Downforce by Chelsea Leach

1

A Matter of Opinion

Do you ever look at your life and wonder how on earth you got where you are now? Because as I stood in the mass of people crowded into the Indianapolis Bridal Expo, I was wondering the same thing myself. Women, of all shapes and sizes, were crowded around different booths, volleying questions at the nearest vendor and reading through brochures. The occasional groom or father of the bride passed by, avoiding eye contact with as many people as possible for fear an errant merchant would press him for his bank account information. Several bright-eyed brides flitted from table to table, gushing over dress designs and venues. I sighed and looked over at my business partner Jessica, who, sensing my gaze, glanced up from her spreadsheet and smiled.

“We got three new bookings today, so not a complete loss,” she offered with a shrug.

“What are the dates?” I asked, observing the crowd absently.

“Ummm…looks like we’ve got two for October and one for December.”

I felt some relief. At least I would have different color palettes to play with. I caught the eye of one very lost-looking blonde as she ducked and weaved around her more enthusiastic counterparts and gave her a small smile. She looked over her shoulder apprehensively at a woman that could only be her mother and made her way toward me.

“It’s a little overwhelming, isn’t it?” I asked, opting for a casual greeting.

She smiled. “A little. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.” Her eyes drifted to the banner heralding our company name, Decadent Designs. “So, what are you guys selling?” she asked, curious, as she fingered through the displayed binder.

“Well, it’s not a product. We’re more of a ‘what can we do for you’ company.”

I’d caught her attention. Her speculative green eyes held hesitant interest. “So, you’re wedding planners?” she asked, once again glancing over her shoulder to where her companion was now chatting up the photographer in the stall next to us.

I gave her a wider grin. “Not exactly. You pick colors, flowers, fabrics, and a venue, and we take care of the decorating: place settings, centerpieces, you name it.”

Her eyes widened a little bit. “But I would have to pick designs and stuff?”

I shrugged. “Not necessarily. I like to design, so if you have a space in mind, but aren’t sure what to do with it, we could walk through your ceremony space, and I could get back to you with some ideas.”

A stunned smile was starting to form on her lips. Bingo. “My mom wants to plan the whole thing, but I don’t know…I just don’t have the time. And the whole idea of worrying about place settings and seating charts…” She stretched her neck to one side and then the other like she was stressed out just thinking about it.

I picked up a business card from the front of the table. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you my card. My name’s Alaina. If you have any questions at all, just give me a shout. What date are you thinking about?” I asked.

“We were hoping for a spring wedding. Probably April of next year…”

“Perfect! Our calendar is pretty open for next spring, so if you decide you want to book, just give us a call at the office and we’ll go from there.”

“Awesome! Thanks!” she exclaimed and continued down the bustling corridor.

I glanced at Jess who met my gaze for a second before turning back to the computer with a smile and a shake of the head. “I think you could sell a cow a hamburger…”

I snickered. “You just have to know your audience,” I insisted, turning to rest against our booth table.

“She literally just walked over here. You had never met that girl in your life! How on earth could you know what she wanted to hear?”

I waved her off. “You’re just jealous.”

“Not at all,” my best friend claimed, miffed. “I am perfectly happy working behind the scenes.” She continued typing away on her computer. “How long until she calls, you think?”

I shrugged, gazing after the girl. “I’d give it a couple hours.”

The whole reason we started this business was for women who wanted the perfect wedding but had no idea where to start. This bride-to-be was clearly in that category. I knew she was interested. Only time would tell how interested.

The overbearing noise of the crowd slowly filtered out as the Expo’s occupants called it a day. I was in the middle of packing up a box of supplies when I heard a throat clear behind me.

I whirled around, caught off guard to see my guest from earlier poised in front of the booth, our brochure worn with fold marks in her hands, and her mother close behind.

“How was the rest of the Expo?” I asked, glancing around to see if Jess was headed back from the car.

The girl gave a hard laugh. “Overwhelming. I…” she glanced at her mom, who squeezed her daughter’s shoulder lovingly. “I’d really love it if you guys would come on board.”

I smiled. “We’d love to! Do you want to set up a time where you can come to the shop and go over the particulars?” I asked, searching for the planner. I’d seen Jess with it earlier and found it wedged under her laptop. Flipping it open, I was surprised to find it pretty full. “How about next Thursday at 10:00 a.m.?”

“Sounds fantastic!” the girl exclaimed with a flip of her blonde hair.

“What’s your name?” I asked, not taking my eyes off the planner.

“Laurel. Laurel Hastings,” she replied, her timid tone taking on more confidence by the second.

