Page 48 of The Perfect Couple

Cordelia, she thinks. She sips her rosé for fortitude and wonders if it’s remotely possible that Cordelia came to Nantucket, somehow infiltrated the wedding festivities—maybe dressing up as one of the catering crew—and got to Merritt that way. Absurd? Only happens in the movies? Normally, Sage would think that, but she will forever be haunted by the vitriol she had seen emanating from Cordelia Darling in the days following her discovery of the affair.

Cordelia is in Los Angeles, Sage tells herself. There is no reason for her to celebrate the Fourth of July week on Nantucket; the West Coast has its own beaches.

Sage puts her phone away and smiles at her friends. It might not even be Merritt, she thinks. She follows Lauren’s gaze out the open sides of the restaurant. The vista is nothing short of spectacular: sparkling blue harbor, sailboats, seagulls, the bluffs of Shawkemo in the distance. How could anything bad ever happen here?

The Murdered Maid of Honor is all anyone is talking about across town at the Greydon House on Broad Street. Heather Clymer, who is staying with her husband, Steve, in room 2, has just gotten back from the Hospital Thrift Shop, where she heard the whole story from one of the volunteers. Heather brought the story back to the Greydon House, where it spread like a virus: the maid of honor in a big, fancy wedding out in Monomoy was found early that morning floating in the harbor, and both local and state authorities suspect foul play.

Laney and Casper Morris are standing by the hotel’s front desk and are just about to head down the street to the Nantucket Whaling Museum when they hear the news. Laney digs her fingernails into Casper’s forearm.

“Ouch,” Casper says. He’s already a bit irritated with Laney for making him go to the Whaling Museum on such a gorgeous, sunny day, the final day of their vacation. They should be headed to the beach! The Whaling Museum isn’t going anywhere; they can tour it when they’re old.

“A big, fancy wedding out in Monomoy?” Laney says. She pulls Casper back into their elegantly appointed room, where Casper collapses on the bed, grateful for the delay in their day’s agenda. “The maid of honor was found floating. She’s dead. You know whose wedding that is, right? Out in Monomoy?”

“Benji’s?” Casper guesses. He knows this is the right answer; it’s basically all Laney has been talking about this week because Laney’s best friend is Jules Briar, Benji’s ex-girlfriend. Casper isn’t a big fan of Jules and he knows the friendship wears on Laney as well, but she and Jules have known each other since first grade at Spence and some habits are hard to break. Jules somehow discovered that Benji was getting married this weekend on Nantucket, and when Jules learned that Laney and Casper would be on the island as well, she implored Laney to keep an eye out and report back. Jules is insanely jealous of Benji’s fiancée, whom he had met when Benji and Jules took Miranda to the zoo!

Laney had done exactly as Jules asked. Last night, when they were standing in line at the Juice Bar, Laney had seen Shooter Uxley, Benji’s best friend, outside of Steamboat Pizza. He was with a blond woman. Laney took a picture of Shooter and the blonde and texted it to Jules.

Jules responded immediately. That’s her! That’s zoo woman! Benji’s fiancée!

They texted back and forth about why the fiancée—Celeste Otis, her name was; Jules had done the requisite stalking—was getting pizza with Shooter instead of Benji. Then they texted about how much they missed Shooter. He had been so much fun.

Now Laney says, “The maid of honor was killed. Poor Benji!”

“Maybe Benji did it,” Casper says, and then he laughs because Benjamin Winbury is one of the nicest guys to ever walk the planet, so nice that Casper used to give him a hard time for making the rest of the male population look bad. And, too, Casper has had his own murderous thoughts about some of Laney’s friends; the subject of their present conversation ranks at the top of the list.

“If it were the bride who had died,” Laney says, “I would have suspected Jules.”

“Damn straight,” Casper says.

Laney sighs. “It’s sobering, you know. Thinking someone our age could die just like that.”

Casper reaches out to his wife. “Hey,” he says. “Don’t let it get to you. We don’t know what happened.”

“Life is so short.” Laney smiles at Casper. “Forget the Whaling Museum,” she says. “Let’s go to the beach.”

Benjamin Winbury is sequestered in his father’s study with his father and his brother.

Intellectually, Benji understands that Merritt is dead, that she drowned out front, but he can’t quite come to terms with this new reality. His mind won’t switch over to Merritt is dead. He is stalled, stuck, in Merritt is alive and the wedding will go ahead as scheduled at four o’clock. His tuxedo is hanging up in the closet, and in the breast pocket of the jacket are the rings, which Benji was going to hand over to Shooter along with Shooter’s best-man gift, a pair of monogrammed cuff links. He still has things to check off on his to-do list, such as setting up a boat trip and a spa day for Celeste once they get to Santorini, but now his procrastination doesn’t matter. The wedding has been canceled.

Of course the wedding has been canceled. There was no question of going forward with a wedding when Celeste’s best friend was found dead.

Benji is experiencing a host of very confusing emotions. He is upset, shocked, and horrified just like everyone else. And yet also mixed in there are anger and resentment. It’s his wedding day! His parents have gone to enormous effort and expense to make this wedding unforgettable and now it’s all for naught. But aside from the predictable shallow complaint that the happiest day of Benji’s life has turned out to be tragic and chaotic, there is a deeper sadness that he won’t be entering into a lifelong commitment with the woman he loves beyond all comprehension.

He has been influenced enough by Celeste that he now occasionally thinks in wildlife metaphors. Celeste is like a rare butterfly that Benji was somehow able to capture. That comparison is, no doubt, inappropriate on many different levels, but that’s how he thinks of her in his private mind where no one can judge him, that she’s like an exotic bird or butterfly. If he takes that imagery further, then marrying her is akin to putting her in a cage or pinning her to a board. She was supposed to be his.

What Merritt’s death has brought to light, however, is that Celeste belongs only to herself.

She was the one who found Merritt. With Roger’s help, Celeste pulled Merritt’s body from the water. She was hysterical, beyond talking to, beyond consoling. She couldn’t breathe, and Roger and the paramedics had wisely decided to take Celeste to the hospital where they could get her calmed down.

Benji waited two hours before he went to see her in order to give her time and space to process what had happened, but when he arrived to pick her up, their conversation had not gone the way he expected it to.

She had been in bed, woozy from the Valium, her eyelids fluttering open when he walked in the room. He sat at her bedside, took her hand, and said, I’m so sorry.

She shook her head and said, It’s my fault.

For reasons he could not explain, this answer had unleashed a mighty fury within him. He thought Celeste was blaming herself for having an oceanfront wedding, for asking Merritt to be her maid of honor, for bringing her here to Nantucket. And Benji’s response to this came flying out: She was lucky to be here, lucky she had a friend like you, she didn’t deserve you, wasn’t worthy of you, Celeste. And furthermore, she probably did this to herself! You told me once that she stockpiled pills and considered suicide, so what’s to say that’s not what this is? She orchestrated this to ruin our big day!

Celeste had closed her eyes and Benji thought the sedative had reclaimed her but then she spoke. I can’t believe you just said that. You blame Merritt. You think this is her fault. Because you’ve never liked her. You thought she was a bad influence. But she was my friend, Benji. She was the friend I’d been looking for my entire life. She accepted me, she loved me, she took care of me. If I hadn’t met Merritt when I did, I might have left New York. I might have gone back to Easton and worked at the zoo in Trexlertown. I might never have met you. You blame Merritt because you can’t imagine a scenario where maybe someone in your house, someone in your family, made a very, very grave mistake. You think your family is beyond reproach. But you’re wrong.

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