die is stooped over, pulling at the roses to bring them closer so she can deadhead them, when she hears Kit’s car pull into the driveway. Many years ago, Edie knew all of her neighbors. She grew up in this same house, and remembers sitting on the front porch every night, watching the procession of neighbors pass the house, all of them stopping to wander over and say hello, most of them with dogs by their side. She, and all the other kids on the street, would leave the house at dawn and rarely reappear until dusk, zipping around the neighborhood on bikes, taking pitchers of iced water to the ﬁelds across the street and collapsing under huge weeping maples when they got too hot and bothered. “Don’t misbehave,” their mothers would tell them as they ran out through the back door in the morning. “One of us will see, and you know we’ll tell.” And it was true, for every mother on the street was at home, and all of them considered the children of the neighborhood their own children—if someone misbehaved, it was their right to reprimand, no matter who the child in question belonged to.
When it rained they would sit under the covered porches playing Sorry!, Monopoly, or Chutes and Ladders. Summers were ﬁlled with cookouts, and if you were spotted in the street, you were invited in, friend, neighbor or stranger. It didn’t matter. Over the years, Edie has got used to seeing fewer and fewer people on her street. She spends time in her front yard, carefully training the roses over the picket fence, weeding the beds, cutting back the bayberry, and every time she hears a sound she looks up hopefully, but not so many people walk past these days. The daily routine around here seems to be the same. Edie sees the husbands leave for the city any time between ﬁve and seven o’clock, driving purposefully to the train station, their Wall Street Journals beside them on the passenger seat. Then the children come straggling down the road, backpacks falling off, kicking stones, barely mumbling a response to Edie’s loud and ringing “Good morning.” And lastly, once the children are off to school, the mothers appear, striding down the road in pairs, for their morning power walk. Always dressed in black, with baseball caps and sunglasses, they stride past Edie, not even looking over, certainly not saying anything to the old lady with the white ponytail who they probably think is a little bit nuts. Thank God for Kit! Edie lays down her pruning shears and walks over to the car. It isn’t that Edie was lonely exactly—she still has her job, after all, and goes to the YMCA regularly for her exercise classes—but she didn’t realize quite how much she missed having a friend next door until Kit moved in. Despite the age difference of over forty years, Edie now considers Kit to be a close friend. More than that; Kit is the daughter she never had. It is a special relationship, and one she has only
ever experienced once before, many years ago. It didn’t end well, and she tries not to remember. Edie was careful not to impose too much on Kit, after that initial visit, but then Kit got the job working for Robert and was so grateful to Edie she brought her beautiful ﬂowers to thank her, and now Edie ﬁnds she has a family, complete with blooming thirteen-year-old Tory, and adorable, adoring eight-year-old Buckley. And if you ask Kit, she would say she would never have expected to adopt a mother but, in truth, Edie is the mother she always wished she had. Not that Kit’s mother is bad, but she has never been particularly interested in Kit, never available for her in the way Kit always wanted. There are times when Kit would love to punish her for being so unavailable—by keeping the kids from her—but she is relieved that the children enjoy her so much, and that they are able to have a relationship with her mother she never had. But Edie? Edie is something quite different. Edie is the one she can rely on, Edie is the one who will drop everything to go and pick Buckley up from school if he’s sick and Kit can’t get to him. Edie joins them for dinner, at least a couple of times a week, ﬁrmly instructing Buckley not to talk with food in his mouth, and even, on occasion, forcing Tory to spit her chewing gum into the waiting hand Edie holds at Tory’s chin level. “Disgusting habit,” Edie mutters, as she heads to the trash can to get rid of the offending substance. “Not in my presence.” Amazingly, the children don’t seem to mind being told what to do by Edie. In fact, they are far more likely to listen to Edie than to Kit. Many’s the time Buckley has requested that Edie put him to bed, not Mom, and Kit has no idea what she would do without this surrogate grandmother, mother and friend who has become so indispensable in her life. 30
