The Rumor(2)


by Elin Hilderbrand

She hung up without leaving a message and then collected the pictures of Brick. It was official: she could get nothing done in this house. The dishwasher called to her: Empty me! The laundry in the dryer called to her: Fold me! The countertops said: Wipe me down! There was always something—the house phone rang, the garbagemen came, there was dinner to plan, shop for, prepare—every single night! Brick needed to be dropped off or picked up; the car had to be inspected, the recycling sorted, the checkbook balanced, the bills paid. Other mothers commented on how nice it must be that Madeline was able to “work from home.” But working from home was a constant battle between the work and the home.

Friday. Monday at the very latest.

The mudroom door opened and shut, and Madeline heard whistling, something from Mary Poppins. Was it that late already? Madeline’s husband, Trevor, strolled in, wearing his very cute pilot’s hat. “Chim-chiminey, chim-chiminey, chim-chim-cheroo!” Trevor fancied himself the second coming of Dick Van Dyke.

“Hey,” he said. He gathered Madeline up in his arms, and she rested her face against the front of his shirt and airline-issued polyester tie. Trevor was a pilot for Scout Airlines, which flew from Nantucket to Hyannis, Boston, and Providence. “How was your day?”

Madeline started to cry. She couldn’t believe it was five o’clock already. How was her day? What day? Her day had evaporated. She had exactly nothing to show for herself. “I’m blocked,” she said. “I don’t have a single idea, and the wolves are at the door.”

“I’m telling you,” he said. “You should just…”

She shook her head to silence him. She knew what he was going to say. He was going to tell her to write a sequel to Islandia. It was a logical solution to her problem, but in her heart, Madeline felt this was a cop-out. She had ended Islandia with her characters heading safely into an unknown future; that, she felt, was the right ending. She didn’t want to tell readers what happened next. If she wrote a sequel, she would be doing so only because she couldn’t come up with new characters and a new plot.

She couldn’t come up with new characters or a new plot.

So maybe Trevor was right. A sequel. Could she undo the end of the world?

She wiped her eyes and raised her face for a kiss. Trevor said, “What’s for dinner?”

“Pizza?” she said. “Thai food?”

His expression fell. She hadn’t gotten any writing done, but she hadn’t shopped for or made dinner, either. How could she explain that trying to come up with an idea to write about was even more time consuming than writing itself?

“I’m sorry,” she said.

He kissed her forehead. “It’s okay,” he said. “Let’s get pizza from Sophie T’s. Is Brick getting a ride home from practice?”

“Yes,” Madeline said. “With Calgary.”

Trevor loosened his tie and pulled a beer from the fridge. “Guess who was on my first flight this morning.”

“Who?” Madeline said.

“Benton Coe,” Trevor said.

“Really,” Madeline said.

Benton Coe was the owner of Coe Designs, the island’s most prestigious landscape architecture firm. He was the man who was turning Grace’s three-acre property into the most dazzling yard and gardens on Nantucket Island and possibly in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Benton Coe was back.

Well, that would explain why Grace hadn’t answered the phone.

GRACE

She had started her transformation secretly, just after the first of the year, in anticipation of this very day.

Benton’s return.

She had started taking spinning classes at the gym, and she had lost twenty-one pounds—most of it weight she had gained when the twins were born and that she’d never quite been able to shed. Now, she was down two dress sizes and in need of new jeans. She had also, finally, allowed her stylist, Ann, to get the gray out of her part and add some chestnut highlights to the front of her dark hair. And all of the time she’d spent outside getting the preliminary gardening done and dealing with the hens had given her face the glow of the season’s first sun.

She felt better about herself than she had in years.

Madeline had commented on this on Saturday night, when they were out to dinner at American Seasons. She and Grace had gone to the ladies’ room together, and when Madeline caught sight of Grace in the mirror, she said, “You look hot, sister. Downright gorgeous.”

Eddie had noticed the weight loss (“You look good, Gracie—skinny”) but not the hair, and the girls had noticed the hair (“Highlights,” Allegra had said, “—smart move”) but not Grace’s new, svelte figure. Grace wasn’t surprised. Eddie was consumed with his spec houses, Hope with her studies and the flute, Allegra with her romance with Brick Llewellyn and her potential modeling career. To the three of them, Grace was wife, mother, cook, housekeeper. She was the raiser of chickens and purveyor of organic eggs, she was a hypochondriac with her “recurring migraines.” She was Eddie’s lover every Sunday morning and on certain random nights of the week. Grace knew that her family loved her, but she wasn’t their focus the way she had been when she and Eddie were first married and the girls were small.

Did she feel taken for granted? Sure, a little. She supposed she was hardly the only wife and mother to feel this way.

At ten o’clock on the dot, Benton’s big black truck pulled into the driveway, and the tops of Grace’s ears started to buzz. They would be turning pink, a sure sign that she was nervous. She had a bit of a crush on Benton Coe, a harmless crush that was never going anywhere, because Benton had a girlfriend named McGuvvy, and Grace, of course, was married.

She watched him climb out of the truck. Did he look different? No, he looked the same. Tall, tall, tall—a full eight or nine inches taller than Eddie—and he had the shoulders of a king or a conqueror. He had ginger-colored hair that curled up from under his red Ohio State Buckeyes hat, and laugh lines at his brown eyes. He was wearing his usual spring uniform of a navy-blue hooded sweatshirt with a four-leaf clover on the front—the logo for Coe Designs—jeans, and work boots. He was lightly tanned. He had spent the winter in Morocco.

They were friends. She had missed him. Grace ran to the door to greet him.

“Benton!” she said.