Here’s one way no bride-to-be wants to start a phone call just two days before her wedding: “I don’t want you to freak out, but …”
And so began an ordeal that would carry Kayla and Marcus Dalton through a hurricane of emotions, from times it felt like their special day had been ruined, to an event that ultimately proved fit for a feelgood Hollywood drama.
The Radford couple was planning to get married on a friend’s property beside the North Fork of the Roanoke River in Ironto on Saturday. But on Thursday the property owner called to let them know the river had overflowed its banks as the remnants of Hurricane Michael passed through Southwest Virginia.
The grassy field where the couple was supposed to exchange vows just two days later was under a foot of water. And there was no backup plan.
At first, Kayla said she was confident the waters would recede. But then Friday came without any improvement in the conditions.
She had 70 guests ready to attend the ceremony, including some who drove from more than six hours away.
“It was hard because if we wanted these people to be part of it, it was now or never,” Kayla said.
The couple decided they would have to have a courthouse wedding, even as that felt woefully inadequate for a 14-year relationship and 8-year engagement.
“We just wanted something that was symbolic of what we felt for each other,” Kayla said. “And that just somehow didn’t seem good enough.”
Kayla Crowder and Marcus Dalton were biology class sweethearts back in 2004. She was a sophomore at Pulaski County High School, he was a junior taking the class for the second time and both were too shy to talk to one another.
“He wore leopard-print shoes so I thought he was really cute, but kind of scary,” Kayla recalls.
A group project is what eventually broke the ice and sent the couple down a path that would lead to a life together in Radford, where Kayla is a social worker and Marcus manages a wireless store.
Both have long had an affinity for the Radford Theatre, the 83-year-old landmark where the couple has volunteered for live productions and behind the concessions counter.
Radford Theatre owner Paul Pallante reached out to offer his place as a wedding venue Thursday evening, but the lovebirds just couldn’t imagine how that would work out.
“At that point, I shut down,” Kayla said. “I deactivated my Facebook, I just laid in bed, wouldn’t talk to anyone. But luckily, Paul is persistent and Paul cares enough.”
The owner wouldn’t take no for an answer and he wouldn’t accept payment. By Friday afternoon they had all come together and decided that the Radford Theatre would host its first wedding — at least that anyone can remember.
Pallante said Kayla and Marcus are both the kind of people who constantly give back to their community, so “it just seemed like the only thing to do.”
The theater cancelled an afternoon showing of “Venom” and added a last-minute matrimonial matinee to Saturday’s schedule, right before the evening show time.
“That’s Radford Theatre 3D,” Pallante said. “That’s when the romance actually jumps off the screen into the auditorium.”
Guests were provided complimentary popcorn as they arrived and were ushered to the center aisles of the theater. The projector flicked on with a clip from “The Princess Bride,” the wedding scene that is a favorite among movie buffs.
Then the screen turned to a caricature of Kayla and Marcus as the couple exchanged vows.
After the ceremony, another Radford venue, The Side Door, had a last-minute cancellation and was able to host the reception within the couple’s shoestring budget.
“People keep saying it didn’t end up how you had planned. But I think it ended up exactly as we planned it,” Kayla said. “We were surrounded by people we love, people who have watched us overcome obstacles and grow as individuals and as a couple. I think it was the truest testament to our whole relationship together. So I think in a way it did work out exactly as we wanted it to.”
The couple said they wouldn’t change anything now, even if they had the opportunity. As the night wore on, Marcus said it all just seemed to make sense.
“I can’t imagine what it would have been like had it not flooded,” he said. “Because it came together so perfectly, it almost seemed like that plan didn’t exist and this was the plan the whole time.”
Pallante said weddings can be difficult to accommodate in a theater typically booked with movie showings. But he said the business exists to make the unexpected happen, so he didn’t rule out the possibility of future wedding events.
“That’s just what they do for people,” Kayla said. “They create this space that is so magical and so inclusive. If you’re having the worst day, worst week, whatever, you can come in there and at least for a couple hours you feel like you’re part of something.”