Maryanne Dowd could hardly wait to see the
expressions on the faces of her friends, the Kings
and the Priestlys, when they learned the news
about her daughter Kendall. Within a few minutes of
their arrival at Friendship Farm, she had gotten
Kendall out strolling the grounds while she kept a
sharp lookout for her friends. Kendall was arguing
that Yale, to which she had not been admitted, was
the best undergraduate college in the Ivy League.
Maryanne only half listened as she thought about
how to reveal her information for maximum impact.
Oh, but it was good to be back! Friendship Farm,
from the dear faded wallpaper of their cottage to its
weathered barns, exuded Old Money. You could
recognize Old Money right away by the fact that it
reveled in its own shabbiness; it could afford to.
David came from Old Money, but Maryanne would
have married him all over again, however he came
by his fortune. For David and Maryanne, the farm
offered just the right blend of intimacy and
anonymity. They could play doubles tennis, read, or
wander through Friendship’s three-hundred-acre
property. The kids, Kendall and Adam, never
without activities designed just for teens, loved it
here. Adam even had his own fan club, a group of
teenaged girls who doted on him as the only guest
their age who happened also to be male.
The Kings and the Priestlys were Old Money too,
and part of the Friendship experience. Every first
week in August for the last three years the Dowds
had driven up from Boston to reunite with them
here. Classmates of David from Harvard, they were
hilarious and sophisticated and had impeccable
manners. Although David had, in college, briefly
dated and then dumped Cynthia King, née Rastin,
shortly after meeting Maryanne, Cynthia still
socialized with him warmly. She had thoroughly
welcomed Maryanne into their happy gang.
Still, her marriage to David hadn’t endowed
Maryanne with an Ivy League degree or their lofty
way of speaking (Cynthia used words like “subtext”
and “oxymoron”). She suspected, too, that Cynthia,
a doctor, and Maya Priestly, a lawyer, looked down
on her for not having a job outside the home.
Maryanne didn’t actually see why she should bother
with all that. Besides, what kind of job could she get
with her associate’s degree from West Virginia
Business College? But there was no denying that
sometimes, during the long evenings together, she
felt as if she’d come to the poker table short a few
Now, though, her Kendall had been admitted to
Princeton for the fall! This acceptance—no one
needed to know that she’d gotten in off the wait
list—was a clear validation of her mothering skills.
She could barely contain herself.
The sweet, sharp smell of hay and manure filled the
air as Maryanne and Kendall made their way up the
grassy slope overlooking the barnyard. Maryanne
was trying to figure out how to get someone to ask
Kendall about her plans for next year, when the
sound of Cynthia King’s raised voice intruded on
them from below.
Adam, standing next to a wagon fitted out with
straw, was bowing with exaggerated chivalry as,
one by one, “his girls” preceded him on board.
“Adam!” Cynthia strode toward him, clumps of dry
grass clinging to the bottoms of her sneakers.
Adam pointed to his chest. “Me?”
“Yeah, you,” she said, jerking her chin.
“What’d I do?”
She swept her hand around to indicate the dozen or
so people who stood in a loose circle near the
wagon. “Did you happen to notice you just cut the
“I did?” He looked around him. “Geez. I had no
“You probably assumed all these people were
standing here just to watch you flirt with your
“No.” He shook his head quickly. “I didn’t see—”
“And now we all have to wait—who knows how
long—for the next hayride.”
“Wow.” Adam licked his lips. “Oh boy. Look, you can
take my place if you like.”
“That’s a sweet offer, except there are three of us?”
Her son Brian was tugging at one of her arms, but
the other, Jake, was sucking his thumb as if nothing
in particular was going on, as if he were used to
such scenes. “Besides, you and your friends there
have gypped a lot of other people besides us out of
“What a bitch!” said Kendall.
“Hush,” said Maryanne. “She might hear you.”
“I hope she does.” Kendall shot her mother a
withering look. “Don’t tell me you’re going to let her
get away with that.”
“Kendall,” said Maryanne, with a little squeak. “We
don’t know what happened—for all we know,
“Will you listen to the way she’s talking to him?
She’s not even giving him the benefit of the doubt.
God, it’s Adam she’s talking to, not just some kid.”
“So, I guess your one seat wouldn’t quite do the
trick, would it?” said Cynthia.
Kendall blew at some stray hairs on her forehead
and took a step toward the scene. “I’m going down
there,” she said. Maryanne barely managed to catch
her arm and hold her back.
“I’m really sorry,” said Adam to anyone who might
be listening. “Would someone else like my spot?”
Becca, one of Adam’s favorites, stood up. “I’ll get
off, too,” she said.
