Read an Excerpt
it feels like everyone is watchng me. Im so paranoid. (Text message from Heather Lowell to Bree Penny)
u r not paranoid. they r watchng u. welcome to prichett. (Text message from Bree Penny to Heather Lowell)
I caught the bridal bouquet.
This happened exactly thirty seconds after I told God that all I wanted to do was fade into the beautiful woodwork of Faith Community Church for the rest of the day.
I'm sure He was laughing when I walked out of the bathroom after a quick lipstick check and was swept into the center of a cluster of women whose eyes reflected deadly intent. Kind of like Mom's koi when they saw the mysterious hand poised above them, ready to drop food pellets into the water.
I looked in the direction of whatever it was everyone was fixated onjust in time to see a floral missile hurtling our way. What happened next was something I'd only experienced in the mosh pit at a Christian rock concert the summer before. But this time everyone was wearing pastels.
Candy Lane, Prichett's mayor, was short but agile, judging from the way she vaulted out of the pack toward the ceiling.
Someone stepped on my toe and I bounced to the left, putting myself between Bree, who could have unwound the ribbon from her hair and lassoed the thing, and Prichett's very own resident artist, Marissa Maribeau, who looked as confused as I did that she'd been caught up in this weird ritual.
As luck would have it, the bouquet rocketed right to Marissa like it was on a programmed course, but she decided to change the rules. As soon as it touched her hands, she popped it back into the air like we were playing hot potato. If she'd been a Green Bay Packerquarterback, she wouldn't have been signed on for the second season.
Gravity did its duty and when the bouquet returned to earth, it ricocheted off Bree and landed with a fragrant thump against my arm, then spiraled toward the floor. The competitive instinctthe one that drove me to set my sights on Boardwalk and Park Place when I played Monopolykicked in and I grabbed it. Now I was in the crosshairs. Panicked, I realized my only option was to imitate Marissa's move, but just as I was about to launch it back into space, there was no one there to catch it. My former opponents suddenly muttered their congratulations and shape-shifted from future bridezillas to supportive, can-you-feel-the-love sisters. And they headed toward the cake table together.
"I think this belongs to you." I snagged Marissa's elbow before she escaped.
"Not a chance." Marissa backed away, staring in horror at the flowers I grandly offered.
Future psychology majors take note. This would be a fascinating study. Why intelligent women who've grown up in the modern world react in unpredictable ways when the bridal bouquet is headed in their direction like a ribbon-trailing asteroid. It's not like anyone really believes that the girl who catches it is going to be the next one to walk down the aisle. I'm twenty-one years old and I've already figured out that in the age group twenty to thirty, there's a ratio of one Christian guy to a bazillion Christian women. Okay, a slight exaggeration. Then again, maybe not.
I buried my nose deep in the lilacs and white roses and when I emerged a few seconds later, at least a dozen disposable cameras were aimed in my direction.
"Say cheese." Bree grinned.
For all I knew, the good old dairy state of Wisconsin had been the birthplace of the expression.
I silently pounded my head against my inner wailing wall.
"I wanted to fade into the woodwork," I muttered.
Bree's blue eyes flashed in amused sympathy. "If you want to fade into the woodwork, go back to the Twin Cities. In Prichett you've got a starring role."
A starring role.
Not quite what I had in mind, God.
Why was He so determined to shake up my life? There's no doubt that what's happened to me since last summer can only be the result of God's intervention. Divine fingerprints. My life is full of them. Okay, confession. Maybe I had a hand in getting the whole thing started. Initially.
Dad insists that I can't leave things alone. Supposedly this endearing characteristic can be traced to a package of Oreos and the VCR when I was four years old. Unfortunately, Mom has the pictures to prove it. Which leads me to ask a questionwhy are parents wired with a twisted sense of humor that drives them to take photos of their children's most embarrassing moments when they are too young and helpless to prevent it? Those photos have an annoying habit of surfacing years down the road like the risqué, before-they-were-famous poses of models that the tabloids gleefully print. Case in point, the infamous Oreo-VCR photos have come back to haunt me at my sixteenth birthday party, high school graduation open house and my first (and only) date with Chad Benson. Although I don't think there was a direct correlation. Really.
As if the Oreo photos and the accompanying script my mom loves to recite when she displays them aren't enough, she's put them in a special album, which I like to refer to as Heather Lowell's Childhood Bloopers. Also included in my repertoire is the photo where I'm perched in Dad's leather recliner, wearing nothing but a diaper and draped from head to toe in yards of shiny tapewhich in a former life had been the movie E.T. Mom is convinced I thought he was trapped in there somewhere and it was up to me to save him.
As far as I'm concerned, all diaper and birthday-suit bathtub photos should be burned on a kid's tenth birthday. Middle and high school are right around the corner. Think about it.
So maybe I can be forgiven for being a bit camera shy. For years I thought everyone's parents came automatically equipped with a 35-millimeter and telephoto lens. I learned the sad truth at my kindergarten graduation, when my mother, armed with enough film to take a head shot of everyone in the Twin Cities, was besieged by mothers who'd (gasp) forgotten their cameras. My mother, being the good Christian woman that she is, cheerfully took pictures of my entire class. And the faculty.
I heard one of the moms whisper that after her fourth child, she was lucky she remembered to check to be sure both her shoes matched before she left the house, let alone remember to bring a camera. Mom had leaned over and whispered back that I was an only child and every precious moment needed to be recorded.
I may have been five years old, but that's when I figured it out. The camera fixation and the bulging photo albums had something to do with my being adopted.
Mom and Dad were never secretive about it. I grew up being told that I was a special gift to them from God. That I was the child of their heart. I was so cocooned in love and attention that I never felt like I was lacking anything. Some of my closest friends were adopted, too, so I didn't think there was anything strange about it at all. In factminus the never-ending photo ses-sionsit was kind of cool.
