Authors: Stacey Ballis
PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF STACEY BALLIS
“With lively humor, Ballis pulls together a diverse cast, evocative renovation details, and delicious food descriptions in this well-seasoned novel. Fans of Mary Kay Andrews will enjoy this.”
“Ballis's heroine is a perfect blend of tough and vulnerable as she struggles to straighten out her messy life.”
âHeroes and Heartbreakers (A Best Read of the Month)
“A sparkling, heartwarming novel with all the elements of a can't-put-it-down readâa heroine you'll root for, unexpected plot twists, and dangerously good descriptions of food!”
âSarah Pekkanen, author of
Things You Won't Say
“A funny and heartfelt taleÂ .Â .Â . This is Stacey Ballis at her witty and chef-tastic best.”
âAmy Hatvany, author of
Safe with Me
Heart Like Mine
“Readers hungry for cleverly written contemporary romances will definitely want to order
Off the Menu
“Insightful and hilarious.”
âToday's Chicago Woman
“With the perfect blend of humor and heart, Ballis's writing is powerfully honest and genuinely hilarious.”
New York Time
s bestselling author of
The Best of Enemies
I Regret Nothing
“Witty and tender, brash and seriously cleverÂ .Â .Â . Her storytelling will have you alternately turning pages and calling your friends urging them to come along for the ride.”
New York Times
bestselling author of
What Happened to My
Room for Improvement
The Spinster Sisters
Good Enough to Eat
Off the Menu
Out to Lunch
Recipe for Disaster
Big Delicious Life
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Copyright Â© 2016 by Stacey Ballis.
“Readers Guide” copyright Â© 2016 by Penguin Random House LLC.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Ballis, Stacey, author.
Title: Wedding girl / Stacey Ballis.
Description: Berkley trade paperback edition. | New York : Berkley Books,
2015. | Description based on print version record and CIP data provided by
publisher; resource not viewed.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016005760 (print) | LCCN 2015050518 (ebook) | ISBN
9780698171251 () | ISBN 9780425276617 (paperback)
Subjects: LCSH: Single womenâFiction. | BakersâFiction. |
WeddingsâPlanningâFiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Contemporary Women. |
FICTION / Humorous.
Classification: LCC PS3602.A624 (print) | LCC PS3602.A624 W43 2015 (ebook) |
LC record available at http://lccn.loc.gov/2016005760
Berkley trade paperback edition / May 2016
Cover art: Bride and groom Â© MN Studio / Shutterstock; Wedding cake topper Â© James Worrell / Getty Images; Pup Â© Ermolaev Alexander / Shutterstock.
Cover design by Rita Frangie.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author's use of names of historical figures, places, or events are not intended to change the entirely fictional character of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
For Bill, in honor of our fifth wedding anniversary, who shows me every day that marriage is the most amazing, joyous, exhilarating adventure, and that it is fueled by laughter, great food, spectacular wine, and deep deep love. Thank you for being my real husband. I STILL love you more than Pamplemousse. Happy
This book would not be possible without my loving family, thank you all for showing me the best of marriage every day: Stephen and Elizabeth Ballis, Deborah and Andy Hirt, Jamie and Steve Surratt, and Jim and Shirley Thurmond.
Some other couples whom I find incredibly inspiring on the marriage front: Amy and Wayne Gould, Rick and Rachel Boultinghouse, Susan Kaip and Jeremy Kay, Kevin and Anna Ardito, Frank and Marnee Ardito, Karen and Mark Boerner, Jen Lancaster and John Fletcher, and most especially my other sets of parents: Susan and Henry Gault, Andi and Michael Srulovitz, Susan and George Heisler, and Carol and Larry Adelman.Â .Â .Â . Larry, you are much missed, and always in our hearts.
As always, whatever skill I have in cooking started with my grandmother, Jonnie Ballis. Thank you for teaching me to be fearless in the kitchen!
My agent and friend, Scott Mendel, who is invaluable professionally and so much fun personally.
For Wendy McCurdy, without whom this book literally would not exist, thank you so much for being on the ride, and making me a better writer.
For Danielle Perez, for getting me over the finish line. So blessed to be working with you, and looking forward to all that we have in front of us.
