by Rebecca Brooks
Don’t Support Me: The Case for Honesty Among Friends
In August the New York Times published a piece in the Style section called “Have I Told You Lately That You’re Crazy” about having The Talk with friends. You know, the one where you suck it up, set aside social niceties, and tell your BFF she’s officially two Fruit Loops short of a bowl. One of my friends posted the article on her Facebook wall with the comment that while she bristles at the term “crazy” being applied to women, “I do like the idea of not being de facto supportive and tying oneself up in verbal knots when a friend has an obviously bad idea.”
My heart did that little skippy thing that happens when I turn a corner and bam there I am, face to face with something I’ve always thought but never quite articulated. Honesty is one of those fundamental tenets of friendship and a foolproof way to see which relationships are for real. Can I rely on someone to tell me the truth, to guide me along, to intervene before I go off the rails? Do I feel that I can play that role for someone else?
The actual article is… let’s just say less inspiring than I’d thought it would be. It begins with a friend of the author insisting she can levitate. (I am not making this up.) Believing friends aren’t allowed to say, “You’re nuts,” the author tries polite diplomacy. For some reason she believes that lying through her teeth while thinking negative thoughts about her friends counts as being “supportive.” The whole thing comes off as a farce.
But I’m not giving up on the truth. In my debut romance Above All, Casey’s best friend Lee offers Casey some serious tough love. Older than Casey by a good thirty years, Lee is a widow who dispenses wisdom with gentle ribbing and a cup of hot tea. Lee pushes Casey to confront her feelings, warns her not to give up on love, and cautions when Casey is falling to fast. She doesn’t tell Casey everything she wants to hear and yes, this honesty leads to conflict between the friends. But the friendship is strong enough to survive the spat. The friendship is strong because of the spat. Because it’s rooted in truth, not platitudes.
Note that Lee is never mean to Casey. She certainly doesn’t say, “You’re crazy.” She simply tries to guide Casey to look at her rapidly developing relationship with Ben from another angle. There is always a way to be both honest and kind. “I know you want to talk about spending when you’re married, but it’s important to talk about it now.” “Do you want to go on a date with someone whose profile raises giant red flags?” “Yeah, writing that article sucks but it has to get done.”
Nobody is hurt by these comments. Nobody’s feelings are dismissed or put down. But I’m not going to say “That’s great!” to the friend avoiding a difficult conversation, or creating drama, or putting off the work that she has. How can my friendship mean something if I’m always biting my tongue?
There’s another side to this, too. I run like hell from people who regularly complain about their friends. What are they going to say about me?
Meet Rebecca Brooks:
Rebecca Brooks lives in New York City in an apartment filled with books. She received a PhD in English but decided it was more fun to write books than write about them. She has backpacked alone through India and Brazil, traveled by cargo boat down the Amazon River, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, explored ice caves in Peru, trekked to the source of the Ganges, and sunbathed in Burma, but she always likes coming home to a cold beer and her hot husband in the Bronx. Her books are about independent women who leave their old lives behind in order to try something new—and find the passion, excitement, and purpose they didn’t even know they’d been missing.
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Above All Synopsis:
Reeling from a sudden breakup, Casey Webb leaves Brooklyn, drives north and settles in a sleepy mountain town in upstate New York. She’s convinced she’s happy being alone—until she reads the acknowledgments in her ex-boyfriend’s hit debut novel, thanking his new girlfriend “above all”.
Good thing Ben Mailer is in town. The hot, young Brooklyn-bound chef offers the perfect distraction, and soon Casey is having the best sex of her life—on a mountain, in the lake, all over her cozy cabin. But as their weekend fling turns into something more, the demands of Ben’s family and budding career make moving to her idyllic town impossible. Now Casey must decide what she can’t live without—her life in the mountains or the man she wants as hers. Smart, sweet and blisteringly hot, Above All is about getting lost…and finding yourself right where you belong. (Released July 18, 2014)
Purchase Above All:
Above All Excerpt:
One of Casey’s additions to the office had been to put up a bookshelf to house the collection of used paperbacks Geller had accumulated as campers came in to take a book or leave one behind. It wasn’t the greatest library ever amassed, but it kept Casey’s book collection rotating more than if she’d been stuck driving forty minutes to the nearest bookstore any time she wanted something new.
Trash was probably the precise term Nick would have used to describe the murder mystery she was engrossed in with her muddy boots hanging over the edge of the desk. Lucky for both of them, Nick wasn’t up there to share his opinions on taste.
When she heard tires crunching over the dirt, Casey looked up with a start. The office clock said just past nine. She’d had no idea of the time. She’d have to check this group in quickly and then get home.
A dark-brown head poked into the office, accompanied by the sounds of car doors opening and closing and staccato bursts of laughter punctuating the night.
“Come in,” Casey called, cracking the spine to rest the book across the desk. “Quickly, you’re letting the moths in.”
The screen door slammed shut.
Casey was so busy scanning the lines of the ledger Geller kept by hand to check in arrived that she didn’t look up until the man had crossed the office and was standing directly in front of the desk.
“I’m Ben,” he said. “I spoke to a gentleman on the phone?”
Casey looked up.
And tried not to fall back in her chair. He was boyish, with straight dark hair long enough to stray into his eyes and a dimpled grin that carved two apostrophes into his cheeks and another in the center of his chin when he smiled. He was tall and even under his black North Face fleece she could tell how lean and muscular he was. He had soft brown eyes and thin lips with a look like a puppy dog that had cultivated its sweet expression just to make you want to hug it.
