The Harmony Series
by: Staci Stallings
“You look so beautiful,” Danae Scott said, her voice barely a whisper as she gazed at Molly Emerson in the rounded mirror. Molly’s gold-toned blonde hair was pulled up, letting soft curls cascade down her long oval face. Danae’s own emerald green satin gown was no comparison for the soft white satin of Molly’s. Fitted with a drop shoulder shawl, it flowed to the floor in a wash of hand-sewn pearls.
Molly turned from her own reflection and looked at Danae with a mix of happy gentleness. “It won’t be long, and you’ll be the one standing here.”
Danae stepped back to examine the back of Molly’s dress more to avoid eye contact than to adjust anything on the dress. “He hasn’t asked me yet.”
“He will.” Molly turned full around to talk to her friend, dragging most of the dress with her. “It’s only a matter of time now. Think about it, by next year he’ll have his master’s, you’ll be teaching, you can move off together and have lots of little cousins for our kids to play with.”
It was a nice thought, but even after seven years, it still seemed so very far away. With little enthusiasm, Danae looked at Molly and smiled. “How about we get you and Rick married first? You haven’t even said, ‘I do’ yet.”
Molly smoothed the shiny material over her stomach. “It’s so hard to believe we’re already here. It seems like just yesterday you brought him to the Golden Light.”
“And it was love at first sight,” Danae said as she fluffed out the train to check for hidden wrinkles. It was a story she had by now memorized—half because she had heard it so many times and half because she had lived it.
“Have you seen him yet?” Molly asked, her attention swerving back to her own life.
Danae laughed. “It would be a little hard to see him. I’ve been in here with you since we got here.”
Molly half-turned to her friend, pleading in her green-blue eyes. “Would you mind going and making sure he got here all right?”
“I guess that’s why they call me a bride’s maid,” Danae said teasingly.
“Stay put. I’ll see what’s going on out there.” With that, Danae left Molly and stepped out onto the inside balcony. The festive sounds below engulfed her.
“Is she ready?” Mrs. Emerson, the older, more dignified, version of her daughter asked, meeting Danae on the top step of the gently winding staircase of the stately old mansion.
Careful not to move too drastically, Danae readjusted the sleeveless bodice that wrapped around her chest like a tight rubber band. “She’s dressed, but she’s a little worried Rick might make a break for it.”
Mrs. Emerson laughed. “He’d better not. Victor would probably shoot the poor kid.”
“Well, that would be kind compared with what Molly would do to him.” Danae crossed past Mrs. Emerson and started down the stairs. One hand held the banister; the other pulled her floor length skirt away from her shoes. “I’ll be right back.”
“Take your time, dear. Oh, and make sure Brandt got his cummerbund on right. I gave up.”
“I’ll be sure to check.” Careful not to trip on the soft shimmering material at her feet, Danae descended the last ten steps of the picturesque antebellum estate that Molly and Rick had mortgaged their parents’ lives to rent for their special evening.
It was strange how much a part of Mrs. Emerson’s family Danae felt. After all the years she had been dating their youngest son, Brandt, she might as well have already been one of the family’s daughters.
Molly and Brandt and the rest of the Emerson family had moved next door to Danae’s family the summer before she went to kindergarten. Their trampolines and backyards had never been the same since. Hardly a day had gone by since that first one that one group of kids wasn’t at the other’s house. It was almost like they were one and the same family.
Elementary school plays, middle school band, high school parties, dances, basketball, football, and baseball. Every season, every day. They were always together. They even went to the same church—youth group and all.
One without the other seemed incomplete, and so when it came time to choose a college, there had been very little choice involved. Molly went to Tennessee University in their hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, and two years later, Brandt and Danae followed. The only one who had broken ranks was Nikki, Danae’s older sister. She made it the first two years, but then following their mother’s advice, she had hooked herself to a wealthy frat boy and followed him to Virginia. They were expecting twins at any moment.
It was now only a matter of time before Danae, true to the well-known expectations of just about everyone around them, hooked herself permanently to her own semi-wealthy frat boy—the one and only Brandtly V. Emerson II.
Making nearly no sound at all compared with the other human beings on the premises, she stepped through the growing crowd of wedding specialists. There were five for the cake and three for the flowers, four for the music and two for the photography. She slipped through the throng and at the door down the hallway knocked softly. “Knock. Knock.”
There was a mumble from the other side.
