From my upcoming DEARLY BELOVED, Book 1 in the Match Made in Heaven series.
“9-1-1! Colleen, I’ve got a 9-1-1 in the Bawl Room!”
I cringed at the crisis call blaring through my earpiece. I hated emergency calls, especially when everything was about to start. To pull off the perfect wedding, just like when invading an enemy country during wartime, you have to run on a strict, unbendable time schedule. There was no room for deviation. A 9-1-1 call was the equivalent of a ticking time bomb, set to blow up the whole operation.
“On my way,” I said. “Any bloodshed?”
“None so far,” my assistant Charity Quinlan replied, her small voice breathless with urgency. “But it’s coming. Get here. I don’t know how much longer I can keep them from killing one another.”
I shot from my command post at the back of my hometown church in Heaven, New Hampshire, and sprinted down the long corridor toward the kid’s section, affectionately known as the Bawl Room, which was the staging area for the soon-to-start wedding I was in charge of. The small space was given this moniker because it was where parents of unruly children shuttled their little miscreants when their behavior disrupted the congregation during Mass. My sisters and I had been banished to the room every Sunday of our childhood.
I took a calming breath in front of the closed door—a door that did nothing to muffle raised, angry, and shrill voices—and ran a hand across my quaking abdominal muscles. They’d been throbbing and pulsing like a precision quartz timepiece from the confining, belly-flattening, spandex undergarment I wore to mask the extra eight pounds I’d recently packed on.
I said a silent prayer to St. Gabriel, the patron saint of strength. “Breathe,” I whispered, making it a plea. “Just breathe.”
Placing a broad smile across my face, I pushed through the door and entered into a tempest I regarded as the tenth circle of Hell: ex-wives.
Two lavishly dressed women—one in her fifties, the other ten years younger, and both trying desperately to look in their thirties—stood, dyed stiletto to dyed stiletto, glaring at one another. Both had fisted hands planted on their hips, shoulders hunched, perfectly coiffed heads bent, ready to do battle.
“Who do you think you are?” one screeched at the other. “You’re not her mother. You’re nobody in this wedding, just my ex’s current squeeze of the second, so back the hell off. Now!”
The woman being shrilled at, all six foot of her in icepick heels, leaned forward and pulled her outlined, lipstick-enhanced mouth back into a perfect teeth-baring snarl. She jabbed one of her french-manicured tips at her aggressor and ground out, “I’ve been married to him longer than you were, bitch, and you know it, so who you calling squeeze of the second, because from where I’m standing, you were more like a mistake who got knocked up than a wife any day of the week.”
The elder of the two was set to pounce, aiming for her rival’s perfect camera-ready face so I did a quick little jog and insinuated myself between them.
“Ladies.” My gaze ping-ponged from one to the other. “Please. The wedding is about to begin. We can’t have this kind of behavior.”
“She started it,” the actual mother of the bride, Mary Ann Stively said, pointing at her ex-husband’s current wife. “She says she should go down the aisle after me because she’s married to my loser ex—”
“Who’s the father of the bride,” JoEllen, wife number two, said. She turned her back on wife one and faced me. “You’re the wedding planner, Colleen. You know proper protocol says I should go down the aisle right before the party, since I’m married to the father of the bride. I looked it up, read all about wedding etiquette and procedures.”
“In what? Your current edition from slut-of-the-month book club?” Mary Ann spat.
JoEllen’s eyes slitted under penciled eyebrows standing stationary on her unlined and unmoving forehead, a paralytic effect—I surmised—from years of Botox injections.
“Why, you—” She inched forward and tried to reach by me, but eight years of track in school and four more in college gave me a decided advantage in swiftness. I blocked her, my arms splaying out at my sides so she couldn’t go around me.
My left eye started to twitch—never a good sign—and I knew I had to set this situation to rights. Now. The wedding was scheduled to begin in less than ten minutes.
“Mrs. Stively.” Both women stared at me. “Um, the current Mrs. Stively.”
JoEllen pulled herself up to her towering height and gave her paid-for breasts a good forward thrust. “What?”
“I know you feel you deserve to walk down right before the wedding party—”
“—but I’m sorry. Whatever you’ve read stating that was the correct procession is incorrect. The actual mother of the bride is the one who immediately precedes the party. Unless, of course she’s not present or deceased. Then it would be proper for a stepmother to be the last person down the aisle before the attendants and bride.”
JoEllen slanted a deathly glare at Mary Ann. I swear I could hear her brain running through scenarios on how to commit murder in the next five minutes.
“Now, I need you both to take your places so we can get this wedding started. Stop arguing and let’s go.”
