Authors: Emily Liebert
When We Fall
“Brimming with detail and emotion,
When We Fall
paints an absorbing picture of the gilded lives of the hedge fund elite, as the arrival of a young widow sends shock waves across an affluent suburban enclave. Add in a crumbling marriage, a lethal frenemy, a love interest, and a dizzying cascade of wealth and entitlement, and Emily Liebert's latest will keep you turning pages long past bedtime.”
New York Times
bestselling author of
A Hundred Summers
“Emily Liebert is peerless in her ability to craft fabulously flawed, compelling characters you alternately root for, love to hate, and hate to relate to.
When We Fall
is the best sort of novelâthe kind you can't wait to finish and that leaves you desperately wanting more when you do.”
Jenna McCarthy, author of
I've Still Got It, I Just Can't Remember Where I Put It: Awkwardly True Tales from the Far Side of Forty
“Emily Liebert has written a wise, warm, and deeply compassionate novel about the complex bonds between womenâmothers, daughters, sisters, and friends. Her characters will move right up off the page and into your heartâwhich is exactly where they will stay.”
Yona Zeldis McDonough, author of
Two of a Kind
You Knew Me When
“A wonderful book for anyone who has ever longed for an old friend or dreamed of returning home after what feels like forever.”
âNew York Times
bestselling author Kerry Kennedy
“[Liebert] has a knack for crafting realistic, witty dialogue. An emotionally honest novel full of nostalgia for old friendships, the struggle of reconciliation, and the everlasting power of female friendship.”
You Knew Me
New American Library
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published by New American Library,
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Copyright Â© Emily Liebert, 2014
Readers Guide copyright Â© Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2014
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REGISTERED TRADEMARKâMARCA REGISTRA
LIBRARY OF CONGRE
When we fall/Emily Liebert.
1. Female friendshipâFiction. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For my grandmother and best friend, Ailene Rickel, who always picks me up when I
With this, my third book, under my belt and at least two more on the way, I feel like I'm living the dream. There are so many people to thank for setting me on the path to achieve this dream and for supporting me as I make a career of putting whatever comes to my mind to paper.
First and foremost, I wouldn't be writing if not for my agent, Alyssa Reuben. I call her my “literary goddess,” which she seems to be cool with. Alyssa: You are my partner in crime, my dear friend, and so damn good at your job that you make it seem easy, which I know it's not. As always, I look forward to being your favorite author forever.
This novel would not have seen the light of day without my phenomenal editor, Kerry Donovan. Kerry, I'm not sure what I'd do without your extraordinary ability to take what I write and make it readable, good, actually. You have been both a devoted champion of my work and a trusted friend. Who else can I go to with questions on grammar and potty training?
Big thanks also go to Jason Yarn and Laura Nolan at Paradigm. And to everyone at NAL and Penguin Random House who contributed to the conception of this book, including Diana Franco, Rick Pascocello, and Craig Burke.
I could write the best books in the world and no one would
know about them without the tireless efforts of my publicists, Sarah Hall, Lisa Marie Gina, and the entire Sarah Hall Productions team. You're my extended family, and I am continually amazed by how hard you push and how much you make happen on my behalf. Thank you, Sheryl Press and Meredith Ford. Thank you a million times over!
It's been a true pleasure working with Canyon Ranch to spread the word about this book and about their fantastic resorts and spas. So many exciting things in the works!
And now a special thank-you to the people in my lifeâfriends and colleagues alikeâwho've supported me throughout my career: Kerry Kennedy, Mariah Kennedy Cuomo, Cara Kennedy Cuomo, Michaela Kennedy Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo, Tom Yellin, Sara Haines, David Goffin, David Eilenberg, Alessandra Meskita, Devin Alexander, Jake Spitz, Jill Kargman, Jane Green, Beatriz Williams, Sarah Pekkanen, Karin Tanabe, Jenna McCarthy, Yona McDonough, Tamra Judge, Patti Stanger, Diane Neal, Zoe Schaeffer, Jayne Chase, Vanessa Wakeman, Jene Luciani, Gwen Wunderlich, Dara Kaplan, Monica Lynn, Ryan & Mindy Smith, Hyleri Katzenberg, J. D. Myers, Jennifer Heitler, Blake Harris, Robin Homonoff, Emily Homonoff, Jill Brooke, Amy Kallesten, Catherine MacDonald, Lisa Lineback, Julie Chudow, Danielle Dobin, Karen Sutton, and Jen Goldberg, who takes the most gorgeous photos of me, even when I'm not looking my best! Not to be forgotten, my new Westport family: Debbie, Scott, Taylor, and Dylan Mogelof. Thank you for becoming instant friends!
