BEDTIME BOOKCLUB

The Winters By Lisa Gabriele

This is going to be a bit of a divisive one – especially among the Rebecca die-hards. Lisa Gabriele takes the story, the structure, the characters (in fact, the lot), from Daphne du Maurier’s defining work, and transfers them to the Cayman Islands and contemporary upstate New York. Max Winter is a bereaved senator, Rebekah an immaculate blonde with a penchant for interior design, the dreaded Dani, a toxic 15-year-old, your worst stepchild nightmare. The second Mrs Winter to be is far more feisty and worldly than her predecessor. And, frankly, they have way more sex. The Winters is no match for the beloved 80-year-old classic, in terms of subtlety, style or suspense, but it is wildly entertaining all the same. SB

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THE WINTERS

Lisa Gabriele

£12.99, Harvill Secker

BUY NOW

This is going to be a bit of a divisive one – especially among the Rebecca die-hards. Lisa Gabriele takes the story, the structure, the characters (in fact, the lot), from Daphne du Maurier’s defining work, and transfers them to the Cayman Islands and contemporary upstate New York. Max Winter is a bereaved senator, Rebekah an immaculate blonde with a penchant for interior design, the dreaded Dani, a toxic 15-year-old, your worst stepchild nightmare. The second Mrs Winter to be is far more feisty and worldly than her predecessor. And, frankly, they have way more sex. The Winters is no match for the beloved 80-year-old classic, in terms of subtlety, style or suspense, but it is wildly entertaining all the same. SB

Chapter:

One

Last night Rebekah tried to murder me again. It had been a while since I’d had that dream, not since we left Asherley, a place I called home for one winter and the bitterest part of spring, the dream only ever recurring when Max was gone and I’d find myself alone with Dani.

As always, the dream begins with Asherley in the distance, shining from afar in a bright clearing.There is no greenhouse, nor boathouse, just a stand of red canoes stabbed into the pebbly beach. In fact, the Asherley of my dream looks more like it might have back in its whaling days, when from the highest turret you could still spot tall ships dotting Gardiners Bay.

Overpowered by the urge to be inside the house again, I pass easily through the thicket of forest that surrounds the property. I want so badly to wander its wood-paneled halls, to feel its plush red carpets beneath my bare feet, to move my fingers in the play of sun through the stained-glass windows, but an invisible force keeps me out. I’m relegated to the bay, where I float like a sad specter, made to watch those who still haunt Asherley act out the same strange pantomime.

I can see Max, my Max, relaxing on an Adirondack, one in a line like white teeth dotting the silvery-green lawn. He’s reading a newspaper, framed by the majestic spread of Asherley behind him, its walls of gray stones, its crowd of terra-cotta peaks, its dentils studded with carved rosettes, anchored by the heavy brow of its deep stone porch. Every lamp in every room of the house is lit. A fire roars in every fireplace.The circle of windows at the top of the high turret burns like a sentinel over the bay, as though the house were about to put on a great show for me.

I call for Max but he can’t hear me. I want to go to him, to touch his face, to smell his hair, to fit my shoulder under his arm, our sides pressed together. My throat feels strangled with that longing.

On cue, she strides out the back door, carefully balancing a tray of lemonade. She’s wearing a white lace dress with a red sash, her blond hair glinting in the sun, her face so eerily symmetrical she’d almost be odd-looking except for the singular perfection of each and every one of her features. Here is Rebekah making her way down to Max, changing her gait to accommodate the steep slope of the back lawn. Now Dani bolts from the house behind her, laughing, her chubby legs charging straight for the water and for me. She’s three, maybe four, her hair, far too long for a child, is the same white blond as her mother’s. I often wish I could have met Dani when she was this young and unformed.Things might have been very different between us.

My body instinctively thrusts forward to catch the girl, to prevent her from running too far into the bay and drowning.

Rebekah yells, “Be careful, sweetheart,” which Max repeats. She puts the tray down. From behind, she wraps her arms around Max’s shoulders and warmly kisses his neck. He places a reassuring hand on her forearm.They both watch as Dani splashes in the shallow water, screaming and laughing, calling,“Look at me, I can swim.”

Then, as she always does in the dream, Rebekah becomes the only one who spots me bobbing in the bay, too near her daughter for her liking. She straightens up and walks towards the water, stalking me like a lion not wanting to disturb its prey. Still in her dress, she wades into the water, moving past a frolicking, oblivious Dani, until we are finally face-to-face. Her eyes narrow, forming that familiar dimple over her left brow.

I try to flee but my legs are useless.

“Who are you?” she asks. “You don’t belong here.”

Rebekah’s mouth is close enough to kiss, a woman I’d seen in hundreds of photos, whose every contour I’d memorized, whose every expression I’d studied and sometimes unconsciously mimicked in my darker days, when my obsession was most acute and I had no idea how to live at Asherley, how to be a wife to Max, or a friend to Dani.

“I do belong here. She needs me,” I say, pointing to Dani, my impudence surprising even me. I try to move but my feet are rooted in the sand below, arms floating beside me like weeds.

“She doesn’t need you,” Rebekah says, placing her hands on my shoulders in a reassuring manner. “She needs her mother.”

Then she rears back slightly. Using all of her weight, Rebekah shoves me under the waves with a sudden violence, flooding my vision with air bubbles. I fight for the surface, to scream for Max to help me, but she’s stronger than me, her hands a vise on my shoulders, her arms steely and rigid. In my dream, she’s not angry. Rebekah kills me slowly and methodically, not with hate or fear. She’s being practical. I am channeling vital resources away from her, rerouting Dani’s feelings, altering Max’s fate. My murder is conducted with dispassion and efficiency. And though I don’t want to die, I can’t imagine going on like this either, careful of my every move, looking over my shoulder, afraid to touch anything, break anything, love anything, worried his past will surface again and ruin what I’ve worked so hard for, what we’ve worked so hard for. Her task complete, my body painlessly dissolves into the waves and I disappear. I am dead and made of nothing. I am gone.

I woke up gasping for air, my hand at my throat. I kept reminding myself that everything is okay, we are okay, that we are alive and she is dead, cursing the fact that the dream had followed us here, our last stop, I hoped, for a good long while.

***

My back ached when I stretched that morning, unfamiliar beds the only downside to our decision to travel for the rest of the year to shake loose the recent tragedies.We found it helped to establish a routine. I would get up first and make us breakfast, for we only stayed in places with kitchens, a homemade meal the best way to start our wide-open days. We tried not to think too much about the past, about Asherley. It was gone, along with all of its secrets.We were building new memories, creating new stories, ones we might find ourselves telling new friends one day, finishing each other’s sentences, saying, No, you go, you tell it. No, you—you tell it better.

