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Desperate and facing homelessness, Meredith receives a call from her old best friend, Constance Flute. Connie's had recent worries of her own, and the two depart for a summer on Nantucket in an attempt to heal. But the island can't offer complete escape, and they're plagued by new and old troubles alike. When Connie's brother Toby — Meredith's high school boyfriend — arrives, Meredith must reconcile the differences between the life she is leading and the life she could have had.
Set against the backdrop of a Nantucket summer, Elin Hilderbrand delivers a suspenseful story of the power of friendship, the pull of love, and the beauty of forgiveness.
“Clearly the Madoff family inspired this plot, but Hilderbrand gives it her own sun-kissed, optimistic spin — which is not to say it’s all Rosa rugosa, just that there’s a silver lining to the ugliest of circumstances.” —Elisabeth Egan, New York Times
Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide
A Preview of Here’s to Us
A Preview of Summerland
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MEREDITH MARTIN DELINN
They had agreed not to speak about anything meaningful until Meredith was safely inside the house on Nantucket. First, they had the highway to face. Meredith knew it too well, just like every other American with a home (or, in her case, three homes) between Maine and Florida. There were the ninety-three tedious exits of Connecticut before they crossed into Rhode Island and, a scant hour later, Massachusetts. As they drove over the Sagamore Bridge, the sun came up, giving the Cape Cod Canal a cheerful pink glaze that hurt Meredith's eyes. There was no traffic on the bridge even though it was the first of July; that was why Connie liked to do the drive overnight.
Finally, they arrived in Hyannis: a town Meredith had visited once with her parents in the early 1970s. She remembered her mother, Deidre Martin, insisting they drive by the Kennedy Compound. There had been guards; it was just a few years after Bobby's assassination. Meredith remembered her father, Chick Martin, encouraging her to eat a lobster roll. She had been only eight years old, but Chick Martin had confidence in Meredith's sophistication. Brilliant and talented, Chick used to brag shamelessly. The girl can do no wrong. Meredith had tasted the lobster salad and spit it out, then felt embarrassed. Her father had shrugged and finished the sandwich himself.
Even all these years later, the memory of Hyannis filled Meredith with a sense of shame, which lay on top of the disgrace Meredith had been feeling since her husband, Freddy Delinn, had been indicted. Hyannis was a place where Meredith had disappointed her father.
Thank God he couldn't see her now.
Although they had agreed not to talk about anything meaningful, Meredith turned to Connie, who had decided—against her better judgment—to shelter Meredith, at least for the time being, and said, "Thank God my father can't see me now."
Connie, who was pulling into the parking lot of the Steamship Authority, let out a sigh and said, "Oh, Meredith."
Meredith couldn't read Connie's tone. Oh, Meredith, you're right; it's a blessing Chick has been dead for thirty years and didn't have to witness your meteoric rise and your even more spectacular fall. Or: Oh, Meredith, stop feeling sorry for yourself. Or: Oh, Meredith, I thought we agreed we wouldn't talk until we got to the house. We laid ground rules, and you're trampling them.
Or: Oh, Meredith, please shut up.
Indeed, Connie's tone since she'd rescued Meredith at two in the morning was one of barely concealed… what? Anger? Fear? Consternation? And could Meredith blame her? She and Connie hadn't spoken in nearly three years, and in their last conversation, they had said despicable things to each other; they had taken a blowtorch to the ironclad chain of their friendship. Or: Oh, Meredith, what have I done? Why are you here? I wanted a quiet summer. I wanted peace. And now I have you, a stinky international scandal, in my front seat.
Meredith decided to give Connie the benefit of the doubt. "Oh, Meredith" was a quasi-sympathetic non-answer. Connie was pulling up to the gatehouse and showing the attendant her ferry ticket; she was distracted. Meredith wore her son Carver's baseball hat from Choate and her last remaining pair of prescription sunglasses, which fortunately were big, round, and very dark. Meredith turned her face away from the attendant. She couldn't let anyone recognize her.
