Almost Missed You

Almost Missed You

by Jessica Strawser

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Overview

"Almost Missed You is a skillful, insightful debut: a deft exploration of the mysteries of marriage, the price we pay for our secrets, and just how easy it is to make the worst choices imaginable." —Chris Bohjalian, New York Times bestselling author of The Sandcastle Girls and Midwives

"Almost Missed You is an emotional powerhouse of a novel." —Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of A Sudden Light and The Art of Racing in the Rain

"In Almost Missed You, debut author Jessica Strawser meticulously weaves together a kidnapped child, friends in turmoil, and a Craigslist ad into a tangled web of secrets, lies, and unexpected alliances. This heart-breaking page-turner will make you question how well you really know everyone you hold dear." — Amy Sue Nathan, author of The Glass Wives

"Jessica Strawser has expertly woven a tale of a marriage in crisis with elements of daring, danger, mystery, and secrets that will surprise and delight you...Glorious!" — Adriana Trigiani, New York Times bestselling author of All the Stars in the Heavens

"Jessica Strawser writes from the heart." —New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline

"Almost Missed You is compelling fiction from a brave new voice." —Bestselling author Sophie Littlefield

Violet and Finn were “meant to be,” said everyone, always. They ended up together by the hands of fate aligning things just so. Three years into their marriage, they have a wonderful little boy, and as the three of them embark on their first vacation as a family, Violet can’t help thinking that she can’t believe her luck. Life is good.

So no one is more surprised than she when Finn leaves her at the beach—just packs up the hotel room and disappears. And takes their son with him. Violet is suddenly in her own worst nightmare, and faced with the knowledge that the man she’s shared her life with, she never really knew at all.

Caitlin and Finn have been best friends since way back when, but when Finn shows up on Caitlin’s doorstep with the son he’s wanted for kidnapping, demands that she hide them from the authorities, and threatens to reveal a secret that could destroy her own family if she doesn’t, Caitlin faces an impossible choice.

As the suspenseful events unfold through alternating viewpoints of Violet, Finn and Caitlin, Jessica Strawser's Almost Missed You is a page turning story of a mother’s love, a husband’s betrayal, connections that maybe should have been missed, secrets that perhaps shouldn’t have been kept, and spaces between what’s meant to be and what might have been.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250107626
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/28/2017
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 154,064
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

By day, Jessica Strawser is the Editor-at-Large of Writer’s Digest magazine, North America’s leading publication for aspiring and working writers since 1920. By night, she writes fiction such as Forget You Know Me, Almost Missed You, and Not That I Could Tell. Her publishing diverse career includes stints in book editing, marketing and public relations, and freelance writing and editing. She counts her New York Times Modern Love essay and her Writer’s Digest cover interviews with such luminaries as Alice Walker, Anne Tyler and David Sedaris among her career highlights.

Jessica Strawser is editor-at-large at Writer’s Digest, where she served as editorial director for nearly a decade and became known for her in-depth cover interviews with literary luminaries. She’s the author of the book club favorites Almost Missed You and Not That I Could Tell, a Book of the Month selection and Barnes&Noble Best New Fiction pick for March 2018 (both St. Martin’s Press).

She has written for The New York Times Modern Love column, Publishers Weekly, and other fine venues, and is a popular speaker at writing conferences and book festivals. She lives with her husband and two children in Cincinnati.

Read an Excerpt

Almost Missed You


By Jessica Strawser

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2017 Jessica Strawser
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-10762-6


CHAPTER 1

AUGUST 2016


Violet couldn't remember the last time she'd felt so at peace. She almost felt guilty admitting this to herself as there had been so many moments to treasure in the three years since Bear was born. Becoming a mother had been many things — often indescribably rewarding, occasionally stupefying, sometimes even terrifying in the intensity of the love she felt for someone so small and vulnerable and dependent upon her — but relaxing was not one of them.

Every moment of it had led up to this, though: The blue-green southern Florida ocean sparkling before her, the gentle waves breaking, the pelicans diving into the water, and her sitting here taking it all in, a book in one hand, a piña colada in the other, and a rare and blissful stillness around her in the hour since Finn had taken Bear up to the hotel room for his nap. She smiled at the memory of Bear building sand castles earlier, making crashing noises as he plowed his dump truck through the mounds of sand he'd carefully sculpted just moments before, and of the way Finn looked at her when he offered to handle naptime today — a mixture of tenderness and something she couldn't put her finger on, as if he hadn't wanted to look away. He felt it too, the collective release of their first vacation in years. Tonight, after Bear was in bed, they would take that fresh bottle of pinot grigio out to the balcony, and she'd lay her head on that perfect-fit spot on his shoulder as they settled in to watch the moonlight sparkle on the rolling water.

