Four best friends start a party-planning business in this fresh, funny tween novel from the authors of At Your Service and Breaking the Ice.
Twelve-year-old Sadie loves helping her mom with her wedding planning business, and with Sadie’s mad organizational skills, she’s a natural! That’s why it’s so devastating when her mother “fires” her after a Little Mermaid–themed wedding goes awry.
Enter Sadie’s best friends: sporty Vi, ace student Lauren, and boy-crazy Becca. The girls decide that in order to get Sadie’s mom to reconsider, they have to make her see how amazing Sadie is at party planning. Except no one’s gonna hire a twelve-year-old to plan a wedding. A birthday party, though? Definite possibility.
Before long, RSVP—your one-stop shop for the most creative parties in town—is born. Of course, Sadie can’t wait to prove herself to her mom, but the other girls also have their reasons for enlisting: Vi has her eye on the perfect gift for her hardworking dad, and Becca’s all aflush at the thought of connecting with Ryan, the new Irish cutie in town. And though Lauren thinks she’s too busy with summer studies to “officially” join, she’s willing to help out in any way she can.
But in this particular party-planning business, nothing goes according to plan! Sadie’s mom is a perpetual no-show, Vi’s archrival is dead set on ruining her summer, Becca can’t seem to get Ryan to glance in her direction, and Lauren keeps choosing studying over her friends. Is the girls’ friendship strong enough to survive a business? Or does RSVP spell the end of these BFFs?
When I peer over the boat railing, it’s not like I actually expect mermaids and mermen to be bobbing in the ocean below me. Buuuuuut then again, I wouldn’t put anything past my mom. If her client wants a Little Mermaid wedding, her client gets a Little Mermaid wedding, no detail spared.
My pocket buzzes and I slide my phone out.
Plz check on photog. Thx.
I weave my way through the rows of chairs sliding back and forth on the deck. The one thing Mom doesn’t control on wedding days is the weather, and today isn’t exactly offering ideal sailing conditions. I hope the bride has less wobbly legs than Ariel.
“Excuse me, sir, um, are you okay?” I ask a man hanging over the boat’s side.
The three cameras hanging from his neck smack against his back as he straightens. Uh-oh. He does not look so hot. He mumbles something under his breath and I shake my head.
“Sorry. I didn’t catch that. Would you mind repeating?” I ask, using my most polite voice. Mom’s trained me well.
He stares at me for a second, then screams, “I SAID I’M A LITTLE SEASICK!”
Okay, so “please repeat” does not mean “scream at your highest possible volume,” but I’m kind of used to the vendors treating me differently. They think just because I’m only twelve, I’m not capable of the same things a normal wedding coordinator’s assistant is.
They would be wrong.
I plant my feet hip-width apart for balance and get straight to business. “I have a seasick bracelet you can wear on your wrist, and if you give me five minutes, I can grab some of the motion-sickness medicine I packed in my emergency kit. I also have a little sister who’s a pretty decent photographer, if you’re okay with her using one of your cameras. She could stand at the railing and grab the shots of the bride arriving by dinghy while you wait for the medicine to kick in.”
His face was already turning green when I mentioned the dinghy, but he adds a look of horror to that. “I can’t allow a child to photograph this wedding!”
I consider telling him kids can do lots of stuff every bit as well as any grown-up, but then the boat rolls over a large swell, and with the way he clutches at his stomach, I don’t have the heart.
Between sucking in big breaths of fresh air, he says, “My assistant will take all the important shots of the bridal party. Tell your sister she can help by getting photos of the guests.”
And just like that Izzy lands herself an assignment. Ick. She’ll be totally annoying and gloaty about this all week now.
But the client comes first, and my job is to save the day. Good thing I really love my job, and even more important, good thing I’m really excellent at my job, even if certain people (cough, Mom, cough) hardly bother to acknowledge it.
Half the time she doesn’t even know I’m solving a crisis, like making sure the waiter knows the groom’s grandmother is allergic to wheat or scuffing up the waxed dance floor before anyone has an epic wipeout. My job is to keep things off her plate, and that’s what I do. Always.
My phone buzzes again. On wedding days, no one besides Mom would dare text me.
All handled w/photog? Bride arrival in 6 min.
Not five minutes. Not ten minutes. Six minutes. And you could set your clock by Mom’s schedule, too. I tell the photographer I’ll be right back and race belowdecks to the staging area where all the various wedding paraphernalia is located, alongside my sister, Isabelle. She’s sitting on top of the backup wedding gown with her face stuck in a book.
“Izzy, you’re gonna get that completely wrinkled! The bride is gonna need to wear that if she gets something on her real dress.”
“Relax, Sadie. You know Mom would never let anything happen to the actual dress.”
“Well, what if . . . what if a wave crashes into the dinghy on the bride’s way out to the boat? How do you think Mom’s gonna prevent that?”
“Umbrellas.” Izzy points out the tiny round window of the cabin at a wooden dinghy motoring toward us. It’s too far to make out faces, but there are definitely umbrellas bobbing along either side of one of the figures. Mom thinks of ev-er-y-thing.
