Pre-wedding jitters turn into serious doubts in this fresh and funny debut about tying the knot and untethering from the past...
Everyone’s expecting her to walk down the aisle.
But something is telling her to run.
Emma Moon's mother thinks it's acceptable to miss her only daughter's wedding rehearsal dinner for a work obligation. Her father left when she was six months old. Emma hasn't exactly been raised to be a happily-ever-after kind of girl.
So when her anxieties get out of hand, Emma and her best friend, Liv, decide to take a road trip to San Francisco, find her long-lost father, and put her family issues to rest.
But her quest for the truth stirs up events and emotions she didn’t expect. The urge to run away may just be a part of Emma’s genetic makeup, because she’s growing more and more tempted to do just that…
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Amy FitzHenry, a Virginia native, attended the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia School of Law. After law school, Amy practiced as a litigator in a large Los Angeles-based firm. She is currently living in LA and, when she isn’t writing, practices law as the in-house counsel for the global men’s health charity, the Movember Foundation. Cold Feet is her first novel.
Read an Excerpt
I’m not a particularly nervous flier, but like most people, I’m scared of turbulence. As soon as it begins I’m ready for it to end, urgently praying I’m not that one-in-a-million statistic. That morning, however, when sharp pockets of wind caused my hour-long flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles to morph from uneventful to hairy, I glanced up from my airport-purchased paperback. I took note of the tattooed woman on my right, who was violently gripping our supposedly shared armrest and staring out the window in fear. The plane rocked and rolled.
As the seat belt light pinged repeatedly and the captain urged the flight attendants to take their seats, I closed my eyes, ready for the adrenaline rush of fear to kick in, the inner bargaining to be a better person and the flat-out begging with any higher power to get us out of this alive.
My inner monologue, however, was silent. Was I braver? Probably not. More composed? Unlikely. More rational and thus less fearful of statistically improbable events? Not a chance. Then I figured it out. Near-death experiences are only scary if you have something to lose. My wedding was off, my family nonexistent, and my best friend in the world never wanted to speak to me again. Plane crash, schplane crash. Who cared?
One week earlier
I groped for the snooze button, but when I managed to reach my phone on the bedside table and bring it closer, I realized with a jolt that it wasn’t my alarm at all. Sitting up and attempting to clear my throat in order to sound as awake as possible, I braced myself and pressed accept.
“Hello, Emma. Are you still in bed?”
“No. Well, kinda. I was asleep when you called but I’m basically up.”
She didn’t linger on the inconsistency.
“I’m calling about your wedding. I have a slight change but I hope it won’t throw too much of a wrench in your plans.”
“I’m sure it’s fine. Did you want to switch to the vegetarian meal?” My mom, a lobbyist in Washington, becomes an herbivore every once in a while, usually when her anti-tobacco lobby makes a deal with a congressman to support his vegan outreach initiative in exchange for a cigarette packaging vote.
“Actually, it’s about the rehearsal dinner.”
“Oh, we’re having pasta, so you’ll be okay,” I answered, still half-asleep.
“No, Emma,” she said, clearly frustrated. “It’s not about the food.”
My mother, Caroline Moon, who most people call Caro, is one of those brilliant people who can’t understand why everyone else isn’t automatically keeping up with her hopscotching thoughts. I wanted to remind her that I was on West Coast time and still in bed, thus at an unfair disadvantage. I looked over at Sam, my fiancé, who was somehow managing to sleep through the passive aggression emanating through the airwaves.
“It’s the scheduling of the rehearsal dinner on a Friday night,” she said, as if referring to a peculiar Samoan wedding ritual, rather than what everyone in the world who was getting married on a Saturday did, ever. “I don’t think I’ll be able to make it.”
I was silent, not sure how I was supposed to feel about this, although like I’d been punched in the stomach jumped to mind.
“I’ll be at the wedding, of course,” she added in a rush, with the first note of something like guilt creeping in. “Unfortunately, a congressional hearing was scheduled for Friday and I have to be there. I can fly out Friday evening, directly to Santa Barbara, and I’ll get in around midnight. I’ll be there for the whole day on Saturday.”
Wow, you’ll be there the whole day of my wedding, Mom? Let’s not get carried away.
I pushed away the sarcastic responses that popped to mind. “Sure, well . . . okay. I understand. The rehearsal dinner is kind of a joke anyway, right? I mean, why do we need to practice eating dinner?” I sounded like a bad stand-up act from the ’90s. I had the tendency to act awkward and unnatural around my mother, like a robot programmed with lame one-liners and pointless observations.
“Seriously, it’s fine,” I added.
