Silver Girlby Elin Hilderbrand
Meredith Martin Delinn just lost everything: her friends, her homes, her social standing - because her husband Freddy cheated rich investors out of billions of dollars.
Desperate and facing homelessness, Meredith receives a call from her old best friend, Constance Flute. Connie's had recent worries of her own, and the two depart for a summer on Nantucket in… See more details below
Meredith Martin Delinn just lost everything: her friends, her homes, her social standing - because her husband Freddy cheated rich investors out of billions of dollars.
Desperate and facing homelessness, Meredith receives a call from her old best friend, Constance Flute. Connie's had recent worries of her own, and the two depart for a summer on Nantucket in an attempt to heal. But the island can't offer complete escape, and they're plagued by new and old troubles alike. When Connie's brother Toby - Meredith's high school boyfriend - arrives, Meredith must reconcile the differences between the life she is leading and the life she could have had.
Set against the backdrop of a Nantucket summer, Elin Hilderbrand delivers a suspenseful story of the power of friendship, the pull of love, and the beauty of forgiveness.
The wife of a notorious Ponzi schemer (think Ruth Madoff, but 20 years younger) hides out from aggrieved investors on Hilderbrand's home turf, Nantucket.
Meredith Delinn is rescued from her Park Avenue penthouse in the middle of the night after a frantic phone call to her estranged childhood friend Connie. Her husband, Freddy Delinn, has been sentenced to 150 years in a federal penitentiary and marshals are coming to seize the penthouse and everything in it. Connie, who, with her late husband, famed architect Wolf, had withdrawn their money from Delinn's fund just in time (whence the estrangement), spirits Meredith off to her Nantucket beachfront retreat. Meredith's not doing well; she's even been blackballed by her hairdressers and forced to live without highlights. Investors who formerly hounded her to persuade Freddy to accept their money now howl for her immolation. Even in disguise, she can't get a pedicure at a Nantucket salon without being called out by an outraged victim. The narrative unfolds from the alternating POV's of Meredith and Connie. While coping with current crises, both women reflect on how their adolescent years shaped the present. Besides her adored father, the most important person in Meredith's teenage life was Toby, Connie's charismatic brother, who broke her heart. Instead she married Freddy, her fellow Princetonian. The couple struggled whilst Freddy founded his first hedge fund, but suddenly their fortunes soared. (Too suddenly, Meredith belatedly reflects.) Connie, who grew up in the same Philadelphia Main Line milieu as Meredith, is consumed by grief and regret after Wolf's death from cancer. Her daughter Ashlyn, whose lesbianism sits ill with Connie, hasn't spoken to her since Wolf's funeral. Soused on chardonnay, Connie almost scuttles her first chance at new romance. And Marilyn is not so much an example of innocence wronged as passivity repaid. Although the timely premise titillates, the story soon degenerates into just another redemptive middle-aged reconciliation of past and present, complete with many bromidic meditations on the true nature of love.
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Silver GirlA Novel
By Hilderbrand, Elin
Reagan Arthur BooksCopyright © 2011 Hilderbrand, Elin
All right reserved.
MEREDITH MARTIN DELINN
They had agreed not to speak about anything meaningful until Meredith was safely inside the house on Nantucket. First, they had the highway to face. Meredith knew it too well, just like every other American with a home (or, in her case, three homes) between Maine and Florida. There were the ninety-three tedious exits of Connecticut before they crossed into Rhode Island and, a scant hour later, Massachusetts. As they drove over the Sagamore Bridge, the sun came up, giving the Cape Cod Canal a cheerful pink glaze that hurt Meredith’s eyes. There was no traffic on the bridge even though it was the first of July; that was why Connie liked to do the drive overnight.
Finally, they arrived in Hyannis: a town Meredith had visited once with her parents in the early 1970s. She remembered her mother, Deidre Martin, insisting they drive by the Kennedy Compound. There had been guards; it was just a few years after Bobby’s assassination. Meredith remembered her father, Chick Martin, encouraging her to eat a lobster roll. She had been only eight years old, but Chick Martin had confidence in Meredith’s sophistication. Brilliant and talented, Chick used to brag shamelessly. The girl can do no wrong. Meredith had tasted the lobster salad and spit it out, then felt embarrassed. Her father had shrugged and finished the sandwich himself.
Even all these years later, the memory of Hyannis filled Meredith with a sense of shame, which lay on top of the disgrace Meredith had been feeling since her husband, Freddy Delinn, had been indicted. Hyannis was a place where Meredith had disappointed her father.
Thank God he couldn’t see her now.
Although they had agreed not to talk about anything meaningful, Meredith turned to Connie, who had decided—against her better judgment—to shelter Meredith, at least for the time being, and said, “Thank God my father can’t see me now.”
Connie, who was pulling into the parking lot of the Steamship Authority, let out a sigh and said, “Oh, Meredith.”
Meredith couldn’t read Connie’s tone. Oh, Meredith, you’re right; it’s a blessing Chick has been dead for thirty years and didn’t have to witness your meteoric rise and your even more spectacular fall. Or: Oh, Meredith, stop feeling sorry for yourself. Or: Oh, Meredith, I thought we agreed we wouldn’t talk until we got to the house. We laid ground rules, and you’re trampling them.
Or: Oh, Meredith, please shut up.
Indeed, Connie’s tone since she’d rescued Meredith at two in the morning was one of barely concealed… what? Anger? Fear? Consternation? And could Meredith blame her? She and Connie hadn’t spoken in nearly three years, and in their last conversation, they had said despicable things to each other; they had taken a blowtorch to the ironclad chain of their friendship. Or: Oh, Meredith, what have I done? Why are you here? I wanted a quiet summer. I wanted peace. And now I have you, a stinky international scandal, in my front seat.
Meredith decided to give Connie the benefit of the doubt. “Oh, Meredith” was a quasi-sympathetic non-answer. Connie was pulling up to the gatehouse and showing the attendant her ferry ticket; she was distracted. Meredith wore her son Carver’s baseball hat from Choate and her last remaining pair of prescription sunglasses, which fortunately were big, round, and very dark. Meredith turned her face away from the attendant. She couldn’t let anyone recognize her.
Connie pulled up the ramp, into the ferry’s hold. Cars were packed like Matchbox models in a snug little suitcase. It was the first of July; even at this early hour, the mood on the boat was festive. Jeeps were laden with beach towels and hibachi grills; the car parked in front of Connie’s was a vintage Wagoneer with at least sixteen beach stickers, in every color of the rainbow, lining the bumper. Meredith’s heart was bruised, battered, and broken. She told herself not to think about the boys, but all that led to was her thinking about the boys. She remembered how she used to load up the Range Rover with bags of their bathing suits and surf shirts and flip-flops, and their baseball gloves and cleats, the aluminum case that held the badminton set, fresh decks of cards, and packs of D batteries for the flashlights. Meredith would load the dog into his crate and strap Carver’s surfboard to the top of the car, and off they’d go—bravely into the traffic jam that lasted from Freeport all the way to Southampton. Inevitably, they timed it badly and got stuck behind the jitney. But it had been fun. The boys took turns with the radio—Leo liked folk rock, the Counting Crows were his favorite, and Carver liked the headbanger stuff that would make the dog howl—and Meredith always felt that the hotter and slower the drive was, the happier they were to arrive in Southampton. Sun, sand, ocean. Take your shoes off, open the windows. Freddy did the drive on the weekends, and in later years, he arrived in a helicopter.
As Meredith looked on the summer revelers now, she thought, Leo! Carver! Leo. Poor Leo. For all of the years of their growing up, Leo had taken care of Carver. Protected him, schooled him, included him. And now, Carver was the one who would be supporting Leo, propping him up. Meredith prayed he was doing a good job.
A voice came over the loudspeaker, announcing the rules and regulations of the boat. The foghorn sounded, and Meredith heard distant clapping. The good, fortunate souls headed to Nantucket Island on this fine morning were applauding the start of their summer. Meanwhile, Meredith felt like she was still three states away. At that very moment, federal marshals would be entering Meredith’s penthouse apartment on Park Avenue and seizing her belongings. Meredith wondered with a curious detachment what this seizing would be like. To go with Connie, Meredith had packed one duffel bag of simple summer clothes, and one cardboard box of personal effects—photographs, her marriage license, the boys’ birth certificates, a few of her favorite paperback novels, one particular spiral-bound notebook from her freshman year at Princeton, and one record album—the original 1970 release of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, which Meredith had no hope of ever listening to, but which she couldn’t bring herself to leave behind.
She’d been permitted to take her eyeglasses, her prescription sunglasses, and her four-karat diamond engagement ring. The ring had been inherited from her grandmother, Annabeth Martin, and not bought with dirty money. There was a strand of pearls from Meredith’s mother, a present on Meredith’s graduation from Princeton, which fell into the same category, but Meredith had no use for pearls now. She couldn’t wear pearls in jail. With a little forethought, she might have pawned them and added the money to the paltry sum she had left.
But what of her other possessions? Meredith imagined grim, strapping men in black uniforms with handguns concealed in their waistbands. One might lift the delicate Shalimar bottle off her dressing table and, unable to help himself, inhale the scent. One would strip her Aurora linens from Schweitzer off the bed. Those sheets were worth thousands of dollars, but what would the marshals do with them? Launder them, fold them, sell them off? They would take her Hostetler sculpture and the Andrew Wyeth sketches; they would clip the Calder mobile from the ceiling in the living room. They would go through Meredith’s closet and box up the Louboutins and the Sergio Rossis; they would carry off her everyday dresses—Diane von Furstenberg, Phillip Lim—and her gowns—the Dior, the Chanel, the Caroline Herreras. The Feds had told Meredith that her belongings would be sold at auction and the proceeds funneled into a restitution fund for the fleeced investors. Meredith thought of her baby-blue Dior gown, which she had paid $19,000 for—a fact that, now, made her want to gag with disgust—and wondered who would own it next. Someone petite—Meredith was only five foot one and weighed a hundred pounds. That gown had been custom-tailored for her by John Galliano himself. Who would end up with Meredith’s copper All-Clad sauté pans (never used, except occasionally by Leo’s girlfriend, Anais, who thought it was a sin that Meredith didn’t cook in her gleaming gourmet kitchen). Who would end up with the cut crystal whiskey decanter that Freddy had never poured a drink from, except in the final days before his exposure to the world. (It was the sight of Freddy throwing back three successive shots of a 1926 Macallan that put Meredith on high alert. A Pandora’s box of accusations had cracked open in her mind: No one knows how he does it. He says it’s black magic, but it can’t be legal. He’s breaking the law. He’s going to get caught.)
Meredith knew the Feds would be most interested in what they found in Freddy’s home office. Freddy had always kept the door to his office locked, a practice that began when the children were young and he wanted to keep them from interrupting him on the phone, though it continued into later years. The door had remained locked—both when he was in the office and when he wasn’t—even against Meredith. If she wanted entry, she had to knock. She had testified to this in her deposition, but the authorities didn’t believe her. Her fingerprints (literal) were on the doorknob. And her fingerprints (figurative) had been found on one illegal transaction. Three days before the collapse of Delinn Enterprises, Meredith had transferred $15 million from the company’s “slush fund” into the personal brokerage account she and Freddy shared.
The federal marshals would also be interested in Freddy’s den. Their decorator, Samantha Deuce, had masterminded the “gentleman’s library” look with shelves of books on finance, antique piggy banks, and baseball memorabilia from Babe Ruth’s stint with the Yankees. Freddy wasn’t even a Yankees fan, but Samantha had likened him to Babe Ruth because, she said, they were both iconic men of their times. Iconic men of their times. Meredith had believed Samantha to be a maestro of overstatement.
Freddy had nearly always enjoyed his den alone; Meredith was hard-pressed to remember anyone else relaxing in the deep suede club chairs or watching the fifty-two-inch television. The boys didn’t like hanging out in that room; even when the ball game was on, they preferred to watch in the kitchen with Meredith. There was a hidden dartboard in the back of the den that Meredith was sure had never been used; the darts were still in the bubble wrap.
