Forget Me Not by Julie Soto
Ihave five rules for planning a successful wedding.
(Lies. I’m sure there are more, but if I said, “I have seventy-six rules—sit back,” I think I would have lost you.)
Rule #1—No live animals. They eat rings, bite flower girls, and poo everywhere.
Rule #2—DIY doesn’t mean the wedding party will Do It Themselves. It means the couple went on Pinterest and now it’s the wedding planner’s problem.
Rule #3—A nightclub DJ and a wedding DJ are not interchangeable.
Rule #4—Don’t ever find yourself alone with a groomsman.
And finally, Rule #5—Always talk them out of the gazebo. Always.
I march down the aisle, thighs burning to keep my heels from sinking into the grass. The carpet arrives in twenty, and I’m glad I insisted on it, because the bride would have been tugging her legs out of this like a marsh.
My photographer and favorite ex-stepsibling—a tall Indian woman who gets mistaken for Priyanka Chopra at least twice a day—is lying on her stomach in the middle of the park, camera pointed upward at the gazebo, where my assistants have been kidnapped to stand in for the bride and groom.
“Mar, dear,” I say through a fake smile. “Jake already has a job.” With a snap of my fingers, Jake—another stepsibling—bolts down the gazebo steps and back to the loading zone, where he’s supposed to be directing the vendors. “And I gave you Sarah for ten minutes.”
As her long limbs bring herself to standing, Mar’s beautiful face scowls down at me from six inches above my head. “Gazebos, Ama?”
“The couple insisted. I know you hate it—”
Grabbing my arm, she jerks me to her side and turns the camera preview window toward me. “Latticework. Latticework.”
I look at the frames as she clicks through them. The ceiling of the gazebo is crisscrossed, and as luck would have it, today is a radiantly sunny day. There are shadows on Jake and Sarah’s faces.
Mar leans down to me. “They look like—”
“Apple pies. They look like apple pies.” I huff, glaring up at the sun. There are clouds in the west, but will they be here on time? “What do you have in your car?”
“A bunch of stuff that would look terrible during the actual ceremony.”
I nod my head, staring at the gazebo. Mar knows to let me think. I shove a hand through my dark hair, still getting used to the shorter length even though it’s been maybe two years since it ran down between my shoulder blades. (In fact, I know exactly how long it’s been since I crawled into the salon and begged my hair gal to make me “different.”)
I turn to Sarah, who’s plopped herself on the gazebo steps.
“Sarah, as soon as the ceremony starts, you will take Mar’s keys and drive her car to the loading zone. You will discreetly bring everything she tells you to bring to that big-ass tree, and as soon as they say ‘I do,’ you and Mar will set up. We’ll pull the minister and the couple and get a few shots that don’t resemble baked goods.”
Sarah, another ex-stepsister, who has absolutely no interest in wedding planning—and it shows—blinks at me sleepily. “Who’s gonna cue the DJ?”
“I guess I will.” I check my watch and lift my brows to Mar. She nods, agreeing. “Okay, Mar. During the real ceremony, get the kiss, the big moments, but focus on the crying family members.”
“Crying family members are my bread and butter.”
I leave them at the gazebo and wave down the floral delivery. As the florist’s assistant weaves garlands of roses through the chairs, my eyes search for petals that are browning, and I pluck them right out of the buds. The assistant’s lips tighten every time I do it, but she knows better than to say something.
I step back and look over the venue. We’re almost there. I have signage to put up and a sound check to do, but it’s coming together. When the carpet is delivered, the gruff man in the truck is unfamiliar. He sweeps a gaze over me and asks if I’m Ama Torres’s assistant. When I correct him, he doesn’t seem to trust that I’m the kind of person who could place chairs in a straight line, much less coordinate a wedding, but he shrugs and rolls the carpet down the aisle.
As I’m observing the DJ play with the sound levels, the Bluetooth in my ear beeps—yes, I’m that person—and I answer, “This is Ama.”
“Um, hi.” I don’t recognize the voice. “You’re the wedding planner, right?”
“I am,” I say as cheerfully as possible. “Who’s this?”
“This is Erica. I’m the groom’s cousin.”
The bridesmaid who decided to dye her hair green last week. “Hi, Erica. Something sounds wrong.”
“Yeah … Eloise has locked herself in the women’s lounge.” I stop dead. “The other girls didn’t want me to call you, but it’s been like forty-five minutes, and the makeup girl hasn’t even started on her—”
“Got it. Thank you, Erica. I’m on my way.”
I tap my earpiece like a Bond villain and pivot like a dancer, making my way to the hotel across the street. The bridal party is stationed in a small downstairs conference hall that the hotel was smart enough to transform into a suite after a trend of downtown weddings took off. I walk straight to the front desk where Bernie, my favorite concierge, is already reaching into the drawer.
