“But we’ll be happy to serve wine from our own vineyard,” Cici said sweetly, “if you don’t mind waiting three years until it’s ready.”
Bridget cast a warning look from one to the other of them. “There are some wonderful local wines,” she assured Catherine. “And I’m sure we can find something you’ll love once we settle on a menu.”
Traci said suddenly, “I like it.”
Everyone stared at her.
Catherine prompted, “The vineyard theme?”
Traci spared her a glance that was surely reserved for only the most imbecilic of her acquaintances, pushed a final button on her telephone, and pocketed it. “The
,” she explained with exaggerated patience. “The grass, the mountains, the sheep.” She made a vague gesture with her hand. “Very now. Local, organic, outdoors, simple, back to basics, very Obama.” She gave a firm, decisive nod of her head, and for the first time she smiled. “Let’s do it.” She stood. “Give them a deposit. I’m going to get a close-up of the sheep.”
Catherine’s eyes widened with delight even as her shoulders slumped with relief. “Why it is, isn’t it?” she declared.
Obama! Perfect!” And suddenly she sat up straight, turning to Paul. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“The rose garden!” The two of them spoke in unison, and Paul held up his palm for a high five.
“There really isn’t a lot of room for guests in the rose garden,” Lindsay pointed out worriedly. “It’s mostly paths.”
“How many guests are we talking about anyway?” Cici said.
“Fifty,” Bridget reminded her. “Fifty.”
“Do you know what would make it perfect?” exclaimed Catherine excitedly. “One of those marvelous twig arbors!”
“It has an arbor,” Lindsay reminded her. “A gorgeous white arbor with gingerbread details.”
“But it’s on the wrong side of the garden, isn’t it? We want it to frame the mountains. I wonder how difficult a twig arbor would be to build? Surely there’s some local craftsperson.”
“White would be better,” Paul pointed out, “for the photographs.”
Catherine looked reluctant, and then asked Cici, “How difficult would it be to move the arbor to the other side of the garden?”
Cici’s eyebrows lifted into her bangs. “It’s anchored in two feet of concrete.”
Bridget pointed out, “A garden wedding can be risky around here in June. What if it rains?”
“Well, that’s the beauty, isn’t it?” exclaimed Catherine happily, waving an arm at her surroundings. “We won’t even have to rent tents—we have a built-in rain plan. The house is plenty big enough, and that barn looks brand-new! It could probably hold four or five hundred people, and how much fun would that be to decorate?”
“Well, I’m not sure...” Cici began.
Catherine reached across the table to squeeze Paul’s hand. “You are a genius, darling, and I’ll owe you for this for the rest of my life. I knew when I saw the photographs this was exactly what Traci wanted, but you’re the man who made it happen! How can I thank you?”
Paul preened under her praise. “Call it an early wedding present,” he said. “And, of course, a chance to visit with three of my favorite people in one of my favorite places in the world.” He winked at Cici. “Now I suppose there are a few details to work out...”
“Nonsense,” declared Catherine, “whatever is easiest for these lovely people is fine with us.” She unsnapped her purse and took out her checkbook. “The children,” she confided to Bridget as she uncapped her pen, “are so counterculture chic I was afraid we’d end up having the ceremony atop some mountain in Tibet. Can you imagine the logistical nightmare? I mean, the Sherpas alone would cost a fortune. So believe me when I tell you, we will do whatever it takes to work with you!”
Cici glanced quickly at Paul and then at the other two. “We’re not really professionals, you know,” she began. “I’m not sure—”
Catherine gave a dismissive wave. “Don’t worry a thing about it. Our wedding planner will take care of everything from setting up the chairs to ordering the flowers. Of course...” She paused thoughtfully. “It
be better to work with a local florist. I don’t suppose you could recommend someone?”
She tore a check out of her checkbook and presented it to Bridget. “Will this serve as a deposit? We’ll negotiate the catering separately, of course. Oh, and I do want to talk to you about providing gift baskets for the guests, and of course we’ll want to order much more elaborate, custom gift baskets for the bridal party.”
