Would a true friend lie to you?
Ivy has been looking forward to seeing her oldest college friends for months. But this reunion couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Her husband has left her and she is struggling to pay the bills. She’s never felt less like sitting around joking and drinking cocktails.
But not wanting to let everyone down, Ivy boards the plane to Boston and makes her way to Elise’s Cape Cod summerhouse, where Ada and Libby are waiting.
She knew Elise’s husband was successful, but the house on the ocean, with floor-to-ceiling windows, is more opulent than she imagined. And there are photographs of Elise’s perfect, happy family in every room. Already struggling to put a brave face on things, Ivy finds herself reaching breaking point.
That evening, as the four friends gather on the sofa along with several bottles of wine, someone suggests they play truth or dare...
As the game goes on, something is said that can’t be taken back. Something that makes Ivy question if these women were ever her friends to begin with.
But this is not the only secret these women have been hiding. As new revelations come to light, will the weekend bring them closer or tear them apart for good?
A gripping, emotional novel about the complexities of friendship and the lengths we will go for the ones we love. Perfect for fans of Big Little Lies, The Family Next Door and The Silent Wife.
Praise for Emily Cavanagh:
“Hooked me on the first page… This book grabbed me… I read it in two sittings.” The World Is Ours to Read, ?????
Heartbreaking and poignant… A story of secrets and families, love, loss and betrayal… Loved, loved, loved this book.” Goodreads Reviewer, ?????
“I absolutely loved this book… Captivating, compelling, powerful and so heart-breaking. It was one that I could not tear myself away from… If I could give it more than 5 stars I would.” Once Upon A Time Book Blog, ?????
“Heartbreaking, unforgettable and captivating… I just couldn’t put it down.” Goodreads Reviewer, ?????
“A page-turner… Nothing was as it seemed, and everyone had something to hide… I was hooked from the first page.” Lu Reviews Books
“Heartbreaking and gripping page turner with a twist. This instantly pulled me in… I just had to finish and find out what happened.” Goodreads Reviewer, ?????
“A page turner with a twist… I didn't want to put it down.” Goodreads Reviewer, ?????
Release date: February 12, 2021
Print pages: 350
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Her Guilty Secret
Hunched over her iPad, Elise Kelly-Ryan deleted the last sentence. Surely it was bad luck to joke about something like that. I’ll miss my chickens when I’m away, she wrote instead, then deleted that too. People would think she meant actual chickens, not her children. Everyone seemed to be raising chickens these days. Backyard poultry and planting their own gardens. Now that it was spring, at afternoon pickup all the other mothers would be talking about their peas, or how the wild turkeys had gotten into the lettuce. Was there something so wrong with buying your food in the grocery store? At least she tried to buy organic.
Elise posted the status update with just the first sentence, then tagged Ada, Ivy, and Libby. She closed the iPad and surveyed the kitchen. The counter was sticky with maple syrup. Everything was always sticky with maple syrup. Marianna insisted on waffles every day, and Elise had finally stopped resisting. For a while she’d tried to force her to eat something with protein in it—an egg from the chickens she wasn’t raising, or a bowl of yogurt—but Marianna put up such a fuss, and really, who cared? How terrible was it to eat frozen waffles for breakfast every morning? Elise caught herself going down this train of thought all the time. In the grand scheme of life, who cared if Tommy wore a stained shirt to school (the teachers in his private school, apparently)? In the grand scheme of life, who cared if Piper wouldn’t eat any vegetables (truly not a single one, unless you counted pickles as a vegetable, which Elise did)? Her pantry was filled with jars of the sodium-ridden sandwich accessory. In the grand scheme of life, who cared if she was drinking too much coffee (even if it did mean she had to use the bathroom far more often than a woman her age should, and that it occasionally gave her heart palpations)? At least it was Fairtrade.
She poured herself another cup before hollering up the stairs.
“Come on, kids, hurry up. We’ve got to get going.” No one responded. It was only the first warning anyway, and they all knew the first warning didn’t mean anything. It wasn’t till Elise was red-faced and frantic that anyone actually stopped what they were doing—texting, always texting—and got in the car. As usual Brad had already left for work, leaving Elise with the joy of getting everyone fed and out the door. Actually, he’d left for the gym, where he went before work each morning. Elise knew she should be glad her husband was exercising, but she suspected part of the reason he went before work was to escape the mayhem of the morning routine.
