The girls sounded drunk. Eileen stood in the salon’s fitting room, picking up bits and pieces of a chatty-Cathy convention. From the main room came an unending stream from her daughter, her recently-acquired daughter-in-law, and her soon-to-be stepdaughter. Eileen would have been pleased had her two girls just gotten along with Tommy’s daughter, but now she sometimes thought they might be triplets separated-at-birth.
Much as Eileen enjoyed hearing the three, her mind drifted far from them as she saw herself in the mirrors. The process was far enough along and today was for final adjustments, her next appearance at the salon simply to make sure everything fit perfectly. The wedding was three weeks away.
She saw herself in the mirrors. She was no child, far from it as she neared fifty, but she felt a child-like wonder in what—who—was looking back. It was not a figment that would vanish at midnight. It was her. It was the her that only needed the sculptor’s hand to form her from the marble she had long been. More than one sculptor in her case. Kerry and Suzanne and Mary but mostly Tommy made her bloom.
Eileen was abruptly shaken out of her reverie by Diane, the dressmaker, who asked her to turn to the right. “I’ve seen that look often enough,” Diane smiled, “but if I don’t take care of this we’ll be here all day.”
Eileen grinned and turned, and five minutes later she silenced las tres amigas, their giggles replaced by tears as the older woman turned. After a torrent of “oh my god!”s and “you look so beautiful!”s, Eileen returned to the fitting room and after carefully, very carefully, undressing, she was back in her street clothes and the four headed up Madison for lunch at a small restaurant in the seventies.
The third time was not a charm. The weather was wonderful when Mary and Betty were married in June and gorgeous for Kerry and Suzanne in September. Now, in mid-November, it was cold and the rain was coming down in sheets. Suzanne was glad that the parkway was not flooded as she drove their new car on the way to Chappaqua. Her wife was next to her and her Mother, who proved a whiz at wedding planning, was in back, still checking and re-checking notes.
The three arrived at the Chappaqua Spread and raced through the rain under umbrellas to the door, where Andi greeted them. The three were wet, Suzanne getting the worst of it, and took off and shook their raincoats before following Andi, who had shouted “They’re here” upstairs, into the kitchen.
“How is she, Doc?” It was Kerry’s question, but the others wanted the answer too.
“Oh my God. She’s, I’m sure there’s some expression that cowboys use, she’s…she’s like a cat on a hot tin roof.”
“I’d better get up there,” Kerry said as she took her coffee with her. “Do you think she wants one?” to which Andi responded, “Kerry, she’s had more than enough and, frankly, with that dress we need to think of lessening her need to pee.”
With that, Kerry was gone. She found her Mom sitting on the bed, a large towel wrapped around her and a smaller one circled her hair.
“Are you okay, Mom?”
Her Mom was shaking, slightly but enough for her daughter to notice. Kerry put her coffee on the dresser and sat to the right of her Mom, pulling her close and kissing the towel circling her hair.
“Kerry, I don’t know about this.”
“What ‘this’ Mom?”
“All of it.” Her voice was soft and her hands were waving. “It’s too much. All of it. I know it’ll just come crashing down the way it did in Chicago. It’s too much. I don’t deserve any of it. I don’t deserve Tommy. I don’t deserve you. I don’t—”
“Mom, we don’t have time to go through all the people you don’t deserve.” And she gave an extra squeeze before pushing away so she could turn to look at her.
“Mom. You deserve every bit of happiness that you’ve gotten. I love two women in this world unreservedly and I know that I don’t deserve the love of either of them.” She shushed with a finger. “Without both you and Suzanne I would be nothing. What happened with Dad happened with Dad. And that was then. What happens with Tom is now and the future. He went through what happened in Chicago. Have you given any indication of going there again?” This was a reference to her drinking relapse.
“Mom, we, all your family, were there for you then and I don’t think it’ll happen again but if it does you know we will all be there for you. And I know you all, especially you, will always be there for me. I know I’ve lived a charmed life but, Mom, that’s because of you. You need to know that. And I am sure Tom will understand how much of a charmed life he has just by being with you.
“But Mom, stop being so stubborn. Now you’re reminding me of me and Suze when we were both so damn stubborn that we kept ourselves apart for seven fucking months. Sorry”—she did not like such language—“Finally, I let her love me and she let me love her.
“Does Tom love you?”
“No think. DOES HE LOVE YOU?”
“Oh, Kerry, he loves me, yes.”
“And do you love him? Remember, no ‘think’.”
“So much. But that’s what—”
“Jesus, Mom, just answer my questions. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in law school, it’s that people hate giving a simple answer to a simple question. So, yes or no, do you love Tom?”
“Mom, does he let you love him? Yes or no?”
“And the big one. Yes or no. Do you let him love you?”
“Yes or no?”
“Yes, yes, yes.”
“Well, your Honor, I rest my case.”
And Eileen leaned to Kerry and they hugged for a moment and Kerry said, “Now that that’s settled, Kate will have a cow if you don’t get your ass in gear so that we can get you dressed” and Kerry began the process of putting on the corset and other things she would be wearing under her gown.
While this was going on, Andi, Suzanne, and Kate were nervously in the kitchen. Andi and Suzanne, of course, knew what happened to Eileen in Chicago, and Eileen grew comfortable with Kate and revealed it to her. Eileen, they knew, would get through her doubts.
Upstairs, Kerry, after a nod from her Mom, got up and shouted down the stairs, “Will you lazy bitches get your asses up here? We need to get someone to the Church on time.”
One thing. Yes, they had to get to a “Church.” Each of the five in the house and nearly all of those who would be in the church were raised Catholic. Suzanne’s Mother, Kate, was deeply religious. The others? Not so much, but certain values of being raised Catholic were embedded in their minds, and hearts, and souls.
Kate fought through her personal crisis-of-faith and at the other end, she emerged with her faith intact but modified. She gravitated to the Episcopal Church in Bronxville, and till she moved to the city in September she was sometimes joined there with Kerry and Suzanne and they too were welcomed.
