We moved into our house about 18 months ago. We didn’t know anyone in the area, and, since it’s a lake community, many of the houses are second homes, so we were pleased when we found out our next door neighbors were also full-timers like us.
On the surface, Sloane has the perfect life—an adoring husband, a precocious daughter, and enough financial security to be a stay-at-home mom. Still, she can’t help but feel as though something—or someone—is missing...
Hillary has a successful career and a solid marriage. The only problem is her inability to conceive. And there’s a very specific reason why...
As the wild-child daughter of old family money, Georgina has never had to accept responsibility for anything. So when she realizes an unexpected life change could tie her down forever, she does exactly what she’s always done: escape...
When these three women unite for a three-week-long summer vacation in beautiful Lake George, New York, even with a serene location as their backdrop, the tensions begin to mount. And they quickly discover that no secret can be kept forever.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
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ALSO BY EMILY LIEBERT
Sloane gripped the steering wheel with clenched fists as her mind darted furiously from one direction to the next. Had she remembered to pack absolutely everything Maddie would need at sleepaway camp? She’d included enough clean underwear for four weeks without laundry and had reminded her to reapply sunscreen every two hours and always after swimming. Naturally, her daughter had rolled her eyes in response to what Sloane perceived as responsible parenting. Still, aside from time spent at Grandma’s house, it was Maddie’s first time away from home for more than a few days. Sloane couldn’t help but feel anxious.
Her unease had tripled since she’d left Maddie at camp, even though her daughter had shown no signs of separation anxiety. As she’d pulled away from Maddie’s cabin, watching her daughter’s wide smile grow smaller in her rearview mirror, Sloane’s stomach had roiled. It felt like another loss. Not the same kind of loss as the one she’d been struggling to recover from lately, but a significant loss nonetheless. She wasn’t sure why.
In springtime, when she’d filled out the enrollment paperwork, she’d been so full of anticipation for everything Maddie would experience on her own during summer camp. All the friends she would make. The new skills she would learn. And Maddie had seemed happy, possibly even overjoyed at the prospect of four weeks without her mother and father to answer to. Four weeks of freedom.
Shouldn’t Sloane feel the same way? No lunches to pack. No negotiations over appropriate attire for a pre-tween-aged girl to wear to school. And no threat of boys calling past ten o’clock at night to discuss “homework.”
Yet, as soon as the gate to Camp Pinewood had closed behind her car, she’d felt vacant. Fretful. Now she and Eddie would have the summer to themselves. They could go out to see a movie without having to secure a babysitter. They could eat dinner naked on the back porch if they wanted—not that they’d ever do something like that. They could have sex with the bedroom door open. Weren’t those the sorts of things that were meant to be going through her mind? Weren’t those the sorts of things that married couples whose only child would be absent from their lives for a whole month were supposed to anticipate with great excitement? Yet Sloane had to acknowledge that she felt quite the opposite. Her daughter’s departure had brought on a rush of unsettling emotions. Empty. Unfulfilled. If she was being honest, all the emotions were familiar companions. Things hadn’t been right for Sloane for some time.
Her mother had insisted on meeting for lunch as soon as she got back to Brookline. Sloane tried to seize on the idea of lunch with her mother as a distraction for her morose thoughts, but she would no doubt receive the third degree about how Maddie had taken to her new surroundings. She’d have to be careful not to let her misgivings show, lest her mother think there was anything wrong with Camp Pinewood. She’d indicated more than once that she thought four weeks was an awfully long time for a nine-year-old to be away from home but in typical fashion had conceded, albeit reluctantly, with a hearty dose of guilt, that it was Sloane and Eddie’s decision to make. “Who am I to say? I’m just her grandmother. What do I know?”
Of course the very last thing Sloane felt like doing at the moment, on the heels of a three-hour drive, was being on the receiving end of her mother’s barrage of questions. Thankfully, her mom had invited Sloane’s aunt to join them. With any luck that would divert the focus from her.
Sloane pulled into the parking lot of an off-the-beaten-path vegan restaurant, which must have been selected by her aunt. Apparently, they had the best tofu curry this side of South Asia. Period. Who could argue with that? She pushed in the front door and immediately homed in on her mother flailing her arms in the far corner to wave her over to their table. A blind man could have spotted her.
“How’s my baby girl?” Sloane’s mother swooped in, kissing her forcefully on either side of the mouth as she crushed her cheeks between her fleshy palms.
“I’m fine, Mom. That hurts.” She shuffled into the booth and reached for a napkin to eradicate the tangerine lip stain she’d undoubtedly been branded with. Twice.
