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Sadie Landry sliced a handful of strawberries to stir into her toddler’s Greek yogurt cup, absently humming along to the Pop 4 Kids playlist on the iPhone she’d propped against a stack of picture books. As she peeled back the foil top, the scent of sour dairy roiled her stomach, and she lurched with a gag. Good lord, had it gone bad? She checked the expiration date. Two weeks away.
Weird. Since when had the scent of yogurt become so nasty? Lincoln wolfed it down for breakfast every morning and she loved adding it to her strawberry-banana smoothies.
“Mommy! I make the pee-pee!” Lincoln had started stringing sentences together a few weeks ago. His adorable squeak still came as such a surprise that it took an extra second to register that these particular words were the polar opposite of delightful.
She glanced at the “Keep Calm and Carry On” print hanging on the kitchen wall. Was momsanity a diagnosable condition? Hmmmm. Something to research during naptime. Right now it was time to refocus on her nearly two-year-old, nearly potty-trained son, tugging at the waistband of her leggings, his hazel eyes a dead ringer for Ethan’s, constantly shifting from green to brown to gold.
“Mommy? You hear me right now?”
It’d be great if her husband was here and not down in Boston, two hundred miles away.
She tossed the yogurt in the trash, just in case it was rancid. “You made a pee-pee?”
“Yep!” Then he hunched, crestfallen. “But not in potty.”
“Oh.” Shit. She tried channeling her inner Mary Poppins, despite the headache that had been nagging her since she woke up. “Um, well…mistakes allow thinking to happen.”
He wrinkled his nose. “What you say?”
“Never mind.” So much for staying up last night studying Communicating Positively with Your Toddler. The tips that seemed so practical on the page at ten thirty felt ridiculous in practice today.
“Come see. Come see. Dis way.” He bolted from the kitchen.
She shoved her iPhone into her demi-cup bra—thank God she was wearing one—and gave chase. Please not the sofa. Anywhere but the sofa. While the midcentury loveseat complemented the cottage’s nautical theme, it turned out that white wool wasn’t exactly a toddler-friendly choice.
Or maybe it was karma being a bitch. After all, scrolling through her former design firm’s Instagram feed a few minutes ago was in clear violation of her New Year’s resolution to live more in the present. But after noticing the foyer’s dust bunnies had not only colonized, but were enjoying a population explosion under the shoe storage bench, she’d found herself escaping through the personal account of her replacement at Urban Interior Studios.
In hindsight, a mistake in more ways than one. Emma Finley wasn’t just leggy and platinum, but she’d also nabbed a coveted design award for a hot new sushi restaurant concept in Providence. And had that been Emma’s Seaport townhome with the wrought-iron fireplace and a Jo Malone candle burning in the background? Good grief—how much was the firm paying her? When Sadie had worked for the group, she’d felt fortunate to afford the rent on a poky South Boston studio.
Her lips crooked up at the memory of her old place with its claw-foot tub and creaky floors. Even after a long day, Sadie would always stroll the three blocks down to M Street Beach to read a few chapters on a park bench.
Ethan had asked her to marry him in that apartment, her back pressed against the Formica countertop while he kneeled on the kitchen rug.
She furrowed her brows.
If Ethan had proposed two and a half years ago, that meant she’d been gone from the firm for how long now? Two years?
Yep. Almost to the day.
Just then, her boob buzzed. Tugging her phone back out, Ethan’s name appeared on her screen.
“Honey. Hi.” Sadie instinctively smoothed a hand over her messy bun. Down the hall, Lincoln hopped from foot to foot, motioning for her to join him. Was it worth telling her husband that his first-floor office might have sprung a leak? A Lincoln-sized leak.
“How’d your meeting go?”
“Mommy! I say come see this silly pee-pee!” Lincoln called. “I still get M&M?”
She’d gobbled the last of the potty-training treats for breakfast. Oops.
“Sore subject,” Ethan groaned. “The meeting was a bust.”
Her husband was currently splitting time between his remote home office in Maine and his company’s corporate headquarters in Boston. The fall and holidays had gone fine with Ethan only making the trip a handful of times. Unfortunately, with January’s arrival came a slew of reasons for Ethan to be on-site. At this point he was traveling to Boston every week, often for days at a time. Not the plan they’d made when deciding to relocate.