The Church to which Eileen had to be gotten-to-on-time in Chappaqua. Now Kate was fretting about whether Eileen would actually get into the Church without the rain ruining her gown and hair. She was on the phone with Alan, who assured her the ushers would be ready with large umbrellas when the limo pulled up, to protect Eileen and the others from the biblical storm—which gave Kate a moment’s pause about whether a marriage in a non-Catholic church might not have been the best of ideas—that threatened to continue for the rest of the morning.
We should say who Alan was. He was one of the three men who regularly played tennis with Tom on Sunday mornings at their club, along with Ben and Charlie. All three were at Alan’s doing to Tom what was being done to Eileen a few miles away, albeit without so many items of clothing and with a little, but only a little, less nerve-calming.
Some of Eileen’s angst visited Tom. It came from Wendy, the late, wonderful Wendy, mother to his two children. He spent time in the last week revisiting old photos of the two of them: homecoming games at BC, wedding photos, baby photos. Even photos from her last, horrible months.
The Saturday before, Eileen brought coffee and cake to him in his home office and saw him with photos scattered about the floor and a half-empty shoebox in his lap. She had never seen him like this. She placed the coffee and the plate on his desk and squatted next to him.
“Do you want to talk?”
“I was just doing some reminiscing. I do that now and then, and it’s not about us. Don’t worry. She was so important to me.”
“I know she was.”
“…And to Andi and James. She still is.”
“She always will be. I know that and you know I always want her to be. But I’m long past the point where I thought love was a finite resource. Me, more than anyone, understands that love can go to infinity…and beyond.” He smiled at the cheesy reference.
She stood to wrap her arms around his neck and kiss his hair.
“I brought you coffee and cake. Enjoy. I’ll be downstairs,” then, as she was about to close the door he said, “leave it open. I’ll be down in a little bit.”
She chided him, “make sure you pick all this up and put it away and, yeah, I do love you.”
“I know….And I love you back. I’ll be down….Thanks for the coffee and cake,” this last bit echoing in the hall as she was halfway down the stairs.
Things are happening pretty quickly here as the bride and the groom are doing their final preparations. To the question how-did-Kate-end-up-setting-up-the-wedding?, the answer requires some explanation.
Five days after Mary and Betty got married in June, Kate returned to California. She made some major decisions en route. The lack of clarity she felt on her way to New York was a crystal-clear view on the trip from New York.
While in New York, she called William, her husband. When his reaction to her bubbling over about Suzanne and Kerry and Eileen and the rest was “they’ve just brainwashed you,” she decided it best to discuss it further only in person. She next called him the day before her trip to San Francisco, giving details of her flight and saying she had keys and would take a car to the house. That it was her “home” was already and inevitably slipping from her.
Her flight landed just after one on Thursday afternoon and she was through the door in Mill Valley by two-thirty. Away for barely over a week, she was shocked at how disheveled things were. If she was ever away with her husband in the house, it was only a few times for a day or two. Now it looked like she imagined a frat house would. This was not helping her mood. She spent an hour loading the dishwasher, putting on laundry, and placing the recyclables strewn about, including the pile of unread newspapers, still in their home-delivery bags, in their proper receptacles.
After texting him from JFK when she was boarding, confirming that she was coming, she had not followed up, and he had not asked.
When the worst of the house was handled and her luggage in what had been (but no longer was) Suzanne’s room, Kate took a long, hot shower. In just a towel and with an apprehension that surprised her, she went into the master and found underwear and casual pants and a white polo, and she took them to Suzanne’s room, where she dressed.
She did not bother to dry her hair. It was early, not yet five, but she fixed herself a gin-and-tonic and went into the living room to wait. She pulled out her phone and scrolled through the many photos now on it, of her with Suzanne and Suzanne and Kerry and…just an abundance of happy memories placed on a phone where none had been until the two photos taken at the Hans Christian Andersen statue in Central Park.
She hit speed dial “3” and told Suzanne she was at the house and waiting for “your father.” Suzanne simply said, “good luck” and “let me know how it goes.” At which point Kerry grabbed the phone. “She’s trying to be calm and not doing a good job of it. And I love you Mother” and a moment later it was Suzanne saying, “I love you too so good luck and call us whatever time it is. We’re not going to sleep until we hear from you.”
“I love you both. I promise to call.”
They hung up, and Kate smiled and continued reminiscing through her photos.
Kate was still on New York time and dozed off. William woke her.
“Welcome home. Can I get you something?” It was about seven-thirty. His voice was more tentative than she was used to, though he tried to make it cheerful.
“I’m tired and I’m hungry,” she told him, “but we need to talk now.”
“I’m getting a drink. Do you want a refill?” He pointed to her empty glass. She shook her head. When he returned with a glass of his favorite single-malt, neat, he sat next to her on the sofa. This made her uncomfortable and she got up to sit on a wing chair. He removed his jacket, loosened his tie, and unbuttoned his collar.
She had rehearsed this.
“We were wrong.
“You know I love you but we were wrong, and we almost ruined everything. I see that now.
“Kerry’s mother—Kerry is Suzanne’s fiancée—” He visibly recoiled at the word. “She called out of the blue. It was the most upsetting call I ever received. That coffee stain on the kitchen wall, which I cleaned, was my reaction to her, her name is Eileen Neally, calling to gloat that her daughter was supposedly engaged to Suzanne. Eric thought something terrible happened to me. And it did.
“She talked me into going to New York, as you know. I really thought the mother was a witch when I got there, sitting there with your sister and her, this mother’s fiancé. Then one by one they left me sitting in the restaurant. After showing me pictures of how happy Suzanne was with Kerry. I sat there alone and went to my hotel and then to a church near the hotel.
“And, William, I prayed. As hard as I could, I prayed. I spoke to God.” She was leaning forward, tears beginning at the memory. He did not move, his glass slightly rolling in his hand.
“I was not weak. I was alive. William. How could our God condemn our daughter? How? She is what she is. Mary is what she is.
