Kate Hilton The Hole in the Middle

ISBN 13: 9780451476692

The Hole in the Middle

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9780451476692: The Hole in the Middle
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The heartfelt and hilarious, international bestselling debut about having it all without losing your mind.

Sophie Whelan is the kind of woman who prides herself on doing it all. In a single day, she can host a vegan-friendly and lactose-free dinner for ten, thwart a PTA president intent on forcing her to volunteer, and outwit her hostile ‘assistant’ in order to get her work done on time.

With her fortieth birthday looming, and her carefully coordinated existence beginning to come apart at the seams, Sophie begins feeling like she needs more from her life—and especially from her husband, Jesse.

The last thing Sophie needs is a new complication in her life. But when an opportunity from her past suddenly reappears, Sophie is forced to confront the choices she’s made and decide if her chaotic life is really a dream come true—or the biggest mistake she’s ever made...

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About the Author:

Before turning to writing fiction, Kate Hilton worked in law, higher education, public relations and fundraising. She lives in Toronto. The Hole in the Middle is her first novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Written by today’s freshest new talents and selected by New American Library, NAL Accent novels touch on subjects close to a woman’s heart, from friendship to family to finding our place in the world. The Conversation Guides included in each book are intended to enrich the individual reading experience, as well as encourage us to explore these topics together—because books, and life, are meant for sharing.

Visit us online at penguin.com.

Praise for The Hole in the Middle

Title Page

Dedication

Copyright

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Acknowledgments

Questions For Discussion

About the Author

December 2013

Dear Friends,

Another Christmas season is here, and for all of us in the Walker-Whelan clan, it has been a year rich in love, friendship, health, joy, and professional fulfillment. Here’s our news in a nutshell, from smallest to tallest:

Scotty, our baby, turned three in July. He is showing a real talent for music, and the whole family loves to hear him play his pint-sized piano. Since moving into the toddler room at the Progressive Center for Child Development and Care, Scotty has become so comfortable expressing his authentic feelings! We are lucky to have found a daycare center that is aligned with our “whole foods” philosophy, and that is such a partner to us as parents. The dedicated staff members really feel like family.

Jamie is seven this year, and he’s thriving in Grade 2 at Watkins Elementary School. Watkins is a very special place with a strong emphasis on volunteerism and parental engagement—that’s the “Watkins Way”! We feel fortunate to belong to this warm and accepting community. In this nurturing environment, it’s not surprising that Jamie is embracing his creative side. We are so inspired by his emerging passion for the cello!

Jesse is doing what we all dream of: making the world a better place. With his amazing business partner, Anya, by his side, Jesse’s company is growing by leaps and bounds. He’s saving the planet one project at a time, using cutting-edge technologies to reduce environmental impact in commercial and residential buildings. All this, and a perfect husband and father, too! I don’t know how he does it.

As for me, I’m thrilled to report that I’m still running the Communications department at the Baxter Children’s Hospital. Even after six years, I still love going to the office every morning. I get to work on challenging and important projects with great colleagues. What more could I ask for? As for hobbies, I stay grounded with yoga and literate with book club. And Jesse and I celebrated our eighth anniversary this spring with a romantic getaway to Las Vegas.

All in all, it was an action-packed twelve months, and we are looking forward to a peaceful holiday season. We wish the same to you!

With lots of love from the Whelan-Walker clan,

Sophie, Jesse, Jamie, and Scotty

CHAPTER ONE

monday, december 2, 2013

It’s Day One of my BlackBerry diet, and I’m huddled in my minivan in a windswept parking garage across the street from my office. The heat’s going full blast as I commit various environmental sins against the forlorn stand of leafless maple trees that passes for a view here. It may be short on ambience, my parking spot, but it has cell phone reception, which makes it an important plank in the BlackBerry diet strategy.

The BlackBerry diet is my latest effort to bring my stress level down to nontoxic levels. I’m allowing myself voice mail–only access to the office before I arrive in the morning. Phase Two will involve reduced e-mail access on weekends, but it’s only Monday, so we’ll have to see if we get to that stage. Success is unlikely, which is why the BlackBerry diet is a strategy and not a plan. A strategy requires less commitment, and therefore less guilt in the event of failure.

I dial into the voice mail system, punch in my code and wait.

The disembodied voice speaks: You have eleven new messages.

Eleven. That’s not so bad.

First message. Click. Barry, definitely. He never leaves messages.