“What a bummer. You were so excited about the presentation.” Sadie racked her brain, unable to recall exactly what he’d been working on this month. He was a hustler, eternally developing new products for his tech company, his can-do attitude the reason why he’d scrambled up the corporate ladder, impressing managers at every level.
That was, until his recent boss.
“Marlow stood me up.”
She could hear the exasperation in his voice and clearly pictured the hand he must be raking through his wavy brown hair. “Turns out the bastard ditched our one-on-one to take a client to Palm Beach on the company jet.”
Sadie had a mental flash about being whisked away on a Gulfsteam, sipping a mimosa and nibbling a cheese plate, before blinking back to reality.
“That sucks. But he probably acts like this because he’s threatened by your talent.”
“You think?” Ethan didn’t sound so sure.
“I know.” She frowned at her Fitbit watch. Ten fifteen already? Seriously? Where had the morning gone? “Look, it’s either that, or he has an asshole gene. His ancestors probably burned witches or took part in the Spanish Inquisition.”
Ethan chuckled, and Sadie smiled at the receiver. She hadn’t made her husband laugh much lately and the infectious rumble swelled her heart.
Unfortunately, they’d have to reconnect tonight. She still had to uncover Lincoln’s pee and hightail him to his two-year checkup that was in fifteen minutes at the Coastal Kids Medical Group.
“Hey, tell you what. Let’s pick this back up when you get home,” she said in her most soothing tone, just as Lincoln crashed into her knees. “Whoa, bud! Crap, that hurt!”
She yanked her toddler back with a gasp. He’d been out of her sight for what? Three minutes? And in that time, he’d managed to unearth her favorite lipstick and cover his chest in red streaks. He’d even pulled off a Jackson Pollock–inspired art scene over the foyer’s creamy damask wallpaper.
That’s it. They might as well move to a barn.
“Lincoln, no! Bad! Bad, bad, bad!” Her low-grade headache ratcheted up a notch. “Seriously what the f-f-frog.”
Her last-minute save didn’t stop her son from bursting into startled sobs.
It wasn’t an official f-bomb, but it came close. The last thing she needed was Lincoln roaming the playground while swearing like a sailor.
“No, no. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean you are bad. You’re a good boy. The best boy ever. But that’s Mommy’s nice wall. Drawing is for paper. Drawing on a wall is bad.”
“Sade? You two okay over there? Is Lincoln hurt?”
“He’s fine. We’re fine.” She engulfed Lincoln in a hug, pressing her cheek to his soft chestnut curls, willing him to calm down.
“Cool. Cool. So I’ve gotta jet, but remember what my mom says—they call it the terrible twos for a reason, right?”
Sadie tried to laugh. It came out like a donkey’s death rattle.
“Hey, why don’t you give her a call? She’d love to give you some advice.”
Oh, wouldn’t she?
Sadie would rather cannonball butt naked into the frigid ocean out her bay window than discuss parenting strategies with her mother-in-law. Yes, Annette Landry had raised three healthy, successful adults, and she’d enjoyed doing it, too. No, she had loved it. Staying at home was “such a precious gift.” Something she “never dared to take for granted.”
She probably mopped up potty accidents in her signature twin-set, too, complete with the pearl earrings and perfectly applied mascara.
Sadie, on the other hand, had found her yoga pants and sweatshirt so comfy yesterday that she’d slept in them…and was still wearing them today.
A fact that would make Annette’s sculpted bob stand on end.
But while Annette might get on her nerves, her mother-in-law had raised the man of her dreams. And that had to count for something.
“Your mother will be here in the morning for Lincoln’s party. I’ll borrow her ear then.” She prayed she sounded halfway chipper. “Drive safe, honey. I’ll see you tonight.”
They hung up, an absentminded “love you” on both ends.
* * *
Fortunately, the misaimed pee-pee had ended up in the bathtub.
Unfortunately, removing the lipstick from a squirming child’s torso was going to have to count as her day’s cardio. There really should be an energy drink named “Toddler.” In the end, she resorted to pouring makeup remover over a hand towel and rubbing it against Lincoln’s baby-soft skin.
