“Michael, duck down.” Stephanie Parker grabbed her brother by the sleeve of his Army jacket and pulled him into the doorway of a clothing store. Michael jumped, and looked around.

“What? What is it?” His brown eyes were wide with anxiety as he followed Stephanie behind a rack of clothes, she was trying to look discreet as she stared out the window.

Stephanie said, “It is Aunt Gillian.” She pointed at two older women walking across the way in the shopping mall – both carrying bags and big purses.

Michael stood tall, and straightened out his jacket. “Girl, the way you pulled my arm out of my socket I thought we were being targeted by a gunman or something.”

“Do you really want Aunt Gillian to see you are home before you get a chance to surprise Mom?” Stephanie looked up at her older brother – he was dressed in his camo gear – fresh off the airplane from coming home. He had been deployed for five years overseas. Stephanie smiled. Michael looked good. He was healthy looking – muscular, and his once pale skin was tanned, and his hair – that used to be shaggy was cut in the required military buzz, but it was much darker. He had moved up in ranks and was now a captain.

Michael said, “No, I guess not. What time was the TV crew going to meet us at the school?” He looked at his watch.

“We have got an hour.” Stephanie looked around, and started to laugh. They were in the middle of Victoria’s Secret.

Giving his sister a questionable glance, Michael asked, “What is wrong with you?”

“Look where we are.” She pointed to the rack in front of them.

Michael looked down – lingerie. He turned and looked at all the women in the store, some of whom were giving him the once over. “Oh, Lord. Come on.” He pushed his sister out the store.

“So, where do you want to go next?” Stephanie asked, picking a piece of lint off of her pullover hooded sweatshirt – a gray one with Texas A&M screen printed across the front. She hoisted her black mini backpack over her right shoulder.

Michael stopped, and looked around, “Let’s go get some flowers down there, and hit the Chick-Fil-A. I am starving.”

“Sounds good. Daddy said he would meet us in the school parking lot.” Stephanie said running her hand through the bangs of her long, curly auburn hair, which she wore in a ponytail.

Michael stopped her before she moved forward. “Your shoes untied.” He leaned down, and tied it for her.

A couple walked by, “Why don’t you ever tie my shoes for me?” The woman asked the man.

Stephanie laughed, and so did Michael. “OK, Big Brother, you know I can tie my own shoe, but thank you.”

He leaned up. “I just realized something – those aren’t my Aggie sweatpants are they?”

Stephanie looked down at the black sweats with the Aggies logo on the side. “Uh, no. If they were yours they would be too tall on me … the sweatshirt is yours though.”

Michael swatted her on the back of the head. “Thief.”

“You were gone, and besides, it looks better on me.” She said as they started walking toward the escalator.

Michael rolled his eyes. “Whatever. So, how did you get off of work today? I thought this was press day at the newspaper?”

“I turned my column in early, and delegated. My publisher loves me,” Stephanie said. She was the feature editor of the local daily newspaper – a job she held for the last five years.

There was a lull in the conversation as they neared the bottom of the escalator. The flower shop was to the right.

“What do you think?” Michael pointed at a bouquet of yellow roses in the cooler in the shop.

Stephanie shook her head. “Get her a wildflower mix like that one.” She pointed to a bouquet of a mix of different flowers.

He reached in, and picked out one, and went to find a salesperson.

Stephanie found herself wondering around looking at some artificial flowers and different gift items. She was so immersed into a vase made out of old books with a bouquet of silk sunflowers that Stephanie didn’t notice an African American male with light brown skin, bald, and bright eyes, dressed in a khaki fatigues – a Marine, watching her from outside the store. He walked in.

She picked up a candle, and smelled it. “You never could resist smelling all the candles.” The man said with a hoarse voice.

Stephanie jumped, and turned around. She felt hot. Standing in front of her was Presley Henderson – her brother’s best friend all through grade school, high school and most of college.

And her high school sweetheart.

“Presley. Stephanie swallowed her gum she thought. It had been a while since she had seen Presley. Her heart skipped a bet. He was smiling at her with his dimpled grin, and those eyes – they seemed to peer into her soul.

“Steph, you are looking good, baby girl,” Presley had his hat in his hand. “Can I get a hug?”

Steph gulped, and said nervously, “Sure, sure. How are you?” When he hugged her, Stephanie got a whiff of Presley’s cologne – Brut aftershave – still after all these years. It still melted her heart. Presley sighed as he got a whiff of Stephanie’s – Sand & Sable.

“Good, good. Wow. Imagine seeing you here of all places. I thought you were in New York at the Times?” He stepped back, and hit a display. Presley steadied it with his hand.

