The Carmichaels and the Grahams have gathered on Nantucket for a happy occasion: a wedding that will unite their two families. Plans are being made according to the wishes of the bride's late mother, who left behind The Notebook: specific instructions for every detail of her youngest daughter's future nuptials. Everything should be falling into place for the beautiful event but in reality, things are falling apart.
While the couple-to-be are quite happy, their loved ones find their lives crumbling. In the days leading up to the wedding, love will be questioned, scandals will arise, and hearts will be broken and healed. Elin Hilderbrand takes readers on a touching journey in Beautiful Day into the heart of marriage, what it means to be faithful, and how we choose to honor our commitments.
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By Elin Hilderbrand
Little, Brown and CompanyCopyright © 2014 Elin Hilderbrand
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THE NOTEBOOK, PAGE 1
I have finally reached the point with my prognosis where I accept that there are certain things I will not live to see. I will not see the day your father retires from the law firm (he always promised me he would retire on his 65th birthday, safe to say that promise was only made to appease me); I will not live to see my grandchildren ride roller coasters, get pimples, or go on dates—and I will not live to see you get married.
This last item pains me the most. As I write this, you are a senior in college and you have just broken up with Jason. For my sake, you are pretending like it's no big deal, you said you knew he wasn't "the One"; his favorite politician is Pat Buchanan and yours in Ralph Nader. So it won't be Jason you end up with—dishy though he was (sorry, true)—but there will be someone, someday, who will light you up. You will get married, and you have said that you would like a big, traditional wedding with all the bells and whistles. Since you've been a little girl, you've had your heart set on getting married on Nantucket, and although marriage is probably further from your mind now than it was when you were six, I hope that is still true.
That's where this notebook comes in. I won't be here to encourage or guide you when the time comes; I will, sweet Jenna, probably never meet the man you're going to marry (unless it's the delivery man from FTD who has been here three times this week. I can tell he has a crush on you). My hand aches knowing that it will not be squeezing your hand just before you walk down the aisle.
But enough feeling sorry for ourselves! I will, in these pages, endeavor to bestow my best advice for your big day. You can follow it or ignore it, but at the very least you will know where I stand on each and every matter.
I wish for you a beautiful day, Jenna, my darling. You alone will make it so.
Finn Sullivan-Walker (bridesmaid): I can't wait to see Jenna wearing her mother's gown. It's vintage Priscilla of Boston, silk bodice with a sweetheart neckline and lace column skirt. There used to be a picture in the Carmichael house of Jenna's mother, Beth, wearing the dress. I was obsessed with that picture when I was younger, even before Beth died. Seeing Jenna in that dress is going to be surreal, you know? Like seeing a ghost.
Douglas Carmichael (father of the bride): I can't stand the thought of giving Jenna away. She's my last one. Well, I guess technically Nick is my last one, but Nick might never get married.
Nick Carmichael (brother of the bride): My sister has extremely hot friends.
Margot (sister of the bride, maid of honor): Can I be honest? I really just want this weekend to be over.
They were on the ferry, the hulking white steamship that was properly named the Eagle, but which Margot had always thought of as Moby-Dick, because that was what their mother used to call it. Every year when the Carmichael family drove their Ford Country Squire into the darkened hold of the boat, Beth used to say it was like being swallowed by a whale. She had found the ride on the steamship romantic, literary, and possibly also biblical (she would have been thinking of Jonah, right?)—but Margot had despised the ferry ride then, and she despised it even more now. The thick, swirling fumes from the engines made her queasy, as did the lurching motion. For this trip, Margot had taken the Dramamine that Jenna offered her in Hyannis. Really, with the seven thousand details of her wedding to triage, the fact that Jenna had remembered to pack pills for her sister's seasickness was astonishing—but that was Jenna for you. She was thoughtful, nearly to a fault. She was, Margot thought with no small amount of envy, exactly like their mother.
For Jenna's sake, Margot pretended the Dramamine was working. She pulled down the brim of her straw hat against the hot July sun, which was blinding when reflected off the surface of the water. The last thing she wanted was to freckle right before the wedding. They were outside, on the upper deck. Jenna and her best friend, Finn Sullivan-Walker, were posing against the railing at the bow of the boat. Nantucket was just a smudge on the horizon; even Christopher Columbus might not have said for sure there was land ahead, but Jenna was adamant that Margot take a picture of her and Finn, with their blond hair billowing around their faces, as soon as Nantucket was visible in the background.
Margot planted her feet at shoulder width to steady herself against the gentle and yet nefarious rocking of the boat and raised the camera. Her sister looked happy. She looked excited-happy that this was the beginning of her wedding weekend, which was certain to be the most fun-filled and memorable weekend of her life—and she also looked contented-happy, because she was confident that marrying Stuart James Graham was her life's mission. Stuart was the One.