So I called the mother the next day, and I met with her. I begged her to let me see Suzanne again. I promised her that I would accept her. And she let me meet her daughter, Kerry, the girl Suzanne is going to marry.” He flinched yet again at a word his wife used.
“And I begged Kerry to let me meet with Suzanne. Begged her. Told her how sorry I was for everything. I was in their house. Our Suzanne’s little house in the suburbs. And then I walked with her, Kerry, to the train station. I saw the train approach. I didn’t know what to do.”
By this point, Kate was alone in her tale, William as impassive as ever. She was reliving the wonderful moments.
“Then she was there. I never saw her so, I don’t know, distant. She didn’t know I was there until an hour before, when Kerry called her. I thought she might hate me. But then and the next day, she was Suzanne again, and I was her mother. We walked around and I told her, without qualification or hesitation, that I accepted her as she was. If my God did not like it, I would just have to find one who did.”
William slammed his glass down. The noise like a thunderclap in the room’s silence.
What she said did not move him. He recognized that his wife was altered and he knew this meant she had been led to change. He knew by whom. His sister. He revisited that Thanksgiving when she got her tentacles around Suzanne. He knew all about the two’s lunch the next day. He knew how they regularly spoke. He knew that she induced her to go east for law school and not stay at Stanford.
He did not blame Suzanne. He tried to raise her properly and failed. She was tempted and failed.
He did not tell this to Kate. Still, she sensed it. She once thought much the same, even after she was in New York.
“William,” she interjected, “I glossed over some things. Before I met her, I thought Eileen was a mean, nasty, vengeful bitch and after I met her I thought she was a mean, nasty, vengeful bitch. And I told her so. I let her know that I blamed Mary for what happened to Suzanne. She did not try to convince me otherwise. She convinced me that whatever she was did not matter and that what mattered was Suzanne. She convinced me to examine my beliefs and try to square them with who Suzanne is. It is not Mary or anyone who made her who she is. It is God.”
William, still impassive, took another sip.
“Here’s the ultimatum I received and I pass it on to you. And only you can address it.”
And it was put to him: Your God or your daughter.
He rose, re-buttoned his collar, and tightened his tie. Taking a final swig from his glass, he put it down then he grabbed his jacket, wallet, phone, and keys and went to get something to eat. He had not said a word since he first sat down with his Scotch.
The call was answered before the second ring.
“It’s done.” That was Kate. “He needs the space and time that I needed. I planted the seed. That’s all I can do. Now we wait.”
“Mother.” Now Suzanne. “It is his decision. I know it will be hard. He needs to know that if he wants to speak to me, I will.”
He made his decision. He did not call Suzanne, but he made his decision.
He proved a worthy heir to his parents’ beliefs. The vagaries of the flesh were not his concern. He had done what he could to protect his daughter’s soul. He failed. He had done what he could to protect his wife’s soul. He had failed. Perhaps he could salvage Eric’s. Perhaps not. But he would try. And he would try to salvage those of his wife and his daughter. He did not know how, but he was obligated to try.
The Sunday after Kate returned to Mill Valley, she did not go to Mass. He went, sitting in his usual pew, assuring those who asked that “Kate has not been feeling well since her trip to New York,” which was, to William’s mind, true. He thanked those who asked him to let her know that they hoped she would feel better soon.
So that Sunday afternoon, Kate, who had slept in Suzanne’s room since her return, expected she would get his answer. She again sat in the living room, with a gin-and-tonic, and waited. The front door opened. He was home and sat on the sofa. She made sure to be in a wing chair to avoid having to get up as she had a few days earlier.
“You need to understand, Kate, that we are all being tested. I understand that. You need to. Suzanne needs to. I am here to help you understand that. Your family”—by which he meant Kate’s parents and brothers and sisters—“are here to help you.” Kate was so entwined with the people in New York that she neglected her family in California, and she should have realized that William would reach out to them. They, as expected, took his side, or most of them did, an observation that troubled her. It had become about “sides” and not about faith. William was playing a game and he wanted to win. He wanted to do what he thought was right by her soul, and Suzanne’s, but in part he did not want to lose. It was part of him she enjoyed when they were allies, but it frightened her now that they weren’t, and especially now that it concerned her daughter.
Kate would not lose her baby again. She had lost two children through miscarriages she could not control. She would not lose her lone living, breathing daughter. It was something she had control over, knowing, too, that her lone breathing, living son could be lost too if Suzanne was. At that moment, in response to her husband’s sermon, she knew what she had to do.
She was surprised. The bile that came up when she first spoke to Eileen and when she first met Eileen was absent. There was no need to fling her glass across the room and let the gin and the tonic splatter the wall. There was no need to rush out and drive for hours along the Pacific.
“William,” she calmly began, “I do not need help. I do not need redemption. I have been redeemed.”
With that, she got up and walked upstairs to call her daughters and her sisters, the ones in New York. She knew she would need to speak individually with her parents and each of her siblings. For now, though, it was Suzanne and Kerry and Eileen and Mary who had to be called.
Kate was on the six-forty flight to JFK the next morning, after again sleeping in Suzanne’s room. The early departure was no problem; she barely slept. When she arrived at about three-thirty she was met by Suzanne and Kerry, who somehow wrangled yet more time away from their respective jobs. “Maybe,” Kate said to them after hugs, “I can get a job where you work. I’d never have to go in.”
The two girls took a cab from the city and now they hopped in one to head up to Tuckahoe. It took some time to get to the cab, though, since their Mother had checked a large suitcase in. “Just essentials,” she said, “I’ve shipped a load of stuff.”
Kate had a fair bit of things at Mary and Betty’s place. She had only brought a carry-on when she first came to New York and after realizing she’d be staying for a while had hit some stores to bolster her wardrobe.
Over the next week, Kate spoke to her parents and her two brothers and two sisters. Her conversations with her parents and her brothers, Devlin and Edward, were brief; they merely told Kate that they understood that she was under a lot of strain with Suzanne gone and that they would be happy to see her when she came “home” and that they would be “praying for you and Suzanne” until then. Her sister Debbie was pretty much the same.