“Great. I’m glad we cleared that up. I’ll see you in a week.” Caro hung up without passing Sam a hello or asking for a single detail on the wedding, which I gather is something the mother of the bride usually cares a bit about. In fact, our only substantial communications about the wedding specifics thus far were my phone call to ask her if the date worked, my formal invite, and her postcard RSVP, which she returned in the prestamped envelope, with a careful checkmark next to: Yes, see you there!
To be fair, I’d set the precedent. When we decided to have the wedding in California, I e-mailed her the details. When I picked my dress, she wasn’t consulted. She had no idea whether or not we were writing our own vows (absolutely not). But honestly, getting her input at this point would have just been strange. I wasn’t trying to be mean, but I wasn’t going to be fake and pretend we were best friends either. For most of my life, my mother and I have behaved like two mothers in a playgroup who don’t really like each other, but whose kids are friends—stilted, slightly uncomfortable, but for the most part polite.
“What’s up with your mom?” Sam asked, coming to life.
“Oh, no big deal. She can’t come to the rehearsal dinner. It’s not a big deal.”
Shoot. It’s a universal truth that the second time you state something isn’t a big deal, it automatically is.
“Oh no,” he said, sitting up with concern. “Are you okay?”
“Sure.” I pushed off the covers. “It’s fine. But let’s not talk about it right now. I should get going.”
He looked concerned, but didn’t press it. Sam’s like that. He likes to let things sink in, to consider all the options, before he decides how to act. Whereas I enjoy jumping to conclusions, behaving impulsively, and making snap judgments. I like to think this is a result of our chosen professions. I’m a lawyer, which requires me to think fast on my feet and be ready to respond within seconds to any argument from opposing counsel. I try not to advertise the lawyer thing too much, since after meter maids they are the number one most hated group in America. This strategy works pretty well in Los Angeles. Since I’m not in the entertainment industry, no one really cares what my job is. People usually end up discovering my chosen career path when someone we know gets a DUI. A mutual friend will suggest, Why don’t you ask Emma for advice; she’s a lawyer. This is usually followed by a look of disgust, a few bad jokes, and thirty questions about the best place to hide drugs. The trunk, people, the trunk!
Sam, on the other hand, is a screenwriter. He spends days thoughtfully crafting the perfect dialogue for a scene, or pondering the best way to tie the end of a movie together. It’s a job he loves, despite having struggled to sell a movie in the last couple of years and his constant frustration with the industry. But besides having normal job stress, he’s one of the most stable, optimistic people I’ve ever met.
Sam was out of bed, heading toward the kitchen. “Get ready for work, but I’m cooking you breakfast, so save time to eat. I’m making breakfast for my almost wife.”
Climbing into the shower, I considered his sweet words. I was an almost wife. He was an almost husband. I repeated these variations silently, attempting to wrap my head around them. I felt weird, weirder than normal, probably due to Caro’s unexpected wake-up call. It’s only a rehearsal dinner, I reminded myself. Her presence probably would have stressed me out anyway, wondering if she was having fun and making a futile attempt to connect over the bruschetta. But she was supposed to sit next to me, I thought involuntarily. She was supposed to represent the entirety of the Moons. Well, technically, I reminded myself, taking a deep breath and attempting to untwist the knot in my chest, this behavior was a perfect representation of the Moons.
If I could use one word to describe my family, it would be absent. My parents weren’t that bad. They didn’t withhold food or lock me in a closet. They just weren’t there. My mother, emotionally, and my father, physically. In fact, I’d never even met the guy. All I knew about him was that his name was Hunter Moon, he was from San Francisco, and he’d left when I was a baby. Also, that he sounded like he could be a werewolf with that name.
My mom and I aren’t close, so logically it shouldn’t have mattered if she was there on Friday, but there’s just something about your mom. Do you know the first thing Albert Einstein did in 1919, when his theory of relativity was proven? He wrote a postcard to his mom telling her about it. And I’m pretty sure she didn’t respond, Sounds nice, dear, but I’m too busy with work to deal with you right now. But Caro wasn’t rejecting my first space-time discovery. It was just a dinner, albeit a relatively important one. I halfheartedly congratulated myself on the pun.
Funnily enough, Sam, who should have been experiencing the traditional male commitment-phobe freak-out and making unfunny ball-and-chain jokes, seemed perfectly comfortable with our plan to be together for the rest of our lives. He never seemed to question it, whereas I worried endlessly how two people could possibly stay together forever and be happy.
Standing in the hot shower, already embarrassed about explaining my mother’s absence to Sam’s family on Friday, I realized how much more likely I was to fail at this marriage than Sam. I wasn’t being hard on myself. It was a perfectly logical assumption based on one of my favorite things—the Law. Specifically, a very famous case from the 1920s in which plaintiff Mrs. Helen Palsgraf sued the Long Island Railroad. The case that introduced the American justice system to a concept vital to all lawsuits today: foreseeability.
