Told with Beth Harbison's wit and warmth, If I Could Turn Back Time is the fantasy of every woman who has ever thought, "If I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, I'd do things so differently..."
Thirty-seven year old Ramie Phillips has led a very successful life. She made her fortune and now she hob nobs with the very rich and occasionally the semi-famous, and she enjoys luxuries she only dreamed of as a middle-class kid growing up in Potomac, Maryland. But despite it all, she can't ignore the fact that she isn't necessarily happy. In fact, lately Ramie has begun to feel more than a little empty.
On a boat with friends off the Florida coast, she tries to fight her feelings of discontent with steel will and hard liquor. No one even notices as she gets up and goes to the diving board and dives off...
Suddenly Ramie is waking up, straining to understand a voice calling in the distance...It's her mother: "Wake up! You're going to be late for school again. I'm not writing a note this time..."
Ramie finds herself back on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, with a second chance to see the people she's lost and change the choices she regrets. How did she get back here? Has she gone off the deep end? Is she really back in time? Above all, she'll have to answer the question that no one else can: What it is that she really wants from the past, and for her future?
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
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About the Author
Beth Harbison is the New York Times bestselling author of Secrets of a Shoe Addict, Shoe Addicts Anonymous, Hope in a Jar and Thin, Rich, Pretty. She is also a serious product junkie, with enough lip glosses, shampoos, conditioners, and foundations to lube every car on the streets of suburban D.C., where she lives with her husband, two children and dogs.
Read an Excerpt
If I Could Turn Back Time
By Beth Harbison
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Beth Harbison
All rights reserved.
The night before my eighteenth birthday, I was thirty-seven years old.
Not the first time. The first time I was seventeen. Just like you'd expect of an ordinary person. Because I was an ordinary person. I really couldn't pinpoint what put me over the edge, but something did.
So, when it came down to what I want to tell you about today, yes: The night before my second eighteenth birthday, I was thirty-seven.
Doesn't really make it all that much clearer, does it? I'm sorry.
I'll get there.
Meanwhile, let's start someplace else. The day before my thirty-eighth birthday, I was on a boat — a yacht, really — off the coast of Miami, Florida, drenched in the kind of blue-water, sunny-day perfection you see on the cover of Condé Nast Traveler and other luxury magazines. It was absolutely, stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful.
By all accounts, mine was a stunning, beautiful, absolutely breathtaking luxury life.
I hadn't grown up that way. No one who grows up with over-the-top luxury bothers to appreciate it or describe it in detail. They take it for granted, while the rest of us either dream about it or — as in my case — are perfectly contented until someone swoops us out of our easy anonymous life and plops us down into the middle of some political existence, major or minor, literal or figurative.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
In my youth, I'd enjoyed a happy, Charlie Brown–landscaped, middle-class life in Potomac, Maryland, close enough to the D.C. border that you could ride a bike there (if you were ambitious). Summers were muggy and smelled of hot pavement and beer at a field party down River Road; fall was always cool and crisp, underlined by the sounds of fiery red and gold leaves (matching the ubiquitous Redskins jerseys) skidding across sidewalks and streets; winters crunched with snow and carried the scent of wood smoke that drifted lazily out of brick chimneys until the inevitable flat and depressing gray stretch that was February and March, when everyone drew into their homes and stopped any festivities, holding their breath for the relief of anything other than the long dark winter of the D.C. suburbs.
But then spring burst forth in a pastel fireworks show of azaleas, daffodils, cherry blossoms — the trees that lined my side of Fox Hills were cherry blossoms, until they all died off, and the other side of the neighborhood had Bradford pears, which I think lasted longer — and the burst of whatever spring nature gave brought the happy smiles of residents who hadn't quite believed it would ever warm up again.
Ours was not a neighborhood of rose competitions or any other attempts to outdo each other's optimism; it was a place where everyone did their best to nourish cheer and no one sought to outdo another, because the point was to hasten the gray winter along as best we could, as best we all possibly could.
The rich in our town had old money and horses and bridal paths; the rest of us had bikes and neighborhood pools and solid American cars to take us to the mall or dinner out at Normandie Farm or, on really special occasions, the Peter Pan Inn in Urbana. It was a half-hour drive through the dark but it always ended in a deep-velvet-red dining room and the best Shirley Temple drinks I ever had.
I was a math kid, always loved it, always excelled at it. I couldn't understand how anyone had trouble with math, when it was the most straightforward thing in the world. To me, that would be like not understanding how to breathe. Nothing else in life is so dependable: you plug the right formula in with the right numbers, do the puzzle, and get the answer right every single time.
My dad was a banker and he loved that I shared this quality with him. Early on he taught me sums using coins. When I was five years old he began to teach me about the stock market and how to track a portfolio. He taught me to invest in things I liked, not just things that "made sense." Our first real purchase for my future was one hundred shares of Apple's IPO at $22 a share, because he and I loved to play Alternate Reality together. I saved that stock and added to it for the thirty years that followed, through three splits and a high approaching $250 a share.
