Read an Excerpt
Save the Date
THE DAY BEFORE MY SISTER’S wedding, I woke up with a start, like an alarm had just gone off. I looked around my room, heart hammering, trying to figure out what had woken me. I was still half in the dream I’d just had—Jesse Foster was there, my brother Danny, and there was something about Schoolhouse Rock!, that old cartoon my sister had shown me when I was in elementary school . . .
But the harder I tried to hold on to it, the faster the dream seemed to slip away, and I shrugged and lay back down in bed, yawning and pulling my covers over my shoulders, closing my eyes and halfway to falling asleep again before I realized that an alarm was going off.
There was a persistent beeping coming from downstairs, and it sounded like the alarm that monitored the front and kitchen doors of the house, the one we only ever turned on when we were going on vacation and sometimes not even then. It was loud up on the third floor, so I had a feeling it was probably deafening down on the first.
I reached for my glasses from my bedside table and then stretched over to get my phone from the floor, where I’d plugged it in to charge last night. I pulled up my group texts, all of which were for different combinations of my family members. There was even one that had all of us and my brother Mike, though I could see that hadn’t been used in a year and a half now. I pulled up the one I’d been using the last few days, which was all the people that were currently in the house—my mom, dad, my sister, Linnie, and her fiancé, Rodney.
Why is there an alarm going off?
I waited a moment, then got a series of responses, one right after the other.
There’s something wrong with the panel, we think—should be off in a minute.
Why did you text? Why not come down and investigate? What if there had been a burglar?
IS there a burglar?
But there COULD have been
And if the house were being ransacked, I’m not sure the best course of action would be to text about it.
I was about to text back when the alarm stopped suddenly, and my room seemed extra quiet now.
I hear. I mean, I don’t hear.
Coming down? Your dad made coffee and Rodney’s picking up donuts
Wait, Charlie why are you even still here? Did Stanwich High change their start time?
I called her out
Mom called me out
So I can help with wedding stuff
If that’s the case, why didn’t you get the donuts?
I don’t mind!
I’ll be right down.
I dropped my phone onto my comforter and stretched my arms overhead as I did the time math. My sister was right—on a normal Friday, I would be between classes right now, heading to AP History, but not in any real hurry. Once our college acceptances had started to roll in, all the second-semester seniors—myself included—were a lot less concerned about getting to class on time.
I’d given my mom the hard sell last night, telling her that I could be useful, helping with any last-minute things that might crop up before the rehearsal dinner tonight and assuring her that I didn’t have anything big going on at school today. This wasn’t entirely true—I was the editor of the student newspaper, the Pilgrim, and we had our weekly editorial meeting this afternoon. We were also supposed to discuss the final issue of the year. But I knew that my news editor, Ali Rosen, could handle things for me. Normally, I never would have missed a staff meeting—but all my siblings were going to be here this afternoon, and I didn’t want to waste time that I could be spending with them arguing with Zach Ellison about how long his movie reviews were.
I pushed myself off the bed and made it quickly, smoothing back the covers and fluffing up the pillows, then looked around my room, trying to see if it would be considered neat enough in case relatives or bridesmaids wandered by later.
We’d moved to this house before I was born, so though my two oldest siblings could remember living somewhere else (or so they claimed), this house, for me, had always been home, and this had always been my room. It was the smallest of the bedrooms up on the third floor, where all four of the kids’ rooms were. It was probably just what happens when you’re the youngest, but I’d never minded. There was a slope to the ceiling that perfectly formed a nook for my bed, and it wasn’t drafty like Danny and J.J.’s room always was. And best of all, my room was connected to Linnie’s room via a long shared closet, which had been perfect both for stealing my sister’s clothes and for hanging out with her, the two of us getting ready at the same time or sitting on the floor of the closet, our legs stretched out, talking and laughing, the clothes hanging above us.
