The color of the sky matched the water, today more oyster than leaden. It had been overcast on almost every one of the ferry trips she’d ever taken, and she’d come to associate gray with vacationing as people do navy with sailing or pink with baby girls. Gray was the shingled house they rented and the darkly opaque waves outside its windows. It was the sweatshirts the kids threw on over their bathing suits, and the steamers she ate several times a week dipped in dun-colored broth. Gray represented freedom from ordinary time, and gray was the uniform of the cavalry riding in, the child-care cavalry, since Chris was with them most of the time.
In a marriage certain things become predictable, certain signals and routines, and Kate felt the women’s magazines had it wrong when they wrote off predictability as a bad thing. Questions and answers are conveyed in a shorthand of touch so that no one’s feelings need be hurt with mixed messages. A hand on the shoulder means one thing, a hand on the lower back, another; a glancing kiss on the cheek, goodnight, but a half-second longer, not goodnight. Even an old tank top could have a translation. Not goodnight.
The beach was quiet in the late afternoon. Chris sat in the chair and watched the kids with an expression of satisfaction. “Man, I love it here.”

Chris was a man easily contented. It wasn’t that he was simple or easy-going, because he was not; he was irritated by people who stood in the way of his goals, and people who made things more complicated than they had to be. But he recognized small pleasures, appreciated things gone right, and basked in the moment rather than focusing on what should be or hadn’t been.
For years, traveling as a family had been something undertaken with determination, their agility weighed by bulky gear and days defined by naps, meals, moods. It had seemed as if those years would last forever, though a small part of her wished they would. Memories of even the difficult times—children crying themselves to exhaustion in cars, planes, hotels—were beginning to take on the cast of nostalgia. She had watched them fall asleep at last, puffy mouths gone slack, with equal parts relief and heartbreak. They would never, she’d thought, be as fully hers as they were at that moment of surrender.

“Hey man,” said Chris, reaching out to give Jonah a high-five. When his hand remained stranded in the air, he dropped it and ruffled the boy’s hair instead. How’s it going?”

“Good.” Jonah squinted up at him in the late-afternoon light. The emptiness where his front teeth had been bore the serrated edges of new growth. “Did you know my mom is dead?”

Chris’ hand went still on the boy’s head, and Dave looked down at the floor. Kate waited for Dave to say something soothing to his son, or something to them to indicate that this was not uncommon, just part of the process. He continued to study the wooden threshold, curling his bare toes on the floorboards.

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ummer on the island was supposed to be a restorative time for Kate, who'd lost her close friend Elizabeth in a sudden accident. But when she inherits a trunk of Elizabeth's journals, they reveal a woman far different than the cheerful wife and mother Kate had known, and the complicated truth of where she was really going when she died.

Set in the anxious summer after the September 11th attacks, this story of two women —their friendship, their marriages, private ambitions and fears — considers the aspects of ourselves we show and those we conceal, and the repercussions of our choices. 

Read the first chapter


The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.: A Novel

I loved this bittersweet novel, which manages to be both a compelling mystery and a wise meditation on friendship, marriage and motherhood in an age of great anxiety. Bernier will have you thinking about her characters long after you've turned the final page.