For Leslie Gelbman, Craig Burke, Brian Wilson, and the rest of the amazing team at Penguin Random House, thank you all for all you do.
For Penny, always.
My ever expanding circle of friends, especially my fellow writers, you know who you are and what you mean to me. Thanks for always being here, and being hungry!
I may not meet the right man today. Or even this week. Or even this year. But believe me, when I see him, I'll know it.
BETSY DRAKE AS ANABEL SIMS
Nine months agoÂ .Â .Â .
“You look gorgeous, Sunshine. A vision of loveliness.” My dad seems horribly uncomfortable in his tuxedo. He's tugging a bit at the bow tie, which is crooked, but at least is black and real, as opposed to what he showed up with this morning: a purple clip-on covered in multihued Grateful Dead bears. His cummerbund is upside down, and he's wearing scuffed black Dr. Martens, which are making his pants look short. But today I'm so happy I don't even correct him on using the wrong name.
“Look what we made, Robert, just look.” My mother glides across the room in what can only be described as a fringed lavender muumuu, her waist-length graying curls twisted up in an elaborate braided bun, like a black-and-white Greek Easter bread attached to the back of her head. She tucks her short, round form into the long expanse of my dad's embrace, and he pulls her close and rests his head atop hers, both of them looking at me with a combination of deep love and concern.
“I know, Diane, I know. We did good.” She beams up at him, and he kisses her deeply. With tongue. Gack.
“Hey, parents, could we please keep the making out to a minimum, at least until after dinner?” Don't get me wrong; it's fantastic that after over forty years together my folks are still hot for each other. I just really don't need to see it in shiny Technicolor.
They pull apart with a sickeningly slurpy squelch and look over at me.
“Poor Sunshine, she's still embarrassed of us,” my dad teases.
“Bobby, you know she prefers Sophie; today of all days, give her a break,” says Bubbles from her perch across the room in a comfortable chair. Thank god for the voice of reason.
“Of course, Mom, you're right; have to respect the bride's wishes.” My dad walks over and kisses my grandmother on her soft, powdery cheek.
“Good boy.” Bubbles pats the hand he has placed on her shoulder.
I was born Sunshine Sophie Summer Karma Bernstein. The Sophie was in honor of my dad's dad, Solomon, Bubbles's husband, who died only a month before I was born. I was Sunshine until I got to kindergarten, but when the whole class burst out in cruel laughter when the teacher called my name, I quickly replied, “My name is Sophie,” and so I have been to everyone in my life except my dad ever since. My mom, as a clinical psychologist, is very much committed to honoring people's choices, so she made the switch immediately and with great purpose, correcting family friends and colleagues swiftly and firmly if they slipped. On my thirtieth birthday I gave myself a gift and had my name legally changed to Sophie Rosalind Bernstein. Bubbles's middle name is Rosalind, and Rosalind Russell is our favorite actress, so it seemed like a good choice. I still haven't gotten up the nerve to tell my parents. Bubbles says there's no
need to cause trouble where there is none, so it is our secret. I once asked her if she minded being called Bubbles, and she laughed.
“You named me, and I wouldn't want to be called anything else.”
When I was just learning to talk, at the precocious age of ten months, my parents kept trying to get me to call her BubbeâYiddish for “grandmother”âbut I kept saying Bubbles, and it stuck. I've often felt bad about dumping such a frivolous name on someone so elegant and sophisticated, but she swears she loves it.
“You are a vision, Sophie, truly,” she says, and I turn back to the full-length mirror that has been set up in our little lounge. And I have to admit, I look like Katharine Hepburn. Well, actually I look like I
Katharine Hepburn, if you want to know the truth, but I look as glamorous and radiant as a girl could corseted within an inch of her life and stuffed into her custom size-twenty Vera Wang gown. Because you know what's fun, designers? That when us bigger girls go wedding-dress shopping, already a horror show of “sample” sizes we have to be shoehorned into to get a “sense” of how a dress “might” look, we discover your sizing is scaled for Lilliputians and completely unrelated to every other size chart on the planet. I'm a solid size sixteen almost everywhere, an eighteen in some of the more luxury brands, and a glorious, if rare, size fourteen in some lower-end brands. But only in Wangland am I a twenty. Oh, and the upcharge for bigger sizes is also a real treat; nothing like paying a fat tax for your special day. Thanks for that.
