Family Reunion - Nancy Thayer Page 0,1

after the funeral, Eleanor had whispered to Martha, “I’m surprised Mortimer would do anything suddenly,” and they had covered their mouths with their hands and giggled like little girls.

But this morning, over coffee, Martha announced, “Eleanor, guess what! Al and I are leaving this week to take a three-month cruise of the Mediterranean!”

Eleanor felt faint. The floor seemed to slip beneath her feet. “What?”

“I know it’s a surprise. I didn’t mean to spring it on you like this.”

Eleanor sat there, quietly, furiously, trying not to feel she’d just been stabbed in the heart by a traitor. After a moment, she regained her self-control.

“Gosh, what a surprise,” Eleanor said in her normal voice. “I had no idea you were planning a cruise.”

Martha blushed. “We didn’t really plan it. We sort of decided on the spur of the moment. We’ve splurged on first-class tickets. First-class everything, because Al will turn seventy in June, and we decided it’s time to spoil ourselves.”

“How wonderful,” Eleanor announced, lying through her teeth.

“I know! Eleanor, let me show you our ship! Our itinerary! Hang on, I’ll get Al’s laptop.”

So Eleanor had to sit there going “Ooh” at the shiny photos of Greek islands rising out of deep blue seas, elegant staircases to posh first-class suites, and a formal dining room with white tablecloths, floral centerpieces, waiters dressed like naval officers in handsome uniforms, and buffets of food from around the world.

“Al has to take a tux,” Martha whispered in awe. “I have to buy some gowns. Gowns, Eleanor! One night we’ll sit at the captain’s table!”

“You’re going to gain weight,” Eleanor predicted, like the black fairy at Sleeping Beauty’s christening.

“Actually, I won’t!” Martha pulled up shots of the ship’s fitness center, complete with bikes, weights, and yoga mats. “Also,” Martha crowed, “ta-da!” A turquoise swimming pool filled the screen. “No salt, no sand, just clear water.”

Full of chlorine and other people’s pee, Eleanor almost said, but bit her tongue.

Instead, she said, “The ship must be enormous if it has a swimming pool.”

“Oh, it is,” Martha agreed, and babbled on.

Eleanor stopped listening. She was happy for her best friend. She was simply sad for herself. Summer was always a difficult time on the small island, when thirty thousand or more summer people arrived to share the pleasures of Nantucket. Contractors honked at any car with a New York license plate, families on bikes pedaled blithely past stop signs, and you never saw anyone you knew in the crowded grocery store. Complaining with Martha was one of her few summer joys, and this summer she would be deprived of that.

“Now you’re going to have to get a cellphone,” Eleanor said triumphantly. Martha was kind of a technophobe, using a landline telephone and her old Kodak camera.

“Well, I thought of that,” Martha said. “But you know how I hate those things. We’ve decided that, if necessary, I’ll use Al’s, but really we’ll only need to check on the children, and they’re all grown up so we don’t even need to do that.”

“I’ll miss you,” Eleanor admitted.

“I’ll send you postcards!” Martha told her.

Eleanor restrained herself from rolling her eyes—did anyone even send postcards anymore?

“Please do.” Forcing herself to be cheerful, she said, “Oh, Martha, I hope you have a spectacular time!”

She had been sad and hurt and angry when she left Martha’s house, because it didn’t seem like Martha not to tell Eleanor about something so important before.

Now she tossed the remote control on the quilt. “Alexa,” she said, “play Bob Seger.”

As his rough and growly voice filled the room with “Against the Wind,” Eleanor snorted, because if anything was against the wind it was her old house on the bluff.

Then came the words: “We were young and strong,” and Eleanor couldn’t help it. She burst into tears.

She’d been young and strong, once. She’d spent all her summers in this beautiful house. Her grandparents had owned it, and then her parents, and now Eleanor. She was an only child, and this house, with its eccentric creaks and uneven floors, was like a living companion to her. A friend. She could walk through the house with her eyes closed and know what room she was in. The house had been built long before fast ferries and UPS, back when islanders made do with what they had or could scavenge, so the doorknobs were all different—porcelain, brass, glass, metal latch—and Eleanor had always thought that made the house friendlier, somehow.

She could put her hand on the wall in the guest bedroom