Page 41 of The Perfect Couple

Initially, Bruce complained about Robin. He might have come from a small town, but working in Manhattan had given him an attitude. He disparaged the King of Prussia store, the mall, the entire Delaware Valley. It was nowhere near as sophisticated as New York City, he said. The area was permanently stuck in 1984, back when the Philadelphia sports teams were good and perms were in fashion and everyone listened to Springsteen. Robin himself listened to country music.

But over the course of a few weeks, Karen noted a shift. Bruce started to talk more favorably about Robin. One of the shirts that Bruce came home to model for Karen was something that Robin had picked out for him. Now that Karen thinks back, that was when Bruce’s sock fetish started. Robin loved flashy socks, and soon after, Bruce adopted the affectation; he wore rainbow socks, zebra socks, socks printed with the likeness of Elvis. He bought a CD called When the Sun Goes Down by Kenny Chesney and started singing the song all the damn time. Everything gets hotter when the sun goes down.

One night, Bruce invited Robin home for dinner. This had struck Karen as a bit strange. She and Bruce rarely had guests for dinner, and the town of Collegeville, where Robin was renting an apartment, was over an hour away. It was impractical. If Bruce wanted to have dinner with Robin, he should do so at the mall.

But Bruce had insisted. He had instructed Karen what to cook—her Betty Crocker pot roast with potatoes and carrots, a green salad (not iceberg lettuce, he said), and snowflake rolls. He would pick up wine on the way home, he said.

Wine? Karen had thought. They never, ever drank wine with dinner. They drank ice water, and Bruce, occasionally, a beer.

When Bruce and Robin walked in, they had been laughing at something, but they sobered up when they saw Karen. Robin was tall, wearing an expensive-looking blue blazer, a white shirt, navy pants, a brown leather belt with a silver H buckle. He wore light blue socks patterned with white clouds, which Bruce proudly showed off to Karen by lifting Robin’s pants at the knee. Robin had a receding hairline, brown eyes, a slight Southern drawl. Had Karen thought gay when she saw him? She can’t remember. Her overarching emotion at dinner was jealousy. Bruce and Robin talked between themselves—about the merchandise, about the clientele, about their co-workers. With each change of topic, Robin tried to include Karen, but maybe Karen’s responses were so frosty that he stopped trying. She hadn’t meant to be unkind to Robin but she had felt blindsided by his presence. Her mind kept returning to the sight of Bruce lifting Robin’s pant leg at the knee. The gesture had seemed so familiar, nearly intimate.

She had chalked up her conflicting emotions to the fact that Celeste had left and now it was just Karen and Bruce, and Bruce had gone out and found a friend at work. Which was fine. After all, Karen had friends at the Crayola factory gift shop. She was friends with nearly everyone! But there was no one special, no one she would invite home to dinner, no one she would talk to and laugh with and in so doing make Bruce feel irrelevant.

After dinner, Bruce had suggested Robin help him with the dishes so that Karen could put her feet up. When had Karen ever put her feet up? Never, that’s when. But she knew how to take a hint. She bade Robin good-bye and Bruce a good night and she had stormed upstairs to lie angrily on the bed and listen to the two men washing and drying the dishes and finishing the wine and then stepping out onto the back porch to talk about heaven knows what.

Karen feels the oxy gripping her by the shoulders, then there is a great release as the pain falls away.

Bruce had an intense crush on Robin. A man. It was a confusing time, he said. Suddenly I felt like someone else, he said.

To Karen, it’s a nuclear confession. Her husband, her state champion wrestler, her hungry wolf in bed had had feelings for another man, feelings he obviously isn’t comfortable acknowledging because to Tag, he changed Robin’s gender to female.

Robin worked at Neiman Marcus only through the holidays that year. By the time Celeste returned to Oxford after Christmas break, Robin had been transferred to the Neiman Marcus flagship store in Dallas. Had Bruce been upset? Heartbroken, even? If so, he’d hid it well.

Bruce had a secret, an intense crush. He never acted on it; this, Karen believes.

And Karen has a secret of her own: the three pills in the bottle, among the oxy.

Karen issues Bruce a silent pardon—it had been a confusing time. And, as Karen had wanted to tell Celeste, there is no such thing as a perfect couple.

Karen will tell Celeste this in the morning. She closes her eyes.

Saturday, July 7, 2018, 12:45 p.m.

NANTUCKET

Nick “the Greek” Diamantopoulos is driving from 333 Monomoy Road to the Nantucket Cottage Hospital, where he is finally going to talk to the bride. She wants to be interviewed at the hospital, and Nick hopes this means she has real information. He’s eager to find out, but when he rolls around the rotary, he catches the scent of Lola Burger through his open window and the smell is too much to resist. One thing about Nantucket, Nick thinks, the food is top-notch. Even the burger joints. Nick pulls into takeout parking and races inside to charm Marva, the hostess, who scores him a medium-rare Lolaburger (aged cheddar, onion compote, foie gras dipping sauce) with a side of fries. Nick leaves Marva a nice big tip and she says, “Don’t be a stranger, Greek man. Come back and see me!”

Nick hops back in his car, stuffing fries in his mouth.

At the hospital, the Greek is greeted by a trio of nurses—Margaret, Suzanne, and Patty. Nick has been on dates with both Suzanne and Patty—nothing serious, just fun. He smiles at all three and says, “Where am I going and what do I need to know?”

Patty links her arm through his and leads him down the hall to an exam room. “She came in early this morning and we treated her for hysteria slash panic attack, meaning we took her vitals and gave her some Valium to calm her down. She slept for a little while. I wish there were something more we could do. Her best friend drowned out in front of the house? And Celeste found her? On her wedding day?”

“Wedding was canceled,” Nick says. “Obviously.”

“Obviously.”

“The deceased was the maid of honor,” Nick says.

“That’s what Celeste told me,” Patty says. She gives a dry laugh. “Maybe she didn’t like the dress.”

Nick shakes his head. He can’t make a joke at Merritt’s expense. He just can’t.

“What happened when the groom showed up here?” he asks.

“That was about an hour ago. Seemed like a nice guy. He was worried about Celeste and he expected to take her home. He was in her room for about ten minutes, then he left. And she asked to speak to you.”

“Okay, Patty. Thank you. It’s okay if I question her in here?”

“Sure,” Patty says. “One strange thing? Celeste came with a bag packed. I’m just not sure what to make of that. When I asked her about it, she started to cry, so I let it be.”

“Okay,” Nick says. That is strange, but there’s probably an explanation.

“My shift ends at three,” Patty says. “Call me if you want to get together tonight.”

The idea is tempting, but he knows he won’t relax until he cracks this case. Hopefully the bride has the answer.

“Will do,” he says.

He finds Celeste in a hospital gown, lying back on the examining table. When she sees him, she sits up. “Are you the police?”

“State police detective Nick Diamantopoulos,” he says. “I’m very sorry about your friend.”

Celeste nods. “You’re here to take my statement.”

“I am,” Nick says. “It’s a tragedy, what happened to Merritt.”

“She’s dead?” Celeste says. “Is she… I mean, she’s dead, right?”

Nick takes a seat in the chair at the foot of the examining table. The fries start to churn in his stomach. “I’m sorry, yes. She’s dead.”

Celeste bows her head and cries softly. “It’s all my fault.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s my fault. I knew something bad would happen. I thought it would be my mother but it wasn’t—it was Merritt. She’s dead!”

“I’m very sorry,” Nick says again. “I know you have a lot to deal with right now.”

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