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Golden Girl
Author: Elin Hilderbrand


Golden Girl





She receives a message from the front office: a new soul is about to join them, and this soul has been assigned to Martha.

Martha puts on her reading glasses and finds her clipboard. The soul is arriving from…Nantucket Island.

Martha is both surprised and delighted. Surprised because Nantucket Harbor is where Martha met her own fateful end two summers ago and she’d thought the front office was intentionally keeping her away from coastal areas so she didn’t become (as Gen Z said) “triggered.”

And Martha is delighted because…well, who doesn’t love Nantucket?

Martha swoops down from the northeast so that her first glimpse of the island is the lighthouse that stands sentry at the end of the slender golden arm of Great Point. Martha spies seals frolicking just off the coast (and sharks stalking them a little farther out). She continues over Polpis Harbor, where the twelve-year-old class of Nantucket Community Sailing are taking their lessons in Optimists. One boat keels way over and comes dangerously close to capsizing. Martha blows a little puff of air—and the boat rights itself.

Martha dips over the moors, dotted with ponds and crisscrossed with sandy roads. She sees deer hiding deep in the woods. A Jeep is stuck in the soft sand by Jewel Pond; next to the Jeep, a young man lets a stream of swears fly (My oh my, Martha thinks) while his girlfriend tries to get a cell signal. She’s sorry, she says, she just really wanted the early-morning light for her Instagram photos.

Martha chooses the scenic coastal route along the uninterrupted stretch of the south shore. Despite the early hour, there are plenty of people out and about. A woman-of-a-certain-age throws a tennis ball into the rolling waves for a chocolate-Lab-of-a-certain-age. (Martha misses dogs! She’s far too busy to ever make it over to the Pet Division.) A white-haired gentleman charges into the water for his morning swim. There are a handful of fishermen out on Smith’s Point, a cadre of young (and very attractive) surfers at Cisco, and a foursome teeing off—thwack!—from the first hole at the Miacomet Golf Course.

As Martha floats over Nobadeer Beach, she sees the town lifeguards gathering in the parking lot. Their conditioning session starts at a quarter past seven and it’s nearly that time now. Martha has to hurry.

She has one more minute to appreciate the island on this clear, blue morning of Saturday, June 19—the sun glints off the gold cupola atop the Unitarian church; a line chef at Black-Eyed Susan’s runs full speed down India Street, late for his shift. Across most of the island, irrigation systems switch on, sprinkling lawns and flower boxes, but not out in Sconset, where residents like to do things the old-fashioned way: they put on gardening clogs and grab watering cans. People are pouring their first cups of coffee, reading the front page of the Nantucket Standard. The thirty-five women who will be getting married today open their eyes and experience varying degrees of anticipation and anxiety. Contractors pull into Marine Home Center because they have punch lists that need to be completed yesterday; the summer people are arriving, they want their homes up and running. Charter fishing boats motor out of the harbor; the first batch of sugar doughnuts is pulled from the oven at the Downyflake—and oh, the scent!

Martha sighs. Nantucket isn’t heaven, but it is heaven on Earth.

However, she isn’t here to sightsee. She’s here to collect a soul. The pinned location on Martha’s map is Kingsley Road, almost at the intersection of Madaket but not quite.

Martha arrives with a full thirty seconds to spare, giving her a chance to inhale the heady fragrance of the lilacs that are in full bloom below. There’s a dark-haired woman with fantastic legs jogging down the road, singing along to her music, but the rest of Kingsley is quite sleepy.

Fifteen seconds, ten seconds, five seconds. Martha double-checks her coordinates; it says she’s in the right place…

In the time that Martha takes her gaze off the road, tragedy strikes. It happens quickly, the literal blink of an eye. Martha winces. What a pity!

All right, Martha thinks. Time to get to work.





It’s a beautiful June day, the kind that Vivi writes about. In fact, all thirteen of Vivian Howe’s novels—beach reads set on Nantucket—start in June. Vivi has never considered changing this habit because June on Nantucket is when things begin. The summer is a newborn; it’s still innocent, pristine, a blank page.

At a few minutes past seven, Vivi is ready for her run. She takes the same route she’s taken ever since she moved into Money Pit ten years ago, after her divorce: down her dirt road, Kingsley, to the Madaket Road bike path. The path goes all the way to the beach, though Vivi hasn’t made it that far in years. Her hips. Also, she doesn’t have time.

Vivi is agitated despite the sunshine, the bluebird sky, and the luscious bloom of the peonies in her cutting garden. The night before, Vivi’s daughter Willa called to say that she’s pregnant again. This marks Willa’s fourth pregnancy since last June, which was when she and Rip got married.

“Oh, Willie!” Vivi said. “Yay, hurray—good, good news! How far along are you?”

“Six weeks,” Willa said.

Still very, very early, Vivi thinks. Willa basically just missed her period. “You took a test?”

“Yes, Mother.”

“More than one?”

“Two,” Willa said. “The first was inconclusive. The second had two lines.”

What Vivi did not say was Don’t get your hopes up. Willa had miscarried three times. The first pregnancy had progressed to fifteen weeks. Willa started bleeding while she was giving a tour of the Hadwen House to a group of VIPs from the governor’s office. She ran out on the tour and drove herself to the hospital. It was a horrible day, the most physically painful and difficult of the three miscarriages, though after the third, Willa became convinced there was a problem.

A thorough examination at the Brigham and Women’s fertility clinic in Boston, however, showed nothing wrong. Willa was a healthy twenty-four-year-old. She had no problem getting pregnant. If Rip even looked at her, she conceived.

Privately, Vivi suspected the miscarriages had something to do with Willa’s type A personality, which Vivi and her ex-husband, JP, used to call her “type A-plus personality,” because regular As were never good enough for Willa.

“If this doesn’t work out, why don’t you and Rip take a break? You’re so young. You have years and years, decades even, to conceive. What’s the rush?”

Predictably, Willa had become defensive. “What makes you think this won’t work out? Do you think I’m a failure?”

“You succeed at everything you do,” Vivi said. “I just think your body might benefit from a reset—”

“I’m pregnant, Mama,” Willa said. “I will give birth to a perfectly healthy baby.” She sounded like she was trying to convince herself.

“You will give birth to a perfectly healthy baby, Willie. I can’t wait to hold her.” Though Vivi didn’t feel quite old enough to be a grandmother. She was only fifty-one and in terrific shape, if she did say so herself. Her dark hair, which she wore in a pixie cut, didn’t have one strand of gray (Vivi checked every morning). She might occasionally be mistaken for the child’s mother. (Well, she could hope.)

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