The Matchmaker


by Elin Hilderbrand

Part 1

Dabney

Dabney couldn’t believe it. She blinked twice, thinking she no longer had the eyes of a girl or even a young woman, thinking she hadn’t been feeling well lately, and was this a trick of her mind? Twenty-seven years later? Subject line: Hello.

Dabney Kimball Beech, who had served as the director of the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce for twenty-two years, was in her second-floor office, overlooking historic, cobblestoned Main Street. It was late April, the Friday morning of Daffodil Weekend, Dabney’s second-most-important weekend of the year, and the forecast was a springtime fantasy. It was sixty degrees and sunny today and would be sixty-four and sunny on Saturday and Sunday.

Dabney had just checked the weather for the fifth time that day, the five thousandth time that week (the year before, Daffodil Weekend had been ruined by a late-season snowstorm), when the e-mail from Clendenin Hughes appeared in her in-box.

Subject line: Hello.

“Oh my God,” Dabney said.

Dabney never swore, and rarely took the Lord’s name in vain (thanks to cayenne pepper administered to her ten-year-old tongue by her devoutly Catholic grandmother for saying the word jeez). That she did so now was enough to get the attention of Nina Mobley, Dabney’s assistant for eighteen of the past twenty-two years.

“What?” Nina said. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Dabney said quickly. Nina Mobley was Dabney’s closest friend, but Dabney could never tell her that an e-mail from Clendenin Hughes had just popped onto her screen.

Dabney gnawed on one of her pearls, as was her habit when she was deeply concentrating, and now she nearly bit clear through it. She was aware that millions of people across the world were receiving e-mails at that moment, a good percentage of them probably upsetting, a smaller but still substantial percentage probably shocking. But she wondered if anyone anywhere on the planet was receiving an e-mail as upsetting and shocking as this one.

She stared at the screen, blinked, clenched the pearl between her teeth. It was grainy, which was how one judged authenticity. Hello. Hello? Not a word for twenty-seven years—and then this. An e-mail at work. Hello. When Clen had left for Thailand, e-mail hadn’t existed. How had he gotten her address? Dabney laughed. He was a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist; finding her e-mail address wouldn’t have presented much of a challenge.

Hello.

Dabney’s finger tapped the mouse lightly, a tease. Would she open the e-mail? What would it say? What could it possibly say after twenty-seven years of silence?

Hello.

Dabney could not open the e-mail. She, who never smoked and rarely drank hard liquor, wanted a cigarette and a shot of bourbon. The only thing that would have stunned her more than this was an e-mail from her mother.

Her mother was dead.

Hello.

Dabney felt like she was being electrocuted right down to her bone marrow.

Nina was at her own computer, sucking on her gold cross, a bad habit that had traveled by osmosis across the four feet between their desks.

Nina said, “Dabney, really, what is it?”

Dabney let her pearls fall from her mouth; they thumped against her chest like they were made of lead. She had not been feeling right for weeks, maybe as long as a month, and now her body was really going haywire. The e-mail from Clendenin Hughes.

Dabney forced a smile at Nina. “The weather this weekend is going to be perfect!” she said. “We are going to have guaranteed sun.”

“After last year,” Nina said, “we deserve it.”

Dabney said, “I’m going to run to the pharmacy for a frappe. Do you want anything?”

Nina furrowed her brow. “Frappe?” She glanced at the wall calendar, theirs each year courtesy of Nantucket Auto Body. “Is it that time of the month again already?”

Dabney wished she weren’t so predictable, but of course predictability was her trademark. She got a frappe only once a month, the day before her period was due, which was still ten days off.

“I just feel like it today for some reason,” Dabney said. “Do you want anything?”

“No, thank you,” Nina said. She gave Dabney an extra beat of her attention. “You okay?”

Dabney swallowed. “I’m fine,” she said.

Outside, the atmosphere was festive. After four cold, punishing months, spring had arrived on Nantucket. Main Street was teeming with people wearing yellow. Dabney spied the Levinsons (Couple #28), whom she had introduced ten years earlier. Larry had been a widower with twins at Yale and Stanford, Marguerite a never-married headmistress at a prestigious girls’ boarding school. Larry wore a yellow cashmere sweater and a pair of kelly-green corduroy pants, and Marguerite was in a yellow poplin blazer; she held the leash of their golden retriever, Uncle Frank. Dabney adored all dogs, and especially Uncle Frank, and Larry and Marguerite were one of “her couples,” married only because she had introduced them. Dabney knew she should stop and talk; she should rub Uncle Frank under the muzzle until he sang for her. But she couldn’t fake it right now. She crossed the street to Nantucket Pharmacy, but did not go inside. She headed down Main Street, through the A&P parking lot, to the Straight Wharf. At the end of the Straight Wharf, she gazed at the harbor. There was Jack Copper, working on his charter fishing boat; in another few weeks, summer would arrive in all its crazy glory. Jack waved, and Dabney, of course, waved back. She knew everyone on this island, but there was no one in the world she could tell about this e-mail. It was Dabney’s to grapple with alone.

Hello.

Dabney could see the Steamship, low in the water, rounding Brant Point. In the next hour, the Chamber office would be inundated with visitors, and Dabney had left Nina all alone. Furthermore, she had left the office without “signing out” on the “log,” which was the one thing Vaughan Oglethorpe, president of the board of directors of the Chamber, absolutely required. Dabney needed to turn around right this second and go back to the office and do the job that she had been doing perfectly for the past two decades.

Subject line: Hello.

Three hours later, she opened it. She hadn’t planned on opening it at all, but the urge to do so mounted until it was physically painful. Dabney’s back and lower abdomen ached; knowledge of this e-mail was tearing her up inside.

Dear Dabney,

I wanted to let you know that I am on my way back to Nantucket for an indefinite period of time. I suffered a pretty serious loss about six months ago, and I’ve been slow recovering from it. Furthermore, it’s monsoon season, and my enthusiasm for writing about this part of the world has dwindled. I’ve given the Times my notice. I never did get assigned to the Singapore desk. I was close several years ago, but—as ever—I pissed off the wrong person simply by speaking my mind. Singapore will remain a dream deferred. (Big sigh.) I’ve decided that the best thing is for me to come home.

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