The Rumor(15)

by Elin Hilderbrand

“You and me both,” Grace said. She took a swill of her wine, then set the goblet down on the sexy granite. “But mine is going to have to wait until later. What’s yours?”

Madeline sucked in a preparatory breath. She worried that Grace would be mad that she had rented the apartment from Rachel McMann, and possibly also that she’d taken the apartment without showing Grace first.

She said, “I rented an apartment in town.”

“What?” Grace yelped.

“It’s not what it sounds like,” Madeline said. “I’m going to use it as a writing studio.”

Grace’s face lit up, and she imitated the patrician accent of her grandmother Sabine. “Splendid, my darling! Where in town?”

“In the blue Victorian on the corner of India and Centre.”

“I’ve always loved that building,” Grace said. She turned down the heat under the onions and peppers and came over to give Madeline a hug. “So you’re a real working girl now, with office space of your own. I’m so jealous! But you deserve it.”

Madeline said, “That’s what everyone keeps saying, but I’m not sure it’s true. It was pretty expensive.”

“How much?” Grace asked.

“Two thousand a month.”

“Eh,” Grace said, shrugging. She returned to the stove and picked up her wine. “That seems reasonable for town in summer.”

Right, Madeline thought. It would seem reasonable to Grace because Grace had never worried about money a day in her life. Grace had been raised in an old Puritan family, the Harpers of Salem, Massachusetts; Grace’s ninth-great grandfather had been the attorney who defended Bridget Bishop, one of the women accused of being a witch. (I am no witch. I am innocent. I know nothing of it. Hanged June 10, 1692.) Grace had three older brothers, the Harper boys, all of them now civil rights attorneys in Boston. Grace and her brothers had been forced to dress for dinner every night growing up in their majestic brick mansion on Essex Street. On the maternal side of the family was Grandmother Sabine, who owned a three-hundred-acre estate in Wayland that Grace used to visit every Sunday. These afternoons included games of croquet in the summer and sleigh rides in the winter. Madeline had always loved hearing details of Grace’s upbringing; she savored them like petit fours. But she couldn’t expect Grace to understand what feeling financially strapped was like.

“And, listen,” Madeline said, wanting to be truthful, because that was her nature. “I heard about the apartment through Rachel McMann.”

“Ugh,” Grace said.

“Eddie is all bent out of shape about it, I think. He stopped by to see the place, and he seemed unhappy I’d gone through Rachel. But it happened by accident. I opened my big mouth, and you know Rachel…”

“Pushy,” Grace said.

“She seized the moment,” Madeline said. “If I’d taken time to collect my wits… if I’d been, you know, hunting for a place, I would have called Eddie. You know I would have.”

Grace waved her hand dismissively. “Eddie will get over it,” she said.

Madeline felt nearly dizzy with relief. She hadn’t expected Grace to take the news on such an even keel. Grace was wound pretty tightly most days, and news like this could catapult her into unreasonable territory. But tonight, Grace was in an exceptional mood. Madeline couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen her friend so… playful… so relaxed. She was practically glowing.

“Go outside with the boys,” Grace said. “I’m almost finished up here.”

“Madeline!” Eddie said. He kissed her cheek. “Long time, no see!”

“Eddie,” she said. Air kiss, and the expected waft of Eternity by Calvin Klein, which he had started wearing right out of high school. He smiled at Madeline crookedly, then hovered a hand above the grill to see if it was ready.

Eddie said to Trevor, “So… what do you think about your girl’s new digs?”

“I think it’s great,” Trevor said. He swatted Madeline on the butt. “No more excuses about not getting anything done. Now, she should be writing a book a year, or two books a year, like that other Nantucket novelist.”

“Two books a year!” Eddie said. “Then you could not only invest in my spec houses, you could buy one.”

Madeline tightened her fingers around the delicate stem of the Baccarat wineglass. Hearing Eddie bring up the spec houses made her tense enough to snap it.

Madeline took Trevor’s arm. “Let’s walk to the bridge.”

They strolled across the wide swath of soft, emerald lawn, toward the footbridge that crossed the brook. The sound the water made when it ran over the rocks was musical, like chimes. Madeline closed her eyes briefly and tried to savor the sound. It was the type of rocks Benton Coe had used, or the way he’d positioned them.

“Listen,” she said. “I asked Eddie for our fifty grand back.”

“You did?” Trevor said. “When?”

“Yesterday,” she said. “He stopped by the apartment.”

“He did?” Trevor said. “I don’t know how I feel about you entertaining strange men in that place. After all, I haven’t even seen it yet.” His tone was jokey, but Madeline sensed he was a little miffed.

“He came by to tell me how mad he was that I’d rented from Rachel,” Madeline said.

“Oh,” Trevor said, and she felt him ease up. “That sounds like our friend Fast Eddie.”

“Just tell me it’s going to be okay,” Madeline said. “I’m going to write another book, and we’re going to get our money back.”

Trevor kissed her, then took both of her hands in his. “It’s going to be okay.”

Madeline turned around. Eddie, Hope, and Brick were all unabashedly staring at them. And Grace, too, from inside the kitchen.

Eddie called out, “Whaddya doin’ over there? Proposing marriage?”

They walked back to the patio, where Grace had laid out her standard appetizer spread: smoked bluefish pâté, rosemary flat breads, farmhouse cheddar, fig jam, roasted peppers, Marcona almonds, Armenian string cheese, and a stick of herbed salami with two kinds of mustard. There were Bremner wafers and soft unsalted butter for Eddie, which he ate for his heartburn, and there were Triscuits and Cheez Whiz for Brick, because it was his favorite snack and Grace always kept it on hand for him. Brick didn’t seemed cheered by the fresh can of Cheez Whiz, however.