Life was good.

She couldn't help thinking of the day she'd met Finn. It had been on this very stretch of beach, right on the other side of the pier. They'd had that kind of instant electric connection that happens only once in a lifetime, and yet by the time she'd flopped her suitcase onto her bed back at home, she'd had the sinking feeling she'd never see him again. It had left her with a desperate empty sensation, and feeling a little foolish for pining so earnestly for someone she'd only met. She wished she could reach back in time and tell her former self not to worry. It would all work out in the end.

Dominoes. It was that intricate chain reaction of tiny movements that came to mind whenever anyone asked how they finally ended up together. There had been years of radio silence between their first and second meetings, no doubt filled with unrealized opportunities, untaken chances, unspoken words, missed connections. Even as children, they had passed each other like ships in the night. Their coupling was a story that people demanded they tell again and again. They'd be introduced at parties —"And this is Violet and her husband, Finn. Don't let them get away from you until they've told you the story of how they met. It's a bestseller!"— they'd oblige, and then would come the response: That it must have been fate. Meant to be. Kismet.

Violet wasn't sure their story was so different from any other. Ask any couple about their meeting, and you'd discover how many things had to have gone exactly right — or exactly wrong — for them to have gotten together. If so and so had been on time, and so and so hadn't been feeling sick that day, and so and so had come through with that concert ticket slash ride slash twenty dollars, and cell phones had been invented back then, and any number of other against-the-odds occurrences or nonoccurrences had or had not transpired in the hours, days, weeks, even years up until their crossing paths again and again until one time everything finally aligned, they never would have ended up together.

Fate, people liked to call it.

But Violet pictured it as dominoes.

Somehow, they'd been positioned perfectly. And at the end of the line was Finn.

Sometimes she couldn't believe her luck.

Because not only was Finn Finn, but Finn had given her their Bear Cub. Her most precious thing. Motherhood had wrapped its chubby little baby-lotion-scented arms around her and would not let go, in spite of the fact that Bear's birth involved no perfect culmination of events — in fact, his was one of those stories that made people gasp in horror. There had been a postpartum hemorrhage, but not until a few hours after they'd welcomed Bear to their little world, and the doctors almost didn't catch the bleeding. She'd very nearly died.

What a marvel to wake up the next morning and see how pale Finn was, how stoic, how shaken to the core. "I'm perfectly okay," she told him in a hoity-toity imitation of her gram that usually made him laugh. But he just entwined his fingers with hers and lowered his forehead to their clasped hands, and she was overcome with emotion. To be loved the way Finn loved her. To have been gifted this beautiful baby boy, and to have survived his birth after all. To finally have a family of her own, something she hadn't known since her parents' accident when she was a child. Her heart had never felt so full.

Bear and Finn were her whole life now. Once Bear grew into a full-fledged toddler, Violet quit her job, a bold move she'd never imagined herself making. Her days became overrun with adventures to find exciting new leaves and rocks, with the constant challenge of trying to get him to eat anything but string cheese and chicken nuggets, with sippy cups that never had all the right parts clean, with tiny cars that always seemed to be underfoot. She brought just enough order to the chaos not to irk Finn with a complete mess when he got home from work. But mostly, she just enjoyed Bear. Sometimes after Finn had left for his morning commute, as she and Bear shared the tiny kitchen table, eating frozen waffles and watching PBS Kids, she'd look down at her pajamas and slippers and think that there was absolutely nowhere she would rather be.

Except the beach. She did occasionally fantasize about some time alone on the beach, a piña colada in hand, the only cries she could hear coming from the seagulls overhead.

And now here she was, right there in her fantasy, with some rare time to herself, and all she could think about was Bear.

It was useless trying to convince herself she needed more time alone. She wondered if she should be bothered by the fact that she seemed to have lost her ability to shut off her mom mode. But the thing was, the mode suited her. She had needed a little break — but really she'd been reveling in the novelty of the idea of these stolen hours far more than in the reality of their emptiness.

