The poignant story of what happens when a woman who thinks she's lost everything has the chance to love again.
Leo has long joked that, in the event of his death, he wants his best friend Garrett, a lifelong bachelor, to marry his wife, Audrey. One drunken night, he goes so far as to make Garrett promise to do so. Then, twelve years later, Leo, a veteran firefighter, dies in a skiing accident.
As Audrey navigates her new role as widow and single parent, Garrett quits his job in Boston and buys a one-way ticket out west. Before long, Audrey's feelings for Garrett become more than platonic, and Garrett finds himself falling for Audrey, her boys, and their life together in Portland. When Audrey finds out about the drunken pact from years ago, though, the harmless promise that brought Garrett into her world becomes the obstacle to his remaining in it.
Dugan's (author of the story collection So Much a Part of You) debut novel frames a tale of grief, loss, and healing around an unusual bargain. Best friends since ninth grade, Leo and Garrett took very different life paths. Leo's a firefighter in Portland; Garrett's a college professor in Boston. Leo fell in love with Audrey, married young, and had three sons; Garrett is still cycling through relationships well into his 30s. Still, there's nobody Leo trusts more than Garrett to the point that, one drunken night in 1999, Leo extracts a promise from Garrett: if anything ever happens to Leo, Garrett must marry Audrey and raise the kids. When a skiing accident takes Leo's life 12 years later, Garrett feels he has no choice he drops everything and buys a one-way plane ticket, planning to uphold at least the part of the deal where he takes care of Leo's family. Tasks such as finishing household construction projects and chaperoning field trips come easily to Garrett, and everyone begins to move forward. But when Garrett and Audrey begin having feelings for each other, things get a little more complicated, especially once Audrey learns about Leo and Garrett's years-old pact. Told from the shifting perspectives of Garrett, Audrey, and her three sons, Dugan's five narrators are too similar and not quite flawed enough to be credible. Though there are genuinely touching moments and Portland comes alive on the page, the story coasts flatly to a tidy, predictable resolution.