Stuart had proposed to Jenna on a park bench across the street from Little Minds, the progressive, "sustainable" preschool where Jenna was the lead teacher, presenting her with a ring featuring Sri Lankan sapphires and ethically mined diamonds from Canada. (Stuart was a banker, who made money buying and selling money, but he knew the path to Jenna's heart.) Since that day, Margot had cast herself as devil's advocate to Jenna's vision of a lifetime of happiness with Stuart. Marriage was the worst idea in all of civilization, Margot said. For two people to meet when they were young and decide to spend the rest of their lives together was unnatural, Margot said, because everyone knew that human beings changed as they got older, and what were the chances—honestly, what were the chances—that two people would evolve in ways that were compatible?
"Listen," Margot had said one evening when she and Jenna were having drinks at Cafe Gitane in SoHo. "You like having sex with Stuart now. But imagine doing it four thousand times. You'll lose interest, I promise you. You'll grow sick of it. And the enthusiasm that you used to have for having sex with Stuart will migrate—against your will—to something else. You'll develop an unhealthy interest in cultivating orchids. You'll be that mother on the baseball field, harassing the umpire over every pitch that crosses the plate. You'll start flirting with the cashier at Whole Foods, or the compost guru at the local nursery, and the flirting will turn into fantasies, and the fantasies will become a fling, then perhaps a full-blown affair, and Stuart will find out by checking your cell phone records, and your life will be ruined, your reputation will end up in shreds, and your children will require expensive therapy." Margot paused to sip her sauvignon blanc. "Don't get married."
Jenna had stared at her levelly. Or almost. Margot thought that this time, maybe, somewhere deep inside those clear blue eyes, she detected a flicker of worry.
"Shut up," Jenna said. "You're just saying that because you're divorced."
"Everyone is divorced," Margot said. "We owe our very livelihood to the fact that everyone is divorced. It put food on the table, it paid for our orthodontia, it sent us to college." Margot paused again, more wine. She was under the gun to get her point across. It was nearly seven o'clock, and her children were in the apartment without a babysitter. At twelve years old, Drum Jr. was okay to be left in charge until it got dark, then he would panic and start blowing up Margot's phone. "Divorce, Jenna, is paying for your wedding."
Margot was referring to the fact that their father, Douglas Carmichael, was the managing partner at Garrett, Parker, and Spence, a very successful family law practice in midtown Manhattan. Technically, Margot knew, Jenna would have to agree with her: divorce had always paid for everything.
"There is no man on earth better suited for me than Stuart," Jenna said. "He traded in his Range Rover for a hybrid for me. He and two of the guys on his trading desk showed up last weekend to fix a hole in the roof at Little Minds. He brings me coffee in bed every morning when he stays over. He goes with me to foreign films and talks with me about them afterwards at the fondue place. He likes the fondue place and doesn't mind that I always want to eat there after the movies. He doesn't complain when I listen to Taylor Swift at top volume. Sometimes he even sings along."
This was a litany Margot had heard many times before. Famously, after only three dates, Stuart had showed up at Jenna's apartment with a bouquet of yellow roses and a screwdriver, and he had fixed the towel bar in her bathroom, which had been broken since she'd moved in two years earlier.
"What I'm saying is that you and Stuart are tra-la-la now, everything is sunshine and lollipops, but it might still fail down the road."
"Shut up," Jenna said again. "Just shut the eff up. You're not going to talk me out of it. I love Stuart."
"Love dies," Margot said, and she snatched up the bill.
Now Margot tried to center Jenna's and Finn's shining faces in the viewfinder. She snapped a picture, all hair and toothy smiles.
"Take another one, just in case," Jenna said.
Margot took another as the boat pitched side ... to ... side. She grabbed one of the plastic molded chairs that were bolted to the deck. Oh, God. She breathed in through her nose, out through her mouth. It was good to be gazing at the horizon. Her three children were down in the hold of the ship, sitting in the car, playing Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja on their iDevices. The movement of the boat didn't faze them; all three had their father's ironclad constitution. Nothing made them sick; physically, they were warriors. But Drum Jr. was afraid of the dark, and Carson, Margot's ten-year-old, had nearly failed the fourth grade. At the end of the year, his teacher, Ms. Wolff, had told Margot—as if she didn't know already—that Carson wasn't stupid, he was just lazy.
Like his father. Drum Sr. was living in San Diego, surfing and managing a fish taco stand. He hoped to buy the stand and possibly turn it into a franchise; someday he would be a baron of fish taco stands up and down the coast of California. The business plan sounded hazy to Margot, but she encouraged him nonetheless. When she met him, Drum Sr. had had a trust fund, which he'd frittered away on exotic surfing and skiing trips. His parents had bought Drum and Margot a palatial apartment on East Seventy-third Street, but his father offered nothing more in the way of cash, hoping that Drum would be inspired to get a job. But instead Drum had stayed home to care for the kids while Margot worked. Now she sent him a support check for $4,000 every month—the trade-off, along with a lump sum of $360,000, for keeping the apartment.
However, after the phone call she had received last night, she supposed the palimony payments would end. Drum Sr. had called to tell her he was getting married.
"Married?" Margot had said. "To whom?"
