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Authors: Richard Peck

The Best Man

BOOK: The Best Man
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An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street

New York, NY 10014

Copyright © 2016 by Richard Peck

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Ebook ISBN 9780698189737

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Peck, Richard, date, author.

Title: The best man / Richard Peck.

Description: New York, NY : Dial Books for Young Readers, [2016] | Summary: “Archer has four important role models in his life—his dad, his grandfather, his uncle Paul, and his favorite teacher, Mr. McLeod. When Uncle Paul and Mr. McLeod get married, Archer's sixth-grade year becomes one he'll never forget”— Provided by publisher.

Identifiers: LCCN 2015049803 | ISBN 9780803738393 (hardback)

Subjects: | CYAC: Family life—Fiction. | Schools—Fiction. | Role models—Fiction. | Weddings—Fiction. | Gays—Fiction. | BISAC: JUVENILE FICTION / Family / General (see also headings under Social Issues). | JUVENILE FICTION / School & Education.

Classification: LCC PZ7.P338 Bes 2016 | DDC [Fic]—dc23 LC record available at

Jacket art 2016 by Michael Arnold

Jacket design by Danielle Calotta and Maria Fazio

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


For Lin


oys aren't too interested in weddings. Girls like them. Grown-ups like them. But my first-grade year started with one wedding, and my sixth ended with another. Call my story “A Tale of Two Weddings.” I was in both of them.

• • •

One of the weddings was great. In fact, it's just over. There's still some cake. And I got a fantastic new suit out of it. The pants are cuffed. The coat gives me shoulders, and I'll be sorry to outgrow it. I won't mind being taller, but I'll miss the suit.

Also, a pair of gold cuff links are involved, but we'll come to them later.

The other wedding, the first one, was a train
wreck, so let's get that one out of the way. Besides, it happened when I was too little to know what was happening or to stand up for my rights. I didn't have any rights. I was six.

Did I even know what weddings are? And this one wasn't even anybody in our family.

“Archer, honey,” said Mom one day. I was in her office for some reason I didn't see coming. Mom's maiden name was Archer. I'm named for her kid brother, Paul Archer.

Mom was about to pull me onto her lap. But I held up both hands. They were red and black with touch-up paint. I was paint all over. I'd sat in some. Dad and I had been out in the garage detailing a vintage '56 Chevy Bel Air.

Mom pulled back, but only a little. “There's going to be a wedding, and guess what? You get to be in it.”

“Get Holly,” I said. Holly's my sister, seven years older, so she'd have been thirteen or so.

“We already have Holly,” Mom said. “She's going to be a junior bridesmaid. She's tickled pink.”

“What's left?”

“Ring bearer,” Mom said.

“What's that?”

“You carry the bride's ring down the aisle on a little satin pillow.”

“Whoa,” I said.

“You won't be alone,” Mom said. “Don't worry about that. There'll be another ring bearer. She'll carry the groom's ring.”


“A darling little girl named Lynette Stanley.”

A girl?

“Her mother and I went to college together. We were best buds in the Tri Delt House. The Stanleys have moved here for the schools, so you and Lynette will be starting first grade together, and you'll already be friends!” Mom beamed.

How could I be friends with a girl? I stood there, waiting to wake up from this bad dream.

“I can wear my regular clothes,” I said. “Right?”

“Archer, honey, you don't have regular clothes,” Mom said. “And by the way, racing-stripe paint doesn't come out in the wash. I suppose your dad's in about the same condition.”

“Pretty much,” I said.

“We'll look at what you'll wear for the wedding a little later on.” Mom glanced away. “A little closer to the event.”

I racked my six-year-old brain. There had to be a way out of this. There's always a way out when you're six, right? “Who are they, these people getting married?”

Mom was looking away, far, far away. “The bride is Mrs. Ridgley's granddaughter,” she said.

“Who's Mrs. Ridgley?”

“An old friend of your grandmother Magill.”

“Were they best buds in the Tri Delt House?”

“No,” Mom said. “They were best buds at the Salem witch trials.”


very hot August day brought the wedding closer. My sister, Holly, came home from camp and pounded up to her room to try on her junior bridesmaid dress. She about wore it out before the day came. But the day came.

So did my ring-bearer rig, my first FedEx delivery. Mrs. Addison Magill had sent for it—Grandma. I couldn't read, but I knew that much. “Archer,” Mom said, “whatever it is, you'll have to wear it. I do my best with your grandmother Magill, but it's never good enough. Never. Be a brave boy.”

