Authors: Jennifer Weiner
Tags: #Chic Lit
Also by Jennifer Weiner
Good in Bed
In Her Shoes
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright (c) 2005 by Jennifer Weiner, Inc.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
For information address Atria Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
is a trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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For Frances Frumin Weiner
"Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night--she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question--'Is this all?' "
The Feminine Mystique
"Sighed Mayzie, a lazy bird hatching an egg:
'I'm tired and I'm bored
And I've kinks in my leg
From sitting, just sitting here day after day.
How I hate it!
I'd take a vacation, fly off for a rest, if I could find
to stay on my nest!
If I could find someone, I'd fly away--free...' "
Horton Hatches the Egg
"Well I had a dream and in it
I went to a little town
And all the girls in town were named Betty."
--Laurie Anderson, "Smoke Rings"
The Good Mother
"Hello?" I tapped on Kitty Cavanaugh's red front door, then lifted the brass knocker and gave it a few thumps for good measure. "Hello?"
"Mommy, can I ring the doorbell?" Sophie asked. She stood on her tiptoes and waved her fist in the air.
"No, it's my turn," said Sam, kicking his sneakered feet against one of the half-dozen perfectly spherical pumpkins beside Kitty's front door. Halloween was a week away, and we'd only gotten around to carving our single jack-o'-lantern the night before. It had come out crooked and its right side had rotted and caved in overnight, and it looked like we had a sadistic stroke victim parked on our porch. When I'd lit the candle, all three kids had cried.
turn!" said Jack, shoving his younger-by-three-minutes brother.
"Don't push me!" cried Sam, shoving back.
"Sophie, then Sam, then Jack," I said. Two degrees in English literature, a career in New York City, and this was where I'd ended up, standing on a semi-stranger's doorstep in a Connecticut suburb with uncombed hair and a tote bag full of bribe lollipops, wrangling three kids under the age of five. How had this happened? I couldn't explain it. Especially not the part about getting pregnant with the boys when Sophie was just seven weeks old, courtesy of an act of intercourse I can barely remember and can't imagine I'd condoned.
Sophie reached up, pigtails quivering, and rang the bell. A dimple flashed in her left cheek as she gave her brothers a smug look that said,
This is how it's done.
Nobody answered. I looked at my watch, wondering if I'd heard Kitty wrong. She'd called on Wednesday night, when the boys were in the bathtub and Sophie was sitting on the toilet, applying lipstick and waiting her turn. I was kneeling in front of the tub, my shirt half-soaked, a washcloth in my hand, scrubbing playground grime from underneath their fingernails and enjoying one of my most persistent and vivid daydreams, the one that began with two men knocking on my front door. Who were they? Police officers? FBI agents? I'd never figured that out.
The younger one wore a beige suit and a clipped inch of sandy mustache, and the older one had a black suit and thinning black hair combed over his bald spot. He was the one who did the talking.
There's been a mistake,
he would tell me, and he'd explain that, due to some glitch I'd never quite fleshed out (Bad dream? Alternate universe?), I'd wound up with someone else's children, living someone else's life.
I would ask, careful not to sound too eager as a woman--these days, she was usually the lady from the Swiffer commercial who danced around to the Devo song, happily dusting--stepped between them, hands planted on her capable hips.
There you are, you little scamps!
she would say to the children.
I'm so sorry for the inconvenience,
she'd say to me.
I'd graciously reply. And then she'd say...
I looked up. My husband stood in the doorway, with his briefcase in one hand and the telephone in the other, staring at me with something that was either disdain or its close first cousin. My heart sank as I realized that getting slopped with the boys' bathwater was the closest I'd come to showering that day.
I reached for the phone with one soapy hand. "Can you watch them for a sec?"
"Let me just get out of this suit," he said, and vanished down the hall. Translation:
See you in an hour.
I stifled a sigh and tucked the telephone under my ear.
"Kate, it's Kitty Cavanaugh," she'd said, in her low, cultured voice. "I was wondering whether you were free for lunch on Friday."
I'd been too shocked to stammer out "Sure" or "Yes." I'd wound up saying "Shes," even though lunch with Kitty Cavanaugh wasn't high on my to-do list. As far as I was concerned she represented everything that was wrong with my new hometown.
