The Friend Group
The Friend Group
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When my husband Jake received a promotion at his company, we thought it was a fantastic opportunity, except it required us to relocate to Thailand.
I was utterly lost as a newly minted expat in a foreign country. Even a simple task like buying groceries had become an ordeal. That is until I met Vivian, Jackie, and Kimmy.
Those three women took me under their wings and helped me successfully navigate my new life. They’d become my besties.
I soon learned our friend group was the envy of the expat community and we were treated like royalty. I experienced privilege beyond my wildest dreams. And it would only get better as I’d discovered I was pregnant.
For once, I felt everything in my life was going the right way until I learned I’d taken a seat on a revolving chair. There were others before me, but they left the group, never to be heard from again. Vivian smiled and told me not to worry.
Of course, I’d heard the chatter outside the group: Break a rule, and you’ll be reminded with a courteous smile. Break two, and you’ll disappear.
Read An Excerpt
Read An Excerpt
Noah was born at six pounds, seven ounces. He had the cutest blue eyes I’d ever seen and a smile that never seemed to disappear. I was absolutely, one hundred percent in love with my son and excited about my journey into motherhood.
Ever since I was a little girl, all I’d ever wanted was to be a mother. Sure some people thought it was weird. And could I get a little obsessive? No doubt. But I couldn’t help it. It was this unexplainable yearning inside of me that pulled me toward being a mom. I was convinced that being an only child had something to do with it.
As soon as I was old enough, I talked my parents into letting me babysit for the families in the neighborhood. I’d become so popular that school took a back seat, prompting my parents to cap me at fifteen hours a week until I graduated high school.
I never stopped dreaming about having a baby. Yes, I wanted to get married first, but I just assumed all that would work itself out. And while I dated, had long-term relationships, and experienced break-ups and heartache, I never lost sight of my goal: becoming a mother. And then I met Jake, and all the puzzle pieces fell into place. We were madly in love, and we both wanted children.
But life has a way of throwing curveballs.
When it came to pregnancies, I had drawn the short straw in life and ended up as one of those women prone to preterm labor. My pregnancy with Noah was challenging, to say the least. I had developed preeclampsia, which only magnified the stress on my body. Under the doctor’s orders, I was confined to bed rest for the final three months.
Jake was my savior. He made sure I was comfortable and relaxed at all times. He could work from home during this time, even though it was difficult, and did his best to prevent me from wanting for anything. He never complained when I sent him to the convenience store late at night to buy me a bag of pork rinds and a pint of vanilla bean ice cream. I would use the rinds as spoons and thought it was the best thing ever. Jake couldn’t stomach the pairing, but he still went out and got it for me. In fact, he smartened up and stocked our pantry with bags of rinds and filled our freezer with ice cream. “We’re a team, Emily,” he’d always tell me. He believed it was our responsibility, together, to ensure the pregnancy went the full term.
Lying in bed for three months was worth it. I was willing to do whatever it took to ensure Noah arrived healthy and safely into the world.
And he did.
When Noah was nearing the six month mark, Jake suggested a small get-together with close friends and family to officially introduce Noah to them. At first, I was against it, but not because I didn’t want them to meet Noah. I had waited this long already because I was a first-time mother, and I had filled my head with so many dos and don’ts that I drove myself crazy. I thought Noah was too young and hadn’t yet built up proper immunity, and the thought of having so many people holding him and giving him quick pecks on the head had me freaked out. Because that’s precisely what I would have done with a newborn: I’d shower it with kisses. Who wouldn’t? They’re the cutest ever.
“We can explain that he’s not strong enough to be held,” Jake said. “He can just make a short appearance and then go down for his nap.”
“I think I would feel a little guilty leaving Noah in his room while we’re hosting the party.”
“It’s just for a couple of hours. We’ll have the video monitor on Noah and can watch him the entire time.”
I swished my mouth from side to side as I thought about what Jake proposed.
“We both need a break, and rest.” He bent his knees a bit so his eyes could catch mine. He had that goofy smile on his face that always made me laugh. “This will be good for us. We’ll have some fancy dip with chips, a few bottles of wine, and for those of us who are breastfeeding, sparkling cider. We still have half a dozen bags of rinds. Can’t let those go to waste, right?”
I couldn’t argue with Jake’s idea for a get-together. I felt like I hadn’t had a break in ages. I felt exhausted when I went to bed and the same when I woke. And I did miss seeing my parents and my friends in person. Most of my contact with them was via a video call.
“Okay, for a few hours,” I said with a smile. “It’ll be fun to finally see everyone.”
“Of course, it will. Everything will be fine.”
The following week, I left the baby with Jake while I raced around town picking up last-minute items for our “Meet Noah” get-together that upcoming weekend. I had just walked out of a party store with some cute party favors and was waiting to cross the street.
On the other side of the street, I spotted a mother with a small child. He was full of energy as he skipped around her like she was a maypole. She focused on her phone while shaking a hand at him, urging him to grab it. I kept thinking that one day, Noah would be full of energy and would think running around me would be the best thing ever.
I pulled my phone out of my purse, wanting to capture the cuteness with a video, when the boy suddenly tripped and tumbled. Just then, a large garbage truck passed.
