#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER · A pair of sisters find themselves at a crossroads in this dazzling new novel from the author of Something Borrowed, Where We Belong, and The One & Only. First Comes Love is a story about family, friendship, and the courage to follow your own heart—wherever that may lead.
Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious, relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing, Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes, their delicate bond splinters.
Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter is assigned to her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands.
On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired.
As the anniversary of their tragedy looms, and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them but also come to terms with their own choices. In their journey toward understanding and forgiveness, both sisters discover that they need each other more than they knew—and that in the search for true happiness, love always comes first.
Praise for First Comes Love
“An engaging story of sisterly love . . . Illuminating and engrossing.”—People
“[Emily] Giffin delivers another emotionally honest work. . . . First Comes Love is a heart-stirring novel about the many layers of sibling rivalry.”—Associated Press
“First Comes Love brings [Giffin] back with a vengeance. Tales of sisters have been at the core of other great novels, but Giffin turns that relationship upside down and makes her view a fascinating one.”—Huffington Post
“Moving and complex, [First Comes Love] proves [that Emily Giffin is] still at the top of her game.”—Booklist
“Giffin juggles Josie’s quest for motherhood and Meredith’s internal conflicts deftly. . . . Giffin paints a realistic portrait of the troubled and complex relationship between a pair of sisters.”—Kirkus Reviews
“This is Giffin at her finest—a fantastic, memorable story.”—Publishers Weekly
“First Comes Love is an un-put-down-able, smart, and thoughtful novel that will make you think about the nature of family and how our past informs our present.”—PopSugar
“Giffin’s talent is pretty much unparalleled when it comes to the modern woman’s story about life, love and family.”—Redbook
“[A] well-written family drama.”—Real Simple
“Fans will be entertained by the author’s humor and satisfied by her storytelling”—Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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Emily Giffin is the author of eight internationally bestselling novels: Something Borrowed, Something Blue, Baby Proof, Love the One You’re With, Heart of the Matter, Where We Belong, The One & Only, and First Comes Love. A graduate of Wake Forest University and the University of Virginia School of Law, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and three children.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2016 Emily Griffin
Time is a tricky thing, Daniel said to his mother when he was still very young. When you wanted to savor something, it would speed by in a blur. When you wanted to get past something, it would drag on forever. Elaine Garland recorded the quote in her journal, because it was such an astute observation for an eight-year-old.
Much later, she would go back and read the entry, and think to herself that memories were that way, too. When you wanted to forget, everything would return in raw, brutal focus. When you wanted to remember, the details would slip away like a dream at dawn. It was that way for all of them now, though it was something they seldom discussed, at least not with one another. Nearly fifteen years had passed, both slowly and suddenly.
It happened the day after Daniel’s twenty-fifth birthday, and three days before Christmas. He was halfway through his third year of medical school at Yale, and had just returned home for the holidays following his clinical neuroscience rotation, bringing with him his girlfriend, Sophie, a beautiful, upper-crust Brit whom Daniel once called the most charming woman he’d ever met. The two had been dating for more than a year, but this was her first visit to Atlanta, as well as the first time meeting his parents and sisters. Everyone felt varying degrees of anxious, eager, hopeful. Elaine worried the most, both because she was the worrying kind and because Daniel didn’t have the best track record when it came to girls. His high school sweetheart had been clingy, his college girlfriend controlling.
But within seconds of their arrival, she felt enormous relief, taking to Sophie at once. A keeper, Rob called her, clearly proud that his son not only was in medical school but also could land such an exquisite creature. Daniel’s sisters approved as well, Josie dazzled by Sophie’s style and beauty, openly admiring her expensive European clothes and shoes, while Meredith, who often accused her sister of being shallow, liked Sophie in spite of those trappings. Most important, they could all tell that she brought out the best in Daniel—which was saying a lot. He was, without a doubt, the shining star of their family.
Sophie earned more points the following morning when she insisted that Daniel and Rob keep their long-standing father-son birthday-breakfast Waffle House tradition. She kissed him good- bye, pushed him out the door, then helped Elaine bake a chocolate cake from scratch, another Garland tradition.
“What was Daniel like as a child?” she asked as she awkwardly stirred the batter, after confessing she was clueless in the kitchen.
Elaine thought for a moment, then said he was exactly the same now as he’d always been. The classic, driven firstborn. A perfectionist. But also sensitive and sentimental, quirky and kind. “The only real difference is his temper,” she added with a laugh. “Thank goodness he grew out of that.”
“Oh? He used to have a temper, did he?” Sophie asked.
Elaine nodded, then told her favorite tantrum tale—the time Daniel hit his bedroom wall with a wooden bat after Josie scribbled pink crayon graffiti on his treasured Hank Aaron card. “You can still see the plaster where it was patched,” she said fondly.
“Wait. Is this the baseball card he still carries in his wallet?” Sophie asked, her accent making everything she said sound so earnest.
