Authors: Mary Beth Daniels
Tags: #Fiction, #Humorous, #Humor, #General, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Women, #Weddings, #gay marriage, #election, #Prop 8
Aud glared at Fern. “That’s the man you were using to make me jealous, as if I’d care? Zest’s husband?”
I stepped between Fern and Aud. “Have you told him you’re not pregnant yet?”
“This is not about your stupid Cade, that simpering, small-cocked idiot. This is about me and Aud.”
“No it isn’t. Not anymore.” Audrey spoke with a fierceness I hadn’t imagined she possessed. “I don’t know why you think you have any claim on her now, but you’re not welcome here.”
Enough. I grabbed Fern, dragging her across the patio and into the restaurant, where the wait staff stood looking out the windows onto the protest. Their silhouettes against the colorful banners would make an incredible image, but I left the camera alone. I’d shoot it later.
I whirled around. “I don’t get you.”
“Ugly girls never do.”
I wanted to punch her. “Fine. We’re ugly, you’re a bitch. Why Aud? Why Cade? What is your thing?”
She stood, chin down, petulant, like a child. “No one ever wants me.”
“Because you’re such an inconsiderate self-centered whore.”
“You’ve been my friend all these years.”
“And now I regret it.”
“You’re going to throw away all these years?”
“After you connived to make my husband leave me? Sure.”
She sat on a chair. “You were too good for him.”
“I think that was my call. Besides, you’re not?”
Her foot jiggled wildly. “It’s hard to be like me. Money and looks. People just want to get something from you.”
“I kept thinking the only reason that no one hung around for more than a few months had to do with them.”
“And hopefully you’re getting now that it’s actually you.”
The chants from outside began to penetrate the walls. “Respect democracy, our votes count!” The crowd had to be growing.
I didn’t have time for this. “I’m going back to my job. You know, I don’t even know why you got me this gig.” I turned to head back to the patio.
“To keep track of Aud.”
I halted and turned back. “You wanted me to be at her wedding so you could follow?”
“I had to know.”
“How did you even find me?”
“A GPS tracker.”
She hurried toward me. “I couldn’t bear not knowing where she was.”
I pushed her away. “This is fucked up.”
“She was genuine with me. I know it. I had to stop her from doing something stupid.”
“Like I had, marrying Cade?”
Fern’s expression suddenly froze, fixed on something behind me. I turned around.
Audrey stood in the doorway, diminutive, angry, the rhinestones winking in her hair like sparks. “I’m still going to marry her, despite you.”
“She ditched you for me.”
Audrey’s stance was menacing, despite how petite she was. “That’s how you see it.”
“That’s the way it was.”
“She says it’s over, so it’s over.”
Fern rolled her eyes. “Until next time.”
Audrey took a step forward. “I really feel sorry for you.”
Audrey released the tight fists she’d been holding at her sides. “You’re right. I won’t. This is my wedding day, and I’m going to be happy. You can’t mess this up for us.” She whirled back around and exited to the patio.
Fern sank back onto a chair. “I guess I got played.” She laughed, a rueful bark against the chants outside. “The player got played. Figures.” She tugged a mirror from her purse and examined her eyes, smoothing her liner.
“Fern, what is this about?”
She snapped the compact shut, her back rigid again, and stood with her old flourish, the haughty demeanor I was used to.
“It’s about how stupid relationships are. Marriage, love, the whole pathetic bit. I actually liked that girl, more than I ever liked anyone.” She pulled out her cell phone, checked it almost as a reflex, then stuffed it back in her purse.
“She was getting married. You always knew that.”
She tucked her purse beneath her arm and sauntered to the exit. “Tell Cade he might as well call off the divorce. He never should have bought you that stupid sentimental locket. He had me, and he had to want you anyway. But I proved he could be swayed. Everyone has a breaking point.”
She tugged open the door. Chants blasted into the room, then quieted, the brightness of the afternoon fading again as the doors eased shut. I shifted to the window and watched her shove her way through the crowd and disappear.
My hands wouldn’t stop shaking. I wondered when she’d even let Cade off the hook. He was so desperately worried about her.
Bradford approached me, squeezing my hands until they stilled. “Everyone’s ready,” he said. “You okay?”