As for the wallpaper, well…she’d figure that out when she got back home.
Tugging a superhero shirt over his head, she gave both his dimples a noisy smooch that sent him giggling. “Next time you’re curious about one of Mommy’s things, you need to come and ask my permission to play with it. Okay, bud?”
He nodded shyly. “Kay.”
She helped him into his parka before deciding her hoodie could ward off the spring chill just fine. So much for waltzing into the doctor’s office with an insulated mug of coffee and perfectly flat-ironed hair. Popping two ibuprofens and smearing on some deodorant would have to count as a win.
As the idyllic, seaside cottages blurred past her minivan window, she tried to practice gratitude. Cranberry Cove wasn’t just a postcard-perfect Maine village, but her hometown. When Ethan had bought the Brewer place—formerly her beloved grandma’s home—as a surprise wedding gift, she’d blamed her tears on the fact that she was eight and a half months pregnant and busting out of her bridal gown. She knew she was lucky to raise her son in a place right down the block from where she’d grown up and where he could enjoy some of her happiest childhood memories, like collecting seashells and licking butter off her fingertips during summer lobster bakes.
She glanced at Lincoln in the rearview mirror. He had a cardboard book about monkeys propped open in his lap and was examining the pages with such focus, she almost believed he could read the words. Like Ethan, he was an overachiever, already learning his ABCs and counting to twenty. He was cranky if he missed a nap, and certainly a handful at times, but what toddler wasn’t? He also gave smiles, giggles, and generous hugs.
And sure, maybe he was a budding graffiti artist (he’d really gone wild with that lipstick) and the root cause of her perpetual exhaustion, but he was also the reason she climbed out of bed each morning. She loved him beyond the power of words.
Was she happy? Grateful? Fulfilled?
She was beyond lucky. She had everything a person could ever want.
She nabbed the last spot in the town’s municipal parking lot. Okay, she had everything except time. Still, she stole a few more seconds to wipe the sleep crusties from the corners of her eyes and apply a quick coat of Burt’s Bees lip gloss. No need to tell the world that her last bath was with a handful of baby wipes.
Where was that woman who used to strut into client meetings wearing four-inch, cherry-red heels and deliver design pitches like it was what she’d been born to do?
Stay-at-home motherhood hadn’t just knocked her down a peg; it had dumped her off the stool and doused her in finger paint.
As long as she could remember, she’d dreamed of being a mom. She’d fantasized about cute names, nursery decor, and tiny outfits. She’d dreamed about how the baby’s hair would smell after a bath or how they would cling to her pinkie finger while napping on her chest.
Turned out that she’d fallen in love with a Pottery Barn version of parenthood.
The reality was that her pelvic floor had been destroyed by a thirty-six-hour labor of a nine-pound-ten-ounce baby, postpartum depression had hit her like a Mack truck, and she still tinkled when she sneezed. She’d been puked on, pooped on, and every night when her head hit the pillow she’d wonder how the heck she’d crossed only a few to-do items off her list.
Parenting wasn’t just work—that she could handle—it was how it was a mirror reflecting all her shortcomings: impatience, selfishness, vanity, and anxiety.
But she’d turn this ship around. She had to. Failure wasn’t an option. So she straightened her slouch and pasted on a determined smile, ignoring the part of her that screamed, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing and the idea of screwing up terrifies me.”
“Okay, lady, get it together.”
Who’d gotten accepted into the New York School of Design? Who’d been a successful professional? This was just wrangling one kid—not rocket science, for Pete’s sake. Mothers have mothered for millennia. She’d done her fair share of babysitting as a teen. Time to quit worrying and get it together.
“Whaddya say to hitting the ‘restart’ button?” she said to Lincoln, unclipping him from his car seat. He relaxed in her arms and she touched the tip of her nose to his, relieved he didn’t seem scarred from her earlier freak-out. “Onward and upward, right, love bug?”
Propping Lincoln on her hip, she made her way toward the Coastal Kids Medical Group.
Until Dot Turner stepped into her path after a scant ten feet.
