“What’s the big rush?” Jessica asked her boss Jo, who was standing to her right.
Jo was foraging her in purse for something and didn’t respond immediately. But as she surfaced from her deep-dive into the tote, holding a bouquet of badges triumphantly, she answered.
“The bride and groom are due to arrive at ten am,” Jo said, reading the badges one by one.
“Oh,” Jess said, her brown-sugar toned skin flushing pink with embarrassment. I should have known that, she thought avoiding her boss’s glare.
She watched as press teams swarmed the pristine cathedral grounds. The area had been entirely roped off from the public, but those with badges around their necks had access.
Apparently, the royal family of London wanted the wedding to be publicized all over the world because all around her Jessica saw journalists and photographers from every country imaginable. Two men speed-walked past her, jabbering away in what sounded like Russian as they made last minute adjustments on bulky cameras.
“You did read the itinerary I sent out, didn’t you?” Jo asked. She lifted her voice and spoke like a camp counselor would to a gaggle of campers. “You all actually read the itinerary, correct? If not, pull it up on your phones now and read it. We’ve got ten minutes until the bride is on scene, and at eleven on the dot we’ve got twenty minutes with her. Look sharp.”
Jess tried to pay attention. I wish we’d had time for a coffee, she thought. She also wished she hadn't stayed up until two in the morning at her friend's bachelorette party the night before her flight to London. The hangover had dulled somewhere over the course of the epic flight from LA to the UK, but the ache in her head due to alcohol had been replaced by the fog and weariness of jet lag.
Jess looked around at the other photographers on her team and saw that they were in the same position. Trevor stared bleary-eyed at Jo, and Candice rubbed her face, as if in an effort to wake herself up. Just looking at them made Jess feel tired.
She stifled a yawn.
“By ‘look sharp’, I don’t mean audition for the cast of the Walking Dead,” Jo snapped as she handed out the badges one by one.
Jessica placed the red lanyard around her neck and flipped the badge so that her photo and name were showing.
Jo finished handing out the badges and began doling out assignments. “Trevor, you’re on hair and makeup. I want close-ups. I want you to zoom in so close that we can see the mascara caked to each individual lash. Got it?”
Trevor, who was the least communicative on the team, grunted in response.
Jo was used to this, as they all were, and moved on. “Candice… you’re on candid photos. I want to see her walking—lots of movement. Pensive, creative shots. Artistic. The whole shoot’s going to be deep and creative. I don’t want fluff. No smiles. I want to cry when I see your photos. Capisce?”
“You can count on me, Jo,” Candice responded with a quick smile.
Jo frowned. “Nothing bright. We’re going for depth here.”
Candice wiped the smile off of her face. “Right. Artsy, not happy.”
“She’s marrying into a whole new societal rank. Stepping up to a massive responsibility. The weight of a country is on her shoulders. That’s the feeling. Thoughtful. Deep, Candice. Dig deep. We have five minutes!”
Jo turned towards the cathedral.
Trevor and Candice glanced at Jessica. It was no secret that out of the entire photography staff for LA Fashionista, Jo liked Jess the least. Jessica was used to getting the worst assignments, or no assignments at all. She’d been shocked and honored when Jo had requested her presence for the trip to the UK.
It had even crossed Jessica’s mind that the trip would be the perfect time to try to get onto Jo’s good side. But so far, from showing up late and hungover to the airport to asking too many questions of her boss, things hadn’t gone as planned.
I might still be able to turn this around, thought Jess. She cleared her throat.
“Um, Jo?” she asked. “What about me? Where do you want me?”
“Oh, you. Jessica, I want you on interior poses. Get her into dramatic lighting. Natural light. Think half light half dark. Again, I’m not looking for a shiny, bright bride. We’re looking for intrigue.”
“Where will you be?” Candice asked.
“I’m on exterior candid,” Jo said. “I’m going to get her walking in. And remember, people, we’ve got competition. Don’t shy away from the front row. Hold your ground. Candice, I want you by the door to start capturing candids as soon as she enters the cathedral. Trevor, Jessica, you have the bride’s schedule. I don’t have to tell you where to go.”
Jo looked pointedly at Jessica. “Do I?” she asked, daring Jess to ask another question.
Jessica swallowed. “No ma’am,” she said, a slight ring of attitude in her tone.
Jo nodded, clearly choosing to ignore Jessica’s tone. “Good,” she said. “Go.”