“You heard that last part?”
He nodded. “You going to try to patch things up with your husband then?”
I stared into those crystal eyes, reflecting the light from the restaurant windows. Fern was right, I was ridiculous, falling for a gay man like a movie cliché, letting my best friend get away with my real husband. “I’m fine. I’ll do whatever. Just tell me the plan so I can get this job done and forget all this ever happened.”
A muscle tensed in his jaw. He pulled his hands away. “All right, then. You and I will slip out to Amy’s car once the men are in the limo,” he said. “If they make it there. They are ready to do whatever it takes.”
“You bitches ready?” Horatio stood in the doorway, striking a dramatic pose, arms against the door frame, one hip kicked to the side. He looked stunning, a long black wig flowing down the open back. I lifted the camera and took the shot.
“You look gorgeous,” Bradford said. And for the hundredth time that day, my heart shriveled.
Chapter 29: Hell’s Belles
The image was definitely once-in-a-career. I had lined up the Ball Breakers in their elaborate gowns. A Hoebag stood by each one, leaning on his shoulder, one leg kicked up, about to kiss his cheek. Well, other than Blitz, who had refused and stood in the middle, arms crossed, glaring at the camera.
After the photo, the Ball Breakers filed into the restaurant. On cue, the driver started the pink limo and began easing it toward the entrance, nosing through the outer tier of protestors.
As we expected, the crowd grew more animated, and the ones on the edges motioned to the others, creating a mass around the limo.
“I’ve seen streets in east L.A. that looked a lot like this,” said Horatio. “Only someone would have already bashed in the headlights.”
The Hoebags, led by Amy, began streaming along the back wall toward the kitchen. A waiter went ahead to check for any stragglers.
“Wait for their signal,” Bradford said. “Horatio, you’ll go first.”
He nodded, adjusting his veil. Bradford was right, he looked gorgeous.
“We got a plan?” one of them asked.
“If anyone touches, you, kiss the fuck out of them,” Horatio said. “Make love, not war.”
Bradford’s phone buzzed. “That’s our cue,” he said. “Good luck, men.”
Horatio yanked open both doors and said, “I’ve seen the light! I need a man!”
The crowd lunged forward, shouting and waving signs. The boys fanned out, grabbing the nearest person and kissing them soundly, then moving on to the next. The driver tried to wrench open the limo door, but the protestors rapidly closed in.
I could barely see anything in the commotion, just jostles of arms and shoulders. “Over here!” Bradford shouted, and he climbed onto the rails of a wood fence, holding on to a post. “You can get the shots from up here.”
I pressed through the crowd and struggled up. The vantage point was perfect, and the Ball Breakers in their gowns were easy to follow.
At first the crowd accepted the men, clapping them on the back and cheering. Then, a woman pulled back one of their veils and screamed, “She’s a man!”
Horatio picked the woman up and spun her around. “Marry me!” he shouted. She flailed, trying to escape, so he handed her to a large woman who was clutching a Bible.
The twins had sandwiched a rather large man between them, all front to back. “Daisy chain!” one cried. “Join the daisy chain!” The man reached out for someone to pull him free, but the protestors had begun to back away.
An ear-splitting siren changed the tenor of everything. I looked out across the parking lot. I could see two cars trying to exit the parking lot—yes, it was the Hoebags—and a line of police blocking their path. Then I noticed the two police vans and three news crews. This was going to be big.
Suddenly I knew my pictures were going to matter.
“I don’t think they can get out,” I yelled to Bradford.
“I’m going to go see if I can help. Amy’s car is the white Volvo,” he said, pointing to the end of the lot. “If they get out, wait five minutes, then meet me there.”
I nodded, snapping shots as he jumped from the railing and dove into the crowd.
Two Ball Breakers had lifted the minister on their shoulders and were spinning him around. The police were now shouting through megaphones and penetrated the crowd from the other side. I momentarily spotted the limo driver crouched just inside the open door, waving madly.
Horatio lifted a man onto the rail at my feet, grasped his face with both palms and kissed him on the lips.
