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  • Published: 6 August 2024
  • ISBN: 9780241688151
  • Imprint: Michael Joseph
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 432
  • RRP: $34.99

Slow Dance



Mikey was one of her oldest friends, and she’d missed his first wedding. She couldn’t afford the trip to Rhode Island at the time. (She still couldn’t afford a trip to Rhode Island.)

But this time he was getting married here in Omaha, right down the street – of course Shiloh would be there. Everyone would.

Everyone loved Mikey. He held on to people. Shiloh had never been sure how he managed it.

She checked yes on the RSVP card and wrote in, With bells on!

The week before the wedding, she bought a new dress on clearance. Deep-burgundy floral with a low-cut neck. It was meant to be tea length, but it came to Shiloh’s knees. The sleeves were a little short, too – she’d just wear a denim jacket over it. (Could you wear a jean jacket to a wedding? A second wedding?) (It would be fine. She’d pin a silk flower to the chest.)

The wedding was on one of Ryan’s Fridays. Shiloh waited until he picked up the kids before she started getting ready. She didn’t want Ryan to see her wearing makeup. Or heels. She didn’t want him to see her trying.

Maybe some people wanted to look good for their exes, to show them what they’d lost or whatever. Shiloh would prefer that Ryan never thought of her at all. Let him think he was too good for her. Let him think that Shiloh had gone to seed.

Shiloh was a thirty-three-year-old divorced woman with two children under six – maybe she literally had gone to seed.

Ryan was late, even though she’d told him she had somewhere she needed to be. (She should never have told him she had somewhere to be.)

He was late, and the kids had gotten tired of waiting. They were hungry and sullen when he finally showed up and blustered his way into the living room like she’d invited him in.

‘They’re hungry,’ Shiloh said.

And Ryan said, ‘Why didn’t you feed them, Shy?’

And Shiloh said, ‘Because you were supposed to take them for


And then he said –

It didn’t really matter what Ryan said after that. He was just going to keep saying the same old things for the next fifteen years of coparenting, and Shiloh was going to have to keep listening, because . . . Well, because she’d made a series of serious mistakes and miscalculations.

It was funny, almost, how poorly Shiloh had built her life – especially for someone who had once prided herself on her ability to make decisions.

That’s something she’d decided about herself when she was a teenager. She’d thought she was good at making decisions because she liked making them. They felt good, they gave her a zing. If someone was lingering over a decision or seesawing between two options, Shiloh loved cutting in and settling the matter. The world would spin faster and with more clarity if Shiloh were in charge.

If Shiloh could talk to her teenage self now, she’d point out that deciding wasn’t any good if you weren’t deciding correctly – or even in the neighborhood of correctly.

Ryan finally left with the kids. And Shiloh tore the clearance tags off her dress. She put on makeup. She pinned up her hair. She stood on tiptoe to get her boots zipped over her calves.

She’d already missed the wedding, but she wouldn’t miss the reception. No one would. Everyone would be there.


The reception was in a rental hall on the second floor of a youth wrestling club. Mikey had married someone from the neighborhood this time, a girl who had been a year or two behind them in high school.

It was a plated dinner, with assigned tables. Fancy.

‘Shiloh!’ someone called out, as soon as she walked into the lobby. ‘We thought you weren’t coming!’

It was Becky. Shiloh and Becky had been on the high school newspaper together. They’d been thick as thieves – they’d actually stolen a traffic barricade once – and they still talked sometimes.

They were friends on Facebook. (Shiloh almost never logged in to Facebook.)

‘I’m here,’ Shiloh said, mustering up a smile. There was going to be a lot of mustering tonight, she could already tell.

‘You’re at our table,’ Becky said. ‘It’s practically a journalism reunion. Everyone’s here. Oh god, wait – you were at our table, but we thought you weren’t coming, so we gave your seat to Aaron King, do you remember him? He was a sophomore?’

‘I remember him – it’s fine.’

‘But you should still come say hi. Everybody’s here.’

‘No one can say no to Mikey,’ Shiloh said.

