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We left the train and were escorted to our awaiting cars, one for Harry and me and one for our trunks—packed to the brim for the summer months ahead. I looked up at the Manor on the hill and saw it for the first time, silhouetted against the deep orange early evening sky.
As we drove up the tight and winding road, tree branches reached overhead toward each other like lovers’ hands desperate to connect, and then the road suddenly opened up and I gasped. It was just as it had looked in the brochure, but bigger, grander, even more magnificent than I could have imagined—a Tudor façade with turrets and spires, more reminiscent of a vast and dignified English castle than a beach town hotel.
Harry put his hand on my knee and squeezed. “I told you you’d like it here.”
“Oh, you were right, darling; I can already tell I’m going to fall in love with this place.”
Several other couples had taken the same train from the city as Harry and I, and a caravan of cars followed behind us. We entered through the carved wooden doors and as I looked around the grand lobby, which seemed to extend for miles with its enormous exposed wooden beams, stone flooring and three oversized fireplaces, I felt like a guest at the palace.
“Mr. and Mrs. Bordeaux, welcome to The Montauk Manor. We are so pleased you’ll be staying with us for the summer,” the front desk clerk said. “I see this is your first time.”
“First time in Montauk, actually,” I said. “Some of our friends have been summering here for the last few years and we’ve heard such wonderful things.”
“It certainly is the place to be.” She smiled sweetly as if she were right off one of the posters I’d seen around Manhattan advertising the beach town. “Tomorrow night’s the first soirée of the summer; it will be here in the grand lobby.”
“We wouldn’t miss it, would we, Beatrice?”
“Not a chance.” A jazz band played quietly at the other end of the room and I could already feel myself getting into the swing of things.
“Please arrange for the butler to deliver our luggage and unpack our belongings while we dine,” Harry said.
“Of course.” She nodded, handed us our keys and had us escorted up to our room.
* * *
Harry and I first talked about Montauk that April during a pre-show dinner at Barbetta’s, our favorite Italian restaurant, behind the Metropolitan Opera House. We were seated at our usual table under the great chandelier when he’d snapped his menu shut. He said he had a surprise for me, then told me we’d be spending the whole summer in Montauk—or rather I would. Harry would stay in the city during the week and take the new express train out to join me on the weekends.
I resisted at first. We’d already agreed on three weeks in Providence, together, it was all planned and I’d been so looking forward to spending time with Harry, just the two of us, away from the hectic, overheated city and his busy work life.
“Cancel it. We’ll try something new this year,” he’d said, taking a swig of his drink. “It will be good for us, Beatrice, a change, a fresh start. You said we needed that, remember?”
He was right, of course. I had said that. He handed me a brochure and I looked at the illustration on the cover: The Montauk Manor was the focal point and pictured below it were men and women engaging in various leisurely activities: fishing, golf, archery, swimming, tennis, horseback riding. One man, or woman, I wasn’t quite sure, was in flight gear. They certainly made it seem that anything was possible. Far in the background a lighthouse stood proudly at the very tip of the island, surrounded by seagulls.
“What will I do all summer long?” I’d asked. “Most women who summer at their vacation home have children to entertain and nannies to help them, and friends with children. What reason do I have to be in Montauk for twelve weeks?”
“What reason do you have to be in the city?”
His quick response felt sharp. Feelings of futility came gushing to the surface and I felt my cheeks burn red.
“Well, I could work again,” I’d said, quietly, turning the stem of my glass, making small ripples in the cream-colored tablecloth. But Harry told me, once again, that it wasn’t appropriate for someone like me.
“We’ve already discussed this, Beatrice. You’re not a college girl anymore, or a farm girl for that matter. You’re a Bordeaux now and you should be proud of that.” He reached over the table and placed his hand on mine. “And it’s my job to take care of you now, to support you; don’t rob me of that, sweetheart.”
Something in me hesitated and I couldn’t quite tell why. I looked at the illustration again; everyone had a look of strange detachment, each person lost in his own world. Of course it would be a treat to summer all season long; who wouldn’t want that? But to be away from my husband four nights of the week left me uneasy. A tiny voice in my head told me it was a precarious situation, and suddenly that was the only voice I could hear.
* * *
We dined at the Manor’s seafood restaurant that first night in Montauk. The ceilings were high and the sound of laughter, chatter and clinking wineglasses mingled in the air and made me excited for our adventure ahead.
