Things We Didn't Sayby Kristina Riggle
“Things We Didn’t Say is impossible to put down, and even harder to let go of.”
—Julie Buxbaum, author of The Opposite of Love
Kristina Riggle’s star continues to rise. Tiffany Baker, the New York Times bestselling author of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, says that Riggle, “writes/b>/b>/b>/b>
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“Things We Didn’t Say is impossible to put down, and even harder to let go of.”
—Julie Buxbaum, author of The Opposite of Love
Kristina Riggle’s star continues to rise. Tiffany Baker, the New York Times bestselling author of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, says that Riggle, “writes women’s fiction with soul.” In her novel Things We Didn’t Say, the acclaimed author of Real Life & Liars and The Life You’ve Imagined (an Indie Next Notable Book) explores the messiness of life’s love stories, especially those involving teenage almost-stepchildren, a unreliable ex-wife, and the words no parent ever wants to hear: “Your child is missing.” A poignant, honest, and unforgettable novel that fans of Katrina Kittle and Elin Hildenbrand will take into their hearts, Things We Didn’t Say is exactly the sort of well-written, complex relationships story that women love to read, discuss, and share with their friends.
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Things We Didn't SayA Novel
By Kristina Riggle
William Morrow PaperbacksCopyright © 2011 Kristina Riggle
All right reserved.
My cigarette smoke twists through the predawn
November air, until a gust breaks it apart. My hair whips
across my face, so I turn into the wind, putting my
cigarette behind my back to shelter it. The effect is like leaning
off the prow of a ship.
The air is heavy with looming winter. Mornings like this, as a
kid, I'd curse and groan shivering at the bus stop in the cracking
cold before the sun even came up. Now? I'd take this cold
every day of the year if it always came with such exquisite quiet.
My boots crunch along the sidewalk in the gray stillness as
I cast a glance back toward the drafty, narrow house where the
children still sleep.
I thought one day they might be my children, or something
like that. The day I first met them, Angel was doing up little
Jewel's hair in crazy ponytails with pink glitter hair spray, then
they moved on to me and wound ribbons into braids all over my
head. I looked like a maypole. Dylan, though, reminded me of
my family's half-wild outdoor cat, Patch. You had to earn his
attention, and trying too hard was the worst thing to do. Dylan
didn't say much that first day. He started peeking at me from
under his dark, floppy bangs. By the time I left, I had earned a
quick half-smile granted when no one else was looking.
A square of weak yellow light flicks to life from the second
story. Even from a block away I can tell it's from Angel's room.
I've got time; she'll be in the bathroom for an age, emerging
in a puff of sweet-smelling bathroom steam when she imagines
My phone buzzes in the pocket of my parka, and I resume my
daily trudge around the block, feeling my last free moments of
the day burning down like my cigarette.
"Hey, Edna Leigh."
"I wish you wouldn't call me that."
"I'm just joshing with you."
"I'm not in the mood."
"Fine, Casey." Though I've been short with him, his voice has
a smile in it. I can always count on this, whatever else happens.
"Does your husband get to say your real name, or do you make
him use your last name, too? Shit, linebackers go by their last
"If your mother had named you after a great-grandparent, you
wouldn't like it, either. How'd you like to be an Otis? Anyway, he
calls me Casey, and he's not my husband."
"Yet?" he prompts.
Michael must have already left for the gym to work off his
worry about his job. Every day he comes home with more news
of cutbacks and layoffs and buyouts.
"When do I get to meet him?"
"I'm beginning to think you're embarrassed about me. Least
if we're going to sneak around we should screw around, too,
make it fun."
I laugh, because Tony is twice my age and then some. He's
a former neighbor but feels like my uncle, and these days is my
only genuine friend. "It's not you I'm embarrassed about."
I step over a cracked piece of sidewalk without having to look.
If they ever fix it, I'll probably fall and break my neck.
"How great can this guy be if he expects you never to have
made a mistake in your life?"
"Ain't it always."
"Whatever. What's up with you, Tony?"
"Five hundred days sober today."
"You get a cake for that?"
"Come to AA with me, and I'll make you a double chocolate
"C'mon, come with me. I promise to bake you a cake, or
whatever you want. Name your price."
"I can't be bought with dessert."
"How very high-minded."
"I'm not going to stand there in some dreary church basement
confessing to my past drunken sins, which, by the way, are
two years old now. I'm doing just fine."
