Three women, each facing an empty nest, come together to cheer and challenge one another in this insightful, poignant new novel from acclaimed author Susan Kietzman.
For years, Ellie, Alice, and Joan enjoyed a casual friendship while volunteering at their children’s Connecticut high school. Now, with those children grown and gone to college, a local tragedy brings the three into contact again. But what begins as a catch-up lunch soon moves beyond small talk to the struggles of this next stage of life.
Joan Howard has spent thirty years of marriage doing what’s expected of Howard women: shopping, dressing well, and keeping a beautiful home. Unfulfilled, her boredom and emptiness eventually find a secret outlet at the local casino. Meanwhile, Ellie’s efforts to expand her accounting business lead to a new friendship that clashes with her family’s traditional worldview. And Alice, feeling increasingly distant from her husband, and alienated from her once fit body, takes up running again. But a terrifying ordeal shatters her confidence and spurs a decision that will affect all three women in different ways.
Over the course of an eventful year, Ellie, Alice, and Joan will meet every other Wednesday to talk, plan—and find the freedom, and the courage, to redefine themselves.
Praise for the novels of Susan Kietzman
“Beautifully written and closely observed…captures the deep and complicated love of family. Reading this lovely novel, I felt the embrace of summer on the shoreline.” —New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice on The Summer Cottage
“Readers will find themselves drawn into the tragedies and triumphs of this fictional family—distinct and yet utterly relatable.” —Hartford Books Examiner on The Good Life
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About the Author
Susan Kietzman writes contemporary American fiction. Her protagonists face every day challenges and issues, and make decisions that affect the direction and quality of their lives. Before dedicating all her writing time to fiction, she wrote in several other capacities – as newspaper reporter, corporate client wordsmith, and museum fundraiser. She also taught English and public speaking at two community colleges. It Started in June is her fifth novel. Her previous novels are Every Other Wednesday, The Summer Cottage, A Changing Marriage, and The Good Life. Please visit her online at www.SusanKietzman.com.
Read an Excerpt
Every Other Wednesday
By SUSAN KIETZMAN
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Susan Kietzman
All rights reserved.
The calendar on the mustard colored wall of her kitchen confirmed what Alice Stone already knew; it had been two months since her youngest daughter left for college, and Alice was still baking cookies as if Linda were still at home. Every week, she baked two or three dozen, even though her husband, Dave, was running more and eating less, and even though Linda had long ago told her mother that teenage girls didn't eat cookies. It was a habit, this baking, that Alice had initiated when her three girls were young and looking for a snack when they got home from school. And it kept Alice busy for a couple hours, from the mixing of the ingredients she kept stocked in her cupboards to the baking of the dough. Baking cookies was a productive way to pass time, Alice had convinced herself, better than sitting on the couch and flipping through a magazine. And being productive at home was a good enough reason to be at home, to not get a job.
In some ways, Alice did want to work. Having a job would give her something to do, a new purpose in life, now that her girls were out of the house. And on some days, she longed for something to fill and challenge her brain, not to mention the extra money that Dave mentioned regularly. He certainly wanted her to work, so she could help with the "incredible expense of putting three kids through college" — although Hilary had just graduated and Cathy had been out of school for three years — something Alice was well aware of since she paid the bills. But, in terms of getting a job, she knew a lot more about what she didn't want to do than what she wanted to do. She didn't want to work at Fast Pace, the running store she and Dave had opened twenty-eight years ago when they had moved back to Connecticut, and when she was running as many miles in a week as Dave. And she didn't want to perform menial labor, though she had to admit that what she had been doing as a stay-at-home mom, the grocery shopping, meal preparation, driving kids to lessons and school events, and running errands, all fit squarely into that category. Working women liked to show their empathy by praising the honorable profession of mothers dressed in sweats instead of suits, by comparing the skill sets of the cookie baking, tantrum thwarting, coupon clipping moms to those of the team building, forward thinking, solution oriented corporate ladder climbers, but women at home knew better. If they were paid for what they did, it would be minimum wage. This had been okay with Alice, because, in addition to performing banal tasks, she had been caring for her girls. But if she tried to join the workforce now, she would be qualified for and have nothing but boring, inconsequential labor to define her days.