Jessica turned and started walking down the long paved walkway towards the massive Cathedral. Trevor shuffled along at her side.They were now a part of the sea of reporters streaming down the sidewalk and Jessica felt as though she was being carried in a current.
“Do you know what room we’re supposed to go to first?” Jessica asked her coworker.
“Shit,” Jessica said. “Jo sent us so many damn info packets last week, and on top of all of that I was trying to finish up the spread on the Victoria’s Secret show. How was I supposed to have time to read through all of that information?”
Trevor picked up speed and Jessica walked faster so that she wouldn’t get left behind.
“You had time to go to that bachelorette party,” Trevor said.
Jess didn’t miss the tone of accusation in his voice. He took his job seriously, and Jess was aware that she was seen as the weakest link on the team. When she didn’t do her job well, the whole team paid the price, usually in the form of a scolding from Jo.
Jess also knew that Trevor’s attitude towards her was due in part to the fact that he’d hit on her when she first started with the magazine, and she’d turned him down swiftly, and not gently.
“Yeah,” she said defensively. “I did. Rochelle is my best friend, and she’s getting fucking married. Of course I had time to go to the bachelorette party.”
“And you had time to go home with a guy afterwards. We all saw him leaving your house when the shuttle picked you up, Jess. Is that why you were late?”
Jess felt color flush to her cheeks. The fact that the guy she’d brought home with her after the rowdy party had still been there in the morning, when the airline shuttle had come to her apartment, had been unfortunate. Sleeping through her alarm and then walking out the door with him, in front of her boss and coworkers, had made it even worse.
“So, I brought a guy home with me,” Jess said. “What’s so bad about that?”
“We almost missed our flight,” Trevor said.
“I was just having fun,” Jess said.
They were almost to the cathedral and Jess still didn’t know where they were supposed to go. She heard Candice behind them.
Jessica turned. Candice had also been giving her attitude since the airport shuttle fiasco.
“Candice, do you know where we’re supposed to be headed?”
Candice glared at Jess. “I know where I’m supposed to be. Right by the doors. And the whole thing is lined out in the itinerary that Jo sent. You read it, didn’t you Jess?”
“Of course I read it!” Jess exclaimed. I read the subject line, she thought.
Trevor had pulled ahead again.
Fine, Jessica thought, if he’s going to be a dick, then I’m not going to try to apologize. He can be so judgmental.
They reached a flight of steps and Jess tried to keep up with the crowd as she walked up them. She was swept along in a sea of people toting camera bags. She couldn't even see Trevor anymore and she felt anxiety sweep through her.
Okay, she thought, I need to stop and take out my phone to check the messages from Jo.
The crowd swept her through the cathedral’s open doors and immediately the bright light of the crisp morning outside was dimmed. They entered a timeless space.
Jess struggled to see as her eyes adjusted. She pushed her thick-rimmed glasses up on her nose. They weren’t real, but she’d been wearing them at work ever since she got hired on three years ago as an intern with no experience. Jo had spotted some of her photographs at a contest that Jess had been entered into, unknowingly. At first, Jess had resisted the idea of going to work at a high fashion agency, because she didn’t feel worthy of the position. But the glasses gave her a sense of confidence. When she put them on, she felt like a woman who could handle things.
She fought to get to the side of the swiftly moving pack of reporters. She looked around her, and could not find Candice or Trevor. She pulled out her phone.
I need to find that itinerary, she thought desperately.
Her head throbbed as
she opened up her email. The words swam before her eyes.
And I need to get some coffee, or water, or something!
She fought to read through the dozen emails from her boss that she’d received in the last week alone. Each itinerary was followed up by updated schedules, so she found that she couldn't read just one message. She had to read through each one painstakingly as if they were clues to a massive riddle.
When she finally felt like she understood the schedule, she rejoined the pack of photographers. “Okay,” she whispered under her breath. “She’s going to be in the Narthex, and then the radiating chapels. That’s where I need to go.”
The floor was made of polished, beige stone. Clicking heels and shuffling dress shoes created a chorus of echos that bounced off the high walls and ceilings. Every surface was covered with ornate decorations. Jess glanced to her right and left. She saw two dark, gaping hallways in each direction. Journalists were flowing into the hallways, and as they crossed into the heavily shadowed area they looked as though they were being swallowed whole.
What the hell is a Narthex? she wondered. And which one of the radiating altars would I go to? West, right? I want the west radiating altar?
She struggled to remember the information that she had just read over.
Yes, she thought. West. Which one is that? How do all of these people know which way to go?
