After the dance floor opened, I went upstairs with the bride and groom to take more pictures of just the two of them. The bride had expressed interest earlier in having pictures of her and the groom lying on a chaise lounge that looked out over the plantation grounds. With the right lighting, this would be an amazing silhouette shot and I was pretty sure I could pull it off. Besides, it’s not like we would be missing a ton of activity downstairs. I felt bad for Sookie; she had all this time to fill with getting people up dancing, and I really doubted that anyone would. These are older guests, and I saw a lot of them begin gathering their stuff to leave as soon as they ate their slice of cake. It’s a sad fact, but most people leave a wedding reception after the cake is cut. Brides and grooms spend all this money on food and entertainment, yet most people don’t appreciate it enough to stay until the end. The only thing I hate more are the people who no-show the wedding after sending in their response saying they will attend. Don’t they realize how much it costs per person? If two people don’t show up that can be at least a hundred dollars or more that the bride and groom didn’t need to spend.
We spent about twenty minutes taking more pictures of the bride and groom alone. I’d had some concerns about the groom because of how uptight he seemed to be, but once the ceremony was finished, he calmed down drastically. He’s a completely different person when he’s with his bride; gone is the taciturn naval officer and in his place is a man struck by Cupid’s arrow. After checking that there were no more pictures they wanted, I told the happy couple that I will be returning to the reception to take more pictures. Hopefully there are still guests downstairs for me to take pictures of. But before I can make my escape, the groom asks me to wait a moment.
“Before I forget, my wife and I would like to give you a little token of our appreciation,” the groom tells me with a smile. The bride who is standing next to him smiles shyly in my direction as the groom leaves the bridal suite to go to the room where all of his belongings were locked up.
“You’ve done a wonderful job today,” the bride tells me while we wait for her husband to return. She is a soft-spoken woman who is very demure. I had initially worried that she would be a difficult subject to photograph, but she took directions easily, and I have to admit that the camera loves her. There are some great shots I’d gotten of her earlier that I will have to remember to add to my portfolio.
“Thank you. Congratulations to you both; I hope you will be very happy in your life together,” I tell her sincerely. Outside of taking pictures, I have very little to say to brides and grooms. I have no words of wisdom to offer them, nor do I want to be asked my opinion on how anything looks. Experience has taught me it doesn’t matter a damn what I think; if the bride ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
The groom comes storming back in the room looking furious. “My wallet’s missing. I checked all the bags in my room and didn’t see it anywhere. Did you take it?” His wife shakes her head no. “Can you check your purse for me? Maybe one of the kids found it and slipped it in there.” The bride begins rummaging through the bags in the room looking for her purse. As the minutes tick by, I can sense the rising panic between both the bride and the groom.
“It’s not in here,” she says in shock. “I had it before the ceremony because that’s where I kept your wedding band. I know I set it down inside my duffle bag, because I didn’t want to leave it out. Do you think the catering staff came in to move things around?”
“I’ll find out,” the groom says taking control of the situation. The bride looks near tears, so I hightailed it out of the room after the groom. I don’t want to be left with an unhappy bride on her wedding day. The groom’s footsteps create a sharp staccato beat against the hardwood floors as he marches down the stairs towards the bar where the banquet manager is speaking with her bar tenders. I stop at the bar to get myself a fresh soda, while at the same time eavesdropping on the conversation between the groom and the banquet manager.
“Has someone been in the rooms where my wife and I were getting ready earlier?” The groom’s voice is thunderous and his face is flushed with anger.
“No sir,” the banquet manager replies. “We don’t go into those rooms without the bride or groom being present. Is something wrong?”
“My wallet and the bride’s purse are missing,” he retorts in a clipped voice.
“I’m sure the items have just been misplaced sir,” the banquet manager rushes to calm the groom down but I can see the flicker of panic in her eyes. “I’ll be happy to go upstairs and help the two of you look. Have you checked with the members of your bridal party? Perhaps they moved the items without telling you.” The banquet manager and the groom move away from the bar at this point; the banquet manager goes upstairs to be with the bride, the groom goes to seek out the members of the bridal party. I shake my head as I move away from the bar; this situation has disaster written all over it!