Things were different with Elizabeth, the youngest in the family and married to Phil Windsor with three kids in high school. They had never been close in part because Lizzie was her family’s “free spirit” as Mary had been in William’s. Lizzie listened to everything that Kate said and simply responded, “I know it’s hard for you Kate but I love you and I love Suzanne so I’ll be there for you for whatever you need.”
When Suzanne heard this, she called Lizzie and discovered yet another aunt she never really knew, as had happened with Mary. They promised to, and did, keep in touch, and Lizzie and Phil were guests at Suzanne’s wedding, Kerry whispering after the ceremony, “now we know where we’re staying if we visit California.”
It was embarrassing. William Nelson was at one of his firm’s parties for summer associates. It was in the San Francisco apartment of one of his partners, offering a great view over the Golden Gate. It was a party where one’s spouse was expected to attend, and several spouses of other partners were there. Kate Nelson was not.
William had followed in his father’s footsteps: Stanford, Stanford Law. His father died with his mother in a car accident about twenty years before, when they were in their early fifties. William, now fifty-two, worked his way up to partner in one of San Francisco’s top Big Law firms, one that had seen and developed ties to growing Silicon Valley firms before most of the others did, and he was part of the group that developed and worked those relationships. He worked very hard and he was among the most-respected technology-lawyers in the country. He did very well for himself, and his family.
Things at home, though, were in turmoil. His daughter went to Stanford undergrad but had defied family tradition to go to Columbia for law school. Eric wanted nothing to do with Stanford, and he was going to Yale in the fall. Worse, Suzanne dropped out of law school after her first year and was now working for a start-up firm in Manhattan and blamed him and his wife for everything that had gone wrong for her.
William—suffering the trials of a modern-day Job—was also dealing with the fact that his wife of nearly twenty-five years left him. Out of the blue, she flew to New York, met a bunch of people and ultimately their daughter, came home and confronted him, and then, whoosh, she too moved to New York. His sister and his daughter were gay and Mary, the former, just got married and Suzanne, the latter, was engaged to a woman.
Thus, when people at the party asked, “Where’s Kate?” William punted, “something came up and she couldn’t make it,” and when people asked him about Suzanne he lied and said that she was happy at school and loved working for a New York firm after completing her second year.
Kate’s leaving had only begun to set it. They were simpatico since they met and after giving birth to Suzanne she easily slipped into her role as a stay-at-home mother, working hard on doing local charity work. They were there for one another when Kate had her miscarriages. They both shared a calling, finding security and peace in their faith and in their certainty about things. They were both raised Catholic, and they raised Suzanne and Eric to be true Catholics, although William and Kate spoke often over concerns that their children had drifted away from the true faith and were at best treating their religion, so central to their parents’ lives, as an afterthought, considered only when convenient.
Even after Suzanne quit law school after her first year, Kate and William thought it was caused by the confusion she faced by having left California for the first time, compounded, again, by Mary’s pernicious influence. Surely Suzanne would return to her true family and to her true faith. And she would be greeted, as the prodigal son was, with open hearts and minds. She could probably transfer her first year at Columbia Law and start up her second at Stanford and then follow the trail William and his own father established.
Something, though, happened some weeks before the cocktail party. Out of nowhere, something upset Kate. She told him that there was this woman, the mother of one of Suzanne’s law-school friends, who claimed to care for Suzanne and who taunted Kate about losing her daughter forever. Kate, in desperation, had agreed to go to New York to rescue Suzanne, to break her free of those who had confused her. To get her to come home. They agreed, did Kate and William, that the important thing was to convince Suzanne to return, that Kate had to do what she could to meet alone with Suzanne.
Kate went. And neither she nor Suzanne came back. Sure, Kate showed up and confronted him about it, demanding that he, as she had, turn his back on something fundamental to his existence. He would not do that, and now she was gone. He knew, from what Kate had told him that Eric was likely to go too.
At that moment, at that cocktail party, William was numb. He knew that his task, his crusade, was to bring them back. He was a good lawyer. He would figure it out.
For her part, after returning to New York, Kate had no idea what would happen. With Mary and Betty married and about to return from their honeymoon, Suzanne and Kerry convinced her to move into what had been Kerry’s old room in Tuckahoe. They, unlike Mary, who worked from home, would be out on weekdays and Kate was, after all, Suzanne’s Mother, and it was not fair that she impose on her sister-in-law and her bride. And there was still some residual bad-blood between Kate and her sister-in-law, though both denied it.
That agreed upon, and the things of Kate’s that were at Mary’s being moved, Kate took Betty to dinner. Kate had credit cards but did not know whether they would be canceled. In any case, she had no ready cash—all of her money was in joint accounts with William—and if she were to be independent she had to find a job. Betty was not only a psychologist but she was the only neutral among the inner circle into which Kate had entered.
The two worked out a strategy. Kate had not done paid work for a while, since she had Suzanne, but she had worked regularly over the past twenty-four years. She was, in fact, the de facto (and unpaid) CEO of her Mill Valley parish’s outreach and charitable programs. She had a degree from Berkeley and worked in the financial industry before quitting to raise her family. She knew many people in the San Francisco area and identified ten women to whom she felt close and with whom she worked. She and Betty agreed that they were the place to start.
On the day after the holiday, July 5, she started dialing. She figured that while her absence from Church on the prior two Sundays—the first when she was in New York, the second when she felt going would be wrong—was noticed, her friends would not have been suspicious, assuming that she was either out of town or ill. She was sending sorry-I’ll-get-back-to-you texts to those who called. She had to be careful. She did not want things to blow out of control with her friends. She felt an obligation to be truthful to them, or at least some of them, eventually. Just not yet.
