In Michele Campbell’s forthcoming novel, It’s Always the Husband, three women meet in college and become inseparable. But 20 years later, all of them are married and not quite as close with each other as they once were — and one of them is standing on a bridge while someone behind her encourages her to jump.
What went wrong? Get a glimpse into the story below with EW’s exclusive sneak peek inside the book.
It’s Always the Husband hits shelves May 16.
Excerpt from It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell
The Night of Her Fortieth Birthday
She stumbled through the dark woods, the trees dripping raindrops onto her hair and her party dress. Her shoes were covered in mud, and she trembled from the cold.
“Hey,” she called out. “This is crazy. My shoes are soaked.”
“Just a little farther.”
She was out of breath, and her feet were killing her. It wouldn’t be good for the baby if she tripped and fell. Then they rounded a bend. She got an open view ahead, and knew finally where they were. When she saw the ghostly shape looming in the distance, she stopped dead.
“You know why.”
In a matter of minutes, they reached the foot of the bridge. A frigid wind blew in her face, carrying the scent of decaying leaves and ice-cold water. There were barriers across the bridge now, blocking access, and a profusion of warning signs. Danger. Private Property. No Trespassing. The signs were there for liability reasons, but from what she understood, the local kids still loved to make the breathless leap into the river. The more people who died here, the bigger the dare. Kids had no fear; they were young, and didn’t know better. She could have told them. Somebody dies, and it changes the lives of those left behind, forever.
“I don’t know what kind of point you’re trying to make, bringing me here,” she said, her voice shaking with tears. But she didn’t turn back.
They walked forward a few paces, stepped over an old, tumbled-down metal fence and kept walking until they got to where the center of the bridge used to be. There it was, the abyss that he’d fallen through, the night he dis- appeared forever. She looked down and saw the water roiling against the rocks. The town had done a crappy job of boarding it over. They’d “fixed” it many times in the intervening years, but they were too cheap for the one fix that would work, which would’ve been to tear the evil thing down once and for all. Below, the water swirled and foamed. She could hear the roar from up here, over the pounding of her heart.
“No,” she said, backing away from the edge. “Go ahead.”
“Go ahead and jump. You know you want to.”
Twenty-Two Years Earlier
Aubrey Miller lugged her heavy duffel bag through ivy-covered Briggs Gate and let it drop to the ground, stopped in her tracks by her first real-life glimpse of Carlisle College’s world-famous Quad. It was a gorgeous late-summer day, and she twirled around three hundred and sixty degrees, drinking in the sights and smells of the place. Green grass, old brick, tower- ing trees. The promised land. Aubrey had been dreaming of this moment ever since she’d picked up a Carlisle brochure in her high school guidance office back in Las Vegas three years before. Now, against all the odds, after three years of nonstop studying and scheming, here she was. Carlisle was more beautiful than she’d dreamed. Pictures didn’t capture the place. The sense of peace that flowed from the mellow brick, the cheery shouts of the students as they greeted each other. Everywhere she looked, she saw students with their families—the Carlisle student identifiable by the expensive backpack, the well-heeled dad toting cardboard boxes, the pretty mom with a designer handbag, the gaggle of younger siblings. Aubrey was here alone. Her financial aid didn’t cover her mother flying across the country to the East Coast just for the frivolity of unpacking her clothes for her and tearing up when they hugged good-bye. She told herself that was just as well. Her mother, who’d dropped out of high school when she had Aubrey’s sister at seventeen, would never fit in. She couldn’t imagine a place like Carlisle, let alone know how to behave here.
Aubrey settled the duffel bag back onto her shoulder and got her bearings from the campus map that she’d tucked in the back pocket of her jeans. Her dorm was called Whipple Hall, and it was located somewhere along this exquisite quadrangle. At one end of the Quad was Founders’ Hall, with the famous statue of Elias Carlisle holding up the lantern of knowledge. Once she spotted the statue, Aubrey knew where she was, and within moments she was gazing in wonder at the graceful brick façade of Whipple, her new home. She couldn’t believe she’d get to live here, after spending her childhood in a succession of crappy apartments with leaky sinks and dank hallways. It was a miracle.
The entry foyer was dim after the bright sunshine. Aubrey followed signs to Registration and ended up in the dorm common room, where she handed her driver’s license to the cheerful lady behind the desk. As the woman paged through boxes of envelopes searching for Aubrey’s registration mate- rials, Aubrey took in her surroundings. Dark wood paneling, a fireplace with an elegant marble mantel, a sparkling brass chandelier. The common room furniture was cozy and well used; the bookshelves full of old year- books and board games. She’d never been in a place with this much history in her life, not where she came from. Tons of famous people had graduated from Carlisle over the centuries. Scientists, writers—presidents, even. She could visualize them lounging here in this very room, engaged in dazzling conversation. She imagined studying here herself, on a cold winter night in front of a roaring fire, talking about ideas, or just drinking cocoa with her roommates.
The thought of her roommates made Aubrey’s stomach sink. At the beginning of the summer, the Housing Office sent her their names, addresses, and pictures, and invited her to get in touch. The purpose seemed to be to encourage cooperation about setting up the room—who’d bring the mini-fridge, who’d bring the speakers, that sort of thing. Aubrey had nothing more to contribute than the clothes on her back, but she wrote anyway, because she longed to know these girls immediately. From the pictures and the limited biographical information provided in the mailing, Aubrey had spent hours daydreaming about them already. The blonde with the perfect turned-up little nose, who lived on Park Avenue and went to a fancy private boarding school, was a debutante, Aubrey imagined, who owned a horse and played tennis. The brunette with the glasses and gold-cross necklace was quiet, studious, and religious. But maybe she was wrong, and anyway, she was dying to know more, so she wrote two long, chatty letters asking each roommate all about herself— about her family, her high school, her likes and dislikes, what she planned to study, anything Aubrey could think of, really. She’d mailed the letters two months ago now, and checked the mail every day for their replies. She’d never heard back, not a word.
Aubrey had been so focused for so long on getting into Carlisle, then on the financial aid, the plane ticket, and making money to help her mother get her bills straightened out before she left, that she hadn’t thought much about how life would be once she got here. Whenever she did, the debacle of the roommate letters loomed, and made her feel sick to her stomach. It was surely her own fault that they never replied. Aubrey wasn’t good at friendship. Back home, she’d been in the advanced placement classes, studying constantly whenever she wasn’t working at whatever part-time job she could find. She didn’t think of herself as ambitious, just as somebody who really needed to get out. Her mother worked back-to-back shifts as a waitress, her father was out of the picture, her older sister slept where she wanted to and didn’t come home for days at a time. Aubrey became a reader early so she wouldn’t feel alone in her apartment at night. Books kept her company and became her friends; they were more welcoming than people, and less threatening. In her school, there were kids who wouldn’t come near her because her family was so-called white trash, and other kids who would give her the time of day but were into drugs, and sex and partying, and would only drag her down. Then there were the nerds like her, who would rather study than hang out. The end result was no friends, and no social life. She didn’t regret it. Look at the results. Here she was, eighteen years old, on the brink of realizing her dreams. But she didn’t have a clue how to be a cool girl. No wonder the roommates hadn’t written back.
All that was about to change. Her real life was starting. Whatever she’d done wrong before, she’d fix. If she’d been shy, she’d become the life of the party. If she’d been a nerd, she’d be the It Girl now. If she was skinny and gawky, she’d become thin like a model. No transformation was beyond her, not at this place. She’d make her roommates love her, no matter what it took.
From It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell. Copyright (C) 2017 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.