Page 33 of The Perfect Couple

Tag buys the thumb ring and leaves the store feeling a sense of giddy anticipation. The ring is beautiful; Merritt will love it, he’s certain.

His happiness is a thing.

On the eighteenth, Tag gets to the hotel early. He has had a bouquet of expensive roses delivered to the room as well as champagne. He sets the box from Jessica Hicks between the flowers and the ice bucket. Everything is as it should be, but he can’t relax. Something about this scenario makes him feel like a run-of-the-mill cheat. He’s a stereotype, a middle-aged man sleeping with one of his daughter-in-law’s friends because his wife is busy and distracted and he needs to boost his self-esteem.

He waits in the room for Merritt to arrive but she texts to say she’s at the salon getting a bikini wax and she’ll be late. He’s a bit turned off by her frankness. Is it necessary to tell him she’s getting waxed? It feels inelegant.

He decides to go down to the bar for a drink. A real drink.

As soon as he walks into the bar, he locks eyes with a man, then he realizes with horror that the man is his son Thomas. Before Tag can think better of it, he ducks behind a pole. He waits a few seconds, not breathing, his heart skidding to a near stop as he waits for Thomas to confront him and ask what he’s doing there. What should Tag say? Meeting a client for drinks, of course, and then when the client doesn’t materialize, Tag can pretend to be annoyed and skip out to make a phone call.

He waits. Nothing happens. Tag saw Thomas, but is it possible that Thomas didn’t see Tag or saw him but somehow didn’t register the face as that of his father?

Enough time passes that Tag decides to take action. He peers around the column. Thomas is staring into his highball glass. He looks miserable. As much as Tag realizes the urgency of him leaving the bar while he can, he’s arrested by his elder son’s demeanor. He thinks back to the phone call from Sergio. Thomas is leaving work early; Thomas is taking unscheduled vacations. And now here he is having a drink at a hotel bar at the far tip of Manhattan, which isn’t anywhere close to his office. Tag wants to sit down next to Thomas and ask him what’s going on.

Maybe he’s been fired?

Maybe Abby lost the baby?

If it’s either of those, Tag will find out soon enough. He needs to get out of the bar undetected. He turns and hurries out, hoping Thomas won’t recognize him from behind. He goes back up to the room for his bag and texts Merritt.

Something came up. Room 1011 is yours for the night. There’s champagne and a little gift for you. But I have to take a raincheck. Sorry about that. Happy birthday, Parkway.

Tag takes a taxi back uptown and walks into his apartment to find Greer in her yoga clothes, folded over in child’s pose on the living-room rug. She looks up and beams. “You’re home!” she says.

And just like that, the spell is broken. Tag is finished fooling around. He is back to being a dutiful husband, a steadfast father, and an expectant grandfather. Merritt calls in tears; she leaves messages, sends texts. She calls him a bastard, she tells him to stick a fork in his eye, only that’s not how she phrases it.

She calls Tag’s office and speaks to Miss Hillery, Tag’s very proper, very British secretary, who is so devoted to Tag that she followed him over from London.

“A Ms. Parkway called?” Miss Hillery says, handing Tag the message slip. “She said it’s urgent.”

“Thank you, Miss Hillery,” Tag says with what he hopes is a carefree smile. He closes the door to his office and collapses at his desk. Merritt calling him at the office is one step away from Merritt calling the apartment or—because Tag knows Celeste might naively give Merritt the number—calling Greer’s cell phone.

Well, she’s going to get what she wants. Tag calls Merritt back.

“Tag?” she says.

“What on God’s green earth are you doing?” he asks. “You can’t call me here.”

“I’m pregnant,” she says.

Saturday, July 7, 2018, 12:00 p.m.