The only person that Meredith could remember ever seeing in Freddy’s den was Samantha. Meredith had come across Freddy and Samantha in that room a few years earlier. They had been standing side by side admiring a hunting print that Samantha had bought at Christie’s. (The choice of this print was ironic, since Freddy didn’t hunt and hated guns: his brother had been killed by an errant bullet in a training exercise in the army.) Freddy had been resting his hand on Samantha’s lower back. When Meredith walked in, Freddy whipped his hand away so quickly that it called attention to the fact that he had been touching Samantha in the first place. Meredith thought of that moment often. Freddy’s hand on Samantha’s lower back: No big deal, right? Samantha had been their decorator for years. Freddy and Samantha were friends, chummy and affectionate. If Freddy had simply left his hand there, Meredith wouldn’t have thought a thing about it. It was his startled reaction that made Meredith wonder. Freddy never got startled.
The ferry lurched forward. Connie had wedged her hunter-green Escalade between a Stop & Shop semi and a black Range Rover not so different from the one that Meredith used to drive to the Hamptons. Connie got out of the car, slamming her door.
Meredith panicked. “Where are you going?” she asked.
Connie didn’t answer. She opened the back door of the Escalade and climbed in. She foraged in the way-back for a pillow, and lay across the backseat.
“I’m tired,” she said.
“Of course,” Meredith said. Connie had left her house at eight o’clock the night before, a scant four hours after receiving Meredith’s phone call. She had driven six hours to Manhattan and had idled in the dark alley behind 824 Park Avenue, waiting for Meredith to emerge. There had been a reporter standing behind a Dumpster, but he had been smoking a cigarette and hadn’t gotten his camera ready until Meredith was in the car and Connie was screeching out of the alley in reverse, like a bank robber in a heist movie. Meredith had ducked her head below the dashboard.
“Jesus, Meredith,” Connie said. “And have you seen the front of the building?”
Meredith knew it was swarming with reporters, television lights, and satellite trucks. They had been there on the day Freddy was led out of the apartment in handcuffs, then again on the morning that Meredith had gone to visit Freddy in jail, and they had gathered a third time nearly two days earlier in anticipation of Meredith’s removal from the building by federal marshals. What the public wanted to know was, where does the wife of the biggest financial criminal in history go when she is turned out of her Park Avenue penthouse?
Meredith had two attorneys. Her lead attorney’s name was Burton Penn; he asked Meredith to call him Burt. He was new to her. Freddy had taken their longtime family lawyer, Richard Cassel. Goddamned Freddy, taking the best, leaving Meredith with prematurely balding thirty-six-year-old Burton Penn. Though he had, at least, gone to Yale Law School.
The other attorney was even younger, with dark shaggy hair and pointy incisors, like one of those teen vampires. He wore glasses, and in passing, he’d told Meredith that he had an astigmatism. “Yes, so do I,” Meredith said; she had worn horn-rimmed glasses since she was thirteen years old. Meredith had bonded more closely with this second attorney. His name was Devon Kasper. He asked her to call him Dev. Dev told Meredith the truth about things, but he sounded sorry about it. He had sounded sorry when he told Meredith that, because she had transferred the $15 million into her and Freddy’s shared brokerage account, she was under investigation, and it was possible she would be charged with conspiracy and sent to prison. He had sounded sorry when he told Meredith that her son Leo was also under investigation, because he had worked with Freddy at Delinn Enterprises.
Leo was twenty-six years old. He worked for the legitimate trading division of Delinn Enterprises.
So why, then, were the Feds investigating Leo? Meredith didn’t understand, and she was trying not to panic—panic wouldn’t serve her—but this was her child. He was her responsible son, the one who got into Dartmouth and was captain of the lacrosse team and vice president of the Dartmouth chapter of Amnesty International; he was the one who had a steady girlfriend; he was the one who, to Meredith’s knowledge, had never once broken the law—had never shoplifted a pack of gum, had never taken a drink underage, had never gotten a parking ticket.
“Why are they investigating Leo?” Meredith had asked, her bruised heart racing. Her child in danger, as surely as a three-year-old running out into traffic.
Well, Dev said, they were investigating Leo because another trader—a well-respected, ten-year veteran on the legitimate floor named Deacon Rapp—had told the SEC and the FBI that Leo was involved in his father’s Ponzi scheme. Deacon testified that Leo was in “constant contact” with colleagues on the seventeenth floor, which was where the Ponzi scheme was headquartered. Freddy had a small office on the seventeenth floor, as well as a secretary. This came as a shock to Meredith. She had known nothing about the existence of the seventeenth floor, nor the secretary, a Mrs. Edith Misurelli. The Feds couldn’t question Mrs. Misurelli because she had apparently been due months of vacation time and had left for Italy the day before the scandal broke. No one knew how to reach her.
Dev sounded especially sorry when he told Meredith that she absolutely could not be in contact with either of her sons until the investigation was cleared up. Any conversation between Leo and Meredith might be seen as evidence of their mutual conspiracy. And because Carver and Leo were living together in an old Victorian that Carver was renovating in Greenwich, Meredith couldn’t call Carver, either. Burt and Dev had met with Leo’s counsel, and both parties agreed there was too much chance for cross-contamination. Meredith should remain in one camp, the boys in another. For the time being.
“I’m sorry, Meredith.”
Dev said this often.
Meredith peered at Connie, who had scrunched her long, lean form to fit across the backseat. Her head was sunk into the pillow, her strawberry-blond hair fell across her face, her eyes were closed. She looked older, and sadder, to Meredith—her husband, Wolf, had died two and a half years earlier of brain cancer—but she was still Connie, Constance Flute, née O’Brien, Meredith’s oldest, and once her closest, friend. Her friend since the beginning of time.
Meredith had called Connie to ask if she could stay with her “for a while” in Bethesda. Connie had artfully dodged the request by saying that she was headed up to Nantucket for the summer. Of course, Nantucket. July was now upon them—a fact that had effectively escaped Meredith, trapped as she was in her apartment—and Meredith’s hopes tanked.
“Can you call someone else?” Connie asked.
“There isn’t anyone else,” Meredith said. She said this not to invoke Connie’s pity, but because it was true. It astounded her how alone she was, how forsaken by everyone who had been in her life. Connie was her one and only hope. Despite the fact that they hadn’t spoken in three years, she was the closest thing to family that Meredith had.
“You could turn to the church,” Connie said. “Join a convent.”
A convent, yes. Meredith had considered this when casting about for options. There were convents, she was pretty sure, out on Long Island; she and the boys used to pass one on their way to the Hamptons, set back from the highway among rolling hills. She would start out as a novice scrubbing floors until her knees bled, but maybe someday she’d be able to teach.
“Meredith,” Connie said. “I’m kidding.”
“Oh,” Meredith said. Of course, she was kidding. Meredith and Connie had attended Catholic schools together all through their childhood, but Connie had never been particularly devout.
“I guess I could pick you up on my way,” Connie said.
“And do what?” Meredith said. “Take me to Nantucket?”
“You do owe me a visit,” Connie said. “You’ve owed me a visit since nineteen eighty-two.”
Meredith had laughed. It sounded strange to her own ears, the laugh. It had been so long.
Connie said, “You can stay a couple of weeks, maybe longer. We’ll see how it goes. I can’t make any promises.”
“Thank you,” Meredith had whispered, weak with gratitude.
“You realize you haven’t called me in three years,” Connie said.
Yes, Meredith realized that. What Connie really meant was: You never called to apologize for what you said about Wolf, or to give me your condolences in person. But you call me now, when you’re in heaps of trouble and have nowhere else to go.
“I’m sorry,” Meredith said. She didn’t say: You didn’t call me, either. You never apologized for calling Freddy a crook. Now, of course, there was no need to apologize. Connie had been proved right: Freddy was a crook. “Will you still come get me?”
“I’ll come get you,” Connie said.
Now, Meredith wanted to wake Connie up and ask her: Can you please forgive me for the things I said? Can we make things right between us?
Meredith wondered what the federal marshals would think about the mirror she’d smashed in the master bath. In a fit of rage, she’d thrown her mug of peppermint tea at it; she had savored the smack and shatter of the glass. Her reflection had splintered and fallen away, onto the granite countertop, into Freddy’s sink. Goddamn you, Freddy, Meredith thought, for the zillionth time. The ferry rocked on the waves, and Meredith’s eyes drifted closed. If there were beating hearts beneath the federal marshals’ black uniforms, then she supposed they would understand.
CONSTANCE O’BRIEN FLUTE
They had agreed not to speak about anything meaningful until Meredith was safely inside the house on Nantucket. Connie needed time to digest what she’d done. What had she done? She had six hours in the car from Bethesda to Manhattan to repeatedly ask herself. The roads were clear of traffic; on the radio, Connie listened to Delilah. The heart-wrenching stories of the callers boosted Connie’s spirits. She knew about loss. Wolf had been dead for two and a half years, and Connie was still waiting for the pain to subside. It had been nearly as long since Connie had spoken to their daughter, Ashlyn, though Connie called Ashlyn’s cell phone every Sunday, hoping that one time she might answer. Connie sent Ashlyn flowers on her birthday and a gift certificate to J. Crew at Christmas. Did Ashlyn tear up the gift certificate, throw the flowers in the trash? Connie had no way of knowing.
And now look what she’d done. She had agreed to go to Manhattan to pick up her ex–best friend, Meredith Delinn. Connie thought ex-friend, but inside Connie knew that she and Meredith would always be tethered together. They had grown up on the Main Line in Philadelphia. They attended Tarleton in the 1960s, then grammar school, then high school at Merion Mercy Academy. They had been as close as sisters. For two years in high school, Meredith had dated Connie’s brother, Toby.
Connie fingered her cell phone, which rested in the console of her car. She considered calling Toby now and telling him what she was doing. He was the only person who had known Meredith as long as Connie had; he was the only one who might understand. But Toby and Meredith had a complicated history. Toby had broken Meredith’s heart in high school, and over the years, Meredith had asked Connie about him, the way a woman asks about her first true love. Connie had been the one to tell Meredith about Toby’s voyages around the world captaining megayachts, his hard-partying lifestyle that landed him in rehab twice, the women he met, married, and abandoned along the way, and his ten-year-old son who was destined to become as charming and dangerous as Toby himself. Meredith and Toby hadn’t seen each other since the funeral of Connie and Toby’s mother, Veronica, six years earlier. Something had happened between Meredith and Toby at the funeral that ended with Meredith climbing into her waiting car and driving away before the reception.
“I can’t be around him,” Meredith had said to Connie later. “It’s too painful.”
Connie hadn’t been gutsy enough to ask Meredith exactly what had happened. But she decided it would be wisest not to call Toby, as tempting as it was.
Connie had seen Meredith on CNN back in April, on the day that Meredith went to visit Freddy in jail. Meredith had looked gray haired and haggard, nothing like the blond, Dior-wearing socialite that Connie had most recently seen in the society pages of the New York Times. Meredith had been wearing jeans and a white button-down shirt and a trench coat; she had been ducking into a cab, but a reporter caught her before she closed the door and asked her, “Mrs. Delinn, do you ever cry about the way things have turned out?”
Meredith looked up, and Connie had felt a sharp rush of recognition. Meredith’s expression was feisty. This was the Meredith Connie had known in high school—the competitive field-hockey player, the champion diver, the National Merit Scholarship finalist.
“No,” Meredith said.
And Connie thought, Oh, Meredith, wrong answer.
She had meant to call Meredith in the days following. The press was brutal. (The headline of the New York Post read, JESUS WEPT. BUT NOT MRS. DELINN.) Connie had wanted to reach out and offer some kind of support, but she hadn’t picked up the phone. She was still bitter that Meredith had allowed money to sink their friendship. And besides, Connie was too involved with her own melancholy to take on Meredith’s problems.
Connie had seen a picture of Meredith, peering from one of her penthouse windows, published in People. The caption read, At daybreak, Meredith Delinn gazes out at a world that will no longer have her.
The paparazzi had caught her in her nightgown at the crack of dawn. Poor Meredith! Again, Connie considered calling, but she didn’t.
