Page 34 of The Perfect Couple

Chloe didn’t notice much else about the actual festivities other than the guests growing drunker and drunker. There was a blackberry mojito punch and the guests were inhaling it. Chloe cleared a bunch of half-empty punch cups with mint leaves and whole fat blackberries trapped among the melting ice; she brought them to the kitchen, where she found Geraldo manning the kitchen trash. He picked up the cup with the most punch and drank it.

“Ew,” Chloe said. “Someone else’s mouth was on that. Also, if Siobhan sees you doing that, she’ll fire you.”

“Siobhan just left,” Geraldo said. “She has four other events tonight. She won’t be back.”

“Donna, then,” Chloe said, but they both knew Donna wasn’t strict at all. If she saw Geraldo drinking, she would do no more than roll her eyes.

“Try it,” Geraldo said.

“No,” Chloe said.

“Just try it,” Geraldo said.

Chloe had never been good at resisting peer pressure. Plus, the drink was a delicious-looking purple color. Chloe drank half a cup without letting her lips touch the rim. The drink was so fruity and minty that she could barely taste the alcohol, but almost instantly she felt lighter, more relaxed.

She fell into the habit of sneaking a few sips of punch whenever she cleared. She wasn’t getting drunk, she didn’t think; if anything, the punch was making her more perceptive. Chloe wanted to be a writer like Greer Garrison. But she didn’t want to write murder mysteries; she wanted to write a blog about fashion and lifestyle, what was new, what was hot. The great thing about this wedding in particular was how attractive and stylish everyone was. Chloe had mentally snapped pictures of at least four outfits, including the outstanding jumpsuit that Greer Garrison was wearing. She looked amazing and she was in her fifties!

When Chloe was heading back to the kitchen—there was a British woman at table 4 who demanded more biscuits—she smelled smoke, and as Greer had decreed there was to be absolutely no smoking anywhere on the premises, Chloe decided the biscuits could wait and she went in search of the source. She had found the maid of honor on the side porch, smoking a cigarette and ashing into the lace hydrangea bush below.

Chloe was about to open her mouth to let her know smoke was blowing into the house when a man walked up the outside steps of the side porch. It was the groom’s father. He took a drag off the maid of honor’s cigarette and he leaned his elbows on the railing next to her.

Chloe should have gone back to work. If the father of the groom, who owned this house, sanctioned the smoking, then it must have been okay. But Chloe stayed plugged in right where she was. The maid of honor was cooler than cool. She wore a stretchy black tank dress with straps that crisscrossed and a very low dip in the back and a leather-and-crystal choker that Chloe thought could have come from Van Cleef and Arpels or could have been purchased at a flea market in Mumbai; it was impossible to tell, which was what made it cool.

“You have to get rid of it,” the father of the groom said.

“I can’t,” the maid of honor said.

“You can,” the father of the groom said.

“I won’t.”

“Merritt, you don’t want a baby.”

Chloe pressed her lips together.

“I don’t want a baby,” Merritt said. “But I do want you. I want you, Tag, and this is your baby. It’s my connection to you.”

“I could call your bluff,” Tag said. “How do I know the baby is mine? It could just as easily be Robbie’s.”

“I haven’t slept with Robbie since last year,” Merritt says. “And nothing happened a few weeks ago. You saw to that, didn’t you?”

“How can I be sure you’re really pregnant? How do I know you haven’t gotten rid of it already? Here you are smoking. If you’re so set on having the baby, why not start taking care of it?”

“It’s none of your business what I do,” Merritt said.

“Either it is or it isn’t,” Tag said. He flicked the cigarette into the lace hydrangea. “Make up your mind.”

“Tag…”

“We are going to get through this wedding,” Tag said. “And when you leave on Sunday, I’ll write you a check. But then that’s it, Merritt. This is over.” Tag disappeared from Chloe’s view—down the stairs, she imagined, and back to the party.

“I’ll tell Greer!” Merritt called out after him.

There was no response and Merritt dissolved into tears. Chloe had the urge to comfort her, but at the same time she was thinking, What a scandal. The maid of honor was pregnant with the father of the groom’s baby! He wanted her to get rid of it; she wanted to be with him. He wanted to pay her off; she threatened blackmail.

“Chica!” Geraldo was gesturing from down the hall, and Chloe hurried toward him. She needed to get back to work.

Despite what she had witnessed, or maybe because of it, Chloe continued to sneak drinks. It didn’t seem to be affecting her work performance. She served the clambake, cleared the clambake; she half listened to the toasts. She served dessert and then cleared dessert. People started to dance. Chloe looked for Merritt, the maid of honor, but didn’t see her. Tag, meanwhile, was dancing with Greer.

The party was coming to an end. The band played its final song and Chloe switched into what she thought of as turbo-clear mode. Anything not nailed down was going back to the kitchen. There had been champagne toasts, so there was a slew of slender flutes, which were more difficult to transport than punch cups because of their high center of gravity. Chloe tried to be mindful. It was dark, the terrain was uneven, and she had had no small amount of punch herself. She was carrying a full tray of flutes with varying levels of champagne remaining. Chloe was debating whether she should start drinking the champagne—Veuve Clicquot was very expensive, she knew—and she was also thinking of a musical instrument she had once seen that was nothing more than a collection of water glasses filled to different levels that some dude played with one wetted finger when the toe of her clog caught the raised lip where the lawn met the beach. The tray went flying; the glasses shattered. The sound was one from the recurring nightmares of servers everywhere. Chloe cringed. She willed the tray to fly back up into her hands like a film in reverse, the glasses restored to whole. She was relieved that the party was ending and no one seemed to have noticed her display of utter gracelessness.

But then a voice came from out of the darkness. “Here, let me help.”

Chloe looked up from the wreckage. It was Merritt, the maid of honor, in her cool black dress.

“You don’t have to,” Chloe said. “It’s my fault.”

“Could have happened to anyone,” Merritt said. “Would have happened to me, I assure you, if I’d been brave enough to do this job at your age.”

Chloe stared at Merritt for a second. She was intrigued and embarrassed now that they were face-to-face. Chloe knew Merritt’s secret but Merritt didn’t know that Chloe knew. If Merritt had realized Chloe knew that she was pregnant with the groom’s father’s baby, she would have been… what? Angry that Chloe eavesdropped? Mortified by the example she was setting? Chloe kept her face down so as not to give anything away in her expression. She picked the bigger shards out of the grass. They clinked on the tray.

“What’s your name?” Merritt asked.

“Chloe MacAvoy.”

“Where do you live, Chloe?”

“Here,” Chloe said. “On Nantucket. Year-round.”

Merritt sighed. “Well, then, you’re the luckiest girl in the world.”

“Where do you live?” Chloe asked.

“I live in New York City,” Merritt said. “I work in PR there and I do some influencing stuff on Instagram.”

“Oh.” Chloe swallowed. “Really? What’s your name? I’ll follow you.”

“At Merritt—two r’s, two t’s—Monaco, like the country. Can you remember that? I’d be honored if you followed me, Chloe. I’ll keep an eye out and follow you back.”

“You will?” Chloe said. She felt insanely flattered—Merritt was an influencer!—even as she knew she should not put Merritt on any kind of pedestal. If she ever got into the position Merritt was in, Auntie and Uncle Ed would be extremely disappointed. Still, she couldn’t help but feel a bit of starstruck awe. “I love your dress. Do you mind telling me who it’s by?”

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