By Elin Hilderbrand
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2002 Elin Hilderbrand
All rights reserved.
It is December on Nantucket Island—a month of white skies and the first truly cold winds of the winter, a month made bearable by Christmas cheer. When Kayla stands next to the big Douglas fir in front of Pacific National Bank, she gazes down Main Street at the rows of trees with their fat colored lights, the snow flurries dusting the cobblestones, and the people she has lived amongst for twenty years, who are hurrying into the warm shops.
Kayla has shopping to do as well. At The Complete Kitchen, she buys an ice cream scoop for Luke's teacher, and the woman behind the register offers her an hors d'oeuvre from a silver platter: smoked salmon on rye bread topped with caviar that looks like black pearls. At Nantucket Sleigh Ride, they're handing out hot cider in paper cups. Kayla buys ornaments and a strand of scallop-shell lights. At Johnston's of Elgin cashmere shop, Kayla splurges on a cherry red pashmina for a party she and Raoul have been invited to on the fifteenth. The salesgirl wraps the pashmina in cream-colored tissue paper, ties it up with red ribbon, and then slips it into a fancy shopping bag with silk cord handles. Walking back to her car, Kayla marvels at how, on the outside, everything in her life appears to be back to normal. And on a day like today, better than normal.
Antoinette has been missing for three months.
As Kayla walks into her house, the phone rings. She still can't bring herself to answer the phone because she's afraid.
"Afraid of what?" Raoul asked her once.
Afraid of this very thing: She waits for the machine to pick up, and then she hears a voice.
"Kayla," the voice says. "This is Paul Henry. I have news. Please call me."
Kayla deletes the message and begins pacing the house, still clutching her shopping bags. She is grateful that she's the only one home. No one else heard the message.
I have news.
Afraid of what?
Afraid that everything is not back to normal. Antoinette, the woman whom Kayla once called her best friend, was swept off the coast of Great Point while swimming in the middle of the night on Labor Day weekend.
Was Antoinette dead? Alive? There was no way to know.
At two o'clock on the Friday of Labor Day weekend, the phone rang. Kayla was eating lunch: half a tomato sandwich and eight Lay's potato chips. As she ate, she paged through the Dutch Gardens catalog, looking for spring bulbs.
Kayla plucked the phone off the kitchen wall. It was her friend Valerie Gluckstern's secretary.
"Hold for Val," the secretary said.
Twenty seconds later, it was Val herself. Kayla heard her shut the door to her office. Val always took her personal calls behind closed doors.
"Yes, Counselor," Kayla said, licking salt off her fingers.
"Have you talked to Antoinette?"
"But we're on for tonight? Eleven-thirty, and not a minute later? You're driving?"
"God, I'm so happy, I could just burst. I have, like, sixteen closings this month, and I don't care. John said something last night about running for selectman again in the spring, and even that didn't bother me."
"And tonight you're going to tell us who's making you so happy?" Kayla said. "The mystery man?"
"As promised," Val said. "I'm bringing a bottle of champagne I picked up when I was in France. You bought cheese?"
"I'm going to the store this afternoon. When I talked to Antoinette last week I asked her to bring the lobsters, but I'll call and remind her."
"It's a full moon tonight," Val said. "Can you even believe the romance in that? Has there ever been a full moon for Night Swimmers before?"
"I don't remember one."
"So this is the first time in twenty years," Val said. "Twenty years, can you believe it? God, we're old." She sucked in her breath and let out a long stream of air. It sounded like Val was smoking a cigarette, but Kayla knew better.
"Are you lifting your weights?" Kayla asked.
"Twenty reps, bicep curl," Val said. "You can fight age, you know."
"You can fight age," Kayla said. "It's too late for me. I have to ration potato chips. Count them out, seal the bag, and hide it away."
"I know what you mean," Val said.
"You don't know," Kayla said. "Ms. Size Two."
"I envy anyone over forty in the single digits," Kayla said.
