Welcome to #ReadWithMC—Marie Claire's virtual book club. It's nice to have you! In December, we're reading Cobble Hill, the latest from Gossip Girl's bestselling-author Cecily von Ziegesar, a juicy book that follows the lives of four families in an upscale Brooklyn neighborhood. Read an excerpt from the novel, below, then find out how to participate in our virtual book club here. (You really don't have to leave your couch!)
A MESSAGE FROM NURSE PEACHES: Welcome back, PS 919 peeps!
Thanks for returning your pediatric examination forms. If your child has specific medical requirements, please give me a holler.
Moving on to nastier things: EIGHT students have been sent down to me with lice. These are cases that began over the summer and are still lingering. Don’t let them linger on your child’s head. Now’s the time to comb through your child’s hair with thick white conditioner such as Pantene. If lice are present, they will be visible in the white stuff. A cursory visual inspection of dry hair is not effective, and those lice treatment kits from the drugstore are full of poison and do not work! Instructions on how to perform a proper comb-through are all over YouTube. Come by my office for a good-quality $10 lice comb. Proceeds go to our PTA. There are also professional “lice ladies” who can remove the bugs and nits from your child’s hair for a fee. I have a list of names and numbers. Feel free to call or email me, or stop by my office with any questions or concerns. My main advice: check those heads.
Here’s to a totally un-lousy school year!
My very best,
Peaches Park, school nurse
The warning letter from the new school nurse had come home in Ted’s backpack. Stuart felt like the letter was speaking directly to him. And of course now he had lice. They were everywhere—on car seats, in his fellow riders’ hair on the crowded F train coming home from work last night, in Ted’s hair, on Ted’s pillow, in Ted’s towel, on the hood of Ted’s hoodie, on the leaves that drifted crisply down from the dried-out, summer-weary trees.
Stuart loved Nurse Peaches’ tone. Last week, on only the third day of school, she’d left a message on his cell: “You don’t know me, but I have your son. He seems fine now, but he puked his guts up after lunch. Better take him home before he pukes on my floor.”
When he went to pick up Ted from her office and first laid eyes on her, he could not stop smiling. Curvy, strawberry blond, merry but cool. Peaches. She was busy with a crying girl who’d scraped her knees pretty badly in the schoolyard, so she’d only glanced up and pointed to the sign-out sheet. Stuart hardly heard a word Ted said as he signed Ted out and led him home. Peaches—it was practically an invitation. Her black T-shirt with the sleeves cut off was an invitation too, or at least a suggestion: there was more to Peaches than met the eye.
“I can’t believe you still do that,” Mandy, his wife, commented now as he stood in front of the full-length mirror in their bedroom. She was sitting up in bed, wearing the same old mustard-yellow Blind Mice T-shirt she’d been wearing for two weeks. It was his, a collector’s item, and he wanted it back.
“Still do what?” Stuart stopped scratching his head and put his hands in his back pockets. His black Levi’s were looser than ever, as if they belonged to someone else even though he’d been wearing them since his early twenties. Was he losing muscle now that he was approaching forty? He didn’t really exercise, just walked a lot. The jeans were still in pretty good shape too, no holes, zipper still functioning. When did you know you needed new jeans?
Mandy folded her arms over her boobs, which were still massive—even bigger than they’d been in high school—and smiled her foxy, pearly-toothed smile. She used teeth-whitening strips religiously, and they worked. But there was something embarrassing about her boobs and her smile, like they were saying something about him. His songs might be deep, but he himself was shallow, or he had been when he met and married Mandy. Who was even named Mandy anymore anyway?
“Aren’t you too old to be like, checking yourself out?”
Stuart looked at himself in the mirror again and then at her mocking reflection. She was the one in bed. Her incredibly shiny, silky black hair—she also gave herself a VO5 hot oil treatment every Friday—was matted flat in the back from lying down all the time. At least Stuart was up and dressed. Ted was up and dressed too, eating Cheerios and watching Cartoon Network. Mandy was just lying there.
“I’m thirty-six. So what? I can’t look at myself?”
“Just saying,” Mandy said.
She said a lot of things, from bed.
“I think you’re even cuter than when you were in the band,” she added, a little unconvincingly, Stuart thought.
Stuart’s band, the Blind Mice, had been in the top twenty on the Billboard Hot 100 list for three years running before they’d broken up ten years ago. Ever since, Stuart had been virtually silent, working quietly for a company that provided music and sound editing for advertisements.
Lately, entertaining Ted had somehow brought out the urge to make noise again. Stuart had even thought of trying to get the band back together to make a kids’ album, but becoming that dad, that guy, that band, singing about bubble baths, marshmallows, cement trucks, and poop was not something he was ready for, and he was pretty damned sure the other two Mice weren’t ready for it either. Robbie, the charming, handsome guitarist, spent half his time on far-flung beaches in Australia and the other half in Nicaragua, surfing and growing pot. JoJo, the aloof beats genius and techno wizard, produced music in LA and lived in a hotel. Neither of them were married, and they certainly didn’t have any kids, or if they did, they didn’t know about them. Stuart Little, affable front man of the organization, chief lyricist and rhyme-smith, and not so little anymore, had been the only one to settle down.
“Any plans today?” Stuart asked, the same way he’d been asking for weeks.
“My plan is to do this,” Mandy said from bed. It was the same answer she always gave.
“Will you please call Dr. Goldberg?”
For over a month Mandy had been promising to go back to the doctor and get a referral for a specialist. Both times she’d “made an appointment” she’d come back smelling like toasted everything bagels and told Stuart the traffic was so bad she’d missed her appointment, but it didn’t matter because she was doing everything the doctor had told her to do back in July, and everything was fine. But she was not fine. She’d gotten much, much worse.
“Today?” he prompted.
“Okay,” Mandy yawned.
Stuart glanced at the time on the cable box beneath the large flat-screen TV he’d installed over the summer. “Ted’s going to be late again. I gotta go.”
Mandy slid back down under the covers. “I love you,” she called. “You’re totally hot.”
Excerpted from Cobble Hill by Cecily von Ziegesar. Excerpted with the permission of Atria Books/S&S. Copyright © 2020 by Cecily von Ziegesar.
If audio is more your thing, you can listen to the excerpt, below, and read the rest of the book on Audible.