Connie then saw the article on the front page of the New York Times Style section entitled “The Loneliest Woman in New York.” It told the story of Meredith’s ill-fated trip to the Pascal Blanc salon, where she’d been getting her hair colored for fifteen years. The newspaper reported that Meredith had been calling for an appointment at the salon for weeks, but she kept getting put off by the receptionist. Finally, the owner of the salon, Jean-Pierre, called Meredith back and explained that he couldn’t risk offending his other patrons, many of whom were former Delinn investors, by having her in the salon. The article said that Meredith asked for an after-hours appointment, and he said no. Meredith asked if the woman who normally colored her hair could come to her apartment—Meredith would pay her in cash—and Jean-Pierre said no. The article also stated that Meredith was no longer welcome at Rinaldo’s, the Italian restaurant where she and Freddy had dined at least twice a week for eight years. “They always sat at the same table,” Dante Rinaldo was quoted as saying. “Mrs. Delinn always ordered a glass of the Ruffino Chianti, but Mr. Delinn drank nothing, ever. Now, I can’t let Mrs. Delinn come to eat, or no one else will come to eat.” The article had made one thing perfectly clear: everyone in New York City hated Meredith, and if she were to show her face in public, she would be shunned.
Awful, Connie thought. Poor Meredith. After she read the article, she picked up the phone, and, with numb fingers, dialed the number of Meredith’s Park Avenue apartment. She was promptly informed by an operator that the number had been changed and that the new number was unlisted.
Connie hung up, thinking, Well, I tried.
And then that very day, at one o’clock, Connie had been watching Fox News as she packed her suitcases for Nantucket. It was the day of Freddy’s sentencing. The talking heads at Fox were predicting a sentence of twenty-five to thirty years, although Tucker Carlson mentioned how savvy and experienced Freddy’s counsel was.
“His attorney, Richard Cassel,” Carlson said, “is asking for seventeen years, which could become twelve years with good behavior.”
And Connie thought, Ha! Richard Cassel! Connie had done beer bongs with Richard Cassel when she’d gone to visit Meredith at Princeton. Richard had tried to lure Connie back to his suite, but she had turned him down. He was such a casual aristocrat in his button-down shirt with the frayed collar, and his scuffed penny loafers. Hadn’t Meredith told Connie that Richard once cheated on an exam? He was a fitting attorney for Freddy.
Connie’s memories of Richard Cassel were interrupted by the announcement that Frederick Xavier Delinn had been sentenced to 150 years in federal prison.
Connie sat down for that. A hundred and fifty years? She thought, The judge is making an example of him. Well, Connie hated to say this, but Freddy deserved it. So many people had been left penniless; futures had been destroyed, kids were forced to drop out of college, family homes had been foreclosed on, eighty-year-old women had to get by living on Social Security, eating from cans. A hundred and fifty years. Connie thought, Poor Meredith.
Connie was angry with Meredith for her own personal reasons, but unlike everyone else, she didn’t blame Meredith for Freddy’s crimes. Meredith couldn’t have known what Freddy was doing. (Had she? Okay, there was always room for doubt.) But when Connie closed her eyes and searched inside of herself for an answer, she thought, There is no way Meredith knew. There was no way Meredith would accept fraud in her life. She was a straight arrow. Connie should know: growing up, it had driven her crazy. And still, Connie wondered, just as the rest of the world wondered, how could she not have known? Meredith was a smart woman—she had been the class salutatorian at Merion Mercy, she had gone to Princeton. How could she be blind to the crimes going on under her own roof? So, she knew. But no, she couldn’t have.
Connie had opened her eyes in time to see Freddy, looking gaunt and nauseous and wearing an ill-fitting suit, being led from the courthouse, back to his dungeon.
You bastard, she thought.
It was a few hours later that the phone had rung. The caller ID said, NUMBER UNAVAILABLE, which always stirred up hope in Connie, because any unidentified number might be Ashlyn calling.
Connie picked up. “Hello?”
“Connie? Con?” It was a woman’s voice, so familiar, though Connie was slow to identify it. It wasn’t her daughter, it wasn’t Ashlyn, so there was an immediate stab of disappointment to experience before she realized… that the woman on the phone was Meredith.
“Meredith?” Connie said.
Meredith said, “Thank God you answered.”
What had she done? Why had she said yes? The truth was, Meredith had been on Connie’s mind for months. The truth was, Connie felt sorry for Meredith. The truth was, Connie had been closer to Meredith than to any other woman in her entire life—her own mother included, her own daughter included. The truth was, Connie was lonely. She yearned for another person in the room, someone who knew her, who understood her. The truth was, Connie didn’t know why she had agreed, but she had agreed.
Connie had balked when she saw the throng of reporters outside Meredith’s building. She had nearly cruised on past, but she knew Meredith would be waiting for her in the dark alley behind the building and that to abandon her there would be cruel.
When Connie pulled up, Meredith ran from the back door and leapt into the car. She was wearing the same white button-down blouse, jeans, and flats that Connie had seen her photographed in months earlier when she went to visit Freddy in jail. Connie barely waited for Meredith to shut the door before she hit the gas and reversed out. A photographer got a shot of the car departing; thankfully, Meredith’s head had been down. Connie floored it up Park Avenue, although she didn’t feel safe until they were off the FDR and on I-95. That was when Meredith had wanted to talk, but Connie had held up her palm and said, “Let’s not discuss anything until we’re safely in the house on Nantucket.”
Though there was much, of course, that she wanted to know.
When the announcement came over the loudspeaker that the ferry was pulling into Nantucket harbor, Connie startled awake. Meredith was in the front seat, and there were two steaming cups of coffee—light, with sugar—snug in the console. Connie and Meredith drank their coffee the same way, a habit learned together at age six during tea parties with Meredith’s grandmother, Annabeth Martin, who unorthodoxly served the little girls real coffee from a silver pot.
Meredith was wearing a baseball hat and sunglasses. When she saw that Connie was awake, she said, “I got coffee. A guy in line stared me down, but he was a foreigner, I think. I heard him speaking Russian.”
Connie said, “I don’t want to burst your bubble…”
Meredith said, “Believe me, there is no bubble.”
Connie said, “You’re going to have to be incredibly careful. No one can know you’re here with me. No one Russian, no one Swedish, I mean no one.”
“Except for my attorneys.” Meredith took a sip of her coffee. “They have to know where I am. Because I’m still under investigation. Me, and Leo, too.”
“Oh, Meredith,” Connie said. Connie found herself feeling both concerned and annoyed. Meredith should have told her this before she asked Connie to come get her, right? Would that have changed Connie’s mind? And poor Leo, Connie’s own godson, one of the greatest kids she had ever known. Still under investigation? But why? Connie refrained from asking the obvious: Do they have anything to charge you with? Am I going to become some kind of accessory to conspiracy? Instead, she said, “I almost called Toby last night, to tell him I was bringing you here.”
“Toby?” Meredith said.
“Do you mind if I ask where he is?”
Connie metered her breath. She said, “He’s in Annapolis, running a wildly successful charter sail business. In the winter, he takes off and barefoots through the Caribbean.”
“Meaning he sleeps with models half his age in Saint Barth’s,” Meredith said.
Connie couldn’t tell if Meredith was being playful or bitter. She decided to go with playful. “I’m sure that’s correct,” Connie said. “He’s never really grown up. But that’s what we love about him, right?”
Meredith bleated. Ha. Connie felt the old ambivalence about Meredith and Toby’s long-ago relationship return. There was jealousy—once Meredith had fallen in love with Toby, he had become far more important to Meredith than Connie was; there was guilt that Toby had so mercilessly trampled Meredith’s feelings; there was disbelief that all these years later, Meredith still cared about him. Even after Meredith was married to Freddy and ludicrously wealthy with her twenty houses and her fleet of Rolls-Royces and a private jet for every day of the week, she always asked: How is Toby? Is he still married? Dating anyone? Does he ever ask about me?
“Listen,” Connie said. It was weird having Meredith next to her like this. There was so much shared history—years and years and years, and many of those years they had been together every single day—and yet so much had changed. “I know you don’t have anywhere else to go. But it’s possible that this won’t work. I’ll be miserable, you’ll be miserable, we won’t be able to mend the friendship. You’re under investigation, but I can’t be under investigation. You understand that? If anything happens that I’m not comfortable with, you’ll have to leave. You’ll have to find your own way.”
Meredith nodded solemnly, and Connie hated herself for sounding harsh.
“But I want to try it,” Connie said. “I want to give you a place to rest your mind. I want to spend time with you. I’m not completely selfless, Meredith. I’m lonely, too. I’ve been lonely every hour of every day since Wolf died. Ashlyn has made herself a stranger to me. We don’t speak. There was a misunderstanding at the funeral.” Connie shook her head. She didn’t want to think about that. “She has no idea how cruel she’s being. She won’t understand until she has children of her own.”
“I’m sorry,” Meredith said. “If it makes you feel any better, I’m not allowed to contact either of the boys because of the ongoing investigation. And although Freddy isn’t dead, he might as well be.”
There was symmetry in their situations, but Connie didn’t want to contrast and compare to determine whose situation was worse. Thankfully, at that moment, the cars in front of hers started pulling off the ferry, and Connie edged the Escalade forward. As she did so, the panorama of Nantucket in the morning sun was revealed: blue sky, gray-shingled houses, the gold-domed clock tower of the Unitarian Church. Meredith had owned homes in glamorous places—before their falling out, Connie had been to visit her in Palm Beach and Cap d’Antibes—but for Connie, the vista of Nantucket Island was the most breathtaking in the world.
“Wow,” Meredith whispered.
“Get down,” Connie advised. “Just in case.”
There were no cameras, no satellite trucks, no reporters—just the relaxed pace of a Friday morning in early July on Nantucket. There were tourists on Steamship Wharf and the usual crowd on “the strip”—people ordering sandwiches for the beach, renting bicycles, getting their surfboards waxed at Indian Summer. Connie drove past the Nantucket Whaling Museum. Wolf had loved the whaling museum; he had been a maritime buff, reading all of Nathaniel Philbrick’s books and everything by Patrick O’Brian. Wolf’s family had owned the land on Nantucket for generations, and when Connie and Wolf had the money, they tore down the simple cottage that sat on three acres of beachfront land and built a proper house.
The house was located in the hinterlands of Tom Nevers. When Wolf and Connie mentioned that they lived in Tom Nevers, people who knew the island said, “Really? All the way out there?”
It was true that Tom Nevers was “out there” by island standards. It was a six-mile journey down the Milestone Road, and it wasn’t as chic as the village of Sconset, nor was it as prestigious as owning a home that fronted the harbor. Tom Nevers had no restaurants and no shopping; to get coffee and the paper, Connie had to drive to Sconset. Because Tom Nevers faced southeast, it was frequently blanketed in fog, even when the rest of the island was bright and sunny. But Connie loved the peace and quiet, the rugged, deserted beach, and the friendly seal that swam offshore. She loved the low horizon and the simplicity of the other houses. Tom Nevers wasn’t glamorous, but it was home.
As soon as Connie turned into their long, dirt driveway (marked by a weathered wooden plank that said “Flute”) she told Meredith it was okay to sit up.
“Wow,” Meredith said again. The driveway was bordered on either side by eelgrass and wind-flattened Spanish olive trees. They drove on, and Connie wondered what Meredith was thinking. It had been a sensitive topic—long before the thing with Wolf and the money—that Meredith and Freddy had never deigned to visit Wolf and Connie here on Nantucket. Meredith had promised to visit the summer after she graduated from college; she had been on her way with her bus and boat tickets already booked, but she’d canceled at the last minute because of Freddy. And then once Meredith and Freddy were married, Meredith became wrapped up with her fabulous life in the Hamptons.
The house came into view, and the ocean beyond.
Meredith said, “My God, Connie, it’s huge. It’s magnificent.”
Connie felt a bloom of pride, which she knew she should usher away. They had learned, hadn’t they, that material things were evanescent. Meredith had once had everything in the world; now, she had nothing. And yet, Connie couldn’t help feeling a certain satisfaction. It had forever been the case that Connie was considered the pretty one, Meredith the smart one. Connie had been given a life filled with love; Meredith had been given a life filled with fortune: money, places, things, and experiences beyond one’s wildest dreams. Meredith’s home in Palm Beach had once been owned by the Pulitzers. Meredith had hosted Donald and Ivanka for dinner; Jimmy Buffett had sung to her on her fortieth birthday. It was rumored that she even had a star in the heavens named for her.
In the face of this, wasn’t it okay for Connie to feel pleasure that Meredith was impressed by the house? It was huge; it was magnificent.
It was, alas, empty.
That was the thought that met Connie when she opened the front door. Connie’s footsteps echoed in the two-story foyer. The floors were made from white tumbled marble, and there was a curved staircase to the right that swept up the wall like the inside of a nautilus shell. The house had been Wolf’s design.
