The Secrets We Keep
“A highly emotional and suspenseful book which left me in tears in some parts and biting my nails in others… One emotional rollercoaster of a story with twists and turns aplenty.”Stardust Book Reviews
" My whole body aches. I trawl memories of her, now so precious... my darling child. I can’t lose her…
When Tessa arrives at the little house by the lake with her two children, it is an escape. The rental house may be a bit small – but it’s theirs for the summer. A place to hide…
However, their isolation is disrupted by the family from the big house next door. Three children and their glamorous mother Rebecca – who seems determined to invite Tessa into their lives.
Rebecca, however, is harbouring a dark secret. And when it becomes too much for her to bear, Tessa seems to be the only person she can turn to.
But as powerful bonds form between the two families, choices will be made that can never be undone. And as the summer comås to an end, nothing can keep everyone safe. And one family will pay the ultimate price…
A gripping, powerful emotional page turner with a heartbreaking twist, for fans of Jodi Picoult, Emily Bleeker and Diane Chamberlain.
Readers are loving The Secrets We Keep :
" Compelling and hard to put down… gritty, real and emotional… complex and captivating." Goodreads reviewer
"A powerful, emotional and captivating book… very gripping… a fantastic story." MoMo’s Book Diary, 5 stars
"Emotional, suspenseful, truthful...these all describe this gut wrenching story of two very different women and the summer they share… I couldn't put it down! The suspense built higher and higher feeling almost like a Hitchcock movie." Goodreads reviewer
"It had me on the edge of my seat with tears in my eyes. It is a very heart wrenching book to read and incredibly moving." Goodreads reviewer
" Captivating, suspenseful, entertaining novel! This beautiful thriller kept me on the edge of my seat while I was reading it!" Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
"An intriguing tale of friendship, loyalty and family… I loved it." Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
" Oh my god!! What a heartbreaking twist...I absolutely loved this book sooooo much." Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
" An absolutely, heart wrenchingly, emotional book… Be warned, you will shed tears!" Goodreads reviewer, 5 star
"A beautifully written story… I loved this book!" Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
"A story about friendship, hope, and how we can help each other get through the tough times in our lives… captivated me from the start…. I love, love, love this book." Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
"I could not put [it] down, I just had to find out what happens next… I enjoyed every minute of this book." Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
"[A] suspenseful family drama.. that I couldn’t put down, and a surprising heartbreaking twist." Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
"I was totally immersed in this beautifully told story and felt really sad by the time I reached the end. I wanted more as I had enjoyed it so much. I loved the storyline in all its complexities… The story was uniquely wonderful and I couldn’t put the book down… I loved every single page of it." Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
"I cried so much during this book. It was a really fast read for me because I couldn't put it down." Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
" I have just finished reading this book, and am blown away. I didn't want the book to end, but I couldn't put it down… Engrossing." Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
" Wow! This book really kept me on my toes. There are a lot of twists and turns that I was not expecting… I highly recommend this book, but prepare yourself for the emotional roller coaster! " Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
Release date: September 4, 2018
Print pages: 350
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The Secrets We Keep
“We’re almost there.”
I crane my head around, taking my eyes off the winding road for a split second, to give Ben and Katherine what I hope is an encouraging smile. Ben isn’t even looking at me—his eyes are glued to his Kindle Fire tablet, as usual—and Katherine is staring out the window, twirling a strand of hair around one finger. Both of them already seem bored, and our summer vacation has barely started.
I turn back to the road, unsure if the clench of my stomach muscles is from excitement or terror. I’m doing this. I’m really doing this. Three months away from the city, away from Kyle, away from a life that has finally become unbearable. Three months alone with my children, in the wilds of Upstate New York, reconnecting with them and myself or whatever mindful approach made me think this was a good idea back in March. And it is a good idea. It has to be, because it’s the only one I’ve got left.
We’ve been driving for over an hour from Syracuse, where we picked up our rental car for the summer after taking the train from New York, down winding, country roads, the rolling fields and clumps of trees—what are they? Oak? Maple?—interspersed with occasional buildings—long, low, shed-like barns that sell tractor parts, or speedboats, or animal feed.
