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Authors: Cynthia Ellingsen

Marriage Matters

BOOK: Marriage Matters
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PRAISE FOR

The Whole Package

“The friendship between the women is realistic, the characters funny, and the premise well-executed. Readers will giggle and grin from start to finish, and will surely be eager for Ellingsen’s next novel.”


Publishers Weekly

“A hilarious, laugh-out-loud romp of a novel. A story of sisterhood, and why ups and downs are only minor bumps when your girlfriends come along for the ride, Ellingsen’s debut delights.”

—Examiner.com


The Whole Package
is a delightfully frivolous romp. An excellent beach read, this light but enjoyable fare will have you chuckling (and likely blushing!) throughout. The three main characters have believable relationships with ups and downs, adding a touch of reality.”


RT Book Reviews

“A page-turning romance packed with wit and humor. Cancel all social engagements until you’ve finished this!”

—Louise Bagshawe, bestselling author of
Desire

“Tender and funny! These best friends really are forever!”

—Wendy Wax, bestselling author of
Ocean Beach

Titles by Cynthia Ellingsen

THE WHOLE PACKAGE

MARRIAGE MATTERS

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

USA / Canada / UK / Ireland / Australia / New Zealand / India / South Africa / China

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

For more information about the Penguin Group, visit penguin.com.

This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.

Copyright © 2013 by Cynthia Ellingsen.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

BERKLEY
®
is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

The “B” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-61832-5

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Ellingsen, Cynthia.

Marriage matters / Cynthia Ellingsen.

p. cm.

ISBN 978-0-425-25800-2

1. Female friendship—Fiction. 2. Brides—Fiction. 3. First loves—Fiction. 4. Married people—Fiction. 5. Weddings—Fiction. 6. Marriage—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3605.L43785M38 2013

813'.6—dc23

2012029576

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley trade paperback edition / April 2013

Cover photograph by Vasaleks / Shutterstock.

Cover design by Rita Frangie.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

For my mother

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The most fabulous thing about the release of
The Whole Package,
and now
Marriage Matters
, has been the opportunity to connect with readers, both new friends and old. Thank you so much for your support!

Endless gratitude to the one and only Wendy McCurdy, the best editor ever and the queen of depth, insight and kindness. A huge thank-you to everyone at Berkley: Katherine Pelz, publicity, the sales team, the art department, and everyone who works to make your books amazing.

Daniel Lazar at Writer’s House, the greatest day of my writerly life was finding you. Thank you for being consistently awesome.

Jon Cassir at CAA, for the confidence and Cali sunshine.

Lexington, Kentucky, for the incredible support. What a remarkable community. The staff at the Morris Book Shop and Joseph Beth’s Bookstore—two of the coolest bookstores in the country—for getting the word out. The Carnegie Center—home to my first reading ever!—for your commitment to the literary arts. To every friend who shared a wedding story.

Bud’s Coffee Shop in Interlochen, Michigan—the first draft was composed by your fire. Mr. Delp at Interlochen, for telling me to be a writer.

Traveler’s Bookcase in Los Angeles for the travel inspiration. Natalie Compagno, who encouraged me to pick up the pen and Laksa soup so long ago. Love to you.

The members of my writing group: Jennifer Mattox, Frankie Finley and Stephanie Parkin. I cherish our Fridays and your brilliant notes.

Kathy Ellingsen, for a perfect title and for being the best mother-in-law ever. Grandma, for always making me laugh. All of my family and friends, for the humor and support.

And in every way, my husband, Ryan Ellingsen: You are my love story, forever.

When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

—Nora Ephron

Contents

Cover

Praise

Also By Cynthia Ellingsen

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Epigraph

 

Part One

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-one

Twenty-two

Twenty-three

Twenty-four

Twenty-five

Twenty-six

Twenty-seven

Twenty-eight

Twenty-nine

Thirty

Thirty-one

Thirty-two

Thirty-three

Thirty-four

Thirty-five

Thirty-six

Thirty-seven

Thirty-eight

Thirty-nine

Forty

Forty-one

Forty-two

 

