With his messenger bag slung over his shoulder, Steve headed off for work with high hopes and the ambition to take on the world. He usually had Monday off when he worked through the weekend. But he had big plans and he didn’t want to wait. Steve was a rising star in the wedding planning business and the growth of his firm depended on how hard he worked. A few extra hours here and there wouldn’t kill him.
The gray-haired barista at the coffee shop around the corner greeted Steve warmly and handed him his order ready to go.
“Have a great day, Steve. You know, that cute guy from the photography studio down the street was asking about you again,” the older woman said.
Steve paused as he stirred sugar into his coffee. “Oh? Thanks, Cathy.”
“Gonna give him a chance?”
“Too busy,” he replied. “Maybe in a month or two.”
Cathy wagged her head. “People don’t wait around, even for someone as handsome and sweet as you, Steve. Take a chance sometime. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
“Don’t worry, my friends look out for me,” Steve said with a smile and snapped the plastic cover back on his coffee. “See you tomorrow.”
Once at the office, coffee in hand, he made his way to his cubicle. The Avengers Group office was nothing more than a large room cut up into cubicles, with a large table for meetings and some seating areas to meet with vendors and the occasional client. He waved to the business manager, Maria, who was always the first person in the office.
Setting down his cup, Steve looked out his cubicle window at the beautiful, sunny July day and hoped that the weather would hold through the weekend for an upcoming outdoor wedding. He had a lot invested in the success of his events because he was working hard to make the new Avengers Group succeed in a vast, competitive business. The small start-up was all that remained of the fabled and storied Shield Events firm. Old Fury had recruited Steve into the firm when he ran across Steve in his last year at college arranging art shows for his friends.
Steve hadn’t given any thought to event planning as a career. It turned out that he was good at it, very, very good. He had thrived under Fury’s guidance.
But Shield Events blew up under a bitter partnership war, and when the dust settled, Fury retired to Arizona, and Steve, Sam and a group of their friends founded the Avengers Group. It paid well, providing Steve with enough money to pay the bills, live in a small studio apartment in a less-fashionable Brooklyn neighborhood, and keep him in watercolors, oils and sketchbooks.
Steve checked the timelines on his whiteboard and listened to his voicemail. His fellow associates had nicknamed Steve’s cubicle “The War Room.” One wall was covered in a large whiteboard with calendars and dates, while the other wall had extensive timelines of each event Steve was working on. Folders and other materials were in carefully maintained piles on the long desk under the whiteboard. Clint complained that the organization of Steve’s workspace gave him headaches from the blinding tidiness.
“Hey, Steve,” Sam called out. Sam was a close friend and the other full-time wedding planner at the firm. He handled the celebrity weddings, possessing with just the right charm to smooth over easily ruffled tempers, while Steve handled the professionals and quieter society types.
“Sam. Thought you were out of the office today,” Steve said.
“Yeah, yeah. Just picking up a lookbook and needed to check contracts,” Sam replied as he walked by Steve’s cubicle.
“Hey, have you heard of Pepper Potts?”
Sam rocked back and forth on his heels. “Hmm, the name rings a bell, but I can’t place her.”
“She worked for Stark Industries -- Tony Stark’s personal assistant,” Natasha answered as she came up to Steve and Sam. She put her sunglasses back into her bag and pushed back her thick, red hair. “I worked with her once a long time ago back with Shield on the Stark Expo project.”
Steve looked down at his notes. “She called to set up an appointment. And she’s still at Stark Industries.”
Natasha sighed. “I thought she’d have escaped by now. Stark was the worst to work with. He always had these outrageous demands. I thought Fury was going to kill him just before the event. But I really liked working with Pepper. She’s a good egg.”
Sam nudged Steve. “Are you going to join us for dinner out tonight? Thor wants to celebrate landing a big contract.”
“Sure, I could use a break,” Natasha said. “Steve?”
Steve shook his head. “Got a lot coming up. I think I’ll pass this time.”
“Come on, man. You’ve got to take a break every now and then,” Sam said pointedly. “Just an hour. Hour and a half maybe.”
“We won’t try to set you up with anyone,” Natasha promised. “This time.”
Steve rubbed the back of his neck. The last time they went out Natasha had somehow wrangled the phone number from the waiter for Steve. She said it wasn’t that hard to do, since the waiter couldn’t stop trying to flirt with Steve (hint, hint).
Steve could use the break though, and it had been a while since he had spent time with his friends. “Okay,” he agreed, throwing up his hands. “Text me when you get to the restaurant.”
He could hear Natasha mutter to Sam as they walked away, "We gotta find someone for Steve. It's been three years since he's been serious with anyone. He's such a good guy, anyone would like him ...."
Steve shook his head. He had too much work to do without worrying about getting back into the dating scene. He was doing just fine on his own.