Figuring that my room was probably as clean as it was going to be, I headed over to my dresser, bent slightly to see myself in the mirror, and ran a brush though my hair. Like all my siblings, I was tall—five nine, with long light-brown hair and a slightly crooked nose due to a trampoline mishap when I was six. I also had hazel eyes, the only one of my siblings to have them—like for the last kid, the genetic lottery had been split down the middle. I tugged the brush through the ends, wincing—my hair had reached the length where it would get tangled in a second. But I’d also gotten used to having it long, and even as I knew I should cut it, I also knew I probably wouldn’t.
I pulled a sweatshirt on over my pajamas and was halfway to the door when I heard my phone buzz, the sound muffled. I looked around and, after a moment, realized that I’d accidentally made the bed over it. I retrieved it from under the covers and smiled when I saw it was my favorite brother calling.
“Hi, Danny.” I pulled the phone away for just a second to check the time. “It’s early out there.”
“Well,” he said, a laugh somewhere in his voice, “some of us have to fly all the way from California.”
“You could have come in last night.” This was what I’d been pressing for for the last few months, since having just a weekend with my siblings didn’t seem like nearly enough. I’d been trying to get everyone to come on Tuesday or Wednesday, so that we’d get some Grant time before relatives and guests descended. But only Linnie and Rodney had come home early—both Danny and J.J. had to work and could only take Friday off.
“Not this again.” I could hear a smile somewhere in my brother’s voice.
“Wait,” I said, my eyes going wide. “Why aren’t you on the plane?”
“I’m calling you from the plane,” he said, and I could suddenly picture him, on the tarmac in San Francisco, kicked back in his first-class seat, a cup of to-go coffee by his side. “You’re allowed to make calls from planes, you know. We haven’t taken off yet and I wanted to check in. How’s it all going?”
“Great,” I said immediately. “It’s been awesome to have Linnie and Rodney here again.”
“I mean is everything going okay with the wedding? No last-minute disasters?”
“It’s all good. Clementine’s taking care of everything.”
“Glad I’m getting my money’s worth.”
“You should be sure to mention that in your speech.”
Danny laughed. “Maybe I just will.”
Clementine Lucas was Linnie and Rodney’s wedding coordinator—Danny had offered to pay for a planner for them, calling it his engagement present, when they’d moved up the wedding date. They had gotten engaged two years ago but seemed in no real hurry to set a date or plan their wedding, and we’d had a running joke that they’d get married sometime in the next decade. The only thing they knew was that they wanted to get married at our house—it had been Linnie’s dream since she was little.
Since Rodney was in his third year of law school and studying for the bar and Linnie was finishing up her master’s in historic preservation, this spring was probably not the best time for them to be attending a wedding, much less planning their own. But when my parents told us they were putting the house up for sale, things on the wedding front suddenly went into hyperdrive.
I looked over at the stack of cardboard boxes that I’d pushed up against my closet door, like that might make me forget about why they were there in the first place. I was supposed to begin the process of cleaning out my room, because our house had been bought by Lily and Greg Pearson, who would be moving in, along with their three extremely loud kids, as soon as the escrow process was complete. I had secretly hoped there would be no buyers, that our house would languish on the market for months, but when it sold, and fast, I wasn’t surprised. After all, who doesn’t want a house that had been featured in one of America’s most beloved comic strips?
So, in the midst of all this, Clementine had been incredibly helpful—Danny had found her through Pland, a start-up his venture capital firm had invested in. It had contacts with wedding planners all over the country, and matched couples with the best ones. And apparently, aside from a serious disagreement about the napkin colors, everything with Clementine had gone great.
“Well, I can’t wait to see it all myself this afternoon.”
“You’re still getting in at two?”
“That’s the plan.” Danny cleared his throat. “And I’ll have a surprise when I see you.”
I grinned; I had a feeling I knew what this was. “Is it a Double-Double?”
Danny sighed. “I never should have taken you to In-N-Out when you came to visit.”
“So that’s a no?”
“That’s a ‘hamburgers shouldn’t go for six hours without being refrigerated.’” There was a small pause, and he added, “You could have access to In-N-Out constantly if you moved out here next year.”
