Page 36 of The Perfect Couple

The Chief nudges his arm. “Hey there, wake up. Mr. Uxley, sir?”

Shooter groans and raises his head. He seems disoriented for a second, then he straightens up.

The Chief says, “In case you’ve forgotten, I’m Chief Kapenash, Nantucket Police. You put on some nice moves out there.”

Shooter blinks. “I want a lawyer,” he says.

Thursday, June 22–Friday, June 23, 2017

CELESTE

She doesn’t meet Shooter until she and Benji have been together for nine months. Shooter is Benji’s best friend—so why does it take so long? Well, Shooter is busy. He owns and operates a company called A-List, which provides American retreats for foreign businessmen. What this means essentially is that Shooter has made a career—lucrative, Benji says—out of partying. He takes executives from Asian and emerging Eastern European countries and shows these gentlemen (for his clientele is 100 percent male) an old-fashioned American good time. Much of the “work” is centered in Manhattan. The executives are fond of the long-established steak houses—Smith and Wollensky, Gallagher’s, Peter Luger’s; they like the Intrepid and Times Square; they like the clubs, especially the gentlemen’s clubs on Twelfth Avenue. Shooter also spends a lot of time in Las Vegas. He is, Benji says with a straight face, a Vegas regular. He divides his time between the Aria Sky Suites and the Mandarin Oriental. Shooter himself plays only craps; in prep school at St. George’s, he ran a late-night dice game, and that was the source of his nickname.

“You all gambled in high school?” Celeste asks Benji. She herself has never been to a casino, but if she went, she would steer clear of the craps table. The name alone.

“Shooter made it impossible to resist,” Benji says. “I always lost, but it was fun.”

When Shooter isn’t “working” in Manhattan or Las Vegas, he is at the Kentucky Derby, the Masters, the Super Bowl, the Indy 500, Coachella, or Mardi Gras. He is sunning in South Beach or skiing in Aspen. Wherever you wish you could be on any given weekend, Shooter is there with a group of his executives.

On the weekend of June 23, however, Shooter is coming to Nantucket with Benji and Celeste. Celeste is excited to finally meet him. She’s also glad he’s coming because this is Celeste’s first time to Nantucket, her first time to any summer resort, and it’s her first time spending the weekend with Tag and Greer, Benji’s parents. Celeste met Tag and Greer on three previous occasions. The first was a dinner at Buvette, then a few weeks later there was Sunday church at St. James’s followed by dim sum in Chinatown. The third occasion was a dinner at the Winburys’ apartment on Park and Seventieth to celebrate Benji’s twenty-eighth birthday.

The Winburys are less intimidating than Celeste expected. Tag is gregarious and charismatic; Greer is high-strung and a bit imperious until her second glass of champagne, when she relaxes into someone quite funny and warm. They are wealthy beyond Celeste’s wildest imagination but as she strove to seem cultured and well bred, they strove to seem down-to-earth, and they all met in the middle. Neither of the elder Winburys flinched when Celeste announced that her father sold suits at the mall and her mother worked in the gift shop at a crayon factory. Greer asked several questions about Karen’s health that revealed her concern without seeming phony or overbearing. They made Celeste feel comfortable. The Winburys made her feel acceptable, which she found a pleasant surprise.

Despite this, staying with them for a long weekend on Nantucket is a daunting prospect and Celeste is glad for Shooter’s presence to take some pressure off her.

They are leaving late afternoon on Thursday and returning on Sunday evening. Celeste has taken Friday off work, her first vacation in a year and a half; the last time was when she took a week to care for Karen after her double mastectomy. They are flying from JFK on JetBlue. The flight is only forty minutes long but it’s another source of anxiety for Celeste. She has never been on an airplane. Benji couldn’t believe it when she told him.

“Never been on a plane?”

