The Beach Clubby Elin Hilderbrand
Gorgeous Nantucket is an island where memories are made, friendships begun, passions ignited. Now, during one unforgettable summer, the exclusive Nantucket Beach Club and Hotel will shape the fates of the men and women who walk through its doors...
Mack Peterson escaped the past and started over in a hotel that has become his life. This summer his secrets can't… See more details below
Gorgeous Nantucket is an island where memories are made, friendships begun, passions ignited. Now, during one unforgettable summer, the exclusive Nantucket Beach Club and Hotel will shape the fates of the men and women who walk through its doors...
Mack Peterson escaped the past and started over in a hotel that has become his life. This summer his secrets can't stay hidden... Love O'Donnell, a glamorous Aspen native, takes a job at the Beach Club to implement her daring plan...to find a man to make her pregnant... Vance Robbins has his African-American pride and festering resentments. This season, a gun and a woman offer him a chance to get even with the man he hates most...
Cecily Elliott, the owner's daughter, wild and beautiful at eighteen, is about to do something to break her parents' hearts. Lacey Gardner, the Grande Dame of the Beach Club for 45 years, knows about desperate desire...and about the storm coming that will change everything...
Author Biography: ELIN HILDERBRAND is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop where she was a teaching-writing fellow. Her short fiction has appeared in Seventeen, The Massachusetts Review, and The Colorado Review. She lives year-round on Nantucket Island with her husband, Chip Cunningham, who manages the Cliffside Beach Club and their son. This is her first novel.
- St. Martin's Press
- Publication date:
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- Product dimensions:
- 4.16(w) x 6.74(h) x 1.01(d)
Read an Excerpt
Another summer season is about to begin on beautiful Nantucket Island. I have just returned from my winter retreatNevis, Vail, Saipanit's your guess where I've been. The important thing is that I'm back, and I am prepared to sweeten my offer to buy the hotel. I know you have some crazy idea about family loyalty and passing the business on to your daughter, but things don't always work out the way we want them to. Alas, I have learned this the hard way. So as you start this season of sun and sand, consider my offer: twenty-two million. That's a pretty good deal, and if you don't mind my saying so, you're not getting any younger.
Feel free to write to me at the usual P. O. box downtown. I'll be waiting to hear from you.
ON THE FIRST OF May, Mack Petersen swung his Jeep into the parking lot of the Nantucket Beach Club and Hotel for the start of his twelfth summer season as manager, the Almost Head Honcho. Twelve was an important number, Mack decided, with its own name. A dozen. Mack's dozen years of working at the hotel were like eggs, all in one basket, like the Boston cream doughnuts served at the hotel's Continental breakfast, one practically indistinguishable from the next. There were twelve months in a year, twelve signs in the Zodiac, twelve hours of A.M. and P.M. Twelve was a full cycle, a cycle completed. Maybe Maribel was right, then. Maybe this was the year things would change.
Mack walked across the parking lot to look at Nantucket's most picturesque beach. Over the winter, northeasterly winds blew the sand into smooth, rounded dunes, in some places six and eight feet high. Mack trudged to the top of one of the dunes and gazed out over the water. The Beach Club sat on the north shore of the island, on Nantucket Sound, where the water was as flat and placid as a fishing pond. The white sand was clean and wide, although they lost beach to erosion, some years as much as twenty-five feet. Last year they had gained beach and the owner of the hotel, Bill Elliott, was so happy that he had thrown his arm around Mack's shoulder, and said, "See there? We're not going to lose her after all." As though the Beach Club and Hotel belonged to them both. Which, of course, was not the case.
Mack had stayed on Nantucket through the winter with his girlfriend Maribel, but he hadn't checked on the hotel even once. It was a rule he'd created over the years: I won't think about the hotel in winter. Were the shingles falling off? Was the paint peeling? Were they losing beach? Those were questions for Bill and his wife, Therese, but they spent their winters skiing in Aspen, and if anyone were going to check on the place, it would be Mack. But he never did. He knew that if he let it, the hotel would obsess him, drive him crazy.