Ahead of her, two massive double doors led to what she assumed must be the main body of the cathedral. There were two golden posts stationed on each side of the door, and a thick red velvet rope strung up between them.
Jess stopped walking. She had no idea if she had to go right or left. People pushed past her, moving quickly so that they could get into position. Jess was jostled from side to side, and people huffed with annoyance as they had to move around her.
“...something to do with her bridesmaids,” Jess heard a woman say. “Her maid of honor is stuck in traffic on Cannon Street, so she’s going to be late. That means bridesmaid photographs are pushed back.”
“How long?” A second woman asked.
“Half an hour—so the bridal shoot is happening earlier.”
Jessica felt a sense of uneasiness in her stomach. She knew that the bridesmaid portraits were supposed to occur first, and then the bridal portraits second. But if the maid of honor was late, then the schedule would have to be rearranged.
This is ridiculous, Jess thought to herself. How am I supposed to know what's going on?
As she stood in place, she pulled out her phone again. I have to text Jo, she thought. It’s going to suck to have to ask her another ‘stupid’ question, but I have to do it.
As she pulled out her phone, it gave a beeping sound. For the first time, she noticed how low her battery was. No! No, no, no. She pulled up her text messages as fast as she could.
There was a message from Jo.
‘Urgent—change in schedule’, it said. Before Jess could read any more, her phone went black.
Great, thought Jess. She looked back towards the front doors, trying to find Candice. There were too many people, and Jess couldn't locate her.
I have to pick, she thought. Left, or right. Which one is west?
“Excuse me”, she said to a passing photographer. “Do you know where Princess Alana is going to be for her bridal portraits?”
The man shook his head. “I’m on aerial shots. I’m going to the balcony. Good luck, sweetheart.”
Thanks for nothing , Jess thought.. She tried again. This time, the response was even less helpful and more rude.
Right, Jess thought, This is the competition. They don’t want to help me take good photographs. They want their own photographs to be the best. This is such a cruel industry.
I’m going to have to guess.
Right or left?
If I choose the wrong one, I might miss the few minutes I have to get my shots. If I choose the right one, I could take great photos, and get into Jo’s good graces.
Right, or left?
She was buffeted on the shoulder one more time, and frustration welled up inside of her.
How am I supposed to choose?
This is like playing Russian roulette with my career.
Paralyzed, she glanced up one more time at the double doors in front of her. A woman with a clipboard walked purposefully towards them. Jess watched the woman unhitch one end of the rope and walk through. The woman turned and re-attached the rope, and then pushed open the doors.
Hmmm, Jess thought as the woman disappeared through the double doors.
Maybe I don’t have to choose. I know that the bride will be in the main cathedral eventually. She knew from reading the instructions that only a select few press groups had access to the cathedral, and LA Fashionista was not among them.
But that looked so easy, she thought. She waited and watched. Is someone going to follow her? she wondered.
No one in the crowded lobby seemed to care that the woman had walked through the red velvet rope.
Damn, thought Jess, this could really impress Jo.
She took a few tentative steps towards the rope.
Lifting her hand slowly, she looked around. Everyone seemed to be too wrapped up in their own tasks to pay her much attention. In the murmuring of voices, she heard many people discussing the change in schedule. It seemed to have thrown people off significantly, and she overheard more than one statement of confusion about it.
“I thought the bridesmaid portraits were going to be outside, in the gardens?” one woman said. “Will the Princess be inside first, and then outside?”
“What time is she going to be in the radial chapel?
“Will this push back the first look?”
Jessica unhooked the bronze clasp at one end of the rope.
Stepping forward, she crossed the roped-off threshold. Without looking up, she turned and reattached the rope, just as she had seen the woman before her do. Turning once again, she placed her hands on the heavy wooden doors.
With a strong push, she was able to open them. They slid across the polished floor with a whooshing sound, and she stepped through them. On the other side, she closed the heavy door behind her.
Silence filled her senses.
She found herself in the most beautiful space she had ever entered. An aisle, flanked on either side by rows of wooden pews, stretched before her. Expansive arches stretched up overhead, bathed in pure white daylight that filtered through a tall window at the end of the aisle.
On either side more light cascaded through windows that were high above the arches. The light was colored plum, crimson, and emerald by the stained glass that covered the windows.
Several ancient-looking chandeliers hung down over the altar and pews. The light that they cast was warm and yellow, and looked more like candle light than electric.
Compared to the buzzing lobby beyond the doors, the main cathedral was a sanctuary of peace. The hushed whispers of the few occupants were soft and muted.
