The tree is decorated, the cookies are baked, and the packages are wrapped, but the biggest celebration this Christmas is Gaby Summerhill's wedding. Since her husband died three years ago, Gaby's four children have drifted apart, each consumed by the turbulence of their own lives. They haven't celebrated Christmas together since their father's death, but when Gaby announces that she's getting married-and that the groom will remain a secret until the wedding day-she may finally be able to bring them home for the holidays.
But the wedding isn't Gaby's only surprise; she has one more gift for her children, and it could change all their lives forever. With deeply affecting characters and the emotional twists of a James Patterson thriller, The Christmas Wedding is a fresh look at family and the magic of the season.
|Grand Central Publishing
|5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)
About the Author
Hometown:Palm Beach, Florida
Date of Birth:March 22, 1947
Place of Birth:Newburgh, New York
Education:B.A., Manhattan College, 1969; M.A., Vanderbilt University, 1971
Read an Excerpt
The Christmas Wedding
By Patterson, James
Little, Brown and CompanyCopyright © 2011 Patterson, James
All right reserved.
The Christmas Wedding
THE INVITATION LIST THE BRIDE
GABY SUMMERHILL, fifty-four, teacher, mother of four, widow for three years, lives in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
CLAIRE DONOGHUE, Gaby’s daughter, thirty-five, married, lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
HANK DONOGHUE, Claire’s husband, thirty-four
GUS, their son, fourteen
TOBY and GABRIELLE, their
EMILY SUMMERHILL, Gaby’s youngest daughter, twenty-nine, lawyer in Manhattan
BART DeFRANCO, Emily’s husband, twenty-nine, resident in neurology
SETH SUMMERHILL, Gaby’s only son, twenty-six, novelist, lives in Boston
ANDIE COLLINS, Seth’s girlfriend, twenty-four, commercial artist
LIZZIE RODGERS, Gaby’s daughter, thirty-four, married, works part time at Walmart, lives near Gaby
MIKE RODGERS, Lizzie’s husband, thirty-six
TALLULAH, their daughter, eight
TOM HAYDEN, fifty-four, owns a farm, former pro hockey player, grew up with Gaby
JACOB COLEMAN, fifty-two, rabbi at a temple in Stockbridge
MARTIN SUMMERHILL, fifty-five, Gaby’s brother- in-law
GABY’S FIRST VIDEO
Only twenty-four days until Christmas, and this Christmas is going to be one you won’t forget.
Need proof? I think I can give you proof.
I want all four of you to take a good, long look at the screen and your mom.
Everybody watching? Emily? Claire? Seth? Lizzie? Emily? You see anything unusual or, well, kind of stunning?
Okay. Let me turn around for you…Turning…Turning again.
Yes. Your eyes tell the truth. I have lost twelve pounds and several ounces.
Stop, stop! No worries, no frets or fears. No neurotic theories about my health.
I’m not sick or anything like that. Maybe a little sick in the head. As always. Part of my charm.
I just gave up Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and the occasional beer before bedtime. And I banished mayonnaise—low-fat or otherwise—from the house. And white bread. Dunkin’ Donuts for sure. It made me somewhat miserable…and hungry. But it also made me thinner. And, I must admit, happier. Yes, I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time.
I needed a big change. Everybody needs a change. If you don’t change, you’re stuck in a rut.
I know that people around here always say, “Oh, Gaby, you lead such an interesting life…You run that farm of yours pretty much by yourself. You write a food blog that isn’t too egotistical or boring. You teach the local kids to read and write.”
Oh, yes, I do…and I love it…but honestly, it just wasn’t enough for me.
I was in a life rut that was only getting deeper. R-u-t. Put on boots and a loden coat the morning after a snowstorm and trudge to the henhouse to collect four eggs. Start adding nutritional facts to the recipes on the blog and people you never even met accuse you of being a nutrition Nazi.
Teach English, or at least try to make the kids love reading. I know this is going to come as a bit of a shock, but most teenagers think that Great Expectations—to use a phrase—“blows,” but that any book with a vampire in it is brilliant. Especially if the vampire is darkly handsome and promises eternal love with every bite. Great Expectations does kind of blow, by the way.
