The Rumor(4)


by Elin Hilderbrand

“Did you bring back gifts for all your clients?” she asked.

“No,” he said. “Only you.”

Only her! She practically backflipped her way out to the garden.

They spent nearly an hour inspecting each section of Grace’s property, discussing possible changes and enhancements. They started at the far edge, way out by the Adirondack chairs that overlooked Polpis Harbor—the water still resembled a cold steel plate—and they meandered over the rolling, grassy knolls to the swimming pool and hot tub (both still covered, although Grace and Eddie had used the hot tub late one night back in January, when the spec houses were on schedule and Eddie was more relaxed). They lingered at the tulip bed—Benton’s baby—and at the rosebushes, which over the winter had become a thorny, inhospitable tangle.

“Things are coming along,” Benton said. He touched Grace’s back lightly, and an electric current ran up her spine, to her neck. “I think this year is our year.”

They had a shared goal: they wanted a photo shoot in a major media outlet. Benton was partial to Classic Garden magazine, but Grace was thinking of a spread in the home-and-garden section of the Sunday Boston Globe. She had convinced Eddie to hire a publicist, Hester Phan, to whom he was paying a small fortune—but it was the only way to get news of their collaboration out there.

“Let me see the shed,” Benton said. “I’ve missed it.”

Grace unlatched the door. Benton ushered Grace through the door first, then followed. The space was tight with both of them inside; Grace feared he would hear her heart pounding.

The garden shed had been modeled after a traditional Nantucket home: gray shingles with white trim. Inside, it featured a soapstone counter and a copper farmer’s sink. The far wall was covered with pegboard, on which hung Grace’s rakes, hoes, spades, trowels, and pruners. There was a potting bench, handcrafted from reclaimed pine barn board, and shelves that held Grace’s collection of watering cans and her decorative pots. A painted sign hung over the farmer’s sink: A garden is not a matter of life or death. It is far more important than that. The shed had an annex off the side that held the riding lawn mower and the three weed whackers. Although Grace had hired Benton, she did all of the hands-on gardening herself—the mowing, the weeding, the mulching, the pruning and deadheading. Along with tending the hens and running her organic-egg business, it was a full-time job. It was her passion.

The shed was the crown jewel of the yard. A garden was a garden was a garden, but magazine editors loved bricks and mortar. They wanted an interior space that was crisp, organized, and as whimsical as Santa’s workshop.

Grace and Benton stood facing each other, their hips leaning against the edge of the sink. Benton was so tall that the top of his head grazed the slanted ceiling. Grace’s ears were bright pink; she could feel it.

Benton took an exaggerated breath. “I love how this place smells,” he said. “Cut grass and potting soil.”

Grace too loved how the garden shed smelled. She loved it better than almost anything in the world.

“Do you want to see the hens?” she asked. “You know they’ll cluck themselves into a frenzy for you.”

Benton laughed. His eyes crinkled. Grace’s ears burned like glowing coals. He said, “I have to hit the road, I’m afraid. Things to do, people to see.”

People to see. Even this innocent phrase made Grace jealous. Her face must have shown her disappointment, because Benton said, “Don’t worry, Grace. We have all summer in front of us.”

Grace was still in a daze—she had broken two of Hillary’s eggs accidentally—when the twins walked in, home from school.

Hope entered first, carrying her flute case. Then Allegra, carrying only the twelve-hundred-dollar Stella McCartney hobo bag she had bullied Eddie into buying her when Eddie took her to Manhattan for the modeling interview. Not a book or paper in sight, which was why Allegra had straight C’s. Eddie let her slide because he had graduated from New Bedford High School with C’s, and look at how successful he was now! Grace shook off the residue of whatever inappropriate emotions she’d been having for Benton Coe and focused on her girls, her sun and moon. Allegra was the sun—bright and hot and shining. Hope was the moon—placid, serene, inscrutable. Grace was a little more in awe of Allegra because… well, because she was Allegra. And Grace was more protective of Hope because they had almost lost her at birth.

“Hello, lovelies,” Grace said. She tried to scoop both girls up in an embrace, but they executed a perfectly synchronized bob-and-weave to avoid her—Allegra to the left, Hope to the right—and headed toward their bedrooms, where they would remain with the doors shut until dinner.

Which, tonight, would be quiche Lorraine and spinach salad. Eddie liked meat and potatoes, but since he’d taken on the spec houses, he appreciated the frugality of eating their own home-farmed eggs.

Grace tried not to take offense at the evasion—not a word of greeting, no thought to ask how her day had been. If Grace were to be very honest, she might admit that lately her daughters made her feel more lonely instead of less so.

“How was school?” Grace called after them. But there was no response.

“We’re having quiche for dinner!” Grace said. “Around six!” No response.

There had most certainly been days this past winter when being so thoroughly ignored had sent Grace into a fog of depression. She yearned to make the girls cups of hot tea and bake them chocolate chip cookies and sit around looking at fashion magazines while Allegra talked about her weekend plans with Brick and Hope pulled out her flute and played a few bars of a Mozart concerto. But even Grace realized this was unrealistic. They were, after all, teenage girls and could be counted on to think only of themselves.

Today, Grace didn’t care. Today, Grace headed back to her master bathroom to paint her toenails.

Benton Coe had returned. This year was their year. They had all summer in front of them.

HOPE

Sometimes she wished her parents had never told her the story of her birth, and yet it had been part of her personal narrative since she was old enough to understand it. Hope—or baby number two, the smaller, weaker twin—had had her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, a fact that escaped the obstetrician’s notice because Allegra had popped out healthy, whole, and hogging the entire room’s attention for the first time of a million in her life. Once the doctor noticed that baby number two was in distress, Grace was raced to the operating room, where Hope was delivered by emergency C-section four minutes later. But she was nearly dead by the time they got her out. She was, her father liked to dramatically say, the color of a damson plum, and he had thought, There’s no chance. But the doctor had resuscitated Hope, kept her alive on a ventilator, and she and Eddie had been taken in the MedFlight helicopter to Boston while Grace and Allegra stayed at Nantucket Cottage Hospital.