Chapter One ONE
Jackie Kennedy sails these waters. In fact, the First Lady might be looking at the same sunlit cliffs as Heddy, and the thought of Jackie in her big black sunglasses, placing a kiss on the president while their boat rounded Vineyard Sound, tickled the corners of Heddy’s mouth and made her peek over onto the deck of a wooden sailboat bobbing in the harbor. Heddy waved back at a man, shirtless and barefoot, holding a fishing line. He was no Jack Kennedy, but he wasn’t half bad, either.
Pastel-striped umbrellas lined the beach as the ferry neared the dock, and the colors were familiar, even though she’d never stepped foot on the island before. Martha’s Vineyard had become an obsession for Heddy that year at Wellesley after she’d overheard friends comparing where they’d stayed when they’d gone. But when movie star Gigi McCabe—the Gigi McCabe—posed in a barely there bikini for Look magazine, sunbathers oiled and stretched out on chaise longues around her, Heddy simply knew she had to go. (She and her roommate hid the magazine from their housemother, who called it “cheap trash” and forbade any copies in the dormitory.) Heddy had been drawn to the photo like a mosquito to a light, not because of the actress but because of all those patrician noses and straw hats, white Keds, and elegant tanned wrists. She wanted to know this fabled summer culture, those beautiful people who sailed in the morning, dressed formally for dinner, and sipped champagne at sunset at the famed Island Club.
Heddy pulled a small black notebook from her purse, pausing to take in the row of colorful Victorian houses lining the approaching town, and began to write. She was overwrought at arriving on the island, not only because she would live amid the wealthy, watching how money could take the edge off the sharpest points of life, but also because her job as a nanny would insert her into the home of a real family. There had been other well-paying options for summer jobs, of course, like the all-girls summer camp in the Catskills. But living with a family, she wrote, particularly an illustrious one, offered something the other jobs didn’t: a peek into a well-tended marriage.
When she snapped her journal shut, an envelope tucked inside drifted to the rounded tips of her sandals. She’d delayed opening the letter long enough, she thought, snatching it from the cement floor of the ferry. The enormous boat bumped against the dock as the crew began tying long, thick ropes to the pilings. She turned the thick parchment over in her hands.
To think, this whole mess was because of a boy. A Harvard boy. Maybe the scholarship committee would overlook her mistake, forgive her one small misstep and focus instead on everything she had accomplished. She was the only woman from her Catholic high school in Brooklyn to go to college. Her beloved literature professor, a mother of three who looked like Carol Burnett, had spent hours helping her to revise a short story last semester and had even written an appeal in her favor, attesting Heddy had “promise.” Promise. And now…
Heddy exhaled, slipping her finger under the envelope’s tongue and tearing it open.
Her eyes went straight to the first line: We regret to inform you that your scholarship for the 1962–1963 academic year has not been renewed due to… She didn’t read the rest, crumpling the paper up in her fist. She hadn’t believed they’d actually revoke it.
She chewed on a fingernail, then another. Maybe it was what she’d deserved. Girls like her didn’t get a do-over. Getting in to Wellesley—where the quad smelled of fresh-cut grass and the simple act of walking to class bestowed on students a responsibility to make something of themselves—had been prize enough, and receiving the check allowing her to go had been a coup. How else would she have paid? She dabbed her eyes with the back of her wrists and stared at a departing ferry, this one transporting a crowd of vacationers back to the mainland.
“A fool’s paradise,” said a young man who came to stand next to her, pushing his tortoise-rimmed glasses up his nose. He rested his elbows on the metal. Below them, a passenger ramp was fitted to the ferry’s doors, and he watched it pointedly, fidgeting in his burgundy letterman sweater, a large “H” on the lapel.
She tried not to look at him. “Looks pretty perfect to me.”
“It’s your first time,” he said, pulling on a baseball cap that was stuffed in his back pocket. “I knew it.”