When she arrived at work, a blushing Pepper showed off her small engagement diamond to the grandmotherly lobby receptionist. Next thing she knew, people from all over Stark were sending emails, or calling or dropping by to say congratulations to her and Happy. Tony even sent a large bouquet of flowers, though admittedly Pepper had a hand in that gift. She didn’t get much work done that morning.
Just after her morning coffee break, Priya from Legal showed up at her office. “Here,” she said, handing Pepper a white business card. “Everyone is going to give you advice, so this is my contribution.”
Pepper examined the card. “Steve Rogers, Wedding Planner?” She had not given a thought yet to the wedding, or even setting a date.
Priya nodded. “He’s the best out there, Pepper. You’ll think that you can do this on your own, but Steve knows what he’s doing. He’ll care more about your wedding than you do.”
“I never heard of him or the Avengers Group.”
“It’s a small event planning company. Steve’s been doing this for five years and he’s an up and comer. I swear, in a year or two he’ll be everywhere,” the lawyer continued.
“You liked him?” Pepper asked, her curiosity piqued.
“I’d get divorced and remarried just to hire him again. My mother loved him, and you know how difficult my mother can be,” Priya replied in all seriousness. “You won’t regret it.”
She looked around the office, making sure that no one could overhear them. “How did Tony take the news?” she asked in a low voice.
“Better than you’d expect. He’s very excited by it,” Pepper lied smoothly. She had not talked to Tony at all about her engagement. He had looked at the large bouquet on her desk, apologized automatically for whatever he did that merited that large a bouquet, and wondered why all the foot traffic to Pepper’s desk. She would have to build up to the announcement.
“Doubt that’ll last,” Priya snorted. “I’ve got to go. Merger paperwork and all.”
Later, Pepper noticed the business card she had put on her monitor. She hadn’t considered a wedding planner. Maybe she’d call since Priya suggested it. It couldn’t hurt. She dialed Steve’s number.
Steve adjusted his suit coat and tie before stepping into Stark Tower for his appointment with Pepper Potts. As a veteran of many client pitches, he knew that his success depended on his preparation. His standard uniform of understated dark suit and lucky blue-and-white striped tie was chosen to project confidence and competence. He was as organized as he was ever going to be -- portfolio with idea boards, current bridal magazines, lists of vendors, lookbooks, color wheels, pictures of weddings and events he had planned, and lots of business cards.
After hearing Natasha’s information, he had googled Pepper and learned about her formidable reputation as the personal assistant to the powerful, wealthy perennial party-goer Tony Stark. Steve would have to be at the top of his game. Savvy personal assistants knew what Steve did for a job, and they always had opinions about how he could do it better. And all Ms. Potts had discussed was a small, elegant wedding. It almost never ended there, as Steve well knew from his five years of experience. He’d have to see.
The receptionist gave him directions to his meeting room and pointed him to a special elevator. Steve had barely entered the elevator when a man called behind him, “Stop! Hold it!” Steve pushed the door open button as the man rushed into the elevator. The man in sunglasses with red frames and an Italian designer suit nodded to Steve as he sipped his coffee.
“Which floor?” Steve asked.
Steve pushed the buttons for the floor. He shifted the portfolio from hand to hand and stared ahead at the elevator door. Taking out his phone, the dark-haired man leaned against a corner of the elevator car. Steve noticed his rather complicated facial hair which flattered the shape of his face.
“Meeting?” the other man asked.
“With a potential client,” Steve replied. He couldn’t help but notice how handsome the other man was in his tailored suit.
“You must be one of the wedding planners. We’ve been flooded with them,” the man in the red sunglasses said.
Steve wasn’t quite sure what to say to that. He knew he was likely competing against other planners for the job. Competition didn’t bother him -- he stood by the quality of his work and if people wanted to work with him, he would do the best job he could for them.
The other man continued, “People would be better off spending their money on almost anything other than a wedding, like a down payment on a house, a stock investment, or even a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It’s the wedding industrial complex.”
“Weddings are once-in-a-lifetime events. Each one is different,” Steve replied diplomatically.
“Not for a lot of people. Some are frequent flyers, with so many divorces and remarriages going on. Must be the only way you guys can stay in business, Mr. Planner.”
Steve was very grateful when the door opened at his floor. “Weddings are a complicated business,” he replied as he made his escape.
“Wish you luck. You’ll need it,” the man called after him.
Steve tried to shake off the cynical unpleasantness of his elevator companion as he looked for the conference room in his instructions. The memory of the elevator ride lingered though, and he thought it was a shame that someone who was so intriguing could be as equally annoying. Steve found his client already waiting, clearly pleased he had arrived a few minutes early.
“You must be Steve Rogers,” stated the red-haired, smartly dressed woman.