Elise flipped open the iPad again, scrolling through her Facebook feed. She’d already gotten several “likes” on her post about the weekend away, mostly from other college friends. Acquaintances really, since none of the others were friends in the way Ada, Ivy, and Libby were.
She took a sip of coffee and opened the document she’d created for the weekend, scanning the list for last-minute items she needed to pick up. She hoped Ada remembered everyone’s dietary restrictions. These days Ada was sleepy and preoccupied, and Elise got it, she did—she’d been sleepy and preoccupied for several years when the children were little—but Ada wasn’t the only woman ever to have had a baby. Lately when they spoke on the phone, it was like Ada was just waiting till Elise stopped talking so she could tell Elise how many times Sam had woken up the previous night.
The last time they’d seen each other, two years ago at Ada’s wedding, there’d been too much going on for the four of them to spend any quality time together. They barely had a chance to talk with all of the wedding events. Ada had sat them all together, but between the toasts and the dancing, there was hardly any time to really talk. Then there were all those other people from Ada’s adult life—new friends Elise didn’t know, colleagues of Tyler’s, and multiple siblings and cousins. Ada was one of her oldest and dearest friends, but Elise felt like she, Ivy, and Libby were out of place the whole time, interlopers.
This weekend would be different. This weekend was just about the four of them, her BFFs as Piper would have said, followed by little heart emojis. Ivy would fly in from San Francisco in just a few hours, and Elise had promised to pick her up at the airport, even though Ivy insisted she could take an Uber. Why take an Uber when Elise was only a half-hour away and more than happy to get her? That way they could drive to the Cape together. Besides, Elise needed the extra time alone with Ivy. The last few times they’d seen each other, Elise got the sense she was grating on Ivy’s nerves. In fact, she was pretty certain Ivy had rolled her eyes at her during Ada’s wedding—and not in a chummy BFF way, in an annoyed you’re-driving-me-nuts way. No, Elise needed some time with Ivy to remind her why they were friends.
“Kids, come on, let’s get going,” Elise called up the stairs, her voice a little shriller this time. She wished she could just stick them on a bus like her mother had done when Elise was a kid, but they each needed to be carted off to different places—Tommy to his private school in Brookline, Piper to the public school just a few blocks away, and Marianna to the school on the other side of town which she’d school-choiced because it had the best special ed program in the district. She dropped Marianna last, not because her school started later, but because Elise loved having a few extra minutes alone with her youngest and sweetest child. At six, Marianna was the only one of the three of them who actually talked to her anyway. Tommy had stopped several years ago when he entered middle school. Elise used to be able to count on Piper for a few minutes of conversation, until she made the mistake of buying her an iPhone at the beginning of fifth grade. Now Piper spent most of their time together with her earbuds plugged in, her face slack and empty, illuminated by the blue glare of the screen. Piper stared at it so intently it was like she was praying. Thou shalt not worship false idols, she often thought watching Piper, her own Catholic upbringing rearing its head. She really should take the children to church more often.
“We need to be in the car in two minutes,” Elise yelled up the stairs. “Do you hear me? Two minutes!” Surely, they sensed her frustration this time. If they heard her at all—those foolish earbuds were like an extra body part, something they weren’t born with but sprouted as they neared adolescence, like pubic hair and breasts.
Brad was just as bad, constantly checking his email covertly at the dinner table, his phone in his lap like a teenage girl trying to text in class. He was on it more than ever these days, but Elise knew that was partly to avoid having to converse with her. For the past two months their interactions had been curt and chilly, and Elise couldn’t help but worry what it was he was doing on his phone all that time—emailing a lawyer? Looking for a new apartment across town? She hoped he was only playing video games or checking on sporting stats, annoying yet less significant pastimes. Then again, Elise could feel the pull of her iPad like a magnetic current across the room. How many “likes” did she have now? They were all addicted to the machines, itching for their next fix of data and affirmation. Was there a program to dry out from technology? A cold turkey approach in the name of raising better-adjusted children? She’d google it later today while she waited for Ivy.
