Chapter 1 1
At this point, I should be strong enough to resist a cute guy in a well-tailored suit.
I knew my ex would be here. In the wedding party. Wearing a tux that would undeniably accentuate the bold lines of his shoulders. And yet when I saw him enter Carnation Cellars, a garment bag slung over one arm, a wire in my brain sparked and a neon sign flashed DANGER, QUINN BERKOWITZ, and the next thing I knew, I was shoving myself into a broom closet and shutting the door behind me.
It’s possible I’m not great at confrontation.
Someone coughs. My heart leaps into my throat as a single light bulb flicks on, illuminating my sister.
“What are you doing in here?” I ask.
Asher’s in her wedding planner uniform: black blazer, black pants, dark hair in a topknot. I’m only a little dressier in a gray sheath and navy tights. When I’m behind the harp, plucking away at Pachelbel’s Canon during the processional, I’m meant to be part of the scenery. Pretty, but not too pretty. Decoration.
“Pregaming.” Asher takes a sip from a flask designed to look like a compact. “Just a sip when things get stressful. Calms me right down.”
“Mom and Dad will kill you if they see that.”
“And I value my life too much for that to happen,” she says. “What brings you to my closet?”
“I, uh, know someone in the wedding party,” I say, trying to banish the image of him leaning over me in his car last month, but my anxiety-brain grabs hold of it, shines a light on it, hits repeat. “Intimately.”
“Who is it?” she asks. “Will? Corey? Theo?”
“That list is really not painting me in the best light.” I lean back against a row of chardonnay and press my lips together in a firm line before letting his name slip through. “Jonathan.”
“Jonathan Gellner! As in, brother of bride Naomi Gellner. Right. He was…” She trails off, as though searching her memory for an adjective I used when describing him to her.
Sweet. Jewish. Probably pissed at me.
We met at a BBYO party, and though I’d joined the Jewish youth group to feel more connected to my religion, I didn’t anticipate this precise kind of connection. He was a cardboard cutout of a hot guy: dark hair, blue eyes, one perfect dimple when he smiled. We hadn’t talked about making the relationship official, but I worried it was heading there. This is the first time I’ve seen him since, well, our first time. Everyone says the first time can be painful, but mostly I just felt awkward—so awkward that I ended things via text the following day, three weeks ago. It would be easier if he never had to see me again, if we never had to talk about it. If I never had to think about those twelve minutes in the back seat of his car or the bruise on my hip shaped like the gearshift of a 2006 Honda Civic.
“A bad decision,” I finish for her.
“We’ve all been in uncomfortable situations.” Asher reaches up to keep the light from swaying. “It’s part of the job. Do you think I loved planning the wedding of the teacher who gave me a C in freshman algebra? No, but I kept things professional.”
As my mom always says, we’re in the business of the most important day of people’s lives. Nothing less than our best—that’s her motto.
“I’m trying,” I insist, even as my mind remains set on mapping out the most disastrous ways this wedding could end. Jonathan confronting me on his way down the aisle and demanding an explanation. Jonathan reciting our text history in lieu of a toast. Jonathan requesting a harp rendition of “Like a Virgin.”
Asher holds out the flask, and I take a sip I immediately regret. It feels like swallowing nail polish remover. For a moment I’m convinced it’s going to come back up, but it slides down my throat and settles in to war with the anxiety in my stomach.
“Thanks,” I say. “I love it when you condone underage drinking.”
She rolls her eyes, stashes the flask in her back pocket, and opens the door. The light catches the diamond of her engagement ring, or maybe she just knows exactly the right angle to position her hand. Her fiancé messaged me about a dozen ring options before he proposed, wondering what she’d like.
What I didn’t say: they all kind of looked the same to me.
Asher pulls out the phone she keeps clipped to her belt. On days I’m playing the harp instead of playing my parents’ assistant, I make sure whatever I’m wearing has deep pockets. A moment later, our group chat buzzes against my right thigh.
Asher: Just finished placing name cards. Bridesmaids/groomsmen status check?
Dad: Guys looking and almost ready for
Mom: Need help in the bridal suite. Asher, Quinn?
Quinn: Be there soon
Before the Jonathan sighting, I was on my way to retrieve a glass for the groom to break during the ceremony, so I swing through the kitchen and grab one, exchanging waves with the husband-and-wife owners of Mansour’s, the catering company my parents have partnered with for years. Then I wrap it in a cloth napkin, deliver it to the rabbi outside under the chuppah, and race to catch up with my sister.
We’ve done weddings at Carnation Cellars before, but this is our first one of the summer. The rustic winery thirty miles east of Seattle has high ceilings, fairy lights wrapped around rafters, and rows of white chairs in the garden, where the ceremony will take place. The whole wedding cost about a Tesla and a half. It’s not that I can’t see the magic, because it’s hard not to when the venue is this stunning and the sweet scent of lilies and gardenias hangs in the air. It’s that it feels a little less magical after doing it a few hundred times. After knowing how many breakdowns and fights about color schemes and meddlesome in-laws happened along the way.