“Ms. Potts?” he replied with a smile as he reached out to shake her hand.
“Please, it’s Pepper.” She sat down at the conference table and watched Steve set up his portfolio and laptop.
A burly, brown-haired man rushed in. “I’m here! Hope I’m not late, honey,” he said in a breathless rush to Pepper, as he sank down in the chair next to her.
She checked her phone. “Right on time,” she said and gave the man a kiss on the cheek. “Steve, this is my fiance, Happy Hogan.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Steve greeted the man.
Pepper explained that she and Happy had very busy schedules, as she worked for Tony Stark and Happy was his bodyguard and chauffeur. She had already drawn up a list of possible dates in the next year when they had a few weekends free to consider for the wedding. Happy’s family was local, while hers was in the Midwest. She told Steve she was looking for small, elegant, fashionable, and intimate. And budget was no issue, as her boss was giving them the wedding for their wedding present. Happy chimed in to say he wanted whatever Pepper wanted.
Taking a deep breath, Steve gave them the best presentation he could, describing his expertise as a wedding planner, showing a lookbook with his previous clients at weddings of all types. He handed around his idea boards, based on the current trends in weddings.
“I will strive to give you the best experience for your wedding with as little stress as possible, so that you have a great start to your new life together,” he concluded.
He hadn’t expected Pepper’s eyes to water a little, much less Happy’s. They were reserved around each other, but clearly deeply in love, and somehow just the idea of their wedding touched something inside as they smiled joyfully at each other.
Pepper passed a photo of a flower arrangement to Happy. “I like this.”
“Wow. I like it too. This is really going to happen, isn’t it?” Happy exclaimed.
Then the door opened and a dark-haired man in a designer suit strode in -- the man from the elevator.
“Pepper, Happy. Just passing by and thought I’d see what you were meeting about.”
He stared at the idea boards, photographs, and lookbooks strewn around the table. Then he glared at Steve. “Wedding planner.”
“Steve Rogers, Avengers Group,” Steve replied. He felt his palms growing damp.
“This is Tony Stark, our boss,” Pepper answered for the still scowling Tony.
Tony said nothing. He picked up a couple of photographs, snorted, tossed them down on the table, and turned to Pepper.
“I need you in fifteen minutes.” Then he turned on his heel and left as quickly as he came.
Bewildered, Steve turned to Pepper.
“He’s like that,” she explained apologetically. “So, tell me more about outdoor weddings you’ve done.”
Later, as Steve hit the lobby of Stark Tower, Pepper called to offer him the job. “I can’t imagine anyone else I’d like to work with,” she said.
Looking back, Steve later thought that was when he should have run for the hills, because the elevator ride to the lobby was his last moment of peace and quiet for some time.
Not for the first time in her career at Stark Industries, Pepper took refuge in the bathroom to calm down. Ever since she told Tony about the engagement, he had been nothing but difficult, despite his very generous gift of paying for the wedding. Taking a deep breath, she braced herself to face Tony and whatever he had to complain about this time.
In his office, Pepper said, “So what was that about?”
Tony leaned back in his chair, threw his feet on the desk, and looked imperiously at Pepper.
“You can’t hire him.”
“And why not?” Pepper asked.
“I don’t like him. He looks incompetent and he’ll ruin your wedding. Trust me, Pepper, I’m just looking out for your best interests.”
She sighed. “I’ve heard from over 20 people singing his praises. Steve’s got a near-cult following.”
He snorted. “I don’t care if he starts his own religion. I don’t like him. So he has to go.”
“No, Tony, not this time. I like Steve, and I’ve hired him to be my wedding planner whether you approve it or not,” she replied firmly.
“When the whole thing falls apart around you at the worst moment, you’ll see how right I am,” Tony replied. “But not to worry, I’ll keep an eye on him for you.”
Pepper sighed. “Did you hit on Steve and he turned you down? Is that what this is about?”
“No, not at all. I’ll admit, he is cute, in an earnest, puppy dog sort of way. And a suit does wonders for him. But, Pepper, I do care about you, and Happy, too. I just want you to have the best wedding you can have with my money.”
“Then let Steve do his job, Tony,” Pepper said.
Tony narrowed his eyes. “We’ll see how well he really does.”
When Steve returned to the office, he found his cubicle covered in paper airplanes, courtesy of one bored Clint Barton, Party Planner. Sweeping the airplanes off his chair and desk, he knew he’d have to get back at Clint somehow. Revenge would have to wait, though, because today was Steve’s planning day. As thrilled as he was to have landed the Hogan-Potts wedding, he had to adjust his schedule to accommodate the new event. Hopefully, they would commit to a wedding date soon.
Steve checked Sam’s cubicle and found that his friend was out for the day. This time he would need his friend’s advice for managing a near-celebrity wedding, especially since he’d never really planned a wedding with a limitless budget before.