The pitch was simple and accurate as far as it went. The kids were grown—Eric just graduated high school and was headed to Yale and Suzanne was already in New York—so it was a chance for Kate to have a new adventure with her children, with William well able to care from herself (“I hope” she said with a prepared feigned-laugh). So Kate could do with a job. She and Betty understood that the need for a paying job might raise flags with some but it was unavoidable. Might they have contacts with anyone in New York who might know of something, given how “you”—the friend on the other end of the line—“are familiar with my work”?
Most of those she spoke to wished her well and were sorry she went east but had no connections. Three, however, did. Two grew up in New York and went to college in the east and a third’s brother moved to New York for a job in publishing.
Kate also reluctantly called the Church rectory. She kept it short and direct. Something had come up with her kids and she had to be in New York for a while. She left too quickly to do it in person, but she had to give up her duties. This was a shock to Monsignor Taylor, who was in nominal charge of the programs, but Kate recommended someone she knew could take her place and promised to provide any assistance, remotely, that she could for a smooth transition. The Monsignor wished her the best and said that he hoped to speak to her again soon and to see her in the not too distant future and that he would pray for her.
Kate did not appreciate how highly her work at the Church was valued. But the three with New York connections managed to get her several people to call and after a series of meetings and interviews, Kate found herself a job. Her first day was August 6. By that point, her story about coming east to be with her kids was widely circulated among and almost universally accepted by her friends in Mill Valley. The job was a mid-level position at a fashion-retail company on Seventh Avenue. She found a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side, in a brownstone, a brownstone very like Meg Ryan’s in “You’ve Got Mail,” steps and all. She moved in on September 1.
In California, while his wife was gone and lining up a job and an apartment in New York, William’s routine changed little. He hired a twice-a-week housekeeper to take over some of the things that his wife had done. He went to work and came home late. Golf at his club on Saturdays, weather permitting; drinks at the Nineteenth Hole when it rained. Mass in Mill Valley on Sundays. Repeat.
His wife’s departure and the turmoil that led to it coincided with something he did on a semi-regular basis. He was a mentor to former associates at the firm and sometimes, usually once or twice a year, had lunches with them. Maya Yang was one. She was an associate in William’s department who left as a sixth-year associate when she was told she would not make partner. She now worked in the general counsel’s office at a small tech firm in San Francisco. He’d seen her in January, and they had a lunch scheduled for July 12.
There was nothing special about her. An attractive Asian-American, she was slightly-built yet tall, with long, straight hair kept as William remembered his daughter kept it. Maya was simply another very smart, very hard-working former associate and their conversations had always been strictly professional. She knew almost nothing about his family, although she recalled seeing his wife at firm functions and knew his daughter was in law school in New York.
When they sat down, it was unusual, his ordering a Scotch. When he spoke, it was out of character. He began with almost a sneer: “You know, I thought my daughter would do what you did.” By which he meant going to law school, working at a San Francisco firm, and making partner or getting a good job at a company in the city.
Maya had no idea what she was supposed to say to this or why he was saying it. She looked at him. He looked at his glass. “I wanted her to stay here but she had to go to New York. Now she’s left law school after first year and is about to marry a woman and my wife has run off to be with her in New York.”
Maya was embarrassed about being there for this but was also struck by how much he trusted her to confide like this. Still, she had no idea what she was supposed to say or do.
“Bill.” He looked up. Shit, she thought, he wants me to provide some insight or comfort. “I’m sure you’ll get together again soon.” That was what she came up with. It did not matter; he was not listening. She was there for him only so there would be someone he could tell this to.
Which, of course, was worlds apart from what Maya thought her purpose, even after he threw a couple of twenties on the table and left, telling her to get herself a nice lunch.
Maya remained briefly but did not order anything and picked up a salad as she walked back to her office. It had been the most bizarre experience of her life. And she was trying to figure out what was so unsettling to him. So his daughter left law school; Maya knew plenty of classmates who did. And his daughter marrying another woman; we are in San Francisco, for god’s sake, a live-and-let-live town, especially for gays. So it was his wife leaving. It must be his wife leaving.
Shortly after the “lunch,” William called Maya to apologize, adding that he trusted that they would keep what he said between the two of them. “Of course.”
She heard nothing from him for two months. She wondered what happened and whether he had gotten through whatever led him to open up. Out of the blue, on a Saturday in early September, he called. He started a monologue. He went to New York to try to “rescue” his daughter. He said he arranged to have a client meeting a few weeks before his daughter was to marry this friend of hers. (This surprised Maya, who thought his wife’s leaving was the source of his crisis.)
The meeting ended, and he went to his daughter’s company. They walked to a nearby park and after they sat down on a bench he told her that he came to take her home. She would not listen. He tried, but “she would not listen to me.” Then she hit him with, “New York is my home now” and then she demanded he accept her being a lesbian and accept her marrying this other woman.
“She turned and walked away and I came home.”
Maya unwisely asked him why he could not just accept his daughter.
“Jesus, Maya, don’t you understand? What she is doing is so wrong and my job is to save her.” When Maya tried to press the issue, he dismissed her with a “you don’t understand. I have to go now” and he hung up.
William did not call for several weeks, but Maya understood he was suffering, though she could not fathom its depths. His silence increased her anxiety about him and her growing affection for him. But then he called on Sunday morning, September 23. “It’s done,” he said. His daughter had married another woman; he saw pictures on Facebook. He asked if he could take Maya for a drive and lunch. A first.
An hour later, the couple was across the Golden Gate Bridge on the way to Bodega Bay in his Tesla. William wore a scarlet Stanford polo-shirt and blue jeans—his paunch more visible than when he wore a suit—and dock-siders. Maya was in black slacks and wore a light blue collarless shirt and flats. Her hair in a ponytail.
They spoke little on the drive up, mostly about work and tech things relevant to their jobs and a bit about her family, just trying to pass the time. Maya was attempting to grasp what the hell was going on. It was big.
For his part, William had a pretty good idea of what the hell was going on. After his wife left in early July, he had what his father had described to him as “urges.” He found himself increasingly exploring the internet for relief. But that was not-quite-satisfactory physically. Now he was sitting near the Pacific having lunch with Maya Yang.