The bridal suite is up a spiral staircase and at the end of the hall, with a sign that says FUTURE MRS. GELLNER-BRIDGES hanging on the door. Asher knocks with two knuckles.
“Come in!” calls my mom.
As far as bridal suites go, I’ve seen worse. The six bridesmaids are positioned in powder-pink upholstered chairs, none of them dressed yet. A makeup artist is sweeping blush onto the cheeks of the bridesmaid nearest me, who’s filming an Instagram video. Makeup and hair products cover the vanity counters, suitcases spilling their contents onto the floor—extra clothes, chargers, tampons, water bottles, jewelry. I even spot a strip of condoms peeking out from a garment bag.
Naomi, wearing a white robe with #BRIDEBOSS printed on the back, stands in the corner with my mom, who’s bent over a heap of ivory fabric and lace. “Is it going to look too obvious?” Naomi asks. Her long blond hair is braided down one side, and she has the end of it gripped between two manicured nails.
“Not at all,” my mom says smoothly as she runs a needle and thread through what looks like a broken zipper. “This happens all the time, believe it or not. And everyone’s going to be looking at the gorgeous smile on your face, not your lower back.”
“Unless they’re Jonathan’s friends,” one of the bridesmaids puts in, and they share a laugh while Naomi mimes retching onto a barely touched charcuterie board. How anyone can leave a hunk of Brie just sitting there is beyond me.
“How can we help?” I ask, putting on my peppiest voice. I’m safe in here. And today is about Naomi, as my mom would be quick to remind me, not the history I have with her brother. Hashtag bride boss!
“Quinn, sandpaper, please.” Mom delegates without looking up from her sewing. “And, Asher, steam the dresses?”
I’ve never known someone who draws so much energy from the chaos around them. Mom’s suit is pressed, not a hair in her bun out of place, her cat-eye glasses making her look somehow both retro-cool and fifteen years younger. Asher is her carbon copy, already leaping into action across the room, plugging in the steamer and holding it up to the first mauve bridesmaid dress, a chic Grecian halter with a floor-length skirt. They’re often mistaken for sisters, so it makes sense that she followed in Mom’s footsteps, studying business and officially joining Borrowed + Blue after graduating college three years ago.
I unzip my mom’s emergency kit and extract two sheets of sandpaper. Dad carries one too, but Mom’s could double as an apocalypse preparedness kit. It’s a rolling suitcase filled with beauty products, first-aid items, at least five kinds of tape, breath mints, gum, and Listerine strips, bug spray, deodorant wipes, a hot glue gun, protein bars, bamboo skewers to prevent any cake-toppling, a spool of ribbon in case a bride forgets her something blue, and about a hundred other things guaranteed to solve any wedding catastrophe. When I was little, it mesmerized me. I wanted one just like it, and for my fourteenth birthday, she gave me my own, a miniature version of hers with my name embroidered in gold floss. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’d already decided by then that wedding planning wasn’t my future career.
The bride’s and bridesmaids’ shoes are lined up like little patent-leather soldiers. It took only one bridesmaid slipping down the stairs and spraining an ankle for my parents to learn to scuff their shoes before the ceremony. I scrape each pair of shoes enough times to ensure no bridesmaids will be plunging to their deaths today, then finish them off with hair spray.
“I love these dresses.” Asher runs her hand down the length of a mauve skirt. “They’re elegant, but they feel like they’ll be easy to move in. And this beading along the neckline… gorgeous.”
“Naomi did a mitzvah, picking out these dresses,” says the maid of honor.
“Are you sure you don’t tell everyone that?” Naomi asks Asher. “Even the ones in ruffles and shoulder pads?”
A bridesmaid shudders as she grabs a cluster of grapes. “Don’t talk to me about shoulder pads. I’m still recovering from Tiffany Schumacher’s wedding, and that was five years ago.”
I gesture to Asher, Mom, and me with my can of hair spray. “Wedding planners are excellent liars. I’m sure we would have been all over those shoulder pads.”
“I might even have some extras in my emergency kit,” Asher says. “You never know when you’re going to need to relive an entire decade’s worst fashion choices.”
Mom gives us a judgmental shake of her head, but I can tell she’s fighting a smile. “Please excuse my daughters. They’re still learning basic human interaction.”
“You love us,” I say.
“Pulse check,” says another bridesmaid, a redhead with an orchid clip in her hair, as she reaches for a cracker on the charcuterie board, careful not to mess up her lipstick as she chews. “How are you feeling? No last-minute regrets?”
The maid of honor snorts at that. “Those would be some expensive regrets.”
“I’m feeling surprisingly chill, now that I know I’m not going to be flashing my ass to my new husband’s parents,” Naomi says. “I’ll be even better if Nana Pearl manages to stay away from the bar all evening.”
She wouldn’t be our first drunk grandma. I’ve seen every kind of wild wedding guest: friends who give humiliating toasts complete with PowerPoint presentations, parents who refuse to acknowledge the other family, even a woman who declared her love for her sister’s groom when the officiant asked if anyone objected. Ever the superhero, Mom shuffled her outside, calmed her down, and kept her far away from the bride the rest of the night.