The most photographed part of the hotel was the paviliona covered deck with five blue Adirondack chairs facing the water. All summer, guests sat in the low, wide chairs with their feet up on the railing, drinking coffee, reading the paper. This picture of summer bliss made it into the Nantucket chamber of commerce guide year after year.
The lobby of the hotel was its own freestanding building with a row of windows that looked over the pavilion and the beach. The hotel rooms began outside the back door of the lobby: twenty single-story, cedar-shingled rooms formed a giant L. Ten rooms ran down toward the water and ten rooms faced the water. All the rooms had small decks, and thus the rooms were distinguished by the names, "side deck" and "front deck." Therese had further nicknamed the front deck rooms the "Gold Coast," because they were so expensive.
Twenty rooms might not seem like a lot at first, but the beach also hosted a private Beach Club: One hundred members paid annual dues to sit under umbrellas for the ten weeks of summer. They could have saved themselves the money and gone to Steps Beach to the west, or Jetties Beach to the east, but year after year membership of the Beach Club was full. Mack's primary job was to treat the guests and the Beach Club members like royalty. He arranged dinner reservations and the delivery of flowers, wine, steamed lobsters, birthday cakes. He had a key to every door, and knew the location of every extension cord, vacuum cleaner bag, feather pillow. He hired and fired the staff and created the weekly work schedule. He knew every Beach Club member's name by heart and the names of all the children. Mack ran the place. Bill and Therese had owned the Beach Club and Hotel for twenty years but Mack understood its ins and outs, its cracks, sore spots, and hideaways better than anyone. It had been his course of study now for twelve years.
A thousand guests would walk into the lobby over the next six months. Some had been coming to the hotel as long as Mack had worked there. The baseball managers (in July, over the all-star break), Leo Hearn, a lawyer from Chicago (Memorial Day), Mrs. Ford, a widow who came for the month of September and smoked a pack of cigarettes in her room each day.
Then there would be Andrea Krane, a woman Mack thought he might be in love with. Andrea arrived in June and stayed for three weeks with her autistic son, James. Mack imagined her long, honey-colored hair twisted into a bun or a braid. Smiling a rare smile, because when she arrived at the Beach Club she was happy. She had three weeks stretched in front of her, twenty-one days sparkling like diamonds on a tennis bracelet.
Mack watched the ferry approach in the distance. It was full of people coming to work for the seasonwaiters and waitresses, ice cream scoopers, lifeguards, landscapers, nannies, chambermaids, bellmen. Twelve years ago it had been Mack on that boathis first time on the oceanand when he stepped off at Steamship Wharf his life changed. Nantucket had saved him.
* * *
TWELVE YEARS AGO, MACK was eighteen, a farm boy. Born and raised in Swisher, Iowa, where his father owned a 530-acre farmcorn and soybeans, hogs and chickens. The farm had originally belonged to Mack's grandfather, then his father, and Mack grew up understanding that it would one day be his. School felt like a waste of time, except that it was a place to socialize. Mack loved to talkthe bonus for spending hours on a combine by himself was that his father took him to The Alibi for a greasy ham-and-egg breakfast, or to the feed storeand there was always lots of talk.
Mack's mother worked part-time at an antique store in Swishera quiet job of crystal figurines and classical music. Mack's parents belonged to Swisher Presbyterian, but they weren't strict about going to church, nor were they prescriptive about what Mack should believe. In fact, his mother once told him she didn't believe in heaven.
"I just don't believe in it," she said as she scrubbed potatoes at the sink and Mack puzzled over his trigonometry homework at the long oak harvest table. "I believe that when you die, you die, and you're back to where you were before you were born. Oblivion, I guess you'd call it."