“You need to put some meat on those bones.” Her mother surveyed her with one eye half-closed, taking in everything from her faded purple Crocs with their flattened backs to the Red Sox baseball cap she was wearing to conceal her day-three-without-washing chestnut brown hair. “Did you lose more weight?”
“I don’t know, Mom.” She did know. And she had. Ten pounds in the past month alone. Quite unintentionally. “I’m just stressed-out, I guess.”
“You kids these days and your stress.”
“I have a lot on my mind is all.” Sloane spread her menu in front of her face, intending it as a makeshift barrier. As if that would discourage her mother’s third degree. Margaret Allen was not one to be discouraged. Ever. As a devout Catholic—somewhat ironic in light of her overbearing and overfeeding tendencies; she would have made a great Jew—as well as a lifetime busybody, her claim to fame was that she hadn’t missed a Sunday at church in thirty-six years. Not even when she’d given birth to Sloane’s younger sister, Amy, on a Saturday afternoon. God couldn’t have forgiven that?
“I’m not really in the mood to talk about it now.” Sloane fidgeted with the frayed corner of her menu.
“Well, fine. Then how’s my granddaughter? Did she cry when you left?”
“No, Mom. She’s nine.”
“So? You bawled for three hours when Daddy and I dropped you at day camp.”
“I did not.”
“You most certainly did.” She nodded, as if she’d never been as sure of something in her entire life. “Do they feed her at this camp?”
“No, they starve them.”
“Very funny. Maddie is skinny enough. I hope she doesn’t lose weight.” She paused. “I’m going to send her a care package with some of my brownies.”
“They don’t allow them to receive food in the mail, Mom.”
“It’s the rule.” Sloane shrugged.
“Well, it sounds like jail to me.”
“It’s not jail, Mom. Believe me, jail doesn’t cost a fortune.”
“Well, hello, ladies!” Sloane’s aunt floated toward them, her commanding voice drawing the attention of almost everyone in their vicinity, despite the fact that Annabel Winston was a woman whose presence needed no verbal introduction.
Today, she was bedecked in a caftan that looked more suitable for Woodstock circa 1969 than present-day Brookline, Massachusetts, with its swirling rainbow of colors and coordinated handkerchief-inspired headband—if you could really call the tattered piece of fabric tied across her forehead a headband. During Sloane’s childhood and well into her teenage years, her aunt had represented everything her mother wasn’t. She would descend upon their modest New England saltbox house bearing exotic gifts, such as the worry dolls from Guatemala she’d instructed Sloane to place under her pillow before going to bed to ensure a good night’s sleep.
Annabel Winston did not cook. She most certainly did not clean. She didn’t help with homework or wipe tears away when knees were bruised. But she did regale Sloane and Amy with tales of her mysterious and, typically, unpredictable travels around the globe.
All the while, Sloane’s mother would endure being sidelined, often rolling her eyes as her sister elaborated, possibly to the point of untruth. But Sloane and Amy didn’t care and their mother’s nagging cynicism served only to shine a brighter and more flattering light on their aunt.
“Hello.” Her mother’s lips pursed into a thin line as Annabel proffered three kisses on alternating cheeks and then signaled for her to slide over so she could squeeze into the booth next to her.
“Now let me get a look at my gorgeous niece. Stand up, stand up.” She gestured by lifting both hands in the air.
“Aunt Annabel,” Sloane moaned, but she couldn’t hide a smile. She got out of her seat and stood in the aisle, where she did a quick rotation at her aunt’s direction—one index finger held high, winding in a circular motion.
“Every inch as stunning as ever. You must have inherited my genes.” She nudged her sister in the side. “Right, Margie?”
Sloane laughed. Her mother absolutely despised being called Margie and had been known to bite the head off anyone who dared to mutter any version of a nickname without explicit permission.
It never ceased to astonish Sloane how very different her mother and aunt were. Same parents. Same DNA. Same Roman nose and olive complexion. Same zaftig thighs. But the similarities ended there. Nothing like Sloane and her sister, Amy. While they’d certainly pursued diverse interests growing up—Sloane had been head cheerleader and Amy had been head of the debate team—they’d always preferred the same clothing, food, friends, sometimes even boys. Amy had been the smarter sister, no doubt. Sloane had been the prettier one, but not by much.
“So, what’s good here aside from the tofu?” Sloane’s mother lifted her reading glasses, which hung around her neck on a thick, glossy gold-link chain, onto the bridge of her nose out of habit, even though they all knew she could decipher the menu just fine without them.
“What do you have against tofu?” Sloane’s aunt arched a bushy eyebrow.
“Well, for starters, it tastes like a soggy sponge.”
“Oh, would you stop! It’s good for you. And it wouldn’t hurt you to lose a few pounds.”