Dave told her this was crazy talk; she could do any number of things. She was a college graduate, with a degree in psychology that could be useful in many professions, including, he had said over the years, helping runners find the right gear for their style and activity level. But lately, since they had been talking about Alice working again, Dave hadn't encouraged her to join the team at Fast Pace. Perhaps he, like the rest of the working world, knew that someone who had been out of touch for as long as Alice had been making cookies would have trouble transitioning into the frenzied, twenty-four-hour, global, competitive employment arena.
The timer buzzed, and Alice pulled a sheet of peanut butter cookies out of the oven.
The sole thing Alice liked about the idea of returning to Fast Pace was the incentive it would give her to start running again. She exercised four or five days a week at the YMCA in town, but she hadn't run hard in several years and knew how painful it would be to push her fifty-five-year-old legs to move, as they once had, at a seven-minute-mile pace. She'd have to start at a ten- or eleven-minute mile. She might even have to settle for a twelve-minute mile if she wanted to run more than three. And at that speed, she might as well join the mall walkers. Alice shook her head at the thought.
Alice's body was still thin and toned; she went to the Y to work out more than to socialize. At five foot, five inches, she weighed one hundred and twenty-five pounds, which was what she had weighed in college. She could pull off wearing clothes meant for younger women, though she admitted to herself that she chose the popular, ubiquitous, oversized tops just as much to hide the loose skin around her abdomen as she did to be current. And she kept her blond hair long, down to the middle of her back, which helped her feel youthful and relevant. But looking like a runner and being a runner had nothing in common. And if Alice were going to actually be a runner again, she would have to train like she had in college. Would Dave run with her?
The clock in the hallway struck the hour, and Alice reached for the remote control to the Bose sound system that sat on top of the fridge. NPR was good company in the morning, giving Alice the news she needed to feel informed and the human interest stories that expanded her perspective. Her mind wandered during the news about the Middle East. Alice wanted to care more about events there, but her doing something that would matter to the Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis, or Somalians would look like what, exactly? She was making a mental list of her errands for the day when her thought process stopped. "... Shooting at William Chester High School in Southwood, Connecticut this morning." Alice grabbed the remote and rapidly pushed the up arrow button to increase the volume. "... Two confirmed dead in an apparent murder-suicide. Police have indicated that the shooting appears to have been targeted rather than random and that the students at William Chester are not in immediate danger. Still, school officials have canceled classes for the remainder of the day and are in the process of sending students home. The names of the deceased are being held until family members can be notified."
The timer buzzed, and Alice, her head heavy with the weight of the news, moved to the oven. She set the sheet of hot cookies on the countertop and then picked up her phone to text Linda. Less than six months ago, William Chester had been Linda's school — and Hilary's and Cathy's before that. Less than six months ago, Linda would have been in the hallways where this shooting occurred.
Did u hear about the shooting at Chester?
OMG — yes! Emmanuel Sanchez is dead! James Shulz shot him and shot himself!
From drama — the sound tech. Never talked to anybody. Had a huge crush on Nanette Benoit. Emmanuel's girlfriend
I gotta go — too much going on right now. I'll call later
Alice put her phone down and reached for the spatula. She removed the cookies from the sheet, all the while trying to picture James Shulz in her head. Nothing came. She had no memory of him, even though Linda had been involved in the drama club since her freshman year. Alice did, however, clearly remember Emmanuel Sanchez, a star football player and scholar who had been in the newspaper just last week, smiling in a photo with a caption about recruitment offers he had received from prestigious colleges all over the country. Alice pulled a chair out from the kitchen table and sat for the first time that morning. She picked up her phone again and called Dave. He rarely answered his cell phone when he was at work, but she wanted to hear his voice.CHAPTER 2
Joan Howard sat in an upholstered chair in the corner of her family room, her slippered feet on the matching ottoman, reading the newspaper. This was how she typically started her weekdays, or rather, how she had started them for a couple months now. She and her husband, Stephen, had moved Liz, the younger of their two daughters, into her college dorm in August, and Joan's mornings had been different, had been like this, ever since. She and Stephen had talked about what it would look like to live in a vacated nest, but they had stayed away from how it would actually feel. Their older daughter, Cassie, had been gone from the house for seven years now, graduating from college and settling into a communications job in Boston and into a rent controlled apartment with her boyfriend. Her departure from the house had been less disruptive for Joan, who still had Liz at home to nurture and protect. But now that Liz was gone, so was Joan's focus, as well as any possible reason for Joan to be sitting in a chair at eight in the morning with a cup of coffee on a nearby coaster. But here she was, skimming the headlines and glancing at the muted local news on the television instead of sipping from a travel mug on her way to another meaningful day at a fulfilling job.
