That’s a Surprise

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Sebastian Pettijohn put a hand on his black leather, wide-brimmed Fedora to keep it on his recently cut hair. Before he left for upstate New York, he had his long hair cropped – a sign to his literary agent that he was ready to be more professional — and needed the hat to help him deal with the cold, coming-of-Winter air. With his hat properly affixed on his head, he walked into the hotel.

Sebastian removed his hat and gloves and unbuttoned his black leather overcoat. The exposed suit drew the attention of a hotel employee standing near a sign, made of wood and looking like an old-fashioned signpost.

“Good evening sir,” a well-dressed man welcomed him. “Are you here for the Beverwyck Health holiday party or for the Husted-Finch party?”

Sebastian looked at the signpost and smiled. “Husted-Finch,” he answered with a smile.

“You’re a little early sir,” the employee spoke. “If you wish, the coffee shop is open. You can grab a coffee or soft drink while you wait for the banquet room to open.”

Sebastian removed his overcoat and smiled. “I could use a few hot chocolates. I forgot how cold Albany can get.”

He nodded his head and walked away, into the coffee shop. He found a small table and before he could sit, a waitress appeared. The young brown-haired woman smiled and leaned into him.

“Here for one of the holiday parties?” she softly asked. Sebastian looked into her ice blue eyes and nodded: he forgot how to speak.

“Which one are you attending?”

He inhaled deeply and fumbled out which party. “Excuse me for that,” he quickly added, realizing that he may have screamed it.

She patted his hand. “That’s all right honey, I’ve heard worse.”

“I am so sorry,” he said again.

Without missing a beat, she asked, “What will you have?”

“The largest hot chocolate you have, with whipped cream, please.”

“You got it, Sweetie,” she said with a sugary tone. She turned and headed away. He smiled and removed a small notebook from the inside of his suit jacket, along with a pen.

He thought, “Might as well get some notes down.” He penned only a few words before the chocolate arrived. He thanked her and took a healthy sip, getting whipped cream on his face. He reached for a napkin.

“Sebastian, is that you?” a female voice asked. He recognized it immediately. The writer stood, turned and smiled.

“Amanda,” was all he could say before she tightly wrapped her arms around him.

The short, young woman released him. “It’s been far too long since I’ve seen you.” She took a step back and looked him over. A big smile came to her face. “It looks like time’s been good to you.”

He felt his face warm, like he was going to blush. He quickly looked away before speaking. He sighed before speaking. “Yes, it has been too long since we’ve been together.”

She took his hands in hers. “What have you been up to?”

“I’ve been freezing my ass of,” he joked.

“You’re still silly.” She squeezed his hands and looked deeply into his eyes. “The last I knew of you, you were headed out to Las Vegas, about this time last year.”

“My mom told you?”

Amanda nodded. “Yes, over the summer. She said you left right after your father’s estate was settled.”

“That’s true. I left right after I received my checks, got on a plane for Vegas, and started my new life.” Sebastian paused before realizing they were still standing. He offered her a seat.

“Sorry, but I have to get back to my friends.” She turned and pointed to a large group of well-dressed people, some young, some not so. They were holding alcoholic drinks and appeared to be in good nature.

The smile on her face disappeared. “I wanted to say hello.”

Sebastian quickly reached for his notebook and pen. He wrote the name of the hotel where he would be staying, as well as the room number. “I’ll be here until the middle of next month. If you want to get together, ring the front desk and ask for the room.” He ripped out the page and handed it to her.

She looked at it quizzically. “That’s a long time to spend in a hotel. How come you’re not staying with your mom or one of your brothers and sisters?”

He went silent. He wanted to tell her, as a courtesy, why he was back in the area, why he was staying a month at a hotel, but he was contractually unable to tell anyone outside the family. “I’m back for business,” he answered.

Someone called for Amanda, stating the banquet room was ready. “We’ll talk later, I’m sure of it,” she said before kissing his cheek.

He watched as she returned to her friends and left the coffee shop. A smile came to his face when dirty, naughty thoughts came to his mind.

The last time he saw Amanda Hall was six years ago. She was an 18-year-old college freshman working alongside of his mother at the old Fitzgerald Department Store in women’s apparel. She was short — she was at least an inch shorter than his mother who stood 5’4″ at the time — and had her naturally light brown hair short. Today, her hair was a soft brown and long, reaching to the middle of her back. Though pendik escort he couldn’t tell through her dress, Sebastian suspected that her body went through changes as well, if her large-than-he-remembered shaking bottom was an indication.