You see, in 1924, Mrs. Palsgraf was waiting on a train platform in New York minding her own business, when out of nowhere, fireworks struck the tracks. This, understandably, caused a panic, and a few scales fell off the overhang of the platform, right on top of poor Mrs. P. Who carries fireworks on a train, you ask? Furthermore, who drops them? I don’t know, some moron. That’s not the point. The point is, when poor innocent Mrs. Palsgraf sued the railroad for her pain, suffering, and other damages, the court said, Sorry, you don’t get a dime. Why? Because, the judges wrote, who could have predicted such an occurrence? Who could have known a bonehead with a box of fireworks would be boarding the train and they would accidentally go off? It wasn’t even the Fourth of July.
In a much-quoted opinion, the New York Court of Appeals explained that Mrs. Palsgraf could not be compensated by the railroad, and that it wasn’t their fault, because her injuries were not foreseeable, which established the rule that in order for a defendant to be held liable for damages, the plaintiff’s injuries had to be somewhat predictable. Someone can only be held responsible for injuries that could have been foreseen and prevented. This was hugely important in the law because it placed a great limit on liability, and hugely important to my morning shower because I was beginning to realize how likely it was that I was about to drop a box of explosive pyrotechnics into my relationship.
Based on circumstances and history, it was completely foreseeable that I was going to fail at this marriage. I was a by-product of the two emotional car wrecks Caroline Moon and Hunter Moon. I was a marriage liability waiting to happen. After all I had the Moon gene, accompanied by characteristics that include a tendency to leave, an inability to maintain emotional connection, and a dash of self-destruction. Bailing on marriage, or screwing up to the point where Sam left me, was completely foreseeable. If I ruined this, I would have no one to blame but myself. And, of course, my parents for making me this way.
After pondering Sam and my future for what felt like hours, the water started to get chilly and I realized that a cold shower would not be a positive addition to my mood.
Getting out and reaching for the one fluffy guest towel I owned as a special treat to myself, I tried to shake off a lurking feeling of doom and reclassify the foreshadowing of marital failure as morning fog. After all, weren’t thoughts like these normal the week before your wedding?
In the kitchen the air smelled of coffee and eggs sizzled on the burner. I was momentarily cheered. Sam is an excellent cook of breakfast meals, but once it gets to be about noon, he’s out. Presumably this has something to do with the first love of his life, bacon.
“Sugar?” Sam asked, stirring my embarrassing choice of two sugar cubes, along with a drop of milk, into a steaming mug. With his springy blond hair and startlingly blue eyes he constantly looks like he’s auditioning for the role of a cherub. As always, when I looked directly into his eyes I was surprised at how cute he was. It was like unwrapping a present each time I saw him. I smoothed down my dark blond hair (I prefer this description to “dirty”), and tried to look like a sexy librarian rather than the nerd I felt like in my suit, or as I called it, my lawyer costume.
“Thanks, buddy.” I went over to the stove where he was pushing the eggs around with a spatula and meticulously adding shakes of salt and pepper. I hugged him from behind, resting my head on his back. I didn’t know what I was so worried about in the shower. I definitely wanted to be with Sam. Maybe the problem was that we didn’t live together yet, so I wasn’t used to the idea of joining our lives, and subsequently, I was still a little scared of the concept of marriage. Maybe once he moved himself and all of his stuff in, it would feel more real. I looked around my little house, imagining it getting even smaller.
After Venice Beach went from gang-ridden and grimy to artsy and hip—the most complete of coincidences to my residential status—it became incredibly difficult to find an affordable place to live in my neighborhood. I was lucky to find a tiny studio bungalow that I could afford, five blocks from the beach, on a tiny tree-lined street. Contrary to popular belief, just because I was a corporate lawyer didn’t mean I had a whole lot of spare cash. Nope, that bitch Sallie Mae took care of that.
My little house was extremely compact, but beautifully made. It had built-in shelves, large French windows, and a gorgeous ceramic kitchen sink. But the outside was the real selling point. The gate to the house led you into a secret garden–esque front yard, stuffed with thick palm trees, thick succulents, and lush flowers. All of this vegetation provided a filter for the constant Los Angeles sunlight, which shone through the palm fronds and created a lovely pattern throughout my house every afternoon. It’s a fact of life that all girls have been longing for a secret garden ever since they read the book. Finally, at the age of twenty-nine, I had one. Although in reality I had nothing to do with the sprawling vines or the delicately blooming flowers (my neighbors, landscape architects who loved to experiment on my yard, took care of that), I tried to keep the myth alive by smiling humbly when someone complimented my garden, and changing the subject when they asked me what kind of flowers I grew. Um, pink?
