Amelia fingered the delicate lace on the bodice of her wedding dress, which the photographer had artistically draped across her lap. As he snapped shots from several angles Amelia’s thumb and forefinger found a tiny thread on an embroidered rosebud and tugged at it. She pulled harder and watched the infant flower unravel. With teeth clenched she jerked the thread and watched the lace pucker and then sag as the thread snapped.
She worked a perfectly shaped and polished nail into the resulting tear and roughly thrust in her finger up to the knuckle. She would have done more, but the photographer whisked the dress from her lap, sailing it to the clothes rack, and began fussing over the damaged lace.
What did it matter? In mere minutes Amelia would put on that icy extravaganza of satin and lace and, to the time of the ancient Wedding March, trudge the endless flower-strewn aisle towards…
She shuddered at the thought.
A frisson of pleasure ran through Manfred as he anticipated the taking of his bride in–he glanced at the gleaming Rolex on his wrist–a quarter hour. He gazed at his image again in the floor length mirror and smiled. He rubbed the back of his knuckles over his cheek judging the length of the emerging beard. An even shadow, never scruffy, but perfect by midnight for rasping his bride’s virgin softness.
He shivered again in anticipation, shot his cuffs, exposing chunky golden cufflinks and turned from the mirror.
Two months earlier, Amelia sat before her parents in their company boardroom. With stark clarity her mother explained the purpose for the impromptu meeting. “Your father has plunged Weatherly’s into ruin, Amelia. All the money I invested, my entire family dowry, is gone! Flushed down the toilet by his idiotic dreams and schemes.” She whirled to face the crestfallen man. “How could you do that to me, Roland? How?”
” I—” began her father.
“You pitiful excuse for a husband, I should have run the business. We’d have a future now.” She turned steely eyes on her daughter. “Why are you smiling? Do you understand what has happened? Do you?”
Amelia’s heart raced. Yes, she understood. It was wonderful news! It meant she would no longer be chained to the business she hated. She wished for no fortune, only for the man she loved. Now they could marry and escape this tyranny of greed. A small cry of joy escaped her lips.
Her mother slapped her face hard. “You think you and that holier-than-thou farmer boy can run off and be stupidly happy raising organic goats and chickens or whatever he does, while your father and I go to live in some pathetic apartment? Well, think again!”
She turned to her husband, a picture of misery. “Tell her, Roland. Tell her how SHE will save us and the Weatherly Company.”
“I’m so sorry, sweetheart,” he began. “But they have us over a barrel. I’ve borrowed heavily and can never pay back the loan. The only way out for your mother and I… for all of us and Weatherly’s is for you to accept—”
“No, Daddy! Please don’t make me!”
“It’s I who am making you, darling Amelia,” hissed her mother. “I have the contract right here. Herman Beckner will erase our debt if you agree to marry his son. A small sacrifice for your family, Amelia. They are rich. You will have everything you could ever ask for. More,” she glared at her husband, “than I’ve ever had.”
“But, I don’t love him!”
“What does that matter? You love your father and me, don’t you? We’ve sacrificed everything for you Amelia. Herman has even offered to pay for the wedding.” She laid a stiff sheet of letterhead on the table and slammed down a pen. “Sign this contract…now!”
“Manfred doesn’t want me. He only wants Weatherly’s. I will be miserable! Please don’t make me do this.”
“Oh, he wants you all right,” she sneered.
“Herman has graciously taken care of him too. He easily gave you up for a mere fifty thousand to buy that land he’s been lusting after.”
“He wouldn’t!” Amelia whispered through her tears.
Amelia looked once more to her father, pleading, but his head was bowed in shame. Slowly he turned his back to her.
A double tap on the bridal room door told Amelia it was almost time. She stood; a lamb bound for the slaughter and raised her hands as the photographer slipped the gown over her head, careful not to disturb the veil.
She had refused to allow the hussies Manfred had chosen as bridesmaids to attend to her, so now it was the photo man who stood behind her lacing the pearl buttons with satin ribbon. She detested the dress. It was ostentatious and gaudy, especially the huge net bow that covered her backside.
Her gaze went to the hole in the bodice lace and she raised a hand to tear it larger.
“Don’t,” warned the photographer, gently slapping her hand away. “What good would that do? It would only give him ideas on how to undress you later.”
He went to the shiny white box from the most expensive florist in town, pulled off the string, and removed the huge bridal bouquet that Manfred had chosen; curiously the only floral arrangement he’ll allowed in the ceremony. Long ribbons in the faintest of pink satin dripped from the mass of ivory colored roses. Reluctantly Amelia took it and held it in front of her before the mirror.
“I can’t do it!” she whispered and turned to him, her eyes pleading.
He directed her gaze to the stained glass window above them, the bright figure gazing beneficently downward, then taking her hand led her to the door. He picked up his camera and followed her out.
Manfred strutted to the front of the church, his cortege of groomsmen in a snaking line behind him. He glanced at the clock over the rear door of the church. Two minutes. He let his gaze sweep the pews and smirked at all the guests who had come to witness his triumph. Weatherly’s and Amelia, soon to be a wilted flower, were all his.
The music began and his gaze shifted to the opening doors. Six beauties filed in, all looking for his approval under lowered lashes.
Next appeared Amelia’s mother. Yes, he had demanded that his future mother-in-law be the Flower Girl. Dressed in a tight silver sheath that made natural walking impossible she minced forward, strewing imitation ivory and ruby petals from an oversized goblet in angry thrusts onto the linen walkway.
The music soared and the guests stood as Amelia appeared at the doorway. Roughly she pulled her arm from her father’s and began the timed walk to the front alone.
Manfred licked his lips.
The photographer slipped quietly along an outside aisle to the dais, positioning himself behind the second bridesmaid.
Amelia climbed the three steps and offered her elbow to Manfred. They moved three steps more and knelt before the minister. He raised his robed hands over them and began to pray.
Tears squeezed from Amelia’s eyes and fell into the bouquet at her waist. She had obeyed her parents, sacrificing herself to this monster for their ease and comfort. But now as the final moment approached, how would she endure? “Oh, God,” she prayed in anguish, “help me!”
As the prayer ended, she opened her eyes and gasped. Emerging from the depth of her bouquet was a small, black and gold striped bee. It paused at the peak of an opening rosebud and then leapt free, its buzz reminiscent of springtime.
Manfred moved uneasily at her side, straining his head this way and that at the small sound. She heard his breathing quicken. He raised one knee and began to rise, dropping her arm and stepping away from her. His arms began to flail around his head; his eyes flashed in fear.
“Aaaahh!” he cried slapping his neck and twisting his body in terror. One hand clawed frantically at his pants, searching his pocket for the Epipen. In his gyrations, his foot slipped off the top step and he tumbled backward. His groomsmen, frozen in shock, did nothing to block his fall, watching in dismay as his head cracked on the cold marble floor. His body bucked twice and then lay still.
Amelia rose, her eyes wide in horror, unable to look away from the face of the man she’d been about to marry. It had puffed-up grotesquely, purpling and distorting his features, forcing out a dark swollen tongue. She dropped the bouquet and covered her mouth.
Behind her, the bridesmaids screamed and ran from the platform. Amelia swayed then felt warm hands grasp her arms. She turned to the photographer and fainted into his arms.
“Ethan—” she said.
“I’m here darling.”