Facebook status update: Super excited for a much-needed girls’ weekend. Hope Sam’s a good boy for Tyler!!
When Ada Clark first opened her eyes, she remembered. Today was the day.
It was dark, barely morning by most people’s standards, but Sam was babbling in his crib across the hall. At nine months old he still wasn’t sleeping through the night, and insisted on getting up before five. In her previous life, on a weekend Ada lounged in bed till nine. Tyler brought coffee, and then she’d sit in bed for another hour, reading or browsing online.
Beside her, Tyler slept deeply, “like a baby” Ada would have once said, until she actually had one and learned how wholly inaccurate that phrase was. Sleeping like a baby actually meant eyes popping open every hour and a half, as if caffeine coursed through Sam’s veins and not blood. Sleeping like a baby meant only sleeping if someone held you for an hour before you were lowered carefully, slowly, into the bed. No, Tyler slept like a man who was very tired, who missed sleeping soundly night after night.
Ada wasn’t going to let the four thirty wake-up call get her down—not today, with three luxurious days of napping and freedom in front of her. She slid from the warmth of bed and pushed open Sam’s door. He had a habit of pooping first thing in the morning, and the ripe smell hit her as she entered his room. Three days, she reminded herself. Despite the soiled diaper, Sam gave her the toothless smile of an old man that always won her over, even before dawn had broken.
“Hey, big boy.” She lifted him from the crib and brought him over to the changing table, undoing the snaps of his onesie and unsticking the tabs on his diaper. She cringed at the mess inside. It was sometimes shocking the amount of poop one tiny person could produce, not to mention the rainbow of colors the waste came in. Forget brown. Sam pooped in shades of yellow, orange, beige, and green. Every day his diaper was a surprise. She pulled out extra wipes.
There were four of them going to Elise’s house on the Cape this weekend—Ada, Elise, Libby, and Ivy. They’d been friends for twenty years, since they met freshman year at Harper College in Newton, Massachusetts. For four years, they did everything together—gorged on frozen yogurt in the dining hall, crammed for finals in the library, did keg stands on homecoming weekend, watched Lifetime movies on TV. For four years, they were a unit. Now they were scattered about the country. It was impossible to believe twenty years had passed.
Ada knew the others were looking forward to the weekend, but she was the only one with an infant at home. The rest of them had children who ranged from six to eighteen, and it seemed they’d long forgotten the ravages of sleep deprivation, the way it could consume you and tear you down bit by bit. They complained that they couldn’t drag their kids out of bed in the morning in time for school, while Ada would have given her engagement ring to sleep till seven, just one morning. Whenever she complained, she got the typical, “been there, done that,” reaction that made her grit her teeth and shut up.
Ada brought Sam into the living room and settled on the couch to nurse. He was a round cherub of a baby with the appetite of a teenage boy. He drank lustily, and while he ate he fidgeted, grabbing at her hair, the hem of her tee shirt, her cell phone, before finally settling into a comfortable spot. She’d been looking forward to the weekend for months, one of the few things she’d mustered up enthusiasm for. Part of her wished Ivy wasn’t able to come. Seeing her always brought out a toxic combination of emotions. First the insecurity she’d had around Ivy in college, followed by the guilt she felt later.
There were several texts from the night before about how excited everyone was for the weekend, attached to an endless thread that had been looping for weeks. Ada had finally started turning on the do-not-disturb at night, after the incessant chime on her phone kept waking her and Tyler up in the middle of the night. Just as she’d be dozing off into a fitful sleep, the phone would ding, sending her heart racing. Who stayed up till eleven anymore? By eight o’clock, Ada’s eyes were so heavy it was like monkeys were hanging from her eyelashes.
There was an email from Elise about food. Until Marianna was born, Elise had been a first-grade teacher, and she conducted her life with the same efficiency and organization that she must have brought to her classroom.
Of course the grocery list was color-coded. The message to Ada was in pink:
Ada, you volunteered to bring breakfast items for all three days. Fruit salad? Oatmeal? Omelets? I’ll get a few things just in case. I’ve already picked up coffee and half and half!! Xo
It had been two years since they’d all been together at Ada’s wedding. Ada had been thrilled to have them there, but she’d hardly had any time to be with them between all of the wedding events. Ada had seen Elise and Libby several times since then, but being with them was always easier, in part because they lived closer and saw each other more frequently, but also because things with Ivy were rarely easy and never had been. Ivy had always brought out the worst in her, all of her insecurities and self-doubt bubbling to the surface. Even when she was being nice, Ada always felt judged by Ivy. In addition to whatever snarky drama Ivy brought with her, time spent with her always left Ada with an uncomfortable twang of guilt. She wondered if the others felt the same way or if it was just her.
