It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
Even in my hometown of sunny San Diego, California, it feels like the holiday season. The temperature has dropped enough to warrant the daily donning of boots, scarves, and heavy jackets. Pumpkin, peppermint, gingerbread, and eggnog-flavored treats are everywhere. My husband and I are working our way through our annual tour of holiday movies. And I have to admit, I love, love, love giving gifts – especially the ones that really matter.
That’s why I’m participating in Giftmas 2018.
What’s Giftmas, you ask? It’s a blog tour Rhonda Parrish hosts every December to raise awareness and funds for the Edmonton Food Bank. This year, the blog tour has an Advent theme. Twenty-four authors have donated stories to share on the twenty-four days leading up to Christmas, one each day – and then Rhonda is sharing a super-cool surprise on Christmas Day!
You don’t need to donate in order to read the Giftmas stories (they’re just hanging out on the interwebs for you to discover and enjoy; check out #Giftmas2018 on social media or this post on Rhonda’s blog with links to each published story), but we do hope these tales—some happy, some sad, some holiday-themed, some sci-fi breakup letters—inspire you to donate a little something to help the folks who benefit from the Edmonton Food Bank. Even a dollar makes a difference!
You can donate HERE to make the season merrier and brighter for someone in need.
And now, without further ado, it’s story time!
Yesterday, Kurt Kirchmeier demolished my heart with his gorgeous story “Souls on Display.” Tomorrow, I can’t wait to see what E.C. Bell shares on her blog. Today, check out my feel-good romance short about a bad first date, an unlikely cupid, and a heartwarming realization.
Anything but Plain
By Tiffany Michelle Brown
As the crowd about her hummed with excitement and low conversation, Kate Saxon turned, regarded Lawrence Chilton’s very plain profile, and tried not to grimace. She shifted her gaze to a man in his seventies who was snoozing in his scratchy theater seat beside her and wished she could body-swap with him.
What she wouldn’t give to sleep through the next couple hours without having to worry about the consequences. No pretense, no mask, no pretending to have a good time—none of the bullshit that accompanied the vile mating ritual that was the blind date. Just sweet, mind-numbing sleep.
To be fair, Lawrence wasn’t horrible company. He was simply expected company, which was worse in Kate’s book.
He’d showed up at her door at precisely 6 PM, freshly shaven, a bouquet of pink carnations underarm. He was her height, normal looking, and held every door open for her. He took her to a well-known Italian restaurant where they shared a bottle of Chianti and blew through the checklist of obligatory first date questions and answers over a fried artichoke appetizer—my job is very satisfying, I go to yoga about twice a week, my family lives an hour away, and my sister is getting married in the fall. They’d both taken to studying the décor of the restaurant in mock appreciation by the time their entrees arrived. There was no spark—of interest or romance.
When the waitress took their plates, Kate rejoiced that the date was nearly over. She’s let nice-enough-but-predictable Lawrence take her home. She’d open another bottle of wine and do Tina Turner impressions in heels while listening to a record on her vintage turntable. It was her post bad date ritual. It was also wonderful cardio.
But Kate’s plan was foiled. Lawrence excitedly pulled a white envelope from his tweed coat and announced he had two tickets for the 8 PM performance of King Lear at the Orpheum Theater downtown. Kate smiled a fake smile, said something about loving “the Bard,” and took a sip of air from her far-too-empty wine glass.
Now, she sat in the front row of the theater, picking at a loose seam on her skirt, wishing she were in her seventies and, thus, allowed to fall asleep on a date without it being considered rude.
Of course, if she did fall asleep and snored like a trucker, perhaps Lawrence would find her repulsive and never call again. Kate gave serious thought to the pros and cons of this option as the lights in the theater dimmed.
“This is going to be great,” Lawrence whispered.
Kate offered a tight-lipped, “Mm hmm,” and then slouched in her chair, having decided she’d give the I’m-so-bored-I-fell-sleep routine a shot. The risk of offense was worth it. She needed to get out of here—or just zone out for the duration of the show. If she was lucky, she’d be extra revolting and drool.
About ten minutes into the show, Kate had her eyes closed when she felt a tickle on her left knuckle. She tensed. Oh God, he’s trying to hold my hand.
Kate’s eyes flicked open, and she looked down, ready to pull her hand discreetly into her lap. But Lawrence’s hand was nowhere to be found. Instead, a spider of damn near Amazonian size peered up at Kate like a puppy dog yearning for a cuddle.
Kate stood up and began to shriek, flicking her wrists in an effort to buck the spider from her hand. But the arachnid held on valiantly like a cowboy at a rodeo, desperate for its six seconds of fame.
Kate was vaguely aware of running about, climbing something—and perhaps rolling around on the ground?—but her sense of location in the theater was a blur until the spider gave up, leaped from her hand, and disappeared through a crack in the stage into the orchestra pit below.
Kate looked up and was blinded by white light. As her eyes adjusted, she peered out into the audience of the theater—at the horrified patrons; at Lawrence, whose mouth hung open; at the old man she’d been seated next to only moments ago and who was now very much awake. She peered over her shoulder and spied actors in Elizabethan garb staring at her as if she were in her underwear.
Kate gazed down at her favorite peep-toe heels and realized she was on the apron of the stage, standing directly above the unused orchestra pit. And she was frozen to the spot, a mute snow woman in the middle of a theater in downtown Phoenix.
As Kate opened her mouth, desperate to deliver an apology, Lawrence stood up in the front row. Kate’s stomach twisted. She was sure he’d storm out—or worse, reprimand her in public.
But instead, he started to sing. “Don’t go breakin’ my heart…”
Kate stood there, dumbfounded, frowning at him in confusion.
Lawrence stepped forward and climbed the lip of the stage. He repeated the line, taking Kate’s hand in his, then gave her a nod.
Kate opened her mouth and delivered a truly shaky and off-pitch, “I couldn’t if I tried.”
Lawrence smiled. “Honey, if I get restless.”
Kate smiled. “Baby, you’re not that kind.”
Silence enveloped the theater.
“Now bow,” Lawrence instructed.
Kate bent at the waist and the theater erupted in laughter and applause. Kate straightened and grinned. Lawrence squeezed her hand and a subtle warmth filled Kate’s heart.
“What do you say we get out of here?” Lawrence asked over the trill of the audience.
Kate gave him a nod and he pulled her offstage into the wings, laughing all the while. The stage manager gave them a strict talking to as he led them through a narrow hall past dressing rooms and out the stage door exit.
In the alley behind the theater, Kate leaned against brick and dissolved into laughter. Lawrence did the same, and their shared hilarity echoed off the façades about them and into the starry night.
As Kate’s giggles died down, she looked over at her date. Lawrence’s eyes sparkled in the lamplight, and Kate admitted inwardly that she’d been wrong. Lawrence’s profile was anything but plain.