Marybeth Whalen is the wife of Curt and mom of six children. She is the cofounder of She Reads, an online book club focused on spotlighting the best in women's fiction. Marybeth is the author of The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, The Guest Book, and The Wishing Tree. Marybeth and her family live in North Carolina. Visit her website at www.marybethwhalen.com.
A June Brideby Marybeth Whalen
A year’s worth of novellas from twelve inspirational romance authors. Happily ever after guaranteed. The reality show ended with an engagement, so why doesn’t this feel like the fairy tale she thought it would be?See more details below
A year’s worth of novellas from twelve inspirational romance authors. Happily ever after guaranteed. The reality show ended with an engagement, so why doesn’t this feel like the fairy tale she thought it would be?
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A June Bride
By Marybeth Whalen
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2014 Marybeth Whalen
All rights reserved.
3 Months Later
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a very special edition of Charlotte Live! We have got such a treat in store for you. An exclusive! You are not going to believe who we have live and in person in our studio today! Some local girls who've achieved national fame!" Karen Dodd, the bubbly, down-home southern host of Charlotte Live, arranged her face in what Wynne guessed was supposed to be a look of surprise. Wynne thought it came out more like a look of gastric distress. She tamped down the urge to laugh and tried to remember she was about to have the cameras turned on her.
She was grateful she didn't have Karen Dodd's job, with cameras on her every day at precisely 11:30, just before the noon news. She'd had her fill of cameras for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, the cameras weren't quite through with her yet. She just had The Wedding to get through and then they would go away, their rabid attention aimed at some other poor, unsuspecting innocent who foolishly believed all of this would be "fun." She twisted the diamond around on her left hand, thinking of Andy, counting down the days until she said "I do." After the cameras went away, she could focus on married life, catch her breath as she set up housekeeping with this man she had chosen.
Finished with her opening monologue, Karen turned her attention to the woman sitting beside Wynne. Wynne had met her briefly that morning in the green room, such as it was. (The room was actually a bland beige with two folding chairs and a pot of coffee that looked and smelled like it had been made first thing that morning and left to char for hours.) Stuck in the tiny room with Meredith, it had taken Wynne all of two seconds to surmise that the two of them had little in common beyond their hometown and reality TV show success.
Now Meredith Welsh seemed to hum with a barely suppressed compulsion to leap into action. Her eyes danced, her face beamed as she soaked up Karen's long introduction of her and all her accomplishments. Photos flashed of Meredith in all her many forms—wife, mom, activist, athlete, adrenaline junkie and, most recently, reality TV star. As the camera turned on her, Meredith leaned into it, her smile widening as Karen introduced her as the current winner of the popular reality TV show, Marathon Mom. On the show, uber-moms completed superhuman tasks in order to be crowned the Marathon Mom.
Meredith had used, Wynne assumed, the same bleaching procedure on her teeth as those guys who courted her. Wynne wanted to shield her eyes from the brightness. Instead she tucked her hands under her knees as Karen turned her attention to her and launched into her intro. She felt the familiar redness creep across her cheeks as they played the tired old audition video that had become a viral hit and earned her a spot on The Rejection Connection, a dating show that paired recently dumped women with a host of eligible bachelors. Wynne's video had featured her honest, heartfelt tale of her recent breakup with her high school sweetheart and fiancé. She'd been a little too vulnerable, a little too open in that video, using the camera her best friend Picky aimed at her as a sort of confessional. In a spectacularly weak moment, she'd let Picky enter it to be considered. No one had been more surprised than she when the video struck a chord with women everywhere, their own tears mingling with her cyber ones. Her most embarrassing moment was captured forever, then celebrated as she not only got picked for the show, but then went on to have, as the promos for the show had said, "A second chance at love."
In truth, no matter what it had earned her, Wynne still wished she could find that video and burn every form of it, eradicating it. It never got easy to see her heartbreak splashed across the screen, never became passé to see herself spilling her guts and wiping her nose. Because the truth was, in spite of the fame and perks and "second chance at love," that hurting girl now sobbing openly on the screen was still her.
When the video ended and the live audience expressed their "awws" and "ohs" and one "you go girl, you showed him" that made everyone laugh, Karen turned to face Meredith and Wynne. She spent a few minutes gushing over their fair city's unusual fortune at having not one but two reality TV stars in their midst, then began the typical barrage of questions. Each time she hurled one at Wynne, it felt like being hit with a small pebble. Not enough to do damage, but enough to sting. She'd grown tired of having pebbles hurled at her by the greedy, curious public. She tried to focus as Meredith happily returned Karen's volleys. How was it that this woman seemed so genuinely happy to be grilled by people who didn't know her and would forget about her by the next ratings sweep? Wynne had a few more weeks to go before this circus folded up its tent and went away. Maybe she could learn a thing or two from Meredith.