“I could say the same to you,” Sloane’s mother grumbled. “On the other hand, my daughter here is fading away to nothingness from all of the stress in her life.”
“Is that so, dear?” Sloane’s aunt turned to her, a look of genuine concern swathing her rugged face. “What’s troubling you?”
“It’s nothing really.”
“It’s never nothing.” She contemplated this. “Is it . . .”
There it was. The proverbial dot dot dot. As if saying her name would make it a final period.
“Amy?” Sloane filled in the blank and her aunt nodded somberly. “No. I mean, I don’t know. Maybe.” She noticed her mother shift uncomfortably in her seat. She’d already compartmentalized things and closed off this particular topic of discussion. Apparently, she and God had worked it out. “I’m probably anxious because I just dropped Maddie at sleepaway camp for the whole month of August, and with Eddie working . . .”
“You’re concerned you’ll be a bored housewife?” her aunt blurted, not bothering to consider a tactful response. Nothing revolutionary on that front.
“That’s not exactly how I would have put it.” Sloane laughed. “But I guess kind of.” Nor was it nearly the whole truth.
Sloane had quit her job as a third-grade teacher nine years earlier when Madeleine was born. It was hard to believe almost a decade had passed since she’d nuzzled her colicky little miracle and watched the rest of the world fade into the distance. She’d gone from the workforce to force-feeding a newborn—who’d spit up nearly everything she’d ingested—without so much as an inkling of regret.
“That’s entirely understandable.” This coming from the woman who’d sooner be burned at the stake than bored.
“My friend Hillary and I have been thinking about taking a little trip or something, but I can’t go too far with Maddie being away from home. I’ve been meaning to ask if you have any ideas. Someplace we can both . . . clear our heads.”
“Not only do I have an idea.” Annabel hesitated for effect. “I have the perfect idea!”
“I’m all ears.” Sloane felt a rush of enthusiasm at the mere suggestion of an escape.
“My Lake George house!”
“I thought you were selling it?”
“I am. But it can wait until September. I’ll take it off the market for a few weeks while you stay there.”
“Are you sure?” Sloane nearly leapt across the table to hug her.
“Never been more sure. Gerome and I are leaving for Europe next week with no immediate plans to come back.” She winked at Sloane, who knew that her aunt said such things only to get under her mother’s skin. “So it’s yours. You can leave tomorrow!”
“Tomorrow? That’s amazing! I’ll have to ask Hillary. It’s okay to bring her?”
“Bring whomever you’d like, my dear.”
“Won’t Eddie join you?” This was Sloane’s mother trying to insinuate herself back into the conversation.
“No,” she answered abruptly, and then, thinking better of alerting her mother to any marital complications, cleared her throat. “I mean, maybe for a little, but you know he can’t take much time off from work, especially on such short notice.”
“He works for his father, for crying out loud!” Sloane’s mother countered. “Like he’s going to fire his own son.”
Sloane ignored her. “I really can’t thank you enough, Aunt Annabel. You have no idea how important this is to me.”
“Listen, I’m just happy you’ll get some final enjoyment outta that old place. She holds a lot of memories.”
“She sure does.” Sloane couldn’t help but think back to one glorious summer she and Georgina, her best friend from college, had spent there. Those were the days.
“And . . . that house is famous for its healing qualities.” Her aunt nodded sagely as she spoke.
“Is that so?” Sloane was dubious. While a getaway certainly sounded like a much-needed short-term antidote to her tumultuous emotions, it seemed highly unlikely that the house itself was capable of a permanent cure. Not that she was entirely sure what she was trying to cure.
“Oh yes. Enter broken. Leave fixed. Mark my words, my dear.” She stared off into the distance. “Mark my words.”
Back at home, Sloane dialed Hillary’s number as fast as her fingers would allow. “Hill?” she said as soon as she answered. “It’s me.”
“Hey! How are you?” Sloane could hear the shuffling of papers in the background.
“I’m good. Great, in fact.” She could barely contain her exuberance. “And I have amazing news!”
“That sounds auspicious. I’m all ears.”
“What would you think of coming with me to my aunt’s vacation house in Lake George for three weeks? It’s steps from the lake. Nothing too fancy. Still, it would be so relaxing. We could go to Shepard’s Park Beach and pick up wraps at Sammy D’s Cafe—and—”
“Take a breath.”
“It sounds fantastic! When are you planning to leave?”
“Oh, wow! I don’t know. . . .”
“Oh.” Sloane’s body drooped into a slump. “I know it’s really last-minute.”
“Just kidding! I’m in!”