He smirked at a group of college boys throwing footballs on the dock. “Pass it to me, Bobby,” he yelled, a smile in his voice.
His friends lobbed the ball toward him, making tourists on the dock duck out of the way.
He caught it and threw it back. “This island fooled me, too, once,” he said.
She smiled plainly at him, taking in the clapboard houses with tidy shutters and the charming row of ice-cream shops and clam bars near the dock. “Well, it’s just as I imagined,” she said, picking up her suitcase and bidding him goodbye.
As Heddy stepped onto the dock amid car horns and beginnings of conversations, she saw women of all ages in the latest summer fashions, many in the requisite dress of the wealthy and Jackie-obsessed: ballet flats, a pillbox hat, and clutch—all in the same color. Many were trying to catch the attention of arriving friends and relatives, so Heddy scanned the crowd, looking for anyone who seemed to be looking for her. Her eyes followed the man in the maroon cardigan sweater as he met up with his buddies, a porter wheeling his trunk behind him. He saw her staring, and his eyes crinkled, sending Heddy’s gaze down to her feet, the corners of her mouth turning up.
“Don’t worry, there are plenty more of those,” said a slim woman in navy capri pants, her loose blond curls pinned back on either side of her ears with small red clips in the shape of anchors. They matched her ruby lips. “You must be Heddy. I’m Jean-Rose, and this is my husband, Ted.”
Heddy willed herself to shake the slender fingers of her new boss, a large emerald-cut diamond on the woman’s ring finger. She’d babysat for neighborhood kids aplenty, but she’d never worked for someone so well-to-do; she hoped Jean-Rose didn’t notice her clammy palms.
“Nice to meet you. I’m excited to be here and to, you know, get to know your family.”
Jean-Rose tilted her head toward the man in the maroon cardigan. “That’s Sully Rhodes. Handsome, a little peculiar. Still, everyone’s angling for him.”
Heddy nodded, pretending to understand, feeling a flash of excitement—her new boss was already talking to her about well-connected young men.
“Now, Jean-Rose, we don’t want to lose our babysitter to someone tall, dark, and handsome on the first day.” Ted winked at Heddy.
She’d never seen someone with such dark eyes—his were nearly violet. “But you do need to meet our little prince and, of course, the queen.” Ted placed his hand on the bony shoulder of a scrawny boy standing next to him and then motioned to the little girl in a poufy dress with a towhead of curls.
The boy threw the soccer ball he was holding at Heddy’s feet, harder than he should have. Heddy pretended not to notice the ache in her toes, bending down on one knee with a smile plastered on her face.
“You must be Anna and Teddy.” Heddy extended her hand out to the stuffed monkey Anna was clutching and shook the primate’s fingers, which made the little girl chuckle and jump right into Heddy’s arms, nearly knocking her backward. “Oh, aren’t you a doll?”
“Oh, aren’t you a doll?” The boy snickered, making Heddy shift uncomfortably.
She tried to noodle him in the belly, murmuring that they’d be friends in no time, but he bit his cheeks to keep from smiling.
Ted pushed the boy’s back, which made him lurch toward Heddy. “Mind your manners, young man.” Ted reached for Heddy’s suitcase, exaggerating a groan upon lifting it. She’d packed a stack of her favorite novels, plus two biology textbooks to study in case the scholarship committee allowed her to retake the final she’d failed that awful morning that led to that awful letter. Good thing she’d waited to open the letter until this morning with Anna in her arms, Heddy couldn’t cry; she would look certifiable.
“This bellhop must have something else of yours?” Ted pointed to a squat man in a white-buttoned jacket walking toward them holding a purse a different color than her shoes, and she blushed. With all her nerves, she must have left it on the ferry. She took the frayed patent leather handle, watching Ted pull out a wallet thick with bills and hand the bellhop two dollars.
Two dollars. How she’d learned to stretch two dollars over the years. On their leanest days, she and her mother squeezed ketchup packets into hot water for instant tomato soup.