Until my freshman year of high school. On Career Day. A day that will go down in history as the day I started to wonderfor the first timeabout my birth parents. Particularly my mother. I blame the guidance counselor and Rhianne Wilson: the guidance counselor for handing out the questionnaire that was designed to point kids who still watched Saturday morning cartoons in the direction of their future career; Rhianne Wilson for getting caught in a downpour on the way to school, which caused her to slink into the gymnasium through the side door and huddle between the rows of lockers, where I practically tripped over her.
The guidance counselor had decided that Career Day would be more fun if the students came to school dressed for their future career. If we had a clue what that was. Which I didn't. I attended a private school called His Light Christian Academy, so even though I could've borrowed my dad's scrubs and pretended I was thinking about following in his respected footsteps, it wouldn't have been completely honest. And honesty is a big thing at a Christian school. Not to mention that everyone knew from an unfortunate incident in third grade that I faint at the sight of bloodwhether it's mine, a fellow classmate's, the classroom hamster's
But that's a different subject.
"I'm supposed to be a model," Rhianne had wailed. "Look at me. Everyone is going to think I want to be a drowned rat when I grow up."
"It's not that bad." I was an optimist, but I still felt the need to ask God to forgive me for stretching the truth.
I skipped algebra to put Rhianne back together. By the time she got to study hall, three boys had asked her out. By lunchtime, half the girls in the school were begging me to give them tips on makeup and hairstyles.
"I guess we know what you'll be doing with your life," Rhianne said, linking her arm through mine and forcing me to match her catwalk sashayhip roll to hip roll to history class.
She gave me a well, duh look. "Hair. Makeup."
My parents weren't snobs but I'm sure there was an unspoken agreement between them and God that He wouldn't choose a path for me that involved anything less than four years at a Christian college and included at least two semesters of Bible study.
"You have talent. A gift." Rhianne could be pretty dramatic when she was wearing the right shade of eye shadow. I hadn't known that. "It's in your genetic makeup. Wow. That was one of those you know "
"Puns?" Okay. I don't mean to be uncharitable, but sometimes it's a good thing a girl can go far on her looks.
"Right." Rhianne had tossed her long blond hair with one of those graceful head rotations that only girls with long blond hair have perfected.
When we parted company, I sat through an hour of American history in a daze, remembering the Christmas I'd begged for one of those plastic mannequin heads topped with the glossy artificial hair you could style any way you wanted. I got a piano instead. Disjointed memories returned, of the times I coordinated Mom's outfits when she had a women's ministry luncheon, making sure she chose the right pair of shoes or insisting she surgically remove the shoulder pads from a blazer she'd bought on the same day there was a two-for-one special on leg warmers.
It wasn't a talent, I told myself. And it certainly wasn't infused into the strands of my DNA. That was impossible. I just had a knack that's all.
But Rhianne had started me wondering. How much of who I was were pieces of two people I'd never met?
Suddenly I was noticing things I'd never paid much attention to before, like my green eyes (Mom and Dad's were brown) and my perfectly straight nose (which I have to admit I was a trifle conceited about). And it wasn't just the differences in my looks, either. Mom and Dad were quiet while I had a hard time not voicing my thoughts out loud. Every one of them. And I had that impulsive thing going.
Even as the questions about my background rushed into my mind, guilt rushed into my heart. Mom and Dad wouldn't understand. I didn't quite understand it, either, so I ignored it. But sometimes over the next few years the wondering would return and take me by surprise. When I laughed, was it the echo of someone else's laughter? As a senior in high school, when the mailbox was crammed with college catalogs, why did I dump them all in the trash one day and take a year to travel around Europe? And when I got home, why did I walk away from a full scholarship at the University of Minnesota and sign up for cosmetology school?
Who was responsible for my quirks? I needed someone to blame!
That's how I ended up in Prichett, Wisconsin.
"Wait! I want a picture, too." Bernice Strum-Scott hurried over. She owns the Cut and Curl Beauty Shop on Main Street and even a photophobe like myself couldn't refuse to pose for her. She was the bride, after all. Obediently, Bree and I put our faces together cheek to cheekand I could smell Bree's cinnamon gum. I'm pretty sure she chewed it in her sleep.
"Here, let me. It's nice to be on this end of a camera for a change." Alex Scott took the camera from Bernice and winked at me.
Alex Scott was a real live movie star and he looked every inch of it today in his black tux. There were no helicopters flying over the church, though, because Alex confided to me that he'd spent years cultivating a life apart from Hollywood and it was finally paying off. Just in time. He could get married without ending up on the cover of People magazine. I did see Sally Repinski from the café take some discreet snapshots that would probably be on the Prichett Pride and Joy Wall by morning. I'd heard all about the Pride and Joy Wall from Bree's mom, Elise. She'd won the Proverbs 31 pageant and only Annie Carpenter's twins had finally displaced her from the wallbut that had taken almost a year. Bree told me her mom has been trying to keep a low profile since then.
Just as the flash went off, Bree and I stuck out our tongues. Bernice laughed and Alex shook his head.
"That's one for the mantel," he said. "Now let's get one for this year's Christmas card. No tongues, please."
"Killjoy," I mumbled. The flash went off and I reached for the camera. "My turn."
Bernice and Alex leaned against each other. Her veil drifted toward his face and he batted it away. Just as I pressed the button, they both stuck their tongues out at me.
I scowled but I guess I wasn't very convincing, because they started to laugh. And in Bernice's laughter, I heard a deeper, a richer, echo of my own. Because even though I initially came to Prichett to find the source of my quirks, the bride and groommy birth parents were the reason I came back.