Mostly our days were languid; sometimes I’d plan a museum tour or we’d take a long drive past ruins. Our nights were spent reading rather than watching TV, sharing the couch even if armchairs were available, our toes gently touching.There were few conflicts, though I was no longer naive enough to believe two people as different as we were, who’d spent as much time together as we had, would never bicker. But the truth was we were still getting to know each other.

Waiting for the omelet to thicken, I poked my head into the bedroom, resisting the urge to caress that thatch of dark hair that I had come to love in a quiet, calm way, a marked difference from how I loved just a short while ago. Hard to believe it had been less than a year since I’d met Max Winter, a man whose love seized me by the shoulders and shook me out of a state of dormancy, and who ushered in another emotion I had yet to meet in my young life: jealousy, the kind that grows like kudzu, vining around the heart, squeezing all the air out, fusing with my thoughts and dreams, so that by the time I understood what was happening to me it was almost too late.

I carefully closed the bedroom door, padded across the cool tile floors of the living area, with its dark armoires and overstuffed armchairs, and threw open the musty blackout curtains. I stepped barefoot onto the hot stone terrace, the sun so bright it hurt my eyes. In the distance, warm air steamed off the sea. From below, I could hear the Spanish-speaking shopkeepers already arguing over sidewalk space, and I was gut-punched by long-ago memories of a mother who sang to me in her mother’s language and a father with sunburned shoulders, pulling fish out of the sea, their silver bodies violently jackknifing on the scarred deck of the boat we once lived on, our sleeping quarters the size of the smallest pantry you could find at Asherley. I could have fainted from an old grief. Here they were again, coming at me from afar, watery mirages of the people who once loved me, and I them, their long shadows cast by a low morning sun.

Two

There wasn’t anything in my past to suggest that I was the type of woman who would fall in love with a man like Max Winter, not in the course of a year, let alone in just under a month, but fall in love I did—an incredible thing to happen to someone like me. I say this not to be modest or self-deprecating, but I truly was unremarkable. In the books that I grew up reading and in the movies I loved to watch, the young women who had had these whirlwind affairs were beautiful or had something odd about them that upended their perfection, making them more beautiful for it. A gap in their front teeth, perhaps, or strangely set eyes, fun and dangerous women in whose wake men collapsed like felled trees. Or they were entirely oblivious to their beauty, women who came into themselves after a powerful man bestowed upon them the financial security or sexual satisfaction that had so far eluded them.Though you might have mistaken me for this type of woman, I was not that either. I was and am still unremarkable. My features are even, my body trim, hair, eyes, and skin compatible with each other in ways that make sense. Even my character, self-sufficient and serious-minded, watchful and earnest, doesn’t draw attention to itself. Men do not clamor after me. And before Max I had never been jealous of women like that. They made the men in those scenarios seem ridiculous. I’d watch them at the club’s poolside bar with their sunburned scalps, their cigar smoke and signet rings, their sunglasses barely camouflaging the direction of their gazes. They looked and behaved like toddlers in a grocery store, dazzled by abundance. Meanwhile, the wives of these rich men, watching their men watch other young women, vibrated with the nervous energy of animals that sensed a looming natural disaster. So when I was swept off my feet, as they say, by an older wealthy American who made me feel as though I’d never need to eat again, I thought, after initial reluctance, that I might as well surrender to the lark, as long as I knew not to get used to it.

I had wanted what my parents had had, a calm and private union, unknowable to others. My parents were disillusioned Americans who chose to live and work on a small fishing trawler where there was no separation of tasks, just days spent quietly and diligently in each other’s company, taking turns tending to me. I was born on that boat in choppy water, and by luck of both latitude and longitude I was given American papers, too, mailed to us, since my parents never wanted to return to the States. My fiercest memory is of my mother bobbing me on her hip in shallow water, teaching me to swim. The feel of my mother’s wet skin against mine formed a deep sense memory, often triggered when I’d see other mothers holding their babies on the beaches of Grand Cayman, where we moved when it was time for me to go to school.They chose it because it was quiet and small and under no threat of political tumult, its poverty, of which we were a part, mostly hidden amidst the prettily painted homes outside George Town. From kindergarten to the twelfth grade, I attended a strict Christian grammar school in George Town, cooled by straw fans and shuttered windows, where we were taught, British-style, by rote and a smack on the hand with a ruler.

When I was six my mother died of cancer. She wasn’t sick for long, maybe three months, my father often skipping a day on the water to go to the hospital and hold her hand. I’d meet them there after school. If her pain was manageable, I could see her. Other times I’d have to wait in a small gray room down the hall that became, to me, the physical manifestation of sadness.

Not long after she died, arthritis set into my father’s wrists, making it impossible for him to pull heavy nets. He didn’t complain. He wrapped his wrists in tape and took a job at a local charter company ferrying rich people out on fish- ing excursions. He loved the work, but struggled to take orders from his boss, an imperious Australian named Laureen Ennis, one of the richest women in the Caribbean. She was entirely self-made, someone who should have been a role model to me, were her character not so repulsive, her manner so coarse. Stranger still, despite her considerable wealth, she spent almost no money to look rich. Her nails were chipped and dirty, her clothes rotating sets of stretched-out gym wear. She went too long between dye jobs so often sported inches of white roots. But it was her voice that was the most grating, so loud you couldn’t tell if she or the recipient of her braying lecture was going deaf. At supper, my father occasionally mimicked her, his deep voice lending it a guttural roughness that made me laugh.

“Your fahtha is a lazy arse. Eets not moy fault he hezzint saved enough to retire propleh. Oym an idiot for baying sore ginerous. Oy aughta foyer you both.”

Almost immediately after high school, I went to work for Laureen, too, the option of a higher education less and less likely the older and more infirm my father became. Laureen had charter companies all over the Caribbean. My duties at first were secretarial, keeping track of boat schedules and who was captaining what vessel. I also recorded the catches, photographing the more spectacular ones for the walls of Laureen’s office at the end of the pier. My father knew exactly where to find the big fish, even if it sometimes meant spending the night on the water, an extra charge I had to press clients for when they docked.Those who returned with an ice-packed yellowfin tuna, or a four-foot blue marlin, didn’t mind paying. When these clients felt generous, I’d carry their fish to the kitchen myself, some still alive and as heavy as children, for the chefs to cut up, cook, and serve. They’d wrap the bones and guts in paper for me to dispose of in the sea.