The cute little antique shops and local wineries I’ve been daydreaming about haven’t quite materialized yet, but I’m sure they will. This is the Finger Lakes, after all, a major tourist area, even if most New Yorkers probably consider it on par with Antarctica.
Suddenly Ben throws his tablet across the seat, making Katherine let out an irritable “ow” as it hits her leg, before he presses his nose to the window. “Mom, there’s a paintball place over there. Can we go? Please? Now?”
I picture my nine-year-old son pelting my body with paintballs and try to give him a bland look. “Not now, Ben, we’re on our way to the cottage, but maybe later. We’ll see.”
Ben groans theatrically and starts kicking the back of my seat. Katherine throws the Kindle back at him and they begin to bicker; before I can so much as offer a “hey, stop”, Katherine is in tears and Ben is back on his game. I’d close my eyes if I weren’t driving. This summer is going to be good, I remind myself. Really. It has to be.
The trees on either side of the road feel as if they’re pressing against the car as we inch along; after spending the last twenty years in New York City, I’m not used to driving, and I’m probably being a bit over-cautious. I’ve been passed by at least a dozen pick-up trucks and SUVs, two of the drivers flipping me the finger, but never mind. We’ll get there.
And then what?
I can’t quite see how this is all going to unfold, how I’m going to turn it all around. All I know is I couldn’t stand another day back in Brooklyn, feeling like a ghost in my own life, with everything piling on top of me, making it hard to breathe—Katherine’s sulky shyness, Ben’s boisterousness, Kyle’s heavy silences, the tension that covers everything, thick and toxic. Sometimes I catch Kyle looking at me, his eyes narrowed, his lips pursed, and I feel a chill penetrating my body all the way through. What happened, that made him look like that at me, his wife?
At least here there will be no frowning school teachers giving Ben yellow cards for being too rough. There will be no supposedly all-class birthday parties where Katherine is the only one who isn’t invited. There will be no smug mothers on the school playground, slyly rolling their eyes when they think I’m not looking.
And there will be no Kyle. That brings the most relief. There will be no silently accusing looks, no suppressed sighs, no endless tension that leaves me feeling as if I’m constantly making missteps, only I don’t know what they are and I’m afraid to ask.
Escaping it started to feel like the best option, the only option. So I went online and rented the first affordable place I could find for the summer—Pine Cottage, on the shores of one of the Finger Lakes, three months away from Brooklyn, from PS 39, the children’s school… and from my husband.
I wanted a place where we could put down the devices and let go of the worry and fear, where we could reconnect over barbecues and late-night swims and… other stuff. In my mind, it was a hazy mirage of happiness for the three of us; Kyle was never in the imaginary picture. Now that we’re actually approaching our summer destination, however, I’m not sure what the reality is going to look like, or more importantly, how to make it happen.
But that feels as if it’s been my story since I lost my own mom; I feel like her death cut me adrift, and I’m still trying to find something to anchor me back to my reality, to connect me to my children, both of whom feel impossibly distant sometimes. If my mom were still alive, she’d show me how to do it, I’m sure of it. She’d laugh and hug me and tell me not to worry so much. She’d remind me of stories from my own childhood, how moody and impossible I was when I was eleven, how I didn’t get invited to this or that birthday party. Stories I’ve forgotten, because I need my mother to keep telling me, to ground me in my own past, so I can help Katherine with her present.
“When are we going to get there?” Ben demands as he kicks the back of my seat again, making me let out an oof in response.
“Soon.” As if my answer is the magic word, we suddenly break free of the dense forest, to emerge on an open road with a glittering, endless expanse of lake before us. I nearly stop the car to take in the magnificent sight—endless blue above and below, the sun sparkling over everything, the world shimmering with promise, a picture postcard of what life could be like. Neither Ben nor Katherine seems particularly impressed, though, so after a second’s glance I keep driving.
I continue along the narrow road that hugs the lake, past gorgeous, sprawling log cabins and three-story lake houses with their own boat launches and docks, huge, rambling places with friendly front porches hung with American flags and Adirondack chairs scattered on the velvety grass; they all look like something from a photo shoot for Eddie Bauer or Abercrombie & Fitch.