Two months before Mack's high school graduation, his parents went out for their Saturday night dinner date. On their way home on Route 380, a tractor trailer sideswiped their car and they crashed into the guardrail and died. There hadn't been foul weatherno rain, no ice. Only carelessness on the part of the truck driver, and possibly, on the part of Mack's father, who should have hit the brakes harder when the truck pulled in front of him. (Had his father been drinking? A cocktail before dinner, wine?) It didn't matter to Mack; it didn't change the fact that two good people were dead. Mack was left orphaned, although orphaned wasn't a word anyone used, and neither was it a word Mack thought of often. He was, after all, eighteen. An adult.
Mack left the farm to his father's lawyer, David Pringle, and his father's sidekick Wendell, and the farmhands who worked there. He picked up his high school diploma, caught a bus east and took it as far as it would go, a romantic idea, one his mother would have liked. When the bus stopped in Hyannis, Massachusetts, Mack thought he would find a small apartment and a job, but then he caught his first glimpse of the ocean and he learned there was a boat that would take him even farther east, to an island. Nantucket Island.
Mack found his job at the Beach Club by accident. When the ferry pulled in to Steamship Wharf, Bill Elliott stood waiting on the dock, and when Mack stepped off the boat, Bill tapped his shoulder.
"Are you here for the job at the Beach Club?" Bill asked.
Mack didn't even think about it. "Yes, sir, I am."
He followed Bill to an olive-colored Jeep. Bill hoisted Mack's duffel into the back and they drove off the wharf and down North Beach Road without another word. When they pulled into the parking lot of the hotel, Mack saw the view of the waterhe was still not used to so much waterand then he heard a hum. Hum. Hum.
"What's that noise?" Mack asked.
"The seagulls?" Bill said. "They can be pretty loud. Where did you come from?"
"Iowa," Mack said.
Bill's forehead wrinkled. "I thought you were coming from New Jersey."
It confirmed Mack's fear: there was some kid from New Jersey standing on the wharf, waiting for Bill to pick him up.
"No, sir, I came from Swisher, Iowa." He heard the noise again. Hum. Hum. Homeit sounded like a voice saying "Home." "You don't hear that?" Mack asked.
Bill smiled. "I guess you didn't have too many gulls out in Iowa. I guess this is all brand-new."
"Yes, sir," Mack said. A voice was saying "Home, home." Mack could hear it as plain as day. He extended his hand. "I'm Mack Petersen."
Bill frowned. "Mack Petersen wasn't who I was picking up."
"I know," Mack said. "But you asked if I was here for a job, and I am."
"Do you know anything about hotels?" Bill asked.
"I will soon, I guess," Mack said. And he heard it again; it was the funniest thing. Home.
Mack didn't believe in spiritual guides, past lives, fortune-tellers, tarot cards, or crystal balls. He believed in God and in a heaven, despite what his mother told him. But what Mack heard wasn't the voice of God. The voice wasn't coming from the sky, it was coming from the land beneath his feet.
Mack had heard the voice at other times over the past twelve years, too many now to count. He read about phenomena like thisthe Taos Hum, the Whisper of Carmelbut never on Nantucket. Mack once found the courage to ask Maribel, "Do you ever hear things on this island? From this island? Do you ever hear a voice?" Maribel blinked her blue eyes, and said, "I do think the island has a voice. It's the waves, the birds, the whisper of the dune grass."
Mack never mentioned the voice to anyone again.
MACK LISTENED FOR THE voice now as he lingered on the dune. Just four days earlier, he'd received a phone call from David Pringle, the lawyer who'd supervised the farm in Iowa for all the years since Mack left. David called every now and then urging Mack to rent out the farmhouse, or to apprise him of profits and loss, taxes, weather. But he had never sounded as serious as he did four days ago.
"Wendell gave his notice," David said. "He's retiring after harvest."
"Yeah?" Mack said. Wendell, Mack's father's right-hand man, had been in charge since Mack left.
"I told you this was in the future, Mack. I told you to do some thinking."
"You did," Mack said. "You surely did."
"But you haven't done the thinking."