Sebastian sat and took another sip of his chocolate. He looked at his notes and thought of a few more items he needed to add, all inspired by Amanda. He was ready to scratch them out; realized that he was not an erotica writer.

“Good evening, Mr. Pettijohn,” a well-voiced man spoke.

The writer put down his pen and turned. He saw a tall, rotund man approach, the suit jacket barely held close by a straining button. “Mr. Bellows, how good to see you.” Sebastian stood and extended his hand to his mother’s boss.

Bellows accepted the man’s hand and gripped it firmly. “Your mother said you’d be attending tonight, but not as her date. She didn’t tell me whose you were.”

“That’s right. I’m here as the ‘plus 1’ for someone else.”

The older man leaned in and whispered, not wanting those surrounding them to hear. “Hopefully it’s someone that’s not looking to cash in on your fame.”

Sebastian laughed. “I doubt one novel makes someone famous.”

The manager shook his head. “Oh, you’d be surprised as to what some of the women in this store say about you.”

The younger man shook his head. “My mom’s told me some of it, but I doubt those women would actually become groupies.”

“Don’t underestimate them,” Bellows joked. He looked around and saw his wife enter the shop. “Listen, later on I’ll want you to come and talk with me and Estelle, probably during the cocktail hour. She’s read your book and would love to talk to you about it.”

“That would be a pleasure,” Sebastian said. The manager left him alone to his notes and hot chocolate. He wrote a few more notes, for short story ideas, and finished his chocolate. He signaled for the waitress to bring him another when a hotel employee spoke, telling the coffee shop people that the Husted-Finch banquet room was ready.

“No charge for you, Sebastian Pettijohn,” she told him. “I thought I recognized you when you sat, but I wasn’t sure. Several of the girls said it was you, and we all agree. You shouldn’t have cut your hair.”

He smiled as he reached for his wallet. He pulled out several $5 bills and handed them to her. He looked at her nametag. “Elise, here’s some tips for you and the other servers. I doubt this motley crew of partygoers knows enough to tip.”

She chuckled. “Something else we talked about.”

“The chocolate was excellent and that was sure a lot of whipped cream.”

Elise laughed. “Thank you.”

He stood, replaced his wallet, put away his notebook and pen, and grabbed his overcoat and hat. Sebastian fell in line with many others, most of them holding cocktails or beers.

The Husted-Finch employees and guests followed two hotel employees dressed in Colonial attire: the large ‘Fort Orange Room,” named after the 17th century fort where the hotel now stood, was the party’s location. Sebastian looked for his ‘date’ but didn’t see her amongst the throng. He shook his head and kept walking.

“There you are,” a familiar voice from behind said. A female arm wrapped around his waist.

“Hello, Melony,” he whispered.

“I’m sorry I’m late. I couldn’t find a parking spot.” She began removing her coat as they made their way through the fountains and Christmas-themed pathways.

“You’re not too late: they just called us.”

“That’s good,” she added. She pulled him aside, allowed many couples to go ahead. She handed him her heavy black coat, opened her purse and removed two tickets.

Sebastian was stunned. The last time he saw Melody was a year ago, a day before he left, and she was wearing a comfortable sweater and work slacks, nothing that gave him any hint at what lay underneath. He looked at her now, the dark red dress showed much skin, more than he thought she would share.

“Wow,” he silently mouthed. The dress was tight, fitted well against curves he never knew she had. He tried not to stare at her chest while she fished around in her purse. He quickly looked away, not wanting her to see him leering.

“We need these. Without them, we’ll not be able to get in, not even for the free appetizers and cash bar.”

“Cash bar?” he said mockingly. “You didn’t tell me I had to pay for my drinks.”

Melony playfully smacked his shoulder. “Oh stop it, Sebastian. You’re not drinking alcohol and you know it.”

He chuckled. “That’s true. I’m you’re designated driver.” He smiled big.

An employee directed partygoers to one of two coat checkrooms when they approached the banquet hall. Sebastian followed those that went to the right, handed the young woman behind the counter Melony’s coat. Then he gave her his leather overcoat and hat. He received three tickets and turned to walk with his date into the cocktail area.