Karen turned to Wynne, her face appearing open and genuine, but this close Wynne could see that her eyes didn't match. In her eyes, Wynne saw something that resembled jealousy. It was easy to see how this local talk show host might mistake Wynne's sudden fame and fortune as bigger and more significant than hers. She wanted to tell the whole truth, right then and there. Set this woman—and the audience—straight. Tell the world that, yes, it had been fun and kind of surreal at first, but the more popular she became, the less fun it all was. She thought about her contract, her family, her best friend Picky, and Andy. But she kept silent, forcing her face to match Karen's. She knew that her eyes did too.
"Everyone's just ecstatic that you've chosen Sunset Beach, North Carolina as your wedding location." Karen paused to let the crowd send up an obligatory cheer in response to their home state's mention. "Having your wedding in the best state in the US!" she added with a smile for the camera as another cheer erupted. Wynne had read in her bio that Karen was actually from a small town in Tennessee, so she doubted that Karen truly felt that way. But she wasn't about to point that out.
"What made you choose Sunset Beach?" Karen asked.
She didn't say that she and Callum had talked about getting married there, right on the beach. She didn't say that they'd hiked to Bird Island and left promises to each other in the legendary mailbox there one romantic, memorable afternoon back when she believed fairy tales could happen to real people. She didn't say that, as the producers of the show grilled her on places she found romantic, the first place that popped into her head had been Sunset Beach. And that it was ultimately the producers who'd run with the plans, even going so far as to secure her wedding date for her, sending out a press release with their intentions before she'd even given her OK. She didn't say that she still felt like a traitor to Callum and to the memory of what they'd once had, as ridiculous as that sounded.
She'd confided that truth to Picky—and gotten an earful in response. "He dated you all through high school and college and then he dumped you when it was time to get married! How in the world can you possibly feel like you betrayed him?"
Instead, she gave her practiced, beatific smile and said to Karen and the viewers, "It's my favorite place in all the world. I grew up vacationing there every year and ... it's where my heart lives." How many times had she given that same exact response, delivered that practiced line with that exact same look to go with it? Surely someone had to be catching on by now. Callum. If he was at all aware, he would notice. She pushed the image of his face out of her mind and substituted Andy's. Sweet, caring, attentive Andy. Andy, who loved her.
"So the big day is coming right up!" Karen powered on with the interview. "You're going to be a June bride." She turned to the camera, looked right in it to address the viewers at home. "Doesn't that just make you swoon? It's so perfect!" The in-studio audience clapped their approval. "And I hear it's going to be televised?"
"Yes, since Andy and I are one of the first Rejection Connection couples to make it to the altar, the producers wanted to celebrate with us and give our fans the chance to, also." Another tired, practiced line. Beside her she could actually feel Meredith's energy shimmering in the air—she was buying this. She was as excited as the crowd. Wynne guessed that, if she asked, Meredith would agree to be her matron of honor right then and there.
She already had a maid of honor. Picky had designated herself for that role moments after the final episode aired, the one where Andy gave her the ring she now wore on her left hand. Picky was after her to make sure a key contingent of the guys that didn't make the cut from her season had VIP invites to the nuptials. Picky was still incredulous that Wynne hadn't picked Devin. "I don't care if he didn't have much of a personality. You could've just looked at him the rest of your life!" She scanned the audience and wished Picky were there. Picky, who could always make her laugh. Picky, who had known her forever and loved her no matter what. Picky, who had gotten her into this mess with her "Take a chance! It'll be fun!" refrain as the video camera rolled.
Instead, it was Meredith who reached over and grabbed her hand, flashing her ring in front of the camera as the audience made approving sounds. "Take a look at that rock!" she exclaimed as everyone laughed.
Wynne looked down at her hand. She had suggested to Andy that he re-propose when they were alone, so it could be more heartfelt, away from cameras and crew and viewers. She'd hardly heard the words he said the first time, she was so consumed with how she appeared and how she could keep this turn of events quiet until the show aired ... and whether or not she should say yes. Andy had agreed that a private proposal was a good idea, and yet, in the whirlwind of wedding preparations, the moment had just never materialized. Wynne wondered sometimes if another proposal happened, would she say yes again?
Now she said to the camera and Karen, "It really is lovely, isn't it?"
As she spoke her eyes landed on one lonely-looking woman in the audience nodding heartily. She knew without even having to ask that woman had her on a pedestal, wanted this fairy tale she seemed to be living. Would it shock the woman to know that the closer they got to the wedding, the more doubts filled her mind? She swallowed, pasted on her most winning smile, and told the world she was so excited for the wedding, urging viewers to tune into the special episode of wedding highlights, honeymoon footage, and "exclusive interviews." She had, at least, talked the producers out of airing the wedding live.