I scramble back from the window and pull my sister to her feet. “Hurry up! The photographer’s sick and his assistant needs your help getting shots.”
Izzy squeals with excitement and follows me up the stairs. She’s practically bouncing by the time we reach him. I think getting her to stop is the main reason he hands off what is probably a ridiculously expensive camera to a ten-year-old so quickly. His other hand reaches for the Dramamine and the seasick band I hold out.
He swallows the pill and then takes my advice to focus on the horizon. You don’t grow up in Sandpiper Beach, North Carolina, without learning the best ways to get your sea legs.
“Izzy, head over to where the guests are and grab some shots of them watching the bridal party arrive,” I instruct.
She answers with a “You’re not the boss of me,” but at least she does what I ask as I run to make sure the groom is in place. My favorite thing about weddings is also my least favorite: everything happens at once.
But this one is a success so far. Okay, so maybe the wedding party has a hard time getting out of their dinghies since their bridesmaid dresses have sewn-on mermaid tails, and it’s true that the photographer throws up the Dramamine before it can even reach his stomach. But you can tell the bride and groom are really in love, what with the way he makes googly eyes at her as she comes down the aisle to a steel-drum version of “Kiss the Girl.”
Mom slides into place beside me.
“Thanks for your help today,” she whispers while giving me a squeeze around my waist.
Now it’s my turn to glow. Ever since Dad died and Mom started her wedding-planning company, she’s been totally preoccupied with her business. I get the whole I-need-a-distraction-from-the-grief thing, but it’s almost like she wants a distraction from me and Izzy, too. So the times when she actually notices me, it’s like . . . magic. Like it used to be.
I don’t have that much time to savor the feeling, though, because I need to get going on my next task. As the couple exchanges vows, I sneak belowdecks and creep over to the cage of the shaggy sheepdog who belongs to one of the bridesmaids and just happens to match the one in The Little Mermaid. I mean, what are the odds?
“You ready for your big entrance, Fake Max?” I ask, checking his collar to make sure the pouch containing the wedding rings is fastened securely around the buckle. I don’t know what this dog’s name is, but I’ve watched The Little Mermaid alongside my note-taking Mom enough over the past few months to know Prince Eric’s dog is named Max, so it will have to do.
He woofs at me and plants a sloppy kiss on my cheek. Ick. This job has a ton of occupational hazards, and now I can add dog slobber to the list. I secure his leash and lead him above, sneaking him around the back of the seated wedding guests.
The minister smiles at the happy couple and asks, “Do you have the rings?”
That’s my cue.
And then . . . it happens.
A big plop of seagull doo-doo drops from the sky and lands directly on my head, dribbling greenish-yellowish-whitish goop down my cheek. When I scream, everyone swivels as one to face me. I freeze, horrified by both my interruption and the super-slimy, super-gross stuff sliding down toward my neck.
The groom drops the bride’s hands.
I drop the dog’s leash.
Fake Max goes tearing off in wild circles around the deck, barking like crazy at the circling seagull, who looks like he’s lining up target practice with the top of my head again.
“Grab him!” Mom screams as Fake Max pulls up at my ankles, panting hard. But I don’t grab him, because:
1) I can’t take my eyes from the seagull, who looks suspiciously like he’s about to dive-bomb straight for my head, and
2) I’m thinking about how I’m going to use a printed program to remove bird poop from my hair.
Fake Max is eyeing the gull too, and when the bird swoops low, the dog jumps into the air at him. Of course he misses, since his shaggy fur is probably completely covering his eyes. Landing, he then tears off across the deck in hot pursuit of the bird, who I would swear is laughing more than screeching. Fake Max runs, pauses, and then jumps, chasing the seagull straight off the back of the boat, his four furry legs still running through the air, as he drops to the water below.
His owner shrieks, “SHEP!” and shuffle-runs across the deck in her mermaid dress. She doesn’t even hesitate at the railing, just goes right up and over, tumbling into the water after her dog.
“Bridesmaid overboard!” someone calls, and several men run to the stern, one carrying a life preserver.
I rush to help, but when the man with the life preserver swings it behind him before heaving it into the water, I have to dodge out of the way. I stumble back and straight into the box the steering wheel is mounted on, where my elbow connects hard with a button.
KA-BAAM! POP! POW! BANG! BOOM!
The entire ten-minute fireworks display planned for the end of the reception explodes at one time from the barge on the starboard side of us.
Activated by me.
I stand frozen in place again, my wide eyes locked with my mother’s, as a group of tuxedo-wearing men haul a dripping mermaid/bridesmaid/whatevermaid and her soggy dog out of the water. At least the pouch with the rings is still attached to his collar.
But that thing I said about being really good at my job?
Maybe not so much today.
• • •
Mom likes to borrow a theater saying when she talks about her “event philosophy”: The show must go on. I’m pretty sure she’s never had to apply it quite like this before. I clean up belowdecks and then hang back as much as I can, trying to help without getting in the way. Mom barely even acknowledges me as she rushes around doing wedding-planner stuff, but when she does catch my eye, I see the way her lips tug down into a frown. Each time it happens, my stomach has that hollow feeling you get when you just know you are so completely in for it once everyone else leaves.