None of it matters today. The dress is a perfect rich off-white, the color of the cream of grass-fed cows; made of the heaviest matte silk; and in a simple strapless style that's fitted at the waist and then drapes over a subtle crinoline to just above my ankle. The gauzy organza overdress has wide, fluttery lapels
and long, loose balloon sleeves cuffed at the wrist, which help to mask my not-exactly-Michelle-Obama-esque upper arms, and it buttons tightly on either side of my waist before extending over the skirt, which moves around me with a languorous swoosh. The dress was inspired by Katharine Hepburn's wedding dress in
The Philadelphia Story
, adjusted appropriately for my ample curves and made a bit more modern, but the feel is the same. I think Kate would approve, frankly. My thick, dark, often-unruly curls have been tamed into sleek, shiny waves, held back over my left ear with a jeweled clip, and my makeup is simple, highlighting my fair skin and hiding the spray of freckles across the bridge of my nose. A little silver shimmer on my eyelids makes my blue-gray eyes sparkle, and there's just a swipe of pale pink on my lips. The Dior pumps were probably a splurge I should have done without, considering the total cost of this day, but I couldn't resist. The opaline silver was just the perfect color, and while I'll probably be crippled for the rest of the week, they look fantastic. Heels are the bane of anyone who spends long workdays on her feet in supportive clogs.
Candace, the event manager here at the Ryan Mansion, comes flying in. “Sophie? Do you have time for a quick walk-through before we open the doors?”
My mom starts to walk toward us, but Bubbles catches the look on my face.
“Diane, dear, would you get me some more of that sparkling water, please? You go ahead, Sophie; the three of us will wait here for you.” Thank god for Bubbles. She knows how much work went into planning this day. And she also knows that I don't want anything to mar it. Like another lecture from my happily unmarried parents about why a piece of paper doesn't mean anything, and about how many wells could be dug in Africa for what I'm spending on my top-shelf open bar, or how
many cleft palate surgeries could be performed in South America for a fraction of what the flowers cost.
I follow Candace out of the lounge and down the hall to the elevator.
“You look gorgeous,” she says as we ride down to the main floor. “How do you feel? Nervous at all?”
“Actually, no. I feel great. Never felt better!”
And I do. No jitters, no sweaty palms, no butterflies. This is the day I was destined for. The man I was destined for. Dexter Kelley IVâDK to his friends, and Dex to meâis literally my every dream come true. After a lifetime of listening to my mother proudly announce her “Ms.” status when correcting people who referred to her as “Mrs.,” I'm ready to happily check the “Mrs.” box. After endlessly explaining why my last name is different from both my parents'âDad's is Bernard, Mom's is Goldstein, so I got to be Bernstein, a combination of the two, invented in no small part because of Carl Bernstein and the fact that my folks met at an anti-Nixon rally in 1973âI'm ecstatic to become simply Sophie Kelley.
And who wouldn't be? In Dex, I've found my perfect partner in all things. We work together at SalÃ© et SucrÃ©, the two-Michelin-starred restaurant from Alexandre Leroux and Georg Zimmer. I'm the senior pastry sous chef and heir apparent to Georg, and Dexter is the head sommelier. We've been working together for six years and have been a couple for nearly three. We've landed an angel investor for a soon-to-be restaurant of our own. Local socialite Colleen “Cookie” Carlisle has agreed to terms on funding the purchase and build-out of our first place, including finding us a stunning location on Fulton in a huge warehouse space and hiring the superhot Palmer Square Development team to do the design/build.