“Harry, let’s explore the town tomorrow and maybe even take a boat out; wouldn’t that be fun?”
“Not tomorrow, sweetheart, I’ve got archery, remember?”
“Oh,” I sighed, and looked at the menu. Local fluke, striped bass, lobster. “You know, now that I think of it, I remember my brother mentioning the name Montauk years ago.”
“Why would your brother have known anything about Montauk? It wasn’t even a destination to visit until a few years ago.”
“I remember him telling me it was a little fishing town all the way out on the tip of Long Island and that he wanted to go there sometime to fish for bass.” I looked out the window; just the mention of him made my chest tighten. I focused on an elderly waiter putting all his effort into opening a window on the far side of the room that looked out into the night sky. I had the urge to get up and help him. Eventually he wrestled it open and I felt relieved by the cool, crisp ocean air on my bare arms.
“Darling, I don’t know why you bring up the topic of your brother; you get upset every time,” Harry admonished.
The next instant he started waving madly at a couple walking into the restaurant and insisted that they join us. “It’s Dr. and Mrs. Sanders,” he said in a whisper as they approached. “He knows a lot of people.”
It was quite an ordeal for the restaurant manager and another waiter to move a table next to ours so we could sit together and I wasn’t entirely sure the other couple was as enthusiastic as Harry about the arrangement, but he was insistent.
“So what do you think of this place?” Dr. Sanders asked once we were situated. “Pretty great, isn’t it?”
“It looks lovely,” I said, “though we haven’t had a chance to take it all in yet; we just arrived.”
“We summered here last year,” Mrs. Sanders said, touching my arm. “The swimming pool is beautiful—you’ll be spending a lot of time there, I’m sure, but wait until you see the beach and the boardwalk, it extends for more than half a mile along the ocean, oh, and the yacht club, it’s perfect, it really is, such a wonderful escape from the city.”
“We’re so lucky,” I said.
Harry lit a cigarette. “Have you put any money into this town yet, Doc?”
“Not yet, but I’m considering. We have a few properties in Miami, so I don’t know if it makes sense to invest in all of Fisher’s schemes. But I heard you’re going in big—I’m impressed.”
“With the way things are going,” Harry said in a hushed voice, “now’s the right time to buy in.”
Dr. Sanders nodded. I tried to catch Harry’s eye so he’d let me in on what he was discussing, but he looked into his martini, swirled it, then gulped the rest of it down.
Back in the bedroom I looked around, opened the drawers and the cupboards and marveled at the attention to detail. The hand-carved drawer pulls, the soft cotton bedsheets trimmed with lace. Harry sat on the end of the bed and untied his shoelaces.
“I don’t want you to leave on Sunday,” I said. “I’m going to miss you.”
“Well, what if I get lonely?” I said.
“Beatrice, you’ll be a mother one day and then you’ll have your hands full and you won’t have the luxury of time to lounge and relax.”
I nodded, my expression turned serious. I was trying to remain hopeful that we would be blessed with a child sometime in the near future, but the same old fear and questioning about why it hadn’t happened yet came rushing back. The thought of being around all the women during the week with their children at the beach and the pool, teaching them to play tennis and build sandcastles, made me feel rather melancholy. Most likely I’d be the only one of childbearing age without a child to care for and everyone would be asking why I wasn’t in the family way. My stomach clenched and I suddenly found it hard to swallow.
“But Harry, I’m not a mother yet.”
“You’ll get in with the women. It’s good for business. You’ll make friendships here and then back in the city we’ll be invited to dinner parties where I’ll forge business relationships.”
“I hardly think that my making friends will lead to any business,” I said.
He shrugged. “It’s how my mother and father always worked, as a partnership, and it turned out pretty damn well.”
The mention of his mother made me cringe a little—I had never really fit with the Bordeaux family and they knew that as well as I did.
Of course we’d been to all the parties and we’d hosted lots of dinners and I’d done my best to play the part of the perfect companion, but the idea that Harry and I could be more than just a married couple was compelling, that I could somehow be beneficial to his business gave me a sense of purpose and direction, a feeling that had been hampered since we’d married. I twisted the band of my ring.
“Say, Harry, what was that talk with Dr. Sanders about buying into Montauk, and now being the right time?”
“Nothing for you to worry about.”
“No, really, I’m interested. If you want me to be more involved with your business life then you must keep me informed.”
