Eric focused his lens on Beth as she prepared for her wedding. He locked away his emotions, snapping pictures as the woman doing Beth’s make-up ran a brush over her soft brown skin. He shifted angles and concentrated on capturing Beth on the most important day of her life. Her dress was stunning. A white confection of silk and organza, the bodice hugged her chest and waist tightly, then floated to the floor in wide skirts. When she sat down, it looked like a sea of white. Her hair brushed into a tight ponytail held with a shining clip decorated with tiny diamonds. She smiled at him and he took a picture of it. She was happy, happier than he had ever seen her. That truth stabbed deep inside him, it was obvious he was just going to have a very hard day today.
Two hours later, Eric stood on the sidelines of the altar at the Holy Basilica in Nairobi, his lens focused on Beth and Taylor. With each picture, he captured their smiles, Beth’s teary eyes, and happy laughs. His jealous heart was suffering. If the fates had chosen different, he’d be the one holding Beth’s hand, watching her blush when the priest asked her to say her vows. Taylor dried the tears of happiness from her eyes when she slipped a ring on his finger.
When the priest announced them as husband and wife, the cathedral erupted in wild ululations, women sang, men clapped in jubilation. He documented it all, taking pictures of the happy couple then turning his lens to the happy audience. The cathedral was full with family, friends, distant relatives and work colleagues.
Then, there she was.
Victoria Waina in red, she looked gorgeous. She’d added a red flower clip in her hair on the left side. He smiled taking a series of pictures. He lowered the camera and walked toward her. She’d chosen a bench near the back of the church, and sat on the edge near the aisle. She graced him with a smile when he approached and moved to make space for him to sit.
“You came,” he said taking her hand.
She’d even painted her nails red.
“Yep,” she said, turning to look at him.
Her smooth skin was a warm caramel brown. He dropped his gaze to the hem of the silky dress, and followed the curve of her legs to find her feet in delicate red heels and her toenails painted a fire engine red. She’d gone all out.
He lifted his gaze and met her inquiring one. “I told you red would look great on you.”
“I didn’t do it for you,” she said tugging her hand out of his. “Shouldn’t you be taking photographs?”
He pointed to his assistant Linda, who’d taken over the job. She was at the front taking pictures as Beth and Taylor settled into their seats. The priest launched into a short blessing and he slouched on the bench so that he could whisper in Victoria’s ear.
“I’m so happy to see you.”
“This is a church, don’t make noise,” she said clutching her red purse tightly.
“Everyone is making noise, the ceremony is about to end. Stay with me,” he said as the priest finished the ceremony.
“I have to get to the hotel,” she said.
“You’re my date, you can’t abandon me,” he cajoled. “I’ll let you play with my camera.”
She chuckled. “I really doubt that, you hug that thing like it’s a baby.”
She’d noticed, he thought with a smile. His gaze dropped to the expensive camera resting against his chest.
“It is my baby,” he said grinning at her.
The priest finished his blessing, officially ending the wedding ceremony. He grabbed Victoria’s red purse from her hands and slipped it into his camera bag. He stood and walked up the aisle to take pictures as the bride and groom turned to face the world as newlyweds.
Victoria found him outside the cathedral. She’d slipped on dark glasses because it was very hot. She touched his arm when he finished taking a group photograph of Taylor, Beth and their immediate family.
“Give me back my purse,” she said.
“Nope, you and I are stuck together.”
“I’ll take your camera hostage,” she warned as Taylor’s workmates arranged themselves around the Bride and Groom.
“I’m working, dear. Do you want me to get fired?”
“In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m working too. You’re keeping me from my job. I need to get to the hotel.”
“Grace hasn’t called you, so in truth, I’m saving Grace from an overly concerned boss.”
Victoria laughed. “Are you always this annoying?”
He flashed a grin, “Only when I want something.”
She folded her arms against her chest and moved closer to watch him align his shot. He rarely had anyone watch him work, but her presence was welcome. She wasn’t intrusive, and he liked the flowery scent of her perfume. She’d changed it from the mint he remembered at the hotel.