My voice startles me with its volume. An early-morning dog
walker passing on the other side of the street jerks his head in my
direction. It's Tom with his floppy-haired dog, Tednamed for
the late senator Kennedyand he gives me an uncertain wave.
"You sure sound fine."
I toss my cigarette down and stamp it with my boot heel.
"Did you call just to hassle me?"
"Well, not just." Tony rattles off a cough and spits. "Talking
to you is the highlight of my day. I wouldn't get up this early for
"Then you have some sad days, my friend."
I'm already rounding the corner back to the house.
Claustrophobic city blocks are like that, and I've unwittingly sped up
my walk. My ego wants more time alone, my id wants out of the
cold. The bare November trees lean over me, and I wish I could
climb one and hide in its old branches.
The house's pitched roof and twin top-story windows create
an air of surprise that I've returned.
"You there?" Tony asks.
"You going to make it today, kid?"
I exhale a plume of white winter breath, considering. "I
"Think?" His voice bears the strain of concern. He knows
what stupidity I've survived. He knows about my old job, which I
used to lovethe only place I've ever excelled in spite of myself
the people I once considered friends, how I never see my family
anymore because all of it comes braided together with booze.
"Okay. I will."
"That's my girl. Stay strong."
It's too corny for me, but I'm glad he says it all the same.
"Some days, I just"
I have my hand on the rear storm door when the inside door
jerks open. I yank the phone away from my head and hang up.
"Who was that?" asks Michael, rubbing his eyes, then his
bare arms. He's still wearing what he wore to bed.
"My mother." I step into the kitchen's harsh yellow light and
shrug out of my parka.
"She called early. And you hung up on her?"
The phone is buzzing in my hand with Tony's number showing
on the display. I turn my phone over, his number toward my
palm. I nod.
"You'll hear about that later."
"I expect I will. I thought you were at the gym."
My phone chimes again, one brief tone, and I stuff it in my
pocket. "Angel is up, I noticed. You talk to her yet?"
"Before her ladyship has come down the stairs? Heaven
I don't rise to this. I once joined in with his half-larky, half
serious use of this title for Angel, and the conversation fell to
silence like a rock off a cliff.
"Going up to shave," he says, leaning in to plant a quick kiss
on my forehead. I would usually seize up and treasure this small
affection. Today, it stings.
When I've heard his steps go all the way up the stairs, I check
Tony didn't leave a voice mail. His text reads: Caught by
I send back one wordsorryand delete both messages.
So Michael hasn't seen Angel. He doesn't know yet. Maybe
she won't tell him at all, or maybe she's waiting. She's smart like
that, knowing how to hold her cards until just the right moment.
Like mother, like daughter.
That's another thing I'm not allowed to say.
In the kitchen, pouring Jewel a bowl of Honeycombs as the older
kids loll at the table, I offer Angel some breakfast, as casually as
I can. "Want something to eat?" I fight to keep my voice level
and mild, like I'm only the recorded voice on the phone, giving
out the time.
"Do I ever?" she spits.
I laugh, as if this is an amusing joke. I do this partly to deflect
her, partly for Jewel's benefit, since conflict gives her a tummy ache.
I rinse my cereal bowl in the sink. Michael is to my left, pouring
coffee. I don't know why I bother, but I cut my eyes over to
him, searching for him to meet my gaze. He glances up at me,
and I tip my head toward his daughter.
He sighs and turns around, flashing me a quick, shamefaced
look as he does, knowing his admonition will be too mild, too
"Angel, you really should eat. And watch your tone."
Angel barely hears him and grunts at her phone, where she's
texting. She pauses to push her white-blond hair behind one ear.
There are candy-pink streaks in it at the moment, though she's
promised the director of the school play she will bleach them out
by dress rehearsal. She stretches out long in her chair, her body
a graceful arcing swoop. She's gotten taller in the short time I've
known her, more graceful, too. Truth be told, she's a stunner of
a girl. Yet I've seen her scowl at herself in the mirror, caught her
patting her stomach and fiddling with her waistband as if trying
to check if she's thin enough yet, beautiful enough yet.
I try to ruffle Dylan's hair as I come back to the table, only he
ducks my hand so I just swipe through the air above his head. I
stuff that hand in my pocket.
"You've got music class today?" I ask Dylan.
I should know better than to ask yes or no questions. "What
songs are you working on?"
Dylan shifts in his chair, shrugging like his clothes are making
him itch. His hair, dark like his dad's, flops over his light blue
eyes, a combination that really should send the girls swooning.