The ceremony resumes where it left off and is pretty uneventful except for Max/Shep shaking himself dry at the top of the aisle during the you-may-now-kiss-the-bride part. Luckily for us, once people get over the shock—and after Mom changes the bridesmaid into a backup mermaid dress (only two sizes too small)—things start looking up (not for me, but at least for the guests). The bridesmaid calls her mom to come to the marina, and we send the horrible-smelling wet dog back to the mainland on the dinghy. He’s joined by the still-puking photographer.
By the last toast of the night, the video of the entire incident, which one of the groomsmen wasted no time posting to YouTube, has 244,365 hits. By the last dance at sunset, the bride and groom have agreed to detour to Wilmington on their way to the honeymoon in order to discuss their “hilarious wedding disaster” on the local morning show.
All’s well that ends well? Not where Mom’s concerned, I’m guessing. The chug of the departing dinghy signals the official end of the reception. The only people left on the boat now, besides me and Mom, are the caterers cleaning up and Izzy, who’s gone back to her book down below.
Mom crosses the deck and points me into a chair near the giant Prince Eric ice sculpture.
“I’m so sorry, Mom,” I say before she can get a word out.
She sighs and reaches for my hand. “I know you are, baby, and I understand how it happened.”
Her smile is the kind that doesn’t go all the way into her eyes, which are a little sad-looking. I stare back into them as she says, “On the other hand, I have the reputation of my business to think about, and I have to put that first.”
Ahead of me?
I drop my eyes to my lap. Mom sighs again. “Sweetness, maybe twelve is just too young to be handling everything I’ve asked of you. Maybe we need to rethink things a little bit.”
Wait a minute. Am I getting fired? By my own mother? This cannot be happening.
“You’ve been a huge help to me, Sadie. You know that. But this mistake is going to cost the company thousands of dollars after I refund the bride’s dad for the fireworks show he paid for. Plus we lose any referrals that bride could have given us. I just hope she doesn’t mention my company by name on television Monday morning.”
She tucks me under her arm and gives me a squeeze. I keep my body stiff when she says, “I’m not mad, Sades. It’s my fault for giving you so much responsibility. Summer’s just starting. You should spend it doing kid stuff. Fun stuff. Not dealing with all this stress.”
Does she not remember the whole reason I started working with her is because I DO find it fun? Well, at first it was just because it was a chance to be with Mom, but it turns out I’m really good at it . . . most days. I’m the one who came up with the idea for the ice sculpture to match the statue in the movie. And it was me who tracked down the sheet music for “Kiss the Girl” for the wedding band. I love coming up with fun details to make the weddings memorable and I thought Mom loved it too. She’s always going on about what a huge help I am to her.
I didn’t notice anyone else thinking to bring a blender for that groom who’d had emergency dental surgery the morning of the wedding, so he could still have some wedding cake. Or finding weights to clip onto the bridesmaids’ dresses’ hems when we had an outdoor wedding on the beach during a super-windy day. And, I mean, it’s not like I haven’t made some little mistakes at a wedding before. There was the time I accidentally left with the keys to the reception site and the florist couldn’t get in early to do the centerpieces. But I rode my bike over as fast as I could the second she called. Maybe tonight’s was a little more . . . severe, but in the past Mom’s always understood that events might have wrinkles.
It stinks to be unappreciated, but what’s even worse is being entirely invisible. Which is exactly what I’ll be if she fires me. I’ll fade back into the wallpaper like before.
I nod hard against Mom’s chest so she won’t catch on that I’m trying not to let the tears spill over. We’re interrupted by the caterer, who needs her to sign some form, which leaves me free to slide my phone from my pocket and scroll through all my emoticons until I find the tiny pair of bat wings. I type it into a group text to my three best friends.
There. Bat signal sent.
It cheers me up a tiny bit to picture all of them heading for their bikes (or golf cart, for Lauren, depending on where she is at the marina) and pointing them to our Bat Cave. Well, our Bat Boat, if we’re being technical.
I stand, cross the deck, and yell down to Izzy that I’m catching the next dinghy shuttle to shore. As I board the tiny boat, the last thing I hear is someone from the catering staff humming “Part of Your World” as she cleans up. Too bad my chance to be part of Mom’s world exploded alongside those fireworks.
Jen Malone is a former Hollywood publicist who once spent a year traveling the world solo, met her husband on the highway (literally), and went into labor with her identical twins while on a rock star’s tour bus. These days she saves the drama for her books. Jen is also the author of the middle grade novels At Your Service and The Art of the Swap, coauthor of the You’re Invited series, and wrote the YA novels Map to the Stars and Wanderlost. You can visit her online at JenMaloneWrites.com.
Gail Nall lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with her family and more cats than necessary. She once drove a Zamboni, has camped in the snow in June, and almost got trampled in Paris. Gail is the author of the middle grade novel Breaking the Ice, the coauthor of You’re Invited and You’re Invited Too, and the author of the young adult novel Exit Stage Left. You can find her online at GailNall.com and on Twitter as @GaileCN.
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