Forget the past.
If only it were that simple.
Every part of me wants to deny the possibility of his words. That’s the emotional response. The logical, rational side of my brain knows I need to agree to his terms so that all of us have a chance of surviving the next half a year. There will be casualties suffered during the wedding planning, figuratively speaking of course. No one survives wedding planning unscathed. Every woman, myself included, has the ability to turn into that most feared of all creatures: the bridezilla. A bridezilla can definitely take down a Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Abominable Snowman, and Maleficent with one arm holding an elaborate floral arrangement and the other pulling a reluctant groom down the aisle towards the preacher. That’s how fearsome bridezillas are.
“You mean you’ll stop taking cheap shots at my expense? Somehow I doubt that,” I scoff. Six years of ingrained behavior isn’t going to change overnight. I’ll be damned if I’m going to drop my guard and give him a chance to hurt me again.
Eric grabs my face with the hand that’s not holding my arm so that I’m forced to look in his face. The mask that had been in place for six years, disappearing, leaving in its place, a look at the fragile boy who has been hidden underneath. “I swear I don’t want to fight with you anymore. I’d like us to be friends again,” he says earnestly as his beautiful blue eyes shine with sincerity.
Friends? Are you fucking kidding me? I don’t know if I’m ready to be friends with Eric Northman and I tell him as much. His expression falls but it quickly morphs to one of resolution. He lets my face and arm go before taking a step back from me, but because he is giving me my space doesn’t mean that he’s letting me run. Eric’s blue eyes are fierce with emotion and it’s the most honest expression I’ve seen on his face since we were together.
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry about the way I’ve treated you. I hope one day you’ll forgive me.” With that, he walks away from me, actually leaving the restaurant.
What the fuck just happened? Did I enter the Twilight Zone or something? Between seeing Bill again and then Eric’s one hundred eighty degree twist has thrown me for a loop. I’m completely off my game now.
“You OK Sook?” Tara comes to my rescue with a fresh drink in her hand. I take it from her and drain the glass in three swallows.
“I don’t know,” I admit honestly.
The night of Claudine and Alcide’s get together was a bad one for me. I haven’t drunk that much alcohol in a long time. I was so bad that Tara had to pour me into her car so I could sleep it off at her place. I woke up with the worst hangover of my life; every sound felt like it was breaking the sound barrier. My head was pounding like all seven dwarfs were mining in my skull for diamonds. And I don’t even want to talk about the taste in my mouth or the rolling motion of my stomach. I swore to myself I was never going to drink that much again. At the very least, I’m going to avoid tequila for a while. Mr. Cuervo and I are definitely on the outs.
It’s been a month since the get together. In that time, I’ve seen Eric twice; once when Claudine insisted I go with her to look at the tuxedos the guys would be wearing and once when she insisted she needed more opinions on the cake tasting. He’s been polite and friendly while I’ve been wary. I still think he’s setting me up for some epic fail.
Watching Eric trying on the tuxedos that Claudine insisted on was pure torture. That man could grace any catwalk in New York, Paris, or Milan; he’s that good-looking. The fitted black suits made his body look absolutely mouthwatering. The black pants sat perfectly on his waist, falling over his firm buttocks and thighs to taper down his long legs. The black jackets enhanced his muscular physique, making his shoulders seem so broad and his waist so narrow. The white shirt contrasted sharply against his tan skin. Claudine couldn’t figure out what tuxedo she liked best for the groomsmen, so he had been a good sport and tried on dozens of them. I couldn’t tell the difference between any of them, other than when she had him try on suit jackets with tails. I couldn’t help giggling when I saw that jacket; all he needed was a top hat, monocle, and cane and he could have been the Planters’ Peanut. Eric’s eyes caught mine in the mirror when I let out a small snort. He must have shared my humor because his eyes met mine in the mirror with a slight smile. As if he knew what was on my mind, he grabbed a top hat from a display and put it on his head at a jaunty angle. When he asked for a cane, I almost lost it, and had to excuse myself to the restroom. Once Claudine had selected the perfect tuxedo, then came the arduous task of selecting the accessories that would coordinate with the bridesmaids’ dresses. This was particularly difficult since Claudine still hadn’t settled on a color scheme for her wedding. She kept changing her damn mind! My email is flooded every day with images of dresses, asking me what I thought of the style or the color. The problem with having so many damn girls as bridesmaids was that we didn’t all look good in the same style of dress. What looked good on me and Hadley would look absolutely horrendous on Tara and Claudette because they were tall and lanky where we were thick and curvy. And Alcide’s sister Janice is pregnant; she’ll be a month away from her due date when the wedding takes place, so nothing is going to look good on her. I think that Claudine should let us each pick the dress that would look the best on us, but she doesn’t want that. She wants all of us to be in the same thing, saying it’s too distracting if we are all dressed differently. I’ve never understood the need to have the bridesmaids wearing the same dress. To me, you should want your girls to wear something that is flattering to their figure. But like Lala said when we were looking at the hideous bridesmaid dresses last week, the bride doesn’t want anyone to outshine her, so she usually picks the most unflattering thing for her attendants to wear. Unfortunately, I can totally see Claudine doing that, especially since her sister Claudette looks exactly like her.
