Read an Excerpt
That Was Then ...a novel
By MELODY CARLSON
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2006 Carlson Management Co., Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMonday, September 4
School starts tomorrow. My senior year. And although it's not something I advertise to my peers since it would permanently cast me as the class geek, I am glad. I look forward to the routine. I look forward to my classes and to seeing teachers again. I even look forward to the smell of floor cleaner, chalk dust, and books. Seriously, I actually like the smell of school. How lame is that?
I'm sure an even bigger reason that I want school to start has to do with Nat. I'm so sick of hearing her go on about how happy she and Ben and the baby are going to be ... how beautiful their wedding's going to be ... how God has truly blessed them in an unexpected way. And I can't let on to her how sickening this is to me. Or how I still think it's a great, big, fat mistake for two seventeen-year-olds to get married. Or how it's really hard playing the role of her best friend these days. No, I just have to smile and act like everything's peachy.
The only thing that keeps me from totally losing it is my relationship with God. Seriously, I feel like I'm starting to depend on Him for everything these days. And that's what gets me through. There's a Bible verse, 2 Corinthians 12:9,that says God gets glorified by our weaknesses because we have to lean on Him, and as a result, He gets to really shine in us. I think that's been my personal theme verse this past summer.
And I really have to kick this verse into gear on days like today. Here I was, thinking how I was just going to hang around and enjoy the last day before school starts. Maybe get a few things done at home, practice my violin, answer some letters in my Just Ask Jamie column, but then Nat calls up and insists we go shopping. And she doesn't mean back-to-school shopping. No, that would be too obvious, too simple. Nat wants me to go with her to look for her wedding dress and my maid of honor dress. What an honor!
And never mind that all the last-minute back-to-school shoppers are out in hordes, or that the parking lots are packed full, or that it's nearly 100 degrees out. We still have to go shopping.
"We can't keep putting this off," she tells me when she calls late this morning.
"Just for a week?"
"Fine," she says in an aggravated tone. "But just so you know, I already invited Caitlin to join us today. If you don't want to come, well, I'll tell her you're too busy, and she and I will do it on our own."
I let out a long sigh. "I'll come."
"Great!" Now the tone of her voice is the old cheerful Nat again. "It'll be fun, Kim. Just the three of us."
"Your mom's not coming?"
"No, she has to work. She told me how much I can spend, which is going to be a serious challenge. But Caitlin said she's got some ideas."
So it's agreed. And although I try to be a good sport and I keep my smiley face on throughout most of the day, I am so ready for this to be over. After exhausting our options at the traditional mall, where all the wedding gowns are out of Nat's price range, we head on over to an outlet mall. And the final shop seems to show the most promise. At least when it comes to price tags.
Caitlin learned about this little discount shop when she was looking for her own wedding gown. Of course, as it turned out, her good friend Beanie Jacobs, who goes to this big New York design school, created a gown that was a perfect dream. Caitlin looked like a princess in it.
"How about this one for you, Kim?" Caitlin holds up an elegant green dress with some beadwork and an uneven hemline.
"But Nat wants me to wear orange," I remind her as I stand in front of the three-way mirror and frown at this burnt orange number I've got on that is so long the overly full skirt poufs out like a hot-air balloon around me.
Caitlin shakes her head. "Those orange and gold tones don't do a thing for your skin tones, Kim. I think I'll try to talk Natalie into a cool color."
"Cool's good for me," I say, not quite sure what she means by that, but willing to do anything that's an improvement over this sorry dress.
"What about this?" Nat says, as she finally emerges from the dressing room with the saleswoman right behind her. It's about the hundredth dress she's tried on today. And I have to say that her stamina (especially in light of being pregnant) is rather impressive.
Caitlin and I both stand back and study the cream-colored satiny dress as Natalie takes my spot in front of the big mirror.
"The sweetheart neckline looks very nice on her," the saleswoman points out. I wonder if this woman is getting low on patience yet. Or maybe it's just me. But I must agree that this dress does look quite nice.
"Not bad," I say to my best friend. The good news is that I actually mean it this time. "It's simple but elegant, and that style really seems to suit you, Nat." Not for the first time, I feel a small wave of envy for her height advantage. Seriously, that girl can wear anything. Well, at least when she's not enormously pregnant. We'll see how she looks a few months from now.
Nat pats the small rounded belly that's become a bit more obvious lately. "And the way the waistline is cut high like this sort of disguises the baby," she says. "Don't you think?"
"Is there room to get bigger?" Caitlin asks. "My aunt Steph warned me that the baby will really start to grow after the fifth month. She said to make sure you get a dress with a little room, just in case."
