Once and for all A novel

Sarah Dessen

Book - 2017

Louna's years working at her mother's wedding planning business--as well as the tragic end of her first love--have shaped her cynical views on romance, but the arrival of serial-dater Ambrose may start to change Louna's mind and give her a second chance at love.

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New York, New York : Viking 2017.
Main Author
Sarah Dessen (author)
Physical Description
357 pages ; 22 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by New York Times Review

Smart and zany, "The Go-Between" is the Y.A. book we could all use right now, set in a milieu rarely seen in pop culture: that of privileged Mexicans who don't have to sneak across the border - they have private jets. Camilla del Valle, the 16-year-old daughter of a telenovela star, never gives her ethnicity a second thought until her family relocates from Mexico City to Beverly Hills. At her boho private school, the other kids assume she's poor and on scholarship - which she does nothing to clear up, at first for fun and then because she doesn't know how. The result is plenty of comedy (she pretends to take the bus but secretly calls Ubers) but also cleareyed observations about race, class, identity and assimilation. Chambers (the Amigas series, "Plus"), who has co-authored memoirs by the chefs Eric Ripert and Marcus Samuelsson, even works in a captivating side plot about Cammi's developing passion for cooking, sparked by the school's hip African-American chef. The novel's characters may help readers see the complexities behind labels like "white" and "Latina," in a refreshingly un-preachy way. "Sure, they were a little racist," Camilla says about her Los Angeles friends. "But maybe we all are." THE LEAF READER By Emily Arsenault 230 pp. Soho Teen. $18.99. (Ages 14 and up) An occult thriller about tea-leaf reading may sound campy, but fear not - this first Y.A. novel by Arsenault ("In Search of the Rose Notes") is nothing like the movie "Ouija." Marnie, a high school junior, is self-conscious about her "bag lady" status. Her mother is AWOL, her brother just got out of rehab and her grandmother is a hoarder. When Marnie finds an old book about tasseomancy, she starts playing with fortunetelling. "I'd always liked the idea that your brain - or maybe the universe - could be trying to tell you secrets with little signs or symbols," she says. At first Marnie doesn't even believe her own readings. But her prophecies are on target, leading a star athlete, Matt, to ask for a reading. He's been getting emails from a female classmate who went missing months ago. There's a lot going on in this very skillfully constructed novel: the mystery behind the missing girl, the back story of Mamie's family, the fraught dynamic between Matt and Marnie (does he really like her or is he just using her?), the punishing class divisions of a small town. Arsenault never pushes the supernatural angle too hard, letting Marnie, and the reader, skate on the suspenseful edge of skepticism and belief. MIDNIGHT AT THE ELECTRIC By Jodi Lynn Anderson 272 pp. Harper Teen. $17.99. (Ages 14 and up) You could say that human history features two types of people: those who stay and those who leave. Anderson's ("Tiger Lily") moody, mesmerizing novel, an unusual hybrid of science fiction and historical fiction, is devoted to the restless souls who want to get the heck out. ft's 2065 and the Earth is dying because of climate change. Adri, a 16-year-old orphan, is training to join a team heading to Mars. Smart and resourceful, she's unable to relate to others. Sent to the Kansas home of a relative, she finds a journal and letters that tell the stories of Catherine, a teenager who lived there in 1934, and Lenore, a young woman in war-ravaged 1919 England determined to escape to the States. It's hard to forget Catherine's parched Dust Bowl farm, where even the morning toast and eggs are coated with grit, and fans of futuristic fiction will be drawn to Anderson's vision of flooded cities, space travel and inventions like the KitchenLite, used to print edible eggs and bacon. As the connection between the three women is satisfyingly revealed Adri, drawn to the long-dead strangers, begins to understand the human instincts to love, connect and leave something behind. Mars, she realizes, "would have a history one day too, and she would be a part of it." JUST FLY AWAY By Andrew McCarthy 260 pp. Algonquin. $17.95. (Ages 12 and up) Women who came of age watching John Hughes movies hold a special place in their hearts for McCarthy, a.k.a. the sensitive dreamboat Blane in "Pretty in Pink." Now a well-regarded travel writer, TV director and occasional actor, he has published his first novel - and it's fantastic, even if you're