Wedding Belles

Wedding Belles

3.7 14
by Haywood Smith

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The New York Times bestselling author of The Red Hat Club fearlessly takes on mothers and daughters, wedding madness, and midlife passion in this frank, funny, and fabulous new novel.

Georgia, Linda, Diane, Teeny, and Pru have been best friends since high school, and never have they needed one another more. Georgia's precious

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The New York Times bestselling author of The Red Hat Club fearlessly takes on mothers and daughters, wedding madness, and midlife passion in this frank, funny, and fabulous new novel.

Georgia, Linda, Diane, Teeny, and Pru have been best friends since high school, and never have they needed one another more. Georgia's precious twenty-eight-year-old daughter, Callie, has gone and gotten engaged. Usually this would be cause for celebration. After all, this is the South, where dreams of white dresses and wedding bells are as important as finding the perfect hat. But Callie's intended groom just happens to be a man they went to high school and college with: Wild Man Wade! These women know more about the groom than the bride does. His drunken shenanigans. His wild oats. And all of his conquests as well as his mistakes. They can imagine him in the most inappropriate of circumstances, but not as a son-in-law!

With absolutely hilarious Southern observances and dead-on wit about mothers, daughters, marriage, and families, Wedding Belles will have you laughing and crying whether you live above or below the Mason-Dixon line.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

Cynthia Darlow's bravura narration of Smith's novel makes this a must-listen on audio. The characters consist primarily of middle-aged Southern women, yet Darlow gives each one a distinctive and memorable voice. Outside the members of the Red Hat Club, Darlow gets a chance to show her range and versatility as Georgia's elderly mother, Pru's five-year-old granddaughter, Diane's aw-shucks Texan beau and, best of all, blunt and brassy cousin Rachel. Darlow's rendition of the rude-yet-utterly-clueless Rachel, with her over-the-top New York accent, is priceless and will have listeners howling with laughter. As perfect as she is with such comic moments, Darlow is equally deft with the poignant ones. As enjoyable as the print novel was, this is even better on audio. A St. Martin's hardcover (Reviews, June 2).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal

Smith here finishes her "Red Hat Club" trilogy (The Red Hat Club; The Red Hat Club Rides Again), reuniting narrator Georgia Baker with her four best friends, women who meet monthly at Atlanta's Swan Coach House Restaurant to celebrate life. They support one another, cheer for one another, and help each other through the good and bad. This time, Georgia is the one who needs help; her brilliant 28-year-old daughter has announced her intentions of becoming the third wife of her father's best friend from college, "Wild Man" Wade. Georgia, a true drama queen, has a detective investigate her future son-in-law's past. What could go wrong during all the parties, snooping, and a wedding with a groom older than his mother-in-law? Smith's latest, filled with humor, a few tears, and some prayers, will delight her fans. The warm, satisfying story will also find new readers, who can easily catch up with Georgia and her friends. This enjoyable book is recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ5/15/08.]
—Lesa Holstine

Another heartwarming and hilarious installment in Smith's beloved Red Hat series.

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Wedding Belles

By Haywood Smith

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2008 Haywood Smith
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3344-5


Nobody's perfect. So, a lot of the people on the beach are skinnier than you. Big deal. There's always somebody older and fatter out there, too, so you might as well wear your bathing suit and enjoy yourself.

— My Best Friend, Linda Murray

Like Most People, I've always thought of the word perfect as an absolute, but there's nothing like a wedding to prove otherwise, especially when the wedding's your daughter's and you know it's a big mistake. Then the term is relative — like disaster.

All her life, my second-born, Callie, had been a mother's dream: smart as her physicist father, outgoing as her big brother Jack, principled and salt-of-the-earth sensible as my precious mother-in-law, and gorgeously athletic as my mother — who is still a handsome woman at eighty-four and walks three miles a day, and drives like a New York cabbie in Atlanta traffic.

Callie was our perfect daughter. Never in her life had she given us serious cause to worry.

But the word perfect can also mean "completed." Little did I know that my obedient daughter was saving up all her bad-behavior credits to cash them in on one giant bombshell of a boo-boo that would redefine "perfect wedding" in biblical terms, meaning finished, thank-God-it's-finally-over-with.

Oh, for a crystal ball! If I could have been absolutely sure my instincts were right, I would have gunnysacked her to keep her from the altar. As it was, I was the one who got gunnysacked.

The present. Second Tuesday in January. 10:55 A.M. Muscogee Drive, Atlanta.

