A heartwarming and playful novel about the ones we love and the ones we lose by the New York Times bestselling author of This Time Next Year.
Intrigued? Well read on to discover the synopsis and first chapter from Before I Do by Sophie Cousens, which is out October 11th 2022!
What would you do if ‘the one that got away’ turned up the night before your wedding?
Head-in-the-stars Audrey is about to marry down-to-earth Josh. Though they are polar opposites, they have a healthy, stable relationship; Josh is just what Audrey needs. But romance should be unpredictable and full of fireworks, and as the big day approaches, Audrey’s found herself wondering if Josh really is “The One.”
So, when Josh’s sister shows up to the rehearsal dinner with Fred, Audrey’s “What If? guy”—the man she met six years ago and had one amazing day with—Audrey finds herself torn. Surely Fred’s appearance the night before she is due to get married can’t be a coincidence. And when everything that could go wrong with the wedding starts to go wrong, Audrey has to ask herself: Is fate trying to stop her from making a huge mistake? Or does destiny just have a really twisty sense of humor?
One Day Before I Do
“Who will be walking the bride down the aisle?” Reverend Daniels asked, looking between Audrey at the altar and her mother, Vivien, on the front pew. He seemed unsure whom he should be deferring to on the matter.
Josh reached out for Audrey’s hand and gently squeezed it, a silent show of support.
“She will have two people walking her down the aisle, Reverend,” Vivien announced, taking this as her cue to stand up and stage-manage the proceedings. “Her two stepfathers, Brian and Lawrence.”
Brian and Lawrence were sitting at opposite ends of the front pew. They simultaneously raised a hand and then cautiously side-eyed each other. Vivien would have preferred her current husband, Lawrence, to be the one to escort the bride down the aisle, but Audrey had expressed a preference for Brian, who had played a prominent role in her life growing up. Audrey also wanted Vivien to know that the men she had dismissed from her life would not be so easily lost from her own.
“They’ll take one arm each,” Vivien told the reverend, glancing back to Audrey.
“Well, that is a lovely idea,” said Reverend Daniels, tapping his fingertips together nervously. “But as you can see, the aisle at St. Nicholas’s is rather on the narrow side. We’ve had problems in the past with, er . . . slightly larger family members being able to walk two abreast. I’m not sure we’d manage a three-way.”
Josh let out a strangled-sounding cough, and Audrey pursed her lips to keep from laughing.
Vivien paced the width of the aisle, wringing her hands as she realized that the reverend was right. Though Vivien was petite, she walked with the confidence of someone used to commanding a stage and an audience. Her brown and caramel highlighted hair was pinned back into a bun and shone like a golden flame above her simple long-sleeved black dress. Her professionally plumped lips sported their trademark slash of red.
“Maybe a relay? Audrey could walk twice,” Josh suggested. The note of sarcasm made her suspect he’d had a few pints at the ushers’ lunch earlier.
“Then she’d end up at the wrong end,” Lawrence pointed out, his white wispy eyebrows dancing in confusion.
“Josh.” Audrey shot him a playful frown and shook her head. Luckily, Vivien hadn’t heard him. Her focus was on the offending aisle, which was just sitting there, failing to be wide enough.
“I think the whole idea of being ‘given away’ is preposterous,” said Hillary, who sat with his feet up on the pew in front of him, reading a copy of Playbill magazine. “Can’t you just walk yourself down the aisle, Auds?”
“No, she can’t. That would look negligent, as though we have failed to come up with a respectable escort,” Vivien shot back, her eyes darting disapprovingly to Hillary’s shoes on the pew.
“I fear we’ll have to move on from the entrance,” Reverend Daniels suggested with a nervous laugh. “I have another family coming in at seven thirty to discuss a christening.”
“Reverend, we can’t move on until we get this right. I do wish I had been forewarned about the inadequacy of the aisle,” asserted Vivien.
Audrey rubbed a fist against her chest, which had been feeling tight all day. This wedding was making her feel like a plate spinner, watching to see which plate was going to fall, then running to keep it turning. She wished her best friend, Clara, were here. Clara was good at keeping all the plates in the air.
“Maybe Brian could walk me the first half and Lawrence the second,” Audrey suggested diplomatically. Vivien nodded, satisfied with this solution, and Hillary muttered in a singsong voice, “Crisis averted.”
“Excellent plan. So we’ll position Dad Two on this pew here,” said the reverend, scurrying down the aisle to mark the row with a red hassock, “and Dad One by the door.” Audrey winced at his choice of language. She had always called her stepfathers by their first names, as she called her mother by hers. Vivien objected to the labels of “Mum” or “Mummy” on the grounds that they were ordinary and reductive.
“It’s Brian and Lawrence,” Brian said, gently correcting the reverend, and Audrey gave him a grateful nod. Not for the first time today, she felt wistful about her father’s absence. What would he make of all this—the church, the wedding, the man she was about to marry?
“Most brides don’t like to rush the entrance. The cadence of your step should be: step, feet together, step, feet together,” Reverend Daniels said while illustrating the rhythm of the walk to Audrey. “That way, your guests will have enough time to admire you from every angle.”