I loved it, but the place was pretty small. Because of this, when we got engaged, it seemed like a good idea to push back the move-in date. Frankly, I had no idea where to put Sam’s stuff, and as an extremely tidy person—I can’t concentrate all day if I don’t make my bed in the morning—I wasn’t about to throw it all in the corner willy-nilly. Besides, we spent almost every night together anyway. What was the difference?
Sam lived about a mile away, in a creaky dark-wooded beach house in Santa Monica, with an unmistakable shiplike vibe. At times, the sound of not-so-distant crashing waves could make you positively seasick. Or maybe that was just his cleaning habits. Sam was about as messy as I was clean. I’d actually seen him finish a bag of chips, drop it on the counter, and walk away. I was shocked, but at the same time, intrigued. When Sam has trash (at home at least, it’s not like he littered or anything evil like that) he doesn’t throw it away, he drops it and . . . leaves it. What must it be like to have such fascinatingly disgusting impulses? In order to avoid a full-blown panic attack, I tried not to think about what this inherent difference in personality meant for our future. It’ll work itself out, I told myself. He’ll get cleaner, or I’ll loosen up. I can be chill, I assured myself, with the certain knowledge that this was a lie.
The big move was loosely scheduled for “right after” we returned from our honeymoon. The wedding was being held at a gorgeous, rambling Spanish hacienda I’d found in Santa Barbara, in what should be perfect Southern California September weather. The house was on a high bluff, one hundred years old, and steps from the beach, with a huge backyard framed by the ocean and the mountains. We would be married right at sunset, at what they called the “pink moment” when the fading sunlight creates a shade of pink in the air, which bounces off the mountains in the Ojai Valley to the east. I even drove up to Santa Barbara on a Saturday once, all by myself—since I was surprising Sam with that particular detail—to test it out. I found that standing with the ocean at your back, facing the pink hues in the distance, was truly magical.
The ceremony and the reception would both be held there, first, high on the bluff overlooking the mountain range in the distance, and then down to a party on the beach. The day after, we planned to leave for what Sam called the mystery honeymoon, which sounded like a prize on a game show but was really just because he was, supposedly, planning it alone.
That was the deal we’d made when we got engaged ten months earlier: I would plan the wedding, for the most part—I’d cleared the location and cocktail options with Sam—if he would organize the honeymoon. As I’ve mentioned, my mother isn’t exactly a Say Yes to the Dress fan, so I was left to plan freely on my own, without going back and forth ten thousand times about the seating chart. It was kind of like when you’re over at people’s houses and they insist on loading the dishwasher alone. “It’s easier that way,” they claim. And of course it isn’t, really, but it makes sense.
The question of when Sam was going to move in his stuff, and where we were going to put it all, was coming up with increasing frequency, and every time it did, it stressed me out more. I vocalized these thoughts over breakfast, hoping he would have some sort of magical solution.
“Well, have you ever thought about adding on to this house?” Sam suggested. “We could fit everything in here a lot better if we added another bedroom.”
“Are you kidding? We can’t even afford patio furniture. Do you have a secret pile of money I don’t know about?” I tried to make a joke, despite the fact that Sam’s suggestion gave me heart palpitations. He laughed lightly and went back to the paper.
Despite the fact that we’d experienced a recent major economic crisis and the movie industry was constantly in flux, which definitely hadn’t helped Sam’s career, or anyone in Hollywood’s really, he didn’t worry about money the same way I did. For me, money was a subject that was always, if not in the front of my mind, floating somewhere in the back. In the single-mother home I grew up in, we weren’t exactly destitute, but—how should I put it?—cash challenged.
“Are you sure you don’t want to talk about what happened with Caro?” Sam asked, noticing my anxiety or perhaps exercising some previously dormant psychic abilities. I made a mental note to cut down on dirty thoughts about Bradley Cooper. “You must be upset she isn’t coming.”
“Honestly, it’s fine. I’m okay with it.”
Sam reached out to cover my hand with his. I gave him my best imitation of a carefree smile, practically pulling a muscle in the attempt.
“Okay, so I care a little. But I’ll have you, and your amazing family. Plus, Liv will be with me every step of the way.”
“What time is she coming in tonight?” Sam stood and reached for the coffeepot, pouring us both fresh cups.
“Around six,” I answered, feeling pure happiness for the first time all day.
That evening my best friend, Olivia, was flying into town from New York City to treat me to a toned-down version of a bachelorette party. A trip to a luxury spa in Napa Valley, from Saturday to Wednesday, when we would leisurely travel back from Northern California. Then on Thursday we would repack, double-check that I had my wedding dress, and get a good night’s sleep before we all headed to Santa Barbara on Friday morning. Friday night was the (crazily scheduled, by Caro’s standards) rehearsal dinner, and then, on Saturday, Sam and I would get married.