NANTUCKET

By midmorning, the entire island is buzzing with news of the Murdered Maid of Honor. Marty Szczerba calls his daughter, Laura Rae, initially just to hear the sound of her voice and to reassure himself that she is okay, but then he asks about Adi Conover—is she okay?—and Laura Rae says, “Yes, Dad, obviously. What’s wrong with you?” Marty ends up spilling the whole story, or what he knows of it. Laura Rae tells her fiancé, Ty, who works for Toscana Excavating and who is as tight-lipped as they come. But Ty swings by his mother’s house for a second breakfast and he tells her the story. Carla, Ty’s mother, volunteers at the Hospital Thrift Shop Saturdays at noon and she proceeds to tell every single person who walks in the door.

Finn MacAvoy gets a text from his girlfriend, Lola Budd, saying I caught a murder suspect! Finn is at Cisco Beach giving surfing lessons to a group of overprivileged eight-year-olds who all want to be John John Florence. Finn casually flings out the content of Lola’s text. “My girlfriend caught a murder suspect,” he says.

The next thing Finn knows, he is surrounded by the young surfers’ mothers, and they’re all talking about someone called the Murdered Maid of Honor and they ask Finn if the police had caught the guy and who it was and Finn is sorry he ever opened his mouth.

Finn’s twin sister, Chloe MacAvoy, has taken to her bed despite the fact that it’s a hot, sunny summer Saturday and work that day has been canceled. Work has been canceled because Merritt Monaco, the maid of honor in the Otis-Winbury wedding, is dead. Roger Pelton found her floating just off the beach earlier that morning.

Siobhan had called to tell Chloe about the death herself instead of having Donna, the waitstaff manager, do it because Siobhan is that kind of owner. She takes responsibility for her employees.

“Chloe,” she said. “The wedding has been canceled. Merritt Monaco, the maid of honor, passed away overnight.”

“Passed away?”

“She died, Chloe,” Siobhan said. “She’s dead. She drowned out in front of the house last night.”

“But…” Chloe said.

“That’s all we know for now,” Siobhan said. “The police are working on it.”

The police? Chloe thought. She had seen Uncle Ed out on the deck on his phone a short while earlier, but Uncle Ed was always on the phone.

Chloe had hung up with Siobhan and closed her eyes. Chloe had been kept far away from death since she was seven years old, when Uncle Ed and Auntie came to tell her and Finn that their parents were dead. Both of them at once, killed in a sailing accident. Chloe hadn’t really gotten it then; she had been too young. What did she know of death at age seven? Not one thing. Her parents’ death has gotten much worse for Chloe as she’s grown older. Now she knows what she’s missing. She has no father to treat her like a princess; she has no mother to rebel against. She does have Uncle Ed and Auntie and they are strong, reliable, capable caregivers… but they aren’t her parents. Whenever Chloe thinks about her father playing “Please Come to Boston” on his guitar or her mother painting a rose on Chloe’s cheek, she feels unbearably sad.

She texted Blake, a girl who worked with her, Merritt, the maid of honor, is dead.

Blake texted back, I know. I heard there was a lot of blood.

Chloe ran to the bathroom to throw up. After the rehearsal dinner the night before, Chloe had a few beers with Blake and Geraldo. Geraldo is twenty-four years old, from El Salvador, and he always provides Chloe and Blake with postshift alcohol.

Uncle Ed had knocked on the door. “You okay in there?”

“Fine,” Chloe said. She wanted to ask Uncle Ed about Merritt but she couldn’t handle the conversation right that second. She cursed Geraldo.

Now, back in bed, Chloe revisits the events of the party. Most jobs go the same way. Chloe and her co-workers show up early in their immaculate black pants and crisp white shirts, showered, fresh-faced, ready to serve. Because she is only sixteen, Chloe can’t serve alcohol, although this rule gets bent all the time. Nearly the first thing that happened at this rehearsal dinner was that Greer Garrison, the mother of the groom, asked Chloe for a refill of champagne. Chloe told Ian, the bartender, that he needed to serve Ms. Garrison but Ian was three-deep and he told Chloe to find Geraldo. But Geraldo wasn’t around and Greer Garrison sang out for a refill again with a pointed look at Chloe, so Chloe grabbed the Veuve Clicquot from the cooler and discreetly filled Ms. Garrison’s glass.

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