“Right,” Celeste says uneasily. She doesn’t want anyone—even Merritt—to think she is after Benji for his money. The money makes things nicer and easier. They can go to dinner whenever and wherever they want, they go to concerts and sit in the front row, Benji always treats her to taxis and sends her bouquets of beautiful, exotic flowers, and occasionally she will come home to find he has delivered a box of Pierre Hermé macarons to her doorstep (she had never tasted a macaron before meeting Benji; now, they’re one more expensive habit that she’s developed). Celeste enjoys these aspects of their relationship—she would be a liar if she denied it—but her favorite things about Benji are that he’s kind, thoughtful, solid, steady, and even-keeled.
Despite all this, she had been thinking, right before plans for the vacation were made, of breaking up with him. She likes him but she has been consistently misrepresenting her feelings because she does not love him.
She loves Shooter Uxley.
She has tried to talk herself out of it. How can she love Shooter when she spent only one day with him? After Benji belatedly arrived that weekend in June, Shooter left the island, claiming a work emergency. That Sunday afternoon, once Celeste was back in her own apartment, Shooter had sent her a text that said, I couldn’t stay and watch the two of you together.
So, Celeste thought, Shooter had felt it too. He had felt that strong, unmistakable thing, that animal attraction. Celeste uses the phrase purposefully because she’s a scientist and may understand better than most how human beings are at the mercy of their biology. Celeste thinks of a male lion establishing dominance in a pride or the blue-footed booby showing the female his blue feet by dancing. The natural world is filled with such rituals that can be documented and categorized but ultimately not explained. Celeste can’t control her urges or her feelings any better than hyenas or aardvarks; however, she can control her behavior. She has no intention of leaving Benji for his best friend. But she knows it’s not fair to stay with him when she doesn’t love him.
She needs to break it off.
She will break it off, she decides, after they get back from Nantucket.
Saturday, Sunday, Monday: Celeste and Benji lie by the pool, swim in the harbor, eat the finger sandwiches and cubes of melon that Elida brings them on a tray for lunch. In the late afternoon, they go to 167 Raw to buy fresh tuna and swordfish steaks, then they go to Bartlett’s Farm for corn, summer squash, greens for salad, a homemade peach pie. In the mornings, they wander the shops in town. At Milly and Grace, Celeste tries on four dresses, and Benji, unable to decide which he likes best on her, buys her all four. That night, Benji takes Celeste out to Sconset to eat at a candlelit table in the garden of the Chanticleer. At the center of the garden stands a carousel horse, and Celeste finds herself staring at the horse throughout dinner.
This week, Shooter is in Saratoga Springs, New York, with a group of tech executives from Belarus; they have gone to see the races. Celeste knows this because Benji keeps her constantly informed about Shooter’s whereabouts; Benji shows her every picture Shooter sends him, like a proud uncle. Sometimes he says, jokingly, “I’m boring, but here’s my exciting friend.” Celeste smiles mildly; she glances at the photos but can’t bring herself to focus on Shooter’s face. What good would it do? She never responded to Shooter’s text. She can’t have a secret line of communication with him; she knows where that would lead.
Celeste tears her eyes away from the carousel horse and thoughts of Saratoga and wills herself to be happy. She likes Benji. She cares about Benji.
As she watches Benji sip his wine, she imagines Shooter at the betting window, track pencil behind his ear. She imagines him in the grandstand or the elevated suite with fancy free hors d’oeuvres and scantily clad cocktail waitresses, where only the most important people in the world are allowed to sit. She imagines Shooter’s horse pulling ahead on the outside. Shooter has picked the winner again. He high-fives the Belarusians.
“Do you want dessert?” Benji asks. “Celeste?”
Tuesday and Wednesday: Celeste is tan. Celeste is relaxed. Celeste is growing more comfortable with Benji’s parents. One morning, she runs five miles with Tag. The following afternoon she goes to a photography exhibit on Old South Wharf with Greer, and afterward, Celeste suggests they get an Italian ice at the little shop next to the gallery.
“My treat,” Celeste says. The ices cost only ten dollars but Celeste leaves the cute red-haired teenager behind the counter a five-dollar tip. Tag and Greer are so generous that it makes Celeste want to be generous on her own scale.
They sit on a bench on the wharf to enjoy their ices in the sun and Greer says, “So, how are things going with you and Benji?”
Celeste isn’t sure what Greer is asking. “Everything is fine,” she says.
“Tag and I are heading back to the city tomorrow,” Greer says. “My friend Elizabeth Calabash’s son is getting married at the Plaza.”
“Oh,” Celeste says. She savors the taste of her passionfruit ice and thinks of how, before she met Benji, she would have stuck to something safe like lemon or raspberry. “That’s nice.”
“I think Benji would like some alone time with you,” Greer says. “Nothing quashes romance like having one’s parents around.”
“I enjoy your company,” Celeste says. It’s true. With the elder Winburys in residence, there is a family atmosphere at the house. There are times it feels like she and Benji are siblings. Celeste’s greatest dream is that her parents might someday see Nantucket. She tries to describe it in her phone calls, but she can’t do it justice, and there are things she knows they won’t understand—dining at nine o’clock at night in a garden with a carousel horse, paying seventeen hundred dollars for a photograph, or even passionfruit Italian ice.
Thursday and Friday: Tag and Greer leave late on Thursday. Benji apologizes to Celeste, but he has committed to playing in the member-guest golf tournament at the Nantucket Golf Club, which will eat up most of Friday.
“No problem,” Celeste says. She has a new book—Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta—and she looks forward to the time alone. It’s not supposed to be this way, she knows.
“I’ve arranged for a surprise,” Benji says. He kisses Celeste. “Shooter is coming.”
Celeste blinks and pulls back. “What?” she says. “I thought he was in Saratoga.”
“He was,” Benji says. “But he has a couple of days free so I asked him to come.”
Celeste has no idea what kind of expression crosses her face. Is it one of alarm? Fear? Panic?
“I thought you liked Shooter,” Benji says.
“Oh, I do,” Celeste says. “I do.”
At seven o’clock on Friday morning, Benji pulls away in Tag’s Land Rover with his golf clubs in the back. Celeste stands on the front porch and waves until he’s gone. Then she steps inside to the entrance hall and studies herself in one of Greer’s antique mirrors. She is blond and blue-eyed, pretty but not beautiful, or maybe beautiful but not extraordinary. Is there something she’s not seeing? Something inside of her? She likes animals, the environment, the natural world. This has always set her apart, made her less desirable rather than more so. When she was growing up, she was always reading the encyclopedia or National Geographic, and when she wasn’t doing that, she was collecting snakes and salamanders in shoe boxes and trying to re-create their natural habitat. She wasn’t interested in boy bands or wearing friendship bracelets or roller-blading or shopping for CDs and hair clips at the mall, just as now she doesn’t care about gender politics or social media or bingeing on Netflix or going to barre class or who wore what to the Met Ball. She is atypical. She is weird.
Shooter is coming. She’s not sure what to do. Proceed as normal? She changes into her bathing suit, grabs her new book, and goes out to the pool.
When she wakes up with the book splayed open on her chest, she finds Shooter sitting on the next chaise with his elbow on his knee, his chin in his hand, staring at her.
No, she’s dreaming. She closes her eyes.
Opens her eyes.