Part Two

Forty-three

Forty-four

Forty-five

Forty-six

Forty-seven

Forty-eight

Forty-nine

Fifty

Fifty-one

Fifty-two

Fifty-three

Fifty-four

Fifty-five

Fifty-six

Fifty-seven

Fifty-eight

Fifty-nine

Sixty

Sixty-one

Sixty-two

Sixty-three

Sixty-four

Sixty-five

Sixty-six

Sixty-seven

Sixty-eight

Sixty-nine

Seventy

Seventy-one

Seventy-two

Seventy-three

Seventy-four

Seventy-five

Seventy-six

Seventy-seven

Seventy-eight

Seventy-nine

Eighty

Eighty-one

Eighty-two

One

C
hloe McCallister was just not into getting all dressed up. Give her a nice pair of jeans, a comfy T-shirt and some tennis shoes and she was happy. Her mother and grandmother knew this, so now that she was stuck walking down a rocky beach in a pair of three-inch heels, they seemed to be getting way too much enjoyment out of her misery.

“Just pretend you’re on a sandy runway,” her grandmother called. “Work it.”

Chloe’s mother cheered. “You can do it. You’re almost there!”

On principle, Chloe came to a complete stop. Almost where? They were standing on the shores of Lake Michigan, with no wedding in sight. The Sleeping Bear Dunes loomed overhead like something from another planet, while herons dove in and out of the water, hunting for prey. She could only hope that fish would remain more appealing than the silver clip holding back her curly hair.

Tugging at her dress, Chloe wished she’d taken the time to pack properly instead of waiting until the last minute, grabbing the first party dress she saw and stuffing it into her suitcase. The dress was a size too small and it bit into the sensitive skin under her arms. Plus, she’d forgotten all about bringing a pair of shoes, which was why she was wearing her grandmother’s extra pair of stilettos. At 5'10", Chloe was much too tall to be wearing heels in the first place, not to mention ones made of animal skin that was most certainly illegal in civilized countries.

Chloe sighed. Weddings had really gotten out of control. Wasn’t it enough that they’d taken a flight and rental car to get to the destination? Did it have to be out in the middle of nowhere, too?

If anyone ever decided to marry her, Chloe planned to keep her wedding simple. It would be at a small church, with only her closest friends and family. She would wear ballet flats with her dress, marry the man of her dreams and have a wedding cake with frosting that sparkled. For the father-daughter dance, she might even just rock out to “Teach Me How to Dougie.”

A fun fantasy, but Chloe knew it wouldn’t happen anytime soon. Especially considering the last time she’d even caught a glimpse of the male anatomy was on a biology test for her grad finals.

“Chloe, come on,” her mother called, shielding her eyes against the sun. “This wedding’s going to happen with or without us. Pick up the pace.”

“Not until you tell me exactly where it is that we’re going!”

As her mother and grandmother exchanged glances, Chloe felt the first twinge of trepidation. It evolved into full-fledged panic when her grandmother, like an elderly game show hostess, pointed at a group of people in brightly colored dresses and khaki suits, mingling underneath a flowered arch. An arch that just happened to be at the very
top
of a sand dune. Suddenly, Chloe wished the hotel coffee had been spiked with something stronger than cream.

Ripping off the ridiculous stilettos, Chloe picked her way through the rocks until she caught up with her family. “Mom,” she gasped, grabbing Kristine’s arm. It was warm from the sunshine and spotted with freckles. “I thought we were going to a wedding, not an audition for
Survivor
.”

“What do you mean? This is a lovely hike.” Kristine swatted away a bug roughly the size of her fist. “They have Petoskey stones here. Look.” She pointed at a speckled gray rock lying in the water. “The pattern only shows up when it’s wet.”

“Fascinating.” Chloe took note of the camera around her mother’s neck and the copy of
Great Hikes of Northern Michigan
tucked under her arm. “In other words, we’re the only jackasses not driving to this wedding? Because we thought we’d tack on a nature hike?”

Chloe’s grandmother burst out laughing. Outrageous as always, June was wearing a long-sleeved dress made from reflective material, enormous black sunglasses and some sort of a weird, beekeeper-type hat. She took it off and shook it at them. “I say we skip this clambake altogether and go back to the hotel for a mimosa.”

“Finally.” Chloe lifted her hair away from her sweating neck. “Someone who’s not talking crazy.” Off her mother’s look, she said, “What? The groom’s, like, some third cousin I haven’t seen since I was ten. Why suffer through another wedding?”

“Chloe! Weddings are fun.” Kristine pushed her sunglasses up to reveal a pair of bright blue eyes. “They’re magical. They’re . . .”

“They’re second only to Valentine’s Day when it comes to the commercialization of the heart.” Chloe waved her naked ring finger. “And a blatant reminder that I’m going to die alone.”

