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This isn’t your typical wedding-themed romance. Most chick-lit tomes don’t explore such issues . . . That’s what sets this novel apart, and Alan tempers the seriousness with doses of humor for a compelling mix. To that, add well-developed characters, interesting subplots, and a satisfying happy ending, and this is a strong effort that will surprise and delight readers.

Chapter One

      You are not the first, and you are definitely not the last.

Graffiti written in block letters with a black permanent marker in a bathroom stall at Mickie’s Pub in Denver, Colorado.  

And probably, you are not the best. Graffiti written just below in red ink.

The graffiti makes me groan. I’m trapped in this stall, paralyzed by the words scrawled on the door in front of me. Here’s the deal: my boyfriend, Will, who is sitting downstairs drinking beer and listening to music, blissfully unaware that I’m up here having a conniption fit, is thirty-four and divorced. (I’m thirty-one and never married.) He doesn’t have any kids, and his divorce sounds about as amicable as a divorce can get, but I can’t help it—I’m wracked with jealousy over his ex. I can’t even bring myself to call her by name; I think of her as X. A big, slashing, Zorro-like, blood-dripping-down-like-on-a-poster-for-a-horror-movie X.

It’s so painful for me to think that the love of my life once vowed to spend his life with another woman when he should have known to wait for me. I know my desire is unreasonable, and I’m not even sure why it bothers me so much. I used to have a long-term boyfriend who had once been married, and I never gave his ex-wife a second thought. Somehow though, with Will, thoughts of X just kill me. And the intellectual in me knows that if you’re going to wait around until your thirties to get married, your choices are either going to be men who are afraid of commitment or divorcees or the real whammy, men who are divorced and are now afraid of commitment. But I still don’t like it.

And here’s why:

1) Will will always have met X a decade before he met me. He and X were younger, thinner, and he had more hair when they got married. His photos with X will forever be wrinkle free, and I admit it, I’m jealous I didn’t get him first.

2) I can’t seem to stop myself from asking questions about her. Why I do this to myself is clearly an exercise in masochism. Everyone knows that after a certain point there is no reason to get details about how many sex partners your New Boyfriend or New Girlfriend has had, the wildest/best sex NB/NG has had, who NB’s/NG’s first love was, etc. You just don’t do it.

Except, I do. The answers to my questions inevitably just add salt to my already raw wound. For example, I asked him once what X did for a living. He said that when they were together she worked in human resources, but before he met her, she’d been a stripper. He laughed when he said that. “We were married when I found out,” he said. “She waited a good long time to tell me. It bothered me for a while, but now I think it’s funny.”

That makes one of us. A woman who isn’t afraid to get up on stage and take off her clothes in front of men is—I’m venturing a wild guess here—going to be a little more free about her body than oh, say for example, me. There are women who can pull off high heels, garters, and all manner of ridiculous and impractical undergarments. I am decidedly not one of these women. And while I think my bras and Victoria’s Secret underwear are perfectly pretty, sometimes maybe even a little sexy—lace, vibrant colors, lots of black, etc.—they are a far cry from see-through merriwidows and crotchless panties. Feelings of merriwidow inadequacy have me in an emotional chokehold.

3) He told me X is outgoing and fun. I fear that I am not. I would never been confused for being a party animal, for example, unlike X whose party exploits are well known among Will’s circle of friends. When I asked Will what made him fall for X in the first place, he told me he liked how friendly and outgoing she was. “In what ways was she outgoing?” I, like an idiot, asked. “Like say she’s at a bar or a party. She introduces herself to everyone in the room and makes friends with everybody. She’s always the life of the party. Like this one time we had a get together, and when everyone was good and liquored up she went around taking all the women’s bras and then throwing them on the ceiling fan—”

Let me take this opportunity to assure you right now, if you had any doubts: I would never do such a thing. For one thing, this seems a ridiculous activity and it would simply never occur to me. I’m telling you, no amount of drunkenness would ever be enough for me to come up with such a scheme. For another thing, I’m not a go-braless kind of girl. I’m busty as hell, which makes it pretty much a medical necessity that I wear a bra at all times. I mean I need serious architecture to keep things more or less in place. Let’s say I was unharnessed and had to move quickly for some reason—a fire, say—the inevitable mammary backlash could wallop me in the face at best, or, at worst, leave me in traction with the kind of concussion where the resulting amnesia is life long.

I pull myself together enough to exit the stall. I splash water on my face and look at myself in the mirror. I’ve met a wonderful man. I have a mostly good job. Why can’t I just celebrate how great my life is? Why do I do this to myself: Indulging in feelings of self-doubt? But every now and then I can’t seem to stop dissecting my flaws in painful detail. Like now.

My failings (a sampling):

1. I’m a worrier. An insomniac. A panic-er over things trivial.

2. I can’t cook for shit. It doesn’t seem like this should be a challenging activity, but I’m hopeless. The other night I tried to make a simple meal of pasta and garlic bread for Will and me. The pasta was just about done, but the garlic bread was still frozen in the middle, so I cranked up the heat in the oven to hasten the heating of the bread, and then I took the pasta off the stove and poured it into the colander. This is where things went terribly wrong. I gave the colander an overly exuberant toss, and spaghetti went everywhere—the counter, the sink, and most distressingly, down the garbage disposal. Will was at the table finishing his salad as I went into panicked pasta retrieval mode, peeling spaghetti noodles off the counter and salvaging what I could from the sink and then cleaning it all off. Meanwhile I called from the kitchen, “Everything’s fine in here! Dinner’s almost ready!” Unfortunately, half of our dinner went down the drain, and as I’d gone on a pasta scavenger hunt, the garlic bread had been solidified to the consistency of a crouton. I served poor Will about four spaghetti noodles and the garlic-flavored crouton and assured him I’d make us some microwaved popcorn right after our “dinner.”