Ada gazed down at Sam who was drifting off to sleep, his lips still moving though his eyes were closed. She hadn’t married Tyler till she was thirty-nine, hadn’t had Sam till she was forty. She’d worried about every possible diagnosis. For weeks, she’d stressed about the mojitos she’d drunk at a retirement party she’d gone to before she realized she was pregnant. Autism, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, trisomy—just about every common and uncommon diagnosis out there, Ada had imagined. Ada was older than most of her friends had been when they’d had their last children, and she knew the risks were higher. Elise had proved that. Every ultrasound, scan and amnio had come back clear, but Ada spent sleepless nights imagining what might be wrong with her unborn baby.
And then Sam arrived, ten fingers and ten toes, a full head of wheat-colored hair, and long curling lashes. His perfection was a shock. Every time Ada looked at him, even now, nine months later, she felt like she’d had the wind knocked out of her.
She hadn’t realized motherhood would be like having her body cleaved open and her heart removed. No one had told her. The days passed in a blur of soiled diapers, nursing, fatigue, spit-up, and the endless quest for sleep. Sam was a finicky napper, and he preferred to sleep with his head resting against Ada’s chest. She loved the feeling of his cheek on her skin, but instead of sleeping, she gazed down at him with gritty-eyed adoration. During the rare moments when Tyler took Sam out and she had a half-hour to read a book or have a cup of coffee, Ada found herself wandering aimlessly around the house, folding tiny onesies still warm from the dryer, pressing the lightly scented fabric to her face and inhaling his intoxicating smell. On the few evenings when she’d gone out to meet a friend, Ada missed Sam intensely, the familiar weight of him in her arms, even though she spent much of her day with a sore and aching back. There was no returning to the way life was before, or who she was before. Her body and heart had been permanently altered.
She suspected her friends had learned this long ago. Ivy’s kids were teenagers now, which was crazy, since Ada sometimes felt like a teenager herself. Though not so much lately. These days she felt more like an old woman, her body protesting all the time, bones aching from the awkward bulk of a squirming Sam, his mouth and hands constantly reaching for her. There was a reason people did this in their twenties.
Ada wished she’d met Tyler at twenty-five. Things would be different now if they’d met earlier, if she’d had a chance to become a mother the way she’d imagined—overcome only with happiness, not racked by grief and sadness. If she’d met Tyler earlier, her mother would have had a chance to know Sam, and Ada wouldn’t have felt so alone. This was also why she needed the weekend—to see her oldest friends and to feel connected to someone other than Sam.
Sam snored lightly, his lips parted, her nipple only halfway in his mouth. He reminded her of Tyler, so easily satiated: a beer, an orgasm, and a nap, and he was good as new. Though Ada couldn’t imagine ever wanting to have sex again. Her body was too depleted to give anything more.
She adjusted the pillow and slowly lowered herself till she was lying on the couch with Sam against her chest, his wet mouth spilling a pool of drool onto her skin. Fatigue circled just around her consciousness, and when she closed her eyes, it was a relief to give in to the heaviness of her lids. Sam sighed in his dreams, and Ada’s eyes snapped alert, locking on his long lashes and creamy skin. No matter how tired she was, sleep continued to elude her, a slippery dark beast that she couldn’t quite catch. She focused instead on the rise and fall of his breath, the faint milky smell that hovered between them. This would have to be enough.
Facebook status update: See you later, SF! Here I come, Cape Cod!
Ivy adjusted her sunglasses and stepped onto the moving walkway at San Francisco International Airport. Her head pounded, and she knew she’d be hungover for the better part of the day. She hoped she didn’t get sick on the plane.
Around her the airport bustled with life, all that coming and going, people heading out on business trips and vacations. She hadn’t been on a plane since she flew to Boston for Ada’s wedding two years earlier. She hadn’t seen any of them since, not even Libby, and she knew she was supposed to be excited about the weekend, but she was having trouble mustering the enthusiasm.