“I can get it, Mr. Williams, thank you.” She picked up her luggage, but Mr. Williams insisted. She was just relieved the bag appeared shiny and new. Her roommate, Beryl, had never even used it.
He pushed through the crowd, and they all followed, the sound of seagulls and laughter and good-natured greetings all around them. “There’s no point in being formal. We prefer Ted and Jean-Rose.”
“If you call me Mrs. Williams, I’ll feel like my mother-in-law.” Jean-Rose rolled her eyes. “I don’t want that woman’s voice whispering in my ear all summer.”
“Be nice, Jeannie.” Ted checked to make sure the kids were behind them. “Mother means well. Besides, it’s the children she’s most concerned about.”
“It’s control she’s most concerned about,” Jean-Rose quipped. She sighed, as if there was a lot more she wanted to say, but she seemed to remember then Heddy was walking next to her. She threaded her elbow into the crook of Heddy’s arm. It felt warm and friendly, and Heddy hoped she and her new boss would always be this chummy. “It’s going to be a wonderful summer. You’ll love our housekeeper, Ruth; she’s about your age. And there’s this new craze now, surfing. Have you heard of it?”
“Oh, sure.” Of course she had. Who hadn’t seen Gidget?
“You have to see these guys. They use a special board to ride on waves. Maybe Beryl told you about it. Anyway, Beryl tells us you’re great fun.”
With Anna’s arms wrapped about her neck, Heddy felt the corners of her mouth turn up again. “When I’m not studying. Thank goodness for summer break.” She still hadn’t told her mother about what happened the night she and Beryl went out, how she’d met that Harvard boy and arrived for her final an hour late. Sometimes Heddy couldn’t bear the sound of her mother’s disappointed sighs.
“Everyone is doing something utterly fascinating on this island. I run the bridge group. Even Ted, here”—they stepped past an old couple stopped in the middle of the dock, luggage splayed at their feet—“he made sure the old lighthouse works, giving more to that falling-down eyesore than I ever would, and he’s considering a state senate run.” Heddy raised her eyebrows conspiratorially, making clear she was impressed. “But enough about us.”
“She’s like a windup doll,” Ted laughed, and Jean-Rose grinned. “Heddy, how was your voyage in?” He was tall, skinny, a man in a boy’s body, an unfortunate upward tilt to his eyebrows. Not her type, but she’d never be interested in a married man anyway. That pain had been unbearable for her mother.
“Like glass—not even a bit of chop.” Heddy didn’t know where the word “chop” came from, perhaps from reading Moby-Dick last semester in American lit, but she liked how experienced she’d sounded. Heddy had been on one other boat, if she counted the Staten Island Ferry.
By now they were standing in front of a shiny red convertible. The Williamses had parked in front of the Landing Luncheonette, a small ferry-side soda fountain with a lunch counter in the front window. Two teenagers sat sipping milkshakes, pointing and giggling at a boy walking off the ferry.
“You play?” Heddy asked Ted, pointing to the tennis rackets in the back of the trunk. Heddy, who had always been a swimmer at the Y, had recently taken to tennis—she’d seen it as a prerequisite to fitting in at Wellesley.
“I’m afraid I’m the tennis enthusiast in this match,” Jean-Rose joked, taking Anna from Heddy’s arms. “Even when I get him on the court, his backhand isn’t the most, hmm, helpful.”
“But I can be helpful in other ways, can’t I, love?” He tapped Jean-Rose’s bottom before opening the driver’s side door and getting in.
Her cheeks took on a shade of crimson. “You could say that.”
Heddy darted her eyes away. “Maybe you and I could play sometime,” she said, positioned in the back seat, her face hopeful and pleasing. If she couldn’t return to Wellesley in the fall, then she needed this job more than she’d realized.
Jean-Rose cocked her head, like she was pondering Heddy’s suggestion, maybe a little too much. “I’m not sure I could get you into the club, but there are public courts. It would be fun, wouldn’t it?”