Next message. Click. Ditto. But two hang-ups before nine o’clock is unusual. I feel my shoulders start to creep up with anticipatory tension.

Next message. Message marked urgent. Uh-oh. “Hi, Sophie. It’s Barry. I see that you’re not in yet. I need to speak to you about the Gala as soon as you do get in. There’s a problem and you need to get on top of it.”

Next message. “Hi, Sophie. It’s Anna from the toddler room at daycare. Scotty is pulling on his ear and seems a little fussy. He can stay for now, but if he gets any worse we’ll have to ask you to pick him up. Sorry about that. We’ll call you later with an update.”

What? No. I dropped him off half hour ago and he was fine. A little phlegm-riddled, maybe, but nothing more. If I believed in God, I would pray. Maybe I should anyway, just to hedge my bets.

Next message. “Soph, it’s Zoe. This is your warning call. Book club is on Thursday at Sara’s house. Line up a babysitter, tell Jesse to be home, do what you have to do, but you are not bailing again this month. Seriously. I always fight with Megan when you’re not there. I’m your best friend and you don’t want to piss me off. Love you, bye.”

Next message. “Hi, Sophie. This is Kelly Robinson. I’m the chair of the Parent Council for Watkins Elementary. I wanted to talk to you about your volunteer hours—” I skip the rest of the message and delete it. I’ve been avoiding calls from Jamie’s class parent all year, but now it seems that she has handed my file to someone more senior in the Parent Council hierarchy.

Next message. “Hi, Sophie. It’s Janelle Moss.” Janelle is the lead volunteer on the Gala, an event controlled by a group of very wealthy women who have intense and competing agendas that I don’t even begin to understand. Every conversation with these people is a minefield. Happily, managing Gala volunteers is one of the few things in the office that I’m not responsible for, and whatever the problem, I’m going to punt it right back to Justine. “I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to talk to Justine yet, but we’re looking at a little change in direction on the creative for the marketing materials. Happy to chat once Justine has filled you in. Bye now.”

Next message. “Sophie, it’s Justine. Major screw-up at the Gala meeting last night. We need to talk urgently. Call me.” Justine is my colleague and sometime friend, when it suits her. She runs the Event Planning department, which means that the Gala is her problem.

Next message. “Sophie, my dear. It’s Lillian. I was hoping to catch you in person. How I hate these dreadful machines! Do give me a call today if you can. The issue is rather time-sensitive, as you young people are fond of saying.”

Lillian Parker has been one of my favorite people on earth since my last year of university, when I lived in her rambling house, paying criminally low rent in exchange for house-sitting services during her frequent sojourns abroad. Her annual holiday party is this weekend, and I can see the invitation in my mind’s eye now, poking out of the pile on the corner of my desk that I lovingly call my Guilt Stack. It’s not like Lil to get worked up about RSVPs, which is why the card is still buried in the Guilt Stack, but I’ll move it up to the top of the pile and deal with it once I get into the office—or by Thursday at the latest.

Next message. “Hi, Sophie. It’s your mother. Look, honey, I know you’re busy, but we have to talk about Christmas. It’s urgent.”

Instinctively, I check the date on my BlackBerry. Have I lost a week somewhere? But no, it’s only December 2.

“First of all—dinner. I’m going to do a turducken again this year, but did Jesse like it last year? I know he said he did, but he didn’t have seconds, so I’m not convinced. Your brother and Dana liked it—come to think of it, did you like it? Anyway, if you and Jesse agree, we’ll go with the turducken again, but I want you to be honest with me if you don’t like that plan. Anyway, assuming that you do, we’ll go with the usual sides—mashed potatoes, turnips, that rice dish that you like and probably some creamed spinach or something. I was going to do mini shrimp cocktails for the appetizer, but did you tell me that Jesse isn’t eating seafood these days? If not, I could always just do a soup, maybe roasted red pepper—that would be nice with the turducken. I’ve been talking to your brother about dessert—he says that he doesn’t care, but I know he prefers the pumpkin pie and you always say that you prefer the lemon meringue. So I guess I could make both, if it’s really important to you to have lem—”