“It’s Danae,” she said to the mahogany wood door. A beat and then she turned the knob. The door swung inward an inch. “Everybody decent?”
“Hey, Brandt, the ball and chain’s here,” Rick called when he caught sight of her. He went back to fumbling with his tie at the mirror.
“Ha. Ha.” She scrunched her face. “I’m not here to see him anyway.” She stepped into the spacious room, which was decorated in rich mahogany furniture with burgundy and gold accents, and closed the door behind her.
“Let me guess,” Rick said, “Molly thinks I’m going to bail.”
“No, she doesn’t think that. If she did, she’d have picked you up at your place with her shotgun.”
With a frustrated growl, he swiped his fingers through the tie. “Stupid thing.”
“Here, let me help.” Danae stepped over to him, and he turned to face her. The solid shoulders lined up with hers as the dark eyes and angled features perused her face.
His eyes snagged on hers just before he lifted his chin. “How’s she doing?”
“A little nervous, but that’s to be expected. How are you?”
The tie finished, his gaze slid to hers and held. “Only one thing could make today any better.”
She shook her head. “Rick, we’ve been through this a million times.”
His gaze dropped to the floor. “I know, I just—“
The snap of the door behind them sent them both scrambling backward. Brandt, taller than the two of them by a full eight inches, stalked into the room. The second he saw Danae, annoyance tramped across his darkly tanned features. “What? Did Mom send in the second string?”
Danae took another step away from Rick and put her hands on her hips. “You know, you’ve really got to learn to curb your enthusiasm.”
He yanked on his tie. “When’s the keg getting here? Then I’ll be downright thrilled.”
“First things, first.” Danae looked back at Rick who was busy repositioning his jacket. “I was going to tell you the photographer is here, so I think they’ll be ready to start pictures any time now.”
“Ugh. The joy never ends,” Brandt said. “Why didn’t you guys just elope? It would’ve made this so much easier.”
“We like to torture people,” Rick retorted.
“Obviously,” Brandt spat. “Well, at least Danae and I are going to be smart. It’s Vegas all the way for us. Right, baby?”
“Yeah.” Danae’s insides curled over themselves, but she held what she was really thinking in a tight rein. She turned to Rick. “Where’s Philip anyway?”
“He went with Molly’s dad a while ago. I think they’re checking on the reception set up across the way.”
She frowned. “Then I’d better go get them rounded up, too.” With two fists of green material, she hiked her skirt up and started for the door. “I should’ve worn roller skates.”
“Tell Molly I can’t wait to see her,” Rick said, his voice softening.
“She’ll be the one at the end of the aisle,” Danae said with a soft smile. She reached for the doorknob.
“Danae,” Brandt said suddenly.
“Tell Mom I forgot my cufflinks.”
Danae exhaled. “Figures.”
“What?” he asked with no small amount of annoyance.
“I’ll tell her.”
Considering she hadn’t been chosen as maid of honor, Danae had wrongly assumed that the day would be a snap. All she would have to do was take a few pictures, walk down the aisle with Brandt, look happy, and walk back. However, what she hadn’t adequately figured on was being the one and only person everyone else counted on to make the day run smoothly.
As she strode across the gravel and puddle strewn parking lot to the reception building, she wondered how Krystal, the vaunted maid of honor, had actually made it to two hours before the nuptials without doing anything to help.
It was Danae who had wrapped birdseed in tiny bundles of tulle until her fingers were stiff and red. It was Danae who had painstakingly assembled the centerpieces for the reception—green and cream curling ribbon and all. It was Danae who had gone with Molly to get her pictures made—just before she went with the guys for their tuxedo fitting, and now it was Danae who had to make sure there would actually be photographic proof of this happy day.
“Mr. Emerson?” she called as she stepped from the sunshine into the room lit only by pinpoints of what would have to pass as starlight. Three weeks of intermittent thunderstorms hadn’t given anyone confidence that the reception could reliably be held outside, so they had opted to bring the outside in. To one side the band was setting up. Wires criss-crossed the floor in front of the stage in a gazillion directions. She stopped one of the caterers. “Do you know where Mr. Emerson, umm, the bride’s father is?”
“I think he’s back there,” the young man said, pointing to one of the storage closets just beyond the sea of cables.
“Thanks,” she barely mumbled. Praying she wouldn’t trip over something and lay herself out in front of the six guys in the band, she strode over to the mess of cables, surveyed her options, and then seeing no other way to get to the door, she tiptoed ever so carefully into the melee, wondering how long it would take to get to the other side.
