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a charmed life
By jenny b. jones
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2010 Jenny B. Jones
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOne year ago my mom got traded in for a newer model.
And that's when my life fell apart.
"Do you, Jillian Leigh Kirkwood ..."
Standing by my mother's side as she marries the man who is so not my dad, I suppress a sigh and try to wiggle my toes in these hideous shoes. The hideous shoes that match my hideous maid-of-honor dress. I like to look at things on the bright side, but the only positive thing about this frock is that I'll never have to wear it again.
"... take Jacob Ralph Finley ..."
Ralph? My new stepdad's middle name is Ralph? Okay, do we need one more red flag here? My mom is marrying this guy, and I didn't even know his middle name. Did she? I check her face for signs of revulsion, signs of doubt. Signs of "Hey, what am I thinking? I don't want Jacob Ralph Finley to be my daughter's new step-dad."
I see none of these things twinkling in my mom's crystal blue eyes. Only joy. Disgusting, unstoppable joy.
"Does anyone have an objection?" The pastor smiles and scans the small crowd in the Tulsa Fellowship Church. "Let him speak now or forever hold his peace."
Oh my gosh. I totally object! I look to my right and lock eyes with Logan, the older of my two soon-to-be stepbrothers. In the six hours that I have been in Oklahoma preparing for this "blessed" event, Logan and I have not said five words to one another. Like we've mutually agreed to be enemies.
I stare him down.
His eyes laser into mine.
Do we dare?
He gives a slight nod, and my heart triples in beat.
"Then by the powers vested in me before God and the family and friends of—"
The church gasps.
I throw my hands over my mouth, wishing the floor would swallow me.
I, Bella Kirkwood, just stopped my own mother's wedding.
And I have no idea where to go from here. It's not like I do this every day, okay? Can't say I've stopped a lot of weddings in my sixteen years.
My mom swivels around, her big white dress making crunchy noises. She takes a step closer to me, still flashing her pearly veneers at the small crowd.
"What," she hisses near my ear, "are you doing?"
I glance at Logan, whose red locks hang like a shade over his eyes. He nods again.
"Um ... um ... Mom, I haven't had a chance to talk to you at all this week ..." My voice is a tiny whisper. Sweat beads on my forehead.
"Honey, now is not exactly the best time to share our feelings and catch up."
My eyes dart across the sanctuary, where one hundred and fifty people are perched on the edge of their seats. And it's not because they're anxious for the chicken platters coming their way after the ceremony.
"Mom, the dude's middle name is Ralph."
She leans in, and we're nose to nose. "You just stopped my wedding and that's what you wanted to tell me?"
Faint—that's what I'll do next time I need to halt a wedding.
"How well do you know Jake? You only met six months ago."
Some of the heat leaves her expression. "I've known him long enough to know that I love him, Bella. I knew it immediately."
"But what if you're wrong?" I rush on, "I mean, I've only been around him a few times, and I'm not so sure. He could be a serial killer for all we know." I can count on one hand the times I've been around Jake. My mom usually visited him when I was at my dad's.
Her voice is low and hurried. "I understand this isn't easy for you. But our lives have changed. It's going to be an adventure, Bel."
Adventure? You call meeting a man on the Internet and forcing me to move across the country to live with his family an adventure? An adventure is swimming with dolphins in the Caribbean. An adventure is touring the pyramids in Egypt. Or shopping at the Saks after-Thanksgiving sale with Dad's credit card. This, I do believe, qualifies as a nightmare!
"You know I've prayed about this. Jake and I both have. We know this is God's will for us. I need you to trust me, because I've never been more sure about anything in my life."
A single tear glides down Mom's cheek, and I feel my heart constrict. This time last year my life was so normal. So happy. Can I just hit the reverse button and go back?
Slowly I nod. "Okay, Mom." It's kind of hard to argue with "God says this is right." (Though I happen to think He's wrong.)
The preacher clears his throat and lifts a bushy black brow.
"You can continue," I say, knowing I've lost the battle. "She had something in her teeth." Yes, that's the best I've got.
I. Am. An. Idiot.
"And now, by the powers vested in me, I now pronounce you Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Finley. You may kiss your bride."
Nope. Can't watch.
I turn my head as the "Wedding March" starts. Logan walks to my side, and I link my arm in his. Though we're both going to be juniors, he's a head taller than me. It's like we're steptwins. He grabs his six-year-old brother, Robbie, with his other hand, and off we go in time to the music. Robbie throws rose petals all around us, giggling with glee, oblivious to the fact that we just witnessed a ceremony marking the end of life as we know it.
"Good job stopping the wedding." Logan smirks. "Very successful."
I jab my elbow into his side. "At least I tried! You did nothing!"
"I just wanted to see if you had it in you. And you don't."
I snarl in his direction as the camera flashes, capturing this day for all eternity.
Last week I was living in Manhattan in a two-story apartment between Sarah Jessica Parker and Katie Couric. I could hop a train to Macy's and Bloomie's. My friends and I could eat dinner at Tao and see who could count the most celebs. I had Broadway in my backyard and Daddy's MasterCard in my wallet.
