A Summer Affair: A Novel - By Elin Hilderbrand


The Invisible Thread That Binds Her To Him

March 2003

The guilt was like a clump of tar in her hair, warm and sticky, impossible to remove. The more she fingered it, the worse things got. Tar gummed her hands; she tried water but it formed a slick, milky film. She needed scissors, turpentine.

The tar had been real, back when Claire was four or five, back when she and her parents lived in the first house in Wildwood Crest, a shoe box that Claire didn’t remember living in, but that her mother was fond of pointing out when they drove through that part of town. Claire had been playing at the edge of the road, which was newly paved; she had been unsupervised (things had been different then with child raising), and when she came inside with the tar weighing down one side of her head, an ooey, gooey, licorice mess, her mother had said with bald matter-of-factness, “It will never come out.”

Just like the guilt!

On that morning in March, the phone rang early. Claire was exhausted and parched, and the kids were everywhere. Shea had been the baby then, and she was eating the scrambled eggs that had fallen from J.D.’s and Ottilie’s plates to the floor. Claire scooped the baby up and grabbed the phone. Siobhan, of course. No one else would call before eight on a Sunday except for Siobhan, who was Claire’s best friend and sister-in-law, the wife of Jason’s brother, Carter. Siobhan was Claire’s soul mate, her darling, her defender, her reality check—and, the night before, her partner in crime. They had been out on the town together, drinking, which happened so rarely that it qualified as a big deal. Siobhan would be calling to talk about it, remember it, relive it, parse it, deconstruct it, moment by moment. A lot had happened.

“Have you heard?” Siobhan said.

“Heard what?”

“Oh, God,” Siobhan said. “Sit down.”

Claire carried the baby into the front sitting room, which was never used. It was, however, the perfect place to accept bad news. “What is it?” she said. In their bedroom, Jason was sawing logs; she could hear him through the wall. It was a strictly enforced rule that he be allowed to sleep in on Sunday. Day of rest and all that. Would she have to wake him?

“Fidelma called, from the police station,” Siobhan said. “There was an accident. Daphne Dixon hit a deer and flipped her car. They flew her to Boston.”

“Is she . . . ?” Claire didn’t know how to ask.

“Alive? Yes. But just barely, I think.”

Messy, gooey, insoluble. It will never come out.

“She was drunk,” Claire said.

“Smashed,” Siobhan said.

There had been seven women: Claire, Siobhan, Julie Jackson, Delaney Kitt, Amie Trimble, Phoebe Caldwell, and Daphne Dixon. One of these things is not like the other. Daphne was a summer resident—which is to say, very wealthy—who had recently decided to move to Nantucket year-round. Claire knew her slightly. They had met at a pool party, and Daphne and her husband had taken an interest in Claire’s glassblowing. They might want to commission a piece someday—who knew? Claire liked Daphne. Or she was flattered that Daphne seemed to like her. She had bumped into Daphne at the dry cleaners (Daphne picking up what looked to be fifty cashmere sweaters). Claire had said, Come out with us on Saturday night!

They went to the spacious walnut bar at the Brant Point Grill, where there was live cabaret music. Daphne had been wearing a diaphanous top and a red silk scarf around her neck. It was clear from the beginning of the night that Daphne was letting loose, she was relaxing with the local crowd, she was allowing herself to go a little crazy. This wasn’t like the buttoned-up scene in Boston, she said boozily in Claire’s ear.

There had been a lot of drinking: countless glasses of chardonnay and a few rosy cosmopolitans for the other women—and margaritas, no salt, for Daphne. At the end of the evening, Claire went to the bar to order herself a Diet Coke before the room began to spin, and Daphne said, “And a margarita, no salt, for me, please, Claire.”

One Diet Coke, one margarita, no salt, please, Claire told the bartender.

Now, in the sitting room that no one ever used, Claire picked stray yellow flecks of dried egg out of the baby’s duck-fuzz hair, her mind racing. Daphne had already had a lot to drink when Claire bought her the margarita. How many drinks had she had, exactly? Claire