“Can I help you?” one of the band members called just as she got to the center of the snaking cables.
Danae stopped instantly. “I’m sorry. I’m trying to get the bride’s father for pictures.”
Another one of the band members, who was at the moment on the stage piecing the sound system together, threw the connection cord he was carrying to the floor. “Stay right there. I’ll get him.”
Obediently Danae stood stock-still right in the middle of the ocean of black. In ten seconds, the band member returned with two tuxedoed figures in tow.
“It’d be better to go around,” the band member said as he guided the two around the far outer edge of the cables pressed up against the wall. His shag-cut golden hair ended right at his chin line, and the black T-shirt on black jeans outfit he wore looked like he’d just climbed off a motorcycle.
“Danae, what’re you doing over here?” Mr. Emerson asked, puffing his rounded frame out like he was upset about being interrupted.
“I’m sorry, but they’re about to start pictures,” she said, turning carefully. Realizing only then that she should’ve made her assault next to the wall, she began to pick her way back out of the cables, but out was much farther than she had realized it would be. She stepped and stepped again, holding her dress, fighting to keep her balance, and trying to avoid catching her shoe on anything that would send her crashing to the floor. But the farther she went, the farther clear floor seemed to be.
“Here,” the band member said when he and his charges reached the outer edge of the cables closest to the outside door. He put his foot into the mess of cords and reached for her hand. She put her hand in his, hoping he wouldn’t just yank her free. Under her hand his felt smooth, his fingers easily blending with hers. “Not a good idea in heels,” he said with a light smile.
She took two more steps, and together they stepped out of the mass of black. “Whoa.” She ran her hand down the soft green satin at her stomach and then over her carefully pinned and upswept dark hair. “I may have to turn in my bridesmaid card if they keep sending me on these kinds of missions.”
The band member’s gaze had never left her. Soft and gentle, he smiled. “I wouldn’t worry about that. You look beautiful.” It was then that she noticed his thick accent that had nothing to do with eastern Tennessee.
Heat rushed to her cheeks, and Danae’s gaze slid down her frame. With her shoulders bared and the top of the dress beginning only at the top of her chest, she suddenly felt very self-conscious. She mumbled a thank you, slid her hand over her hair again, and retrained her attention to Mr. Emerson and Philip. “We’d better go. The photographer’s waiting.”
Kalin Lane had the impression that someone had just sucker punched him because suddenly there was a weird lack of air in the building. He stood barely six inches from the snaking cables as he watched her glide gracefully to the door with her two tuxedoed companions.
“Wow. Did you get a load of the knockers on that one?” Von, the wild-haired guitarist, said as he stepped up to Kalin’s side. “I’d sure like to take a drive on those curves.” He put his hands out as if he was driving a racecar and slid them side to side. He turned to the other band members. “Maybe this gig won’t be such a bust after all, boys. With bridesmaids like her we could be in for a long night.”
Catcalls from the others met his lurid tone.
“Let the games begin!” he said, leaning in to Kalin.
“Shut up, Von,” Kalin said with a shake of his head as he reached down to retrieve a cable. “If you’d get your mind out of the gutter once in awhile, you might figure out that the good ones aren’t impressed with junkies like you.”
“Oh, excuse me. I forgot I was talking to the preacher man,” Von said loud enough for the others to hear as he too went back to work. “Hey, everybody, the preacher man’s giving us another sermon on the wantonness of our ways.”
“You need a sermon, Von,” Claude, the drummer, called from the back of the stage.
“I don’t need no sermons. Just give me some good lines and that bridesmaid, and I’ll be in heaven.” Von mounted the stage. “Know what I’m saying?”
With the smallest shake of his head, Kalin pulled the cable in his hands over to the soundboard. Lord, they are really trying my patience today. Thanks for telling me to ride out here on my bike. There’s no telling when they’ll get home tonight.
For good measure, he said a little side prayer for the protection of every woman at the wedding. With the six members of Silver Moonlight, Kalin’s most recently adopted musical family, on the loose, the women would need all the prayers they could get.