Wolf was dead. He would never walk into this house again. This reality hit Connie anew in a way that felt unfair. It had been two and a half years; friends and acquaintances had told Connie that life would get incrementally easier, her sorrow would fade, but that day hadn’t come.
Connie struggled for a breath. Beside her, Meredith looked very small and overwhelmed, and Connie thought, We’re a couple of basket cases. Me, once voted “Prettiest and Most Popular.” Meredith, once voted “Most Likely to Succeed.”
Connie said, “Let me show you around.”
She led Meredith through the foyer into the great room, which ran the whole length of the house, and flooded with rosy light at dawn. To the left was the kitchen: maple cabinets fronted with glass, countertops fashioned from blue granite. The kitchen had every bell and whistle because Connie was a gourmet cook. There was an eight-burner Garland stove, a porcelain farmer’s sink, a wine refrigerator, double ovens, a custom-made extra-wide dishwasher, a backsplash of cobalt and white Italian tile that she and Wolf had found on their trek through Cinque Terre. The kitchen flowed into the dining room, which was furnished with a glossy cherrywood table and twelve chairs. Beyond a break for the double doors that led to the back deck was the living area, also decorated in white and blue. At the end of the room was a white brick fireplace with a massive mantel made of driftwood that Wolf’s grandfather had found on their beach after Hurricane Donna in 1960.
“It’s wonderful,” Meredith said. “Who decorated?”
“I did,” Connie said.
“I never decorated a thing in my life,” Meredith said. “We always had Samantha.” She wandered to the far end of the living room, where Wolf’s barometer collection lined the shelves. “That always felt like a privilege, you know, to have Samantha pick things out for us, put things together, create a style for us. But it was phony, like everything else.” She touched the spines of Wolf’s books. “I like this so much better. This room is you and Wolf and Ashlyn.”
“Yes,” Connie said. “It is. It was. It’s hard, you know.” She smiled wistfully. She was happy not to be alone, but it was excruciating to hear Meredith repeating the things that Connie found it impossible to say. “Shall we go down to the water?”
It was particularly hard to be on the beach, because that was where she’d scattered Wolf’s ashes two summers earlier in the presence of Wolf’s brother, Jake, and his wife, Iris, and Toby, who had used the memorial on Nantucket as an opportunity for his last ridiculous bender. As Connie and Meredith left footprints in the wet sand—the tide was low—Connie wondered where the remains of Wolfgang Charles Flute were now. He had been a whole, warm, loving man with impressive height—Wolf was nearly six foot seven—and a baritone voice, a keen intellect, a crackerjack eye. He had been the owner of an architectural firm that built civic office buildings in Washington that were considered innovative, yet traditional enough to hold their own against the monuments. He had been a busy man, an important man, if not particularly powerful by Washington standards or wealthy by Wall Street standards. The best thing about Wolf had been the balanced attention he gave to every aspect of his life. He’d helped Ashlyn make the most dazzling school projects; he had mixed a shockingly cold and delicious martini; he had been a fanatic about the unicycle (which he learned to ride as an undergraduate at Brown) as well as paddleball, tennis, and sailing. He had collected antique sextants and barometers. He had studied astronomy and believed the placement of the stars in the sky could teach man about terrestrial design. Wolf had always been emotionally present in Connie’s life, even when he was working on deadline. On days he had to work late—and there had been two or three a month—he sent flowers, or he invited Connie to come to his office for a candlelight dinner of Indian take-out. When Connie went out with her women friends, he always sent wine to the table and the other women cooed about how lucky Connie was.
But where was he now? He had died of brain cancer, and Connie had followed his wish to be cremated and have his ashes scattered off the beach in Tom Nevers. The ashes had broken down, disintegrated; they had become molecules suspended in seawater. The body that Wolf had inhabited, therefore, was gone; it had been absorbed back into the earth. But Connie thought of him as here somewhere, here in this water swirling around her ankles.
Meredith waded to midshin. The water was still too cold for Connie, but Meredith seemed to be enjoying it. The expression on her face fell somewhere between rapture and devastation. She spoke in a voice full of tears, though as the New York Post promised, her eyes remained dry.
“I never thought I’d put my feet in the ocean again.”
Connie nodded once.
Meredith said, “How do I thank you for this? I have nothing.”
Connie hugged Meredith. She was tiny, like a doll. Once, in high school, they had gotten drunk at a party at Villanova, and Connie had carried Meredith home on her back. “I want nothing,” Connie said.
That was a lovely little Beaches moment down by the water, Connie thought, and it did feel good to have company and it did feel good to have Meredith indebted to her for life, but the magnitude of what Connie had done was now sinking in. Her best friend from childhood was married to the biggest crook the world had ever known. Meredith was persona non grata everywhere. She had millions of disapprovers and thousands of enemies. She was “still under investigation.” The “still” made it seem like being under investigation was a temporary condition that would be cleared up, but what if it wasn’t? What if Meredith was found guilty? What if Meredith was guilty?
What have I done? Connie thought. What have I done?
Meredith settled into her room—a simple guest room with white wainscoting and a small private bath. Both bedroom and bath were done in pinks, decorated by Connie herself with help from Wolf and the woman at Marine Home Center. The bedroom had French doors that opened onto a tight, Romeo-and-Juliet-type balcony. Meredith said she loved the room.
“My room is down the hall,” Connie said. The “room” she was speaking of was the master suite, which comprised the western half of the second floor. There was the bedroom with its California king bed that faced the ocean; there was a bathroom with a deep Jacuzzi tub, glassed-in rainfall shower, dual sinks, water closet, heated tiles in the floor, a wall of mirrors, and a scale that generously dropped a pound or two. There were two enormous closets. (Last summer, Connie had finally taken Wolf’s summer clothes to the hospital thrift shop.) And there was Wolf’s study, complete with drafting table, framed oceanographic maps, and a telescope that had been positioned to view the most interesting summer constellations. Connie didn’t have the emotional strength to show Meredith the master suite, and the fact of the matter was, she hadn’t spent a single night in her own bed since Wolf died. Every night she had been on Nantucket, she had fallen asleep, with the aid of two or three chardonnays, on the sofa downstairs—or, when she had houseguests, on the bottom bunk of the third-floor bedroom, which she was pointlessly preserving for future grandchildren.
She didn’t want to sleep in the bed without Wolf. The same held true at home. She couldn’t explain it. She had read somewhere that the death of a spouse was number one on a list of things that caused stress—and what had she done that morning but invited more stress into her life?
“I have to go to the grocery store,” Connie said.
Meredith said, “Would it be all right if I came along?”
Connie watched Meredith bouncing on her toes, as she used to on the end of a diving board.
“Okay,” Connie said. “But you have to wear your hat and glasses.” Connie was terrified of getting caught. What would happen if someone discovered that Meredith Delinn was here, living with Connie?
“Hat and glasses,” Meredith said.
Connie drove the six miles to Stop & Shop while Meredith made a list on a pad of paper braced against her thigh. Connie’s fear subsided and a sense of well-being sneaked up on her, which she normally only experienced after a very good massage and three glasses of chardonnay. She opened the sunroof, and fresh air rushed in as she turned up the radio—Queen, singing “We Are the Champions,” the victory song of the Merion Mercy field-hockey team, which she and Meredith had both played on for four years. Connie grinned and Meredith turned her face toward the sun, and the car was a happy place for a moment.
In the store, Connie sent Meredith for whole-wheat tortillas and Greek yogurt while she waited at the deli counter. She sent Meredith for laundry detergent, rubber gloves, and sponges, but then Meredith was gone for so long that Connie panicked. She raced through the store with her cart, dodging the other shoppers and their small children, everyone moving at a snail’s pace, drugged by the effects of the sea air and sun. Where was Meredith? Connie was hesitant to call out her name. It was unlikely that she’d left the store, so what was Connie afraid of? She was afraid that Meredith had been handcuffed by FBI agents. Meredith should rightly be in the aisle with the Windex and the paper towels, but she wasn’t there, nor was she in the next aisle, nor the next. Connie had only had her old friend back for a matter of hours, and now she was missing. And Connie wasn’t even sure that she wanted Meredith to stay—so why was she now panicking that Meredith was gone?
Connie found Meredith standing in the bread aisle, holding a bag of kaiser rolls.
Connie flooded with relief, then thought, This is ridiculous. I have to get a grip. “Oh, good,” she said. “I thought I’d lost you.”
Meredith said, “There was a USA Today photographer who staked out the Gristedes by my house, and there was a guy from the National Enquirer who frequented the D’Agostino down the street. I couldn’t go shopping for eggs. Or toothpaste.”
Connie took the rolls from Meredith’s hands and dropped them in the cart. “Well, no one’s following you here.”
“Yet,” Meredith said, adjusting her sunglasses.
“Right. Let’s not press our luck.” Connie headed for the checkout. She was grateful not to know anyone in the store. She and Wolf had made a conscious decision not to engage in Nantucket’s social scene. They attended parties and benefits and dinners at home in Washington all year long, and Nantucket was a break from that, although Wolf still had a few friends on Nantucket from summers growing up. His parents and grandparents had belonged to the Nantucket Yacht Club, and once or twice a summer Wolf was called on to sail, or he and Connie were invited to a cocktail party or barbecue in the garden of a friend’s ancestral summer cottage. But for the most part, Connie and Wolf kept to themselves. Although she had been coming to Nantucket for over twenty years, Connie often felt anonymous. She knew no one and no one knew her.
As they stood in line, Meredith handed Connie three twenty-dollar bills. “I’d like to chip in for expenses.”
Connie considered waving the money away. The television reporters had made it clear that—unless there was a cache of funds at some offshore bank—Meredith Delinn had been left penniless. “Do what you can,” Connie said. “But there’s no pressure.”
“Okay,” Meredith whispered.
On their way back to Tom Nevers, Connie noticed a commotion at the rotary. News vans were clustered in the parking lot of the Inquirer and Mirror, the island newspaper. Connie did a double take. Were those news vans?
“Get down,” Connie said. “Those are reporters.” She checked the rearview mirror. “CNN, ABC.”
Meredith bent in half; she was as low as the seatbelt would allow. “You’re kidding,” she said.
“I kid you not.”
“I can’t believe this,” Meredith said. “I can’t believe they care where I am. Well, of course they care where I am. Of course the whole world needs to know that I am now summering on Nantucket. So they can make me look bad. So they can make it seem like I’m still living a life of luxury.”
“Which you are,” Connie said, trying to smile.
“Why couldn’t you live someplace awful?” Meredith said. “Why couldn’t you live in East Saint Louis? Why couldn’t they be reporting that Mrs. Delinn was spending the summer in hot and dangerous East Saint Louis?”
“This isn’t funny,” Connie said. She checked her rearview mirror. The road behind them was clear. Connie checked again. “Well, guess what. They’re not following us.”
Connie motored on. She felt the teensiest bit disappointed. “False alarm, I guess.” She tried to think why there would have been TV vans at the rotary, and then she remembered a third-or fourth-tier news story, buried way beneath the sentencing of Freddy Delinn. “Oh, that’s right!” she said. “The president is here this weekend!”
Meredith sat up. “You scared me.” She was doing some audible Lamaze breathing to calm herself down, and Connie remembered when Meredith was in the hospital after giving birth to Leo. Connie had taken two-year-old Ashlyn to the hospital to see Meredith and the baby. Freddy had been as proud as a goddamned rooster, handing out expensive (not to mention illegal) Cuban cigars; he’d pushed one on Connie, saying, “Go home and give it to Wolf. He’s going to love it.” Connie remembered feeling jealous that giving birth had come so easily for Meredith (Connie had slogged through twenty-three hours of labor with Ashlyn and she’d suffered a uterine rupture, which precluded her from having any more children). Meredith had said, “Thank God, Freddy got his boy and the hallowed Delinn name will live on.” This had upset Connie; she had felt defensive that Ashlyn was a girl and that there would be no more children to carry on the hallowed Flute name. Feeling bad about this led to resentment that, while Connie had made the trip from Bethesda to New York to see Meredith in the hospital, Meredith hadn’t made the reverse trip two years earlier when Ashlyn was born. It was amazing how memories intruded like that. It was amazing how Connie’s mind held the good and the bad of every interaction, swirled together like children’s paints. Meredith might only remember happiness that Connie had come, or recall the cute outfit that Connie had brought. When Meredith thought of Leo being born, she might only think, Leo is under investigation.
