Authors: Elin Hilderbrand
Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Fiction / Contemporary Women
Of course, Doug remembered when it was Jenna in that swing.
Pauline’s car wasn’t in the driveway, which came as a relief. For the past twelve
months, maybe longer, Doug had found he was happier without Pauline around. This was
a bad sign. For his entire professional life, Doug had sat on one side of his partners
desk and listened while the person on the other side shared the details of his or
her disintegrating marriage. Doug had heard it all—He cheated with Her best friend,
She cheated with the tennis pro, there was wife swapping, He hit the kids, She had
Munchausen’s, She had a drinking problem, He gambled away the kids’ college funds,
He was addicted to pornographic websites, She abused prescription drugs, He lost his
job and sat around the house all day in his bathrobe, She weighed three times what
She had when He married Her, He was an asshole, She was a bitch, He wasn’t giving
Her one red cent, She was going to take Him for all He was worth. For thirty-five
Doug had nodded along, pretending to be feeling his clients’ angst, but really, he
had no idea. He was happily married; he flat-out adored his wife. Even after twenty-five
years of marriage, he had sat on this very train and looked forward to the moment
he would walk into the house and see Beth.
It was only in the past year that Doug had finally understood what his clients were
feeling. He didn’t recognize himself in the dramatic scenes—there was no abuse in
his marriage to Pauline, no derelict behavior, no destructive habits, no special needs
children, no financial woes, no infidelity—rather, Doug identified with his quieter,
sadder clients. The marriage no longer provided any joy. They got on each other’s
nerves, there was a constant buzz of low-level bickering, they were happier and more
comfortable when they were apart from each other.
Yes, that was him. That was him exactly.
Pauline was out somewhere, she had probably told him where, but he had forgotten;
it went in one ear and out the other, just as she always said. He didn’t care where
she was, as long as she wasn’t home. Lately, Doug had even had fantasies of Pauline
driving on Route 7 while talking on the phone to her daughter, Rhonda, and having
a fatal accident. He couldn’t believe it. He had heard similar sentiments come out
of his clients’ mouths—
I wish he/she would just die!
—but he never believed himself capable of such a thought. And yet it did now occasionally
cross his mind. He nearly always amended this fantasy. Pauline didn’t have to
to set him free. She might, one day, wake up and decide that she wanted to go back
to her ex-husband, Arthur Tonelli. She might climb into the car, get Rhonda immediately
on the phone, as was her annoying habit, and announce to Rhonda that she was driving
to the Waldorf Astoria to see if Arthur would take her back.
Doug shed his suit coat and his briefcase and loosened his tie. He’d skipped lunch
so he could get out of the office early. Edge was going to court first thing in the
morning to deal with the shitshow Cranbrook case (Mr. Cranbrook, investment banker,
leveraged to the hilt because he was keeping a woman on the side in an apartment on
East Sixtieth Street and had bought her a Porsche Carrera, all with his secret credit
card, the fate of three children under seven, one of them with extreme special needs,
hanging in the balance)—and thus Edge wouldn’t get to Nantucket until six o’clock
tomorrow evening at the very earliest. He would miss the first round of golf, and
Doug felt guilty about that. The Cranbrook case was Doug’s case, and it was a hot,
steaming mess. Edge was helping Doug out by taking over tomorrow. Doug obviously couldn’t
do it himself and risk missing his daughter’s wedding.
He was starving and went into the kitchen for something, anything, to eat. Pauline,
like a housewife from the Depression era, liked to leave the fridge and cupboards
all but bare before they went away. In the crisper, Doug found one apple and a few
stalks of celery. He bit into the apple and dragged the celery lavishly through a
jar of peanut butter that he pulled out of the pantry.
Then he saw it on the kitchen counter, next to the prep sink where Pauline was defrosting
a couple of sad-looking lamb chops that were probably going to be their dinner.
