Dappled sunlight glistens off dew speckled petals and the shimmering jewels of the bride’s tiara. They laugh, the sound tinkling in the warm air as the groom catches his love in his arms, lifting her off the ground and spinning around.
I shift the lens, snapping candid shots whilst the caterers prepare the meal in the nearby marquee. The bride and groom are a stunning couple, eyes for no one but each other.
Children run about, flouting the frantic tutting of their parents as their pristine outfits crease just that little bit more with every passing second. I ignore them, focusing on taking the perfect shot. That is my only goal here.
The air tingles with a sensation of joy, a happiness I capture through photographs, a happiness I rarely feel. I swallow, pushing down the swelling lump in my throat as I adjust the camera settings to suit the lighting. I draw the camera back up to my eye, feeling soothed by its cool exterior as I capture yet another stunning shot.
The bride walks over to me, clutching fists of dense white satin in her perfectly manicured fingers. She looks flawless, and as she should I suppose. She smiles at a family member, her teeth a pearly white, I wonder what she uses for that.
“Wilona, darling,” she gushes, flicking a platinum blonde curl over her bare shoulders.
“Hello Haven.” I greet, forcing a smile to pull back my lips. Over time the smile I practiced so much seems genuine to most, and thankfully Haven doesn’t notice otherwise.
“How are the photos coming along?” She jiggles on the spot, though I can’t quite tell if she is simply excited or in need of a toilet.
“Pretty good, if I say so myself.” I laugh softly, the sound faltering slightly as I doubt myself.
Haven edges closer, her presence making my skin crawl. It isn’t her, it’s everything about today. Kind of ironic that a wedding photographer would hate weddings, but here we are.
“May I sneak a peek?” she all but whispers in my ear. I hesitate briefly, then angle the camera screen in her direction. I’d do anything to have her at a distance. She leans even closer, if that is even possible, her nose almost pressed to the small screen.
Her grey eyes widen, her jaw drops slightly. I resist the temptation to snap it shut.
“Wilona! These are gorgeous!” She gushes so loudly, heads swivel in our direction. “How do you do it?”
I blush, unsure what to say. I always hope for a bit of praise, it falls over you like a soft blanket, enveloping you like the warm embrace from a loved one. Yet I somehow still never know how to react.
“Thanks, Haven.” The heat in my cheeks subsides as the mother of the bride waddles over. She is a stout woman stuffed into a tight beige strapless dress, her hair is curled into hundreds of tiny damp ringlets. In my inconsequential opinion I think she looks like a puffy dumpling with legs, but I keep that to myself and say she looks lovely.
“Wilona is it?” she asks, her eyes the same stone grey as her daughter, but apart from that the two couldn’t be more different.
“That’s correct ma’am.” I tread cautiously near this woman, she is proud, stubborn and not afraid to have a ‘Karen’ meltdown if things don’t go her way.
She laughs, the sound grating against my ears. I resist the urge to shy away from her, but instead I smile. “Darlin’ call me Petunia, I insist.” A hint of a southern drawl echoes in her words, “We’re all family here.”
‘Family, ugh I’d rather choke on a fork than be a part of this family.’ I think, whilst my face portrays an expression of contentment. “Petunia it is.”
Grey tendrils of steam slowly fade as time drips past, I draw the bright yellow mug to my lips, grimacing at the now lukewarm coffee. As the sun sets and light begins to dissipate in tangled slashes of vibrant colour, the glow from my laptop almost blinds me. With a sigh I close the lid, relieving myself from staring at thousands of wedding photos, for the first time today.
Padding silently to the small kitchenette I brew myself another coffee, dribbling in a dollop of caramel syrup to satisfy my raging sweet tooth. I swap the yellow mug out for one that better suits my mood, black with white block letters stating; NOT TODAY.
I step out onto the balcony, feeling the cool breeze slip over my bare skin. The city is alive. Cars and dirty yellow cabs whisk below me, the sound of screeching tires and blaring horns mingling with the muted hubbub from the balconies around me. I slink into the nearest chair, flicking off my plush green slides and tucking my legs underneath me.
The mug cradles in my hands, the warmth slipping through my fingers and calming my restless spirit. My mind races, thoughts tangling together and thumping through my brain like the endless stampede of a hundred mustangs on a distant prairie. Memories of Haven and Trevor’s wedding rise, reminding me of her half-edited photos, sitting ignored on my laptop. Haven’s joy, vibrance, the way her smile seemed wide enough to split her face in two as she stared at her husband, streaked through my mind once again. I reminisce the day I was that happy, sickeningly happy.
