Natalie

When my best friend and colleague entered the small bookstore that belonged to both of us that day, I knew something was different than usual. Lucy's eyes were shining, and it was not long before I found out the reason for her cheerful mood.

"Oh ... my ... god!" I blurted as I spotted the sparkling diamond ring on her left hand. "Is this an engagement ring?!"

Lucy beamed at me. "You know that I was with Warren in Big Bear Lake this weekend?"

I nodded. "You said that his parents have a vacation home there."

"It was snowing, and we were in the woods taking a walk," Lucy continued. "And then he proposed to me." She pressed her left hand against her chest and sighed stagily. "You can't imagine how romantic that was. Just him and me and the snow that fell silently from the sky and settled like icing sugar on the trees and hills."

I suppressed the impulse to roll my eyes. Not only did Lucy own a bookstore, she also was an author herself. Mostly she wrote cheesy romance novels that always ended with a happy ending. Far too unrealistic for my taste. But I supported her in her efforts to publish her own book someday. It was her big dream; or better, one of her big dreams, because another had been to marry the love of her life. Lucy and Warren had met and fallen in love when they both attended high school. And though their paths had separated in between, because they had followed their own careers, their love had never quite faded. Warren had studied veterinary medicine and had his own veterinary practice in Los Angeles now; Lucy had trained as a librarian and had opened a bookstore together with me. Lucy and I had been friends for as long as I could remember. Our families had been neighbors, and so it hadn't been surprising that we had grown up together, gone to the same kindergarten and also the same school.

"Do you already have a date for the wedding?" I asked curiously and took a closer look at the diamond stone. Warren seemed to earn good money as a veterinarian, because the ring didn't look cheap.

"In four weeks," Lucy said, clearing her throat. "More specifically, on Christmas Day."

"W-what?" I stammered, looking at her in disbelief. "That's four weeks from now!"

"Yes, I know. I just said that."

"You want to get married in four weeks?" I asked again, because I still couldn't quite believe it.

Lucy nodded and then brushed a strand of her auburn hair behind her ear. "I know it's short-dated, but you know that it had always been my dream to be a Christmas bride."

"Yeah, I know," I mumbled, remembering how many times Lucy had told me that when we were teenagers. Now she was 27, and her wish hadn't changed since then. I shuddered at the thought how cold it would be to trudge through the snow to the church wearing just a skimpy wedding dress. I was still far off from thinking about my own wedding, despite my 26 years, but personally I preferred the sun and warmth. A beach wedding in the summer would be just perfect for me.

"Do you want to be my bridesmaid?"

Lucy's question brought me back to reality. "Um ... yes ... of course," I stuttered. "I really would love to be your bridesmaid." I forced a smile. Wasn't it a bridesmaid's job to take care of everything regarding the wedding? My head was buzzing. Why did I say 'yes'? I had no idea what to do. And I only had 24 days left to find out.

"Thanks, Natalie! I knew I could count on you!"

When Lucy hugged me, I knew it was too late to back down now. "Where will the wedding take place?" I asked carefully.

"Big Bear Lake," Lucy said as her eyes lit up. "There is a totally sweet little church in the mountains. That's how I always imagined to get married."

I felt a shiver run down my spine. I knew it was cold up there at this time of the year; unlike here, in Los Angeles, where the temperatures in December were still above zero. I silently cursed Warren for not proposing six months earlier. At least I would have had enough time for the wedding preparations.

"The wedding party will take place in the vacation home from Warren's parents. There is a lot of space there. They have six guest rooms. You can move in in one of them."

My head jerked up. "What did you just say? Did I understand you correctly that you want me to come with you to Big Bear Lake?"

"Yes, that was the plan," she replied patiently.

"I should live there throughout the wedding preparations?" I asked in disbelief.

"Why are you so surprised? Of course you have to come," Lucy said, frowning. "You are my bridesmaid."

She said it with such determination that I couldn't argue with her. But there was one more thing. "What about the store?" I looked around. "We can't afford to close it. Especially not now, where the Christmas business is booming."

"That was years ago," Lucy said sadly. "Most people have been ordering their books over the Internet since the e-books became fashionable."

I had to agree with her. There were only a few customers who still came to our small bookstore. They even might not notice if we closed. "Okay," I agreed after a moment's hesitation. "I'll go with you."

"You're the best friend I've ever had," Lucy said happily, hugging me again.

"I'm your only best friend," I corrected her with a smile. "When do you want to leave?"

"If you have time, right away," Lucy said, and I could hear the euphoria in her voice. "But pack winter clothing. It's pretty cold up there." She laughed. "I'm calling Warren now. He should tell his parents that we are coming."

The little bell over the door was chiming as Lucy left the bookstore. Sighing, I opened my laptop and typed 'Bridesmaid's duties' into Google's search window. Dozens of hyperlinks appeared, and I clicked on one and began to read.