His mouth was sticky with peanut butter, but he let a garbled cry escape:
it, right? The spiral-bound notebook with the kelly green cover and the word in black
Sharpie written in Beth’s handwriting:
The notebook itself had probably cost $1.69 at Staples, but it was no less precious
than the Magna
Carta. That notebook contained all of Beth’s hopes, wishes, and suggestions for Jenna’s
wedding. She had written it in the eight months between the time she was diagnosed
with ovarian cancer and the time she died. She had written it not to interfere or
be prescriptive but because more than anything she wanted Jenna to feel like she had
a mother during that time when she most needed a mother.
Beth had filled the notebook hoping that she would be part of the special day, even
though she would be gone. She planned the details of Jenna’s wedding even though Jenna
had not yet met the man who was to be her husband. Beth had confidence in Jenna. She
would meet someone wonderful, and she would want a lavish, traditional wedding.
In the summertime, of course.
At the house on Nantucket, of course.
Their older daughter, Margot, had gotten married to a fellow named Drummond Bain on
a cliff in Antigua with just the immediate family in attendance—Doug and Beth, Nick
and Kevin, Kevin’s wife, Beanie, and Jenna. From Drum’s side, only the Bain parents
had attended because Drum was an only child. That was half the problem with Drum,
or maybe that was the whole problem. He had been handed things without having to earn
them. Mitchell Bain was a big shot with Sony, always back and forth between New York
and Tokyo. He had set up a trust fund for Drum on his twenty-first birthday. The kid
had done nothing with his life but surf, ski, and zip carelessly through his money.
Why had Margot fallen for
Doug and Beth had gently expressed their reservations about Drum, but then Margot
got pregnant. Doug had been sure Drum would say sayonara and run for the hills. Doug
and Beth had actually wished for this to happen; they would help Margot raise the
baby themselves. But Drum had done the unthinkable and proposed.
Margot had worn a flowing maternity dress to the ceremony, in a color Beth called
Doug remembered lying in bed with Beth after Margot’s wedding. He and Beth, and Drum’s
parents, Mitchell and Greta Bain, had heedlessly plowed through six bottles of wine
at the reception. Kevin and Nick had pulled Drum off to the bar, and Margot had been
left behind with Beanie, who was also pregnant, and Jenna, who had been only sixteen
at the time. The three of them sipped sparkling water.
“She looked absolutely miserable tonight,” Beth said.
“I wouldn’t say
” Doug said.
“What word would you use to describe her, then?”
“Resigned,” Doug said.
“Well, that’s perfectly awful!” Beth said. “I wanted more for her. I wanted more than
a shotgun wedding, even if it is in the Caribbean.”
“Honey, she loves him.”
“It’ll never last,” Beth said.
Drummond Bain Jr. had been born, and then Carson. When Beth had died, Margot hadn’t
been pregnant with Ellie yet. When Beth died, things were still okay between Margot
and Drum Sr. But Beth had ended up being right, of course. The marriage didn’t last.
Doug touched the front cover of the Notebook. He opened to the first page.
I wish for you a beautiful day, Jenna, my darling. You alone will make it so.
Doug closed the Notebook. The rest of it was filled with information, ruminations,
suggestions: Where in the closet to find Beth’s wedding dress should Jenna want to
wear it (of course Jenna would wear it) and the names of places to get it dry-cleaned
and altered. Which flowers to use, which florist, what hymns were Beth’s favorites,
what to say when Jenna called Reverend
Marlowe and asked him to perform the ceremony on Nantucket. The Notebook contained
menu suggestions and an invitation list and poems Beth had clipped that would make
excellent readings. Doug knew there were more than a few “DO NOTS,” such as “
Do not, under any circumstances, use Corinthians 13 as a reading. If you use Corinthians
13, you will hear a collective groan.
Doug hadn’t read the Notebook, although he had started out with that intention. He
had meant to read the pages closely, as he would have a legal brief, before presenting
it to Jenna, just after Stuart proposed. But Doug had found even reading the opening
letter painful. Beth’s voice was too vivid on the page, and the emotion was too raw.
My hand aches knowing that it will not be squeezing your hand just before you walk
down the aisle.
Doug realized there were stories and memories, bits of Carmichael family lore—some
of which he might have forgotten—interspersed throughout. It would be excruciating
for him to read the pages that he’d watched Beth furiously scribbling, right up until
the very end, when hospice arrived and the morphine made it difficult for her to hold
a pen, much less write anything. Furthermore, the Notebook hadn’t been meant for his
eyes. It had been meant for Jenna; it was a mother-daughter document.