"You know this book I'm reading?" Val said. "By the Swiss therapist? She has a lot to say about Americans suffering from poor self-image, and she actually recommends having an affair. So for once in my life, I'm doing something right. Something European." Kayla heard the weights clunk to the floor, and then Val said, "Whew! I don't like to hear you getting sensitive about your weight."
"I can't help it," Kayla said.
"Do you want to borrow the book?"
"When you have a book that deals with the potato chip syndrome, let me know," Kayla said. She heard the other phone in Val's office ring—no doubt, important business, money to be made. Kayla let her go. "I'll see you tonight."
Kayla clicked off the phone and returned to her lunch and the seventy varieties of daffodils, but her mind stayed on her conversation with Val. Val had spent the shimmering summer months having an affair. With someone they all knew, Val said, but she wouldn't tell who. Kayla had been guessing all summer—Charlie, who owned the fish market; Thebaud, the chef at 21 Federal; Alan, the mail carrier. Nope, nope, nope, Val said. Kayla's other best friend, Antoinette, refused to play guessing games.
"I have better things to do with my time than speculate about Valerie's illicit sex life," Antoinette said. "For example, I could be conducting an illicit sex life of my own."
Kayla poured herself a glass of lemonade and drank it slowly. The house was quiet, and for just a minute she felt lonely, like the last housewife left in America. Her husband was building the biggest house in the history of Nantucket Island, her four children were out enjoying the final days of freedom before they had to go back to school, and her two best friends were conducting lives that brimmed with sexual energy—strangers' hands running up the insides of their thighs, the electric sensation of a first kiss. These feelings were lost to Kayla, buried in her past. As far away as Europe.
Dutifully, she put her plate and glass in the dishwasher.
Although she occasionally felt sorry for herself, Kayla's life wasn't dull. True, Nantucket was small and stranded thirty miles off the coast of America, but it had endless stretches of beach, hundreds of acres of moors dotted with freshwater ponds, and a charming town of cobblestone streets, spired churches, and historic homes built with whaling fortunes in the nineteenth century. It was popular to believe that things only happened on Nantucket during the summer. Summer was a slice of heaven, but the same was true for the rest of the year on the island, and Kayla felt sorry for anyone who missed the days of October that were as red and crisp as an apple, or the snow silently blanketing Main Street on Christmas Eve, or the seals that lounged on the rocks of the jetty and flapped their fins at the people who rode the ferry into the icy harbor in winter. It was true, though, that most of the excitement on Nantucket arrived in summer, and such was definitely the case this year, even for a housewife like Kayla.
Back in June, Kayla's husband, Raoul Montero, owner of Montero Construction, landed the biggest job ever on Nantucket—the Ting house out in Monomoy. Val had represented Pierre and Elisabeth Ting when they bought the vacant lot for six million dollars, and the house they wanted to build would cost another ten million. The day Raoul had found out the job was his, he came home on his lunch hour, something he rarely did. Kayla had been weeding the garden, wearing a bikini top and jeans shorts, her bare knees stained with dirt. Just before Raoul pulled into the driveway, she'd had a sense of glorious freedom. Her kids were all elsewhere: her oldest, Theo, worked part-time as a ramp attendant for Island Airlines; her girls, Jennifer and Cassidy B., had baby-sitting jobs; and her eight-year-old, Luke, was at camp every day until four. After nineteen years of marriage and eighteen years of child-rearing, she woke up to discover that it was summer and she had a day all to herself; she dug in the garden, inhaling the scent of rosemary and basil, listening to Cat Stevens sing "Oh Very Young" on the kitchen radio. Then Kayla saw Raoul's red pickup pull into the driveway. She'd panicked at first—construction could be a dangerous business, people fell off roofs and high ladders—but when she saw Raoul's face, she knew he had good news.
"I got Ting," he said. He strode through the backyard to the garden and reached her before she could even stand up.