too young to have given a hoot about those twinkly eyes of his. Lucy Willows, who's 15, learns she has an 8-year-old half brother living right in her New Jersey town, the result of a brief affair her father had. Outraged by her father's betrayal and furious at her mother's seeming complacence, she hops a train, landing unannounced at the Maine home of her grandfather, a man she's met exactly once before. The story's unexpected turns will keep readers rapt, and Lucy's voice - reserved, blunt, sarcastic - feels as bone true as that of any Y.A. character in recent memory. McCarthy has real insight into the way adolescents withdraw emotionally, wrapping themselves in protective cocoons of silence. He captures that fleeting moment when a teenager knows she's doing something stupid but can't help herself. "The worse 1 felt, the more difficult it was to respond to him," she says of her boyfriend, a decent guy she cuts off without explanation, ft's a debut as stark and striking as the Maine landscape. WANT By Cindy Pon 327 pp. Simon Pulse. $18.99. (Ages 14 and up) Yep - it's another Y.A. novel set in a brutal future where society has been divided into haves and have-nots. And bingo! ft's up to a gutsy young have-not to take on the system. But before you dismiss Pon's book as yet another "Divergent" wannabe, stop and smell the pork buns. The novel's setting is a futuristic Taipei, vividly conjured: Markets sell live snakes for medicine, music blares in Mandarin, Taiwanese and English and characters chow down on steamed dumplings, rice porridge, eggplants in oyster sauce and stir-fried long beans "slathered in garlic and scallions." This is a dystopian thriller with flavor. Taipei's society is split into the wealthy you and the underclass mei. The you wear special suits and helmets that protect them from the city's pollution and viruses; the mei are destined to die by age 40. Our protagonist, the orphaned Jason Zhou, is part of a group determined to destroy Jin Corp, the pollution-generating company that manufactures the suits. Posing as privileged, Jason infiltrates you society, only to fall for Daiyu, daughter of Mr. Jin himself. While there's not a lot of nuance in this world of moral certainties, Pon does a bang-up job packing in skyscraper-scaling, flying (on airborne mopeds), hand-to-hand combat and hightech espionage. The world she's created is positively chilling. "Seeing each other face-to-face like this felt odd," Jason thinks, on first meeting Daiyu. "We'd become a society that barely showed our faces to strangers anymore." ONCE AND FOR ALL By Sarah Dessen 357 pp. Viking. $19.99. (Ages 12 and up) The world of high-end wedding planning might seem like a stretch for a Y.A. novel. Then again, from the view of a teenager, what is a wedding but the ultimate party, complete with open bars, conga lines and a chance to meet a cute stranger? Dessen has been turning out Y.A. best sellers since the '90s, and her storytelling has a breezy, Hollywood-style polish. Louna Barrett is the 17-year-old daughter of a society wedding planner. She's cynical about romance, prone to world-weary quips about delusional brides - partly because she's grown up in the wedding biz, partly because a year earlier a mysterious trauma left her with "a hard little rock of a heart." Then she meets Ambrose, a girl magnet whose "lazy, rich boy smile" rubs her the wrong way. We know they'll end up sparring, flirting and falling for each other, but the plot is buoyed by crackly dialogue and the comical series of over-the-top weddings the two help produce, which serve as foils to their own budding relationship. The story is bogged down by overwrought melodrama during flashbacks to our heroine's major tragedy, but still, it's a satisfyingly escapist rom-com that knows what it needs to deliver. "Attention from a cute boy," Louna muses. "You could power the world with it." ? CATHERINE hong, a contributing editor at Elle Decor, blogs about children's books at mrslittle.com.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [July 30, 2017]
Review by Booklist Review

