February 23, 2016
Mischief Bay, Book No. 2Reissued: December 27, 2016
Three friends test the boundaries of how much a woman can give before she has nothing left.
In this insightful and compelling story from bookclub 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 Hayley believes a woman who was born to be a mom should risk everything to fulfill her destiny--no matter the cost.
Nicole Lord is still shell-shocked by a divorce that wasn't as painful as it should've been. Other than her adorable son, her ex's departure barely left a ripple in their lives. 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 on each other-as they navigate life's toughest changes...together.
"Another terrific read from Susan Mallery! 'The Friends We Keep' is very highly recommended."
Midwest Book Review
One of the most anticipated romances of 2016! "Three friends deal with the pains of love and loss in Mallery’s latest trip to Mischief Bay."
"Gabby, Haley, and Nicole are down-to-earth real women with whom readers will be able to identify, and Mallery successfully balances each story line. The women's stories and the depth of support they provide one another make this an engaging read to be savored all the way through."
[A]n intersecting tale of the ties that bind and strangle...a novel about the relationships among women, friends, sisters, mothers, daughters, and stepchildren, with a strongly woven romantic subplot.
Julie M. Reffner, Library Journal
"Highly original and fascinating page-turner... Mallery brings our inner lives to the surface and evokes deep emotions from her readers."
Jenny Falcone, RT Book Reviews
Mallery returns to Mischief Bay with another set of friends dealing with dramatic yet relatable turmoil, which she treats with compassion, discernment, and subtlety.
5 Stars! "The characters will have you crying, laughing, and falling in love... another brilliantly well-written story"
San Francisco Book Review
"Susan Mallery has been writing multiple character stories for a while now, and I believe has mastered the ability... [She] uses her writing skills to wrap up each story so that when the last page is turned readers are content that each woman has reached a decision that is perfect for them and their families."
Color Me Read
THE FRIENDS WE KEEP is contemporary women's fiction at its finest. The lives of these three women intertwine as they work through the crises that life brings their way. Ms. Mallery always gives us well-developed realistic characters, and we can find a little of ourselves in each of these ladies.
Viki Ferrell, Fresh Fiction
"I laughed, cried, and felt surprised more times than I can count...the perfect combination of marriage issues, friendship, and parenthood."
Life, Army Wife Style
5 Stars! "written with the charm, flair and realism I’ve come to love from [Susan Mallery]...This is a comical and life altering read. I couldn’t put it down from cover to cover."
"There are some authors that just *get* people. They can create characters who are multifaceted yet down-to-earth and then place them in real life situations that readers can fully relate to. For me, Susan Mallery is that type of an author...her character’s happily-ever-after, or even happily-for-now, is hard-won. They earn every precious moment of happiness which makes it that much sweeter."
"This is probably my favorite Mallery book so far!...The Friends We Keep, is top five best book of the year, so far. Books like this one is the reason why I love to read. The characters may be flawed but you bond so deeply with them because of their flaws and you long for them to make the right choices even when you are unsure of what the right choice is. In true Mallery form you are pulling out your hair till the end wondering how each problem is going to be solved."
"The plot seamlessly blends friendship in the story. The lives of the characters are brought together beautifully...I thoroughly enjoyed the strong sense of friendship and integrity in THE FRIENDS WE KEEP."
Bharti C, Fresh Fiction
"I loved how each woman found her voice and her true heart's desires. A great read."
"I loved The Girls of Mischief Bay, so I was thrilled that another book was being published in this series. The Friends We Keep was a great follow-up and left me wanting the series to continue even further...this story produced some tears for me, as well as made me smile."
Chick Lit Central
Grade: A+! "...full of real-life adventures, risks, problems, delights, and relationships. It’ll make you reflect on the good and the bad in yourself and in your life. The Friends We Keep will make you appreciate your life and your friends. It’ll make you cherish the time and the memories you have."
Grade: A "...hits hard with true-to-life stories of challenges that women face in their everyday lives. These challenges, and the inspiring outcomes as women are able to rely on their strong inner core and friendships to balance their own needs and desires with the demands of work and family, should resonate strongly with women readers...a strong piece of work and I just can’t wait for more of it."