Connie pulled up the ramp, into the ferry's hold. Cars were packed like Matchbox models in a snug little suitcase. It was the first of July; even at this early hour, the mood on the boat was festive. Jeeps were laden with beach towels and hibachi grills; the car parked in front of Connie's was a vintage Wagoneer with at least sixteen beach stickers, in every color of the rainbow, lining the bumper. Meredith's heart was bruised, battered, and broken. She told herself not to think about the boys, but all that led to was her thinking about the boys. She remembered how she used to load up the Range Rover with bags of their bathing suits and surf shirts and flip-flops, and their baseball gloves and cleats, the aluminum case that held the badminton set, fresh decks of cards, and packs of D batteries for the flashlights. Meredith would load the dog into his crate and strap Carver's surfboard to the top of the car, and off they'd go—bravely into the traffic jam that lasted from Freeport all the way to Southampton. Inevitably, they timed it badly and got stuck behind the jitney. But it had been fun. The boys took turns with the radio—Leo liked folk rock, the Counting Crows were his favorite, and Carver liked the headbanger stuff that would make the dog howl—and Meredith always felt that the hotter and slower the drive was, the happier they were to arrive in Southampton. Sun, sand, ocean. Take your shoes off, open the windows. Freddy did the drive on the weekends, and in later years, he arrived in a helicopter.
As Meredith looked on the summer revelers now, she thought, Leo! Carver! Leo. Poor Leo. For all of the years of their growing up, Leo had taken care of Carver. Protected him, schooled him, included him. And now, Carver was the one who would be supporting Leo, propping him up. Meredith prayed he was doing a good job.
A voice came over the loudspeaker, announcing the rules and regulations of the boat. The foghorn sounded, and Meredith heard distant clapping. The good, fortunate souls headed to Nantucket Island on this fine morning were applauding the start of their summer. Meanwhile, Meredith felt like she was still three states away. At that very moment, federal marshals would be entering Meredith's penthouse apartment on Park Avenue and seizing her belongings. Meredith wondered with a curious detachment what this seizing would be like. To go with Connie, Meredith had packed one duffel bag of simple summer clothes, and one cardboard box of personal effects—photographs, her marriage license, the boys' birth certificates, a few of her favorite paperback novels, one particular spiral-bound notebook from her freshman year at Princeton, and one record album—the original 1970 release of Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water, which Meredith had no hope of ever listening to, but which she couldn't bring herself to leave behind.
She'd been permitted to take her eyeglasses, her prescription sunglasses, and her four-karat diamond engagement ring. The ring had been inherited from her grandmother, Annabeth Martin, and not bought with dirty money. There was a strand of pearls from Meredith's mother, a present on Meredith's graduation from Princeton, which fell into the same category, but Meredith had no use for pearls now. She couldn't wear pearls in jail. With a little forethought, she might have pawned them and added the money to the paltry sum she had left.
But what of her other possessions? Meredith imagined grim, strapping men in black uniforms with handguns concealed in their waistbands. One might lift the delicate Shalimar bottle off her dressing table and, unable to help himself, inhale the scent. One would strip her Aurora linens from Schweitzer off the bed. Those sheets were worth thousands of dollars, but what would the marshals do with them? Launder them, fold them, sell them off? They would take her Hostetler sculpture and the Andrew Wyeth sketches; they would clip the Calder mobile from the ceiling in the living room. They would go through Meredith's closet and box up the Louboutins and the Sergio Rossis; they would carry off her everyday dresses—Diane von Furstenberg, Phillip Lim—and her gowns—the Dior, the Chanel, the Caroline Herreras. The Feds had told Meredith that her belongings would be sold at auction and the proceeds funneled into a restitution fund for the fleeced investors. Meredith thought of her baby-blue Dior gown, which she had paid $19,000 for—a fact that, now, made her want to gag with disgust—and wondered who would own it next. Someone petite—Meredith was only five foot one and weighed a hundred pounds. That gown had been custom-tailored for her by John Galliano himself. Who would end up with Meredith's copper All-Clad sauté pans (never used, except occasionally by Leo's girlfriend, Anais, who thought it was a sin that Meredith didn't cook in her gleaming gourmet kitchen). Who would end up with the cut crystal whiskey decanter that Freddy had never poured a drink from, except in the final days before his exposure to the world. (It was the sight of Freddy throwing back three successive shots of a 1926 Macallan that put Meredith on high alert. A Pandora's box of accusations had cracked open in her mind: No one knows how he does it. He says it's black magic, but it can't be legal. He's breaking the law. He's going to get caught.)