With my camera and soda in hand, I go to the piano where the guest book and gifts are. I know it seems like a weird picture to get, but you’d be surprised by the number of people who have asked for a picture of the gift table with all the gifts on it. I don’t understand the purpose of a picture of a pile of gifts, but who am I to argue? I set my soda on the piano bench so that I have both hands free to work with my camera. The piano actually provides a nice setting for the gift table instead of the usual white tablecloth against an ugly wall. There isn’t that many gifts on the table; come to think of it, there aren’t any card envelopes on the table. I’ve always thought it poor taste to bring a physical present to a wedding; how do you expect the bride and groom to get them home? Usually the bride and groom are not going home after their wedding reception; they are going to a hotel or leaving for their honeymoon. It puts the burden on the parents and bridal party to get all that stuff home. Its bad enough they have to worry about anything they brought to the reception for decorations, leftover cake, clothes and makeup, and the other senseless things that end up being brought to a wedding reception. If you want to bring a gift for the bride and groom, give them a gift card, check, or cash in a card. It’s a lot easier to transport and they can use it on their honeymoon.
But there aren’t any envelopes on the piano. Come to think of it, I thought they had a mailbox or a birdcage set up for the cards. With a sickening feeling settling over me, I hurriedly skip back through the images on the SD card, looking for the earlier set up shot I have of the guest book. The wheel clicks rapidly as I rewind through the images of the day. As the images of the ceremony go whirling by, I slow down trying to find the exact image I’m looking for. My finger moves the dial slowly; studying each image carefully to make sure it isn’t the one I’m looking for.
“Shit,” I mumble under my breath when I get to the picture I’m looking for. There it is in vivid HD; the maid of honor is signing the guest book with a clear view of a white mailbox with “Just Married” written in a loopy scrawl on the side and a slit in the top of the box for envelopes.
Turning away from the piano, I run upstairs to find the banquet manager. Maybe she did something with it once all the guests arrived. I know some facilities will lock the gifts up once dinner begins to keep everything safe. The banquet manager is coming out of the room where the bride is. The poor woman looks white as a ghost; the news I have isn’t going to make her look any better.
“Please tell me you moved the mailbox holding all the cards somewhere else after all the guests were seated for dinner,” I say without preamble.
She blanches further. “No, we don’t touch the gift table until the end of the reception when we box everything up to send off with the bride and groom. Please tell me you’re joking with me,” she pleads.
I show her the picture from earlier with the mailbox. “That box isn’t anywhere near the gift table now. Are you sure you or the staff didn’t move it?”
“Positive,” she says on a shaky breath. “The gifts the bride and groom were giving to their attendants are also missing. We’re gonna have to call the cops,” she says with a pained expression.
“Fuck,” I mutter as I hear the music stop abruptly. The groom’s angry voice booms through the speakers, demanding whoever took the missing items return them immediately. I highly doubt this is a prank by one of the guests; the groom needs to face that they just got robbed.
Pushing my way through the lower floor of the mansion, I hear the guests all atwitter over the groom’s announcement. When I get to the room where Sookie is set up, she is standing there dumbfounded.
“What do we do?” She looks panicked and unsure of herself.
“We do our jobs; that’s all we can do. Put on some music.” She complies with my suggestion, and the mellow sound of Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl comes through the speakers. She adjusts the level of sound so that it is not overpowering. Surprisingly, a few of the older guests get up to dance, but the majority of those remaining are all talking about the stolen items. If I thought this party was going to be difficult before, it’s going to be damn near impossible now. Looking at the clock, it’s not even eight yet. We still have over two hours to go before the end of the event. Even if my contract did end earlier, there is no way I would leave Sookie alone to deal with this. I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit during my career as a wedding photographer, but this takes the cake!
“Please tell me the groom was joking,” Sookie says as I come stand beside her, we are just behind her equipment. I’ve snapped a couple of pictures of the few guests on the dance floor, but there is nothing going on that is worth taking pictures of. The bride and groom are nowhere to be found; many of the guests are leaving before the police arrive so they are not kept here longer than they want to be. I resign myself to the fact that Sookie and I are going to be here for a long while. I set my camera on one of her CD books again. I drop down to my knees behind her table and start looking through the stuff she has stored hidden by the tablecloth.