From the distance, Maryanne could just make out
the purple buds of acne festooning Adam’s cheeks.
They made him look guilty as charged. She cringed
for him, remembering how hard she’d scrubbed at
her own teenage countenance—a wasted effort, in
the end, as it remained, until she was seventeen, a
stubborn, angry landscape studded with blemishes
at various stages of ripening and drying out.
A gray-haired woman with protruding teeth waved
Becca back down. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, don’t
worry about it. Go along with your friends. You too,
young man,” she said to Adam. “We can wait for the
next wagon. It’ll come in ten minutes. I don’t think
anyone’s dying here. Is anyone dying?”
Still Adam stood, shoulders drooping, eyes clinging
to Cynthia’s face, awaiting her verdict. But Cynthia
turned on her heel and faced the barn.
Inside the wagon a man struggled to hold onto the
waist of a wriggling little boy who squealed and
kicked at the man’s shins.
“Are you coming or staying?” called the driver.
Adam hesitated, looking around him wretchedly.
Then he seized the rail, hoisting himself up. Picking
his way over several pairs of feet, he squeezed
himself into a narrow space between Becca and
another girl. The driver, with a brief glance over his
shoulder, slapped the reins and the horses trotted
off. Becca patted Adam’s shoulder.
“I’m outta here,” said Kendall and stalked off in the
direction of the tennis courts at the opposite end of
Maryanne returned to her room, sank down onto
her bed, and stared numbly at the walls. Kendall
was right: Cynthia had out and out picked on Adam.
But Cynthia could be prickly, Maryanne knew. She
might have been out of sorts today and Adam—
well, Adam got in her way. If, as was likely, she
had intended nothing personal, the less said about
the incident the better.
That evening, as the Dowds entered the dining
room, things did seem better. Cynthia stood and
waved to them energetically from the long wooden
table the three families shared at meals. Her
lipstick, a fire-engine red, was spread smoothly and
evenly over her mouth with just a smidgeon extra
applied in two thin lines, one above, one below. In
another person, this might have been sloppiness,
but Cynthia always put on lipstick this way.
Maryanne had to resist the impulse she often had
with Cynthia, to take a tissue to her face and clean
“There you are!” said Cynthia. “I’ve been looking all
over for you.”
“So glad to see y’all again!” said Maryanne,
beaming. Out of the corner of her eye she checked
to see if Kendall was watching, but Kendall’s eyes
were scanning the room.
“I wanted to give you the heads up,” said Cynthia,
pointing. “You guys are sitting over there.”
Maryanne turned. The table, about thirty feet away,
was set for a party of four. A lone candle flickered in
David looked at Matt. “What’s going on?” he asked.
“Is this just for tonight—or what?”
Matt sighed. “For the week, I think. Apparently our
table’s too big for the wait staff.”
“So,” said Kendall, “you’re saying the staff
Adam laid his forearms on his mother’s shoulders
and leaned into her. “Can we please just go sit
down already? I’m starving.”
“Yuh,” said Matt, nodding. He flashed Maryanne a
grin that instantly revealed a good many of his
teeth and just as suddenly disappeared entirely.
“But you and David come have dessert with us
after—in the lounge—okay?”
“Sure thing,” said Maryanne, smiling and blinking.
She glanced at Kendall, tall, tan and golden-haired.
“I can’t wait to hear all your news!”
The Kings and Priestlys were already comfortable in
the lounge when the Dowds entered. Cynthia was
regaling Matt along with Maya and Scott Priestly
with stories from their undergraduate days.
Maryanne and David sat down on a loveseat
opposite the Kings and Maryanne tried her best to
“So then Maya left the dorm,” Cynthia said, raising
and lowering her brows. “And I put on a bathing suit
and took off the straps. Then Scottie popped out of
the closet wearing naught but his trunks.”
Maya sipped her coffee to hide her smile.
“Finally,” said Cynthia, leaning in toward the table
and imitating a drum roll, “Scott hopped into bed
with me and we pulled up the covers.”
Scott Priestly held up an index finger. “Carefully
leaving our shoulders exposed,” he added.
“When I got back to the room,” said Maya, “I found
my roommate and boyfriend together under the
covers in flagrante delicto.”
Scott honked with laughter and Matt threw Cynthia
a that’s-my-girl grin, while David gazed at Cynthia
with admiration. Maryanne thought he had never so
much resembled a big slab of beef as he did now.
“Hey!” said Maryanne. Keeping her smile modest,
she placed her hand over David’s. “Our Kendall has
been accepted at Princeton.”
