When Val Zherelyev had wedding day jitters, his bride concocted a plan to lighten the mood — by pranking him.

Heidi and Val Zherelyev met in Spanish class at Sahuaro High School. They started dating 10 years ago and got married five years ago.

They never had a big wedding, but decided to renew their vows in celebration of their fifth wedding anniversary in June. The couple spent the last five years planning the event.

Prior to the celebration, Heidi and Val were planning to take the typical "first look" photos. You know — the ones where the photographer captures the groom's first reactions of the bride, head-to-toe in her glistening white dress.

But to help calm Val's nerves, Heidi wanted to do something different. 

She borrowed a wedding dress from a friend and sent one of her brothers, clad in the dress, to surprise Val. When Val turned around, he didn't see his beautiful bride. Instead, he saw his brother-in-law. 

Heidi and her friend came up with the idea months prior to the wedding, but Heidi didn't think they'd actually do it. 

"You could tell Val was super nervous before the wedding, so we decided we needed to do the prank," Heidi says. 

Heidi's brother not only slipped into the wedding dress, but also wore women's deodorant and perfume.

"I need to smell like a girl," he said, according to Nichole Cline, Heidi's photographer.

When it came time to take the photos, Nichole placed Val in a position where Heidi, who was watching the scene from the bridal suite, could see his reaction. 

"I was trying really hard not to laugh because I didn't want to blow it," Nichole said. "My eyes were watering from trying not to laugh."

Nichole was able to snap priceless photos of the moment, which show Val bursting into laughter and hugging his bride's impostor. 

When it came time for the real wedding photos, Val still thought he was being pranked. He was sure he'd turn around, only to see Heidi's other brother in another wedding dress. 

But, it was Heidi — for real this time.

"We had a beautiful, intimate moment together," Heidi says, adding that Val was no longer nervous. "The prank worked exactly how he wanted it to."

The photos of Val and Heidi's brother have since blown up the internet, which is not what anyone expected.

"Val has been the victim of many of our jokes and pranks," Heidi says. "It's so funny that what we do so ordinarily was so funny to so many people around the world."

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Heidi says she's happy that her photos have been able to make others laugh.

The photos blew up so much that Nichole says reporters from Slovakia, Australia, Korea, and the United Kingdom have reached out to her. 

"I'm just a small-town girl in Vail," Nichole says. "I'm still kind of in disbelief."

Nichole says she initially posted the photos in a private Facebook forum where they received more than a thousand reactions. 

Since she received overwhelming feedback in the private group, she decided to share the photos to her public photography page. 

"Pictures are the only part of the wedding that stays the same," Nichole says. "Your dress fades, cake gets eaten, flowers die. The fact that Heidi and Val get these amazing photos — it's like their wedding keeps going."

Nichole fell in love with photography when she was only six years old. Her father sat her on her lap during a train ride through the Grand Canyon and she snapped a photo of their reflection in a nearby mirror. 

"I fell in love with photography after that moment," Nichole said on her blog.

Contact reporter Gloria Knott at gknott@tucson.com or 573-4235. On Twitter: @gloriaeknott

Metro Producer

Gloria is a Tucson native and attended the University of Arizona. She started at the Star as an apprentice in 2017. Following her apprenticeship, she began freelancing until becoming a full-time reporter and producer after her college graduation in 2018.