Eventually I learned to drive the boats so my father didn’t have to steer and throw lines, exacerbating his arthritis. It galled Laureen to lose me in the office, galled her to pay me for a job she said my father should be able to do alone.

Then five years ago, sixty miles off Gun Bay, my father had a massive heart attack while helping a client pull in a large wahoo tugging at a line. I scrambled down to the deck and held him for a moment, his eyes glassy, left foot kicking the shoe off the right. One of the men barked at me.

“What are you doing down here? Get us to the goddamn hospital!”

I’d piloted the boat, an eighty-two-foot Viking, only once before, so I prayed that the large cruise ships weren’t crowding the city docks. While one of the men (a doctor, I found out) worked frantically on my father, the rest hovered in a semicircle, blocking my view. The doctor only stopped resuscitating him long enough to help carry him to the waiting ambulance.

I sat alone in that small gray room while a different stranger delivered to me the same news about another parent. Laureen paid the hospital bill, the ambulance bill, the emergency docking bill, the funeral bill, and she refunded the doctor’s bachelor party, a debt that became like weather between us, rarely mentioned, always felt. She gave off airs of largesse as she moved me from our modest rental in Bodden Town to a staff townhouse near the marina, where pay was docked for a cramped room with a single bed, and where kitchen and bath facilities were shared with a rotating cast of young internationals who worked on the island, spoke at various decibels in various languages, and whose fucking and fighting would, every four to six weeks, cause a sudden reshuffling of the living arrangements. I felt like a nagging column on Laureen’s ever-expanding debt ledger, giving her greater license to limit my days off and schedule overnight trips that often left me operating the boats alone, in all-male company, ignoring those periodic knocks on my cabin door, tests to see how far my services might go.

For months I grieved, tightly and privately, keeping my pain to myself until I could be alone.Then one day, I decided I could no longer be a grown woman weeping in a single bed. I buried the rest of my anguish and got on with my life, astonished that that was all it took, a simple decision, which I suppose, in retrospect, revealed something unsettling about my character. Despite what passed for shyness, I could be ruthless like that, make a decision and then act, filing and organizing emotions as efficiently as I did a boat schedule in high season. Emotions were things for which I did not have the time or the luxury.

I was in the office one day trimming the edges of a nice write-up about Laureen to pin on the office wall when the brass bells signaled Max Winter’s entrance into the overly air-conditioned hut. As automatically as breathing, Laureen stripped off her stained hoodie and stood to greet him, her ample, sun-spotted chest leading the way. Her wide arms assumed a hug, but Max instantly sliced through those intentions with a stiff extended arm, an awkward moment I pretended not to see.

“Well, if it isn’t Mr.Winter, or should I say Senator Winter? It’s been such a long, long time.”

“I’m just a state senator, so no need for titles,” he said, looking over her shoulder to give me a perfunctory nod.

I didn’t remember Max Winter from previous years, which wasn’t unusual. Laureen had a whole cache of clients she took personal care of: bankers, sports stars, celebrities and the like, people who didn’t like the obviousness of St. Barts or the sleepiness of St. Martin, people for whom banking was a full-time job and the Caymans was where they could both work and play. She hoarded them, bragging about the exorbitant tips she’d declined because they’d formed friendships, or so she said, trusting her enough to drop lascivious details about affairs and divorces, though I knew she’d merely overheard them talking from the bridge.

“Anyway, it is so good to see you again, Mr. Winter. The club didn’t alert me that you were returning. I would have been more than happy to handle your needs there so you wouldn’t have to come all the way down to my ratty old office. Get Mr.Winter a coffee,” she barked at me.

“Oh no,” he said to me. “Please don’t go to any trouble.”

“By the way,” Laureen added sotto voce,“my deepest condolences to you and your lovely daughter. I read about that awful business. Has it been a year already?”

I pricked up my ears, eager to know more about this “awful business.”

“Eighteen months,” he said. “And thank you, I appreciate your kind words. But I am wondering about a boat. For tomorrow. Something manageable that I can handle alone.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t hear of that. I’m more than happy to take you out tomor—”

“No. Please.Though I do appreciate the offer.You must be busy this time of year.”

“Nonsense. January is between high seasons.”

I spoke up.“The Commodore is available. One person can handle it easily. I just need to clean it out and put gas in it.”

“Thank you. I know that boat,” Max said. “I’ll come by around eight. Does that give you enough time to prep it?”

“Plenty.”

His nose was slightly crooked, the only lived-in thing about his handsome face. I imagined he’d played sports and had an accident with a baseball or football. Maybe an interesting story involving a fistfight at a private school.The thought instantly endeared him to me.

“Mr.Winter, I’m telling you, that little boat won’t do. Let me take you out on the Lassie—”

He gave me a steady look, which I held until my face burned.

“I’d like to take the little one. I’ll come for her in the morning.”

“At least let me bring her around to the club dock, Mr. Winter, all nice and gleaming.”

“I’d prefer to leave from here, if you don’t mind,” he said.

There was an edge to his voice now. He intended to be alone on that boat, and this now worried me, given Laureen’s hushed condolences and his general air of sadness.

“I don’t mind anything.Will you need snorkeling equipment? Will your daughter be with you?”

“No. Dani’s with her aunt in Paris for the month. She’s at that age where she prefers her company, anyone’s company really, over mine,” he said, looking at me.

“Let us pack a picnic for you, then. Call up the kitchen,” she commanded me, “and let them know Mr. Winter wants—”

“I’ll grab some food from the takeaway. I didn’t catch your name.”

This time he was talking to me. I was about to respond when Laureen beat me to it, her accent mangling the emphasis so that it sounded less exotic than it was.

“Pretty,” he said, studying my face as if to solve something about its relationship to my name.“Suits you. Are you new?”

“I’ve been working here about eight years now.”

“Why have I never seen you before?”

He seemed genuinely bothered by this oversight on my, or Laureen’s, part.

“Maybe because I’ve never seen you,” I said, a little impudently, my face warming.

“This one’s not one of my more friendly staff, that’s for sure,” Laureen said. “If I didn’t shove her out the door she’d be content to sit in the air-conditioning all day checking her Facebook.”

I rolled my eyes at Max. She knew I had no interest in such things.

“Yes, well, all right. I’ll see you both in the morning,” he said and thanked us each by name.

The bells clanged behind him.

“Now there’s a man who has suffered,” she said, a hand on her chest, eyes lingering on the door. “Poor man’s wife dies in a car accident just before he wins an election.Then he’s got to raise that kid on his own.” She shuddered.“I don’t like the idea of him alone on the water. Did he seem depressed to you?”

