The guilt was like a clump of tar in her hair, warm and sticky, impossible to remove. The more she fingered it, the worse things got. Tar gummed her hands; she tried water but it formed a slick, milky film. She needed scissors, turpentine.
The tar had been real, back when Claire was four or five, back when she and her parents lived in the first house in Wildwood Crest, a shoe box that Claire didn't remember living in, but that her mother was fond of pointing out when they drove through that part of town. Claire had been playing at the edge of the road, which was newly paved; she had been unsupervised (things had been different then with child raising), and when she came inside with the tar weighing down one side of her head, an ooey, gooey, licorice mess, her mother had said with bald matter-of-factness, "It will never come out."
On that morning in March, the phone rang early. Claire was exhausted and parched, and the kids were everywhere. Shea had been the baby then, and she was eating the scrambled eggs that had fallen from J.D.'s and Ottilie's plates to the floor. Claire scooped the baby up and grabbed the phone. Siobhan, of course. No one else would call before eight on a Sunday except for Siobhan, who was Claire's best friend and sister-in-law, the wife of Jason's brother, Carter. Siobhan was Claire's soul mate, her darling, her defender, her reality check—and, the night before, her partner in crime. They had been out on the town together, drinking, which happened so rarely that it qualified as a big deal. Siobhan would be calling to talk about it, remember it, relive it, parse it, deconstruct it, moment by moment. A lot had happened.
"Have you heard?" Siobhan said.
"Oh, God," Siobhan said. "Sit down."
Claire carried the baby into the front sitting room, which was never used. It was, however, the perfect place to accept bad news. "What is it?" she said. In their bedroom, Jason was sawing logs; she could hear him through the wall. It was a strictly enforced rule that he be allowed to sleep in on Sunday. Day of rest and all that. Would she have to wake him?
"Fidelma called, from the police station," Siobhan said. "There was an accident. Daphne Dixon hit a deer and flipped her car. They flew her to Boston."
"Is she…?" Claire didn't know how to ask.
"Alive? Yes. But just barely, I think."
Messy, gooey, insoluble. It will never come out.
"She was drunk," Claire said.
"Smashed," Siobhan said.
There had been seven women: Claire, Siobhan, Julie Jackson, Delaney Kitt, Amie Trimble, Phoebe Caldwell, and Daphne Dixon. One of these things is not like the other. Daphne was a summer resident—which is to say, very wealthy—who had recently decided to move to Nantucket year-round. Claire knew her slightly. They had met at a pool party, and Daphne and her husband had taken an interest in Claire's glassblowing. They might want to commission a piece someday—who knew? Claire liked Daphne. Or she was flattered that Daphne seemed to like her. She had bumped into Daphne at the dry cleaners (Daphne picking up what looked to be fifty cashmere sweaters). Claire had said, Come out with us on Saturday night!
They went to the spacious walnut bar at the Brant Point Grill, where there was live cabaret music. Daphne had been wearing a diaphanous top and a red silk scarf around her neck. It was clear from the beginning of the night that Daphne was letting loose, she was relaxing with the local crowd, she was allowing herself to go a little crazy. This wasn't like the buttoned-up scene in Boston, she said boozily in Claire's ear.
There had been a lot of drinking: countless glasses of chardonnay and a few rosy cosmopolitans for the other women—and margaritas, no salt, for Daphne. At the end of the evening, Claire went to the bar to order herself a Diet Coke before the room began to spin, and Daphne said, "And a margarita, no salt, for me, please, Claire."
Now, in the sitting room that no one ever used, Claire picked stray yellow flecks of dried egg out of the baby's duck-fuzz hair, her mind racing. Daphne had already had a lot to drink when Claire bought her the margarita. How many drinks had she had, exactly? Claire hadn't been keeping track. Was one more the difference? Claire had wanted Daphne to be happy; she had wanted Daphne to have fun. Claire was the one who invited her along. Daphne had already bought a round of drinks, several rounds; it seemed, in retrospect, that Daphne had been pulling out money all night, leaving lavish tips for the bartender, throwing sixty dollars into the fishbowl on top of the piano for the cabaret singer. Claire had been relieved to reciprocate, to order Daphne a margarita, no salt, and pay for it.
The margarita wasn't the problem; the margarita itself hadn't done any damage. The problem was that when the night ended, when the bar closed and the seven mothers spilled out onto Easton Street, Daphne had climbed into her car, a Lincoln Navigator. Claire and Siobhan and Julie Jackson got into a cab, and they had encouraged Daphne to join them in the cab. Come on, Daphne, there's plenty of room! Let us take you home! In Claire's mind, the details were smudged; what she remembered was that they had encouraged Daphne to get into the cab, but they had not demanded it. They had not said, You shouldn't be driving, or We're not willing to let you get behind the wheel of a car, though that was what they should have said. The woman had consumed any number of margaritas and then strolled across the street and into the darkness, jangling her keys, her red scarf trailing elegantly down her back. Claire had been too intimidated to stop her. Claire had thought, She is rich enough to know what she is doing.
Claire sat by the phone, waiting for Siobhan to call back with details from Fidelma, her Irish connection at the police station, who was getting information from her cousin Niamh, who worked as an intensive care nurse at Massachusetts General: Daphne's going into surgery. It's touch and go. They don't know what they're going to find. Daphne was going sixty miles an hour down the ridged dirt road that led to her house. Sixty miles an hour—the car must have been rocking like a washing machine. And then the deer, from out of nowhere. She cut the deer in half; the car flipped onto its side. No one saw or heard the accident—the road was lined with summer homes and it was the middle of March. No one was around. Daphne was pinned in the car, unconscious. The person who found her, finally, was her husband, Lock Dixon. After calling her cell phone forty times and getting no answer, he left their ten-year-old daughter, Heather, asleep in the house and set out to find his wife. She was two hundred yards shy of the driveway.
Claire cried; she prayed, working her way around the rosary beads while her children watched Sesame Street. She went to church with all three children in need of a nap and lit four candles—one for Daphne, one for Lock, one for the daughter, Heather, and one, inexplicably, for herself.
"It's our fault," Claire whispered over the phone to Siobhan.
"No, baby, it's not," Siobhan said. "Daphne is a grown woman, capable of making her own decisions. We told her to get in the bloody cab, and she refused. Say it with me: She refused."
