Eliza Starts a Rumor by Jane L. Rosen

PROLOGUE





            Eliza Hunt had always been a fan of the sisterhood. It was the reason she became a Girl Scout—well, that and the Thin Mints—and why she joined the women’s chorus in high school even though she couldn’t carry a tune. It was her impetus for pledging a sorority in college when frat boys made her nervous, and why she worked at a female-run marketing firm after graduation. Eliza was completely happy to be traveling through life in the company of her girlfriends, until one fateful night across a Greenwich Village bar, when the boyfriend that she wasn’t even looking for appeared.

            Eliza and Luke were engaged within the year, married in the next, and pregnant with twins shortly thereafter. Soon, the Hunt family of four moved into the house Eliza had grown up in, a traditional Colonial in Hudson Valley, New York, where they quickly settled in for their happily ever after. Or so she thought. It wasn’t long before Eliza found herself longing for the safety net of female friendship. She missed the camaraderie, support, candor, advice, laughs, drama, and encouragement that one gets from being in the company of other women. Eliza missed the sisterhood.

            She joined a mommy-and-me group, started playing round-robin tennis, and spent a lot of time at the local playground, but these interactions all left her longing for more. When she came up short, she set out to create a solution of her own. Inspired by the traditional bulletin boards at the library and supermarket, Eliza took the concept of posting things into the twenty-first century, creating an online source for exchange and support that, like most modern resources, can be carried around all day, right in your pocket. She named it the Hudson Valley Ladies’ Bulletin Board.

            Creating and moderating the bulletin board immediately felt like a gift to Eliza—just what had been missing in her life. After the local newspaper ran a piece featuring her and the bulletin board, its membership quadrupled.

            It turned out that the ladies of Hudson Valley weren’t alone in their digital love affair. The newspaper reported that women in communities from Manhattan to Mumbai were also banding together online to commiserate over their pelvic floors, the glass ceiling, and everything in between. What began with sharing recipes and doctor recommendations morphed into an electronic soapbox where women could shout their innermost truths and fears from computer-generated rooftops. Children, careers, fashion, love, orgasms, money, and men were all fair topics for endless, lay-it-on-the-line discussions. Women holding one another’s virtual hands through the joys, the frustrations, and the traumas of life. It was a tale as old as time, from the biblical menstrual tent to the quilting circle to these modern online hives—female bonds help solidify happiness.

            And Eliza was happy—for a very long time. The article featured a photo of her leaning against her desk, looking smart but casual in a crisp white blouse, pencil jeans, and ballet flats. Twelve years later, it still sat in a frame beside her computer. The last time that she looked at it she had cringed. She barely recognized the smiling, fresh-faced woman in the photo. She was quite surprised that no one wondered where that woman had gone.





CHAPTER 1





Eliza Hunt


            Eliza Hunt sat in the parking lot of her local Stop & Shop. Her neck was soaked in sweat, her hands trembling uncontrollably. It wouldn’t be long before she’d have no choice but to curl up in a ball on the front seat of her car and give up.

            She looked at the curved bold font of the familiar bright purple sign and read it out loud: “STOP & SHOP.” Such simple instructions, yet she felt as if her body were weighted to the front seat of her car, pinned down by fear.

            She refocused and tried talking herself out of the car: “Eliza. The twins are coming home from college for the long weekend. You need to walk across the parking lot and buy food for them.”

            Nothing.

            She had already attempted to will the panic away with calm breaths in and out, in and out, a method she had learned from the psychiatrist who treated her during her first bout with agoraphobia some thirty years earlier. It hadn’t helped then, either. She pried her feet out of her sneakers, peeled off her sweat socks, and shoved them under her now-drenched underarms. Thankfully, the sweat socks lived up to their name. How did I get here? she asked herself. She knew the answer, but as per usual, she didn’t have the strength to address it. She stared out at the familiar market she had been in a thousand times and yelled, “Get out of the damn car, Eliza!”