She tried to explain to him that she grew up sheltered, more sheltered than the most sheltered person he knows. She knows that sheltered makes it sound like Bruce and Karen were trying to keep Celeste from the evils of the wider world, but the truth was that Bruce and Karen didn’t have the money to explore the world beyond their own neat pocket of it. They didn’t have relatives in Duluth or St. Louis to visit, and when Celeste came home from school in sixth grade asking to go to Disney World, Bruce arranged for a Saturday excursion to Six Flags in New Jersey. Over spring break in college, when everyone at Miami of Ohio went to Daytona or the Bahamas, Celeste took the bus home to Easton. There had been no junior year abroad. After college, there had been New York City, her job at the zoo, her life right up until meeting Benji. When would she have boarded a plane?

Celeste is so concerned about arriving at JFK in a timely fashion that she forgoes public transportation and springs for an Uber from the zoo. It’s $102. Celeste ignores the tight knot of dread in her gut as she adds this expense to the many others this weekend away has incurred. She needed a whole new summer wardrobe—two bikinis, a cover-up, three sundresses to wear out at night, shorts and flip-flops, and a straw bag. She needed a pedicure and a fresh haircut. She needed sunscreen and a hostess gift for Greer.

“What do you get for a woman who has literally everything?” Celeste asked Merritt.

“Bring her really good olive oil,” Merritt said. “It’s more interesting than wine.”

Celeste bought a forty-two-dollar (gulp) bottle of olive oil at Dean and DeLuca. Transporting the olive oil to Nantucket cost her another twenty-five dollars in checked-bag fees.

Celeste goes through airport security, a soul-shredding experience where she has to stand barefoot among strangers and put her drugstore toiletries on display in a clear plastic bag for others to comment on. The woman behind her points to Celeste’s Noxzema and says, “I thought they stopped making that in the eighties.”

As Celeste is walking to the gate, she gets a text from Benji. Accident on 55th Street, midtown at a standstill, I may miss the flight. You go, I’ll meet you there tomorrow.

Celeste stops and rereads the text. I’ll just wait and go with you tomorrow, she texts back. But she imagines undoing all the steps she has just taken only to reiterate them tomorrow. Unchecking her bag, Ubering back to Manhattan, rebooking her ticket for a Friday.

Just go now, Benji texts. Please. It’ll be fine. Shooter will take good care of you.

When Celeste gets to the gate, there is a man in jeans and a white linen shirt who breaks into a grin when he sees her.

“You’re as pretty as he said.” The man offers his hand. “I’m Shooter Uxley.”

“Celeste,” she says. “Otis.” Celeste shakes Shooter’s hand and tries to manage the emotions careening around inside of her. Ten seconds ago she was despondent about having to get to Nantucket and endure an entire night and half the next day without Benji. Now, however, her insides are swooping and dipping like a kite. Shooter is… well, the first word she thinks of is hot, but she has never described anyone that way and so she switches to handsome. Objectively handsome; his handsomeness is a matter of fact, not opinion. He has dark hair with a forelock that falls over one of his blue eyes. Celeste’s eyes are also blue, but blue eyes look better on Shooter with his dark hair. But what Celeste is responding to is more than Shooter’s looks. It’s his gaze, his grin, his energy—they grab her. Is there a better way to describe it? She’s in thrall. This, she thinks, is love at first sight.

But no! It can’t be! Celeste loves Benji. They have just started saying it. The first time was five days earlier, Sunday evening, as they drove back to the city from a visit with Celeste’s parents in Easton. Benji had met Bruce and Karen and seen the modest house on Derhammer Street where Celeste grew up. Celeste had shown Benji her elementary school, her high school, the Palmer pool, downtown Easton, the Peace candle, the Free Bridge, and the Crayola factory. They had supper with Karen and Bruce at Diner 248. Celeste had thought about making a reservation somewhere more refined—Easton had a crop of new restaurants; Masa for Mexican, Third and Ferry for seafood—but Celeste and her parents had always celebrated family milestones at the diner, and to go anywhere else would feel phony. They all ate vegetable barley soup and turkey clubs, and Karen, Bruce, and Celeste split the Fudgy Wudgy for dessert as usual and Benji gamely tried a bite. After supper, they drove back to the house and said their good-byes at the curb. Bruce and Karen waved until Celeste and Benji turned the corner and Celeste shed a few tears as she always did when she left her parents. Benji said, “Well, now I’ve seen Easton. Thank you.”

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