Chapter 1 — Surviving the Suburbs
Here’s a fact: In my suburb, everything you see — the perfection, the picket fences, the perky boobs — is fake.
Another fact: Popularity matters here. It’s the key to everything.
Last fact: My husband and kids love this place, so I’m toughing it out because the schools are excellent, the lawns are pristine, and my kids can bike to the local pool. Really, if I were a kid, I would think I lived in Nirvana, too.
As for me, I’m making the best of it. Or so I tell myself. I have “friends,” I go to parties, I have lunches. But real friends? Ha! This is the suburbs. You don’t have friends. You have people you hang out and get drunk with.
I have plenty of those.
So who do I get drunk with? Who spills their guts to me? That’s easy. Everyone. But you’re not interested in the ordinary folks. No, what you want to hear about is the Bitch Brigade aka the Plastics, The Barbies, The Heathers. Whatever you want to call them, they’re still bitches. Sweet to your face, knife in the back. And ruthless to each other.
The head bitch in charge is Karen Newbold. It’s widely known that there are three women who run Waterford, and she’s the one who runs them all. These women chair every committee and seem lost when Karen isn’t around to tell them what to do.
Which brings me to Alexis Frond. According to Karen, she has a drinking problem. Carries a tall Starbucks tumbler of vodka with her wher- ever she goes and has an obvious eating disorder in that she never eats. Poor thing lives on secret cigarettes and booze. Her three kids are monsters, and her husband is on the golf course all the time, which may be why she drinks so much.
Karen and Alexis both wish they looked like Veronica White. She of the glowing skin and flowing butter-blond locks. There are rumors her husband has been cheating on her. In fact, while drunk one night, Karen strongly hinted he’s cheating with someone in the community — but no one knows with whom. I’m not sure the rumors are true, but I’ve met him, and he’s charming as sin. So maybe.
And then there’s me. Your anonymous, snarky narrator. I collect secrets — marital, financial, sexual. The dark ones people can barely admit to them- selves. And I file them away here. Aren’t I sweet?
Welcome to Waterford, bitches!
Piles of gray snow blocked the path to my car, and slush stuck to my Uggs, but I kept my eyes trained on my phone as I walked. The familiar face — brown eyes and stylish chestnut hair and too-wide smile — staring back at me made my heart pound, and I inhaled deeply before exhaling for a seven-count, something my therapist assured me was the fastest way to fight anxiety.
I jerked my head up, lost my balance, and collided into the car next to me while sliding to the ground and sprawling flat on my back. My giant handbag landed on my head, and my Coke slammed into the car before splashing back out all over me.
“Oh my gosh! Are you okay?” Sarah Cole peered down at me. “Elizabeth?”
I shoved my bag aside and blinked up at her as stars sparked behind my eyes. “I think I’m okay.”
“Can you get up? I’d help you and all, but if you have a neck injury…well Kyle says it isn’t a good idea to move people who’ve fall- en.” Kyle had a reputation for being a dick, so I wasn’t surprised he’d tell Sarah not to help people when they were down.
“I’m fine,” I said as I attempted to roll over in the dirty, Coke- stained slush and onto my side. I was so going to hurt the next day. “How are you?”
Sarah squatted next to me and picked up my phone. She glanced at the screen before handing it to me. “A friend from Portland?”
“Yes.” I shoved the phone into my bag. “I was just catching up on Facebook.”
Sarah flashed a white smile before lending me her gloved hand, which I gladly accepted. “Did you see the blog? The one about Karen?”
Thankfully, that’s what she wanted to talk about. “I did. It’s pretty bad, isn’t it?”
I expected Sarah to jump to Karen and her friends’ defense — that’s what I would have done — but Sarah giggled. “Yeah, but it’s kind of funny, isn’t it? I mean, everyone knows Alexis keeps vodka in that water bottle of hers. And Pete is totally cheating on Veronica.”
“Allegedly,” I answered. “No one has proof about that.”
“Who do you think wrote it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe one of their husbands?” It was so ridiculous it almost made sense.
Sarah shrugged. “Anyway, I just ran into Karen. She likes my new gloves.”
There was no concern about how Karen felt about the blog — and I’m positive she gave Sarah an earful. No, there was just delight over the fact Karen had noticed her gloves. They were a deep berry color, but other than that look like normal leather gloves.
“They’re pretty,” I said.
“Kyle picked them out for me as a thank-you gift for holding down the fort.” Sarah admired the gloves. “He’s been super busy at work, so we don’t see him much, but it’s okay. Letitia and I have the kids on a tight schedule.” I didn’t know who Letitia was, but I assumed Sarah meant her nanny. Most women — even the stay at home moms — had one.
Wet snow clung to my jeans and seeped through the fabric and onto my skin. When I adjusted my hat, it was sticky from the Coke splattering into it. Wonderful. I hated everything icy and cold. Like winter. I was from the West Coast, land of…well, I was from Portland, land of rain and fog. But still, we rarely had snow.
“You know what? Let’s have lunch soon, okay?” Sarah said. It was like my fall never happened, and I wasn’t standing in the cold with soda dripping off my hat. She whipped out her iPhone. “Do you like a good, greasy burger? I do, but Kyle gets upset if he catches me eating one. The man doesn’t understand that I can’t help myself. I’m a Southern girl. I’m not allowed to say no to food…especially dessert.”
We had never interacted much beyond the occasional party. She’d be there, I’d be there, and we’d both say ‘hi’ and make the necessary small talk. Sarah and I were Facebook friends and social acquain- tances, but that’s all.
So, her asking me to lunch was a huge deal. Huge. Like we were on our way to being friends huge. And pathetic, shadow of herself me was desperate for a friend.
“I love burgers,” I said while trying not to sound over eager. “The greasier, the better.”
“How does this Wednesday look? We could go to a new place out in Lodi where no one will catch us.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “Because if it isn’t a salad, it isn’t Waterford approved.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m free,” I said as I fished my phone from the cavernous depths of my bag. When I found it, I clicked open the calendar for show. If I wasn’t with Karen, I was always free — and I had no plans with Karen.
Sarah smiled brightly. “Perfect! I’ll pick you up, okay?”
“That’ll be great. I really hate driving in the snow.”
“Oh, Elizabeth. You’re going to have to get used to it at some point.” Sarah air kissed my cheeks before hurrying into the warmth of Panera and leaving me alone in the parking lot with wet jeans and a bruised backside.
I gathered my things and tossed them onto the passenger seat. When Jason bought me this car, I thought the seat warmers were a funny novelty, but I quickly learned they’re essential. Especially when your pants were drenched.
My house was only a few blocks from the Town Center, but it was enough time to ruminate. How awkward was I? Did Sarah think I was socially inept? Had I air kissed the right way?
But mostly I wondered if I had done enough that day. Had I really? I hung-out alone at Panera eating food I shouldn’t and spoke with Sarah while dirty dishes sat in the sink and clean laundry waited — not in the basket, but on the counter — to be folded. The boys hadn’t done their chores the night before, which made me look bad, but if I got through those, maybe Jason would give me a gold star instead of the usual high-five.
No. I needed to take that thought and push it aside. We were trying, and that’s what mattered.
I pressed my hand against my bag and could feel the outline of my phone. Part of me wanted to smash it so I’d never have to see it again, but what good would that do?
It wouldn’t change things. Nothing would. Nothing ever could.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Mia is the notorious eavesdropping author of the Waterford Novels, the memoir Always Yours, Bee, and the forthcoming novel, The Has-Beens. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, sons, cats, and Harlow the Cavapoo. www.miahayesauthor.com