A Week at the Lake by Wendy Wax
From the USA Today bestselling author of The House on Mermaid Point comes a powerful novel about secrets, loyalty, and the bonds of true friendship . . .
Twenty years ago, Emma Michaels, Mackenzie Hayes, and Serena Stockton bonded over their New York City dreams. Then, each summer, they solidified their friendship by spending one week at the lake together, solving their problems over bottles of wine and gallons of ice cream. They kept the tradition for years, until jealousy, lies, and life’s disappointments made them drift apart.
It’s been five years since Emma has seen her friends, an absence designed to keep them from discovering a long-ago betrayal. Now she’s in desperate need of their support. The time has come to reveal her secrets—and hopefully rekindle their connection.
But when a terrible accident keeps Emma from saying her piece, Serena and Mackenzie begin to learn about the past on their own. Now, to heal their friendship and their broken lives, the three women will have to return to the lake that once united them, and discover which relationships are worth holding on to . . .
Today she was in New York with hours to kill before heading to the lake. At her daughter’s request they were having lunch at one of the fancier restaurants on the Upper East Side not far from the Carlyle, where her grandmother’s apartment had been and where she and Zoe had taken a hotel room. Emma sincerely hoped this would be the last time she’d be required to dress up to consume food for the next week.As they entered, there was a muted stutter of surprise followed by a brief pause before conversation resumed. The other diners pretended not to notice them as they were shown to a white-cloth-covered table overlooking a walled garden. But if there was anything Emma knew how to recognize, it was an audience.
“Ms. Michaels.” The maître d’ smiled and pulled out her chair.
“Emma.” She smiled back, automatically mirroring his vaguely midwestern accent; she had been born and bred with a finely tuned ear and could do almost any American dialect, with the possible exception of the unnamed one on Swamp People, which even the locals required subtitles to understand. “Please. Call me Emma.”
He nodded and smiled again as he pulled out the other chair for Zoe. Her daughter was fifteen and had somehow ended up with far more than her fair share of the Michaels gene pool. Her thick red-gold hair was straight and chopped in angled layers that Emma’s curls refused to be ironed, blown, or wrestled into. She was even taller than her grandparents and aunts and uncles, and had the creamy skin, finely chiseled features, and gray-green eyes that attested to their English/Irish heritage. Emma’s complexion was only partly creamy and was sprinkled with nutmeg-colored freckles that not even the best studio makeup people could completely obliterate.
Emma had learned to make the most of what she had. But when you were the runt of the litter and looked more Cockerdoodle than Great Dane, you didn’t do Shakespeare. You didn’t star with Humphrey Bogart or James Stewart like her grandmother had. Or take direction from Mike Nichols or Stanley Kubrick like her mother. You didn’t even play the tragically damaged wife of an unfairly convicted murderer on death row, a part her sister Regan won an Oscar for. You played the girl who couldn’t quite get the guy. Or the spunky heroine who picked herself up after her husband left her and somehow finds a modicum of happiness as a greeter at Walmart. Emma had made a great living playing those kinds of parts. At forty-five she didn’t get quite as many romantic comedy leads as she used to, though it was possible she’d still be offered the occasional dimple-and-giggle part when she was white haired and stooped from arthritis. Not that her estranged parents and siblings would be any more impressed by her body of work then than they were now.
They looked over their menus, and Emma considered how best to say all the things she wanted to say to Zoe. Conciliatory things that would convince her once and for all that Emma loved her and only wanted what was best for her. Even though despite all efforts to the contrary, she’d somehow turned out to be almost as abysmal a parent as the mother and father she’d so publicly “divorced.” Uncertain, she reached for the bread. If she kept her mouth full she wouldn’t be able to say the things she needed to say. But she might not say the wrong thing, either.
In just a few hours the one week she used to look forward to most every year—her lake retreat with the two women she’d known longest and best—would begin. They were the only people on earth who really understood why she’d come to New York all those years ago. They were Zoe’s “fairy godmothers.” The only friends around whom she’d never needed to be “on” and who remembered Zoe as the little girl she’d carted from country to country and movie set to movie set. Her daughter’s memory of those happy years seemed to have disappeared along with her chubby cheeks and angelic smile.
If Mackenzie and Serena were here with them at the restaurant, Emma was pretty sure the bread she’d just swallowed wouldn’t be turning to lead in her stomach. She was counting on them to help her fix things with Zoe and then somehow, before they all went back to their real lives, Emma would have to find a way to finally share the secret she’d had no right to keep. Then she’d see her attorneys to finish off all the paperwork. Even a benign tumor made a person want to put things right.
They placed their orders. Their retreat, at which calorie counting had always been banned hadn’t officially begun so despite all the bread she’d already consumed, Emma ordered rabbit food. Zoe, who got the Michaels metabolism, which appeared to be unfairly tied to height, ordered a burger and fries.
“I spoke with Calvin,” Zoe said after the waiter left. Calvin Hardgrove, movie heartthrob, got top billing as Zoe’s father on her birth certificate but made only cameo appearances in Zoe’s life. “He said that he’d be away on location all summer but that if I want to stay in his guesthouse while I work on Teen Scream I can.”
Zoe’s lips tightened, but not enough to prevent a response. “Why not?”
Another basket of bread arrived. Emma managed to ignore it.
“Because you’re fifteen years old. You can’t live alone in a Malibu guesthouse without supervision. And I read the script. It calls for nudity.”
“But my character doesn’t undress. And it’s not gratuitous nudity,” she countered. “There’s a reason why the characters take off their clothes.”
Emma tried to sound calm but firm, but it was a stretch. “Yes, I believe that reason is so that they can have sex.”
Zoe quickly changed tack. “You’ve left me alone plenty of times when you’ve been on location.”