To my cherished friend and fellow author Shari Arnold. I depend on your sage wisdom more than you know. Cheers to all of your success to come!
As always, a heartfelt thank-you to Jessica Regel, who took a chance on me in the very beginning.
To my best friend, Melody Drake. You keep me both grounded and on my toes, if that's possible! I love you, love you, love you!
Thank you to my in-laws, Mary Ann Liebert, Peter B. Liebert, and Peter S. Liebert, and to my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Sara and Alex Liebert.
My family is everything to me. My parents, Tom and Kyle Einhorn, support me unconditionally, which is a gift. My brother, Zack Einhorn, is a lifelong friend and more talented than I'll ever be. My grandmother Ailene Rickel, to whom this book is dedicated, is one of my best friends and my best publicist! Thanks also to my grandmother Pat Einhorn. I love you all so much!
Last, but definitely not leastâmy boys. My tolerant and adoring husband, Lewis, deserves more thank-you's than the space allows. Jaxsyn and Hugo, my little chickens. You are my world. I love you to the moon and
Sometimes the pain was so visceral, she wanted to crawl out of her own skin. Sometimes it was there right in front of her, swinging back and forth like a pendulum, taunting her to reach out and grab it. To wring it until she'd squeezed it to a pulp. But, instead, she closed her eyes. And when she awoke, it was
ut I don't want fruit for breakfast, Mom!” Gia planted her chubby elbows on the granite countertop and scowled at Charlotte. “I want pancakes. With lots of syrup.”
“Gia, we don't have time for pancakes today. Mommy has an appointment at ten thirty with Aunt Elizabeth. Maria will be here any minute. And I still have to shower. So please eat the fruit, sweetheart.” Charlotte darted around the kitchen in her silk La Perla robe, tearing through her morning to-do list. Let dog out in backyard. Feed dog. Give dog fresh water. Make list for supermarket. Load dishwasher
Gather dry cleaning to be dropped off. “It's good for you, Gia. Fruit is good for you.” The first day of school couldn't arrive soon enough.
Gia folded her arms across her chest and shook her head defiantly. “Fruit has a ton of carbs in it.” She pushed the plate away from her as if to declare pancakes carb free.
“Who told you that?” Charlotte glanced at her nine-year-old daughter, the apparent nutrition expert, in her oversized Justin Bieber nightshirt.
“Olivia's mom. She knows everything about healthy stuff. She's really skinny.”
“Is that so?” Olivia's mom, Averyâwho was precisely the type of person to have a name like Avery before names like Avery were even trendyâ
really skinny. Too skinny, actually.
“Yup. She said I have to eat only protein and vegetables if I want to look like her.”
“Interesting.” Charlotte didn't appreciate the unsolicited advice from skele-mommy. “Well, I think you look perfect just the way you are.”
In Charlotte's opinion, prepubescent girls were not meant to be starving themselves or adhering to stringent dietary restrictions. There'd been none of that in her day. Charlotte had been pleasantly plump, as her maternal grandmother had affectionately referred to her, until she was at least fourteen, at which time she'd shed most of the baby fat. After that, her physique had been what one might call “sturdy” or “solid.”
wasn't the right word. But
wasn't either. And
was out of the question, given her genetic inheritance. Charlotte's own mother, while striking in many ways, had thighs so substantial she used to brag, “I could crush a can of creamed corn between these babies!” And her father's protruding paunch preceded his entrance into every room. The writing was on the wall.
Still, by the time Charlotte was a freshman at Cornell University, she'd found a way to tame her voluptuous figure with control-top stockings and other gut-sucking paraphernalia. And by the time vanity had really set in, she'd found a way to stick her finger down her throat following every meal. It
wasn't ideal, but it was a means to an end: finding a rich, handsome husband to take care of her.
“Then why are you making me eat fruit?” Gia arched an eyebrow, a signature gesture that evoked her father. The same father who'd insisted that Gia was “unnecessarily overweight” and that if she didn't slim down she'd be tormented by the kids at school. He'd suggested that the sooner she learned to adjust her diet to reflect the crawling metabolism she'd been bestowed withâa dig at Charlotte's side of the familyâher life and theirs (that part had been left unspoken) would be much easier.