“Emergency?” he says.
“Nothing I can’t handle.” I beam at him and take the skeleton keys from his outstretched hand.
My short legs stride across the lobby and directly into the suite without knocking. Six perfectly coiffed heads snap to me, and Erica pretends to be just as surprised by my arrival. Carmen, the maid of honor, snaps her head up from where she’s leaned against the wall outside the bathroom, talking through the door. She looks half relieved to see me, half put out that she couldn’t be the savior.
But that’s my job.
I head straight for the locked door. “Carmen, everything is going to be fine. Will you make sure the makeup girl is ready for Eloise in five minutes?” Carmen blinks at me, but I unlock the door, enter the bathroom, and lock it behind me before she can speak.
The bathroom is a 1940s design with Tiffany shades over the sconces and deco tile. A clawfoot tub sits against the far wall, and inside it is Eloise soon-to-be-Reynolds, white chiffon overflowing the porcelain enameled sides. She doesn’t look at me, just stares into space.
My heels click on the black and white tiles as I approach, and with a quick look, I confirm she didn’t turn on the water—no repeats of the Winchell Wedding Disaster of ’22, thankfully. I take out my Bluetooth, toe off my shoes, and step into the tub, sitting across from her.
Her lashes flutter as I register in her mind. Then her lip quivers, and a squeak escapes her throat. A hand comes up to cover her face as the tears fall. I don’t say anything until she’s done. She’s pressing her palms into her eyes, tipping her head back to keep the new tears at bay.
I say softly, “What’s one thing that you would change that would make this day perfect? One.”
She bites her lip, staring at the wall. “The groom.”
Ah. Well, that I can’t help. Not in an immediate fashion anyway. I nod, as if I understand, as if I’m considering.
Patrick Reynolds wasn’t my favorite groom. He proposed at a baseball game, Jumbotron and all. I can always get a good sense about a couple when I ask about their engagement story. I’m not saying it’s a proven method to know if they’re going to make it, but … the brides with the loveliest engagement stories are the ones I haven’t done twice.
“Do you wanna go?” I ask her. “Sneak out the back?”
She chokes out a wet laugh. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah. We can bounce. Just you and me. Or just you and Carmen.” When the confusion doesn’t leave her face, I say, “I mean, I’ve already been paid, so what do I care if the wedding happens or not.”
She snorts and runs her hand down her face. “What would happen to the vendors? The caterer, the DJ?”
“Nonrefundable the day of, I’m afraid. You’ll be eating chicken or fish for the next fifty-seven days.”
Her lip wobbles. “Is it weird that I hate the idea of canceling the reception more than canceling the ceremony?”
“Nope. It’s pretty standard to be more excited about the party with all your friends than the altar bit.”
“Can I just have the party without the wedding?” she mutters, fluffing her dress aimlessly. I smile and let her think. “I really hate the idea of going through with this, when I know it will be for nothing. I didn’t want to end up like my parents—just making it work until the kids are in college.” She sniffs. “Is it worse to have a wedding for the fun of it, when you know it’s not going to be your last wedding?”
I swallow tightly. I promised myself I’d stop doing this—stop getting close. It always—always—leads to disaster. Eloise had invited me to her bridal shower because I was already too close. But my job is getting her down the aisle. So I take a breath and stop holding back.
“My mom has been married sixteen times.”
Eloise stares at me like I just threw her wedding cake onto the ground.
“Sixteen. My father was number five. I’m her only biological daughter, but Mar—the photographer? She’s number nine’s daughter. I have upwards of twenty current and ex-stepsiblings running around the greater Sacramento area, including my two assistants working today.”
I can see her mind working, counting, doing math. “That’s … horrible. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude about it—”
“It’s okay. It was really challenging when I was young—to bounce from stepfamily to stepfamily like that. But I eventually met some really cool people.” I clear my throat and refocus. “I’m only telling you this to say, as much as you want it to be your only wedding, it doesn’t have to be. My mom has full ceremonies and receptions every time. Only one of those sixteen weddings was at city hall. So, if you plan a different wedding in three years, all these people will still be there for you. No one gets tired of weddings. Trust me.”
She nods slowly. “Is that why you became a wedding planner?”
I smile. “Pretty much. By eighteen, I knew everything there was to know about weddings. I’d done everything from flower girl to maid of honor to DJ.”
Eloise laughs. “Have you ever been married?”
“No,” I say. “Ever since I was young, I wasn’t interested in it.” And before I tell her that I don’t even believe in long-term commitments on the day I’m trying to get her to make one, I take a deep breath and shift. “So you have a choice, Eloise. You have the power. You can go out there and have cake, dance, and make a solid attempt at keeping these vows. Or we can sneak out the back door. I’ll send my assistant around to call it off.” I reach for her hand and squeeze it. “A wedding is not a marriage. Marriages will never be perfect. They’re always a work in progress. But weddings? Weddings are just a moment in time, striving to be perfect. Let me make you a perfect moment, Eloise.”