“Um, no. A year there, and I realized I needed to be back here in Texas. I am at the Morning Herald.” She said.

There was an awkward silence. “I know. I can’t lie to you. I have followed your career, read most every article you ever wrote. Mom subscribed for me when she saw you were on staff.” Presley looked down at the floor, and back at Stephanie. His heart thumped hard as she looked at him with her bright green eyes.

Stephanie blushed. “So, are you home on furlough?”

“No. I am here for good. Well, I will be. I am done. They have pushed me up the ladder a bit so I will be the recruiting coordinator for the region starting next month.” He said.

Stephanie nodded. “Congratulations.”

Michael walked from the cashier. “Henderson?”

Presley looked up, and a big smile crept across his face. Stephanie moved out of her brother’s way as he moved toward Presley. “Parker … I thought you were in Iraq.” The two hugged a brotherly hug.

“Just got home today. We are headed to surprise my mom. When did you get in?” Michael asked.

Presley said, “Yesterday. Man, look at you. You have filled out. Been working out a lot.” He patted Michael’s abdomen.

Michael said, “Yeah well, I took your advice. Look at you. You look good. How is the leg?”

Stephanie looked at her brother and then Presley. “What is wrong with your leg?”

“Oh, yeah, you don’t know, because you two dummies don’t communicate anymore … your boy got shot last year on patrol, smashed into his knee.” Michael said looking at his sister.

Presley shrugged it off, and looked at Stephanie. “I am fine. They did surgery, removed it, and I went through therapy.”

“That is why you are home now to start the new gig?” Stephanie asked.

Michael was the one with a quizzical look. “You got a new gig?”

Presley pointed to his bars. “Yeah. I am going to be the recruiting coordinator and training chief for the area – start next week. It is good to see you, man. How long are you here for?”

“Well, I am here for about a week, then will head up to Washington … got a briefing, and then I will be in Georgia for a month, then back here, I will be on base here as an instructor from here on in.” Michael grinned pointing at his bars.

“Dude, that is too cool. Both of us back in the same state … same area.” Presley looked at Stephanie who was looking at her phone.

Michael caught the glance. “So, if you are going to be back home, then … mmm .. Stephanie is back in the area … maybe you two idiots will get past the past and realize you guys are still mooning over each other.”

Stephanie looked at him, and hit her brother, “Mikey. We need to go.” She started pulling him out the door with her, pushing him first. Presley laughed.

“Dude, call me tonight … we will go to the gym tomorrow?” Michael called back to Presley.

Presley waved his hand, “Will do.”

Stephanie dropped her phone as she was trying to stick it in her back pocket in a hurry. She stopped to pick it up, but Presley had already leaned down to grab it.

“You know … your brother is right about how I feel about you … it is good to see you, Steph.” He handed her the phone, and their fingers slightly touched. Stephanie felt an imaginary electric shock as she took the phone.

Presley walked out the door and headed to the right. Stephanie and Michael walked to the left. “Why did you do that? I told you that stuff about Pres in confidence, big brother.” She hit him again as they headed to the Chick-Fil-A kiosk to get some fries and a drink.

“Because he told me the same thing about you, girl, when he and I met up in Germany before he got shot. He has loved you since high school, dummy. And you love him.” Michael said. “Now order, you are paying.”

As they stepped up to the counter, an elderly gentleman with a Korean War Vet baseball hat on walked up to Michael, “Sir, thank you for your service.” The old man stuck out his hand. Michael smiled, and returned the shake. “You too, sir. When did you serve?”

“I was in the Army. Marine Captain – just coming home?” The man asked nodding to Michael’s tag.

Michael nodded, “Yes sir. Was in Kuwait. I am Michael Parker, this is my sister, Stephanie.” Stephanie smiled, and shook the man’s hand. “Thank you for your service, sir.” She said.

“Parker … You are the girl who writes the column for the newspaper. My wife and I read you ever Tuesday and Thursday. Enjoyed the piece you wrote on the man who won the lottery but gave the money to his old high school.” The man said. “I am Jonathan McHenry.”

Michael grinned, and put his hands in his pocket. Stephanie smiled, “Thank you, Mr. McHenry.”

The gentleman told the cashier at the counter, “Their lunch is on me.” He handed her his debit card.

“Oh, we can’t let you do that,”Stephanie said. Michael shook his head, “No sir, please.”

Mr. McHenry said, “Please, let me. It is the wife and my way of helping out. Order what you want.”

Michael and Stephanie ordered their fries and drinks, and Michael added two chicken sandwiches. After a few minutes of brief conversation, and taking a picture with Mr. McHenry, Michael and Stephanie took their bags of food, and headed out the door.