Before ordering a second glass of red, he asked if she would drive them back, and he had the second when she said she would and then he began to hold court, telling her war stories of his early days at his firm.
After they finished, she drove south, the sun about an hour above the horizon. He asked if she had time to stop at his place and she did. It was dusk when she turned into his driveway. He was relaxed but he was not drunk, and she followed him into his house. Once inside, William stepped up and kissed her. She was surprised but pleased as he led her upstairs. He said his bed was a mess and led her into a bedroom across the hall and resumed kissing her, reaching to pull her shirt up and over her head, with her help. She was in her small bra, and he unclasped and removed it. Her nipples were hard, and he caressed her left boob with his soft right hand and she moaned, eyes closed. She could just about see her heart disappearing to him.
He quickly pulled the Stanford polo over his head and resumed his kissing as his hands now undid her belt and unbuttoned her button and she pulled her slacks off after kicking off her flats. Now she was naked except for her panties, and he quickly undid his belt and unbuttoned his button and his trousers were gone with his dock-siders and then he tore his underpants off as she did the same with her panties.
She started to lower herself to engulf him, but he stopped her. He wanted no sideshow. He wanted her, and he pulled the comforter off the bed and folded the blanket and top sheet to the side so he could lower Maya. She positioned herself in the middle and he positioned himself above her and his hands ran up and down her and then he lowered his head and she spread her legs as he reached her shaved pussy and in a moment his tongue was doing she-cared-not-what and she was mouthing she-cared-not-what as her hips began to rock beneath him and her hands ran through his balding hair.
He enjoyed her taste and inhaled her smell but it was not enough. He stopped and raised himself and the panic in her eyes was gone as he asked, “Is it safe?” and to her “I’m on the pill” his dick was suddenly inside her and for the first time, she felt what it was like to be made love to, to be filled by a man, this glorious, brilliant, wonderful, fucked-up man. She could love him. If she did not already.
To call her wet would be an understatement. Her juices, as they say, flowed, and he entered her with not the least resistance. His breathing and his thrusting accelerated, as did hers, and then after his grunt, she found herself filled by his wonderful cum as he exploded again and again. But as suddenly as he began and as quickly as he came, he was gone and she was alone. Frustrated as never before, she reached down and dipped her right fingers into herself and coated them with his seed and lifted them to her lips and tasted him and then she returned those fingers to her pussy and started pumping in-and-out as her left hand started a furious rubbing of her clit until she burst through an orgasm as strong and satisfying as any she ever experienced.
Maya lay there, recovering, waiting for her lover to return and only then, looking around and seeing trophies and Stanford memorabilia, did she realize in whose room it was and it stunned her and then she was stunned further when William appeared at the door, now fully sober and in a robe, and told her he had some work to do and that he would drop her off at the station.
His last words to her, as she got out of his car: “I’m sorry. Goodnight.” She waited twenty minutes for the train to arrive and she felt like a whore.
For his part, William felt nothing. What happened to him…no, what he did seemed inevitable, a train set in motion on the day his wife left him in his house and accelerated on the day his daughter disavowed him in that park in New York. He sat on the sofa where he sat when his wife spit her ultimatum at him in July, the day before she left him. Today was another Sunday, now in September. and he was alone with his single-malt, neat, and his thoughts. He had done it. It had been so easy, and he had done it. Less than a month after congratulating himself in early September about having overcome the temptation to simply accept his daughter, and his sister, he had done something worse than they had done. The sacred vow he made before his God, of fidelity, was smashed, and he feared his faith was in tatters.
William did not go to work on Monday. His secretary rebooked some meetings, and he got on three client-conference-calls but otherwise he just sat, until noon, when he got up and got dressed and walked into Mill Valley and to his Church where he genuflected before kneeling in a pew not far from the altar. His wife had told him about having done something similar in New York and how important it was to her in clarifying herself and her faith. After a minute or so, his knees not being what they once were, he lifted himself and sat. The Church was otherwise empty, with a handful of votive candles flickering on either side. There was a hint of incense in the air, presumably from an earlier funeral. He stared at the large crucifix behind the altar. He spoke to his God and asked for his God’s forgiveness. He had sinned.
He got up and walked to the rectory, asking if a priest was available for his confession and, being recognized, he was told that Father Charles would meet him in the Church and when Father Charles arrived they entered the Confessional and William told Father Charles what he had done the day before. After telling the priest that he regretted it and vowed not to do it again, he received his absolution and God’s forgiveness and he walked home.
On Tuesday morning, he was at work, attending to the things that he had neglected the day before.
Maya Yang did not go to work on Monday either. The night before she stood under the shower for thirty minutes, until the water turned icy. What she did was wrong, but she felt it was inevitable. He selected her to be his confidant, and she accepted him to be her lover. She realized that all the men—boys really—who had been with her fucked her and that she fucked them. No more. No less. William was her first lover and for a brief sliver of her life, she felt complete, the three minutes between when he entered and filled her and when his seed exploded within her womb. She even cherished the moments when he left her to finish herself off, thinking that we would return to lie with her in their bed.
It came crashing down moments after she realized it was his daughter’s bed and when he wanted her to leave as soon as she could, to practically throw her into the street. She wanted it even more. She puked in the train car as it approached the city. By the time her shower water was cold, she thought she was empty of all tears. But they reemerged and carried her into a fitful sleep.
“I’m sorry. Good night.” His last words to her.
By Monday night, she was recovered enough to resume her life. If only she could not have met him for lunch back in July. He would have met someone else and that someone else would be beneath him as he exploded the night before but that someone else would not be her. So Maya moved on, slowly reclaiming her heart.
