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Vision in White, Page 2

Nora Roberts

  As she expected, she found Parker in the conference room of their office, surrounded by her laptop, BlackBerry, folders, cell phone, and headset. Her dense brown hair hung in a long tail—sleek and simple. It worked with the suit—a quiet dove gray—that would blend in and complement the bride’s colors.

  Parker missed no tricks.

  She didn’t look up but circled a finger in the air as she continued to work on the laptop. Knowing the signal, Mac crossed to the coffee counter and filled mugs for both of them. She sat, laid down her own file, opened her own notebook.

  Parker sat back, smiled, and picked up her mug. “It’s going to be a good one.”

  “No doubt.”

  “Roads are clear, weather’s good. The bride’s up, had breakfast and a massage. The groom’s had a workout and a swim. Caterers are on schedule. All attendants are accounted for.” She checked her watch. “Where are Emma and Laurel?”

  “Laurel’s putting the finishing touches on the cake, which is stupendous. I haven’t seen Emma, but she’s started dressing the event areas. Pretty. I want some outdoor shots. Before and after.”

  “Don’t keep the bride outside for too long before. We don’t want her red-nosed and sniffling.”

  “You may have to keep the MOB off my back.”

  “Already noted.”

  Emma rushed in, a Diet Coke in one hand, a file in the other. “Tink’s hungover and a no-show, so I’m one short. Let’s keep this brief, okay?” She dropped down at the table. Her curling black hair bounced over the shoulders of her sweatshirt. “The Bride’s Suite and the Drawing Room are dressed. Foyer and stairway, nearly finished. The bouquets, corsages, and boutonnieres checked. We’ve started on the Grand Hall and the Ballroom. I need to get back to that.”

  “Flower girl?”

  “White rose pomander, silver and gold ribbon. I have her halo—roses and baby’s breath—ready for the hairdresser. It’s adorable. Mac, I need some pictures of the arrangements if you can fit it in. If not, I’ll get them.”

  “I’ll take care of it.”

  “Thanks. The MOB—”

  “I’m on it,” Parker said.

  “I need to—” Emma broke off as Laurel walked in.

  “I’m not late,” Laurel announced.

  “Tink’s a no-show,” Parker told her. “Emma’s short.”

  “I can fill in. I’ll need to set the centerpiece of the cake and arrange the desserts, but I’ve got time now.”

  “Let’s go over the timetable.”

  “Wait.” Emma lifted her can of Diet Coke. “Toast first. Happy New Year to us, to four amazing, stupendous, and very hot women. Best pals ever.”

  “Also smart and kick-ass.” Laurel raised her bottle of water. “To pals and partners.”

  “To us. Friendship and brains in four parts,” Mac added, “and the sheer coolness of the whole we’ve made with Vows.”

  “And to 2009.” Parker lifted her coffee mug. “The amazing, stupendous, hot, smart, kick-ass best pals are going to have their best year ever.”

  “Damn right.” Mac clinked her mug to the rest. “To Wedding Day, then, now, and always.”

  “Then, now, and always,” Parker repeated. “And now. Timetable?”

  “I’m on the bride,” Mac began, “from her arrival, switch to groom at his. Candids during dressing event, posed as applies. Formal portraits in and out. I’ll get the shots of the cake, the arrangements now, do my setup. All family and wedding party shots separate prior to the ceremony. Post-ceremony I should only need forty-five minutes for the family shots, full wedding party, and the bride and groom.”

  “Floral dressing in bride and groom suites complete by three. Floral dressing in foyer, Parlor, staircase, Grand Hall, and Ballroom by five.” Parker glanced at Emma.

  “We’ll be done.”

  “Videographer arrives at five thirty. Guest arrivals from five thirty to six. Wedding musicians—string quartet—to begin at five forty. The band will be set up in the Ballroom by six thirty. MOG, attended by son, escorted at five fifty, MOB, escorted by son-in-law, directly after. Groom and groomsmen in place at six.” Parker read off the schedule. “FOB, bride, and party in place at six. Descent and procession. Ceremony duration twenty-three minutes, recession, family moments. Guests escorted to Grand Hall at six twenty-five.”

  “Bar opens,” Laurel said, “music, passed food.”

  “Six twenty-five to seven ten, photographs. Announcement of family, wedding party, and the new Mr. and Mrs. seven fifteen.”

  “Dinner, toasts,” Emma continued. “We’ve got it, Parks.”

