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Pre-wedding jitters turn into serious doubts in this fresh and funny debut about tying the knot and untethering from the past...
Everyone’s expecting her to walk down the aisle.
But something is telling her to run.
Emma Moon's mother thinks it's acceptable to miss her only daughter's wedding rehearsal dinner for a work obligation. Her father left when she was six months old. Emma hasn't exactly been raised to be a happily-ever-after kind of girl.
So when her anxieties get out of hand, Emma and her best friend, Liv, decide to take a road trip to San Francisco, find her long-lost father, and put her family issues to rest.
But her quest for the truth stirs up events and emotions she didn’t expect. The urge to run away may just be a part of Emma’s genetic makeup, because she’s growing more and more tempted to do just that...
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Amy FitzHenry, a Virginia native, attended the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia School of Law. After law school, Amy practiced as a litigator in a large Los Angeles-based firm. She is currently living in LA and, when she isn’t writing, practices law as the in-house counsel for the global men’s health charity, the Movember Foundation. Cold Feet is her first novel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I’m not a particularly nervous flier, but like most people, I’m scared of turbulence. As soon as it begins I’m ready for it to end, urgently praying I’m not that one-in-a-million statistic. That morning, however, when sharp pockets of wind caused my hour-long flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles to morph from uneventful to hairy, I glanced up from my airport-purchased paperback. I took note of the tattooed woman on my right, who was violently gripping our supposedly shared armrest and staring out the window in fear. The plane rocked and rolled.
As the seat belt light pinged repeatedly and the captain urged the flight attendants to take their seats, I closed my eyes, ready for the adrenaline rush of fear to kick in, the inner bargaining to be a better person and the flat-out begging with any higher power to get us out of this alive.
My inner monologue, however, was silent. Was I braver? Probably not. More composed? Unlikely. More rational and thus less fearful of statistically improbable events? Not a chance. Then I figured it out. Near-death experiences are only scary if you have something to lose. My wedding was off, my family nonexistent, and my best friend in the world never wanted to speak to me again. Plane crash, schplane crash. Who cared?
One week earlier
I groped for the snooze button, but when I managed to reach my phone on the bedside table and bring it closer, I realized with a jolt that it wasn’t my alarm at all. Sitting up and attempting to clear my throat in order to sound as awake as possible, I braced myself and pressed accept.
“Hello, Emma. Are you still in bed?”
“No. Well, kinda. I was asleep when you called but I’m basically up.”
She didn’t linger on the inconsistency.
“I’m calling about your wedding. I have a slight change but I hope it won’t throw too much of a wrench in your plans.”
“I’m sure it’s fine. Did you want to switch to the vegetarian meal?” My mom, a lobbyist in Washington, becomes an herbivore every once in a while, usually when her anti-tobacco lobby makes a deal with a congressman to support his vegan outreach initiative in exchange for a cigarette packaging vote.
“Actually, it’s about the rehearsal dinner.”
“Oh, we’re having pasta, so you’ll be okay,” I answered, still half-asleep.
“No, Emma,” she said, clearly frustrated. “It’s not about the food.”
My mother, Caroline Moon, who most people call Caro, is one of those brilliant people who can’t understand why everyone else isn’t automatically keeping up with her hopscotching thoughts. I wanted to remind her that I was on West Coast time and still in bed, thus at an unfair disadvantage. I looked over at Sam, my fiancé, who was somehow managing to sleep through the passive aggression emanating through the airwaves.
“It’s the scheduling of the rehearsal dinner on a Friday night,” she said, as if referring to a peculiar Samoan wedding ritual, rather than what everyone in the world who was getting married on a Saturday did, ever. “I don’t think I’ll be able to make it.”
I was silent, not sure how I was supposed to feel about this, although like I’d been punched in the stomach jumped to mind.
“I’ll be at the wedding, of course,” she added in a rush, with the first note of something like guilt creeping in. “Unfortunately, a congressional hearing was scheduled for Friday and I have to be there. I can fly out Friday evening, directly to Santa Barbara, and I’ll get in around midnight. I’ll be there for the whole day on Saturday.”
Wow, you’ll be there the whole day of my wedding, Mom? Let’s not get carried away.
I pushed away the sarcastic responses that popped to mind. “Sure, well . . . okay. I understand. The rehearsal dinner is kind of a joke anyway, right? I mean, why do we need to practice eating dinner?” I sounded like a bad stand-up act from the ’90s. I had the tendency to act awkward and unnatural around my mother, like a robot programmed with lame one-liners and pointless observations.
“Seriously, it’s fine,” I added.
“Great. I’m glad we cleared that up. I’ll see you in a week.” Caro hung up without passing Sam a hello or asking for a single detail on the wedding, which I gather is something the mother of the bride usually cares a bit about. In fact, our only substantial communications about the wedding specifics thus far were my phone call to ask her if the date worked, my formal invite, and her postcard RSVP, which she returned in the prestamped envelope, with a careful checkmark next to: Yes, see you there!
