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Excerpt: All the Dirty Secrets by Aggie Blum Thompson

All the Dirty SecretsSet in the upscale DC private school scene, where silence can easily be bought, Aggie Blum Thompson’s All the Dirty Secrets asks how far you would go to protect your status and your family, and if some secrets should ever be revealed.

One warm summer night twenty-five years ago, Liza Gold and her friends celebrated their high school graduation with a party on the beach. It should have been the best night of their lives, only one of them never came back out of the ocean.

The tragedy haunted Liza Gold for years. Now, she’s a recently divorced working mom struggling to connect with her standoffish teenager daughter Zoe when history repeats itself. Another young woman has drowned at Beach Week, and this time the victim is Zoe’s secret best friend.

Liza begins to suspect that the two deaths are somehow related, which causes her to face hard truths and take an unflinching look at the people she’s called her closest friends for the past two decades. She must discover what really happened to both women before it’s too late.

All the Dirty Secrets will be available on July 12th, 2022. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


CHAPTER ONE

LIZA

If your friends won’t lie to you, who will?

“Seriously, Liza. You do not look a day over thirty.” Shelby takes a big swig of her whiskey sour and crunches down on an ice cube. “I mean, you still got it.”

“Uh-huh.” I blink. I look every day of my forty-six years, and she knows it. Shelby has been my personal cheerleader since we met at Washington Prep in sixth grade, and I don’t know what I’d do without her slightly deluded optimism. Especially this past year.

“I agree.” Todd leans across the small table so he can be heard above the din of the bar. “I’d date you.”

“Gross.” Shelby punches him in the shoulder. “You mean if you weren’t married to her best friend, right, hon?”

Archer lets out a howl, and Todd rubs his arm with exaggerated care. I laugh, too, maybe for the first time in months. The four of us have been friends since high school, and when we’re together, some subtle alchemy happens that melts away all of life’s problems.

Washington, and all the frenzied hustle of our complicated, busy lives, is less than three hours away, but crossing the Bay Bridge this afternoon was like traveling back in time to when we had nothing to worry about but how we would fill a long weekend.

Together, here in Dewey Beach, we are forever young.

“Remember when we needed fake IDs to get in to the Corkboard?” Todd asks.

We didn’t need fake IDs.” Shelby gestures toward me. “’Cause we were cute.”

If anyone doesn’t look a day over thirty, she doesn’t. While Todd’s hair is salt and pepper now, and Archer has a few smile lines at the edges of his eyes, Shelby looks virtually the same. Thanks to an annual self-care budget equal to the GDP of a small nation and some good genes, she has the same glossy blond hair, smooth skin, and compact body she had in high school. I’d be jealous if I didn’t know how much damn effort it took. I enjoy my nightly half pint of ice cream too much.

“Here’s to Dewey.” Archer raises his glass. I raise mine. The Corkboard hasn’t changed. It’s still the perfect beach town bar— dark, divey, and ripe for anonymous make-out sessions. And there’s a pretty good crowd for a Sunday night. I watch as a woman nearby takes an oddly angled selfie that clearly includes Archer.

It always amuses me to see how people react to having a celebrity near them. And not a politician but a real celebrity like Archer. He’s even better looking in life than on TV, where his makeup smooths out the variations in his brown skin and gives him a plastic perfection. And fame like his makes people act weird. In D.C., most try to act stoic, as if acknowledging fame is a personal weakness. And Washington is nothing if not a town of overachievers with iron wills.

But we’re not in D.C. tonight.

The woman appears at Archer’s elbow. Up close, it’s clear from the way she is wobbling and having trouble keeping her kohl-rimmed eyes open that she’s drunk.

“Can I get a pic?” She gestures to the two women behind her, who wave. “We’re from Balmer.”

“Happy to oblige.” Archer scoots one way, and we all lean back the other way to provide them room. Even back in high school, Archer had that effect on people. He wasn’t voted God’s Gift to Women senior year for nothing.

“You’re so cute,” she says. “What’s your name again, hon? I know it’s not Don Lemon.”

Archer laughs. “Archer Benoit.”