  “I want to make sure we move to the Ballroom and have the first dance by eight fifteen,” Parker continued. “The bride especially wants her grandmother there for the first dance, and after the father-daughter, mother-son dance, for her father and his mother to dance. She’s ninety, and may fade early. If we can have the cake cutting at nine thirty, the grandmother should make that, too.”

  “She’s a sweetheart,” Mac put in. “I got some nice shots of her and Alison at the rehearsal. I’ve got it in my notes to get some of them today. Personally, I think she’ll stay for the whole deal.”

  “I hope she does. Cake and desserts served while dancing continues. Bouquet toss at ten fifteen.”

  “Tossing bouquet is set,” Emma added.

  “Garter toss, dancing continues. Last dance at ten fifty, bubble blowing, bride and groom depart. Event end, eleven.” Parker checked her watch again. “Let’s get it done. Emma and Laurel need to change. Everyone remember their headsets.”

  Parker’s phone vibrated, and she glanced at the readout. “MOB. Again. Fourth call this morning.”

  “Have fun with that,” Mac said and escaped.

  She scouted room by room, staying out of the way of Emma and her crew as they swarmed over the house with flowers, ribbons, voile. She took shots of Laurel’s cake, Emma’s arrangements, framed others in her head.

  It was a routine she never allowed to become routine. She knew once it became rote, she’d miss shots, opportunities, bog down on fresh angles and ideas. And whenever she felt herself dulling, she thought of a blue butterfly landing on a dandelion.

  The air smelled of roses and lilies and rang with voices and footfalls. Light streamed through the tall windows in lovely beams and shafts, and glittered on the gold and silver ribbons.

  “Headset, Mac!” Parker rushed down the main staircase. “The bride’s arriving.”

  As Parker hurried down to meet the bride, Mac jogged up. She swung out on the front terrace, ignoring the cold as the white limo sailed down the drive. As it eased to a stop she shifted her angle, set, and waited.

  Maid of honor, mother of the bride. “Move, move, just a little,” she muttered. Alison stepped out. The bride wore jeans, Uggs, a battered suede jacket and a bright red scarf. Mac zoomed in, changed stops. “Hey! Alison!”

  The bride looked up. Surprise turned to amused delight, and to Mac’s pleasure, Alison threw up both arms, tossed back her head, and laughed.

  And there, Mac thought as she caught the moment, was the beginning of the journey.

  Within ten minutes, the Bride’s Suite—once Parker’s own bedroom—bustled with people and confusion. Two hairdressers plied their tools and talents, curling, straightening, styling, while others wielded paints and pots.

  Utterly female, Mac thought as she moved through the room unobtrusively, the scents, the motions, the sounds. The bride remained the focus—no nerves on this one, Mac determined. Alison was confident, beaming, and currently chattering like a magpie.

  The MOB, however, was a different story.

  “But you have such beautiful hair! Don’t you think you should leave it down? At least some of it. Maybe—”

  “An updo suits the headdress better. Relax, Mom.”

  “It’s too warm in here. I think it’s too warm in here. And Mandy should take a quick nap. She’s going to act up, I just know it.”

  “She’ll be fine.�
� Alison glanced toward the flower girl.

  “I really think—”

  “Ladies!” Parker wheeled in a cart of champagne, with a pretty fruit and cheese tray. “The men are on their way. Alison, your hair’s gorgeous. Absolutely regal.” She poured a flute, offered it to the bride.

  “I really don’t think she should drink before the ceremony. She barely ate today, and—”

  “Oh, Mrs. McFearson, I’m so glad you’re dressed and ready. You look fabulous. If I could just steal you for a few minutes? I’d love for you to take a look at the Drawing Room before the ceremony. We want to make sure it’s perfect, don’t we? I’ll have her back in no time.” Parker pushed champagne into the MOB’s hand, and steered her out of the room.

  Alison said, “Whew!” and laughed.

  For the next hour, Mac split herself between the bride’s and groom’s suites. Between perfume and tulle, cuff links and cummerbunds. She eased back into the bride’s domain, circled around the attendants as they dressed and helped one another dress. And found Alison alone, standing in front of her wedding dress.

  It was all there, Mac thought as she quietly framed the shot. The wonder, the joy—with just that tiny tug of sorrow. She snapped the image as Alison reached out to brush her fingers over the sparkle of the bodice.

  Decisive moment, Mac knew, when everything the woman felt reflected on her face.

  Then it passed, and Alison glanced over.