Connie turned into her driveway and parked in front of the house. Meredith scrambled to get the groceries out of the car.
“You go in and relax,” Meredith said. “I’ll get these.”
Connie laughed. “You’re not an indentured servant,” she said. “But thank you for the help.”
She flashed back to that day at the hospital. Meredith had allowed Ashlyn to hold her hours-old infant, even though the head nurse strongly advised against it. It’ll be fine! Meredith had said. Connie and I will be right here. Meredith had snapped the pictures herself. She’d had one framed and sent it to Connie. And then, of course, she’d asked Connie to be Leo’s godmother.
“It’s nice to have someone else around,” Connie said.
“Even me?” Meredith said.
“Even you,” Connie said.
At ten minutes to five, Meredith couldn’t put it off any longer: she had to call her attorneys and give them her coordinates. She was still under investigation. She wasn’t allowed to leave the country; the Feds had her passport. Burt and Dev needed to know where she was.
She sat on her bed and turned on her cell phone. This had become a suspenseful moment in Meredith’s daily routine: Had anyone called her? Had anyone texted her? Would Carver and Leo break the rules and text her the I love you that she so desperately needed? Had any of Meredith’s former friends found enough compassion in their hearts to reach out? Would she hear from Samantha? Had Burt or Dev called? Did they have good news or bad news? How bad was the bad news? Would this be the moment when Meredith received the worst news? Indeed, the reason Meredith kept her phone turned off was to limit the torture to this one moment, instead of living with it all day long.
There were no messages and no texts. This presented its own kind of misery.
She dialed the law firm and said a Hail Mary, which was what she always did when she dialed the law firm. She could hear the sounds of Connie making dinner downstairs.
Meredith had thought she might feel safer on Nantucket, but she was plagued by a low-grade terror. Nantucket was an island, thirty miles out to sea. What if she needed to escape? There would be no hopping in a cab uptown or downtown or across the bridge or through the tunnel into New Jersey. There would be no hightailing it to Connecticut if Leo or Carver needed her. She felt both exiled and trapped.
Meredith had $46,000 of her own money. This was the savings that she’d tucked away in a CD earning 1.5 percent, from her teaching job in the 1980s. (Freddy had ridiculed her for this. Let me invest it, he’d said. I’ll double it in six months.) But Meredith had kept rolling over the money in that CD for no reason other than personal pride—and how relieved she was now! She had something to live on, actual legitimate money that she’d earned and banked. Forty-six thousand dollars would seem a fortune to many people, she knew, but to her it felt like a pittance. She had run through that much in an afternoon of antiques shopping. Disgusting! she thought as the phone rang. How had she become that person?
The receptionist answered.
“May I speak with Burton Penn, please?” Meredith asked.
“May I ask who’s calling?” the receptionist said.
Meredith cringed. She hated identifying herself. “Meredith Delinn.”
The receptionist didn’t respond. The receptionist never responded, though Meredith had called and spoken to this selfsame receptionist dozens of times.
The phone rang. Although Meredith had asked for Burt, the person who answered the phone was Dev.
“Hi Dev,” Meredith said. “It’s Meredith.”
“Thank God,” Dev said. “I was just about to call your cell. Where are you?”
“I’m on Nantucket,” Meredith said.
“Nantucket?” Dev said, “What are you doing on Nantucket?”
“I’m with a friend,” Meredith said.
Dev made a noise of surprise. Clearly, he had been under the impression that Meredith didn’t have any friends. And he was right. But Meredith had Connie. Was Connie her friend? Connie was something; Meredith wasn’t sure what.
“What’s the address there?” Dev asked.
“I have no idea.”
“Phone number? Please, Meredith, give me something. The Feds want us to have contact information for you on the ground.”
Meredith had written down the phone number at the house. She recited it to Dev.
He said, “First things first. I’m glad you’re safe.” Meredith smiled. Dev was one person, aside from her sons, who didn’t want to see her jump off the George Washington Bridge. Her other attorney, Burt, would never have expressed this kind of sentiment. Burt didn’t dislike Meredith, but he was detached. She was a case, a legal problem. She was work.
Dev said, “I heard from Warden Carmell at the MCC, and he said Mr. Delinn was shipped out on the bus at noon. Ten hours down to Butner. He’s due to arrive tonight.”
Meredith closed her eyes. When her attorneys had called her to tell her Freddy had been given the maximum sentence, Meredith hadn’t been sure what they meant. She had turned on the TV and saw Freddy being led out of the courtroom in his light-gray suit, which no longer fit. The banner across the bottom of the screen read: Delinn sentenced to 150 years. Meredith had run for the kitchen sink, where she vomited up the half cup of tea she’d managed to ingest that morning. She heard a noise and she thought it was the TV, but it was the phone. She’d dropped the phone on the ground, and Burt was calling out, “Meredith, are you there? Hello? Hello?” Meredith hung up the phone and shut off the TV. She was done.
She had gone into her bedroom and fallen back onto her king-size bed. She had sixteen hours until federal marshals came to escort her from her home and she would have to give up the sheets, which were as crisp as paper, the luscious silk quilt, the sumptuous down-filled duvet.
One hundred and fifty years.
Meredith had understood then that Freddy had taken her hand at the edge of a giant hole, and he had asked her to jump with him, and she had agreed. She’d jumped without knowing how deep the hole was or what would happen when they hit the bottom.
“Okay,” Meredith said to Dev now, although obviously the fact that Freddy was going to prison for two or three lifetimes wasn’t okay. She was so angry with Freddy that she wanted to rip her hair out, but the thought of him on that bus crushed her.
“The sticking point with your investigation…”
“I know the sticking point.”
“They can’t seem to get past it,” Dev said. “Do you have anything to add?”
“Nothing to add,” Meredith said.
“Anything to amend?”
“Nothing to amend.”
“You know how bad it looks?” Dev said. “Fifteen million dollars is a lot of money, Meredith.”
“I have nothing to add or amend,” Meredith said. “I told it all in my deposition. Do they think I lied in my deposition?”
“They think you lied in your deposition,” Dev said. “Lots of people do.”
“Well, I didn’t,” Meredith said.
“Okay,” Dev said, but he didn’t sound convinced. “If you think of anything you want to add or amend, just call. Otherwise, we’ll be in touch.”
“What about Leo?” Meredith said. “Please tell me about Leo.”
“I didn’t hear from Julie today,” Dev said. Julie Schwarz was Leo’s attorney. It was her job, now, to help federal investigators find Mrs. Misurelli, and to prove that Deacon Rapp was lying. “And days that I don’t hear from Julie are good days, much as I love her. It just means there’s no news. And as they say, no news is…”
“Right,” Meredith said. She wasn’t going to utter the words “good news.” Not until she and Leo and Carver were free and clear. And together.
Goddamn you, Freddy! she thought (zillionth and first).
A voice rang out from downstairs: it was Connie, calling her for dinner.
They sat at a round teak table on the deck and gazed out at the indifferent ocean. The ocean didn’t care whether mankind lived or died or cheated or stole; it just kept rolling and tumbling over itself, encroaching, then receding.
Connie had poured herself a glass of wine. She said, “Meredith, do you want wine?”
“Do you have any red?”
“Of course I have red,” Connie said, standing up.
“No, wait. I don’t want it,” Meredith said. The chicken was cooking on the grill, and it smelled far more delicious than anything Meredith had eaten in months. Meredith would have loved a glass of red to go with the chicken and the fresh, delicious salad that they were now eating—Connie had whipped up the vinaigrette while Meredith looked on, astonished—but drinking a glass of red wine would put Meredith right back at her usual table at Rinaldo’s, next to Freddy.
“I’m sure.” Meredith squinted out at the water. She saw a sleek, black head out about twenty yards. “Do you have seals?”
“That’s Harold,” Connie said. “Our seal. He’s always here.”
Meredith watched Harold swim through the breaking waves, then she noticed Connie’s downcast eyes.
“Are you okay?” Meredith asked.
Connie took a sip of her wine and nodded, but her eyes were shining. Our seal: she was thinking about Wolf. Meredith wanted to take Connie’s hand, but she wasn’t sure how that kind of gesture would be received.
Connie sniffed. “Tell me something.”
“What?” Meredith said.
“I don’t know. Anything,” Connie said. “We have to start somewhere.”
Instinctively, Meredith checked her wrist. For her birthday in October, Freddy had given her a tiger-striped Cartier watch, but Meredith had been required to leave behind any personal effects purchased in the past twelve months worth more than three hundred dollars. She said, “Well, as we speak, Freddy is on the bus for Butner. He’ll get there at ten o’clock tonight.”
“Jesus,” Connie said.
“What he did was awful,” Meredith said. She swallowed, and wished for that wine, but she took a sip of ice water instead. Her glass of ice water had a paper-thin slice of lemon in it. Things at Connie’s house were nice like that. What had Meredith done to deserve this? Freddy was, at that very moment, on some bus to North Carolina, his hands and feet shackled in heavy iron cuffs. The bus driver probably stopped for bathroom breaks every four hours or so. If Freddy couldn’t hold it, he would wet himself, and the other prisoners would love that. Meredith tensed with worry, as she might have for one of her children. Freddy suffered from a weak bladder. Recently, Meredith wondered if this had been a side effect from carrying around so much stress, fear, and guilt. Maybe now that he’d confessed, his bladder was sturdier. “I went to see him in jail.”
“I know,” Connie said. “I saw it on TV. I mean, I saw you headed down there.”
“It was a disaster,” Meredith said. “In retrospect, I shouldn’t have gone. But I wanted to see him.”
After the police hauled Freddy away on the afternoon of December 8, Meredith had found herself thinking of him in the past tense, as though he were dead—but he was alive, only a few miles away at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, which was connected to the federal courthouse by an underground tunnel. Meredith could go visit him. But should she? As the weeks passed, she went back and forth on this question. Absolutely not. But yes, she had to; there were so many things to ask. She wasn’t sure how it would look to the rest of the world. She couldn’t decide. She asked her attorneys.
“Should I go see Freddy in jail?” she said. “Or should I follow my sons’ example and cut him out of my life?”
They stumbled over each other trying to answer. Dev, she could tell, wanted her to forsake the old man. What can he do for you now? He’s ruined you along with everyone else. Burt, on the other hand, was more orthodox.
“I’m not your publicist,” Burt said. “I’m your attorney. So it’s my job to tell you that you have a legal right to visit your husband.” He handed her a sheet of paper. “Visiting hours are Mondays between nine and eleven. The visit can last up to an hour.”
“Can I bring him anything? What does he need?”
Burt cleared his throat. “They’re pretty strict about what will make it through security down there.” The way he said this sounded vague. It sounded as if there were pages and pages of regulations, but Burt had yet to grow familiar with them. Had Burt ever had a client in jail before? Meredith wouldn’t embarrass him by asking point-blank. “Quarters are good.”
“Rolls of quarters,” Burt said. “For the vending machines.”
“For the vending machines,” Meredith repeated. She thought about Freddy selecting a bag of Doritos or a package of Twinkies from a vending machine, and a part of her died. But what did she think he was eating in there? Salad caprese?
She decided not to go. The only way she could ever hope to save herself was to do what her children had done: denounce Freddy and the life they’d led together. When Leo and Carver found out about Freddy’s crimes, they had roared in anger, and Freddy sat impassively, offering them nothing to combat the fact that they were the sons of a thief and a pathological liar. They had stormed out of the apartment, and Meredith understood now, though she hadn’t at the time, that the boys had expected her to go with them. But she had stayed by Freddy’s side, because that was where her rut had been dug for the past thirty years. She couldn’t leave Freddy until this was figured out. Leo had said, What precisely do you need to figure out, Mom? Dad is a thief. He’s a criminal! He has committed financial genocide! Carver said, We’re changing our name. You should, too.
Meredith knew she should make a statement, do an interview with Barbara Walters, if Barbara would have her. Explain the truth as she understood it, even though nobody on God’s green earth would believe her.
Weeks passed, then months. Meredith stuck to her resolve. Don’t think about Freddy. Pretend Freddy is dead. But as the evidence materialized against her, and then against Leo, Meredith realized her best hope lay in going to see him. She needed answers. There was the matter of the money: The money the Feds knew about, and the money they didn’t. He had to give it back—all of it. He understood this, right? How long had the Ponzi scheme been going on? Since the beginning? Had Delinn Enterprises ever been fully legitimate? Wasn’t there some way to prove that Leo was innocent, that Deacon Rapp was lying about Leo? Couldn’t Freddy give up the names of the people who had conspired with him in order to save his son? Meredith started scribbling out a list of questions. She had eighty-four. Eighty-four questions that required answers, including a question about why Freddy had been touching Samantha’s back that day.
