“Essentially becoming my best friend’s stepfather,” he says.
Celeste shrieks. “Greer?” Celeste likes Greer, but it’s hard to imagine her as the object of teenage lust.
“She was so beautiful,” Shooter says. “And she doted on me. She was more my mother than my own mother. I think she would probably write both of her sons out of the will and leave this place to me if I asked her nicely.”
Celeste laughs, but she’s beginning to believe that Shooter might have the ability to disrupt primogeniture and overturn dynasties.
Here is Shooter pouring Celeste a glass of Greer’s wine and opening one of Tag’s beers for himself. Celeste feels like they’re teenagers throwing a party while their parents are away. Here is Shooter opening a can of cocktail peanuts, then paging through the Nantucket phone book and making a call behind closed doors. Here are Celeste and Shooter clinking wine glass to beer bottle as they sit in Adirondack chairs and watch the sun go down. Here is Shooter going to the front door, paying the delivery boy, and bringing a feast into the kitchen. He has ordered two lobster dinners complete with corn, potatoes, and containers of melted butter.
Celeste says, “I thought it was pizza.”
Shooter says, “We’re on Nantucket, Sunshine.”
Here are Celeste and Shooter after dinner and after several shots of Tag’s absurdly fine tequila headed to town in a taxi to the Chicken Box, which is not a fast-food restaurant but rather a dive bar with live music. Here are Celeste and Shooter dancing in the front row to a cover band called Maxxtone who play “Wagon Wheel,” followed by “Sweet Caroline.” Here are Celeste and Shooter pumping their fists in the air, chanting “Bah-bah-bah!” and “So good! So good! So good!” Here are Celeste and Shooter stumbling out of the Chicken Box and into another taxi that takes them back to the summer palace. It’s one thirty in the morning, which is later than Celeste has stayed up since she pulled all-nighters in college, but instead of going to bed, she and Shooter wander out to the beach, strip down to their underwear, and go for a swim.
Here is Celeste saying, “I’m so drunk, I’ll probably drown.”
“No,” Shooter says. “I would never let that happen.”
Here is Shooter floating on his back, spouting water out of his mouth. Here is Celeste floating on her back, staring at the stars, thinking that outer space is a mystery but not as much of a mystery as the universe of human emotion.
Here are Celeste and Shooter wandering back inside the house, wrapped in navy-and-white-striped towels that Shooter swiped from the pool house. They linger in the kitchen. Shooter opens the refrigerator. Elida has clearly provisioned for the weekend; the inside of the Winburys’ refrigerator looks like something from a magazine shoot. There are half a dozen kinds of cheese, none of which Celeste recognizes, so she picks them up to inspect: Taleggio, Armenian string cheese, Emmentaler. There are sticks of cured sausage and pepperoni. There is a small tub of truffle butter, some artisanal hummus, four containers of olives in an ombré stack, from light purple to black. There are slabs of pâté and jars of chutney that look like they were mailed directly from India. Celeste checks the labels: Harrods. Close enough.
“Okay, can I just say?” Celeste puts a hand on Shooter’s bare back and he turns to face her. The two of them are illuminated by the fluorescent light of the fridge and for a second Celeste has the sense that she and Shooter are curious children peering into a previously undiscovered world, like the young protagonists in a C. S. Lewis novel.
“In my house growing up, if I wanted a snack? There was a tub of Philadelphia cream cheese. And I spread it on Triscuits. If my mother had been to the Amish farmers’ market, there was sometimes pepper jelly to put on top.” Celeste knows she must be deeply and profoundly drunk because she never, ever shares details about her life growing up. She feels like a fool.
“You are such a breath of fresh air,” Shooter says.
Now Celeste feels even worse. She doesn’t want to be a breath of fresh air. She wants to be devastating, alluring, irresistible.
But wait—what about Benji?
It’s time to go to bed, she thinks. This is what she always suspected happened when one stayed up too late; reputations were shredded, hopes and dreams destroyed. What had Mac and Betty always told her? Nothing good happens after midnight.
“And also?” Celeste says. “If I held the refrigerator door open for this long? I would have been scolded for wasting energy.”
“Scolded?” Shooter says.
“Yes, scolded.” She tries to frown at him. “I’m going to bed.”
“Absolutely not,” Shooter says. He regards the contents of the fridge, then grabs the truffle butter. A rummage through the cabinet to the left of the fridge—he does know where everything is, Celeste thinks, just like he owns the place—produces a long, slender box of… bread sticks. Rosemary bread sticks. “Come sit.”
Celeste joins Shooter in the “casual” dining room off the kitchen, where they watch the glass cube of the wine cellar glow like a spaceship. Shooter opens the box of bread sticks and the butter.
“Prepare yourself,” he says. “This is going to be memorable. Have you ever had truffle butter?”
“No?” Celeste says. She knows that truffles are mushrooms—pigs dig them out of the ground in France and Italy—but she can’t get too excited about mushroom butter. Nothing about it sounds appetizing. Still, she is hungry enough to eat just about anything—the lobster dinner seems like days ago—so she accepts a reed-thin bread stick with a dollop of butter on the end.
She bites off the bottom of the bread stick and the flavor explodes in her mouth. She whimpers with ecstasy.
“Pretty good, huh?” Shooter says.
Celeste closes her eyes, savoring the taste, which is unlike anything she has ever eaten. It’s rich, complex, earthy, sexy. She swallows. “I can’t believe how… good… that is.”
Here are Shooter and Celeste eating rosemary bread sticks with truffle butter until the butter is gone and only a few bread-stick stubs rattle around in the box. It was a deceptively simple snack but Celeste will never, ever forget it.
Here are Celeste and Shooter wandering upstairs. Celeste is sleeping in “Benji’s room,” which is decorated in white, beige, and taupe, and Shooter is sleeping at the far end of the hallway in “guest room 3,” which is done in white, navy, and taupe. Celeste checks the other guest rooms; they’re nearly identical and she wonders if people new to the house like herself ever wander into the wrong room accidentally. She gives Shooter a feeble wave.
“I guess I’ll call it a night.”
“You sure about that?” Shooter says.
Celeste thinks for a second. Is she sure about that? They have pressed to the edge of a platonic relationship; there’s nothing left they can do while maintaining their innocence other than maybe go down to the game room and play Scrabble.
“I’m sure about that,” she says.
“Sunshine,” Shooter says.
She looks at him. His eyes hold her hostage; she can’t look away. He’s asking her without saying anything. They are the only ones here. No one would ever know.
Amid the battle going on in her mind—her fervent desire versus her sense of right and wrong—she thinks of the age-old philosophical question: If a tree falls in the forest and nobody’s there to hear it, does it still make a sound? That question, Celeste realizes, isn’t about a tree at all. It’s about what’s happening right here, right now. If she sleeps with Shooter and it remains unknown to anyone but the two of them, did it even really happen?
Yes, she thinks. She would never be the same. And she hopes that Shooter wouldn’t be the same either.
“Good night,” she says. She kisses him on the cheek and retreats down the hall.
Here are Shooter and Celeste the next morning riding two bikes from the Winburys’ fleet of Schwinns into town to the Petticoat Row Bakery, where they get giant iced coffees and two ham and Gruyère croissants, which ooze nutty melted cheese and butter as they pick them apart on a bench on Centre Street. Here is Shooter buying Celeste a bouquet of wildflowers from a farm truck on Main Street, a pointless, extravagant gesture because Tag and Greer’s house is set among lush gardens and the house is filled with fresh flowers. Celeste reminds him of this and he says, “Yes, but none of those flowers are from me. I want you to look at this bouquet and know just how besotted I am with you.”