"No," Mack said. "Not really." When had Mack last talked to David? Last November after harvest? A Christmas card? Mack couldn't remember. He only vaguely recalled a conversation about Wendell getting ready to leave.
"We need someone to run things," David said.
"Hire one of the other hands to do it," Mack said. "I trust your judgment, David."
David sighed into the phone. He was a good person, and less like a lawyer than anybody Mack had met on the East Coast, where even men who weren't lawyers acted like lawyers. "Since the Oral B plant opened, we've lost a lot of help," David said. "We haven't had a hand here longer than six months. You want me to put a transient like that in charge of your father's farm?"
"Are they all transients? Aren't there a couple of hardworking kids, looking for a chance?"
"Wendell and I don't think so," David said. "We've talked about it. If your little love affair with that island isn't over, Mack, I mean, if you're going to stick it out in the East, then Wendell and I agree it's time to put the farm up."
"For sale, you mean?"
David hummed into the phone. "Mmmm-hmm."
"I don't think I can do that," Mack said.
"You have the summer to think it over," David said. "If you're not going to sell it, then you ought to come home and do the job yourself. You've been out there a long time."
"Twelve years," Mack said.
"Twelve years." Mack could practically see David shaking his head in disbelief. "Your decision, but this is what your father left you. I'd rather see you sell it than let it fall to pieces."
"Okay," Mack said. "So I'll talk to you in a couple of months, then?"
"I'll be in touch," David said.
MACK COULDN'T IMAGINE SELLING his family's farm but neither could he imagine leaving Nantucket. The farm was the last place he'd kissed his mother's cheek, he was born and raised there, and worked side by side with his father. Sell the farm? Leave Nantucket? An impossible decision. Twelve years later, Mack didn't know where his home was. And so, as he stood on top of the dune, he listened; he wanted the voice to tell him what to do.
MAY FIRST WAS BILL Elliott's least favorite day of the year; it was one of the few mornings that he didn't make love to his wife, Therese. May first was Therese's day to sleep in undisturbed while Bill tried not to panic. The doctor told him panic was bad for his heart; stress of any kind could take months off his life. (Bill noted the use of that word, "months," and it terrified him. His life had been pared down to increments of thirty days.)
At dawn, he left his house for a walk along Hulbert Avenue. The summer homes on Hulbert were boarded up, Bill was relieved to see; it looked as if the houses were sleeping. So there was still plenty of time to whip the hotel into shape. The reservation book filled up by the Ides of March, but taking reservations was the easy part. The hard part was now, this morning, thinking about all the work that had to be done. The enormous, rounded dunes of the beach. Twenty rooms with furniture piled on top of the beds, draped with white sheets. Dusty, disorganized.
Bill reached home, wheezing. He was sixty years old and because of his weak heart, already an old man. This past winter in Aspen, he hadn't been able to ski the black diamonds, nor the blues; he had been embarrassingly limited to the gentle green slopes of Buttermilk Mountain. His hair was the color of nickels and dimes, his knees ached in the evenings, and he needed good light for reading. Last week on the flight back from Aspen, he used the lavatory four times. But the kicker was this: Just after the New Year, he and Therese were out at Guido's with another couple, a doctor (though not Bill's doctor) and his wife, eating cheese fondue when Bill felt pressure in his chest, a squeezing, as though his heart were a balloon ready to pop. The doctor at the table took charge of calling an ambulance. There was talk of choppering Bill to Denver, but thankfully, that wasn't necessary, and in the end, Bill was okay. It hadn't been a heart attack, just angina, heart muscle pain, a warning. The doctor recommended retirement. A few years ago, last year even, this would have been unthinkable, but now it sounded tempting. Bill's daughter, Cecily, would be graduating from high school in a couple of weeks and she'd already passed her eighteenth birthday. So it was only a matter of time before he could leave the running of the hotel to Cecily.