I smiled and glanced, automatically, at the stack in the corner of my desk—the bright, shiny folders that were my college acceptances. I’d applied to eight schools and gotten into three—Northwestern, outside Chicago; College of the West, in a small town in Los Angeles; and Stanwich, the local university in town where my dad taught. I’d decided last week to go to Stanwich, and had told Danny my decision even before I’d told my parents. He’d been trying to talk me into joining him on the West Coast ever since. “Well, I really think all major life decisions should be based on fast food chains, so . . .”
“I knew you’d come around.” I could hear, in the background, an announcement about buckling seat belts and making sure all overhead bins were secure. “I should go. See you soon, Chuck,” he said, using the nickname for me that only he was allowed to use.
“Wait,” I said, realizing he’d never told me what his surprise was. “Danny—” But he’d disconnected the call. I left my phone on the dresser and walked over to my desk, set aside the orange College of the West folder, and picked up the bright purple one from Northwestern.
I’d gotten into Medill, Northwestern’s journalism school, which was the whole reason I’d applied there in the first place. My guidance counselor hadn’t believed me, thinking that I wanted to be at the same school where Mike was, not understanding that this was actually a bug, not a feature. I flipped through the brochure from Medill that had been sent to me, looking at the glossy pictures of students in the newsroom, the possible internships with major media companies, the journalism study-abroad program. . . . Before I got too far, I closed the folder and picked up the Stanwich College one, running my fingers over the lamp that was part of the school’s crest.
Northwestern had stopped appealing to me right around the time my parents told me they were selling the house. The idea of going away had sounded a lot better when I had a house to come home to. Suddenly, the thought of losing both my house and my town was too much, and I’d started to think more and more about Stanwich. I’d practically grown up on the campus, and I loved it—the tree-lined quad, the stained-glass windows in some of the classrooms, the truly epic frozen-yogurt topping bar. And it just began to seem like the best choice—I’d get to start something new while still holding on to the familiar. And it was a great school, and I knew it was going to be really, really great.
I hadn’t officially accepted or told the other schools I wasn’t coming, but I’d made my decision, and even though my parents had seemed a little surprised by my choice, I knew they were just getting used to it—and that they’d be happy when my first tuition bill came due and I got the discount for being the child of a professor.
And as soon as the wedding craziness was over, I’d figure out what the next steps were—telling Northwestern and College of the West that they hadn’t made the cut, finding out about Stanwich deposits and paperwork. But I didn’t want to think about any of that—not this weekend. After all, right now my sister and future brother-in-law—and possibly donuts—were downstairs waiting for me.
I was halfway to the door when my phone rang again, and I picked it up immediately, hoping it was Danny calling back—only to see the contact picture of my best friend, Siobhan Ann Hogan-Russo.
“Hey, Shove-on,” I said, picking up, turning my phone onto speaker. This was the way Siobhan told people how to pronounce her name, which was most people who weren’t expecting a name with a silent b in it.
“Oh,” she said, sounding surprised. “I didn’t think you’d pick up. Why aren’t you in history?”
“I got my mom to call me out. I’m taking the day off so I can help with wedding stuff.”
“I thought all of that was taken care of by Tangerine.”
I shook my head, even though I knew she couldn’t see me. “You know her name is Clementine. You just have a weird prejudice against her.”
“You know my policy,” Siobhan said. “Never trust anyone named after a fruit.” I sighed; I’d heard this more times than I’d wanted to, and could practically feel Siobhan teeing up her punch line. “After all . . . they might be rotten.”
“I know you think that’s funny,” I said, and sure enough, on the other end, I could hear Siobhan laughing. “But it’s really not.”
“My dad thought it was funny.”
“Ted. Steve is still trying to get us into some alumni dinner thing tonight.”
Siobhan had been, with her dads, up at the University of Michigan since Wednesday. It was where she was going next year—unlike me, she’d never had any question about where she’d go. Both her fathers had gone there and had met years later at an alumni networking event. In the Hogan-Russo household, there was a prominently displayed picture of newborn Siobhan in a Michigan onesie, posed with a mini maize-and-blue football. Apparently, there had been a serious discussion about naming her Siobhan Ann Arbor Hogan-Russo to help her chances of getting in. But fortunately, she hadn’t needed it—she’d found out back in December that she’d been accepted early decision.