I wanted to say Of course he’s depressed, his wife’s dead, but she was already telling me the Winters were longtime members of the club, where they owned a few of the private bungalows, the biggest reserved for their personal use.

“And they live on a private island that’s been in the family for hundreds of years. An old king gave it to them. And the house, it’s like a castle straight out of a Disney movie. Presidents have slept there. Republican ones, that is. He’s probably the only Republican I could hold my nose and vote for. He’s not one of those right-wing nutters. More of the old-school variety; high brows, low taxes, that sort of thing.”

She turned to face me.“Aren’t you a dark surprise? I’ve never seen you flirt before.You embarrassed yourself by a lot. He might be single now, but you do realize he’s the sort who will end up with a movie star. That’s about the only act that could follow the first Mrs. Winter. Rebekah was something else to look at, I’m telling you.You know, she once offered me a hundred-dollar bill to stay here because she was waiting for an important phone call and was worried she wouldn’t get a signal on the ocean. It never came, the call, but it was me she trusted to sit right where you’re sitting and wait for that call all day, and I did. Of course I didn’t want to accept the money but she insisted. She had a lot of class, that one. The daughter, though? Total piece of work.The biggest snot-nosed brat ever. D’you know a couple years back, that one had half the police on the island plus a helicopter looking for her? She thought she’d go partying with a group of athletes from some college in Florida. Not even thirteen years old, she was. Those poor boys, all in tears when they found that out, swearing up and down no one laid a hand on her, but not for lack of her trying, they said. She could have ruined their lives just like that,”she said with a snap of her fingers.“But at the last minute she said the boys were telling the truth. She’d just wanted to make them suffer a little. Girls like that, they don’t get happy endings.” She meandered to the back office holding her ledger to her chest, flip-flops slapping at her dirty, cracked heels. “Nope. They end up dead or in jail, leaving everybody to wonder which fate they deserved more.”

Three

For the rest of my shift, I thought of nothing but Max Winter’s visit. While hosing off his boat and prepping it for the morning, I thought of how he’d held my gaze and the warm smile he’d given me, a small enough gesture people trade a hundred times in a day, yet this one’s effect lingered. He’d paid attention to me. He’d said he liked my name. He’d wondered why he’d never seen me before, as though I were someone to be remembered. He’d said, directly to me, that he would come for the boat in the morning and bowed when he’d said my name, using the proper emphasis.

It was a short walk from the marina to staff housing, but there was a stretch of West Bay that had no sidewalk, and I often took the beach route to avoid walking next to traffic along the unlit highway.The sand made for a more challenging hike but it was better than being in a car’s blind spot. Besides, on certain nights the walk cleared my head, and that night I needed it.

When I reached the townhouse the sound of another wild party wafting from our living room stopped me cold. The townhouse was one of three Laureen owned, stacked side by side like tombstones at the end of a bleak cul-de-sac on the other side of the highway. I stood listening to the insistent bass pulsing from the house while slowly deflating. I had nothing left, no reserves to cut through what would be a forest of drunken people crowding the stark rooms, draping over each other on the greasy couch, every tabletop a wasteland of empty bottles and overflowing ashtrays. I looked back across the highway towards the blinking lights of the marina, feeling like misery itself had tapped me on the shoulder and offered me its arm.What else was there to do but trudge back to the pier and the cot in Laureen’s office?

I didn’t bother with the beach route back. I was so tired I almost wanted a truck to swerve to miss a chicken and hit me. And to make a bad night worse, I spotted a lone male figure approaching, staring into his phone, the screen lending his face a glowing malevolence.When you’re a woman walking alone along a highway at night, it’s a toss-up over what’s scarier: a drunk driver who can’t see you or a man in your path who can.

My instincts always assumed the worst. But when the man suddenly stepped out in front of an oncoming car, another instinct kicked in and I screamed,“Look out!”A screech of brakes, and the man’s phone spun in the air as he plunged backwards into a bush. I scrambled towards him, retrieving the phone. When he finished brushing dust off his pants and stood upright, I found myself looking at the face of the man who had occupied my thoughts all day and with such intensity that for a moment I worried I might have manifested him.

“Thank you—it’s you!” Max Winter said, accepting his phone. “Good God, my phone must have blinded me.”

“Are you all right?”

“I am, yes. I think you might have saved my life.”

Cars sped by us, illuminating his face every few seconds, his expression hard to read. I thought of Laureen’s concern about his taking the boat out alone. Was he depressed?

“Are you sure you’re all right?” I stepped closer, boldly placing a hand on his forearm.“Let me help you.”

“I promise you I’m fine. I’m more embarrassed than bruised,” he said. He glanced at his phone before pocketing it.

“What are you doing out on the highway anyway? You should be using that,” I said, pointing to the walkway raised over the road, off-limits to staff at night.

“I got a text from my daughter. It’s the middle of the night where she is so I couldn’t ignore it. We got to texting back and forth, and yeah, the rest is history. Where are you heading so late?”

I hesitated. I didn’t want him to know I lived the way I did. Lots of people had roommates and I was only twenty-six. But suddenly my life felt dingy and squalid and I wanted to give him the impression that I was older, more sophisticated.

“I forgot something at work. I was just going back to get it.”

“Well, lucky me you did. Let me walk you.The least I can do in return is to make sure you’re safe.” I began to protest when he added,“Please don’t worry, you won’t be spotted.”

He knew, then, that staff wasn’t allowed to socialize with club clients, not even for a benign stroll like this. If Laureen saw us I’d be fired on the spot.

Placing a hand on the small of my back, he led me across the road, then down the path along the south side next to the hydrangeas, my earlier route. He knew exactly how to get to the beach from there, and he seemed aware we’d be able to walk in near-total darkness all the way to the edge of the marina.We stood at what he intuited was my drop-off point, the foot of the long dock dividing Laureen’s property from the country club’s, which, by day, had the ambience of a small hospital where wealthy people might go to convalesce. But at night, from this vantage point, the club seemed a warmer and more intimate place, relaxed and cozy.

Max checked his watch, then looked around like a spy. “Okay, run. I’ll wait right here.”

“You don’t have to do that,” I insisted. “I can get home by myself.”

“Regrettably, my dear, because I was raised by a chauvinist pig and her sexist husband, I do have to walk you home.”

His joke made me laugh, but I still had to make a choice: either introduce him to the shabby chaos of staff housing or tell him I was planning to sleep on a cot at work because of it.

“The thing is, there’s a party going on at my place and I really need to sleep. So I’m staying out here tonight.”

He looked out at the clapboard office at the end of the pier.

“I mean, does it lock? Is there even a blanket?”