As Bill opened his front door, a white envelope fluttered to his feet. The letters had begun! Bill tore the envelope open and read the letteras ever, from the mysterious S.B.T., an offer to buy the hotel out from under Bill's feet. Good old S.B.T. had been writing letters for several years now trying to convince Bill to sell. Twenty-two million? Don't tempt me today, S.B.T., Bill thought. Bill occasionally wrote back to the post office boxhe'd never met the man (or woman) and they wouldn't offer a name at the post office when Bill inquired. There weren't any S. B. T's in the phone book; for all Bill knew, the initials were fabricated. The mysteriousness of it was both frustrating and intriguing, like having a secret suitor. A suitor, at his age! Bill crumpled the letter and deposited it into the trash can at the side of his house. Are you watching, S.B.T.? Are you watching?
When Bill reached the kitchen and poured his first cup of decaf, he heard a car pull into the parking lot, and the tightness in his chest alleviated a bit. Mack. Bill was so happy that he wanted to shout to Therese, Honey, Mack's here! He interrupted more than a few of her May first slumbers this way. But this time Bill was quiet. He closed his eyes and recited "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" to himself, like a prayer. And miles to go before I sleep. It was amazing the way the words came to him. After the episode at the restaurant, Bill had retreated into poetry, into the words of an old man, a New Englander. Never mind that Frost's Vermont was a far cry from this island (there wasn't a single tree on Bill's whole property). Never mind that. For reasons unexplainable, Frost's poetry helped; it was a balm, a salve. It eased Bill's aging soul.
Mack looked exactly the same: the ruddy, smiling face and that bushy head of light brown hair. Bill knew Mack as well as he might have known a son. Bill shook Mack's hand and he couldn't stop himself from hugging him too.
"So," Bill said, "you decided to come back." This was their longstanding joke. Mack never said he would return in May, and Bill never asked. But every May first Mack appeared in the parking lot and each time, Bill greeted him this way. Bill wanted to say something else; he wanted to say "Thank you for coming back," but he didn't. It would embarrass Mack, and it might be better if Mack didn't know how much Bill needed him. "How was your winter?"
"Not bad. I worked for Casey Miller on a huge project in Cisco. It snowed twice and both times I got the day off and went sledding."
"How's Maribel?" Bill asked.
"The same," Mack said. "They love her at the library. And at the post office and the bank, and Stop & Shop. She knows everyone. It's like walking around with the mayor."
"She's hankering to get married?" Bill asked.
"I can hardly blame her," Mack said. "We've been together a long time."
"So is this it, then? Is this the year Mack gets married?"
Mack shrugged. Bill could see he was embarrassed now, by just this. Bill clapped him on the shoulder. "How about we give this place the once-over, for starters?"
Mack looked relieved. "Okay," he said.
THERE WAS NO WAY Bill Elliott could look at his hotel objectively; it was as familiar to him and well loved as the face of his wife. Always on May first the hotel looked formidable and tough, boarded up like an old western ghost town, and today was no exception. The hotel had gray cedar shingles like nearly every building on Nantucket. Plywood had been fastened over her doors and windows, paint peeled from her frames. Bill pictured the hotel at the height of summer; it was the only way he could keep his blood pressure from skyrocketing. Her trim would be as white as fresh eggs, her windows sparkling, Therese's geraniums and impatiens in full bloomred, white, pink. The water temperature at sixty-eight degrees, the skies clear with a light southwesterly wind that would barely flutter the scalloped edges of the beach umbrellas. Who could complain then? Still, even today, Bill was in love with what he saw. Despite the shutters and the peeling paint and the undulating beach, she was the most beautiful hotel in the world. He would no sooner sell it than cut out his own heart.
Bill and Mack walked along the side deck rooms and took a left by the front deck rooms. Room 21 through room 1, skipping a room 13, of course. All present and accounted for, although Bill had nightmares during the winter of the rooms flying away in a northeaster like something from The Wizard of Oz. Bill stepped up onto each deck and stamped his feet to check for rotting boards. Mack perused the roof for missing shingles and inspected the shutters for leaks. "She's tight," Mack said. They headed back across the beach to the parking lot and Bill took keys out of his pocket. He unlocked the doors to the lobby and they stepped in.