This was all part of the plan to keep the wedding simple, in the hope that it could be a drama-free affair. I dreaded turning into the kind of Bridezilla I’d seen my girlfriends become. Perfectly normal, well-adjusted women suddenly screaming about the length of their veil five minutes before walking down the aisle, or making you participate in a wedding talent show in place of a rehearsal dinner. Thanks to these women, I have learned both that there is a vast difference between shoulder- and chin-length and that brides do not appreciate Beat poetry read aloud the night before their nuptials, based on your junior-year spring break trip to Cabo. (“Seven tequila shots did she scarf / causing Katie later to barf.” I thought it was pretty good myself.)
The obsession with weddings was a mystery to me. The first time I even pictured anything wedding-related was in college, when my roommate’s sister got married and she left for the weekend to help her prepare. When she got back she described cake sampling over our standard Monday night dinner of curly fries at the dining hall.
“First, we tried red velvet,” she explained dreamily, “then mocha butter cream, and we rounded it off with chocolate devil’s food cake.” I sighed in satisfaction and the idea of weddings took on a lovely buttery hue for about a year, until a friend from high school asked me to be her bridesmaid, and I had to drop a class in order to fit in all my assigned tasks.
The only person who really seemed to get it was Liv. Growing up, Liv was the only one of my friends who, when I questioned if I even wanted to get married someday, wouldn’t look away in discomfort or murmur supportively that I would change my mind when I met the right guy. This, and the fact that it saved me from having to pick bridesmaids, was why I’d decided to make Liv my entire wedding party. She was my maid of honor, flower girl, and guest book officiate, all rolled into one.
“And what’s the plan for tonight?” Sam asked, piling scrambled eggs on top of his bagel.
“Liv lands around six,” I repeated, mentally viewing the schedule. “I’m going to sneak out of work early to stock up on snacks, then pick her up at LAX. Are you and Dante still meeting us for dinner?”
“Yep, can’t wait. I’ll remind him.” Dante is Sam’s oldest friend and one of his current roommates in the dirty ship house. Sam and Dante met in high school in London when both of their fathers were transferred there, from New York and Rome, respectively. Sam’s family eventually moved back to the States, but the years he and Dante spent drinking pints and watching footie were enough to make them best mates for life.
Dante must be the person for whom the term Italian Stallion was invented, or at least a direct descendant of same. He’s quite proud of his heritage and embraces it fully, especially when he’s trying to get ass. Then it’s all, My family’s villa in Tuscany this, and I’ll make you homemade penne arrabbiata that. If for some crazy reason she hates villas or she’s gluten-free, he throws out a British accent, picked up from his high school years, in a last-ditch effort to close the deal. As Dante always says, if one aspect of your foreign background isn’t helping you get laid, try another.
“Think Liv and Dante will finally hook up at the wedding?” Sam asked, creepily following my train of thought yet again. Put some pants on, Mr. Cooper!
“I wouldn’t get your hopes up. We’ve been waiting for years. Most likely Liv will be dating three guys in New York, Dante will bring an underage girl to the rehearsal dinner, and we’ll get arrested for serving alcohol to a minor.”
“Well, I’m rooting for them,” Sam said loyally.
I checked the clock and realized I had to leave in the next five minutes if I wanted to beat traffic on the freeway and make it to work on time. I grabbed my bag and hustled Sam out the door. I watched him glide down the street on his road bike, his typical vehicle of choice, before climbing in my L.A.-mandated black Prius.
Driving through the quiet, cool streets of Venice on a perfect September morning, I pictured Sam and me at breakfast. Him, reading about movie deals; me, obsessing about not obsessing about our marriage; both of us gossiping about our best friends’ sex lives. We were the classic tableau of a normal couple in love, but I couldn’t help but feel like an imposter. Caro’s call, and the reminder that my failure at a long-term relationship was highly foreseeable, was still lurking in the back of my head. What was I doing with this guy for whom good things always happened, if for no other reason than because he intrinsically knew they would? And why in the world did he want to marry someone like me?
Picking up Liv from LAX is one of my very favorite things to do. For one thing, I score major friend points by actually meeting her at the airport instead of making her take a cab, which is easy when you live in Venice, twenty minutes away. But mainly it’s because it means my best friend is in town. I don’t know how to explain it, but when Liv is around I feel like a more real version of myself. It’s like everything I put on for other people is filtered out and I’m just me.
Liv and I met in high school in Arlington, Virginia, where we became instant best friends. We were both at peak stages in our awkward years and didn’t even notice each other’s braces and frizzy hair, probably because they matched. The popular crowd didn’t know our names, the average kids were too busy trying to be cool, and the dorks had their own problems to worry about, so Liv and I didn’t join any group. The only problem was we weren’t sure which lunch table was ours. Instead we sat in the auditorium lobby by the gym every day with our turkey sandwiches. This area was commonly known as the aud-lob, although after we started sitting there, some of the mean girls starting referring to it as the odd-lob. I had to give it to them: It was clever.
