In high school, Greta Steinburg and her two BFFs made a pact: none of them would get married unless they all approved the man in question. Since then, Greta has had her fair share of romantic ups and downs—but now, after her latest failed relationship, she is done. Greta announces that her days of dating are officially over, and she’s kissed the idea of happily-ever-after goodbye. . .
Of course her friends will hear none of it. Instead, they insist that Greta go out with Jon, the hottest new DJ who just happened to be at her sister’s wedding. To get her friends off her back, Greta proposes that they pretend to date. The only problem is, for every fake date they have—from feeding angry rhinos to crashing a kiddie roller-skating party—Jon wants a real one. Each time they get together, their attraction grows. . .and soon there’s no turning back. Could it be that true love requires a leap of faith—and that Jon is the one Greta’s been waiting for all along?
Greta was fifteen when she made the first pact, huddled under the old gazebo with Amy and Summer. Old enough to be considering the future, and making plans accordingly. Young enough to never seriously consider the ramifications of sticking to them. Even if some passing stranger had warned her what a hassle she was setting herself up for, she would have ignored it. They were all secure in themselves, in their foresight—and certainly knew better than to trust anyone over thirty, anyway.
The Sweetheart Dance had not gone well for the three of them, and so they had retreated to the sanctu- ary behind Greta’s house. Summer had pulled a stolen wine cooler out of her sequin-encrusted bag and was passing warm, sticky sips around. Amy’s earlier sobs had quieted to hiccups, hardly audible over the cool February rain.
“We could egg Tommy’s house if you wanted,” Greta offered, but the drizzle and their lethargy over- ruled it.
“Don’t even say that guy’s name.” That from Summer, who was visibly pleased to find the attention was finally off of her lack of date for the evening’s event—again.
“How could he do this to me? We’re in love!” Amy wiped fresh tears with the hem of her pink dress. They comforted her as best they could, the rest of them hav- ing yet to suffer their first teenage heartbreak. Greta suspected that Amy was enjoying her newfound world- liness, just the tiniest bit. But dumped in front of the whole school? The sheer humiliation her friend had endured made Greta shudder.
“It wasn’t Tommy’s idea, you know that.” Greta took another swig of the sugary drink. It was their favorite flavor, margarita. Years later, when they tasted real margaritas for the first time, they made another pact— never to speak of their wine cooler days.
“He shouldn’t have gone along with it, even if it was entirely Lindsey’s plan. He doesn’t care about either one of you. He just thought he had a better chance of getting past second base with her. Tommy is a grade- A asshole.” Summer had grabbed the bottle then and handed it to Amy, having recalled that women in Victo- rian novels often required a bracing drink of ladylike booze after a shock. Amy took the bottle gratefully.
“It didn’t matter what he thought he was getting out of it. Asking Amy to Sweetheart and then showing up with Lindsey instead was a heartless move. He’s heartless,” Greta repeated, fairly pleased with her assessment.
“He isn’t heartless, though! You should see some of the notes he writes me.” Amy fumbled in her clutch for a tissue. And one of the notes. She kept her favor- ites with her at all times.
The girls assured her that they had seen all of the notes, repeatedly, and that they had long suspected he was copying down lines from his mother’s romance novels. She was not inclined to believe it. It seemed that she was already making her plans to win Tommy back, and punish Lindsey in the process.
“It’s better to have loved and lost, though, isn’t it?” Summer had retrieved a second wine cooler and was feeling rather poetic. “At least you’ve been kissed.”
“Oh, I haven’t lost him. We are going to get back together, after a long and groveling apology. On my sweet sixteen, he’ll give me a promise ring. After be- ing crowned king and queen of prom, I’ll give him my virginity in a bed of rose petals. He’ll propose during Christmas break of our senior year at Golden Gate and we’re getting married before we start law school. We are going to get married!” Amy’s face was all but glowing by the time she’d recounted the familiar plans. She hadn’t gotten around to telling Tommy about them yet, but she wouldn’t have to. He would just know what to do, she’d reassured her friends.
“Marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” Greta re- minded them. During the moment they were silent, considering, they could hear her father yelling from the house, even over the pitter-pat of raindrops.
“But if you marry the right one, the one you’re meant to be with, it’s like heaven.” Greta had long since stopped rolling her eyes at Summer’s old-fashioned view of the world. She’d learn soon enough, so to tell her so in advance would have been mean. Amy agreed with Summer, of course.
“How do you even know, though? Like, doesn’t everyone think they are marrying the right one? Other- wise why would you say yes?” Greta asked. They pondered, the truth of her words settling over them like the fog they had grown so accustomed to in the Bay.
It was Amy who had the answer. She had all the answers to everything, as she loved to remind them.
“The people who know you best. They know better than you do, most of the time.” She set down the dregs of her bottle and clasped their hands. The picture was suddenly clear. Just like her friends knew her best. Her friends, who had been gently encouraging a break-up for the past whole entire month. “I’m not going to marry Tommy, am I? Because even though I’m com- pletely love-struck, you guys know it’s a bad idea to get back together with him. You tell me this stuff, even though I don’t want to hear it.” Resilience was another one of her self-described best qualities. The deep love she had felt for Tommy just moments before was al- ready starting to fade into a distant memory.
“That’s what sisters are for,” Summer reminded them. Despite no actual blood relationship, they had considered themselves sisters since meeting in Mrs. Fischer’s second grade class. That was one thing that never changed. It’s why they kept their promise, despite each of them cursing it at one time or another.
“My dad didn’t used to be like this. He used to be happy, when we were little. You really think my mom’s friends knew things would end up this way, with him throwing things and screaming and her too stupid to leave before he hits her?” Greta could feel her face set- ting so she didn’t tear up.
“I think he probably talked her out of having friends besides him a long time ago, G. Otherwise, yes, they’d be here now.” Even Summer understood the gravity of this conversation long enough to stop Austenizing. “My mom married the wrong guy too, obviously. By the time he walked out on us, he’d driven her friends off years before. Now the only friends she has are the guys she goes out with every freaking night of the week.”
“Statistically, arranged marriages are some of the most successful. If you take lust out of the equation, the people who know you best recommending a part- ner that suits you best is a pretty smart way to go.” Amy always used statistics, even though she knew her friends thought she made half of them up. She did, but they were one hundred percent too lazy to fact-check her, and that stat was real.
“That’s not very romantic, though.” Summer, of course. “What about love?”
“But I love you guys, and we aren’t romantic. Some- times just getting to know someone intimately leads to love,” Greta said, eyes cast down so no one would see her admit she still believed in love in any form, after watching her father burn things down so often.
“Seriously look at us, you guys. I got dumped in front of the whole school. Summer couldn’t find a date up to her standards, because Summer has never once found a date to be up to her standards. Greta, you’ve been going to every event we’ve been invited to since we were seven—with Michael.”
“What’s wrong with Michael?” she asked. Amy re- minded her that he was her first cousin, and certainly gay even if they lived in a state that condoned such re- lationships. Greta shrugged. It was a fair point.
“Honestly, I don’t think I would ever marry anyone you guys didn’t one hundred percent approve of.” Sum- mer met the girls’ eyes in turn. Amy, and then Greta had agreed with her, and felt secure in the decision. It was so obvious then. They were so lucky to have each other. They would never find anyone who understood them like they understood each other.
And so it came to pass that they found themselves huddling around a half bottle of cheap alcohol, spit- ting into it to make their pact both binding and dis- gusting. There, in rain-bedraggled semi-formal dresses in a backyard reading nook, they linked their pinkies and drank that hideous drink and swore the pact they would all end up regretting but never could quite take back. Because even when they thought they them- selves should be exempt, they were never really will- ing to give up veto power for their beloved best friends. So this is what they swore:
“We, the Sisterhood of the Valentine’s Day Gazebo,do solemnly swear that we’ll never get married with- out the agreement of all of us.” And as they giggled, newly pleased with themselves and passing the drink around, Greta’s dad was leaving forever.