“What do you mean the pandit isn’t ready?” I asked my assistant Kate over the muffled sounds of booming drums and cheering wedding guests.
“He said to wait and he’ll come when he’s done.” Kate shrugged and ran a hand through her bouncy, blond bob. “It looked like he was in the middle of a ritual of some sort.”
“Wait?” I said, trying to keep the hysteria from my voice. “Is he kidding?”
“He’s a Hindu priest, Annabelle. I don’t think he does ‘kidding.’”
I knew Kate was right. I groaned and tried to think fast.
Thinking fast was a skill I’d developed over the five plus years I’d owned Wedding Belles, Washington DC’s most up-and-coming wedding planning firm. That and the ability to stay calm even when I was running a wedding for over five hundred guests and the priest had no intention of following my detailed schedule.
I stood at the entrance door to the Mellon Auditorium with the bride’s family and friends on the inside and the groom and all of his family coming down Constitution Avenue to meet them at the front. When they met at the door, the pandit and the bride’s mother would greet the groom and lead him inside to the ceremony. To complicate matters, the groom was riding on an elephant surrounded by a troop of half a dozen drummers leading the crowd in exuberant dancing and singing. The entire process was called the Baraat, and every Indian wedding started with one. Not every one had an elephant, a fact for which I was grateful considering the laborious permitting process we’d gone through to make it legal for the massive animal to parade down the middle of the city.
“Can we slow down the groom?” I asked, putting a hand to my auburn hair tucked tight into a high bun and feeling glad that every hair seemed in place despite the late summer humidity.
“If you want to jump in front of an elephant, be my guest,” Kate said. “But I’m not getting anywhere near it. These shoes are Louboutins and they don’t take very well to elephant dung.”
I glanced at Kate’s spike heels and fought the urge to roll my eyes. It was a miracle Kate could still walk considering the inappropriate footwear she wore to work. I stuck to black flats on wedding days and only switched into heels when I needed to mingle with guests.
I stepped outside and craned my neck around the corner to check the progress of the Baraat. The procession of the groom to a Hindu ceremony was one of my favorite parts of an Indian wedding. I loved the energy of the drums and the joy of the family as they danced and cheered. This was the way to enter a wedding, I thought. After a Baraat, all my other ceremony processionals seemed downright sleepy.
“Almost here,” I said to myself, as the colorful crowd advanced. The women’s saris were a riot of crimson, turquoise, fuchsia, tangerine, and purple, adorned with beads and jewels, and each was more stunning than the last. No sedate black dresses here. Kate and I loved to play “pick the sari” to see which of us could find the most beautiful design of the day. I glanced down at my black crepe suit. Indian weddings were the only time my standard black wedding planner “uniform” didn’t blend with the crowd, but I couldn’t do my job in a sari.
I walked back inside and smiled at the mother of the bride, who stood inside the doors. She adjusted the top of her magenta and gold sari and looked around her. Her dark hair was swept back from her face and held up with jeweled hairpins. With flawless skin and pale eyes, she was as strikingly beautiful as her daughter and didn’t look remotely old enough be a mother of the bride, or as those of us in the wedding biz refer to her, the MOB.
“Where is the priest, Annabelle? He should be standing next to me when the groom’s procession reaches the door.”
“On his way,” I assured her with more confidence than I felt.
I crossed the lobby of the building, my black flats making virtually no noise on the marble floor, and peeked inside the grand hall where the ceremony would take place. The mandap was set up on the built-in stage at the far end of the room, and even though the stage was at least thirty feet wide, the mandap dominated the space. The bride had wanted a ceremony structure that made a statement, and the ornate towering mandap draped in iridescent gold fabric certainly did that. Even the lights illuminating the ceiling were gold, giving the room the appearance of being bathed in the precious metal.
