Alison had no trouble spotting her younger daughter in the crowd milling around the ferry’s blue luggage racks. Felicity was the one who looked like an 1890s Irish peasant. She wore a flowing skirt undoubtedly made from an Indian bedspread, a lace blouse, a brightly colored shawl, and Birkenstock sandals. And dangling beaded earrings and maybe a dozen multicolored bracelets. And a backpack made out of what looked like corn husks.
Even so, she was lovely. Her dark blond hair tumbled down her back and her sweet face was heartbreakingly beautiful.
“Mom!” Felicity embraced Alison tightly, swiftly, then drew back and did a little dance. “Can you believe it? Look, Ma, no kids!” Felicity laughed. “I’m awful, aren’t I, but you know I’ve never been away from them for three days. I’m not sure I can walk without holding someone’s hand.”
“Hold my hand,” Alison suggested and led her daughter to her SUV. “Do you have luggage on the rack?”
“No, I’ve got everything in my backpack. Clean underpants, a toothbrush, and a bathing suit.”
Alison opened the hatch so Felicity could stow her backpack, and then they buckled themselves in and headed for David’s house. “How was the trip?”
“Oh, Mom, it was divine.”
Alison had worried when Felicity said she was taking the slow ferry, which took two and a quarter hours to cross Nantucket Sound. The fast ferries took only an hour but cost more. Alison assumed it was a matter of expense. Noah kept Felicity on a limited budget, which was why Felicity’s clothes were all from thrift stores, which Alison knew was her daughter’s preferred way to shop. Felicity was a great believer in resisting the powerful draw of consumerism. If Felicity’s half-sister, Jane, ever had children, she’d probably dress them in Chanel, but Jane swore she was never having children.
In the passenger seat beside her, Felicity was in full flood. “. . . so I bought a beer—a beer! In the middle of the day! And took it to the upper deck, outside, and settled in one of the seats looking out to sea. I leaned my head back and soaked in the sun. It was so heavenly, so peaceful.” Felicity burst into laughter. “And, Mom, a guy tried to pick me up! Seriously—and I think he was just out of college. I couldn’t tell him I’m an old married woman with two kids, I was afraid it would embarrass him.”
Alison glanced over at her daughter. “Well, Felicity, you are only twenty-eight. And with your gorgeous hair, and, um, the way you dress, you look like a college student yourself.”
“Mom, you’re crazy. I have bags under my eyes and I’ve gotten all pudgy. Still, it was so sweet, talking to this guy. Okay, flirting with this guy. He wants to get together for a drink tonight, but I said I was here to visit my sick mother. I’m sorry, I don’t want you to be sick, but I needed to pretend this visit was a real crisis so I couldn’t possibly get away.” Felicity laughed again. “How’s Jane? Is she here yet? Did she come by private jet?”
“Stop it. Jane is flying but not by private jet. She said she’ll rent a car and drive to David’s house.”
“Oh, good. I didn’t bring my laptop or even a pad of paper, because I’m sure Jane brought hers, so when we plan your wedding, she’ll keep a list of what we have to do.”
“It won’t be all wedding talk. It’s going to be such a treat, having both of you together again.”
“Yes, because it was always a pleasure before,” Felicity muttered and automatically apologized. “Sorry, I don’t mean to be snarky. But it’s strange, don’t you think, how different I am from Jane? Maybe it’s nurture, but I blame it on nature. I mean, Alice is seven now, and actually? She’s so much like Jane. She needs a lot of private space. I think it’s hard on her, having to share a room with Luke—”
“But, Felicity,” Alison protested, “your house is enormous. You have four bedrooms.”
“I know, but Noah thinks the kids will bond better if they sleep in the same room. Also, he doesn’t want them to be spoiled when so many children in the world hardly even have houses.”
Alison wanted to ask why it was, then, that Noah had purchased such a huge house. The cathedral ceiling in the living room held a fourteen-foot evergreen at Christmas; Noah had to climb a ladder to decorate it. But she bit her tongue. She didn’t want to be disapproving before they even arrived home.
“Alice is bossy,” Felicity was saying, “and Luke, well, Luke is a maniac. So much energy!” She sagged, fake-pouting. “I miss those little guys already.” Immediately she rallied, smiling at Alison. “But this is going to be so much fun! The three of us together again. Oh, my gosh!”
Alison laughed at her daughter’s enthusiasm. She steered the Jeep between tall rose of Sharon bushes and up David’s white shell driveway, and there, in front of the house, stood Jane, leaning against her rented dark green Mini Cooper convertible. She wore a lightweight gray silk pantsuit and Manolo Blahnik stilettos. On the ground next to her were a small Hermès suitcase, her purse, and her briefcase. Her briefcase? For two nights and a day and a half on Nantucket?
“Jane! You’re here!” Felicity jumped out of the Jeep, raced over to Jane, and clutched her in a rib-breaking bear hug. Jane wrapped her arms around her sister and rolled her eyes at Alison over Felicity’s shoulder.
“It’s real. The three of us are really here together!” Felicity crowed. “And look at this house! Wow, Mom.”
“Yes, it’s wonderful, isn’t it? Wait till you see the view.” Alison held the door open. “Come in. Look around. Go upstairs and choose any bedroom you want—except the master bedroom, of course. I’ll pour some iced tea.”
“Do we need snacks?” Felicity asked, talking more to herself than to the others. “Probably not, we don’t want to spoil dinner and I did have that bag of Fritos on the boat. Oh, man, it is outrageously satisfying to eat Fritos without the children fighting for them or Noah acting like I’m eating toxic chemicals.”
“I’ll bring out a bowl of grapes,” Alison said.
