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A May Bride
By Meg Moseley
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2014 Meg Moseley
All rights reserved.
The activity that soothed my soul wasn't quite legitimate. Some people might have called it trespassing. I called it saving my sanity.
At daybreak, in jeans and a flannel shirt against the early February chill, I knelt to weed my secret garden. It wasn't impressive now, with only pansies and camellias in bloom, but it would be gorgeous again in the spring. I'd discovered it on a sultry day several years before when I'd stolen onto church property to snap a close-up of some amazingly blue hydrangeas—and there it was, a miniature Eden in all its summer glory. Hidden in a hollow of the rolling grounds, the flower bed was set well back from a busy road that must have been unpaved and narrow before Atlanta swallowed its suburbs.
Shaking soil from the roots of each handful of weeds, I stuffed them into a plastic bag. At first I had barely enough light to work by, but broad daylight would arrive soon, along with the clergyman who often roamed the grounds. In his baggy black suit and broad-brimmed hat, he looked like an old country parson lost in the heart of the city. If he ever caught me, I wasn't sure what I would say.
Still, my peace grew deeper with every weed I pulled. Too bad it wouldn't last. Even early on a Saturday morning, I couldn't escape traffic noises. Weeding helped me de-stress, though. This was the real Ellie Martin. Dirt under my nails. No makeup. No phone. No electronic tether to my desk.
The bag was half full when a car door thudded shut in the parking lot—and then another and another. Maybe the youth group was gathering for an early-morning event. Whoever they were, they'd have no business among the flowers. I kept working.
Over the next few minutes, I heard more thuds mixed with subdued laughter. I moved to the rear of the flower bed where tall camellia bushes provided cover.
Then I heard music. A car stereo? But it sounded like a single guitar—not on a stereo, but live. Coming closer.
Before I could squeeze further into hiding, fifteen or twenty people walked over the rise, led by three young children who gamboled across the lawn like puppies. Bringing up the rear, a man in a black suit walked arm in arm with a woman in an ankle-length white dress. She held a loose sheaf of bright red roses.
A guerrilla wedding. I'd heard of such things.
They were headed straight toward me. Naturally. The camellias were a perfect backdrop, and being down in the hollow, the site wasn't visible from the street.
I should have run when I'd had a chance. I hunkered down among the bushes, wrapped my arms around my knees, and thanked God for the muted shades of my shirt and my camo baseball cap. Even my dark hair might blend in with the dark foliage of the camellias.
Now I saw where the music came from. A ponytailed man played a guitar as he strolled along, grinning at the bride and groom. Close up, I could see that she was a fresh-faced blonde—who must have been freezing in her short-sleeved gown. Her dapper groom wore a confident smile and a rosebud boutonniere. They slowed at their appointed spot with their guests making a loose semicircle behind them.
A stocky young man carrying a black book stepped forward and positioned himself not ten feet from my hiding place. He stood before the happy couple, blocking my view of their faces.
"Dearly beloved," he began quietly.
I sighed. So romantic—and sneaky. I could just hear what Mom would say.
They're trying to get out of paying a fee. That's stealing—from a church!
They might have paid the fee, though. Maybe they'd only wanted an offbeat wedding at the crack of dawn.
"Yeah, right," I mouthed silently, but then I had to smile. I was trespassing too. A guerrilla gardener, spying on a guerrilla wedding.
I tugged the bill of my cap lower. Several of the guests were using their phones to record the ceremony. Even if no one noticed me at the moment, I might show up in someone's video, crouching in the bushes like a criminal. My boss asked me and my fellow agents to keep up our professional appearance and behavior in public. I'd be in deep trouble if the whole thing went viral on YouTube and someone spotted me. And mentioned it to Betty.
Since I couldn't hear much of the preacher's address, I amused myself by imagining I was the bride. Wearing a lacy Jenny Packham gown. Carrying a lavish bouquet. I had no father to walk me down the grassy aisle, but I could walk with my groom, like my sister planned to do with Eric.
Mom was paying for Alexa's wedding, and boy, was it getting expensive. It was a good thing Mom had a steady paycheck from the school system as well as a nest egg from selling part of Grandpa's land. Alexa wanted all the fuss and feathers so she'd feel good and married. I wanted a traditional ceremony too, but I'd started a wedding fund years ago. If I paid for everything, Mom couldn't call the shots.
The first step, of course, was finding a groom. Didn't seem right that my kid sister had beat me to it. She was only twenty-two, four years younger than me.
Peering between the bushes, I studied the guests. They were a motley crew, most of them on the young side. Only a few of them had dressed up for the occasion.
I caught a glimpse of a tall man in jeans and cowboy boots. The people in front of him blocked my view of his face, but the rest of him reminded me of the hottie I often noticed at Java Town, a few blocks away. I was usually with Betty so I'd never said more than "Good morning" to him, but I always savored the scenery from across the room. I liked his voice too. It held a smile even when he was only ordering his coffee.
But was this the same man? I studied him more closely—what I could see of him. He was about the right height. His hair was right. Medium brown, neatly shorn. His clothes were right. So was his footwear, and not many men in Atlanta wore cowboy boots.
A man in front of him shifted his position, giving me an unobstructed look. Yikes. It was him. Mr. Boots himself.
I scrunched myself into a tighter ball. Again and again, my eyes made the pleasant transit from shiny boots to long legs to a nice, solid chest. From there, my gaze crawled up his necktie to his face. Ah, that face. I wasn't close enough now to see the details, but I remembered them. A cleft chin. A friendly smile. Green eyes with a definite twinkle.