“Sadie, darlin’. How’s it going?” she drawled in her thick Maine accent, punctuating each word with a thrust of her five-pound hand weights. Dot was in her seventies now and had been Sadie’s middle-school gym teacher. She still wore her signature neon-pink tracksuit and was probably in even better shape than she’d been fifteen years ago. “Heya, Link.”
Sadie hid her wince. The nickname always made her think of breakfast sausage. And just now the idea of processed meat made her want to barf.
“Hi, Ms. Turner.” Sadie smiled weakly, pretending that her stomach hadn’t just randomly decided to exit through her mouth. Had she undercooked the chicken last night? “I know, I know…I should call you Dot. But old habits die hard. How are you?” Running into old teachers was one of the weird but enjoyable side effects of moving back to Cranberry Cove.
“I’m grand,” Dot panted. “Just grand. Training to solo hike the Appalachian Trail this June. Ain’t that something?”
“Wow,” Sadie said breathlessly. “Impressive.”
“Ayuh, another one for the bucket list. Say, you should join me for a jog sometime.” Dot winked. “Everyone with a pulse should be able to run three miles. Use it or lose it, kiddo.”
Sadie gaped—Dot wasn’t insinuating that she was overweight, was she? Sadie had worked hard to shed the baby weight, although she’d slacked in the last few months. She needed twenty-eight hours in a day to fit in all her jobs: nurse, short-order cook, playmate, teacher, housekeeper, babysitter.
Who knows where the hours went. It was like living life stuck on fast-forward.
“Okay, gotta go, kiddo.” Dot forever called her students “kiddo.” “Need to keep the old ticker over one twenty! See ya around.”
Sadie sucked in her stomach and continued her walk. Wave caps broke in the distance and the air had a salty tang. Lincoln closed his eyes and smiled, the breeze tickling his cheeks.
Just as they passed the Cranberry Cove Bank with its emerald-green shutters and orange brick, a police cruiser rolled to a stop.
“Morning, Sadie. Lincoln.” Officer Tyler Cox tipped his hat like a movie star from an old western movie. He looked like one, too, with his eternal five-o’clock shadow and whiskey-colored eyes. “You two holding up okay?”
Everyone knew Ethan commuted and the citizens of Cranberry Cove, especially the town’s small-but-mighty police force, were constantly checking in on Sadie as if they knew she was barely treading water.
“We are, thanks.” Fake it until you make it.
“I pee-pee!” Lincoln announced. “I make the silly pee-pee go in the tub!”
Sadie wrinkled her nose. “Not our preferred location obviously, but we’ll take what we can get.”
“You?” Lincoln pointed to Tyler. “You make the pee-pee, too?”
Tyler cleared his throat and Sadie was willing to bet that her cheeks matched the Lobster Shack sign swinging over her head. “Okay then. Well, on that note, we’re really running late to see Dr. Hanlon. See you around.”
At this rate, they were going to be twenty minutes past their appointment time. It would take a miracle for Dr. Hanlon to still see them, but rescheduling would be yet another item on her ever-growing to-do list.
She only made it a few more steps before another interruption.
“Where’s the fire?” Essie Park called from a bistro table in front of Morning Joe’s Coffee Shop, the Cove Herald opened next to her delicious-looking latte. Even though Essie was forty-something, she looked a decade younger with her light peach skin, jet-black hair, and chocolate-brown eyes. While the town’s number-one real estate agent always attributed her good looks to her Korean genes, Sadie couldn’t help but wonder if Botox played a helping hand.
“Can’t chat.” Sadie refused to stop a third time. “We’re so freaking late.”
“Well don’t slow down my account. I only wanted to pass along the latest bit of real estate news—the Old Red Mill finally sold. Isn’t that something?”
“For sure!” Why in the world would that interest me? The question vanished as she finally barged through the front door of the Coastal Kids Medical Group. The walls were a calming shade of marine blue, and a saltwater fish tank lined an entire wall. Two children were standing in front of it, their breath fogging the glass while they inspected the clown fish and anemones.
As usual, Renee Rhodes was perched at the reception desk in her high-backed ergonomic chair and she smiled brightly in greeting.
“Hey, neighbor.” Sadie straightened her posture. “I know being fashionably late doesn’t apply to doctor visits, but it’s been a morning. Is there any chance we can still be seen?”