So anyway, I promise you, I’m not going through the dreaded midlife crisis. I’m not even at my midlife.
And, hey, the first one of you who makes a crack about my being way past midlife gets tossed out of the will. I’m serious, kiddies.
I do need some excitement, though. I think the wildest thing I’ve done in the last three years is to ask your kids to call me by my first name. I disliked being called Grandma. Made me itchy all over.
Back to the subject…I’ve lost twelve pounds.
I want to be able to fit into my wedding gown.
Anyone who’s fainted should please get up off the floor. And don’t start telephoning one another until this video is over.
Yes, you heard right. I said wedding gown. As in wedding. As in bride. As in wedding in our barn.
You’re looking at the bride right now, and she’s actually smiling. She’s happy. Very much so. You know I don’t complain, but there was a long, dark time after your father died and I’m finally out of that black hole.
You’re probably wondering who the lucky groom is. Well, as you used to say when you were just little brats, that’s for me to know and you to find out.
Everybody is coming home to Stockbridge for Christmas. Claire, Emily, Seth, and Lizzie. You and your children, your spouses, your lovers, dogs, cats, whoever and whatever. We haven’t been together as a family since your dad died.
So it’s Christmas in Stockbridge.
Then you’ll find out who the lucky man is. Till then. I love you. And I’m so happy I almost can’t believe it.
See you at Christmas…when all will be revealed.
CLAIRE AND HANK
Claire Donoghue, Gaby’s eldest daughter, had just finished her mother’s video, and, well, wow. Go, Gaby! For the moment, though, Claire was paying her household bills, and bill paying was kind of like playing “I love you, I love you not” with hand grenades. Sooner or later, Claire knew, one of them was going to blow up in her face. In everybody’s face.
“I love you, South Carolina Electric and Gas,” she said, placing that bill in the stack she intended to pay.
“I love you not, emergency root canal.”
It was as good a system as any for deciding how to parcel out their slim income to pay the usual fat stack of bills. It was only during the luckiest of months that Hank’s money from construction work, and Claire’s income from tutoring, covered most of the bills. This was not one of those months.
Claire sat at a small, wobbly oak table in the chilly sunroom. She wore two Shetland sweaters in two different shades of dark blue, white painter’s pants, and fingerless woolen gloves. She called her style cheap cute. And, in fact, Claire was cute. Even after three kids, she was still holding her own—pug nose rather than spreading pig nose, smattering of freckles, short reddish-brown hair, “girlish” figure.
The truth was, though, she felt anything but cute; she felt tired and run-down. She felt like total crap, and nobody knew it, and nobody much cared.
James Taylor was playing softly on Claire’s laptop. She liked James okay, always had.
I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain.
Claire knew what he was singing about. She gazed out of the sunroom and although their house was three blocks from the beach, she could see a sliver of the gray December ocean. The sand was cold and the horizon lifeless. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, was a summer hot spot, but for Claire and Hank Donoghue it was their year-round home. That meant that when the tourists left and the cheesy concession stands closed down and the splintery boardwalk was deserted—well, that meant that Claire and Hank were left with each other. And that wasn’t always a good thing. Not for the past few years. And definitely not today. Hank just kept getting worse and worse and worse.
“Hey, babe,” she heard him call from his downstairs den. “Can you bring me a big coldy-oldy tea and maybe-baby some Eyetalian crackers?”
Claire knew he was asking for an iced tea and Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies. She also realized, from his ridiculous language, that he was stoned out of his mind.
“In a minute,” she called. She did not want a fight today. Or any day, really. She couldn’t stand his blowups, but she didn’t know what to do about them. The kids loved Hank.
She stood up, but she couldn’t stop obsessing about the video from her mom—the one that had knocked the wind out of her. So, Gaby was getting married. That was pretty terrific. But her mom wouldn’t say to whom. Just when and where. Christmas Day back home in Massachusetts at their farm. Gaby loved her mysteries.