"Home, sweet home," Bill said.
"Oh, brother," Mack said.
"Are you ready?" Bill said. He wished Mack looked more confident, more eager. Maybe this winter had taken a toll. "I'm going to shower and change," he said. "And you can get started. We have a hotel to run."
THE BEACH CLUB WAS Therese Elliott's canvas, her block of clay. Every May presented the same challengeto make the hotel look more glorious than the year before. Therese had embarked on the quest for beauty when she was a girl growing up on Long Islandin Bilbo, perhaps the most unattractive town in all of America. Therese's family lived in one of the first subdivisions, on a cul-de-sac where the houses were built in three styles: ranch, split-level, and bastardized saltbox. Her parents' house (from the age of ten she referred to it as her parents' house, never her own) was a ranch with plasterboard walls, white Formica countertops threaded with gold, and veneered kitchen cabinets. The house had a swatch of green lawn and a chain-link fence that marked the property line along the sides and the back.
Now that Therese was in the hotel business, she compared the neighborhood where she grew up to a Holiday Innevery living space alike in its absolute sterility, in its absence of charm. As an adolescent she felt bewildered walking home from school past the identical houses and identical yards, realizing that for some reason people chose to live like thiswithout distinction, without beauty. Her neighborhood couldn't even be called ugly, because ugly might at least have been interesting. The best word to describe the neighborhood of Therese's childhood was unliterary. She couldn't imagine anything noteworthy or romantic happening among the white-and-black, gold-threaded Formica-ness of the place.
And so, at eighteen, she left.
For Manhattan, with its color and confusion, beauty and ugliness side by side. She flunked out of Hunter College after two semesters, because instead of studying she spent hours walking through Chinatown, Chelsea, Clinton, Sutton Place, the Upper West Side, Harlem. When her parents received her poor grades, they insisted she return to Bilbo and enroll at Katie Gibbs, but she refused. She found a job waitressing at a German restaurant on Eighty-sixth and York, where fat old men admired the color of her hair and gave her generous tips. She saved enough money to leave the city for the summer with a girlfriend whose family had a beach house on Nantucket.
Nantucket cornered the market on beautythe tumbling south shore waves, blue herons standing one-legged in Coskata Pond, Great Point Lighthouse at sunset. Therese took a job as a chambermaid at the Jared Coffin House in town, and when summer turned into fall and her girlfriend returned to the city, Therese stayed. More than thirty years later, she loved it still. She had married a local boy, given birth to two children, one who died and one who lived, and she and Bill transformed the Beach Club into a hotel. A beautiful place where love flourished.
Bill and Therese lived on one edge of the hotel property, in an upside-down house. The first floor had two spacious bedroomsone for their daughter, Cecily, and one for the baby that died. The second floor had a rounded bay window that overlooked the hotel, the beach, and the sound. Therese stood at the window on this first day of May, but all she could see was a reflection of herself. It was a bad, vain habit, catching glances of herself in mirrors and windows, in the glass of picture frames, but she couldn't keep from looking. What did she see? At the age of fifty-eight, she still fit into a silk skirt she bought before Cecily was born. Her hair was the color of ripe peaches, with one streak of pure white in front that appeared after she gave birth to her dead baby. Her mark of strength and wisdom, of Motherhood.
Above anything, Therese was a Wife and a Mother. But now her family was in danger of falling apart. Her husband suffered from heart problems and her daughter was graduating from high school and headed for college. Suddenly, Therese pictured herself abandoned, alone. Bill dying, Cecily going away, until there would be nothing in her life except her own reflection.
She had to force herself away from the window and down into the hotel lobby. When she flung open the doors, her spirits lifted. Mack crawled around on the exposed beams of the lobby, wiping them down with a damp rag. Mack in the rafters: it was a sure sign of spring.
"You got to work before I could hug and kiss you," she said. "You got to work before I could tell you what to do."
