Ellie peered into the mirror and made a face. "I wish Dad would let me at least wear rouge. I'm sixteen, for crying out loud." She smoothed her wavy auburn locks again, pinched her cheeks to bring up some color, and decided it was the best she could do. When the clock in the hall began chiming, she rose from her vanity. A deep breath settled her nerves. This was her first real date with Harvey. Actually, it was her first real date. She checked one last time in the hall mirror and brushed non-existent lint from her emerald dress. It was her favorite; the color made her green eyes brighter. When the clock completed six bells, she stood at the top of the stairs, a picture of grace and poise.
Harvey rose from his perch on the sofa's edge. From his look of relief, she guessed her dad had been giving him the third degree. Ellie smiled at him, and began to descend the staircase. Her steps faltered when she saw another boy stand up beside Harvey.
Ellie glanced at her dad as she crossed the living room and saw his usual scowl.
"Hi, Ellie, you look beautiful." Harvey shook the hand Ellie offered. "This is my brother, Neil."
"Pleased to meet you, Neil." When her dainty hand met Neil's warm, strong grasp, she almost fell into his deep, brown eyes. It was a struggle to look away, but when she did, she turned to Harvey for an explanation as to Neil's presence on their date.
A blush tinged Harvey's cheeks as he muttered, "My father said he'd feel better if we had a chaperone."
"And I couldn't agree more," Ellie's dad interjected. "I think it's a grand idea."
Ellie wanted to sink into the wood floor. When her mother chimed in her concurrence, Ellie prayed for the boards to open up and swallow her.
Her dad boomed, "Son, remember my daughter has a strict curfew. 11:00. Sharp."
"Yes, Mr. Beasley." Harvey shifted from one foot to the other as Ellie looked at him expectantly, her eyes moving back and forth between his face and the corsage he held. "Oh! I got you this." Her parents' scrutiny made him fumble with the pin as he gingerly fastened the flowers to Ellie's dress. Ellie heard Neil snicker. She shot him a look, but couldn't suppress a grin.
"Well, Mom and Dad, I guess we're off. We don't want to be late." Harvey had made reservations at Ricci's, and then they were going to a dance at the Elk's Lodge. Ellie had been dying to go to a dance, and had been secretly practicing in her room.
"Sorry about my dad. He can be quite the monster."
"No worries, Ellie. I've survived worse. You haven't met our dad yet."
"Yah," Neil added, "he's like a cross between an ogre and bear. Mean, scary-looking, and he roars."
Ellie giggled and took another bite of lamb.
"Are you enjoying your meal?" Harvey asked.
Neil snorted. "I take it that means no?"
"No, it's just that I've never had it. I wanted to try something new." As she looked from Harvey to Neil, she couldn't help comparing them. They had the same almost-black hair, and the same brown eyes, but there was something about Neil. She didn't know why just meeting his eyes made her quiver.
"Did you save me a dance?" Neil stood before her, hands in the pockets of his suit pants and a cocky grin on his face.
Ellie shot to her feet, momentarily forgetting decorum, then sheepishly turned to Harvey. "Do you mind?"
"No, it's fine." His downcast tone belied his words. "Neil, behave with my girl."
Ellie was torn, but the thought of being in Neil's arms made the decision for her.
Neil's hand felt like fire on her arm as he led her to the dance floor. When he rested a hand on her hip and clutched her right hand, she thought she would swoon. The noise and the other dancers melted away as they waltzed around the dance floor. He drew her closer, and she closed her eyes in ecstasy.
"I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss your bride." Neil wrapped his arms around his new wife and kissed her soundly. When Ellie finally opened her eyes, she looked over Neil's shoulder at his best man. Harvey winked, and mouthed, "Congratulations."
Catrina Bradley grew up in Iowa, but now calls Georgia home. She is happily married to her much better half, has a wonderful 23 year-old daughter, and a precious, long-haired dachshund named Lady.