Foolishly, I start to imagine that this is the kind of house we’re renting, even though I’ve seen the picture and read the description myself, online, three months ago, and I know our rental doesn’t look anything like these dream homes.
We are renting a two-bedroom ranch house with a scant twenty-five feet of lake frontage, a kitchen and bathroom in 1970s avocado green, and a screened-in porch with a couple of frayed wicker chairs. It was what was in our budget, even then just barely, but at least it will be ours.
Kyle muttered about it being a waste of money and he didn’t think we should go at all, giving me a dark look that I couldn’t interpret and chose not to try. I’m glad to escape him for a little while—except the realization, now that we’re here, suddenly seizes me with anxiety. Am I really doing the right thing, leaving my husband for nearly three whole months? Leaving my life?
“Which one’s ours?” Katherine asks as we pass a three-story mansion covered in brown shingle, complete with a Rapunzel-like turret. My stomach clenches a little more. How are we not going to feel disappointed by our shabby reality, with all these gorgeous behemoths around us? But that’s not how I want to start our summer—with disillusionment rather than hope. I’ve had enough of that already.
“Let’s see…” I peer at the signs staked in front of various cottages with their playful, curlicue script, like each one is the entrance to a personal fairy tale. Ten Maples… Cove View… Twilight Shores… “Ah, here it is. Pine Cottage.”
My children are silent as I pull into the dirt track that serves as a driveway. Pine Cottage sits huddled against the shore of the lake as if it is ashamed of itself, which perhaps it should be, considering its neighbors. Painted a drab olive green that is peeling off in long strips in various places, the cottage squats in the looming shadow of a huge, gorgeous lake house of dark blue shingle with a massive deck jutting right over its hundreds of feet of lakefront, and a three-story picture window overlooking the sparkling water.
On the other side of our cottage, a bit farther away, is a sprawling modern house of white stucco with three different terraces and a dock that extends far out into the lake, a gleaming red motorboat moored at its end. How on earth did poor, pathetic little Pine Cottage survive the arrival of all these showy upstarts? I feel a surge of protective affection for it, simply for being there, for clinging to hope, if only just. Kind of like me.
“So, shall we go in?” I ask brightly.
Katherine and Ben still haven’t moved or spoken as I get out of the car and stretch, my back aching. I glance at my children; Katherine is chewing a strand of hair and Ben is back on his tablet, thumbs moving so rapidly they practically blur.
“Come on, guys.” I can’t keep my tone from turning the tiniest bit frustrated at their lack of involvement in this moment. “Let’s go check it out.”
“Let me finish my level,” Ben grunts, and something in me starts to fray.
“No, Ben.” I yank open the back door of the car and then reach in, managing to snatch the tablet from his sweaty hands, a move I’ve practiced over the years, although admittedly it has a limited success rate. “Let’s go now. You can play this anytime.” Although not that often if I can help it.
I pocket the device and walk across the scrubby little yard to the cottage’s front step, a slab of cracked concrete. From behind me the car doors slam. At least the kids are following me. I fish in the FedEx packet I was sent a few weeks ago for the keys, and then a second later, I open the door and step across the threshold of Pine Cottage, blinking in the gloom. The pine trees that gave the cottage its name droop over the house, making it feel a bit like walking into a cave. There is a smell of must and damp in the air, but once we open the windows I’m sure it will be fine.
“So,” I say as I flip on a few lights, illuminating the small living room with its orange sofa and fake wood coffee table, “at least it’s clean.”
Ben snorts and Katherine hovers in the doorway, a strand of hair still trailing out of her mouth as she looks askance at our summer home. I can’t blame her, but I still feel a little frustrated, a little sad. I want us all to share in the excitement of this summer.
I head into the small kitchen with its laminate cabinets and cracked linoleum, determined to see the bright side of everything. So the house is shabby? Big deal. The kitchen feels like a tacked-on afterthought, and the fridge is making a wheezing sound that suggests it is not long for this world, but none of this matters. I peer out the back door, which leads to the little porch, that, unlike in the photo online, is filled with junk and, for the moment, unusable.
