Authors: Celeste Norfleet
ONE SURE THING
A Novel by Celeste O. Norfleet
ONE SURE THING
Copyright © 2012 by Celeste O. Norfleet
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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It was late. Twilight had come and gone and so had the newlyweds. It had been the perfect wedding and the bride’s parents—Jace and Taylor—had done an incredible job hosting the ceremony and reception at their northern Virginia home. Madison and Tony Gates were the ideal couple and their wedding had been nothing short of perfection. A flawless celebration of their love and devotion, they had pledged their lives to one another in the presence of God and nearly four hundred guests--all of whom had retired to their homes except for three souls sitting in the dark.
Puffing on Cuban cigars and holding snifters of brandy, Raymond Gates, J.T. Evans and Dennis Hayes sat out on the deck surrounding the screened-in gazebo. Relaxed and in a tranquil mood, they watched as the lighting bugs danced across the back lawn in search of new adventures. The sky, a cloudless midnight, was littered with tiny white lights that twinkled and glimmered in the heavenly brilliance.
“So, what do you think Madison meant by that remark?” Raymond asked, still pondering his new in-laws less than cryptic statement. He loosened his tie a bit more and shifted his tuxedo-clad pant legs in the chair.
“You look worried,” Dennis said amused by Raymond’s tense expression.
“Of course I’m worried. My neck’s on the chopping block. Chances are Mamma Lou already has her picked out.”
Buddies since childhood, J.T. looked at Dennis and decided to have a little fun at Raymond’s expense. “Did either one of you see that woman Mamma Lou was talking to most of the evening?”
Raymond instantly sat up straighter as his eyes widened. “No who was she?” He asked.
“Yeah, I saw her,” Dennis replied. He grimaced and shook his head sadly. “If she’s the one that your grandmother had in mind for you then you have my condolences.”
“What? Who? What do you mean I have your condolences? What did she look like? Who was she?”
“Do you really think she’s the one?” J.T. asked Dennis.
“More than likely, Mamma Lou was looking at Raymond the entire time she was talking to the young lady.”
“Well man, let me be the first to congratulate you,” J.T. commiserated soulfully.
“What did she look like?”
“She had a great personality,” Dennis added.
“Oh yeah, but of course, she’d have to,” J.T. said.
“What does that mean?” Raymond panicked. His eyes widened. Then he heard the amusement in their voices as they began to chuckle and laugh. He realized that the two friends were joking with him. “That’s not funny.”
“But seriously man, I’d get out of town as soon as possible if I were you,” J.T warned.
“I intend to. But I’m not too worried. Mamma Lou knows I’m a hopeless case when it comes to taking that long walk down the aisle. She’s had her eye on fixing me up for a long time now and every time I’ve dodged the bullet.”
“Your grandmother’s pretty spry. I think your luck’s about to run out. I have a feeling that whatever she puts her mind to she achieves.”
“Not this time. Not with me,” Raymond said bravely. “I have no intention of being anywhere around when she starts her matchmaking again. And, to be on the safe side, I’m getting as far away from Crescent Island and Virginia as I can.”
“Where are you going? Back home, or to Manhattan?”
“To Manhattan, and as fast as I can. I’m leaving at the crack of dawn.” Raymond stood quickly as if to make his point. He extinguished the cigar he’d been puffing on and picked up the empty glass. “Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure.” He saluted them with his raised glass.
“Good luck man.”
“You take care.”
The three men shook hands and Raymond opened the screened door and walked across the deck to the kitchen door.
J.T. looked at Dennis. They shook their heads at the impending doom. “Dead man walking,” they said at the same time and erupted in roaring laughter. There was no way Raymond was going to evade his grandmother for long. She was just too good and he was just too unmarried.
“One hundred says it happens before the end of summer.”
Shubert Theater, New York City
Two weeks later… The task at hand was matchmaking, and six months after her latest triumph Louise Gates was determined to succeed with her next target. It didn’t matter that he objected to her intrusions into his personal life or protested every attempt she made. It didn’t even matter that he ignored every one of her suggestions. That was to be expected. The trick was, to set a plan in motion in such a way that everything would seem completely natural and totally coincidental.