I remember the first time I'd seen Kitty. After a morning of unpacking I'd driven the kids to the park our Realtor had pointed out. I hadn't washed my thick, curly brown hair in three days and was looking more than a little disheveled, but the other mothers wouldn't mind, I thought, as I pulled into a parking space. As the kids and I walked through the white picket playground gates, we saw four women seated on the green wooden bench by the seesaws: four women wearing the identical shade of dark pink lipstick; four formidably groomed, exquisitely fit, terrifyingly capable-looking women. Each one had a monogrammed paisley silk diaper bag slung across her shoulder, like a Pink Lady jacket. Or an Uzi.
"Hi!" I said. My voice seemed to bounce off the pebbled rubber mats underneath the slides and echo through the swing set. The women took in my outfit (loose, syrup-stained cargo pants, finger-paint-smeared sneakers, one of my husband's washed-out long-sleeved gray T-shirts with one of my own violet short-sleeved shirts on top), my messy hair, my makeup-free face, the belly and hips I'd been meaning to do something about for the past two years and, finally, my kids. Jack looked okay, but Sam was clutching his favorite pacifier, which he hadn't used in months, and Sophie had pulled on a tutu over her pajama bottoms.
The buff-looking blonde in the middle, in camel-colored boot-cut pants topped with a zippered fleece vest, raised her hand and gave us a semi-smile. Her name, I'd later learn, was Lexi Hagen-Holdt, and she looked exactly like what she was--a former all-state athlete in soccer and lacrosse who'd worked as a high school coach before marriage and had started training for a triathlon six weeks after she'd had baby Brierly.
The brunette next to her had shoulder-length light brown hair perfectly streaked and styled, and eyebrows plucked into perfect arches, then dyed to match; she gave us a half of a wave. Her full lips twisted sideways, as if she'd tasted something sour. This was Sukie Sutherland, in Seven jeans and high-heeled, pointy-toed suede boots--the kind of outfit my friend Janie would have worn out clubbing and I never would have attempted at all.
"Hi!" said the redhead--Carol Gwinnell--at the far end of the bench. She sported a pumpkin-colored sweater with a long skirt in swirling shades of red and orange and gold. Her little gold earrings were clusters of bells that jingled and chimed, and she wore sequined purple slippers trimmed in gold braid. Carol's husband, I would shortly learn, was head of litigation at one of the five biggest law firms in New York City. Carol and Rob and their two sons lived in a Bettencourt and had a summer house on Nantucket, which I guess gave her the right to dress like she was going to a Stevie Nicks concert if she wanted to.
Finally, the fourth woman deigned to approach us. She knelt down gracefully in front of my kids and one by one asked them their names. Her straight, thick hair fell to the center of her back, a glossy sheet of chocolate brown held with a black velvet band. She had lovely features: full lips, a straight, narrow nose, high cheekbones, and a neat little chin. Given her hair, and her golden complexion, I would have expected brown eyes, but hers were wide set and a blue so dark it was almost purple. The color of pansies.
"And I'm Kitty Cavanaugh," she said to my children. "I have twins too."
"Kate Klein," I managed, thinking,
Don't fall for it, you little bastards.
Of course, my kids were charmed. The boys let go of my leg and smiled at her shyly, while Sophie stared at her and said, "You're so pretty!" I tried not to roll my eyes. The last time Sophie looked at me that intently, she hadn't said that I was pretty, she'd told me I had a hair growing out of my chin.
I plastered a smile on my face and made a series of mental notes: figure out where to buy a perfectly cut suede jacket; find out where these women got their hair blown, their teeth bleached, their eyebrows plucked; and try to locate the other overwhelmed, under-groomed, bigger-than-a-breadbox mothers like myself, even if I had to cross state lines to find them.
The ladies had gone back to their conversation, which seemed to concern the student-teacher ratios at the town's competing private schools. It had taken three more playground visits, twenty minutes spent listening to Sukie talk about reorganizing her pantry, and a trip to Mr. Steven, the local hairdresser, before Kitty and I had had an actual conversation, about what kind of baked goods I should bring to the Red Wheel Barrow annual holiday bake sale. "No nuts, no dairy," she'd told me. I'd nodded humbly and managed to keep from asking, "How about crack? Would crack be okay?"
Our second talk had been less successful. We'd been standing side by side at the swings on the playground one summer afternoon. Kitty was wearing a pink linen sundress, simple yet elegant, a look (and a fabric) I hadn't attempted in years, and I was wearing my usual--grubby pants and a cotton tank top--feeling overweight and underdressed and entirely inadequate.
It's this town,
I thought, tugging at my waistband with one hand and pushing Sophie with the other. Back in New York I'd get the occasional whistle from a construction worker, an appreciative glance from a guy on the street. Sixty miles out of the city and I was Shamu in a sweater set.