I breathe in deeply, clinging to my optimism. We’ll be outside most of the time anyway, enjoying the sand and the sun and the lake. We don’t need a gourmet kitchen or acres of indoor space.
“I saw mouse poo in the bedroom,” Ben announces from behind me. He sounds gleefully disgusted. “On the bed.” Katherine lets out a little shriek at this, and I try for a smile.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get traps.” And marshmallows to toast, and citronella candles, and a blanket for picnics. I’m holding on to that hazy montage, trying to make it seem more real, the kind of life I always thought I’d enjoy, once I had kids. The kind of life I’m sure I had once, even if I don’t feel as if I can always remember when things were different. Before my mom got sick, before she died. “Let’s go take a look at the lake.”
With Ben and Katherine trailing behind me, I leave the cottage and make my way across the yard, the scrubby dirt turning to sand, until I come to the shore. Pine Cottage is no more than twenty yards from the lake, and as I kick off my sandals and let the cool water lap over my feet, digging my toes into the pleasingly squishy sand, I feel the tightly held parts of myself finally start to loosen.
“Look,” I say. Ben and Katherine are huddling by the shore, as if the water might be toxic. They’re city children, no doubt about it. Grandly, I sweep out an arm to encompass the shining waters stretching nearly to the horizon, a fringe of evergreens darkening their edge on the other side, dotted with lake houses. A raft bobs about fifty yards out. “Isn’t this amazing? This is why we came. This is all we need.”
“Can I have my tablet back?” Ben asks after a few moments when he’s been kicking the sand with his sneaker. Katherine is sitting down, her knees clasped to her chest, looking woebegone.
“Why don’t you get your swimsuits on? We can christen the lake with a dip.”
Katherine crinkles her nose uncertainly. “Christen…?”
“I just mean, let’s go swimming.” I’m suddenly seized by a near-panicky determination to make this into a moment. “Why not? Let’s do it! Right now!”
Ben and Katherine simply stare as I hurry past them to the car. I open the trunk and yank our suitcases out, opening them right there on the drive.
“Mom.” Katherine sounds both fascinated and appalled. A pair of her underpants has spilled onto the driveway, and she snatches it, mortified even though no one’s looking.
“Here.” I throw the pale pink suit we bought at Target last week and it hits her squarely in the chest. “And here.” I toss Ben his blue-and-white striped board shorts and then grab my poor, faded tankini—I wasn’t able to find a suit I liked this year, surprise, surprise. The ten extra pounds around my middle are not going to shift, no matter what I keep telling myself. Still, I don’t want to buy a new suit and admit defeat, and in any case until now there hasn’t been much point.
We change inside the house, Katherine barricading herself in the bedroom and shrieking when Ben rattles the doorknob, cackling. Over the last few months she’s become increasingly self-conscious about her budding body, and Ben torments her over it. I shout at him to stop as I wriggle into my tankini in the minuscule bathroom, avoiding my reflection in the foggy mirror above the sink and what I know I’ll see there—frizzy hair, eyebrows that need some serious maintenance, and a body that reminds Ben, as he so kindly told me once when he poked my stomach, of dough.
We emerge from the cottage, each of us like a shy caterpillar from a shabby chrysalis, blinking in the sunlight, conscious of all the bare skin. Or at least Katherine and I are. Ben lets out a primal yelp and barrels toward the lake, letting out another one as his feet touch the water.
“You’ll get used to it.”
Ben shivers theatrically and I laugh. This is what I dreamed of. This is what we all needed. Ben starts wading into the shallows, his city skittishness abandoned, but Katherine stands by the edge like a shy foal.
I glance at her, as ever unsure what she is thinking or feeling. My firstborn, my only daughter. She’s been an enigma to me for so long, and I can’t help but feel like it is my fault. Where is my mother’s instinct when it comes to Katherine? Where has it ever been? We always seem to be reaching for each other and missing, and it’s become more and more noticeable as she’s got older.