Meredith knew the Feds would be most interested in what they found in Freddy's home office. Freddy had always kept the door to his office locked, a practice that began when the children were young and he wanted to keep them from interrupting him on the phone, though it continued into later years. The door had remained locked—both when he was in the office and when he wasn't—even against Meredith. If she wanted entry, she had to knock. She had testified to this in her deposition, but the authorities didn't believe her. Her fingerprints (literal) were on the doorknob. And her fingerprints (figurative) had been found on one illegal transaction. Three days before the collapse of Delinn Enterprises, Meredith had transferred $15 million from the company's "slush fund" into the personal brokerage account she and Freddy shared.
The federal marshals would also be interested in Freddy's den. Their decorator, Samantha Deuce, had masterminded the "gentleman's library" look with shelves of books on finance, antique piggy banks, and baseball memorabilia from Babe Ruth's stint with the Yankees. Freddy wasn't even a Yankees fan, but Samantha had likened him to Babe Ruth because, she said, they were both iconic men of their times. Iconic men of their times. Meredith had believed Samantha to be a maestro of overstatement.
Freddy had nearly always enjoyed his den alone; Meredith was hard-pressed to remember anyone else relaxing in the deep suede club chairs or watching the fifty-two-inch television. The boys didn't like hanging out in that room; even when the ball game was on, they preferred to watch in the kitchen with Meredith. There was a hidden dartboard in the back of the den that Meredith was sure had never been used; the darts were still in the bubble wrap.
The only person that Meredith could remember ever seeing in Freddy's den was Samantha. Meredith had come across Freddy and Samantha in that room a few years earlier. They had been standing side by side admiring a hunting print that Samantha had bought at Christie's. (The choice of this print was ironic, since Freddy didn't hunt and hated guns: his brother had been killed by an errant bullet in a training exercise in the army.) Freddy had been resting his hand on Samantha's lower back. When Meredith walked in, Freddy whipped his hand away so quickly that it called attention to the fact that he had been touching Samantha in the first place. Meredith thought of that moment often. Freddy's hand on Samantha's lower back: No big deal, right? Samantha had been their decorator for years. Freddy and Samantha were friends, chummy and affectionate. If Freddy had simply left his hand there, Meredith wouldn't have thought a thing about it. It was his startled reaction that made Meredith wonder. Freddy never got startled.
The ferry lurched forward. Connie had wedged her hunter-green Escalade between a Stop & Shop semi and a black Range Rover not so different from the one that Meredith used to drive to the Hamptons. Connie got out of the car, slamming her door.
Meredith panicked. "Where are you going?" she asked.
Connie didn't answer. She opened the back door of the Escalade and climbed in. She foraged in the way-back for a pillow, and lay across the backseat.
"I'm tired," she said.
"Of course," Meredith said. Connie had left her house at eight o'clock the night before, a scant four hours after receiving Meredith's phone call. She had driven six hours to Manhattan and had idled in the dark alley behind 824 Park Avenue, waiting for Meredith to emerge. There had been a reporter standing behind a Dumpster, but he had been smoking a cigarette and hadn't gotten his camera ready until Meredith was in the car and Connie was screeching out of the alley in reverse, like a bank robber in a heist movie. Meredith had ducked her head below the dashboard.
"Jesus, Meredith," Connie said. "And have you seen the front of the building?"
