It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. When Eliza Hunt created The Hudson Valley Ladies’ Bulletin Board fifteen years ago she was happily entrenched in her picture-perfect suburban life with her husband and twin preschoolers. Now, with an empty nest and a crippling case of agoraphobia, the once-fun hobby has become her lifeline. So when a rival parenting forum threatens the site’s existence, she doesn’t think twice before fabricating a salacious rumor to spark things up a bit.
It doesn’t take long before that spark becomes a flame.
Across town, new mom and site devotee Olivia York is thrown into a tailspin by what she reads on the Bulletin Board. Allison Le is making cyber friends with a woman who isn’t quite who she says she is. And Amanda Cole, Eliza’s childhood friend, may just hold the key to unearthing why Eliza can’t step out of her front door.
In all this chaos, one thing is for sure…Hudson Valley will never be the same.
Funny, romantic, raw, and hopeful, this is a story about being a woman and of the healing power of sisterhood.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Eliza Hunt had always been a fan of the sisterhood. It was the reason she became a Girl Scout—well, that and the Thin Mints—and why she joined the women’s chorus in high school though she couldn’t carry a tune. It was her impetus for pledging a sorority in college when frat boys made her nervous, and why she worked at a female-run marketing firm after graduation. Eliza was completely happy to be traveling through life in the company of her girlfriends, until one fateful night across a Greenwich Village bar, when the boyfriend that she wasn’t even looking for appeared.
Eliza and Luke were engaged within the year, married in the next, and pregnant with twins shortly thereafter. Soon, the Hunt family of four moved into the house Eliza had grown up in, a traditional Colonial in Hudson Valley, New York, where they quickly settled in for their happily ever after. Or so she thought. It wasn’t long before Eliza found herself longing for the safety net of female friendship. She missed the camaraderie, support, candor, advice, laughs, drama, and encouragement that one gets from being in the company of other women. Eliza missed the sisterhood.
She joined a mommy-and-me group, started playing round-robin tennis, and spent a lot of time at the local playground, but these interactions all left her longing for more. When she came up short, she set out to create a solution of her own. Inspired by the traditional bulletin boards at the library and supermarket, Eliza took the concept of posting things into the twenty-first century, creating an online source for exchange and support that, like most modern resources, can be carried around all day, right in your pocket. She named it the Hudson Valley Ladies’ Bulletin Board.
Creating and moderating the bulletin board immediately felt like a gift to Eliza—just what had been missing in her life. After the local newspaper ran a piece featuring her and the bulletin board, its membership quadrupled.
It turned out that the ladies of Hudson Valley weren’t alone in their digital love affair. The newspaper reported that women in communities from Manhattan to Mumbai were also banding together online to commiserate over their pelvic floors, the glass ceiling, and everything in between. What began with sharing recipes and doctor recommendations morphed into an electronic soapbox where women could shout their innermost truths and fears from computer-generated rooftops. Children, careers, fashion, love, orgasms, money, and men were all fair topics for endless, lay-it-on-the-line discussions. Women holding one another’s virtual hands through the joys, the frustrations, and the traumas of life. It was a tale as old as time, from the biblical menstrual tent to the quilting circle to these modern online hives—female bonds help solidify happiness.
And Eliza was happy—for a very long time. The article featured a photo of her leaning against her desk, looking smart but casual in a crisp white blouse, pencil jeans, and ballet flats. Twelve years later, it still sat in a frame beside her computer. The last time that she looked at it she had cringed. She barely recognized the smiling, fresh-faced woman in the photo. She was quite surprised that no one wondered where that woman had gone.
Eliza Hunt sat in the parking lot of her local Stop & Shop. Her neck was soaked in sweat, her hands trembling uncontrollably. It wouldn't be long before she'd have no choice but to curl up in a ball on the front seat of her car and give up.
She looked at the curved bold font of the familiar bright purple sign and read it out loud: "STOP & SHOP." Such simple instructions, yet she felt as if her body were weighted to the front seat of her car, pinned down by fear.
She refocused and tried talking herself out of the car: "Eliza. The twins are coming home from college for the long weekend. You need to walk across the parking lot and buy food for them."
She had already attempted to will the panic away with calm breaths in and out, in and out, a method she had learned from the psychiatrist who treated her during her first bout with agoraphobia some thirty years earlier. It hadn't helped then, either. She pried her feet out of her sneakers, peeled off her sweat socks, and shoved them under her now-drenched underarms. Thankfully, the sweat socks lived up to their name. How did I get here? she asked herself. She knew the answer, but as per usual, she didn't have the strength to address it. She stared out at the familiar market she had been in a thousand times and yelled, "Get out of the damn car, Eliza!"
Still nothing; the fear was mounting, not retreating.
At this point in her life, Eliza knew the Stop & Shop so well that she could direct someone to aisle nine for beverages and aisle five for Preparation H as deftly as the store manager could. She knew that if she could just get midway down aisle four to her old friend, a box of chocolate-covered Entenmann's donuts, she could ingest enough sugar, and derive enough comfort, to hold the panic at bay for the duration of her shopping. Growing up, she had kept a similar box under her bed, hidden from her mother, who didn't allow sweets in the house. Whether she was suffering from anxiety, rebelling, or just looking for a remedy for the teenage blahs, they always did the trick.