“Come on in, Katherine,” I say, my tone hopelessly cajoling. “It’s not that cold, really.”
Katherine looks away without replying, making me wilt inside, although I try not to show it. It feels like it’s always been this way between us, from the time she was a baby, first refusing to nurse no matter how much I tried to bring her to my breast, and then later maintaining stony silences even as a hurt toddler, with a scraped knee and tears drying on her cheeks.
Sometimes I almost prefer Ben’s manic boy energy compared to Katherine’s wary stillness; now, as ever, I don’t know how to handle it. It frustrates and saddens me at turns, and the worst part is, I think she knows, no matter how hard I try to hide it.
In any case, Ben breaks the moment by splashing me, dousing me in water which, no matter what I just said, really is cold.
“Ben!” My voice rings out, half-laughing, half-scolding. He grins and splashes me again. Katherine, still on the shore, sits down on the damp sand and clutches her knees to her chest.
While Ben splashes around I float on my back and stare up at the azure sky, the world around me fading to nothing but this sunlit moment. I’m not going to worry about my children, or how we’ll occupy the next three months, or the fact that I ought to call Kyle, even though I’m dreading one of our tense conversations. I’m simply going to let my mind empty out as I revel in the perfect peace of this moment, the sense of possibility that still remains, shimmering and endless.
I’m aware of something changing more from a strange, prickling feeling than anything else; I don’t think I’ve heard a sound or a voice. But for some reason I stand up, my feet touching the bottom of the lake, which out here, up to my shoulders, doesn’t feel as nice. My toe brushes something slimy and I jerk my foot away from it.
I blink water out of my eyes to take in the sight of a little girl standing by the shore, hands planted on her hips. She looks to be about eight or nine, with glossy blonde hair in an expensive-looking pageboy cut and impossibly bright blue eyes. She wears a tiny string bikini that looks incongruous on her sturdy little child’s body.
“This is our beach,” she announces. Ben and Katherine simply stare. I start wading back toward the shore.
“Sorry?” I say, adopting that slightly jolly mother’s tone that is meant to convey both friendliness and authority. The little girl doesn’t even blink.
“This is our beach.” She takes one hand off her hip and waves it toward the hulking lake house of blue shingle in the distance. Of course she comes from there. “We have five hundred feet of lake frontage, and I’ve been measuring it.” She points to Pine Cottage’s pitiful twenty-five feet of said frontage. “This is ours.”
“Oh, really?” I smile with a certain kind of adult condescension. Her determined gaze doesn’t waver. “Well, actually, this is our cottage, and the lake directly in front of it is ours too, at least for the summer. Anyway,” I add, afraid my voice may have been a bit too hard, “I’m sure you have enough for yourselves. The lake’s big enough for both of us, don’t you think?” I give the girl what I hope is a friendly smile.
“That doesn’t matter. My mother said we had five hundred feet, and the brochure said it too, and so that’s ours.” She blinks, her gaze fastened on me. “You shouldn’t be here.”
Ben and Katherine are still silent, watching this exchange with a kind of morbid fascination. I grit my teeth, holding on to my mom-friendliness with effort. Who is this kid?
“Well, this is our cottage and our beach,” I say, trying to keep it light and friendly, “so maybe you shouldn’t be here.” I temper my words with a smile. “Unless you’d like to swim with us?”
“Swim with you?” The girl looks practically revolted.
“Then maybe you should go? Find your parents, maybe?” Too late I realize how unfriendly I sound, but good grief. I guess we won’t be hanging out with our neighbors, not that I ever imagined such a thing.
I look up to see a woman coming down a worn dirt path snaking between the drooping pines; it leads to the big lake house, although why there should be such a path between these two impossibly different residences I have no idea.
“Zoe, you gave me such a scare. What are you doing over here?” The woman glances at Pine Cottage, her nose wrinkling, her guileless gaze taking it in and undoubtedly assessing it as a dump in less than three seconds before she turns to me with a wide, sunny smile. “Hello, I’m Rebecca Finlay. We’re renting over there.” She gestures toward the grandiose lake house.
