Always the Last to Know

Always the Last to Know

by Kristan Higgins

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Overview

Sometimes you have to break a family to fix it.

From New York Times bestselling author Kristan Higgins, a new novel examining a family at the breaking point in all its messy, difficult, wonderful complexity.


The Frosts are a typical American family. Barb and John, married almost fifty years, are testy and bored with each other...who could blame them after all this time? At least they have their daughters-- Barb's favorite, the perfect, brilliant Juliet; and John's darling, the free-spirited Sadie. The girls themselves couldn't be more different, but at least they got along, more or less. It was fine. It was enough.

Until the day John had a stroke, and their house of cards came tumbling down.

Now Sadie has to put her career as a teacher and struggling artist in New York on hold to come back and care for her beloved dad--and face the love of her life, whose heart she broke, and who broke hers. Now Juliet has to wonder if people will notice that despite her perfect career as a successful architect, her perfect marriage to a charming Brit, and her two perfect daughters, she's spending an increasing amount of time in the closet having panic attacks.

And now Barb and John will finally have to face what's been going on in their marriage all along.

From the author of Good Luck with That and Life and Other Inconveniences comes a new novel of heartbreaking truths and hilarious honesty about what family really means.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451489463
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/09/2020
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 405
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

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.

Read an Excerpt

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.

Reading Group Guide

Readers Guide
Always the Last to Know by Kristan Higgins

Questions for Discussion

1. Relationships take a lot of compromise, and we can see Noah demonstrating this when he tries to live in New York for Sadie. Sadie also compromises, telling him to go back home when it’s clear he’s unhappy in the city she loves. For the sake of their relationship, do you think Sadie should have compromised the lifestyle she always wanted, or do you agree that they were too young at that point to make such large sacrifices?

2. What is the right time to adjust your dreams for someone else? The author makes no secret that Sadie and Noah love each other, but neither feels at home in the other’s world. Do you think one of them should have bent a little more, or do you think they made the right choices? (Also, how unromantic were Noah’s marriage proposals?)

3. Were you surprised with Barb’s decision in the end, despite everything that happened and went wrong in her and John’s marriage? Why do you think she chose what she did? What do you think about her view on marriage as opposed to what John’s actions told us about his?

4. Juliet has a memorable visit to a plastic surgeon. We’ve all felt the pressure to look or act a certain way because of our age or what society deems appropriate or good. Can you think of a particular circumstance in which this happened? How did you handle it?

5. Have you ever felt the way Juliet did: that the window was closing on your chances, or that you’d aged out of an opportunity? What did you think of Arwen? Is she arrogant or just confident? Juliet is careful never to stoop to gossiping or complaining about Arwen, yet her confusion is obvious. Have you been in a similar situation?

6. How could both John and Barb have done things differently to understand each other and keep their marriage happy? They’re not happy for a long time, but do you think they’re just accustomed to the status quo? Do you know any long-married couples who seem to be getting things right? What are some keys to a long, happy relationship, or is that a myth?

7. One of the many types of relationships we see in this novel is the co-parenting relationship between Noah and Mickey. Though they aren’t romantically involved, their relationship is one of the most functional partnerships in the book. How do you think they make it work? Do you think this kind of relationship could work for you?

8. The theme of not being good enough is prevalent in this book, including feelings of not being a good mom, partner or artist. Can you relate to any of the insecurities that the characters feel? Do you tackle these insecurities head-on or ignore them and hope better days are ahead? Everyone feels insecure or inadequate at some point in their lives. What are some positive ways to deal with that?

9. Caro and Barb have such a close, loving and unconditional friendship that truly makes them soul mates. How does it differ from Barb’s relationship with John? What do you think are the key factors that brought Caro and Barb together and make their relationship work? How are the women different, and how are they the same? Who is your oldest or closest friend? What makes your friendship special?

10. Do you think reading John’s perspective throughout the book made you a little more forgiving toward him? How might you have felt had the author decided to include only the Frost women’s points of view?

11. In what ways do Juliet and her daughters’ relationships reflect her own mother’s relationships with Juliet and Sadie? What do you think of Juliet and Barb as mothers? If you’re a mother yourself, have you struggled with one child more than another?

12. The Frost women are quite different from one another. To whom do you relate the most? Can you see yourself in all of them?

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