Then my mom got married.
And I got a new life.
I should've paid that six-year-old to pull the fire alarm.
Chapter TwoThere is nothing like watching your mother dance in the arms of a giant of a man who is not your father.
As I pick at my rubbery chicken breast and limp green beans, I stare at Jake. Wearing a goofy grin, he spins my mom to some Michael Bublé tune about how sweet love is. Sweet? I think it's nauseating. Totally hurl-worthy.
I watch my mom's aunt Shirley shimmy her girth under the limbo pole. My mother's parents died before I was born, so there wasn't a lot of family on the bride's side of the chapel.
My phone rings and I slap it open. "Hey."
"Do I hear the chicken dance?" There is absolutely no sincerity in my best friend Mia's voice. "How's the wedding of the New York socialite and the merry widower?"
The ink on my parents' divorce papers is barely dry and my mom hauls me to Oklahoma, over a thousand miles away from my friends, my dad, and my home. And for what? To live with some oaf and his two bratty sons. On a farm no less. If I have to slop some hogs, I am on the first plane back to Manhattan.
"Just counting the seconds until they leave for their honeymoon and I fly back to New York." I'm staying with my dad while Mom and Jake rendezvous in Jamaica. Hopefully I can talk Dad into letting me stay. Forever.
"How are the stepbrothers?"
"Mutants, just like last time I met them." I stab a piece of cake with my fork. "I don't trust these people, Mia. Especially Jake. What's that guy got up his sleeve that he would charm my mom into marrying him? I Googled the guy, and I found nothing. Don't you find that strange?"
"Er ... no."
"What if Jake Finley isn't his real name? It could be his alias. He could have a prison record."
"You think he's a—"
"Psychopathic, serial-killing, online predator?" I nod. "Just one of the many possibilities I have to face here."
"I think you're overreacting."
"And I think I know trouble when I see it." I write an advice column for our school Web site, so I deal with problems daily. I know all about catastrophe.
"Oh, Bella ..."
"My mom just married a total stranger, I will soon live at a zoo, and my new six-year-old stepbrother is dipping his Batman doll in the punch bowl." I drag my hand through my chestnut locks. "Am I the only one who sees the problem here?"
"You can do this. Where's our little optimist?"
"She's in New York. Where her life is." After we hang up, I grab a napkin and blow my nose. Right on the part that says Jacob and Jillian Finley.
This all happened so fast. I still don't understand it all. One minute my mom is e-mailing this guy and then six months later, they're married. And I can't call my dad. He doesn't get in from Tahiti until tomorrow morning, in time to pick me up at the airport. Yeah, he's wrapping up another vacation with his latest barely legal girlfriend, whose name I forget. Something like Kippy, Kimmie, or Magenta. I'm serious. The last girl I met—her name was Magenta. With a name like that, you know she has to be a stripper. It's her destiny.
So both of my parents are totally messed up right now. One thinks she's found true love. Again. And the other is currently dating through the alphabet.
"Bella!" My mother breaks through the masses, pulling What's-His-Name behind her by the hand. After a group hug, in which Jake stands uncomfortably, still linked to Mom, an awkward silence falls.
I take this opportunity to stare at Jake, taking in his gargantuan form, his outdated ponytail, and the little scar over his right brow. Do you get that you're ruining my life? If you're an ax murderer, I want you to know I am so on to you. My dad knows tae kwon do, and if you ever raise your voice at me, he will whip out his black belt and go all Jackie Chan on you.
"Bel, I can't wait until this week is up and we're all back together. We're going to spend some quality time with one another before school starts. Get adjusted." My mom leans into her new husband.
"Plus we have to teach Bella here how to milk a cow." Jake winks and everyone laughs. Except me.
Okay, God, I don't know what You're up to, but this is not my idea of a good time. How could You do this to me? How could You rip me from my home and drop me here—in Hicksville? Because, God—Oklahoma? It's not O-K.
Chapter ThreeI'm going to be on Good Day, New York this afternoon. What do you think about this jacket? Too Justin Timberlake?"
My dad's Hugo Bos sblazer hangs perfectly on his gym-enhanced form. And he knows it.
"I'll be talking about the latest alternatives to Botox, as well as promoting my new retreat packages in Cancún."
And that's a retreat from wrinkles and things that sag. People don't soak up the sun and frolic at the pool when they go to Cancún with my dad, Dr. Kevin Kirkwood. They tell their friends and coworkers they're going on vacation, then come back with a brand-new face. New York doesn't call him the Picasso of Plastic Surgery for nothing.
"Dad, I was hoping we could hang out today. I've barely seen you this week, and in three days I'm an official Oklahoman." A thought that incites my gag reflexes.
"I'm sorry, babe. After the TV gig, I have a coffee date. But then I promise I'll be home."
He grabs a bottle of water out of the kitchen, one I can barely find my way around even still. I've been here every other weekend for the better part of the year, and it's still not home.