"Lucky, lucky man," she said. "How did you get so lucky?"
"It's not luck, baby; it's skill," he said. He took Kayla's sweaty body in his arms. Raoul was not only lucky, but blessed, as well. He was tall and strong with Spanish coloring—dark hair, golden brown eyes, rosy lips. Their kids worshiped him. They ate the same things that Raoul ate—for breakfast, two banana muffins and a bowl of fruit; for lunch, egg salad on a sub roll. They all loved Chevy trucks, skiing, The Rolling Stones singing "Street Fighting Man," Tom Brokaw, scary movies, coconut cream Easter eggs. It baffled Kayla at times—they'd had four children who were carbon copies of Raoul. Sometimes it was like she'd had nothing to do with their creation. Sometimes it was like she was just a visitor to their planet.
Raoul scooped Kayla up in his arms. She wasn't a petite woman by anyone's standards, but that day when Raoul carried her into the house, she felt as light as a size two. "Anybody else home?" Raoul asked.
He'd carried her upstairs to the bedroom, untying the string of her bikini top with his teeth. He laid her across the bed and slid her shorts and her underwear over her dirty knees. Nantucket was a small place, and there had been rumors during the nineteen years of their marriage that Raoul had had affairs with two women. But Kayla tried not to believe it.
Raoul whistled. "You're beautiful, Kayla."
"I'm glad you got the job," she said. "I know how much you wanted it."
"We wanted it," Raoul said. "Didn't we?"
"We did," she said. "We all did. When the kids find out, they're going to flip."
Raoul unbuttoned his jeans and reached for her. He had a flat, brown stomach that rippled with muscles. He was a gorgeous, lucky man who had landed the job of a lifetime. What a way to start the summer—enough money was headed for their bank account to let them to grow old without a care in the world.
Maybe it was remembering that sweet afternoon hour of making love with her husband, or maybe it was all the talk of illicit affairs, but Kayla decided, after she got off the phone with Val, to drive out to Raoul's job site. She did this occasionally, because after Raoul started the Ting job, he was rarely at home. He left the house at six in the morning with his metal lunch box (muffins, fruit, egg salad), and then he ordered pizzas for his crew for dinner, or he treated them to Faregrounds or A. K. Diamond's. He had yet to make it home before their youngest, Luke, went to bed, and now that this had been going on for a couple of months, the kids were starting to show signs of frustration. Their hero, the parental sun they revolved around, was missing.
"Do you love the Tings more than us?" Cassidy B. asked him one Sunday morning.
"What kind of question is that?" Raoul roared, picking up Cassidy B. in a giant bear hug. He looked over Cassidy's shoulder at Kayla—she was scrambling eggs at the stove. "The Tings are paying for your college education. Not to mention the braces you might need in a few years, not to mention a ten-speed bicycle, not to mention it looks like your dollhouse could use a new roof. Do you have any idea how much it costs to reshingle these days?"
Cassidy B. put her hands over Raoul's mouth. "Daddy!" she protested.
"You can hardly blame the kids," Kayla said. "They never see you anymore. They miss you."
"Well," Raoul said, a dangerous edge to his voice, "we all decided that this was what we wanted."
What they wanted, yes—but lately Kayla had been listing all the things that a million dollars couldn't buy. It couldn't buy happy, well-adjusted children; it couldn't buy a happy marriage.
Monomoy was a breathtaking part of the island, a fitting place for a ten-million-dollar home. The Ting property had five hundred feet of waterfront with its own beach, its own dock, and sweeping views across Nantucket Harbor toward town; you could see the north and south church spires, the wharves, and the red beacon of Brant Point lighthouse. Buying a vacant lot for six million dollars set a Nantucket real estate record, but it was just a drop in the bucket for Pierre Ting, who was the scaffolding baron of Hong Kong. Most year-round islanders were unhappy about the best pieces of Nantucket being snapped up by ultra-wealthy people who didn't appreciate Nantucket and would only spend a few weeks a year on island. Raoul had caught a lot of flak from his fellow builders and the antidevelopment people for agreeing to build the Ting house, or "the cathedral," as everyone called it. Raoul didn't back down. "They're jealous," he said. "They'd do it themselves in a heartbeat."