Normally I Love January's sweet, silent stillness after the glittering clutter and excitement of Christmas. Stripped of wretched excess (the only way to decorate for the holidays), my house seems clean and sleek and tranquil. I bask in the new year's quiet order with a long, relaxing breath and look forward to the high spot in my monthly routine, lunch with my lifelong best friends.

For the past thirty-something years, since we were pledges in our high school sorority, Linda, Diane, Teeny, and I (and lately Pru, our prodigal) have tended the ties that bind on the second Tuesday of every month at the Swan Coach House Restaurant, where we share laughter, fun, fellowship, frozen fruit salad, and generous doses of "Poor Baby" on a scale of one to five (the only allowable response to whining of any kind).

When we all started turning fifty, we decided to wear red hats and purple in honor of Jenny Joseph's wonderful poem "Warning," a delightful declaration of independence for midlife and beyond. Governed only by our own Twelve Sacred Traditions of Friendship, our luncheons have become a welcome refuge of acceptance and sanity — or occasional insanity, none of which was ever my idea — in this crazy world. And every month, we take turns bringing a joke that's not woman-bashing, and preferably not man-bashing, either.

For the past thirty-something years, I've always gotten to the Swan Coach House Restaurant early so I could sip my iced tea or hot lemonade in our regular banquette in the back corner of the main dining room and savor the anticipation of seeing my friends.

Until that gray morning last January, when — for the first time ever — I was seriously considering skipping the whole thing. Disconnecting the phone, turning off my cell, taking one of the four sleeping pills I had left from a trip to England five years ago, and pulling the covers up over my head.

Not that it would do any good to postpone the inevitable, but I couldn't stand the idea of telling anybody, even my best friends, about the dumb thing my brilliant daughter was about to do. Not until I absolutely had to.

If I stayed home and took the sleeping pill, it would knock out my internal Chicken Little along with me. She'd been dithering away in hyper-drive ever since Callie's New Year's Day announcement.

Not that I'm mental or anything, but when it comes to my psyche, I have this constant internal dialogue with pieces of myself that just won't shut up. Chicken Little, my drama queen, and my scolding Inner Puritan hog up the whole house, relegating my Sensible Self and Creative Inner Child to the shed out back.

It occurs to me that some people might think it odd, especially when I argue with myself aloud, but it works for me. I mean, it's not like I believe I'm hearing voices. I know it's all me. I talk to machines, too — all the time — but that's not crazy. It's only crazy when you think they talk back. Unless they really do, which happens more and more often these days.

Nevertheless, on that second Tuesday morning last January, my Sensible Self managed to push her way into the parlor and urged me — for the fiftieth time since Callie's announcement — to look at the big picture and remember how blessed my family was.

We were all healthy and productive. Callie had finished her doctorate in theoretical mathematics and landed a job teaching at Oglethorpe in the fall. Our twenty-nine-year-old son Jack was happily building Home Depots all over America. My husband John and I had a fabulous love affair going that had waited till midlife to burst into flame. John had tenure teaching physics at Georgia Tech. We had finally paid off the mortgage. God was in His heaven. And I had four steadfast friends to help get me through this.

Maybe I ought to go to the luncheon after all.

As usual, Chicken Little ignored all the blessings, only to squawk, Callie's making the mistake of her life! She has no idea what she's getting into! Linda and Teeny and Pru will know the minute they slap eyes on you that something's seriously wrong.

All I've ever wanted to do was keep a low profile, but no such luck. It's a curse, having a face that hides nothing.

I could always call an MYOB (Mind your own business: Sacred Tradition of Friendship Number Five). But then my loyal friends would probably worry up all kinds of drastic things.

If I simply played hooky, they'd send out the bloodhounds. But if I called to cancel, they'd expect an explanation. When it came to our monthly friendship fix, the only acceptable excuses were foreign travel, jury duty, chemo, moving away, or hospitalization.

Standing at the mirror in the foyer of my little house on Muscogee Drive, I reapplied my nonfeathering red lipstick for the third time and prayed with as much conviction as I could muster for the grace to accept Callie's choice. But God and I both knew my heart wasn't really in it. So I ended up reminding Him yet again that this whole thing couldn't be a good idea.

The Lord and I have that kind of a relationship. I speak my mind, and He loves me anyway and runs the Universe as He sees fit, whether I agree with Him or not.

Things could certainly be worse. Linda's daughter Abby had quit Agnes Scott six months short of graduating with honors to become a hairdresser and move in with (and later marry) her Jewish mother's nightmare: a lapsed-Moslem Rastafarian tattoo artist whose student visa had expired.