“What are you doing?” Sookie shrieks at me in outrage as I go through her things. She tries to stop me but I grab her wrist so she looks me in the eyes.
“I’m checking to make sure no one is framing you or me by discarding the wallet or purse in your stuff. All these carrying cases and bags you have made for a great hiding place. Or are you in the mood to deal with the cops all fucking night?” I can’t help it, but her attitude towards me makes me lose my temper and the sarcasm rolls easily off my tongue. Sookie looks taken aback by the words out of my mouth, and her cheeks flush with color.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think of that,” she mumbles. Her head turns towards her laptop and she tugs on her wrist so I’ll let her go. When I do, she rises up and presses a few buttons on her laptop to cue up the next song. I continue my search through her stuff, not expecting to find anything. If I had taken the items, I wouldn’t discard them here; I would want to be in and out as quickly as possible.
The next song begins to play, The Temptations Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, and the same group of three women stays on the dance floor, but more and more guests are leaving. Sookie’s eyes meet mine and she sighs loudly as she watches the three women dance.
It is going to be a long fucking night indeed.
The last notes of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ fade out signaling the end of the reception. Thank Christ! Those last two hours crawled by. The police came and went; they didn’t bother talking to Sookie or me, nor did they talk to the few guests remaining. Would you believe it but the same three women have been on the dance floor the entire time? They danced to everything Sookie played, requested the Electric Slide three times, and The Chicken Dance twice. Sookie and I had rolled our eyes at each other, but there was nothing either of us could do. If they were the ones dancing, then she had to play the music they wanted. We’d seen nothing of the bride or groom; the children had come down to dance for a bit, but then they too had disappeared. The catering staff had used the two hours to clean the mansion, only having minimal activity to do once the music ended and the lights came back on.
In the last two hours of the party, I’d only taken twenty pictures. There was nothing to capture, and there are only so many images I could take of three women on the dance floor making utter fools of themselves. The only bright side about this time was that Sookie and I actually talked to one another without being antagonistic. I know she has been leery of me since our discussion that night in the restaurant, and I can’t say I blame her. If she had come to me saying lets bury the hatchet and be friends, I would have told her to fuck off. But tonight’s events have forged an unlikely alliance between the two of us; fearing you might go to jail for possession of stolen goods has a way of building bridges. Neither one of us is capable of doing something so dishonest, but we are the outsiders here. All the guests have a connection to the bride and groom, the catering staff is familiar with each other; there’s no one to vouch for me or her. We’re like the outcasts on Survivor, waiting for the tribe to have spoken and voted us off.
“Thank God that’s over.” Sookie breathes a sigh of relief as she turns the power off on her amplifier and laptop. She walks around the table to turn off her speakers and then begins unplugging all the wires. There is a look of utter exhaustion on her face; it mirrors my weariness. In very little time, I have all of my gear packed up and ready to go. Sookie is just pulling the first speaker off the pole. I feel bad that she has all this equipment to manage on her own.
“Need some help?”
She looks at me with a relieved smile. “If you wouldn’t mind, I’d appreciate it. Can you pull the other speaker off the pole and then put them in their cases? My body aches all over. How is it that a five-hour event felt like it took forever?!?!”
I chuckle as I lift the speaker off the pole. “It’s all the stress from tonight; it made you tense up. I can’t say I’ve ever had an event go like this. How about you?”
Sookie snorts. “Oh yeah, happens all the time. Couldn’t you tell I was cool as a cucumber?” Her eyes light up briefly with her humor as she continues to wrap the cables up to put back in her bag. Once she has all the cables put away, she closes up her amplifier and laptop. She pushes a hand truck out from under the table towards the speaker I’ve set on the floor.
“Right,” I say drawing out the word as sarcastically as possible as I set the speaker in its carrying case. I yank the zipper around the speaker so that it is secure.
“Shut up!” Sookie smacks me in the chest playful as she walks around the table to her cart. While I lower the second speaker, she loads the cart up with her equipment. Once I have the speaker in its case, I ask her where she wants it.