“I warn you, my serve needs work,” Heddy said, willing herself to stop being so self-deprecating. It had worked against her at the hearing with the scholarship committee back in May. She’d been too intimidated by the row of suited men and women sitting at one end of a hulking mahogany table to be convincing, too afraid of interrupting one of them or saying the wrong thing, so she’d been quiet, meek, a scared mouse on the other side of the table. And it didn’t help that every question they’d asked was an accusation: If you were that ill for the final, then why can’t you provide a doctor’s note? Did you skip curfew the night before? Then why didn’t anyone see you leaving the dorm that morning?
“There’s a great pro at the club.” Jean-Rose directed Teddy into the car, then plopped Anna on Heddy’s lap, while Ted fiddled with the radio.
She slipped into the passenger seat, purring as she settled in next to Ted, running her hand along the back of his neck. Heddy wasn’t sure she’d ever met a pair who looked as radiant as the two did at that moment, sharing the front seat of a convertible on a perfectly sunny summer day. Her new boss put on white cat’s-eye sunglasses, tied a sheer red scarf around her head, and tapped the side of the car door. “Now, let’s get Heddy some lunch.”
The car drove by storefronts housed in charming cottages, each one’s sign more colorful than the last. A line of families waited to buy tickets for the Flying Horses Carousel, old-fashioned music chiming from inside. Ted swerved to avoid bicyclists, all of them with a basket attached to the handlebars, pedaling through town.
Ted hollered to one, a man in his forties with slicked back hair and shapely tanned calves. “Watch it, Edison.”
The man waved, and Jean-Rose smiled wanly. Traffic moved on, the bicyclist vanishing into the distance. Ted pulled Jean-Rose toward the center of the seat, nestling her under his arm.
“Now don’t get all upset again.” His voice was soft, but Jean-Rose turned up the music, resting her head on Ted’s shoulder.
Heddy’s purse had fallen open on the floor at her feet, the crumpled letter from Wellesley sitting atop her wallet. She’d prepared for her meeting with the scholarship committee as best she could, but maybe she should have enlisted help. She racked her brain, trying to remember her answers, what she’d said to the committee, how it may have been perceived. One of the members, a bald and bespectacled man, had given a speech at the start imparting Wellesley’s motto, “Not to be ministered unto, but to minister,” and how that meant that college wasn’t just a place where students learned, it was a place where students passed on the highest morals. Maybe he believed her lowly economic status was to blame, her irresponsible actions contaminating the student body.
“Jean-Rose, do you do your shopping there?” Heddy tried to distract herself from her thoughts, hollering over the music. She pointed to a gas station with the words “Groceries and Meats” on the sign.
“With the dead flies in the windowsill? No, thank you. I’ll take you to Cronig’s in Vineyard Haven. Two brothers run it, and everyone adores them.”
They zipped by a harbor lined with bobbing sailboats, children walking the jetties. Farther up, there was a handsome lighthouse, white with a black tip. Ted stroked the back of Jean-Rose’s hair—cornflower blond, bouncy and soft. Beryl had told her more than once the Williamses might as well be the Kennedys. They were rich, in love, and the envy of their social circle.
Teddy bounced up and down on the seat, slamming into her thighs. “Up, down. Up, down.”
“He loves the way he flies up when Ted drives fast over the bumps. But not too fast, right, Ted?” Then Jean-Rose whispered: “One day last week, Teddy nearly flew out the window.” She giggled.
The crunch of the gravel driveway alerted Heddy they’d arrived. The rambling cedar-shingled Victorian was magnificent, backing up to lush rolling hills with abundant views of the sea. It had aqua shutters, little crescent moons cut out of the tops, and a front porch with four rocking chairs, each looking freshly painted, as crisp and white as a laundered shirt. A housekeeper shook out the doormat, while a gardener, a black man with a ring of sweat around his neck, clipped the layers of red rosebushes that lined the front of the house. The hydrangeas along the brick walk were a deep cerulean blue, and a small sign hung over the front door, white with block letters: “Elysian Fields.” Home for the next nine weeks.