Veena, The Good, the Bad, and the Unread
"Susan Mallery writes smart books. Invariably you think the plot line is going in one direction only to switch up at bat—so to speak. It's all part of the wonder of a Susan Mallery book, which makes her so popular with her devoted fan base. In THE FRIENDS WE KEEP Susan Mallery stays true to her style and rewards us with a graceful story... balancing life's angst with joy."
Sandra Wurman, Fresh Fiction
"[Narrator Tanya Eby] gives each of the three women a unique voice as she portrays their different points of view. The poignancy of Hayley's struggles, the humor of Nicole's romance, and the frustrations of Gabby's situation are fully captured. Eby is particularly skilled at narrating the children's voices. Listeners will find themselves rooting for all three woman."
5 Stars! "This was my first Susan Mallery read; now I see what all the fuss was about... it was exceptional!... The writing was involving, emotive, and engrossing... More please."
Books and Bindings
4.5 Stars! "I count myself a Fool’s Gold fan, but Mallery’s women’s fiction titles rank even higher with me... it is the friendship that links these women in credible and heartwarming ways that is the heart of the book. If you are a reader who appreciates women’s fiction/romance hybrids, I suggest you add this one to your list."
Janga, the Romance Dish
"The Friends We Keep is an amazing emotional read that will warm your heart!"
Abigail Books Addiction
5 Stars! "I really enjoyed reading this book so much so that I nearly refused to put it down. I just needed to know what was going to happen to the three very strong and independent women."
"Finally a book about relationships between good men and good women who are imperfect but not stupid. What a breath of fresh air... You will definitely miss your best friends after reading this one!"
"...a beautiful story of friendship and life, and who we lean on during our times of joy and sorrow."
Book Mama Blog
"The first line of “The Friends We Keep” had me hooked. Any mother can relate to the question: Was it wrong to want to pee alone?'...a great book to take along on a picnic or to the beach...an engaging, enjoyable read."
Colleen Beirne, The Free Lance-Star
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 the most exciting part was that she would finally get 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.
The premise of Supper’s in the Bag was simple. Each session took about three hours. In the large, industrial kitchen-like space were eight stations, each dedicated to a different entrée. By following the clearly marked instructions, you portioned meat, added spices and vegetables into recyclable containers, basically doing whatever was needed to get the meal ready for cooking.
At first Gabby had felt guilty about signing up for the service. She was a stay-at-home mom. Surely she could get her act together enough to cook for her family. And yet, she thought, handing the empty bags to her daughters and then guiding them to the store. The days slipped away from her. Fortunately for her, the owner of Supper’s in the Bag was the sister of a close friend. Telling herself that she was supporting a local business helped with the guilt.
Because Andrew was one of the good guys, he encouraged her to use the service. They went out to dinner at least once a week, so with the six meals she prepped here, that meant she only had to come up with six meals on her own.
The store was big and open, with the kitchen stations set up on the perimeter of the room. Industrial racks filled with pantry items stood in the center area. There was a cash register by the door and shelves for purses and the bags they all brought. The counters were stainless steel, as were the sinks.
To the left was a small seating area where clients could linger and talk, if they wanted. To the right was a small partitioned area that had been painted bright colors and set up with kid-sized tables and chairs. There were a few toys, lots of boxes of crayons and plenty of coloring books. Cecelia, the resident sitter, was already there. The petite, curly-haired college student grinned when she saw the twins.
“I was hoping you two would be by today,” she said, waving at them. “We’re going to have so much fun.”
The twins dropped their tote bags and ran to greet the teen. There were hugs all around.
“Is Tyler coming?” Kenzie asked anxiously.
“He is. I’m sure he and his mom are running late.” Cecelia guided the girls toward a table. “Let’s start on a picture, while your mom gets going on her meals,” she said.
Gabby used the distraction to head for the aprons by the check-in area. She picked up her sheet, telling her which stations she would be using, and in what order.
Supper’s in the Bag wasn’t a unique idea. There were several businesses like it around the country. While Gabby had never been a fan of Morgan, the woman who owned the place, she had to give her kudos for wringing every dollar out of her clients.
