Emily Listfield Best Intentions: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9781416576723

Best Intentions: A Novel

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9781416576723: Best Intentions: A Novel

From the acclaimed author of Waiting to Surface comes a page-turning novel about four college friends whose reunion reawakens old desires and grudges—with fatal results.

What happens when you think you know the person you love—and you’re dead wrong?

Thirty-nine-year-old Lisa Barkley looks over at her sleeping husband, Sam, and can’t help but feel that their fifteen-year marriage is in a funk that she isn’t able to place. She tells herself that the strain must be due to their mounting financial pressures. With two daughters about to start another year at an elite Upper East Side private school and her own career hitting a wall, the effort of trying to stay afloat in their privileged world is increasingly difficult. But when she listens to Sam’s voicemail and hears a whispered phone call from a woman he is to meet that night, she begins to suspect he is having an affair.

Lisa’s best friend, Deirdre, claims it can’t be true. But how can Lisa fully trust her opinion when Deirdre is mired in her own obsessive affair? When Deirdre’s former college flame, Jack, comes to town and the two couples meet to celebrate his fortieth birthday, the stage is set for an explosive series of discoveries with devastating results.

Filled with suspense and provocative questions about the relationships we value most, Best Intentions is a tightly woven drama of love, friendship and betrayal.

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About the Author:

Emily Listfield is the former editor in chief of Fitness magazine and author of seven novels, including the New York Times Notable It Was Gonna Be Like Paris and Waiting to Surface. Her writing has appeared everywhere from the New York Times Styles section to Harper’s Bazaar. She is currently Chief Content Officer of Kaplow PR, where she helps brands like Skype, Shiseido, and Laura Mercier refine their voice, storytelling, and strategy. She lives in New York City with her daughter. Visit her website at EmilyListfield.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One

I lie in bed watching the numbers on the digital alarm click in slow motion to 6:00 a.m., 6:01. My right hand, curled tightly beneath my head, is cramping, but I don't want to risk moving it. I lie perfectly still, listening to the birds chirping noisily outside, a high-pitched chorus wafting rebelliously through the harsh geometry of Manhattan. Nervous I would oversleep, I had tossed fitfully until dawn. Now, as with most missed opportunities, the only thing I long for is another chance at the night.

The lightness of the chirping fills me with a yearning I can't quite place, for unabridged land, for air, for my own childhood forty miles north of here, though I wanted desperately to escape the precisely gridded suburbs with their overriding promise of safety. Still, it's hard not to feel nostalgia for a time when I thought predictability was the worst fate imaginable.

I shut my eyes, willing the thought away.

It is a morning for fresh starts, after all.

Sam grunts softly in his sleep and rearranges his long legs, his left thigh brushing against mine under the sheets. I flinch unconsciously at the brief interlude of skin on skin and hold my breath, trying not to disturb him -- he has been up most of the night. He settles into his new position, letting out an aborted sigh from somewhere deep within his dream, and I exhale, secretly disappointed that he hasn't woken, turned to me. I look down, studying his face in the pale sunlight. Always handsome, he is more defined now, his edges sharper, as if everything soft and extraneous has been carved away, leaving his most essential self exposed. I run my fingertips gently through his matted dark-blond hair -- I've always loved him best this way, disheveled, unguarded.

His skin is warm, almost moist.

I try to remember the last time we made love in this fragile sliver of time before the girls wake up. I try to remember when we stopped trying.

I reach over and shut off the alarm so it won't wake him. All through the night I felt his agitation roiling his attempts at sleep, infiltrating my own. I'd turned to him once around two a.m. and asked what was bothering him.

"Nothing, just the story I'm working on. The pieces don't jibe, a source won't call me back," he said, curving away from me, though whether it was to avoid disturbing me further or a desire to be left alone, I wasn't sure. I've seen him like this many times before at the beginning of an assignment, waiting for a clear narrative to form in his head. He is a man who likes order and grows steeped in anxiety until he can impose it. Perhaps that's all it is.

For months, though, all through the summer, Sam has seemed restive for reasons I can't quite place. It has grown contagious, a malaise that has metastasized between us into a desultory low-level dissatisfaction, nothing I can touch, nothing worthy of accusation or argument, and yet. I hope the cooler season will wipe the slate clean, bring a new semester for our marriage.

I miss him.

There are moments, unexpected, unpredictable, when there is a sudden flash, a brief illumination in a look or touch, and we are us again, connected. They are hard to manufacture, though, no matter how hard I try. Sometimes I can feel him trying, too, missing me, too.

I slide carefully out of bed and pad barefoot down the hallway, bending over to pick up a crumpled gum wrapper, poorly hidden evidence of Claire's latest habit, the cloying sweet smell of imitation strawberry, grape, watermelon, vanilla emanating from her like cheap perfume, the noisy snapping and chewing deeply annoying, even more so because it is surely interfering with the six thousand dollars' worth of braces that encase her teeth, correcting a supposed crookedness that only an Upper East Side orthodontist can discern. Seizing the parental high road, I've taken to hiding my own gum-chewing habit, one of the pretenses I've recently felt it necessary to assume. I open the front door carefully, hoping its creak won't wake the children, take the papers into the kitchen and make a pot of coffee.

