LENNY AND GRACE BROOKSTEIN'S NANTUCKET ESTATE was an idyllic, sprawling, gray-shingled mansion set just off Cliff Road on the north side of the island. The main house boasted ten bedroom suites, an indoor swimming pool and spa, a state-of-the-art movie theater, a chef's kitchen and an enormous, gabled roof terrace (known on Nantucket as a "widow's walk," because in the olden days, sailors' wives used to climb up to their rooftops and gaze out to sea, hoping to spot their husbands' long-lost ships returning). Formal gardens, planted with lavender, roses, and box hedges in the European style, cascaded down the hillside to Steps Beach, one of the quietest and most prestigious beaches on the island. At the bottom of the garden were four guest cottages, charming, wisteria-clad dollhouses in white wood, each with its own miniature front yard and white picket fence. Anywhere else the cottages would have looked impossibly twee. But here, on this magical island frozen for all time in some simpler, bygone era, they worked.
At least Grace Brookstein thought so. It was she who had built and designed them, down to the very last Ralph Lauren pillowcase and antique Victorian claw-foot tub.
Grace adored Nantucket. It was where she and Lenny got married, without question the happiest day of Grace's life. But it was more than that. There was a simplicity to the island that did not exist anywhere else. Of course, there was money on Nantucket. Serious money. Tiny, three-room fishermen's cottages in Siasconset changed hands for upward of $2 million. During the summer, Michelin-starred restaurants like 21 Federal and the Summerhouse charged more for their lobster thermidor than Georges V in Paris. Upscale boutiques on Union and Orange streets in town showcased thousand-dollar cardigans in their windows. Galleries representing local artists regularly sold pieces for six figures, sometimes even seven, to the island's wealthier residents. And yet, somehow, Nantucket remained determinedly low-key. In all the years she'd been coming to the island, Grace had never seen a sports car. Billionaires and their wives strolled around town in khaki shorts and white cotton shirts from the Gap. Even the yachts in the harbor were conservative, far less flashy than the ones at East Hampton or Saint-Tropez or Palm Beach. Lenny never moored anything but a modest, forty-seven-foot bareboat in Nantucket. He would have died of shame before he showed up in the three-hundred-foot Quorum Queen, even though in Sardinia, Grace could hardly get him off the thing.
Nantucket was a place where rich people pretended to be poor. Or at least poorer. It made Grace nostalgic for her childhood, for a simpler time in her life, a time of innocent pleasures. It thrilled her that Lenny loved the island just as much as she did. Other than Le Cocon, their bastide-style retreat in Madagascar, there was nowhere else on earth where Grace felt so totally relaxed. The Brooksteins were happy everywhere, but they were happiest of all here, in this house.
Grace and Lenny arrived three days before their guests. Lenny still had some work to catch up on (didn't he always?) and Grace needed time to talk to the staff and make sure that everything was perfect for her visitors.
"Give Honor and Connie the larger two cottages because they've got kids. Andrew and Maria can have the one right on the sand, and the Merrivales can go in the smallest one. Caroline's been here before, so I'm sure she won't mind."
There was so much to do! Planning menus, ordering flowers, making sure the bikes and fishing rods were ready for her nephews and nieces. Grace felt like she'd barely seen Lenny.
The night before the hordes descended, the two of them had a romantic dinner at the Chanticleer, a pretty, intimate restaurant in the fishing village of Siasconset. At least it would have been romantic if Lenny hadn't spent the entire evening glued to his BlackBerry.
"Is everything all right, darling? You seem so stressed."
Grace reached across the table and squeezed his hand.
"Sorry, honey. Everything's fine. I'm just a little...there's a lot going on at the moment. Nothing for you to worry about, my angel."
Grace tried not to worry, but it was hard. Lenny never brought his work problems home with him. Never. This morning a perfectly harmless homeless man on the wharf had asked Lenny for change, and Lenny had flown at him, lecturing him on alcoholism and taking responsibility for ten straight minutes. Later, Grace had been picking raspberries in the garden when she overheard Lenny shouting out of their bedroom window. He was on the phone with John Merrivale. Grace didn't catch everything he said, but one phrase had stuck in her mind:
"They all want a piece of me, John. The bastards are bleeding me dry. If you're right about Preston, after everything I've done for him...I'll cut his fucking hand off."
What did he mean, "bleeding him dry"? And who were the bastards? Surely not Andrew Preston? Andrew had worked for Lenny since year one. He and Maria were practically family, like the Merrivales.