“Sure,” Casey said, rooting unnecessarily around the papers on the desk to give herself something to do besides stare. She was flustered by how good-looking Ben was, and even more flustered that she’d been so disarmed. “That was Mr. Geller. He said you’d be coming in. You’re eight?”
Ben Mailer, who definitely wasn’t a beefy ex-football player, confirmed.
“I hope it wasn’t too last minute, but he said there was plenty of space.”
Casey nodded, still distracted. He may not have been back in college but he sure looked as if he could be. She felt like a cradle-robber just looking at him. But it was impossible to pull her eyes away.
She heard his friends outside, laughing about some joke they’d shared in the car. A guy with dark hair buzzed close to his temples and matching thick stubble across his face came in and Casey’s first, totally unprofessional thought was that at least he looked older than Ben—late twenties, maybe, with lines under his eyes that said he was no stranger to late nights. Maybe they were actually the same age and Ben only looked younger. The idea made her feel slightly better about the way his eyes were sending something icy and hot shooting through her veins.
But no matter how old he was, it was still unnerving to realize that she couldn’t stop wondering what he must look like without that trim fleece jacket.
“Hey man,” the guy with the stubble sauntered over to the desk. “Know where we’re going to be?”
Ben turned to Casey. “We have four tents,” he explained, “but we can arrange them however you want.”
Ah. Well, that answered that. Four couples, Casey reasoned, marking down the numbers. It looked like lucky Ben had one very lucky girlfriend. That at least ought to make her stop thinking things that definitely shouldn’t have been running through her mind.
“How many vehicles?” She tried to keep her voice steady, even though she couldn’t make herself look up and meet his dark, luminous eyes. Especially not with his friend there, who was probably wondering what was wrong with the lady behind the desk.
“Two. I’m so sorry we’re so late. We got a little lost in the turn off from 87 in the dark. I hope you’re not staying open longer just to check us in.”
Casey assured him it was fine, a little unnerved by how polite he was. Somehow it wasn’t what she expected from kids up for a reunion, even though, she reminded herself, she obviously had no idea what Ben was like.
And had no intention of finding out, a stern voice in her head warned.
Casey blinked furiously and tried to stay on track. She wrote down the license plates to their two SUVs, went through the rules of the campsite and showed on a map where to walk to their sites. Counting out the change to Ben’s deposit—while eyeing his long, slender fingers resting on the desk—she couldn’t help wondering who his girlfriend was waiting outside.
“So where’d you guys come in from?” She made her voice casual as Ben passed the maps to his friend.
“All over. Boston, New York.” He gestured vaguely. “We all went to Vassar and stayed here once, right before we graduated. So, you know, we thought it’d be fun to get together again.”
The man with the stubble clapped Ben on the shoulder. “This guy is way too modest. He’s studying at the Culinary Institute of America and we’re here to give him a well-deserved weekend off. He’s been working like a dog.”
“Have not,” Ben said good-naturedly, but somehow his smile didn’t quite reach his dark eyes.
His friend, though, hardly noticed Ben’s sudden unease. “We’re hoping he remembers us so that when he opens up the best restaurant in New York City, we’ll be comped free meals since we won’t be able to afford a single slice of bread.”
Ben winced, but as soon as Casey told him, she hoped he’d enjoy his time off, a lopsided grin spread across his face. This time, it lit up his eyes.
“Make sure you have flashlights,” she said quickly to cover up the way her pulse escalated when he caught her eye and brushed back a rogue strand of hair. “Be careful of roots and rocks, that sort of thing.”
Ben nodded, but as his friend went out to find the campsite, he hung back, looking around. Casey told herself it had nothing to do with her, but even so, some small spark fluttered inside as his eyes lingered.
“What’re you reading?” Ben asked as he looked over the bookshelf.
“High-quality material.” Casey lifted up the cover and explained the system she’d set up.
“Pretty ingenious—maybe I’ll bring you something.”
“Sure,” she said, trying to keep her mouth in a straight line. For some reason, the edges kept wanting to pop up.
Someone called from outside, asking Ben for the keys, and at last he turned to go. On his way out, he wished Casey a good night and then reached up to tap the back of the doorframe before swinging the door shut behind him.
She really, really wished he hadn’t.
Because lifting his arms to the doorframe made his jacket rise up enough to expose the top of his low-slung jeans. As well as the thin green line of his boxers hugging his hips underneath. It didn’t take X-ray vision to know that just above that patch of skin, hidden by his white undershirt and whatever else he had on under his black North Face fleece, were two long dimples carved into his lower back, matching the dimples on his face.
Officially the sexiest part of any man’s body and the one thing Casey dreamed about on those rare nights when she did, in fact, allow herself to dream.
But this was not going to be one of those images she replayed in her mind’s eye. She was already berating herself for noticing. Not only had she turned to putty simply because he slid the hair out of his eyes as if he didn’t know the gesture would make every girl within a ten-mile radius want to extend her hand to his cheek. But she, Cassandra Webb, competent, capable, got dumped on her ass but still got back up again, thirty-four-year-old independent woman, had checked out his twenty-something-year-old butt.
She made herself swear she wouldn’t give him a second thought. She wasn’t interested. Period. She’d come to the woods to be alone and she fully planned to stay that way. She was going to read a little more until she was sufficiently distracted and then head back to her cabin, warm some cookies in the microwave, and go to sleep. Geller would take over registration in the morning and she would never see this group again.
Casey reached for her book, but she couldn’t stop her hand from hovering over the ledger. Before she knew what she was doing, she allowed herself a quick peek at the records and groaned.
Geller’s handwriting was unmistakable. They were staying for four days, three nights. There was no way she wouldn’t find herself looking at those dimples again.
[copyright Rebecca Brooks, 2014. All Rights Reserved Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.]
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