Honestly, I didn’t really care, because, as I discovered then, and continue to believe to this day, as long as you have one real friend, you’re okay. Liv and I were perfectly happy to sit in the odd-lob day after day in our mom jeans, drinking regular Cokes and laughing until our stomachs hurt. Even after Liv discovered her incredible singing voice, grew size-C boobs, and learned how to scrunch her strawberry-blond hair, shot with natural strands of gold, into soft curls, and I remained in my awkward years (which lasted roughly from age twelve to twenty-five), our dynamic never changed.
After high school, Liv attended Rice in Texas and I went to the University of Virginia, mostly due to the fact that I could get in-state tuition and also because I harbored a strange affinity for Thomas Jefferson. There I halfheartedly joined a sorority and floated around various clubs and activities. College was fun, of course, but it wasn’t the same without Liv. I never again found a friend with whom I could be so completely myself.
Then magically, it happened. Liv and I both applied to law school the fall of senior year of college, got into Berkeley and spent the next three blissful years as roommates, happily living in the East Bay. After law school, Liv got a job as a corporate attorney in the dreaded New York legal scene, and I headed to Los Angeles. I wasn’t quite sure why, but I always felt like I belonged on the West Coast. After only three years at Berkeley, California already felt more like home than Virginia. When choosing where to live after law school, the Westside of Los Angeles seemed like the logical place to land. It felt to me like going somewhere new while also staying in the laid-back environment I’d come to know and love.
At the airport, I scanned the curb for Liv’s gorgeous hair but saw only strangers, including a few cute guys milling around Arrivals. One guy had dark curly hair and the perfect amount of scruff. What if he was my destiny, I wondered, not Sam? What if he was the guy I was meant to be with, but I simply hadn’t met him yet and in one week it would be too late?
This had been happening a lot lately, seeing interesting-looking guys or thinking about exes and wondering whether I was missing something by not being with them. I knew that I was being ridiculous. It wasn’t so much about the idea of someone else, but more the concept of forever. Two people promising they would never leave each other. It made my stomach tighten up and my throat narrow. How in the world was that possible? I wondered. I’d certainly never witnessed it.
Of course, I felt extremely disloyal even considering any of this. If Sam was thinking this way, I would murder him. On the other hand, everyone is always talking about how scared guys are to get married and their inevitable last-minute doubts. Why shouldn’t I be the same? More than anything, I wished I could talk to Sam about my fears, but I was pretty sure that was verging on too honest.
I noticed a rent-a-cop behind me, flashing his lights to get me to keep going. Emotional turmoil notwithstanding, I was about to be forced to wind once more through Terminals 1 to 7. Luckily, as I glanced at the curb one last time, I saw my best friend, with a wide smile on her pretty face, waving wildly next to her scary black travel bag, usually reserved for traveling to depositions. To prove her suitcase wrong, she wore a floral maxi dress and a wide brim fedora. Whenever Liv came to L.A., she pulled out her funkiest garb and told me she was trying to fit in with the Venice fashionistas crawling all over my quirky beach town. I did the same chameleon act whenever I went to New York, emerging from the taxi in my most citylike ensemble, inevitably involving black booties.
“Straight hair!” I cried, as she tossed her bag in the back.
“I know! I wanted to look good for our trip.”
“But I love your hair curly,” I commented, pulling out into traffic. As usual, Liv and I jumped right back into conversation as if we had never been apart. Which we hadn’t really, considering we were virtually in constant contact, whether it be by phone, text, or Instagram comment chain.
“I know, Em, but you aren’t really my target audience.” Liv has a theory that there’s a certain kind of guy who likes straight hair and a certain type who likes curly. Fans of straight hair are superficial, player types, who just want sex without breakfast, and curly-haired lovers are the sweeter, boyfriend types. Tonight, I supposed by her straightened locks, she was preaching to the one-night-stand congregation.
“Did you get your hair cut or a blow-out?”
This kind of pointless question was how we ended up sharing every inane detail of our lives with each other. For instance, I knew for a fact that Liv had gotten a mani-pedi the previous day and chosen Friar, Friar, Pants on Fire red for both her fingers and her toes. Meaningless to anyone else, but terribly important to me.
“A blow-out,” Liv said, pulling on her seat belt and motioning for me to watch the road. I’m a terrible driver. Partly because of my “problem” with depth perception (I don’t have any) and partly because I’d never really grasped the talent, inherent to most females, of multitasking. You know, having an orgasm while you mentally redecorate your bedroom and draft a work e-mail. I wasn’t born with it, and as a result had to pay real attention to signaling before I merged.
“Okay, on to more important things. I want to hear the itinerary for the week.”