He pulled up his scheduling programs and Excel spreadsheets, laying out a schedule for the Hogan-Potts wedding. He was deep in developing timelines when Maria stopped by, coffee in hand.
“New job, Steve?” she asked.
“Yes, and I’ll be drafting a contract later today.” Maria managed office operations, and he knew if he didn’t get a draft contract out, Maria would be all over him.
“Remember, we’re not a charity,” she warned. “And get a retainer this time.”
As promised, Steve pulled up a draft contract and retainer form and he frowned slightly as he typed in Tony Stark’s name. The contract would be between the firm and Pepper and Happy, with Tony responsible for paying for the event.
He hesitated. Tony Stark. Tony might be a problem.
Steve tapped a pencil on his desk. He had an ironclad rule that helped him get by in the wedding planner business. That rule was to get along with the bride or groom’s family, friends and assorted hangers-on until the wedding was over, and, in particular, the person footing the bills. And definitely don’t get on the bad side of a family member, friend or hanger-on that might not like him for whatever reason.
As he read over his notes from his meeting with Pepper and Happy, he wondered what the deal was with Tony. Under any other circumstances, bright and handsome Tony would push all the right buttons for Steve.
Such a shame he had to be a jerk.
Because Steve got the vibe that Tony didn’t trust him and probably didn’t even like him.
“It’d be worse if the groom was involved, so I guess I lucked out there,” Sam said.
It was one of the rare times that Sam and Steve could both sit down and leisurely watch a game at their favorite bar. Sam was tethered to his phone on the table, constantly having to check incoming texts. A Bronx-based singer getting married in a week had developed major pre-wedding jitters and needed constant reassurance. Sam had worked unbelievably hard on the event, setting up it to be one of the most covered weddings of the year. But even he would admit that the wedding was getting out of hand, especially with the bride’s diva mother constantly checking his work and questioning his plans. Over beers, he had told Steve the latest request, which involved live exotic animals.
“So tell me about the Hogan-Potts wedding,” Sam said. “Anything new?”
“We’re touring possible venues again in a couple of days,” Steve said. The original plan had involved only Pepper, Happy and himself, until Tony somehow invited himself along.
“Tony again?” Sam intuited.
“Last week, he asked more questions than either Pepper or Happy. And not normal questions. I think Davis at Domaine was going to clock Tony when he asked if killer robots attacked during the reception would guests be able to escape the hall.”
“Hmmm. Maybe we need to plan for that sort of thing.” Sam looked at up the baseball game and shrugged. “I have no idea why I follow the Mets. Constant pain, man.”
Steve swirled his mug moodily. “Pepper rolls with it. She’s used to Tony. Happy barely says anything. He’s thrilled to just be there, talking about getting married.”
“My question is, why is Tony trailing along?” Sam said. “He seems to be overly involved. Are you sure he doesn’t have a thing for the bride?”
“He has a thing for killer robots, not the bride, as far as I can tell. He’s paying, so it’s hard to ask him to stay away.”
“Hmmm. I have no idea. I’ve dealt with demanding mothers and fathers and difficult sisters,” Sam said. “I’ve never dealt with a meddling boss.”
“Natasha’s offered to come along to keep Tony occupied,” Steve said. “That’s the last resort if the upcoming tour doesn’t go well.”
“Steve, you’ve been touring venues for two months now. If your clients want to get married in a halfway decent place next summer, they have to pick something, like, yesterday.”
“I know. And I’m starting to look at my B and C list venues.” Steve did not like how quickly they were veering off the timeline.
Sam checked his phone. “So what are your plans on Thursday?”
“Need help with the wedding?”
“Maybe later, but for Thursday, my girlfriend wants to go out, and she has this friend --”
Sam or his girlfriend or Natasha, strangely, always had a friend that wanted to meet Steve or needed a fourth person when they were going out somewhere.
“I don’t know, Sam. Last time it didn’t go so well.”
“Come on. Got to kiss a lot of frogs to meet your princess or prince.”
“I’ll have to get back to you about Thursday,” Steve replied noncommittally. “Work is starting to get busier.”
Sam ran a finger along the rim of his mug and gave an exasperated sigh. “The job doesn’t love you back, Steve. The world’s gonna pass you by if you keeping waiting for the perfect person.”
“The right person,” Steve corrected automatically.
And the right person hadn’t shown up since his break-up with his college girlfriend so many years ago. And he wasn’t ready to settle for Mr. Right-Now or Ms. Convenient, even if that meant he never met the right person. “And I’ll know that person when I meet them.”
“Right,” Sam replied doubtfully. But he let it go, knowing how far he could push Steve.
They watched the television for a while until Sam complained, “Ugh, this game. Seriously, man.”