You’re Invited Too
TODAY’S TO-DO LIST:
¦ meet with bride
¦ back-to-school shopping with Bubby and the girls
¦ break Mom’s heart
So this thing just happened.
Well, not just just, but “just” as in yesterday. And ever since then I’ve been walking around with an iron anchor scraping the bottom of my belly that jumps every so often, because this thing that happened is either going to be the best thing ever . . . or the worst thing ever.
Or maybe even both.
It’s also the reason I’m out of bed at six a.m. on the third-to-last day of summer. All the girls in our family—me, Mom, and my little sister, Izzy—are rise-and-shine, early-bird-gets-the-worm kind of people, but six o’clock during the summer is kind of a stretch for me. If Dad were still alive, he’d have seventeen pillows piled on top of his head right now, and nothing short of waving a can of coffee beans under his nose would wake him.
Mom doesn’t hear me coming down the stairs, so I have a minute to study her. Her hands circle a mug of tea, and a few pieces of her hair fall out of a messy ponytail. She doesn’t look like she’s been up too long. She also doesn’t look like she slept that well.
My stomach takes another dive, just like the pelicans circling the cove outside our window for fishy breakfasts. Am I the reason she was up all night? Not that she would know I was involved yet . . .
I tiptoe over to my bag and rifle through it for my phone. Mom still doesn’t notice me.
Okay, so here’s the thing. All last year I helped my mom with her wedding-planning business, and it was Awesome with a capital A because Mom is crazy busy and working with her meant we got to hang out together. I thought she needed me because I was her best helper. But then I made a teeny-tiny bridesmaid-overboard,
seagull-pooping, photographer-puking mistake at this Little Mermaid–themed wedding she coordinated, and—poof—I got fired.
By my own mother.
But then my three best friends and I cooked up this plan where we would organize a party ourselves to get my mom to realize how totally fantastic I am at party throwing and hire me back. Except that didn’t happen. The party happened—lots of parties actually, because after the first one went so well we just kept going with more and more—but Mom never made it to any of them, and she never got to see me in action at all.
Mostly it wasn’t her fault, but still.
I flip through my texts, looking to see if there are any changes to our morning meeting spot. Despite my mood, I can’t help smiling at a selfie my best friend Becca sent late last night. She’s wearing a tiara. If I know Becca, she probably slept in the thing.
Because of Becca—and my other best friends, Lauren and Vi—it didn’t even matter that much that Mom hadn’t changed her mind about hiring me back, because our little party-planning company, RSVP, got so busy and I was having so much fun with my friends that I ended up having the Best Summer Ever and everything felt really okay. Better than okay.
And then yesterday happened.
I drop my phone back in my bag and turn, accidentally making the floorboard creak. Mom’s head snaps up.
“Geez, Sades, you scared me half to death. What are you doing creeping around? More importantly, what are you doing up?”
I cross the room and duck my head into the refrigerator so she can’t see my face. I don’t usually—scratch that, I don’t ever—lie to my mom.
“Oh, um, well . . . I’m just really excited for shopping today.” Not technically a lie. Going into the city is exciting (okay, so it’s just Wilmington, North Carolina, not, like, New York City, but when you live somewhere as small as Sandpiper Beach, anywhere that has dividing lines painted on the roads and four-way traffic lights passes for big-time).
“Oh, right,” Mom says. “Back-to-school shopping. Hang on, let me grab my credit card. You remember the limit we talked about, right? Things are tight this month, okay? And Lauren’s mom and Bubby will be there if the store gives you any hassle over using this.”
She rummages in her purse and hands me the piece of plastic. I swallow down my guilt as I take it. I feel extra bad going on a shopping spree just before she finds out I’m a total backstabber. I really need to get out of here.
I gulp down some orange juice and grab a banana for the road. “I’m going over to Becca’s to help her sort her closet by color so she can spot any underrepresented shades before we hit the shops.”
This is actually true. It’s just that it’s happening later this morning, not right this second.
“Okay, sweets. Have fun!”
I’m halfway out the door when Mom calls me back. Is she onto me?
“Hey, I just wanted to remind you: whatever you do, do not take Bubby’s advice on skirt length. If it’s not hitting midthigh when you sit, it doesn’t come home with you! Got it?”
I nod and spin, making a run for the door and my bike.
• • •
My friends and I made plans to meet Alexandra Worthington at Salty Stewart’s Café in the main square. Most of the businesses in Sandpiper Beach are clustered around the center, by the big statue of Merlin the Marlin, and down Main Street, which leads to the beach.