Claudine quickly ruled out cummerbunds for the guys, saying they were tacky and her wedding wasn’t going to look like a 1980s prom. She was torn between a bow tie and a regular tie. Eric and Alcide both vetoed the bow tie, pointing out that they would be extremely uncomfortable. Al, Tray, and a few others are thick around the neck; a bow tie would be like wearing a choke collar. For Al it was easy; he would be wearing a white vest and a white tie since he was the groom, but that meant Eric was the guinea pig for all the different color combinations Claudine came up with. It was awkward because she was throwing ties and vests at me, asking me to hold them up to Eric’s neck while she stood back to look. Being this close to him, smelling his cologne, feeling the heat from his body, and his beating heart underneath my hands was too much for me. It brought back memories of long ago, memories of a time when I had free reign to touch his body when I wanted. Eric’s eyes were on me the entire time I stood close to him, his jaw clenched but his eyes burned with some unnamed emotion, something I couldn’t put my finger on. I ended up throwing the ties at him, mumbling something about needing air. I ran out of the shop, drawing in great gulps of air trying to calm myself down. I don’t know how long I was outside, but I know it was long enough for Claudine to have decided that her colors were “definitely” black and gold. She even remarked snidely to me that she had to pick black because it was the only thing that was going to make Janice look remotely good during that night. She’s still mad that Janice and her husband are expecting their first baby while planning her wedding; she’s due a month after Claudine’s wedding. Claudine huffed that Janice and her husband should have waited to try to get pregnant until after her wedding. In Claudine’s mind, Janice being pregnant is ruining her vision of what her wedding is going to be. She said the bridal party pictures are going to look awful with a round Janice in them.
What a bitch!
If I thought the tuxedo incident was bad, the cake tasting was worse. Last Wednesday, Claudine insisted that I come with her and Alcide to taste the different flavors. Of course, Alcide invited Eric as his best man. If I am one of three maids/matrons of honor, why am I the one that has to do everything with the bride? Other than the get together, I have yet to see Claudette do anything related to the wedding. And I don’t even remember the name of the chick that’s supposed to be the other matron of honor!
First off, I hate wedding cake. After years of doing this, I am sick to death of the sugary sweet treat. Second, I hate fondant. Everyone uses fondant to make the cake look smooth and beautiful, but it tastes horrible. You aren’t supposed to eat it, but most caterers do not remove the fondant before serving it. Lastly, most of the cakes are drier than a popcorn fart. Cake is supposed to be moist, but a moist wedding cake isn’t good for layering; it’s too heavy. So the idea of tasting different cake flavors, icing, and filings was less than appealing to me. I arrived at the cake tasting late because there was an after school meeting for all the teachers with the school’s administration. They wanted to discuss the budget for the year, or rather the lack of budget. It boggles the mind how the education system continually suffers from lack of funding. We are talking about the future of our youth, yet many of the kids can barely read and write. ‘No child left behind’ is great in theory but more often than not, kids are advanced to the next level even though they do not meet the necessary requirements.
When I arrived at Sweet Treats, – the best bakery in Louisiana five years running-, everyone was already there, including Pam, the wedding coordinator. Pam looked down her nose at me, probably because my hair was all over the place and my clothes were off the rack. She was dressed in an outfit that probably cost more than I made all month, my teaching salary and wedding incomes combined.