Maybe in a couple of years when his skin evens out and his voice
smooths over again. "I don't . . . know." I note the pause. When
he feels the stammer coming, he takes extra time to pronounce
"You don't know?" Michael interjects.
"I haven't heard you practice in a long time," I say quickly,
interrupting his dad. Dylan used to enjoy the company when he
played his sax. We didn't talk, in fact most of the time I'd just
work on my laptop, on the floor, propped up against his bedroom
wall. He said it made him play better knowing there were
"other ears in the room."
"It's okay," he says. "You don't have to."
The teen kiss-off. "You don't have to" equals "Please don't."
Jewel pushes her pink glasses up the bridge of her nose and
announces to the table in general: "Did you know that humans
have 206 bones in the body? And we're born with more. Some
of them fuse together, though."
I'm so grateful to her for cutting the tension with her factoid,
I want to sweep her up in a hug. I cross my arms instead and
She's wearing a French braid today, which she must have
conned Angel into doing. Apparently their mother was a whiz at
complicated hairdos. I've never been good at that, and the first
time Jewel asked me to fix her hair it took twenty minutes, and
she cried all the way out the door with uneven pigtails.
"Yeah," she replies, and I'm hoping she'll continue her lecture,
but she refocuses on her cereal. She doesn't have to be up as
early as her big siblings, but she likes to be, she says. She likes to
watch everybody head off for the day. Plus, she gets the television
to herself after they leave until it's her turn for the bus at
Dylan picks up his phone and reads a message, seeming to
flinch. But then says casually, "Hey, Dad, Robert is sick today.
Can you drive me?"
Robert is Dylan's ride to Excalibur Charter Academy. EXA,
the kids call it, like ecks-uh. Angel takes the bus to the magnet
school in town, having won entrance with good grades. Dylan's
grades aren't bad, nor are they exceptional. He went to the regular
public high school until that gun incident in the courtyard
there, and then Michael's father arranged for him to attend his
friend's charter school. In the tradition of communicative teenage
boys everywhere, Dylan says EXA is "fine."
"Yeah, sure," Michael says, roused from his work trance
where he was mentally rehearsing his day. "Angel, I'll take you,
too, as long as I'm driving." With a nod but no words, Dylan
trots up the stairs, probably to fetch his saxophone.
Angel hops up from her chair. "Thanks, Daddy."
In the bustle of bags and coats, I retreat to the corner of the
kitchen. It's too small for all of us in here.
Michael sweeps by me and tries to land a kiss on my cheek.
He misses, and is propelled out the door by the momentum of his
kids coming up behind him. Dylan says nothing on his way by.
Angel says, "Bye, Casey. I hope you enjoy this nice quiet
house today, all by yourself."
She's turned away from me as she says that, so I can't see her
How much did she read?
"Casey? Can I go watch cartoons now?"
"Sure, J. Go ahead."
I pick up her bowl and Dylan's Pop-Tart plate. Jewel wraps
her arms around my waist, her nose buried in my belly. By the
time I put the dishes back down to return the hug, she has fled
to the living room to turn on Sponge Bob Square Pants.
In the emptiness of the kitchen throbs the jagged emptiness
in my chest, steadily growing in recent months, which I've tried
to ignore but no longer can. It's where hope briefly flickered, in
the days when Michael still kissed me before he left, without fail,
busy morning be damned.
Excerpted from Things We Didn't Say by Kristina Riggle Copyright © 2011 by Kristina Riggle. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow Paperbacks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Kristina Riggle is a published short story writer and coeditor for fiction at the e-zine Literary Mama. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her husband, two kids, and dog.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This is the story of a contemporary family in all of its pain and insecurities. It is the father who tries to be the responsible, stable parent. He is there for his children, no matter the chaos that surrounds them. And there is plenty of chaos: divorce, alcoholism, mental illness to name only a few. The ex-wife and mother of the children, two teens and an adolescent, is a selfish, self-absorbed woman. She is unwilling to accept responsibility or blame of any sort. Casey, the girlfriend, is insecure which makes her irresponsible in her own right. Though she has love to offer and good intentions, she is weak. The children are struggling with the issues that come with youth: school, friends, family, but also they are forced to deal with the issues of the adults in their lives. As the title alludes, sometimes it is the things we don't say that affect us the most. Communication is everything. The things that people say often stay with us, but so do the things that never get said.
The book was good and quick to read. I didn't want to put it down. I might even read another one from the author.