"We did what we could," Siobhan said. "We did our best."
Tense hours spun into tense days. Claire's phone rang off the hook. It was Julie Jackson, Amie Trimble, Delaney Kitt, all witnesses.
"I can't believe it," Julie Jackson said.
"I know," Claire said, her heart pounding, the guilt rising in her throat like bile.
"She was so drunk," Julie said.
"And then she drove," Julie said.
"I should have made her get in the cab," Claire said.
"Mmmmmm," Julie said.
There was a long pause, during which Claire could feel pity rather than a sense of shared culpability.
"Are you going to…I don't know, set up meals or anything?" Julie asked.
"Should I?" Claire said. This was what they did when someone was sick or had a baby: one person organized, and everyone signed up to take food. Was Claire the one who should organize? She didn't know Daphne well enough to send over a parade of unfamiliar faces with covered dishes.
"Keep me posted," Julie said. "And know I'm thinking about you."
"Thanks," Claire said.
Daphne survived the surgery. She was hospitalized in Boston for weeks, though it wasn't clear what was wrong with her. There were no broken bones, no spinal cord injuries, thank God, and no significant blood loss. There was a concussion, certainly, and some other problems that fell under the umbrella of "head injuries." There was amnesia of a sort—and here the stories varied. Did she know her name? Did she know Lock and Heather? Yes. But she didn't remember anything about the night out, and when Lock told her who she'd been out with—Julie Jackson, Claire Danner Crispin, Siobhan Crispin—Daphne shook her head. I don't know those people. The memory came back, eventually, but certain things were rattled out of place. She wasn't the same; she wasn't right. There was some irreparable damage that had no name.
The guilt stayed with Claire. She was the one who had invited Daphne to come out in the first place. She had bought the last, godforsaken drink, when Daphne had already overimbibed. She had tried to cajole Daphne into the cab, but she had not dragged her by the arms the way she should have. She had not called the police or enlisted the help of the bouncer. She turned it over and over in her mind. Sometimes she exonerated herself. How could this possibly be construed as her fault? But the truth was brutal: Claire had failed to exercise the common sense needed to keep Daphne safe. A sin of omission, perhaps, but a sin just the same. It will never come out.
When Daphne came home from the hospital, Claire filled a basket with homemade clam chowder and chicken salad and two novels and a jazz CD and some scented soaps. Something was wrong with Daphne mentally, that was the rumor, but no one knew what exactly. Claire sat in the car outside the Dixons' monstrous summer home for a long time before she summoned the courage to take the basket of goodies to the front door. She was propelled forward by guilt and held back by fear. If Daphne opened the door, what would Claire say?
She knocked timidly, feeling like Little Red Riding Hood with her basket; then she chastised herself. She was being ridiculous! Siobhan liked to point out how ironic it was that Claire was named Claire, or "clear"—because Claire was blurry. No boundaries! Siobhan would shout. All her life, Claire had had a problem figuring out where other people ended and she began. All her life, she'd taken on the world's hurt; she held herself responsible. But why?
Footsteps approached. Claire stopped breathing. The door opened, and Claire found herself face-to-face with Lock Dixon. He was, as everyone knew, a terrifically wealthy man, a billionaire, though it was now rumored he would sell his superconductor business in Boston. It was rumored that he was going to live here on Nantucket full-time and take care of things until Daphne was herself again.
"Hi," Claire said, and she felt her cheeks bloom. She thrust the basket at Lock, and they both peered in at its jumble of contents. Soup, soap—Claire didn't know what Daphne would want or need, but she had to bring something. Claire knew Lock Dixon casually; they had had the conversation about glassblowing, about Claire's hot shop out behind her house. But would he remember? Claire was sure he would not remember. She was not memorable; she was frequently mistaken for every other redhead on Nantucket. "This is for Daphne."
"Oh," he said. His voice was husky, as if he hadn't used it for days. He looked older to her, balder and heavier. "Thank you."
"I'm Claire Danner," she said. "Crispin."
"Yes," he said. "I know who you are." He didn't smile or say anything further, and Claire realized that this was what she had been afraid of. It hadn't been Daphne at all, but Lock. He knew about the margarita and the other ways that Claire had failed his wife, and he blamed her. His eyes accused her.
"I'm sorry," Claire said. There was a funny smell coming from the basket—the clams gone bad, the chicken salad rancid. Claire was mortified. She should say something else—I hope Daphne feels better. Please give her my best. But no, she couldn't. She turned, fled for her car.
He Asks Her
Early Fall 2007
Claire Danner Crispin had never been so nervous about a lunch date in all her life.
"What do you think he wants?" she asked Siobhan.
"He wants to shag you," Siobhan said. Then she laughed as if the idea was preposterous and hysterical, which, indeed, it was.
Lock Dixon had called Claire at home and invited her to lunch at the yacht club.
"There's something I'd like to talk with you about," he'd said. "Are you free Tuesday?"
Claire was taken completely by surprise. When she'd seen his name on the caller ID, she'd nearly let it go to voice mail. "Yes. Yes, I am. Tuesday."
It was something to do with the charity, she decided. Since selling his company in Boston and moving to Nantucket year-round, Lock Dixon had graciously agreed to serve as the executive director of Nantucket's Children, the island's biggest nonprofit organization. "Graciously," because Lock Dixon was so wealthy he never had to work again. Claire had joined the board of directors of Nantucket's Children right before she became pregnant with Zack, but because of her fall in the hot shop and Zack's premature birth and all the complications thereof, she had been little more than a name on the letterhead. Still, it was the charity, now, that connected them.
But there was an invisible thread, too: the unspoken accusation about Daphne's accident. Did Lock want to revisit the night of the accident now, years later? Claire fretted. She buttoned her cardigan wrong; she nearly locked her keys in the car in the yacht club parking lot.
And yet, once Claire and Lock were seated, overlooking the trim yacht club lawn and the blue harbor beyond, it was he who seemed nervous, worked up, agitated. He wiggled in his wrought iron chair; he fussed over what Claire might order from the menu. ("Get anything you want," Lock said. "Get the lobster salad. Anything.") After their orders were placed and small talk was exhausted, there was a dramatic pause in the conversation, a making way, a throat clearing. Claire nearly laughed; she felt like she was being proposed to.