Heddy labored to remember the meaning from her freshman-year Greek mythology class and made a note to look it up. Wouldn’t it be grand to be so rich you named your summer home something most people had to read about in an encyclopedia? That’s steel money for you.
“Welcome to paradise.” Jean-Rose smiled. She strode off behind Ted to the front porch.
“Or hell, depending on your perspective,” a young woman about Heddy’s age wearing a chambray collared dress and white apron whispered, reaching into the trunk. Heddy checked to make sure her new bosses hadn’t overheard what the housekeeper had said, which made the woman grin. “Sorry, I shouldn’t be so crass. I’m Ruth.”
“I’m going to tell my mom you said a bad word.” Teddy wrinkled his nose.
“Then I’ll tell your mom about the chocolate you snuck into bed last night.” Ruth tugged at Heddy’s suitcase.
Teddy stared at his feet, then took off with Anna, a mischievous look on her face.
“Gosh, let me help you, Ruth. I’ve got books in there.” The two of them pulled at the handle with all their strength, not getting it out until they lifted the corners of the boxy Louis Vuitton suitcase up in their arms. They dropped it to the ground, both jumping back to save their feet.
“Where’s Mr. Helpful when you need him?” Ruth said quietly. Then she smiled sweetly at Ted, who was walking toward them with golf clubs slung over his shoulder, neat and angled, like his side part.
“I would have gotten that out.” He winked at Heddy, still standing by the car, as he tossed his golf clubs where her luggage had been. “Make yourself comfortable, sweetheart. I’m off to the links.”
The children emerged on to the porch, watching their father, and Anna, barefoot and hair loose around her shoulders, yelled to him, “I love you, Daddy.”
Ted glanced at Heddy, a stupid grin on his face. “That child has me whipped. She’s more charming than her mother, and I didn’t think that was possible.” Heddy felt her breath catch as he returned to the porch, planting a kiss on Anna’s rosy cheek. Then he hoisted Teddy up, throwing him over his shoulder and spinning the boy, who erupted into giggles, making Anna jump up and down begging for a chance, too. Heddy loved seeing fathers play with their kids rather than treat them like flies that needed swatting, but she could be undone by dads who tipped the chins of their pouting girls with a single finger or dads who made an effort to listen to what his teenage daughter rattled on about. Those men made her weepy. At least when she’d seen them on television shows.
Moments later, Ted was back in his car, pulling on his driving gloves and peeling out of the driveway, kicking dust into their faces.
Ruth glanced at her watch. “Seven hours till dinner. If he’s home by then, she won’t ask any questions.” Heddy followed Ruth to the porch, lugging her suitcase behind her. She would have carried that suitcase anywhere if it meant getting out of her and her mother’s tiny Brooklyn apartment for the summer.
“Children, will you show Heddy her room?” Jean-Rose clicked down the columned veranda in heels, her head scarf untied and fluttering in the breeze.
“The ladies are coming over in an hour for bridge, and I want to serve the canapés out here. Did you make the lobster salad?”
Ruth was at Jean-Rose’s side. “Two pinches of salt, four scoops of mayo.”
Jean-Rose ran her hand along the surface of the outdoor table, a diamond eternity bracelet dangling from her delicate wrist. “Smells like Lysol. What would I do without you, Ruth?” She flitted off. “I’m going to change. I’ll be down in five, and we’ll set the table.”
With her gone, Ruth formed a pistol with her finger, holding her hand to her alabaster temple and pretending to shoot.
Heddy didn’t know how to respond, so she opened the home’s French doors and stepped into a formal living room with high wingback chairs and a tufted sofa. Beryl—who happened to be the heir to the Bethlehem Oil fortune and happened to ride horses with Jean-Rose’s cousin and happened to insist on getting Heddy this job—had stuck her neck out for her. She wouldn’t embarrass her by getting caught up in some childish antics on her first day.