“Oh, I knew that.” She wobbles away as our table erupts in laughter.

“Oh. My. God.” Shelby squeals.

“That was a great Baltimore accent,” Todd says. “Balmer?”

“And I love how she’s like, I know you’re not the Black guy on CNN . . .” Shelby laughs.

“Right? Why not just ask your name?” I sip my drink. “Why drag Don Lemon into it?”

“You would be surprised how often that happens. Sometimes they straight-up ask if I’m friends with Don Lemon. I’m like, no, he lives in New York, I live in D.C., and we work for competing news channels.”

Todd looks at his watch, then raps the table with his knuckles. “We’d better get going. We’re going to try to catch up with Chris tonight. Last chance, ladies.”

“Chris de Groot? Really?” Chris was part of our crew in high school, but has since drifted away. According to a Washington Post profile I read, he’s keeping busy churning out his Kurt Jericho: Rogue CIA Agent series. But I wonder if copious amounts of scotch, and a few DUIs, don’t also play a role.

“He’s at his beach house now?” I ask.

“Yeah, we’re going to head down there.”

“I keep trying to get him to return my emails.” Over the years, I’ve reached out to Chris, hoping he’d agree to let me write a profile on him for the school’s alumni magazine, where I work. In high school, he, Archer, and Todd were an inseparable trio. But if we do get a correspondence going, it peters out before I can get him to commit to anything. “He’s up to what—novel fifteen at this point, right?”

“Those books are crap,” says Shelby without looking up from her glass.

“And you’ve read them?” Archer raises an eyebrow.

“What? I read books.” Shelby tosses back her drink. “Anyway, I don’t need to read them. I read the Amazon reviews. Too many heaving bosoms and explosions.”

“Heaving bosoms and explosions,” Archer repeats and winks at me. “Good name for our band.”

I laugh. We’ve had a running joke about potential band names since Mr. Mooney’s civics class in tenth grade, when we first decided Penal Offense would be a great name.

“Forget novels,” Todd says. “Apparently, Netflix is making a series out of the books.”

“Oh, really?” I ask. My boss, Geoff, would go nuts for that. I can see the headline now: Wash Prep alum takes on Hollywood.

“Look at you all excited.” Archer smirks, but I can actually sense an undercurrent of competition. You don’t get to be a cable news star by being laid-back about other people getting more attention than you do.

“Well, I can’t keep writing about you, Archer.” I give him a wicked smile.

Shelby and Todd laugh. Because I do keep writing stories about Archer, and he loves it. I don’t add that it’s in large part because my boss is starstruck by Archer and always leaning on me to exploit my personal friendship with him.

Todd stands up. “All right.” He gives Shelby a long kiss on her mouth. I have to look away. Even though I know that their relationship has seen its ups and downs over the years, this display of affection stings me like lemon juice on a cut. In the wake of my recent divorce, I don’t need to see someone else’s marital bliss up close. Not too mature of me, but there’s no denying it.

Archer leans in for a friendly peck on the cheek. He’s like a second brother to me, and save for one drunken and horribly awkward attempt at a hookup during college spring break in Florida, we’ve never been tempted to try anything romantic. “We still on for coffee Tuesday morning?”

“Yup. See you in D.C.” I have to interview him for the article, although I don’t think there is much I don’t already know about Archer.

“Don’t you girls get into too much trouble,” Todd says, and they’re off. I watch them push through the crowd that has gathered to listen to a nineties cover band that is tuning up. When I turn back, I notice that the phone on the table is Todd’s. It has a gray case. Everything Shelby has is pink.

“I think Todd grabbed your phone by accident,” I say.

She makes a pouty face and picks up Todd’s phone. “Dummy. I’d better let him know.” She types quickly into the phone and then turns to me.

“Of course you know his password.” Daniel never shared his with me. That should have been a sign.

“We share everything!” Shelby makes a cutie-pie face and then laughs. “Sooooo, see any cute guys here?”