She was overcome by an urge to go up to the room in time to be the one to rouse Bear from his nap, to dish him up a big bowl of ice cream — something he was almost never allowed at home — and to sit on the balcony next to him watching the airplanes fly by, their banners advertising all-you-can-eat seafood buffets and two-for-one water park tickets stretching out behind them like toddler siren songs. Finn had pointed out that the tackier the advertisement on the airplane, the more Bear loved it.

"That's what it's all about, right?" she'd said, light-headed with giddiness at their first day here as a family. "This is why we have kids!"

"I know, I know — to see the world through their eyes, with childlike innocence and wonder."

"No. To embrace the tacky."

It was a lame joke, but it made Finn laugh. He'd seemed a little quiet yesterday — tired, probably. He'd drunk so much coffee at the airport and on their subsequent crawl through the North Miami traffic here to Sunny Isles that he'd tossed and turned for half the night, and it had felt like a triumph to make him smile.

Now, at the sight of a giant pink flamingo banner waving behind a dangerously small red plane droning overhead, she got to her feet and stretched. She shook the sand off her decadent new Ralph Lauren beach towel, a gift from Gram for the trip, and slipped her book and empty cup into the outside pocket of the coordinating beach bag. She attempted to fold her beach chair, wrestled with the stubborn arms of the thing, and decided to just leave it — they'd be back down later anyway, and even if they decided Bear had had enough sun, Finn wouldn't mind coming to get it. He was good-natured about doing husbandly things.

Dry, hot sand puffed out behind her feet as she made her way to the resort's gated pool area. She could already picture Bear's face covered in chocolate ice cream, his adorable little dimpled grin sticky cheek to cheek.

When the elevator deposited her on the ninth floor with a ding, she paused outside their door to listen. All quiet. She smiled. He was still asleep — she hadn't missed a thing. She slipped her keycard into the slot, which for once worked on the first try, and bounded in, eyes bright.

For a second, she thought that her card had somehow worked on the wrong room. She was about to call out a horrified apology to anyone who might be in the suite. This one had barely been checked into. It had none of the open suitcases and discarded T-shirts and flip-flops and drying swimsuits and sunscreen bottles and magazines and snacks and toys that had already overtaken their room.

But then, from her spot in the front hallway, she realized that the purse on the table was hers.

She stepped farther into the room and glanced into the bathroom on the right. Her toiletries were there, lined up neatly on the marble sink top, but they were all alone. Absent was the chaos of Finn's shaving gear and contacts and solution and glasses, of Bear's bubblegum-flavored toothpaste and prescription eczema cream and Lightning McQueen comb.

"Hello?"

Baffled, she walked into the combined living and sleeping area, and it was the same. Her things were just as she'd left them. But all traces of her husband and son were gone. As if they'd never been there at all. As if they'd been figments of her imagination all along.

CHAPTER 2

AUGUST 2010


"Camp Pickiwicki?"

Violet didn't register the words at first. She'd moved her chair up as close to the waterline as she could without risking dousing the beach bag at her side. For a while, she'd watched, entranced, as the foam crept closer and closer to her freshly manicured toes. But then she'd been pulled back into her novel. She hadn't noticed the man walking barefoot in the surf, hadn't seen him start to pass her and then back up, doing such an obvious double take at her that there really was nothing left to do but speak.

She looked down at her faded mustard yellow T-shirt, then up at the man. He seemed to be about her age, but he was wearing mirrored sunglasses, and she couldn't see his expression. Like a cop, she thought. No. A narc.

"Camp Pickiwicki," she said, in a tone of total agreement. You could barely make out the black letters — they'd disintegrated over hundreds of washes — but the circular logo sprawled across her shirt was still recognizable, the way the C tucked into the tree that formed the P.

"You went there?" He sounded more than just disbelieving. Suspicious.

"Picki-picki-wicki-wicki-yay!" she chanted halfheartedly. For two weeks during the summer she'd turned twelve, she and her fellow campers had been cajoled into yelling the rallying cry at daybreak, before meals, after canoe races, when it was time to leave the fire circle and go to bed. If you'd been there once, it was ingrained in your mind forever.

He laughed. "And your T-shirt still fits. Astonishing. I outgrew mine well over a decade ago."

"Oh — this is my gram's. My grandmother's. She volunteered on the special event nights."

"And do you often wear your grandmother's clothes to the beach?" He gave her a big white-toothed smile, and Violet could just see the arches of his raised eyebrows peeking out above his sunglasses.

"I do not," she replied coolly. "But then I thought, what if someone else here went to Camp Pickiwicki? I mean, the place was only open for one summer, and hardly anyone signed up even then, and it's also in Western Pennsylvania and here we are in beautiful Sunny Isles Beach, conveniently located about a zillion miles south of the campgrounds, so you never know."