Kayla pulled into the quarter acre of dirt that had been cleared for a driveway, next to five pickup trucks, although Raoul's truck wasn't among them. Her spirits sagged until she remembered that Raoul sometimes let his crew borrow his truck to run to Marine Home Center, or to Henry Jr.'s for sandwiches. So she got out of the car. There was a huge yellow Dumpster, and boards, tool belts, and empty soda cans lying around. A boom box blasted her son Theo's favorite band, The Beastie Boys. Kayla weaved her way toward the house. She was proud of Raoul's design, although a small, secret part of her agreed with the islanders who found it ostentatious. Raoul had taken her on a tour after the framing was done. The entryway of the house had a wonderfully airy, spacious feel, with enough height to plant a tree, which was what the Tings intended to do—plant a Japanese cherry tree that would weep its fuchsia blossoms all over the marble floor. One moved into the formal living room, the formal dining room with built-in china cabinets, the gourmet kitchen featuring three islands to be topped in pink granite, the walk-in pantry, the den shelved for TV, DVD, and five hundred–CD changer, the atrium where the indoor pool would go. Up a huge, curved staircase were the five guest rooms, the children's playroom, the master bedroom suite including his and her bathrooms, a study, a sitting room, and four walk-in closets (one just for Elisabeth Ting's summer shoes). Outside, the house had eleven decks and nine hundred square feet of patio that led to the outdoor pool, the hot tub, and the beach.
It was Raoul's most challenging design; already, Architectural Digest had called, wanting to feature the house the minute it was complete. But today it was still just plasterboard walls and plywood floors covered with shavings. It smelled wonderful, like fresh lumber, newly planed boards. It was Raoul's smell, and Kayla loved it better than anything. Looking out the living room window at Nantucket Sound, she breathed in the fragrant wood and decided that maybe the house wasn't so preposterous after all. Before they knew it, there would be another house on the island dwarfing this one.
Someone touched Kayla's back.
She whipped around. It was Jacob Anderson, one of Raoul's workers. Jacob had curly dark hair and green eyes, and he looked absurdly handsome in jeans and work boots. When Kayla saw him, she thought, Illicit affair, and her face burned.
"Jacob," she said. "You startled me."
"Did I?" he said. Jacob had the alarming quality of speaking to every woman, including her—the boss's wife—like she was a woman.
Kayla cleared her throat. "Is, uh ... is Raoul here?"
Jacob shook his curly head. He was wearing a baseball hat backwards, and the curls at his forehead, underneath the plastic strap, were damp with sweat. "He went into town to see about something."
"Yeah, that's what he said. He said he wasn't sure how long he'd be gone."
"Oh," Kayla said. Her forehead wrinkled, and she knew it wasn't attractive, so she raised her eyebrows trying to smooth it. There was no reason to be concerned; Raoul probably had twenty reasons to go into town—building department, the post office, the bank. "So he went into town and you don't know when he'll be back."
"That's right." Jacob smiled at her—a charming, boyish smile. "Can I show you around the house?"
"Thanks, but I've seen it already," Kayla said. "Raoul gave me the tour a few weeks ago."
"I've been trimming out one of the bedrooms," Jacob said. "Okay, listen to this—each guest room is plumbed for its own washer and dryer. Rumor has it Mrs. Ting doesn't want the linens to get mixed up." He shook his head. "It blows my mind what people will spend their money on. A washer and dryer in each room, fancy sheets for each bed, and a dancing troupe of cleaning girls to do the work. I'm lucky if I have time to change my sheets at home once a summer." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Nantucket Nights by Elin Hilderbrand. Copyright © 2002 Elin Hilderbrand. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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