To the jail, Meredith had worn jeans and a white button-down shirt and suede flats and her trench coat, and she carried a clutch purse with two rolls of quarters inside. Her hair hadn’t been colored in months, and there had been no trips to Palm Beach, so she was graying and her skin was the color of paste. She wore no makeup—she couldn’t insult the American public by bothering with mascara—although she knew that by not prettying herself, she would invite the press to comment on how worn-out she looked. Well, she was worn-out. The mob of photographers and reporters was waiting for her, snapping pictures, sticking microphones in her face, but Burt and Dev were there to fend them off and hail her a cab.
Later, she would wish she’d stayed in the relative safety of her apartment.
There had been a terrific wait to get in to see Freddy, during which Meredith experienced thirty-one flavors of anxiety. Burt and Dev were with her—together, they were costing her nine hundred dollars an hour, though how she would ever pay them, she had no idea. Burt checked his BlackBerry with a compulsivity that unsettled Meredith. Dev paged restlessly through an outdated National Geographic from the sad, wobbly lounge table that was scarred with other people’s initials. He then set the magazine down and studied the other denizens of the waiting room—the men and women who looked even more hopeless and lost than Meredith felt—as though he were going to put them in a novel. They didn’t speak until Meredith was called to go through security, when both Burt and Dev wished her luck. They weren’t going in with her. Security was another long and arduous process where Meredith and her clutch and trench coat were subjected to scrutiny. Meredith was patted down—roughly—by a female officer twice her size. The woman did everything but pick Meredith up, turn her upside down, and shake her. She didn’t say so, but she must have recognized Meredith and felt the predictable contempt. At the end, she shoved Meredith, just for fun.
Meredith didn’t protest. She was too nervous to protest because she was being escorted through locked doors and down long, stark hallways, to see Freddy. Meredith had promised herself she wouldn’t break down. She would fight off sentimentality and longing. She would simply ask Freddy the questions she needed the answers to, maybe not all eighty-four—there wouldn’t be time for that—but the top two or three: Where was the rest of the money? What could they do to clear Leo’s name? How could she prove to the world she was innocent? At this point, Freddy was the only person who could help her.
When she finally did see Freddy, she lost her legs. The guard had her firmly by the arm and kept her upright.
Freddy! A voice inside her head was echoing down a long tunnel.
He was wearing an orange jumpsuit, just like the prisoners they’d seen on countless reruns of Law & Order; his hands were cuffed behind his back. His hair, which had been salt-and-pepper curls, was shaved down to the scalp, and nearly white. He was fifty-two; he looked seventy-five. But it was him just the same, the boy who had accosted her in the stacks of the Princeton bookstore. They had been enrolled in the same anthropology course, and Meredith had picked up the last used textbook, thinking she would save her parents some money. Freddy had begged her for it. He’d said, I can’t afford a new textbook, so if you buy that one, I’ll have to go without, and if I go without, I’ll fail the course. You don’t want me to fail the course, do you? And she’d said, Who are you? And he’d said, I’m Freddy Delinn. Who are you?
She’d told him her name was Meredith Martin.
He said, You’re very pretty, Meredith Martin, but that’s not why I’m asking you for the book. I’m asking you because I’m here on six different scholarships, my mother works at a bottling plant during the day and at Kmart as a cashier at night, and I need that used book.
Meredith had nodded, taken aback by his candor. Growing up on the Main Line, she had never heard anyone admit to poverty before. She liked his black hair and blue eyes and his pale, smooth skin. She would have mistaken him for just another beautiful, assholish upperclassman had it not been for his humility, which pierced her. Meredith had found him instantly intriguing. And he had called her pretty! Toby had broken up with Meredith only a few months earlier, and he had so decimated her self-esteem that she’d been certain no one would ever call her “pretty” again.
She handed Freddy the used book and took a new book, at more than double the price, for herself.
This entire memory was encapsulated in a single moment as she looked at Freddy. Meredith thought, I never should have given him that book. I should have said, “Tough luck,” and walked away.
The warden released Freddy’s wrists from the cuffs so he could talk to Meredith on the phone.
Meredith found herself unable to speak. She didn’t pick up the phone and neither did he. He had always believed that Meredith was smarter than he was—true—that she was classier, better bred, more refined. He had always treated her like a rare, one-of-a-kind treasure; he had lived in awe of her. Deep in her heart, she worried—God, how she worried—that he had started all of this as a way to impress her.
She picked up the phone. “Fred.”
The guard standing behind Freddy helped him pick up the phone and put it to his ear.
“Fred, it’s Meredith.” Saying this made her feel idiotic, but she wasn’t sure he recognized her. She had pictured him crying, apologizing; she had, at the very least, pictured him expressing his undying love.
He regarded her coolly. She tried to get the guard’s attention to ask “Is he okay?” but the guard was staring off into middle space, perhaps willfully, and Meredith couldn’t snag him.
“Fred,” Meredith said. “I need you to listen to me. I’m in trouble and Leo’s in trouble. They’re trying to get me on a conspiracy charge.” She swallowed. “They think I knew about it!” Freddy seemed to be listening, but he didn’t respond. “And they think Leo was working with you on the seventeenth floor. Someone named Deacon Rapp told them this.” Meredith watched Freddy’s face for a flicker of recognition or interest. “Where is the rest of the money, Fred?” She had the list of eighty-four questions in her clutch purse—no one from security had even bothered to look at it—but if he could just tell her this one thing, then she could turn the information over to the Feds, and maybe that would get them off the hook. Even if there wasn’t very much left—a few billion or hundreds of millions—to give the Feds this information would help her and Leo. There would be no helping Freddy at this point. “Please tell me where the rest of the money is. An offshore account? Switzerland? The Middle East? It does nobody any good hidden, Freddy.”
Freddy removed the receiver from his ear and looked at it like it was something he might eat. Then he set the receiver down on the counter in front of him.
She said, “Freddy, wait! They’re going to prosecute me. They’re going to prosecute Leo. Our son.” Maybe Freddy didn’t care about Meredith; she had to acknowledge the possibility that, along with lying about everything else, he had been lying about his devotion to her. But he would never knowingly allow Leo to go to prison.
He stared at her. The Plexiglas between them reminded Meredith of being at the zoo. Freddy was watching her like she was some curious specimen of wildlife.
She tried another tack. “I brought you quarters,” she said. “For the vending machines.” She held up the quarters, the only thing she had to bargain with.
He tilted his head but said nothing.
“He had no intention of talking to me,” Meredith said to Connie. “He wasn’t going to explain himself, he wasn’t going to give me any answers. He wasn’t going to give me anything. He didn’t care if I went to prison. He didn’t care if Leo went to prison.”
Connie said, “He’s a bastard, Meredith.”
Meredith nodded. She had heard people say this again and again. Her attorneys had said it. Even Freddy’s attorney, Richard Cassel, had said it to Meredith, out in the hallway before Meredith’s deposition: You knew he was a bastard when you married him. But it wasn’t that easy. Freddy had been many things during the thirty years of their marriage and a bastard wasn’t one of them. Freddy was smart and charming and driven to succeed like nobody Meredith had ever known. And he had made it clear that Meredith was part of his success. How many times had he said it? She was his winning lottery ticket. Without her, he was nothing. She, in turn, had done what any devoted wife would do: she had defended him. He had returns of 29 percent in good years. Meredith reminded people that he had been the star of the economics department at Princeton. He delivered returns of 8 percent in down years, and people were even happier. Meredith said, “Freddy’s got the magic. He understands the stock market like nobody else.”
But those who weren’t invited to invest with Delinn Enterprises had been jealous, then suspicious. He’s lying. He’s cheating. He’s breaking the law. He’s got to be; you just can’t deliver returns like that in this economy. Although it was difficult, Meredith learned to snub these people. She took them off the lists of the benefits she was chairing; she had them blackballed from clubs. These actions, now, seemed abominable, but at the time, she had only been defending her husband.
Was Freddy a bastard? Yes—God, yes! Meredith knew it now but didn’t understand it. She didn’t understand how she had lived with the man for thirty years without knowing him. He had always been generous to a fault; he made good things happen for people. He called the dean of admissions at Princeton to get his secretary’s son off the waiting list. He gave a pregnant woman his seat in first class, while he took her seat in coach—on a transatlantic flight! He sent Meredith’s mother orchids every year on her birthday without a reminder from Meredith. Was he a bastard? Yes, but he had hidden it well. And that was part of the allure of Freddy Delinn—he came across as mysterious and unknowable. What was it Freddy was hiding in the deep recesses of his mind, behind his kind and generous facade?
Now, of course, Meredith knew. Everyone knew.
Things at the jail had ended badly. Freddy didn’t say a single word. He stood up and offered his wrists to the guard like a well-trained monkey—and the guard, without so much as a glance at Meredith, shackled him back up.
“Wait!” Meredith said. She jumped up abruptly, knocking her chair over, and she slapped her palms against the Plexiglas. “Freddy, wait! Don’t leave. Don’t you dare leave!” She felt a force on her arms, the guards grabbed her, and she struggled to break free. She shouted, “They’re going to throw us in jail, Fred! Your family! You have to fix this! You have to tell them we’re innocent!” The guard had her bent over in a half nelson. She screamed. “Freddy! Goddamn it, Fred, tell them!”
The guard led Freddy away. It was no use; there was no getting him back. He was going to let them drown. Meredith’s body went limp in the guard’s grip; she clapped her mouth shut. She had never, ever raised her voice in public. She thought, He’s drugged. Or they’d given him a lobotomy or shock treatment. He’d been sitting right there, but he hadn’t been himself. He would never willfully let his wife and son go to the gallows.
As Meredith was led back down the depressing hallways from whence she’d come, she had to admit: she didn’t know.
“So you still haven’t spoken to him?” Connie said. “You haven’t gotten any answers?”
“No answers,” Meredith said. “My attorneys told me that Freddy has stopped speaking altogether. They’re diagnosing it as a type of post-traumatic stress disorder.”
“Give me a break,” Connie said. “Freddy?”
It seemed unlikely. Freddy was tough. He had come from nothing. His father had left the family when Fred was in diapers, then Fred lost his only brother, but he had shored himself up. He didn’t believe in things like PTSD. He was a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of guy. He was a nothing’s-gonna-happen-until-you-make-it-happen kind of guy. He had been so hard on the boys, Meredith remembered; they’d had to earn Fred’s respect. There were no excuses for bad grades or bad behavior or a missed fly ball. There were no excuses if they forgot a “please” or a “thank you,” or if they neglected to hold the door for their mother. You kids have it so much easier than I had it. You don’t even know. You don’t know a thing.
Burt and Dev had confirmed with prison officials that Freddy Delinn had completely shut down. He was spending time in psych, but they couldn’t make him talk. He spoke to no one.
“Sometimes prisoners use this as a form of control over their captors,” Burt said. “He’s like that Indian in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
So he was being willfully mute, Meredith thought. Which should not be confused with PTSD. He was pulling a Chief Bromden. Had Freddy even read Cuckoo’s Nest?
“I don’t know what to do,” Meredith said to Connie. “Freddy is the only one who can save me, and he won’t do it.”
“Forget Freddy,” Connie said. “You’re going to have to save yourself.”
That night, Meredith didn’t sleep. Goddamn you, Freddy, she thought (zillionth and second). But she was sick with worry about him. By now, he would be getting adjusted to the horrors of his new, incredibly permanent home. What did it look like? What did it smell like? What did they feed him? Where did he go to the bathroom? Where did he shower?