Meredith knew it was swarming with reporters, television lights, and satellite trucks. They had been there on the day Freddy was led out of the apartment in handcuffs, then again on the morning that Meredith had gone to visit Freddy in jail, and they had gathered a third time nearly two days earlier in anticipation of Meredith's removal from the building by federal marshals. What the public wanted to know was, where does the wife of the biggest financial criminal in history go when she is turned out of her Park Avenue penthouse?
Meredith had two attorneys. Her lead attorney's name was Burton Penn; he asked Meredith to call him Burt. He was new to her. Freddy had taken their longtime family lawyer, Richard Cassel. Goddamned Freddy, taking the best, leaving Meredith with prematurely balding thirty-six-year-old Burton Penn. Though he had, at least, gone to Yale Law School.
The other attorney was even younger, with dark shaggy hair and pointy incisors, like one of those teen vampires. He wore glasses, and in passing, he'd told Meredith that he had an astigmatism. "Yes, so do I," Meredith said; she had worn horn-rimmed glasses since she was thirteen years old. Meredith had bonded more closely with this second attorney. His name was Devon Kasper. He asked her to call him Dev. Dev told Meredith the truth about things, but he sounded sorry about it. He had sounded sorry when he told Meredith that, because she had transferred the $15 million into her and Freddy's shared brokerage account, she was under investigation, and it was possible she would be charged with conspiracy and sent to prison. He had sounded sorry when he told Meredith that her son Leo was also under investigation, because he had worked with Freddy at Delinn Enterprises.
Leo was twenty-six years old. He worked for the legitimate trading division of Delinn Enterprises.
So why, then, were the Feds investigating Leo? Meredith didn't understand, and she was trying not to panic—panic wouldn't serve her—but this was her child. He was her responsible son, the one who got into Dartmouth and was captain of the lacrosse team and vice president of the Dartmouth chapter of Amnesty International; he was the one who had a steady girlfriend; he was the one who, to Meredith's knowledge, had never once broken the law—had never shoplifted a pack of gum, had never taken a drink underage, had never gotten a parking ticket.
"Why are they investigating Leo?" Meredith had asked, her bruised heart racing. Her child in danger, as surely as a three-year-old running out into traffic.
Well, Dev said, they were investigating Leo because another trader—a well-respected, ten-year veteran on the legitimate floor named Deacon Rapp—had told the SEC and the FBI that Leo was involved in his father's Ponzi scheme. Deacon testified that Leo was in "constant contact" with colleagues on the seventeenth floor, which was where the Ponzi scheme was headquartered. Freddy had a small office on the seventeenth floor, as well as a secretary. This came as a shock to Meredith. She had known nothing about the existence of the seventeenth floor, nor the secretary, a Mrs. Edith Misurelli. The Feds couldn't question Mrs. Misurelli because she had apparently been due months of vacation time and had left for Italy the day before the scandal broke. No one knew how to reach her.
Dev sounded especially sorry when he told Meredith that she absolutely could not be in contact with either of her sons until the investigation was cleared up. Any conversation between Leo and Meredith might be seen as evidence of their mutual conspiracy. And because Carver and Leo were living together in an old Victorian that Carver was renovating in Greenwich, Meredith couldn't call Carver, either. Burt and Dev had met with Leo's counsel, and both parties agreed there was too much chance for cross-contamination. Meredith should remain in one camp, the boys in another. For the time being.
"I'm sorry, Meredith."
Dev said this often.
Meredith peered at Connie, who had scrunched her long, lean form to fit across the backseat. Her head was sunk into the pillow, her strawberry-blond hair fell across her face, her eyes were closed. She looked older, and sadder, to Meredith—her husband, Wolf, had died two and a half years earlier of brain cancer—but she was still Connie, Constance Flute, née O'Brien, Meredith's oldest, and once her closest, friend. Her friend since the beginning of time.
Meredith had called Connie to ask if she could stay with her "for a while" in Bethesda. Connie had artfully dodged the request by saying that she was headed up to Nantucket for the summer. Of course, Nantucket. July was now upon them—a fact that had effectively escaped Meredith, trapped as she was in her apartment—and Meredith's hopes tanked.