Thanks to Dad, I had a nice little nest egg for myself long before I hit it big working with Whitestone, one of the top private equity investment firms in the country.
Believe it or not, I'd never actually been financially ambitious. At least not in the greedy sense. I loved to get it right, to invest well, to have my intuition richly rewarded with high growth and big margins, in short to be good at my job. But I'd never felt like I didn't have what I needed until the little enclave that had been my home since I was born became a very popular metropolitan suburb for bigwigs and the prices escalated well beyond what I or 99 percent of my school classmates could have afforded.
Until Dad died unexpectedly halfway through my college education, that is. Well, I say unexpectedly, but when you smoke three packs of unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes a day, a sudden and devastating stroke can't exactly be characterized as "unexpected." Unfortunate, certainly. Unendurable, very nearly.
But not unexpected.
It was definitely the most formative experience of my life, though. I was twenty years old, and it wasn't what I'd expected. I'd fully expected him to be there for me forever, to fix doorknobs in my first shabby apartment, to advise me when the market wobbled, to walk me down the aisle if and when I found someone I wanted to marry, and, most importantly — and most vivid in my imagination — to be a grandfather to my kids: to throw them up in the air and catch them; to make games of "fishing" with homemade poles held from the second floor of the house for treasures he'd hidden in his shoes.
That was the dad he'd been to me, and that was the granddad I was sure he'd be to my children someday. And, damn it, it was really something to look forward to.
But it was never to be.
My mom later told me she'd feared it for years. So strongly, in fact, that sometimes she had a sneaking suspicion that she'd caused his death by focusing so much attention on that specific dread. But that was nonsense. He smoked, he enjoyed his Irish coffees, he spent his evenings in his easy chair in front of ESPN, and he died.
And life changed. Even though the house was paid off, Mom had a hard time paying the taxes along with all her other expenses, so I had the most important investment assignment of my life: to profitably invest the life insurance payment in a bad market so that she could comfortably live off the dividends.
It's worked out pretty well.
So I was able to sit on the bow of that yacht the day before my birthday, soaking up the sun without many cares in the world.
I was with my best friend, Sammy — whom tackier people would probably call my "gay husband" and which probably gives you a fair idea of him and our relationship — as well as two couples we weren't actually that close to but whom we'd known for a decade and who tended to show up every time there was a party, and Lisa and Larry Springston. Larry was my associate at Whitestone, and Lisa was his wife. She and I had gotten particularly close in the past five years or so, and everyone called us "partners in crime," thanks to a few better-left-unmentioned wine-fueled party antics.
"It's time for champagne," Sammy announced, shortly after noon and a few nibbles of cheese dictated that it was reasonably five o'clock somewhere. He came out of the galley with a tray containing eight glasses, and a silver bucket with the distinct flower-painted bottle of Perrier-Jouët poking out of the top. Each delicate Waterford flute had a slender straw in it — a nod to the brief period when I'd been obsessed with Pommery Pops, small bottles of fine Pommery champagne in blue bottles with little blue straws.
That habit had ended quickly — it just wasn't economically responsible, and I was nothing if not economically responsible — but we figured out it was really the straws that drew us in, so we always tried to use them for special occasions.
Sammy's theory was that every birthday with an eight in it was an anniversary of my eighteenth birthday, and thus qualified as a very special occasion.
He set the tray down on the table and held up the bottle. "Your favorite!"
"Thank you so much!" I made my way over to him and gave him a hug. "You know me so well."
"Honey, anyone here could have come up with your favorite champs. But when you see the present I got you, you'll know who your daddy is."
Sammy was not, and would never be, a who's-your-daddy guy, though he'd dated a few.
But it gave me a moment's pause, as that sort of thing still did, to think about my own daddy and the fact that he wasn't here. That he'd never be here. And the fact that I still hadn't managed to find my way completely over that fact.
This wasn't the time for mourning, though. This was a fun occasion, a party. I wasn't going to let myself slip into the maudlin.
Sammy poured expertly into tilted flutes so the foam didn't rise over and spill any precious liquid gold, and handed them to me one by one to distribute. One for Kristin, one for Melanie, one for Ray, one for Ronnie, one for Larry, and one for —
"None for me," Lisa said, holding up her hand, her diamond wedding ensemble glittering madly in the sun.
"Oh, come on." I laughed and held it out to her. "Since when do you not want champagne? Particularly when it's the good stuff!"
"Nope. I'm serious. I ... I'm just going to have water." Her face went a little pink.
Slow to the punch, I grew concerned. "Are you sick? You're kind of flushed."
"Oh, no, I'm fine. Better than ever."
This still didn't register at all. Dumb, right? "Okay," I said slowly. "If you're sure. ..."