Of course, Charlie had a point. Charlotte didn't want Gia to be persecuted by her classmates any more than he did. But she also didn't want Gia to grow up insecure about her body, desperate to conceal her ample rear end and padded midsection, as Charlotte had. It was easy for Charlie to set forth directives, especially when the onus was on Charlotte to follow them. He wasn't the one who had to put a plate of fruit in front of Gia every morning. Or make up excuses to leave the playground early, before the ice-cream truck arrived, so that she didn't have to deny her daughter the simple childhood pleasure of a snow cone. So what if she was a little overweight? She was only nine, for God's sake! Nine-year-olds deserved to eat snow cones!
“I'm not making you, Gia. Clearly you haven't taken one bite. Can you please just eat it, so I can get ready? You can have pancakes tomorrow. I promise.” Charlotte sat down at the kitchen tableâadjacent to the breakfast bar, where Gia was perched on a barstoolâsinking her tired body into one of the six cushioned chairs upholstered in deluxe celadon linen. She
âworthy kitchen with its stark white frameless cabinets, black granite worktops crafted from volcanically formed natural stone, top-of-the-line stainless-steel appliances, and the piÃ¨ce de rÃ©sistanceâan Italian glass chandelier, a modern interpretation of vintage Murano, that she and Charlie had purchased on their honeymoon in Florenceâto preside over it all. She knew she was blessed.
“I don't want pancakes tomorrow. I. Want. Them. Now!”
Charlotte sighed. She didn't have the energy to fight with Gia. Not today. Especially since it wasn't her battle; it was Charlie's. She still had to deal with her sister, and it wasn't even nine a.m. And that would extract every morsel of vitality from her being. It always did.
“Fine, sweetheart. Whatever you want.” She stood again, defeated, walked toward the freezer, retrieved two Eggo buttermilk pancakes, slid them into the toaster oven, and swiped the bottle of syrup from the refrigerator, setting it on the counter in front of her triumphant offspring.
“Great.” Gia revealed a complacent grin and dropped her arms to her sides. She'd won and she knew it. Granted, Charlotte hadn't put up much of a fight, but then, she rarely did. She was the pushover parent. The good cop, if you will. Something for which she knew Charlie resented her.
It was impossible to pinpoint when things had turned for her and Charlie. There wasn't a day or a month or even a year when their relationship had suddenly morphed from two people so madly in love it felt incomprehensible that they'd ever been able to breathe without each other to two people passing through the hallways of their house and their lives
with little more than a quick conversation, a peripheral smile, and a chaste peck on the lips. What she wouldn't give to return to that dispassionate contentedness. Now things were different. Most days, it felt as if she were dangling from the roof of the tallest skyscraper, which had been erected with layer upon layer of resentment. One rancorous floor on top of another, the windows welded shut to constrain the dense fog of suffocating bitterness. After all, it was one thing to be miserable. But quite another for people to know about it.
It would have been easy enough to blame their troubles on parenthood, a common scapegoat and credible culprit in destroying marriages, transforming them from spicy to icy faster than you can say “breast pump.” But that wasn't the entirety of it. Charlotte would have loved more children. Gia hadn't been an easy baby, but wasn't there some sort of memory-erasing serum that obliterated all the physical and emotional pain inherent in childbirth and child rearing in those first few years? The sleepless nights. The hundred-and-four-degree fevers. The projectile vomit. The lavalike poops that seemed to erupt at the most inopportune times, like when you'd been waiting in a long line at the supermarket and were just about to load your items onto the conveyer belt at checkout.
They'd tried for a second baby when Gia was four. Charlie had wanted a boy. But month after month, test after test, the words
had taunted her. Three characters fewer and she'd have been a mother of two. Maybe of a Charles Crane, Jr. Would that have made things better?
They'd gone through five rounds of IVF, which had only intensified the ubiquitous strain in their marriage. Charlotte
had been hyped-up on hormones. Charlie had grown intolerant of her radically swinging moods. And Gia, just a toddler, had been forced to listen to her parents throw down over things as innocuous as a glass of spilled milk. Turns out it was something to cry over.
There were still good days, though they were few and far between. Occasionally a whole week would pass without a fight and, for a brief space in time, Charlotte would remember why she'd fallen in love with Charlie in the first place. She could tell he was feeling the same way. Something in the way he looked at her, even touched her. If she was really lucky, she'd wake up to him caressing her back, knowing that he'd been watching her sleep with a certain fondness she cherished and tried desperately to preserve. How was it possible, she'd often wondered, that one person could evoke such radically far-flung emotions in another? How could she feel such intense tenderness for Charlie on any given Monday and by Wednesday have to restrain herself from wringing his neck?