I can feel their breath, Sam's, the girls', in their separate corners of the apartment, surrounding me, grounding me even as they sleep. I have twenty minutes before I have to wake them and make breakfast, which, as per first day of school tradition, will involve pots and pans rarely seen on weekday mornings, scrambled eggs with chives snipped from the shriveling strands of the window herb plant, toast slathered with strawberry rhubarb preserves from the farmers' market, hot chocolate made from unsweetened cocoa and sugar rather than packets, ballast for whatever schoolyard intrigues, new teachers' quirks, algebraic conundrums, vertiginous swings in popularity lie ahead. I turn on the radio and listen to the weather report, which predicts a humid Indian summer day, the temperature threatening to hit the high eighties.

I dip my finger in the jam and lick it absentmindedly. Long ago, when the girls were still young enough to need supervision at the breakfast table, Sam and I developed a tag-team approach. I would get them up, put the food on the table and then dress while he ate with them. Though Phoebe is eleven and Claire thirteen, the habit remains, one of the unexamined rituals of family life that you realize only later are its very glue.

I take one last sip of coffee and walk into Phoebe's room first, stepping carefully over the huge shopping bag of new school supplies from Staples that have spilled across the floor, a kaleidoscope of colorful binders, highlighters in seven colors, six of which are totally unnecessary as far as I'm concerned, a new hole punch, index cards for book reports, neon-pink Post-its in the shape of hearts and arrows. Phoebe possesses a unique blend of laserlike focus and forgetfulness -- she can concentrate on an assignment for hours but will leave it on the bus. It is one of the things -- not just the forgetfulness, but her lack of concern about it -- that she has promised, albeit halfheartedly, to work on this year, though when I suggested buying a memo pad for to-do lists, she refused. "I'm eleven," she reminded me indignantly, as if lists were one more odious thing waiting for her in adulthood, along with mortgages, insurance claims, cholesterol readings. "Writing things on the back of my hand works just fine."

I lean over to kiss her cheek and she rolls sleepily into me, burying her face in the crook of my neck, her eyes fluttering open and then closing again.

"You have to get up, sweetie," I whisper as I run my fingers underthe blanket and tickle her, her body at least nominally still mine. Thesoftness of her neck, her arms makes the walls of my heart constrict.No one really tells you how much it is like falling in love over andover, how physical and encompassing it will be. Or that you willnever feel completely safe and relaxed again.

"Not yet." Her breath is heated, musty but sweet.

Since they got home from camp, the girls have grown used to lounging in bed till noon, especially in the last few weeks, when, like a final indulgent binge before a diet, we all lost the will for discipline of any sort.

"I hate school," Phoebe groans.

"It's too soon to hate school."

"It's never too soon to hate school."

I smile, knowing the words are hollow. Phoebe is by nature an easygoing child who, despite her carelessness, is generally anxious to please her teachers and popular with her friends. "Get up, my little misanthrope."

She looks at me suspiciously and is about to ask what the word means when she thinks better of it, knowing I will tell her to look it up, something she has absolutely no intention of doing. "It's not too soon for me to get a cell phone, either," she calls after me.

I leave without answering. I have decreed, repeatedly, that twelve is the age of consent for that particular piece of technology, my desire for being in constant touch, for being able to place her, outweighed by my certainty that Phoebe will lose at least a dozen phones within the first month. I make my way to Claire's room, where every available surface is lined with ornate boxes, jewelry cases, embroidered journals, the artifacts of her life stashed in tiny drawers, a Chinese puzzle of secrets and mementos. There is no one on earth quite as sentimental as a thirteen-year-old girl. In the rare moments when I am alone in the house I sometimes go through her drawers, scan her Internet history, her notebooks, looking not for evidence of crimes but for clues to who she is becoming. When I lean down to wake her, Claire shrugs away, curling deeper beneath the stained pale blue quilt she refuses to part with. It takes three increasingly strenuous shakes to get her to at least raise her head temporarily, her face hidden by a tangle of thick brunette hair almost the exact color as mine. If Phoebe is Sam's daughter, lighter in coloring and temperament, Claire, with her olive skin, her broodier nature, is mine. Claire's chosen outfit for the day -- a loosely knit pale-pink cable sweater, denim mini and leggings -- is carefully laid out on her desk chair. She spent a few days last week in East Hampton with a school friend shunning the beach to shop on Main Street and Newtown Lane, Claire suddenly one of those tanned, long-legged girls of indeterminate age still so alien to me with their giddy sense of entitlement apparent in every avid stride. I wonder if strangers, seeing Claire, assumed she was one of them, with an enormous shingled house and a credit card of her own.

"Honey, I think you may need to rethink your outfit," I say gently. "It's going to be too hot today."

Claire shakes her head at the ridiculousness of the notion. The outfit can't be rethought -- the skirt is too short for the school's restriction that hems be within four inches of the knee to wear without leggings and the sweater is, well, perfect. Any dolt can see that.

"I'll be fine," Claire insists. Under the best of circumstances, she has a certain rigidity that, though frustrating at times, I nevertheless hope will serve her well later in life when self-doubt, frankly self-reflection of any kind, has a tendency to impede p...

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