On their last day of 5th grade, eleven-year-old Frannie Ryan’s friends are all making plans to hang out at the mall or spend long afternoons at the pool. But Frannie has bigger goals for her summer vacation. Frannie’s big brother, Ronnie, is engaged to marry Precious Darling, one of Nowhere, Indiana’s despised Darling sisters. With the wedding just ten weeks away and Frannie’s level-headed big sister Libby away at vet school, Frannie has to rely on her best friend, the awkward but loyal Cooper Parker Walker, to help her find a way to keep Ronnie from making the biggest mistake of his life. As if plotting to stop a wedding isn’t enough, Frannie finds that Granddad is becoming forgetful (and her overly-active brain immediately assumes the worst), Dad thinks the family farm needs a hired worker (an absolutely ridiculous notion according to Frannie), and Cooper’s incessant stuttering is about to ruin whatever social life he had left (which, of course, is totally up to Frannie to fix as well).
As the youngest of Practical County’s Ryan family, Frannie has grown up watching everything. Watching her older brother and sister show steers, watching her Granddad work with the cows and calves, and watching the Darling sisters manipulate, lie, and cheat at the Practical County Fair. Frannie has also grown up knowing that, if she’s persistent enough, she can usually accomplish whatever she set out to do. But in this summer tale of growing up and letting go, Frannie begins to realize that some things in life are beyond her control.
I cut a slice of cake, grab a fork and take my plate into the living room. With the television remote control in hand, I settle into my favorite chair for a little afternoon TV. It doesn’t take me long to realize that I have just placed myself within perfect earshot of the wedding party on the front porch, thanks to an open living room window.
I confess I have a bad habit of eavesdropping. I call it being at the right place at the right time. When I was little, I used to hide in the hay mow and spy on Libby. It’s like this: no one ever bothers to tell the youngest kid anything. So, if I want to know what’s going on, I have to come up with some creative ways to find out.
Through the lace curtain, I can see silhouettes. Ronnie and Precious are sharing the porch swing with Ronnie closest to the house, and I can’t get a look at his face. His long legs are planted solidly on the porch floor, so it’s not swinging much at all. Mr. and Mrs. Darling are seated on the wicker loveseat with the flowered cushions. Mom and Dad are both in their favorite chairs. Mom’s on the edge of her seat.
“Oh, this is perfect!” Mom’s about ready to burst with excitement.
“We were hoping you’d think so, Mrs. Ryan. I mean Linda, ummm, Mom,” Precious says. I take a bite of cake, hoping to muffle the gagging noise that’s trying to jump out of my throat. I don’t like to hear Precious call my mother “Mom.” Apparently, Mrs. Darling doesn’t either. She shoots her daughter a glare, then turns to my parents with a honey-soaked voice, an exact match to her daughter’s.
“We certainly don’t want to intrude in any way.”
“Intrude?” Mom replies. “Not in the least! It would be great fun to have the wedding right here at Ryansmeade.”
What is Mom talking about?
“We can have the ceremony on the front lawn. And the reception in the barn. Right, Charlie?” Mom looks to Dad for his response.
Dad gives a casual shrug. “Sure, I guess. Can’t say as we’ve ever hosted a wedding on the farm, but why not?”
Here? You’ve got to be kidding. Ronnie and Precious want to get married on the farm? This is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. I turn myself around in my chair so my knees are on the seat and I’m leaning over the back and move the curtain just a teeny bit. I’ve got to see Precious’ face. Surely this can’t be her idea. She would never want a farm wedding. She’s way too prissy for that.
“Thank you so much!” Precious is beaming. “The church just isn’t big enough. And, we’ve looked at every reception hall in Practical County, and we couldn’t find anything we liked.”
So that’s the reason. Nowhere Community Church, where we go every Sunday and fill up a whole pew ourselves, isn’t big enough for her. Who’s she thinking of inviting? That church is perfect for most Practical County weddings. And I guess, for a Darling wedding reception, the Grange Hall and the Township Meeting Room just won’t hold up to Precious’ standards. I wonder what she expected. A ballroom? Sorry, but there is no Ritz Hotel in Nowhere, Indiana. Heck, there isn’t even a hotel at all unless you count the fact that Mrs. Johnson rents out rooms in the upstairs of her big Victorian house on Main Street.
With the curtains open just as far as I dare, I can’t see Ronnie’s face. So far, he hasn’t said a word, and I need to know what my big brother thinks about this crazy plan.
As Mom goes on about planting more flowers in the garden, I quietly press my face against the screen, straining to try to catch a glimpse of Ronnie. I’m well aware that only a flimsy piece of lace curtain and a mesh screen are keeping me from being noticed by my family. Still, I can’t see the one person who will make sense of the nonsense I’m hearing from the porch.
I decide to stand on my chair and, still holding my cake plate in one hand, I get to my feet. I’m able to see that Ronnie is nodding right along with the others. Maybe he just has a fly in his face. Maybe if I sit on the back of the chair and lean…
The thing about old houses is that they have old windows. And the thing about old windows is that their screens get kind of thin and weak if they’re not replaced every now and then. This is something I haven’t thought about much. Until now.
One second I’m an invisible bystander, and the next I find myself hanging half out of a window with my face on the front porch and my butt and legs in the living room. My right arm is stretched out in front of me, the plate still in my hand, with the half-eaten piece of chocolate cake miraculously still on it.
The wedding chatter has stopped. It’s suddenly very quiet, and everyone is looking at me.
“Frannie!” Mom is the first to speak. Dad is just shaking his head. Mr. and Mrs. Darling are staring at me like I’m a skunk at a garden party.
And then Ronnie begins to laugh.
Uncontrollable, side-splitting laughter. He’s laughing so hard, he’s got the porch swing rocking. Precious just sits beside him, glaring at me like I did this on purpose or something.
I learned a long time ago, there’s only one way out of a situation like this. I put on my biggest, little-sister smile.
“Chocolate cake, anyone?”