"Lily," he said. "The Pilates instructor."
Margot had never heard of Lily the Pilates instructor before, and she had never heard the kids—who flew to California the last weekend of every month, trips that were also financed by Margot—mention anyone named Lily the Pilates instructor. There had been a Caroline, a Nicole, a Sara, pronounced "Sah-RAH." Drum had women moving through a revolving door. From what Margot could tell, girlfriends lasted three to four months, which aligned with what she knew to be his attention span.
"Well, congratulations," Margot said. "That's wonderful." She sounded genuine to her own ears; she was genuine. Drum was a good guy, just not the guy for her. She had been the one to end the marriage. Drum's laid-back approach to the world—which Margot had found so charming when she met him surfing on Nantucket—had come to drive her insane. He was unambitious at best, a slacker at worst. That being said, Margot was astonished to find she felt a twinge of—what? jealousy? anger? resentment?—at his announcement. It seemed unfair that news of Drum's nuptials should arrive less than forty-eight hours before Jenna's wedding.
Everyone is getting married, she thought. Everyone but me.
Jenna and Finn were as young and blond and pretty as a couple of milkmaids on a farm in Sweden. Finn looked more like Jenna than Margot did. Margot had straight black hair, the hair of a silk weaver in Beijing—and she had six inches on her sister, the height of a tribeswoman on the banks of the Amazon. She had blue eyes like Jenna, but Jenna's were the same color as the sapphires in her engagement ring, whereas Margot's were ice blue, the eyes of a sled dog in northern Russia.
Jenna looked exactly like their mother. And so, bizarrely, did Finn, who had grown up three houses away.
"We need to get a picture of the three of us now," Jenna said. She took the camera from Margot and handed it to a man reading the newspaper in one of the plastic molded chairs.
"Do you mind?" Jenna asked sweetly.
The man rose. He was tall, about Margot's age, maybe a little older; he had a day or two of scruff on his face, and he was wearing a white visor and sunglasses. He looked like he was going to Nantucket to sail in a regatta. Margot checked his left hand—no ring. No girlfriend in the vicinity, no children in his custody, just a folded copy of the Wall Street Journal now resting on his seat as he rose to take the picture. "Sure," he said. "I'd love to."
Margot assumed that Jenna had picked the guy on purpose; Jenna was on a mission to find Margot a boyfriend. She had no idea that Margot had allowed herself to fall in love—idiotically—with Edge Desvesnes, their father's law partner. Edge was thrice married, thrice divorced, nineteen years Margot's senior, and wildly inappropriate in half a dozen other ways. If Jenna had known about Margot and Edge, she would only be more eager to introduce Margot to someone else.
Margot found herself assigned to the middle, pegged between the two blond bookends.
"I can't see your face," Regatta Man said, nodding at Margot. "Your hat is casting a shadow."
"Sorry," Margot said. "I have to leave it on."
"Oh, come on," Jenna said. "Just for one second while he takes the picture?"
"No," Margot said. If her skin saw the sun for even one second, she would detonate into a hundred thousand freckles. Jenna and Finn could be cavalier with their skin, they were young, but Margot would stand vigilant guard, despite the fact that she must now seem rigid and difficult to Regatta Man. She said in her most conciliatory voice, "Sorry."
"No worries," Regatta Man said. "Smile!" He took the picture.
There was something familiar about the guy, Margot thought. She knew him. Or maybe it was the Dramamine messing with her brain. "Should I take one more, Margot?" he said. "Just to be safe?"
Regatta Man removed his sunglasses, and Margot felt as though she'd been slapped. She lost her footing on the deck and tipped a little. She looked into Regatta Man's eyes to be sure. Sure enough, heterochromia iridum—dark blue perimeters with green centers. Or, as Margot had thought when she first saw him, he was a man with kaleidoscope eyes.
Before her stood Griffin Wheatley, Homecoming King. Otherwise just known as Griff. Who was, out of all the people in the world, among the top five Margot didn't want to bump into without warning. Didn't want to bump into at all. Maybe the top three.
"Griff!" she exclaimed. "How are you?"
"I'm good, I'm good," he said. He cleared his throat and nervously shoved the camera back at Margot; the question of the second photo seemed to have drifted off on the breeze. Margot figured Griff was about half as uncomfortable as she was. He would be thinking of her only as the bearer of disappointing news. She was thinking of him as the worst judgment call she had made in years. Oh, God.
He said, "Did you hear I ended up taking the marketing job at Blankstar?"
Margot couldn't decide if she should pretend to be surprised by this, or if she should admit that she had been Googling his name every single day until she was able to reassure herself that he'd landed safely. The job at Blankstar was a good one.
She changed the subject. "So why are you headed to Nantucket?" She tried to recall: Had Griff mentioned Nantucket in any of his interviews? No, she would have remembered if he had. He was from Maryland somewhere, which meant he had probably grown up going to Rehoboth or Dewey.
Excerpted from Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand. Copyright © 2014 Elin Hilderbrand. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown and Company.
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