“On top of the other one. Here, I got it,” Sookie says as she reaches to take the speaker from me. Our fingers brush against each other and I’m suddenly very aware of her body and its proximity to mine. I’ve tried very hard tonight not to let my eyes linger on her body. Earlier it was a struggle because she was bending over so much, crawling around on her hands and knees, showing me her phenomenal ass encased in those skin-tight jeans. But she looks as appealing in her professional but feminine suit. It suits her body perfectly; the pants are tailored to her body, making her backside look high and firm while her legs look slender and endless. But it’s the jacket that’s been capturing my attention all night. The bottom of the jacket flares a little from her waist, fluttering with her hips and curve of her derrière. The jacket hangs open in the front, no buttons or zipper, but the sides cling to her full breasts yet hide them at the same time. It’s the ultimate tease; hinting at her shapely figure while at the same time being suitable for work. And I damn near bit a hole through my tongue when Sookie took off her jacket and revealed the very lacy, very see through form-fitting pink top underneath. She’s killing me and she doesn’t even know it.
“Do you want me to push that outside for you while you go get your car?” We’re both all packed up and it’s time to put this night behind us. The bride and groom are still nowhere to be found. All I want is to go home, have a stiff drink or five, and then pass the hell out. This has been the wedding from hell, but yet a part of me doesn’t want the night to end. I feel that Sookie and I have really made steps towards fixing what I broke between us. I know I still need to explain everything to her, why I did what I did, but the right time hasn’t presented itself. This is a conversation that needs to happen in private, with no outside interference.
“If you don’t mind,” she says with a shrug. As I push her cart of equipment outside, the bride comes walking down the stairs slowly. She smiles happily when she sees us, though the strain of the evening hasn’t completely left her face.
“Oh I’m happy you both are still here. I wanted to thank you so much for everything you’ve done today for my husband and me. It’s been a terrible situation, but you both were wonderful. I can’t begin to thank you enough,” she says sincerely. The bride moves toward Sookie, embracing her tightly as a sign of thanks, before turning to me.
“I’m so sorry this happened to y’all today,” Sookie says once the bride is standing on her own again.
“I keep telling myself that it will make an interesting story in the future, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to laugh about this,” she says sadly. “I had thank you cards for each of you, but they were in my purse . . .” The bride cannot finish her sentence as tears rush to shimmer in her eyes. She excuses herself and moves as quickly as possible up the stairs in her wedding dress.
“I feel so bad for them,” Sookie says for what feels like the hundredth time that night. I share her sentiment. There have been a few brides I’ve wished ill will on, but today’s bride is not one of them. This is a terrible thing to have happen on your wedding day. I hope it is not an omen of things to come in their marriage.
We leave the mansion; I wait with Sookie’s cart of equipment while she runs off to get her vehicle. As I’m waiting for her to return, a police car pulls up to the mansion. The groom hops out of the front seat, slamming the door in his hurry to exit the vehicle. He looks at me with a beaming smile, the first such smile I’ve seen on his face since he got to kiss his bride for the first time. He comes over to me with quick strides, and holds his hand out for me to shake.
“Thank God you’re still here! My wife and I have something for you.” The police officer that had accompanied the groom had also exited the vehicle. I was so focused on the groom that I failed to notice the police officer was carrying a large white mailbox with the words “Just Married” on the side.
Holy shit! They found it?!?!?!
The groom sees my expression and his grin gets even bigger if you can believe it. “They caught the idiots that stole our stuff. One of the guys was trying to use my military ID to buy alcohol at 7-11. Can you believe it?”
I shake my head in disbelief; no, I can’t believe it. I don’t know what’s more fantastical in this scenario, the fact a wedding reception got robbed or that the guilty party was stupid enough to get caught not even a mile away from the scene of the crime. I feel like I’m on an episode of Cops.
The groom hands me two envelopes: one for me, the other for Sookie. He thanks me profusely for everything I did today and asks me to convey my thanks to Sookie. The groom is in a rush to get to his wife, sharing the good news with her. I shake my head in disbelief thinking of how weird tonight has been.
When Sookie pulls up to the curb with her car, I bust out laughing because there is a familiar reggae beat coming from the car. It’s the icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned. Sookie leaves the car running when she exits the car. She looks at me suspiciously as she opens the trunk. “What’s so funny?”
I’m not a good singer by any stretch of the imagination, but a good singing voice isn’t necessary for this particular song. Using my best Jamaican accent, I start singing, “Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”