Always the Last to Know
by Higgins, Kristan






After their father suffers a stroke, two sisters must return home and deal with the paths both their lives have taken as well as their parents' relationship in this new novel from the author of Good Luck with That. Simultaneous.





Kristan Higgins is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of nearly twenty novels, which have been translated into more than two dozen languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, two children and dogs. If you want to know when Kristan's next book will be out and hear news of her appearances, subscribe to her mailing list at www.kristanhiggins.com.





The Frosts, successful lawyer John and selectman Barb, are thriving and proud of their two grown daughters, Juliet, the elder, a successful architect, mother, and wife, and Sadie, who works as an art teacher in New York City. John and Barb are days away from celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary when John suffers a stroke while riding his bike. The resulting brain damage renders John a shadow of the man he once was. Heartbroken, Barb stumbles on some unexpected news while scrolling through his phone that causes her life to unravel at an alarming rate as she rethinks the past 50 years. Higgins' (Life and Other Inconveniences, 2019) latest is another amazing exploration of the meaning of family, this one focusing on how love changes within the confines of a marriage. Told from alternating points of view by each of the four Frosts, the novel shows readers every stage of each relationship, from loving to loathing; post-stroke, nonverbal John's perspective is exquisitely done. Readers will cherish this one to the very end. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.





Secrets are revealed and old wounds are healed as a family attempts to deal with a medical emergency. Barb Frost knew her marriage wasn't perfect. She and John had been married for 50 years, but she was unhappy and thinking about leaving, keeping herself busy as first selectman of their small Connecticut town. But then John has a stroke. Barb and John's daughters rush to the hospital to see him—responsible architect and mom Juliet has always been Barb's favorite while freedom-loving artist Sadie was her father's girl. Things are bad enough, but then Barb gets the shock of her life when she goes through John's phone—and finds out he's been having an affair. Barb tries to keep the secret from her daughters, knowing it would upset them, but the girls have struggles of their own. Juliet is dealing with secret panic attacks and feels like she can't handle being a perfect wife, mom, and career woman. Sadie, who moves back home from New York City to help care for her dad, now has to confront Noah Pelletier, her high school sweetheart and the man she's never been able to forget. He wanted to marry her and stay in their idyllic small town, but she wanted to explore the art world in New York—but now, she's not so sure that was the right decision. Higgins handles difficult topics with aplomb, mining even the darkest subjects (infidelity, infertility, mortality) with a sense of humor. She resists painting her characters with broad strokes, allowing readers to see the humanity in each person. Sadie and Noah's love story is angst-filled enough to warrant its own steamy romance novel, but the most touching relationships are the ones Barb has with her daughters and her best friend, Caro, who is Barb's constant companion as she deals with the fallout of John's stroke. As Barb puts it, love doesn't "have to be romantic to encircle you in its arms." A masterful exploration of all kinds of love—romance, family, and friendship—that will make even a cynic cry. Copyright Kirkus 2020 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.





CHAPTER ONE

Sadie

You're engaged? Oh! Uh . . . huzzah!"

Yes. I had just said huzzah.

You know what? I couldn't blame myself. Another engagement among the teachers of St. Catherine's Catholic Elementary School in the Bronx. The fifth this year, and yes, I was counting.

I couldn't look away from the diamond blinding me from the finger of Bridget Ennis. The stone was the size of a bumblebee, and my hypnotized eyes followed her hand as she waved it in excitement, telling the rest of us teachers-six women, one man-about how romantic, how unexpected, how thrilling it had been.

I had nothing against Bridget. I even liked her. I'd mentored her, because this was her first year teaching. She was twenty-three as of last week; I was ancient at thirty-two (or so it felt in teacher years). It had been raining diamond rings, and despite my having had bubbly hopes on my own last birthday, the fourth finger of my left hand remained buck naked.

Bridget was talking about save-the-date magnets and paper quality and color schemes and flower arrangements and the seventy-nine dresses she was already torn between. Another woman falling victim to wedding insanity. Bridget was an only child from wealthy parents. This did not bode well for me, her sort-of friend. Was it too late to distance myself? Please don't ask me to be a bridesmaid. Please. Please. I am way too old for this shit.

"My daddy said whatever I want, and I want it to be perfect, you know?" Bridget looked at me, and I felt the cold trickle of dread. "Sadie, obviously I want you as a bridesmaid." Her pure green eyes filled with happy tears.

Oh, the fuckery of it all.

"Of course!" I said. "Thank you! What an honor!" My cheek began to twitch as I smiled.

"And you, Nina! And you, Vanessa! And of course, Jay's three sisters and my gals from Kappa Kappa Gamma. And my cousin, because she's like a sister to me. Do you like violet? Or cornflower? Off the shoulder, I was thinking, but I think my dress might be off the shoulder and . . ." I stopped listening as she began speaking in tongues intelligible only to those addicted to Say Yes to the Dress.