Louise smiled mischievously and watched as her grandson maneuvered his way through the throng of patrons. She noticed as dreamy eyes from practically every woman over the age of eighteen ogled Raymond Gates admiringly. And why not, the esteemed doctor was a handsome man with a list of credentials that would choke an elephant.
He was a doctor, surgeon, corporate and hospital board member, lecturer and president of a nonprofit foundation for children and deserving teens. And of course, there was his least favorite credential, bachelor. He exuded an abundance of class and charm, so it was no wonder women loved and chased him—they just couldn’t catch him.
Louise frowned then arched her brow knowingly. It was high time to remove bachelor from the description and replace it with a more appropriate label such as devoted husband and dedicated father.
“I was about to send in the reserves,” Colonel Wheeler said as soon as Louise returned to his side. “I assume the lines are outrageous?”
“Lines for the ladies powder rooms are always ridiculously long,” she stated casually. She wisely decided not to divulge the real reason for her extended delay. Somehow admitting that she’d been listening in on a private conversation for the sole purpose of Raymond’s future didn’t seem appropriate to mention at the time. So she decided to keep that tidbit to herself.
Colonel Wheeler nodded his usual understanding.
“He went to the bar for refreshments. He mentioned something about needing a cold drink. He should be back any minute.” Colonel Wheeler glanced in the direction of the concession stand. “After that little debate you two just had, I imagine he could use a drink.” Colonel Wheeler shook his head. Raymond and Louise had been at it all weekend. The lovely mini-vacation had turned into a battle of wills. Each side was equally matched and determined.
Louise glowered. “I don’t know why he’s being so stubborn. I don’t see the harm in making one simple little request.”
“Louise, your one little request was for him to get married, settle down and start a family as soon as possible.”
“Is that asking so much? It’s not like I gave him a direct order. I’m just giving him a little push in the right direction.”
“Pushing him isn’t working.”
“Are you taking his side?” She asked of her longtime friend and companion.
Colonel Wheeler chuckled. “As usual, I’m straddling the fence. I learned a long time ago never to get in the middle of one of your battles with your grandsons. I prefer to be an innocent bystander, although, even that is beginning to be dangerous these days.”
“Oh you’re a lot of help,” she said as Colonel Wheeler continued laughing. Louise turned toward the bar just in time to see her grandson weaving his way through the crowd. His irresistible dimpled smile greeted her. She was attractive didn’t you think dear?” Louise whispered lightheartedly to Raymond as soon as he returned to her side with their drinks.
Raymond looked to Colonel Wheeler as he handed over the glass of wine. Colonel Wheeler, in turn, looked at Louise shook his head and began his deep throaty chuckle that made every part of his body quake. Knowing Louise Gates as well as he did, he immediately recognized her question for exactly what it was—a ploy to distract Raymond from something else.
Raymond, on the other hand, took a decidedly defensive posture. When Louise was anywhere around he rebuffed any and every woman within a ten-mile radius just to be on the safe side. He knew what his grandmother had in mind and he wasn’t having any part of it.
“Don’t even think about it Mamma Lou.” Raymond shook his head, handed his grandmother a glass of wine and then leaned down to kiss her smooth soft-brown cheek. “You promised to stop, remember?” he said as he smiled back at the female bartender, who waved to him from across the room. He raised his glass of club soda and winked. The bartender instantly began to glow. As did a second woman at the bar dressed in a skintight sequin dress and stiletto heels. “You’re not nabbing me in one of your little matchmaking schemes. I told you before Mamma Lou, just consider me a hopeless case.”
“Well than we’ll just have to find you hope won’t we?”
“Okay fine,” he said off handedly. “You find me hope and I’ll do the rest.”
Raymond and Colonel Wheeler chuckled. “Go ahead laugh. But mark my words. You’re not going to be able to treat every woman as cavalierly as you usually do. Just like your father, there’s going to be one woman you won’t be able to manipulate. And she’ll be the one to steal your heart. I’m warning you, once you let her slip through your fingers, you’re going to have a hard time getting her back.”