Would she consider chairing the Nantucket's Children Summer Gala the following August?
Claire filled with relief. It felt like laughing gas; it felt like she might levitate. It felt like the invisible thread had been snipped, cut: she was free from the awful weight that attended her connection with Lock Dixon. Was it okay, then, to imagine that the accusation she had seen in his eyes years earlier had been nothing more than a figment of her imagination?
She was so caught up in wondering that she didn't respond. In truth, it would be fair to say she hadn't even heard the question. It was like the time she fainted during track practice, when she was seventeen, and she became convinced that she was pregnant. She was dead certain; she had Matthew ready to sell his guitar so they could pay for an abortion, but she cried herself to sleep, worried that she was going to burn in hell, and she decided to keep the baby. Her mother would raise it while Claire went to college…
When Claire went to the doctor, he said, You're not pregnant. The problem is that you have anemia.
Anemia! She had shouted the word with glee.
"Chairing?" she said now.
"It's a lot of work, but probably not as much as you think. You'll have a cochair. I know you're busy, but . . ."
Yes, three children and a baby and a glassblowing business put on hold for the foreseeable future so she could focus on her family. She was not the right person to ask. Not this year. Maybe down the road, when she had her head above water. Then it dawned on Claire why he was asking her: The summer gala was a concert. Lock was coming to her because they wanted Matthew to perform. Max West, her high school sweetheart, now one of the biggest rock stars in the world.
Claire took in some of the rarefied yacht club air. There were a million thoughts zipping through her mind: Jason would kill her. Siobhan would laugh and call her a pushover (No Boundaries!). Margarita, no salt. It will never come out. Would Matthew do it if she asked? She hadn't spoken to him in years. He might, he just might. Anemia! Nantucket's Children was a good cause. The best cause.
Trumping all those thoughts was this: Lock Dixon was the one person Claire could not say no to. What had happened the night of Daphne's accident hung in the air between them, unfinished business. It hung between them in a way that made Claire feel she owed Lock something.
"Yes," Claire said. "I'd love to. Really, I'd be honored."
Even though she had four children to raise? Even though she hadn't blown out so much as a single goblet since Zack was born?
"Really?" Lock said. He sounded surprised.
"Absolutely," she said.
"Well, okay, then," Lock said. He raised his sweating glass of iced tea, as did Claire, and they touched glasses, sealing the deal. "Thank you."
Jason was going to kill her.
They had been married for twelve years, together for fourteen. They had met here, on Nantucket, during the hottest summer on record. Jason had been born and raised on the island, he knew it inside out, and he took pride in sharing it with Claire. Each day was like a present: They went clamming naked at sunset on the south shore. They went skinny-dipping in the private swimming pools along Hulbert Avenue (Jason knew which pools had security systems and which didn't). Theirs was, in every aspect, a summer romance. Claire had just graduated from RISD with a degree in glassblowing. She was torn between taking a job offer from Corning and teaming up with a traveling crafts fair and seeing the country. Jason had graduated from Northeastern with a degree in political science, which he declared useless. Four wasted years, he said of college, except for the beer and the proximity to Fenway, and the introduction to de Tocqueville (but she was pretty sure he was only saying that to impress her). He wanted to live on Nantucket and build houses.
They were in love that summer, but what Claire remembered was how temporary it felt, how fragile, fleeting, ethereal. In truth, they barely knew each other. Claire told Jason about her years with Matthew—Max West, the Max West of "This Could Be a Song"—but Jason didn't believe her. Didn't believe her! He didn't believe she could blow glass, either. She showed him her goblets and footed candy dishes; he shook his head in wonder, but not in acknowledgment.
They sailed on Jason's Hobie Cat, they fished for scup and stripers, they dove off the boat into the dark water, they had bonfires at Great Point and slept under the stars, they had sex with the wild abandon of two twenty-year-olds who had nothing to lose. They hung out with Jason's brother, Carter, who was a chef at the Galley, and Carter's girlfriend, Siobhan, who hailed from County Cork. Siobhan wore square glasses and had dark freckles across her pale nose, like pepper over mashed potatoes. Claire fell in love with Carter and Siobhan as well as Jason, and one night she was drunk and bold enough to say, "What if I don't go to Corning after Labor Day? What if I stay on Nantucket and marry Jason? And Siobhan, you marry Carter, and we raise kids together and live happily ever after?"
They had laughed at her, and Siobhan told her to piss off—but she, Claire Danner, had been right, and they were now, all of them, Crispins. Ten strong, including the kids. It was storybook—except that it was tough, frustrating, boring reality. Claire and Jason had gone from being two kids with no tan lines and sand in the cracks of their bums to being Mom and Dad, the heads of a minicorporation, the Crispin family of 22 Featherbed Lane. Jason had worked for Eli Drummond for years, and on the weekends he slaved on their own house as well as the hot shop for Claire out back. Then Jason hired four Lithuanian guys and went out on his own. Claire cultivated five clients with erudite and expensive taste in art objects made of glass. She gave birth, in quick succession, to J.D., Ottilie, and Shea. Claire worked erratic hours—after the kids went to bed, before they woke up. Then, when Shea hit preschool, Claire worked more. Everything was okay, fine, good at times, but there were bumps. Jason started smoking at work—smoking!—and trying to hide it with beer or breath mints. Jason became resentful when Claire turned him down for sex. She tried to explain to him what it felt like to be pawed by three kids all day. She was their slave, their employee; she worked for them. Was it any wonder that when the end of the day came, she wanted to be left alone? Jason had never been intellectually curious (after that first summer, he never mentioned de Tocqueville's name again), and over time he became incorrigibly sucked into the television. Claire found the TV maddening—the channel surfing, the sports. Jason drove a pickup that was as huge and black as a hearse, a gas- guzzler he affectionately called Darth Vader. Darth Vader? Claire said, incredulous that she had married a man who treated his truck like a fraternity brother or a pet. The kids like it, Jason said. The truck, the love affair with the tube, the sneaked cigarettes, and the early morning breakfasts at the Downyflake so that Jason could touch base with his subs and hear about new business—all of it served to push Claire to the brink.