“You are? Woo-hoo!!” Sloane pumped her fist in the air, evoking Arsenio Hall, and then, thankful there were no witnesses, laughed at herself for the awkward throwback gesture. “We’re going to have the best time ever! Three whole weeks away from everything!”
“Is Eddie coming at all?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t even told him yet. I was thinking it would be more of a girls’ thing, like we talked about.” Sloane bit her lip, praying that Hillary was still on the same page.
“Of course! It’s just that three weeks is a long time. Maybe Greg could come for the last week? Only if it’s okay with you. It’s such a nice offer, I wouldn’t want to impose. I know he’ll ask, though.”
“I’m sure we can arrange something.” Sloane attempted to mollify Hillary’s concern in a way that would not kill her own heady buzz.
“Maybe Eddie can come too and then the boys will have each other.”
“Maybe.” Sloane erased the thought from her mind, storing it away to be considered at a later date. “So, I’ll pick you up in the morning? I’m so excited we’re getting to do this.”
“That sounds excellent! I may call you later for packing advice.”
“Absolutely!” Sloane just barely managed to withhold a squeal. “And, Hill?”
“For coming with me. It means a lot.”
“Well, thank you for inviting me. I could definitely use some time away. No doubt about that.”
* * *
Sloane tucked one last bikini into her suitcase and let it thud shut. She heard the front door open and then the sound of Eddie’s footsteps ascending the staircase. He’d woken up early to go for a long run. She sucked in a gulp of air and murmured under her breath while exhaling, “Almost there. Almost there.”
Eddie came into the bedroom, his whole body hunched in an unfamiliar pose. When he saw Sloane’s suitcase, he closed his eyes meditatively, as if when he opened them it might not be there anymore. She’d broken the news of her getaway to Lake George as soon as he’d returned home from work the evening before. She’d said she needed time and space—something new to break up the tedium that had become her life. Although she’d left that last part out.
He’d been confused, rightfully so, and they’d spent the night in an awkward tango, talking about anything besides Sloane’s impending departure. Every now and again she’d catch him out of the corner of her eye, staring at nothing, until he’d notice her watching him and smile halfheartedly.
“I guess you’re really going.” He collapsed onto the black Eames chair in the corner of their room, next to the window, resting his elbows on his legs and hanging his head in between. Just outside, the swollen gray clouds threatened to burst over their already lush lawn as the sun backed farther away from the woeful mood indoors.
“I am.” She lowered herself onto the edge of their unmade bed.
“So that’s it?” He looked up, his eyes bloodshot.
Sloane wasn’t sure what to say. It upset her to see how unhappy he was over her decision to take a vacation by herself, yet she couldn’t tell him it was all going to be okay. Nor could she reassure him that she felt the same way about him as she had when they’d first started dating in their sophomore year. Eddie had been the captain of their high school football team and the guy every girl, including her sister, wanted to call her boyfriend. He’d been tall for his age and naturally well built, with the same olive complexion as Sloane’s and strikingly wise brown eyes that she was certain could see right through her and into the depths of her soul. Sure, she’d been popular, but that hadn’t been what had attracted Eddie to her. He’d told her that when she was around him, he couldn’t stop smiling. That she made him feel like a better version of himself. Little did he know at the time, she’d have gone out with him no matter what he’d said.
That was the thing about Eddie. He didn’t get how desirable he was, not back then and not now. To this day, they’d be walking down the cereal aisle at the supermarket and—despite Sloane’s presence next to him—women would come up to him and ask, for example, if he thought Cheerios were healthier than Special K, batting their eyelashes all the while. Admittedly, Eddie looked like he could be a personal trainer, but they were still blatantly flirting and he was entirely oblivious to it.
Why, Sloane had often wondered over these past several months, did she no longer see her husband in the same light as those other women did? She had at one time. She had for a long time. Through college. Through the first decade of their marriage. They’d been considered a sort of “golden couple”—all their friends had been envious of them because they couldn’t keep their eyes and hands off each other. And then things had changed all of a sudden. It felt like within the last year.
The problem was, Sloane couldn’t put her finger on what had changed. If only it were that easy. Then she could have gotten started on making things right again. But she felt lost and unsure. Why had they suddenly started growing apart? Why had she begun to feel anxious so much of the time? Rationally, she was well aware that she had what most women her age longed for—what they spent the first half of their lives working toward: a devoted husband, financial stability, and a healthy, beautiful child. So what was wrong with her? She’d asked herself a million times. She’d even thought about going back to work, but that didn’t seem like the answer.
Her mother was right. She really had nothing to complain about. It was just that Eddie’s naturally relaxed nature made it so easy to push him away when she was feeling like this. Part of her felt guilty for that and another part of her wanted him to push back.