Grace's only comfort was that at least Lenny was talking to John. She knew he trusted him and relied on him like a brother. Whatever the problem was, Grace felt sure that John would know what to do. He'd be here tomorrow. Then, hopefully, Lenny would feel a little more relaxed.
THE VACATION GOT OFF TO A smooth start. Once the houseguests arrived, Lenny was more relaxed, quite his old self again in fact. With the exception of Jack Warner, who still seemed out of sorts, everyone appeared happy to be there and determined to have a good time.
Michael Gray appointed himself Pied Piper to all four of the children, taking his nieces, Bobby and Rose, fishing for crabs with their cousins, and treating them all to ice creams at Jetties Beach. Grace was delighted. Poor Mike and Connie had been through so much this past year. You could see the vacation doing Mike good. As for Cade and little Cooper, they were in seventh heaven, outdoors all day on their bikes or up to their necks in sand.
During the days the other four men - John, Andrew, Jack and Lenny - sailed or played golf while their wives indulged in some serious retail therapy. Grace loved treating her sisters to little gifts. Nothing gave her more pleasure than spending her good fortune on others, especially Connie and Honor. She would happily have splurged on Caroline and Maria, too, but neither of them would let her.
It probably feels weird for them, because I'm so much younger. They think of me like a daughter. Still, Caroline especially had always been so kind. Grace was determined to find some way to show her appreciation.
"I was thinking of having a special dinner tomorrow night at home." Grace accosted Lenny in his study. She was bursting with excitement. "I'm going to ask John all of Caroline's favorite dishes and I'll have Felicia make them. What do you think?"
Lenny looked at her fondly. "I think it's a great idea, Gracie."
Grace started to walk away but he reached out and grabbed her hand. "I love you. You do know that, don't you?"
She laughed and threw her arms around him.
"Of course I know it. Honestly, Lenny! What a funny thing to say."
"I'M NOT SITTING NEXT TO HER. Or Lenny. And don't expect me to clap my fins together like a performing seal and bark in gratitude either. I'll leave the groveling up to you, John."
Caroline Merrivale was in a foul mood. Despite the fact that it was she who insisted they accept Lenny's invitation to Nantucket, she now blamed John for everything. The dull excursions, the dreary company, the fact that they'd been relegated to the meanest and shabbiest of the dreadful little guesthouses. She refused to see Grace's "special dinner" as anything other than yet another patronizing slight.
"Just d-d-don't make a scene, Caro, all right? That's all I'm asking."
"All you're asking? And what do you think gives you the right to ask anything? Have you spoken to Lenny? About the raise?"
John looked pained. "Not yet. It's not as s-s-simple as you seem to think it is."
"On the contrary, John. It's very simple. Either you talk to him or I will."
"No! You c-can't! Please, you must leave L-Lenny to me."
"Fine. But you'd better grow some balls and talk to him before the end of this vacation. If I have to listen to his vacuous wifelette gush one more time about how grateful she is for my incredible friendship, I can't be held responsible for my actions."
John Merrivale thought sadly, Grace is grateful for your friendship. Poor, misguided girl.
Lenny was a lucky man. Wives like Grace were one in a million.
"PLEASE DON'T STAND ON CEREMONY, EVERYONE. Dig in!"
Grace felt unaccountably nervous. The dinner itself looked fabulous. Felicia had excelled herself as usual. The lobster bisque smelled exquisite and was the perfect shade of pale pink, the roast lamb looked mouthwateringly succulent on its bed of organic greens and the raspberry Pavlova was as much a sculpture as a dessert, a towering triumph of snow-white meringue and blood-red berries. Caroline couldn't fail to be delighted.
And yet Grace could not enjoy her triumph. Earlier that day she'd seen Connie talking heatedly with Lenny on the beach, then storming off close to tears. When Grace caught up with her sister and asked her what was wrong, Connie had shrugged her away angrily.
"It's Michael," Lenny explained. "He's depressed. They're going through so much stress right now, honey, you mustn't take it personally."
But Grace did take it personally. Not four hours earlier, Honor had bitten her head off, too. All Grace did was ask if she wanted to come to the spa.
"Not everything in this life can be fixed by a fucking massage, Gracie, okay? Christ, is that your answer to everything? To spend more money pampering yourself?"
Grace was deeply hurt. She wasn't a materialistic person. Honor, of all people, should know that. In fairness, Honor had apologized afterward. "It's Jack. He's got so much on his mind lately, I think some of the stress is rubbing off on me." Grace forgave her and they made up. But still, a lingering anxiety remained. Perhaps she was imagining it, but it seemed to Grace that there was an almost palpable tension around the dinner table tonight.