But there were also many wonderful things about Jason. He worked hard and provided for his family. He prided himself on being simple and straightforward, honest and true; he was the right angle of a T square, the bubble in the level, always locating the center. What you see is what you get. He adored the kids. He had a foot soldier in their son J.D. J.D. helped Jason with projects around the house: rolling paint onto walls, turning the screwdriver while sucking intently on his bottom lip. I'm Dad's wingman. They built a go-cart using an old lawn mower engine; they went scalloping together and pulled cherrystone clams out of the wet, marshy sand with a tool Jason had fashioned from a piece of PVC pipe. You'll never go hungry with the Crispin men around! Jason was exemplary with the girls, too—father of the year. He delivered Ottilie and Shea to dance lessons, he bought them bouquets on the day of their dance recital, and he whistled louder than anyone else in the audience. He tirelessly explained that Ottilie was an old-fashioned French name. We wanted something unique, he said, beaming with pride.
When Claire got pregnant with Zack, things were going smoothly. She was working on a huge commission for her best client, Chick Klaussen: a sculpture for the entry of his offices on West Fifty-fourth Street in Manhattan. She planned to be finished with the commission right before the baby was due. Jason was happy because he was, deep in his soul, a procreator. He would have had ten kids if Claire was willing, a stable of kids, a posse, a football team, a tribe: the Crispin clan.
When Claire was thirty-two weeks along, she was in the hot shop working on the Klaussen commission. She had a week or two of work left at the most. At the most! she promised Jason, even though her doctor wanted her to stop. Too hot in there, he said. Not safe for you or the baby. Claire was working very hot, it was finish work, shine and polish, she was not drinking enough water, and she fainted. She hit the floor, cut her arm, broke two ribs, and went immediately into preterm labor. On the MedFlight jet, they told her she would most likely lose the baby. But Zack had lived; they took him by emergency C-section, and he spent five weeks on a respirator in the NICU. He lived, Claire healed.
Jason was shaken to his core. He had been standing there as they sliced Claire open—Claire, whose body had sucked in two bags of IV fluid in less than thirty minutes, so advanced was her dehydration—and he had fully expected them to pull out a stillborn. But then, the cry. It was a revelation for Jason; it was his born-again moment, the moment when an adult man who thought he knew everything learned something about the human condition. He sat next to Claire's bed as Zack spent the first of thirty-five days in the NICU, and he made Claire promise she would stop working.
For a little while, he said. Have a studio finish the Klaussen commission.
This was as close as he came to blaming her. But no matter—Claire blamed herself, as she had blamed herself for Daphne's accident. Her blood type was the rare AB positive: the universal acceptor. And that was all too fitting. Give her the blame, the shame, all of it: she had no boundaries, she would take it on. She agreed to stop working; she gave the Klaussen commission to a glass studio in Brooklyn to finish.
Zack captured Jason's heart—and Claire's heart, too—because they came so close to losing him. Even now, seven months later, Claire woke up in the middle of the night, worrying about the lasting effects of her fall. She watched Zack, willing him to respond to her in an age-appropriate way, wishing that his eyes would show that glimmer, that promise that her other kids had shown: intelligence, motivation, determination. Since Zack's birth, she had lived with the whisper, There's something wrong with him. She constantly badgered Jason: Do you think something happened when he was born? Do you think there's something Dr. Patel isn't telling me, or something she didn't see? To which Jason always responded, "For Chrissakes, Claire, he's fine!" But that sounded to Claire like denial. It sounded like Jason was blinded by love.
How was she going to tell Jason about the gala? Claire waited through dinner—fried chicken, Jason's favorite. She waited through bath and stories for the girls and a shower and homework for J.D. She waited until Zack had his bottle, until Jason was relaxed on the sofa, remote control in hand. The TV was on, but Jason had not committed to anything yet. Now was the time to tell him! This was their life now, but Claire could remember Jason naked and grinning with a clam rake in his hand, his sun-bleached hair shining like gold.
"I had lunch with Lock Dixon today," she said. "At the yacht club."
He heard her, but he wasn't listening. "Did you?"
"Doesn't that surprise you?"
Jason changed the channel. Claire resented the TV, all fifty-two bright, chirping inches of it. "A little, I guess."
"He asked me to cochair the summer gala."
"You know, the Nantucket's Children thing. The event. The concert. The thing we went to last month."
At this past year's gala, while Jason lingered at the back bar with his fishing buddies, Claire had applauded as the two cochairs floated up onto the stage to accept bouquets of flowers. As if they had been named prom queen. As if they had won an Academy Award. Claire had been caught up in the glamour of it all. The mere fact that she had sat down for a civilized lunch at the yacht club made Claire believe that if she agreed to cochair the summer gala for Nantucket's Children, her life would be more like that and less like it was now. Claire never ate lunches like the one she had had today. Lunch for her was a sleeve of saltines that she kept in the console of her Honda Pilot and stuffed blindly into her mouth as she picked the kids up from school. If she was at home, lunch was a bowl of cereal that she poured at eleven thirty (it was breakfast and lunch), which grew soggy before Claire finished it because the baby cried, or the phone rang, or the crumbs under her feet pushed her past her already-high threshold for filth and yuck and she capitulated and pulled out the vacuum. If Claire agreed to cochair the gala, her life might take on a distinguished quality, the golden glow that accompanied a life devoted to good works. How could she explain this to Jason?
"He asked you to chair it?"
"Cochair it. I'd have help."
"I hope you said no."
She stroked Zack's soft head. "I said yes."
Was it so wrong? She and Jason had spent the past seven months living in reverence of their own good fortune. Wasn't it time now to think of others? To raise money for kids whose parents were working themselves sick with three jobs?
"It's a good cause," she said.
Jason huffed, turned the volume up. And that, she supposed, was the best she could hope for.
"You're a complete idiot, Clairsy. A bloody fool."
This was Siobhan, the next morning on the phone, after Claire had told her, Lock Dixon asked me to chair the summer gala for Nantucket's Children, and I capitulated like a soldier without a gun.
"I'm not a fool."
"You're too much yourself."
"Right," Claire said, losing enthusiasm. "Jason is not amused. Have I made a whopping mistake?"
"Yes," Siobhan said.
Claire had spent the past twenty hours convincing herself that it was an honor to be asked. "It will be fun."
"It will be work and stress and heartache like you've never known."
