Chapter Two

Posted: September 8, 2013 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

     Heading off down the hall, Maddie wondered again where Holly could be. She lived twenty minutes from the church; even oversleeping and a traffic delay couldn’t account for being this late. She’d better have texted Chrissy.

     As she rounded the corner at the front of the church she collided with the photographer, who nearly dropped the camera he’d been fiddling with.

     “Oh! I’m sorry!” He fumbled with the equipment, losing his grip again as he was seized by a coughing fit.

     “Are you okay?” Maddie watched, concerned, as his face turned an alarming shade of red. “Do you want some water?”

     He shook his head, shifting the camera to one hand and using the other to retrieve a handkerchief from his pocket. Maddie thought she’d have to get some water anyway, or some help, as he covered his mouth and continued to cough violently. She was just about to shout for someone to come when the cough subsided, his color returning to a normal hue.

     “Are you sure you’re all right?” He seemed much sicker than he’d indicated during their phone call. She bit her lip, wondering if he’d be able to do his job.

     He wiped his brow and gave her a wan smile. “I’ll be fine. Don’t worry.” He saw her glance uncertainly at his camera. “My assistant is outside getting the rest of my stuff,” he said. “He’ll be helping me with the shots.”

     “Oh, okay.” Maddie let out a breath, relieved. She gestured back down the hallway. “Were you looking for me?”

     He nodded. “I thought I could take some ‘getting ready’ shots for you. Nothing inappropriate,” he added quickly. “Just, you know, your mom helping with your dress, that kind of thing.”

     “That sounds fine.” She chewed her lip some more, thinking. “I have to go figure out where my maid-of-honor is, but I should be right back. Go ahead and set up. Second door on the right.”

     He set off, and was halfway down the hall when she remembered.

     “Hey!” He turned. “Do not take any pictures of my sister.”

     “Oh…kay.” He gave her a puzzled look.

     “You’ll see what I mean. Just wait for me to get back.”

     He shrugged. “No problem. See you in a few.”

     Resuming her walk toward the chapel doors, Maddie’s thoughts settled on her sister. It was unsurprising that she’d chosen to dress like a two-dollar tramp on a day when Maddie was supposed to be the center of attention; she was always pulling stunts like that. Maddie recalled the mohawk her younger sibling had sported to Maddie’s college graduation; the strung-out musician she’d brought to the engagement party. Jessie was incapable of letting anyone else have the spotlight. Why had Maddie thought her wedding day would be any different?

     Poor bastard, she thought, recalling that Jessie had dressed to impress. Bobby and Carol Franks had been friends with Maddie’s parents for 20 years; she thought she remembered meeting their son, who was a few years older, a handful of times. It had been a long time, though – she couldn’t remember what he looked like, let alone his name.

     Hopefully he remembers Jessie. Nobody should walk into that blind.

     Picturing the potential look on his face when he got his first glimpse of Jessie, she snickered as she entered the chapel. Chrissy saw her and waved, bending to say something to the organist before heading down the aisle.

     Maddie checked out the decorations that had been put up while she waited, and was pleased with what she saw. Soft white lights had been strung along the railing at the front; sprays of white roses perched on either side of the chapel entrance and the altar, framing where she and Jack would stand. More roses, tied with blue and silver ribbons, hung from the end posts of each pew. Small tables had been placed against the walls along the outer aisles, each topped with glass bowls; little white candles floated inside.

     It was exactly what she’d always pictured. This, at least, is perfect.

     She was still gaping when Chrissy reached her; she found herself enveloped in a huge hug.

     “I was just about to come back!” She eyed Maddie’s hair and face before breaking into a grin. “You look amazing!”

     Maddie smiled back, her friend’s warmth and enthusiasm working to calm her. “Thanks. I feel pretty amazing. I just hope Jack likes it.”

     “Oh please. Of course he will!” Glancing around, Chrissy added, “Although we wouldn’t want him to see you too early. You shouldn’t even be out here.”

     “Yeah, I know. I have to put out a few fires.” She gave Chrissy a hopeful look. “I don’t suppose you know where we could find a long coat, do you?”

     “Ah. So Jessie found you.” Chrissy laughed. “I told her you were going to be pissed.”

     Maddie rolled her eyes. “She thinks she looks great, of course.”

     “Well, yeah. It’s not so bad, actually. For the club. But for today, no, we definitely need to cover her up. Father Davis will have a freaking heart attack.”

     Maddie giggled, relaxing further.

     “Hmm.” Chrissy tapped her nails on a pew top, thinking. “Holly was wearing a sweater jacket kind of thing when she got here, maybe that will work.”

