Page 47 of The Perfect Couple

On her way, she walks past a window that opens onto an intimate enclave that has five seats at a mahogany bar, a television showing the Red Sox game, and a handful of tables with high-backed rattan chairs. The bar has a clubby, colonial British feel that is a little cozier and more casual than the dining room.

Shooter is sitting at the bar alone, drinking a martini.

Celeste stares at Shooter’s back and does a gut check. Talk to him or leave him be? Talk to him! She will tell him she feels the same way, and then later they can make a plan to be together without hurting Benji. But before Celeste sets foot in the bar, a woman appears. She’s wearing black pants, a black apron, a white shirt open at the collar. Oh, she’s the bartender, Celeste thinks with relief. She’s quite attractive, with short, dark, bobbed hair, cat’s-eye glasses, and dark red lipstick. She approaches Shooter and he gives her a hug, then pulls her into his lap and starts tickling her. She shrieks with laughter—through the closed door, Celeste can just barely hear it—and just as Celeste’s emotions are curdling into hurt and rage, the bartender stands up, straightens her apron, and gets back to work.

Celeste slams into the ladies’ room, startling a woman applying her lipstick at the sink.

When Celeste returns to the table, Benji stands up. He is a gentleman, she thinks. And she will never have to worry about him.

Between dinner and dessert—they have ordered the soufflé, which takes extra time to prepare—Benji pulls something out of his coat pocket. It’s a small box. Celeste stares at the box almost without seeing it.

She realizes she knew this was coming.

“I didn’t go golfing today,” Benji says. “I flew back to the city to pick up a little something.” He opens the box to reveal the most insanely beautiful diamond ring Celeste has ever seen.

She bobs her head at the ring once, as if being formally introduced to it.

“Will you marry me, Celeste?” Benji asks.

Celeste’s eyes fill with tears. Not only did she know this was coming but Shooter did too. And yet he still took her to Smith’s Point, still showed her how to ride the current, still bought her a birding book, still called her Sunshine, and still made her feel like she was, in fact, the brightest light in the sky. And then he slipped that note under her door.

In case you have any doubts.

He didn’t mean in case Celeste had any doubts about him. He meant in case Celeste had any doubts about marrying Benji.

I’m in love with you.

Shooter is a gambler. He’s throwing the dice to see if he can win. It’s a game to him, she tells herself. His feelings aren’t real.

With her napkin, she blots the tears that drip down her cheeks. She can’t look at Benji because if she does, he’ll see they are tears of confusion, but right now he must be assuming—or hoping—that they are tears of overwhelmed joy.

The whole thing is a mess, a giant, emotionally tangled mess, and Celeste has half a mind to stand up and walk out on both men. She will get herself home, back to Easton, back to her parents.

Celeste thinks of Shooter pulling the sexy, bespectacled bartender into his lap, his wicked grin, his fingers tickling the other woman’s ribs. Celeste would have a miserable life with Shooter. Her feelings for him are too strong; they would be her undoing. A better, wiser choice is to marry Benji. Celeste will continue to be who she has always been: The center of someone else’s universe. Beloved.

“Yes,” Celeste whispers. “Yes, I will marry you.”

When Benji and Celeste arrive back at the boat, Shooter is waiting. He has the gleam of a martini or three in his eyes. His hair is mussed; there is a smudge of the bartender’s red lipstick on his cheek.

In case you have any doubts, I’m in love with you.

“So how’d it go?” Shooter asks with corny enthusiasm. It might have been more like five martinis, Celeste thinks. Shooter’s words are slurred. Benji will have to drive the boat home.

Celeste holds out her left hand. “We’re engaged.”

Shooter locks eyes with her. You lost, she thinks, gloating for a second. But then she corrects herself. They both lost.

“Well,” he says. “Congratulations.”

Benji insists that Celeste call her parents on the boat ride home, but strangely, they don’t answer. It’s even stranger when Benji tells her that he spoke to both Bruce and Karen earlier in the week, told them his intentions, asked for their blessing. They were over the moon, he says.

Celeste leaves a message on the answering machine asking them to call her back. She doesn’t hear from them at all on Saturday. When she calls again on Sunday morning, her father answers, but something is wrong. Her father is crying.

“Daddy?” Celeste says. She holds out hope for one second that he’s weeping sentimentally over news of the engagement.

“It’s your mother,” he says.

Saturday, July 7, 2018, 1:12 p.m.

NANTUCKET

As the day unfolds, news about the Murdered Maid of Honor spreads across the island. Because nobody knows what happened, everything and anything becomes a possibility.

A group of New York Millennial women having lunch and cocktails at Cru are told the news by their server, Ryan.

“As if being maid of honor isn’t hard enough,” says Zoe Stanton, a store manager at Opening Ceremony.

“Maid of honor,” a PR associate named Sage Kennedy murmurs. A bell goes off in Sage’s head. “What was the woman’s name?”

“Not yet released,” says Lauren Doherty, a physical therapist at the Hospital for Special Surgery.

Sage pulls her phone out despite her resolution not to use it at meals (unless she’s dining alone). She is pretty sure she follows someone on Instagram who was serving as a maid of honor at a wedding on Nantucket this weekend.

She gasps. It’s Merritt. Merritt Monaco.

Sage gets a chill that starts at her feet and travels up her spine to the base of her brain. Once upon a time, Sage and Merritt worked together at a PR firm called Brightstreet, owned by Travis and Cordelia Darling. Merritt had an extremely ill-advised affair with Travis Darling and when Cordelia found out—well, Sage had never seen anyone so hell-bent on exacting revenge. She’d cringed as she listened to Cordelia bad-mouth Merritt to absolutely every single one of their clients, calling her disgusting names. Cordelia even contacted Merritt’s parents. Her parents, as though Cordelia were the high-school principal and Merritt had been caught setting a fire in the cafeteria. With Merritt’s dismissal, Sage’s own position in the company improved; she was, essentially, given all of Merritt’s responsibilities. Another girl might have delighted in the career-ending poor decisions of the person directly above her—but Sage just felt bad. She suspected that the affair had been Travis Darling’s fault. He was creepy.

Sage had wanted to contact Merritt after the smoke cleared, but she was afraid of going behind Cordelia’s back. When Cordelia announced that she was moving the business to Los Angeles, Sage took the sparkling reference and robust severance package and immediately found another job. She texted Merritt with news of Cordelia’s departure, and Merritt had responded: Thanks for letting me know.

They hadn’t become friends, by any means, but Sage kept a cyber-eye on Merritt. She followed her on Instagram under an account with a made-up name—which was strange, she realized, but less complicated than following, liking, and commenting as her real self. She found herself cheering Merritt on as she got a new job at the Wildlife Conservation Society and started stumping for Parker and Young, Fabulous, and Broke, as well as nearly every hot restaurant and club that opened south of Fourteenth Street.

There had been recent posts about Merritt’s upcoming maid-of-honor duty this weekend on Nantucket. Earlier this week, Merritt had posted a photo of herself modeling her bridesmaid dress—it was antique-ivory silk with black embroidery on the bodice, meant to look like classic scrimshaw, which Sage thought was such a cool idea—with the caption: Tonight I am Nantucket-bound. #MOH #weddingoftheyear #BFF.

Had someone murdered Merritt?

Sage stared down at her lobster roll and her full glass of Rock Angel rosé, her appetite for lunch gone. Who would want to kill Merritt?

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