Next message. “It’s your mother again. The machine cut me off. Anyway, call me about dinner. And then I need you to think about what the kids want for Christmas. Are you doing stockings at your house or mine? If you are doing them at mine, I’ll need to get the old stockings out and do a few repairs—they were pretty threadbare last year. And also I’ll need to know if you are bringing everything for the stockings or if I need to buy some things as well. Are you going to stay overnight here on Christmas Eve? Because if you are, we’ll need to make a plan for dinner on the twenty-fourth. Beef might be nice. Does Jamie still like those transforming robots? Because I saw a robot kit that he would just love! It said it was for thirteen years and up, but Jamie is such a smart little boy, and he could use a challenge with all that energy he has, don’t you think? Maybe it’s something that he and Jesse could do together; Jesse’s been working so hard. And for Scotty I was thinking that it’s probably time to get him playing hockey. Wouldn’t Jesse love that? Maybe some little skates and a helmet and a stick? How cute would that be? I’m around this morning, then out for lunch with Jennie Birkin—you must remember Jennie; you went to school with Andy Birkin. Then I’ll be back for a couple—”

End of messages.

I feel a little warm and light-headed now, and I pull down my visor mirror for an assessment. Every day of my thirty-nine years looks back. Gray coat, gray suit, and gray roots: I really need to get my highlights done. More alarmingly, I can feel an aching weariness in my chest. I’ve noticed it with some regularity lately, and it makes me nervous. Some days it’s just a knot of anxiety, but today it feels like the hole in the middle of a donut: empty but for the wind whistling through it. I know I shouldn’t feel this hollowed out and used up at thirty-nine, but I don’t have time for that kind of reflection today.

I rummage through my purse and locate my triage kit to deal with the problems I can solve. I pull out the bottle of cough suppressant and take a long swig that burns going down, and then squeeze a couple of drops of Visine into each eye. Then I attack the area under my eyes with concealer and everything else with bronzer. And with that, I’m ready to brave the germ-screening desk.

The germ desk is a fairly new addition to the Baxter, since a terrible outbreak of the flu at another children’s hospital made headlines last year. Now everyone entering the hospital is screened at every entry point and doused with hand sanitizer. I’ve invested considerable time and energy in my relationship with Max, the guy who has been guarding the germ desk for the past six months; I know the names of his grandchildren and their ages, and how Max developed a herniated disk last year, and that Max’s wife wants him to get a storage locker for his model trains. And because our conversations have covered extensive areas of Max’s life and times, there has been little opportunity to explore the subject of my health, which is exactly the way I want it.

But today, Max is missing. Nigel, according to his security tag, is sitting in Max’s chair. And judging from the length of the line, Nigel takes his job very seriously. When I get to the front, I consider batting my eyelashes, but I suspect that insouciance of this kind has a shelf life, and mine is getting awfully close to the expiration date. I give him what I hope is a winning smile instead.

Nigel is clearly unmoved. He picks up his clipboard and clears his throat. He’s going to make me do the survey. I can’t believe it. Max never made me do the survey. I wonder if that’s why Max isn’t working here anymore.

“Have you experienced any coughing in the past twenty-four hours?”

“No.” This is absolutely true.

“Sneezing?”

“No.” Not more than everyone sneezes when they wake up in the morning, that is. Take Jesse, for example. He sneezes practically every morning, sometimes eight times in a row. It doesn’t mean that he’s sick. I myself am not a chronic sneezer like Jesse, but there is no reason to draw any dire conclusions just because I was sneezing this morning.

“Vomiting?”

“No.”

“Fever?”

“No.” I can’t say for sure. I don’t have a thermometer in my portable pharmacy. And again, there are lots of other possible explanations for the flush in my cheeks today.

“Flu-like symptoms of any kind?”

“No.”

Nigel peers at me over the top of the clipboard. If Nigel wants to, he can insist on taking my temperature, and then I’ll be in deep trouble. But as much as he wants to, he can’t find justification today. I almost pump my fist in the air as he moves on to the next person in line. But with Max gone, I know this is only a temporary win. Nigel is cut from a different cloth entirely. Society requires people like Nigel; without them there would be no parking officials or mall cops or hall monitors, and we would live in a state of anarchy. And it’s important to remember this, because I dislike Nigel so intensely at this moment that I’m beginning to imagine terrible events that might befall him and prevent him from coming to work ever again. Not death, of course. I’d never wish for that. A debilitating injury would be quite enough.

For the record, I approve of the hospital’s infection-protection measures, at least in a theoretical sense. And I would definitely comply with them if I were providing frontline health care and believed that I posed any risk whatsoever to the hundreds of sick children upstairs. But I’m the director of communications for the hospital, so I spend my days reviewing press releases and dealing with media requests, ducking my boss and trying to persuade my assistant to do some work. I’m not saving lives. There are lots of people in this buildi...

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