“Okay, Laurel, I have you down for 10:00 a.m. next Thursday, and the address for the shop is located on the business card I gave you. Do you still have it?” I asked.

She held it up and smiled. “Thanks so much, Alaina! I’ll see you Thursday.”

I waved after her with a smile and chuckled to myself as she walked out of sight. I would love to know what went down between her and her mother before she came back to our booth. It seemed like she had been nervous to put her foot down. Oh well, she was finding her sea legs well enough. I turned introspective as I continued packing up. I knew what it was like trying to find those legs, especially when the seas were rough. For someone who had always pictured herself as a professional photographer, I was pretty far off the marked path, lost in an ocean of silk flowers and taffeta.

Jess returned to the table, now empty-handed, and huffed. “Hurry, I’m double parked.” I stacked a box on top of the one she had just picked up and gathered the remainder of our materials before making a hasty exit.

As we pulled out of the Indiana State Fairgrounds and onto 38th Street, I exhaled in relief. “Well, that’s over for another year,” I said, rubbing my eyes and yawning. “I can’t believe we only have four bookings to show for it.” A slight dejection showed in my voice.

“Well, that’s two more bookings than we got out of it last year, and you’re forgetting about the three bookings we got yesterday. Besides, we have follow-up appointments for six other bridal parties!”

I nodded. “Yeah, that’s something.” It wasn’t an instantaneous result, but it was something I could work toward.

“You’re out of the office tomorrow, right?” Jess asked as she checked over her shoulder before merging onto the traffic-riddled interstate.

“Opening day at the track! So yes, I am out of the office,” I allowed, giddy excitement barely contained in my voice.

“Ugh,” she sounded in the back of her throat. “You’re ridiculous. I don’t understand what’s so great about watching cars go around in circles all day.”

I rolled my eyes. “How many times have we had this conversation?”

“How long have we known each other? Twenty-some-odd years? So, at least twenty times…and I don’t understand it any more now than I did the first time.” She laughed.

“It’s like me asking why you like to go out to bars and hook up with guys. It’s just something you do, and I’ve stopped trying to understand,” I said, hinting that she should do the same and shut up.

“You know, you could probably benefit from spending a little more time out with friends and a little less time doing whatever it is you do up there. That camera isn’t going to get you laid.”

I could feel my cheeks heating up. “And I’d say that’s none of your business.”

“But it is! Girl, I just want you to be happy! I hate seeing you spend so much time alone. I can tell you from experience that there is nothing quite like—”

“Jess—”

“No, listen, my friend Anika is friends with this guy—I think they went to law school together.” She shook her head, getting back on track. “Anyway, he’s single, and he’s a lawyer, and he is super cute. He’s twenty-eight and—”

“And what’s wrong with him?” I asked, staring out the window. It seemed to me there was probably a reason this guy was still single.

“Why does every guy have a problem?” she barked.

“Jess.” I looked over at her and held up a finger for each point. “He’s single. He’s cute. He’s a lawyer.” I shook my head. “Either he’s a workaholic or a player. Neither one of those sounds attractive.”

She ran her tongue over her teeth, making her lips protrude. I could see the muscles of her jaw tighten as she tried to come up with a valid argument. “You’re going to have to come off your high horse at some point,” she finally murmured. “I get that it’s a defense mechanism and all of that, but you can’t spend the rest of your life worrying about getting hurt.”

I stared out the passenger window watching my surroundings fly by. “I’m not afraid of getting hurt,” I muttered, my hackles rising.

“Right, you’re just waiting for the perfect guy to come along? You think that it’s going to be a one-and-done type of thing? That you’re just going to stumble into each other and fall madly in love, the end, case closed?”

My heart rate was rising. She was half an inch away from falling into a dino-sized pile of shit. I took a deep breath, trying to get my temper under control. “I think lowering my standards to your typical bar troll isn’t going to help me find a serious boyfriend.”

“A serious boyfriend?” she scoffed. “And where do you think you’re going to find one of those? In the storeroom at the shop or under your bed? You’re twenty-four years old, Alaina! It’s not about finding something serious right now. It’s about living your life. That’s all I want for you.”

“Well, maybe that’s not what I want for myself, Jess. Have you ever thought about that? It’s fine if you want to spend your Friday nights going home with random guys, but that’s not who I have ever been or ever will be!” I shouted. I didn’t lose my temper often, but the bear could only be poked so much before it mauled somebody.

Her mouth popped open and she promptly closed it, putting her eyes back on the road, allowing me to enjoy the rest of the ride back home in peace.