The only thing not entirely gold on the stage was the tiny Hindu priest, dressed in modest white robes and crouching over what would soon be the ceremonial fire in front of the bride’s and groom’s chairs. I didn’t want to bother him again in case he was in the middle of a pre-ceremony ritual and because, despite his hobbit-like stature, I was a bit intimidated by him. He must have heard the heavy door open, though, because he turned toward me and held up a finger.
“They will wait.” He smiled at me and went back to his work.
I nodded and backed out, closing the huge wooden door behind me. I was sure they would wait since they had no choice. I could hear the drums and cheering getting louder. The bride’s family craned to see out the glass doors, but luckily, the elephant hadn’t reached the front of the building yet, so it was still obscured by the pillars in front. As I put on my most comforting face to reassure the mother of the bride that the pandit was on his way, and as I mentally convinced myself white lies were harmless, my phone rang in my jacket pocket. I pushed the talk button.
“Wedding Belles, this is Anna . . .”
“This is a catastrophe of biblical proportions. I just don’t know if I can work under this level of duress.”
I heard a muffled sob. Richard. He was arguably the city’s best caterer and had also been my best friend since I’d move to DC and opened a wedding planning business several years ago. He claimed to have found my youth and inexperience charming, and had taken it upon himself to teach me everything he knew about weddings and navigating the DC social scene. I credited his mentorship for my rapid rise through the ranks of society wedding planners. Considering how crazy some of my clients had been, I was more grateful for this on some days than others.
One of the main drawbacks of my job was having to juggle so many weddings at once. Even when I was on-site at one wedding, it wasn’t unusual to get calls about an upcoming one. I knew Richard was down at the District Marina preparing for next weekend’s wedding so his call didn’t completely shock me. Especially since the wedding was being held on a ship, which brought its own set of challenges.
I’d done a few weddings on boats before; garish paddle wheelers that got rented out for the afternoon. But nothing like the 164 foot luxury yacht Mystic Maven. Technically speaking, a superyacht, which was boat speak for a yacht big enough to have a helicopter pad on the top.
Despite the size of the yacht, it didn’t have a catering kitchen, so Richard was concerned about the space on the dock for the makeshift kitchen he needed to create. “Okay, take a breath and tell me what’s going on.”
“As if it wasn’t bad enough to work under a tent with a ten-foot drop into the water on three sides, I just don’t have waterproof couture.” He took a breath.“And now the filming crew wants to use the galley kitchen on board to store their production equipment. Annabelle, you know I need that galley kitchen for plating.”
“Filming crew? What filming crew? Are you sure you’re on the right boat?”
A deep sigh from Richard. “Ship, Annabelle. When it’s this big, it’s called a ship. And of course I’m on the right one. How could I miss it? It takes up half the marina.”
“Okay, okay,” I said. “But what film crew?”
“The one from the Diamond Weddings TV show. You know, the reality show profiling the weddings of the rich and the richer.”
I knew the show. Opulence meets excess times fifty. “Well, what are they doing there?”
“How should I know? I thought you had arranged for it. And what’s all that screaming in the background, anyway?”
I rubbed my temples. “Dhol drummers. The groom’s arriving on an elephant.” I rocked onto the back of my heels. “Has the bride seen the crew yet?”
“I don’t think so. At least I haven’t seen her around today. An elephant? Is that why I couldn’t get through Constitution earlier?”
I ignored Richard’s question. “Good. That gives me some time to figure this out.”
“You don’t think the bride knows her wedding is going to be filmed by Diamond Weddings?
I thought about the sweet yoga-teacher bride who only agreed to wear crystals in her hair if they were healing crystals. “No way. That isn’t her style.”
“I have news for you, doll. This whole yacht isn’t her style.”
I raised an eyebrow. Richard had a point. “She wants to make her father happy, and he loves his boat. He always envisioned her wedding on it.”
“Do you think he called Diamond Weddings?” Richard asked.
“No.” I caught myself biting my lower lip. “This has the stepmother’s name written all over it.”
“Babs Barbery.” Richard sucked in his breath. “Good luck with that.”
Between the impending elephant and the domineering stepmother, I was going to need it.
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