I manage a smile, although everything about this situation is making me tense. Rebecca Finlay is exactly the kind of woman I dislike, and yes, I know that makes me sound judgmental, but I’m basing it on unfortunate experiences of women just like her back home who blanked me, and worse, did the same to my children, at school or the park. Who meet each other’s gazes over the top of my head, eyes rolling just a little. Who give tinkling laughs as they look away dismissively.
She’s also everything I’ve never felt myself—confident, self-assured, elegant, at ease. She is tall and willowy, her impossibly blonde hair cut in an expensive-looking bob like her daughter’s, and now caught back with a pale blue cloth-covered headband. Her hair is gleaming and perfect, expertly highlighted in a pale rainbow of golds and silvers, just as everything else about her is perfect—her nearly wrinkle-free skin, her manicured nails, her thin-as-a-stick figure. She wears a crisp, white sleeveless blouse with a pair of pale blue capris—they match the headband—with knife-edge pleats.
In this moment I am horribly conscious of my nubby bathing suit, faded and stretched out from years of reluctant use. “Hi,” I manage as I wade out of the water. “I’m Tessa McIntyre. We’re renting here.”
Of course, I go upstairs for three seconds and Zoe disappears. I can’t have a moment to myself here. I should have hired a nanny for the summer, but Josh said the kids were too old for one and anyway, that wasn’t the point. What the point is, I have no idea. To be tidied away? To not embarrass him any more than I already have? I don’t know which is worse—having Josh disapproving of me, or having him worried about me. The children suspect something is wrong, I know. Charlotte has given me looks.
Zoe, of course, is angry; she misses her gang of summer friends from the Hamptons, and of course she blames me for taking her away from them. Charlotte seems indifferent about whether we’re in the Hamptons or Hicksville Finger Lakes, and there is no denying that Max is relieved. Yet whatever my children feel, whatever I feel, the fact remains we’re in exile, even if it was somewhat chosen.
I glance now at Zoe and then at my neighbor, this Tessa, with her two awkward-looking children behind her. No one says anything, but I feel the tension in the air, which is practically crackling. Zoe glares at Tessa while her two children stand by the water’s edge, completely mute and still. I know how to handle this, of course; I’m an expert at handling these tedious situations, making socially awkward people feel comfortable and liked. Whether it’s a school fair or cocktail party, I’m your woman. At least I was. I’m sure some people would disagree now, and I know Josh would. I’ve definitely let it all slip in the last few months, but it doesn’t matter anyway, because I don’t even feel like making the effort right now.
We arrived here a week ago and it’s already felt endless, even though I’m relieved not to face a summer of judgment and whispers in the Hamptons. Josh’s words keep replaying in my mind: Maybe it’s better for you to be away from it all. Give you time to think. How about Wisconsin?
Three months with my parents. Absolutely not. And the last thing I want is time to think. Just thinking about thinking sends memories flitting like shadows through my mind, along with the treacherous doubt. I feel like my mind has splintered into spinning fragments and there’s no way I can put them together again. It’s a miracle that I’ve managed, for the most part, to seem as if I have. I’ve fooled Josh far more than he realizes. That much I know, at least. Sometimes I think I’ve managed to fool myself. If I act like I’m okay, I will be. The biggest lie but I’m buying into it for now because I don’t know what else to do.
I don’t want to think about all that now, though, and so I focus on Tessa and her children.
“You’re renting too? Oh, how wonderful!” My voice is bright and carrying, full of enthusiasm. “How long are you here for?”
“The whole summer.” Tessa has come out of the water and stands on the beach, round-shouldered and shivering. “What about you?”
“Oh. Wow. Great.” Tessa’s words fall like stones into the stillness, and I know she is thinking the same thing as I am. Nearly three months of being neighbors. We could politely avoid one another, but it will be awkward, a summer of apologetic smiles and stilted chitchat as we clamber into our cars. We’re clearly very different people.
“So where are you from?” I ask in the same friendly voice. “Very far away?”
“New York City,” Tessa says, and I give a semi-squeal.
“Oh wow, us too! Which part?”
