For those who have been with me for a while, you might remember Story Time Shorts from last September. I should have advertised it a little more, but only three suggestions came in. From those, I wrote A Country Love Story and His Broken Heart.
For reasons I can’t divulge, the third request kind of threw me, and it’s taken me all this time to come up with just the right story. It comes from Shineka:
So Neal and Monet are the characters names. Situation Neal is in the military stationed overseas and to deal with his loneliness he sends out friend requests to acquaintances from his last duty station from a church that he really enjoyed attending. One of which is Monet. A girl he had seen at church but didn’t really know.
Before I share the story, I want to say one thing. I’ll be posting something in the next few days that I think is pretty exciting. I hope you all will agree.
Photo credit: Morguefile.com
The Birthday Surprise
My feet hurt so bad I could cry.
Normally, in my job as the receptionist for a few very successful real estate agents, I sit at a desk. I answer telephones, take messages, set up appointments for sellers and buyers. And, usually, I get stuck at one grocery store once a week to stock up on coffee supplies and snacks. Yeah. That’s my job. I’m good at it and I love it.
Well… Almost always.
This afternoon, my lame-brained bosses decided to hold an open house for some of their wealthier clients. They failed to mention, however, that I was being promoted … for the day … to hostess extraordinaire. At least that’s what they called it – an hour before the guests were due to arrive.
Their idea of a hostess was to have me decorate the conference room, set everything up – and then keep the punch bowl filled, and trays replenished with food delivered from a nearby deli. I also got to deal with all of the cleanup after everyone left for the day.
I scowl at the heels I kick off the second I walk in the door of my apartment. The heels I would have ignored in favor of flats had I known what my afternoon was going to be like.
Flopping down on the sofa, I toss a throw pillow on the coffee table, plant my feet on it, then lean back and close my eyes. My stomach growls, reminding me that while I made sure forty-two people were well fed, I’d only eaten half of an oatmeal cookie. The question is, can I work up the energy to walk out to my kitchen and fix something? Or would I rather just sit here and starve? Wither away to nothing so the next time my employers need a maid, they’ll have to find someone else.
Nope. Digging my cell phone out of my purse, I call and order a small pizza. Ground beef, bacon, and onion – with extra cheese. And a large root beer. I’m only getting up once and that’s going to be to pay the delivery guy. It’s only about five steps to the door. It’s more like twenty to the kitchen … forty if you count the trip back. I can wait to drink something until he gets here.
While waiting for the sustenance that will help me survive to see a new day, I drag my laptop from the end table. By now, Neil will have left half a dozen Facebook messages for me.
Yeah, Neil Harrison, a man I don’t recall meeting once in my life friended me about six months ago. Not that I’m in the habit of accepting friend requests from strange men, mind you, but he said he’d talked to me at my church a few times when he was stationed here last year. I did some checking around and found that several people I trust remembered him. They said he was a really good guy, so I thought … why not? He’s in the Army and stationed in Italy, and all he wants is to connect with people back home. As friends. Nothing else.
That works for me because my last boyfriend was a certifiable jerk and I’m finished with dating. Well, not permanently or anything. Just for a while. Like ten or twenty years. Or maybe a few months.
Yup. Looks like a few more than six messages though. I count and there are eleven. He must be really bored – or really homesick today. They’re five hours behind us so it’s … I glance at the computer clock … one-forty-three in the afternoon there. He’ll still be busy with all of his military stuff and won’t see my responses until after he has supper – long after I’m in bed.
Hey, Monet. How’s it going today?
Busy day at work, I message him back. I think I deserve a raise for going above and beyond the call of duty.
I saw Sara posted something on your timeline about going out for your birthday this weekend.
There’s no way to stop the exasperated sigh that escapes my lips. I purposely set that part of my profile to private because I don’t want just anyone knowing that information about me.
Yeah. The big three-O is coming right up.
I hope you don’t mind, but I asked her for your address. I’d like to send you a little something to celebrate.
Oh… You don’t have to do that, Neil. Personally, I’d rather just forget about it. Mind? Oh yeah. I mind a lot, and Sara is going to get an earful from me before the night is over. Just because I kind of know him on Facebook doesn’t mean I know him enough to trust him to know where I live.
After reading through the rest of his messages, I let him know that I was going to have an early night. It had been a long day. All I wanted was my supper, a hot shower, and a good night’s sleep. Except I had to make some time for a little bible reading too. Might as well get that out of the way before I called Sara. Maybe this way, I’d stop wishing I could reach through the phone to throttle her.
For the past two days, Neil keeps dropping hints about my birthday surprise. If I didn’t know for a fact – at least based on the word of a man I’ve never met – that his tour won’t be over for another six weeks, I’d worry he was planning to showing up on my doorstep. But he won’t give me so much as a crumb of information and I finally give up asking.
Then, before I know it, it’s Friday and the rude employers who worked me into the ground on Wednesday take me to the best steakhouse in town for lunch. I walk away with an obviously expensive bracelet, a two-hundred dollar gift certificate for a trendy clothing boutique, and another for a weekend at an exclusive spa – which includes pretty much everything a girly girl could ever hope to enjoy – massages, manicures, pedicures, hot tubs, gourmet meals, room service. They even included tips. Yeah, those horrible, awful people.