My dad is currently dating like he's on Survivor and it's an immunity challenge. If dating were an Olympic event, he'd be sporting a neck full of medals and his face would be plastered on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
He slides his sunglasses on his face. "Luisa will get your lunch. If you go anywhere, call me."
"Can't we just do lunch? Tavern on the Green? McDonald's?" Anything?
"Look, babe, this is a stressful week for me."
For you? "My mother just married a six-foot-five farmer, I have two new brothers preprogrammed to hate me, and I'm rounding out my last week as a resident of New York City." I cross my arms. "Now what were you saying about a stressful week?"
My dad stops long enough to place a hand on my shoulder. "Isabella, I know this is an upsetting time for you. But life can't stay like it was. Your mom and I are over, and she's moved on. I've moved on."
"And by default, I have to?"
"Just think of it as having the best of both worlds. You have fresh air in Oklahoma." I see that shudder, Dad. I see it! "And once a month you come back to Manhattan."
"You could've put your foot down. Forced Mom to stay in the state."
My dad smiles, his teeth a perfect white row. "Honey, if you feel like you'd enjoy talking with someone about these negative feelings, I can get you in to see my therapist."
"I could live here." I've only asked a hundred times.
He kisses me on the cheek and rests his hand on my shoulder. "The weeks will fly, and I'll see you next month."
I clench my teeth. "Good luck on your interview." And I leave the kitchen in search of more understanding company.
Like my cat.
I lumber up the stairs to the top floor of the brownstone where my park-view bedroom is tucked away.
"Señor Kirkwood means well, Bella." Luisa, the woman who used to be my nanny, waits for me at the last step, a laundry basket under her ample arm. She follows me into my room.
When my dad moved into this place, he got a professional designer to decorate. Was I consulted about my preferences for my room? Um, that would be a negative. Just like I wasn't consulted about whether I would like to pack up my life, leave everything I love behind, and move to farm country.
I twirl on my heel and crash onto my bed, staring at the ceiling. Where a painting of a group of cherubs glares down at me. They're supposed to look angelic, but to me they look like they're from some gang—fresh out of Compton.
"What's up with him, Luisa?" I sigh. "I just want my old dad back."
"He's a very busy man," she clucks as she places socks in one of my drawers. The drawer with the zebra stripes on it. The decorator obviously had a head injury before taking on my room. Actually the whole house is pretty hideous, but dad says it feeds his creative spirit. I'm not sure creativity is a quality people want in their plastic surgeon.
"I thought this week would be different." I spill my heart out to the woman who is basically now my dad's nanny. "I imagined him being grief-stricken that his daughter would be moving across the country, but between work and all his dates, he barely knows I'm here."
Moxie, my Persian, leaps onto my stomach. I pull her close and pet her silky white fur.
Luisa settles herself onto the edge of the bed and smoothes the hair from my face. "I will miss you. Does that count?"
"I'll miss you too. I wish you would come live with us."
She waves a hand. "No. I no live around pigs and cows. I was married once—I know what that's like."
I laugh, even though it saddens me to think of being so far away from the woman who pretty much raised me. But Dad got Luisa in the divorce settlement. There was no detail left unattended in my parents' divorce. Everything was split very neat and tidy.
Everything except me.
* * *
"So, Bella"—my friend Jasmine flips her hair—"are you and Hunter ready to do this long-distance thing?"
I sip my virgin daiquiri and look at the giant Buddha statue across the crowded restaurant. "Sure. Yeah." I nod and smile at my two friends surrounding me at the table. "Definitely."
Mia looks skeptical and Jasmine doesn't meet my eyes.
"Hunter is totally cool with the move." I force a dreamy look into my eyes and turn to Mia. "We'll just take it day by day, you know? With the phone, e-mail, text messages ... it will be like we're not even apart."
We pay our bill and walk outside into the muggy August evening air, where Mia's driver pulls up in an Escalade. The three of us pile into the back, giggling over nothing in particular.
I smooth my miniskirt then dig through my bag for lip gloss.
"My last time for Club Viva. At least for a while." I sigh, thinking of my fond memories of our favorite teen dance spot.
Thirty minutes later, the Escalade stops at the entrance to Viva's, and we link arms and sashay to the entrance.
I blink at the bouncer. "Richie. It's me." I laugh. "Bella?" I'm a regular! I wait for comprehension to settle in.
It doesn't. "Bella?"
"Oh yeah ... Bella." Richie scratches his bald head. "I'm sorry, Miss Kirkwood, you're not on the list tonight."
"What? Of course I am! I'm always on the list." I gesture behind me. "We're all on the list." Dude, we are the list.
He taps his clipboard and frowns, his forehead wrinkling into folds. "Nope. Sorry. Your friends are here, but you're not. We have a special band performing tonight, and we can only take who's on the sheet here."
Excerpted from a charmed life by jenny b. jones Copyright © 2010 by Jenny B. Jones. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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