Eloise worries her bottom lip between her teeth, staring down at the engagement ring. When she looks back up at me, I know I’ve pulled it off.
We climb out of the bathtub, and when I open the bathroom door, Carmen is still standing there, bouncing from foot to foot.
“We’re good. Ladies!” I say to the room. “We have some work to do to get this going on time, but what will not save time is asking Eloise what that last hour was about, okay?”
I wink at her, and Eloise nods her head in thanks.
As I hand Bernie back the keys, I try to tell myself that I did the right thing by opening up. We’re already at the wedding day. Giving a little of yourself isn’t a bad thing, despite what I’ve been told to believe.
By the time I get back to the park, Jake is speed-walking toward me with a fevered look on his face.
“The caterer just called from the venue,” he blurts out in a panic. “He says the linen delivery didn’t show up.”
Damn it. That’s a brand-new linen company I was trying. I fold my hands in front of my stomach and let my fingers calmly play with the long chain necklace that lands between my breasts. “Jake. How much am I paying you again?”
He stammers out, “Uh, one hundred dollars?”
Jake’s a bit of a Muppet. He’s a sophomore at CSU Sacramento, studying theater. I hoped I was getting a stage management major, but apparently I got a drama major. He’s my only current stepbrother, as his father is currently married to my mother. I say currently, because … well … it’s only a matter of time.
I scroll my phone for the linen company in my contacts. The call in my ear gets sent to the Linens and Love front desk, and I say, “My name is Ama Torres. Your company is now an hour late with a linen delivery. What can you tell me about that?”
The guy on the other end stammers and says, “The truck is en route. It’s just—there was some car trouble—”
I take my car keys out of my bag and say, “Can I send someone to meet the truck, seeing as you’re delaying my catering staff?”
He tells me where the truck is stopped, and I put him on hold, taking Jake’s arm and dragging him toward the parking lot.
“Jake, I am now paying you two hundred dollars because you’re going to the gas station on Howe. You are going to load everything into my car—I mean everything; you will strap boxes to the top if you have to—and then go straight to the venue and help catering get back on schedule. Got it?”
Jake starts to sputter again, and I say, “Or you’re not getting paid at all. Because currently you’re getting in my way.”
He swallows, nods, and then zooms to my car. Once he’s pulled away, I walk back to Mar in the gazebo, turning my Bluetooth back on. “My assistant is coming to meet the truck. Please let your delivery driver know that if you are an hour late, you call, and please let your manager know that Ama Torres is very displeased. I will not be adding Linens and Love to my list of approved vendors.”
I hang up on him as he starts to apologize. I take a deep breath, roll my shoulders back, and find Mar on a ladder, practically hanging from the ceiling of the gazebo to set up a small light. “Alright here?” I say.
“What was the drama?” she asks. “I saw you heading to the hotel.”
“The bride almost ran. I talked her out of it.”
Mar lifts a dark brow at me. “How’d you do that?”
I press my lips together. “I told her about my mom. And how I believe marriages don’t matter, but weddings do.”
Mar laughs. “That was bold of you.”
I shrug. “She had one foot out the door. I thought it was time for some honesty.”
She steps down from the ladder and says, “If anyone can convince someone that first marriages don’t matter, it’s the daughter of Cynthia Jones Rutherford Reed Dyer Lee Torres—”
“I can’t believe you still have it memorized.”
“Smith Smith Nelson Jaswal Matthews Andrews Evans Benjamin … plus three.” She takes a breath like she’s run a race. “I only have it memorized up until Cindy started marrying a bunch of first-name-as-last-names.”
“All downhill after your dad,” I say, and she lifts her camera to take my picture. “The girls will be ready for you in ten minutes. The bride and MOH weren’t in makeup yet when I left.”
Mar scrunches her nose and checks her phone. “Are we going to be la—”
“Don’t say it!” I point a finger at her and move swiftly to the minister’s car as it pulls up to the curb.
We get through the rest of the setup without another hitch, and before you can say “I do,” the guests are arriving. Once the valet is there, I’m able to check in at the hotel again. When I come into the suite, Mar has Eloise looking out the window with sunlight dappling through the lacy curtains. Eloise looks over her shoulder at me and nods, smiling.
Looks like we’re off.
The bride walks down the aisle to “A Thousand Years,” like they always do, and I stand in the back next to a relative with a fussing baby, waiting for the next music cue. When Eloise and Patrick walk back together past their guests, newly married, I see her smiling up at him with wet eyes.