Merlin is this giant brass fish that’s supposed to be a life-size representation of the biggest Atlantic marlin ever recorded, caught in 1942 by a descendant of our town’s founder, Jebediah Bodington. If you live here, it’s practically the law to know this stuff, but I get constant reminders every time I sneak behind the walking tours Becca has to give because her mom and dad run the Visitor’s Center. Becca gets most of her information from Lauren, our resident smarty-pants.
I’m the first one to Stewie’s (as we locals call it), so I grab the long table and wave to Lance Travis. He’s going into seventh grade with us, and I have a sneaky feeling he’s crushing on Vi, but she’s way too blind to see it. His grandfather (Stewie himself) owns the place, his mom and dad run it, his older brother works as a waiter, and sometimes (like today) Lance buses tables.
“Water?” he calls over, as he wipes down a seat.
“Five, please,” I answer.
Becca is next through the door, which makes sense since she lives closest.
“This humidity is inhumane. It took me for-ev-er to straighten this. I swear, I think the stars were still out when I started.” Becca runs a hand through her red hair and grimaces.
Lauren and ?Vi push through the door one right after the other and grab chairs. “Who knew there was life on the island at oh-dark-thirty?” Vi asks.
Lauren looks at her funny. “Vi, this island had its start as a fishing village. In 1769, when Jebediah Bodington incorporated the town, it’s likely that everyone was up at five a.m. trawling the Intracoastal for shrimp.”
“Thanks for the history lesson, Lo.” Vi sticks out her tongue and then ducks her head when she catches sight of Lance. “Who’s ordering the liver?”
It’s kind of a long-running joke among us, because Stewie’s has liver and chicken fried steak on the breakfast menu, right next to pancakes and omelets. Don’t get me wrong, chicken fried steak is pretty delicious for lunch or dinner, but for breakfast? Um, no. Except if you’re Mayor Keach, who orders it every single morning. With the liver. Blech.
“French toast for me,” I say. “But don’t you think it would be more polite to wait for Alexandra Worthington?”
“Alexaaaaaaaandraaaaaa Worthingtonnnnnnn,” Becca says, drawling out the name and using a slight British accent. “It sounds so fancy. What do you think she looks like? My bet is she’s a total glamour-puss.”
The door opens, and a woman teeters in on seventeen-inch heels (approximately), wearing a hat like the ones you see on TV during the Kentucky Derby. It’s purple straw and so wide it brushes the sides of the door. She’s paired those with a tiny tube top that shows off a giant tattoo of some kind of bird covering her entire left shoulder and a pair of too-tight black capri pants. Whoa. I don’t really know if “glamour-puss” is the right term. More like a weird cross between royalty and . . . I don’t really know what. She’s not a local, that much is painfully clear.
“Do you think that’s her?” Vi whispers.
Becca cranes her head around. “Ooooooh yeah.”
“Do we go over?” Lauren asks.
“I think it would look more professional if she comes to us, right? Just look busy. And important.” Becca shoves a menu at each of us while throwing her head back and letting out a fake laugh that can only be described as “tinkling.”
I peek over my menu to watch Alexandra Worthington’s eyes sweep right over our table and then turn away to peer down at her watch with a frown. She’s still hovering just inside the doorway.
“I don’t think it’s working, guys. I’m gonna go get her.” I push my chair back and make my way to the front. “Excuse me, by any chance are you Alexandra Worthington?”
She looks at me and one eyebrow lifts. (I’m so in awe of people who can do that.) “I am. I’m sorry, I can’t really chat, though. I’m supposed to be meeting someone, or rather, a group of someones. Though they’re late, which is inexcusable, really.” She begins to pick at a thread on her tube top.
“Oh no, actually, we’re all here. See?” I gesture to our table, where Becca, Lauren, and Vi give little waves. Lauren’s is a regular one, Vi’s is more of a tomboy kind of hand flick, and Becca’s cupped fingers and back-and-forth motion make her look like Miss America on a parade float. I can’t help grinning at all three.
“Beg your pardon? I’m afraid there’s been a misunderstanding. I’m meeting four women who run a wedding-planning business,” Alexandra Worthington says.
“Party planning, really,” I say. “You’ll be our first wedding.”
Oh yeah. The thing that happened yesterday? It’s this: Becca, Lauren, Vi, and I were meeting at the Purple People Eater, which is what we call the old abandoned yacht that we turned into our clubhouse. The whole point of our meeting was to dissolve our little summer company and say good-bye to the Best Summer Ever. But then, right as we were toasting RSVP with glasses of lemonade, the phone rang and it was Alexandra Worthington, wanting to know if she could book us to plan her wedding.