Excitedly, I reminded her that we had dinner with Sam and Dante that night, our flight the next morning, a rental car reserved at SFO, and an on-call masseuse waiting for us to pull into Calistoga.
The Calistoga Ranch, the ridiculously amazing resort in Napa where we were staying, recommended by the coolest female partner at my law firm, promised to be the most relaxing five days of our lives. I didn’t care much about mud wraps or massages, but Liv loves that kind of thing and the champagne brunches sounded right up my alley. I was determined to force myself to relax. I considered forcing myself to force myself to relax but got even more confused so I decided to leave it.
Talking the entire way home about everything and nothing, Liv and I pulled into my beach bungalow a half hour later. We dragged in her bags, overflowing with cute sundresses and soft tanks, and the bags of food I’d grabbed from my bodega. Without a word, we plopped onto my cozy couch and tore open my poor excuse for groceries: a box of rainforest crackers and a hunk of Jarlsberg. Liv took on the job of official cheese cutter and passed me thick wedges for the mini-sandwiches I was constructing as she filled me in on her boy drama.
With her tiny five-foot-four frame, bright blue eyes, thick strawberry-blond hair, and incredible ability to quote dialogue from Will Ferrell movies, Olivia Lucci is one of those beautiful, funny girls who make everything more fun. Not to mention that she’s smart and nice to boot. There have been points in our friendship when I felt like her pimp, so many guys cornered me in bars to ask me to put in a good word. Despite this, Liv didn’t have the best track record with dating suitable men. I’d only seen Liv in love once, with someone I considered the worst person possible. He would probably come up at some point in this trip, but probably not until we were firmly entrenched in Napa Valley, over a glass of Malbec (or four).
Since that hot mess, Liv had rarely had a steady boyfriend. She would get crushes and go on dates, but she hadn’t fallen for anyone in years, much to the dismay of the collective male population. When I asked her the current status and if there was anything I wasn’t fully updated on, she paused thoughtfully.
“There’s this one guy I haven’t told you much about, the guy I met a couple weeks ago who works at Citi. Did I tell you he’s really tall? Like, notably tall. Everywhere we go people ask him if he plays basketball, which is actually the most unoriginal thing ever to say to a tall person, even though I’m sure I’ve done it myself. Then when he says no, they suggest he should! As if a thirty-six-year-old banker really needs to start hitting the courts on Saturday mornings. But I don’t know, I can’t see myself with a finance guy long term.”
“What about the public defender you met at the Berkeley reunion? He’s probably more up your alley on social stratification issues.”
“He turned out to be bipolar. Which I’m totally okay with, but he also hated brunch. Who hates brunch?” She had a point. “Okay, can we please talk about the wedding now?” Liv said, turning to me with an expectant smile.
“I have a piece of news on that front. Guess who canceled on the rehearsal dinner?” I was eager to get this piece of news out of the way.
“I really hope you’re going to say Sam’s brother, who their family thinks has been teaching English in Costa Rica, but has really been surfing for the past two years.”
“Oh no.” She paused. “Caroline?”
“You got it.”
“I’m sorry, Em,” Liv said, looking concerned.
“It’s really okay. It’s more annoying than anything else because I have to redo some stuff and explain it to Sam’s parents. I honestly can’t think of why I would really care that much, considering we haven’t had a twenty-line conversation in about a decade.”
“Because you want your mom to be at your rehearsal dinner.”
“Not if she doesn’t want to be there. She said it was a work thing. It’s a good excuse. Probably even true.”
“How did she sound? She was probably really upset that she has to miss it.”
Liv has a much softer spot for my mom than I do, probably because my mother is funny in a dry, clinical way, she has what is considered a cool job, especially in D.C. where liberal political involvement is revered, and in high school she let Liv tell her parents she was at our house when she was really going to third base in Sean Garrett’s basement. Caro, in turn, likes Liv because she finds her interesting and confident. She likes her as an equal, whereas it is my secret belief that my mother and I don’t get along for the simple reason that she doesn’t like my grown-up self very much.
Sure, when I was little I adored her and thought she was the prettiest woman in the world and all that. But things change. Of course, she’s still beautiful, but everything else is different. Things first started to change when she finished grad school and started full time at the anti-tobacco lobby, right before I entered high school. It’s such a cliché, but that was when she started to care more about her career than about being a mother. A lot more. The cynical side of me says she likes working for the lobby so much because it gives her enough credentials to feel smarter than the average do-gooder and enough integrity to feel superior to the Capitol Hill suits. She claims it’s because her beloved father died of lung cancer, inspiring her to work her way through Georgetown, eventually obtaining her master’s degree in political science. I’ve heard the story more times than I can count, and I do mean story. The truth is, she hated her dad, Mickey Rigazi, a lifetime member of the lesser-known AA, Alcoholic Assholes.