“That’s the one,” Elaine said, then went on to tell her about the home run Daniel hit the day after the incident—and how he had christened the card his good-luck charm.
That evening, they all went to Blue Ridge Grill for Daniel’s birthday dinner. Looking Ivy League sophisticated, Daniel wore a jacket, silver knot cuff links (his gift from Sophie), and sleek black loafers with a long European toe that were unlike anything in Rob’s preppy wardrobe. The two teased each other as they got out of the car at the valet stand: Where the hell did you get those, Danny boy? . . . Lose the old-man tassels, Dad. . . . You’re wearing enough hair gel to choke a horse. . . . At least I have hair.
Elaine knew their banter was a sign of their closeness, and her heart swelled with affection and gratitude as they were escorted to the round table near the fireplace that Rob always requested. She wasn’t sure when it had happened exactly, but her son was now a man, and very nearly a doctor, the first in their family. And it wasn’t just Daniel who was thriving. They were all in a good place, she thought. Rob was doing well at work, and hadn’t had a drink in three years. Their marriage wasn’t perfect, but it felt solid. Josie and Meredith were works in progress, one a little too wild, the other far too moody; yet each was following her passion, studying to be a teacher and an actress, respectively.
The conversation that night was smart and lively, heavy on current events. September 11 was still a fresh wound. The war in Afghanistan was under way. Enron had just filed for bankruptcy, and Winona Ryder had shoplifted. And in news that seemed to interest only Daniel and Sophie: the Earth’s record high barometric pressure had just been recorded in Mongolia—over a thousand hectopascals, a measurement that meant absolutely nothing to the rest of them but would remain lodged in Elaine’s brain for years to come.
“You’re such a nerd,” Josie ribbed her brother at one point, though she secretly admired his intelligence. She had always relied on the force of her personality, but a girl like Sophie made her rethink things, and she vowed to get more serious about her studies in her final, fifth-year stretch of college.
Meredith, too, reflected on her life that evening. She was as diligent and hardworking as her brother, but she was more of a loner than he, and often felt a void she could never quite pinpoint. Maybe it was love, she thought that night, watching Daniel with Sophie. Maybe that was what was missing.
After dinner, they went home to have cake in the dining room, Elaine pulling the good china and silver from the butler’s pantry. Rob lit twenty-five candles, then they all sang off-key (except for Sophie, who had a clear soprano voice) and watched Daniel close his eyes for several seconds before blowing out the flames in just one try.
“What did you wish for?” Josie asked, the way someone always did.
Of course Daniel wouldn’t say. He just smiled a secretive smile before Rob cut the cake and he opened his family presents— a leather briefcase from his parents, flannel pajamas from Josie, a coffee-table book about baseball from Meredith. They all retired a short time later, Elaine pretending that she didn’t hear the creaky floorboard outside the guest room.
The next morning she awoke early to the sound of rain on the roof and Rob packing for a quick trip to Memphis, his last-ditch effort to settle a case before year-end. She got up to make him coffee and send him on his way, then went to the gym with her daughters, all of them wishing to lose five pounds, especially knowing that after the holidays, it would be ten. They came home, showered, and spent the rest of that day shopping, fighting gridlock traffic and Lenox Square mall crowds, and getting into occasional squabbles with one another.
They returned home at dusk, just as Daniel was leaving to take Sophie to the airport for her red-eye back to London. The rain had finally cleared, but the temperatures had plummeted, and they stood in the driveway, shivering as they hugged and kissed and wished one another a very merry Christmas. As they got in the car, Sophie said a final thank you.
“We’ll see you soon,” Elaine replied, because she’d never liked saying goodbye.
About an hour later, as Elaine wrapped presents at the kitchen table, Daniel burst in the side door with a gust of cold and a trace of Sophie’s perfume. Elaine quickly drew a piece of wrapping paper over the slippers she was giving him and told him not to peek.
“I won’t,” Daniel said, shaking his head. He had never been one to peek, unlike his sisters, who prided themselves on finding the most cleverly hidden presents.
He sat at the table and sighed, looking wistful, clearly missing Sophie already.
“Where are the girls?” he asked—the way he always referred to Josie and Meredith.
“Meredith’s up in her room. . . . Josie went out . . . somewhere.”
He nodded, then helped her wrap, handing her pieces of tape or holding ribbon in place with his thumb while she tied. He wasn’t a big talker but was unusually chatty that night, and couldn’t stop gushing about Sophie. He confided that they were serious, committed to doing their surgical residencies together.
“You think she’s ‘The One’?” Elaine asked.
“I do,” he said, looking starry-eyed. “She’s so amazing . . . and I couldn’t imagine a better mother for my children.”
Elaine smiled at her son, thinking that as young and ambitious as he was, he seemed to understand what really mattered most in life. She wondered whether she and Rob deserved credit, or if he’d simply been born this way. She decided it was a little of both and kissed Daniel’s forehead before he went upstairs to shower.