Joan put the newspaper aside and got up out of the chair. She walked her cup to the kitchen, where she filled it for the third time, aware now of the slight buzz behind her eyes and at the base of her skull, thankful for chemical stimulation. She looked out the window over her kitchen sink to the deck and, beyond that, to the yard. The newspaper indicated it would be sunny and warm again today; perhaps she could rake some leaves before her two o'clock meeting of the Southwood Cancer Society. The SCS was one of several organizations Joan belonged to — but even though she still believed in the mission, the intention to do good, she had lately been restless, with her desire to attend meetings and events waning. Was this, too, a result of Liz's departure?
Joan looked at her watch. It was 8:20 a.m. Liz, if she were still living at home instead of at college, would be sitting in her first period class at William Chester High School. And Joan, wearing yoga pants that never made it to a studio, might be making Liz's bed or doing her laundry. Stephen had admonished Joan for "prolonging this dependency," and Joan understood his point. But she liked taking care of the little things for her daughters when they were home while she increasingly let them manage the big things. It beat exercising.
Joan had never been a particularly athletic person, finding skinny people's attraction to sweating, heavy breathing, and routine exhaustion mysterious. She liked to say that life was hard enough without the added misery of exercise. The only thing she liked about exercise was the soft clothing that most mornings tightly blanketed her body. She was only fifteen or so pounds overweight, according to her doctor, but felt larger due to today's continued cultural worship of slim, wrinkle-free women. At fifty-two, Joan had a limited number of options for eradicating the wrinkles around her eyes, but she could certainly lose weight. She dieted, along with, it seemed, every other member of her gender over the age of thirteen, but she was not particularly dedicated, and therefore not particularly successful. She liked fruits and vegetables well enough, but she liked meat and cheese and bread better. And even though her mother-in-law, Sandi, had passed along her best dieting secrets to Joan over the course of Joan's thirty-year marriage to Stephen, Joan liked to eat. Plus, Southwood needed a few chubby women to balance out the troops of fit baby boomers who jogged on the streets and lifted weights at the Y.
This was not to say Joan didn't have style. She dressed beautifully, with an especially good eye for color and accessories. Everything she wore complemented her black, chin-length bob, deep blue eyes, and smooth, blemish free skin, and she was often told how good she looked. Because she dressed so well, people didn't notice right away that she was slightly overweight. Only occasionally would someone inclined to say such things tell her that she carried her weight well. Was that a compliment?
It didn't matter. Stephen liked the way she looked. He was like her, in that he didn't exercise regularly. He went on what Joan called fitness kicks, as she did. But wherever they took place — in the pool at the Y, on a bike around town, along Southwood's running trails — these resolutions didn't last long. Stephen found his energy at the office, and Joan had always been able to recharge through her kids, and, to be honest (in spite of how it sounded), through her weekly manicures at Brenda's. But her battery had been depleted since Liz had left the house, and Joan knew that she needed more than a closet full of clothes and polished nails to move forward in life.
Joan finished reading the first section of the paper and dropped it to the floor. As she unfolded the regional section, she glanced up at the television and saw the words SHOOTING AT WILLIAM CHESTER HIGHSCHOOL in a banner at the bottom of the screen. She reached for the remote and turned on the volume. A Channel 10 news team reporter was standing in front of the main entrance, talking with a student. "No one really knew James," the student said. "He was quiet. He kept to himself. But until today, I would never have thought of him as a violent person, as someone who would take the life of another student."