He took off his jacket and unhooked his suspenders. “Look, Beatrice, I wasn’t going to tell you about this yet, not until I had more information, but there’re a few of us who are very seriously considering investing out here.”
“Really? But you’ve barely even seen the place. Is that why you wanted to come here, for an investment?”
“It’s the real thing, Beatrice. We could be sitting on a gold mine if we are smart about it.”
“Who was the Fisher guy you mentioned?”
“You met at the horse races last summer.”
“I don’t recall.”
“Sure you do. Dapper fellow, a bit of an oddball. Carl Fisher, an eccentric dresser. When War Admiral won the Triple Crown and we all stayed until the wee hours dancing on the grass.”
“I remember the night, but I don’t recall meeting anyone named Carl Fisher.”
“It doesn’t matter, but he’s the one who turned thousands of acres of unpopulated, unwanted mangrove swamp into Miami Beach. You couldn’t give that land away before he took an interest in it, and now his fortune is made.”
I sat down on the bed next to him.
“He convinced the entire East Coast that it was America’s greatest winter playground, and he was right. After Miami he set his sights on Montauk. Same thing, nothing was here, just a rural wilderness, cattle roaming the hills and a tiny fishing village.”
“So he’s the one who put up all those posters around the city, Montauk in the Summer, Miami in the Winter; he wants wealthy New Yorkers to spend their money in both of his worlds,” I said.
“Exactly. He brought his construction crew from Miami and built his dream—a yacht club, a bathing club, polo fields, a golf course, prime hunting, a ranch, and this place, the Manor, is his centerpiece, a two-hundred-room castle by the sea.”
I laughed. “I suppose it is.”
“There are glass-enclosed tennis courts, a beach club and a fantastic swimming pool looking out on to the beach—you heard Mrs. Sanders rave about it.”
“You don’t even swim,” I said, hearing it come out sharper than I’d intended.
Harry stood up and went into the bathroom. “Fine, but you do.”
“Darling, it sounds spectacular, I can’t wait to see it all and I am not disagreeing with you,” I called through the doorway, “but it doesn’t sound like there’s much to invest in if Mr. Fisher has done all this work already.”
“Well, that’s the thing.” Harry leaned his head out of the bathroom with a toothbrush sticking out of his mouth.
“What’s the thing?”
“He’s done all this work, well, a lot of it, but there’re still some things that are not finished. He’s designed and built up this glamorous, luxurious town and now he’s broke.”
“Broke, broke, broke.” Harry hit the doorframe hard and loudly three times as he said it, grinning. He turned and I heard him spit into the sink; then he reemerged, suddenly perked up.
“Remember that hurricane that hit Miami? It devastated the place and it needed a massive rebuild, which cost him an absolute fortune,” Harry said, grinning. “He’d already lost a lot of his money in stocks and he’d put the rest of his money into Montauk.”
“So you and your friends will just swoop in and take over?”
“Beatrice, don’t you see what I’m saying? He needs people like me to come in and save him so he doesn’t go under completely. We’re going to help him. And you, my darling, by staying out here for the summer and getting to know Montauk, you’ll be an asset to me. We could be spending a lot of time here in the future; it’s important to me that you like it.” He took my face in his hands and he kissed me. “I want you to be with me on this, Beatrice, in every way; can you do that for me?”
It was the first time I’d heard him say something like that in years, not since we first kept steady company and he had big plans for us.
“I can.” I smiled. Perhaps he was right; maybe Montauk would be good for us after all.
Something about the way Harry spoke to me that first night in Montauk gave me hope. We’d been married for five years, but the last year or two had been difficult. I’d felt him pull away, distance himself from me, and I’d seen his eyes wander. But that night it was as if he wanted to come back to me fully, as if he wanted me to be an important part of his life again, for us to go back to the way we were when we first married, when it seemed that nothing mattered more than me and him. We were in love again. I felt this so strongly that I agreed to everything he proposed.
I had his undivided attention for the first time in months and was sure something between us had changed. I slept in his arms that night and convinced myself we had turned a corner. I grasped at the possibility of a transformation, a shift, however small or insignificant, a new place for the summer, a new sense of partnership, something, anything different from our last year of marriage where I’d always felt he was just beyond my reach. A new beginning, I thought. I hoped.
Copyright © 2019 by Nicola Harrison