The would-be love of Meg's high school life is now a single dad, her daughter's new soccer coach--and a neighborly ghost-buster whenever things go bump in the night. With three kids and an undeniable attraction between them, Meg and Sam are in for some heart-racing, wee-hour encounters that have nothing to do with spirits...but everything to do with hearts.
|Publisher:||Grand Central Publishing|
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Love, Suburban Style
By Wendy Markham
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2007 Wendy Corsi Staub
All right reserved.
Chapter OneStation stop: Glenhaven Park," a robotic voice announces as the words flash in red on the electronic scroll overhead.
Glancing out the window at the vaguely familiar wooded countryside, Meg tucks today's New York Post into her black leather tote bag and nudges her daughter in the seat beside her. "Come on, Cosette, put that away, we're almost there."
Cosette's pencil-darkened brows furrow and her liner-blackened eyes refuse to budge from the open copy of Rolling Stone in her hands.
Oh. She's plugged into her iPod.
Meg reaches out and plucks a tiny earphone from Cosette's right ear.
"We're almost there."
Cosette shrugs. "You go. I'll just ride to the end of the line and meet you on the way back down to the city."
"You're not doing that."
"Look, you can make this as difficult for me as you possibly can, or you can cooperate. Either way, we're getting off this train in two minutes, and if I have to drag you by your hair, believe me, I will."
Of course, she won't. She's never laid a hand on Cosette in her life; she won't start now.
Anyway, Cosette could-if she dared-shake her off like a pesky bug. Her daughter is a good three inches taller than Meg's five-four,and probably weighs more, too. Not that Cosette has an ounce of fat on her black-garbed frame. But Meg, normally slender, is now verging on skinny.
She hasn't eaten much of anything-including the chips and doughnuts Geoffrey brought-all week, since Monday.
The day she lost the part to Deeanna Drennan.
The day Cosette got kicked out of school.
The day Astor Hudson died, and Meg Addams was reborn.
Now it's a gorgeous Saturday morning on the cusp of summer, and the train is chugging to a stop in Glenhaven Park at last.
At last. Yes ...
The ride up from Grand Central was only an hour; but Meg realizes now, as she glimpses the soaring white steeple of the First Presbyterian Church on the green, that she's been waiting much, much longer than that to come home.
The word catches her off guard.
Glenhaven Park hasn't been home since her parents sold the family's two-story brick Tudor on North Street.
But suddenly, this self-contained village in the northern reaches of Westchester County feels more like home than Meg's two-bedroom, rent-controlled Upper West Side apartment has in the dozen years since she moved in.
Over at 31 Boxwood Street, a ladder is propped against a three-story home with a mansard roof, wraparound porch, and forty-six windows.
Sam Rooney knows all too well that there are forty-six of them. Not because he grew up in this house but because he counted the windows before he started scraping them back in the beginning of April.
He expected to have had that part done and the painting started by mid-May at the latest, but he was only able to work on them in sporadic weekend moments when the weather was dry and sunny. Weekdays were out entirely; even on his high school science teacher's schedule. Long gone are the days of blowing out of school on the heels of his students, arriving home shortly after the last bell.
Back then, he was teaching in Pelham, where they lived at the time. Sheryl was around to shuttle Ben and Katie from play dates to Brownies and Cub Scouts.
Those activities, which the kids retained after the move to Glenhaven Park, have long since given way to various engagements that are even more time-consuming: lessons, sports practices, tutoring, appointments with doctors, ortho- dontists-and, of course, child psychiatrists for both.
That's a must when you lose your mother suddenly and tragically ... even now that it's been over four years.
Sometimes, it feels like just yesterday that Sam was waking up next to Sheryl.
Other times, it feels as though it happened-as though she happened-in another lifetime, to somebody else.
But on this sun-drenched June Saturday, his thoughts aren't on his late wife or the life they used to have-they're on forty-six windows that need to be painstakingly primed before they can be painted.
The trim will be cranberry, to contrast with the varying shades of yellow on the clapboard, shingles, and gingerbread embellishment.
Last year, when Sam added to his home improvement agenda the insane task of painting the exterior of his recently inherited Queen Anne fixer-upper, he was actually amused that the color palettes read like a supermarket shopping list: from butter to lemon to mustard.
Now there's nothing amusing about anything remotely involving paint.
But today is dry and sunny and breezy, and he needs to get moving on this trim so that it's all finished before summer's humidity and afternoon thunderstorms descend.
He's halfway up the ladder with a full bucket of white primer when a bloodcurdling scream nearly causes him to topple backward.
It didn't come from either of his kids-he dropped twelve-year-old Katie at piano lessons ten minutes ago, and fifteen-year-old Ben couldn't emit a high-pitched scream if he tried; his voice is decidedly baritone these days.
No, it came-not surprisingly-from the house next door.
