That's What Frenemies Are For

A Novel

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On Sale 2019-07-30

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In this razor-sharp novel for fans of When Life Gives You Lululemons, a Manhattan socialite turns her spin instructor into a fitness superstar to impress her friends. But can she keep her little project under control? Or has she created a monster?

Julia Summers seems to have it all: a sprawling Upper East Side apartment, a successful husband, and two adorable children attending the best private school in the city. She relishes wielding influence over her well-heeled girlfriends . . . but her star appears to be fading. That’s why, when stranded in Manhattan for the summer as her entire crowd flees to the Hamptons, Julia is on the hunt for the next big thing that will make her the envy of her friends and put her back on top.

Enter Flame, the new boutique gym in her neighborhood. Seductive and transformative, Flame’s spin classes are exactly what Julia needs—and demure, naïve instructor Tatum is her ticket in. But rebranding Tatum as a trendy guru proves hard work, and Julia’s triumphant comeback at summer’s end doesn’t quite go as planned. Tatum begins to grasp just how much power her newfound stardom holds, and when things suddenly get ugly, Julia realizes she’s in way over her head.

Julia’s life is already spiraling out of control when her husband is arrested for fraud and bribery. As her so-called friends turn their backs on her, and Tatum pursues her own agenda, Julia is forced to rethink everything she knew about her world to reclaim her perfect life. But does she even want it back? Witty and incisive, Sophie Littlefield and Lauren Gershell’s That’s What Frenemies Are For provides an engrossing glimpse into the cutthroat moms’ club of the Upper East Side.

Advance praise for That’s What Frenemies are For

“Pack up your beach bag and put your phone on Do Not Disturb: This modern-day Pygmalion story is juicy fun! Fans of Lauren Weisberger and Jill Kargman will delight in this delicious romp about how the other half lives.”—Jamie Brenner, bestselling author of The Forever Summer and Drawing Home
 
“Whether this book hits a little too close to home or offers the perfect escape, readers will love the insanity of Julia’s social ups and downs in this clever novel.”—Laurie Gelman, author of Class Mom

Under the Cover

An excerpt from That's What Frenemies Are For

Chapter 1

There is a particular species of shrew that injects a dose of anesthetizing venom into its prey so it can feed at leisure while the victim is still alive. Maybe it’s a kindness; more likely it’s just nature’s inclination to keep you still and compliant as disaster strikes. You only realize you’re f***ed when it’s too late.

Think about it: markets crash when investors are feeling fat and happy. Spouses leave when their jilted partners are convinced things are finally on the right track again. And when it’s your turn, there’s nothing you can do. You’re the mouse. That short-­tailed shrew bearing down on you with an oily grin? That’s that old familiar bastard, fate.

In my case, the early months of the new year passed in not-­unpleasant monotony, our household bobbing along in the privileged waters of the Upper East Side. My husband worked hard and made a lot of money. I was a stay-­at-­home mom of two young children, a pampered wife with a busy social calendar, a sought-­after friend with a reputation for the mildly outrageous.

At least, I had been for a time, when everything I touched turned—­if not into gold, at least into Instagram posts with hundreds of likes and invitations to every party worth going to and the fawning admiration of those on the fringes of my circle.

Dear reader, allow me to give you a little preview of my story: I had it all, once, but I let it slip away. I’d been a golden girl all my life: rich, spoiled, attractive, confident, with a talent for cultivating envy. But as I reached the mid-­point of my thirties, I grew sloppy or lazy or distracted—­it’s hard to remember exactly why I stopped trying—­and I lost my luster. People noticed; they drifted away. When I realized how far my star had fallen, I became desperate to fight my way back. Naïvely, I thought it couldn’t get any worse than to be irrelevant.

I lost my way. And then I lost my nerve. And then I made a mistake.

It was a chilly evening in May, and James and I were attending our daughter’s lower school play at the exclusive Graylon Academy on the Upper East Side of New York City, where our children would soon be finishing kindergarten and second grade. James had been working around the clock on a new deal, a former nursing home in Chelsea that his firm was turning into luxury condos, and I’d ordered him to take a night off and come to the performance. You don’t show up to such an event without your husband unless you wish to answer for it all night. Managing our husbands is one of the skills on which we judge each other.

I had asked our nanny to stay late and watch Henry, our younger child. I’d already dropped Paige off at the school to get ready for the play, in which she had a minor role as a mushroom. The play was a morality tale about inclusivity, as far as I could tell, told through vegetables.

Benilda’s contract was for 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each weekday plus additional hours “as needed,” for which we paid her extra. James had asked me several times why we couldn’t cut back on her hours now that both Henry and Paige were in school. James didn’t grow up here—­he’s from Allentown—­and he could be insensitive to the fact that certain things simply weren’t done. Our compromise was to ask Benilda to take on the housekeeping and laundry, which allowed us to let our twice-­a-­week housekeeper go.

At work, James had no problem managing a staff of eleven. But Benilda—­with her thick black bob cut precisely jaw length, her acid-­washed jeans, the rapid-­fire conversations she had on the phone in Tagalog with her daughters—­could reduce him to silence with a single “Not so fast, Mr. James.”