"It's for a good cause," Claire said, trying again.
"That sounds rather canned," Siobhan said. "Tell me something true."
I did it because Lock asked me, Claire thought. But that would send Siobhan through the roof. "I couldn't say no."
"Bingo. You have no boundaries. Your cells don't have membranes."
Correct. This had been a problem since childhood: Claire's parents had battled constantly; their problems came in thirty flavors. Claire was the only child, she held herself accountable for their misery, and her parents did nothing to dissuade her from this. (Things had been different then with child raising.)
She was an easy mark, too easy. She could not say no to Lock Dixon, or anyone else, for that matter.
"I want you to serve on my committee," Claire said. Siobhan and Carter owned a catering company called Island Fare. They did big events like the Pops concert on Jetties Beach, as well as hundreds of smaller cocktail and dinner parties, lunches, brunches, picnics, and weddings, though they had never catered the summer gala. Claire was asking Siobhan to be on the committee because Siobhan was her best friend, her darling, but right away Claire sensed tension.
"Are you asking me to cater the gala?" Siobhan asked. "Or do you expect me to slave with you on it while some other mick gets the job?"
"Oh," Claire said. Of course, if it were up to her, Siobhan and Carter would cater the event, but Claire didn't know if being cochair gave her the power to hire anybody, and even if she did have the power, she wasn't prepared to wield it yet. What if she hired Carter and Siobhan and someone called it nepotism (which, of course, someone would)? Worse still, what if Claire hired Carter and Siobhan and her fellow board members expected a deep discount that Carter and Siobhan either didn't want or couldn't afford to provide? God, how awkward! She'd been in charge for five minutes and already she was facing an impossible situation.
"Listen," Claire said, "you don't have to—"
"No, no, no, I will."
"But I can't promise anything about the catering."
Claire wasn't sure, exactly, where that left things. Was Siobhan on the committee? Would she come to the meeting at eight o'clock on Wednesday, September 19? She would not, Claire decided. She would forget about the meeting, and Claire didn't call to remind her.
So when Claire Danner Crispin reached the top of the narrow staircase of the Elijah Baker House (a grand house, built in 1846 for Elijah Baker, who had made a fortune fashioning ladies' corsets out of whalebone) and stepped into the office of Nantucket's Children, she found only…Lock Dixon. Lock was sitting behind his desk in a blue pinstripe shirt and a yellow tie, his head bent forward, so that Claire could see the bald spot on top. He was writing on a legal pad, and he didn't seem to have heard Claire on the stairs (impossible: she was wearing clogs). Rather, he had heard her and simply had yet to acknowledge her. Claire felt self-conscious. She should have called Siobhan and dragged her along, no matter how uncomfortable or unethical it was.
"Lock?" Claire said. "Hi."
Lock raised his head. He was wearing half spectacles, which he whipped off immediately, as if they were some kind of secret. He smiled at Claire. It was a real smile, it broke his face open, and Claire felt the air in the room crackle, practically, with the power of that smile. It sent an electric current through her heart; it could have brought her back from the dead, that smile.
Claire took the smile as her reward for saying, Yes, I'd love to. Really, I'd be honored. When you were a cochair of the summer gala, people were glad to see you walk in the door. Or grateful. Or relieved.
Lock stood up. "Hi, Claire, hi, hi. Here, let me get you a—"
"I'm fine, I'm fine," she said. "Are we meeting here, or in the . . ."
The Nantucket's Children office consisted of two rooms divided by a hallway, and at the end of the hallway was a powder room and a small kitchen. One room was the actual office, where Lock worked and where Gavin Andrews, the office manager-bookkeeper, had his desk, and across the hall was the boardroom, which held a large, round table and eight Windsor chairs. Every detail of the Nantucket's Children office transported one back to the whaling heyday that put Nantucket on the map: the floor was fashioned from 150-year-old pine boards, and the doorways were topped with leaded transom windows. With the old- fashioned charm, however, came old-fashioned conveniences or the lack thereof. The board meetings were stifling in the summer and freezing in the winter, and every time Claire used the powder room, the toilet backed up.
Tonight, however, the office was unusually inviting. Because it was September now, it was dark outside. Through the window at Lock Dixon's back, Claire could see all the way up Main Street: Nantucket Town was twinkling like a child's toy village. Lock worked with the light of one desk lamp and the blue glow of his computer. Half a sandwich—turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce—sat on white butcher paper on his desk blotter, which meant it was eight o'clock and he had yet to make it home. Claire's mind flickered to Daphne. If Lock spent every night at the office, did Daphne make dinner for herself? Did she read magazines, take baths, watch TV? Daphne was never quite right in public after her accident, but what about in private? Was she better or worse? Their daughter, Heather, was at boarding school. Andover. It had been a much-debated topic among Claire's circle of friends: How did Heather Dixon get into the best prep school in the country with solid B grades and an attitude problem? It was field hockey, everyone concluded, and they were probably correct. Heather Dixon was quite an athlete, but Claire believed that Heather Dixon got herself into prep school out of the sheer will to escape her mother. It had killed Lock to see Heather go, and it was odd, too, that he should head a charity called Nantucket's Children when his own child didn't really qualify as such. Heather Dixon rarely came back to the island; this past summer, Claire heard, she had attended a camp in Maine.
"Let's just meet in here," Lock said. His voice startled Claire. She had been so busy thinking about him, she forgot he was in the room. "It's cozier."
Cozier? Claire thought. She was blushing as Lock pulled a chair up to his desk for her. "Cozier" made it sound like the two of them were about to snuggle under a blanket together. But Lock was right: the office was cozy, with the low light and the faint smell of woodsmoke floating in through the cracked window, and the classical music coming from the Bose radio.
