You Knew Me When
Best friends forever…until life got in the way.
Katherine Hill left her small New England hometown in pursuit of a dream. Now, twelve years later, she’s a high-powered cosmetics executive in Manhattan and a much glossier version of her former self, unrecognizable to her family and old friends. Not that she would know—she hasn’t been home in over a decade.
Laney Marten always swore she’d never get “stuck” in Manchester, Vermont. No, she was destined to live out her glamorous big-city dreams. Instead, she wound up a young wife and mother. That was when her best friend ran out.
When Katherine receives word of an inheritance from former neighbor Luella Hancock, she reluctantly returns home to the people and places she left behind. Hoping for a second chance, she’s met by an unforgiving Laney, her former best friend. And there’s someone else who’s moved on without her—someone she once loved.
Tethered to their shared inheritance of Luella’s sprawling Victorian mansion, Katherine and Laney are forced to address their long-standing grudges. Through this, they come to understand that while life has taken them in different directions, ultimately the bonds of friendship and sisterhood still bind them together. But are some wounds too old and deep to mend?
Click, click, click. Her sandals rattled against the pavement, ten toes pinched and bonded by silvery strips of crisscrossed leather, iridescent in the oppressive sunshine. She squinted at her mother ten paces ahead, finally slowing down as they approached the corner. Click, click, click. The bulky red truck careened around the bend, pointing its bulbous nose at the diminutive green sedan hurtling through the intersection. Click, click, click. The shrill cry of a passerby. Her mother’s body soaring through the air, limbs flailing like a marionette.
Katherine jolted upright, her creamy white sheets slick with sweat. She inhaled the bittersweet smell of lavender and perspiration; slid her smooth, tanned legs over the edge of the bed; and walked toward the bathroom determinedly. Surveying her reflection in the mirror, she grimaced at each new wrinkle and splashed cold water on her face. Her workout gear, which she’d arranged neatly on her makeup chair the night before, confronted her. Predictably, she met the challenge.
It was only six a.m., but light was already peeking through the sheer, billowing curtains garnishing the floor-to-ceiling windows in her personal gym, affording the treadmill a godly presence. “A spacious guest bedroom,” the Realtor had dubbed the clean space with pristine white walls and dark hardwood floors. A gym, Katherine had thought, nodding politely. She skimmed the channels on her flat screen, scanning e-mails on her iPhone with the other hand. Half the world had been doing business for hours, and she couldn’t help but feel breathlessly behind every morning as soon as she woke up. There was always a launch in London or Paris or China, and people depended on Katherine’s directives. Sometimes when she couldn’t sleep in the early-morning hours, she’d ease her insomnia with an hour on her laptop. Just a little leverage over her fellow cosmetics executives who dared to get a full night’s sleep.
“Shit,” she sighed dramatically after reading a new e-mail. One of the VPs in her department had failed to sign off on ad copy, and now the head of advertising, waiting for his six thirty a.m. flight out of JFK, was pissed. Why was it always so fucking difficult to get people to do things the right way at the right time? Katherine increased her speed to a sprint. Two-minute intervals for every five minutes of jogging. Every morning, in sickness and in health. Her relationship with the treadmill may have been her most successful to date.
She set her phone down and raised the volume on the TV. Matt Lauer was interviewing a morose-looking Karrie Kashman, who—despite the headline “Another Failed Marriage”—had managed to pour herself into a searing-red Herve Leger bandage dress.
“Fifty-eight days. A full two weeks less than last time.” Matt shook his head and leaned toward her sympathetically. From anyone else it would have come off as a reprimand.
“Yeah.” Her glassy eyes were comforted by the longest pair of fake lashes Katherine had ever seen. She’d have to ask her assistant to find out the brand.
“Where is Kurtis now?” Matt prodded, as a photo of Karrie’s estranged media mogul husband flashed on the screen.
“I’m not sure.” Karrie sniffled.
“I know this is hard for you.” But I’m just getting started. Karrie nodded. “Is there a chance of reconciliation in the future?”
“No.” Karrie was unwavering. “But my sisters and I have a lot going on, like the launch of our sixth perfume, and our new line of kids’ clothing for Target.” Katherine upped the incline on the treadmill, pumping her arms to the beat of Karrie’s PR pitch. That a girl.
“And this isn’t your first divorce—not even your second,” he reminded, in case it had slipped her mind.
“No.” She gazed longingly at nothing. Poor Karrie wasn’t exactly on her A game.
“Something to think about.” Matt turned to the camera. “We’ll be back with more on Karrie’s devastating third divorce in a few minutes.”
The rest of the interview was a bloodbath. After the commercial break, Karrie had promptly disintegrated into a heap of heavy makeup and designer duds, no doubt leaving her entourage withering in the wings. Most people couldn’t put their finger on the public’s fascination with the Kashman clan, but Katherine knew. It was obvious, really. Not only did you want to be them, but also you were them. There was Karrie’s sister Kleo at a movie premiere, looking flawless in some dress you’d never own. And there she was the next day, fleeing the room as her drunken baby daddy smashed his fist into a mirror. And that you could relate to.
