Page 52 of The Perfect Couple

“Did Merritt know the two of you were running away?” the Chief asks. “Do you think Celeste confided in her?”

“We agreed not to tell anyone,” Shooter says. “We were going to make a clean break for it, get off the island, then tell everyone later. Celeste wasn’t even going to say anything to her parents. So, no, I do not think she confided in Merritt.”

The interview room is quiet for a second. The Chief is combing back through the story. Does it make sense? Does it have any holes? Nick is a strong believer in intuition when it comes to questioning. The story may make sense, but do you believe the guy?

Yes, the Chief thinks. He recalls Roger saying that when Celeste found the body, she had a bag packed. She was headed to meet Shooter and she… what? Caught a glimpse of something in the water as she was leaving? It wasn’t impossible.

She had a bag packed. For that reason, and that reason alone, the Chief is going to choose to believe Mr. Uxley.

He stands up and nods at Val. “You two are free to go,” he says. He has to move on—and quickly—to Tag Winbury and the Dale woman, whoever she is.

August 2017

CELESTE

Her mother’s cancer has metastasized to her bones. There are tumors on her spine. The cancer isn’t curable. They can, however, do another course of chemo, which will buy her a year to eighteen months.

Benji’s response to the news is to pull Celeste closer and hold her tighter. They are now engaged, and this has inspired him to become the spokesperson for we. He wants Karen to get a second opinion at Mount Sinai. His parents know “influential people” who sit on the board of directors. They’ll be able to get Karen an appointment with the “best doctors, the very best doctors.”

Celeste resents Benji’s involvement. She and her parents are an insular unit: Mac, Betty, and Bug. They are the we. It feels like Benji is horning in with his connections and his optimism. In Benji’s world, every problem has a solution, thanks to who the Winburys know and how much money they have.

Celeste says, “My parents can’t afford to get a second opinion at Mount Sinai. My father’s insurance was maxed out long ago.”

“I’ll pay for it,” Benji says.

“I don’t want you to pay for it!” Celeste says. “My mother has a doctor she likes and trusts. Dr. Edman at St. Luke’s—which is a real hospital, by the way, not just some clinic in a strip mall.”

“Okay, I get it,” Benji says, though Celeste knows exactly what he’s thinking. He’s thinking that St. Luke’s isn’t as good as Mount Sinai. How could it possibly be as good when it isn’t in New York City and Tag and Greer don’t know anyone who sits on the board? “I’m only trying to help.”

“Thank you,” Celeste says as sincerely as she can. “I’m very upset and I want to handle this my own way.”

Because Celeste is just back from her Nantucket vacation, she can’t take any more time off; it’s the end of summer and the zoo is simply too busy. But in the middle of her first week back, Celeste rents a Zipcar and drives out to see her parents after work. When Celeste reaches the house on Derhammer Street, she finds her mother sitting at the kitchen table with a coloring book for adults and a deluxe set of sixty-four pencils. Celeste walks in, and she holds up the page she’s been working on. It’s a mandala.

“Not bad, huh?” Karen says. She has colored the mandala in shades of green, blue, and purple.

“Pretty,” Celeste says, but her voice is shaky and her eyes well up. Karen has worked at the Crayola factory gift shop for over a decade. Some people sniff at what they see as a menial job selling boxes of crayons, but Karen has always taken pride in it. I bring color into children’s lives, she says.

Karen stands up and lets Celeste hug her. “I’m going to win this battle,” she says.

“You’re not supposed to call it a battle,” Celeste says. “I read that somewhere. It’s a violent word and some survivors find it offensive.”

Karen scoffs. “Offensive?” she says. “So what am I supposed to call it?”

“A journey,” Celeste says.

“Bullshit,” Karen says. Celeste blinks in surprise; her mother never swears. “It’s a battle.”

They go for a quick dinner at Diner 248 and make a point of ordering the Fudgy Wudgy, though Celeste and Bruce manage only one bite apiece and Karen doesn’t have any. Karen makes a big fuss over Celeste’s diamond ring: It’s the most beautiful ring she has ever laid eyes on. It’s the biggest diamond she has ever seen. A full four carats! And set in platinum!

Celeste says, “I’m thinking of postponing the wedding. I’m thinking of quitting my job and moving home until you get better.”

“Nonsense,” Karen says. Her voice is sharp and loud, and people at nearby tables turn their heads. The three Otises sit in silence for a second; they aren’t people who draw attention to themselves.

Celeste knows better than to say anything further. Her mother has spent Celeste’s entire life claiming that no mortal man would ever be good enough for Celeste, but that’s because she didn’t have the imagination to dream up someone like Benjamin Winbury, a real-life Prince Charming. Celeste’s future will be blessed. She will never have to worry about money the way that Bruce and Karen did.

Celeste looks at Mac and Betty sitting across from her in the booth the way they always do, her father’s arm draped across her mother’s shoulders, her mother’s hand resting on her father’s thigh. Celeste envies them. She doesn’t want money; she wants what they have. She wants love.

In case you have any doubts…

“If anything,” Karen says in a lower voice, “I was thinking you might get married sooner. Maybe in the spring or early summer.”

…I’m in love with you.

Sooner? Celeste thinks.

She nods. “Okay,” she whispers.

Shooter has disappeared back into his own life—steak houses, downtown clubs, the U.S. Open with clients, Vegas with clients to draft fantasy-football teams. Benji shows Celeste the pictures but she barely gives them a glance. She can’t think about Shooter; she can’t not think about Shooter. Part of her suspects her desire for Shooter is what caused Karen’s cancer to spread. Celeste knows life doesn’t work like that but she still gets the nagging sense that the two things are connected. If she stays with Benji, if she marries Benji, Karen will get better. If they get married in the spring or early summer, Karen will live forever.

Celeste drops five pounds, then ten. Merritt expresses envy and tells Celeste how wonderful she looks.

Celeste is irritable at work. She finally loses her temper with Blair the hypochondriac. One more missed day and Blair will be fired, Celeste says. Blair threatens a lawsuit. She has legitimate reasons for calling in sick. Celeste, in a rare fit of rage, tells Blair she needs to stop with the bullshit, and the next thing Celeste knows, she’s getting called into Zed’s office for a lecture on professional attitude, appropriate workplace language, blah-blah-blah.

Greer summons Benji and Celeste to the Winbury apartment for dinner. She has made something called a cassoulet. Celeste is her dutiful self and replies that it sounds good, but in fact, Celeste is annoyed. She has no idea what cassoulet is. She hates constantly being confronted with these erudite dishes—can’t Greer just make meat loaf or sloppy joes like Betty?—and it turns out that cassoulet has duck, pork skin, and, worst of all, beans in it. Celeste manages two bites. Her lack of appetite goes largely unnoticed, however, because Greer’s real motivation isn’t to feed Celeste and Benji but rather to let them know that she would like to plan their wedding. They can have the entire thing at Summerland on Nantucket the weekend after the Fourth of July.

Benji reaches for Celeste’s hand under the table. “Would that be okay with you?” he asks.

“We don’t want you to feel railroaded,” Tag says. “My wife can be a bit forceful.”

“I’m just trying to help,” Greer says. “I want to offer my support and our resources. I hate to think of you having to plan a wedding while your mother is so sick.”

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