Now that she was a cochair, maybe she would have more calm and quiet hours like this. This office—its architectural detail and distinguished period furnishings combining to convey a scholarly air, a well-heeled doing-of-noble-works—stood in direct opposition to the scene Claire had left at home. At home, there had been dinner to make: tacos, her only home run, and late corn from the farm and a green salad with ranch dressing, which she had painstakingly made from scratch (fresh herbs picked from the garden, onion finely minced). Jason, as ever, wandered in the door with five minutes to spare, smelling of Newport Menthols, and the kids jumped into his arms and tackled him. How could Claire deny them his attentions? This was his time of day. She could not interrupt routine just because she had a meeting. Hence Claire was left to shuttle everything from the kitchen to the dining room table, trying not to look like she was hurrying. Jason ended his roughhousing session by picking Zack up and putting him in his high chair, which was helpful because when Claire tried to do this, Zack pitched a fit. Dinner went well, which meant there were only sixty or seventy reminders to eat up, and Claire stood immediately after grace and buttered corn for the girls, got up twice to refill milk, and then, when she sat down again, spooned pureed carrots into Zack's mouth, which was an exercise in one step forward, two steps back. Zack had not yet gotten the hang of eating solids. He pushed most of the food back out of his mouth with his tongue; it dribbled down his bib or landed on the tray of his high chair, where he liked to put his hands in it. Claire, in an attempt to create an environment of art appreciation for her children, made references to Jackson Pollock. Jack the Dripper, Zack the Dripper. But the kids were, for the most part, grossed out. J.D. (at nine, Claire's eldest) called Zack "the mental patient." Claire hated when J.D. used that term, not because Zack was old enough to understand it, but because it echoed Claire's private fears. There's something wrong with him.
Sitting in the office, Claire realized she was starving. With all that had happened during dinnertime, she hadn't had a second to eat her own food.
Lock noticed Claire staring at the uneaten half of his sandwich. "Are you hungry?" he said. "Do you want…I don't know if it's rude to offer someone your leftovers, but I haven't touched this half, I swear. Would you like it?"
"No, no," Claire said quickly. "I ate at home."
"Oh," Lock said. "Right. Of course. Well, how about some wine, then?"
"Wine?" Claire said. At home, Jason would be dealing with bedtime. This normally went like clockwork: Bath for the younger three while J.D. finished his homework, then a shower for J.D. Then stories for the girls and Zack, which worked if Jason remembered to give Zack a bottle. The bottle had to go into the microwave for thirty seconds. Would Jason know this? She should have reminded him; she should have written it down. Claire eyed the phone on Lock's desk. She should call home and check on things. Of course Pan, the Thai au pair who had come to live with them after Zack was born, was in the house, too, but Pan rarely came out of her room at night. Still, if Jason got into a jam, he would go to Pan and she would prep Zack's bottle and rock him to sleep.
"I'd love a glass of wine," Claire said.
One of the good things about being cochair of the summer gala and attending evening meetings, Claire thought, was that Jason would get more hands-on time with the kids.
"Wonderful," Lock said. He disappeared into the hallway and came back with two glasses dangling from his fingers and a chilled bottle of white.
Very strange, Claire thought. Wine in the office.
Lock held up the bottle to her like a sommelier. "This is a viognier. It's a white from the Rhône valley. It's my favorite varietal."
"Is it?" Claire said.
"My wife finds it too tart. Too lemony. But I love its brightness." He poured Claire a glass and she took a sip. Wine, like classical music, was one of those things Claire wanted to learn more about. She had tried to interest Jason in a wine-tasting class offered through the Community School, but he'd refused on the grounds that he never drank wine, only beer. This wine was bright, it was grassy—should she say that word "grassy," or would she sound like a complete ass? She wanted to make Lock happy (she could hear Siobhan shouting, No boundaries!), and hence she declared, "I love it."
"I love it. It tastes like a meadow."
Another smile from Lock. She had spent the past five years certain that he hated her, blamed her—but here he was, smiling! It warmed her to the pit of her stomach.
"I'm glad you like it," Lock said. He poured himself a glass equal to Claire's. Was this okay—drinking wine in the office, alone, with Lock Dixon? Had the meetings with his former cochairs gone this way?
"Is Adams coming?" Claire asked. Adams Fiske, a mop-haired local attorney and one of Claire's dearest friends, was president of the board of directors.
"He's in Duxbury this week," Lock said.
"I invited my sister-in-law, Siobhan," Claire said. "But I doubt she'll remember."
"Okay," Lock said. He sounded like he couldn't have cared less. He raised his glass. "Cheers!" he said. "Here's to the summer gala!"
"To the summer gala," Claire said.
"I'm so glad you agreed to cochair," Lock said. "We really wanted you."
Claire blushed again and sipped her wine. "It's my pleasure."
Lock was sitting on the edge of his desk. He was wearing khaki pants, loafers without socks, a leather belt with a silver monogrammed belt buckle. His tie was loose and the top two buttons of his shirt were undone. Claire found him newly fascinating—but why? She knew nothing about him, other than that he was a rich man. That was interesting. Or rather, it was interesting that he had taken this job (which Claire, as a member of the board of directors, knew meant that he made $82,000 a year) even though he was so rich he never had to work again.
"I think we've found someone to be your cochair," Lock said.
"Oh," Claire said. "Good." This was good; Claire certainly couldn't shoulder all of the responsibility of the summer gala herself. And yet she was nervous about having a cochair. Claire was an artist; she worked alone. There was some sense in which she could call Jason her cochair—the cochair of the family—but if Claire got home tonight and found J.D. on the computer (unshowered, his homework incomplete), the girls lying in bed with tangled hair (you had to comb it out carefully), and Zack zoned out on Jason's lap in front of Junkyard Wars, she would throw her arms up in frustration. "Who is it?"
"Isabelle French," Lock said. "Do you know her? She joined the board in the spring."
Isabelle French. Did Claire know her? She pictured a woman with her hair up, wearing dangly earrings and some kind of funky Indian-print tunic that reminded Claire of the Beatles in their psychedelic years. That was what Isabelle French had been wearing at the gala. She had been drinking a cosmopolitan, she had been dancing; Claire had seen her come off the dance floor pink-faced and breathless. Claire wondered if she was remembering the right woman.
"I…think so," Claire said.
"She's very nice. She's eager to get more involved."
"In New York."
"Okay. Does she…?"
"Work? No, I don't think so. Other than doing things like this, I mean."
"Does she have…?"
"Kids? No, no kids."
There was a beat of silence between them. The charity was called Nantucket's Children; it was for people who cared deeply about children, which generally meant having one or more of your own.
"No kids?" Claire said, wondering if Adams Fiske had been brazen enough to put someone on the board solely because of her pocketbook.
"No kids," Lock confirmed.
