WED OR ALIVE
“Not this again.” I rubbed a palm across my forehead. We’d had to deal with a groom with cold feet—who also could not stop nervously washing his hands—at our last wedding. Luckily for that bride, we’d managed to talk her intended off the ledge and convince him to go through with the ceremony before he buffed the skin off his hands.
Fern joined us on the pool deck.
“Why are you in prison stripes?” Richard asked, sizing up Fern’s outfit with his arms crossed.
Fern touched a hand to his black-and-white striped T-shirt. “These are hardly prison stripes, sweetie.” He pointed to the red sash around the waistband of his black pants and the matching scarf knotted at his neck. “I’ll have you know this is what Venetian gondoliers wear.”
Fern considered it an art form to coordinate with the theme of the wedding, and today’s wedding was indeed inspired by the couple’s love of Venice. It hadn’t been a stretch to plan a wedding themed around the Italian city when the bride’s home—and the setting for the at-home wedding—was built to look like an Italian villa.
“I’m a little surprised you aren’t wearing a carnival mask.” I was referring to the ornately adorned and often gilded masks worn during Carnival in Venice and which we were using as part of the table decor for the reception.
Fern winked at me. “I have one of those and a black velvet cape to change in to later.”
“If there is a later,” I said. “Do you think the bride is serious about canceling the wedding?”
“Who knows with Veronica and her moods? That’s why I came to get you. You might have more luck talking to her. You know my patience wears thin when it comes to drama.”
I eyed his themed costume and decided not to point out the obvious.
Richard fanned himself with one hand. “If no one gets to see the sugar carnival masks my pastry chef created for the individual crème brûlées, I’m going to lose my mind.”
“That’s not going to happen,” I said. “Wedding Belles has never had a runaway bride or groom and we’re not about to start. Right, Kate?”
Kate gave me a mock salute, Richard began breathing rapidly, and Fern’s eyes brightened as he spotted the penguins in the pool.
“Will you look at that?” He pointed to the black and white animals as they frolicked in the water. “We match!”
“Well, they don’t go with my entertainment theme,” a diminutive man in a navy suit strode across the pool deck, rapping his knuckles against his clipboard as he approached. “I spent months assembling a team of Venetian-inspired performers to mentally transport the guests to Carnival and you throw penguins in the mix?” He touched a finger to his headset earpiece. “Harlequin One, do you copy?”
“Hi, Sidney Allen,” Kate said, the irritation dripping from her voice. “Look, Annabelle, it’s Sidney Allen.”
It was never just Sidney, always Sidney Allen, and I honestly didn’t know if it was his first and last name or his first and middle. Since he had a thick Southern accent and hailed from Charleston, I assumed it was the latter and, like Cher or Madonna, he didn’t use a last name.
Sidney Allen was the owner of DC’s top specialty entertainment firm. He was known for his Cirque de Soleil style troupes, his Broadway trained actors, and his trademark headset that I suspected he wore even when he slept. Even more well-known was his reputation for being a perfectionist who drove everyone crazy with his micromanaging.
Sidney Allen didn’t quite reach my shoulder and was built like Humpty-Dumpty with no discernible waist and his suit pants pulled up so high that his belt looked it was looped around his chest. Over the years I’d known him, he’d hoisted his pants higher as his waist had grown larger. Now his hemlines barely skimmed his ankles.
“For the love of God,” Richard whispered to me. “His pants are eating him.”
“It’s an Empire waist,” Fern said in a low voice.
Richard gave Fern a withering look. “Pants aren’t supposed to be Empire waist. Especially not on middle-aged men.”
“High waist is in, right?” Kate asked.
Fern shook his head. “Not that high, sweetie.”
I elbowed Richard and Fern, hoping Sidney Allen hadn’t heard them. The last thing I needed was a face-off between three divas.
“I didn’t know you’d be on-site so early,” I said. Truth be told, I’d hoped for a little more time without the diva-wrangling diva.