‘You’re so right,’ Becky agreed. ‘Plus we all thought there’d be an open bar.’ She laughed. ‘Oh well.’

Shiloh followed Becky into the reception hall. She held her head straight and kept her gaze fixed, deliberately not scanning the room for familiar faces. Anyone that Shiloh would recognize was going to have to force their way into her field of vision.

They got to their table. There was Becky’s husband and Tanya – god, Shiloh hadn’t seen Tanya for years. And Tanya’s husband, yeah, they’d met, hi, hi. Hugs. Hi. Nia. And Ronny. Shiloh hated Ronny. At least, she used to hate Ronny – did she still hate Ronny? She hugged him anyway. People, all these people. From the same tiny part of Shiloh’s life (it hadn’t felt tiny at the time). All these people who knew her and remembered her. They were all eating salads and sorry that they’d given away her seat – but that was okay, Shiloh didn’t mind. She’d pull up a chair later. It was good to see them, she said – and it really was. It was good to know now who was here, from the old days.

And who wasn’t.

It made sense that he wasn’t here – he was in Virginia, wasn’t he? The last time Shiloh had heard, he was in Virginia. Maybe someone would mention it later . . .

Of course he wasn’t here. He was in the Navy. He was probably on the ocean somewhere. Probably didn’t get back home much. She’d heard once that he didn’t get back home much . . .

He wasn’t here, and other people were, and she could enjoy this now. Enjoy them. Enjoy something.

Shiloh didn’t want to stand there hovering over her old friends while they finished their salads. She squeezed a few shoulders, then squeezed between tables to get to the one in the corner where Aaron King had been assigned to sit. (She actually didn’t remember him.) There was a couple sitting there, surrounded by empty chairs.

‘Mind if I join you?’ Shiloh asked.

They didn’t mind at all. They introduced themselves – Mikey’s aunt and uncle – and told her they’d already eaten her dinner roll. ‘We ate all of them,’ the uncle said. ‘We thought we had this table to ourselves!’

The aunt cackled warmly. ‘We were gonna eat your cake, too.’

‘You still can,’ Shiloh promised, sitting down. There was a white jar candle next to her plate, branded Mike & Janine, January 20, 2006.

Shiloh picked it up and sniffed it. Lavender.

She could look around now – now that she knew he wasn’t here. It was safe.

The tables were set up at one end of the reception hall, and there was a dance floor on the other. Spotlights were already flashing onto a disco ball in the corner. Shiloh had been to three or four weddings here before, but this was probably the best she’d ever seen this place look. Someone had wrapped all the fixtures in Christmas lights. The chairs were swathed in tulle.

Shiloh liked weddings. Improbably. Still. She liked seeing people’s best outfits. She liked beginnings. She liked the flowers and the favors and the little bags of Jordan almonds.

A lot of the other guests were people Shiloh vaguely remembered from high school . . . all of them looking a little older and fatter and knocked around by life to varying degrees.

It was easy to pick out Mikey’s New York City friends. Art-world people. There was a woman in a bright yellow bandage dress and a man wearing black culottes and platform boots.

Shiloh used to take great pains not to be dressed like anyone else in a room – but she’d lost her edge. And she’d never had as much edge as these people. She felt dowdy in comparison. Thrown together. Even though she hadn’t tried this hard in years.

She scanned the crowd for Mikey. She’d have to apologize to him for missing the ceremony. Maybe he hadn’t noticed. He surely had plenty of other things on his mind.

Someone near Shiloh started tapping a fork against a wineglass, then other people picked up the clanging, everyone eagerly turning to watch the bride and groom kiss. Shiloh followed the wave to the head table.

There was Mikey. With his curly blond hair and big, goofy smile. He was wearing a white suit. That was obviously Janine next to him in the wedding dress. Then the bridesmaids in pale green satin. And the groomsmen. And Cary.


Shiloh clenched her hands in her lap.

Cary was a groomsman.

Right . . . Right – that made sense.

Of course Cary was here.

Of course he wouldn’t miss it.

Slow Dance Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell is back with her first adult novel in ten years in this uplifting novel about star-crossed lovers and the power of second chances

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