Karen rushed to wrap up the show and give her signature wave that looked like a cross between a high five and the old Dating Game smooch. (Picky had once pointed out that The Rejection Connection and the Dating Game had many similarities, then had pulled up YouTube videos to prove her point.) The lights and cameras faded as the audience filed out. An assistant rushed over to direct Meredith and Wynne back to the green room to collect their things. Wynne checked her watch as they filed silently down a corridor. She had a bit of time before her meeting with the minister. The one thing about the wedding that was solely hers: her own minister—the man who had directed her in the children's choir and lowered her into the water for baptism—was officiating the wedding. She was actually looking forward to their meeting today to talk about the ceremony. But first, she needed some lunch.
She gathered her purse and the book she had brought to read, a collection of advice for brides her mother had given her. She hadn't cracked the cover yet, never seeming to need added advice since everyone associated with the show, and more than a few viewers, offered it unsolicited every other minute. Sometimes she couldn't even open her Facebook page because she didn't want to hear any more about The Wedding. Why didn't she and Andy just elope and let the talking heads analyze it on morning television?
"You don't need that book," Meredith spoke up, startling her.
Wynne tucked the book into her purse and looked over at her as she pulled the purse strap over her shoulder. "I don't?" she asked.
Away from the lights Meredith looked less electrified and much more normal. If Wynne was seeing right, she even looked a little tired. She knew the woman had four kids, a militant fitness regime, and a side public relations business, not to mention a husband and a home to run. Add a stint on a reality TV show that required some tough weekly challenges and Wynne would've been toast. Wynne hadn't watched the show all that much—who had the time?—but the episode she had seen involved cooking a complete gourmet meal for the families at a Ronald McDonald House and then doing all the families' laundry, only to come home and do it all over again (albeit on a smaller scale) for her own family. Wynne had wanted to cry for her as she'd sunk down in front of the pile of kids' laundry to fold it while everyone else in her house slept, darkness outside her windows. One of the reasons Meredith had won, according to what Karen had just said, was her sunny personality no matter what challenge had come her way. And yet, standing in that beige green room, Meredith didn't look very sunny.
"I'm starving. Got time for lunch?" The cloud rolled away for a moment and the sun emerged again on Meredith's face. "I can give you all the marriage advice you need."
"Um, sure? I was going to get lunch anyway so that'd be ... nice." Wynne had planned to go through a drive through, and sit in her car and eat while reading her book before heading to the meeting with her pastor. "I have a meeting with my pastor today so I can't go for long though," she added.
"Your pastor?" Meredith asked.
"Yeah, my church likes for couples to go through a series of pre-wedding counseling sessions before you say 'I do.'"
"I've never heard of that," Meredith said. Then she mumbled something to herself.
The two fell into step as they headed toward the parking lot, arriving at the row where they'd both been instructed to park when they arrived hours ago. "Okay, I know a little hole-in-the-wall place near here where we can go. No one will make a fuss and, I don't know about you, but that sounds great to me."
Wynne couldn't help but grin. "Absolutely. I'm ready to be anonymous."
"Okay, follow me and I'll get us there. Then you can get to your ... meeting."
Wynne gave a little wave and climbed into her car. As she waited for Meredith to get into her car and pull out, she dashed off a quick text to Andy: "Interview over, thank goodness. Now off to have lunch with Meredith Welsh from Marathon Mom."
Andy's return text waited for her when she pulled into the restaurant parking lot. True to Meredith's word, the place looked like a dive, a low-slung nondescript white brick building with no signage to speak of and a gravel parking lot. She parked and read his return text. "Wow! Didn't see that coming. Is she as much of a tiger lady as she seems on TV?"
Wynne grinned and shot back a text. "She's as much of a tiger lady as I am sweet and demure." The network had really played up Wynne's sweet, vulnerable side, the Southern Belle done wrong who needed rescuing. But Andy had seen that, beneath her sweetness, lurked what she liked to think was a tough interior, a resolve and tenacity that the cameras hadn't captured. Andy, it seemed, was the one guy among the ones competing for her attention who had not only seen that side of her but tapped into it, believing in her and encouraging her whenever they spent time together. It was, she remembered fondly, what had made her choose him.
Andy quickly responded. "Touché. There are some things you just can't know about people unless you spend time with them. See you at our meeting!"
She texted back with a smiley emoticon. She was looking forward to their meeting, anxious to hear Andy's answers to the questions Reverend Stanton would pose. She seemed to learn more about this man she was marrying each time they met with the pastor. She guessed that was the point, but sometimes she felt as if they were being graded on their compatibility. She worried that Reverend Stanton was turning in some sort of score to her parents on the sly. She shook her head and got out of the car as Meredith approached with her confident stride. She was being silly, her insecurities about the hastiness of their nuptials coming through. She knew what her friends and family thought, and she wanted so badly to prove them wrong.
Excerpted from A June Bride by Marybeth Whalen. Copyright © 2014 Marybeth Whalen. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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