Page 67 of The Perfect Couple

Benji waves, then turns again to Mimi—and Kermit, who has joined their conversation.

He couldn’t care less.

“Okay,” Celeste says. “Let’s go.”

There’s a line outside Steamboat Pizza and a steady stream of cars unloading from the late ferry. Celeste feels weirdly exposed and she distances herself half a step from Shooter. She has dreamed of being alone with him but now that it’s happening, she’s tongue-tied. Across the street she sees a woman with long jet-black hair wearing suede booties with shorts—suede booties in July; even Celeste recognizes that as a no-no—and the woman looks like she’s pointing her phone at Celeste and Shooter. Taking a picture? Celeste turns her back. She wants to make a joke about the care and feeding of the bride but she can’t manage small talk and, apparently, neither can Shooter.

“Follow me,” he says.

He gets out of line, which is fine—Celeste wouldn’t have been able to eat anything in front of him anyway—and starts walking down the street toward the ferry dock. Celeste follows, bobbing and weaving, skirting groups of teenagers, dodging couples with strollers, stopping short so an elderly couple can pass.

She doesn’t ask Shooter where they’re going. She doesn’t care. She would follow him anywhere.

They cross the Steamship Authority parking lot, Shooter striding ahead, and then he cuts to the right of the terminal building and turns to check that she’s behind him. He waits for her, places a hand on her back, and ushers her to a bench at the edge of the dock. The view is over the working part of the harbor. It’s not glamorous, but it’s still pretty. Everything on Nantucket is pretty.

They sit side by side, their thighs touching, and then Shooter wraps his arm around Celeste’s shoulders. She suddenly feels the effect of the wine she drank earlier. She acts impulsively; she doesn’t care who sees. She buries her face in Shooter’s chest and inhales the scent of him. He is all she wants.

“Run away with me,” he says.

She takes a breath to say, Yeah, right—but he stops her.

“I’m serious, Celeste. I’m in love with you. I know it’s wrong, I know it’s unfair, I know all of our friends will hate us, especially my own best friend—hell, my brother, because Benji is by every standard my brother. I don’t care. I do care, but I care about you more. I have never felt this way about anyone before. My feelings for you are tragic; they’re Shakespearean—I’m not sure which play, some combination of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, I think. I want you to sneak out of the house and meet me here, right here, at six fifteen tomorrow morning. I’ll have two tickets on the six-thirty ferry. The boat gets to Hyannis at eight thirty, which is also our scheduled reveille tomorrow, so by the time people realize we’re both gone, we’ll be safely on the mainland.”

Celeste nods against his chest. She’s not agreeing, but she wants to hear more; she wants to imagine this escape. The anxiety that has been squeezing her heart loosens its grip. She gets a clear breath.

“You can say no. I expect you to say no. And if you do say no, I’ll show up at the altar tomorrow right next to Benji like I promised. I will give a sweet, meaningful toast with the appropriate amount of humor and at least one line about how Benji doesn’t deserve you. I will ask for one dance with you and when that dance is over, I’ll give you a peck on the cheek and let you get on with the rest of your life. With him.”

Celeste exhales.

“If you come with me, I will buy four tickets to Las Vegas—one for me, one for you, two for your parents. And I will marry you by the end of the day tomorrow. Or we can move more slowly. But I need you to know that I am serious. I’m in love with you. If you don’t feel the same way, I will still go to my grave feeling grateful for every second I have had with you. If nothing else, you proved that the heart of Michael Oscar Uxley is not made of stone.”

Michael Oscar Uxley, she thinks. She realizes with shock that she has never asked his real name.

“Yes,” she says.

“What?”

She raises her face. She looks into Shooter’s blue eyes… but what she sees is her parents in profile from the backseat of their old Toyota. They are turned toward each other, singing along to “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” Do you love me, will you love me forever? Celeste is eleven years old, she knows all the words too, but she doesn’t dare sing because the two of them sound so… good together.

Then she flashes back to before they were Mac and Betty to her, before they were even Mommy and Daddy, back to when they were just ideas: love, security, warmth.

Celeste is young, only one or two years old. They are playing a game called Flying Baby. Bruce has Celeste by one hand and Karen has her by the other. They swing Celeste between them until Bruce calls out, “Flying,” and Karen calls out, “Baby!” And they lift Celeste up off the ground. For one delicious moment, she is suspended in midair, weightless.

Finally, she thinks of her parents as teenagers—her mother in her red tank suit, her father in his sweatpants and hoodie staring at the orange. The moment their eyes meet, the moment their hands touch. That certainty. That recognition. You. You are the one.

This is what it feels like.

Nothing, as it turns out, can take the place of love.

“Yes,” she says.

Saturday, July 7, 2018, 5:45 p.m.

THE CHIEF

He finds Thomas in the kitchen, scarfing down a turkey sandwich. Next to the sandwich plate is a highball glass of scotch, three-quarters full.

“Mr. Winbury?” the Chief says.

“Thomas,” he says, wiping his hands hastily on a napkin and then extending one to the Chief. “Mr. Winbury is my father.”

“I have a few questions,” the Chief says.

“You’ve talked to just about everyone else,” Thomas says. “I don’t know that I’d have much to add.”

“Please,” the Chief says. He’s too low on patience to deal with the runaround. “Follow me.” He heads down the hall and around the corner to the living room. Thomas has abandoned the sandwich but brought the scotch, and the Chief can’t blame him. Thomas takes a seat on the sofa, crosses his ankle over his knee, and sinks back into the cushions like a man without a care in the world, and the Chief closes the door.

“Events of last night?” the Chief asks. “After the party?”

“Back bar at Ventuno, Boarding House. I left after one drink. My wife called to say she wanted me home. Pronto.”

“What did you do at home?”

“Went up to see Abby. She was asleep so I went downstairs for a drink.”

“Did anyone join you?”

“My father.”

“Anyone else?”

“No.”

“Are you sure about that?”

Thomas’s eyebrows shoot up, but it’s acting. He’s a man pretending to remember something. The Chief is surprised he doesn’t snap his fingers.

“Oh! After a while, Merritt joined us, as well as a friend of my parents’ named Featherleigh Dale. She’s an antiques dealer from London, here for the wedding.”

“Why was Featherleigh Dale at the house so late?” the Chief asks. “Is she staying here?”

“No. I’m not sure why she was still around.”

“You’re not?”

“I’m not.”

The Chief lets the lie sit there for a moment, stinking.

“The four of you sat under the tent drinking rum, is that right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Who was the first to leave the tent? Was it you?”

“It was. My wife called down. I had pushed my luck by then already, so I went up to bed.”

“Do you have any idea what time that was?”

“Around two, I think.”

“I need you to focus here. Do you remember Featherleigh Dale going into the kitchen for water? A glass of water for Ms. Monaco?”

Thomas shakes his head, but then says, “Yes.”

“When Featherleigh went in to get the water, do you recall how long she was gone?”

“Five minutes. Maybe a bit longer.”

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