& Jack Utterback's
engagement party @ The
tag us & show us the
details & drama
A single weekend, I assured myself as I turned onto the Avenue and slowed beneath the canopy of mature trees—oaks, willows, maples. Pink flowers and vines cascaded from black streetlamps, styled to look old-fashioned, and ruler-straight hedges teased glimpses of the staggering, lavish mansions beyond. Old. Exclusive. Private. There was the hulking Romanesque revival, its tan sandstone tower making it more castle than house. To its east, the exaggerated Italianate villa and its second-story loggias that allowed residents to look down their noses from every direction. And, too soon, the wrought-iron gate of The Land.
Driving from this direction, it always felt as though my world was narrowing.
I unbuckled my seat belt, leaning halfway out my window to punch in the code: 1899, the year construction finished. The gate creaked open and I inched my greige rental sedan through to the pea-graveled allée that over the centuries had welcomed everything from livery and horses to Model Ts to Aston Martins. Maybe I should've had a heavier foot on the gas but despite the circumstances—I was running late—two miles per hour seemed plenty.
Straight ahead, in all its conspicuous excess, loomed my destination, tall above the rustling tulip trees. The Gilded Age titans and their heiress wives referred to it as a cottage. On their website, the Historical Society describes it as a beaux-arts masterpiece. Some locals might still call it the Coventry mansion. For me, it had been home.
For so many years, I believed we, my siblings and I, were The Land's heartbeat. What oak tree on the property hadn't we climbed? Which one of the Cottage's thirty rooms hadn't been explored, turned into pirate ships or volcanoes, floors bubbling with lava? Which of the property's outbuildings hadn't been ruthlessly annexed as a clubhouse, no adults allowed? But I hadn't been back in almost a decade, and it had managed to go on without me.
I bent forward to look through the windshield as the quartet of massive Corinthian columns appeared, the stucco garlands hovering above each window, some rectangular, some square, most bracketed by dramatic black shutters. Iron Juliet balconies edged the windows of the imposing east and west wings, which jutted out symmetrically on either side of the main hall. The roof was a varied landscape of peaked gables, flat cornices, brick chimneys, and—on the conservatory off the east wing—standing-seam metal the color of a polished copper pot. The first place I got felt up was in that conservatory. Garrett with the great hair. Tall. Sweet. Decent kisser. And no longer in my life because—well, because of everything.
At the end of the allée, delivery vans and catering trucks packed the roundabout, the flag staked in the grassy center snapping in the breeze of the sound. Staff in black uniforms hurried into and out of the Cottage—we'd adopted the Gilded Age nickname—with trays of glassware, round tables, flower arrangements bigger than bar stools. I tapped my brakes for a guy with a stack of boxes, then again for a young woman hauling a crate of liquor bottles. All this commotion for my sister's engagement to her childhood sweetheart. Make no mistake, Maggie and Jack deserved to be celebrated. I just wished I didn't have to face half of Newport in doing it.
I heard a mechanical, grinding hum, followed by the twin clanks of the gate slamming behind me.
Maybe it was the five hours on a fabric seat, or being back on the island, that had fatigue suddenly tapping at the backs of my eyeballs and raking its fingers down my neck. I came to a full stop at the spot where the driveway branched—one direction looping toward the Cottage, the other toward the rear dependencies. I rolled down the windows, took a deep breath, and closed my eyes.
When I opened them again, a goat was staring at me, its fur a flat gray, its horns wrapped in what appeared to be white packing foam. The animal ambled past my front bumper, sniffing at the license plate, nosing around the lights, then simply wandered off, nibbling at weeds between the gravel as it went.
Sending upward some half-muttered prayers that the winds would be favorable, that the memories of Newporters would be short, I released my foot from the brake and coasted down the drive.