I remember waking up with a smile on my face, peeking over at the large red circle marking September 4th on my calendar, the day all my dreams were supposed to come true. Hah, life is never that easy. I think of my ex-fiancé, his face that once was so dear to me. Now I can’t even look at a picture of him without feeling ill. I’d had it all, my dress, the reception, the flowers, even the honeymoon was immaculately planned. And it took him, took freaking Timothy Douglas to stand before me, blushing and grinning in this gorgeous white gown to finally realize that I wasn’t what he wanted. Then as it came to our vows, my hands in his. He gazed into my eyes and said, ‘Sorry I can’t.’
Nothing and I mean nothing, prepares you for that kind of pain. The betrayal, the hurt, the numbness that the following days brought. Yet here I am sipping coffee on a balcony, with a job as a professional wedding photographer, who would have thought?
“Will you marry me?”
The voice seems hardly more than a whisper, but I hear it. I hear it like the day Timothy got down on one knee, declaring his apparently undying love for me as the sun slid below the horizon and waves crashed against the cliffs. Now I wish I was back there on those rocks, and rather than crying and jumping for joy, a quick push off the cliff would have been a better option for my heart.
“Yes!” a sob-stricken voice replies, much louder than the previous voice.
My nosy self pushes from the chair, craning my neck over the balcony railing to see a couple clinging to each other as tears of joy stream down their cheeks. They release each other just enough for the man to slip a diamond adorned ring onto his fiancée’s finger.
“Hey, do you guys need a photographer?” I call, amused at myself for interrupting their special moment.
They freeze, slowly letting go of one another as they search for the offending voice.
I crane further over the railing, ignoring the fifty meter drop to the bitumen below. The woman spots me, her dark brown eyes gaping up at me. “Uh hello?” They look startled, I resist the urge to giggle.
“Hi. Do you need a wedding photographer?” I ask again, still hanging off the metal railing like some cheap Walmart spiderman.
“You’re a photographer?” the woman asks, her deep brown skin glowing ethereally in the flickering light of candles.
“Yeah.” I gasp slightly, finally realizing that the railing isn’t all that comfortable on my stomach.
The couple glance at each other, as if speculating whether to trust the crazy woman that half ruined their intimate proposal. The man clears his throat, running a hand through his thick blonde locks, “Can we call on you later to discuss?”
A grin slides across my face, “See you then.” I wave at the newly engaged couple then haul myself back onto my balcony.
Then with a smile of self-accomplishment, I slip inside to steep myself a mug of green tea and wait for the sun to rise.
Soft music engulfs me as the ceremony commences. For the first time since Timothy (yeah gross) walked out on me, I am excited for a wedding. I watch somewhat in awe as Zalika slips down the aisle, clinging to her elderly father’s arm as they walk towards her bridegroom, Theo. Tears well behind my eyes as I lift my camera up, shifting the lens to focus on the blissfully happy couple. I snap away, catching the teary-eyed gazes of everyone in attendance, even the priest. This wedding is special, built on the foundations of love, strength and family, a match made in Heaven and a marriage made to last.
I capture each moment, revealing the beauty of their love. The way they look at each other, with a gaze made only for them. Their smiles, the way they embrace their family members, the tears of happiness and gratitude. I feel blessed, so very blessed to be here.
I have not an ounce of regret for those bruises lining my stomach, every bit of pain is worth this moment, and to capture it through my eyes, as a person looking in, I don’t know what is more special than that.
Zalika and Theo step over to me, their smiles wide.
“Honestly you’re a blessing to us,” Theo says, his face radiant with
Zalika laughs, “I’ll never forget looking up and seeing this face hanging upside down from the balcony.”
I blush, though it may have been one of the best things I’ve ever done. “It was terribly nosy of me, but I couldn’t quite resist it.”
We laugh, our voices mingling in a way that made my heart swell with happiness. A tall man walks over in that moment, his jaw chiseled and his blue eyes soft.
Theo turns to him and smiles. “Wilona, meet my brother Mack. Mack meet Wilona, our photographer.”
Mack extends a hand, I take it. His palm is smooth and cool. The touch sends a somewhat familiar tingle coursing up my arm, I kind of like it.
“You’re the balcony girl, aren’t you?” he asks, a twinkle of humor glowing in his cornflower blue eyes.
My eyes dart back to Zalika and Theo, “You told people?!” I exclaim, my face flushing with embarrassment.
Theo chuckles, “It was too good not to share.”
I casually shrug a shoulder, knowing it would have been quite the sight. My eyes land on Mack again, his expression is gentle, his gaze holding mine. I briefly wonder if anyone has ever looked at me quite the same. It sparks something deep inside of me, something submerged yet still present. Soft tingles encase my body, and all of a sudden I don’t exactly hate weddings.