The Rumor(12)


by Elin Hilderbrand

Sultan knew Madeline because he had grown up on the island with her husband, Trevor, playing football at the Boys & Girls Club. He noticed Madeline’s turquoise Mini Cooper in the parking spot because he’d tried to park his pickup truck in that same spot the week before, and he’d narrowly escaped being towed. Sultan Nash had been irate about this. He knew it was private property, but he also held tight to the belief that anyone who had been born and raised on the island should be able to park wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted. He had appeared at town meeting for a string of ten years running and aired this opinion.

He waved at Madeline and said, “I wouldn’t park there if I were you.”

She grinned. “I’m renting one of the apartments in this building.”

Renting one of the apartments? Sultan thought. Had the unimaginable happened? Had Trevor and Madeline split? Sultan had seen them both at a wedding the previous fall, and he had noted how deliriously in love they seemed, like newlyweds themselves. At the end of the night, Trevor had done a soft-shoe dance for Madeline—he was actually pretty good—and when he was done, Madeline had laid a kiss on him that made Sultan blush. He would have given his right arm for a marriage like that.

About half an hour after Sultan saw Madeline enter the Victorian, he noticed Eddie Pancik knocking on the door. Madeline opened the door, and Eddie disappeared inside.

Sultan mentioned this to Darlene Lanta, a waitress at the Downyflake, which was where Sultan ate lunch every day in an as-yet-unsuccessful attempt to date Darlene Lanta.

Darlene said, “So let me get this straight: Madeline King got an apartment in town and Eddie Pancik stopped by to visit?”

Sultan nodded and took a bite of his BLT.

Rachel McMann told her husband, Andy (or Dr. Andy, as he was known to his dental patients), that she had rented Madeline “a room of her own.” Which Dr. Andy—who was a habitual half listener, due to the fact that the people he was most often conversing with had their mouths wide open and at least one metal tool inside and therefore were unintelligible anyway—construed to mean “a place of her own.” He had never read Virginia Woolf.

Rachel also said, “I basically lucked into the rental, right place at the right time, as I keep telling you, sweetheart. I can’t believe Madeline didn’t go with Eddie Pancik.”

Dr. Andy wondered if Madeline and Trevor had split. He didn’t care to surmise. But he accidentally mentioned what Rachel had told him to Janice, his hygienist, the next morning. Janice was married to a title examiner named Alicia, so she frequently lent a different perspective to the dramas that Dr. Andy told her about, all of which he heard from Rachel.

Janice said, “Madeline King moved out? That doesn’t make any sense. Are you sure that’s what Rachel told you?”

Dr. Andy was sure, or pretty sure. He said, “I guess Rachel expected her to go with Eddie Pancik.”

Janice, being a hygienist, was also something of a half listener. She heard this as Rachel expected that Madeline would get together with Eddie Pancik.

“Really?” Janice said. “That doesn’t seem likely, does it? Eddie Pancik? Isn’t she best friends with his wife?”

Dr. Andy said, “I suppose anything is possible, Janice. But we shouldn’t say anything one way or another about Eddie Pancik. He’s our landlord. We could easily find ourselves out on the street.”

Janice said, “I’ve always thought that Madeline King should write a novel about a dentist’s office.”

Dr. Andy agreed that she should, then walked off to scrub up for his nine a.m. root canal, leaving Janice to ask her next patient, Phoenix Hernandez, whom Janice counted as one of her many trusted confidantes, whether she thought Madeline King should get together with Eddie Pancik now that Madeline had her own place in town.

GRACE

Grace’s perennials were starting to sprout, her spring bulbs were in blossom—narcissus, hyacinths, tulips—and her Japanese cherry trees had thousands of nascent buds. Two more weeks and those trees would be in full-on luscious pink bloom, just like Grace’s heart.

Benton came to the house every day at ten.

The gift Benton brought her from Morocco was an elaborately cast silver pot for brewing mint tea, and two etched crystal glasses. When Benton first showed Grace the teapot, her spirits fell. A teapot was neither sexy nor romantic. He might as well have brought her a tagine pot.

But going through the ritual—harvesting the most robust spearmint leaves from Grace’s indoor herb garden, then boiling water and adding just the right amount of sugar into the curvy silver pot, then pouring the elixir into the etched crystal glasses and sipping—turned out to be a sensual shared experience.

“Do you like it?” Benton asked.

“I’ve never tasted anything so pure,” Grace admitted. “It tastes like the color green.”

Relief and, Grace thought, tenderness mingled on his face.

They brewed mint tea every day and drank it as they discussed their plans for the yard. They decided to put in a long, narrow bed of daylilies off the front of the deck.

Benton said, “I haven’t had much experience with daylilies.”

“Well then,” Grace said, “this is where I will teach you.”

Grace’s grandmother Sabine, a woman Grace had worshipped for her refined tastes, had raised daylilies in her garden, and as a child, Grace had become entranced not so much with the flowers themselves as with their poetic names: ‘Jock Randall,’ ‘Ice Carnival,’ ‘Ginger Creek,’ ‘Maude’s Valentine.’

She and Benton sat side by side at Grace’s kitchen table and pored over the catalog.

“I think we need some masculine varieties,” Benton said. “How about ‘Rocket Booster’? Or ‘Piano Man’? Or ‘Freedom’s Highway’?”

“‘Wolf Eyes,’” Grace said.

“‘Apple Jack,’” Benton said. His fingers grazed hers as he turned the page, and her ears started to buzz.

“I’m partial to sweeter names,” Grace said. “We should get some ‘Baby Darling.’”

“Please,” Benton said. “Please don’t make me plant a flower called ‘Baby Darling.’”

Grace laughed. “What about ‘Butter Cream’?” she said.

“I’ll give you ‘Butter Cream,’” Benton said, “if you give me ‘Broadway Starfish.’”