For Louna, weddings are a science: she can handle out-of-control bridesmaids, nervous brides, and missing ring bearers, and she knows exactly what to do with fresh flowers, fairy lights, and mason jars (they're so in right now). Louna's mom, Natalie, is a sought-after wedding planner, and for Natalie (divorced) and her business partner, William (chronically single), romance is a science, too: they're scarily accurate when it comes to betting on how long a marriage will last. Louna, though, believes she's already had her romance a summer-fling-turned-real that ended tragically. So when no-strings serial dater Ambrose barrels into her life, Louna is immune to his charms. But life, it seems, doesn't always go as planned. Dessen, the newest recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award, offers up her thirteenth novel, and it's everything readers have come to love about her work. It's a familiar romp fans of Dexter, the erstwhile hero of Dessen's This Lullaby (2002), will undoubtedly fall for Ambrose. Wedding bells or not, no one else does summer love like Dessen. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Dessen's been on a career-long winning streak. She's practically synonymous with summer, and a massive marketing campaign will get this into waiting hands.--Reagan, Maggie Copyright 2017 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Actor Vacker captures both humor and tragedy in Dessen's latest YA novel, about a 17-year-old whose summer job is assisting her mother in her high-end wedding-planning business. Surrounded by a clientele of couples in love at work, Louna is constantly reminded of the love she lost when her long-distance boyfriend, Ethan, was killed in a school shooting. Over the years, she has become increasingly skeptical about the nature of love after seeing several extravagant weddings end in divorce. Enter Ambrose, the handsome-but-unpredictable son of a client whom Louna's mother has hired to help out for the summer as well. At first, Louna and Ambrose clash on the job, but their thorny relationship slowly evolves to friendship with a hint of romance over the course of the novel, which includes intermittent flashbacks to Louna's relationship with Ethan. Reader Vacker convincingly enacts the range of emotions and array of attitudes experienced by the teenage protagonist, including love, heartbreak, grief, cynicism, longing, and admiration for her mother. She provides unique voices for the other characters. The adolescent boys-Ethan and Ambrose-are consistently distinguishable, and Louna's mother gets the mature air of a successful business owner, who, like her daughter, is steeled against love after a brief first marriage to Louna's father but is nevertheless dedicated her work. Vacker's skilled performance draws attention to the changes in the characters and their relationships in this satisfying audiobook. Ages 12-up. A Viking hardcover. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up-Dessen's 13th novel features family, friendship, summertime memories, and the raw reality of the wedding industry. Seventeen-year-old Louna is looking forward to leaving for school in the fall, but her best friend, Jilly, is determined that they "make memories" this summer. Louna's mother, Natalie, is a hippie-turned-wedding planner (and major cynic) who works with her daughter and her best friend and business partner, William. Through a series of flashback chapters, readers learn of Louna's first love, Ethan, and how they met at a wedding. This whirlwind one-night love story is somewhat difficult to invest in, particularly when listeners learn about its tragic end. Narrator Karissa Vacker manages to keep listeners captivated, even when the story line stalls. She captures Jilly's bubbly personality, Louna's melancholy, Natalie's matter-of-fact tone, and even Ethan's slight New Jersey accent. Her pacing is spot-on, with hesitations and pauses expertly placed. VERDICT Although this selection falls a little short on plot, the excellent narration and the wide readership of Dessen's 12 previous novels ensure its spot on the shelf.-April Everett, Rowan County Information Systems, NC © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Louna finds her cynicism about romance challenged when her family's wedding business hires Ambrose.After years facing brides with cold feet and badly behaved wedding guests, Louna has become skeptical about romance and plans on remaining single during her last summer before college. Luckily, the busy wedding schedule provides plenty of legitimate excuses for Louna to avoid opportunities to meet potential dates. That changes when satisfying a particularly fussy bridal party requires hiring the bride's brother, Ambrose. He's a lady's man who typically charms more than one potential date during every social gathering. But he professes honesty about his dating motivations, expresses genuine interest in his dates, and displays a sort of oddly enchanting "aw, shucks" dismissal of his ability to reel in girls. Louna's outwardly dismayed by his antics, but his clichd (but adorable) gestures, such as impulsively adopting a rescue dog, begin to win her over. However, Louna's still tormented by the unexpected death of her first love. Flashbacks to their relationship combined with the way she reluctantly accepts the need to move forward too provide a bittersweet counterpoint to the traditional rom-com storyline. Louna's lovingly depicted gay godfather provides a bit of diversity in the otherwise apparently straight, white cast. Romance, humor, kindhearted characters, and a touch of painful reality make this another sure bet for Dessen fans. (Romance. 12-16) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