“Hey, Claire, where’s the grub?” Hank shouted again.
Claire rolled her eyes and headed for the kitchen. She couldn’t help thinking that her mom would never, ever fetch coldy-oldies for her father—and her father would never have asked, certainly never have shouted up from the basement.
Keep the peace, Claire, she reminded herself. Only twenty-four days until Christmas.
But this craziness with Hank had to stop real soon, Claire was thinking. She could suck it up until the new year, for better or worse, for poorer or poorer, but then Hank had to get his act together and find a real, full-time job. No more excuses; no more softball games, flag-football games, or golf with his buddies three times a week.
Claire’s overarching worry as she carried the snacks down to the den was that she might get a contact high from inhaling the gauzy clouds of weed that Hank had already generated in there. She also marveled at what a multitasker her husband was. He was resting on a faded foldout couch watching a Falcons-Saints game while listening to Radiohead blasting from speakers on the bookshelf. Oh, yeah, and he was occasionally glancing at an article in Wired.
She studied Hank for a moment, trying to be objective. Talk about cute. In spite of the dirty matted blond hair, the two days of stubble, and the emerging potbelly, you couldn’t miss the handsome farm boy hiding not too far underneath. Even the wardrobe was perfect: worn jeans, work boots, a worn-out blue-and-green-patterned flannel shirt.
“God, Hank, I don’t know what smells more—you or the pot smoke,” she said with a forced smile, setting a bag of Milano cookies and a huge glass of iced tea on the floor next to him.
“I was playing Sunday football, you get…you know…just get off my ass, will you…Like…just get…,” he said, working hard to put together a coherent string of words.
“I have some good news,” Claire said.
“You won the South Carolina lottery?”
“No. That’s not it.”
“Then why do I care?”
He was clearly in one of his sonofabitch moods, but she was determined to tell him her news. It had brightened Claire’s day, actually, made her laugh out loud.
“I got one of those videos from my mom…”
Hank immediately began a bad and mean-spirited imitation of Gaby: “Oh, I’m so busy. I’m finding a cure for leukemia. I’m saving the rain forest. Me and my friends are feeding twelve-grain toast to the homeless of western Mass—”
“Stop it. That’s totally unfair,” Claire said. “Can I talk for a second here? Can I talk?”
To her surprise, Hank stopped. Maybe she’d confused him by interrupting his rant.
“My mom is getting married.”
“Who’s the lucky fella? I know, what’s-his-name—Mark Harmon, right? Tom Cruise?”
“You’re hilarious. Mom says she’ll tell us at Christmas when we all go up there.”
Hank’s face fell, but not in a funny way.
“Yeah, well, I’m not snowplowing my way up to Massachusetts the day before Christmas,” he said.
“My mom is getting married on Christmas.”
“It’s just some trick of hers to get everyone together at her farm. One big happy family.”
“Maybe that is part of the plan. So? It’s been almost three years since my dad died. The family hasn’t been together since the day we buried him. My mother was in a dark place for a few years.”
Hank tried another approach.
“C’mon, if you’re up in Stockbridge for Christmas, who’s going to tutor those colored kids you’re so involved with? The retards that you spend so much time with?”
“First of all, two of the kids are white. Two are black, and those African-American children are classmates of our children, you asshole. I help them because…”
“What did you call me?” he yelled. Then he stood up unsteadily. Claire didn’t like this. His face was so ugly now, and turning red.
“I’m just trying to explain, to get it through your…”
“What did you call me?”
“I called you what you’re acting like—an asshole.”
And suddenly he lifted his right hand and slapped her face hard.
Claire brought her own hand to her cheek. She rubbed the spot where he’d struck her. When she looked at Hank, he looked hurt, as if he had been the one who’d been assaulted. Hank reached out to her.
“Claire, I’m sorry. That was the weed talking…”
She turned away, lowering her head, not wanting him to see her cry.
He tried to touch her.
But Claire hurried toward the door. Before she walked out, she turned and spoke: “You are an asshole.”
