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The best of enemies, p.1
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       The Best of Enemies, p.1

           Jen Lancaster
 
The Best of Enemies


  Other Titles by New York Times Bestselling Author

  JEN LANCASTER

  Bitter Is the New Black

  Bright Lights, Big Ass

  Such a Pretty Fat

  Pretty in Plaid

  My Fair Lazy

  If You Were Here

  Jeneration X

  Here I Go Again

  The Tao of Martha

  Twisted Sister

  I Regret Nothing

  New American Library

  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 375 Hudson Street,

  New York, New York 10014

  USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China

  penguin.com

  A Penguin Random House Company

  First published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC

  Copyright © Altgeld Shrugged, Inc., 2015

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

  REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA

  LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA:

  Lancaster, Jen, 1967–

  The best of enemies/Jen Lancaster.

  p. cm.

  ISBN 978-0-698-16699-8

  I. Title.

  PS3612.A54748B47 2015

  813’.6—dc23 2015005844

  PUBLISHER’S NOTE

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Version_1

  For Laurie (and not just because it’s your turn)

  A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.

  —Oscar Wilde

  Love your enemies, for they tell you your faults.

  —Benjamin Franklin

  A strong foe is better than a weak friend.

  —Edward Dahlberg

  CONTENTS

  Other Titles by Jen Lancaster

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Epigraph

  Prologue

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

  CHAPTER ONE

  COMMENTS FOR SECRETSQUASH.COM

  Posted by AllHailHelenThomas on 9/1/14 at 2:24 a.m.:

  What’s the purpose of this Web site? Am I witnessing an elaborate piece of performance art, meant to highlight the phenomenon of helicopter parenting? If not, what manner of Kabuki Theater is this? What would prompt you to resort to such chicanery to feed vegetables to your children? Why not simply model good eating habits for your children in the expectation they’ll follow suit? Certainly that method seems less time prohibitive/exhausting than crafting an entire Red Velvet cake made from pureed beets and broccoli. Consider throwing a little Velveeta on your kids’ veggies and calling it a day . . . instead of spending every moment documenting the minutiae of your wasted life.

  North Shore, Illinois

  September 2014

  “Ashley, I so appreciate your volunteering to be Second Grade Snack Mom today. Bless your heart for diving right in!”

  I grin broadly, for two reasons—First, to demonstrate how very welcome second wife/stepmother Ashley should feel as the newest member of the Lakeside Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization. Second, when I’m (frequently) complimented on my dazzling smile, I can refer my admirers to my husband, Kenneth “Dr. K” Carricoe, North Shore’s premiere cosmetic dentist!

  “Um, thanks, Katherine!” Ashley fidgets with the hem of her abbreviated silk shorts, constructed from fabric as thin as tissue paper. How was this garment her home run swing in deciding appropriate garb for Snack Mom duty? Granted, today’s unseasonably hot, but most of the other mothers at drop-off this morning were clad in gauzy tunic tops or sundresses, save for new-money Brooke Birchbaum in her obnoxious English riding gear.

  (Oh, honey. I let everyone know I had a pony once, too.)

  (When I was seven.)

  In no way does Ashley fit the mold of the typical Lakesider mother. Around here, we don our Jack Rogers sandals when it’s warm and Wellies when the weather turns. While we don’t quite “wear pink on Wednesdays,” you can certainly see it from here. Expressing one’s individuality through fashion is for artists or anyone with the bad fortune of living west of Green Valley Road. No one would dare show up in stiletto ankle booties, particularly paired with itsy bitsy gossamer shorts.

  To give Ashley credit, her legs are gorgeous, with long, toned muscles and the kind of smooth, unblemished skin that becomes a distant memory after pregnancy varicose veins take hold. In theory, I understand why she’d opt to highlight this feature. That she’s parading said lovely legs around in a pair of hot pants in front of a group of elementary school students is certainly none of my concern.

  I mean, my goodness, am I the PTO president or the Taliban?

  Still, I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that a mother’s shorts should be more “Bermuda” and less “booty.” Forgive me if I choose to live in the old-fashioned, bras-are-not-optional world, where wax is meant for Volvos, not vulvas.

  Ooh, I’m so bad!

  Wax for Volvos—I make a mental note to share this witticism with my best friend, Betsy. She loves it when I spill my PTO war stories. She says hearing about everyone’s terrible parenting reinforces her decision not to have children. But I’m confident she’ll change her mind about babies eventually. While she and her hubby, Trip, may be on the Forbes 400 Richest Americans list, she’ll never be truly wealthy until she has children.

  “Oh, sweetie,” I reply, placing a comforting hand on Ashley’s bare shoulder (a halter top? really?). “All my friends call me Kitty.”

  Ashley doesn’t have any tan lines on her back, so I assume the rumors of nude sunbathing on a public beach during her French Riviera honeymoon are true. Yikes! Maybe once when I was young, free, and newlywed, I might have been tempted, but breastfeeding three babies has neatly taken that option off the table. I refer you again to my bras-are-not-optional statement.