Vivien started to imitate the desired step cadence.
“It reminds me of doing the cha-cha on Strictly,” she said, and then started shimmying her hips and cha-cha-ing up the aisle. Vivien was always performing. She was the sort of person who narrated the stage directions of her life and would end arguments by saying, “And scene,” before taking a small bow and leaving the room.
“Would you like to practice?” the reverend asked.
“I’m good,” Audrey said briskly. “Step, feet together, step, feet together. Got it.”
Josh reached out and started massaging her shoulders. She dipped her head to one side, leaning into his touch, his firm hands warm against her bare neck.
“Audrey can hardly walk in a straight line at the best of times. I’d make her practice if I were you,” piped up Hillary, giving her a sly wink.
“Hillary has a point,” said Vivien with a flourish of her hand. “What’s the point in having a rehearsal if you don’t rehearse? Come, come, it’s your starring moment.” She waved to Audrey and then snapped her fingers for Lawrence to sit in the marked pew, before beckoning Brian to take his position at the church doors.
“Life is not a dress rehearsal, until it is!” called Josh’s mother, Debbie, from the back of the church. Debbie had been given the task of checking for drafts, moving herself around the pews, working out which seats would be most appropriate for elderly relatives to occupy. She was using an intricate color-coded system of stickers that the ushers would be briefed on later. A blue sticker meant “drafty, no one over seventy to sit here,” white meant “adequate,” and neon yellow meant “prime seating, little to no draft.” Clearly the system was needlessly complex, but Debbie was having such fun “feeling useful” that it was kinder just to let her cover the beautiful church in hundreds of hideous stickers.
“First rule of show business, Auds, give the people what they want,” Hillary said as Audrey shuffled past his pew and flicked his magazine. She thought he was enjoying his role as heckling audience member far too much. Hillary had been Audrey’s nanny growing up. Her mother didn’t believe in employing professional nannies—“predictable, dull people.” Instead of qualified childcare, she had preferred to hire out-of-work actors to supervise young Audrey. Her logic was that actors would have more energy and enthusiasm for the task. Plus, people in the arts would have more interesting things to teach her child than “finger painting and ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep.’”
While some of her earlier nactors (nanny actors) had been more competent than others, Hillary had been a great success and had become a permanent fixture in Audrey’s life. Vivien held up their bond as a validation of her offbeat childcare choices. The fact that Audrey, to this day, still didn’t know the words to a single nursery rhyme and had never once done a finger painting was beside the point.
“Where are the bridesmaids?” asked the reverend.
Audrey felt heat rising up her neck. What kind of bride shows up to the rehearsal without any bridesmaids?
“One of the two should be here any minute,” she said.
“Reverend!” Debbie called from the back of the church. “This vent on the floor here is causing such a draft. I think we’ll need to block it up somehow.”
The reverend gave a resigned sigh, suddenly looking every one of his seventy-six years, but he graciously put down his order of service and marched back up the aisle to inspect the offending vent. Josh’s father, Michael, held his phone aloft and mouthed to Josh, “I’m just going to check the weather forecast,” which everyone knew was code for “checking in on the test match.”
Josh reached an arm around Audrey’s waist. “Having fun yet? Hey, don’t look so worried—it’s all going to be fine.”
Looking up into Josh’s warm brown eyes, this face that she knew so well, she instantly felt more at ease. This was what this whole weekend was about—her and Josh, Josh and her; the rest was merely wrapping paper.
As if reading her mind, Josh said, “Imagine us here this time tomorrow.” He dropped his eyes to her jeans and white blouse. “I like the dress. Red, bold move.”
“You really think Vivien would have sanctioned a red wedding dress?” said Audrey, feeling herself smile.
Josh was dressed in his usual weekend attire of dark blue jeans and a well-ironed shirt in a pastel hue—today’s choice was pink. He looked good in most clothes, with his broad shoulders and narrow waist, especially with the tan he’d picked up from his recent work trip to Singapore. Josh had been traveling a lot recently. In the three years they’d been together, his career had taken off almost as fast as Audrey’s had stalled. He’d been in the same job since university, steadily promoted up the ladder, given more and more responsibility. Since dropping out of university seven years ago, Audrey had been employed by dozens of different places. Barista, waitress, photographer, receptionist, PA, dog walker—you name it, she’d done it. She was currently working at a theater box office, where the height of her responsibility was knowing the log-in for the online ticketing system and looking after the key for the cloakroom (which she’d currently misplaced).
“Well, you know I don’t care what you wear,” Josh said. “As long as you look like you—and you don’t let your mother draw those frightening eyebrows on you.” He gave a comical grimace and then bent down to kiss her lightly on the nose.
With the air vent inspected and a note made to find a mat to cover it before tomorrow, the reverend hurried back to reclaim his position at the front of the church.