Which meant that Linda would certainly be able to empathize, but that offered cold comfort. Nobody really wants to hear, "It could be worse."

I sighed in resignation. As the Beatles said, "Oh-blah-dee, oh-blah-dah, life goes on," so I decided to suck it up and go to my luncheon.

I picked up my red felt picture hat. Maybe just this once, I could keep from blabbing everything.

Other people's secrets, I could keep, but not my own. Still, just because I hadn't ever been able to do it before didn't mean I couldn't do it now. There's a first time for everything.

Grabbing my red pocketbook, I resolved to develop a pleasant, impenetrable mask on the way. I could do this. After all, I'd managed to keep from telling Mama so far.

Oh, lord. How would I ever tell Mama?


Bad news is like a dead fish. The longer you keep it hidden, the worse it stinks up your whole life.

— Linda's Russian Grandmother BUBBIE

Same day. 11:35 A.M. Swan Coach House, Atlanta.

I Was So late I had to use valet parking, then maneuver my honkin' big hat through the crush of waiting women crammed into the foyer. I could tell they were staring at me behind their polite smiles, and I cringed at the overwhelming (and ridiculous) feeling that they had somehow sniffed out my bad-fish bad news.

It didn't even occur to me that they were probably just taken aback by my huge red hat and purple gabardine overcoat.

When I got to the dining room, I looked toward our regular corner booth and saw that I was the cow's tail.

There they were, my four best friends, resplendent in red hats and purple outfits.

Teeny, who looked like a blond little Audrey Hepburn with big blue eyes, was our Miss Melly, but with one major difference: She was our keeper of secrets. Beneath her impeccable manners and gentle ways hid a hard-headed businesswoman. A devout Catholic, she'dcompensated for being stuck in a bad marriage by eavesdropping on her abusive mega-developer husband when he and his powerful father talked shop over their bourbon. Then, for the next thirty years, she'd used what she heard to secretly invest every cent she could scrape up. Only when her two sons were grown and gone — and she'd amassed a fortune of twenty million — did she file for divorce and an annulment from the Vatican.

Now Teeny's pet project was Shapely Clothing, a break-even operation that employed needy women to make comfortable, flattering, classic clothes for real-women shapes and sizes. We all wore them (she'd had dress forms made to our exact measurements), and she paid us a thousand dollars apiece for any of our design ideas she could use.

Next to her sat Diane in deep purple slacks and a red cashmere sweater that accented her slim build and brunette hair. The organizer in our group, Diane had marshaled our help to get the goods on her cheatin' lyin' lawyer husband who planned to leave her penniless. And we got him good, yes we did. Now very happily divorced (with a cowboy on the side, but we'll get to that later), she runs the design division of Shapely from the penthouse office next to Teeny's, just a few blocks away on West Paces Ferry.

Beside her sat Pru, our prodigal. Tall and rawboned, Pru was a size sixteen from the knees to her waist, and a size twelve everywhere else. Back in the hippie era, she and her pot-smoking husband had tuned in, turned on, and dropped out, sacrificing each other and all Pru's self-respect to drugs and alcohol over the long, lost years. Then Teeny had found her and brought her back to us. After a promising beginning, Pru had fallen off the wagon so hard that we'd had to go to Vegas to stage a spectacular intervention (with the help of Cameron "the Cowboy"). Then we acted as her family in rehab whether she liked it or not, and Pru had pulled through with flying colors. For more than a year now, she'd showed up clean and sober every day for work as Diane's assistant at Shapely.

Last but not least was Linda, our heart and our humor, but she didn't look very happy. Her plump face was drawn down into an uncharacteristic frown. Maybe I wasn't the only one with bad-fish bad news.

The two of us had been confidantes since our high school days as Mademoi selles, when Friday-night sleepovers meant services with her family at the Temple and shul on Saturday morning. Once trim and athletic, Linda had married the love of her life, a wonderful ur-ological surgeon named Brooks, and both of them had grown fluffy and contented. Until their only child Abby did her own dropout and shacked up with Osama-damned-boyfriend (yes, his name is really Osama), but as the Bible says, "The rain falls on the just and the unjust."

Of all of us, Linda was the only one confident enough to let her hair go silvery white. (Not me. I've warned my children that I plan to be the redheaded old lady with way too much makeup, who talks too loud and pokes people with her cane.)

Watching my girlfriends scrutinize my approach, I could see their concern and braced myself for the inevitable questions they would ask about why I was late.