"Indeed. I like to keep an eye out for fellow Pickiwickians everywhere I go."

"Look out!"

A teenager on an out-of-control skimboard came barreling onto the sand, and the man leaped out of his way, knocking into Violet's beach umbrella. She grabbed the pole to hold it steady.

"Sorry!"

"Perhaps you should keep an eye out for rogue skimboarders wherever you go," she suggested.

He laughed. "Not challenging enough. They're everywhere."

The man got to his knees in the circle of shade at Violet's side and started mounding wet sand around the pole to hold it in place. His sunglasses slid down his nose, and he pushed them up on top of his head. It hadn't been a trick of the mirrored lenses — he was good-looking. Somewhere between rugged and clean-cut, as if he'd be just as comfortable strumming an acoustic guitar as wearing a suit. Hello, handsome stranger. She'd be starting to get nervous right about now if her flight weren't leaving first thing in the morning. She had a tendency to get tongue-tied and ruin these sorts of things. Not that these sorts of things ever happened to her.

"It really is an odd coincidence, though, isn't it?" he said, giving the mound of sand a last pat and flopping down beside her chair. "I've never met anyone who went there, let alone all these years later and a thousand miles away. I loved that place. That was, like, my favorite summer as a kid. Ever."

"I know. I wonder if we were there at the same time? I mean, I think I would recognize you ..."

He shook his head. "We couldn't have been. There were no girls during the session my parents signed me up for. Wasn't supposed to be that way, but that's how it worked out. Or so I was told. You can imagine my disappointment."

She laughed. "Well, then, I am sorry to tell you that you did not get the full Camp Pickiwicki experience. No sneaking out after dark to make out down by the docks?"

"Surely not a good girl like you who wears her grandmother's clothes to the beach."

"Surely so."

"Well, then it's finally clear to me what must have happened. You juvenile delinquents early in the summer ruined it for the rest of us by the time August rolled around. I knew the odds of no coeds enrolling that session were slim!"

She shrugged. "That claim is unsubstantiated."

"I can't believe my parents actually lied to me about what happened."

"About what allegedly happened."

"I feel as though you owe me an apology."

"I owe you no such thing."

"The least you could do is make it up to me after dark tonight."

Violet flushed, and the man's face fell.

"That was it, wasn't it?"

"That was what?"

"The line. I'm always crossing it without meaning to. Please. Forget I said that. I was just trying to be clever."

"No offense taken. I'd probably still be sore about it too, if I could trace my lingering virginity back to having missed out on my first tongue kiss at summer camp."

He cocked one eyebrow at her. "I've been accused of a lot of things in my adult life, but being a virgin is not one of them."

"And here you were acting shocked that I was not the Goody Two-shoes little camper you assumed me to be."

"Well, in my defense, you are wearing your grandmother's Camp Pickiwicki T-shirt. At the beach. On an adult vacation with ... who are you with?"

"Myself."

"You came on vacation alone?" He looked more impressed than surprised. "Really?"

"My boyfriend unceremoniously dumped me a few weeks ago. I've been working an insane amount of overtime at the office. I realized that I'd never spent my tax refund. So, I just booked it."

"And how's it been?"

"Honestly?"

He nodded, and she could tell he was waiting for her to say it had been unexpectedly lonely, there were couples everywhere, there were kids everywhere, she didn't know what she'd been thinking. She'd half expected to feel that way too, before she'd gotten here.

"It's been pretty damn great," she said, shrugging. "I'm actually a little embarrassed at how much it suits me. I don't want to turn into one of those people who get too used to living alone, you know? But then again, maybe I just really needed a vacation."

It was not this particular breakup that upset her as much as the fact that it was one in a long line of them in the years since she'd graduated college. Every time her phone rang and it was a friend she hadn't heard from in a while, she knew even before answering that it was another call to announce an engagement. Violet would manage the customary squeals over the proposal stories and summon genuine enough happiness as she wished them well, but she couldn't do it without mentally tallying her list of engaged friends versus those whose boyfriends were getting serious. And then there was Violet, alone in the "completely single" column, where every prospect turned out to be a false hope just a few months in. She had never been one to feel she needed a boyfriend, or a fiancé, or a husband to be happy, but it was enough to give anyone a complex.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser. Copyright © 2017 Jessica Strawser. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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