I had been daydreaming out loud about a vacation I'd probably never take, describing some resort I'd read about in a travel magazine in my gynecologist's waiting room. Private open-air bungalows...individual swimming pools...fresh-cut pineapple and papaya set out on the terrace every morning...
"Can you bring kids?" Kitty had asked.
Startled, I'd said, "Why would you want to?"
"Phil and I take our daughters everywhere," she'd said primly, giving little Madeline a push. "I would never, ever leave them."
"Never ever?" I'd repeated--a little sarcastically, I'm afraid. "Not even for a Friday night at the movies? Not even to go out to dinner? Or for a light snack?"
She'd shaken her glorious hair, a tiny smile--a smug smile, I thought--playing around her lips. "I would never leave them," she'd repeated.
I'd nodded, plastered a smile on my own face, eased Sophie out of the swing, mumbled, "Have a nice weekend" (without realizing until much later that it was Tuesday), hustled all three kids into the van, stuck a DVD into the player, turned up the volume, and muttered the word "freak" all the way home.
Since then, Kitty and I had had a nod-and-wave acquaintance, smiling at each other across the soccer field or the dairy aisle of the grocery store. I didn't want it to go any further than that. But I'd said yes--or "shes"--anyhow. Oh, well.
I thought, and shoved a wayward curl behind my right ear with one shampoo-slick hand. It was what had gotten me three babies and a house in Connecticut in the first place.
"I think we have a friend in common," Kitty said.
I wiped my hands on my thighs. "Oh? Who's that?" For one giddy moment I was completely sure that she was going to say Jesus, and that I'd be stuck listening to a soliloquy about her personal relationship with the Savior and how I needed one myself.
But Kitty answered my question with another one of her own. "You were a journalist, right?"
"Well, that's putting it a little strongly," I said. "I worked at
New York Night,
and I covered celebrity addiction. Not exactly Woodward and Bernstein stuff. Why?"
Here it comes,
I thought, bracing myself for the invitation to edit the nursery school newsletter or do a quick polish on the Cavanaugh Christmas card. ("Dear friends! Hope this season of comfort and joy finds you well. It's been a blessed year for the Cavanaugh Clan...")
"There's something...," she began. Just then Sam dunked Jack under the water. "Mommy, he's drownding the baby," Sophie observed from the toilet seat, where she was twisting her hair into a chignon. I bent down to drag Jack upright. He was spluttering, Sam was crying, and Kitty said we'd talk on Friday.
At least, I was pretty sure she'd said Friday. Positive, almost. I took a deep breath and lifted the knocker again, noticing the way the Cavanaugh house gleamed under the cloudless blue sky. The hedges were trimmed, the leaves were raked, the windows sparkled, and there were charming arrangements of bittersweet and miniature pumpkins in the window boxes that complemented the dried-
red-pepper wreath on the door.
I gave an especially forceful knock, and the door swung open.
"Hello?" I called into the dim, echoing entryway. No answer...but I could see lights gleaming from the kitchen at the end of the hall, and I could hear music playing, one of the Brandenburg Concertos, which were undoubtedly more edifying than the polka tunes my kids enjoyed. "Kitty? Hello?" I called again. Nothing. The wind kicked up, sending a drift of brown leaves rattling against the hardwood floor. I was starting to get the proverbial bad feeling about this as I wiggled my cell phone out of my pocket, called information, and asked for the Cavanaugh listing at 5 Folly Farm Way.
The operator connected me. Inside the house I could hear Kitty's phone ringing...and ringing...and ringing.
"Nobody's home," Sophie said impatiently, bouncing up and down in pink sneakers that did not quite match her orange overalls.
"Hang on," I said. "Hello?" I called into the house. Nothing.
"Mama?" Sophie reached for my hand. The boys looked at each other, their foreheads drawn into identical furrows, plump mouths pulled into matching frowns. The two of them were all curves and dimples and alabaster skin that flushed when they were overheated or upset. Their lashes cast spiky shadows on their cheeks, and their brown hair curled into ringlets so beautiful I'd cried at their first haircuts...and second...and third. Unlike her brothers, Sophie was tall and lanky, like her father, with olive skin and fine brown hair that tended toward snarls, not ringlets.
"Stay here. Right here. On the porch. On the pumpkins," I said, in a burst of inspiration. "I want tushies on pumpkins until I say it's okay. And don't close the door!" Sophie must have caught something in my tone because she nodded. "I'll watch the babies."
"We're not babies!" said Jack, with his hands balled into fists.