"And tell us about that other student," the reporter prompted.
"Emmanuel? It's hard to know where to start. He was the star of our football team; everybody knows that. But he was a lot more than that, you know? He was a really nice guy who talked to everybody. He could have been really stuck up because he was such a talented athlete and a smart guy. But he was nice to everybody." The young man's eyes started to fill with water. He blinked several times in an unsuccessful effort to clear them. The reporter put her hand on his shoulder.
"Thank you," she said. "Thank you for talking to us at this very difficult time."
"It's okay," said the student as he turned away from the reporter and walked out of the camera shot.
"To sum up what we know already, James Shulz, a senior here at William Chester High School, shot and killed fellow student Emmanuel Sanchez, a Southwood scholar and gifted football player, and then turned the gun on himself. The police have indicated they think this was a premeditated, isolated incident and that the other members of the student body here at the high school are not in immediate danger. Principal Sean Greeley has canceled classes for the remainder of the day, and the students were instructed to go home. As you can see behind me, the buses are pulling out of the main parking lot, transporting the students home to their families. Stay tuned for additional coverage as details become available."
Joan pushed the mute button on the remote and sat back in the chair. She remembered James Shulz as the student had described him, a shy, very quiet kid. But she also remembered his incredible technical abilities. Liz had been very involved with the drama department and had talked about James. Like many of the department participants, Liz hadn't known his last name, but she did know he was the one who routinely coaxed clear and consistent voices and music from aging microphones and an outdated audio system. He was the one who made everyone sound better than they actually did. All of the dramathletes, the moniker the head of the department had given her charges in an attempt at boosting their social status as well as enticing the booster club to contribute more money to her program, respected James. But none of them hung out with him between productions. He was exactly what so often is said about someone who does what he did — a loner.
The phone rang; it was Liz. When Joan answered the call, all she could hear on the other end was her daughter sobbing.CHAPTER 3
This same morning, Ellie Fagen was sitting at her kitchen table, with her laptop open in front of her and a short stack of spreadsheets to the left of the computer. Today was the day to do something to rev up her bookkeeping business. Today was the day to find a new client. Today was the day to start making enough money so her husband, Chris, would stop talking about her getting another job — a real job is what he meant but didn't say, a job that would handsomely supplement his gym teacher's salary, a job that would help defray the cost of sending their younger son, Tim, to NYU. Ellie had been saying this to herself, giving herself a pep talk just about every day since Tim had packed all his belongings into his grandmother's hand-me-down Passat wagon and driven into New York City to start his freshman year in college, two months ago. In fact, if she were going to be honest about it, Ellie had been talking to herself about this very topic since her older son, Brandon, had driven himself and all his stuff eleven hundred miles from Connecticut to Northern Michigan University two years ago.
She knew why she was, as Chris said, dragging her feet. And she was resolved to work on this troublesome aspect of her personality — this tendency to think and talk about what she wanted in life, only to do nothing about it, zero follow-up. And while it was natural to talk about change rather than take the soul stretching steps to accomplish it, Ellie was particularly adept at procrastination, especially when it came to self-promotion, which was exactly what she had to do to find new clients. Selling herself was not a part of her makeup, her DNA, as someone on a television show about cops or doctors would say. Ellie had confidence in her ability to accurately and efficiently manage financial accounts; she simply had trouble telling people this, thinking it boastful and distasteful to do so. Wouldn't it be more convincing, more sincere to get promoted by others? Chris told her that no matter how good she was, her few clients had a multitude of things to think about rather than how they could help grow Ellie's bookkeeping business. He had told her so this morning, while they were eating toast with peanut butter, while he was looking at her over the top of his reading glasses. It was a look she had seen before, a look that said: Are we really having this conversation? Again?
Excerpted from Every Other Wednesday by SUSAN KIETZMAN. Copyright © 2017 Susan Kietzman. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsBooks by Susan Kietzman,
EVERY OTHER WEDNESDAY,