"Can you call someone else?" Connie asked.
"There isn't anyone else," Meredith said. She said this not to invoke Connie's pity, but because it was true. It astounded her how alone she was, how forsaken by everyone who had been in her life. Connie was her one and only hope. Despite the fact that they hadn't spoken in three years, she was the closest thing to family that Meredith had.
"You could turn to the church," Connie said. "Join a convent."
A convent, yes. Meredith had considered this when casting about for options. There were convents, she was pretty sure, out on Long Island; she and the boys used to pass one on their way to the Hamptons, set back from the highway among rolling hills. She would start out as a novice scrubbing floors until her knees bled, but maybe someday she'd be able to teach.
"Meredith," Connie said. "I'm kidding."
"Oh," Meredith said. Of course, she was kidding. Meredith and Connie had attended Catholic schools together all through their childhood, but Connie had never been particularly devout.
"I guess I could pick you up on my way," Connie said.
"And do what?" Meredith said. "Take me to Nantucket?"
"You do owe me a visit," Connie said. "You've owed me a visit since nineteen eighty-two."
Meredith had laughed. It sounded strange to her own ears, the laugh. It had been so long.
Connie said, "You can stay a couple of weeks, maybe longer. We'll see how it goes. I can't make any promises."
"Thank you," Meredith had whispered, weak with gratitude.
"You realize you haven't called me in three years," Connie said.
Yes, Meredith realized that. What Connie really meant was: You never called to apologize for what you said about Wolf, or to give me your condolences in person. But you call me now, when you're in heaps of trouble and have nowhere else to go.
"I'm sorry," Meredith said. She didn't say: You didn't call me, either. You never apologized for calling Freddy a crook. Now, of course, there was no need to apologize. Connie had been proved right: Freddy was a crook. "Will you still come get me?"
"I'll come get you," Connie said.
Now, Meredith wanted to wake Connie up and ask her: Can you please forgive me for the things I said? Can we make things right between us?
Meredith wondered what the federal marshals would think about the mirror she'd smashed in the master bath. In a fit of rage, she'd thrown her mug of peppermint tea at it; she had savored the smack and shatter of the glass. Her reflection had splintered and fallen away, onto the granite countertop, into Freddy's sink. Goddamn you, Freddy, Meredith thought, for the zillionth time. The ferry rocked on the waves, and Meredith's eyes drifted closed. If there were beating hearts beneath the federal marshals' black uniforms, then she supposed they would understand.
CONSTANCE O'BRIEN FLUTE
They had agreed not to speak about anything meaningful until Meredith was safely inside the house on Nantucket. Connie needed time to digest what she'd done. What had she done? She had six hours in the car from Bethesda to Manhattan to repeatedly ask herself. The roads were clear of traffic; on the radio, Connie listened to Delilah. The heart-wrenching stories of the callers boosted Connie's spirits. She knew about loss. Wolf had been dead for two and a half years, and Connie was still waiting for the pain to subside. It had been nearly as long since Connie had spoken to their daughter, Ashlyn, though Connie called Ashlyn's cell phone every Sunday, hoping that one time she might answer. Connie sent Ashlyn flowers on her birthday and a gift certificate to J. Crew at Christmas. Did Ashlyn tear up the gift certificate, throw the flowers in the trash? Connie had no way of knowing.
And now look what she'd done. She had agreed to go to Manhattan to pick up her ex–best friend, Meredith Delinn. Connie thought ex-friend, but inside Connie knew that she and Meredith would always be tethered together. They had grown up on the Main Line in Philadelphia. They attended Tarleton in the 1960s, then grammar school, then high school at Merion Mercy Academy. They had been as close as sisters. For two years in high school, Meredith had dated Connie's brother, Toby.