This, in fact, was what she said as we were leaving, our contribution for the evening’s charity collection in my hands, a stack of women’s thermal underwear still in the Gap bag. “Not so fast, Mrs. Julia. Take this for school.”

She handed me a small box wrapped in shiny, cheap paper I didn’t recognize. I’d always encouraged Benilda to help herself to my gift-­wrap closet: before the holidays I mailed her packages to her daughters in Sorsogon myself.

“What’s this?”

“Paige wanted to buy her own gift for poor kids. We went to CVS. She used her birthday money.”

I was torn between pride in my daughter and resentment that Paige had confided this wish to Benilda and not me. Lord knows I’d tried to foster a generous spirit in her, but empathy tends to be in short supply among eight-­year-­olds.

“What is it?”

“Nail polish kit. Deluxe kind with six colors.” Benilda nodded with satisfaction. I had no choice but to take the box from her. “They wrap for free!”

In the Uber, James brought it up. “I thought we didn’t let Paige wear nail polish?”

I rolled my eyes. “It’s the school that doesn’t allow nail polish. Which is all the more reason for her to want it. But it can’t go in the collection. There was a very specific list. Practical things.” Socks, phone cards, notebooks. Clothing in plus sizes. All of it to be donated to our sister school in the Bronx.

“So what are you going to do? Toss it in the trash in the ladies’ room?”

James could only ask such a question because he never had to deal with dilemmas like this. To him it was amusing.

But I had an even better solution. I simply left the nail polish in the Uber, a black Escalade so new it smelled like the showroom floor. Maybe the next rider would have a creative idea for it. Or a young niece. No longer my problem, at any rate.

Our driver dropped us off around the corner from the school on Madison Avenue; the street in front of Graylon was as crowded as any weekday pickup. The evening’s highlight was the play, but there was also the sister school collection and a silent auction. Graylon Academy never missed an opportunity to squeeze a few bucks from the parents on top of the fifty thousand dollars per child we paid for tuition every year. Missing these events did not go unnoticed. Few parents dared risk it.

“Jesus,” James said, surveying the line to check in, snaking out through the open doors from the lobby. I could make out Hollis Graves at the desk, flipping through her spreadsheets, checking people’s names off the list.

“Yes, well, welcome to my life.” I shouldn’t have said it. It was petty and not even accurate. It was true that I served on a lot of school committees and put in a ton of volunteer time, but many of my duties were fairly pleasant, involving lots of wine-­drenched “planning” lunches. And I’d learned to avoid the worst tasks—­you wouldn’t find me sitting at a desk checking off names under the glare of all these parents’ impatience.

We stood in line, not speaking. Behind us were Emery Souza and her mother-­in-­law. I said a perfunctory hello, but things had been cool between me and Emery since she ran against me for treasurer in the PTA election two years ago and won.

When we finally reached the sign-­in table, I was ready. “You’re such a trouper to do this, especially all by yourself.”

Hollis gave me a thin smile. “Poppy was supposed to be helping me, but apparently she threw her back out.”

“Oh dear,” I said, already turning away. “Oh look, James, let’s check out the silent auction.”

These auctions, as you can probably guess, are tedious. The amount of effort that goes into them hardly justifies the return, or the annoyance of having to lug home whatever prize you accidentally overbid for. Last year, I bid three hundred dollars on a Nambé platter, never imagining I’d win. I offered it to Benilda, who said she didn’t have room for it, and it went directly into the Goodwill box.

But you have to bid on something. Several somethings, really, if you want to show you’re a team player. And occasionally there are amazing lots, like a weekend at someone’s place in Aspen, which was literally next door to Jessica Biel’s. It ended up going for over twenty thousand dollars.

We strolled along the raffle table with the other parents, more relaxed now that the onus to make conversation was off. James was not at his finest at school events, where he tended to be testy and restless. I bid a hundred dollars on a manicure at Bliss, and another two hundred on a miniature Graylon Academy uniform for an American Girl doll.

Then I saw a frilled and bow-­tied basket with a vaguely familiar red and orange logo on the card. two personal spinning sessions at FLAME! the hand-­lettered sign read, and I realized where I’d seen that logo before: a boutique gym had popped up a few months ago in a basement retail space on Eighty-­fourth Street off Lexington Avenue that was once occupied by a video rental store. spinning * boxing * hiit * mindfulness, the sign out front promised, and I’d been intrigued by the clientele I’d seen coming and going whenever I walked by: firefighters from the station down the street, students, artsy types, merchants, waiters, cops. Everyone, it seemed, but people like me and my friends.

- About the author -

Sophie Littlefield is the author of more than twenty bestselling adult and YA novels. She is the recipient of the Anthony Award and the RT Book Reviews Reviewers' Choice Award. She has been shortlisted for the Edgar, Macavity, Barry, and Crimespree Awards. The New York Times has called her "a regular writing machine."

More from Sophie Littlefield

Lauren Gershell was born and raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where she now lives with her family. She holds an A.B. and law degree from Columbia University. That's What Frenemies Are For is her first novel.

More from Lauren Gershell

That's What Frenemies Are For

A Novel

That's What Frenemies Are For

— Published by Ballantine Books —