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By Robin Jones Gunn Zondervan Copyright © 2008 Robin's Ink, LLC
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Chapter One Katie picked up the skirt of her bridesmaid dress and playfully elbowed her way through the gathering circle of female wedding guests. "Pardon me. Coming through. Woman on a mission, here! Make room."
Most of the guests knew Katie and responded with equally high-spirited comments. Katie planted herself front and center and took her softball outfielder's stance as demurely as she could before flipping her swishy red hair behind her ears and calling out, "Right here, Christy! I'm ready for ya' now."
The other young women crowded closer and called their own directions to the bride.
"No playing favorites, Christy!"
"Over here. On your left. Throw it to me on your left!"
"No! Throw it to me, Christy! Me! Here!"
The bride kept her back to all of them as her ever-efficient aunt bustled into the moment. Aunt Marti adjusted Christy's position so her profile was just right for the photographer's lens.
"Keep your shoulders back, Christy-darling," Aunt Marti directed. "Turn your chin slightly to the right. No, not so far. Back ... there. Just like that."
The camera flash captured the pose before the bride could breathe or blink. Another flash came, aimed this time at Katie and the other restless women. Katie was a little taller than many of the high school girls bunched beside her. So far the competition didn't look too challenging.
"Maid of honor, right here!" Katie called out. "Follow the sound of my voice, Christy!"
From the sidelines, someone called out, "Throw it high!"
Katie knew that voice. It belonged to Rick Doyle, her "almost" boyfriend. Rick had joined the rest of the groomsmen on the edge of the crowd of women. The other guys, all surfers at heart, had removed their ties long before the toasts were offered an hour ago. They were ready to more comfortably enjoy the warm southern California afternoon. Rick was the only one who had remained "camera ready," as Aunt Marti called it. She indicated she was pleased with Rick but exasperated with the others, including the groom, Todd, who had peeled off his tux coat right after he and Christy had cut the cake.
Tall, good-looking, brown-eyed Rick cupped his hand to his mouth and called out again, "Throw it high, Christy!"
Why is he saying that? I'm right up front. Katie turned her head to see who Rick was looking at in the back row of the eager bouquet catchers. Before she could spot anyone in particular, something smushy and fragrant hit the left side of her head.
All the women around her screamed.
Katie's quick reflexes prompted her to pull the flying object close to her side. A young woman bumped against Katie in her attempt to make her own crazy, off-balance lurch for the flowers.
"Hey!" Katie felt herself topple and knew the bouquet was about to be snatched from her haphazard grasp.
Just then, Sierra, a friend of Katie's, swung her arm forward without making clear trajectory calculations and unwittingly launched the bundle into the air. The bouquet was back in play!
From the sidelines the guys yelled. From inside the huddle of surprised women a chorus of squeals rose. All arms were up in the air.
The runaway bouquet seemed to enjoy its moment of flight and tagged the fingers of one eager-reaching wedding guest, who batted at it like a badminton birdie. With a hop and a skip the white ball of mischief released a single white rose to the woman with the longest arm before Katie regained her balance, leaped forward, and seized the bouquet. Carpe bouquetum!
The tall girl beside Katie blinked at the single rose in her hand. Katie raised her arm and let her cheer be heard across the meadow. "I caught it!"
"I almost had it," muttered Sierra.
Christy, who had turned around to watch the momentary circus act, broke into a wide grin when she saw where the bouquet had landed.
Katie echoed her best friend's delighted expression, beaming back at her. The two of them had speculated about this moment for years. Many years. Both of them seemed to know that Christy would be the first to marry. Katie always maintained that Christy's groom would be Todd, even during those seasons when Christy had her doubts. To boost her friend's confidence during those dreamy-yet-doubting moments, Katie's best cheer-up line for Christy had been, "Just promise you'll throw the bouquet to me."
That line always caused the two of them to smile at each other the same way they were smiling at this moment.
Spinning around once in a twirl of triumph, Katie caught Rick's gaze. Whomever or whatever his "throw it high" comment referred to no longer mattered. Rick was watching her with his chocolate brown eyes, and she felt herself melting a little inside, just as she had ever since her first, puppy-dog crush on him in junior high.
"Look over this way, please," the photographer said.
Katie tilted her head and gave him her widest smile.
"One more. This time a bit more subdued."
Drawing the fragrant, gardenia-and-white-rose bouquet up to her nose, Katie dipped her chin and took a lingering breath of the pure white sweetness.
So this is what getting married smells like.