To be fair, I’d set the precedent. When we decided to have the wedding in California, I e-mailed her the details. When I picked my dress, she wasn’t consulted. She had no idea whether or not we were writing our own vows (absolutely not). But honestly, getting her input at this point would have just been strange. I wasn’t trying to be mean, but I wasn’t going to be fake and pretend we were best friends either. For most of my life, my mother and I have behaved like two mothers in a playgroup who don’t really like each other, but whose kids are friends—stilted, slightly uncomfortable, but for the most part polite.
“What’s up with your mom?” Sam asked, coming to life.
“Oh, no big deal. She can’t come to the rehearsal dinner. It’s not a big deal.”
Shoot. It’s a universal truth that the second time you state something isn’t a big deal, it automatically is.
“Oh no,” he said, sitting up with concern. “Are you okay?”
“Sure.” I pushed off the covers. “It’s fine. But let’s not talk about it right now. I should get going.”
He looked concerned, but didn’t press it. Sam’s like that. He likes to let things sink in, to consider all the options, before he decides how to act. Whereas I enjoy jumping to conclusions, behaving impulsively, and making snap judgments. I like to think this is a result of our chosen professions. I’m a lawyer, which requires me to think fast on my feet and be ready to respond within seconds to any argument from opposing counsel. I try not to advertise the lawyer thing too much, since after meter maids they are the number one most hated group in America. This strategy works pretty well in Los Angeles. Since I’m not in the entertainment industry, no one really cares what my job is. People usually end up discovering my chosen career path when someone we know gets a DUI. A mutual friend will suggest, Why don’t you ask Emma for advice; she’s a lawyer. This is usually followed by a look of disgust, a few bad jokes, and thirty questions about the best place to hide drugs. The trunk, people, the trunk!
Sam, on the other hand, is a screenwriter. He spends days thoughtfully crafting the perfect dialogue for a scene, or pondering the best way to tie the end of a movie together. It’s a job he loves, despite having struggled to sell a movie in the last couple of years and his constant frustration with the industry. But besides having normal job stress, he’s one of the most stable, optimistic people I’ve ever met.
Sam was out of bed, heading toward the kitchen. “Get ready for work, but I’m cooking you breakfast, so save time to eat. I’m making breakfast for my almost wife.”
Climbing into the shower, I considered his sweet words. I was an almost wife. He was an almost husband. I repeated these variations silently, attempting to wrap my head around them. I felt weird, weirder than normal, probably due to Caro’s unexpected wake-up call. It’s only a rehearsal dinner, I reminded myself. Her presence probably would have stressed me out anyway, wondering if she was having fun and making a futile attempt to connect over the bruschetta. But she was supposed to sit next to me, I thought involuntarily. She was supposed to represent the entirety of the Moons. Well, technically, I reminded myself, taking a deep breath and attempting to untwist the knot in my chest, this behavior was a perfect representation of the Moons.
If I could use one word to describe my family, it would be absent. My parents weren’t that bad. They didn’t withhold food or lock me in a closet. They just weren’t there. My mother, emotionally, and my father, physically. In fact, I’d never even met the guy. All I knew about him was that his name was Hunter Moon, he was from San Francisco, and he’d left when I was a baby. Also, that he sounded like he could be a werewolf with that name.
My mom and I aren’t close, so logically it shouldn’t have mattered if she was there on Friday, but there’s just something about your mom. Do you know the first thing Albert Einstein did in 1919, when his theory of relativity was proven? He wrote a postcard to his mom telling her about it. And I’m pretty sure she didn’t respond, Sounds nice, dear, but I’m too busy with work to deal with you right now. But Caro wasn’t rejecting my first space-time discovery. It was just a dinner, albeit a relatively important one. I halfheartedly congratulated myself on the pun.
Funnily enough, Sam, who should have been experiencing the traditional male commitment-phobe freak-out and making unfunny ball-and-chain jokes, seemed perfectly comfortable with our plan to be together for the rest of our lives. He never seemed to question it, whereas I worried endlessly how two people could possibly stay together forever and be happy.
Standing in the hot shower, already embarrassed about explaining my mother’s absence to Sam’s family on Friday, I realized how much more likely I was to fail at this marriage than Sam. I wasn’t being hard on myself. It was a perfectly logical assumption based on one of my favorite things—the Law. Specifically, a very famous case from the 1920s in which plaintiff Mrs. Helen Palsgraf sued the Long Island Railroad. The case that introduced the American justice system to a concept vital to all lawsuits today: foreseeability.