They're all unhappy. Even Lenny. I want to make them happy, but I can't.
"The soup's ambrosial, Grace. Nice job." Mike Gray grinned at his sister-in-law.
"Thanks." She smiled back. He doesn't look depressed to me.
Maria Preston said snidely, "Indeed, your chef is to be congratulated. He must have worked like a slave all day to produce this feast."
Andrew Preston blushed. Not even Grace Brookstein was stupid enough to miss a blatant dig like that. He wished Maria would get a grip on herself, but after a few glasses of wine she was lethal. It was bad enough that she'd insisted on coming to dinner in a lavish Roberto Cavalli evening gown, slashed to the thigh and wildly inappropriate for the occasion.
"Maria, cara. Everyone else will be in jeans or simple sundresses. You look stunning, my angel, as always. But couldn't you..."
"No, Andy. I couldn't. I am not 'everyone else.' 'Aven't you learned this by now?"
Grace was too polite to rise to Maria's bait. Lenny had no such qualms.
"Our chef is a 'she' actually. Felicia." His tone was measured. "And she does work hard, though I'd hardly call her a slave. Last year I paid her considerably more than I paid your husband, Maria."
Andrew's blush deepened. Maria glared at him in silent fury.
Grace wished the ground would open up and swallow her. She hated confrontation. Lenny, on the other hand, had grown tired of walking on eggshells.
"Senator Warner," he said brightly. "You're awfully quiet this evening. What's the problem, Jack? Not in the party spirit?"
If looks could kill, Lenny Brookstein would have dropped dead at the table.
"Not really, Lenny, no. Unemployment rates in my constituency are about to reach ten percent. While we're sitting around your table, enjoying this fine food and wine, the people who voted for me are having their homes repossessed. They're losing their jobs, their health insurance, their hope. And they're relying on me to try to fix things for them. So, no, I'm not really in a party mood. If you'll excuse me."
Honor watched in horror as Jack got up from the table and left the room. He'd finally come clean about his gambling debts last night. As a result, Honor hadn't slept a wink. It was exhaustion that had made her lose her temper with Grace earlier, something she'd been kicking herself about all day. Not because she gave a damn about Grace's feelings. But because the entire purpose of this trip was to try to get closer to Grace so she could use her influence with Lenny to get him to help Jack.
Last night Jack had yelled at her. "I need Lenny Brookstein! Without that money, I'm finished, do you understand? We're finished."
Honor did understand. But now here was Jack, storming off like a spoiled child, embarrassing them both in front of everyone.
"I'd better go after him," she said meekly. "Sorry, Grace. Lenny."
The dinner party limped on. After the Warners' departure, everyone made an effort to be upbeat, but Jack and Honor's empty chairs were like two ghosts at the feast. John Merrivale made a toast, thanking Grace for the meal, but his stammer got so bad halfway through that Caroline had to finish it for him. Connie left before dessert, citing a headache. By the time the maid brought the coffee, the forced smiles of the remaining guests were beginning to look like lockjaw.
In bed with Lenny afterward, Grace broke down in tears.
"It was a disaster, wasn't it? Why does everything come back to the stupid economy? Connie and Michael losing their house, Jack stressed out about unemployment."
"I don't think that's all he's stressed about, sweetheart."
"Even Caroline and Maria were moaning at the hairdressers' about how much less John and Andrew are making this year. I hate it."
Lenny was furious. "Maria and Caroline were bitching to you? Are you kidding me? They're lucky their husbands still have jobs. The SEC is all over us like lice."
Grace gasped. "You're under investigation?"
"Don't worry, honey, it's nothing. A shit storm in a teacup. They're looking at all the big hedge funds right now. The point is, these are tough times, and Quorum's survived them because of me. Which means those ungrateful bitches' husbands have survived it because of me."
"Please, darling," Grace sobbed. "Don't get angry. I shouldn't have said anything. I can't take any more fighting tonight. Really, I can't take it."
Lenny took her in his arms.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I've been a bit of a Grinch on this trip, haven't I?"
Grace nestled closer to his body. She always felt safe and happy pressed against him.
"I tell you what. Tomorrow morning, I'll get up early and take the boat out by myself. Sailing always clears my head. By the time I come home, I'll be so relaxed, you won't recognize me."
"Sounds good." Grace began drifting off to sleep.
Later, she would try to remember the exact words that Lenny had said next. It was so hard to untangle dream from reality. What she thought she heard was, "Whatever happens, Gracie, I love you." But maybe she dreamed it. All she knew for sure was that she'd fallen asleep that night happy.
For the last time.