Hang in there. You can do this, my Sensible Self encouraged in optimistic denial of my lifelong inability to keep from telling on myself.

My smile grew more fixed with every step as I worked my way between the brightly tulipped underskirts of the white-clothed tables in the Coach House's main dining room. When I reached our corner banquette, Teeny stood for an air kiss, her tiny, slender hands cold as she took my big, garden-scarred warm ones. "Glad you made it," she said without recrimination. "I was about to send out a search party to blanket the city." Which she could literally afford to do. She cocked her head at me. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," I lied, anxious to shift the attention somewhere else. "Linda, you look miserable," I said as I sat in my usual place. "What in the world's the matter?"

"Not now," she snapped, then got me off the hot seat with a grumpy, "Who's got the joke? Somebody make me laugh, please."

Almost invariably, whoever called for the joke wanted to get it out of the way so she could discuss something urgent, so the others promptly shifted their concern from me to Linda.

Pru signaled it was her turn to tell the joke by reluctantly waving her long fingers. "Me."

"Okay," Linda grumbled. "Get on with it."

It wasn't easy finding funny jokes that met our criteria, and even when Pru found one, she had shown no talent for the telling. In the past year, she'd made two well-meaning tries, but failed miserably. Not that we cared. We laughed anyway and complimented her on the consistency of her terribleness.

Teeny couldn't tell a joke right to save her life, either, but her lame efforts were often funnier than a lot of ours that went off without a hitch.

"Remember, now," Pru cautioned. "I'm awful at this."

"Remember, now," I said with affection, "that doesn't matter."

Pru responded with a welcome glimmer of spunk. "Trust me. That doesn't make it any easier." She composed herself. "But this time, I really practiced. So here goes:

"One day, when she was on her way to visit her mama in Florida, Mavis stopped for gas in a tiny little south Georgia town, right across the street from a cemetery and a funeral home. While she was gassing up, a hearse came out of the funeral home down the way and slowly rolled toward the graveyard, followed by a woman in a red dress walking a huge rottweiler on a leash. Behind her came another hearse, then at least thirty more women, single file."

Rapt, the four of us hung on Pru's every word as she went on.

"As the woman in red came by her, Mavis can't resist asking, 'Please excuse me for intruding on your grief. I'm sorry for your loss, but could you please tell me what happened here?'

"The woman in red stopped. 'My husband got drunk and tried to kill me, so our dog, here, attacked and killed him,' she answered without the slightest hint of remorse.

"Mavis looked at the other hearse behind the widow. 'So who's in there?'

" 'My mother-in-law,' the widow said. 'She was trying to help my louse of a husband finish me off, so the dog killed her, too.'

" 'Wow.' Mavis thought about her own lousy husband and mother-in-law and asked, 'Could I borrow your dog?'"

We started to laugh in delight, but Pru raised her palm to indicate the joke wasn't over.

" 'Sure,'" she went on. "The widow cocked her head toward the long procession behind her. 'But you'll have to get in line.'"

Stunned by Pru's perfect delivery, we waited for a heartbeat, then burst out laughing — along with several people at nearby tables.

"That was perfect!" I told her. "And funny." I lifted my hands and did a polite opera clap, fingertips patting the other palm. "Brava."

Linda arched a silver eyebrow, "I'm in a bad mood, and you still made me laugh," she said. "Even though there was a widow in it."

What was that supposed to mean?

"Traitor," Teeny said in mock indignation. "Now I'm back to being the only one who can't tell a joke."

Pru flushed with pride. She looked really happy, a rare and special state for her. "I practiced on Bubba" — her grown son —"till I got it right."

"It was great," Diane said. Then she turned abruptly to Linda. "Okay, so what's wrong with widows, and why are you in such a rotten mood?" No preliminaries with Diane. She always cut straight to the chase.

Linda hesitated with a frown.

Taking advantage of the break in conversation, our regular waitress Maria put a fresh basket of mini muffins on the table, then pulled out her tablet and pen. "May I take your orders now, or would you ladies like me to come back later?"

"We'll order," Linda decided for all of us.

Maria waited patiently without the slightest hint of irony while we all perused our menus, then ordered the same choices we always did: the shrimp salad plate for Diane, the Favorite Combination plate for Linda and me, the grilled chicken green salad for Teeny, and a chicken salad croissant for Pru.


Excerpted from Wedding Belles by Haywood Smith. Copyright © 2008 Haywood Smith. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.

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