Page 5 of The Perfect Couple

“We also have kayaks, both one-person and two-person,” Greer says. “Tag loves the kayaks more than the boats, I think. He may love the kayaks more than the boys!”

Bruce laughs like this is the funniest thing he’s ever heard. Karen scowls. Who would joke about something like that? She needs a pain pill. She rummages through her wine-colored Tory Burch hobo bag, which was a present from Bruce when she finished her first chemo protocol, back when they were still filled with hope. She pulls out her bottle of oxycodone. She is very careful to pick out a small round pill and not one of the three pearlescent ovoids, and she throws it back without water. The oxy makes her heart race, but it’s the only thing that works against the pain.

Karen wants to admire the scenery but she has to close her eyes. After a while, Greer says, “We’ll be there in a jiffy.” Her British accent reminds Karen of Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins. Jiff-jiff-jiffy, Karen thinks. Greer drives around a traffic circle, then puts on her blinker and turns left. With the sudden movement of the car, the oxy kicks in. Karen’s pain subsides and a sense of well-being washes over her like a golden wave. It’s by far the best part of the oxy, this initial rush when the pain is absorbed like a spill by a sponge. Karen is most certainly on her way to becoming addicted if she isn’t already, but Dr. Edman is generous with medication. What does addiction matter at this point?

“Here we are!” Greer announces as she pulls into a white-shell driveway.

SUMMERLAND, a sign says. PRIVATE. Karen peers out the window. There’s a row of hydrangea bushes on either side of the driveway, alternately fuchsia and periwinkle, and then they drive under a boxwood arch into what Karen can only think of as some kind of waterfront utopia. There’s a main house, stately and grand with crisp white-and-green awnings over the windows. Opposite the main house are two smaller cottages set amid landscaped gardens with gurgling stone fountains and flagstone paths and lavish flower beds. And all of this is only yards away from the water. The harbor is right there, and across the flat blue expanse of the harbor is town. Karen can pick out the church towers she saw from the ferry. The Nantucket skyline.

Karen has a hard time finding air, much less words. This is the most beautiful place she has ever been. It’s so beautiful it hurts.

Today is Friday. The rehearsal at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is scheduled for six o’clock and will be followed by a clambake for sixty people that will include a raw bar and live music, a cover band that plays the Beach Boys and Jimmy Buffett. There will be a “small tent” set up on the beach to shelter the band and four rectangular tables of fifteen. And there will be lobster.

The wedding is Saturday at four o’clock, and it will be followed by a sit-down dinner under the “big tent,” which has a clear plastic roof so that the guests can see the sky. There will be a dance floor, an eighteen-piece orchestra, and seventeen round tables that seat ten guests each. On Sunday, the Winburys are hosting a brunch at their golf club; this will be followed by a nap, at least for herself, Karen thinks. On Monday morning, Karen and Bruce will leave on the ferry, and Celeste and Benji will fly from Boston to Athens and from there to Santorini.

Stop time, Karen thinks. She doesn’t want to get out of the car. She wants to stay right here, with all of those sumptuous plans still in front of her, forever.

Bruce helps Karen down out of the car and hands over her cane, and in the time it takes for this to happen, people pop out of the main house and appear from the cottages as though Bruce and Karen are visiting dignitaries. Well, they are, Karen thinks. They are the mother and father of the bride.

She knows they are also something of a curiosity because they are poor and because Karen is sick, and she hopes all of them will be gentle with their appraisals.

“Hello,” Karen says to the assembled group. “I’m Karen Otis.” She looks for someone she recognizes, but Greer has vanished and Celeste is nowhere to be found. Karen squints into the sun. She has met Benji, Celeste’s betrothed, only three times, and all she can remember of him, thanks to chemo brain, is the cowlick that she had to keep herself from smoothing down every ten seconds. There are two young, good-looking men in front of her, and Karen knows that neither of them is Benji. One is in a snappy cornflower-blue polo and Karen smiles at him. This young man steps forward, hand extended.

“I’m Thomas Winbury, Mrs. Otis,” he says. “Benji’s brother.”

Karen shakes Thomas’s hand; his grip is nearly enough to turn Karen’s bones to powder. “Please, call me Karen.”

“And I’m Bruce, Bruce Otis.” Bruce shakes Thomas’s hand and then the hand of the young man standing next to Thomas. He has very dark hair and crystalline-blue eyes. He’s so striking that Karen can hardly keep from staring.

“Shooter Uxley,” the young man says. “Benji’s best man.”

Shooter, yes! Celeste has mentioned Shooter. It isn’t a name one forgets, and Celeste had tried to explain why Shooter was the best man instead of Benji’s brother, Thomas, but the story was puzzling to Karen, as though Celeste were describing characters on a TV series Karen had never seen.

Bruce then shakes the hands of two young ladies, one with chestnut hair and freckles and one a dangerous-looking brunette who is wearing a formfitting jersey dress in a color that Karen would call scarlet, like the letter.

“Aren’t you hot?” the Scarlet Letter asks Bruce. With a slightly different inflection, it would sound as though the girl were hitting on Bruce, but Karen realizes she’s talking about Bruce’s outfit, the black jeans, the black-and-turquoise shirt, the loafers, the socks. He looks sharp but he doesn’t exactly fit in. Everyone else is in casual summer clothes—the men in shorts and polo shirts, the ladies in bright cotton sundresses. Celeste had told Karen no less than half a dozen times to remind Bruce that the Winburys were preppy. Preppy, that was the word Celeste insisted on using, and it sounded quaint to Karen. Didn’t that term go out of style decades ago, right along with Yuppie? Celeste had said: Tell MacGyver, blue blazers and no socks. When Karen had passed on this message, Bruce had laughed, but not happily.

I know how to dress myself, Bruce had said. That’s my job.

A tall, silver-haired gentleman strides across the lawn and walks down the three stone steps into the driveway. He’s dripping wet and wearing a pair of bathing trunks and a neoprene rash guard.

“Welcome!” he calls out. “I’d open my arms to you but let’s wait until I dry off for those familiarities.”

“Did you capsize again, Tag?” the Scarlet Letter teases.

The gentleman ignores the comment and approaches Karen. When she offers her hand, he kisses it, a gesture that catches her off guard. She’s not sure anyone has ever kissed her hand before. There’s a first time for everything, she thinks, even for a dying woman. “Madame,” he says. His accent is English enough to be charming but not so much that it’s obnoxious. “I’m Tag Winbury. Thank you for coming all this way, thank you for indulging my wife in all her planning, and thank you, most of all, for your beautiful, intelligent, and enchanting daughter, our celestial Celeste. We are absolutely enamored of her and tickled pink about this impending union.”

“Oh,” Karen says. She feels the roses rising to her cheeks, which was how her father always described her blushing. This man is divine! He has managed to set Karen at ease while at the same time making her feel like a queen.

There’s a tap on Karen’s shoulder and she turns carefully, planting her cane in the shells of the driveway.


It’s Celeste. She’s wearing a white sundress and a pair of barely there sandals; her hair is braided. She has gotten a suntan, and her blue eyes look wide and sad in her face.

Sad? Karen thinks. This should be the happiest day of her life, or the second-happiest. Karen knows Celeste is worried about her, but Karen is determined to forget she’s sick—at least for the next three days—and she wants everyone else to do the same.

“Darling!” Karen says, kissing Celeste on the cheek.

“Betty, you’re here,” Celeste says, without a trace of stutter. “Can you believe it? You’re here.”