Caro Moon, née Rigazi, grew up in a family of northern Italian blonds, which made them one of the strangest families on a very homogenous block, or in their case the Marconi Plaza in South Philly, my ancestors’ choice of enclave. They stood out even more because of their constantly drunk dad, whose stumbling figure wasn’t that outrageous a sight in their part of town, but whose tendency to carry a knife while inebriated set him apart from his peers. Growing up in South Philly, the oldest in a family of five, with a father who made frequent weekend “business trips” to the drunk tank couldn’t have been easy, which probably has a lot to do with how my mother is today—cold, aloof, and instantly disgusted by the smell of gin.
Once we were thankfully off the topic of my mother, Liv and I spent the next hour talking about how lululemon’s pants actually changed the shape of your butt, gossiping about our mutual friends—namely, which Berkeley grads had hooked up lately and which high school friends were newly engaged—and conducting an intense debate about what to wear that evening. I wanted to save our cuteness for the vacation, while Liv insisted that she was already on hers. But the whole time we debated whether it would be annoying if we both wore hats, I felt a sense of anxious expectation lurking in the back of my mind, threatening to take over the second I let down my guard. I was pretty sure that Liv could smell it on me—something was off. A few times I caught her looking at me closely in the mirror as she restraightened her hair and I attempted to tame my locks with something that promised “beachy waves,” but delivered something that was more seaweedlike.
“My hair is out of control. I look like someone’s crazy shut-in aunt.”
“No, you don’t.” Liv laughed. “It’s sticking up a bit in the back but I can fix that.”
As she untangled my hair, I could tell Liv wanted to ask me what was going on, her best-friend senses working overtime. I felt the words on the tip of my tongue a couple times, but physically stopped them from rolling out. Besides, what would I say? I’m scared to marry Sam. What’s up with you?
What People are Saying About This
"A heartwarming and uproariously funny debut about the way our pasts can shape our futures when it comes to love. FitzHenry explores female friendship, marriage, and family with wisdom and wit."–J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author of Commencement, Maine, and The Engagements
Reading Group Guide
1. What did you think of Emma as the story’s protagonist? Did you relate to her? Were you frustrated with her at times? If so, why?
2. Emma clearly has a blind spot when it comes to her personal life. What are some instances of this and how does she begin to see things more clearly as the novel progresses?
3. In the law, most people who commit crimes require a certain level of mental involvement, as well as physical action, in order to be found guilty. “However, there are also crimes that don’t require any level of mens rea, called ‘strict liability’ crimes. It doesn’t matter whether it was your intention to commit the crime . . . if you committed the physical act, you’re as guilty as they come.” [p. 107] Is infidelity a strict liability crime, or should other factors—such as the number of times, the intent, the state of your current relationship—be taken into account?
4. When considering the various accounts of adultery throughout the novel, do you think unfaithfulness is ever forgivable? Which characters in Cold Feet would you have forgiven, and why?
5. As a sharp-eyed lawyer, Emma often applies her knowledge of law to matters of the heart. Do you think one can inform the other, or is this application futile or even detrimental? Cite examples from the novel.
6. Emma forgives Liv for lying to her much more quickly than she forgives Sam. Do different rules apply to your closest friendships than they do to your romantic relationships? Why or why not?
7. “The ability to freeze my pain and tell myself not to be sad . . . was one of the things I was most proud of . . . Why would I stop doing the thing that got me through life up until this point?” [p. 93–94] Does Emma’s coping mechanism make her strong and resilient toward adversity, or is it a temporary fix that, as Dr. Majdi advises, won’t serve her well in the long run? Is there any positive value to coping mechanisms?
8. “I don’t think we should talk about it . . . it’s going to upset you, and I really don’t think it’s worth putting our friendship in jeopardy over.” [p. 277] Is it sometimes better not to talk about something, or even to lie about it, in order to protect your relationships, or is honesty always more important? Consider Liv, Caro, and Sam’s dishonesty with Emma as you consider the question.
9. Did you sympathize with Val or were you angered by her actions? If you were in her position, would you have felt obligated to tell Emma the truth?
10. At the end of the novel, Sam performs a grand romantic gesture for Emma. In your opinion, was this act enough to merit forgiveness? Has a similar grand gesture ever won you over or, alternately, not been enough to change a situation for you?
11. By the novel’s end, Emma finally gets some answers about her father. Does this information inform her relationship with Sam? How or how not?
12. “In some cities not only was the crime itself illegal, but they were also putting a burden on any witnesses who failed to report the crime.” [p. 125] Do passive bystanders have liability for a crime? What about witnesses to crimes of the heart? “If you were betrayed, you had a right to know. You had a right to expect someone, anyone, to tell you.” [p. 126] Do you agree?
13. Do you think there is room for reparation and growth between Emma and Caro, or will their relationship continue as status quo?