  “I didn’t expect to feel this way. I’m so happy. I’m so in love with Rod, so ready to marry him. But there’s this little clutch right here.” She rubbed her fingers just above her heart. “It’s not nerves.”

  “Sadness. Just a touch. One phase of your life ends today. You’re allowed to be sad to say good-bye. I know what you need. Wait here.”

  A moment later, Mac led Alison’s grandmother over. And once again stepped back.

  Youth and age, she thought. Beginnings and endings, connections and constancy. And, love.

  She snapped the embrace, but that wasn’t it. She snapped the glitter of tears, and still, no. Then Alison lowered her forehead to her grandmother’s, and even as her lips curved, a single tear slid down her cheek while the dress glowed and glittered behind them.

  Perfect. The blue butterfly.

  She took candids of the ritual while the bride dressed, then the formal portraits with exquisite natural light. As she’d expected, Alison was game to brave the cold on the terrace.

  And Mac ignored Parker’s voice through her headset as she rushed to the Groom’s Suite to repeat the process with Rod.

  She passed Parker in the hallway as she strode back to the bride. “I need the groom and party downstairs, Mac. We’re running two minutes behind.”

  “Oh my God!” Mac said in mock horror and ducked into the Bride’s Suite.

  “Guests are seated,” Parker announced in her ear moments later. “Groom and groomsmen taking position. Emma, gather the bridal party.”

  “On it.”

  Mac slipped out to take her stand at the bottom of the stairs as Emma organized the bridesmaids.

  “Party ready. Cue the music.”

  “Cuing music,” Parker said, “start the procession.”

  The flower girl would clearly be fine without the nap, Mac decided as the child nearly danced her way down the staircase. She paused like a vet at Laurel’s signal, then continued at a dignified pace in her fairy dress across the foyer, into the enormous parlor, and down the aisle formed by the chairs.

  The attendants followed, shimmering silver, and at last, the maid of honor in gold.

  Mac crouched to aim up as the bride and her father stood at the top of the stairs, holding hands. As the bride’s music swelled, he lifted his daughter’s hand to his lips, then to his cheek.

  Even as she took the shot, Mac’s eyes stung.

  Where was her own father? she wondered. Jamaica? Switzerland? Cairo?

  She pushed the thought and the ache that came with it aside, and did her job.

  Using Emma’s candlelight, she captured joy and tears. The memories. And stayed invisible and separate.


  SHE WORKED AT NIGHT BECAUSE SHE HAD A FULL DAY OF APPOINTMENTS. And because she liked working at night—alone, in her own space, at her own pace. Mornings were for coffee, that first intense, blood-surging hit of it, and days were often for clients, for shoots, for meetings.

  Nights, alone in her studio, she could focus entirely on images, how to select, to improve, to enhance. Though she worked almost exclusively digital, she retained the darkroom mind-set when it came to creating the print. She layered, highlighting, shadowing; she removed blemishes or hot spots to create her base for her master print. To this she could refine specific areas, alter density, add contrast. Step-by-step she would shape the print, sharpening or softening to suit the mood, to create an image that expressed that moment in time, until

  she felt what she hoped the client would feel.

  Then, as she did most mornings, Mac sat down at her computer to check her thumbnails and to see if her morning self agreed with her night self.

  She huddled over them in her flannels and thick socks, her bright red hair a forest of spikes and tufts. And in the utter quiet. At a wedding she was most often surrounded. By people, by chatter, by emotion. She blocked it or used it as she searched for the right angle, the right tone, the right moment.

  But here, she was alone with the images, ones she could perfect. She drank her coffee, ate an apple as a concession to the previous morning’s Pop-Tart, and studied the hundreds of images she’d captured the day before, the dozens she’d finessed during the night session.

  Her morning self congratulated her night self on a job well done. More to do yet, she mused, and when she had the best of the best for the clients to consider, she’d give them one more going-over before scheduling an appointment with the newlyweds to view the images in slide-show format and make their choices.

  But that was for another day. In case her memory proved faulty, she checked her calendar before going up to shower and dress for her first appointment.

  For a studio shoot, jeans and a sweater would do, but then she’d have to change for the consultation scheduled that afternoon at the main house. Vows policy demanded business attire for client consultations.

  Mac pushed through her closet for black pants, a black shirt. She could toss on a jacket after the shoot and meet the dress code. She played with jewelry until she found what suited her mood, slapped on some makeup, and considered the job done.