  As we size each other up, Ashley toys with her massive diamond ring. My, my, but that’s an elaborate set. Her brilliant Asscher-cut center stone—easily three carats—would be magnificent on its own, but hers is surrounded by a dozen round emeralds, set in a wedding band made from three wide strips of braided pavé platinum. I feel like I need my sunglasses to even look at it.

  Naturally, diamonds are any girl’s best
friend, but we Lakeside moms know there’s a distinct line between classy and gaudy. Ashley’s definitely Krossed into Kardashian Kountry with that sparkly bauble. I much prefer the modest solitaire Dr. K gave me when he was still in dental school at UIC.

  I surreptitiously compare our hands. My jewelry—simple wedding set on the left and a family signet ring on the right—is appropriate, which is key in a community where fitting in is always the new black. My fingers are topped with short, neat, square nails, finished with Deborah Lippmann’s Sandy Camel polish that Allure just named a Fall 2014 Must Have.

  Hands like mine are made for soothing, for detecting fevers with far more accuracy than any thermometer, for rubbing pajama-clad backs in the middle of the night after a bad dream, for helping sweet little fingers peel a clementine, and for precisely applying sequins on a homemade burlap Father’s Day banner. With precariously long, rhinestone-studded French tips, Ashley’s are more suited to . . . oh, I don’t know, maybe holding dollar bills in a rap video?

  Betsy, you’re in for a treat when I recount this conversation!

  Mental note—get ahold of Betsy. We’re both so swamped that we don’t chat nearly enough these days, even though we live practically within walking distance. But who has time for a walk? I mean, her life is completely insane between running Well Well Well, better known as W3, the nonprofit she founded to bring clean drinking water to developing nations, and keeping up with the demands of being the country’s top wealth manager’s wife. So many obligations! For me, between manning the PTO, raising my Littles, and updating SecretSquash.com (not to brag, but it’s an ultra-popular lifestyle blog), I barely have a minute to run a load of laundry!

  Still, I have to make time to give her a buzz and chat like we did in the old days. In college, we’d sit down in the basement of our sorority house on Sunday mornings, shaking our heads at all the girls sneaking in the back door after their Walks of Shame. (Some sisters never understood that saving it till pinned is the difference between being a Sigma Chi Sweetheart and a Sigma Chi Slam-piece. Fact.) Bets and I would hang out with a two-liter of Diet Coke and chitchat about everyone’s Saturday nights until the bottle was empty. Then we’d trot on over to the White Hen, stock up, and start all over again. We were so close, our Tri Tau sisters gave us the Best Besties Award three years in a row!

  I wonder where Ashley went to college?

  Skank State University?

  Seriously, Bets gets such a kick out of me! She knows I’m never one to judge . . . which is too bad, because I do it so well. Now, I have to wonder—how does this Ashley person possibly expect to help her stepchildren with craft projects sporting talons like that? Imagine how much glitter gets stuck underneath them.

  Must have been so hard for her when she worked the main stage.

  Ha! I’m terrible!

  Ashley chirps, “Okay, Kitty—what a cute nickname?”

  Dear, dear Ashley—nothing says “not yet an adult” more than ending every statement on an up note, as though you’re unsure of your own power. A lack of conviction is going to bite her in the booty-shorts real flipping quick. Her stepchildren will eat her for lunch if she doesn’t begin to exercise confidence in her authority over them. I mean, Barry Jr. showed up for school today in Pokémon pajama pants and his little sister, Caitlin, wore a tutu. A tutu! Does no one in that home own a pair of corduroys? Believe me, this nonsense would have never happened on their mother’s watch.

  Of course, I overheard Ms. Bevin, the kindergarten teacher with the long, brittle gray hair and tenuous relationship with foundation garments, calling Caitlin’s tutu “groovy.” No great shock there. I began to question Ms. Bevin’s judgment the moment I realized she drove an electric car. Not a hybrid, which makes sense. I firmly believe in going green. That’s why I always carry my own shopping bags in the back of my new Escalade. But Ms. Bevin’s car? She drives an honest-to-God, plug-your-extension-cord-in-here, hog-up-all-the-best-parking-spots-at-Whole-Foods electric car.

  I truly don’t get it.

  Ashley continues. “Well, Kitty, I was so nervous about bringing the right snack? I mean, I’m really just getting to know Barry’s kids and I didn’t want to embarrass Barry Jr. by giving the wrong thing to his class?”

  Barry Goldman.

  Barry, Barry, Barry.

  Your ex-wife, Lenora, was a saint and the best PTO volunteer imaginable. Her gluten-free, sugar-free, nut-free, dairy-free, wheat-free muffins were the largest revenue-generator in the history of the Lakeside bake sale. (Screw you and your store-bought Cronuts, Brooke Birchbaum.) Or what about the time Lenora chaperoned three separate class trips, all in one day? Masterful time management! And, my God, that woman could inflate balloons like a professional birthday party clown. She single-handedly built that bubble arch two years ago at the Children’s Carnival of Creativity. When she ran out of helium, she used nothing but the power of her own lungs to soldier through. That’s what I call heroic.

