Page 72 of The Perfect Couple

Benji barely reacts. It’s as if he expects these kinds of theatrics from Shooter. Either that or he’s not really listening. “They found something in Merritt’s bloodstream,” Benji says. “Pills.”

“Really,” Shooter says. “How is Celeste taking it?”

Benji shoots up off the sofa. “How is Celeste taking it?” he says. “Well, let’s see, she was so hysterical that she spent half the day in the emergency room. And yet she seems to have gained a certain clarity. She doesn’t want to marry me. At all. Ever.”

Shooter is suddenly very alert, despite his profound exhaustion. What is Benji going to say next?

“She says it has nothing to do with what happened to Merritt. It has to do with her. She doesn’t want to marry me—not next month, not next year, not on a beach in Aruba, not at city hall in Easton, Pennsylvania. She doesn’t want to marry me. When was she going to tell me this? Was she going to stand me up at the altar? Oh, and guess what else. Guess what else. Just guess.”

Shooter doesn’t want to guess, which is okay because Benji isn’t waiting for an answer.

“Her stutter is gone! Completely gone! She decides she’s not going to marry me and her speech impediment disappears.”

Her stutter was gone last night, Shooter thinks. If Benji had paid attention, he would have realized that. When Celeste and Shooter left the bench next to the Steamship terminal, they had gone back to get pizza, and when Shooter asked Celeste what she wanted, she said, “Slice of pepperoni and a root beer, please.” Her words had been as clear as the peal of church bells on a summer morning.

“Did she say anything else?” Shooter asks. His plan of running away with Celeste was incredibly cowardly, he sees now. Because this—Benji’s reckoning—wasn’t anything Shooter wanted to witness.

“Anything else?” Benji says. “She didn’t need to say anything else. She destroyed me.” He winds up and throws his beer bottle across the room, where it hits the wall and shatters. Benji puts his hands over his face. He makes a choking noise and Shooter realizes he’s crying.

Shooter Uxley has envied Benjamin Winbury since the day they met at the St. George’s School freshman year, and although Shooter has always longed to have something, anything, that Benji couldn’t have, all that comes to mind now are the infinite kindnesses that Benji has shown him: The day after Shooter’s mother died, Benji skipped his economics midterm at Hobart and flew down to Miami. During their senior year at St. George’s, when Shooter was so destitute that he organized an illegal dice game, it was Benji who had encouraged people to come and gamble. Benji had been a prefect, he could have gotten in trouble, lost his position, faced suspension, but none of that had been as important to him as giving Shooter the opportunity to make enough money to stay at school.

Benji had picked Shooter over his own brother to be his best man.

Benji had always believed in Shooter and continues to believe in him, even as Shooter came this close to stealing his bride away.

Celeste has done her part. She has broken things off. This is how things should go. Let Benji deal with the breakup and let Celeste deal with losing Merritt. After some time passes, Shooter and Celeste can be together. How much time will that be? he wonders. He is, by nature, a very impatient person. He wants to start his life with Celeste today.

He decides he will keep the picture of himself with Celeste. It arrived like an anonymous gift from the universe; when Shooter looks at it, he will remember that he finally has something in his life worth waiting for. He will remember that she said yes.

Shooter stands up. He reaches out for Benji, hugs him tight; he absorbs the shudders of Benji’s sobs.

He says nothing.

Saturday, July 7, 2018, 8:00 p.m.

GREER

There’s a knock on Greer’s bedroom door and she stands.

“Yes?”

Elida, the housekeeper, enters the room. It’s way past time for Elida to leave. Even with the wedding, she was supposed to be gone by three so she could attend the ceremony at four. But here she is, quietly and steadfastly doing her job.

“Elida,” Greer says, and tears rise in her eyes. What does it say that in her household she can only trust two people: her younger son and her housekeeper?

From behind her back, Elida produces Greer’s pillbox.

“What?” Greer says. Her novelist mind immediately wonders if Elida had anything to do with Merritt’s death. Perhaps Elida learned about the affair and the baby and poisoned the girl out of fealty to Greer. That would be an unexpected upstairs-downstairs twist. “Where did you find this?”

Elida says, “In Mr. Thomas’s room. In the trash.”

In Thomas’s room, in the trash. In the trash? Thomas knows how much Greer cherishes this pillbox. She can’t believe he would throw it away. Greer takes the box from Elida. There are still pills inside; she can hear them.

“Thank you, Elida,” Greer says. “You can go home.”

Elida slips out of the room. Greer returns the pillbox to its rightful place in the medicine cabinet. Then she marches upstairs.

As Greer approaches Thomas’s bedroom door, she hears yelling. This is hardly surprising; Greer would very much like to yell herself. She quickly realizes the voices she’s hearing belong to Thomas and Abby.

Greer’s first thought is that yelling can’t be good for the baby, but then she recalls that her greatest rows with Tag were when she was pregnant. Her hormones had turned her into a lunatic with pendulum swings between elation and despair. The worst row—when Greer was bored out of her mind, pregnant with Thomas, and Tag was at work every night until ten and on business trips across Europe every weekend—had actually resulted in Greer picking up a pen and writing her first novel, Prey in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Greer sighs. Thoughts of her first novel lead her to thoughts of her twenty-first novel, due in thirteen days. Well, it won’t get done now, and no one will blame her. Her husband’s pregnant mistress was found dead outside her house on the morning of her son’s wedding. Greer gets a pass.

Greer stands just outside the bedroom door, where she can hear distinct words and phrases. She loathes eavesdropping; she’s going to insist they pipe down. The last thing anyone else in this house needs to hear is Thomas and Abby’s marital squabbling.

But then Greer hears Abby say, “I’ve known about you and Featherleigh for years, since Virgin Gorda, since Tony Berkus’s graduation party at the Carlyle Hotel! Amy Lackey told me she saw you with a trashy-looking woman at L’Entrecôte in Paris on a weekend you told me you were visiting your parents in London. I’ve read all your texts and e-mails and picked through your credit card bills, including the British Airways Visa Signature card you think I know nothing about!”

Greer stops herself from knocking just in time. Thomas and Featherleigh? Thomas? Featherleigh is fifteen years his senior. Surely that can’t be right?

“I told you, I broke it off,” Thomas says. “I broke it off for good in May, as soon as we found out about the baby.”

Wait! Greer thinks. Featherleigh told Greer that she had broken up with a married man in May.

It’s a disheartening discovery indeed that Thomas seems to have inherited Tag’s questionable morals, setting Abby up to be just like Greer, a generation later.

Thank God Benji is a Garrison, through and through.

“There is no breaking it off for good when it comes to you and Featherleigh,” Abby says. “Look at last night! I saw you with her under the tent. I saw you! And I knew what was going to happen. You were going to appease me by coming upstairs, and then as soon as I was asleep, you were going to screw her in the pool house!”

“You’re crazy,” Thomas says. “I came upstairs and Featherleigh left, Abby. She left for her inn or her guesthouse. I don’t even know where she was staying, that’s how little I cared—”

“She did not leave!” Abby says. “I sneaked downstairs while you were in the bathroom brushing your teeth and I heard her in the powder room humming ‘The Lady in Red.’ She wasn’t going anywhere. She was lying in wait for you.”

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