BEFORE AND AGAIN

Barbara Delinsky

From Barbara Delinsky, the New York Times bestselling author of Blueprints and Sweet Salt Air, a brand-new novel about a woman in hiding finding the courage to face the world again.

Mackenzie Cooper took her eyes off the road for just a moment but the resulting collision was enough to rob her not only of her beloved daughter but ultimately of her marriage, family, and friends—and thanks to the nonstop media coverage, even her privacy. Now she lives in Vermont under the name Maggie Reid, in a small house with her cats and dog.

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From Barbara Delinsky, the New York Times bestselling author of Blueprints and Sweet Salt Air, a brand-new novel about a woman in hiding finding the courage to face the world again.

Mackenzie Cooper took her eyes off the road for just a moment but the resulting collision was enough to rob her not only of her beloved daughter but ultimately of her marriage, family, and friends—and thanks to the nonstop media coverage, even her privacy. Now she lives in Vermont under the name Maggie Reid, in a small house with her cats and dog. She’s thankful for the new friends she’s made—though she can’t risk telling them too much. And she takes satisfaction in working as a makeup artist at the luxurious local spa, helping clients hide the visible outward signs of their weariness, illnesses, and injuries. Covering up scars is a skill she has mastered.

Her only goal is to stay under the radar and make it through her remaining probation. But she isn’t the only one in this peaceful town with secrets. When a friend’s teenage son is thrust into the national spotlight, accused of hacking a powerful man’s Twitter account, Maggie is torn between pulling away and protecting herself—or stepping into the glare to be at their side. As the stunning truth behind their case is slowly revealed, Maggie’s own carefully constructed story begins to unravel as well. She knows all too well that what we need from each other in this difficult world is comfort. But to provide it, sometimes we need to travel far outside our comfort zones.

From a multimillion-selling master of women’s fiction, Before and Again is a story of the relationships we find ourselves in—mothers and daughters, spouses and siblings, true companions and fair-weather friends—and what kind of sacrifices we are or aren’t willing to make to sustain them through good times and bad.

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  • St. Martin's Press
  • Hardcover
  • June 2018
  • 416 Pages
  • 9781250119490

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$27.99

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About Barbara Delinsky

Barbara Delinsky is the author of more than twenty New York Times bestselling books. She has been published in twenty-eight languages worldwide. A lifelong New Englander, Delinsky earned a B.A. in psychology at Tufts University and an M.A. in sociology at Boston College. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, more books than she’ll ever be able to read, two tennis racquets, and enough electronic devices to keep in close touch with her children and their families.

Author Website

Praise

“This is a rewarding, emotionally intense novel.”—Publishers Weekly

“I don’t even know where to begin. This was absolutely one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I always read Barbara Delinsky books but this one is over the top! Well written, engrossing, no loose ends….this book has it all. Honestly, I finished it in less than a week and now nothing seems to entice me. I just feel like all else will be a let down. This book will be a best seller for a long time!”—Linda Eisenberg, A Novel Idea, Chapter Two

Discussion Questions

1. Maggie is a master of denial.  She has learned to push painful things from mind for the sake of survival.  Do you agree with this tactic?  How does it impact the story?  How does it impact your own life?

2. Maggie values her friendships with Joyce Mann and Cornelia Conrad, both of whom are older than she is and strong mother figures.  Do women crave this?  Might she have handled her own mother differently if she hadn’t had a substitute?  But were these women truly substitutes?  How does a mother figure differ from a mother?

3. Small towns like Devon are often prone to gossip.  How does “news” differentiate from “gossip?”  Does gossip have to be bad?  Does it help or hurt Maggie?

4. Responsibility is an issue for Maggie.  In what ways does she avoid it?  Do you think she is aware of doing this?  How much does this issue play in her decision to return to see her mother for the first time in more than four years?

5. In many ways, Maggie’s mother, Margaret McGowan Reid is representative of women caught between two worlds – that of a homemaker and that of a working woman.  Do you identify with this dichotomy?  How have things changed in this regard, or not?

6. Much of the angst in Before and Again has to do with the characters’ need for forgiveness – Maggie for the accident that killed her daughter, Edward for not being there for her, Margaret for turning away when her daughter needed her most.  Is forgiveness really possible after traumas like these?  Edward suggests that one can forgive but not forget.  Do you agree?

7. Many of Barbara Delinsky’s books focus on the importance of communication in relationships, and Before and Again is no different.  When Maggie and Edward stopped talking, their marriage was doomed.  Why do people stop talking?  What does it take to make them start talking again?

8. As a makeup artist, Maggie teaches clients how to hide what they don’t want the world to see.  Do you ever do this?  In what ways?  Is it healthy?

9. Things aren’t always what they seem.  This is a recurring theme in Before and Again.  To which of the characters does it apply?

10. We often hear of people seeking anonymity in the big city, and yet small towns like Devon offer their own version of it.  Is it really possible to find anonymity in a small town?  How does small-town anonymity differ from that in a big city?

11. Maggie has a green velvet box that belonged to her grandmother under her bed. Do you have your version of a green velvet box?  If so, what’s in it?  What does it mean to you?

Excerpt

Prologue

Mackenzie Cooper had no idea where she was or, more critically, why she hadn’t already arrived. Her navigation screen said she was still on the right road, in the right town, but all she could see were woods left and right and a curve of macadam ahead. The turnoff was to have been five minutes past the café in the town center, and they had easily gone ten. During that time, she hadn’t seen anything remotely resembling a turnoff, much less the red mailbox that allegedly marked it, although a red anything would have been easy to miss. The fall foliage was a tangle of fiery shades, its leaves crowding the roadside like families at a parade.