“Yes, and a pretty good pillow,” I said. “So it’s not a big deal. And what a view!” My arm swept across the dark beach.

“It’s better than the one I have.”

“So no need to feel sorry for me, Mr. Winter. Besides, I have an early morning, what with this last-minute demanding client who wants his boat to be ready to go first thing.”

“Wow. What an asshole.”

“He’s a senator or something,” I said, rolling my eyes.“But only a state senator.”

He laughed a little too loud.

“Mr. Winter, keep it down,” I whispered, craning around for witnesses.

“Please, call me Max,” he said. “Nothing else.” “Max.”

He tilted his head, his focus on a point between my eyes, just above my brow. It felt intimate, this look, like a prelude to something, not quite a kiss, but something that overwhelmed me even unexpressed.

“Well, good night, then,” I said.

“Yes, of course, good night. But I’m going to wait right here to make sure you reach the office safely. I’ll leave when you flick the light on and off. Deal?”

“Deal.”

“And I will see you again in roughly nine hours.” He checked his watch.“Actually eight. Even better.”

I nodded by way of saying good night again and turned to leave.

Making my way down to the end of the pier, I was aware of his eyes on me. I willed myself not to turn around to check whether he maintained his vigil, worried he’d mistake it for coyness, an invitation. It was only when I unlocked the office, flicked the light switch on and off, then collapsed on the cot that I fully exhaled, kicking my legs a couple times like a schoolgirl with a crush.

Of course I didn’t sleep. There was, in fact, no blanket, and the pillow was the orthopedic cushion from the office chair, but I didn’t care. I welcomed the adrenaline rush that accompanied these brand-new feelings. Maybe Laureen was right. Maybe I was, indeed, a dark surprise.

Four

I stirred awake with the sun, stretched, and tied my hair into a knotted fist on top of my head, securing it with an elastic band. Then I smoothed down the wrinkles of my uniform shirt and turned on the computer. Before the screen came fully alive, I spotted Laureen making her way down the pier two hours earlier than her usual start time, and an hour earlier than mine.The way she stomped—the entire office bobbing with her steps—meant I had screwed something up. Panicked, I scanned the office. I had started the coffee.The day’s schedule was scribbled on the whiteboard. I had prepped Max’s boat the day before. I just had to bring it around to the pier. At the last second, I plucked the cushion off the cot and tossed it onto the chair. Laureen’s angry knock reminded me I had forgotten to unlock the door. When I opened it, she blew past me, her perfume chokingly strong, her eyes darting around the office. She plopped herself down in front of the computer.

“Total shit show,” she muttered. “The fucking Singularis sunk near Eleven Mile off Barbuda. Bunch of shivering Brits waiting for a charter back to St. Barts. Fucking one’s the Queen’s cousin or something.”

She found the number she was looking for and immediately laid into whoever answered the call, presumably the pilot. “Bruce, you fucking moron. How many times have I said don’t go off route? . . . I don’t care if he’s next in fucking line to the fucking throne. Is he gonna pay for this? No! . . .

Well, you’ll have to wait. Janie will call when the charter gets there. I’ll see you in St. Barts . . . ’Cause I gotta meet the Prefect, that’s why . . .Yeah, it’s that bad. I was told to bring luggage. And a lawyer. You might wanna do the same, asshole.” She slammed the phone down.

“It’s a lot of oil, apparently,” she said, rubbing her face with her hands. Her pilot didn’t know about the shoals, and now her biggest yacht was polluting a rare bird reserve upon which the United Nations had just put a protective stamp.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, thinking of the birds. She’d be fine. Her insurance would pay for what God couldn’t replace.

“Right,” she said, slapping the desk and standing.“Let’s go.”

Cold resistance filled my veins.“But the marina.We’ve got clients.They’ll be coming by soon.”

“Piss on the clients. I need you to help me pack.”

Quickly I glossed over the client problem with bigger ones that might arise were I to abandon the post, though I was careful to leave out Max’s reservation. The fuel ship arrived today. Two wedding parties were checking into the club. And of course someone had to sign out the watersports equipment, a side business Laureen had regretted as soon as she launched it because it took up too much of my time.

“Right. Bloody hell. I just want to pull out all my hair by the roots.”

After Laureen reluctantly agreed I should stay, I trotted behind her to her car as she breathlessly rattled off all the other tasks I’d have to handle if she was kept away for more than a week (maybe two!). As she listed them I nodded and nodded, seemingly making a bargain with myself to say yes to everything she asked for in exchange for a blessed week (maybe two!) of her absence, a most excellent trade-off.

She started her car and rolled down the window to bark her final orders.

“I almost forgot! Max Winter’s coming for that boat this morning.”

“Oh, that’s right,” I said, laying a gentle hand on my clavicle.

“He’s accustomed to special touches. Make sure the bar is stocked. He likes plenty of ice in the coolers and lots of beach towels. Get the club to supply sparkling water, lemons and limes, and don’t forget a sharp knife. And make sure they charge his bungalow for all this shit, not me. Ask John-John to check if the backup radio’s working. He’s in charge while I’m away.”

“Yes, got it,” I replied. John-John was her longest, most loyal employee.

“And fix your goddamn hair.”

I propped my bun back in place on top of my head and she squealed away, black smoke spewing in her wake.

By then the sky was fully awake, a wide blue expanse, the light so bright it took a second for me to figure out from which direction the sun was coming. Under my hand visor, I saw early club members crowding grotesque piles of food set up al fresco for breakfast. Cracked red crab legs jutted out at all angles from two overflowing platters, and fruit cups lay in a vivid pattern waiting to be plucked by women watching their weight and children who never finished them. It was the smell of bacon mingling with the salty wind that did me in. I became faint with hunger, unable to remember my last meal. I walked defiantly over to the hotel tack shop, a place usually off-limits to staff, but Laureen was the only real hawk about it and she was gone. Gone! I was a prisoner let out of her cage, so ecstatic that a bottle of warm water, a granola bar, and a desiccated orange, the last in the basket, was all I wanted in life.

“Run along,” the cashier whispered, waving away my money.“You know you’re not supposed to be here.”

I blew her a kiss and dashed away. I’d finished the stale bar by the time I got back to the office, where Max Winter was already waiting for me, calmly reading a pamphlet.

“There you are,” he said, smiling, sitting next to a large basket covered with a white napkin.

“Good morning, Mr.Winter,” I said, the joy in my voice a little alarming. It had felt like an eternity since we’d said good night to each other not fifty feet from where he was now standing, looking tanned and relaxed, a completely different person than yesterday.

“Call me Max.”

“Max,” I said.