Doug had, however, stumbled across the following lines:
Your father is going to be a cause for concern. Margot is married, Kevin is married,
and who knows if Nick will ever get married. So you’re it, the last one, his baby
flying from the nest. He will take it hard. But Jenna, he will have no prouder moment
than escorting you down the aisle. I saw him with Margot before they walked out onto
that cliff in Antigua. He could barely hold back the tears. You must promise me that
you will (A) check to see that his tie is straight (B) pin his boutonniere and (C)
please make sure he has a clean white handkerchief. He will need it. Even if your
father has Another Wife, I want you to do those things. Do them for me, please.
Doug had welled up when he read that paragraph. Jenna had been present when this happened.
She had said, “If you think that’s sad, you should skip ahead and read the last page.”
“What’s on the last page?” he asked.
“Just read it,” she said.
“I can’t. It’s too hard.”
“I think Mom would want you to see it.”
“No,” he said. And then he had closed the Notebook.
Now, Doug thought to panic. The Notebook was here, on the counter, at Pauline’s house
(even now, five years after moving in, he still always thought of it as Pauline’s
house). Jenna was on Nantucket. It was the Thursday before the wedding. Two days before.
He pulled his cell phone out of his briefcase. He had an iPhone, purchased for him
by his children, all of whom used iPhones themselves. Doug had been a BlackBerry user
for years, Edge was a BlackBerry user, all self-respecting attorneys were BlackBerry
users. iPhones were
But the children had bought him this iPhone, and Margot had shown him how to use
it and demonstrated how easy it was to text. Then Drum Jr. had gotten one, and Kevin’s
oldest son, Brandon, had gotten one, and Doug liked the idea of being able to communicate
with his grandsons. He found the iPhone made him feel younger than sixty-four.
The face of his phone was an emergency crash site. He had four missed calls from Margot,
three missed calls from Jenna, a missed call from Pauline, two texts from Margot,
two texts from Jenna, a text from Edge, and a text from Drum Jr. Doug didn’t know
where to look first. He decided to just call Margot.
“I have it,” he said peremptorily.
“Dad?” Margot said. “We have a crisis.”
“No, you don’t. I have it.”
“Yes,” she said. “We do.”
“I have it,” he said. “It’s here. The Notebook. I have it here, I’m looking right
at it. I’ll bring it with me tonight. She’ll have it in her hands by nine a.m.”
“Dad has it!” Margot shouted. To Doug, she said, “Thank God, oh, thank God you have
it. Jenna thought she left it in a cab because the last time she remembered having
it was at dinner with you and Pauline at Locanda Verde, when she took a cab all the
Yes, he has it, he has it!
Can you imagine how catastrophic that would have been? Okay, Dad, I’ve gotta go,
because now she’s having a reverse nervous breakdown that strongly resembles the nervous
breakdown she’s been having for the past thirty minutes. She’s crying hysterically,
but they’re tears of relief, I’m happy to say.” Margot paused, and Doug did indeed
hear sounds of female hysteria in the background. “Jesus, can you imagine what would
have happened if she’d left it in a cab? And it was gone forever?”
Doug swallowed. The thought was too awful to contemplate.
Please make sure he has a clean white handkerchief.
Had there ever been a purer declaration of love? he wondered.
“No,” he said.
“What is the Notebook doing there, anyway?” Margot asked.
“Forget it, Daddy, I have to go. This place is a madhouse.”
“See you in the morning,” Margot said. “Don’t forget to bring it!”
“I won’t,” he said.
He carried the Notebook upstairs and slid it into the pocket of his suitcase right
away, just to put his mind at ease.
the Notebook doing there?
Doug lay down on the bed, still in his shirt and tie and suit pants and Gucci loafers.
He was suddenly tired. He and Pauline would be rising at 3 a.m. to make his 10:30
a.m. tee time at Sankaty; the mere thought was exhausting. Plus, Pauline set the air
conditioner lower in the bedroom the way he liked it; the cool room was begging him
the Notebook doing there?