"Divorced," Lock said. "From a guy I went to college with at Williams, actually. Though that has no bearing. I haven't seen Marshall French in years, and honestly, I know Isabelle only slightly. Adams was the one who brought her aboard. But I know that she's very nice. And eager."
"Great," Claire said. And then, lest she not seem eager herself, she pulled a notebook out of her bag—a notebook she had bought for this very reason—and said, "Should we get to work?"
The Nantucket's Children Summer Gala: The goal was to sell a thousand tickets. The evening started with cocktails and passed hors d'oeuvres. Cocktails were followed by a seated dinner, during which Lock showed a PowerPoint presentation of the programs that Nantucket's Children funded. By the time dinner ended, the guests had (presumably) imbibed a few drinks and the wheels were greased for the auction. The trademark of the Nantucket's Children Summer Gala was that they only auctioned off one item (one fabulous item, expected to go for at least fifty thousand dollars). The brief auction gave way, finally, to a concert by a performer or band that had highly danceable hits, like the Beach Boys (2004), like the Village People (2005), like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (2007). With underwriting, the event made well over a million dollars. That money was distributed to the twenty-two initiatives and programs set up exclusively for island kids.
"The most important element, no matter what anybody says, is the talent," Lock told Claire. "It's what sets our event apart. Anyone can put up a tent. Anyone can hire a caterer and throw together an auction. But we get music. That is what makes us sexy. That is why people come."
"Right," Claire said.
"And rumor on the street is that you know—"
"Max West," Claire said.
"Max West," Lock said. Again the smile, this time hyped up with admiration. Well, yeah, of course. Max West was a superstar; he was right up there with Elton John, Jon Bon Jovi, Mick Jagger. He'd had more than thirty hits. He'd been singing for nearly twenty years, since the summer after his and Claire's high school graduation, when he played the Stone Pony in Asbury Park and an agent heard him, and…yeah. Rock star. Claire's heart had been broken. God, had she cried, every night after the show, back behind the club, where it smelled like empty beer bottles and trash—she had cried and held on to Matthew's neck because she knew it was ending. She was going to RISD, and he was going to…California. To record an album. They had been different people then. He had really been a different person—Matthew Westfield—before he became Max West and played the inaugural parties in Washington, before he played for Princess Diana, before he sold out Shea Stadium six nights in a row, before he recorded a live album in Kathmandu, which went double platinum. Before he got married, twice, and went into rehab, three times.
"Yes, I know him. We went to high school together. He was my…boyfriend."
"That's what someone told me," Lock said. "But I didn't—"
"You didn't believe it?" Claire said. Right. No one ever believed it at first. Claire and Matthew had been best friends since seventh grade, and then, one night years later, when they were old enough to be horny and curious, Matthew had kissed her—on a school bus, at night. They were in the chorus together, returning from a trip to the old-folks' home. Not only was Matthew in the chorus, but he was also the lead tenor in the barbershop quartet, and that was the music the old people had liked best. "Sweet Rosie O'Grady." They clapped like mad, and Matthew hammed it up, bowing, and kissing an old woman's hand. Standing on the top riser in the soprano section, Claire had felt unaccountably proud of him. So on the dark bus heading back to school, they sat together as they had a hundred times before, and Claire rested her hand on Matthew's thigh, then her head on his shoulder, and the next thing she knew, they were kissing.
"It's not that I didn't believe it," Lock said. "It's just that, I don't know…he's so famous."
"But he wasn't then," Claire said. "Back then he was just a kid, like the rest of us."
"The question is," Lock said, "can we get him?"
"I can try."
Claire sipped her wine. "I can try."
Lock leaned toward her. His eyes were bright. He had very kind eyes, Claire thought. Very kind or very sad. "You would do that?"
"All I have to do is track him down," she said. She wrote on the first line of the first page of her notebook: find Matthew. That would be the hard part, finding him. "I haven't talked to him in years."
"Really?" Lock said. Now he sounded worried and possibly even suspicious. "Do you think he'll remember you?"
"I was his high school sweetheart," Claire said. "You don't forget your high school sweetheart, do you?"
Lock was staring at her. Claire felt the trill of the piccolo travel up her spine, and the bass notes of the tuba reverberate in her stomach. Being with Lock, alone, in this "meeting," was messing her up. Or maybe it was thinking about Matthew that was making her feel this way—like a teenager, like she was forming a crush, like the world was filled with outlandish romantic possibilities.
"What else?" she said.
Before he could answer, Claire's eye caught on something on the bookshelves to the left of the twenty-paned window. It was a glass vase with green and white tiger stripes and a star-shaped opening. It was one of Claire's pieces, right there in her direct line of vision, but she hadn't noticed it until that second. It was like not recognizing one of her own children. She stood up and took the vase off the shelf, turned it in the light. Two summers earlier, when she was between commissions, she had made twelve of these vases for Transom, a shop in town. The colors varied, but they all had tiger stripes or leopard rosettes. The Jungle Series, she called it. Claire's glassblowing career had been all about custom-made, one-of-a-kind commissioned pieces for very wealthy patrons, so it had been fun, and liberating, for Claire to do these vases, which were light, easy, whimsical. Transom had sold out of the vases in only two weeks.
"Where did you get this?" Claire asked.
"In town. At that shop . . ."
"On the corner there, yes."
"You bought it?"
"I bought it."
"You bought it…for yourself?"
"For myself, yes. For the office. We kept flowers in it for a few weeks, but I prefer it empty. It's a work of art by itself."
"Oh," Claire said.
"I'm a big fan of your glass."
Now Claire was suspicious. "How much of my work have you seen?"
"We're friends with the Klaussens," he said. "We've seen the Bubbles."
"Ah," Claire said.
"And I read GlassArt, so I've seen your pieces in there. And I'm familiar with the museum pieces."
"The one piece," Claire said. "At the Whitney."
"And the vases at the museum in Shelburne," Lock said. "They're beautiful."
"Wow," Claire said. Her face bloomed hot and red; two posies would be appearing on her cheeks. She was embarrassed and flattered—Lock Dixon knew her work. Knew it, knew it. He read GlassArt, which had a circulation of about seven hundred.
Lock cleared his throat. "This is going out of order a bit, but I wonder if you would be willing to put a piece up for bid, as the auction item."
"At the gala, you mean?"