It was going to be a simple porch wedding, Grandma's porch. They wouldn't even need a rehearsal,
which was fine with me. I didn't know what a rehearsal was. Just a gathering of friends. No fuss.

But a hundred and twenty-five chairs were set up on the front lawn when the wedding day dawned. We live behind my grandparents. Two big square houses. Grandpa Magill built them.

Dad stayed down in the garage as long as he could. But time ran out for him too.

“A tie?” I heard him say to Mom up in their room. “I have to wear a

I crouched at the end of my bed. I couldn't sit all the way down in my ring-bearer's rig.

An idea hit me—the best idea I'd ever had in my life. I'd go hide, and after a while they'd forget about me. They might even forget they'd ever had me. Then after the wedding, when the rings were on the fingers, I'd pop out, and they'd all be glad to see me.

I know. A few months older—a few weeks—and I'd have seen all the bugs in this plan. The first thing you learn in school is that there's no place to hide.

I vanished while the coast was clear. Not easy in those shoes. Even the soles seemed to be patent leather. I skidded past Holly's room. And Mom and Dad's, where Mom was tying Dad's tie. Then I was outdoors and across the alley to Grandpa and
Grandma's. August sun glinted off me. I was all in white like the bride.

I came across Grandpa Magill, in the porch swing Dad had set up for him in our backyard. He wore his seersucker suit and a straw hat, and was sound asleep. Cleo the cat was in his lap. She glanced up at me, then stared. Even to the cat I looked ridiculous. Up at the back of Grandma and Grandpa's house, uniformed people were putting glasses on trays. The wedding cake stood under a plastic sheet. I wouldn't have said no to a piece of cake, but I had some disappearing to do.

Now I was moving from one snowball bush to the next, along the side of the house, and the front porch. I slid back a piece of loose latticework down low and slipped inside. Now you see me, now you don't.

I'd been down here under the porch before, making a fort, messing around. It's a cool, webby place with some mud. I was inches from the wedding, but totally invisible.

Footsteps thundered on the porch floor above. Murmuring came from the folding chairs in the yard. A string quartet tuned up directly over my head. Then I got a big surprise.

A face appeared in the open space I'd come
through. I jumped, and cracked my head on a beam. A girl ducked inside. She had a mop of red hair with a big pink bow in it. You could just stand up in here, if you were six. She was a little bigger than I was, all the way around.

Her skirt was a lot of peachy pink net. We seemed to be wearing matching shoes. “Hey, bozo, you're supposed to be
the porch, not under it,” the girl said. “What are you, five?”

It was Lynette Stanley, of course.

“How'd you know I was down here?”

“I saw you from the living room window.” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder. Her dress had weird puffy sleeves.

“Who could miss you in all that white? You look like a snow cone.”

It was dim down here, but Lynette Stanley got a good look at me.

“White velvet shorts?” she said. “What were they thinking?”

“Shut up,” I said, hopeless.

“They're really tight on you.”

Tighter than she knew. I couldn't sit down.

“They're like toddler's shorts,” Lynette said. “It's like you wear training pants underneath.”

I wasn't wearing anything underneath. How could I? And I was beginning to chafe.

“It's like you drink out of a sippy cup. And look at your shirt. You've got more ruffles down your front than I do.”

She held out her skirt. “And I look like Fancy Nancy.”

Her dress was a lot of net, a lot of sash, those ruffles. Dorky. She'd had a FedEx delivery too. Above us the string quartet went into “You Are the Wind Beneath My Wings.”

“It's a bad dress,” I told Lynette, “but you'll be safe down here.”

“Are you nuts?” she said. “We're already late. They'll be panicking. They'll be on their phones. It'll be an Amber Alert.”

“I'm not going.” I put my hands behind me. “You go ahead.”

Lynette sighed and made a grab for me. She was planning to frog-march me out from under the porch or something. I jumped back. My slick shoes shot out from under me. I sat down hard, and my hands slapped mud. We heard the sound of stitches popping.

“Whoops,” said Lynette.

Something inside me had known this wasn't going to work. A sob started up, behind the baby-blue velvet bow tie.

• • •

We were outside now, breezing past the snowball bushes. She'd yanked me to my feet. My hands were muddy, so now
hands were muddy. I felt cold slime where I sat.

