Chapter One One
“THEY’RE EVEN MORE BEAUTIFUL than I imagined,” Jen Fitzgerald said as the florist’s assistant set the first box of arrangements down on a folding chair at the end of the nearest row.
And that was saying something. Because Jen had been imagining hosting a wedding in her family’s barn for approximately as long as she’d been able to imagine a wedding—so well over twenty years.
It had started with a child’s simple logic. Once Jen learned, as a little girl, that all weddings didn’t have to happen in a church, because you could just get the minister and take them pretty much anywhere, her five- or six-year-old self hadn’t been able to imagine anyplace better to get married than her family’s barn. After all, what could be more wonderful than the smell of oats and hay, the dust-mote light pouring through the slits time had opened between the old planks, and the soft noses of her favorite horses?
But as she’d grown up, instead of discarding the idea along with so many of the other silly misconceptions of her childhood, her thoughts of a wedding in the barn had only gotten stronger. When her friends began to pick out hotel ballrooms or rent out the Knights of Columbus hall for their own weddings, Jen always thought back to her own barn and how much more beautiful it would be than a sterile old fluorescent-lit hotel or a dark, low-roofed community club—if it was just done up exactly the right way, by someone who knew how.
And when the craze for barn weddings started up, and she began to see spread after spread of country-themed weddings in the bridal magazines, the idea formed into a plan.
She didn’t love her day job, managing the office of Dr. Brown, the town’s pediatrician. She liked the kids. She liked Dr. Brown. She liked the small streets of the town, and the friends she’d had all her life, whom she still got together with on weekends, a lot like they had when they were kids. But part of her itched to get out, and see the world—to have a life that had more in it than the confines of Blue Hill, even though there was no other land that was more beloved to her in the world.
And some quick napkin math showed her that if she played her cards right, filling the barn with weddings all summer could give her enough income to do what she wanted for the rest of the year. Her mind began to flood with visions of lace draped from the crossbeams and troughs stuffed with roses—as well as the trips to sunny climates she’d be able to take in the winter: Greece, Argentina, India… And then her childhood best friend, Beth Dean, had called from New York City to say she was getting married—and she wanted to do it at home.
The Dean and Fitzgerald farms were neighbors, which in most cases would mean their actual homes were miles apart, but by a quirk of the land they shared, both families’ ancestors had built their homes and barns within a stone’s throw of one another, probably so both homes could enjoy the vast, gentle rise they both sat upon, which allowed them a commanding view of the fields around them, and even, on clear nights, the twinkling lights of town, miles off. From the property line that divided the two yards, the farms stretched out for acres on either side. And between them was a giant pine tree that the two families had a Christmas tradition of decorating together every year, filling it with lights that could be seen from the hilltop for miles around.
So when Beth had flown back into town months before, trying to figure out how she was possibly going to hold a wedding fancy enough to impress her extremely fancy in-laws-to-be, Jen had mentioned the idea of doing it in the barn where the two of them had spent so many delightful hours together as girls, right there in Blue Hill—and mentioned the fact that she’d be willing to plan the whole thing herself.
Now here she was, although she could barely believe it herself: the night before the very first wedding she’d ever planned.
And the flowers, which she’d been dreaming about for all those years, changing them up from hydrangeas to daisies, from pink orchids to blue iris, from simple clusters of baby’s breath to giant swaths of snapdragons and phlox, were prettier than any of the arrangements she had imagined.
They seemed to fill the whole barn, which was saying something, since it was at least the size of a small church, with a peaked roof and a pair of back doors that opened to the fields beyond, almost the same size as the large swinging front doors that Jen had just walked through. On the left was a row of fenced-off areas for storing hay and seed, now cleaned out perfectly and set up as nooks for guests to congregate, or caterers to prepare meals. On the right were stalls that used to hold far more animals than the two horses who now nodded their heads gladly at the far end of the barn, to acknowledge Jen’s entrance. Between them was a large expanse of well-scrubbed concrete, now set with all the accoutrements to turn it into a real-live wedding venue, holding a hundred and fifty chairs for the incoming guests.
And at each corner of the barn were four beautiful Christmas trees, set with white lights and wrapped in cream velvet ribbon, with fresh flowers dotted among their branches. Together, they formed a spectacular display of Christmas beauty, and one of the most beautiful floral creations Jen had ever seen.
The florist’s assistant was her twelve-year-old daughter, Lindy. Lindy beamed with pleasure at the compliment, and as much pride as Jen thought she’d ever seen.
“Did you help make these?” Jen asked, thinking that must be the reason Lindy looked so proud.
Lindy shook her head, looking down at the sprays of elegant white lilies nestled in fronds of juniper, starred with the tiny blossoms of wax flowers and studded with the bright blue of bachelor buttons, which picked up the fainter blue of the waxy juniper berries, which were also frosted with a faint red. The effect was stunning.
“My mother made them,” she said, looking back up.
Jen told herself she should have known. Almost nobody ever looked that proud of themselves. Even in the midst of their biggest accomplishments, most people could always find a way to doubt themselves. The pride she saw in Lindy’s eyes was a special kind: the pride a child has in their parent’s accomplishments, because only a child knows both everything a parent is capable of—and how hard a parent works to accomplish everything they do.