Claire shook her head, confused. The auction item at the gala was something outrageous, something money couldn't buy: a week in a castle in Scotland with golf at St. Andrews, or an Italian feast for twelve cooked by Mario Batali.
"I don't get it. We have to make money."
"Right, so the piece would have to be on par with the Bubbles series."
Claire returned to her chair and polished off her wine. Because she hadn't eaten anything, her head was vibrating like a tuning fork. "I don't work anymore. I shut down the hot shop when my son was born."
"But as I understood it, that was temporary? A sabbatical rather than retirement?"
Claire put her hands to her face to cool her cheeks. Lock Dixon knew more about her—much more—than she would have guessed. Claire was curious. He understood this how? From whom? Claire herself didn't know when she would resume working. The hot shop behind the house was now shuttered and locked, cold and dormant. Claire looked at the shop with longing—of course she did, glassblowing was in her blood—but also with a sense that she was a woman with her priorities straight. She had four children who needed her. She could go back to glassblowing once she had them all safely in school.
"I'm not working anymore," Claire repeated.
"So you won't do a piece for the auction?"
Claire stared at him. Was he taunting her? Was he daring her to say no? He poured her more wine, which she gratefully accepted.
"I'm not working," she said.
"Just think how that will bolster the price," Lock said. "You haven't produced anything in over a year—it will be nearly two years by next August, right? This would be your triumphant return."
"But art is subjective. What if I make something and nobody likes it?"
"You're a genius."
"Now you're teasing me."
"Tell you what," he said.
"What?" Claire said.
He was quiet, looking at her, the hint of a smile on his face. Claire was confounded. He was teasing her and she was enjoying it. Her sensibilities were aroused, her intelligence piqued. Lock Dixon was, perhaps, the only person in the world—short of her handful of patrons—who cared if she started blowing glass again. But he couldn't egg her into it just because he was a man, a wealthy man, a man who had poured her a glass of wine, a man whose wife Claire had unintentionally wronged. He couldn't make her do it. She did have boundaries!
"What?" she said again.
"I'll bid fifty thousand dollars on it myself."
"What?" Claire said, incredulous now.
He bent over to look her in the eye. His face was so close she could have kissed him. Just the fleeting thought of kissing him put the color back into her cheeks. She pushed him away mentally and backed up a few inches in her chair.
"You will not."
"I will. Fifty thousand dollars. If you create a piece for the auction, a real Claire Danner Crispin original, museum quality, one-of-a-kind, whatever your mind's eye comes up with, I will bid fifty thousand dollars on it myself."
Claire shook her head. He was kidding. He had to be kidding: fifty thousand dollars was the sum of his take-home pay as executive director.
"You're nuts," she said.
"Maybe I am," he said, in a way that seemed to have meaning, and although Claire was high from the wine, she didn't let him undermine her resolve.
She stood up. "I don't work anymore," she said, astonishing herself. She wanted to give back to the universe, she wanted to act in kindness—but even she had her limits.
The kids were all asleep when Claire got home, and she checked on them one by one, rooting around like a raccoon in the dark. They seemed reasonably clean, the girls' hair was combed, and J.D.'s homework was complete, though stuffed into his backpack like garbage. Claire smoothed out the pages of long division and tucked it in neatly. In the nursery, she pulled the blanket over Zack's shoulders and stroked his cheek. God, how she worried about him! He was healthy, despite having been a preemie; her pediatrician, Dr. Patel, reassured her of this again and again.
In their bedroom, Jason was waiting for her. He wanted sex all the time, even after so many years of marriage. Tonight would have been a good night to indulge him with a serious, creative effort, but sex seemed too tame for Claire's mood. Her meeting with Lock Dixon had gotten her gears turning. She wanted to pore over her back issues of GlassArt. She wanted to go into the hot shop—museum-quality piece!—and sketch until dawn.
"Come to bed," Jason said.
Thinking about the hot shop suddenly felt illicit. "How were the kids?"
"Fine. Come to bed."
"Don't you want to know how my meeting was?"
"How was your meeting?"
"It was amazing," she said. He didn't ask her to elaborate, and Claire thought, Why bother? Her definition of amazing was completely different from Jason's definition of amazing. Jason was a contractor; amazing for him was the plumber showing up on time. It was a thirty-nine-inch striper caught with a fly.
"Come to bed, please, Claire. Please, baby?"
"Okay," she said. She brushed her teeth, then took her time washing her face and moisturizing, then wiping down the granite vanity and the bowl of the sink, hoping that Jason would fall asleep. But when she crawled into bed, Jason had his light on. He was facing her side of the bed with his hands out, like she was a basketball he was about to catch.
"The kids didn't wear you out?" she asked.
"Naw, they were great."
"You read to them?"
"I read to Zack. Ottilie read to Shea. J.D. did his homework, then read his chapter book."
"Good," Claire said, relaxing. "So, the meeting . . ." She paused—not because she was hesitant to admit that it had only been her and Lock at the meeting, but because Jason's hands were already traveling up inside her camisole. He wasn't interested in what had transpired at her meeting. Claire grabbed Jason's wrists, but he was persistent, and she let him go. Their sex life was robust, but there was a part of their marriage that had withered, if it had ever existed at all. What was it? They didn't talk. If Claire said these words now to Jason, We don't talk, he would tell her she was being silly. He would say, We talk all the time. Yes, about the kids, about what was for dinner, about the car being serviced, about Joe's fortieth birthday next week, about what bills needed to be paid, about when he'd be home from work. But if Claire tried to explain her meeting with Lock and its many tangents—Matthew, how it felt to think about Matthew, how it felt to think about Daphne and the accident, Lock's interest in Claire's glass and his request that she come out of retirement on behalf of the auction item—Jason would glaze over. Bored. She would be keeping him from what was really important—the sex! Furthermore, he might grow angry at what Claire told him: Who was Lock Dixon to tell his wife to start blowing glass again? It was easier for Claire to keep her mouth shut, to indulge Jason physically and try to quiet the agitation in her mind.
Find Matthew. Museum-quality piece. Silver belt buckle. The Jungle Series. Whalebone corsets. Viognier that tasted like a meadow. Fifty thousand dollars. Classical music: she really should learn more about it.
She closed her eyes and kissed her husband.