Adrienne Brodeur’s head jerked off the pillow as she was shaken awake.

Still half asleep, the 14-year-old struggled to understand the words coming out of her mother Malabar’s mouth.

“Ben just kissed me,” she said. “I’m going to need your help sweetie. I need to figure this out. How to make this possible.”

Ben was Ben Souther, the best friend of Malabar’s husband – and Adrienne’s stepfather – Charles.

And with that, the teen was drawn into a web of lies that would end up tearing her life apart.

Malabar’s late-night confession quickly became more serious and soon Adrienne had an active role in helping her mother and Ben cover up their affair.

Adrienne, now 53 and a writer who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, admits her relationship with her mother was never normal.

“She was lonely and self-centred,” says Adrienne, who grew up in nearby Cape Cod. “I was always longing for her attention.”

She has since come to understand that her mum was incredibly damaged.

Before Adrienne was born, Malabar had a child who died from choking at two years old. The incident left her traumatised and depressed.

After divorcing Adrienne’s father, Malabar married Charles, who was 14 years her senior. However, he became ill after suffering a series of strokes.

As a small child before the trauma began

Then, one night, Charles’s childhood friend Ben Souther and his wife Lily came to the house for dinner.

After dessert, away from the other guests, Ben kissed Malabar.

“She was so excited,” says Adrienne. “The whole thing was thrilling. I was eager for details of her illicit encounters with Ben.

“Sometimes I would leave a note on her pillow instructing her to wake me as soon as she returned.”

With Adrienne’s help, the couple invented elaborate excuses to be alone together – including writing a cookbook together called Wild Game.

They soon fell into a pattern. After dinner, Adrienne would suggest going for a walk and because both Charles and Lily were frail – Charles due to his strokes, while Lily had survived cancer – it would be just the three of them.

“Once out of the house my mother and Ben would kiss passionately, often with me still in the middle, part of a three-way embrace,” she says.

“Then I would go off on my own while Ben and my mum went to an empty house together.”

She would then be rewarded by being drawn into her mother’s confidence even further as Malabar would seek her out to gush about her feelings.

Craving her mother’s love, Adrienne lapped it up.

But as Adrienne’s involvement in her mother’s affair deepened, it took over her entire life.

“I had to confirm Malabar’s alibi, corroborating her story if only with silence,” she says.

“At first it felt simple, but that silence became a heavy weight. It gives you a false sense of intimacy with one person, but it’s burdensome too.”

Carrying such a dark secret affected Adrienne’s health and she suffered ongoing stomach pains caused by
crippling anxiety.

However, it wasn’t until she went to college in New York that she started to realise how unhealthy the situation was.

Then, one day, a friend discovered the affair and threatened to expose it – unless Malabar paid her $10,000.

Adrienne is now a writer

Her mother was distraught, so together they hatched a plan.

They decided to write anonymous letters to many of Malabar’s friends, claiming she was having an affair with their husbands.

“She chose people she knew had alibis for the times they’d supposedly met, so it would be obvious it wasn’t true,” says Adrienne.

“The idea was to discredit the friend if she ever did write a letter to Lily.”

The plan worked. But Adrienne was once again at the centre of the lies.

“I was getting further in rather than further out,” she says.

Five years after the affair began, Charles died of a stroke. A year later, Malabar, Ben and Lily planned a holiday together to Harbour Island in the Bahamas, inviting Adrienne and Ben’s son Jack along.

Adrienne and Jack hit it off and, encouraged by Malabar, got engaged. But a few months before the wedding, Ben told Lily about his affair.

“My mother was blindsided,” says Adrienne. Jack was furious too, however he didn’t realise how big a part Adrienne had played in the deception.

Two years later in 1992, Lily died of a heart attack, and the following year Ben and Malabar married.

But while their relationship flourished, Jack and Adrienne’s began to break down.

Adrienne sank into a deep depression and started having therapy.

“I didn’t know who I was. My whole life had been so intertwined with my mother’s secret life,” she says.

“I hit rock bottom and realised I was living in the wrong city with the wrong man and working in the wrong profession.”

Adrienne quit her job in public policy to work in publishing in New York and eventually filed for divorce.

“I’d spent so much of my life trying to please someone other than myself,” says Adrienne. “I was in a dark place and I needed to change everything.”

Eventually she met her now-husband Tim Ryan, and had two children, Madeleine, 14, and William, 11.

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Malabar and Ben were together for 20 years, until his death in 2013.

Remarkably, Adrienne continues to have a close relationship with her mum, who now has dementia.

“I often get asked if I’m angry, or why I haven’t cut her off, but anger is an emotion that can feed on itself and take down the host in the process,” she says.

“It’s been a complicated and difficult relationship and it will be long after she’s gone. Now that she’s ill, we don’t talk about what happened in the past.”

Adrienne is determined not to make the same mistakes with her own daughter.

“My daughter is now 14 – the same age I was when Malabar told me about Ben’s kiss. But I’m interested in parenting – not being her best friend.”

* Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover and Me by Adrienne Brodeur (£16.99, Chatto & Windus) is available now

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