As Lindy said this, her mom, Pamela, came in, her arms loaded with thick swags of baby’s breath, juniper, and thick pale blue velvet ribbon. Jen recognized the look in Pamela’s eyes, because she knew the feeling herself: wonder, exhaustion, and a smidge of joy.
This was Pamela’s first big gig, as well. She’d been doing prom corsages and holiday centerpieces for her friends for years, and had even worked her way up to doing flowers for a handful of local weddings, where she was famous for turning armfuls of greens cut from the side of the road and flowers collected from the discount bins at the local grocery store into stunning arrangements. But this was the first time she’d worked on a big budget, with hothouse flowers ordered months in advance, rather than whatever she could find in local shops and gardens. She was at least as nervous and thrilled as Jen was, although both of them were working hard not to let on.
“I was just telling Lindy,” Jen told her, “these are some of the prettiest flowers I’ve ever seen.”
Pamela, still on task, didn’t seem to be able to stop to take the compliment in. “I just want to get them in before they all freeze,” she said with a quick grin.
Jen squinted as she looked out the barn door at the sparkling snow that blanketed the surrounding land. Beth and Tom had wanted a Christmas wedding, because they’d first met at a Christmas party, and because Beth had always loved the holiday. And this year, the timing was perfect: Christmas Eve was on a Monday, so almost everyone had the weekend before off, and could take the time to join them for the weekend and still travel home to their families in time for the holiday, just like the old songs sang about. So Beth and Tom had decided it was meant to be—a once-in-a-lifetime chance, not to be missed, to merge their wedding with all the tradition and feeling and sheer beauty of Christmas.
The one thing Jen hadn’t been able to guarantee them about their wedding was that it’d be a white one. But the weather of the past weeks had cooperated with Beth’s plans, too. The whole town looked like a Christmas card.
When Jen turned back, Pamela had already scampered off, hanging the juniper swags over the beautiful white metal arch that would be the focal point of the whole ceremony, while Lindy began to carefully remove centerpieces from their travel boxes and set them out on the dinner tables that guests would migrate to after the ceremony, when the rows of ceremony chairs would be cleared to create a dance floor.
Every arrangement that emerged from the box was like a tiny new burst of stars, turning the barn into a whole new constellation.
Jen leaned back against the familiar wood of the barn, letting herself feel her satisfaction—and exhaustion—for one delicious moment. It was barely after noon, and the barn would be fully decorated before she knew it. A few minutes more, and everything would be perfect.
Inside her purse, her phone rang.
As she fumbled for it, Jen felt a ping of anxiety—but not about the details of the wedding. Beth’s brother, Jared, was coming home for the wedding. It would be the first time Jen had seen him in years. And before he left, they’d been an inseparable couple for years before that.
She and Ed, whom she’d been seeing since the spring, were happy now. Unlike Jared, Ed didn’t have any burning desire to get out of town and see the world. He thought Blue Hill was pretty special, just the way it was, just like her. And also unlike Jared, he was infinitely interested in their relationship. She didn’t think Jared even had any idea when the two of them had first started dating. But Ed had asked her out for the first time on the first of June, and on the first of every other month, he always managed to show up with some little trinket or a small bouquet, to celebrate what he liked to call their “anniversary.”
So it was driving Jen more than a little nuts that every time her phone rang, she wondered if it was Jared. Not that he’d call her on purpose. But she was the contact number for the entire guest list—anyone who had a question, or a problem. If he needed any little thing during the course of the wedding, there was a good chance she’d have to talk to him. And she didn’t know if she was looking forward to that or not.
To her relief, the caller ID came up as Bailey Chester, the local college kid whom she’d hired to drive the charming antique fire truck that she’d hired to serve as a private shuttle for the New Yorkers who were coming from the airport. It was impossible to miss—and it was exactly the kind of country charm that you couldn’t get for any price in the city.
“Bailey,” she said, her heart warming as she answered the phone. Bailey had been relentlessly conscientious the entire time they’d been working together, always letting her know how things were going at any given moment, to an almost aggravating degree. But she had to admit now that it calmed her nerves to know she was never going to have to struggle to get in touch with him—like it or not, he’d be in touch with her. “How’s it going?”
“I’m on I-94,” Bailey said.
The noise in the old truck, she noticed, was incredibly loud. It sounded as if the traffic were practically inside with Bailey. But at his news, she smiled. I-94 was exactly where he should be right now, about half an hour out from arriving at the airport, where everyone would land in the next few hours.
“That’s great!” Jen said. “Thank you so much, Bailey.”
“Wait,” Bailey said.
“Yes?” Jen asked.
“I’m on the side of the road,” Bailey told her.
“Are you all right?” Jen asked, her face suddenly hot and her hands suddenly cold. “Did something happen?”
“I’m all right,” Bailey said. “And so is the truck. Except for the fact that it won’t move.”
Jen’s panicked look took in all the beautiful elements in the barn: the velvet-padded white folding chairs, the thick old wood of the beams, and the garden Pamela was calling forth seemingly out of nothing, even though it was the middle of winter.
Then her mind began to calculate with the details of every itinerary she had practically memorized in the past few weeks.
With a shock, she realized that every single New York guest was already in the air, all expecting to follow the directions she’d given them about finding the fire truck shuttle when they landed.
And right now, nobody was on the way to meet them.