I’ll never forget the agonizing scream that erupted on the other side of the truck. The vehicle came to a stop a few yards past the woman, but I didn’t see her little boy. Where was he? Had he run back behind her? Had a passerby pulled the boy from danger in the nick of time?
The mother stood frozen in place, staring at the truck’s wheels.
A scream from a passing woman echoed.
“Oh, God!” a man shouted.
“Call 911!” another person said.
I didn’t need to see the boy to know his condition. A man kneeling and peering under the truck told me everything. The mother dropped to her knees, wailing. “My son!” she cried. “My son!” Another woman tried to comfort her.
I couldn’t imagine what was going through her mind, but I felt her pain as my eyes welled up. I didn’t blame her. We all look at our phones. We all get easily distracted. But this was a reminder to make sure my child’s safety was always my top priority. It took only a few seconds for this mother’s life to change drastically.
At that moment, I couldn’t help but put myself in that mother’s shoes. What would be going through my mind? Blame? More like guilt. Certainly, all I had gone through to bring Noah into this world, only to lose him to something so tragic. A shiver rattled my spine, and I shook the thought out of my head.
I promised myself right then I would be the perfect mother to Noah.
I would protect him. Watch over him. Keep him safe.
I hurried home, bursting through the front doors and straight to Noah’s room. I picked him up out of his crib. I held him against my chest, kissing the top of his head gently as I cried, knowing I could not recover if something like that had happened to Noah because I was distracted by my phone.
“What’s wrong?” Jake asked as he walked into the nursery. “Everything okay?”
“It is now. Promise me, we’ll both do everything possible to make sure Noah is safe and protected every single day.”
“Of course. We’ll always look out for him until we take our final breaths.”
I told Jake about what I had witnessed earlier.
A dumbfounded look materialized on his face as he ran a hand through his hair. “Sheesh, that’s horrible. What a terrible accident…that mother…I can’t imagine….”
“I don’t want to be her. I don’t want to be the cause of my child’s death.”
“You’re not. You won’t be. That was a freak accident.”
“I know, but that’s my point. How do I prevent a freak accident from harming Noah? She wasn’t a bad mother. She wasn’t doing anything but being a normal mother. She tried grabbing hold of his hand like any mother would, sensing that it was too dangerous to be running like that near the curb. She was calling out to him to grab her hand. She was doing her job and only seconds from grabbing his hand, when….”
My mood had plummeted, and I wanted to cancel the get-together. Jake did his best to calm me, so by the time Saturday rolled around, I felt a little better. We didn’t mention to anyone what I had witnessed. Instead, we focused on our little bundle of joy.
As expected, everyone was excited to meet Noah. We explained that they couldn’t yet hold him. No one questioned it, because everyone knew I had had a difficult pregnancy.
“I promise, once he’s a bit stronger, you can lavish your love on him,” I said.
For the time being, they settled for peeks into his crib.
Just as Jake had predicted, the party was a happy welcome. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed being around my parents and besties. We had so much to talk about and share. I don’t know what it is about being with someone in person, but video calls simply can’t hold a candle to it.
“Noah’s so adorable,” Janice said. She was my best friend and had recently gotten married. She was also excited about starting a family.
“You always hear the stories about babies developing colic, but Noah is sleeping like a champ,” she said.
“You caught him on a good day,” I said. “He’s just getting to the point where he sleeps through the night, except when he’s hungry. There was a time when I thought I would never get any sleep.”
“I heard the minute you become a mom, you sacrifice a decent night’s sleep,” Janice said. “But Noah is the perfect baby,” Janice eyed the baby monitor. “He’s been sleeping soundly ever since we arrived. Even with everyone talking, he hasn’t stirred.”
It wasn’t until Janice made mention of that it dawned on me that Noah hadn’t woken since everyone arrived two hours ago. I kept expecting that he would wake from the noise and I’d have to excuse myself to comfort him. I leaned in closer to the monitor and watched Noah.
“Excuse me, Janice. I’m just going to check on Noah really quick. I’ll be right back.”
As I walked down the hall, I couldn’t shake the image of that mother on her knees, crying as she reached out for her child.
Noah is sleeping soundly. Relax, Emily.
But with each step, I picked up the pace. He was sleeping on his stomach. Usually, Noah slept on his back, and I could have sworn when I put him down in his crib I laid him on his back.
When did he flip over? And why didn’t I notice until now?
In fact, I couldn’t remember Noah ever sleeping on his stomach. I entered the nursery and hurried over to his crib. My senses tingled, sounding the alarm. The noticeable rise of his body from his breaths was absent.
I reached into the crib, and I knew the instant that I touched him, before I even flipped him over. Just like that mother knew the moment the truck passed.
Imagine hiding your pregnancy because your friend group has a terrifying rule.
The Friend Group will captivate you from start to finish. Fans of Frieda McFadden will devour this exhilarating thriller.
"Take 1 expat, mix in past trauma, add secrets, and you have the perfect recipe for a psychological thriller.” ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ — Reader Review
Series: Psychological Thriller #3
Ebook: 250 pages