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Authors: Swan Huntley

We Could Be Beautiful

BOOK: We Could Be Beautiful
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016 by Swan Huntley

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited, Toronto.

and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

Cover design by Emily Mahon

Cover photograph © Elena Kharichkina / Shutterstock

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Huntley, Swan.

We could be beautiful : a novel / Swan Huntley. — First American edition.

pages cm

ISBN 978-0-385-54059-9 (hardcover) — ISBN 978-0-385-54060-5 (ebook)

1. Socialites—Fiction. 2. Man-woman relationships—Fiction. 3. Mothers and daughters—Fiction. 4. Alzheimer’s disease—Patients—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3608.U5958W43 2015

813'.6—dc23 2015006065

eBook ISBN 9780385540605





Title Page




Part One: The Framed Thing

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Part Two: That Hung Upside Down

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Part Three: In What We Called Home

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53


A Note About the Author

For my parents, Kim and Mark

We have no instincts, only legs to run on.
—Hannah Gamble


wanted a family.

I was rich, I owned a small business, I had a wardrobe I replaced all the time. I was toned enough and pretty enough. I moisturized, I worked out. I looked younger than my age. I had been to all the countries I wanted to see. I collected art and filled my West Village apartment with it. My home was bright and tastefully bare and worthy of a spread in a magazine.

I was also a really good person. I volunteered at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving; I paid my housekeeper well and on time. I was a good sister, a good daughter. I had been a pretty good student. I’d gone to Sarah Lawrence and then NYU. I had substance. I was conscientious. I’d seen enough documentaries to make me a vegetarian. I voted. I recycled. I tipped generously. I gave money to homeless people on the street. I gave extra to gypsy mothers, their sooty babies, always sleeping, maybe drugged, hanging heavy from their necks in hammocks made from ratty T-shirts.

But despite my good deeds and my good fortune, I felt incomplete. I had always felt incomplete, even as a small child. I have a memory of myself, age four, cheek pressed against the cold black smoky design of the bathroom tiles, my hot breath fogging the smooth marble, thinking, I am dead. I am dead but I am alive. I am dead and this is a dream.

That I didn’t have a family yet wasn’t for a lack of trying. I felt I had always been trying. I’d been engaged twice. I’d had a million boyfriends, and even one girlfriend, but none of them had stuck. I tended to like addicts. Maybe by definition those people didn’t stick around—they were always running, that was their nature. I also tended to like poor people, impoverished sculptors like Jim, who were a little too desperate for my good sheets and my big TV screens and my masseur, who came once a week.

There was something about having money that made the incompleteness sharper. If you were broke, it was an excuse for almost everything. You couldn’t afford to fix the shower, so it kept leaking. You didn’t have time for friends or exercise or charity. You were always working because you had to work, and work was the best excuse for your misery.

If you had money, you had no excuse. And people didn’t feel sorry for you either. Instead they decided not to like you before they even knew you. They said, If you’re sad, can’t you buy a new house somewhere, can’t you take a trip? Don’t you have so many choices, so many resources? They said, We’re not stupid and we know you can’t buy happiness, but we also know you sort of can, too, because money means choices and choices mean you don’t have the limits that we do, and that means you should shut up now and be happy. Look at everything you have—it’s limitless.

And those people were right. It was limitless. I got a headache just thinking about how limitless it was. If you could afford any end table in the world, how could you be sure you were getting the right one? If you could go anywhere, where would you go? And in what order? And for how long? If you had any goals at all, why had you not attained them? If you hadn’t attained them, it wasn’t because you were broke, it was because you had failed.

And so it was that I felt not only incomplete but also like a failure. I went to the Gala for Contemporary Folk Art that night not because I really wanted to, or because I had planned on meeting anyone. I went because I had promised Susan I would go, and I was a good friend who kept my promises.

Wineglass between just-manicured (always manicured) fingers, I stood in the pool of people, looking up at this enormous tapestry. Buttery light, the clinking of glass, low polite voices, one person laughing too loud. Men in tuxedos pressed and crisp and smelling slightly of the dry-cleaning bags they’d been taken out of just before, and women in gowns that made them look like jellyfish, their hair coiffed into oceanic shapes. I wore white, which is funny to think about now. Of course I wore white. All I wanted was to be married, and that want was obvious, subliminal, cellular—it was in everything I did, whether I knew it or not.

The tapestry was big, as big as a swimming pool, and so intricate, all those tiny pulls of string. It was a modern triptych, three panels in brilliant colors, almost neon: a woman floating in water, a woman standing on land, a woman curled at the foot of a mountain. It was beautiful and depressing and overwhelming and all I could think was, I am forty-three years old and I am alone and where the hell is Susan?

Of course it was just when I’d decided to leave and go home and curl up in bed that I saw him. A stunning, square-jawed man with gentle eyes and elegant gray hair, full and parted to the side. He made his way closer until he was standing beside me. We watched the tapestry like it was a movie. We said nothing to each other for what felt like a long time. There was something familiar about him. Maybe he looked like an actor, or maybe he was just one of those people who looked familiar to everyone, or maybe his dry-cleaned scent reminded me of home.

“It’s nice to see you,” he said finally. His voice was smooth and cool, like metal, brilliantly polished. He held out his hand. On his pinkie was a ring, a turquoise stone on a tarnished silver band. That intrigued me. It seemed out of place and special. It suggested a character.

“Do I know you?”

“William Stockton.”

“Catherine West.”

I remember his hand felt as smooth and as cool as his voice. I remember thinking, There is something about this guy, there is some kind of electricity between us. It was big, enormous, unavoidable. From the very beginning it felt like a current pulling me blissfully toward a whirlpool. Before you drown, the spinning just feels like a dance.


illiam Stockton and I had never met, but it turned out our families had been friends. “In fact,” he was saying, “I believe I remember your mother pregnant, and it must have been you she was pregnant with.”

It was three days after the gala, a night that had ended in Susan never showing (the flu) and William buying the huge tapestry, and taking my phone number, and calling to ask me out for this coffee we were now having in the park, very near William’s new apartment on Seventy-Eighth Street—he’d just moved back from Switzerland—and also near my childhood apartment on Eighty-Fourth, where William had apparently visited “more than once.”

“If she was pregnant with me, we must have just missed each other.” I twirled my long chocolate-colored hair around my fingers. The plan was to mesmerize him, and I was pretty sure it was working. More softly, I said, “Ships in the night.”

“Uncanny.” When William smiled, the lines around his mouth creased. Those were the only real lines on his face. His skin was strangely intact for a man of his age. It glistened, lightly bronzed, almost golden. And his hair. Despite being gray, it was silky, well conditioned. It bounced with just the right amount of bounce as we walked.

BOOK: We Could Be Beautiful
8.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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