Her next-door neighbor, Renee, would never be late to an appointment. Sadie used to babysit her daughter, Tansy, and she’d always arrived to an impeccably clean home that smelled of peonies and fresh-baked snickerdoodles. Renee would leave something delicious for dinner and have checked out the latest cartoon from the library for the girls to watch. The perfect mother. The kind of “together” woman Sadie had always imagined that she’d be
“It’s late,” Renee admitted, after a glance at the clock. “But don’t worry, I’m sure Dr. Hanlon can squeeze you—”
Before Renee could finish her sentence, another wave of nausea hit. This one meant serious business.
“I’m sorry, can you take him for a sec? Please?” Sadie shoved Lincoln at Renee, bolting to the restroom.
Before the door latched shut, she fell to her knees, vomited into the toilet, then slumped against the tile wall. Pressing a clammy, cold hand against her forehead, she gasped. “Stupid chicken thighs.”
It was last night’s chicken, right? Yes, of course. It had to be.
Because the alternative was simply too terrifying.
Can you spy the orange-and-white fishy?” Renee Rhodes asked Lincoln, pointing to the saltwater tank. “You have to look hard because he swims fast!”
The toddler nodded, fixing his gaze on the clown fish with nose-scrunched determination.
“Great! Now see if you can spot the crab.”
He clapped his hands and wiggled his little butt.
God, kids were so sweet at this age.
After ensuring Lincoln was hypnotized by the underwater world, Renee made her way to the watercooler to fetch his poor mama a drink. Sadie looked rotten, her freckled cheeks sallow and dark circles bruising the skin beneath her eyes. A far cry from the perky babysitter who would bring her daughter Baby-Sitters Club books and Popsicle-stick craft projects.
She smiled as she held the glass under the tap. For nearly eighteen years, Renee’s calendar had been scribbled with bake sale reminders, PTA meeting times, and school performance dates. Her nights had been spent sneaking veggies into sauces, helping Tansy with homework assignments, and reading In the Night Kitchen a hundred times.
Some might find it boring, but she had loved every second.
Sadie was just starting that journey; a notion Renee sheepishly admitted made her a little green with envy.
The Landrys had bought the one-hundred-year-old cottage next to her two years ago, when the Brewers relocated to North Carolina. Prior to the Brewers, Sadie’s grandparents had lived in the home. While the Brewers had been great neighbors, Renee loved the fact that the cottage was back with the original family.
Before moving in, Sadie had had the house renovated. And, as an interior designer, she’d done an exceptional job. From the refinished hardwood floors to the recycled glass kitchen countertops and curated New England artwork, the Landrys’ cottage looked like something out of the pages of a home design magazine.
And in addition to their gorgeous home, they had the best gift of all: little Lincoln, so curious and sweet. The early years weren’t easy, of course, but the happy memories eventually won out: watching your child take their first steps on the beach or getting a lick of ice cream.
Her gaze strayed to the framed photo of Tansy on her desk. It was from her graduation last June. Her smile was big (and straight, thanks to a small fortune spent on braces) but her eyes were narrowed, the sun shining in her face. Her yellow National Honors Society cords hung around her neck and Renee’s mother’s diamond studs glinted from her ears.
My beautiful, smart girl.
Tansy was a freshman at the University of Southern California, worlds away from their little New England town.
“I’m telling you, Mom, I love it here,” she’d declared only two weeks into the term, a time when most students struggle with the first pangs of homesickness. “I never want to leave. It’s like I was always meant to be in SoCal.”
“Yeah? That must feel so…exciting,” Renee had said, trying to force a smile into her voice. “I guess California is the perfect place for the next Nora Ephron.”
“Uh-huh. Sure, Mom.” Tansy had sounded strangely self-conscious at the comment.
“What?” The two of them had swooned over Nora Ephron films for years, gushing over favorites like When Harry Met Sally. Tansy was an aspiring screenwriter, and they loved to dream she would be the next queen of romantic comedies.
Tansy sighed. “I’ve gotta run to class. Chat tomorrow?”
- "Transport yourself to a world filled with sand and sun."—Entertainment Weekly on Friends Like Us
- On Sale
- Apr 13, 2021
- Page Count
- 336 pages