This was not how she’d intended the news to come
After a three-second silence, Matt whistled. “All
right! I always knew she had what it takes. That is
“We just heard,” said David. “She got in off the wait
list—by the skin of her teeth.”
“Isn’t Princeton the one with all those snotty eating
clubs?” asked Maya.
“Ye-up,” said Cynthia, standing up and yawning.
“Oh!” said Maryanne, waving a hand back and forth
through the air. “Oh, the clubs are much less
prominent than they used to be.”
“Uh oh,” said Cynthia, stretching her arms above
her head. Her tank top rose, revealing a bare
midriff with the trace of a muffin top. “Better hit the
hay as we say on the farm. The air up here is
positively soporific.” En route to the door, she
turned. “Anyway, congrats.”
Maya, Scott, and Matt got up and followed Cynthia
in a row. “All best,” said Maya, lingering for a
moment at the threshold. “Really.”
The next day started out on the same sour note as
the evening before had ended. No one they
encountered en route to the beach congratulated
Kendall or paid her any particular mind at all. But,
Maryanne reminded herself, she’d only last night
told the Kings and the Priestlys, and news, even big
news like theirs, took time to spread.
Kendall and David, at least, didn’t seem ruffled.
Way down, near where the lakeshore curved away
from sight, they stood chitchatting in their life
jackets while a thicket of black clouds roiled behind
them. Finally, without so much as a glance
skyward, the two launched the boat. Maryanne
prayed that David would get himself and Kendall off
the lake before the storm hit. He had a worrisome
way of making every moment count.
A mosquito landed on her arm and she slapped it
dead, flicking off the flattened, bloody carcass just
as another brushed against her ear whining. She
struck it away and, gripping the arms of her chair,
heaved herself up. Everything was going wrong.
The ten pounds she’d planned to lose in time for the
farm had turned into five pounds gained instead;
her sleeveless blouse showcased pulpy upper arms.
Stooping down over her bag, she rummaged for
insect repellant with one hand, waving vigorously
around herself with the other.
“Hi there!” called a voice. Maryanne jumped up as
Matt and Cynthia picked their way down to the
beach from the rocky path descending to it.
She snatched her sweatshirt from the chair. “Hey
there, you!” she said, and pulled it on, trying not to
brood over the image of herself she’d just
Cynthia’s hair, cinched back into a ponytail, seemed
to pull her mouth with it into a tight grin. Maryanne
wondered vaguely why they had come down to the
beach fully clothed, Matt in collared shirt and
Bermuda shorts and Cynthia in jeans and a striped
cotton tank top.
Matt pointed toward the boat. “David and Kendall
“Uh huh. Ed gave them an offer they couldn’t
Matt threw her a puzzled look and Maryanne
blushed; in her clumsy attempt at humor, she’d
made an absurd reference. “All Ed had to do was
suggest the boat and off they just flew!” she said,
using the wrong verb.
Matt shifted his weight from one foot to the other
and cleared his throat. “Look, can we talk
something over with you—or would you rather wait
until David gets back?”
“Of course,” said Maryanne. It couldn’t be that
Adam was hurt; they would have blurted that out
right away. Still, she sensed that they had come on
some unpleasant mission or other. “We don’t have
to wait,” she said, feeling that she would, indeed,
prefer to have David with her. “Unless y’all’d rather,
Matt glanced from Maryanne to Cynthia, then back
to Maryanne. “This’ll be okay,” he said and sniffed.
Cynthia gazed up the path they’d just come down.
“What it is, is, we were just thinking that, actually,
this place has changed a lot over the last few
years—all the building and remodeling and so on,”
Was it conceivable that Cynthia and Matt had
traipsed all the way down here just to discuss the
development of the farm?
“It sure has,” said Maryanne, her chest fluttering
with nervous chatter. “It’s amazing how well they
seem able to cope with the increased demand,
though. Which is great,” she added quickly,
“because it’s really and truly true. Friendship Farm
is the place where new friends are silver and old
friends are gold.” Feeling ridiculous, she opened her
now-covered arms expansively, taking the whole
farm into her embrace. “We’re very grateful to y’all
for finding—and sharing it with us.”
Out on the lake, Kendall was showing off, one ski
poised above the surface of the water and off to the
side. “I honestly don’t know where else on earth we
and the kids could have such a perfect vacation
“Well, that’s kind of what we came here to talk to
you about,” said Matt.
“Oh?” said Maryanne. The little tic in her right eye
began to act up; she forced her lids wider open in a
futile effort to keep it still.
