Page 65 of The Perfect Couple

Bethany shrugs. “That’s what he said.”

The door to the conference room is closed and when Celeste swings the door open she sees a dozen golden balloons and, in the center of the table, a round bakery cake ringed with icing flowers and the words Congrats, Celeste! A cheer goes up and Celeste looks around at her zoo colleagues: Donner, Karsang, Darius, Mawabe, Vern, even Blair from reptiles.

Celeste tears up. A shower! Her co-workers have thrown her a bridal shower, complete with balloons, cake, a few bags of chips, and a wrapped present. Celeste can’t believe it. This isn’t that kind of office and these aren’t those kind of co-workers. They obviously know Celeste is getting married, and she knows that Blair feels her long-ago migraine was responsible for Celeste and Benji meeting in the first place. Three of Celeste’s co-workers are actually making the trip to Nantucket—Bethany, Mawabe, and Vern—but because it’s the Fourth of July week, all of the reasonably priced hotels were sold out, so the three of them are arriving Saturday at noon and leaving on the nine-thirty fast boat. Celeste is touched that the three of them are making the trip—to drive from the city and take the boat requires more effort than she thought they’d make—but Celeste is also a bit nervous about their arrival. Benji exacerbated Celeste’s concern when he said, “I can’t imagine Mawabe and Vern in the same room as my mother.”

Although Benji’s sentiment echoed Celeste’s own feelings, she took umbrage. “Why not?” she said. “It would be g-g-good for your mother to realize people like Mawabe exist. I’m just sorry B-B-Blair isn’t coming.” She paused. “B-B-Bethany is normal. Sort of.”

“Sort of,” Benji conceded.

Now, Bethany comes forward holding out the gift. Celeste assumes Bethany selected the gift and everyone else chipped in, but some people—like Darius—probably have yet to pay their share.

“What c-c-could it be?” Celeste asks. She unwraps the box and lifts off the top to find a simple white apron with Mrs. Winbury embroidered in black on the front.

Mrs. Winbury. Celeste’s heart sinks.

“I love it,” she says.

Her stutter is so debilitating and so unpredictable that she and Benji have had to tailor their wedding vows with Reverend Derby so that all Celeste has to say is “I do.”

But even those two words present a challenge.

It’s Wednesday, the Fourth of July. Benji and Shooter, Thomas and Abby, and Tag and Greer are already up on Nantucket. But Celeste had to work through Tuesday, and Merritt has a can’t-miss fireworks party tonight. Celeste’s parents aren’t due to arrive until Friday. Celeste decides she will fly to Boston with Merritt on Thursday morning and then Uber to the Cape and take the fast ferry across to Nantucket.

Celeste calls Merritt at three o’clock on Wednesday afternoon. “I c-c-can’t do it,” she says.

“What?” Merritt says. “What do you mean?”

What does she mean? She means she can’t marry Benji. She knows she’s making a mistake. She’s in love with Shooter. It’s a physical condition, an affliction. It is, as Merritt said, in her blood. Celeste feels like she’s standing on a cliff. If Shooter were here right now by her side, willing to hold her hand and never let go, she would jump.

But he’s not. He’s on Nantucket, executing the best-man duties with his usual flair.

“I c-c-can’t say my vows,” Celeste says. “I st-st-st…” She can’t force it out. Stutter is, ironically, the hardest word.

“I’ll be right there,” Merritt says.

Merritt stands before Celeste and says, “Do you, Celeste Marie Otis, take Benjamin Garrison Winbury to be your lawfully wedded husband? To have and to hold, to bug and to pester, to scream at and screw, until death do you part?”

Celeste smiles.

“Say it,” Merritt says.

“I d-d-do,” Celeste says. She winces.

“Pretend it’s a different word,” Merritt says. “Pretend it’s dew like on a leaf in the morning or due like your rent. I think you’re just psyching yourself out.”

Dew, like on a leaf in the morning, Celeste thinks.

“I dew,” she says.

The corners of Merritt’s mouth lift.

“Again,” she says.

“I d-d-do,” Celeste says. “I mean, I dew.”

“Just like that,” Merritt says. She glances at her phone. “I have to go. We’ll practice more tomorrow. And Friday.”

“Okay,” Celeste says. “Merritt—”

Merritt holds up a hand. “You don’t have to thank me,” she says. “You’re my best friend. I’m your maid of honor.”

“No,” Celeste says. “I mean, yes, thank you. B-B-But what I want to know is, d-d-did you end things with Tag?”

“No,” Merritt says. “He ended things with me.”

Once Celeste is on Nantucket, she becomes a marionette operated by Greer and Roger Pelton, the wedding planner. Roger is like a kind and supremely capable uncle. He goes over the three-day schedule with Celeste—where she needs to be, what she needs to do, what she will be wearing; the outfits are lined up in the closet. Thursday afternoon, Greer has scheduled Celeste for a massage, a mani-pedi, and an eyelash extension.

“Eyelash extension?” Celeste says. “Is that n-n-necessary?”

“No,” Roger says. “I’ll call R. J. Miller and cancel that part of the appointment.”

“Thank you,” Celeste says.

“The most important part of my job,” Roger says, “is protecting my brides from their mothers and mothers-in-law.”

Celeste loves how Roger refers to her as “my bride.” She pretends she’s marrying Roger, and this lightens her mood. Temporarily.

Celeste keeps one eye trained on Shooter at all times, like she’s a spy or a sniper. Their gazes meet and lock, and Celeste dissolves inside. He’s trying to tell her something without speaking—but what? Celeste craves the looks, even though they’re ruining her. When Shooter isn’t looking at her, when he’s joking with Merritt or Abby or Greer, she feels sickeningly jealous.

Celeste’s parents arrive. Celeste worries that, like Benji, the Winburys will think Karen and Bruce are “the salt of the earth” and will patronize them, possibly without their even realizing it.

But Greer is fine with Celeste’s parents, and Tag is better than fine. Celeste wants to hold a grudge against Tag, but he is so gracious and charming with her parents that she can feel only gratitude toward him. She’ll confront her anger and disappointment later, after the wedding.

The rehearsal dinner unfolds exactly as it should. Other people are drinking the blackberry mojito punch. Celeste has one sip of Benji’s and decides to stick to white wine. She doesn’t have time to keep track of Shooter; she’s too busy meeting this person and that person: a friend of Tag and Greer’s from London named Featherleigh, a business associate of Tag’s named Peter Walls, neighbors from London, neighbors from New York, Benji’s lacrosse coach from St. George’s, and the four Alexanders—blond and preppy Alexander, Asian Alexander, Jewish Alexander, who is engaged to a black woman named Mimi who is a Broadway dancer, and the Alexander known as Zander, who is married to a man named Kermit.

Celeste feared her parents would be shy and overwhelmed but they are holding their own and Betty looks better than Celeste anticipated. She walks with a cane and Celeste knows she’s on a mighty dose of painkillers, but she appears happy, nearly radiant. She is far happier about this wedding than Celeste is.

Celeste makes a deal with God: I will go through with this if You just please keep my mother alive.

There are passed hors d’oeuvres, each one more creative and delicious-looking than the next, although Celeste is far too anxious to eat. She sips her wine but it has little effect. Her body is numb. The only thing that matters is Shooter. Where is Shooter? She can’t find him. Then he will appear, brushing past her elbow; even the slightest touch lights her up. She has thought back on the kissing in her apartment only a few thousand times since it happened. How did she have the willpower to refuse him? She is in awe of herself.

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