It had gotten to the point where, on the nights that Eddie would call at five o’clock to apologize for having to work late, Sloane felt shamefully relieved. Relieved to eat Chinese takeout on the couch with Maddie while they watched The Bachelor or some equally mind-numbing show. Relieved that she could pretend to be asleep by the time Eddie got home, because the idea of having sex with him suddenly seemed like a chore.
They never fought. They never yelled. They never so much as raised their voices at each other. Still, lately Sloane couldn’t stop asking herself whether she was sure this life was meant to be her destiny. Whether Eddie was meant to be her destiny.
“It’s not it. It’s only a trial separation.”
“A trial separation?” Eddie leapt to his feet. “I thought you just needed a few weeks to unwind? To relax, since . . . you know.”
“Since Amy died?” He thought this was about Amy. Was it? Was that when the distance between them had started taking root? “I do. I mean . . . I don’t know, Eddie. Things haven’t felt right between us in a while. I told you that.”
“I know, but I didn’t think you meant it in that way.”
“In what way?”
“Like that the problem was our marriage.”
“I’m not sure what it is.” In part, it was the truth. But maybe not the whole truth. She didn’t know exactly what it was, but she did know that it had to do with them. Or her. “It’s not your fault.”
“I don’t care whose fault it is. I love you, Sloane.” He walked toward her and knelt at her feet, taking her hands in his. “I don’t want you to go. I’ll do whatever it takes to fix things.”
She couldn’t look at him. He didn’t deserve to be the target of her uncertainty. All she wanted was some space to try to sort things out, somewhere he wouldn’t be an easy target for her to lash out at in frustration.
“I love you too, but I need to do this. For myself. That may sound selfish to you, but it’s something I need right now, Eddie.”
“You could never be selfish.” Except that she knew he was wrong there. She could be selfish, even with her husband. She had been. So many times. He was just too devoted to notice. Often, she thought Eddie saw her the way he wanted to see her, through the rosiest-colored glasses. She could steal the pillow out from under his head and he’d think she was fluffing it for him.
“I wish that was true.” Sloane shook her head. “I have to go. I’m supposed to pick up Hillary in fifteen minutes.” She pulled her heavy suitcase off the bed, and immediately—like the gentleman he was—Eddie swiped it from her grip and followed her down the stairs to the same front door he’d walked through only minutes earlier, under the mistaken impression that his marriage was safely intact.
“Can Greg and I still come down for the last week?” They stood facing each other as he waited on her answer.
“That should be fine.” Sloane wasn’t sure how she felt about this particular detail, but now wasn’t the time to deliberate on it.
“Good.” He appeared temporarily reassured and leaned in to hug her. “I love you so much, Sloane. More than you’ll ever know.”
“I love you too.” She said it for the second time before waving good-bye.
If only she were positive she still meant it.
“Sloanie? It’s me!”
“Georgina?” It was difficult to make out her voice through the intermittent static coming through the phone.
“Who the fuck else?” Sloane winced. Despite her delicate appearance, Georgina had the filthy mouth of a drunken sailor.
“Georgina, I’m in the car with Hillary.”
“My friend Hillary. I’ve told you about her a zillion times. And you’re on speaker.”
“Mmmm. Don’t remember the name.”
“Can I call you back another time?”
“I know you’re not suggesting that this Hillary character is more important than moi?” Sloane could make out the familiar sound of Georgina taking a long drag of what was likely her tenth cigarette of the day. “Plus, I’m on my way out to dinner in a few.”
“Where are you?”
“London. Where else would I be?”
“Well, let’s see. . . .”
“Oh, lighten up, would you? What has you so grumpy?”
“Nothing.” Sloane heard the snappy tone to her voice. But it was definitely not something she wanted to get into with Georgina at the moment. “Anyway, as I said, Hillary and I are in the car, so I really can’t talk now.”
“Where are you going?” Why did Georgina always have to know everything?
“She’s coming with me to my aunt’s lake house for a few weeks.”
“That sounds splendid! Love that place. What a summer that was, huh?”
“I know. We’re really looking forward to it.”
“Well, count me in!”
“You heard me. I’ll book my tickets tonight. I can be there tomorrow.”
“Hold on, I don’t even know . . .”
“What?” Georgina chortled, likely figuring that Sloane was teasing her. “You can’t very well tell me that you’re going to our house with someone else and not even invite me to come chaperone, silly girl.”
“Right, the thing is . . .”
“The thing is nothing. This is absolutely perfect! I’ve been looking for an excuse to blow this Popsicle stand as soon as possible. The timing could not be better.”
“Why? What’s wrong now?”