As it turned out, Claire didn’t have time to wrap ice in a dishrag and apply it to her hurt cheek. She didn’t even have time for a few well-deserved tears.
That’s because the phone rang. One of her sisters about Mom? Lizzie, probably. Definitely not Emily calling from New York. Her lawyer sister was probably toiling away in her office, even on the weekend.
“Claire Donoghue?” the voice on the other end asked. Not Lizzie.
“Yes, but whatever you’re selling, we don’t need it. Sorry. I know you’re just trying to make a living.”
“This is Officer Louise Gastineau of the Myrtle Beach Police Department. Are you the mother of August Donoghue?”
Gus! Their fourteen-year-old was supposed to be in his bedroom, grounded for life after having been hauled in by the police for upending the portable potties left at the beach from the Halloween carnival.
“What happened? Is Gus hurt?” Claire asked.
“No,” said the officer. “He’s feeling just fine. In fact, he may be feeling too fine. He seems pretty stoned. So stoned that he’s sleeping on the floor in the mall. Right outside the Hollister store. Near Target.”
“What’s going to happen to him?” Claire asked.
“Nothing much, if you can get down here and get him out of the mall. We didn’t find any pot on him. Must have smoked every grain he had. He’s just sleeping the sleep of the truly happy. Only he has an awful lot of Christmas shoppers stepping over and around him. Including one of his concerned teachers, who saw Gus and called us right away.”
Claire thanked Officer Gastineau, who commiserated with her, adding that she had “three teenagers of my own.” Then Claire called for the eleven-year-old twins, Toby and Gabrielle, to aid in the rescue mission. She couldn’t help thinking of the classic phrase “Like father, like son.” God, she hated that idea.
Claire didn’t even bother telling Hank where she and the twins were headed. Just before she ripped out of the driveway, she looked up at the house and saw him at the window. He was inhaling from a substantial joint and finger-waving bye-bye to her.
She was definitely going to her mother’s for Christmas, with or without Hank. To be honest, she couldn’t wait to go home.
The sleeping arrangements in Claire’s house that night were highly creative, to say the least, but mostly sad, really sad. Hank slept on the foldout couch that he had occupied most of the day. Gus slept on the kitchen floor because Claire, Toby, and Gabrielle couldn’t carry him another foot.
It worked out, in an oddball sort of way. The kitchen turned out to be a fairly convenient spot for Gus. When he awoke at three in the morning with an advanced case of the munchies, he was where a guy should be to eat an entire box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, a half jar of peanut butter, and about a half pound of baking chocolate.
Claire was afraid that when Hank’s weed wore off, he would come upstairs and try to fall asleep next to her.
So she covered herself completely with quilts and blankets and tried to fall asleep on the white wicker sofa in the sunroom.
Of course, she knew she’d never fall asleep there. And she was right. At midnight she sat up and stared out at the small sliver of cold, moonlit beach. Then Claire did what she rarely did. She cried her eyes out. Not for herself. For everybody else in the house. She had a habit of putting herself last, just the way her mother did.
The tears came rushing down her puffy, aching cheek. She finally buried her face in a quilt to keep the noise of her weeping from her sleeping family. But she just couldn’t stop the cascade of tears.
Yes, she thought, I can forgive Gus. He’s a teenager.
What did he do that was so awful? Some mischief with the stupid portable toilets. Then he got stoned like a million other misguided American teenagers. But she could not forgive Hank, not anymore. Damn him. Most husbands were not getting stoned on Sunday afternoons that could be spent with their families; most husbands were not slapping their wives across the face. And if there were other husbands like that, well, Claire didn’t want to be married to any of them either. So now what did she do?
Claire knew she was strong—she’d had the twins via natural childbirth (twenty-six hours of labor), still ran three miles a day—but, shoot, she thought, you can be the strongest person in the world and still make some bad decisions and have a pretty miserable life.
Her cell phone rang. What the? Oh, who else? It was her sister Lizzie, the sister who lived seven miles from Gaby up in Housatonic.
“I wake you?” Lizzie asked.
“No, I’m just sitting up reading. You know me, Lizard. Read till I drop.”
