“Hey, honey, what are you doing?” Mama braced her hand on the doorway. “Are you ready for the big day?”
I nodded. And double-checked my list. “Can you help me go over this?”
“Sure,” she said, “Camera.”
“Check.” I packed the large professional camera in my bag.
“Extra memory card.”
“Laptop, extra batteries, extra lenses.”
“Well, honey, I think you’ve got everything.”
I packed it all into my backpack and slung it over my shoulder. Nervous butterflies danced in my stomach. I pushed a stray curl behind my ear and looked around my pink room.
“Well Mama, this room has not changed in the five years I’ve been gone.”
She chuckled. “No, I couldn’t bear to make it into a room of my own. I left all of your stuff here in case you ever decided to come back and stay at the ranch.”
I glanced over at her as she choked up on the last words of the sentence. Tears ran down the edge of her cheek.
“Oh Mama, don’t cry.” I stepped across the pink plush rug and wrapped her into a hug.
I never realized how much Mama and Daddy missed me. And at that moment, I missed them too. I missed Texas and I missed being on the ranch. I loved Colorado, my friends out there, my job, and my apartment. The mountains were beautiful; they took my breath away every time I saw them. It hit me that I missed my family. My eyes filled up with tears. Mama held me out at arm’s length and wiped the tear that escaped from my eye.
“Now, don’t you be crying on me? You’re going to ruin your mascara.” She dabbed at it and fixed my makeup. “Well, you better be going, girl. You’re going to be late for the wedding.”
I chuckled as I glanced at my watch. The wedding didn’t start until two o’clock, and it was only nine in the morning.
“Well, I probably should get going so I can catch all the preparations.” I held up my notebook. “She wants a lot of pictures.”
Mama laughed with me, “that Annie sure knows how to put on a party.”
The park pavilion parking lot was full of cars and trucks by the time I arrived. Annie stuck her head out through the door when she heard my truck pull up.
“Katie, you’re finally here! Hurry up, we’ve got a lot going on.”
Anxiety grew in my stomach. It rolled around causing the butterflies to twist and turn. Nausea rose in my throat. I gave a small wave to Annie. She waved back before heading back inside. The door clicked shut behind her. Breathe in, Katie, breathe out. My head rested on the steering wheel, trying to calm the butterflies in my stomach.
A knock sounded at my window. Levi grinned down at me through the window.
“Are you ok?” He opened my door and gently set his hand on my back, sending tingles down my spine.
“Just having a panic attack.” My voice wheezed.
“Breathe in and out. You’ll do great.” He rubbed my back in slow circles. His voice calming my frayed nerves. I smiled weakly at him.
“Thank you.” I reached for my bag and my hand shook when I clutched my backpack and camera.
“You’ve got this, Katie,” his voice washed over me, “breathe in, breathe out.”
I breathed in through my mouth and out through my nose, holding for 3 seconds, trying to reach that elusive calm. I repeated the cycle five times until the butterflies in my stomach calmed to a gentle fluttering instead of a crazy rock and roll party. I exited my truck and he grabbed the rest of my equipment before heading towards the park pavilion. Loud voices, exuberant cries, and laughter burst through the door as we reached it. He stepped in front of me and opened the door. He smiled down at me as he placed his hand on my lower back. His grey eyes widened and glinted silver. The butterflies swooned. Get yourself together, Katie. I could get lost in those eyes.
Tables and chairs were set up for dinner after the wedding. A banquet table was set up along the outside wall and the head table was up on risers in front of the gathering of other tables. One of the bridesmaids stuck her head out of a side room and waved at me.
“We’re in here!”
I strolled across the concrete floor. Breathing in, breathing out, my hands shaking, palms sweating. I was pretty sure my perfume was wearing off. My eye makeup felt like it was sliding down my face. I grasped Levi’s hand. A nervous sweat broke out when I walked into the room. The fumes of hairspray, makeup, and other beauty products assaulted my nose. A sneeze erupted and I blushed as all of their gazes fell on me.
“Bless you,” Levi whispered in my ear. A shiver passed through me.
