Family dinner, family secrets

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Mildred meets her mother at the bar, and something mysterious is in the air. The Cousins has us on the edge of our seats, and it will be no different for you. Here is an excerpt from this exciting read:

~

My bladder's already full from the seltzer at the bar, and I'm about to excuse myself for the restroom when Mom says, "I got the most interesting letter today."

There it is. "Oh?" I wait, but when she doesn't continue, I prod, "From who?"

"Whom," she corrects automatically. Her fingers trace the base of her glass as her lips curve up another half notch. "From your grandmother."

I blink at her. "From Baba?" Why that merits this kind of buildup, I have no idea. Granted, my grandmother doesn't con- tact Mom often, but it's not unprecedented. Baba is the type of person who likes to forward articles she's read to anyone she thinks might be interested, and she still does that with Mom postdivorce.

"No. Your other grandmother."

"What?" Now I'm truly confused. "You got a letter from— Mildred?"

I don't have a nickname for my mother's mother. She's not Grandma or Mimi or Nana or anything to me, because I've never met her.

"I did." The server returns with Mom's wine, and she takes a long, grateful sip. I sit in silence, unable to wrap my head around what she just told me. My maternal grandmother loomed large over my childhood, but as more of a fairy-tale figure than an actual person: the wealthy widow of Abraham Story, whose great-something-grandfather came over on the Mayflower. My ancestors are more interesting than any history book: the family made a fortune in whaling, lost most of it in railroad stocks, and eventually sank what was left into buying up real estate on a crappy little island off the coast of Massachusetts.

Gull Cove Island was a little-known haven for artists and hippies until Abraham Story turned it into what it is today: a place where rich and semifamous people spend ridiculous amounts of money pretending they're getting back to nature.

My mother and her three brothers grew up on a giant beachfront estate named Catmint House, riding horses and at- tending black-tie parties like they were the princess and princes of Gull Cove Island. There's a picture on our apartment mantel of Mom when she was eighteen, stepping out of a limousine on her way to the Summer Gala her parents threw every year at their resort. Her hair is piled high, and she's wearing a white ball gown and a gorgeous diamond teardrop necklace. Mildred gave that necklace to my mother when she turned seventeen, and I used to think Mom would pass it along to me when I hit the same birthday.

Didn't happen. Even though Mom never wears it herself.

My grandfather died when Mom was a senior in high school. Two years later, Mildred disowned all of her children. She cut them off both financially and personally, with no explanation except for a single-sentence letter sent two weeks before Christ- mas through her lawyer, a man named Donald Camden who'd known Mom and her brothers their entire lives:

You know what you did.

Mom has always insisted that she has no clue what Mildred meant. "The four of us had gotten . . . selfish, I suppose," she'd tell me. "We were all in college then, starting our own lives. Mother was lonely with Father gone, and she begged us to visit all the time. But we didn't want to go." She calls her parents that, Mother and Father, like the heroine in a Victorian novel. "None of us came back for Thanksgiving that year. We'd all made other plans. She was furious, but . . ." Mom always got a pensive, faraway look on her face then. "That's such a small thing. Hardly unforgivable."

~

Karen M. McManus is a terrific storyteller. Once you get your hands on this book, you'll be doing nothing else. 

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⏰ Last updated: May 10, 2021 ⏰

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