He looked me square in the eyes, knowing he had something I wanted. Maybe it wasn’t a job, but it was something I’d need for another one. A positive recommendation could make the difference in landing a gig in the next two months.
“Fine,” I muttered.
Shoving me on the shoulder, James whispered, “Go.”
I headed to the line of wedding guests, who were clearly actors, along with the stand-ins for Veronica and Bradley. Taking my turn behind a sea of players, I waited under the hot sun by the back deck, willing the line to move faster so I could escape and track down Jess.
When I reached the wedding party, the fake Bradley extended his hand. “Thank you so much for attending,” he said.
“We’re so glad you’re here,” fake Veronica echoed.
“Pleasure to be here. What a lovely ceremony, and such beautiful grounds,” I said, and the moment was beyond false, even by Hollywood standards.
“I’m thrilled you enjoyed it,” fake Bradley said, never once breaking character. It was like being at an interactive dinner theater. “Please, have some appetizers,” he added, gesturing to the nearby waiters circling with trays of small food.
As I walked away, a waiter offered me kale-wrapped asparagus spears, but I shook my head. I spent the next hour logging every detail of the fake wedding. At least I’d have that info to share with Jess. Not that it amounted to much, but it was the only thing I had to offer her. She’d done her part and given me the intel I needed for James. That he hadn’t hired me wasn’t her fault. But I’d come up short for her. A heavy stone settled in my stomach knowing I’d failed to deliver my half of the deal.
* * *
* * *
Anaka waggled the two pints in front of me. “Are you sure you don’t want gelato? My mom has Talenti’s Caribbean Dream and Caramel Salt Crunch.”
I waved her off. “I will eat all of them,” I said, as I laid on the cool tiled kitchen floor at Anaka’s parents’ house.
“That’s the point. I think you need a pig-out session right now.”
“Then I will yak up every last ounce. Maybe even eat the container, too, and I’ll barf that as well, and then your mom’s cat would eat that.”
“Then I’m glad you warned me. I won’t waste the good gelato on comforting you,” she said, and closed the sub-zero freezer. She sat down on the floor, cross-legged next to me. When Anaka had arrived at her parents’ house earlier in the day with her laundry in tow, she’d been expecting an empty home. Instead, she was greeted by her mom still in her tennis skirt when they were supposed to have been getting ready for a wedding.
“I’m heading out for a tennis lesson and your father booked a last-minute afternoon tee time,” Anaka’s mother told her, then clued her in on the whole ruse. That’s when Anaka had rushed to her phone to text me, but I hadn’t been able to get to the message in time. Not that it would have mattered. I’d already been fooled. I was a fool.
Her dad received the alert from the Bowman-Belle camp a few days ago that the Ojai Ranch setup was just that. That the couple was eloping, and he could return his tux to his closet. Everyone who was on the real guest list received the alert, too. The couple waited until only a few days before to tell their friends because they wanted the elopement to be as secret as it could possibly be. They wanted their wedding on their terms.
I couldn’t fault them, especially given how they’d outsmarted everyone but Flash. Deep pockets made for easy outsmarting. They had the resources to stage a fake wedding, all for the simple pleasure of enjoying a real one. A quiet one.
A wedding for their eyes only.
“How do you think the pictures of their real wedding showed up on the tabloids?” I asked.
Anaka furrowed her brow for a few seconds, then snapped her fingers. “You said that other photographer was at the bridesmaid fitting? Taking pictures there?”
“I bet she overheard something then,” Anaka suggested, and I nodded. That seemed plausible enough. Clearly, Flash had heard about the wedding somehow. Flash was at the top of her game. She had her ear to the ground, she was fast, and she had good sources, judging from all the times I ran into her on the job.
“What am I going to do now?” I moaned.
“Same thing you’ve always done.”
“What’s that? Be a pain in the butt? Be annoying and tightly wound and take stupid pictures of celebrities who are smarter than me?”
“You got outsmarted once. Big deal. You just keep on going,” she said in the most matter-of-fact tone possible.
“How am I going to pay for medical school?” I whined.