“We’re not here to pick up guys for me,” I say. “We’re at the beach to spy on your kids.” She and Todd have boy-girl twins, Brody and Kinsey, who have just graduated from Washington Prep, and like the majority of recent high school grads in the D.C. area, they’re spending this week partying at the beach, just like we did when we were their age.

“Spy? You’re going to do the same exact thing when Zoe’s a senior.”

I laugh. “I know. But I have two more years until I have to think about that.”

Back when we were in high school, our parents sent us to Beach Week in cars loaded with beer, or in our case, Shelby’s mom bought us Zima so we wouldn’t have to drink our calories. But the overall experience has not changed: the Delaware and Maryland shore is inundated with drunk, horny teens whose cerebral cortexes are not yet fully formed, making them a danger to themselves and others.

So last fall, when Brody and Kinsey entered their senior year, Shelby asked me to mark off this week to spend at her family’s beach house. The twins would be renting houses with their friends, but we would hover in the wings just in case. Neither seen nor heard, we would be but a few minutes away if things got hairy. A girls’ getaway, Shelby called it, even though we both knew that we were really here because she would be climbing the walls with anxiety if she were back in D.C.

“You do need to get out there again!” Shelby shouts above the Toad the Wet Sprocket cover. “You’ve been divorced more than two years.”

“Separated more than two years,” I correct her. “Divorced one year, as of last month.”

Shelby waves the distinction away. “Whatever. Who have you slept with, besides that guy from the gym? Who was that guy? Oh yeah, Deltoid Doug.”

“Please don’t remind me about Deltoid Doug.” I hadn’t realized that you could take the guy out of the gym, but you couldn’t get him to stop talking about CrossFit versus Orange Theory.

“Look around—there’s got to be some decent guys here.” She sweeps her hand around the packed room. But I’m not checking out guys. I’m pulling out my phone to check on Zoe. Shelby puts her hand over mine.

“Yeah, I don’t think so. Zoe’s at home watching Dance Moms.” She gives me a challenging look. “Daniel’s got this. I dare you not to check up on her.”

“It’s just this constant buzzing in the back of my brain—what is Zoe up to? Is Zoe safe? Is she where she said she was going to be?” I sigh. “I’m surprised I’ve been able to turn it off for as long as I have today.”

“I’m the same,” Shelby says. “If you weren’t here distracting me, I’d go nuts.”

“And it hasn’t been good lately.” Even Shelby doesn’t know how bad it’s been with Zoe recently. When Daniel moved out, I thought we might get closer, just the two of us in the house together. But the opposite happened. She’s pulled away. Lately, she absolutely vibrates with anger.

“Anything in particular?”

I laugh. “Let’s see. According to Zoe, I embarrass her. I smother her. I annoy her. I don’t get her. Should I go on?”

“Honey, these teenage girls are witches. I tell you. Thank god I have my Brody. Even though the twins are exactly three minutes apart, they’re so different developmentally. Kinsey can’t wait to get away from me. Meanwhile, Brody is all, Mama, can I fill up your gas tank before you head out with Liza? And the tires need air, so I’ll get that, too.”

“So sweet.”

“Thank god I did not have two girls.” “Well, I don’t have a son. It’s just Zoe and me. And Daniel. And he gets to be the fun one, who let Zoe get a nose piercing and took her to see Phoebe Bridgers the night before midterms.” I pull my hand, and my phone, out from under Shelby’s palm. “The type that would let his sixteen-year-old daughter roam the streets of D.C. after curfew.”

“Don’t check, Liza. Let Daniel be the parent. You’re off this weekend.”

“You’re never really off, though, are you?” I know she just wants to protect me, but I also know she’s the same way about her kids. We both know what can happen to teenagers when parents aren’t paying attention.

Just look at what happened to Nikki.

“You’re such a Capricorn.” Shelby sighs and rolls her eyes. “Fine. Just one quick peek. And then put it away.”

I go to the Find My app and look for Zoe’s phone. We all do it. Every parent that I know. We lament our kids not having the freedoms we did when we were their age, and then we track their every move.

It takes only a millisecond to register that Zoe’s avatar isn’t there.


Click below to pre-order your copy of All the Dirty Secrets, coming 07.12.22!

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