June whacked her on the back. “You can’t die alone. You have us.”

“So, not only do I have to convince a man to fall madly in love with me, I have to convince him to fall in love with you and Mom, too?”

“Absolutely.” June nodded. “The three of us, we’re a package deal.”

“Besides, you’ll find someone.” Kristine smoothed a strand of hair out of Chloe’s eyes. “When you bother to make time for it.”

Thanks to her graduate program, internship hours and part-time job, Chloe barely had time to breathe, let alone date. Just getting away for this wedding had taken some serious juggling. “I’d rather make time for you guys,” she admitted. “You’re a lot more fun.”

“That’s a fact,” June agreed. As though eager to prove it, she pointed at the top of the sand dune. “Race you to the top of that hill,” she said, and started to run. In the thick white sand, she moved slowly, kicking up a spray of powder behind her after each step.

Kristine nudged Chloe. “Go! You can beat her.”

Chloe adjusted her sunglasses. “I am not about to get even sweatier. Maybe she’ll have a heart attack and that’ll be the end of it.”

June had gone a good distance when she finally turned. Seeing that Chloe hadn’t budged, she flapped her arms as though doing the chicken dance at the reception.

“Doubtful,” Kristine mused. With one hand, she wound her red hair up into a loose chignon. “And I think she’s calling you chicken.”

Chloe bit her lip. Even though her feet hurt, her scalp was burning and sand had found its way into places too embarrassing to mention, she was tempted. It had been a while since she’d beaten her grandmother at anything, although Chloe was 99.9 percent certain June had cheated at their last game of gin.

“Bawk, bawk.”
June turned and waved her hat. “Come on, chicken.”

“That’s it.” Shoving the high heels at her mother, Chloe took off running, determined to beat her grandmother to the top of that damn hill.

* * *

By the time Kristine made her way up the sand dune, Chloe and June were hunched over in chairs meant for the reception, breathing heavily. A small jazz quartet played love songs and waiters circulated with trays of ice water.

Kristine surveyed the scene with admiration. “This is gorgeous.”

The white sand of the dunes and the view of Lake Michigan stretched into infinity, creating a lush, curving backdrop for the wedding. Along the edge of the bluff, chairs as white as a picket fence were neatly divided by a satin runner that led to a dramatic floral arch woven through with red, pink and purple wildflowers. The flowers danced in the breeze while the lake, in all of its deep blue vibrancy, sparkled against the horizon. Any bride would just love a view like this on her wedding day, assuming she wasn’t too nervous to see it. Kristine could remember exactly how it felt to stand at the altar, trembling in her white dress. Her legs were shaking like crazy until Kevin took her hands in his.

“You sure you want to do this?” he teased.

The comfort of his hands calmed her and she felt a rush of love more powerful than anything she’d ever experienced.

I’ve found my prince, she’d thought. I’m going to live a fairy tale.

Kristine flushed at the memory. The sentiment was so childish, so silly. Yes, she and Kevin had been fortunate enough to share many beautiful, passion-filled years, which was more than a lot of people could say. But eventually, like with all things, their marriage had lost its spark.

Nothing specific caused it, not really, just a slow series of life events that chipped away at their foundation. Chloe left for college, Kevin lost his job and Kristine started a business. Money was tight and Kevin finally found a new job, but it required him to travel all the time. Ultimately, it was just a lot of little things that added up to nothing, but something between the two of them had changed.

For example, this weekend marked their twenty-fifth anniversary and they weren’t even spending it together. This was nobody’s fault, really. Kristine had made plans to go to this wedding, while Kevin booked his typical flight out Sunday afternoon for work. Neither one of them even noticed the anniversary was coming up until last Wednesday. At that point, there was nothing left to do but laugh.

“It’s official,” Kevin had said. “We’re just two old and craggy married people.”

Gazing at the flowered arch, Kristine wrapped her arms tightly around herself. It was hard to believe that those sweet, early days when the only thing that mattered was watching the sunset together and cozying up in bed were long gone. It was scary to think that, if they weren’t careful, everything they’d built together might just drift away. At the thought, Kristine’s eyes pricked with tears.

“Uh-oh.” Chloe nudged June. “Mom’s getting emotional.”

For years, her family had teased Kristine about her tendency to tear up at everything from sentimental moments to sappy commercials. “When I got dropped off at kindergarten,” Chloe loved to say, “most parents had to comfort their children. I had to comfort my mother.”