“Come on, babysitter.” Teddy swung around the intricately carved newel post. At six, he was slight enough to be mistaken for younger. “Follow me.”
“Her name is Heddy.” Ruth’s eyes pinned him.
With Anna’s soft hand in hers, Heddy followed the boy. “Nice meeting you.”
“Don’t let these two gang up on you,” said Ruth, balancing an armful of dishes. “They’re brutal when they’re in cahoots.”
Once in her sunny square bedroom on the third floor, the kids pulling out the dresser drawers and trying to unzip her suitcase, she sat on the edge of the bed and took the rumpled letter out of her purse. She flattened it and placed it in her top drawer, while Teddy, a doll tucked under his arm, showed her the musty corner closet and Anna sat at the small writing desk with a paper and pencil.
“And this is where you’ll pinch a brown loaf,” Teddy said, pointing at the toilet in a small adjoining bathroom; he rubbed the doll’s yellow hair against his lips. Above the bathtub was a stained-glass window, two lovebirds chirping at each other.
“I’ll wash your mouth out with soap if you speak like that again.” Heddy snapped at him from her perch on the bed’s patchwork quilt, the sinking feeling in her stomach having nothing to do with the boy, and he was taken aback, she could tell, but still he stuck out his tongue. Anna hugged her brother protectively, and he pushed her off hard enough that she burst into tears. Heddy scooped the child in her arms mainly because she needed a hug herself.
All she’d wanted was a chance at being the kind of woman her mother sold scarves to, rather than the woman stuck behind the Tiffany’s counter. A hunger had always been in her—to live a plum life, yes, but also a genuine belief that something better lay just around the corner.
Then she’d met that boy, the son of a custodian at Harvard, who was attending the college on scholarship. He was just as much the outsider at school, and after meeting him at the bar with Beryl, Heddy had gone home with him, skipping her ten o’clock curfew in the dorm; Beryl had secretly signed Heddy back in, while distracting their den mother with tears about a pretend heartbreak. Heddy and the boy had stayed awake on his frayed corduroy sofa talking about how lonely it was to live with the pressure of their hardworking parents, how it colored every experience they had at college. She’d drunk a few beers, which wasn’t like her, and even with her final the next day, she stayed, even though it was 2:00 a.m. by then, because she’d never realized anyone else felt as weighted with the future as she did, let alone a man. She was ready for her final, she’d told herself. She’d ace it. And then she’d snuggled in bed next to him, under a blanket he said his nana knit—they’d made out, and he’d put his hand up her shirt, but they were both too tired for much more and had fallen asleep, a sense of satisfaction in their shared experience. Then she’d overslept for her final, and he’d looked at her like her sandy brown hair was on fire when she started to scream: “Shit. Shit. Shit.” She’d pulled on her fuchsia-colored pants, slipped on her flats, and run out to catch a cab, crying the entire way home. He’d called later, but she was too upset to talk. And that was the end of that courtship. The end of everything, really.
Well, not quite everything. Not yet, anyway. No one had to know. Besides, she was already here, they were paying her well, and the money she made this summer would at least allow her to open a savings. And prepare. For what, she wasn’t sure.
She arranged her books in a neat stack on her nightstand: Jane Eyre, The Golden Notebook, On the Road, Franny and Zooey. She arranged everything she had in the two top drawers and hung her three dresses in the closet. Pleased, she crossed her arms over her chest and stood by the children, who were fighting over who got to sit on the desk chair. Heddy wasn’t going back to Wellesley—that was clear—but it didn’t mean she couldn’t have a good summer. There were plenty of people to meet on this island, plenty of men to make the acquaintance of. Perhaps, she thought, she could win the bet that she and Beryl had made on their last day of school, and just the possibility gave her a lift.
She cupped Teddy’s head with the back of her hand. “Who wants to show me their room?”