Eliza closed her eyes and pictured the familiar blue-and-white box, with the clear window on top, visualized herself opening the side tabs and scoffing down one, or two, or four. She imagined her first bite-the distinct segue from the hard chocolate shell to the soft, vanilla cakey inside, channeling her mind and spirit into the exquisite sense of anticipation.
"Focus. Focus on the donut, Eliza."
Before she knew it, she was out of the car and standing in aisle four, three donuts in. They had the desired effect, and she took a few deep breaths to seal the deal. She pulled the socks out from under her armpits, threw them in her purse, and yanked out her shopping list. She was good to go.
Half an hour later, with her cart overflowing, Eliza stepped in line at the checkout counter. There she was instantly distracted from her fear of exiting the store by a lively conversation between two young mothers ahead of her. One, who had a baby strapped to her chest, was helping the other, who had an unruly toddler strapped in the seat of the cart, unload her groceries. As the toddler's mother placed one item on the belt, the toddler took another off and threw it back into the cart. It was entertaining, and Eliza was in no rush to go back outside.
The mother of the baby said, "I was up all night reading that epic thread on the local chat group. Did you see it?"
"Of course I saw it. It was like a train wreck."
"I just don't understand how these women spill everything. I mean, 'My husband has erectile dysfunction, please help'?"
"At least she wrote that anonymously. All those women who answered with their expert advice, you can only imagine that their husbands have issues in that department as well. I mean, my God, my husband would kill me."
They both laughed. Eliza did not. She found their conversation very alarming. Eliza reviewed and approved every post that went on the Hudson Valley Ladies' Bulletin Board, and the one that these two were discussing was unfamiliar to her. She redirected her anxiety and butt right into the women's conversation.
"Not to be nosy, but I couldn't help but overhear. Are you referring to the Hudson Valley Ladies' Bulletin Board?"
"Oh, no. That dinosaur bores me to tears," the woman with the toddler answered. The insult registered on Eliza's face and the other woman seemed to notice and proceeded to sugarcoat her response. To Eliza it felt more like arsenic.
"That one is more for your generation. There's a new site called Valley Girls that's more relevant, you know, for us." Her high ponytail did a pirouette as she motioned to her just-off-to-the-gym outfit.
Eliza looked down at herself. She was wearing the shirt she had slept in and sweatpants. She couldn't remember the last time she had on leggings, let alone jeans. She vowed to shower and blow her hair out before the kids arrived home. And to put on an actual outfit.
"Valley Girls?" she asked. "When did that one start?"
"A few months ago. More dirty laundry, less how best to wash it."
Eliza pulled back her cart and slid it toward an empty register. All thoughts of her recent panic were temporarily banished by new fears. Was the bulletin board becoming irrelevant? Would it wither and die? She couldn't let that happen-especially not right now. Checking those posts and watching the attention they received had become her biggest connection to the outside world and, as pathetic as it felt to admit it, her only emotional high, save a phone call from her kids.
Suddenly, she couldn't get home fast enough, and for once, not just because of her agoraphobia. She had no idea how she would do it, but she would not allow these sleek millennial mommas to make her site obsolete.
The anniversary gift was due to be delivered by ten, and Spencer, Olivia's husband, had promised to be home from his run in time for its arrival. He often miscalculated the length of his runs, adding on miles and subsequently time. It was doubtful that he would be at her side for the big reveal. Standing alone with the deliverymen was not how Olivia had pictured this moment.
On hearing the sound of wheels on gravel, she texted Spencer, They're here. If he were home, where he should have been, that text would have included at least three exclamation points. Her lack of punctuation matched her mood. Olivia was disappointed. All of the romance she'd felt when first hearing of his imminent surprise was replaced with annoyance. The doorbell rang. She brushed off the gloom and answered it with a genuine smile.
"Right this way," she directed the two men, with a mixture of nervousness and excitement, as they carried a large crate through the front door. It had been just six weeks since Olivia and Spencer had moved to Hudson Valley with their beautiful baby, Lily, but it already felt like home. She loved everything about the house right down to the lovely name of the street, Evergreen Lane, where she had resolved to bring up her family. Actually, "resolved to" mades it seem as if Olivia was not fully embracing this move. That was not the case. Though it had not been her idea, Olivia York took on this transition in her true, hopeful fashion, as she did most everything that came her way.
A born and bred city girl, she had no idea how to live in the country. Even calling it the country as opposed to a suburb of Manhattan was apparently incorrect and made her husband laugh every time she said it.
It had been Spencer's plan all along to move out of Manhattan: grass for the kids to play on, fresh air, the promise of a golden retriever or a standard poodle or some combination of the two. It was the way he'd grown up, and the offices for York Cosmetics, his family's multilevel-marketing company, were based nearby. Olivia knew that even a reverse commute couldn't beat the hop, skip, and jump it would now take for Spencer to get to work. As a freelance graphic artist, Olivia could work from anywhere. She felt selfish insisting they stay in the city forever, though it had always been her preference.