“I’ve left you with a sitter and a staff when I’ve had to,” Emma replied. And only after Zoe got too old to miss so much school. “That’s not the same thing at all.” It wasn’t, was it? Her voice faltered as she realized she was asking Zoe to accept things she’d never forgiven her own parents for. If Emma hadn’t had Gran, she would have been completely lost.
“You’re always trying to hold me back.” Zoe’s voice rose. It was a favorite complaint and one she’d clearly come to believe. She delivered it with conviction.
Emma knew her daughter could act. She was fairly certain she’d been emoting in the womb and she’d done really well at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. She just didn’t think there was any reason to start a career so young. Nor did she think a teen exploitation film in which most of the characters would be screaming their heads off while naked was an acceptable first vehicle. And Emma should know. She’d walked away from childhood stardom, but that didn’t mean she didn’t remember every painful moment of it.
Their food arrived. She checked her watch and wondered if eleven thirty was too early for a drink.
“I’m trying to protect you, Zoe. If you decide you want to act, there’s plenty of time for that. After you finish school. Not before.”
“Sonya is tutored on set,” Zoe argued.
Sonya Craven was sixteen and had a regular role on Teen Bitch, er, Teen Witch. From what Emma had seen of Sonya—and her mother, with whom Emma had had the “pleasure” of performing—this was a clear case of typecasting and required almost no acting at all.
“You’re not Sonya. And I am not Sonya’s mother.” Their voices were rising.
“That’s such a cop-out.” Zoe quivered with righteous indignation. “At least Sonya’s mother nurtures her talent instead of trying to squash it.” Zoe’s eyes plumbed hers. She could feel her daughter’s awareness of the scene they were playing. When you were born into a theatrical family, there was no escaping theatrics.
Zoe put her glass down on the table and crammed a French fry into her mouth.
As emotional earthquakes went this wasn’t even a five on the Michaels Family Richter Scale. Compared to some of the rows that had taken place while Emma was growing up, it was barely a tremor. But there was something about the wrath of a fifteen-year-old girl to whom you’d given birth and loved more than you’d ever imagined you could love anyone, that could yank the ground right out from under your feet.
Emma glanced around the restaurant. At a Michaels family gathering this altercation would hardly be enough to make people stop chewing let alone end a meal. But the other diners had fallen silent and were no longer pretending they weren’t listening. It wasn’t every day you got to watch this kind of performance between two members of the Michaels family without buying a ticket.
“Oh, what’s the point?” Zoe, who knew intuitively how to end a scene and make an exit, removed the napkin from her lap, dropped it on the table, and scraped back her chair. “I’m out of here.”
“Zoe!” Emma put some bills on the table as she stood. Then she was speed walking out of the silent restaurant. The last time Zoe had stormed off she made it onto a cross-country flight from LAX to Serena’s in New York City.
Emma’s heart beat frantically as she shoved open the door. Out on the sidewalk she saw Zoe already across the street and two blocks down. This was the Upper East Side of New York not West LA, but Zoe was a fifteen-year-old girl and bad things happened in expensive neighborhoods every day.
“Zoe!” Her eyes on her daughter, who was studiously ignoring her, Emma began to sprint across the street. Which was when something hard slammed into her with the force of a freight train and sent her hurtling into the air. She flipped a couple of times, bounced off what might have been the roof or trunk of a car, and slammed into the concrete. Stray thoughts filtered through her head; she empathized with Humpty Dumpty. She congratulated herself for having on clean underwear.
There was no pain, which definitely seemed wrong. She heard feet running and voices and then a siren in the distance. It occurred to her that she could die, and regret flooded through her. She’d already cheated death once. Now she’d never get the chance to prove to her daughter how much she loved her. Never see Mackenzie or Serena again. Her last thoughts began to run together: She should have scheduled the attorney before they left for the lake. Should have confessed the secret she’d been carrying. Should have begged forgiveness. Should have . . .
Darkness descended. Panic came with it. There was something she was supposed to take care of. Something that would alter the lives of the people who meant the most to her.
Her world was going black. And she couldn’t for the life of her remember what it was.
©Wendy Wax 2015
ABOUT WENDY WAX
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says USA Today bestselling author Wendy Wax “writes with breezy wit and keen insight.” Her books, A Week at the Lake, While We Were Watching Downton Abbey and her Ten Beach Road novels, The House On Mermaid Point, Ocean Beach and Ten Beach Road, have been featured in publications such as USA Today, Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s World, and online at sites such as On A Clear Day You Can Read Forever, Luxury Reading and Book Reporter. A Florida native, she was honored by the City of St. Pete Beach, where she was born and raised, when the City Commission declared May 12, 2011 “Wendy Wax Day.”
Wendy’s WHILE WE WERE WATCHING DOWNTON ABBEY, a story of unlikely friendships sparked by the camaraderie of Downton Abbey viewing parties, received a flurry of national attention when news of its publication spread just as Season 3 of the program drew to a close. It has been back to press seven times, appeared on major retailer bestseller lists and was nominated for eBook of the Year by U.K. e-retailer Sainsbury. It was also chosen as one of twelve novels featured nationally as part of Penguin Group USA’s 2014 Read Pink initiative with The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Other books by Wendy Wax include Magnolia Wednesdays, The Accidental Bestseller, Hostile
Makeover, Leave it to Cleavage, Single in Suburbia and 7 Days and 7 Nights. Many of her novels have been published internationally and as audiobooks.
When not writing, Wendy spends time visiting with readers at bookstores, book clubs, book and author luncheons and book festivals or enjoying time with her family. She has lived in Atlanta for eighteen years and is currently at work on her next Ten Beach Road novel.