Nat checks the dress around her waistline. "I think it'll be okay. I mean, it's only three weeks till the wedding. You wouldn't think I could get too big in that short amount of time."
Caitlin shakes her head as she looks at the dress more closely. "I don't know, Nat. Just to be safe, you might want the next size up. Why don't you just try it and see?" Then she holds up the dress she's picked out for me. "Don't you think this mossy green would be pretty on Kim?"
Nat frowns. "I wanted to have fall colors." Then she turns and really looks at me in this poufy orange number and actually starts laughing. "You look like the Great Pumpkin, Kim!"
"Thanks a lot."
Now she studies me for a moment. "Yeah, maybe that color's not so good on you, Kim. Go ahead and try on some green ones. Just make sure they're not springy-looking greens, Caitlin."
"This earthy green would still look great with the fall-colored flowers you picked out," Caitlin tells her. "In fact, the bridesmaid bouquet will probably stand out even better against this."
"Caitlin's grandmother-in-law is helping us with the flowers," Nat tells me.
Okay, I've already heard this like six times already. "That's nice," I say with my pasted-on smile.
"Shall I get you the next size up?" the saleswoman asks with a hopeful expression, like she thinks we might be getting out of her hair soon.
Natalie seems to consider this as she looks at herself in the mirror again. I can tell that she's not totally sold on this particular wedding gown, that it's not really her dream dress. But this isn't exactly a dream wedding either. And it's quite possible that the marriage will turn into a real nightmare. But selfishly I want to end the shopping now. I do not want to go looking for wedding dresses again.
"It looks so great on you," I tell Nat. "It's the best one you've tried on all day. Imagine it with your hair up ... you'll look so elegant, so grown up."
Her eyes light up at this. "Grown up?"
I nod eagerly. "Yes, don't you think so, Caitlin?"
"It does make you look older ..."
Nat holds her hair up with one hand and gives the dress one more long look. "Okay, I'll go ahead and try the next size up."
The saleswoman smiles. "I'll get it for you."
As it turns out, the larger size isn't that much bigger, but enough that we all think it'll be the best choice.
"And the price is really reasonable," I point out. "Even less than what your mom budgeted." I'm wearing the mossy green dress now. And I actually kind of like it.
Natalie turns around again, checking out her dress from every possible angle. Finally she tells me to come and stand beside her in front of the mirror. "I want to see how our dresses look together."
And so I do. But when I see the two of us standing side by side, it's hard not to laugh-or cry. With me in my flip-flops and Nat in the heels she brought from home, she towers nearly a foot above me.
"Hey, you went from the Great Pumpkin to the Little Green Sprout," she teases. So I stand on tiptoe now, which really doesn't help much. But at least I restrain myself from calling her the Jolly Cream Giant.
Caitlin laughs. "Kim can wear six-inch heels."
"Or maybe stilts," I add.
"It's not like you two will be standing right next to each other," Caitlin reminds us. "And at least Ben is tall, Nat. You two will look very regal together."
"Or you can just find yourself a taller maid of honor." Okay, I guess I'm feeling slightly miffed now. It's not like I can help being short. Or "vertically challenged" as my dad sometimes teases.
Nat turns and looks at me with a serious expression. "Why would I want anyone but you in my wedding, Little Sprout?"
I roll my eyes at her. But I suppose I do feel sort of touched. And it does occur to me that despite all these recent circumstances, Nat and I do go back a long way. We've been through a lot together, and it makes sense that I would be her maid of honor. Really, I guess I should be honored.
"Besides, Cesar's not that tall," she says. "You guys will be just right together."
"Is that who Ben finally decided on?" I ask.
"Yeah," she says. "Since Josh finally agreed to perform the ceremony. Ben and Cesar have really been getting close lately."
"This will be Josh's first wedding." Caitlin smiles in a way that suggests she's feeling proud of her husband. "Although Pastor Tony really had to twist his arm to get him to do it."
I suppress the urge to point out that it makes perfect sense for the youth pastor to perform the wedding ceremony for two seventeen-year-old youths. How appropriate.
Finally it's decided that Nat will get the creamy satin after all. And I will get the mossy green. She'll be the tall white lily, and I'll be the Little Green Sprout. "Although," I think to myself, "she's the one with the bulging pea in the pod."
As we're leaving the store and Natalie is gushing to Caitlin about how perfect everything is going to be and how much she appreciates her help and how great it will be to have Caitlin as her sister-in-law, I notice what I think is a shadow of doubt cross Caitlin's countenance. I'm guessing that, despite her sweet nature and positive attitude, she's still struggling with this marriage. Probably just as much as I am. After all, Ben is her little brother. And although he has as much to do with Nat's pregnancy as Nat does, Caitlin must be feeling somewhat protective of him.