CHAPTER 1   WELL, THIS was a first.   "Deborah?" I said as I knocked softly, yet still with enough intensity to convey the proper urgency, on the door. "It's Louna. Can I help you with anything?"   According to my mother, this was Rule One in dealing with this kind of situation: don't project a problem. As in, don't ask if anything is wrong unless you are certain some­thing is, and as of right now, I was not. Although a bride lock­ing herself in the anteroom of the church five minutes after the wedding was supposed to begin did not exactly bode well.   From the other side of the door, I heard movement. Then a sniffle. Again, I wished William, my mother's partner and the company's appointed bride whisperer, was here instead of me. But he'd gotten hooked into another crisis involving the groom's mother taking issue with preceding the bride's mom down the aisle, even though everyone knew that was how the etiquette went. Work in the wedding business long enough, however, and you learn that everything has the potential to be a problem, from the happy couple all the way down to the napkins. You just never know.   I cleared my throat. "Deborah? Can I bring you a water?"   It wasn't ever the true solution, but a water never hurt: that was another one of my mother's beliefs. Instead of a response, the lock clicked, the door rattling open. I looked down the stairs behind me, praying I'd see William ap­proaching, but no, I was still alone. I took a breath, then picked up the bottle I'd grabbed earlier and stepped inside. Hydration for the win.   Our client Deborah Bell (soon to be Washington, ide­ally), a beautiful black girl with her hair in a bun, was sit­ting on the floor of the small room, her fluffy white dress bunched up around her. It had cost five thousand dollars, a fact I knew because she had told us, repeatedly, during the last ten months of planning this day. I tried not to think about this as I moved quickly, but not too quickly, over to her. ("Never run at a wedding unless someone's life is liter­ally in danger!" I heard my mother say in my head.) I'd just opened up the water when I realized she was crying.   "Oh, don't do that." I eased down into what I hoped was a professional knees-to-the-side squat, drawing a slim pack of tissues from my pocket. "Your makeup looks great. Let's keep it that way, okay?"   Deborah, one false eyelash already loose--some lies are necessary--just blinked at me, sending another round of tears down her already streaked face. "Can I ask you something?"   No , I thought. Now we were at nine minutes. Out loud I said, "Sure."   She took in a shuddering breath, the kind that only comes after you've been crying awhile, and hard. "Do you . . ." A pause, as another set of tears gathered and spilled, this time taking the loose eyelash with them. "Do you believe that true love can really last forever?"   Now someone was coming up the stairs. From the sound of it, though--large steps, lumbering, with a fair amount of huffing and puffing already audible--it wasn't William. "True love?"   "Yes." She reached up--God, no! I thought, too late to stop her--rubbing a hand over her eyes and smearing eye­liner sideways up to her temple. The steps behind us were getting louder; whoever they belonged to would be here soon. Meanwhile, Deborah was just looking at me, her eyes wide and pleading, as if whatever happened next hinged entirely on my answer. "Do you?"   I knew she wanted a yes or no, something concise and specific and if this were any other question, I probably could have given it to her. But instead, I just sat there, silent, as I tried to put the image in my head--a boy in a white tuxedo shirt on a dark beach, laughing, one hand reached out to me--into any kind of words.   "Deborah Rachelle Bell!" I heard a voice boom from be­hind us. A moment later her father, the Reverend Elijah Bell, appeared, fully filling the space of the open doorway. His suit was tight, the shirt collar loosened, and he had a hand­kerchief in one hand, which he immediately pressed to his sweaty brow. "What in the world are you doing? People are waiting down there!"   "I'm sorry, Daddy," Deborah wailed, and then I saw William, finally, climbing the stairs. Just as quickly he dis­appeared from view, though, blocked by the reverend's girth. "I just got scared."   "Well, get it together," he told her, stepping inside. Clearly winded, he paused to take a breath or two before continuing. "I spent thirty thousand nonrefundable dollars of my hard-earned money on this wedding. If you don't walk down that aisle right now, I'll marry Lucas myself."   