“He has?” Bruce says. “News to me.”
“I’ll get B-B-Betty up to b-b-bed,” Celeste says.
“No, no, darling,” Karen says. “You go have fun. It’s the night before your wedding. You should go out with your friends.”
Celeste gazes across the yard to where Benji and Shooter are filling up cups of beer at the keg. Shooter looks up, then jogs over. Karen is embarrassed at how handsome she finds him. He’s as good-looking as the teen idols from her era—Leif Garrett, David Cassidy, Robby Benson.
“Mrs. Otis,” he says. “Can I get you anything? I happen to know where the caterers stashed the extra lobster tails.”
This makes Karen laugh despite the knives starting to twist in her lower back. How darling of Shooter to remember that Karen likes lobster, even though the days when she might have enjoyed a midnight snack are gone.
“We’re going to bed,” Karen says. “But thank you. Please take my daughter out on the town.”
“I need my b-b-beauty sleep,” Celeste says.
“You’re beautiful enough as it is,” Shooter says. “You couldn’t get any more beautiful.”
Karen looks at Shooter and notes the expression on his face: tenderness. Celeste inspires it in people, she supposes.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Karen says.
“The defense rests, then,” Bruce says. He kisses Celeste’s forehead, then nudges her gently toward Shooter. “Go have fun, darling.”
“But Mac, T-T-Tag wants—”
“Your father will go find Tag for a drink,” Karen says. “I’m perfectly capable of getting myself to bed.”
Shooter takes Celeste’s arm but she pulls away to give Karen one more hug and a kiss on each cheek. This is an echo of how Karen kissed Celeste good night when she was growing up. Does Celeste realize this? Yes, she must. Karen would like Celeste to come upstairs, tuck her in, read her something, even if it’s just an article from the issue of Town and Country on the nightstand, and then lie with her until she falls asleep, just as Karen used to do with Celeste. But she will not be a burden. She will allow—indeed, encourage—Celeste to pursue her new life.
Bruce turns to Karen. “Let me just walk you upstairs.”
“I’ll be fine,” Karen says. “Go find Tag now so you can come up to me sooner. I’d prefer that.”
Bruce kisses her on the lips. “Okay. Just one drink, though.”
Karen takes her time on her way to her room upstairs. She wants to experience the house at her own pace. She wants to touch the fabrics, sit in the chairs to judge their comfort; she wants to smell the flower arrangements, read the titles of the books. She has never been in a house like this, one where every piece of furniture has been professionally chosen and arranged, where the clocks tick in unison and the paintings and photographs are lit to advantage. The other homes Karen has visited in her lifetime have all been variations of her own—corner cabinets to display the wedding china, sectional sofas, afghans crocheted by maiden aunts.
Karen wanders into the formal living room and stops immediately at a black grand piano. The top of the piano is down flat and it’s covered with framed photographs. The frames themselves strike Karen initially—the majority look like real silver and others are burled wood—and then she looks at the photographs. All of them seem to have been taken on Nantucket over the years. In the one that Karen studies first, Benji and Thomas are teenagers. They’re standing on the beach in front of this house with Tag and Greer behind them. Tag looks then like Benji does now—young and strong with a wide smile. Greer’s expression is inscrutable behind her sunglasses. She wears white capri pants with red pompoms dangling from the hems. That’s a playful touch, Karen thinks. In her next life, she will own such pants.
When she goes to pick up the next photo, she hears someone cough. Karen is so surprised she nearly throws the photograph over her shoulder. She turns to see a woman curled up in one of the curvy modern chairs, like an egg in a cup. The woman is so still that Karen would guess she’s asleep except that her eyes are wide open. She has been here all along, watching Karen.
“I’m sorry,” Karen says. “You frightened me. I didn’t see you.”
The woman blinks. “Who are you, then?” she asks.
“I’m Karen Otis,” Karen says. “Celeste’s mother. The bride’s mother.”
“The bride’s mother,” the woman says. “Yes, that’s right. I noticed you earlier. Your husband gave that lovely toast.”
“Thank you,” Karen says. She suddenly feels very weak. This woman has a British accent; she must be a friend of Tag and Greer’s—nearly everyone here is. Karen remembers her vow to shine. “And what’s your name?”
“Featherleigh,” the woman says. “Featherleigh Dale. I live in London.”
“Very nice,” Karen says. She should excuse herself for bed but she doesn’t want to appear rude to this Featherleigh. Why do the British give their children last names for first names? Winston. Neville. And Greer. When Karen first heard Celeste say the name Greer, Karen had thought it was a man. And this practice is catching on in America, she’s noticed. She used to shake her head in wonder at the children who would come through the Crayola factory gift shop. Little girls named Sloane, Sterling, Brearley. Boys named Millhouse, Dearborne, Acton. And what about Celeste’s maid of honor, Merritt? Like the parkway, Karen heard her say, though Karen has no idea what that means. “I just took a detour on my way to bed. But I should really excuse myself. It was nice to meet you, Featherleigh. I suppose I shall see you tomorrow.”
“Wait!” Featherleigh says. “Please, can you stay another couple of minutes? I’m too drunk to get back to my inn right now.”
“Would you like me to go find Greer?” Karen asks. She’s only asking to be polite. The mere prospect of hunting down Greer is exhausting.
“No!” Featherleigh says. “Not Greer.”
Something in her tone catches Karen’s attention.
Featherleigh lowers her bare feet to the ground and leans forward. “Can you keep a secret?”
Karen nods involuntarily. She can keep a secret, yes. She is keeping a secret from her husband and her daughter, the secret of the three pearlescent ovoid pills, the secret of her intentions, and that is surely a bigger secret than whatever this Featherleigh wants to disclose.
Featherleigh says, “I’ve been involved with a married man. But he broke things off with me in May and I can’t seem to recover.”
“Oh dear,” Karen says. What she thinks is Serves you right! Karen cannot abide adulterers. She doesn’t like to judge but she can say with certainty that if any woman had pursued Bruce and managed to ensnare him in an affair, her life would have been destroyed. She and Bruce are lucky, she knows, in that they’re both true blue. This isn’t to say that Karen has never felt jealous. Bruce would sometimes talk about the housewives who came into his department looking to buy their husbands a suit, and Karen would wonder what the women looked like and if they flirted with Bruce more than he let on. There had been one period—right after Celeste left for college—when Bruce had come home from work singing unfamiliar country music songs and acting strangely distant, and Karen thought that maybe… maybe he’d met someone else. She finally asked him about it. He very bluntly said that he was just upset about Celeste being away. He was finding it more challenging than he expected. Karen admitted that she was taking it harder than she’d expected too, and they ended up crying together and then making love in the kitchen, which was something that hadn’t happened since Celeste was born.
“I think the truth might interest you,” Featherleigh says. “Maybe, maybe not.”
Karen can’t stand to hear it. “Stop,” she says. “Please, just stop.” Karen holds her hand aloft, as though she can swat the words away. She backs out of the room.
The words swarm her as she climbs the stairs. I think the truth might interest you. I’ve been involved with a married man. Karen badly needs an oxy and her bed. Why, oh why, did that woman choose Karen to confess to? How could Featherleigh’s adulterous relationship possibly matter to Karen? She knows no one here! Featherleigh was clearly quite drunk, and drunk people, in Karen’s experience, love nothing more than to confess. Featherleigh would have told anyone. It serves Karen right for snooping around.