When he finished the shot, the group around Beth and Taylor congratulated them on their wedding.
“So, do you only do wedding photography?” Victoria asked him as he waited for Beth’s workmates to arrange themselves.
“It depends on the assignment. There are months when I have weddings each weekend. But, during the week, I spent my time in my studio in Hurlingham, or on the road taking shots for assignments out of town.”
“Where in Hurlingham?” she asked.
“Will you visit?” he asked looking at her.
“Maybe,” she said with a small shrug.
He smiled mesmerized by the elegant motion of her slender shoulders. “My studio is behind the supermarket at the Hurlingham Shopping Center.”
She pointed to the group who were waiting for him to finish. He winked at her and returned his attention to his camera. He spent the next ten minutes answering her questions and taking photographs of Beth and Taylor and their guests. When they were finished, Victoria watched him pack up the tripod.
“Can I have my purse now?” she said. “I should really get to the Savon now.”
“Grace seemed competent to me. She’ll do better without you hovering.”
“Are you going to keep my purse hostage?” she asked.
“If that’s what I have to do, then yes.”
He held the folded tripod in his left hand and waved to Beth and Taylor. “Come on, let’s go on an adventure.”
“Where are we going?” Victoria asked following him when he started walking to his black jeep.
“The wedding pictures are going to be taken at a home in Upper hill. Taylor’s aunt owns property there, please come with me.”
He handed her the tripod as he unlocked the Jeep. He opened the trunk and took the tripod from her. Placing it gently on the trunk floor, he closed the door and moved to open the front passenger door for her. He urged her in, closed the door firmly, and hurried around to the driver’s side. He wanted to reach the venue first so that he could look around for the best places to take wedding photographs.
Starting the car, he drove out of the parking lot at the Basilica. When he joined traffic, he tuned the radio to a rock station, and lowered the volume to a comfortable level.
Victoria settled in her seat and asked, “So, how did you start doing photography? Did you train in school?”
He chuckled. “Why?”
“Because,” she smiled at him and he wondered at the small punch in the depths of his stomach. It was the curve of her lips her smile was genuine. “Most people just self-train when it comes to Photography. They do it like a hobby, and keep a day job.”
“I actually wanted to do journalism, but changed my mind and decided to do Film Production in college. I wanted to make movies in Kenya. But, my photography career started long before college, so you’re right, it was first a hobby.”
“Have you made any films?” she asked with genuine interest.
“I have done documentaries,” he said. “I have worked with different organizations and institutes, doing environmental and social pieces. I get to see many sides of this country through the different assignments. Some are heartbreaking, others breathtaking, it depends on the topic.”
“Do you like it?” she asked studying him.
“I love it,” he said truthfully. “I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a camera in my hands. From doing wedding photo shoots, to making documentaries in the slums of the city, I’m just happy to be telling a story.”
“Do you remember your first photograph?”
He laughed. “My first photograph, wow, that was way back in high school. December holidays, Taylor’s uncle invited Beth, Taylor and I to his house for Independence Day celebrations. Taylor’s uncle had a camera he let me use to take pictures of the family. I bugged Taylor and Beth all day. They were my first subjects.”
Victoria laughed a happy sound that filled him with joy. “I can see why they asked you to do their wedding photos. You guys must go back very far.”
“We bonded while making mud pies at Taylor’s parents’ farm. Our parents were friends and we always ended up in the same schools, same social gatherings, you know how that goes. We grew up together.”
“I’m envious,” Victoria said, her gaze shifting to the passing scenery. “That’s a long time to know someone. Most of the kids I went to nursery school with have moved away from my area. We all scattered.”
“You must have one or two close friends,” he asked, stopping at a traffic light on the Haille Selassie roundabout.