At this, Deborah burst into fresh tears. As I put my hand out to her, helplessly patting a shoulder, William managed to squeeze past the reverend and approach us. Calm as always, he didn't look at me, his eyes on only the bride as he bent close to speak in her ear. She whispered a response as he began to move his hand in slow circles on her back, like you do for a fussy baby.   I couldn't hear anything that was said, only the reverend still breathing. Other footsteps were audible on the stairs now, most likely bridesmaids, groomsmen, and others com­ing to rubberneck. Everyone liked to be part of the story, it seemed. I'd understood this once, but not so much anymore.   Whatever William said had made Deborah smile, albeit shakily. But it was enough; she let him take her elbow and help her to her feet. While she looked down at her wrin­kled dress, trying to shake out the folds, he leaned back into the hallway, beckoning down the stairs. A moment later the makeup artist appeared, her tackle box of prod­ucts in hand.   "Okay, everyone, let's give Deborah a second to freshen up," William announced to the room, just as, sure enough, one bridesmaid and then another poked their heads in. "Rev­erend, can you go tell everyone to take their places? We'll be down in two minutes."   "You'd better be," the reverend said, pushing past him to the door, sending bridesmaids scattering in a flash of laven­der. "Because I am not coming up those stairs again."   "We'll be right outside," William told Deborah, gesturing for me to follow him. I did, pulling the door shut behind us.   "I'm sorry," I said immediately. "That was beyond my skill set."   "You did fine," he told me, pulling out his phone. With­out even looking closely, I knew he was firing off a text to my mom in the code they used to ensure both speed and privacy. A second later, I heard a buzz as she wrote back. He scanned the screen, then said, "People are curious but there is a minimum of speculation noise, at least so far. It's going to be fine. We've got the eyelash as an explanation."   I looked at my watch. "An eyelash can take fifteen minutes?"   "It can take an hour, as far as anyone down there knows." He smoothed a wrinkle I couldn't even see out of his pants, then adjusted his red bow tie. "I wouldn't have pegged Deb as a cold-feeter. Shows what I know."   "What did she say to you back there?" I asked him.   He was listening to the noises beyond the door, alert, I knew, to the aural distinction between crying and get­ting makeup done. After a moment, he said, "Oh, she asked about true love. If I believed in it, does it last. Typical stuff pre-ceremony."   "What did you say?"   Now he looked at me, with that cool, confident counte­nance that made him, along with my mom, the best team in the Lakeview wedding business. "I said of course. I couldn't do this job if I didn't. Love is what it's all about."   Wow , I thought. "You really believe that?"   He shuddered. "Oh, God, no." Just then the door opened, revealing Deborah, makeup fixed, eyelash in place, dress seemingly perfect. She gave us a nervous smile, and even as I reciprocated I was more aware of William, beaming, than my own expression.   "You look beautiful," he said. "Let's do this."   He held out his hand to her and she took it, letting him guide her down the stairs. The makeup lady followed, sigh­ing only loud enough for me to hear, and then I was alone.   Down in the church lobby, my mother would be get­ting the wedding party into position, adjusting straps and lapels, fluffing bouquets, and straightening boutonnières. I looked back into the anteroom, where only a pile of crum­pled tissues now remained. As I hurriedly collected them, I wondered how many other brides had felt the same way in this space, standing on the edge between their present and future, not quite ready to jump. I could sympathize, but only to a point. At least they got to make that choice for themselves. When, instead, it was done for you--well, that was something to really cry about. At any rate, now the or­gan music was rising, things beginning. I shut the door and headed downstairs.   My mother picked up her wine. "I'm going to say seven years. Long enough for a couple of kids and an affair."   "Interesting," William replied, holding his own glass aloft and studying it for a moment. Then he said, "I'll give it three. No children. But an amicable parting."   "You think?"   "I just get that feeling. Those feet were awfully cold, and asking about true love?"   My mom considered this. "Point taken. I think you'll win this one. Cheers."   