said. “It certainly sounds like you could use one.”
Greer’s seating chart is brilliant, she thinks, except that the seat of honor, the seat next to Benji, is empty. Where is Celeste? She’s sitting with her parents, naturally, playing nanny to both Karen and Bruce. Celeste cracks the claws of her mother’s lobster and pulls the snowy meat from it with the slender silver pick, just as Greer taught her. She pries the tail meat free and cuts it into bite-size pieces, then identifies the cups of melted butter. Because this is an Island Fare clambake, every traditional element has been given a sophisticated twist. There are three kinds of melted butter for the lobster: regular, lime, and chili pepper. There are two types of corn bread, one with whole sweet corn kernels and one with pork cracklings. There are also feathery-light buttermilk biscuits made even more savory by the addition of aged English cheddar. Alongside the standard grilled linguica are house-made lamb sausages, another offering to please the Brits. In the center of every table is a pinwheel of Bartlett’s Farm hothouse tomatoes drizzled with a thick, tangy blue cheese dressing and sprinkled with chopped green onions and crispy bacon.
Celeste goes through the same lobster routine with her father. Greer notices the tender attention Celeste pays to her parents. It’s remarkable. It’s envy-inspiring. Greer believes she did an impeccable job parenting her boys but she knows bloody well they would never treat her with this kind of loving, thoughtful care. The bond that Celeste has with her parents is special; anyone can see that. Maybe it’s because her mother is dying—but somehow, Greer doesn’t think that’s the sole reason. Maybe it’s because the Otises had Celeste when they were so young. Maybe it’s because Celeste is an only child.
Maybe Greer should stop wondering.
Greer splits a biscuit in half. She’ll allow herself two bites. She turns to Tag. “Do the boys love me, do you think?”
“Is that an actual question?” Tag asks.
Chloe appears at Greer’s shoulder with yet another glass of champagne. Greer should stop drinking because following the question Do the boys love me? are a host of other questions. Does Tag love her? Does anyone else love her? Does anyone appreciate just how much hard work this wedding has entailed? It took money, yes, but also a good deal of time—hundreds of hours, if Greer added it up, on lists, phone calls, logistics. She essentially cannibalized her career because the wedding came first, her novel second—and some bloke named Chuck O’Brien has now called her on it. Can she write the novel all over again, or write a new novel start to finish in a fortnight? Maybe without the wedding as a distraction, yes.
Did Tag have an affair with Featherleigh that ended in May?
No more champagne. Greer has to stop. But the flute is such a pretty shape and the liquid is an irresistible platinum color; the bubbles wink at her seductively and she knows exactly how it will taste: cool and crisp, like an apple just plucked from the branch.
Celeste takes her seat next to Benji and for a moment, Greer relaxes. Everyone is in his or her proper place. “We should probably do the toasts now,” Greer says. “Before people get antsy.”
“I thought toasts were scheduled for after dinner but before dessert,” Tag says. He checks his watch. “I have a quick call with Ernie at nine.”
“What?” Greer says. “A call with Ernie at nine o’clock tonight?”
“It’s the Libya deal,” Tag says. “It’ll be quick but I can’t reschedule; Ernie is going to Tripoli in the morning. This deal is big, darling. Big, big.” Tag kisses Greer and stands up, leaving an untouched lobster tail on his plate.
“Make it quick, quick,” Greer says, trying to maintain her playful attitude. Her eyes flick across the tent to where Featherleigh is sitting; Greer placed her in social Siberia with Tag’s work colleagues, among them the tedious Peter Walls. If Featherleigh follows Tag out, Greer will know there is no call to Ernie.
But Featherleigh stays put; she doesn’t even seem to notice Tag leaving the party. Or actually, yes, she does. Her eyes trail him. Her expression holds longing, Greer thinks, except, really, her own judgment can’t be trusted after so many glasses of champagne. But Featherleigh doesn’t move. Instead, she lavishly butters a piece of corn bread and pops it into her mouth. Greer pushes her own plate away.
Bruce Otis, adhering to Greer’s wishes if not the precise timetable, stands up and clinks his spoon against his water glass.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Bruce Otis, father of the bride,” he says. “I’d like to make a toast.”
A murmur ripples through the crowd; the band stops playing and everyone quiets down. Greer is grateful. She isn’t sure how much practice Mr. Otis has at speaking to a group this size but it’s always easier when people are well behaved.
“When I met my wife, Karen, I thought I was the luckiest man alive. Boy, not man, because when I met Karen, I was only seventeen years old. But I knew I loved her. I could see myself growing old with her. Which is exactly what we’ve gone and done.”
There is gentle laughter.
“And I know I speak for Karen when I say that our love for each other was so extraordinary that years went by when neither of us wanted children. We were so happy just being together. I would work all week, and every day at five o’clock the sun came out for me because I got to go home to this beautiful, extraordinary woman. On Saturdays we used to run our errands. We would go to the post office to mail packages or check our box, and the line was always extra-long on Saturdays, but you know what? I didn’t care. I could wait an hour. I could wait all day… because I was with Karen.” Bruce’s voice starts to crack and Greer can see tears shining in his eyes and she realizes that he’s using this toast as a way to pay tribute to his wife. It’s brilliant; Karen deserves this and more. She deserves a cure or a cutting-edge clinical trial that puts her into remission for ten years, or even five years—at least then she might be able to meet her future grandchildren. Celeste has confided to Greer that she sends a hundred dollars from each of her paychecks to the Breast Cancer Research Fund without Karen’s or Bruce’s knowledge. Greer was so moved by this that she sat down at her desk that very evening and wrote the organization a $25,000 check without telling Celeste or Benji or even Tag. The charitable acts that count the most, Greer believes, are those done without anyone knowing. But she had wanted very badly to send a note with the check that said: Please use this money to cure Karen Otis.
Bruce clears his throat, regroups, and says, “And then, twenty-eight years ago, we had a baby girl. And man, nothing on this earth—and I mean nothing—prepares you for how much you love your kids. Am I right?”
There are some Hear, hears from the audience. Greer feels a vague recognition. She loved her children. Loves them. It was different when they were small, of course.
“And Karen and I somehow lucked out and got this beautiful, smart, nice little girl. She got a hundred percent on all her spelling tests. She was the one who scooped up a spider and carried it outside instead of squishing it with her shoe, and she was always digging in the backyard looking for snakes or salamanders and then putting them in a shoe box with grass and little dishes of drinking water. She was never ashamed or embarrassed of where she came from or who she came from, even though she outgrew us and the rest of Forks Township, Pennsylvania, a long time ago.” Bruce raises his glass. “And so to you, Benjamin Winbury, I say from the heart: Take care of our little girl. She is our treasure, our hope, our light, and our warmth. She is our legacy. Here’s to the two of you and your life together.”