“I saw in the paper that Robert’s giving a talk tonight,” Edie says, opening Kit’s car door for her, as the children shout their hellos and run into the house to switch on the television set. “I have Pilates but I thought perhaps I could miss it for once.” “No! You’d miss Pilates? I thought you never missed Pilates.” “Well, I don’t,” Edie grumbles. “But this is special. It’s not often that Robert gives talks any more and I’d like to hear what he has to say.” “It’s such a shame, isn’t it, that he rarely does this these days?” “I agree,” Edie says with a sigh. “I think the press gave him such a hard time after his wife died, he just decided to keep to himself. Can’t blame the poor man, really. Terrible thing to happen to him, and there he was, trying to recover from the tragedy, and then all those rumors started. I would have probably gone to live in South America.” She follows Kit into the house. Kit laughs. “And then everyone would have assumed you were guilty.” “True, but you’d be living in a lovely hot climate, sunning yourself on a tropical beach. Who cares what people might think?” “Only you would think like that. Well, I’m going, and I’d love you to come with me. Adam, miraculously, said he’d come home early and take the kids, so he should be here at around quarter to seven, and then we could head over there.” “Lovely!” Edie’s face lights up. “I’ll just go and get ready.” When Kit and Adam were ﬁrst divorced, most of the time when Adam showed up to get the kids, or Kit drove over to his house to drop them off, it was like being with a stranger. There was something so familiar about him, and yet they were so stiff with 31
one another, so awkward, she sometimes got out the wedding album and ﬂicked through, just to check that she actually did marry him, that it wasn’t just a ﬁgment of her imagination. For a long time, Adam appeared to be furious with her, and during the divorce negotiations it was fair to say they pretty much hated one another, but as soon as the divorce was ﬁnalized it seemed they both started to heal. And now, a year on, there are times when Kit realizes they can be friends. Times too when she wonders whether things could have turned out differently, whether there was an opportunity they didn’t take, therapy perhaps, couples’ counseling, something that could have brought them back to one another before it was too late. She still remembers, so clearly, how she met him, on the Fourth of July in 1991, at a party in Concord. She noticed him as soon as he walked in, nudged her girlfriends and pointed out the cute stranger who had entered with a guy they’d all been at school with. “Hey,” Samantha, one of her bolder friends called over. “Who’s the new cutie?” “This is my cousin Adam,” he said. “He’s from Connecticut.” “Hey, Adam from Connecticut,” Samantha said, all big eyes and ﬂirtatious smiles. “I’m Samantha from Concord.” “Hey,” he said, then turned his gaze to Kit. “Who are you?” “Kit from Concord,” she said, and she blushed, looking away quickly so he wouldn’t see. He saw. The rest of the night passed in a blur of drinking, laughing and dancing. As did the rest of that summer. At twenty-three, Kit was mostly interested in having fun, and Adam made her laugh more than anyone she’d ever met. At the end of the summer he invited her to Connecticut to 32
stay with him, and during her trip she rang her mother and told her where she was, and Ginny demanded they both come into the city and have lunch with her. She sent a car for them, and positively swooned when she met Adam. Kit tried to tell herself it didn’t matter, but now, all these years older and with the hindsight that comes with age, she realizes she phoned her mother because she wanted her approval, and Ginny quite clearly approved of this good-looking graduate of Harvard Business School who was evidently going to be a success. Could it have been that simple, Kit sometimes wonders. I married him to please my mother? She tries not to dwell on the answer. Almost immediately, once the partying and drinking stopped and they settled into being newlyweds, Kit had a horrible feeling that she had done the wrong thing. Sure, he still made her laugh, and sure, they still had fun, but now that the excitement of planning a wedding had passed, now that they were just getting on with life, they really didn’t have much to talk about at all, didn’t, in fact, seem to have anything in common. Adam was climbing the corporate ladder, and Kit was happy to just stay at home, more so when she found she was pregnant with Tory. She wasn’t interested in any kind of social climbing, had had quite enough of that with her mother, thank you very much, and much of the time when Kit said she couldn’t attend a function in the city—pregnancy was an extraordinarily useful excuse, particularly when she invented a morning sickness she didn’t actually have—Ginny turned out to be a wonderful and gracious partner for Adam. Everyone was happy. Except perhaps Kit. But she tried not to think about it. Tried to focus on all that was good, and who, after all, wouldn’t want what she had? A charming husband who all her friends 33