The photographer captured the shot, readjusted the camera's angle, and took another. "Great. Thanks."
Katie glanced up, ready to twinkle one of her bright, green-eyed looks of alluring charm at Rick, but her smile fell. Rick was no longer watching her. He had turned his attention to the single guys, who were lining up to catch the garter. She ambled over to join the group, brushing her hair off her forehead.
Being so dressed up and having her picture taken felt strange. Yet it was a nice sort of strange. An improvement over how she usually ran around. Katie's clothing selections had long been in the realm of jeans and a T-shirt or sweatshirt. During the past year, however, she had done what she called a "Katie-version" of a makeover. It started with a haircut that gave her swishy, red mane a more sophisticated, yet easy, wash-and-go style. She added some fun skirts to her wardrobe and went in search of comfortable but feminine tops. This bridesmaid outfit was way beyond anything she would normally wear, but Katie liked how sophisticated she felt in it.
A casually dressed guy with a trim goatee and distinctive, rectangular sunglasses leaned toward Katie as she stood to the side of the group of guys. Without turning to look at her, he said in a low voice, "Your halo is slipping."
She squinted into the late afternoon sun and blinked at him, not sure if his comment had been aimed at her. The guy kept his face forward. He didn't repeat his comment or return her glance. Behind his left ear she noticed a thin, white scar in the shape of a backward "L."
Ignoring him, Katie turned her attention back to the group of guys that was now heckling Todd, the easygoing groom. Todd had positioned Christy's garter between his two thumbs in a slingshot position and impishly aimed backwards. If he let go, the garter undoubtedly would land somewhere in the palm trees that bent over the wedding party like gentle giraffes sheltering their young.
One of the guys called out, "Hey, wrong way, dude."
Doug, a groomsman and the only married guy in the group, stood beside Todd to direct him in the garter launch. Doug turned Todd back around to face the pack. "Just aim it this general direction. It'll fly off crazy, so you don't need to have your back to them the way Christy did."
Todd looked as if he was enjoying this as much as he had clearly enjoyed the wedding and the leisurely paced reception. For all the arguments that erupted among Todd, Christy, her parents, and her eager-to-be-involved Aunt Marti during the planning of the wedding, it had turned into Todd and Christy's special day. The wedding and reception had only a few touches of Marti's influence here and there-most of the day had been quintessential Todd and Christy. Katie couldn't be happier for her friends.
The guys stood back with nonchalant postures, indicating by their expressions they were too cool to go after the garter. But Katie knew this group well enough to realize that the competitive streak in them would spring into action the second Todd launched the ball of lace.
True enough. Todd jutted his determined chin forward. On Doug's command, he launched the lacy white elastic band into the cluster of too-cool guys.
Mayhem broke out.
Katie noticed that Rick was one of only a few guys who didn't spring into action. The garter seemed to make a beeline for the guy with the goatee next to her. But before he could secure his grasp on the flimsy, fluttering piece of lace, another hand reached out and snatched the prize.
Katie's shoulders involuntarily slumped when she saw who caught the garter.
David, the little twerp.
Christy's fifteen-year-old brother broke into a spontaneous victory dance. Sadly, the dance was too clever for his large feet to maneuver and too painful for Katie to watch. She lowered her head and made her way to the other side of the crowd where Rick had ended up. He was talking to Todd's dad.
"Great save on the bouquet catch, there, Katie." Todd's dad tipped his plastic punch cup her direction and added, "Way to go after what you want."
"Thanks." Turning to Rick she said, "I didn't notice your making any heroic efforts to catch the garter there, Doyle."
Rick gave her a grin and a shrug. "It wasn't coming my direction."
That is such a Rick-Doyle-philosophy-of-life statement!
In the past six months Katie had watched Rick roll through several challenging situations without lurching forward with the sort of aggression he had displayed during their high school years. He had mellowed. Maybe too much.
She gave him a long look. This was her friend. Her "almost" boyfriend, according to their last "DTR"-Define the Relationship-conversation. They had been around each other nearly every day for the past seven months, and yet she felt she didn't really know who he was or what he was thinking at any given moment.
Of one thing she was sure. She was glad she had "come his direction" on the night Todd had proposed to Christy at the Dove's Nest Café. Rick was the manager of the Dove's Nest, and although they had known each other since junior high, their paths hadn't crossed for several years.
After they reconnected that night, Katie and Rick fell into a steady, side-by-side rhythm of being together. She even took a job at the Dove's Nest. The past half-year had been the most stable stretch of her life, and she didn't want anything to change. All she wanted was a label for their relationship. She wanted to be established once and for all as boyfriend and girlfriend.