She leaned against the refrigerator, eyes closed, just listening to her two daughters chatting away as they went up the stairs. It had been a long time since the three of them had been together like this, and she wondered if they could make it through this weekend without some spat or disagreement and hurt feelings. When Alison looked at her grown, capable daughters, it was as if she were seeing living Russian matryoshka dolls, the façade holding a memory of each stage of their development, down to the smallest, youngest infant, still residing within.
Her girls had never been close, and Alison felt responsible for that. True, they did have different fathers. Alison was married to Flint when she had Jane—she’d married Flint because she was pregnant with Jane.
Jane had always been a loner, a reader, a prickly little perfectionist with her straight brown hair held back with a headband. Her arguing abilities were astonishing; no wonder she became a lawyer. She was always a levelheaded, straight-A student, never once crashing the car when she learned to drive (Felicity had dented it a few times), and—as far as Alison had ever known—never once falling into the depths of a tumultuous adolescent love affair. It wasn’t that guys didn’t pursue Jane. She was attractive, but aloof. Elegant. She was tall, lean, with naturally arched black velvet eyebrows over her hazel eyes. She was smart, no genius, but ambitious and hardworking enough to make all As and get accepted to Harvard and then Harvard Law.
Four years younger than Jane, Felicity was the adored daughter of Alison’s second husband, Mark. Mark had tried not to show any preference in his treatment of the girls, and he’d succeeded. If anything, he let Jane have her way far too often. But he couldn’t help the way his eyes softened when he looked at Felicity, who had the blue eyes and blond hair of the LaCosta family.
Felicity, Alison had to admit, was adorable. From the moment she’d toddled across the floor, babbling with glee, Felicity was happy and friendly and girly and sweet. As she entered her teens, she chose lace and ruffles, pale pink and baby blue, short flippy skirts, and multicolored friendship bracelets (which she and her friends made themselves, of course). In high school, she’d had lots of friends. And boyfriends. Felicity had been the drum majorette for her high school’s marching band. She’d been prom queen her senior year. She’d attended the University of Vermont, married Noah right after graduation, had two babies, and become what Jane sometimes called “the little wifey.”
Now Jane was a lawyer in New York, and so was her husband, Scott, although they worked for separate firms. They rented an upscale apartment on West Sixty-Fifth and went backpacking in Costa Rica and river rafting in Utah. Their lives were crazy busy and stressful and completely adult. Alison wasn’t sure how she felt about Scott. He was so quiet, restrained, locked up. He was probably perfect for Jane.
Alison wasn’t sure how she felt about Felicity’s husband, Noah, either. Noah was an idealistic man, brilliant and ambitious. Straight out of college, he’d started a company selling organic drinks with catchy, healthy names. Now, Noah was trying to make “green food,” alternative protein foods made, as far as Alison could tell, basically from kale and beet juice. Alison wished him well, although she worried about the stress he carried with him and how exhausted he always seemed.
Noah and Felicity’s two gorgeous, funny, good children were the lights of Alison’s life. The children adored their father—when they saw him, which wasn’t often, since he worked at the office late into the night and on weekends. Alison did her best to feel fond of him and to smooth Felicity’s life in little ways—buying her a nice new SUV for driving around with her children, or taking them on a Disney vacation.
But she couldn’t wave a wand and make things perfect for Felicity; and, as David reminded her, Alison had her own life to live.
And she was living a wonderful life.
She’d never dreamed, after Mark’s death six years ago, that she would love again. Of course her love for David was quite different from her love for Mark. Mark had been the love of her life. They’d been married for nearly twenty-five years, and after his sudden death, after the shock and the bitterness of grief, and the support of her friends and the days of mourning with her daughters, after the tedious legal work of life insurance and the will, after the months spent with other widows joining together to relearn the movements of normal existence, Alison had finally settled down like a swan without her mate, understanding that even with his loss, the nest that was her life was a lovely creation. She took a job as a receptionist for a dental group and became friends with the staff. She was busy, helpful, and grateful for each daily pleasure. She had her two daughters, her beloved grandchildren, her comfortable house, happy memories. Many friends. Many pleasures. She could go on.
And on she went, if not happily, at least gratefully, for almost six years. She hadn’t been prepared last June, when she visited a friend on Nantucket, to meet David Gladstone. The love of his life, Emma, had died after a long illness four years ago, and David had never planned to marry again. Like Alison, he had a busy, if lonely, life.
When Alison and David met, at a simple summer cocktail party, it was as if the moment they stepped out onto the patio, they boarded a train that would speed them into lives they’d never anticipated. For one thing, the first miraculous, surprising, joy-making thing, there was the chemistry. Right from the moment their eyes met, a physical attraction reawakened them to the joys of the body. Who knew that a woman could experience adolescent sexual hunger in her fifties? Right there, in the midst of perhaps two dozen other people, men and women in light summer colors, wineglasses in hand, canapés floating by on the caterer’s trays, right there, right then, Boom! David introduced himself. Alison shook his hand. They couldn’t stop smiling at each other. Alison heard herself laughing softly in a feminine way she’d thought she’d forgotten. She practically cooed like a dove at the man.
“Would you like to leave this party and join me for dinner?” David had asked.
“Oh,” Alison had said. “Yes. Yes, I would.”
They’d departed without saying goodbye, like a pair of teenagers sneaking away from their parents. David took her to Topper’s, the poshest restaurant on an island blessed with posh restaurants, and while they feasted on lobster washed down with an icy champagne, they talked. Their conversation told them much about one another, but the hours they spent together told them more.
Copyright © 2018 by Nancy Thayer. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.