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Authors: Elin Hilderbrand

Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Fiction / Contemporary Women

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BOOK: Beautiful Day
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“I can’t let you do it,” Margot said to Roger. “I can’t let you cut it.”

“You understand this means no tent?” he said.

Margot nodded. No tent. Partly cloudy, 40 percent chance of showers. A hundred and
fifty people, tens of thousands of dollars of tables, chairs, china, crystal, silver,
floral arrangements, food, and wine—all with a 40 percent chance of getting drenched.
Margot fretted as she thought about the antique, hand-embroidered table linens, most
of which were the same linens Margot and Jenna’s grandmother had used for her wedding
in this very same backyard in 1943. What if those linens got rained upon? (Their grandmother
had hosted ninety-two guests at her wedding, under a striped canvas tent supported
by wooden poles. Back in 1943, Alfie’s branches would have been younger, stronger,
and higher.)

Margot knew she should confer with someone, get a second opinion: Jenna, or her father.
But Margot felt that her primary duty as maid of honor was to shield Jenna from the
treacherous obstacles that would pop up over the next seventy-two hours. On Sunday
afternoon, as soon as the farewell brunch was over, Jenna would be on her own. She
would have to face her life as Mrs. Stuart Graham. But until then, Margot was going
to make the tough decisions. She might have called her father, but her father, obviously,
had issues of his own.

Plus, Margot felt confident that no one in the Carmichael family—not Doug, not Jenna,
not Nick or Kevin—would want to see that branch cut down.

“No tent,” Margot said.

“I’ll see about the smaller tent,” Roger said.

“Thank you,” Margot said. She paused. “I don’t expect you to understand.”

“Pray for sun,” Roger said.

Margot was staying in “her room,” sharing the double bed with Ellie, who was a flopper
and a kicker. Drum Jr. and Carson would sleep in the attic bunk room with Kevin and
Beanie’s three boys, and their uncle Nick—who, if he remained true to form, wouldn’t
make it home to sleep at all. Jenna and Finn and Autumn were all cramming into Jenna’s
room, which had one
twin bed and one trundle bed; this was their choice, but it was also true that neither
Finn nor Autumn had wanted to share with Rhonda, who had the proper guest room—with
two double beds—all to herself. Kevin and Beanie would sleep in Kevin and Nick’s room
(on the Eastlake twins), and Doug (but apparently not Pauline) would sleep in the
master.

Margot hadn’t texted her father back yet because she didn’t know what to say, and
she hoped that her silence would prompt more information.

She unpacked her suitcase and Ellie’s. Ellie had stuffed hers with trinkets, homemade
bracelets, a ball of string, a stuffed inchworm that someone had brought to the hospital
the day she was born, the tape measure from the junk drawer, an assortment of dried-out
markers and broken crayons, and a tattered paperback copy of
Caps for Sale
. Ellie, Margot realized with weary concern, was becoming a hoarder. This was probably
a result of the divorce, another thing for Margot to feel guilty about. She sat on
the bed, letting the broken crayons sift through her fingers. Was it too early for
wine?

In the way of clothes, Ellie had packed two mismatched socks, a white T-shirt with
a grape juice stain down the front, a pair of turquoise denim overalls, her black-and-silver
Christmas dress that she’d worn to
The Nutcracker
last year and had complained about the whole time, her favorite purple shorts with
the green belt, and a seersucker sundress embroidered with lobsters that was two sizes
too small. And hallelujah—a bathing suit. Margot should have checked Ellie’s packing
job—really, who trusted a six-year-old to pack for herself?—but she’d been too busy.
At least Margot had packed Ellie’s flower girl dress and her good white sandals in
her own suitcase.

Margot hung up the white eyelet flower girl dress and then her
own grasshopper green bridesmaid dress, thinking,
God, I do not want to wear that.

But she would, of course, for Jenna. And for her mother.

Grocery store, liquor store. She was racing the clock, there was no time to think
about Edge, or Drum Sr. getting married, or about Griff with his kaleidoscope eyes
and the two days of growth on his face. But the three of them were in her brain. How
to exorcise them?

She took an outdoor shower under the spray of pale pink climbing roses that her mother
had cultivated and that still thrived. The roses alive, her mother dead. Was the fact
that Margot didn’t like gardening a character flaw? Did it mean she wasn’t nurturing
enough?