And how were the boys? Meredith had seen some of the houses that Carver renovated—he favored glorious old Victorians in sad, sagging disrepair. He yanked out carpet and sanded down the long-hidden wood floors beneath. He drove around to architectural salvage places looking for glass doorknobs and stained glass windows. In Meredith’s imagination, the boys were living in such a house; it smelled like polyurethane; every surface was coated with sawdust. Carver hung doors while Leo lay across a high-backed sofa, talking to Julie Schwarz on the phone. Meredith knew the Feds had seized his computer and were trying to back up Deacon Rapp’s claims and link Leo to the bandits on the seventeenth floor. The Feds were still trying to track down Mrs. Misurelli in Italy so they could depose her. She, apparently, had been the gatekeeper upstairs. In this case, being “under investigation” for Leo was a lot of sit around and wait. Maybe in his spare time—and there would now be much of it—Leo helped Carver paint bedrooms or shingle the roof or repoint the brickwork of the eight fireplaces. Meredith was certain Anais was around; she had remained steadfast. She would cook her famous veggie enchiladas for Leo and Carver, and she would grow jealous about how much time Leo was spending on the phone with Julie Schwarz.
Meredith was okay picturing the boys like this, although Leo was a worrier and she knew he’d be having night sweats. For years when he was a child, Leo had wandered into Meredith and Freddy’s bedroom, afraid of the dark. He had a recurring dream about a scary pelican. Now the scary pelican was real: It was Deacon Rapp, it was the FBI, it was Freddy. Meredith couldn’t stop the unbidden flashes of Leo in prison, his head shaved, the other men coming after him day and night with their sick desires. Leo was only twenty-six.
Fear gripped her like hands around the neck, the way it could only happen in an unfamiliar room in the pitch black of night. Take me if you must, Meredith thought. But do not take my son.
Connie had been right about one thing: Meredith was going to have to save them herself.
But how? How?
In the morning, Connie said, “I’m going to the Sconset Market for some muffins and the newspaper. And I’m going to the package store for a case of wine.”
Meredith nodded and tried not to seem like an eager, panting dog. Don’t leave me here alone, she thought. Please.
“I know you want to come with me,” Connie said. “But Sconset is a tiny village, and everyone who summers there has summered there forever. Strangers are scrutinized. Someone will ask you who you are, guaranteed. The Sconset Market is microscopic. So you’re going to have to stay here. We don’t want anyone…”
“Right,” Meredith whispered. “I know.”
“I won’t be gone long,” Connie said.
Meredith took an old book-club selection of Connie’s out onto the deck. She would read in the sun; this was what people did in the summertime. This was what Meredith had done for days on end all those years in Southampton. She had read by her pool, walked to the ocean, swam with the boys and watched them surf; she had pitched the Wiffle ball to them and chased after their grounders. She had thrown the Frisbee to the dog. She had cut flowers from the garden and had given instructions to their housekeeper, Louisa. She had invited people for dinner, and made reservations at Nick and Toni’s, and dealt with the details of the various fundraisers she was chairing. Her life had been disgustingly easy; it had, in so many ways, been beneath her. Brilliant and talented, her father used to say. And yet, what had she done with it?
Goddamn you, Freddy, she thought (zillionth and third). She tried to concentrate on the words on the page of her book—it was about a woman in a small town who is murdered—but Meredith’s mind was squawking. She lived with a bullhorn in her head, loudly announcing and reannouncing her fears; it was the internal soundtrack of extreme anxiety. There was medication for it, perhaps. Meredith wondered if Connie had anything. She didn’t want to snoop, but a few minutes after Connie left the house, Meredith padded upstairs to the master suite. She just wanted to see it.
The door that led to the suite was closed tight, and Meredith wouldn’t have been surprised or insulted if the door had been locked. After all, Connie was now rooming with the wife of the biggest crook in history. But the door was open, and Meredith tiptoed through the rooms. The bedroom had an arresting view of the ocean, and the bed was made up with Frette linens (Meredith checked, she couldn’t help herself, though she knew she shouldn’t care about things like thread count anymore). The closets were roomy. Wolf’s closet was completely empty except for some padded hangers and a thick, nubby fisherman’s sweater folded on the dresser. Meredith touched the sweater, then felt she had, somehow, crossed a line. She didn’t look in Connie’s closet, though she would have liked to—even as a schoolgirl, Connie had had a flair for fashion. However, Meredith couldn’t help from peeking in the master bath—and that was when she saw the prescription bottles. There were four or five of them, and Meredith was sure that one of those prescriptions would help her. She eyed the brown bottles for a long, hot moment, then she made herself retrace her steps and leave the suite, shutting the door behind her.
She wondered if it was a bad thing that Connie had brought her to this beautiful house where she had nothing to do but think. If she had been scrounging half-eaten Big Macs out of a Dumpster, consumed with worry about her daily survival, she wouldn’t have this much time to think.
And that might have been better.
Back on the deck, Meredith tried to read. The woman in her novel was worse off than she was; she had been murdered in the woods. The mother of that woman was worse off than she was. But then Meredith realized she was that woman. If Leo went to prison, he would be raped, beaten, and eventually killed. She was sure of it. But she had to stop thinking like this. The bullhorn blared in her head. Freddy was in Butner for all eternity. Meredith was here. How had she gotten here?
Before Meredith graduated from high school and attended Princeton and fatefully met Freddy Delinn in the stacks of the campus bookstore, there had been one presiding fact in Meredith’s life, and that was that she loved her parents. She had loved her mother, Deidre, certainly, but she had been especially devoted to her father.
Meredith’s father’s name was Charles Robert Martin, but everybody called him Chick. Chick Martin was a respected lawyer in the downtown Philadelphia firm of Saul, Ewing, Remick, and Saul; he worked on the thirty-eighth floor of the high-rise known throughout the city as the “clothespin building,” because of the Claes Oldenburg sculpture out front. Chick specialized in the laws of arbitrage, and although Meredith loved her father to distraction, she had never learned exactly what arbitrage was. (Fred had claimed to understand arbitrage inside out, but it was safe to say he had been bluffing about that.) The way her father explained it, he had very specialized knowledge about a certain portion of the tax code, and his law partners came to him with intricate and tricky questions that he would, after hours of research, produce the answers to.
Chick Martin made a handsome salary. The Martins had an impressive home in Villanova with white columns and black shutters and a wide green lawn in front and back. Inside the house, there were beautiful crown moldings, five working fireplaces, a butler’s pantry, and a dumbwaiter that ran from the kitchen to the basement.
Chick Martin was a golfer—the family belonged to the Aronimink Country Club—and a rabid Philadelphia sports fan. He had season tickets to the Eagles, and he would very often be given box seats to see the Phillies at the Vet, or the Flyers or Sixers at the Spectrum. He once took Meredith to a car dealership to shake hands with Dr. J, and the two things that Meredith remembered about that event were that Dr. J’s hand was so large it spread halfway up her forearm, and Chick Martin, whom Meredith had believed was the most important man in Philadelphia, had been rendered speechless by the presence of Julius Erving. Meredith had wanted to intervene on her father’s behalf and tell Dr. J that her father was a tax attorney who specialized in the difficult, mysterious world of arbitrage, and that it should be Dr. J who was in awe of Chick Martin and not the other way around. Her father had brought a basketball for Dr. J to sign, which he had, in a sprawling script without even really paying attention, but Meredith’s father was delighted. He mounted it on a pedestal in his office.
Chick Martin was a guy’s guy. There were always other men around the house at night and on the weekends—other attorneys and executives and business owners who played golf with Chick, or who accepted tickets to the Eagles, or who came over to the house on the last Thursday of every month for poker. Poker in the Martin household was a sacred affair that occurred in the game room and involved cigar smoking and subs delivered from Minella’s Diner. On poker nights, Meredith’s mother read in her bedroom with the door closed, and Meredith was supposed to do her homework upstairs and go straight to bed. Meredith always broke this rule. She wandered down to the game room, and her father would let her sit on his lap and munch on the dill pickle that accompanied his eggplant parm sub, while he played his hand. When she got older, he pulled up a chair for her and taught her how to read the cards.
The other men accepted Meredith’s presence in the room, though she could tell they didn’t love it, so she never stayed for more than three hands, and she never asked to play.
Once, when she was just out of the room, the door closing behind her, she heard Mr. Lewis, who was an estate attorney for Blank, Rome, say, “That’s a good-looking daughter you got there, Chick.”
And Meredith’s father said, “Watch your mouth.”
And George Wayne, who was a big shot at PSFS and a descendant of General Anthony Wayne, said, “Do you ever wish you’d had a boy, Chickie?”
And Meredith’s father said, “Hell, no. I wouldn’t trade Meredith in for a hundred boys. That girl is perfection. That girl owns my heart.”
Hearing her father speak those words confirmed what Meredith already knew: she was safe. Her father’s love was both a cocoon and a rabbit’s foot. She would live a happy life.
And, indeed, she did. Her grades were excellent, and she was a natural athlete: she played field hockey and lacrosse, and she was a champion diver. As a diver, she made it to the finals in State College her junior and senior years; in her senior year, she placed third. She’d had interest from Big Ten schools, but she didn’t want to carry the burden that a Division I athletic scholarship entailed. She wanted to be well rounded. She edited the yearbook and was a lector during morning chapel. She was that girl at Merion Mercy, the girl everyone admired and talked about with near-embarrassing praise.
Meredith was safe, too, because she’d had a best friend since the beginning of time, and that friend was Constance O’Brien. They met at preschool at Tarleton, although Meredith didn’t actually remember meeting Connie. By the time their synapses connected time and circumstance in a meaningful way, they had already been friends for years, and so it seemed to both girls that they had always been together. They grew up a half mile from each other in the same kind of house, which is to say, Catholic, upper-middle class, civilized but not snobbish. The only difference between the two homes was that Connie’s mother, Veronica, drank. And the way Meredith knew that Veronica O’Brien drank was because her own parents talked about it: Veronica went to the Mastersons’ party, picked a fight with her husband, Bill, and battled it out with him on the front lawn. Veronica fell down and bruised her hip. She forgot to pay the neighborhood babysitter so many times that the babysitter refused to work there anymore. When Meredith was older, she heard about Veronica O’Brien’s drinking from Connie. Her mother left a bottle of vodka in the second fridge in the garage and did three shots before Bill O’Brien came home from work. Veronica committed minor offenses like throwing away Connie’s paper on Mark Twain, and major offenses like setting the kitchen drapes on fire. Connie and Toby had learned to keep their friends out of the house. But they took advantage of the money and the freedom their mother bestowed on them while drinking, and when they reached a certain age, they burgled their mother’s wine and vodka and gin and drank it themselves.
Veronica O’Brien’s drinking—though it did manifest itself in more insidious ways eventually—did little to hamper Meredith and Connie’s childhood happiness together. They were twins, sisters, soul mates. As they got older, however, the peace was harder to keep. They were growing and changing; things grew nuanced. There was one twenty-four-hour period when Meredith and Connie didn’t speak. This was right after Meredith told Connie that she, Meredith, had kissed Connie’s brother, Toby, on the way home from Wendy Thurber’s late-night pool party.
Meredith had dutifully reported every detail to Connie by 8 a.m., just as she would have if Toby had been any other boy—but this time, Connie was disgusted. Meredith and Toby? It was appalling.
Meredith had felt ashamed and confused. She had expected Connie to be happy. But Connie slammed the phone down on Meredith, and when Meredith called back, the phone rang and rang. Meredith kept calling until Veronica answered and pleasantly and soberly explained that Connie didn’t want to talk right that second. Meredith should call back later, after Connie had had a chance to calm down.
Meredith was stunned. She hung up the phone and looked out her bedroom window down the street toward Connie’s house. She would forfeit Toby, then. She would give him up. It wasn’t worth ruining her friendship with Connie.
But here, Meredith faltered. She was a hostage to her feelings and, stronger still, her hormones. She had known Toby O’Brien just as long as she had known Connie, essentially her entire life. They had thrown water balloons at each other in the O’Briens’ backyard on hot afternoons, and they had watched horror movies side by side in the O’Briens’ shag-carpeted den, eating Jiffy Pop and Jax cheese doodles. Whenever they went somewhere in the O’Briens’ Ford Country Squire—to Shakey’s for pizza or to the King of Prussia Mall or downtown to Wanamaker’s to see the light show at Christmas—Connie, Meredith, and Toby had sat three across in the backseat, and sometimes Meredith’s and Toby’s knees had knocked, but it had never meant a thing.