William partook of the apple and for a day he was cast out but his life quickly resumed its trajectory. His brain really did work in that way. His religion offered him simplicity otherwise absent from his life. The episode with Maya was a test he failed. But his God gave him the chance to be restored and He would not be forsaken. On the following Saturday, he thought again of Maya Yang. He was cruel to her. He did not intend it but that is what it was. He used her. He fucked her. He discarded her and in his darker moments he tried to think of her as a whore but he knew she was not. He sinned against God, he sinned against his wife, and he sinned against Maya Yang. His God forgave him. Maya Yang never would. He had to call his wife.
Kate’s phone read “William.” It was early on Sunday afternoon, just over a week after Suzanne’s wedding. She was relishing memories of it as she sat on the sofa in her apartment reading “Persuasion.” She was staring at her phone. It rang four times before answering with a cold “Yes.”
“Kate, it’s me.”
“I know. What do you want?”
He expected coldness. Hearing it chilled him.
“I need to confess something to you.”
“William, you needn’t confess anything to me anymore. Unless you tell me what you need to say about Suzanne I do not care what you think you—”
“I fucked someone,” he interrupted.
“Do you love her?”
“Of course not. I needed someone and—”
“You needed someone? You’re pitiful. You’re calling me to get absolution. I’m sure your Church has given it to you. But—”
“Kate, just listen for fuck’s sake.” He was angry and desperate, and she knew it.
“Kate…I took her home. She’d been an associate at the firm years ago. She was almost random”—this was not helping his case—“and I did it in Suzanne’s room.” He paused.
Kate was stunned. “Tell me one thing,” she asked. “Did she look like your daughter?”
“She’s Chinese…but maybe a little—”
And those were the last words Kathleen Nelson ever heard from William Nelson.
Sunday, after the call, Kate was sick, retching in the bathroom. All of the earlier happiness drained in an instant. She did not know what she should do. She did not know who she should call. It was still warm, so she just grabbed her purse and headed to Riverside Park, ending up on the greenway overlooking the Hudson and stopping to look across the River. In the few weeks she lived in the city, she learned to enjoy this view and to feel the hundreds of people running and biking and strolling behind her, all oblivious to her turmoil as she was of theirs, and those tending late-summer flowers in the enclosed gardens in the center of the wide path. Like the final scene in “You’ve Got Mail.”
She found no happiness here now. Only despair. Her thoughts did not go to him. There were no open issues there. Her thoughts went to her daughter. Suzanne had told her shortly after William visited her about what happened in Madison Square, and they were both relieved that it was over and that Suzanne had made her terms clear: He must accept her. She did not know now, after the wedding, what to tell Suzanne about what her father had done.
She felt as helpless and as lost as she had been when she came to New York in late June and first confronted Eileen. This thought, though, was a comfort to her. She had climbed out of that hole and she would climb out of this one. The issue was what to tell the others. She realized who she could call, her sister Lizzie, and when the call went to voicemail, she left a brief message, that it was very important.
“Hey, sis. What’s up?” This was twenty minutes after the voicemail. Kate was walking along the Hudson.
“It’s William. He called and confessed to sleeping with someone,” to which Lizzie said it was probably inevitable notwithstanding the whole hypocrisy-thing but she was silent when Kate added, “He did it in Suzanne’s room with someone he admitted looked like Suzanne.”
“I’m sorry, Kate. That is just so fucked up. How did he defend himself?”
“I did not let him. I hung up and never want to see let alone speak to that man again.”
Lizzie knew enough to let her sister alone on this part of things and in the end she was the only person to whom Kate spoke about it. Kate decided she did not want to upset Suzanne and that it was unlikely that William would approach Suzanne given her daughter’s ultimatum and his failure to meet it before the wedding. It would destroy any chance, however unlikely, of a reconciliation with her father. Lizzie agreed.
Lizzie insisted separately on raising the practicalities of Kate and her financial situation and marriage situation. As to the first, she told Kate that at the least she needed money. “It’s all in a joint account, right? So you have to get a lawyer out here to get some of it now, worrying about everything else later. I mean, Kate, he shouldn’t be using your joint money either.”
Kate did not want to get the girls involved, but she called Carol Wright, a guest at the wedding for whom both girls worked, who spoke to her wife, Rachel, who spoke to an English friend who worked in an investment firm who spoke to someone else who worked at that firm and once lived in San Francisco who spoke to a lawyer in San Francisco who handled her house sale who spoke to a colleague who did divorce work and by the end of the day Kate had a name to call in San Francisco. The name was Karen Novack.
Kate called Karen Novack and in three days one million dollars were wired into an account Kate opened for herself in New York, and two thousand dollars were wired into the account each week. This was, Karen told her new client, a preliminary distribution of marital assets. Her husband had similarly been allowed to move one million dollars from the joint accounts into his own and the weekly payments were agreed upon between the lawyers and their clients. The two million removed from the joint accounts was a small portion of what was there, but it was enough to distribute until final distributions were agreed to or ordered by a court.
Kate had not decided whether to start a divorce proceeding. Such a thing was, of course, anathema to her former faith, but she was no longer absolutely opposed to it. Particularly given what happened between William and that woman in Suzanne’s room.
Of course, the money meant a couple of things. Most important, Kate did not have to stay at her job. It paid the bills, but it was well beneath the work she had been doing in Mill Valley.
It also meant that she could give the girls a proper wedding-gift. It had tremendous sentimental value for her daughter, and for Annie, but the Camry, its California plates long traded in for New York ones, was getting a bit long in the tooth. It would still be nice for the city-folk—Kate and Annie—to use every once in a while but Suzanne and Kerry should have something sturdier. So three weeks after the wedding, Kate insisted on going for a drive with her daughters and she got Eileen to pick her up in Bronxville before they picked up the girls. Eileen and Kate sat in the front and the newlyweds in the back as they drove to a car dealership and when the quartet walked in a manager walked up to the newlyweds and asked, “The Neallys I presume” and the Neallys (junior division) looked at each other in shock and were told by Kate that she arranged for them to have any car they wanted, “tax and license included.” Which ended up being a “Cool Gray Khaki” Subaru Crosstrek, to be picked up in a week. When Eileen said (outside the girls’ hearing) she wanted to pay half, Kate ended that discussion by pointing out that (i) she had a boatload of money, (ii) the girls were living in Eileen’s house, and (iii) “I owe them so much.”