They clinked glasses, then sat back in their chairs, each taking a solemn sip. After every wedding, when the bride and groom were gone and all the guests dispersed to their homes and hotels, my mom and William had one last ritual. They'd have a nightcap, recap the event, and lay bets on the marriage it produced. Their accuracy in predicting both outcome and duration was uncanny. And, to be honest, a little unsettling.   To me, though, the real test was in the departure. There was just something so telling about that moment when every­one gathered to see the bride and groom off. It wasn't like the ceremony, where people were nervous and could hide things, or the reception, which was usually chaotic enough to blur details. With the leaving, months of planning were behind them, years of a life together ahead. Which was why I'd always made a point of watching their faces so carefully, taking note of fatigue, tears, or flickers of irritation. I didn't make a wager as much as a wish for them. I always wanted a happy ending for everyone else.   Not that the clients would ever know this. It was the secret finish to what was known in our town of Lakeview as "A Natalie Barrett Wedding," an experience so valued by the newly engaged that both a spot on a waitlist and a huge fee were required to even be considered for one. My mom and William's price might be high, but they delivered, the results of their work bound in the four thick, embossed leather al­bums in their office sitting room. Each was packed with im­ages of glowing brides and grooms getting married in every way possible: beachside, while barefoot. Lakeside, in black tie. At a winery. On top of a mountain. In their own (gor­geous, styled for the occasion) backyard. There were huge wedding parties and small intimate ones. Many billowing white dresses with trains, and some in other colors and cuts (signs, I'd found, of second or third marriages). The differ­ence between a regular wedding and a Natalie Barrett one was akin to the difference between a pet store and a circus. A wedding was just two people getting married. A Natalie Barrett Wedding was an experience.   The Deborah Bell Wedding--it was company policy that we referred to all planned events by the bride's name, as it was Her Day--was pretty much par for the course for us. The ceremony was at a church, the reception at a nearby hotel ballroom. There were five bridesmaids and five groomsmen, a ring bearer and a flower girl. Their choice of a live band was increasingly rare these days (my moth­er preferred a DJ: the fewer people to wrangle, the better) as was the dinner brought out by waiters (carving stations, buffets, and dessert bars had been more popular for years now). The night had wrapped up with fireworks, an increas­ingly popular request that added a permitting wrinkle but literally a final bang for the client's buck. Despite the earlier dramatics, Deborah had run to the limo clutching her new husband's hand, flushed and happy, smile wide. They'd been kissing as the door was shut behind them, to the obvious dis­approval of the reverend, who had then dabbed his own eyes, his wife patting his arm, as the car pulled away. Good luck , I'd thought, as the tail lights turned out of sight. May you al­ways have the answers to each other's most important questions.   And then the wedding was over, for them, anyway. Not for us. First, there was this recap and wager, as well as a final check of the venue for lost items, misplaced wedding gifts, and passed out or, um, otherwise engaged guests (you'd be surprised--I know I always was). Then we would pack our cars with our clipboards and file folders, mending kits, double-stick tape, boxes of Kleenex, spare power strips, phone chargers, and Xanax (yep), and head home. We usually had exactly one day to recover, after which we were right back at the office in front of my mother's huge whiteboard, where she'd circle the next wedding up and it all began again.   Despite how my mom and William joked otherwise--often--they loved this business. For them, it was a passion, and they were good at it. This had been the case long before I'd been old enough to work with them during the sum­mers. As a kid, I'd colored behind my mother's huge desk while she took meetings with anxious brides about guest lists and seating arrangements. Now I sat alongside them, my own legal pad (in a Natalie Barrett Wedding leather folio, of course) in my lap, taking notes. This transition had always been expected, was basically inevitable. Weddings were the family business, and I was my mother's only family. Unless you counted William, which really, we did.   