Connie fingered her cell phone, which rested in the console of her car. She considered calling Toby now and telling him what she was doing. He was the only person who had known Meredith as long as Connie had; he was the only one who might understand. But Toby and Meredith had a complicated history. Toby had broken Meredith's heart in high school, and over the years, Meredith had asked Connie about him, the way a woman asks about her first true love. Connie had been the one to tell Meredith about Toby's voyages around the world captaining megayachts, his hard-partying lifestyle that landed him in rehab twice, the women he met, married, and abandoned along the way, and his ten-year-old son who was destined to become as charming and dangerous as Toby himself. Meredith and Toby hadn't seen each other since the funeral of Connie and Toby's mother, Veronica, six years earlier. Something had happened between Meredith and Toby at the funeral that ended with Meredith climbing into her waiting car and driving away before the reception.
"I can't be around him," Meredith had said to Connie later. "It's too painful."
Connie hadn't been gutsy enough to ask Meredith exactly what had happened. But she decided it would be wisest not to call Toby, as tempting as it was.
Connie had seen Meredith on CNN back in April, on the day that Meredith went to visit Freddy in jail. Meredith had looked gray haired and haggard, nothing like the blond, Dior-wearing socialite that Connie had most recently seen in the society pages of the New York Times. Meredith had been wearing jeans and a white button-down shirt and a trench coat; she had been ducking into a cab, but a reporter caught her before she closed the door and asked her, "Mrs. Delinn, do you ever cry about the way things have turned out?"
Meredith looked up, and Connie had felt a sharp rush of recognition. Meredith's expression was feisty. This was the Meredith Connie had known in high school—the competitive field-hockey player, the champion diver, the National Merit Scholarship finalist.
"No," Meredith said.
And Connie thought, Oh, Meredith, wrong answer.
She had meant to call Meredith in the days following. The press was brutal. (The headline of the New York Post read, JESUS WEPT. BUT NOT MRS. DELINN.) Connie had wanted to reach out and offer some kind of support, but she hadn't picked up the phone. She was still bitter that Meredith had allowed money to sink their friendship. And besides, Connie was too involved with her own melancholy to take on Meredith's problems.
Connie had seen a picture of Meredith, peering from one of her penthouse windows, published in People. The caption read, At daybreak, Meredith Delinn gazes out at a world that will no longer have her.
The paparazzi had caught her in her nightgown at the crack of dawn. Poor Meredith! Again, Connie considered calling, but she didn't.
Connie then saw the article on the front page of the New York Times Style section entitled "The Loneliest Woman in New York." It told the story of Meredith's ill-fated trip to the Pascal Blanc salon, where she'd been getting her hair colored for fifteen years. The newspaper reported that Meredith had been calling for an appointment at the salon for weeks, but she kept getting put off by the receptionist. Finally, the owner of the salon, Jean-Pierre, called Meredith back and explained that he couldn't risk offending his other patrons, many of whom were former Delinn investors, by having her in the salon. The article said that Meredith asked for an after-hours appointment, and he said no. Meredith asked if the woman who normally colored her hair could come to her apartment—Meredith would pay her in cash—and Jean-Pierre said no. The article also stated that Meredith was no longer welcome at Rinaldo's, the Italian restaurant where she and Freddy had dined at least twice a week for eight years. "They always sat at the same table," Dante Rinaldo was quoted as saying. "Mrs. Delinn always ordered a glass of the Ruffino Chianti, but Mr. Delinn drank nothing, ever. Now, I can't let Mrs. Delinn come to eat, or no one else will come to eat." The article had made one thing perfectly clear: everyone in New York City hated Meredith, and if she were to show her face in public, she would be shunned.
Awful, Connie thought. Poor Meredith. After she read the article, she picked up the phone, and, with numb fingers, dialed the number of Meredith's Park Avenue apartment. She was promptly informed by an operator that the number had been changed and that the new number was unlisted.
Connie hung up, thinking, Well, I tried.
“Clearly the Madoff family inspired this plot, but Hilderbrand gives it her own sun-kissed, optimistic spin — which is not to say it’s all Rosa rugosa, just that there’s a silver lining to the ugliest of circumstances.”—Elisabeth Egan, New York Times
- On Sale
- Jun 21, 2011
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Back Bay Books