I’d dealt with these two overbearing women many times in the past few months and knew neither would give an inch, or relinquish control, of their own accord. Since they continued to stand rock-still, daggers zipping between them, I did what I always do in situations like this and got physical.
I grabbed the first Mrs. Stively firmly by the forearm and gave her a good yank while motioning to Charity, who’d been cowering behind a pew, to do the same to Stively spouse number two.
Charity, at a spit above five foot, was no match for the lengthy, stilettoed second wife, but what she lacked in height, she more than made up for in determination. With a firm hand draped along JoEllen’s back, Charity began walking, propelling the woman forward.
“Can you believe that bitch?” Mary Ann asked as I escorted her down the long hallway to the back of the church where the procession stood, waiting. I continued to hold her forearm in a grip of steel in the event she planned to escape and go back to punch her replacement.
“Forget JoEllen,” I commanded. “It’s your daughter’s day. Focus on her. You don’t want Annie to remember this day filled with problems or fights. You want her to have the most wonderful memories of her wedding, don’t you?”
Before she could reply, I steamrolled right over her. “Of course you do. Fighting with JoEllen serves no purpose and will only upset Annie. Take a quick, deep breath if she annoys you again and ignore her. Believe me, you’ll feel better for it.”
I knew I was telling a bald-faced lie.
Mary Ann and JoEllen both wanted to scratch the other’s eyes out, and today’s incident was another in a long line of antagonistic outbreaks since Annie had retained me as her wedding planner. The two Stively wives despised one another for various and obvious reasons. Their only compatible redeeming value was their mutual unconditional love for the bride-to-be.
In the vestibule, the melodic strings of a Mozart concerto serenaded the waiting congregation.
Annie Stively’s parents had spared no expense on their cherished only daughter. From a twenty-thousand-dollar, custom-made, hand-stitched, lace and satin gown complete with a five-thousand-dollar tiara and train, to the five-hundred-dollar-an-hour stretch limousine waiting outside the church entrance, prepared to whisk the happy couple off to their reception a mere five minutes away, Dr. and the two Mrs. Stivelys set out to give their little princess everything she desired in a wedding.
With my help, they had.
“Mom? JoEllen? What’s going on?” The bride glanced from her mother to her stepmother, concern creasing her flawless brow.
“A few last-minute details we needed to go over,” I answered before either woman could. “They wanted everything to be perfect for you. It’s all settled now, correct, ladies?” With an arched and determined glare, I all but dared them to contradict me.
Both women, with uncharacteristic placidity, nodded.
“Good. Now, let’s get you all lined up, and we can get this beautiful girl married.”
I went into command mode, corralled the wedding party into their appropriate places, and gave the all-start command. “Let’s roll.”
Once the bridal party, including the two warring Mrs. Stivelys, were all seated, the soft, haunting strings of Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D drifted through the air.
I stood behind one door, Charity the other. On my count, we threw open the doors wide at the same time. A collective wave of sighs blew through the church as the first view of the stunning bride broke through. While she floated up the aisle on her father’s arm, my photographer darted ahead of them, filming, as they slowly made their way to the altar. Charity and I closed the doors behind us and slipped into the last pew to watch the wedding.
At the front of the church, Dr. Stively stopped, lifted his daughter’s veil, and then kissed her cheek. I could hear dueling sniffling from the front pew, Mom and Stepmother each trying to outdo the other in the waterworks department. Once Dr. Stively took his seat between his first and second wives, the congregation sat as a unit.
“Did you check to make sure the best man has the rings?” I asked Charity, looking toward the stable of tuxedoed ushers at the altar. The groom’s younger brother looked as if last night’s bachelor party had been a rousing success, evidenced by the pasty tinge to his skin, the railroad track redness covering the whites of his eyes, and the none-too-subtle tremor in his hands.
“He does,” Charity replied.
“Did Devon bring the basket with the bird seed?”
Off to one side of the altar, I spied my trusty and talented photographer being as unobtrusive as possible while he captured the happy event through his lens.
“Kolby has everything he needs?”
When I slanted her a look, Charity grinned. “And before you ask, I already called the inn. Everything is ready. The champagne is chilling, and the band is warming up. Maureen told me to tell you not to fret. She’s got it all covered. No worries.”
Two of the most overused and least accurate words in the English language, especially when speaking about a wedding.
With as deep a breath as I could manage (I really was going to throw in the towel with this pseudo-girdle and cut back on the carbs instead), I sat back and watched the ceremony I’d put together, and prayed the rest of the day would go on without any further problems or arguments between warring family factions.
What’s that old saying? Man makes plans and God laughs?
Yeah…the story of my life.
DEARLY BELOVED, coming November, 2018. Buy links coming soon!