Someone pushed a mimosa into my hand. Annie and her bridesmaids were in various stages of getting ready. At that moment, one was having her hair primped and curled to be done up into a fancy up-do. Annie’s mom sat on a couch on the side, getting her make-up done. Granny squealed with delight as the manicurist painted her nails a brilliant red.
“Katie,” Annie startled me. My mimosa splashed over the size of the champagne flute. “I want you to take pictures of everyone. I want to be able to see the whole day when I page through the photo album.”
“Hold still,” the stylist scolded. Annie flashed me a smile and made the motion of taking pictures with her fingers.
The butterflies quieted. I guess candid shots it was. I glanced around, but Levi disappeared. I shrugged, time to get to work. I went around the room, taking pictures of the girls getting ready, trying to keep it modest and appropriate to be seen by Granny. Eventually, the time came for Annie to slip into her dress. I took pictures of her mother helping her button the tiny white buttons that ran up the back. Silhouette shots of her standing in the window looking out across the park and the girls helping her put on her garter. As they were helping her slip on her shoes, a knock sounded on the door frame.
“Levi,” Annie’s mom called, “you brought the flowers. That’s wonderful.” She rushed forward, hustling Levi into the room, and distributed the flowers to the girls.
“Here, honey, take some pictures of the flowers.” She pushed me to the front of the room.
Levi smiled at me from underneath his hat. A flush spread through me as I lined the girls up to take pictures of the bouquets with the dresses.
“All right, ladies,” I said, “let’s go outside and take some pictures in the garden. We have about an hour before I have to spend time with the groom and the groomsmen.”
We all trooped out to the garden where I took pictures of the bride’s wedding party underneath the trees, around by the flowers, in the tall grass by the cacti. They held funny poses and serious poses all the while Levi stood behind me holding the light shade. My body tingled with awareness when his eyes fell on me. I shivered as if I was showered in ice. He tried to catch my eye, but I ignored him. Once in a while, my eyes slipped to the side and found him staring at me with a small grin creasing his face or he’d wink back. It was hard to focus on the bride and bridesmaids. The handsome cowboy was affecting my concentration.
“Alright, ladies. Let’s take some photos by the rose arch. Annie, I want you to be seated on the bench. And, girls, I want you to be standing behind her.” I directed everyone where to stand.
The arch of red roses looked lovely with Annie’s white wedding dress and her girls’ pale pink bridesmaids’ dresses. At the angle, it was just not right.
“Levi, can you stand over there to left?”
He stepped away from behind me and took three strides over to the left. He raised the light over his head. My nose wrinkled and I shook my head. It still was not the right angle. I looked over at the fountain behind me. The rock wall sat up about a foot from the ground. It was rough on the surface, but I think if I stood upon it, I would get a better angle. I swept the camera strap around my neck and set the camera against my chest. I climbed up onto the rock wall. I focused on the screen as I took a step to the right. My foot slipped on the rock; my arms flailed as I fell backward into the fountain.
I watched Katie all morning. She sure was cute with her Gypsy skirt and white blouse. She wore these ridiculous flats with little bows on the toes. The minute she stepped onto the rock; my heart dropped in my chest. My feet stepped toward her as she took a step to her right. Her foot hit the rock, and she fell backward with a large splash into the water. I raced towards her.
“Katie, are you okay?” I peered into the water.
Her blonde hair hung limp around her face. Her mascara smeared on her eyelids and ran down her cheeks. Her white blouse became see-through. I drug my eyes up from the blouse to stare at her eyes. Her skin turned a gray pale color, and she was opening and closing her mouth like a fish out of water.
“Here, let me help you up?” I grasped her hand to pulled her out of the water. Her long skirt clung to her body and she stepped up over the edge of the rock wall.
“Oh no,” she cried, “my camera it’s ruined!”
Tears slid down her face as she looked at her camera dangling by its neck cord. It broke my heart to see her crying. I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her to me, rubbing circles on her back.
“Everything will be alright,” I soothed.
“What am I going to do? I won’t be able to take pictures for Annie!” She sobbed into my shoulder.