I run my palm over the bottom of the last pair of shoes. “All set.”
“I never would have thought of that with the shoes,” Naomi says. “You guys are amazing.”
“Speaking of alcohol,” one of the bridesmaids says. “Is there any way we could get some champagne?”
Mom glances up from her sewing. “There’s no champagne? Isaac was supposed to make sure all the rooms were stocked.”
A tiny furrow appears between her brows when she mentions my dad, so slight you wouldn’t notice unless you were looking for it.
I am always looking.
“I’ll get it,” I say, rising to my feet so fast my knees pop. I like it in here, but I’ll do anything to keep that furrow off my mom’s face. “And some straws.” To avoid smudged lipstick. We use biodegradable ones whenever we can.
“Quinn, shouldn’t you be warming up?” Mom checks her watch. “Guests will be arriving in thirty minutes.”
“I’m warm,” I insist, because going outside will bring me that much closer to confronting a certain driver of a certain Honda Civic. Mom lifts her eyebrows in a nothing-less-than-our-best kind of way I know not to question.
At least she’s not thinking about my dad and what he was or wasn’t supposed to do anymore. Maybe the champagne seemed small, insignificant, but I should know that’s all it takes to shatter something I was so sure could never break.
And because my anxiety-brain is never content to stress over one thing when it could be stressing over five, I also know I can’t delay the inevitable: trying to look elegant while Jonathan stares at me, or worse, deliberately avoids eye contact. If he manages to talk to me, he’s going to want to know why I broke up with him.
And I’m not sure I can give him an answer if I can’t even figure it out for myself.
The harp is the kind of instrument usually associated with old ladies or baby angels in Renaissance art who are all dead behind the eyes. I learned from my grandma, who played at weddings and retirement homes and babysat me when my parents were busy building their business. Her music was the only thing that could lull me to sleep. That evolved into spending hours upon hours watching her as I grew older, and as soon as my coordination skills caught up with my fascination, she started teaching me with a child-sized 22-string. Her death when I was twelve sapped some of the joy from it, and my parents sapped the rest. The following year they started offering me to their clients as a fun bonus—book Borrowed + Blue and we’ll throw in our harpist daughter for free!
With everything else, I can force a smile. I can pretend I still believe in the magic of happily ever after, that the bride and groom will always gaze at each other the way they’re going to under the chuppah tonight. But these days my grandma’s Lyon & Healy, though gorgeous, feels like a fifty-pound weight on my shoulders.
I follow Asher back down the stairs so she can fetch the champagne while I put on a plastic grin and play scales. I have to go through the kitchen to get outside, where my harp is sitting near the chuppah, but I pause in the doorway when I hear a flurry of activity inside.
“… didn’t realize you’d be back today!” one of Mansour’s staff cater-waiters says, clapping a tall, dark-haired guy on the shoulder as he buttons a black vest over a white shirt. “How was your first year?”
A low voice answers back something I don’t catch because there’s no way this is really happening.
Didn’t realize you’d be back.
No. No no no. This was not something I ever considered a possibility and therefore didn’t let myself stress about it. I would take a hundred Jonathan Gellners interrogating me about our sexual history over this. This is at the top of my Bad Decisions with Boys list, and we’ve never so much as held hands, unless you count the flail-dancing we did as kids.
He must have been in Seattle on breaks from school, but they never coincided with weddings B+B was working with Mansour’s, and while I couldn’t forget him completely, I’d finally been able to thought-spiral about him only every other week. A real victory after what happened last year.
Maybe I can go around back. Maybe I can slip outside before he sees me. I have to slip outside before he sees me, before—
That voice. It’s a time machine of familiar longing, tugging me back to the weddings our families worked together, the days we spent stealing sweets off caterers’ trays. The nights we spent in some of the loveliest places in the Seattle area, the scenery playing tricks on me, turning a childhood crush into something heavier. The email I sent last September, hazy with the end-of-summer blues, confessing my feelings to him.
The email he never answered.
Tarek Mansour is staring right at me, black tie loose around his neck, vest half-buttoned. The pleats in his slacks are crisp, like they’ve been freshly ironed. His eyelashes are long and his hair is longer and my lungs are tight, tight, tight.
“Been a while,” he says, mouth curving up slightly. It’s not even a smile—it doesn’t touch his eyes. It’s smile-adjacent. It shares a zip code with a smile, maybe goes to the same school and shops at the same neighborhood grocery store, but it is decidedly not a smile. There is stubble on his face, along his jawline, and he never used to have stubble like that and apparently I really like stubble if what’s happening to my heart is any indication, and I need something, anything, to anchor me, to keep me from losing my grip on reality.
The first thing my eyes land on is the tray of hors d’oeuvres on the counter next to me. So I grab a tiny cube of cheese and stuff it into my mouth.
“Quinn,” Asher says, voice pitched with worry, and before she finishes her sentence, I realize what I’m chewing is not the savory, cheesy goodness I was expecting. It’s tart. Too tart to be cheese. “That’s a mango.”