“Nice of you to join us,” had been her snide remark when I’d walked in. She had sat at a table with Eric, too close for my liking. They seemed awfully comfortable with one another; given the way her head would bend close to his ear to whisper something to him. Eric would only respond with a tight smile as his eyes kept straying to me. She was probably just another notch on his very long belt, I’d thought uncharitably. Every flavor I liked, she hated; every idea I suggested for decorating the cake, she nixed. Why the fuck was I there if the wedding planner was going to make all the decisions? Alcide looked afraid to make any suggestions, and Claudine seemed to hang on every word Pam spoke. Eric was the only one that listened to anything I had to say. Do you know how much I hate that the man who broke my heart years ago was the only one to have a kind thing to say to me that day? He asked questions about me being a teacher, and seemed to share in my frustrations about the state of the American education system. Hell he even made some suggestions on how to make my lesson plan more exciting since we were going to be discussing the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.
It absolutely infuriated me that his suggestions were a big hit with my kids.
Thankfully, this week was relatively free of Claudine’s wedding drama. She told me she found the bridesmaids’ dress for everyone. Apparently it was the only dress in the store that could also come in a maternity size to accommodate Janice. Claudine had sent me the pictures of the regular bridesmaid dress and the maternity version. She commented that Janice was going to look like she had a beach ball shoved under her dress and that she better not have swollen feet because all of her girls were going to wear high heels.
Angrily I push thoughts of Eric Northman, Pam, and everyone else out of my head. I have a job to do tonight and I need to get my head in the game. Tonight’s wedding is a clusterfuck of epic proportions and it hasn’t even started yet. I am not the DJ the bride and groom originally selected; that person got a part on Treme and moved to New Orleans for the filming. So my boss had reassigned the event to me, thinking one female is just as good as the other. The clients had not been OK with that and stalked me at another event demanding to speak to me so they could feel comfortable with the switch. I am all for making the clients comfortable, but do not follow me to someone else’s wedding and demand to talk to me about your wedding. Would you like it if I had other client’s showing up at your wedding to meet with me? No? I didn’t think so.
Anyway, finally got the bride and groom comfortable with me. I should clarify; the bride is a sweet Vietnamese women with three daughters from a previous marriage and has been nothing but nice to me. It’s the groom that’s been the hardass in all of this. He’s a high-ranking naval officer who is used to getting his way and giving orders. I’m a paid professional; I am not a slave; do not snap your fingers at me and expect me to jump to do your bidding. I hate when people think I’m a servant they can boss around when they want. I have a mother, thank you very much, and she would never treat me the way some of these clients have tried to. What the hell ever happened to treating others with respect?
So today’s wedding is a ceremony and reception taking place all in one location. It’s at the Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches. The ceremony is taking place outside; in the middle of winter because that makes so much sense. Bride logic, there is no point trying to understand it. Anyway, the reception is taking place inside the plantation home. So I need two sets of equipment; no big deal, I’ve done this plenty of times before. While I’m setting up my primary set of equipment in the designated space I’ve been given, I hear a pair of heavy footsteps coming down the stairs from the upper level where the entire bridal party is getting ready. Please don’t let it be the groom coming to pester me with another insignificant detail I could care less about. I hear the footsteps stop behind me and I plaster a fake smile on my face; the one that’s bright and big and really means I want to tell you to fuck off but I need to stay professional.
Oh fuck my life! Of course Eric Northman would be the photographer for this wedding! Isn’t that just perfect? As if this day couldn’t get any worse.
“Hi Eric.” The smile falls from my face and I turn my attention back to my gear, hoping he’ll disappear and leave me alone.
No such luck.
“What are you doing here?”
“I would think the equipment would make it obvious,” I say drolly as I run the cable from my mixer to the speaker. I’m anal about making sure everything looks neat, so I wrap the cord around the speaker pole before plugging it in. The excess cord I make sure is hidden underneath the tablecloth. I grab a roll of gaffer’s tape because the next cable I have to tape down on the floor since I’m running a speaker through a window to another room in the mansion. Eric follows after me, watching with fascination as I drop to my hands and knees to begin the process of securing the cable so no one gets hurt. In this day and age, you can be damn sure people will sue in a heartbeat if they think they can make a quick buck.
“You’re a wedding DJ?” His tone implies that the concept is completely foreign to him.
I stand up to look at him in annoyance. “And you’re a wedding photographer? Now that we’ve stated the obvious, can I get back to work? I still have to set up outside.” I brush past him to actually go get the speaker that needs to go in the other room. It always worries me to have my equipment in a different room than me, but in this instance I am leaving the speaker on the floor. There isn’t enough room with all the tables to put the speaker up on a pole.
“How long have you been a wedding DJ?”