Oh my God. I shot it from every angle, the man’s splayed feet, the fanned-out fingers, the tilt of his head. Horatio broke away and said, “You’re a natural!” and spun away for a fresh victim. The man touched his mouth and, dazed, he stumbled away.
The twins each had a middle-aged woman in their arms and carried them through the crowd. The protestors equally tried to escape and push in, creating a vortex of bodies, and the eye of the hurricane was all white veil and seed pearls. I snapped faces, signs, upraised fists, and forced kisses. Black skin, white skin, boy parts, girl parts. The crazy jumble became a blur of color, light, and sound.
I looked beyond the skirmish, past the limo. Bradford had broken through the other side of the mass and now sprinted across the lot to where the police were talking to Amy, who had rolled down her window. They all conferenced for a moment, then the police waved the cars through. The Hoebags were free, and the protestors never even looked their direction.
Certain words became distinguishable. “Break it up, break it up. Time to go.” The police were apparently ending the demonstration. The Ball Breakers began to move toward the limo as the rest of the crowd began to pull away, trying to avoid contact with the officers. They set the minister down in a large garbage can near the front door, where he sat, kicking his legs until his supporters pulled him out.
I took images nonstop, including the men blowing kisses and waving handkerchiefs. Several of the waiters came out the door and began flinging rice from industrial-sized bags. The first few Ball Breakers made it into the limo, then others followed. I peered across the parking lot and saw Bradford waiting by the white Volvo. I decided not to wait for all of them to get into the limo, but climbed down to make my own getaway.
We had done it.
Bradford sped down the highway toward the wedding. The clock on the dash read 1:40.
“Will we make it?” I asked.
“Not a problem.”
I had to stop myself from bouncing in the seat. The photographs were going to be killer. Nothing like I’d ever done, or even seen. Social change. Big newsworthy moments. Beautiful men. Chaos. A minister in a garbage can! I couldn’t repress my sudden, “Whoop!”
Bradford laughed out loud. “Somebody’s happy.”
“I am! That was really something! And we won! We got out of there. Haverty can stick it up his craw.”
“He’s going to look pretty silly on the six o’clock news, certainly.”
A knot of traffic slowed us down, so Bradford pulled off the highway and began cutting through neighborhood streets.
“So you know this place we’re going to?” I asked gingerly.
His expression altered completely. “I’m afraid I do.”
“Something bad happened there, I take it.”
Silence. His face was dark. He seemed small suddenly, in this frumpy car, not his sleek one.
“Soooo, you don’t want to talk about it.”
“Have you ever talked about it?”
“But the Peppermint Patties seemed to know.”
“There were plenty of witnesses. Over one hundred, according to the RSVPs.”
“Something happened on the day of your wedding?”
The tires squealed lightly as Bradford abruptly turned down a side street.
I wanted to ask him if his bride had jilted him, but I didn’t know what to call it—his partner? Intended? Wait, fiancé.
“Something happen with your fiancé?”
“You aren’t going to give up, are you?” His hands squeezed the steering wheel in that same tight grip I remembered from the night in Dallas.
I turned away, staring at the houses flashing by. “Yes, I will. I’ll give up. Right now.” All the way. Drop this stupid infatuation. Focus—AGAIN—on my job.
We drove along a wide curving driveway up to a large southern plantation-style house, enormous white pillars lining the front. The Hoebags waited on the oversized front porch, sitting on cast-iron benches or leaning against the columns. Blitz had sprawled out on the steps.
I wanted to gauge Bradford’s reaction to seeing the place again but didn’t dare look at him. He pulled into a spot in the side parking lot and got out without another word.
“How did it go?” Mary asked. “Did Horatio and the rest get away?”
Bradford nodded curtly then cut across the porch and off around the side of the house.
The women looked at me. “He doing okay?” Nikki asked.
I adjusted my camera strap on my shoulder. “I don’t think so.”
“Something happened here,” Mary said. “I know he was supposed to get married, but it didn’t happen. The Patties know.”
“Should we go after him?” Audrey asked.
I unpacked my camera. “I don’t think so. Give him some space. He was a little…unhappy on the drive over.”
A petite woman in a trim black suit approached. “Are you the ladies from Texas?” she asked.
“Yes!” Mary said. “Are you the JP?”