“This looks wonderful,” he whispered to her when saw the tables set up with appetizers, like chicken tenders and cheeses.

“Have maltepe escort you ever been to a reception here?” Melony asked.

Sebastian remembered the last time he was here. In 1983, one of his many cousins had her wedding reception in the smaller ballroom. He thought of the food served, especially his piece of prime rib. His mouth watered and stomach growled.

She heard the sound and giggled. “I guess you have,” she joked.

He apologized for it, but she shook her head. “I’m a little hungry myself.” She opened her purse and appeared to reach for her wallet.

“I have this,” he waved off. “What would you like?”

Melony smiled. “What a perfect gentleman you are. I’ll take a glass of white wine.”

He nodded and went to the first bar.

Sebastian and Melony spent the cocktail hour talking. She was interested in what he had been doing over the last year. She was genuinely interested when he spoke of the publishing of his novel and the having several old short stories printed in magazines. She told him she read the book, but apologized for not knowing he wrote short fiction. He shook it off, not many did.

They sat with three other couples during the meal, three employees plus their spouses. Sebastian knew none of them: All were new hires since last year. Two of the women recognized his name, not from being an author, but from his mother. He accepted their regrets with good humor and promises of giving them signed copies of the novel.

For the dinner, Melony had correctly chosen him prime rib, the beef perfectly prepared with a side of horseradish sauce he rather enjoyed. For dessert, the hotel had set up several stations around the hall, each with a separate them. Sebastian and Melony both took small samples from each, not wanting to overstuff. When the band began to play, she took him to the dance floor: she knew he loved to dance.

“May I cut in,” a woman asked. Sebastian looked at her, his mouth opened, his eyes widen. She was from his past.

“I didn’t know you knew Sebastian,” Melony said. She stepped aside as the band changed to a slow song.

“I’ve known him since we were teens,” the new woman cooed.

“I hope your husband doesn’t mind, Daniela,” Melony said. The dark-skinned woman gave his date a look of disappointment.

“He’s not in my life anymore.”

On the bandstand, a woman joined the lead singer, both eloquently singing their parts to “Endless Love.” The significance and irony of the song wasn’t lost on him. He sighed heavily as he looked into his first love’s dark brown eyes.

“The last time I danced with anyone to this song was during your prom,” he whispered.

“You made me feel like the most important woman in the world that night by being there. I knew I didn’t tell you that enough.” She had more to say, but the words died on her lips.

“You told me more than enough,” he whispered. He slowed their pace, wanting this dance to not be their last together.

She reached up and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, again, for that night. You made me so happy.”

Sebastian had so many things he wanted to say, to tell her, to ask her. He wanted to know why she stopped writing him in college. He wanted to thank her for it; that action caused him to concentrate more on his studies and soccer. He wanted to tell her that she was the basis for the female character in his novel. He wanted to take her off the dance floor and tell her all of this, but knew he shouldn’t. He felt her wedding band in his right hand and knew she was someone else’s love now.

She put her head on his chest. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered to him. “I am so sorry for how we ended.”

“I am, too. I could have done more, pressed more, wrote you more once you stopped.”

She slightly shook her head. “It was me, all me. I met someone who I allowed to control me, a mistake I’ve lived with ever since.”

The band stopped playing the love song, their next was a disco tune, but Sebastian and Daniela continued their slow dance. She laughed once she realized they were in the middle of a dance circle.

“God, I’m embarrassed,” she demurred. She placed her face into his chest.

He wrapped his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“That was sweet,” Melony said, stepping out of the encircling partygoers. “I didn’t know you still had those feelings for him, Dannie.”

Daniela looked at Sebastian and tears began to develop in her eyes. She ran off, Melony followed. Sebastian stood alone on the dance floor, confused and unsure of what to do next.

One of his mother’s supervisors stepped forward. “Was she one of your new fans?” Mr. Craig Bellows quipped.

Sebastian looked at the two women as they disappeared out of the hall. “No, she’s an old friend,” he mournfully answered. He walked from the floor and collapsed into his chair. He shook his head, trying to make sense of what just happened. He debated on whether it was wise to have a drink or not, but decided against it when he saw his ‘date’ return.

“She’ll kartal escort be fine,” Melony said. “She had a rush of memories and was overwhelmed by them.” She reached down, took her wine glass off the table, and finished it. She handed it to him. “Could you get me another, please?”

