Author: Kaela Coble
Genre: Adult Contemporary/Mystery
Release Date: February 6, 2018
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
It has been ten years since Ruby left her hometown behind. Since then she's built a life away from her recovering alcoholic mother and her first love, Murphy. But when Danny, one of her estranged friends from childhood, commits suicide, guilt draws Ruby back into the tumultuous world she escaped all those years ago.
She's dreading the funeral - and with good reason. Danny has left a series of envelopes addressed to his former friends. Inside each envelope is a secret about every person in the group. Ruby's secret is so explosive, she will fight tooth-and-nail to keep it hidden from those she once loved so deeply, even if that means risking everything...
Look at them. I’m dead and they’re still pissing me off.
They’re disgusting. Sitting in their pew, huddled together like a pack of wolves. Each playing their part in mourning—the bereaved, the wilted, the guilty. They clutch at one another, leaning on each other physically and emotionally for support. Shaking heads, balled fists, crocodile tears. Asking why, how. Dabbing their swollen eyes with crumpled tissues. Declaring their loyalty and love for one another. For me.
Really, they hate each other, and they hate themselves, and they hate me for making them face their own mortality. And they love me because it fuels their sick sense of pride in their little clan. The crew, they call themselves, even though they haven’t been whole for a decade. “Still supporting each other after all these years,” they declare, even though they wouldn’t know true support if it helped them climb out of a grave.
There’s Ally, the great beauty of Chatwick, sitting tall and stoic, practically cradling a weeping, whimpering Steph in her arms. Ally’s expression as she comforts Steph says everything about her that you need to know. In this most horrifying moment, she is proud to be the crew’s leader, to be the default person in whom to find solace. But the tightness around her lips and the slight narrowing of her eyes shows a bit of the self-righteousness she feels. Steph is a girlfriend of the crew, not an original member. What right does she have to this display? Ally shoots glances at her perfect husband, Aaron. High school sweethearts; couldn’t you just puke? Talk about not being an original member… Aaron the dreamboat isn’t one either. He didn’t swoop in until our sophomore year of high school. And if you ask me, we would have been just fine without him.
Emmett and Aaron sit together instead of with their respective significant others, no doubt upon Emmett’s insistence. He has always orchestrated the seating arrangements to split between genders. He’s the youngest of three brothers, and therefore the noise, the gossip, and the full range of feminine feelings have always made him uncomfortable. The heightened emotional state caused by my death is no doubt more unbearable for him than my death itself. That he is allowing Ally to tend to his sobbing girlfriend, offering no comfort of his own, comes as no surprise.
He and Aaron mimic the same posture—leaned forward, their elbows resting on the thighs of their cheap woolen pants. They face the front of the church, careful not to make eye contact with each other, so they won’t have to utter one of the lame platitudes they’ve heard too many times over the past days. “He’s in a better place.” “He’s finally at peace.” And my personal favorite: “He’s with Roger now.”
While they should be focusing on the tragedy that is (was) my life, instead my casket is a big, fat, polished-cedar reminder that one day this will be them. They ponder all the predictable questions that even people of the mildest intellect contemplate when faced with untimely death: Where do we go when we die? What will they say about me when I’m gone? What does it all mean? Tomorrow they will look into low-premium life insurance plans to take care of their burgeoning families, should something happen to them. It will make them feel like men in control of their lives. But they’re not. They’re boys, and they’re not in control of shit.
Speaking of boys, Murphy isn’t here, the coward. He always picks the easiest option, and in this case (and many cases), that means hiding. I’m dead, lying here about to be carried off and buried, but all he cares about is winning the argument. Murphy showing up would mean I got the last word, or that he had forgiven me, and either of those would mean he’s weak. He doesn’t realize he’s the weakest one of the bunch anyway.
That brings me to Ruby. She sits in the pew between the girls and the boys, the space between her and them so slight you would only notice if you were looking for it, like I am. She watches Ally comforting Steph, occasionally reaching out a hand to squeeze one of Ally’s. I know Ruby feels genuine grief, but mostly discomfort. She doesn’t know her place anymore, her role. I’m only now realizing that she never really knew it. She’s been an official outsider ever since she dared leave Chatwick at eighteen, but even before that, she and I were always the ones straddling the curvature of the crew’s closed circle. One foot in, one foot out. The dark ones.
I know it’s terrible how much enjoyment I get from watching her squirm, but it’s just too entertaining. Besides, with the fate of my soul no longer a question mark, I’m enjoying what I can. My death will be hardest on Ruby, for sure, but she’ll never admit it, and our crew won’t acknowledge it. She left. She abandoned us, so she can’t possibly feel it as deeply as they do. It’s amazing how grief turns so quickly from a group activity to a competitive sport.
It seems all of Chatwick turned up in their patent-leather shoes and cheap polyester blends. “To show their support,” they’d say. For who? Me? Four days ago, they wouldn’t have pissed on me if I were on fire. Most of them are only here to satisfy their morbid curiosity, whispering behind hands and rolling eyes, gathering tidbits to relay later to their neighbors who were unable to make it. But some are here for my mother, Charlene, whose deli (formerly my stepfather’s) is where they happily spend their food stamps. Either way, I wish they wouldn’t have come. It makes them feel too damn good about themselves, and they don’t deserve it. And I don’t deserve the show either, even if it is fake.
Mom stares blankly ahead of her as the priest eulogizes yet another man who has let her down. I look—well, looked—just like her. If you shaved off her two curtains of waist-length blond curls and straightened out her chest and hips, we would look like twins.
Nancy, Ruby’s mother, sits next to Mom, holding her limp hand. Nancy is the one who made all these arrangements, and despite the overabundance of flowers, I still appreciate her efforts. She saved my mother from having to coordinate another funeral, and I think one is enough for a lifetime. Ruby’s never forgiven Nancy for the way she handled her own illness back in the day, but as dicey as things got in the St. James household, they didn’t hold a candle to my family. Besides, Nancy’s one of the only assholes in this town who has any compassion, and I’m grateful she’s decided to bestow it upon Mom when she needs it most.
That’s all I ever needed. Compassion. If I’d ever gotten a shred of it from any of the people in this room, maybe I wouldn’t be in this fucking box.
My “friends” all think they will finally be rid of me once they’ve fulfilled this obligation. They will go back to the “happy,” normal, vanilla lives they lead, and their guilt will subside eventually.
Dumbasses. They have no idea Mom found the letters this morning.
Kaela Coble lives in Burlington, Vermont, and is a member of the League of Vermont Writers and a graduate of the WoMentoring Project. This is her first novel.
(1) Paperback copy of FRIENDS AND OTHER LIARS - Open to US/CAN only!