His eyes drifted to my hands.

“I hope you haven’t ruined your appetite,” he said, taking the plastic wrapping, the shriveled orange, and the bottle of water from me, carefully placing them on the desk. “I brought you breakfast. I figured room service didn’t come down here.”

He was standing close to me now, eyeing the large knot of hair on my head, which I could feel had tipped on its side again.

“Let me . . . there,” he said, gently centering my bun.

“Thank you,” I said, blushing. “I can get the radio signal out of Miami now.”

“Oh, good.What are they saying about the weather?”

“Clear morning, rain in the afternoon.”

“So it’s best if I not pilot the boat alone.”

He reached into his basket and handed me a soggy fried egg sandwich.

“Thank you . . . Max.”

It was the best soggy fried egg sandwich I had ever eaten, the right amount of salty, the toast pliant with butter, the lettuce wilted to perfection, a red tomato wedge giving it a tart bite. Same with the fruit cups, chilled but not to the point of hurting my teeth, and served with silverware. He poured hot coffee from a thermos into the fancy china cups the club only used for dinner service. There was no doubt Max Winter was flirting with me. I wasn’t the type to imagine such things. And yes, I was flirting, too, there was no use pretending otherwise. That thing in me that was let out of its cage had begun to stretch its legs.

As we ate he told me he’d been coming to the Caymans every year for about twenty years, except for last year—the reason, I assumed, having to do with the death of his wife. But he didn’t elaborate and I didn’t press. He asked me how I ended up here, his assumption being that I wasn’t born here. I told him I was American but that lots of folks who look and sound like me were born and raised here. The island was a cultural mishmash, its uniting industry international banking.

“Ah, capitalism.The great equalizer.”

“For some,” I added, feeling clever.

He handed me a linen napkin and removed my empty plate, and I felt tended to in a way that confused me, warmed me, made me want to cry. It would be a lie to say in the past twenty-four hours I hadn’t imagined what might be possible between someone like him and someone like me, that Max’s ministrations didn’t tug at that dark part of me that fantasized about being rescued from an uncertain future, perhaps in exchange for rescuing him from a sad past. Being plain and forgettable didn’t exempt me from his stupid, intractable fairy tale.

“How old are you?” he asked, placing the dirty breakfast dishes in the basket. My face flashed hot with the idea that our minds might have been fixating on the very same potential obstacle at the very same time.

I told him, quickly adding, “But I feel ten years older. Especially when I sleep on that cot.”

He laughed. “Even if you were ten years older, you’d still be quite young.”

I asked him how old he was.

“Old enough to be your father, I guess. Your young father.”

His eyes lingered on me as I did the math, seemingly searching out my reaction, as though to ask, Do you mind? Am I too old?

Truth was I didn’t mind. He was about as old as I thought he’d be. Yet I had always assumed, being fatherless only a few years, that I’d be immune to those unconscious paternal tugs that seemed to draw young, aimless women (mostly beautiful) to older (mostly wealthy) men. I saw that dynamic play out all the time at the club.The more pronounced the age difference, the more it seemed to stunt both parties’ growth, the women with their babyish voices, the men, with their tufts of white chest hair and fat tanned shoulders, growling at them. Often all that remained between these mismatched pairings was a permanent sense of disappointment in each other, one for getting older and one for never having been young in the first place.

“So. Where’s my boat?” He peered through the blinds into the marina.

“Oh, right!” I leapt to my feet and fetched the keys from the locked cupboard in the back room.“I’ll bring it up to the dock. It’s fully stocked with all the things Laureen told me you liked. The big key’s the ignition. Little one is for storage under the seating in the stern, where the fishing poles—”

“Actually,” he said, pressing them back into my hand, “I won’t be able to do the driving today. It turns out I do have some work to do. So I’ll need a captain after all. And I’d like to put in a request for you.”

Before I could disappoint him, John-John entered the office, breathless with the news about the oil spill. At fifty-five, he was still spry. As we caught each other up, my eyes darted over to Max, who seemed to be figuring out how this news affected his day, our day.

When John-John’s attention drifted to the picnic evidence, I quickly introduced him to Max. They remembered each other from previous years.

“So as you’ve probably figured out, Mr. Winter,” I said, “I can’t help you today. We’re all that’s holding down the fort until we can pull in some backup.”

Max looked sternly at John-John, giving the impression of a customer trying to stay calm. “So are you saying this young woman can’t pilot my boat? I booked this yesterday. Should I call Laureen?”

I stared at my shoes as John-John reassured him.

“That’s not necessary. Of course I’m not saying that, Mr. Winter.” To me he hissed, “You’ll have to go.” He said he’d man the office the rest of the morning until he took a wedding party out for their lunchtime cruise. If there were drop-ins, too bad, he said, they’d just have to go somewhere else. “We can’t do the impossible,” he said, shrugging. And one of us would be back in time to lock up at night.

Max went to the kitchen to order a cold lunch while I ran to my quarters, navigating around the remnants of the previous night’s party. I took a fast shower, threw a clean uniform over a bathing suit, and let my hair loose.

By the time we returned, John-John had brought around the boat. Max and I hopped aboard. I started up the engine. I could see him behind his sunglasses smirking a little as I slowly steered the boat out of the marina. In full command of the vessel, I let out the throttle once we passed the last buoy.

Five

What can I say about the four weeks that followed that wouldn’t sound ripped from a paperback romance? That’s how long Laureen was away, and to this day I count those weeks as the luckiest and happiest of my life. Except for two quick trips Max made to New York, we saw each other nearly every day after that first foray, when I took him for a half-day cruise around Grand Cayman, he insisting I point out landmarks related to my childhood.There’s where I went to school, that building with the white bell tower; we lived there in Bodden Town, before I had to move to staff lodging when my father passed away; here’s Spotts Beach, where my mother taught me how to swim.

Strangely, talking about my parents didn’t tip the mood to maudlin or sad, even when Max gently pressed for more about what happened to them. I knew too much about the nature of grief to think mine was gone for good, but that morning I was momentarily relieved of a heaviness that had dogged me for years, a gift which I wholly attributed to Max Winter.

I threw down anchor off the coast of Rum Point, where we ate our lunch in the helm out of the sun. I began to try to see the island through the eyes of a grateful tourist rather than a disappointed inhabitant who felt jailed rather than liberated by all that blinding water. Buildings that looked shabby up close glowed white with promise from a distance. Even the red-roofed shops dotting the harbor looked like a pretty foreign canton, and not a cheesy tourist trap.

“Born on a boat, lives on an island, now an orphan, working for a witch. You’re a Grimms’ fairy tale set in the Caribbean.”