A glint in the rearview caught her eye. Braking, she steered to the side until branches brushed the car. She toggled her window down, but before she could get an arm out in a plea for help, the pickup steered around her, sped past, and disappeared over the hill ahead. Assuming the driver knew where he was going, she accelerated and followed, but by the time she hit the crest, the pickup had taken another curve, and by the time she made that one, her car was alone.

She glanced at her phone. It was cradled in a vent holder at the perfect spot for viewing, which had served her well until her map app had frozen. The upper-left corner of the phone showed an ominous No Service where bars should have been, meaning that she couldn’t even call or text for help.

“Are we there yet, Mommy?” came a plaintive cry from the five-year-old safely strapped in the back. It wasn’t the first such cry, just the first that Mackenzie couldn’t honestly answer.

“Almost, sweetie,” she said, white-knuckling the wheel through another sharp turn. When the road straightened, she touched the SUV’s map screen to zoom in. The larger view showed tendrils where driveways might be—and, oh, she just passed one, she realized, but it was a barely there thing, thin and rutted, with no mailbox of any sort.

Turn around, her sane self ordered. But the red mailbox was likely around the next curve, she reasoned, and, if not that, her phone would wake up. Besides, she didn’t see a place to turn around. Her SUV was big, the road narrow, and it was snaking wildly through a forest that had no business being this close to the city.

Actually, this place wasn’t close to the city. Lily’s school was. But being a private school, many students traveled distances each day, which translated into playdates in the boonies. Lily’s new best friend had already been to their place twice, easily arranged since the Coopers lived close to school, but this was their first playdate at Mia’s. And why would Mackenzie hesitate? Lily wanted to go. She had asked repeatedly, had begged. Besides, Mackenzie liked this family. She liked that they didn’t live in an oversized Shingle-and-Stone rebuild, that the dad was a carpenter and the mom a struggling writer, that Mia was on scholarship. Edward, too, felt an instant connection—as if the Boyds were people they had both known in earlier, more modest lives.

Mackenzie had made the arrangements with Mia’s mom, including drop-off and pick-up times, clothes to bring for playing outside, Lily’s love of peanut butter and aversion to chocolate. She hadn’t thought to ask about cell reception. Her carrier was the best in their own neighborhood, clearly not so here.

The map screen switched to night mode for several beats, seeming as confused as Mackenzie. She knew it was a glorious fall day. Glimpses of blue could be seen through the high canopy, along with shards of fire where sun lit the leaves, but in every other regard, the day-darkness was unsettling.

“Are we lost?” came Lily’s worried voice.

“We are not,” Mackenzie said with determination. “Mia’s driveway is off this road.”

She just didn’t know where it was, and, no matter how often she glanced at the phone, it remained dead. Eyes shifting between the road and the SUV’s map screen, she zoomed the view out once, then again until she saw an intersection, which was good. At this setting, though, she couldn’t judge how far off it was. She was an artist, not a mathematician.

“All I see is trees,” Lily said, more curious than complaining. “Maybe Mia lives in a tree house.”

Mackenzie smiled into the rearview mirror. As dark as the woods were, her daughter’s blonde hair sparked with light. “Maybe a fairy house. What do you think?”

“With fairy dust around it? And popsicle-stick windows and clay walls? That’s silly, Mommy.”

“Why?”

“Only our fairy houses have those. Besides, fairy houses aren’t real. Mia’s house is made of wood. Her daddy built it, and he’s a . . . what did you say he is?”

“A carpenter.”

“Uh-huh. Are we almost there?”

“I think so. But will you look at these trees, Lily? They’re yellow, like your hair. Know why?” she asked as a diversion.

“The green stuff.”

“Chlorophyll. It dies off when the nights turn cool. Remember, we talked about that? The colors we see now were always there. We just couldn’t see them until the green was gone.”

Lily was silent through another twist of the road, then asked, “Are you sure we’re not lost?”

“Do I ever get lost?”

“You did when we were driving to the ocean.”

“Excuse me, little love. I got us to the ocean, just not the part Daddy wanted us at, but he was sleeping.” In the passenger’s seat. After a late night of work. “No, we are not lost.” But Mackenzie was thinking of turning around and retracing the road to town. If she had a working phone, she could call Mia’s mom for directions. Of course, there was still the turning-around problem. The road was undulating with a frequency that made narrowness all the more of a challenge.

“Why’s it taking so long?” Lily asked.

“Because I don’t want to drive fast on a road I don’t know.”

“Will you know how to find me to take me home later?”

“Absolutely,” Mackenzie said with feeling, though she was thinking it might not be a problem if she didn’t get them there in the first place.

“I love you, Mommy.”

“I love you, too, baby.”

“Mommy?”

“What, hon?”

“I have to go to the bathroom.”

“We’re almost there, almost there.”

According to the map screen, they were nearing the crossroad. Hoping to get her bearings there, perhaps see a sign or regain her cell signal, at the very least have room for a turnaround, she zoomed in to identify it, to bring the name into view, leaning closer to catch it.

Too late, she remembered that the GPS display of her current position trailed reality by a number of seconds. Too late, she realized that the momentum built climbing another hill would have her barreling down the far side without knowing how close the intersection was.

She never saw the stop sign hidden by leaves of the same color, never saw the van speeding at her from the right. She felt the terrifying jolt of impact, heard a high-pitched scream from the back seat and would have blindly reached for Lily if the SUV hadn’t hurtled into a spin that defied gravity.

She felt another impact, then nothing.