In this powerfully written and insightful novel, author Stacy Robinson explores the consequences of flawed choices, the complex nature of betrayal and forgiveness—and the intriguing possibility of second acts…
Claire Montgomery has a lifetime of sensible decisions behind her. Yet all it takes is one impulsive indiscretion to bring everything crashing down—her marriage to a wealthy entrepreneur, her status as half of one of Denver society’s power couples, and the future she dreamed of for their seventeen-year-old son, Nick.
Claire’s husband, Michael, angrily blames her for the recklessness that has left Nick’s life in the balance, though not nearly as much as Claire blames herself. But as Nick struggles to move forward, Claire too begins inching toward a reimagined future. Along with a fresh perspective come new questions. Are there other reasons for her fractured relationship and Michael’s increasingly erratic behavior? Has he, too, been harboring painful secrets? And does Claire dare to find the real truth, when her seamlessly decorated world of privilege and security is at stake?
Nicholas stood in the shadows of the Millers’ pool house watching the familiar pack of girls—so blond and tan and Abercrombie-fresh—as they swayed with the music, their mouths glistening and drunk with the new freedom of summer. He had known most of them since grade school, some even before that. And now they ran their hands over their breasts and across the slow orbit of their hips, eyeing their audience nearby. An invitation to dance, to hook up? He swigged his beer and tucked farther into the darkness. A lot had changed in just one year away.
His buddies were drinking and tossing lacrosse balls from one end of the landscaped terrace to the other, checking out the view as they did. Nick leaned against the pool-house wall, safe from the lame comments about how chill boarding school must be without parents around to constantly harass you. The hip-hop bass vibrated through his heels and rolled up his legs and spine. A warm gust rippled the pool, dropping a cascade of leaves onto its surface. It was June, and the night air pulsed. Nick swallowed the last of his beer, the lip of the bottle knocking his front tooth hard as he did, and the image of what he’d seen in his parents’ study flashed through his mind again. His mother standing there next to Bricker, the look of surprise in her eyes as he opened the door on their little meeting. The night went silent for him.
Nick felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck as the wind swelled and he strained to remember whether their fingers were touching on the desk, or if he had just imagined it. But all he could picture was the glimmer of her ring as her hand disappeared into her pocket like a hermit crab into its shell. He blinked hard, catching a glimpse of someone pumping the keg, a muscled arm thrusting to an inaudible beat. More leaves blanketed the pool. Why had she seemed so edgy, so totally . . . off? After the forced “dialogue” with his dad a couple nights earlier—which, more accurately, had been a pathetic, excuse-ridden monologue—all Nick wanted was for his parents to go back to being normal again. To not be like his friends’ parents. He swallowed against the surge in his throat and chucked his Coors bottle at the cement.
He walked up the tree-lined parkway toward his home half a mile away. The moon had taken its own shelter in the dusty sky, and only the occasional streetlamp lit the large expanses of lawns and gardens along his path. As he approached his block, he heard the low rev of an engine and saw Bricker’s Porsche emerge from the gates of his house and speed past him on the street. He ran to the center parkway median and fingered the sharp rim of the bottle before hurling it. It fell short and shattered as the car vanished. Concealed in the shadows, Nick circled his block and the one adjacent several times in a figure eight, while the storm lost its resolve and he recovered his own, before passing through the gates himself.
With a mounting sense of what had happened inside the house after he’d left for the party, he crouched in the darkness, mulling the possibilities and concocting scenarios to explain them away. A lone football straddled the divide between the peonies and freshly mowed lawn. He picked it up and tossed it from palm to palm. No way. Maybe. Maybe not. The moon reappeared from behind a veil of clouds. On an inconclusive probably, he dropped the ball and headed up the long path to the front door.
Nick entered the house quietly. He heard the shower upstairs and looked both ways down the foyer, the light burning in the guest room catching his attention. He felt a familiar nervousness in his stomach as he approached the room—the same sick tug he tried to dismiss each time the nurse prepared to draw his blood, his own voice telling him that he wasn’t a pussy, that he was seventeen for Chrissakes, and the glaring certainty that it was still going to hurt. From the doorway, Nicholas inspected the bedroom, searching for a sign that he was wrong, that they hadn’t been in there together. But he knew. The room felt hot and close. The night table was off-center, the bedspread and sheets were sloppy. He moved toward the bed and noticed something on the floor not quite blending in with the pattern of the rug. The glint of glass and its contents. He picked up the small vial and stared at the white powder inside.
Squeezing it in his palm, he began pacing the room. Rewinding time. Honey, I’d like you to meet Andrew Bricker. He just stopped by to drop off some papers for your father. The surge crowded his throat again as he tried to reconcile all he had known to be true with the razor sharpness of this new reality. His mother—the one person who could rouse him from his bouts of frustration with her late-night cinnamon French toast and reassuring words, her protective arms holding him until two a.m. after his seizure, her always upbeat, thoughtful approach to life’s curveballs—doing coke? No way. It had to belong to Bricker. Dicker. Still.
His father was a keeper of secrets—that had become painfully clear over the last week. Nick sat down on the edge of the bed recalling the same look of nervous surprise in his dad’s eyes when he told him he’d found out the truth, the tremble of that characteristically strong jaw when he’d asked him about the choices he made all those years ago, the serrated edge of his own voice when he called his father out for not being the do-the-right-thing good guy he had always believed him to be. And for holding Nick so tightly to that fiction. Where was that hero he’d always worshipped, his Atticus?
Clenching his jaw, Nicholas poured the entire contents of the vial onto the glass surface of the night table. He dipped his pinky into the powder and ran his tongue over his finger. Bitterness, numbness. There was enough there, he figured, to get really high. He took a bill out of his wallet and rolled it into a tight cylinder. Then he cut two lines with his credit card and snorted them. He’d done it once before, in spite of his diabetes, and he’d watched a couple buddies do it often enough.
It stung his nostrils. And then it didn’t. His confusion and angst, so freighted with adolescence, splintered into a thousand shards of light. Nick cut two more lines, fatter this time, and inhaled them, feeling an exquisitely anaesthetizing rush through his body. And then, nothingness.
©2016 Stacy Robinson