Annie approached. “Well, the first thing you need to do is go get changed. I’ll have my girls fix your hair and makeup in no time. We’ll postpone the wedding for about half an hour, so you’ll have time to go home shower and come back.”
“Really? You would do that all for me?” She hiccupped and wiped at the mascara.
Annie chuckled. “Of course, you’re the little sister I never wanted.” She patted Katie’s arms and went back to her girls. Someone poured another round of mimosas.
I turned to Katie. “Let me take you home.”
Her teeth clacked together even though it was July in Texas. I took my suit jacket off and wrapped it around her shoulders. I ushered her to my truck. Part of me felt bad for what happened to Katie; the other part was grateful for some time alone with her. I opened the door and helped her in. She seemed to zone out, so I buckled her seat belt for her and closed the door. I climbed in and started the truck. The engine rumbled to life.
“It’ll be all right,” I assured her, “you’ll see.” Silence filled the cab of the truck as we drove a while. A lightbulb went off in my head.
“Why don’t you use the camera you had this morning?”
She turned her eyes to me. They were red-rimmed and black mascara streaked down her cheeks.
“But that’s a film camera. I won’t have enough film to take all the pictures Annie wants.”
I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel as we pulled into the Kisment Ranch. “What if we stopped at the store and bought a bunch of disposable cameras? That way the people at the wedding reception can take pictures of their tables for Annie. You can focus on just the ceremony and the before and after shots.”
She turned her tear-soaked face to me and smiled. “I guess, we can do that.”
She tucked a strand of blonde hair behind her ear as she reached for the door handle. “Give me a few seconds to shower and change. I’ll be right back.”
She jumped up out of the truck and ran to the house, dripping water all the way there. The screen door slammed behind her. I smiled to myself as I reached in the backseat and grabbed the towel. I wiped up the seat where she was sitting. I gave Katie my suit jacket. My white shirt and tie looked silly with my black pants. I sighed. I guess I’ll have to go change. I got out of the truck and walked down to the bunkhouse. I pulled on a pair of black Wrangler jeans and a button-up western shirt, tied a bolo around my neck, and set my new black hat on my head. It was after Memorial Day so I should’ve worn a white hat. Mom taught me better, but I hated my white straw hat. Annie would just have to get over it. I headed back out to the truck.
Katie leaned against the railing of the porch, ringing out her wet hair. She changed into skinny jeans that hugged all of her curves and a bright blue top that made her blue eyes pop. When she glanced at me, her mouth opened and closed a couple of times.
“Wow, that’s different.” A rosy tint colored her cheeks.
“Like different how?” I leaned up against the porch railing on the other side of her and a slow smile twitched at my lips.
“Like you look really good.” Even her ears turned pink.
“I know I looked good in my suit,” I tipped my hat back and rubbed at my forehead.
“Well, you did look good in your suit but you look really good right now.” She stared down at her boots. She twisted her hair up into some sort of a knot on the top of her head and held it in place with a large metal hairpin. She had a camera bag slung over her shoulder and her hand gripped her purse.
“I’m ready if you are? Everybody seems to already be at the park.” She made her way down the steps and I grasped her hand to help her. My skin tingled the minute her fingers touched mine and my heart raced. She looked beautiful.
“Yeah?” She turned her eyes to me. The blue in her eyes was just as blue as a cloudless sky.
“You look very pretty.”
She snorted and looked the other way. “Yeah, like pretty as a drowned rat.” She hurried over to the truck. I shook my head. What I wouldn’t give for her to realize that I meant that she looks beautiful to me.
We stopped at the pharmacy and the Dollar Store just outside of town. I found a couple of disposable cameras but no extra film.
“How much do you have?” I glanced over to her.
She went through her camera bag. “I have about 20 rolls.”
“That’s a lot.” This was me trying to make conversation.
She shrugged. Her horrible anxiety must be back, and that must be what she’s dealing with right now. Her knees shook, her hand tapped on the edge of the window, and she was barely breathing. The pink drained from her cheeks, and she kept twirling her hair with her other hand.
“It will be fine, I promise you. Annie will be more than happy for everything that you’ve done.” I laid my hand on her bouncing knee.