“How’s the campus?”
“It’s amazing.” There was a happy sigh in Siobhan’s voice. “Wait,” she said, sounding suddenly sharper, like she was coming out of her Michigan happiness daze. “Why are you skipping today? Don’t you have your editorial meeting?”
“Yeah,” I said, “but it’s fine. Ali can handle things.” There was silence on the other end, and I added quickly, “She wants to be editor in chief next year anyway, so she should get used to running these.” Siobhan still wasn’t saying anything, but I could picture her expression all too well—arms folded, one eyebrow raised. “I swear it’s fine.”
“You’re doing the thing you always do.”
“No I’m not. What thing?”
“The thing where your siblings come to town and you forget all about everything else.”
I took a breath to deny this, but then decided not to—it was a fight Siobhan and I had had many times over the years, and she usually won it because, frankly, she wasn’t wrong. “This is different. Linnie’s getting married.”
“She is?” Siobhan said, her voice sounding overly shocked. “But why didn’t you mention something about it?”
“Oh no, wait—you did. Like every three minutes.”
“It’s going to be amazing,” I said with certainty, feeling myself smile. “Linnie’s dress is so beautiful, and I’ve seen the pictures from her hair and makeup tests—she’s going to look gorgeous. You’ll see.” Siobhan was coming to the wedding—she’d known Linnie her whole life, after all. She was flying back from Michigan tomorrow morning, with more than enough time to get ready before the ceremony.
“Is everyone there?” she asked. “The whole circus in town?”
“Not quite. Linnie and Rodney came in Wednesday night. Danny gets in this afternoon, and J.J. . . .” I stopped and took a breath. “And we’re all going to be together.” As I said it, it was like I started to feel warmed up from the inside, like I’d just taken a long drink of hot chocolate.
I blinked at the phone. “What do you mean?”
“Mike,” Siobhan said simply. “Mike’s not going to be there.”
“Who wants him here?” I muttered.
“Well—Linnie did, right?” Siobhan asked, and I crossed over to my desk again and started straightening the piles of papers, mostly just to have something to do with my hands. “Didn’t she invite him?”
“Of course,” I said quickly, ready to talk about something else. “But he’s not coming, and it’s better this way.”
“Okay,” Siobhan said, and even through the phone, I could tell that this was her letting the subject go, even though she still disagreed with me. “Now.” There was a getting-down-to-business tone in Siobhan’s voice, the same as she’d had when we were five and trying to decide who got to be Belle when we were playing Beauty and the Beast and who was going to be stuck being the teapot. “What are you wearing on GMA?”
I winced. Good Morning America was going to be coming to our house in two days to interview all of us, because my mom’s comic strip—Grant Central Station—was, after twenty-five years, coming to an end. And despite the fact that this was rapidly approaching, I hadn’t yet gotten as far as deciding what I would be wearing.
Grant Central Station depicted the lives of the five kids, two parents, and a dog that made up the Grant family—the fictional version, since those of us who lived in the real world were also the Grant family. It was syndicated in newspapers across the country and around the world. It was about a large family dealing with everyday things—work and crushes and bad teachers and siblings’ fights. As the years had gone on, it had transitioned away from broad gags and more cartoonish illustrations and had slowly gotten more serious. The humor had become more poignant, and my mother would sometimes trace one story line for weeks. And unlike most strips, in which characters lived in a kind of stasis—Garfield perpetually hating Mondays and loving lasagna; Charlie Brown forever missing the football; Jason, Paige, and Peter Fox stuck in fifth, ninth, and eleventh grade, respectively—Grant Central Station followed real time. My siblings and I each had a strip equivalent that was a version of us, and for the last twenty-five years, the strip had charted the progress of the fictional family, moving in step with us in the real world.