     “Holly?” Maddie wrinkled her brow. “She’s here?”

     “Yeah, she got here a while ago.” Chrissy blinked, looking confused. “Is she not in the rectory?”

     Maddie shook her head. “I came out here to find her, actually. I didn’t pass her on the way out, either.”

     “Maybe she got roped into helping the photographer or something.” Chrissy shrugged. “Her coat should be in the choir closet, anyway. They cleared out the robes so we could use it.”

     “Miss Striker!”

     They both turned to the interruption. A spry little man in an eye-watering yellow suit hurried up the aisle toward them, wringing his hands.

     “Mr. Baum.” Maddie smiled at the florist, a smile that faded as she noticed that the man was near tears. Visions of a lost delivery, dead flowers, all manner of disaster flitted through her head.

     Bad luck.

     “What is it?” she asked, reaching out to place a hand on his arm. He was shaking, she noticed. “What’s wrong, Mr. Baum?”

     “It’s a disaster!” The man seemed on the verge of a total breakdown. “A disaster! Oh this is the worst, just the worst thing!”

     Maddie took a firmer hold and guided Baum into a pew. “Here, Mr. Baum, sit down. Take a breath.” She clamped down on her own panic as she watched him do as she said, calming bit by bit. “Tell me,” she said gently, “What’s happened?”

     “The hydrangeas!” Baum lay his head back and moaned. “They didn’t send them! I told them to send them, they were supposed to, but they’re not here!”

     The two women exchanged worried glances over Baum’s head. “So…the bouquets…there are no flowers?” Chrissy asked.

     Baum shook his head. “No, no, we have flowers. But…they sent…cremons.”

     “What?” Maddie was beyond confused. “What the hell are cremons? Are they blue?”

     “Yes they’re blue!” Baum snapped. “A very pretty blue, in fact. But they’re not hydrangeas!”

     Maddie looked at her friend, shaking her head. “Marion picked the hydrangeas,” she said. “If they’re blue then I don’t care. I can’t-”

     Chrissy waved her off. “Go. I’ll take care of this.” She sat beside Baum, who still looked like he’d start sobbing at any moment. “I won’t be long.”

     Maddie went, asking herself what else could happen. What are cremons? She guessed she’d find out when she walked down the aisle.

     The thought prompted her to check her watch again; she noted with alarm that she now had only forty minutes to get ready. She had to move if she didn’t want to get married in sweats.

     Hesitating inside the chapel entrance, Maddie did a quick duck and peek to make sure there was no sign of Jack. Not seeing anyone, she headed toward the other hallway. She peeked again – the guys were using the choir room to get ready, so she was running a real risk being down here. Still, they needed that coat. She resolved to be fast.

     Approaching the closet – which was really more of a room, big enough to hold the church choir’s winter and summer robes – her steps, quiet and quick, suddenly slowed. She heard what she thought was movement inside.

     Just someone hanging their coat.

     With the door closed? In the dark?

     Oh shut up.

     Feeling foolish, she nonetheless waited, hand on the knob, ears straining.

     There! As she listened there was a muted thud, followed by a moan.

     “Sshh,” a voice said. “Someone will hear you!”

     Maddie felt her stomach drop to her feet. Rage began to course through her, until her hands were shaking as badly as Baum’s had been. She knew that voice.

     “You motherfucker,” she whispered.

     Slowly, slowly – aware that she was about to see something that would make her slutty sister and unidentified cremons pale in comparison – Maddie opened the door.

     And got an eyeful of Holly – her eyes closed, head thrown back – riding Jack Cooper for all she was worth.

  1. Thea says:

    Oh dear…I knew this was coming, but what a way to end a chapter!

    Even with all the other drama, I LOVED Mr. Baum. I don’t know if he’s going to be more than a minor character or not, but I could picture him perfectly!

  2. mxcoot says:

    It definitely ended with a cliffhanger. Can’t wait for next week.

  3. biddywink says:

    I never liked people named Holly much. Excellent name for the villain friend.

    Why, when I *know* it’s coming–I did read your synopsis after all–I still tensed up and stomach-clenched when Maddie heard the noises in the coat room?

    I hope Holly and Jack get the zombie plague; serves them right.

  4. You are so talented! This isn’t usually my preferred genre, but I am breathless and nail biting the whole way through. More! More!

    • Thank you, Nicole! I’m hoping to break some of the traditional rules of the genres I’m pulling from and draw in people who might not normally give certain types of story a shot (particularly romance, I think that’s a love it or hate it genre with little gray area for most people), so your comment made my day.

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