“They're going to kill me,” I said.

“They'll have to get past me first,” Lynette said.

She still had me in a grip all the way into the house. Bridesmaids were rustling around in there. They'd already been assigned their bouquets. I guess the bride was still upstairs. There aren't any small weddings. There's always fuss.

Mom in a new dress swooped down on me. “Archer, where . . .” Then she really saw me. “Oh, Archer,” she said. “Why?”

Lynette turned me loose. I didn't want to get mud on Mom, so I wiped my hands on my ruffles.

“I did it,” Lynette said. “I pushed him in the mud.”

Then another woman loomed up, redheaded. She was already spitting on a Kleenex, so she'd be Lynette's mom. “Put out your hands, Lynette. We've
got to get the worst of that mud off them,” said Mrs. Stanley. “You have to carry a white satin pillow.

Lynette turned them up. “This kid—Archer—said my dress was bad and an ugly color, so I popped him one, and he fell in the mud,” Lynette confessed. “Went down like a tree.”

This was a lie. You were there. You heard. Lynette said it to save me. I couldn't believe it, but I took a hand back from Mom and rubbed my chin as if Lynette had popped me one.

Then here came Grandma Magill. For one thing, Lynette and I had tracked in mud, which you better never do.

Mom was bending over me. She looked up at Grandma. “Hazel, I don't think I can get him cleaned up in time.”

Hope flickered in me, for a second or two.

Grandma looked me over. But she didn't see the worst. That was all behind me where I'd sat in the mud. A cool breeze blew back there, into the split in my velvet shorts. A split turning into a gap. Remember—no underpants.

The wedding was running late. Time enough
for the groom to have second thoughts, as Grandma often said later. She gave me one of her looks. An orchid was planted on her big shoulder.

“He goes down the aisle,” she said, “just like that.” Grandma turned to the front window, scattering bridesmaids. The string quartet was sitting there, holding their bows.

Grandma leaned out the window. “Hit it,” she told them.

• • •

Holly went first. Her dress looked a little tired, but she was really happy. She'd never worn lipstick this near Mom before. The string quartet was about to go into “Here Comes the Bride.”

When Holly reached the top of the porch steps, Grandma gave me and Lynette shoves through the front door.

We were both carrying little white pillows. “Right foot,” Lynette muttered. “No. Try the other one.”

I slipped and slid on the slick porch. The rings were sewed to the pillows, so that was okay. But now came the stairs.

You never saw that many people in a front yard. The minister was practically out in the street, along
with the groom and the best man. You could barely make them out.

Lynette went down a step. I couldn't. My shorts had me in a hammer lock. They were like the jaws of death. I tried it sideways. Nothing. My patent leather shoe hung out in space.

I handed off my pillow to Lynette. I'd have to crawl on all fours, backward. The first bridesmaid was in the doorway, twitching her bouquet.

I started crawling down, bottom high in the August afternoon. With two hundred and fifty eyes on me from the yard. The cameras were already coming out.

There was no seat in my pants now. Only me, muddy and open to the world.

Laughter rippled across the yard. All the cameras were out. I was facing the other way, but I could feel the flash. Lynette, with both pillows, kept even with me.

A year or so later we made it to the foot of the stairs. I was
this close
to bawling.

“Don't,” Lynette said, and handed me my pillow.

An old lady sat in the first row with her hand over her eyes. That would be Mrs. Ridgley.

We set off. “Right foot,” muttered Lynette, “left foot.”

The bridesmaids were coming down off the porch behind us, and here came the bride. But I'd already stolen the show.

Cameras still flashed behind me when the wedding party pulled up out by the street. I was still being uploaded. And Lynette and I were right there till we had to hand over the rings.

Then out of the crowd Dad appeared, in a tie. He swooped down on me and slung me over his shoulder. And off we went to the garage to hide out until this whole wedding blew over. We played Angry Birds, Dad and I. Angry Birds Star Wars, his favorite. SpongeBob Jelly Puzzle 3, mine. We passed on the wedding cake.

So that's how Lynette Stanley and I started. She was bossy then. She's bossy now. But she took the rap for me by saying she'd knocked me in the mud. “You saved my butt,” I still tell her.

“Actually, I didn't,” Lynette says. “Your six-year-old butt is still on YouTube.”

BOOK: The Best Man
5.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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