And perhaps getting ahead of ourselves, Kate quit her job, began working for the Episcopal Charities in its New York office—it was not a lot but she was being paid—and on January 2, 2019, instructed Karen Novack to file on her behalf a petition for dissolution of marriage in a California c Court. In the end, she and William (through their attorneys) agreed to a fifty-fifty split of their assets, after an agreed-upon third-party appraised the non-financial assets, with a trust established to pay for Eric’s remaining years at Yale and three years of grad school for him.
On August 1, 2019, Kate was no longer married in the eyes of the law. She would always be married in the eyes of the Catholic Church, but that no longer mattered to her. She did agree, though, to cooperate with William insofar as he sought an annulment from his Church. As for him, he became a regular at the gatherings of his wife’s parents and siblings—all except Lizzie and the rest of the Windsors of course—and they commiserated with him about the unfairness and inappropriateness and evil of all he was put through. And the calls and the Christmas cards to Kate from California were no more. Except from Lizzie and her family.
But, of course, that last bit was the unhappy ending of a marriage.
We return to the more happy beginnings of one. That would begin with:
The Wedding of Eileen Susan Neally and Thomas Edward Doyle at 11:00 am on November 10, 2018 at St. Mary the Virgin Church Chappaqua, New York
Kate was taking care of everything, as we said. She planned for rain—the weather being outside of even Kate’s power—and so two ushers were standing at the entrance to the Church waiting for the limo to stop and for the limo’s contents to disembark.
Back to the Chappaqua Spread at about nine-forty-five on Saturday, November 10, 2018. Andi, Suzanne, Kerry, and Kate got Eileen into her gown and did her make-up for her, her hair taken care of the day before. Eileen was, objectively speaking, the most beautiful bride any of them had ever seen. Kate—Kate!—began to cry and the youngsters looked on in amazement as she and Eileen hugged. Eileen ended the trance with “it’s time” and the five went downstairs to await the carriage that would take her to the church.
It was not a carriage, of course, but a black limo and Kate had plugged some nerves/hugging time into her schedule so when it appeared out front at ten-thirty for the short trip to the Church, they were ready and making liberal use of the umbrellas Eileen and the three girls carefully got in back and Kate followed in the girls’ new car.
Weddings themselves tend to be pretty standard fare and this one was no exception. James stood with his father and Kerry with her mother. Eileen walked down the aisle alone, following Andi and Suzanne. St. Mary’s was full, largely with members of Tom’s (and now Eileen’s) Chappaqua crowd as well as relatives, including some of Eileen’s and her late husband Michael’s siblings and their families, and work colleagues, and assorted friends.
One person was noticeably absent from the Church’s nave. Eric Nelson was in the choir loft. He had volunteered to play the music at the ceremony and savored the chance to try out his piano skills on St. Mary’s pipe-organ. Early arrivals were greeted by a hodgepodge of jazz and rock and, of course, Bach. He was not alone. Sitting on the organ’s bench with him was Lynn Billings, who had accompanied Eric at Kerry and Suze’s wedding. Eric played the requisite in/during/out music as well as some improvised interludes, with Lynn’s angelic voice echoing through the Church.
Vows and rings were exchanged, the reverend pronounced, the bride and groom kissed, and the happy couple left, after some out-front picture-taking, for the reception at their club.
The reception too was nothing out of the ordinary. Eileen was amused when Simon Douglas, who of course was invited, came to her and after pointing at Tom said, “I could understand losing you to a doctor or a lawyer but to a risk-assessment guy?” and after Tom said, “Hey!” Eileen noted, “He has a lawyer and a doctor in the family so I have all the bases covered,” and Simon ended it all by tightly hugging the bride and assuring her, truthfully, that he was incredibly happy for her and shaking Tom’s hand and saying, truthfully, that he was incredibly jealous of him.
After the dessert plates were cleared and the coffee poured, Eric sat at the club’s Steinway and Lynn stepped up to a microphone and the room quieted. Eric, playing what Jerome Kern wrote, lightly rolled an Ebmaj9 chord then a passing D in the bass to a Cm9 and a G bass note to Fm9 and a C in the bass to Bb9 and then he paused, a low Bb hovering over the otherwise silent room.
With a barely perceptible nod between the two, Eric played a new Emaj9 and Lynn began, slowly but firmly breathing Dorothy Fields’s words:
Some day, when I’m awfully low,
When the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you.
And the way you look tonight.
At which point the band’s bassist and drummer joined and Tom led his bride—neither of them having made the song selection, leaving the choice to Eric and Lynn—to the dancefloor and they took a turn about it and most—but not all, this is the suburbs after all—of the couples in the room gave an extra squeeze to their love’s hand and many, including Mary & Betty and Kerry & Suzanne, joined them. Two guests sans dates—Kate and Simon—sat at Kate’s otherwise empty table and talked.
And then, as it was late, the bride and the groom rose to leave, the bouquet was tossed (caught by we-will-not-say), and with kisses and hugs and fond farewells, the happy couple were off to the airport for a honeymoon in Paris, and those left behind gathered their belongings and went home. Except for Eric and Lynn, who could not resist the chance to play on and sing along with the Steinway until being told by the club manager that the lights were about to be turned off. And except for Kerry and Suzanne, who had waited into the night to take care of Suzanne’s baby brother and someone who had all the hallmarks of being the love of his life and who, this being Kerry and Suzanne, did not waste the extra time, spending it in an alcove off the ballroom until hearing the final notes of Eric’s playing and Lynn’s singing.
Kate. She was also there, sitting off to the side where she could watch and hear her son and his own love and happier than she had ever been.
As the five—Eric, Lynn, and Kate squeezed in the back, Kerry and Suzanne in the front—drove from the reception, Suzanne thought that as Tolstoy never said but Austen probably thought, all weddings are the same but all happy couples are happy in their own way.