After about ten visual trips up and down the manly person of Mr. Boots, I was breathing pretty hard. Then I quit breathing altogether. His eyes had locked onto mine.
I froze. Maybe it was my imagination. He was only inspecting the camellias.
He drew his eyebrows together.
Nope. He was inspecting me. Maybe he didn't recognize me, though. He'd never be able to pull me out of a lineup. Not in my professional persona, anyway.
I looked away, straining my ears to hear the couple's vows just so I'd have something new to think about. Something besides being busted.
Within minutes, the young preacher pronounced them husband and wife. They kissed to a smattering of applause and laughter.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Mr. and Mrs.—"
The name was too complicated to catch. With half my heart, I wished them well. With the other half, I wished Mr. Boots would have the courtesy to pretend he hadn't seen me.
The guests began to follow the giddy newlyweds back the way they'd come. I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed. Dear God, please make him go away.
I had a crick in my neck and my legs were falling asleep from crouching so long, but I was afraid to move. Afraid to peek.
I listened for signs of movement beyond the flower bed. Nothing but street noises. The clunking sounds of car doors shutting again. Engines starting up. Driving away.
I opened one eye to boots and blue jeans, smack-dab in the pansies.
I'd fantasized about meeting Mr. Boots, but not when I was a mess. Smelling like dirt. Sports bra smooshing my assets. An ugly shirt, trashed jeans, a camo baseball cap. And trespassing.
Once again, my eyes made the trip that should have been quite pleasant. Boots, legs, shirt, tie—and somber face.
Clutching my bag of weeds, I creaked to my feet and held myself as tall as I could, but I wasn't even eye-level with that cute little indentation in his chin. It tempted me to reach up and touch it.
He smelled delicious, and his sage-green shirt was crisp and spotless, but his stern expression reminded me of the cop who'd pulled me over for driving with expired tags. I offered a smile, hoping to coax one out of him.
"Good morning," I said.
He frowned harder. "Good morning."
Small green azalea bushes hemmed me in on both sides. Camellias blocked the rear. A tower of stubborn masculinity stood in front of me.
I took a tentative step forward. "Excuse me."
He didn't budge. "You won't rat out my friends, will you?"
"You mean ... for using the church grounds without permission?"
I couldn't resist. "And without paying the church its fee?"
"How do you know they didn't pay? Maybe they dropped the money into the offering last week."
"Why all the stealth, then? Do they go to church here?"
"No. Do you?"
I hesitated. If he knew I was an intruder too, I would lose any leverage I had. But I wouldn't lie. "No."
"Why are you here, then?"
I held up the bag of weeds. "I'm weeding."
"When it's not your church?"
I shrugged. "So I'm a guerrilla gardener."
A slow smile produced a single dimple as tantalizing as the tiny divot in his chin. "Let's call you a trespasser."
"Takes one to know one."
He squinted at me. "I know you, all right. From somewhere. I've seen you at ... at ..." He snapped his fingers, twice, as if that would make his brain kick into gear.
I waited, hoping it wouldn't.
"Java Town," he said. "With an older lady. All dressed up, and both of you poring over your computers. Right?"
I sighed. Maybe I could swear him to secrecy. "Yeah. She's my boss. My broker."
I nodded. "She's very particular about her agents being professional at all times. If we should run into each other while she's there, I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention—"
"That you moonlight as a trespassing gardener?" His twinkle was back.
"I'm serious. I'm new to the business, trying to prove I've got what it takes. She's the one person who really wouldn't understand this whole thing."
"I don't either. Enlighten me."
It was too personal. I couldn't tell a stranger this was my time to think and pray. My time to commune with the God who'd once planted a garden and who'd told stories about fig trees and lilies and seeds.
I could share the short version, though. "Gardening is my escape when life gets crazy. I don't have a garden, so I borrow this one. I pull weeds and tidy things up. That's all."
"That doesn't sound too criminal. Tell you what, I won't tell if you won't."
"Deal." Remembering Betty's admonition to see everyone as a potential client, I decided to introduce myself. "I'm Ellie Martin."
The name surprised me. There was nothing gray about him. He was life and color and fun.
"Hurry up if you want a ride, Graham," a man hollered from the direction of the parking lot.
"Hold your horses," he yelled back.
Graham? Graham Whitby. That sounded stuffy, like he was a duke or something. But my real name wasn't much better.
"I've got to run too." I edged closer. Another whiff of his yummy, masculine scent made me want to bury my nose in his neck or thereabouts, but I kept a respectable distance as I passed him.
He followed me out of the flower bed onto the lawn. We faced each other, and suddenly I was as tongue-tied as a seventh grader at a school dance.
He had no such issues. He smiled, his dimple showing its cute little self again. "Now I know who to call if I need a real estate agent."
Shoot. I'd broken one of Betty's inflexible rules: Never be without a supply of business cards. "I'd give you my card, but I don't have any on me. I'm online, though. Alioto Realty."
He opened a wallet as shiny as his boots, pulled out a card, and placed it in my grimy palm. "Here's mine. Call me sometime." He started walking backward across the grass. "By the way, you've got some real estate on your nose." He winked, turned around, and loped across the lawn toward his impatient friend.
I ran one finger down my nose. My finger came away smeared with orangey-red.
A shapeless trespasser with red dirt on her nose. So attractive.
Sighing, I tucked the card into my pocket without reading it. I wouldn't call him. He could track me down if he wanted to, but it wasn't likely.
Bracing myself for another day of fighting traffic and paperwork, I headed down the sidewalk toward my apartment and a shower.
Excerpted from A May Bride by Meg Moseley. Copyright © 2014 Meg Moseley. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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