Olivia thought she'd have a few good urban years while Lily was still tiny before Spencer broached the topic of moving. But the first time she walked into the glass house that jutted out from the mountainous banks of the Hudson, perched at the perfect angle to see for miles in each direction, she wanted nothing more. By the time they saw the master bedroom, its windows set to capture every hue of the ever-changing foliage, the choppy currents, the passing ships, she was sold. Spencer was no fool. He knew his art history-loving wife would not be able to resist living within a Hudson Valley landscape any more than Monet at Giverny. When they returned to the city after seeing it for the first time, she stopped at the magazine stand and grabbed the latest issues of Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, and Country Living.
Olivia directed the men to hang what they confirmed was a painting over the living room fireplace. She suspected it was a piece from some up-and-coming artist she'd admired the last time she'd dragged Spencer through the galleries of Chelsea. She hadn't imagined that he was even listening to her, let alone noting her favorites for an anniversary gift. Spencer did have a way of doing things that took her by surprise. It was one of the reasons she had fallen for him in the first place. Since she was a real planner, being with a free spirit like Spencer had taken her out of her comfort zone, and she liked it.
When the deliverymen removed the painting from the crate, revealing the canvas in all its glory, Olivia was . . . speechless. Spencer had had their wedding portrait reimagined as a modern version of Botticelli's Birth of Venus, with the two of them standing on a seashell in a calm sea.
Olivia was suddenly relieved that Spencer wasn't home so she could take it in unobserved. To say Olivia wasn't a fan of the trend of repurposing classic paintings into pop art was an understatement, but Spencer didn't know that. And, she reasoned, there was no denying the romance of her husband's gift. It wasn't what she'd expected, but it was infinitely more personal. The early Renaissance painter's rendition of the goddess of love had been a highlight the first time Olivia had dragged Spencer through a gallery-the Uffizi in Florence-and the gift was obviously a loving homage to their Italian meet-cute.
Olivia and Spencer had met in their junior year abroad on a train in Italy. She was traveling with her suite mates from Wellesley and was buried in a novel, A Room with a View, which she had chosen in part because it was set in Italy. She was just the kind of girl who would match her book with her travels. She didn't notice the dark-haired, blue-eyed American across the aisle watching her. In all fairness, there was often someone looking at Olivia.
Olivia was very beautiful. She wasn't perfect; her nose was a bit long, her ears could probably have done with being pinned back when she was a child, but she had that thing-that thing that propelled the likes of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and Julia Roberts into the spotlight. Like them, her beauty seemed to emanate from her smile and continue down her perfectly tanned frame and coltlike legs.
Growing up in New York City, Olivia had felt as if the boys were everywhere that she was. One smile, and there was never one who didn't ask for her number, who didn't call, who didn't call again-but more importantly, never one who she cared enough for to call back. The attention overwhelmed her, so much so that when it came time to go to college, she only applied to all-girls schools. It wasn't that she didn't like men, but she liked books more and she knew she would get to the men part eventually. Eventually came on that train to Florence.
When Olivia returned to her seat after a bathroom break, she found Spencer sitting in it, refusing to get up until she agreed to accompany him for a drink in the bar car. There was nothing especially distinctive about Spencer. In Olivia's world, handsome, educated, wealthy, sporty guys with an entertaining undercurrent of immaturity were a common entity. There was really no one reason why Spencer had succeeded where others had failed. Maybe it was timing, maybe it was Florence, maybe it was the romance in the book she was reading at the time-the story of a somewhat serious young woman falling for a free-spirited young man-or maybe a combination of them all: a perfect storm.
She went for the drink, then dinner, then the rest of her time in Florence followed by a sunflower-flanked drive down the Tuscan coast to Porto Ercole. She was not one to deviate from a plan, nor to ditch her friends, but somehow she got caught up in Spencer's deep blue eyes and the way he undressed her with them. By the time they reached the coast, she had fallen in love for the very first time. And, as it turned out, Olivia loved being in love. She especially loved the promise of it-being "taken" felt quite satisfying on many levels.
After their semester-long European courtship, they dated long distance throughout their senior years. She traveled to visit him at Duke for his formals; he met her in Boston, where they barely left their hotel room. By graduation they were pinned, two years later engaged, and six years later inhabiting their new home in Hudson Valley, with Olivia staring at the campy wedding portrait while their baby slept soundly in her nursery.
The two men stepped back to see if the painting was straight.
"What do you think?" one asked, bringing her back to the moment.
She took a beat. It was a funny combination of classic and modern, like her.
"I love it," Olivia decided, right there on the spot.
"It's a real nice picture, lady," one of them said with sincere appreciation.
As Olivia escorted them out, a station wagon filled with a gaggle of babies pulled up to the house. She watched from the doorway as the woman she'd been expecting-their mother-stepped out. Olivia was pretty sure she was still in her pajamas. She went up to greet her.