adored, an impressive house, a beautiful daughter. How could she possibly expect more? What right did she have to feel there was something missing? How selﬁsh to even dwell on that for a second. So she tried not to. Until it became too hard to ignore. Yet, post-divorce, and now that Adam is back out there in the dating scene, he has been friendlier, chattier, and there are even times when she looks at him and wonders what was wrong with her, that she couldn’t be happy when she was with him. She hears his car from the bedroom as she’s slipping on her shoes, and comes down the stairs yelling toward the kids, both holed up in Tory’s bedroom, watching something on the computer. “Tory! Buckley! Computer off. Get your stuff. Dad’s here.” “Hi.” Adam grins and raises an eyebrow as he looks her up and down, making her feel instantly self-conscious. “You look great. Got a hot date?” Despite herself, Kit laughs. She has made an effort tonight, it is true. Her light brown hair, now streaked with gold from the sun and a few strands of her natural gray, is silky on her shoulders, straight and shiny instead of her usual natural wave. A touch of eyeshadow brings out her blue eyes, and she is wearing a wrap dress that shows off her ﬁgure perfectly. At ﬁve foot eight, she has always been tall and rarely wears heels, far happier in her clogs and Merrell slides, but tonight she stands tall, feeling feminine and ﬂirty, pretty in her dress-up clothes. “I’m off to a book reading.” “That’s it? You dressed like that for a book reading?” He has a point. “Oh God.” Kit groans. “Is it too much?” “Are you kidding? You look amazing. Nice dress.” “Thanks.” She twirls awkwardly, wondering if it is as strange 34
for Adam to see her in unfamiliar clothes in her new environment, as it is for her to see him in his. When she drops the kids off, she can see into the house, all the furniture that used to be theirs, paintings they bought together, books she remembers from their bookshelf. She had always bought everything in the house, decorated herself, chosen the furnishings, Adam trusting her taste and style, leaving her in charge; so although she didn’t miss the things she saw in Adam’s house, they were familiar, they had her imprint on them. Then she started seeing new things. A rug, some cushions. Paintings. Things she not only didn’t buy, but things she would never have bought. Not her taste. And then his clothes. Unfamiliar shoes, jackets she hadn’t seen before—and that was perhaps the moment she realized he had moved on. This dress she is wearing tonight, a navy and white printed wrap dress, is new. One of the ﬁrst things she did, after her divorce, was sort through her wardrobe and get rid of all the clothes she thought of as belonging to her previous incarnation as a rich housewife. The little bouclé suits, the matching heels. The silk shirts and cashmere capes. It was a look that was far more her mother than her, and when she dropped them off at the consignment store, she felt the weight of trying to be someone she was not ﬁ nally lift off her for good. Her mother was horriﬁed. “Darling!” she said. “Who gets rid of Chanel? ” “I do,” she said simply, knowing that her mother would never understand her daily uniform of Gap capris and Old Navy vests, although she has to admit, she has made an effort tonight, and not because of the possibility of meeting a man, but for her friends.
Kit thinks of the few times that she, as a new singleton, Charlie and Tracy, plus a number of other girls from the yoga studio, have had nights out, and how she determined, at the ﬁrst one, that she would never again be the frumpy friend. She had shown up, straight from work, at the Mexican restaurant on Main Street, expecting to have a quiet dinner with the girls. In jeans and an L.L.Bean shirt, she realized her mistake as soon as she walked in. This was a Girls’ Night Out, and these Girls were deﬁnitely making the most of it. Tracy, who has the best body of anyone she knows, was in a skin-tight aqua dress, high heels, her blonde hair tumbling in rollered curls down her back. Charlie was in a green and white print dress with ﬂat jeweled sandals, and the other girls were in an assortment of cute dresses and tight jeans, with lots of makeup and jewelry. Frozen margaritas were being downed by the dozen, and when the lights were dimmed and the music was turned up, the girls were the ﬁrst to grab the waiters and dance raucously on the tables, while the rest of the restaurant cheered and clapped, before joining in. Kit was self-conscious, at best. She had never been a big girls’ night out person, but she had to admit she had fun, once the margaritas had loosened her up a bit; and the next time they arranged a night, she went all out with a ﬂippy pink mini-dress and sparkly eyeshadow. “That’s more like it!” Tracy had hugged her approvingly. “Now you look like one of the girls.” “As opposed to what?” Kit said, bemused. “One of the boys?” “I just meant you look gorgeous,” Tracy said, and Kit, who hadn’t ever managed to quit her search for approval from other women—thank you, Mother —had beamed.
Kit shouts up the stairs to hurry the children as their father is waiting, giving Adam an apologetic shrug. He smiles in return, and they both stand there, awkward suddenly, waiting for the children to thunder down the stairs. “See you, Mom!” The kids whirl past her, not even stopping to give her a kiss good-bye. “Hey!” Adam roars. “Go back and give your mother a kiss.” “Sorry, Mom,” they say sheepishly, and she catches Adam’s eye as she straightens up from kissing Buckley and thanks him with her eyes. He nods, and for a minute she feels a pang of loss. Then his phone buzzes, and he quickly reads through a text, a small smile playing on his lips as he does so. She has heard through the grapevine that he is dating many women and she realizes this is from one of them. Oh screw him, she thinks. Saying good-bye, she goes to clean up the kitchen while she waits for Edie.