She couldn’t afford the trip, first of all. She knew Elise would have happily bought her ticket, but there was no way Ivy was going to plead poverty. Easier to put the ticket on a credit card and deal with it later. It was Elise who’d insisted on the weekend, desperate to hold the group together, when the rest of them would have happily drifted off into their separate corners of adulthood, forming new and more compatible friendships with people they actually had things in common with. Still, she couldn’t imagine not going and watching the weekend unfold through their text messages and social media posts. Being with them was like coming home, with all of the complications that came with family.
She stepped off the walkway and trudged toward her gate. She’d take some Tylenol once she boarded. She hadn’t meant to drink so much but the kids were both out for the night, and she’d spread a stack of paperwork and bills across the table, and poured herself a tall glass of wine in order to face the terrifying pile. After opening only a few overdue notices, she ended up shoving the pile in a drawer and drinking most of the bottle, trying to calm the panic that always hovered around the edges lately. Her head pounded this morning, and she felt sick about it as she always did when she ended up drinking too much, her father’s phantom rising up to remind her of the cost of her self-destructive impulses.
Settling into one of the cushioned chairs in the waiting area, she pulled up the hood of her coat, seeking a moment of quiet. There would be no quiet once she got to the Cape. She loved Elise, but she was one of those people who hated silence and worked hard to fill every moment with an unceasing prattle. Talk, talk, talk—the woman didn’t shut up. It didn’t matter where they were or what the conversation was about, Elise could talk endlessly on a subject as mundane as the gravel in her driveway.
They still didn’t know about Sebastian. It had been seven months since he and Ivy separated, and last week the divorce papers had arrived. They were amongst the pile of papers spread on her table last night, and she’d stared at the places where her signature was required, unable to pick up the pen to sign. All of Ivy’s friends from San Francisco knew about the separation and looming divorce, but she hadn’t told any of her Harper friends, not even Libby. Part of it was shame, which she knew was stupid. It wasn’t her fault Sebastian had an affair with a twenty-two-year-old student from his Introduction to Oil Painting class. Ivy had met Fauna at a student art show just once before she found out about the affair, and she practically smelled the pheromones in the air between them. Fauna, only four years older than Ivy’s son Jax, who ogled his almost-stepmom in a way that they all pretended to ignore. Fauna… Ivy couldn’t even think the name without feeling like she might vomit. Fauna, a cross between a deer and a flower, a made up hippy dippy California name. Not that Ivy could really throw stones with children named Trina and Jax, but Trina was shortened from Katrina, Sebastian’s grandmother’s name. In some places a name like Jax might have been unique, but there were three others in his high school class—Jacques, Jacks, and Jaxe. Fauna, on the other hand, was just ridiculous.
Ivy didn’t know whether the relationship would have continued if Fauna hadn’t gotten pregnant. Sebastian never did like condoms, and apparently, Fauna was too preoccupied with artistic theory to bother with something as mundane as birth control. The girl actually had the nerve to show up at the apartment with Sebastian last week when he came to pick up Trina and Jax. She was practically glowing, her belly round and tight under an empire-waist sundress, hair falling in curls around her shoulders, all soft curves and fertility. Ivy certainly didn’t look like that when she was pregnant. She was nauseous for nine months, her skin more green than glowing, and her ass had nearly doubled in size.
The real reason she hadn’t told her friends about Sebastian was because she was humiliated. The young student turned lover, the unplanned pregnancy, it was all such a cliché, like something out of one of those terrible Lifetime movies they used to watch together. Ivy couldn’t bear to think that her life had become as predictable and trite as one of the characters in those overacted dramas.
She also didn’t want them to know about the other strains the divorce was putting on her. Despite rent control, they’d always struggled to make the payments on their San Francisco apartment each month. The city was on a swift upward climb. It had become a city of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and techies, not a place for adjunct art professors and massage therapists/jewelry makers. So when Sebastian moved into Fauna’s apartment in the East Bay, Ivy was left to pay the entire rent, which she couldn’t afford. It was hard not to be bitter, and she wasn’t looking forward to the reminder of how her life. . .
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