On his way to his room, he passed by Meredith’s open door. She looked up and asked if she could borrow his Macy Gray CD. He went and got it for her, telling her to be careful, not to scratch it.
“I’m not Josie. I don’t trash things,” she said. She knew her expression was morose, but she couldn’t change it, blaming PMS, the weather, and her older sister, who had pissed her off before she left the house in jeans too tight and a top too small.
“You okay?” Daniel asked her.
“What do you mean?”
“You seem sad.”
“This is just my face,” she said.
He sat on the edge of her bed and asked her a few more questions about her acting classes and whether she liked anyone. As in a boy. She hesitated, very nearly telling him how lonely she’d lately felt, but decided against it. So he gave up and went to take his shower. After he left, she felt guilty that she hadn’t said anything about Sophie, how much she liked her. She would do that tomorrow. She would be nicer to everyone tomorrow, she told herself, closing her eyes and listening to Macy Gray singing, “I believe that fate has brought us here.”
About an hour later, after his shower, Daniel reemerged in the kitchen, his mother still busy putting ribbons on the tins of homemade cheese straws she always delivered to their neighbors.
“I’m running out for a quick burger,” he announced.
She glanced up at him and frowned. “With a wet head? You’ll catch a cold.”
He grabbed his Yale baseball cap and green plaid scarf from a hook by the door, put both on. Satisfied, she nodded, then returned her gaze to a big red bow.
“Be right back,” he told her as he opened the door.
“All righty,” she said, this time not looking up, not knowing that it would be the last thing she’d ever say to her son.
At Daniel’s funeral, Rob talked about those final days, what a good son he had been, how much he had loved his family and friends and Sophie. He talked about how proud he and his wife were of all that Daniel had accomplished, but how that paled in comparison to their pride in his character and compassion.
“He never once, in twenty-five years, let us down,” Rob said, his voice shaking, his pauses painfully long as he tried to keep it together. “Not once.”
Later, Elaine would wonder how many in that church thought her husband was exaggerating. Of course a father is going to speak in superlatives about his dead son. Of course he’s going to paint his child as extraordinary. Yet Daniel really was extraordinary, and sometimes it actually, illogically, seemed to her that being so special had made him more susceptible to tragedy. That if Daniel had been deeply flawed, or simply a more typical, aimless, inconsiderate twenty-something, off getting drunk or having meaningless sex with forgettable girls, then maybe he’d still be alive. But he was a golden child, too good for the world.
Sometimes she even asked herself if she’d make that trade—one of the endless variations of the pointless and cruel what-if game. What if Daniel hadn’t gone out to get that burger? What if she had insisted that she scramble him eggs instead? What if she had stalled him just long enough to tie the plaid olive-green scarf dangling around his neck, one side longer than the other? What if she had simply gone to him, kissed his unshaven cheek, said something, anything, more than all righty?
She knows the answers. She knows that’s all it would have taken for Daniel to miss the Denali sliding on a patch of ice at the intersection of Moores Mill and Northside, less than two miles from home. And that she would never have laid eyes on that soft-spoken, gray-haired officer who appeared in their doorway some thirty minutes later, his patrol lights casting eerie red and blue flashes across the front lawn. She wouldn’t have called Rob, frantically hitting redial, redial, redial until he finally answered from the airport in Memphis. She wouldn’t have had to say those words aloud to him, or to awaken Meredith moments later, repeating the news for the second time. She wouldn’t have tried in vain to track down Josie, before she drove to Grady Hospital with one of her three children, selfishly praying for a case of mistaken identity, hoping that it was anyone but Daniel. She wouldn’t have the horrifying memory of watching her now ex-husband, when he arrived later that night, clinging to their dead son, sobbing his name, again and again and again.
Instead, in an alternate universe, the one they all futilely imagined, Daniel would be happily married to Sophie, the father of two or three children. He would be practicing medicine somewhere, likely right here in Atlanta, making a real difference, saving lives. He would be turning forty at the end of this year, an older, wiser version of the young man he had been. The kind of person who understands that nothing is as important as family. That love comes first.
They tried to remind themselves of this—of what Daniel stood for and what he would have wanted for them. Sometimes they even made choices in his memory or imagined him watching from above. But that was just something they did, and it never really eased their pain. Instead, nearly fifteen years later, he would remain gone, and they were still right there where they’d always been. Still reeling, regretting, wondering what if.
It is the first day of school, a symbolic and hopeful fresh start, at least that’s what I tell myself as I stand before my captive, well- scrubbed audience of ten boys and eleven girls in my J. Crew finest— gold ballet flats, gray pants, and a pink, sequined sweater set. Sitting cross-legged on the braided rug, some children beam back at me, while others wear blank expressions, waiting without judging. It is...
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