It might just work out.
I take them to the right, away from the guest exit, and hold them as the bridal party joins us, letting Mar and Sarah set up everything for our fake wedding photos. Someone’s aunt tries to follow the bridal party and sneak in their private pictures, and I go off Eloise’s expression when I firmly tell her that this is a private area and no one but the bridal party is allowed. She sniffs at me and stomps away. I sense a strongly worded email coming.
I love postceremony onward. The hard parts are done, for me and for the happy couple, and the vendors are doing their thing at the next location. It’s basically corralling toddlers at this point, getting the bridal party from point A to point B. And when Mar is contracted as photographer, she doesn’t put up with wandering groomsmen or random family members hanging around. She has a magic touch with wedding parties, because she’s bubbly and engaged enough for the bridesmaids to feel endeared to her, but smoking hot enough for the groomsmen to listen to every word that comes out of her pouty mouth.
And like me, she doesn’t forget Rule #4—Don’t ever find yourself alone with a groomsman.
It’s cake once we’re at the reception hall. Jake is hopped up like a junkie by the time I walk in, talking a mile a minute. He’s folding napkins into shapes that almost look right, telling me that the delivery guy was very apologetic.
Not good enough. Linens and Love is not going into my Rolodex. (Yes, I have a literal Rolodex. It’s from the fifties and it’s adorable.)
I finish the napkins with him, redoing the ones he’s fumbled, and then the guests are arriving.
What I miss most about working with a huge wedding planning company is that I used to be able to peace out as soon as the cake was cut. When I was with Whitney Harrison Weddings, they were always able to hire three Jakes to be there for setup and breakdown. Now that I’m doing my own thing, it’s me at dawn and me at dusk. One day I’ll get there. One day I’ll be doing three weddings per Saturday and two per Sunday, like Whitney. But as is, I can only do one per day, and I have to book smaller packages on Sundays because I will be completely unavailable the day before their ceremony.
What I really need is a feature article from Martha Stewart or TheKnot.com, like Whitney had in her twenties. She was thrust into the spotlight with the wedding of the mayor’s daughter and single-handedly put Sacramento on the map for the wedding industry. By the time I was working for her, she was twenty-five years into her career and had San Francisco connections to boot. She hardly ever showed up on the day of, unless it was a widely publicized wedding.
I actually really like the day of. I like the hectic hustle of the ceremony, I like the bumps and dips, I like the first dance. But, yes, one day I’d love to be charging enough to get two more assistants in here so I can just point. That would require sacrificing a bit of my brand, which up till now has been Millennial Modern Affordable with a personal twist.
“Why are you frowning at the DJ? Did you find him snorting coke in the bathroom again?” Mar snaps a picture next to me.
“You think I still work with that guy?” I say. “I got him blacklisted. He works solely on cocaine weddings now.”
“Excellent.” She switches lenses. “Are you thinking about tomorrow?”
Well, I hadn’t been. But now that she’d brought it up … “I’m not nervous,” I rush out.
She laughs. “Good. There’s nothing to be nervous about. They’ll either want you or not. There’s nothing else you can do.”
I nod, taking a deep breath.
Speaking of big breaks, tomorrow could be it. Hazel Renee, an influencer with 4.2 million followers on Instagram and 8 million subscribers on her YouTube channel, has fallen in love with a girl from Sacramento. I saw their engagement announcement last month on Instagram, and I thought, What lucky LA planner will get to do that wedding?
Well, it seems I may be the lucky planner to do that wedding. Her fiancée, Jacqueline Nguyen, wants to get married in her hometown. She emailed me two weeks ago to set up an interview. I’m trying not to get my hopes up. I’m fully prepared to let them know what I offer and what I don’t. Even if they plan to keep the list under thirty, there are agencies who have much more experience in the style they may want (read: fancy as fuck).
But if I click with Hazel and Jacqueline … If I do a wedding seen by millions …
That’s all I need. That’s the golden ticket to upscale (read: fancy as fuck) and high exposure.
I just need to make sure I’m ready for it.
Eloise stumbles to me at the end of the night, barefoot and love-drunk, kisses my cheek, and tells me I was the best choice of her life. I send her off in her town car, smiling to myself for a moment.
Whitney Harrison’s cool blue eyes flash in my mind, the motherly voice she reserved only for me saying, Be careful, Ama. At the end of the day, you’re the wedding planner, not their maid of honor. Don’t expend so much of yourself on people you will never see again—people who probably won’t even say goodbye to you at the end of the night.
Well, take that, Whitney.
I sigh, rubbing my brow. I’ve been trying to set clearer boundaries. The line of professionalism with the clients and the vendors has always been my weakness. I love getting to know people and finding out what makes them happy. But blurring the lines always gets me into trouble.