I have to say, as much as I love my DexterÂ .Â .Â . our general contractor, Liam, is insanely gorgeous. I don't know how his
wife, Anneke, ever lets him out of her sight. Of course, since she's the lead architect, I guess she doesn't really have to, but when those babies drop, she's not going to have much of a choice; I would imagine twins are going to trump just about everything. Our project manager, Jag, promises that it'll be smooth sailing, and both Cookie and Dexter have total confidence, so I'm following along. After all, it's Cookie's money, and some of Dexter's. The agreement is that I will cover the wedding and he will cover the restaurant, and that seems more than fair as we begin our lives together. My dad, ever the lawyer, thought we should both equally fund two separate accounts to pay for things so that it was all even, but I didn't even broach the idea with Dex. To be honest, I don't really want him to know what I'm spending on this event. Despite keeping the guest list down to under a hundred and calling in major at-cost favor pricing from chef pals and vendors who work with the restaurant, the event was still coming in at nearly seventy grand, which has pretty much emptied my savings and maxed out all my credit cards, including three brand-new ones. Gone are the gifts from my family: five grand from Mom and Dad and two from Bubbles. Not to mention the bat mitzvah bonds I cashed in. But a girl only gets one shot at her dream wedding, and besides, Dexter's trust fund will come entirely under his own control in a few weeks, which is why he said we should both stay in our apartments and wait before looking for a new place for the two of us, and postpone planning our honeymoon.
“When the trust turns over, we'll be able to find the perfect house, and when we officially quit, we can take a few weeks off to travel before jumping into the restaurant full bore. Everything will be so much easier then. Do you really want to go through the hassle of combining households in one of our places now and then having to repack and reorganize in a few months?”
I'm sure that when his trust kicks in, my newly minted
hubby will have no problem helping me pay off this minor debt I've accrued. After all, while the trust isn't billions, it certainly has enough zeroes that we should be able to do everything we want house- and honeymoon-wise, with plenty of cushion for the future, and I know he'll see the value of starting our life together debt-free. Especially with the lifelong memories of this glorious day.
Candace and I step off the wood-paneled elevator and into the wide entry room of the mansion. This place is my win-the-lottery dream house: twelve thousand square feet of late-1800s graystone on elegant Astor Street. And we are using all of it. The first-floor dining room will have the ceremony; the adjoining living room will house our cocktail hour. Then everyone will go up to the second level for the sit-down five-course dinner and dancing in the massive formal ballroom, with the anterooms set up for cozy conversation, and a smoking room for the cigar crowd. At midnight everyone will be shuttled back to the first floor to the library for a breakfast/late-night-snack-food buffet, and then out through the foyer, where silver gift bags will be magically waiting. Then Dexter and I will head up to the third-floor suite for our wedding night before meeting our out-of-town guests and closest friends and family tomorrow at Manny's for a brunch generously hosted by Bubbles.
As Candace walks me through all the spaces, I'm blown away. The flowersâarranged by Cornelia McNamara, who does all the special events at the restaurantâfeature Cornelia's signature effortlessly elegant style, all in shades of white and cream with plenty of greenery, and displayed in crystal vases and silver bowls on every surface. The ceremony chairs are swagged in sheer tulle, and the gossamer chuppah is wound with ivy and fairy lights, the canopy gathered in perfect folds to create a small tent. Georg and Alexandre both got Internet-ordained so that they can jointly do the ceremony for us, Georg
covering the Jewish parts and Alexandre taking care of the secular stuff.
The round dining tables, small six-tops to keep conversation flowing, are set with white linen cloths with deep-magenta linen napkins, centerpieces that are a riot of magentas and oranges, candles in silver candlesticks, bone china, and Riedel crystal glasses lined up for the exquisite wine pairings Dexter has planned for every course. The stage is set up for the jazz orchestra, and there, in the center of the dance floor, is the cake.
Three square tiers of hazelnut cake filled with caramel mousse and sliced poached pears, sealed with vanilla buttercream scented with pear eau-de-vie. It's covered in a smooth expanse of ivory fondant decorated with what appear to be natural branches of pale green dogwood but are actually gum paste and chocolate, and with almost-haphazard sheer spheres of silvery blown sugar, as if a child came by with a bottle of bubbles and they landed on the cake. On the top, in lieu of the traditional bride and groom, is a bottle of Dexter's favorite Riesling in a bow tie and a small three-tier traditional wedding cake sporting a veil, both made out of marzipan. It took me the better part of the last three weeks to make this cake. Not to mention the loaves of banana bread, the cellophane bags of pine nut shortbread cookies, and the little silver boxes of champagne truffles in the gift bags. And the vanilla buttermilk panna cottas we're serving with balsamic-macerated berries as the pre-dessert before the cake. And the hand-wrapped caramels and shards of toffee and dark-chocolate-covered candied ginger slices that will be served with the coffee.