Taking a sip of her Dr. Pepper, as they walked through the parking lot, Stephanie handed Michael her car keys. In the space beside her car, Presley was putting some bags in the trunk of a rental car.

“OK, so this is just too weird.” Michael hollered.

Presley turned around. “Or it is the bad plot of a bad movie or something,” he said.

Stephanie rolled her eyes. “Are you sure you two didn’t plan this?”

“Who us?” Michael asked pointing at Presley, then himself.

Presley laughed, “I swear. Pure luck of the draw, mam.” He and Stephanie ended up inches apart as Michael walked on over to the driver’s side. He was sipping his drink. “You know, you two might as well just give into it, and kiss. That sexual tension is heating up the temps out here.”

Stephanie blushed, and looked up at Presley. “My brother.”

Presley made a face, “Yeah. You gotta love him though. Are you seeing anyone?”

She shook her head. “Not in a long time. You?” Presley shook his head. He touched her hand that was holding the bag.

Michael was sitting in the car now, and had shut the door. He rolled down the passenger side window. “Get a room.” He ducked his head back in, and closed the window.

Presley and Stephanie laughed. She looked up into Presley’s eyes. “OK. Well, we have to get him to the school to surprise my mom for the TV station’s show. You want to come? Mom and Dad would love to see you.”

“Stephanie Francis Parker, are you asking me out on a date?” Presley teased her.

She said, “Not yet.” Stephanie pushed past him, and opened the car door.

“Not yet? So?” He turned around and looked at her.

She sighed. “Let’s talk. You coming?”

Presley nodded, “Right behind you.” He walked to the driver’s side of his car. She turned around and smiled as she got in the car.

“Wait, are you coming with us?” Michael called out the open door.

Stephanie said, “Yes.”

“Well get out of your car and ride with the man ...” He nudged her out.

Stephanie looked exasperated. “Michael.”

Presley laughed, as he was about to get into the car. “Come on, Steph.”

She got out of the car, shut the door, and walked over. “Are you sure you two didn’t plan this?” Stephanie said walking around to the passenger side of Presley’s car. He went over, and opened the door for her. “If I said we did, would you be mad?” He asked.

“You did?” Stephanie asked, looking at him, and then at her brother who was pulling out of the space, laughing his head off.

Presley said, “Presley said, “Well, yeah. Sort of. He called me yesterday to say he was in town today, and said we all should meet up. But this was not what we talked about.”

Stephanie got in, “OK. No promises. We will see about this,” Stephanie pointed at her and then at him. “Just wanted to be clear.”

He shut the door when she was safely in, and then Presley ran to the other side, and got in. Stephanie handed him the chicken sandwich. “I am not hungry for this … I wanted the fries.”

Presley took it, and smiled. “My baby girl still loves me if she is going to share her Chick-Fil-A with me.” He started the car.

“I am not your baby girl … yet.” Stephanie said, putting french fry in her mouth. “But yes, I guess you could say I still love you.” She cut her eyes over to look at him.

Presley took her hand, and kissed, “Best thing I have heard in 10 years.”

As he pulled out of the parking space, and caught up with Michael who was waiting at the end of the aisle, Presley turned to Stephanie, “And I love you too.”

Stephanie grinned. She leaned in and kissed his cheek.

Michael honked his horn, and pointed.

And what happened next? Well …

August 08, 2020 03:22

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Tariq Saeed
18:13 Aug 18, 2020

Rebecca,story is good,wordings are also good.I like it.


Rebecca Lee
20:01 Aug 18, 2020

Thank you, Tariq! I appreciate it.


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Chris Buono
16:18 Aug 16, 2020

The title grabbed my attention, sort of like. Pynchon novel with the not-so-normal titles. Story did not disappoint. Went a direction I didn’t expect and I like that. Good job!


Rebecca Lee
19:58 Aug 16, 2020

Thank yoU!!


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Lynn Penny
17:22 Aug 15, 2020

Loved the title, grabbed me right from the start.


Rebecca Lee
19:58 Aug 16, 2020

Thank you


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Jen Park
07:24 Aug 08, 2020

Love the way how it ended! I didn't expect this story to become romantic while two siblings were shopping to surprise their mother. (By the way, you write a lot about sister-brother relationship.) I liked the part where all three characters are confused about what happened to their old friends, because that is so realistic and that confusion and awkwardness happens a bunch of time when we bump into a person who we didn't see for a long time. I'm getting pretty sure that Michael and Presley planned it for Stephanie. I wish the couple wi...


Rebecca Lee
20:10 Aug 08, 2020

I guess I had not realized it - the brother and sister stories ... Didn't think I did, but thanks. Who knows what is ahead. Thank you!


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