He fluttered his clipboard-free hand in the air. “If my performers are here, I’m here. I’ve got so many performers on site for this wedding, I’ve had to divide them into teams based on the Venetian masks they’re wearing.” He pursed his lips. “All my Pulcinellas are here, but I’m still missing one Scaramouche.” He pressed a finger to his earpiece. “Scaramouche Three? Come in, Scaramouche Three.” We waited for a beat. “No. Not here.”
“That’s what I love about you,” I said, forcing my sweetest smile. “Your dedication to your clients. Don’t we always say how dedicated Sidney Allen is to his clients, Kate?”
“That’s one thing we say,” Kate mumbled.
Sidney Allen’s eye flicked to Kate then away again. “Now about these penguins.”
“The penguins were all the bride,” I said. I didn’t like to throw my clients under the bus, but the reality was that the bride had insisted on the penguins and nothing I said would have talked her out of them. “She’s collected penguins since she was a child.”
Sidney Allen cut his eyes to the animals frolicking in the pool. “It’s ridiculous. There are no penguins in Venice.”
“Give climate change a few more years and there will be,” Richard said, bestowing an arch smile on Sidney Allen.
Fern giggled. “Won’t that be a sight to see?”
The entertainment guru huffed. “How am I supposed to work this into my narrative? Every other element of this performance has been painstakingly coordinated so that it’s not only historically accurate but also creates the illusion of actually being in Venice for Carnival.” He stamped one foot on the ground. “Penguins destroy that illusion.”
Fern adjusted his red sash. “You could always put them in masks. Then no one would know they’re penguins. People would think they’re short little waiters.”
Sidney Allen gave him a disdainful glance while Kate put a hand over her mouth to muffle her laughter.
“Bite your tongue if you think I’d hire waiters that short.” Richard put a hand to his heart. “You know I have an unspoken rule about how my waiters look.”
“You assemble your team of waiters like they assemble the Rockettes,” Kate said. “No one can be too short, too tall, too plump, or too homely.”
Richard looked around him. “I wouldn’t put it like that.”
“You mean because the Department of Labor would come after you?” I said.
“That’s why it’s called an unspoken rule, darling.” Richard. “I like my team to have a cohesive look. Is that so wrong?”
I didn’t have time to go into the legal implications of Richard’s waiters being able to rival the Radio City Music Hall kick-line for symmetry.
“I’m really sorry,” I said, turning to Sidney Allen. “But the bride wanted penguins. If she’s happy, I’m happy.”
“Right now she isn’t happy,” Fern reminded me.
Sidney Allen’s eyes popped open. “What? Why isn’t the bride happy? Is it because I had to use my second choice doge?”
“It has nothing to do with your doge,” I said. “Actually I don’t know why she’s unhappy. Probably cold feet.”
Sidney Allen hiked his pants higher. “If you ask me, brides have been given a free pass to be overly dramatic. Being engaged does not mean everything gets end-of-the-world status.”
I tended to agree with him, but found it odd that an entertainment designer would complain about too much drama.
Sidney Allen screeched as a row of figures in crimson capes, shiny white masks, and velvet caps processed around the corner of the house and into the reception tent.
We all jumped, and Fern reached for Kate’s arm, his mouth dropping open. “It’s like a procession of grim reapers.”
“Those are my performers for the path of masks,” Sidney Allen said. “But what on earth are they thinking? Those hats aren’t to be worn to the side. They aren’t berets.”
He hoisted his pants to his armpits and stalked off, presumably to reorient the hats.
“You don’t think he’d let me have one of those hats do you?” Fern asked. “It would look divine with my black cape for later tonight.”
“Can we please focus on the problem at hand?” I asked. “We can not have our bride call off the wedding. Not after all this work.”
“It wouldn’t be ideal,” Kate said. “But it wouldn’t be the worst thing that’s happened to us at a wedding.”
“At least no one has been murdered,” Fern said in a stage whisper.
Richard gave a small squeak and turned toward the dinner tent.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
He pointed to the cluster of trees grouped at the corners of the high-peaked structure. “To knock on wood of course.”
To be continued . . .
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