Up till now, we’ve mostly done birthday parties for kids, plus a few parties at the senior center (where Lauren’s sorta crazy grandmother Bubby lives), which were basically matchmaking ventures to get Bubby together with the elderly guy she was crushing on. They were great and we rocked them, but they weren’t anything on the level of a wedding.
But when Alexandra Worthington called, she said she’d had been hearing our name all over town since she moved here in June. I guess people really liked the parties we planned, and, well, Sandpiper Beach is really tiny, and the rule of living somewhere really tiny is that you have to spend approximately 82 percent of your time gossiping about everyone else, so I guess word got out about RSVP.
Before the rest of us could even sign off on it, Becca grabbed the phone and said, “We’re your girls, Miss Worthington.”
Judging by how pale Alexandra Worthington just got behind her tan, it kind of seems like the “girls” part might not have computed.
She takes a tiny step backward. Her head gives a shake back and forth. “No. No, no. No. No. You’re . . .” There’s a long pause before she says, “Children!”
Um, ouch? We’re going into seventh grade. We’re not that young!
Becca, Lauren, and Vi can tell something is wrong, and they all get up and race over.
“Excuse me, is everything okay?” Lauren asks.
“Everything is most certainly not okay,” Alexandra Worthington says. I know I should probably call her Miss Worthington or Alexandra (though not to her face, of course!), but she’s just such an “Alexandra Worthington” that I can’t.
“I already fired my wedding planner.” Alexandra Worthington is getting screechy now. “I can’t go crawling back to her. I won’t. That’s not how I operate.”
Oh yeah. If you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, here you go: The wedding planner Alexandra Worthington fired?
That would be Lorelei Pleffer . . . a.k.a. my mom.
So there’s that.
Hence the iron anchor in my belly. Because when Mom finds out her client fired her to hire her daughter, one of us is dead. Me because Mom has killed me, or Mom from a broken heart. Either way, things are not looking good for the Pleffer family.
Alexandra Worthington’s voice screeches up another note. “Apparently, now I am sans planner because you are not at all what you represented yourselves to be! Why didn’t you tell me you were a bunch of kids?”
Mayor Keach looks up from his liver, and Meg, who owns Polka Dot Books, turns in her chair. I kind of wish I could melt into the floor. Lance comes out from the kitchen with a crinkled forehead, carrying a tray of biscuits and sausage gravy. Becca, Lauren, and Vi share desperate looks.
I would be in on that look too, except at the moment I’m halfway hoping Alexandra Worthington will turn and walk out before this whole mess goes any further. On the one hand, I love my friends and I love RSVP and I’m still a tiny bit mad at my mom for firing me in the first place and then not making it to any of our parties this summer; if I wanted her attention, hooo boy, would this get it. But on the other hand . . . it’s my mom we’re talking about.
“Pardon me, Alexandra,” Becca says. See what I mean? Becca’s never afraid of authority figures. She calls her Alexandra to her face. “But we never ‘represented’ we were adults. In fact, you referenced so many of our clients when you called to hire us, we assumed you knew everything there was to know about RSVP. Why wouldn’t we have?”
“Well, none of them thought to mention you’re barely out of diapers!”
Becca bites her lip and Lauren claws her fingers into Becca’s arm to stop her from answering that comment with whatever she’s about to say. Becca takes a deep breath, smiles oh-so-sweetly at Alexandra Worthington, and instead says, “Probably they didn’t mention our age because how old we are is totes not relevant to how fantastic our party-planning skills are.”
Which would have sounded a lot more impressive if Becca had skipped the “totes.” Then again, if she had, she wouldn’t be Becca.
Alexandra Worthington stares hard at Becca for a second, and Becca lifts her chin and stares right back. Neither one blinks. After a couple of seconds Alexandra Worthington’s eyes narrow slightly, and she says, “You may have a point.”
She takes off her hat, tucks it under her arm, and pushes past us into the restaurant. “Where are we sitting? I’ll need to tell you some things about myself if this is to be a successful client-planner relationship. First things first. I do not do liver and chicken fried steak for breakfast, and I sincerely hope none of you do either. If so, I will need to excuse myself because that is just plain disgusting and I won’t hear of it.”
Okayyyyyyyy, then. I guess we’re hired.
Which is a good thing, right?