The Rumor(14)

by Elin Hilderbrand

Allegra made Madeline feel relieved that she’d never had a daughter herself.

“Sick of you, honey?” Madeline said. “How could anyone ever be sick of you?”

Weak smile.

Madeline didn’t let her true opinions of Allegra surface very often, because Allegra was Brick’s girlfriend; he was besotted. At the beginning of the romance, there had been so much kissing and hands everywhere, too, that Madeline had asked them to please stop. She was far from a prude, but all of that newly discovered desire on display was embarrassing. Allegra’s blue eyes had flashed silver with her triumph. She had converted Brick to the Church of Allegra. He worshipped her.

Allegra made Brick happy, and it was more than sex; when he heard her voice, his face lit up.

Madeline and Grace had made a promise when the kids started dating. We won’t get involved. They would let Allegra and Brick work out their differences. Madeline had always wondered what would happen if they broke up. She had hoped it would be a mutual decision made when they both headed off to separate colleges.

“Please,” Madeline said. “Please come to dinner. You and Allegra can talk things over in person.”

“No,” Brick said. “Just tell everyone I don’t feel well.” He swallowed. “It’s not a lie. My heart hurts.”

Madeline smoothed the hair from Brick’s forehead. “Oh, honey.”

“Please, Mom. I would really rather hang here alone. You and Dad go.”

“What about something to eat? I can make you a grilled cheese?”

“Mom, I’m fine.”

Trevor entered the living room, wearing his green striped good-luck party shirt. His golden hair glinted, and it looked like he had gotten sun on his face—the start of his summer tan. By August, he would be deep brown and his hair three shades lighter. He looked just as Californian as Madeline, if not more so.

“What’s going on?” Trevor asked.

“Brick wants to stay home,” Madeline said. “Maybe we should all cancel. Maybe we should stay home and order pizza instead.”

“Nonsense,” Trevor said. “Grace went to a lot of trouble—you know she did, she always does—and we’re going.” He offered Brick a hand. “All of us.”

“I brought that Malbec you like,” Madeline said, setting the wine down on Grace’s gorgeous blue Bahia granite—or, as Eddie liked to call it, the sexiest countertop in the world.

Grace was busy pushing onions and peppers around in the skillet; her head was engulfed in fragrant steam. “You’re the best friend evah,” she said, imitating what they both called her “Barbie New Bedfahd” accent. “Let’s have us some.”

Outside the glass doors, Madeline watched Eddie hand Trevor a beer and Brick a Coke. Brick settled into one of the rattan deck chairs with canvas-covered cushions. One of the twins came into sight, all long brown hair and long legs in jeans. Madeline hoped it was Allegra; she hoped Allegra would give Brick a kiss from the old days and make Trevor and Eddie blush and cringe respectfully. But it wasn’t Allegra; it was Hope. She wore her hair parted down the middle and tucked behind her ears. Her face was a tick off the glorious beauty of her sister’s; her eyes were squintier, her cheeks fuller. But what Hope lacked in glamour, she made up for in grace. She had a quiet, serious soul and an easy elegance, the likes of which Madeline had witnessed before only in women like Jacqueline Onassis and Audrey Hepburn.

Of the two girls, Madeline preferred Hope. She rarely let herself admit this.

“The garden is looking good,” Madeline said. This was an understatement: the yard and garden dazzled, as always. The rest of Nantucket was still gloomy gray, the grass brown, the trees bare, and the daffodils that lined Milestone Road drooped from weeks of punishing wind and rain. But Grace’s yard was green and lush, as though these three acres had received sunshine by special order. The flower beds had sharp, precise edges; it looked like elves had trimmed the grass with manicure scissors. Everything was sprouted and ready to burst. There was an oval bed of tulips that would have made a Dutchman cry. It contained seven hundred bulbs in flame orange, snow white, cherry red, amethyst, and three luscious shades of pink—powder, shell, and deep fuchsia. The tulip bed alone was enough to make Madeline believe in God. All of the stonework had been scrubbed, as had Grace’s antique cast-iron planters and her five-foot statue of the angel Gabriel, bought from a church in Lourdes, which was where Grace had done a semester abroad when she was at Mount Holyoke. There was a park bench salvaged from the Tuileries said to date back to the era of Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir. Voluptuous ferns lined the bench in the exact places where Claude and Auguste would have set their butts. At the edge of the property sat the garden shed and the henhouse. The doors to the henhouse were closed tight; the chickens were asleep.

Madeline let her eyes linger on the wooden footbridge that spanned the brook, then the handcrafted birdhouses, then the Adirondack chairs, artfully arranged to overlook Polpis Harbor. The swimming pool, a dark-tiled rectangle surrounded by old paving stones and the same cobblestones they used on Main Street downtown, was still covered, as was the hot tub. Everything about the Pancik property was paradisaical. Madeline had been to the house thousands of times, and every time the sumptuous beauty of the place stole her breath away. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to live with this yard, to see it every second of every day.

Madeline’s “yard” was patches of brown dirt, sand, and crabgrass and, at the border of the property, a mess of scrubby trees, pricker bushes, and weeds. She had one hydrangea, which grew sickly purple flowers. Grace’s hydrangeas—numbering twenty-two—were all pageant winners. They bloomed in blue, purple, pink, white, and green. Madeline hadn’t even known green hydrangeas existed, but yes, they were called ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas, and Grace’s were divine.

“Benton has been here,” Grace said.

“Yes, I can tell,” Madeline said. “Because I only hear from you once every three days.”

Grace’s expression was hard to read. It was half apologetic smile, half something else. “Wine, please,” she sang out. “I’d love some wine.”

Madeline pulled two of Grace’s Baccarat goblets out of the cabinet. Grace liked to use the goblets on Wednesday nights, even though they were fragile and each one cost as much as a night’s stay in the penthouse at the Four Seasons. Madeline had broken one goblet, Grace had broken one, and Eddie had broken two in consecutive weeks. Madeline poured two lavish glasses of the plummy Malbec and brought one to Grace at the stove. “I have some news,” she said.