You see, in 1924, Mrs. Palsgraf was waiting on a train platform in New York minding her own business, when out of nowhere, fireworks struck the tracks. This, understandably, caused a panic, and a few scales fell off the overhang of the platform, right on top of poor Mrs. P. Who carries fireworks on a train, you ask? Furthermore, who drops them? I don’t know, some moron. That’s not the point. The point is, when poor innocent Mrs. Palsgraf sued the railroad for her pain, suffering, and other damages, the court said, Sorry, you don’t get a dime. Why? Because, the judges wrote, who could have predicted such an occurrence? Who could have known a bonehead with a box of fireworks would be boarding the train and they would accidentally go off? It wasn’t even the Fourth of July.
In a much-quoted opinion, the New York Court of Appeals explained that Mrs. Palsgraf could not be compensated by the railroad, and that it wasn’t their fault, because her injuries were not foreseeable, which established the rule that in order for a defendant to be held liable for damages, the plaintiff’s injuries had to be somewhat predictable. Someone can only be held responsible for injuries that could have been foreseen and prevented. This was hugely important in the law because it placed a great limit on liability, and hugely important to my morning shower because I was beginning to realize how likely it was that I was about to drop a box of explosive pyrotechnics into my relationship.
Based on circumstances and history, it was completely foreseeable that I was going to fail at this marriage. I was a by-product of the two emotional car wrecks Caroline Moon and Hunter Moon. I was a marriage liability waiting to happen. After all I had the Moon gene, accompanied by characteristics that include a tendency to leave, an inability to maintain emotional connection, and a dash of self-destruction. Bailing on marriage, or screwing up to the point where Sam left me, was completely foreseeable. If I ruined this, I would have no one to blame but myself. And, of course, my parents for making me this way.
After pondering Sam and my future for what felt like hours, the water started to get chilly and I realized that a cold shower would not be a positive addition to my mood.
Getting out and reaching for the one fluffy guest towel I owned as a special treat to myself, I tried to shake off a lurking feeling of doom and reclassify the foreshadowing of marital failure as morning fog. After all, weren’t thoughts like these normal the week before your wedding?
In the kitchen the air smelled of coffee and eggs sizzled on the burner. I was momentarily cheered. Sam is an excellent cook of breakfast meals, but once it gets to be about noon, he’s out. Presumably this has something to do with the first love of his life, bacon.
“Sugar?” Sam asked, stirring my embarrassing choice of two sugar cubes, along with a drop of milk, into a steaming mug. With his springy blond hair and startlingly blue eyes he constantly looks like he’s auditioning for the role of a cherub. As always, when I looked directly into his eyes I was surprised at how cute he was. It was like unwrapping a present each time I saw him. I smoothed down my dark blond hair (I prefer this description to “dirty”), and tried to look like a sexy librarian rather than the nerd I felt like in my suit, or as I called it, my lawyer costume.
“Thanks, buddy.” I went over to the stove where he was pushing the eggs around with a spatula and meticulously adding shakes of salt and pepper. I hugged him from behind, resting my head on his back. I didn’t know what I was so worried about in the shower. I definitely wanted to be with Sam. Maybe the problem was that we didn’t live together yet, so I wasn’t used to the idea of joining our lives, and subsequently, I was still a little scared of the concept of marriage. Maybe once he moved himself and all of his stuff in, it would feel more real. I looked around my little house, imagining it getting even smaller.
After Venice Beach went from gang-ridden and grimy to artsy and hip—the most complete of coincidences to my residential status—it became incredibly difficult to find an affordable place to live in my neighborhood. I was lucky to find a tiny studio bungalow that I could afford, five blocks from the beach, on a tiny tree-lined street. Contrary to popular belief, just because I was a corporate lawyer didn’t mean I had a whole lot of spare cash. Nope, that bitch Sallie Mae took care of that.
My little house was extremely compact, but beautifully made. It had built-in shelves, large French windows, and a gorgeous ceramic kitchen sink. But the outside was the real selling point. The gate to the house led you into a secret garden–esque front yard, stuffed with thick palm trees, thick succulents, and lush flowers. All of this vegetation provided a filter for the constant Los Angeles sunlight, which shone through the palm fronds and created a lovely pattern throughout my house every afternoon. It’s a fact of life that all girls have been longing for a secret garden ever since they read the book. Finally, at the age of twenty-nine, I had one. Although in reality I had nothing to do with the sprawling vines or the delicately blooming flowers (my neighbors, landscape architects who loved to experiment on my yard, took care of...
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Book Description Penguin Group 2015-09-01, 2015. Paperback. Condition: New. Paperback. Publisher overstock, may contain remainder mark on edge. Seller Inventory # 9780425281116B
Book Description Berkley. PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 0425281116 Ships from Tennessee, usually the same or next day. Seller Inventory # Z0425281116ZN
Book Description Berkley, 2015. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0425281116