He nodded and watched as she walked back out of the hall, presumably back to Daniela. He stood, finished his Pepsi, and waked to the bar to get refills.

“The wine’s now free,” the male bartender said. “The store’s management decided to give you all something.”

“Thanks,” Sebastian said. He pulled out a $5 bill and put it in the tip glass.

“Thank you, sir,” the middle-aged man said, handing off the drinks and noticing the tip.

With the glasses in hand, he made his way back to the table, now empty as the other couples were either dancing or mingling with friends. He put down her glass and sat, holding his soft drink.

“Aren’t you Carol’s son?” an older woman asked. He stood and nodded. “I thought you were.”

He asked her if she’d like to sit: she smiled and took a chair next to him.

She introduced herself: Marianne Nichols had worked with his mother for the last year at Husted-Finch, but knew her for a long time. “I went to high school with her.” She looked around before asking, “How come you’re not sitting with her?”

“I wasn’t invited here by her,” he joked. “I’m someone else’s date.”

Nicholas was going to ask whom, but Melony’s return interrupted the question. The two hugged before the older woman excused herself.

“Dannie gives her regrets, but she’s left for the night.”

He looked at her, confused. “Did you set this up? Did my mother set this up? I know she’s married.”

She looked at her date and shook her head. “We work together, I mean, Daniela works in the office, head of programming and data communications. I worked with her for three months, when she came to the store. They put her on the floor, to get to know how everything works and to know the people. Her first assignment was in my department, where we became good friends.

“As for setting anything up, I didn’t know she was going to attend. The last thing I knew was that she and her husband weren’t going to come.”

He went to apologize, but she waved him off.

“I knew you didn’t mean anything,” she quickly stated. “Your mother didn’t do anything either. She’s the reason why Dannie left.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your mom saw Dannie crying and wanted to help, to talk, to see what happened.”

“I’m going home,” Carol Pettijohn said over his shoulder.

“You don’t need to,” Melony started to say.

“I need to get up in the morning,” the older woman began. “Unlike you young women, us older farts need a good night’s sleep.”

Sebastian chuckled: it was a tired old joke, but one that he still enjoyed.

“Will I see you tomorrow?” she asked her son.

“Yes. I have nothing scheduled for tomorrow.” He stood and hugged his mother goodbye.

Once Carol was out of earshot, Sebastian leaned in and asked, “What they hell happened?”

Melony took a gulp of her white wine before telling him.

They didn’t last long at the party. After a few more dances, Melony asked if he could drive her home. Though she didn’t have work in the morning — or the next day at all — she thought it was best that she go home and drink some coffee; “Too much wine before I go to bed causes me to wake up with a bad headache.”

“You’re a lightweight,” he thought but knew better to speak it aloud.

She removed her car keys from her purse and handed them over. “I hope you don’t take advantage of a drunken woman,” she joked.

“Why would I have to?”

She pulled him closer. “Please, take advantage of me. I’ve wanted you since the first time I ever saw you.”

Sebastian quickly stood and helped Melony up. “We’re wasting time,” he joked.

She took his hand and pulled him down to her lips. They passionately embraced and stopped when they realized they were still in public.

Both stood, mouths ajar, and stared blankly at each other, neither one knew what to say.

Sebastian began to speak. “Where did that come from?” he asked, more to himself than to her.

Melony answered with a slow shrug. “I think we better leave quickly before these feelings leave.”

He nodded and led her out of the banquet hall, neither took time to say goodbye to their friends and acquaintances. He pulled out the coat check tickets and a $10 bill for a tip. The women handed over their coats and his hat. He helped her into her coat before hurriedly putting on his.

“My car’s out this way,” she directed when they stepped out of the hotel.

“God I’ve wanted this for so long,” Melony whispered as they walked up the stairs to her second floor apartment. She had removed her coat and was tugging at overcoat with each step. She stepped out of her shoes, almost tripping him.

“I had no idea,” Sebastian answered. “I thought you were just friendly.”

She stopped and turned to him. “Unzip me, Sebastian.”

He reached up and pulled the zipper down. Melony removed it, allowed her gown to fall. She delicately stepped out of it, left it on the stairs. She walked up to the landing and turned. She rolled down her pantyhose and dropped them at his feet.

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