Cici saw the excitement building in Bridget’s face and she struggled to catch her eye. “We’ll certainly have to talk about it,” Cici said, deliberately pleasant. “It sounds like a big project.”
Bridget took the check and stared at it for a moment. She looked at Cici, her eyes big and her smile bright. “Not really,” she said. She passed it to Lindsay, who looked at it, struggling to keep her expression neutral, and passed it on to Cici. Cici drew a breath to reply to Bridget, glanced down at the check, and stopped.
She smiled, folded the check into her pocket, and lifted her glass of iced tea. “Of course,” she said, her smile growing expansive, “we love big projects.”
And Lindsay added, “I might know someone who can help you with the flowers.”
Suddenly the balmy afternoon quiet was shattered by the raucous screech of a rooster, followed almost immediately by the shrill scream of a human and the clatter and squawk of two dozen chickens. Bridget’s face lost color.
“Rodrigo!” she gasped.
Catherine cast an alarmed look over her shoulder. “Traci?”
The rooster brayed furiously. The girl screamed. Catherine cried, “Traci!”
The three women knew immediately what had happened and shared a horrified look. They lurched from the table and raced down the steps, crying “Stay there!” when Catherine and Paul tried to follow. Cici, with her long legs and no-nonsense sneakers, quickly took the lead. She rounded the corner in time to see a terrified Traci stumbling away from the open door of the chicken yard, pursued by an enraged red rooster by the name of Rodrigo. His wings were spread, his feathers puffed, his chest thrust forward, and his beak parted to issue forth the most blood-chilling sound it was possible for a rooster to make. Traci, gasping out cries, ran backward, tripping in her high sandals, her hand extended behind her for balance. Every few steps Rodrigo would launch himself into the air with a triumphant crow, and Traci would scream and cover her face with her arms. Hens spilled out from the chicken yard and over the lawn. Catherine, leaning over the porch rail, shrieked, “Oh, my God, Traci, Traci!”
Bridget launched herself toward the escaping hens, trying to shoo them back with her hands, calling, “Chick-chick-chick-chick!” Traci fell backward against the barn door with Rodrigo flapping and flying and screaming at her only three feet away. Traci fumbled with the latch. Lindsay and Cici skidded to a stop, transfixed with horror.
“Traci!” Cici called. “Don’t open—”
“The door!” screamed Lindsay.
Traci opened the door.
A black and white globe of fury launched himself through the air, snarling and barking. He flew over Traci’s head as she collapsed into a ball on the ground. Rebel ignored her, bent on his real target, Rodrigo the rooster. Rodrigo immediately lost all his bravado when he saw the dog coming toward him. Tail whirling, nimble feet cutting and banking, Rebel chased the rooster back into the chicken yard, then circled back for the chickens. Feathers flew in a cacophony of squawking, but before Cici and Lindsay could pull Traci to her feet, Bridget was swinging closed the gate on the chicken yard—with all chickens and one indignant rooster safely enclosed—and Rebel was sailing over the fence toward the sheep meadow.
“Are you okay?” Bridget inquired of Traci as she jogged toward them. “I’m so sorry! Rodrigo is very protective of his hens.”
Lindsay tried to brush the grass stains off of Traci’s walking shorts, and Cici retrieved her sunglasses and her cell phone from the ground. “This is a working farm,” Lindsay explained apologetically. “The animals are real.”
Cici tried bravely to smile as she handed over the sunglasses and the phone. “I guess your mom will want her check back.”
They walked back to the porch, where Catherine and Paul were waiting anxiously at the rail. But as soon as they mounted the steps Paul smiled, stepped back gracefully, and gestured them all back to the table with a welcoming sweep of his arm. “Well, then,” he said, “is there any dessert?”