“Nothing. Why does something have to be wrong in order for me to want to vacation with my best friend?” Georgina was instantly defensive, clueing Sloane in to the fact that she was not being entirely forthcoming. “It’s just that Brits are so stuffy. And the incessant rain is insufferable. Not bad Indian food, though. You know I can’t live without my naan.”
“Of course not.” Sloane rolled her eyes.
“Okay then, kiss, kiss. Gotta run.” She let out a faint shriek. “Lake George! What a blast from the past. I hope you’re ready to have some good old-fashioned fun.”
“Wait, Georgina. . . .” But before Sloane could say any more, the call was already disconnected.
Immediately she thought about calling her back. And concocting some kind of white lie to discourage her from wanting to come. Yet, even after knowing her for all these years, Sloane still couldn’t put her foot down when it came to Georgina. She felt like she was right back in college declaring that she absolutely could not go out to the bars because she had a very important paper due the next day. At which point Georgina would plead, pout, and employ whatever brand of manipulation she deemed necessary in order to change Sloane’s mind. Sometimes, when Sloane was being particularly stubborn, Georgina would start sifting outfits out of her closet and draping them on her futon as a means of motivation. If that didn’t work, she’d swear on her cat Lucy’s life that as soon as they’d returned from Newbury Street, where Georgina would let Sloane have only one beer—two, tops—she would stay up with her all night while she finished her paper, even if Georgina had to write it for her. As if.
Inevitably, Sloane would relent. Depending on her mood, she might sit stiffly on a barstool with a scowl on her face, sipping one beer—and one beer only—through gritted teeth. Or she’d throw caution to the wind, allow Georgina to get her drunk, and then set her alarm for six o’clock the next morning so she could piece together fifteen pages of utter nonsense to the tune of a head-pounding hangover. While Georgina snored beside her, wheezing like a busted ceiling fan, her silken red hair splayed across the pillow in the shape of a fan.
They’d first met freshman year at Boston University when they’d both landed the only two sought-after single rooms on their hall, next to each other and connected by a door you could lock if you so desired. After day one, they’d never even bothered to close the door, save for when Georgina was having sex. To Sloane’s dismay and often disgust, the walls had not been soundproof. She’d been forced to wear padded headphones and retract herself under the covers like a turtle in its shell whenever Georgina brought a guy back to her room.
Still, as soon as Georgina had introduced herself at orientation, Sloane had—in some small way—wanted to be just like her. The five feet nine inches of endless legs. The swanlike neck. The abundant blush red mane cascading down to where the small of her back sloped into her tightly rounded rear end. And the creamy complexion, dusted with a spray of freckles across the bridge of her pinched nose, which served as scenery for a pair of midnight blue eyes so captivating that her sardonic wit became almost insignificant. Almost.
Sloane had never considered herself quite “beautiful.” Still, she’d been head cheerleader, homecoming queen, and voted “Most Likely to Pursue a Career in Modeling” in her high school yearbook—a designation that had not been based on her brain capacity. A designation that Sloane’s aunt had said was “an insult to womankind.” Sloane, on the other hand, had secretly delighted in it, especially since Eddie had been voted “Most Likely to Marry Sloane Allen.”
Every now and then, when Georgina really wanted something from Sloane, she’d say things like “What I wouldn’t give for your olive skin.” Or “Being taller than every guy sucks. I wish I was cute and little like you.” And Sloane’s all-time favorite, “You know you should be thankful for your plain brown hair. Red clashes with everything.” They were as close to actual compliments as Georgina was capable of and Sloane knew she meant them with the best of intentions, even if they were part of a grander scheme.
Sure, Georgina could be self-centered, often unable to see the world beyond her own petty problems. But, when it came right down to it, whenever Sloane had really needed her the most—like when Thomas Coffly had called her a “dumb bitch” for refusing to go out with him, in the middle of the quad for everyone to see, or when she’d failed her English literature class so miserably she’d thought she was going to have to repeat a year of college—Georgina had been there. Offering to demolish Thomas Coffly. And promising to give junior year a “second go” right along with Sloane.
Until last year. When Amy had lost her battle with ovarian cancer. Sloane had never needed her best friend more in her life. It still felt like yesterday. The hysterical phone call from her mother. The high-speed chase to the hospital. Sloane had sworn to herself she’d beat cancer to the ICU even if it meant running four red lights and nearly taking out two stop signs, which it had. And then sitting on the side of Amy’s bed, grasping her icy, limp hand for the last time. Brushing the hair off her face and rubbing her own nose against Amy’s—they’d called it an Eskimo kiss as kids. It’d been their thing. One of many.