Sam maneuvers his lanky frame down the ladder, sets the bucket on the grass, and takes off running around this side of the house to the backyard.
Here we go again, he thinks as he sprints across the side yard and crashes through the overgrown hedge on the property line-just in time to hear another screech and a loud bang.
The sound a door would make if, say, someone bolted through it, scared out of their mind, and slammed it shut behind them.
Terrific. The newest residents of the old Duckworth place-a nice young family from Brooklyn-haven't even moved in yet, and already it's starting.
"Station Stop ... Glenhaven Park."
Snatching the magazine from Cosette's hands and ignoring her protest, Meg grabs her daughter's arm and escorts her off the train with a smattering of other riders.
The long, concrete platform looks exactly the same as it did the last time Meg was here. Only then, she was headed to New York ... for good.
Or so she thought.
"This way." She leads the glowering Cosette along the platform, toward the stairs that rise to the enclosed station one story above the tracks.
From there, opposite flights of stairs descend back to ground level: the commuter parking lot and taxi stand on one side of the tracks, the main drag of the business district on the other.
"I can't believe I've never brought you here," Meg tells her daughter, as they descend to the street.
"I can't believe you're bringing me here at all-especially today, of all days," Cosette mutters.
Meg ignores her, just as for the past forty-eight hours, she ignored Cosette's pleas to let her keep her standing Saturday afternoon movie date with Jon, her boyfriend of the past four months. Jon, who-as Meg just discovered-is not a high school student at Fordham Prep in the Bronx, as Cosette implied. No, he's a college sophomore at Fordham University in the Bronx-and part of the reason Cosette was expelled-just before finals, no less.
"You were this close to finishing the school year!" Meg shoved her hand in her daughter's face, her thumb and forefinger pressed together. "This close! Couldn't you have hung in there for another two weeks without getting yourself into trouble?"
"It wasn't even a real gun," was Cosette's maddening reply.
"You didn't bother to tell that to the kids you threatened with it, did you?"
"What would have been the point of that?"
"What was the point of any of this?"
"It wasn't my fault. I'm not the one who goes around harassing people because of how they look. They should have been kicked out of school, not me."
Privately, Meg happens to agree with her daughter on that count-at least, that the school should also have a zero tolerance policy against bullying.
If only she had known that a group of kids have been tormenting Cosette at school lately. Kids who used to be Cosette's friends, back when they were all on the soccer team together. Meg knows their parents; in fact, knowing their parents, she isn't particularly surprised by the kids' behavior.
She herself was frequently cold-shouldered by the cookie-cutter women she dubbed the "Fancy Moms" from her first encounter with them. With their moneyed husbands, spectacular Central Park West apartments, and tasteful designer wardrobes, they did little to conceal their contempt for a single working mom. Even if she was an accomplished Broadway actress. Meg knew they regarded her Tony Award with as much esteem as they would a "World's Best Mom" coffee mug-not that it ever mattered to her.
Well, not much.
And she certainly never let on to Cosette that she felt ostracized by the Fancy Moms.
Just as Cosette never told Meg what their mean-spirited little brats were doing to her.
Still, there was no excuse for how her daughter chose to handle the daily abuse when it threatened to go from verbal to physical.
After a couple of girls got their boyfriends to gang up on her after school last Friday, a shaken Cosette turned to Jon.
Not to her mother, or a teacher, or the principal.
No, she turned to her much-older boyfriend, who gave her the fake gun and told her to brandish it the next time anyone dared to bother her.
"What do you think I should have done, then?" Cosette demanded. "Dyed my hair into a perfect blond pageboy, gone shopping at Talbots, and run for student council?"
How was Meg supposed to answer that?
Yes, life would be easier for Cosette if she were a conformist.
But you weren't, Meg reminded herself then-and again now, as she lands on Main Street, where she spent her formative years.
She can't help but remember how, bitten by the acting bug her freshman year, she quickly gave up trying to fit in with the preppy crowd at school.
But I never threatened anyone with a gun.
Her daughter's offense is so heinous that Meg wasn't even sure where to begin punishing her. Being grounded for a month is a good start. And Cosette seems to think this Saturday afternoon jaunt to suburbia is a fate worse than that.
But maybe she'll come around.
After all, Glenhaven Park is the quintessential all-American small town, and it looks particularly appealing on this beautiful summer day. Everywhere you look, flags are flapping in the slight breeze. The grass and shrubs and trees are verdant and lush. Brilliant blooms spill from window boxes and hanging pots.
"Well?" Meg asks her daughter as they pause on the sidewalk. "What do you think?"
Cosette glances around glumly.
Meg follows her gaze, taking in the broad, leafy green that stretches for three blocks. A brick path meanders the length of the park, past clusters of wrought-iron benches and tall lampposts. In the center, surrounded by a bed of pink and purple annuals, is the bronze statue dedicated to the eleven local soldiers who died on D-day.