Children were welcome for the price of $5 per child per hour. For Gabby, that meant an extra thirty bucks, but it beat having to find a sitter herself. There were wine selections offered with each entrée, available for an extra charge. Gabby guessed the mark-up was a restaurant quality 100%. After-prep wine and appetizers were available, again for a cost.
Morgan’s sister, Gabby’s friend Hayley, came in early several days a week to prep the food. She did much of the dicing and slicing, the opening of spice bottles and tomato cans. Gabby happened to know that Hayley worked in exchange for meals.
While Hayley said she was getting the better end of the deal, Gabby had her doubts. No matter the situation, Morgan always seemed to come out ahead. Gabby doubted the arrangement with Hayley was any different.
Several more women walked into the store. Each session could handle thirty-two customers, although the daytime sessions generally had more like twenty-five. Supper’s in the Bag was also open Thursday through Sunday evenings, from four until eight-thirty. She spotted Hayley, Nicole and Nicole’s son Tyler. Nicole dropped her son off with Cecelia and they all met by the hand washing sink.
“Hi,” Gabby said as she hugged her friends.
Nicole was tall, blonde and enviably willowy. Gabby wasn’t sure how much of her fit body was genetic and how much of it came from the fact that she taught exercise classes for a living. Gabby kept promising herself she was going to sign up for one. She was still carrying around an extra twenty-five pounds from her pregnancy, but given that the twins were starting kindergarten, she needed to either do something about the extra weight or stop blaming her daughters.
Hayley was also thin but in a way that made Gabby worry. As usual, her friend was pale with dark circles under her eyes, but for once she seemed filled with energy.
“I’m excited about the meals tonight,” Hayley said. “The veggies were extra fresh and I think the new enchilada recipe is going to be a winner.”
“You seem happy,” Nicole said as she put on a green Supper’s in the Bag apron. “What’s going on?”
Gabby wondered if that was true. Hayley’s life was a physical and emotional roller coaster as she tried desperately to carry a pregnancy to term. Her last miscarriage had only been a few months before and she was taking a break—on doctor’s orders.
Nicole pulled her long hair back into a ponytail. “You sure?” she asked. “You’re very bouncy.”
Hayley laughed. “I don’t think that’s a flattering description.”
The three friends stopped at their first station. Directions were written on laminated cards. The ingredients for layering the casserole were stored in bowls and bags. Spices were clearly labeled.
Each of them took a foil pan. “I can’t believe it’s already the middle of July,” Nicole said as she layered corn tortillas on the bottom of the pan. “I was hoping to take Tyler away for a few days, but I don’t see that happening. Between work and taking care of him, I’m constantly running.”
“You own a business,” Gabby said, ignoring yet another stab of guilt. She should own a business, she thought. Or be going back to work more than twenty hours a week. And cooking all her dinners from scratch. Honestly, she had no idea where her day went. The twins were in a summer program from eight until one every day. Makayla, her fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, was in a different camp that went from eight until four. Surely she could get her errands run, laundry finished, meals prepped and cooked, and do something to help the world. But it didn’t seem to happen.
“There’s always Disneyland,” Hayley offered as she scooped chunks of chicken into her casserole. Rather than using a single nine-by-thirteen pan, Hayley used two eight-by-eights. Which doubled her number of meals. Of course it was just her and Rob.
“Tyler loves Disneyland,” Nicole said. “It just seems like cheating.”
“Be grateful it’s close,” Gabby told her.
The massive amusement park was only about thirty miles away from Mischief Bay. Less than an hour by car, if the traffic gods were on your side.
Gabby put her arm around Nicole. “It could be worse. There could be Brad the Dragon Land. Then you’d be totally screwed.”
Nicole grinned. “I’d be tempted to set it on fire.”
Hayley and Gabby laughed.
Brad the Dragon was a popular children’s book series. Many young boys, Tyler included, loved B the D, as he was known by intimates. For reasons Gabby had never understood, Nicole disliked the character and had a serious loathing for the author. She claimed that she’d read an article once that said Jairus Sterenberg was only in it for the money, that he was evil and most likely responsible for any coming zombie apocalypse headed their way. Gabby was less sure about those claims. Of course there were plenty of parents who were desperately tired of all things Frozen or Minion.