They had met sixteen years earlier, when I was two years old and my dad had just walked out on us. At the time, my parents had been living in a cabin in the woods about ten miles outside Lakeview. There they raised chickens, had an organic garden, and made their own beeswax candles, which they sold at the local farmers' market on weekends. My dad, only twenty-two, had a full beard, rarely wore shoes, and was working on a chapbook of environmentally themed po­ems that had been in progress since before I'd even been conceived. My mom, a year younger, was full vegan, waited tables in the evenings at a nearby organic co-op café, and made rope bracelets blessed with "earth energy" on the side. They had met in college, at a campus protest against the public education system, which was, apparently, "oppressive, misogynist, cruel to animals, and evil." This was verbatim from the flyer I'd found in a box deep in my mother's closet that held the only things she'd kept from this time in her life other than me. Inside, besides the flyer, was a rather ugly beeswax candle, a rope bracelet that that been her "ring" at her own "wedding" (which had taken place in the mud at an outdoor music festival, officiated by a friend who signed the marriage certificate, also included, only as "King Wheee!"), and a single picture of my parents, both barefoot and tan, standing in a garden holding rakes. I sat on the ground beside my mother's feet, examining a cabbage leaf, completely na­ked. My name, an original, was a mix of their own, Natalie and Louis. I was Louna.   The box in the closet holding these things was small for someone who had once had such big beliefs, and this always made me kind of sad. My mother, however, only reflected on this time of her life when clients wondered aloud if it really was worth spending an obscene amount of money for the wedding of their dreams. "Well, I was married in a mud pit by someone on magic mushrooms," she'd say, "and I think it doomed us from the start. But that's just me." Then she'd pause for a beat or two, giving the client in front of her enough time to try to imagine Natalie Barrett--with her ex­pensive, tailored clothes, perfect hair and makeup, and ever-present diamond earrings, ring, and necklace--as some dirty hippie in a bad marriage. They couldn't, but that didn't stop them from signing on the contract's dotted line to make sure they wouldn't meet the same fate. Better safe than sorry.   In truth, the reason for the demise of my parents' mar­riage was not the mud pit or the officiant, but my father. Af­ter three years in the woods making candles and "writing his poems" (my mother claimed she never once saw him put pen to paper) he'd grown tired of struggling. This wasn't surpris­ing. Raised in San Francisco by a father who owned over a dozen luxury car dealerships, he'd not exactly been made for living off the land long term. Ever since he and my mom had exchanged vows, his own father told him that if he left the marriage--and, subsequently, the baby--he'd get a Porsche dealership of his own. My mom already believed that com­merce was responsible for all of life's evils. When her true love took this offer, it got personal. Three years later, long estranged from us, he was killed in a car accident. I don't re­member my mother crying or even really reacting, although she must have, in some way. Not me. You don't miss what you never knew.   And I knew my mom, and only my mom. Not only did I look just like her--same features, dark hair, and olive skin--but I sometimes felt like we were the same person. Mostly because she'd been disowned by her own wealthy, elderly parents around the time of the mud pit marriage, so it was always just us. After my dad bailed, she sold the cabin and moved us into Lakeview, where, after bouncing around a few restaurant jobs, she got a position working at the registry department of Linens, Etc., the housewares chain. On the surface, it seemed like a weird fit, as it was hard to find a convention more commerce-driven than weddings. But she had a kid to feed, and in her previous life my mom had been a debutante and taken etiquette classes at the country club. This world might have disgusted her, but she knew it well. Before long, brides were requesting her when they came in to pick out china patterns or silverware.   By the time William was hired a year later, my mom had a huge following. As she trained him, teaching him all she knew, they became best friends. There in the back of the store, they spent many hours with brides, listening to them talk--and often complain--about their wedding plan­ning. As they learned which vendors were good and which weren't, they began keeping lists of numbers for local flo­rists, caterers, and DJs to recommend. This expanded to ad­vising more and more on specific events, and then planning a few weddings entirely. Meanwhile, over lunch hours and after-work drinks or dinner, they started to talk about going out on their own. A partnership on paper and a loan from William's mother later, they were in business.   