Jess felt her anxiety fall away.
Just being in the sacred space made her feel more centered.
She drew in a breath of awe as she stretched her neck upwards and took in the ornate decorations. Slowly, she lowered her gaze and looked down the aisle.
The bride, Princess Alana, was going to be walking down this aisle that very afternoon.
What will it feel
like? wondered Jessica, as she took a tentative step forward. These
pews will be filled with her friends and family, as well as
dignitaries from around the world.
She’s going to be marrying Prince Mark.
She will become a Princess.
It’s like a fairy tale.
In fact, the whole story of Mark and Alana had been like a fairy tale from the beginning.
Though Jess hadn't spent too much time obsessing over the two celebrity lovebirds, she, like every member of the public, had seen pictures of them throughout their courtship. Sweet first dates, walking through parks, sitting together at horse races, side by side at political events. The two had become a public heartthrob, capturing the imagination of people around the world.
That woman, thought Jess as she stepped forward again, is going to be walking down this aisle in just a few hours. Towards the man she is going to marry.
As Jess walked, she thought of the guy she’d brought home after the bachelorette party. They’d seen each other a few times, and one thing had led to another. But once they were back at Jess’s apartment, Jess had found that she didn’t want to take things any further than kissing. She didn’t feel like she wanted to be intimate with him. They’d hooked up, but Jess’s heart hadn’t been in it.
As she walked down the aisle, she realized with sudden clarity that the guy wasn’t one she’d ever want to see at the end of the aisle, staring back at her, waiting for her to arrive.
Alana is going to be walking towards Mark, Jess thought. They are going to vow in front of God, family, and friends, to love an honor each other for the rest of their lives. Am I ever going to feel like that?
“Hey, you!” she heard someone call out.
Jess looked around, pulled from her reverie by a powerful paranoia that she’d been found out. “You, girl!”
They’re going to kick me out, she thought.
A pudgy, stout man standing just past the front pew pointed directly at her. Jess was still ten feet away from the front of the room. Her feet had been carrying her down the aisle as she daydreamed.
“Yeah, you!” the pudgy man said. His voice rose above the hushed whisper that the scattering of others were speaking in, and bounced around the space.
Jess felt her heart hammer in her chest.
She was about to make an excuse about being lost, when the man spoke again. “I need to borrow you,” he said. He started waving her over with his hands.
“Come this way,” he said. “Just for a few minutes, I promise.”
Jess was confused, but walked towards him anyways.
As she reached him, the pudgy man turned towards a second, thin and tall man that stood at his side. “See?” the pudgy guy said. “She’s just about Alana’s height.”
The second guy nodded.
The pudgy man placed a hand on Jess’s shoulder. “This way,” he said, guiding Jess towards the altar. “I need you to stand here for just a minute. Can you believe we’re not going to be allowed to use flash in here? This lighting is terrible. There,” he said, turning to face the lanky man. “What can you do?”
“Alright, alright,” the lanky man responded. “There’s at least some natural light across her face. We’ll increase the shutter speed and just try to absorb more white light. I think our g-50 lens is going to be best.”
“Are you sure?” The stout man asked. “What about over here?” He released Jess’s shoulder and stood across from her. “Pretend I’m Prince Mark. Can you capture my features? How’s the light?”
The lanky man shook his head. “You’re about a foot shorter than the Prince,” he said. “I can’t tell.”
The pudgy man looked around.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll get someone else. Hey, you!” he called out.
Jess saw the pudgy man point out into the cathedral again, just as he had done to her. As she stood, posed at the altar, she looked in direction that he was pointing. She gazed out into the cathedral, and saw that he was pointing to a drop-dead gorgeous man.
Her breath caught in her throat.
“You there,” the pudgy man called again.
The gorgeous man he was pointing to looked up.
“Come here,” pudgy photographer called out. The handsome man looked from the pudgy man to Jessica with curiosity.
As Jess watched, the handsome man’s eyes lingered on her. His gaze found her own, and for a minute their eyes locked.
Jess felt heat rush to her cheeks.
All thoughts of tiredness and feeling overwhelmed were gone.
She forgot that she was in the wrong place, possibly missing out on the bridal portraits she was supposed to be capturing in a last ditch effort to impress her boss. She forgot that her coworkers were annoyed with her. She forgot about the go-nowhere hookup partner she’d seen before leaving for London.
She forgot everything as the handsome man’s eyes held her own.
And as he started to walk towards her, she felt faint.