“I don’t know, a few years,” I say with a shrug as I lift my speaker. Thank God I upgraded my equipment; my JBLs are only fifteen pounds. The speakers I used to have were in a wooden cabinet and felt like they weighed fifty pounds each. In this instance I really love how technology has advanced
“Here let me get that for you,” he says as he sets his camera down on top of my CD books. He tried to pull the speaker out of my hand but I angle it away from his body.
“I got it. No offense, but no one but me touches my equipment. I’m sure you’re the same way with your camera.”
“OK. Well I won’t get in your way. I thought I’d come down to get some set up shots since the girls are putting their dresses on.” He walks over to where the cake stands and takes a picture. He looks at the digital image on the screen and adjusts his settings, rotating the flash so he can take a different angle of the cake. We work in silence, both of us trying to avoid looking and speaking to the other. It’s an uncomfortable situation. I can only imagine the way the rest of the party is going to go.
Fortunately I don’t have anything else to do inside, so I can escape outside to set up the smaller set of equipment I’ll need out there. It’s not uncomfortable cold despite the fact it is January but as the sun disappears, it will get cold real fast. Normally I like to wear a cute black cocktail dress when I work; its timeless and goes with everything. Gran of course said it was bad luck to wear black at a wedding, but as I pointed out, the catering staff all wore black. Why couldn’t I? Besides, black didn’t show when someone spilled their beer on you. That’s happened more times than I can count. But tonight I’m wearing a black pantsuit so I don’t freeze my ass off.
And speaking of asses . . . Eric is now wondering outside inspecting the ceremony site. He takes a few pictures of the space, but then hesitates, waffling between going back inside or staying here. With a purposeful stride, he walks over to me where I am sound checking the music for the ceremony, making sure that the music can be heard where the minister will be standing as well as from the porch where the girls will be walking from.
“Which songs did they pick for the ceremony?”
“Clair de Lune for the girls; Here Comes the Bride for the bride.”
“Anything special during the ceremony I should know about?” Really? He is grasping at straws trying to talk to me. Eric knows damn well that the minister is the one to ask that question to. I only play the before and after music.
“Not that I know of; you’ll have to ask the officiant. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get changed. Guests are starting to arrive.” I hurry inside, heading to my stuff so I can grab my bag. I pass by three members of the catering staff that are taking stacks of presents from the guests and setting them on top of the piano that is nestled beside the stairs. It strikes me a bit odd how rude the staff seems to be, but it’s not my problem. Hurrying to the ladies room, I lock myself in one of the stalls, quickly changing out of my jeans and sweater into my outfit for the night. I check my hair and makeup in the mirror, and then rush outside to drop my bag at my table before going outside to begin my duties for the evening.
About two hours later, the guests are settling down for dinner and I can finally relax. Ceremonies are always stressful for me because I never want to play the music at the wrong time. I’m always careful to check with the officiant to find out what the last sentence of the ceremony will be so I know to start playing the recessional. Usually it’s the presentation of the bride and groom to the guests, but you cannot assume anything. After the ceremony, I ran back into the mansion to start the cocktail hour music; it’s usually a compilation of slow songs, jazz standards, and other appropriate songs. Basically it’s background music that no one is paying attention to. While the guests were enjoying hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, I was busy disassembling the set of equipment outside. At the same time, Eric had the bride, groom, and bridal party taking pictures. I watched him covertly as I robotically put everything away in its proper place. Grudgingly I had to admit that Eric is very good at his job. I knew he took beautiful pictures; even in college his work was stunning. He had an attention to detail that was absolutely brilliant and he could make the most reluctant of models comfortable in front of the camera. I’d watched Eric work whatever magic it is he has up his sleeve to get the shy flower girl to smile for the camera, and then he’d turned that magic into flirtation, teasing the bridesmaids to pick the groom up for a picture so that the groom was laying in their arms while the bride held his head for a kiss. Eric worked quickly and had all the necessary pictures finished within a half hour, something that is damn near unheard of when dealing with photographers. Most photographers I’ve dealt with always think they are more important than they are and think that the pictures are the most important thing about the entire day. Yes, pictures are extremely important when it comes to a wedding, but there are other people at a wedding that need to do the job they were hired to do. More often than not, I’ve seen the caterer and the photographer fighting at a wedding because the caterer cannot serve the meal until the bride and groom are seated at their table and the photographer is trying to get as many pictures as possible. But Eric was efficient and very respectful when it came to dealing with the other wedding professionals, me included.
Part of me wants to hold on to my hurt and anger towards Eric, but what good is it going to do? He’s a part of my life whether I want him to be or not. We have the same friends and we are in the same industry. Like Gran said when I talked to her about it, I can hold on to this pain for the rest of my days or I can let it go and make the best of the situation we find ourselves in.