How to explain what happened? It was like a switch had flipped and in an instant the world had changed, there in the deep end of Wendy Thurber’s pool. There had been a bunch of kids at the party—Wendy, Wendy’s brother Hank, Matt Klein, whom Connie was dating (though secretly, because Matt was Jewish and Connie feared her parents would object), Connie, Toby, Meredith, a girl from the field-hockey team named Nadine Dexter, who was chunky and a little butch, and Wendy’s runty next-door neighbor Caleb Burns. There was the usual splashing and roughhousing and dunking; all of the kids were in the pool except for Connie, who claimed the water was too cold. She lounged in a chaise wearing her petal-pink Lilly Pulitzer cover-up, and she braided and rebraided her strawberry-blond hair. Meredith impressed everyone with her dives. She had just perfected her front one and half somersault with one and half twists, which was a crowd pleaser.
As the party was starting to wind down, Meredith encountered Toby in the deep end. He had, as a joke, pulled at the string of her bikini top, the top had come loose, and her newly formed breasts—so new they were tender to the touch—were set free, bobbing for a second in the chlorinated water. Meredith yelped and struggled to retie her top while treading water. Toby laughed wickedly. He swam up behind her and grabbed her, and she could feel his erection against her backside, though it took a second to figure out what was happening. Her mind was racing, reconciling what she had learned in health class, what she had read in Judy Blume novels, and the fact that Toby was a seventeen-year-old boy who might just be turned on by her newly formed breasts. Immediately, there was a surge of arousal. In that instant, Meredith became a sexual being. She felt momentarily sorry for her father and her mother, because she was lost to them forever. There was, she understood, no going back.
Connie left the party with Matt Klein. They were off to make out and push at the boundaries of Connie’s virginity, though Connie had said she was determined to stay chaste until her sixteenth birthday. Connie talked about her sex life all the time, and up to that point, Meredith had bobbed her head at what felt like the appropriate moments, not having a clue what Connie was talking about but not wanting to admit it. Now, suddenly, she got it. Desire.
She dried off and put her shorts and T-shirt back on, then a sweatshirt because it was nighttime and chilly. She took a chip off the snack table but refrained from the onion dip. Caleb Burns’s mother called out from next door that it was time for him to go home. Wendy’s brother Hank, who was friends with Toby, wanted Toby to stick around, hang out in his room, and listen to Led Zeppelin.
Toby was bare chested with a towel wrapped around his waist. Meredith was afraid to look at him too closely. She was dazzled by how he had suddenly become a different person.
Toby said, “Sorry, man. I have to head out.” He and Hank did some kind of complicated handshake that they had either learned from watching Good Times on channel 17 or from hanging out on South Street on the weekends. Meredith knew that Toby would walk home—his house was nearby, hers a half a mile farther—not an impossible walk but not convenient either, in the dark. Meredith’s parents had said, as always, Just call if you need a ride home. But if Meredith called for a ride, she would be missing a critical opportunity.
She said to Wendy and Nadine, who were both attacking the bowl of chips, “I’m going to go, too.”
“Really?” Wendy said. She sounded disappointed, but Meredith had expected this. Wendy was a bit of a hanger-on; she was constantly peering over the proverbial fence at Meredith and Connie’s friendship. “Where did Connie go?”
“Where do you think?” Nadine asked slyly. “She went to get it on with Matt.”
Wendy’s eyes widened and Meredith shrugged. Wendy had clearly not been introduced to her own sexuality yet, though Nadine had, in whatever form that had taken. (Another girl? Someone from the camp she went to in Michigan?)
Meredith kissed Wendy’s cheek like an adult leaving a cocktail party and said, “Thanks for having me.”
“You’re walking?” Wendy said, sounding worried. “My dad can probably drive you.”
“No, I’ll walk,” Meredith said.
“I can ask him.”
“I’m fine,” Meredith said. She hurried to the gate. Toby was strolling across the Thurbers’ front lawn. He hadn’t waited for her and she hadn’t gotten out before him. She wondered if she had been imagining his erection, or if she had been flattering herself that the desire had been aimed at her. But if not her, then who? Not pathetic Wendy, and certainly not Nadine with her blocky shoulders and faint mustache. Meredith waved to the other girls and took off down Robinhood Road, trying to seem nonchalant. All this posturing! She wished Toby was behind her. Now it would look like she was chasing him.
When they were three houses away from the Thurbers’ and four houses away from the O’Briens’, Toby turned around and pretended to be surprised to find Meredith behind him.
“Hey,” he called out in a kind of whisper.
She was at a loss for words. She waved. Her hair was damp and when she touched it, she could feel that it held comb marks. The streetlights were on, so there were pools of light followed by abysses of darkness. Across the street, a man walked a golden retriever. It was Frank diStefano, the roofer, a friend of Meredith’s father. Oh, boy. But he didn’t see her.
Toby stopped in one of the dark spots to wait for her. Her heart was tripping over itself like two left feet. She was excited, scared, nearly breathless. Something was going to happen between her and Toby O’Brien. But no, that wasn’t possible. Toby was unfathomably cool, a good student and a great athlete, and he was as beautiful as Connie. He had dated the most alluring girl at Radnor—Divinity Michaels—and they had had an end-of-the-year breakup that was as spectacular as a Broadway show, where Divinity threatened to kill herself, and the school counselors and the state police were called in. (There had been simultaneous rumors circulating about Toby and the young French teacher, Mademoiselle Esme, which Connie called “completely idiotic, and yet not beyond Toby.”) Earlier that summer, Toby had started “hanging out” with an Indian girl named Ravi, who was a junior at Bryn Mawr. Compared to those girls, what did Meredith have to offer? She was his kid sister’s best friend, a completely known quantity, a giant yawn.
Meredith walked along the strip of lawn between the street and the sidewalk, and her feet were coated with grass clippings. She had her flip-flops in her hand and she stopped to put them on, partly as a stall tactic. She kept walking. Toby was leaning up against a tree that was in the front yard of a house where, clearly, no one was home.
“Hey,” Toby said, as she approached. “Meredith, come here.”
She went to him. He was the same person—sandy hair, green eyes, freckles—but he was new to her.
He seemed nervous, too, but with all of his experience with women, this was impossible.
He said, “Are you walking all the way home?”
He said, “Have you seen Connie?”
“No,” Meredith said, gazing down the street. “She went somewhere with Matt.”
“I don’t know why she doesn’t just tell my parents about him,” Toby said.
“It’s because he’s…”
“Jewish,” Toby said. “I know. But my parents won’t care.”
“I told her that,” Meredith said. “She doesn’t listen.”
Toby put both his hands on Meredith’s shoulders. “She doesn’t listen to you? Her best friend?”
Meredith looked at Toby. This was, for sure, the first time she’d ever seen him. Everything had changed. She shook her head, pretending that she was caught up in the drama of Connie and Matt Klein, though she couldn’t have cared less. Just as she was wondering if she should take a step closer to Toby, he pulled her in, as if for a friendly hug.
“Meredith,” he said into her hair. Then he said, “Sorry about the pool. About pulling on your suit, I mean.”
She could feel his erection again. Again, she thought about health class, Judy Blume, what she had heard other girls say. She was sick with desire. “Oh,” she said. “That’s okay.”
He fumbled with her head, like it was a ball he was trying to get the correct grip on. Then he had one hand on her ear, and he was kissing her, deeply and desperately. And she thought, Oh, my God, yes! Yes!
They stood against the tree kissing for twenty minutes? Thirty minutes? They kissed until Toby’s hands fell to her hips, he pulled her against him and groaned, and he played with the bottom edge of her sweatshirt as if considering whether or not to lift it, and although Meredith was thinking, Yes, lift it, lift it, she pulled away.
She said, “I really have to go. I have a long way to walk.”
He said, “Will you go with me tomorrow night to see Animal House?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Just you and me?” he said. “A date.”
“Yes,” she said.
He smiled at her and she saw his teeth, straight and white. She had known him through three years of braces and rubber bands. She had known him when his teeth fell out and he left them under his pillow for the tooth fairy. She waved and backed away and he said, “I’ll pick you up at seven!”
“Okay!” she said. And she ran all the way home.
But then Connie was mad and wouldn’t speak to Meredith on the phone. Meredith considered calling the O’Brien house again, asking to speak to Toby, and telling him the date was off. But Meredith couldn’t make herself do that. She was in the grip of a romantic and sexual urge that wouldn’t be denied. She liked Toby, and Connie would have to wrap her mind around that. Connie had Matt Klein; they had gone to third base, or nearly. Connie couldn’t have Matt and expect Meredith to have nobody; that was unfair. Meredith was sorry it was Toby, but this was a matter of the heart, one beyond her control.
Meredith’s eyes drifted closed. It was a welcome change to be thinking about something else, even if that something was Toby O’Brien. Sailing in Annapolis, seducing in Anguilla. At Connie’s wedding, Meredith had been close. At Veronica’s funeral, even closer. But Meredith hadn’t allowed herself to get sucked back in. She had been lucky.
When Meredith woke up, Connie was lying in the chaise next to her, reading.
Meredith thought, Oh, thank God. She came back.
They went for a walk on the beach.
Meredith said, “I was thinking about Nadine Dexter and Wendy Thurber. Do you remember the night of Wendy’s pool party?”
“Wendy who?” Connie said.
Meredith didn’t say, I was remembering the night I first kissed your brother.
Meredith said, “I’m going in the water.”
“Suit yourself,” Connie said. “It’s too cold for me.”
Later, they took outdoor showers, and Meredith put on white shorts and a navy Trina Turk tunic, refugees from her Hamptons closet circa 2007. She went downstairs with her hair still damp. Connie was pouring herself a glass of wine. It was five o’clock. A day hadn’t passed that quickly for Meredith since long before Freddy’s arrest—but this mere thought triggered a heaviness. She pictured Leo and Carver with plaster dust sugaring their hair and clothes, sitting on the wide front porch of the imaginary house, drinking a beer. They were okay, Meredith told herself. They were fine.
“Glass of wine?” Connie asked.
Meredith decided she would have a glass of wine; maybe it would help her sleep.
“White or red?” Connie said.
“White, please,” Meredith said. She didn’t want to think about the Ruffino Chianti, their usual table at Rinaldo’s, Freddy saying, Here comes your poison, Meredith. Freddy didn’t approve of Meredith drinking, and he rarely, if ever, drank himself. He didn’t like losing control, he said. Of course, he hadn’t always felt that way. He had been a social drinker in college and young adulthood, and then, as his business grew, he had transitioned into abstinence. Now, Meredith knew that you couldn’t lie and cheat and drink, because what if you let something slip? What if you let the facade crumble? She thought of Freddy throwing back those three shots of Macallan and how shocked she had been. She had known something was wrong then, seventy-two hours before the rest of the world knew. Freddy had turned on her with wild eyes; she had seen the desperation. She thought, We’ve lost all our money. But so what? Easy come, easy go. Freddy had then pulled Meredith into the bedroom and had pushed her down and taken her roughly from behind, as though it were his final act. Meredith remembered feeling raw and panicky and electrified—this was not the perfunctory lovemaking she and Freddy had engaged in for the past decade or so (its lackluster nature owing to the fact, she had assumed, that he was preoccupied with work)—she remembered thinking, WOW. They were ruined perhaps, but they still had each other.
That was what she’d thought, then.
Connie handed Meredith a glass of chardonnay and said, “You can go out to the deck.”
“Do you need help with dinner?” Meredith asked.
“Don’t tell me you’ve started cooking?” Connie said.
“No,” Meredith said. And they laughed. “I ate from cartons every night after Freddy left.”
The words “after Freddy left” echoed in the kitchen. Connie poured a stream of olive oil into a stainless steel bowl and started clanging with her whisk.
Meredith said, “I’ll go out.”
She stepped onto the deck and took a seat at the round teak table. She hadn’t heard from Burt and Dev; she never knew if that was good or bad. The sun spangled the water. Let’s say good. She might be going to jail, but she wasn’t going to jail today.
Out in the water, Meredith saw a sleek, black head, then its body and flippers undulating through the waves. Then she saw a second dark form, moving less gracefully. Meredith squinted; she was wearing her prescription sunglasses, which weren’t as strong as her regular horn-rimmed glasses.
She called out to Connie. “Hey, there are two seals today.”
“What?” Connie said.
Meredith stood up with her wineglass. She poked her head through the sliding door.
“There are two seals today.”
“Really?” Connie said. “I’ve never seen two before. Only one. Only Harold.”
“I saw two,” Meredith said. “Harold found a friend.”
She smiled at this.
Excerpted from Silver Girl by Hilderbrand, Elin Copyright © 2011 by Hilderbrand, Elin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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