And as I sit in the backseat listening to them, I can't understand why one of the "adults" in either Ben or Natalie's lives hasn't put the brakes on this whole crazy thing. I mean, what are these people thinking? Even my dad is appalled by the craziness of it all. And it's not like it's his daughter getting married either. I seriously doubt he'd ever allow me to do something like this. Even if I were pregnant.
"Have you guys found a place to live yet?" I ask absently. Okay, maybe I do want to stir the pot just a little. Make Nat think a little further than just the big wedding day.
And I absolutely refuse to discuss the honeymoon with her, although she's already informed me that they'll probably stay in the mountains at a cabin that's owned by friends of Ben's family. She thinks it'll be so romantic.
But I'm imagining this rustic, animal-infested shack with a smelly outhouse and no running water. Okay, I'm a terrible excuse for a friend. But it's only because I love Nat, because I care about her future. And possibly because I'm a realist.
"Oh yeah, I meant to tell you. Josh's mom knows an older couple who needs house sitters until next spring," Caitlin says as she turns down the street where Nat and I live.
"Really?" Nat sounds hopeful.
"I think Josh gave Ben the number, and he's going to talk to them."
"That sounds good." Then Nat gets quiet. "But that would mean we couldn't really get settled ... couldn't have our own things."
Okay, I'm wondering, what things? But I don't say this. I mean, I know that Nat and Ben have registered at a couple of stores. But from what I've heard from Nat's mom, the wedding's going to be pretty small. Which reminds me, I wonder if being maid of honor means I'm supposed to plan a wedding shower or something to that effect. I lean back into the seat and let out a little groan. When will the madness end?
"You okay?" asks Nat.
"Just a little carsick," I say, which isn't entirely untrue. I'm in a car and I feel sick.
"Almost there," says Caitlin.
Caitlin drops us off, and we both thank her. I make a mental note to call her later for some wedding shower advice. Sheesh, I'm only seventeen. I shouldn't have to be doing all of this. Of course, as I walk into the house, I realize that Nat shouldn't either. But it seems like she's actually enjoying it.
I halfheartedly show Dad my dress, and although he says it's pretty and that I'll be a beautiful maid of honor, I can tell he's not pleased.
"I know, I know," I say as I lay the dress over the back of our new leather couch in the family room. Dad and I replaced a few things-in an effort to move on in our grieving process over Mom. "Everything about this wedding feels all wrong to me too."
"It seems like a hard way to start a life together ... getting married because of a baby. I just don't know ..."
And suddenly I remember my grandma, Dad's mom, and the surprising story she told me down in Florida last summer. I look at Dad and wonder if it's the right time to tell him about this. But he's replaced his reading glasses and is already opening his book again. Maybe some other time.
I carry my dress up to my room and hang it in the back of my closet so I don't have to look at it every day and be reminded of how my best friend is ruining her life.
Then I do a double check on the things I've already laid out for school. Okay, it's true, I've even picked out the outfit I plan to wear tomorrow. Although I reserve the right to change my mind if the weather cools down. Anyway, everything seems to be in good order. So I decide to check my e-mail and maybe answer a letter for my column. Since the e-mail is disappointing, I go with the latter, reading through about a dozen letters before I settle on this.
My mom has been married six times, so far. My dad was number two in the lineup, and they got divorced when I was a baby. Her marriages last two to three years, although they seem to be getting shorter. And every time she gets engaged, she says, "This one is going to be the one." Anyway, she's about to get married again. She calls this dude her "lucky number seven," but I can tell he's a loser like the rest. I'm seventeen and this will be my senior year, but I'm sick of this game. I'd like to move out, but I'm not sure I can handle it. I have a part-time job, but I don't know if it's enough to support myself with. What should I do?
Tired of Stepdads
Dear Tired, I can understand your frustration. But I can also understand your hesitancy to move out. Here are my questions for you: 1) Is there another relative who you might live with during your last year of high school? 2) Or do you have a good friend with understanding parents who might let you stay with them? 3) If you really want to move out, do you have enough money for a rental deposit? 4) Have you estimated what it will cost each month, making a budget that includes things like rent, food, utilities, clothing, commuting costs, etc.? 5) Have you asked a school or church counselor for advice? 6) Last but not least, have you told your mother how you feel-have you asked for her help in making this adjustment?
I know that being on your own looks tempting right now, but it could end up being like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Maybe you should do what you can to get yourself ready to move out (like saving and planning a budget) while you give yourself time to see whether or not your mom has made another mistake.
Excerpted from That Was Then ... by MELODY CARLSON Copyright © 2006 by Carlson Management Co., Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.