  But no one remembers Lenora’s fine work. Instead, all they can talk about is Lenora’s involvement in that sordid incident in front of the school, right before she abandoned the family and ran off to Albuquerque to open a hot yoga studio.

  On the day in question, I’d already pulled away—exactly as the rules dictate, for it’s up to me to set an example—when Lenora apparently snapped. Rumor has it she shrieked, “THE DROP ZONE IS FOR LOADING AND UNLOADING ONLY, BITCHES!” before she rammed her Honda Odyssey smack into Merritt Wilhelm and Brooke Birchbaum, who were blocking the exit by having an extended conversation in the middle of the street.

  Publicly I condemned Lenora’s actions, but privately I admired her dedication to keeping traffic flowing; it was about time that certain mothers learned the rules did indeed apply to them, too. (And, please, Brooke barely even needed that neck brace. Hel-lo, drama queen alert!)

  Ashley continues. “With snacks? I thought back to what I liked as a kid and went with that?”

  I nod encouragingly. The good news is we’ll save scads of time because she doesn’t have to delve too deep into the archives to remember her childhood preferences. I mean, when was she in grade school? Last week?

  Ooh, Bets, I am on fire!

  “I remember one summer vacay, me and my brothers drank nothing but Hawaiian Punch? We had those funny red mustaches for three months!” Ashley tells me. Her eyes are bright and shimmering and there’s a light spray of freckles across the bridge of her alabaster nose, making her look even younger than she actually is.

  So, pretty much embryonic.

  “What a charming story!” I gush. I’m famous within Lakeside for my enthusiasm. Because of me, the school board revoked term limits on the PTO presidency and I’ve served four consecutive terms thus far. I’m basically their FDR. And if certain board members received free ZOOM! Whitening treatments in exchange for their votes?

  Well, it’s for the children.

  “What a treat! Isn’t it darling that all the Littles have those same cute mustaches right now?”

  I have to stop myself from sighing. Every day, calling my babies “Littles” feels less and less appropriate. I mean, Kord’s now a high school freshman and Konnor’s started middle school. Sunrise, sunset, eh? Kassie’s only in second grade, but I worry that I’ll blink and she’ll suddenly be slut-shaming sisters in her own sorority house. Tear!

  I’d really love to have more kids, particularly since we started so young. Dr. K was in only his second year of dental school when Kord was born. (Related note, the failure rate for birth control pills is six percent. Ask me how I know.) As is, we’ll be empty nesters in ten years! I always wonder aloud what we’ll do with all that time, while Dr. K replies, “What won’t we do?”

  I’ve been on a campaign to convince him we should have another child, but he’s resolute. On paper, the decision to be finished makes sense, yet I hate the idea I’ll never breathe in my own newborn babies’ scent ag
ain, which smells like the sweetest vanilla powdered sugar doughnuts you could imagine. (My husband insists he prefers a new car smell.) Plus, what happens in a few years when Kassie finishes at Lakeside? Who’ll run the PTO then? Merritt Wilhelm, mother to the nose-picking-est brood to ever attend Lakeside?

  I don’t think so.

  Ashley beams at me and that’s when I notice the gap between her Maxillary Central Incisors. Why would Barry pour all that cash into a skating rink of an engagement ring before fixing Ashley up with a couple of veneers? Everyone knows a bright smile is the best accessory. Priorities, people!

  I realize I’m not paying Ashley proper attention, having been distracted by baby fever, so I refocus. After all, being present in the moment is on the Carricoe Family’s Always Always list.

  “Right?” Ashley says, referring to the little red mustaches. She’s clearly delighted that I seem to be taking her side.

  Seem to be is the operative term here.

  “Hawaiian Punch was a creative and exotic choice for the beverage portion of snack time! The Littles went bananas! Why, do you realize that many of the children in the class have never even tasted anything made with high fructose corn syrup or Red Dye number forty?”

  Ashley’s (imperfect) smile falters. “Did . . . did I make a mistake?”

  Hold the phone, what’s this?

  Do I detect a glimmer of self-awareness beneath all that body shimmer?

  I honestly didn’t predict that outcome. I’m so used to having to argue with these ninnies, particularly Brooke Birchbaum. Her husband’s a senior VP for a certain processed-foods company and she won’t shut up about how corn syrup is “just like table sugar!” Oh, honey—is that what you have to tell yourself every time you spend your sweet, sweet blood money on yet another exotic vacation or new Berber carpeting for your McMansion?

  I appraise Ashley. Yes, she’s in her twenties, but by that same token, she possesses a youthful exuberance sorely lacking in so many of the other mothers in Kassie’s class.

 
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