The rehearsal seemed to go on and on. Though Audrey was a central part of it, at times she felt strangely removed. How many brides had stood in this exact spot in the life span of this fifteenth-century church? How many times had Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” been played? How many readings of Genesis, chapter two, verses eighteen to twenty-four? How much of this wedding was unique to Audrey and Josh at all?
It was her own fault. She’d been overwhelmed by the sheer number of decisions to make. Did she want wildflowers or roses? Church ceremony or civil? Band or DJ? What color would the bridesmaids wear? What food would they eat? Audrey knew she could be indecisive at the best of times, so she had ended up asking her mother for help. Vivien had been married five times, so was something of an expert when it came to weddings. But her strong opinions, coupled with Audrey’s indecision, meant Audrey now had a wedding more aligned with her mother’s tastes than her own.
Just as Audrey was reflecting on this, the side door of the church banged open and Clara burst through. Finally.
“Sorry I’m late. What have I missed?” Clara announced, dumping her handbag on one of the pews.
“Thank the Lord, finally someone interesting to talk to,” said Hillary in such a charming, light manner that no one would take it as the insult it so clearly was.
“And this is . . . ?” the reverend asked Audrey.
“My maid of honor,” Audrey said, feeling some tension dissipate as she watched Clara sprint up the aisle wearing a black and white striped jumpsuit with bright orange heels. She ran to give Audrey a hug, jumping up and down in excitement.
“Technically, matron of honor,” Clara told the reverend, “but that makes me sound old and fierce, so I’m sticking with ‘maid.’ Sorry, I had a childcare crisis but I’m here now, appendage free, and I’m even wearing a proper bra, which is pretty much the highlight of my year. Where do you want me?”
“Here,” said Josh, pulling Clara in to kiss her on the cheek. “I’m glad you’ve arrived. Audrey couldn’t relax without you; I could see her getting jumpy.”
As he released Clara from the hug, there was a loud thud from the back of the church. Everyone turned to see where the noise had come from, and all eyes fell on a small black object now curled in the middle of the aisle.
“Heavens above, what was that?” Vivien cried, her voice pitched with panic.
Josh’s paternal grandmother, Granny Parker, was sitting quietly on one of the back pews, absorbed in a Jilly Cooper novel. If the object had fallen just a foot to the left, it would have landed on her head. She calmly peered over her book at the shape on the floor beside her. As a hardy Yorkshire woman, Granny Parker was not easily rattled. A few years ago, so the story went, she had witnessed a mugging outside the Co-op in Huddersfield. She’d marched straight into the tussle and clunked the aggressor over the head with a plastic bag full of library books. Thanks to Granny Parker’s preference for a chunky hardback, the mugger was rendered unconscious and later held accountable for his crimes.
“It’s a bat,” Granny Parker said, coolly inspecting the object beside her. “A dead bat.”
The reverend clutched a hand to his chest.
Debbie started shrieking. “A bat? A dead bat? Where did that come from? We can’t have dead bats raining down on guests tomorrow!”
“Oh dear, oh dear,” said the reverend, shaking his head. “The bell tower does have a few in residence, but we’ve never seen them in the church, certainly not when people are in attendance.”
“That’s a bad omen if ever I saw one,” announced Granny Parker as she looked across the church at Audrey. “A bad, bad omen.”
“Granny Parker thinks everything is a bad omen,” said Debbie briskly. “She thought the M25 Eastbound being closed was a bad omen. She thought this morning’s rain was a bad omen.”
“I know a bad omen when I see one,” said Granny Parker darkly.
“Is it time to start drinking yet?” said Hillary, standing up and looking at his watch with a dramatic stretch of his arms.
The reverend nodded, no doubt keen to dismiss everyone so he could deal with the dead bat before his christening party arrived.
“Really, Reverend, this won’t do,” said Vivien, striding across the church to inspect the offending article herself. “Do you think it died of natural causes? Or are we to expect a whole colony of corpses tomorrow?”
“I’m not sure I’m qualified to do a postmortem,” the reverend said with a smile.
“Can we fumigate the church tonight? Flush them out?” Debbie suggested.
“They’re a protected species, I’m afraid. We can’t interfere with them at all.” The reverend bent down to inspect the bat more closely. “I can assure you, this has never happened before.”
“Perhaps we need a new category of sticker to denote ‘high risk of death by bat’?” Hillary suggested, biting his lip.
“A nasty, bad omen,” repeated Granny Parker, slamming her novel shut with a thwack. “This would not happen in a Yorkshire church.”
“Look, it’s got gray whiskers, it probably died of old age,” said Josh, who had now joined the bat-inspection party.
“I’m not sure that’s going to fit in my dustpan,” the reverend said nervously.
“Well, it certainly can’t stay there!” cried Vivien.
“Don’t get too close,” Josh said, ushering everyone to stand back. “We don’t know what diseases it could be carrying. Reverend, do you have any gloves, fire tongs? Anything we could use to safely dispose of it?”
“Josh to the rescue,” Clara sang quietly to Audrey. They looked at each other and, without saying a word, communicated that this might be a good opportunity to exit via a side door and leave the bat-disposal project to those better equipped to handle such things.