The Friends We Keep (Mischief Bay)

By: Susan Mallery

In this insightful and compelling story from book club favorite Susan Mallery, three close friends test the boundaries of how much a woman can give before she has nothing left

After five years as a stay-at-home mom, Gabby Schaefer can’t wait to return to work. Oh, to use the bathroom in peace! No twins clamoring at the door, no husband barging in, no stepdaughter throwing a tantrum. But when her plans are derailed by some shocking news and her husband’s crushing expectations, Gabby must fight for the right to have a life of her own.

Getting pregnant is easy for Hayley Batchelor. Staying pregnant is the hard part. Her husband is worried about the expensive fertility treatments and frantic about the threat to her health. But to Hayley, a woman who was born to be a mom should risk everything to fulfill her destiny—no matter how high the cost.

Nicole Lord is still shell-shocked by a divorce that wasn’t as painful as it should’ve been. Other than the son they share, her ex-husband left barely a ripple in her life. A great new guy tempts her to believe maybe the second time’s the charm…but how can she trust herself to recognize true love?

As their bonds of friendship deepen against the beautiful backdrop of Mischief Bay, Gabby, Hayley and Nicole will rely on good food, good wine and especially each other to navigate life’s toughest changes.

Chapter One

Was it wrong to want to pee alone? Gabriella Schaefer considered the question for maybe the four hundredth time in the past couple of months. In truth, she loved everything about her life. Her husband, her five-year-old twin daughters, her pets, her house. All of it was an amazing gift. She got that. She’d been blessed. But every now and then...okay, at least once a day, she desperately wanted to be able to go to the bathroom, like a normal person. To sit down and pee. Undisturbed.

Not with someone pushing open the door to complain that she was hungry or that Kenzie had taken her doll. Not with Andrew wandering in, a pair of socks in each hand, to ask her which one was the better choice. Not with a pink-toed cat paw stretching under the door or a basset hound moaning softly on the other side, begging to be let in. Alone. Oh, to be alone for those thirty or forty seconds. To actually be able to finish and flush and wash her hands by herself.

Gabby signaled as she got into the left lane, then slowed to wait for her turn. Fifty-seven days, she reminded herself. She had fifty-seven days until the twins started kindergarten and she went back to work. Sure, it was only going to be part-time, but still. It would be magical. And what she would never share with anyone was that she was most excited about being able to pee by herself.

“What’s so funny?” Kenzie asked from the backseat. “Why are you smiling?”

“Are you telling a joke?” Kennedy asked. “Can I know?”

Because at their age, they were all about the questions, Gabby thought, keeping her gaze firmly on the road. When there was a break in the oncoming traffic, she turned into the parking lot and drove toward the end of the strip mall. There were still a couple of spots directly in front of Supper’s in the Bag. She pulled into one and turned off her SUV’s engine.

“I’m thinking funny thoughts,” she told her girls. “I don’t have any jokes.”

Kennedy wrinkled her nose. “Okay.”

Her voice was laced with disappointment. Both girls knew that what grown-ups thought was funny and what was really funny were usually two different things.

Gabby grabbed her handbag—a small cross-body with an extra-long strap—and got out of the car. She walked to the rear driver’s-side door and opened it.

“Ready?” she asked.

Both girls nodded. They were already undoing the safety straps on their car seats.

Getting them out of their seats was never the problem. Getting them into them was another matter. Despite the fact that the seats were rated for kids up to sixty pounds, both girls wanted booster seats rather than their car seats. Car seats were for babies, she’d been informed several times already. The fact that car seats were safer didn’t seem to be making an impact on the discussion.

She and Andrew were going to have to figure out a better strategy, she thought as she helped Kennedy jump to the ground. Kenzie followed. Gabby couldn’t keep having the same fight every day. Plus the arguments were taking longer and she was having to build an extra five or ten minutes into her routine just to get to appointments on time.

The problem was both girls took after their father, she thought humorously. He was a highly skilled sales executive with the gift of verbal charm. Even at five, the twins were starting to try to talk themselves out of being in trouble.

“Is Tyler going to be here?” Kennedy asked.

Gabby brushed the girl’s hair out of her eyes. Her blond bangs needed trimming. Again. “He is.”

The girls cheered. Tyler, her friend Nicole’s son, was six and soon to be in the first grade. In the eyes of two girls who were excited and a little nervous about kindergarten, Tyler was very much a man of the world. He knew things and they both adored him.

Gabby reached past the troublemaking car seats for the empty tote bags that came with her membership. The bright green bags were covered with the Supper’s in the Bag logo. Every two weeks she joined a couple of her friends for a three-hour session at Supper’s in the Bag and when she left, she would have six meals for her family. Meals that could be thrown in the oven or grilled on the barbecue. They were seasoned, portioned and ready to be prepared.

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