Saturday, 2. p.m.
A rack of bikinis on the sidewalk outside a clothing store. Model ships in an art gallery window. A beach town’s tried-and-true, I tell Meade over salads at the Spiced Pear.
“There are several Newports. Ours is one those people never see.”
“Your private Newport.” I say, naming the old phone directory I spotted on a bookcase in the greenhouse.
She squeezes more lemon into her iced tea.
“I don’t want Harris paying my rent.” Another friend I would have told outright that I didn’t know how to bring up the topic with Harris without offending him or, worse, making a fool of myself if he wasn’t intending to pay. From what I’d seen Meade and her peers consider asking for advice giving up power.
“He’s a generous guy, that’s his thing. Every guy leads with a thing. Looks, brains, money. They pick their strongest point and make sure you know it like, in five minutes.”
Was she not getting it, or me?
“I like him, but I’m not sure he’s my type.”
“If he was hot I’d have snapped him up a long time ago.”
It might not be rational, but I feel a bit insulted. And I have another concern: I wasn’t devoid of self-esteem but it had crossed my mind that a man as smart and wealthy as Harris shouldn’t have much trouble finding a girlfriend.
Meade pushes away the remains of her walnut-and-mesclun lunch. “This is a small world. I could use some new blood myself for some fun.”
“You could leave Newport.” I think it a particularly appealing choice for a woman whose family has turned on her, but I’m wrong.
I pick up the check, as I had done the few times we had coffee or lunch to thank her for putting me up my first weekend in town. Meade didn’t carry a wallet in any case.
Jim the bartender is waiting for us at the bottom of one the steep side streets off Thames. He bear-hugs Meade. “Great news. The other prospect doesn’t want it.”
“So it’s mine? At the amount we offered?”
“If you start paying the fifteenth.. Otherwise he wants three hundred more a month.”
Meade grimaces and starts up the hill. I notice Jim notice how good she looks from behind in her white denim shorts. Saying he’d talk to the owner again, he yanks open a heavy door to the gutted interior of a brick building that had been stables. Jim knocks on pipes and walls. Slowly Meade transforms from overwhelmed to excited. Her long arms draw in the air: a wall of windows, a front desk there—she had just the piece, the Goddard and Townsend desk that was one of the few things she’d removed from the main house during her grandmother’s final days.
“You’ll get by with fifty grand, if I do most of the work,” Jim says.
We close up the place and walk back to Bannister’s Wharf, diesel from boat engines mixing with the scent of fried fish. Jim ducks into the Candy Store to start his shift.
“His adoration is sort of hard to watch.”
“He wouldn’t do it if he didn’t enjoy it,” Meade says. “He knows I would never date him, much less marry him.”
“Because he’s a bartender?”
“And his parents are schoolteachers.”
Meade’s father had died when she was eighteen, and when I’d told her mine had passed away when I was fourteen, her green eyes had shined. A response devoid of the sympathy people typically offer, but I understood. She’d found a comrade. We had never spoken about what our fathers had done for a living. Rather, she had told me how hers had lived, with grand gestures, French mistresses and no regrets. One of the mistresses had taught her to choose perfume with notes of musk. Another offered the advice that a man should never see his lover entirely naked or she loses her mystery.
I unlock my bike and judder it off the rack. “I would think that a woman who doesn’t have to worry about money would be free to marry for love.”
“Well right now I don’t have any.” Meade rattles off the names of a few women I didn’t know, and Bluesy’s. “They all married poor guys and every time I see them I think those guys saw dollar signs. I mean, the guys they married are so much better-looking than they are.”
I’m not proud that I’d noticed that myself. To these men, a moneyed plain Jane was just another kind of trophy.
“Plot didn’t have money?”
“He worked in a bookstore in Cambridge.”
The conversation depresses me, so I ask Meade what time she’s going to the ball.
“So not going. I have my own charities, ones my family has been with for years.” Meade downs half the water in the porcelain bottle she carries everywhere. Her eyes cloud. “ You don’t know what it’s like, to have everyone expect so much from you. You look like I do and you come from my family and if you marry a guy who isn’t, you know, your equal then you’ve totally failed. I’ve fucked up enough already.”