I laughed. It was an odd compliment, considering how those stories generally ended. I hadn’t talked about myself that much in years, not even to my more inquisitive roommates.

“What about you? Tell me about you, your home. Laureen says it’s stroyt atava Deezney movay.”

“Yes, Asherley,” he said, busying himself with attaching a long lens to an elaborate camera.“You do a great impression of her. What else does Laureen say about me?”

I hesitated. I didn’t want him to think we gossiped about him. “Well . . . she said you’re an important man who’s been through a difficult time.”

His face softened.“Seems we have something in common, both of us orphans.”

“But you have your daughter.”

He smiled.“Yes. Dani. She’s full of life, that one. I try, but she’s a complicated little thing.Very brave. Or maybe just reckless.” He focused his camera on two seabirds climbing and diving into the surf.

“She’s a teenager,” I said. “Aren’t they supposed to be reckless?”

He dropped his camera and turned to look at me squarely. “You don’t seem the type that has ever been reckless, with anything or anyone.”

Despite the essential truth of his observation, it was one of those compliments, again, that I puzzled over. Did he mean discerning and mature, or dull and stable? To counter the possibility of the latter interpretation, I replied, too quickly, “Well, I wish I could be reckless sometimes, do whatever I want, say whatever I’m thinking, go anywhere I please, with anyone I want, and never come back here if I don’t want to. To be honest with you, recklessness is a luxury to someone like me.”

“Please don’t say that.” He said it as though he’d asked this of me before, to no avail. “I like you just like this. Dependable. Hands on the wheel. Keeping everything afloat, so to speak.”

To punctuate this plea he snapped a picture of me before I had a chance to protest, or even pose in some flattering way, which I found mildly alarming.

“You’re looking at me like I stole your spirit. I shouldn’t have done that without asking.”

I stepped forward and placed my hand on his camera.“It’s okay. I’d like to see it.”

He flipped back to the shot. I veiled the tiny screen and we crowded in to look. Lit from behind, my hair a whirl of dark waves caught in the wind, I barely recognized myself. It was an arresting photo; I couldn’t hide my pleasure.

If anyone were to have passed us that day on the boat, what would they have seen? A regular couple enjoying a bounty of good decisions they’d made in life, to be together, to afford to come here, to take out a boat, to pack good food to eat on a cloudless day? Up close would they have noticed my nervousness? How I hoped my driving seemed fluid and expert. How every time my eyes darted around to find Max they seemed to catch him looking at me. Or perhaps they would have thought this is the father and that is the daughter, and she’s manning the boat on her own for the first time, and his smile indicates more a paternal pride than an older man wooing a young woman.

His phone rang. Turned out he did have work to do that day, banking, the kind I imagined was usually conducted in windowless rooms, at long tables surrounded by men in suits.Yet there he was, leaning casually on the handrail, legs crossed, squinting at me while he openly discussed his business, using terminology that had little to do with money but everything to do with wealth, which, my father taught me, were two very different things. One bought you shoes, he said, the other power; one attention, the other secrecy, which was the most important commodity of all, because that’s how rich people stayed that way.

His mood was lighter after getting a bit of business out of the way and he began, unbidden by me, to finally talk about his life; his daughter; his sister, Louisa, with whom he was close (“We bicker like old married people, but we’re partners in crime”). He even cued up a recent photo he’d taken of Asherley in the distance, probably the only vantage point from which one could take in the entirety of the house.The photo was recent, from a few weeks ago, so the grounds were covered in snow.

“It’s called Queen Anne, this style of architecture. Quite different than the classic center-hall designs you see up and down the Gold Coast.”

I nodded as though I had any clue what constituted Queen Anne architecture or where one might find the Gold Coast. To me Asherley simply looked like a remote winter palace, its turrets topped with a dozen red snow-capped spires, its windows deep-set like old eyes.

“It’s very beautiful. How old is it?”

“The house itself is around two hundred years old. My great-great-grandfather Ashton Winter built it for his bride, Beverley Daneluk. Of the Massachusetts Daneluks,” he added jauntily, as if to emphasize the hoity-toityness of the match. “That’s where Dani’s name comes from.”

Max explained how the house took years to build, the labor mostly provided by bound boys, indentured servants who lived and worked the land to pay off family debt.

“Ha, like me with Laureen,” I said, only half kidding. I prodded him for more. He confirmed what Laureen had said, how Charles I had granted the island to his family. For three of the four hundred years they’d lived there, the Winters were farmers, until his grandfather and father worked on Wall Street and he eventually went into politics.

“A lot of the original structures are scattered here and there. Stone ruins from the first house, foundations from a barn built in the 1700s, parts of the bound boys’ quarters. People come and tour the island every once in a while, conservationists and the like,” he said. “And except for some updates, the house had been pretty much untouched until Rebekah decided to make renovating Asherley her life’s work.”

It was the first time he’d spoken his late wife’s name. Did I imagine his shoulders sinking a bit, sadness creeping in around his features? Or was that happening to me? I tried to change the subject to something benign, asking him why he’d gone into politics, but she lingered there, too.

“Oh, that was Rebekah’s idea. She was canny like that,” he said. “Always thinking of next steps, always thinking of things that might benefit the family, or Asherley, pushing me to make more of myself. No one knows more about local politics than you, she said, and owning Asherley means you want to have a say in the decisions made in the county. And she was right.”

Then he showed me a picture of Dani, who looked much older than fifteen, and posed in such a knowing way that I struggled (and failed) to find something to comment on beside her looks.

“She’s very beautiful,” I said. She was beautiful, the house was beautiful. Jesus.

“She’s a number of other things, too, including expensive,” he said, putting his phone away. “Now I sound like one of those assholes from the club.”

“Hardly,” I said. I could have listened to more, but the gap in the conversation prompted him to check his watch.

“Time flies fast in your lovely company.You could do me a great favor by dropping me in town. I have a meeting in less than an hour. I’ll cab back.”

The only thing I minded was that we were closer to George Town than the club, which meant less time in his company. I pulled up anchor and turned the boat around. At the city dock, he didn’t say goodbye, he said,“See you tomorrow,” to which I replied,“Okay,” and waved, not asking when or how I would see him, so long as I did.

***

I sped back to the club, feeling depleted by his absence, the motor kicking up walls of water behind me. My mind retraced our morning, how he lit up talking about Dani, dimmed with Rebekah. I thought about the laughter, the food, the conversation, how it flowed easily from subject to subject, and how we each seemed to intuit when to press and when to back off, a dance whose steps we already knew.