The road on either side of the green is lined with tree-shaded sidewalks, diagonal parking spaces, and nineteenth-century architecture.
On this, the northern end: a row of mom-and-pop shops and businesses that have been there for years. The quaint pastel storefronts appear to be in surprisingly good repair for their age-better repair, in fact, than they were back when Meg lived here.
At the southern end of the green, the street becomes more residential, lined with stately nineteenth-century relics Meg recognizes from her childhood.
There's her friend Andrea's old home, a classic Victorian with multiple turrets and a wraparound gingerbread porch. It used to be white with black shutters; now it's a bona fide painted lady, clapboard and trim enhanced by complementary vintage shades of green and gold.
Next door to that is the looming stone mansion where Miss Oster, the high school Latin teacher, lived alone with a half dozen cats ...
And across the green, the three-story monstrosity once home to the Callahans, who had sixteen redheaded freckle-faced kids and assorted pets. There's no one hanging out any of the windows or dangling from tree branches out front, and the lawn is no longer covered with bikes, scooters, and wagons. It's probably safe to assume that the Callahans have all grown up and moved on.
"I wonder if anyone I know still lives around here," Meg muses.
In the split second after she poses that mostly rhetorical question, mostly to herself since Cosette doesn't appear the least bit engaged, Meg spies a familiar figure strolling toward them along the sidewalk.
"I don't believe it!" she exclaims, clutching Cosette's sleeve-long, and black, despite the midday heat.
"I don't, either. There's not even a Starbucks around here," Cosette grumbles.
"No, that's Krissy ... Krissy!" Meg calls and waves at the woman.
Hmm. Maybe it isn't Krissy after all; she doesn't wave back, nor does she even look up from the cell phone or BlackBerry or whatever it is that's poised in her hand.
Is it Krissy? Krissy Rosenkrantz was Meg's first kindergarten friend, and her partner-in-crime right up through graduation. When they signed each other's yearbooks, they wrote about all the things they were going to do together, like get tattoos and travel through Europe, and they prefaced their signatures with BFA-Best Friends Always-and YFF-Your Friend Forever.
Meg's last memory of Krissy Rosenkrantz is of her standing by her father's packed Jeep on the stifling August morning she left for Bennington College, with a heartfelt promise to visit Meg in New York over Columbus Day weekend.
Columbus Day came and went, Thanksgiving came and went, the years came and went, and Meg never saw Krissy Rosenkrantz again ...
Or is it really her?
Most of her face is obscured by large brown sunglasses, but there's something about her that seems so familiar ...
"Krissy?" Meg calls again, waving both her arms over her head this time to get her attention.
"Mom, shh! Stop making such a spectacle. What are you doing?"
"I could swear that's an old friend of-yes, it is her!" Meg recognizes the distinct motion with which the woman tosses her thick, tawny hair over her shoulder as she pockets her electronic device.
"You're Krissy Rosenkrantz," she says triumphantly, sidestepping right into the woman's path.
The woman looks up, startled, her perfectly arched brows rising above the frame of her glasses ... then breaks into a grin.
"I knew that was you!" Meg hugs her. "Though when you didn't answer me when I kept calling you, I did wonder for a minute."
Krissy smells like expensive perfume. She's crisply dressed all in white: cool linen pantsuit, designer pocketbook, leather sandals with heels. As Meg releases her she can't help but wonder if she's left a newsprint smudge on her old friend's back.
"I'm sorry ... I didn't even hear you! Probably because nobody's called me 'Krissy' in ages! I go by Kris, now ... and it's not Rosenkrantz, it's Holmes."
"Twice. And divorced. Twice. But I kept my first husband's name-even when I married the second. I wanted it to be the same as my son's. How about you? Are you married?"
No. But I didn't even keep my own name-first or last, Meg wants to tell her.
No need to get into the whole Astor Hudson saga here, though. Especially now that she's all but decided to give up everything about that life-not just the name, but everything that goes with it: both the stage career and the city.
It's time to open a new chapter. She'll miss the creative outlet of performing, but she hasn't craved the spotlight in years-not like she did in the early days. She's achieved what she set out to do; she is-no, was-a genuine star.
And now the star is aging, fading; her voice is mature, but so are her face, her body, her mind. Deeanna Drennan was a blessing in disguise once the dust settled. Losing the part-and accepting that her ingenue days are long over-allowed Meg to realize that she doesn't need a stage career to fulfill her anymore.
What she needs at this stage in her life is to move on to something new.
Perhaps something old is more apt.
Cosette doesn't know about any of it yet. As far as she's concerned, this jaunt up the Metro-North tracks to Westchester County is simply a pleasant-for Meg, anyway, if unpleasant for Cosette-way to spend a summer Saturday afternoon.
Excerpted from Love, Suburban Style by Wendy Markham Copyright © 2007 by Wendy Corsi Staub. Excerpted by permission.
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