Clearly I will be spending a little extra time on my bedtime prayers tonight…
Saturday dawns chilly and overcast, but hey. It’s still my birthday and I hurry to get ready. Sara and a few of the girls are meeting me for breakfast at a little mom and pop diner we all love. We call it ‘home of the world’s best hash browns,’ and it’s not an exaggeration. They use just the tiniest bit of diced onion with the potatoes – so little you can barely taste it and yet … you can.
When we finish there, it’s two hours of laser tag, followed by a matinee with a sexy, other-worldly hero that makes me swoon. Finally, we stop for ice cream – and the gifts – and then all four of my married girlfriends head home to make supper for their families. I head home to my quiet, lonely apartment. Maybe Neil is online and will help pass the time until it’s late enough to go to bed.
And there he is. I notice he’s not really talkative though and figure he’s forgotten about the promised birthday surprise. Letting him off the hook, I open a game about farming and decide to play that instead, periodically responding to a post from Neil. It’s not long though before my doorbell rings. With a sigh, I get up and walk through the door. Outside is a man standing sideways, but I can see he’s wearing a delivery uniform. He’s also holding a bouquet of yellow roses.
Ah. The surprise.
He turns as I open the door – coming face-to-face with one of the most handsome men I’ve ever seen. Even better than the blond haired, blue-eyed beauty in the movie this afternoon.
“Monet Bennett?” he asks, his deep voice perfectly suiting his face. I clear my throat and nod.
“I’m Chris Harrison. I own Harrison Floral over on Maple Street. My brother, Neil, is stationed overseas and asked me to deliver these for him.”
I knew he had a brother because Neil really admires the guy. I can’t think of a single conversation we’ve had when he isn’t bragging on him about one thing or another, but I would have never guessed he’d be this gorgeous. It’s not that my Facebook pal is ugly or anything, but—Whoa! They don’t look anything alike. Maybe they’re adopted. Or maybe it’s just because Neil has a buzz cut and Chris doesn’t.
Realizing I’m standing there gaping at him like a star struck teenager, I find my voice and manage to say,
“Oh my gosh. Really? Well – wasn’t that sweet of him?”
I try to fake a little enthusiasm, but I’m actually feeling uncomfortable. Neil made it clear this was just a friendship thing – and that’s absolutely all I’m interested in but—roses? A dozen of them? In my mind, I quickly go through all the ways I know to let a guy down easy. That would be exactly one way because I’ve only ever been the dumper in a relationship once. Yes, I said dumper. It’s better than admitting I’ve been the dumpee in three other ones.
“Yeah, it kind of surprised me to get the email. He’s usually bad about remembering dates for anyone, even family, but he talks about you all the time so I should have known,” Chris was saying, and I bring my eyes back to his. His laugh makes me smile, even as I realize this situation is sounding worse by the second. He doesn’t remember his family birthdays, but he remembers mine?
“I’ve been chatting with him a little on Facebook tonight.” Why did I say that?
“You’ll have to tell him hi from me then.”
“Why don’t you tell him yourself?” I hear the words leaking out of my mouth and have to fight an urge to reach up and pinch my lips together.
“Really? You wouldn’t mind?”
“My computer is just right here,” I tell him, not wanting to lie. This whole thing has turned into something that would probably qualify for Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, but I open the door wider and finally take the flowers as I point to the sofa and computer. Realizing he’s going to see the silly game I love, I mutter something about clicking on the tab next to it on my way to get a vase.
I hear the keys clicking from the kitchen as I dig the only vase I own out from under the sink. It’s way too short – and if I cut the stems to fit, the roses will be too. Chris chuckles as I decide the only thing that will work is a glass pitcher. Once it’s filled, I take a moment to arrange the flowers and baby’s breath, then carry it to the coffee table.
“Neil says he wants to tell us both something.” He pats the cushion beside him and after the briefest of hesitations, I sit down, trying to ignore how nice he smells as I stare intently at the screen.
I see the words form, lining up one after another across the status update window, yet my brain doesn’t seem to comprehend what I’m reading.
I knew within a week that my brother would be perfect for you…
Chris, she’s exactly the kind of woman you’ve always wanted…
I’ve already paid Gino’s for two lasagna dinners and cake. If the two of you decide you’re all wrong for each other, at least you’ll have gotten supper out on me…
I stare at Chris. Chris stares at me. My mouth is so dry it would make soda crackers look like milk toast.
“So…” Chris looks a little uncomfortable. “He did say he’s already paid for the meal. Is that something you might be interested in? I mean, if you have other plans… It’s your birthday, after all.”
“No,” I murmur, feeling heat flood my face. “I went out with friends earlier. I’m not doing anything tonight.”
“Do you want to go to Gino’s then?”
“Um… Sure. That would be great.” Chris smiles that beautiful smile again.
“All right then. You were my last delivery of the day before I headed home. Why don’t I go shower and change, and pick you up in about an hour?”
“Sounds good to me,” I say, walking him to the door. I watch him walk down the hall, then sit back down and put my fingers on the keyboard. I also need to shower and change, but I need to say something to Neil first.
Thank you for the flowers.
You’re welcome. Did you like my surprise?
I can’t say for sure just yet, but I think I just might.
Happy Birthday, Monet.
So… What did you think about Monet, Neil, and Chris’s story? Let me know in the comments below. You know I always love to hear from you.
And… Don’t forget. If you have an idea for a story – including the names you’d like me to use – leave the suggestion below or in a comment on my Facebook page. Let me know the names you’d like me to use for the hero and heroine, and the basic story setup.