I docked the boat sloppily, deciding to clean it at the end of my shift to take advantage of the empty office. John-John was probably still out with the wedding party. I fired up the computer to satisfy my awakened appetite for more about Asherley, about Max and Dani, but mostly Rebekah. When I entered her name and clicked “Images,” the screen flooded with her face.

I knew she’d be beautiful, but she demanded more attention than I was prepared to give. Her wide eyes meant your own had to travel back and forth between them to take them in, their vaguely blue-green color varying from picture to picture. And her hair seemed undamaged by the chemicals required to achieve that blond hue. She had about her a carnality that was hard to ignore, especially the way her lips (often wearing the same shade of brick red) remained slightly parted whether she was smiling or not.The slight variations of her expression, that mouth, the white-blond hair, the flashing eyes, the pale shoulders and long, lean arms, duplicated over and over again with every click, gave the impression that there was a virtual Rebekah factory out there somewhere, still churning out perfect models even after her death.

At first I couldn’t bring myself to open the news links about her death or look at photos of the blackened car wreck and the flattened acres. But they were the first stories that popped up, her death covered numerous times by the New York Post, the stories detailing how Rebekah’s car had careened into an ancient oak on a particularly treacherous part of the road that led to the causeway connecting Winter’s Island to Long Island. It had been an unusually hot summer. The ensuing fire took out several acres of old-growth forest before smoke was spotted from the mainland, the sirens rousing Max from his sleep. By then the car was engulfed, Rebekah’s body so badly burned they could only be certain it was her by the diamonds from her melted wedding ring. Days later another story featured a picture of Max and Dani, both wearing dark glasses, entering an old church outside Sag Harbor. Then another story about how Max almost dropped out of the senate race, but even a break from campaigning didn’t prevent his landslide victory that November.

I was fascinated by Dani’s Instagram account, which boasted thirty-one thousand followers, an epic number, it seemed to me, for a fifteen-year-old girl. It looked as though she enjoyed free rein to post whatever she wanted, the recent ones from Paris an unsettling collage of girlish antics, moody tourist pictures, and sexy poses, all pursed lips, arched back, and airbrushed skin. Sometimes she was alone and sometimes she posed with a friend, with whom she seemed to imply a coyly sexual relationship. Even in her photos with Max there was a flirty, possessive quality to her embraces. Scanning much farther down her feed, I hit the mother lode, dozens and dozens of pictures of Rebekah with Dani, their likeness jarring. They had identical hair, similar style, their closeness unmistakable.With their arms draped around each other in loving ownership, they implied that theirs was an exclusive club, no other members allowed, not even Max, it seemed.

How often does Max find himself doing this, looking at pictures of his dead wife? When his pain became too much did he have a laptop resting open nearby? Had he bookmarked the tragic stories, or does he look for his favorite photos, hoping to be reminded of happier times? Perhaps his favorite was the one of Rebekah in that red-checked sundress from Town & Country. Or maybe he revisited the Vanity Fair spread of them together over the years, Max handsome in forgettable tuxedos, Rebekah in various gowns, the most striking a harsh chartreuse that would look ugly on anyone else. Or were his favorites the ones in The New York Times Magazine, taken by a famous photographer when Max launched his state senate campaign, the caption “Our Future First Lady?” There was a snarky reference to her Russian roots, and how in her twenties she contemplated anglicizing the spelling of her name “to better fit into her adopted country.” The story described the Winters as being “low-profile for such a high-powered couple”. Rebekah said if Max won she would use her role to highlight causes close to her heart, like land stewardship and conservation, having fallen in love with the island’s untouched forest and Asherley itself. The family hoped to keep the island pristine and undeveloped, despite its being worth more than a hundred million dollars. Rebekah described her biggest accomplishment, besides her daughter, as restoring Asherley to its former glory, a project that took her the better part of a decade.

I scanned through more pictures of the ten bedrooms, guessing theirs was the one described as “the most ethereal perch on Long Island.” There was the great hall, with its gleaming paneled walls, the second-floor gallery lined with famous oil paintings of Max’s ancestors, the prominence of the portrait artists growing along with the Winters’ wealth. Though the kitchen looked more rustic than I had expected, with its pale green painted cupboards and black-and-white-checkered floor, it highlighted Rebekah’s talent for updating the house while preserving its original aesthetic.The barn looked old, but was, in fact, a state-of-the-art facility for prized Thoroughbred horses, one of Rebekah’s passions. But the home’s centerpiece was a star-shaped greenhouse, its spires asymmetrical and dramatic, designed by a famous architect whom Rebekah persuaded to come out of retirement. Its jagged modernity clashed with the traditional design of Asherley and generated equal parts praise and criticism, one Times article calling it “utterly monstrous,” which prompted Rebekah to scold him in an op-ed titled “Why Some Monsters Are Beautiful.”

My trance was broken by the loud music coming from John-John’s yacht chugging by, the passengers already drunk by dusk. After giving him a blithe wave, I sped up my search, scanning an Architectural Digest piece about the renovations. There she was posing in a gown in front of old kitchen appliances that were actually clever modern replicas.Whatever seemed old about Asherley was usually, in fact, a modern reproduction. The last picture in this spread was of Max and Dani, her looking too grown-up in a sky-blue minidress, Max with his arm around his daughter’s tiny waist, their heads touching in the way of couples, her long blond hair a golden drape between them.

I slumped into the chair feeling sick, as if I’d rocketed back from another continent whose language and customs were entirely unfamiliar to me. This was followed by an overwhelming sense of shame, not from the snooping but from allowing myself the fantasy, however brief, that Max Winter might have found me attractive company today, me, a nobody from nothing, going nowhere. I laughed out loud at my own idiocy, at the notion that this wealthy, attractive man, this widowed senator, once married to a woman like Rebekah, who produced a child like Dani, who grew up on his own island in a castle with a name, might think of me as anything more than the hired pilot of his rented boat. He brought me that food out of courtesy. He took that (one) picture of me not to treasure it later but to fill an awkward gap in our conversation. This is what Laureen had meant when she said only another larger-than-life woman could fill Rebekah’s shoes, could occupy the space she had taken up in their lives, in the world even. I was not only jealous of her, I was furious with myself for harboring, even for a day, such naive ideas about what Max Winter was doing with me. Images of Rebekah were now seared into my retinas. I could no longer see him without seeing her with him.

But I had done this to myself. I had invited her in. In my darkest days, I sometimes had to remind myself that it started here, in that moment, and that it wasn’t Rebekah who came after me. I was the one who went looking for her.

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BEDTIME BOOKCLUB
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Lisa Gabriele
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