Sure, Katherine was an executive at one of the top cosmetics companies in the world, a thought leader in the way of brand marketing, but still she had to admit that the Kashmans had mastered the art of spinning grass into gold. Pretty grass, sure. Plump-assed grass, absolutely. Still grass, though.
Karrie had worn Blend Cosmetics on more than one occasion. She’d even tweeted about their pomegranate cheek stain, which had promptly sold out in every store across the globe. And now Katherine was in talks with Karrie and her sisters to become faces for the brand. Some of the male execs had scoffed at the idea, feeling particularly smug when the whole divorce debacle had reared its ugly head again, but Katherine hadn’t flinched. The divorce would be old news within two weeks’ time and, if anything, it had only amplified her popularity. Nothing like a practiced pout to sell lip gloss.
Katherine sprinted for the last five minutes of her workout, running through the day’s schedule at the same time. She’d be at her desk by eight fifteen, which would give her forty-five minutes to go through the rest of her unanswered e-mails and tie up any loose ends. She had back-to-back meetings until two, when she’d return to her office to play catch-up until at least five. She’d need to sit down with her assistant at the end of the day to regroup, and then it was back to unreturned e-mails and departmental issues that only she could address. There was probably an event or two tonight where she could swoop in, swap air kisses, schmooze, and treat herself to a glass of champagne before heading home by eleven to once again conquer the breeding e-mails that lived in her in-box around the clock. And maybe catch a late rerun of The Real Housewives of Somewhere or Other.
She spent the next hour playing out the same meticulous routine as every other morning. It no longer took careful attention, much less effort. She could shower, straighten her glossy, shoulder-length black hair, and line her piercing green eyes while composing a speech for next week’s board meeting and keeping up on her e-mails, her phone affixed to one hand, a hot iron in the other, with nary a singed strand.
Coiffed to perfection, she strode through the lobby, oblivious to the lavish holiday decorations already up the week before Thanksgiving. Click, click, click. Her heels punished the marble floor. There was a plump Christmas tree adorned with silver and white ornaments—no tinsel on the Upper East Side, thank you. A small menorah sat on the windowsill, a nod to the many Jewish residents of 1152 Park Avenue, who still preferred the tree. Wreaths dressed the tops of the elevators—front, back, and service. But Katherine bypassed it all, staring down at her iPhone, her fingers dancing the quickstep on the keyboard. Click, click, click.
“Good morning, Ms. Hill.” Her doorman, Roberto, rushed around from behind his desk. She nodded and smiled, but not in his direction. “Taxi?” She nodded again, striding through the open door, which miraculously gave way as she approached. Click, click, click.
And then she stopped, awareness returning in that moment only. But always in that moment. She stood back from the curb until the cab had come to a full stop.
After all, accidents did happen. Even twenty-three years later.
“Coffee.” Laney padded into the kitchen in her tattered bathrobe and fluffy pink slippers, her wild blond curls raging.
“The Twisted Sister look really works for you.” Rick smiled and grabbed his wife around the waist, burying his nose in the side of her neck.
“Funny. Coffee.” She pulled a bowl from the cabinet, filled it with Cheerios, and poured milk over the precarious heap. Stray Cheerios trickled onto the floor, and Laney scooped them up with her spoon and into her mouth.
“Classy,” he laughed.
“We’ll be friends when you share some of that black stuff. You know, with the caffeine.” Rick reached across the table and emptied the pot into her mug. Laney had never been a morning person. Even as a baby, she’d slept in until nine most mornings. It was one of her mother’s all-time favorite stories. That and a million others. She clasped her hands around the warmth, inhaled the delicious aroma, and sipped. Three more gulps and she’d be legitimately awake.
“What’s on the agenda today?” Rick cut into his waffle, wielding a large bite on his fork. Maple syrup oozed down his chin.
“Classy.” She laughed. “Oh, you know. Same old fun.” Laney had been working at Oasis, a day spa in Manchester, since a year after graduating from the University of Vermont. She’d started as a receptionist, and eleven years later she was running the joint. She loved the work, just not the domineering boss. “Massages, facials, verbal abuse.”
Tina, the owner, was a gangly, gaunt woman with a pinched nose, angular jaw, buglike eyes, and a permanent scowl on her pallid face. Her husband had purchased the spa four years ago as a gift to her—perhaps intended as more of a diversion—and overnight Laney’s job had plummeted from heaven to hell. Gone were the days of Bob and Francine, the sweet elderly couple who’d opened its doors three decades ago and treated her like their daughter, extolling every decision she made. In many ways it had been like Oasis was hers.
“Just tell the bitch to screw herself.”
“Nice, Dad.” Their twelve-year-old daughter, Gemma, swaggered into the room dressed in dark-washed skinny jeans, a fitted purple V-neck sweater, and tall motorcycle boots. Apparently, they were in at the moment. Until they were not.