My Gran is a wise woman, but damn I hate when she’s right!
“Here’s your dinner Sookie.” The banquet manager, whose name I can’t remember, sets two covered trays and silverware on my table. I tell her thanks as I pull one of the covered trays over to me, wondering what overcooked piece of meat I’m being served tonight. When I pull the tray off the cover, I sigh in exasperation because of the chicken covered with the mushroom sauce. Guess I won’t be eating dinner tonight since I’m allergic to mushrooms. I put the lid back down and push the plate away from me.
“You can have mine if you want,” Eric says as he comes up beside the table. “Do you mind if I sit with you? There isn’t anywhere else I can sit down and eat,” he says apologetically.
I slide over so he can have the chair closest to the end of the table, patting the vacant chair so he knows he’s welcome to sit beside me. With a grateful smile, Eric careful sets his camera across one of my open CD books and moves around the table. Before he sits down, he switches the plates so that he has the one I’d originally selected. When I take the cover off the plate, I look down to see prime rib with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables.
“The bride gave me the option to pick what I wanted to eat. I told her I don’t like chicken,” he says as he uncovers the plate of chicken. “Really I don’t mind chicken, but I’ve been leery of it ever since I got food poisoning at a wedding reception. It was a buffet and nearly everyone that ate the chicken got sick. Come to think of it, I haven’t done a wedding at that venue since. Every time someone asks and they say that’s their location, I say I’m already booked,” he says with a conspiratorial wink.
“Thank you,” I say softly. Twice in the span of less than a month, Eric Northman has come to my rescue. Maybe he really is sincere in his desire to set aside our differences. I wish I could let everything goes as easily as him; it would make life so much easier if I could. While we eat dinner, we stay silent. The only time I get out of my chair is to switch the music from one playlist to the next because, as usual, dinner is running longer than the one hour timeline the caterer gave me indicated. When I sit back down, Eric is looking at me with interest.
“You’re pretty good at this,” he says with a smile as he collects our dirty dishes before giving them to a passing member of the catering staff. He picks up his camera, sliding the strap around his neck, and then pressing a button to check the images on the SD card that he has already collected. “What’s the rest of our schedule look like? What time is the event over?”
“I end at ten. We have the first dance, cake cutting and bouquet and garter to do. It’s really light on special events,” I say in a worried tone as my eyes look around the room at the guests. The guests are older, mainly in their forties and fifties. I cannot see them dancing a lot which worries me since we still have nearly three hours of reception to get through. It’s going to make for a long night if I’m playing dance music and no one is dancing. Eric grimaces as he comes to the same conclusion as me about the chances of our guests dancing. He shrugs and looks at me in a way that lets me know he feels my pain. We separate to continue doing our jobs for the evening; me trying to make sure the bride, groom, and guests have fun, and Eric to capture their moments of frivolity.
We get through the special events, including a family dance where the bride dances with her three daughters. I thought it was cute, especially when the groom picked up the youngest daughter, holding her up with one arm while the other was wrapped around his new wife. The other two daughters had pressed up against the parents. It was a beautiful, touching moment and Eric managed to capture it unobtrusively. That’s the other thing I like about his style; he’s not always interrupting something to make people pose for a picture. He snaps pictures in a much for natural setting, allowing things to happen without his interference. Personally, I think it’s the natural pictures that have more meaning than the posed ones. But as soon as the special events were done, and the dance floor opened, nobody, and I mean nobody got up to dance. I tried every trick in the book to get people up dancing. The only thing that seemed to work was the Electric Slide; God how I hate that song. After that, a few people stayed out on the dance floor, but not many.
The dance floor had been open for about forty-five minutes when the groom stormed over to my table, a thunderous expression on his face. “Give me the microphone and turn off the music,” he demanded. I’ve never seen a person’s face be that red and I swear he looked like he was vibrating from trying to hold all his fury inside him. Not wanting to be the one to cause him to blow a gasket, I quickly complied with his demands.
“Someone took my wallet, the bride’s purse, and the mailbox with all the envelopes in it. Whoever did it, I want them back NOW! This isn’t a game,” he says angrily. He hands the microphone back to me with a snap of his arm. Once he releases the electronic device, he storms off again; the heels of his dress shoes clicking loudly against the wooden floor.
I’m left standing there, stunned silent as are the other guests. Did that just happen? Someone actually robbed the wedding reception?!?!?!