"Katie!" Christy's aunt motioned sharply from her staging position next to the wedding trellis. David already was posed, holding up the garter. The photographer was checking the fading light with his meter.
"You're being summoned," Todd's dad said.
"So I am. You want to come with me?" She reached for Rick's arm.
"You go ahead. I told Doug I'd help him with a little, ah ... project."
"You guys aren't going to mess with Todd and Christy's car, are you?"
Rick only smiled.
Todd's dad stepped away. "I didn't hear that. I'm not in on whatever you guys are planning."
"Rick, Christy doesn't want you guys to do anything to their car. You and Doug know that, right?"
"Katie!" David's voice interrupted them. "Aunt Marti says to hurry up!"
"Promise me you won't do anything to their car, Rick. I'm the maid of honor. I'm supposed to protect Christy. Help me out here. Please don't-"
"You'd better go." Rick pointed her toward Aunt Marti and the photographer. "Your flowers are crooked, by the way."
She took off for the trellis, glancing at the bouquet in her hands. What did he mean the flowers were crooked? They didn't look out of balance to her. A little fluffed up and missing a rosebud, maybe.
"For goodness sake, Katie, bend your head down." Aunt Marti reached up and repositioned the headband of white baby's breath Katie wore as the crowning touch of the bridesmaid's outfit.
Suddenly Goatee Guy's comment made sense, as did Rick's. Her halo had slipped. Katie made her own adjustments with the two remaining bobby pins after Marti finished her attack. Smoothing back her silky red hair, Katie asked, "Better?"
"It will do." Marti stepped aside and gave an irritated snap of her fingers, as if she were in charge of giving directions to the photographer.
David moved closer to Katie and put his arm around her shoulders.
"What are you doing?" Katie asked.
"Posing for the picture."
Katie wiggled out from under his lumbering arm. "Just smile, David. That's all you have to do. Smile. Like this." Katie gave the photographer her best, cheesy-faced grin.
The perturbed photographer looked up from behind the lens. "A little less exuberance, if you don't mind." He took another shot. "Now give me a casual pose."
David stretched his arm in Katie's direction. The scent of his adolescent sweat was strong enough to wilt the flowers in the bouquet -and the trellis that surrounded them. "I'm warning you, David. Keep your paws off me." Katie's words leaked out through her closed-mouth smile. David lowered his arm.
"That's it." The photographer gave them a nod and walked away with his camera.
Katie tossed out a "thank you" and noticed Goatee Guy standing at the end of the aisle next to Tracy, the other bridesmaid. Tracy was married to Doug, and the two of them were expecting their first baby in a little more than a month.
"Are Christy and Todd preparing to leave?" Katie called to Tracy across the rows of empty chairs.
Tracy nodded, her hands folded on top of her round belly. "I came to find you. They're in the chapel signing the marriage license, and they need you to sign as a witness."
Katie scurried across the grass toward the small prayer chapel located on the corner of the university property. The chapel was one of Katie's favorite hidden treasures on the Rancho Corona campus. This grassy meadow on the high mesa that encompassed the university campus usually was used for long strolls along the trail. Having an outdoor wedding in this gorgeous space had been Todd's idea, and it was a great one. No doubt the meadow now would become a frequently requested wedding location for other Rancho Corona students.
Taking a shortcut past the palm trees, Katie caught a glimpse in the distance of the flaming sun making its nightly trek into the hazy blue field of the Pacific Ocean. The air was cooling already. Thick, atmospheric layers of peach and primrose hinted at a touch of glory soon to be viewed in the sunset.
Katie smiled. She found it easy to believe that God, in his not-so-subtle way, was adding his celebration touch to the end of Todd and Christy's perfect day. In a whisper, Katie said, "Will you bless them, Father God? Bless all their years to come. You have been so good to them."
With a catch in her throat, she added, "I don't know exactly what you have in mind for me, but would you bless me too? If Rick isn't the right guy for me, would you make that clear pretty soon? I don't want to convince myself that becoming Rick's girlfriend is one of your God things if it's really only a Katie thing."
Arriving at the chapel, Katie paused before she opened the door and added a P.S. to her prayer. "If you don't want Rick and me to go any further in our relationship, then will you break us up? This unsettled thing of being his 'almost' girlfriend is killing me. Especially today."
Excerpted from Peculiar Treasures by Robin Jones Gunn Copyright © 2008 by Robin's Ink, LLC. Excerpted by permission.
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