I strode up the stone pathway to the white doors of the park pavilion. Nerves shook my body causing my palms to be clammy, my heart pounded, and my body to sweat more than normal. Breathe, Katie. You’ve got this. I closed my eyes for a second to steel my nerves. Then, I pushed open the doors with a loud screech. Swarms of women scurried around the large open room. No one noticed me as I took another step inside. A large breath escaped as I scanned the room for the one person I was looking for.
“Katie, you finally made it!” The bride-to-be rushed at me from the center of the room.
Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch us. My anxiety skyrocketed, making my chest hurt. I rubbed at my sternum as I took in another breath. They paused for a moment before resuming their decorating.
“Um, I just got here.”
The bride-to-be, Annie, wrapped me into a big hug and bounced up and down.
“I’m getting married!” She screeched.
I winced at the pitch, but I couldn’t help smiling at the other woman. Her shiny black hair bounced around her shoulders. It contrasted nicely with her ivory lace dress and faded cowboy boots.
“I’m just so glad you are here,” she whispered in my ear, “Come on.”
She took my hand and led me to the far corner. She opened a small door and shoved me into a dark closet. The door shut softly behind her with a click. The dust tickled my nose as the moldy smell suffocated me.
“What are we doing in here?” A sneeze erupted from my nose.
I covered my mouth and nose with my hand. My eyes adjusted to the darkness. Cobwebs suspended in the corners. A couple of discarded folding chairs leaned against the back wall. A large yellow spider dropped from the ceiling and hung inches above her head as she leaned close to me.
“I need your help.” Her blue eyes grew wide as they searched my face.
“OK.” Where is she going with this? Is that spider going to drop on to her head?
“Katie, pay attention.”
“Sorry, there’s a big spider up there.”
“Don’t worry about the spider. I need your help.”
“You’ve said that.”
“My wedding photographer is in the hospital.”
“Oh no.” I gasped, inhaling a breath of dust. Coughing. “Is everything alright?"
"Her baby was born a preemie. They are both still in the hospital. I know that this is a lot to ask, but you’re the only one that can help me.” Tears glistened in the corner of her eyes. “Can you, please, take pictures of the wedding? For me?”
I backed up until my back hit the wall. A shower of dust fell onto my shoulders. The large yellow spider scuttled back up her silk to hide in the rafters.
“Um, doesn’t she have a backup?” I coughed and sputtered in the dust.
“It was supposed to be her partner but she got thrown from a horse and broke a leg. I need you to do it.”
I glanced around but there was no way out. My palms started to sweat, again.
“But I only do landscape and nature photography.” Panic rose in my chest.
“Please.” She clasped my hands in hers.
“But photographing people is hard. They don’t listen to me.” My hands shook. “The lighting has to be perfect. Everyone needs to be looking at the camera.” My thoughts jumped ahead and I got lost in them for a minute. “Plus, it’s a wedding. I’ve never done a wedding before!”
“But you do such beautiful work. How hard would it be to add people to your landscapes?”
How hard indeed? “People” My voice sounded weak to my ears. My mind trudged like it was stuck in fudge. “It’s not really in my wheelhouse. Or even within a hundred miles.”
“Please, say you’ll do it for me? It’s my wedding, I need this to be perfect.”
I nodded. That didn’t make me feel any better. But this was a big deal for Annie. And she had always been a big supporter of my work.
“I want this to go well. If you do it, you’ll be saving the day.” She pleaded.
My heart sunk at her words. Annie was always good at getting me to do things for her. She knew what buttons to push to get me to cave. And she did need help.
“Fine, I’ll do it.”
She squealed and gave me another hug before opening the closet door.
“Perfect! Here is a list of pictures I want to be done.” She thrust a large binder into my hands. “See what you can do. Here’s the itinerary for the wedding. And I’ll get you an assistant.” She bustled away.
An assistant? I sat down on a nearby bench as my head swam. My relaxing weekend away to see my old babysitter get married just turned into the stuff of my nightmares.
I slapped the dust from my cowboy hat before shoving it on my head. I loved my sister, but the whole wedding nonsense drove me crazy. I’d rather be branding two hundred calves than delivering Annie’s wayward balloons. But here I was. My fist grabbed a hunk of ribbon and tugged the fifty white and ivory balloons. They fought for freedom, blocking my view as I stumbled my way into the pavilion. I fumbled for the doorknob until the door opened and I stepped into the large room. A couple of balloons stuck to the door frame, stopping my forward progress. I turned to pull them into the room. With a loud squeak, they released from the door frame. I stumbled backward, my arms flailed, and balloons floated to the ceiling. With a thud and a soft cry, someone broke my momentum. We went down in a pile of arms and legs.
“Levi, are you OK?”
Annie bent over me as she extracted the woman underneath me. She was curvy with bouncy blonde hair. She straightened her skirt before looking at me. Her blue eyes widened when our gazes met. The breath caught in my throat as recognition dawned on me.
“You remember Katie Kisment?” Annie flung an arm over the girl’s shoulders.
“Of course.” I swept my cowboy hat from my head as my heart thundered in my chest. “It’s good to see you.”
A pretty blush colored her cheeks. Boy, has she grown up. I haven’t seen her for five years when she went off to college. Back then, she was a shy teenager who’d barely say hi to me. She dyed her pretty blonde hair black and wore baggy black clothes. She didn’t smile much and hid behind chunky black glasses. I preferred her current natural blonde and blue glasses. She looked lovely and my body responded to her. I could stare into her blue eyes forever.
“Earth to Levi.” Annie waved her hand in front of my face.
“Yup.” I drew my gaze from the stunning beauty next to her and collected the balloons I could reach.
“Katie needs an assistant for the wedding. And I need you to help her.”
I froze in mid-reach. I loved my sister but I was trying to stay out of the wedding. I just wanted to shine my boots and walk my mother down the aisle.
“What?” I stuttered.
“She’s going to be my photographer since my original one is in the hospital. She needs help and you’re going to help her.” She poked me in the chest, hard. She spun on her heel and stalked off to torment someone else.
I caught the last balloon before turning to Katie. Her eyes were wide and her mouth opened into a little O. I smiled at her as she wrung her hands together.
“I don’t know anything about being a photographer’s assistant.”
“That’s fine.” A smile tugged at her lips. “I’ve never done a wedding.” She stage whispered, causing me to laugh.
“That makes two of us. I’ll take these over to my mom.” I motioned to the grey-haired woman by the archway. “Then, I am at your beck and call.” I winked at her as I walked past.
My head spun as I crossed the room. I had to spend the next thirty-six hours being with the one girl I’ve crushed on. The one girl that was off-limits, because I worked for her family. There were three rules to working on the Kisment ranch. No fighting, no drugs, and no dating their only daughter. It was shaping up to be a long wedding. I had to live the next several hours without losing my heart or my job.