Authors: Elin Hilderbrand
Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Fiction / Contemporary Women
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You want a love story?
This novel is dedicated to my grandparents,
Clarence Watt Huling Jr. and Ruth Francis Huling,
who were married from June 19, 1943,
until my grandfather’s death on June 1, 2012.
Sixty-eight years, eleven months, and two weeks.
That’s a love story.
Jennifer Bailey Carmichael
Stuart James Graham,
along with their families, invite you to
share in the celebration of their wedding.
Saturday, July 20, 2013, 4:00 p.m.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Fair Street
Reception to follow at the Carmichael home, 34 Orange Street
RSVP by June 1.
I have finally reached the point with my prognosis where I accept that there are certain
things I will not live to see. I will not see the day your father retires from the
law firm (he always promised me he would retire on his 65th birthday, safe to say
that promise was only made to appease me); I will not live to see my grandchildren
ride roller coasters, get pimples, or go on dates—and I will not live to see you get
This last item pains me the most. As I write this, you are a senior in college and
you have just broken up with Jason. For my sake, you are pretending like it’s no big
deal, you said you knew he wasn’t “the One”; his favorite politician is Pat Buchanan
and yours in Ralph Nader. So it won’t be Jason you end up with—dishy though he was
(sorry, true)—but there will be someone, someday, who will light you up. You will
get married, and you have said that you would like a big, traditional wedding with
all the bells and whistles. Since you’ve been a little girl, you’ve had your heart
set on getting married on Nantucket, and although marriage is probably
further from your mind now than it was when you were six, I hope that is still true.
That’s where this notebook comes in. I won’t be here to encourage or guide you when
the time comes; I will, sweet Jenna, probably never meet the man you’re going to marry
(unless it’s the delivery man from FTD who has been here three times this week. I
can tell he has a crush on you). My hand aches knowing that it will not be squeezing
your hand just before you walk down the aisle.
But enough feeling sorry for ourselves! I will, in these pages, endeavor to bestow
my best advice for your big day. You can follow it or ignore it, but at the very least
you will know where I stand on each and every matter.
I wish for you a beautiful day, Jenna, my darling. You alone will make it so.
Finn Sullivan-Walker (bridesmaid):
I can’t wait to see Jenna wearing her mother’s gown. It’s vintage Priscilla of Boston,
silk bodice with a sweetheart neckline and lace column skirt. There used to be a picture
in the Carmichael house of Jenna’s mother, Beth, wearing the dress. I was obsessed
with that picture when I was younger, even before Beth died. Seeing Jenna in that
dress is going to be surreal, you know? Like seeing a ghost.
Douglas Carmichael (father of the bride):
I can’t stand the thought of giving Jenna away. She’s my last one. Well, I
guess technically Nick is my last one, but Nick might never get married.
Nick Carmichael (brother of the bride):
My sister has extremely hot friends.
Margot (sister of the bride, maid of honor):
Can I be honest? I really just want this weekend to be over.
hey were on the ferry, the hulking white steamship that was properly named the
but which Margot had always thought of as
because that was what their mother used to call it. Every year when the Carmichael
family drove their Ford Country Squire into the darkened hold of the boat, Beth used
to say it was like being swallowed by a whale. She had found the ride on the steamship
romantic, literary, and possibly also biblical (she would have been thinking of Jonah,
right?)—but Margot had despised the ferry ride then, and she despised it even more
now. The thick, swirling fumes from the engines made her queasy, as did the lurching
motion. For this trip, Margot had taken the Dramamine that Jenna offered her in Hyannis.
Really, with the seven thousand details of her wedding to triage, the fact that Jenna
had remembered to pack pills for her sister’s seasickness was astonishing—but that
was Jenna for you. She was thoughtful, nearly to a fault. She was, Margot thought
with no small amount of envy, exactly like their mother.
For Jenna’s sake, Margot pretended the Dramamine was working. She pulled down the
brim of her straw hat against the hot July sun, which was blinding when reflected
off the surface of
the water. The last thing she wanted was to freckle right before the wedding. They
were outside, on the upper deck. Jenna and her best friend, Finn Sullivan-Walker,
were posing against the railing at the bow of the boat. Nantucket was just a smudge
on the horizon; even Christopher Columbus might not have said for sure there was land
ahead, but Jenna was adamant that Margot take a picture of her and Finn, with their
blond hair billowing around their faces, as soon as Nantucket was visible in the background.
Margot planted her feet at shoulder width to steady herself against the gentle and
yet nefarious rocking of the boat and raised the camera. Her sister looked happy.
She looked excited-happy that this was the beginning of her wedding weekend, which
was certain to be the most fun-filled and memorable weekend of her life—and she also
looked contented-happy, because she was confident that marrying Stuart James Graham
was her life’s mission. Stuart was the One.
Stuart had proposed to Jenna on a park bench across the street from Little Minds,
the progressive, “sustainable” preschool where Jenna was the lead teacher, presenting
her with a ring featuring Sri Lankan sapphires and ethically mined diamonds from Canada.
(Stuart was a banker, who made money buying and selling money, but he knew the path
to Jenna’s heart.) Since that day, Margot had cast herself as devil’s advocate to
Jenna’s vision of a lifetime of happiness with Stuart. Marriage was the worst idea
in all of civilization, Margot said. For two people to meet when they were young and
decide to spend the rest of their lives together was unnatural, Margot said, because
everyone knew that human beings changed as they got older, and what were the chances—honestly,
—that two people would evolve in ways that were compatible?