“Oh. My. God.” Laney looked up, alert for this first time. “Is it Tammy Faye Day at school?”
“Who’s Tammy Faye?” Gemma opened the refrigerator, as if breakfast was a meal she’d deign to eat.
“She’s the only person in the world who’s had more makeup on her face than you. Wash it off.” Laney pointed her thumb over her shoulder, motioning in the direction of the bathroom.
“But, Mo-om!” Hands on hips.
“But, Gem-ma!” Laney mimicked.
“You’re being beyond ridiculous. I wear makeup every day.”
“Okay, well, today you’re looking a bit more tranny than preteen, and it’s not flying. Rick?” Laney broadened her hazy blue eyes at her husband, who was never much help in the discipline department. Fortunately, Gemma had been an easy child. She still was, really. It was hard to believe Laney and Rick had been only ten years older than Gemma was now when they’d become parents.
“What your mother says. Sausage?” He pointed a link at his wife and daughter, who both scrunched their perfect noses.
“Dad,” she sighed in protest.
“Go on.” He shrugged his shoulders and pulled a face in Laney’s direction while her head was down, prompting Gemma to giggle like the twelve-year-old girl she was.
“We’re leaving here in fifteen minutes. I can’t be late today.” Laney shoveled the last bite of cereal into her mouth and stood to clear their plates.
“I got it, sweetie.” Rick jumped up. “You go tame that mop.”
“You live for this mop.” She slapped his arm.
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
Laney was wrong. There were, in fact, girls with more makeup on their faces than both Gemma and Tammy Faye. Put together. There were also girls dressed in shirts cut so low you could practically see their shoes. Even worse, there were boys who were interested; their shredded jeans cinched mid-ass in order to properly showcase their plaid boxer shorts. Was that attractive to her daughter? Her beautiful, smart, good-head-on-her-shoulders daughter?
“It looks like his pants are falling off.” Laney tested the waters. She didn’t want to be that mom, but really? It seemed so impractical. Not to mention chilly.
“Tacky.” Gemma glanced out the window. She’d been preoccupied with her Droid—no doubt updating her Face-book status: “Gemma Marten is in the car with her very uncool mom”—for the length of the five-minute ride. The Droid had been a Valentine’s Day present from Rick, who’d had a particularly good year in the construction business. People weren’t necessarily buying houses during the recession, but they were adding on to their existing ones. Laney had received a pair of diamond studs. Small, but still diamond. Rick had received a blow job.
“Totally,” Laney agreed straight-faced, but bursting with pride on the inside. Gemma reached for the door handle. “Eh-hem.”
“Embarrassing.” Yet she leaned over and kissed her mother on the cheek. Laney noticed Gemma’s makeup bag shoved into her purse. She’d probably head directly to the girls’ bathroom and reapply everything Laney had made her wash off.
“Do you need a ride home?” Laney had convinced Tina to let her take her lunch break at three thirty on the days when Gemma couldn’t carpool with a friend. It hadn’t been an easy negotiation. It never was.
“Nope. I’ll hitch with Hillary.” She was already out the door, calling over her shoulder, same blond curls as Laney’s own whipping violently in the wind. Laney was still young enough to remember the profound humiliation of slipping out of her mother’s beat-up Oldsmobile before anyone she knew could spot her.
“Okay. Love you!” Laney called out as the car door slammed. “Love you too, Mom. Have I told you lately how completely awesome you are?” she sing-songed, as if someone were listening.
Laney pulled out of the school parking lot, her cell phone trilling from inside her purse. “Where are you!?” Tina’s voice screeched as soon as Laney answered.
“I’ll be there in five minutes, Tina. It’s only twenty after.” Laney heard her huff.
“This place is a mess.” Tina could barely complete a sentence without stressing something. You are so late. That woman is a complete witch. I am just sick to my stomach. When Laney and Rick were in particularly silly moods, they took great pleasure in reenacting their version of Tina’s sex talk. You are so big, Laney would start. I just have to lick your nipples, Rick would counter. Not before I mount you like a horse. And on and on until they’d thoroughly grossed themselves out. Mr. Tina was a rich man, but not a terribly attractive one, and his ever-expanding paunch was so not hot.
“What’s a mess?” Laney had been the last one to leave the previous evening, as she always was. And the place had been spotless, as per Tina’s obsessive-compulsive guidelines.
“Well, there are loose papers all over the desk, for one.” Laney could make out the muffled sounds of shuffling and crinkling. She cringed.
“Tina, those are bills. I left them stacked on the desk because you need to pay them.” And I left them stacked in a perfect fucking pile.
“All right, all right.” One thing Tina didn’t like to talk about was money. Who knew why, since it just materialized whenever she needed it. “Just get here so we can have this place in order before our first appointment.”
“On my way.” Laney clicked off and threw the phone into her cup holder. “AAAAGGGHH!” She wasn’t sure how much longer she could take it.
Maybe there was only so much happiness to go around for each person and she’d filled her quota with Rick and Gemma. Long-term professional contentedness was apparently more than her fair share.
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