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Excerpt from Jackie & Me by Louis Bayard, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Jackie & Me

by Louis Bayard

Jackie & Me by Louis Bayard X
Jackie & Me by Louis Bayard
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    Jun 2022, 352 pages

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Jackie & Me

It's the weekend before St. Patrick's Day, 1952, and there's still a late-winter nip in the Virginia air, but Jack always keeps the top down because, by age thirty-four, he knows how dashing his hair looks in high wind. We're due at Bobby and Ethel's that night, but Jack instead cuts across Chain Bridge. I shoot him a look, and he says—imagine the offhandedness—that we have an additional passenger.

"Oh, yes?" I say. "And who should that be?"

"A Miss Bouvier."

Mind you, there's nothing in that honorific Miss to signify a lady of distinction. He refers to virtually all his girls that way. She might be a cashier at the Montelle Pharmacy or Finland's deputy chief of mission, and you won't know until you've pulled up in front of her apartment building and seen her tottering through the front gate, a blonde in a crew-neck cardigan or a brunette in a bullet bra, and it's always the latter who raises her hand for you to kiss and the former who comes at you straight on like an encyclopedia salesman, and whoever it is remains "Miss" in our conversation until such time as the business is consummated, at which point she devolves into her component parts.

There is nothing, in short, about a "Miss Bouvier" to separate her from her predecessors. Were I to search his face—his soul—down to the most granular level, I would find no clue, for there is perhaps none to find. Miss Bouvier is a destination. And now that we've crossed into Virginia, the only thing left to figure out is where she might live. Clarendon? Cherrydale? A group home in Fort Myer, maybe. But we speed past all those destinations before steering up Old Dominion Drive. Nature rushes forth, and the car dealers and the Hot Shoppes fall away before dogwoods and tulip trees, tatters of forsythia.

"Have you known her long?" I ask.

"Not so very."

"Define not so."

"A year. Off and on."

"More off or more on?"

"More off."

"Young or old?"

"Young."

"Dewy?"

"Engaged," he says. "Or was."

I glance at him. "To you?"

"Don't be disgusting."

"Will we be chauffeuring her fiancé, too?"

"We'd have to drive clear to New York for that. I understand he's not worth it."

By now, my glasses are fairly crusted over with pollen, so I'm making windshield wipers of my index fingers as I ask what it is that Miss Bouvier does with her days.

"Journalism," he says.

"Is that how you met?"

"Oh," he says. "I'm not on her beat."

There's something half buried in that remark, and I don't know how to disinter it. Forests of redbud and magnolia are thickening around us, and somehow they're all in on the secret, and Kay Starr sings "Wheel of Fortune" on the radio, and, during the second chorus, I sneeze, and Jack says, "Perfectly in tune, Lem," and then the song is over, and we're pulling up in front of ...

Well, where? I can't even tell. All I can make out through my encrusted specs are a row of white pilasters and a front portico. Where sits a girl.

Doesn't she hear the car's tires on the gravel? Or see our headlights slicing through the trees? When we first happen upon her, her face is angled away, as though she's cocking her ear for a nightingale. Her knees are drawn protectively to her chest, and there's something quite exposed about her. I mean, she doesn't look like she belongs there any more than I do, and I briefly wonder if she's a housemaid or a nanny, taking her one allotted evening out. Abruptly, she stands and gives us two quick waves and then, as she jogs to the passenger side, comes briefly ablaze in the headlights.

By now, of course, I'm extricating myself from the front of the car and inserting myself with no great grace into the back, and the operation is so consuming that, for a second or two, I lose all consciousness of her, and then I hear her say—in that voice, like a ghost whispering through the pipes—"You must be Lem."

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Excerpted from Jackie & Me by Louis Bayard. Copyright © 2022 by Louis Bayard. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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