Mack swung around and sat with his legs dangling. "I already know what to do," he said. "I'm not exactly new here."
Therese flopped onto a sofa that was covered with one of the hotel's sheets and put her feet on a dusty sea captain's chest. "You could run this place alone, I suppose. The rest of us are only getting in your way." She had known Mack for twelve years and he was closer to her than anyone except for Bill and Cecily. She could tell him just about anything.
"You sound so melancholy," Mack said. "Where's the uptight woman I know and love? What happened to the never-ending pursuit of cleanliness?"
"I'm worried about Bill," she said. "He had heart problems this winter. Did he tell you?"
"No," Mack said. "What kind of problems?"
It was comforting to hear a voice from above. "Problems that happen when people get older," Therese said. "His doctor told him he could only ski the baby slopes. It wasn't a good winter for Bill."
"He looks okay," Mack said. "A little pale, maybe, but okay. And his spirit's up."
"You think so?" Therese was concerned about Bill's preoccupation with Robert Frosthe'd taken it up the way a dying person might take up religionalthough the reading and reciting seemed to help him.
"How's Cecily doing?" Mack asked.
"She doesn't know about her father's heart," Therese said. "That's one nice thing about having her away at school. She doesn't have to worry. And since she's not worrying, she's doing quite well."
"She wrote a letter at Christmas telling me about some Brazilian guy she met and I haven't heard from her since," Mack said. "Is she going to graduate or did she run away to Rio?"
The Brazilian boyfriend, Gabriel, another stumbling block. But Cecily had barely mentioned him the last two times she called home, and Therese hoped that with the end of the school year in sight, her infatuation was petering out. "Believe it or not, she's going to graduate."
"And college?" Mack asked.
"The University of Virginia. Hard enough to get into that she impressed her friends, and reasonably priced enough to impress her father. We're thrilled."
"She'll be on the front desk this summer? She's more than capable, Therese. If she's going to run the hotel someday she needs to learn it."
"Not the desk," Therese said firmly. Mack rolled his eyes. He could think what he wanted, that Therese babied her daughter, but Cecily was still a child. She didn't need a job that could drive even a mature, well-adjusted adult insane. "Bill hired a woman to work the day desk, someone he met at the gym in Aspen. Her name is Love."
"Yes," said Therese. "We need more love around here. Speaking of which, you noticed I haven't asked about your girlfriend."
"I didn't expect you to," Mack said.
"I can't resist. How are things? Are you still together? Still happy?"
"Still happy, but you're not going to marry her?"
"We have no plans to get married, no," he said.
"Wait until you see Cecily," Therese said. "All grown up. A woman. And so gorgeous. Vibrant. Irresistible." And headstrong, opinionated, difficult, her Cecily. Therese lifted her feet from the dusty chest and stood up. "If you marry Cecily this will all be yours. Bill would be so relieved. He loves you like a son, you know. He really does."
"You make it sound like we're living in a fairy tale," Mack said. "If I marry the fair daughter, I get the whole kingdom."
"You could rule the Beach Club kingdom."
"I'm not marrying Cecily, Therese."
"Well, you're not marrying Maribel." Therese and Mack had this same conversation every year, and she knew it irked Mack, but Therese couldn't help herself. To her, only one course of events made any senseMack marrying Cecily and the two of them taking over where Bill and Therese left off. She also knew that people rarely did what made sense.
"I haven't decided about marriage at all yet," Mack said. "But I can tell you, if and when I do get married, it won't be to Cecily. And if you don't believe me, ask her. She'd rather eat glass, direct quote."
"I won't give up," Therese said. She caught her reflection in a tarnished mirror, and then she pulled out her artist's tools from the utility closetvacuum, bucket, cleanser, and her feather dusterand started to work.
MARIBEL COX KNEW SHE was the subject of gossipamong her mother's friends at the Christian Calendar Factory, among her colleagues at the library, among Mack's co-workers and Bill and Therese down at the Beach Club. She knew they were all whispering, "When are Mack and Maribel going to do the right thing? When are they going to get married?"