The garden was awash in spring color. The rains followed by two bright days of sunshine brought the blossoms out of every one of their hiding places. Breathtaking barely described it, Danae thought as she walked down the aisle toward Rick, who stood in the gazebo with the preacher. It really was too bad that she and Brandt were so meant to be. Rick would certainly have gotten more than a half-second look from her had the situation been different. She smiled at him, and his return smile told her without words that everything she felt in her heart was in his as well. Just before she turned, she thought about smiling at Brandt, but when she looked his way, his gaze had already slipped past her to the aisle beyond.
At the end of her journey, she took her place where she turned and watched as Krystal, tall, blonde, and curvaceous traced down Danae’s steps to the gazebo. They had never been friends. They barely knew each other—not for wont of trying on Danae’s part, but Krystal didn’t have time for other women, she was too focused on the other half of the population. It was still a mystery to Danae what Molly saw in her former college roommate. However, she decided that now was not the time to try to sort all of that out.
When Krystal was finally in her place, the song ended and the guests stood. For several full minutes Danae had to use her imagination to make out what was happening because she couldn’t see anything through the crush of bodies. It took no imagination whatsoever to understand the look of pure joy on Rick’s face as he watched his bride coming to meet him.
Molly was right. Sooner than not, that would be Danae walking toward Brandt. That thought lodged in her throat making her cough softly. She pushed the thought to the back of her mind and slid her gaze to the picture that had come into focus when Molly stepped past the final guest. Her eyes sparkled with love and excitement as she gazed at Rick. At that moment everything that had gone before slipped into oblivion. From this moment forward Molly and Rick would be tied to each other forever, and for that reason alone, everything was right with the world.
“Oh, Danae, your dress is so gorgeous,” Elaine Benton, Mrs. Emerson’s best friend, cooed when she strode up, pink punch in hand. Her baby blue dress barely contained her stout figure. “Oh, Brandtly, dear.” She reached a perfectly manicured set of fingers out for Brandt who was standing five feet away surveying the crowd with Philip, Rick’s brother. Mrs. Benton took hold of Brandt and pulled him over to Danae’s side. “I want to get a picture of you two.”
Dutifully although he didn’t really look at Danae, Brandt slid his arm around her from her shoulder to her waist. They both smiled as if this was the best day of their lives. The camera flashed, and Brandt immediately released Danae.
“You know, it won’t be long, and it will be the two of you standing up there,” Mrs. Benton enthused.
“Something to look forward to,” Brandt said soft enough that only Danae heard it. She tried to smile at his joke, but it wasn’t really meant for her.
“So, Danae,” Mrs. Benton said, pulling her from his side at which point he gratefully faded back to Philip’s side, “tell me about teaching. When are you going to be finished?”
“Oh, well, all I lack is student teaching in the fall,” Danae said. Her gaze bounced around the reception area, searching desperately for an excuse out of this conversation.
“Now tell me again, what age are you planning to teach?”
Danae cleared her throat. “Elementary. K through fifth.”
“I can see you teaching fourth grade. You would be a good fourth grade teacher.”
“Well, I hope so,” she said although she had completely removed herself from the conversation in mind and spirit.
“And Brandtly, what’s he going to do again?”
Danae had to clear her throat again to get the words out. “Structural engineering. He’s going to build bridges.”
“Are you planning on moving when you get out?” Mrs. Benton asked with concern.
“Oh, well, we haven’t really made any solid plans yet. It’s all kind of up in the air—”
“Danae! Sweetheart, will you help us with these?” Mrs. Emerson asked, straining under three massive presents. “They have some more out in the van.”
“Sure,” she said, not really wanting to be the moving crew but thankful for the pretext to conclude the conversation.
“Oh, Elaine,” Mrs. Emerson said happily when she had transferred the boxes to Danae, “we’re so glad you could come!”
Wishing she had asked the seamstress to take another inch or so off the hem of the full-length skirt, Danae made her way through the guests to the over-flowing gift table. One thing was for sure, the Emersons had no lack of friends.
“Well, if it isn’t Danae Scott,” Marcia Turner, a friend from high school, said as she fell into step with Danae.
“Hey, Marcia, I’m headed to the gift table. Walk with me. Talk with me.”
Marcia sipped on her punch. “Looks like you and Brandt are still shacking up.”
“We’re not shacking up,” Danae said, wishing she had remembered how annoying Marcia could be.
“Too bad for you,” Marcia said, and Danae sighed to keep herself from leveling this friend in wolf’s clothing. “So, are you guys ever going to get married, or are you just going to keep stringing him along forever?”
