“Yes, I did,” Celeste says. “One way or the other, I did.”
Karen watches the tears stream down her daughter’s face. Karen is curious—and more than a little alarmed—that Celeste keeps insisting Merritt’s death is her fault. Did Celeste do something to her? Did she not do something? It can’t be a good idea for Celeste to be carrying on about how it’s her fault when the house is crawling with police.
“What do you mean by that, darling?” Karen asks. “Do they know what happened?”
“I think she took pills,” Celeste says. “I think she did it to herself. She was in a bad relationship, a bad situation… and I was emphatic about her breaking it off for good, but she said she couldn’t. I found her crying in the rose garden last night.”
“She wanted to know why love was so hard for her, why she couldn’t get it right. And I hugged her and kissed her and told her it was going to be fine, she just needed to move on. But you know what I should have done? I should have told her that I couldn’t get it right either. That love is hard for everybody.” Celeste takes a breath. “I should have told her I didn’t love Benji. But I couldn’t even say the words in my own mind, much less out loud to another person. She was my best friend and I didn’t tell her.”
“Oh, honey,” Karen says.
“Early this morning I went outside to look at the water one last time because I knew I was leaving this view behind for good. And I saw something floating.”
“Celeste,” Karen whispers.
“It was Merritt,” Celeste says.
Karen closes her eyes. They are both quiet. Outside, birds are singing and Karen can hear the gentle lapping of the waves on the Winburys’ beach.
Celeste says, “I’m not going to marry Benji. I’m going to take a trip, by myself maybe. Spend some time alone. Try to process what happened.”
“I think that’s wise, darling,” Karen says. “Let’s go tell your father.”
Bruce is still asleep in bed, though his noisy breathing has quieted. His hair is standing on end, his mouth hangs open, and even from so far away, Karen can smell his night-after whiskey breath. His left hand, the one with the wedding band, is resting on his chest, over his heart. Their love is real, Karen thinks. It’s strong but flexible; it’s unfussy and unvarnished. It has thrived in the modest house on Derhammer Street, in the front seat of their Toyota Corolla, in the routine of their everyday—breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime, repeat, repeat, repeat. It has endured long workweeks, head colds, snowfalls and heat waves, meager pay raises and unexpected bills; it endured the deaths of Karen’s parents, Bruce’s brother, Bruce’s parents, and the smaller losses of Celeste’s toads, lizards, and snakes (each of which required a burial). It endured through construction on Route 33, a schoolteacher strike when Celeste was in fourth grade, the Philadelphia Eagles losing season after season after season despite Bruce’s impassioned ranting at the TV (and finally winning it all this past year when, quite frankly, both Bruce and Karen had stopped caring about football); it endured the sad day the Easley family moved away and took their dogs Black Bean and Red Bean, who at the time were Celeste’s best friends, with them. It survived the Pampered Chef parties thrown by women who all secretly thought they were better than Karen, it survived Bruce’s bizarre friendship with Robin Swain, and it will survive this tragic weekend.
We would go to the post office to mail packages or check our box, and the line was always extra-long on Saturdays, but you know what? I didn’t care. I could wait an hour. I could wait all day… because I was with Karen.
While Celeste gently jostles Bruce’s shoulder to wake him up, Karen slips into the bathroom and locks the door behind her. She opens the third drawer, finds the bottle of pills, picks out the three pearlescent ovoids, and flushes them down the toilet.
Karen’s pain is gone. She feels stronger than she has in weeks, months even. It makes no sense, and yet it does.
Karen can’t go anywhere just yet. She needs to see what will happen next.
She catches the Chief on his way out of Tag’s study.
“There’s something I think you should know,” she says.
The Chief barely seems to hear her. He’s looking at his phone. “If you’ll excuse me,” he says. He reads his screen, then says, “Your son Thomas is… where? I’ll need to talk to him next.”
Greer can’t believe he’s brushing her off. She deliberated about her best course of action: Tell him about the pills or not? Yes, she decided, for a couple of reasons. She will tell him about the pills and they will finally be able to put all this to rest.
“I haven’t seen Thomas,” Greer says. “But Chief Kapenash, sir, there’s something I must tell you.”
The Chief finally seems to notice her. They are standing in the hallway; God only knows who’s listening. Tag is in his study. He might have his ear pressed up against the door. Greer wonders if she should have discussed her decision with him first. He has always been good at seeing a problem from every possible angle and ensuring that a strategy won’t backfire. Many times, when Greer needed help with the plot in one of her mysteries, she would consult Tag and he would nearly always come up with a creative answer. Those were some of Greer’s favorite moments in her entire marriage—lying in bed with Tag, her head resting in the crook of his arm as she explained her characters and their motivations while Tag asked provocative questions. He praised her imagination; she gushed over his insightful solutions. Character development required a humanist like Greer, but plotting often benefited from the mind of a mathematician. Greer had felt, in those instances, like part of a team.
Oh, how she hates him! For an instant, she wishes she’d married someone mediocre, uninspiring. Wealthy and uninspiring—her third cousin Reggie, for example; posh accent and not an original bone in his body.
“Shall we go into the living room?” Greer asks the Chief. She turns on her heel, not waiting for an answer.
The Chief follows her into the living room and Greer closes the door behind him. She doesn’t bother with sitting. If she sits, she thinks, she might lose her nerve.
“I forgot to tell the detective something,” she says.
The Chief’s expression hardens into all business. He’s not a bad-looking man, Greer thinks. He has a gruffness that she finds sort of appealing, nearly sexy. And he’s age appropriate. This is what Tag has done; now Greer has to appraise candidates for future romantic interludes. Would the Chief be interested in her?
Never, she decides.
The Greek, maybe, Nick, if he were in the mood for an older woman. Greer flushes, then she notices the Chief looking at her expectantly.
“I didn’t forget, exactly,” Greer says. She wants to clarify this. “It’s something I only just remembered.”
The Chief nods almost imperceptibly.
“I went to bed whenever, midnight or so, but I couldn’t sleep. I was wound up.”
“Wound up,” the Chief says.
“Excited about the wedding. I wanted everything to go well,” Greer says. “So, as I told the detective, I got up and went to the kitchen to pour a glass of champagne.”
“Yes,” the Chief says.
“Well, what I forgot to tell the detective—meaning what I didn’t remember at all until just a little while ago—is that I brought my sleeping pills to the kitchen. My intention was to take a pill with water before I drank my champagne.”
“What kind of pills were they?” the Chief asks.
“I’d have to call my physician in New York to be sure,” Greer says. “They’re quite potent, put me to sleep instantly and knock me out for eight hours straight. Which was why, in the end, I decided not to take a pill. I needed to be up early this morning. So I hoped the champagne would do the trick by itself, and that was, in fact, what happened. But when I looked for the pills a few moments ago in my medicine cabinet, where I keep them, they weren’t there. And that’s when I recalled bringing them to the kitchen. I checked the counter next to the refrigerator plus every shelf, every drawer, every possible hiding place. I asked my housekeeper, Elida. She hasn’t seen them.”