“Here you go.” Charlotte placed Gia's second pass at breakfast in front of her. “Just don't tell your father.”
“My lips are sealed.” She pretended to zip her mouth shut with the tips of her thumb and index finger pressed together. “As soon as I eat these.” She giggled.
“Thanks.” Charlotte smiled as her daughter drenched her pancakes in a puddle of maple syrup. Sometimes it was easy to forget she was just a little girl.
â¢Â Â Â â¢Â Â Â â¢
Maria had arrived, a few minutes before nine, as she always did, rain or shine, Charlotte withdrew to her
expansive white marble master bathroom to treat herself to a relaxing steam shower before meeting Elizabeth. It was remarkable, really, the way Gia's whole attitude shifted when she was in the presence of anyone but Charlotte or Charlie. Suddenly she became obedientâpolite, evenâdispensing
s as if she had an excess to relinquish. But as soon as Charlotte so much as walked by the room where Gia and Maria were playing, invariably Gia's diva demeanor would rear its ugly head. And then some.
Charlotte cranked the faucet all the way to hot, slipped out of her robe, and let it fall to the floor, where Janna, her housekeeper, would find it later on and dutifully return it to its hook on the other side of the bathroom, which was the size of a studio apartment in New York City. This was Charlotte's favorite time of the day. The one hour of peace and quiet between Maria's arrival and commencing the myriad errands and appointments that typically confronted her. There was no one to tug on her arm or interrupt her train of thought with a question that, surely, they could answer on their own.
Sometimes she had to remind herself that she'd gone to an Ivy League school and graduated magna cum laude. That she'd then landed a coveted position, albeit entry-level, at one of Manhattan's most distinguished advertising firms and that, during her two-year tenure, she had been tapped as the company's rising star. Then she'd met Charlie and decided to marry him within months, had gotten pregnant shortly thereafter, and had taken a “leave of absence”; still, that did not mean she'd forfeited her brain cells in exchange for a sprawling lawn and designer shoes.
Charlotte examined herself in the mirror, as she did every morning, zeroing in on each imperfection. The crow's-feet radiating from the corners of her eyes and fanning down her cheeks. The sagging breasts. The way the undersides of her arms flapped like slabs of meat. The fact that her inner thighs kissed when she walked. And the saddest truth of all: her visibly bulging belly nine years post-baby. She needed a spray tan, a bikini wax, and either a diet plan that might actually work or liposuction.
Charlotte knew she wasn't fat, per se, but you didn't have to be fat to be considered fat when you lived in the Manhattan suburbs. If you were so much as average, you weren't thin enough. Ladies' lunches were salads only. Oil and vinegar on the side. Sugar-free iced tea or water with lemon, and no carbonation for fear of bloating. Regular exercise classes were a givenâno less than six times per week, pick your poison, depending on how much you were willing to sweat. Personal trainers were another option, but not nearly as social. Because, ultimately, it wasn't just about how you burned off your salad. It was about who saw you burning it off and how good you looked doing itâclad in Lululemon with a fresh blowout and an artfully made-up face, just enough effort to make perfection appear effortless.
Charlotte grimaced and slathered a mud mask on her face, which she'd let set while she exfoliated the rest of her body. Short of plastic surgery, it was the best she could do. She opened the heavy glass door to the shower, releasing a gust of thick, warm steam, and stepped inside the one place where she could shut off from the rest of the world, even if only for ten delicious minutes of solitude.
But before she could close the door behind her, the phone rang, dislocating her serenity. She didn't have to answer it. What could be so important?
could be so important? Gia was home with her. Charlie was at work. Her parents were definitely still asleep. And she was about to go meet Elizabeth. Most likely, it was a prerecorded message from some insurance company, informing her thatâno matter what rates she currently hadâthey could do better. Still, she couldn't fully relax without knowing who was on the other end of the line.
She scampered across the bathroom and into her bedroom, her damp feet padding through the plush white wall- to-wall carpeting, which they had to have cleaned every two months thanks to their dog Lolly's eternally muddy paws. The phone chimed for a fifth time as she lunged for it.
“Hello?” she answered breathlessly and somewhat accusatorily. As in
What could be so important that you have to interrupt my steam shower?
“The appointment was rescheduled,” Elizabeth droned through the receiver.
“What do you mean it was rescheduled?” Charlotte propped herself against the side of her king-sized bed. Heaps of pillows in different shapes, sizes, and patterns dressed the ornate wrought-iron headboard. It was hopelessly romantic.
being the operative word.