In the worst days of their divorce, Drum Sr. had accused Margot of being a coldhearted
bitch. Was this true? If it
was
true, then why did Margot feel everything so keenly? Why did life constantly feel
like being pierced by ten thousand tiny arrows?

She had been a coldhearted bitch to Griffin Wheatley, Homecoming King. He didn’t realize
it, but it was true.

Guilt.

But no, there wasn’t time.

Margot fed her children a frozen pizza and grapes, serving them in her bathrobe, her
hair still dripping wet.

Carson said, “Are you going out tonight?”

“Yes,” Margot said.

The three of them started to squeak, squeal, and whine in chorus. They hated it when
Margot went out, they hated Kitty, their afternoon babysitter, they hated their afternoon
activities regardless of what they were—because they sensed that these activities
were also babysitters, substitutes for Margot’s time and attention. Margot had hoped
that as they got older, they would come to see
her career as one of the wonderful things about her. She was a partner at Miller-Sawtooth,
where she did valuable work, matching up top executives with the right companies.
She had a certain amount of power, and she made a lot of money.

But power and money meant little to her twelve-year-old and even less to the ten and
the six. They wanted her warm body snuggled in the bed between them, reading
Caps for Sale
.

“It’s your auntie’s wedding,” Margot said. “A sitter named Emma is coming tonight
and tomorrow night. Saturday is the wedding, and it will be held here in the backyard,
and Sunday we’re going home.”

“Tonight
and
tomorrow night!” Drum Jr. said. Of the three of them, he was the one who needed Margot
the most. Why this was, she couldn’t quite explain.

“Who’s Emma? I don’t know Emma!” Ellie said.

“She’s nice,” Margot said. “Nicer than me.”

It was nearly seven, and the light outside was still strong. The smaller tent had
been raised, and now the guys were laying the dance floor. The grass would be matted,
but Roger had assured them it wouldn’t die. The smaller tent looked good, Margot thought.
It was bigger than she’d expected, but it wasn’t big enough to shelter 150 people.
Maybe between the tent and the house. Maybe.

Forty percent chance of showers.

Emma Wilton showed up right at seven. She was a girl whom Margot used to babysit,
now twenty-five years old and between years of veterinary school. She and Margot hugged,
then remarked on how their relationship had circled around, and Margot said, “And
ten or fifteen years from now, Ellie can babysit
your
kids.” They laughed, and Margot excused herself for the blow-dryer.

She checked her phone. Nothing from Edge. What was
wrong
with him? Margot was tempted to text,
Is everything okay?
But that might come across as sounding nagging or needy—or worst of all, wifely.
Another problem with texting: it was nearly impossible to express tone. Margot wanted
to let him know that she was concerned without having him think she was asking,
Why the hell aren’t you texting me back?
Which was, of course, exactly what she was asking.

There was a text on her phone from Rhonda. Margot opened it eagerly, expecting more
drama. It said:
My plane arrives at 8:20. What time dinner?

Margot deflated a bit. It sounded like Rhonda was still coming. This was bad. This
was, in so many ways, the worst-case scenario. To have Rhonda, but no Pauline? Unthinkable.
Who would Rhonda talk to, who would Rhonda hang out with, if not Pauline? There were
no other Tonellis coming to the wedding, and none of Pauline’s friends.

Margot typed back:
Dinner is at 8.

Rhonda responded right away:
Who picking me up?
Rhonda always, in Margot’s experience, responded right away because—Margot suspected—Rhonda
had nothing to do but text back right away. She had no proper job, no other friends.

Margot typed:
Pls take a cab.

Rhonda replied:
?

Margot looked at the question mark, then burst out laughing. Of course Rhonda had
texted a question mark. She was probably wondering why Mr. Roarke wasn’t picking her
up in a white stretch limo.

Margot had sent a handful of detailed e-mails about tonight’s bachelorette party to
all involved. She had listed the name and address of the restaurant and the time of
their dinner reservation—8:00—in each message. That Rhonda had then booked a flight
that landed at 8:20 wasn’t Margot’s problem.

Was it?

Guilt.

But no, there wasn’t time.

Although Jenna’s bedroom was the smallest—the “spinster aunt bedroom,” their mother
had always called it, since for decades it had belonged to Doug’s spinster aunt, Lucretia—it
was also the best appointed because it had a deck that overlooked the backyard and
the harbor. It was on this deck that Margot and the other maidens opened the champagne.