The truth of the matter was this: Maribel wanted to get married with a raging, fiery passion, but the only person who knew it was Maribel's mother, Tina. Every Wednesday night, Maribel called Tina and every Wednesday night, Tina said, "Well?" Meaning: well, did Mack finally say those five little words, "Maribel, will you marry me?" Every Wednesday night, Maribel said, "Well, nothing." And her mother said, "Keep the faith."
Maribel and Mack had been dating for six years, living together for three. Maribel had found a man Afraid to Commit.
"Like mother, like daughter," Tina said. Maribel pictured her mother: twenty pounds overweight, permed hair, smoking a cigarette as she talked on the phone. Tina herself had never been married. She met Maribel's father at an outdoor concert, and Maribel was conceived in the woods nearby, up against a tree. Her mother never saw the man again; she'd only known him for one day.
"If he's anything like you," Tina was fond of saying, "he must be a great guy."
Maribel loved her mother dearly, although this love was tinged with shame and pity. Tina worked as a supervisor at the Christian calendar factory in Unadilla, New York. Her mother didn't belong to a church, and yet spending all day around Christian calendars, she picked up certain phrases: "Keep the faith," and "Godspeed," and "We are all His little lambs." It had always been just Tina and Maribel; there was never anyone to help them out, no man in Maribel's life growing up. Mack lost his parents in a car accident and Maribel tried to believe this was the same thing as her not having a father, but in fact, it was vastly different. When Maribel thought of her father, there was no one to picture. She was left with an empty spot inside, a part of her missing. A hole.
When Maribel was thirteen, she begged Tina to describe her father. "Remember, Mama, remember everything you can." Tina sucked on her cigarette and closed her eyes: His name was Stephen, he had sweet, chocolaty breath and a pencil-line scar above his eyebrow. I remember the scratch of bark against my back. It was getting dark, the sky turning pink and lavender through the trees. I didn't know your father real well. But when I was with him, I had a feeling something good would come of it.
Maribel wanted to get married for two peopleherself and her mother. She wanted Mack to take care of them, the way Stephen might have. Mack made just as many comments about the future as Maribel did, if not more. There was no doubt in Maribel's mind that Mack wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. He loved her.
So what, then, was the problem?
After years of taking self-help books off the shelves at the library, Maribel drew a conclusion: Mack was afraid to grow up. The phone call he received from David Pringle last week proved it. Mack owned a huge farm in Iowa, but he didn't want to go back and run it and he didn't want to sell it. Both options involved too much commitment, too much responsibility. It was as though he wanted the farm to exist on its own, magically, a farm from a dream, while he stayed on Nantucket and ran the stupid hotel. At any minute, Bill Elliott could drop dead and the hotel would go to Cecily, and Mack would be out of luck. But Mack loved his job at the hotelsix months on, six months off, never telling Bill if he were coming back or notbecause it gave him freedom. Because he didn't have to take itor anything elsetoo seriously.
In Maribel's opinion, Mack needed to ask Bill Elliott to profit-share. Thirty percent of the hotel's profit should go to Mack each year. Many of the guests who took Mack and Maribel out to dinner admitted (after a few cocktails) that should Mack ever leave his job, they would stop coming. The hotel was lovely, they said (but expensive, and the rates went up every year); it was the service that kept them coming back. It was walking into the lobby and having Mack there with his cheerful, booming voice, "Hel-lo, Mr. Page! Welcome back. How was your winter?" It was Mack who picked up the Page children and swung them around while he complimented Mrs. Page on her new haircut. And that was what people paid for. They wanted to be coddled; they wanted to be courted.
Maribel was convinced profit sharing was the answer. If Mack profit-shared, he would take his job seriously. He would take his life seriously. He could afford to hire someone really qualified to run the farm. His house would be in order. He would propose. And the empty spot inside of Maribel would shrivel, shrink, disappear.
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