The fact that it was ending had come with an onslaught of requests for publicity—my mom had been doing phone and e-mail interviews for weeks, and taking the train into New York for photo shoots and taped interviews—but it seemed the really big ones were happening closest to when the strip was actually ending, probably so she could give her take on how she was feeling, now that the moment had arrived. There had been comic retrospectives in newspapers around the country, and the Pearce, our local museum, was doing a whole show on her artwork. We were squeezing in an appearance tonight at the opening, before we’d all rush to the rehearsal dinner.
But the biggest of all these promotional appearances was Good Morning America on Sunday morning, a live interview with all of us that they were calling “The Family Behind Grant Central Station.”
When Linnie and Rodney had decided on their wedding date, my mother had set the strip’s end date for the same weekend, so we’d all be together. And apparently, GMA had gotten a lot more interested in doing the piece on us when they’d found out we would all be available. Linnie and Rodney weren’t thrilled about this, and J.J. had commented that if we were expected to appear on national TV the day after a wedding, they might want to change the name of the segment to “Grant Central Hangover.” But I was just happy we’d all be together, that when this thing that had defined all our lives came to an end, we’d see it through as a group.
“Um,” I said to Siobhan now, stalling for time. “Clothes?”
“Charlie.” The disapproval in my best friend’s voice was palpable. “Jackson Goodman is coming to your house on Sunday.”
“I’m aware of this.”
“Jackson Goodman. And you don’t know what you’re wearing?” Siobhan’s voice rose sharply at the end of this. She and her dads watched Good Morning America together every morning until she had to leave for school, and Jackson Goodman—the laid-back anchor with the wide grin—was by far her favorite. When she’d found out that he was going to be at our house, she’d pretty much lost her mind, then promptly invited herself over for the taping.
“You can help me pick an outfit, how about that?”
“Deal. And you’ll introduce me to Jackson, right?”
“Sure,” I said, even though I had no idea how things were going to run on Sunday.
I could hear muffled voices on Siobhan’s end. “I should probably go. This accepted students thing is starting soon.”
“Have fun. Hail to the victorious.”
“Hail to the victors,” Siobhan corrected, sounding scandalized. “Have I taught you nothing?”
“Clearly not. Um, go Wolverine.”
“Wolverines,” Siobhan said, her voice rising. “It’s not like Hugh Jackman is our mascot.”
“See, but if he was, maybe I would have applied.”
“Steve and Ted are still mad you didn’t, you know.”
“Just tell them to be glad I didn’t apply to Ohio State.”
I heard the sharp intake of breath that followed whenever I mentioned Michigan’s rival school, which I found ways to bring up as often as possible. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.”
“That’s probably wise.”
“I gotta go. Tell Linnie congrats for me?”
“Of course. See you tomorrow.” I hung up, then after a moment opened my photos and started looking through them. I scrolled past my photos, stopping at the ones with my siblings, trying to find one of us all together.
There I was with Linnie and Rodney last night, picking up pies at Captain Pizza. And then me and Danny and J.J. in front of the Christmas tree, both Danny and me giving J.J. bunny ears—Linnie and Rodney had spent the holiday with Rodney’s parents in Hawaii. And then me and J.J. and Linnie at Thanksgiving—Danny had had to work, jetting last-minute to Shanghai, trying to save a deal that had started falling apart. There I was with Danny in September, sitting outside at a Coffee Bean—he’d sent me a surprise “Come and visit me for the weekend!” plane ticket, and I’d flown out to California and back again in less than forty-eight hours. And then there was one from last summer, me and J.J. trying—and failing—to play Cards Against Humanity with only two people.
But there were none of all of us together, and looking at the pictures was evidence that we hadn’t all been together in a while. But at long last, this weekend, we would be. For three days, my siblings were going to be home and it was going to be us again—playing games and standing around the kitchen laughing and making bagel runs and just being together.
I’d spent so much time thinking about it, and now it was so close. I was so near to the way it felt when we were all together, like finally things had been put right again. Not to mention that this weekend was the last time that we’d all be together in this house, so it was going to be perfect. It had to be perfect. I would make sure of it.
I headed for the door and was halfway down the stairs to the kitchen when the alarm went off again.