Autumn took charge of popping the cork, since she waited tables at a beachfront seafood
restaurant in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. The cork sailed into the yard, and Margot
watched Jenna’s eyes follow it as it landed in the grass.

Then Jenna said, “I guess I thought the tent would be bigger.”

Autumn expertly filled four glasses, and Margot reached for one. She wanted to drink
the whole thing down in one gulp, but she had to make a toast. She smiled at Jenna,
and Jenna smiled back. Jenna wouldn’t care about the tent or about Margot making a
unilateral decision about Alfie’s tree branch. All Jenna cared about was Stuart, who
would be arriving tomorrow with his people.

“To an amazing, wonderful… and
sunny
weekend!” Margot said.

The four of them clinked glasses.

Jenna said, “There
is
another tent going up, right? The one the people are sitting under?”

“Yes,” Margot said. Drink drink drink. “Tomorrow.”

“Oh,” Jenna said. “I thought it was going up today.”

“Nope,” Margot said. Drink drink drink. “It’s tomorrow.”

Jenna frowned. Margot thought maybe the issue would explode right then and there.
Instead Jenna said, “I miss Stuart.”

Finn was frowning also. She said, “At least he’s not in Vegas, getting a
lap dance.

Margot recalled Finn’s expression on the ferry when Scott’s name came up. So that
was why: Vegas, lap dances, strip clubs, cocktail waitresses with large, enticing
fake breasts. Margot remembered how things like that could seem threatening to a new
marriage. But that kind of jealous anxiety faded away, just like everything else.
At the end with Drum Sr., Margot had found herself thinking,
Why don’t you go to Vegas and get a lap dance?

Autumn said, “Lap dances are harmless. I get them all the time.”

For the first time all day, something struck Margot as funny. “
You
get lap dances?”

“Yeah,” Autumn said. “Guys love it.”

“Oh,” Margot said. She wondered for an instant if Edge would love it if she, Margot,
got a lap dance. She decided he most definitely would not.

Autumn filled her glass with more champagne, and Margot watched the golden liquid
bubble to the top. The kids were playing Frisbee with Emma in the yard below. Margot
remembered when it had been she and her siblings playing in the yard, while her parents
drank gin and tonics on this deck and turned up Van Morrison on the radio. Her mother
used to wear a blue paisley patio dress. Margot would hug Alfie’s trunk, her arms
not even reaching a third of the way around. A tree wasn’t a person, but if a tree
could
be a person, then Alfie would be a wise, generous, all-seeing, godlike person. She
couldn’t let the tent guys cut the branch. The cut would be a wound; it might get
infected with some kind of mung. Alfie might die.

Margot stood up and leaned over the railing. She felt dizzy. She felt like she might
drop.

“We should go,” she said.

Jenna was driving.

They bounced across the cobblestones at the top of Main Street. Town was teeming with
people who had come to Nantucket to celebrate summer. Margot loved the art galleries
and shops, she loved the couple carrying a bottle of wine to dinner at Black-Eyed
Susan’s, she loved the dreadlocked guy in khaki cargo shorts walking a black lab.
She noticed people noticing them—four pretty women all dressed up in Margot’s Land
Rover. Jenna and Finn were wearing black dresses, and Autumn was wearing green. Margot
was wearing a white silk sheath with a cascade of ruffles above the knee. She loved
white in the summertime. The city was too dirty to wear white—one cab ride and this
dress would be trashed.

Jenna took a right onto Broad Street, past Nantucket Bookworks and the Brotherhood
and Le Languedoc, and then a left by the Nantucket Yacht Club. Margot tapped her finger
on the window and said, “That’s where we’ll be tomorrow night!”

No one responded. Margot turned around to see Finn and Autumn pecking away at their
phones. Then Margot looked at Jenna, who was skillfully navigating the streets, despite
that fact that pedestrians were crossing in front of them without looking. Margot
felt bad that Jenna was driving to her own bachelorette party, but Jenna had insisted.
Margot should have hired a car and driver, and then all four of them would be sitting
in the backseat together. And Margot should have made a rule about no cell phones.
What was it about life now? The people who weren’t present always seemed to be more
important than the people who were.

BOOK: Beautiful Day
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ads

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