“What if the pictures are no good? What if I don’t get the exposure right? What if their eyes are closed? What if no one’s smiling or what if someone is in the wrong spot? I can’t just hit delete and do it over again!”
I parked my truck before I took her hands in mine and rubbed my thumb over her knuckles. “It’ll be alright. Photographers have been taking pictures of weddings for a lot longer than digital cameras have been around. You can do this and Annie thinks you can do this. Plus, you got the memory card from the digital camera. That should still work.”
She nodded, “I’ve got to run and take the groomsmen pictures.”
“I’ll see you at the beginning of the wedding.”
She leaned toward me as I leaned into her. Her pink lips pressed a light kiss on my cheek before she jumped out of the truck and ran to where Bobby and his men were hanging out underneath an oak tree.
The wedding was supposed to go off at two o’clock. Annie had pushed it back a little bit so that Katie could get some more pictures. People arrived to be seated and Annie made me an usher. I seated Mom and Granny at the front of the church. Bobby’s parents sat on the other side. Bobby appeared in his tuxedo, walking among the guests, shaking hands, and talking to them. My body focused on Katie in the corner, taking pictures of the altar, her dad reading the Bible. Our eyes met across the room. I tipped my hat to her. She smiled and dropped her eyes back down to her camera.
A hand slid into the crook of my elbow, drawing my attention away from Katie as she concentrated into her camera.
“Would you like to find me a seat, cowboy?” Lindsay purred into my ear. I stifled a cringe and closed my eyes for a moment.
“Sure, Lindsay, why don't you come this way?”
I led her down the aisle to the fifth row from the front where one of my cousins sat. She wouldn't let go of my arm; instead, she ran her fingers from the tip of my elbow down into my hand and intertwined them with my fingers. My anger rose in my chest as I tried to keep it in check. I swallowed and let go of her fingers, but not before she pressed a kiss to the corner of my mouth.
“I can't wait for the dance later tonight,” she whispered.
I just looked at her. My words were not forthcoming on what to respond. I turned to walk away. Her hand reached out to my bottom, giving it a firm squeeze. I narrowed my eyes at her, and my mouth opened, about to say something until Katie caught the corner of my eye. Her mouth fell open, and she was pale as a sheet. She finished snapping a couple of pictures before quickly hurrying away. When I made to go after her, I was interrupted by Kaleb. I groaned inwardly as he placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Good to see you, Levi. I missed you at breakfast.” His dark blue eyes were unreadable.
I met his gaze and nodded. “Missed me at breakfast? I never went.”
“Remember what I said.” He strode away and found a seat next to his mom.
Crossing his arms, he stared ahead, his back straight as a ramrod. I ran my fingers through my hair and jammed my hat back on my head before heading to the back of the church.
The bells tolled, signaling the start of the wedding. The bridesmaids and Annie gathered behind the closed doors. Katie ran around them, snapping pictures. The world seemed to stop when I looked at Annie and her wedding dress. She was beautiful. Her black hair was swept up into ringlets to the white wedding dress showing off her tan. The veil laid over her eyes, but couldn’t hide a little tear running down the side of her face. I caught it with my thumb and wiped it off.
“No crying today,” I softly said to her, “it's supposed to be a happy day. You look amazing. Bobby's not going to know what hit him.”
Annie beamed at me and threw her arms around me. At that moment it was just me and my sister. A sort of peace transcended us.
“Are you ready?”
Annie nodded. With that, I cued the pianist to play the processional. Her bridesmaids walked down the aisle, slowly smiling and nodding to friends and family that they knew. Katie was at the front. Her camera catching it all for Annie's memories. I offered Annie my elbow. She slipped her hand around my elbow. I wish our dad was here to see her. But he wasn't and I was proud to walk my sister down the aisle on the happiest day of her life to her new husband. The chapel doors swung open and everyone turned to look at us. We slowly stepped down the aisle together. My gaze swung to Katie and I gave her a small smile. She looked at me for a hard moment and went back to her camera. Her face was a blank mask like Kaleb's had been earlier.