3. I have a tendency to focus on the negative, as I believe I’ve illustrated here. It doesn’t matter that I know how stupid my destructive thoughts are, I can’t seem to stop myself. Logically, I know that Will does not care if I’m the type of woman who gathers women’s undergarments and drapes them from the rafters. There are plenty of good things about me. I’m a successful small business owner. I’m fairly smart. I kick ass at Scrabble. I try to remind myself of the good things about me, but sometimes thoughts of my flaws supercede everything else. Will and I have only been together for six months, but he’s the first guy I thought I might want to spend my life with. After our second date, I emailed all my girlfriends and told them that I might just change my mind about marriage after all. Before Will, I thought I didn’t want to get married. I don’t mean that I wanted to spend my life alone or anything. I did want to find someone to share my life with. I just didn’t think I wanted to do it with all the official trappings that signing a marriage certificate brings. Here’s why:

1) My parents are divorced and it was a brutal, fangs-bared type affair. I never want to go through anything like that.

2) Too many of my friends and colleagues have been cheated on and/or gotten divorced. I could blame the failure of my parents’ marriage on the fact they were so young when they got married. Not so with my friends. They all thought they’d be different. They were wrong.

3) I had a friend who was separated from her husband. The guy died in a freak accident, and it turned out he was more than two hundred thousand in debt from gambling and bad investments. Even though they’d been separated for more than a year, she had to pay for it all. Taking on someone else’s debt terrifies me. (See point one about my parents’ divorce—they bickered endlessly about money. Needless to say, I have issues.)

Then came Will and everything changed. I’m not sure exactly why, but soon after meeting him I could barely stop myself from buying the phone-book-thick bridal magazines adorning the racks at the grocery store. After our first kiss, I could envision the engagement ring on my finger. I actually missed it, almost sensed it on my finger. You know how when you forget to put your watch on, and then all day at work you look at your bare wrist, feeling naked? You can actually feel the ghost of the watch, the palpable absence of it. That’s how I felt about my left ring finger except, and this is key, there had never been a ring there to miss. It’s lunacy. We haven’t been dating long enough to even think about marriage. He hasn’t even met any of my family yet since they are spread out all across the country. Dad is still in Chicago where I grew up, my younger sister Sienna is in New York trying to launch a career as a comedian, and my mother is out in California with her second husband. But who cares about them. I want the ring. I’ve become Gollum from Lord of the Rings. Give me the ring. Give me my precious. My precious ring. I should defend myself and tell you that it was really more than a couple dates that made me crazy about him. I knew Will pretty well even before we actually met.

I found him online. I’d been searching the online personals for months, and I just could not find a guy I was interested in. The challenge is that I live in Colorado, but I’m not an outdoorsy person, which makes me quite the exception ‘round these parts. Coloradoans are a ridiculously outdoorsy people as a rule. I would say about eighty percent of the men around Denver put up personal ads that say something to the effect of “I love to ski, mountain climb, fish, golf, camp, hang glide, hunt, scuba, snorkel, kayak, snow board, mountain bike, go four-wheeling, and scale cliff faces. I love watching baseball, football, hockey, tennis, and basketball. I live life to the fullest and would like a woman who I can trek the Himalayas with and train for marathons alongside.”

I got tired just reading them. I did not want to be dragged up a mountain on a week-long hike. I did not want to pee in the woods, sleep in nature, or commune with insects. Where was a guy who just wanted to talk, drink, screw, and see a good movie once in a while? Of the twenty percent or so who weren’t tri-athletes, most of them had something else about them that was a deal breaker for me like they weren’t attractive or couldn’t spell for shit. Many of the guys posting ads wrote things that looked like they’d taken a running leap onto their keyboard and then hit send. Like this one, repeated here verbatim:

i&*$%%m lookin for womin who is prety, intelegent (I ask you, to misspell “intelligent”!?  The nerve!) and wers thong underwear. I&*@%%ve a heart of gold

I’d nearly given up hope. Then came Will. I liked his picture—he has a sexy smile, kind eyes, and cool glasses—so I clicked on his profile to learn more. His ad read “I think my friends would describe me as funny and smart. I’ve been told that I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, and that I am one of the easiest going people around. I work with computers for a living, which I generally enjoy. For fun, I enjoy live music, movies, restaurants, dancing (though not the ballroom variety—trust me, it’s not pretty), travel etc. I am a guitar player (not bad), a golfer (not good) and willing to try most anything once (anything, that is, that doesn’t involve throwing oneself out of a perfectly good aircraft).” As soon as I read that he had no desire to toss himself out of plane, I thought, there’s my man. Also, I needed a guy who was easygoing. I’m high strung enough for two people. I need a yin to my stressed-out yang. The fact that he played the guitar was also a plus. A guy who plays guitar is somehow intrinsically sexy.