“Yuh. We were thinking it would be a good thing if
they stopped expanding, actually. Stopped building
more cottages and so forth.” He glanced again at
Cynthia. She had picked up a stick from somewhere
and was using it to pry up a rock from the ground
by her feet. “We were thinking it wouldn’t be such a
bad thing, either, if —maybe fewer people came
here at any one time in a year.”
Maryanne lifted a hand to her forehead, pretending
to shield her eyes from the sun. The enormity of
what Matt was suggesting had begun to dawn on
“You thinking of writing to the management or
“Tell her,” said Cynthia, turning a wooden face to
“See, what we were thinking,” he said with a grief-
stricken appeal to Maryanne, “is just—it might be
better if you guys picked a different week to come
up next year.”
Maryanne stopped trusting her knees to support
her. She slumped against her chair.
“What Matt is trying so incoherently to
communicate,” said Cynthia with a warning glare at
her husband, “is that we don’t want you here when
we are. Simple as that.”
Maryanne blinked and clutched at the chair while
digging her toes into the sand beneath her. “I don’t
understand. You mean all of us? Me and—all of us?”
She looked out at the murky lake. David, only an
inch and a half tall, was leaning back at one end of a
rope attached to a boat five times his size. His puny
skis slid across the horizon.
Matt nodded in mute misery, hands marooned by
“But—why?” She saw herself suddenly as the Kings
must: bloated and stranded, her bleached hair
pathetically frizzled in the sunshine. It didn’t matter
to them where Kendall would attend college or, for
that matter, what kind of car they drove (even
though it was a new Lexus SUV). Try as she might
to appear acceptable, she was a failure.
Cynthia shrugged. “When we used to come here
alone, just the Priestlys and us, it was perfect. Then
you guys showed up and everything changed—
everything got worse.”
“But there are four hundred other people here!”
Cynthia looked up at the sky as if performing her
own mental calculation. “Yeah,” she said. “So what?”
“So—but we—why now? We’ve been coming here
for three years. Why now, after all this time?”
Cynthia nodded, smiling. “I thought you might ask
that. It was Matt’s idea, not mine, believe me, to
invite you here in the first place. But—that was
once. You guys kept coming and I thought, ‘Christ,
I’ve got to do something’. I talked it over with my
trainer and she agreed. Enough is enough.”
Maryanne took a deep breath. So this was why
Cynthia had tortured Adam in the barnyard—and
cast them all off at dinner.
“Gee,” said Maryanne, infusing as much saccharine
as she could into her voice. “Would you like us to
pack up and leave now?”
“That’s okay,” said Cynthia, apparently taking
Maryanne’s offer as genuine. “You can stay—for
now. Since you’re already here. Just pick a different
week to come up next year.” She smiled kindly and,
twirling her stick in the air in front of her, added, “If
you come at all, that is.”
The boat buzzed past. Kendall, seated inside it now,
shrieked with delight, her hair whipping around her
“How dare you!” said Maryanne in a hoarse
whisper, shocking herself.
“Excuse me?” Cynthia took a step backward.
“How dare you tell us what to do. This is a public
“You see?” said Cynthia, turning to her husband. “I
told you she’d start something.” She narrowed her
eyes and pointed her stick at Maryanne’s face. “You.
“We told you about this farm. You never would’ve
known the place existed, never would’ve come up
here with your—your pointless, acne-ridden children
but for us.”
It was too low a blow. “Sorry to tell you,” said
Maryanne, wondering just what she was sorry to
say. That Cynthia knew Maryanne would “start
something” filled her with perverse pride. Greatness
swelled within her. “We’re coming right back again
next year—this very week.”
She could put down a deposit on their cottage now
for next year’s stay. Kendall would approve; she’d
called Cynthia a bitch. Adam would come if Kendall
did—besides, where else could he find such a lively
fan base? Oh, but still there was David. No matter
how he played this, he’d almost certainly lost a
good friend in Matt.
She contemplated Cynthia’s popping irises, and her
artificially widened mouth, the bright off-center
gash in her complacent face. An important question:
just how destructive might the woman become if
The boat careened nearer to the shore and Kendall
cut the engine, bringing the craft to a halt just
outside the pier.
“The dashing duo returns!” she called, fist raised.
David’s body slumped down into the water, his head
alone bobbing up to the surface a few moments
later. Catching sight of his wife and friends on the
shore, he waved.
“Hey!” he called to them. “Does life get any better
Leslie Greffenius' fiction, essays and articles have appeared or
are forthcoming in The Harvard Crimson, the Iowa Law Review,
the Review Review, Long Story Short, Calliope Nerve Magazine,
The Monarch Review, and Existere. After working as an attorney,
she taught international law, and founded and directed a private
school for international students. She is working on her first