My mom had a fifty-one share, William forty-nine, and she got her name on the door. But the legalese basically ended there. Whatever foxhole a particular wedding was, they were in it together. They made dreams come true, they liked to tell each other and anyone else who would listen, and they weren't wrong. This ability never did cross over to their own love lives, however. My mom had barely dated since splitting with my dad, and when she did, she made a point of picking people she knew wouldn't stick around--"to take the guess­work out of it," in her words. Meanwhile William, who had been out since about age eight, had yet to meet any man who could come close to meeting his exacting standards. He dealt with this by also leaning toward less than ideal choices with no chance of long-term relationship potential. Real love didn't exist, they maintained, despite building an entire livelihood based on that very illusion. So why waste time looking for it? And besides, they had each other.   Even as a kid, I knew this was dysfunctional. But unfor­tunately, I'd been indoctrinated from a young age with my mom and William's strong, oft-repeated cynical views on romance, forever, love, and other keywords. It was confusing, to say the least. On the one hand, I lived and breathed the wedding dream, dragged along to ceremonies and venues, privy to meetings on every excruciating detail from Save the Date cards to cake toppers. But away from the clients and the work, there was a constant, repetitive commentary about how it was a sham, no good men really existed, and we were all better off alone. It was no wonder that a few years ear­lier, when my best friend Jilly had suddenly gone completely boy-crazy, I'd been reluctant to join her. I was a fourteen-year-old girl with the world-weariness of a bitter midlife divorcée, repeating all the things I'd heard over and over, like a mantra. "Well, he'll only disappoint you, so you should just expect it," I'd say, shaking my head as she texted with some thick-necked soccer player. Or I'd warn: "Don't give what you're not ready to lose," when she considered, with great drama, whether to confess to a boy that she "liked" him. My peers might have been flirting either in pairs or big groups, but I stood apart, figuratively and literally, the buzz­kill at the end of every rom-com movie or final chorus of a love song. After all, I'd learned from the best. It wasn't my fault, which did not make it any less annoying.   But then, the previous summer, on a hot August night, all of that had changed. Suddenly, I did believe, at least for a little while. The result was the most broken of hearts, made even worse by the knowledge that I had no one to blame for it but myself. If I'd only walked away, said no twice instead of only once, gone home to my bed and left that wide stretch of stars behind when I had the chance. Oh, well.   Now my mother downed the rest of her drink and put her glass aside. "Past midnight," she observed, taking a glance at her watch. "Are we ready to go?"   "One last sweep and we will be," William replied, stand­ing up and brushing off his suit. As a rule, we all dressed for events as if we were guests, but modest ones. The goal was to blend in, but not too much. Like everything in this business, a delicate balance. "Louna, you take the lobby and outside. I'll check here and the bathrooms." I nodded, then headed across the ballroom, now empty except for a few servers stacking chairs and clearing glasses. The lights were bright overhead, and as I walked I could see flower petals and crumpled napkins here and there on the floor, along with a few stray glasses and beer cans. Outside, the lobby was deserted, except for some guy leaning out a half-open door with a cigar, under a NO SMOKING sign.   I continued out the front doors, where the night felt cool. The parking lot was quiet as well, no one around. Or so I thought, until I started back in and glimpsed one of Debo­rah's bridesmaids, a tall black girl with braids and a nose ring--Malika? Malina?--standing by a nearby planter. She had a tissue in her hand and was dabbing at her eyes, and I wondered, not for the first time, what it was about weddings that made everything so emotional. It was like tears were contagious.   She looked up suddenly, seeing me. I raised my eye­brows, and she gave me a sad smile, shaking her head: she didn't need my help. There are times when you intervene and times when you don't, and I'd long ago learned the dif­ference. Some people like their sadness out in the open, but the vast majority prefer to cry alone. Unless it was my job to do otherwise, I'd let them. Excerpted from Once and for All by Sarah Dessen All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.