This was not my first time around the bridesmaid block. Bridget's would be my sixth stint, and I knew what was coming. Engagement party. Bridal shower. Dress shopping for Bridget. Dress shopping for me and the other eleventeen bridesmaids. A lingerie shower. A household goods shower. Meeting(s) of the families. Bachelorette weekend in some city that caters to large groups of drunken people-New Orleans or Vegas or Savannah, which meant a flight and hotel. Rehearsal dinner. The wedding itself. Brunch the next day. All with or without Alexander Mitchum, my boyfriend, who had not yet proposed, despite his references to a future together, his onetime question about if I'd think about changing my last name from Frost to Mitchum-"hypothetically," he'd added-and the deliberate slowing of my footsteps whenever we passed Cartier on Fifth Avenue.

"You don't have to say yes, idiot," came a low voice next to me. Carter Demming, my best friend at St. Catherine's.

"She's sweet," I murmured back.

"Oh, please. Let her sorority sisters be her bridesmaids. Show some dignity for your age."

"I'm thirty-two."

"Your most fertile years are behind you."

"Thanks, Carter."

"Miss Frost? I need you for a second," Carter said loudly. "Mazel tov, sweetheart," he added as Bridget brushed away more glittering tears.

We left Bridget's cheery classroom and went to the now-empty teachers' lounge, where we teachers discussed which kids we hated most and how to ruin their young lives (not really). Carter posted the occasional Legalize Marijuana sticker somewhere, just to torment our principal, the venerable and terrifying Sister Mary.

I was the art teacher here. No, I could not support myself on a teacher's salary at a Catholic school in New York City, but more on that later. I loved teaching, though it hadn't exactly been my dream. Just about every kid loved art. If I didn't have the same stature as the "regular" teachers, I made up for it by being adored.

"So you're thinking about marriage and why you're still single," said Carter, pulling out a chair and straddling it.

"Yep." I sat down, too, the normal way, like a human and not a cowboy.

"So propose already."

"What?"

"Propose marriage to your perfect boyfriend."

"Meh."

"Why should men have to do all the work? Do you know how hard it is to buy the perfect ring, pick the perfect moment and place, say the perfect words and still have it be a fucking surprise? It's very hard."

"You would know." Carter had been married several times, twice to women, once to a man.

"Listen to your uncle Carter."

"You're not my uncle, unfortunately."

"Some men need a shove toward the altar, honey. Shove him. Do you really want to go out into the Tinder world again?"

"Jesus, no."

"Don't become a statistic. Kids are getting married younger and younger these days. Your window is closing. Match and eHarmony worked fifteen years ago, but now they're filled with criminals. As you well know."

"He was a minor felon, and it wasn't exactly listed in his profile. But yes, I see your point."

Alexander (not a felon) and I had been dating for a couple of years. Ours had been the classic rom-com meet-cute. I turned around on a wine night with my friends and sloshed my cabernet onto his crisp white shirt. He laughed, asked for my number, and called a few days later. We'd been together ever since.

We had a marriage-worthy relationship by any measure. Maybe it was the distance factor-he was a traveling yacht salesman (someone had to do it)-so we weren't bothered by the slings and arrows of daily life together. He was constant-we saw each other almost every weekend. He brought me presents from his travels-a silk scarf printed with palmetto leaves from the Florida Keys, or honey from Savannah. He'd met my parents, charmed my mother (not an easy task), chatted with my father and wasn't in awe of my older sister, which was definitely a point in his favor. Alex had great stories about his clients, some of them celebrities, others just fabulously wealthy. He was, er . . . tidy, a quality that shouldn't be undersold.

Alexander lived on the Upper East Side, which I tried not to hold against him. His apartment was impressive but soulless. Every time I stayed over, I felt like I was staying in a model home-a place that was interesting and tasteful, but not exactly homey. He'd bought it furnished. Some of his art came from HomeGoods, and since I'd been-correction, was still-an artist, that did make me wince.

Sex was great. He was good-looking-his hair a shade I called boarding school blond, which would get nearly white in the summer. His eyes were blue and already had the attractive crow's-feet you'd expect for a guy who sold boats. In a nutshell, he looked like he'd stepped out of a J. Crew catalog, and why he was dating me, I wasn't a hundred percent sure. "You have no idea how hard it is to find a nice girl," he said once, so I guess it was that.

But I wasn't really a girl anymore, not like Bridget. Already past my prime fertility years, according to Uncle Carter, who did tend to know everything.

"Hello?" he said, scratching his wrist. "Sadie. You're in vapor lock. Make a move."

Another fair point. I'd been at St. Cath's for eight years, painting on the side, living in a nine-hundred-square-foot apartment in Times Square, the armpit of Manhattan. "Yeah," I said. "Sure. I could do it. We're seeing each other tonight."

"See? Written in the stars." He winked at me. "Now, I have to go wash the grime from these little motherfuckers off me because I have a date. A sex date, I want you to know."

"I don't want to know."

"Josh Foreman," he said, referring to the security guard who worked at St. Cath's.

"Please stop."

"His hands are so soft. That smile. Plus, he screams like a wildcat in bed."

"And . . . scene." I brought my hands together, indicating cut. Carter grinned and left the teachers' lounge.

