Photo by Zac Ong on Unsplash
May 4, 2021
Excerpt: ‘It Had to Be You,’ a modern New York love story
Novelist Georgia Clark's fifth tells the story of five couples that intersect with one doomed wedding planner duo
“It Had to Be You,” the fifth novel by Brooklyn-based writer Georgia Clark, tells the story of five modern romances, all centered around Liv and Eliot, a mismatched couple who have run Brooklyn’s top wedding planning business for two decades. After Eliot dies while visiting his mistress, Savannah, he leaves his half of the wedding planning business to her—to the shock and chagrin of Liv.
That’s about all the setup you need to check out the fourth chapter of “It Had to Be You.”
Jammed into a subway car so crowded she couldn’t even check her phone, Savannah Shipley was beginning to think she’d made the biggest mistake of her life.
Giving up everything in Kentucky had been the hardest thing she’d ever done. Not to mention the fact she’d basically—okay, she’d definitely—lied about the origins of her new “dream job” to her loving, trusting parents, Terry and Sherry. Her parents’ devotion to their only child was as unwavering as their Sunday church attendance. If they knew their daughter had once purchased a vibrator, let alone carried on an affair with a married New Yorker, Terry and Sherry would have twin heart attacks.
Savannah’s extended circle of friends had been excited for her move to Brooklyn, but her best friend, Cricket, took the news as a betrayal. Savannah tried to make it sound like an exciting, short term opportunity for both of them—Come visit me! I won’t be there forever!—but she wasn’t surprised to see something crumble behind Cricket’s eyes. It was essentially a nonsexual breakup.
Her internship, her best friend and the apartment they shared, her proximity to clean air and wide streets and place in the order of things: all gone.
At first, that all seemed worth it. As represented by her New York vision board, Savannah’s future in the greatest city in the world was one of bright lights and laughter, yellow cabs and pink cocktails. The words she’d placed at jaunty angles—Love! Success! Adventure! Romance!—felt like certainties. As did the image in the center of her vision board, the one that held the most mystery, the most promise: a gorgeous man in a tux. A twinkle in his piercing blue eyes.
Who are you?
Where do I find you?
Savannah Shipley hadn’t just moved to work for In Love in New York. She had moved to find this person, and in the meantime, fall in love with New York itself.
But so far, it was no romance.
The city was cold, dark, and confusing. Home was now a matchbox size room in a grotty loft with three strangers in a neighborhood where no one said hello to one another and everything was three times more expensive than it should be. When Savannah finally pushed her way off the sardined subway and onto the chilly, wet streets of her new neighborhood of Bushwick, raw, painful thoughts formed in her mind: Was she in the right place?
Living the right life?
How did you find love in a city that, so far, didn’t seem to believe in it?
Shivering, she turned a corner and stumbled across ’Shwick Chick. A down-home fried chicken joint. The restaurant’s cheery neon sign shone through the cool, misty rain enveloping the city. Even though she was living on her savings and on a budget, Savannah pushed open the door. The warm, salty-sweet smell almost brought her to tears.
It was late on a rainy Monday, but customers filled the dozen tables, which were decorated with red-checkered tablecloths and vases of daffodils. She didn’t mind waiting. The energy—of the patrons, the hip-hop playing, and four staff members doing the work of ten—lightened her dark mood. Finally, a seat opened up at the bar. Savannah’s mouth pooled in anticipation of a plate of her favorite food in the world. As Cricket always said, “Fried chicken is like sex. Even when it’s bad, it’s good.” Savannah had laughed in agreement with this, but now, as she studied the small, handwritten menu, she realized it wasn’t true … when it came to sex. In her experience, sex was often just bad: awkward and unromantic, less magical, more mechanical. Even Eliot was a better conversationalist than he was a lover.
A bartender in a cute Rosie the Riveter bandanna and plaid shirt rolled at the sleeves slid in front of her. She had two delicate gold earrings in each ear and wore her curly dark brown hair in a pixie cut. Ruddy freckles sprayed across skin that was pockmarked with acne scars. Like all the staff, she appeared overworked but cheerful. “Whatcha havin’, darlin’?” Her Southern twang sounded as cozy as hot toddies in front of a fire.
“How’s the fried chicken?” Savannah asked. “And I hope you say it’s damn good.”
“It’s damn good, Kentucky.” Then, off Savannah’s look of surprise that this woman had picked her accent so precisely, she added, “And so am I, apparently.”
Fifteen minutes later, Savannah was presented with a meal that was better than sex. The juicy, golden-brown chicken was crispy and crunchy on the outside, moist and tender on the inside. Each deep-fried piece was soaked with a spicy-sweet honey sauce that was so good, Savannah asked for an extra side of it. She resisted the urge to moan as she ate, every bite sating a desperate, bone-deep craving. Around her, the staff whirred like a well-oiled machine. The girl with the pixie cut was the most efficient of all, equally friendly and adept. Savannah had been done for less than ten seconds before she swept by to clear her plate, flashing a brief, gaptoothed grin.
“That was just about the best fried chicken I’ve ever had,” Savannah hurried to offer. “Usually the leg is my favorite, but that breast was perfect.”
“Breast is best, right? Actually the honey-fried chicken’s my recipe. Named after myself.” The woman thumbed her necklace. Honey, in cursive, on a gold chain.
“Are you the owner?”
Honey tipped her head back and laughed. “I wish! One day.” Her arms were inked with fine tattoos: a dachshund, a triangle, the words Girl Almighty in tiny block letters. The only makeup she wore was a bright slash of red across her lips. “What about you, Kentucky? What do you do?”
“I’m a wedding planner.” At best it sounded like a fantasy. At worst, a lie. It’d been almost a week since the meeting with Kamile and Dave. Liv wasn’t returning her calls. “But not a very good one. I can’t even find a caterer.”
“You live here or just visitin’?”
“I live here.”
“Then I expect to see you back here,” Honey said, sliding the picked-clean bones into the trash.
“I’ll be a regular at anywhere serving Pappy Van Winkle.” Savannah pointed at her favorite bourbon whiskey. “Best bourbon in the world.”
Honey arched an eyebrow, seeming impressed. “I agree. And we’re the only restaurant in Bushwick who serves it.” She grabbed the bottle. “This one’s on me.”
Honey poured her a glass, winked, then turned her attention to the guys at the other end of the bar. Savannah watched their eyes slide over Honey’s body, lingering at the swell of her breasts. Half the men who came in here probably fell in love with her.
Savannah had never been short of male attention, but she’d never truly connected with any of the guys in the South. They always felt too familiar or too shallow. Sexless, like a big brother or a best friend. New York had already presented one worldly lover. It was sure to present another. Someone confident and hardworking, with a cheeky glint in their eye. Maybe that was the reason why she uprooted her life and moved to a new city where she knew no one and was unequivocally the tiniest fish in the world’s biggest pond. Because if love wasn’t in New York City—where was it?
Copyright © 2021 by Georgia Clark. From IT HAD TO BE YOU: A Novel by Georgia Clark. Reprinted by permission of Emily Bestler Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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