“Yes I do have close friends,” she said with a smile. “One is a doctor, her name is Olive. She and I were in Nairobi University together. Then there is Grace. We’ve been friends for three years, and she’s like a sister to me.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked as the lights changed and they started moving again. He wanted to know, curious about the tears he’d seen on her cheeks a few days ago.
“No,” she said in a quiet voice, “not anymore.”
“So you had one?” he asked wondering if he should press her more, “how long ago?”
“Recent,” she said reluctantly. “He turned out to be a bastard.”
“Why are you laughing?” she demanded giving him a short glare.
“Because,” he said as he turned onto a forested road in Upper hill. “Every woman I know who’s broken up with a guy, describes him like that. The ex-boyfriends are bastards, idiots and other choice words never his name.”
“That’s because the ex-boyfriends fit all those choice words,” Victoria said. “It’s the things they do that win them those names.”
“What kind of things?” Eric asked as he slowed down to turn onto a residential street.
“I’d rather not talk about it,” Victoria said firmly.
“That bad,” Eric asked as he slowed down on the quiet street, and turned the car into a tarmac entrance with a dark green gate. He turned to find Victoria staring out the window with a frown.
“Victoria,” he prompted.
She turned to give him a small smile. “I’m not ready to define it yet.”
He nodded in understanding and rolled down his window to talk to the guard who came to check the car. Finishing with the guard, he thanked the man as the gates slid open to reveal a long driveway into a splendid compound. He’d always liked Taylor’s aunt. She took care of her compound and the ranch-style house in the middle of the property.
He drove along the driveway, passing manicured bushes to the front driveway. He drove around the house to the back and parked the car close to a gravel path that led to a white gazebo in the middle of the back garden. Victoria looked at him when he pointed to the white wooden structure surrounded by blooming white bougainvillea.
“We’ll start taking photos in that gazebo and then take pictures around the compound. Taylor’s aunt was very generous. She’s even opened the house in case Taylor and Beth want to take photographs in there.”
“What does she do?” Victoria asked.
“She’s a professor at Daystar University. Her husband was a wealthy executive who died ten years ago in a car accident. He left her the property. She and Beth are very good friends.”
Victoria stole a glance at him at the tone he used when he said Beth’s name. She’d noticed it each time he talked about her. There was softness to it. Clearing her throat, she looked away from him.
“You like her more than you should, don’t you?” she asked quietly.
“What?” Eric asked meeting her gaze. “No.”
His protest was so vehement she knew she was right.
She chuckled. “It’s the way you say her name.”
“I say her name like everyone else,” he said with a scowl. “What do you mean?”
“Beth,” she said mimicking him, making her tone low, smoky, “like she is some kind of goddess to be worshiped.”
“Women,” Eric said in exasperation. He opened his door and got out. “You read too much into everything.”
She laughed when he slammed the door closed and went to open the trunk. Getting out of the car, she stretched and took in a deep breath of fresh air. She loved the setting. If the fates allowed it, she was going to have a compound like this in the future. She’d love a peaceful, green and beautiful compound where she could lay on the grass and watch the clouds. Dropping her arms, she turned in time to see Eric lower his camera.
“What are you doing?” she demanded adjusting the neckline of her dress. “Did you just take a picture?”
“You looked so caught up in the moment. I couldn’t resist.”
He winked at her and disappeared behind the car.
“Hey,” she said hurrying to join him. “You can’t take random pictures of me when I’m not looking. What if my mouth is open too wide or I have a funny expression on my face. Show me that picture right now. You’re so deleting it if I hate it.”
“No way,” Eric said handing her the tripod again.
She took it with a scowl.
“I insist you show me. Now I’m sure it’s a terrible picture. You have to delete it,” she said.
“No,” Eric said moving her to the side so that he could close the Jeep’s trunk.
“Eric,” she said following him to the gravel path that would lead them to the gazebo. “Come on, I’ll let you take a nice picture of me later.”
“The one I took was better than nice,” he insisted. “The more you protest, the more I want to keep it.”
She punched his left arm and he gave an exaggerated moan of pain.