More evidence of Alexander's plans to marry me someday flashed through my head. Once he'd said, "Margaret's a nice name for a girl, don't you think? I wouldn't mind a daughter named Margaret." Another: "We should look at property on the Maine coast for a summer place. It's so beautiful up there. And Portland has a great art scene."

Maybe it was time for me to take action. Juliet, my sister, older by almost twelve years, enjoyed lecturing me on how I floated through life, in contrast to her color-coded, laminated lists for How to Be Perfect and Have Everything. (I jest, but not by much.)

It was just that when I pictured being married, it was never to Alexander.

The vision of a black-haired, dark-eyed boy standing in the gusty breeze came to mind. My own version of Jon Snow, clad in Carhartt instead of wolfskin.

But Noah and I had tried. Tried and failed, more than once, and that was a long time ago.

Carter was right. Why wait? Alexander and I had been together long enough, we had a good thing going, we both wanted kids (sort of, maybe). We weren't getting any younger. I loved him, he loved me, we got along so well it was almost spooky.

Bridget's bumblebee ring flashed in my mind. Call me shallow, but I wanted a big diamond, too. My materialism ended there. (Or not . . . Was it too soon to picture buying a brownstone in the Village? Alexander was loaded, after all. As for a wedding, we could elope. No color schemes or Pinterest boards necessary.)

He was due in around four, depending on traffic. Where was a romantic place in New York in January? It was freakishly mild today-thanks, global warming!-so maybe down on the Hudson as the sun set? The High Line was pretty, and I could go to Chelsea Market and buy some nice cheese and wine. We could watch the sunset and I'd just say it: "I love you. Marry me and make me the happiest woman on earth." And the tourists and hipsters who frequented the High Line would applaud and take pictures and we'd probably go viral.

I imagined calling my dad tonight. He'd be so happy. Maybe we wouldn't elope, because I wanted my father to walk me down the aisle. Fine. A small wedding, then. I'd wear a white dress that Carter could help me pick out. Brianna and Sloane could be my flower girls, even if they were a little old for that. I was their only aunt, so may as well. Plus, it would make my prickly mom happy.

Yes. I'd propose tonight, and enter the next phase of my life, where I was sure Alexander and I would be very, very content.


As luck would have it, the temperature took a plunge, as weather in the Northeast is cruel and fickle. What had been sixty-two was the low forties by the time Alexander met me in front of the Standard, an odd-looking hotel that straddled the High Line. ÒGod, itÕs freezing,Ó he said as the wind blew through us. ÒI found a parking spot on Tenth, but I didnÕt know it would be this cold.Ó

"Oh, it's not so bad!" I said. I had a plan, and I was sticking to it. "Just brisk! The sunset will be gorgeous." Or it wouldn't. There was only one other couple who seemed to be sightseeing, everyone else hunched against the weather and hurrying to wherever New Yorkers hurry.

"Christ. I didn't dress for this." Alexander wore a brown leather jacket over a blue oxford shirt and bulky sweater, khakis and expensive leather shoes. I'd dressed to be beautiful-pretty black knit dress, hair in a ponytail (now being undone by the wind), the necklace he'd given me for Christmas and a cute red leather jacket that did nothing to keep me warm. Should've worn pants. And a parka.

"Well, come on," I said. "We don't have to stay too long. It'll be fun."

He followed me down the sidewalk, past clumps of grass and dead flower bushes. Come spring, this most elegant of New York's parks would be filled with color and life, but as it was, it was a little, uh, barren.

Shit. Well, I'd make it quick. "Sunset's in ten minutes," I said.

"I'll be dead by then."

"I'll revive your cold, hard corpse. Or at least give it a really strong attempt, then go into the Standard and drown my sorrows at the bar."

He laughed, and my heart swelled a bit. He really was a good, kind person. Great husband material. Never too demanding, always cheerful . . . the opposite of Noah, which was probably no coincidence, and I shouldn't be thinking of Noah, I reminded myself. I glanced at the other couple. Would they film us when I got down on one knee? Also, should I get down on one knee? These were my only black tights.

"I cannot believe you're saying this!" Ah. They were fighting. Not a great sign.

I really wanted the light of the sunset to spill onto us, which it would in about six minutes. Being a painter who had once loved skyscapes, I was an expert on natural light. "How was your day, hon?" I asked, trying to kill time.

"Oh, fine," he said, putting his arm around me. "Pretty sure I nailed down a sale to a hedge fund guy. He wants it made from scratch, of course." He detailed the many requirements this guy had for his boat-private master deck, helipad, indoor garden, sauna, steam room and gym.

"So just a little wooden boat to paddle around in, then," I said.

He smiled. "It's a living. Are we about done, babe? I'm starving."

"I bought cheese." I pulled the block out of my bag. Shit. We'd have to bite right into it, since I didn't have a knife.

"Hon. It's forty degrees out here. Maybe thirty-five. It's supposed to snow tonight."

"It's not so bad. See? That other couple's brave. Plus, we're Yankees. This is practically summer."

He glanced at the other couple. "They have winter coats on."

They did, both dressed in those down coats with patches that announced them as explorers of Antarctica. The woman crossed her puffy arms. "Are you shitting me, Dallas?" she practically yelled.






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