“I’m not crying,” Kristine said quickly. “I just got a piece of sand in my eye.”

She hated to lie but she was not about to admit that something was wrong with her marriage, especially in front of her mother. June wouldn’t rest until she’d set up a battle plan for Kristine to resolve the issue. No, thank you. On a day like today, when the sun was shining so brightly and the lake sparkling in the distance, Kristine just wanted to enjoy herself. If that meant pretending everything was just fine when it wasn’t, then that’s what she’d have to do.

Flashing a bright smile, she said, “Should we find our seats?”

“Not quite yet.” June eased to her feet and gestured at a tiny trailer next to the parking lot. “I vote we powder our noses first. These bathrooms actually look just fine for an outdoor wedding.”

Kristine turned in the direction her mother was pointing. A squat, compact trailer was perched at the edge of the reception area. June was right; it was an awfully nice setup. Kristine narrowed her eyes, suddenly suspicious. A group of girls in blush-colored dresses were standing just off to the side, chatting with a group of young men in suits and cummerbunds.

“Mother, no. That’s the bride’s trailer and you know it,” Kristine said. “If you’d like to powder your nose, you’re going to have to do it over there.” She pointed at a row of the expected porta potties. They were set up over by the parking lot, steam practically rising from their surface.

“Unless my memory is failing me,” June said with a sniff, “I RSVPed for a wedding, not a camping trip. As a wedding guest, I expect a bathroom with air conditioning and running water.”

Chloe elbowed June. “Don’t forget you’re feeling faint,” she whispered.

June’s eyes brightened. “And I’m feeling faint.” Dramatically, she fanned herself with her hat. “I think I’m suffering from heatstroke.”

Kristine sighed. June loved to act like the rules didn’t apply to her. Somehow, she always managed to rope Chloe into her schemes.

“I’m sorry,” Kristine said. “But I am putting my foot down. You two cannot—”

Before the words were even out of her mouth, Chloe and June were making a beeline for the bride’s trailer. With Chloe’s long body and June’s short and wiry frame, they looked like two mismatched criminals ready to score.

“Unbelievable,” Kristine muttered. “We’ll be the first family to get kicked out of a wedding.”

Then, because she really wasn’t given a choice in the matter, Kristine raced to catch up.

* * *

As June pushed open the bathroom door, chilly air hit her cheeks and cooled the damp tendrils of her hair. It felt delightful. She’d been just about ready to expire out there in that heat. Peering over her shoulder, June beckoned to Kristine and Chloe. They were hanging back in the doorway, as though there was something to be afraid of. Ridiculous, considering this bathroom was perfectly lovely. It smelled like hairspray and perfume instead of . . . well, all sorts of other unappealing, outdoor-bathroom-type things.

“Come on,” June chirped. “This is much bet—” Suddenly, she stopped. Unless she was mistaken, someone in the bride’s trailer was sobbing. It was a dreadful sound, full of gasps and sniffles. Taking a few steps forward, June squinted as her eyes adjusted to the indoor light.

A bride stood in the midst of a mess of hairpins, makeup brushes and tissues, holding a bouquet and sobbing as though her heart would break. If you didn’t count the tears, the young girl was the picture of bridal perfection. She wore a tasteful A-line gown, with two sheer panels down the front that would most certainly wave in the breeze. A cascade of curly blonde hair was piled on top of her head and accessorized with antique pearl combs clipped into a flouncy veil. Even her eye makeup, which most certainly had to be waterproof, appeared to be flawless.

“Ooph,”
Chloe grunted, knocking into June from behind. “Grandma! What are you . . . Oh no.”

“Mother.”
June felt a sharp tug at the back of her dress. “We are leaving . . . now.”

Even though Kristine was obviously itching to remove her from the premises, June wasn’t certain that was the right choice. There had to be a reason that she had stepped into this trailer, at this very moment in time. Perhaps it
was
inappropriate to interfere with a girl on her wedding day, but clearly, this was one bride who needed an intervention.

June bustled forward. There was a box of tissues on the counter next to the mirror. With three quick tugs, she whipped out a handful. “Did the groom get cold feet?” June demanded. She had been to more than one wedding in her life where the mother of the bride clipped down the aisle with a fake smile, making an announcement that “the kids were having second thoughts,” the bride wailing in the nave as though her heart would break.

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