Not only did Catherine not ask for her check back, by the time Paul’s charm and Bridget’s lemon torte had worked their magic on her she was apologizing to them. Traci seemed more embarrassed than annoyed, and made it clear that, once having decided on a farm wedding, she was not going to retract, no matter what the inconvenience—to herself, her mother, her guests, her fiance, or anyone else who got in the way.
“Of course I’ll have to have my dress redesigned,” she warned her mother. “The train will have to go.”
Cici smothered a smile as she tried to imagine the bride dragging a cathedral train across the barnyard, and Lindsay was taken by a fit of coughing. Apparently she had the same vision.
“And I’m thinking a hat instead of a veil,” Paul volunteered.
“Excellent idea,” agreed Catherine, scribbling notes in her day planner.
Paul winked at the three women seated opposite him.
Catherine and Traci began to talk about decorations, and Lindsay brought a sketch pad and some colored pencils from the house and began to sketch out some ideas. Catherine exclaimed, “You’re a designer!” She turned to Traci, beaming. “Can you believe it, darling? A designer right here on the premises!”
Lindsay protested, pretending modesty, “I’m not really...”
“But these sketches are marvelous! Wait.” Catherine caught her breath and lifted a finger, her expression a model of suspended hope. “I don’t suppose—oh, please say you will!—you’d be willing to be in charge of the flowers and decorations, would you?”
“Actually” Lindsay admitted, smiling, “that’s what I had in mind. Now, let’s talk about budget.”
Ida Mae, as grumpily stoic as ever, served coffee in rose-patterned cups, and Cici and Catherine negotiated a price—with the help of Paul, who kept kicking her ankle every time he sensed she was about to offer a bid that was too low. And when Catherine had happily agreed on an amount that was twice what Cici had originally thought would be fair, Paul added, “And just so we’re clear, that price is just to reserve the property. You’ll be responsible for all the supplies and the setup and teardown, and the catering and decor, including flowers, are separate.”
“Darling, you should be in business,” Catherine laughed. She slipped a card from her purse and passed it to Cici. “You draw up the contract, dear, and fax it to me in the morning.” She turned to Bridget. “I’ll call you next week about the menu, and we’ll make an appointment for a tasting.”
“And if you’ll have the wedding planner give me a call, I can start putting together some sketches for you,” Lindsay said.
“First thing in the morning, dear,” Catherine assured her. She placed her hands down flat and cast a thousand-watt smile around the table. “Well, my dears, this has been just delightful. I know this is going to work out beautifully. We couldn’t have asked for more, could we, Traci darling?”
The women stood as she did, and offered their hands all around. “We don’t have any cards,” Bridget apologized.
Catherine laughed. “Don’t worry. I’ll get all the information I need from the man of the hour, here. Traci, darling, let’s walk down to the garden one more time. Good-bye, ladies. Thank you again for everything.”
She gazed meaningfully at her daughter, who repeated, “Yes. Thank you for everything.”
Catherine looped her arm through her daughter’s, then hesitated before descending the steps. “The dog?” she ventured.
“Don’t worry” Lindsay assured her. “He’s with the sheep. We won’t see him again till sundown.”
“Perhaps,” Catherine suggested, “on the day of the wedding, you might consider a boarding kennel?”
Cici said, “Actually we don’t—”
“We’ll take care of it,” Bridget assured Catherine brightly, and both mother and daughter looked relieved.
Paul said, “I’ll meet you at the car.” And when the two of them reached the path that led to the rose garden and the pools, he turned back to Cici, Bridget, and Lindsay, grinning. “Well, then. Eight thousand dollars for one day’s work?”
“Not to mention the catering,” Bridget said, barely able to contain her excitement.
“And the flowers are separate!” added Lindsay.
Cici shook her head in disbelief. “And to think of all those years I wasted having an actual job.”
Lindsay added uncertainly, “Of course I’ve never really designed a wedding before. I don’t know how to begin to charge her.”
“You begin at a hundred dollars an hour plus fifty percent over the cost of the supplies and flowers,” Paul told her, and when she stared at him, he assured her blithely, “It’s standard.”