She met my eyes and smiled. "I'm drinking for two now," she said in a stage whisper, then patted her board-flat belly with her hand. "Or, rather, not drinking for two."
Ding ding ding. "You're pregnant?" I was so shocked I didn't bother to keep my voice down, so of course everyone turned their attention to our conversation.
Lisa didn't seem to mind, though. She reached her hand out for Larry's and said, "We are."
Good lord. Not only was Lisa — Lisa! — pregnant, but she was also suddenly a we are sort of person. This wasn't the woman I'd been hanging out with at all.
"Well ..." I didn't know what to say. "Well. Congratulations!" I raised my glass to them, and everyone else followed suit.
Then, of course, everyone crowded around the couple to ask how had this come about, had they been planning it, did they know yet if it was a girl or a boy, and did they have names lined up. All those things everyone always asks in situations like this.
Honestly, it seemed to go on forever, though, and Lisa seemed to tell the "Free Bird" version of the story about peeing on a stick, then another, then another, and so on, until she ran to Larry, who was on his stationary bike, holding six positive pregnancy tests with, presumably, urine-covered hands, though she didn't mention that part. I don't know why, though, since she seemed to go on about every other detail anyone could possibly come up with, right down to, and including, the fact that one of the little red lines was pink and that threw the other five positive tests into doubt for them, so they went to the doctor the next day for a blood test, and ... blah blah blah. The story was endless. Seriously. The extended dance version of the oldest story on earth.
I felt an embarrassing little ping of irritation that my thirty-eighth birthday eve — so horribly close to forty — had been overshadowed by toasts and congratulations for Lisa's unexpected pregnancy, but I squelched it immediately. What a self-centered jerk I was being! A total baby, feeling proprietary about people's attention when, really, it was just another day like any other. Lisa and Larry had wonderful news, a life-changing event, and I wanted ... what? To be patted on the back for the magnificent feat of not dying by age thirty-eight? It was shameful.
Though, seriously, no matter when she got pregnant, was this really the time and place to announce it? Could she not know that her previous partner in crime — me — might feel a little weird about being ambushed by this news of her total acquiescence to domestication?
Because it was clear that this was not the end of the story; Lisa was never going to go back to being the fun person I remembered. Now she was a mother. A hugely proud, almost cocky mother. And as great as it was that she'd gotten what she evidently wanted — it was apparently a dream come true for her — how could I be anything less than supportive?
I told her how happy I was for her, of course. What a great mother I knew she'd be, based on what a great friend she'd been. How strong their family would be, because of her incredible bond with Larry, though privately I thought they'd fought and occasionally broken up over the dumbest things on earth. So how on earth could any sane person think this union would last and get stronger in the presence of a small being who wailed like a harmonica played by a first grader, pooped and peed in their pants, could not be ignored without calling attention to child protective authorities, and needed constant attention for more than a decade before they could even be counted on to go to bed when instructed, and even then you only had like two years before they snuck out six hours later ...?
No, I wasn't exactly jealous of Lisa. But I already missed the times we'd had — the times we'd never have again — and more than anything I missed imagining that a baby would come along and turn two people into a wonderful family. I hadn't believed that in years, because I had never seen evidence that it happened.
No super-happy families around me!
Not that I was in the business for it. Finance professionals at my level barely had time to breathe, much less form relationships. As long as the market was open, there was no taking my eyes off it. I could see that the guys I worked with always ended up screwed if they formed close relationships. Inevitably they started feeling stifled and, eventually, suffocated.
How could I feel jealous?
Yet, undeniably, I felt left behind. And I felt like I was suddenly being faced with questions I had to ask about the decisions I'd made in my life. The sense of a ticking time bomb was indisputable.
I'd made a lot of mistakes in my life. Was this the biggest one?CHAPTER 2
As the group chattered on, I felt Sammy put an arm around my waist and say, loud enough to be heard by the others, "Come on, chickie, let's go catch us some rays, eh?" He took the bottle and signaled a deckhand in the kitchen to bring more out.
No one really noticed as we walked away, but the announcement had been a nice gesture anyway.
"That selfish cow," Sammy said scathingly. "She didn't need to bring that up now, of all times."
Of course, this bit of cattiness was completely validating for me, as he knew it would be, even though I said, "I did put her on the spot by insisting she have champagne."
"Oh, please." He settled his blue eyes on me, and even though what he was saying was tacky and uncalled-for, the sincerity was truly written all over his face. Which made it almost worse. He felt sorry for me. "She could have taken the glass and set it down after the toast. She wanted this. Next thing you know, she's going to be opening your presents!"
I laughed outright. It was a funny visual, and even though obviously Lisa would never do such a thing, in a way it was kind of consistent with her personality. Her shallow party-girl personality was exactly what I'd always found fun about her; how could I expect her to turn it off now that she really was going to be the belle of the ball for nine months?
Excerpted from If I Could Turn Back Time by Beth Harbison. Copyright © 2015 Beth Harbison. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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