a short story by sarah grundle
The arguments always started at the flowers. I’d dismissed the first few as a coincidence, but after a while I started to admit it was a trend. She would want to talk bouquets or he would want to talk table arrangements or somebody else entirely would get involved, and for some reason the bride and groom would start getting snippy. There was no real pattern to the arguments – though calla lilies seemed to bring out the worst in everybody – but eventually things would calm down and a deposit would be placed.
Though we would continue making arrangements, everything crumbled from there. By the end of the cake tasting most couples had called the whole thing off. A few stubborn brides would hold out and put down a deposit, only to call me sheepishly a few days later to tell me they wouldn’t be ordering a cake and would I mind trying to help them get their money back?
I didn’t mind, of course, though I often wondered what I’d done. In general when a problem reoccurs, the simplest way to find a solution is to look for the common denominator. Unfortunately, in these circumstances, it was me.
When my tenth couple split up, I started changing my routine. I’d bring them to different vendors, change the order of things, but it never mattered. No matter what I did, fights began at the flowers and relationships dissolved over buttercream. The one time I had tried cake tasting first “to really jump into the fun of it,” the groom had taken one bite and announced that he was having an affair, and would we please all excuse him but he “couldn’t continue this farce of an engagement any longer.” I put the cake tasting back at the end of the vendor appointments. If a relationship is going to end it’s best to have a hint that it’s coming.
I started to worry about my business. I’d left a good job as a hotel event planner to run my own business, but what proof did I have to show brides that I could bring them their dream wedding if every one I’d planned fell through? Where were the beautiful pictures? The glowing referrals? Since I’d done the legwork for the weddings my brides had all paid my full rate, but aside from a more comfortable cushion in my checking account I had nothing to show for all of my work. I ended up hiring models for a few wedding photo shoots just to be able to show prospective couples what I was capable of.
After twenty couples had called it quits, I decided to give up. It wasn’t worth running around all over town and setting up appointments with vendors when all I seemed to attract were doomed couples. I was searching through job listings when my phone rang.
“New Beginnings, Caroline Johanssen speaking,” I said. “How may I help you?”
“Are you the wedding planner?”
I raised my eyebrows. Wasn’t that just the question? “Yes, that’s me.”
“Oh, good. I’d like to hire you for my son’s wedding. It’s July 16th, are you free that day?”
“I believe so, let me check.” The truth was, I knew I was free – I hadn’t been hired for a wedding for the summer at all. Apparently, word of my problem had spread. But I opened my calendar anyway, pen still firmly shut in the desk drawer.
“Yes, I’m free that day.”
“Okay, good. Then it’s settled. It will be the Corrales – Horowitz wedding.”
I took down the information, and then I started to wonder. “Ma’am, if you don’t mind, how did you get my name?”
“Oh, my friend Sandy’s daughter used you.”
“Yes, that’s her.”
“How is she doing now?”
“Oh, lovely. She’s decided to take a year off and travel. So much better for her than that lousy freeloader she was going to marry. Anyways, her mother suggested I call you. She said you’ve got a perfect record.”
I snorted, quietly but unintentionally, and I hoped she hadn’t heard. “I wouldn’t quite put it that way.”
“Really? But I’ve asked around; your reputation is impeccable. Everybody says that no wedding you plan has gone through.”
“Unfortunately, that’s true. But I do wonderful work, you won’t believe how beautiful we can make this wedding.”
“Oh, I have no doubt that you can plan a stunning wedding. I just need you to work your magic for my Jake. Have a lovely day, I’m off to tell them I’ve gotten them a wedding planner!”
Mrs. Horowitz hung up and I sat staring speechless at the phone as if it could answer the questions racing through my head. Perfect record? Work my magic? She couldn’t really mean she wanted me to break the couple up. But as I replayed the conversation over in my head that was the only conclusion I could come to. After the Corrales – Horowitz wedding was called off, a grateful Mrs. Horowitz squeezed my hand and promised to give a glowing recommendation to her friends.
Business trickled in slowly and before I made sense of the bizarre turn my life had taken I found myself in the business of calling off weddings. I worried that people in town would become suspicious and my business would dry up, but the benefit to living in a beach town was that it was a year-round wedding location. Inevitably some poor, unsuspecting out of towner or a friend of a local would call me and make a booking and I would write their name down in my calendar knowing that sooner or later I would cross it off.
It was superstition more than anything that kept me from double booking. My boyfriend had asked me a few times why I didn’t just double or triple book dates since after two years not a single wedding had materialized, but I felt like it would be tempting fate. I just knew that the instant I double booked I would have my first and second ever weddings on the same day on opposite sides of the city. Better to play it safe, I reasoned. After all, I got into this business to help make a little girl’s daydream into the best day of a woman’s life, not to count on crushing her dreams.
I developed relationships with florists and bakeries and venues and we worked out a system. They would charge a higher deposit for my customers, but in exchange they would let my brides cancel their reservations. Normally the deposits were nonrefundable, but since they knew they could sell my date again they allowed my brides to reclaim 90% of their deposit. As far as I know, none of the vendors ever even placed an order. Suddenly hotels and golf courses within a fifty-mile radius were calling and trying to set up a deal with me. It’s hard to argue with making a few hundred dollars for two hours of work, especially when you can still sell the date to somebody else.
Sometimes the parents would call me, and more and more often the bridal party would team up to hire me as their “gift” to the bride and groom. Some local couples, having heard of my reputation, decided to hire me for their weddings just to try to be the first couple to survive, though none made it to the altar. Mrs. Horowitz was right – I had a perfect record. I went through the motions with every couple, writing the date in my calendar, taking them to visit the florist and, eventually, the baker, knowing each time that the couple would break up.
As I was leaving an uncomfortable meeting with a DJ in which the groom had specifically requested the DJ not play “Baby Got Back” since, in his words, “My baby doesn’t have any and I don’t want to think about what I’m giving up,” my phone rang.
“Blissful Beginnings, Caroline Johanssen speaking.”
“Hi, I’d like to hire you for my daughter’s wedding.”
“Oh, great! Okay, what date are you thinking?”
“They’ve set the date for April 14th.”
I didn’t even bother opening my calendar. I looked down at my left hand, smiling at the still-unfamiliar weight on my ring finger and remembered the earnest look on Billy’s face as he’d asked me to marry him.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m already planning a wedding for that day.”
“I see,” the woman said, and then she paused. “But, honey, no offense – if you’re planning this wedding, does it really matter?”