Page 62 of The Perfect Couple

Nick’s thoughts are hopping now. Like father, like son. Thomas was involved with Feather but broke it off when he found out Abby was pregnant. Thomas tells Feather not to come to the wedding. Threatens her. Maybe he thinks she’ll tell Abby about the affair.

“Do you think Thomas meant it?” Nick says. “People say ‘I’m going to kill you’ all the time. Too much for my taste. Or do you think… do you think he actually tried to kill you?”

There was nothing in the shot glasses, nothing in the bottle.

The water glass.

“Let’s go back,” Nick says. “When you went into the kitchen to get water for Merritt, you said everyone was still back at the table, correct?”

Feather pauses. “Yes.”

“And there was no one in the kitchen?” he asks. “You’re sure you didn’t see Greer? I know you’re terrified of her but you can tell me the truth.”

“No,” Feather says. “I did not see Greer.”

“And you used the restroom after you poured the water?” Nick says. “How long were you in the bathroom?”

“Couple minutes?” Feather says. “The usual amount of time. But I did try to primp a bit as well.”

“So let’s say five minutes. Sound fair?”

“Fair.”

Plenty of time for Thomas to sneak in and drop a mickey in the water glass—or for Greer to do the same.

But, Nick thinks, Merritt wasn’t poisoned, just sedated. Which leads Nick back to the father, Tag Winbury. Tag could have doctored the water before he took Merritt out on the kayak. Then, when she “fell overboard,” she would have been more likely to drown.

What about the cut on her foot?

Maybe she cut it on a shell on the ocean floor when she fell off the kayak? But there was blood in the sand. If Feather is telling the truth and Merritt was wearing sandals earlier in the night, then she must have cut her foot after she got back from the kayak ride. Could she have cut her foot on the beach before climbing into the kayak? But there was no blood in the kayak.

Unless Tag had washed it off.

But if he was going to do that, why not tie the kayak back up?

Aaarrgh! Nick feels the answer is right there… he just can’t see it.

He smiles at Feather again and says, “I’ll be back in two shakes.”

Nick steps outside the interview room to call the Chief.

“Talk to Thomas, the brother,” he says.

KAREN

A knock at the door wakes Karen up. Karen looks over to Bruce and finds him asleep and snoring aggressively.

Another knock. Then a voice: “Betty? Mac?”

It’s Celeste. Karen swings her feet to the floor and carefully stands up. She still feels no pain, which is odd.

She opens the door to see her sad, beautiful daughter standing before her, wearing the pale pink dress with the rope detail that she was supposed to travel in tomorrow. She’s holding her yellow paisley duffel bag.

“Oh, my poor, poor Bug,” Karen says. She gathers Celeste up in her arms. “I am so sorry, sweetheart. So, so sorry about Merritt.”

“It’s my fault,” Celeste says. “She died because of me.”

Karen recognizes this response as an opening for a longer conversation. She glances back at Bruce. He’s still sawing logs, as they say; she knows she should wake him up—he will want to see Celeste—but she senses that Celeste needs a confidante, and there are some things that men just don’t understand.

Karen grabs her cane, steps out into the hallway, and closes the bedroom door behind her. “Where shall we go?”

Celeste leads her to the end of the hall where there is a glassed-in sunporch that is quiet and unoccupied. Karen negotiates the one step down holding on to Celeste’s arm. Celeste leads Karen over to a sofa with bright yellow-orange cushions the color of marigolds.

Karen takes a moment to admire the room. The floor is herringboned brick covered with sea-grass area rugs. The perimeter of the room is lined with lush potted plants—philodendron, ferns, spider plants, a row of five identical topiary trees trimmed to look like globe lamps. From the ceiling hang blown-glass spheres swirling with a rainbow of color. Karen becomes mesmerized for a second by the spheres; they look as delicate as soap bubbles.

Celeste follows her gaze and says, “Apparently these were an obsession of Greer’s the year she wrote A Murder in Murano. Murano is an island near Venice where they make glass. I had to look it up when Benji told me that.”

“Oh,” Karen says. The room has enormous windows that look down over the round rose garden. “There is no end to the wonders of this house.”

“Well,” Celeste says, but nothing follows and Karen can’t tell if she’s agreeing or disagreeing. She sits next to Karen on the cheerful sofa. “I decided last night that I wasn’t going to marry Benji.”

“I know,” Karen says.

“How?” Celeste whispers. “How did you know?”

“I’m your mother,” Karen says. She could tell Celeste about the dream with the strange hotel and how, in that dream, Celeste was lost. She could tell Celeste that she woke up so certain marrying Benji was the wrong thing for Celeste to do that she got out of bed and went looking for her, but she had found Bruce and Tag instead and learned something she could have lived the rest of her days without knowing. She could even tell Celeste about her visit to the psychic, Kathryn Randall, who had predicted that Celeste’s love life would enter a state of chaos… But there’s nothing either one of us can do about it.

Instead, Karen lets those three words suffice. She is Celeste’s mother.

It’s suddenly clear that Karen’s remaining time on earth matters. There are so many moments of her life that will be overlooked or forgotten: locking her keys in her car outside of Jabberwocky in downtown Easton, having her credit card declined at Wegman’s, peeing behind a tree at Hackett’s Park when she was pregnant with Celeste, beating her best time in the two-hundred-meter butterfly in the biggest meet of the year against Parkland when she was a senior, nearly choking on a cherry Life Saver during a game of kickball when she was ten years old, sneaking out to the eighth hole of the Northampton Country Club with Bruce during her prom. Those moments had seemed important to Karen at the time but then they vanished, evaporating to join the gray mist of her past.

However, what Karen says to Celeste here and now will last. Celeste will remember her words for the rest of her life, she is sure of this, and so she has to take care.

“When you met Benji,” Karen says, “we were very excited. Your father and I have been so happy together… we wanted you to find someone. We wanted you to have what we have.”

Celeste lays her head in Karen’s lap, and Karen strokes her hair. “Not everyone is like you,” Celeste says. “Not everyone gets that lucky on the first try… or ever.”

“Celeste,” Karen says. “There are things you don’t know…”

“There are things you don’t know!” Celeste says. “I tried to make myself love Benji. He’s a good person. And I understood it was important to you and Mac that I married someone who could take care of me financially—”

“Not just financially,” Karen says, although she realizes she and Bruce are probably guilty as charged. “Benji is strong. He comes from a good family—”

“His family,” Celeste says, “isn’t what it seems.”

Karen gazes out the window at the serene expanse of the Nantucket harbor. Maybe Celeste already knows that Tag Winbury’s mistress has a baby on the way. It makes either perfect sense or no sense at all that a family as wealthy and esteemed as the Winburys have a second narrative running deep underneath the first, like a dark, murky stream. But who is Karen to judge? Only a few hours ago, she feared she had caused Merritt’s death.

“So few families are,” Karen says. “So few people are. We all have flaws we try to hide, darling. Secrets we try to keep. All of us, Celeste.”

“I made it to the night before the wedding,” Celeste says. “Before that, I thought if I acted on my true feelings, something bad would happen. Then I told myself that was silly. My actions don’t influence the fate of others. But Merritt died. She died, nearly as soon as I made the decision. She was the only real, true friend I’ve had in my life other than you and Mac, and now she’s gone forever. Forever, Mama. And it’s my fault. I did this to her.”

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