“Oh, I love Brooklyn.” I haven’t actually been there, except to drive through. “It’s so hip and trendy, isn’t it? Everyone’s moving there.” One of the moms at Stirling Prep, the children’s private school, moved to Brooklyn and honestly, it was as if she’d died. We went out for drinks the night before her move, and it felt like a wake.
“Yes, well, the rental prices certainly reflect that.” Tessa lets out a little laugh and I nod, as if I know anything about rental prices in Brooklyn. We’ve owned our own apartment, a four-bedroom on Fifth Avenue, for ten years.
“Mommy, this is our beach.” I glance down at Zoe, taking in the familiar gleam of obstinate mischief in her bright blue eyes. Maniacal child. Exhausting, maniacal child whom I can’t help but adore, simply for being so stubborn. Charlotte and Max are both ridiculously easy compared to her, and yet if I had to have a favorite, which of course I don’t, it just might be Zoe.
“Zoe, what on earth are you talking about?” I let out a laugh and share a glance with Tessa, who looks heartened by this seeming complicity between us. Kids these days.
“We have five hundred feet of beachfront,” Zoe says, her tone determined now. “It said so in the brochure. I’ve been counting it out, and so this part has to be ours, because we only have four hundred and fifty.”
I glance back down at my daughter, too exasperated to be embarrassed by her ridiculous assertion. She’s just trying to cause trouble, although why she’d pick on our hapless neighbors I have no idea. Easy targets, I suppose. “Oh, Zoe, honestly. You are too much. We have plenty of beach, we don’t need to go grabbing other people’s.”
I glance back at Tessa, shaking my head, inviting her to share the joke even though I know Zoe will be furious later. Zoe is so often furious.
Tessa manages a smile. “Maybe it goes five hundred feet the other way,” she suggests to Zoe, who glares at her.
“That’s in the woods,” my daughter says scornfully. “It’s not really beach so it doesn’t count.”
“Yes, but it’s still lakefront.” I can’t believe I’m bothering to debate this ridiculous point. “That’s what they’re counting, not whether it’s beach or not. The sand is all driven in, dumped by a truck. There’s no natural beach. Anyway…” I give Tessa a farewell kind of smile. “It’s been so nice to meet you.”
“You, too.” She glances back at her children, who have been shuffling by the shore. “Sorry, I should have introduced my kids. This is Ben and—and Katherine.” For some reason she sounds almost uncertain as she says her daughter’s name.
“So nice to meet you.” I give them a wide smile as I glance at them appraisingly. Katherine has hit that gawky stage of girlhood, her breasts two noticeable bumps under her bathing suit, and Ben’s shaggy hair hides his eyes. Neither of them speaks.
A shiver of apprehension runs through me as it hits me all over again—nearly three months in this place. Good grief, what are we going to do? We went to the tennis and pool club for the last few days, for the children’s lessons, and we have sailing twice a week, but rubbing elbows with the provincial version of the Upper East Side at the club was even more exhausting than I expected. But what’s the alternative? Becoming best friends with Tessa McIntyre?
“Ben, Katherine…” Tessa sounds both annoyed and embarrassed, and trying not to be either. “Say hello, guys. Introduce yourselves.”
They both mumble something unintelligible, and I give yet another wide, sunny smile; my cheeks are starting to hurt. “So how old are you, Katherine?”
“The same age as Charlotte!” I clap my hands as if in delight, the sound startling both children so they jerk a little. “And what about you, Ben?”
“Nine.” He glances up at me from underneath his shaggy hair, clearly bored by grownup conversation.
“The same age as Zoe here!” Zoe stares at them both, unimpressed. “And Max is eight.”
“You have three children?” Tessa says, dutifully doing the arithmetic, and I nod.
“Yes. Three.” Conversation is clearly going to be hard work, but at least it keeps my mind engaged. “I know,” I say, as if I’ve just had a sudden and fantastic idea, “why don’t you all come over for dinner tomorrow night?” They all stare at me blankly. “It will be so much fun.”
“Yes…” Tessa says, sounding uncertain. You’d think she’d be grateful for such an invitation.
“I’m afraid we’re out in the aft
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