  The studio required more attention than the photographer, in her opinion.

  Elizabeth and Charles, she thought as she began the setup. Engagement shot. They’d been firm, she recalled, at the consult. Formal, simple, straightforward.

  She wondered why they didn’t just get a friend with a point-and-shoot to take it then. And she recalled now with a quick smirk, that those words had nearly come out of her mouth—before Parker had read her mind and shot her a warning glare.

  “Client’s king,” she reminded herself as she set her backdrop. “They want boring, boring it is.”

  She hauled in lights, positioned a diffuser—boring could at least be pretty. She brought out her tripod, mostly because she felt the clients would expect equipment. By the time she’d chosen her lenses, checked her lighting, draped a stool, the clients knocked at her door.

  “Right on time.” She shut the door behind them and blocked a blast of frigid wind. “Brutal out there today. Let me take your coats.”

  They looked perfect, she thought. Barbie and Ken for the upper-class set. The cool, every hair in place blonde, the handsome, polished, and pressed hero.

  Part of her longed to muss them up, just a little, and make them human.

  “Can I get you some coffee?” she asked.

  “Oh, no, but thank you.” Elizabeth granted her a smile. “We’d really like to just get to it. We have a full schedule today.” As Mac dealt with their outdoor gear, El
izabeth glanced around the studio. “This used to be the pool house?”

  “That’s right.”

  “It’s . . . interesting. I suppose I expected something more elaborate. Still.” She wandered over to study some of the framed photos on the wall. “Charles’s cousin’s wedding here in November was wonderful. And she just raves about you and your partners. Isn’t that right, Charles?”

  “Yes. It’s what decided us on your company.”

  “The wedding planner and I will be working closely together over the next months. Is there anywhere I can freshen up before we start?” Elizabeth asked.

  “Absolutely.” Mac led the way to the powder room off her studio, and wondered just what there was to freshen.

  “So, Charles.” Mentally, Mac was loosening the perfectly executed Windsor knot of his tie. “Where are you two off to today?”

  “We have a meeting with the wedding planner, and we’re taking care of registering. Elizabeth is going on to meet with two of the designers your partner recommended for her gown.”

  “That’s exciting.” You look just thrilled, she thought, the way you might for your semiannual dental visit.

  “It’s a lot of details. I suppose you’re used to them.”

  “Every wedding’s the first. Would you mind standing behind the stool here? I can check the lighting and focus while Elizabeth’s getting ready.”

  He moved obediently, stood stiff as a poker.

  “Relax,” she told him. “This will be easier and quicker than you think, and possibly fun. What kind of music do you like?”


  “Yeah, let’s have some music.” She crossed to her CD player, chose a disk. “Natalie Cole on ballads. Romantic, classic. How’s that?”

  “Fine. That’s fine.”

  Mac caught him sneaking a peek at his watch as she went back to pretend to adjust her camera. “Have you decided on the honeymoon spot yet?”

  “We’re leaning toward Paris.”

  “Do you speak French?”

  For the first time he smiled easily. “Not a word.”

  “Well, there’s the adventure,” she said as Elizabeth came back looking as precisely perfect as she had when she’d gone in.

  The suit was probably Armani, and beautifully tailored. The indigo blue color flattered, and Mac imagined Elizabeth had selected Charles’s slate gray to set it off.

  “I think we’ll start with you sitting, Elizabeth, with Charles behind you. Just a little to the left, Charles. And Elizabeth, if you’d angle toward the windows, just a bit. Lean back toward Charles—relax your body. Charles, put your hand on her left shoulder. Put your hand over his, it’ll show off that spectacular engagement ring.”

  She took a couple of shots just to get them over the initial frozen smiles.

  Angle your head.

  Weight on the back foot.

  Shift your shoulders.

  Shy, Mac realized. He was shy, camera shy and just a little people shy. And she was monumentally self-conscious. Terrified of not looking exactly right.

  She tried to put them at ease, asking how they met, how they got engaged—though she’d asked the same questions when they’d set up the appointment. And received the same answers now.

  She barely cracked the surface.

  She could stop now, Mac thought, and give them exactly what they thought they wanted. But it wouldn’t be what they needed.

  She stepped back from the camera. As she did, their bodies relaxed, and Elizabeth turned her head to smile up and over at Charles. He winked at her.

  Okay, okay, Mac thought. Humans in there after all.

  “I’ve got several very nice formal shots. I know that’s what you wanted, but I wonder if you’d do something for me?”