“Funny, I thought it was the guy who was supposed to ask.”
“So, what’s he waiting for—a telegraph from Mars?”
Danae set the presents down and headed for the door Mrs. Emerson had come from with the gifts. “You’re going to have to ask him that question. If you’ll excuse me…” She purposely stepped through a knot of guests so that Marcia couldn’t follow her. The closer she got to the door, the better it looked. Just leave. Would anyone really miss her? Probably not unless they needed some grunt work done.
She crossed out into the late evening sunset and found the van Mrs. Emerson had spoken about. It was indeed filled to the brim with gifts. Mr. Emerson stood next to it handing them out to the few helpers standing around. It took nothing to notice that she was the only bridal attendant in on this work detail.
“Oh, good, Danae,” he said. He pulled one box out and handed it to her, and she barely managed to keep from dropping it. “I think this is some of the crystal so be careful with it.”
Just as she nodded and turned to head back, he exclaimed, “Oh! And take this one too.” With that, he stacked a second box at least the size but thankfully not the weight of the first on the top of the previous one.
Her ankles wobbled under the weight and the bulk.
“This should’ve been done yesterday,” Mr. Emerson said to one of the others helping, “but Gail didn’t want anything stolen…”
Danae picked her way across the gravel, past the guests who seemed not to even notice her presence. As she reached the door, she began to wonder how she would ever manage to get it open without dropping the boxes. However, just as that thought went through her head, the door burst open seemingly on its own.
“Whoa!” said the person who’d opened it. “Looks like you’ve got a handful there.”
Her heart skipped through her chest although she hadn’t caught so much as a glimpse at the owner of that voice. The accent was impossible to miss.
“Here.” Without asking, he pulled the top box from her and held the door with his foot. “They’ve really got you working overtime today.”
She laughed as she crossed in front of him. A whiff of his cologne sent her head spinning. “It’s one of the hazards of the job.” She had thought he would give her the box back once they were inside. Instead he followed her across the expanse to the gift table. Trying not to, she noticed the tattoo, peeking out from under the hem of his black T-shirt sleeve on his nicely rounded bicep. She couldn’t tell what the artwork was exactly, and before she got too carried away trying to figure it out, she yanked her attention back to the task at hand.
“Looks like they’ll be here opening presents for a month,” he said.
“Let’s hope not.” She set her box down, retrieved his and set it down as well. “Thanks.” Her hand slipped up to her hair and smoothed it back. “I was wondering how I was going to get that done.”
He smiled at her, and for the first time she noticed how soft his hazy gray eyes were couched underneath that golden mane. “Done.”
She laughed. “Well, thank you.”
“Danae! We need you over here for pictures!” Mrs. Emerson called from the cake table.
Danae looked at him and smiled helplessly. “Back to the grindstone.”
“Looks like it.”
With that, she turned and strode over to rejoin the wedding party.
Kalin tried not to watch her, but it wasn’t easy. She was mesmerizing. The dark hair, the soft brown eyes, the skin like crushed velvet—to his way of thinking, she could’ve just stepped off the cover of a magazine. He faded back into the wall and watched as she took her place next to the tall young man with the Ivy League features. Kalin’s heart plummeted to his shoes as he watched the young man wrap her in his arms and plant a kiss on her forehead. He hoped beyond all rationality that what he was seeing wasn’t the reality of the situation.
But when they stayed right at each other’s sides, arms entwined, toasting and drinking their champagne, he couldn’t deny it. They were together and not at all trying to hide it. He twisted the leather wristband at his left wrist. With a push, he forced himself to go back to the stage. It was stupid to even let his thoughts go anywhere near her. He didn’t need a woman in his life. He could barely keep up with himself.
“Did you get it?” Von asked when Kalin made it back to the stage.
“It…?” Then he stopped himself. The extra strap he had set out to get from their equipment trailer. “Oh, no, man. It wasn’t there.”
Von spat an expletive and spun back to recheck the amp. “I could’ve sworn I threw an extra one in there.”
“Here, you can use mine,” Kalin said. “I won’t need it the first set anyway.” Quickly he unhooked his guitar strap and handed it across the stage to Von. The fewer outbursts they managed to have, the better. This gig was a favor for his manager’s old friend. Upsetting the old friend didn’t sound like the best career move in the world, and he’d made enough bad career moves that it was a wonder he was even on a stage anywhere in the world—much less one in the great state of Tennessee.