Page 50 of The Perfect Couple

“Wasn’t Featherleigh with you?” Greer asks. She sounds more interested than accusatory. “Didn’t you take her out for a ride in the kayak?”

“Featherleigh?” Thomas says. “Why would Dad take Featherleigh out for a ride in the kayak? She’s hardly the seafaring type.”

“I didn’t take Featherleigh out in the kayak,” Tag says.

“You didn’t?” Greer says.

“I didn’t,” Tag says.

“You took someone out for a kayak,” Greer says. “The kayak, the two-person kayak, was left overturned on the beach. With only one oar. And we all know nobody else used it.”

Benji sinks into one of the leather club chairs and throws back what’s left of his scotch. He doesn’t like where this is headed. Here is his nuclear family, his parents and his older brother. They are the Winburys, a very fortunate group, not only because of their money, position, and advantages, but also because, by the standards of today, they are “normal.” A happy, normal family; a family, he would have said, without secrets or drama.

But now he’s not so sure.

He speaks to the room. “Who did you take out in the kayak, Dad?” He thinks back to what Celeste said, that someone in his family had made a very, very grave mistake.

Benji stands up. “Dad?”

Tag is facing the bar cart. He has one hand on his glass and one hand wrapped around the neck of the Glenmorangie. Greer is watching him. Thomas is watching him. They’re all waiting for an answer.

His voice is barely a whisper but his words and tone are clear.

“Merritt,” he says. “I took Merritt out in the kayak.”

KAREN

Karen wakes up with a start. The sunlight is pouring through the windows, bright and lemony. She was supposed to be up at eight thirty to help Celeste get ready, but she can tell it’s much later than that. She reaches over to check her phone. It’s half past noon.

Karen shrieks and sits up in bed. Bizarrely, there’s no pain. No pain? Her last oxy was late last night, but still, that was twelve hours ago. On a normal day, her nerve endings are screaming after seven or eight hours.

“Bruce?” she calls out. His side of the bed is empty but—she reaches out a hand—still warm.

She hears him retching. He’s in the bathroom. The blackberry mojitos and the scotch must have caught up with him. The toilet flushes, the water runs, and then Bruce comes into the bedroom. He looks smaller, she thinks. And ten years older.

He comes to sit next to her on the edge of the bed.

“Karen,” he says. “The wedding has been canceled.”

“Canceled?” she says. Somehow, she already knew this, but how? She tries to piece together the events of the night before. Celeste had wanted to stay home but Bruce and Karen had encouraged her to go out. They wanted her to enjoy herself.

Celeste!

Karen had had a bad dream—she was trying to find Celeste but couldn’t get to her. And then came the revelation: Celeste didn’t want to marry Benji. Karen had tiptoed down to Celeste’s room; it had been empty. She had gone downstairs. She had overheard the strange, awful conversation between Bruce and Tag.

Robin Swain.

Karen shakes her head. Last night, the confession about Robin Swain had seemed so devastating, but this morning, her shock and horror have vanished, just like her pain. Human beings experience all kinds of crazy and unexpected emotions while they are alive. Robin Swain was nothing more than a tiny blip on the screen of their distant past.

“Celeste doesn’t want to marry Benji,” Karen says.

“No, Karen,” Bruce says. “That’s not it.”

But that is it, Karen thinks. She has never once said this, but she does believe she is naturally closer and more in tune with Celeste than Bruce is. Celeste is Bruce’s little girl, no doubt about that, but he doesn’t understand Celeste’s mind like Karen does.

“Merritt died, Karen,” Bruce says. “Celeste’s friend Merritt. The maid of honor. She died last night.”

Karen feels like her head is going to topple right off her neck and onto the floor. “What?” she says.

“They found her floating in the harbor this morning,” Bruce says. “She drowned.”

“She drowned?” Karen says. “She drowned last night?”

“Apparently so,” Bruce says. “I was with Tag and then I came to bed. You were asleep when I came in. That was pretty late, but it must have happened afterward.”

“Oh no,” Karen says. She is aghast, really and truly aghast. Merritt was so young, so beautiful and confident. “How… what…”

“She drank or took drugs, I guess,” Bruce says. “And then she went swimming. I mean, what other explanation is there?”

“Where’s Celeste?” Karen asks.

“The paramedics took her to the hospital,” Bruce says. His eyes fill with tears. “Celeste was the one who found her.”

“No! No, no, no!” Their poor, sweet daughter! Karen fears Celeste doesn’t have the strength to deal with this. She is too fragile, too gentle and kind. This had been true even in adolescence, especially in adolescence. Other people’s daughters had been drinking and smoking, secretly going on the pill or being fitted for diaphragms. Celeste had stayed home with Bruce and Karen watching Friday Night Lights. That had been their favorite show, so much so that Tim Riggins and Tami Taylor felt like friends of the family, and, often, Bruce, Karen, and Celeste would look at one another over their morning cereal and say, “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” Celeste volunteered at the Lehigh Valley Zoo in Trexlertown on the weekends. Bruce would drop her off and Karen would pick her up. Karen would nearly always find Celeste with the lemurs or the otters, either feeding them or scolding them like naughty children. Karen used to have to yank her out of there. On Saturday nights, they would go to Diner 248 and then to the movies. Celeste would often see kids from school in groups or on dates and she would wave and smile, but she never seemed embarrassed to be seen with her parents. She was always even-keeled and content, as though she simply preferred to be with Bruce and Karen. Mac and Betty.

“And so now the wedding has been canceled,” Karen says.

“Yes,” Bruce says. “And the police are conducting an investigation.”

“Does the girl have family?” Karen asks.

“Not much, I guess,” Bruce says. “She hasn’t spoken to her parents in seven years.”

Seven years? Karen thinks. She’s nearly as upset about that as she is about Merritt’s passing. And yet, Karen could tell from the girl’s demeanor that no one had been looking out for her, not even from afar.

So now there will be no wedding. Karen understood this last night, but she had thought the reason would be different. She thought Celeste would call it off.

And then Karen’s visit to the psychic comes flooding back in vivid detail.

The psychic’s studio was in downtown Easton, half a block from the Crayola factory; Karen used to pass it all the time on her way to and from work. She had looked at the sign with only mild curiosity. KATHRYN RANDALL, PSYCHIC: INTUITIVE READINGS, ANGEL WHISPERER. Kathryn Randall was such a pretty name, such a normal, field-of-daisies name; this had been part of what triggered Karen’s interest. Her name wasn’t Veda or Krystal or Starshower. It was Kathryn Randall.

Karen visited Kathryn Randall two days after she received news of her metastases. She wasn’t looking for Kathryn to predict her future—she would live for weeks, months, a year, and then she would die—but she had to know what life held for Celeste.

Kathryn’s “studio” was just a normal living room. Karen sat on a gray tweed sofa and stared at Kathryn’s diploma from the University of Wisconsin. She handed Kathryn a photograph of Celeste and said, “I need to know if you have any intuitive thoughts about my daughter.”

Kathryn Randall was in her mid-thirties, as pretty as her name, with long light brown hair, flawless skin, a calming smile. She looked like a kindergarten teacher. Kathryn had studied the photograph for a long time, long enough for Karen to grow uncomfortable. She was thrown by the conventional surroundings. She had expected silk curtains, candles, maybe even a crystal ball, something that suggested a connection to the supernatural world.

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