“Listen,” Margot had said one evening when she and Jenna
were having drinks at Cafe Gitane in SoHo. “You like having sex with Stuart now. But
imagine doing it four thousand times. You’ll lose interest, I promise you. You’ll
grow sick of it. And the enthusiasm that you used to have for having sex with Stuart
will migrate—against your will—to something else. You’ll develop an unhealthy interest
in cultivating orchids. You’ll be
mother on the baseball field, harassing the umpire over every pitch that crosses
the plate. You’ll start flirting with the cashier at Whole Foods, or the compost guru
at the local nursery, and the flirting will turn into fantasies, and the fantasies
will become a fling, then perhaps a full-blown affair, and Stuart will find out by
checking your cell phone records, and your life will be ruined, your reputation will
end up in shreds, and your children will require expensive therapy.” Margot paused
to sip her sauvignon blanc. “Don’t get married.”
Jenna had stared at her levelly. Or almost. Margot thought that this time, maybe,
somewhere deep inside those clear blue eyes, she detected a flicker of worry.
“Shut up,” Jenna said. “You’re just saying that because you’re divorced.”
“Everyone is divorced,” Margot said. “We owe our very livelihood to the fact that
everyone is divorced.
It put food on the table, it paid for our orthodontia, it sent us to college.” Margot
paused again, more wine. She was under the gun to get her point across. It was nearly
seven o’clock, and her children were in the apartment without a babysitter. At twelve
years old, Drum Jr. was okay to be left in charge until it got dark, then he would
panic and start blowing up Margot’s phone. “Divorce, Jenna, is paying for your wedding.”
Margot was referring to the fact that their father, Douglas Carmichael, was the managing
partner at Garrett, Parker, and Spence, a very successful family law practice in midtown
Manhattan. Technically, Margot knew, Jenna would have to agree with her: divorce had
always paid for everything.
“There is no man on earth better suited for me than Stuart,” Jenna said. “He traded
in his Range Rover for a hybrid for me. He and two of the guys on his trading desk
showed up last weekend to fix a hole in the roof at Little Minds. He brings me coffee
in bed every morning when he stays over. He goes with me to foreign films and talks
with me about them afterwards at the fondue place. He likes the fondue place and doesn’t
mind that I always want to eat there after the movies. He doesn’t complain when I
listen to Taylor Swift at top volume. Sometimes he even sings along.”
This was a litany Margot had heard many times before. Famously, after only three dates,
Stuart had showed up at Jenna’s apartment with a bouquet of yellow roses and a screwdriver,
and he had fixed the towel bar in her bathroom, which had been broken since she’d
moved in two years earlier.
“What I’m saying is that you and Stuart are tra-la-la now, everything is sunshine
and lollipops, but it might still fail down the road.”
“Shut up,” Jenna said again. “Just shut the eff up. You’re not going to talk me out
of it. I love Stuart.”
“Love dies,” Margot said, and she snatched up the bill.
Now Margot tried to center Jenna’s and Finn’s shining faces in the viewfinder. She
snapped a picture, all hair and toothy smiles.
“Take another one, just in case,” Jenna said.
Margot took another as the boat pitched side… to… side. She grabbed one of the plastic
molded chairs that were bolted to the deck. Oh, God. She breathed in through her nose,
out through her mouth. It was good to be gazing at the horizon. Her three children
were down in the hold of the ship, sitting in the car,
playing Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja on their iDevices. The movement of the boat didn’t
faze them; all three had their father’s ironclad constitution. Nothing made them sick;
physically, they were warriors. But Drum Jr. was afraid of the dark, and Carson, Margot’s
ten-year-old, had nearly failed the fourth grade. At the end of the year, his teacher,
Ms. Wolff, had told Margot—as if she didn’t know already—that Carson wasn’t stupid,
he was just lazy.
Like his father. Drum Sr. was living in San Diego, surfing and managing a fish taco
stand. He hoped to buy the stand and possibly turn it into a franchise; someday he
would be a baron of fish taco stands up and down the coast of California. The business
plan sounded hazy to Margot, but she encouraged him nonetheless. When she met him,
Drum Sr. had had a trust fund, which he’d frittered away on exotic surfing and skiing
trips. His parents had bought Drum and Margot a palatial apartment on East Seventy-third
Street, but his father offered nothing more in the way of cash, hoping that Drum would
be inspired to get a job. But instead Drum had stayed home to care for the kids while
Margot worked. Now she sent him a support check for $4,000 every month—the trade-off,
along with a lump sum of $360,000, for keeping the apartment.
However, after the phone call she had received last night, she supposed the palimony
payments would end. Drum Sr. had called to tell her he was getting married.
“Married?” Margot had said. “To whom?”
“Lily,” he said. “The Pilates instructor.”
Margot had never heard of Lily the Pilates instructor before, and she had never heard
the kids—who flew to California the last weekend of every month, trips that were also
financed by Margot—mention anyone named Lily the Pilates instructor. There had been
a Caroline, a Nicole, a Sara, pronounced
“Sah-RAH.” Drum had women moving through a revolving door. From what Margot could
tell, girlfriends lasted three to four months, which aligned with what she knew to
be his attention span.