“Nerd. Bookworm. I wanted to call earlier, but Mike was feeling good enough to go out to dinner. So we all stuffed ourselves down at Bub’s Barbecue.”
“How’s Mike doing?”
“Same. Good days and bad. Still telling jokes. He’s really a trouper. I admire him.”
“Well, at least you all had a little fun today. That’s good. I admire you.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Lizzie sighed. Then, with enthusiasm, she said, “Anyway, what do you think the story is with Gaby?”
“I think the story is that she’s getting married. To whom—I have no idea. Maybe Tom Hayden?”
“You don’t think she’s telling stories?”
“Mom loves a tease, a good mystery, but no. Anyway, I think it’s great.”
A pause. Claire spoke again.
“I said ‘I think it’s great.’ Don’t you?”
A shorter pause.
“I guess so. I mean, yes. Yes. I think it’s great.”
“What’s the matter, Liz? I need some backstory here.”
“It’s just…I know this is going to sound stupid. I know it’s irrational…but it seems like…I don’t know…I really miss Dad.”
“I hate to say this, Liz. This is tough for me. But do you think it has something to do with the fact that Mike is pretty sick right now?”
Loudly and almost jokingly Lizzie replied, “Well, of course it does, Dr. Phil.”
They both laughed like the good friends and confidantes they’d always been.
“What does Mike think about it?” Claire asked. “The wedding? The mystery groom?”
“He says there’s nothing the Summerhill women can do that would surprise him. Is Hank…somewhat with the program?”
He doesn’t have a fricking clue. “Oh, yeah. Hank’s a worrywart about the weather, but he thinks it will be fun.” Staying in South Carolina and smoking weed until he drops.
Another pause, a chance for Claire to talk her heart out, to spill about Hank the asshole. “So, you guys are good, though?” she asked her sister.
The chance to spill had passed.
“Yeah, we’re good, C. Nothing an extra ten thousand a year wouldn’t make better. But tomorrow I’m headed over to Mom’s house. I’ll get more information out of her. Mom will blab.”
“Forget it. My money’s on Mom,” said Claire. “Gaby wants everybody home for Christmas. And you know what, she’s right. We need to get together. And meet our new dad.”
They said their good-byes. Claire returned to her view of the beach. Why hadn’t she told Lizzie that she wanted to plunge a carving knife through Hank’s heart?
Why? For the same reason Lizzie never complained about having to drive Mike to chemo twice a week or about his being struck by cancer at thirty-six. Why? Because they were Summerhill women. And that’s the way Summerhill women had to be. Strong and tough. Claire and Lizzie and Emily and, of course, the strongest of them all, Gaby.
So who the hell are you marrying, Mom? Why the big secret? Why all the mystery? Claire was betting on Tom Hayden. But maybe it was Jacob Coleman. Jacob was a real cutie.
Emily Summerhill, Gaby’s youngest and, in many ways, most complicated daughter, had this small, muffled voice inside her head, a voice that said over and over again, “Run, Emily, run.”
It was private code for “Succeed, Emily, succeed.”
Run, Emily, run.
So Emily got into Wellesley. Emily got a 3.94 GPA. Then Emily got into Columbia Law School.
Run, Emily, run.
And Emily made Columbia Law Review and published the forty-page article “Medicaid Fraud: The Conundrum That Defies All Former Legal Precedents.” Alan Dershowitz sent her an e-mail calling it one of the best Review pieces he’d read in years.
Run, Emily, run.
And Emily became a senior associate at Dale, Hardy, Dunwoodie, a law firm responsible for defending major British oil companies against stringent American environmental regulations that weren’t consistently or uniformly enforced.
Run, Emily, run.
Excerpted from The Christmas Wedding by Patterson, James Copyright © 2011 by Patterson, James. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This
"If you enjoy family stories where the family seems as real as a your next door neighbors, and want to feel a bit of the magic of the holiday season then you're going to want to pick this book up. Normally when I think of James Patterson I think of action packed thrillers, but he can certainly pull of a nice Christmas time family story as well. Highly recommended!