The end had come quickly. Sloane had remained by Amy’s side until the nurses wouldn’t let her stay any longer. Eddie had practically carried her to the car, catatonic with grief, pain, and fear. The fear that the throbbing emptiness at the core of her being would remain raw and hollow forever. Then the anger had come on its heels. The anger at cancer. The anger at the doctors who’d been unable to save her sister. The anger at herself for not somehow knowing that Amy had been sick before she had. And, finally, worst of all, the anger at Amy. Amy, who’d done nothing but lose everything. A loving husband. Three perfect children. Her future.
Sloane’s mother and father had turned to God. But Sloane had been angry at him too. Though she’d been wise enough not to say as much to her parents. Of course she’d also been angry with them for being able to find solace in their faith. As far as Sloane was concerned, there should have been no solace to be had. For anyone.
Georgina had definitely not been there for that, physically or emotionally. Even worse, she’d been essentially unreachable. And now she was pretending like everything was fine between them. How dare she ignore the disappearing act she had pulled? How dare she marginalize Amy’s death in that way? How dare she fail so profoundly as a best friend? Since her sister’s death, Sloane’s mother had told her to talk to Georgina. To tell her how she was feeling. But how was she supposed to do that when she couldn’t even get her on the phone, much less to return an email?
“You okay?” Hillary’s soft question cut into her thoughts.
“You don’t want her to come?”
“Honestly, I’m not sure.” Sloane tried to give her a cheerful smile, but it felt fake.
“Well, we’re going to have fun regardless.”
“Oh, that’s not what I’m worried about. Georgina is nothing if not fun.”
“What are you worried about, then?”
“Let’s just say . . .” Sloane took a deep breath. “Georgina is a lot to handle. Her showing up is definitely going to change things over the next few weeks. For better . . . or for worse.”
“This is it!” A wave of nostalgia hit Sloane as her Volvo station wagon rumbled down the familiar cobblestone driveway winding its way through the wooded landscape to her aunt’s Adirondack home in the Bolton Landing area of Lake George. “Strange, I don’t think there used to be gates.”
“It’s gorgeous!” Hillary stepped out of the car to survey the area and swept her wispy blond bangs off her face with her sunglasses.
“Don’t get too excited. The exterior can be deceiving.” Sloane hadn’t been to the house since the summer after her junior year in college, but she remembered it like it was yesterday. Or so she’d thought. “It does look like there have been some minor touch-ups and a new coat of paint for sure. Anyway, it’s more cottage than mansion on the inside, I swear.”
“I’m sure it’ll be perfect,” Hillary reassured her.
“There’s a long story to go with the property, which I’m sure my aunt would be thrilled to regale you with one day.” Sloane fished in her purse for the keys. “Something about a multimillionaire who’d purchased it as a vacation home for his family and then squandered all of his money, forcing the bank to foreclose way before it was finished.”
“Really?” Hillary tilted her head up toward the sun as she gathered her fine, shoulder-length hair into a ponytail. “I love when a place has history.”
“Me too. Apparently my aunt got an unbelievable deal on it, but didn’t have the cash flow at the time to do much with the interior. According to my mother, one of her ‘no-good boyfriends’ had drained her bank account and fled the country.”
“That’s my aunt for you!” Sloane shrugged. “Leave your stuff in the car, and we can come back for it once we look around.” She led Hillary toward the front door and struggled to shimmy it open. “I guess some things never change.”
“Oh wow!” Hillary followed Sloane into the foyer, which spilled directly into a vast gourmet kitchen with white marble countertops and new stainless steel appliances. “This doesn’t look like a cottage to me.”
“You’re not kidding! She said there’d been some nips and tucks, but I had no idea it was a complete overhaul.” Not that Sloane was surprised. Her aunt was notorious for withholding substantial chunks of startling and often vital information. Like the time she’d said she was “popping in” on Sloane’s parents to say good-bye before jaunting off to India for eight weeks of travel with her flavor-of-the-month boyfriend. And “popped in” she had. With two feisty pit bull puppies for them to look after while she was busy jaunting. Needless to say, said pit bulls had not taken up residence in the Allen home. Her mother had put her foot down and made sure of that. “Let’s see what else she’s done.”
Hillary trailed Sloane around the first floor, into the commanding great room complete with a pool table, a wet bar, a wood-burning fireplace, and a series of French doors that opened onto a deck overlooking the lake. Next they passed through the two spacious bedrooms on the main level, both with new furniture, rugs, and remodeled en suite bathrooms. On the second floor there were three more bedrooms with panoramic views of the lake and mountains, an office, and a media room featuring a wall-sized movie screen.
“This is really amazing.” Hillary stepped onto the back porch off the master bedroom and above a large beach.