“Victoria Waina,” he said dramatically. “I didn’t realize you could be childish.”
“You’re making me childish,” she said with a pout.
“Don’t make faces at the guy with the camera,” he warned as he stepped into the gazebo. He placed his bag on a bench mounted along the gazebo wall. He gave her a smile and she gave in.
“Stop threatening me,” she said placing the folded tripod next to his bag. “What a stubborn man.”
“There you go again with the labeling,” he said.
“You deserve it,” she said and sat on the bench, placing her right leg over her left knee. She adjusted her dress and watched him look around the compound.
“What do you see?” she asked after a few minutes passed.
“Color,” he said lifting the camera to his eye. “The pink rose bush in full bloom, the willow tree with its branches sweeping the air,” he smiled and turned slowly until he was facing her. “There you are, seated with a backdrop of white bougainvillea.”
She turned to see what he meant and smiled when saw the blooming bush beyond the gazebo.
“Oh wow, that is lovely,” she said.
She turned to look at him and sighed when she saw his lens focused on her again.
“I can see you’re beyond obsessed with that camera. How do you get girlfriends?”
“Women love to get their pictures taken,” he said lowering his camera with a grin. “You’re the first to get irritated with me.”
“Oh come on, that can’t be true,” she said returning her attention to the white bougainvillea flowers behind her. They looked sparkling white in the afternoon sun. “I see why Beth and Taylor would choose such a place for their pictures. It’s really beautiful.”
Eric came to sit beside her and she shifted her gaze to his face. His attention on his camera, she got the chance to study him unnoticed. He kept his hair cut very short; his skin reminded her of a dark chocolate bar. His eyes when he looked at her were kind and full of mischief. Although once in a while, like now in the silence, she sensed a sadness enveloping him. He was handsome with an athletic football player physique. Dressed in a pale green fitted shirt, the sleeves folded to his elbows and a pair of neat khaki pants. He looked comfortable and dressed up for his best friend’s wedding.
“Eric,” she said quietly and he lifted his head to meet her gaze. “Do you really have feelings for Beth?”
He studied her for a minute then looked away.
“Not anymore,” he said matching her tone. “It wouldn’t be appropriate.”
“Does she know?” she asked.
“No.” He shook his head and shifted on the bench to look at her. “And she can’t ever know. I decided that the day she and Taylor told me they were together.”
“This day can’t be easy for you,” she said with a sigh. “I’m sorry.”
He shook his head.
“For what?” he asked leaning back on the wall. “I’m the one who couldn’t get the courage to confess before it was too late. They’re happy together.”
“But you’re not,” she said watching him.
He shrugged. “Happiness is relative. I can’t complain. Look at me, seated here next to a beautiful woman, what is there to complain about?”
She laughed. “I love your optimism.”
“You should agree to model for me,” he said watching her. “The camera loves you.”
“No way,” she said shaking her head. She didn’t have the body to be a model, her face was too soft, her shape too full. “Stop making fun of me.”
“I’m not making fun of you, Victoria.”
“Vicky,” she corrected him. “No one calls me Victoria.”
“They should,” he said. “Your full name suits you. You’re strong and delicate at the same time.”
She blushed and shifted her gaze in time to see the bridal party arrive.
“Stop flattering me and get ready to work. You had better find me something to do since I came with you.”
Eric stood up and held out his hand to her.
“Your job is to keep me happy. Since you’re my cheerleader keep smiling,” he said.
She chuckled and took his offered hand. As he tugged her to her feet, she was suddenly glad that she’d decided to come to this wedding. She hadn’t been sure what she was thinking getting in the car with Eric. In fact, from the moment she’d bought the red dress she was wearing. She’d just known that she didn’t want to be the same woman she’d been with Ronald. That pathetic woman who was so naive that she hadn’t seen Ronald cheating on her with her co-workers. Letting out a soft sigh, she decided to let those thoughts go and instead concentrated on the happy bride and groom walking toward the gazebo.