“You’re telling me.” Again, Sloane was pleasantly shocked by just how much work her aunt had done. She hadn’t even alluded to such large-scale renovations when she’d extended the invitation or talked about putting the house up for sale. While the layout seemed the same, somehow each and every room had been upgraded drastically.
“So, where are we in relation to everything?” Hillary asked, stretching herself out on one of the many lounge chairs, also pristine, and with the price tags still dangling beneath them. Sloane did the same.
Finally, she could feel the tension that had been coiled into knots on either side of her neck gradually start to unravel. This was exactly what she needed. And Hillary was exactly the person she needed to experience it with. Someone who wasn’t energized by seeking out thrills. Someone who could sit comfortably, reading a book, chatting or not. Someone who would listen but not judge, if Sloane dared to share all the trepidations that had been eddying in her mind for the last year—by now, the heavy weight of them threatened to shatter her brain into a flurry of jagged pieces. Someone who was not Georgina.
Listening to the peaceful sound of the gentle waves lapping against the shore, Sloane wondered how it was possible that she could have two best friends who were so inherently different. Hillary, on the one hand, was an esteemed family counselor at a fancy private school in Boston for children with highly evolved brains and highly dysfunctional families. Georgina was just highly dysfunctional, in her own romanticized way of course. Hillary and her husband, Greg—a philosophy professor at Emerson College—didn’t have any kids of their own, though they’d been trying for quite a while. Georgina had never given a moment’s thought to either marriage or spawning a child of her own, which Sloane considered a good thing, seeing as she was barely more emotionally evolved than a child herself. Hillary liked to keep things close to the vest, which Sloane respected, even though it made it difficult for people to dig beneath the surface and really get to know her. Georgina, on the other hand, often regaled people with her whole life story within minutes of meeting them, if she deemed them worthy of her time.
Sloane sighed and pushed the thought of Georgina’s impending arrival out of her head. At least she’d have twenty-four hours of peace and quiet before the storm hit.
“This area is called Bolton Landing, which is about ten miles from the head of Lake George.”
“Do you know how long the lake is?” In the five years Sloane had known Hillary—they’d met one day when they’d both been first and last timers in a Bikram Yoga class together—she’d always been insatiably curious. It was one of the many things Sloane enjoyed about her. To Hillary, knowledge was fortifying. And no one was a more considerate or attentive listener than she was. In that way and a handful of others Hillary reminded her of Amy, which—in and of itself—was a profound comfort.
“A little over thirty miles. But it’s narrow. No more than three miles wide at any point. We’re basically in between Albany and Montreal, if that helps put things in perspective.”
“Right.” Hillary closed her eyes as the sun blanketed her pale face, but Sloane knew she was still listening intently.
“There aren’t many people who live here all year. That said, I think there are close to fifty thousand or so in the summer. It’s gotten much more touristy, but we’re in a great spot. There are tons of cool restaurants and shops.”
“Oh, we have to leave the house?” Hillary laughed. “Bummer.”
“Just wait until Georgina gets here. She won’t let you sit still for more than twenty seconds.”
“She sounds like a real character, from what you’ve said.”
“‘Character’ doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface!”
The fact was plain and simple now that Sloane stopped to consider it. Georgina and Hillary were polar opposites. In many ways, she realized, it was what had drawn her to Hillary in the first place. She was reliable, easy to get along with, someone who delighted in your ups and remained a stalwart companion through your downs. The antithesis of Georgina, who was a whirlwind of excitement and nonstop fun, but also childlike at times and flightier than a commercial airliner.
Perhaps there was a slight chance it could prove enjoyable to spend time with the two of them at once. After all, Hillary would be there to provide a buffer between Sloane and Georgina. But more than anything, Sloane still worried there would be an awkward dynamic as soon as Georgina arrived at the house. There was no doubt in Sloane’s mind that Georgina would try to marginalize Hillary from the start. She’d never been particularly adept at sharing.
“Well, I’m looking forward to meeting her. You must be so excited to see her. Hasn’t it been forever?”
“It has. And I am. I think.”
“Still pissed, huh?” Sloane had confided in Hillary how Georgina’s missing-in-action performance after Amy’s death had been acutely damaging to the state of their friendship.
“Wouldn’t you be?” Sloane sat up and turned toward Hillary, who mirrored her action.
“I mean it was undeniably wrong of her. After all the years we’ve been friends, she should have been there for me.”
What People are Saying About This
“Liebert is a welcome addition to the world of women’s fiction.”—New York Times bestselling author Jane Green
Praise for When We Fall
“Will keep you turning pages long past bedtime.”—New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams
“Fans of Jane Green and Jennifer Weiner will appreciate the realistic concerns of Liebert’s heroines.”—Booklist